Disclaimer : The Power Rangers, the VR Troopers,
the Beetleborgs Metallix (Iím taking names of everyone who laughs,) and
the Masked Rider are all property of Saban. The Real Ghostbusters are property
of DIC. Everyone not disclaimed here or in another fic belongs to me. Got
it? Everything here is used without permission, but nobody really cares.
This fanfic is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for
violence and language. Major thanks to CL Funaro for his help in writing
this. None of this would have come about if not for his suggestions and
This story is number 22 in the "Personality Conflicts" series and occurs after "Blows So Red." It is part of a five or six (I havenít decided yet) part story arc. For the other three timelines, this occurs after the series finales. That means two years after Troopers began, two years after Beetleborgs began, and three years after Masked Rider began.
It was another bright, shiny morning in Angel Grove, little different from any other. The sun beat down on the city, which had already begun to flow with its accustomed activity. On the sidewalks of the suburban areas, joggers huffed and puffed along, struggling towards some semblance of shape. In the trees, birds chirped and called to one another gleefully. And in the park, the Power Rangers Turbo were up to their eyeballs in trouble. Nothing unusual there, either.
"íGoooood morning Vietnam!í" Tasha Young growled, launching a spin kick into the beak of the nearest Tenga.
"Whose idea was it to go for a workout session in the park, anyway?" Justin Stewart asked, ducking as a wing swept towards his head.
Rosa De Santos looked sheepish. "Hey, you all thought it was a great idea!" she protested.
"I should have my head examined," agreed Fred Kelman. "Frank, need a hand?"
"What would give you that idea?" Franklin Park called back sarcastically. He had been mobbed by twice the number of Tengas surrounding any of the others, and they were crowding him fiercely. Despite their superior numbers, however, not one of the black, oily birds had managed to lay so much as a claw on him.
With a flying kick, Fred sprang to his friendís aid. Making his way through the press, the Red Turbo Ranger managed to settle his back directly against his friends. "Spinning windmills?" the leader of the team asked, offhandedly.
"Why not?" Suddenly, in perfect unison, the two boys spun into a complicated maneuver of punches and kicks, sending the Tengas around them flying. Sensing that they had lost the upper hand, the birds disengaged, backing off and disappearing in a hail of black feathers.
"Good riddance," Justin puffed. Tasha came up and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Am I alone in thinking that takes care of the workout?" she asked sweetly. Fred laughed.
"Youíve got a point, Tash. Come on, letís go get something to eat at Ernieís!" As the five teens left the park, Rosa noticed a curiously unfocused look on Franklinís face.
"Frank?" she asked, laying a hand on his shoulder cautiously. "Are you all right?"
He started, his eyes focusing suddenly. "Uh- yeah, Rosa, I guess so. I must still be a little jumpy from the Tenga attack. I feel- I dunno, uneasy."
Rosa didnít pretend to have even a fraction of her older brotherís _curandero_ abilities, but sheíd known Franklin Park for far too long to put his worries down to a simple case of nerves. Franklin _knew_ things, things you wouldnít expect anybody to know. That heightened sense of intuition had saved the Turbo Team on more than one occasion.
"Maybe you should talk to Zordon, have him scan for possible threats," she suggested. Franklin nodded.
"I will, just to be safe, but- itís not LIKE that. I donít get
the feeling of a real threat, just a- sense of oppression." Then he
grinned, looking a great deal like his brother. "Iím probably just
hungry. Come on, letís go get something to eat." With that, the two
of them raced off to catch up with their teammates, the premonition forgotten-
Meanwhile, in another part of Californiaís "Freak Zone," another group of young people were greeting the morning somewhat differently.
"He rode his bike all the way out HERE?" the tall, dark boy asked in astonishment, looking around himself. "Weíve got to be five miles from your house!" He and his companion were out on the outskirts of town, surrounded by the rolling hills and golden grass that were so prevalent in California.
The girl shrugged, adjusting her backward baseball cap. "You know how Drew can get when he wants to do something," she responded, shading her eyes as she looked at the small dark figure on top of the nearest hill.
