"WACHOOO!" Cassie sneezes violently into her tissue. She looks up into her bathroom mirror. "I look like crap."
Cassie's usually bright brown eyes are puffy and watery. Her nose is a raw red color. Cassie groans when she hears the doorbell ring.
"Aw man, that's probably Justin and Carlos." Cassie tightens her robe around herself and puts on her fuzzy slippers. She pads down the stairs slowly and opens the door.
"How come you aren't ready to go?" Justin says when Cassie opens the door.
"Yeah, we got extra equipment for you," Carlos says.
"Guys, I know I need the extra credit for Billings' class but I feel lousy," Cassie says, sneezing for emphasis. "You'll have to go spelunking without me."
"Hey, it's okay Cassie. You should stay home and rest," Carlos says.
"What if Carlos and I do all the measurements but one. Then later, near the end of Spring Break, you can go do the last one. That way you can get full extra credit too," Justin suggests.
"You guys would let me do that? Isn't that kind of cheating?" Cassie says.
"You can type up the report after you get the last measurement. That will be a lot of work in itself," Carlos says.
"Deal," Cassie says with another sneeze.
Carlos digs the lantern out of his backpack as Justin finds the clipboard and pencil. Carlos places his hard hat on and flips on the light.
"Ready to go?" Carlos asks.
"Yep." Justin flips the light on on his hard hat.
The pair enter the opening of the cave and look around.
"Mr. Billings' directions say, 'Follow the cave to the right for about 100 yards. Find the stalagmite nicknamed _The Leaning Tower of Pisa_. How tall is it from tip to base? At approximately what angle is it leaning?'" Justin reads.
The pair wander through the cave.
Carlos keeps muttering "stalactite, stalagmite, stalactite, stalagmite."
"Stalagmites come up from the ground and stalactites grow from the ceiling," Justin clarifies.
"I knew that," Carlos says. "There it is. You measure and I'll get an approximate angle."
Justin digs the measuring tape and plastic protractor out of his backpack. With their calculations done, Justin reads their next set of directions.
"Follow the cave back another 100 yards. Take the fork to the right. Continue for another 100 yards. Find the stalactites nicknamed 'Dragon's Claws.' How many claws does the dragon have? What compound probably makes up the majority of the claws?" Justin says.
Carlos shines the lantern in front of them and the pair take off for their next assignment.
"Well, well, well," Divatox says, looking through her periscope at Cassie who is curled up in her bed. "Looks like one of the Rangers is under the weather."
"Ooh, ooh, want me to take some Pirhanatrons to Cassie's house and really ruin her day, Auntie D?" Elgar suggests, jumping up and down while waving his hand.
"No, I have an even better idea," Divatox says with an evil grin. "What if ALL the Rangers suddenly became ill? Then the Earth would be mine for the taking."
"You want Porto to whip up a batch of the flu?" Elgar says.
"The flu? No, that's far too tame. I want something sinister. Something extremely contagious. Something...fatal." Divatox laughs wickedly. "Marshmallow!"
"Yes, my Queen." Porto waddles into the control room of the Space Station.
"Look through the _Book of Spells_ that we stole from that asinine Rita Repulsa. Find me a good disease. I want those Rangers put out of commission for good."
"Yes, my Queen," Porto says and then waddles over to their mountain of treasure. He digs through piles of gold coins and elaborate jewelry until he finds an ancient, leather-bound book.
"Ooh! This is getting even better," Divatox croons, looking through her periscope again. She sees Carlos and Justin wandering around in the caves. "I think I found our first victims."
"Ooh, ooh, want me to take some Pirhanatrons to the cave and start a cave in?" Elgar suggests, again jumping up and down, desperately wanting to be useful.
Divatox sighs in annoyance. "No, you idiot. Now get out of my sight before you wreck my delightfully diabolical plan."
"Here you go, my Queen." Porto hands Divatox the dilapidated book. He points to a chapter entitled "Fatal Diseases" and continues, "Might I suggest one of these...."
"Small pox--eradicated on Earth already, Porto. The Bubonic Plague--been done already." Divatox flips the page and runs her finger down it. "Ooh, this one sounds promising. Go get the necessary equipment for the spell, Porto. This is the one I want."
Divatox places the book on a table, it lays open to the page entitled "Summoning a Disease from the Ancient Past--Apollo's Revenge."
An hour passes and the guys decide to take a lunch break. They sit down on "Triceratops' Head" and pull out their lunch.
"So how many more do we have to go?" Justin says with his mouth full of PB & J.
Carlos swallows and answers, "Three. Maybe we'll be home by 5:00 pm."
"Why? You got a hot date tonight or something?" Carlos teases.
Justin turns beet red and stammers, "Uh, no. I just wanted to do a couple of things tonight."
Carlos contains a laugh the best that he can. He knew that Justin was in between phases. Justin hadn't quite decided if girls still had cooties or not.
"The assignment does the cave in a U-shaped pattern," Justin says to change the subject. "Why don't we leave the very last one for Cassie. That way she can enter the cave from the exit and work backwards. It will save her time."
"Plus, I don't know if I'll have a chance to come back with her," Carlos adds.
"I know, me neither," Justin says.
"She really shouldn't spelunk alone."
"Maybe Ashley could come with her or TJ?"
"Maybe. Are you finished? Let's get back to work." Carlos dusts the crumbs from his sandwich off his shirt and begins packing up the remains of their lunch.
As the guys head down another of the cave's expansive corridors, a time portal opens out of their view. Out of the portal steps a ragged looking human-like monster dressed in dirty leather armor. Soiled and bloodied bandages wrap its head and one arm. Its eyes are blood-shot and its skin is jaundiced. The monster recites an incantation in an ancient tongue and begins to incinerate. Soon all that is left is a hanging mist in the area.
Justin and Carlos round the corner to where the portal has just disappeared.
"Do we go right or left here?" Carlos says, waving the mist to clear his line of sight.
"The directions say 'right until you reach a set of formations called Houses of Gnomes.'" Justin bats at the mist too.
The mist doesn't dissipate at their gestures. Instead, it becomes more
concentrated. The guys breathe in the particles until their entire repiratory
systems are coated with the mist. Justin sneezes and Carlos coughs, but
the guys continue along their way. Once out of the misty area, their breathing
returns to normal.
"PORTO!" Divatox yells as she watches the guys walk through the mist.
"Yes, my Queen."
"Why aren't the Rangers dropping like flies already?" Divatox whines.
"Please be patient, oh Great One. The incubation period is approximately 24 hours."
"Twenty-four hours?!?! But I want them to be sick now!" Divatox whines.
"But if they were to die in the cave, they wouldn't have a chance to infect all the other Rangers," Porto answers, cringing in case Divatox decided to whack him.
"True. Of course, I knew that," Divatox says, readjusting
her mask. "I want all the Rangers to get a good healthy dose of the
virus and then we'll hit them when they're defenseless!"
"That's the last one for us," Carlos says, putting away the tape measure. "It's only 4:30. You want to stop by the Youth Center on the way home and get a drink?"
"Sure. My throat's a little scratchy." Justin places the clipboard in his back pack and zips it up.
"I told Ashley that I'd give her a ride home."
"Giving Ashley a ride home, huh. Sounds like things are getting serious."
"C'mon Justin. We've only gone out a couple of times," Carlos says with a shrug.
"I know, but Ranger Romances have a tendency to lead to Ranger Engagements. Take Alex and Adam for example."
"They're older than us. Besides, Ashley and I are just going to the movies tonight. That's all."
"Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you."
Finished spelunking, the guys go to the Youth Center to hang out with TJ and Ashley. Unbeknownst to them, the virus is quickly replicating in their bodies.
Carlos and Justin walk through the Youth Center door to see TJ taking a beating from Ashley.
"Look, Ashley," TJ says, sprawled out on the mat. "The guys are back. Why don't we take a break?"
Ashley gives TJ a hand off the floor and the pair join the guys at their favorite table.
"Hey! That's my smoothie," Justin says as TJ takes a large slurp.
"I'll give you a slurp of mine later, okay?" TJ says, lightly punching Justin in the arm. "Where's Cassie?"
"She's got a really rotten cold, so she ended up bailing," Carlos says.
"She's been sick for the last two days. She should go to the doctor and get some antibiotics," Ashley says, sitting down closely to Carlos.
"Won't do much good," Justin says. "Antibiotics only kill bacteria, and what Cassie has is a virus."
"Thank you, Dr. Stewart," Carlos says sarcastically. "Hey, Ashley, guess who's got two front row tickets for the Spice Girls show next Saturday?"
Ashley's face lights up and she stammers, "Really?! You got great tickets?!?!"
Ashley calms down immediately, realizing that Carlos technically hasn't asked her to go with him yet.
"Cassie and TJ love the Spice Girls too," Ashley thinks more humbly.
"Are you free next Saturday to go with me?" Carlos asks shyly.
"Am I?!" Ashley squeals. "You bet!"
"Great, I'll pick you up at seven."
Overwhelmed by the moment, Ashley plants a big kiss on Carlos. TJ looks
away awkwardly, and Justin begins humming the "Wedding March."
His rendition abruptly stops when Carlos rams his foot into Justin's chair.
The Rangers meet again the next day at the Youth Center for more martial arts practice.
"Still no Cassie?" TJ asks, as Carlos and Ashley come through the door hand-in-hand.
"She's still under the weather," Ashley answers.
"Where's Justin?" Carlos asks.
"He's sitting down over there," TJ says. "He said he wasn't feeling too well."
"I hope he hasn't picked up Cassie's bug," Ashley says.
Justin sits quietly at their favorite table, watching his friends spar. He rubs his temples and the back of his neck, trying to loosen up his vise-like headache. Justin closes his eyes and takes a few deep breaths. Upon opening them, the scenery is even worse. Now he sees two of everything.
"I'm going to kill Cassie for giving me her virus," Justin grumbles under his breath. "I might as well give it up for the day."
Justin packs up his belongings. It takes him several tries to zip his bookbag because his hands are shaking so badly. Justin pulls his jean jacket closely around himself though the Youth Center is a balmy 75 degrees. The room spins when Justin stands up. He blinks several times and then heads to the door without even telling his friends goodbye.
"Oh, it looks like Justin has caught Cassie's cold," Ashley says, noticing Justin pulling his coat around himself tighter.
"Wow, he looks really pale," TJ says. "I better walk him home. I'll meet you guys back here later, okay?"
Carlos and Ashley nod.
"Justin! Wait up!" TJ grabs his gear and rushes out the door.
Less than fifteen minutes later, Carlos and Ashley's communicators go off.
"Should have figured. This day was going too well," Ashley says, removing her fist from in front of Carlos' face.
The teens slink off to the side of the Youth Center.
"This is Carlos. What's up, Alpha?"
"Yo, yo, yo, Rangers. We got us a big problem. Justin is down for the count. You guys better get here quick!" Alpha's tinny voice sounds worried.
"We're on our way."
Within an instant, all the Rangers congregate in the Power Chamber.
"Dimitria, what happened to Justin?" Ashley says, her brows furrowing.
"Did I give him my cold?" Cassie asks in a congested voice, purposefully keeping a distance between herself and the other Rangers.
Dimitria lights up her tube. "We are unsure at this time, Cassie. It appears that Justin's body has been overtaken by a virus."
"Oh, man," Carlos says. He massages the back of his increasingly sore neck.
"I was walking Justin home and then all of the sudden he just fell out," TJ says and then adds remorsefully, "I panicked. He started moaning and twitching. I didn't know what to do. So, I teleported us directly to the Power Chamber."
"You did the right thing, TJ," Dimitria says gently.
"Yeah," Ashley places a protective arm around TJ's shoulders. "Who has a better medical facility than the Power Chamber?"
TJ allows a small smile to replace his chagrined look, but deep down inside, the self-doubt continues.
"How do the rest of you feel?" Alpha asks.
"Great," says TJ.
"Ditto," says Ashley.
"Lousy--as expected," Cassie jokes and then breaks into a dry, hacking cough.
"Okay," Carlos says and then adds, "My neck is a little sore. I think I may have strained a muscle while we were sparring. I did hit the mat really hard one time. I'll go home and take some asprin. I'll be fine."
"Rangers, there is nothing more that you can do here for now. Go home and rest. If any of you begin feeling worse, come back immediately. Try to limit your contact with others as much as possible until we are sure that Justin's virus isn't contagious," Dimitria says.
