Chapter 1: White Light pt.1
Here’s what was supposed to happen today: Eugene “Skull” Skulllovich was supposed to hang out with his best friend Farkas “Bulk” Bulkmeier. Bulk was supposed to call Skull early in the morning on a stakeout in their ongoing quest to find the secret identities of the Power Rangers. This stakeout was supposed to yield a dumpster from outer space containing Rita Repulsa that the two would take to Skull’s garage. Then, they were supposed to do all sorts of experiments that would keep them off the game board until after the Power Rangers saved the day as per usual.
But instead, today Skull ended up sleeping in because Bulk didn’t call him. Bulk didn’t call him early in the morning because the previous day the two got into a fight that was not supposed to happen. It went something like this:
After following Madam Swampy’s map to the Juice Bar, Skull balled up and threw said map on the ground. In the correct sequence of events he was supposed to ball it up and throw it down in front of the “geekoids” Kimberly Hart, Zach Taylor, and Billy Cranston.
But instead something—the forces of infinite causality, perhaps—made Skull ball up the map and toss it over his shoulder instead.
The crumbled-up map sailed through the air and hit Richie Mendoza—the new cashier—in the face while he was carrying out a plate of muffins that would be given away with the Juice Bar’s new promotion. Despite it being just a piece of paper, Richie stumbled backwards and threw the muffins up into the air. The muffins all rained down on Bulk’s head and he, in his surprise fell down into the table which spilled all the “geekoids’” smoothies on his head.
The entire juice bar erupted in laughter.
Now, Bulk had suffered worse embarrassment in the Juice Bar—usually involving pies or cakes or whatever other confectionary dishes vaudeville performers and clowns would fall into—but thanks to the arbitrary and seemingly senseless journey he had undertaken because of the map, Bulk was angry. Frustrated, even. Perhaps, if Skull had done what he was supposed to, then the geekoids would have revealed that Madam Swampy had deceived them and there would be no major baked goods related embarrassment.
But he didn’t.
Skull was laughing along with the others like he always did whenever Bulk knocked something over or was pelted with pie—seriously, why on earth did a juice bar have so many pies?—but those other times he’d roll with the humiliation and move on to the next thing. The new sequence of events eliminated the one route that would allow him to just roll with everyone—his best friend especially—laughing at his misfortune again.
“Bulkie,” he cackled. “If you wanted a smoothie so bad, I woulda bought you one!”
And things could have gone back on track if Bulk had just said, “Shut it, numbskull.” But instead he shouted, “Well, if I wanted a loser for a best friend I wouldn’t have stopped hanging out with Cranston!”
The Juice Bar quieted down. In anticipation? Fear? Interest?
“What’s that s’posed to mean, Bulk?” Skull asked.
“It means,” Bulk said, poking his finger in Skull’s chest for emphasis. “That we’d have figured out who the Power Rangers were by now if it weren’t for you!”
This was incorrect. Bulk knew it, but he was hurt and felt like lashing out.
“What?” Skull sputtered.
Bulk continued as if Skull hadn’t said anything, “You’re dead weight, Skull! We’d be rich and famous by now if you didn’t keep ruining my plans.”
“Now Bulk, that isn’t exactly—” Billy started to say.
“Stow it, nerd,” Bulk said, not even taking his attention off Skull who was turning a humiliated shade of red to match Bulk.
“I-I-I—” he stammered.
“Yeah,” Bulk groaned. “You, you, you! I’d say call me when you can form a sentence, but I don’t wanna see you ever again!’
And then he stormed off.
Skull stood there a couple moments, confused. He turned to Billy and then in the direction Bulk had left and then to the muffins on the ground.
“I gotta go,” he muttered, tugging his hat down over his eyes.
And so today Skull slept in. When he finally woke up he figured he would go to the Juice Bar anyway and maybe he’d see Bulk. Maybe they could pretend yesterday didn’t happen. It wasn’t like Bulk never said things like that before, but he never said it so loudly. In front of so many people. Like he actually meant it.
So, Skull rolled out of bed, changed from his red t-shirt and into a white one, and left for the Juice Bar.
But the thing is, Bulk and Skull’s fight seemed to have a subtle ripple effect on causality. For example, Tommy Oliver who was supposed to come back to Angel Grove later in the week, decided to return a few hours early to surprise everyone. He arrived at the Juice Bar roughly at the same time as Skull.
“Missing your better half today, Skull?” Tommy asked, holding open the door.
But Skull didn’t get the chance to come up with something coherent to say because a bolt of lightning struck in the parking lot. Where there had been nobody and nothing, suddenly there was that golden monkey-werewolf-angel monster—Goldar?—and the clay creatures—Putties?—he usually commanded to attack the Power Rangers.
You see, because Tommy decided to return to Angel Grove, Lord Zedd decided to have Goldar attack him. He figured without his powers, Tommy would be easy pickings and the rest of the Rangers would be further demoralized if their former teammate and friend (that seemed to be how human friendship worked at least to Zedd) were destroyed in such a public space.
“Welcome back to Angel Grove, Tommy” the monster bellowed.
“Wh-why does that monster know your name?” Skull squeaked.
“That’s not important, Skull. Get inside and tell everyone to hide!”
Skull would have done that, but he was paralyzed with fear. Tommy got into his fighting stance. And the Putties pounced. Skull had been swarmed by Putties a couple times before, and like then they tossed him around back and forth while they whooped and wailed. From what he could see Tommy was fighting hand to hand with Goldar and somehow not dying. On the other hand, it was taking all of Skull’s effort to dip and dodge the Putties’ punches and kicks, which actually meant that he’d dodge one punch and place himself right in the path of a kick and vice versa. Each blow was like getting hit with a brick, and Skull wasn’t sure he could take any more. Skull pushed his way through the swarm of Putties to hide behind a nearby car. Tommy and Goldar were fighting in front of it. Skull figured if he crawled beneath the car that the Putties would be dumb enough to leave him be if he were out of sight, but before he could he noticed Goldar was talking to Tommy.
“This time you won’t get away, Tommy,” Goldar roared with a flourish of his sword. “There’s no one to save you and—”
“Save it, Monkey Breath,” Tommy huffed. He held up his arm and showed Goldar the stupid watch Billy had made for their little group. “I already called for help, the Rangers will be here any second.”
Goldar laughed, “I can finish you faster than that.”
And then he lunged.
Eugene Skullovich was many things. A punk. A secret concert pianist. A sidekick. But most of all, he was a coward. If things were happening as they should have, Skull would not have been anywhere near this scene. This scene would not have been happening if everything were right on track. Eugene Skullovich had to do something that would satisfy one of his character traits, and because of the subtle ripples in causality he didn’t choose the cowardly option
He leapt from behind the car and pushed tommy out of the way of Goldar’s incoming sword. Skull moved fast enough that he didn’t get stabbed in Tommy’s stead, but the sword did catch his jacket which left him pinned to the car. Goldar laughed and slammed Skull against the car.
“Let him go, Goldar!” Tommy shouted.
“Y-yeah, let him go, Goldar,” Skull mumbled. “Please?”
“Surrender, Tommy, or else he’ll—”
Tommy Oliver was many things. A martial artist. A closet geek. A hero of justice. But most of all, he was a teenage boy who didn’t like to make waves. This tended to manifest in his non-superhero life as a soft-spokenness and deference to others. If things were going the way they should have, Tommy wouldn’t have been placed in this situation. He would be on his way to developing into a true leader. But the ripples in causality placed him in this moment, frustrated that he had lost his powers again, and Tommy said something out of character.
“What more does Lord Zedd want from me?” he demanded. “You already took my powers—you won! What more do you want?”
Goldar nodded, as if he were actually appraising Tommy’s words.
“Wrong answer,” he said as he fired an energy bolt through his sword into the car which in turn electrocuted Skull.
“No!” Tommy shouted, leaping for Goldar. He twisted through the air slammed his leg into Goldar. Powers or not, a spin kick from Tommy Oliver was enough to send Goldar flying back a couple feet. With Goldar briefly incapacitated, Tommy tried to check if Skull was okay.
“Skull?” he said, his voice trembling. Skull wasn’t breathing. “Skull, you have to wake up.”
It was at this moment that in the desert outside of Angel Grove Zordon was giving Alpha the order to zero-in on Tommy’s energy signature and teleport him to the command center. Just before Goldar could launch a counterattack or send the remaining Putties to, Tommy and Skull were transformed into white light and vanished.
Around this time, Rita’s Dumpster was crash landing into the park. In the original turn of events, Bulk and Skull would take it back with them to try and set the sorceress free. But thanks to the ripple effects of causality, there was no one around when it landed. There was no one who would inadvertently fix the dumpster in their opportunistic stupidity.
A small crack appeared on the side of the dumpster that would grow over the course of the day.
Chapter 2: White Light pt.2
We can rebuild him, we have the technology!
Tommy and Skull landed in the center of the command center on the ground in front of Alpha 5.
“Aiyiyi, Tommy,” Alpha shrieked. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, b-but….” Tommy trailed off to gesture at Skull who was laying on the ground, still not breathing.
Alpha immediately moved to check Skull’s vitals, and from his energy tube Zordon looked on in dismay. Zordon of Eltar was a wizard trapped in a time warp. If he had to describe that in terms humans could understand, he would compare it to being unstuck in time. Being unstuck in time allowed Zordon to simultaneously experience every moment of his past, present, and future which left him little room for surprise. Until now, that is.
While Tommy explained what had happened, Zordon tried to peek through other moments in his timeline to figure out what to do about Eugene Skullovich. Zordon could clearly see what was supposed to happen—that was why he had summoned Tommy today—but now the future was shifting. With a clear understanding of the new path of destiny Zordon turned his attention to Tommy and Alpha and pretended as if he hadn’t been lost in his thoughts.
“What do we do, Zordon?” asked Alpha.
“His heart is still beating, is it not?” Zordon said as if he didn’t already know the answer to his own question.
Tommy nodded, “Then, how do we wake him up?”
This was going to be difficult.
“There is one option, but I’m not sure you will like it,” Zordon sighed. He knew Tommy wouldn’t and would pretend not to care. “Alpha and I summoned you here today to restore your powers
“I can be Green Ranger again?”
“No,” Zordon said. “We don’t have a way to connect the latent green energy in you back to the Morphing Grid, and without a new green focusing device we wouldn’t be able to create new Green Ranger powers for you.”
Tommy looked pensive, but he nodded slowly, “So what does this have to do with saving Skull?”
“Alpha and I created new Ranger powers by recombining all the colors of the visible light spectrum, and with those powers we could save Skull,” Zordon explained. “But we won’t be able to restore you for the time being.”
Zordon could see it already: when Jason, Zack, and Trini left for the Peace Conference in a couple months the Red Ranger powers would go to Tommy, instead of Rocky DeSantos. But he couldn’t tell Tommy this, that would throw another wrench in the timeline. Zordon didn’t want another sudden change.
“But it’ll save him. right?” Tommy asked.
“I am quite certain,” Zordon replied.
Tommy paused. Then, he took a guilty, but still determined breath, “Then let’s do it.”
Then, Alpha pressed a button on his control desk and revealed a hidden Door of Light.
Tommy’s head was spinning. Inside the hidden Door of Light there was a secret chamber. It was set up like the weird neo-futurist fusion of a mad scientist’s laboratory and a surgeon’s operating room. The only thing Tommy could be certain of was that if Billy ever saw this place he would flip. Beakers bubbled. Circuits and strange machines buzzed and beeped. At the center of the room was a single operating table and hanging above that was a translucent rectangular crystal attached to another strange machine.
“Whoa…” Tommy murmured as he set Skull on the table.
According to Alpha the process worked like this: they were going to use the rectangular crystal—actually a prism—to focus the power of light from the Morphing Grid and convert the latent color energy within Skull to match the new color energy. It would take all three of them manually working the controls to keep the conversion process from overloading Skull.
“What happens if it overloads him?” Tommy asked.
“If too much green energy is dangerous, then too much of all the colors combined is even worse!” Alpha explained. “It would be way too much for a human to handle!”
“So, it would destroy him?”
“Essentially,” Zordon said.
Tommy stared at the equipment in awe and fear. Zordon was going to this to me, he thought. He stared at his hands until Alpha directed him to a control panel next to the operating table. It would put him in charge of the Energy Converter and all Tommy had to do was monitor the levels on the nearby screen. On the screen there were two, parallel lines. According to Alpha, one represented Skull’s actual color energy—it was orange—and the other represented the white energy that would be supplanting it. Tommy figured his color would be green—a sickly and weak green now, but green nonetheless.
“Should I set up the Inter-Morphing Sequencer before Tommy regulates the Energy Converter, Zordon?” Alpha asked.
“Yes, Alpha, meanwhile I’ll test the Phase Capacitance Program.” Zordon replied. His face in the tube flickered.
Tommy stared at the buttons and the screen and the levers and the everything. Hopefully, he wouldn’t mess all this up. Alpha waddled over to the big computer on the eastern half of the room and typed in a complicated key sequence. He nodded to Tommy and gave the thumbs up for Tommy to pull a lever. The lights bounced.
“There, Sequencer is online and working properly,” Alpha said
“I’ll start the Converter now” Tommy murmured, slowly.
“Be careful, Tommy.” Zordon said, his voice now flickering and buzzing as well. “Even a small mistake in the energy flow could spell disaster.”
On the screen the two lines began to creep closer together. Tommy peeked around the control panel to see if there was any visual change in Skull. The prism was glowing—powering up—and so was Skull’s body as a body suit not too unlike a Ranger uniform appeared above him.
“Alpha recheck the quantum morphing pods and power array; we can’t leave anything to chance.” Zordon said, his voice far away.
“Right Zordon. Quantum pods are online. We’re nearly finished.” Alpha replied.
Tommy couldn’t take his eyes off Skull and the operating table. In a bright flash of light, the Ranger uniform appeared on Skull’s body and the prism began to bath him in a magnificent white light.
“It is time to start powering up the morph control circuits,” Zordon said. “Go slowly, Alpha. We can’t afford to overlo—”
The lights bounced again. Zordon’s face vanished from the tube. The prism exploded with light.
“Tommy,” shrieked Alpha. “The energy is overloading!”
Skull’s unconscious body began to rise, floating towards the prism.
“What do I do, Alpha?” Tommy asked.
“Don’t let him touch the prism!” Alpha said, voice buzzing.
Tommy flipped over the control panel and landed at the head of the operating table. Skull’s arms and legs were dangling as he rose, leaving Tommy to reach for the nearest limb he could get. Tommy figured he’d be able to pull Skull down and maybe hold him down while Alpha fixed whatever went wrong with the energy, but the moment his hand touched Skull’s something strange happened.
Perhaps it was the force of destiny trying to set the simulacra of it’s plan in motion, but the moment Tommy touched Skull the light exploded, and the excess energy vanished. Skull’s body plummeted back down to the table and Tommy’s hand burned hot as if he had stuck his hand into a star going supernova. If the monitor were trained on Tommy’s energy in that moment it would have seen it go from green to white and back to a pale green. Zordon’s tube flickered to life again.
“Alpha, Tommy!” Zordon shouted. “Are you alright?”
“We’re fine, Zordon,” Tommy sighed, rubbing his hand. “But what about Skull?”
“Wait, what about Skull?” Skull asked, with a wheeze. Paused. “I’m alive!”
“Yes, you are!” Alpha said.
“Thank you, robot kid,” Skull said. Paused. Pointed at Alpha. “Wait… I remember you!”
“Huh?” murmured Tommy.
Half an hour later Skull was staring at his hands. He was still technically… morphed? The bald guy in the tube—Zordon—had said he was a Power Ranger now, and that was too hard to believe. He had imagined what it would be like to be a Ranger every now and then—especially in scenarios that ended with Pink Ranger madly in love with him—but had never expected it to happen like this. He would have been celebrating or even running to tell Bulk if not for two reasons.
First, according to Zordon, Lord Zedd was attacking the city. Once the Rangers arrived at the command center and the White Tiger Zord was done charging he was supposed to help them defeat Nimrod the Scarlet Sentinel.
Second, there were rules. Apparently.
“Never use your power for personal gain,” Zordon said.
So, he couldn’t become famous or anything. Or use the Megazord to pick up girls. But that didn’t matter to Skull since being a Power Ranger would give him a chance to talk to the Pink Ranger.
“Never escalate a battle unless forced” Zordon continued
So, he couldn’t use his newfound mastery of karate for… whatever karate masters used their karate for outside of fights. Jason and the other goody-goods didn’t really use it for anything other than as something to do after school.
But then again, Tommy—who was sitting a few feet away with a bemused expression on his face—used karate to win tournaments so…
“Never reveal your identity as a Power Ranger to anyone,” Zordon finished.
“But what happens if I do tell?” Skull asked
Tommy perked up, “If someone knows, they might accidentally tell someone else who might tell someone else, who might—”
“Basically,” Zordon interrupted. “Keeping your identities secret is a way to keep yourself safe from opportunistic people who could easily be manipulated by the forces of evil. Do you understand?”
Skull nodded yes. After a second, he shook his head no. then he nodded again. And a few seconds later he shrugged.
“What does ‘opportunistic’ mean?” he asked.
“Someone who might use you to their advantage,” said Alpha.
“Advantage means something good for you,” Tommy interrupted. “People who do bad things to you because it’s good for them are opportunistic.”
Skull nodded in earnest now. This was a concept he could understand. He could see himself as opportunistic sometimes. Usually when he was tagging along on one of Bulk’s schemes or—
“Oh,” Skull said slowly.
He couldn’t tell Bulk.
Skull was going to ask if there were any loopholes to the rules or if there were a way for him to maybe bend them every now and then when Zordon’s tube flickered.
“The Rangers are here,” he said. “I will let them know what happened. Gather yourself and meet us upstairs.”
And with that, Zordon’s head vanished from the tube.
“How’d he do that?” Skull asked.
Tommy stared hard at the tube, “You know… I have no idea.”
Chapter 3: White Light pt.3
Or: it's morphin' time!
In the proper turn of events, the Rangers entered the Command Center worried about who was going to be the new Ranger on their team. But the ripples of causality even affected this. Because Tommy came with them, Zordon and Alpha didn’t forget to close the Door of Light behind them. This left Billy nothing to find when the Rangers came to the Command Center the first time.
“Zordon,” Jason called. “Alpha, are you back?”
“Yes, Rangers,” Zordon said as the Command Center came back to life.
“Where’d you guys go?” Kimberly asked.
“Yeah, things are crazy out there!” Zack said.
Zordon nodded, “This promises to be a momentous occasion. You are about to meet the newest member of your team.”
There was a pause. The Rangers all knew what they wanted to say, but none felt comfortable saying it to Zordon. Trini looked to Zack since he was usually so boisterous. Zack looked to Billy because he was the smart one and thus should have known exactly what to say. Billy looked to Kimberly because she always knew what to do. Kimberly looked to Jason because he was the leader. And Jason looked to Trini since she was used to translating complicated thoughts and feelings into easy to understand language.
While the Rangers stared each other down, Alpha waddled back into view. Zordon took this as a sign to continue with his explanation.
“Alpha and I decided it was time to create an even more powerful Ranger to combat Lord Zedd and his diabolical evil…”
“But what about Tommy?” Kimberly asked before she could stop herself. The other Rangers breathed a sigh of relief. Kimberly felt like a child talking back to a parent, but she continued. “Tommy’s already one of us. Why get someone new?”
“Well,” Zordon said. “Tommy was our first choice, but complications arose…”
“Complications?” Billy asked.
It was at this moment the Door of Light opened and out stepped the White Ranger. What was supposed to be a dramatic moment was ruined because Skull wasn’t wearing his helmet. He pointed at them with a look of surprise overtaking his face.
“I don’t believe it,” Jason said.
“I now present to you, the White Ranger.” Zordon said. Skull’s Ranger uniform decided at this moment to vanish, leaving him only in his boxers.
Kimberly fainted, but this time Tommy was there to catch her before she hit the ground.
“Uh… guess who’s back?” he said sheepishly as Skull and the Rangers stared at each other in incredulity.
After Kimberly came to and Skull got his actual clothes back from the Morphin’ Grid both sides exchanged confusion (“You geeks are the Power Rangers?” Skull had asked. “I thought you figured that out when I was helping Zordon explain the rules to you,” Tommy had sighed. “I did not put that together until now and feel kinda dumb,” Skull said quickly.) Zordon explained what had happened exactly.
“Regardless of how, Skull is the newest member of the team,” Zordon said. “And with him you will have the extra help you need in your battle against Lord Zedd.”
There was a pause. This time, Billy stepped forward.
“But Zordon,” Billy stammered. “It’s Skull!”
“It’s me,” Skull said, striking a heroic pose.
“That isn’t a good thing,” Trini said.
“Oh,” he said, dropping the heroic pose.
However, Zordon didn’t get the chance to assure the Rangers that Skull would be a good fit for the team—being a wizard existing at all points of his timeline could be helpful sometimes—because the alarms and sirens began blaring.
“Approach the Viewing Globe, Rangers,” he said instead. On the Viewing Globe scenes of Nimrod, the Scarlet Sentinel attacking the industrial center. As a gigantic monster he was knocking over buildings and stomping craters into the street—that would take even Promethea a while to fix.
“Our Zords were damaged in the fight with Nimrod,” Jason said. He looked down at his feet, biting back the words “While you were making that joker a Ranger.”
“Billy and Trini take Alpha and get started with the repairs,” Zordon said. “Jason, Kimberly, Zack the three of you need to get to the Park.”
“What’s at the park?” Zack asked.