"You know," Roland Williams grinned, "thereís a bill on the back of your cap which is excellent for exactly that purpose."
Jo McCormick stuck her tongue out at her friend. "Itís a fashion statement," she told him haughtily, unable to suppress her own smile. "Come on, letís go see why heís up there."
The two children quickly scaled the hill, despite the somewhat steep grade. At the top, they could see the third member of their team sitting and staring off into the distance, away from the climbing sun. "Drew?" Jo asked carefully, taking a step towards her brother.
Drew McCormick rose to his feet with the unhurried grace that had Nano, Rolandís martial artist grandmother, constantly after him to take lessons. Drew had thought about it in the past, but now he had no idea where he would ever find the time. Brushing a lock of blond hair out of his face, he regarded his sister and best friend coolly.
"Whatís up, guys? This is quite a ways out of town," he remarked.
Roland frowned. He had known Drew almost all his life, and he knew what that tone of voice signified. There was something eating at the other boy, but finding out what would be like pulling teeth. "Didnít stop you," the taller boy responded easily. He could play word games too, if necessary.
Jo, however, had far less patience than the other two. "Drew, whatís bothering you? Itís not like you to ride all the way out here at seven in the morning for no reason. And AWAY from Hillhurst?"
With a sigh, Drew turned away from his sister, blue eyes scanning the horizon to the south-west. "I donít know," he said simply. "I woke up this morning with this feeling of- I donít know, like a storm rolling in. I rode out here to think, which is NOT something I can do under the nagging threat of being eaten by a mummy. Besides- this is the direction the feeling comes from." Drew pointed to the south-west.
Roland and Jo exchanged glances. Ever since the three of them had received their Beetleborg powers from Flabber, the ghost of Hillhurst Mansion, all three children had found themselves more sensitive to things they had never noticed before. Drew, especially, had the ability to sense energy fields that were undetectable any other way.
"Think itís Nukus?" Roland asked finally. Ever since losing his cartoonist and main source of monsters, the Crustacean leader had been laying low. None of the Beetleborgs were optimistic enough to hope that he had given up, though. That type of thing just wasnít in Nukusí personality.
"No, itís not Nukus," replied Drew. "Itís too- unfocused. Besides, itís not coming from Charterville or even Urbana City."
"Well, whatís to the south-west?" Jo asked, cocking her head.
"Lots of things. But if I had to pick one that was the culprit,
Iíd say thereís only one choice. Angel Grove."
"Good morning, Dex," Barbara Stewart smiled, watching her adopted son come downstairs. "Did you sleep well?"
The tall, dark-haired boy shook his head. "Not really," he yawned. As he did so, Barbara could see the bags under his eyes. "I kept having the strangest dreams."
"Cool!" piped up Albie, Dexís adopted younger brother. "What about?"
"I was on Edenoi, back fighting with the resistance," the alien teenager explained, opening the refrigerator. He came out with a slice of pizza left over from dinner the night before and a can of soda. Barbara put her hands on her hips.
"Dex Stewart, you are NOT going to eat cold pizza for breakfast, are you?"
Dex looked down at the food in his hand. "Why not? It contains something from each of the basic food groups, doesnít it? And besides, my digestive system can make efficient use of anything carbon based. I could probably live on cardboard if I had to- but I wouldnít like the taste of it."
"Thatís not the point," his adopted mother replied. "Pizza is not a breakfast food!"
Just then, her husband Hal entered the room. "Morning, honey," the slightly rotund inventor yawned. "What smells good? Oh, hey, pizza! Good thinking, Dex." As Hal helped himself to a slice, Barbara threw her hands in the air in resignation.
"Can I have some too, Mom?" Albie asked hopefully.
"No, Albie, you eat your breakfast cereal," his mother instructed. "And DONíT feed it to Ferbus. He eats enough as it is!"
