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Brighter Paths

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Brighter Paths

Book 1: New Light

Chapter 1: Blue

Billy walked into the library, his arms full of books. He frowned in irritation at the lack of empty workspace. Upcoming final exams had assured that the school library was now the reluctant hub of activity for the entire school. It lacked the silence and solitude that made it such an attractive location for Billy most of the time.

He smiled as he spotted one occupied table. Creeping up, he dropped the books on the table as heavily as possible next to Tommy’s sleeping head.

Tommy jolted awake. “Yeah, Zordon. What…” He blinked his eyes blearily, finally focusing on Billy. “The hell, dude?”

“I couldn’t resist,” Billy said, taking a glance around to see if anyone had heard Tommy’s slip about Zordon. He frowned as he sat down. “Are you okay? The last time you were falling asleep at school…”

“The Green Candle has nothing on final exams,” Tommy said breezily. “Right. Biology next? If I make good enough on this, I can take Chemistry in the summer and get caught up with the rest of you this fall.”

Billy could have hit himself. Not only did he bring up a particularly painful part of Tommy’s recent history—when he lost his powers the first time—he had also reminded them both that Tommy had lost his powers a second time, this time for good. Tommy now no longer had the Green power coin, which he said he had lost in another dimension, but it had been drained completely of power, and he had even given away all the power Zordon had given him, used it to reset the world a whole two weeks, to make everyone forget that Lord Zedd had ruled Angel Grove for an entire fortnight.

But if Tommy was hurt by Billy’s statement, he wasn’t showing it. In fact, Tommy had been uncharacteristically optimistic for the past month, especially considering the fact that the last time he’d lost his powers he’d skipped town. No, Tommy was neither morose nor prone to buying bus tickets. He just seemed constantly tired, which Billy had been attributing to Tommy’s new focus on schoolwork.

“This test should actually be pretty easy,” Tommy said brightly. “I mean, it’s human biology, and I learned the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems early on from mom. I'm pretty used to this stuff." He frowned. "Math's a whole nuther issue."

"You'll be fine," Billy said, retreading long-worn assurances. "We've gone over this stuff."

"Of course we have," Tommy said dully. "And then everything seems to slip right out of my brain right after I learn it." He began packing up. "I can't get anything done now. School's almost over, anyway."

"Youth Center?" Billy said. "It can't be any worse studying there than it is here."

Tommy shouldered his very full backpack. "Sorry. Maybe next time. I promised Zordon I'd help him out with something," he said, his voice a little lower. "See you tonight. Tell Sylvia I probably won't be in for dinner? I'll just grab a sandwich somewhere."

"Sure..." Billy said, his eyes narrowing. "What does Zordon need your help with? I can possibly assist."

"No idea," Tommy said. "Didn't seem like a braniac project... you know, since he needs me and all. See ya."

Tommy walked out, probably looking for an empty room where he could teleport. Billy started stacking his books, hurrying when he saw people impatiently waiting for the table. He shoved the ones he could in his backpack and carried the rest. He'd stow a few that he didn't immediately need in his locker.

Tommy had been doing that a lot, Billy mused. Between the vague excuses, distracted attitude, and unexplained absences, he acted like he was hiding a secret identity from Billy and everyone else.

But that was a thing of the past. While they still hid their identities from the world at large, all of their immediate families now knew who they were. The days of lying to his mother were now officially over, and it was a relief... Just as it was a relief that the rest of Angel Grove had forgotten the true identities of the Power Rangers. Billy remembered what it was like when they'd been forced to show their identities. People had treated them... differently. Like they weren't human, or like they were some sort of authority figures. Their parents had gotten used to the idea, and still treated them normally... somewhat. It was still a relief to have that particular memory erased from people's brains.

"No, they'd never fall for it. We gotta think bigger than that."

Billy realized he'd walked outside without noticing. The school lawn was packed with students setting up for the Spring Festival. Angel Grove High usually threw a pretty big celebration at the end of the year, but this year it was massive, as they were going to play host to representatives from the International Youth Leadership Council. Mr. Kaplan had been storming around the school all week, trying to get everything ready before they arrived.

Bulk and Skull were oblivious to the fact that they were taking up a picnic table that the planning committee desperately needed. The picnic table was covered with brightly-colored diagrams. Billy craned his neck to glance at the work. They couldn't be studying, it was against their genetic makeup.

Bulk looked up sharply and jerked the top paper out of Billy's line of vision. "What do you want, nerrrr...?" He stopped, looking conflicted even in his anger. Ever since the party (and forgetting that Billy was the Blue Ranger), Bulk and Skull had treated Billy with a sort of defensive respect.

"Nothing, sorry," Billy said, backing off. Even though he wasn't getting picked on anymore, this was a new kind of horrible. The clone he'd created, who had terrorized his friends and commandeered the party Billy had been planning, had done something to Bulk and Skull as well. Billy had decided not to ask, partially because he couldn't figure out how to ask in the first place, and partially because he didn't want to know.

Bulk and Skull watched him suspiciously as he backed off, and then went back to their heated discussion.

"They've been at it since the free period started."

Billy realized he'd almost backed into Trini, who had gently grabbed his shoulders to prevent that.

"Any idea what they're doing?" he said.

"None whatsoever," Trini said. "It needs a lot of planning, though. And it's definitely not about final exams."

"Speaking of a lot of planning," Billy said, glancing around. The school's front yard had been transformed into part-carnival, part-display for the Leadership Council. The representatives would be giving a presentation the next day, followed by relay races and games. Trini had added her own artistic flair to it, with paper lanterns in the trees, colored banners everywhere, and flags and images to represent each of the countries and cultures of the Leadership Council representatives. The school looked so far from a refugee camp, as it had been in the two-weeks-that-never-were, that it was easy for Billy to actually believe the two weeks had never happened.

"It looks good," Billy said.

"We're still looking for volunteers," Trini said, a heavy hint in her voice.

Billy smiled. "I promised Kimberly I'd give her house security another test."

"Where is she? I didn't see her today."

Billy remembered a time when Trini and Kimberly knew exactly where the other was at all times. Now... they weren't openly hostile toward each other, but they didn't seem to actually spend any time together, either.

"She called in sick," Billy said. "She's not, of course, but today wasn't a big day, and I collected all the study guides for her."

"That's... that's great," Trini said. "I've been so swamped with this thing, I barely have any time to study."

"Yeah, you and Zack... and Jason... have been keeping pretty busy with the spring festival."

Trini averted her eyes. It was a pretty open secret that she and Zack had been keeping busy doing more than planning for a spring festival. Billy reminded himself that he was okay with that.

"So..." Trini said with an air of changing the subject, "do you think he'll target the Leadership Council speech or the karate tournament?"

"Hard to say," Billy said, knowing immediately who "he" was. A big event, especially one the Rangers were invested in, was always a target for Zedd, and Rita before him. "We've drilled on what to do if either get disrupted... or both... but it's not like he's been at the top of his game."

"No, not since..." Trini shifted uncomfortably. "Well, I have to get these work orders to Ernie. He's doing most of the catering for the festival."

"I can take them. I'm going to the Youth Center anyway."

"Thought you were going to Kimberly's."

"After that," Billy covered, not wanting to admit he'd just used Kimberly as an excuse to get out of decorating and lifting heavy things.

"Well, if you see Jason and Zack there, could you tell them that I expected them right after school?"

"Affirmative," Billy said.

The Youth Center was just as packed as the high school, what with the team ninja tournament in the works. Already fighters were congregating there, getting the feel of the fighting area. It was getting to the point that if Ernie wanted to keep hosting events, he was going to have to get a bigger space.

Billy pushed his way through the crowd to the bar. Ernie was there, giving orders to some of his staff with a sort of wild, panicked look that almost made Billy run the other way. Then he thought of what Trini would say if he didn't give Ernie the work orders, braced himself, and tapped Ernie on the shoulder.

"Yes, Billy, what?" Ernie said, having broken off mid-sentence. Ernie wiped sweat from his face with a napkin.

"These are from Trini," Billy said in a small voice, handing him the orders.

Ernie took them. He glanced at the numerous pieces of paper. His eyes bugged out, and Billy wondered if his head were literally going to explode. With an obvious effort, though, he calmed down and said, "Okay, guys, change of plans. Richie, I need you to make a store run..."

"If you need any help with equipment efficiency, I can..." Billy started.

"NO!" Ernie said, and then smiled. "Thanks, Billy, but... I don't think my kitchen can take too many more of your... adjustments."

Billy left the harassed juice bar owner to his catastrophes, knowing there was some justice to his refusal. Though, to be fair, they hadn't actually needed to call the fire department for the last explosion.

Sure enough, Jason and Zack were sitting at the edge of the railing that separated the bar area from the gym. They were watching the fighters intently.

"I still don't understand why you didn't enter the competition," Billy said by way of greeting. "Isn't this usually what you do? Jas, I don't think there's a karate tournament you haven't joined in three years."

"This is a ninja tournament," Jason corrected. "It's different. And it's a team competition."

"Of three," Billy pointed out. "You guys and either Tommy or Trini could have made the team."

"Yeah, well..." Zack grinned. "We've been busy... with... you know... the Leadership Council thing."

Jason looked at him sharply, and then forced a smile. "Oh, yeah. Spring festival."

"You mean that thing that Trini is helping organize right this second?" Billy pointed out.

"We came here to bring Ernie the work orders," Zack said.

"I brought the work orders," Billy pointed out.

Zack's eyes widened, and he looked in his bag. "Crap. We're in trouble."

Jason laughed. "You're in trouble, you mean."

"You wanna bet?" Zack said. "No, seriously, we gotta go. Like, right now."

Billy watched them leave, arguing the entire way. They didn't even seem to notice the fighters around them anymore. He decided to leave as well. Being alone with so many fighters was not exactly conducive to studying. He decided to just go home. He'd be able to concentrate better there, anyway, and then pick up some of his projects. He needed to run a few ideas by Zordon... if he could ever catch Zordon when he wasn't busy.

"Hey... Billy, right?"

Billy stopped and felt his stomach clench. It was Rocky DeSantos who had gotten his attention, with his friends Aisha Campbell and Adam Park at either side of him. He'd seen them twice after the time reset, but he still remembered the three vividly as the freedom fighters who'd protected Angel Grove when he and the other Power Rangers had been unable to do so. It was strange, knowing them as heroes when they had absolutely no memory of the events.

"Yes... Rocky?" Billy said, feigning unfamiliarity. "I didn't know you guys were visiting."

Rocky shrugged. "Just here for the festivities."

"And our parents are house shopping." Aisha added with a grin.

Billy smiled. "You decided to move here! That's great."

"Yeah..." Rocky said non-committally.

"We were hoping to run into Kimberly today," Adam said. "She sort of implied that she lived here."

Billy laughed. "Practically. But, no, she's sick at her real home today. I'll tell her you were asking for her."

"Thanks," Aisha said. "See ya later."

Billy hadn't been sure how to get out of that conversation, so he was grateful to Aisha for giving him an out. That kept him from awkwardly mumbling about having to be somewhere. He'd gotten better at talking to people in the last year, but something about talking to casual acquaintances still flummoxed him. Especially casual acquaintances he'd known as freedom fighters in an alternate reality.

Billy paused outside his house after walking home slowly. He considered visiting Kimberly, using a security check as an excuse. He was worried about her. She seemed fine... when she was around. She smiled, she occasionally cracked jokes, all the things she normally did. But she wasn't around much. At this point, Billy had a better social life than Kimberly. When she wasn't at school or doing Power Rangers business, she was in her room, or alone at the beach, or several other places Billy wasn't aware of unless he actually tracked her, and he wasn't going to do that. She wanted to be alone, and everyone seemed to be giving her her space.

"She's having one of those days, if you're wondering."

Kevin crossed the road, and Billy could see the school bus pulling away at the end of the block. "You think it would help if I..." Billy started.

Kevin snorted. "Frank's been trying. Mom's been trying. She doesn't want to hear it. She just... You'd think being a hero would be enough, you know?"

"Enough to get rid of guilt?" Billy finished Kevin's thought for him. "Not always. It just takes time."

Kevin rolled his eyes. "Well, while she's taking her time, it's depressing the heck out of everyone else." Kevin trudged across the street and disappeared into the house.

Billy considered following him, but his words about Kimberly had been far from encouraging. He instead walked into his empty lab, now more responsibly rebuilt after its former ransacking. After the clone incident, Alpha and Trini had dismantled his lab, taking out everything that might be dangerous. Now, though, it was back to its former glory. Zordon had even allowed him more access to previously-restricted information... under Zordon's guidance, of course.

A message was blinking on his computer, a message from Zordon approving his latest project proposal.

Grinning, Billy got to work.


 

"Just come in," Kimberly whispered to herself, her hand on the window. "You want to come over... just do it already.”

Instead, Billy turned to his own house and disappeared. Kimbelry let her hand fall from the window, hanging listlessly next to her side.

She couldn't call him. Her hand was halfway to the telephone, but she pulled it back, sat back on the bed, and drew her knees up to her chest.

"What's wrong with me?" she asked herself for what seemed like the hundredth time. "Why can't I...?"

It was easy to be around Billy. Even easier than it was to be around Tommy. With Tommy, there were all these mixed-up feelings. Billy brought a certain stability to... well... everything.

She smiled to herself. And when had Billy become her best friend? All those years of her mother pushing her to the geeky boy next door.

But he was in his lab. And Tommy was probably studying, or at the Command Center. And the others... Everyone was busy.

Kimberly knew she should be busy. She should be studying for finals, or asking to rejoin all the organizations she'd dropped. She'd almost thought her mother's head would fall off when she told her she'd dropped cheerleading.

But it hurt to smile these days. And she wasn't going to go out if she didn't seem normal. Too many questions...

There was a soft knock on the door. Her mother's voice was hesitant. "Kim... I was just wondering if you were coming down to supper tonight, or..."

Kimberly let her legs drop. Her mother sounded like she was around a sick room. But she wasn't sick... was she?

"Yeah, I'll be down," Kimberly said, trying to make her voice sound bright.

"Good... that's good," her mother replied, and then retreated.

Kimberly let her face fall. It wasn't like she wasn't trying. That little effort was enough to attest to that. She was trying, but... something was still wrong. And when she tried to pretend it wasn't wrong, that just made it feel all the worse.

Tommy tried to help. He was the most understanding of them all, and for good reason. After all, Tommy had gone through what she had. He'd been evil. Hell, he still had these strange relationships with their enemies.

Kimberly shivered. That was something she didn't want. She'd gotten close enough to Lord Zedd, and now the thought of her time with him turned her stomach.

She made her way to the vanity. She hadn't put on makeup that day, and her face was pasty... sickly. But she wasn't sick. Zordon had run tests at her insistence. His words had been a little too understanding, and so Kimbelry hadn't brought it up again.

And Tommy... he was understanding, but he'd already been through this. He'd recovered, and Kimberly couldn't recall any time that Tommy had holed up in his room for days on end. Sure, he'd left town, but... In the end, he'd recovered far better than she was.

Kimbelry pursed her lips and started to put on makeup after washing the clammy sheen off her face. If she was going to pretend to be normal, she was going to do it right.


Tommy teleported into the Command Center to find it a wreck.

Coughing and shoving the panic down, he assessed the damage. It was far worse than what he'd done back in his evil days. Alpha was lying on the floor, his limbs pulled apart and only held together by stray wires. Consoles were uprooted, and Zordon's tube, while unbroken, was still horribly empty.

And there was movement. He crouched and did a visual sweep of the room. Seemingly empty, but that didn't mean there wasn't...

Gray. Gray room, gray Putties, and all they'd needed to do to camouflage themselves was remain quiet. The first warble launched Tommy across the room, careful to swing around and not get boxed in. There were so many, and he no longer had the protection of the power, but that didn't mean he couldn't handle them.

The first one knocked his communicator off his wrist, and Tommy bit back a curse. So much for calling for backup, which he should have done in the first place. The communicator was long gone now, though, so Tommy contented himself with fighting through the Putties so he'd be able to get to the auxiliary security panel at the other end of the room. No other warriors or monsters... just Putties, for now, but the Putties were more than enough. Realizing he had no hope of taking them all out, he allowed a Putty to throw him clear of the combat, thankfully in the right direction.

In the few seconds of confusion, Tommy keyed in the emergency protocols. There was a wave of energy, and in seconds all the Putties were on the floor. They glowed slightly, the energy wave having activated their self-destruct, and a forcefield contained the energy backlash.

Breathing hard, Tommy considered what to do next, when he felt the tingle of teleportation around him. He blinked as the Command Center, now completely undamaged, materialized around him.

"Your evaluation, Tommy?" Zordon said.

Tommy chuckled. It had been a while since Zordon had pulled one of these surprise drills on him. He remembered the first time he'd had to spend half an hour just to stop shaking. "Same problem, I guess. I let my fighting instincts take over without calling for backup."

"You realized your mistake quickly, but still too late," Zordon said. "Why is it important for you to call for backup?"

"Because I'm part of a team," Tommy said. "Therefore, I work better as a team than on my own. Even when I'm working on my own, I have to keep the team in mind." Tommy frowned. "So, this was just a drill. What would have happened if I had called the others?"

"I was ready to take care of that," Alpha chimed in.

"Tommy," Zordon got his attention back, "what was your second mistake?"

Tommy's eyes widened, then he looked down and thought. Zordon would let him take as much time as he needed to answer the question, so he didn't rush to any conclusions. He went over his actions carefully in his head.

"But..." Tommy frowned and looked up, "I didn't think the emergency vocal commands would be working."

"You didn't try, and they were," Zordon answered. "If it took you this long to answer my question, you didn't think about them in the first place."

Tommy smiled. "You're right, of course. So I didn't exactly get an A on this, did I?"

Zordon sighed. "You survived. That's the only grade that matters in the end. However, you unnecessarily risked your own life. Don't risk it all over a battle when you must fight the war."

Tommy smirked. "But you're still going to penalize me."

"Ten laps around the Command Center."

"Yes, sir."

"The outside of the Command Center."

Tommy groaned.


Bulk and Skull had finally vacated the picnic bench, jabbering something about a metal detector. Jason, Trini, and Zack slumped down on it, waiting for the rest to clear out of the way of Jason’s car so they could go home. The sun was setting, they still had exams to prepare for… but the day’s work had given a better satisfaction than they’d had in a long time.

“What are you going to do with your car?” Trini asked Jason. “Store it or sell it?”

Zack frowned. “I thought we weren’t talking about… you know… leaving,” he ended in a whisper.

Jason waved a hand. “Everyone’s going to know soon enough. The announcement’s at the end of the festival day after tomorrow.” He sighed. “We can’t put it off any more. We have to tell the others.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Trini said. “Lord, I don’t know how they’re going to take it.”

“Better if they hear it from us,” Jason replied. “We’ve sort of been waiting for Kimberly to get better… but I’m not sure if that’s going to happen in time.”

Zack laughed bitterly. “Yeah, well, how exactly do you recover from that?”

Jason scratched the back of his head. “Plan is not to find out… but she’s going to recover. It’s just going to take time.”

Trini got up and stretched. “Recovery… I wonder what this place would be like if everyone remembered. If everything that happened… happened.”

“We wouldn’t be able to leave, for one,” Zack said. “Too many expectations. We’d be looked at as cowards, or deserters, for leaving.”

Trini frowned. “Cowards for joining a mission of peace. I’m not sure I like that.”

“We’re not cowards, and we’re not running away,” Jason said for what he thought was the zillionth time. “We’re… helping people in another way.” He smiled. “It’s funny… a ninja tournament and a peace festival going on at the same time. A year ago, we would be in the ninja tournament, no question. Now…”

The sun was turning a brilliant orange, the sky deepening blue and purple and stretching into blackness. They were alone, and there was no more reason to stay. They got up and walked to the car.

“Store it,” Jason said.

“What?” Zack said.

Jason smiled. “I’m going to store my car, Trini. I’m not ready to give it up yet.”


Goldar frowned at the screen. The Red, Yellow, and Black Rangers were heavily invested in some sort of festival, though he hadn’t been able to monitor them closely, as the signal around the school area was jammed. The Blue Ranger was last seen entering the section of his house identified as his laboratory. The Pink Ranger was alone in her room, as usual. And Tommy was nowhere to be seen.

He gritted his teeth. It was the perfect time to attack. But there wasn't going to be an attack.

He shut off the viewscreen and began pacing the throne room. He'd had Finster install a screen for him, since Lord Zedd had a method of viewing Earth without relying on any device that Goldar could use. Lord Zedd hadn't protested. He hadn't even commented on the intrusion to his center of power. In fact, he'd barely left his bedchamber.

The war raged in other quadrants. The freelance and bounty hunter job boards on the international comm line were always full. Even common pirates like Divatox were gaining power to rival emperors'. And here, near Zordon, one of the most powerful forces in the galaxy, with his own personal defense team... all was silent. Peaceful. As if the war didn't even exist.

"This sucks," Goldar said to the empty throne room, and smiled. Something Scorpina would say.

He hadn't heard from Scorpina since she'd left, since she'd spared his life. She wasn't posted on any of the bounty hunter boards... but, then, she wasn't exactly looking for a bounty. He knew Scorpina was on the hunt for Empress Rita, and as such she would definitely be staying out of the news. There were plenty who would love to strike at Rita when she was powerless and defenseless, and Scorpina wouldn't want to advertise the fact that Rita needed rescue.

Goldar remembered when Rita had gone through a similar time of lethargy. After the death of Tommy's father, which had happened in her dungeon, she'd refrained from attacking the Power Rangers at all. She'd just been regaining her footing... when Lord Zedd had come to usurp her power, and Goldar had had to break her power in order to save her life, seemingly betraying her.

But it wasn't as if Lord Zedd wasn't attacking the Rangers at all, Goldar thought quickly, pushing thoughts of Rita firmly away. If they could be called attacks... Every week or so he'd choose an item at random and turn it into a monster. The Rangers would defeat it as a matter of course, but Lord Zedd didn't seem particularly upset when they failed. In fact, he seemed to only attack as a matter of habit. His heart, should the skinless lord have one under that exposed muscle, was not in the attacks.

In the meantime, the Rangers were bolstering their defenses. Jason, Trini, and Zack seemed more interested in their civilian lives at the moment, and Kimberly was wallowing in her own trauma, but Billy was definitely using the down time to their advantage. He'd strengthened their house security, and he was even starting to make attacking certain places in Angel Grove--the school and the Youth Center--much more difficult. Tommy disappeared for extended periods of time, which couldn't be good at all. It didn't seem right that a de-powered Power Ranger was spending more time at the Command Center than the actual Power Rangers. And who knew what Zordon was up to? Finster kept reporting spikes of power originating from the Command Center, and Goldar could only assume it was some new weapon or power source, one that might make a decisive shift to the balance of power.

And Goldar could do nothing. His pointed comments to Lord Zedd had come to naught. Goldar had started to think that something had broken him: the Rangers' defeat of him, losing Kimberly, Tommy attacking him, or possibly even Goldar confronting him... He wasn't the same overbearing lord he'd been when he'd taken over for Rita and consolidated his power all in one afternoon.

Footfalls sounded behind Goldar, and he turned to see Lord Zedd walking through the throne room to his bedchamber. Goldar hadn't even known he was elsewhere.

"My lord," Goldar said, and Lord Zedd paused in his progress. "My lord, I've been watching Earth, and I believe it may be a good time to attack."

Lord Zedd turned slowly, and Goldar started to feel that old intimidation he'd felt when Lord Zedd had first come to the Moon Palace. "Is it? What makes you say that?"

Goldar cleared his throat. "My lord, the Rangers are steadily consolidating their power, so a distraction might be advantageous. They are also planning a festival..."

Goldar trailed off as the room flashed red... a sure sign of Lord Zedd's impatience.

"A festival?" Lord Zedd said slowly. "A human gathering of celebration presents the greatest opportunity of attack? Why?"

"Well, my lord," Goldar shifted uncomfortably, "the Rangers will be distracted..."

"I thought you said that they needed a distraction."

Goldar gritted his teeth. "No all of them are distracted by this festival, my lord. The Blue Ranger..."

"Is doing what he always does, and will do it with more assiduity when we attack," Lord Zedd said.

"Zordon's up to something!" Goldar snapped. Heart hammering, he added, "my lord," as an afterthought.

Lord Zedd regarded him coldly. "You seem in the habit of making presumptions, warrior. You've made many... too many to count. But this one is not justified in the least. You say Zordon is up to something. Of course he is. He's an ages-old genius, fighting in a war practically as old as he is. He has plans upon plans upon plans, and that will not change just because we attack. Likewise, I know the dear departed Rita liked to plan her attacks around events in the teenagers' lives, but that just means they'll be all the more ready. All we'll achieve is ruining their good... distracting... time. Hardly the stuff with which wars are won."

With that, Lord Zedd turned and entered his chambers, leaving Goldar seething. Presumptuous, was he? He didn't know the half of it.

Goldar stormed out of the throne room. He almost took the wrong turn in his anger, but then he corrected himself. New throne room, new path to Finster's lab.

When he entered the brightly-lit lab, he was surprised to see Finster at his work station, clay already in hand.

"I was wondering when you'd take the initiative," Finster said in a resigned voice.

Goldar grinned. "You have a plan in mind?"

"I am not the warrior," he answered. "You are. I merely create the means for battle." He sighed. "You do realize Lord Zedd will kill us."

"Not with the plan I have," Goldar said. "We'll need to act quickly, too. Call up the fools and tell them they're needed... for something far more exciting than cleaning floors."

Finster set the clay down and flicked on the communication console. "That's just what I need: excitement. Much better than staying alive."

Goldar ignored Finster, instead pulling up Finster's databases. Something he remembered Empress Rita and Finster talking about long ago...

There it was. He pulled up the information on the potion and grinned. Finster looked over his shoulder.

"That's the basis of your monster," Goldar said, enjoying the stunned silence from the scientist. "That... and something that can give the Power Rangers to run after."


Tommy dragged himself out of the shower and threw on a t-shirt and shorts. His entire body felt like it had been put through a meat grinder, and he was starving. Something to eat before bed... well, before all the studying he had to do before sleeping.

Sylvia looked up at him from the kitchen table, a stack of papers in front of her and a mug of tea at her hand. She smiled wearily. "There's some leftover stew in the fridge. And please heat it up like a normal person."

Tommy grabbed a spoon and popped the top off the plastic bowl. He'd scarfed down three spoonfuls before he heard Sylvia sigh, "At least close the door to the fridge and sit down."

He poured himself some water and brought the stew over to the table. "Sorry I missed supper," he said. "I was..."

"Working on something with Zordon," Sylvia finished for him, handing him a napkin. "Is it something you can share?"

"Nothing you'd be interested in."

"I doubt that." Sylvia flipped over to the next paper, rolled her eyes, and marked something. "It's like it goes in one ear and out the other," she muttered to herself.

Tommy smirked.

"You're no better," Sylvia said. "Don't you find it interesting there's no beef in that stew?"

Tommy stared into the half-depleted bowl... and groaned. The groceries... "I'm sorry, Sylvia. I completely forgot."

Sylvia cast a worried look at him. "You've been doing that a lot lately. I mean, more than usual."

Tommy frowned. More people had been saying that to him lately, but he didn't seem any different. Of course, none of them knew the extra work he was taking on.

"I'll go to the grocery tomorrow, I promise." He paused. "And I can make another list."

He was interrupted by Billy, who came into the kitchen by the garage door. He had that slightly strained look of staring at a computer for too long.

"I was about to call you," Sylvia said. "It's high time both of you were in bed."

"Working on something?" Tommy asked as Billy grabbed a glass of milk from the kitchen.

"Nothing earth-shattering," Billy said. "At least, I don't think it is." He frowned. "You know, I really chafed at having to report everything to Zordon before, but it's turned out to be kind of a relief."

"I would have thought you... either of you... would have visited Kimberly today," Sylvia interjected.

Both looked down, not really wanting to meet her gaze.

"I almost did," Billy said. "But she missed school today. She was probably sick..."

"She's not sick," Sylvia said. "At least not in the conventional way."

Tommy's eye twitched. "I don't think she wants to see me."

"Oh, of course she does," Sylvia said. She began to gather her papers. "But it's not my place to force you. Just..." Sylvia sighed, closing her eyes. "If you let someone, they'll withdraw completely. We should all be familiar with that. Now get to bed, both of you."

Tommy left first, his stomach clenching in shame. He'd been throwing himself so much into this project... but that was an excuse.

The truth was, he'd thought when he'd turned back time, reset the world, that he'd fixed everything. But the world, for his friends, for their families, for himself... and definitely for Kimberly... was irrevocably changed. And even though he'd been through almost exactly what Kimberly had gone through, he didn't feel like he could understand her, or that she wanted him to understand.

Closing the door and shutting off all but his desk lamp next to his bed, he pulled out his notes. Not for math, or science, or English. It was a text Zordon had given him about the morphing grid... and he knew Zordon would test him on it the next day. Rubbing his face and shoving aside all other thoughts, he turned himself to a relatively simpler subject than what was going on in his own life.


Angel Grove slept, the fighting and festivals and preparations and studying all put away until the next day.

There was a glimmer, and two extraterrestrials materialized on a hill overlooking the town. It was out of the way... but also served as the perfect vantage point.

"We just set this doodad to going," Babboo said, "and they'll all be crazy by the morning."

"It'll match the Moon Palace, then," Squatt grumbled. "Everyone's crazy up there, too... including us."

The two disappeared, leaving a black box concealed in a bush. The black box gave three low beeps, and then let out a puff of steam. The gas that followed was completely invisible.

Chapter Text

Brighter Paths

Book 1: New Light

Chapter 2: Black

Jason stared at the stage, which was draped in a dizzying array of flags. Zack was working on the sound system, and Trini was fussing with the chair placement.

“Does that look even?” She yelled to Jason.

Jason gave a thumbs up, and then winced when the speaker gave a squeal.

“Is everything going to be ready?” Mr. Kaplan asked, his voice strained. “The last of the exams ends in fifteen minutes.”

“Everything’s pretty much ready,” Jason said. “I was just about to go get the ambassadors.”

The speaker gave another squeal, and Zack muttered unintelligibly. “I think I almost got it!” he shouted.

Mr. Kaplan sighed. “I can’t stress to you enough how important this is. We must make sure everything is perfect.”

“Right…” Jason said, smirking a little at Mr. Kaplan’s retreating form.

Yes, this was important. It was something, after all, he, Trini, and Zack were going to be deeply involved in for at least the next year. However, it wasn’t as if this was the social event of Angel Grove. He was expecting plenty of people for the lantern-lit party that night, but for the opening speech? Everyone was too exhausted from final exams. Most people would leave, especially since there was a martial arts tournament going on at the Youth Center. It would mostly be the club leaders and the more politically engaged that would stay. They’d had to do quite a bit to ensure that Tommy, Kim, and Billy would attend.

Jason scraped his hair back and tried to chase away the low-grade headache that had been bothering him all day. The squealing speakers weren’t helping.

“I’ll help Zack with the speakers,” Trini said, her brow furrowed in what looked like her own headache. “You go get the ambassadors.” She frowned. “I wish we had gone ahead and told the others.”

“Tonight,” Jason said. “We’ll tell them after the party.”

“If we don’t chicken out again.”

Jason shrugged. “Getting too late for that, now. We won’t have a choice to put off our announcement any longer.”

Trini nodded, somewhat reassured. “I’ll just be glad when we’re not hiding anything.”


“Are you sure you’re not forgetting anything?” Zordon asked.

“I’m sure, Zordon,” Tommy said, pulling up the usual program on the training console. “Now, where were we?” He said absently, checking on the progress. “We haven’t run scenario #15 yet. I want to see if power surges are going to be a problem during Zord deployment.”

“That’s fine, Tommy,” Zordon said. “As long as there’s nowhere you’re supposed to be.”

Tommy frowned and searched through his memories. He knew Zordon was driving at something, but for the life of him he couldn’t figure it out.

“Nowhere to be except here, Zordon,” he said, and turned his attention to the controls.


Jason maneuvered his father’s borrowed car through the jam-packed parking lot of the high school. Fifteen minutes ago, it had been sparsely dotted with cars, most people being exempt from the last day of exams. Now, though, it looked like the entire town had shown up.

“You perhaps underestimated how many people would attend?” Tamara, the chairperson from Israel, gave a teasing smile as Jason finally settled on parking on the grass.

“Maybe they got the time of the party confused,” Jason said, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice.

“Or you might have underestimated the political engagement of your town, Jason,” said Boris, the Russian ambassador.

Chun Mei, the Chinese ambassador, chuckled. “You don’t have to join a world summit in order to care about peace, after all.”

Jason smiled in return, hopped out of the car, and opened the back door. “I must be growing cynical. I’ll have to work on that.”

He led the ambassadors through the throng. He hadn’t seen a crowd like this… well, he’d seen it at Power Rangers Day, and he’d seen it during the time that never was, back when the refugees of the town were packed in the protected area of the high school… but he didn’t like to think of either of those times. Bad associations.

He spotted Trini, who motioned them past the annex building to bypass the crowds on route to the stage. Her eyes looked just as bewildered as he felt. It looked like not only was the entire school was there, but a good chunk of the town as well.

“The mayor’s here,” Trini said. “I just got through talking with her. Ten minutes ago I looked up from finally getting the speaker system to work, and everyone just sort of showed up at once.”

A warning bell was going off in Jason’s head.

Trini gave him a serious look as the ambassadors gazed around, seeming unfazed by the packed schoolyard. “Zack went to ask… Z-Man… if everything was taken care of.”

Jason nodded at the code. Zack was contacting Zordon, just to see if this unexpected turnout was part of any scheme by Zedd. He wondered how Zordon would react to being called “Z-Man.”

Zack jogged up to them and shrugged at the question on Jason’s face. “Everything seems all right.”

“Then I believe,” Tamara interrupted, “in the interests of immediate peace, we had best begin the show… unless we wish to test the patience of this crowd.”

Jason nodded and spied Mr. Kaplan hovering near the stage. “We’re ready,” he mouthed to him.

Mr. Kaplan nodded and approached the microphone. “Attention, everyone!”

There was instant silence. Jason tried to ignore that persistent alarm in his head, the one that sounded more and more like the red alert in the Command Center. The student body of Angel Grove had never been this quiet.

“Thank you all for the wonderful turn-out today,” Mr. Kaplan beamed. “Today we mark the end of the school year… and the end of exams,” he smiled to a smattering of relieved woops and applause, “with the opening of the Angel Grove Spring Festival. The theme of this festival… is peace.”

He paused. A rapt silence met him. Jason started searching for Tommy, Billy, and Kimberly. He finally caught a flash of blue and pink near the front of the stage.

“In the past year,” Mr. Kaplan continued, his voice a bit graver, “peace has been in short supply. We are nearing the anniversary when Angel Grove suffered its first monster attack. On July 9, the monster Goldar towered over our city, ready to lay waste to all of us… and asking for our surrender. He was the first of many.”

Jason glanced at Trini and Zack. His own astonishment was reflected on their faces. He’d been expecting a welcome address and an introduction of the ambassadors. Not this.

“But on that day, we met more than monsters and a space empress. We met the Power Rangers as well,” Mr. Kaplan continued. “Five… then six… heroes came to save us. Cloaked in mystery, only showing up to save us when we are threatened, they’ve fought back every single monster, every single Putty, risking their lives so that we may enjoy peace.

“But we haven’t enjoyed peace. Not really. Even as the Power Rangers have fought, the monsters continue to come. People have been kidnapped and hurt. Even when we gathered to show our appreciation for the Power Rangers, we were taken and used as weapons against them.

“The Power Rangers continue to fight. Of course they do. They’re heroes. Even when they seem to lose one of their number, as they’re reduced to five again. Even when Rita Repulsa was replaced by Lord Zedd. They continue, and will continue, to fight. But is it enough?”

Jason realized he was holding his breath. He really wanted to see how Billy and Kimberly were taking this, but he couldn’t see their faces, and he didn’t even know where Tommy was.

“With this in mind, I wish to welcome our ambassadors, Tamara from Israel, Boris from Russia, and Chun Mei from China, in the hopes that we can find a better way to the peace Angel Grove needs so much, the peace that the Power Rangers cannot provide.”

There was a deafening round of applause as the three ambassadors swept past Jason. He barely noticed them. The words from the speech were still pounding in his ears. The peace that the Power Rangers could not provide? With a start, Jason realized his fists were clenched. Anger. That was what he was feeling. Anger.

“The hell was that about?” Zack hissed.

Jason shook his head. Tamara was approaching the mic stand. Maybe she would clear things up. He’d talked with Tamara. He thought he knew exactly what the program was going to be about… and it certainly wasn’t supposed to be anything about preventing monster attacks in Angel Grove.

“Thank you for your kind words of introduction, Mr. Kaplan,” Tamara said. “And I echo my thanks for all attending. This is a town desperate for peace, one that has been denied too long, and you’ve all shown that today.

“This town is called Angel Grove… a grove for what in my country are called the messengers of God. And that is what I see here. Messengers. Those who would spread the message of peace throughout the world. But you haven’t been allowed to be messengers. Instead, you’ve all been made victims. You hide as monsters and Zords ravage your city. You allow so-called heroes to take charge of your town.”

Jason tensed. He felt a hand on his arm—Zack’s—and realized he’d been shaking.

“I do not say this in blame,” Tamara said reassuringly with a smile. “You all believe you’ve done what is right. And, perhaps, if the attacks had stopped. But the attacks have become part of this grove of angels. You are a city ravaged by war, a war not your own.

“On July 9, you were given a choice. Surrender, or face destruction. That choice was taken away from you by these Power Rangers, who have dictated the rules ever since, rules that have kept you all in danger and embroiled in conflict every second of every day. I and the other ambassadors have come to remind you that you as a city still have a choice. By showing up today, you all have shown your approval of that choice. Ms. Mayor?”

The mayor mounted the stage, her face set with grim determination.

“No no no no no no…” Trini began intoning under her breath.

“We’ve already had two wonderful speeches,” the mayor said after adjusting the microphone to her height, “so I will not delay us any longer from what must be done. I hereby announce, by majority vote from the city council, that we, as a city, in the interests of preserving peace and reaping the benefits of interplanetary cooperation, do surrender to the rule of Lord Zedd, if he so wishes to honor our gesture of goodwill.”

There was a shout… but it was of triumph… and thunderous applause. Jason stared about wildly. Even amidst the strange celebration, he saw Billy and Kimberly pushing through the crowd toward them, the crowd too distracted to impede their progress.

“What. The. F…” Kimberly started, but she wasn’t given a chance to finish.

“And to the Power Rangers,” the mayor proclaimed grimly, and the applause immediately quieted down, “we have no qualms with you. You have defended us with your own lives, and we will always honor your sacrifice. However, we cannot allow you interfere with this peace. I urge you to support the town’s decision, and we welcome your help… but if you interfere, we will be forced to take action against you.”

Another round of applause, and Jason started to worry that they were drawing attention to themselves by not joining in.

The mayor smiled, seeming to wave away the violence of her previous sentence. “But there are all sorts of heroes in Angel Grove… those of war, and those of peace. To use Tamara’s words, we will indeed have messengers of peace, right from our hometown, who will represent to the world this new wave of cooperation. I am happy to introduce…”

Shit shit shit shit… Jason wanted to run, to teleport away, but there was nowhere to go. He was surrounded and trapped, as surely as if he were surrounded by Putties.

“… the new peace ambassadors of Angel Grove: Trini Kwan, Zack Taylor, and Jason Scott. Please, the three of you take the stage.”

Jason barely caught a glimpse of Billy’s and Kimberly’s faces before he was pushed toward the stage, along with Zack and Trini. Zack looked at him, and the question was palpable on his face… Do we run?

Jason shook his head. They couldn’t run. Not in this crowd. There were too many questions that didn’t have answers yet… and he didn’t want the crowd to turn into an angry mob.

“I know you hadn’t prepared for this,” Tamara whispered in his ear on his way to being guided to the microphone, “but you’ll have to learn to improvise sooner or later.”

“Right,” Jason whispered back. Improvise. He could do that.

He considered as he looked at the crowd (possible mob). They could easily turn angry. He knew he and his friends could protect themselves, but he was more worried about the crowd itself. A lot of damage could be done if the crowd got enough riled up. And he had no idea what the danger buttons were.

So… as horrible as it sounded… play along.

“Like they said… peace is…” he cleared his throat. “Peace is… well… better than fighting.”

God, that was lame.

It met with approval, though. The crowd cheered, Mr. Kaplan gave him a slap on the back, the ambassadors grabbed their hands (Zack and Trini looked ready to bolt) and held them in the air. Jason gave a painful smile, wishing it were all over. This would be a great time for an attack…

But the attack was obviously already going on. Just not the type of attack Jason was used to fighting. After all, he couldn’t fight regular people. And it sounded like they were ready to fight him… or, at least, the Red Ranger.

Mr. Kaplan held up his hands.

“I’m sure everyone is ready to get some rest this afternoon. Please return tonight for the Angel Grove peace festival. In the meantime, you might support the brave souls fighting in the ninja tournament at the Angel Grove Youth Center, as they battle it out for who will be worthy to act as Lord Zedd’s liaisons to Earth.”

The crowd slowly dispersed, and Jason started backing away, grabbing Trini and Zack and stammering apologies.

“I know things are moving fast,” Tamara said, “but we’re really going to need your help with this. We’ve never tried anything like this before.”

“Wouldn’t think so…” Zack said.

Jason elbowed him in the ribs. “And that’s why we… need to prepare. I mean, not every day your town…” he searched for a description, “achieves peace.”


Goldar chuckled to himself, the low sound echoing through the throne room. He didn’t need to worry, though. Finster assured him that Lord Zedd was in a healing sleep. He had plenty of time.

He used the binoculars Finster had cooked up to survey Earth. It had taken him a while to learn how to focus in on just what he needed to see, but now he was quite good. Good enough to savor the expressions on the Rangers’ faces.

“Peace… is better than fighting.” Goldar smirked. As many self-righteous speeches he’d had to suffer from Jason, it was good to see the Red Ranger struggling for words.

He hit the wall communication panel. “Looks like we’re ready for stage 2, Finster.”

“There’s no going back then,” Finster replied. “I will send it down at your notice.”

Goldar grinned. Part of him was quaking at his own audacity—launching an attack without knowledge or permission from Lord Zedd. Then again, if Lord Zedd was such a genius, he would have stopped it long before now.

Goldar refocused the binoculars… and watched.


“So… we can explain,” Zack started as soon as they teleported to the Command Center. “Well, part of it, anyway. I mean, I don’t know what the hell is going on with…”

He trailed off as the air crackled around him, Jason, and Trini. He looked around bewildered, and then to Billy, who had moved immediately to a panel to put a forcefield around the three. Jason and Trini did not look bewildered… just grim.

“Can you do a scan, Alpha?” Billy asked.

“Pretty subtle spell, if that’s what it is,” Kimberly said, regarding them with crossed arms and a sad expression.

“Um…” Zack tapped the forcefield experimentally, and it crackled in response. “Can anyone tell me what’s going on?”

“They think we’re under an evil spell,” Trini murmured.

“What?! But… we’re not,” Zack finished lamely, even as Alpha pointed a scanner at them.

“But they’ve got to be sure,” Jason said. “Listen, I know what this looks like, but we’ve got to hurry this along. Something weird’s happening in Angel Grove, and…”

“Where’s Zordon?” Kimberly interrupted him. “And Tommy?”

“Tommy has been helping Zordon with a project, Kimberly,” Alpha said. “They’re in the lower lab, but they’ll be here shortly.”

“Good,” Kimberly said, casting a worried glance at the three confined Rangers.

“Not sure they’re listening to us,” Trini said to Jason.

Zack rolled his eyes as Alpha continued the scan and Billy and Kimberly eyed them warily. “Come on, it’s obvious we’re not under a spell. We didn’t cause any of that to happen. Like Jason said, something weird is happening, but it’s not us.”

“You three have been planning the festival,” Billy said calmly. “You spoke in support of the surrender to Zedd.”

“What was I supposed to say to that mob? Hey, you’re all being stupid and crazy and please be stupider and crazier?” Jason shook his head. “We were trapped. Still are,” he ended with a mutter.

“It’s okay,” Trini said. “They’ll finish the scan in a moment, and they’ll know we’re telling the truth.”

“Oh, come on,” Zack snorted. “We’d never get put under a spell. We…”

He trailed off again at the looks on Billy’s and Kimberly’s faces.

“Please go on,” Kimberly said with a strained voice. “You were about to tell us just how you three could never be put under a spell… because, what? That only happens to people like us?”

Billy’s face darkened. “Maybe you think you could have resisted it, right?”

Trini put her hands up and accidentally touched the forcefield with her palms. She pulled back. “No one’s saying that. We’re just…” She looked desperately at Alpha. “Please finish the scan.”

Loud footsteps heralded the arrival of Tommy, closely followed by Zordon’s face appearing in his tube.

“Well… this is awkward,” Tommy said. “What did they do? Is anyone hurt?”

“Not yet,” Billy said. “But we’re making sure what we’re dealing with before we take any other measures.”

Alpha lowered his scanner. “No signs of mental or magical manipulation.”

“I can confirm that,” Zordon assented. “Billy, please lower the forcefield. Now that you’ve followed protocol…”

“Then what the hell?!”

Zordon stopped, and the Command Center fell into stunned silence at Billy’s outburst. While they’d been scanning the three Power Rangers, he’d been calm and removed. Now, though…

“What, were you just going to phone from Switzerland to let us know?!” Billy’s face was turning red. He didn’t make a move to lower the forcefield.

Before, Jason, Trini, and Zack had seemed worried. Now, though, in the face of Billy’s ire, they looked completely lost.

“What are you talking about?” Kimberly said. “You mean… have they known…”

“They’re the Angel Grove representatives to the peace conference,” Tommy said, realization dawning on his face.

“How long have you known?” Billy said. “When were you going to tell us?”

“For a few weeks,” Jason said. “And we were going to tell you tonight.”

“You’re leaving?” Kimberly said.

They all stared at each other, at a loss for words. Billy looked like he was trying to rein himself in. Kimberly looked half shocked, half angry. Tommy’s face was unreadable… and Jason, Trini, and Zack all looked like they wanted to disappear behind the forcefield.

Tommy moved to the console and silently brought down the forcefield. “Can we maybe pay attention to the mass of crazy that’s going on in Angel Grove?”

“We really were going to tell you,” Trini said. “We just…”

“Chickened out, if truth be told,” Zack finished for her. “But now, if the peace conference is in league with Lord Zedd…”

“I don’t believe that to be the case,” Zordon said. “There is no indication of the behavior you saw today in the rest of the world: it appears to be isolated to Angel Grove. Billy, could you scan for any aerial toxins? Alpha, provide him with parameters our scans don’t usually cover.”

Billy and Alpha had barely started the scan when the emergency klaxons went off.

“I’ll take over the scan, Billy,” Tommy said.

“Looks like Lord Zedd didn’t take to peace all that well,” Jason commented as they all gathered around the Viewing Globe. A white monster with four faces looking in all directions was walking through the park. It was accompanied by a flank of Putties, but

“And his sense of irony is ever intact,” Trini added. “That monster looks like the unity statue in the park.”

“Indeed it is,” Zordon said. “Its construction is difficult to understand, however. Its abilities are as yet unknown.”

“Because of course it is…” Zack said.

Jason looked at Billy and Kimberly, who still looked angry and shocked. “Look, guys… I don’t excuse what we did… what I did, to tell the truth… but can we shelve this conversation for after we figure this all out?”

Kimberly rolled her eyes but said nothing.

“We’ve got no problems with that,” Billy said. “After all, we’re Power Rangers,” he finished with rather heavy irony.

“Okay…” Jason said under his breath, “then let’s morph out of here.”


The Youth Center raged with barely-controlled fury. Even as ambassadors spoke of peace at the high school, the teamed ninja tournament had devolved into an all-out brawl.

“Remember!!” the referee said over the loudspeaker, shouting so that he could be heard over the war cries and grunts of pain, all stealth and discipline forgotten. “Only the last two teams standing will compete to serve Lord Zedd!!”

Seeing he was surrounded by not-so-friendlies, Rocky flipped over one set of combatants and dodged behind the bar, the only part of the Youth Center that remained untouched.

“Ow!”

“Shh…”

Aisha frowned and rubbed her leg, which Rocky had just landed on. Adam peeked around the side to see if anyone had noticed, but they were all involved in their own fights.

“You think we’re going to get disqualified if we hide?” Rocky whispered.

“Oh, who cares about that now,” Aisha snapped. “We all know that this is definitely not proper tournament rules, and since when did this become about serving that ugly alien dude?”

“The whole town’s gone crazy,” Adam said. “Do we really want to move here?”

“Not sure if we have much of a choice at this point,” Rocky said. “And we’re not going to get many answers by hiding. Unless the Power Rangers show up stat, it looks like big ugly’s going to get himself three psychos as ‘liaisons’ or whatever.”

“Call it by what the word actually means in this case,” Adam said. “Assassins. Fitting, considering the history of ninjas.”

“That’s not who we are,” Aisha said. “And I suggest we hightail it out of here and get some help.”

“From whom?” Adam pointed out. “As I said, the whole town’s gone crazy.”

“And who says we need help?” Rocky said, his face splitting in a grin. “I mean, if we just want to figure out what’s going on…”

“What craziness are you going to get us into now?” Aisha said warily.

“Not crazy… well, maybe a little,” Rocky admitted. “But whatever amount of crazy is going on here, we’re apparently not affected. So we’re the ones who need to win this fight. That’s why we need to not get disqualified… if that’s even a thing.”

“Infiltrate the enemy…” Adam said.

“So we can get very killed,” Aisha finished. “Rocky, out of all the dumb plans you’ve ever gotten us into, this is by far the dumbest and we’re wearing white so we’re targets already and I just noticed the doors are guarded by aliens so when do we start?”

Rocky peeped over the bar. “It’s down to four teams… so right about now.”


Even when the Power Rangers were angry at each other, they knew their duty. They wordlessly settled into their attack formations.

Kimberly, as usual, stayed at the outside of the Putty formation. She could best use her gymnastics-inspired fighting where there was more room, and, having a long-distance weapon, she could edge her way to getting a clear shot at the monster with her bow.

Zack stayed at the highest concentration of the Putties. Hip hop kido, as he called his fighting style, took a lot of inspiration from breakdancing, so he could essentially cover 360 degrees around himself. Along with his axe, the heaviest and cleavie-est of the weapons, he could usually take town twice as many Putties as the others.

Billy ran to the other edge of the Putties. His methodical fighting style meant that he could take down Putties with regularity, and he could achieve the best vantage point to observe the monster. While he chopped away at Putties, he turned his brains to assessing any of the monster’s weaknesses.

Jason and Trini worked closest to the monster. Their weapons were made for in-fighting, and they were the smartest fighters. This time, though, they were faced with a monster that not only had four faces, but seemed to be able to attack from any direction, so their usual distract-and-attack strategy wasn’t working.

“That thing’s quick,” Trini said, redirecting her energies to the Putties after the third time the monster had evaded her attacks.

“It even dodged one of Kim’s arrows,” Jason said. “We gotta take these Putties down so we can all focus on the monster.”

They took the Putties down, though not in short order. Even with their re-energized powers, thanks to the new Zords, the Putties did their work in draining energy. Each hit to the Z meant a disintegrated Putty, but it also meant pain and fatigue.

The five regrouped, facing the monster, who had only dodged and deflected their attacks, not giving away any of its capabilities except for speed and dexterity.

“Weapons together?” Zack suggested.

Jason shook his head. “It’s too quick. We need time to put them together. We need to surround. Divide its attention.”

They knew what to do, had practiced this before. Jason stayed at where they guessed was the front, while Trini took the back and Billy and Zack took the sides. They all ran in for the attack, all scoring hits, and while they evaded any attacks from the monster, Kimberly launched into the air and fired shots from above. The monster fell back and sparks flew.

Jason frowned. The monster wasn’t weak, he could tell that, but it hadn’t attacked at all. It was just taking the hits, and then waiting for more.

“Hang back,” Jason said before the others could launch another attack. “I don’t like it.”

“Yeah… this looks pretty bad,” Trini agreed. She pointed, not at the monster, but past it.

The mob, the one that Jason had been dreading, had finally arrived. A mass of people, made up of fellow students, civilians, and policemen, were making their way across the street to the park.

“Power Rangers!” a policeman leading the crew shouted. “I’m authorized by the mayor and the city council to ask you to cease all fighting.”

“Yeah, leave the monster alone!” a boy shouted.

The crowd started yelling their assent, and, before the Rangers knew it, several had positioned themselves between the Rangers and the monster.

“Oh, come on!” Zack shouted. “I know everyone surrendered and all that, but it’s obvious Lord Zedd didn’t take that surrender, or else he wouldn’t have sent a monster.”

“Might not want to agitate the masses,” Billy warned.

“I was watching the fight from across the street,” a woman next to the policeman said. “I reported it. Neither the ‘monster’ nor the Putties attacked anyone until you Power Rangers showed up.”

Jason bit back a curse. That was the play. The monster hadn’t attacked, because it wanted the Rangers to attack. To attack unprovoked.

“Listen,” Jason said, scanning the policeman’s name badge. “Lieutenant Stone? This monster is an invader of Earth, and falls under our jurisdiction. It’s not up to Angel Grove, whether it be the mayor, the city council, or literally anyone else. This is a much bigger war than what’s going on here.” He dropped his voice. “So move away from the monster before things turn nasty.”

“You’re wrong, sorry, Red Ranger,” Stone answered. “That is the Unity statue you’re trying to destroy, and no matter what mutations it has gone through, it’s still city property. You are fighting in a city park, against the wishes of the city itself, and representatives of the city’s citizens are begging you to stop.” He dropped his voice as well. “You want to fight your war, you do it someplace else. Do it in space, where you can’t hurt anyone except your own fool selves. If you fight here… I’m authorized to arrest you.”

“You idiots!!” Kimberly surged forward. “Lord Zedd doesn’t want peace! He wants compliance. He wants you to stop fighting so you can die or be enslaved easier. No treaties or peace accords. Just death and destruction.”

“I come in peace.”

A chorus of four said this, and it took a moment to realize that the words weren’t originating from the mob, but from the four heads of the monster.

“I come in peace.”

Jason hung his head. They’d been beaten before they even tried to teleport down. This had all been a set-up.

“You want your monster, you got it,” Jason said. “I hope we’ll be able to fight it once it turns against you… and that it won’t take losing people to show you what it really is.”

He motioned to the others to teleport out, leaving people at the mercy of the monster… again.


“You know, I really don’t like surrendering,” Zack groused. “At least I didn’t get shot this time.”

He glanced at Kimberly, realizing what he’d just said. She was staring pointedly away from him, at the Viewing Globe.

The Viewing Globe was not showing the park where their aborted battle had taken place. Instead, it showed the interior of the Youth Center, where a far bloodier battle raged.

The wall was lined with injured teenagers, but only a few people were attending to them. Instead, all attention was centered on six combatants in the center of the ring, both teams dressed head to toe as ninjas. The team wearing white was obviously winning.

“So that’s happening,” Tommy said. “Looks like it’s just as Mr. Kaplan said. Grand prize is to act as ‘Lord Zedd’s liaisons’…”

“Assassins?” Trini supplied.

“Of course,” Tommy said. “But this isn’t coming out of nowhere. Scan shows definite toxins in the air. Anyone had a headache in the past week?”

“I thought it was exams,” Billy said.

“That, too… but it’s mostly from something Lord Zedd put in Angel Grove about a week ago, the scan says. Probably some sort of brainwash-y thing.”

“Tommy is correct,” Zordon said. “You are immune from the worst of it because of your Power Coins, and all of your families seem to be shielded as well.”

“I’ve contacted all of your families and asked them to stay at home, Rangers,” Alpha interjected.

“Thanks, Alpha,” Jason said. “In the meantime, we need to find whatever it is that’s brainwashing everyone, and be prepared to protect everyone when the monster finally does attack.”

“And what about the victors in the Youth Center?” Kimberly said. “Looks like those Putties are going to act as escort, and you know Lord Zedd’s going to use them against us.”

“Fighting’s getting pretty bloody down there,” said Trini. “And those ninjas in white look vicious. I don’t even want to think about facing them with whatever power upgrades Zedd gives them.”

“Both Rita and Zedd have wanted their own human warriors,” Billy said. “It looks like Zedd is finally achieving that goal… without trying to corrupt one of us.”

“Why corrupt one of us when he can corrupt a whole town right under our noses?” Zack said. “So what are we going to do?”

Silence. The Rangers stared at the Viewing Globe, wishing they could interfere, but knowing it would only make things worse, and wishing they had an idea in hell what to do. If they did try to interfere, they would be faced with fighting all of the humans in the tournament, as well as whatever opponents Zedd tried to send. All a recipe for disaster.

As they watched, the shortest of the white ninjas felled the last opponent, and the referee announced them as the winners.

“And the winners, the team from Stone Canyon…”

“Oh, God…” Kimberly said. “Not…”

The Viewing Globe focused in on the three victors as they removed their head coverings.

“Rocky de Santos, Aisha Campbell, and Adam Park are our new liaisons to Lord Zedd!” the referee finished.

The three stared grimly ahead as the Putties pushed their way to the three victors, grabbed them, and teleported out.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“So the freedom fighters, who don’t even remember they’re freedom fighters, are now Lord Zedd’s assassins,” Trini said.

Tommy shot a look up at Zordon, who shook his head, a signal for Tommy to remain silent.

“So any brilliant plans?” Billy asked Jason. “That don’t, you know, involve abandoning us?”

Jason gritted his teeth. “I might have a few ideas…” he started threateningly.

“Not helpful, guys,” Tommy said. “Billy, I sorta need a hand with these scans. I can figure out there’s something contaminating everyone, but I’m completely lost when it comes to reversing that. Trini, too.”

“An excellent suggestion,” Zordon said. “In the meantime…”

“Figure out where the freedom fighters are,” Jason said.

“Can we even still call them that?” said Zack. “I mean, that was pretty much an alternate reality that they don’t remember, and you saw how hard they fought to work for Zedd. I don’t think we’re dealing with the same people now.”

“I don’t get it,” Kimberly said. “Aisha, Rocky, and Adam are cool. They wouldn’t do this.”

“And you’d know that from how? All that surveillance you did from the Moon Palace?” Zack said.

Kimberly glared. “Okay, that does it. I’m sorry I shot you. That make you happy? I’m sorry I did all that stuff under Lord Zedd’s spell, but I didn’t think you’d run off as a result.”

“Not helpful, guys,” Tommy reiterated.

“It’s not what you did,” Jason said. “It’s what you became… and you did it willingly. I noticed you conveniently kept your Power Coin before you turned evil. Even though you said you’d give it up so you wouldn’t be used as a weapon against us.”

“So you’re saying, even though I was under a spell, everything I did was my fault?” Kimberly’s voice grew a bit shrill as she tried to hold back tears.

“That’s obviously what they want to avoid, Kim,” Billy said, keeping his eyes on the scan read-outs. “They think if they stay, they eventually go evil as well. They think they’ll be… tainted… by evil, as we are.”

“Wouldn’t you think that’s a rather valid argument?” Trini countered.

“Maybe you agree with what Mr. Kaplan said,” Kimberly said. “That it’s really the Power Rangers’ fault that Angel Grove is so messed up? That we cause the violence? Is that why you’re getting out?”

The alert rang through the Command Center. The Rangers looked up at the flashing lights, and then at the Viewing Globe. The globe, however, showed nothing new. Just the crowd at the Youth Center dispersing.

Tommy released the manual controls, and the Rangers realized it was he who had tripped the alarm.

“Good,” he said in a quiet voice. “Now that I’ve got all your attention, let’s focus in on the real problem… namely, that Lord Zedd has apparently done something to cause our entire town to go crazy, and now he has three hostages. Whatever their intentions, I think we can agree that they’re relatively innocent in this matter, which merits saving them.

“Jason, Zack, and Trini are leaving. That’s their right, and Zordon always said we could leave. They’ve served for a long time, so they’re not running away. They’re just doing something different with their life, and that’s okay. We don’t have to interpret that as a betrayal.

“In the meantime, guys, Billy and Kimberly are shocked and hurt, so lashing out at them about their forays into evil spells is not fair. Besides, neither of them were half as good at being evil as I was,” Tommy ended in a smirk. “So how about we calm down, Billy and Trini can keep assessing the scans so we can fix whatever has happened to Angel Grove, and is probably affecting us, despite the protection of power coins and the Command Center, and the rest of us can come up with some way to save our three freedom fighters. We’ve got to move before Zedd escalates the battle.”

“I’d say he already escalated it, what with the monster,” Jason said in a quiet voice.

Tommy frowned. “Monster?”

During the dressing down, the Rangers had been looking away from Tommy, ashamed at the dressing down and the fact that Zordon was allowing Tommy to do it rather than taking over himself. Now the Rangers looked closely at Tommy.

“The monster…” Zack said slowly. “The one in the park, from the unity statue. We just tried to fight it.”

“Oh… right,” Tommy smiled. “Must have forgotten with all the yelling.”

“The monster has made no moves against civilians as of yet,” Zordon said. “Therefore we can turn our attention to other matters until Lord Zedd makes his next move. Billy and Trini will continue assessing the scans. Trini, I believe you’ve done the most work with breaking evil spells. Zack, Jason, and Kimberly, I believe you three will best serve as reconnaissance. See if you can find more information than we can through our scans or the Viewing Globe. Perhaps you can even find the source of the infection. Tommy…”

“Right, Zordon,” Tommy said, and then left without comment.

“I think my equipment in my lab will best serve us,” Billy said. “It can take scans of the contaminated area without as much interference.” He took an uncomfortable side-long glance at Trini. “We’ll need to teleport in the backyard. New security measures.”

“Right,” Trini said, and they teleported out.

“I’d usually say split up, but we may need the back-up. Let’s start searching around the school, since that’s where this seemed to have started,” Jason said.

“I’ll be right there,” Kimberly said. “I just need to check on something.”

Jason and Zack gave her suspicious looks, but they weren’t willing to start another fight, so they teleported out without comment.

Kimberly crossed her arms. “All right, Z-man… spill.”

Zordon’s eyes widened at the nickname. “Would you care to clarify, Kimberly?”

She sighed. “How about… there’s something wrong with Tommy, and I want to know what it is.”


 

"There’s something wrong with them,” Goldar growled.

Mist surrounded the three warriors… no, teenagers. They were teenagers. And, despite their bravado, they looked absolutely terrified. They were currently in the training room at the Moon Palace. Goldar didn’t dare bring humans into the throne room.

“Or, rather… nothing’s wrong with them,” he finished. He glared at the three, but they looked straight ahead. “As in…”

“You’re right,” Finster said. “They have not been affected by the spell over Angel Grove. Or, more precisely, they have not been in Angel Grove long enough to be fully infected.”

“Which means we’ve got ourselves some wannabe heroes.” Goldar grinned, and the three flinched.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” one of the boys said. “We fought hard to get here, and we want to serve Ze… Lord Zedd,” he corrected.

“You’re prepared to enforce Lord Zedd’s rule on Earth,” Goldar said, circling the three. “To fight and, if necessary, kill any human who goes against Lord Zedd.”

“Why do you think we’re here?” the girl said.

Goldar chuckled. “Oh, I know exactly why you’re here. You see, I was watching you fight. Including your little pow-wow behind the juice bar.”

The three were starting to sweat, starting to look for exits. They didn’t realize just how trapped they were.

“Then why did you bring us up here?” the other boy said. “You knew we didn’t want to serve you, that we were only up here to act as spies.”

“Because your plan made no sense,” Goldar said, now facing them again. “Act as spies for whom? The Power Rangers? How are you going to get in touch with them? For that matter, how did you plan to get out of here alive if you didn’t manage to convince me you were willing to work as hired killers? Wouldn’t the Rangers, for that matter, immediately think you were under the same spell the rest of the town was under?”

Goldar’s grin widened as fear truly dawned on the teenagers’ faces. They really hadn’t thought it all through. That was okay: he had.

“Your only option, other than death, of course, is to do as you said: to serve Lord Zedd. In the meantime, I cannot keep you here in the moon. I don’t want the Power Rangers to try for a break-in here to rescue you.”

He nodded at Finster, who backed away. He approached the three, and they tried to edge away, but not before he teleported them all.

The cave he chose was dank, and filled with Putties. It was on the outskirts of Angel Grove, and was at a weak spot in the Command Center’s surveillance. Rita had used it multiple times for various projects.

Immediately, the Putties surrounded them and forced the three teenagers against the wall. Goldar whipped out a chain and lashed it out at them. The chain went across their chests and arms, pinning all three to the wall. Goldar looked on in approval. Scorpina had left several toys, but this one was by far the most useful.

“I did say you had options,” Goldar said. “You could surrender willingly, or you could be forced. Either way, you’re going under a spell to make things easier.”

“Doesn’t sound like much of a choice,” one of the boys growled.

“What’s your name?” Goldar said.

The boy glared defiantly, pulling against the chain along with the others. “Rocky.”

Goldar smirked. “The name itself tells that you will be… solid. You are not one to give in easily… but as I said, there is a choice. Finster, if you have it ready, teleport it down now.”

There was a bright flash, and a snake appeared on stalactite just opposite the teens. The three stopped struggling and regarded the snake with fear.

“The choice…” Goldar said. “The snake will bite you. Nothing’s going to stop that. Not struggling, not luck… and especially not the Rangers. They won’t be able to find you, so forget about being rescued. It’s not going to happen. Once the snake bites you, you will be infected with the very same thing that is making the populace of Angel Grove loyal to Lord Zedd, only now it will be in concentrated amounts. The venom is… rather unstable in its reaction to human brain chemistry. If you are already willing to serve Lord Zedd, if you have come to terms with it and welcome the venom, you will keep your own minds. If you still resist, even as the snake bites you, the venom will cause your brain to burn with madness. You will turn feral. Still useful to me, but…” Goldar let that hang in the air. “So that’s your choice. Service… or madness. I’ve left you with a snake that will take its time, so you have a chance to make up your mind.” He turned to go.

“Wait!” the girl shouted. “You can’t just leave us here!”

Goldar laughed. “Perhaps this will make you think twice about these… heroics.”

He left them with the Putties, and the snake.


With the added security, Billy and Trini couldn’t get in the garage-lab through the outside door, instead going through the double-security layer through the front door and then the kitchen door.

Instead of going straight through to the kitchen, Billy stopped, causing Trini to bump into him. The living room was completely full of parents. Kimberly’s and Zack’s brothers were sitting on the floor, and the rest of the parents rose when they heard the door.

Sylvia bustled forward after setting down a tray laden with coffee cups. “I know there’s security on all of our houses, but everyone decided to join up here... to wait for you, I suppose.”

“And here they are,” Dr. Taylor said with satisfaction. “Now, before you two hole yourself up in that laboratory, you’re going to tell us what’s going on.”

“We’d really appreciate it,” Kimberly’s mother tacked on.

Billy took a breath and looked a little wildly at Trini, who closed her eyes and nodded.

“You’ve all probably noticed that the citizens of Angel Grove have turned a little...”

“Insane?” Mr. Lee finished for her.

Trini smiled at him. “Or something like that. We’re sure it’s some kind of spell... a toxin in the air. We need to analyze what it is and where it’s coming from. The others are doing reconnaissance.”

“I suppose what we’re asking, Trini,” her mother said, “is what we can do to help.”

This time Trini looked a little startled. There had not been a major crisis since their parents had found out about, and even closely participated in, their work as Power Rangers. Zordon possibly knew the parents had gathered, but he’d probably never even thought about the parents wanting to help.

“I’m sorry,” Billy said. “I know you probably all want to get out there and help, but that would be rather dangerous at this time. None of you are affected by the toxin, and we think that’s because of your proximity to us, or the security in the houses, or your time at the Command Center. Whichever way, you’re in danger, both from Lord Zedd and from the other citizens. Rita used you against us, and I don’t think Zedd would hesitate.”

“Then we might be of better use at the Command Center,” Mrs. Lee suggested.

Both Billy and Trini looked away.

Sylvia smiled thinly. “My guess is that Zordon does not wish us up there.”

“Tensions are pretty high right now up there,” said Trini. “After we get the first of the scans set up, I’ll given Zordon a call.”

Sylvia placed a hand on Trini’s shoulder in thanks. “Oh, and dear... congratulations on the Leadership Conference... even though it hasn’t turned out so well so far.”

Trini’s parents, as well as Jason’s and Zack’s, beamed as Kimberly’s parents joined Sylvia with their support. The two backed into the lab, Trini looked startled yet pleased, and Billy looking rather sheepish.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t the first to congratulate you,” Billy said in a rush as soon as they’d closed the door. “And then yelled at you.”

Trini smiled and nodded. “I’m sorry I didn’t give you the chance. I said some pretty horrible things up there.”

They hugged, and when they parted they looked much less burdened. They were both wondering if they were every going to be able to make a right decision without their parents showing them the way.


On the other side of the lab door, the parents gathered closer in the living room and spoke in whispers.

“So we got our answer, it seems,” Dr. Taylor said. “We can go forward with the plan.”

“Do you think we should have told them?” Frank said. “I mean, they can’t know about the meeting at City Hall...”

“They’ve got enough on their plate right now,” Mr. Lee said. “Zedd can’t know we aren’t affected if we don’t act the part, and he’s probably not paying attention to us anyway.”

“Why can’t we go?” Zack’s eldest brother Byron said. “I’m fourteen... I’m only two years younger than Zack.”

“Because it is dangerous,” Mr. Taylor said. “And I’m not going either. Us boys will monitor and raise the alarm if things turn south.”

Sylvia took at glance at the lab door, which remained closed. “Right... if this meeting is indeed about de-powering the Power Rangers, even if they don’t have an idea that’s anywhere near workable, we’re not going to let them do anything to our kids.”

Mr. Lee nodded. “We go in, figure it out, shut it down. Sylvia, were you able to get it?”

Sylvia held up the communicator. “I wasn’t able to get in the lab, but I found a spare in Billy’s room. It will be able to connect to the wall communicator next to the front door.”

“Then let’s do this,” Kimberly’s mother said grimly. “I’m not letting that monster get his hands on my baby ever again... either of them,” she ruffled Kevin’s hair.


“You’re stalling,” Kimberly accused Zordon, her arms crossed against excuses.

Zordon looked at her steadily. Since he’d recovered from her calling him “Z-Man,” he did not look discomfited at all at her insistent questioning.

“I am stalling... perhaps a little,” Zordon said steadily. “I am considering the wisdom of answering your question, particularly since it involves rather private topics between Tommy and me.”

“Okay, now I know you’re stalling,” Kimberly said. “I know Tommy doesn’t talk much about what happened to him. Truth is... neither have I.” She kept her eyes open, willing the tears burning there not to fall. “Tommy and I haven’t really talked or spent much time together since... well... since he came back from the dead. That’s my fault. I’ve been avoiding him. Even if he wanted to talk to me, I haven’t made it easy on him.”

“You’ve been recovering, Kimberly,” Zordon reminded her. “We all have. It’s perfectly natural to feel disconnected from others after what you’ve gone through.”

Kimberly laughed. “As if there were anything natural in what I went through. I let myself be Zedd’s puppet. He...” Kimberly choked on the words, and she knew the stupid tears were betraying her again.

Zordon did not speak. He merely waited.

“Zedd and I... we... ended up... close,” Kimberly finished lamely, even that ambiguous statement physically hurting her.

Zordon nodded. “If you will remember, Rita and Tommy became rather close, forming a mother/son bond over time, something I don’t think is ever really going to go away. Even though you broke the bond yourself, you will still feel vestiges...”

Kimberly’s eyes flashed angrily. “I don’t feel any... vestiges,” she said. “I find him repulsive.”

“That’s understandable, too,” Zordon said, changing tracks quickly. “After all, he did force you into a terrible situation...”

A sob from Kimberly cut Zordon off. He stared at her, his attention growing into genuine worry.

"Zordon... when I say we were close, I mean... we were close.”

“I don’t understand.”

Kimberly gave a pained look. “I mean... ‘bedroom’ close...”

Zordon’s eyes flew wide. “Kimberly, he didn’t... force you...”

Kimberly held up her arms. “No, Zordon, nothing like that. I mean... not really.” She looked down, intensely aware that she was sharing something far too personal with Zordon, and yet she felt like he’d be the only one who could understand. “You remember when you said that... that war would change us? I never really thought it would affect me. Not really.” Kimberly gulped. “With L... Zedd, I compromised. Before the spell, after the spell. I changed, and it felt good for a while. It felt good to be not me.”

“Until it didn’t,” Zordon finished.

Kimberly gave a choky sort of laugh. “Until it didn’t.”

Zordon closed his eyes, as if choosing his words carefully. “Kimberly, Zedd has not always looked the way he does. And he certainly has a certain charisma... which he uses to intimidate, to exploit, to manipulate. He can lead you down a path that you believe you chose yourself. But you didn’t. He forced you down that path, using your brother... your boyfriend...”

Kimberly smiled slowly. “I get what you’re saying. And he’s not the only one who can manipulate. I remember starting this by talking about Tommy.” She crossed her arms again. “What’s wrong with him?”

Zordon hesitated. “If I tell you, Kimberly... will you promise not to blame yourself?”

Kimberly shrugged, putting on her best cheerleader smile. “You know me, Z-man. I’m as carefree as it gets.”

Zordon stared at her, but she didn’t back down.

“As Tommy told you, when he was presumed dead, he was actually traveling through dimensions,” Zordon began. “The first few dimensions were Zedd’s fault, but then Tommy was able to escape and travel to several other dimensions, unknowingly using the Eltarian power I gave him to create the portals and protect himself.”

“Yeah, he told us that much,” Kimberly said. “He was a bit tight-lipped about what dimensions he went to.”

“We all have experiences we can’t share,” Zordon pointed out. “The point is that no human should have been able to do that. Tommy did it by instinct, as he conducts much of his life. Dive in head-first, never think about the consequences.”

“And the consequences?” Kimberly asked.

Zordon frowned. “He was able to protect himself... mostly. Yet wielding my energy and hopping through dimensions took a large toll on his brain. He literally came unstuck in time and space, and humans are designed to be grounded and linear. It effected his time-sense, mostly. Tommy was already forgetful, but the dimension-hopping has done more damage to his short-term memory. He will also more easily lose track of time.”

“So... he’s brain-damaged?” Kimberly said in a small voice.

“Do you remember your promise that you wouldn’t blame yourself, Kimberly?”

Kimberly wiped her eyes. “I didn’t exactly promise that.”

Zordon smiled fondly. “You don’t have to worry, Kimberly. ‘Brain damage’ is perhaps too dramatic a term. Everything that has happened to him is for the most part reversible, and I’ve been working with him. He’s going to be forgetful for a while, and he’ll be late or early for things. If you wish to help, I can give you some exercises to do with him.”

“Does he know?”

“He does,” Zordon said, “though the nature of his problem prevents him from realizing the severity of it. Tommy was always more worried about the present than the future anyway. It serves him well as a fighter, but of course he’s not always a fighter.”

Kimberly nodded. “I... I’m sorry I made you tell me. I promise I’ll help make him better. I’ve been wallowing.” She raised her head. “Yeah, I blame myself, but I’m going to do something about that.”

Zordon nodded, knowing that would have to do. “I believe Alpha can teleport you near the others, if you wish to join them in surveillance.”

Kimberly scrubbed her face to get rid of the last of the tears. “Beam away,” she said.


Kimberly found herself in an alley near downtown. She saw Jason and Zack at the opening of the alley, peering around the corner.

“Hey,” she said.

Both Jason and Zack jumped, and Kimberly crouched in defense just in case their more fight-y reflexes kicked in.

“Don’t scare us like that,” Zack said. “We’re gonna lose them.”

Jason looked back around the corner. “They’re near the end of the street. Come on.”

They started walking down the street, Kimberly behind Jason and Zack so that her view was blocked. “Who are we following?” she said in a semi-whisper.

“Bulk and Skull,” Zack said.

Kimberly stopped for a second, and then ran to catch up. “Why?” she said incredulously.

“Because they’re the only ones who aren’t rallying against the Rangers... besides our parents, apparently,” Jason said. “We know that our parents are protected by our powers and the security on the houses. We’re trying to figure out why Bulk and Skull are immune.”

Kimberly frowned, considering. There was that graffiti Skull had written on the side of the school, the one that looked like the word “Haven,” implying that he at least subconsciously knew that the school had been called Haven during the two weeks that never were. Could that have something to do with it? Kimberly hadn’t told anyone, as it hadn’t seemed all that important compared to all the other things she was going through...

She decided to bring it up later. Right now it was better to shadow them. They may not have been hailing Lord Zedd, but they were definitely suspicious. For one thing, they were walking purposefully, and Bulk kept glaring at Skull. No joking around, no banter. Definitely not usual behavioral patterns.

As they turned another corner and waited until Bulk and Skull got far enough ahead, Kimberly heard the words “I’m sorry.”

Zack was looking at her, and Jason kept glancing from the corner of his eye.

“It was out of line,” Zack continued. “What I said to you.”

Kimberly chuckled. “Can I say ‘ditto?’“ She sighed. “I was out of line, too. I was just... taken by surprise.”

“It’s just...”

“I know why you’re leaving... why you’re both leaving,” Kimberly said. “In fact...” she sighed again. “Zedd told me about the clues and what they meant. I’ve just been... waiting for this. I was just expecting it to come straight from you guys, not as an announcement.

Jason and Zack looked shocked at her confession. She hadn’t really talked much about what had happened at the Moon Palace... for good reason. She had definitely not wanted to tell them that she knew that they were going to leave, and that she knew why.

“Billy was upset. He’s got issues with losing people,” Kimberly said. “But he’ll come around. And I think Tommy seemed pretty okay with it. It... it doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss you guys.”

Both Jason and Zack were looking at her now, and it looked like it was going to turn into a hug moment, but then she noticed Bulk and Skull were getting out of sight.

“Group hug later, guys,” she said. “Right now we’re losing them.”

They followed the two to the suburbs. When they got to the turn-off of a certain street, Kimberly grabbed Jason’s and Zack’s elbows.

“What?” Jason said.

“They’re headed to Skull’s house,” Kimberly said. “Nothing suspicious about that.”

“Except for the fact that you know where Skull lives,” Zack said.

Kimberly rolled her eyes. “And you would too, if you hadn’t had soccer camp on his thirteenth birthday. I, on the other hand, went when my mom threatened to not let me get my ears pierced if I didn’t go.”

“Yeah, and like I would have gone if I hadn’t had soccer camp,” Zack said under his breath.

Kimberly held her tongue. She didn’t say that it had only been herself, Bulk, and two other kids whose parents had forced them to come, after Skull’s mom had invited their entire class. They had mountains of pizza and ice cream, and Skull’s cousin Femur did a magic show. She remembered actually enjoying herself... and Skull had had a crush on her ever since.

Instead, she said, “Was that our only lead? I mean, how much do you think we can find out by following them home? They’re probably just going to work on their motorcycle or watching cartoons or...”

They heard raised voices and a crash. The three looked at each other in surprise, and then ran down the street.

Kimberly shot ahead, knowing which house to go to. The Skullovich house had a garage much like Billy’s, and the garage door was wide open, affording the three Rangers a view of the two friends, who looked like they were having their worst fight ever.

Bulk and Skull fought upon occasion. Of course, there was their everyday fights that didn’t matter all that much. Those were more like banter. Bulk would get annoyed by Skull’s many annoying habits, shove him a bit, Skull would retaliate... but it was never anything serious.

Then there were two occasions in recent memory where they’d had actual arguments. Silence and avoidance followed: Bulk would hang out with the football players, Skull with the kids who wore black and spent lunch on the park bench behind the school. That had lasted a few unpleasant weeks, and then they’d forgotten what they were fighting about and made up.

This... this was different. They were yelling at each other, and from the way Bulk was holding his arms, it was soon to turn into a physical fight.

“We can’t do the plan now!” Skull yelled, his voice going an octave higher than normal. He looked like he knew Bulk was about to attack him, because he had his hand on the tool table, groping for something to shield himself without hurting Bulk. “Not with the town as whacked out as it is!”

“What do you mean ‘whacked out?’“ Bulk answered, his face turning a deeper shade of red. “That’s why we have to do the plan! We find out the identities of the Power Rangers, we turn them in, we get favor with Lord Zedd!”

“Look...” Skull said calmly. He looked like he’d decided against a weapon, and he was going to try to talk Bulk down. “You love the Power Rangers. We both do... that’s why we’re trying to find out their identities. Why’d you turn against them like this? What? For a creepy monster guy like Lord Bread?”

A vein looked like it was about to pop on Bulk’s forehead. “It’s Lord ZEDD, you lamebrain!”

Skull laughed unpleasantly. “Don’t like that, do you? Hail, Lord Bread! Hail, Lord...”

Bulk screamed and ran at Skull... but not before Jason, Zack, and Kimberly intercepted. It took all of Jason’s and Zack’s strength to stop Bulk in his tracks, while Kimberly, feeling a keen sense of deja vu, grabbed Skull’s hand and ran for it.

They were down the street by the time Jason and Zack caught up.

“Why was there a set of handcuffs in your garage, Skull?” Zack said.

Skull was gasping for breath, not used to sprinting like that. “I... Cousin Femur... magic show...”

“Well, if they’re trick handcuffs, Bulk can’t figure out the trick,” Jason said, somewhat winded himself. It was no joke to take on the school’s top defensive lineman in a high rage. “What was that all about?”

“I dunno,” Skull said. “Whole town’s turned weird. Not you guys, though...” Skull looked at them, suspicious. “Why were you guys there in the first place?”

“Following you and Bulk,” Kimberly admitted.

“Isn’t that my line?” Skull grinned.

“Like you said, the whole town’s weird,” Zack said. “We were wondering why you guys weren’t joining any of the rallies. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on, if the Power Rangers can’t do anything without getting mobbed. Have you noticed anything?”

Skull shrugged. “I guess you heard that Bulky and I are trying to figure out who the Power Rangers are. Have been ever since they saved us on the camping trip. We had a rock-solid plan... but now Bulky wants to use it to turn the Rangers in.” Skull scowled. “He’s not in his right mind, of course, and he’d never forgive me if I let him do that.”

Kimberly was dying to ask what this plan was to catch the Power Rangers, but it wasn’t that important, and she knew Skull wouldn’t tell her.

“Do you have a safe place?” Jason said. “You might want to get out of town, just in case Bulk gets out and comes looking.”

Skull cocked his head. “One, I’m not running away. Two... haven’t you heard? The police have blocked off all exits from town. No one gets in, and no one gets out. Not until the big peace rally tonight at City Hall.”

Jason, Zack, and Kimberly all looked at each other. They had to get rid of Skull, but he was too much at risk from everyone else. They also had to figure out why he wasn’t affected when everyone else in town was.

“Billy and Trini are cooking up some kind of sensor at his place,” Kimberly suggested. “Maybe they’re finished, and we can shut this down before this escalates too much.”

Skull backed off. “Yeah... that’s okay. I can’t just leave Bulk handcuffed like that. I’ll try and see if I can snap him out of it... you guys do what you gotta do.”

“All right,” Kimberly said reluctantly. “Be careful.”

“You know me,” Skull grinned, and ran back down the street.

“I don’t like it,” Jason said. “Bulk was crazed. I could barely take him. Do you think we could...”

“It’s not like we can give Skull any orders, and we needed to get rid of him,” Zack said. Then he held up two small vials. “I got what we needed, anyway. Trini told me to gather any samples from anyone who wasn’t effected. I got hair from Skull, and some from Bulk as a control.”

“I’ve got a theory about Skull... but we can’t say anything in the open,” Kimberly said. “For now, we need to get to Billy’s, and we also need to ask if we can erect any extra security around Skull’s house, just so Zedd doesn’t make him into a target.”

“Good thinking,” Jason said. Making sure they were alone on the street, they touched their communicators and disappeared.


“If we get out of here, I swear I’ll never talk us into doing something stupid ever again.”

Adam rolled his eyes, and Aisha snorted in derision.

Rocky sagged. “Okay, I know now it was stupid to do this. But...”

“It wasn’t completely stupid,” Aisha said. “Definitely heroic.”

“Misguided is the word I would use,” Adam said.

Rocky huffed. The snake was waking up and starting to move. It would eventually move toward them, and if the gold monkey was right, their brains would probably be burned out. There was no way any of them could accept being evil.

He took another breath and let it out. Then another.

“Huh,” Rocky said.

“What?” Aisha said sharply. “You see anything different? Anything Power Ranger shaped?”

“Nope,” said Rocky. “But I did notice when I took a breath in and out, the chains loosened just a little. This link used to be right at the middle button on my shirt. Now it’s just right under.”

Adam laughed. “What did I tell you? When things get bad, just breathe.”

And the three set to work breathing, trying to loosen the chains, and the snake slowly angled its way toward them.

Chapter Text

Author’s Note: That’s Dr. UnromanticPoetess, to all of you. That is all.

 

Tommy bounced on the balls of his heels as he watched the monitor. He could see everything that was happening on the Viewing Globe, and none of it was good. The people of Angel Grove were forming rallies all around town, the biggest one in City Hall, with the monster made of the Unity statue in attendance. He didn’t know what the purpose for all those rallies was, but it couldn’t be any good.

In the meantime, they had yet to track down Rocky, Adam, and Aisha, before they showed up as servants of evil. The rest of the Rangers weren’t too worried about them… but, then again, most of them didn’t have quite a clear view of what the three must be going through. He did. Even Kimberly, who knew what it was like to be under an evil spell, had known kind of what she was getting into beforehand. These were civilians plucked from Earth and forced into service under evil. He definitely knew what that was like.

“I should be helping,” he said in a low voice. “Not just…”

“You are helping, Tommy,” Alpha answered him, startling him. He hadn’t realized anyone was around to hear him. “You’re following Zordon’s orders, and you’ll be of greater help once we complete this project.”

Tommy smiled wryly. “Easy to say… harder to watch your friends deal with these odds. I thought those days were behind me.”

“Soon, Tommy,” Alpha cajoled. “Now, Zordon said we’re past the testing phase. He thinks we can start with the first grafting procedure.”

Tommy sighed and shut off the monitor, forcing himself to shut out the dangers his friends were facing. “I’m ready.”


Goldar looked down at Angel Grove, trying desperately to track all the movements. The Yellow and Blue Rangers he’d last seen entering the Blue Ranger’s house, so they were probably using the laboratory there. Finster was unable to pierce the security, but it wasn’t a giant leap in logic that they were trying to figure out some brainy way out of Angel Grove’s problems.

The Red, Pink, and Black Rangers had been tracking a couple of fellow teenagers for some reason. They’d disappeared, and now one of the teens’ houses was under Command Center security. He couldn’t fathom what any of this meant, but it couldn’t be altogether important.

The parents of the Power Rangers, who were obviously unaffected by the spell, were headed toward the main rally at City Hall. What did they plan to do there? Goldar guessed they had some harebrained scene to stop the rally, but all they were doing was heading into danger. The Rangers would probably try to attack if he made a move against the parents, so it was probably not a good idea to escalate the battle that way.

“It’ll be fine,” he said to himself. “It’ll be fine.”

Everything was still going to plan. He wasn’t able to magically deduce what all the Rangers were doing, or what their next moves would be, like Lord Zedd has apparently able to do, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have a pretty effective plan. He had control over the entire populace of Angel Grove, who had turned against the Rangers. He was also in possession of three good fighters who could be turned to Lord Zedd’s purposes.

The prospect of fighting civilians would make the Rangers leave Angel Grove, and they would have to retreat to either their civilian identities or to the Command Center. One more day, and the population of Angel Grove would be permanently changed: they would all be loyal to Lord Zedd forever, and there would be nothing the Power Rangers could do about it.

Then, Goldar would finally break the news to Lord Zedd. He expected a violent initial reaction—he had, after all, done all this without Lord Zedd’s knowledge or permission—but then that would change into acceptance and possibly gratitude. Then, perhaps, as Lord Zedd continued his plans to take control of Earth and Zordon, Goldar would be able to convince him to restore Empress Rita…

Goldar shook his head violently. One step at a time. Right now, he had to concentrate on securing Angel Grove.


Jason, Zack, and Kimberly appeared in an otherwise empty Command Center. Billy and Trini were still at his lab, Alpha was nowhere to be seen, Tommy hadn’t reappeared from wherever he’d gone, and, most startlingly, Zordon’s tube was empty. It was the slightly-staticky sort of empty that meant that he was elsewhere, but not entirely gone.

“I was, like, just talking to him,” Kimberly frowned. “He didn’t say he was going to disappear.”

“Wherever he is,” Jason said, “he’s doing something important. That’ll give us time to figure a few things out.”

“I thought we were going to Billy’s,” Zack said.

Jason shook his head. “I still don’t absolutely trust the security around Billy’s house. Kim, you know how to put a house on the security grid, don’t you? Can you take care of Skull’s place?”

“Sure...” Kimberly said slowly, desperately reviewing Billy’s security protocols. She’d helped him strengthen the security on her house during her more paranoid moments. “I can put Skull’s house on the grid, but that will just make things suspicious. I’m not sure how strong it’ll be if Zedd decides to attack.”

“Do it. I’d rather take the risk that they might be noticed than...” He jabbed at his communicator. “Billy, Trini, how’s it going down there?”

There was a pause, and Trini’s voice crackled through the speaker. “We’re almost done, Jas. Listen, all our families are gathered in the house, so we don’t have to worry about them.”

“Negative on that,” Kimberly said.

“What was that?” Billy said faintly in the background.

Kimberly jabbed at the console. “I’m getting readings for Billy and Trini, and then I’m reading Zack’s dad and brothers, and my brother...” She trailed off, her eyes wide with worry. “No one else is there.”

Jason bit back a curse. He should have forced Zordon to give them something to do, or gone off plan and recruited them himself. They’d gotten used to helping, and now the whole town was up in arms. None of them were the types to just sit by and let it happen.

“Billy, Trini... get back up here as quick as you can,” Jason said. “We need to shut whatever is causing that spell, or toxin, or whatever. Jason out.”

Zack was operating the Viewing Globe. “I see ‘em... They’re headed toward City Hall, I think.” The Viewing Globe focused in on their parents. They were all yelling with the rest of the civilians, and some of them where holding signs that showed various Rangers’ helmeted heads with a slash through them. “It looks like they’re trying to blend in.”

Jason sighed. He jabbed his communicator again. “Mr. Taylor, come in. Mind telling me what everyone is doing?”

There was a shuffling sound and a few unnecessary beeps as Mr. Taylor tried to work the foreign technology.

“Dad, you don’t need to press anything,” Zack sighed. “Just speak into it.”

“Oh!” the man said. “I’m not used to this thing... I can barely work your mom’s cellular phone. Anyway, we’re all fine. I’ve got the boys watching GI Joe, so...”

“And everyone else?” Jason said patiently.

Mr. Taylor hesitated. “They just wanted to help. To see what they could do, now that none of you can fight.”

“Right,” Jason said. “They’re headed to the rally at City Hall, aren’t they? We’ll keep an eye on them. Let me know if they check in, okay?”

“Right,” Mr. Taylor said. He didn’t sound the least bit sorry that they’d been found out.


City Hall was jammed with people, people who were currently abuzz with excitement. There was a sense of hope and joy in the air... one that was entirely false. Currently, though, the only people who knew that were huddled together, trying to look natural as they winded their way through the crowd.

“What are we planning to do, again?” Sylvia said.

“Sh...” said Dr. Taylor. “We can’t call attention to ourselves.”

But they were all worried. It was clear as they entered City Hall that the problem was far bigger than they had thought. The entire town had showed up... if not here, then at various other rally points around town. City Hall, however, remained the biggest rally, as it housed the monster.

The monster their children had been prevented from destroying. The monster that the town had protected with their very lives.

The other reason the parents felt so out of place was because they were the only people in the room who were armed. They’d voted not to carry fire arms--only Frank had a permit for one, but he didn’t want to risk anyone getting hurt--but all of them had knives, Frank was carrying a hunting bow in a case that looked innocuously like a briefcase unless you looked close enough, and Sylvia had something she’d lifted from Billy’s lab. She didn’t know what it was, but it had turned the garbage can in the back into a charred mess.

If the Power Rangers couldn’t take out the monster, they could. And, just like it had happened so many times before, they all reckoned killing the monster would break the spell.

Hands clutched over weapons, they waited for the likeliest opportunity, all the while praying they wouldn’t need to attack at all.


Kimberly pressed one last button. “Security’s up at Skull’s house, and Bulk’s apparently still handcuffed. I still want Billy or Trini to see if it’s strong enough... I was working from memory.”

“Not much we can do about our parents... except maybe teleport them up,” Zack said. “But, honestly... we can do that at any time, and I think right now they’re not in real danger. We need to concentrate on keeping it that way right now.”

“Agreed,” Jason said. “Kim, I want to know what your theory is about Skull, and I’ve got a theory about all this on my own, but I’d really like to wait until Zordon, Billy, and Trini are here... and Tommy, if he’s done with that mysterious mission Zordon sent him on.”

As if on cue, Zordon’s tube crackled to life. “I’ve been monitoring your progress, Rangers, and I’m anxious to hear your theories. However, there are rather pressing things that need to be addressed as we construct our plan.”

“Okay... where’s Tommy?” Zack said.

“He’s working on a project that may or may not help you... but suffice to say, he is following my orders,” Zordon said. “What is of more pressing importance is the three ‘winners’ of the ninja tournament earlier today.”

“Aisha, Rocky, and Adam?” Kimberly said. “You’ve found them? Are they at the Moon Palace?”

“No, Kimberly,” Zordon said. “They are actually on Earth, in one of the caves Rita used to use as one of her strongholds. Behold the Viewing Globe.”

The three Rangers swiveled around to see the three teenagers in the dark, chained to a rock, carefully struggling and staring down a snake.

“I knew they hadn’t really turned evil,” Kimberly said. “At least, not voluntarily.”

“That’s the worst Lord Zedd can do? Jason said. “Threaten them with a snake?”

“You’re saying that like it’s nothing...” Zack said. “If it were me there, you’d already see a Zack-shaped hole in the cave wall.”

“The snake is merely a vessel,” said Zordon, “for the poison that lies inside. If bit, the three teenagers will lose all morality, all vestiges of their former selves. The only way to survive the bite intact is if you were already intending to surrender to evil... or if you had a particularly strong will.”

“We’ll have to monitor the snake for right now,” Jason said. “If we make a move to save them, things might escalate too quickly in Angel Grove. I think if it works out, we can send someone to rescue them while everyone else is distracted with battle.” He frowned. “This snake... is it one of Lord Zedd’s inventions?”

“What else could it be?” Zack said.

Zordon frowned in return. “Why, no, Jason, not originally. I am aware of the creature because of my previous battles with Rita, but she had long decided to retire such a weapon. The servants it created were too unstable, so she learned other means of corruption... as we all know. Lord Zedd must have repurposed the snake from the stores Rita left behind.”

“I’m not so sure,” Jason said slowly. “I just think there’s more going on…”


“Bulky?” Skull said hesitantly. “You okay?”

There was silence. Skull edged forward into the garage nervously, pretty sure that Bulk was going to explode at any moment. Bulk reacted to things, and was quick to react with anger, but he usually got over things quickly. He was just too easygoing to let things get to him for long. But this... with him acting all weird... Skull had no idea what to expect.

“You gonna get me out of these things, Skull?”

Bulk’s voice sounded calm... a bit too calm. Skull cautiously made his way around to face Bulk without getting anywhere near him. Bulk’s face was red, as if he’d been in a rage and was just barely keeping it together.

“Not sure that’s the best idea, Bulky,” Skull said. “You’re... not right.”

Bulk chuckled, and it was a sound that sent a shiver down Skull’s spine. It sounded like Bulk, but it wasn’t. He was used to Bulk sounding excited, or angry, or sullen, or laughing about something, or just plain bored.

This Bulk sounded... calculating. And it was freaking Skull right the heck out.

“We have to get to the rally, Skull,” Bulk said. “We can end this.”

Skull realized he was hardly breathing, and he forced a breath from between his teeth. It came out in a hiss. He sat in a folding chair wrong-ways. “What do you mean by ‘end this’?” he said. There was a tremor in his voice that he couldn’t keep out. It was dead quiet in the garage--his parents weren’t home... were they at the rally? It was so quiet, when it wasn’t supposed to be quiet. Something was wrong, and wrong was loud, not quiet.

Bulk broke the silence, but just barely. “The crowd wants the Power Rangers,” he said. “We can give them to the monster. We can end this. Lord Zedd just wants the Power Rangers.”

“How are we going to...?”

“We know who they are, don’t we?” Bulk said.

Skull just stared. “We... we don’t. We’ve been trying to, but we don’t.”

Bulk rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on, lamebrain, open your eyes. You were just talking to them.”

Whatever Skull had expected Bulk to say, that wasn't it.

“Wha...?” he said, cringing at how dumb he sounded.

“Why do you think Jason was here?” Bulk said. “Why did you think Kim and Zack were with him? Why do you think they’re against the rest of the town?”

“I’m not with the rest, either,” Skull pointed out.

Bulk chuckled. “Yeah, maybe your skull is too thick to get it. But I get it.” Bulk’s eyes grew wider. “It’s so clear now. Can’t believe I didn’t see it before.”

It was crazy talk, obviously, but if he was talking he wasn’t struggling. “Why do you think Kim is a Power Ranger? And Jason and Zack? We’ve known them for forever.”

“We have,” Bulk said. “And Billy and Trini. We’ve known them for forever... and they’ve practically become different people in the last year.”

Skull didn’t answer, just stared. So Bulk continued.

“Let’s just pass over how they’re never around when there’s a monster attack, that they run the other way... but we never see them in the emergency centers. Let’s ignore that they never have an excuse for where they’ve been. And how they’ve decided to hang out all the time, all five of them. Let’s just look at the really convincing bits. Like how Jason quit all his sports, even football, right when the Green Ranger was all evil. Like how Zack suddenly turned from dance to martial arts, and how Kim has turned from a gymnast into a fighter. Like how Trini stopped doing those kata things and started doing strength training. And Billy...”

Bulk laughed low in his throat again. “Billy was the surprise when I figured it out, but it makes sense. How he stopped putting up with us joking around with him. How he treated us when we crashed his party. How even his long-sleeve shirts can’t hide that he’s practically as built as Jason and Zack now. They’re...”

“They’re not heroes,” Skull said.

“But they are Power Rangers,” Bulk said, his voice filled with quiet conviction. “And you know it. And the rest of Angel Grove needs to know it.”

“So that you can sacrifice them?”

“For peace,” Bulk said, the calm of his voice breaking. “For Lord Zedd.”

Skull hung his head. “Even if you’re right... and I’m not convinced... I still can’t let you out. I can’t let you sacrifice innocent people like that. We’re just going to wait until you remember what you’re supposed to be.”

“I wasn’t asking.”

Skull didn’t have time to dodge. Handcuffs flashed at his face, and right above his left eye erupted in pain. Skull put up his hands in defense, but Bulk didn’t go for him. He bowled past him and ran out the garage door.

Skull cursed. They were trick handcuffs all along. Knowing he couldn’t do much, Skull ran after his friend, hoping all this would end before anything bad happened.