“Earlier this morning Rita’s Dumpster crash landed in the park,” Zordon explained. “Retrieve it before Lord Zedd notices its presence.”
The Rangers morphed and immediately got to work, leaving Tommy and Skull before Zordon.
“Skull, it falls to you to take the White Tiger Zord and fight Nimrod,” Zordon explained.
“Oh, yeah,” Skull said, cackling. He paused. “Wait, I don’t know how to fight a Nimrod.”
“That is why Tommy shall stay here and walk you through using your new powers with this,” Zordon paused for dramatic effect as a saber with a white tiger on the hilt descended from the ceiling. “This is your sword, Saba. It has a communicator inside which will allow Tommy to stay in contact with you from here within the command center.”
“He will?” Skull asked.
“I will?” Tommy echoed as control panel with a microphone attachment rose from the floor in front of him.
Zordon nodded. He was originally going to have Alpha program Saba with an AI to help Tommy, but this felt like a good way to keep Tommy still on the team until Jason would need to transfer his powers in a couple months and give Skull the much-needed assistance that even the Morphin Grid would not be able to provide.
“Unless you don’t want to…” Zordon said, despite knowing the exact outcome.
Tommy tapped the microphone.
“I’m in,” said Tommy and his voice came out of the sword in Skull’s hand.
“Haunted sword!” Skull shrieked, dropping the tiger saber.
Zordon and Tommy surreptitiously gave each other a look of concern.
Skull was hiding behind one of the few buildings still standing in the industrial center. Zordon had teleported him to this spot before anyone had explained to him how morphing or even calling his Zord was supposed to work. In the distance Skull could hear Nimrod stomping and crushing other buildings as he got closer. Skull’s heart was racing. On the one hand this was something exciting. He was going to get the chance to be a superhero! He would be the one to save the day for once and everyone would think he was the most amazing person in the history of ever. But—and this was a big but—Skull didn’t know how to fight. He didn’t know how to pilot a zord. And most importantly he had no idea how to even morph.
What am I supposed to do? He thought. Go out there and hope for the best?
Skull immediately imagined the monster stepping on him. Or worse! Eating him! Maybe being a Power Ranger wasn’t worth it. Maybe he was too much of a stupid coward to do anything right. Skull slid down to the ground. If anyone deserved to become a Ranger, it was Bulk. Bulk was brave even in the face of situations when he had no right to be. What would Bulk do?
At that moment a familiar set of beeps came from his tiger saber.
“Skull?” it asked.
“What is it, haunted sword?” he replied.
“Skull, it’s me, Tommy.”
“Right. My bad.”
“Why haven’t you morphed yet?” Tommy sighed. Skull could vaguely hear more beeping sounds from Tommy’s side of the call. Skull thought Bulk would say something really brave right now and decided to go with the first confident thing that came to mind.
“Uh… well, I’m just waiting for the perfect moment to surprise the monster.”
“That’s a terrible idea,” Tommy said. “Just get out there and morph already!”
“Mmmm, I’d love to, but” Skull began. The stomping and crashing was getting closer. “I have no idea how.”
“Just call out to the White Tiger,” Alpha shouted.
“Yeah,” Tommy said. “Hold up the power coin in your belt and call out ‘Tigerzord.’”
“There’s a coin in my belt?” Skull mumbled. He felt around his waist and there it was, a fancy looking coin embedded in a thing that looked like a cyberpunk belt buckle. “Okay, I’ve got it!”
“Then, it’s Morphin’ time!”
Skull too a deep breath and held up the coin. The moment he raised it so that it was parallel with his chest he felt a jolt—a strike of lightning—hit his body. It was as if he were suddenly energized by the very action of getting ready to morph. The earth around him quaked.
“Tigerzord,” he shouted.
The electric sensation running over his body spread across his arms, chest and face. In his mind’s eye he could see a desolate plain exploding a majestic white tiger exploded from the ground. And then Skull opened his eyes again: he was seeing his now gloved hands through tinted lenses.
“Did I do it?” he asked.
“You did it!” Tommy cheered. “The Tigerzord will be there in a few seconds: get ready to jump on my count—”
Tommy watched Skull make a haphazard leap onto the Tigerzord’s back. He scrambled his way to the head and made his way into the cockpit.
“Did I ever have that much trouble?” tommy asked.
“Not at all, Tommy,” Alpha said with a tinny giggle. “We thought Rita gave you extensive, and in-depth lessons before you first appeared as Green Ranger.”
“Thanks for reminding me I used to be evil, Alpha,” Tommy said.
Not really catching the sarcasm, Alpha shrugged and said, “Falling victim to mind control seems to be part and parcel for our ongoing fight against evil.”
Tommy gave a halfhearted nod as he turned his attention back to the viewing globe and his control panel. It was weird. The moment he became a ranger—and according to the others’ stories as well—Tommy knew everything about how to use his powers. Well, no. That’s not entirely accurate. There would be things he didn’t know that he knew until the moment he needed to know them, and then it was if he had always known that information. According to Billy this was because their powers allowed them to tap into the Morphin’ Grid itself and any information that the Grid had, they would as well. But as Tommy talked Skull through how to pilot the Tigerzord—though its controls were quite different from the Dragonzord—he noticed how little information by osmosis Skull seemed to be receiving. He didn’t think seem to realize the Tigerzord had a bipedal Warrior Mode until Tommy told him.
“Y’know, that makes sense in red excepts…” Skull said.
“I think you mean retrospect.”
Once Skull pressed the correct sequence of buttons his Zord transformed and the battle resumed. As the Warrior Mode Zord fought Nimrod, Tommy saw at least four different times Skull had the chance to use its White Tiger Thunderbolts or—
“Wait, how do I know that?”
Some dialogue was pulled directly from White Light part two.
Chapter 4: White Light pt.4
A fight sequence happens.
On the other side of town in the park Jason, Kimberly, and Zack were fighting a gang of Z-Putties that had suddenly zapped down once the trio had found Rita’s dumpster. In ranger form the fight felt almost comedically easy.
“So, are we gonna talk about this?” Zack asked. He was holding back four putties that had gotten into a line with one hand.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Jason said, punching two into a nearby tree. There were many things to talk about.
“Yeah, because taking it out on trees is clearly better,” Zack sighed.
“I’m with you Zack,” Kimberly interjected as she leapfrogged over three before kicking them over with a herkey. “But maybe we should focus on getting Rita.”
She pointed at two putties that were carrying Rita’s dumpster over a nearby hill. Jason and Zack leapt over the putties that didn’t matter and joined Kimberly chasing the two carrying Rita away. As they sprinted, Jason wondered what they would even do with Rita once they got her. Zordon didn’t specify.
“You know what,” he said, shooting one putty with his blaster. “Maybe I do want to talk about this.”
“What’s there to say, man? Zordon made a decision and we have to deal with it.” Zack replied. He threw the other putty down the hill, leaving them with Rita’s dumpster.
“But why didn’t he tell us he was trying to make Tommy a ranger?” Jason asked. “Or that he could make a ranger and new power coin in the first place?”
Kimberly sat down on Rita’s dumpster, “I know I’m supposed to say Zordon had a good reason for not saying anything, but… I dunno”
Zack joined her, “I’m in the same boat. Like, he said Skull would’ve died. But if we had known, maybe Tommy would’ve already been a ranger by now.”
“Billy could’ve helped with the process.” Jason agreed. He didn’t sit though, something didn’t feel right about sitting on an evil trashcan. “It’s just… I’m not thrilled about Skull—”
“But our new White Ranger has you wondering what other stuff Zordon isn’t telling us?” Zack and Kim said in unison. “Jinx! Jinx, again!”
“Pretty much,” he nodded. Jason raised his communicator to his mouthpiece. “I’ll tell Alpha to get us back to the Command Center.”
Before he could make the call, however, a familiar beep echoed from all of their communicators. Kimberly answered hers first.
“Rangers, the White Tigerzord needs your help!” Alpha said.
“But what about Rita?” Kimberly asked. “Do you need our help doing… whatever Zordon wants to do with her?”
“So long as the dumpster is still sealed we can just teleport it here,” Tommy replied. “We’ll be fine, just get to the warehouse district. Billy and Trini are already there with the Zords.”
The crack along Rita’s dumpster spread a little bit further. Inside, Rita Repulsa feels freedom getting ever-so-much closer.
Even in Warrior mode with Tommy’s advice in his ear, fighting Nimrod the Scarlet Sentinel was getting difficult for Skull. It was his first time doing anything at this scale with something mechanical. The controls, while fairly simple, reminded him of how terrible at driving he was which made his reflexive reactions to Nimrod’s attacks a bit slower. After finally successfully batting Nimrod away, Skull watched as it was bathed in a red glow and one Nimrod became three.
“Uh…” he gulped.
The three Nimrods cackled and shot laser beams at the Tigerzord. All Skull could do was have it roll out of the way while the blasts hit a few stray buildings. They were about to fire again when Skull heard a majestic screech from on high. A pink bird thing zoomed overhead. The Firebird Thunderzord
“You okay, Skull?” Kimberly asked.
“I am now,” he said, awestruck.
“Then get back in the fight!” Trini said, with the Griffin Thunderzord pulling up at his side. Billy was with her in the Unicorn Thunderzord. In the distance Skull could see the Lion Thunderzord running in and the Red Dragon trailing behind it in the sky.
“All you need to do is form the Mega Tigerzord with them,” Tommy said through Saba.
“Gotcha,” Skull said. He paused. “Uh…”
“When Kim gives the signal, press the white button on the left side of your cockpit and sit down in the chair,” Tommy interjected.
“But there isn’t a chair in here?”
“Form Mega Tigerzord!” Kimberly shouted.
Skull scrambled to press the white button. The moment he did, a chair rose from the floor. Not one to ignore orders, Skull sat down and braced himself. The chair immediately shot itself backwards as the Tigerzord’s parts began to rumble and shake. Skull held on tight as the chair moved at breakneck speed through a dark corridor. He was about to scream when there was a light at his back. The chair immediately turned so he was facing it and, in a blink,, he was in a larger cockpit with the other rangers.
“Whoa,” he said.
The other rangers paid him no mind and instead focused on the controls. They moved almost in perfect sync—as if they were one. Saba rose from the floor on a podium in front of Skull. He got no control panel like the others, just his magic walkie-talkie sword. Figuring this to be the only thing for him to do, Skull put his hands around Saba like a joystick and for a second his sight flickered.
In front of him everything was reduced to electricity and light. Interlocking lines made of light that shifted in color from pink to red to orange to gold to yellow to green to blue to indigo to purple to black to silver to white and back again covered the world. Skull held a hand in front of his face. His hand was made of the same interlocking multi-colored lines.
And then he blinked again. Everything was normal. From the viewport Skull could see the three Nimrods charging up an energy blast together. He raised his arm to shield himself, and so did the other rangers.
“Activate Lion Shield!” they said in perfect harmony. Skull clapped a hand over his mouth.
From the Megazord’s raised arm came a solid light construct that immediately transformed into a lion’s head that blocked the tripartite attack from the Nimrods.
“Over!” shouted the Nimrods, each finishing where the last had left off.
They started running for the Mega Tigerzord. Skull’s perception of time slowed down. It was as if being joined together with the other rangers was finally activating his super reflexes by virtue of sharing theirs. The rangers had the Mega Tigerzord step into the fray and swung their arms in a left hook which connected with the Nimrod on the far right like a baseball hitting a bat’s sweet spot. Next, the rangers made the White Tigerzord drop down and swung its leg, knocking down the two remaining Nimrods.
“Finishing move?” Kimberly asked no one in particular.
Skull and the others nodded and shouted, “Firebird strike!”
From the Megazord’s other arm came a smaller version of the Firebird Thunderzord. Outside the cockpit the sight of the world in interlocking lines reappeared, but this time they were all unflinchingly, unilaterally, and unquestioningly pink. The Firebird Thunderzord launched itself like a missile towards the monsters. Despite the short distance between the Mega Tigerzord and the three Nimrods, the Firebird Thunderzord picked up enough speed to ignite itself. Once it connected with its targets there was an amazing explosion. Skull felt his jaw drop.
“Did I just—” he started. Paused. Started again. “Did we just destroy three monsters in one hit?”
Back at the Juice Bar Skull couldn’t stop smiling.
“We were all like, ptchooo” he said, posing like the Mega Tigerzord. “And then it was all like KABOOM!”
“Yeah, Skull,” Tommy said, rolling his eyes. “I saw the whole thing from here.”
“Oh, yeah. Right.”
Tommy shrugged. He had felt the first time he had piloted a Megazord too. All of the rangers had. But it was probably for the best to let Skull get this out of his system, so he didn’t accidentally say something in front of someone else. The other rangers were nowhere to be seen even though they told him to come to the Juice Bar around now.
“So, what now?” Skull asked.
“What do you mean?”
“We just saved Angel Grove,” Skull said. “What do we do now?”
Noisemakers and toy bugles interrupted them. Standing at their usual table were the other rangers with a sheet cake. Kimberly waved Tommy—and inadvertently Skull over.
“I guess we go have some cake,” Tommy said.
It was at that moment Bulk walked through the door. He looked well rested and a lot less angry, so Skull went over to him instead.
“Hiya, Bulkie, you won’t believe what I did today!” he said. He hoped they were going to pretend yesterday had never happened. Bulk sighed and pulled him aside. Jackpot!
“What’d you get up to today?” he asked. Over Bulk’s shoulder he saw the rangers frantically waving their hands and gesturing for him to shut up.
“Uh, what?” Bulk replied. “You stared off in space like a fish without me around?”
Skull nodded, preferring silence over verbally confirming the lie. “What’d you do today?”
“I,” Bulk said, straightening up. “Took a long nap and had a bit of a brainstorm.”
Skull snatched Bulk’s hat off his head and looked for remnants of the cranial-meteorological event. When he saw none, he gave his friend his hat back.
“How we’re gonna find the secret identities of the power rangers, you nincompoop,” Bulk sighed.
Skull looked over to the table with the other rangers enjoying their cake and reached for the morpher settled on the back of his belt.
“I can’t wait to hear it,” he said with a gulp.
In the Command Center Alpha 5 stood before Rita’s dumpster. As Zordon had asked, he brought it into the main chamber, but he still feared what was coming next. Though Alpha had no way of knowing this, in the original turn of events Zordon had the rangers send her back into space where she would be put on the path to inevitably marrying Lord Zedd. With his understanding of this new timeline, Zordon decided he wanted to try something different in his war against the forces of evil.
“Zordon, are you sure about this?” Alpha asked.
“Yes, Alpha,” he said. “Now, open the dumpster and release Rita. She and I have a lot to talk about.”
And that's the end of the first arc. Next up: Interludes
Chapter 5: Interludes
A series of moments as Skull adjusts to being a Power Ranger where the order of events don't matter and the things he notices are rarely the most important.
This one is a bit long. I guess that happens when you try to foreshadow too much stuff at once while writing in non-chronological order? Oh, well. The next chapter should be back to normal length.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sometimes Skull sees the realm of interlocking lines of light in his dreams. He’ll be dreaming something normal like a date with Kimberly or dinner and a movie with Bulk or getting a kiss from a famous movie star and his dream self will realize that he’s asleep. Upon realizing that he’s asleep the dream world around him dissolves into electricity and grid lines. He floats there for the remainder of his dreams. Sometimes he sees other humanoid shapes floating in the distance too, but Skull never knows what to do about them.
He mentions it offhand to Tommy once over a smoothie and Tommy nearly chokes on his drink. Getting smoothies is a thing they do now that Tommy is “responsible” for Skull as a ranger. Every now and then Tommy pulls him aside, buys him a drink and they talk about ranger stuff in the crowded juice bar. Skull wonders how no one overhears them since neither he nor Tommy bother whispering or talking in code.
“You can see it too?” Tommy asks.
“Too?” Skull replies.
“I mean, I don’t dream about it,” Tommy says. He plays with his straw. “It’s like… I’ll be looking at someone and then, bam. Grids and light.”
“Is this a ranger thing?” Skull asks.
“I’ve got a theory…” Tommy says. “I think it has something to do with how you got your ranger powers,” Tommy explains.
He quickly tells Skull about the prism overloading and exploding. For some reason, this is when Tommy looks around to make sure no one is listening. Skull follows suit and sees Bulk walking over, scowling. Skull still hasn’t figured out exactly to explain his sudden proximity to the other rangers. Each time Bulk asks what’s up he just ends up stammering which just makes Bulk madder.
And then the normal world is suddenly replaced with the interlocking lines. All the people in the juice bar are transformed into colorless silhouettes with grids of light constructing their forms. Bulk’s lines are an angry purple. But then again, Skull might be imagining the angry part.
“Crap,” Skull says, turning back to Tommy. “I’m seeing it right now.”
Tommy isn’t colorless. He’s green, but the lines constructing his form are white. Skull looks at his hands. He’s orange, but the lines are white.
“Yup,” he says, blinking until the world turns back to normal. Skull gets up. “Talk to you later.”
“But, Skull” Tommy starts, annoyed at the cliffhanger in their conversation.
“Nice shot,” Skull stutters after Kimberly takes out six of the weird flower petal monsters in one shot with her power bow.
He holds up his quivering hand for a high five. The power bow vanishes in a flash of light and Kimberly just stands there. Even without seeing her face he can tell she’s looking at him with a disgusted sneer. It’s in the body language—crossed arms, raised chin, and characteristic lean. So, Skull puts his hand down and gives her a thumbs-up instead. She gives a terse nod, and gets back into battle
This is a crush he’s been nursing for a few years.
And the thing is, he gets it. She doesn’t like him. Even if she weren’t dating Tommy (“They are dating, right?” he asks Trini once while she and Zack are making flyers for some event. The two of them only vaguely nod.) who is probably the one of best looking guys at school, she’d probably have no reason to look his way. He tells Bulk as much later that afternoon while they’re searching for clues about the Power Rangers’ secret identities in the park.
“Way I see it,” Bulk says with a magnifying glass to his eye. “Girls like her are overrated anyway.”
Bulk sighs, “Kim’s fine or whatever, but she’s a goody-good through and through. The only way to get someone like her to like you is to stop being yourself and start being good.”
Skull wonders if being White Ranger counts as being good or if he might have to start volunteering for random stuff like the other rangers who clearly have no social lives outside of their superheroics, schoolwork, and fifty billion extracurriculars.
“Besides,” Bulk continues. “Once we find the Power Rangers we’ll be so famous girls will be all over you.”
Skull imagines a mob of teenage girls swarming him. Despite it being his imagination, the experience is both amazing and horrifying. He tries to think about what Bulk would do with a bunch of girls all over him, but his imagination turns up nothing.
After becoming White Ranger, Skull tried to resume his normal life. He’d wake up, get dressed on autopilot, eat breakfast, and wander over to school. When he got to Angel Grove High School people were looking at him weird.
“Is that Skull?” some of his classmates whispered when he sat down in his seat.
“Of course, I’m me,” he said with a laugh. “Nice of you all to notice me this morning.”
No one said anything—not even the goody-goods. Other rangers. Skull was going to have to work on that. He turned to the side, about to ask Bulk why everyone was acting so weird, but Bulk’s jaw was practically through the floor.
“What are you wearing?” Bulk asked slowly.
It was at this point that Skull noticed his sleeve. It was a crisply pressed and buttoned oxford shirt sleeve. He looked down at his pants—white slacks. Even his shoes were white. Skull squeaked and looked around as if the answer to why he was dressed like a wannabe youth minister could be found in his classmates faces.
“Uh…” Skull stammered. “Laundry day?”
But Skull kept showing up to school in all white for the rest of the week. Each day Bulk sighed and shook his head, woefully underwhelmed and unimpressed with each ridiculous excuse Skull tried to explain his new look. What few white clothes he owned were usually reserved for funerals or fancy events or recitals, so he looked uncharacteristically fancy. It wasn’t until that Friday that Skull noticed the other rangers usually exclusively wore their ranger colors.
“Is this a ranger thing?” he asked Tommy that afternoon in the command center.
“You weren’t dressing like this on purpose?” Tommy replied.
“I look like some nerd,” Skull said, rolling up the sleeves of his dress shirt.
“It might *be your Morphological Color Affinity acting up,” Zordon said. Skull jumped. He still wasn’t used to a giant floating head in a tube talking to him.
“Your color affinity,” Billy echoed. He gestured to his own clothes which were mostly blue. “Our ranger colors aren’t arbitrary but are instead derived from the spot on the visible light spectrum with which we most resonate. The six of us” he gestured to the original five rangers and Tommy. “We’re already attuned to our colors and thus our wardrobes already matched.”
“But Skull’s color was orange and became white when he became a ranger,” Zordon continued. “Subconsciously, you’re seeking out clothes that match.”
Skull nodded. Then he shrugged. “What does that even mean?”
“It means,” Tommy said. “That you need to go shopping.”
Fast forward to now. Skull browsing through a local so-called thrift store. He tosses a third pack of plain white t-shirts into his basket. The way Skull figures, he doesn’t have to wear all white all the time. Zack wears purple just as much as black. But the only things he finds himself gravitating towards are either undershirts or random (terrible, but not in a good way) t-shirts. He has enough allowance saved to buy actual clothes, but the problem with shopping for things in white is how rare it is to find anything that fits his aesthetic. And even then, if he were able to dress the way he wanted, but in all white, Skull would probably end up looking like a marine biologist or something. It does not cross Skull’s mind that part of his trouble in finding anything might be coming from him being in a sorta-thrift store which would rely mostly on donations.