"Wait, Cassie," Alpha says. "Can you stay for a little while so that we can take some blood samples?"
"Uh, is that going to require you poking needles into my body?" Cassie says, visibly shrinking at the thought.
"How else are we going to get a blood sample, doll?"
Cassie stands silently for a few moments contemplating the idea. She
reluctantly agrees, "If it will help Justin get better."
The other Rangers return to their homes and hole-up in their rooms. TJ lays on his bed tossing his baseball up and down. Ashley tries to read a book. Carlos takes some asprin and lays down trying to get rid of the splitting headache that has suddenly come on.
TJ glances at his alarm clock and sighs. Only one hour has passed. He grabs his baseball glove and begins oiling it. When his communicator goes off, TJ jumps to his feet, glad for something to do.
"This is TJ."
"Rangers, we have some bad news. Please come to the Power Chamber immediately," Alpha says.
"On my way." TJ tosses his baseball mit on his desk and teleports
out in a streak of red light.
Ashley and TJ materialize at the same time. The look on Cassie's face tells them immediately that things are getting worse.
"Rangers, please come to the Medical Unit." Dimitria vanishes from her tube.
"Oh, man!" TJ says, when they arrive at the Medical Unit.
Justin lies on a gurney, covered with a blue sheet. A clear plastic curtain tents the area. Justin is pale and listless.
"We have given Justin a sedative to allow his body to rest and fight the infection," Dimitria says.
Carlos teleports into the Medical Center. He walks towards the other Rangers, weaving slightly.
"They did a blood analysis of Justin and me," Cassie says. "We don't have the same disease."
"Then what is it?" Ashley asks.
"That's the problem. We don't know," Alpha says.
"We are currently searching all of the Earth's medical data bases. But it will take time," Dimitria says.
"If he didn't get it from Cassie, then where did he get it?" TJ asks.
"We don't know that either. Justin hasn't been lucid enough to answer our questions," Dimitria says.
Throughout the conversation, Carlos has stayed silent. He blinks his eyes again, trying to get rid of his double vision.
"I'm afraid that there is nothing else that we can do right now," Dimitria says sadly. "Let us return to the Power Chamber. Maybe our computers have found something."
"Right," TJ says. "You tell us what to do, and we'll be glad to do it."
The others agree. They follow Alpha out of the Medical Center, Carlos trailing far behind.
"How's the neck, Carlos?" Ashley says and then turns around. "CARLOS!"
Carlos' knees give way and he crumples to the floor. The Rangers rush back to him and help Carlos onto another gurney. Alpha returns with a needle.
"I suspect that we may have another victim." Alpha draws a long tube full of blood.
"Rangers, I am afraid that I must quarantine you until we have been able to find out what is going on. Obviously, this virus _is_ contagious, but we do not know how it is transmitted. We cannot take a chance of spreading it to the rest of Angel Grove," Dimitria says gravely.
"But what if Divatox attacks?" Cassie asks quietly.
"We will cross that bridge when we get to it," Dimitria answers. "Alpha, meet me in the Power Chamber after you run the blood sample."
"You got it, Demetria," Alpha answers, already typing away
at a computer.
Alpha waddles into the Power Chamber a short while later. Dimitria floats silently in her tube.
"Alpha, the computer scan is complete. There were no matches for Justin's virus," Dimitria says.
"Do you think it's an alien virus?" Alpha asks.
"I'm not sure. I have contacted other alien races to ask, but it will take time. Time, I'm afraid, that Carlos--and especially Justin--may not have."
"What are we going to do?"
"We will continue to search. Our body forms greatly limit us in a physical search. I have called for human help."
"Human help? Who? A former Ranger?"
"You will see," Dimitria says.
A white teleportation light begins to glow in the Power Chamber.
The teleportation beam focuses, and a young woman forms. She is dressed in navy and white polka-dotted pajamas. Her hair is piled recklessly on top of her head. She stoops over brushing her teeth.
"What in the...," Trini mumbles, her mouth full of toothpaste.
"Trini Kwan," Dimitria says. "I am Dimitria of Inquirous. I apologize for bringing you here without any warning, but we are in a most difficult state."
"What?" Trini says, looking around for somewhere to spit.
"Alpha, please," Dimitria says and then continues, "I am afraid that three of our Rangers are ill. One is in grave condition. After searching all of the medical data listed on Earth, we have not been able to come up with the source of the virus, nor a cure."
Alpha procures two cups for Trini, one filled with water. Trini abruptly haults her hygiene routine.
"I don't mean to be uncaring, but why me? I turned in my life-time Ranger membership when I walked out the door over a year ago," Trini says, her brown eyes still flashing with hurt as she sees the old Power Ranger outfits in their chambers. The Triceratops armor triggers a painful memory.
"That was the last time Billy and I ever spoke to each other," Trini thinks. "That was the last time I spoke to any of the Zeo Rangers either."
"We needed someone with knowledge in medicine, but who could also keep our Rangers' identities in confidence. You were our first choice."
"I'm not sure if I will be able to help you, but I'll give it a try," Trini says reluctantly. "Who's ill? Adam? Kat?"
"Trini, since your departure, our team has changed. Zordon and Alpha have returned to Eltar, and the older Turbo Rangers have passed their powers on to new members."
"Even Alex?" Trini felt a stab of guilt for not keeping up with her friend. "Has she returned from Aquitar?"
"Yes, but Alex is no longer a Ranger either. It was time for her to move on too. We keep her Turbo armor enshrined here in our vaults with the original Power Rangers' armor. You will recall that Alex was mostly psi-powered and her Ranger powers made up the rest. This power wasn't strong enough by itself to be passed along to a new Ranger. Instead her Turbo key remains here within our care."
Trini stands silently for a moment trying to absorb all the information and to sort out her own emotions. The betrayal of the Rangers hurt her more deeply than anything she'd ever known. Trini had spent the last year working through her anger and resentment over the incident, but it still came back to haunt her occasionally. She still couldn't bring herself to contact any of her former friends, even Alex. And she doubted if she could ever forgive Billy.
"Can you help us?" Dimitria continues.
"Can you give me a run down on all the information we have on the virus?" Trini asks and thinks, "It's my duty as a future doctor to at least try."
"Please, come with me to the Medical Center. All of the Rangers
are currently quarantined there," Alpha says.
After a round of introductions and a quick history lesson, Trini is ready to get down to business. She takes a large stack of print outs from Alpha. She stares at the charts.
"The left one is Justin's viral load, and the right one is Carlos'. The one in the center is Cassie's," Alpha informs Trini.
"They are all high levels, but obviously the virus isn't treating them the same," Trini says. "I'm not even sure they all have the same thing."
"That is what we think also. Alpha ran tests on blood samples from all three Rangers. The RNA sequences on the outer coats of the virus were similar only in Carlos and Justin. Cassie's virus had a completely different RNA sequence," Dimitria says.
"So I just have a cold, like I've been telling you all along," Cassie says. "Now can I go home?"
"Not yet, Cassie. Not until we've figured out what this virus is."
"Okay, let's start from the beginning," Trini says, scratching her head. "What is its vector?"
"We are not sure what the vector is. We have not been able to identify the source. We are presuming it is human," Dimitria says.
"It could possibly be an alien virus introduced to Earth by Divatox," Alpha says and then clarifies, "The Rangers' latest foe."
"This is also a possibility," Dimitria says.
"What about an incubation period?" Trini asks.
"We also do not know this."
Trini rubs her temples in frustration. "So basically we've got absolutely nothing to work with."
"I'm afraid so."
"Can I talk to Justin?"
"Yes, but I'm afraid that he may not be of much help. We have a biohazard suit that I must insist that you put on."
"No argument from me. I don't want this bug." Trini follows Alpha to a special area within the Medical Center. She dons a protective suit--complete with two layers of thick surgical gloves and a contained air supply.
"I feel like an astronaut," Trini thinks, trying to move gracefully in the clunky suit.
Trini shuffles up to Justin's bedside. His face is flushed and beads of perspiration dot his brow.
"Justin, can you hear me?" Trini says, leaning over to look into his face. "Justin, my name is Trini. I'm a friend of Zordon's. Can you talk to me?"
Justin groans and shakes his head back and forth in delirium. Trini waits a few minutes and then decides to try Carlos instead. She shuffles over to Carlos' bed and asks again. Carlos remains completely unresponsive.
"Is he going to be okay?" Ashley asks, standing on the outside of the force field.
"I don't know," Trini answers honestly. "So far we are batting a big fat zero. We can't treat what we don't know. We've got to work backwards and find out where the infection began."
"Yesterday, TJ, Carlos, Justin and I were all at the Youth Center," Ashley says, rubbing the back of her increasingly painful neck.
"Anything unusual happen there? Any monster run-ins?"
"No, it's been quiet for the last week," TJ says.
"Go back farther." Trini paces back and forth, flipping her pencil against the clipboard.
"Before coming to the Youth Center, Justin and Carlos went spelunking. Before that, they came by my house," Cassie says.
"We were all in school before that," TJ says.
"Our most recent battle was last Wednesday," Ashley says, kneading her temples with her fingers trying to get rid of her headache. "It was an easy, run-of-the-mill battle though. We did the spin out, and poof, it was gone."
"Let me get Alpha to run an analysis of your last fight," Trini says, making a note for herself.
"Dragon's claws...five dragon's claws...," Justin mumbles.
"What? What, Justin?" Trini rushes to his side.
"Does this make sense to anybody?"
"Yeah!" Cassie perks up. "Dragon's claws is a formation in Angel Grove's caves. I don't remember anything listed as 'mist' though."
"Caves...caves...CAVES!" A light flashes in Trini's mind. "Of course!"
The other Rangers look at each other and shrug as Trini rushes off mumbling to herself. A few minutes later, Trini returns without her biohazard suit. She still keeps her distance from the rest of the Rangers though.
"What's so exciting about caves?" Cassie asks.
"There is a theory circulating presently that the Ebola virus originated in a cave in Kenya," Trini explains.
"They have Ebola?!?" Ashley gasps.
"No, thank God. No, this isn't Ebola. We'd be screwed if it was," Trini says bluntly.
"We might be screwed still," Cassie says.
Trini smirks at Cassie's spunk. "She's definitely different from Kat," Trini thinks, beginning to like the new Pink Ranger.
"What kind of contact have you three had with Carlos and Justin? Did you have any contact with their blood?" Trini asks.
The Rangers shake their heads.
"Did they sneeze or cough on you?"
The Rangers shake their heads again.
"I doubt you guys would be swapping spit with each other," Trini says and picks her brain for other modes of transmission.
"I kissed Carlos," Ashley sheepishly confesses.
"It wasn't that big of a kiss, Ashley," TJ says.
"TJ is probably right. A friendly kiss on the lips is probably no big deal," Trini says, returning to her thoughts.
"That one wasn't, but later at the movies...," Ashley's voice trails off. The pain in her head intensifies causing Ashley to grab her head in her hands.
Trini jerks to attention. "Alpha, let's get a viral load on Ashley."
"What about you, TJ?" Ashley says. "You drank after Justin. Could Justin's straw and smoothie be contaminated, Trini?"
"Alpha, let's get a viral load on both of them," Trini says and shooes the pair towards Alpha. She looks Cassie square in the eye. "What about you Cassie? Did you drink after any of them?"
"No," Cassie answers.
"What about you and TJ?"
"Me and TJ, what?"
Trini raises an eyebrow.
"N-n-no, absolutely not. We're just friends," Cassie stammers.
"We should get a new viral load on you too, to be safe." Trini sends Cassie on her way and then leaves the Medical Center.
"Dimitria?" Trini says, returning to the Power Chamber.
"It is as we feared," Dimitria says, lighting up her chamber. "Ashley's blood sample shows a rapidly growing viral count. TJ's level is still low, but I'm sure that soon he will be in the same state as Carlos and Justin. Only Cassie is still virus free."
"That's what I figured. That's why I came in here to talk to you," Trini says with a sigh. "Dimitria, maybe you should consider putting the infected Rangers into suspended animation. If no one else at least, Carlos and Justin."
"I concur. The fever is beginning to cause brain damage in Justin. With their permission, I will suspend Ashley and TJ when we suspend the other two. Cassie will be left alone to defend the Earth from Divatox's attacks," Dimitria says.
"Can she do that by herself?" Trini asks.
"I will call on the Blue Centurion to assist her and the Phantom Ranger."
