Through that darkness, through those stars, there moved a small ship. It was just a one-man craft, and the pilot of it was focusing his every thought and move upon steering his vessel towards it's goal. Had anyone seen into his ship and been able to look at them, they would've been most shocked and surprised by the depths of pain in his eyes. His were the eyes of a man who has seen the most horrible of things, who has seen something they loved torn from them and survived the experience somehow. And who wasn't entirely certain that he wanted to keep on surviving it.
A mechanical, somewhat feminine, voice spoke. "Three hours until landfall in Angel Grove, California," the ship's onboard computer told him. "Do you wish a transmission sent to the Power Chamber?"
"No," Billy Cranston's quiet voice was more tired than any of his old friends had ever heard it. "Not yet, anyway. Zordon won't be there, and I don't think I feel quite like facing up to this new person. What was his name again?"
The computer corrected him with what might have been surprise. "Her. Dimitria of Inquirus," concern colored the voice this time. Just like Alphas 5 and 6, the computer of his ship was fully sentient. Working on conjunction with the Alien Rangers and what he'd learned over the last few years from Zordon and Alpha, he'd built not just the computer, but the ship itself. Cestria had helped him with the programming, as had Cestro, and in some ways, the computer had become almost like a mother to him.
"Thanks, Erya," Billy had named the computer after an obscure Aquitian legend Cestria had told him of shortly before their marriage. It had been her favorite legend, that of the first Aquitian Power Ranger, who had driven the evil Sorrai Queen from the water planet and established the underwater city of Silidar, which was even now the capital city. She wanted to name our first child that, if it was a girl, his hands shook just the tiniest bit at that, and it was with effort that he was able to control himself. "What's the current status of the team? Who's on and who's off, who are they fighting? I need to get caught up before I get back. . .there."
I don't know if I should call it home or not. Just . . .there. Maybe home again. Someday. The thoughts flittered through his mind as Erya quickly tapped into the intergalactic records to locate the latest news from Earth. Dimitria, and Zordon before her, was obliged to keep them updated on who the active Rangers were, and the location and occupation of all retired Rangers. It was standard policy in the Ranger Corps to keep all former Rangers under observation at all times, to make certain nothing happened to them. It was a major slip-up that Divatox had managed to kidnap Kim and Jason, but one that wouldn't be repeated, it was hoped.
A beeping noise aroused Billy from his thoughts. "Currently the foes attacking Earth are Divatox, the Pirate Queen, her brother General Havoc, Master Vile of the M-51 Galaxy, and Rita Repulsa, Princess of M-51 Galaxy." Billy raised one eyebrow, he hadn't heard anything from Earth in some time, what had happened to Zedd? Erya continued. "Dimitria of Inquirus is the mentor at this point in time, and there are ten members to the Power Rangers Turbo. Current membership is Thomas Oliver, Red Ranger and team leader, Adam Park, Green Ranger, Tanya Sloan, Yellow Ranger, Kimberly Hart, Pink Ranger, Justin Stewart, Blue Ranger, David Trueheart, Gray Ranger, Katherine Hillard, Black Ranger, Rocky DeSantos, Brown Ranger, Zedd Magee, Purple Ranger, and Terry Magee, White Ranger."
Billy had paled the moment he heard Kim's name mentioned as Pink Turbo Ranger. "Ten Rangers?" he whispered. "Whoa."
It was plain quite a bit had happened since he had left Earth. It was high time he got caught up on recent events. "Let's get to Earth," the slightest tinge of curiosity, one of the few emotions he'd expressed since the events on Aquitar. He had to find out what was going on here.
"What's wrong, sister?" she looked up to see Havok standing next to her and waved briefly to her brother. "You look depressed."
"I am," she groaned. "Very much so."
The cyborg looked concerned, putting a hand on her shoulder as the two of them stood on the Space Balcony. "What is the matter? What can I do to help?"
"Get me a man," she half-growled. "I haven't had one since I lost my chance at Maligore!"
He sighed. "I thought you had a vast harem. Why don't you use one of them?"
She snored in reply. "I sold them off before I started going after Maligore. You know how he always was insisting that I be 'faithful' to him. I couldn't have any hints that I wanted to entertain other lovers around."
Havok nodded; he'd met Maligore long ago, before Lerigot's ancestors had trapped him in the volcano on Murianthus, and the Flame of Destruction had always been a little possessive. Deep inside, he was just as glad that the marriage hadn't been accomplished. He wouldn't have liked seeing his sister tied to that monster. She deserved something far better than Maligore. He turned his gaze to the outer universe, scanning magically for someone, anyone, who might possibly be of interest to his sister.
The universe was filled with trillions, uncountable numbers of males of every species and type that could attract the dark queen's attentions. Havok dismissed most of them for the simple fact that they were good. Though it would be simplicity in itself for any of the Alliance to turn someone evil, it was never permanent. The recent experiences that they had went through with both Zedd and Terry Magee had proven that. Even Zedd had went good in the end, and he had been evil for more centuries than Havok could conveniently remember.
He scanned repeatedly, browsing through planet after planet, and still not finding anyone suitable. His attention was drawn from his search rather rudely when he heard Divatox gasping, and looked to see her gazing through her periscope, with her jaw down and an actual thin line of drool going down her chin! "Divatox?" he asked, not quite certain what she was looking at. She'd never looked that. ...obsessed. ..over anyone before, not even Maligore!
"I think I've found the man of my dreams," the pirate queen murmured, licking her lips and gazing intently at whatever it was that had caught her attention. "Come take a look, Havok. Just take a look at this."
His own attention drawn now, he came over to peer through the periscope. Her old periscope on the Subcraft had required some form of water source to peer through, but this more advanced one could look at just about anything or anyone that wasn't protected in some fashion. They were looking currently into a small spacecraft that appeared, from the way the stars were moving and their configurations, to be heading straight for Earth. He moved it a little, and could see inside.
"Who's that?" he wondered, seeing the sad-eyed human piloting the vessel. Divatox laughed, low and throatily.
"That's my new mate. All I have to do is take him," she rubbed her hands together gleefully. "This should be simple."
Havok peered again, and something about the way the young man's eyes looked, so haunted and so alone, made him wonder if it really would be.
He stood in the doorway for a few moments, looking around, trying to take in everything, and figure out what was going on. He easily identified Tommy, Kim, Kat, Jason, Rocky, Adam, Tanya, and David, but there were others with them that he had no idea who they were. One was a young boy of about twelve or thirteen, while another was a girl who bore a very striking resemblance to Tommy. The third he didn't know was a young man who also looked like Tommy, David, and the mystery girl. All of them were wearing communicators, some in shades he'd never seen before, with Jason's being a plain band like he had used to wear when he had been the technical advisor in the Power Chamber. He took a long breath. Things certainly had changed around here.
"Billy?" he almost jumped out of his skin at the sound of his name, and looked to see Tommy looking at him. The Red Turbo Ranger leaped up and was over by his old friend's side a moment later. "Billy, is that really you?"
"Yeah," Billy nodded briefly, trying not to show how nervous he was right now. He hoped he hadn't made a mistake coming here. "I'm home."
A wide grin spread across his face, and Tommy gestured back to the table where everyone else was gathered. "Welcome home! We've missed you!"
"Ummmm," Billy was startled, Tommy had never quite been this open before! What had happened to change him? "Who is everyone?"
His old friend paused for a moment. "Oh, that's right, you haven't met everyone yet. And there have been some changes."