Skull ends up heading to check out with the three packs of plain white t-shirts, a black/white checkered flannel, a pale gray (practically white!) pair of skinny jeans, and a bunch of white tube socks. Just before he can leave, Skull spies a hat. It’s almost identical to his red beret, but white. Skull quickly snatches it up for fear that someone else would see this ultimate get.
“I think I can make this work,” he murmurs before going to make his purchases official.
When he gets home, Skull immediately gets to work. It’s not enough to have white clothes, he needs to make them really his. So, he cuts sleeves off some of the t-shirts and holes at the knees of his jeans. Then, he attaches safety pins to the flannel in a haphazard fashion (Skull has no intention of wearing this shirt normally anyway, so all that matter is that the pins are noticeable and numerous). Finally, he removes the question mark pin from his red beret and affixes it to the new hat.
“Makeover time already, Skully?” his dad asks after Skull returns the pinking shears.
“Pretty much,” he replies, eyeing his dad’s Mad Max meets WWII soldier look. “You think I need anything else?”
His dad mulls it over, “Ask your mother if she’s got any old collars to match.”
“Ask me if I’ve got any what?” his mom calls from the garage. Skull peeks his head around the door and she’s under her car’s hood as usual which strikes him as ironic considering her look is more biker punk and she’s never near motorcycles.
“Collars, ma,” he says. “Like, in white or gray?”
She shakes her head, “Nope, but there’s some spray paint over there.”
Skull follows her oil stained finger to a nearby pile of toolboxes. None of them have any tools inside—his mother is using the actual toolbox—and pulls a can of white spray paint from one of the boxes with paint supplies in it.
“So,” his mom asks before he can make his way back to his room to spray paint a couple of his collars and maybe one of his combat boots. His dad is leaning in the doorway with a knowing smirk on his face.
“So?” he echoes.
“So, who’re you trying to impress?” she continues. “A couple days ago you were wearing your dress clothes to school and now you’re modifying your wardrobe. You’ve never put this much effort into your clothes before.”
“Nobody,” Skull insists because there is no way he can explain Morphological Color Affinity to his parents without breaking rule number three. “Honest.”
Both of his parents stare him down, trying their hardest to use their parental gaze to make him crack. Skull doesn’t, but he does break a sweat trying to stay resolute.
“Fine,” his mom says. “And here I thought you finally got that Kimberly girl’s attention.”
Kimberly only likes me when she’s under mind control, he thinks, remembering the two monsters that turned her evil within the past few weeks and how suddenly their interactions weren't as terse and awkward. He thinks about how evil, mind-controlled Kimberly was much more flirty and how weird that was in context of the Kimberly he was getting to know. In the present Skull shrugs and gets back to work.
That following school day Skull struts into school confident that he’s wearing the right clothes. Everyone stops and stares again, Bulk included.
“Wow,” he says like surprise has knocked all the air from his lungs. “You look good, Skull.”
Skull tries not to have a big head for the rest of the day.
Because he isn’t that good at fighting yet, the other rangers rarely call him in to fight monsters with them before Zedd makes them grow. Every now and again, however, they have no choice. Right now: they’re fighting a telephone monster that creates evil clones of people my dialing their phone number. Jason is busy fighting three other Jasons and the other rangers are in the same boat. When Skull arrives on the scene the monster is monologuing. On Tommy’s urging he leaps into the fray with Saba drawn.
“Ah, White Ranger,” she says with a haughty laugh, and dodging his attack. “I have incapacitated the other five rangers. What good can you do against the might of the great, powerful, and exceptionally beautiful Tell-a-phony?”
Skull pauses. His free hand moves to his chin. A thought is bubbling inside his mind and once the correct synapse fires he doubles over with laughter.
“Tell-a-phony?” Skull cackles. “Your name is Tell-a-phony?”
“Yeah, so what?” Tell-a-phony snarls. She starts dialing numbers on her chest again.
“That’s the dumbest name,” Skull wheezes. “In the history of monster names.”
“Shut up!” Tell-a-phony says, her feelings clearly hurt.
“It’s a pun, but it’s not even a good pun!” Skull continues. Despite his uproarious laughter, he manages to get to his feet again. He points at her, “Zedd created you and gave you a stupid name!”
“Skull,” Tommy hisses. “Maybe now isn’t the time to bully a monster.”
“Am I wrong?”
“Well, no, but—”
But that’s the last straw for Tell-a-phony. Crying, she dials a series of numbers on her chest and in a flash of light two White Ranger clones appear.
“Didn’t see that coming,” Skull says as his evil doppelgangers lunge for him. He draws Saba
“How?” Tommy demands. “How did you not see this coming?”
“I don’t think that’d work, Bulk,” Skull says while balancing a pencil on his nose.
He peeks over his balancing act to look again at the complicated diagram Bulk has drawn out on the blackboard. They’re in detention again—or rather, Bulk is in detention and Skull decided to tag along. It’s just them in the detention room since none of the teachers really bother leading the punitive parts of the punishment anymore.
“What?” Bulk demands. “But this is perfect.”
It really isn’t. The plan as Bulk has it drawn out is a complicated scheme to attract the attention of the Power Rangers by Skull pretending to be a monster attacking the Juice Bar. According to the plan, once the rangers appear Bulk would spring into action and try to snatch one of their helmets off. With at least one of the ranger’s identities revealed, the others would have no choice but to reveal themselves and Bulk would be famous.
Skull is about to tell him that monsters only seem to appear in Angel Grove because of Lord Zedd’s petty desire to mess with the rangers in his quest for world domination when he remembers that’s something only a Power Ranger would know. If Skull had the wherewithal, he’d think their ongoing battle with Lord Zedd were like a Saturday morning cartoon or something.
Instead he says, “Won’t Ernie get mad at us for messing up the Juice Bar?”
Bulk doesn’t say anything. Instead, he carefully erases every note and scribble on the board. Skull puts his head on the desk. Back before he was White Ranger things were easy. Bulk’s plans usually blew up in their faces without any warning, but now the others expected him to keep Bulk off their trail. It felt like lying, which normally Skull didn’t mind, but the lying to Bulk part he did.
“I know he’s your best friend,” Kimberly had said. “But rules are rules.”
“Okay, so what’s wrong,” Bulk asks, snapping Skull out of his thoughts.
Bulk sits down at the desk next to Skull’s and scoots it in closer so they’re practically knee to knee. Skull feels his face flush.
“N-nothing,” he murmurs.
“I dunno,” Bulk continues as if Skull hadn’t said anything. “You’ve been off your game lately—caring about the rules and junk. Does this have anything to do with the tutoring group?”
That’s another lie he’s been telling Bulk. To cover for being a ranger and for why he’s suddenly been adjacent—hanging out isn’t exactly right—to the goody goods, Skull told Bulk his parents were making him get his grades up which meant getting tutored by the best students in their year.
“Kinda?” Skull says, needing some honesty.
“Look, Skull, just because you’re stuck with those losers until your grades get better, doesn’t mean you need to internalize their… loserdom,” Bulk says, mussing Skull’s hair.
He gets up and starts writing on the blackboard again. The new plan seems to require a pit trap and a crying baby doll. Skull doesn’t really read it, and instead tries to put his hair back to normal. The physical contact from Bulk was nice, but his hair is more important.
It’s kind of obvious Zordon’s hiding something. The idea comes to Skull after a mission with a beaver monster that makes people more annoying. He got hit with its badger-ray and nothing happened (quelle surprise) which helped Tommy figure out a way to reverse the effects on the rest of the rangers. And now that the monster’s defeated and Zordon is trying to shoo them out of the Command Center. As they’re being teleported out Skull thinks he sees a shadow move from a corner to the viewing globe.
“I think Zordon’s hiding something,” Skull says to no one in particular when Alpha teleports them back to the park. Jason gives him a look, and Skull takes that as a signal to keep going, “He really, really wanted us out of the Command Center.”
“The mission was over,” Jason says. “Why would we stay?”
Jason doesn’t sound like he believes what he said, but Skull lets it drop. Jason and the others leave. He doesn’t have anything other than a weird hunch based on the fact that Zordon is a floating head in a tube which is inherently suspicious. And the shadow—
“Wait,” Skull squawks. “There was a shadow thing by the viewing globe!”
“Do you mean Alpha?” Trini asks. “Because everything looks shadowy to me when we teleport.”
“Oh.” Skull says. “I don’t think so, but I guess that makes sense.”
It doesn’t. But Skull doesn’t feel like pressing it any further.
This year Skull finds it even more difficult to pay attention during career day.
Career Day at Angle Grove High works something like this: the school gymnasium and halls are filled with tables and booths from prospective employers from Angel Grove and the rest of Southern California. Classes are technically cancelled so students can visit as many presentations as possible, provided they get eight attendance stamps from eight different speakers. Bulk and Skull would have just skipped if Principal Kaplan hadn’t made their attendance part of their “detention forever” sentence.
“Perhaps,” he had said with a haughty smirk. “if you go, the two of you might find some way to be functioning members of society.”
And that’s why Skull can barely keep his eyes open. He’s the White Ranger—a superhero—and thus already is a functioning member of society. Skull figures he’ll do whatever superheroes do after they retire when he grows up. Marry another superhero? Fade into obscurity, but assumed affluence? Have kids with stupid names like Albus Severus?
As they get their seventh stickers from a local actuary Skull hears a cartoonish honking in the air. He freezes. Bulk’s eyes go wide. There’s only one thing that could have made that sound. Skull sees it first. On the other side of the gym is an alley of clowns (“They’re called an alley because that’s where they leave your body after they KILL YOU!” eight year old Skull had shrieked when his parents had scheduled a clown for his birthday party).
“Well, I know where we’re going next,” Bulk says, a beatific grin growing on his face.
“Wait. Bulkie, no,” Skull squeaks. “Please! Anything but—”
But Bulk’s already dragging Skull by the arm to the clowns and their demonstration. In the past, Bulk could drag Skull anywhere thanks to the obvious strength difference between them, but as they pass Billy who’s at some generic tech booth Skull remembers the karate class. He rotates his wrist ever-so-slightly, prays, and quickly yanks his arm backwards, freeing himself from Bulk’s grasp.
“What?” Bulk says, surprised.
“Uh…” Skull replies, also surprised. Then, runs.
“Get back here, Skull,” Bulk calls. “Clowns aren’t that scary you fraidy cat!”
But they are. The makeup. The hair. The way eighteen of them can fit in a car made for two? It’s horrifying. So, Skull ducks out into the hallway. Or rather, he turns the nearest corner and runs into the brick wall of a person that is Jason Lee Scott.
Jason, to his credit as a living brick wall, barely seems to notice that Skull crashed into him. Instead, the speaker—a mousy looking man in an off-white suit—stoops down to give Skull a hand. The moment they touch, Skull’s other sight kicks in. He sees the hallway and everyone in it reduced to the glowing, interlocking lines. Except the mousy man in the off-white suit. In this version of reality, his suit practically sparkles. His glasses reflect nothingness.
“Thanks,” Skull says, blinking the world back to normal.
“You’re very welcome,” the mousy man says, pushing his glasses further up on his nose. “I was just telling your classmate here about the all the scholarships available at Promethea’s main branch.”
Skull nods vaguely. He’s heard of Promethea, but in the same way most people have a passing knowledge of what the tip of your shoelace is called (“An aglet, Skull,” eight year old Billy had sighed. “Not a shoe-tippy-thingy!). Like, he’s seen their trucks wheel in after giant monster fights destroy the warehouse district, but other than that he’s drawing a blank.
The mousy man picks up on this.
“We’re the premier R&D tech company on the West Coast,” he explains. “Space travel, alternative energy, the cure for the common cold; you name it, we’re probably working on it.”
“But mostly they clean up the Power Rangers’ messes,” Jason says with a laugh that is obviously meant to sound jocular or even friendly.
But then he shoots Skull a quick glance and Skull can suddenly feel the tension. Jason’s arms are crossed over his chest and his biceps are bulging as if he were flexing. His jaw is set tight and the smile on his face looks as though it were carved on a stark mountain. His posture is ramrod straight, which makes Jason loom over the mousy man.
“I wouldn’t say that, exactly,” the mousy man says, oblivious. “Our CEO comes from Angel Grove, so she spends a lot of resources to help where she can which mostly manifests as repairing infrastructure”
Jason doesn’t look convinced, “I dunno, the way I hear it on the news you guys are practically a godsend since the rangers never bother to fix anything they break.”
“Be that as it may,” the mousy man says. “I, and most of my colleagues at Promethea, feel it would be unfair to ask that much of the Power Rangers.”
“Huh?” Skull interjects.
The mousy man turns back to look at Skull, “Six people are all that stand between us and the total destruction of earth. The rest of humanity isn’t up to snuff to fight, but we at Promethea still want to help in any way we can.”
The mousy man puts a pamphlet in both of their hands. It’s a stylish little guide to Promethea’s scholarship for talented high school students. Every year they accepted from seven to eight hundred students who tested as the best of the best.
“Perhaps you should take a tour, Mr. Scott,” the mousy man says. “See for yourself that we’re just another cog for the forces of good.”
Skull figures this would be the perfect moment to ask for a attendance sticker, which the mousy man graciously gives him without a thought. After affixing the sticker to Skull’s attendance sheet he gives Skull the once-over.
“You know,” he says. “this might seem presumptuous of me, but I don’t think white is really your color.”
To say there’s tension between Skull and the other rangers would be an understatement. Kim and Trini sometimes scowl whenever he swings by their lockers to say hello. Jason leaves him hanging whenever he goes for a high-five. Zack only awkwardly laughs at his jokes. The ones with the least amount of tension with Skull are Tommy and Billy, which makes no sense.
Whenever there’s a monster attack or something, Tommy is always pretty cool about explaining how things work or how to dodge this attack or that since Skull’s super karate powers never seemed to manifest. The problem was outside of ranger stuff. It was clear Tommy was supposed to be White Ranger—Skull figures that’s why the others keep giving him the cold, clammy shoulder—but since Skull got the powers instead Tommy was left in limbo. And yet, Tommy’s always cool outside of battle too.
“I think you should sign up for Jason’s karate class,” Tommy says one afternoon at the Juice Bar, apropos of nothing.
“Me an’ Bulk already tried that,” he replies. He nods over to Bulk who is building yet another weird contraption to find the Power Rangers.
“I mean, do it for real this time,” Tommy clarifies.
Tommy shrugs, “Last time, you two were only there to stare at the moms or to prove how ‘awesome’ Bulk was at Karate. Neither of you actually learned anything.”
“Because Bulk is already great at Karate” Skull says, and Tommy shakes his head.
That’s another layer to their… friendship (is it a friendship?) Skull doesn’t get. Skull will say something about how great Bulk is, and Tommy (and whatever other ranger is nearby) will shake his head or sigh. Skull knows that Bulk is kind of a jerk and a loudmouth, but those qualities aren’t exactly mutually exclusive to his greatness.
“Think about it like this,” Tommy says slowly. “Are you good at karate?”
“Nope,” Skull replies. He lowers his voice, “You’d think being a Power Ranger would fix that. I mean look at Billy.”
The two of them look at Billy who’s working out with Zack. A year ago, he’d be struggling with the weights, but now he’s mostly keeping up with Zack as he stacks plates on the bench press machine.
“Billy’s in Jason’s class,” Tommy says. “And a year of that, plus being a ranger helped him out.”
Skull mulls it over as his eyes move from Jason in the middle of a kata to Billy whose biceps didn’t scream “weak nerd” anymore.
And so: Skull joins the karate class. Justifying it to Bulk is easy enough (“I don’t know karate like you,” he had said, knowing buttering up Bulk always works. “But if I learn then we’ll both be able to catch the rangers!”), but Jason seems nonplussed by his presence. Billy, on the other hand, is harder to read. He’s still cordial, but there’s still something off.
Skull at least has a tangible idea what could be wrong with Billy. They had history. It used to be him, Billy, and Bulk as the three musketeers (“Actually, there are four—” Billy had said years ago.) until they got to Middle School. One day Bulk decided he didn’t want to hang around Billy anymore and that was it. Or it would have been, had they not adopted the bully personas. Skull still isn’t sure why that happened, but he does know Billy was on the receiving end of their taunts in the past. And yet, Billy is the most cordial or the original five
Despite still being a yellow belt, Billy’s like a teaching assistant for Jason’s class. At least whenever Zack or Tommy aren’t there, which is pretty often since there’s a dance coming up and the Hip Hop-kido classes are busy. Tommy had murmured something about wanting to surprise Kimberly with some new moves, which left Skull with Billy correcting his form every day after school.
“You have to remember to breathe, Skull,” Billy says after their eighteenth class.
“Breathing hurts,” Skull complains. “Everything hurts.”
“Well, that might have something to do with the rapid buildup of lactic acid thanks to the sudden—” Billy starts to say until he notices the blank expression on Skull’s face. He cuts himself off. Tries again, “You’re not used to this, so of course it’s making you sore.”
“It still sucks though,” Skull says, leaning back on the mat. He stares at the ceiling.
The two sit there in silence for a moment. Then another. An a few more.
“Skull,” Billy says slowly, which makes Skull think Billy is going to try to walk him through some complicated math problem. “If I may ask, why did you join the karate class.”
“Tommy said it would help with Ranger stuff,” Skull replies, still staring upwards. “I don’t think I’m really good at this.”
“No, not really.”
Skull snorted laughing and sprang back up, “You’re supposed to say, ‘No, you’re a great ranger’ or something.”
Billy shrugs, “You’re probably right, but I fail to see the help in arbitrary platitudes.”
“Telling you that you’re great when you have clear areas you could improve in won’t make you a better ranger,” Billy explains.
Skull mulls this over, “So… what would make me a better ranger?”
“Keep doing things like this,” Billy says.
“… Talking to you?”
“Yes, I mean no, er…” Billy stammers. “I mean, getting help in the areas you’re struggling in by taking classes or asking us.”
“Oh,” Skull says. “I don’t think I can really do the second one.”
“The others don’t like me,” Skull explains.
“That’s true,” Billy nods. He pauses. Tries again, “I apologize for my bluntness.”
“No, I get it you don’t like art by cherry—
“Yeah, those,” skull says. “But yeah, they don’t like me and—wait. Do you like me?”
Billy shrugs, “Were I to be completely honest with myself, I’d have to say no, but I also recognize that you’re harmless on your own and holding a grudge based in the past would be frivolous and immature.”
Skull pauses. “I dunno, the others seem cool doing it.”
“I meant with regards to you and Bulk bullying me, Skull.”
“Oh, yeah. That,” he says. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about that. One day I had two best friends and the next I just had Bulk and that’s my bad.”
“So why go along with it?”
Eugene Skullovich is many things, but an introspective teenager is not one of them. He rubs his chin like old wise men in movies, thinking it will give him something poignant and profound to say, but instead he can only think about Bulk back when they were in middle school. Middle school Bulk was just as much of a loudmouth and braggart, and that’s what attracted Skull to him. Seeing someone who was unerringly confident and knew how to take control of a room made his heart skip a beat and his brain think, I wanna be like him.
“I think I really wanted to impress Bulk,” he says finally. “Like, sometimes I don’t know which I want more: to be him or be with him, y’know?”
“That makes sense.”
Billy looks at Skull differently for a moment, as though suddenly everything is clicking into place. As if the secrets of the universe were rapidly unfolding themselves in Skull’s face.
“Yeah, I believe—and I apologize if this sounds condescending—all you need to do is believe in your own greatness,” Billy says. “And perhaps the answer to that and how to make things right with the other rangers might reveal itself to you.”
Skull thinks about his own greatness. There aren’t a lot of things he could consider himself “great” at, but then again there was the possibility for growth. Perhaps that would be enough.
“That sounded like an arbitrary platitude,” he says after a trying Billy’s words out slowly in his head.
“Was it?” Billy says with a laugh. “Then you should completely disregard that advice and find someone more objective.”
Billy gets up and offers Skull a hand.
“So, we’re cool, right?”
“As I said, holding a grudge based in the past would be frivolous and immature,” Billy explains. “But getting an apology and explanation, definitely didn’t hurt.”
Skull gets home from karate class one afternoon to see his parents talking to a couple next door. There’s a moving van and boxes everywhere, so he figures they’re getting some new neighbors. It’s a middle aged Asian couple, and they, unlike Skull’s last neighbors, don’t seem put off by his parents.
“Hey Skully,” his dad calls. “Say hi to the Parks.”
“Hi,” Skull says. He wipes his sweaty hands on his pants before offering it to shake.
“Nice to meet you, Skull,” Mrs. Park says while Mr. Park shakes his hand. She points to his gym bag with his white belt sticking out. “Our son, Adam does karate too.”
She nods over to a guy about his age unloading boxes from the moving van. He sheepishly waves and gets back to moving boxes around. For a second, Skull sees Adam through the realm of interlocking lines of light. From this point of view the lines making up Adam look black.
“I just started a couple days ago,” he says.
- Tell-a-Phony is based on the monster Denwa Sensei (Teacher Telephone) from Gosei Sentai Dairanger
- A group of clowns is sometimes called an alley. Only sometimes, though!
- Promethea is an organization from the recent MMPR comic series
Next time: Lord Zedd kidnaps the children and toddlers of Angel Grove, Tommy goes on a vision quest with Rita Repulsa, and Skull is trapped in a cave with a pair of ninja. Or: The Ninja Encounter
Chapter 6: The Ninja Encounter: Weekend Plans
It's Saturday and everything seems pretty normal.
Skull was cutting through the park on his walk to the community center. The only reason he was heading that way was because Bulk had hatched another plan to unmask the Power Rangers at the Ninja Tournament.