"It will have to do. I want to go explore the caves. Can Alpha equip me with a high-powered scanner?"
"Yes, we will design one that can detect both viruses and abnormal ion patterns."
"You think that something came from a different dimension?"
"Yes, we are now positive," Alpha says, returning with a bunch of print outs. "There is a definite ion residue in the innermost chamber of the caves."
"Then I know where I'm going," Trini says.
"Wait, do not be hasty, Trini," Dimitria warns. "We need time to gather supplies and modify your scanner for this expedition."
"When will I be able to go?"
"Approximately, five hours," Alpha answers.
"Trini, you cannot make this trip alone. Though you still have a slight power signature running through your body, you need the assistance of someone with a stronger signature. We will most likely lose you if you travel between dimensions. You need to take a Turbo Ranger with you," Dimitria says.
"No offense, but they're all sick. How are we going to swing this?" Trini says.
"Call upon one of the former Turbo Rangers. They can reclaim their powers from their ill counterpart. The choice is yours."
Trini looks at the glass case behind them. It still contained the now seemingly ancient uniforms of the original Power Rangers, plus the Zeo Ranger uniforms and Alex's uniform.
"Who can I trust?" Trini thinks, looking down the rows. "Kat? No, she blindly followed Tommy. Tanya? No, she caved in to Billy's pressuring. Tommy is definitely out and Billy was never a Turbo Ranger. Adam?"
"Dimitria, I'm going to go home to Florida to take care of some things. I'll be back in a few hours," Trini says. "I know which Ranger I want...."
Three hours later, two white lights materialize in the Power Chamber.
"Wow, this place has really changed," Kimberly says, placing her backpack on the floor.
"You aren't kidding," Trini says to her roommate and then notices that one of the chambers is empty.
The door of the Power Chamber wooshes open.
"Life has been too quiet lately. I'm ready for an adventure," a voice says.
Trini and Kim turn around to see Alex walking cockily through the door in her Turbo Ranger garb, her helmet tucked under her arm.
"Alexandra Jamison, this is my roommate and the original Pink Ranger, Kimberly Hart," Trini makes the introductions.
"Yep, I know who she is," Alex says, shaking Kim's hand. "I had to listen to Tommy whine about your leaving him for what seemed like eternity."
"So you're the infamous Purple Ranger," Kim says.
"The one and only," Alex says with a shrug.
"I see you haven't lost any of your self confidence," Trini says.
"_We_ have a lot to talk about, Miss Kwan," Alex says, poking Trini in the chest with her index finger. "For starters, how come you didn't answer any of my letters when I got back from Aquitar?"
"Can we discuss this later?" Trini says, not ready to reopen that can of worms. "We have more pressing things at hand than the history of my dismal love life."
"Don't worry, I won't let you forget," Alex says, still feeling sore that Trini had shut her out of her life for the past year. "No offense, but why are you here, Kim?"
"My best friend and roommate is risking her life hunting a mysterious virus. Do you think I could sit by and watch her go?" Kim says and then adds nonchalantly, "Plus, it's Spring Break and I don't have anything else better to do."
"Can we get down to business?" Trini interrupts. "Let me bring you two up to speed."
An hour later, the three girls stand in their biohazard outfits in the middle of the Power Chamber. Their helmets sit on a nearby console.
"Here is your scanner, Trini." Alpha hands Trini a modfied version of the Turbo Rangers' scanners.
"This little thing is going to pick up an ion trail?" Trini asks skeptically.
"Yes, our technology has greatly improved since you were a Ranger," Dimitria says.
"Now let me get this straight," Alex says. "I'm the anchor of the team."
"A colorful way to put it, yes," Dimitria answers. "Kimberly and Trini must be touching you when we teleport you home. Their signals may be too weak if you must travel interdimensionally. Yours is still strong from your days as a Turbo Ranger."
"Here's the medical kit." Alpha returns with another small box and hands it to Trini.
"Inside the kit, you will find a syringe, 2 vials for blood storage, a tourniquet, gloves and a special cryogenic container with enough freezing liquid to last 24 hours once activiated," Dimitria says.
"If you possibly can, bring the virus' host back with you. If this is impossible, get a blood sample. It will take longer to make a batch of anti-serum, but at least it can be done," Alpha adds.
Trini marvels at her new toys. She picks up a tiny silver cube with lights on the front. "What's this?"
"Your way home," Dimitria says. "It only has enough energy to open the portal back to the Power Chamber once, so please use it with extreme caution."
"But I thought that's what I was coming along for?" Alex says.
"Alexandra, you act as the proverbial needle in a hay stack. Your power signature tells us which hay stack to look for you in, but not exactly where you are at. Only the cube can bring you home though. It works with the technology in your communicator to bring you back to the Power Chamber."
"So DON'T lose your communicator, again," Trini says to Alex.
Alex winces. "I only lost it once...okay, twice."
"Remember, you must be touching Alex to return home," Dimitria warns.
Kim and Trini nod.
"While you guys are gone, we'll start deconstructing the virus' RNA strand base by base," Alpha says.
"That could take months!" Trini says.
"If you don't succeed, at least we'll have a back up plan."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Alpha," Alex says.
"I know we can do it," Kim says emphatically.
"Ready to begin your mission, Rangers?" Dimitria asks.
Trini places the thin, brick-sized medical kit into the front pocket of her jump suit. "Affirmative."
Kim folds up the scanner and places it in her pocket. She grabs her helmet and then tosses the other girls theirs. "Ready for action."
"I've got the water and powerbars in my backpack." Alex pulls the biohazard suit overtop of her leather backpack and zips up the front. "SHIFT INTO TURBO!" Alex turns her wrists to make her key and Turbo morpher appear, but doesn't complete the transformation. "Are you getting a reading?"
"Affirmative," Alpha says as a strong purple blip appears on the screen.
"Then we're set," Alex says, placing her biohazard helmet on and sealing it. "Prepare to teleport us to Angel Grove Caves."
The girls materialize in the middle of Angel Grove caves. Kim removes the scanner from her pocket and surveys the area. Kim circles slowly in her spot until the scanner begins to blip. The girls walk towards the increasing signal.
"Alpha, are you getting this?" Alex's muffled voice says into her communicator.
"Affirmative, Alex," Alpha answers. "We are analyzing the ion trail. We may be able to reopen the portal within a matter of minutes."
Trini continues to explore the cave, running her gloved hands over a smooth, icicle-shaped lime deposit hanging from the ceiling of the cave.
"Rangers, we've done it!" Alpha blasts a minute later. "We've locked onto the coordinates and are preparing to open the portal."
"Great!" Trini returns to the other girls. "Where does it lead to?"
"That we don't know."
"So we're doing a blind leap?"
"I'm afraid so."
"I hope this is a dry, oxygenated atmosphere or this is going to be a very short trip," Alex says.
"Our scans of your biohazard suits show that you have approximately 15 minutes of contained air left. If the outcome of the portal proves inhospitable or unable to support human life, immediately activate the homing beacon. You should have enough contained air to last you until we can bring you back to the Power Chamber," Dimitria says.
"We should or we do?" Alex asks, concerned.
"Should. It depends on which dimension or galaxy that you end up in."
The girls look warily at each other. Trini nods and the other girls repeat her gesture.
"Open the portal, Alpha," Trini says, her shaking hands betraying her confident demeanor. "We're ready to go."
"Opening portal," Alpha says.
"Good luck, Rangers," Dimitria adds.
A sparkling begins in the cave and an interdimensional door opens. The girls stand silently staring at it. Finally, Trini walks confidently through it. Kim follows immediately after her.
"Here goes nothing," Alex says, and fakes a confident stride through.
Trini can hear the discord of their mixed screams: Kim's high-pitched shrieks, Alex's lower-pitched screech, and finally an unfamiliar wail. Trini realizes that the final voice is her own. She'd never screamed in pure terror like she was now, and she couldn't stop herself.
The girls plummet through the pitch-black darkness, only the lights on their biohazard helmets occasionally illuminating each other.
"When will this free fall end?" Trini thinks frantically. It was like being stuck on a diving rollercoaster that never seemed to bottom out. Her stomach was rapidly preparing to empty its contents.
A sharp pain in her backbone causes Trini to yelp and then lose her breath as the rest of her body hits earth. Her head still swimming from the free fall, Trini doesn't notice Alex and Kim crumpled on the grass nearby. With a groan, Trini sits up and surveys her situation.
"Grass and trees," Trini thinks. "A good bet that we are on an oxygenated planet."
"Do you think it is safe to take off our helmets?" Alex asks softly from behind Trini.
"I'm gonna yak!" A green Kimberly is the first to break the seal on her helmet.
"Kim, stop!" Trini says sharply. "You could get contaminated."
"Too late," Kim says, throwing her helmet aside.
"EEewww!" Trini and Alex say in unison.
"I guess this means the air's okay to breathe," Alex says, breaking the seal on her helmet. "I'm boiling in my own juices in that suit."
"This is so much better." Soon Kim completely sheds her biohazard suit and retucks her short-sleeved pink T-shirt into her shorts.
"What if this whole field is contaminated?" Trini continues.
Alex unzips her biohazard suit too. "Face it Trini, we're probably okay."
"We promise to wear gloves when we locate the virus source," Kim says.
"And I'll even morph for extra protection if you want," Alex adds.
Reluctantly, Trini removes her biohazard suit. "I guess they would make us stick out."
"Not to mention that they are totally a fashion don't," Kim says.
"Which way do we go?" Alex asks, retying her hiking boots.
Trini turns slowly around in a circle and then points east. "I see several small clouds of smoke. Maybe it's a village or camp."
Alex readjusts the leather straps of the backpack over her shoulders, and the girls start off towards the smoke. After an hour's hike, the girls arrive on the outskirts of town.
"I can't believe we just did that," Trini says chagrined.
"We can't blend in with a crowd in jean shorts and t-shirts," Alex says.
"But stealing the wash off someone's clothes line?" Trini says.
"I didn't hear you coming up with a better solution," Alex replies.
"I know. I just feel...bad, that's all."
"Trini, we swiped cheap cotton togas, not some expensive silk gowns. Get over it. We're on a mission, and we need to blend in with the natives."
Kim interrupts the argument when she grabs both of the girls by their arms.
"Where _are_ we?" Kim asks.
"_When_ are we?" Alex asks.
"That must be the town's main street or market district," Trini decides, spotting small patches of smoke rising and the occasional chicken flying briefly in the air.
"I'm starving. Let's get something to eat," Kim says.
"Alex has power bars and water in her backpack," Trini says.
"No, I mean something _good_." Kim sniffs the air and reports, "I smell fresh-baked bread."
"I could 'lift' us a couple of things if you guys could provide a distraction," Alex suggests.
"Alex?!?! We are NOT going to resort to shoplifting. It's bad enough that we had to steal our clothes," Trini says.
"Oh stop being so high and mighty, Trini. Desperate times call for desperate measures."
"Absolutely not!" Trini crosses her arms in front of her chest.
"Then pass me one of those stupid-dry-tasteless power bars. I'm starving," Alex grumbles.
"Wait," Kim says, fingering her necklace. "What if I hocked my necklace?"
"Kim, we couldn't ask you to do that," Trini says.
"Yes we could," Alex replies, stifling a stomach growl.
"Trevor gave it to me," Kim says, rolling her eyes.
"Who's Trevor?" Alex asks.
"My boyfriend. No, my _ex_-boyfriend," Kim clarifies. "Wonder if this thing is even real gold, the jerk."
"Alright! No power bars!" Alex says.
"Let's haggle, girls!" Kim removes the thick gold chain with the solid gold heart pendant on it from around her neck.
"Hey," Alex grabs Kim's elbow. "That guy looks like a money changer or something."
A richly dressed man, dripping in gold jewelry leaves the gates of the marketplace and heads down the road towards the girls.
"Yeah, he's got scales and what looks like bags of gold coins." Kim jiggles the necklace in the palm of her hand.
Soon the man stops pushing his large cart and stares at the strangers wearing ill-fitting togas with hiking boots.
"I'll handle this," Kim whispers to the other girls. She fluffs out her hair and gives the man a big smile. She walks confidently up to his cart.
"You..trade..with..me?" Kim says in a loud, slow, exaggerated voice to the silk-clad man. She holds up the necklace and then points to a small pile of coins beside the scales.