"So I see," the former Blue Ranger's voice was low and soft, and Tommy could hear pain in it that went beyond anything he'd ever thought could be in a sound. "I hear there are ten of you now?" the slight change of inflection told Tommy what he meant.
"Yeah," Tommy agreed. "And we need the help too. Please, come and meet everyone?"
Billy nodded slowly; he would have to know them. Most of them were his friends already, and he wanted to know what had happened while he was gone. "I heard that one of the new ones is called. ..Zedd Magee?" his voice was a little shaky on the name, he wasn't certain if he was right.
"Yeah," Tommy nodded. "He's the Purple Ranger. And yes, he used to be Lord Zedd," his voice dropped a little. "We've got a lot to catch you up on."
Quietly he led Billy over to the table, and cleared his throat. "Look who's home, guys!" he grinned. Terry raised one eyebrow, and Zedd looked a little startled, but both of their reactions Tommy had expected. His sister didn't know who Billy was in the first place, and the last time his father had seen Billy, he had been fighting against them.
"Billy!" came from just about every other throat, though, even from David, who barely knew his brother's friend. "When did you get back?" Kat wanted to know, looking very startled to see him home again.
"Not that long ago," he replied, taking the seat that Tommy had pulled over from an empty table for him. "It's. ..strange to see all of you back here," his eyes went to Kim especially. "I didn't expect to see so many of you."
The Pink Ranger nodded, smiling faintly. "We've got a lot to catch you up on. I'm the Pink Ranger again," her voice was pitched low, in case of listeners, but Billy could plainly hear her. His eyes went directly to Kat, who smiled faintly.
"I'm the Black Ranger now," she said, showing her black communicator. "Let me introduce everyone. . .fully," Billy nodded as she pointed first to Tommy. "You know Tommy, he's still Red Turbo. Adam is Green Turbo, Kim is Pink, Tanya is Yellow. This is Justin Stewart, he's the Blue Turbo Ranger," Billy waved to the teenager he'd seen, who nodded back to him. "Rocky is Brown Ranger, David is Gray, and I'm Black."
She took a deeper breath when it came to the last two. "This is Zedd Magee, formerly our old enemy, who was released from a spell and became one of us," Billy's eyes widened, he knew there had to be a lot more to that story than that. "He's the Purple Ranger," her eyes next indicated Terry. "That's Terry Magee. She's David and Tommy's triplet sister, and the White Ranger. And. .." her voice faltered as she thought of the other relationship that the triplets, Zedd, and Dimitria had.
"What?" Billy raised one eyebrow, feeling already the deep friendship and camaraderie that he had with the Rangers all of his life. Even when he'd been powerless, they'd always been friends. "What is it, Kat?"
"I'm their father," Zedd said quietly. Billy could still hear echoes of his old voice in his speech still, but this was a kinder and quieter voice now. "Tommy, David, and Terry are my children, along with Dimitria's."
Everyone else winced; they hadn't quite wanted to break that news to their old friends in quite that manner. Billy stared from one of his friends to the next, finally centering on Tommy, who nodded his agreement. The first Blue Ranger took a long breath.
"So what else has happened while I was away?"
"How close are we to the planet of Earth?" the one on the throne, who bore an almost precise resemblance to the demon Maligore, which wasn't unusual since they were twins, asked. One of the others, a brownish-yellow thing that looked, just like almost all the other minions of evil, like nothing ever seen in nature, glanced over at one reading.
"We should arrive in Earth orbit in approximately three hours, Dark Spectre," he replied. "What will be your plans after that, my lord?"
Dark Spectre, Supreme Commander of the Dark Forces, lifted his head to look at one of the monitors, on which the planet spun in silent beauty in front of the backdrop of the universe. "There is already a presence of the Alliance of Evil there, correct?"
"Yes, there is," one of the others, that looked like an animated crystal of black and green, replied. "They call themselves simply 'the Alliance', and it is composed of Rita Repulsa, Master Vile, Divatox, and their various henchmutants."
The last member of the group tossed back a wave of violet hair. "Those idiots?" Astronema snorted. "You could destroy them with a wave of your hand, Your Majesty!"
Dark Spectre smiled, a hideous sight to see. "I know. But I will not."
"What is your plan, then, sire?" Darkonda wondered, a strange glint in his eyes. He was in very good favor at the moment, since he had been the one to procure the two captives currently in the dungeon. Ecliptor was faintly out of favor, since it had been on his watch that the third had escaped.
The evil Maligore-lookalike peered at Earth for a moment, then glanced back at the trio of sycophants that were his court. "We will join forces with them. They might possibly be competent, if it takes ten Power Rangers to hold them off. With my empire joined to theirs, it could tip the scales of power in our favor. What is the condition of our monsters and Quantrons?"
"In perfect fighting condition and ready to teleport down whenever you command, dark lord," Astronema replied.
He nodded. "And our prisoners?" he glanced briefly to Ecliptor. "The two that are left?"
The crystal creature almost appeared to pale, but said nothing. He knew it had been his fault that the third captive had escaped, but he considered himself lucky that his overlord didn't know the entire truth. He would be dead if that happened. Beyond dead, annihilated.
"They are in good health, master," Darkonda reported. "What plans do you have for them?"
Spectre considered for a moment. "We do have their morphers, correct?"
"We do," Darkonda agreed. It had cost him one of his lives to gain them, but it had been well worth it, and he had others left. The true number of times he could perish and return was known only to him and to Dark Spectre, and was something he refused to let anyone know. There were some weapons he gave out to none.
"Two against ten. . .or possibly eleven. ..is not precisely the best odds," Specter mused. "Is there any way to even the odds?"
Ecliptor shrugged. "There are many crystals, coins, and other items of power in the universe that could be used to create a team of Rangers, my lord. I personally know not where any might be."
Neither did Astronema or Darkonda, and Dark Spectre nodded. "Initiate a search at once. It isn't necessary for them all to be the same type of power, but find no less than. ..," he pondered for a moment. "Thirteen. Let us see if we can outnumber these adversaries of ours."
"As you wish, Dark Spectre," Darkonda bowed again, striding away imperiously to begin the scans. Ecliptor glared after him for a moment, wishing he could strangle the pompous jerk. But with their master believing Darkonda could be trusted with the very keys to the Dark Fortress, there wasn't much Ecliptor could do.
There are those of the forces of good that I would trust with my firstborn offspring and last coin. Ecliptor thought as he headed for the dungeons. And there are those of the forces of evil that I would slaughter merrily. No matter what side I am supposed to be on.
"I wonder what Billy's doing now. . .," Zhane said softly. Andros shrugged. The two of them had been taken captive during a catastrophic fight on their homeworld. Zhane had come close to being severely injured, but Ecliptor had teleported in before the monster had finished it's attack, and force demorphed both Rangers, ending the battle and bringing an end to the defense of KO-35.
"Probably he's found his way home by now," Andros murmured. Neither of them spoke much above a whisper any longer. To do so caused echoes that gave them both nightmares. "He. . .he wouldn't have forgotten us. ..you think?"
Zhane shook his head. "That's not his style. Besides, how could you forget someone you shared a cell with for over six months?"