As the family settled down to their various breakfasts, the last member came bouncing into the kitchen. "Morning, everybody," Molly Stewart chirped. Blond, blue-eyed, and very perky, Molly was the epitome of the Earth cheerleader stereotype. Despite this, she was fairly intelligent and quite observant. Snagging a slice of pizza, (over her motherís protests,) she plopped down at the kitchen counter and gave her adopted older brother a long look. "Dex, you look like something the cat dragged in," she remarked. "Whatís the matter?"
"íSomething the cat dragged in?í I was unaware that I bore a resemblance to a mouse this morning."
Molly shot him a withering look. "Youíve been on Earth MORE than long enough to know what that figure of speech means, Dex. Quit hedging. Whatís wrong?"
Dex sighed. "I didnít sleep well," he began, knowing he would have to continue. Ever since he became Masked Rider, a full, unbroken nightís sleep had been lost to him. Since his adopted family knew all about his heroís identity, they knew about his nightmares, too. It wouldnít take them long to realize that the previous nightís visions were more disturbing than any before them.
"I donít know, exactly, why these dreams upset me so. At first, they were pleasant, memories of happy times spent on Edenoi with my grandfather and friends. Then came Dregon." The normally open young manís face went solid as he remembered the carnage his uncle had wreaked on his planet. "But Iíve dreamed of that a thousand times since the initial attack. Somehow, though, it was different-" He broke off suddenly, looking thoughtful. "Perhaps because this is the first time Iíve dreamt about my meeting with the Power Rangers of Earth."
Albie started, his eyes going wide. "You met the POWER RANGERS?" he breathed. Knowing that his older brother was Masked Rider, and the hero of Leawood was cool enough, but finding out that Dex knew Earthís legendary heroes- that was even better.
Dex chuckled. "Yes, although this was a very long time ago. Theyíve likely all moved on with their own lives now. There were five of them- the Pink Ranger was left at home with a flu bug. The others came to investigate the situation on Edenoi, and in the end, we fought Dregonís Plague Patrol together- although not without some misunderstandings along the way."
"But why would that be bad?" Hal asked. "I mean, it doesnít sound as if you and the Rangers had too bad a time."
"We didnít," Dex replied. "But there was a background
of such menace to my dreams that I couldnít go back to sleep for the longest
time." He shook his head. "I donít know. If something is wrong
in Angel Grove, though, Iíll know about it. And the Power Rangers can count
on me to help no matter what."
As soon as Kaitlin Starr entered the Tao Dojo, she knew there was a problem. Seeing Ryan Steele there at all hours of the day or night was not unusual, nor was it unusual to see him practicing his martial arts. But the frantic edge to his movements was not common, nor was the sight of his kick missing the hanging bag, dumping him to the ground. Instantly, Kaitlin was at his side, helping him to his feet.
"Couldnít sleep?" she asked levelly, keeping her concern out of her voice with an effort. Ryan gave a short, humorless laugh.
"If only. I was out the instant my head hit the pillow- and I dreamed all night."
"The usual?" Nightmares were nothing unusual for Ryan Steele. In fact, he had a set pattern he ran through every night, from the loss of his father to the loss of his teammates at the hands of whatever virtual misfit Grimlord had sent them up against most recently. It was almost a ritual, and so Kaitlin was very surprised when Ryan shook his head.
"No, not a one. Just strange, disjointed images, like I used to pick up when my dad first taught me to meditate. And now I canít remember anything except waking up in a cold sweat, more terrified than Iíve ever been in my entire life." Ryan shuddered. "I just donít remember."
Kaitlin opened her mouth to reply, unsure as to what she could say. She was saved from finding out when Tao, their sensei, walked in with JB Reese, third member of the VR Troopers. "Ryan?" Tao asked, his brow furrowing. "What is the matter?"
"I wish I knew, Tao," the blond boy replied. He swayed slightly, and Kaitlin moved quickly to hold him up. JB shot her a look, and she shook her head almost imperceptibly. Ryan swayed more dangerously this time, and Tao and JB quickly moved to help support him. Quickly they allowed him to sink down into a chair.