"Yes, lady. I'm the village's money changer. Where else are you planning to go?" the silk-clad man snaps in perfect English.
"He speaks English!" Alex exclaims.
"English? No, I only speak Greek, Roman, Phoenecian and Persian," he says.
"But you understand me?" Kim asks.
"Yes," the man answers with an annoyed sigh. "So do you want to do business or not?"
"How can he understand us, Trini?" Kim asks.
"How should I know?" Trini says with a shrug. "Chalk one up to the portal."
"I will give you 10 dinar for the necklace," the man offers.
"Ten dinar?" Alex asks.
"Okay, 12 dinar. And I'll give you 50 for the servant girl."
"Servant girl? What servant girl?" Alex asks.
"_Your_ servant girl." The man nods at Trini appreciatively. "A beautiful, exotic Mongolian like her will fetch a high price in Athens."
Trini's jaw drops.
"She is NOT for sale," Alex snaps. "C'mon girls. We don't need this turkey."
"Okay, okay. You drive a hard bargin. I'll give you 20 dinar for the necklace, but no more. And reconsider my offer on your servant."
Before Alex can break the man's neck, Kim hands over the necklace and snatches the money. She grabs a still fuming Alex and a dumb-founded Trini by their elbows and drags them away from the money changer.
"Now, let's eat!" Kim says.
The girls release a collective gasp as they enter the gates of the city. The main street is cluttered with everything and anything a shopper could want: bolts of satin cloth, iron cooking utensils, exotic fruits and live stock to name but a few. The girls wander through the market until they locate the bread vendor. Trini spots a vendor selling kabobs near by, and soon the girls are enjoying a meal.
"This is _so_ good," Kim says, juice dribbling down her chin.
All Alex and Trini can manage are affirmative "hmm-mmm"s. Trini's attention is suddenly distracted by a young woman brushing roughly past her. Several men whistle at the black-cloaked young woman, and several women begin whispering.
"Look, I don't want any trouble," a local shop keeper says. "Here, take your dagger and go. We don't like your kind around here."
"Her kind?" Trini thinks.
The young woman's hood falls backwards as she holds the dagger up to the sunlight to inspect its new binding. Several jet-black braids decorated with beads and feathers tumble out. Her face is tan from obvious long hours in the sun. Her cloak covers her outfit, but thick, tall leather boots peek out from underneath. She rests a bo staff against the man's table during the inspection.
"That'll be 2 dinar for the new binding," the shop keeper says.
"Two dinar? I've seen apprentices do a better job," the high voice of a teenage girl answers. "I'll give you 1 dinar. That's it."
"Two dinar, as agreed."
The girl carefully runs her finger over the sharp blade. The crowd is silent wondering what will happen. Trini watches intently. Alex and Kim happily munch away, ever unobservant.
"Two dinar then," the girl gives in finally and throws two coins into the dirt in front of the old man.
The girl shoves through the crowd.
"They always come to make trouble," Trini overhears an old woman say.
"I wish they'd stay away," another crone adds.
"That's a pretty big knife for a little girl," a young man taunts as the cloaked girl walks by.
"Are you talking to me, little worm?" the girl defiantly turns around, brandishing her bo staff.
The young man and his friends laugh and taunt her. They circle around the girl, stepping closer and closer to her. The girl turns around frantically, wondering from which direction they are going to attack first. A roar from the group makes Trini jump to her feet.
"I'm warning you," the girl says. "You don't know what you're getting yourself into."
"Get her!" the young man says, grabbing her cloak.
The girl squirms out of the cloak and jumps up onto a nearby table. Her knife blade gleams in the afternoon sun. The men laugh as the girl slashes at her attackers. Their amusement ends when the girl slices open an attacker's deltoid. The howling man inspects his bleeding wound and then takes a swing at her. The girl stumbles backwards over some chickens and falls off the table. The men crowd in around her.
"LEAVE HER ALONE!" Trini yells at the top of her lungs.
The men stop briefly and turn around. Their looks of confusion soon melt into laughter at the site.
"Two little girls and their Mongolian slave. Oh the fear it strikes in our hearts," a balding, chubby man taunts.
"I think the neanderthal needs an attitude adjustment," Alex growls, cracking her knuckles.
Trini hushes Alex and then walks calmly towards the girl. She gives the girl a hand off the ground and prepares to return to her friends. The man with the cut deltoid suddenly blocks their path.
"I don't want to fight," Trini says softly. "Please, let us be about our business."
"Slaves don't tell soldiers of Titus's army what to do. We take what we want when we want." The man grabs Trini's arm.
"Remove your hand and leave us alone."
"I think this one will fetch a high price in Corinth. Bring me some rope."
Trini sighs in annoyance and then slams her fist into the man's solar plexus. He stumbles backwards from the unexpected blow. The soldier lunges at Trini. Trini darts out of his way and sends a series of kicks that cause the soldier to crumple to the ground.
"We're going now!" Trini grabs the girl's arm and leads her away from the crowd.
"Get me the rope!" the soldier bellows. "Grab them!"
Trini breaks into a run, dragging the girl behind her.
"Stop being such a coward," the girl hisses, pulling her knife back out.
"Put that away before you make things worse."
"Too late," the girl says as three more soldiers rapidly approach them.
After a hastily pulled together dinner, the women relax around the fire. Trini finally remembers their mission.
"And that's why we're here," Trini finishes up the story on how they came to this strange land. However, she leaves out the part about them being former Power Rangers. "It would be just too hard to explain," Trini thinks.
"Hmm," Ephanine says, picking a piece of meat out of her teeth with the edge of her dagger. "Often sisters become ill in the winter, but we haven't had any sickness like you've described."
"Maybe the scouts would know," Damiana suggests.
"True. Not everyone comes to the summer hunting ground. Some stay home on our ancestral lands and others travel around exchanging news with other bands of Amazons. We will ask the scouts when we arrive at camp," Ephanine says.
Even though it is summer, a crisp breeze causes Kim to shiver.
"Our new friends must be cold in their thin attire," Ephanine says.
"You do realize that you are wearing men's togas," Damiana says.
"Oooh!" Kim says in horror. "What a fashion faux pas!"
"No wonder the money changer looked at us so weirdly," Alex adds. "I'm sure the hiking boots really make the outfit too."
"We have plenty of skins at the summer hunting ground. I'm sure that we could find something more appropriate for you," Ephanine says.
The breeze picks up again, this time causing both Alex and Kim to shiver.
"Come, Damiana. Let's go gather more firewood to bank the fire for the night. Grab the water skins too. We will refill them at the same time," Ephanine instructs the young woman.
Damiana opens her mouth to complain but quickly shuts it after receiving a withering look from Ephanine. Still not completely out of the dog house after her earlier stunt, Damiana dutifully complies.
"Wait for me," Kim says, hopping up off her log. "So, Ephanine, do the Amazons...."
"They're going to ditch us if your roommate doesn't stop pestering them," Alex says as the three leave the fire circle.
"She's just inquisitive," Trini says, stoking the fire.
"That's an understatement. I'll be back in a minute. Mother Nature is calling." Alex stands up and heads off into the forest.
Trini sits silently for a while, gazing into the fire.
"It's been a while since I last went camping," Trini thinks.
A sudden noise in the woods startles Trini and she jumps.
"Wonder if there are any bears out here?" she thinks and chuckles at herself. "That's what I said last time...."
"I think I heard something," Alex said, glancing around in the darkness outside their fire circle.
"Pass me another marshmallow, will ya, Billy?" Adam said.
"Wonder if there are any bears out there?" Trini said, glancing around anxiously.
"Nah." Billy tossed Adam a marshmallow and then poked his stick through one of his own. "Besides, that's why Adam and I are here--to protect you."
"How _convenient_ that we just happened to run into each other out here," Adam said facetiously.
"Adam? Adam, who? Nope, just me and Trini--two girls roughing it for the weekend," Alex said, knowing the trouble she'd be in if her dad ever caught wind.
"Seriously," Trini pressed. "Bears like marshmallows. I wonder if our beef stew dinner attracted them."
"Don't worry, fair lady. I shall protect you," Billy hammed, taking an exaggerated bow with his invisible plumed hat.
"That bear wouldn't stand a chance. I'd go...ha and ha-ha...." Adam used his cooking stick topped with a still flaming marshmallow as his sword.
"Then I'd thrust and parry...." Billy joined the imaginary fencing bout. He whacked at Adam.
Soon Alex and Trini were in tears from laughing so hard....
A log breaks and settles into the fire, breaking Trini's revelry. She watches sparks and bits of cinder illuminate the night. Her gaze follows them up into the night sky.
"I wonder where Aquitar is among them....."
Trini laid down on top of her sleeping bag and gazed up to the stars.
"There's the Big Dipper and Orion's Belt," Trini whispered, pointing into the cloudless sky.
"Now, move over a little, and what's that constellation?" Billy pushed her hand over.
"Cassiopeia?" Trini guessed.
"Yep and what's that one?" Billy turned over on his side and watched as Trini wrinkled her forehead in concentration.
A minute passed and Trini continued to pick her memory. "Pegasus? No. Hercules? No." She looked over at Billy, who had been staring at her the whole time. "I give up. What is it?"
"What? You're making that one up." Trini tilted her head to look at Billy who was still gazing at her.
"That's what it looks like to me. A heart."
"Somehow I doubt that Professor Watkins is going to buy that answer on my next astronomy test."
"The point of the heart is where Aquitar is."
"No," Billy chuckled. "Aquitar is in another solar system. But if you could draw an imaginary line back from that point a few light years, that's where Aquitar is."
Trini turned over to her side and propped an elbow under her head. "Why name it after me?"
"Because I thought it was fitting. I found the constellation a while ago, before I went to Aquitar for the first time with Cestro. Before you came back from Europe. I noticed that it looked like a heart. What could have been a more perfect name than Trini for it?"
"That's really sweet. I didn't realize that you were such a romantic."
Light from the embers of the fire danced in Trini's chocolate-colored eyes and warmed her tanned face. Billy reached over and brushed Trini's hair back. Then he leaned over and kissed her lightly. Trini slowly opened her eyes and smiled. Trini scooted closer to Billy and kissed him back. This time Billy smiled. He pulled Trini to him and wrapped his arms tightly around her.
She didn't mean to. She didn't want to, but Trini couldn't help herself. She started to giggle. With so many thoughts and emotions rushing through her mind, she became flustered. And that always prompted giggling in Trini. Her laughter was contagious, and soon Billy was giggling too, in between kisses.
"Would you two knock it off," Alex grumbled from across the fire. Adam snored as if on cue. Alex snuggled back up against him and went to sleep.
Trini looked up, over at Alex, and then back at Billy. She buried her head against Billy's chest to muffle her giggles, and he hugged her tighter against him....
A stick snaps behind Trini causing her to leap to her feet.
"Who's there?" Trini says, taking a fighting stance.
"Are we a little jumpy tonight?" Alex says, coming back into the light of the fire and adjusting her toga.
"Sorry," Trini says, relaxing her posture. "Thought you might be a bear."
"Nah. That reminds me of the last time we went camping though. Boy, has it been that long. We had such a great weekend, though I was sure my dad was going to find out."
Trini smiles and sits back down on her log. She and Alex were so much alike sometimes that it was frightening.
"Hey, you never filled me in on what exactly happened to you and Billy," Alex says and adds, "The rest of the Rangers refused to fill me in, and all Billy said on Aquitar was, 'Trini and I just aren't going the same way anymore.' What the hell kind of answer is that?"
Trini's smile slips away. "I really don't want to talk about it."
"Too bad, girlfriend." Alex sits down beside Trini and throws a supportive arm around her shoulder. "C'mon, tell me. You used to confide in me all the time. What happened?"
"Remember all the slumber parties we had after I first got back from Europe," Trini says.
"Yes, but you're changing the subject," Alex says.
"Remember how we'd stay up all night talking about guys?"
"And dishing on Kat and Tommy," Alex says with a laugh. "And we made all those elaborate and totally impractical plans on how to get Billy to really sit up and notice you."
"Oh, please. I used to have to listen to you go on and on about Adam for hours," Trini says. "So is he still the greatest thing since sliced bread?"
"Yeah," Alex says weakly.
"That didn't sound very convincing. Did I tell you that Kim got a postcard from Adam recently? The stunt show was performing in Hong Kong, and he was so excited about meeting Jade. Half the postcard was about her."
"Don't even mention her name," Alex says, her eyebrows furrowing.