There was a crackle of teleportation, and Billy and Trini appeared in the Command Center, Billy holding one of his modified hand-held trackers.

“We’ve been monitoring the Command Center from the lab,” Billy said, dismissing Jason’s move to fill them in.

“I’m not sure about the snake,” said Trini, “but our scanner can lead us to where the disturbance is originating, so we can shut it down from there. We’ll need a distraction for that as well, though I don’t know how much we can distract Lord Zedd. He seems pretty aware of everything going on.”

“You’d be right,” Kimberly said quietly. They all looked at her. “He’s... well, he’s crazy smart. Like, his brain is a computer. I’ve seen his diagrams and plans of attack, but I couldn’t even understand them.”

“I don’t think that’s a problem,” Jason said. “As I was about to say before you guys showed up... I don’t think we’re dealing with Lord Zedd at all.”

The other four and Zordon stared at him.

“I would have detected if another evil entity had entered our solar system,” Zordon said. “There have been no disturbances.”

“I’m not talking about someone new,” Jason said. “I’m talking about someone already there. I think that, for some reason, Lord Zedd is either incapacitated or unknowing, and I think Goldar has taken it on himself to attack the Earth.”

They continued to stare at him, their eyes getting wider. Billy was the first to break the silence.

“Your reasoning?”

Jason folded his arms and looked down, trying to parse through the chains of reasoning that had led him to this conclusion. “I started suspecting when we hadn’t gotten any messages from Lord Zedd, and when he didn’t make or promise an appearance. Most of his major attacks have been accompanied by letters, messages... He’s not shy about showing his face around, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

“He could be waiting until the rallies tonight,” Kimberly said.

“He could,” Jason said. “Except there’s a few more things that have been bothering me. The spell itself is a form of hypnotism, the kind that Rita used several times. While Zedd has used evil spells before,” his eyes slid over to Kimberly, “with Kimberly and the Greek gods, he doesn’t seem interested in controlling people on a mass scale. In fact... he’s not very good at it. This spell on the town is much more sophisticated work. The snake is Rita’s weapon, the cave where the freedom fighters are being held is Rita’s stronghold, and I’m willing to bet that whatever is causing this spell over the town is Rita’s as well. Finally... I checked the readings, and Squatt and Babboo have been on Earth.”

“That’s... really unlikely,” Kimberly said flatly. “Lord Zedd treats them pretty much like janitors. They’re also banned from going to Earth without permission, as Lord Zedd is paranoid that any of them might try to escape or help Rita is any way.”

“Lord Zedd treats them like janitors, but Goldar might treat them as minions, or co-conspirators,” Jason said. “If Lord Zedd is still not recovered from that blow that Tommy gave to him the last time we saw him, Goldar may have taken the reins... and I don’t think Zedd knows anything about it. At least for now.”

Zordon frowned. “It is true... I have not been sensing the same power bursts from the Moon Palace... as if the plans were relying on something other than Zedd’s power. My attention has been elsewhere, so I didn’t think to pursue that line. You have caught my error, Jason.”

Jason scratched his head. “It’s still only a theory. I could be wrong. And Lord Zedd could take things over at any minute. I don’t think Goldar can keep all this a secret for long.”

“So it seems like we should take care of this now,” Trini said. “Fighting Goldar has to be easier than fighting Zedd.”

Jason’s hand went to his chest, to where the scar still marked him when Goldar stabbed him, the twin scar on his back. “Not sure about that, Trini. Both Rita and Zedd are used to taking charge and making plans. Goldar’s a follower. I think things are going to get more dangerous. He’s playing with matches... and he won’t know when to shut things down when it gets too dangerous.”

“I’m afraid you’re right,” Zordon said. “We must defeat the monster, break the spell on all the civilians, and save the freedom fighters before everything turns wrong or Lord Zedd takes charge.”

“And we should proceed expeditiously,” Billy said, looking down at the readings on a console. “The monster seems to be fueled by the crowd’s devotion to Lord Zedd, and it’s sitting right in the middle of the rally at City Hall.”

“Where our parents are,” said Zack.

“Rangers, I believe you should make the freedom fighters more of a priority,” Zordon piped in. “Behold the Viewing Globe.”


“It moved again,” Adam said tensely.

Rocky closed his eyes. “Not much we can do about it. We can’t focus on that and get out.”

Aisha started trying to inch down the rock she was chained to. “I can almost make it, guys. If I get out first...”

“You run on,” Rocky said. “Try to get help.”

"Well, that’s not happening,” she said. “What I was going to say is that I can carefully kick the snake away and get you guys out... but I’m not really sure where to go from there.”

“We’ll have to take that as we go,” Adam said. “And I know I saw that snake move.”

It had been moving toward them, seeming to react to their struggles, though that might have been their panicked perception. It had seemed like hours, but though in the darkness they really couldn’t tell how long it had been. They were all hungry, and Aisha had to pee, but no one talked about any of that. Instead, they breathed, slowly working their chains loose, hoping against hope that their captor didn’t check up on them. They heard Putties outside... but they would have to wait until later to worry about them.

Finally, Aisha wormed her way down, scraping her arms and back all the way down. It hurt... but that was nothing compared to what would happen if the snake got to them. Immediately, she walked to the snake... perhaps too suddenly. The snake reared up. Aisha froze, her eyes wide, not daring to move.

“Aisha...” Rocky said in a low, slow voice.”

“It’s okay,” Adam said. “Aisha, just try to back up slowly. Keep breathing slowly.”

“Not sure if that’s an option, but I’ll try,” Aisha said. Keeping eye contact, she edged back, her feet scraping against the cave floor.

She felt rather than saw the snake move, but she was already shifting back on her feet and dodging to the side. It lunged at her, but she was already dodging to the side for a pile of rocks she’d spotted while she was still chained up. Miraculously, she hit the snake in the head with the third throw, and the snake dropped, stunned.

“Can I look now?” Rocky said in small voice.

“It’s okay,” she said breathlessly, still buzzing from adrenaline. “But we gotta get out of here.”

Aisha wasn’t sure if it would work, but she pulled at the chains anyway. They fell off the two boys.

“Weird chains. They react to outside pressure... but wouldn’t it have been better to just use regular chains?” Adam said.

“Something tells me we’re not dealing with the world’s greatest thinker, even if he could see through us at the beginning,” Rocky said. “Come on, let’s...”

There was a crackling sound, and the air seemed to shimmer around them.

“Got a bad feeling about this,” Aisha said.

Adam reached out experimentally, but his hand met a barrier. He cried out and withdrew his hand, shaking it. “Some kind of barrier!”

The three fanned out, trying to find an opening. They yelled whenever they hit the barrier.

“It’s all around us!” Rocky said.

He was about to yell something else, but Aisha clapped and hand over his mouth, her eyes wide.

Rocky and Adam knew in a minute why she did. The force field had enclosed them, all right... along with the snake. Who was waking up.


The Viewing Globe was now showing a sort of split-screen: the rally at City Hall with their parents and the monster, and the freedom fighters, now worse off than they were before.

“Right,” said Jason, his voice trembling. “We’re going to have to split up. We need to take care of all of this now.”

“I’ll help Aisha, Rocky, and Adam,” Kimberly said.

“I’ll go with her,” Billy volunteered.

Jason shook his head. “We need you to counteract the device that’s putting a spell on the town.”

“Trini can do that,” Billy countered. “She’s much more versed in magic-technology hybrids. And if you really need me, I’m just a teleport away.”

Jason knew they didn’t have time to argue. “Fine. Call for back-up if you need it.”

Kimberly and Billy nodded, and then morphed away.

“I’m patching the device into the Command Center computer,” Trini said, “and we’ll be able to morph and track it with our helmets. It’s on the edge of town.” She adjusted the Viewing Globe to show the area.

“Right around a platoon of Putties,” Zack said. “That’ll make things trickier.”

“But not impossible,” Jason said. “Let’s do it.”

Before they could move, the alert sirens sounded.

“Um… why are they going off?” Zack said. “It’s not like we don’t know we’re in trouble.”

“Sh…” Trini said, intent on the Viewing Globe, which now showed the rally at City Hall.


City Hall silenced all at once, the people turning toward the Unity Monster as if on cue. The parents of the Power Rangers turned with them, hoping against hope they hadn’t lost their chance.

The mayor stood next to the monster, adjusting a microphone on a stand. “Citizens of Angel Grove,” she said, “I thank you for such an impressive turnout. We’re getting reports that rallies just like ours are happening all over the city, but we have been honored by Lord Zedd’s representative, our own statue now turned to Lord Zedd’s service in our alliance for peace.

“It has told me that it will now tell us why we are all here, what we can do to help achieve peace. We have surrendered. We have stopped the Power Rangers from continuing their violence in our city. But it’s not enough. Please, Unity, speak to us.”

She slid the microphone in front of the monster, but it had no need. Its voice carried through the building, out into the stairs and echoed through the night sky.

“Lord Zedd believes you have resisted too long,” the monster said. “The monster demands sacrifice. Sacrifice of the innocent, as means to bind you to him. Sacrifice of your children. All children under the age of 18 will be brought to this location by tomorrow at dawn. They will join the three warriors you’ve already sent as servants of Lord Zedd.”

The monster’s words rung in the air, but there was no longer silence. There was a murmuring. As the parents of the Power Rangers stood frozen in horror, the rest of the citizens, for the first time… began to look uncertain.

“But why would he…”

“All the children?...”

“What does he mean by sacrifice?”

The children and teenagers in the room were looking wildly about, preparing to dash for it if anyone made a move toward them.

The monster’s eyes flashed once, twice, and…

“HAIL LORD ZEDD! HAIL LORD ZEDD!”

The Hall erupted in a fervent chant. Apparently the spell had been dosed up… by a lot.

Mr. Scott gripped the knife in his pocket. “We have to act now,” he said under his breath.

Mr. Kwan grabbed his wrist. “No, we can’t. It’s too dangerous.”

“Yeah, dad, I think this rally has turned into a mob,” Kristen said. “The monster will probably turn them all on us before letting us get to him.”

“They’ll come up with something,” Sylvia said. “They’ve saved us before, and they will again.”


The pronouncement had been magically filtered to every rally site, and probably throughout the rest of Angel Grove. Skull stood next to Bulk in the crowded high school auditorium. For a moment, Skull had stared at Bulk in shock, who was shocked in turn. It was only for a moment, though.

“If Lord Zedd demands our sacrifice… we’re happy to make it!”

It was one of Bulk’s football friends who had yelled that, and Bulk cheered along with the rest.

Like hell I’m going to sacrifice myself, Skull thought, but he couldn’t voice that thought. He was surrounded by teenagers who, very suddenly, had decided to march to their death, or whatever Zedd had planned.

The best hope they had were the Power Rangers… but even they couldn’t cover all of Angel Grove. They probably had to go where the monster was, and couldn’t be everywhere.

Skull gulped. He couldn’t let them leave the building. He had to do something about it… he glanced at Bulk… alone.


Jason, Trini, and Zack stared at the Viewing Globe in horror.

“That… that…” Zack stuttered.

“We won’t let it happen,” said Jason. “I don’t care who’s attacking us, Zedd or Goldar, and I don’t care what it takes. The monster’s gone too far.”

“Then let’s get the device,” Trini said, and they teleported out.


Goldar gripped the edge of the balcony, his grip being the only thing keeping his knees from giving way and his body from crumpling to the floor.

This was too far… it wasn’t supposed to go this way…

He had completely lost control of the monster. It wasn’t responding to his mental commands, wasn’t even acknowledging him. He wasn’t even sure what the monster was pulling power from.

But he knew what the monster was planning. It wasn’t planning to capture the children, but to murder them. Or, more accurately, to incite the adults to murder them.

He had three choices. One, he could go down and fight the monster himself, possibly try to gain control of it back.

Two, he could make it easier for the Power Ranger to defeat the monster. He just had to tweak a few things, and he had faith they could pull through.

Three… he could ask for Lord Zedd to help. Admit to what he had done, beg for mercy, and ask him to take control of the situation.

Goldar glanced nervously at the chamber door where Lord Zedd had shut himself away.

“Option two, then,” Goldar said, and called up the Putties around the device… while forgetting completely about the three teenagers he had prisoner in a cave.


 

Tommy was completely obvious to everything going on outside. He removed his shirt and let Alpha fix the sensors to his chest.

“Are you sure you’re ready, Tommy?” Alpha said nervously.

Tommy laid back on the lab table. “Not sure, no,” he said. “But we’ve got to try. And Zordon thinks it will work. I trust him.”

Alpha nodded. “Right, Tommy… close your eyes. This may feel strange.”

Tommy closed his eyes, heard a switch click… and the world went white.

Chapter Text

Brighter Paths

Book 1: New Light

Chapter 5: Pink

Kimberly and Billy teleported into the midst of a squadron of Putties. They barely had time to prepare before they were facing three attacks at once.

Kimberly breathed slowly as she tried to keep up with the attacks. Their power upgrade had given them more of an edge in fighting these souped-up Putties, but it was still hard, exhausting work. They still had to endure sharp pain and a drain of power every single time they hit the chest Z and incapacitated one... by which time there was usually another to take its place.

In the meantime, the cave was completely inaccessible, and for all Kimberly knew the snake could have already turned one of them. Her new friends had little chance of escape without her help.

Taking a chance, she launched herself in the air. She had always been able to outjump the other Rangers, her years of gymnastics adding agility to her Ranger powers.

The problem was, the Putties were high jumpers as well, and one met her in the air, pulling her down to the ground. So... no bypassing. They would have to hack their way forward.

"Billy!" She used the in-helmet communication system to keep her words from the Putties. She didn't know how intelligent the Putties were, but these were usually better able to understand their shouted plans than Rita's had been. "Use your lances and see if you can cut your way through to the cave entrance. I'll try to thin the Putties around you with my bow."

"Affirmative, Kim," Billy said. His voice sounded almost mechanical, something Kimberly always noticed happened when Billy was concentrating hard. He brought the same concentration and methodical energy to fighting as he did to working on his inventions and projects.

Kimberly's own style of fighting, she knew, was much more haphazard... but with infinitely more style. She grinned and drew her bow. "All right, Putties... time for some archery practice. You guys be the dummies."

Even though the situation was desperate, Kimberly dimly realized she was happier than she'd been in a long time. Almost feeling like herself.

 

---

 

The hilltop was crackling with an energy that was decidedly not natural.

Other than that, it was completely silent. Trini could see the footsteps in the dirt that marked the recent presence of Putties: the feet with no markings and without the tread of shoes. Just smooth imprints.

There was no sign of Putties, though she, Jason, and Zack were at alert for them. Only an electronic buzz and crackle in the air that seemed to intensify as they reached the zenith of the hill.

"Well, this is ominous," Zack said. "Shouldn't there be a castle and bolts of lightning streaking across the sky?"

"That's the last time we let Billy pick movie night," Trini said.

"There is a castle... and lightning... on the moon," Jason said. "Let's get this shut down before our personal Frankenstein decides to get involved."

"So you still think it's Goldar doing this?" Zack said. "Why do you think he's doing all this? Why would Zedd let him?"

"Dunno," Jason said. "Still officially don't care. Goldar's clearly lost control of the situation. I don't think he's the type to order child sacrifice."

Trini, not paying attention to the rather pointless conversation, finally spotted what she'd been looking for: where the Putty tracks vanished. She expected the Putties would not want to get close to whatever this was. "There, guys. I'm going to try to get closer. See if I can disable it."

"Or I could just shoot it." Zack already had his axe out, ready to switch it to cannon mode.

"Zack, there's too much energy being thrown around here, and we have no idea what that will do, and will you stop trying to just blow up everything?" Trini said patiently.

"I thought you loved that about me?" Zack smirked.

"Is this what it's going to be like in Switzerland?" Jason said, suddenly aware that his future plans included his friends, who were now very much a couple. "Trini, do your thing. Zack... be ready to shoot just in case."

Trini edged toward the device. It was tiny, barely a black glint against the grassy hilltop. Yet the grass around it was starting to sizzle and brown. It was obviously quickly becoming unstable.

She crouched beside it, allowing her helmet to access the scanning equipment in the Command Center. Confirming Jason's theory, the device had all the markings of Finster's design: three buttons, with no indication of how to operate the buttons, and one dial that could either adjust the intensity... or just blow them all to hell.

Bypassing the buttons, she found the catch that led to the inner workings of the device. It was that crazy combination of magic and technology that she'd worked with ever since becoming a Power Ranger... but she still never could quite get used to it. The magic made the technology inexplicable. The problem was, magic made technology redundant. Magic did everything, the technology was there for human… or alien, she considered… interface. She wasn't even sure how to shut the magic down, as shutting down the tech would just deprive her of that interface.

"Maybe if I can redirect it…" she said, and started to work.

 

---

 

People were starting to filter out of City Hall. They were headed off to pull their children from their beds, from their babysitters, from their spouses who had stayed at home, from various other activities and gatherings... all to bring them back. For sacrifice.

Sylvia watched them go, ice forming in her stomach. They had to do something. She was picturing her own students brought forth kicking and screaming to the monster's clutches. She'd seen little Tyree's mother leave already. Tyree, who acted tough, but had cried when he'd left his permission form to go on the field trip, and his mother had left work to bring it to him.

"It'll take them a while to hunt down their children," Mr. Scott muttered under his breath. "Until then... what the hell do we do?"

They all clasped their weapons, and Sylvia felt the device she'd taken from Billy's lab heavy in her purse. They knew that if there was a time to attack, it was before the children got there. They couldn't risk any harm coming to them.

"I can't still pass for a kid, can I?" Kristen suggested. "Try to turn me in to get in close?"

"You're 19, Kristen," Mrs. Scott said fondly. "No, you can't pass as a kid anymore."

"Can we get in close without drawing attention to ourselves?" Frank said.

"Maybe we should draw attention to ourselves," Mrs. Kwan said. "Give them something to focus on other than child sacrifice."

"Dr. Taylor," a loud voice interrupted their whispered conversation.

The group turned, casting side-long glances at Dr. Taylor, who had crossed her arms defensively while trying not to show her nerves.

"Yes," she said curtly, taking in the name badge, "Lieutenant Stone. Can I help you?"

Lieutenant Stone's eyes held that slightly-glazed look that everyone else seemed to have. He didn't quite blink as often as he should, though his eyes were narrowed in slight suspicion.

"I was just wondering why you were still here... or has your husband gone to get them."

Sylvia gasped, and Judy, Kimberly's mother, clung to Frank spasmodically in sudden realization. Dr. Taylor, however, still looked confused and more than affronted at being approached like this.

"And just what is my husband supposed to get?" she said icily.

"You have four boys, don't you?" Lieutenant Stone said. "Zack can’t be a sacrifice, as one of the ambassadors, but Marcus, Jamie, and Byron are eligible." He glanced over at Frank and Judy. "Mr. and Mrs. Harris, you need to bring Kevin along as well." His eyes narrowed even more. "Or are you not loyal to Lord Zedd?"

The parents froze. Dr. Taylor's eyes were wide in shock and anger. They had been so focused on helping their older children, they hadn't even thought of the danger their younger children were in.

There were people gathering around, murmuring. The monster at the head of the room was starting to take notice of the situation.

"Sergeant," Stone barked at another officer, "take the Harris's and Dr. Taylor into custody, and radio backup to track down their..."

Lieutenant Stone didn't have a chance to finish his orders, as the muzzle of something that didn't look like a gun, but looked just as dangerous, was pointed straight at him.

"Sorry, officer," Sylvia said, "but you're not taking anyone into custody."

She motioned with her head to the others, who all pulled out their own weapons and started backing out of City Hall slowly.

"Doesn't seem like the plan's going too well," Mrs. Scott said tightly under her breath.

"We run to my house," Dr. Taylor said. "Protect the children. Kristen, back-up.

They all shot her looks, then nodded. They needed to lead the mob away from the children, who were currently at Sylvia's house, while seeming to lead the mob straight to them. Kristen clutched the communicator. Just as they'd decided, she would try to slip away and call for help.

After clearing the steps, they ran, two policemen and several men in hot pursuit.

 

---

 

It wasn't until Billy's helmet switched over to night vision that he realized he'd broken through the gauntlet of Putties and made his way into the cave. He could hear Kimberly still outside, battling the Putties and keeping them from charging in after him. She would be exhausted after this. He would have to work quickly.

He picked his way through the cave, the rocky entrance tunnel forming its own defense. He could hear muffled yells toward the back of the cave. They were in danger...

He ran until he saw light again, from a candle stand in the middle of an open room, and a glowing forcefield now holding three former freedom fighters and one increasingly agitated snake.

The three were trying to dodge the snake, distracting it each in turn. Their moves were impressive... but they were beginning to slow and tire.

Billy hesitated to say anything, as he didn't want to distract them and thus slow them down anymore, but one of them--Adam--spotted him first.

"It's a Power Ranger!" he yelled at the rest, mid-dodge.

"It's about damn time!!" Rocky said.

"Get us out of here!" Aisha said.

Billy wasted no time on words. Making a quick assessment of the forcefield, he determined that its weak point lay at the base near the candle stand... the only possible power source for the field. He wavered between attacking the field or the power source... The loss of power would solve the problem quickly, but it might also cause a feedback of power. Disrupting the connection between the field and the power source sounded much safer.

"As soon as I get the field down, run to the entrance," he said, "but don't completely leave until I follow or the Pink Ranger gives you the okay. If I'm not out in five minutes, tell the Pink Ranger to come after me."

The snake would follow them. Of course it would. He would have to give it another target.

He drew his blade blaster, locked it into blaster mode, and carefully shot three short bursts in quick succession at the base of the forcefield directly across from the candle stand.

The forcefield shimmered and sparked, then flickered, then finally died.

"GO NOW!"

The three teenagers launched themselves toward the cave entrance, Aisha's ankle barely missing one of the snake's lunges. Billy aimed his blaster and fired... and missed. And missed again. The snake seemed preternaturally able to avoid the blasts. Or maybe it was just fast.

It was keeping pace with the teenagers. Billy would have to intervene.

Ignoring his better sense, Billy launched himself at the snake.

 

---

 

Trini didn't realize how tense she was until a hand gripped her shoulder. Her body was so tense she was trembling, and she realized the litany of curses she'd thought been in her own mind she'd actually been vocalizing.

"That bad, huh?" Zack said softly.

A deep shiver went through Trini's body, and she realized that part of her problem was she was being affected by the negative energy surrounding the machine. It wasn't just electric; it was emotion. Anger, paranoia, hatred... the air was thick with it.

"I can't shut it down," Trini said softly. "It's self-perpetuating by now. The machine is affecting the people's emotions, which is in turn powering the machine... sort of like that machine that powered Cyclopsis. Only now..." she gestured around vaguely. "It's everywhere. And the monster ties the whole thing together. A vicious cycle."

"So what do we do?" Zack said.

Trini threw her arms in the air. "Hell if I know."

She realized Zack was leading her away from the machine. She gritted her teeth. She hadn't been able to shut it down. She was the last hope, and she'd failed. But she knew hovering over the machine wouldn't do her any good.

"You know," Zack said, "maybe we should just go fight the monster. It's easier when we have something to punch. Get it away from the civilians. It's not like there's much more it can do against us now."

"Only three of us. I don't like the odds," Trini said. "We haven't heard back from Billy and Kimberly, so we have to assume they're still rescuing the freedom fighters. But, still, it may be our only plan."

Jason had been silent, and the other two suddenly realized that. They looked at him. He was staring at Angel Grove from their vantage point on the hill.

"Jas?" Zack said.

"Maybe... in some ways... they're right," Jason said, more to himself than to the others.

"Uh... Jas?" Zack said. "We might need to get you away from this machine. It looks like it's turning you bananas, too."

Jason shook his head sharply. "No... Not losing my mind. It's just, I think we've been going at this the wrong way. We've spent the past few months just learning that words... that diplomacy... must always come before violence. Never strike if you can talk. Never force if you can reason."

"That's fine for debating social issues," Trini said. "But... this is..."

"We're not fighting monsters here," Jason said, his voice becoming surer. "We're dealing with people. People who need to be reminded that they're people... and one person who needs to be reminded that he has a choice."

"So... we're going to... talk?" Zack said.

"Not as Power Rangers," Jason said. He demorphed, his face showing hope and determination. "As ambassadors."

 

---

 

As the children and teens started milling out, Skull knew he had to keep everyone in there. He was sure that they would eventually be saved by the Power Rangers… but how eventually that was he had no idea. In the meantime… well, he just had to do something.

“Hey… HEY!!” He started yelling at the top of his lungs, hoping they would pay attention to him and not to their own insane hypnotic suggestions or whatever it was forcing them forward into the jaws of death.

Skull reminded himself to write that down later. That sounded cool.

“Skull, shut up!” Bulk said. “I dunno what’s gotten into you, but we’re all ready to sacrifice ourselves, so there’s no use yelling.”

“Oh, YOU shut up for once, Bulk!”

That got people’s attention, at least from people who knew Bulk and Skull. No one had ever heard Skull talk like that to Bulk.

Bulk definitely hadn’t been expecting it. His eyes lost a bit of their glazed look as he stared at Skull in surprise. “You got something to say to me? Say it.”

“OKAY!” Skull shouted desperately. “Maybe if you stopped to THINK for a second, you’d know this whole thing is STUPID! But NO! The great Farcas Bulkmeyer knows all, doesn’t he?”

Bulk’s face started to turn red with anger, but it was a different kind of anger from when he’d attacked Skull before. This anger seemed more… real. Skull was starting to wonder if some of his own words were real, beyond just his desperate attempts at a distraction.

“The hell do you mean, Skull?” Bulk said slowly, dangerously.

People had stopped leaving. They were not all staring at Bulk and Skull, and even the ones who didn’t know the two could sense that something significant was happening.

“I mean,” Skull said, finally deciding on a tactic other than lashing out, “that Lord Zedd wants children. How the hell are we children? Like, how are they defining children?”

“We’re still minors,” Bulk said.

“He didn’t say ‘minors,’” Skull said. “He said ‘children.’ Not teenagers, with driver’s licenses and less than two years to go before being able to vote. We’re sixteen… practically adults.”

“We’re still in school, though,” Bulk said.

“Not compulsory,” a girl in glasses, one Skull had seen hanging around Billy and the other science nerds. “I would never think of doing it, but we can quit school by now.”

“Well, where’s the cut-off, then?” a younger boy said. “I mean, I’m fourteen. I’m a teenager and I’m in high school. Would they even accept me?”

“Oh, come on, anyone under 18 is a minor,” came a shout from the crowd.

“In this country,” someone else said. “Not in all countries… and this is an alien from space. Who knows who he thinks are children?”

Bulk had started arguing with the 14-year-old, and Skull took the opportunity to edge away from him. He’d never spoken to Bulk like that before, and he didn’t know how his friend would react. He saw, with satisfaction, that everyone seemed more interested in arguing over who was eligible to sacrifice themselves than in actually sacrificing themselves.

That would maybe keep them… until the monsters came to take them anyway.

“C’mon, Power Rangers,” he said under his breath. “Whoever you are. We don’t have much time.”

 

---

 

The Command Center was dead silent. Zordon and Alpha were nowhere to be seen, and completely cut off from the chaos happening in Angel Grove. Unable to answer Kristen's distress call.

"Alpha!" Kristen called into the communicator desperately. She could see the mob searching for her and the rest of the families. Their plan to lead the mob to the Taylors' house had fallen through when they'd all gotten scattered in the dark.

"Alpha, please, come in!" Kristen said. "Big scary head guy... anyone up there! We're in danger. Look, we know we shouldn't have, but we tried to fight when the Rangers couldn't, and it didn't turn out so well. We need a teleport out... or something!"

Only static greeted her desperate pleas.

She almost threw the communicator down in frustration. "Look, the families of the Power Rangers are in danger. The least you can do is..."

She couldn't finish her statement. As soon as the computer picked up the key words "families," "Power Rangers," and "danger," it acted automatically, teleporting them all, based on life signatures, to the safest, most heavily guarded house on Earth: Billy's house.

Kristen blinked as she and the parents found themselves crowded into Sylvia's living room. Mr. Taylor, Zack's brothers, and Kevin looked up from their game of Clue.

"I take it things didn't go so well?" Mr. Taylor said. "Do we need to run?"

The others looked at each other, non-plussed... but before they could answer, there was an enormous grinding, clanking sound, and the walls vibrated.

Sylvia hesitantly peeked behind her front window curtain, half-expecting to be surrounded by a mob. Instead, all she saw was a giant metal wall, one that curved up and over the house and went around as far as she could see.

"Well," she said, "it seems my son decided to install a giant metal dome as a security measure around this house, because he just doesn't know how to do things by halves."

"I think we just got benched," Mr. Scott said.

Sylvia carefully shouldered her bag, ready to put the weapon back in the lab where she found it. "That seems a good enough description of what happened. Who wants tea?"

 

---

 

Kimberly had almost limped her way to the mouth of the cave, the scores of Putties thinned to a manageable few, when Rocky, Adam, and Aisha burst through the darkness.

"Are you all okay?" she said, kicking a Putty in the Z as she did. It exploded into pieces and disappeared.

The three stared at where the Putty disappeared. "Do they have self-destruct buttons on their chests?" Rocky asked. "Doesn't seem very smart."

Kimberly shook the tingles out of her leg where the energy had hit her. "It hurts like hell to do that. It's meant to wear adversaries down, and there's always plenty more Putties to replace them. So… it seems you guys are all right. Where's the Blue Ranger?"

Aisha's eyes widened. "He's back there... with the snake. You'll probably need to help him."

"On it," Kimberly said. She handed Adam her communicator. "Get back the clearing around the cave, and press the middle button to teleport out of here. I'll come for the communicator later." With that she disappeared into the cave.

Adam looked down at the communicator. "That's weird... this looks kind of familiar."

Rocky wasn't paying attention. Instead, he was eyeing the Putties. "Once we disappear, those things are going to go after the Rangers. We can outrun them... but it sounds like the Rangers are going to have their hands full without Putties in the mix."

Adam and Aisha were already in fighting stances. "So let's return the favor and completely ignore everything the Pink Ranger said," Aisha said.

Rocky grinned and crouched into his own fighting stance as the Putties drew nearer. "The Putties don't get past this door until the Rangers come out."

 

---

 

Kimberly sprinted through the cave, desperate to reach Billy… and she almost missed him. Her stomach dropped. He was lying on the floor, a snake attached to his neck.

Time slowed. She drew her blade blaster and locked it into blaster mode. The snake disintegrated at her carefully-aimed blast.

“Billy?” she said in a small voice.

She dropped to her knees beside Billy. He wasn’t moving. Inside the helmet, she couldn’t even tell if he was breathing.

She remembered the specs on the snake. It turned people evil. Two possibilities. Either Billy would awaken fully loyal to Lord Zedd… or he had resisted too much, burning out his brain and making him a mindless monster. Both possibilities made her want to scream.

All these thoughts raced through her mind in the few seconds it took to take off his helmet, and then take off her own. In the cold light of the forcefield generator, still glowing from the overturned candelabrum, she see Billy’s too-pale, writhing face. Dark lines radiated from the neck wound.

She didn’t exactly know what to do. Trini would, she knew. But she knew that the venom was hurting Billy—magical, corrupting venom—and it had to get out of him. She’d seen it on TV, and she didn’t have time to ask if it was the right thing to do… She lowered herself onto his neck and began sucking out the venom.

Kimberly worked as quickly and carefully as she could. She knew the venom could affect her as well, especially if she accidentally swallowed it. She carefully spit out each mouthful of venom and blood, too scared and determined to even gag from the taste. After every few pulls, she studied Billy’s face, hoping to see the dark lines go away. They were receding, but slowly. First close to his eyes, then retreating past his nose…

When the first vision came, she almost sucked a mouthful of venom down her windpipe, and she spluttered and she spit it out. She was in the cave, and then she was sitting on Lord Zedd’s bed, leaning in to his waiting arms.

Then she was shooting an arrow at Zack, laughing at his scream of pain.

Then she was staring coldly at Skull from a clothing store in the mall as he tried to convince her that she was good.

Then she was shooting her bow, and listening to a death-scream behind her as it was deflected.

She knew it was all in her head. All memories of some of the worst things she’d done while under Lord Zedd’s spell… with the exception of the last one. That was before the spell, when she thought Tommy had… when she thought she’d killed…

“Kimberly!”

She felt herself being shaken, and she realized she’d closed her eyes. She opened them, and Billy—face still pale, but black lines gone—was hovering over her. She smiled weakly, and then turned her head to vomit. Nothing came out. As she gasped, Billy holding her hair back, her eyes focused on two syringes.

“You… you gave us Trini’s serum?” Kimberly said after she regained some of her breath.

“I always carry some with me,” Billy said. “We were both pretty weak. You…” He cleared his throat, and Kimberly smelled the tang of vomit, showing that he’d done more than dry heaved. “You saw…”

“I saw,” Kimberly said. She wondered what Billy had seen, what visions had paralyzed him.

Billy laughed weakly and scrubbed his face with his hands. “I must admit, I was offended before when Trini, Zack, and Jason spoke of the dangers of ethical corruption. I suppose their fears were not so greatly exaggerated.”

He was diving head-first into Billy-speak, Kimberly noticed. Pretty sure sign he was freaking out. “Billy, we’re not evil.” She started to get to her feet, but thought better of it. “We’re not going to become evil. Zedd and whoever else can throw as many potions as they want to, we’ve overcome every one.” She smiled. “We’re what we choose, not what we’re forced into.”

She shook her head slowly. “That’s… that’s something that took me a while to deal with. I… I thought, out of all of us, I was the one that chose evil. Tommy got put under a spell: he was forced, and he didn’t even know what he was dealing with. Billy, you got put under a spell, too, by Rita… even if it was only temporary. None of you made choices, but I did. I chose to take the spell. I chose to become Zedd’s servant.”

“But you didn’t,” Billy said.

Kimberly smiled. “I know… I guess, I’ve come to know that. I mean, I was manipulated right from the beginning. Zedd kidnapped my brother. Zedd made sure I thought I killed Tommy. He let me think I was calling the shots…” She swallowed back some bile. “He called it building a relationship.”

“Then what happened?” Billy said tentatively.

Kimberly smiled. Everyone had given her space, not asked her about her time serving Zedd. It was really nice of them… and enabled her to wallow in her own guilt and pity.

“He tried to make me into something I wasn’t.” She laughed. “I guess that’s what he was doing the whole time, but that time he went too far.” She remembered him presenting her with the voluminous pink dress of Rita Repulsa and shuddered. “But… that’s something even I can’t bring myself to share. I don’t serve him anymore, but that’s something that I think would be better as his secret.”

Billy nodded, seeming to be thinking of things other than Lord Zedd’s secret. “For me… You’re wrong, Kimberly. At least with me. I chose evil, but it was so much worse. It wasn’t a spell or a manipulation. It was my choice. I chose to make a monster.”

He started shivering, and Kimberly knew then what Billy had seen in those visions. So much had happened since Billy’s clone Will had terrorized them all, and she’d been so preoccupied with her own worries and guilt, that she had almost forgotten. She had not quite forgotten, however, the terrorized looks in Tommy’s and Trini’s eyes after they’d been freed from their clone torturer, who they had thought was Billy.

“Billy, mistakes aren’t evil. They’re mistakes,” said Kimberly. “I know that clone got in your head… but he didn’t have your head, as much as he liked to claim he did. The clone was cruel and selfish and destructive and everything that you’re not.”

Kimberly squeezed Billy’s hand, and they shared a moment of silence. She wasn’t sure if he believed her, but he wasn’t shivering anymore. The cave was quiet, and even the echoes of the visions were retreating. Kimberly was starting to believe her own words, words that people had been saying to her for weeks, but she hadn’t been listening.

When the chance had come, they had all resisted evil. They had all made the hard choices, and had come out better for it. They had gone through the fire, and they hadn’t been burned up; they had been forged anew.

After a few moments, Billy seemed to come to his own conclusions… or at least put them off for now. “I suppose we’ll need to join the others. The hostages are safe?”

“I sent them with my communicator and told them to run away.” Kimberly and Billy shared a look. “So I guess we need to see how they’re faring on the Putties.”

There was a clatter of running footsteps, and Kimberly and Billy looked at each other in panic. Their helmets were across the room where Kimberly had shoved them, just out of reach. They scrambled for them… but not before the footsteps came to a halt at the mouth of the cave.

“Rangers!! Are you o... ohhhhhhh,” Rocky trailed off, staring at the two Rangers who had definitely not gotten their masks on in time.

“Um…” Aisha said, “The Putties are all gone. I mean, they disappeared. We fought a little, but you were right about hitting the Z’s.”

“We… probably won’t need this, then,” Adam said, awkwardly handing Kimberly back her communicator.

“So… Kim…” Rocky said. “You’re a Power Ranger.”

Kimberly closed her eyes, her brain throbbing right at the temples. She looked over at Billy. “You notice we really suck at secret identities lately?”

 

---

 

Goldar held onto the balcony, feeling like he was going to fall to the ground any second.

That might have been a good idea. Just jump off the balcony. If he fell right, he might be able to achieve a fatal injury… or at least get knocked out for the next few months.

Anything to get out of facing what he knew would happen. It was getting out of hand. Lord Zedd was sure to come through those doors any second.

He’d finally noticed the hostages… just as the Blue and Pink Rangers had saved them, and he hadn’t even been able to corrupt either of those Rangers with the snake, which had died rather pathetically at the Pink Ranger’s blast.

In the meantime, the rest of the Rangers had decided to give up on the device (which was beyond his own control, as was the monster), and instead of fighting… they’d decided to talk.

To talk. To spout some peaceful mumbo-jumbo. As if that would do shit all.

He watched as Jason, Trini, and Zack—not the Red, Yellow, and Black Rangers, as they weren’t even morphed—fanned out to the various rally sites. Jason took City Hall, Trini took the one at the ocean boardwalk, and Zack took the one at Addams Park. The one at the Youth Center, Goldar noted, was currently being protected by one of those foolish leather-clad classmates of the Rangers, and Goldar couldn’t even begin to understand why that one—Head? Brain?—was not being affected by the spell.

One more thing that was going wrong.

Goldar ground his teeth. Instead of doing what they did best—fighting the effing monster—the Rangers had decided to pretend at peaceful conflict resolution.

“They’re all doomed,” Goldar muttered. “And it’s not even fun anymore.”

He realized he now had two more choices, since he couldn’t rely on the Power Rangers: he could inform Lord Zedd, or he could fight the monster himself. He cursed under his breath. Perhaps Finster had something he could use.

Turning toward Finster’s lab, he stopped dead. Lord Zedd was standing there, staff in hand, a light red aura surrounding him and permeating the rest of the room.

“Don’t leave,” Lord Zedd said with a deceptively light tone. “I want you to hear this.”

Goldar started to stammer out… something. An apology? A justification? Pleas for mercy? Nothing seemed right.

But Lord Zedd held up a clawed hand. “Silence. Turn around… I will make watching easier for you. You will not have to use your screen.”

With a click of his staff, Lord Zedd projected three screens, one for each rally point currently being addressed by a Power Ranger. At each point, the crowd had gone deadly silent. Then all three began talking, and Goldar could understand each one, probably owing to Lord Zedd’s magical intervention.

“I want you to watch, Goldar. Watch and understand how ill-suited you are to conquering worlds. For these Rangers… they are about to defeat you with words alone.” His voice dropped. “Watch… and then you will have a choice.”

Goldar shook, but he did as he was told. He watched, and listened.

 

---

 

Trini climbed onto a platform at the board walk, currently surrounded by people. The crowd was silent. They’d turned their attention to her immediately, recognizing her as one of the ambassadors, and were obviously expecting their next set of orders… or at least some directly. After all, there seemed to be no children here, which was either fortunate… or ominous.

Trini focused on breathing, trying not to think of how far-fetched this plan was.

The crowd was mainly young adults, slightly older than her. Young couples, entertainers that frequented the board walk, people who worked in the heart of the city who came to unwind in the bars in the little entertainment district… In other words, they were young, idealistic, progressive.

“I’m here to talk to you about peace,” Trini began.

A man in an artfully ripped t-shirt ran up to her with a microphone and a mic stand, and Trini realized this platform was usually a stage for a band. She nodded at him gratefully and continued.

“I’m here to talk to you about peace,” Trini repeated. “We’ve been using that word a lot today. Trying to achieve a peace treaty with Lord Zedd. Seeing the Power Rangers as the enemy of peace. Holding rallies for peace… and sacrificing children, all for peace.

“We’ve been thinking of peace as this ideal, as something intangible that we can reach if we just want it hard enough. If we just demand it. At the same time, we think of peace as an absence. An absence of war, of violence, of conflict.”

There were several nodding heads in the audience. Trini took a breath. She’s said the easy part. Now for the turn.

“I thought that myself. I’ve been seeing peace as the absence of fighting. I’ve come to think of any fighting as a corruption… and I’ve been dead wrong.”

There was some murmuring, but no one interrupted her. Taking a quick breath, she forged on.

“If any of you know me, you’ll know I’m a martial artist. I’ve been one ever since I was a small child. In learning martial arts, I have not learned the art of fighting… as the name implies… for the art of peace. Of control. Of understanding and discipline. I’ve learned that withholding the fist can hold more power than acting on violence… but I’ve also learned to use what force is necessary.

“That’s the problem. Peace is not intangible. It’s not an absence. Peace is something we do. It’s how we treat each other. It’s allowing for the freedom of conflict, and the opportunity to cooperate. The peace that has been proposed with the treaty with Lord Zedd will not bring peace. Oh, it might end conflict… at a dear cost. If we ally ourselves with Lord Zedd, we only bring tyranny, an oppressive dictatorship. There will be no conflict… but there will be no peace.

“And we’ve already had violence visited upon us in the interest of peace. The children, ripped from us, sacrificed to an intangible concept. An idea with no substance.”

Trini sighed. “I can do little to change your mind. I can only urge you… allow the Power Rangers to fight for you. To retrieve the children. To preserve peace.”

Trini looked out at the crowd. Their eyes had turned cloudy and confused. Trini wondered if she’d had any effect on them.

 

---

 

Zack didn’t have a mic. He didn’t need one.

“I’m not here to talk about peace,” Zack began.

He regarded the confused looks around him. Addams Park was in the poor part of town, and the people surrounding him were mostly people from this neighborhood. He remembered living here, before his mother had gotten the tenure-track position and while his father was out of work. The area had gotten cleaned up since then, but back then it was dangerous to go out at night, and when the police came it was only to give someone a hard time. Yes, things had changed… but that mistrust was still there.

“You all may talk about peace… or, really, hear other people talking about peace, but you know in your bones they’re not talking about real peace.

“You know what kind of peace they’re talking about? The kind of peace that means that no one stands up for themselves. The kind of peace in which everyone just… maintains. The kind of peace that means that you all send your kids to City Hall.” He paused, glaring around him. “Yeah, that kind of peace.”

“It’s all for the greater good!” someone from the crowd shouted.

Zack rolled his eyes and laughed. “Yeah, and I’ve heard that before. We all have. But you know what happens when something is for the greater good? Someone has to pay the price. And guess who usually pays the price.”

He paused for effect. “Take a look around if, if you want to see what kind of peace you’re buying with your children. Take a look at Addams Park here. This used to be the center for the community. I remember going to barbeques here… before the community center was torn down and never rebuilt. Yeah, it got run down, but it was still here. Part of this place. This is, until Putties decided to burn it down. The woods that used to be here? Gone. And if it weren’t for the Power Rangers, there wouldn’t be anything left.

“But trees are growing now. Those trees didn’t come from Lord Zedd, City Hall, or even the Power Rangers. They came from you. They came from a desire for you to build a place where you children could play… because no one else is going to give a damn about this place… about those children… but you.

“So, go ahead… buy your peace. But peace like this—peace from a dictatorship—that’s not peace for the likes of us. We’re the first who have to pay, and we’re the first who have to go. Peace for us… only comes when we can fight for it.”

There had been some yelling at first, but then everyone had gone quiet, their eyes cloudy. Zack stared at them, unsure of what to do, but not wanting to leave them just in case Zedd decided to cut the mind games and actually attack.

 

---

 

“I’m here to talk to you about choice,” Jason said.

The mumbling immediately silenced. Jason stared out at the room around him. He didn’t know what the others were dealing with, but all his instincts told him to immediately morph and start fighting. The room was packed with people. The monster was there in the corner, immediately behind him. He could hear the voices of children in another room, and he was relieved they hadn’t been taken to the Moon Palace… or worse.

“It’s funny, this whole thing started this morning not about peace, but about choice. About the choice that was taken away from Angel Grove more than a year ago. The choice of how to respond to Rita Repulsa.

“You remember, of course, what it was like then. Earthquakes, monster attacks, Putties attacking everyone… Rita never gave us a choice to maintain peace. She came on a peaceful day and destroyed all of that… until five people made a choice.”

He paused, still feeling the monster’s eyes boring into him. He would have to tread carefully here.

“Five people—the Power Rangers—who are so obviously people of Angel Grove. Who saw their home threatened and decided to do something about it. Who continually choose to put on that uniform and face the threats that no one else can. Who sacrifice their own safety, and who knows what else, for the safety of everyone… for Angel Grove… for the world. Rita wanted… and now Zedd wants… the world, but they all started with Angel Grove. Not because of the Power Rangers, but because… well, we don’t know. But they started here. It’s maybe been too long, but we all have to remember… the monsters came first.

“And now we have a choice. You think you’ve made one… you think you’ve made the right one… but allying with Zedd, and I use the term alliance loosely, because let’s face it, what we’re really talking about is enslavement. It’s all about giving up the ability to choose.

Their eyes clouded over. Jason heard the monster shift. It could turn ugly soon. It was time to switch tactics.

“But right now none of you can choose a thing. When I said I was going to talk about choices, I wasn’t talking to the people of Angel Grove. I wasn’t even talking to Zedd. I was talking to the one who caused all this… who now has a choice.”

 

---

 

Goldar stumbled backward at Jason’s words. The three had stopped speaking at the same time, and he had heard all of it. While Goldar didn’t give much stock in words… somehow those speeches seemed to have disrupted the effect of the device over the people in Angel Grove.

He could feel Lord Zedd behind him, watching him, as Jason continued.

“Look, I know what you were doing, and it was a good plan,” Jason said. The people around him were oblivious, completely spaced out, so Jason seemed to be ignoring them, ignoring the monster even, and addressing Goldar directly. “But it’s obvious this whole thing spun out of control. You’re a great warrior, you’re a frankly terrifying foe… but you’re no child murderer. It…” Jason seemed to search for the words, “lacks honor. And I know you’re an honorable man. So now’s the time to give up. Stop the device, before you do something you can’t walk away from.”

“So that’s the choice, Goldar,” Lord Zedd said, his voice calm, but Goldar knew that could change in an instant. “Continue on this path, and I will give you my support. We’ll turn the children, or kill the ones we don’t need, and we’ll salvage this plan. Or… you could relinquish control. As the Red Ranger implied, there are some things you can’t walk away from. At least…” Zedd chuckled deep in his throat, “not whole.”

Goldar closed his eyes, the seconds stretching to eternity. So this was what it was like. This was what Empress Rita and Lord Zedd went through when they tried to conquer... when they were bested by circumstances beyond their control.

Except it wasn't. They would already be figuring out a way to use this to their advantage. Goldar, on the other hand, couldn't think. He liked simple plans, quick results. He'd tried to think like Rita, and he'd failed.

He couldn't go this far. He'd killed before, many times, and he'd thought of himself for so long as a destructive force. But...

He couldn't take responsibility. It had been so long since he'd been the one to make a decision. He worked for others.

He worked for Lord Zedd.

That was all well and good... but he still didn't know how to shut the whole thing down. Everyone thought it was a matter of him just pulling the plug, but he'd long lost control of both monster and device. The spell was self-perpetuating now. The Yellow Ranger had shown that the device no longer responded to manipulation. The only thing that seemed to make a bit of difference was those speeches from the Rangers, and that was...

Damn. Emergency vocal shut-down. Standard in all of Finster's designs. He should have remembered earlier.

"Device shut-down protocol: activate," Goldar said in a dull voice.

The effect was instantaneous. The people on the screens broke out of their trance as the device deactivated. The monster in City Hall, separated from his power source of the emotions and single-mindedness of the people of Angel Grove, sagged in the corner. The device on the hill sparked once and died.

Goldar barely registered any of that, though. He closed his eyes and slumped to the floor as his body was wracked with pain, lightning from the Z-Staff hitting him over and over. Goldar welcomed it.

And, as suddenly, it was over. "Get to your feet," he heard behind him.

Goldar got to his feet unsteadily, using the railing to haul himself up. He couldn't look at Lord Zedd. He'd made his choice... and now he had no idea what the consequences would be.

 

---

 

Kimberly, Billy, and the three former hostages teleported into a deserted Command Center.

"Okay..." Rocky said, "this is officially the weirdest thing I've seen all day."

Aisha gave him a look. "We've seen a whole town suddenly lose its mind, a big golden monkey take us hostage, and a snake that was going to turn us evil. And you're weirded out by a room full of computers?"

"A deserted room full of computers," Adam commented.

Kimberly sighed. "Not sure what Zordon's doing, but I want you guys to hang tight. We can't put you anywhere in Angel Grove... or anywhere else... until we know no one's going to come after you. It's not safe in Angel Grove as it is. Billy, can you tell what's going on? Where's Zordon and Alpha?"

Billy had been tapping away at a computer console as soon as they had teleported in. "It seems that Zordon and Alpha are in another part of the Command Center... some sort of hidden lab." He squinted at the read-outs. "It's a place I've never seen, and I've studied the schematics of this place quite thoroughly." He sounded vaguely insulted.

Kimberly was at another console, pulling up the external security and focusing it on Angel Grove. "Looks like the monster's still down there, but it's depowered... no Putties..." she looked up with a smile. "The spell seems to be broken. Everything's gone back to normal. The others did it."

"Affirmative," Billy said, still distracted by the read-outs from the hidden lab.

Kimberly rolled her eyes and hit her communicator. "Kimberly to Jason, come in."

There was a few seconds of silence, and then Jason's voice came through the speaker. "Jason here. Glad to hear your voice, Kim. Hostages safe?"

Kimberly glanced over at Rocky, Adam, and Aisha, who were looking avidly around and trying to be quiet. "Yeah... they're safe. We've got to talk about something when you get up here, though. How's everyone else?"

She pulled Jason up on the Viewing Globe. He was demorphed and at what Kimberly recognized as City Hall, in a dark corner. "Spell's broken, as you can probably tell," he said. "We each took a rally site and sort of talked everyone into confusion, and then I think I talked Goldar into giving up the plan. I got off the stage and mixed in with the crowd as soon as everyone started waking up." He looked around. "Looks like we're dealing with widespread memory loss. At least, confusion. I think people are too horrified that they were ready to sacrifice their children, so they're purposefully forgetting."

"Ah, the famous Angel Grove defense mechanism," Billy interjected.

"Looks like," Jason said. "I'm not sure, but I don't think that there's anything else to do, so I'm tele..."

He stopped, his eyes grown wide. The Viewing Globe refocused to the middle of the room. People were starting to point and scream as Lord Zedd's face materialized into thin air.

"There is to be no peace," he began. "That is true. I am here to conquer... to destroy. And so you all don't come away with false notions of me..."

"Dammit," Jason said into his communicator. "He's taken control of the damn monster."

The alarms began flashing in the background, the siren blaring throughout the Command Center. The three freedom fighters jumped and clapped their hands over their ears, but Billy and Kimberly kept working: Kimberly monitoring the security, Billy trying to figure out how to contact Zordon.

"That's not all," Kimberly said. "We've got Putties at the three other rally sites... including the one at the Youth Center, which is currently unprotected and full of teens."

"I've got children to worry about here, too," Jason said. "We'll try to round up civilians. We'll need to do the mass teleport we did last time."

"We'll need Alpha for that," Billy said.

"It'll get done, Jas," Kimberly said, not wanting Jason to worry about the absence of Zordon and Alpha. "We're spread pretty thin right now. I'll get to the Youth Center, and we'll try to regroup as soon as possible.

Jason didn't answer. Kimberly saw on the Viewing Globe he was already morphed and fighting off Putties from attacking civilians.

"Billy, if you can't reach Alpha, you're going to have to start teleporting people. Start with small groups, and see if you can narrow down to only humans." She pulled out her power coin. "I'll take care of the Youth Center, but be sure to get the small children out of City Hall first."

"I should be fighting," Billy pointed out.

"Fighting will do no good if we lose people. Protecting people is our number one priority, especially since that who Zedd is targeting."

Billy nodded, and Kimberly moved to morph into action... only to be blocked by Rocky.

"You need fighters?" he said. "We can help."

Kimberly scraped her hair out of her face with one hand. "No... I'm sorry... but you can't. You guys need to stay up here."

"That's ridiculous," Aisha said flatly. "You already said you're spread thin, and you're right. You need extra help."

"We've already been fighting," Adam said quietly.

"And almost died. Or got turned evil," Kimberly said. "If you went down there right now, you'd all immediately be targets, and we can't save you again. Also, you're not strong enough to fight the Putties. We are. Leave the fighting to us."

Before they could object, she morphed out of there, leaving Rocky spluttering in indignation, Aisha furious, and Adam sullen.

"And don't start in on me," Billy said. "I've been benched as well." He huffed in frustration. "Maybe this will..."

Suddenly, a white door opened up. Startled and suddenly off-balance, as the door opened literally at his feet, Billy fell in, and the door closed.

Rocky, Adam, and Aisha looked at each other. "Was... was that supposed to make sense?" Rocky ventured.

 

---

 

Goldar looked at the screens in distaste. Now four screens, the new one showing the chaos at the Youth Center. This wasn't a plan. This wasn't conquering. This... was punishment.

"Goldar, as you seem to be impatient for action of late," Lord Zedd said, "I wish you to lead the attack on the Youth Center. Hurt... even kill... as many people as you like."

Goldar looked up in shock. He'd been waiting for the additional lecture, for more pain, for punishment... even to be fired... but this was not what he expected.

"My lord," he said, "I... those..."

"Are children, yes," Lord Zedd finished for him. "You've spent more than a year fighting children. You seem to have forgotten how young the Power Rangers truly are. Since you seem to have developed a reluctance for wholesale destruction, we'll have to break you of that. So do as you're told."

Goldar set himself. Was this about him going soft? Or about testing him on his convictions? Or... more probably... pure sadism? "My lord, I would gladly attack the Power Rangers. I would join the fight with the monster... and I would even attack any of the rally sites. But I can't attack those children. You can torture me with your staff as much as you want."

The room grew redder, and Lord Zedd seemed to grow more dangerous. "Oh, but it will not be you who will do the suffering. As the Red Ranger said... you are an honorable man." He turned away. "Finster, report to the throne room!"

Goldar's eyes went wide. "My lord... you can't mean..."

"I believe the old scientist aided you in your scheme. He must share in your punishment. I believe you mentioned... torture from my staff." The Z-Staff crackled with lightning.

Goldar glanced at the door to the throne room, but Finster's lab was far off. The doddering old scientist would take quite a while to get there. He was slow... old...

"He was acting under my orders... under my threats," Goldar said. "He really had no choice. It was all me. My responsibility. Punish me, if you're going to punish anyone... my lord," Goldar ended carefully.

Lord Zedd laughed once in derision. "I am not going to facilitate your noble self-sacrifice." The room flashed even redder. "You are not noble. You are not honorable. You are a soldier... a tool, but for me to use or discard as I wish. Since you had the presumption to do more than you were worth, I am merely reminding you of your place." He raised his Z-Staff. "I believe I hear the old man's steps coming closer. Shall it be a minute of pain? Five? Twenty?"

Cursing, Goldar teleported away. Seconds later, Finster emerged through the doorway. "You summoned me, my lord?" Finster said in a steady voice. He seemed to know what might happen to him, but he showed no fear.

Lord Zedd waved his hand dismissively. "Nothing, now. Though if you ever conspire without my knowledge again, I shall make sure you suffer beyond your wildest imagination."

"Understood, my lord," Finster said, and began shuffling away.

 

---

 

Billy touched down on a glowing white floor. The air around him seemed to vibrate.

"I must have accidentally accessed..."

His voice echoed harshly in the silence, startling him.

"...the hidden lab," he finished in a whisper.

"Vitals are remaining steady," a voice drifted from below, and Billy recognized Alpha's voice. "The bonding is almost complete, though the mental connection is still in process."

"We must wait for him to wake up on his own," Zordon said. "Any interruption could be disastrous... though I would prefer if he'd hurry. Lord Zedd has taken control of the fight, and the Rangers are desperately outnumbered.

Billy could see a vent in the floor, and he bent over it. Below him, through the slats, he could see Zordon on the far wall, Alpha scooting between two consoles, and...

It was a Power Ranger.

Billy gaped. It was hard to see in the brightness, as every surface seemed to glow white, but he could see the gold markings on the helmet, and a black and gold breastplate. The Ranger was lying motionless on the table.

Suddenly, something clicked in Billy's mind. His breath catching, he launched himself on his feet and ran for the stairwell to the lab. If this was who he thought it was... and it had to be... he wanted to be the first to see him.

 

---

 

Tommy was in that odd space where he was trying not to scream, and wished he could scream.

There wasn't pain. Not really pain in any sense that he had ever felt it. It was as if he had lost all sense of himself, but at the same time he was painfully aware of his own body, every inch of it. He could feel blood pulsing through his veins, electricity in his skull

I sing the body electric... he could hear his father's words, as he's read his favorite poem aloud. His father... he'd had a dream about him the previous night. They were in a hospital room, playing cards like they usually did in the afternoons, and his father's voice had joked, but he couldn't quite remember the voice, couldn't quite remember what he'd said. But then he'd wandered off, and he'd lost track of him, and oh, god, he missed him so much it hurt sometimes...

He remembered waking up tied to a chair in the Moon Palace throne room, fighting against the panic and fear and confusion, not knowing what he was fighting against, but understanding that everything around him was draped in significance that he could not quite know yet, with voices telling him whom he should serve...

He remembered waking up in a cell, raging at being denied the presence of his empress, the need to be near her burning through his system like a drug, pushing him to strike back at the people keep him from her, those people who were now his friends...

He remembered dying, or something like it, being sent to hell and hopping through dimensions in a time that never was, could never be again, as he fought his way back home and used power that his body could not possibly process...

He could remember those times. Those times were significant. Had left their scars across his mind, his soul... scars that left ghostly pains that were usually pushed down, now literalized in this white world in which he was trapped. He opened up his mouth, but nothing happened.

He could remember the pain, but had forgotten how to exist. He felt like he was losing himself, losing his mind... If he lost the ability to recall, what was he?

I can't do this, he thought. I'm broken... scarred... damaged... I can't... can't...

Just when it felt too much, just as the white threatened to suffocate him... he suddenly breathed cool air.

He remembered why he was there. Why it was important. What he had agreed to.

He remembered the words his father had said.

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

It was time. Opening his eyes, he stepped into the light.

Chapter Text

Author’s Notes: What? There’s a new chapter out, and it hasn’t been several months? What’s she thinking? Actually, I got inspired, I’m looking at a few months of crazy ahead of me, so I decided to get this chapter out so as not to leave on a cliffhanger. Cheers!

 

Brighter Paths

Book 1: New Light

Chapter 6: White

The battles raged all over Angel Grove. The term “battle” was a generous term. There was no strategy, no higher plan. Lord Zedd merely wanted to cause violence and chaos. To punish, not to conquer.

That made it more dangerous, Jason reflected.

He had his sword out, hacking away at the Putties but careful not to touch their Z’s. Not only did he need to keep up his endurance, he knew that the weapon would cause a power feedback which could hurt someone. And there were far too many people around him for his comfort.

Thankfully, there were a few police officers and emergency workers who were trying to help evacuate everyone. The problem was, no one could reach the roomful of children, and the monster was closest to that.

“Red Ranger!” A police office called from across the room. “All the exits are blocked! If you can clear a path to the back rooms...”

Of course. Right where the monster was. Well, he knew he needed to engage the monster anyway. “Right!” he called out. “Get everyone to the right wall!”

A few minutes, and miraculously the people were all out of the line of fire. Jason judged the trajectory as best he could, spun a Putty around, and cut its Z as he did.

The reaction was instantaneous. The usual burst of power, instead of exploding toward Jason, exploded outward, knocking down a swath of Putties. Their Z’s were hit, and many more broke apart and caused their own energy feedback. Soon, about half the Putties were gone, and the other half were lying on the ground.

Jason couldn’t believe that had actually worked.

Not sparing the remaining fallen Putties a glance, Jason launched himself at the monster, who had turned toward the room of screaming children.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Jason said. He tackled the monster toward the left and placed himself firmly between the monster and the remaining people. “Now!” he shouted over his shoulder.

He could hear the trample of footsteps behind him, but he couldn’t look at them. He had to turn all his attention to this monster.

It’s not going to be enough, he realized. They needed help. “Rangers!” he yelled into his communicator as he countered the monster’s attacks. “I need situation reports!”

“Pretty swamped right now, Red Ranger!” Zack said through his helmet. “I’ve got Putties at Addams Park! They’ve got us trapped in what’s left of the woods here!”

“Same here at the board walk!” Trini’s voice answered. “They’ve got us against the dock!”

“Trapped in the Youth Center now!” Kimberly said. “Blue Ranger, you got those teleporters ready?”

“Why isn’t Alpha taking care of that?!” Jason said furiously.

“He’s not there!” Kimberly said.

“What do you mean he’s not there?!” Jason said.

“Um... hello? You guys need some help?”

Jason took a blow to the stomach as he lost his rhythm in the shock of hearing an unfamiliar voice. “Who the hell is this?!”

“I took the hostages I saved to the Command Center,” Kimberly said impatiently. “Adam, get off the comm.”

“Thought you guys would want to know that Billy disappeared,” another voice, the one that Jason recognized as Rocky, said. “And it’s not like we know how to work the teleporters... or anything up here. We’ve been trying to get the communicators working for the past ten minutes.”

“But we do!” This time, it was Jason’s dad’s voice on the comm. “We know how to work the teleporters, but we’re stuck at the Cranston house, and it’s currently shut off from the rest of the world with armor.”

“Got it!” came Sylvia’s tinny voice in the background.

“Was cut off from the rest of the world, I mean,” his dad amended.

“Right,” Jason said. He ground his teeth. He didn’t want to do this, but he had no choice. “I need a couple of you guys to go up to the Command Center, and take the kids with you, now that the house isn’t safe. The rest of you can divide up and teleport to City Hall, Addams Park, the boardwalk, and the Youth Center. We need people there to coordinate the teleportations and make sure there are no stragglers. Get everyone to the edge of town, just like last time.”

With that, Jason turned his full attention to the fight with the monster, and hoped they could regroup soon. He didn’t know how long he would be able to last.

 

---

 

Kristen and Mr. Taylor appeared in the middle of the Command Center, with Kevin and Zack’s brothers in tow.

Kristen immediately moved to the console that controlled teleportation. “Okay, we’ve got the Lees going to help Jason, the Kwans helping Trini, the Harris’s helping Kimberly, and Dr. Taylor and Mrs. Cranston helping Zack.” She looked up in desperation. “That’s only two at each site. Not much help... and who are you?”

Rocky, Adam, and Aisha were standing near the Viewing Globe, shifting uncomfortably. “Well... Kimberly told us to wait here.”

Mr. Taylor grinned. “It’s good to see all of you! We could really use the help right now.”

Aisha looked uncertain. “And you know us... how?”

Mr. Taylor’s grin didn’t falter at all. “No reason! Don’t know you at all. But we could use all your help on the ground.”

“I’ll take Addams Park,” Adam said. “Seems fitting.”

“I’ll take the boardwalk,” said Aisha.

“Youth Center,” Rocky volunteered.

“Leaves me with City Hall,” Mr. Taylor said. “Boys, you’ll be okay without us?”

Kevin rolled his eyes. “We’re not gonna destroy anything... we should be helping anyway.”

“Help by watching the Viewing Globe,” Kristen said. “Let me know if anything new pops up. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for Zordon, Alpha, and Billy until everyone is ready to teleport.”

She teleported the four down, wishing that she could join them, but understanding she had actually gotten the more difficult job. If she couldn’t find anyone else, she would have to coordinate teleporting the entire city of Angel Grove, pretty much by herself.

Kristen dove into the security records, hoping to find some indication of where Billy had gotten to.

“Uh... Kristen?” Marcus, the eldest of Zack’s brothers, said. “You said to tell you if anything was different?”

“Yeah, Marcus?”

Kevin beat him to it, though. “Goldar’s at the Youth Center.” There was venom in his voice; Goldar had been the one who had kidnapped him weeks ago.

Kristen’s face went pale. She didn’t have time to look for any help. She had to start teleporting, or people would get hurt.

 

---

 

Kimberly nearly dropped her bow when she saw her mother, Frank, and Rocky all run in the door.

“What are you doing here?!” she yelled, forgetting that she wasn’t supposed to know them: she was surrounded by her classmates at the moment, so keeping her secret identity was a bit trickier.

“We’re going to help get the civilians out,” Frank said. “Red Ranger’s orders.”

“It’s dangerous... oh, never mind,” Kimberly snapped as she tried to keep up with the fight. “Bulk and Skull and some others grabbed up the youngest, but you can...”

There was a flame, a flash of gold, and then Kimberly realized Goldar was standing in the middle of the Youth Center.

“Hurry,” she said. “I’ll hold him off.”

Taking out five Putties at once, ignoring the pain from the power feedback, she launched herself at Goldar. She lashed out with her bow, using it as a club since she couldn’t shoot any arrows for fear of hurting anyone. He blocked just in time with his sword, and sparks flew.

“Did you enjoy it, Goldar?” Kimberly said as she blocked one of his attacks with her bow. “Playing emperor for a day? Had fun threatening kids?”

“Don’t think you can know my motivations, Pink Ranger,” Goldar growled. He sliced his sword sideways, catching her on the chest.

She rolled out of the way, with only a small black mark on her uniform to show for it. “Right...” she smirked. “Lord Zedd found out, didn’t he? That why he send you down here? As punishment?”

Goldar’s attacks grew wilder, and Kimberly figured she had hit a nerve. She dodged around his sword easily and aimed for the few gaps in his armor. Behind her, she could sense people leaving, and some yelps in pain as Rocky obviously tried to take on some Putties.

“It’s your fault, anyway,” Goldar said, his voice growing rougher and movements slower with every blow she scored. “Lord Zedd hasn’t been the same since you. You did something to him.”

Kimberly couldn’t help but laugh at what she was hearing. “You know, Goldar, you’ve always had a pretty screwed up point of view. Not only is that some pretty serious victim-blaming, you obviously have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Rocky being overtaken by Putties, and more Putties got past him in pursuit of her family and the rest of the civilians. She tried to disengage with Goldar to help Rocky and chase after the Putties, but Goldar grabbed her arm and threw her in the opposite direction.

“I may not want to chase after unarmed children,” Goldar said, “but I can keep you from helping them. You’re going to keep fighting me, Pink Ranger. I’ll make sure of it.”

Now blocked from the rest of the civilians, and not seeing Rocky at all anymore, she could only hope that her parents could get everyone to the teleport zone in time.

 

---

 

Trini stood on the lifeguard tower and kept a steady barrage of fire from her blaster, just to keep the Putties at bay.

Behind her, the civilians were grouped on the dock, with nowhere to go. It was dark, and the icy waters of the ocean below was not the best escape. Some had attempted it, but they’d quickly been rescued by other civilians, and Trini had ordered everyone to stay on dry land.

The problem was, she wasn’t going to be able to keep the Putties away forever. She couldn’t hit them on the Z, as the power feedback would inevitably backfire on her and the rest of the civilians. She had to keep aiming for non-lethal areas.

“Come on...” she said under her breath. “I can’t do this by myself.”

There was a shout from the civilians, and Trini at first thought the Putties had broken through her barrage... when she heard the motor of a boat.

“Everyone, get in!” a woman yelled. Trini’s eyes widened when she realized that was her mother’s voice.

She dared not take her attention away from the Putties, as they could just as easily board the boat with the other civilians if she let them, but she did contact the Command Center.

“Hey, Trini, Kristen here,” came the answer from the Command Center. “Still trying to work this teleporter, but I have to focus on City Hall and the Youth Center first.”

“Is that my mother in a boat?” Trini said.

“Yeah... and your dad... and some girl that I think was one of the freedom fighters from Haven. Oh, wait, the girl is getting off the boat and helping someone who fell in the water.”

Trini shook her head. Had her parents stolen a boat? “If they can get the civilians away from here, I can help you with the teleporter.”

She heard a sigh. “I just got the first group of kids away from City Hall,” Kristen announced. “I think I got the hang of this. If you get that area secure, I think you need to help at the Youth Center or City Hall. Jason’s dealing with a monster, and Kim’s got her hands full with Goldar, and there’s just as many Putties at both places.”

“Acknowledged,” Trini said. “Wait... Kristen... give me voice control of the security system.”

There was a pause, and Kristen said, “I think you have it. Try it out.”

“Computer?” Trini said. “Put a shield around the boat directly behind my location... now.”

There was a crackle of energy, and Trini knew she didn’t have long. A shield of that size and power would quickly drain their power reserves. Before that could happen, Trini deliberately started blasting Putties right on the Z.

She got the last one before the shockwave hit her. The lifeguard tower toppled under her, and she felt herself blown back to the ground. She looked back. The shield had held, though the shockwave was carrying the now full boat out to sea.

“Shield deactivate,” Trini gasped. She dragged herself off the ground, but she didn’t have much time to recover. Noting that her parents and Aisha had everything well in hand, she teleported to City Hall. She knew Kimberly could handle Goldar better than anyone could handle that monster. At least they knew how to fight Goldar. The monster was too much of a rogue element.

 

---

 

Zack quickly found out that Putties really hated having rocks thrown at them. Thankfully, several of the people around him were really good at throwing rocks.

“Protect the park!!” one man yelled.

Zack smiled grimly. When the Putties had attacked, the people could have run... but they didn’t. His speech must have put them all in a fighting mood. Or maybe they were just sick of people trying to take away what was theirs.

Suddenly, a whole group of Putties pitched forward, and then began scrambling over to the side. When one ran for the woods, it tumbled as its feet were swept from under it.

The smoke cleared, and Zack could make out Sylvia carrying a giant piece of equipment he’d seen in Billy’s garage. On one side of her was Adam, who was starting to fight away the Putties. On the other side was his mother, who was carrying a pipe and looked murderous.

“No, don’t throw rocks at them!” he yelled at the people around them. “Get over here!”

The three ran toward Zack, who blasted the Putties around them with his axe cannon, careful not to cause an energy feedback that could harm them. He looked up at his mother and the others as they came in, but they ignored him.

“Listen up!” his mother said in her loudest voice, which was saying something. “We’re all getting out of here! The Rangers can’t teleport us out of the woods en masse, so we have to move!”

No one looked willing to go, but one look at his mother with the pipe and Sylvia with the scifi weapon convinced even the most hard-core rock-thrower. Dr. Taylor left, and Adam and Sylvia flanked the crowd.

“Zack.” Kristen’s voice piped through the helmet. “I’m going to go ahead and teleport your group out of there. You’re going to need to join Kim at the Youth Center. Kim’s there by herself fighting Goldar and a bunch of Putties.”

“Will do,” Zack said. As soon as he heard the shimmer of teleportation, he looked behind him. They had all made it past the woods, and they were all gone. Hoping the Putties didn’t cause too much destruction, he left them. They had no more people to hurt.

 

---

 

Kristen was shaking at the controls, trying not to lose it. First, she knew she was now in control of coordinating the entire battle, and she had no clue if she was doing the right thing. Second, she knew that if she lost it, she would just scare the kids.

The Kwans were still with the people on the boat, but she’d teleported Aisha to the Youth Center to help Rocky, who was being pummeled by Putties. She had Adam join them, figuring it was best to keep that team together. Dr. Taylor and Sylvia, on the other hand, went to City Hall. They needed to get the children out.

Her hands shook. She had as many teleports off the mark than she had on. Right now park benches and telephone poles were miles where they should be, and she’d somehow managed to teleport the entire duck pond in Foley Park into the school gymnasium.

She gripped the console as she messed up one more time. Dammit!

“It’s okay, Kristen.”

She jumped at the cold touch, and then, grinning, threw her arms around the robot. “Alpha! Where the heck have you...?”

There was a crackle of energy, and Zordon appeared in the tube above them, to a chorus of “Cools!” from the boys.

“Quickly, Alpha,” Zordon said. “Continue the teleportation. And Rangers...”

Rangers?

Kristen whirled around to see two Power Rangers: Billy in his blue uniform, and... one that Kristen had never seen before.

“I’ve got City Hall,” Billy said. His voice sounded elated, far from keeping with the dire circumstances. Kristen started to take heart.

“Good luck,” the muffled voice of the Ranger in white, gold, and black responded. “We’ll end the fight at the Youth Center quick as we can and reconvene at City Hall.”

The two teleported out. Kristen stared at the empty space they left behind, lost for words.

“Mr. Zordon!” Byron, the youngest, yelled excitedly. “Was that a new Power Ranger?”

Kristen was surprised to see Zordon actually smile. He’d never done that around them. “Yes... and no, young Byron. You shall see.”

 

---

 

Zack ran for the crowd of people flooding out the service door of the Youth Center. He immediately spotted his mother and Kimberly’s parents pointing people to the right direction... the teleportation site, Zack guessed.

“How bad is it?” he asked his mom.

“Those three freedom fighters are trying to keep the Putties from us,” she said, as she shoved one teenager toward the rest of the group: he’d been trying to make a break for it on his own. “One of them is hurt, though, and I’m not sure how well Kimberly is holding up.”

“I’m on it,” Zack said. He jumped over the crowd of people and swung over their heads using the metal rafters above. There weren’t many people left inside, he noted with relief. He ignored the stragglers and quickly found the line of Putties, with five people holding them off.

Rocky, Adam, and Aisha were trying to fight the Putties off without hitting the Z’s. They were flagging, though, and Rocky looked like he was barely able to stand up, as it looked like the Putties had used him as a punching bag for a while.

None of that surprised him, though. What surprised him was Bulk and Skull had joined them. Skull had taken to hitting Putties over the head with what looked like the same metal pipe Zack’s mother had been using earlier. Bulk was using his football skills to tackle Putties and hold the line. Both of them, though, looked rather out of their depth.

Zack threw himself into the fray. He hadn’t fought many Putties directly, so he still felt fairly fresh. Focusing on ending the fight quickly, no matter what the cost to his own power, he spared no time and hit each Z right away, taking but ignoring each power drain as he did so.

Within a few minutes, they were all gone, and Zack sagged against the wall.

“Good work, guys,” he said between gasps of air. “Command Center, I’ve got five here for teleport. Can you get to them?”

“Hey, wait,” Aisha said. “We still want to help!”

“You’ve done your bit... all of you,” Zack said. “We can take care of the rest.”

He started to leave, knowing that Kimberly needed help, but he stopped when he felt a hand on his arm. He turned to see Bulk holding onto him.

“No one else is going to say it, and everyone’s probably going to decide to forget everything, but... we’re sorry,” Bulk said. “For how Angel Grove treated you, I’m sorry.”

Zack was glad he was morphed, because a pronouncement like that from Bulk probably would have knocked him down otherwise. “S’okay,” he said. “If it makes you feel better, it wasn’t any of your fault.”

The shimmer of teleportation interrupted any retort from the group of fighters, and Zack grinned behind his mask. In a day full of nasty surprised, that was probably the only good surprise he was going to get. He’d take it.

He broke into a run through the warehouse, leapt over the bar and the rail around the upper level, and landed on the mat in the gym area. Neither Kimberly nor Goldar had seen him, so Zack waited for a good opportunity to join. He found it when Goldar threw Kimberly to the side.

“All right, Goldar, you’ve had enough fun,” Zack said, as he flew at Goldar with his ax.

He thought that would be enough to get Goldar’s attention, but his attack blind-sided the warrior. Goldar knocked backward into a set of weights.

“You... you think this is fun, Black Ranger?” Goldar said through a broken voice.

Zack paused, stopping his attack. He remembered Jason’s theory, that Goldar had been behind the attacks. Lord Zedd’s announcement and attack--such a change from before--seemed to support this. And Goldar’s presence here...

This was Goldar’s punishment.

Kimberly limped over to Zack. “Is everyone out?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Then there’s nothing here for us,” she said. “Let’s reconvene with the others at City Hall. We’ve got a monster to fight.”

“You’re here to fight me,” Goldar growled.

Kimberly crossed her arms. “Why? You’re not threatening anyone.”

Zack held his breath. He didn’t know what Kimberly thought she was doing, but she certainly had an effect. Goldar, smoldering with rage, threw himself at them in a wild attack.

The two evaded him... but Zack realized they were both tired. Kimberly had been fighting Goldar, and he’d just been fighting Putties. Their reactions were slow, and Goldar was in a berserk rage. Zack tried to defend himself, but Goldar seemed intent on hurting them as much as he could. He left himself wide open to attack and didn’t even blink at the Rangers’ own attacks. He didn’t seem to care what happened to him, either.

Kimberly was down on the floor, not moving, when Zack realized he might need to teleport both of them out of there. He winced at a sword swipe that he was too slow to stop... when he heard a clang, and the blow never came.

He looked up. It was... it was...

“Another Ranger?” he said, his voice cracking in surprise.

Goldar didn’t seem to notice the difference in opponents. Zack took the opportunity to run to Kimberly. She had unmorphed and was still unconscious.

“Kim... wake up,” Zack said. Despite her condition, Zack couldn’t help but smile. Zordon had certainly been busy.

The Ranger was dressed in white, gold, and black, with white the predominant color. The gold on his helmet formed the design of a tiger, and he wielded a curved sword with a tiger head on the hilt.

Zack saw it because he was expecting to, but it took a few minutes for Goldar to realize what was happening... and who this was.

Goldar stopped mid-attack, his sword raised. “Tommy?” His voice was barely a whisper, a mixture of disbelief and hope.

The fighter flourished with his sword. “It’s okay, Goldar,” he said. “You don’t have to keep fighting. Zedd wanted this... wanted you to force our hand. He’s failed, though, and that’s not your fault.”

“It really is you, Tommy,” Goldar said flatly.

The fighter laughed a bit, and then shook his head a bit. Slowly, not completely dropping his guard, he removed his helmet.

“I don’t know who else it would be,” Tommy said. “Goldar, you don’t have to prove anything. Zedd wants us... he’s not going to waste a fighter like you on a suicide mission.” He smirked. “I look forward to a real battle with you.”

Zack prepared for another attack, but Goldar merely nodded and teleported out. It may have been a trick of the light, but his face seemed more... hopeful now.

When he disappeared, Tommy ran to Zack and Kimberly. “How is she?”

“Just knocked out... exhausted... and how the hell did you keep this a secret?!” Zack laughed and threw his arms around Tommy.

Tommy laughed. “I... we... didn’t think this was going to work. I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up.” He pulled something from his belt, and Zack realized it was syringes of Trini’s serum. He gave one to Zack, and then injected Kimberly.

Kimberly stirred and blinked, then rubbed her eyes. She stared blankly at Tommy’s grinning face. “I... I’m not dreaming, am I?”

“You’re not,” Tommy said.

“And... you’re really a Power Ranger,” Kimberly said, her voice still sounding a bit dazed.

“Yup,” Tommy said.

Zack turned away quickly as the two kissed enthusiastically. He immediately thought of Trini.

“Guys... don’t we have to be something?”

The two broke apart, Tommy steadying Kimberly to her feet. “Back to action, then?” Tommy said.

“For always,” Kimberly said.

 

---

 

Night had fallen, and the center of Angel Grove, once milling with rallying people, was deserted. Jason, Trini, and Billy had maneuvered the monster into the small square outside City Hall... not easily. It was strong. Stronger now that Zedd was controlling it.

“Everyone in the families and the three former hostages are in the Command Center. All other civilians are at the edge of Angel Grove, covered in a shield,” Kristen’s voice came through their helmets. “We can hold that shield for the duration of the fight... but it’s probably better if you guys kill the monster quickly.”

Jason itched to know why the freedom fighters were now given free run of the Command Center, but he held his tongue. “And where’s that backup?” he asked. “Zack and Kim still fighting Goldar?”

“Backup is coming, Jason,” Zordon interjected. “More than you expect.”

“What’s that supposed to...”

“They’re here,” Billy said, his voice almost laughing. “Sorry I didn’t get a chance to inform you sooner.”

Jason turned. Behind him, he saw the Pink Ranger, the Black Ranger, and...

“Hey, Red,” the figure in white said, his voice laughing.

Jason’s brain stalled. Trini gave a yelp or surprise.

“And what is that supposed to be?” the monster said.

The figure in white walked forward, his sword drawn. “I’m the White Ranger. And I think you’ve caused enough trouble today.”

Jason grinned behind his mask. It was Tommy. He’d actually done it.

“You heard the man,” Jason said, and the others rallied behind him. “Let’s end this.”

Before they could attack, something fell from the sky, and the white, multi-faced monster disappeared in a cloud of smoke, only to reappear towering over them.

“You have a Zord, I assume,” Jason said. He gripped Tommy’s shoulder, wanting further proof that he was there.

“May take me a second to call it,” Tommy said, “but yeah. You guys start without me, I’ll catch up.”

The five called on their Zords, feeling triumphant already. For the first time in a long time, they felt whole again.

 

---

 

Tommy grinned as he watched the Zords come together to form the Megazord. He’d never thought to see that from the battlefield again.

He turned over his sword and held up the hilt. “Let’s see how this works... What did Zordon call you? Baba?”

“It’s Saba, thank you very much, and you’re holding me too tight.”

Tommy nearly dropped the sword in surprise. The sword was supposed to work as his control over his Zord, so he would have the option to control it remotely, but he hadn’t realized it would be this... interactive.

“Sorry,” he said, “but do you think you can call my Zord?”

“It’s already on its way,” Saba sighed. “I called it when the monster grew large, since you were standing around gaping. Now, do I need to give you a tutorial, or are you just fine on your own.”

Tommy gritted his teeth. “Now, listen here. It’s not like I haven’t controlled a Zord before. Now give me command.”

“Right, fine, you’re the boss here,” Saba said.

Tommy nodded, then tapped into the psychic connection to the Zord. It was a bit trickier. When he’d gotten the Dragonzord (and subsequently used it to attack Angel Grove... not the best memory), he’d known exactly how to use it. There had been ancient instinct and knowledge embedded in the green power coin. This, though... he was the first to use the white power coin, the first to use this Zord, this sword... He was teaching it how to work, so he had to know it.

It was perhaps not surprising, then, when the White Tiger Zord reached the edge of the park and immediately flipped over.

He managed to minimize the damage by using the thrusters to keep most of the Zord off the ground, and started working to right it.

“I’ve had cooler entrances,” Tommy said to himself.

“Might need some help there?” Saba said. “Or is everything going just as you’d like?”

Tommy sighed as he wrestled with the controls. These new powers worked best when he was calm and focused. He was far from that right now. And... he supposed he could use all the help he could get. Saba not only provided the psychic link between him and his Zord, it was also a reflection of Tommy’s frame of mind. Apparently even Tommy realized he was being stupid.

“I guess we can work together,” Tommy said, and immediately the controls became easier, more intuitive.

“You know, as I am a reflection of your inner self,” Saba said as the Zord began to right and form into fighting mode, “you are talking to yourself and are therefore a crazy person.”

Tommy laughed. “I can live with that. Come on, we might need to control from the cockpit... at least at first.”

Tommy launched himself in the air and ducked into the head of the Zord, which had turned from a tiger to a humanoid fighter. He sheathed the sword into the control panel, giving Saba a more direct link to the Zord.

The Megazord had in the meantime pulled the fight from the center of town to the Rangers’ favorite place to fight, a long-abandoned quarry. “All right, Saba, let’s catch up.”

“I’m so glad that your new powers has not harmed your ability to state the obvious.”

Tommy ignored him and piloted toward the fight.

“Glad you could catch up,” Jason’s voice came through the speaker. “This monster literally has eyes in the back of its head... and the sides. It’s tough.”

“I’ll take the back, then,” Tommy said, glorying in the chance to fight with the Rangers once more. “If we can keep the monster going for a few more minutes, I can charge up my attack and we can take it together.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jason said.

Tommy launched the White Tiger Zord at the monster, who saw it coming but couldn’t do much to prevent the attack. As soon as he hit, he allowed the monster to start fighting him, while the Megazord scored another hit.

“Really? Zedd wants to play through to the end?” Tommy muttered. “Fine... Jas,” he said through the communicator, “I’m powered up. You guys ready?”

“As we’ll ever be.”

The two Zords maneuvered themselves to one side, now shoulder to shoulder. As the Megazord drew its sword and held it aloft, charged with power, the White Tiger Zord’s chest cavity glowed, power radiating from the mouth of the tiger ornament.

“Now!” all six shouted at once.

Tommy’s attack hit first, and as the monster writhed from the blast, the Megazord’s sword came down, obliterating the remainder. Within seconds, all that was left was smoke.

 

---

 

As soon as they teleported in, the room erupted in yells. This was far from the angry rallies of only a few hours before. This was in celebration.

Sylvia ran to Tommy first and practically knocked him down with a hug. He tumbled against a console, laughing.

“I’m sure whatever you did to get these powers was foolhardy and dangerous, but I’m so glad,” Sylvia said.

“I think we’re all interested in hearing how this happened,” Frank said.

While Sylvia had been tackling Tommy, with Billy on the outskirt wondering if he needed to rescue him, the rest of the families had gone to each Ranger. Kimberly was currently being held by her mother, who was practically sobbing at the fact that her daughter was finally smiling. They quieted down, though, to look at Tommy, who was starting to get rather uncomfortable under this new scrutiny.

“I can answer any questions, if everyone will simply let the Rangers breathe. They’ve been through quite a battle.”

All attention turned to Zordon (with very little additional breathing space given to the Rangers). They were first concerned that everyone was about to be kicked out, as Zordon had always been reticent about Rangers in the Command Center, but he was smiling, his voice amused.

“I’m sure you all... at least, most of you... know Tommy’s recent history,” Zordon began. “How his powers ran out, and how he sacrificed the remaining power he had gained from me to save lives, reset time, and foil Lord Zedd. Since then, and even before then, I had been working on a way to give him power, power that could not be compromised. Power that would allow him to be the hero he always wanted to be. Hence, the White Ranger project

“But it wasn’t without risk, as Sylvia remarked. I had never attempted to create a new Power Coin, and I believed none but their original creator Ninjor could do it. With Tommy’s help, though, we were able to create a model. Tommy, of course, had been a Power Ranger. He had the potential. He had also shown that he was adept at using different powers.

“Thus, he trained. He learned some of the skills the other Rangers knew intuitively through their powers, so he could teach his Power Coin. That’s what he’s been doing in his spare time: training, studying, and building up the skill set necessary before he morphed for the first time.

“Tommy is correct in his assessment, though, just as Jason was correct in his assessment that Goldar was the true mastermind behind the most recent attack. Lord Zedd allowed this to happen because somehow he knew what we were doing, and he wanted to force our hand before we were ready... and possibly kill Goldar for him. He has failed in both instances, I’m glad to say. We had to morph Tommy early, but he has successfully taken on the powers.”

“Helping my memory problems, too, huh, Zordon,” Tommy interjected.

Kimberly whirled around. “I thought you didn’t know you had memory problems.”

“Memory problems?” Sylvia said.

Tommy shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t... until I started bonding with the powers. They were a nice little side effect of dimension-hopping and trying to wield Eltarian powers.”

“You may still have lapses, Tommy,” Zordon said. “The power can help heal... slowly... and it will help more with battle situations that real life. However, I think you have admirable support. As for the rest of you...”

Zordon beamed at the rest of the Rangers, surrounded by their families. “You have done admirable work. All of you. I apologize for keeping this all from you, but none of us were sure if it would work, and this attack did catch us off guard. Jason, Trini, and Zack, your non-violent solution to the spell shows true heroism and a potential for greatness in your chosen paths... perhaps brighter paths than the ones you’ve walked until now. You acted as true peacekeepers and ambassadors. Even Zedd’s turn to violence rang hollow after the effect you had on the people of Angel Grove... and Goldar as well.”

“As for the rest of you... you all showed determination and self-sacrifice in your focus on saving hostages. Rather than preventing the Rangers from their mission, you’ve all acted in support and taken your own part in their mission: to protect Angel Grove, and to protect the world.

“Billy and Kimberly particularly risked their freedom to prevent what had been done to them happening to someone else. I refer, of course, to the snake with the corrupting venom, and their rescue of Rocky de Santos, Adam Park, and Aisha Campbell.”

Everyone had almost forgotten about the three, who had taken to standing awkwardly near the Viewing Globe at the back of the group. Now, though, they found themselves the center of attention.

Aisha smiled and raised her hand awkwardly at the silence. “Hi?”

“I have not forgotten your contributions to protecting the people of Angel Grove and helping the Power Rangers,” Zordon said kindly. “You put your lives on the line in sacrificing yourselves when you volunteered to be taken by Goldar, you threw yourselves into a fight that was not your own, and you helped the Rangers when they were over-whelmed. You’ve shown yourself to be true heroes... who now must hold additional responsibilities: the secret identities of the Power Rangers.”

“Oh, we would never tell anyone,” Rocky said. “Who would believe us anyway?”

“I appreciate your good faith,” Zordon said, “but that is not what I was going to say.”

The room seemed tense. Zordon had always been uncomfortable with the families knowing their children’s secret identities. Now, here were three unknown civilians. Yes, they had been freedom fighters in the time that never was, but that had no longer happened. They were now unknown quantities.

“Which is why I must make a few announcements,” Zordon said, his eyes twinkling.

The room was now dead silent. Only Tommy was grinning, knowing what was coming.

“As you all know, Jason, Trini, and Zachary have chosen to become ambassadors for peace, a life that must necessitate leaving their powers behind. They have served well, and they have shown themselves equal to the task today... but they leave behind large shoes to fill, particularly as there will now be no leader for the Power Rangers.

“It is my privilege to now appoint Tommy, the White Ranger, as leader of the Power Rangers, in...”

Zordon cut off at the loud cheer, started by Jason himself. Jason pulled away from his parents and grabbed Tommy’s hand. Tommy accepted the hand shake, his eyes wide, but Jason pulled him into a one-armed hug, then pulled away, still shaking his hand.

“I was so worried,” Jason said, “but I couldn’t have picked any better.”

“Thanks... Jas... I’m gonna need that hand back,” Tommy said, laughing. “And I don’t have to take over until...”

“Oh, you’re taking over right this second,” Jason said. “You’re gonna need the practice. Don’t worry.” His eyes crinkled. “I think we’re past jealousy.”

It looked like plenty of other people were ready to give Tommy hugs, but he held his hands up, calling for their attention. “In that case, Zordon, can I take over announcements?”

Zordon nodded, as relieved as anyone else over Jason’s reaction. “Go ahead, White Ranger.”

Tommy turned to face the three bewildered fighters. “Okay, it’s not an announcement. It’s a request, since it has to be your decision... more decision than I ever had, starting out.” Without explaining, he forged on. “Aisha... Rocky... Adam... You have fought our battles and proven yourself true heroes. I ask now if you would continue to fight, by our sides... as Power Rangers. Rocky as the Red Ranger, Adam as the Black Ranger, and Aisha as the Yellow Ranger.”

There was an eruption of applause, but Tommy held his hands out, asking for silence. The only ones who did look elated were Rocky, Adam, and Aisha.

“Power Rangers?” Rocky said. “Us? But...”

“You don’t know us,” Adam finished for him.

“We got ourselves captured,” Aisha said. “Almost got Billy and Kimberly killed... or worse. How can we be Power Rangers?”

Tommy smiled. “You’ve been on the list as potential Power Rangers for a long time... and unlike all of us, you were heroes before you were Power Rangers. I don’t think there’s anyone else who could succeed Jason, Trini, and Zack.” His grin widened. “And they’re tough acts to follow.”

“I urge you to meditate on it,” Zordon said. “Talk with the other Rangers. Gain their advice... but I ask you to swear to reveal nothing about the Rangers in the meantime, neither the identities of the Rangers nor their parents, to anyone. Can you promise me that?”

“I swear,” the three said, one after another. They looked rather overwhelmed by everything, so Tommy decided to shift the focus a bit.

“My second act as leader of the Power Rangers... I think it’s time for a celebration.”

This was left with genuine cheers that weren’t silenced. Kristen and her mother immediately started making plans to order pizzas--delivered to their house, but teleported to the Command Center. The Kwans and Sylvia decided to go to the grocery store to get all other provisions, while Mr. Lee and the Taylors immediately grabbed Rocky, Adam, and Aisha and steered them into the next room, the young boys moaning why the three didn’t say yes automatically.

Kimberly’s family lingered, still so happy to see Kimberly now looking more like herself. “I’ll be right behind you,” she said, shooing them away, and they left as well, leaving the Command Center to Zordon, Alpha, and the now six Power Rangers.

Finally alone, they realized they couldn’t think of anything to say. It had all been said, and they were just... happy. They’d suffered, and they were still facing the eventual leave-taking of three of their number, but at that moment, they were together. They were one.

“So... the three freedom fighters,” Zack said. He couldn’t stand silence. “Ever going to tell them what they did... or never did?”

“Maybe,” Tommy said. “Don’t want to freak them out too much.”

“It’s a little late for that,” Trini said, giggling.

“Well, it’s not like we can transfer the power now,” Jason said. “We still don’t have the sword to make the transfer.”

“But we know where it is... am I right?” Billy said. “I thought I saw something...”

“It is increasingly difficult to keep anything secret from you, Billy,” Zordon said. “Yes, we know the general vicinity. And we can now focus our attention on finding it. It will require an off-planet mission for all of you.”

Jason grinned. “I’ve always wanted to go off-planet... not to the moon, though. I’ve had enough of that place for a lifetime.”

“Ditto,” Tommy joked.

“I’ll third that motion,” Kimberly said. “And I don’t think we have to worry too much about those three. They’ve tried to fight like Power Rangers at every opportunity. They just don’t realize that.”

Jason folded his arms. “Not sure about someone new as a second in command, though. Rocky is definitely capable, and shows leadership skills, but...”

“Don’t worry, he’s not second in command,” Tommy said. “We need someone seasoned, someone who’s already been a Power Ranger and led the team. Kim?”

Kimberly looked at him expectantly, wondering what he was asking her. She didn’t know... oh...

“Me?” she asked flatly.

Tommy smiled. “Kim, you’re a natural leader. I didn’t see much of what happened today, but I saw that much. You’re a quick-thinker, and you know how to read people, and there’s no one else I would trust with this job.” He looked up quickly at Billy. “Billy, you’re an amazing fighter...”

“And not a leader, with no wish to be,” Billy said quickly.

He looked back down. “Kimberly, please say yes.”

Kimberly grinned. “If you put it that way... how can I say no. But if one of the others gets trained up enough, and you want to reappoint, then...”

“Kim, this isn’t a provisional thing, and it’s not because the others aren’t trained. It’s because you’re the right person for the job,” Tommy said.

Kimberly looked over at the others, a bit overwhelmed.

“He’s right, you know,” Trini said.

Kimberly blew out a breath. “Okay, then. I guess today is full of surprises.”

 

---

 

It was Saturday, and life in Angel Grove had gone pretty much back to normal.

The news had run a small piece on the brief town-wide insanity, blaming toxins in the water supply, but there was no mention of surrendering to Lord Zedd, of blaming the Power Rangers for anything, or of attempting to sacrifice the entire child populace of Angel Grove.

People adapted. Some didn’t remember. Some chose not to remember. As usual, repression was the preferred town-wide coping mechanism.

The six Rangers and the usual customers of the Youth Center showed up early on Saturday to help Ernie with clean-ups. Officially, the ninja tournament was blamed for getting out of control. As usual, didn’t matter. It was still a mess, and it was quickly cleaned up, Ernie serving free drinks to all the helpers out of gratitude.

Trini and Kimberly sat at the bar, watching Jason and Zack teach their class. Billy was still helping Ernie fix his juicer, with Ernie watching nervously on, and Tommy still hadn’t gotten back from taking the last of the trash bags out.

“I’m going to miss this place,” Trini said.

Kimberly cut a glance at her. “I’m going to miss you.”

Trini looked down, her eyebrows gathered.

Kimberly put a hand on her shoulder. “No... I didn’t mean...” She took a breath. “I know what you’re doing is right, and it wasn’t fair of me to lash out before. I just...” she smiled sadly. “I guess I’m going to miss my best friend.”

Trini smiled back. “It’s been a while since you’ve called me that.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve been myself,” Kimberly admitted. “I’ve been so self-involved, so wrapped up in all the stuff I’ve gone through... that... It used to be I could guess what you were going to say before you said it.”

“And what am I going to say now?” Trini said.

Kimberly blinked rapidly, realizing this conversation was taking a decidedly emotional turn. “That you’ll miss me, too?”

Trini was blinking pretty hard herself. “See? Haven’t lost the knack.”

They hugged, and then quickly tried to turn to brighter things. As they did, Tommy walked up, his hands smelling of bathroom soap.

“See? Didn’t forget to come back,” he said as he slid onto a stool beside Kimberly.

Kim rolled her eyes. “Your memory was never that bad... most of the time. Quit worrying about it.” She grinned. “It’s my job to keep you on your toes now, anyway.”

They were about to kiss, but then looked at Trini guiltily and pulled away.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Trini said. “You’ve never kept off each other; why start now?”

“But you could triple your speed,” Billy’s voice came from behind the bar.

“I don’t want to triple my speed, I’m fine with the speed I have now,” Ernie protested. “You’ve fixed the thing?”

“It works...” Billy said hesitantly.

“Then thank you, and other side of the bar now,” Ernie said, pushing him gently in the right direction.

Billy frowned as he joined the others. “Some people just don’t have vision.”

“I think Ernie had a vision of a kitchen covered in lemon juice... and he didn’t like it,” Kimberly teased.

Billy smiled good-naturedly. “That’s only if you were making the drinks, Kimberly,” he teased back.

Trini laughed along with the others, but smiled a bit wistfully. Kimberly perhaps hadn’t realized it, but she’d already gotten a new best friend in Billy. Trini was glad, even as she felt the sharp pang she was getting used to as she realized how much she was leaving behind.

The laughing was interrupted when Ernie, who had ducked into the back, appeared yet again, this time pushing a disgruntled Bulk and Skull in front of him.

“We were just taking inventory!” Bulk protested.

“Yeah, inventory!” Skull repeated.

“I appreciate the help, I really do, but I’m not letting either of you near the food stores,” Ernie said exasperatedly. “Now, wait there until I get you the LAST of the free drinks.”

Bulk and Skull sat at a table across from the bar, somewhat pacified with the promise of free drinks. After looking around, rolling their eyes at Jason and Zack’s class and sneering at everything in general, they finally noticed Trini, Kimberly, Tommy, and Billy sitting at the bar.

“Hey, Bulky,” Skull said, motioning with his head to the four, and then to Jason and Zack in the opposite direction. “You still think...?”

“What?” Bulk said. “Oh...” He laughed loudly. “Nah. I was crazy then.”

When they started laughing together, Kimberly finally bit. “Okay, guys, what’s the joke?”