“The what?” Skull had asked that previous Wednesday.
It was yet another martial arts competition, but unlike all the ones usually held at the community center this one was held once every three years. The Ninja Tournament also tended to move around. Three years ago, it was in Stone Canyon. Three years before that it was in Reefside. The rules were simple: three on three anything-goes style bouts. Winning team got bragging rights and a $900 cash prize. After Bulk finished explaining this he looked on triumphantly, waiting for Skull to congratulate him on his plan.
“But what does this have to do with the Rangers?” Skull had asked.
“Skull,” Bulk groaned, pulling him in close that they were forehead to forehead. “The Power Rangers won’t be able to resist the chance to show off that they’re the best. Way I figure it, the first and second place teams should be them. We’d just need to cause a disturbance to make them morph in front of us.”
Skull nodded vaguely. Even though this was his first time hearing about this tournament, he was pretty sure the other rangers wouldn’t be participating. First, because it probably would violate the rule about personal gain and the other rangers were sticklers for rules. Second, because he had a pretty good idea where everyone would be that weekend.
Jason was going on a camping trip with his family near San Francisco—he had been talking about it excitedly after class and since Jason had no indoor voice, it was impossible for Skull not to overhear. Zack and Trini were probably hanging out—Skull had overheard them whispering something about a movie and lunch. Kimberly would be at the community center, but she’d be doing gymnastics like she did every Saturday. Billy would be watching Saturday morning cartoons and pretending to be studying them for some arbitrary scientific reason—Billy had explained this ritual to Skull after karate class one afternoon. Tommy would probably be hanging around Kim and, without two other people to form his team, wouldn’t be able to join in.
After running through this mental checklist, Skull agreed with the plan wholeheartedly. Without there being any actual Rangers there, he wouldn’t need to run interference on Bulk’s scheme which would make this a stress-free hangout. Sure, it’d be a zany scheme which would invariably end with them covered in pie for some reason, but it would be something fun for them to do together. As Bulk explained the intricacies of the plan Skull was certain that Saturday was going to be the best day ever.
However, the morning of the Ninja Tournament something felt off about the city of Angel Grove. It wasn’t the weather—the skies were sunny and cloudless. According to the weather report that morning the whole weekend would be like that and the temperature would be mild, which was rare for southern California at this time of the year. But there definitely was something wrong in the air.
It wasn’t until he was hopping over the empty swing sets in the playground that Skull figured out what was weird. Saturdays in the park were normally kid central. Angel Grove was one of those rare places in America where pretty much everyone led a fairly active life. Even Bulk and Skull who preferred being couch potatoes usually spent an hour or two outside a day. It was a cultural thing about Angel Grove that everyone just took for granted.
Skull was about to hop out of the mulch enclosure that bracketed the playground from the rest of the park when he looked back at the empty jungle gym and play equipment. If he had the wherewithal, perhaps Skull would have been suspicious of the conspicuously absent children. But Skull did not. And he was really focused on his Ranger-free Saturday, so he kept moving towards the community center unabated.
Skull was partially right about Billy’s whereabouts that morning. Billy had gotten up early to watch his Saturday morning cartoons—a bunch of badly translated anime shows sandwiched between reruns of badly animated ones from the 80s—and was tinkering with a new part for the RADBUG. It would fix the RADBUG’s cloaking system’s and would allow Tommy to use it as a mobile command station in battle if the need arose. Billy wanted to have it done by Tommy’s birthday.
On the tv screen the heroes were waxing poetic about jelly donuts (that were really onigiri) and fart jokes when the screen flickered. Then, it turned to static. Billy stopped his tinkering to adjust the rabbit ear antennae. He moved the left one up and the right one down which made the screen come back to life. However, instead of his cartoon there was a red and gold spiral spinning on the screen. Discordant music filled the room. Billy tried to turn down the volume, but his hand froze inches away from the TV.
“I have a mission for you, Blue Ranger,” the TV sang.
It was two voices singing in unison, but the quality of their voices made it sound like two tone-deaf singers attempting to harmonize. One of the voices from the TV sounded sort-of familiar. Like Lord Zedd. But the Billy couldn’t place the other.
“No!” Billy grunted. “Whatever you want, Lord Zedd, I won’t do it!”
He tried to drown out the singing with his own voice, but despite his attempts to shout it was it was as if he had barely spoken louder than a whisper. How was his dad sleeping through all this noise? Billy tried to think, but it was too hard. His whole body felt weak. His mind felt weak. He felt his legs moving, taking him back to the couch. Once there his body sat down and faced the TV.
“No, Blue Ranger,” the TV voices said. “I think you will.”
Alpha was not watching Saturday morning cartoons in the command center. Instead he was listening in on a secret meeting between his master and Rita Repulsa who had recently taken up residence in the command center as well. He was hiding behind some debris Zordon had asked him to clean up which gave him the perfect amount of distance and cover to see and hear pretty much everything.
“Look,” Rita was saying, tapping her severely manicured nails against Zordon’s glass tube. “I already told you, Zordon. There’s not much I can do to help without my staff and your little sidekick,” she gestured vaguely towards the main panel. “won’t make me a new one.”
Alpha didn’t want to make Rita a new magic staff. No matter what Zordon said, she was evil and with a new staff she could go back to wreaking all sorts of havoc on earth. While Rita complained and Zordon tried to placate her, Alpha noticed a flash of blue light coming from the main panel.
“We will continue this discussion later,” Zordon said quietly. “Go hide.”
“Still ashamed to be seen with me in front of your rangers?” Rita snickered as she sauntered off to her chamber down the hall.
The moment Zordon moved from this tube to the one facing the main panel Alpha got up to follow. He didn’t want Zordon to see he had been listening in. Alpha was about to climb the stairs when he heard a thud.
“B-Billy what are you doing?” Zordon demanded.
“What my master has demanded, you old fool,” Billy replied in a hollow voice.
Alpha froze. Lord Zedd must have taken over Billy. If this was anything like when Rita had gotten Tommy inside the Command Center while under her thrall, he probably had some kind of virus ready to shut down everything. Alpha scrambled back to his hiding place. He was going to need to send out a distress signal and hope Billy wouldn’t come looking for him.
“Rangers,” Alpha whispered. “SOS! SOS! Get to the Command Center immediately. Billy has been—”
It was at that moment the lights went out and Zordon’s tube went dark.
This chapter's pretty short, but I think there are going to be about 5 parts to The Ninja Encounter with an epilogue. I think.
Chapter 7: The Ninja Encounter: Everybody was Kung-fu Fighting
While Billy is being hypnotized, Skull settles in for a ranger-free day watching karate with Bulk.
Watching the ninja tournament was proving to be a difficult task for Skull. First, because it seemed to literally be a ninja tournament. All of the competitors were dressed in baggy ninja clothes of varying colors depending on their team. During the fights it was easy to tell one team from the other, but distinguishing individual members from one another was next to impossible. For him at least. Bulk had a program and was reciting the stats of the various ninja anytime they did anything interesting. He also seemed quite invested in Skull’s interest in the karate techniques.
“That was a pretty cool kick,” he said. “Is Jason teaching anything like that in his class?”
“Not really?” Skull said. “That looks pretty advanced.”
“And pretty cool,” Bulk insisted, as if he needed Skull to confirm that he had gotten the correct answer.
Other than the clothes and Bulk’s eagerness, the second reason it was difficult to watch the tournament was their seating. He got there a little late in the final round, so the only seats left for him and Bulk were next to an overenthusiastic man—who introduced himself as Mr. Anderson—and his young son, Jacob, in the nosebleeds. Mr. Anderson and Jacob weren’t annoying, and instead were incredibly endearing.
“Three of my former students are competing,” he explained, pointing to the Stone Canyon Strikers who were wearing all white with different colored belts. “And we had to come cheer them on!”
Mr. Anderson raised Jacob’s hands in the air as if he were cheering too, which was adorable.
“Well, we’re here to find the Power Rangers,” Bulk explained, doing his best not to get distracted by the ridiculously adorable baby.
“They’re going to be here?” Mr. Anderson asked. He had Jacob place both of his hands on his cheeks in a look of surprise.
“Probably.” Bulk said. “They could be anyone, even—”
“Aisha!” Jacob squealed, wrenching his hands out of his father’s grasp to point at one of the ninja.
The ninja Jacob was pointing at—one with a yellow belt—was doing a triple backhand spring after leapfrogging over one of her opponents. One of her partners—the one with the black belt—took this as a chance to do a hadoken punch which laid the enemy ninja out easily. Finally, the last ninja—one wearing a red belt—finished the fight with an elegant spinning kick.
The referee—one of the honors science teachers from school—ran out onto the mat with his arms crossed. Both teams of ninja retreated to a corner while the ref pointed to the table of judges. Skull didn’t recognize them. The five judges scribbled on notepads for a moment before the one at the center took a nearby microphone.
“And the winners of the Ninja Tournament are…,” the judge said slowly. “The Stone Canyon Strikers!”
The crowd erupted with cheers. Skull figured the Stone Canyon team must have been favorites. While the team moved to the center of the mat to accept their trophy and unmask themselves a girl sprinted and leapt for the ninja with the yellow belt. The yellow belted ninja sidestepped her would-be assailant and wrapped her up in a bear hug. The girl tugged the ninja’s mask down to reveal a high school aged girl with amazing box braids.
“Aw, Shawna,” the red belted ninja laughed as he removed his mask.
“Thanks, babe,” the yellow ninja—Aisha—said as she put Shawna down.
“I sure wish a pretty girl were leaping in my arms after winning,” murmured the black belted ninja with good natured elbow jab to his friend. He removed his mask last and was—
“Adam?” Skull said.
“You know that guy?” Bulk asked.
“Yeah,” Skull said. “He moved in next door a couple weeks ago.”
The next few things happened quickly and simultaneously. First, Skull’s communicator started beeping. He tried to cover it up to muffle the sound. Second, in a flash of lightning appeared a ball that exploded into a puff a purple smoke that wafted through the air. Once the smoke sorta-kinda cleared Goldar appeared with a small squadron of putties. Skull’s stomach turned. And third, all the adults in the room fell asleep. Mr. Anderson who had been standing with Jacob in his arms nearly dropped his son, but Bulk was able to catch the baby.
Goldar snatched the microphone and perched himself on the judges’ table next to the sleeping adults.
“Good afternoon,” he bellowed. “If you’re still awake right now you have been given the glorious opportunity to join the army of Lord Zedd.”
Kimberly slurped the remnants of her smoothie—strawberry banana—and tired not to giggle as she let out a small burp. Tommy had put it in her hands after she finished her routine. Saturdays were for informal gymnastics showcases, and it was nice having Tommy back to cheer for her from the sidelines. Tommy was nursing smoothie of his own—kiwi mango—and snickering into his glass.
“What?” she said.
“Nothing,” Tommy said. “It’s just… that was the tiniest burp in the history of burps, Kim.”
“Were you expecting me to belch?”
Tommy put a hand on his chest as if he were clutching pearls, “Kimberly Ann Hart? Belching? Oh my!”
“Shut up,” she laughed. “Besides, you know I’d beat you in a burp off.”
Tommy raised an eyebrow, “Is that a challenge?”
She leaned across the table, close enough that their noses were almost touching.
“You tell me, Mr. Oliver,” Kimberly said, booping him on the nose.
Tommy’s face flushed.
The thing about Tommy that Kimberly couldn’t get over was how honest-to-goodness dorky he was. This was their version of flirting whenever he initiated: gently chaste ribbing with a slight competitive edge. But Tommy would always lose their flirtatious battle of wills because despite his competitive nature, he still seemed to be a thirteen year old boy who couldn’t handle that a pretty girl was so much as looking at him. And Kimberly kinda enjoyed that. Embarrassing him with just a kiss on the cheek, or by complimenting his biceps, or sitting in his lap in public were fun for her. However, as stated above, that fun was only a kinda, and she didn’t know why.
Kimberly didn’t get the chance to mull it over because her communicator started beeping. She pulled Tommy aside and all but dragged him to a nearby hallway before pressing the receive button.
“Rangers! SOS! SOS! Get to the Command Center immediately. Billy has been—” and as abruptly as the message came, it cut out.
“Looks like we’re gonna need to teleport to the command center,” Kimberly said.
“Uh… I can’t,” Tommy said, gesturing to his wrist which had no communicator. “Remember?”
“Oh. Right,” Kim said quickly. Even though it had been a while since Tommy was a ranger, Kimberly still treated him like he was still a regular member of the team since he was practically always there acting as mission control for Skull. Since Billy still hadn’t gotten around to fixing Tommy’s communicator, he couldn’t teleport by on his own, and holding onto another ranger while teleporting was dangerous. Billy had said doing so could risk the two rangers accidentally merging in unexpected ways. Or they could lose a finger. Both options sounded terrible, so Kim decided not to risk either one.
“I’ll just join the others there and we’ll have Alpha—” She said, rapidly mashing the teleport button in hopes she’d flash away before putting her foot in her mouth again. But nothing happened. “Oh no.”
“I think the teleporter’s down.”
“Then, I’ll drive us there,” Tommy said. “If I cut through the park, we can get there pretty quick.”
Kimberly nodded. She power walked back to their table and grabbed her gym bag. Since they couldn’t teleport away, they needed to leave as inconspicuously as possible. Tommy took a nonchalant sip of his smoothie as he followed her to the door.
And then an explosion shook the rec center.
One of the black ninja raised their hands, “And what if we don’t want to join Lord Zedd’s army?”
Goldar laughed, “Then let me rephrase that, you will join Lord Zedd’s army of evil,” he paused to draw his sword and point it directly at the ninja. “Or be destroyed!”
It was at this that the Putties multiplied and started attacking. The few children and teenagers on the bleachers ran for the door. Despite not feeling up to the task, Skull knew what he had to do. He reached for his morpher.
“Bulk, run!” he shouted. “I’ll cover you.”
“You ain’t gotta tell me twice,” Bulk said, still holding baby Jacob.
Bulk barreled through the crowd of other kids and teens being dragged towards the mat by putties. Skull kept close behind, batting some of the putties away until one yanked him backwards by the collar. The two of them fell down the bleachers, knocking some of the other putties over in their wake. If Skull weren’t so focused on not getting a concussion, he’d consider the fall a decent act of superheroics.
“Let go,” he shouted, jamming his elbow into the putty’s Z once they hit the ground.
That putty exploded. Broke? Whatever Z-putties do when you destroy them. Before Skull could get up, however, some other putties leapt on him, creating a dogpile. To Skull, this seemed like their primary fighting technique—other than running up to people and trilling awkwardly until their intended victim’s pity turned to fear by virtue of prolonged exposure—since putties weren’t all that strong on their own. Cold clay bodies held him still as they dragged him over to the center mat. Despite his few weeks of karate classes, Skull’s fight or flight reflexes had instead betrayed him to shock.
All the other times he had faced the putties since becoming a ranger, he was morphed which made him strong enough to shrug off their advances without actually fighting. But with the putties everywhere and Goldar cackling nearby, Skull was back in the juice bar parking lot. The other rangers were there pointing and laughing with Goldar who was charging up his sword.
“At least if he dies this time, I get the powers,” Tommy said
“G-g-guys, help me!” he tried to scream, but the putties had his mouth covered.
“Take two, Numbskull,” Goldar cackled as he jabbed his sword right into Skull’s—
“Coming through!” shouted Bulk.
He barreled into the putties, knocking them off Skull and bringing his friend back to reality.
“I told you to run,” Skull said, surprised by the authoritative tenor of his voice.
“I think you mean to say ‘Thanks, Bulk. My hero’ or something to that effect.” Bulk made Jacob nod along indignantly.
“Thanks, Bulk. You’re my—” he started to say when another putty leapt for Bulk and Jacob.
Skull pushed them back and threw a left hook which caught the putty in the Z. It exploded. Broke? Shattered.
“Talking isn’t a free action, Bulkie,” Skull shouted as he held off more from trying to get Bulk and Jacob. “Run!”
“Not without you!”
All around them the putties were dragging kids and the martial artists who hadn’t figured out the putties’ obvious weak spot to the center of the mat. He couldn’t help anyone as the white ranger, but Skull figured he could still give them intel.
“Aim for the Z!” he shouted at everyone.
“The Z?” Aisha said, annoyed that she hadn’t figured it out on her own. She kicked the two putties that were trying to corner her and Shawna in the Z and watched them shatter.
“It worked!” Shawna said, following Aisha’s lead and punching a couple putties. “That guy knows his stuff.”
Shawna took Aisha by the hand and tried to run out from the mat with her two teammates trailing close behind, but Goldar threw another ball. This one stopped a few inches above the ground and transformed into a vortex. Wind and lightning and spectral hands poured out of the vortex. Other kids and teens that had already been dragged to the center were pulled inside and vanished with a sound similar to a large balloon popping.
One of the spectral hands rose and lunged for Jacob. Later, Skull would declare he had no idea why he jumped in the way. This would be partially true since it would help him keep his cover as a normal teenager and totally not a Power Ranger, but also true in the sense that Skull’s body acted before his brain could catch up. One moment he was fighting putties, and another he felt himself practically flying through the air. He blinked. The hand gripped him by the waist and yanked backwards.
“Skull, no!” bulk shouted.
The adrenaline rush made everything slow down to a crawl for Skull. As he sailed through the air with the other martial artists who hadn’t been able to best the putties, Skull saw the world briefly as interlocking lines of colored light. Two bright spots were leaping for him—one yellow and one black.
“Aisha, what are you—” Shawna exclaimed.
Aisha grabbed one of Skull’s legs and Adam was close behind her with his arms wrapped around her waist. It was clear that this was supposed to tether Skull to the ground and allow the others to help pull him back, but instead the spectral hand yanked again. Skull, Aisha, and Adam shot into the air and fell into the vortex.
"Skull!" Bulk shouted.
At the exact moment when three balloon popping sounds filled the gymnasium, the Pink Ranger burst through the doors with her bow at the ready. She fired two arrows at Goldar who easily deflected them into a nearby wall which exploded in a shower of sparks.
“You’re too late, Pink Ranger,” Goldar shouted as he and the remaining putties jumped into the vortex.
Next time: Zack and Trini go to the movies, Jason suddenly appears, and the Rangers learn about Rita.
also, i just want to say thanks to everyone so far who has been reading this fic so far. writing it has been my way of letting off some steam, so i'm glad other people are getting some enjoyment out of it too!
Chapter 8: The Ninja Encounter: "Friend-Date"
Zack and Trini go to the movies
Trini and Zack were tossing popcorn at each other in the movie theatre when their communicators went off, interrupting their friend date. Trini had been specific about that terminology when Zack asked her if she wanted to see a movie—just the two of them, maybe like a date. Something about his grin and the tilt of his eyebrows as they rose flustered Trini. So, she promptly punched Zack in the arm.
“Yes, that’d be great, pal,” she had stammered, voice rising well above conversation tone. “A friend-date! A date between pals. Compatriots. Comrades.”
And that’s what they were. Trini had known Zack since they were six. He was her second oldest friend after Billy. While Trini did not believe in the friendzone as a concept, she felt the platonic idea of that place should have been exactly where she’d place Zack in her relationship space. However, there was an earnestness to him that gave Trini pause.
It was in the very same ease of his grin and tilt of his eyebrow that had flustered her. Seeing Zack like that was the perfect fusion of the familiar and unknown. She was simultaneously thinking that the person smoldering at her was and was not her Zack (“Wait, he’s not my Zack,” she would say later, berating herself thinking back to this moment). Trini heard other people around school when they talked about Zack. Word on the street had it that Zack was a regulation hottie. Trini—in what she told herself was a cool and detached manner—could agree. His smile was Zack’s defining feature. Other than his body, and Trini did not want to think about his body. Not the bulging biceps she could see straining against his t-shirt. Nor the abs underneath—
Nope, not thinking about it!
Basically, Zack was the bicycle everyone wanted to ride (“And do you want to ride this metaphorical bicycle, Trini?” her brain asked). Whenever Trini heard people talking about getting tongue tied in his presence or casually gossiping about his latest date with so-and-so, she’d roll her eyes and insist to herself that they must be stereotypical hormonal teenagers. In this moment as she stammered, she realized she was very wrong.
“A friend date,” she exclaimed finally. “An outing for pals. A meeting of bros. A rendezvous of…”
Zack had looked somewhat crestfallen, but Trini couldn’t stop the flood of words coming out of her mouth. It was as if her vocabulary from the years of playing translator for Billy was suddenly taking over her consciousness. She wanted to be anywhere but there in front of Zack. For example, over in the distance she could see Richie Mendoza polishing a glass or two.
In the original timeline where Skull didn’t become White Ranger it was Richie who asked Trini on this date. The two of them would see the movie, Richie would scream and cover his eyes, and Trini would eat all of his popcorn. It would seem the forces of infinite causality wanted Trini on a date, and nudged Zack ever so slightly in her direction.
“So…” Zack said slowly. “Saturday?”
“Yeah?” Trini replied just as slowly.
So, they ended up at the movie theatre that weekend, and despite it being a Saturday afternoon, the theatre was empty except for them. A movie star ran across the screen, screaming for help before twisting her ankle. In the background of the shot the serial killer stood illuminated by a sudden flash of atmospheric lightning. Perhaps the theatre was empty because no one in their right mind saw slasher movies in the early afternoon. Trini had told Zack as much.
“But the matinee popcorn is the best,” he protested.
The veracity of that claim couldn’t be proven since most of their popcorn ended up on the ground and in each other’s hair. As Zack dusted some of it off his jacket, Trini picked pressed the receiver on her communicator and held it up for both of them to hear.