"What? You guys love Jade. You two used to be first in line at all her movies. You'd spend weeks trying to replicate some of her martial arts moves."
"It's one thing for your fiance to drool over super woman when she's on the movie screen. It's quite another when she asks him out for dinner."
"I thought it was a business dinner," Trini says.
"Yeah, supposedly. Adam said that Jade was so impressed with his section in the stunt show that she invited him out to dinner to discuss 'his future.' Jade gave Adam her agent's number and promised to set up an audition with her motion picture company after his contract was up with the stunt show," Alex says.
"That's great!" Trini says enthusiastically. She notices Alex's expression looking worse. "Okay, maybe not. Why not? Wouldn't your dad finally cut Adam some slack if he was Jade's leading man in her next movie?"
Alex releases a sigh of desperation.
"Oooh, I see. You're not so concerned about Adam becoming famous. You're afraid that Jade or some other woman is going to take him away from you," Trini realizes.
"No, I'm not _that_ petty," Alex says, trying to be convincing. "I'm excited for Adam. He gets to travel all over the world and meet famous people. Each month he's on the road brings us one step closer to being financially independent from our parents, so that we can get married sooner."
"But...," Trini says, knowing that there's more to the story than Alex is telling.
"I'm afraid that he's going to change his mind about me. I mean, come on, he calls to tell me about visiting the Great Wall of China and all I can come up with is that I made an A on my frog dissection lab. Whoopee!"
Trini throws her arms around her depressed friend. "Sounds like someone is having a Pity Party for herself. C'mon Alex, Adam is the greatest guy I know. You don't have to worry about him. He'll be coming home to you soon."
Alex rests her head on Trini's shoulder and mumbles, "I know...but I still wish Adam would end his big solo by giving the heroine a big handshake. I saw her. She just looks too into their big kiss."
Trini can't help but laugh at her friend.
"So what happened between you and Billy then?" Alex asks.
Trini's laughter ends, and she sighs. She knew she wasn't going to be able to talk her way out of it this time.
"Time to come clean," Trini thinks.
"Things looked fine when I left," Alex says. "But then again, I was kind of self-absorbed at that point with Mrs. Petrosky's death."
"Honestly, things started getting weird around the Power Chamber before then, but I didn't say anything. It wasn't until after you left that the fit hit the shan and _some_ people really showed their true colors...."
"What's that supposed to mean?!" Trini's voice began to rise in volume
"I thought the Amazons lived in the city of Thermiscyra on the Thermodon," Trini asks.
"Some do, Trini," Ephanine replies. "The Amazon nation is more spread out than it used to be, but there are still Amazons at our birthplace. We are the band furthest to the west. Our band's queen and eldest women fought in the campaign against Theseus to rescue Antiope."
"Excuse me, but who's Antiope?" Kim asks.
"Oh, I remember," says Trini. "When Theseus came to Thermiscyra, Antiope fell in love with him and decided to elope."
"Not exactly," Ephanine says tactfully.
"More like the bastard seduced her onto his ship and then betrayed her," Damiana snorts. "She did not willingly leave the Amazons. He abducted her."
Ephanine shoots Damiana a perturbed "are you finished yet" look and then continues, "We'll never know for sure whether she chose to leave or not. But the fact remains, she ultimately betrayed her sisters. After the massacre that resulted at Athens, they felt betrayed by Antiope who fought along side her lover. Those few who survived felt they no longer were part of the mother tribe. They had failed in their duty to protect their queen. Some would say they should have sacrificed themselves rather than retreated. And yet their queen had failed them. She, who was supposed to epitomize the Amazon way of life, had betrayed her bonds of sisterhood all for the love of one man."
"Who ultimately betrayed her, don't forget," pipes in Damiana. "He had her killed when he decided to marry someone else. Had her killed _at_ the wedding ceremony."
"Ooh...harsh," mutters Alex.
"And so the massacre survivors decided to form their own bands. Queen Cyrene formed a new band here, near the western edge of the Black Sea. They kept many of the old customs, but have tried to form peaceful alliances with their neighbors in order to establish trade. They knew that bringing peace would allow them to rebuild their numbers and their pride."
"So that we can rise up and crush the Athenians once and for all." Damiana slaps her bo staff in her hand, her eyes flashing with blood lust.
"That's it!" Ephanine barks, snatching the bo staff out of Damiana's hand. "Move!" she orders, poking Damiana in the back. "I'm telling Aella you're not ready to be initiated."
"But...," Damiana whines.
"I said move!" Ephanine orders, smacking Damiana across the behind with her bo staff like scolding a small child. "You obviously are still too immature for 'the passage.'"
"Aw, c'mon, Ephanine," Damiana says, rubbing her sore behind. "I'm ready. I remember Aella's lessons: Diplomacy first, fighting last. I just got caught up in the moment that's all."
"Well, that kind of behavior will get you killed and others too," reprimands Ephanine.
"That's not what Oreithyia would say," Damiana mutters under her breath.
"My dogs are barkin'," Alex complains, sitting down heavily on the nearest skin inside Ephanine's tent. She unties her hiking boots and gingerly slides them off. "Anybody got a bandaid? I've got major blisters here."
Trini digs through the medical kit and hands Alex a bandaid. She inspects the rest of their medical kit.
"We've really got to get a move on, ladies. I'm not sure how much longer this coolant is going to last, especially in this heat," Trini says.
"Maybe Alpha messed up," Kim says, wiping beads of perspiration off her brow. "We've seen a lot of weird stuff since we got here, but nobody with the creeping crud that the Rangers have."
"I agree," Alex says. "Maybe we should activate the homing device and go home."
"No, let's wait a little while longer." Trini takes one more look at the vials and then repacks the medical kit. "Uncoding the virus and synthesizing an antidote will take months. We can't leave the Earth unprotected for that long."
"It's not _totally_ unprotected," Kim says, twirling a strand of hair around her finger. "We could always be re-enlisted."
"We're too old," Alex says, massaging her right foot.
"Speak for yourself." Kim flexes her biceps. "I've never been in better shape."
"They already have a functioning Pink Ranger," Alex jabs.
"I could be a different color. I always thought I'd look good in blue or maybe red...."
Trini shakes her head, refusing to join in the discussion.
"These should suit you better," Ephanine says, returning to the tent. She hands each girl an armful of folded leather.
"Cool," Kim says fingering the soft, chocolate-colored suede-like skirt.
"I'm afraid these are only very simple, but speed was of the essence. Forgive me, but the boots will have to be second hand. Alex, these are a pair of mine I was going to retire once I got back from Amphipolis. Well worn but comfortable. Kimberly, these were my blood sister Alcippe's. Trini, your feet look about the same size as Damiana's. Damiana...," Ephanine prompts the girl with a nod. Noticing that Damiana isn't budging, Ephanine clarifies, "Please go fetch the pair I recently gave you."
"But they were a gift! I was going to wear them tonight at the initiation," Damiana whines.
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry. I will replace them," Ephanine says scooting Damiana towards the entrance of the tent.
"I couldn't...," Trini says and suggests, "Perhaps there's another pair I could wear."
"No, _we_ insist," Ephanine says, squeezing Damiana around the shoulders. She scoots Damiana out the door. "Surely, someone as _mature_ as you could lend your boots to the person who saved your life."
Damiana sulks away to retrieve the boots.
"Okay girls, check me out." Kim struts out the flap of the tent to where Alex and Trini are waiting. Kim snaps her fingers and sticks out her hip.
"It's refreshing to see you in something that's not pink," Trini says, adjusting the wide belt holding her knee-length skirt securely around her waist.
"Can you put these owl feathers in my braids like that girl's hair over there?" Alex asks, holding the feathers out to Kim.
"What an improvement," Damiana says, appearing suddenly behind the girls.
"What a great 'do," Kim says, fingering the intricate beaded and feathered braids on Damiana's head.
Damiana slaps Kim's hand away with a sigh of annoyance. "It's time to go. Ephanine will have my head if we're late."
The Rangers and Damiana join the crowd around the ceremonial fire. Close to the fire, seven women wearing masks perform an elaborate dance to the beat of the drums. Alex taps her feet to the rhythm as she studies the dancers circling the fire.
"Are you taking some mental notes for your next 'ethnic dance' session, Alex?" Trini asks, nudging her.
"You bet," Alex answers.
"Damiana, I thought Amazons wore cropped tops," bubbles Kim, fingering her own leather top which fits more like a full vest.
"No," answers Damiana. "Why would you want to expose your most vulnerable parts, stupid. Might as well run around naked."
"Well excuse me for asking," Kim says and then mumbles to Alex, "_Some_body sure has a burr up her behind."
The drums crescendo to a finale, and the dancers drop to the ground in respect--and exhaustion.
A woman in her late twenties steps onto the dais. Her ceremonial mantle of exotic hides and mask of rare bird feathers can only partially hide the countless scars that cover her body.
"That's Oreithyia," Ephanine whispers to the girls, "the queen's sister. She rules in the queen's place while Cyrene is away."
"Where is the queen?" Trini asks.
"She is in Athens meeting with King Krokus to try to...."
"Today," Oreithyia's voice booms, "is a special day as we begin the rite of passage. When you first became young women, you began your quest for sisterhood with the rite of blood. Since then, you have been instructed in the art of war and the art of life. Who presents these initiates?"
"I, Aella," an older woman says, stepping out to stand in front of Damiana and the row of other young women. She makes a gesture of respect to the queen's sister.
"And I, Ephanine." Ephanine makes the same gesture and joins Aella.
"Why have you brought these three strangers here, Ephanine?" commands Oreithyia.
Kim gulps and shrinks back against Trini and Alex.
"Because Kimberly, Alex and Trini of America have proven themselves to be worthy Amazons. We may teach our daughters our laws and our legends, but that which is most important they must learn on their own. These three young women have already proven themselves to be mighty warriors. When Damiana was in danger...."
Damiana cringes in embarrassment as her fellow initiates stare at her.
"Trini tried to negotiate with the agressor to let Damiana, a stranger to her, pass in peace. We could have passed peacefully if not for the pride of the people involved."
Ephanine was trying to "save face" for Damiana as much as she could, but Damiana's face still flushed red.
"When the men attacked," Ephanine continues, "only then did Trini resort to fighting--and it was clear her actions were in defense and well controlled. Her American sisters also came to the aid of Damiana. Their combat style is unusual but very effective. Their camaradrie surely saved Damiana's life...and mine."
"How many did they kill?" Oreithyia asks.
"That's just it. Being superior warriors, they bested all Titus's men without killing any of them. Their wisdom prevailed as surely even one death would have given the warlord reason to attack us. This American Amazon way was much more devastating as they damaged the attackers' reputations and pride."
"I see," Oreithyia says absorbing it all in. After a moment of silence she concludes, "Include them in the ceremony."
Kim looks excitedly at Trini and Alex, but their anxious expressions sober her considerably. Kim realizes she's not sure what the initiation entails.
"I remember something about mastectomies...," Alex recalls in horror. She looks around quickly and notices that everyone still has a matching set. She breathes a sigh of relief. "Glad Bullfinch got one detail wrong."
Noting Alex and Trini's unease, Ephanine turns to them and whispers, "Relax, tonight is just a symbolic ritual, that's all."
"May these bracelets remind you of our ancestors' enslavement to men," Aella says as she puts the last Amazon girl's bracelets on her.
Trini stands respectfully still. Kim keeps turning her wrists to and fro watching the fire light bounce off her bronze metal cuff bracelets. Alex stifles a giggle. If it weren't such a reverent moment, she'd really like to jump in front of Trini and yell, "Wonder Woman! Ping! Bing!" with matching deflective movements. But she manages to contain herself.
Turning to face all the new warriors, Aella continues, "May the great goddess Athena guide and protect you."
The Ranger girls look at one another uncomfortably.
"May her wisdom flow through you at all times." Aella paces in front of them and stops. "And when you must, may her battle prowess make you victorious. Congratulations. We now recognize you as full...."
"Wait!" yells Oreithyia. "Young Amazons, you have proven in your tutoring that you can fight, but I here reinstate the ancient law to full passage."
The young Amazons look at one another in confusion. Aella and Ephanine share concerned stares.
"By ancient law," Oreithyia continues, "a young woman must kill a man to become a full Amazon."
Some of the Amazons roar approval; others whisper conspiratorially.
The Rangers look horrified. Kim starts tugging at her bracelets.