Bulk pulled out a black handkerchief and wiped his eyes. “Just... when the whole town was all crazy before they decided to forget everything, I had this crazy theory that you guys and those down there,” his head jerked in the direction of Jason and Zack, “were Power Rangers, and I was going to turn you all in. Crazy, huh?”

The four laughed.

“That’s a pretty active imagination,” Trini said.

“Wait... you thought I was a Power Ranger?” Billy said incredulously.

Bulk shrugged. “Like I said, crazy. Come on, Skull... Hey, Ernie, could we get our drinks to go?” He got up and pulled Skull with him. “We still got a mission. We’re going to find out who they are, and we’re not going to figure it out if we’re just sitting around the Youth Center.”

“Yeah, sure, Bulky,” Skull said as they headed over to Ernie, who was happily putting their drinks into to-go cups, as it meant they were leaving. Skull, though, flashed a few significant looks at the four, enough to belie his disdainful laughter only moments ago.

As the two left, Tommy, Trini, Billy, and Kimberly vacated the bar and took the table furthest away from everyone else.

“Still never figured out why Skull wasn’t affected,” said Trini.

“Not affected by what?” Tommy said. “Remember, I wasn’t there for most of this.”

“Skull was not affected by the spell that affected everyone else... even Bulk,” Billy said. “Rocky, Adam, and Aisha were out of town and thus out of range for most of the spell, and our families were protected by the security on our homes, as well as the proximity to our power coins. But Skull?”

“I’d been worrying about that, too,” Kimberly said. “You remember I said I had a theory? Wait... I said that to Jason and Zack.”

“We remember,” said Zack. The class had broken up, and Jason and Zack walked up to the railing, toweling off. “Something about why Skull wasn’t was affected by the spell, right?”

“Right... so I checked last night,” Kimberly went on. “The thing about Skull always hanging by your locker is you end up with his hair somehow getting in your locker, so I collected some and had Alpha run some tests on it... which I cleaned my locker out completely, cuz gross, and the tests proved my theory right.”

The five Rangers stared as she paused for effect, so she went on.

“Skull has remnants of Power Ranger power in him. Specifically from the Blue Ranger.” She grinned at their dumb-founded faces. “That’s why he wasn’t affected by the spell. We weren’t affected, and neither were our families, for the same reason. That’s why I’ve been seeing signs that he kind of remembers what happened during those two weeks that got erased. See, he paints graffiti in his sleep, and he drew the word Haven on the side of the school the day after it happened.”

“Wait... how could he possibly have gotten my power?” Billy interjected.

“You gave it to him,” Kimberly pointed out. “After you saved me after...” she threw Tommy a sidelong glance.

“After I hurt you and shot Skull,” Tommy supplied. “It’s okay, go on.”

But Billy had already connected the pieces. “I... I infused him with my power. I had to, for the serum to work.” He frowned. “And he still has it?”

“Looks like,” Kimberly said. “Not sure there’s much we can do about it except keep a close eye on him. Especially during crises like what just happened. He’s already shows he’s willing and capable of helping people, but we don’t want him hurting himself because of that.”

“You know, you guys look super suspicious. You know that, right?”

The six looked over, startled, at Rocky, Adam, and Aisha, who were standing over them, smirking. They realized they’d been hunched over, listening to Kimberly’s whispered theories... and were probably calling more attention to themselves than necessary. They broke apart, trying to look casual.

“Very smooth,” Rocky said. “Very not covert.”

“Well, this has to break apart anyway,” Trini said, looking down at her watch. “Jason, Zack, and I have to meet with the ambassadors for an orientation thing.”

“How are they doing?” Tommy asked.

“They’re a bit dazed,” Jason said. “Hoping to smooth a few things over today. They apparently got hit with an extra dose of the spell when they came into town.”

Trini got up and joined Jason and Zack at the entrance to the railing. It was an awkward moment as they left, the first real time that the group was breaking apart. Tommy, Kimberly, and Billy watched them go wistfully.

“Wanna hang out?” Kimberly found herself saying.

Rocky had already taken Trini’s vacated spot and was flagging down a waiter. Adam pushed Rocky’s hand down and went to the bar to order for the three of them. Aisha pulled up a chair. “As long as you’re not going to talk us into any decisions, we’re cool.”

“No pressure from us,” Tommy said. “Hey, anyone up from a spar?”

Kimberly and Billy rolled their eyes, but Rocky perked up. “Sure!” He grabbed the drink Adam had just brought over, downed it in three gulps, and launched himself over the mat.

“And there go the two adrenaline junkies,” Aisha said drily, accepting her own drink.

Kimberly was still laughing at the rail vault, which Tommy had immediately copied. “Oh, Lord, they’re going to be a bad influence on each other.”

“Rocky’s always a bad influence,” Adam said. “So... this whole city-wide amnesia thing. Is this... normal?”

“Very normal,” Billy said. “It’s practically Angel Grove’s modus operandi.”

“And...” Adam dropped his voice, and the other three unconscious drew in, repeating the suspicious pose from before, “I gathered that gold monkey guy was acting alone. Does that happen often? What’s going to happen to him?”

“Not that I’m terribly worried,” Aisha said. “I mean, he did almost kill us.”

Kimberly chewed her lip. “I dunno. Tommy seems to think that he’ll be fine... but Lord Zedd doesn’t let go of things so easily.”

 

---

 

Goldar couldn’t avoid it any longer. He’d stretched the time since the summons to its breaking point. Sighing, he put the rest of his armor on and left his room, wondering if he’d ever return to it.

Outside, Finster, Squatt, and Babboo were gathered, standing near the opening to Finster’s lab. Goldar nodded at them, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t trust himself to say anything. Finster had patched him up the night before, but otherwise they’d talked little.

Goldar had never been able to face last words.

He didn’t try to run, though. Resolutely, he walked the long walk to Lord Zedd’s throne room, wishing he was walking in the other direction, to the throne room of Empress Rita. The one that had felt like home.

Tommy had said it would be all right... but as many pretensions Tommy put on himself, he was still a mere human. Still only sixteen. He had little idea of the real world. He’d seen death and lived hard, sure... but he was still so young. And Goldar knew better. He had hope for the future, but not hope for himself.

Goldar took a breath, stepped into the throne room, and approached the throne, where Lord Zedd was waiting. He bowed low. “At your service, my lord,” he said decorously, wishing he were saying those words to someone else.

Minutes stretched in silence, and Goldar stayed bowed. He was beyond fear by now. His death could come at any moment, and he felt perfectly calm.

“Rise, Goldar,” Lord Zedd said lightly, and Goldar did so, his sword still on the ground. He would not pick it up, he would not even attempt to defend himself. There was no defense.

“I have decided to send you on a mission.”

This was the one thing Goldar had not expected, and it must have shown on his face, for Lord Zedd laughed.

“You expected death, warrior... but the White Ranger was right. I have no wish to waste resources. Not when they can accomplish so much.”

“My... my lord,” Goldar said, trying desperately to get in control of his voice. “What mission? There is little I can accomplish on Earth.”

“Not on Earth,” Zedd said disdainfully. “Your perspective has grown small in the past year, Goldar. No, my mission for you lies in the wider universe, where I’m sure you still have useful connections, even after your long imprisonment and your mission here.”

Goldar had kept up with his old contacts. Finster sneered at him only using his computer for long-range communication, but that was how Goldar kept up with what was happening in the more important parts of the galaxy. He had let that part of his life lapse after the added security measures when Lord Zedd had arrived, but that had not been that long ago.

“There is a sword... a Sword of Power... that the Rangers are just now searching for,” Lord Zedd continued. “They wish to use it to transfer power from the old Rangers to the new Rangers... but I have much better uses for it.” He gripped his staff, the room flashing red. “I want it to help power Serpentera, to help repair the damage that was done to it. It will not be enough, of course, but it will at least get Serpentera in working order. And I want you to find the Sword for me... and not return until you have. The Rangers have three weeks to find it. You will find it before them.”

This time, Goldar felt himself start to sweat. “And if I don’t?”

Lord Zedd flashed redder, but he seemed to remain calm. “Then you will not wish to come back at all, and I will place a bounty on your head. Perhaps your former lover will take it up, I care not. But I want that sword, and I do not wish to contemplate failure. You will arrange long-distance transport to any planet you wish. Finster will provide you with the transport and any provisions you need.” The room grew less red as Zedd’s temper lowered. “That is all, Goldar. Dismissed.”

Goldar practically ran out of the room. Far from death, this was a true mission. A chance to prove himself.

He would not waste it.

 

---

 

Scorpina looked up from her cards and smirked at the other players. She had nothing, and she knew that one of them at least had two pair. This was the last hand. It was time to end it.

“I’m in,” she said, “and let’s make it more interesting.” She threw in the rest of her clips and eyed the merchant across from her with a challenge.

The warrior next to her threw down his cards. “I’m out... out completely.” He gathered up his chips. “I have no wish to see a massacre.”

The basement room grew tense and silent. As the door opened, they could hear the yells from the bar above. Scorpina took a sip of her ale, refusing to break eye contact. It was now the merchant and the scavenger. She was glad.

The merchant was getting upset. Most of his money was in the pool in the middle of the table, and that money was guarded by force field that was monitoring the game... and ready to disintegrate the money should either of them try to cheat. He couldn’t match her bet, and she knew it. He also couldn’t leave without the money, not and live the rest of the day without the debt collectors tracking him down. She knew that, too.

“I...” he licked his lips and eyed the scavenger, who looked more angry than nervous. “I’d like to call a redraw.”

Scorpina smirked even harder. “Now, you know that you don’t have the kind of capital to back that up. But I’m listening if you have anything else valuable.”

“Don’t do it, fool,” the scavenger hissed (quite literally, given the snake-like features) at the merchant. “What will she say if...”

“It’s not like she’s even paid us yet, and we need the money now,” the merchant snapped. He reached into his bag and pulled out a data chip. He held it up so the camera could see it. “Within this chip is the last known location of the jar containing the imprisoned Empress Rita Repulsa. It’s authenticated.” Once the force field flashed blue, he threw the chip into the pile.

Scorpina smirked. Just as she’d planned. “Then we’ll redraw.”

Automatically, the table spat out new cards and took the old ones away. Scorpina looked at her hand. Better, she noted blankly. Not great, but better.

She looked up and smiled at the ashen face of the merchant. Certainly better than his.

“Show your cards,” Scorpina challenged. She showed her own, and the merchant let out a whimper.

“I TOLD you,” the scavenger shouted and started to get up... but he found that he couldn’t move. He was stuck to the chair.

Scorpina grinned sadistically as the computer processed the win and let the forcefield down on her side of the table. Carefully putting the data chip in her pocket, she began gathering the money into a bag.

“What... what is this?” the merchant asked as he and the scavenger struggled.

Scorpina looked up in mock surprise. “Oh, this? Remember that stuff I dropped earlier? Yeah, there was a strangle-vine seed in that. It took root immediately, and it’s gone after any flesh on the floor. Thankfully, this establishment follows a ‘no shoes’ policy to prevent weapons smuggling.” She pushed back from the table to show that she’d been sitting on her chair cross-legged the entire time.

“You crazy bitch,” the scavenger said. “You’re stuck here, too.”

“Not necessarily,” Scorpina said. She loudly banged on the table--the signal, as communicators were not allowed in the room--and the door swung open.

“Gentlemen,” Scorpina said, “meet Rito Revolto... the brother of the woman you collected and sold like a common slave.”

The two drew back in horror at the sight of the skeleton. Rito was smiling, as always, but something in his eyes revealed the murderous rage. And, as a skeleton, he easily walked through the strangle-vine.

Scorpina climbed into his back. “You sure this is going to give them a more painful death than I could?” Rito looked at the plant dubiously.

Scorpina smirked at the now panicking men. Even as they struggled, the vine held onto them more... and the vine was starting to grow suckers. Soon it would be teeth. “Believe me... they’ll have plenty of time to regret the day they insulted Empress Rita.”

Rito and Scorpina left the room and shut the door. The muffled screams were instantly drowned out by the noise of music and the patrons of the bar. Scorpina stayed on Rito’s shoulders as he exited the bar, wishing to examine the data chip more easily.

“What’s it say, Scorpy?”

“Please don’t call me that,” Scorpina sighed. “Damn.”

“What?”

Scorpina swung down from Rito’s shoulders, giving the hand-held computer readout a sour face. “Have you ever worked for Divatox?”

“No one in their right mind works for Divatox... or me, for that matter,” said Rito. “She’s a pirate, and certifiably insane. Lately she’s had these delusions of grandeur that she could be a heavy hitter in the galaxy. Why?”

Scorpina closed her eyes. “Because that’s who has Rita.” She opened her eyes, finding new determination. “I guess we’re going pirate hunting.”

Chapter Text

Brighter Paths

Book 2: The Sword of Power

Chapter 7: Sendoff

 

Tommy sat on the edge of his bed, leafing through the photo album. He should have been packing. He had been packing, but he’d gotten distracted. That had been happening a lot lately.

This time, though, he let himself be distracted. It would be the last quiet moment he’d have in a long while.

There was a soft knock on the door, which pushed open at the slight pressure. Sylvia peeked in, a hamper of laundry on her hip. “I think some of this is yours, Tommy. I...” She trailed off with a sad smile. “I can come back.”

“It’s okay,” Tommy said, forcing himself to put the album down. “Yeah, I know I was missing some...” He realized his voice was a bit choked, and he looked away quickly.

Sylvia put down the hamper and sat on the bed, picking up the discarded album. “You’ve added some pictures.” She flipped the pages, smiling at the pictures from the party, the impromptu one they’d held the night he’d become the White Ranger. It had been the first picture he, Billy, and Sylvia had all taken a picture together... at least, without John.

Tommy was at his dresser, idly fingering through a few bits of junk. Nothing he would take with him, of course. They were packing light. Not even the album could come with him. “It’s... it’s the therapy Zordon has me on. Pictures help reinforce memory, help me make connections.” He closed his eyes. “Help keep me grounded.”

He looked back around. Sylvia was flicking through the pages slowly, her gaze lingering on pictures of his father, her fingers lightly tracing his face. She turned the pages from back to front, so it was like life in reverse, John’s face getting less and less lined and haggard, his figure less and less gaunt, until it was the earliest pictures of him, Tommy, and Penn together, Tommy around one year old.

“You know, for the longest time, I couldn’t look at pictures of George,” Sylvia said quietly. “It was possibly a mistake to hide them away. Made it harder on Billy. But it was like a ghost following me around. You’re... you’re perhaps handling things more healthily than I did.”

Tommy gave a short, bitter laugh. “Yeah... But you don’t see me all the time.”

Sylvia smiled thinly and looked up from the album. “I see the light in your room at night. I know you don’t sleep.”

Tommy’s eyes widened. He thought he’d been able to keep it from everyone. He looked away slightly. “Just... bad dreams. Or sometimes my brain won’t shut off.”

“And you think you’ll be doing fine, only to have it hit you fresh all over again? And you replay years of your life, thinking of something you could have done to prevent losing him?”

Tommy looked up, again surprised.

Sylvia put the album down carefully. “Just because you feel the need to hide your grief, just because people expect you to be recovered, doesn’t mean I don’t notice. Or care.”

Tommy nodded, allowed himself to be hugged. He felt like he could let out a breath he’d been holding in a long time. It felt good to let himself feel lost and broken, even for a few moments.

But then the moment ended. They heard a crash in the living room and Billy’s hastily bit-back curse.

“Do me a favor,” Sylvia said, laughing slightly. “Keep an eye on him in space.”

“I’ll do my best,” he said.

“And yourself,” Sylvia said, squeezing his shoulders once. “I know you now have all this responsibility, but you can’t forget to take care of yourself as well. Rely on the others. You don’t have to save the universe by yourself, and you don’t have to always be strong.”

Tommy didn’t answer, didn’t know what to say. Instead, they left the room to see what was wrong with Billy.

The living room seemed to be a minor disaster, with Billy staring despairingly at the mess. His carefully-packed duffel bag had exploded.

“You remember I said to pack light,” Tommy said, chuckling. “That doesn’t mean try to pack your entire room and lab into one bag.”

“The one bag rule is impossible,” Billy said. “How am I supposed to be prepared for any eventuality without more space?”

“You planning to carry around more than one bag? It’s not like we’re taking a vehicle. We’re teleporting, and there may be no place to put our bags. You really should be carrying a backpack that will leave you unencumbered, not a duffel bag,” Tommy said, rolling his eyes a bit as he repeated exactly what he’d said a few days before.

Billy picked up the duffle bag and fingered the busted zipper. “I suppose I have little choice now.”

Sylvia started wading through the mess. “I’ll help you narrow down. We still have an hour.”

Tommy smiled and let the two alone. He knew that Sylvia would want a few minutes alone with Billy anyway, so he said, “I’m finished packing, and I need to take care of a few things at the Command Center.”

“You’ll come back before you leave, won’t you?” Sylvia said.

“Count on it,” Tommy said before hitting his communicator and disappearing.

 

---

 

Zack and Trini hopped downstairs, giggling together. Trini had come over after packing to make sure that Zack had finished, and the whole thing had turned into a rather enthusiastic make-out session. Now they were ready to say goodbyes, first to Zack’s parents, and then back to Trini’s house for her parents. It came as a surprise, therefore, when Trini spotted her parents waiting for them in the Taylor living room.

“Mom... dad...” Trini said slowly, “what...?”

“Please sit,” Mrs. Kwan said, indicating the couch.

“You, too,” Dr. Taylor said, staring at Zack.

The two shifted their backpacks off and sat on the couch. They knew they looked guilty. It was impossible not to when their parents were standing around them like this.

Mr. Taylor’s eyes crinkled. He was the only one sitting, perched on the edge of a leather ottoman. “You don’t have to look like you’re facing one of Zedd’s monsters. You’re not in trouble.”

Zack and Trini looked up dubiously.

“But you are preparing for a long journey,” Mr. Kwan said. “Not only in your present mission, but then to Switzerland, and to many places after that. While you’ve both shouldered adult responsibilities, you’re still very young.”

“And you can still make... mistakes,” Mrs. Kwan added.

Trini’s eyes widened, and she felt her face burn. Oh, God. They weren’t going to talk about... She looked down, wishing she could just crawl under the couch cushions and disappear.

Zack hadn’t caught on. “We’ve been through training,” he said, smiling patiently at what he thought was worry over their traveling. “Both as Power Rangers and as ambassadors. And we’ll have people with us the entire time... Trini, what?”

She’d been kicking his leg, trying to get him to stop talking, but as usual that didn’t work. Zack didn’t know the meaning of unobtrusive.

“Oh, we have faith in your abilities,” Dr. Taylor said with a half-smile. “And we realize we’re not sending you alone. But we can’t always count on your friends, young like yourselves, to chaperone you responsibly.”

“Chaperone... what...” Then Zack realized what they were talking about, and he shot up from the couch. “Mom!”

Dr. Taylor put a hand on his shoulder and guided him back down on the couch. He plopped down, slightly stunned.

“The thing is,” Mr. Taylor kindly, “we know you’re both smart kids. But this whole relationship is new, and you’re both young and hormonal...”

Zack looked like he wanted to disappear as well.

“And mistakes can be made... if you’re not careful,” he finished. “Especially when you’ve got Tommy and Kimberly there, who haven’t always been the most careful.”

“You’ll be camping together, staying at hotels...” Mr. Kwan said.

“And there’s going to be temptations,” finished Mrs. Kwan. “Hormones can cancel out better judgment.”

Dr. Taylor nodded. “We just wanted to warn you both not to get in those situations. To stay with the group, no matter what group they may be. Now, I’ve talked to Zordon...”

“You’ve WHAT?!” Again, Zack shot up from the couch, and again, Dr. Taylor lightly pushed him back down.

“And he seems to believe you will have reliable judgment,” Dr. Taylor continued. “Of course, he’s a giant floating head, and not a teenager. So, at least for this first trip, we enlisted the help of Jason and Billy...”

“This isn’t happening...” Zack muttered. “This isn’t real...”

Trini had taken to suffering in silence.

“And we’re sure that they will help keep an eye on you,” Dr. Taylor finished.

The parents looked pleased with themselves, far opposite to what Trini and Zack looked like. The upstairs make-out session seemed like a much more pleasant lifetime ago.

“Mom, dad...” Trini finally said, “we’re not going on a Spring Break trip or anything like that. We’re going on a Power Ranger mission. It’s outer space, not a weekend getaway. We’re not going to have time for... anything. And after that, we’ll be in a leadership program with lots of adults around. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

“We’ve just made extra sure of that,” Mrs. Kwan said. “Now... let’s not make this the last thing we talk about. You both need to get up to the Command Center.”

Trini got up and hugged her parents, the embarrassment ebbing away slightly. They hugged her back tightly. “You be careful out there,” her dad said. “Here, you know what you’re fighting against. Out there...”

“I’ll be careful,” Trini promised, her eyes stinging.

Zack looked up at his parents as the Kwans moved to the corner to talk. “Am I allowed to stand up now?” he said.

“Are you going to have any more outbursts?” Dr. Taylor said.

“I might,” Zack said. “I can never tell with you two.”

Mr. Taylor laughed and pulled his son up. “Oh, come on. That wasn’t so bad.”

“It was the worst experience in my life, and I was shot with a poisoned arrow once.”

Dr. Taylor’s face crumpled a bit at that. “Zack... in all seriousness... I’m so proud of you, but if you get yourself hurt I will personally track you down, outer space or no.”

Zack laughed a bit. “I believe it.”


---

 

Jason took a steadying breath and looked around his room one last time. He knew once he got back from space he would be there again before going to Switzerland, but for some reason it felt like he was leaving this room forever.

Which made what was waiting for him in the living room much harder to face.

Before anyone came looking for him, he shouldered his backpack, opened the door, turned out the light, and left.

He saw his sister first, sitting at the kitchen table idly flicking a pencil. She dropped the pencil when she saw him.

Then his parents came into focus. He’d expected his father to be sitting in his customary chair in front of the TV, but he seemed instead to be fussing over something on the mantle. His mother was instead sitting in the chair, and she didn’t seem to know what to do with her hands.

He sidled over to his dad first, curious about what he was doing to the mantle, when the whole thing shifted and his elementary school wrestling trophy slipped off. Jason caught it just in time as his dad lunged for it.

“What’s going on?” Jason said, twisting the trophy around in his hands. The top of it was chipped from the move; he’d earned it at his old school. He didn’t care much about trophies, but he knew his father treasured them, and he was glad it wasn’t damaged.

“I... ehm...” Mr. Scott coughed a bit. “I was trying to make room.”

“I haven’t won any more trophies, dad,” Jason said. He looked over at Kristen.

“Don’t look at me,” Kristen said. “All my awards are there.” She pointed to the far wall. She didn’t have any trophies, but she had plenty of academic and service awards, which tended toward plaques and certificates mounted on the wall.

“And it’s something that can wait,” Mrs. Scott said. “It’s not as if he’s leaving forever. He’ll be back after this space adventure.”

Jason shifted, putting the trophy on the edge of the fireplace. There wasn’t any room on the mantle anymore. “Not sure how much of an ‘adventure’ it’s going to be. We’re just meeting Zordon’s contact, and hopefully that will lead us straight to the sword. Not sure it’s even going to take a day. We’re just packing as a precaution.”

“It’s in outer space, it’s an adventure,” Mrs. Scott said.

“There!” his father declared, stepping back to admire the handiwork, not even looking at the displaced trophy on the fireplace. “You think that’ll work?”

There was a small empty place in the middle of the group of trophies. Jason noticed his martial arts trophies were now in more prominence, when they had formerly been shoved to the back.

“It’s... great?” Jason said. He looked at his mom and mouthed, “What is he talking about?”

“It should keep it hidden. Only anyone who looks close enough would notice it, and they’d have to crane their necks to see it over the bases of the other trophies.”

“Dad, that sounds great, but I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,” Jason said. “What would be hidden?”

“Your power morpher.”

If Jason had been expecting anything, it wasn’t that. He stared at his dad, wondering if that was really what he’d said. He opened his mouth, but the words seemed a bit stuck.

“I know it won’t have the coin in it, of course, because that’s going to Rocky, but I talked to Zordon, and he said he would have to have a different morpher, so you’ll get to keep that. You can’t take it to Switzerland with you, and I didn’t want it lost in your room, so...”

“But...” Jason finally got the words past his throat, “why there?”

“Because I’m proud of you,” Mr. Scott said softly. “I know I can’t show it off to anyone, but I wanted it there with your other accomplishments. I mean, it’s the best thing you’ve ever done. Things like that don’t get packed away.”

Jason wasn’t sure when his legs gave out, but he realized he was sitting on the chair near the mantle, and his dad’s arm was around his shoulders. “I’m... thank you... and... I’m sorry. For all the grief I gave you when I had to keep it all secret.”

Jason gulped. It was something he’d held on to, something that had bothered him for a long time. “That time, when I ran out of the house. After I yelled at you. I... The Green Ranger had just wrecked the Command Center, and I’d just had to tell Billy that we couldn’t look for Zordon until we got key systems repaired, and I was just trying to hold it together... and I took it all out on you.”

The arm around him squeezed, and he saw his mother and sister in front of him, concerned, but Jason could barely meet their eyes.

“I made so many mistakes,” Jason said. “Soon after that I went to the Moon Palace and got myself captured. I almost got myself killed. I couldn’t protect any of my friends. I kept trying to be the leader, but...” he squeezed his eyes closed. “I couldn’t protect anyone. It was always Tommy, or Billy, or Zordon, or one of the others who got everything done. I’m just...” he swallowed hard, “really glad someone else is leading now.”

The arm around his shoulders loosened, and suddenly his dad was pulling him in for a hug. “Jason, when I said I was proud of you, I meant it. Being a leader doesn’t mean being perfect. It means doing everything you can to put others in front of yourself. That’s what you’ve done, over and over. You even knew when to step down and let someone else take over. That’s... incredibly hard.”

“And, come on, Jas, we know what we’re talking about. We were under your leadership for those two weeks,” Kristen said. “I have no clue how we could have gotten through all that without you.”

Jason willed the tears away, but he knew a few leaked out. He pushed his dad away lightly and got up. “Sorry about this. I didn’t mean to...”

“I caught you off guard,” his dad said. “I haven’t always been the best at supporting you, even when I knew what you were doing. I just wanted you to know before you left.”

Jason nodded, not trusting himself to speak anymore. He hugged his sister, and then his mother, who whispered in his ear, “Come back safe.”

It wasn’t going to be forever, Jason knew, but somehow this really felt like goodbye. Nothing was going to be the same.

 

---

 

Kimberly jabbed at a button on a Command Center console. “I uploaded a few more leads, just in case this one doesn’t work out... and the locations of a few places we can go for safety.” She went through the readouts again, making sure she wasn’t missing anything. “Alpha, are you sure these are all the places we absolutely need to avoid?”

“I’m sure, Kimberly,” Alpha said. “That should keep you out of any war zones and the most dangerous enemy territory.”

“Right,” Kimberly said, taking a breath. She glanced at her checklist. Their contact would take them into neutral territory rather than just sticking to friendly. Even that was dangerous, Zordon had told them. Not only was neutral territory hotbeds for crime, they were also rife with spies for both sides... and other bits of nastiness. People who were on the wrong side of the law on both sides. In truth, their contact was a spy posing as a weapons dealer that sold to both sides, and even Zordon wasn’t completely sure about how trustworthy their contact was.

And now she was partly responsible for keeping them all safe. It was verging on overwhelming.

An arm slid around her, and Kimberly smiled, leaning back into the embrace. “Is that everything?” Tommy murmured.

“I think so,” Kimberly said, letting herself relax in his arms. “At least, we’re as ready as we’re going to be. Space is big, and it’s not like either Zordon or Alpha have done a lot of traveling recently. We’re depending on intergalactic communications and hearsay.”

“That’s all we can do,” Tommy said. “I’m going back down to say goodbye to Sylvia. Won’t take long. What about your folks?”

Kimberly steeled herself. “Yeah... I mean, I’ve been here all morning. I guess...”

Tommy kissed her on top of her head. “Go see them. Even if we’re just gone a few hours, you need to.”

Kimberly closed her eyes. She didn’t know why she was so hesitant to say goodbye to her family. Maybe because saying goodbye felt like... final. Like she might not be coming back.

They all knew this was dangerous. They all knew that was a possibility. Saying goodbye made it feel more real, was all.

Her mother launched herself at Kimberly as soon as the shimmer of teleportation faded. “You waited so late,” she said.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I was just...”

Mrs. Harris pulled away. “I know. But you’re going to be fine. I have faith in you.”

“We all do,” Frank said, pulling Kimberly in for a one-armed hug.

Kimberly finally let herself smile, even if it was a weepy one. She motioned to Kevin, who was standing across the room, arms crossed. “You got a hug for your big sister?”

“You gonna bring me something back from space?” he said, still scowling.

“I’ll get you a t-shirt that says ‘my sister went to outer space and all I got was this lousy shirt.’“

Kevin skulked forward and let himself by hugged. “Just don’t get kidnapped by space aliens,” he said. “That sucks on an epic level.”

Kimberly laughed. “Don’t I know it.”

 

---

 

When Kimberly returned, the five other Rangers had already gathered, backpacks slung over their shoulders. She dashed to the corner to retrieve her own, and realized they weren’t the only ones there.

“Aisha... you guys came to see us off?”

Aisha was leaning against the wall, looking a little uncomfortable in the Command Center. She’d been there a couple of times: once when they’d been offered the positions as Red, Yellow, and Black Rangers, and another time when they’d accepted the positions. That had only been the week before.

“Zordon wants us to do some training, so we figured now’s as good a time as any,” she said, motioning with her head to Rocky and Adam, who were talking quietly with Tommy.

She looked at the others, and then back at Aisha. “Why aren’t you over there?”

“Wanted to talk to you.” Aisha gripped her arms, her nails digging into her forearms and leaving little half-moon marks.

Kimberly was surprised. She’d gotten to know Aisha as someone who radiated confidence. Now she looked like she wanted to jump out of her skin.

“I just...” Aisha looked away, her voice lowering. “I mean... how the heck am I going to fill her shoes?”

“Who?” Kimberly said, before she could stop herself. Of course she knew ‘who.’

Aisha rolled her eyes and motioned with her head to Trini, who was going over some complicated readouts with Billy and Alpha.

“Billy told Adam she created a heal-all serum,” Aisha said. “She’s a genius. I’m...”

Kimberly chuckled. “Thankfully for me, you don’t have to be a genius to be a Power Ranger.”

“But you’re still amazing,” Aisha said.

Kimberly flushed, even as ice formed in her stomach. “I... I haven’t made the best decisions. By a longshot. But I’ve tried. And that’s all we can do. Aisha, you’ve already done more than most people in Angel Grove. When things were tough, you and the guys did what you could to fight. Most people hide... and they should. But you’re made of different stuff. You’re a Power Ranger, whether you have a coin or not.”

“So when am I going to stop feeling like an imposter?” Aisha said, though a smile had crept onto her face.

Kimberly grinned. “Literally never. I’m starting to think that’s what all adults are doing. Pretending to know what they’re doing and hoping no one questions them.”

“Hey, guys... ready?”

Tommy had motioned them over. Kimberly gave Aisha’s hand a squeeze before they joined the others.

The nervous energy in the room was palpable. They had never had a mission like this before. The farthest most of them had gone was the moon, and rarely voluntarily. The idea of going to another planet, to multiple other planets, on a mission that was not one of combat, to find a relic that may or may not be there...

“Rangers,” Zordon said, and even his voice sounded nervous. “Alpha has prepared the long-range teleportation, and Billy has modified your wrist communicators so that we can be in contact...”

“Probably,” Billy interjected.

“Though there may be times when we won’t be able to communicate, for which times you’ve been briefed on the protocols.”

“We’ve gone over everything, Zordon,” Tommy reassured him. “We... well, we don’t know what we’re doing, but we’ve done as much prep work as we can.”

“And now I will simply leave you with advice,” Zordon said, unperturbed by the interruptions. “Your mission is to retrieve the Sword of Power, and to do that you must follow the trail of inquiry we’ve started to its completion. Remember, you are soldiers in a larger war. You will find allies, but you will also find enemies. On top of that, you will find those who wish to prey on you because of your inexperience. Keep on your guard... and try to make this a short mission,” Zordon ended with a smile. “For those who remain home and worry.”

They all smiled, having gotten much the same farewell from their parents.

“Good luck on the training,” Jason said to Rocky, Adam, and Aisha. “If everything goes as planned, you’re going to need it.”

“And if everything doesn’t, everyone’s going to have a whole new set of problems, so there’s that,” Zack added.

Tommy rolled his eyes. “Alpha, prepare to teleport.”

They vanished, leaving the Command Center almost echoingly empty.

Rocky, Adam, and Aisha hesitantly stepped from the sides to the space just vacated by the Rangers.

“So,” Rocky said, his jovial tone barely hiding a tremor of nerves, “what’s next?”

 

---

 

Finster approached the throne room, willing himself not to tremble. He wouldn’t give the bastard the satisfaction that he was the least bit afraid of him... but, then again, Finster never knew when Lord Zedd was in the torturing mood.

For now, it seemed, Lord Zedd was not angry. The throne room was a dull gray rather than radiating red, and it reflected the cold stars shining from the balcony. Lord Zedd himself stood at the balcony, probably watching what Finster had already noted. The Power Rangers were leaving Earth.

“Finster,” Lord Zedd said without looking at him.

“Lord Zedd,” Finster said, giving a minuscule bow. “I am reporting as you ordered.”

Finster braced himself. He would not allow himself to truly surrender to this usurper... but he was also not in love with pain and untimely death. It was a fine line to walk, and Finster found that he had grown rather comfortable under Queen Rita’s protection. His new life was proving rather exhausting.

“As you know,” Lord Zedd said, “the Power Rangers have left Earth.” He let the silence hang. “However, they have not left the Earth unprotected.”

Finster raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. It faintly amused him that the self-sufficient tyrant Lord Zedd would need help, as he was obviously attempting to gain without actually asking. Finster decided not to help.

“Zordon has already been in communication with me,” Lord Zedd continued, still not looking at him. “He’s strengthened the shield around Earth, to the point that even I would have to drain my reserves to create a monster. Likewise, he can apparently call back the Power Rangers at a moment’s notice. He was... concerned about my health if I tried to attack without proper preparation.”

Finster’s amusement grew. Was it his imagination, or had Zordon become snarky in his old age? The humor was wasted on Zedd, though. Queen Rita would have laughed.

“The absence of the Power Rangers is far too good an opportunity for attack to pass up,” Lord Zedd continued. “Particularly as Zordon will most assuredly be occupied with training their replacements. These new humans must not take the war-weary Rangers’ place. Even as Goldar must prevent the Rangers from gaining the Sword of Power, we must eliminate the potential Rangers... who have proven far too troublesome even without power.”

“‘We,’ Lord Zedd?” Finster said, emphasizing the pronoun. “Am I to assume that I might prove useful to your plans?”

Lord Zedd finally turned to regard the scientist. The room took on a slight red tinge, and Finster tensed again. “Marginally,” Lord Zedd said finally. “I can take care of the shield, though it will take considerable effort. I wish you to gradually disrupt long-range communications between the Command Center and the Power Rangers... gradually enough that they don’t know something is wrong until it’s too late.”

“And... medical service?” Finster offered.

It was as Finster suspected. Lord Zedd’s attempts to weaken the shield around Earth would cost him dearly, and he would need Finster to monitor him and help him whenever the pain and effort proved too much. Lord Zedd, however, hated weakness, and hated to be dependent on an old doctor who wasn’t even loyal to him.

But Finster wanted to hear the words. He wanted to make sure that Lord Zedd acknowledged this dependence.

“Yes, damn you,” Lord Zedd hissed, the room flashing bright red. “Now get out of my sight.”

Finster left, feeling much better than when he’d entered the room.

 

---

 

Zack rubbed the grit out of his eyes for the fifth time. “What is it with Zordon and deserts? Why couldn’t we have touched down closer to the city?”

“This planet isn’t mapped out properly for long-distance teleport,” said Billy. “The desert means a smaller probability that we will appear over an ocean, inside a wall...

“Got the picture,” Zack said.

“We’re not that far out anyway,” Tommy said, scraping his hair out of his face. He’d been letting his hair grow longer; his, Kimberly’s, and Trini’s hair whipped in the wind.

“We’re headed that way,” Kimberly pointed to a smudge on the horizon, unperturbed by her hair. “The tavern is going to be in the center of town, and that’s where we’re meeting our contact.” She took a breath; she and Tommy had discussed this, but they hadn’t told the rest of the group so they could focus on preparation rather than argument. “We’re going to have to split up. We’re too conspicuous as a large group.”

“Why does that strike me as a really bad plan?” Trini said.

“That’s because it is,” Zack said. “When has anyone in a movie ever said, ‘Let’s split up,’ and it went alright for them?”

Jason held his tongue. He also thought it was a bad plan, but he also didn’t want to undermine Tommy’s and Kimberly’s authority. While there hadn’t been a formal hand-out, it was the tacit understanding that Tommy was the leader on this mission, with Kimberly as second. He’d provide advice if asked and speak up if he saw any real danger, but he couldn’t keep taking charge if he was really serious about giving up being a Power Ranger.

“How do we break it up?” Jason said instead. “Threes? Twos? Might be better to do it just before we hit town.”

Tommy considered. “Me, Billy, and Trini will meet the contact; I’ll need them to decipher the charts and relay them to Alpha. Kim, Jason, and Zack, you guys keep an ear out for any trouble at the local bar, and we can meet you there after. Zordon hinted we might not be the only ones after this thing... but be careful. Just because this place is neutral doesn’t mean there’s not people who wouldn’t make things difficult for us.

They all agreed, however begrudgingly. As the town loomed larger, they broke into two groups, with Tommy’s group going in first while Kimberly’s group hung behind.

“Well, into the wretched hive of scum and villainy,” Billy said.

Tommy chuckled appreciatively, but took one uneasy glance at the Rangers they were leaving behind. He hoped he was making the right decision.

 

---

 

Kimberly took a slow breath. “Ooookay, I guess we need to sit at one of the middle tables and try not to look conspicuous. I’ve got some local currency, so could you get us some drinks, Zack?”

She handed Zack a few coins and tried to sit with Jason like they belonged there. “Tried” being the operative word. They stuck out. There weren’t many women, and no one was wearing anything close to their jeans, t-shirts, and backpacks. She’d felt like this once when she’d spent some time in Los Angeles with her dad. Everything was too big, too busy, and she felt like a bumpkin. And, right then, she felt like an alien bumpkin.

It wasn’t good. They looked like targets. She placed them in the middle so they could at least be targets perhaps too easy to go after. Too public to get at inconspicuously.

Zack came back with the blue drinks--slightly alcoholic, but it was the least alcoholic in the house. They sipped and tried to look like they were just killing time. Slowly, people stopped looking at them and continued with their conversations.

“Have any idea what we should be listening for?” Zack said quietly.

“Nope,” Kimberly said, hiding her mouth behind her glass. “But this is better than staying outside the city, or out in the street.”

“I’d rather be out in the street,” Jason said darkly. “I’d like to get out of here quickly.”

“Sh.” Kimberly motioned with her eyes at the table across from them. Two men had just taken up the table next to them, and they looked too spooked to notice anyone listening in.

“You sure it was strangle-vine? Thought that shit was illegal.”

“What’s illegal anymore?” This man had a shock of blue hair, and was obviously trying to hide his fear with bravado. “What’s worse is who they picked on. One of ‘em worked for Divatox, and word is she’s out to get Rito and that bounty hunter, and you know she doesn’t care much who stands in her way.”

“Why are you telling me this?” the other man said, sweat glistening on his bald head.

“A courtesy,” the blue-haired man said, arching an eyebrow. “You’re the one who sold them the strangle-vine.”

The bald man clenched his fist. “I didn’t… and you can’t prove a thing, anyway.”

“Interesting answer. It doesn’t matter.” The blue-haired man leaned in, and Kimberly had to strain to listen. “Divatox is the type to torture first, for the fun of it, and then ask questions. You don’t want to get in her clutches.”

Kimberly felt Jason and Zack shift impatiently. They didn’t seem to think this was worthwhile eavesdropping, but Kimberly had noticed enough familiar words to know two things: 1) the blue-haired guy was right and 2) they were all in danger if they were near someone Divatox was looking for.

“Come on,” Kimberly mumbled. “Walk out all casual-like.”

They left their drinks and started ambling to the door… only to have their progress blocked by the bald man, who looked enormous now that he was standing up.

“Wonder what was so interesting?” he said. “What we were saying.”

“We were just killing time til our friends were done with errands,” Jason said.

“Somehow I don’t believe that,” blue-haired man said. He grabbed for Kimberly, but she deftly grabbed his arm and twisted it behind him.

“You’ve a right to be nervous,” she said. “Just not of us. I’d suggest we all vacate the area before it’s too late.”

“Too late for what?”

The voice came from the front door. Everyone in the bar turned to see a white alien with a long, pointed head, pointed ears, a chin that stretched down his chest, and golden and red armor covering his body and jutting over his head. Most prominent, though, was the terrifying frozen grin revealing yellow teeth that matched the color of his eyes.

The room was heavy with tension as the man walked slowly into the bar. The blue-haired man struggled in Kimberly’s grip, and Kimberly finally let him go. If she had guessed right, they had bigger things to worry about.

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one,” the white alien said, his jovial tone contrasting with the obvious fear from everyone at his presence. “A depressed man with no arms walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘I’ll give you something to lift your spirits.’ The man says…”

The bald man suddenly lunged at the alien. A wild attack, no chance of success, but he’d obviously lost his nerve. The alien, in a flash, drew a sword, and the three Ranger turned away before it happened. They only heard the sick thunk of slicing meat and the screams afterward.

“Sh… shhhh,” the alien said, his grin still terribly frozen on his face. “You interrupted my punchline. Now, where was I?” He looked at the bald man and his arms, which were now on the floor. “Oh, yeah! The man with no arm says, ‘That’s my problem. I can’t lift my spirits!’”

There was a whine of electronics from around the bar, and everyone turned to see the bartender pointing a blaster right at the alien’s face. “Okay, you’ve got what you’ve come for, Elgar,” he said. “Now leave peaceably. There’s no one here that’s done anything to you or your captain, and you don’t want to break the peace here.”

Elgar grinned at the blaster. “All I’ve done is told an entertaining joke and defended myself, and in return I’ve been attacked and threatened. I think this calls for retribution…” he seemed to savor the word. “Don’t you think so, Rygog?”

Another alien, this one who looked like a tiny, monstrous head surrounded by a huge circle of armor, emerged from behind the bar. Casually, he stabbed the bartender from behind. “Let’s show this scum what they can do with their peace.”

Elgar pulled out a device that caused everyone to panic and run. Several barreled past Elgar and the guard. Zack, who was closest to the door, grabbed Kimberly, who grabbed Jason, and they ran for it, following closely behind the blue-haired man.

Zack just got out of the building when there was a blinding flash, and then silence. He turned, but didn’t see either Jason or Kimberly.

“Idiot, keep moving!” the blue-haired man yelled at him. “You don’t want to be picked up by the local law. They’ll want someone to blame.”

Zack let himself be pulled away from the bar. “But…” he stammered out as the man pulled him down several alleys. “My friends are back there.”

“No, they’re not,” the man said. “They’re in Divatox’s hands now.”

“But,” Zack pulled himself out of the man’s grasp. “I can still save them.”

“No, you don’t get it,” the man said. “They’re not here anymore. They’re not on the planet, and you’ll probably never see them again. They’re gone.”

Zack ignored him and backtracked. It took him several minutes to find his path again, but he finally made it back to the bar, which was surrounded by people in tan uniforms.

“Bar’s completely empty,” one uniformed woman reported. “Teleport signal. Sir… it’s Divatox.”

The other officer blanched, and then stiffened. “Bury it. Not like we can do anything about it. Search the area for suspects… there should be someone likely… and lose that report. We don’t need any piratical trouble around here.”

“Yes, sir,” the woman said, but Zack didn’t notice what happened next. He was already making his way away from there. He had to get out of there, and he had to find the others. If Jason and Kimberly were really not on the planet anymore, they had a new mission priority. He only hoped the other had better luck than he had.

 

---

 

Tommy and Billy stood in the doorway, carefully blocking the view and looking slightly sick.

“Is he…”

“Yes, he’s our contact,” Trini confirmed, rising from the floor. “And he’s dead.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, I can’t get a signal here,” Aisha said.

Alpha peered over her shoulder at the readouts. He had just been showing Adam how to use his communicator, and Rocky was heading down to learn how to run diagnostics on the Zords. He’d left Aisha at the long-range communications array to keep watch over the Rangers.

“I’m not doing it wrong, am I?” Aisha said nervously.

“No, Aisha, you’re handling the controls correctly,” Alpha commented.

“What’s wrong?” Adam said, looking over Aisha’s other shoulder.

“If you guys will stop crowding me,” Aisha said, “I… think I better let you drive, Alpha.”

She stepped back and motioned to the controls, clearing up Alpha’s confusion over the phrasing before he had time to articulate it.

Alpha poked and prodded the controls for a while, and finally the soft static began to clear. “…my to Zordon, …n… Tommy to…”

“We read you, Tommy,” Zordon said, obviously relieved that they’d established connection. “Report your progress.”

“Contact’s….” Tommy’s voice was drowned out by static.

“Repeat that, please, Tommy,” Zordon said.

“… dead,” Tommy repeated. “Our contact is dead.”

Zordon’s eyes flew open. “Tommy, gather the Rangers and prepare to teleport out. You’re in grave danger.”

All that answered them was static.

“I’m sorry, Zordon,” Alpha said. “We lost the signal. I’m trying to regain it, but…”

“Keep trying,” Zordon said. “Something might be disrupting the teleportation signal as well. The Rangers do not want to get stuck on that planet.”

“Why not, Zordon?” Aisha said. “You guys said it was supposed to be a neutral planet.”

“It is, for a very important reason,” Zordon said darkly. “While slave ownership is widespread throughout the galaxy, the slave trade is strictly forbidden on both sides.”

“Let me guess,” Adam said. “All but that planet.”

“But…” Aisha’s face had taken hard lines, “there’s got to be something you can do! I mean, they’re not going to be…” She stopped at the word “sold.”

“Only our contact could vouch for them if they got in trouble,” Zordon said. “Without him, they’re open for anyone to capture them. If they do get captured, they’ll have to fight their way out.”

 

---

Kimberly pulled herself off the floor. She felt a hand steady her.

“Slowly,” Jason said. “I got up too quick and almost puked.”

Kimberly nodded and closed her eyes at the wave of nausea. Whatever teleport beam had brought them had done a number on her. She wondered if it was an accidental side effect of being forcefully teleported, or if that effect was intentional, to keep new prisoners off balance.

“M’okay,” Kimberly said, waving off Jason. “Zack?”

“Not here,” Jason said. “I think he got away.”

“I hope so,” she said. “He can go get help.”

“Our communicators aren’t working,” Jason said. “I haven’t tried to…”

Kimberly cut him off with a gesture before he could say the word “morph,” and then pointed to the corner. She wasn’t sure there was a camera there, but that’s where she would have put it. She wasn’t even sure if they were listening in, but if they were, she didn’t want to give away that they had power.

They heard footsteps, along with a familiar, high-pitched voice. The crazy monster from the bar…

“I’ve got the main one secured, but these two prisoners were giving off weird power signatures. Didn’t know what you wanted done with them, so I put them in high security, too.”

“Oh, good,” a female voice answered. “I knew that little Edenoi rat was up to something. If he was contacting who I think he was, and our other guest makes me pretty damn sure about that, we’ve got something more valuable than the usual slave stock. Tell me, did he give any clues as to who these kids are?”

“I could always ask him,” Elgar said. “Oh, wait! I killed him. Probably can’t ask him, then. I’ll just ask our guest then.”

“You know,” the woman sighed, “that’s what I like about you. Always so dependable.”

There was a clicking sound, and one of the walls of their cell suddenly disappeared. Jason and Kimberly shielded their eyes from the sudden brightness.

“Don’t try to escape, the wall is still there, it’s just transparent,” the woman said boredly. “Now…” she grinned, “who are you, that an Edenoi prince would take such interest in you?”

Edenoi… that sounded familiar to Kimberly, but she couldn’t recall why at the moment. She was too busy sizing up their situation.

Elgar was standing beyond their cell, grinning at them. Beside him was a tall, rather Amazonian woman in red and gold armor. She was folding her arms and had her eyebrows raised expectantly.

Kimberly took a pretty safe guess. “Divatox?”

Divatox’s face split into a grin. “You recognized me. Elgar, that’s the twentieth time that’s happened. I’m officially a household name.”

“Or would be if you didn’t keep blowing up all those households,” Elgar commented.

“Shush,” Divatox said, and then turned back to the Rangers. “You are a sweet dear, but you haven’t answered my question. You and your ilk planned a clandestine meeting with one of the most wanted men in the galaxy, and in the meantime you’re showing power of your own. So, get this to make sense for me.” Her grin widened. “You’re after a tasty bit of power, aren’t you?”

“Shopping for a vacation home,” Kimberly responded blithely. “And we weren’t meeting anyone.”

“We were just having a drink,” Jason said. “Then your psycho over there decided he’d interrupt that drink.”

“He does that,” Divatox sighed. “If you were innocently having a drink and not up to something, you’d be terrified of me. I think my nephew has caught a couple of heroes. What do you think?”

“Do we look like heroes?” Kimberly said.

Divatox looked them up and down slowly, ending with their eyes. “Yes. But we can put that to the test, if you wish.”

The wall shimmered and turned opaque, leaving the room dimmer.

“Did you see a way out?” Kimberly said. “We’d need Billy or Trini to try to figure out whatever technology is keeping us in here.”

“We could…”

Kimberly cut Jason off. He looked confused for a second, and then nodded. Divatox might still be listening, and she wanted to know what kind of power they had. If they morphed and couldn’t get past the tech, things might go very badly for them. They’d lost their backpacks, but they still had their power coins and communicators. Kimberly felt the comforting weight of the coin in her pocket.

They’d have to play this carefully. Wait for an opening, and play their captors. In the meantime, all they had to do was wait.

“I wonder who the other prisoner is they were talking about,” Jason said, covering his cut-off sentence.

“I hope it isn’t Zack,” Kimberly said. “But… it wouldn’t make sense if they separated him from us.”

They froze as a scream rent the air. It was faint, but clear. Apparently the walls were somewhat soundproof, but whatever “asking” Elgar was doing of the other prisoner was making him scream loud enough to go through the walls.

“That’s not Zack,” Jason said, somewhat relieved.

“Not sure who it is, though,” Kimberly said, listening carefully. It sounded vaguely familiar, but not like any of her friends. “Not anyone I would want to be.”

 

---

 

“Zordon. Do you read me, Zordon?” Only static answered Tommy’s calls as he jabbed at his communicator in frustration. “Shit. We’ve got to get out of here.”

“Yes. Yes, you do.”

The voice at the door was soft, the words spoken in a flat tone. Tommy, Billy, and Trini grouped together, ready to defend themselves.

“I am not here to harm you,” the man said softly. “I’m your real contact. Come, we have to move.”

The man was identical to the corpse on the ground. He had dark curly hair, a thin somber face, and a gem gleaming in the middle of his forehead. Unceremoniously, the man kicked his twin corpse.

“I had to know,” he said. “It’s not safe for us here. It never was, but now less so.” He frowned. “I can’t vouch for you now. I can’t even vouch for myself. Come.”

“This was a decoy?” Tommy said.

“You made someone die in your stead?” Trini demanded.

The man flinched. “Wouldn’t be the first time. But no. That’s a fake. It will disintegrate in a few minutes. But the one targeting me will figure that out soon enough. We must hurry.”

“Prince Dex?” Tommy ventured.

Dex flinched again. “That name’s not safe here, either. Call me Rider for now.” With a flick of his hand, he flipped his hood up and positioned a scarf over his mouth, and then swept out of the room.

Tommy, Trini, and Billy took one look at each other. This didn’t seem to be quite as straightforward as Zordon had led them to believe… but then when was anything? They followed, careful to duck their heads and trying not to look too suspicious.

The street was busy, so it was easy to lose themselves in the throng. Dex had a talent for keeping in their sight, though. With his hood and stately tread, he looked more like a religious hermit than a fugitive. They kept it up for a few more streets, and Tommy was starting to wonder if they were ever going to get to their destination, when they saw Zack waiting outside a doorway.

Dex made a hushing motion at the clearly-confused Zack, then ushered them all past the door. They looked to be in a simple hotel room, though the hotel seemed to be long deserted. There was a layer of dust over everything, with sand and plant life starting to creep in through the sole window.

“Okay, how the heck did you do that?” Zack said. “I… I just got this impulse to be here, and I don’t even know where here is.”

Dex was busy barricading the door and covering the window. “First, tell your friends your bad news. Then we will plan.”

“What is it?” Tommy said. “Where is Kim? Jason?”

Zack blew air through his pursed lips. “We were at a bar when this… something… named Elgar came in and did something and suddenly everyone was gone.”

“Slaver teleport,” Dex said. “Your friends are possibly in greater danger than we. Elgar is Divatox’s nephew and assassin.”

“Okay, D… I mean Rider, slow down,” Tommy said. “We were here to gain the location of the Sword of Power from you. Now we have a space pirate after us, hiding from assassins, and part of our team has been captured by said space pirate. Can you start from the beginning and tell us what we’ve gotten ourselves into?”

“If Jason and Kimberly are captured, we need to go save them,” Billy said. “If they were captured by an assassin, we don’t have a lot of time…”

“Oh, Divatox won’t kill your friends. They have information and power,” Dex said, peering out the corner of a curtain before turning to face them. “Those are what Divatox craves the most, and that’s at the root of our problems.”

“She wants the Sword of Power,” Trini surmised.

Dex’s dark eyes hardened. “She doesn’t entirely know what she’s after.” He dropped his hood. “I’ve been undercover as an arms dealer here for about a year. In reality, I sell subpar weapons and disrupt the slavers as much as possible.”

“If slavery’s so much of an issue, why do people come here?” Trini said.

“Some are criminals, other fugitives from both sides. Many don’t have a choice. The slave trade was illegal until about a year and a half ago. That’s when this planet left ownership of Count Dregon and came under the purview of some opportunistic gangsters. It’s expensive to get off this planet. I was working on disrupting the center of the gangsters’ power... their agreement with Divatox. Divatox found me out. I was laying low and figuring out my next more when Zordon contacted me.”

“Sorry,” Zack said.

Dex shrugged. “A friend in need. We have made everything worse on both our parts, however.”

“We teleported here, and our communicator’s on the fritz,” Tommy said. “Sounds like we need to get to Divatox’s ship if we’re going to get our friends back. Rider, do you have a ship?”

Dex hesitated. “I do… It’s ostentatious. We’ll never get out of here without attracting attention, and we’ll never be able to sneak up on Divatox.” He took a breath, as if preparing for an argument. “I’m not helping you fight Divatox, though. You’re on your own after this.”

The Rangers stared at him, and he glowered back.

“I thought you were fighting the slavers,” Billy pointed out. “Wouldn’t helping us be mutually beneficial?”

Dex’s crystal, which occasionally caught the light, seemed to darken. “You’re not just rescuing your friends. You’re fighting a war. That’s not a war I’m interested in anymore. I’m just interested in helping people.”

“We do help people,” Zack protested.

“Which is why you and Trini are leaving the war, along with your friend Jason?” Dex said. At their confused expressions, he pointed at his crystal. “Telepathic. I can read some people better than others. I tried to make contact with you, Tommy, as well as Kimberly, and I couldn’t break through.”

“We’ve been subjected to mind control. Makes us a bit closed off,” Tommy said. “And you’re avoiding the question. What’s the difference between fighting Divatox the slaver and Divatox the commander for the side of darkness? It’s the same war.”

Dex ground his teeth. “You can say that so simply. Nothing good can come from this war.” He seemed to consciously calm himself. “You’ve suffered. I can read that much. You will suffer more. You will lose people. You will lose yourself. Because of you, a war rages on your planet, and you and the other side will tear each other apart until nothing of what you love remains.”

Dex’s crystal shone brighter with each word, until he raised his hand to his head, seemingly unable to stop himself. The room brightened with images projected from the crystal.

There was no sound, and the images were disjointed and seemed washed out. It showed Prince Dex, and then a motorcycle rider in a mask, fighting on a desert planet. Not the planet they were on, but one that was deep red, with towering rock formations and deep caves. Dex struggled with mechanical warriors, saw his friends fall around him, his mentor die, his people suffer the ravages of war. He fought against a man in a white mask, until only the two of them remained. Until the planet and all its inhabitants were dead, and Dex was standing over the man whose mask was stained in blood…

“Count Dregon,” Dex whispered, though in the perfect silence he was easily understood. “My uncle. He sided with the forces of darkness, but it became much more than sides in a war. It became personal. He…” Dex swallowed hard. “He thought he was helping our planet. He had closed his mind from mine, but I could read that much. He had the best of intentions at first… but he became twisted with evil. He ravaged Edenoi, wanting power and resources… anything that Dark Specter wanted.”

“Dark Specter…?” Tommy said hesitantly.

Dex looked up, seeming to wake from a nightmare. He chuckled darkly. “You don’t even know who it is you fight against. You are truly lost.” He looked at Trini and Zack. “You are wise to leave the fight.”

“It’s not like we’re giving up,” Zack retorted hotly, advancing on Dex, even as Dex regarded him coldly. “We’re doing other things, letting others take our places. That’s why we’re here in the first place.”

Trini held Zack’s arm, pulling him back. “You’re telepathic, Prince Dex. Then how is it that you haven’t realized that, unlike you, we haven’t lost hope. Would we be fighting for peace if we thought the Earth was doomed?” She smiled slightly. “Would you be fighting for your own enslaved people if you had given up hope?”

Dex looked a little sick, and he seemed to waver at her steady gaze. “How did you know?”

“That you’re your uncle’s heir?” Trini said. “That this planet was a colony of Edenoi, and is full of the last of your people? It was just an assumption that turned out true.”

“And you’re right,” Tommy said. “Your place will be here, with your people, once we overthrow the gangsters’ rule over this planet. You’ll need to be here to sort through the chaos.”

Dex’s eyes flew open. “But… I refused to help you. Why would you help me and my people?”

“Like you said,” Tommy smiled, “a friend in need. Now, you said your ship was noticeable, but will it get us out of here?”

Dex nodded slowly. “If your teleporter can get us to a certain place in the desert, that’s where the ship is buried. I’ll need help starting it, and we’ll need a distraction.”

“Then how about we use the overthrow of those gangsters as a distraction?” Tommy said, now smiling. “Where’s that center of power you were talking about?”

 

---

 

Tommy, Trini, and Zack moved with the crowd, unencumbered by their backpacks, which were safe with Billy and Dex. The building to their right was unimpressive, almost remarkably so. It was also, if Dex’s intel was correct, the center of all that was going wrong on this planet.

“Are we really going to assassinate those people?” Zack said in a low tone. “I mean, I know they’re slavers, but…”

“I dunno,” Tommy said under his breath. “If we can get our teleporters working, we can just get rid of them for a while, but…”

“Um… Tommy?”

They suddenly realized that the milling crowd around them had slowly been forming a circle. They heard a sudden mechanical whine from various points.

Tommy shrugged. “So much for incognito. IT’S MORPHING TIME!”

The words, suddenly yelled, startled the people surrounding them. One shot off an energy bolt, but it was absorbed harmlessly in the power surge of the Rangers transforming. The circle backed away from the now morphed Power Rangers.

“Trini, you know what to do,” Tommy said.

Trini nodded and launched herself from the ground, only second to Kimberly in how high she could jump. She landed neatly on the top of the building, where a group of guards who were playing some kind of cards stared at her in shock.

“Anyone know where I can get to your bosses?” she asked.

They drew their energy pistols.

“Didn’t think so.” She quickly dodged and, drawing her Power Daggers, deflected each of the bolts back to her assailants, careful to aim for legs and arms.

Three had passed out. The fourth clutched her arm in pain, and she looked more ready to get to a hospital than to retaliate.

Trini approached her. “About those directions?”

The guard grunted. “Through that door, down one flight of stairs, third door on the right. Can’t miss it. I do not get paid enough to deal with this.”

“Fair enough,” Trini said, and ran through the door.

 

---

 

Tommy and Zack fought back to back, surrounded by guards who seemed far stronger than they appeared to be. Tommy supposed he was using human standards: every alien he ever met was stronger than the average human in some way.

It bothered him, the way the mission was going. They’d already lost two members, the rest of the team had split up, and communication continued to be unreliable. In the meantime, they had gotten caught up in someone else’s battle, someone who had told them in no uncertain terms that he wanted nothing to do with the war they were all fighting.

The war… That bothered him as well. Tommy had seen more of the universe than the rest of the Rangers. He’d jumped dimensions, served on the side of darkness, and maintained a complicated connection with his former captor. The others found it easy to think of being a Power Ranger as simply guarding the Earth from alien attack, but he’d seen a bit more of the war. But still, he was completely lost in this alien world. Lord Zedd’s attack on Empress Rita and Earth had been devastating, but they had, for the most part, persevered. But now there was Divatox, and an intergalactic slave trade, and a warrior for their side who’d had to kill his own uncle, and now Dark Specter…

Once they got their friends back, and got the Sword of Power, he had much to discuss with Zordon.

He realized, though, that while he was worried about Kimberly and Jason, he wasn’t flying into a panic. He knew they could take care of themselves. And, somehow, that heartened him.

“You know…” Zack said, his voice a little breathless in the speaker in his helmet, “there’s something kinda weird about these guards.”

“They’re strong,” Tommy acknowledged.

“No kidding… but there’s something else,” Zack said. “I think we need to break through the lines and get to Trini.”

Tommy forced his brain to concentrate on the battle. Now that he wasn’t worrying about far-flung space politics, he realized Zack had a point. There was something… off… about these fighters. “Agreed. Billy, do you copy? How’s your part of the plan going?”

There was a pause, and then Billy’s voice broke through the static. “We had to do some minor repair work. This ship has laid dormant for a year after a crash. We think…”

“Let me know when you’re up in the air,” Tommy broke in, needing to concentrate on the fight more than hearing Billy explain repairs. “And put a move on it. We may need back-up.”

“Affirmative,” Billy said.

“Okay, Zack, so we need to break through the lines?” Tommy said. “I think this calls for weapons.”

Zack swung his Power Axe in a wide arc, scattering the fighters. “I’m way ahead of you.”

 

---

 

Billy found himself in the odd position of giving assistance with repairs more than actually handling them. Had he the time, he could figure out Dex’s ship, make repairs, and possibly even improve on the whole thing. He didn’t have the time, so he watched Dex intently and handed him what he needed.

“You’ll only have life support in the command deck,” Dex said. “That’s all we have time for. I’m also bringing some of the weapons systems online, but they’ll mostly be for clearing space trash out of the way. You won’t be able to take on Divatox with them.”

“We greatly appreciate this,” Billy said. “I will try to return this ship in better shape than you’re giving it.”

Dex was silent for a moment. “Do not worry yourself. This… this is not truly my ship.”

Billy looked around at the command deck. When Dex had called this ship ostentatious, he hadn’t been joking. It was enormous, white, and looked remarkably like a giant locust with multiple sets of curled legs at the bottom, all of which were buried in the sand currently. The command deck was dark and ominous, and looked rather familiar.

Billy suddenly realized. “Your uncle’s ship.”

Dex sighed. “This ship was once the terror of this quadrant. Count Dregon’s flagship. He used this ship to rule the planets below. It used to be able to decimate a planet’s population in hours… before I sabotaged it.” He grunted as he pulled some wires out, and began carefully soldering some together. “When my uncle turned down the path of darkness, he stayed up here. He no longer set a foot on Edenoi, and he razed his own planet from the sky. And it was here he died…”

Dex’s voice trailed off. Billy frowned. Dex had obviously gone through some horrible things. If Billy’s interpretation of the images were accurate, he had been forced to kill his uncle in this very room, and only after the rest of his planet had been destroyed. It was horrific… but also it seemed that Dex had done what he’d had to do. That didn’t mean…

“Yes, it was necessary,” Dex said quietly, and Billy remembered with a jolt that Dex was telepathic. Apparently Billy’s brief time being mind controlled by Rita had not given him the same mental defenses as had Tommy and Kimberly.

“I never doubted it was necessary,” Dex continued. “We’ll always find war that’s necessary, actions and atrocities that are… necessary.” He raised from the floor and leaned against the console he’d been working under. “Once there was a warrior, strong and pure and shining. He was the protector of his planet, but renowned around the galaxy as a force for good. He lived his life according to a strict code of honor: duty to family, duty to country, duty to planet, duty to galaxy.”

“I take it things did not go all that well for this warrior.”

Dex smiled bitterly. “His battles became harder. His opponents tougher. He had to become more powerful. He never escalated, but he had to defend his planet. The power… it changed him. Made him become something he wasn’t. He did as I did. He defended his planet, but he compromised. He did what was… necessary. He did what he had to because of his honor.” Dex took a breath. “All that remains of his glory is a statue. His planet long dead, and the warrior himself consumed in darkness. That’s where you’ll find the Sword of Power.”

That turn caught Billy off guard. “The one we’re looking for?”

“Yes. The only good thing left of the shining warrior.” An alert sounded on the dashboard of the console, and Dex pulled himself to his feet. “I’ve left the coordinates of the planet programed here in the ship. Now, I must lend aid to your friends while you learn to pilot the ship.”

“You know,” Billy said, “I sort of assumed you were speaking of yourself when you were talking about this… shining warrior.”

Dex closed his eyes. “Unfortunately, no. This story is all too common.” He looked up. “It is a story I hope you will avoid.”

Billy was about to respond when Tommy’s voice blared on his communicator. “Billy, Rider, come in! We’ve made a discovery!”

“What is it, Tommy?” Billy said.

“We’re not fighting humans… I mean, people,” Tommy said. “That’s what’s been bugging me and Zack about them, but I just got confirmation when I broke the skin on one of them. They’re machines!”

Dex grabbed onto the console, looking like he was going to faint. “I wondered… when I couldn’t read them… but I never thought…” He grabbed Billy’s wrist and brought the communicator to his mouth. “Tommy, you have to get yourself and your friends out of there. It’s too dangerous!”

Tommy didn’t answer, only static answering them.

“They’ll be too busy fighting,” Billy said. “But what’s the difference? We fight Putties all the time, and they’re not really… people. They’re sort of like machines.”

“No, they’re not,” Dex said tightly. “This… this had to be my uncle’s doing. I didn’t realize what deals he’d made to keep himself in power, and then when Dregon died they took advantage…”

Billy went cold. “Dex… what are we talking about here? Worse than Divatox? Worse than Lord Zedd?”

“Much worse,” Dex said. “We can only hope no one from the royal family is here, or we’re all dead.”

 

---

 

Trini stared at what was supposed to be the center of power, where the “gangsters” were. She’d been expecting a lot of things, including a 1930s speakeasy (the term “gangster” conjured up cartoonish associations). Instead, she faced a metal man in a tricorn hat, who looked for all the world like a 17th-century highwayman.

“What’s this?” the man said. “An interloper? Are you here to fight that Edenoi pretender’s battles for him?”

Trini stared. “You… are definitely not what I was expecting.”

The metal man advanced, causing Trini to put up her guard. “It appears I shall have to teach you manners. You will address me as Prince Gasket, heir apparent to the Machine Empire.”

Trini held her daggers at the ready. “Impressive title for someone running slaves to a space pirate on a neutral planet.”

“It’s been an off year,” Prince Gasket said airily. “Such happens when one’s father disapproves of one’s lady love. One has to resort to less than savory methods to raise enough money for the wedding… but enough about me. Let’s talk about the little matter of you trespassing.”

Trini opened her mouth to retort… but then realized she was flying backwards out of a third-story window. She had seconds to recover before landing on the street; the best she could do was roll when she hit the ground.

“Trini!” she heard Zack yell. Tommy and Zack had made their way to the front of the building past what now Trini realized were mechanical fighters.

“Guys!” she yelled. “Watch out! There’s…”

Before she could formulate a more coherent warning, there was a loud metal clang, and the metal man landed in the street between Trini and the others.

“You heroes are certainly colorful, but you are proving to be an inconvenience. I would have preferred to remain incognito,” Gasket said. “Though perhaps ‘cogs’ are exactly what we need right now.”

It wasn’t until that moment that Trini realized that the street was deserted, all except for her friends, Prince Gasket, and his fighters, who had decided to shed their skin disguises to show metal and gears. She wondered how many people actually lived on this planet still, and how many were machines in disguise.

She launched herself into battle, trying to angle herself closer to Tommy and Zack. Fortunately, her friends were doing the same, and soon they’d grouped together. Unfortunately, they were surrounded, and these “cogs” were significantly stronger than any Putties they’d faced. They didn’t have the painful feedback of Zedd’s Putties, but they were, on the whole, tougher.

“So…” Tommy said, “we may have gotten in over our heads a little.”

“Ya think?” Zack yelled.

“We need backup!” Trini called over her communicator. “Billy… anyone!!”

Soon, the three were on the ground, with Prince Gasket standing over them.

“It was a valiant struggle, one for the history records,” Gasket said, his arms folded. “But I think we all knew who would be the victor here. You have power, but you’re all woefully inexperienced… and you just don’t have enough. And, let’s be honest… this wasn’t your fight in the first place, was it?”

“You’re right… it wasn’t,” Tommy said grimly. “We were just flushing you out.”

Prince Gasket regarded the white-and-gold-clad warrior. “I can’t tell if that’s bravado or just plain stupidity… or both.”

“He gets that a lot,” Zack said. “But he wasn’t lying.”

“We’re not the ones you should be worried about,” Trini said.

Gasket looked as if he were going to reply, but he was cut off by the loud growl of an engine.

It was a figure clad in green armor and an insect-like helmet, brandishing a glowing sword and riding a motorcycle. He had already cut through a line of cogs without Gasket even noticing, and he looked like he was preparing for another pass.

“Who dares…?! Wait.” Prince Gasket laughed. “The fallen prince finally decides to stop hiding.”

“I should say the same for you.” Dex’s voice sounded clearly through the helmet. He obviously felt no need to disguise his voice. “I should have done this a long time ago.”

“And yet you’d rather send others to fight your battles for you,” Gasket mocked. “Perhaps they won’t destroy the entire planet in the process, unlike some.”

Dex calmly dismounted his motorcycle, looking for all the world like an alien knight walking from his steed. His sword stayed at the ready. “I admit it. I’ve done wrong. I’ve made compromises. And I gave up. But no more. I refuse to allow any more suffering to feed your avarice, Gasket. I give you one chance, out of respect for your situation, to leave this planet… before I run you through.”

Prince Gasket laughed. “Out of respect… I am the heir of the Machine Empire. One of the most powerful forces in the galaxy, second only perhaps to Dark Specter itself. I may be having a tiff with my old dad, but that does not change the fact that I outclass you on all counts, Edenoi scum.”

Dex advanced slowly, holding his sword at the ready. While he looked completely relaxed, the Rangers could tell at a glance they were witnessing a warrior far more experienced and skilled than they… one who was absolutely confident.

“What you’ve said is true, in all but one point. Yes, you are the heir to the Machine Empire, Prince Gasket. Yet you do not outclass me in any way. You see… I hold the powers of the Masked Rider. Powers that were given to me by my grandfather, King Lexian. Powers that my uncle, Count Dregon, craved, enough that he tore apart the planet and near tore apart me to get at them. But they are mine. You understand.”

Gasket stared. Even the Rangers were rather confused at this point.

“I am my uncle’s heir, but more importantly, I am my grandfather’s heir. King Lexian chose me… and King Lexian is dead. You’re looking at the rightful king of Edenoi, and you’re standing on a planet almost entirely peopled with Edenoi refugees. I outclass you, I outrank you, and you’ve hurt my people. So, and I will say this only once more…” He crouched, raising his sword, “get off my planet, or suffer my wrath.”

Prince Gasket launched himself at Prince… King Dex, apoplectic with rage, all false civility stripped from him. Dex countered calmly, using the wild attacks against the machine prince.

“Rangers, you must leave. Billy will have piloted the ship into teleportation range.”

Tommy, Trini, and Zack heard the words clearly in their heads. It was Dex’s voice, and it sounded just as clear as when he’d spoken to them in the hotel room, even across a battlefield.

“We can’t leave you,” Tommy retorted. “Not with this army.”

“You must,” Dex insisted. “Do not worry about me,” he continued, almost with a smile in his voice. “You have given me the drive to face my foe head on, to fight again for my people. While I may not rejoin the same war you have, that does not mean I will allow this evil to fester any longer. And,” he added, “you will always have an ally in me.”

“Thank you, Rider… King Dex,” Tommy said.

Before the cogs could renew the battle against the three Rangers, they teleported out.

“We’re all here… good,” Billy said as soon as they arrived in the dark command deck of the ship. “Dex wants us to break atmosphere now while he has the machines distracted.”

“I still don’t feel right leaving him,” Trini said. “We could barely handle the cogs.”

“Meaning we would probably just be in the way,” Tommy said, hating that he had to justify them running away, taking Dex’s only means of escape with them. “Dex can take care of himself… and he’s right. That’s not our fight. We have to rescue Jason and Kimberly, and we have to retrieve the Sword of Power. We… we all have our parts.”

Billy still had the fight on the planet’s surface on the ship’s monitor, but he knew he could only monitor for long before they had to break orbit and pursue Divatox. They watched the fight for as long as they could, wishing they could help. Gasket and Dex were evenly matched, but Gasket had fighters with him. Dex was easily outnumbered.

And then they noticed a cog fall. Dex didn’t cause it, as he’d had his back turned. Then another cog fell, this one at the hands of a middle-aged woman, whose hat slid back to reveal a crystal like Dex’s. A man joined her, and then a group of young teens, all fighting the cogs with what looked like weapons they’d thrown together from whatever junk they could find in the street.

Before the display blinked out, the Rangers got to watch the tide slowly turn as King Dex was joined by his fellow Edenoi people in a battle for the planet.

 

---

 

Jason and Kimberly were inching around their cell walls for a third time, determined to find a weakness they could use for escape, when the opaque cell wall turned transparent again. The two Rangers shifted to lean against their respective walls, hoping they looked more bored than attentive.

Elgar stood before them, bouncing his finger from Jason to Kimberly as he chanted a little rhyme under his breath. Kimberly was fairly sure this was going to be an alien version of eeney meeney miney moe, and she didn’t really want either of them to be picked for whatever Elgar had planned.

“Mind telling us when we’re gonna be let out of here?” Kimberly asked, putting a little bored mallrat in her accent. “Cuz being locked up is not what I’d consider a party.”

“Oh, you won’t be bored for too much longer,” Elgar said, chuckling. “In fact… no, that would spoil the surprise.”

“What?” Jason said. “You’ll do more stand-up comedy?”

Elgar’s wide, red grin somehow got even redder and wider. “You know, I can’t decide. I think you both deserve some fun.” He pushed a button on what looked like a walkie-talkie, and a device appeared in the middle of Jason’s and Kimberly’s cell. It immediately started beeping.

“What… what’s this?” Kimberly said, her nonchalance slipping.

“Oh, that? It’s a bomb,” Elgar laughed. “It can vaporize living tissue in a 10-foot radius, which, wouldn’t you know, is just about the dimensions of your cell. It’s set for an hour. Have fun trying to disarm it… or just give me a holler if you have any information.” He pressed another button, cutting off Jason and Kimberly’s surprised yelps as the wall became opaque again.

Chuckling to himself, Elgar turned around and opened up the only other occupied cell in the high security block. He was greeted by a bleeding simian face and tarnished golden armor.

“Same two questions, Goldar,” Elgar said cheerily. “What artifact did Lord Zedd send you to get, and what the hell does your girlfriend Scorpina have against us?”

Goldar looked up dully. He was hanging from the wall, various instruments of torture that Elgar could control remotely still hovering in front of him. He cleared his throat, obviously trying to get enough moisture in it to talk. “Same two answers,” he rasped. “Fuck you, and fuck your Aunt Divatox even harder.”

Elgar’s eyes glittered as he shrugged. “Oh, well.”

With that, the only sounds in the corridor were Elgar’s laughs and Goldar’s screams.

Chapter Text

Author’s notes: Ever since I decided to write this section as sort of a big space opera, I’ve run into a problem: I want to write about space-related Power Rangers things and foreshadow what they’ll face in the future, but I didn’t really watch those seasons. Like a lot of people my age, I sort of petered off around Turbo. The movie and the new season was a let-down, I was getting older… So, that means I’ve been doing research. Some of what I’m writing is made up, but some of it is culled from watching random episodes and doing wiki research. Essentially, the point I’m trying to make this this story is that the Rangers, in their adventures, are poking various things with very sharp sticks, and they’re eventually going to bring all that back to Earth with them.

 

Brighter Paths

 

Chapter 9: De-tox

 

Goldar fumed. But he was careful not to show just how angry has.

Let that little shit Elgar think he’d broken him.

“You know,” Elgar said, “you’re a primo chump, is what you are.”

Elgar remained on the other side of the transparent wall. Goldar had seen this material before. It was said to be unbreakable, but if you hit it with enough force right in the middle, the entire structure of the wall could burst. He’d get a little shredded, but that’s why he wore armor. Of course, he’d have to get out of his bonds first. He was working on that.

“I mean, look at you! Last I heard you sold ol’ Rita out to Lord Zedd, and now you’re loyal to him? Loyal enough to take torture just to hide information that’s going to come out anyway?” Elgar gave a sharp laugh. “And then there’s Scorpina. She’s never given a shit about you anyway.”

Goldar made his voice sound a bit weaker than it really was. “And that’s what you’d call a chump?”

“Damn straight!” Elgar said. “Hell, you’re not even blood related to any of ‘em. What are you going to get out of any of this? Rita… Scorpina… Zedd… they don’t owe you a thing. Why bother with all this? Why bother serving them?”

Elgar’s physical torture was sadistic, if unimaginative, but his psychological torture was so painfully transparent that Goldar wondered if he’d just finished reading Interrogation Made Easy or something. It confirmed what Goldar had suspected: while Divatox and her crew had a lot of power, they had almost zero experience. As in, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing.

All the more reason not to have been captured, he berated himself. He’d been on the neutral planet after intercepting Zordon’s communications with Prince Dex. He’d come across Dex just as he was being murdered by this psycho… who, despite being way too happy to kill anyone, had the presence of mind to just throw a slave teleport disc at Goldar. Next thing he knew, he’d been trussed up in this dungeon for interrogation.

It was nerves, Goldar decided. He’d gotten sloppy in the Earth campaign, where his opponents telegraphed their movements and played fair. He’d have to do better if he ever wanted to show his face before Lord Zedd again. Which, despite the fact that Elgar made a few good points, was something he actually wanted to do.

“What about you?” Goldar said. “Divatox can’t be the best job out there.”

“She’s my aunt, she got me this job,” Elgar said, rolling his eyes.

"And she’s your only family, right?” Goldar said, knowing how extensive the space pirate family really was. “Word is she was disowned by her father, and she’s got the smallest fleet in your whole family. Oh, did I say fleet? I meant ship. One ship.” Goldar grinned. “Maybe that’s it. You’re both outcasts. I may not have family connections, but at least my connections have real power.”

Elgar’s smile, for he was never not smiling, took on a more menacing air. “That’s real funny, Goldilocks. But I’ve got something you don’t.”

“What’s that?”

Goldar knew as soon as he said it that he’d just walked into it. Elgar gleefully set about the controls, the torture equipment whirred to life, and Goldar promised himself he wouldn’t pass out this time.


Kimberly and Jason were casually sitting against the wall, the remains of the bomb littering the middle of the floor. They’d quickly and quietly defused the bomb with their morphers, and had torn it apart to hide their methods. Elgar had already looked in on them, but had not started any new phase of torment. Presumably, someone else had his attention, and they could still occasionally hear the roars of their unfortunate neighbor.

Kimberly held a scorched bit of metal from the bomb that could make marks on the metal floor, and she was painstakingly using it to transcribe the dots and dashes she was feeling from the tiny buzzes in her communicator. This they shielded with Jason’s large frame as he quietly translated the Morse code.

“I’ve got to learn this,” Kimberly said quietly after a long bit of code. It was exhausting to keep up with, but they needed to do some planning with their fellow Rangers before they got there with their borrowed ship, and they couldn’t twig Divatox as to what they were doing. They still didn’t entirely know they were being watched.

“It’s not that hard,” Jason said, quickly writing out the translation. They would erase it before translating the next bit. “It’s not like learning a new language or anything: just letter replacement.”

He started buzzing in the response with his own communicator, giving Kimberly time to erase the marks and then rest a bit.

She’d need the rest. Because they were going to take down the ship, and hopefully Divatox and the rest with it.

It was a daring plan, and also a dangerous one. Billy had looked up what he could about Divatox’s ship, and Kimberly knew scraps from her research, but there were far too many unpredictable and unknown variables for her to be completely comfortable with the plan. They knew a way to smash out now, thanks to Billy’s research, but then they’d have to make their way to the engine room to start the self-destruct sequence, and then they’d have to make sure to load the slaves onto the Edenoi ship, all the while fighting Divatox and whoever she had fighting for her. They’d have to make sure she didn’t try to engage a ship to ship battle… or kill any of them. And Elgar showed no problem with killing.

Kimberly laid her head back and forced herself to breathe slowly. It was a reckless plan, something that was becoming more common with Tommy in charge. Jason was frowning. She knew he was thinking the same thing.

“If it’s worth anything,” Jason said quietly, having finished his message to the others, “while this isn’t ideal, I’m glad we could spend some time together before I left. You know… if we make it out of this.”

Kimberly smiled. “Remember… remember that car ride? In Billy’s car?”

It had been right after the Command Center had been destroyed, by Tommy, as they would find out later. The others had stayed at the Command Center and, unable to teleport, Jason and Kimberly had taken Billy’s flying car to get supplies and make parental alibis. Kimberly remembered breaking down, needing Jason to comfort her. She’d been so scared that someone had destroyed their one safe haven. She wondered at her own naivety at the time, thinking anywhere was actually safe. Thinking they would always remain whole, that they could win at the end of the day and everything would return to normal.

That was before falling in love with Tommy. Before suffering each and every battle as they were attacked on the most personal levels possible. Before becoming evil herself.

“You’ve changed since that time,” Jason broke into her thoughts, seeming to echo them. He must have seen the pained look in her eyes, because he chuckled. “I mean, we’ve all changed, of course. But you… you were always strong, but you’ve gotten so much stronger.” He grinned. “I don’t think you’re worried about helmet hair anymore.”

Kimberly rolled her eyes. “Do NOT talk about hair right now. I think not having a mirror right now is a mercy.” She ran a hand through her hair, wincing at the knot of hair she felt in the back.

Jason smiled. “You know what I mean. I… I’m glad Tommy made the decision he made.”

He put an arm around her shoulder, and she leaned in. Their planning was done. They had to wait for the signal. In the meantime, they could rest.


Divatox peered out of her periscope. It was an unnecessary affectation. Yes, her ship was submersible under water as well as space-worthy, as was the way of the space pirates, but a multitude of sensors mounted everywhere on the ship allowed her to see anywhere. All she really needed was a viewscreen, and indeed she had one so the rest of her crew could see.

But periscopes were cool. They added a certain gravitas to the bridge. So she used a periscope.

“That ship… I’ll be damned,” Divatox said under her breath as she regarded Count Dregon’s ship. “I really thought the bastard Dregon was dead. But… he is. Isn’t he?”

“We didn’t see a body,” Rygog commented. “But if Count Dregon was alive, would that machine brat have wormed his way into that planet? Would the Edenoi scum that Elgar killed still have been alive?”

“Fair points, and the ship is not necessarily the man,” Divatox said. “So either dear Prince Dex is not actually dead, which is possible, given Elgar’s track record, and the boy has finally decided to grow a pair… or we’ve got some heroes planning a daring rescue. Either way, let’s talk. Open a channel.”

Divatox put away the periscope and addressed the viewscreen, which was currently filled with two young people who looked as out of place on the ship as the two in the holding cell looked on that planet. They were very young and obvious uncomfortable with space travel. But they had power, and that certainly interested Divatox. She grinned toothily.

“If you’re looking for your friends,” she said, “you’ll be sorely disappointed. I’ve already had them killed. So, your choices are either to run along your merry way, or open fire in a foolhardy attempt at revenge. Either way…” her grin broadened, “I get to have fun.”

The boy with long hair crossed his arms. “Say you’re right. Say you’ve killed them. Why don’t you then just blow us out of the sky? Or kill us and take our ship? Or take us for slaves? You’re a pirate, after all.”

Divatox regarded the two. The boy who had spoken was standing upright, seeming to stare down the viewscreen. An obvious leader, though he didn’t quite have the presence to pull off the intimidation he was attempting. His companion, a boy with dark skin and curly hair, was leaning against a chair, chewing on something and smirking.

They were after something. There was a key to this mystery, and she was going to find it out.

“Why were you meeting with Prince Dex?” she said, trying to go for the direct approach.

The chewing boy laughed. “Oh, so they are still alive.”

Divatox frowned.

“Obviously,” the first boy said. “If you’re after information, you’re not going to kill the people who have it. You can’t get information from a corpse… though your boy Elgar apparently doesn’t know that.”

Divatox regained her humor. “My condolences for your loss of Prince Dex. Elgar can be rather careless with his toys. They always seem to wind up dead.”

“Oh, Dex isn’t dead,” the second boy said.

Divatox had considered that a possibility, but it was an unwelcome one.

“In fact,” the boy continued, “King Dex is currently kicking Prince Gasket’s mechanical ass and breaking your slaving organization. So…”

Divatox ground her teeth. “You think you’ve got the upper hand? You’re ants to me, and I still have your friends. If you don’t tell me what I want to know, I will kill them. Their lives are in your hands.”

Suddenly, the lights dimmed around Divatox. Her crew started scrambling to various stations, trying to explain the power fluctuation.

“Yes, they are,” the first boy said. “You shouldn’t have stayed still so long. Lets people teleport in and out fairly easily.”

“He’s right,” Rygog reported. “I’m reading four new life signs on board.”

Divatox was fuming, but not so much that she didn’t notice the confusion that passed over the boys’ faces. So, she had multiple groups of intruders, some they didn’t know about.

“Set the teleport shield,” Divatox barked. She grinned at the viewscreen. “I’m much obliged for the new prisoners. I’ll be back in touch to discuss your options.

She cut communication and spun to face Rygog. “Get in touch with Elgar, and scramble the crew. We have four intruders, some from our friends in Count Dregon’s ship and some from an unknown source. Find them. They’ll be looking to release the prisoners or sabotage the ship. Don’t let them.”

With that, Divatox left the bridge. If Elgar couldn’t make the prisoners talk, she would do it herself.


The screen went blank, and Tommy and Zack looked at each other. Billy had set the controls to automatically keep pace with Divatox’s ship, so thankfully neither of them had had to figure out how to work an alien spaceship. They weren’t planning on staying there long anyway.

“Four intruders?” Zack said. “There’ll be three once you go over, but there should only be Billy and Trini. There’s no one else around.”

“That we know of.” Tommy shrugged, choosing to ignore Zack’s slip that he wasn’t going over. “Apparently Divatox has more than one enemy. You’d think she’d be more careful about people teleporting on and off her ship in that case.”

“That’s still gonna make things difficult for… well… everything,” said Zack. “An enemy of Divatox does not mean a friend of ours.”

“Right. Better tell the others.” Tommy tapped his communicator. “Billy, do you read?”

Static answered him.

“Jason? Trini? Kimberly? Anyone out there?” He paused. “Zordon?” he asked in a small voice.

Zack huffed in frustration. “This is getting old. Man, you just don’t know how much you rely on communication if you don’t have any. We haven’t been able to talk to Zordon for hours, but now the other Rangers?”

“I’m guessing it’s whatever is scrambling teleportation on Divatox’s ship,” Tommy said, hoping that really was the case. “All we can do now is stick to the plan. We still gotta get over there. Ready to set up the zip line?”

“No,” Zack said. “Like I told Trini, no way in hell.”

“Oh, come on,” Tommy said, grinning. He knew Zack didn’t actually have a choice—they both knew that—but Tommy didn’t want to order him. He was still a bit uncomfortable leading the team when it came to that. “It’ll be just like a pirate boarding a ship.”

“In the vacuum of space.”

“You’ll be morphed.”

“Which means shit-all in the vacuum of space.”

“It’ll be fun.”

“Did I mention the vacuum of space?”

Tommy sighed. “Would you rather our friends fought over there by themselves?”

Zack scowled. “No… Fine, then. But I’m closing my eyes.”


“That was really easy,” Billy said, holding the now-useless power component in one glove, while he melted some of the circuitry on the panel with the other.

“That’s probably the last time we’re going to get to say that today,” Trini said, taking the power component, tossing it in the air, and slicing it in half with her dagger. “That’s got the ship working on emergency power and knocked out some of their security, but the self-destruct sequence on the bridge is going to be more difficult. We have to deal with more than just machines.”

“Acknowledged,” Billy said. “Though after our encounter fighting with Dex, I’m not sure I’m ever going to say ‘just a machine.’” He finished the sabotage job and put the torch away. He looked wistfully at the now-ruined controls. It almost felt like blasphemy to destroy such advanced technology, even if it was for a good cause.

“I’ll give Jason and Kim the signal,” Trini said, “and we’ll head for the bridge.” She smiled. “Things are about to get interesting.”

Billy smiled back and tried not to think how much he would miss Trini. He was so glad they could science together one more time.


“The hell you say?”

The corridors had gone dim, evidence of their emergency power status. Elgar stood in the brightest patch of the detention hallway, a communicator box pressed to his ear. “Rygog, have you been getting into the wine we took from those KO-35 refugees? That stuff made me walk on the walls for a week!”

“You weren’t walking on the walls,” Rygog said with barely-suppressed frustration. “You were lying on the ground and kicking the wall because of lost motor function. And will you pay attention?! There are intruders, and you should secure the prisoners.”

“Are you sure I wasn’t walking on the walls?” Elgar said. “I clearly remember…”

While Elgar had been talking, he hadn’t been paying attention to several things. He wasn’t listening to the conversation going on in the cell to his right, the one holding the Power Rangers behind an opaque glass wall. If he had, he would have known to step clear, as that wall was about to shatter.

He was also not paying attention to the cell on his left, where Goldar was being held behind a transparent glass wall. If Elgar had been paying attention, he would have seen Goldar shifting in his bonds and repositioning the drill that had been boring into his chest to point toward the straps holding up his arms. The drill made quick work of the straps and, before Elgar could even register what was happening, Goldar crashed to the floor, tore the heavy casing of the drill from its stand, and hurled it right at the center of the glass. The glass exploded with a loud CRACK, and Goldar, grabbing up the fallen drill again, launched himself past the doorway and onto Elgar.

Elgar didn’t even see it coming, and hadn’t had time to prepare for Goldar’s strength. He was unconscious before he hit the floor, breaking the communicator on the way down.

Moments later, Jason and Kimberly emerged from their cell, morphed to protect their skin from the glass, to see a weak and bloodied Goldar furiously pounding on an unconscious Elgar.

“That may answer a few questions,” Kimberly said quietly. “Should we…”

Jason was already in motion. He grabbed Goldar by the arms and pulled him from Elgar. Before Goldar could acknowledge the intrusion, he slumped forward in Jason’s arms, his body finally giving out, now that it didn't have anything to fight.

Kimberly took one look at the cell opposite them with the same shattered glass, the torture implements, and Goldar’s blood-slicked armor. “Three guesses as to who Elgar’s torture victim was.”

Jason was checking for a pulse, remembering where to check from the last time he’d stood over a tortured Goldar. “He’s alive, but his pulse is weak. Gotta be shock and blood loss.” He looked at Kimberly. “We still have to get the slaves over to Dex’s ship, but if we leave Goldar here he’s going to die. Your call, Kim.”

Kimberly pursed her lips. On the one hand, she’d never been all that friendly with Goldar, even when she was evil. On the other hand… a life was a life. They knew Goldar, and he had once been Tommy’s friend.

“I’ll go after the slave quarters,” Kimberly said. “You take Goldar to the zip line and over to the ship. Secure him, try to stabilize him, and come back if we’re still over here. We may need the help.”

“Right,” Jason said wryly, shouldering Goldar the best he could. He would rather have not moved Goldar at all before getting medical help, but if their plans went well, there wouldn’t be a ship all too soon, and he couldn’t risk dooming even an enemy to be blown up like that.

Speaking of…

“Leave him,” Kimberly said, pointing to Elgar. “If he wakes up, he can save himself, but we’re not putting ourselves out for him.”

“But…” Jason began.

“He kills for fun,” Kimberly said tiredly. “He tortures for the thrill of it.” She turned, heading for the quarters full of the slaves Elgar had personally terrorized. “He doesn’t get saved.”

Jason nodded and turned in the other direction. He was for once grateful he wasn’t the one making the hard decisions.


Zack leaned against the wall, his hands on his knees. He wondered what would happen if he vomited in his helmet. He didn’t think one of his Ranger powers was sudden invulnerability to nausea.

Tommy secured the zip line to a code that only the other Rangers knew. The zip line was a really sophisticated device; Billy’s head had almost exploded when he discovered it in the ship’s stores. It was less of a line and more of a directed gravity field. It linked two ships together in space, creating a semi-permeable portal at each end so that people could get through but it wouldn’t hurt either ships’ hull, and allowed travelers to zoom through space, protected by a field on all sides. As long as neither ship moved, the field couldn’t be broken, and it was protected by security on both ends.

It was also possibly the most fun Tommy had ever had.

“See?! What’d I tell ya?” Tommy said. “Wasn’t it like flying through space?”

Zack shook his head hard, but that just made his stomach heave, so he stopped. “Not doing that again. Can’t make me.”

Tommy sighed. “We had to set the teleportation shield on the other ship before we left to prevent any intruders. There’s literally no way to get back without that.”

Zack laughed shakily. “You know… sometimes… I still can’t stand you.”

“Won’t have to put up with me for long, though,” Tommy said.

They looked at each other uneasily. Zack had been the one least willing to welcome Tommy to the team, and they’d never actually been close. But now that Zack was leaving, there was a sense of regret for lost opportunity.

“Right,” Zack said, breaking the spell. “I’m off to help Billy and Trini on the bridge.”

“And I’m headed to Jason and Kim at the slave quarters,” Tommy said. “Meet back here in half an hour.”

They ran in opposite directions, somewhat grateful to do so.


Tommy had gone past one intersection and up one floor, feeling particularly lucky that he hadn’t run into anyone, when he ran into someone. Or something. He couldn’t decide.

He raised his sword at the monster before him. It was a giant skeleton, with massive shoulders, a soldier’s helmet, and a bony grinning face. Exactly half of him looked like he’d been painted in camouflage, while the other half was white bone.

“You work for Divatox?” Tommy said. He almost dropped his guard, though, when he realized the skeleton had said the same thing at the same time.

“Another intruder,” he said, and realized the skeleton had again said the same thing at the same time.

“Could you stop?” Tommy said, thankfully without the echo this time.

“Hey, you were copying me,” the skeleton said. “And what the hell’s a Power Ranger doing here? Only White Ranger I know of is on Aquitar.”

Tommy looked down at his costume. “Oh, yeah, I’m used to being green, though. You know what I am?”

He stopped back when the skeleton raised his own sword, a sword that seemed to be made from bone as well. “Yeah, I know what you are,” he said, his voice suddenly dropping menacingly. “And I know who you are. You’re him.” He spat out the last word like a curse. “I gotta beef with you.”

Tommy barely had a chance to raise his guard again when the skeleton attacked. Tommy defended himself, wondering how he could have pissed off someone he didn’t know this much.


“You know…” Jason said through gritted teeth, “this would be a LOT easier if you weren’t a big… heavy… space monkey…”

Goldar didn’t answer, considering he was still unconscious. Instead, he unhelpfully bled some more, making Jason’s fireman’s hold on him more unstable as the blood slicked over Jason’s gloves. It didn’t stick to Jason’s uniform, but it did shift Jason’s hold on Goldar every few minutes.

“And it would be really helpful if Divatox’s ship hadn’t been designed by a crazy person,” Jason said. He’d already gotten lost twice and had to get directions from Zack… who sounded like he had his hands full at the moment.

“I designed this ship,” a very familiar voice said behind Jason.

Jason turned to see Divatox advancing on him. Of course.

“Explains a lot,” Jason said. He shifted Goldar on his shoulder, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to either run or fight while lugging him around. And it meant certain death for Goldar if he left him there and ran. That wasn’t even an option. So… Jason put Goldar down, got between him and Divatox, and crouched in a fighting stance.

Divatox took one look at him and laughed. “Oh, you expect a fight to happen, do you?” She smirked. “I knew you were after power, Jason Lee Scott of Angel Grove, California, wherever that is, but I didn’t know you were also suicidal. Of course, you could take yourself and your fellow prisoner back to your cell, I’ll think about forgiving the mess you’ve made.”

Jason eye twitched at hearing his information said back to him, probably read straight from his luggage tag in his backpack. “Not sure if you’ve looked around, Divatox, but things aren’t going that well for you.”

“Oh, honey…” Divatox grinned, “you really don’t know what you’re getting into. Don’t worry… I’ll make it quick.”

She launched herself at him before he knew what was happening. He felt a swoop, his stomach turned over… and suddenly he realized he was being held upside down by his ankle. And being repeatedly slammed against the wall. Three slams was enough to de-morph him. He held his breath and closed his eyes, waiting for the fourth one that would probably end his life.

And then an alarm split the air. Divatox screamed a curse, dropped him, and ran down the corridor.

“Hey… you alive?” came a weak growl from behind him.

Jason groaned and tried to move. “Yeah, of course you’d wake up for that.”

He looked up to see Goldar using the wall to get to his feet. As soon as he was on his feet, Jason expected him to head off and leave him. Jason would have to call for help, and he hoped his communicator hadn’t been damaged.

Instead, Goldar limped over to him. “You got a way off this boat?”

“Sure,” Jason said. “Zip line.” He motioned vaguely down the same corridor Divatox had just disappeared down, and then immediately cursed himself. He could have used that as a way to get help from Goldar.

Goldar didn’t disappear, though. Still holding on to the wall for support, he reached down and helped Jason to his feet. “Then let’s get the fuck out of here. I assume you Rangers have some crazy plan, and I don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.”

Jason looked over the both of them. Goldar looked half dead on his feet, and Jason couldn’t morph without hurting himself even more. They were leaning on each other just to limp along. “Where’s your sword?” Jason said, grasping for anything they could use to protect themselves, particularly if Divatox came back to finish the job. Or if Elgar came for payback.

“Gone,” Goldar said, keeping his eyes straight ahead. “That bastard Elgar vaporized it right in front of me.”

“Sorry,” Jason said, pulling them to the right as they reached an intersection, thankfully away from where Divatox had gone. “I shoulda let you kill him.”

Goldar guffawed. “Watch out, Red Ranger. You’ll lose both of your goody two shoes.”

Jason chuckled weakly. “Why do you think I’m leaving?”

Goldar didn’t respond. Instead, they focused on making their painful way to the zip line.


Kimberly’s hands were shaking, but she kept them folded to try to control them. She hoped her voice modulator was hiding the fact that her voice was equally shaky.

“Why don’t they move, Zarius?”