"Did you not sleep well?" the dojo owner asked in a worried voice. Jeb, Ryanís Redbone Coonhound, watched them from the door.
"Dreams," Ryan mumbled. "I canít remember- I have to remember." He was almost in a trance, Kaitlin realized. Ryan had learned the tricks of self-hypnosis early on, and had placed himself in almost a hypnotic state trying to jog his memory.
"Tao-" JB began, obviously coming to the same conclusions Kaitlin had. "Do you think you could hypnotize him, get at those memories? Itís pretty obvious that heís gonna be useless to everybody until he remembers."
Tao nodded. "I will do what I can," he replied. As the older man turned back to Ryan, Kaitlin and JB slipped out into the hall where Jeb was waiting.
"Jeb," Kaitlin began quietly, "Did anything weird happen to Ryan last night? No skug attacks he "forgot" to tell us about?"
"Nada," the dog replied, sounding a great deal like Jack Nicholson. An accident in the lab of Professor Horatio Hart, the Troopersí mentor, had given the dog the ability to speak and near human intelligence. "We came home, split a can of stew and hit the hay. He didnít even have a date, not that thatís anything unusual."
Kaitlin and JB regarded each other in puzzlement. Something like this almost certainly had to be the work of Grimlord. No one else bore them nearly as much resentment, especially Ryan.
"Excuse me," Tao said quietly, startling both teens. "I believe the two of you should hear this." The three of them re-entered the dojoís main room, where Ryan still sat, lost in a trance. "Ryan," Tao began gently, "tell me about your dreams last night."
"Same one," the boy replied, in a voice that was dreamy and disconnected. "Over and over. The images make no sense. Fire, pain. A dark cloud over the earth. I canít see any more."
Tao frowned. After Ryanís father disappeared, the karate master had almost come to regard the boy as his own son. He knew quite well how intuitive Ryan was, and he was unwilling to write the nightmares off as simple dreams. "Where is this darkness centered?" he asked quietly.
Despite the trance, a look of fear came into Ryanís eyes as he answered.
"South. In Angel Grove."
It was ten oíclock in New York City, but for four of its inhabitants, it felt much later. The Ghostbusters had spent the last three hours chasing a highly intelligent and motivated Class 5 power-sucker around a warehouse in the Bronx. It looked, as Peter had announced, like "the results of an affair between a jellyfish and a squid," plus it was a ridiculous shade of neon blue. The ectoplasmic entity was capable of absorbing any type of energy, including that of a normal human being. So far, it hadnít drained any of its victims fatally, but it seemed like only a matter of time.
"Yeow!" Ray Stantz broke off his proton fire as the energy eater darted at him. Ducking behind a stack of crates, Ray found himself sharing his cover with his teammate, Peter Venkman.
"Isnít this great, Peter?" the auburn-haired occultist grinned, brown eyes twinkling. His older teammate groaned.
"Sure, Ray, real great. May I remind you that we are trapped in a factory by an energy-eating ghost that would love to have us over for dinner?" Peter shook his head fondly. He might complain about Rayís enthusiasm for their work, but to tell the truth, it was sometimes all that kept him going.
Ray, of course, had totally ignored the sarcasm in Peterís words. "Well, Iíll admit itís not my idea of a dream vacation, but wow! Did you see how it ate the PKE meter?"
"I saw," Peter allowed. The damn thing had snatched the device directly out of Egon Spenglerís hand, swallowing it in one gulp. "This thing seems to be able to eat almost any type of energy. Luckily, the proton streams give it indigestion. But weíre not getting anything done sitting back here. Can you see Egon and Winston?"
Ray shook his head. "No, and that thing- well, ate my walkie-talkie." Ray held up the device in question, which showed the unmistakable traces of energy depletion. Peter groaned.
"Is there ANYTHING it wonít nosh on?" he grouched, pulling his own walkie-talkie off of his belt. "Yo, Egon! Boy Genius! Where are you?"