"Umm...Ephanine? I really appreciate the thought, but I...uh...I just don't think I'm going to be able to live up to your expectations," stammers Kim.
"With due respect, Oreithyia." Ephanine approaches the queen's sister and bows down on one knee. "I do not believe that Queen Cyrene would approve of such a measure."
"I agree," Aella adds, also taking the submissive posture. "I have known Cyrene longer than anyone here, including yourself. The Queen would never permit the reinstatement of the law that she herself abolished at the beginning of her reign."
"Times have changed, warriors. My sister's outdated ideas no longer serve our ultimate goal--to defeat King Krokus," Oreithyia says, her voice bellowing at the end.
Oreithyia's supporters roar in approval and draw their weapons. The conservative Amazons grumble and retreat into small groups. The Rangers look at each other, unsure of what to do.
"Oh great, we've walked into a civil war," Alex says.
"Look!" Damiana shouts. "The scouts return!"
The grumbling momentarily ceases as a party of ten Amazons and one man return to camp. The warriors drag the bruised and beaten man in front of the dais. The leader of the party pushes the richly dressed, but blood-stained, man to his knees.
"Well, what do we have here?" Oreithyia says wickedly. "Where did you find him, Aria?"
"Prince Triton was trespassing on our land, sister," Aria answers. "He is the only one left of his hunting party."
"We warned King Krokus, Triton. The law is the law." Oreithyia draws a silver dagger from her waist. "The penalty for blatant trespassing on Amazon land is immediate death."
His nose broken and his mouth swollen from repeated blows, all Prince Triton can mutter is a growl. Oreithyia grabs the Prince's wavy brown hair and yanks it back to expose his neck.
"Let this serve as a warning to King Krokus!" Oreithyia yells.
Oreithyia's supporters roar in approval. The Ranger girls look horrified, and Kim turns her head away.
"Who wants to become a full Amazon tonight?" Oreithyia says, eyeing the new warriors.
The young women look at each other anxiously, no one saying a word.
"I'll do it," Damiana finally breaks the silence.
"Damiana, you don't have to do this," Ephanine says softly.
"Silence!" Oreithyia barks. "Come, Damiana. Prove yourself to these cowards who call themselves warriors. Come, become a full sister tonight."
Damiana slowly walks towards Oreithyia and takes the dagger. Her hand wavers as she prepares to slice the man's throat. Damiana's heart pounds loudly in her ears as all the Amazons stare at her. Ephanine and Aella shake their heads disapprovingly. Damiana takes a deep breath and prepares to slice.
"Hail, Queen Cyrene!" a lone Amazon on the fringe of the crowd breaks the silence.
"What are you waiting for? Do it!" Oreithyia urges Damiana.
"Wait!" Ephanine says, quickly grabbing Damiana's wrist before the girl can make the kill. She adds sharply to Oreithyia, "The Queen must be informed of our recent events before your order is carried out. Portia and Lete, take this man to the stables and secure him."
The entire tribe turns to face the outermost edge of the firelight. They bow as one and shout, "Hail, Queen Cyrene!"
The Rangers look awkwardly at one another for a moment. Trini kneels out of respect. Kim looks confused, and Alex stands her ground. Damiana's well-aimed chop to the back of Alex's knees sends Alex into submission. Alex grabs at Kim for balance but brings them both down instead.
"Rise, sisters," Cyrene says, the glow of the fire flashing in her eyes and on her few pieces of functional, although mostly ceremonial, armor. The 30-something-year-old woman dismounts her horse with prowess but notable stiffness.
Cyrene hands the horse's reins to a member of her entourage and approaches the dais.
"I'm disappointed that you began the initiation before I returned," Cyrene says to Oreithyia.
"That's not all she's going to be 'disappointed' about," Alex mutters. Damiana shoots her a mean look.
"You are alive, Cyrene. When you were late to return, I feared for your safety, dear sister," Oreithyia says, taking off her ceremonial headpiece and handing it to its rightful owner.
"Odd, she doesn't sound that concerned," Trini thinks suspiciously.
"I felt we might need the extra soldiers to launch a campaign against Krokus," Oreithyia explains slickly and adds, "In case your mission with King Krokus was unsuccessful."
"A campaign won't be necessary," says Cyrene and then announces to the tribe, "Good news, sisters. Our peace envoy to Athens has been successful. We have formed a peace agreement. Krokus's people will be permitted to hunt on our westernmost border and in return King Krokus has given up his attempted claim on the Wells of Artemis."
"You gave them our western hunting ground?!" Oreithyia flames.
"No, the land is still ours. We will permit them to cross temporarily onto our land, however, to follow game. King Krokus has given his word that he will not advance his borders onto our territory."
"His word?!" Oreithyia snarls in contempt. "Since when did a man's promise mean anything?"
Oreithyia's comment strikes a chord in the Rangers.
**"Will you stop worrying, Alex?" Adam had said, "I promise I'll only be gone a month, two months at the most, and I'll come see you every break I get...No, you don't have to worry about me. There's no room in my heart for anyone else but you...."
"The tour has been so successful that they asked me to sign on for six more months. Isn't that great?" Adam had said and added, "That's the good news. The bad news is that I'll have to miss Christmas with you and your birthday. But don't worry, there's no room in my heart for anyone else but you.... Hey, you'll never guess who asked me for an autograph, Jade! Isn't that cool?!"**
**"Kimberly," Trevor had said, "if you want to win at the Pan-American games, you're going to have to trust me completely. I know what's best for you at this stage of your life, so you'll need to follow my every instruction. I'll make you a gold medalist. That's what you want, don't you?...First off, you need to clear your mind and your life of all distractions. Let's start with the biggest one: that Tommy guy...."
But whatever she did, it was never good enough for Trevor. Nothing short of a perfect "10" pleased him. "You're such an airhead!" Trevor had yelled at her after one meet. "You let your mind wander while on the beam. You were thinking about that Tommy guy again, weren't you? That little wobble cost you first place. All my hard work, and you just flush it down the toilet with one split second of stupidity!"
"You didn't make me better," Kimberly thinks. "You made me worse. You destroyed my confidence. Tommy was my balance. Even when I fell off the beam during a competition he still treated me like I had just won a gold medal in the Olympics."**
**The fire crackled, and Adam snored loudly. Billy snickered. The movement of his chest brought Trini back from the verge of sleep.
"You're not asleep yet?" Trini said groggily, folding her arm beneath her chin and propping herself up on Billy's chest.
"No," he sighed and smoothed her hair.
"And _why_ not," she teased and tickled his face with her bangs.
"Because I've been thinking," Billy answered noncommittally.
"About...," she prodded.
"You," he whispered.
As ridiculous as it seemed, Trini still couldn't resist the temptation to bury her blushing cheeks in Billy's neck.
"I...I love you, Trini Kwan," Billy stammered with all the courage he could muster.
"I know that, silly," Trini said with a smile. "You told me that in the Docking Bay last week when we were fighting Lampry/Skull."
"I'm serious. That was a hormone-surging, heat-of-the-moment, say-it-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace confession. Now my brain is telling me how much it loves you, not just my heart."
Billy sighed in relief when Trini answered, "I love you too, Billy. And that's not just my heart talking."
"I feel like we're soulmates," Billy continued. "You're the only one who truly understands me. When I'm with you, I feel like I can take on the world...the universe. Promise me that we'll always be a team -- come what may."
Trini sensed the awkwardness Billy felt in his self-disclosure. She raised herself up on her elbow and looked him in the eye.
"I promise," she said and kissed him -- without giggling.
"But you didn't seem to need me after all," Trini thinks. "When push came to shove, you wanted Cestria in your corner. Oh why didn't you let me keep trying to save you?"**
"The Scouts caught Prince Triton trespassing on our land," Ephanine says, bringing the Rangers back from their thoughts. "Oreithyia has ordered his execution and asked Damiana to kill him."
"Kill him?" Queen Cyrene looks at her sister with surprise and disappointment.
"Oreithyia has reinstated the ancient law for passage to full sisterhood." Ephanine can't wait to see the Queen's reaction to that one.
"We will have words about this matter later, dear sister," Cyrene says coldly. "For now, do not kill the Prince. What happened to his entourage? Someone of his importance would never be permitted to travel alone."
"They were all killed by our scouts," Aria answers proudly.
Cyrene shakes her head disapprovingly wondering how this will affect their treaty with King Korkus.
"The Warlord, Titus, was with them," Aria continues.
Oreithyia and Cyrene both look surprised.
"I'm afraid that he escaped, my Queen." Aria lowers her head in shame. "I will lead a hunting party immediately to recapture him. Titus was headed towards the Wells of Artemis. He will probably stop there to clean his wounds."
"No, he's mine. I will lead the hunting party," Oreithyia says with a wicked smile. "Glauce, Clete, you will come with me."
"Oreithyia's favorites," Damiana thinks, feeling dejected.
"And...Damiana," Oreithyia adds, snatching her dagger back from Ephanine.
"ME?!" Damiana pipes up.
Ephanine's expression is grim, causing Oreithyia to smile even more.
"Yes, unless you don't think you are ready to handle such a dangerous mission. A mission for a real warrior," Oreithyia goads.
"I'll get the horses ready." Damiana bounds off.
Ephanine scowls and the Rangers shake their heads in worry.
Cassie bends down behind the bushes to pick up her communicator and brush the dirt off it.
"Woooah...ooof..ow!" Cassie hears. Without standing up, she peers through the bushes.
After rolling out of the portal, the Phantom Ranger lies in an ungraceful heap at the base of a tree. The edge of his helmet has become lodged in between two tree roots. He tugs at his helmet for a moment and then says quietly, "Oh how embarrassing. Power down."
A trim but athletically built humanoid in a black jumpsuit of sorts appears on all fours with his head between the two tree roots. He stands to a more dignified position, running his hand through his silvery white hair.
Cassie, who had managed not to laugh out loud, can't control her gasp of wonder as Phantom turns in her direction. Upon hearing a noise, Phantom immediately assumes a fighting position.
"Whoa, sorry, it's just me," Cassie says emerging from the bushes. "I...uh..lost my communicator and came back to...wow...."
A pinkish tint colors Phantom's alabaster white skin. A shock of hair hangs down covering his left eye and partially shielding him from his embarrassment.
"Not quite what you were expecting?" Phantom asks as Cassie's jaw continues to drop.
"No...I mean yes..I mean I was hoping...," Cassie stammers.
"You were hoping...that I wasn't a giant brain or an extraterrestrial slug or something encased in a human-shaped shell?" Phantom tries to joke.
Cassie just continues to stare.
"Cassie?" Phantom asks as he walks toward her.
"I'm sorry," Cassie says as she pulls herself together. "It's just that I've been wondering what you looked like for so long. Why haven't you showed us your face before now? You have the most incredible violet eyes."
"Thank you. I've wanted to see you through them...without the helmet...for some time. But I was afraid that you would recoil in horror if you saw me."
"Recoil in horror? Why? You're a hotty!" Cassie blurts out and then wishes she could censor her last remark.
Phantom smiles at her discomfort, but his smile fades as he pushes the hair away from his face.
"Because of this," he says somberly.
A wide, long, magenta scar runs from his forehead above his left eye to his left temple. Though the skin is not broken, the scar tissue is visibly grotesque, uneven in texture and sometimes stretched. Only Cassie's eyes telegraph her reaction to the sight.
"Does it hurt?" Cassie asks stepping closer.
"No, the laser wound finished healing a few months ago, but the planet I was assigned to was fairly primitive. They healed me to the best of their ability, but the damage was extensive. Believe it or not, it used to look much worse. The worst part was that the laser blast damaged part of my brain. I need the suit of armor to help make up the deficiencies in my psi powers. I was on my way back to my home planet for reconstructive surgery when Dimitria called me," Phantom explains. "Now that you know my secret. Can I trust you to keep it until I'm ready to face the other Rangers?"
"Yes," Cassie says reaching out her fingertips to touch Phantom's face. She gently runs them from the side of his forehead down his cheek and onto his chest. Phantom gently pins her hand against his chest and leans toward her.
"HIYAH! HIYAH!" Alex yells, striking her attackers with powerful tornado kicks.
Trini hears the escalating battle from inside the Queen's tent. Trini takes Ephanine's pulse again and shakes her head worriedly.
"I wish Aella would hurry back with those supplies," Trini thinks. "I hope she hasn't been captured."