"He was in here a lot longer than we were," Andros reminded him, wincing a little at the thought of that. Billy had been a prisoner of Dark Spectre long before the other two had entered that final, near-fatal battle. He had spoken little of his past before they had met one another, but he had told them that he had once been a Ranger of his world, and had left it to be with his beloved Cestria. What had happened to her, they didn't know. It had been on their silon, their honeymoon, that he had been captured. That much he had said. "He's probably just trying to adjust to his freedom again."
"With luck, the two of you will also have your freedom one day," they looked up to see Ecliptor standing there. Both nodded almost pleasantly to him. Over the months, they had learned the true reason that Ecliptor had done what he had to them: to keep his true nature concealed from Dark Spectre, and to possibly lure the evil overlord into a position where he could be destroyed. He couldn't be too nice to them, but he had managed to arrange for proper feeding and the best care they could get in the circumstances, mainly by presenting it to Dark Spectre saying that if they sickened, weakened, or even died because of bad treatment, it wouldn't be nearly as entertaining as any one of the dozen other ways they could be tortured to death.
Andros leaned against the side of the cell. "Has there been any sign of Billy?"
"Nothing," the crystalline creature gazed at the beings he hoped to be able to call his friends one day. The change that had overcome him was amazing, he knew, and he knew just what had caused it: he had indirectly touched the power of a True Ninjetti. The backlash of power had wiped away the darkness from his soul and given him a heart. "As far as we can tell, he got away clean."
Zhane uttered a deep-felt sigh. "I miss him already, but I'm glad he got away. I wish we could."
Ecliptor nodded; he had devoted every ounce of his new life to making certain he made up for all he had done before. He'd helped Billy to escape clandestinely, and had taken all the blame for it when it had been discovered, without letting it be revealed how he had changed. "We're almost to Earth. A few more hours." he dared say no more, one never knew who might be listening and when. Not daring to remain much longer, he loudly uttered a few insults and threats, to which the Rangers responded in kind, and then he left them to whatever thoughts and memories they might have.
The park was where he found himself after a short walk, and he smiled briefly at the sunlight and air all around him. It was practically a miracle, he knew. One that he owed to the most unlikely of beings. . .he deliberately jerked his thoughts away from that. He was away from them, he didn't have to remember that.
He knew the forgetting was temporary though. He couldn't and wouldn't leave them up there. His escape had been a miracle, and it was one he was going to share. . .in time.
The others wouldn't understand, he thought half-sadly. He hadn't wanted to tell them what had happened to him. It was their business, he was their friend and they were his, but he just didn't feel like talking about it. It was nothing that any of them had ever experienced before.
He leaned against a tree, his eyes half-closed and trying not to think at all. The things that he needed to think of would wait. A few more days in captivity wouldn't really hurt Andros and Zhane all that much, not with Ecliptor there. He almost laughed to himself; a few short months ago, the thought of trusting Ecliptor with anything, much less friends of his, would have been beyond laughable. Now. . .he knew he could do it.
Someone normal might not have heard the sound. But after the experiences of the past few years of his life, Billy Cranston was not a normal person. He was on his feet and in a fighting stance inside of a heartbeat, facing the half a dozen Piranatrons that had appeared in front of him. He was in a deserted area of the park, he noticed quickly, and grinned for a moment. That meant he didn't have to hold back anything. He'd never fought these things before, but they couldn't possibly be as tough as a Quantron.
They made the first move, three of him rushing at him. Billy jumped out of the way, letting one smash into a tree, grabbing one by the arm and slamming it into the third, then sending all three falling to the ground. The three that were left looked at each other; never before had any of their kind been taken down so swiftly and easily by a human! It would have shocked them, if they'd been capable of being shocked.
"Are you going to do something or just stand there and look stupid?" Billy half-grinned at the creatures, balanced and poised to do anything he had to do. The Piranatrons did the only thing they had been ordered to: they attacked again.
The young man chuckled, one of the few real laughs he'd had in a while, and delivered the same punishing treatment to that trio that he had to the first one. As all six shivered and vanished, the good humor fell from him. Can't I even get one break from being hunted after? I wonder if the others know what those things are, and why they were after me. He shook his head as he walked from the battle site; monsters occasionally had tendencies to show up after little fights like this, and he wasn't really in the mood for anything more. There's only one reason that the ones in charge here would be after me. Because I know the others. Dark Spectre hasn't got here yet, I'd know if he had.
A part of him shuddered at the thought of why, and he clamped down mentally on it. That was a part of him that would forever remain unknown to all but himself and the one who had put it there. That was between him and Dark Spectre.
Tommy's eyes were also on his friend's retreating back. "No, he isn't. That's completely unlike him," he said quietly. "I've never known Billy to be that distant."
"Distant?" Kim shook her head. "More like rude. I've known him a lot longer than just about any of you, and he was almost acting as if we were strangers!"
Zedd was frowning, a sight that worried them. In the last few months since he had joined their side, they had come to learn that he still retained a few of his abilities from his evil sorcerer days. One of those was the power to sense the existence of magic, as well as if it were good or evil.
"Zedd?" Adam looked at the young man across from him. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm not certain," the Purple Ranger replied. "I sensed something when Billy was here, but I don't quite know what it was. Or is."
Everyone was alert suddenly. "Could you tell anything about it?" Kat wondered. They weren't above using his ability, or any of theirs, to alert themselves to something their enemies might be up to. "Was it Rita or Divatox?"
"No, neither of them. It's no one I've ever personally encountered before, but that covers quite a few beings. The United Alliance of Evil is a very big organization."
Rocky shuddered. "I still can't believe there's an entire alliance of bad guys out there. It's enough to give you nightmares!"
"It's no better from the inside," Zedd reassured him. "The only reason they haven't all attacked at once is, none of them can agree on anything long enough to. I'm still surprised Rita and Divatox's Alliance is as strong as it is."
"I'm not," Terry shook her head. "Divatox was willing to do anything to get herself back into power after the Subcraft was wrecked. Besides, it's not like they're any more effective together than they are apart."
Jason chuckled. "I wouldn't be surprised if they spent half their time bickering over who's going to attack us next," he stood up suddenly. "I'm going to track down Billy and see if I can talk with him. Maybe I can find out something."
"Be careful," Zedd advised. "Like I said, I don't quite know what I sensed, but I do know it was magic, and it was evil magic at that. If Billy's under a spell, it would account for his changed attitude, and it could be dangerous to be near him. Maybe I should go with you."
The former Ranger tapped his communicator. "I'll be fine by myself. Besides, no offense, I know you've changed, but I've also been around you for the last three months. Billy's just got here, and whatever it is he isn't telling us, he might not feel comfortable talking about it with you just yet."
Zedd nodded; he knew it would probably be a while before all the Rangers, past and present, understood and accepted him for what he was and had been. As Jason left, the former lord of evil turned his thoughts back to the magical energies he had sensed. Whatever was going on here, he was worried about it.
"Is there any indication of Alliance activity, Alpha?" she asked, intending to go spend some time with her family if possible. She spent most of her time in the Power Chamber, she was necessary there, but she also enjoyed being with the triplets and Zedd. Of course, they seldom indulged in any marital activities, for many reasons, but just being with him, after so long apart, was more than enough. This time, she wanted to also check on their old friend Billy. He intrigued her.
The little robot checked the sensors. "I'm not picking up anything from the SpaceBase, Dimitria. If they're up to anything, they're being awfully quiet about it!"