After a few seconds of silence, the physicistís dry tones came over the handset. "Winston and I are currently sheltering behind a rather large stack of boxes. Weíre on the western side of the main room. Where are you?"
"Same predicament, eastern side. Rayís here with me. Any ideas?"
"One, but I doubt youíre going to like it. We need to bait it with something so that we can get it out into the open."
"With what? We need all our packs, and I seriously doubt this thing is gonna bite on my digital watch."
Ray gestured for the handset, which Peter handed to him, one dark eyebrow raised. "Egon, I have an idea," Ray gushed. "Weíve got spare traps, right? Those things pack a lot of power. I can modify one to emit an energy signal, toss it out into the middle of the room, and let it go feed on that. When it bites, we can trap it, and put it in one of our other traps."
"Sounds good, Ray. Do it; Winston an-d I will be ready." Spengler broke off the transmission, and Ray quickly set to work.
Five minutes later, the occultist tossed the modified trap out into the center of the room. The four Ghostbusters watched in breathless anticipation as the creature descended from the rafters to settle onto the trap. As the paranormal eliminators moved into position, Peter frowned. Something was wrong with the picture. This was a little too easy. In his experience, "easy" was usually a precursor to "scream and run." His green eyes ceaselessly scanned the area, widening as he saw a blur of motion in the back of the room, heading for Winston Zeddemoreís back. Peter was processing the information even as he was throwing himself towards the black man.-
There were TWO of the things.
All day long, the Ghostbusters had only seen one at a time, setting them up for a blindside. Peter plowed into Winston at a headlong run, knocking the other out of the path of the ghost. Unfortunately, he himself wasnít so lucky. He felt the impact as the ghost rammed into him, and then the cold stickiness of ectoplasm enveloping him. _Great, slimed again,_ he thought as the energy began flowing out of him. The world began to blur around him, and he could faintly hear the sizzle of proton fire somewhere, very far away.
"PETER!" Rayís horrified cry spit the air as the psychologist dropped to the ground, the power-suckerís tentacles wrapped around him. Ray turned in that direction, but a yell from Winston stopped him.
"Ray, get the other one! Itís gonna move!"
Whirling semi-reluctantly, Ray helped Winston and Egon keep the second energy-eater at bay with their proton streams.
"PETER!" Egon bellowed. "Take off the pack! Itís a better source of energy than you are! Get rid of it!"
Peter, lying on the ground, was barely aware of the physicistís bass voice cutting through the fog in his brain. He did, however, still have the presence of mind to know a good idea when he heard one, and laboriously detached himself from the pack. Throwing the heavy piece of equipment as far from him as possible, he collapsed to the ground again as the power-sucker went after it.
Suddenly a cry roused Peter from his stupor. The power-suckers had joined forces, and were evading the Ghostbustersí beams with phenomenal agility. Snapping into a pair of power dives, the two ghosts simultaneously slamming into Ray and Winston. Then they rounded on Egon, who had little chance of keeping two spirits at bay with one thrower.
Fifteen years of instinct rose up suddenly, taking command of Peterís brain. He was too tired to move a muscle, but Egon needed his help. Only half-aware of what he was doing, Peter _reached-_ and energy suddenly began flowing through his body, sharpening his mind and giving him the strength to stand. Without thought, Peter reached back over his shoulder for the rifle from his proton pack, forgetting for a second that it was not there- and brought it forward. He had no time to wonder about it, though. Instead, he aimed and fired, sending a streak of green energy racing towards its target.
_Green?_ Peter nearly dropped his thrower. Sure enough, the beam wasnít his traditional yellow stream, or even the green-touched one that he had produced ever since his first encounter with the Power Rangers. This beam was pure, emerald green. However, as long as it worked like a proton thrower, he wasnít going to argue.
Now Winston and Ray had gotten to their feet, and with four throwers, the ghosts were quickly subdued. As the last ghost vanished into a trap, Peter slung his thrower over his shoulder and walked over to his friends, wearing his usual cocky smile. The expression vanished, however, when he realized they were staring at him.