A sudden ripping sound interrupts Trini's thoughts. A moment later a burly man, who Trini recognizes from their previous battle with Titus's army, pushes through the now gaping hole in the back of the Queen's tent. Trini jumps to her feet, quickly surveying the area for anything to use as a weapon.
"Oh, look, it's that little Mongolian girl again. Let's finish what we started last time," the man growls, drawing his dagger and slashing it around menacingly.
"Didn't learn your lesson last time, did ya?" Trini baits him, trying to draw him away from the injured. She knows that killing Cyrene must be #1 on his agenda. Trini hops lightly around the tent like a boxer, her hands held up high to protect herself.
The man lunges at Trini, slashing his knife back and forth. Trini ducks and darts away, still leading him away from the injured. The soldier growls and lunges again. Trini slides to her left allowing the man to stumble past her.
"Adam?!" Trini hears Alex's voice say loudly outside the tent.
Trini looks towards the flap. The moment of distraction is all it takes for the soldier to overpower Trini. He knocks Trini into the dirt floor and pushes the dagger towards the straining muscles in her neck. Trini thrashes around wildly trying to get her leg free. She quickly pulls her leg up under the soldier's chest and with a groaning "HIYAH!" flips him off her. The point of the dagger rakes across Trini's stomach as the man crashes into the water urns to the side of the tent. Trini glances down. Her Amazon top now has a slice through it. Luckily, Trini is able to walk away with only a minor graze. She touches her fingers to the graze and then looks at the small amount of blood wetting her fingers.
"I've never been wounded like this before. Putties and Cogs only produced soft tissue injuries. The Rangers never bled," Trini thinks.
The soldier groans, pushing broken pieces of pottery off of himself.
"I've got to put this guy out of commission!" Trini thinks as the soldier struggles to stand.
"Hiyah!" Trini does a hitch-kick, slamming the soldier in the solar plexus.
The soldier gasps as the air leaves his lungs. Trini follows the move with a hammer fist to his groin. The soldier collapses back into the floor, howling in pain.
"That should do it," Trini thinks smugly. "He'll be out of commission for a while, but not permanently damaged."
"The cavalry has arrived!" Kim shouts a few minutes later, throwing back the flap to the Queen's tent.
"Looks like you've been busy," Alex says, nodding at the soldier. "What happened to him?"
Trini checks the knot securing the soldier's hands once more and then jumps up to hug her friends.
"Let's just say that he was on the receiving end of Hephaestus's mighty hammer," Trini says, acting out her move again.
The girls cringe.
"Painful," Alex says.
"What happened to your vest?" Kim says, inspecting Trini's top closely.
"It's nothing. See, it's already beginning to clot," Trini says, though the graze is beginning to sting and the leather rubbing against it makes it hurt even worse.
"I knew you would find us," Trini says to change the topic.
"What are sisters for?" Kim says taking hold of one of Trini's and one of Alex's cuffed wrists.
"Guess who decided to tag along?" Alex says lifting the tent flap again. She gestures at the guys to come in from where she asked them to wait.
"Trini!" Adam rushes to give his old friend a hug. Trini's breath catches as she locks eyes with Tommy over Adam's shoulder.
"Trini," Tommy acknowledges her cautiously.
"Tommy," she returns, also cautiously. "Thank you all for coming."
"Trini," Kim interrupts the awkwardness, "we brought the antidote."
She hands Trini the box. Everyone circles around Cyrene and Ephanine as Trini prepares the injections.
"I hope this works," Trini says and then completes her task.
Suddenly, Aella crashes through the tent flap out of breath.
"Trini, prepare the Queen and Ephanine for travel," she pants. "We're going to have to retreat. Titus's full army is close to the edge of camp. We can't hold them back for much longer -- they outnumber us two to one."
The visitors catch Aella's eye for the first time. She immediately draws her sword and circles Tommy and Adam. They put their hands up in a defensive position.
"Aella, wait!" Kim yells.
"These are our...friends," Trini says reluctantly after catching Tommy's eye.
Aella looks skeptically at the guys. She drops her sword but doesn't put it away. She still isn't convinced that the strangers aren't actually kidnappers. Aella puts herself between the guys and the Queen, just to be on the safe side.
"It looked really bad out there," Adam says soberly.
"We've faced worse though," Tommy says. "All we need to do is a quick regroup. Adam and I will go take out the leader. Just tell me who he is. First we need to...."
"What is your plan, Trini?" Aella completely cuts Tommy off, turning her back on him to face Trini.
"How are we on supplies?" Trini says. "I'm not sure that Cyrene and Ephanine are ready for a long journey. It will take time for the antidote to work. We need...."
"We are _not_ going to retreat," Tommy interrupts. "We can take these guys. All we need to do...."
Aella whips around to face Tommy, raising the point of her sword to right below Tommy's nose. "Silence! You will speak when the shaman asks for your opinion. Until then, you will be silent!"
"Shaman?" Adam turns to ask Alex. A withering look from Aella causes Adam to quickly close his mouth.
"I'll explain later," Alex whispers.
"He means no disrespect, Aella." Trini can't help but smirk at the look on Tommy's face. Nobody had ever shut him up so fast before. "Tommy--this man--means well. In our culture, men frequently assume...."
"Not to mention, _presume_," Alex adds sarcastically.
"They frequently assume the leadership position during crisis situations," Trini continues.
"Men?!" Aella snorts. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Men are too hot-headed during war. Their blood lust makes them unpredictable. They lose reason and act haphazardly. Sisters, your culture is a strange one. I would like to hear more about it at a later time. I always enjoy a good laugh."
"Hey!" Adam says, his feathers getting ruffled.
Alex puts a calming hand on his shoulder. Tommy continues to scowl.
"Tommy means well. He has a lot of experience as a leader. I will listen to his suggestions. Continue Tommy," Trini says.
Tommy clears his throat, having to remind himself that a good leader is a team player.
"We need to find the person giving the orders and cut him off," Tommy says. "Let Adam and I go--unmorphed--and take him out. Once he's down, it won't be hard to get the rest to surrender or retreat."
Alex remembers what Trini said about her last encounter with the former Red Ranger. Her blood begins to boil and she snaps at Tommy, "Nice plan, hot shot. Except you forgot one important thing...you two LOOK like the enemy."
"She's right," Trini says. "I'm afraid that the other sisters would attack you."
"You could explain to them that we're the good guys," Adam suggests.
"It would be hard to get them to _trust_ you, much less get them to _follow_ you," Trini says. "No, let Kim and Alex take out the leader. You and Adam stay here and protect the Queen."
Tommy grumbles and starts to protest.
Trini pacifies him by asking, "So how do you suggest Kim and Alex take out the leader?"
Everyone crouches down to the floor to see Tommy's crude line drawings in the dirt. They nod, everyone understanding his or her particular role in the operation.
"Father Ares!" Aella says suddenly and immediately bows down.
The others look over their shoulders to see Phantom Ranger--back in uniform--and Cassie materializing in the tent.
"No, Aella. This is our friend, Phantom Ranger. He's an ali...oh, never mind...he's a good friend," Kim says.
"Hmmmmmm," Alex and Trini say in unison, each thinking the same thing.
"Scrap that idea." Alex leans over and completely erases Tommy's detailed plan in the dirt with one swoop of her hand.
"This is what we are going to do...," Trini says matter-of-factly.
"Here are the bow and arrows you needed, Trini." Aella hands them to Trini who passes them to Cassie.
"Is everyone clear on the plan?" Trini asks into Cassie's communicator.
"Affirmative," Adam's voice replies. "Tommy and I are hanging out in the largest tree to the left side of the camp's entry way. I can see Kim and the other girls...I mean...warriors. They are beginning to move this way, back into camp."
"It's working. Titus's army is following us." They hear Kim say, her sentences punctuated with hiyahs! "Lete says the guy on the gray horse is Titus's second in command."
"Then we'd better make sure he gets a front row seat for the show," Trini says.
"You got it," Kim answers.
"Damiana...," Ephanine groans from the corner of the tent and tries to sit up. "Get my horse. I have to find her."
Aella and Alex rush to Ephanine's side. Alex gently presses her back down. "Rest, Ephanine. I'm going now to find Damiana. I won't come back without her. I promise," Alex says, but silently thinks, "I just hope Damiana is still alive and in one piece."
"Trini, you better give the command performance of a lifetime, because if this doesn't work, we're screwed," Alex says and then begins, "Shift into Turbo! Star Runner Turbo Power!"
Aella's eyes widen in disbelief as the purple armor envelopes Alex. Once the transformation is complete, Alex slips out the gaping hole in the back of the tent.
"Phantom, Cassie, give me two minutes to get to the dais in the center of camp and then let the show begin." Trini removes the royal horn from its ceremonial position on Queen Cyrene's throne. Aella hands Trini the royal mask--a heavy wooden mask ornamented with leather, feathers, and long dried grasses.
"Please God, let this work," Trini adds silently as she rushes out the front of the tent.
Kim grabs a bow and arrows from a fallen Amazon and prepares to shoot. Within seconds, three shots are fired. Arrows rain down around Graken, Titus's second in command. Graken's horse rears in fright. Once Graken is able to calm his horse, he looks for the culprit. He sees one petite Amazon--Kimberly. He kicks his horse and comes charging after her. Kimberly stands poised to fire another arrow. She stands valiantly until she's positive that he's coming after her, then she takes off for the entrance to camp. Running at top speed, Kim can hear thundering hooves behind her.
"He's going to mow me down!" Kim's mind screams in terror.
"KIMBERLYYYYYYYYY!" Tommy's voice echoes through camp.
With Graken so close that Kim can almost feel his horse's hot breath on her back, Kim makes a daring jump towards the Rangers' tree. With no chance for a mistake, Kim throws herself into the air, grabbing blindly for the Rangers' hands. All of Kim's gymnastic training pays off. She feels strong hands grasp hers. She uses the momentum and her upper body strength to flip herself up and over the lowest branch as if it was an uneven bar in the gym. Kim hangs gasping over the tree limb as Graken rushes underneath and into camp.
"I'd give that move a 10!" Adam says, breaking into a big grin.
"Please, Kim," Tommy says, leaning back against the base of the tree and taking a deep breath. "Don't ever pull a stunt like that again. My heart can't take it."
Meanwhile, Alex sneaks away from camp and the battle.
"Initiate scan," Alex says.
Her helmet visor lights up. A vertical, red bar makes a repeating path across her vision. Alex turns slowly in a circle.
"Nothing!" Alex thinks. "It's going to be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The trail is too cold now. Which way do I even start?"
Alex begins walking north. The scan continues.
"This thing is giving me a migraine. Cease scanning." The regular visor returns. "Wait a minute! I wonder...."
Alex stops dead in her tracks. She brings her hands up to her temples and focuses her concentration.
**Artemis...Artemis...Artemis...can you hear me?** Alex says slowly, projecting her thoughts skyward. **Artemis, I need you. Can you come here? Can you travel through the portal that Billy and the Phantom Ranger have created?**
Alex stands in silence, her fingers still resting on the temples of her Turbo helmet. A distant roar causes Alex to look up towards the hill. The reving sound increases and soon tearing over the hill is Artemis in her Turbo motorcycle form.
"Alright!" Alex says, jumping up and down.
Artemis skids to a stop beside Alex, covering her with dust.
"Boy, am I glad to see you!" Alex says, stroking Artemis' handle bars.
**You beckon, and I come. It does not matter where in the universe that you summon me. I will always come,** Artemis replies.
"That a girl!" Alex slides onto the motorcycle seat. "Now let's go catch us a bad guy."
With another roar of her engine, Artemis peels off.
**Artemis, scan the area for two people riding horseback at a high rate of speed,** Alex projects.
The screen between the handle bars lights up. Soon on the grid, two purple blips begin pulsing.
**The object is on the far side of the rise in front of us and continuing at a high rate of speed,** Artemis answers back. **At our current rate of speed, we will intersect their path in approximately 10 minutes.**
**Ten minutes! We're going to have to get the lead out. Let's take this to the max.**
With a sudden shift, Artemis accelerates into overdrive taking Alex to speeds that she had never been to before. Terrified, Alex clings to Artemis as tightly as she can. The scenery is one continuous blur to Alex.
"WHHHHOOOOAAAAAAA! OOMPH!" Alex yells as the pair fly over a ditch and land roughly on the otherside. **A little warning next time, Artemis, please.** **Duck, Purple Ranger,** Artemis replies.