“Rangers,” it was Alpha, and he was whispering for some reason while a siren blared in the background and his voice echoed in the empty theater. “SOS! SOS! Get to the Command Center immediately. Billy has been—”
The message cut off. Trini tried to press the teleport button, but nothing happened. She pressed it two more times to the same effect.
“We have to get to the Command Center,” she said. “Now!”
“I guess there goes our day off,” Zack sighed.
“Zack!” Trini said, sharp. “Alpha’s in trouble and the teleporter is down, this isn’t the time to worry about days off!”
She practically leapt over the row in front of them to get a head start running out of the theatre, but her foot caught on the seat. Right before she could faceplant, Trini felt a hand—Zack’s—take hers and pull her back up into a precarious position where she now was facing Zack. Because of the little space in the aisle they were practically chest to chest, and despite their years of friendship in this moment Trini couldn’t remember ever being this close to him before.
There was a beat.
“I was joking,” he said, plaintive. “Wrong moment, I get it. Let’s get moving.”
They stood there for a moment, frozen in an embrace ripped from a romance novel cover, before Zack pivoted slowly and let Trini go. Once her heartbeat slowed down, they ran for the parking lot and Zack’s car.
While Trini tried to keep herself from imagining all the things that could have gone wrong at the Command Center, Zack was tallying up all the things that had gone wrong on the date (“friend date,” he reminded himself, trying not to feel bad). Like, the popcorn fight. What was that? Trini loved buttery popcorn and they wasted, like, 70% of it! And the joke about losing their day off? He might have covered for that, but Zack knew he should have known better. It was as if just being in the liminal space of a date—regardless of how they were defining it—had made Zack lose all of his cool.
And the thing is when it came to feelings Zack Taylor led with his first impulse and recalcukated later. He had asked Trini out because at that moment on that day the afternoon sun hit Trini as she was pulling her hair out of its usual workout ponytail. This image made his heart—cliché though it might be—skip a beat.
Zack’s only known response to someone making him feel that way was to immediately turn on the charm and ask them out. It was practically like muscle memory when he asked Trini if she’d like to see a movie. And, sure, this reflex tended to make him ask a lot of people out on dates that went nowhere, but to Zack that was the point of dates. To see if there was any compatibility—at least at first. Usually there wasn’t, but as Zack psyched himself up for the movie friend date he was certain there’d at least be something with Trini.
He stole a quick glance at Trini—his friend of ten years—and the light was doing the thing again. She had the window rolled down since Zack’s AC was notoriously terrible, so the wind was blowing through Trini’s hair. The urgent and determined expression on her face made Trini look like a warrior on the precipice of a great battle for glory. She still looked like the girl who shoved an entire bag of gummi bears up his nose once, but as his heart thudded in his chest Zack couldn’t separate the two Trinis in his mind. The feelings were real. Crap.
As they pulled into the desert, Zack thought about what dating Trini could be like. He imagined lots of movies and hiking. He imagined talking her into taking a salsa class or something. He imagined long conversations about protests and the nature of the universe. But the thing was, Zack didn’t want courting Trini to be a repeat of Angela. Angela rarely wanted to give Zack the time of day, and instead of accepting that he kept up his pursuit until they just fizzled. Perhaps the thing to do was to back off and just let her take the lead? When he caught her in the movie theater Zack felt something from her too, but perhaps that was just seeing what he wanted to see?
“Uh,” he started to say, trying to think of something charming but not necessarily flirty.
“Is that Jason’s truck?” Trini interrupted, pointing a finger in the distance towards the Command Center.
Zack followed Trini’s finger and there it was: the familiar red pickup truck they piled into before everyone else got their licenses. It was parked—idling—behind some of the sparse, brown shrubbery in front of the Command Center.
“How did Jason get back from San Francisco so fast?” Trini asked. “Isn’t it two hours away?”
“If you’re speeding,” Zack acquiesced. Trini gasped. “C’mon, you know how gung-ho he is about everything. He probably got the call—”
"And drove here from there in fifteen minutes with the teleporter down?" Trini interjected.
"When you put it like that it does sound weird..." Zack said. "We can just ask him."
“Wait,” Trini said. She grabbed Zack’s arm and squeezed. “Zack, is he already in there?”
Zack craned his neck forward. Even though the car was still on, no one seemed to be inside. A sudden honk turned Zack's attention backward. In the rearview mirror Zack saw Kimberly’s car speeding from behind. Trini was already opening her door when Tommy—who was driving apparently—skidded to a stop. Kim, who was half-morphed, jumped out of the passenger side.
“Wait, what happened?” Zack called.
“Goldar attacked the Ninja Tournament and kidnapped a bunch kids,” Kimberly explained.
“And Skull,” Tommy interjected.
“And Skull,” Kimberly echoed. “I think that and this” she pointed at the Command Center. “are connected.”
“Then, let’s get in there!” Zack said as a screech echoed from inside the building.
Despite ostensibly being a human building, the Command Center did not have an obvious door. Usually, the Rangers just teleported in or crashed the RADBUG in through the exhaust chimney. For the rare occasions that they needed a door there was a panel on one of the inner walls that had slots where their power coins acted as keys. Trini placed hers into one of the slots and the wall fell away. She and Kim ran in without hesitation, and Zack would have followed as well if he hadn’t noticed Tommy hanging back.
“You coming?” he asked.
“Sure, I guess,” Tommy replied. “But what do I do? I can’t exactly help fight a monster.”
“True,” Zack acquiesced. “But you’re part of the team, man. In the heat of the moment you’ll know what to do.”
Zack did not know that was probably the worst thing to tell Tommy since the last time he was in the heat of the moment during a monster attack someone got electrocuted to death. He would have figured he touched a nerve had Tommy not plastered a halfhearted smile on his face and another shout echoed from within the Command Center.
“What are you doing here?” Trini demanded.
Zack and Tommy sprinted down the dark hallway. At the end they were met by a strange sequence. Exposed wires and sparks rained down from the ceiling. Jason was morphed and had his power sword at Rita Repulsa’s throat. Rita had her hair down and was wearing a fuzzy pink robe. Billy was on the ground, holding a bag of frozen peas to his head.
“I told you,” Rita said. “I live here.”
“Why did you break into the Command Center?” Jason shouted.
Rita sighed, “First of all, it was Little Boy Blue with the peas that broke into the command center.”
“That is unfortunately accurate,” Billy groaned.
“And second,” she paused. “you people are GIVING ME A HEADACHE!”
She grinned as if she were looking directly into a camera on a sitcom. There was a beat.
“Was that—” Kimberly sputtered. She drew her power bow. “Was that supposed to be a joke?”
“If I say yes, will you put that bow down?” Rita asked.
“Then, I really need that ibuprofen, Alpha,” Rita said.
Alpha, who wasn’t originally part of this surreal tableau hobbled into view and hurled a bottle of pills at Rita’s head. It bonked her on the nose. Despite the tense moment, Zack laughed. Trini shot him a glare and he tried to shrug as if to say something along the lines of “come on, our old nemesis just got bonked on the nose with a bottle of pain relievers; you have to see the inherent comedy in that” but it probably only conveyed “haha weird witch lady get hurt.”
“What is going on?” Tommy asked.
Billy raised his hand, “As she and Alpha were explaining before Jason busted in—”
“To save your life,” Jason interjected.
Billy continued as if Jason hadn’t spoken, “Rita changed sides and apparently Zordon was allowing her to reside here without our knowledge.”
Jason slowly lowered his power sword, but the tension in the room did not dissipate. Kim and Trini—the latter of whom must have morphed while Zack was talking to Tommy—stayed in fighting position. At first Zack didn’t realize it, but he had been gripping his morpher tight enough that once he unclenched his fist he could still feel its phantom presence in his palm.
“But why would he keep this from us?” Jason demanded. He was staring at his feet.
“Beats me,” Rita said, pointing her thumb backwards. “I’d tell you to ask him yourself, but, well, you can see why that’s not happening any time soon.”
Zordon’s tube was dark. Unlike all the other times they lost their connection to Zordon, there didn’t even seem to be even a spark of life or light or anything inside. The first time something like this happened was back when the evil Green Ranger had disrupted Zordon’s connection, but even then, there was still a spark of light.
“Billy, can you fix this?” Zack asked. “Any of this?”
“I could rebuild most of our equipment, but the power’s out and Lord Zedd has a monster on the loose.”
“What monster?” Trini said. “Wait, so how many things did Zedd throw at us today?”
“He made Billy destroy the Command Center,” Zack supplied.
“Set loose a TV monster with brainwashing powers,” Billy continued
“And had Goldar kidnap kids from the Ninja Tournament,” Kimberly finished. “But what does all of this have in common?”
Rita snorted, “It’s obvious if you think about it.”
“Oh really?” Jason shouted. “Then, how about you share with the class.”
Rita waved a hand and a cheap poker table appeared in front of her. On the table were six Power Ranger action figures, a small model TV, a can of soda, and a stuffed monkey. She summarized what the rangers already knew, arranging her odd array of items to match the story.
“This is a distraction,” she said waving her hand over the can of soda which was supposed to represent Zordon. “And so’s the monster probably. Zedd doesn’t know I’m here and so he probably expected the six of you to go after it and not notice all the missing kiddies. I’d bet dollars to donuts he’s gonna do something to his hostages.”
Jason—he had un-morphed—sighed, “I’ll get you some Krispy Kreme if you can tell us what Zedd’s gonna do.”
Rita shrugged, “The only reason to take that many kids is to convert them to evil.”
“But if he was gonna do that, why not use the brainwashing TV monster?” Trini asked. “I mean, if he hasn’t already.”
“Good question,” Rita said. “But all it would take to undo the brainwashing would be to destroy the monster. Unless…”
Rita waved her hand again. This time a stuffed snake floating in a punch bowl appeared. Suddenly the stuffed snake began to spit up a brownish fluid.
“Gross,” Zack said with a wince.
“Grow up,” Rita said. “It’s just the soda.” She paused. “Anyway, there’s a chance that Zedd might have gotten access to the Serpentra Idol.”
She made one of the Ranger action figures—Billy—stand up and waddle over to the punch bowl. The action figure dunked its head into the bowl. Once it came out of the bowl it whirled on the other action figures and began chasing them around the table.
“One drink of the Serpentra Idol’s venom, and you’ll be evil practically forever,” Rita said. “The only person who knew the antidote was fricking Lerigot and he’s—”
“Rita,” Kimberly said, sharp. “How do we get to the Serpentra Idol?”
“Do you think if I knew where it was, your little boy toy over there would still be a good guy?” Rita shot back. “Without Zordon’s viewing globe, or my telescope, I’d have no idea where to look.”
A shiver came over all the rangers. Normally, at a time like this someone—Billy—would come up with a clever plan that would perfectly save the day. Or Zordon would give them some last-minute power-up. Or the bad guys would do something irrevocably stupid which would leave them wide open for a counterattack. But none of this seemed to be possible to Zack.
“Skull is the only thing between those kids and serving Lord Zedd forever,” Tommy murmured, as he poked at his destroyed control panel.
“Wait, what?” Jason asked.
“Skull got taken too,” Kimberly said.
“You have gotta be kidding me,” he groaned.
Rita cleared her throat, “Actually, I think I might have an idea." She snapped her fingers and gone was the fuzzy robe and back was her iconic outfit. "We’ll have Tommy find Skull through the Morphin’ Grid and teleport there after Billy gets the power back running.”
“Great plan, Rita,” Tommy said. “But one small problem: I don’t know how to do that.”
“You sure about that?” she said, snapping her fingers again.
Tommy’s eyes went blank and were replaced by a neon grid pattern, "Wait, this is the Morphin' Grid?"
Next time: Tommy goes on a vision quest, Skull gets caught up, and Aisha gets suspicious.
Chapter 9: The Ninja Encounter: Vision Quest
Have you ever stared into infinity before? No?
Cut back to Adam, AIsha, and Skull.
The vortex had dumped everyone out an alien desert with a green sun illuminating the orange sky and red sands. Despite the surreal visuals, if there was anything in particular Skull was starting to hate about rangering, it was how often Lord Zedd’s pocket dimensions of evil were essentially deserts and caves. Angel Grove was pretty much cave adjacent already, so Skull figured it was just the forces of evil being lazy with their set design.
“I told my parents moving to Angel Grove was a bad idea,” Adam sighed as the putties marched them into a cave.
“Well, after this yours, mine, and Rocky’s will definitely ship us back to Stone Canyon,” Aisha said. She half turned to Skull, “You okay weird guy?”
“My name’s Skull.”
“Hi, Skull,” Adam said, flat.
“You already know my name,” Skull replied.
“I was trying to be sarcastic,” Adam said, flatter. Then, “So are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Aisha continued as if Skull and Adam hadn’t spoken at all. “I saw that monster thing throw you off the bleachers.”
He was, physically, but every so often Goldar would look his way and sneer as if he were daring Skull to morph. Gingerly, Skull kept trying to reach for his morpher, but as soon as they had fallen out of the vortex the remaining putties had bound everyone’s wrists and then linked them together with ankle chains. The last thing he wanted was a one-on-fifteen with Goldar and some putties, but the past few months of rangering had triggered an automatic “it’s time to throw hands” reflex with regard putties and monsters.
“My wrists are itchy,” he said instead of explaining this.
“We’re in a weird desert in chains and your main concern are your itchy wrists?” Aisha asked.
“Well…” Skull paused. “They’re, like, really itchy. Besides, the Power Rangers will save us.”
Skull tried to channel some of Bulks confidence into his voice, but he couldn’t stop the stammer from creeping in after getting a good look at the cave. While Goldar and the putties had only gotten about twenty people from the Ninja Tournament, the cave was full of kids. They were all tied up around a strange crater with a stone altar and snake statue at the northern side. Despite the how inherently odd the sight was, Skull thought it was weird how all the kids who hadn’t been taken from the Ninja Tournament were sanguine and calm. A few of them had blank expressions on their faces, while others were clearly murmuring something Skull couldn’t hear. If he were in their shoes (the only thing keeping him from fully realizing that he was, was the morpher clipped to his belt) he would be screaming or crying or something. Some of the kids and martial artists who had been taken from the tournament were—most of the older ones had abandoned all sense of propriety and were louder than the little ones.
Skull reached again for his morpher but was stopped by a putty shoving him forward into Aisha. She narrowed her eyes at him.
“And how are they supposed to find us?” she asked.
“They’re superheroes, Aisha,” Adam said. “They’ll find a way.”
“Probably,” she acquiesced. “But what do we do in the meantime?”
The putties leading then pushed her and Adam into an open spot along the crater. Slowly the putties turned to look at Skull. One cocked its head to the side. Another gestured at his belt. A third pantomimed reaching behind its back and holding up a morpher before pointing at Skull. Frantically, he flapped his hands in the universal “please, please, please, please, please shut up” gesture in hopes no one in the cave saw that. The putties obliged and crept closer.
“Okay, okay, it’s me,” he whispered. “What do you want?”
One of the putties dropped into a fighting stance. It chased the others in circles around Skull doing some awkward approximation of martial arts.
“You want to chase me around?” Skull said.
The putties shook their heads.
The putties were a bit of a curiosity to skull. More often than not they were as incompetent at fighting as he was and thus often tended to opt for a strategy of confusion and overwhelming numbers. Like there was this one time they launched into the full Pas de Deux from Swan Lake—not that Skull would ever admit to recognizing Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet or the choreography of Marius Petipa—while fighting the rangers on a playground. And despite how many the rangers destroyed, there were always more up to the same antics.
The putty who had been doing the chasing pointed a finger at Skull’s chest and then led the other putties, running in circles around him.
“Wait,” Skull said, understanding forming. “You want… me to chase you around?”
The putties put their fingers on where their noses would be if they had any.
“Uh…” Skull said, peeking over at the other hostages. Most of the kids and martial artists were too freaked out to be paying attention to the putties, but Adam and Aisha were watching with their jaws on the ground. Skull lowered his voice even more, “I-I can’t play right now.”
The putties drooped, disappointed.
“But maybe I can later?”
All three nodded, excited, and pushed Skull into a spot along the crater next to Aisha.
“So,” Adam said.
“What was that?” Aisha hissed.
“Me begging for me life?” Skull supplied, weak.
Aisha narrowed her eyes, “Sure didn’t look that way.”
The thing about following Zordon’s secret identity rule was that for the most part it was incredibly easy in the city of Angel Grove. No one really seemed to notice any of the rangers talking into their watches or overheard any other conversations about ranger stuff that were never whispered. Skull had figured it was because the other six had so much goody-good cred that people tended to assume they were always planning some covert volunteer thing with highly specialized jargon or some nonsense. But the truth was probably that there was (probably?) a Somebody Else’s Problem field the size radiating all around the city that made everyone generally oblivious. He and Bulk had been searching for the rangers for almost eight months and they were literally ten feet away.
However, Aisha (and Adam to a certain extent who was leaning in close, appraising Skull), were not from Angel Grove. They weren’t oblivious. And if the other rangers didn’t arrive soon, Skull was going to inadvertently spill the beans because he was being grilled by two actually competent people.
“Putties are weird,” Skull insisted, stammering. “I think they were showing me what they were gonna do with my instentistnes.”
“Intestines,” Adam said automatically. He paused, “We’re really going to die here, aren’t we?”
“Don’t be melodramatic, Adam,” said Aisha. Skull noticed she was shaking a little bit and rocking back and forth. “Skull already said the Power Rangers are coming.”
A bolt of lightning struck the earth a couple feet behind them. Rocks and large clumps of dirt pelted the back of Skull’s neck.
“The who are coming to save you?” demanded a familiar voice.
Tommy was perturbed by the ease at which Rita had set the rangers at their tasks. Billy and Trini were trying to get the power back on, Jason and Zack were checking on the Zords, and Alpha was setting up a space for Rita and Tommy. The only one who was visibly resisting Rita’s orders was Kimberly. Kim was supposed to be helping Jason and Zack, but the moment Rita started giving orders Kim gripped Tommy’s shoulder and pushed him behind her.
“I’ll be keeping watch,” she said, almost nose to nose with Rita. “Just in case.”
To her credit, Rita just shrugged. However, the implication that she might do something while they were under made Tommy even more uncomfortable. What if this was some elaborate scheme to turn him evil again? Tommy banished that thought from his mind almost immediately. Even if Rita managed to turn him again, what would he do? The Green Ranger powers were gone. An evil Tommy without powers—or at least conventionally useful powers because apparently dreaming of the Morphin’ Grid counted as a super power—wouldn’t be much help to Rita, but still…
“I don’t trust you,” he said.
Rita was on the floor drawing strange sigils with chalk in a circle Alpha had made for her out of some pillows. She had conjured the box of chalk from nowhere.
“Join the club,” Rita said
“I just wanted to let you know,” Tommy said.
“And I just wanted to let you know I don’t care,” she replied. “Take a seat and we can begin.”
“Wait,” Kimberly said, throwing her arm in front of Tommy. “So, what’s the deal with the weird magic circle?”
Rita vanished the chalk, “Your little boy-toy has never been all the way inside the Morphin' Grid before.”
“And you have?”
“Obviously,” Rita said, haughty. She paused, “Okay, no, but—”
“Why are we trusting her again?” Kim interrupted.
And Tommy appreciated her outburst. It was refreshing in the face of the other rangers who had already swallowed the bitter pill of working with their former nemesis. Tommy was still holding the proverbial bitter pill in his hands, mulling over whether the medicine was worth the possible side effects.
“Because, Kimmy, I’m your best bet at saving all those kiddies,” Rita said. “Besides, even if I’ve never been deep inside the Morphin’ Grid, I still know how to help us do just that.”
She snapped her fingers (Tommy was starting to hate that) and a prism appeared in the middle of the circle hovering at what would be eye level if he sat down. Tommy recognized it. It was the prism Zordon had used to make Skull the White Ranger. As Tommy eyed it warily in fear that it might explode again, he could see Morphin’ Grid lines bleeding out from the prism. It was as if he were looking at a work of 2D art where the artist had decided to color outside the lines, but instead of looking messy and garish it blended into the rest of the piece that still kept color in the lines.
“Basically, it’ll help us focus,” Rita explained.
“I think,” Tommy said, sitting down finally so he was at eye level with both the prism and Rita. “the better question is how you knew I’d be able to do this.”
“Nuh uh,” she replied. “You can talk all this over with the head in the tube after we’re done. Follow my lead.”
Tommy looked back at Kimberly who gave a short, if not reluctant nod. Rita placed one hand on the prism and another on Tommy’s forehead. Her hands were cold, but the strange thing part of that sensation was realizing everything—the room, his shirt, his legs, his ponytail—was just as cold if not colder. The only source of warmth Tommy could sense was coming from the prism. Shivering, teeth chattering, Tommy reached out to the prism. The moment he made contact the bleeding grid lines spread out from the prism further and further. They crawled up his arm as a dazzling emerald green with sparkling white highlights. Tommy could see the same thing happening to Rita, except her grid lines were colored pink and green.
Lord Zedd stood at the cave’s entrance with his staff pointed directly at Aisha. Skull thought him being over there was weird since he had apparently teleported in. Maybe he wanted to make an entrance that involved more strolling menacingly?
“The Power Rangers,” said a nearby kid when Aisha didn’t speak up. He shook his brown hair that was in a bowl cut out of his eyes. “the Power Rangers are gonna save us.”
“Oh,” Zedd said in mock surprise. “I hadn’t thought of that! What ever shall I do since the Power Rangers are definitely coming to this secluded location they don’t know how to find in a pocket dimension they don’t know how to teleport to?”