She looked to the Edenoi woman standing next to her, the one who had become de facto leader of the thirty slaves in the bunker, most of whom were Edenoi.

“A few more days, and we might all be like that,” Zarius said with a quiet bitterness in her voice. “Slaves aren’t supposed to have free will, after all.”

“You’re not slaves,” Kimberly insisted. “Not anymore. Once we get you over the zip line to our ship.”

“And then what?” Zarius pulled her brown hair back, the light throwing her hollowed out eyes in sharp relief. “It’s not like we have a place to go back to. Lexian… Dex… hell, even Dregon. All dead, and the planet uninhabitable.”

Kimberly’s head popped up. “Dex? As in, Prince Dex?”

Zarius’s eyes were starting to swim. “Elgar just told us how he…”

“Oh, he’s not dead,” Kimberly said. “He just saved my teammates, and he’s still fighting on the neutral…”

Kimberly didn’t finish, as Zarius had grabbed both of her shoulders. “You… you’re saying Dex is still alive?”

Kimberly cleared her throat. “I think he wants to go by ‘King Dex’ now.”

Zarius gave out a loud whoop and turned to face the other slaves. “You hear that?! If Dex is still alive and still fighting, you sure as hell aren’t going to sit on your asses any longer!”

She and the other coherent Edenoi started grabbing their compatriots and pulling them to the door. Kimberly grinned behind her helmet, glad she’d accidentally hit on the thing that would motivate them all… and ran right smack into Scorpina. At that same moment, a loud alarm rent the air.

“Watch where you’re going, Pink Ranger,” Scorpina said breezily. “I have precious cargo here.”

“I heard there were other intruders,” Kimberly said. She eyed the large jar Scorpina was holding in front of her. “What’s in the jar?”

“None of your business,” Scorpina said tartly. “And we might need to get a move on. I just tripped the alarms, and Divatox is on her way.” She shifted the jar. “We apparently can’t teleport. You got an exit strategy.”

Kimberly sighed and rolled her eyes. She apparently had drawn the short straw, as neither Jason nor Tommy was there to give her backup. “You help get these slaves out, you get to use our zip line. Deal?”

Scorpina’s face split in a grin. “Sounds good. SLAVES! STAND!”

Immediately the complacent slaves got to their feet, having resisted all of Zarius’s attempts at getting them going. She stared in bewildered fury at Scorpina.

Scorpina shrugged. “Divatox has apparently been putting drugs in their food. It hits some harder than others. They’re only going to respond to one-word, simple commands right now.”

Zarius looked at Kimberly. “You trust this woman?”

“Not in a billion years,” Kimberly said, eyeing Scorpina’s smug face. “But Divatox is on her way, and if everything’s going to plan, this ship’s going up in flames all too soon. So…”

“You Rangers are blowing up Divatox’s ship?” Scorpina said in disbelieving laughter. “When did you all suddenly turn fun?”

Kimberly sighed. She knew Scorpina would be a fan of Tommy’s plan. “Just… let’s get out of here before the situation turns too fun.”

Scorpina hoisted the jar again. “Lead the way, Pink.”

Kimberly turned and, rankling at having to do it, yelled, “SLAVES! MARCH!”


“What purpose does a periscope serve in a spaceship?” Billy asked wearily after the third time he’d been slammed into it.

Trini was too busy fighting to answer, and Billy joined in. Unfortunately, they were behind schedule. While they were keeping pace with Divatox’s fighter, they had to work in tandem to do so. Neither could slip away to set the self-destruct sequence.

So it was quite a relief when an energy blast came shooting from the entry to the bridge, and they could see the Power Axe aimed right at the fighter.

“You’d be Rygog, right?” Zack said. “So how’s imprisoning those intruders going?”

Rygog said nothing. In fact, the blast from the Power Axe had apparently caught him just right, and he’d keeled over immediately.

“You’re late!” Trini snapped.

“Better late than never,” Zack said. “And you guys were having problems with him?”

Trini was preparing to retort furiously when a cool computer voice came over the loudspeaker, “Fifteen minutes to self-destruct.”

They looked over at Billy, who waved from a console. “I expect that means we should make our escape expeditiously.”

Trini threw up her hands. “Right then.” She walked over to Rygog and gave him a good kick. “Hey. Wake up. You’re ship’s going to blow up, and you probably don’t want to be on it.”

Rygog stirred and looked around groggily. “Did you just say the ship was going to blow up?”

“And I’ve destroyed the controls,” Billy added. “And it seems the self-destruct sequence prevents teleportation as well.”

He got up, and the three Rangers put up their guard.

“I’m not going to fight you,” Rygog said in a tired voice. “If I don’t save Divatox and Elgar, they’re going to get themselves blown up.”

The three watched as he sprinted down the hallway, going rather fast despite his bulk and armor.

“You know,” Zack said, “we could probably say the same thing about Tommy, Jason, and Kimberly.”

With that, the three ran down the hallway themselves, hoping against hope their friends had actually made it to the rendezvous point.


“Fifteen minutes to self-destruct,” the computer calmly informed the rest of the ship.

Kimberly, Zarius, and Scorpina started herding the Edenoi and various other drugged prisoners faster down the hallway.

Goldar and Jason looked at each other exasperatedly, and then started limping along faster.

Rygog found the unconscious Elgar first and hoisted him onto his shoulder, barely breaking his dead run.

And the skeleton finally pauses in his attacks against Tommy.

“Did that just say ‘self-destruct?’” the skeleton said.

Tommy shrugged. “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

They both jumped when they heard loud footfalls come down the hallway adjacent to them. A minute later, Kimberly appeared, leading a line of dead-eyed people.

“Where the hell have you been?!” Kimberly yelled at Tommy. “I had to send Jason off to do… something… but I expected you as backup.”

“Seems like you took care of everything,” Tommy said. “And I was fighting with this guy.”

“You were doing WHAT?” There was a furious, familiar voice at the end of the line, and Tommy was shocked to see Scorpina push her way to the front, carrying a large jar and seething at the skeleton. “Rito, what the hell?! You were supposed to be helping me get the jar!”

“Looks like you got it on your own,” the skeleton… Rito… said. “And do you know who this is?” He pointed a bony thumb at Tommy.

Scorpina looked at the morphed form that she’d never seen. “I know exactly who this is, and you have no business fighting him when we’re on a mission and, oh, the ship is going to blow up in…”

“Thirteen minutes to self-destruct,” the computer intoned.

“Thank you!” Scorpina yelled at it.

“What are you doing working with Scorpina?” Tommy said to Kimberly. “And what’s in the jar?”

“None of your business,” Scorpina said.

“I needed help, and I apparently wasn’t getting any of it from my teammates,” Kimberly shot back. “I’ve promised her a trip on the zip line, by the way, and now I guess we have to let her buddy come with.”

“Excuse me…” Zarius interjected, “but I don’t know where the zip line is, and I’d rather not spend my new-found freedom being blown up.”

“You’re right, and we’re close,” Kimberly said. “Come on, everyone. SLAVES, MARCH!”

Tommy led the way to the zip line around the corner, eyeing the odd assortment of his teammates, prisoners, enemies, and one irate skeleton, but deciding not to question any of it right then. As soon as they turned the corner, they saw Trini, Zack, and Billy barreling in from the opposite direction. They paused in shock at the sight of a giant skeleton, and then even more shock at the sight of Scorpina.

“No time,” Tommy said. “Billy, you go over first so you can help the prisoners when we send them over.”

“Affirmative!” Billy said excitedly. He keyed in the code and threw himself down the zip line. The shield and vacuum dampened any sound, but they could practically hear Billy’s excited yells as he made the trip.

As soon as he’d cleared the other side, Billy gave the signal, and Zarius and Kimberly started ordering the rest of the prisoners down the zip line, trying to evacuate those least capable of taking care of themselves first.

“Where’s Jas?” Zack said. “And who’s that guy? And what’s in the jar?”

“None of your business,” Scorpina said.

“I sent Jason with… another prisoner who was wounded,” Kimberly said, eyeing Scorpina. “He should have made it to the zip line already, but…”

“He ran into Divatox.”

Everyone who wasn’t loading prisoners into the zip line turned to see Jason, unmorphed and covered in blood, come around the corner. Jason gave one heave, and they realized he was dragging someone in gold armor.

Trini, Zack, and Tommy ran forward. Zack caught Jason as he was pitching forward, having made it as far as he could unaided. Tommy and Trini grabbed the person Jason had been dragging, and then stepped back when they realized who it was.

“Yeah, okay, it was Goldar,” Kimberly said. “He was being tortured by Elgar. If we left him, he would have died.”

“Still an option,” Scorpina said.

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Jason said, feeling a bit stronger now that he wasn’t trying to support or carry Goldar’s weight. “He’s been helping me escape, and he just now passed out again from blood loss and who knows what internal damage.”

“No one dies,” Tommy snapped at Scorpina. “At least… not anyone who’s in Goldar’s shape. How’s the transfer going?”

“We’re starting on the prisoners who are still in their right minds,” Kimberly reported.

“We send Goldar next,” Tommy said. “Jas, you too. Trini, go with them, get Jas some serum, and do what you can for Goldar. Get him in one of those cells.”

“Oh, look at this. All the dead people standing in a group. So convenient.”

Zarius and her fellow prisoners recoiled in terror at the voice, and the able-bodied Rangers drew their weapons.

Divatox stood before them, smiling pleasantly. It was only a single twitch on her cheek that told of her fury. It jumped when the computer informed them there were ten minutes until self-destruct.

“Oh, how fun,” Divatox said softly. “The children want to fight. Ask Jason there how much of a bad idea it is to fight me.

Jason had sagged against the wall when Zack wasn’t there to hold him up. He didn’t have to say anything.

“And how long did it take me to do that, Jason?” Divatox said sweetly.

“About a minute,” Jason said, trying not to show how much she unnerved him.

Divatox’s smile broadened. “And imagine what I could do in ten.”

“I never pegged you as a ‘go down with the ship’ kind of gal,” Scorpina supplied.

Divatox turned her sharp eyes at Scorpina, her smile melting when she noticed the jar. “That’s mine,” she said through gritted teeth.

“It’s really not,” Scorpina said dangerously. “I don’t understand why you have it anyway.”

“Just an opportunity to take that stuck-up witch down a peg or two,” Divatox said. “Little princess, always handed everything on a silver platter. Some of us have to actually work for what we have.”

“What did you call her?!” Rito said, brandishing his sword.

While this was going on, Zarius had been quietly and quickly securing the freedom of all her friends. Tommy kept watch out of the corner of his eye, and as soon as Zarius herself had disappeared, he launched into action. “Fire!” he yelled, and Zack, Trini, and Kimberly all pulled their blade blasters and fired on Divatox. It didn’t hurt her, but in the ensuing confusion, Tommy had time to grab the jar from Scorpina’s hands and fling it down the zip line.

“There,” he said. “No more prisoners. No more jar. No more ship in…”

“Seven minutes to self-destruct,” the computer said calmly.

“Yeah, that,” Tommy said. “So do you want to fight and die? Or run and possibly save yourself? Because you’re not getting down this zip line. Guy on the other end will see you in it and break the connection, leaving you floating in space. You may be strong, but can you really fight us all and escape before you die?”

Before Divatox could respond, and from her face it looked like she had quite a response, a dart hit her neck, and she slumped to the floor.

Seconds later, Rygog sprinted into view, Elgar already in tow. He grabbed Divatox easily with his other arm and slung her over his shoulder.

“If they were awake,” Rygog said, “Elgar would make some kind of tasteless joke that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and Divatox would yell and swear her undying quest for vengeance against all of you… which you should expect, by the way. Unfortunately, if they said all that, I wouldn’t have time to get them to the escape pod.”

With that, he took down the corridor, leaving them all slightly bewildered.

“Five minutes to self-destruct,” the computer reminded.

“Okay. Looks like we all get to live if we can haul ass in the next few minutes,” Kimberly said. “Zack, help me with Goldar.”

Kimberly continued to supervise the zip line, while Tommy guarded against any other possible intrusions. There were none.

“So, was Divatox running this entire ship with just her and two other people?” Tommy asked Scorpina, who had sidled up to him.

“I would say she’s deeply stupid, and I wouldn’t be far from wrong, but truth is she’s just vastly unpopular,” Scorpina said. “She’s a pirate from a pirate family trying to be a ruler of darkness, and the two things just don’t mesh. Most of her family’s disowned her, and no one wants to work with her. She wasn’t lying when she said she’d worked damned hard for everything she had.” She smiled at him. “And you’re blowing up her ship now. Congratulations on making an exciting new enemy.”

“We seem to do that,” Tommy said. “I’m just glad we don’t have to fight her.”

Scorpina shrugged. “We could have taken her out. She’s insanely strong for about five minutes, so we would have had to sacrifice a few people, but she wouldn’t have been able to take on all of us.”

“And then we could have all died in an explosion,” Tommy reminded her.

Scorpina chuckled. “There is that. Um… thanks, by the way. For getting the jar to safety.”

“You don’t think I know what’s in there?” Tommy said quietly.

Scorpina looked up, startled, but they were interrupted by Kimberly’s insistence that they stop catching up and get off the damn exploding ship already. They still had to break connection and get a safe distance away.


The Rangers, the coherent former prisoners, and Scorpina and Rito watched the ship explode in the distance. Billy and Zarius prepared the shields for the shockwave, but they were far enough away that they wouldn’t have to worry about any damage.

“Seriously?” Scorpina said.

Tommy, Kimberly, and Zack, all still morphed, had drawn their blade blasters and were training them on Scorpina and Rito. Rito, who hadn’t said much after he’d stopped fighting Tommy, glowered at them all, though they weren’t sure if that was just his natural facial expression, given his face was a skull. There seemed to be extra menace behind the eyes.

“Can’t take any chances, Scorpina,” Tommy said. “Now that we’re safe, I can’t trust you and your new friend not to take over the trip… or try to kill certain mutual acquaintances currently in holding cells.”

Scorpina rolled her eyes, but held her hands up and motioned Rito to do the same.

“Look… I don’t want any trouble,” Scorpina said, suddenly sounding very tired. “Seriously. I was planning an in and out operation to get the jar when you Rangers stumbled in and blew everything all to hell. I just need to look up some coordinates for a teleport mark, and I’ll take the jar and go.”

“A jar you took from the ship of an insane power-hungry pirate,” Zack pointed out. “How do we know it’s not dangerous?”

Rito chuckled. “Oh, it’s dangerous.”

“And that’s seriously all?” Tommy said, drawing curious looks from the other Rangers.

“I swear on all the chocolate on Earth,” Scorpina said, smirking.

Kimberly was looking from Scorpina, to Tommy, to the jar, and then back again. “Oh, God, you can’t be serious,” she said finally.

“What?” Zack said.

It was Billy who supplied the answer, still busy at the controls. “Rita’s in the jar.”

They all stared at the jar, as if they could almost hear Rita’s voice. Of course, the jar was really the container for another dimension where Rita was stuck, so that was patently impossible.

“I don’t know what Divatox was planning to do to her,” Scorpina said. “They were apparently at school together, and Divatox was always jealous of Rita. Daddy’s favorite and heir to a fortune, when Divatox was the black sheep with no real talent… except for ferreting out powerful relics, that is.”

“But she’s still stuck in there, isn’t she?” Kimberly asked. “I mean, she’s not about to…”

“Don’t worry,” Scorpina said. “I’m not even going to attempt to open the jar myself. For one, I’m not sure what that would actually do, and I don’t want to hurt her.”

“Or anyone else?” Zack supplied.

Scorpina smirked. “Yeah, sure.”

“We’re taking her to dad’s,” Rito said. “He’ll know what to do. And I don’t care what any of you try to do, you’re not going to stop us.” He turned his attention to Tommy. “Especially you, asshole. You got her into this mess. Goldar may have betrayed her, but you weakened her enough that she couldn’t put up a fight against Zedd. I’ve got more important things to do now, but someday I’m going to take it out of your hide… if Rita doesn’t.”

Tommy looked at Scorpina, who was rubbing her head in frustration.

Tommy lowered his blaster and motioned the others to do the same. “We’ve got the jar in secure storage,” he said, “and you can have it back when you’re ready to leave. Any funny business, and we’re taking the jar to Zordon. He would also know what to do with it.”

Rito was about to surge forward, but Scorpina held him back. “Fair enough,” she said.

“Billy,” Tommy said, “could you help them find their coordinates so they can teleport out? Trini, how are the patients?”

Trini had been hovering in the doorway of the bridge, ready to lend assistance should things go sideways. “The Edenoi are comfortable, and the more coherent ones are helping the ones drugged out of their minds. It’ll just be a matter of time for them to come out of it. Jason is serumed, and he’s guarding Goldar, who is stabilized and in one of the holding cells. He’s hurt, but he’s awake and healing. You can talk to him whenever.”

Tommy was about to acknowledge this, when Scorpina interrupted him. “Let me talk to him… alone.”

Tommy laughed, but then looked at her face. “You’re serious.”

“You have the jar,” Scorpina said. “You’ve got me by the short ones. I won’t touch him. I just have to… make sure about something.”


Goldar was aware of dull metal reflecting brightly-colored gems. He groaned and slowly allowed his eyes to focus. He was sitting on a bed with a thin mattress, and his whole body ached. And he had vague memories of…

He slowly realized the bed he was lying on was a bed in a detention cell, the gems were Edenoi technology powering forcefields keeping him in there, and that the Red Ranger was leaning against wall outside the cell, morphed but helmetless, with his hand close to his blade blaster just in case he needed to draw it.

“This is a bit different,” Jason remarked. “Last time it was me in the cell and you standing guard.”

Goldar pushed himself up slowly, his head swimming. “I would think your recent encounter with Divatox would have knocked out some of that smugness. Glad to see some things never change.”

Jason’s smile faltered. “Yeah, that kind of sucked, didn’t it? Her ship’s blown up, by the way. Everyone got off safe.”

“What about Divatox and her boys?”

“Rygog was taking both Divatox and Elgar to an escape pod,” Jason said. “They probably got off.”

Goldar groaned again, this time not from pain. “Damn kids don’t know when to kill an enemy. Always playing with fire.”

Jason chewed at a fingernail, refusing to be baited. “Not much longer for me, though.”

Goldar guffawed. “Life of peace, huh? You think you’ll be happier like that?”

“I really do,” Jason said without a hint of irony. “By the way… Scorpina’s here. She’s coming down to talk to you.”

Goldar groaned yet again. “That’s just fantastic.”

Jason shifted from the wall, apparently wanting to leave before Scorpina got there. He gave Goldar a nod before he left, and Goldar returned it. That was the most they were going to acknowledge saving each other’s lives.

When Scorpina finally entered, Goldar had managed to get himself to his feet. He carefully didn’t move so he wouldn’t tip over, but at least he appeared stronger than he was.

Scorpina smirked. “You’re not fooling anyone.”

“What do you want, Scorpina,” Goldar said, still staying on his feet.

Scorpina slinked around the room, seeming to look everywhere but Goldar. Goldar knew her… this was her way of trying to put off talking about important things, and it disturbed him. She was usually so direct.

“I’m here to give you some advice,” Scorpina finally said. “You can take it or leave it. I really don’t give a shit, but I just thought I’d say something in honor of the good times we had together.”

Goldar ground his teeth, sort of knowing what was coming. “And that is?”

“Leave the war,” Scorpina said, still looking away from him. “Don’t go back to Zedd. I’ve heard that if you don’t finish this mission, he’s going to kill you, and as much as I hate you now, your death would be unfortunate.”

Goldar laughed. This was definitely not what he was expecting. “What, and give all this up?” He gestured around him, to his recent wounds, and almost fell for his troubles. “It’s not that easy.”

“No, it’s not that easy, but it can be done.” Scorpina paused. “It’s what I’m doing.”

Goldar gave up and sat down hard on the bed.

“I had one last mission,” Scorpina said. “And I’ve succeeded. I’m going to a neutral planet after this, buying a house, and quitting bounty hunting.”

“I thought so,” Goldar said. “Divatox had Empress Rita’s jar. You rescued her?”

Scorpina nodded. “Taking her to her father, where even your Lord Zedd can’t reach her, so I don’t care if you tell him or not.”

“I’m not going to,” Goldar said, annoyed. He’d momentarily forgotten that Scorpina still considered him a traitor. “I’m glad she’s going to be safe. But… it doesn’t make sense. Why give up like this?”

“Not giving up.” Scorpina said. “Just trying to build a better future… for my baby.”

Goldar’s eyes immediately flew to Scorpina’s midriff. She’d modified her armor to cover what was usually a bit more exposed, but now that Goldar was looking for it, he could see the gentle swell where there would usually be taught, defined stomach.

“Holy shit, you’re pregnant,” Goldar said quietly. “How long?”

“I knew before I left Earth,” Scorpina said. “Look, I’m not expecting anything from you…”

“Are you going to tell him?” Goldar said without waiting for her to finish her sentence.

Scorpina folded her arms, her face astonished. “How do you know it’s not you?”

“Because I can’t,” Goldar said. “Haven’t been able to for a very long time. That’s leaves a very short list of people it could be, and my money’s on a certain long-haired maniac of a human.”

Scorpina scrubbed her face with her hands, laughing weakly. “I… I knew it was him, of course. Did a DNA test as soon as I could. But…” She swallowed hard. “Tommy’s a child. And an enemy. I didn’t consider him either at the time, but now…”

“I won’t tell,” Goldar supplied quickly. “Like you’ve always said, you own your own body. Sex doesn’t change that.” He grimaced. “It’s taken me a long time to understand that, but I do now.”

Scorpina regarded Goldar sadly. “I’m giving you a chance. Rita’s going to be out for revenge, Zedd is already ready to kill you, and now you’re going to have Divatox targeting you once she gets back on her feet. Quit the war. Disappear.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“It is for you.” Scorpina took a breath. “I can’t do it, because I have… extenuating circumstances.” She rubbed her belly for emphasis. “But you can. There’s a guy… He can do something with magic, apparently. Make you like you were before. It would take away your power, and you’d go back to looking like you did before you became… Goldar.”

Goldar scowled. “Sounds like a scam.”

“It’s not,” Scorpina said. “I’ve seen the results. Rito knew about it, but he’s too nervous to go to him, and he still has this fantasy that his dad will appreciate him if he keeps upgrading his power. But you can.”

They heard footsteps, and Scorpina silenced before she could be overheard. Tommy came around the corner, morphed but carrying his helmet. “Found those coordinates, Scorpina. Rito’s making everyone nervous up there, and frankly this is making me nervous, so I suggest you go.”

“Good to see you too, sweetheart,” Scorpina said with heavy irony. “Think about what I said, Goldar. Tommy, I’ll meet you up on the bridge.”

“Is it just me, or have you Rangers gone a bit crazier since you took charge?” Goldar said, going with humor to mask how much Scorpina’s talk affected him… and what he knew now about Tommy. “You know you’ve made a dangerous enemy in Divatox, don’t you?”

“We’ve broken her power for right now,” Tommy said. “She’ll have to get in line.”

Goldar guffawed. “You know as soon as I heal, I’m just going to teleport out of here. This cell is doing literally nothing.”

“I know,” Tommy said. “I just wanted to get in a few words before you leave. And to thank you for saving Jason. I know he wouldn’t have said it out loud.”

Goldar grunted and looked away. “What, are you trying to get me to leave the war, too?”

Tommy’s eyes flew open in surprise. “That’s what Scorpina talked to you about? I should have gone first. I knew she was going to steal my thunder.”

“What, seriously?”

Tommy crossed his arms. “Look… Goldar… I know you don’t really want to work for Zedd. That Zedd is that close to killing you most of the time. I also know that you can’t keep up at this rate. Between Divatox and Rita once she gets out of the jar—I’m not sure if Scorpina told you, but that’s what she was doing on the ship—I’m not sure how long you can last. You’ve only lasted the past hour because I forbade Scorpina and Rito from killing you outright.”

“And so you think it’s time for me to go into retirement,” Goldar growled… though without the same menace he would usually put in it.

Tommy shrugged. “Not up to me. I expect you’ll be gone soon anyway, but whatever you were doing to foil our mission, it hasn’t worked. And you’re too hurt to do anything about it. If you want, I can try to get Zordon to arrange…”

“Keep your favors and get the hell out of here,” Goldar said, but again without menace. He mostly just sounded tired.

Tommy nodded, knowing he’d pushed as far as he could. He turned to leave. “I expect to see you gone in the next few hours. And… I hope I don’t see you again.”


“And… he’s gone,” Billy said.

The Rangers looked at each other, relieved. They powered down, too tired to keep up their morphed state. Scorpina and Rito were gone with the jar. Goldar had teleported out. Now they were left with just Zarius and the rest of the former prisoners.

Zarius was all smiles. “I just made contact with…” she paused for effect. “New Edenoi. King Dex…” she grinned again, “has dismantled that Machine Empire pretender, and he’s organizing everyone left on the planet. They’re welcoming us home.”

Trini smiled. “I’m so glad. They’ll have access to better health care than I can provide. You can get your friends back in their right minds.”

“I’ll be glad when I don’t have to order them around,” Zarius said. “Thankfully, I’ll be able to take control of the ship with help from a few of the others. I doubt all of you want to come back to New Edenoi… so where should we drop you off. Unless you’re going to teleport?”

As grateful as the Edenoi were for being rescued, they were obviously more than ready to get back to their new home.

“Well, that’s a tricky question,” Kimberly said. “We know where we’re going now, but the planet is surrounded by so much old war tech that we can’t teleport in… or take another ship.” She glanced at Tommy. “We’re going to need help.”

“And we still can’t contact Zordon,” Zack said in frustration.

“I’m really worried about that,” Jason said. “But… then again Zordon said we might lose contact.”

“Zordon would be able to reach us if things were really bad,” Tommy said, partially trying to reassure himself. “In the meantime, we need to focus in on our mission.”

“I think I have the solution,” Billy said. “I’ve been in contact with King Dex, asking if there are any allies who could help us… and he mentioned something really interesting.” He spun in his chair for effect. “There’s another Ranger team, on a planet called Aquitar, and they’re on the way to the planet in question.”

Tommy gauged the room, and saw no objections. “Okay, Billy… pull up the coordinates to Aquitar.” He started to breathe easier. It looked like things were beginning to go right for the first time.


Divatox drummed her nails on the wall of the escape pod. She couldn’t do much else. She was necessarily shoved in a corner behind Rygog, who was piloting, and next to Elgar, who was still asleep, but now snoring and muttering in his sleep.

“They took everything,” Divatox said quietly. “Every. Fucking. Thing.”

“Yes, captain,” Rygog said crisply. He seemed to be hoping that strict military decorum would allay her fury at him. Or, at least, the cramped conditions of the escape pod would make it really difficult.

Divatox lapsed back into silence. She held up the two stiff cards with pictures, names, and addresses, apparently permits to operate vehicles. Jason Lee Scott and Kimberly Hart. They would be the first to pay.

Chapter Text

Book 2: The Sword of Power

Chapter 10: Missing Piece

“Another.”

Goldar laid another coin on the bar at the bartender’s raised eyebrow. It was a dimly lit establishment, the type that made everyone pay in advance, or Goldar would have taken offense. Instead, he downed half of the purple drink the bartender laid in front of him, and then stared into the cup at his own reflection.

He looked tired, Goldar thought. More tired than drunk, more tired than he’d been in as long as he could remember.

The purple liquid rippled and distorted his image as he shifted the cup. He could almost regard himself as another person, a stranger. He’d changed so much in the past year, that he barely recognized himself. Ever since…

Ever since he’d sworn fealty to Lord Zedd.

Ever since he’d betrayed Empress Rita.

Ever since he’d broken it off with Scorpina. Ever since she’d slept with Tommy.

Ever since he’d befriended Tommy.

Goldar got rid of his reflection by drinking the rest. “Another.”

 

 

The Power Rangers stood on a large raft in the middle of a vast ocean. An ocean, they knew, that covered 95% of the planet. They looked around. They’d been standing there for ten minutes.

Kimberly rubbed her arms; she wasn’t dressed for the cold ocean winds, and the spray was dousing all of their clothing. “It shouldn’t be too much longer,” she said. “I spoke to their leader, Delphine, and she said she would send a transport for us.”

Zack glanced nervously around. “Remind me again why we couldn’t teleport to where they live directly?”

Billy was holding up a scanner he’d appropriated from Dex’s ship. “It’s for the exact reason no one can teleport directly into our houses. Their security is too comprehensive.” He squinted at the readout. “I believe someone is coming.”

“Right,” Tommy said. “Remember, we’re here to rest and get information. Let’s try to avoid starting any wars.”

Trini smiled thinly. “Not really our thing, remember.”

Before Tommy could retort, a metal cylinder bobbed up beside the raft. The top opened, and they saw there was enough space for them all to take a seat. The transport seemed automated, as the seats formed a circle around the walls.

“Well, down we go,” Jason said. “Thank goodness they’re not making us swim there.”

“As long as it’s not a space zip line, I’m good,” Zack said, getting in first.

The top half of the transport bubble was transparent, so the Rangers spent the trip downward staring avidly at the underwater world around them. They saw animals that looked like fish, octopi, jellyfish… and things not found in Earth’s oceans. Here and there they saw people as well, people without scuba gear who seemed to breath water as easily as they breathed air. The people had some kind of gold mottling over their head, but otherwise they looked human.

“Whoa…” Kimberly said as they moved past a coral reef and got their first sight of the Aquitian city. “Talk about Little Mermaid.”

The comparison was apt, though the Aquitian city looked less like an underwater palace and more like an underwater space-age city. The buildings looked like they were almost growing out of the ocean floor, like a combination of coral and tree roots. Topping each building was a shimmering dome of light. As they grew closer, they saw that the domes were semi-permeable. People were swimming in and out of them, but the domes seemed to be keeping the water out.

Their transport headed for the most prominent dome. They passed through the barrier to be greeted by a large well-lit room, though its walls reflected the shimmering blue of the ocean outside.

“So… I just realized,” Kimberly said as the transport landed and they started climbing out. “How exactly did we not get the bends? We’re on the ocean floor.”

“This transport imperceptibly compensated for the changes in pressure. We are aware of your peculiar biology.”

The Rangers turned to see a woman. She had long brown hair and was wearing blue trousers and a black and purple tunic with a white shirt underneath. She had the same gold and purple mottling around her head as the rest of the people they’d seen. She was flanked by four men who were dressed similarly to her, except with different colored shirts under their black tunics.

The five stood before the Power Rangers and joined their hands in front of them, forming a diamond shape with their thumbs and fingers. The Rangers copied the gesture clumsily, realizing this was some sort of greeting.

“I am Delphine, White Ranger and leader of the Power Rangers of Aquitar,” the woman said. Her voice was slightly distorted, as if she were underwater. “This is Aurico, my second in command, as well as Cestro, Corcus, and Tideus.”

The men nodded their heads slightly in turn. Corcus was looking them over suspiciously.

Tommy smiled. “Hi, I’m Tommy, White Ranger and leader of the Power Rangers of Earth. This is Kimberly, my second in command, and then Jason, Zack, Trini, and Billy. We’re grateful for the welcome. We’ve been through a lot since we left Earth.”

“We’ve heard,” Tideus said. “The intergalactic communications network has become more interesting the past few days.”

The Rangers glanced at each other worriedly. They knew they shouldn’t have been surprised. They’d helped a planetary revolt and blown up a pirate ship. Those kinds of things got around.

“I’m sure there will be time to hear your own accounts of your adventures,” Delphine said, giving Tideus a stern look. “Right now, I wish to offer you our hospitality. This entire complex is at your disposal, though I suspect rest and food is probably what you desire most.”

“You’re not wrong,” Kimberly said. “Thank you so much for this. But… did you say you had this entire complex? And…” she glanced at a group of technicians who were just now approaching their transport, prepping it for the next trip. “People know about you?” she said, her voice softer.

Aurico chuckled, and Delphine’s smile widened. “We are known as the Power Rangers throughout the planet, and we receive support from the central government. We do, after all, protect the planet.”

The Rangers raised their eyebrows at each other. They’d so long protected their identities from everyone that they hadn’t even thought of doing it another way.

“Come,” Cestro said, stepping forward. “The other Rangers have other things to attend to, but I can show you to quarters.”

Cestro led them through a passageway, lined by the dark coral/wood material they’d seen on the outside, as well as the shining permeable barrier. Every few seconds, they saw either animals or people shoot past the “windows.” While not having webbing or fins, the Aquitians were fast swimmers, able to shoot through the water with only minuscule movements of their arms and legs.

“You’re wondering how we are able to survive in both water and on land,” Cestro said, his voice amused.

“I assume you have an amphibious biology,” Billy said, squinting at the head mottling. “However, I can’t ascertain how you gain oxygen from both the air and the water.”

“Wouldn’t it have something to do with those vocal distortions?” Trini said. “You sound like you’re underwater.”

Cestro had rounded a corner, and then pressed on a panel. The “door” was actually a permeable barrier that they could pass through, though with another tap he made the barrier retract from the passageway entirely. “You’re correct. We actually never stop gaining our oxygen from water. We can oxygenate in air shallowly, but we store water around our heads that then passes to our throats, causing, among other things, what you call the vocal disruption.” He smiled and waved them into the room. “I raised the barrier completely because I assume you do not want to pass through a water barrier. I’m afraid this place was just not built for your biology.”

“Thank you,” Tommy said, leading the way into the room. “We don’t work so well underwater, but we’re grateful for you watching out for us.”

“It has been so long since we’ve spoken with another Ranger team,” Cestro said. “But… we’ll have time to get to know each other later. There are three double-rooms in this pod, and the common area provides for all other needs. I will send for some refreshments, if you so wish, but Delphine hopes that you will join us for a meal tonight. In the meantime, you may explore the complex as much as you wish. Just press the blue panel there by the door to ask for anything.”

He again formed a diamond shape with his fingers, but left before they could think to return the gesture.

The Rangers looked at each other, a bit overwhelmed.

“They’re government funded?” Zack breathed. “I’m surprised our own military hasn’t tried to track us down and attack us.”

Kimberly was trying out one of the egg-shaped cushions in the middle of the room. It formed to her body perfectly, no matter what position she was in. “I guess that’s part of their whole planet knowing about the rest of the universe. They don’t have to keep anything secret.”

“I guess we’ll find out more about their operation tonight,” Tommy said. “Though if they’re Power Rangers, I wonder what they’re fighting against.”

“I just wonder what kind of press we’re getting that the Aquitians already know about us,” Jason said. “Feels like we’re calling a lot of attention to ourselves.”

“If all goes well, we’re on the last leg of our journey,” Trini said. “Then we’ll be able to teleport straight back to Earth.” She stretched exaggeratedly. “I don’t think I want to eat anything. I’ll just rest up a bit.” She looked significantly at Zack, and then went into one of the sleeping quarters, carefully manipulating the barriers so she wouldn’t walk through water.

Zack was about to follow her, and then looked nervously around, remembering his parents’ threats. As he did so, he realized that Billy had already left the pod (he’d spent their entire conversation poking at the various devices in the room), and Tommy and Kimberly was assiduously disappearing into another bedroom.

Jason rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. Like I’d say anything.”

Zack gave a guilty grin and followed Trini.

Jason looked around at the suddenly empty room. “Yup, this is what it’s going to be like in Switzerland. All the damn time.” With that, he decided to leave and go exploring. He didn’t know if any sounds could travel through the walls, but he didn’t want to find out.

 

 

Billy decided that he could spend a lifetime in the Ranger complex on Aquitar and never be done gawking at the technology.

He had quickly ascertained the utilitarian functions of the technology in their guest room—lights, doors, communication, entertainment—and had decided to go find more interesting areas. That, and he knew that two-thirds of their team would soon sequester themselves in sleeping quarters, and he didn’t really want to be around for that.

He pulled out the Edenoi scanner he’d found on Dex’s ship and started looking around for a power source. Could it all be hydroelectric? Or perhaps they gathered solar power from the water’s surface? And how would a species even evolve in this way? He wandered, guessing at the direction of either their main area of operations… or at least a library where he could find all these answers.

He, instead, bumped into Cestro.

“I-I’m sorry,” Billy stammered, recovering his dropped scanner. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

Cestro gave a small smile. “It’s quite all right. I see you took me up on the offer to explore the complex. Is there anything specific you are looking for… with your Edenoi tracker?”

Billy pocketed the scanner, embarrassed. “Not really anything in particular,” he mumbled. “Just… this is the most advanced technology I’ve ever seen, and do you have anything I can take apart and put back together?” he said in a rush before he could stop himself.

Cestro gave a hearty laugh that immediately dissolved the icily polite manner he’d adopted. “I see. I’ve heard Earth has not yet achieved galactic travel or communication.”

Billy sighed. “Most people on my planet still think Earth is alone in the galaxy… even when the planet is being attacked by aliens on a weekly basis.”

Cestro nodded. “Believe it or not, not everyone on our planet agrees with everything we do here. Your friends were impressed with our government support, but it does come with its own… problems.” Cestro grimaced, but seemed to recover. “But you wished to see an example of our advanced technology. At least, I assume you want to see something more than door barriers and light switches. I’ll take you to my laboratory.”

“Your laboratory?” Billy said excitedly, following Cestro. “You’re a scientist, too?”

Cestro again gave a hearty laugh. “It must be something about being a Blue Ranger.”

“Of course you’d find a fellow genius.”

Jason was running up to join them. He was shaking his hair free of water droplets, and his clothes were drenched.

“Yeah…” he laughed a bit. “Forgot how to work the doors correctly.”

“You can have some of my clothes, if you want,” Billy offered. “I know you left your backpack on Divatox’s ship.”

“Later,” Jason said. “I’ll probably get soaked again, anyway. I’ve been on other planets before… well, one… but I’ve never really seen other civilizations like this. Since, you know…”

This would be his last chance, was what he didn’t say. It hung between Billy and Jason, though Cestro only looked at them quizzically.

“If you wish to see a social center,” Cestro said, “I can point you toward our recreation complex. Corcus should be there now. He’s scheduled to hold a fighting demonstration soon.”

“Oh, I’m definitely there,” Jason said. “Just point me in the right way.”

Cestro quickly gave him directions, and Jason jogged down the hallway, leaving both Billy and Cestro shaking their heads in amusement.

“I take it your friend Jason lives and breathes fighting like water,” Cestro said, his politeness again dropping in his amusement.

“Something like that,” Billy said, following as they resumed their walk to Cestro’s lab. “At least, fighting technique and training. Until very recently, he was our leader. He… he’s leaving very soon. He and Trini and Zack. They’re going to become diplomats.”

“A noble endeavor, though I sympathize with you. Their loss will be difficult. Our team has gone through two such replacements,” Cestro said softly.

“It’s… not optimal,” Billy admitted. “I understand why they’re going, and we do have replacements, but…”

“It does not make it any easier,” Cestro said. “When Tideus joined the team, he replaced someone I’d grown… close… to. I rarely speak to him now… though that does not mean that will happen with your friends.”

“Of course not,” Billy said, though he knew that the prospect of keeping up with a long distance friendship halfway around the world was tricky at best.

“We are here, Billy,” Cestro said. He pressed the panel twice, avoiding dousing Billy with water as had happened to Jason. “If you wish, we can provide all of you with water-resistant clothes, as we all wear.”

“That’s okay, Cest…” Billy trailed off, suddenly speechless.

The lab was expansive, much larger than the Command Center’s central control room, or any lab he’d seen outside of movies, for that matter. The design of practically everything was wildly different from what he was used to. The computers more resembled coral than the box-like technology he’d grown up with. He wandered to the middle, where there was a water tank surrounded by a glowing barrier. This tank, as he craned his neck, led up to an upper level.

“Wow…” he said breathlessly, too lost in awe to decide where to run first.

Suddenly, he realized he was looking at a face inches from him in the glowing tank. He yelped and took an involuntary step back.

“Cestria…” Cestro said, a note of his hearty laugh in his voice, “that isn’t nice.”

A woman with pale skin and short brown hair stepped through the glowing barrier. “Oh, you’re no fun, Cestro.” She was grinning, though. “It’s not like I was expecting a guest.”

Cestro sighed, the sound coming out in a watery gurgle. “Billy, this is my sister, Cestria. She likes to tease people. Cestria, this is Billy, the Blue Ranger of the Earth Power Rangers. He wanted to see our laboratory.”

Cestria smirked and spread her arms. She seemed perfectly dry, though she’d been completely submerged mere minutes before. “What do you think, Earth Blue Ranger?”

Billy took a breath. “I need to know what every single thing does, or I’m going to lose my mind.”

“I’m afraid I have little time to show you around,” Cestro admitted. A light around his wrist was blinking, and he kept glancing at it.

“But I have tons of time,” Cestria said. “Don’t worry about us, brother! We’ll be sciencing.” Cestria pulled Billy by the arm to a terminal.

Cestro shook his head amusedly as he left, knowing that neither Cestria nor Billy would notice.

 

 

Jason was feeling a little drier, though his jeans were getting rather cold. Still, he didn’t want to go back to the room yet. Instead, he sat at the bar and ordered something that sounded at least slightly similar to what he was used to. Of course, it could come back as a glass of fish heads, he mused.

In a water tank in the middle of the room, Corcus, the Black Ranger, was demonstrating a type of underwater martial art. It was graceful, yet it relied on lightning fast movement of mostly the hand. Given the resistance in water, there were no sweeping gestures. No roundhouses, no hooks. Those moves would have taken ages to implement, and the opponent would be able to see it coming a mile away and dodge. Dodging was much more complicated when the fighters could work with a full 360 degrees of motion. Instead, he focused on tiny movements and quick jabs.

Jason was interested, but he doubted it would be all that useful to his own fighting. He wouldn’t last more than a few minutes underwater, and any equipment that would let him survive would make any of those movements impossible. And… it wasn’t like he was going to be doing any serious fighting anymore.

“You should see him on dry ground. He’s just as quick.”

Jason tore his eyes away from Corcus to regard Tideus, who from his shirt color was the Yellow Ranger. “If we had more time, I’d like to test that out.”

Tideus gave a small smile. “Do me a favor and do not voice that request to Corcus. He gets over-excited when it comes to challenges. Your rest would quickly cease to be restful.”

Jason turned back to Corcus’s demonstration. “Like I said, I doubt we’d have time anyway. I guess we’re cutting out of here tomorrow.”

There was a raised voice, and Jason and Tideus looked over to see Delphine and Aurico framed in one of the entryways. They were arguing, though they seemed to realize people were staring and were trying to calm down.

Tideus sighed. “I was afraid of that.”

Jason frowned. “Is there something wrong? Something we did?”

Tideus waved a hand, and Jason couldn’t help but notice the oddly aquatic nature of the gesture. “It is nothing you or your friends have caused. Delphine and Aurico had a meeting with the Reef. Our central government,” he added at Jason’s confused look.

“I thought Delphine said you guys got funding and support from the government,” Jason pointed out.

“Yes, and that’s always worked out well for everyone,” Corcus broke in, thumping the counter for the waiter.

Tideus steepled his hands. “What Corcus means is not everyone in the Reef agrees with our policy and the alliances we’ve forged as Power Rangers.”

“That’s an indirect way of saying that some worms who call themselves thinking beings wish to side with evil,” Corcus said. He smirked. “They are a bit jumpy after King Dex came out of hiding and a certain slaver pirate was put out of commission.” He took the drink the waiter gave him and raised his glass to Jason in a mock toast. “I bet I was right about some of them having trade agreements with Divatox.”

“Why would anyone in their right mind want to side with evil?” Jason said, his mouth going dry despite the humidity.

Tideus looked down. “Not everyone sees it like that. For some, good and evil are subjective terms, and the opposition are in some ways more powerful.”

“Meaning more profitable. And not everyone is in their right mind,” Corcus added. “You’re lucky, Red Ranger. No one else to tell you what to do.” He smiled bitterly. “And you have Zordon.”

“I wouldn’t call us lucky,” Jason said. He thought of the hard-won victories, often pulled off nearly at the cost of their own lives, as well as the lives of other people. He thought of Rita, and then of Zedd. “Sometimes I think we’re all hanging by a thread.”

 

 

Goldar knew the bartender wanted him to leave. He didn’t want to leave. He didn’t know where to go from there. Or… he was afraid of his choices.

Choices. That was what Scorpina had been talking about, when she urged him to give up, to go into hiding. That’s what Tommy had been talking about, too. Scorpina was choosing to leave. Tommy was choosing to fight. And they both had their reasons.

Goldar, though, was starting to lose track of his choices, his reasons. He’d followed Rita for centuries. He’d chosen to betray her to save her life, but had that really been a choice? Why was he even fighting anyway? Why was he continuing to serve Zedd, enough to risk his life over and over, to subject himself to torment.

Goldar had no political opinions. He cared little for the machinations of the various rulers of the galaxy. Both Rita and Divatox had fallen in power, but that just meant rulers like Zedd, the Machine King, and Astonema would gain more power and favor. And Dark Spectre would remain at the center of the war, maintaining order as each planet fell under his shadow.

He was on the side that would win eventually, but he didn’t particularly care. It was a fact, an anchor in the mad infighting and continuous battles. He’d known that… well, he couldn’t really remember when he’d figured that out, so it was like he’d always known.

He got no joy from being on the winning side. He saw no point to it. Perhaps that was the problem. Perhaps… he didn’t matter in the long run. None of them did. The Power Rangers could win battle after battle, and he could serve any of the rulers…

Or he could disappear. Like Scorpina. Just find a mudball planet and pass his years in obscurity.

He lived by honor. That was the one thing that made sense to him, but it had stopped feeling relevant a long time ago. He’d sworn loyalty to Rita, but had betrayed her. He’d sworn loyalty to Zedd, but only as a way to betray him. And in the meantime, Scorpina, the former lover he’d accused as faithless, held fast to her loyalty to Rita… and to the child growing inside of her.

Honor had been the only thing that mattered to him for so long, but what did honor matter in a universe so askew, full of dogs snarling after scraps and children playing with matches.

The bartender slammed a cup in front of Goldar, startling him out of his reverie. “Last round,” the bartender grunted before moving off to clean the mostly-empty sitting area.

It was time. Time to make a decision. Around the corner was where Scorpina had told him to go. The man who could make him like he was before. Before the power upgrades, the surgeries… all the things he’d done to keep up with the rest of the universe. He could make himself go away, make himself unrecognizable. He didn’t remember what he was like before, and he doubted anyone else did, either.

He also knew where the Power Rangers were headed next. Where the Sword of Power was. He’d gotten that information out of Dex’s ship before he left, with a quick computer access before he teleported away. He could teleport straight there. Get the sword. Give it to Zedd. Buy a few more days of miserable survival.

It was down to a choice.

Goldar downed the drink and nodded to the bartender. Without a backward glance, he left the bar… and walked around the corner.

 

 

Jason followed Corcus and Tideus, glad that he wouldn’t have to wander yet again to find the Rangers’ dining room. As they cleared the doorway, Tideus taking the time to take down the water barrier for Jason, they saw that they were the last to arrive.

Trini and Zack motioned him over, both of them looking far too pleased with themselves. Billy was talking excitedly with a brown-haired Aquitian girl sitting next to him, and Tommy and Kimberly were deep in conversation with Delphine and Aurico.

Delphine noticed the three new arrivals and abruptly ended her conversation. “Now that we’re all here,” she said to the group, “we should suspend serious discussion until after our meal. Our chefs always like to impress guests, and they’ve had far too few opportunities lately.”

The meal went smoothly; most of the Earth Rangers eyed their food warily, with only Tommy diving right in without a thought. They each took the opportunity to compare powers and weapons. The Aquitian Rangers were fascinated by the new Thunderzords, as they hadn’t gotten such a power up in a very long time.

The atmosphere tensed as the dessert course (a kind of sweetened seaweed paste) came to an end, and Delphine motioned them over to a sitting area as workers began clearing their dishes. They were all served hot bitter liquid in thick glasses that resembled coffee, but the Rangers only sipped politely.

“Earth Rangers, we’ve heard of your recent exploits on the news channels… though they are known to be exaggerated,” Aurico began. “We’d like to know how much truth they hold.”

“That’s kind of difficult to answer, as we haven’t seen them,” Kimberly said, warming her hands on the glass rather than drinking. “We went to… well, I suppose it’s called New Edenoi now… to get information about the Sword of Power from Dex, although we didn’t know the whole story. Unfortunately, Jason and I got our fool selves kidnapped by Divatox.”

“Not an experience I’d like to repeat,” Jason said.

“In the meantime,” Tommy supplied, “the rest of us teamed up with Dex to overthrow what he thought was gangsters, but turned out to be Prince Gasket…”

They took turns telling the rest of the story: the return of Masked Rider and Dex retaking his planet, the attack on Divatox’s ship, freeing the Edenoi slaves, and blowing up the ship while being pretty sure that Divatox, Rygog, and Elgar escaped. They left out Scorpina and Goldar’s involvement, as well as the jar that Scorpina took. They didn’t want to over-complicate the story, and none of that was particularly relevant.

The Aquitian Rangers listened patiently, Corcus laughing at the mention of Divatox’s ship exploding.

“You’ve certainly gained some attention, though you’ve also kept your identities fairly secret,” Delphine said.

“We’re still pretty good at that,” Zack said drily.

Delphine gave him a small smile. “That being said, we have to assume that people are looking for you, perhaps most importantly Divatox… though it will take time for her to amass resources. We should plan to get you all back to Earth before anyone has time for retribution… and few people are eager to take on Lord Zedd in order to get to you.”

“We have to get the Sword of Power before we head back home,” Jason said. “We know where it is… but the planet is an abandoned war zone. We’re not equipped to get there. We can teleport in, but it will be difficult after that.”

“May I?” Billy said, holding up his scanner and motioning to the table in the middle of the sitting area. Delphine nodded, and Billy hooked the scanner to a cord on the side of the table. He pressed a few buttons, and a zoomed-in map of the planet in question sprang up in green light above the table. The planet was surrounded by space debris, and a large inverted pyramid dominating the skyline of the largest sprawling city in the largest landmass.

“This planet no longer has a name,” Tideus said. “If it ever did, it’s long passed into myth and memory. A great warrior for the side of good fought and fell there, and after he left the rest of the planet was razed and forgotten.”

“What was left of the planet when he did fall,” Corcus said. “Stories say he lost everything, including most of his planet.”

“But putting aside myths and legends,” Cestro said, “you will all still have to contend with what’s left. Which is substantial. We’ll do what we can to equip you, but you’ll be facing the unknown remnants of a war before we were born. Anyone who remembers what’s there will have been lost long ago.”

“And Zordon, who could help us, is still unreachable,” Tommy said, his frown deepening.

“Cestria and I did a long-range scan of Earth,” Billy said, referring to the girl who’d stuck by his side all evening. “From what we can tell, there are no power fluctuations that would signal an attack. It seems to be only communication problems.”

“Seems to be…” Trini said worriedly. “But Zedd has fooled us before.”

“One problem at a time,” Kimberly pointed out. “We need the Sword of Power, and then we can take care of Earth. If we’ve really stirred up a lot of trouble, it’s probably best we lay low on Earth, so we need this mission done now.”

“I’ve done some research on older war technology,” Tideus said. “I can provide possibilities, but few records survive of how to disable any of the old tech.”

“That’s where I come in,” Cestria said. “Billy and I have sort of already started. We can work for the rest of the evening and have a report ready tomorrow morning.”

“You will remember to sleep, sister,” Cestro cautioned. “And that doesn’t mean falling asleep over your computer from sheer exhaustion.”

Cestria’s smile seemed completely innocent. “Of course, brother.”

The meeting broke up after that. Cestria and Billy practically ran back to the lab, Trini followed Tideus to their library for research, and Jason, Zack, and Kimberly followed Aurico and Cestro after they offered to show off their own Zords.

Tommy waved the others on. He’d been about to follow them when he saw Delphine sagging on the couch, her hands covering her eyes and massaging the gold mottling around her forehead. She didn’t seem aware that the rest of the room existed.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Tommy said.

Delphine jumped. She’d obviously thought he’d followed the others for a tour. “I do not know what a penny is, but I doubt it would be a fair exchange for the burden of my thoughts.”

“You hinted that things were pretty bad,” Tommy said. “We haven’t created shockwaves here, have we?”

Delphine regarded Tommy with the side of her eyes. “You may have added ripples. The waves were already here… and crashing.”

Tommy sat next to her. “There’s opposition,” he guessed.

Delphine nodded slowly. “A small but increasingly vocal faction, who would rather buy the assured safety for the few than to fight for the continued freedom of all. Ever since Dex’s killing of Count Dregon, those on the side of good have had to justify themselves far more than usual. It was… horrific. It drove well-meaning people to question the war, and others to try to take advantage of that by proposing new alliances… neutrality…”

“And in the meantime, your planet would be scooped up by a ruler for its resources, and you would have to flee or join the opposition,” Tommy supplied.

“If we Rangers all indeed stood together,” Delphine said bitterly. “We’ve recently lost our Yellow Ranger, because he started questioning our actions. I caught him communicating with… questionable people from offworld, and he decided to give up his power before it came to formal inquiry. It broke Cestro’s heart.”

“I…” Tommy worked to form the words, knowing that comparing his own experiences to hers would be neither helpful nor welcome. “I’ve always known that the war went far beyond my own limited scope. At least, I’ve been told that enough,” he said with a smirk. “I don’t think I realized how complicated it was, though. Between King Dex, and your troubles, and now we know slavers exist…” He looked at Delphine, knowing that she was regarding him carefully. “How many are on our side? Everywhere I look, I see mostly the opposition.”

Delphine looked down. “Far too few of us… but more than you think.” She picked up her beverage and sipped it. She grimaced; it had long gone cold. “I find it interesting, Tommy, that you always refer to the side of evil as ‘the opposition.’ I’m not sure it means anything, but it did make me wonder.”

Tommy looked away. He hadn’t particularly noticed, and it disturbed him how someone he’d known for so little time could notice something like that.

“I’m not a sympathizer, if that’s what you’re thinking,” he said. It came out a bit harsher than he meant.

“That is not what I meant,” Delphine said. She looked closely at Tommy, realization spreading across her features. “You were on the side of evil.” It wasn’t a question, though Tommy had no idea how she could have known.

“Not by choice, and I joined the side of good as soon as I broke free. As soon as my friends freed me.”

“But you still have connections,” Delphine stated.

Tommy again looked away.

“You are in a dangerous position, White Ranger,” Delphine said, using the title on purpose. “You lead in an active war zone against one of the most sadistic tyrants in the galaxy. As a Power Ranger, you are a symbol for hope, even among people who have never seen your true face. These… connections… will lead you astray. I’ve seen it happen.”

“I hear you,” Tommy said. “I haven’t let anything happen, and I won’t. It’s… it’s not like I’m in contact with any of them.”

Delphine smiled. “That’s good to know, and I do not wish to presume. Forgive me. We should see how our fellow Rangers are coping.”

Tommy knew she was changing the subject because he was obviously uncomfortable. The thing was… he knew people like Rita, Scorpina, and Goldar did affect his actions as a Ranger. He’d let all three of them go just the day before. Goldar was particularly dangerous, as he was actively working for Zedd against them, but if Rita was able to get out of her jar and come after them…

He was playing a dangerous game, Tommy knew. One day, he’d have to make a choice.

 

 

Billy jerked awake and blinked blearily. He shot a hand out for his glasses, and then remembered he didn’t need or have them anymore.

Cestria was beside him, and she regarded him without really taking her eyes off the computer. “It’s late. I let you sleep. If you’re preparing to go to the forbidden planet tomorrow, you’ll need the rest.”

Billy rubbed his face. “I’ve fought with far less sleep before,” he said. “What progress have you made?”

“The information Tideus and Trini dug up was amorphous, but it did give me some ideas,” she said. She laughed. “I think my brother decided to leave us alone. He does that when I take to someone new.”

Billy suddenly felt wide awake. “He doesn’t think we’re…”

Cestria snorted. “Of course not. Weird. He just…” She looked away from the screen. “I don’t make a lot of friends. Never have. None of the other kids in the pods wanted to have anything to do with…”

She trailed off.

“Pods?” Billy asked hesitantly.

“Places for orphans,” Cestria said. “My parents were killed in the civil war, when Aquitar was fighting over whether they would join the forces of Dark Spectre, or oppose them. The side to oppose Dark Spectre won, by the way, thanks to the Power Rangers. But…” she laughed a little. “My parents were on the wrong side.”

Billy studied her, but then looked away when he realized what he was doing. His mind was reeling at the implications of a civil war to decide a planet’s allegiance, one not caused by any spell or brainwashing.

“So Cestro took you in?” he said.

Cestria seemed to welcome the change to a brighter topic. “It began with a scholarship program. The Power Ranger center was just being formed, and the Rangers needed the best and brightest to aid them in their fight, including scientists. My test scores have always been the best,” she said with not a little smugness. “Cestro and I took to each other, given our similar names, so we started calling each other brother and sister. It kind of stuck. It’s… nice.”

“I have a similar relationship with Tommy,” Billy said. “His father… died right before he was going to marry my mother. Tommy didn’t have anyone else… well, anyone else worth anything,” he said, thinking of Tommy’s mother and his uncle Steve. “We sort of took Tommy in after that, and we’ve been brothers ever since.”

“It’s nice,” Cestria said. “Family. I tend to sequester myself in the lab. I only really get along with people who can be here on my own terms.” Her face twitched. “And they don’t tend to stay long. You’re leaving tomorrow.”

“Just back to my planet,” Billy said. “It’s not that far.”

“It’s lightyears away,” Cestria pointed out.

“I invented communicators from spare parts I found in the Command Center recycling bin during my first month as a Power Ranger,” Billy said. “I can figure out a way that we can stay in touch… if that’s what you want, I mean.”

Cestria gave a small smile. “I’d like that… We can figure something out. It would be nice to have someone to collaborate with other than my brother.”

Billy smiled as well. “I’d like to collaborate with you as well.”

The computer beeped, and the two scientists turned their attention sharply back to it, their faces warm.

“There,” Cestria pointed. It was to a map of the forbidden planet (Billy immediately started thinking of Robbie the Robot every time he thought of the planet like that). “It didn’t show up on initial scans, but I think we’ve found a safe path that will take you directly to the center of the city, where the sword probably is. We can get you coordinates and teleport you there ourselves. Our teleporters are much better suited to long-range.”

“We’ll still use the anti-tech we’ve developed in case of nasty surprises, but I think that path will simplify things immensely,” Billy said.

Cestria got up and stretched. “Want to go for a swim? I feel like a husk.”

“You do remember I can’t breathe underwater,” Billy said, though he found himself getting up and following her willingly.

“Of course,” Cestria said. “We’ll stay close to the barriers… but you haven’t seen Aquitar until you’ve seen the sea.”

 

 

Jason woke to a splashing sound and a muttered curse. He half rose in his bed (a water bed, of course) and regarded a soaked Billy with surprise and amusement. “It’s morning and you’re just now getting in?”

“Yes, Mom,” Billy said.

Jason wondered briefly if he was dreaming. Billy stumbling in early in the morning, his bed not slept in, and snarking at him? This was perhaps the weirdest thing he’d seen in their mission so far. “You got some sleep, right?”

Billy had already disappeared into the bathroom, and Jason could hear the dryer going, so he knew Billy couldn’t hear him. There were dryers everywhere on Aquitar; Tideus had told him that it was to keep fabric dry and bacteria from growing.

Jason was the first in the common area, careful to manipulate the door barriers so he wouldn’t walk through water yet again. Food was already laid out on the table, so he helped himself. He was a few minutes into eating something that seemed a little like cereal when Tommy walked into the common area, stretching and yawning.

“You looked over Billy’s report yet?” Tommy said, grabbing an unidentifiable piece of green fruit.

“Good morning to you, too,” Jason said through a bite. “Nah, just woke up.”

Tommy flicked something on the table, and a read-out popped up in front of Jason. He skimmed it. “A clear path. Yeah, it seems pretty simple.”

“Seems,” Tommy pointed out.

Jason scraped his hair back. “I’m pretty sure we can cope with any old war technology. The really dangerous stuff, like Tideus and Trini pointed out, would have already drained of power. And this path Billy and Cestria found should get us there okay." He took a gulp of water, ignoring the bitter drink from the night before. "I'm mostly worried about the fact that this sword is still there. It's got to have more protection on it than we think."

"That's got me worried, too," Tommy said. He grinned as the door he'd just come out of opened, revealing Kimberly. Jason averted his eyes. He really hoped none of their parents ever found out about the sleeping arrangements... or lack thereof, in Billy's case.

Soon, all six of them had gathered and ate breakfast. They were preparing to meet the other Rangers, when the barriers around them all blazed red, and a harsh, watery wail sounded throughout the room.

The six sprang to their feet and ran to the door, when the door flew open and Cestria ran in.

"Billy! Rangers! We have to get to the lab!" she said in one breath.

The six ran after her, leaving everything behind. The red lighting and alarm continued in the corridor, and people were running. Not in a panic; they looked to be well-practiced and disciplined.

"What's wrong?" Kimberly said, following closely behind Cestria.

"The complex is under attack," Cestria said shortly. "An enemy of ours... Hydro Hog. We'd thought he'd been destroyed, but apparently some sympathizers revived him. We have to get all of you out."

"But we can help!" Zack said. He had to shout over the alarm.

"No, you don't understand, he's after you," Cestria said. "He knows you're all ill-equipped to fight on Aquitar, and he wants to use you against the Power Rangers."

They finally got to the lab, and Cestria hit some buttons next to the door. "That should keep anyone out."

"Wait, I read about Hydro Hog last night," Trini said. "He purified water before he became corrupted, and now he absorbs water. Wouldn't that make him extra dangerous to the Rangers?"

Cestria was already moving to her computer, Billy trailing along behind her. "They're used to fighting him. If he absorbs water from them, they can dive into the sea and replenish quickly and easily. None of you can do that, so you all need to go. I'll teleport you out, but we need to do it now so I can raise proper defenses for the complex." She grabbed Billy's hand. "As soon as you're back on your planet, you'll contact me?"

"I promise," he said.

"Then get out of here," she said, pushing him gently toward the others.

Before any of them could react, the red-tinted lab had disappeared... and was replaced by a red-tinted planet.

The forbidden planet. They were near their mission's end.

"I wish we could have stayed and fought," Kimberly groused. "I feel like all we've been doing in space is running away."

"We're letting the Aquitan Power Rangers fight their battles and save us," Jason pointed out. "We'd do the same for them."

"In the meantime, we have a sword to find," Tommy said. "Let's get to work."

 

 

Goldar banged on the door for the fourth time. His brain had already given up, but his body hadn’t caught up yet, so he knocked again.

He almost fell over when the door flung open, and an old man stared wildly out at him. “Do you realize what time it is? I was in bed,” he growled, his voice like sandpaper.

“You’re the man that does… the thing,” Goldar slurred out.

The old man stared at him. “Very precise.” He laughed. “You know, I get a few like you. End of your rope, and need a little liquid courage to go ahead and cut the rope.” He motioned with his head. “Get in here.”

Goldar entered the dark room. He couldn’t really see anything through the gloom, and what he could see was all a blur. The old man drew him through two rooms and down a hallway, and then into a room dominated by a chair, with a confusion of technology surrounding it.

The old man pushed Goldar down onto the chair, and then calmly regarded him. “What brings you here, young man?”

“Not so young,” Goldar said, his tongue feeling too thick for his mouth. “And why does it matter?”

“I need to know that you know what you’re giving up. Once it starts, it will be too late.”

Goldar remained silent, his brain sluggishly working through his thoughts. The old man stood by, watching, letting him think.

“First I need to know something,” Goldar said. “Before I spill my guts to you, or whatever the hell it is you want. I need to know who you are. Or what you are. I need to know what the hell you’re going to do to me, or if you can even do it.”

The old man’s eyebrows contracted. “How did you know to come to me? Who did you trust enough that you took them at their word?”

Goldar closed his eyes. His head was hurting. “My ex, if you have to know.”

“Bad breakup?”

Goldar guffawed, but didn’t say anything. He supposed he did trust Scorpina, even after all this time. And, somehow, he knew Scorpina was right. It was time to bow out. To disappear. He had nothing left to give, and only misery ahead of him. He no longer knew what he was fighting for.

“No longer know what you’re fighting for, eh?” the old man said, and Goldar realized he had actually been speaking out loud. At least for part of it. “That’s a pretty potent reason. This war can swallow you up. Death is kinder than what awaits most people. Being alone. Hell, without a purpose, you don’t even have yourself.”

“And what are you?” Goldar said. “What’s your purpose?”

“I would think it would be pretty obvious, young man. I’m Eltarian.”

Goldar stared at the old man, sizing him up. “Eltarian. Like Zordon.”

The old man whistled. “Now that’s a very old, very important, and very dangerous name. Zordon’s one of the most powerful and talented Eltarians who’ve ever lived. Compared to him, I’m a purveyor of parlor tricks… though I’m able to do one thing, on a tiny scale.” He smiled. “I can purify.”

“Purify,” Goldar said.

The old man tilted his head. “Or, if you’d prefer, make you like you were before. Do you remember what you were?”

“No.”

“Probably better that way,” the old man said. “You won’t have any expectations going in. Are you ready?”

“Wait…” Goldar held up his hand. “If you’re really Eltarian, you can do what you say. I’ve seen Eltarian power in action. But… what do you want in return? Payment, I mean. I doubt you’re doing this as a charity.”

The old man raised an eyebrow. “I may not be fighting, but I’m still Eltarian. One less soldier fighting against my fellows is a pretty large payment, all while avoiding violence. But you will be paying more than that. Your power… and you are powerful. It has to go somewhere.”

“It goes to you,” Goldar said, already tiring of the conversation and wishing he hadn’t asked. He just didn’t want any nasty surprises.

“I use it for various purposes, and it more than compensates for the power I use to initiate the transformation… or de-transformation, if you will.” The old man scrutinized him. “So, I’ll ask again. Are you ready? Some of us still want to go back to bed.”

Goldar laid back in the chair, his mind clearing a bit. “Yes, I’m ready. Do it.”

 

 

The Power Rangers wandered the outskirts of the city, morphed. Billy led the way, his scanner showing them a clear path to the center. They were prepared for anything, but there was nothing on the planet. Everything was dead. Even the air seemed dead, somehow. They’d partly had to morph when the air became too thin to breathe. On Aquitar they’d felt oppressed by humidity; here, there seemed to be no moisture whatsoever.

“We have to be careful of automated defense systems,” Trini reminded them. “We’re avoiding all the major danger areas, but there could still be motion detectors and pressure points.”

“And Indiana Jones giant boulders?” Zack said.

Trini sighed. “That, too.”

They walked silently, the quiet only broken by Billy’s updates on directions. They shivered despite the heat. It was less like walking through a warzone or an abandoned city and more like walking through a tomb.

Kimberly suddenly stopped, drawing her bow and pointing it at the top of a broken column.

“What is it, Kim?” Tommy said, motioning the others to stop.

“I saw movement,” she said. “Could be a trick of the light, or…”

Before she could finish, there was a click, a whirr… and then all hell broke loose.

What looked like thirty reddish Putties launched themselves out of a trench hidden by some debris. They were reminiscent of Rita’s Putties, only slightly smaller and more erratic. It looked as if the red dust of the planet had stained their gray clay bodies until they all looked reddish brown.

The six Power Rangers circled as they were surrounded, putting up their guard. Kimberly had let an arrow fly in surprise, but the Putty had dodged the arrow neatly and not given it a second thought.

The largest one crouched almost double, jerking spasmodically and sizing them up. Rather than the warbles they were used to, it gave an animalistic shriek.

“Okay, officially freaked out now,” Zack said. “What’s wrong with these things?”

“Must be a different design from what we’re used to,” Jason said. “This is an old war zone, and Putties change.”

Before they could get another word out, the Putties attacked. They weren’t any faster than what the Rangers were used to, but they moved in odd ways, and it was hard to anticipate their movements.

Trini engaged one in close combat and brought her arms up in defense, when her opponent threw itself at her arm, mouth first. She realized it was trying to bite her.

“Guys!” She yelled, lashing out with a dagger. “Something’s not right. These…” She couldn’t even bring herself to call them Putties. “They’re trying to eat us!”

“Yeah, I got that!” Jason yelled, ripping some smaller Putties off his shoulders.

“They’ve been here for centuries!” Tommy called out. “They’ve turned feral!”

The fight took on a new urgency, but not because the Putties were giving them much trouble. The Rangers knew they had to put the reddish Putties out of their misery. They weren’t sure how long Putties could remain active, but these had obviously stayed alive too long.

A few minutes later, the Putties had all melted back into blobs of clay, which now looked like mounds of mud on the debris-strewn street. The Rangers looked around nervously.

“We can’t know how many more of those there are,” Billy said. “The scanner didn’t even pick them up.”

“If we see any more, we do the same,” Tommy said. His voice betrayed his horror. “If their masters didn’t care enough to take them back, and just abandoned them here, we’ll do them the kindness of ending this existence.”

The others nodded and continued. They didn’t meet any more Putties. They did evade one automated laser gun pretty easily, and Billy was able to take them through a hidden minefield, but otherwise their journey was uninterrupted until they finally reached a statue.

A reddish-gray stone statue with a large, golden sword.

The Rangers regarded the statue. The shining warrior. It was a tall man, with wide eyes, a prominent brow, and a thin mouth. He was wearing full armor and stood holding the sword to the ground with both hands. He seemed to be looking over the city… the ruined city that he was supposed to protect.

Billy ran the scanner over the immediate area. “It looks free from any mechanical defense.”

Kimberly squinted and adjusted her helmet display to zoom in on the base of the statue. “There’s an inscription.” She cleared the image and ran it through a translator. “Only those who are worthy may remove the sword.” She looked at the others and shrugged. “Anyone feel worthy?”

“It should yield to us,” Jason said. “After all, we’re heroes. And this warrior was a hero.”

“Solid logic,” Tommy said. “Jason, Trini, Zack… want to do the honors?”

The three looked at each other, realizing this may be their last action as Power Rangers. They approached the statue and positioned themselves so that all three could grab onto the sword. With one last look at each other, they pulled. And pulled again. And pulled harder.

It wasn’t budging. After a good five minutes, the three stepped back, glad that their helmets were hiding their shame.

“Don’t worry about it,” Tommy said. “After all, what does ‘worthy’ mean anyway?”

“Yeah, it could mean only the winner of a hot dog eating contest can draw it,” Kimberly said, her voice forcibly cheerful.

“So you’re saying we should get Bulk here?” Zack said.

They laughed, but the laugh was a bit hollow. They each tried separately. In different combinations. Unmorphed. They shot at the grip, tried to cleave it with weapons, tried to disintegrate the statue around it, tried throwing rocks at it (though they didn’t think that would actually work).

But the sword remained, and the Rangers had no idea what to do.

 

 

With a start, Goldar remembered. He remembered everything. And he knew exactly what to do.

He yelled, clawing his way out of the chair and out of the Eltarian magic surrounding him. The old man must have panicked and shut the whole process down, because suddenly Goldar was fighting against nothing.

“What’s wrong with you?!” the old man yelled. “That was dangerous! You could have been ripped apart!”

Goldar grinned manically, and the old man stepped back. “I remember who I was now,” he said, his voice trembling with barely-suppressed excitement. Far from the drunken fatigue he’d walked in with, he was wide awake and dead sober… and more sure of himself than he’d been in months.

With barely a glance at the old man, not really caring for the weak old Eltarian or what he thought of him, Goldar teleported. He knew exactly where to go.

The reddish planet formed around him, broken buildings and columns and a giant inverted pyramid dominating the sky. He ran, laughing wildly as he practically flew over the dead technology, unharmed by any of it.

And there it was. The statue. The statue, holding the golden sword.

The Power Rangers were gathered around it, looking exhausted and frustrated, and now surprised to see Goldar. He laughed at their surprise, but didn’t really regard them as threats. Let them try to attack. He’d never felt so alive.

“What are you…?” Tommy began, but Goldar brushed back him, shoving him back. He wasn’t fighting the Rangers. He was merely getting them out of the way.

And finally, finally, the statue was in front of him. He faced it, grinned viciously at the worn visage… and wrenched the sword from the statue’s grasp.

The statue broke, cracking right down the middle, and the hands holding the sword crumbled into dust. Goldar turned from the now-unrecognizable statue and stared at the Sword of Power, feeling the power coursing through him. What little the old Eltarian man had taken from him was replaced with more to spare.

“Wait a freakin’ minute!” Jason yelled. “You… YOU… are worthy?”

Goldar chuckled, regarding the Rangers with almost pity. “It’s not a matter of worth, not in the way you think. I am worthy… because I am the rightful owner.”

Goldar imagined the looks on the Rangers’ faces behind their masks. They were even too shocked to attack, when they should have by all rights been trying to reclaim the sword.

“My sword. My statue. My godforsaken planet,” Goldar said. “I’d forgotten, but I remember now. I was a hero, but by the end of the war I knew the hero’s journey was a fool’s errand, and real power lay in the dark. So I stopped shining. I even left this sword when it lost its power… but it’s regained it now.” He smiled at the sword. “It’s like reclaiming a missing piece of myself.”

“So…” Tommy said hesitantly. “What does this mean? Does this mean you’re going to fight for… that you’re going to become a hero again?”

Goldar nearly dropped the sword at the halting, childish words. He laughed deep in his chest. “And why would I? I have power, and I remember why I fight.” He looked around at his planet. “The war has long been over, and Dark Spectre has already won. Nothing remains but to save the universe from stupid heroism.” He pointed his sword… HIS sword… at the Rangers. “Starting with you. While you’ve been running around blowing up ships and joining revolutions, your planet has been under attack. A battle that I will now join.”

With that, Goldar vanished, taking the Sword of Power with him.

Chapter Text

“Yeah, they’re still not answering,” Aisha said, turning from the console and folding her arms.

Adam frowned. “I don’t like it. I mean…” He glanced up at Zordon. “It’s not like them not to check in or answer their communicators, right?”

“That is correct, Adam.” Zordon also looked worried. “It could be any number of benign reasons.”

Rocky was shaking his head. “Nah… they’ve got super genius Billy with them. I’m guessing he could figure out a way to get in touch with us. My guess is it’s on our end. Watch… any second the alarm is going to sound. Zedd wants to attack while the Earth is undefended, so he wants to make sure the Rangers can’t just teleport back… or that we can’t get in touch with them.”

They waited, expecting the alarm to sound at Rocky’s words. Seconds ticked by… a minute… but all remained silent.

“When do you think…” Aisha began.

The alarm cut her off.

“Dammit, I was really hoping to be wrong,” Rocky groused.

Alpha had crossed the Command Center and was now focusing the security. “Oh, ay-yi-yi, Rangers-in-training, you were right! There is a monster.”

Zordon sighed. “It appears my best efforts were not good enough. Behold the Viewing Globe.”

The three faced the Viewing Globe, which was currently showing a band of Putties in the middle of Foley Park. The view panned over to reveal a monster within their midst. The monster, which was shaped like an hourglass, was waving its hands at a startled group of children. The children began to run, leaving behind their toys… when they froze. Feet still half-raised in a run, their faces frozen in looks of terror. As if someone had pressed the stop button on them.

“Did I just see that right?” Rocky said. “Did that monster just freeze those kids in time?” He sounded like he was trying to be brave, but his voice shook nonetheless.

“That is indeed correct,” Zordon said. “It appears this monster has limited power over time. It seems as if he can create small pockets of time distortion around groups of people.”

“Which will make him tricky to defeat,” Adam said. “We won’t be able to get close to him without getting frozen ourselves.”

“That’s only if we take a frontal attack,” Aisha pointed out. “Maybe we can…”

Alpha had turned in surprise, and Zordon looked practically alarmed. “Rocky, Adam, and Aisha, I cannot allow you to leave the Command Center. Lord Zedd obviously does not only wish to attack Earth in the Rangers’ absence, but to attack you specifically. You will be walking into a trap with no defenses of your own.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Rocky said. “But people are getting hurt down there. Or… frozen, or whatever. We’re Power Rangers: we have a responsibility to help them.”

“You’re not Power Rangers yet,” Zordon reminded them. “And Lord Zedd wants to make sure you never will be.”

“Yeah, but those frozen people are completely vulnerable,” Aisha said. “Who knows when the Rangers are going to be back? They’ve been gone for a week.”

“You could help me try to break through the communication block and reach the Rangers,” Alpha said. “Perhaps Zedd’s energy reserves are weakening from maintaining a monster and disrupting our communications. If we concentrate on that and reach the Rangers, we may even drain his power enough that he can’t maintain the monster either.”

The three hopeful Rangers looked put out by this suggestion. Zordon smiled down on them. He knew that all three of them, particularly Rocky, liked to jump into the fray, despite any disastrous consequences. He would have to train them to be more cautious. “It really is the best option,” he pointed out.

“Right,” Rocky said dully. “What do we need to do?”


Bulk put the magnifying glass to his eye and examined the ground. He had no idea what he was looking for, but this was how detectives did it, so obviously there was something to see other than gravel and candy wrappers.

He stood up, pulling off his deerstalker cap and wiping his brow. Obviously, Sherlock Holmes never had to work in Southern California at the beginning of summer, or he never would have worn a wool cap with earflaps.

He pulled out his book, a sort of guide to detection based on Sherlock Holmes, and read: “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

“Okay,” he said to himself, “I’m seeing, but I’m not observing… but what am I supposed to observe?”

He was outside City Hall. He’d been investigating places where the Rangers had recently fought all morning, but to no avail. All around Angel Grove there were traces of battles—wrecked benches, blast marks on the pavement, gouges in the ground—but that only showed that the Rangers had been there, battling. Not who they were.

After a few minutes of fruitless searching, Bulk heard raucous barking and heavy footfalls split the quiet of the morning. He also heard murmuring from the few people milling about the town square. He’d gotten some odd looks for his headgear and magnifying glass, but any oddness was eradicated by the sight currently sprinting up to him.

Skull was holding a bowler hat on his head and gripping a leash on the other. He was in full Victorian costume to go with his bowler hat: waistcoat and collar, pocket watch and monocle, and even a fake mustache that was hanging on one end as Skull struggled to keep up with the basset hound running at full tilt.

Bulk ground his teeth as Skull skidded to a halt, lurching as he tried to keep the hound in check. “What are you wearing?” Bulk asked in a barely-contained voice.

Skull looked down at his costume and plastered the mustache back on his face. “You said you were going to dress up like Sherlock Holmes. I’m Watson.”

Bulk was wearing the hat and had the magnifying glass, but otherwise he was wearing a tie-dye shirt and black cargo pants. Skull looked like an over-enthusiastic extra in a period piece. “Okay…” he said slowly, used to Skull’s brand of crazy. “Where’d you get the dog?”

Skull grinned. “My uncle’s. He takes him hunting. I figure he could sniff out a Power Ranger.”

Despite the costume, Bulk decided he’d never been more glad to see Skull. “Skull, that’s brilliant. I can see my smarts are rubbing off on you.”

The two crouched down to get on the dog’s level, prompting the dog to try to lick their faces. As soon as she backed down, Bulk asked, “What’s her name?”

“Buttercup.”

Bulk frowned. “That’s a stupid name for a dog.”

Skull shrugged. “I didn’t name her, but she’s apparently got the best nose my Uncle Clav has ever seen.”

“Okay, Buttercup,” Bulk said, “Can you sniff out a Power Ranger?” he said in a fake baby voice.

Buttercup was currently sniffing the ground enthusiastically. She pulled them to the steps of City Hall, seemed to make up her mind, and took off at a run, pulling the leash out of Skull’s hand.

“Hurry!” Bulk said. “She’s on the trail!”

The two ran after the dog, sure that at the other end of their run would be a Power Ranger.


Aisha stepped back from the console and stretched her arms. She’d so far been the quickest at picking up on the various bits of technology around the Command Center, so she was helping Alpha the most. Adam was watching the Viewing Globe, and Rocky had been sent to check the secondary security room, to see if any of the equipment was malfunctioning.

“I’m not able to connect to the Rangers,” Aisha said, “but I tapped into the intergalactic newsfeed—and how do you guys not just have that running all the time?—and I pulled up something pretty interesting.” She chuckled dryly. “Apparently they blew up the ship of some pirate named Divatox.” She squinted at the read-out. “And they helped someone named Dex throw the Machine Empire off a planet…?”

It may have been an optical illusion, but Zordon seemed to grow a bit paler in his tube. “That might explain why they haven’t been in touch. Perhaps their communicators were damaged.” His frown deepened. “They are drawing more attention to themselves than I wanted them to.”

“Wait, Zordon, I’m getting a message… from Aquitar,” Alpha broke in.

“Put it through to the Viewing Globe, Alpha,” Zordon said.

A White Ranger—but not their White Ranger—replaced the surveillance of the monster on the Viewing Globe. “Zordon,” the White Ranger said, “I am pleased to see you well. I’m sorry I can’t talk long, as Aquitar is under attack, but I wanted to know if you had a report back from your Rangers. They came to us for help, and they had to leave hastily.”

“I am pleased that they were able to find assistance, Delphine,” Zordon said. “We have not heard from them, unfortunately, nor do we know their whereabouts. Do you know where they were going?”

There was a loud noise off-screen, and Delphine looked toward it nervously. “I will have someone feed you the coordinates. Please let me know if they are well.”

“I will,” Zordon said. “And I wish to know how you all fare.”

Delphine nodded, and the feed cut, showing Angel Grove once again.

Alpha looked up from his console. “Zordon, I’m receiving the coordinates. It’s for a quarantined planet, one from the old war. It’s classified as highly dangerous and toxic. Oh, ay-yi-yi.”

“Aisha, would you…” Zordon suddenly looked around the Command Center. “Alpha, where are Aisha and Adam?” He closed his eyes. “I need not ask.”

Zordon also didn’t need Alpha’s panicked ‘ay-yi-yi’ to tell him that the three would-be Rangers had indeed gone to Earth.

“Caution. I must teach them caution,” Zordon said.

“Shall I teleport them up, Zordon?” Alpha said.

“No, Alpha, they will merely slip away again. Perhaps this will be a learning experience for them if they don’t get themselves killed,” Zordon said. “In the meantime, see what you can do to establish communication with the Rangers, now we know where they are. And tell me the second out new Rangers are in the least bit of danger.”

Zordon sighed, hoping that would be enough.


“Took you long enough. I’ve been waiting for ages,” Rocky said from behind a tree.

“We had to wait until they were distracted,” Aisha said. “And what are you doing there?”

Rocky nodded over to the playground on the other side of the path. “I can watch from here without being seen, which you might consider.”

Adam and Aisha took one look and then slipped behind the tree, which was thankfully wide enough for all of them. The playground was teeming with Putties. At the center was the hourglass monster, which Adam had named Time Master, who was setting up a machine of some sort with Putty assistants.

“I have no idea what that machine will do, but I bet it won’t be anything good,” Adam commented. “Do we have any idea how to fight that monster without… you know…” He mimed freezing in place, his arms raised in front of him with a goofy expression on his face.

Rocky raised an eyebrow. “Go around like that. I’d pay to see the monster turn you like that forever.”

“Guys, not the time,” Aisha said. “We’re in danger of being discovered, and I’m pretty sure that machine is just going to do what the monster does… only covering a lot more ground. Front attack’s not going to work. We need a distraction. I’m the fastest.”

“Yeah, but you’re the only one to know jack all about computers,” Rocky said.

“So it’s up to me,” Adam said. “I’ll try to get the monster moving, if you guys can disable the machine.”

“Okay, but you teleport back to the Command Center if it gets in any way close to you,” Rocky said. “We don’t need you frozen, kidnapped, or killed.”

“Not my first choices either,” Adam said. He pulled a blaster out of his pocket.

“Where’d you get that?” Aisha said, punching him in the arm.

“The Command Center,” Adam said. “Thought we’d need backup… but I could only find one.” He handed it to Rocky. “You’re the best shot out of all of us: try to take that machine down.”

“You’re going to need it against the monster,” Rocky said, trying to give it back.

“I hope it won’t come to that,” said Adam. “I won’t let it get close enough to me.”

Giving a final nod, Adam started walking toward the path, going at a diagonal away from the tree where they were hiding.” Hey, monster! Got tired of freezing kids?!”

The hourglass monster looked up… along with a swarm of Putties. They stayed still at first, apparently unable to cope with a regular human challenging them.

The monster, however, recognized the human as one of his primary objectives.

“Finish the machine,” the monster said to the Putties in a dry, wheezy voice, as if its vocal cords were filled with sand as well. “I shall take care of our intruder.”

Just as the would-be Rangers planned, the monster started walking toward Adam, who started running, zig-zagging so as not to get hit with a freeze ray.

“Soon as they’re completely clear,” Rocky said, “we take on the Putties. I don’t think they’ll give us a clear shot, and blasting any of them would be really stupid with their whole power rebound thing.”

“If you can’t hit the machine, just get me close to it,” Aisha said. “I’ll try to take it out.”

“Right…” Rocky looked over at the machine, which was now being set up by three Putties, while fifteen others surrounded it in guard. “So… this is probably going to go super wrong, isn’t it?”

Aisha grinned. “Probably… but hey. We’re Power Rangers. We do this sort of thing.”


Lord Zedd stared down at the Earth, gripping the rail tightly. He faintly heard the grinding sound as his metal glove scraped against the metal of the rail. It was the only thing keeping him on his feet, currently. He could sit on his throne and still see the Earth, but he’d tried that and it had made him feel even sicker.

“Finster!” he tried to yell, but his voice didn’t seem to want to go louder than normal volume. Spots were beginning to form in his vision…

And, suddenly, his vision cleared. He felt less like his nervous system was going to buckle from the pain. He noted the old scientist in his peripheral vision.

“That one was close, my lord,” Finster said, withdrawing the needle from one of the tubes running up Lord Zedd’s side. “We can place the monster on reserve power…”

“The attack will end soon enough, before which time I expect an influx of power,” said Lord Zedd, waving the scientist away.

Lord Zedd shook his head, trying to focus on weakening Zordon’s defenses even more. He’d been at this for a week, slowly and deliberately breaking down the shield. A shield covered the Earth at all times, having been constructed by Zordon and reinforced by both the power of the Morphing Grid and by sheer age. The shield was ancient. Zordon had prepared Earth’s defenses for a long time, and he wasn’t going to break the shield in a week.

He didn’t need to. Usually the shield wasn’t this strong. It would still allow limited invasions: monsters, Putties, various aliens… Zordon couldn’t keep the shield at this level of intensity for long. He’d been able to get one monster and a group of Putties down, but he still needed to get down one other person, and he couldn’t make that monster grow.

The monster was of Finster’s design. Another unfortunate consequence of Zedd’s power expenditure against the shield. It wasn’t doing so badly… though it was easily distracted, running for one lone future Ranger when it was obvious the other two would be close. It should have sent Putties after the human and kept on with the machine. The Putties would be able to herd the Ranger back to the machine.

But it would be enough. Goldar would be there soon. He was already succeeding in his task, and he would know what to do. The pieces were all coming together.

The Power Rangers would not fall this day… but they would lose. And the three pretend Rangers would die.


Bulk came to a halt beside Skull, panting, his hands on his knees. He’d have to get in better shape than this if he was going to keep his place on the football team, he decided… but it wasn’t like he was going after track and field. Skull was also panting, but he’d also finally been able to grab Buttercup’s leash, so at least they’d be able to rest.

Buttercup’s nose was low to the ground, her floppy ears dragging through the gravel. She seemed to be concentrating on something, or making up her mind. Of course, Bulk reasoned, she could just be smelling other dogs, or following the scent of an ice cream truck, or some other random thing. But Bulk couldn’t give up hope. There had to be some clue… some point to all this.

He pulled out his Sherlock Holmes book. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment,” he read aloud. He looked around. “But what evidence?”

Skull was staring at Buttercup. “It kinda looks like she’s confused about something. Like she can’t decide which way to go.”

Suddenly, Buttercup snapped her head in one direction and began pulling Skull after her. Bulk followed.

“What is it, girl?” Skull said. “You got something?”

Bulk was starting to wonder if this whole dog scheme was going to work. They hadn’t given Buttercup anything to follow, so she could literally be leading them anywhere. Or nowhere. He decided that at the next break, he’d talk to Skull about it. They’d just have to come up with another plan. He pored over the Sherlock Holmes book, but it was giving him nothing.

“Hey, what you guys doing?”

Bulk realized the dog had led them into a yard. An older girl in a red shirt and cut-off jeans was outside, washing a vaguely familiar car.

“Uh… nothing,” Skull said, trying to rein in the dog. “Sorry… but it’s Buttercup…”

The girl’s face split in a grin as she crouched. “She’s so cute! Buttercup… who’s a good dog…” Her voice devolved into baby talk as Buttercup ran up to her and licked her face. She held up the garden hose and let the dog drink from it, which the dog did enthusiastically.

Bulk suddenly remembered who the girl was. “Kristen, right? Jason’s sister?”

“That’s right,” Kristen said, standing back up. She started aiming the water hose around the yard, letting Buttercup run after it. “You were on the football team with Jas. Bulk… and Skull?” she nodded to them.

“I’m still on the team,” Bulk pointed out. “Jason quit.”

“Right,” Kristen said. “Well, given that he’s going to Geneva, it worked out for the best. So… taking the dog out for a walk?”

“Hey, this is a hunting dog, not just a pet,” Skull said indignantly. “She’s hunting the Power Rangers.”

Kristen dropped the hose. It started spraying all around, and there were several minutes of confusion and loud barking before Kristen grabbed hold of the hose again.

“Well, it was good talking to you guys. I’m going to change,” Kristen said, laughing a bit nervously.

Bulk frowned. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about…”

“Bye!” Kristen said, and she slammed the door behind her.

“Huh…” Skull said. “That was weird.”

“Yeah…” Bulk said. He flipped through his book. “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes,” he quoted. He looked again at the house. Buttercup looked like she had no inclination to leave, and Jason’s sister had acted super weird. And then there was their theory before…

The monster siren sounded, breaking him out of her reverie. “Youth Center’s not far from here,” he said. It was the closest designated monster shelter. “Let’s hope Ernie lets the dog stay.”


The thing to remember about Putties is that they’re actually really strong. Even discounting their self-destruct button, which was their most dangerous feature and the only true way to get rid of them, they were very difficult to fight. Rocky and Aisha were both accomplished martial artists, but they were outnumbered. Fifteen to two was no laughing matter.

The blaster was currently in Rocky’s pocket. It was either out of energy, or it had some kind of safety on it. Either way, Rocky’s unsuccessful attempt to fire it had given away their element of surprise. They were currently fighting Putties. The machine was silently levitating over the merry-go-round in the playground, but the Putties had them stopped at the monkey bars.

“Not sure if this is working,” Rocky gasped as he and Aisha fought back to back. “Any ideas?”

Aisha was looking around. “If we can just get to the…” Her attention wavered, and then staggered back when a Putty took advantage of her lapse.

“What’s up?” Rocky said, preparing to take over whatever fight Aisha was in, even though he was pretty slammed himself.

“I’ll be right back. Get ready to back me up,” she said. With that, she ducked under the advancing Putties and ran for it.

“Oh, that’s okay, Aisha, I can take on fifteen Putties by myself, no sweat,” Rocky said under his breath. “You just take your time… get some ice cream…”

He was really close to teleporting back up when he heard a shout. He looked up to see Aisha with a soccer ball. With Rocky’s attention, she waited for the Putties to waver in their attention, and then sent the soccer ball flying at Rocky with a powerful kick.

Miraculously, it bypassed all the Putties between them. Rocky was ready. As soon as it got to him, he caught it with a powerful midair roundhouse kick, which sent it flying to the machine… the machine the Putties had never had a chance to finish setting up.

The machine, hardly larger than the soccer ball that hit it, sparked once and fell to the ground. Aisha was already running for it. A Putty met her first, and she allowed the Putty to grab her long enough for her to vault over it and then land hard on the ground… on top of the machine. There was a loud crunch, and Rocky knew she’d taken care of it.

“Nice one!” They heard a shout from across the park.

Adam was there, still dodging blasts from the monster. He looked absolutely exhausted, but obviously hadn’t wanted to teleport up before he knew the machine was gone.

Rocky dodged around the Putties as one of the rays tried to catch him. It froze a good half of the Putties, while the others retreated from the monster. Rocky ran toward the monster… at least, he ran toward Aisha and Adam. He knew they needed to teleport out, but he wasn’t leaving without them.

That’s when things started to go wrong.

As soon as he tried to flip past the merry-go-round, where the machine had been set up, he felt himself get slower. Adam had reached the merry-go-round at about the same time, and the three of them looked at each other slowly. In fact, they were doing everything slowly.

“The… maaaaachiiiiinnnnnne…” Aisha said, in literal slow motion. “Iiiiitttt wwwaaaaaassssssss…”

“A trap,” the monster finished for them. “One that needs all of my energy, but it’s served its purpose, as have I.”

“Wwwwhhhhaaaaattttt’ssssss gggggooooiiiiinnnnnngggggg ttttooooooo….” Adam tried to get out.

“Happen to you?” the monster finished. “You’ll find our… right about now.”

The monster disappeared. Or, rather, its hourglass shape seemed to dissolve, and the sand within it started to pour into the machine. As it did, Rocky, Adam, and Aisha felt themselves getting even slower. As soon as they’d hit the merry-go-round, they’d started to try to hit their wrist communicator to teleport out. The problem was, they were so slow their arms had barely left their sides.

“Wwwwhhhhaaaattttt nnnnnoooooowwwwwww?” Rocky said. He wondered why they hadn’t just been frozen, but that was too many words to try to get out, and they were all thinking that anyway.

“Now… you die.”

It was a voice they still heard in their nightmares. The one that had imprisoned them in a cave, that had tried to corrupt them with a snake.

Goldar. He was smirking at them, a sword raised in triumph.

Rocky finished swallowing… slowly. “Wwwweeeeelllllllllllll, sssshhhhhhiiiiiii…”


The sky turned a deeper red, as what passed for a sun on that war-torn, forsaken planet started to set. The Rangers stood before the broken statue, still in shock over their rather sudden defeat at the hands of Goldar. He was gone now, along with their hopes of achieving their mission.

There was an electronic whine, and then a loud crash and distressed warbles. Zack took his Power Axe off his shoulder, having shot at some curious feral Putties.

“Feel better?” Jason said sardonically.

“Nope,” Zack said.

Kimberly grabbed a rock and, with a furious scream, threw it at the statue. It bounced off ineffectually, but she was already walking away from it, her face screwing up in impotent anger.

“It’s okay, Kim,” Tommy said softly.

“Oh, is it?!” Kimberly said, rounding on him. “Because what we just saw? That was us losing.”

“I was there,” Tommy said. “I know.”

“I could have let him die!” Kimberly said, half to herself now. “I should have. He was on Divatox’s ship, helpless. I told Jason to carry him to safety…”

“He saved my life,” Jason pointed out.

“He wouldn’t have had to if I hadn’t weighed you down with him,” Kimberly said.

“Kim, you did the right thing,” Tommy said. “You’re not the only one who let him live.”

“You’re right,” Kimberly said. “We’ve all cut him so much slack. We always let him run away, and now he’s taken our only chance of transferring the power coins safely. Not only that, he’s probably gone to take over Earth. You heard what he was saying as he was leaving.”

“So we’re killers now?” Zack said quietly.

Kimberly looked at him through red eyes. She’d let a few tears escape. “You know I don’t mean that. But… how can we keep fighting people we can’t kill, who are more than willing to kill us? We’re heroes, but how do we keep at it? You and Trini and Jason are getting out of it, but the rest of us? Do we end up destroying everyone around us, like Dex? Do we end up fighting against our own planet, like the Aquitian Rangers? Or… do we end up evil? Like Goldar?”

“Goldar as a hero,” Jason said. “That’s not something I was expecting.”

“Former hero,” Tommy pointed out. “And I can see it. He’s got that whole honor thing. He’s loyal to a fault… just loyal to the wrong side. It can happen.”

“He wasn’t loyal to Rita,” Zack pointed out. “Seems like he’s loyal until it gets too hard, and then he changes sides. Rita to Zedd. Shining Warrior to Rita’s flunky…”

Tommy didn’t respond. He hadn’t told the others about what he knew about Goldar, that Goldar had “betrayed” Rita to save her life during her fight with Zedd.

While the others were wringing their hands over what they had and hadn’t done about Goldar, Trini realized that Billy wasn’t even paying attention. Instead, he was intently examining the broken statue, his scanner running over the break in the middle.

“Found something?” she asked.

“I’m not entirely certain,” Billy said. “I began scanning because it seemed a better idea than recriminations.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Trini said. “Can I see?”

Billy handed the scanner to her. “There are some anomalous power readings, but they could be residual from the sword. I am curious as to why the statue split like this.”

“It does seem strange,” Trini said. She squinted at the break in the statue. “Do you have a flashlight in your backpack?” She smiled. “Do I even need to ask?”

Billy was already pulling his backpack off and fishing a flashlight out of the outer pocket. He shone a light in the crevice the break had made.

“Huh,” Trini said. “It’s a button.”

Billy nodded. “We probably shouldn’t press it.”

Trini smirked. “Oh, go on.”

With a laugh, Billy pressed the button… and both of them backed up quickly as light poured from the statue, blinding them.

“Guys!” Trini shouted. “You might want to watch this!”

The four other Rangers looked up. The light was shining on a wide monolith opposite the statue, and it was slowly forming into a familiar shape.

“A projection?” Zack said. “Where…?”

“I hit a button in the statue,” Billy said, vaguely pointing at the projection.

“Sh…” Tommy said, as the projection began to clear.

It was Goldar, but not Goldar. His snout was smaller, almost cat-like, and his skin was light, translucent blue. He wore a less bulky version of his golden armor, and his eyes shone gray rather than red. Yet it was unmistakably Goldar. A Goldar who was a hero.

A Goldar who was beginning to speak.

“If you’ve found this recording,” the recording said, in Goldar’s unmistakable growl, “it means I’ve taken the sword. I have to explain to you why this is a bad thing… and why you can still have hope.”

The Rangers gathered around the monolith, trying not to disrupt the projection, but also entranced by this message from millennia ago, from a very very different Goldar.

“I am Goldar, the shining warrior,” the projection continued. “The protector of this planet, and force for the side of good.” The projection’s voice was beginning to take on a sardonic quality with which the Rangers were all too familiar. “I fight… I fought… in a war that has been going on as long as I remember, and will continue to go on as long as there are people to fight in it.

“That, I have to come to realize, is the problem. I am a warrior, but I am also a dealer in power. All heroes come to me when they want to give their power to another. I’ve seen them all. All heroes pass on. Some retire. Most die. And the fight continues. The sides of darkness and light alike tearing the universe apart. And now it’s come to my planet.”

The past Goldar’s face grew slightly darker, and the Rangers realized that he was holding back tears.

“I thought I could fight them back,” Goldar said. “I had a duty I was honor-bound to keep. Save our planet, and keep my power out of the hands of Dark Specter. I have… failed… in one of my duties. I was protected by my friends, my family, and the forces of darkness have wiped them out, along with everyone else. I am… alone. They are coming for me. And I will be joining them.

“I know what you might think. I am betraying the side of light, breaking every oath I ever made. Perhaps that is so. Those oaths were made at a time when there was hope for the side of good. Before Dark Specter. Before heroes became in some ways worse than what they fought against. I cannot in good conscience stay a hero, and I will not be allowed to run away. So… I must turn to darkness. I must become a villain. For the good of the universe… no more heroes. The war must end, so heroes must end… starting with me.”