"What?" he asked, a mock-aggrieved tone in his voice. "You guys have seen me pull off last-minute saves before."
Ray pointed. "Peter- look at yourself."
Frowning, the dark-haired Ghostbuster looked downward. His usual brown jumpsuit was gone, replaced with one of identical style, but bright emerald green. On the front of the jumpsuit, a gold coin bore the symbol of some type of lizard. No, not a lizard, Peter remembered, a _basilisk._ The animal symbol of his Morphin Grid powers. It was the same type of set-up that the Morphin Warriors had on their costume. Suddenly realization set in.
Peterís scream was audible in some parts of Brooklyn.
"Beautiful morning, isnít it?" Chelsea asked, turning her face to the sun beating down on her. With no Power Ranger emergencies or Oliver family crises predicted for the near future, she and Trey were taking this moment to enjoy a long walk in the park together.
"It sure is," Trey replied, slipping an arm around her. He just wished he could enjoy it. He had been jumpy ever since he woke up that morning, and could not seem to shake the feeling.
"I love college, but itís good to be home for the summer," she continued, either unaware of or ignoring his emotional state. "Too many Secret Service guys on campus."
Trey chuckled. "If it bothered you, how do you think she feels? I remember being the equivalent of fourteen years old, and trying to ditch my bodyguards at every turn." He chuckled. "I was quite probably the most rambunctious prince the Triforian monarchy has produced in the past four millennia."
"Iím going to have trouble keeping up with our children, then," Chelsea mused. "Tommy, Teddy, and I were all the same way."
Trey stopped dead in his tracks. "Our children?" he asked, somewhat startled. He worried constantly that the ever-widening gap in their physical ages might push Chelsea away from him before she was ready to make that kind of commitment. In effect, she would be leaving the world she knew behind forever. He wanted to believe she loved him enough to do that, butÖ
She grinned at him, breaking into his thoughts. "Yes, our children. Itís not a question of if Iíll marry you anymore, Trey. Iím just- not ready for it quite yet. Someday soon, though."
He stepped closer to her, closing the gap between them. Just as they were about to kiss, a polite cough caused them to break apart. Surrounding them were five nondescript men of varying races, dressed in dark suits and black sunglasses. Her eyes narrowing, Chelsea stepped away from her boyfriend, subtly taking a position that would allow her to cover Treyís back if necessary.
"Are you gentlemen lost?" she asked, a slight hint of sarcasm in her voice. "I donít remember hearing that the cast of "Men In Black" was in town."
One, obviously the leader stepped forward. "Trey de Kíniro, Prince of Triforia, holder of the Gold Ranger powers?" he asked. Treyís eyes narrowed.
"I am," he assented carefully. He wasnít liking this one bit.
The man shimmered, becoming a silver-skinned robot clad in blue armor and a white helmet. "You are under arrest by dictate of the Council for violating Section V of the Treaty of Chrio."
Treyís jaw dropped. "Youíre hauling me in for violating the interdict? Youíve got to be kidding me!"
"Trey, what is going on here?" Chelsea asked, watching as the other four men shimmered and became robots identical to the first.
"Theyíre Blue Senturion units," her boyfriend replied, his mind racing. "IGPF, the bruisers. Hey!" This last was prompted by two of the Blue Senturion units grabbing Chelsea and pulling her away from him.
"Lemme go!" she yelled. "Trey!"
"You are to be detained until trial," the Commander began, turning back towards Trey. "You will have no contact with the outside world until that time. Notification of your arrest will be sent to the appropriate parties."
Trey took a step away from the robot, falling into a defensive stance. "This whole thing stinks," he growled. "Why do I get the funny feeling I wonít make it to trial?"
"Resistance may result in termination," the Blue Senturion unit warned.
"Commander," one of the lower-ranking units began, "what about the girl?"
"Sheís powerless," the leader replied. "Sheís of no concern to us."