Lord Zedd cackled.
“Well, you don’t have to be a jerk about it,” the kid said.
“Actually, I do,” Lord Zedd said, beginning his villainous stroll. He twirled his staff between his fingers idly like a baton. “You see, I’m evil. And being evil means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want and take it however you want.”
Zedd crouched down so he was staring the kid in the eye. To his credit the kid didn’t look scared. Many of the others who didn’t seem to be in the weird haze had recoiled the moment Lord Zedd had appeared. Skull go that. Zedd was a dude with no skin and a metal grate thing for a mask, and it’s one thing to see him on the news and another entirely up close and personal.
“Have you ever had someone keep something you wanted from you?” Zedd asked. His voice was soft, plaintive, but still it somehow carried through the cave as if he were shouting.
“What do you want, Zedd?” Skull found himself saying. He immediately clapped his hands over his own mouth.
Zedd turned slightly and laughed, “Oh, Skull, what don’t I want?”
With that Zedd reached out and took the kid by the arm. It was a quick motion that both illustrated Zedd’s point about evil taking what it wanted, when it wanted, however it wanted and showcased his strength. The kid yelped as Zedd snatched him and dragged him towards the stone altar. Skull tried again to reach for his morpher but froze when he realized all eyes weren’t on Zedd. Adam and Aisha were looking at him, curiosity and confusion in their eyes.
“How does he know your name, Skull?” Aisha whispered.
“And why do you keep reaching for your back?” Adam continued.
Skull didn’t have to answer because at that point the kid finally abandoned all calm. He was screaming and begging for Zedd to put him down. The other kids who weren’t in that creepy sanguine state were doing the same. Admittedly, this might have been why Skull had been moved to reflexive bravery: Zedd interacting with this kid was nothing like the G rated violence he usually inflicted. Zedd pointed his staff at Skull.
“You asked what I wanted? This,” he pointed at the snake statue. “is what I wanted.”
There was a beat.
“But… don’t—don’t you already have it?” Skull asked.
“Isn’t this your cave?” Skull continued. “So, like, that statue is already yours, right?”
Zedd facepalmed, “I meant I want what I’m going to do with this statue.”
At that Zedd kicked the kid into the crater. Everyone—even the dazed and confused kids—peered over the edge as he tumbled down the eight-foot drop. Once the kid stopped rolling, Zedd tapped his staff on the snake statue. A pair of fangs grew from its mouth and they began to drip a sickly green fluid into the crater.
“This,” Zedd said. “Is the Serpentra Idol. When you drink its venom, you become evil. Simple enough, right?” he pointed his staff at Aisha. “You said the Rangers are coming to save you all? Even if they manage, I’ll have already baptized you all in Serpentra’s venom and you will serve me for all time.”
One by one the blank faced kids began climbing down into the crater. Some of the martial artists and younger teens from the tournament tried to hold them back, but it didn’t work. It was as if they were possessed. Instead some of the kids ended up dragging more of the others into the crater with them. A little girl pushed Adam who unintentionally dragged Aisha with him since he was still shackled to her. Skull braced himself for a fall too, but instead felt a tug from behind. It was Goldar who had snatched his morpher.
“If it weren’t for Lord Zedd’s orders,” Goldar snarled as he examined the white tiger power coin embedded inside. “I’d destroy this thing, but the master wants another evil ranger, so…”
Goldar clipped the morpher back onto Skull’s belt and kicked him into the crater. As he tumbled, Skull could see the dripping venom falling and from his rolling vantage point it became a green spiral that overtook everything.
Tommy blinked and gone was the Command Center. The Morphin’ Grid looked like what people claimed 80s aesthetic was. He and Rita were floating in a purplish gradient space which somehow ran perpendicular to the multiple grid lines jutting into it. Gravity shifted, and they were floating along the grid itself and looking back up into the gradient. Below them, the grid lines slowly shifted from one color. Pink to red, red to orange, orange to yellow, yellow to green, green to blue, blue to indigo, indigo to purple, purple to gray, gray to black, black white, and white back to pink. The sight was as mesmerizing as it was nonsensical. Tommy decided the Morphin' Grid was like some surrealist take on a 16-bit video game.
“So, what now?” he asked, finally looking at Rita in earnest. “Why are you pink?”
Unlike Tommy whose form was made up entirely of crisscrossing grid lines, Rita was a pink silhouette. It was kind of difficult to look at her directly because she was radiating both light and a weird energy.
“Obviously because I’m not human,” she said. “My relationship with the Morphin’ Grid is different from yours.”
“That sounds ominous.”
Rita shrugged, “It’s whatever. Now get to work.”
Tommy stared into the expansive plane. He blinked. He scratched his head.
"You still haven't told me what I'm supposed to do," he said.
"Find the White Ranger," Rita replied. "Duh."
"But how?" Tommy demanded. "We're both here, so why can't you do it?"
"I don't know him," Rita said. "Besides, you've got some of that white energy in you, so I figure—"
"I've got what in me?"
Rita rolled her eyes. Or Tommy was certain that's what she was doing. Neither of them had definite enough forms to see one another's specific facial features. This was his best guess based on her body language. Crossed arms, upward tilted head, hips cocked sassily to the side. Rita took his hand and waved it in front of his face. Tommy's body was made up of green grid lines except for one spot that he hadn't noticed before. Right in the center of his palm there were four tiny white squares. Unlike the green lines--which were still brilliant in their own way--the white squares pulsed.
"I'm surprised you didn't see this yourself forever ago," Rita said.
Tommy's ability to see into the Morphin' Grid was a fairly recent thing. it had only started after he had been zapped by the exploding prism (which, along with his complete understanding of how the Whit Ranger powers worked, should have been his first clue that something was up) and usually would be flashes too quick for him to get his bearings.
"But how did you know I could?" he demanded.
Rita groaned, "Zordon said it would be a side-effect of your proximity to the white energy, okay? Now can we please get a move on?"
"What am I supposed to do?"
Without taking her eyes off him, Rita pointed a finger into the distance. In the vast expanse Tommy saw humanoid pink shapes forming. Some were fighting. Some were sleeping. Some were shopping. Tommy wasn't sure what he was seeing until one of the pink shapes manifested behind him. Unlike all the others he could see her clearly: it was Kimberly. She was still half-morphed and pacing.
"These..." Tommy said slowly. "are all Pink Rangers."
"Got it in one," Rita said. "I'm attuned to pink energy, so I can find them through the Morphin' Grid pretty easily. You on the other hand have some white energy inside you, so you could find anyone. All you need to do is point and focus."
"But why didn't Zordon mention this?" Tommy thought. "Any of this."
A bitter feeling crept up his spine. Before Tommy could fully recognize the feeling as his own, he shoved it back down. And instead, Tommy sighed. He wished Zordon had said something. That much he could admit to himself. But the thing about Tommy Oliver was that unless he was evil, he had trouble with conflict if it involved authority figures. Even though he didn't want to, Tommy decided the only way to get real answers would be to push the situation and demand (read: ask politely) for them.
But in this moment, Tommy stretched out his hand and focused. He tried to think about the white energy. When it had zapped him, it had felt like a supernova for an instant before fading away. He focused on that feeling until the pink figures began to fade away only to be replaced by white ones.
Unlike the Pink Rangers, there were far fewer White Rangers. Tommy was certain he counted less than twenty. Instead of pondering why that might be, he focused on zeroing in on Skull. He floated through the vast expanse. There was a white ranger flipping pizzas, a couple ninjas on different teams in the midst of battles, a sorceress waving an ornate wand, and even another white tiger ranger who was reading a book to a kindergarten class.
“Who are these people?” Tommy asked. “I mean, with all these Rangers we could defeat Zedd once and for all.”
“Perhaps,” Rita agreed. “But who knows if they’re even active right now?”
“I know staring into infinity is fun and all, but aren’t you supposed to be finding your White Ranger?” Rita groaned, rubbing her temples.
“Right,” Tommy agreed as he floated past a white dinosaur ranger giving a dramatic monologue.
And then there he was. Tommy could see Skull as he rolled down into a deep crater. He reached out and took the Morphin’ Grid representation of Skull by the collar.
Skull felt something tugging at his neck as he rolled down into the crater. It was one of the competing pain sensations he was feeling since he was tumbling down a craggy crater with sharp rocks and jutting miniature stalagmites. As he got closer to the ground, Skull tried to bring his arms up to protect his face, but the tugging feeling at his neck suddenly jerked. Instead of rolling forwards, Skull was thrown backwards so that he was skidding down the rest of his descent on his butt.
“Look, we’ve gotta get out of here,” Aisha said when Skull finally landed. “No more waiting for the Power Rangers to save us.”
“Do you have a plan?” he asked.
She held up her hands which were no longer bound.
“how’d you do that?” he almost shouted before Adam—whose hands were also untied—covered his mouth.
“Ninja training,” Aisha said.
“And a rock,” Adam continued, showing Skull a jagged rock with bits of rope still hanging from it.
“We just need to—” Aisha began, but Skull suddenly couldn’t hear her voice.
It was as if someone had hit the mute button on her. Skull asked her to repeat herself, but his voice was gone too. Once more, he felt the tugging on his neck, but this time he also felt a hand.
“Skull!” Tommy shouted.
“Tommy?” he murmured. “Is that you?”
He blinked, and the cave was reduced to glowing lines in a purplish gradient space. He was no longer sitting on the floor and was instead floating. Tommy tapped him on the shoulder and gave him a hand up.
“Yeah,” Tommy replied.
“What is going on?” Skull squeaked.
“Long story short, I’m in the Morphin’ Grid and I think I pulled you in,” he said. He looked over Skull’s shoulder and nodded tersely. “Look, I just got a read on your location. Can you morph and start getting kids out of there while we get to you?”
Skull held up his hands, “I can’t really reach my morpher.”
“Oh…” Tommy said. “Well, we’ll be there in” he paused as if he were suddenly putting Skull on hold to talk to someone else. “ten minutes. Billy just got the Command Center online, so hold down the fort.”
“Gotcha,” Skull said as the Morphin’ Grid vanished and was replaced with his actual surroundings. He was standing up and facing the crater wall as if he had been talking to it as if the wall were Tommy.
“Two things,” Aisha said. “First, nice boxers.”
Skull jerked his head over his shoulder and saw that his pants had a giant hole in the butt. His pants had to have been torn when he was skidding down the crater, so Aisha was seeing his Hello Kitty skeleton boxers. He immediately tried to turn around, but Adam reached out and snatched something from his belt.
“Two,” Adam said, surreptitiously making sure no one else was watching them. “What’s this?”
Adam was holding his morpher.
“Uh…” Skull stammered.
“Skull,” Adam said, staring at the morpher in his hands. “Are you a…”
Next time: a monster fight, heart-to-heart conversation, and someone takes a dip in the Serpentra venom.
Chapter 10: The Ninja Encounter: All According to Keikaku (keikaku means plan)
Let's get this plan in motion.
A tiny part of Skull’s mind marveled at how it took only two months of palling around goody goods to make him care about following rules. This tiny part of Skull wasn’t upset. He was a neutral good, after all. However, it was struck by the way Skull’s fight or flight instinct had been triggered by his next-door neighbor pickpocketing his morpher. And then how that fight, or flight instinct left him frozen there.
“Skull,” Adam said, staring at the morpher in his hands. “Are you a…”
“Don’t say it,” Skull hissed, scrambling back down to the ground.
“But you are, right?” Aisha said. She mouthed the words, “A Power Ranger.”
Skull made a vague gesture with his hands. That probably didn’t count as breaking the secret identity rule.
“So why haven’t you done anything?” she demanded. Skull held up his hands which were still bound. “Oh. Right. So, if we untie you, can you fix this?”
“Not by myself…” Skull said, feeling small.
Usually, when it came to monster attacks or any of Zedd’s other schemes Skull was like a reserve team member. The others would get called in by Zordon immediately, and Skull would only really be present for everything if putties and a monster just-so-happened to attack while he was with the others. More often than not, he’d get called to act as a distraction before a monster grew big or to help form the Mega Tigerzord. This situation would be like taking on the final boss monster with a million HP without any of your party members that know the spells it’d be weak against.
“Obviously, we’re going to help you,” Aisha said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“You will?” Skull replied.
“Heck yeah,” Aisha said. “Right, Adam?”
“Of course,” Adam said. “Besides, if we start something, the other ninja might join in too.”
As Aisha cut him loose, Skull seriously considered hugging them both.
“Okay,” Billy said slowly. His finger was hovering over a big button on the main control panel. “Let’s hope this works…”
He pressed the button and slowly the Command Center hummed back to life. Lights came back on. The air conditioner whirred. Best of all, Zordon’s tube began to swirl. Slowly, Zordon’s face came back into view. The others—except Tommy who was still in the circle of pillows with Rita—rushed over to the main control panel
“We did it, Billy,” Trini cheered.
“Rangers!” Zordon said as if he were coming up from water after drowning.
“Welcome back, Zordon,” Kimberly said.
“It’s good to be back,” Zordon replied. His eyes scanned over the Command Center and widened in shock when he saw Rita and Tommy sitting in their meditation circle. “Oh, dear.”
Jason stepped forward, arms crossed over his broad chest. Billy could feel something off in his stance. The others could too, but they quietly stepped back, as if they were tacitly supporting what Jason was going to say and how he was going to say it.
“Yeah, Zordon,” Jason said, a severe bite to his tone. “We stumbled on your little secret.”
“Rangers,” Zordon frowned. “I know her presence might be surprising but—”
Jason slammed a fist down on the control panel, “Just—just stop. After we save the kids, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do.” He turned to Alpha. “Do you have the coordinates ready?”
Alpha nodded. He looked like he was about to explain what pocket dimension Zedd had taken everyone when the alert sirens started blaring. In the corner the Viewing Globe sparkled and revealed a monster rampaging through downtown Angel Grove. It was a silver bunny rabbit with one old school television screen for a head and a plasma screen for a body. Its antenna shot laser beams at civilians. As soon as the energy hit them the people became sluggish and blank faced.
“Hey, look at the Viewing Globe,” Billy said. “I think that’s the monster that brainwashed me!”
“Power Rangers come out and pla-ay,” the monster called through the viewing globe.
“Okay, so…” Zack said. “When did that monster get the chance to see The Warriors?”
“Zack!” Trini groaned. She grabbed him by the ear and led him to the Viewing globe. “We’ll split up. Me, Zack, and Billy will go after the monster—”
“And we’ll go rescue everyone,” Kimberly finished for her, tapping Jason on the arm. “That way it’ll be three and three.”
Tommy raised his hand. Billy was skeptical of the magic circle and meditation bit, but every few minutes or so Tommy would mutter something immediately useful to their situation. His eyes were still closed, so Billy figured he had to still be in meditation zone.
“I’ll do my best to keep watch from here,” Tommy said without opening his mouth. “Just don’t freak out if you hear me in your head.”
“Like right now?” Zack yelped.
“Sorry…” Tommy sort-of said. “I’m still getting used to this? I think I’m talking to you through the Morphin’ Grid?" Tommy shrugged. "If you need me, call."
"... Right," Jason said. He threw his arm behind his back. "It's Morphin' time!"
Billy and the others got in formation behind him and called out their dinosaur--though it took everything in Billy to keep from pointing out how only the triceratops and tyrannosaurus were actually dinosaurs.
For Billy, morphing was difficult to explain. Usually, there was a jolt of lightning at the start, but otherwise it felt blue. And despite the common colloquialism, blue was not a feeling; it was a color. Once the blue feeling subsided, Billy was wrapped in blue light and exploded outward, fully morphed. Perhaps, he would have to record himself morphing one of these days...
As he leapt out of the crater as the White Ranger, Skull could see the Serpentra Venom growing from a tiny green puddle in one corner and stretching outward. Some of the older kids were pulling the blank faced hostages back because they kept trying to make their way to the venom. Skull put this out of his mind though. if the plan worked, the venom wouldn't matter.
“You won’t get away with this, Zedd,” Skull shouted, channeling his inner Jason.
“Ah,” Zedd said. He picked up his staff and twirled it between his fingers. “Well, look and see who decided to fight back, Goldar.”
Goldar drew his sword, “I’ll push him back into the pit, master.”
Goldar charged forward. He raised his sword over his head and brought it down in a swift swipe over Skull’s head. The sound of their blades meeting echoed through the cave. Skull exhaled, happy that he had been able to draw his sword quickly enough. As he pushed back against Goldar he hoped he would be able to improvise enough to make this look good.
“You should quit while you’re ahead, White Ranger,” Goldar grunted. “Lord Zedd always gets what he wants.”
Skull jerked to the left and rolled away.
“No, he doesn’t?” Skull said, scratching his head. Goldar, who was wincing, tried to signal for Skull to stop talking. “Like, when’s the last time he actually won anything?”
A bolt of lightning darted through the air, missing Skull by half an inch. Skull fell backwards and tried to use his momentum to roll and pop back up, but more lightning bolts kept following him. He rolled until he was mostly sure he was in place against one of the further away cave walls as the plan required. He was just a distraction for Aisha and Adam who were slowly but surely getting the other kids out of the crater.
“How dare you?” Lord Zedd bellowed. He was holding his staff like a shotgun for some reason. “Let me explain to you how I, Lord Zedd, always get what I want.”
Skull pretended to cower against the wall. Getting Zedd to start a supervillain monologue wasn’t exactly the plan, but it was still working since both Goldar and Zedd were focused on him instead of the crater or the cave’s exit. Skull was surprised there were no putties lingering around but decided to see that as some luck.
“My battle with Zordon is one of attrition,” Zedd explained. “You see, while he has you Rangers, I have my army of recyclable putties. I can keep throwing my forces at you forever because you Rangers have to win every fight, but I just have to win once.”
Zedd’s staff glowed as if it were charging up another attack. He fired a beam from his eyes instead, and Skull rolled out of the way. For once, Skull wasn’t happy his helmet had mirrored lenses. He couldn’t check on the others and their escape without tipping off Zedd who was staring him in the eyes. It had to be working well enough since both Zedd and Goldar were paying more attention to him than anything else.
“Just once,” Zedd mused. “Perhaps today will be my lucky day. Perhaps today I’ll succeed where Rita failed.”
And then Zedd pivoted on his heel to face the crater and the children making a break for the cave exit. Goldar facepalmed.
“Or… maybe not?” Skull murmured. Then, “The jig’s up, run!”
Adam and Aisha were pulling up one more kid—the one with the bowl cut—as Goldar charged at them. Skull leapt into the air. For the most part, he wasn’t as good at the acrobatic stuff as the other Rangers, but while morphed he still could jump pretty high even if he didn’t have the coordination to land properly. But Skull was banking on that and figured he’d land at least a couple feet in front of Goldar, which would give his new friends an out to run away.
Instead he landed on top of Goldar.
“Get off of me you buffoon,” Goldar roared.
Goldar pushed Skull off and quickly sprang to his feet. Before Skull could roll out of the way, Goldar stomped on his sternum. The white Ranger chest plat protected Skull from most of the impact, but he was pinned to the ground. He wriggled and tried to push Goldar’s foot away, but he couldn’t make it budge: Goldar was too heavy. Goldar stretched out his hand and his sword reappeared in his hand. Instead of ending the battle with Skull once and for all, Goldar pointed it at Aisha, Adam, and bowl cut kid.
“Get back in the crater,” he said.
“No!” Skull insisted.
Aisha looked over the edge of the crater. She gulped. Skull could only guess that in the time since he had jumped out to distract Zedd and Goldar the venom had risen to a more dangerous level. However, she nodded to Adam who picked up bowl cut kid and led them back down. Skull struggled harder underneath Goldar’s foot. There had to be something he could do.
“Master, shall I summon putties to recapture the others?” Goldar cackled as Aisha descended.
“Never mind that, you fool,” Zedd shouted with a strange amount of glee. “Just push the White Ranger in!”
“Wait, what?” Skull squeaked.
“Rita lost her evil Ranger,” Zedd said. “But with the Serpentra Venom you’ll be loyal to me forever!”
Goldar lifted his foot, and for a second Skull got ready to do something. Roll out of the way. Call Saba back to him. Punch Goldar where his junk might be. Anything. But before he could act, Goldar drew back his foot and punted Skull into the air. He flew over the crater and landed with a splash in the venom.
"Skull!" someone far away screamed.
Bulk was pacing. Or at least, he was trying to. Normally, during monster attacks he and Skull were above ground. Most of his plans usually put them right in the path of whatever weird creatures Lord Zedd would send, and there wouldn’t really be enough time to get to one of the attack shelters before the Rangers finally finished off the monster.
They—pretty much everyone who had been at the Ninja Tournament—were in the shelter under the community center and there wasn’t much space to pace. Despite how closely packed everyone was huddled together in fear, Bulk had to push his way back and forth through the crowd to keep up with his attempt at pacing. He sneered at the other people. He had seen hundreds of monsters up close and personal, and never batted an eye. He, the amazing Bulk, was never afraid of a monster or putties or anything.
The ceiling rumbled and Bulk (and only Bulk) let out a shriek. Once it was calm again, he surreptitiously resumed his pacing. Okay, so he was afraid too. If there was anything Bulk knew for certain, it was that you never let people see you sweat. And if they did somehow see the tiniest bit of perspiration forming on your brow, you needed to deny, deny, deny that it was even there. People took advantage of weakness, and sweat was a sign of weakness leaving the body? Or… well, his metaphor had gotten away from him, but the overall point had not. He needed to maintain the facade of someone who wasn’t afraid right now or else—
“He’s really wearing a hole in the ground, isn’t he?” Rocky sighed after Bulk stepped on his foot for the third time.