The projection looked down at his sword. “I cannot, however, break my most important oath. I must protect the universe from this... the power to transfer power from one person to another. I have put this power into my sword, and I am leaving it here, on my statue. I can't let Dark Specter gain this sword, as he will use it to gain all the power for himself.

"If you're watching this, my future self, the only one who is worthy of the sword, has taken it back for himself. But he doesn't know the full story. The sword cannot work without the sheath."

With that, the projection took the sheath off the sword and held it up. "This I place within my statue. The sword has power... but only the sheath can activate it. Those who would defy my future self... use it, and keep it from me."

The projection flickered, and the Rangers turned to see Tommy already pulling a long object out of the statue. It was a sheath, also golden, and faintly glimmering with potential power.

"Guys," Tommy said, "it's time to go home."


Rocky, Adam, and Aisha did not try to speak. Their futile movements to their wrist communicators were still happening, but the hope that that would accomplish anything was long gone. They weren’t being teleported up by Zordon, so they knew they couldn’t be teleported up.

“Here’s how you die,” Goldar said calmly. “I kill you with this sword. The machine will slowly things down far too much, though, so I will disable it right before my blade cuts you. Now, you think that’s going to be enough time for you to escape, but here’s what will happen instead. The entire park became a no-teleport zone as soon as I teleported down, so you will not be saved, by teleport or Rangers.

“You might have a few seconds of free movement… but you are neither fast enough nor strong enough to escape. One of you might be able to escape if you throw the other two at me and run… but you won’t do that. You’re friends, and you’re heroes.” Goldar smiled grimly. “I took an oath. No more heroes. I plan to keep that oath.”

The three stared in horror as Goldar raised his sword, taking his time in planning how exactly to kill them. They were well and truly trapped. They started to close their eyes, but even their lids closed with agonizing slowness, so they could still see Goldar leering over them.

They wished they could say goodbye, as they waited for the end.


Six streams of light crackled into being, lighting up the Command Center and drawing Zordon’s and Alpha’s horrified attention away from the Viewing Globe.

“Oh, ay-yi-yi, Rangers, Goldar’s about to…!”

“We see it Alpha,” Tommy said in clipped tones. “We can’t teleport down there, either.” He glanced nervously at the Viewing Globe. “Suggestions. Quick.”

“Taking down that teleport shield will take too long,” Billy said; he’d launched himself at the monitoring console immediately. “Goldar’s reinforcing it with his new power.”

“We could teleport outside of the park,” Kimberly said, “but it would take too long to run to them, even using long-distance weapons.”

“We could try to use the sheath to break Goldar’s power,” Trini said. “It would buy us enough time…”

Zordon was staring now at the sheath in Tommy’s hand. “The sheath… the key to the Sword of Power…”

“Something Goldar cooked up when he had some kind of common sense,” Zack said. “Wait… We just have to protect those three. And we have the sword and the sheath. Do we have to be there anyway?”

“We don’t,” Jason said, smiling.

Tommy gave Jason, Zack, and Trini a shocked look. “You mean… now?”

“That’s what we went to space for,” Jason said. “Why not now? Goldar has the sword. Instead of killing them, we can use the sheath to turn it into a power transfer…er,” he ended awkwardly.

“We’ll have to time it carefully, to right when Goldar de-powers the machine,” Trini said.

“And if it doesn’t work?” Billy said.

Kimberly frowned. “Then that’s Goldar’s last chance. We take him out.”

Zack was pointing at the Viewing Globe. “Guys, now’s not the time. He’s getting ready!”

Jason, Trini, and Zack morphed for the last time. Tommy held the sheath aloft. On the Viewing Globe, there was a faint crackle, and Goldar began to swing his sword…


There was a loud clang, and Rocky opened his eyes. Time was going normally, but that was the only thing that looked normal. He could see Goldar, and a sword, but crossed with another sword, that he was holding.

By instinct, he slashed the sword, driving Goldar back. Goldar offered little resistance. He looked shocked. Shocked and angry.

“Holy crap, we’re Power Rangers,” Aisha said behind him.

Rocky chanced a peek back, and instead of seeing his friends, he saw the Yellow Ranger and the Black Ranger, both of them looking at each other and their own gloved hands in amazement.

There was a scream of rage, and the three bounded off the merry-go-round as Goldar’s sword came crashing down, splitting the playground toy in two. Aisha and Adam drew their own weapons—daggers and an axe—and began fighting Goldar on instinct.

It was starting to click in Rocky’s mind. He was now the Red Ranger. Power was flooding through him, ancient knowledge and instinct making him stronger… faster…

With a whoop of joy, he joined his friends in their fight.

Goldar fought fiercely, but he kept anticipating the wrong moves. He’d fought the Red, Yellow, and Black Rangers countless times, but in reality he’d fought Jason, Trini, and Zack. He had never fought these Rangers, no matter what they looked like. Between that and his failure to kill them, he was losing ground quickly.

That was when a squadron of Putties joined him in the fight, as well as the hourglass monster.

Rocky, Adam, and Aisha pulled back at the unexpected influx of new enemies. “Uh… this is amazing and all…” Rocky said, knowing that Zordon was listening in, “but I think we need backup.”


“The power transfer broke the anti-teleport shield,” Billy said. “We can go down there any time… and I think we need to.”

“The hourglass monster shouldn’t pose as much of a threat now,” Zordon said. “Its power to freeze time has been used up by the machine. Unfortunately, it is still a danger to Angel Grove.”

“You heard the man,” Jason said, taking the sheath from Tommy’s hand. “Go be heroes.”

Tommy, Billy, and Kimberly prepared to morph and took one last look at Jason, Trini, and Zack, now completely depowered and dressed in the clothes stained with the red dust of Goldar’s old planet. They nodded once, and then were gone.

“Well, not perfect, but I’d say that was a pretty good last mission as Power Rangers,” Zack said.

“Goldar still got the sword,” Jason pointed out.

“But they’ve got Rocky, Adam, and Aisha,” Jason said. “And they’re more powerful than any sword.”


The three new Rangers were mid Putty fight when they realized they’d been joined by the rest of their team.

“Took you guys long enough!” Rocky said.

“You’re welcome,” Kimberly said.

With six fighting, the Putties took very little time to defeat. Deciding to take the power hit rather than extend the fight, the Rangers hit the self-destruct button of each Putty. In minutes, they were all gone, leaving Goldar and the hourglass monster.

“How?” Goldar said, his voice barely recognizable in his rage.

“You left something behind, Shining Warrior,” Tommy said. “That sword might give you a power boost, but it needs the key to unlock its ability to transfer power… and that you’re never going to get.”

Goldar spat on the ground, visibly shaking in fury. “You used my power… my legacy… You desecrated my grave.” He raised his sword. “I won’t forgive you, heroes.”

“I expect not,” Tommy replied. “And you nearly killed three of us. I’ve given you so many chances, in honor of the person I thought you were. Now… no more chances.”

They fully expected Goldar to attack, but instead he disappeared. In his place, the hourglass monster caught a gray grenade. It pulled the tab, smoke filled the air, and out of the smoke loomed the monster, now giant-sized.

“We’re going to call our Zords,” Rocky said excitedly. “We’re going to call our Zords, aren’t we?”

Kimberly laughed. “That’s what the big monster means, usually. Calm down, though… We need a cool head to pilot.”

“We’re going to call our Zords, and I’m going to pilot… I think I’m going to pass out,” Rocky said.

“Guys, keep Rocky on his feet, and keep the monster in the park,” Tommy said. “I’ll keep it occupied while you charge your finishing move.”

“Right,” they all said, and began their first Zord fight as a new team.


Lord Zedd was sitting on his throne. He didn’t even watch the monster fight on the Earth below. He knew that the Power Rangers would defeat the monster handily. Its true purpose had been the trap the three humans, and now it was just a shell of a monster. It would pose no special challenge to the heroes.

Instead, he watched a far more interesting battle take place before him.

“I was ready to kill them, my lord! Why did you take me away?!”

Goldar was raging in front of him. If his emotions had been tied to the Control Room like Zedd’s were, the room would be a violent, deep red.

Even so, Goldar was not threatening him. He was still calling him ‘lord.’ While he held the sword, he did not brandish it at him.

“You wished to die in the fight, and you might have, given the White Ranger’s words,” Lord Zedd said. “Your new sword has not only bolstered your own power, but has also bolstered my own… at least, until I recover. Would you die when you had just triumphed?”

“Triumph?!” Goldar looked insulted at the word. “I failed to kill the humans, just as I’ve failed to kill those heroes all along! And they… used…” His voice seemed lost in fury. He took several deep breaths before he was able to continue. “They used my own power against me. My legacy. I was the only one worthy, and they took even that from me.”

“What did you expect, Goldar?” Lord Zedd said. “They are your enemies. You haven’t allowed them to live because you were incompetent. You could always kill them. You didn’t… and you know why.”

Goldar looked down, clearly trying to think even through his anger. “Tommy,” he said. “I’ve been…”

“Trying to protect him, I know,” Lord Zedd finished for him. “And how has Tommy repaid you? He spares your life, but he takes your honor. I expect he must have told you to leave the war at some point.”

Goldar regarded Lord Zedd with wide eyes. “You… how did you…”

“I did not,” Lord Zedd said. “You confirmed it.”

“My lord…” Goldar said. “It was not that. You… you knew about my past. You knew I was the Shining Warrior, and that the Sword of Power belonged to me.”

“I had very strong suspicions,” Lord Zedd said. “I also knew you would never be complete… would never break free from these humans and loyalties that weaken you… unless you reclaimed your legacy. And Tommy…”

“Tommy has used up his last chance,” Goldar growled. He looked less angry. No… he looked like his anger was turning inward, smoldering instead of flaming. “He has proven today that he is my enemy.” With a look of ‘oh, screw it,’ Goldar fell to his knees, keeping his hand on his sword hilt. “I am your servant, Lord Zedd. I swear my power and my life to serve you.”

Lord Zedd stood to his feet and held up his staff. “Rise, Goldar. I swear to be your lord, and to take up your ancient oath. No more heroes… starting with the Power Rangers.”

The Rangers may have survived the day, and the three new heroes may have taken over, but Lord Zedd had gained what he wanted. True loyalty… and a new source of power.


“Oh, my god, that was SO COOL,” Aisha yelled as soon as she could get her helmet off.

They were back in the Command Center after destroying the monster, and Rocky, Adam, and Aisha still looked like they were about to jump out of their skins.

“And that chest blast thing…” Adam said.

“And the sword!” Rocky said. “And then the whole thing went BOOM!”

“We were there, too,” Kimberly laughed.

“So, pretty good first outing as a Ranger?” Tommy said.

“Are you kidding me?!” Rocky said. “When do we get to do that again?!”

“Hopefully not for a long time,” Billy said pointedly.

“Indeed,” Zordon said. “But let me congratulate the new Red, Yellow, and Black Rangers on their first victory. We will leave the discussion of not following orders and leaving the Command Center for a later date.”

The three shifted guiltily.

“Speaking of…” Tommy said, “where’s Jas, Zack, and Trini?” He was a little hurt that they had abandoned the Command Center so quickly; he'd expected them to be waiting until after the battle.

"They received a message from Jason's sister, and had to respond to a security risk," Zordon said. "It is of no concern. Before we discuss other matters, we must officially induct our new Rangers."

Tommy, Billy, and Kimberly shifted to the side and let Rocky, Adam, and Aisha stand in the middle. The three looked a bit nervous, but they had calmed down enough to fit the occasion.

"Even before you were Rangers," Zordon began, "you three have shown yourselves to be true heroes, taking on the responsibilities of the Rangers before you were given the power. You are brave, intelligent, and selfless, three essential qualities in a Power Ranger. I expect you three to use your new powers in pursuit of these same qualities.

"Adam, you have been granted the powers of the Black Ranger, with the Power Axe and the Mastodon Lion Thunderzord. Your quiet intelligence will discipline the raw force of your new weapons.

"Aisha, you have been granted the powers of the Yellow Ranger, with the Power Daggers and the Sabretooth Tiger Griffin Thunderzord. Your fierce energy and tenacity will direct the speed and precision of your new weapons.

"Rocky, you have been granted the powers of the Red Ranger, with the Power Sword and the Tyrannosaurus Red Dragon Thunderzord. You also hold the position as pilot of the Thunder Megazord. You've already proven yourself to be an effective pilot and fighter.

"I wish only to remind all three of you, as you are learning, to trust in the leadership of Tommy and Kimberly, and to trust in Billy's wisdom and experience. They have been fighting for a long time, and can help you become more effective... and perhaps cautious... fighters."

Kimberly smirked and nudged Tommy, who nudged her back. That was obviously a pointed remark about their new leadership responsibilities... and the fact they had been rarely cautious themselves.

"All Power Rangers must follow three oaths," Zordon said. "First, is to never use your powers for personal gain. They are only to be used in fighting the forces of darkness. Second, you must never escalate a fight beyond what is strictly necessary. Finally, you must keep your identities as Power Rangers a secret. There are some... choices you'll have to make regarding this rule, but that is a discussion for another time. For now, keep your identities secure from everyone, including those close to you. Do you agree to these oaths?"

"I swear," Rocky said. Aisha and Adam echoed him. All three looked nervous enough to jump out of their skins.

"Okay, I think that's enough doom and gloom," Kimberly said. "I think it's time to celebrate." She glanced up nervously. "We... can wait for tomorrow to report everything that happened."

Zordon finally smiled. "Of course. You've earned some rest and celebration. And you may wish to rejoin the former Rangers at the Youth Center... to corroborate their story."


Bulk and Skull stood in the center of the Youth Center, all eyes on them. They’d made sure of that by yelling at everyone to pay attention to them, and the assorted teenagers whiling away a summer afternoon and a monster alarm decided the two were at least mildly entertaining, for their Victorian costumes alone.

“And we will therefore prove,” Bulk announced, “that three of the Power Rangers are none other…” he held up a finger dramatically, “than the three new representatives to the International Youth Peace Conference: Jason, Zack, and Trini.”

Several in the crowd laughed, partially at Skull, who was trying to echo Bulk while keeping a floppy-eared dog off the counter; partially at Bulk’s statement.

“You really think the Power Rangers, protectors of the entire world, are a few teenagers?” one girl said.

Bulk consulted his book. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” He looked up. “They can’t be adults, because adults have jobs, and the monsters usually attack places where teenagers usually hang out, including here. We’ve never seen them during any of the monster attacks… Seriously, has anyone ever seen Zack or Trini or Jason in any shelter during a monster attack?”

There were a few chuckles, and then a few dismissive hand gestures. Bulk was about to get really angry… when he realized what everyone was staring at. Jason, Trini, and Zack, sitting at a table across the bar, waving at him.

“Uh… Bulk?” Skull said, pointing to the TV. “I think that’s a live feed of the Power Rangers.”

“Yeah, I know…” Bulk grumbled. He took off the Sherlock Holmes hat, balled it up, and stuffed it in his pocket. Brushing past the crowd breaking up, he threw the book in the trash can and sat at the bar near his prime suspects, fuming.

“We tried to tell you we weren’t Power Rangers,” Trini pointed out gently as the two settled near them.

“You could have stopped me earlier instead of just sitting there,” Bulk grumbled.

“Honestly, I kinda wanted to see why you thought we were Power Rangers,” Zack laughed. “Those can’t have been your only clues.”

Skull motioned to the dog. “Buttercup here led us straight from City Hall to your house.” He pointed at Jason.

“Don’t the Power Rangers teleport around?” Zack pointed out.

“She was probably following my sister,” Jason said. “She just went this morning to pay a parking ticket.”

“Or it was a coincidence,” Trini said.

Soon after the monster attack, Adam and Billy entered the Youth Center and joined their friends. “We got separated… we ended up at the high school,” Adam said casually.

“What, seriously?” Zack laughed. “You’ve got a lot to learn about monster attacks in Angel Grove. Always head for the fun monster shelters, never the school. If Kaplan sees you there, he’ll announce a study hall.”

They laughed, and watched Bulk and Skull’s still-suspicious eyes as the two ambled out.

As soon as they were gone, the group of assorted Rangers breathed sighs of relief.

“So, that’s a common thing?” Adam said, nodding to where Bulk and Skull had just left. “Those two trying to figure out who the Power Rangers are?”

“Fairly recent development,” Billy said. “They’re surprisingly adept, even if their methods are… not entirely feasible.”

“I think we convinced them about us, what with us being present in a shelter while a Ranger fight was going on,” Jason said. “Not so sure about you two. And we’ve got Skull’s weird thing about remembering who we are with that connection to the Blue Ranger powers.”

“What and what?” Adam said.

“Long story… stories,” Zack said. He smiled broadly at Adam. “Great job out there, by the way.”

Adam shifted, obviously uncomfortable at the praise. “I didn’t know this would be so… complicated.”

“Just as simple as saving the world,” Trini teased.

Adam gave a dubious look at Billy, who just looked amused. “As simple as that,” he echoed. “Oh, boy.”


That night, the Rangers, now nine in total, gathered in Jason’s basement rec room. Zack was fiddling with the sound system, while Rocky and Billy were playing pool. Or, Billy was playing pool while Rocky held his cue and watched him.

"He hasn't made a miss yet," Rocky commented, slightly awed.

Trini rolled her eyes. "You know, Billy, you can stop showing off.” She timed it just as he was taking a shot, and the cue slipped, causing the cue ball to fall into the corner pocket.

Billy backed off, frowning, as Rocky took his turn. "I was going for my record," Billy said.

"Other people want to play, too," Trini reminded him.

Jason bounded down the stairs, two Blockbuster Video cases in his hand. "Pizzas should be here any second," he announced.

Tommy and Kimberly were comfortably ensconced on the couch, while Adam was busy looking through the bookshelf in the far corner. Aisha was sitting to the side, waiting to play the winner of the current pool game.

"You didn't tell us anything about space," Adam said, giving up on the bookshelf. "Was it like Star Wars?"

"Uncomfortably so," Billy said, still sulking as he watched Rocky sink several shots.

"We may have blown up a pirate ship," Zack said. "Instigated a revolution..."

"Billy got a space girlfriend..." Trini said with a smile.

"Space girlfriend?" Rocky grinned, lining up a shot. “Oh, you’ve got to tell us about that.”

“I don’t have a space girlfriend,” Billy said. “Cestria is a friend.”

Zack coughed, his cough sounding suspiciously like ‘space girlfriend.’ Billy glared at him, but there wasn’t much conviction behind it. He seemed a bit pleased to be teased.

“So how did Goldar get the sword?” Adam said. “You never got a chance to explain all that.”

"It was his to begin with," Tommy said, and quickly explained about Goldar’s acquisition of the sword, the message after he left, and the sheath embedded in the statue. "No telling how powerful he is now, but at least he can't transfer power with it. Not without the sheath... which is thankfully locked up in the Command Center right now."

Aisha looked up, startled. "Do you think it's a good idea to talk about... right," she said. "Security on the house. When do we get fancy security upgrades?"

"Starting tomorrow," Billy said.

Kristen stood at the top of the stairs. "Pizzas here!"

"So go get it!" Jason yelled back.

"Well, since you're no longer busy saving the world, I suggest you go get it," Kristen retorted.

"Oh, I guess you're too busy practically giving our secret identities away," Jason said, but he was already walking up the stairs.

"So..." Aisha said, "this whole 'secret identity' thing. Who does it mean? If your families..."

"It used to mean everyone," Zack said. "We had to hide our identities from our family."

"Which sucked," Kimberly pointed out. "So glad that's over."

"So Zordon just let you reveal your identities to your parents?" Adam said.

"Not... entirely," Billy said. "We didn't exactly have a choice, and he wasn't exactly there."

"That's what happens when the forces of darkness attack you in your homes, and then force you to unmask in front of the whole town," Trini said drily.

"Wait... when was this?" Rocky said, missing a shot. "I know we just moved here, but you'd think that would have made the news."

Jason was walking down the stairs with the pizza, having heard the end of that. The six Rangers glanced nervously at each other. There was so much about that story that they didn't particularly want to go into. Especially since the "forces of darkness" was mostly Kimberly. She, Tommy, and Billy had agreed not to immediately tell the new Rangers about their foray into evil. Jason, Trini, and Zack had disagreed, but had agreed to support them in their decision.

Zack ended up telling the story, skirting past the Kimberly-related bits. They didn't notice: Tommy's "death," the Greek gods, and their own role as freedom fighters was enough to distract them.

"So that means you knew us before we met?" Aisha said. "We were..."

"Defenders of Earth... when we couldn't be," Jason said. "Figured since you were already doing the job, may as well give you the power to keep going without getting yourselves killed."

"So what do we tell our parents?" Adam said quietly.

"That's what we'll talk about tomorrow at the meeting," Tommy said, "but I know what Zordon is going to say. 'This is a decision that you must make for yourselves, Rangers.'" They laughed at Tommy's rather accurate Zordon impression. "That's what he says when he really can't or won't make the decision himself, but he's right. We didn't have a choice. You guys do, and we'll back you up with whatever choice you're making."

"My dad's barely ever at home,” Rocky said breezily. “So that doesn’t really matter to me.”

Aisha and Adam looked at each other.

“I think I’m going to wait and see,” Aisha said. “My parents don’t really worry about me as long as they know I’m with Rocky and Adam. I’d really rather them not start worrying.”

Adam looked down. “I’m going to tell my brother,” he said in a quiet voice. “It’s just the two of us, and he worries. My… our parents died in a car crash a couple of years ago.” He said at the questioning looks.

“We’ll set it up. You don’t have to do that alone,” Tommy said, his voice subdued. “Maybe Sylvia…?” He looked at Billy.

Billy nodded. “She’ll definitely help, and they’re both teachers.”

Adam kept studying the floor. “Thanks,” he said.

“My folks can throw in, too,” Kimberly said. “And if you guys ever change your minds,” she looked pointedly at Rocky and Aisha. “That’s the thing… we’re family now. No one has to go it alone, and we’re always there for each other.” She looked at Jason, Trini, and Zack. “Even if they’re thousands of miles away.”

“I think there’s enough cheese on the pizza without you,” Tommy teased gently.

Kimberly jabbed him with her elbow, and the tension broke. The rest of the night was taken up by movies and pool, all thoughts of space, monsters, and fighting let go for now.


Tommy, Kimberly, and Billy walked slowly from the airport, and only looked up when the sound of engines signaled their friends’ plane leaving. Their eyes were strained from crying and keeping back tears. They’d thought they’d already said their goodbyes and had come to terms with their friends leaving, but the moment of departure had brought unexpected tears from all around.

“Zedd didn’t try to attack, like we thought,” Kimberly said, her voice thick.

“Thank heaven for small favors,” Tommy said.

They kept walking, slowly making their way to Billy’s car. They had several things to do, but they just couldn’t find the motivation. They almost wished Zedd had attacked, if only as a distraction. When they did get to the car, they decided to drive to a nearby park, just so they wouldn’t have to deal with anyone else right then.

“It’s weird,” Kimberly said. They’d spread out a blanket from Billy’s car on a patch of grass overlooking the pond. Tommy and Kimberly leaned against each other, watching the sun glint off the water, while Billy worked on a mysterious piece of equipment with a screwdriver.

“Weird?” Tommy said absently.

“We’re the responsible ones now,” she said, the barest hint of a smile on her face.

Billy looked up from his machine. “It seems that way, yes.”

“That’s a horrible word… responsible,” Tommy said. “But… yeah. You’re right.”

“And we’re the ones who have to be smart, and cautious, and watch out for the three new guys… Why did we think this was a good idea?” Kimberly looked like these were things she’d wanted to say for a long time, but now that Jason, Trini, and Zack were gone, she felt she could actually say them now.

“We’ll be fine,” Tommy said. “We’ve made mistakes… done some not-great things… spent some time evil… but we’ve all come out of that. All that has just made us ready for whatever comes.”

“Do you think we should have… told them?” Billy said. He tried to remain vague, given that they didn’t know if Lord Zedd was listening in, and he didn’t want to give them ideas, but they all knew what he was talking about. Should they have told Rocky, Adam, and Aisha that they had been evil? Those three knew that evil spells existed, given the snake Goldar had threatened them with, but they didn’t know much more than that.

“When the time is right,” Tommy said. “Let’s let them get used to just fighting as Rangers first. I’d rather not bring up anything before we have to.”

Of course, Tommy reflected, they could piece together his own history, if they remembered what the Green Ranger had done, and if they made that connection that he was the Green Ranger. If they asked, he would tell them. Until then, they had bigger things to worry about.

Their recent space trip had driven some important things home. The war was big and old. They’d known that, but it had always been filtered through their experience on Earth. A year of fighting as Power Rangers. The war was also a war, and it transformed people, not always for the good. Everywhere they looked, there were heroes who had lost something, who had become darker. Dex, the Aquitian Rangers… even Goldar. Tommy had thought that getting the White Ranger powers, that tasting Eltarian energy and its possibilities, that their various victories despite all odds would have given them a brighter path. Now… he wasn’t so sure.

And, still, in the back of his head, he worried if he’d done the right thing. Scorpina had found Rita and was now taking her to her father. If he knew Rita… and he really, really did… he knew they hadn’t seen the last of her.

Chapter Text

Author’s notes: This and the next two chapters are going to come out in fairly quick succession. I have plenty of time to write, and I’m taking advantage of it. These three chapters will each be in a different perspective of a new Ranger: this chapter’s is Adam’s, the next is Aisha’s, and the next is Rocky’s. I wanted to work on the voices for all the new characters, so that literally meant getting into their heads. I’m also going to be writing the same days and events from different perspectives, with each subsequent chapter adding on another layer. So… this writing is a bit more experimental, but it should still be fun.

 

---

Adam read through the list again. It was the third time he’d read it, and the list still hadn’t changed. His name wasn’t on there. He hadn’t made the cut. A whole year, and no soccer.

He’d been one of the top players at Stone Canyon, but that was Stone Canyon. This was Angel Grove, and here he apparently wasn’t good enough.

He forced himself to walk away, his eyes stinging. He refused to cry about it. It was a stupid thing to cry about anyway. So he hadn’t made the soccer team. He still had a lot of other things going on. He was going to teach a class with Rocky at the Youth Center; they were taking over Jason’s and Zack’s class. He’d gotten into the creative writing class, something he’d always wanted to do, something Stone Canyon hadn’t even offered. And he was a Power Ranger. He was the Black Ranger, protector of Earth.

His name still wasn’t on the list. A tear slipped out of his control. He just made it to the bathroom before anyone noticed.

Adam washed his face in the sink, the water cooling his hot face. There were no paper towels, so he used the tail of his t-shirt to wipe the water away. He stared at his reflection in the mirror above the sink. His reflection stared back. He looked normal, he thought. Definitely not like he’d just been crying like a little kid.

He was about to turn when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. He looked again at the mirror, and then around the bathroom behind him. It was empty. No one was at school; everyone had already gone home after checking the try-out lists. It had to have been a trick of the light. He looked at his reflection again. It looked... strange... now. Uncanny. He shook his head vigorously. Empty school must have been giving him the heebie-jeebies.

Adam decided that moping around the school wasn’t going to do anyone any good. He grabbed his backpack and started walking slowly to the Youth Center, where he’d agreed to meet Rocky to plan out classes.

It was the last Friday of summer. The heat hung heavy in the air. Across the road, he could see people in the park, battling the heat to try to squeeze out the last bit of fun out of summer before classes started.

He recognized some of the guys playing Frisbee from try-outs. Their names were on the list. He looked away.

Adam realized he’d barely had any time to himself over the summer. First, he’d gotten recruited as a Power Ranger... after being kidnapped by aliens, almost turned evil, and joining the fight to save Angel Grove from said aliens. He’d almost gotten killed, but then had been saved by turning into a Power Ranger, possibly one of the best and strangest moments of his life. Then the rest of the summer had gone by in a blur. The aliens... Lord Zedd, he reminded himself... hadn’t attacked all summer, but he’d had almost daily training as a Power Ranger. Tommy had insisted, worried that the lack of any outward attack would put them off their guard.

Then there was the rather disastrous talk with his brother...

Aaron, his brother, had completely flipped. Adam had decided to just have Tommy, Billy, and Billy’s mom there when he told his brother about his new powers. He hadn’t wanted to overwhelm him, even everyone had though literally volunteered to be there, including the families of the former Rangers. Aaron hadn’t believed him at all until they’d morphed.

Adam still remembered what his brother had said. “How DARE you risk your life when we’ve already lost half our family! And you’ve already been in fights?! You could have already died?! How was I supposed to live with that? How am I supposed to live with this?!”

Sylvia had tried to talk to Aaron. Talked about her own losses, talked about how brave and necessary the Rangers were, and how they all took care of each other, and how Adam did have the choice to not tell his brother at all...

Tommy and Billy had tried talking as well, but Adam hadn’t heard what they said. He’d already demorphed and run out of the house, shaking. He could still feel how defenseless he’d been: suffused with the power of the Morphing Grid, yet helpless before his brother’s words.

Adam gritted his teeth. He knew why his brother was doing this. They were still haunted by the car wreck that had claimed mom and dad. Some days still felt like a walking nightmare, for both of them. But... it was a car wreck. A hairpin turn on a slippery road, and an oncoming eighteen-wheeler. It wasn’t like either of them had given up driving cars, and from where Adam was standing that was just as dangerous as being a Power Ranger, in some ways. And if Aaron was so worried, why had he moved to Angel Grove in the first place?

Adam realized he was breathing hard. He worked to calm down. He was close to the Youth Center, and he didn’t want anyone to know how upset he was.

There had been a second meeting after that, which included just Sylvia and Kimberly’s mother and step-dad... and no Power Rangers. He didn’t know what had been said at that meeting, but after Aaron had apologized to Adam for blowing up at him, and then... Politeness. Really really tense politeness. A politeness that they couldn’t break, no matter what Adam tried. Adam spent most of his days now trying to avoid going home. It would be even more difficult when school started, as Aaron—Mr. Park, during school hours—was a teacher there. He wouldn’t be able to get away from his brother at any time.

Needless to say, Aisha had decided not to tell her parents... at least not yet. And Rocky maintained that his father would have to notice him in the first place to care.

Too soon, he walked through the front parking lot of the Youth Center. It was completely full of cars, and he was glad he’d walked. He didn’t see Rocky’s jeep, which didn’t bode well. Maybe he’d gotten a ride?

At the edge of the sidewalk, Bulk and Skull were leaning against two cars and messing around with a voice recorder... one of those that looked like the one in Home Alone 2. They were recording their own voices and playing them back at a slower speed, and then laughing at the results. Adam realized that in order to get past them, he would have to take a wide arc around two cars. That would be too obvious. Taking a breath, he forged ahead to walk between them.

He almost got past them when Skull suddenly put his leg against the car opposite, blocking the way with his leg.

“Not so fast, new kid,” Bulk said, looking up from the recorder. “You gotta pay the toll.”

Adam felt his face flush and his heart start hammering. He hadn’t been bullied like this in a long time. He knew he could take care of himself... but that didn’t mean he wanted to. And today was definitely not the day for this.

“Toll?” he said. “The Youth Center is free to use.”

“If you don’t have the cash, you don’t get in,” Skull said, smacking a huge wad of gum.

“Of course, we take information instead,” Bulk said, pulling out the microphone on the recorder. He pressed a red button. “Where were you on the afternoon of June 11?”

Adam knew exactly where he’d been. On a merry-go-round in a park, about to be killed by Goldar but instead turning into a Power Ranger. He would never forget that day. However, it wasn’t like he could tell them that, even though that was exactly what they wanted to hear. And it wasn’t their business anyway.

“You caught me,” Adam said, his voice taking on a sarcastic edge that he didn’t really like. “I was fighting space aliens, because I’m a Power Ranger. In fact, I have to fight space aliens in there, so you’d best get out of my way.”

Skull’s leg had dropped at Adam’s confession. His mouth dropped open, and his gum dropped out of his mouth.

Adam, not feeling entirely good about what he’d just done, walked past them.

“Oh, close your mouth,” Adam heard Bulk snap at Skull. “He’s not a Power Ranger. The Power Rangers have been fighting for more than a year, and he just moved here.”

Adam sighed and left them behind. At least they weren’t bothering him anymore.

The Youth Center was packed with teenagers trying to get everything they could out of the last of summer, only with air conditioning. Kimberly was practicing on the balance beam, with Tommy spotting her. Aisha was working out her legs on some exercise equipment in the corner, and she waved and smiled when he came in.

Rocky, of course, was nowhere to be seen. He’d probably forgotten. Adam tried not to take offense--he knew his flighty friend was just sort of like that. It hurt a little, though.

He ambled over to Tommy and Kimberly, since there really wasn’t any place for him to sit... or stand without looking awkward. He tried to look like he belonged there, and that he wasn’t completely intimidated by his fellow Rangers, with their easy confidence and always knowing what to do.

“Hey, Adam,” Tommy said. “What’s going on?”

“Looking for Rocky,” Adam said. “Have you seen him?”

“Not today,” Tommy said. “Kim, I think you’ve got that move down.”

Kimberly swung to sit on the side of the balance beam and accepted a towel from Tommy. “Easy for you to say,” she said breathlessly. “I’m super out of practice with the less fighty aspects of gymnastics. I’m going to have to practice a lot before I try out for the gymnastics team.”

“Most gymnastics don’t include fighting,” Tommy pointed out.

Kimberly stuck her tongue out. “That’s why I’m special.”

“Well...” Adam said awkwardly, “if you see Rocky, could you tell him I was looking for him? I’m headed for the coffee shop on Main.”

“Sure,” Kimberly said, looking suddenly a bit concerned. “Adam, you okay?”

“Yeah, of course,” Adam said. He felt his voice shake, but he tried to hide it behind a smile. Seriously, what was wrong with him today?

He was about to leave when he heard something that made his stomach immediately seize up like a fist. Musical beeps that he had only heard a few times before. And, from the looks on Tommy’s and Kimberly’s faces, it probably wasn’t a training exercise.

Aisha was already wiping down her exercise machine and gathering up her stuff. Together, they walked out of the Youth Center and turned a corner. It was too crowded to have a conversation over the communicators, so they teleported as soon as they rounded the corner.

 

---

 

Alarms were ringing in the usually quiet Command Center. Billy was already there, propped over a computer console and typing furiously.

“Looks like our vacation’s over,” Kimberly snarked. “So nice of Zedd to wait until school started up again.”

“He could have waited until Monday,” Billy pointed out. “Tommy, can you make any kind of sense of what Zedd’s trying to do here?”

He flicked a switch, and the Viewing Globe showed a group of about thirty or so Putties... and nothing else.

“That’s not his style,” Tommy said. “Are you sure there’s no monster down there?”

“I cannot sense any monsters on Earth,” Zordon said. “There are, however, some holes in our surveillance from the past 24 hours, which might point to a larger plan.”

“In the meantime, those Putties are threatening people,” Tommy said. “Where’s Rocky?”

As if in answer, a red stream of light announced Rocky’s entrance. “Sorry,” he said. “I was driving to Ernie’s, and I was running late, and then I had to park the Jeep...”

“It’s okay, you’re here,” Tommy said, seeming a bit impatient with Rocky’s excuses. “We got Putties to fight.”

“We’re taking no chances,” Kimberly said. “Let’s morph out of here.”

“Keep an eye out for anything abnormal,” Billy said, frowning. “A group of Putties... this seems too similar to some of Rita’s earliest attacks.”

 

---

 

They teleported down to the park that Adam had passed earlier. Several people were running for the nearby Youth Center--probably not being stopped by Bulk and Skull to pay a “toll”--but there were still some who were trapped by the Putties.

“Divide up and fence in,” Tommy said through their helmet speakers. “Red and Blue, make a path.”

Adam knew exactly what he was supposed to do. These were maneuvers they had run all summer, practicing them in the Command Center away from Zedd’s prying eyes. When they had multiple opponents in the middle of town, particularly near civilian-dense locations, they were to spread out their fighting, but then keep to the outside, between the Putties and any other points of attack against civilians... namely, the Youth Center. He, Tommy, Kimberly, and Aisha were going to do that.

Billy and Rocky, in “making a path” were to focus on getting the civilians out of there by hitting the least dense area and pushing any Putties on the four others, thus making a point of escape for the trapped civilians. Billy’s lances and Rocky’s sword were particularly good at doing that. Adam’s own axe could do that as well... but he’d never really gotten the knack for the maneuver in the simulations.

He saw that Tommy and Kimberly had taken the positions nearest where Rocky and Billy were going to make the path, so they could handle the extras thrown at them. That left him and Aisha with the densest collection of Putties, which so happened to be nearest to the Youth Center. Adam steeled himself and followed Aisha to the fight. He’d fought Putties before, and he knew that the self-destruct buttons on their chests were the fastest way to get rid of them, but that they drained energy and hurt like hell. He’d have to fight carefully and wait until the others could give him backup.

The Putties, who had been paying attention to the civilians in the middle, were momentarily surprised by the sudden attack and their outer ranks. That surprise didn’t last long. Adam quickly found himself fighting three Putties at once. While Putties weren’t always the best fighters in the world--which is sort of what he expected from clay monsters--they had numbers and a disregard for everyone’s safety on their side. They didn’t care if they got hurt. They didn’t care if their fellow Putties got hurt. They were programmed to cause damage and fulfill a mission, and their primary attack was self-destruct. In fact, they tended to emphasize their self-destruct button in fighting, hoping to weaken their opponents by sacrificing themselves. Other Putties waited for their fellows to be defeated so they could continue the fight without letting the Rangers recover.

Adam allowed himself one Putty disintegration. The pain hit him like an electric shock, but he swallowed the pain and didn’t allow himself to slow down. The other Putties, frustrated that he seemed unaffected, redoubled their efforts. Some started to try to get past him as a few of the trapped civilians ran for cover--Rocky and Billy were succeeding--but Adam pushed them back to the middle. He was not going to fail in his first real test as a Ranger.

He was back-kicking one Putty while aiming a punch at another when he felt his back-kick just glance off his opponent, sending him sprawling. He flipped up in seconds and turned to face the Putty that had tripped him up, deciding to get this one of the way, too. He tried to land some hard punches... but he kept getting deflected. At one point, the Putty twisted his arm back behind him, and Adam had to struggle to loosen the Putty’s grip.

“Black, what are you doing?!” a voice yelled from across the battlefield.

Adam looked up to see the Putties he’d been fighting earlier breaking ranks and running to the Youth Center. He tried to draw his blaster to shoot them down, but the Putty he was fighting grabbed his arm and threw him to the ground. Adam flipped up again and tried desperately to hit the destruct button... but the Putty deflected his punch. Again and again, Adam tried to gain the advantage. He could practically feel the Putties approaching the Youth Center, and he hoped no one was outside of it...

He saw two pink bolts shoot past him, and he and the Putty were knocked down by the resulting energy wave, as the two Putties turned around just in time for Kimberly’s arrows to strike them right in the destruct buttons.

Adam glanced around. All the civilians had been saved, and the rest were taking down the last of the Putties. The one he was fighting, as well as a few more who were left, nodded to each other and then teleported away, leaving the battlefield empty and quiet.

The six Rangers ran toward each other, Adam limping a bit. Tommy spoke into his communicator. “Zordon, are there any other threats on Earth?”

“No, Rangers,” Zordon said. “Report back to the Command Center immediately.”

Adam took a breath before teleporting up along with everyone else. He knew this wasn’t going to be good.

 

---

 

As soon as they teleported into the Command Center, Billy, Tommy, and Kimberly promptly removed their helmets and set them on the top of the right-hand computers, where the top formed a sort of shelf. Rocky, Aisha, and Adam followed suit. Adam surreptitiously leaned against the edge of the Command Center computers. That fight with the Putty had taken more out of him than he really wanted to think about.

“Alpha, have you been able to figure out what was going on there?” Tommy said, putting a hand on Alpha’s shoulder and looking at the readings Alpha was poring over.

Alpha threw his hands up, unintentionally smacking Tommy’s hand away. “Oh, ay-yi-yi, Tommy, it doesn’t make sense. It seems like a normal Putty fight. There were no power fluctuations, and nothing else was happening on Earth... or even at the Moon Palace. Our security shield wasn’t even hit.”

“Could Zedd be testing us out?” Aisha said. “Or maybe he’s still recovering from using so much power at the beginning of the summer.”

“Lord Zedd would have recovered fully by now,” Zordon answered. “I expected him to attack before now... and I certainly expected a far more serious attack than what he presented.”

“We’ve seen this before,” Tommy reminded them. “At least, we did from Rita. She’d attack with something small, but that would just be a taste of what she had planned.”

“I want to refine our scans,” Billy said, joining Alpha at the computers. “It could be Zedd is using some kind of energy that we cannot sense.”

Kimberly folded her arms. “We also need to keep an eye out for anything unusual. Speaking of...” She turned her gaze to Adam, who felt himself shrink at her attention. “What was going on out there, Adam?”

Adam shrugged. “That Putty was giving me trouble. It felt stronger than the others.”

He looked around at five identical frowns from the rest of the Rangers. He knew that Putties tended to vary in quality, depending on the grade of the clay and the amount of magic powering it. The senior Rangers had warned against some Putties surprising them with better skills and strength. And he’d apparently let it sucker him, despite their warnings.

“Alpha, was there anything different about that Putty that Adam was fighting?” Billy said. “Maybe some extra magic, or some kind of device?”

“No, Billy, though I can run extra scans,” Alpha said. “Its energy reading was within the same specifications as the rest of the Putties on the field.”

Tommy looked back at Adam, his mouth thinning. “I know some Putties can be stronger than others, but you can’t just let the line break like that. Those Putties you let through were heading for the Youth Center. They could have caused a lot of damage before we got to them.”

Adam felt like disappearing. Maybe melting through the floor. He wished he still had his helmet back on, and he knew his face was glowing red. Their first real mission, and he’d screwed up badly enough that Tommy was calling him out on it.

“I’m sorry,” Adam said. “I... I just don’t understand why that Putty was so much stronger. It really seemed different from the others.”

But he felt the excuses fall flat even to himself. He couldn’t just make excuses for endangering civilians. That wasn’t what Power Rangers did.

“Adam, it happens,” Kimberly said, trying to break the tension in the room. “And I shot them: no harm, no foul. Just don’t be afraid to call for backup next time. We’re not so dedicated to our battle plans that we can’t look after our own.”

Rocky and Aisha had been wide-eyed and silent through the whole thing. Now they looked less like deer in headlights. “So, is there anything we need to do in the meantime?” Rocky said. “I mean, any way we can help with... scanning?” The look in his eyes, though, said ‘please God no.’

Tommy sighed. “There’s really nothing we can do right now. Be wary of everything, though. Zedd might still strike, and he’s probably not going to announce it.”

Tommy and Kimberly left first, while Billy stayed to work with Alpha on the scans. Aisha hung back as well. “I want to keep learning about the computer systems,” she said. “You guys go on.”

Rocky clapped a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Come on. We can go pick up my Jeep.”

 

---

 

The Jeep was parked on the outskirts of a grocery store parking lot, so Rocky and Adam had to teleport behind the store across from it and run across the road. Rocky hadn’t been able to park in the shade, so the Jeep was scorching hot. Adam ran into the grocery store to buy drinks while Rocky blasted the AC and put blankets over the leather seats.

Adam climbed into the passenger seat and let Rocky fiddle with the radio before pulling out into traffic. It was 5:00, so the traffic was bumper to bumper.

Rocky frowned at the traffic. “Do you think if I ask Billy nicely, he’d give my car a flying upgrade?”

Despite Adam slowly settling into a good sulk, he couldn’t help but smile. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to give a Jeep flying capabilities.”

“Makes as much sense as a Volkswagen Beetle,” Rocky responded.

Adam didn’t answer. In fact, he was trying to figure out how he could get away from Rocky, and how he could just be alone for a while without going home.

“So...” Rocky said in what he obviously thought was a casual way, “that sucked all of the donkey balls, didn’t it?”

The joke caught Adam off guard, like it always did, and he snorted as he was taking a drink, the bubbles burning through his sinuses. “Rocky...” he said, coughing.

“God, you’re easy to crack up,” Rocky laughed. He face took on a more serious expression. “I don’t care what those energy readings were... You’ve been fighting Putties even before you were a Ranger. We all have. I didn’t see the fight, but I know if you say that Putty was different, then it was different.”

Adam slouched in his seat, putting his knees up on the dashboard. “Rocky, I’m not so sure now. It could have just been one of those randomly stronger Putties they warned us about. I’m...” He looked away. “I’m off my game today, and I probably let that affect my fighting.”

Rocky remained silent. He did that when Adam was trying to put words together, or trying to convince himself that he could say something. Adam always appreciated it.

“I didn’t make the soccer team,” Adam blurted out. At least he wasn’t crying this time.

There was a honk behind them, and they realized the light had turned green and Rocky was going. Rocky flipped off the person behind him after the second horn blast, and then kept driving. “That’s ridiculous, Adam. There’s gotta be some mistake.”

“No mistake,” Adam said, sinking deeper into the seat. “I read the list three times.”

“Did anything go wrong at the try-outs?”

“Not that I know of. I don’t know. Maybe I’m not as good as I think I am.”

“Impossible,” Rocky said.

Adam wished that Rocky would drop it. Rocky always had to figure everything out, figure out the reasons for every bad thing that happened. He still didn’t get that sometimes bad things just happened for no particular reason... such as a randomly stronger Putty.

Adam watched Rocky as he tried to figure things out. He knew that Rocky would push the investigation into Adam’s Putty, and he would probably start asking around about soccer try-outs. Adam would probably have to call Rocky down eventually... and maybe Aisha could help. They both had had to stop Rocky from going up to Aaron and giving Adam’s brother a piece of his mind. While Rocky could never stand up to his own father, he was more than willing to challenge literally every other authority figure that might possibly be mean to his friends.

“Come on,” Rocky said, taking a right to the center of town. “I’m taking you to that coffee shop you like.”

“You hate coffee,” Adam pointed out.

“They have other things,” Rocky said defensively. “We didn’t get to plan our classes before, either. Sorry I was late, by the way.”

“It’s okay.” Adam smiled. The day had been horrible, but things were starting to look up.

 

---

 

Things did not continue to look up, Adam mused as he stared into the bathroom mirror. The school bathroom was markedly cleaner at the end of the first day of school, and there were paper towels... but it was just as empty.

The weekend and first day of school had been a disaster. He and his brother had gone back to school shopping, which they always made into a bit of an outing with a movie and a restaurant... but things were still tense between them. Aaron kept looking at Adam’s wrist communicator, as if it was going to go off at any moment... which, technically, it could have. There hadn’t been any good movies out, so they’d decided to rent a movie. Aaron had tried to force smiles, but Adam could still see the frown behind it. Knowledge that Adam had fought Putties the day before didn’t help, for either of them.

The Sunday Ranger meeting had gone even worse. Billy, Aisha, and Alpha had apparently worked on the scanners, and Tommy, Kimberly, and Rocky had gone through the fight footage, but they could think of no explanation for Adam’s sudden lapse. Rocky and Aisha kept shooting Adam sympathetic looks, and Adam couldn’t figure out if that was better or worse than the more calculating looks the senior Rangers were giving him. He got it. He’d screwed up. He’d have to work extra hard to prove himself... but the training exercises that Sunday had been a disaster. This time, Adam let even more Putties out, and the other Rangers had to work extra hard to keep up with his screw-ups.

And today... that had been humiliating. Detention on the first day of school. He’d have to leave soon so he wouldn’t be late, but he just couldn’t pull himself out of the room, away from the mirror.

Instead of his reflection, he was watching a scene from his childhood playing in his head. His first time trying out for soccer, and he’d gotten picked last. He’d been small, his limbs too big for the rest of his body. In the middle of the mock game, he’d been knocked down. Every time he tried to play, a boy from the opposite team knocked him down, hoping to get an edge on him. The coach hadn’t noticed, and he hadn’t gotten on the team. And the other boy had laughed.

It was the last year in junior high... the year before his parents died... that he finally got the courage to try out again. He’d gotten on the team then, and done well, but every time he tried something he remembered that first try-out. Being knocked down. Laughed at. Not good enough.

That was probably why he’d punched Bulk in the face. Right when his brother and Principal Kaplan were turning the corner. Other students had stood up for him... told them that Bulk had tripped him in the hall, while Skull had tried to steal his book bag... so all three of them got detention. And his brother, being the brand new teacher and all, was going to be in charge of it.

Perfect. Just absolutely perfect.

Finally abandoning the mirror, he trudged out of the bathroom and to his brother’s classroom, where Bulk and Skull were already installed in the back row. Bulk glared at him, but Adam knew he wouldn’t be able to do anything to him while Aaron--Mr. Park--was there. Aaron also glared pointedly at him and then gestured to the board. “Write a 1-page essay on the virtues of non-violence,” it said.

Adam looked pointedly at Bulk and Skull, who were thumb-wrestling.

Aaron shrugged. “Tough,” he seemed to say. Adam knew that Bulk and Skull were just buying themselves detention until they actually did the essay... so Adam skulked over to a desk near the window and far away from the two bullies. He knew the essay prompt was mostly for him, anyway. Mr. Park, king of passive-aggressive teaching.

Adam just started his introduction, hoping his brother would let him go after he finished the essay and he wouldn’t have to just sit there, when his communicator went off.

Adam looked up at Aaron, wondering what he would do. Bulk and Skull didn’t seem to have noticed, as they were currently making loud sumo sounds in their thumb-wrestling match. This was something they’d talked about. If there were any emergencies during school--or even detention--hours, Aaron would have to cover for Adam and any of the other Rangers. Billy’s mom had said he’d agreed to do this... but this was the first time it was actually an issue.

Aaron folded his hands, his lips thinning. “Turn your watch alarm off, Adam.”

Adam stared at Aaron incredulously. Even Bulk and Skull looked up from their thumb-wrestling, hoping to see the new kid, the guy who had punched Bulk, get in more trouble. Adam realized, as Aaron stared at him unperturbed, that his brother was doing exactly what he’d said he’d do. He attributed Adam’s communicator beep to a watch alarm. He was protecting his identity... without allowing him to leave.

Adam stared down at his paper, wondering furiously what he was supposed to do. Right now, the rest of the Rangers would be congregating in the Command Center, being briefed on the latest attack. They would soon wonder where Adam was... or maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe they would decide that they could face the attack better without him.

Seconds ticked by. He had to leave, but his brother was sitting right there, as if daring him to make a move. Adam was starting to consider the repercussions of just up and running out of the classroom... when the monster siren started to sound.

Aaron frowned. Adam knew that his brother couldn’t keep the three of them in the classroom. Not even detention allowed for that in an emergency.

“Okay, you three, we’re headed to shelter,” Aaron said, grabbing his briefcase. “You can make up this detention tomorrow.”

Bulk and Skull were already leaving, old hats at taking shelter during monster attacks. Adam hung back so he could teleport out of there. He caught his brother giving him one last pained look as he left. He didn’t look forward to tonight.

 

---

 

Adam teleported into the Command Center, and after a few words with Zordon, morphed right to the scene of battle. It was near a child’s soccer game, and the Putties were currently terrorizing the players and parents. At the center of it all, a monster was fighting Tommy and Aisha, while the rest of the Rangers were taking care of Putties and trying to direct the children and parents out of there. It was hard to look at the monster; it was patterned after a mirror, and it kept reflecting the direct sunlight and blinding everyone around it.

Something itched in the back of Adam’s brain, as if he’d just noticed a clue in a mystery novel, but couldn’t figure out what the clue indicated.

“Glad you could join us,” Tommy said into his helmet speaker. “Take the group near the far goal.”

“Right,” Adam said, snapping out of his reverie. He couldn’t help but hear the sarcastic edge in Tommy’s voice... but he also couldn’t do anything about it, either. Children were in immediate danger, and he was not going to let any kid get hurt if he could help it.

Adam launched himself toward his objective. Three Putties were harassing two girls and a slightly older boy who wasn’t wearing soccer gear... possibly a sibling of one of the players. They were the furthest from the rest of the fight, and they were the furthest from any of the parents, who were currently trying to grab as many children as they could and run.

Keeping in mind that the energy feedback from a destructing Putty could hurt the children, he simply threw one to the side by the arm before it could react. The boy took the opportunity to push the two girls out of immediate danger, and the two girls ran for it. The boy, however, was blocked by one of the remaining Putties from making his own escape.

“Wait for me to say ‘run,’ then run,” Adam said to the boy shortly while blocking the attacks of one of the Putties. The boy nodded, but the Putties seemed to have understood, because they redoubled their efforts to keep the kid trapped and Adam busy. The Putty that Adam threw rejoined the fight, and pretty soon Adam was starting to get overwhelmed.

“Black Ranger... I can’t get out!” the boy said. “I’m scared!”

Adam was about to answer when he let a roundhouse from a Putty in. It hit his helmet and felt not unlike getting hit with a baseball bat. Adam staggered, and then fell.

In his mind, he was suddenly nine, picked last for team soccer try-outs, and had fallen on the field for the third time. He looked up at the smirking face of the boy who had tripped him, knowing there was nothing he could do against him, no way he was ever going to succeed, no matter how much he tried, he would let everyone down...

And that smirking face turned into the face of a Putty, who kicked Adam in the stomach one... two... three times. Adam gasped, trying to pull himself up, trying to get to the boy...

The boy was lying on the pitch, his eyes closed, his leg at an odd angle. That was the last sight Adam saw before the Putty kicked one more time, and then he blacked out.

 

---

 

Sound came back to Adam before he could open his eyes, and the sound only came back in snatches. He forced himself to breath. He realized he was in the Command Center--there was always a distinctive electric hum about the place--and that he was no longer morphed. He had no idea how long he’d been unconscious.

“Adam?” Aisha’s voice was close to him. “You okay? Did that serum really work?”

Adam slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on a bed in what he realized was the science lab in the Command Center. So not the main chamber. He wondered why there was a medical bed in the science lab, and whether injuries were that common. Or if it was just him.

“I’m good,” Adam said slowly, pulling himself up. Aisha steadied him. “The... the boy?”

Aisha looked away. “He’s okay... He’s at the hospital. Broken leg, and they’re keeping him for observation just in case of a concussion, but...”

“Dammit...” Adam said under his breath, his eyes filling with tears. He looked up. “We can’t use the serum on him, can we?”

Aisha shook her head. “I already asked. Gotta be a Power Ranger, or with enough Morphing energy to make it work. Last time they tried that was Skull, apparently, and he’s still got the Morphing energy. Can’t risk it on anyone else.”

Adam started getting to his feet. “I have to...”

“Rest?” Aisha said. “Or plow into the main chamber and do... what?”

That made Adam hesitate. “Is it bad?”

Aisha crossed her arms. “Tommy’s being a complete ass about the whole thing. Rocky’s in there defending you, by the way.” She snorted. “I just couldn’t stand being in there anymore.”

“And how is Tommy wrong?” Adam said grimly. “I let a kid get hurt.”

“It was a mistake...”

“None of you guys made that mistake,” Adam pointed out. “Did any other kids get hurt? Or just the one I was protecting?”

Aisha crossed her arms even harder. He’d seen her like this before. She would defend her friends to the last breath... including defending them from themselves. “Look, something weird is going on. Just because we can’t find anything in the scanners doesn’t mean that there’s not another reason for those Putties beating up on you. I mean, I know you didn’t make the soccer team, which makes no damn sense, but...”

“Rocky tell you that?” Adam said.

Aisha looked away. “I was worried about you, so I checked the list myself. I didn’t make the Girls’ Chapter either, when I was Vice-President of the Girls’ Chapter at Stone Canyon...”

“But you didn’t let it affect you so much, you got a kid hurt.”

“Not my point,” Aisha said, bristling, “and if you’ll stop interrupting me, I can tell you that...”

But Adam didn’t want to hear it. He loved his friends. Rocky and Aisha always stood up for him. They’d supported him and covered for him and he had no idea how he could have gotten through his parents’ deaths without them... but this was his responsibility. It was something he’d done. And he couldn’t just let his friends keep making excuses for him. He left the room before Aisha could finish, headed to the main chamber. He heard Aisha make a frustrated noise behind him, and he heard her follow him, but he was too concerned with what he would say once he got to the main chamber.

He rounded a corner just as he heard Tommy say, “And if he’s going to cut it as a Ranger, he can’t do this. We need people we can count on out there, not people who are going to fold at a Putty attack...”

Tommy stopped when Kimberly grabbed his arm, and everyone in the room suddenly faced Adam. Adam felt the stares, felt Tommy’s words cut through him like a knife. He knew he’d screwed up, but he never thought they’d start talking about whether he should be a Ranger or not.

But that’s the conversation they should be having, the voice inside Adam’s head told him. That nasty voice that always told him he wasn’t good enough, that he didn’t belong, that if he’d been better, the boy wouldn’t have been injured, that they wouldn’t have died on that slippery road...

Adam staggered, and then felt Aisha guide him to sitting on the step leading up to the computers. He waited, ready for Zordon to go ahead and tell him to turn in his Power Coin, that he was done, and cursing himself for not being brave enough to stand up while the hammer fell.

Zordon did speak, but no in the way Adam was expecting. “Tommy, that is enough,” Zordon said. “You’ve more than made your point, and you’re not being fair to Adam. Or do I need to bring up tapes of your own mistakes. Perhaps the fight against Dark Samurai?”

Adam was startled to see Tommy turn pale, his eyes growing wide. He bit his lip. “God, I’m... I’m so sorry, Adam. I wasn’t thinking, and I wasn’t fair.”

“You’re right, though,” Adam said, his voice quiet. “I got someone hurt. I couldn’t even get to the battle on time. I’m not fit to be a Ranger.”

“And if perfection were a requirement of being a Power Ranger, we’d all be out on our butts,” Kimberly said, giving a pointed look at Tommy. There was a moment of silent communication between Kimberly, Tommy, and Billy, the implications of which Adam couldn’t begin to fathom.

“I refuse to accept that Adam’s misfortunes have been entirely natural,” Zordon said. “Alpha, conduct a body scan of Adam, paying close attention to any spells or influences Zedd may have implanted in him. Adam, I want you to recount everything that has happened to you since Friday morning, as that is when the attack started. Billy, you help Alpha. Aisha and Kimberly, go over the surveillance scans from the past seven days, just so we don’t miss anything, either in Angel Grove or the Moon Palace. Tommy and Rocky, you’re to review the two Putty fights again.”

He looked sternly at all of them, including Adam. “Lord Zedd has managed to target one of our own and lay seeds of doubt. I want to know how he did it. I expect full reports from everyone tomorrow.”

A bit shocked by Zordon’s stern orders, the six Rangers got moving, breaking up into groups for their various tasks. Adam followed Alpha and Billy back to the science lab, wondering if this wasn’t all just a wild goose chase. It was nice that even Zordon had faith in him, but... what if he was wrong? What if Adam was still that little boy who’d been knocked down at soccer try-outs, and couldn’t get back up?

NOTE: For the "Dark Samurai" reference, read my story Spells and Illusions, chapters 4-5. Tommy is a super screw-up in that.

Chapter Text

Aisha pushed the weight up with her legs, feeling the comforting burn and stretch of muscle. This was fine, but she glowered over at the guy lightly tapping on the punching bag. She wanted to wail on it, to give a release to her anger. But her exercise room wasn’t completely set up at home, and apparently this dude was never going to leave. She’d have to make do with the leg weights.

The Youth Center was as busy as she’d ever seen it without there being an event going on... or an attack. It was the Friday before school started, and everyone was in that weird space where they wanted to see their friends after a vacation apart, but they didn’t want to start school.

She looked around dolefully. She recognized almost no one.

Scratch that. She knew Kimberly and Tommy. Kimberly was doing a handstand on the balance beam, while Tommy watched on. He was supposed to be critiquing her form, but Aisha could tell he was a bit too busy admiring her... form. What made Kimberly think her boyfriend could be any kind of objective judge for her?

At the thought of judging, Aisha felt another flash of anger. She pushed the machine even harder and briefly considered shoving the guy away from the punching bag.

Yes, she knew Tommy and Kimberly, but literally no one else at the Youth Center. The summer had not afforded her any time to make friends. There was a smattering of people transferring in from Angel Grove after Stone Canyon High lost its accreditation... and all its teachers and students along with it... but most of her friends had decided to move to safer schools. Schools in towns without a monster alert in place. Only Rocky and Adam had followed her in her move to Angel Grove among her friends.

She’d met a few people in the Youth Center, but most days were taken up by moving, by Ranger training, and by hanging out with her fellow Rangers. Everyone else seemed to be in close groups based on long friendships... if not out and out cliques. Aisha wondered if this was survival tactics in a town always under attack. Hold close to your own, and fear outsiders. They may be aliens.

It might go a long way to explain why she hadn’t been accepted into the Girls Chapter at Angel Grove. She thought her acceptance would have been automatic, given that she’d been the president of the Stone Canyon chapter.

She realized she was breathing hard and sweating. She decided to slow down, to focus on breathing. It wouldn’t be of use to anyone if she injured herself.

As she worked on getting her heart rate down, Aisha noticed Adam shuffle in. She frowned. He was in full-on shy mode: head down, hands in pockets, eyes darting around... Something bad had happened, that much she could tell, but she knew that if she just jumped in and asked him about it, he’d make some kind of excuse and run away. Better to just let him be now and broach the subject later. Besides, she was too pissed on her own account to take on his stuff right now.

When Adam finally noticed her, she gave a smile and a friendly wave. He didn’t come up to her, though, deciding instead to shuffle up to Tommy and Kimberly. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she knew why Adam went to them. They didn’t notice his emotional state, being too wrapped up in each other. They wouldn’t ask.

Friends by default. Kimberly was the first person... well, person her age... she’d met in Angel Grove. They’d met the others later, but they mainly got to know Tommy and Billy after finding out they were Power Rangers. After finding out they would themselves become Power Rangers. She, Rocky, and Adam had made a big show about having to decide whether to take the powers or not... but it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Rocky wanted the adventure, Adam wanted to belong, and Aisha herself... She just wanted to do some good.

She wondered, though, if they had never found out who the Power Rangers were. Had never become Power Rangers. Would she be friends with any of them? Over the summer, she had worked to get to know the other Rangers... the senior Rangers, as Adam had once referred to them, though they were all the same age. She’d worked with Billy on learning the Command Center computers, she’d trained with Tommy, and she’d tried to bond with Kimberly.

Billy was difficult to get to know. He had the same kind of awkward shyness she’d gotten used to with Adam, but he also seemed removed, from himself as much as from everyone else. He only seemed human around Tommy, Kimberly, and his mother, and he practically jumped with delight every time Cestria--the Aquitian girl he’d met this summer--contacted him, but with everyone else... It just seemed like he was always with his work, with his computers and experiments. Aisha just couldn’t see herself connecting with him.

Tommy was possibly an even tougher nut to crack. He at first seemed more open than Billy. He was friendly and kind when they were just hanging out, but then he’d turn on a dime when it was Ranger business, becoming driven and humorless. While he was an absolute failure at being critical of Kimberly, he was forever critical of Aisha, Rocky, and Adam. He’d been particularly hard on Adam, who was lagging behind a bit in their Ranger training. From what Aisha could tell, he didn’t really do anything besides train in martial arts and work as a Power Ranger, and Aisha wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

She was closest with Kimberly, who had so far been warm and friendly, trying to connect with Aisha and the others outside of Ranger training. She was the first to suggest games or outings. She was second in command of the Rangers, but she didn’t take that to the level of drill sergeant like Tommy did. Aisha had spent a few afternoons alone with Kimberly, including a shopping trip. However...

Aisha watched Kimberly make a joke about gymnastics fighting, laughing along with Tommy while Adam shifted uncomfortably.

With Kimberly, everything pretty much felt like it was on the surface. She never really talked about anything important that wasn’t directly connected to Ranger business. When Aisha had asked her about what clubs and organizations there were around Angel Grove, Kimberly had shrugged and said that Trini had been more of a joiner than she was. Once Aisha had tried to talk to her about the upcoming elections, but Kimberly had stared at her blankly.

Aisha told herself she was being unfair to Kimberly, that the fact that Kimberly didn’t care about the same things she did didn’t mean she was shallow, or whatever. But, still, sometimes it felt like they were speaking a different language.

Adam was starting to walk away, and Aisha was considering following him, because thinking about how she couldn’t connect with any of her new friends made her feel kind of lonely... when her wrist communicator beeped. It felt like her brain was letting out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. After all summer, it was time to fight.


 

Aisha noticed something was wrong when she realized the number of her Putty opponents was increasing while everyone else’s was decreasing.

She’d spent the battle taking surreptitious looks over at the group of civilian hostages in the middle of the park. Just like in their drills, Rocky and Billy were brilliantly making a path and ushering people out of there, while Tommy and Kimberly provided support for them. She was completely okay with being put on the “fence in” team. Her weapons and fighting style were badly suited to the types of maneuvers Rocky and Billy were doing. She preferred to go fast and wild, taking down Putties before they had a chance to cope. She was starting to get the hang of destructing Putties: a lighter tap to the Z minimized the power feedback while still getting the job done... though sometimes the lighter tap didn’t take. She was still working on it.

But her endurance was starting to flag, and she was still taking on five Putties, with three more waiting on her. That didn’t seem right. Adam surely would have...

She glanced over at Adam just in time to see a Putty twist his arm behind him, while two other Putties were running to the Youth Center.

“Black, what are you doing?!” Tommy yelled from across the battlefield. In his surprise, he hadn’t used the helmet comms, and Aisha winced. Way to call Adam out in public.

She tried to break free of her own attackers, knowing she was going to have to bypass Adam in order to take down the two Putties, when she saw Kimberly, now free from Putties, draw her bow. All it took were two arrows, and the Putties were down.

The Putty attacking Adam, stepped back, seeming to arbitrarily give up the fight when it was winning. There was something about the way it moved that bugged Aisha, but then again it had just beat up one of her best friends. She realized the Putties were no longer attacking her, and a minute later they teleported away, seconds before Aisha was about to take one out.

She followed the other Rangers and resisted the urge to help Adam, who was more staggering than running. Biting her lip, she wondered what Tommy was going to say to Adam now, and whether she’d have to step in.


 

Before Rocky and Adam teleported away, Rocky gave Aisha a wink, and Aisha grinned back. She knew she’d made the right decision in staying behind. Rocky would figure out what was wrong with Adam, while Aisha could figure out what was wrong with that Putty.

The post-battle meeting had been rough. While Kimberly had tried to talk to Adam about what was going on with him, Tommy had preempted the whole thing by criticizing Adam... again. Aisha and Rocky had only been able to stand by as Adam floundered for an explanation, which he was terrible at, since he tended to blame himself for everything. It had been painful to watch her friend being attacked, both on the battlefield and the Command Center, and not be able to do anything about it.

Now, though, she could figure things out. Next time Tommy decided to lay into Adam, she’d have some ammunition on her side.

“So, what sort of scans do we need to do?” Aisha said, craning her head around Billy’s shoulder to look at the displays.

Billy was silent for a minute, and then looked at her, a bit startled. “Huh?”

Aisha suppressed an eye roll. “Scans. I’d like to help. I don’t think Adam was lying when he said that Putty was stronger. I was watching him fight… at least, I was there at the end, and it didn’t seem like the same kind of fight I was having.”

“No one ever said Adam was lying,” Billy said, frowning.

Not the point… Aisha thought, but she kept that to herself. She needed Billy as an ally, not defensive… which he was being.

“I’m just saying,” Aisha said, “there’s something wrong with the Putty, or there’s something wrong with Adam. Or both. So what’s our game here?”

Billy looked like he was considering her words. Actually, he looked like he was a billion miles away, thinking about entirely other things, but Aisha was starting to realize that’s just how he looked. “Both… I had not considered that. Perhaps something’s been done to Adam to affect how he interacts with Putties…”

“Is there a scan for that?” Aisha said, glad to get Billy pointed in the right direction.

“Not entirely,” Billy said with a small smile. “You can look at Adam’s life signature through the Morphing Grid, and I can continue processing the energy readings from our battle.”

“Here, Aisha, I’ll help you,” Alpha finally spoke up.

It took Aisha just thirty minutes to learn the intricacies of scanning Power Ranger life signatures. As Alpha explained it, it involved tapping into the Morphing Grid and isolating one particular energy reading. In this case, the Black energy reading. This was at first difficult, as the Morphing Grid was vast and multi-layered and had more than one Power Ranger team in it—present ones, ones of the past, potential ones—so she had to isolate the one belonging to Adam. There were still shadows of Zack in the Grid, so she had to be sure that she was dealing with Adam’s.

Then she had to analyze the interplay between Morphing energy and life energy. This was tricky, as they were so interconnected. Aisha was beginning to realize just how much of a transformation—a metamorphosis—she had actually gone through in agreeing to become a Power Ranger. It wasn’t just a suit and a coin. It was something that was integral to her now. No wonder the other Rangers devoted their lives to being Rangers now. It had become what they were.

Forcing herself not to think of the more disturbing implications, and now that she had the basics down from Alpha, she decided to use her own energy signal as a control in order to test Adam’s energy. As she scanned, she felt a slight tingle in the back of her head, though she wasn’t sure she would have felt anything if she hadn’t been expecting it. With her scan complete, she pulled up Adam’s scan and started the computer looking for major irregularities.

Of course, there were a lot of differences. They were two different people, and they had very different power coins, with different weapons, Zords, etc. Aisha started to realize just how complex their powers were, and it felt like they were only tapping into a small portion of it. They had access to energy, instinct, and memory that felt ancient and vast at the same time.

She rubbed her eyes. She’d been staring at the screen too long. “Alpha, can I set the computer to run a side-by-side comparison automatically?” she said.

“Of course, Aisha,” Alpha said, and showed her how to do it.

“I’m heading out. I’ll pop by early tomorrow to check on the results. Let me know if anything goes wrong?” Aisha asked Alpha.

“Will do, Aisha,” Alpha said.

Aisha was about to teleport out, when Billy called over to her. Aisha looked up in surprise. She was starting to get used to being largely ignored by Billy.

“What’s up?” she asked.

Billy had finally turned his attention away from the equipment. He looked like he was searching for the right words. Aisha braced herself.

“I... I know that Adam has been under a lot of stress lately...” Billy began.

Aisha crossed her arms. “We all have. If you’re going to say that it’s all Adam’s fault...”

Billy’s eyes turned wide and startled. “I’m sorry... that’s not what I meant at all. I just...” He cleared his throat and began again. “Zedd... and Rita before him... often base their plans on what’s going on in our lives. They play on our insecurities, or draw inspiration from what we’re doing. You, Rocky, and Adam are new Rangers, so it’s safe to assume that Zedd will want to target you.”

“So you think Zedd is targeting Adam?” Aisha’s arms fell as she considered the possibilities.

“Sometimes it’s monsters,” Billy said. “Sometimes it’s spells. Just... as you’re running the scans, you might consider also investigating what is going on in Adam’s life. If there’s anything new. He’ll more likely open up to you and Rocky.”

Aisha was nodding slowly. “You know... I might need to check up on something.” She grinned. “Thanks, Billy.”

Billy gave a hesitant smile. Aisha started to reevaluate her opinion on Billy. Maybe he was more human than she thought.


 

Aisha stared at the soccer team list. She shook her head. She should have put it together before now, but she’d been too involved in her own problems. Of course, she pondered, it might be their problems were linked...

It was early on a Saturday morning. The school was empty, but at least it was unlocked. She’d tried to get into the school the evening before only to be stopped by a locked door. She’d considered teleporting into the school, but she didn’t know if the school had alarm systems, and she didn’t particularly want to embarrass herself like that when teleporting would have technically been off limits at the time.

Aisha chewed her tongue, glaring at the list. No wonder Adam had been so put out. Ever since that incident when he was a kid, Adam had been touchy about any try-outs. He was nervous before them and a wreck after them... but he usually evened out when he got in. And he’d been an up and rising player at Stone Canyon. This didn’t make sense.

But it was starting to form a disturbing pattern.

A sound made Aisha jump. She’d thought she was alone in the school. She imagined squadrons of Putties rounding the corner, and she wondered when she’d started getting paranoid. Instead, Kimberly appeared around the corner, taking down the try-out results.

“Aisha!” Kimberly’s face split into a grin. “What’s going on? Didn’t you check the try-out lists yesterday?”

Aisha couldn’t help but smile, despite her bad mood. “Not all of them,” she said. “Need help?” Aisha said in a sudden inspiration. Maybe she could confirm her theory if she could correlate all the lists.

“Sure!” Kimberly said. “I’m just taking all these down and taking them to Kaplan’s office. We can post them there so anyone who didn’t get to check last week can look at them on Monday.”

Aisha pulled down the soccer list she’d been staring at and joined Kimberly, who slowed down to an amble to let Aisha catch up. They walked for a bit in silence: Kimberly seemed a bit lost in her thoughts, humming to herself.

“So, did you get on the gymnastics team?” Aisha said as they pulled down the cheerleading lists. She knew Kimberly had been a cheerleader the year before, but she’d decided to give it up this year. She’d had to miss most of the games the year before, she said, so the other cheerleaders had been completely okay with her not trying out.

Kimberly grinned. “Yup! That extra practice paid off. Then I’m in Girls Chapter...” Kimberly started listing off on her fingers, “gardening club, and then I’m taking that computer class you talked about.”

Aisha’s eyebrows raised. “I didn’t expect that.”

“Oh, come on,” Kimberly said. “Between you and Billy, I’m starting to get lost, and Billy keeps talking about how computers are the future. I want to actually know what either of you are talking about.” She smiled sheepishly. “And I can possibly get study help from you and Billy...”

“Definitely on my part,” Aisha said. She was starting to think that her ideas about Billy and Kimberly were unfair. Kimberly may not hold her interests, but she cared enough about her to try.

Kimberly curled up the tryout sheets loosely. “I didn’t have a chance to check. How many clubs did you get into?”

“None,” Aisha said, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice. She failed.

Kimberly dropped the papers, and they scattered about. She and Aisha immediately dropped to the floor to gather the loose papers.

“But...” Kimberly spluttered, “you tried for, like, eight different things. Girls Chapter, Young Women’s Leadership, Debate, Future Problem Solving... None of them?”

Aisha looked down at the papers, her eyes suddenly stinging. She’d focused on Girls Chapter, because she knew that was the one definite, but hearing all of them listed out like that...

“You would have at least gotten into Girls Chapter,” Kimberly said, wrinkling the papers in her anger. “You were the, what, vice-president at your old school?”

“President,” Aisha corrected her. The urge to cry was gone, though she still had a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach. “I mean, I didn’t expect to be an officer here, but...”

“There’s got to be a mistake,” Kimberly said with conviction. “They lost your name.”

“All the clubs?” Aisha pointed out. “Adam didn’t get into soccer, and he was one of the best players at Stone Canyon.”

Kimberly chewed her lip. “Maybe all the names of the transfer students got... lost, or something.”

Aisha’s lips thinned. “I don’t think it was a mistake or an accident. I mean...” she looked at the list in front of her, “do you see any transfer students on the lists?”

By that time, they were at the open-air student lounge area. They sat around a table and went through the lists, Aisha looking for names she recognized, and Kimberly looking for names she didn’t.

“This can’t be right,” Kimberly said. “No transfer student names. At all. In any of the clubs. There’s, what, twenty new students from Stone Canyon over all four grades?”

“About that,” Aisha said. Having her suspicions confirmed did not make her feel any better. In fact, it made her feel so much worse. She remembered her theory about Angel Grove, that they didn’t like outsiders. This seemed like a pretty big confirmation. The message was clear: you’re different. You don’t belong here.

“We have to go to the principal with this,” Aisha said. “Unless he already knows...”

“You don’t know Mr. Kaplan,” Kimberly said. “There’s no way he knows anything about this. And I still can’t believe this was intentional. Maybe it’s a coincidence, that it just worked out this way.”

Aisha shot a disbelieving look at Kimberly. Of course, Kimberly believed the best in people. She had also lived in Angel Grove all her life, securely ensconced in popularity by her looks, athleticism, and personality. Her popularity had probably taken a hit ever since she became a Power Ranger, but she was still well liked by everyone. Of course she would believe that it was all an honest mistake.

“Let me talk to some people,” Kimberly said, starting to stack the papers into a bundle. “I especially want to talk to Christy in Girls Chapter. See if we can get this fixed without anyone getting in trouble.”

“Okay,” Aisha said, “but I want to be there when you talk to Christy. It’s my problem, after all.” She got up, shoving her papers over to Kimberly. “I gotta get up to the Command Center. I have some tests running that I want to look in on.”

“Okay...” Kimberly said, looking at Aisha warily. She possibly sensed that Aisha was peeved at her, but she obviously didn’t feel like talking about it right then. Or perhaps she sensed that Aisha didn’t want to talk about it. Either way, Aisha didn’t waste any time in teleporting up.


“Aisha! Telephone! And not too long... it’s a school night!”

“Thanks, dad!” Aisha yelled down the stairs. “I’ll take it up here!” It was Sunday night, and she had just run to her room after washing dishes so she could catch up on her message boards. She’d just been about to start up the dial-up when the telephone rang, and then her dad called out to her.

It was right before her parents cut off phone communication for the night, so she knew it could only be one person.”

“Hi, Rocky,” Aisha said, pulling the phone receiver from her desk to her bed so she could sprawl while talking.

“Aw, man, how did you know it was me?” Rocky was playing music in the background, though not loud enough that she couldn’t hear him.

“I’m psychic, remember,” Aisha said. “You get to talk to Adam any after the meeting?”

“That was a meeting?” Rocky said. “I thought that was Tommy lecturing and then ignoring pretty much everything you were saying.”

“Rocky...” Aisha said.

There was a pause. “No, I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. I know he’s depressed... but he’s been depressed before. People kick him down, and he always gets back up.”

“Yeah, we both know that.”

There was an even longer pause, and Aisha cursed herself for dredging up those particular memories.

“Tommy may have listened if I had anything to report,” Aisha said. “The full scan has turned up empty so far... though it’s not going to be finished until tomorrow.”

“Aisha, when Tommy’s an ass you can say he’s an ass,” Rocky said. “Might even go as far as ‘asshole’ if he keeps on.”

Aisha laughed a bit, despite herself. “And I know you want to protect Adam, but he can protect himself. It takes him a while, but he stands up for himself just fine.”

Aisha heard Rocky let out a breath between his teeth. Rocky had been wanting to have it out with Tommy for a while, and Aisha knew that he was possibly using this as a convenient excuse. Of course, if Tommy kept dismissing the idea that there was something not-normal going on with Adam, she might have it out with him first.

“I’m supposed to meet Kimberly and Christy from Girls Chapter tomorrow after school,” Aisha said. “Maybe I can get to the bottom of some of this.”

“Let me know if I can help,” Rocky said. “Baseball doesn’t start up until the spring, but I want to know if I even have a chance before I start killing myself in practice.”

“Were you able to come up with anything about Adam from watching the fights?” Aisha said, suddenly remembering. “You didn’t say anything in the meeting, but...”

Aisha could practically hear the shrug in Rocky’s voice. “That’s the thing that sucks. I know something’s wrong, but I can’t find anything wrong. Adam was fighting just as well as he always does, and he couldn’t get enough of an advantage on the Putty for me to tell anything about its fighting style. It seemed just like a standard Putty, but only much stronger. And you and Billy said the energy readings don’t show it’s any different.”

“Aisha!! Just a few more minutes!!” Her mom shouted from the bottom of the stairs.

Aisha sighed. “Rocky, I gotta go, and please call earlier next time. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“Sure thing,” Rocky said. “Meet me after your meeting with that Girls Chapter chick?”

“I’ll probably head to the Command Center to check on the scan at some point, but sure,” Aisha said. “Good night.”

“Later, gator,” Rocky said before hanging up, leaving her chuckling.

She hung up the phone and decided to go downstairs instead of getting on the message boards. Partially to keep peace with her parents... and partially to just be normal for an hour or two. She decided it was a good idea not to tell her parents about being a Power Ranger. Around them, she could pretend she wasn’t.


 

The first day of school had flown by. Even without any clubs, Aisha was starting to realize that Angel Grove was going to be a more challenging school than Stone Canyon, and the types of work they were doing in the various classes was getting her excited for the rest of the year. She actually felt like she was going to start preparing for college.

Her excitement started to evaporate as she entered the Youth Center and saw the two girls at the far table. Kimberly was waving her over and smiling, but Christy had her arms crossed and was frowning. Aisha didn’t know what had crawled up her butt, but it couldn’t have been anything pleasant.

“Christy, you remember Aisha,” Kimberly said. She handed Aisha a peach tea, having already anticipated her order. “You would have seen her at the Girls Chapter area banquet last year.”

Christy’s eyes narrowed. “Hello, Aisha.”

Aisha knew that this was a mistake. It was obvious to her, even if it wasn’t to Kimberly, that Christy wanted nothing to do with her. If she’d been a cat, her fur would have been standing on end, with claws out. Still, Aisha knew how to play the game. Pretend that everything is normal, and smile in the face of people who hated you.

She’d been doing that all her life. The boys who wouldn’t let her in their clubs, the white girls who thought she wasn’t good enough for them... It was only on computer message boards that people didn’t automatically make assumptions about her just because of how she looked.

So, she smiled. “Christy, it’s good to meet you. Did Kimberly tell you why we wanted to talk?”

Christy looked a bit less toxic at Aisha’s smile, but she still wasn’t happy to be there. “I don’t like being ambushed,” Christy said. “If you wanted to talk to me, Aisha, why’d you have to go through Kimberly.”

“That was me,” Kimberly said before Aisha had the chance to retort. “And we’re not ambushing you. It’s just... there’s been a mistake, and I thought talking about it would... put it all right,” she finished lamely. It was obvious to Aisha that Kimberly was starting to realize that this wasn’t a mistake after all, and it was taking the wind out of her sails.

“You want to be in Girls Chapter? Fine,” Christy said. “We need more diversity anyway. But don’t come running to me if you don’t feel like you fit in.”

Christy started to get up to leave, but Kimberly grabbed her shoulderbag, preventing her from leaving. Kimberly’s mouth was open, and it was obvious this was the first time she’d heard anything like that.

It wasn’t Aisha’s first time, though. And Christy had a lot to learn if she thought she could intimidate her with her weak-sauce racism.

“I’d like to know,” Aisha said icily, smile still in place but hardened like a diamond, “why no one from Stone Canyon is in any of the clubs or teams. I get the sense that this isn’t just a... diversity issue.”

Christy’s eyes narrowed so much they practically closed. “If you’d like to know... It’s because of you transfer students that every club had to redo try-outs and admissions. We already had teams and lists posted, and then suddenly Mr. Kaplan decides that just because twenty people from a po-dunk school move in that we’re supposed to redo the whole thing. So... the heads of all the clubs and teams decided to hold the new try-outs, but keep the lists exactly the same. It was nothing personal.”

Kimberly still had a hold on Christy’s bag, though she didn’t seem to remember, despite Christy’s futile efforts to pull it from her grasp. “But... I was at the meeting when Mr. Kaplan made that decision. It wouldn’t have meant entirely new try-outs... just some extra chances for the new students. We don’t even have try-outs for Girls Chapter. We’re supposed to just go by grades and extracurriculars. Aisha is tons smarter and more involved than me, and I’m surprised I even got back in, considering last year.”

Christy gave Kimberly a half-pitying look. “Kim... we don’t just go by records. We have to maintain a certain standard. It’s always worked like that. You got in because you’re legacy: your mother was Girls Chapter at Angel Grove back in the day. Your grades, your extracurriculars, that trashy boyfriend you run around with... none of that matters as long as you’ve got legacy.”

Kimberly’s grip twisted on the bag, her mouth opening in a snarl.

Aisha was on her feet, pulling Kimberly away. She realized that everyone was staring at them, and she wondered how she was going to get them both out of there... when her communicator rang.

For once, she was happy for a monster attack. At least she would have something she could hit.


 

Aisha took one last glance in the hospital room where the boy who’d gotten hurt was taken. He was asleep, but all his vitals were stable. She knew that Adam would want to know. She turned the corner, ducked into a storage closet, and teleported up...

...right into a shouting match between Rocky and Tommy.

Rocky’s eyes were blazing, and she knew that he was guiltily grateful for this opportunity to finally start the fight that had been brewing for him. Tommy, on the other hand, just looked furious, and Aisha suspected this wasn’t only about Adam.

“That’s twice that Adam has let a Putty get the best of him, and now he’s let someone get hurt,” Tommy pointed out.

“He saved two other kids, and he was doing the best he could,” Rocky insisted. “News flash, Tommy. People aren’t perfect. I know that’s a pretty foreign concept for you.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” Tommy said. They were inching closer to each other, while a silent Billy and a fretful Alpha watched from the sidelines.

“I know that you’re determined to believe that Adam... what? Meant for a kid to get hurt?” Rocky shouted back.

“Adam’s all right, by the way,” Kimberly said, walking into the room. “I gave him some serum. Still resting, so could the two of you keep it at a dull roar?”

Tommy looked over at Kimberly, and then noticed Aisha. “How’s the kid?” he asked. “He make it to the hospital all right?”

Aisha wanted so badly to join Rocky in yelling, but she decided to prioritize for the moment. “Stable,” she said. “Broken leg, possible concussion.” She looked at Kimberly. “We couldn’t... you know...” She mimed giving herself a shot of serum. She knew it would make everything so much easier on Adam if the boy were completely healed.

Kimberly slowly shook her head. “The serum can only work on people with a power coin. We tried it once on Skull. Billy had to give him some of his Blue Ranger energy, and Skull’s still abnormal because of it. Well...” She made a face. “Abnormal-er.”

“All the more reason that we don’t make this an issue,” Tommy said, his face stony. “There’s no excuse for civilians getting hurt, especially kids. Adam’s got to know that.”

“As if he doesn’t know that,” Rocky said.

“He doesn’t act like it,” Tommy said, gearing up for more argument.

Aisha looked up at Zordon, who seemed content for the two to have it out. Aisha supposed that made some kind of giant floating head logic, but she wasn’t going to let Adam wake up to the sound of people fighting about him. She raised her eyebrows at Kimberly, who nodded.

Adam was just starting to stir when Aisha walked into the lab. She ran over to him. “Adam? You okay? Did that serum really work?” It was the first time she’d seen it in action.

Adam looked at her blearily. His injuries were healed, but he still seemed drained of energy, and she wondered if the serum healed concussions, given Adam’s out of focus eyes. “I’m good,” he said. He seemed to wobble as he sat upright, and Aisha grabbed his shoulder so he wouldn’t fall off the bed. “The... the boy?”

Aisha looked away. Of course that would be what he asked first. “He’s okay... He’s at the hospital. Broken leg, and they’re keeping him for observation just in case of a concussion, but...”

“Dammit...” Aisha was startled to see tears filling his eyes. Cursing wasn’t like him, either. While she hadn’t been looking, Adam had apparently gotten to the end of his rope. “We can’t use the serum on him, can we?”

Aisha explained about the serum, and then pushed Adam back on the bed when he decided to get up. She didn’t know what he wanted to do, and she said as much.

“Is it bad?” Adam said, suddenly looking frightened.

Aisha decided to counter his fear with her own anger, hoping some of it would bleed into him. He’d taken too much lying down. She decided to follow Rocky’s advice from the night before about what to call Tommy. “Tommy’s being a complete ass about the whole thing. Rocky’s in there defending you, by the way. I just couldn’t stand being in there anymore.”

“And how is Tommy wrong?” Adam said, seeming to sink even further into his own guilt. “I let a kid get hurt.”

“It was a mistake...” Aisha began.

“None of you guys made that mistake,” Adam interrupted her. “Did any other kids get hurt? Or just the one I was protecting.”

Aisha considered him. She could point out that he had actually been protecting three kids, not one, and that two of them had successfully gotten to safety. She could point out that the Putties had disappeared as soon as the kid got hurt and Adam had passed out, which further proved that he was the real target of the whole attack. She could point out a lot of things... including the apparent conspiracy of the Angel Grove elite against the transfer students... but she knew he wasn’t ready to listen. “Look, something weird is going on. Just because we can’t find anything in the scanners doesn’t mean that there’s not another reason for those Putties beating up on you. I mean, I know you didn’t make the soccer team, which makes no damn sense, but...”

“Rocky tell you that?” Adam again interrupted her, a bit sullen.

“I was worried about you, so I checked the list myself. I didn’t make the Girls Chapter either, when I was President of the Girls Chapter at Stone Canyon...”

“But you didn’t let it affect you so much, you got a kid hurt.”

Aisha gritted her teeth. She felt sorry for Adam, but he was starting to get on her last nerve. “Not my point, and if you’ll stop interrupting me, I can tell you that...”

She hadn’t entirely decided what she was going to tell him--him being a target, the conspiracy, the fact that he needed to stop blaming himself--when he left the room. She cursed and ran after him, and both of them got to hear Tommy’s worst statement yet:

“And if he’s going to cut it as a Ranger, he can’t do this. We need people we can count on out there, not people who are going to fold at a Putty attack...”

Tommy stopped at the sight of Adam, and Aisha ran up just in time to help Adam, still weak from the fight, sit down on the steps. She decided now was the time to give Tommy a piece of her mind... when Zordon did it for her.

“Tommy, that is enough. You’ve more than made your point, and you’re not being fair to Adam. Or do I need to bring up tapes of your own mistakes. Perhaps the fight against Dark Samurai?”

The effect was instantaneous. Tommy paled and stammered out apologies, and didn’t object when Zordon began assigning them all duties. Zordon, at least, looked to be on Adam’s side.

Aisha wondered what Zordon had said to make such a change in Tommy, and wondered if she needed to look up their fight with the Dark Samurai. It sounded familiar, though she didn’t quite remember why.


 

Aisha glanced over at Kimberly. They’d set up a work station in the girls’ bedroom, where Aisha supposed they had the option to stay at the Command Center overnight. She wondered what circumstances would ever make them do that.

Kimberly was thin-lipped and red-faced as she looked over the surveillance material. It was a long shot that they would find anything, and their efforts had come up with nothing so far. Still, they had to be thorough. Aisha just wished they had a job that was a bit more active.

Kimberly leaned back and rubbed her face. “Aisha... I’m so sorry.”

Aisha frowned. She knew Kimberly was finally coming back to their meeting with Christy that afternoon, but she was not interested in hearing Kimberly apologize for Christy. “You don’t have to say a thing,” Aisha said shortly. “Christy made her own decisions.”

“But I should have believed you right from the beginning,” Kimberly said. “I just... I knew the Girls Chapter people could sometimes be jerks, but I didn’t know... and what the hell did she mean by ‘diversity?’”

Aisha gave a mirthless chuckle. “All things considered, that was tame.”

“We’re going to Mr. Kaplan tomorrow with this,” Kimberly said. “I mean, the whole ‘let’s keep the Stone Canyon people out of everything’ thing. It may not help, but we still need to do something about it. After I register a complaint with the Girls’ Chapter central office, I can quit.”

“You don’t have to quit,” Aisha said.

Kimberly shrugged. “It’s time, anyway. I only got in the club because my mom wanted me to. Now that I know I only got in because my mom was in...” Kimberly smiled bitterly.

Aisha nodded. “You can talk to Mr. Kaplan... though I want to be with you... but I can make the complaint to the Girls’ Chapter central office. I know some of the people up there.” She took a breath. “Like you said, it’s probably not going to help. People are still going to resent the new people for just taking up space, and even if Adam and I could get into clubs, they’re not going to just immediately accept us.”

Kimberly took a deep breath. “It’s... it’s really not fair.”

“No,” Aisha said. “No, it’s not. But we can make small changes. We have to keep trying, even when no one is listening to us.” Aisha repeated her mother’s words, the words she’d said at every disappointment, every struggle.

“So what do you think we should do?” Kimberly asked.

Aisha frowned. “If no one wants you, you make a space for yourself.” She smiled. “I’ll think of something.” She cast a sidelong look at Kimberly. “Are you going to tell Tommy about the ‘trashy boyfriend’ comment?”

“God, no,” Kimberly said. “But if she says it again, not even a full-on invasion it going to keep me from her.”

Aisha chuckled. She wanted to ask why Tommy, who seemed so friendly and disciplined, had that particular reputation. Was it just that he had long hair, or maybe that he dressed a bit grunge?

There was a knock at the door, and they were surprised to see Billy peeking in. “Aisha, those scans you were running on Adam are done. After you assess them, we can correlate with the scans we’re doing on Adam now.”

Aisha looked at Kimberly, who smiled. “Go, I’ll take care of this. That sounds way more exciting.”

Aisha followed Billy to the central chamber of the Command Center, where Rocky and Tommy were watching Adam’s fight on the Viewing Globe. The tension between them was palpable, but Aisha decided to ignore them. She had more important things to do.

“Where’s Adam?” she asked, realizing that Billy had not followed her.

“Adam is resting in the lab,” Zordon answered her. “I can communicate with him here as easily as I can there. Please, go on, Adam.”

Zordon turned her attention away, and Aisha realized that Adam was telling Zordon everything that had happened to him through a communicator in the lab, while Billy must be running his tests there. Aisha approved: Adam would be more comfortable talking if he could do so a bit more indirectly, without Zordon staring down at him or Tommy and Rocky paying attention.

Aisha stared at the read-outs of her scans where Alpha indicated, noting the main variations between Adam’s readings and her own control readings. There was still nothing... until she looked at the brain scan readings. Particularly, the way the brain interacted with their Power Coins. Whereas hers was spiky, with ups and down depending on emotion, on activity, on energy... Adam’s was steadily low, even (as she correlated the times) during fights.

It wasn’t that he was depressed. It was like his powers were depressed... if that made any sense.

“That is troubling,” Zordon broke in, as if reading her mind. Aisha realized that he could also monitor her computer console, and wondered how much interaction he had with the entire Command Center. “It perhaps lines up with some of what Adam has been telling me.”

Rocky turned from the Viewing Globe. “Found something?”

“She has indeed,” Zordon said. “All Rangers, please report back. Aisha may have found the root of the problem.”

It took minutes for the rest of the Rangers to come in. Aisha glanced over at Adam, and was pleased to note that a shred of hope was coming into his eyes. If Aisha’s suspicions were right, though, it would take more than that to give Adam hope.

Tommy was still staring at the fight. He kept running it over a few seconds, where the Putty was delivering a particularly nasty blow to Adam. “Guys?” he said, his voice sounding almost… contrite. “I may have something, too.”

Chapter Text

Rocky ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time and not slowing down when he hit the landing. He was late. Adam was going to be all pissy... or probably just leave when Rocky wasn’t there right on time.

Instead of running to the door, he took a sharp turn and swung half into his father’s office. “Carla? Could you call the Youth Center and send a message to Adam? I’m super late.”

Carla raised her dark eyebrows slowly. She was surrounded by piles of papers, and Rocky’s entrance had sent one teetering. She steadied it with one hand. “I’m not your secretary, Rocky, like I’ve told you before.”

Rocky gave her his most winning smile. “Oh, come on, Carla. It’s me.”

Carla’s frown softened slightly, and Rocky hoped that meant she would make the call. However...

“I know it’s you. And your signature doesn’t appear anywhere on my paychecks,” she retorted. “Not your secretary.”

“You’re my dad’s,” Rocky said.

“I’m his PA,” Carla said. She gestured around the office. “If it wasn’t for me, everything around us would fall apart, and after your father asked me why he and his family lost everything and wound up on the streets, I would have to tell him, ‘I’m sorry, sir. I was making phone calls for your son.’“ She raised her eyebrows even higher. “And I noticed your hands are not injured. Make the call yourself.”

Rocky grinned, not put off in the least. “Will His Highness grace us with his presence today?”

Carla gave a small smile. “Later tonight. He’s still working on the land deal.”

“Right,” Rocky said with a wave. “I won’t wait up.”

It wasn’t until Rocky was down the driveway and past the gate that he realized he’d left without calling the Youth Center. He sped through the residential area, pushing the gas and trying not to fly over speed bumps.

The day was gorgeous but swelteringly hot, and Rocky enjoyed the wind rushing past him as he drove the Jeep onto the main road. It was the last Friday before school started, and they didn’t have Ranger training until Sunday. He’d spent the morning sleeping in, and now he finally felt like he could greet the day. It was a crime to do anything before noon if you could help it.

Rocky’s mouth quirked at the thought of Ranger training. All damn summer, no attacks, but at least two hours of drills a day. And it wasn’t just martial arts stuff. Tommy had them running scenarios and practicing maneuvers, and he even quizzed them on Ranger protocol. They’d all had to master at least three of the main Command Center systems—security, communication, and teleportation. Last week Tommy set up an obstacle course and then timed them all going through it, both morphed and unmorphed.

Rocky supposed some of it had been cool. And it was definitely awesome whenever they got to train morphed. But it had left little time over the summer for... you know... actual fun. This was the first summer in years he hadn’t pushed his friends into going with him somewhere on vacation—rafting in Colorado, sightseeing in New York... He’d broached the subject with Aisha once, but she’d seemed far more interested in getting to know Angel Grove.

First real break from school, he decided, he would take the whole gang somewhere. Maybe even just nip over to San Francisco for a weekend.

Right now, though, everyone seemed pretty psyched about school. Alarmingly so. While Tommy and Kimberly shared his “take it or leave it” attitude toward school, Billy and Aisha were well into brainiac student-involvement mode, and even Adam was going on about that creative writing class. And soccer, of course.

Rocky turned on the air conditioning when he finally got into traffic and couldn’t count on the wind to keep him cool. He’d skipped all of the try-outs and applications, despite Aisha shoving about thirty flyers in front of his face. He did baseball, and that wasn’t until the spring. And he was teaching the kids’ martial arts class with Adam. But that was enough for him. He didn’t really care to have that much of his time scheduled, or to have that much responsibility he didn’t need.

Besides, he smirked, he was already pissing his dad off enough by going to public school, when his dad was champing at the bit to send him to some fancy prep school. Rocky shivered at the thought. Living in a dorm with a bunch of trust fund dudes? Definitely not his scene. So... it wasn’t like his dad was pushing him into joining too much at the public school.

His dad would probably send him to prep school if he found out he was a Power Ranger.

Rocky... didn’t particularly frown, but his smile didn’t quite have the same cheerfulness as before. Adam’s reveal of his identity to his brother had sucked royally. He’d apparently shouted about Adam unfairly risking his life, and then completely shut down after that. Aaron and Adam were now giving each other the silent treatment, and when the Park brothers did the silent treatment, they knew how to do it. It was a struggle getting two words out of Adam on a good day.

Aaron had transferred that hostility to Rocky and Aisha as well, which was a damn shame. He, Adam, and Aisha had been friends since late elementary school, so he’d practically been raised by their families: Aisha’s parents, Adam’s parents, and then Aaron after the car crash.

Rocky focused on the road and tried not to think about that.

He’d been friends with Adam and Aisha after they had finally extricated Rocky’s head from where it had resided most of his life: firmly between his butt cheeks. Growing up rich, always having nice things... it had made him think he deserved even the things that couldn’t be bought, so he’d learned how to take. He didn’t like to think of the person he’d been before. But if he forgot entirely, Adam and Aisha were there to remind him, just so he didn’t go off the deep end again.

He decided he’d only be a few minutes late... when his communicator beeped. “Dammit,” he mumbled, and started looking for a place to stash the car.