Alex barely ducks in time to miss a low-lying branch as Artemis whips through a dense grove of trees. **I'm just going to close my eyes now. Tell me when my life is no longer in danger.**
**I would never allow anything to harm you, Purple Ranger,** Artemis answers matter of factly. **Look, I believe we have found the people you search for.**
Alex strains her eyes looking ahead. Sure enough Damiana and Titus are on a wild ride through the dense forest.
**Hold on, Purple Ranger. We will intersect their present path faster if we take a short cut over the dry river bed coming up presently,** Artemis says.
Titus's horse struggles up the steep, rocky side of the river bed. Only a few lengths behind him, Damiana kicks her sweat-soaked horse faster trying to make up the distance between them. A roaring sound through the air causes both of them to look skyward. All they see is a metallic object hurtling through the air and landing on the other side of the river bank.
Titus's horse arrives on the grassy otherside just as Alex makes a sharp turn to face him. Alex revs Artemis's engines. The sudden noise spooks Titus's horse causing it to rear repeatedly. Titus struggles to keep his diseased-ravaged body in his seat. A sudden ku-thunk echoes through the air, and Titus falls heavily into the grass. His horse immediately takes off for shelter in the forest. An arrow sticks out of Titus's upper back. Alex looks up to see Damiana sitting proudly on her horse, her bow still perched in the air. Damiana cautiously knocks another arrow and aims it towards the strange purple creature coming her way.
"Don't shoot, Damiana! It's me...Alex. Power down!" The purple armored person says, transforming back into the Amazon-attired girl.
"Alex? What? How?" Damiana stammers, her jaw continuing to drop.
"No time to explain," Alex says, jogging up to Titus. "The other Amazons need us. Titus's army is giving them a serious beating."
"Is he dead?" Damiana asks as Alex leans over the crumpled man.
"No, I think he's still alive, but I don't know for how much longer. Looks like your arrow passed all the way through. We'll have to get Trini to look at it, but I don't think it's a mortal wound," Alex says, carefully surveying Titus's injuries.
"Then move out of the way." Damiana aims her bow at Titus. "Let me finish what I started."
"No, you can't kill him," Alex says, blocking Damiana's shot.
"I have to. _He_ is responsible for the sickness in camp. I must avenge Queen Cyrene and Ephanine's deaths," Damiana says, tears of anger welling up in her eyes.
"But they aren't dead. Trini has a cure! They will recover."
"Really? Still, he defiled Artemis's temple. I heard him call upon Apollo and I saw him dip his hands into the Wells of Artemis. He _must_ have something to do with the illness. For that, he deserves to die."
"What are you talking about?"
Damiana reluctantly tells what else she saw at the well, including Oreithyia's part in the plot against the Queen.
"Oreithyia...," Alex growls. "We should have known. That means Queen Cyrene's life is still in danger. You have to tell the others what you saw before Oreithyia finishes off the job Titus started. Find Titus's horse. We're going back to camp!"
Meanwhile, Phantom Ranger and Cassie slip out the back of the Queen's tent. Phantom turns to Cassie.
"Remember, Cassie. You may slip a little in the air when I let go of your hand so we can reappear, but I won't let you fall," Phantom says, taking Cassie's left hand gently. "I promise."
"I know you won't," Cassie says confidently, breaking his grip. She takes his hand again, lacing her fingers through his.
The pair disappear as Phantom Ranger activates his invisibility power.
Aella stands silently after all of the Rangers are gone. She surveys Ephanine and Cyrene's conditions one more time and then spots the small metal case that Kim had brought the serum in. She inspects the two empty syringes carefully, amazed at the technology of the American Amazons. She gently tips the final and still filled syringe back and forth. She places all the syringes back in the case and snaps it closed. Aella places the box back down, on top of her bulging medicine bag next to Ephanine. The stream of light provided by the large hole in the back of the tent suddenly becomes blocked. Aella grabs her sword and whips around defensively. She relaxes when she sees Oreithyia standing there, a large gash across her thigh.
"Sister, come. Let me bind your wound," Aella says, resheathing her sword.
"I've come for the royal horn and mask," Oreithyia says, not even inquiring about the Queen's health.
"But Cyrene is...," Aella says.
"Silence! It's time to call a retreat. Give me what rightfully belongs to me," Oreithyia snarls and then adds as an after thought, "I'll send a search party later to come back to get Cyrene and Ephanine and the other wounded."
"_If_ there is anything left of them," Oreithyia thinks coldly.
"Give me just a little time. I can prepare them for travel. Why don't you let me tend to your wound first," Aella says, trying to buy some more time. Aella bends over at the waist to inspect Oreithyia's wound closer.
Oreithyia jerks the older woman to a standing position and hisses into Aella's face.
"I said where are the royal horn and mask!?"
"Trini has them," Aella says.
Both Amazons look over their shoulders as they hear the royal horn echoing through camp.
"You're a fool, Aella!" Oreithyia growls and violently backhands the older woman.
Caught completely off guard, Aella takes the full blow and crumples to her knees. Aella grabs her now broken and bleeding nose protectively.
"Cyrene's reign is finally over, and I have no place for you. Stay here and die with the rest of these cowardly fools," Oreithyia says icily.
Oreithyia pulls her dagger and lunges for Cyrene. In a vain attempt to save her Queen, Aella throws herself at Oreithyia. The pair struggle. Because of her superior strength, Oreithyia is able to break Aella's vice-like grasp. Oreithyia backhands Aella a second time, sending the injured woman to her knees. Oreithyia kicks Aella right on the base of the chin causing Aella to lose consciousness.
"I'll deal with you later," Oreithyia snarls, wiping the blood off of her cheek from where Aella's nails had raked across it. She picks up the dagger, determined to finish what she started. Oreithyia raises her arm above her head and aims the dagger at Cyrene's chest.
Ku-thunk! The metal serum box bounces off the back of Oreithyia's head. She collapses to one knee, grabbing the back of her head protectively. Her vision temporarily disturbed from the blow, Oreithyia doesn't see the water urn headed towards her temple. Intricately decorated pottery rains down on Ephanine, but she continues to throw whatever she can get her hands on at Oreithyia, hoping for another direct hit.
"That was for Damiana. And this one is for Alcippe." Ephanine cracks a still dazed Oreithyia up side the head with Aella's medicine bag.
Oreithyia crashes face down into the dirt floor where she remains.
Trini has to duck several attackers as she makes her way to the dais.
"C'mon! Get out of my way!" Trini grumbles under her breath. She flings herself onto the dais. Trini brings the royal horn to her lips and blows. The sound echoes throughout camp, but no one stops fighting. Trini blows the horn again. Nothing.
"Cassie, can you help me out here?" Trini says to the thin air behind her, hoping that Cassie and Phantom are up there.
"Stand back. This could get ugly," Cassie's voice says.
A hail of laser fire rains down from the sky without a visible source. The ground in front of the dais lights up like a great pyrotechnic rock show. Trini stumbles backwards in spite of herself. The explosion causes everyone to stop fighting for an instant. Trini blows the horn a third time. She stands tall and reaches her arms upward.
"Now let the show begin!" Trini thinks and then bellows, "Oh Father Ares! Why have you foresaken your favorite daughters?"
Trini falls dramatically to her knees and continues, "Artemis! Artemis! Your warriors need you. Please help us!"
Trini kowtows dramatically up and down.
"Shift into Turbo. Wind Chaser Turbo...," an invisible Cassie whispers and then adds in a booming voice "POWER!"
Just as Cassie's transformation is complete, Phantom Ranger releases Cassie's hand and she becomes visible in flash of pink light. Everyone in camp looks up as the pink-armored woman hangs effortlessly in the air.
There is an audible gasp as Phantom Ranger suddenly appears also, the sun glinting off his black shiny armor. Phantom adjusts the microphone in his helmet to produce a booming, deep voice.
"Ares! Artemis!" Trini says loudly, in case anybody was confused.
"Who dares attack my sacred daughters?!" Phantom/Ares booms. "Bring that leader forward!"
"It's _Graken_, father," Trini says, turning to point at Graken. "He follows Titus's orders to attack us."
Graken gulps nervously.
"Graken, leave now and never return," Phantom/Ares continues.
"But Ares, this was our land first," Graken says. "We've been loyal followers of yours. You helped us during our campaign against Draco. Why are you turning your back on us now?"
"I..uh..I..," Phantom fumbles around for a good excuse and then says quickly, "Silence! I don't have to justify myself to a mere mortal!"
Graken doesn't look convinced.
"Titus defiled MY temple," Cassie/Artemis jumps in. "He should be punished for his sacrilege. I should strike you all down without a second thought! Only Ares tempers my wrath today."
A collective gasp escapes from the audience as the sun is suddenly covered by the moon. Cassie jumps a little at the eclipse herself, not realizing that that was part of Phantom's plan.
"Leave, Graken! Before I lose my patience," Phantom/Ares says.
"But Ares, we were promised...," Graken begins again.
"Silence! My mind is made up. Leave Thracia now or prepare to die, Graken." Phantom/Ares releases several laser blasts from his laser gun.
Titus's troops begin to get ancy. Cassie/Artemis draws her bow and sends down an arrow at Graken's feet. Cassie is just as startled as Graken is when the arrow suddenly bursts into flame.
"Thank you again, Phantom," Cassie says quietly under her breath.
Titus's army now begins to break rank. Several men drop their weapons and start running.
"Let's keep these turkeys running," Kim says triumphantly from their tree.
"Shift into Turbo! Desert Thunder Turbo Power!" Adam yells.
"Red Lightning Turbo Power!" Tommy yells.
"Mountain Blaster Turbo Power!" Kim yells.
The trio leap down from the tree in brilliant streaks of light.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" One of Titus's soldiers runs at the Rangers, swinging his sword menacingly.
"Oh, please!" Kim says, whipping out her turboblaster and firing several shots in front of the guy.
She purposefully misses him, but sends the shots close enough to change the soldier's direction and send him scurrying out of camp. Adam and Tommy begin firing too, corralling the fleeing soldiers out of Istria and back into the forest.
"Your arrogance, Graken, annoys me," Cassie/Artemis booms. "I curse you and all of Titus's followers. If you ever set foot on Amazon land again, you will immediately die. And so will all your male children."
Graken has heard enough. He kicks his horse and makes a beeline for the forest, not stopping to help any of his fellow soldiers. When the camp is empty of invaders, a triumphant cry echoes through the air.
"Very impressive," Adam says to Kimberly, eyeing her new Turbo outfit.
"You definitely look better in it than Justin did," Tommy adds.
Kim just laughs and guides the guys towards camp. The Amazons' jaws drop in wonderment as Cassie/Artemis and Phantom/Ares land gracefully on the dais. The Amazons drop to their knees in respect.
"Please, sisters. Stand," Trini says to them. "We played a little trick on Titus's army. These are my friends--Cassie and the Phantom Ranger."
"Power down!" Cassie says.
The Amazons gasp in amazement when they see a young woman standing in Artemis's place. Phantom Ranger continues to hide his identity. The crowd parts as Kim and the guys pass through. The Amazons continue to hold their weapons tightly, unsure of the newcomers. The trio comes to the front of the dais. Trini looks down at them and gives them a smile.
"Sisters, it's me, Kimberly. Power down!" Kim says.
The Amazons visibily relax some when an Amazon-attired Kim reappears.
"You American Amazons truly have wondrous armor. I would swear that mighty Hephaestus forged your armor himself," an older Amazon says.
"Not exactly. But that's a whole 'nother story," Kim says. "Let me introduce you to our friends--Tommy and Adam."
"Power down!" Tommy and Adam say in unison.
The collective gasp is even louder than before. Some of the younger warriors whisper and giggle. Tommy stands proudly, but Adam looks a little self-conscious. A warrior in her twenties walks boldly up to the pair, circling them and looking them up and down appreciatively.
"I think Lete likes your outfits," Kim says quietly over her shoulder to Tommy and Adam.
Tommy suddenly wishes that he had put another shirt over top of his red tank top that morning, and Adam wishes that he had selected a looser fitting pair of blue jeans. Adam jumps when another warrior reaches out to touch his curls.
"Has anyone seen Alex?" he asks nervously.
A thunderous roar at the end of the camp makes everyone quickly turn around. The Amazons draw their weapons.
THE END (?????)