"Very well," Dimitria emerged from the tube and stood next to her assistant. With a flicker of her power, her white robes morphed into a casual pair of jeans and a blouse, and her veil vanished, displaying her beautiful face. She bore a faint resemblance to her offspring, but all of them had taken more after Zedd than anything else. The only thing they had from her was a birthmark that had been passed down from child to child in her family. "I believe I will go spend a few hours with the others. If anything happens, please alert me," she gestured to the communicator she wore only when in 'human' form.
Alpha nodded; he was glad to see his mistress as happy as she had been ever since her family had been reborn. She had definitely waited long enough for it. She was about to teleport, when a sudden alarm cracked the air of the Power Chamber.
"Yo-yo-yo, something's going on!" Alpha was on the scanners at once, and Dimitria stifled back several unpleasant words that would have startled anyone who had heard them. "A giant spacecraft of some type is just passing Jupiter! It should be here soon, within hours!"
Dimitria frowned at once. "Can you bring up a visual of it?"
A couple of moments passed, then the image glittered on one of the screens. She stared at it, feeling herself grow pale. "The Dark Fortress," she murmured. At once, her magical senses stretched out and touched upon the thing, trying to read the energies within it.
She fell back a moment later, her hands clutching spasmodically at the control panels. "Dark Spectre," she whispered. The overwhelming evil had almost caused her to pass out. "Call the Rangers, Alpha. We must make preparations. I fear one of the worst things that could have happened. . .has."
The little robot quickly scanned to see where the Rangers were. "Jason and that friend of theirs Billy are in the park, should I call them too?"
"Not just yet," Dimitria did her best to get herself back under control. "The Rangers can give them what information they need afterwards."
As Alpha sent out the call, Dimitria resumed her usual garb and position in the plasma tube. She didn't need it to survive, but it did provide her with a place to rest and think of what had been going on, and with what she had just sensed, she knew she needed it. Dark Spectre's evil presence had blocked out anyone else, good or evil, that might have been there. She knew if things had been bad before with the Alliance against them. . .they were about to get orders of magnitude worse.
"Something wrong, Billy?" he expected his friend to jump, having been startled, but the young man only shrugged.
"Not really. I got jumped by some fish-type things, had to take care of them."
The former Red Ranger blinked. "You were jumped by Piranatrons? And you fought them off?"
"I'm not a complete weakling you know," Billy raised one eyebrow and smiled faintly. "I've learned a few things since the last time we sparred, Jason."
Jason grinned. "Want to spar again? It's been a while, and I have missed you being around."
"I've missed you guys," Billy admitted. He still wasn't going to tell any of what had happened to him, but hanging with Jason was one of the things he had severely missed over the past few years. "It's good to be home. And yes, I want to spar."
As the two of them stood up and headed for a slightly larger clearing to work out in, Jason casually glanced at his friend. Billy had changed some since the last time he had seen him, and not just because that last time had been when Billy had looked practically a century old. He was taller now, and quite literally muscle-packed. He was dressed from head to foot in black, and wore a thin silver collar around his neck, matched by a ring on his left hand. Jason did a minor doubletake at that, he'd never known his friend to wear or even own jewelry like that before.
"Nice ring," he said blandly. "Where'd you get it?"
Billy glanced at it for a moment, clenching his fist as if he were almost trying to hide it for a moment. "Cestria gave it to me," he said after a moment, then shut his mouth so tightly Jason would have sworn it actually snapped. He knew better than to try and get anything out of him now. The subject was closed.
He soon found other things to think about than the ring, however. Billy hadn't been kidding when he had said he'd learned a few things since they had last seen one another. The last time they had sparred, Jason had easily matched, if not outright beaten him. This time. ..Billy had him on the ground in under a minute.
"What in the world did they teach you on Aquitar!" Jason stared at his friend, this was incredible! Not only did Billy have more muscles than he'd ever had before, he knew how to use them too! Thinking back to the early days when they had known each other, Jason was hard-pressed to believe that the thin, nerdish boy of then was the same built, intelligent young man of now.
Billy looked away for a moment, not wanting Jason to see the tears in his eyes. Trying to look as if he were just shading them from the sun, he wiped them clear and took a moment to compose himself. "A lot," was his only answer. I didn't learn that on Aquitar, though. I learned that. . .a sudden shiver in his soul cut off that line of thought, and he glanced up to the sapphire sky overhead. Some of the brightness seemed to go out of the day to him, and he shivered the tiniest bit.
"Billy?" Jason didn't know what was wrong, but he could tell something had made his friend nervous all of a sudden. "Is something wrong?"
The young man said nothing, but his mind was suddenly filled with a black fire. Two words echoed in his mind, as he tried to keep himself from shrieking in fear. Dark Spectre.
"Not quite," the sorceress shook her head, making a note to speak with him about that when they had a chance. "But it appears that we have some new enemies to worry about."
All ten went stiff. "Who?" Tommy asked. The last time anyone new had shown up, it hadn't been pleasant for any of them.
Dimitria motioned at the scanners, and the image of the Dark Fortress appeared on the screen. "This is the Dark Fortress. I could only sense the presence of one being, but I know of three others who normally travel with that one."
"Who is that one?" Terry wondered.
"Dark Spectre, the supreme monarch of evil," Dimitria said softly. Zedd went four shades of pale, and if Tommy hadn't been right next to him, he might well have collapsed.
The former lord of evil took a deep breath. "That was what I sensed!" he breathed. "It's been so long since I encountered him, I didn't recognize it!"
"Um, for those of us who aren't Inquirian sorceresses or reformed overlords of evil, who is Dark Spectre?" Kat wondered. Zedd and Dimitria exchanged glances.
"Dark Spectre commands the entire Alliance of Evil," Zedd continued. "We all have or had our own individual empires, but they're all subject to him. He's Maligore's twin brother, too, and is far, far more powerful than he was."
All those who had faced the Great Flame of Destruction went just as pale as Zedd had, especially Kimberly. "What would he want here?"
"Think about it, Rocky," David said softly. "Earth has ten Rangers, and has never lost a fight against evil. It's one very large prize, and if this Spectre is so powerful, then he must want it."
Dimitria nodded. "Precisely. Now, observe," she gestured and three images appeared on the scans. "These are Dark Spectre's most well-known henchpeople. Though I didn't sense them, I know they will be with him."
A beautiful violet-haired woman was first. "That is Astronema. She was raised by one of the other henchmen and is a powerful sorceress and warrior. Her chief weapons are her Wrath Staff and a boomerang type of weapon used on certain planets in the Omega Kan system."
The screen flickered and a green and black thing appeared. "This is Ecliptor, who raised Astronema and taught her what she knows of both magic and fighting. He has a strong sense of honor and discipline, but is every bit as evil as the rest of them."
Once more the screen changed, and something showed up that made them all feel somewhat nauseous. "This is Darkonda, Dark Spectre's chief assassin and bounty hunter. He'd do just about anything for the right price, and it's said if he wants to do something strongly enough, the price isn't hard to match. He's effectively slime with a pulse."
All of them stared at Dimitria, they had never heard her speaking like this before! But it was plain that of all the beings in the universe, she considered Darkonda one of the lowest.
"Zedd," Tommy turned to his father suddenly. "You said that this Dark Spectre was what you'd sensed? Did you mean from Billy?"
The Purple Ranger nodded. "It's not very obvious, or incredibly strong, so I doubt that he's under any spell or something like that. But Billy has encountered Spectre's magic sometime in the recent past. I don't know how. . but we should be careful."