“Who knows?” Shawna replied. “Maybe he’ll dig us out of here.”
“Shawna, I don’t think a hole going deeper will get us out of here,” Rocky said.
“That’s not what I—” Shawna started to say. She sighed. Grabbed Bulk before he could step on Rocky’s foot a fourth time. “Hey, You. Sit.”
Bulk shook his head, “I think better when I’m moving.”
That was a lie. He thought better when he had someone to bounce ideas off of. He reluctantly sat down across from Shawna on the ground.
“Whatcha thinking about?” Rocky asked.
“Um…” Bulk said. “The secret identity of the Pink Ranger because when I find her I’m gonna give her a piece of my mind.”
That was also a lie. Kind of.
“Look,” Shawna said. “You’re worried about your friend, we’re worried about ours. Everyone here is worried about somebody. It’s fine.”
“I’m not worried about anything!” Bulk insisted.
Rocky pointed at Bulk’s leg, “Then why’s your foot still bouncing like that?”
Bulk foot was practically tapping out frantic messages in Morse code to the depths below. The message—like his body language that couldn’t lie like his words—probably was screaming out his feelings, “FREAKING OUT STOP NEED TO FIND BEST FRIEND STOP STUCK WITH LOSERS STOP HOPE HES OKAY STOP.”
“It just is,” Bulk said, like a liar.
Shawna wasn’t buying it, “Look, the Power Rangers are gonna save the day. I mean, don’t they do that every day here?”
“Sometimes twice,” Rocky supplied, naive and somehow cheerful.
“But…” Bulk muttered.
Bulk looked around as if he were making sure no one was listening. Because of the crowded bunker, no one had any choice if they were eavesdropping or not, but Shawna figured not understanding how voices carried over space was an Angel Grove thing.
“What if this time they lose?” Bulk whispered, his voice frantic. “What if this is like when the Green Ranger showed up and Skull ends up collateral damage?”
Skull was sinking deep into a pool of liquid evil. He didn’t want to be melodramatic, but he could taste evil on his lips. Evil tasted like lemons, oddly enough. Skull hated lemons. When he hit the bottom of the crater, Skull felt a weird buzz in his head. Instead of thinking about that, however, he kicked his way back to the surface.
Part one of a big update. School just started up again and I figured it might be best to finish this story arc before classes fully swamp me.
Next time: How ba-a-a-a-ad can he be?
Chapter 11: The Ninja Encounter: Finale
And once again the day is saved?
Once they arrived at downtown Angel Grove Billy noticed there was something off about Trini and Zack. When they had teleported from the command center they had been standing in a Zack, Trini, Billy formation. Zack had leaned over as if he were going to whisper something in her ear and Trini immediately placed herself to Billy’s right as she drew her power daggers.
“So,” Trini asked. “how do we take the TV monster out?”
“Would it be dumb to say dinner and a movie?” Zack asked. “Wait. Sorry.”
And Trini paused. Billy wasn’t used to Trini pausing. Of their friend group Trini was probably the most self-assured. Unless they were up somewhere high, Trini never faltered. But here she did, and in the space between her pause and Billy picking it up there was an explosion ahead of them. Billy leapt out of the way and through his peripheral vision (what little he had in the helmet) he saw Zack hesitate as if he were going to push Trini out of the way. Zack didn’t get the chance and was instead pushed forward by the force of the explosion. In the chaos Billy lost track of Trini while trying his best to shield his head from rubble at his back.
“Watch out, Rangers!” cackled a voice from about one hundred feet ahead.
Billy looked up and there was the TV monster. It was dancing in circles around a stop sign while continuing to fire laser beams in the air from its antennae.
“Was that supposed to be a pun?” Trini coughed. She hadn’t been knocked down by the explosion, but instead had been slammed into a nearby wall.
“Apparently,” Billy replied, getting to his feet. “Surrender now, TV-head or—”
“My name is Terror Tube,” the TV monster shouted.
“Oh,” said Billy. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t apologize to the monster destroying the city, Billy!” Zack groaned.
He and Billy drew their weapons, ready to finally break Terror Tube’s mind control the old-fashioned way: through imitable violence that perhaps some irresponsible hot shot in Hollywood would, ironically, air on TV for children if they could. Zack sprinted forward and swung his power axe in a wide arc. Terror Tube tried to use its lasers to force him back, but Billy was right there with his power lance to deflect the laser blasts back at Terror Tube. And the thing was, their strategy was so straightforward, that Billy figured Terror Tube would figure out what they were trying to do immediately, but as it kept leaping backwards and shooting more laser beams, Billy realized the TV monster was just as stupid as all the others.
“Since you can’t beat ‘em, Rangers” Terror Tube cackled. “You might as well join ‘em!”
Terror Tube stopped its flight. The screen on its stomach began to flicker to life. The static was slowly replaced by a hypnotic swirl. Billy covered his eyes, not wanting to end up under the monster’s spell again, but Zack did not. Billy heard the power axe clatter to the ground.
“Trini, do it now before Zack succumbs to the mind control!” Billy shouted over their comm.
He peaked through his fingers for a moment to see Trini was already in position behind Terror Tube. With her power daggers at the ready she tapped the monster on what Billy assumed was supposed to be its shoulder. As soon as it turned around, Trini slashed her daggers. She used the momentum of her attack to propel her body into a backflipping kick. She landed between Billy and Zack.
“It’s time we finish this,” she said, taking Billy by the hand. Trini was about to reach for Zack as well, but Billy saw her hesitate from his hand. That moment of hesitation was good enough, however, because a bolt of red lightning came down from the sky. In an instant, Terror Tube grew to tremendous height.
“Uh, Tommy…” Zack said. “I think we need the Zords.”
Before Kimberly and Jason left the Command Center, Alpha had brought up one of Billy's old inventions. it was the teleporter he had made to get them into the pocket dimension where Lord Zedd was draining Tommy's powers. For the most part they were the Rangers' ace in the hole any time Zedd did something somewhere Zordon couldn't teleport them. Back then, Billy had used his complicated math and figured they needed all the Rangers to hold onto the four points of the teleporter to stabilize it, but this time, with Tommy's help they were able to configure it to send them to this new desert dimension without any extra people holding on.
Zordon had teleported the three of them to a secluded part of the park so they could quickly assemble it for their rescue mission, and Tommy was taking the lead on getting the device together. Kimberly was happy to see Tommy so unabashedly confident about something that wasn't martial arts for once, but she still thought it was a little weird.
Tommy had only been in the Morphin' Grid for about ten minutes, but he seemed different. He knew things--like how to operate Billy's equipment and how to apparently telepathically communicate with the others. But then again, the knowledge might have been an extension of something that had been happening for a while. Tommy did suddenly learn how to operate a lot of Alpha's stuff back when Skull had become White Ranger. Perhaps, Kimberly thought, this only felt so strange because every so often Tommy would get a blank look in his eyes and then snap back to attention with an update on how Billy, Zack, and Trini were doing. tommy pressed a sequence of buttons on the keypad and a small blue portal opened between the teleporter antennae.
"Okay, so we go in and get everyone out," Jason said. He turned to Tommy, "How's White Ranger doing?"
"He's..." Tommy said, getting that faraway look again. He snapped back, "gonna fall in the Serpentra venom!"
"Then, let's go!" Kimberly said.
Jason jumped into the portal. Kimberly turned to follow, but briefly looked back to her boyfriend. He smiled at her. His mouth moved as though he were talking to someone in the Morphin’ Grid, but his posture and stance was less relaxed. His fists were clenched. His jaw tight. Then just as he had switched into this other persona, he was back and smiling at Kimberly. Though he couldn’t see it, she smiled back. But then his eyes became far away again. Kimberly assured herself that she didn't need to worry about Tommy and instead followed Jason into the portal.
If there was anything Kimberly wasn't expecting when she and Jason teleported into Lord Zedd's weird pocket dimension, it was definitely nearly being trampled by a group of kids and young adults. Some of the younger ones looked like they were still brainwashed, so Kimberly knew the others hadn’t defeated the TV monster yet.
"Just follow that portal and you'll be back in Angel Grove," Jason shouted. Then over their comms, “Go, Kim!”
The cool thing about being a superhero for Kimberly was how effortless using her powers were. If she wanted to be strong, she was. If she wanted to shoot an arrow with perfect accuracy, then she could. Or like in this moment, if she wanted to be fast, then she was.
And being fast was time being someone else’s problem. It was the world looking and feeling like a diorama. It was “wanting to be” and “being” existing as the same thing. So, for example, Kimberly’s eyes found the cave entrance and she was there. She peered inside to see the diabolical tableau: Zedd with his staff raised and summoning teleportation lightning, Goldar’s leg swinging after finishing a kick’s arc, and a splash rising into the air. Kimberly wanted to be at the crater’s edge, and she was. And then, time snapped back to normal. Though it was at the edges of her awareness, Kim could still see Zedd’s lightning striking which swallowed both Zedd and Goldar up in its brilliance.
“Skull!” she shouted just as the tip of his foot sank into the venom. And then she looked down and saw the three civilians—one was a kid with a bowl cut that was kind of wet and the other two were teenagers. “Uh… monster. That evil Skull Monster…”
“Wow,” said the girl. Then, muttering under her breath, “You guys are realty bad at this.”
“Hey, uh, Pink Ranger,” the boy said, trying to drown out his friend. “Can you help us out of here? We’ve got a kid? I think he’s fainted.”
The wet kid had indeed fainted. He didn’t seem to have gotten any of the venom in his mouth. It was only his back that was really wet. The other two were too, but the splash hadn’t done much other than soak their pants. Kim reached down and was strong. With each hand she took the hands of the civilians—one from the boy and one from the girl—and pulled them up.
“Okay, so there’s a portal back to Angel Grove—” Kimberly started to say.
“But how are we going to get,” the girl said before mouthing Skull’s name. “the White Ranger out of there?”
Kimberly winced. Well, at least she hadn’t revealed her identity. On the other hand, she appreciated how these strangers were so concerned for Skull—it must have been because he had been the only thing that saved all those other people from the Serpentra venom. And in that regard, Kimberly felt kind of guilty. She hadn’t really considered Skull a real Ranger and now he was going to—
“Wait,” Kimberly said. “You need to get out of here. The Serpentra venom turns people—”
“Evil,” the girl said. “Lord Zedd kind of explained.”
The venom began to bubble. And then Kimberly heard a splash. A hand shot up over the crater’s edge and gripped it. Kimberly got between the civilians and the crater and braced herself for the worst. She drew her power bow.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” the girl shouted. “What are you doing?”
“You need to run and tell the Red Ranger I was too late,” Kimberly replied. “The White Ranger is evil and—”
“Uh… I don’t feel very evil,” Skull called. He peeked his head over the edge of the crater. “Unless feeling wet and confused is what feeling evil is like…”
“How do I know you aren’t lying?” Kim demanded. “I saw you fall in the venom.”
“I… don’t know?” Skull said. “I didn’t swallow any? So maybe it didn’t work?”
"But you got it in your mouth!" she shouted. An energy arrow materialized between her fingers and the bow.
"B-but," Skull said, trying and failing to think clearly. "I'm not evil. I promise! Please."
Kimberly’s finger twitched. She didn’t trust this. And she didn’t have a superpower for something like figuring out if someone was evil. Last time she was in this situation with Tommy, it had been her intuition. So, Kimberly decided to take a gamble. Evil didn’t create competence in Tommy, that was always there. The mind control just pushed that fervor and intensity to the forefront, whereas good Tommy kept that side of himself buried. If Skull was lying and he was actually evil, perhaps he’d just go back to being an annoying jerk sycophant. The energy arrow vanished. She lowered the power bow.
“Okay…” the boy said slowly. “Now that we’re done being crazy, what do we do now?”
Kimberly pointed to the cave entrance, “You three need to get back to Angel Grove and we—”
In her peripheral vision Kimberly saw Tommy standing in a blank space with multicolored intersecting grid lines. He waved at her frantically.
“Uh… what?” Kim exhaled.
“You and Skull need to get back to the city, the others need to form the Megazord,” Tommy said.
“Uh… what?” Kimberly said, still confused by sight of the apparent Morphin’ Grid before her.
Tommy began typing on the air in front of him, “Here, I’m sending you there now.”
“Wait, what?” Kimberly squeaked as she was reduced to pink light
“See you later, guys!” Skull called as he became white light.
Billy, Trini, and Zack were waiting on a warehouse roof behind the rampaging TV monster. Despite having access to mind control powers and a much larger screen thanks to having been grown, Terror Tube was only smashing buildings. They say there watching instead of fighting for two reasons. First, it was too big for their three Zords to be able to fight on their own. Second, after growing Terror Tube had ended up in the abandoned warehouse district. It didn’t seem to notice.
Billy wondered if he had the time to run the numbers on how often monsters ended up in the abandoned warehouse district. He would have just done it if he weren’t still keeping an eye out for Zack and Trini. Both seemed to be lost in thought, which at a time like this was a bad state in which to exist. Then, in the air Billy saw three colored lights speeding their way. The lights landed on the roof and materialized into the other Rangers.
“How much time do we have until it realizes it’s in the abandoned warehouse district?” Jason immediately asked.
“Probably a couple minutes,” Billy replied.
Jason nodded, and the team got into formation
“We Need Thunderzord Power now!” the Rangers said in unison as they reached their arms up to the sky.
Summoning Zords always felt weird to Billy. The Rangers had Alpha (and now Tommy, too) in the command center to press the button to send the Zords their way, but for some reason the summoning sequence always required what he liked to jokingly call their supplication dance as if the Zords were living beings that needed to be asked to help save the day. Regardless of how he felt about the calling and dance, the Zords appeared and began their combining sequence.
“You should form the Mega Tigerzord,” Tommy said—this time over the comms. “I think if you hit it with a thunderbolt, it could short out its broadcast.”
“White Ranger, are you ready?” Jason asked.
Kimberly looked apprehensive for a moment, but Skull and the White Tiger immediately got in position to combine. Once the Mega Tigerzord was formed, Skull’s cockpit chair rose from the floor. He had his hands wrapped around Saba like a joystick. And with that, the team sprang into action.
Wasting no time, they drew the Mega Tigerzord’s sword—Skull needed to charge up the thunderbolt and a sword strike would give them the chance to fight while he did it. This got Terror Tube’s attention. It said something pithy, but Billy wasn’t paying attention. All he cared about was dodging the laser beams it shot at them. Besides, snappy comebacks weren’t his job.
“Terror Tube, you’re being cancelled,” Jason said as the Mega Tigerzord slashed at one of Terror Tube’s arms.
Like that. Snappy comebacks like that were Jason’s thing. Terror Tube responded in kind by jabbing its good arm into the Mega Tigerzord’s sternum. Sirens and alarms blared. The overhead lights switched to red. Billy could see on a readout that Terror Tube hadn’t breached the Mega Tigerzord but had punched it hard enough to dent the central weapons engine which was drawing a lot of power for the thunderbolt.
“Oh, haven’t you heard?” Terror Tube cackled. “I’m being renewed on NBC!”
The Mega Tigerzord collapsed to the ground. Despite the impact, Skull was giggling to himself.
“Skull!” Jason said, frantic.
“Sorry,” he replied. “That was a really funny. Right?”
“A little bit,” Zack said
“Not at all,” Trini said, glaring at them both.
Through the viewport Billy could see Terror Tube raising its foot to step on them. Since the engines were focusing so much energy on generating the thunder and had been slightly damaged, the Megazord couldn’t get up. Terror Tube stomped and stomped and stomped. The viewport began to crack and splinter. Terror Tube reached up and pointed one of its antennae at the Mega Tigerzord’s face, charging an attack of its own. A shrill beeping erupted from Saba.
“I think I’m ready,” Skull shouted. “But how do I aim?”
“Point and shoot!” Trini exclaimed. “Like a camera!”
And Skull twisted Saba, slamming an open palm down on bottom of the tiger headed hilt. The Mega Tigerzord rumbled and groaned. Overheard lights and sirens flickered and died. A beam of light and an echoing crack exploded outward from the Mega Tigerzord’s chest jewel and into Terror Tube’s stomach screen.
“But then again, NBC doesn’t always treat its shows well,” Terror Tube murmured.
The monster exploded, and once again, the day was saved.
Skull un-straightened his beret. He needed to make this look good if he was going to convince anyone that he had just escaped from Zedd thanks to the Power Rangers. For good measure he dropped his jacket in the dirt and rolled it around a bit before running into the community center.
“Hey, Bulkie, I’m back!” he called.
Several community center regulars groaned. Bulk was over at the smoothie counter, apparently interrogating Adam while Aisha and her friends tried to calm him down. As soon as Bulk saw Skull, the angry finger jabbing itself into Adam swiveled to point at him.
“Where have you been?” Bulk demanded.
“The Power Rangers had to save me,” Skull said, looking to Aisha for confirmation.
“See,” she said. “I told you we didn’t leave him! We just got separated.”
Bulk closed his hand in a “stop talking gesture” and led Skull away by the ear. Once they were out of sight and earshot of pretty much everyone, Bulk hugged him. And Skull wasn’t expecting that. Bulk was a very tactile person. They touched a lot whether it was through noogies, shoves, pokes, or ear pulling; but rarely did they ever hug. It felt nice. It felt different. It felt—
“So, the Power Rangers saved you?” Bulk said, pulling away. “What happened?”
“Uhhh,” Skull replied, still in a post-hug haze. “Well…”
Skull decided to tell him an edited version of the truth. He explained that the when White Ranger had gone to fight Goldar and Zedd, he had ended up getting pushed in a crater full of magic evil venom and he had been saved by him at the last second. And then he had taken him to rest while he went out to go fight the monster, but when everything was said and done had retrieved him and dropped him off here at the community center.
“That,” Bulk said. “was a confusing array of pronouns.”
“Never mind,” Bulk said. “Are you okay?”
Skull squeezed his hands together and then released them. Then, he did it again. It had been a long day. Fighting putties, fighting Goldar, accidentally revealing his secret identity, being pushed into a crater of liquid evil. Somehow hadn’t been placed under the Serpentra venom’s spell, but Skull remembered the taste of evil on his lips. Did I imagine that?
“I’m great,” he said. “Hey, you wann—” Before he could finish his sentence he saw Billy waving for him. Billy was pointing at his communicator. The others were there too, and they had brought Adam and Aisha into their circle. “Do you mind if I head out?”
Bulk started, “You want me to walk you home?”
“Nah, I’ve got it,” Skull replied, surreptitiously looking over at Billy who was still waving.
Bulk looked over his shoulder and saw Billy waving. “Oh. Yeah. You go ahead.”
“See ya later, Bulkie,” Skull said.
He considered going in for another hug, but Skull figured if he wasn’t going to turn evil he might as well go face the music for one of his mistakes today and get it over with.
“Okay, so now what?” Jason asked, his arms crossed over his chest again.
Back in the Command Center everyone stared expectantly at Zordon. The Rangers were waiting for answers. Rita couldn’t wait to hear how Zordon would justify himself. The two new teenagers, Adam and Aisha, were marveling at the sight. And it made Zordon feel awkward. At least this question would give him the chance to avoid answering the other questions—why is Rita here? Why didn’t you explain Tommy’s new powers?—for another moment.
Jason was indicating Adam and Aisha. He wanted to know what to do about them learning Skull’s identity. Zordon wasn’t sure how to tell Jason that when Trini and Zack left for the Peace Conference scholarship in a month, Adam and Aisha would replace them as the Black and Yellow Rangers respectively. If that even happened. Lately Zordon’s ability to rely on the future as he was clearly experiencing it because of Rita’s Time Warp curse was fading. Unsurprisingly, this was not how he remembered today going. In his memory, there was no Serpentra Venom, there was no TV monster, and it was Billy who had accidentally revealed their identities. Maybe Zack and Trini wouldn’t leave. Maybe Adam and Aisha—like their friend Rocky—wouldn’t become Rangers after all? Zordon gazed at Skull. Skull had been the inception of all these changes to the time stream, so perhaps he needed to double his efforts to investigate that.
“Now,” Zordon said finally. “I ask that you, Aisha Campbell and Adam Park, take a vow of secrecy.”
“Wait, so I’m not in trouble?” Skull asked.
“What?” Jason said, flat.
“They helped Skull evacuate many of the children,” Zordon explained. “Without them, he might not have been able to keep any of them from turning evil.”
“And speaking of that, how is he not evil?” Kimberly asked.
Zordon could answer this one easily, “Because the White Ranger powers were originally made for Tommy, Alpha and I decided to make him immune to all forms of mind control.”
“Ohhhh,” Skull said
“Should I be offended?” Tommy asked Kimberly.
“Not his fault it’s true, Tommy,” Rita sneered.
“Seriously,” Zack interjected. “Why is she here?”
“One thing at a time!” Zordon said more sharply than he intended. “Aisha, Adam will you take this vow of secrecy?”
“Yes,” Adam said.
“I try not to make promises to giant heads in tubes,” said Aisha, arch. Adam elbowed her, “but sure”
“Repeat after me,” Zordon said. “I swear upon the forces of goodness to maintain the secret of true identities of the power Rangers.”
Adam and Aisha awkwardly raised their right hands. Perhaps it was an earthling thing, Zordon decided. They repeated his words and after thanking them once more, Zordon had Billy send them back to Angel Grove. Now he had to get to answering questions.