It was Sunday, an hour before the meeting was supposed to start, but Rocky hadn’t been able to sleep in like he usually did. Something was bothering him, and he hated it when something was bothering him. So, for the first time, he teleported to the Command Center alone. He was surprised that he was the only one there. He’d never seen the Command Center without either Billy or Tommy stalking around.

His lip sneered a bit at the thought of Tommy. The guy was enthusiastically lobbying for a promotion from all-around jerk to confirmed asshole.

“Alpha, how’s it going?” Rocky said, putting his hand on the robot’s shoulder.

Alpha looked up from his work, surprised. Zordon had apparently been reading something from text projected onto the inside of his tube, and he dismissed the text at Rocky’s entrance. “Rocky, this is certainly a surprise,” Zordon said. “Is there anything with which I can help you, or is this a social visit?”

Rocky grinned. “Yeah, I know I haven’t been up here much on my own. And I’m early for the meeting. I just... I can’t stand this whole thing about Adam, and I wanted to do something about it.”

Zordon’s head moved, and Rocky realized that was his version of nodding. “I share your concern, Rocky. Billy, Alpha, and Aisha have various tests and scans working, but given your aversion to computers, I would imagine you have something else in mind.”

Rocky gave a half shrug. “That’s just the thing. I don’t know what to do. I’m a pretty good fighter, but I’m pretty useless otherwise. I just...” He cleared his throat. He didn’t particularly want to share everything, but he needed Zordon on his side. “I need to do this for Adam. He’s done so much for me, and I just can’t sit by.”

“I understand,” Zordon said, and Rocky wondered if perhaps Zordon did understand. He didn’t know how much Zordon knew about them, about him. He said he’d watched them, but how closely, and for how long?

“So, can I just talk this out?” Rocky said.

“Certainly,” Zordon said, smiling.

Rocky took a breath. “So, we all know that Putties can sometimes be stronger. But we’ve been fighting Putties even before we were Rangers. And I guess in some kind of alternate reality where we fought Putties with plastic weapons. So one Putty getting the better of Adam is pretty friggin’ unbelievable.”

He paused, but Zordon just did that weird nod again, telling him to go on.

“I watched the fight afterward,” Rocky said, “and Adam’s not on his game, but Adam not on his game is still better than most people... or Putties. That Putty was different...” Rocky crinkled his forehead, trying to remember how it was different. “Can I see the fight again? Just Adam against the strong Putty?”

“Alpha, please pull up the video on the Viewing Globe,” Zordon said.

The scene played again. Adam was fighting three Putties at once, when he was blind-sided by one of the Putties. As two used the opportunity to get away, the one Putty kept Adam’s attention, refusing to let him move on. Alpha played the scene again, and again, Rocky asking him to run it back and play it again after each play-through. There was something that was itching at the back of Rocky’s brain, but he was damned if he could figure it out. It seemed like just a standard fight, with standard Putty fighting skills. Unless...

“There!” Rocky said, pointing to the Globe. “Can you run it back a couple of seconds and pause it?”

“Will do, Rocky,” Alpha said.

The video sped back, and Rocky got closer. It was what had been bothering him ever since the video but hadn’t become obvious until right then. “That deflection,” he said, pointing to the Putty’s hand. “Adam’s trying to get to the Z, but the Putty is deflecting. Over and over. The most Putties ever do to deflect is a few initial blocks.” Rocky started pacing. “They want us to punch the Z’s, especially when others are around to keep up the fight. They want the power feedback to weaken us. Why not this one?”

Zordon stared at the screen. “I confess, I did not pick up on that. I do not pay attention to Putty fights as I perhaps should. Why do you think this Putty chose to fight in this way?”

Rocky looked back at the video. “I dunno...” He quirked his mouth. “I was kinda hoping that someone with more experience would help figure it out.”

If Zordon caught the jab at Tommy, he let it pass. They didn’t have time to discuss it anyway, as the aforementioned leader of the Power Rangers chose that moment to teleport in.

Tommy took a look at the Viewing Globe. “Yeah, I reviewed that until I could watch it in my sleep. I still can’t get anything out of it. Hopefully Billy and Aisha will have some news for us today.”

Rocky squared his shoulders. “I may have found something.”

Tommy raised his eyebrows, and Rocky had a petty thrill in knowing something the perfect Tommy didn’t. “Would you like to share?”

Rocky considered smarting off, but that would work against him and definitely turn Zordon against him. He instead pointed to the Viewing Globe. “Right there.” He made the same motion that the Putty was making. “Deflection. Every time. Adam’s trying to dust the Putty, but it just won’t let him.”

Tommy frowned, looking closer. “I’ll admit, that’s weird. If we can get some readings on that Putty... it might be a monster in disguise. There have been Putties disguised as people, but we haven’t run across the other way around, yet.”

Rocky felt his shoulders relax a little. It wasn’t a complete win, but at least Tommy was giving his idea some attention.

The others trickled in over the next few minutes, Adam showing up last, looking gloomy and deflated. Aisha looked over at Adam, and then caught Rocky’s eye. Rocky shrugged. He’d done what he could for Adam. Adam was just going to have to get mad before he got over this, and that wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

“Rocky, you wanna show us what you came up with?” Tommy said as a way to begin the meeting.

Quickly, Rocky showed the video and demonstrated how the Putty was fighting differently.

“I noticed that I couldn’t hit the destruct button,” Adam said. “But, then again, I was desperate and not fighting at my best. It could just be that I couldn’t break through the Putty’s preliminary deflections.”

Rocky rolled his eyes exaggeratedly, making sure that Adam knew exactly what he was doing. “That doesn’t mean that the Putty wasn’t up to something. Like I said a thousand times, you’ve fought Putties before.”

“Past performance is not a guarantee of present success. Rocky, I just screwed up,” Adam said.

“I guess that’s your excuse then. God, that’s your excuse every time,” Rocky said before he could stop himself.

As soon as he said it, he wished he could take the words back. Adam had that look, like he was furious and miserable at the same time. Aisha was shooting daggers at him and looked like she wished she could do so literally.

Rocky closed his eyes. Firmly between the buttcheeks.

“My scans haven’t produced any abnormal readings from the Putty in question,” Billy said. “Of course, we can only work with the readings we have, not with the original subject.”

“I’m still running tests on Adam,” Aisha said, still glaring at Rocky. “Those aren’t going to be done until tomorrow.”

“In the meantime, we might need to wait until the next attack,” Kimberly said. “Both Zedd and Rita before him would usually start out with some kind of distraction. There’s going to be some bigger plan in the works.”

“Kim’s right,” Tommy said. “Waiting is not exactly satisfying, but we’re doing everything we can. We just need to remain vigilant. Let’s do a Zord check and then an hour of training. I want to prep for the same maneuvers we used on Friday, just in case we have to use them again.”

It was Kimberly’s and Adam’s turn to check the Zords. Adam practically ran out of the room, while Kimberly trotted to catch up. She shot Rocky a sympathetic smile, but that was cut short by Aisha squaring off with him. She motioned with a sharp tilt of her head, and Rocky resignedly followed where she indicated. This wasn’t going to be good.

As soon as they turned the corner, Aisha rounded on him. “Mind telling me what that was all about?”

“I was just trying to help him,” Rocky said, the words feeling false in his mouth even as he said them.

“No, you were trying to bully him,” Aisha said, crossing her arms.

Rocky’s eye twitched. “That’s not fair.”

“Oh, you want to talk about what’s fair?” Aisha said. “We can talk for days about what’s fair. But just because someone isn’t cooperating with you while you’re trying to help them doesn’t mean you can throw it in their face. And you know Adam is reliving some things right now since...” She stopped.

“Since he didn’t make the soccer team,” Rocky said. “Yeah, I know. He told me.”

“Yeah, well, he’s not the only one,” Aisha said, her voice going lower. “None of the other Stone Canyon transfers got into any of the clubs or teams.”

Rocky frowned. “I didn’t know that.”

“I just confirmed it yesterday,” Aisha said. “Look, just... stop trying to protect Adam. He really can take care of himself. You need to focus on being his friend, not his bodyguard.”

Rocky’s mouth quirked up at that. That was pretty rich coming from “mama bear” Aisha. However, he knew saying that would just get him the silent treatment from her, too. “Okay, I think I can handle that.”


 

Rocky got his first test on not defending Adam during the training session directly after the meeting.

Tommy had set up a simulation like the battle they’d faced on Friday. There was a large room in the Command Center where they could tap into the Morphing Grid to create realistic illusions, but only in that room. Billy called it a “holodeck” and Tommy called it a “danger room,” but Rocky had no idea why.

Just like on Friday, Rocky was paired with Billy as they “made a path” for trapped civilians. Rocky didn’t particularly like the maneuver. He was good at it, but he couldn’t really let loose. Not with civilians to protect. Still, though, he managed to improve his coordination with Billy, and they were able to get the fake civilians out quicker.

They kept having to stop the simulation, though, as Adam kept letting more and more Putties through. Every time, Tommy would call a halt to the whole thing and then look pointedly at Adam (or, at least, face his helmet pointedly at Adam, since they were morphed). Adam would nod wearily, and then they would try again... with Adam doing worse each time.

After an hour, Rocky felt like his arms were going to fall off, and Aisha was barely standing, trying to fight harder to cover for Adam. (Rocky smirked. Mama bear.)

Tommy crossed his arms. When he was morphed, he looked damned impressive. The white suit, the black and gold shield around him, the tiger mask, the sword Saba at his side. Impressive... and, Rocky begrudgingly admitted, intimidating.

“Try it again, Adam,” Tommy said, his voice quiet. “Just you. Just try to keep three Putties from crossing the line.”

Adam stared at him, his helmet hiding what Rocky knew would be a frustrated and disbelieving expression. Rocky bit his own tongue, really hoping that Adam would just tell Tommy to go stuff it. Adam needed a break, not to be put on the spot and overworked.

Three Putties shimmered into existence, and a thick black line formed right behind Adam. Adam broke out of his reverie as the three Putties attacked. Reacting instantly, Adam threw a kick to the middle Putty’s Z... which was a mistake. All five watching Rangers jumped as soon as he did it. Sure enough, the power feedback, which the Morphing Grid was able to simulate without actually hurting any of them, knocked Adam on his ass. The one Putty was gone, but the other two were already past the line. The simulation dissolved, and Adam looked down, not wanting to get back up.

Tommy sighed and shook his head. “Okay, Adam. We’ll work on that later. You can’t make these mistakes in real battles, though. Our primary job as Power Rangers is to protect the people of Earth. We can’t allow them to pay for the war we’re fighting.”

“I know,” Adam said quietly, still not getting up. “I’m sorry.”

“I think we all need a rest,” Kimberly said, trying to break the tension. “We’ve got school tomorrow. Aisha should have the test results back then. I can meet you up here to see what’s what. After we do the... thing.”

Aisha, who seemed to have been holding herself back from going to Adam, looked up. “Yeah. After the thing. Right.”

The six powered down, and Kimberly and Billy teleported out. Aisha gave Adam one last look, and then gave a worried look to Rocky. “I’m just going to check to make sure that test is still running properly. See you guys later.”

“I’ll go with you,” Tommy said, looking tired. “I gotta talk something over with Zordon.”

They left, and Rocky finally approached Adam, who didn’t look like he wanted to get up.

“Dude, it was just nerves,” Rocky said softly. “We all know that we can’t do things right when we’re...”

He finally put a hand on Adam’s shoulder, but Adam shoved it away and got up.

“Rocky, can you just not right now?” Adam said, his face darkening. “Do I have to be cheerful every second of every day to make you happy?”

Rocky took a step back. Definitely not where he wanted the conversation to go.

“I’m just trying to...” Rocky began.

“Stop trying,” Adam said. “Just... just leave me alone. I know this is a foreign concept for you, but sometimes people want to be alone. Sometimes people want to be sad. Not everyone can live like you live. Some of us have problems.”

Rocky flinched, but found that he couldn’t say anything. When he didn’t say anything, Adam gave him one last glare and teleported out.

“Well, you did want him to get mad,” Rocky said to the empty room.


 

“You don’t have to protect him, she said,” Rocky muttered to himself. “He can take care of himself. He definitely won’t start punching random people in the middle of the hallway.”

Rocky was leaning against Adam’s locker. Adam had been avoiding him all day, ever since he’d walloped Bulk and nearly gone after Skull... right in front of the principal and Aaron... Mr. Park. Rocky grinned. Actually, that had been pretty funny, and no one was saying Bulk and Skull weren’t asking for it. If it had been under any other circumstance, Rocky would be making Adam a medal and pinning it to his locker.

But he knew Adam hated hurting anyone, even people who so richly deserved it. He was also going to be getting detention. That was a fairly common occurrence for Rocky, but it was like the end of the world for Adam.

Rocky looked at the clock in the hallway. He was going to have to come to his locker sometime.

The bell rang, and students rushed to their lockers so they could get out of there as quickly as they could. Rocky dodged around people trying to get their stuff, and then waited as the crowd started dispersing. Still no Adam. Rocky took to clasping and unclasping his communicator. He hated standing still this long.

“If you’re waiting for your friend, you’re in for a long wait.”

Rocky smiled grimly and turned. Bulk and Skull were right behind him, Bulk leaning against a locker as well, uncomfortably in his personal space. Rocky resisted taking a step back.

“How’s that?” he asked lightly.

“Oh, Adam’s been in the bathroom, probably crying his eyes out,” Bulk said airily.

Rocky smirked. “How’s the black eye?”

Bulk’s hand strayed to his eye, and then he stopped himself and glared. “You just warn your friend to keeping looking behind him. He’s gonna pay.”

Rocky started laughing, making Bulk trail off. “Tell ya what. You wanna make this square? Come by the Youth Center tomorrow after school.”

Skull grabbed Bulk’s shoulder. “That sounds like a set-up, Bulky.”

Rocky finally stepped back, bounding off the lockers. “No set-up. Neither of us need to do that. I just want to show you something. You’ll be there?”

Bulk balled his fists. “I’ll be there. And maybe after, Adam and I can step somewhere less public.”

Rocky almost fell down laughing. He honestly wasn’t expecting Bulk to call for a duel. He wondered, with Bulk’s love of costumes, if he’d show up in full knight’s armor.

“Sure, Bulk,” he said, trying not to laugh. “We’ll do whatever you want.”

With that, he left. Bulk was a blow-hard, but Rocky was pretty sure he’d been telling the truth about Adam being in the bathroom, and possibly about the crying thing. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

Rocky finally got to the boys’ bathroom on that side of the school and peeked in. At first, he thought there was no one in there. All the bathroom stalls were hanging open with no feet showing, and the urinals were empty. It was absolutely quiet, not even the sound of stifled sobs. Then he glanced around the door and saw Adam staring into a mirror above a sink.

“Hey, Adam! How’s it going?” Rocky grinned. Adam didn’t seem super upset. Maybe he was just killing some time before having to go to detention.

Adam didn’t respond. In fact, he didn’t seem to be moving. Or blinking.

“Hey, Adam,” Rocky said a little more slowly, putting a hand on Adam’s arm.

Nothing. Adam just kept staring into the mirror. Rocky looked at the mirror, and then back to Adam. Adam’s eyes were glassy and unfocused, his face a complete blank. It was like he was hypnotized or...

Before Rocky could go for his communicator, Adam turned abruptly and left, never acknowledging Rocky was in the room at all.

There was the silent treatment, and then there was just primo weirdness.

Rocky stared at the door, trying to figure out what just happened. Then he slowly turned to the mirror.

A memory slammed into him. He was trying out for soccer, his brand new, top-of-the-line cleats gripping the ground satisfyingly with each step. The coach had divided them up into two teams, and Rocky had control of the ball...

Only for the ball to be taken by this tiny kid with curly black hair. This kid with a too-big t-shirt and second-hand shoes had ruined Rocky’s big chance.

The next time the curly-haired kid ran by, Rocky twisted in his way (on accident, I promise! he’d claimed later) just so the kid would take a tumble on the grass. It worked perfectly, so Rocky did it again. And again. Each time the kid got up, he looked closer to crying, until he’d run off the field.

Rocky’s communicator beeped. Slowly, he pulled his eyes from the mirror, feeling like he was coming up from a dream. “Yeah, I read you,” he said.

“Rocky, Putties are attacking a children’s soccer game in Marshall Park,” Zordon said.

“I’m on it,” Rocky said. He glanced at the mirror. How long had he been standing there? He’d replaced his watch with his communicator, so he had no idea. He was starting to forget why he’d been there in the first place.

“Putties. Right,” Rocky said, pulling himself back to reality.


 

Rocky followed Kimberly to the science lab, carrying an unconscious Adam. He was practically weightless, and Rocky realized he hadn’t unmorphed yet. Adam was unmorphed, though. He looked tiny, and there were bruises where the Putty’s punches and kicks had gotten through his Ranger shielding.

“Put him on the bed,” Kimberly said shortly. She went straight to a work station and started preparing a syringe.

Rocky laid Adam down gently and then unmorphed. His body was still buzzing, though… itching for a fight.

“What’s wrong with him?” Rocky said, dancing on the spot.

"Don’t know yet,” Kimberly said. “He’s beat to hell, that’s for sure, but this should fix any injuries. If it’s something interfering with his power, though...”

Kimberly trailed off as she gauged the right amount of serum, and then took her time finding a vein to give Adam the injection. She looked hesitant, and Rocky remembered that this used to be Trini’s job.

As the serum left the syringe, Adam’s bruises slowly disappeared, and some of the color came back to his face. He didn’t wake up.

Kimberly breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m going to keep watch over him for a few more minutes. You head on into the main chamber. Hopefully Aisha will be back soon with news about the kid.”

Rocky took one last look at Adam, and then left. Adam was going to be destroyed when he woke up if that kid got hurt.

He bounded the main chamber. Tommy looked up from his conversation with Billy. “Adam all right?”

Rocky took a breath. Fuck it, he was going to do it. “No,” he said, bounding up the steps. “Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, he’s not okay. Oh, he isn’t injured, but that doesn’t mean he’s okay.”

Tommy frowned. “You seem like someone who has something to say.”

Rocky laughed, although his stomach had turned to ice. “Something to say, the man said. Yeah, I kinda do. As in, maybe you can take some responsibility for what Adam’s going through?”

Tommy’s eyes widened, and even Billy looked up from his work.

“Say that again?” Tommy said.

“If you keep saying someone isn’t good enough, they’ll start to believe you,” Rocky said. “All damn summer. You’ve been riding us, but you’ve been riding Adam the hardest. He’s never good enough, never fast enough… He’s never quite what you want him to be. None of us can measure up to perfect Tommy’s standards, but Adam takes it the hardest. And you know it, so you single him out.”

Tommy’s eyes darkened; he was starting to look dangerous, something Rocky had never seen. “Oh, no, don’t hold back,” Tommy said. “Keep blaming Adam’s mistakes on me. You accused him of making excuses, but you seem to be the one obsessed with making excuses for everything he does. He can’t sneeze without you wiping his nose.”

“And he can’t sneeze without you calling him out in public!” Rocky knew he was starting to lose it… but this was a long time coming. “Like you did in Friday’s battle. Like you did in training yesterday. You just want to make an example of him. You’re just a bully…”

“I’m making an example of him?” Tommy said, his eyes narrowing even more. “I don’t have to! That’s twice that Adam has let a Putty get the best of him, and now he’s let someone get hurt.”

“He saved two other kids, and he was doing the best he could,” Rocky said. “News flash, Tommy. People aren’t perfect. I know that’s a pretty foreign concept for you.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” Tommy said.

Rocky knew that they were coming close to blows, and he wasn’t entirely sure he could take Tommy… or that Zordon wouldn’t kick them both out. He knew this wasn’t in any way, shape, or form helping Adam. But he couldn’t stop himself. It was like he was being pulled inexorably along this path… “I know that you’re determined to believe that Adam... what? Meant for a kid to get hurt?” Rocky shouted back.

Kimberly walked into the room, looking alarmed at the growing hostility. “Adam’s all right, by the way,” she said deliberately. She stared at both of them until they backed down. “I gave him some serum. Still resting, so could the two of you keep it at a dull roar?”

Tommy finally looked away, and Rocky felt a bit of the anger bleed from him. What was he doing?

“How’s the kid?” Tommy asked, and Rocky realized Aisha had teleported in without his noticing. “He make it to the hospital all right?”

Aisha looked warily from Tommy to Rocky. “Stable,” she said. “Broken leg, possible concussion.” She looked at Kimberly. “We couldn’t... you know...” She mimed giving herself a shot in the arm.

“The serum can only work on people with a power coin. We tried it once on Skull. Billy had to give him some of his Blue Ranger energy, and Skull’s still abnormal because of it. Well...” Kimberly made a face. “Abnormal-er.”

“All the more reason that we don’t make this an issue,” Tommy said, his face stony. “There’s no excuse for civilians getting hurt, especially kids. Adam’s got to know that.”

“As if he doesn’t know that,” Rocky said, furious that Tommy would bring this back up again.

“He doesn’t act like it,” Tommy said.

Rocky noticed Aisha leave, even as he tried to put together more words, struggling past the rage going on in his head. He wasn’t used to being so angry. In fact… he never felt this angry. It almost physically hurt, burning him from the inside out.

“And you don’t act like much of a leader,” Rocky said.

At this, Billy pushed off the console he’d been leaning again. “I think this is an unwise way to conduct an argument, much less an investigation,” he said. “Spells and other illusions are not unheard of from our enemy’s arsenal, and Adam’s self-confidence is most assuredly effected. Once Aisha’s scans have run…” He trailed off, uncomfortable now that Tommy and Rocky were both glaring at him.

“I think what Billy’s trying to say is that we all need to chill our biscuits,” Kimberly said. “Zordon, do you think Lord Zedd’s using a spell, like Billy mentioned?”

Zordon frowned. “It’s certainly possible. However, I do not believe that’s the only possible explanation. It does not account for the Putty’s increased strength and skill—if indeed Adam has been targeted by just one Putty. We’ve also sensed power readings far lower than even normal operating procedures from the Moon Palace, and a spell would certainly cause the power levels to spike.”

“That and spells—other than the one time—aren’t exactly Zedd’s MO,” Kimberly said. “That’s more Rita’s bag.”

Tommy shook his head. “We have to take everything into account… but we’ve also got to start thinking about Adam’s response to this. Instead of helping us investigate, he’s become closed off and secretive. No, Rocky, I don’t expect perfection, as you keep saying, but I do expect something more than just lying down and taking it. If he can’t stand up to me, he can’t stand up to Zedd. And if he’s going to cut it as a Ranger, he can’t do this. We need people we can count on out there, not people who are going to fold at a Putty attack...”

Rocky was about to angrily retort… when he noticed Tommy had stopped, looking past the Viewing Globe. Adam’s pale face seemed to float in the darkness, looking half a ghost at Tommy’s words. He stumbled, and Aisha ran forward to help Adam onto the steps.

Zordon spoke up before Rocky could get his next words out. “Tommy, that is enough. You’ve more than made your point, and you’re not being fair to Adam. Or do I need to bring up tapes of your own mistakes. Perhaps the fight against Dark Samurai?”

Rocky was shocked to see Tommy—perfect, self-assured, jerk-lobbying-to-be-an-asshole Tommy—turn as pale as Adam’s. The anger had gone out of his eyes, and he looked almost… haunted. Rocky wondered what Zordon could have same that could take the fire out of Tommy so quickly and utterly. “God, I’m... I’m so sorry, Adam,” Tommy stammered out. “I wasn’t thinking, and I wasn’t fair.”

“You’re right, though,” Adam said, his voice barely above a whisper. “I got someone hurt. I couldn’t even get to the battle on time. I’m not fit to be a Ranger.”

“And if perfection were a requirement of being a Power Ranger, we’d all be out on our butts,” Kimberly said, giving a pointed look at Tommy, and Rocky again wondered what it was that the other Rangers weren’t telling them.

“I refuse to accept that Adam’s misfortunes have been entirely natural,” Zordon said. “Alpha, conduct a body scan of Adam, paying close attention to any spells or influences Zedd may have implanted in him. Adam, I want you to recount everything that has happened to you since Friday morning, as that is when the attack started. Billy, you help Alpha. Aisha and Kimberly, go over the surveillance scans from the past seven days, just so we don’t miss anything, either in Angel Grove or the Moon Palace. Tommy and Rocky, you’re to review the two Putty fights again.” He looked sternly at all of them. “Lord Zedd has managed to target one of our own and lay seeds of doubt. I want to know how he did it. I expect full reports from everyone tomorrow.”

The effect on the group was instantaneous. They all scrambled to their assigned tasks, Billy helping Adam to his feet and leading him back to the science lab. Rocky gritted his teeth and considered the wisdom of complaining about being put in a group with Tommy… but Zordon’s impassive face sent a pretty clear message. Shut up and do what I tell you.


 

The fight was very similar to Friday’s fight, Rocky noted as he stood well apart from Tommy facing the Viewing Globe. Adam had things well in hand until one Putty screwed it all up. He’d been able to get the two soccer players out of the way, but the older boy hadn’t been able to leave. Another few minutes into the fight, Adam was unconscious and the boy was on the ground, groaning in pain.

Adam was fighting better than he had during Sunday’s training, but he was now overly cautious, missing opportunities that the Putty was taking full advantage of. Adam wasn’t even trying to hit the Z, not with the boy right there.

They watched the clip over and over. Rocky knew there was something right in front of them, something that he wasn’t seeing. He was just damned if he knew what it was.

Eventually, Aisha came in and made her way to her computer console, going over the scan she’d had running all weekend. Rocky hoped she found something there, because he was turning up dry.

“That is troubling. It perhaps lines up with some of what Adam has been telling me.”

Zordon’s words broke into Rocky’s reverie, and he turned from the Viewing Globe. “Found something?”

“She has indeed,” Zordon said. “All Rangers, please report back. Aisha may have found the root of the problem.”

As everyone gathered and they waited for Zordon or Aisha to explain. However, Tommy broke in first. “Guys?” he said hesitantly. “I may have something, too. But, first, let’s hear from Aisha.”

Aisha turned, shooting annoyed looks at Billy who was craning around her to look at her readings. “There’s definitely something going on,” she said. “I had the scan looking at Adam’s connection to the Morphing Grid, using myself as a control. What I found was that his brain chemistry was at an abnormal low, especially during fights.”

Rocky frowned in confusion, and was thankful that everyone else, save Billy and Zordon, was doing the same.

Aisha sighed and crossed her arms. “Okay, so, our powers are tied to our life energy... which is just a simple term for all the chemicals and electrical impulses in our bodies. When we fight, our powers are partially being fueled by our hormones, especially adrenaline. Something is suppressing that in Adam, and it’s starting to affect him whether he’s fighting or not.”

“But what’s causing this?” Tommy said.

“We may have an idea,” Zordon said. “But, first, Billy, you have something to add.”

He’d been poking at Aisha’s work station, and then looked up sheepishly. “Sorry, Aisha, I couldn’t resist and didn’t want to interrupt. Your initial scan set the foundation, so I was able to scan the rest of us, to make sure if anyone else was affected.” He pointed the result out to Aisha.

Aisha whipped around. “Uh... Rocky? Are you feeling okay?”

Rocky backed up a bit at the sudden attention. “Of course I am. What are you saying?”

“Because while Adam is suffering from an adrenaline deficiency, your adrenaline levels are abnormally high,” Billy said. “Though not as high as Adam’s is low.”

“Okay, that narrows it down,” Kimberly said. “Something the two of you did, or some place the two of you were, either today or over the weekend.” She chewed her lip. “But I wasn’t able to find anything in the surveillance.”

“So it’d have to be some time when they’re off surveillance,” Tommy said. “Our bedrooms...”

“It would have to be the same place,” Adam said. He seemed to be waking up, now that there was an explanation for what had been happening to him. “We haven’t been to each other’s houses. And I thought you said the security on our houses was tight.”

“Bedrooms are unlikely,” Billy said. “I haven’t found any security breaches, or even any evidence of tampering.”

“Or the bathroom,” Tommy said. “Surveillance drops off every time we enter one.”

Kimberly frowned. “Wait a minute... Alpha, pull up the surveillance footage on Adam this afternoon right around 2:00.”

The fight on the Viewing Globe disappeared to show Adam trudging down the corridor. A minute later, he entered the boys’ bathroom. Sure enough, the feed stayed outside, letting him have his privacy.

“Speed it ahead at 32 times,” Kimberly said. “And put a timer at the bottom.”

The timer began, and the video sped up. People flew past at high speed, but Adam didn’t leave. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour...

The Rangers looked at Adam, who blushed. “That doesn’t make sense. I only went in there to pee. I was maybe in there for five minutes.”

“Notice that no one else is going in,” Rocky pointed out. “I mean, it’s not class change, but you’d think someone...”

As he spoke, the feed showed Rocky approach the door.

“Slow it down, Alpha,” Kimberly said.

They watched as Rocky peeked into the bathroom, and then entered it. Rocky bit his lip. He vaguely remembered looking for Adam, and then trying to find him in the bathroom, when...

A few minutes later, Adam left, while Rocky remained inside.

“Adam,” Zordon said. “You mentioned going to the restroom and staring into the mirror. You did say you lost track of time.”

“So, I guess we should go check that out?” Rocky said. “Lift the surveillance block for right now?”

“All of us go,” Tommy said. “We’re taking no chances. But before we go... I think I have a handle on our Putty problem.”


 

The six Rangers teleported into an empty classroom near the bathroom in question. They ran across the hallway, entering quickly so they wouldn’t be noticed. The presence of Kimberly and Aisha would raise too many questions.

“Which mirror do you think it is?” Tommy said, scanning the row of sinks.

Adam started forward, but Billy caught his arm. “Careful,” Billy said. “We don’t want any additional effects from the mirror.”

Adam nodded, and then pointed to the second from the right.

“Yeah, I think that’s it,” Rocky said. “I’m starting to remember now. That’s where I saw Adam, and he was just staring ahead. And then I guess I...”

Adam and Rocky looked at each other, suddenly remembering exactly what the mirror had shown them.

“Damn,” Rocky said weakly. “I guess we can never get past that, can we?”

Tommy, Billy, and Kimberly looked confused, but Aisha crossed her arms. “Oh, God, the soccer game. The mirror monster at the soccer game, and we missed the clue completely.”

Adam was stubbornly refusing to look at anyone. Rocky’s throat closed up, and he swallowed hard. “Adam, I’m really sorry. And I probably made it worse...”

“I’ve already told you that you don’t have to apologize anymore,” Adam said wearily. “We’ve been friends too long now.”

Rocky gritted his teeth. “And that damn mirror probably made me start acting like I used to.”

“Rocky, you give the mirror too much credit,” Aisha pointed out. “You hadn’t looked at the mirror until this afternoon.”

“Guys,” Tommy said warily, “I’m sorry, but if we’re going to solve this problem, we’re going to need to know what happened.”

Kimberly had a hand on Adam’s shoulder. “That’ll loosen its hold on you, and then we can destroy it.”

Adam crossed his arms, still looking away. He looked like he was resisting the urge to look in the mirror again. Rocky felt a compulsion to the mirror, but he’d spent less time with it. It obviously had a stronger pull on Adam.

“I was a bully,” Rocky blurted out before he could stop himself. He had to get it out. “A grade-A jerkwad. I treated people like...” He took a breath. “I bullied Adam. We were trying out for the soccer team in elementary school, and he was better than me. So I cheated. I kept tripping him until he ran off the field.”

Rocky looked at his new friends steadily, ashamed that he had to reveal that side of himself. “And that wasn’t the worst,” he made himself say, choking on the words. “You see, the coach knew what I was doing. He didn’t let me on the team, and he told me why. So… I blamed Adam. I… I spent a year doing everything I could to…”

The anger that Rocky had been holding in started to bleed out of him. It felt like he could breathe again, even though everyone was looking at him and he knew they were disgusted with him and…

“You know you weren’t the only guy to bully me,” Adam said, picking up where Rocky had trailed off. His shoulders were starting to square, and he was finally looking Rocky in the eye, and not shying away from the gazes of the others. “See, I could have picked myself up any time. The coach came to me later, gave me a chance to try out again. I refused. I was afraid. I stopped trying anything, and I let it control me.” A smile finally came to his face, and Rocky realized it was the first real smile Adam had had in days. “I won’t lie. I started hating my life… but you didn’t ruin my life, Rocky. That was a whole team effort, and I made myself the captain of that team. And I don’t regret what happened… because without that, we wouldn’t be friends now.”

Rocky’s eyes were burning, and he preemptively wiped them with the back of his arm. “No regrets?”

“None whatsoever.”

With those words, the mirror flashed brightly, and then disappeared, leaving a blank space above the sink where it had been.

Before anyone could celebrate, Tommy spoke up. “What I want to know is… why?”

He turned to a gray figure leaning against the doorway. It was the Putty, the one who had targeted Adam twice and put a boy in the hospital. The Rangers put up their guard, but the Putty continued to casually lean.

“And you can drop the act,” Kimberly said. “We’ve already figured out who you are. So answer the question… or attack. We don’t care.”

There was another flash, this time in the shape of orange flames, and the Putty disappeared to reveal Goldar. He kept the same casual lean. “I dropped enough clues in the last fight. You’d have to be brain damaged not to pick up on it.” He grinned. “Did you like our little present?”

“Answer the question,” Tommy said in a brittle voice. “Why? Why do this spell when we could easily figure it out? Why disguise yourself as a Putty? Why target Adam?”

Goldar continued to grin. “Because it was funny.”

If they’d been expecting an answer, it wasn’t that. They all looked at each other warily, and then back at Goldar.

“You think tormenting us is funny?” Billy said, a hard edge to his voice that Rocky hadn’t heard before. “You think hurting a kid is funny?”

“Oh, I think it’s funny enough, in a sad sort of way,” Goldar said. He still didn’t move, and Rocky wondered if he was even planning on attacking. “Oh, and to set your mind at ease… I didn’t hurt a little kid. If you’d bothered to wait around or monitor the hospital, you would have seen the boy who was hurt had no parents and no connections. A mere Putty. We’ve… gotten better at disguising them.” He laughed. “But what would you have done if it had been real?”

He smirked at their silence. “Heroes.” He snorted in derision. “You’re like I’ve always said. Children playing with matches. You’re going to eventually get burned… or burn the world all around you. Even you three.” He indicated Tommy, Kimberly, and Billy. “You’ve seen the larger universe, and you still don’t understand the war. We’re at your school—do you want an education?”

“Keep talking,” Rocky said, “since I guess that’s what you’ve decided to stick to.”

Goldar smirked at Rocky. “Listen to the new Red Ranger,” he said speculatively. “Trying to fill your predecessor’s place, when you’re not even half the warrior he was.” He chuckled, and Rocky realized Adam and Kimberly were holding him back.

“Fine, I’ll keep talking,” Goldar said. “Why do you think we attack Angel Grove, a relatively small town, a mere speck on the planet?” He grinned and didn’t give them the chance to answer. “We’re targeting you. All of you. Haven’t you figured out that we care nothing about Earth?”

“Your target is Zordon,” Tommy said. “It always has been.”

“And who’s between us and Zordon?” Goldar indicated all of the Rangers in a sweeping gesture, making some of them jump. “Zordon needs Rangers to protect him. You’re all that’s standing between him and the forces of darkness. And the only thing that’s really keeping him safe is your strength. Your health. Your sanity. Once that’s gone… He might find new Rangers, but we can play the long game. Our lives are far longer than yours. Zordon will keep throwing Rangers at us until you all wear out, and he gives himself up. You’re the fodder of war.”

“So are you,” Adam said, his voice stronger than it had been in days. “You were literally a Putty this time around.”

“I’ve made my peace with that,” Goldar said. “Have you?”

The six Rangers stared at him with pale faces, trying to come up with some kind of retort and failing.

“I believe that’s enough for now,” Goldar said, chuckling.

“You still think it’s funny?” Tommy said, his voice betraying barely-restrained anger.

“Let’s just say I’ve gained a sense of humor… ever since you robbed my grave. Gives a whole new perspective on things.”

With that, Goldar disappeared, his bitter laughter echoing in the bathroom after he was long gone.


 

“They’ve done this before,” Tommy said to the quiet room. The Rangers were gathered in the Command Center, and the mood was somber. Even Alpha, for once, was still, his work paused as they processed the latest attack.

“Spells and illusion,” Tommy said bitterly. “After a big attack, Rita used to set up small attacks with potions, or glamours… all aimed at our fears and insecurities. Those attacks aren’t designed for them to win… but to make us feel like we lost.”

“One time she dumped us in this other dimension called the ‘Island of Illusion,’” Kimberly said, putting hand quotes around the dimension’s name. “Home to this sadistic little jerk who liked to test us by giving us illusions of our worst fears. She didn’t even attack the city while we were there. She just wanted us to suffer.”

“Additionally, she cast spells on us, particularly designed to turn us against each other,” Billy added. “For instance, that rivalry spell between Tommy and Jason.”

Tommy smiled grimly at the memory. “We can’t do much to prepare for these attacks. They’re not monsters. In these attacks… they turn us into the monsters. And…” he took a breath. “They’ll want to target you three, as the new Rangers.”

“We get that,” Aisha said. “I mean, our first time… that we remember… of helping you guys out was when the whole town had a spell cast on it, and Goldar was trying to turn us evil. Not even sure that would work, now. I mean, doesn’t the Morphing Grid give us some kind of protection from those spells?”

“Some,” Kimberly said. “But only enough that we can pull ourselves back. Not enough that it would completely protect us. Like Rocky and Adam showed, we have to do that ourselves. They may want to turn us into monsters, but, with the help of our friends, we can always turn back.”

“Goldar wanted to take away our hope,” Tommy said. “Like he said, we’re what’s standing between them and getting Zordon… but he lied when he said they didn’t want Earth.”

“That is true,” Zordon said. “Even if I were to move to another planet, or even another dimension, the forces of darkness would target Earth for its potential power. For the power of humanity. The ability to bond with the Power Coins and other powerful relics, to become Power Rangers. Not all species can.”

“So don’t believe everything they tell you,” Kimberly said. She stretched. “Okay, Ernie’s throwing a big back-to-school bash, and we desperately need some fun after this weekend. Last one there is a rotten egg?”

Somehow, this very normal statement lifted the mood in the room. Rocky teleported out first, while Kimberly physically pried Billy’s hands away from a computer console, and Aisha followed them, laughing.

“Adam, could you hold back a sec?” Tommy said.

Adam looked up in surprise… and possibly a little dread. His conversations with Tommy had never gone well.

“I wanted to apologize,” Tommy said.

“You already have,” Adam pointed out.

“Not for everything,” Tommy said. He glanced up at Zordon, but Zordon remained silent. “I… Rocky was right. I’m not sure how much you heard of what Rocky said, but he was right. I’ve been too hard on all of you, but I think I’ve been targeting you… I know I’ve been targeting you, and it took Rocky pointing it out for me to notice.”

Adam frowned and crossed his arms. He waited.

“I… didn’t get my power through conventional means,” Tommy began hesitantly. “For the longest time, I was sort of the extra member. And then, after Zordon made me the White Ranger, he made me the leader, knowing that Jason was going to leave and wanting a veteran Ranger in charge. So I went straight from the lone wolf to the guy at the top… and I have no clue what I’m doing.” Tommy looked down, but then forced himself to look back up. “My first mission as leader was a disaster. I was just so afraid of doing wrong, that I took it out on you guys. And I started training all of you like my mom trained me, and that was definitely the worst thing I could possibly do.”

“Huh…” Adam said, after Tommy had stopped talking. “I… Well… You’re definitely not the ‘perfect Tommy’ that Rocky goes on about.”

“Not in any way, shape, or form,” Tommy said, finally smiling. “But please tell me when I obviously start thinking I am.”

Adam smiled in response. “Okay, I hate parties… but I think we may need one.”

They teleported out, after waving to Zordon.

“I believe, Alpha,” Zordon said, “I have made some wise decisions in my Rangers.”

“I know you were worrying about Tommy, Zordon,” Alpha said. “Do you…” Alpha became hesitant, “do you still think he may be the one the prophecy talks about?”

Zordon frowned, contemplating. “He’s a male with long hair, but notice I did not make him the Red Ranger. I do not intend to die any time soon.”

Alpha wisely dropped the subject.


 

Aisha let herself be pulled from the dance floor by Rocky. They were both laughing and covered in sweat. Adam greeted them with drinks.

“You could have joined us,” Aisha said.

“I think the world would implode if I tried to dance,” Adam said, a small smile on his face.

A girl walked by, casting Rocky an appraising look. Rocky downed half his drink, used a napkin to wipe the sweat from his face, and bounded after her.

“And we’ve lost him,” Aisha said. She downed half her drink as well, but stayed put. “Hell of a weekend.”

They heard loud bangs from the kitchen, and they barely dodged a stream of frosting spewing over the bar.

Aisha was about to get up as she heard Billy’s and Ernie’s raised voices from the kitchen, but Adam put a hand on her shoulder. “They probably need someone to just calm them down. I can do that.”

He got up, happy to have something else to do other than socializing. Aisha sat back down and stretched her legs out, watching Tommy and Kimberly dance. She noticed Christy staring at her, and she waved at her, smiling at her glares.

They fought monsters. They had alien emperors put spells on them… and still, there was life. Everyday evil, everyday battles. High school with superpowers was still just high school.

The song changed, and Tommy and Kimberly walked off the dance floor. Tommy stopped to talk to Rocky, who had just been turned down by the girl he’d been following. Kimberly joined Aisha at the table.

“Get you a drink?” Aisha said.

Kimberly glanced warily at the kitchen, where Adam was being drowned out by Ernie’s and Billy’s voices. “Nah. Tommy and I are about to leave anyway.” She noticed Christy glaring at them from across the room. “I really don’t know what she’s trying to accomplish.”

“She’s jealous,” Aisha said. “Of you. Of us. Of anyone who she thinks has it better than her.”

“Oh, boy, do I not have time to deal with anyone else’s insecurities,” Kimberly said.

“So, we don’t,” Aisha said. “I’ve been thinking about what we talked about before. I think, whatever happens when we tell Mr. Kaplan and Girls’ Chapter central office, that Girls’ Chapter at Angel Grove is just not going to cut it for us. We need something new.”

“What do you suggest?” Kimberly said, a grin spreading on her face, which made Christy glare even harder.

“A new club,” Aisha said. “But nothing about status, or pointless fundraising, or stupid social events. Let’s be honest... even at its best, that’s what Girls’ Chapter ended up being.”

“Agreed,” Kimberly said.

“I’m thinking a mentorship club, with younger and older members,” Aisha said. “We get girls from the elementary school and do activities with them. Sort of act like surrogate sisters. That way it’s always focused on helping others, not ourselves.”

“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Kimberly said. “And we can recruit high school girls from the other clubs... Maybe ones who either didn’t know or didn’t agree with the whole Stone Canyon blacklisting thing. Once this gets out, there might be some who get really pissed off over the whole thing.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Aisha said, hoping that Kimberly was right. She looked over Kimberly’s shoulder. “I think your ride is ready to go.”

Kimberly smirked and grabbed her purse. “Oh, I’m his ride. Meet me in Mr. Kaplan’s office first thing tomorrow, and we can pitch the idea of the mentorship club so we don’t just have bad news.”

Kimberly skipped out with Tommy. As she left, Aisha noticed Christy’s eyes following her. No... not just her. Them. Suddenly, the “trashy boyfriend” comment made a bit more sense, and Aisha contemplated that perhaps Christy was jealous of Kimberly for completely different reasons.

Rocky sat heavily in Kimberly’s vacated chair. “So... hell of a weekend?” he said.

“I dunno,” Aisha said. “Things are looking up.”


 

Rocky surveyed a sea of young boys and girls, all staring up at him with dubious expressions. Some were students from Jason’s and Zack’s class the year before, and some were new. One kid he recognized from Stone Canyon was grinning up at him, but the rest were apparently wary of the replacement.

Rocky wondered when everyone would stop thinking of him as Jason's replacement

He also noticed that Bulk and Skull had walked in. They looked like they were psyching themselves up for a fight, but they stopped when they saw the children. Rocky just grinned at them. Everything was in place.

“So, we wanted to talk to you guys about what this class was going to be about,” Rocky said. “Our major focus is going to be on karate, but we’re going to be throwing in some other styles. Most importantly, we’re going to be learning control and discipline. Martial arts develops your mind and body, and it teaches you how to be a better person. It’s never to hurt anyone, and you’re never to use it on each other outside of this class.”

Slowly, some of the kids started nodding. These were obviously familiar concepts, especially to the older ones.

“Today we’re going to learn a simple kata, just to get everyone on the same page, but first Adam here is going to demonstrate what you can achieve through years of practice and discipline.”

Adam shot him a surprised look. “We didn’t…”

“Just do the routine you did to get accepted in the ninja competition,” Rocky said. His eyes cut to Bulk and Skull, making sure they were watching.

Adam shifted uncomfortably as all eyes turned on him. “Okay, these are some moves I’ve been working on, so… yeah.”

As he settled into a stance, all awkwardness and discomfort disappeared. Adam seemed completely in his element. He whirled through the combinations, giving his martial arts skills an almost weightless quality that Rocky never could quite manage.

The flawless performance went on for about three minutes. The kids were spellbound, but Rocky was especially watching Bulk and Skull. They’d apparently not known about Adam’s skills, and their looks of shock and fear put the icing on the cake.

He slipped over to the two as the children were still watching Adam. “So, you guys still want to take on Adam? I’m sure he’d accept any challenge you threw his way.”

“Uh…” Bulk was getting up, grabbing on his backpack and getting tangled in the straps. “I think I left the oven on.”

“I think I left the whole kitchen on,” Skull echoed, and they both left as fast as they could.

Rocky sidled back up to the mats as Adam finished with a bow. The kids all broke out into spontaneous applause, making Adam grin sheepishly. “Was there a point to that?” Adam muttered to Rocky.

“Just taking care of some business,” Rocky said. “Okay, guys, let’s get up and see if we can adapt Adam’s opening moves to a kata you can do.”


 

Goldar edged into the dim chamber. A silver bed was in the middle of the room, hooked up to all sorts of medical equipment. Lord Zedd lay on the bed and did not acknowledge Goldar when he came in.

“No change in his condition,” Finster said. He was at one of the monitoring stations, and seemed to be adjusting the chemicals seeping through Lord Zedd’s tubes. “I have Squatt and Babboo working on some potions, not that they’ll have any more luck.”

“They’d better,” Goldar growled. “That plan worked fine for keeping up appearances, but someone’s going to notice soon that there’s no activity in this sector.”

“Would that be so terrible?” Finster said wearily.

Goldar frowned. “Never assume that Lord Zedd can’t hear you. And, yes. You know the dangerous position we’re in. If we leave, even if we tried to make it back to…” He stopped short of saying Rita’s name. “We’d never make it to her. We’d be picked off too quickly, and Dark Spectre would not be very forgiving of warriors and scientists who abandoned their lord.”

Finster nodded. “Well, I have no idea what’s preventing him from recovering. He should have fully recovered weeks ago, but it’s as if there were something blocking his power. All we can do is wait.”

Goldar looked at Lord Zedd, who looked sunken, his usually bright red body taking an almost gray tinge, like spoiled meat. “We can’t wait for long. Sooner or later, someone’s going to notice.”


 

Empress Rita Repulsa sat in her chamber at her father’s home, monitoring the situation with satisfaction.

“Everything is going to plan,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

Chapter Text

Rita walked slowly through the grounds of the palace, feeling the familiar stone under her shoes and the lacquered wood of an ornate rail under her palms. It was her favorite garden, peaceful, dark, and far away from the military might of her father, Master Vile.

She let out a slow breath, letting the heavy scent of flowers take her back to her childhood. She used to conquer the pond with her dolls, forcing her brother to act as her minion. He’d play along, trying to squish the fish and slugs as he rampaged around. It was here that she’d chosen to hold her coming of age ceremony, where she was presented with her wand and given her property. Where she’d been made an Empress of Evil.

All of that had been taken from her. She closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry. She had cried enough in her jar prison. She would no longer.

She sensed rather than saw her father enter the garden, his cloaks rustling against the leaves. She supposed she had been hiding for a bit too long. It was just... she had to ready herself. Had to make her resolve.

“Rita,” Master Vile said, his voice as soft as possible. Whenever he said her name, it always sounded like a childhood endearment. “I knew I would find you here. Are you quite well?”

Rita smiled and turned, her eyes no longer burning. “Father, I spent months alone in a jar. You’d think I would have had enough of being alone, but...”

“You have been through so much, my child,” Master Vile said. “The jar has been obliterated, but the experience will live on. It is now up to you what you shall do with that experience.” He looked down. “I do wish you would stay here. Wait a little while longer. Regain your strength.”

“Wait as the universe passes me by,” Rita said, giving her father a grim smile. “I think not. I must regain what was mine, or else I may as well never have left my prison. What good am I without power?”

Master Vile drew himself up. “You are Rita Repulsa. One of the most talented witches in the universe. And you are my daughter. You are more than the power that was taken from you.”

It would be so easy, Rita reflected, to stay. To rule by her father’s side, for she knew that’s what he had in mind. To share in his success and allow him to shower her with love. To be home. But that’s not what she wanted. She’d always insisted on forging her own way. She loved her father, but she had no wish to stay with him forever. Besides, she had her pride to think about.

“I’ve made up my mind, father,” Rita said evenly. “As you say, I’m more than what was taken from me, and I will prove it. By taking it back, and more.”

“Very well,” Master Vile said. “You will not share your plans with me or accept my help... but I have done what I could. I would not send you to that abomination without assistance.”

Rita’s eyes narrowed. “Father, what have you done?”

“He’s waiting in your chamber,” Master Vile said. “I unfortunately have business that needs my attention, so I will not be able to see you off. Do try to be careful, my child.”

Rita left her father after their goodbyes and walked to her chamber, bewildered. She knew it wouldn’t be her brother. She loved Rito, but he was a bit of a disaster and exactly the wrong person to bring if the call of the day was stealth. And her father would never send Rito with her. They’d had a shouting match soon after her release from prison, and Rito had left.

Scorpina had also left on some mysterious mission. Rita knew that was fitting. She didn’t want Scorpina or Rito with her, grateful as she was for their rescue. She alone had been defeated, and she alone must recover. So, whoever her father had sent her, she would thank him and send him on his way.

Rita swept into the room, prepared to be imperious and abrupt. “My father has probably paid you handsomely, or threatened your life, but...” She trailed off, her breath catching in her throat.

A man stood in her room, putting away a book on a bookshelf. His black flowing robes matched his black, stringy hair, but when he turned, his face was bone white with firey energy churning underneath. When he spoke, it was like with many voices. “Rita, you sound like the scared novice you once were, trying to act like you belong. You’re an Empress. You have no need for those airs.”

Rita’s face broke into a grin. “I had no idea my father could gain the attention of the Wizard of Deception. Shouldn’t you be leading impressionable young novices down the path of evil?”

The Wizard bowed low. “Ever since you graduated, I’ve failed to find any student to compare. The old lounge is still off-limits to any student who doesn’t want to lose their hair, thanks to you.”

Rita smirked. “It made that upstart Divatox think twice about spreading rumors about me.” She chuckled. “You’re not here to reminisce, are you?”

“Indeed not,” the Wizard said, sweeping over to her, as if to get a good look at her. “My dear child, how you must have suffered. I was at a retreat, and I only just got word. Your father did not need to send for me; I would have come anyway.”

Rita tossed her hair. She hadn’t put it up into her customary cones since she’d been released, and she wouldn’t until she was at her rightful place. “I am past suffering, Wizard. I wish for vengeance. I would not ask for help from anyone but you, because I know you won’t think any less of me.”

“I taught you, in your very first lessons, to be responsible with your power and to always accept help when you need it,” the Wizard said. “It has kept you alive and whole, when so many other magic-users have burned out their minds and bodies, or mutilated themselves in a mad dash for power. I am forever at your service.”

Rita sat at a small table and opened her journal. “Then I will reveal to you my plan… and I think I know exactly what role you can play.”


 

“Just heard,” Rocky said, slamming his lunch tray down. His glass tipped over, but Aisha caught it before it spilled. “Staff development day on Friday, Labor Day on Monday. We got ourselves the rarest of treats: a four-day weekend.”

“Yeah…” Kimberly said, “that’s what the announcements said this morning.”

Rocky looked confused.

“You were asleep,” Adam said.

“I don’t remember them,” Tommy said.

“But then that’s business as usual,” Billy said. “I thought Zor... Z-man was helping you with your memory problems.”

Kimberly smirked and the other Rangers chortled at their new favorite term for Zordon when they were in public.

Tommy shrugged. “It’s gonna take a while. Thankfully hasn’t affected anything important.”

“Other than the test you flunked because you didn’t write it in your schedule book,” Billy pointed out.

“Anyway,” Rocky said, perturbed that focus was now off the really important stuff. “Four-day weekend. As in… let’s get the heck out of town.”

Aisha put her head in her hand. “You’ve already got something planned, don’t you?”

“What’s going on?” Kimberly said.

Adam cleared his throat. “Rocky likes to take us places. He can’t stand to just stay home for any amount of time that could possibly be interpreted as a vacation.”

“Oh, come on,” Rocky said. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

Aisha held up her wrist, showing her communicator.

“Not that kind of adventure,” Rocky said. “I mean the kind of adventure that involves… you know… fun.”

“You haven’t done something crazy, have you?” Adam said. “Like bought us all tickets to Australia?”

“No! That’s not a four-day weekend kind of trip,” Rocky said dismissively. “We’d spend most of the time in travel. I do have some kind of common sense, despite what some people think.” He grinned. “I’ve already called, and they’re getting the house in San Francisco set up. Just us, the beaches, and a whole house full of no parents and no monsters.”

“Never say ‘no monsters,’” Kimberly said, her voice low. “Jinx is way more powerful than any of us.”

“You have a house in San Francisco?” Tommy said, frowning. “And that’s… low-key for you?”

Billy stabbed at his mashed potatoes. “You did not accompany us to equip Rocky’s house with security. Yes. That’s low-key for Rocky.”

Tommy’s lips thinned. “We need to stay on alert. We still don’t know what Zedd’s planning.”

Rocky rolled his eyes. “It’s not like we can’t teleport,” he said, still keeping his voice low. “Come on, when’s the last time any of you had a vacation that wasn’t a mission into space to get an ancient sword?”

Kimberly was smiling. “It really sounds like a lot of fun. And it’s only a few hours away. We can caravan up there.” She looked at Rocky. “You sure it’s okay with your dad? I mean, six teenagers crashing at his home, three of whom he doesn’t know…”

Rocky shrugged. “He’s okay with pretty much anything I do, and anyone I take with me. Besides, he knows that with Adam and Aisha there I won’t get into any trouble.”

“It would be nice to get out of town,” Billy said. “We’ll have to imply that there are adults there when we ask mom.”

“And my mom and Frank,” Kimberly added.

Rocky grinned. “All right. That’s what I like to hear.”

Tommy started putting his backpack on. “Sorry, guys… I need to stay behind. Z-man has some exercises planned for me this weekend, and I really backtrack when I miss them. You guys have fun.”

Before any of them could respond, Tommy was taking his tray up to the front and exiting the lunch room.

Rocky, Adam, and Aisha looked a bit stunned. “Is he still pissed at me for yelling at him a couple weeks ago?” Rocky said. “I thought we were cool. I apologized and everything.” He said it like this was a huge accomplishment.

“It’s not that,” Billy said. “He understands spells.”

“You sprang this whole thing on him,” Aisha pointed out. “And assumed that he would just go along with it.”

“You can be… a little overwhelming,” Adam added quietly.

Kimberly and Billy shared a knowing look. “I can talk with him,” Kimberly said. “He’s been tetchy ever since the attack. He’s convinced that there’s a spell or a trap around every corner, and the whole memory gap thing is getting to him.”

Rocky frowned. “I’m… I just thought…”

“Don’t worry about it,” Kimberly said. “It just means that boy do we need a vacation… and that sometimes Tommy can get too self-involved for his own good.”


Tommy sat at the dining room table, opened his bookbag, pulled out his schedule book and began reviewing and making notes for the rest of the week. He penned in the make-up test for next Wednesday. Mr. Wilton was strict, but he always gave a make-up test if a student asked for it, which Tommy supposed was fair enough. If he could keep up his grades, he could maybe get into the specialized paleontology class for his senior year. He found that way more interesting than physics. And he could take it with Billy, who had already taken all the other science classes.

It would be simpler, though, if he didn’t have to study his schedule to know what he was supposed to be studying. He used to not keep a schedule book at all, but now he had a large notebook with two pages per day. He wrote down what he had to do, what he had to prepare for, and then wrote what he had done that day. He kept a second schedule book at the Command Center, just for Ranger stuff, which he checked every day.

It was time-consuming, but necessary. It was all part of being able to function every day. And, despite what Zordon said, he suspected this was going to be what he did for the rest of his life. If he’d suspected how his jaunts through dimensions and using Eltarian energy would have damaged him… well, he still would have done it, but he might have hesitated for more than a few seconds.

There was a knock on the door, and Kimberly slipped in before Tommy could respond. “I knew you’d be avoiding the Youth Center,” she said. She hugged Tommy from behind and kissed the top of his head.

Tommy’s lips curled up as his schedule book became even less interesting. “Sylvia will be home any minute.”

“I know,” Kimberly said. She still twisted around him so she could sit in his lap, and they spent a few lost minutes kissing.

Kimberly pulled away before things could get too heated. “Not entirely why I’m here.”

Tommy sighed. “Kinda figured. I was a little rude, wasn’t I?”

Kimberly held her thumb and finger out, as if measuring ‘a little.’ “So, you wanna talk about it?”

Tommy looked away, and then at his schedule book. “This thing is a big reason, you know that. I rescheduled that Chem test for Wednesday, and then…”

“Billy could help you study in San Francisco, and you know that,” Kimberly interrupted him. “And I checked with Zordon when I told him what we’d probably be doing this weekend. He said he hadn’t planned anything that couldn’t be rescheduled.” She pulled back a bit so she could really look at Tommy. “And don’t start going on about Zedd. We decided long ago that we weren’t going to back out of things on the off chance that he might attack. If we did that we’d never get to do anything.”

Tommy’s mouth quirked. They’d had that conversation not long after Tommy had taken command of the Power Rangers. That conversation, just between the two of them, had also included their decision to let go of their paranoia when it came to various people spying on their love lives. They’d hide their activities from their parents, of course, but if Zedd or Zordon really wanted to look in on them, they’d better be prepared to get an eyeful.

“I know,” Tommy said. “You’re right. It’s not for any of those reasons.”

“Then what gives?”

“You’re really comfortable with this?” Tommy said. “Rocky just whisking us off to his vacation home in San Francisco? And apparently occasionally other countries, if Adam and Aisha are to be believed?”

Kimberly’s expression changed as soon as Tommy said ‘vacation home,’ and Tommy knew he’d given the game away. “Not everyone is like your uncle, Tommy. From what Rocky’s told me and what Adam and Aisha have told me about him, he used to be really elitist, but he hasn’t been for a long time. He doesn’t really care about money: he just wants to have fun with his friends.”

“So he has to take us places?” Tommy said.

Kimberly rolled her eyes. “Just because he doesn’t care about money doesn’t mean he isn’t stupid rich. And I do mean stupid. This is normal for him, and he doesn’t think he’s… I dunno… showing off, or making people feel bad for not having what he has.” She bit her lip. “From what I can tell, he’s lonely. His mom’s not in the picture, and his dad is too busy to pay much attention to him. If he stays home too long, he starts thinking too much about that.”

Tommy pulled her close. “Okay. If Rocky still wants me to come, I’ll come. If we’re just going to the beach, it won’t be so bad.”

Kimberly brushed her lips against his ear. “You’re forgetting the nice empty house with nice empty rooms…”

The door opened, and Kimberly jumped out of Tommy’s lap and onto another chair. She opened Tommy’s Chemistry book as he looked down quickly at his schedule book.

Sylvia walked in, eyebrows raised suspiciously at the innocent scene and red faces. “Kimberly. Been here long?”

Kimberly maintained her blank expression. “Just a few minutes. I’m helping Tommy organize his notes for his remake test.”

Sylvia looked down at the upside down textbook. “I see that.”

Kimberly cleared her throat and tried to nonchalantly turn the textbook around, but Sylvia was already headed to the kitchen to turn the kettle on.

Kimberly and Tommy smirked at each other. Yes, it would be nice to get away from parents for a while.


It was early Friday morning when Kim pulled her car across the street to the Cranston driveway. She launched herself out of the car just in time for the front door to open. Billy was trying to carry a backpack, a duffel bag, and a huge rolling suitcase, all of them straining at the seams. Kimberly ran forward to grab the duffel bag just as he dropped it.

“You know,” Kimberly huffed under the weight of the bag, “Rocky is taking us to a house. For four days. You don’t have to pack everything you own.”

“I only packed what I needed,” Billy said. “And let’s see how you fared in packing.”

They opened the trunk of Kimberly’s car. Kimberly’s suitcase, garment bag, makeup bag and toiletries bag were taking up most of the space.

Kimberly bit her lip. “Okay, point taken. How much luggage does Tommy have?”

Billy shook his head. “Just his backpack.”

“How does he do that?”

“I have no idea.”

They wrestled Billy’s luggage into the trunk and finally moved it around enough to slam the trunk door shut. It was the reason they were taking Kimberly’s car and not Billy’s. They’d never be able to fit their luggage and all three of them in the Radbug.

Tommy finally emerged and flung his backpack into the backseat. “Shotgun.”

Billy shrugged. “Fine. You can navigate.”

“Nope!” Kimberly said. “Billy’s navigating. Tommy, you sit in the back.” She held her finger up at Tommy’s protest. “I don’t want to end up in Oregon.”

“We’re going to be following Rocky anyway,” Tommy said.

“We have to get to Rocky’s house first, and I still don’t want to end up in Oregon,” said Kimberly, grinning. She bolted around the car as Tommy ran for her.

Sylvia came out of the house, rubbing her eyes sleepily. She had to attend staff development meetings that day, but they weren’t meeting until nine. “I hope you kids have fun,” she said. “But be careful. Call me this evening?”

“We will,” Billy assured her, hugging her goodbye.

“Don’t get into too much trouble this weekend, Sylvia,” Tommy said.

“You know me,” Sylvia said, her eyes twinkling. “And I’m pretty sure you kids won’t get into much trouble, either.”

The three piled into the car and Kimberly pulled out. “What do you think she meant by that?” she asked.

“Take a right here,” Billy said. “I don’t know. It did sound ominous.”

“You guys are paranoid,” Tommy said, propping his knees up on the back of Billy’s seat. Billy shoved back, and Tommy jammed his knees in even harder.

“Don’t you dare break my car seat,” Kimberly said. “And who’s the paranoid one?”

Soon, they were pulling onto Rocky’s street. They’d passed Tommy’s old house with no comment except a sudden silent tension in the car. Now, though, the houses were completely hidden by gates and hedges. A golf course dominated the other side of the road.

“This is it,” Billy pointed out. “Just drive up to the gate and press the button. They’re expecting us.”

“Okay…” Kimberly said, her voice going a pitch higher. There was knowing Rocky was rich, and then there was actually experiencing it.

The speaker crackled to life after Kimberly stretched out of the car window to press the button. “Where have you been I’ve been ready for AGES?!!”

“Rocky… like a human being, remember?” came Aisha’s voice.

“Right,” Rocky said. “Hi, guys! Just drive on in.”

The gate started moving, and Kimberly was still looking at the speaker like it was going to attack her.

“I thought Rocky was a late sleeper,” Tommy said.

“Traveling apparently gets him excited,” said Billy, silently laughing.

Rocky’s greeting had done much to break the tension in the car. The house and grounds were huge, but Rocky’s Jeep was in the front. Adam was securing the last of the luggage, and Rocky was bounding out of the house, Aisha following close behind. Everything suddenly seemed incredibly normal.

Kimberly parked behind the Jeep, and the three piled out of the car.

“You have no idea how challenging it was to add security to this place,” Billy said. “I ended up having to make the whole grounds a no teleport zone, but then added in special relays for the communicators so Rocky could still get alerts.”

“Don’t get comfortable!” Rocky yelled. “I want to get on the road!”

Rocky pulled Kimberly over and started walking her through some directions, just in case they got separated. They were going to get to the house and unpack, and then they were going to do some sightseeing in the city while it wasn’t a Saturday. Adam sidled over to Billy and Tommy, who were staring at the grounds, while Aisha stood by to correct some of Rocky’s directions.

“I had to teach Rocky the word ‘ostentatious,’” Adam confided in a low voice. “He’s probably going to use it at some point today.”

“Dex used that word for his uncle’s spaceship,” Tommy said. “And it was. Like a giant space bug.”

Adam shoved his hands in his pockets. “Do you think we’ll ever go to space? I’d like to meet Dex and the Aquitian Rangers.”

“We should go to Aquitar sometime, after they get their political trouble figured out,” Tommy said. “We can all meet Billy’s space girlfriend.”

“She’s not my space girlfriend,” Billy said wearily.

“What are you guys talking about?” Aisha said.

“Billy’s space girlfriend,” Tommy answered.

“She’s not my… why do I even bother,” Billy finished resignedly.

“It should just take us a couple of hours to get to the house,” Rocky addressed the group. “It’s not too… ostentatious…”

Adam gave a meaningful glance to Billy and Tommy, who smirked.

“But it shouldn’t be too hard to miss,” Rocky finished. “Right! Let’s get going.”


The day of sightseeing had been better than Tommy had feared. He’d taken trips with his uncle before… or, at least, tagged along with his dad while being tolerated by his uncle… and he knew all the things rich people didn’t think about: restaurants, admissions, transportation. All costing money that he didn’t have.

But Rocky had been traveling with Adam and Aisha long enough to know exactly what to do. He’d insisted on paying for cabs into the city, saying that they didn’t want to have to deal with parking, but after that they took full advantage of the trolley system, and all the places they went to seemed to have free admission. Instead of a restaurant, they went to a big market with lots of booths, where they could get what they wanted.

By the time the sun was going down, they were back in cabs headed back to the house and all feeling at peace with the world. That is, until…

“Why are there three cars parked in the driveway now?” Kimberly said.

“Oh no…” said Adam. “Oh, no no no…”

They got out of the cab, bags of souvenirs in tow, and ran for the front door… only to be greeted by Aaron Park.

“You didn’t say you were coming,” Adam blurted out. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“I couldn’t leave until staff development was over,” Aaron said, regarding the teens’ astonished faces as he backed up to let them file in. “I’m here as… well… a chaperone, is probably the best way to put it.”

“This has never happened before,” Rocky said. “My dad never would have asked you to come, Aisha’s parents practically think of Aisha as a chaperone, and you never wanted to come.”

“I didn’t even think to come… until I got a call from Frank Harris.”

“Frank?” Kimberly said. “Frank called you? But…” She looked at the confused looks on Rocky’s, Adam’s, and Aisha’s faces. “My step-dad.”

“He, your mother, and Sylvia Cranston decided that you all may need a stabilizing influence,” Aaron said. “And an extra eye to keep some of you from wandering off on your own.”

Eyes immediately went to Tommy and Kimberly, who looked like they wanted the ground to swallow them up.

“Yes,” Tommy muttered. “This is hell. I recognize it.”

“So…” Aaron said, pushing his glasses up, “what do you kids want to do?”


“All seems quiet on Earth, Zordon,” Alpha said, “and power levels on the moon are at normal levels.”

“Excellent, Alpha,” Zordon said. “The Rangers seem to be safe, though I would like you to place an extra alert, just in case Zedd takes advantage of their vacation.”

“Or in case he senses our experiments and takes advantage of that,” Alpha pointed out. “Will do, Zordon.”

“Very well, Alpha,” Zordon said. “We will begin our experiments in dimensional shifting.” Zordon smiled. “With luck, and with Rita no longer here, we may be able to break my imprisonment in this dimension… and I can become whole.”


It was late at night, and dark in the Moon Palace, as the palace still kept the same time as Angel Grove. Squatt and Baboo were taking advantage of not being ordered around by Zedd: they’d watched television for most of the day, and were now fast asleep. Goldar, exhausted from trying to think of a way to continue the fight against the Power Rangers with Lord Zedd down for the count, was passed out on his desk in his quarters. Only Finster remained awake, monitoring the unconscious Zedd in his specialized medical chamber.

A puff of steam shot from the diagnostic equipment and hit Finster’s glasses, fogging them. Finster impatiently wiped his glasses on his apron and fiddled with the valves. Lord Zedd’s vitals were rising steadily, but it would still be some time before he would wake up.

It was the randomness that infuriated Finster most of all. He knew little enough about Lord Zedd’s physiology, and even less about the mysterious health problems. He knew it had something to do with his magic and the Z-staff, but he used magic in ways Finster had never seen. He’d expended himself in the attack on Earth and the prospective Rangers, and he’d begun to recover… but then, just randomly, his condition had worsened. Now he was getting better, but all Finster could do was monitor. His attempts at diagnosing had all come to naught.

Finster sighed and decided to return to his lab. He’d been getting little enough rest lately, and he knew it was just a matter of time before Goldar came up with something else he wanted to try. Finster was starting to consider his options… Goldar would certain come under Dark Specter’s radar if he abandoned Lord Zedd, but perhaps Finster was insignificant enough to hide himself away without much notice.

And even if he was killed in the process… he’d lived a long time. Perhaps the universe could bear one less monster-maker.

Finster was lost in these dire thoughts when he realized his lab was not empty. Empress Rita Repulsa was standing next to his shelf of clay monster models, and turned to him with a smile. It could then perhaps be forgiven that Finster lost consciousness briefly.

He opened his eyes to see Rita bending over him, her face wrinkled in concern. “Maybe I should have called ahead?”

“My… my queen!” Finster stuttered, trying desperately to get to his feet. “My queen, I… my queen…”

“Finster,” Rita laughed, her eyes dancing at his flustered stutter. She helped him to his feet, and unexpectedly pulled him into a hug. “It’s all right. I’m home, my dear old man.”

Finster realized his glasses were fogged up again, this time from tears. “My queen… it’s not safe here. You must…”

Rita pulled away and held up her hand. “I must do nothing. We shall discuss what I WILL do.” She glanced at his kitchenette. “But first, one of your restorative potions, to steel the nerves. I must say I miss them.”

Finster would never have dared say that his ‘restorative potion’ was merely coffee. “Yes, my queen,” he said, loading the machine as he’d done so many times before.

“As to danger,” she continued, again turning her attention to the clay monsters on the shelves, “I hardly think so. I have not come unprepared. I do trust you have kept my wand safe?”

“Yes, my queen,” Finster said, taking heart as he repeated the words that had taken up so much of his vocabulary for most of his life. “It is hidden in the hydroponics lab. I can retrieve it…”

“All in good time,” Rita said. She sat on a chair in the corner of his lab, and Finster was forcefully reminded of Rita as a young girl, asking him question after question as he created monsters for her father. He handed her a steaming cup of coffee in a properly mystical-looking goblet.

She took a sip and sighed gratefully, smiling in relief. “Finster, it’s been a long journey, and I have not had much time to rest. I can’t tell you how good it is to see you alive. I confess that I worried… after I was back in my right mind, of course. But you probably want to hear about my plan.”

Finster did not. He wanted to know how his queen had recovered. He wanted to teleport her out of there, to go with her away from anyone who would do her harm. He wanted to simply rejoice in her presence, in her ability to sit and drink coffee in his lab.

He said none of this. Instead, he simply repeated, “Yes, my queen.”

Rita smiled, perhaps divining what was going on in Finster’s head. “There will be no retreats, no escapes. And there will also be no fights. Even at my most powerful, I cannot hope to match Lord Zedd in combat. I am, however, a witch, and much more knowledgeable in magic than he. Who do you think has been preventing his recovery?”

This actually surprised Finster. Her most recent misfortunes had made him forget how powerful she was.

She laughed silently at his amazement. “I could not do him permanent harm. The Z-staff prevents that. I can, however, slow down his recovery. While the Wizard of Deception provides a distraction on Earth…”

“The Wizard of Deception!” Finster gripped the side of his table, feeling that he might just keel over again. “He has accompanied you here?”

“And has been a great help, no matter how you disapprove of him,” Rita said. “As I said, while he provides a distraction for Zordon and the Rangers, I shall secure my property and position here.”

“But… my queen…” Finster felt himself starting to sweat, “if you cannot kill him or fight him…”

“There are other ways,” Rita said slyly. “After all, what is more powerful than… love?”

Finster felt himself go cold inside as Rita held forth a purple bottle. “A… a love potion,” he said faintly.

Rita smirked. “This I concocted with one of the Wizard’s own proto-potions. I shall give him this potion as he sleeps, and he will wake loving only me. Devastated at his own actions against me, he will give up everything to me and become my willing slave. It will be then that I will decide whether to keep him alive… or dispose of him.”

“And… if it doesn’t work?” Finster said. “Or it doesn’t work exactly as you wish?”

Rita glared at him, and Finster shrank back. He had forgotten how terrifying she could become. More terrifying than Zedd could ever hope to achieve, despite his threats of torture and death.

“It will work,” Rita said. “And do not question me again. Or perhaps you have grown loyal to that skinless usurper?” Her voice trailed off dangerously.

“No, my queen.” Finster bowed low. Despite his misgivings, she was Rita Repulsa, Empress of Evil. Her word was his bond.


The Wizard of Deception slipped invisible through the luxurious, if somewhat primitive, house. This was where he had tracked down the Power Rangers. In the early morning light, sleeping, they looked peaceful and so painfully young. 

Two girls slept in one room, and he passed them without a glance. Their powers protected them. He could not touch them directly. He had to find one with them, who wasn’t protected by power.

He froze at the sound of voices, and then reminded himself that they would not be able to see him. He stopped and watched as a boy with long hair slipped down the stairs into what looked like a kitchen. A boy in a black t-shirt was already there.

“Adam?” the long-haired boy said. “Going for a run?”

Adam was filling a bottle with water, and then tossed another to the other boy. “Yeah. Join me?”

“You don’t think anyone else would…”

“Aisha hates running, and Rocky won’t be up until noon,” Adam said.

“Yeah, Kim and Billy won’t be up either.”

Adam cocked his head. “Tommy, I thought I heard you were a late sleeper as well.”

Tommy shrugged. “I can remember things better if I keep the same sleep schedule every day. Come on… before your brother decides we need chaperoning for a run.”

Adam ducked his head. “Sorry about that. I never suspected…”

“I think this has more to do with Sylvia and Kim’s parents,” Tommy said. “Ever since Frank caught us… well… that’s a really long story that I don’t have to tell, so let’s run.”

The two boys ran for the door, and the Wizard of Deception pondered what he’d seen. Two very important pieces of information. One, the boy with long hair was called Tommy… and he’d heard quite a lot about that one, if he was the same one.

The other, of course, was that the boy with dark, curly hair, Adam, had a brother. Who was decidedly not a Power Ranger, and therefore susceptible to the Wizard’s power.

The Wizard glided through the house, pleased that things were working out and hoping that Rita was having the same kind of luck. After he took care of the Rangers, he had plans for Zordon. None would interfere with Rita’s plans.


Rita Repulsa held the potion and stared at Lord Zedd as he slept. She had just to pour the liquid in one of the medical bags, and it would race through his system in a matter of seconds.

Lord Zedd looked exactly as she remembered. The exposed muscle and sinew, the chrome mask and body framework, the medical tubes, and the Z-staff just within his reach. Even unconscious, he radiated power and threat. From what she’d learned of him, he was also uncannily intelligent, able to think ahead of his opponents years in the future.

But, she pondered, he hadn’t counted on her. Hadn’t even suspected her plans. If he had, he would have killed her rather than allow her to recover and return for revenge.

Again, Rita considered the Wizard’s words. Finster’s words of caution. Her own misgivings. She could leave and return with her father’s army. He would do that much for her. Or she could attempt to kill Lord Zedd in his weakened state, perhaps bypass the power of the Z-staff. And maybe she wouldn’t incur the wrath of Dark Specter, who liked to keep all of his emperors in play. He appreciated infighting, but not to the point of death.

No, this was the right way. With this love potion, she would be able to gain Lord Zedd’s eternal devotion… and with that his power, his lands, and everything that he stole from her. She would be able to command him and none would question her. After all, she had a talent for commanding the love of others.

Before she could talk herself out of it, Rita poured the potion into the medical bag and watched it zip from the bag to Zedd’s tubes into where she couldn’t see. Already it would be altering his perceptions and twisting his loyalties. And then, he would be hers.

There was a change in breath, and Lord Zedd’s clawed fingers began to move. Rita closed her eyes, suddenly panicking that everything was about to go wrong, and wishing she’d brought her wand with her.

“R… Rita…”

The voice whispered from Zedd’s chrome grill, and the red mask where his eyes should be glowed a little redder.

Rita steeled herself. “Zedd. Who am I?”

“Rita… Empress Rita Repulsa. My love, my life, my purpose for being…”

The words tumbled out, barely articulate, and Zedd tried to raise himself. He finally succeeded, pulling himself up to a seated position as she backed up.

“You attacked me the last time we met,” Rita said, her voice emotionless. “You imprisoned me, did you not?”

A shudder passed over Zedd’s frame, and Rita wondered if she’d weakened him too much, if he was going to pass out right here. Instead, he got to his feet… and then collapsed to his knees.

“I don’t deny it, my love,” Zedd said. “I’m so sorry… I know there cannot be forgiveness. If you will let me make it up to you, I will spend my life trying to make you happy.”

Rita smiled. That was more like it. She could gain control of his power and wealth, and keep him feeling guilty until she was…

“I have no right to ask this of you,” Zedd continued, interrupting her thoughts. “I have no right to your regard, after what I’ve done, but I find I cannot spend another minute without…” He looked down, and looked back up again, still on his knees. “Will you, Empress Rita Repulsa, consent to join me in the union of marriage?”

Wait, what?

Rita stared at him, processing what he just said. Did he… had he… Marriage? As in, husband and wife? Married… to that?

She felt her own knees start to buckle, but she forced herself to stand tall. Finster had been right. The spell was working in ways she had not considered. She had only thought to find a slave. Not a husband.

Her head spun. He was waiting there at her feet.

And, yet… why hadn’t she thought of this? She had cast a love spell. For some, that immediately required some form of bond. He’d always cared about appearances and propriety, from what little she knew of him. Perhaps marriage was immediately connected to love in his mind.

And why shouldn’t she marry him? She would have equal ownership of their shared property, without anyone getting suspicious if Lord Zedd happened to disappear. And having a husband would be the same as what she’d had planned. He would be forever in love with her, in a legally binding way. If the spell ever wore off, he would not be able to dissolve their marriage easily. And, perhaps… she’d be able to rid herself of him anyway.

“Yes,” she heard herself saying, still staring into the mask of Lord Zedd. “I will marry you… Lord Zedd.”

Chapter Text

Goldar woke to squeals in the corridor. Babboo and Squatt were shouting something, but Goldar couldn’t make it out. He growled softly. If the fools woke Lord Zedd and incurred his wrath, which was formidable even in his weakened condition, it would be on them.

He’d fallen asleep slumped over his desk, his armor cutting into his skin in the odd position. He got up slowly and stretched, his back and shoulders cracking as he did so. He squinted at his notes from last night; they were now gibberish. He balled them up and threw them in the trash, deciding that what he needed was a long shower.

He was somewhat refreshed and ready for another drudge of a day when the squealing again passed his door. He opened it. Sure enough, Squatt and Baboo were running full-tilt down the corridor, singing some unfamiliar song.

“What are you fools doing?” Goldar growled at them. “Do you want to wake him up?”

Squatt and Baboo stopped, turned to look at Goldar, and giggled. Actually giggled, hands over their mouths and casting glances at each other, like they were sharing a secret.

“Lord Zedd is awake!” Squatt shouted, giving a little skip.

“And that’s not all!” Babboo rejoined. Before he could elaborate, however, the two looked at each other and dissolved into giggles again, running down the corridor as they did so.

Goldar stared after them, bewildered. They’d actually had more freedom since Lord Zedd’s convalescence. Why were they so happy about the waking of the man who had threatened them with torture and death? Had they finally snapped?

Goldar was sure that Finster might have better answers, but if Lord Zedd was indeed awake, Goldar knew he had to report in immediately. Lord Zedd might want a progress report for the time he’d been asleep. Even if he knew everything that had gone on (and he usually did), he insisted on hearing it in Goldar’s words. 

Goldar trudged up to Zedd’s throne room and was pleased to see the room wasn’t red. Not even pinkish. That was good; that meant Zedd was happier, without a trace of anger or even frustration. He must be in good health, with a plan in development.

“My lord, I…” Goldar began, announcing his presence. His words died in his throat. 

Lord Zedd was standing at the balcony, and next to him was Empress Rita Repulsa, one hand grasping her wand, while the other was currently being held gently by Lord Zedd’s chrome-encased fingers.

“Yes, Goldar?” Lord Zedd said as the silence stretched. “You have something to report?”

Rita said nothing. She merely looked at Goldar, her face unreadable. She pulled a bit closer to Zedd and watched Goldar, as if to gauge his reaction.

“N-nothing to report, my lord,” Goldar said finally, his voice shaky. “I am pleased to see you in better health.”

Lord Zedd turned to regard Rita, who smirked at his gaze. “I have my fiancée to thank for my return to health. Love does wonders, does it not?”

Love. Fiancée. Love. Goldar felt a trickle of sweat run down his face. Fiancée. Love.

“Come now, Zedd,” Rita finally spoke, her voice sharp with amusement. “We are not being kind to Goldar. He was asleep during our new developments.” She flashed her left hand at Goldar, who could only gawk at the silver and red ring flashing on her finger. “Don’t you wish to congratulate us on our impending nuptials?”

“C-congratulations,” Goldar said weakly. “Lord Zedd… E-empress Rita.”

She smirked at Goldar’s obvious discomfort, but Lord Zedd didn’t seem to notice. “We already have the two fools preparing the ceremony, but I wish for you to make sure they stay on task and prepare something befitting the occasion. The Wizard of Deception, Rita’s old teacher, has agreed to officiate, and we shall have some of the better monsters in attendance.”

Goldar felt himself going slightly mad. “My lord… Empress… when is this ceremony to take place?”

“Why, tonight,” Lord Zedd said. He turned back to Rita. “And for our honeymoon, we will finally lay waste to the Power Rangers and all they hold dear.”

Rita laughed. “A man after my own heart.”

As the two started to lean closer, Goldar quickly excused himself and left the room just short of running. He was sure that their next move would send him irrevocably into pure insanity.

He didn’t stop until he got to Finster’s lab, dodging Baboo and Squatt as they made another run down the corridor, giggling madly. Finster was carefully lining up clay models, which Goldar supposed were to be the wedding guests.

“Finster, have you been dosing my food with any hallucinogens?” Goldar said, his voice sounding shaky.

Finster’s expression was as unreadable as Rita’s. “I’m sure you’re referring to the return of Queen Rita and her betrothal to Lord Zedd. If that is the case, it’s not a hallucination. It’s completely real.”

Goldar leaned heavily against the doorframe. “There must… there must be something. Some sort of trick, or spell. The last time those two met they nearly killed each other. I was there. I…” His next sentence died in his throat. He had, in fact, destroyed Rita’s power source in an attempt to save her from dying in the fight. It had destroyed him inside, and it still haunted him. The action still lived in the cold glances Rita gave him now.

“It is a political move,” Finster said, continuing with his arrangement of the clay models. “With their powers and galactic holdings combined, they will have a far better standing in the Alliance of Evil. Lord Zedd can provide raw power, while Queen Rita brings discipline and respectability.”

“Lord Zedd said they were in love,” Goldar repeated. “We’re not talking about a political marriage. We’re talking about two bitter enemies suddenly eloping. It doesn’t make sense.”

Finster regarded him coldly. “So it’s a change in the status quo that doesn’t benefit you. I know that isn’t what usually happens, but you’re going to have to get over it. Your position will not change, after all, and the rest of Queen Rita’s followers now have her protection, myself included. You do remember how many times I was tortured.”

There was something behind Finster’s words, something implying that he knew exactly what was going on. He’d probably helped Rita do it. But it did not seem as if he was going to share anything with Goldar.

“Watch yourself, old man,” Goldar growled. “If Rita is getting in over her head, it won’t take long for Lord Zedd to figure it out. I won’t be able to protect you. And you weren’t tortured near as many times as you could have, thanks to me.”

Finster drew himself up. “I believe you’ll want to start calling her Empress again, if you value your life.”

Goldar left in disgust. He knew something was going on… something dangerous. Something that would eventually get a good many of them killed. And, at present, there seemed to be little he could do except help prepare a wedding. He’d just have to keep his eyes and ears open for the present.


 

Tommy and Adam slowed to a walk as soon as they hit the beach behind the house. Rocky, Billy, Kimberly, Aisha, and Aaron were all gathered on the beach, spreading towels and setting up lounge chairs.

“You were gone most of the morning,” Kimberly said, slathering on some sunscreen. She tossed it to Tommy. “You guys get lost?”

Tommy and Adam looked at each other. “A little bit,” Adam admitted. “There was a detour that threw me off.”

“Just in time for lunch!” Rocky said. He was lighting up a charcoal grill while Aaron fished around in a cooler. The grill flamed up more than it should, and Rocky took several steps back.

“Do you like your hot dogs blackened or burned to a crisp?” Aisha joked.

Aaron frowned and shook the bottle of lighter fluid. “You’re only supposed to use a little, Rocky.”

“It’s fine, see? All good,” Rocky said, finally inching closer as the flames went down. “Okay, dog me.”

Aaron tossed a packet of hot dogs to Rocky, thankfully unopened, since Rocky dropped it on the first catch. Rocky wiped off the package, pulled it open, and arranged the contents on the grill.

Tommy sat over by Billy, who was busily drawing on a notepad. At first it looked like he was sketching the ocean, as he kept looking up every few minutes, but a quick look at the drawing showed communicator schematics.

“Working on upgrades?” Tommy said.

Billy paused before looking up, finishing a notation. “Affirmative. Aisha pointed out that we couldn’t wear our communicators if we went into the water, so I’m working on some options for waterproofing. I believe some Aquitian technology might be useful.”

“This is a vacation, remember?” Kimberly said, sitting so she could lean against Tommy. “We’re supposed to be relaxing.”

“I am relaxed,” Billy said. “Drawing schematics is very relaxing.”

In the meantime, Aaron had shooed Rocky away from the grill, so Rocky and Aisha were tossing a beach ball at each other. Adam collapsed on a lounge chair; his run had gone on far longer than he was used to.

After several minutes, Aaron announced that the food was almost done, so Tommy and Kimberly set up a folding table for the food. Pretty soon, they were all eating hot dogs and chips and drinking water, sheltering under beach umbrellas from the beating sun.

“I must say, I’m quite surprised that you all decided to take this vacation,” Aaron said. He was dressed in a polo shirt and khakis, which was apparently as casual as he could dress. “I would think… superheroes would need to stay on alert.”

Adam looked down, suddenly intent on carefully picking through his bag of chips. The rest just looked uncomfortable. They knew Aaron hadn’t taken the news that Adam was a Power Ranger too well, but he hadn’t confronted the rest of the team yet.

“The Earth and the surrounding space is being constantly monitored by our Command Center,” Billy said. “Communicators and teleportation allow us to respond to any threat instantaneously.”

“If we spent every second on alert, we’d never get to live our lives,” Kimberly said through a mouthful of hot dog. “I mean, we’re still teenagers.”

“Yes,” Aaron said pointedly. “You are.”

Tommy sighed. Ever since Aaron had shown up, he’d been preparing for this. “Mr. Park, we’ve been doing this for a long time. Adam, Rocky, and Aisha already proved themselves before they got the powers. I can’t say we’re always safe, because who are we kidding, but we’re protected by the power. There’s not a lot that can take that away.”

“And what about the times when you’ve been defeated?” Aaron said. “I’ve been reading up. What about the evil Green Ranger? What about when the entire town surrendered to Zedd?”

Tommy fell silent, his stomach turning to ice at the mention of the Green Ranger. He knew he’d have to share more about his foray into evil with the other Rangers soon. Much of what had happened was public knowledge, and it would be better coming from him. Still, he didn’t think this was the correct time.

“We’ve always gotten back up,” Kimberly said. “We have more than the power… we have each other. We’re not just superheroes. We’re a team. And we’re not going to let anything happen to Adam.” She smiled. “And I guess Rocky and Aisha are fine, too.”

“Oh, thanks,” Rocky said. “I’m so glad I’m not going to get abandoned.”

The atmosphere became less tense and, having eaten, the teens ran for the surf, bringing the beach ball with them. Tommy dragged Billy along before he could go back to his notebook.

Aaron watched the teens play as he slowly cleaned up, his eyes narrowing. His eyes flashed red as he received instructions.


As soon as she left the throne room, Rita found she could breathe easier. Everything was happening so quickly, and in ways that she had not predicted. She gripped her wand, comforted by the familiar weight. It was always warm, slightly warmer than her hands. Its energy washed over her; she had not realized how powerless she’d felt until she had it back.

Still more comforting was the sight of her old throne room, the telescope still pointed to Earth. The room was dusty and had a general air of neglect, but she supposed she could change that. She waved her wand, and the dust and cobwebs were instantly sucked into space.

“Everything still proceeding according to plan?” The Wizard of Deception emerged from the shadows.

“Perfectly,” Rita said, her hand running over the rail on the balcony. “Love is apparently unpredictable. I was not expecting a marriage proposal.”

“You did well to accept,” the Wizard said. “Your initial plans would have drawn too much attention. Lord Zedd is too well-known in the Alliance to be disposed of unnoticed, and you now have a powerful ally.”

Rita laughed bitterly. “I wonder if my father knew what would happen to his daughter after he sent her away. He’s never approved of rulers like Zedd, ones who conquer and destroy rather than govern.”

“And what does your father have to do with any of this,” the Wizard said. “You are your own woman, after all. Marriage will not change that, by the way.”

Rita smiled. “You’re quite right. How goes your progress on Earth?”

“I’ve placed the brother of one of the Rangers under a spell. Since he’s acting as their chaperone, he’ll be able to lead them wherever we choose, and then we’ll have them trapped.” The Wizard chuckled. “You might consider them a wedding present now.”

Rita frowned. “A brother as chaperone. None of them have brothers that are old enough to be chaperones.” She aimed her telescope at Angel Grove, the move a familiar reflex. “Where the hell are they?”

“They’re on vacation, Rita, and calm down,” the Wizard said. “Just hone in on their power signatures.”

Rita forced herself to calm down. She was out of practice. She let her telescope focus on the familiar power signatures... but the faces she saw of teens playing on a beach were not familiar at all.

“Those aren’t the Power Rangers,” Rita said. “Whom have you enchanted, anyway?”

The Wizard didn’t answer, but Rita didn’t need him to. The telescope had shifted to show her the familiar faces of Tommy, Billy, and Kimberly. She was wondering why only half of the Rangers were playing with three unfamiliar teens when it clicked. These were the new Rangers. They had transferred their powers to new warriors.

At that moment, she felt intensely the months that had been stolen from her life. The war had continued without her. Tommy had kept on being a Power Ranger—Scorpina had told her that he had somehow gotten new powers after his green powers had finally failed for good—and Jason, Trini, and Zack had left the war to these three new faces. The Rangers fought Lord Zedd, just as they’d fought her. None of it had made a difference.

Her anger burned as she watched her enemies play on the shore. Her former servant. Three who didn’t even know who she was. And two who had defied her again and again. They were whole, happy, and healthy, unmarked by the war raging around them.

That would change, she decided.

She pressed a panel next to the balcony. “Finster, as soon as you can, report to the old throne room. I want a report on the new status quo… and especially these new Rangers.”

The Wizard of Deception melted back into the shadows. While Rita obsessed over these children (soon to be taken care of, thanks to his own designs), he had business with the real power. Namely, a certain interdimensional being named Zordon.


Tommy and Kimberly ran down the beach and around a rock wall. Aaron had gone back up to the house with Billy for more towels and a garbage bag, so they weren’t going to squander their few chaperone-less minutes.

“I swear Frank thinks it’s the eighteenth century,” Kimberly groused.

Tommy didn’t respond as she followed up the comment by kissing him soundly. She pushed him against the rock wall, and he held her as their hands started exploring.

They didn’t get very far when they heard someone yell “CA-CAW CA-CAW.” It took a minute to realize that they were hearing Rocky in what he probably thought was a pretty subtle signal. Tommy and Kimberly pulled apart quickly and smoothed down their clothes, casting about for some reason to be there.

They spotted a cave and started toward it, picking their way over the suddenly rocky beach. They were just now hearing the voices of their friends approach.

“So this is where you two ran off,” Aaron said. He was followed closely by Rocky, Adam, Aisha, and Billy. “Kimberly, your parents told me to keep an eye on you and…”

Kimberly gave a wide-eyed, innocent expression. “What are you talking about?”

“Yeah,” Tommy said, glancing at the cave. “We were just about to come get you guys. Did you know this cave was here, Rocky?”

“I guess I’ve never checked this far out,” Rocky said. He grinned. “Wanna go exploring?”

Aaron crossed his arms, regarding the two who were still looking at him innocently. It seemed like he wasn’t taking the bait, until…

“We’ll need flashlights,” Aaron said. “And no one leaves the group. Who knows if this cave is safe?”

They were about to head back to the house for supplies, when Billy started pulling flashlights out of his backpack. They were small, but when he turned one on in the cave entrance it shone brightly.

“My own design,” he said. “They won’t run out, not even if we were to turn them on for several months.” He handed them around.

Aisha squinted at Billy’s backpack, which was now back on his shoulders. “What’s all in there…?”

“Yay, spelunking!” Rocky said. He started pushing everyone in, accidentally shining his flashlight in a few faces. “Ya know, it’s weird… you’d think I would have known about a cave here.”

As the six Rangers and Aaron cleared the cave entrance, a force field silently closed after them. The cave, which didn’t really exist in their dimension, disappeared except for a single archway representing the entrance.


Zordon and Alpha did not notice the sudden disappearance of the Rangers, so intent were they on their very dangerous experiments.

“I have the components I need to establish a connection to this dimension once I move to the next one,” Zordon said. “Alpha, do you have the frequency that I will be using?”

“Yes, Zordon,” Alpha said. “Oh, ay-yi-yi, I wish we would do more testing first.”

“We have a limited window of opportunity,” Zordon said impatiently, “and we have done as much testing as we can. It is now the time for action.”

Privately, Alpha wondered if the impulsive, hormonal teenaged Rangers were somehow rubbing off on Zordon. His time sense had shifted to the more immediate, the day-to-day. It would explain why he was rushing to escape a dimension he’d been locked in for centuries.

“Please double-check the failsafes, Zordon,” Alpha said desperately, “so you can return to your dimension if things go wrong.”

“I have already done so. Do not worry, Alpha. I know what I’m doing.”

Tommy, Alpha decided. This was particularly Tommy’s fault. But Alpha did not voice his concerns. “Initiating sequence, Zordon. Good luck.”

While Alpha fretted, Zordon approached the doorway that had just appeared in his dimension. He looked back at the dimension that had served as his prison for so long, cheered by the fact that if all went well, he wouldn’t see it ever again.


Goldar watched as the Putties strung garlands decorated by roses and other, more exotic flowers from the ceiling. After the first decorating disaster, Goldar had given Squatt and Baboo some ribbons to play with in a corner. The Putties were far more adept at hanging decorations, though Goldar had to keep a sharp eye on them. One Z accidentally activated could destroy the whole room.

Goldar was supervising Putties—clay automatons to be used in war—as they decorated Lord Zedd’s chamber of command—a room that had served as the site for the destruction of worlds—for a wedding between two people who by all rights should be killing each other. Life was weird.

Something bumped into Goldar’s elbow, and Goldar turned to see bright candle light. Some wax burned his skin, and then hardened. A very familiar monster made of candles.

“Finster,” Goldar called out. “Don’t bring the monsters in yet. This thing alone could set the whole place off if it got too close to the Putties.”

“I can’t keep them in my lab. They have to go somewhere,” Finster snapped.

Crowded in the doorway were some of Finster’s most successful monsters: Candleman, Slippery Shark, Pop Star, and Dark Samurai. Goldar wondered if Lord Zedd was planning on resurrecting some of his own monsters. He shuddered at the thought of the Greek gods; surely he wouldn’t bring them back.

“Well, they can’t stay in here,” Goldar said. “Is there anything useful they can be doing?”

Finster bit back a retort at the sight of Rita teleporting into the throne room. Her hair was back in cones, now with gold ornaments and black lace entwined with her hair in an intricate design. She wore a dress of dark purple, the customary wedding color for her part of the galaxy.

“Well, this is becoming quite lovely,” she said. She looked over at Goldar, Finster, and the monsters. “What’s the problem, then?”

Goldar ground his teeth. He felt like hitting… well… everyone. “Empress Rita, this room will cease to be ‘lovely’ if those monsters stay here.”

Rita laughed. “Oh, is that all. I have a job for them. After all, my wedding gift to Zedd should have guards.” She stared at the blank looks. “The Power Rangers, of course. You boys have been so involved in wedding plans, you don’t know that I’ve trapped the Rangers in another dimension, with the new Black Ranger’s brother under a spell to help keep them there.” She smiled at the monsters. “What do you think, my pretties? Feel like chasing after some Power Rangers while they can’t use their powers and can’t escape?”

There was a general commotion of assent, and the four monsters disappeared at a flick of Rita’s wand.

“My empress…” Goldar said, trying to process what Rita had just said, “do you think a surprise attack against the Power Rangers without Lord Zedd’s knowledge is the best idea?”

Again, Rita gave Goldar that cold look she seemed to reserve only for him. “Why, we wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. Besides, you forget, Lord Zedd loves me. We’re about to get married. We’re partners, and I don’t have to ask him permission for anything.”

With that, Rita teleported out, leaving Goldar with wedding preparations and an uneasy feeling. He looked at Finster and, for a fleeting moment, he was pleased to see that same uneasy feeling on the old man’s face as well.


“This cave makes no sense,” Billy said quietly.

Aisha turned. The others hadn’t heard him. Rocky was too busy cracking jokes, occasionally being shushed by Kimberly who pointed out the possibility of sound affecting the stalactites around them. “What was that, Billy?”

Billy had been making notations in his notebook, trying to diagram the cave. He also had a compass, and Aisha again wondered what all he had in his backpack. “This cave… Given our direction and the distance we’ve traveled we should be directly under Rocky’s house.”

Aisha frowned. “But the house has a wine cellar.” She rolled her eyes, remembering Aaron pointedly locking the door and threatening them with dire consequences if they teleported down there. Did he think they’d been planning a drunken orgy? “Are you sure you’re reading that compass right?”

Billy offered the compass to Aisha, along with his notations. Aisha was pleased that she could start to understand Billy’s chicken scratch writing now, although he seemed to be using a shorthand that she wasn’t familiar with. “Okay, so the beach is down a slope and about 400 meters away from the house, so if we…”

She stopped and stared. The compass had just spun, without warning. “Billy…” she said nervously.

As Aisha and Billy stared, the compass started spinning wildly. The glass covering cracked, and Billy immediately shut the case over it. “Dammit,” he whispered, “that was my dad’s.”

They looked up and realized they’d been left behind by the others.