The Aquitian people didn't believe in long engagements, so he and Cestria had been wed by the laws of the water world only a week after he had come to stay there. All the tests had declared he was of perfect health and was remaining stable at his age of not yet eighteen. The newly married couple was to spend the Earth version of a honeymoon traveling around the universe for a period of time that was roughly analogous to two years. At the conclusion of that, they would return to Aquitar and would be fully accepted as a part of Aquitian society.
They had been gone only a short time when it had happened. Dark Spectre had struck. It seemed that the fame of Billy's mind had spread to the heart of the ultimate evil empire, and Spectre wanted the former Ranger. The ship Billy and Cestria had been on had been completely weaponless, and was easily overwhelmed and the two of them captured.
Spectre had been rather blunt. Either Billy worked for him or they killed Cestria. The former Blue Ranger had been about to give in, not wanting his beloved to perish. Cestria had been too quick for them all however. Suicide for a good cause was not frowned upon in her society, and to make certain that one of the wisest people in the universe didn't serve evil was most definitely a good cause. She had slashed her own throat before Billy had uttered his agreement.
The memory of her dying in his arms was still fresh. It got even worse when Spectre ripped the body from him and had it taken to the laboratory in the Dark Fortress they were being kept in. He was dragged along with it, not even being given time to mourn. That had been only the beginning.
Dark Spectre wanted total command and control over Billy's heart, body, mind, and soul. He would have killed Cestria regardless of Billy's agreement to serve him or not, he needed life's blood for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons became evident soon. Dark Spectre had crafted a powerful ruby that he intended to use to create a truly evil Power Ranger, one that couldn't be touched by good in any fashion. He had thought to use some minion of evil as his evil Ranger, but when he had heard that the genius Billy Cranston was going to be out practically alone, the irony of it was simply too sweet to resist.
Brainwashing and conditioning had been the first thing Spectre had tried. To a degree it had worked: a secondary personality had been formed within Billy's psyche, one that was subservient and totally loyal to the cause of evil and to Dark Spectre in particular. It wasn't able to take full command of Billy's body, however, as the evil sorcerer had been attempting.
Next he had tried for a straight out spell of control, only to find that Billy was resistant to them. He wasn't able to find out why, but any spell directly applied to Billy that attempted to control his mind simply bounced off. That was also why the brainwashing hadn't fully taken effect, the former Ranger's mind was resistant to control for some reason.
Dark Spectre had not been a happy overlord at that point. By now Andros and Zhane had been captured and brought onto the Dark Fortress, and the three of them had started to become friends. Spectre had been considering using one of them against Billy, but before he could frame a suitable plan, the young man had escaped! To add insult to injury, he'd taken the ruby with him, before it had been properly bonded to him and to evil! If that had happened, then no matter who used it, they would become Dark Spectre's slave.
Billy had escaped on board a Velocifighter that Ecliptor had provided for him, and had headed for Aquitar. He had remained there for a single day, just long enough to inform the Aquitian Rangers of Cestria's death and to get the ship he'd been working on prior to their leaving on their honeymoon. After that, he'd headed for Earth. He'd known that Spectre would be headed there. There was a foul bond between the two of them, created by the brainwashing and conditioning that he had undergone, similar to Kat's former link to Rita Repulsa. It had only been intended originally to serve as a means for Spectre to keep an eye on Billy, but by a side effect, Billy was also able to sense his would-be master's presence.
That wasn't the only side effect, however. It was barely the beginning. Whenever Spectre was within a certain distance of him, Billy would be unable to control himself, the secondary personality would assert itself and he would belong to Dark Spectre. Since Billy had to be at least within twenty feet of the sorcerer for that to happen, it made him unsuitable for use as an evil Ranger. That had been one of the things Spectre had been trying to alter, to make it a permanent effect.
Slowly, Billy was able to calm himself, drawing in deep gasps of breath and focusing his thoughts. I'm going to have to avoid the others. I can't risk the Other taking me over while I'm near them. I won't hurt them.
Jason stared, not certain what was happening as his friend quietly walked away. "Billy?" he called after him. "Billy, what's going on, is something wrong?"
But there was no reply, and in moments, Billy was lost to Jason's sight. The former Ranger frowned. Whatever was going on, he didn't like it one bit.
The evil space witch turned a corner and saw her semi-friend leaning on the balcony and staring down at Earth with a hungry expression on her face. It wasn't the look of desire to conquer that was habitual to both of them, but rather a look of longing, as if for something that was proving hard or impossible to get. "Di? What are you looking at?"
"Not a what, a who," the pirate corrected. "I've found the perfect mate for me, but he's playing hard to get!"
Rita looked curious. "Who is it?" Divatox motioned down to the Earth, and as Rita glanced down, her eyes widened. "You've got to be kidding me! You want him?"
"Yeah. What's the matter?"
Rita couldn't believe her eyes. "That's Billy Cranston, the former Blue Ranger of Earth! I thought he was living on Aquitar with one of those fish-people!"
"A former Ranger?" Divatox smiled. "No wonder he was able to fight off my Piranatrons so easily. But I'll get him. I always get what I want!" she glanced to Rita. "Did you want something?"
"Dark Spectre and his crew have arrived," Rita shuddered for a moment. "They're going to be coming to the main hall in a few moments, we have to all be there."
Divatox gulped. She'd heard of her fianc,'s twin brother before, and she wasn't all that eager to meet him. But there was no real choice. She and Rita both turned just in time to see four lightning bolts strike in the center of the chamber. They formed into four beings, which each of the Alliance recognized as Dark Spectre, Astronema, Ecliptor, and Darkonda.
Dark Spectre stepped forward. "I believe we are expected?" he said smoothly, his voice a deep baritone.
Rita, Divatox, Elgar, Goldar, Havok, and Vile all were gathered there now, those who had not been coming from whatever they had been doing. "Yes, we received your message," Vile looked at the Supreme Overlord of evil. "You said something of an alliance?"
"I did," Spectre nodded. "We have come here not just to claim the ultimate prize of the domination of the Earth, but one of my captives escaped," his eyes flicked momentarily to Ecliptor, "and I seek to regain him. Your forces and mine will join together to reclaim him, and to defeat all the resistance that this world has to offer."
Rita cleared her throat a bit. "Who is this captive, Dark Spectre?"
The evil one waved a clawed hand, and an image of Billy Cranston appeared. "My future slave warrior, the Phantom Ranger to be, Billy Cranston."
Divatox gulped again. It was times like this she wondered if fate had it in for her.
Ecliptor was nowhere to be seen, something that worried both Rangers. He had kept himself as involved as he could in their care, to make certain they weren't harmed too badly. The occasional bump and bruise didn't bother any of them, but unsupervised evil had a habit of doing the forces of good severe bodily harm.
"All right, move it along, move it along!" Elgar, Divatox's nitwit nephew, urged the captives down the corridor.
"Yeah, you heard him!" Rito Revolto echoed. The two morons had become good friends since the formation of the Alliance, for which Goldar seemed to be grateful, it gave him an escape from Rito's incessant bumbling.
Zhane and Andros glanced at each other, then both at the animate skeleton. They had seen something on his waist that intrigued them: the keys to the cuffs that bound them. Zhane lifted one eyebrow, flicking his eyes to the guards surrounding them. Andros nodded briefly.
It was the only signal either of them needed. Together, the two Rangers charged ahead, knocking Rito down and ripping the keys from where they were attached to him. "Hey!" the skeleton shrieked. "Give those back, you're not supposed to do that!"