“I’ll begin with Rita,” Zordon said. “In exchange for details about Lord Zedd’s plans with earth, I decided to allow her to stay here.”
“C’mon, Zordon,” Rita said. “You know that’s not all.”
“I wasn’t finished,” he snapped. Paused. And then, “In exchange for also defecting to the side of good, Rita and I will be getting married.”
Kimberly fainted. Zordon wondered why Kimberly was the one who tended to swoon and faint of the Rangers. The other Rangers had reacted with pretty subdued levels of confusion—except Skull who had heard the word wedding and began bouncing up and down with glee until Tommy had stopped him. The reaction Zordon especially wasn’t looking forward to, was Jason’s.
“Okay,” Jason said, flat. “That makes perfect sense.”
Zordon started. That was not—Jason was supposed to get angry. He was supposed to accuse Zordon of keeping secrets to the detriment of the team like the existence of Dark Specter (Wait, Zordon wondered. How did Jason find out about Dark Specter?). He was supposed to snap about how getting in bed with the enemy wasn’t the way to go. Instead, Jason simply nodded and led the other Rangers out of the Command Center. Only Tommy stayed behind.
“Now that everyone’s gone, can you explain the Morphin’ Grid thing to me?” he asked.
“Oh,” Zordon replied, relieved to have an easy question before him. “I thought you already knew—”
“You thought I already knew?”
Zordon imagined that he was cocking his head to the side, “You’ve suddenly become more aware and able to use the Command Center technology, the Zords, and even some of Billy’s inventions. I assumed you had understood, at the least, that you had regained some modicum of Ranger powers.”
“Knowing stuff is Ranger powers?” Tommy said, exhaling as if he had been holding onto his breath after rising from a deep-sea dive.
And Zordon paused for a moment. Unlike his original five rangers, Tommy—and Skull, to a very obvious extent—never received training in their powers. Back when it was just five, all Zordon had to do was tell them the basic limits of their powers and set them loose. But having Rangers added to their mix that he hadn’t trained threw things off.
It was obvious in retrospect that Rita wouldn’t have trained Tommy, so of course his use of the power was more instinctual than anything else. He had only assumed since Tommy came to their fold with at least some understanding that necessitated no training. Unlike Skull because conversely Zordon could admit to himself, privately, that he hadn’t bothered filling Skull’s gaps in knowledge, leaving the duty to the others, because he didn’t see (remember) Skull lasting as White Ranger very long.
At the moment, his memory told him that Skull would leave the team after the team retrieved the Sword of Light for Jason, Trini, and Zack. Perhaps, Zordon thought, I should rectify that regardless before the month ends.
“When you jumped in the way of the exploding prism,” Zordon said after his minute pause had ended. “some of the white energy went to you instead of Skull.”
“Which is why he could barely figure out how to use his Ranger abilities,” Tommy nodded. “Because I have some of his powers.”
“Exactly,” Zordon said.
Tommy rubbed his chin, “Does that mean the others could go into the Morphin’ Grid too?”
That was definitely a segue.
“Hmm. If they combined their powers, perhaps,” Zordon said. “The Morphin’ Grid is pure light, and the white energy can more easily pass back and forth because it is all the colors combined.”
“Okay,” Tommy said.
After he waved good-bye to Alpha and turned to leave, Tommy flickered. It was a brief flicker from his human form to one where he was a silhouette made of grid lines shaped like the Green Ranger—the shield, the grieves, the spiked epaulettes. Or perhaps the White Ranger? Zordon would have been certain he had imagined it if Rita and Alpha hadn’t reacted by doing double takes.
“Oh no,” Alpha said once Tommy was gone.
“So, are you gonna tell him, or am I?” Rita asked
“We’re going to fix it before it becomes a problem,” Zordon replied.
Outside, the others were piling back into cars. Zack and Trini had gotten back into his car whispering something about catching a late show. Jason shuffled over to his truck which had a new bumper sticker on it—a Promethea bumper sticker. Skull ended up following Kimberly to her car to wait for Tommy. She leaned against the driver door, pensive.
“Uh…” Skull said. He paused. “Quarter for your thoughts?”
“I think you mean penny,” Kim replied.
“No,” Skull said, reaching into his pocket. “all I’ve got on me is a quarter.”
And Kimberly laughed. It was kind of surreal to hear her laugh at something he said, but not in a “Skull you’re such an idiot” way.
“It’s just…” Kimberly started to say as Tommy walked up to the front passenger seat door. “A lot happened today. Like this felt like a major event.”
“I dunno, Kim,” said Skull. “I mean, yeah, Zordon is marrying Rita, but we saved the day again and nothing too bad happened. Maybe we can chalk this up as yet another win?”
"You gonna be alright, bowl cut kid?" one of the teenagers asked.
"That's not my name," bowl cut kid—his name was actually Justin Stewart—murmured. Then, clearly enough for the teenager to hear, "My dad'll pick me up."
This was a lie.
Justin Stewart had long since decided to just walk home. It might not have been the best idea since he had been kidnapped by evil space aliens and their clay golem-things only a few hours ago, but he had no other option. His dad worked intense hours, so there was no one to take him home. Perhaps if Justin had friends, he could have caught a ride back from the community center with one of them. Perhaps if he felt confident accepting this stranger's offer, he could at least have a trained martial artist escort him to a bus or something. But he didn’t, and thus began his usual walk home.
He picked at the band-aid on his elbow. He had gotten a pretty bad cut the day before after some older kids decided to push him down on the playground. The band-aid—like his clothes--was kind of damp and had been tinted a sickly green that matched the weird venom. Lord Zedd had said something about drinking the venom turning you evil. Justin didn’t feel very evil, but that was probably because getting splashed by venom didn’t count. He pulled the band-aid off to reveal a half-healed cut. It wasn’t bleeding, but there was still some pus coming out. Maybe he could get a fresh band-aid from Ernie?
However, before he could find Ernie Justin spotted something at the juice bar counter. Richie—the new cashier—had set down an amazing looking banana shake. Even though he was new everyone knew Richie made the best shakes since he tended to go overboard on the fresh fruit, much to Ernie’s chagrin. Richie turned away to find the order ticket and Justin found himself walking to the counter. A small voice in his head that sounded somewhat like his own began to whisper.
“Being evil means you can do whatever you want, whenever you want and take it however you want,” it said as Justin’s hand snatched the shake glass.
“But taking the shake isn’t really all that evil, is it?” thought Justin. “It’s wrong, but not all that evil.”
The small voice in his head considered this. And then Justin hurled the shake glass at Richie’s head. Richie went down, and the sound of shattering glass echoed through the empty community center.
“Was that evil enough for you?” the voice cackled.
And this ends the NinJa Encounter. Kinda.
Next up: the (retrospective) epilogue.
What Happened at Promethea?
Chapter 12: The Ninja Encounter Epilogue: What Happened at Promethea
Before the Ninja Encounter, Jason told a lie. A tiny lie that wouldn't change anything. Probably.
If it was not already obvious, Jason had said his family left their camping trip early and this was a lie.
The truth was this: Jason had scheduled a tour with Promethea. After career day, Jason couldn’t get rid of the recruitment packet. He had tossed it in his bag after the speaker—Jason never really got his name—gave it to him instead of trashing it to be polite, but never could find it in himself to throw it away when specter of manners was no longer looming over his head.
The Promethea pamphlet was like his own personal tell-tale heart (“Yes, Mr. Scott, the story is about guilt,” Mrs. Applebee had said in class a couple months ago. “But it is also about how madness can be tied to tangible objects.”). Any time he looked at his bag he could practically hear the speaker beckoning him to call the number. And Jason resisted. God, he resisted.
But then again, ever since Skull joined the team Jason was looking for a way out. It wasn’t that Jason hated Skull or anything—because he didn’t—it was just that Skull joining the team created a crack in how Jason saw Zordon. When they had first met Zordon, he had implied the five of them were chosen specifically to be Rangers because their inherent qualities made them worthy. It seemed like there was a plan. And when Tommy showed up as Green Ranger, Jason felt like that was an extension of the original plan because Tommy fit so well with the group dynamic.
And, okay, Jason could admit to himself he was still feeling angry that Tommy wasn’t a Ranger anymore. Jason knew it was his fault Tommy had lost the Green Ranger powers for good, but Zordon had the opportunity to restore Tommy times ten and didn’t. And that was suspicious. Or at the least cause for concern.
So, with all those feelings swimming and building in his head, Jason called the number on the pamphlet and scheduled a tour for a Friday evening. That way he wouldn’t have to worry about the karate class or an attack from Zedd—for some reason Zedd rarely attacked Friday evenings—and he could spend the night having fun in the city or something.
“Earth to Jason,” said Zack the Wednesday before the tour.
“See?” Zack said to a freshman passing them by. “He never listens while I talk.”
“I listen to you, Zack,” Jason replied. He leaned against his locker.
“So, what did I just ask you about?” Zack asked, grinning.
He and the freshman looked on expectantly, so Jason didn’t bother pretending. With Zack it was always better to take the L with grace than to dig yourself deeper in a hole of pretension and falsehood, otherwise he’d never let you live it down. Zack high fived the freshman and sent the kid—Jason vaguely remembered him from one of Trini’s clean up the park events—off.
“I said,” Zack laughed before lowering his voice. “I’m going to ask her out. Do you think it’s a good idea?”
Oh, this. Jason had never seen Zack so off his game before. Normally, when it came to asking people out Zack was so smooth he was practically gliding through the world frictionless, but there was something different about this girl. Most notably, Jason had no idea who she was. Zack refused to say which either meant it was Angela (“What? No!” Zack had protested. “She’s still mad about the magic act.”) or someone he thought Jason wouldn’t like. He sighed.
“What kind of date?”
“A movie this Saturday,” Zack said immediately. “That way it’s chill and informal and maybe we can get ice-cream afte—”
“Whoa,” Jason said. “Breathe. How about you just ask her out and play it by ear?”
Zack nodded. He started to amble off, but immediately turned back around and grabbed Jason by the shoulders, “But what if she’s too shy to be on a date with me alone? I have a reputation!”
“For being charming and an all-around cool dude?” Jason said without missing a beat.
“What if…” Zack said, apparently not hearing Jason at all. “What if I told her it was an informal thing? Like we all go to the movie together; you, me, her, and—”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Jason interrupted. “Uh… I can’t go, not that I should.”
“Why not?” Zack asked.
“Why can’t I go, or why shouldn’t I go?” Jason replied.
Zack thought about it for a moment. “Can’t. You shouldn’t because that would be me just using you to avoid taking a risk, right?”
“Exactly,” Jason nodded.
There was a beat.
“So, why can’t you go?” Zack said.
Lying was not one of Jason Lee Scott’s talents. While in his day-to-day life he usually had a pretty good poker face, it fell away once he tried to tell a lie of any kind. However, in this moment it was as if the forces of infinite causality blessed him with perfect luck because just as he was about to open his mouth he saw Bulk (with Skull in tow, obviously) taking down a Junior Forest Rangers recruitment poster to replace it with something Bulk had drawn up asking for tips about Power Ranger sightings.
“My dad’s taking us camping this Friday and we won’t be back until Sunday,” Jason said loudly. “And you know how my dad is about camping.”
Jason’s dad loved camping like Jason loved karate. One time when they were eight, his dad had taken them on a weeklong camping trip where he expected young Jason and Zack to be on his level of rugged survivalist. They weren’t, and most of the trip was the two of them trying and failing to purify water. Zack had vowed to never go camping again, but Jason didn’t have that luxury and generally went camping with his dad two or three times a year. And for this reason, it was the perfect lie.
Zack shuddered, “I wish you all the luck, man.”
As Zack ambled off to join Trini, Jason tried to decide why he had lied. The other Rangers didn’t really care when cable news pundits praised Promethea for cleaning up their messes like Jason did. Billy and Trini had even mentioned admiring their tech that rivaled NASADA. However, he felt guilty for how much he disliked them prior to his research. Promethea seemed like another group that just wanted to do good in this weird world, so it didn’t really matter if other people praised them by criticizing the Power Rangers. He knew his friends wouldn’t mind him visiting Promethea, but this felt like something that needed to be a secret. This felt like something he couldn’t tell them, not yet.
And so that Friday after school, Jason got in his truck and made his way to the interstate.
Jason pulled his truck into a ferry parking lot. Promethea was located on an artificial island archipelago fifteen miles off the San Francisco bay. According to their website, the corporation had received a massive government subsidy in order to build their floating headquarters in exchange for providing the entire west coast with updated technology for their public schools. The deal had yet to reach Angel Grove, but bigger cities like San Francisco and the capital were already benefiting from the new computers, smart boards, free Wi-Fi, and tablets for all the students. Theoretically, once he reached the island he’d be seeing all those advancements up close and personal.
The trip itself was pretty swift. Most of the other people on the ferry were people in similar white and black uniforms. Since some of them looked to be about his age, Jason thought they had to be students. But there were also people who looked to be in their late twenties and early thirties in the uniforms as well. The pamphlet had mentioned the main island serving as an elaborate university high school. the O’Halloran Academy worked with the students from ninth to twelfth grade while the Gilmore Center was an accredited university with several BA, masters, and PhD programs. But Jason didn’t remember anything about uniforms. Before he could decide if he wanted to ask around or not, the ferry pulled up to the main island and everyone filed off.
Jason checked his notes. He was supposed to meet with a guide—probably another recruiter—at the center fountain in front of the O’Halloran Academy. Jason had memorized the map, and coolly made his way through the crowd. A bell rang out and most of the crowd rushed into various buildings, leaving Jason alone in front of the fountain. He waited for a while and looked at his watch. It was 5:17.
“They said I should be here at five o’clock…” Jason murmured. “So, are they late, or am I?”
“Actually, it would seem that I am,” said a voice behind Jason.
He flinched. Jumped. And immediately got into a fighting stance. Ever since he had become a Power Ranger, the only things that could get behind him without his notice were monsters sent by Rita or Zedd. This, however, was no monster. Standing with a loose and relaxed posture was a woman with a clip board. She had a smart suit on that matched the uniforms everyone else was wearing, except hers was silver with red accents. The woman tucked a strand of her graying hair behind an ear.
“Jason Scott, I presume?” she said with a wry laugh.
“Uh… yeah. That’s me,” he replied, noticing that he still was in his fighting stance. Jason immediately dropped it and offered the woman his hand. “Sorry about that, uh… I—”
“Your file says you’re a second-degree black belt,” the woman said without missing a beat. Instead of taking his hand, she looked down at her clip board. “And you’re from Angel Grove, so it’s fine. I apologize for surprising you.”
Jason laughed nervously, “Well, it’s nice to meet you…?”
The woman finally took his hand and shook it, “Grace. Your original guide got called off on a different work-study assignment, so I stepped in. I hope that’s alright?”
“Yeah,” Jason said.
He felt something odd about Grace. Something nonspecific, but familiar. It was in how she carried herself. She didn’t seem like a tour guide of any kind. There was a strength in her nonchalance and calm in her ease with which she responded to Jason immediately going into a fighting stance.
“Well, what did you want to see?” she asked, laying her clip board parallel to the ground. A hologram map of the floated over it.
“I guess I wanted to see what it is you guys do here?” Jason said slowly.
Grace swiped her finger along the clip board, which apparently must have also been a tablet, and the map zoomed in on a building to the east.
“So, something like R&D?” she asked before swiping her finger again. “Or perhaps the Applied Tech Department?”
“What’s the difference?”
Grace shrugged, “Applied Tech is for things that have been tested and should be rolling out within the next year or so, but R&D is the experimental stuff.” She paused, raising an eyebrow. “Usually, we don’t allow students in there.”
“Oh,” Jason said.
“But,” Grace continued. “I have a feeling that if you want to see what we do around here that’s probably the best place to start.”
“You just said they don’t let students in there,” he said.
“Are you registered for any classes here?” Grace asked. Jason shook his head. “Neither am I, so we should be fine.”
Grace immediately started walking off in the direction of the R&D building. With nothing better to do, Jason followed. As they walked Grace pointed out important sights along the way. Buildings and dormitories and recreation areas. Jason marveled out how natural everything looked on the island, despite knowing that all of it was wholly constructed by Promethea. He was going to ask Grace how they had managed to make AstroTurf that felt like Kentucky bluegrass, when they reached a domed building that matched the hologram floating above Grace’s clip board. Upon closer inspection, it looked similar to the Command Center.
Grace led him to the front door and placed a badge on a card reader embedded in the wall. The door opened with three beeps to reveal a wide-open room with a security checkpoint in the center acting as a barrier between the entrance and a single elevator on the other side.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Sterling,” said a security guard whose nametag read STONE. He looked over her shoulder at Jason. “This kid with you?”
“Of course, Jerome,” Grace said. “We’re heading down to basement level E.”
“Yes ma’am,” Jerome Stone said with a quick nod. He typed something on his keyboard and waved them off.
Grace thanked him and hailed the elevator. While they waited, Jason wracked his brain. The name Grace Sterling sounded familiar. Jason had spent most of Thursday night trying to memorize everything he could about Promethea, and most of it hadn’t stuck. The only things that had were what he had read a hundred times on the pamphlet. Like when the islands had been built and who founded the company—
“Wait,” Jason said as they got in the elevator. “You’re Grace Sterling.”
“Yes?” Grace said. A wry smile was growing on her face. “Who else would I be?”
“A regular tour guide,” Jason stammered as the elevator door closed. “Why would the president of a major corporation give a tour to a random prospective student?”
Grace shrugged, leaning against the wall, “Mr. Tensou mentioned you showed some promise when he stopped by your school, and I had to see for myself.” She paused. “I hope you aren’t feeling deceived.”
“Not… exactly?” Jason said. “Just confused.”
The elevator stopped.
“Well, hopefully we can remedy that down here,” Grace said.
The doors opened. Basement level E was a laboratory pulled straight from every futuristic mad science lab. There were people in pristine lab coats monitoring strange substances. There were unidentifiable machines whirring and buzzing. There were sparks of light and electricity flashing through the air. Grace explained what most of the things were in words Jason felt someone like Billy would understand better. He nodded politely and tried to ask intelligent questions where he could, but those yielded answers he still needed a thesaurus to parse. Finally, they came to a control panel and a translucent screen.
“This one is one of my pet projects,” Grace said.
She pressed a button on the control panel and walked behind the screen. At first Jason couldn’t tell what it was supposed to do until slowly Grace’s body was transformed into several crisscrossing red lines.
“So, what’s this supposed to be?” Jason asked.
“Well, according to our research there seems to be a bio-electric field that sustains most forms of life in the universe,” Grace said as she stepped away from the screen. “Theoretically, if we were able to tap into that bio-field we could make unlimited clean energy, empower regular people, and perhaps—”
“Empower regular people?” Jason interrupted.
Grace pressed another button on the control panel and a video of the Power Rangers fighting the Pudgy Pig was projected on the screen. Slowly the Rangers’ forms became crisscrossing lines of various colors.
“We have reason to believe the Power Rangers get their amazing abilities by tapping into this bio-field and that if—”
“So, you’re trying to replace the power Rangers?” Jason demanded, not bothering to soften his tone.
Grace shook her head, “You misunderstand me. I want to make more.” Grace sat down on the control panel. “Rita Repulsa was sent to conquer earth and Lord Zedd is an evil emperor and who knows when Dark Specter will finally arrive. For some reason, they’re obsessed with attacking only Angel Grove, and the military can’t exactly offer assistance since their weapons rarely do anything to alien monsters.” She paused for what Jason had to assume was effect. “One of these days Zedd will realize Earth is much larger than that one city. If he were to send out a mass attack to several cities across the planet at once, the Rangers would be overwhelmed. Unless…”
“Unless there were more Rangers,” Jason said. He had imagined what it would be like if there were more Rangers way back when they had started doing the whole superhero thing. Back then, Rita did something pretty much every day—more often than not minor in scale—so in order to live their normal lives and save the day the five Rangers ended up spreading themselves a bit thin. Zordon had suggested for the minor attacks, the team operate in shifts, which helped, but having another whole team of Rangers would have helped more. And knowing that Zordon had the ability to make more Rangers had left Jason wondering why that had never occurred to their mentor.
And then he replayed everything Grace had said in his head.
“Wait, who’s Dark Specter?” Jason asked.
Grace tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, “You should ask Zordon about that, Jason.”
Grace got off the control panel, “Anyway, I think it’s time I show you the O’Halloran Academy.”
“No. wait. You—”
“Jason,” Grace said. “If you want to continue this conversation, that would count as breaking one of Zordon’s rules. I’d suggest asking him about me when you go home.”
Jason didn’t like the implication hanging in the air between them. He stared her down, unmoving—unsure if this place was really safe anymore. Grace sighed and reached behind her back. The stance was familiar. Reflexively, Jason mirrored her and found his hand on his morpher.
“What’s your favorite color, Jason?” Grace asked. Her eyes moved to the hand behind his back and then to his eyes.
“Red.” He shoved his hands in his pockets even though the illusion of cool had long since dissolved.
Grace smiled, “Mine too.” She turned on her heel. “Come on, we still have to get to O’Halloran before the passing period starts.”
And the thing is, perhaps in another timeline Jason would have bolted. He would have taken the elevator back up aboveground, made his way to the ferry, and drove home. He would have called one of the other Rangers. He would have gone back to Angel Grove where he would inform his friends and Zordon about the strange organization who possibly knew their secret identities.
Instead, because Jason existed in this timeline and this moment, he followed Grace back to the elevator and out of the R&D building.
So. School has started back up, and I won't have much time to write again until the semester ends.
Next time: More Interludes: a putty restaurant, a beach day, and much more.