“I don’t like this,” Aisha said. “This is starting to feel more and more like a trap.”

“Agreed,” Billy said. He glanced behind them. He realized what he’d taken for the sound of water was actually now clearly footfalls coming behind them, too heavy for any human foot. “We must catch up with the others.”

Aisha tapped her communicator, deciding to make it easy on themselves. “Tommy, come in. We…” She realized that her communicator wasn’t even staticky. She tapped it again, but nothing came of it.

Billy tried his, but to no avail. “I doubt this has anything to do with water damage,” he said. “We’ll have to catch up with them quickly. We won’t be able to communicate with Zordon or teleport out of here. There must be some kind of interference.”

“Be careful,” Aisha said. “We’re still in a cave, whether it makes sense or not. It’s gonna be really easy to trip over something if you’re not paying attention.”

The sounds behind them got louder, so they picked up the pace, Billy stowing his broken compass in his pocket.

After a few meters, Billy looked behind him, and then yelled involuntarily. He grabbed Aisha and shoved her against the cave wall before a gout of flame burned past them.

“No time to catch up,” Billy said. “We have to morph now.”

They pulled out their morphers, hoping they could make the transformation before the mysterious monster attacked again, and Billy shouted, “It’s morphin time!”

Nothing. They stared at their morphers, now useless in their hands.

“We can’t morph… why can’t we morph?!” Aisha yelled.

“No time,” Billy said, his voice clipped in his fear. “We have to run now. Come on.”

The two launched themselves into the darkness of the cave, their flashlights shaking on the ground in front of them as they concentrated on not falling. They had to get out of this passage so they could get out of the monster’s direct path.

“Hey, ow!”

Aisha realized she’d run smack into Adam, sending both of them tumbling to the ground. Billy immediately stopped and started to help them up.

“Stop horsing around back there!” Aaron called. “It’s dangerous in here!”

“Monster!” Aisha was able to get out. “We can’t morph, communicate, or teleport. It’s right behind us.”

“There’s a monster in here?!” Rocky said.

“Guys,” Billy said, “it’s Candleman.”

Somehow that made Tommy and Kimberly get even more scared. “Guys, we gotta run! Keep up with everyone and don’t let anyone fall, but move!”

They ran, and not a moment too soon. Aisha felt the heat behind her as the monster got closer. Aaron started falling behind, not being as athletic as the teens, but Adam grabbed his hand and wordlessly pulled him along.

They were just starting to slow down when Tommy took a sharp right into an almost-hidden cavern and started to pull each of them in as they ran. They all went completely silent as heavy steps and a bright light went past the little crevice that opened into the corridor.

The Rangers and Aaron sagged against the wall, their hearts beating furiously against their chests. Tommy kept a lookout. “I don’t see anything else, but everyone needs to keep it down. We can maybe retrace our steps and get out of this cave system if we know Candleman is far enough away.”

“Candleman?” Rocky said.

“We’ve fought him before,” Kimberly said darkly. “It’s tough, too. The fire attack can breach our Ranger shields, and the monster’s wax can harden instantly and glue you into place.”

“It’s not just a monster,” Aisha said. “Billy’s compass broke, right after he was saying that cave can’t really exist.”

“A place that can’t exist, no morphing, teleportation, or communication… Sounds like we’re in another dimension.” Tommy’s voice was tense, and he kept looking through the opening. “Rocky, that could explain why you didn’t know about this cave.”

“So I was right,” Aisha said. “This is a trap of some kind.”

“What are any of you even talking about?” Aaron cut in, still winded from their run. “What do you mean, this is another dimension? We’re in a cave on the beach near Rocky’s house.”

“That’s what our perception was,” Billy said. “However, in actuality Zedd must have opened another dimension, another plane of reality that coexists with our own plane of reality, but is entirely separate and can only be accessed through portals. The cave entrance must be some kind of portal.”

“So we need to get back to it,” Rocky said. “Like, right freakin’ now.”

“It may not be that simple,” Tommy said. “But we’ve still got to try.”

Aaron got up and tried to block the door. “We can’t go out there with that… monster, or whatever it is… on the loose. I’d have to answer to your parents if you kids got killed.”

Tommy crossed his arms. “Mr. Park, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to follow our lead. We’re in another dimension pursued by a monster, so that means we’re in charge now.”

“You kids can’t even morph! What are you going to do against the monsters?” Aaron said. “Half an hour ago, you were just teenagers playing on a beach and trying to sneak away to make out!”

“Doesn’t change the fact that we’re Power Rangers,” Tommy said quietly. “And you’re going to have to lower your voice if you don’t want the monster after us.”

Tommy and Aaron glared at each other, and it was becoming pretty obvious that they were going to have to physically move Aaron from the door by whatever means necessary.

“Aaron… please,” Adam said. “You can yell as much as you want later, but we need to move now. Why does it matter who’s in charge?”

Aaron seemed to sense the atmosphere in the room. He reluctantly moved from the crevice… only to reveal a row of teeth.

Adam grabbed Aaron and pulled him further into the cavern. The rest jumped back as well as the monster, now in the shape of a shark, snapped at them. It was slightly too big for the opening, but it was slowly slipping past the rock walls.

“Come on!” Aaron yelled, pushing toward the back of the cavern. “We can get out this way!”

He led them past a blind curve where the cavern opened up into a larger cavern. They ran across, knowing that it was just a matter of time before the monster caught up to them.

They heard a crack, and a blue floating monster suddenly appeared in front of them, causing them to skid to a halt. They ran to the right, only to be blocked in by another monster that was holding a large jar.

“Guys?” Adam said weakly. “I think we’re surrounded.”

Sure enough, the group of seven were surrounded on four sides, caught in the middle of a large cavern. The Rangers took up defensive poses, trying to shield Aaron, but they knew they were severely outmatched, even if they had been able to morph.

The monsters, however, did not seem interested in attacking. Merely keeping the Rangers where they were.

“Candleman…” Tommy said slowly, “Slippery Shark, Dark Samurai, and Pop Star. Mind telling us what’s going on?”

“Oh, our lips are sealed, Rangers,” Dark Samurai said. “Much like my jar, though I can remedy that.”

“I’m sure they’re burning to know,” Candleman said.

Slippery Shark grinned at them. “You might say they’re waiting on ‘fins and needles’…”

“Okay, can it with the puns,” Kimberly said. “And that last one didn’t even make sense. What does Zedd want with us, already?”

The monsters looked at each other and laughed. Or, at least three of them did. Pop Star merely floated in place, looking uninterested in the whole proceedings.

“You’d best be cautious, Rangers,” Dark Samurai said. “You’re in no position to make demands. Given that you can’t morph, and that you’re stuck protecting a civilian…”

“You’re being kept for a specific purpose, a purpose which you will soon face,” Candleman said. “In the meantime, we will not hurt any of you or your civilian, as long as you don’t try to escape or fight us.”

They were silent, still crouched in defense positions. They all shot nervous looks at Tommy, who was staring straight at Candleman.

Tommy finally straightened, holding his hands in front of him to indicate he didn’t plan to fight. “We’ll take that deal, as long as the civilian goes free.”

“Tommy, we can’t…” Rocky began.

“Stand down, everyone,” Tommy said, his voice hardening. “We don’t have much of a choice, after all.”

“You’ve become wise, Tommy,” Candleman said. “We can let the civilian go after we take you all out of this dimension. He wasn’t part of the deal, anyway.”

“Fine,” Tommy said. “Where do you want us?”

One of the cavern walls hollowed out, and Slippery Shark and Dark Samurai marched the Rangers and Aaron over to it. As soon as they cleared the edge, a force field buzzed to life. They were well and truly trapped.

“Much to do, Rangers,” Slippery Shark said gleefully. “Unfortunately, you’ll miss the ceremony, but there’s much to be done after.”

With that, Slippery Shark, Candleman, and Dark Samurai disappeared, leaving Pop Star on guard.

“Well, great,” Rocky groused. “That’s just great. Now all we have to do is wait for the monsters to finish us off, and we can’t do anything about it, because then they might hurt us.”

"And my brother,” Adam pointed out. “Tommy… thank you.”

Tommy took a low, slow breath, and then flashed a glare at Aaron. “Kim, Rocky… hold Mr. Park against the wall.”

They reacted instantly, even as everyone gaped at Tommy. Kimberly twisted Aaron’s arm around his back, while Rocky held his shoulder and other arm against the wall.

“What the… what are you doing?!” Aaron yelled.

“Tommy, what’s going on?” Adam advanced toward his brother, but Billy held him back. Aisha looked like she wanted to get involved, but she wasn’t entirely sure what to do.

Tommy didn’t answer them. Instead, he turned to the force field, where Pop Star was advancing on them. “Pop Star, this doesn’t concern you. We’re not attacking you, and we’re not escaping. We made that promise, remember?”

Pop Star regarded him coldly, and then retreated, nodding slightly.

Tommy turned again to glare at Aaron. He was glaring back, while Rocky, Adam, and Aisha gaped at him. Kimberly and Billy’s expressions were unreadable, as they trusted Tommy’s judgment even when they didn’t understand it.

“Now…” Tommy said slowly, “Mr. Park. How did you know there was more than one monster?”

Aaron stopped struggling against Rocky and Kimberly and simply stared at him. “What are you talking about? Let me go.”

Tommy shook his head. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. There when we were hiding from Candleman, you mentioned monsters. Plural. Then you yelled so the second monster could find us, and hid him until he could prevent us from leaving.”

“I wasn’t thinking,” Aaron said. “I was scared, I don’t know what I said.”

“And yet you knew there was a passage in the far side of that first cavern,” Billy said. “You led us away from Slippery Shark to here, but you hadn’t left the front part of the cavern.”

“What’s going on?” Adam said in a weak voice. “What are you guys talking about? Aaron, what are they talking about?”

Aaron was still glaring at Tommy. In that moment, he barely looked like himself. He was usually cool and detached. Even when he got angry with Adam after he’d revealed his identity, it was always with a certain amount of reserve and restraint. Now, though… his teeth were bared, his eyes blazing, and every vein seemed to stand out from his skin. And, as they watched, his eyes flashed red.

“There it is,” Tommy said with a measure of satisfaction. “Okay, Mr. Park, all we want is a little information. We need to know who put you under this spell.”

“Wait, Aaron’s under a spell?” Aisha said.

“He managed to lead us here,” Tommy said evenly. “Or, at least, create conditions where we’d discover the cave on our own. So who put you up to it?”

“Well, it was obviously Zedd,” Rocky said, his voice strained from having to hold Aaron in one place for so long.

“Somehow, I’m not sure,” Tommy said. “I mean, if that’s true, he sure did pick a weird batch of monsters. Billy, Kim, notice anything weird about the monsters we’re facing?”

Kimberly’s eyes went wide. “They’re all Rita’s!”

“Some of Finster’s best,” Tommy said. “But from what I hear, Zedd barely tolerates Finster’s presence. Now why would Finster’s monsters suddenly go chasing us around another dimension?”

Rocky and Kim looked at Aaron, who was starting to shake. They realized he was laughing silently, his eyes flashing completely red and staying like that.

“I will give you credit, White Ranger.” The voice wasn’t Aaron’s. Aaron’s mouth was moving, but the voice… or was it voices? It was like many voices at once, and the tone in all of them was silky and mocking. “I heard you were smart, but the experience is far better.”

Tommy squinted. “And you were pretty good at leading us into a trap. We didn’t see it coming at all. So, who are you? I’d like to put a name to the person who beat us.”

Aaron laughed again. “Oh, you’re not beaten. If you were beaten, we wouldn’t still be playing these little games. And my name will give you little enough information, though you may as well have it. I am the Wizard of Deception.”

“What have you done to my brother?!” Adam yelled, and again Billy had to hold him back, this time Aisha helping him.

The Wizard regarded Adam coldly through Aaron’s eyes. “Your brother was convenient, Black Ranger. He will be unharmed: I have no investment in hurting one who is only tangential to the war. It’s not even my war. I’m only doing this as a favor.”

“A favor to whom?” Kimberly said, renewing her grip on his wrist.

Aaron grunted in pain. “Whom do you think, Pink Ranger?”

“Someone who would target us,” Kimberly said. “Someone who would work with Finster. Someone who wanted us captured but unharmed, as of yet. And then there’s that ceremony…”

Aaron, or the Wizard through him, chuckled. “Oh, you’re very clever, too. Yet what has happened is so beyond your expectations that I will simply tell you… not that it will do you any good. I captured you for Empress Rita Repulsa, as a wedding present for her intended husband, Lord Zedd.”

Aaron twisted out of Kimberly’s grip, as she’d slackened her hold in shock, and pushed Rocky away. No one made a move toward him, astounded as they were by his pronouncement.

“Y... you… the fuck you say?” Tommy’s voice was barely over a rasp.

Aaron smirked. “I thought that would take the wind out of your sails.” He sighed. “I’m leaving this host now, as I have other places to be.”

He gave one final laugh, and then Aaron slumped, falling hard to his knees on the stone floor.

Adam ran to him, easing him onto his back. “He’s unconscious, but he seems to be okay.” Adam’s voice shook. “Do you think he’s okay?”

“We’ll get him back to the Command Center as soon as we can,” Kimberly reassured him. “I think he’s all right, but we’ll make sure.”

The rest were staring at Tommy, whose face had gone whiter than his shirt.

“Rita…” Aisha said slowly. “That was who you fought before. And it makes sense if these were all her monsters.”

“It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense,” Tommy said weakly. “Not… not one bit.”

“Well, I mean, they’re both evil,” Rocky said, shrugging. He was leaning against the wall, trying to act like he hadn’t just been shoved off casually by his math teacher. “Them teaming up has gotta suck, but…”

“Rita didn’t leave voluntarily,” Tommy said. “She was beaten and imprisoned by Lord Zedd. Just because they’re both evil doesn’t mean they’re not mortal enemies. So, no… it doesn’t make sense.”

Kimberly looked like she was about to say something, but then thought better of it. “Tommy, we have other things to worry about. While Rita’s busy getting married, her pal the Wizard of Deception is preparing to offer us up to the happy married couple on a silver platter.”

“You’re right,” Tommy said, shaking his head. “We’ve got to figure some way out of this.”

“We’re pretty well trapped,” Rocky pointed out. “I mean, unless…”

“We play cards!” Aisha said, cutting a glare over at Rocky. With her back turned to Pop Star, she motioned him to shut up. “Billy, you must have something in your backpack.”

“Of course I do,” said Billy. He pulled off his backpack, and then rummaged through it for a deck of cards. Only those watching very closely could see that he palmed something else, and then positioned himself very close to the force field.

Comprehension dawned on Rocky’s face. “Right! Everybody know how to play poker?”

The Rangers, minus Adam, who was still watching over Aaron, gathered together for a loud game of poker. Loud enough to cover the sound of Billy experimenting with the force field.


Zordon found himself in a barren wasteland. It was neither hot nor cold, and the very air seemed to lack substance. He was disappointed; he’d hoped to feel the elements after centuries of nothingness.

Still, it was someplace different. Zordon breathed in the insubstantial air deeply. This would not be his only new dimension. After he established contact with Alpha, he could calculate a jump closer to his home dimension. He contemplated joining the Rangers on a beach in San Francisco, seeing their surprised faces as clearly as if they were right in front of him.

He began calibrating his machine. “Alpha, do you read me? I’ve successfully made my first dimensional jump. Alpha, please respond.”

There was a crackle of static, and then he heard Alpha’s voice faintly. “Ay-yi-yi, I hear you, Zordon. Sending new coordinates now!”

Zordon smiled and stretched. His old dimension allowed freedom of movement, but somehow it wasn’t the same.

“Enjoying ourselves, are we?”

Zordon jumped and whipped around. He hadn’t been expecting anyone; that was why he’d picked this dimension as his first one. At first he couldn’t make out the figure. He was making the jump into this dimension himself, apparently without mechanical aid. Zordon tensed, ready to grab his machine and bolt if he needed to, though he had no idea where he’d go.

As soon as the figure materialized completely, Zordon recognized his black robes and fiery face. “The Wizard of Deception,” he said speculatively. “Have I strayed into your private dimension? If so, I apologize, though it could use a bit more life in it.”

The Wizard held up his wand, and Zordon immediately held his hands up defensively. The Wizard chuckled. “You’ve certainly strayed, though I have no idea where we are. I’m merely here to collect you.”

“Collect me…” Zordon tensed, knowing he would have to defend himself after being centuries out of practice. “And for whom will I become the universe’s most over-rated present?”

“To Empress Rita Repulsa, on the day of her wedding to Lord Zedd.”

At the words, Zordon laughed. He couldn’t help it. His guard slackened, but the Wizard was too taken aback to take advantage of his lapse.

“Have you finally become unhinged in your imprisonment, old man?” the Wizard said.

Zordon tried to control himself. “I fear not. Merely a bit of irony. The one day I choose to attempt an escape from my prison is exactly the day Empress Rita chooses to make her return.”

The Wizard also seemed to find this amusing. “There’s a theory that states that coincidence doesn’t exist, that we are all drawn through life by the invisible strings of Fate.”

“If that were the case,” Zordon said, suddenly sober, “I have reason to believe I am not fated to die today.”

“Then let’s see if we can overcome Fate, then,” the Wizard said, raising his wand.

Zordon narrowed his eyes and began to concentrate his power. He only hoped, if things went wrong, he could get one last message to Alpha… and to the Rangers.


Lord Zedd paced nervously, not even noticing the decorations surrounding him. Squatt and Babboo were in the corner with their musical instruments. The monsters were lining the walls, Pop Star having recently joined them. Putties waited on the sides to set up for the reception.

“Where is that no-account Wizard anyway?” Zedd grumbled. “Is he waiting for a written invitation? Goldar! Explanation!”

Goldar had been standing to the side, prepared to run in just in case something went wrong. And so very many things could go wrong. The fact that little had gone wrong so far made him even more nervous, so the Wizard’s lateness actually served as a relief. “My lord, Empress Rita said she lost telepathic contact with the Wizard some time ago, which means that he’s in another dimension presently.

“Well, we have no time for wait for him,” Zedd said. “Rita will simply have to take her old teacher to task after the ceremony. Bring in Finster… He’s qualified by the Alliance to officiate, I believe.”

“Yes, my lord,” Goldar said. Before he could leave, though, he saw Finster stumbling into the room, obviously pushed. He supposed he and Rita had been waiting just outside the entrance.

“Finster!” Lord Zedd exclaimed. “So kind of you to join us. Now begin the ceremony immediately.”

Finster looked taken aback to be treated with some modicum of politeness by Lord Zedd. Still looking uneasy, Finster took his place at the balcony and opened the book that had been placed on the railing.

“Goldar, you must escort the bride now.”

Goldar ground his teeth at Lord Zedd’s words, but complied nonetheless. He walked to the entrance and held out his hand. “Empress Rita Repulsa, your husband awaits you.”

He was surprised to see Rita look nervous, so nervous that she forgot to give Goldar that cold look. Her dark purple gown seemed to float around her, as if enchanted… which it probably was. But it also could not hide the fact that she was trembling. However, her grip on Goldar’s hand was firm and steady, and she seemed to come to some kind of resolve. “Then lead me to him,” she answered the formal give-and-take.

Music swelled as Squatt and Baboo launched into a love song from Rita’s homeworld. Rita seemed to float across the throne room, barely prevented from lifting into the air by Goldar’s hand. Lord Zedd watched them, waiting next to Finster, and a sudden explosion of noise signaled that one of the monsters had actually burst into tears. One of Finster’s embellishments, perhaps.

With the utmost formality, Goldar transferred Rita’s hand to Zedd’s and bowed to them both. He stood to the side, holding a misshapen piece of metal at the ready.

Finster cleared his throat, unnerved as attention suddenly focused on him. “The union of marriage transcends all barriers, all boundaries, all other loyalties. Two become one, equal pieces of a new entity. The exchange of vows, the forging of new metal, and the meeting of minds merely formalizes the intent. By agreeing to wed one another, the two agree to share in all of life’s joys and sorrows. In this union, to each other, you are neither empress nor lord, but equal partners for the rest of your days.”

At Finster’s nod, Lord Zedd began the rehearsed words. “I, Zedd, join myself to Rita Repulsa, for the rest of my life.”

Rita opened her mouth, and at first no sound came out, but then she tried again. “I, Rita, join myself to Zedd, for the rest of my life.”

The language was not flowery or poetic. It was ancient, with a power all its own. Even before the more magical portion of the ceremony, all in the room could feel the bonds being formed as if they were a physical presence.

“Then let this union be formalized by the forging of new metal,” Finster said, “which will act as an outward symbol of the union, and will help further bind the minds and hearts of these two.”

The misshapen piece of metal had been struggling against Goldar’s hand since Lord Zedd had begun his vow, the magic awakened in it by the words. Goldar opened his hand and let the metal go. It floated above Zedd and Rita and elongated, forming rings on both sides. The metal could sense what was needed to each pairing, and so for Zedd it attached itself to one of his chrome finger-joints, becoming one with his protective metal frame, while for Rita it merely formed a band matching her engagement ring. The metal did not detach until both rings were formed on the couple’s hands.

The two gasped, the mental connection having been made. This part of the ceremony was entirely unnecessary for two magic-users, as they could already communicate telepathically, but that just made it all the more startling for the two, as their mental connection was forced.

“Then let the universe know of the union of Empress Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd!” Finster finished, putting down the book.

The monsters cheered, Goldar lending his voice so he wouldn’t call attention to himself, and Squatt and Baboo broke into another song, this one unfamiliar and possibly from Earth. Zedd and Rita, however, did not acknowledge any of what was going on around them. They did not embrace or kiss as was common in more primitive ceremonies. They had already made the most intimate connection they could, and now they seemed to wondering what to do now.

Chapter Text

Aaron groaned, startling Adam out of his daze. He hadn’t left Aaron’s side for the hours they’d been imprisoned, and the worry was about to drive him crazy.

“Guys, he’s awake,” Adam said.

The rest of the Rangers moved over to him, all except Billy, who looked up in acknowledgment before going back to his sabotage of the force field. The cards were scattered in the middle of the floor, but the Rangers had abandoned the game after Pop Star had left, probably to attend the wedding ceremony. The Rangers had instead been planning what to do once the force field was down.

“Don’t crowd him,” Kimberly told the Rangers as Adam helped Aaron slowly sit up. They angled him so he could lean against the wall.

Aaron had been shaking his head slowly, as if to fully wake up, when his eyes suddenly went wide. “Adam! You’re okay! I didn’t... I couldn’t...”

He launched himself into Adam’s arms, and Adam hugged him tightly. This was the closest they’d been since moving to Angel Grove.

“It’s okay,” Adam said. “You’re all right now.”

Aaron, seeming to realize that he was making a scene, pulled back from Adam and tried to calm himself down. He was once again the cool, removed math teacher they all knew, though he was still visibly shaken.

“I couldn’t do anything,” Aaron said, only a slight tremor betraying his emotion. “Ever since I woke up this morning, it’s like someone else has been dictating all my words and actions. He even made me sound like myself... when I wanted to scream out warnings to all of you.”

Kimberly put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay. That’s how some spells work. You have to remember that there was nothing you could do. It wasn’t really you doing all that.”

“We’re sorry, Mr. Park,” Tommy said darkly. “No one’s ever targeted our families quite like that. We should have...”

Aaron waved away his explanations. “Please, Tommy... outside of school hours, call me Aaron. I’m 27 and you’re making me feel ancient. And... after what you did for me...”

Rocky carefully poured part of a bottle of water into a small cup and handed it to Aaron, who drank gratefully.

“Sorry it can’t be more,” Aisha said. “All we had were two water bottles in Billy’s backpack, so we’re having to ration.”

Aaron handed back the cup and waved away an offer of more.

“Aaron,” Tommy said, crouching so he wasn’t towering over him, “I know it sucks to think about, and I’m not sure you got much out of being mind-controlled, but... do you know anything that can help us? Did you get anything from this Wizard? Can you tell us who he is?”

Aaron shook his head. “I’m sorry. All I know is that I was supposed to get you past the cave entrance, and then get you to this cavern. I really had no idea what was happening, or who was controlling me. All I could hear was a voice...”

He looked down, clearly still terrified. Adam put a hand on his shoulder.

“This cavern,” Kimberly pondered. “Specifically this cavern?”

“Yes,” Aaron said.

She looked at Tommy, who nodded once. They were perhaps trapped by more than a force field.

“I do know that I was supposed to keep you occupied until the monsters came to take you away,” Aaron added. “Monsters.” He shook his head ruefully. “This is our life now, apparently.”

“Dammit.” Everyone turned to look at Billy; they weren’t used to hearing him curse. He was rubbing his hand where the flesh was scorched red. “I’m almost there.”

“Hang on,” Kimberly said, fishing through Billy’s backpack. She pulled out an emergency medical kit and rifled through it until she found the cortizone. She grabbed Billy’s hand before he could object and spread the cream on.

“How much IS in that backpack?” Aisha said.

Billy smiled weakly. “I’m remembering all this for the next time someone makes fun of me for overpacking.”

Even as he spoke, before he could even pick up his equipment, the wall Rocky was leaning on shifted. He stumbled, grabbing onto the wall to break his fall, and his hands dislodged several rocks. A rock connected to the force field fell to the ground, breaking the connection between force field and cave. The entire thing shorted out, and the force field disappeared.

The Rangers and Aaron stared at the now open means of escape, Rocky giving a disbelieving laugh. Before anyone could comment, Billy held up a burned finger. “Not a word. Not a single word.”

They hastily packed up and pulled Aaron to his feet. “Okay, guys,” Tommy said, “stay close and keep an ear out. We retrace our steps to the cave entrance, just like we planned.”

Kimberly took the lead, and Tommy took the back, while the rest of the Rangers surrounded Aaron, ready to defend him if necessary. They made their way across the cavern, past where they’d been trapped by the monsters, and around the blind curve to where they’d first evaded Candleman. It was just a left turn through a crevice. They each slipped past...

Only to stumble into the cavern with their cell.

Rocky gave a weak laugh. “Try it again?”

“Do you think it will do any good?” Aisha said.

Tommy frowned. “I was afraid of this. We’re in another dimension, so none of this is going to make sense. It’s designed so that we stay put, at least until the monsters show up.”

“So what do we do?” Adam asked.

Kimberly shrugged. “Like we planned. Use the monsters against each other. Remember, each one has different abilities. Pop Star can cause sonic blasts and can burst into speed for short distances, Candleman has a fire attack and can use his wax to glue us into place, Slippery Shark can swim through solid matter, and Dark Samurai has a jar that can trap us in another dimension.”

“Another dimension?” Adam said. “But aren’t we already in another dimension?”

Tommy nodded. “And that’s going to work in our favor.” He took a breath. “Okay, guys, we don’t have much time. If we play this carefully, we can be out of here before Rita throws the bouquet.”


Rita tried to breathe, tried to gather her thoughts. She was now dancing with Lord Zedd, waltzing to a tune she didn’t recognize but sounded vaguely familiar, as if she’d heard it once in passing from another room, or from spying on the Rangers.

Zedd was surprisingly graceful and even courtly. She knew little of his background, but she knew that he did not have royal connections, having earned the title “Lord” in conquest. But he moved as if he had been trained just as she had, and she started to wonder what pains he had taken over the years to seem to like belonged with the rulers.

She lost herself for a time in the rhythm of the music. They did not speak, and she only vaguely noticed the monsters watching them. They were eating from the banquet table, while Finster kept them in check. Goldar stood to the side, watching the whole proceedings with an unreadable expression.

It was too much. She was too exposed. Not only to the people around her, but to this man who she’d agreed to marry. Who she had married.

He was still under her spell. He had to be, or else he would have attacked her already. Still, the dynamic seemed to change between them with the saying of vows, with the forging of metal. Their minds had touched briefly, and then withdrew. She saw love there when she’d connected to his mind, but also so many things that she couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

She’d wondered what he’d seen when he’d briefly touched her mind... and why he had pulled away so quickly.

“I fear the wedding is not as elaborate as you might have wished,” Zedd spoke, interrupting Rita’s contemplation. “I have not even gotten you a gift beyond the ring on your finger, and your single attendant did not attend.”

That brought her to the present, to things she was more comfortable with. She’d been a wife for mere minutes, but she’d been an Empress for centuries. It was time for action. She could sort out her feelings later.

“This was arranged in a day, so it’s understandable,” Rita said. “I was never the type of girl to dream of a large wedding... and the Wizard is notoriously absent-minded when it comes to time. I must confess, though... I’ve gotten you a present.”

The music continued, but Zedd halted the dance. “My love, you are truly my better half. Yet no present can rival the gift you’ve already given me.”

His elaborate professions were starting to grate on Rita’s nerves. “How about the Power Rangers locked in another dimension, surrendered and waiting to face us?”

Zedd took a step back. “My love, how have you...?”

Rita smirked. “I got some help from the Wizard and these monsters, but the plan was mine. Take a peek.”

Lord Zedd strode over to the balcony and gazed at the Earth, red light streaming from his visor. “I see you’ve made another dimension... Ah. I see the Rangers now. They look to be plotting.”

Light sprang to Rita’s eyes. “Oh, good. They’re going to put up a fight. We shall send down the four monsters and see what they make of them.”

“Four monsters will not unduly tax you...”

Rita waved away Zedd’s concern. “The dimension is designed to power the monsters, so they will be at their strongest there. You could, though, provide a screen so we can watch the fun...”

With a wave of his staff, Zedd projected an image hovering outside of the balcony. In it, the Rangers, looking tired and a little afraid, waited for their captors to return while making tense conversation.

“Boys!” She waved her wand at the four monsters. “It’s time. Bring the Rangers to us.”

The monsters disappeared, and Rita mounted the steps and joined Zedd on the balcony. Now that they were attacking, she found she didn’t mind so much Zedd’s presence.

“My love, you don’t expect the monsters to succeed, do you?” Zedd said.

“Oh, I expect these power brats will come up with a way to weasel themselves out of this situation,” Rita said loftily. “I expect it will end up taking both of us to destroy the Rangers eventually. For now... I have provided entertainment.”

Zedd chuckled, the sound whistling past his mask. “Then let’s see how they cope. The Wizard of Deception will simply have to come to terms with missing the show.”


Zordon ran.

Zordon hadn’t had to run for centuries. He’d been locked in another dimension that froze his body in time from the moment he’d entered it. That meant he neither aged, nor ate, nor had to exercise. What mattered most was his mind, and it was only through constant mental stimulation and carefully keeping his link to his previous dimension that he kept his sanity. The days he’d lost that link to reality, when Tommy as the evil Green Ranger had scrambled his connection, were some of the hardest he’d had to live through in centuries. Not that he would tell Tommy that. The boy blamed himself for enough.

The point was, he wasn’t used to running. To having a body that felt pain and fatigue. And right now his heart was beating wildly in his chest, the breath ragged in his throat, his legs seizing up with cramps.

He just needed a moment to collect himself. To call on power that he hadn’t had to use for so long. To remember how to be a person again.

A stream of lightning sizzled at his feet, and he pitched forward into the gray dust that made up the ground in this dimension. Remembering what his Rangers had done countless times, he tucked and rolled, coming to a rest on his knees, and then whipped around to send a bolt of energy back to his attacker.

There was a blinding flash, and then a yell. Zordon did not allow himself the luxury of celebration. He formed his hands in front of him and started carefully calling power between them.

The danger was not running out of energy. He was Eltarian, and he was one of the most powerful Eltarians to have ever lived. In his youth, he’d taken the forefront in the battle against the Alliance of Evil. He was weakened considerably, but only in his dimensional prison. In this dimension, however, he could feel the infinite power simmering just beneath his skin.

The danger was in controlling this power. Eltarian energy was infinitely creative, its only limits being imagination, will, and discipline. It could unmake and recreate the very building blocks of life, which made it dangerous. If Zordon allowed his power to get out of his control, it could consume him and everything else. Most of his kind lacked the talent to cause any real problems, instead using their power to create artifacts, or retrieve people’s memories, or minor things like that. The others who had talent tended to lock themselves away, communing with the universe in perfect harmony.

Zordon had little patience with “communing,” not when worlds were being overrun by evil. He liked action more than his kind usually did, which made Rita’s attack against him, locking him in a dimension where he could only sit and watch, all the more ironic.

If he lost control in his fight against the Wizard, he could kill his opponent, but he could also destroy the fabric of reality. As such, when the Wizard emerged from the swirling dust, Zordon attacked with the smallest amount of power he could. Unfortunately, he’d underestimated the Wizard, who dissipated the attack with a simple wave of his wand.

“Zordon, I am insulted,” the Wizard said. “You think me a mere monster, one that your children might fight.”

“Not at all,” Zordon said. “You’re a teacher; you should not be insulted by testing.”

“Very well,” the Wizard said. “Try again.”

Zordon had the presence of mind not to gape at him. The Wizard was actually inviting an attack, practically offering to stand still while Zordon took a punch. Zordon had worked with fighters all his life, and he knew the usual bravado behind this. Hit me as hard as you can, and it won’t be enough. I won’t flinch.

But the Wizard had to know better. He was a teacher, not a fighter. He was also one of the most powerful sorcerers in the known universe. If anyone had a true inkling of what a powerful Eltarian could do, it was this Wizard. And yet... he was still standing there, waiting for Zordon’s next attack.

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” Zordon said, drawing himself up to his feet. The power was there, waiting to be called on, but Zordon held off. “You would have me kill you just to prove a point?”

The Wizard shook in silent laughter. “I would have you do as you’re doing now. Centuries of inaction has made you weak, old man. There’s discipline, and I’m a proponent of discipline, but then there’s cowardice. You’d rather risk the lives of teenagers than use your own power.”

“Again, you don’t know what you’re asking,” Zordon repeated. “I’ve caused the universe enough suffering. There’s a reason why neither of us fight. Beings like us... we’re best at teaching. At equipping future generations.”

“You flatter me,” the Wizard said mockingly, “putting me on your level. And you flatter yourself, thinking yourself a teacher. Hmmm... I wonder...” The Wizard flicked his wand, and the dust started to swirl around him. Six figures slowly formed from the dust, and Zordon’s breath caught when colors and features became clear. There was a flash of light, and Zordon found himself face to face with the Power Rangers, unmorphed.

But it was not the ones he knew to be spending the day on a beach on Earth. Jason, Trini, and Zack faced him, looking as they did on the day he recruited them. Billy and Kimberly, too; Billy wore glasses, and Kimberly wore the more impractical clothes she’d worn in the early days. And Tommy, hair slightly shorter, and wearing green.

“These are your students, the ones you chose to carry on your legacy. And what a legacy it has been... three students giving up, three turned evil. It has been many years since you were a student, I’d wager,” the Wizard said, chuckling darkly. “Let’s give you a test then, and let the students test the teacher. I will allow you to leave this dimension, but only if you destroy the images of your child warriors.”

With that, the Wizard disappeared, leaving Zordon to face the images of his Power Rangers.


When the monsters appeared, the Rangers were waiting for them. Rocky had only just whipped around a boulder, hiding from view, when all four monsters teleported in.

The monsters stared dumbly at the empty cell, the force field long gone. The cavern seemed deserted.

“They’ve escaped!” Candleman gestured wildly with his candle arms, spreading wax everywhere and making the other monsters back up quickly. “How could they have escaped?!”

“Chill out, Candleman,” Slippery Shark joked. “They’re still here somewhere. We just have to find them.”

Dark Samurai drew his jar out from his pants, where he’d been keeping it for convenience, much to the discomfort of all around him. “Rangers... where are you?” He began in a sing-song voice.

The four monsters spread out, Pop Star having no comments, as usual. After a few minutes of searching, Slippery Shark swimming in and out of the rock, the monsters heard a cough near the entrance to the cavern.

Instantly, Slippery Shark swam to the source of the cough and grabbed Aaron and Adam. Adam looked furiously at Aaron. “Way to spoil our hiding place.”

“You won’t be worried about hiding for long,” Candleman sneered. “In fact, you won’t be worried about much of anything. Now where are your friends?”

“There’s some behind that boulder,” Aaron said immediately, even as Adam tried to silence him.

There was a gasp and the sound of running, but Pop Star was already on the move. However, the sounds seemed to scatter and echo throughout the room. Frustrated, Pop Star began using its sonic speed, which cracked loudly, drowning out any sound whatsoever.

“Can’t you do anything right?!” Dark Samurai snapped. “You’re barely even a proper monster!”

Candleman, in the meantime, threw his wax in a wide arc, hoping to catch the scurrying Rangers. Slippery Shark kept a hold on Adam and Aaron, wanting to join in the search but unwilling to let his two prisoners go. The wax formed a sort of cocoon around the cavern, filling in all the hiding places.

Finally, the running sounds all focused in on one spot, and Candleman pointedly aimed for a cluster of rocks. “All right, Rangers. Would you prefer fire or suffocation?”

After a pause, the five teens emerged from the rock cluster, their hands raised and looking scared and defeated. “Okay... you win,” Tommy said. “We’ll go quietly.”

“I’m sure you know we can’t accept that now,” Dark Samurai said smoothly. “Pop Star, gather the Black Ranger and bring him over with the others. We will transport them all in my jar. Slippery Shark, keep hold of the extra.”

Pop Star floated over to Adam and pulled him by the arm. Adam followed the monster, but then stumbled, pulling Pop Star off-balance and breaking its hold. Adam recovered quickly and began to run.

“You fool! Catch him!” Candleman said, casting his wax to stop Adam in his tracks.

However, there was no longer any room to maneuver. As Adam ducked under the wax, Pop Star put on a burst of speed to break through it. Seeing that the six Rangers were in his line of fire, Dark Samurai opened his jar, only for Pop Star to be sucked in instead as the Rangers hit the ground, using the wax to shield them.

“What just happened?! Let it go!” Candleman yelled at Dark Samurai.

“It’s your stupid wax that...” Dark Samurai began.

The Rangers were already on the move, heading for the entrance. Before he could react, Slippery Shark felt himself pushed against the wax, which he couldn’t wriggle away from. There was a crack, and while Dark Samurai had been arguing, Pop Star burst through the jar, shattering it.

There was a rumbling, and the ground quaked. Rocks began to fall, and the Rangers and Aaron plunged themselves through the exit of the cavern... only to run out to open sky and sand. The cave was no longer there, and the arch that signified the cave’s entrance fell in on itself, revealing only smooth cliff wall.

“You were right, Tommy,” Aisha said. “The two dimensions... they destablized each other.”

“That was risky, but it worked. Please let’s never do it again,” Rocky said.

“We need to get back to the Command Center,” Kimberly said. “We need to talk things over with Zordon. Aaron, are you okay going back to the house?”

Aaron looked like he was in shock. Granted, he’d just been kidnapped and almost killed by monsters, so that would put most people in shock. “I’m fine...” he managed to get out. “You kids do what you need to do.”


“That was actually quite entertaining,” Rita commented, accepting a glass of wine from a Putty. “But a bit too easy. I’d like to see this new team in action.”

“Easily accomplished,” Zedd said. “Which monsters would you like to see them battle? They no longer have the dimension powering them, but I can manage to grow at least two.”

Rita lifted her staff. “Oh, I think we can manage all of them,” she said. She smiled at Zedd’s hesitant step back. “Between the two of us, we can accomplish something so trivial.”

Zedd cocked his head, and Rita wondered if, in all his courtly manners to her, he had even considered her as someone who could fight. Their vows had emphasized equality, as all royal weddings did, but Zedd was used to fighting alone. Had he expected her to simply sit by and watch as he continued to conquer galaxies? That would simply not do.

“My love, I had not considered...” he began.

She didn’t want to hear it. “I am an Empress,” she said, emphasizing each syllable. “I will not sit by as a spectator. You may have defeated me once, but do not for a second doubt my power.”

The mention of their fight, of her banishment by him, seemed to halt any protests Lord Zedd might make.

“My love,” he said in a quiet voice, “you are of course correct. We are far stronger together than we ever were separate.”

Rita’s eyes widened, but she didn’t comment. Still, she thought of Zedd as someone who could benefit her. Somehow, she had assumed the love potion would make him like Tommy: still with his own mind, but completely loyal and submissive to her will. This love... it wasn’t working out like that at all.

But it wasn’t the time to question their connection, she reminded herself. It was the time for action. Instinctively, they knew what they needed to do. Crossing their staffs, they sent lightning to the Earth. They felt neither sick nor disoriented at the expense of power. Instead, they felt energized. And, for the first time, Rita didn’t have a headache.


Aaron was walking up the path to the house, armed with one of Billy’s flashlights in the dark. The Rangers had almost punched their communicators to teleport up when they felt the ground rumbling beneath them. Almost resignedly, they looked up.

“Oh, I’d hoped they were buried with the collapsed dimension,” Kimberly said.

“No such luck,” Tommy said. “You guys ready for a Zord fight?”

For, towering above them were the four monsters--Candleman, Slippery Shark, Dark Samurai, and Pop Star. Dark Samurai had noticed Aaron’s flashlight and was heading for that light, Slippery Shark had started diving in the waves, causing even bigger waves, while Pop Star and Candleman seemed more interested in the lit-up city of San Francisco.

Adam was about to run to help his brother, when Tommy grabbed his arm. “You can help him better in the Megazord.”

“Another Zord fight,” Aisha said. “Okay. We can do this.”

“Piece of cake,” Rocky said. “I mean, it’s just piloting giant robots while fighting four monsters and making sure they don’t destroy a major city... or my dad’s house... or...”

Tommy and Kimberly looked at each other and nodded. “It’s Morphin’ Time.”


“This day started out pretty shit,” Rocky said, “but now it’s possibly the greatest day of my life!!!”

“Rocky, focus,” Kimberly said, piloting her Firebird Zord into position.

“I’m piloting a giant red dragon robot how can I focus,” Rocky said in one breath.

“Because you have to key in the Megazord sequence,” Billy explained, his hands hovering over the controls. “You’re piloting the power center.”

“And Slippery Shark’s waves might just reach over the cliff... to your dad’s house,” Aisha pointed out.

“And it’s not like we haven’t done this before,” Adam said.

“You guys are such buzzkills. Right,” Rocky said, still sounding exhilarated. “Thunder Megazord sequence initiate.”

“White Tigerzord standing by,” Tommy said. “I’ll keep the monsters busy while you form up.”

Tommy slid Saba into the control dash and switched the shared comm off. “Okay, let’s just occupy four monsters while the rookies get it together,” he said under his breath.

“You realize Rocky is going to be piloting the Megazord, correct?” Saba said, startling Tommy. He hadn’t heard the sword speak in a while.

“I had realized that, and I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Tommy said. The last time they’d called the Zords together, the fight had ended quickly. This fight would be far trickier. Still... “We’ve run plenty of Zord training scenarios, and he’d done fine in... most... of them. I’m trying to concentrate here.”

“Oh, I’m sure everything will work splendidly,” Saba said. “Should I charge up the heartburn attack as soon as I can?”

That’s what Saba liked to call the blast that shot from the tiger’s mouth in the middle of the Zord’s chest. “Yeah, you do that,” Tommy said. “In the meantime, shut up.”

He focused his attack on Dark Samurai, which was the most immediately threatening. The monster no longer had its jar, having been destroyed by Pop Star’s escape attempt. However, it was still an excellent fighter, so Tommy had to be quick once he got its attention.

He hadn’t given himself much time to think about it, but each of these monsters had connections to rather painful memories. He himself had fought beside Pop Star as the evil Green Ranger in the attack on the high school. Dark Samurai had kidnapped Kimberly, made easier by his own irresponsibility (which Zordon had reminded him of only recently), not to mention he had almost died that time around. Slippery Shark was the one who pitted him and Jason against each other in a rivalry spell. It had all worked out for the best, but they’d still hurt each other. Finally, Candleman had been there when he’d first lost his powers: one of his worst memories in a life already filled with not-so-great memories.

He couldn’t help but wonder if Rita had chosen these monsters as a message to him... or if he was thinking too much of herself. Now that he was out of that cave dimension, he could feel her presence like an itch in the back of his head, but it was far away, as if she’d distanced herself. Perhaps she had. That was fine. He remembered Delphine’s cautious words, about the dangers of keeping these connections.

Instead of dwelling, he focused on the fight. Dark Samurai was quick... but the White Tigerzord was quicker. He dodged another volley of attacks and prepared his chest blast. He needed to end this before he moved on to the next one.

In the meantime, the Thunder Megazord had finally formed, and the five Ranger took their stations.

“Okay, guys,” Rocky said, finally sounding focused. “Tommy’s got that weird jar dude, so we need to take out the shark first. Those waves look dangerous.”

“Right on,” Kimberly said. “Our sword attack is too slow for him, so we gotta improvise with something else.”

“How about something he can’t dodge?” Adam suggested.

“Right,” Rocky said. He tapped the comm. “Tommy, the water might be dangerous in a minute. Might want to hop out.”

“One sec,” Tommy said.

As they waited, Rocky’s fingers hovering over the controls to key in the commands, they watched as the White Tigerzord obliterated the Dark Samurai with a chest burst attack.

“Okay, go for it,” Tommy said, as his Zord leapt high into the air.

Not wasting any time, Rocky initiated the attack. Mist poured from the Thunder Megazord’s fingers, surrounding Slippery Shark and mixing with the sea spray. As soon as the monster was surrounded on all sides, Kimberly keyed in the command to electrify the mist. The shark exploded mid-jump, and the mist dissipated.

“Good work... but those were the easy ones,” Tommy said. “I’d say Candleman and Pop Star are uncomfortably close to San Francisco, wouldn’t you?”

“I would suggest destroying Pop Star first,” Billy said. “Its sonic bursts could be devastating to the city.”

“Right. Kim? We got our sword powered up?” Rocky said.

“A few more minutes,” Kimberly said. “Keep the monsters engaged until then.”

The two Zords put on a burst of speed and whipped around in front of the two monsters, barring the way to the city.

“Okay, that’s good... now what?” Rocky said.

Tommy had already engaged Pop Star in combat, drawing its sword which was a replica of Saba. Rocky’s hesitation, however, cost them dearly, as Candleman struck the Thunder Megazord head-on with a high-powered flame attack.

Alarms screamed, and the Zord tilted as Adam desperately tried to keep them on their feet and Aisha scrambled to boost the flagging shields. Thankfully, Billy had long ago installed seatbelts in the Thunder Megazord, so they weren’t sliding on their shared benches.

“Shields at 60% and holding,” Aisha said. “Rocky, don’t let us take another one like that.”

“A few of our power couplings have fused,” Billy reported. “Repairs are impossible mid-combat. And we’re taking on water, which will make our movements more sluggish.”

“It’s okay,” Kimberly said, her voice tight with concentration. “We’ve got enough power still.” They could hear the grin in her voice. “Rocky, how about we use some of that water.”

“I got it.” Rocky’s voice was a bit shaky after his mistake, but he was recovering. “Adam, be prepared to catch us.”

Rocky swung the Megazord’s leg in a roundhouse kick. Candleman easily evaded the slow, telegraphed kick, but they weren’t aiming to hit the monster. Instead, the water collected in the Megazord’s leg doused the monster, causing it to lose its flame for the first time. Candleman looked at its two arms and concentrated, obviously trying to summon flame again.

“Too late!” Kimberly yelled. “We’ve got the sword charged! Rocky, hit it!”

Before the monster could summon its flame, the Thunder Megazord drew its sword and sliced. Candleman exploded just as the others had.

“Guys! Block him!” Tommy yelled over the comm.

The White Tigerzord had been chasing after Pop Star during the entire fight, trying to keep the monster in one place to strike a hit. Pop Star was too fast... for one Zord. As it tried to speed past, Rocky drew the Megazord’s sword and this time merely used it to trip Pop Star mid-sprint. Pop Star flipped and fell spectacularly into the waves. Without hesitation, the two Zords keyed in their final moves, obliterating the monster before it could even get up.

“We won?!” Rocky yelled. “We won!”

His exclamations were answered by cheers in the Megazord cockpit.

Tommy smiled at the cheers erupting from his comm. “We won...” he said under his breath. “For now, at least.” He switched the comm over to the Command Center. “Zordon, do you read? We took care of the monsters. Any other bad news for us?”

“Yes, Tommy,” Alpha said in a small voice. “Please report to the Command Center.”

Alarms went off in Tommy’s head, sounding suspiciously like the alarms in the Command Center. “Alpha, what’s wrong?”

“Zordon is gone.” Alpha sounded beyond any panic, almost like a frightened child. “I can’t find him.”


Zordon had been trained in combat. Had been around fighters most of his life. He’d fought for the side of good, taking various guises to hide his Eltarian identity.

And he’d watched these particular fighters countless times. Had helped train them and watched them grow. And still, he was barely keeping up.

The clones of his students whirled around him. They were morphed yet helmetless, obviously an order from the Wizard to reinforce their humanity to Zordon.

As if he needed that. Even in the midst of battle, even when they thought their helmets hid their faces, Zordon could see them clearly. He knew them: their capabilities, their weaknesses... But right now, with their eyes and faces uncovered, Zordon had expected dead, emotionless eyes, or eyes full of rage. Instead, he fought them as they showed him their true selves: Jason’s determination, Trini’s kindness, Zack’s humor, Billy’s curiosity, Kimberly’s joy, and Tommy’s hope. Their best qualities were shining through their faces, even as their bodies tried to kill him.

Gritting his teeth, Zordon set about doing what he must. Exploit the Rangers’ weaknesses.

He chose Jason first, as the most overtly aggressive fighter. Jason was a smart fighter, but he tended to rely far too much on his strength. He hadn’t quite learned not to telegraph certain punches, even after a year of fighting stronger opponents. Zordon wasn’t stronger, at least in physical strength, but a simple judo throw was well within his capabilities. Reminding himself that this was a clone, and the real Jason was in Geneva far from the war, Zordon made sure Jason landed on his head, and a wet snapping sound filled the air.

Suddenly, Zordon was assaulted by visions. Jason bleeding to death in the Command Center, a sword wound through his chest. Jason sobbing, tears mixing with blood from his broken nose, after he’d failed to save Tommy’s powers. Jason admitting to torturing Goldar. Jason punching Billy. Jason...

And the visions stopped. The five remaining Rangers circled him, waiting for him to gain his senses. Zordon understood. This was not truly a physical fight. The Wizard wanted him to defeat his Rangers, and then to see them at their worst moments. The moments when they’d failed, or failed themselves.

Zack attacked next, his face laughing at a secret joke. His fighting style, as usual, was wild, and Zordon was quickly able to find an opening. Zack’s weakness had always been that, despite his skepticism of Jason’s plans, and despite his reluctance to accept Tommy, he’d always been far too trusting in a fight. He always expected everyone to play fair, so Zordon didn’t. He got Zack off balance, and Zack fell. Zordon used the opportunity to kick Zack when he was down. He could feel the eyes of the other Rangers on him as he kicked Zack down repeatedly, until Zack was only making feeble movements, still smiling bloodily up at him.

Zordon was prepared for the visions this time, but that didn’t make it any better. Zack attacking a laughing Tommy in the Youth Center as Scorpina watched on. Zack arguing with Billy over Tommy’s loyalty. Zack and his family attacked by Dionysus. Zack shot in the shoulder by Kimberly, with an arrow laced with poison. Zack struggling through the long illness, contemplating his own death...

His vision cleared as the images dispersed, and he blinked through what he realized were tears. He brushed them away impatiently in time to see Trini smiling at him and slashing at him with her daggers. Zordon hesitated. He knew what he had to do, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He allowed Trini to cut him, and he felt physical pain for the first time in centuries. He cried out, and already his instincts were kicking in. Trini was a disciplined fighter, often to the point that she had trouble improvising. Zordon feinted a judo hold like he’d done for Jason, but then turned it around by grabbing Trini’s dagger. It was the work of a moment to slam the dagger into Trini’s chest.

This time Zordon fell as the visions slammed into him, coupled with the image of Trini bleeding to death on the floor. Trini slicing her arm open as she tested each serum formula. Trini held at knife-point as Tommy tried to barter his way out of his cell. Trini stepping in the way of the other Rangers as they faced Dark Samurai, terrified that they would get the trapped Kimberly hurt. Trini strapped to Billy’s bed, listening as the creature she thinks is Billy tortures Tommy. Trini holding a broken piece of glass over a beaten and bleeding Kimberly...

Zordon felt bile rise in his throat as he struggled to his feet. Three Rangers remained before him. They’d stopped circling. They merely stood there, quietly waiting for Zordon to resume the sadistic game.

“No more!” Zordon called out, not to the clones of his Rangers, but to the Wizard. He knew the Wizard was there, invisible but silently watching. “Please, end this. Don’t make me do this.”

Silence answered Zordon, and the three remaining Rangers stared on, smiling at him. None of them made a move toward him, and the message was clear. This time he was to choose.

“I can’t,” Zordon said. “I can’t choose. I can’t do this again. Please, don’t make me.”

But he stopped himself. He knew the Wizard of Deception had no concept of mercy, and he knew giving up now would have too high a price. If he surrendered now to the forces of Evil, he would provide Dark Specter with the power necessary to take hold of the rest of the universe. Millions would come under his rule, and the real Rangers, the ones now safely playing on a beach on Earth, would die first.

He steeled himself, gritting his teeth as he considered the three remaining clones and the sadistic choice offered to him. Zordon finally forced himself to say the word. “Billy.”

As he’d suspected, this was a Billy who was largely untrained, who over-relied on the instinct and knowledge of the Morphing Grid. Zordon was able to meet his attacks easily. It was the work of a minute to deal Billy a crushing blow to the head. His glasses broke, and he fell, going still very quickly. 

Zordon wasn’t looking at him. Instead, he was sinking to the floor, overcome by the visions he knew he would see. Billy looking in dismay at the wreckage of the Command Center, being told that he had to work on repairs before searching for the interdimensional being he’d come to regard as a father. Billy hanging from a chin-up bar in his own living room, tortured by the Green Ranger, his own mother’s life in the balance. Billy lying in a hospital bed, convinced that he could no longer wield the power. Billy under Rita’s spell, stealing the Rangers’ power coins while trying to kill Tommy. Billy at the funeral of the man he’d expected to become his step-father, blaming himself for the death. Billy dealing with the ramifications of the clone he’d created, the clone that had tormented his friends. Billy begging Zordon not to tell his friends, and then accepting Zordon’s discipline after everyone had found out, after he’d been forced to kill his clone. Billy mourning Tommy’s death, even as he denied its reality...

It took Zordon a long time to recover after the visions ended. When his eyes finally opened, he saw pink and white boots next to his head. He let out a shuddering sob, perversely grateful he wouldn’t have to choose again. He got to his feet to face Kimberly, who looked for all the world like she’d just made a joke about helmet hair. Before he could talk himself out of it, he lunged for her blade blaster, locked it into blaster mode, and shot her before she could make a single move. He knew her weaknesses--her wild and untamed fighting style that occasionally verged on sloppy--but he couldn’t face fighting her. He wanted it over.

Even as the visions slammed into him, he could still make out Tommy patiently waiting for him. But then that image dissolved, replaced by Kimberly. Kimberly crying in a car, overcome by the loss of the Command Center. Kimberly humiliated by Tommy in the middle of a party. Kimberly trapped in a jar, having to rely on others to rescue her. Kimberly sitting on Tommy’s bed, realizing he was leaving forever. Kimberly angrily yelling about secret identities in the wake of Tommy’s father’s death. Kimberly panicking over the loss of her brother. Kimberly fighting Tommy in order to sacrifice herself for her brother’s life. Kimberly shooting an arrow and hearing a scream behind her, only to be greeted by the ashes of her dead love. Kimberly coming under Zedd’s spell, attacking the Rangers and shooting Zack with a poison arrow. Kimberly fighting Trini and slowly being beaten. Kimberly running from Zedd, fighting the spell, and finally admitting to killing Tommy...

Zordon got to his feet unsteadily and faced the last remaining Ranger. Tommy. This Ranger, though, was no longer smiling. He was leering sadistically, his hazel eyes flashing green. This was Tommy as he’d first met him, under Rita’s spell and ready to unleash pain and suffering to all around him.

There was no easy win here, Zordon realized. Tommy had his weaknesses, but nothing Zordon could exploit. He tried. He attacked Tommy, but Tommy seemed to anticipate every movement. And it wasn’t that Tommy was a better fighter than the others, though Tommy was quickly becoming the most gifted fighter Zordon had ever known. It was that Tommy knew him. Tommy had seen his true face, and somehow this shadow clone of Tommy’s seemed to know him as well. And for every blow, Zordon saw visions of Tommy’s suffering. Tommy standing in the Command Center, fighting against the spell even as he was scrambling Zordon’s signal. Tommy terrorizing the Rangers: beating up Billy, shaming Kimberly, trapping Jason, taunting Zack and Trini... Tommy desperately clinging to the spell even as they forced him to break it. Tommy losing his powers, losing his father, losing his life, even as he clung to each hope, that hope seemed to slip through his fingers.

“I believe that’s quite enough.”

Zordon laid on the floor, and he realized the pain he was feeling was no longer from the visions, or from Tommy’s physical attacks. The pain had been there the whole time, just under the surface. It was a burning, starting in his center and working its way out. It was like his power was being twisted in on itself, consuming him.

He was dying. He had been ever since he entered this dimension... ever since he’d left the dimension Rita had trapped him in.

He raised his eyes to see the Wizard of Deception materialize. Immediate, Tommy’s clone pulled back and stood to the side, as if at attention.

“You understand now,” the Wizard said, the flames in his head flashing brighter.

Zordon coughed, feeling himself grow weaker by the second. “You... you have taught your lesson well. Your shadow puppet Rangers, your visions... I know what suffering I’ve caused. But then, I’ve always known.”

“Not the point,” the Wizard said acidly, “but then I don’t expect you to truly understand, with your limited perspective. However, I will still give you a choice. Die here, in the dust, and I imagine Empress Rita and her new husband will make short work of your Rangers before moving on to the next planet. Or they may spare them... who knows,” the Wizard ended in a rumbling laugh. “But the war for you would be over, and you wouldn’t cause any more suffering. Your second choice: I can send you back to the dimension Rita gave you, and you would heal immediately. Your life of being a parasite to child soldiers would continue, just as your pointless war would continue. So... what’s it to be?”

Zordon did not have to hesitate. The Wizard accused him of having limited perspective, but Zordon knew of the role he would have to play in the coming war. There was the prophesy, the long-haired male Red Ranger who would kill him. Zordon knew, as he had always known, that that prophesy was the last great hope for the universe, for ending Dark Specter finally.

He looked at Tommy’s clone, who was staring at him, as if understanding the decision he was making. Zordon knew that the real Tommy, the one who currently carried the white power coin, but would not indefinitely... he was the one. The one who had seen his true face, the one who would eventually kill him.

I’m sorry, Tommy, Zordon thought, even as his eyes slid to the Wizard.

“I choose the second option,” Zordon said, his pained voice barely above a whisper. “Send me back to my prison.”

The Wizard laughed, and even the Tommy clone seemed to shake in silent laughter. The pain rose, and Zordon knew he didn’t have a lot of time, but without his machine to return to his dimension--now long lost--there was little he could do about it but wait.

The Wizard loomed over him, and then stooped, the face of fire and bone filling Zordon’s vision.

“Beg,” the Wizard said. “Beg for me to spare your life.”

Zordon was long beyond pride. “Please. Please, spare me.” He could not go on, as the pain burned through his throat and choked his voice out.

The Wizard stared down at him, laughing in contempt. “Thank you, Zordon. I could find no better wedding present for Rita than you begging to be put back in the dimension she made especially for you. Now she knows that she truly defeated you... or she will know, after I play back this recording of you begging like a worm.”

Before Zordon could respond, the Wizard of Deception waved his wand, and the dusty dimension disappeared. Zordon closed his eyes, and then opened them. The white abyss of his dimension... HIS dimension, the only one he could ever know for the rest of his life... greeted him.

Chapter Text

“Anything?” Tommy said, forcing himself not to pace. The Command Center was too crowded for that.

“Nothing yet,” Billy said. He was silently working at their dimensional scanner, while Aisha was tapped into the Morphing Grid, and Alpha was working on the communications frequencies.

Rocky and Adam stood next to the Viewing Globe, anxious but having nothing to do. Kimberly bounced on her heels, giving fleeting glances at Zordon’s tube.

“Has he ever disappeared before?” Adam ventured quietly.

Tommy closed his eyes. “Yes. Once when the Command Center was destroyed, and once when there was an overload in the Morphing Grid.” Both of those times were my fault, Tommy added silently. “But he’s never been this stupid before.”

“That’s not fair,” Kimberly said, glaring at Tommy.

“Don’t entirely care right now,” Tommy answered. “He knew the risks of hopping dimensions. At least before we knew exactly where he was. It was just his signal that was lost. This time... he could be anywhere. I nearly kill myself hopping dimensions, and he...”

“I mean, he’s a prisoner there, right?” Rocky said. “If I had a chance to not be a big floating head, I’d take it in a heartbeat.”

Tommy didn’t answer. In the back of his mind, he was already blaming himself. He’d been the one to show that dimension hopping was possible. He couldn’t help but picture Zordon’s actually-young face, contemplating a reckless escape from his prison.

He could be dead...

There was a crackle of energy, and Aisha let out a gasp as the Morphing Grid lit up. Slowly, Zordon’s head appeared in the tube. Kimberly and Rocky both gave out whoops, Billy sagged against his console in relief, and Adam and Aisha merely grinned up. 

“Oh, ay-yi-yi, Zordon!” Alpha said. “You’re back in your dimension! When we lost contact, I was so worried, but the Power Rangers were lost, and then they were fighting, and...”

“Yes, Alpha, I am back in my dimension, this time to stay,” Zordon said. “The risks of our experiments are too great, and now that Rita Repulsa is back...”

Tommy opened his mouth to say all of the things he’d been thinking, about Zordon’s irresponsibility and recklessness, about how they’d nearly lost him forever, and how dare he… when Tommy stopped. There was a look in Zordon’s eyes that he’d never seen before. Something had happened. Something terrible.

“It’s okay, you’re back safe,” Kimberly said. “And we’re safe and everyone’s safe and oh my god can we talk about Rita marrying Zedd already?”

“How did you know about that, Zordon?” Aisha asked. “We found out from the Wizard of Deception, whoever that is, when he was possessing Adam’s brother.”

“I heard it from the same source,” Zordon said. “Adam, is your brother all right?”

No one pointed out the obvious diversion. “Physically, yes,” Adam said. “I have a feeling we’re finally going to have that conversation we’ve been avoiding tonight,” he ended uncomfortably.

“So, how did Zedd go from banishing Rita to wanting to marry her?” Tommy said. 

“And who’s this Wizard of Deception?” Rocky said. “He seems to be Rita’s buddy, but...”

“For your question, Rocky, the answer is simple,” Zordon said. “The Wizard of Deception is an ancient being, older even than myself, who has dedicated his life to teaching magic for the purpose of evil. He runs a school, and Rita was his pupil, a personal favorite of his. He’s not as powerful as Rita, but he’s more magically adept. His talent, as his name implies, lies in creating illusions and making them real.”

“We saw a bit of that,” Kimberly said. “He must have created that cave that hid the dimensional portal. We can also chalk possessing people up to his power set, so we’ll have to be careful. Is he going to stick around, or is he just here for the wedding?”

“Sounds like it depends on whether this whole wedding thing is an illusion he cooked up,” Rocky said. “I mean, it doesn’t sound like Zedd and Rita were tight. So, he could be, ya know...” Rocky trailed off.

“Love spell?” Billy suggested. “We know that Rita has a talent for that sort of thing.” He shot an uncomfortable look at Tommy, who resolutely ignored it.

“That’s possible,” Tommy said. “Rita tried to fight Zedd, and she absolutely failed. She might have died if Goldar hadn’t smashed one of her power sources. She wouldn’t try another direct attack. I could imagine her putting Zedd under a spell, but marrying him? And he’s not like… I mean, he has magic to protect him from spells like that.”

Kimberly frowned. She remembered Zedd presenting her with Rita’s dress, reading from Rita’s books. There was something else going on... but revealing what she knew would reveal probably too much. Tommy was barely able to hide his involvement with Rita; she didn’t really want to add her own involvement with Zedd into the mix.

“Ya know,” Rocky said, his eyes narrowing, “it would be a LOT easier to have a conversation about all this if you guys weren’t so damn secretive all the time.”

Tommy, Kimberly, and Billy looked up at him, startled. Rocky smirked, glad to break the somewhat smug exteriors of the senior Rangers. He prepared to do it again.

“So... Green Ranger,” he addressed Tommy, “tell us more about your old boss Rita.”

Tommy actually stumbled back at that, only catching himself on the edge of a computer console. 

“I told you we suck at secrets lately,” Kimberly said quietly to Billy, who had turned pale at Rocky’s words.

“Rocky, could you be any more dramatic?” Aisha said. “I thought we were going to broach the subject tactfully.”

“That was tactful,” Rocky retorted.

“It really wasn’t,” Adam said.

Tommy looked up at Zordon, who looked back at him grimly. Tommy knew instinctively that Zordon needed to be left alone right then, that he couldn’t face the Rangers revealing their evil pasts at this time. Tommy gave Zordon a significant look, as if to say “we’re going to talk later.” Zordon nodded wearily, and Tommy turned back to face the rest of the Rangers.

“That’s fair,” Tommy said. “And it definitely wasn’t fair to keep a really important part of...” He glanced at Kimberly and Billy, who nodded. “Our past. But it’s not something we have to discuss here. Given today’s events, I think Aaron needs to hear all this, too. And I think Zordon needs some rest.”

“Today’s events have been trying,” Zordon admitted, “and we have much to discuss tomorrow. In light of the situation, I believe we must hold the usual meeting tomorrow.”

“You’ll get no arguments from me,” Aisha said.

They teleported out, leaving Zordon and Alpha alone.

“Zordon,” Alpha began hesitantly, but Zordon had already disappeared, and the computer told that he’d put his transmission on stand-by. 

Alpha shook his head sadly. “Oh, ay-yi-yi, Zordon. What happened to you?”


Rita stared at the screen projected across the night sky. Zedd’s chamber of command was deserted but for Rita, Zedd at her side, and the Wizard of Deception projecting the recording from his wand. This was only for the eyes of the new married couple. Really, it was only for Rita’s eyes, but she hadn’t figured out a way to get rid of Zedd to watch it.

As Zordon, looking quite as young as the teenagers he employed, begged for his own life, Rita felt her eyes filling with tears. One slipped past her control, and then another.

“My love,” Zedd said, tearing his vision away from the screen, “you’re not feeling sympathy for...”

“These are tears of joy,” Rita interrupted him, impatiently waving the question aside. “I now know that my life has not been wasted. That I truly and utterly defeated the greatest force in the universe, while I walk free.” She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “Wizard, that is possibly the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. You are entirely forgiven for missing the ceremony.”

The Wizard flicked his wand, and a crystal appeared on one of the tables. “You’re normally impossible to shop for, Rita.” He took the crystal and presented her with it. “A recording, for you to treasure, to broadcast, to play back to Zordon whenever you want...”

“This is all mine,” Rita said quietly, accepting the crystal. “And Zordon knows I have it. That’s enough for me.”

The room was starting grow red around the edges, and Rita wondered if Zedd was feeling jealous. She didn’t care. This moment was precious, and had little to do with him.

If Zedd was feeling jealous, he didn’t make an issue of it. Instead, he bowed slightly to Rita. “Not to break up the festivities, but it does grow late. I have a few preparations to make, if you will join me soon.”

With that, he swept off to his chamber, leaving Rita wide-eyed and speechless.

Oh. The wedding night. Oh, hell.

“I will leave you for now,” the Wizard said, “though not for long. I still have plans to aid you... including one plan to help pay back that wayward servant of yours who calls himself a hero.”

Rita wished she had the energy to begin the plan now. She wished she could do anything but go through those doors in the dark corner. When she had agreed to marry him, she had not considered...

“Remember,” the Wizard said in a soft voice, putting his arms kindly around Rita, who had begun shivering. “You are your own woman. Marriage does not change that.”

With that, the Wizard disappeared, but he had said enough. Rita’s head shot up. She was the one who had created the love potion. She was in control of this situation. She did not have to submit to anything she didn’t want to.

She ran out of the throne room, holding the crystal protectively. In a matter of moments, she was in Finster’s lab, where Finster had a cup of hot cocoa waiting on her.

She sank into a chair and warmed her fingers with the cup. “Finster, I want you to keep this crystal safe for me. Out of anyone’s reach. Other than my wand, this is my most important possession.”

“Yes, my Queen,” Finster said, taking the crystal gingerly and setting it in protective storage. “You need merely ask for it, and I will bring it to you.”

“I know,” Rita said, her voice tense. “Finster...” she took a steadying drink, and she noted Finster had put a splash of something stronger in there. Bless him. “Finster, we must adjust the love spell on Zedd. Carefully, of course, but there are some necessary adjustments that must take place. Tonight.”

Finster’s wrinkled brow creased even more. “My queen, I would not advise it. The marriage bond may have had some effect on the love spell, and we have not had a chance to study any possible ramifications.”

“I don’t care,” Rita said, suddenly having the urge to throw the cup. “I’m in control of this spell. If I say it needs to be changed, it needs to be changed.”

“My queen...” Finster began, sounding more distressed.

“Do you realize what’s about to happen?” Rita said, her voice becoming shaky. “Where I’m about to go?”

“Yes, my queen,” Finster said quietly.

They were silent, Rita staring into her cup. Every protest, every angry retort, died on her lips. She knew she was panicking, but she couldn’t figure out how to stop. She was caught, and she realized she was caught in a trap of her own making. Suddenly, the crystal holding the recording seemed to represent the power she used to have, not the power she had right now.

“You placed a spell on him,” Finster said, for once leaving off the appellation of ‘my queen.’ “You now have a responsibility for him. And you married him. There are bonds here, ancient magic, with which we cannot interfere.”

“So that’s it?” Rita said, her voice shaking. “I just... I just submit because I have a responsibility?”

“Of course not,” Finster said kindly. “But it does mean that you talk to him. As equals. He is your spouse: he will listen.”

Rita thought of everything she knew about Zedd. His impulsiveness. His self-importance. His possessiveness. The only love he had in him was what she’d put in there with a potion, and even that was unpredictable. Would he listen? Probably not. But Finster was right. There was no other way around it.

She set the cup down without saying a word, and began walking back to the throne room... to his chambers.

At the bend of the corridor, Goldar stood, apparently headed to his room. He stood aside to let her pass. “Empress,” he said respectfully, bowing his head.

If he had remained silent, she might have let him pass without incident. As it was...

Rita stopped, regarding Goldar coldly. “Goldar...” she said, the corners of her mouth curling up. “We have not had a chance to catch up. At least, not since you betrayed me.”

Goldar looked almost resigned, as if he’d been waiting for this moment, even as fear leapt to his eyes. “My empress...”

“Call me ‘empress’ one more time,” Rita challenged, raising her wand.

Goldar flinched back, and the more he feared the more powerful Rita felt. She began to understand why Zedd ruled principally through fear. The effect was addictive. “I...” Goldar looked like he was searching for words, now that he couldn’t fall back on her title. “I wanted to...”

Rita flicked her wand, and Goldar was lifted to the wall by his throat. He automatically raised his hands to try to free himself, but he could do nothing against the magic keeping him up there, barely allowing enough air to keep him from passing out.

“To protect me. Yes, I know,” Rita said, her voice low and dangerous. “You think me a fool? You think that I couldn’t figure out what you did? About your... noble... self-sacrifice?” She spat out the word ‘noble,’ as if it were a curse. “I was imprisoned for months. It felt like years. I had time to think.”

Goldar’s eyes went wide, and he stopped struggling. Rita imagined what was going on in his head. How he’d always fancied himself, the honorable warrior, sacrificing his honor for the life of his empress. How he’d probably tried to protect her servants from the vengeance of the tyrant who had defeated her.

“As you can tell,” Rita said, almost casually, “I am not, nor have I ever been, in need of protection. And especially not from a pissant like you. If you ever presume to protect me again, I will end you in the most painful and imaginative way I can think. Whatever tortures you can imagine, I can easily surpass. Do I make myself clear?”

Goldar’s eyes were starting to dim, but he nodded haltingly. She let him drop to the floor, and he slid to the ground, gasping for breath.

“Sweet dreams,” Rita said, sweeping past him and feeling far better.


The Power Rangers made their way slowly up from the beach, having used that as a teleport point just in case anyone but Aaron was at the vacation house. It was fortunate they’d made that choice, as Aaron was currently paying a delivery driver. Tommy and Adam ran forward to help bring in the food.

“We’re still alive,” Aaron said as they watched the delivery car drive away. “Chinese take-out is as good a way to celebrate as any.”

It was a subdued group that laid out the food on the coffee table, deciding to eat in the living room while sunk into the large sectionals that formed a circle. They didn’t say much as they shoveled the rice and vegetables into their mouths. It had been hours since the hot dogs and chips, and it was nearing midnight.

As they’d slowed down, Tommy put down his carton and steeled himself. He could put this off no longer. “Aaron,” he said quietly, “you asked earlier about the Green Ranger. You may have been possessed at the time, but you still deserve an answer.” He looked around. “You all do.”

“You don’t have to go into detail,” Aisha said quickly. “I mean...”

Tommy held up a hand and gave a pained smile. “I’ve been a coward up until now. I’ve had to live under the shadow of what I’ve done for so long, and I enjoyed being around people who didn’t know, who hadn’t lived through that time. Who...” he cleared his throat. “Who hadn’t seen the worst of me. But this is something you deserve... no, you have to know. And especially now that Rita is back...”

Kimberly held his hand and squeezed it, and Tommy smiled back.

“Almost a year ago, I moved to Angel Grove,” he began. “I first met the Power Rangers when I fought Jason in a small martial arts tournament. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was fighting a Power Ranger, and I was being watched by an empress of evil. Rita determined that she was going to use me against the Rangers, that she was going to give me the green power coin, which she had won from Zordon at the end of their last great battle. But first, she had to capture me and turn me to her side. She tested me with Putties, teleported me up after I’d won, and then spent a weekend brainwashing, hypnotizing, and just generally bending me to her will. By Sunday night, I was completely hers.”

Everyone in the room was entranced, Chinese food completely forgotten. Tommy realized that he was giving details that even Billy and Kimberly had not heard. He forged ahead, knowing he’d never get the courage to do this again.

“Being under her spell is difficult to explain,” Tommy said. “I’ve tried before, but there’s something about it that you just can’t grasp unless you’re currently under the spell. I still had my own mind, my own thoughts... or, at least, I thought I did. I knew I was under a spell, but I preferred it that way. It was a chance to escape responsibility, to find purpose... hell, to even find power. I embraced it. There was a connection between me and Rita... one that has never truly gone away,” he admitted reluctantly. “I would have done anything for her, and so she ordered me to befriend the five teens I’d met the week before. I didn’t know why, but I did it anyway.” He smiled bitterly. “There’s a certain freedom in being under a spell. It gave me license not to think.

“It wasn’t until the next day, after I’d made headway in my mission, that Rita staged a battle against the Power Rangers for me to watch. I guessed correctly the identities of the Power Rangers, and she finally gifted me with the green power coin. I was then her evil Green Ranger, sworn to serve her and to destroy the Power Rangers.

“But, see... there was a reason she put me under the spell before she gave me the power coin. She didn’t just want a monster, or a warrior. She wanted someone who could destroy the Rangers on their own terms. She wanted one who could best them on the battlefield, but also attack them personally: to befriend them only to betray them. And I took to my mission with conviction and imagination. I was good at it.”

It was utterly silent in the room, and Tommy wondered if he was indeed going into too much detail. But... they had to understand. They had to know, just in case it ever happened again. If he were ever to become evil again, they would have to stop him, and he would have to equip them to do that.

“I destroyed the Command Center first,” Tommy said. “I wanted to cut the Rangers off from their support, and I wanted to send the message that they were not safe. I infected Alpha with a virus, and then I scrambled Zordon’s signal, so they would be cut off from their mentor. The next day, during an attack, I entered the Megazord cockpit and threw the Rangers out. I beat them and mocked them. But... that wasn’t all.”

He looked at Billy and Kimberly, and they both nodded. They knew what was coming, and they were prepared.

“My attacks grew worse, as they grew more personal. I... I ambushed Billy in his own home, taking his morpher and communicator and threatening his mother, who I’d tied up in another room. I forced him to stay still as I beat him so badly that he had to be hospitalized. Then that night, at the Youth Center, at a date I arranged with Kimberly, I humiliated her in front of the entire school, betraying the trust she’d put in me. The situation became so dire that Jason snuck into the Moon Palace to find out who I was. I captured him when he tried to protect me, thinking that I had been captured by Rita. I... well, I had, but I used that against Jason, and he nearly died escaping.

“When I revealed my identity to all of the Rangers, they were thrown, but I found that I had underestimated all of them. They overcame every single one of my attacks. That’s when Trini created the serum, which Billy used to heal so he could put me out of commission to keep me from attacking the city with the Dragonzord. They not only overcame everything I threw at them, but they were also able to use my attack against the high school to create a plan to capture me and try to save me. I didn’t make it easy on them. During the attack on the high school, I knocked Kimberly out, destroyed their force fields they were using to protect the students, shot Skull when he was trying to defend Kimberly, and nearly turned about forty students into monsters. Even after they captured me and stuck me in a cell, I used everything I had against them... and then they broke the spell.

“It was like waking up from a long sleep. The thing was, I knew everything I had done, and despite the fact that Rita had given me no choice, I felt fully responsible for everything I had done. I was accepted into the Power Rangers, and I worked to atone for what I’d done... but there’s some things you just can’t get over.” He looked around the room. “I tell you all this because you have to know. I want you to know what I’m capable of, if I were ever turned evil again, and I want you to know what Rita’s capable of. It would be easy to underestimate her, given that she was defeated by Zedd, but now... She’s back, and,” he sighed, “she’s probably going to target me. She’ll target all of us, but she’ll use our past and our connection to target me specifically.”

Tommy finally stopped, and waited for the others to react. No one spoke, and he couldn’t bring himself to look at them. He wondered if he’d royally screwed up everything, if they would even trust him anymore.

“That’s what would have happened to us,” Adam said quietly. “If the snake had bit us, when Goldar held us captive. We would have become servants of evil.”

“Could it still happen?” Aisha asked. “I mean, the Wizard went after Aaron, not any of us.”

Aaron flinched, and Aisha shot an apologetic look at him.

“It could still happen,” Billy said. “It happened to me. Rita put me under a spell for several hours, and I allowed our parents to be kidnapped, stole all the power coins, and almost killed Tommy.”

“And me,” Kimberly said, “except for me it was Zedd. During the two weeks that never happened, the ones we told you about. Zedd had convinced me that I’d killed Tommy, so I willingly went under his spell to prevent my brother from suffering that spell. I terrorized the Rangers and... well... we’ve told you about what happened. We just omitted that I was working for the side of evil.” She cleared her throat. “The thing is, Goldar was right, in some ways. We’re fighting a war in which our minds and souls are attacked more than our bodies, and we’re the only things standing in the way of destruction... but sometimes we get lost.”

“But you find each other,” Aaron spoke for the first time. “You all... that’s what everyone’s been trying to tell me. You kids... no... you Rangers support each other, and you never give up on each other.”

Rocky grinned and raised his glass. “Guys, this calls for a toast. You’ve done the impossible. You’ve changed Aaron’s mind.”

Tommy, Billy, and Kimberly raised their glasses reluctantly, watching the others closely. This was definitely not the reaction they’d been expecting.”

“We’re glad you finally told us,” Aisha said in answer to their questioning looks. “We’d pieced together a few things, but we wanted to hear the truth from you guys.”

“So... Rita and Zedd,” Adam said. “Should we be worried?”

Tommy, Billy, and Kimberly looked at each other and read the same expressions. “Yeah,” Tommy said, “I think we should.”

“But not tonight,” Aaron said, getting up. “Let’s clear things up and go to bed. Even the Earth’s saviors need to sleep.”

The tension broke, and the teens hastily put the leftovers in the fridge and threw away the empty cartons and napkins. In minutes, they had all ambled into their rooms, feeling too drained to do anything else that night.

Adam hung back, helping Aaron wash the few dishes they’d used.

“So… are you okay?” Adam said slowly, wishing he knew what exactly to say, but glad he felt that he could say anything to his brother now that wasn’t strangled with politeness and silence.

Aaron sighed and set the last glass to dry over a mat. “Adam, I’ve never been more scared, and simultaneously proud of you, since…”

Adam knew what he’d left silent. Since their parents had died. Since everything had changed.

“I may not handle it well,” Aaron continued. “I may change my mind even. But I don’t want to drive you away. Not when we’re all we have.” He smiled. “And for what it’s worth, I think you would have made mom and dad proud.”

Tears stung Adam’s eyes, and he looked down. “I… I never wanted to disappoint you. You’re all I have, too.”

Aaron smiled. “Not anymore.” He sighed. “And maybe this will settle Rocky down some.”

Adam finally laughed. “Somehow I doubt it. And you know you’re the worst chaperone in the world, by the way.”

“Oh, I know,” Aaron said. “I’m exhausted. Do you think I really want to search the house for horny teenagers?” He sighed. “I’m going to bed; I suggest you do the same.”

Adam made his way to Rocky’s room and threw himself on the futon. Rocky was already snoring. Smiling, Adam went to sleep, for the first time without a trace of guilt.


 

Tommy and Kimberly laid in each other’s arms, huddling under a blanket with their clothes scattered around them. They were in a room far from the others in what looked like an attic that had been converted into a guest room. Thankfully with an attached bathroom, as Tommy had snuck off to clean up before curling back around Kimberly under the blanket. And, again thankfully, a locked door between them and the rest of the house.

“We can’t go to sleep like this,” Kimberly mumbled tiredly, scraping her hair back from her face in the too-warm room. “Aaron will come looking for us.”

“I’ll set an alarm,” Tommy said, then kissed Kimberly lazily. “We’ll be back up long before anyone else, and they’re all asleep.”

“I guess you’re right,” Kimberly said, who apparently hadn’t been all that set on leaving their attic retreat. “We might go again. It’s been so long, and after today…”

“It’s been ages,” Tommy agreed. He pulled her closer. “Are you worried?”

“Of getting caught?” Kimberly said, her voice amused.

“Not of that,” Tommy said.

Kimberly’s eyes slid open slowly. “I worry. About the future. About the attacks. About Zedd, and now Rita. About the greater war going on around us. About Rocky, and Adam, and Aisha, because they don’t know half of what they’ll have to go through, and there’s nothing we can do to prepare them, really. We can tell them about our own experiences, but there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing. I worry about Zordon, because maybe the others couldn’t tell, but something horrible happened to him in that other dimension, and I don’t care how much older or wiser he is than us, he still needs us, and it’s not good to hide things, but I’m not sure he’s going to talk to us.” She sighed. “And I worry about you. That can’t have been easy for you tonight, and I still feel like you blame yourself.”

“Pot calling kettle,” Tommy said fondly.

Kimberly chuckled. “So, yeah… I worry. But when we’re like this, I don’t. Time stops, and we’re free. We’re not Power Rangers. We’re… just us. Tommy and Kimberly.”

“Unstoppable,” Tommy said.

“Damn straight,” Kimberly answered. Smirking, she grabbed Tommy’s wrist and pushed it over his head, pinning it to the headboard.

Tommy raised his eyebrows. “Why am I suddenly worried?” His voice was breathy, though he was obviously trying to be sardonic.

Kimberly grabbed his other wrist. She grabbed his belt and made a loop to secure his wrists to the headboard. “That’s because you’re smart. Now hold still… and don’t worry,” she ended with a smirk.


Rita pushed the door open. She’d seen Zedd’s bedroom earlier that day, so she knew what to expect. She noted that he had made a few alterations. His medical equipment was now hidden from view, either moved or merely covered up. Candles hid the medicinal tang that had hung over the room from his long illness. Zedd himself was standing in his library up a couple of steps, projecting a few images and read-outs from his visor.

The projections disappeared at her approach, and Zedd turned to face her. It was difficult to read him physically, but she could feel the tiny echo of uncertainty through their bond. Or was that merely her own uncertainty she felt?

“I’m not sure what you’re expecting,” Rita said, fear pushing out her words, “but I won’t. I… I can’t. Not now. Maybe not ever.”

If there was anything Rita hadn’t expected, it was relief. But that was she was feeling from their bond, and she knew now it wasn’t merely her own emotion.

“I should have made it clear before… before we got to this point,” Zedd said. “I can’t. Physically, I can’t.”

Rita ventured forward, now more confident since she knew she would not have to fend off any physical advances. She cleared the room and reached for his hand, feeling the invisible skin, the realistic texture of knuckle and palm. “You’ve done amazing work to protect yourself. I’ve never felt anything so detailed.” Her lips thinned. “But the problem is sensation, isn’t it?”

Again, Zedd seemed relieved that she understood so quickly. After all, she was a magic user herself, and far more adept at it. “If I feel anything, it would be pain, a pain that could destroy me. You might even feel it through our bond. I could never do anything to hurt you. Not anymore.” He hesitated. “Even if I attempted, for your benefit…”

Rita held his hand, tightening her grip on it. “You need not worry then. I am perfectly content.” She wondered if that were entirely true, but at least she now knew she would not have to do anything she didn’t want to. She allowed herself a small smile. “So, what do you propose we do? You said something about preparation.”

Lord Zedd nodded, and Rita felt through the bond what she could only describe as the curl of a smile. “Indeed, my love. You have given me so much. I merely wished to give you… it cannot equal what you’ve given me, but it’s what I have.”

Zedd waved his staff, and there was a grinding sound. Rita looked up a realized the entire room was covered in a dome, a dome that was retracting slowly. The candles snuffed out, and the room was illuminated by an expanse of stars. She could see the Earth in the corner, but otherwise all she could see was the vast array of space.

She’d stared into space many times. She knew many of the pinpricks of light: planets, stars… She knew where each territory was marked, including her own, which was now combined with Zedd’s. In that moment, however, she wasn’t seeing territory or points of attack. She was only seeing blanket of dark broken by light. As she stared, it clicked.

“Are you giving me the stars?” she asked.

Zedd stared up with her. “Everything. Everything that is ours, and everything that will be ours. The universe is yours.” He paused. “Is it enough?”

Rita stretched her hand out to the ceiling, pretending to scoop the stars into her palm. What he was giving her… it wasn’t just the stars. It was hope. A purpose. Their future, written in the stars.

“Ours for the taking,” Rita said, and for the first time, she found comfort in the newly-forged bond, in the matching metal now shining on their clasped left hands.

Chapter Text

Billy was staring out the window, wondering if he could incorporate those theories he’d discussed with Cestria into his latest project, when he realized Ms. Appleby had stopped talking. In fact, no one in the class was making any noise, except for a few familiar guffaws in the back. Slowly, he turned his attention away from the window to see Ms. Appleby standing over him, one eyebrow raised.

“Well, Billy?” Ms. Appleby said.

For a moment, Billy’s mind went completely blank, and his mouth unhelpfully uttered, “Uh... ma’am?”

There were a few laughs around the class, and Kimberly—the only one of his friends he could see—shot him a sympathetic look. Billy surreptitiously checked to see if he still had his pants on. That was usually the next step in nightmares like this.

Unfortunately, it was one of those waking nightmares. Ms. Appleby began moving back to the front of the classroom. She pointed to the board, which Billy should have noticed before. “We were brainstorming research methods for next week’s essay, which is...?”

Billy stuttered, but then he heard Tommy whisper from behind him ‘historical period.’ “The prompt is to tell when and where we would choose to live in history, and how that would affect our day-to-day life,” Billy said quickly.

From the sharp look she gave Tommy, Billy could tell Ms. Appleby knew exactly what had just happened. However, her eyes had already slid over to the still-laughing Bulk and Skull, who were enjoying the fact that the school brain had screwed up in the middle of class. “And what sort of research methods would you use? Farcas? Eugene?”

The two didn’t look happy about their first names being used, but they recovered quickly. “Ms. Appleby, you did say any time in history?” Bulk said.

“Which means we pick yesterday Angel Grove, since any time in the past is history,” Skull grinned.

“So all we have to do is... look around,” Bulk finished, giving what he obviously thought was a winning smile.

Ms. Appleby closed her eyes and looked to be counting slowly. “If you had read the assignment sheet,” she said slowly, “you would have noticed my only requirements for time and place is that it has to be before your birth, and before you ask, yes, it has to be a place that actually existed. Boys, were you born yesterday?”

Sensing a teacher meltdown, Adam quickly raised his hand.

“Yes, Adam,” Ms. Appleby said with a tone of relief.

“If anyone wanted to write about the past of Angel Grove or the surrounding area, there’s an exhibit at the history museum this weekend,” Adam said. “I heard the curator of the exhibit is an expert in local history.”

Ms. Appleby smiled. “That’s a lovely suggestion. Class, I’ll add a couple of bonus points to the essay to anyone who brings back proof that they’ve been to the exhibit: let’s say a signed brochure from the curator. Even if you’re not writing about Angel Grove, you can still benefit from a taste of local history.”

The bell rang, and the class packed up as quickly as possible, desperate to leave after the last class of the day. Billy ducked his head to avoid Ms. Appleby’s pointed look. 

The six teens grabbed their books from their lockers and practically ran out of the school. It had been stuffy in the school building, as the air conditioning was on the fritz, but outside was lovely, the bright sunshine tempered by the first few cool breezes of fall. They collapsed on a picnic table under some trees near the school; they didn’t really want to go to the crowded Youth Center.

“Thank you,” Billy said to Tommy. His face still felt hot from being called out in the middle of class.

“No problem,” Tommy said.

“Okay, I’ve literally never seen you space out like that in class, Billy,” Kimberly said. She was busy doing stretches, and she slowly slid down into a splits in the grass.

“I’m just working on a lot of projects right now,” Billy said. “And you space out enough for both of us.”

Kimberly stuck her tongue out.

“Okay, so what’s everyone writing about?” Aisha said, already pulling out her notebook. “I was thinking about ancient Egypt. Maybe research Cleopatra.”

“You can’t be Cleopatra, remember?” Rocky said. “We have to be ourselves, not a famous historical character. That’s why I would definitely be a Viking. Adventure... sacking the English... funny hats...”

“You know they didn’t actually wear funny hats,” Adam said, a pained expression on his face.

“Yeah, well, I’d like to be a knight for King Arthur,” Tommy said, flourishing an imaginary sword.

“King Arthur is fictional,” Adam said.

“Well... maybe a knight for some king around that time,” Tommy amended, grinning.

“Hey, maybe you can be one of the knights fighting while I’m attacking England with my Vikings!” Rocky said.

Adam laid his head on the table. “Can we try for at least a little historical accuracy?”

“Okay, history guy, what are you going to write about?” Rocky said teasingly.

“Renaissance Italy,” Adam said immediately. “I’ve been reading a book on sculpture and architecture at the time, and I think I could use some information from that. I wouldn’t mind working on the Sistine Chapel.” 

The rest looked a little bit intimidated by his definite plans. “So what about you, Kim?” Aisha said as Kimberly was unfolding herself from the ground. “Any times in history you’d want to live?”

Kimberly shrugged and sat on the table in front of Tommy. “I’m gonna have to think about it. I’ve never really imagined living in another time period... besides in stupid fairy tales that I know have nothing to do with real history.” She chuckled. “Plus, didn’t it kind of suck to be a woman for most of history?”

“Sometimes it kind of sucks to be a woman now,” Aisha pointed out.

Kimberly grinned. “I dunno... Maybe I’ll go to that history exhibit at the museum. I could totally be a gunslinger in the Old West.” She made finger guns. “What do you think... Calamity Kim?”

Tommy laughed. “I’d be terrified.”

“You should be,” Kimberly said.

Aisha cleared her throat. “What about you, Billy?”

Billy had been staring at the lake, again spacing out. He jerked back to attention. “I don’t know. I supposed I’d like to meet some of the great thinkers: Albert Einstein, Marie Curie... But I’m also having a hard time imagining living in another time. Maybe if I could take my laboratory with me.”

“Just don’t start trying to miniaturize the place so you can take it wherever you go,” Tommy joked. “With our luck we’d all get miniaturized and lost in the backyard.”

“We could all meet at the museum tomorrow,” Adam said. “At least to get the extra points.”

“I’ve got a gymnastics thing in the morning,” Kimberly said, “but after?”

They made plans to meet after lunch and broke apart, Rocky, Adam, and Aisha racing to get to Rocky’s Jeep. Tommy, Kimberly, and Billy began slowly walking home.

“No awkwardness about the whole ‘hey, we were evil for a while’ thing,” Kimberly said. “I really expected them to get all weird about it.”

“Like you said,” Tommy said, “they didn’t live through it. It’s easier to digest if you didn’t actually experience it.” He frowned. “I’m just worried about when the honeymoon period is over. It’s been way too quiet around here.”

“Don’t complain too loudly,” Kimberly said, a gentle reminder that anyone could be listening in. “I’m more worried about homework now.” She sighed. “I have no idea what I’m going to write about. Billy, you have any ideas?”

“Hm?” Billy said distractedly.

Tommy and Kimberly looked at each other.

“So I was thinking about writing about the time we helped Santa deliver presents to children around the world,” Tommy said casually. “What do you think, Billy?”

“Sounds fine.”

“You don’t think Santa will get mad?” Kimberly said.

“I don’t think... what? Santa? What are you talking about?” Billy shook his head, breaking out of his reverie.

The two laughed.

“Billy, what’s got you distracted?” Tommy said. “You’re acting like me, and I’m the one who’s brain damaged, not you.”

Billy shrugged. “I’m just thinking through a problem with a project, like I said. Cestria mentioned a few theories, but the dry Earth atmosphere makes those theories trickier.”

Tommy and Kimberly smirked at the mention of Cestria. She’d lately become a frequent guest star in Billy’s vocabulary.

“Did Cestria say things had calmed down on Aquitar?” Tommy said, deciding not to tease Billy too hard. “We did leave there in a rush.”

“They were able to incapacitate Hydro Hog again,” Billy said. “Now they’re just fending off attacks from rulers trying to grab power. The Machine Empire has sent some drones. Thankfully, nothing serious, though, as the Empire doesn’t seem incredibly interested in expanding to their part of space.”

“Let’s hope it stays that way, for both us and them,” Tommy said darkly. “If the rest of their family is like the one Dex fought.”

“You know, it’s no wonder we can’t imagine living in Earth history,” Kimberly said. “We spend most of the time talking about things happening off planet.”

They were cutting through the park to get to their neighborhood. It seemed peaceful as usual, if a bit emptier than normal, when Tommy stopped, suddenly on alert. Billy and Kimberly looked confused, but then they heard the warbling as well.

“Speaking of things from off planet...” Kimberly said.

Several Putties sprang from the trees in front of them, and others merely teleported, this time behind them.

“Should we call back-up?” Billy suggested.

There were quite a few Putties, but they didn’t seem to have any other purpose except to attack the three Rangers. “No, they’re driving right now,” Tommy said. “I think we can take these on our own.”

“Fine with me,” Kimberly said.

As the Putties advanced, the three Rangers split apart with practiced ease, staying just close enough so they could help each other out without getting in each other’s way.

Billy ducked one attack while using the opportunity to slip out of his too-heavy backpack. He grabbed it by the straps and swung it at one of the Putties, clocking it in the head. He was for once grateful that he’d been carrying too many books, as the Putty went down long enough for Billy to concentrate on the other two.

Kimberly decided to try out some flips she’d been working on. She vaulted over one Putty, using its shoulders as a springboard, and used the added momentum to add force as she elbowed the Putty behind it right in the Z. She had her elbow braced with her other arm, so the power feedback tingled rather than hurt. She whipped around with a kick to Putty she’d flipped over. It grabbed her foot, but she flipped backwards, breaking its hold and throwing it off balance as she prepped to take out another Z.

Tommy had taken on the most Putties, or perhaps more Putties had gravitated toward him, knowing that he was usually the hardest to take down. He used their numbers to his advantage, playing the Putties off each other as he dodged in and out of their attacks. He lined up three just right and took them all out at once, careful to avoid the power feedback. He had almost maneuvered around to take out the other two when he felt his head snap back as he was grabbed by the hair.

“Ow! What the...”

A Putty in front of him kicked him hard in the stomach, taking advantage of Tommy’s momentary lapse. Tommy landed hard on his back, the wind knocked out of him. His scalp burned where the Putty had pulled his hair out, and he saw spots in front of his eyes. He closed his eyes, even as his brain was screaming for him to get up, and when he finally opened them he saw Billy and Kimberly bending over him, looking concerned.

“Are you okay?” Kimberly said, her voice going up several pitches. “I saw you get knocked down, and...”

“M’okay,” Tommy said, accepting the hands up from Billy and Kimberly. He felt a little dizzy when he got to his feet, and the back of his head hurt like hell. He put a hand to the back of his head, where some hair had been pulled from the room, drawing just a bit of blood. “That asshole Putty pulled my hair out.”

“Hair-pulling? Really?” Kimberly said. “That seems dirty, even for a Putty. Let me see.”

She pulled Tommy’s head around and pushed his hair back to look at the place. “It doesn’t seem too bad. I’ve had worse from Kevin.”

“Not too fun to happen in the middle of a fight, though,” Tommy said, still rubbing the place. “I let it distract me. Why didn’t the Putties attack me when I was down, speaking of dirty fighting?”

“Billy and I were already done, and we were coming to help you,” Kimberly said. “We took care of your last two Putties.”

“There were three,” Tommy said. He was starting to feel hot, and he wanted to get inside and lie down. His head felt like it was splitting in two. “The hair-puller behind me.”

Billy frowned. “We only saw the two in front of you. This is starting to sound worrisome. I’d like to get you checked out at the Command Center.”

“Okay,” Tommy said, which worried Billy and Kimberly more. Usually it was impossible to get him to agree on any scans. “After that, aspirin and bed.” He looked at Kimberly, suddenly remembering the date they’d had planned that night.

“Don’t worry about it,” Kimberly said. “I’m going to tell the others what happened. I think they’ll be at the Youth Center. You just feel better, and contact me if it’s something bad.”

Tommy swayed on his feet, a wave of dizziness washing over him, and Billy grabbed his shoulder. “It shouldn’t be too long,” Billy said. “I’ll let you know.”

They looked around for a minute to check that no one was watching, and then Billy and Tommy teleported.

Kimberly was about to go to the Youth Center when she stopped. Whenever they destroyed a Putty, there was always a tiny bit of clay-like ash where the Putty stood, and that ash stood out distinctly on the sand where Tommy had been fighting. Five Putties: three he’d taken down, and two Billy and Kimberly had done. And yet, marked clearly in the sand behind Tommy, was a set of smooth footprints and no ash residue. As if it had teleported away once it had done whatever it had done to Tommy.

“Hair-pulling,” Kimberly said to herself, and then she brushed her fingers through her own hair. “God, I hope that’s not going to become a new thing with Putty attacks.”


Zedd stood at his balcony, drumming his metal claws against the rail. The room had taken on a reddish aura. “And why,” he said, “was there an unauthorized Putty attack on the Rangers?”

This question was not specifically aimed at Goldar, but he was the only one in the room. “My lord, you might ask your wife. Or the Wizard of Deception.”

Goldar knew his comment was a bit flippant, but he found that ever since Zedd had married Rita, Zedd had been far less demonstrative with his short temper and far less likely to torture people for idle comments. Instead, his temper had turned inward and become more focused on one target in particular: Rita. He never touched her or even threatened her with violence, but their arguments were loud and frequent, interrupted by intermittent silences.