"Report us," Andros said dryly as he kicked a Tenga out of the way and cleared the path ahead of them. "Let's go, Zhane!"
The two of them almost raised dust as they raced down the corridor, pausing the moment it looked as if they were relatively safe. "Okay, let's get out of these things," Andros looked at the keys Zhane was holding clenched tightly and concentrated hard, motioning with the two fingers of one hand, glad he could still do this. The keys lifted out of his partner's hands and unlocked Zhane's cuffs.
"Thanks!" Zhane grinned, snatching the keys from the air and unlocking Andros. This was the first time that either of them had been close enough to a set of keys to actually be able to constructively use their telekinesis. It felt good to finally be free again. Even if they were still on board the Dark Fortress.
"We'd better get out of here," Andros glanced around. "Those two are morons, but they aren't so stupid they won't raise an alarm."
Every sense on the alert, the best friends headed out, searching for their way off the ship. . .and the way to true freedom.
Thoughts of that nature, and similar ones, floated through the minds of four young teenagers as they set out a picnic in the park. T.J. Edwards, Cassie Chan, Ashley Hammond, and Carlos Alvarez were enjoying themselves.
"I hope you brought enough for everyone!" Carlos tossed his soccer ball between his hands a little, wondering if he could talk his friends into a game. He was an excellent player, and since he had learned the hard way that he didn't have to be the only player, he felt he'd gotten better.
Ashley and Cassie exchanged glances, and grinned. "We've been doing this for two weeks, don't you think we know how much is enough by now?" Cassie asked, tossing her hair back from her pink blouse. She quickly passed out the lemonade and leaned back against the tree, glancing at her friends.
It had been so unusual how they had met. Cassie had recently moved to Angel Grove in hopes that in the larger town, she would be able to finally actively pursue the singing career that she'd wanted all her life. She had met T.J. on the bus into town, and the two had struck up an almost instant friendship. He had been coming to Angel Grove to move in with relatives of his own, with his own dream: to make it as a baseball player.
Their first day in Angel Grove High, they had quite literally bumped into Ashley Hammond and Carlos Alvarez. The four of them had stared into each other's eyes, feeling as if destiny had just tapped them on the shoulder and shouted that they were meant to be together. The four of them hadn't been separated for long since then.
T.J. glanced up to the sky, suffering a sudden chill down his spine. Something unusual was going on, unusual even for Angel Grove. He couldn't pin it down, it was just something that was making him edgy and nervous.
"Are you okay, T.J.?" he looked over to see Cassie looking back at him. He took a second to admire her exotic beauty, something he'd noticed almost as soon as they had met. Though they'd never actually dated or even made a hint that they found themselves attracted to each other in more than just the usual friend sense, T.J. knew he'd leap into fire for her, more so than the others.
"I think I am," he surprised himself by saying. "I'm just getting the weirdest feeling that something's going to happen today."
Ashley glanced over from where she had been amiably discussing the merits of soccer versus cheerleading with Carlos. "You too?" she frowned. "I've been feeling like that all day."
"That makes three of us," Carlos sat up straighter, the ball falling unnoticed to the ground.
Cassie bit her lip. "Four," she said softly. "I've felt like that ever since I woke up this morning."
"I wonder what it means," T.J. turned his gaze to the heavens, unable to keep his eyes off them today. "And why I can't pull my eyes from the sky."
"Because whatever. ..and whoever we're waiting for. ..is going to come from there," Carlos said quietly. Everyone fell silent. From the moment of their meeting, they had known that not only were they meant to remain together as friends, but their group was incomplete. They were missing members. ..and they didn't know who they were.
Silently, the four of them looked up to the skies, and wondered just what destiny had in store for them that day.
And I tried to tell myself that they wouldn't understand. That it's too dangerous. He almost slapped himself. He should have known better than that. He had ten Power Rangers on his side, plus Jason, plus Dimitria and Alpha, even though he didn't know half of them as well as he did the others. Not just that, but he had a sneaking suspicion that if he asked, Zack, Trini, and Aisha would be showing up around there again to back him up against anything and everyone. Geez. So this is what happens when you spend a year and some extra living in the heart of darkness, getting your brains scrambled by a guy who makes Zedd at his WORST look like a temperamental child. You turn into gloom and doom, brooding angst.
For the first time in months, a true and open smile spread across Billy's face. He had long since done his mourning for Cestria, and though he was worried about Andros and Zhane, he knew that with Ecliptor on their side, they would be all right. Everything was going to be all right...but not unless he got some help, and told the others what had been going on with him.
He stood up, about go to the Power Chamber and call the others in, when the air in front of him seemed to twist suddenly, and in front of him appeared a knot of fighters of three different types. He recognized them all, unfortunately: Tengas, Piranatrons, and Quantrons. "Looks like everyone's all working together now," he grumbled. Once he'd found out about the Alliance, then had sensed Dark Spectre's presence, he'd figured this would be happening. "Well, I guess we're going to have to go through this again. You just don't learn, do you?"
The only reply of the henchmen was to rush towards him, and Billy sighed. One of the things Dark Spectre had done was give him so very intense fighting training, and he held no qualms about using it against the forces of evil. One thing Jason and Tommy had both taught him was that no training should ever be wasted or ignored, regardless of how it had been obtained.
For perhaps the first time in months, however, Billy found himself to be truly sweating in this fight. Enhanced strength, speed, reflexes, and stamina had all been part of his conditioning experience, but he'd never been up against thirty of these things before, not by himself and not without powers.
You have powers, he remembered the sudden cool touch of the ruby around his neck. He wasn't certain if he could control them, however. He'd never tested them, never tried them, but if they could help him get through this. . .Not yet, he took a deep breath. Not yet.
He paused briefly in the fight, trying to catch his breath and concentrate on what was going on. If he still had a communicator, he would've called the others to give him a hand, but his had been smashed long before. All he had was himself, and the ruby fastened to the collar around his neck.
He paled suddenly as a flashback assaulted his mind. He could no longer stand on his feet. His master stood before him, his reason for being. He dropped to his knees, and bent his head humbly. "I serve you and only you, your Imperial Majesty, my lord and master," he whispered unbidden.
"Yes, indeed," Spectre laughed, drawing him closer with a motion. A delicate collar was closed around his neck, with a sparkling ruby in the front of it. "You are to be my Phantom Ranger. My warrior of darkness. My eternal slave."
Billy heard a small, scared sound, and realized he was whimpering. The memory of that moment, when he had been so totally broken, before knowing that Spectre could control him only when he was close by, tortured his soul. He stood there, shaking in remembered fear, as the Quantrons, Tengas, and Piranatrons closed in on him.
"Jason isn't that far from there," Tommy noted, checking where the unpowered young man's communicator signal was coming from in relation to that area. "I don't want to send him in there without any protection, but he is right there, and none of our scans can get there."
"One of us could go," David suggested. "That way if something does happen, we've got the power to deal with it."
The Red Ranger nodded; he'd been hoping someone would suggest that. "Sounds like a plan. Who's up for it?"
Before anyone could answer that, Dimitria called for their attention. "Red, Yellow, Pink, Green, and Blue Rangers, go to deal with this blank area. The power that blanks it out is of Dark Spectre origin, and back-scans show that Billy was walking towards that area before it blanked out."