Zedd’s breath hissed in his mask. “Where is she?”

“Empress Rita is in her private throne room, my lord,” Goldar reported. He braced himself. He knew what was coming.

“Goldar, please go personally and ask my wife what the hell she thinks she’s doing, and tell her that she’s in danger of ruining my plans for the Rangers.” The room flashed red again. “Respectfully, of course.”

Goldar bowed. “Yes, my lord.” He left the throne room and resigned himself to walking to Rita’s throne room. It was becoming a far too familiar path.

He passed Baboo and Squatt without comment, as they were carrying some sort of equipment to Finster’s lab. He also passed Finster’s lab without comment. They were working on something for Rita, but even if he stopped and asked, they would tell him nothing, and he would not be able to understand anything that Finster was doing.

It was an open secret that Rita had threatened Goldar’s life. As such, Goldar found himself more and more aligned with Lord Zedd, and he didn’t particularly mind all that much. Zedd was predictable and had no hidden agendas, or at least made no secret of his agendas, even if he didn’t share all the details. Rita, on the other hand... who knew what she was getting up to these days?

Goldar took a breath and approached the old familiar throne room, preparing for unpleasantness. Rita had not physically attacked him since that one time after the wedding, but neither had she made things easy on him. He knew especially not to teleport into her throne room; the last time he’d done that she’d yelled at him loud enough for the whole palace to hear.

“Empress Rita,” he said as he approached, making his voice as neutral as he possibly could. “I bring a request from Lord Zedd.”

Rita was standing at her balcony, drumming her nails against the rail, and Goldar was struck by how similar she looked to Zedd in that moment, their poses mirrored. If she’d been able, she might have even made the room flash red.

“Yes, Goldar?” Rita said, her voice dangerously quiet. “What does he want?”

Goldar cleared his throat. He’d been considering how to rephrase Zedd’s request respectfully... a skill he was slowly learning. “Lord Zedd wonders if you would consider sharing your plans for the Rangers with him, as he is currently enacting his own plan, and he is concerned that the plans will interfere with each other. My empress,” he added hastily.

Rita laughed. “I’m sure that’s exactly what he said. And did he send his request with an indication of his own interfering plans?”

“He did not share any plans with me, my empress,” Goldar said.

Rita smirked. “Then tell him to postpone them. My plans are too important, and I’ve already taken the first few steps.” She glowered. “And tell him if he ever wants to question me again, he’d best do it himself. After all, his oh so magnificent brain can predict just about anything. He can predict my plan if he wants.”

“Yes, empress,” Goldar said. It had gone about as well as he’d expected, he thought as he left, but now he had to deal with the fallout of delivering Rita’s message to Zedd. He wondered how he was going to rephrase this one.

He finally made his way back to Zedd’s chamber of command. “My lord,” Goldar said, “Empress Rita respectfully asks your forbearance. Her plan would be difficult to halt now, though she invites you to meet with her to discuss strategy if you wish.”

The room flared redder still. “Is that what she said?”

Goldar hesitated. “I am paraphrasing, my lord.”

“I bet you are,” Zedd said. “In that case, tell that wife of mine...”

Goldar stifled a sigh, preparing for another trip to Rita’s throne room, when Zedd stopped.

“No...” Zedd said. “Tell her nothing. Whatever she has planned with that no-account Wizard of hers, it will prove absolutely useless by tomorrow afternoon. You might say...” he rumbled with laughter, “she will have run out of time... as will the Rangers.”

Relieved that he didn’t have to make another trip, Goldar was nonetheless apprehensive of Zedd’s hints at his plans. From the Rangers’ conversation that afternoon, Goldar had some idea of what Zedd was planning, but he also knew that two uncoordinated attacks at the same time would probably be disastrous. He only hoped the disaster would be contained to the Rangers.


“I feel fine,” Tommy complained as Billy and Alpha continued to wave scanners around him. He was starting to get a little embarrassed, as the worst that had happened was that he’d been sucker punched by a Putty. “I just have a headache, and you’ve already said it wasn’t a concussion.”

“No concussion, true,” Billy said, quietly wishing that Trini was there. “You still have a headache and dizziness, though, and if it’s not caused by a concussion, I’d like to find out what is causing it.”

“I just got walloped. Not the first time, either,” Tommy said. “I think if I just get to bed, I’ll be fine.”

“Tommy, please be more patient,” Zordon said. “We are faced with too many unknown quantities now to be complacent. The partnership of Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa is not to be taken lightly, and until we know more we must investigate everything, including the Putties’ new hair-pulling tactics.”

Tommy reached up to rub the back of his head again, but Alpha smacked his hand away so he could continue scanning. “Okay, I get it... but do I have to be here while the scans are running? I know they’re going to take a while to process.”

“I guess you’re right,” Billy said. “Alpha, do you think we collected all the scans we need?”

“Yes, Billy,” Alpha said. “I will begin the processing right now.”

Tommy hopped to his feet—he’d been sitting on a stool they’d brought in when Tommy had kept swaying on his feet. He felt steady now, though incredibly tired. “Sounds good to me. You coming?”

“Yes,” Billy said. “Zordon, I’ll send you some information about my new project later on tonight. Would you mind looking over it before Sunday?”

“Of course, Billy,” Zordon said.

Billy grabbed hold of Tommy’s shoulder, who looked dead on his feet. Together, they teleported to the backyard. Tommy leaned against Billy as they made their way to the front door.

“Boys, I was nearly ready to call the Command Center,” Sylvia called from the kitchen. She peeked around the corner, but then surged forward when she saw Tommy. “What happened?”

Tommy tried for a nonchalant smile, somewhat spoiled by his pale face. “I’m fine, Sylvia. Just need a good night’s sleep.”

Sylvia cast her eyes at Billy, who responded, “Putty attack on the way home from school. Something odd happened, but I’ve got tests running in the Command Center.” He led Tommy to the dining table and set him in a chair. “I might ask Aisha to go over the scans tomorrow. She’s quite adept at anything pertaining to the Morphing Grid.”

Tommy’s eyes sharpened at that. “You didn’t tell me it had something to do with the Morphing Grid. There’s nothing affecting my powers, is there?”

“Calm down, we don’t know anything yet,” Billy said. “You could just be tired, like you said.”

Sylvia gave Billy a look as she handed him the dishes and silverware. They knew Tommy’s worry triggers, and worrying about his powers was right there at the top. “Eat what you can,” she said to Tommy breezily, hoping to minimize his worries, “and then off to bed. Here’s hoping Zedd and Rita hold off attacking until you can get some rest.”

Tommy ate a few bites, pushing his food around on his plate so it looked like more, and then stumbled to his room. He couldn’t even pull off his clothes before he collapsed in bed, already asleep.

“Do you think it’s bad?” Sylvia said once they were certain that Tommy couldn’t hear them.

Billy frowned down at his place. “The mode of attack was unusual, but I didn’t want to worry Tommy about it too much. He didn’t recover well from the attack because I did sense that some of his power was drained from him during the fight.”

“Like the Green Candle?” Sylvia asked, her voice going to a whisper so he couldn’t overhear.

“No,” Billy said, “thankfully not. It’s more like when I gave my power to Skull to heal him, or when we all gave Tommy our power to do the same. Our powers recover over time in that case. Except this wasn’t given: it was taken. And I don’t like the implications. What could Zedd or Rita want with a DNA sample and a sample of Tommy’s power?”

Sylvia’s eyes widened. “I shudder to think. Do you think it was wise to keep this from him?”

“I’m not sure,” Billy admitted. “He’s been so paranoid about Rita, thinking that she was going to target him, and I’m not sure I wanted to confirm his fears while he felt bad and while we didn’t have all our information together.” Billy jabbed his fork into a potato. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow, after he’s slept.”

There was a knock on the door, followed closely by Kimberly sweeping in. “How’s Tommy?”

“Asleep,” Billy said. “Hopefully better by tomorrow, but we don’t know what’s wrong yet. How’d the others take it?”

“A little freaked,” Kimberly said, “but trying to play it cool. That’s starting to be a theme with them.”

Sylvia was clearing off a space for Kimberly, who took the offer and the clean plate. “It could be that they’re trying to seem like they are just as experienced and, dare I say it, cool, as you two.”

Billy and Kimberly stared at each other, and then back at Sylvia.

“I’m cool?” Billy said, mouth full of potato.

“You two have been fighting for a year,” Sylvia said. “Them, a couple of months. And now they’re faced with twice the threat, and they’re still getting used to the fact that they have to be on call 24/7 for world-saving duty. You two have grown almost blasé about the whole thing.”

“We’re not,” Kimberly protested. “We still get freaked out. I for one am considering wearing a hair net to fight Putties.”

“Do you show that side of you to them, though?” Sylvia pointed out. “You’re so focused on staying calm in front of them that they don’t get to see how you really handle stress and fear.”

Billy was frowning. “Mom, are you saying we should panic? I don’t see how that would solve any problems.”

Sylvia smiled and shook her head. “I’m not advising you to do anything. Lord knows you kids take the world on your shoulders. I’m just saying that you might want to watch out for them, and talk to them a bit more. I remember a time when I barely saw any of you because you were out with Jason, Zack, and Trini, and not just for the monster fighting that I didn’t know about. Not that I’m complaining, but you don’t seem to have that kind of relationship with your new friends.”

“We went to San Francisco with them,” Kimberly said brightly. “Okay, I know, bad example.”

“We’re going to the museum with them tomorrow to prepare for an essay,” Billy said. “But they’re also pretty tight knit. It’s difficult.”

“It’ll get easier,” Sylvia said, gathering up some dishes. “Kim, I was planning on baking cookies tonight to bring to the PTA meeting tomorrow. Do you want to stay and help...” She smiled at the panicked expression on Kimberly’s face, “eat some of them?”

Kimberly grinned. “Sure thing. My plans for tonight are asleep in the other room anyway. We could go get movies. Wanna watch Sleepless in Seattle?”

“Again?” Billy said. “There’s a Star Trek marathon on tonight.”

“No way,” Kimberly said. “Compromise?”

Kimberly and Billy grinned at each other. “Brat Pack marathon,” they said together.


Empress Rita Repulsa held the strands of hair, now tied with a green ribbon, almost tenderly in her hands. The strands thrummed with power, as the ribbon held the stolen morphing energy, but they also held visceral significance for Rita. She could close her eyes and transport back to that night long ago, holding Tommy’s head in her lap as he cried, his strands of hair smoothed down underneath her hands as she tried to comfort him.

“Rita,” a voice called out, the mutiple-voice of the Wizard of Deception. “We must begin the ceremony while the sample remains viable. Are you ready?”

Rita snapped out of her reverie. Her throne room was currently taken up by what looked like a standing coffin. The figure of Tommy, but not Tommy, stood inside. He looked very much like he had the day she’d met him: green shirt, his hair shorter and curlier, his skin not as tanned as it would become from the California sun. His eyes were closed and his face was relaxed, looking like he was sleeping. But he wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t even a he, but an it: a shell that could be programmed, but lacked any identity or consciousness otherwise. The shell that had been used in the Wizard’s torturous game with Zordon… the shell that Zordon hadn’t been able to kill.

Finster fussed over some of the settings on the machine. “My queen, the clone is stable. It is ready for the transformation... if that is still what you wish,” he ended with a bit of a plea in his voice.

Rita’s lips thinned. Finster had given his objections, and Rita had actually considered them. Tommy under the spell had been unstable, struggling against the connection, spurred on by his own conscience. The Blue Ranger had apparently created a clone in her absence (she was actually surprised at his audacity, remembering the timid boy who had run from the Putties the first time he’d been attacked by them), and that clone had been unstable as well, driven mad by his cognizance of his own nature. What she proposed could backfire, and even if it didn’t, it would be an abomination.

She smiled slightly. Her abomination. That would be fine.

She held out her hand, and the strands of hair floated over to the machine, where it was absorbed into an orb over the clone’s head. “Wizard, please begin the process,” she said.

The Wizard raised his wand. Rita had been expecting an incantation, as this was powerful magic being thrown around, but the Wizard silently let a stream of green energy flow from his wand to the machine. Finster hit a button, and a glass door enclosed the coffin, which was shortly filled with fog.

Now for Rita’s part. On the small table in front of her, there lay a coin. It was newly forged. It wasn’t a power coin, but made from metal that had been mined from below the moon palace. Finster had tried to study the metal, but all he could determine was that the metal had been affected by a power source that was not Rita nor Zedd nor any evil inhabitant of the moon palace, but something that was kept below. Rita had once sent a group of Putties to explore the caverns below the moon palace, and only one had returned, the rest apparently destroyed by a powerful security system. After that, Rita had lost interest... but she still had the metal, and it was perfect for her purpose.

Next to the newly forged coin was the grayish-green remnants of a candle. The wax and burned wick barely had any power left, but it was enough. Carefully, she pressed the coin into the wax, and the coin began to glow. Rita held up the coin. It felt different from the green power coin. It felt somewhat hollow, like a shadow. She held it aloft, and it drifted over to the orb on the machine. The fog in the coffin glowed white, then green.

The Wizard lowered his wand arm. “It’s done.”

The glass covering slowly slid open, the fog inside billowing out and drifting past the balcony into space. Finster took an involuntary step back, but Rita stood her ground.

The fog finally revealed a figure. His eyes were no longer closed, but narrowed in a kind of angry confusion. His skin had tanned slightly, and his hair was longer, pulling the curl out. In fact, he now looked like a carbon copy of the White Ranger.

He stumbled forward, eyes blinking rapidly, as he was desperately trying to regain his bearings. He put a hand against the coffin and seemed to sway on his feet, but then both hands clenched, and a spasmodic shudder went through his body.

No one spoke. Rita held her breath. She understood. He was remembering.

The clone looked up, his eyes bright with unshed tears, and he pitched forward to his knees. This time Finster took a step forward, ready to help, but Rita motioned him back.

“Empress…” the clone… Tommy… said. His voice was strangled with emotion, and he looked as if he wanted to leap out of his own skin, or sink through the floor. “My… my empress. I beg for your forgiveness… for betraying you.” His throat closed up on the words. He seemed close to madness.

“It was not you,” Rita reminded him. She was more than a little affected by his show of emotion, and she had to remind herself that this was a copy. A clone. Not the real Tommy. Still… this was exactly as she’d pictured Tommy returning to her, if he had ever taken that path. “You have the memories of Tommy Oliver. That was necessary. But you are not he. You have never failed me.”

The clone looked up from his knelt position, his face flushed with tears. Their eyes met, and Rita felt the pull of the old spell.

But it wasn’t with the boy in front of her. She had not sat with him for hours, bending his mind to her will. There was no bond between them, but a shadow of a bond, the remnants of what had long past. This clone was programmed to be loyal to her. The spell was part of him… but not part of her.

As she gazed into his eyes, she knew they weren’t his eyes. It was like a pale shadow, mixed with something different. Something… wrong.

And as they looked at each other, she realized that the clone knew all of this. There was a sense of cold realization. No, it was not he. He had never betrayed her, but neither had she loved him. In that moment of clarity, Rita watched the clone struggle. He was Tommy, and yet he was not-Tommy in every single way. How would he react?

“What must I do, Empress?” the clone spoke.

It was a loaded question. What do you want me to do? What must I do to lash out at Tommy? What must I do to win your approval… your love?

Rita grinned. Yes, her abomination. And he would destroy them all.


It was late at night, far after Billy and Kimberly had finished watching The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Kimberly had run back across the street to her house to go to sleep, and Billy had worked in his lab until Sylvia forced him to go to bed. All was quiet now.

Two figures appeared on the street, though they were invisible to anyone not looking directly at them, and certainly undetectable by any scanners. The Wizard of Deception pointed with his wand to the dark house.

“The power I created for you will allow you past the house’s security,” the Wizard said quietly. “That building is currently the most secure place on Earth, besides the Command Center. You will find your target in there. Do you remember your orders?”

The clone held up a small crystal. “Place this on the headboard to hide the White Ranger, and then use Billy’s lab to trick the Command Center sensors into giving false readings. Then... have fun.” He smiled. “I think I got it.”

“Then get to it, Tommy,” the Wizard said.

The clone sneered. “You know, I think Will had the right idea. Something about that name makes me sick to my stomach. Call me… Thomas, I guess.” He grinned. “I’ll come up with something better later.”

“Very well, Green Ranger,” the Wizard said pointedly, and then vanished.

Now no longer hidden by the Wizard’s magic, the clone walked quickly over to the Cranston house, using a key the Wizard had created to get in. If anyone had been looking on, they would have seen Tommy, Sylvia’s informally adopted son, sneaking in late at night, and they wouldn’t have given it a second thought.


Billy watched as Aisha scanned the readings. It was mid-morning, and they had the readings up on the larger screens in the science lab.

“It wasn’t a very large power drain,” Aisha pointed out. “It might have been larger if he’d been morphed, but it feels more like ambient energy.”

“Ambient?” Billy asked.

Aisha looked over, vaguely surprised she knew something Billy didn’t, and wondering if he was just playing along to give her something to do. “Yeah,” she said. “We morph to use our powers, but we’re connected to the Morphing Grid whether we’re morphed or not. But it’s not just a connection. We give off a kind of... field, or something, around us. Not enough to make us super strong without morphing, but it does give us a little protection.”

Billy squinted at the readings and moved his hand to his face, as if adjusting glasses before realizing he didn’t have any. “I’d never really studied into how the Morphing Grid affects us when we’re not morphed. I’ve mainly focused on how the Morphing Grid interacts with technology. My one biological experiment proved to be... well, disastrous.”

“Looks like Rita’s wanting to focus on that,” Aisha said. “You said hair, skin, blood, and morphing energy? That doesn’t sound good at all.”

“What doesn’t sound good?” Tommy strode into the science lab, wearing a green tank top and jeans.

Billy frowned. Tommy had taken to wearing more white lately. Dressing in their Ranger colors was almost an unconscious compulsion for them: they could wear other colors, but they just felt better if they incorporated at least a little of their own color.

Tommy looked down at his shirt. “Yeah,” he laughed, “I came up here to work out early, and all I had left was my old clothes.” He nodded up to the readings. “How are things?”

“We don’t know,” Billy admitted. “Our old friend Rita seems to be up to something. She’s gathered biological and energy samples from you, and that was enough to knock you for a loop last night. But you feel better this morning? You said you worked out.”

Tommy smiled. “Never better.” He returned his attention to the readings. “I don’t know why they would need samples like that. Finster should have some old blood work from me, and we throw around enough energy that they could have gathered samples of our powers any time. It’s gotta be something else.”

“That makes sense,” Billy said reluctantly. “We can’t get too attached to one theory. I’ll go talk to Zordon. See if he has any theories.”

“Don’t take too long,” Aisha said, still assessing the readings. “We need to get to the museum soon, and I want to get some lunch first.”

“I might skip lunch and just grab something on the way,” Billy said. “I still have a few things to do here, but I’ll meet you at the museum.”

“Okay,” Aisha said. “Don’t be late.”

Aisha squinted up at the readings, feeling just a bit giddy that Billy had called her in. As an expert. She’d been working hard studying the Morphing Grid because she found it fascinating, and because she wanted to understand this thing that was quickly becoming such a large part of her life now. But now she felt like she was contributing. That she was bringing something new, not just filling someone else’s boots.

Tommy nodded over to the screen, as if reading her mind. “You understand all that?”

“Not all of it,” Aisha said. “The Morphing Grid is vast and complicated, and it seems to not pay attention to time so much if I’m not forcing it to. There are power signatures in here from the distant future as well as from the past... though Zordon has warned me not to look into the future too much.”

“Yeah, better listen to him,” Tommy said. “He’s the big floating head of wisdom and all.”

Aisha raised an eyebrow at that. She’d never heard Tommy speak so flippantly of Zordon. Of course, he was probably still rattled from the fight yesterday, and this was probably a weak attempt at humor.

“I can pull up your power signature now, if you want,” Aisha offered.

“Not necessary,” Tommy said. “Like I said, I feel better, and what matters is the readings from yesterday.” He hunched over Aisha and looked closer at the screen. “That bit,” he pointed. “That’s where my power drained, right?”

“Right,” Aisha said. “It seems harmless enough. Billy compared it to when he and the other Rangers transferred their powers momentarily to civilians. But taken forcefully, in the way it was, it definitely would have given you a headache.”

As she was talking, Aisha was suddenly aware of Tommy’s hand on her arm. At first he’d placed it there casually, a friendly gesture. But it was still there, and he was starting to squeeze slightly. It didn’t hurt. It felt more like...

He was towering over her, way too damn close to her. Aisha froze, wondering what to do. She kept talking, and she was wondering if what she was saying was making any sense. Tommy’s hand was still on her, and it was definitely massaging her arm. His face was practically in her hair.

“So that’s me up there, on the screen.” He gave a chuckle, his hand ghosting away in what sure as hell felt like a caress. “You probably know me better than anyone now.”

And then it was over. He’d pulled back and was walking out, giving a friendly wave. “Just let me know if you find anything. See you at the museum.”

Aisha waited for him to be well and truly out of there before gripping the desk and shaking. What... what had that been? Had he been hitting on her? But wasn’t he with Kimberly? They were definitely all over each other most of the time.

Or had she imagined the whole thing? They put their arms on each other’s shoulders all the time. It was always a friendly gesture, meant to reassure, gain attention, or just express friendship. They were athletes, most of them. They tended to be tactile, and had a much smaller field of personal space. Even Billy was getting more used to being closer to people, given his constant company with other athletes.

But this hadn’t felt friendly. She’s felt trapped, and the hand on her arm had felt much more personal. It had felt more like that time that the history teacher, Mr. Jacobson, had kept his hand on her thigh when she’d sat next to him on the school bus when they took their field trip to the Spanish mission. She hadn’t said anything at the time, and hadn’t told a soul, but she’d made damn sure never to be alone with him again, or to let any girls she knew be alone with him.

But had it really been like that with Tommy? She thought back. He’d been close, but he’d also wanted to look at the screen. Maybe he’d been lying about feeling better, and he needed Aisha’s shoulder to help stay upright.

And even if she pointed it out, what would that accomplish? If it was nothing, she’d sound like she was making something out of nothing. People would start being extra awkward around her, afraid that she might accuse them of hitting on her. She’d like to think Adam and Rocky wouldn’t do that, but she’d seen that happen to other girls before. Girls who put up a fuss, and no one believed them.

That was the thing. This was Tommy she was talking about. No one would believe her. Even she didn’t believe it had happened. And even if she told, what would happen? Did she really want to accuse the leader of the Power Rangers of sexual harassment?

Taking a few steadying breaths, Aisha decided to keep an eye out and wait. If something like it happened again, she would say something. Zordon might be the person to talk to.

Still, she felt slimy, as if she’d done something wrong. Aisha considered taking a shower, but the idea of taking off her clothes in the Command Center twisted her stomach, and she didn’t want to go back home. She decided to go to the Youth Center, hoping to distract herself before the museum trip, where she’d have to act like everything was normal.

In the security room, the Thomas flicked off the surveillance feed of the science lab and smirked. Step one accomplished.

Step two. It took a moment’s work to change the frequency of the Command Center communications. It was a subtle enough change that Zordon or Alpha wouldn’t notice unless they were specifically looking for it. It would also prevent the Command Center from contacting the Rangers the next time there was an emergency. And there would be an emergency... quite soon.


“Are you sure you’re okay?” Adam said quietly.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Aisha said. “Just... thinking over those readings.”

They were sitting in the back of Rocky’s Jeep while Rocky and Tommy sat in the front. Aisha had been quiet through lunch, and had only given lame excuses when the rest of them asked about it. That worried Adam, but Aisha obviously didn’t want to talk about whatever it was.

They pulled up into the parking lot. Quite a few people from their class were already there, lured by the promise of bonus points. Bulk and Skull were clutching brochures, trying to get a signature without actually going in to the museum.

“You know,” Adam commented as they walked by, “going into the museum is not going to physically hurt you.”

Bulk sneered at Adam, though he made no moves toward him. “Won’t help us any, either.”

Skull rolled his eyes. “Look, could any of you guys let us borrow your brochure after? I can forge the signature easy, but I gotta know what it looks like.”

Tommy smirked. “You know, you might have an easier time of it if you hadn’t been permanently banned from the museum.”

“Oo, permanent ban,” Rocky said, grinning. “I’m actually impressed. I’ve never gotten permanently banned from a museum before. What’d ya do?”

“None of your business,” Bulk said defensively.

“Didn’t you throw up on a display of Stone Age weapons?” Tommy chuckled.

“That wasn’t our fault,” Bulk said. “We had food poisoning, and there was a monster attack. You were there, and you promised never to tell.”

Tommy shrugged. “Too good a story. Should I let security know that they might need to get that sawdust that dries out the puke?”

But Bulk and Skull were already going away, shooting glares at Tommy and the others.

“Okay, I don’t like them, but that wasn’t nice,” Adam said. “They weren’t really bothering us.”

Tommy shrugged. “They were trying to cheat, weren’t they? Now they’re not.” He squinted at the parking lot. “I don’t see Kimberly’s car. Do you think they teleported in?”

“Kimberly said she might be late, and last I heard Billy was talking to Zordon,” Aisha said. She was eyeing Tommy, almost suspiciously.

“Then I guess we go inside,” Rocky said, sweeping the door. “Come on, Adam. I know you’re dying to point us to all the local history around us.”

The four went into the museum, grabbed brochures, and immediately veered to the right under the banner that announced Angel Grove local history. Surrounding them were artifacts and displays, all in chronological order. On the far wall they could actually see a picture of Power Rangers fighting a monster.

A middle-aged Chumash woman was standing in the middle of the room with a crowd of teenagers around her and had halted her talk as soon as they came in. “Are you from Ms. Appleby’s class?” She waved them over, and they joined the group.

“As I was saying,” the woman, who they quickly realized was the curator, continued, “Angel Grove has had a particularly violent history, and that’s not just counting the past year of alien attacks. Along with the history of indigenous resettlement and European imperialism, as well as the lawless beginnings of the town itself in the 1800s, we have a long history of unusual occurrences, strange beings attacking not unlike the monsters we face now. Of course,” she said with a smile, “these may be products of people under the influence of a tainted water supply... or too much time on their hands. With history, we never know. We can only make educated guesses. History is all about research and questioning everything, especially official accounts, since they’re written by people who sometimes don’t want the truth to be known.”

The teens gave each other significant glances. This sounded far more X-Files than they’d been expecting. Of course, they were superheroes who fought those alien monsters, so who were they to judge?

“Just look around for a bit,” the curator said, “and let me know if you have any questions. I’ll sign all your brochures when I know you’ve had a good look around.”

The curator walked up to Rocky, Adam, Aisha, and Tommy, who were still gazing around, trying to decide where to begin. “It’s so good to see teenagers taking an interest in local history, even if it’s bribed with bonus points,” the curator said, amused. “My name is Julie, if you have any questions.”

“None of us are really from around here,” Adam said. “Us three,” he indicated himself, Rocky, and Aisha, “are from Stone Canyon, and Tommy here is from...” He looked at Tommy.

Tommy shrugged. “All over.”

“Our two friends should be here soon,” Adam said. “They were both born in Angel Grove.”

Julie smiled. “As you can see, Angel Grove has a way of attracting new faces. I started studying this area in the 70s. Anyone who studied local history would not have been surprised by the monster attacks that began last year, though the academic community, as you can probably tell by my comments earlier, has a hard time giving credence to the stranger historical accounts.”

“I think, with this place, sometimes seeing is believing,” Aisha said. “In Stone Canyon, we didn’t believe half of what was coming out of Angel Grove.”

Julie had stopped smiling, and seemed to be staring intently at Tommy, squinting as she did so. He realized when she was doing and stared back pointedly.

“I’m sorry,” Julie said, “but you said you weren’t originally from Angel Grove? Your face looks awfully familiar.”

Tommy frowned at her, looking a bit unnerved. “Just one of those faces, I guess. Come on, guys, let’s look around. I’d like to enjoy the rest of the Saturday.”


Zedd was raging, his throne room a deep red to match his mood.

“That... that THING!” he practically spat. “It’s disrupting the time field around those three Rangers. They’re perfectly in place, and the other two are nearly there, and there’s no way I can send them ANYWHERE!!”

Goldar held the device, unsure of what to do. He considered drawing the clone away from the others, but he didn’t want to get near the thing... the abomination that now wore Tommy’s face.

“RITA!!!”

It was the third time Zedd had yelled for Rita, so Goldar wasn’t actually expecting her to show. This time, though, she was already striding into the throne room, smirking at the red ambience around her.

“I would warn you about blood pressure,” Rita said, “but is that even an issue for you?”

“We can leave my biology out of this,” Zedd said, and his claws gripped his staff, creating a grinding sound of metal on metal.

“I would, but you so prominently display it,” Rita said coldly.

Zedd made a sweeping motion in the air, pointing to the Earth. “Call your boy back, at once.”

Rita raised her eyebrows. “No. That would ruin my plan. Stop your plan.”

“I’m warning you, Rita...” Zedd began.

“About what?” Rita said. “I have as much of a right to attack the Power Rangers as you, and you’re just mad that my plan is working better than yours. Oh, wait. My plan is actually going forward, while you’ve just been standing around.”

“Your plan,” Zedd said, his anger barely tempered, “involves a highly unstable and illegal clone, brought to existence with that no account Wizard and samples gathered from the White Ranger... which they already know about... which is just a representation of an old plan that failed anyway. WHY did you resurrect the Green Ranger?”

Rita glared. “It couldn’t be because I need allies and you’re too busy stealing or chasing off the ones I have. No, obviously it’s that I don’t know what I’m doing. Tell me... how many times have you defeated the Power Rangers?”

Zedd glowered. “If your abomination gets in the way, I will blast it from where I stand.” He turned his attention to Goldar. “The plan still stands. Attack the Blue and Pink Rangers, and make sure to activate the device when the others show up. I will block the Green Ranger’s teleportation.”

He glared at Rita, who merely smirked. He had no idea if she had something else up her sleeve, but he could not allow her to interfere with his plans anymore.


Kimberly and Billy were driving to the museum, hastily eating sandwiches on the way.

“You were supposed to be at my house before lunch,” Kimberly complained.

“I lost track of time,” Billy said. “And you could have contacted me... unless you lost track of time, too.”

Kimberly smiled. “Okay, so it’s both our faults. I think Tommy might be infecting us with his memory loss.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works.”

Kimberly adjusted the mirror as they were stopped at a stop sign, and then yelped at the sudden flash of gold. All Kimberly and Billy could do was hold on as, with one swift kick, Goldar launched the car past the curb and into the ditch.

“My car!” Kimberly yelled. “Asshole wrecked my car!”

“Something tells me he probably doesn’t have insurance,” Billy said. “Come on.”

The two morphed and jumped out of the car to face Goldar and a group of Putties, who had relocated to the field past the ditch.

“Rangers,” Goldar said. “Nice day for a drive.”

“You’re gonna pay for that!” Kimberly yelled.

The two Rangers quickly became too involved in fighting Putties for Kimberly to make any more threats. After several minutes, they realized there were too many to fight.

“We need backup!” Billy yelled. “Cover me!”

Kimberly drew her bow and fired over Billy, who had ducked to press his communicator.

“Tommy, come in. We’re being attacked by Putties and Goldar.”

The communicator gave out static, but nothing else.

Billy smashed his finger on the communicator, far harder than he usually would. “Zordon, come in! Rocky, Aisha, Adam... anyone!”

Still, no response.

“It looks like your friends aren’t coming,” Goldar said. His voice sounded gloating, but somehow Billy thought he sounded confused as well.

“Fine,” Kimberly said. “It just takes two of us to beat you.”

“You won’t get the chance,” Goldar said. “Honestly, though, I think you two are getting the better deal.”

With that, he held up a device, pressed it... and Billy and Kimberly blacked out.


“It’s done,” the clone heard his empress’s voice in his head. “Return the communicators to normal.”

Thomas, pretending he was looking at a display, pressed a sequence into his communicator, the one that would reset the block he’d put on communications. Instantly, his communicator went off.

The three Rangers gathered around him, their ears attuned to the sound. Thomas jerked his head to the side, and they followed him around the corner so they could teleport.

The alarm in the Command Center was going off when they teleported in. “Rangers,” Zordon said, “we were not able to reach you in time. Goldar attacked Billy and Kimberly, and they have disappeared in the attack.”

“Disappeared?” Thomas said sharply. “What do you mean? Did Goldar take them to the moon palace?”

Aisha was already pulling up the Morphing Grid scanner and honed in on Billy’s and Kimberly’s power signatures. “Guys... I’m not sensing them anywhere. They’re just completely gone.”

“They have to exist somewhere,” Adam said.

“I think the more correct term is ‘when,’ not ‘where,’” Zordon said.

“Zordon is right, Rangers,” Alpha said. “I’m sensing a rip in the space-time continuum, right around Billy’s and Kimberly’s last known whereabouts.”

“So you’re saying they’re... well, of course they’re back in time,” Rocky groused. “You know, if Zedd or Rita is going to use our homework as an inspiration, why can’t they just attack us with algebra?”

“Somehow I don’t think that’s better,” Thomas said. “Come on... we have to find them, and soon. I don’t think this is going to be the only attack, especially since we’re down in numbers.”

“I can maybe pinpoint their time period in the Morphing Grid,” Aisha said.

“And I can scan the time anomaly,” Alpha said.

“In the meantime,” Zordon said, “we must take closer readings of the attack sight. Tommy, Adam, and Rocky can investigate and scan the area.”

Adam raised his hand awkwardly. “I... I thought I might go back to the museum, actually. I can see if the curator knows about any records I could look through. She talked about strange occurrences in Angel Grove. Maybe I can find Billy and Kimberly in actual history, if they’re still in Angel Grove.”

“And if they’re in a place that records history,” the clone said. “Good idea. We’ll report back in an hour.”

Adam teleported out, and Aisha excused herself to the science lab so she could have more room.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, buddy,” Rocky said.

“Yes,” Thomas said. “Yes, it does.”


Billy and Kimberly woke up in a field, unmorphed and with splitting headaches.

“Okay, I’m getting pretty sick of this,” Kimberly said. “And there better not be any scratches on my...”

She got to her feet, and then realized there wasn’t a car. Not only was the car gone, but so was the ditch and the road. Instead, there was just more field.

Billy also got to his feet and brushed himself off. “Kim... are you certain we’re in the same place we fought Goldar?”

Kimberly pressed her lips together. “Why would they move us, though?” She brought her communicator up to her mouth and pressed it. “Come in, Command Center. Are these things working again?”

Billy rummaged in his pockets, but for once he didn’t have any tools on him. He’d left everything in his backpack in the car. He pressed his communicator, but it didn’t even play static at him. “I don’t like this. It’s like when we were in the other dimension, and couldn’t connect to anyone.”

“Goldar did press some device,” Kimberly said glumly. “Well, if we can’t communicate and we can’t teleport, we just have to investigate. This still kind of looks like where we had the fight... or at least kind of looks like Earth, anyway. If it’s another dimension, we’ll find out soon enough. If it’s still Earth, we’ve got to walk to where we can get help.”

“That’s the stream that runs past Foley Woods,” Billy pointed out. “I believe if we follow it for a while, we should get closer to town.”

“Fine by me,” Kimberly said.

They walked, swatting at bugs on the way. The stream grew a bit bigger, but they still hadn’t hit anything that looked familiar. An hour passed, and they were starting to worry.

“Kim, do you know what I’m not seeing?” Billy said.

“Anything that looks like civilization?” Kimberly said.

“Exactly,” Billy said. “And more specifically... power lines.”

They kept walking, increasingly nervous by the step, when they finally heard a noise. The sound of hooves.

They turned to see a man wearing denim, flannel, a bandana, and a weathered, flat-brimmed cowboy hat. He pulled out a gun and pointed it at them.

“You’re walking on Cranston property,” the man said roughly. “Times are too dangerous to be trespassing.”

The two raised their hands, rattled at suddenly looking down the barrel of a gun. Billy, however, edged slightly forward. “Cranston property?”

The man pushed his hat back, and his eyes suddenly widened. “Are you two lost?” the man said, lowering his gun. He started pulling off his coat. “It looks like someone robbed you both and just left you in your...” He blushed. “Well... your underclothes, miss.” He tossed the coat at her and pointedly looked away.

Kimberly looked down at her clothes. She was wearing a long-sleeved crop top and cut-off denim shorts, but that wasn’t anything unusual. As for Billy, he was wearing a simple blue t-shirt and jeans.

Billy’s eyes were wide. “Play along with the nice man with the gun,” he muttered under his breath.

“Yeah, thanks,” she said, putting on the coat and wrapping it around her, even though she was stifling hot in the sun. “We were headed to Angel Grove when we got lost... and we lost our clothes. You don’t know where town is, do you?”

The man’s eyes turned hard. “It’s just past the Cranston land. I can get you to the boarding house, or the sheriff’s… well, the deputy, anyway, or whatever you need. You two weren’t doing anything untoward...”

They were starting to piece together what had happened, so Billy cut him off. “No, sir, my sister and I were held up. We were on the stagecoach when a bandit ran us off the road and took everything. We’ve been walking ever since. We’d sure appreciate any help you can give us. We didn’t mean to trespass.”

The man’s eyes lost their hardness, and he dismounted the horse. “That’s been happening too much lately. I’m sorry to hear that. You headed to Angel Grove looking for work?”

“Yes, sir,” Kimberly said, copying Billy’s new speech patterns. “Do you know anyone who’s hiring?”

“I might,” the man said. “I can get you across old man Cranston’s land and to the center of town. My sister works at the boarding house, and she can put in a good word for you. They’re always looking for more help. My father-in-law is a blacksmith, and I think he might be looking to hire. You take the horse, and your brother and I can walk. We should reach Angel Grove before sundown if we start now.”

Kimberly accepted the hand up, even though she knew how to mount a horse, and she let the man keep the reins.

“I’m sorry about pulling the piece on you earlier,” the man said. “Name’s Henry. Henry Hart.” He held out a hand to Billy, who shook it while feeling like his stomach was dropping somewhere around his ankles.

“Pleased to meet you,” Billy said. “My sister’s name is Kim, and I’m Billy.”

“You got a Christian name?” Henry said, his eyes twinkling.

Billy and Kimberly looked at each other, realizing they’d have to make one up now.

“Oliver,” Billy said. “My name’s Billy Oliver.”

“Good to meet you both,” Henry said. “I know you haven’t exactly had the best welcome, so let me be the first to do it proper. Welcome to Angel Grove.”

Chapter Text

Rocky looked in the car that he recognized as Kimberly’s. It was nose-first in a ditch; he’d call a tow truck for Kim as soon as he could get to a phone. “Nothing in here. Looks like Billy left his backpack, and from the dent on the fender they were forced off the road.” He popped his head back out and looked up at Tommy, who was pointing a scanner at the ground. “Wonder why they didn’t contact us?”

“They might have thought they could handle it on their own,” Tommy replied. “Or whatever sent them through time also blocked their communicators.” He shrugged. “Or Kim just got in over her head. She does that sometimes. Like some people I know.”

Rocky grinned at the dig. “Yeah, well... from what I heard you were no different back in the day.”

“Yeah, Jas had to keep a pretty tight leash on me,” Tommy said breezily. He closed the scanner with a snap. “So, what do you think?”

Rocky had no idea what to say. Knowing Tommy, this was some kind of test. Or maybe he actually valued Rocky’s opinion? That seemed doubtful. Rocky shook his head, trying to get out of his own self-doubt and actually answer Tommy’s question. ”Zedd and Rita wanted Billy and Kimberly out of the way for some reason. I thought at first it was just because we were new Rangers and they wanted to screw with us again, but you’re still here. Unless they have something different planned for you…” Rocky shrugged. ”If it’s time travel, maybe they want to screw with the present? But I really have no idea. I can’t figure out…”

“You’re doing fine, Red,” Tommy said. “You’re probably right. They got rid of the most senior Rangers, probably thinking that we’d be lost without them. Ready to prove them wrong?”

Rocky’s breath caught, but hopefully Tommy hadn’t heard it. Tommy had just called him Red. He’d never done that before. Rocky had felt so much like a replacement, like Tommy still thought of him as Jason underneath the mask when he was morphed. Calling him that... it was the most Tommy had acknowledged him as a true Power Ranger.

They were about to teleport out when there was a flash, and they were surrounded by Putties. 

Rocky put up his guard, and Tommy pocketed the scanner and did the same. ”Another random Putty attack?” Rocky said.

“Doesn’t seem so random,” Tommy said grimly. ”The others are busy. We can take care of these.”

Rocky wondered if Kimberly and Billy thought the same thing, but he didn’t voice his concern. Didn’t want Tommy to think he couldn’t handle himself.

Ten minutes of hard fighting, and the Putties were all destroyed. Rocky leaned against the car and caught his breath. ”You know, I’m starting to think we’re not well liked.”

“That’s important to you, huh?” Tommy asked, brushing some dirt from his jeans.

Rocky frowned. ”I was just joking, dude.”

“And Billy and Kimberly are still missing,” Tommy snapped back. ”Let’s get going.”

Rocky opened his mouth to defend himself, but Tommy had already teleported away. Cursing under his breath and shouldering Billy’s backpack, Rocky followed suit. One step forward, two steps back.


The fields had finally given way to a dusty yard and a two-story wooden house. Kimberly would have called it Victorian, but she supposed that that style was contemporary to the time they were in. 

The cock of a rifle brought Billy, Kimberly, and Henry to a halt. Billy’s hand flew to his morpher, but Kimberly kicked him in the back to stop him. Right now, she knew they were dependent on the kindness of strangers, and she didn’t know how well her ancestor would react to superhuman powers.

“Settle down!” Henry said, calling to a large man on the porch. The man was quickly surrounded by a few others, all armed. Kimberly was reconsidering her decision not to morph. ”It’s me, Hank!”

“And who’ve you got with you there, Hank?” the large man said. He was sitting on a wooden bench, his rifle at the ready. He looked to be in his 50s, gruff and weathered. He didn’t quite lower his rifle. 

“Stagecoach got robbed, and these two were on it, Mr. Cranston,” Hank said. ”Billy and his sister Kim, looking for work. Those thieves left ’em with nothing. Took the clothes off their back.”

Billy’s ancestor frowned, and then actually lowered his rifle. ”That right?” he said. ”Shame. This used to be a nice town. Until we lost our sheriff, and then all sorts thought they could do whatever they liked.”

Billy said, “What’s going on? Are you expecting attackers?”

Kimberly was glad Billy had asked. Given the time and the look of the Cranston ancestor, he probably wouldn’t appreciate being questioned by a girl. It rankled her to sit by and listen, but they would have to make do. If she ever got back, though, she had a hell of an insight into her English essay.

Mr. Cranston seemed to chew this question over, and the men surrounding him shot nervous glances at each other. There was something that had all of them spooked, and it seemed a bit more serious than bandits. From the looks of it, they were prepared to hold off a small army.

“Strange things always happen in Angel Grove,” Mr. Cranston said. ”Things have just got stranger and more dangerous. When I say we lost our sheriff, I mean we lost him in the dead of night. He went out to collect a drunk from behind the saloon, and no one ever saw him again.”

“At least, not like he was,” one of the men supplied. ”We seen him in the woods…”

“People are jumpy enough without you spreading rumors like that,” Mr. Cranston said. He jerked his head at the woods. ”Still, though… There’s noises out there. Cattle and horses missing from the pasture, with only a few scraps left.”

“People say wolves,” Hank said. ”Ain’t no wolves that act like that. Not even a pack could take a full-grown bull without leaving something.”

“What’s your name again, son?” Mr. Cranston said. ”You say you’re looking for work?”

Billy jumped a bit at being called ”son” by his ancestor, wondering if he’d noticed their resemblance. Billy sure had, and had hoped no one mentioned anything. ”Billy, sir. Both my sister and I am looking for work.”

Mr. Cranston nodded. ”Can you shoot straight?”

“Yes, sir,” Billy said without hesitation. 

Mr. Cranston sighed. ”Both of you are city folk, from the looks of your skin. I don’t guess you’ve ever worked a day in your life, though you’ve worked at least some with your hands,” Mr. Cranston nodded at Billy. ”Still, I don’t really have a job for you, miss.”

Kimberly’s lips thinned. Mr. Cranston obviously had as many brains as his descendent, but he was also a bit short-sighted, and probably didn’t want the ”womenfolk” around. ”Mr. Cranston, you’re about to lose you entire garden. From the looks of your tomato plants, you’re about to have a lot of hungry people around here.”

Mr. Cranston frowned. ”We’ve been a bit busy to take care of the garden.”

“And whose fault is that?”

A big lady in an apron breezed through the front door. The way the men made way for her told Kimberly quickly that this was Mrs. Cranston. The woman crossed her arms and seemed to square off with her husband.

“There’s been…” Mr. Cranston began.

“You’ve had these boys walking around like a durn army, and most of them just drink liquor all day and let the farm go to ruin.” She motioned to Kimberly. ”You wanna work, girl, I’ll put you to work. Maybe between the two of us we can keep everyone from starving to death. And we can put some money in your pocket and clothes on your back in the meantime. There’s a little room you can stay in off the kitchen, and your brother can kip with the others.”

“We’d both sure appreciate it,” Kimberly said, feeling herself fall into the dialect.

Hank grinned and held out his hand to help Kimberly down, but Kimberly had already launched herself off the horse and landed. After being patronized to, it was nice to see a woman who wasn’t afraid to hold her own.

“Oh, and Mr. Cranston,” she said as she walked past him. ”I can shoot straight, too.”

Hank was a bit stunned at Kimberly’s quick dismount and retort, but he recovered and slapped his outreached hand on Billy’s shoulder. ”Looks like you’re both hired. See? Nothing to it.”


Adam had been patiently waiting for the curator Julie to finish signing brochures. He had his in hand, and figured that he would end up being the only one out of the group after all to get the bonus points. While he waited, he stared at the display of ”strange happenings” in Angel Grove.

Julie hadn’t been kidding. Most of what he was reading had the flavor of local legend and passed-down mythology, but there were plenty of actual newspaper clippings and other scraps of evidence talking about disappearances, cattle mutilations, localized manias where everyone in the town gathered in mobs and chased people out of town… No history of lynchings, thank goodness, but Adam supposed more sinister things could have been hidden from the history books.

Ostensibly, Adam knew that all these examples could be chalked up to natural occurence or just the infinite weirdness of human beings. Bored teenagers create crop circles, feral animals or unwell people just wanting attention mutilated animals, and sometimes people just ran off, and that became a disappearance. Water contamination or fear could easily cause mobs. It didn’t take extraterrestrial or supernatural interference to cause all this.

Still, he was a Power Ranger who fought space aliens. He knew magic existed. It wasn’t like any of this was out of his experience now.

“1843.” The curator’s voice was suddenly next to him, and Adam realized he’d zoned out. ”That’s the year Angel Grove was almost destroyed. Strange that it was nearly 150 years before it happened again.” She sighed. ”Too bad they didn’t have the recording equipment back then that we have now.”

Alarms went off in Adam’s head. 1843. If something disastrous had happened in that year, maybe Billy and Kimberly were right in the thick of it. ”So, do you think the two events are related?”

“I couldn’t say,” Julie said. She smiled. ”I’m glad you came back. I noticed you’d left without my signature.”

“Yeah,” Adam laughed slightly. ”I had an emergency come up, but I took care of it. My name’s Adam, by the way. Adam Park.”

Julie took his brochure. ”I’ve given my autograph so many times today, I feel famous,” she laughed. ”So, what do you think?” She gestured to the display as she handed the brochure back.”

Adam paused, not sure how to answer without revealing too much. ”There’s not much to go on, is there. You say everything happened in 1843?”

“Not everything,” Julie said. ”I made the occurence a special study, and it’s pretty clear that Angel Grove was no stranger to odd occurences, no matter who was currently living in the area. The indigenous people of the area had their own theories, but most of those were lost and moved when the people were moved for the white settlement. The railroad and better technology, as well as the gold rush, brought more people into the area, so it’s a little hard to pin down exactly what was happening. Still, it’s undeniable that in 1843 things came to a head.”

“What happened?”

“This whole area was mainly owned by Jeremiah Cranston. There was his farm, and then there was the town proper. Cranston turned paranoid when his eldest son, William Cranston, disappeared without a trace. His son was also the sheriff, and no one wanted the job after that. Cranston took it on himself to raise a militia to track down whomever had made away with his son… and that’s there everything went wrong.”

Adam had had to keep the surprise from his face at this story. Cranston. A son named William. Was this a coincidence, or had Billy gotten far more involved in the past than they’d supposed? And where was Kimberly in all this?

“All that’s clear is that Cranston had his militia round up some people and accuse them of witchcraft. Now, this wasn’t the 17th century or Salem, so that was considered ridiculous at the time. Still, mob mentality being what it is, a lot of people must have believed him. Records show that one man, Henry Hart, was killed, and the mob dispersed pretty quickly after that. Not unlike the mobs that rose up last May.”

“No one was killed then, though,” Adam said, his voice dying a bit in his throat.

“Thank goodness,” Julie said. ”Adam, are you all right? You look a bit faint.”

“Yeah,” Adam heard himself saying. ”I’m fine. Just… are there any documents other than these I can look at? I’ve got an idea for my essay, but I just want to check on a few things first.”

Julie’s eyebrows raised. ”Go to the special collections at the Angel Grove Public Library, and ask Maria for the 1843 documents. Tell her I sent you. You’re probably the most thorough students for your age I’ve come across.”

Adam nodded uncomfortably. “Thank you for the help,” he said quickly. He walked out of the museum, just stopping himself from running. If Billy and Kimberly were indeed in 1843, they had to be rescued, and soon. He had to tell the others, but first he had to make sure.


Rocky tried not to feel jealous as Tommy’s hands flew over the keyboard in Billy’s garage lab. He stared around at the equipment, unsure of what Tommy was doing, and unsure of how to help him. He felt a bit ashamed, but he sort of wished for some kind of attack. Just a few more Putties, just so he could do something he was good at.

“Sylvia won’t be home yet,” Tommy commented. ”She’s at some kind of PTA thing.”

“I’m glad,” Rocky said. ”I’d really rather not tell her that her son is lost in time.”

“Me, neither,” Tommy said. “One way life is easier for us.”

“What do you mean?” Rocky said. 

Tommy gave an enigmatic smile. ”Nah. That’s okay. I probably didn’t mean it, anyway.” He cracked his knuckles and leaned back in his chair. ”I might have to get Aisha down here. Maybe even Alpha. I know some of what Billy’s done here, but they’d be able to process this information better.”

“Okay…” Rocky said slowly. ”But… I really want to know what you mean, Tommy. Why is life easier on us?”

Tommy looked up in surprise. ”What? Oh, I just meant that… I dunno… I sort of get why we work as Rangers. Let’s just say we’re both more… unattached.”

“Unattached?” Rocky had run out of quips, at least until he knew where Tommy was going with this.

Tommy rolled his eyes. ”I mean, you haven’t seen it? Kim and Aisha have full families, Adam has Aaron and Billy has Sylvia, but us… I don’t really have a family to speak of, and you’ve made it pretty clear that your dad doesn’t really care what you do.”

“The hell are you saying?” Rocky said. He was starting to get angry, though the little voice in the back of his mind agreed with these words a little too much. ”What, you’re saying that no one would really care about us if we got thrown back in time?”

“Or something,” Tommy said, laughing slightly. He rolled his eyes again. ”Oh, come on, that’s not exactly what I’m saying. We have friends, they would make every effort. But… I mean… I died, and everyone got along fine saving the world without me. We’re the ones that can take the big risks, because we’re the ones who aren’t going to cause a lot of pain when we go. Sylvia will mourn, but it wouldn’t be like if she lost Billy, and my mom wouldn’t care much.”

“I’m not listening to this,” Rocky said. 

“This is why I didn’t want to say anything, Red. I knew you’d take it the wrong way, and I’m trying to pay you a compliment here. Being Rangers… that’s all we’ve got. And we’re good at it. Why do you think I made you Red? I couldn’t make you second right away, because Kim’s got seniority, but that’s not going to last forever. I needed someone who could give it their all, like me.”

Rocky shook his head, unsure what to think. The thought he couldn’t avoid was… Tommy wasn’t wrong. Would his dad really care about him if he disappeared like Aaron would for Adam, or the Campbells would for Aisha? Wasn’t that why he took risks and threw himself into every dangerous situation without thinking? If that was the case, he needed to work harder to protect his friends. Like Tommy had pointed out, they had more attachments. That’s why they had to get Billy and Kimberly back.

Tommy had stopped paying attention to him. He tapped his comunicator. ”Aisha, Alpha, come in.”

“We read you, Tommy,” came Alpha’s voice after a few seconds. 

“Alpha, I think both you and Aisha need to get down here and try to run these scans. I can’t make heads or tails of it, but I know that Billy has a special program that can run this scan better than the Command Center.”

“Will do, Tommy,” Alpha said.

“I copy,” Aisha broke in. ”Be down in a minute. Adam hasn’t reported in yet.”

“Rocky and I are headed back up,” Tommy said. ”I’ve got a theory to test.” He grinned at Rocky. ”Feel like being a guinea pig?”

Rocky shrugged. ”I guess that was your whole point. I mean, what have I got to lose?”


Billy sat against a wall behind the house. He’d retained his jeans, but he was now wearing a flannel shirt that was far too big for him and now drenched in sweat. He also ached in places he never realized existed. He’d spent the day repairing a fence, trying to avoid the other gun-wielding men around him. The pistol on his hip weighted heavily against him, and he swore that no matter what it would not leave its holster until he gave it back.

Kimberly slumped out of the back door, noticed him after a few seconds of squinting through the dark, and collapsed beside him. Unfortunately, she’d been unable to retain anything of her old clothes. She wore a worn floor-length, long-sleeved dress with an apron that looked like it was wound around her three times. ”Finally finished cleaning up,” she said, wincing at her hands reddened by the boiled dishwater. Boiled over a wood-burning stove. Billy had glimpsed Mrs. Cranston showing Kimberly how to light the fire. ”I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired in my life.”

“I concur,” Billy said quietly. He realized he’d been affecting a more countrified speech pattern ever since they’d met Hank, so he let it drop. ”We’ve got to get out of here.”

Kimberly looked down. ”I know. I’ve been thinking about what to do all day. I know the others are looking for us, but would they even know when to look?”

“We can possibly be tracked through the Morphing Grid,” Billy said. ”Is our only option waiting around for rescue?”

Kimberly sighed heavily, puffing out her cheeks as she did so. ”I’ve thought about teleporting to the Command Center. We know Zordon and Alpha are there, even at this time, but I don’t know what damage that will do. I’ve watched enough science fiction with you to know it might not be good,” she added with a wry smile. ”Of course, hanging out with our ancestors is probably not the best idea either. Especially with all the weirdness happening around here.” She paused. ”Do you get the sense that your ancestor is a little… paranoid?”

“Most definitely,” Billy said. ”Him along with everyone else, but Mr. Cranston is probably the worst. Something about the sheriff’s death… and something that’s going on in the woods.”

“There’s just a lot of coincidences going on all at once,” Kimberly said. ”The first two people we meet are our ancestors? We fall smack dab into some sort of X-Files episode as well? I wonder if we got sent back to this place and time on purpose. Like Zedd and Rita have something planned.”

“But why just us two?” Billy said. ”Granted, we’re the worst out of all of us to be sent back. My ancestor is right. We’ve never worked a day in our lives.”

“Better us than Rocky, Adam, or Aisha. Or Tommy, for that matter, since his mom’s half Native American, and people around here would probably notice,” Kimberly pointed out. ”Were you listening to the racist talk going on at dinner? And these are apparently the better types. Mr. Cranston let his slaves go several years ago, and he has a good working relationship with the nearby Native Americans, but… still a pretty sucky place to be for people who aren’t white.”

“Point taken,” Billy said. ”You were going somewhere with your discussion of coincidence.”

Kimberly scraped her hair back. ”We’ve got to figure out if this is coincidence or not. If this is something that Rita and Zedd set up, we have a responsibility to save these people. It may be our fault… or at least our involvement… that started all this in the first place, and Zedd and Rita may be attacking our ancestors on purpose. We might be disappearing from a photograph any second.”

“And the alternative is that if this is a coincidence, any interference on our part could do irreparable damage to the timeline, which might further endanger our existence.”

“So, basically, we don’t know if doing something or doing nothing is our best bet,” Kimberly said. ”And we may be screwed either way.” She took a breath. ”So I guess we need to investigate without interfering, and hopefully the others will find us soon and give us some clue what to do.”

“I can try to make something out of our communicators, so we can tap into the Morphing Grid and figure things out,” Billy said. ”I’ll just need better tools that what I have, which is nothing.” 

“We’ll save the Command Center as a last resort,” Kimberly said. ”If there’s anything I trust to not wreck the timeline, it’s Zordon. Still, I’d like to avoid the risk if we can.” She groaned as she got up and held a hand out to Billy. ”Come on, we need to get some sleep. I have a feeling tomorrow’s going to be a long day as well.”

They turned to walk back in the house when they came face to face with Hank Hart, who was leaning against the doorframe, his arms folded. He looked like he’d been there for some time.

“There’s no stagecoach in this area until next month,” Hank said, his voice neutral and eyes suspicious. ”I was waiting until you two got alone so I could figure out what you were up to.”

“How much did you hear?” Kimberly said.

Billy was ready to bolt and drag Kimberly behind him. They’d have to morph to outrun Hank or anyone he brought with him, since they would probably use horses and would definitely use guns. The gun on his hip shifted as he moved his legs, but he still would not use it.

Hank took a breath. ”You’re either crazy… or you’re not from around here. And I don’t think you’re crazy, but I’m not sure. You kept talking about ancestors. Who are you? Really?”

Kimberly and Billy glanced at each other. Billy knew from Kimberly’s eyes that they weren’t going to run… at least not yet. He decided to wait and see what she would do.

“I can tell you our real names, but you’ll probably still suspect we’re crazy,” Kimberly said. ”My… my name is Kimberly Hart.” She looked at Billy, who nodded back. ”And this is Billy Cranston.”

That seemed to take the starch out of Hank, who slipped down to sit on the back stoop. ”Well, hell,” he said quietly. ”I thought I noticed something. Mr. Cranston must have noticed, even if he’s not saying anything.”

“We didn’t want to lie to anyone,” Billy said quickly. ”We’re stuck here. Magic, I suppose you’d call it. We’d call it that, too. Like you heard, the person who sent us back might be causing everything that’s happening.”

“It’s a good thing you hid your names,” Hank said. ”Billy, you’re the spitting image of the sheriff… Bill Cranston. Mr. Cranston’s eldest.” Hank shook his head. ”I know that’s why he trusted you two right away. He hasn’t been the same since his boy disappeared, and you looking just like him…”

Billy’s eyes widened in realization. ”The others, though… They kept giving me suspicious looks. And one of them implied that the sheriff was seen in the woods, not looking quite like himself.”

“No one’s said anything to me,” Hank said. ”But a lot of weird things happen around here. And there’s a lot of local tales about people being changed. Taken over by witches, or that sort of nonsense. My money is that the others… including Johnny, the second eldest… might start thinking you’re some kind of witch. Both of you.”

“Do you think that?” Kimberly asked.

“I ain’t never seen a witch,” Hank said. ”I’ve also never seen the likes of you either. But I heard you two talking, and I may not have understood everything, but it sounds like you don’t want anyone to get hurt. Between that and the way you two worked today…” Hank sighed. ”What can I do to help?”

Kimberly smiled, and Billy relaxed somewhat. ”We need to figure out what’s going on in the woods, and we need some small tools for Billy. Hopefully, we can leave this a better place than what it was.”

Hank nodded. ”We’ll leave early, and I’ll take you two into town. My father-in-law is the town blacksmith. He might can make what you’re needing, or at least have something you can use.” He grinned. ”And you can meet the wife and baby. I… I guess you’d be meeting your grandfather,” he looked shyly at Kimberly.

Kimberly heart skipped a beat. It was strange, but she felt somehow safer around Hank, now that he knew who she was. No matter what, this was her family. She had precious little time with her father’s side ever since the divorce. “I think we might have to add in a few ‘greats,’ but yeah… I’d like to meet the family.”

With that, Kimberly stole back into the house, and Billy followed Hank to the barn, where several men slept in the hayloft. They didn’t talk, as there were ears everywhere now, including a few men standing guard, but Billy was grateful that Hank had continued to be their ally. 


Aisha took one look at the computer before she realized something was wrong. ”There’s nothing here.”

Alpha looked over her shoulder, and then gently moved her aside so he could take over the keyboard. Sure enough, there was nothing for them to work on. Just some old projects of Billy’s, but nothing about the time disturbance.

“I don’t like this,” Aisha said, her heart starting to pound. She’d been half distracted all day, worrying about what had happened with Tommy that morning, that she just now realized there was no reason for her or Alpha to be there and not at the Command Center. She tapped her communicator. ”Aisha to Zordon.”

There was no answer. Only static. 

“Oh, ay-yi-yi,” Alpha said, tapping frantically at the keyboard. ”We’ve been cut off from the Command Center.”

Aisha cursed under her breath. She tapped her communicator again. ”Adam, come in. Are you there?”

“Aisha, that won’t work,” Alpha said. ”The communicators use the Morphing Grid, and we’re cut off from that as well. It looks like someone has cut off all ties to the Morphing Grid except for the Command Center.”

“So I can’t morph either?” Aisha said. ”But who could…” She felt her heart pound faster. She knew exactly who could. He’d warned them weeks before. How could she have not picked up on the signals?

“Tommy,” she said. ”He’s evil again, isn’t he?”

“I don’t know how this could have happened, Aisha,” Alpha said. His voice’s pitch was higher, and Aisha realized that Alpha was scared. He had, after all, lived through Tommy’s first foray into evil. ”Zordon and I created his powers to make it more difficult to corrupt him.”

“But now Rita’s back in town,” Aisha pointed out. ”Alpha, Tommy’s up there with Zordon and Rocky, and they don’t know he’s evil. How bad could this get?”

Alpha hung his head. ”The first time, Tommy almost completely destroyed us. But now… he’s been a Power Ranger for a long time, and the leader of the Power Rangers for months. He knows everything about the Command Center. Oh, ay-yi-yi, there’s no telling what he will do.”

There was a soft sound at the door, and Alpha and Aisha whirled around to see Sylvia clutching the doorframe, her face pale and eyes red. ”So it’s true,” she whispered. ”I overheard a conversation he was having with Rocky, and it sounded nothing like him, and I was afraid…”

“What was he saying to Rocky?” Aisha said. Her heart was now thrumming in her throat, and she wondered how she was staying outwardly calm when she felt like screaming.

“He used other words, but essentially?” Sylvia said. ”He said that no one would care if he died.”

“Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi!” Alpha said, throwing his hands up. ”Rocky’s his target! We’ve got to save him!”

“We will,” Sylvia said, her voice growing strength, giving Aisha resolve to match. ”And I’m helping.”


The clone of Tommy tapped the security station as they walked by, further disabling security and communications. He’d trapped Aisha, Alpha, and Adam in Angel Grove. Now Zordon was cut off from the rest of the world and the Morphing Grid, though he’d still be able to manifest in his tube. That was necessary. Thomas had things to discuss with him later.

He didn’t have a lot of time, though. Aisha and Adam were inexperienced, but they were still resourceful. He had to get this done before any of them breached the Command Center… or figured out what was really going on.

“The ’danger room?’” Rocky asked sardonically, using Tommy’s word for the holographic training room. ”What kind of experiment are we doing anyway?”

Thomas started programming the computer, too fast for Rocky to see any details. ”I want to recreate how Billy and Kimberly were taken. I think with the readings from the Morphing Grid we can get a better sense of what happened there.”

It didn’t make any sense. Thomas knew it didn’t make any sense. He knew that Rocky suspected that it didn’t make any sense, but the new Red Ranger was so desperate to impress Tommy, that he would have gone along with anything. Thomas smirked as Rocky turned his back and headed into the training room. 

“Morphed or no?” Rocky asked as the door closed behind him. ”Well, I guess unmorphed, since Billy and Kimberly weren’t morphed.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter a hell of a lot,” Thomas said, laughing a bit. 

Rocky looked up. He was now separated from Thomas by a transparent wall, which usually allowed the Rangers to observe each other training but not be in the room. Rocky’s expression slowly started to show worry. ”What do you mean, Tommy?”

Thomas grinned down at him, showing all of his teeth. ”I mean you’re a real grade-A idiot. And now you’re my hostage.”

Thomas watched with satisfaction as Rocky’s face shifted from confusion to astonishment to anger. ”You’re evil again,” he accused.

“Finally catching up,” Thomas said. ”I’ve practically been walking around with a sign pinned to my front. Are you so desperate to be accepted that you don’t question a single thing I say? And you wonder why I didn’t make you second in command?”

“What have you done with Billy and Kimberly?” Rocky challenged, his hand balling up spasmodically into a fist. He looked like he wanted to attack the wall between them, but frequent violent contact with that wall during training had shown all of them that the wall was well-nigh impenetrable. 

“You don’t need to worry about them. Just worry about yourself. That’s what you’re best at, anyway,” Thomas said, enjoying the interplay of emotions on Rocky’s face. In the back of his mind, he wondered how his counterpart could have given this up. The control he could exert over an entire person just with a few well-chosen words… It was intoxicating. Right then Rocky was scrambling to keep up, and he had no idea even half of what was going on.

“Tommy, it’s not too late. You can still come back,” Rocky said, trying to keep his voice firm even as he was sweating. ”Just let me out, and then we can get Billy and Kimberly back. You know… your brother and your girlfriend? You don’t want them hurt.”

Oh, this was just too cute. He actually thought he could talk Tommy out of this. Even if he were actually Tommy, and not a clone, those desperate words were nothing compared to the higher purpose of serving Rita. Thomas smirked and decided to push Rocky a little further before beginning the program.

“But remember?” he said. ”We’re the ones who are unattached. Will it really matter to anyone what happens to you? What happens to us?” Thomas laughed. ”You try to trick the world, don’t you? Surround yourself with friends. Take them on trips. Spend money on them, but not too much because you used to be a rich asshole, but now you’re so reformed. You’re not fooling anyone, Red.”

It looked like Rocky was going to say something, but the words died on his lips. Thomas had struck a nerve.

“You’re lonely, aren’t you?” he kept going. ”All the time. You stink of loneliness, and you try to cover it with stupid jokes and keeping your friends like pets. But you know they really just pity you, because they know how lonely you are, and they know that if they leave, you’ll really have nothing.” Thomas laughed. ”I can sympathize, but I deal with it. On you it’s pathetic.”

Without another word, Thomas began the program, inspired from Tommy’s time dimension-hopping. Through the Morphing Grid, the room would be able to read Rocky’s mind and materialize whatever he most feared. He wished he could stick around for the show, but he had precious little time. He still had to talk to Zordon before the others made things more complicated.


Rocky yelled until he realized it was no good. Tommy was gone, and he was trapped in the training room.

The room started to shift before his eyes, swirling around in color and vague shapes as whatever situation Tommy had programmed in began. Heart thudding, Rocky tried to calm down, knowing that he’d have to cope with realistic holograms while trying to figure out how to escape.

“Program end. Red Ranger authorization,” Rocky said, taking a shot in the dark.

The room didn’t respond, confirming that Tommy had indeed disabled the safety protocols. He assumed that meant the situation would be far more dangerous than they ever used in training as well.

Aisha was at Billy’s house, and Adam was still out investigating. Tommy would have made sure they couldn’t find him, and Zordon obviously couldn’t help him either. He was alone, and he had to deal with this alone.

“You’re lonely,” Tommy’s words came back to him unbidden. ”You stink of loneliness.”

That’s when the images began. Nothing physically attacked him. Instead, on the walls, he saw his life, stripped of the shields he put up daily.

He sat in a living room, one of the many living rooms he’d lived in without truly living in any of them, waiting for his father to get home and hoping he could stay awake for it this time.

He knocked Adam down on the soccer field again and again until the other boy ran from the field, crying.

He stood in a cave next to his friends, chained to a stone, as a snake made its way closer to them, and he knew that it was his fault they were there.

He walked through the hallways of his Stone Canyon school, targeting others with cruelty after cruelty, hoping that hurting others would make him feel even slightly better, but only feeling worse with each cold laugh.

He watched his mother leave. She promised to stay in touch, but each phone call grew farther and farther apart. 

He watched the one he loved, and knew he could never tell…

Rocky sat, breathing calmly and letting the pain wash over him. He knew Tommy thought this was going to be real torture, but there was something Tommy didn’t know. All these images… his worst nightmares? These were things he thought of every day. He didn’t make jokes to make himself feel better. He made jokes so no one would know how truly fucked up he was.


Kimberly held the baby and wondered which of her ancestors this was. Great-grandfather? Or should she add one or two more greats to that? She tried not to think too much about it. Thinking about this baby as someone who would eventually result in her… it made her feel just a bit of nausea. And that wasn’t just because of the spit-up now gracing her shoulder.

Sally, Hank’s wife and Kimberly’s great-grand-whatever, handed her a cloth. ”Are you sure I haven’t seen you anywhere before?” 

Kimberly smiled. She’d asked Hank not to tell anyone else about who they really were. Hank had readily agreed, since no one would actually believe him. Still, it was exhausting to keep coming up with cover stories. ”Just one of those faces, I guess.”

“Now, when your brother walked in, I thought I was looking at a ghost,” Sally said. ”It was like I was seeing Bill Cranston all over again. Even the same name, though no one ever called the sheriff ’Billy’ and got away with it.”

Kimberly handed the baby back to Sally. Her arms still weren’t fully recovered from the day before, and the baby seemed to get heavier by the second. ”What was Bill like?”

“Fair,” Sally said. ”Smart. His daddy’s a smart one, but I think Bill was the smartest man around these parts. He prided himself in never having to use his gun. He’d out-talk or out-think anyone, and he’d make it clear to any troublemakers that they weren’t welcome.” She sniffed a little, and her eyes were suspiciously misty for a few seconds. ”We searched for weeks after he disappeared.  Deputy Skullovich has taken over the job, but he won’t even call himself sheriff. He doesn’t want the job, but no one else will take it.”

Kimberly kept herself from reacting to another familiar name, and hid the smirk when she pictured Skull in a 10-gallon hat and long mustache. ”Mr. Cranston is really spooked. Does he think that the person who did away with Bill is going to come after him?”

“So you think he was murdered?” Sally said.

Kimberly shrugged. ”I think that’s what Hank thinks. And I think I trust Hank’s judgment over the more… paranoid ones around here.”

Sally shifted the baby on her hip, looking suspicious. She seemed to decide not to question anything too much. ”I’ll let Hank tell you.” She nodded her head to the door, where they could hear footsteps.

Hank and Billy walked in a minute later, Billy with a small bundle wrapped in a handkerchief. ”I think this will do,” Billy said. ”Do we need to head back already?”

Hank laughed a bit. ”It’s not fun on the Cranston property right now, I know. Everyone’s so jumpy. Still, gotta head back soon.” He crossed the room, kissed Sally, and scooped the baby up in one arm. 

“We’re going to have to start investigating what’s going on when we get back,” Billy said. ”But we’d like to hear anything you can tell us while we’re away from any prying ears.”

Hank glanced over at his wife, who had pulled out some sewing. ”I don’t really know what’s going on, Henry, but I don’t have to,” she said. ”I trust you.”

Hank cleared his throat and started letting the baby grab his fingers so he would stop grabbing at his mustache. ”Like I told you last night… people believe strange things around here. Caves with paintings that come to life… monsters lying in the sea… Most of it’s boogeyman stuff. Tell your kids there’s monsters in the caves, and maybe they won’t go in the caves and get their fool necks broken. But… sometimes things go strange, and there’s no explanation.”

“Like the sheriff,” Kimberly said. ”One of the others said they saw him in the woods.”

“I saw him in the woods,” Hank admitted. ”But… it wasn’t him anymore. I was out patrolling and saw him take down a cow. Just… landed on the cow and brought it down like that. No sound except a thump. Then he looked up at me with eyes that weren’t human anymore, and…”

Hank was shaking, and he seemed to realize he was. He took several breaths and handed the baby back to Sally. She looked like she’d heard the story before.

“But you were able to get away,” Billy said, his voice barely over a whisper. 

“Yes,” Hank said. ”I shot at it, but it leapt away before I could hit anything, and then I ran. I made the mistake of telling Mr. Cranston what I’d seen, and he’s been even more paranoid ever since.”

Kimberly was about to say something, when she jumped. She still had her communicator on her wrist, and it had buzzed soundlessly. The look on Billy’s face told her he had felt the same thing.

“Hank, we need to take care of something before heading back,” Kimberly said. ”We’ll let you have a little time with your family.”

Hank smiled weakly. He looked like he wanted more than anything to just stay in that room and never go back to the Cranston farm. ”I sure appreciate it. You two be careful.”

“We will,” Billy promised, and they ducked out of the house, and then behind the shed where they could be alone.

Kimberly tapped her communicator. ”Who’s there?” she said quietly.

“Power Rangers.” It was the voice of Zordon, and Billy and Kimberly grinned at each other. They’d never wanted to hear his voice as much as right then. ”Please prepare to teleport to the Command Center.”

“Sure thing,” Kimberly said, and she closed her eyes gratefully as she felt the familiar tingle of teleportation.

She opened her eyes to the sight of a Command Center that was incredibly familiar and somewhat… different… at the same time. Zordon was there, floating in his tube, and Alpha was standing by fretfully, but there was a sense of sterility about the place, as if no one really lived there. And the computers looked different as well. This, she realized, was the Command Center of the past.

“Power Rangers,” Zordon said, his voice formal and without any sense of recognition. ”I have been monitoring your progress as well as the fracture in space-time that sent the two of you here. I did not wish to interfere unless it was necessary, but the story your ancestor just told was disturbing enough that it became clear you needed my help.”

“You’d be right, Zordon,” Kimberly said. ”I’m sure you’ll understand that we can’t tell you much about ourselves.”

“You are Power Rangers and come from 151 years in the future,” Zordon said. ”That is all I need know. I have purposefully limited my connection to the Morphing Grid. It is not wise to know too much about one’s future.”

“I’m starting to think it’s unwise to know too much about one’s past as well,” Billy said. ”We suspect R… our enemies of being behind the attack against the sheriff, as a way to attack us. Do you think that’s the case?”

“I highly doubt it,” Zordon said. ”I have monitored the sheriff since last night, and from our readings and what Henry Hart has said, it seems most likely that the sheriff came in contact with some concentrated Putty clay.”

Both Kimberly’s and Billy’s eyes sprung open. If they’d been expecting any answer, it wasn’t that one. ”But…” Kimberly said, ”Putty clay is mined on the moon.”

“There are places on Earth, in certain caves, where Putty clay still exists,” Zordon said. ”I thought I had neutralized all these places, but I seem to have missed one. Bill Cranston came into contact with the clay in some way, and it has corrupted him. He has turned feral… as violent as a Putty, and stronger, but far more skittish. I doubt he would hurt anyone, though he seems to have taken to preying on animals to survive. Thankfully, there is a cure.”

Billy and Kimberly looked at each other, reaching a silent agreement. It did not matter if the sheriff’s dilemma was not their fault, and it also didn’t matter what changes to the timeline may happen. There was someone who needed their help, and they were going to help them no matter what.

“We’ll administer the cure,” Billy said, ”if you can point us in the right direction.”

“And then we’ll talk about getting to our correct timeline,” Kimberly said. ”Hopefully we didn’t change things too much.”

Alpha gave them a bottle with a green liquid. “Simply throw this on the sheriff, and it should combat the effects, Rangers,” Alpha said. Alpha had little of the personality they’d grown used to, and Kimberly wondered when he’d become like the Alpha they knew. 

Zordon as well had looked rather reserved, but for a moment he seemed impressed. ”It appears I have chosen my Power Rangers well in the future. May the power protect you.”

Billy and Kimberly grinned at the familiar words, and then teleported out.

They landed behind the shed and ran back to the house where they’d just left Hank, Sally, and their baby. The door was open and hanging on its hinge.

They looked at each other with wide eyes and edged into the room. There had been a struggle. A chair lay broken on the floor, and a window was broken. There was no sign of the little family.

“Here,” Kimberly said, her voice high and trembly. She picked up a note, where the words ”Come back to the farm witches” were scrawled on a thin sheet of paper from the writing desk in the corner. The ink was blotted so they could barely make out the words.

“I suppose we’re the ’witches,’ then,” Billy said.

“They’re going to hurt Hank and his family,” Kimberly said. She looked up, suddenly determined. ”I think the time for laying low is over.”


Adam already knew something was wrong. His research had given him enough information that he knew time travel wasn’t the only thing wrong. He could pick up on clues others had missed. Not only did he know exactly what was happening with Billy and Kimberly in the past, he also had an inkling of something terrible in the present. He had to get to Zordon to confirm his theory.

He didn’t figure out how wrong things were until he tried to teleport and nothing happened.

He stared down at his communicator and poked at it again, all to no avail. His heart pounded: he’d made a mistake. He’d waited too long to report in, and now the worst was happening, and there was little he could do about it.

He pulled out his morpher. He could run to Billy’s house and maybe use the flying car they’d told him about…

Before he could do anything, and black-robed figure appeared before him. His face was bone-white, with fire burning underneath.

“You are about to become a nuisance,” the figure said, and Adam recognized the voice of the Wizard of Deception. He had nightmares about that voice coming out of his brother’s mouth. ”You know too much.”

Adam tried to morph, but nothing happened. A bead of sweat trickled down his cheek, but he tried not to act like it phased him. ”So I’m right,” he said. ”The time travel… the clone… You even set up Billy and Kimberly to get killed in the past. It’s all coming together while we weren’t looking.”

“You seem more competent when your brother isn’t in danger,” the Wizard said. ”As I said, you know too much.” He summoned a group of Putties. ”These should keep you busy. At least until you can’t do any damage.”

The Wizard disappeared, and Adam grinned. The Wizard had just made two missteps. First, he had assumed a group of Putties would be a challenge to Adam. Haunted by his recent defeats involving the Mirror of Regret, Adam had trained hard on his own, and now fighting Putties by himself was practically second nature.

Second… he did know too much. He knew what the Wizard didn’t know. That his plans were going to fail.


Thomas tapped one last command entry into the computer as he swept past the Viewing Globe. On the screen, he saw Adam battling a group of Putties, and he nodded in approval. He hadn’t given much thought to Adam. He wasn’t that big of a threat, and it was decent of Rita to keep him occupied.

“You’re slipping, old man,” Thomas said softly, smirking up at Zordon. ”I shouldn’t have been able to get away with what I did. I wasn’t even that subtle, if you’d been paying attention.”

Zordon looked at him wearily. He’d probably been waiting for this confrontation for several minutes, when he’d noticed he was cut off from everyone and everything. ”I admit that you are correct,” Zordon said. ”I should have noticed. Are the Rangers unharmed?”

Thomas crossed his arms. ”Mostly. I don’t know where Billy and Kimberly are, and I’m a little pissed I can’t play with them. Though, they probably wouldn’t have let me get away with half of what I did. Aisha and Adam are panicking right now, and Rocky…” he grinned. ”He’s my hostage. I can just promise you he’s not physically hurt.”

“A hostage,” Zordon said slowly. ”What is it that you want, then, clone? Do you prefer to be called Tommy, or would you like another name?”

He laughed. “Thomas, actually. You know, I actually thought you hadn’t figured it out. Good on you. You’re not completely senile.”

“The Wizard of Deception still had a Tommy clone after I destroyed the others,” Zordon said. ”And he took genetic material from Tommy yesterday to make you whole. I must admit, I have been distracted, or I would have pieced this together sooner.”

Thomas gripped the console. ”But I’m not whole. I’m not… real. A shadow given a mockery of life with a few strands of hair and the remnants of the green candle. I’m here to serve my Empress… but I can’t really do that. Not while I’m dependent on the Wizard of Deception to keep me alive.” He gritted his teeth. ”I’m a clone. And just like Billy’s clone Will before me, I’m unstable and will be destroyed if anyone who matters finds out I’m alive. Empress Rita may want me around now, but that will change, especially if someone like Dark Specter is involved. Or is that husband of hers gets a chance to do away with me.” He took a breath. ”But you can make me real.”

“You could have asked me for help,” Zordon said. ”You needn’t have threatened any of us.”

Thomas laughed. ”You don’t get it, old man. I’m still evil. Hell, I’m enjoying this.” His eyes glinted dangerously. ”I have all of Tommy’s memories. I remember betraying my Empress. Becoming your Power Ranger. Being justly punished by my Empress, and then defying her again and again. It’s driving me mad, and the only way I can feel better is by causing as much pain as I can.” He grinned wolfishly. ”I’m not done with any of them. Rocky’s trapped and living his worst nightmares as we speak, but I won’t leave him like that. Adam and Aisha, too… I’ve already played with Aisha some, but there are so many more ways they can suffer.”

Zordon shook his head. ”You may be a clone, but you’re still Tommy. Desperate to convince yourself that you don’t care. Release Rocky,” Zordon said, his voice resigned, ”and I will help you. We can use my power and the power of the Morphing Grid to stabilize your condition, so that you don’t have to rely on the Wizard.”

Thomas rolled his eyes. ”You really do think I’m an idiot. How about this… I leave Rocky where he is, and I go down to Billy’s house and torture everyone I have trapped there… including Tommy, by the way. After I’m done with that, I’ll come back and see if you’re more serious about helping me.”

Zordon’s eyes flew open, and he seemed to have broken out of his ambivalence. ”Wait… Tommy…”

Thomas laughed. ”You’re right. I’m not Tommy. But I am the Green Ranger… and this is what I do.”

Chapter Text

Aisha looked over Alpha’s shoulder at the computer. She knew that he was trying to break into the Morphing Grid, working on bypassing Tommy’s barrier, when she noticed a familiar blip of energy.

“Alpha,” she said, putting a hand on the robot’s shoulder, “hang on a bit. I just saw something that I don’t think makes sense.”

Alpha stopped his work and stared at the screen. “Ay-yi-yi, I see what you mean, Aisha. That’s just not possible!”

Sylvia had been standing by the side nervously. She wanted to help, but the truth of the matter was she had no idea what to do. She was still processing that not only was Tommy evil, but Billy was apparently lost in the past. Now, she latched onto whatever new development was happening.

“What am I looking at?” Sylvia said, now leaning over both Alpha and Aisha.

“I don’t really know,” Aisha said. “Alpha’s been able to break in enough so that we can tell who is at the Command Center. Rocky’s there, and Zordon’s there, and that…” she pointed to the power signature, “is supposed to be Tommy.”

“What do you mean ‘supposed to be?’” Sylvia said.

“I mean that’s not really him,” Aisha said gravely. “It’s a lot like him, but there’s something really wrong with his power signature.”

“I’m reading Morphing energy,” Alpha said, “but it’s not the White Ranger in the Command Center.”

Sylvia took a step back, grabbing Aisha’s shoulder as if she were falling. Aisha caught her hand, but Sylvia was already pulling away, her face looking calm and far away, like Billy’s face looked when he was thinking through a problem. Then her eyes went wide. “Quick, Alpha, see if you can find the White Ranger. If that’s not him, he’s got to be somewhere.”

“Scanning now,” Alpha said. He tapped for a few tense minutes, and then…

“Ay-yi-yi, he’s in the house!” Alpha exclaimed, jumping from his seat and knocking against both women in the process. “This house!”

Sylvia was already through the kitchen door, Aisha hot on her heels. They ran past the living room down the hallway, and then crashed into Tommy’s room.

An empty room greeted them. Sylvia threw open the closet doors, while Aisha hit the floor to look under the bed. It was a small room, and there weren’t many places to hide.

“Billy’s room?” Aisha said.

Sylvia was about to answer, when the two heard the unmistakable crackle of teleportation. They stared at each other, wide-eyed. There was little doubt that this was the fake Tommy.

“Close the door,” Aisha mouthed to Sylvia, and Sylvia tip-toed over to the door and softly pulled it to. 

Aisha knew that she would be unable to morph, but the fake Tommy would have some access to some kind of power. They’d have to work quickly to find the real Tommy and get out of there. Her first priority, she reminded herself, was to ensure Sylvia’s safety, though she knew she wouldn’t be able to get the woman to leave without an argument.

She looked around the room desperately, knowing they had minutes, if that. The bedroom was obviously Tommy’s: martial arts and grunge rock posters lined the walls, his small desk featured his thick schedule book (which he used to help with his memory problems) and a picture of him and Kimberly at the park. The little space that wasn’t taken up by the bed, desk, and dresser was dominated by a large stereo system, which looked to be wired together from mismatched parts. Something that Billy had worked on, probably; it had that same look of thrift-store parts mixed with high-end technology. That was of no help, though, and she started kicking through the laundry, shoes, and trash on the floor. 

Something glinted and caught her eye. Finally, something that didn’t look like it belonged to Tommy. A crystal on the head of his bed, faintly glowing. She pointed at it, and Sylvia’s eyes widened. Not a decoration.

Hoping that it didn’t have any security on it, Aisha pulled the crystal from its place. It flashed and cracked, and suddenly Tommy appeared on the bed. He was unconscious.

“Aisha…” Tommy’s voice called from the hallway. Only it wasn’t Tommy. “I know you’re in here. Are you in my bedroom? Couldn’t wait to have me alone again, could you?”

Aisha’s lips curled back in a snarl. She knew it wasn’t Tommy, but it still sounded like him, and she would never forgive this thing for putting that voice with those words.

“I know you’re jealous of Kimberly,” the thing that wasn’t Tommy continued. “But don’t worry… you don’t have to. Kimberly’s sweet… but sometimes I like some spice.”

Aisha was busy pulling Tommy up on his feet, when she realized her mistake. It was those words that were rattling her. If she’d been thinking clearly, she would have insisted Sylvia grab Tommy, leaving Aisha free to fight and cover for them. Sylvia was taller than her, too. As it was, she was struggling against Tommy’s height and mass.

The knob was turning. There was no time. Aisha looked around for Sylvia, but she was hiding behind the door and couldn’t see. As it was, Aisha and Tommy were right in the open, and they had no hope of hiding.

The door swung open, and the thing that wasn’t Tommy stood smirking in the frame. “Well, that’s inconvenient. You found my little surprise.”

“You’re not Tommy,” Aisha said, knowing she was saying the obvious but hoping she could buy some time.

“No, I’m not,” the thing said. “But, then again… I am.” He spread his arms and inched forward. “That one,” he nodded at Tommy’s unconscious form, “told you what he was when he was evil. How he tortured the Rangers. How he beat Billy to within an inch of his life, forcing him to stay still and take the beating to save his mother. How he humiliated Kimberly and imprisoned Jason. But you know what’s worse? What makes him the piece of shit that he is now?”

Aisha grimaced and edged backwards, ready to throw Tommy back down on the bed so she could fight his double.

“He betrayed his Empress,” the thing said softly, his eyes flashing green for an instant. “He stole the power that was rightfully hers, and he threw it in her face. And, in turn, she was humiliated, imprisoned, and tortured. All because of his weakness.” The last words came out in a venomous rasp.

“You don’t know anything about him,” Aisha said. “If you think that he ever served Rita voluntarily.”

“And you know him so well, do you?” Tommy’s double said.

That gave Aisha pause. She’d fought with Tommy, been on a team with him… but did she really know him? She knew what he told her, she knew with what high regard the other Rangers and Zordon held Tommy, but other than that…

The thing smirked at the uncertainty in Aisha’s eyes. “Oh, he told you about the spell. How it was broken and he’d reformed. But he didn’t tell you how he craved it. How, countless times, he wanted to serve Rita yet again, to make the guilt go away. You think you know your friends, but they haven’t even gotten close to telling you about the depths of their depravity. About how Kimberly chose to serve Lord Zedd. About how it’s really thanks to Billy that I’m even possible. After all, he made the first clone.”

Aisha felt herself grow cold. Still secrets. Still things she didn’t know. And now it was being thrown in her face.

“Billy didn’t tell you that,” the thing laughed. “I remember. He’s still ashamed… and he should be. He created a clone of himself, and then turned on that creation. The clone’s name was Will, and he terrorized Billy’s friends, but then Billy killed him. Stabbed him with a lance…”

There was a sudden movement, and the thing that wasn’t Tommy pitched to the side, yelling in pain and surprise. Sylvia stood over him, holding a wooden sword.

“I think you’ve got your facts mixed up. Go,” Sylvia gasped out to Aisha. “I’ll cover you.”

Before Aisha could object, Sylvia was already bringing the sword down hard on the thing’s prone form. It was disturbing watching Sylvia beat her adopted son. At least, it would have been if Aisha wasn’t already dragging Tommy toward the door, or if Tommy’s double hadn’t reminded them of what the evil Green Ranger had done to Billy.

Aisha pulled Tommy down the hallway, desperate to reach the garage and not entirely sure what she’d find there. She’d find a car at least, and hopefully Alpha. She had to secure Tommy as quickly as she could and go back to help Sylvia. If the thing had Tommy’s power, the woman wouldn’t stand a chance.

They were in the kitchen when Tommy groaned and shook his head. “Wha… what’s going on?”

“You have an evil clone, I think,” Aisha said shortly.

“Of course I do,” Tommy said. He tried to walk on his own, but his feet turned under him. Aisha managed to make it a controlled fall into a kitchen chair.

“Stay there,” Aisha said. “I have to go help Sylvia.”

There was a crash, and Tommy’s eyes widened as he looked over Aisha’s shoulder. Tommy’s clone, looking dazed, was nonetheless wresting the wooden sword out of Sylvia’s hands. Sylvia, eyes blazing and tears streaming down her face, looked like she was ready to take on the clone single-handed, sword or no.

“Okay…” the clone rasped, “I let you get in a few good hits. Get some closure. But now…” he raised the sword.

Aisha rushed at the clone elbow-first, flipping him over the couch and grabbing the sword out of the clone’s hands. She wanted to keep attacking, but getting Sylvia and Tommy out of there was her first priority. Instead, she held the sword up and backed away slowly, motioning for Sylvia and Tommy to get out behind her.

The clone launched back over the couch and landed in front of Aisha, grinning manically. “Oh, you should’nt have done that,” he said.

Aisha didn’t answer. She recalled her lessons from when she and Adam took kendo together and attacked with all her might. Vaguely, she heard a door swish open behind her. As the clone fought with her, she only hoped she could hold out until the others escaped.


Tommy felt like he’d woken up to a nightmare.

As Aisha fought the clone version of himself, Sylvia pulled him into the garage. Alpha was working furiously at Billy’s computer, but he jumped up in a panic at the sight of Tommy.

“It’s okay, Alpha,” Sylvia said. “This is the genuine article.”

“What did…” Tommy started, and then he shook his head furiously. “No, now’s not the time. Alpha, I need a situation report, and quick.”

Alpha looked like he wanted to gush at Tommy’s recovery, but something in Tommy’s voice snapped him out of that. “We’re cut off from the Command Center and the Morphing Grid. As such, you can’t morph, and we don’t know Zordon’s status. Rocky is also held prisoner in the Command Center, though Adam is currently in Angel Grove.”

“Billy and Kimberly?” Tommy said.

“Oh, ay-yi-yi, you were unconscious, Tommy,” Alpha said. “They were sent through a time warp to the past.”

Though Tommy looked staggered at all these pronouncements, he looked like he was quickly recovering from whatever the clone did to him. “Right… Sylvia and Alpha, get in the car. If we can’t teleport, we’ll fly there. I’ll get Aisha.”

Sylvia grabbed his arm as he whirled around, but he squeezed her arm in turn before extricating himself. “I’ll be fine, Sylvia. I can’t let that monster hurt anyone. I won’t be two minutes.”

He ran back into the kitchen, and was pleased to see Adam running in through the front door. Their eyes met, and they nodded. As one, they ran for the clone, Tommy aiming high and Adam low. The clone had been paying attention to Aisha, so he went down before he realized it.

“Keep him still, guys,” Aisha said. She grabbed a crystal out of her pocket and put it on the clone’s chest. Immediately, the clone went still.

“And that was…?” Tommy said.

“The thing keep you incapacitated all day,” Aisha said. “I took a chance, and it worked.”

“Not for too long,” Adam said, pointing to the clone’s stirring hand. “He’s fighting it.”

“Then to the car, quickly,” Tommy said.

They ran into the garage and were immediately treated to the bizarre sight of Sylvia in the driver’s seat and Alpha in the passenger’s seat of Billy’s Volkswagen Beetle. Alpha was peering curiously at the dash, but Sylvia was motioning frantically for them to hurry up. The three piled into the backseat, jammed against each other in the tight space. As soon as their doors slammed, Sylvia gunned the engine and they shot out into the empty street. She drove to a completely deserted side road and pushed the button. The engine died as the flying harness took over, and they were flying over Angel Grove.

It was a few minutes before anyone could speak. Aisha kept looking at the empty air behind them, as if expecting them to be pursued. So far the day had been fairly filled with impossible things, so that was understandable.

Finally, Tommy could bear the silence no longer. “I have to know what he did. Everything.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Tommy,” Sylvia said.

Tommy shook his head but knew she couldn’t see him. “Not why I need to know. We have to figure out a way to stop him, so I need to know what we’re dealing with. Once we get him taken care of, we can find Kimberly and Billy.”

“As easy as that?” Aisha said, her voice brittle. “And how are we going to ‘stop’ him? What do you mean by getting him ‘taken care of?’”

Tommy paused. He was looking out the window, refusing to meet the gaze of the others. “Depends on what we’re dealing with,” he finally said.

“He is exactly like you when you were evil,” Alpha said, uncharacteristically succinct. His voice was low, and Tommy remembered that he had been his first victim. He’d never apologized, and now it seemed too little, too late.

“He hasn’t had a chance to do much,” Adam said. “He’s been masquerading as you all day, but I don’t think he’s gotten too far with his plans.”

“Yeah, he only had time to kidnap Rocky, help send Billy and Kimberly to the past, and cut us off from the Command Center,” Aisha said. “Oh, and when were you going to tell us that Billy created an evil clone?”

“Rita created a clone of me?” Tommy said. “As in, unstable, illegal clone? Alpha, why would she take that risk?”

Aisha bristled. “Didn’t you hear me?”

“I heard you,” Tommy said, his voice quiet. “It was up to Billy to tell you that, and he chose not to.”

“We need to know all this,” Aisha said. “We have to…”

“Billy didn’t tell you because he never talks about it,” Sylvia cut in, speaking for the first time. “He still has nightmares about it, both because he created a monster and because he saw himself as a monster. Please understand that he can’t admit to what he did so easily.”

Tommy was watching Aisha carefully. Something had happened to her. His clone had done something that she wasn’t revealing, and knowing how he was when he was evil, it had to have been something twisted. But if she wasn’t ready to talk, he would have to deal with it later. 

“Kimberly told me, after I told you all about my time being evil,” Tommy said in a low voice, “that there was knowing I was evil, and then there was knowing. I’m…” he looked back out the window, “I’m sorry you guys had to experience that.”

There was silence in the car, only broken by the wind whistling past them, each lost in their own thoughts. Tommy had been able to gather a small amount of what the clone had done, not really enough to make a plan, but as much as he was getting right then. He could figure out more at the Command Center. From what he could guess, they were dealing with a clone that was similar to Billy’s clone Will. However, it wasn’t exact. It didn’t have the heightened speed, strength, and healing factor that Will had. He could see the cuts and bruises from Sylvia’s attack, and they hadn’t gone away quickly. No, this was a clone of Rita’s design, probably with the help of her pal the Wizard of Deception. Zordon hadn’t shared much about his battle with the Wizard, but he had mentioned the Wizard making illusions in the form of Power Rangers. This was an example of that power, he figured, though this clone seemed far realer than any illusion.

“I think he’s worth saving,” Adam said suddenly.

Tommy and Aisha regarded him with astonishment, and even Sylvia and Alpha whipped their heads around to stare into the back seat. Adam was smiling grimly and pulling some yellowish cards, the kind the library set out for notetaking, from his back pocket. He’d scribbled all over them.

“I don’t have the whole story,” Adam said, “but I think this is all going to tie in with 1843, which is where Billy and Kimberly are… and where there’s someone who looks just like you, Tommy.”

“But as the hero, or the villain?” Tommy asked.

“That I don’t know,” Adam admitted. “But we can’t leave that up to fate. After all, you were able to break from the spell.”

Tommy noticed Sylvia looking at him through the rearview mirror. He gave her a nod. “And I think I know how to break this one.”


Thomas had been fighting the crystal for some time, only semi-conscious, when he felt its weight leave him and his eyes started to open. The fire-and-bone face of the Wizard of Deception greeted him.

“Your mistress demands your presence,” the Wizard said, his voice thick with irony.

“I still have to go after the other Rangers,” Thomas said, rising unsteadily to his feet.

“From what I can tell, the Rangers are approaching the Command Center, and it will soon get dangerous for you there,” the Wizard said. “Your plans have failed.”

“Then I can…” he began.

“What you can do is to report to Empress Rita Repulsa,” the Wizard said. “Didn’t you throw a fit over your other half betraying his Empress? You wouldn’t want to follow in his footsteps, would you?”

Thomas glowered. “Take me to her, then.”

The world dissolved and was replaced by the throne room… this time Lord Zedd’s throne room. He was there, standing next to Rita. Thomas bowed before her, making sure to subtly exclude Zedd from his deference. This was the man who had attacked and banished Rita. He would not forget, even if she apparently had.

“You’re doing quite as badly as your predecessor, Green Ranger,” Rita said coldly. “Or was that not the Blue Ranger’s mother—a middle-aged civilian non-fighter—who bested you in battle?”

Thomas bristled. “The attack was unexpected, my Empress. If I had…”

“You may dispense with the charade, already,” Lord Zedd cut in. “Explain to your Empress, clone, what your true mission is as you grovel hypocritically at her feet.”

Thomas wondered briefly what would happen if he actually attacked Lord Zedd. Tommy had done it once before, and the clone held the memories of the pain. He did not welcome it.

“I have done nothing to betray you, my Empress,” Thomas said. “I am not like my predecessor.”

“How very true,” Rita answered. Her voice was no longer angry, but thoughtful, as if considering how different this clone truly was. Thomas felt flayed alive by those three words.

“My husband forgets,” Rita continued, “just as you forget, my Green Ranger, that you and I still share a bond. It is not quite the same as the one I shared with Tommy, but it is coupled with the fact that you owe your very existence to me.” She paused for effect and looked straight into Thomas’s eyes. “I know exactly what you intend, and I’ve decided to allow it. You are your own person as much as you are mine. Do what you need to do.”

Thomas bowed his head low. “Thank you, my Empress. I won’t disappoint.”

With that, he used the communicator he’d stolen from Tommy to teleport to the Command Center. He still had plenty of time to lay traps for the Rangers.

As soon as Thomas disappeared, the Wizard rounded on Rita. “You realize the clone wishes to escape my control. Or do you expect his devotion to you to keep it stable?”

Rita smirked. “I expect the clone will make a proper mess of things for himself. But I also expect he will cause a lot of pain in the meantime. For now it’s better to give him his head.”

“So this is your plan, dear wife?” Zedd stepped in. “You have no interest in destroying the Rangers. That clone of yours could have given us direct access