The five named nodded quickly, and teleported out. "The rest of you, I have recieved word just now from Eltar. As you may recall, I told you when you were given your powers that your Zords were being built on Eltar. Those Zords have now been completed, and have arrived here in the Power Chamber."
"Zords?" Terry whispered. She had grown used to sharing Desert Thunder with Adam, it was hard to think of having her own Zord to deal with!
Dimitria nodded. "Behold!" with a flare of light, the five of them saw five large vehicles, a police car, a fire truck, an ambulance, a bulldozer, and a dumptruck, in shades of purple, white, black, brown, and gray. "I would like to introduce you to Thunder Loader, Wind Rescue, Star Loader, Siren Blaster, and Lightning Firetamer. Thunder Loader will be your Zord, Zedd. Wind Rescue is under your command, Katherine. Terry, you and Star Loader are going to be great together, I know. Our enemies will surely fail when they see Siren Blaster and Rocky coming. David, my son, Lighting Firetamer is yours to command. Together, they will form the Rescue MegaZord, the most powerful MegaZord created to date."
The five Rangers stared at the Zords in front of them. They might look unusual, but they could sense and see the power inherent in them. David drew a deep breath. "We're going to need all of this, and more," he murmured, and the others nodded in agreement. Slowly they started to walk towards the Zords, touching them gently, starting to get a feel for them. For the first time, each of them fully knew what it meant to be a Power Ranger.
Dimitria watched them quietly for a few moments, then turned her attention back to the scans. She had to find out what was going on behind that shield.
"Coast is totally clear," he murmured. "And I don't like it. We both heard those alarms. Something is going on."
The sound of footsteps ahead of them froze the blood in their veins. They flattened themselves against the walls, and waited, ready to do anything they had to in order to survive and get out of here.
"Andros! Zhane!" the voice was guttural, harsh, but sounded sweeter than that of an angel to them. Ecliptor stood there, a small bag in his hands. "I thought I'd find you guys this way."
Zhane sighed deeply. "Scare the life out of us next time, why don't you?" he half-grunted. The crystalline creature shook his head.
"You don't have time to argue, you have to take these and get out of here! If you don't, you'll be caught again, and this time, I don't think Dark Spectre would waste time just holding you!"
Andros took the bag Ecliptor held out to him. "What is it?" he asked, then heard a distinctive sound from inside it. He literally caught his breath; he'd never thought he would hear that again, at least not as a free agent!
"The Astromorphers," Zhane breathed the words Andros didn't dare, and Ecliptor nodded.
"And your Digimorpher," he added. He wouldn't have forgotten the special morpher of the Silver Ranger. "Now come on, I know where there's a Velocifighter that's just waiting for you two to get it out of here."
"Think we can land on Earth without causing that much of a stir?" Andros wondered as the three of them headed off through some of the back corridors. They all knew that Ecliptor was risking life and limb to help them escape, just as he had with Billy. They also knew there was no use trying to talk him out of helping them, either. He wouldn't be swayed, and they couldn't get away without him.
Zhane shrugged minutely. "We'll do what we can," he said philosophically. He peeked around another corner, and smiled when he saw the landing bay ahead of them. It was lightly patrolled at the moment, and Ecliptor motioned for them both to stay here. Drawing himself up as strong and tall as he could, he marched out onto the bay and started issuing orders.
"You, there! All of you, that's right! Clear out of here!" he snapped, pointing at a batch of Quantrons. Parts of the troops had already been shipped over to the SpaceBase to form coalitions with the Tengas and Pirantrons there, but some had been left here. As they shuffled out, obedient to the will of Dark Spectre's lackey, he motioned for the two former captives to come on over. "There's your ship," he gestured to one of the Velciofighters. "Take it and get on out of here."
"I wish you would come with us," Andros said quietly, gazing into the tall warrior's eyes. Before his conversion, the two of them had been mortal enemies. Now, while not the best of friends, they did at least have a healthy respect for one another.
Ecliptor shook his head. "You have seen how Dark Spectre hunts Billy, who isn't really even a successful experiment. How much more do you think he would hunt me?"
Before either of them could answer that, he had vanished. Andros sighed for a moment. He didn't understand quite what Ecliptor had meant, but he did know one thing: they had to get out of there, and fast, before anyone realized what was going on.
"Piranatrons and Tengas I recognize," Justin murmured, looking at the knot of creatures in the center of the clearing. "But what in the world are those other things?"
Along with the typical fish and birds they were familiar with, there was a robotic type of soldier there that they had never seen before. Ten of them were circling around the knot of the others, obviously on guard.
"They're called Quantrons," a voice came from the center of the knot, and Tengas and Piranatrons went flying out from it suddenly, revealing the mussed form of Billy Cranston underneath. He flipped towards them, landing on his feet in front of Tommy. "They're the personal warriors of Dark Spectre, and a major pain in the butt."
Adam blinked a bit. "Billy? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, just a few feather cuts," he shrugged. "We've still got to take these things down before they do any damage."
Tommy nodded. "You'd better back off, these things look dangerous."
Billy's lips curved. "Tommy, I'm the reason they're here, and believe me, I'm every bit as dangerous as they are, if not more so. I've got a lot I need to fill you guys in on. And this is just the tip of it."
He whirled around suddenly into a spin kick that neatly and surgically removed the head of a Quantron that had been sneaking up behind him. "So I can see," Tommy muttered. "All right, let's get----"
The Red Ranger was interrupted by the abrupt appearance of another group of Piranatrons and a violet-haired woman in a tight red and gold outfit. "Divatox," he growled the name out. What was she doing here?"
"Well, well, well, so we finally meet face to face, Billy Cranston," the piratess ignored the Rangers, her eyes fastening onto their friend. "Dark Spectre tells me he's been hunting for you for some time."
The Rangers turned as one to the young man, who drew himself up with eyes flashing with a sudden pride and fear merged. "And he's not going to get me."
"He already has you," Divatox laughed, and Billy had the sinking suspicion that she knew about his dark side, his implanted alternate personality, his shadow soul. "All he would have to do is come down here, and it would be all over with for you."
"Billy?" Adam's voice was curious. "What is she talking about?"
"I'll tell you later," he whispered, then looked at Divatox. "You're not telling me anything I don't already know. What do you want?"
Divatox sauntered a little closer to them and grinned. "I want you. Dark Spectre has promised me that once all that tedious free will of yours is ground away, you're going to be my mate. Now won't that be fun?"
"I think I'm going to be rather ill," Billy retorted. "Is there anything else, or did you just come down here to try and give me nightmares?"
The evil woman chuckled. "Actually, I came down to let you all know. . .the Alliance now has added Dark Spectre, Astronema, Darkonda, and Ecliptor to it's ranks. And we aren't stopping until this planet belongs to us. . .completely."
"Heard it all before," Tanya snapped. "If you don't have anything new to say, get outta here!"
Divatox laughed, throwing one more sultry glance to Billy. "I'll be seeing you again. And so will Dark Spectre. I do hope when you see him again, you haven't forgotten how to grovel. He likes that, I hear."
Then she was gone, and the Rangers were staring at Billy almost as if they had never before seen him. He took a long breath. "I guess I've got some explaining to do, hmm?"
Then it happened. Out of the blue sky there emerged a ship the likes of which they'd never seen before. All they could do was watch in shock as it literally plowed into the turf a short distance away from them.
T.J., Cassie, Carlos, and Ashley stared at the thing. It didn't look like the vessel of destiny they'd all been half-expecting, but the vibes coming from it were completely unmistakable. As one, the four started over to it.
They stopped when the canopy slid back, and an arm flailed out. "Ummm....," T.J. called out nervously. "Is someone in there?" oh, that's gotta be the stupidest question that I've ever uttered in my life!
A voice responded. "There are two someones in here. Who are you and who do you work for?" there was an edge of nervousness to the male voice that answered.
"I'm T.J., and I don't work for anyone," he could hear two voices softly discussing something, and took a deep breath. "Please, come out. No one here is going to hurt you?"
Silence reigned for the briefest of moments, then two figures emerged from the craft. One had striped hair of brown and blonde, while the other had practically bleached blonde hair and bore an amazing resemblance to Brad Pitt.
"Who are you all?" the striped-haired one asked gingerly as they got down to the ground, looking around as if expecting to be jumped at any minute.
T.J. pointed to himself. "T.J. Edwards, Cassie Chan, Carlos Alvarez, and Ashley Hammond. Who are you two?"
"Andros and Zhane, of K0-35," the double-colored haired one indicated himself as Andros and his friend as Zhane. The two of them exchanged glances, then looked at the four ranged before them. Andros didn't look for a moment as if he could believe his eyes.
"It's you," the words were uttered by Ashley as she stepped forward. "It's really you. You really came. You're really here."
Zhane chuckled. "I was about to say the same thing to you guys. Do you know how long we've been looking for you?"
"All your lives," Carlos replied. "Just like we've been looking for you all of ours."
Andros smiled, a great weight appearing to vanish from his shoulders. "I can't believe it. After all this time. . .to find you here, on Earth. The rest of our team. The rest of the Astro Rangers."
"Not quite," T.J. shook his head. Knowledge and information was pulsing through his entire body. "There are supposed to be eight of us, and there's only seven."
Zhane shrugged. "The eighth will come in due time. We'll find them, just like we found you."
"In the mean time," Andros reached back inside the ship and pulled out a bag. "It's time for destiny to take a hand."
From within, he pulled out something that looked like a small cell phone, and tossed it to Zhane. "Silver Ranger." Four sets of wristbands came out and were handed to each of them.
"Blue Ranger," to T.J.
"Pink Ranger," to Cassie.
"Black Ranger," to Carlos.
"Yellow Ranger," to Ashley.
"Last but not least," he grinned briefly as he slid his own onto his wrists. "Red Ranger." he threw one arm out. "Let's Rocket!"
A flash of light ran over each of them, and the newest team of Power Rangers morphed for the first time ever, standing together as they had been meant to from the very dawn of time.
"Everything began not long after I told you guys I was staying on Aquitar," Billy slowly began to explain. Every word he spoke dripped with pain and anguish, and as he described in minute detail the horrible procedures he'd been subjected to while kept prisoner, it was all any of them could do to prevent themselves from crying.
"About a month after Cestria died," he continued, "The Dark Fortress stopped at Phaedos. I was still being kept in the dungeon, but Ecliptor told me what happened. He attempted to fight Dulcea, and something she did to him completely changed him. Things got a bit better after that, but not much, not really. Dark Spectre was still torturing my mind, trying to carve it the way he wanted it to go."
He paused, gulping briefly as he tried to speak of what happened. "He. ..he succeeded, in a way."
"What do you mean?" Zedd's voice was gentle; he knew what it was like to be tormented, to have your mind twisted in ways it was never meant to be.
Billy closed his eyes. "What Divatox said. There is a part of me that is willing. ..even eager. ..to do Dark Spectre's bidding. That is his slave and his evil Ranger. It's not a part that rules often. . .I can control it, but only as long as I'm not within sight of Dark Spectre. If I see him, that part of me takes over, and I can't do anything to help myself. Even without that part in command, I can sense him when he gets a certain distance to me, and he knows it."
He tilted his head up for the first time, allowing them all a good look at his neck and at the collar around it, with a ruby centered in it. "I can't take this off. No one can. It was sealed there by Dark Spectre's power. The ruby is the power source for my new powers, and the collar indicates I'm his property."
"New powers?" it was Jason who asked that.
"Yes," Billy nodded, his voice thick with bitterness. "He called me the "Phantom Ranger". There's all kinds of special tricks I can do, or will be able to once I morph. I haven't yet, and I don't know if I'm going to."
Terry frowned for a moment. "Why not?"
"These powers were crafted by evil," Billy replied. "I don't know if I could control them if I morphed. It could be that the Other will take over once I do, and I couldn't live with myself if that happened. I wouldn't be living with myself, then."
Dimitria tilted her head, examining Billy with a careful eye. "I might be able to do something to purify the Ruby, and your own soul, Billy," she said. "But it will take time and effort, if you are willing to help me."
The young man looked gratefully at her. "I'd be willing to do almost anything. If Spectre ever gets his hands on me again, he won't stop until he controls me permanently."
Tommy reached out to put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "We won't let that happen, Billy. We're your friends, you know that."
The Phantom Ranger took a deep breath, and smiled. "Thanks. There's one last thing. ..there are two others who were captives with me. Andros and Zhane of K0-35. They were the Red and Silver Astro Rangers, the defenders of their world until they were captured. Ecliptor promised he would help them escape at his soonest chance, and I trust him. But we need to be aware of the fact that Spectre could send them down, if he ever managed to gain control of their minds. I don't know why he couldn't ever get one hundred percent of my mind under his control, but I'm not going to complain."
Dimitria shook her head. "They cannot be converted to evil," she said simply. "Nor could you be entirely."
"Because of the power," she explained. "Even if they do not have their morphers, the power still flows in them, and to a lesser degree it did in you. That protects you from dark magic such as Spectre's."
Tommy looked confused. "Then how come Terry and I were able to be evil Rangers?"
"Timing," Dimitria responded at once. "When the two of you became Rangers, you were already under spells or brainwashing. But Spectre can't fully control someone who has or has had the power. It protects them."
Her son looked even more confused. "I was controlled by Zedd a couple of times when I was still the Green Ranger," he flicked an apologetic look at his father. "And there was the occasional monster that would do it..."
"Dramole," Billy muttered, shivering a little.
"You were also weaker when that happened," Zedd reminded him. "I couldn't have done it if you weren't, and the spell faded fairly quickly at that. You really didn't think my magic was so weak that it would fade in less than an hour, did you?" he almost smiled. He hated what he had done while evil, but he still wanted to know that he'd done it right. "As for Dramole, his gas effectively did what Dark Spectre has done to you, only a far less painful and dramatic scale. It implanted a temporary evil personality that was wiped away fairly shortly. If you'll notice, all the times anyone turned you evil, once the power was granted to you, it was always temporary."
"Then wouldn't what Dark Spectre did to Billy be temporary?" Adam wondered.
Zedd shook his head. "I can't be certain without a full scan of him, but I think Dark Spectre did something I never thought was possible. He was able to twist a part of Billy's soul to evil, but not the entire thing, because of the power. It's always been an all or nothing sort of thing with spells of that type, never a halfway measure like this."
"It will not always be halfway, however," Dimitria added. "If left unchecked for too long, Billy, that dark side of you will grow and grow, until it consumes you entirely. Dark Spectre knows this, and the reason he wishes you captive is to cause it to happen artificially. If that happens, you are lost forever. But I should be able to purify you, as I said."
Billy took a long breath. "I hope so. I truly hope so, Dimitria."