CRUNCH! CRASH! The sounds of sudden mayhem caused Trey and the three Senturions advancing on him to turn. One of the units that had been restraining Chelsea was lying at the foot of a tree, a dent in its helmet testifying to the force with which the girl had launched it. The other was just joining it, as Chelsea helped its forward momentum with a foot planted in the small of its armored back.
"What in the name of the Matrix?" the leader gasped. Chelsea dusted off her hands.
"After a dozen of Mondoís Cogs, you guys are simple," the girl chuckled. The Senturions, realizing that they had taken their attention from their target, turned back towards Trey, but too late.
"Gold Ranger Power!" In a flash of gold light, the Gold Ranger
summoned his golden power staff and leveled it at the three robotic policemen.
"I donít want to hurt you guys, but we both know if I go with you,
I might as well make my will out now. Chelsea!" The girl ran over
to him, slipping an arm around his waist. "Leave Earth. Now. Or youíll
get worse than a couple dents and a cybernetic headache." Then, in
a flash of gold light, the two were gone.
Upon their arrival in the Power Chamber, Chelsea and Trey found the other Rangers already there, staring up at a rather grim looking Zordon. Shouldering through the crowd, the Triforian prince made his way to the front of the chamber. "Zordon, whatís going on here?" he asked. "I just got rousted by a Blue Senturion squad."
"I am aware of that," the interdimensional being rumbled. "Rangers, what I have to tell you will not be easy. Perhaps in your time of service, you have heard your planet referred to as "interdicted" or "off-limits." This prohibition is in place to protect your developing civilization from the effects of galactic culture, but also works to keep your "barbaric" people, as some have termed you, in their place. Technically, the posting of a Ranger team is the only interference allowed- but the Rangers are not supposed to be of your race."
That brought a rousing "WHAT?" from the twenty-five humans in the room.
"Itís true," Andros nodded. "Rangers are supposed to be recruited from nearby planets, in the event of an invasion on an interdicted world. Never mind that the invasion would destroy the culture anyway."
"So, if we were never supposed to be Rangers," Jason began, speaking for all, "why did you choose us?"
"I spent centuries watching your people evolve, and I saw things in your people that I had never seen before," Zordon replied. "You are tough and spirited, and produce an inordinate number of warriors given your population. You are resistant to magic, yet some of you are open enough to wield it. But the main thing I saw in the five of you, and the rest of you as you began to join the team, was a courage that burned far brighter than any I had seen in a very long time, a courage that matched the greatest legends of galactic history- or surpassed them. And through thick and thin, I have never had cause to regret that decision. However, some members of the Council have decided that my techniques are- somewhat unorthodox. Your membership, Jamie, and especially yours, Tommy, are sources of discomfort to those who had before been content to look the other way. In short- I have been placed under arrest."
Jaws dropped all over the Power Chamber. The Earth-born Rangers were having trouble with the concept that there was someone with the authority to arrest Zordon, who was the only real representative of galactic power any of them had really dealt with. Trey and Andros, meanwhile, were having trouble of a different sort. Zordon of Eltare was a legend to them, a war hero and wise sage. Hearing that he had been arrested hit them as if a Catholic were told that the pope had been served a warrant.
"Well- what are we going to do about this?" Tommy asked, the first to find his voice.
"Unlike Trey, I am unable to escape from this decision," the wizard rumbled, amused. "I was given only enough time to finish briefing you, and then I will be confined to my time warp, unable to make contact with you through my plasma tube."
"With no contact with anyone until the trial, right?" Trey added. "Sounds to me as if someoneís trying to railroad you. What happened to getting someone to testify in your defense?"
Zordon looked over the assembly before him. Morphin Warriors, Zeo Rangers, Turbo Rangers, and Astro Rangers, these children were his family, the family he had never had. He could see by the stubborn looks on their faces that they were not about to simply let this go. In that instant, he felt a wash of pride stronger than anything he had ever known. "That," he said slowly, "is up to you, Rangers. However, the Power Chamberís communications will be deadened. If Treyís suspicions about this being orchestrated prove to be valid, there will be someone watching to ensure that you do not interfere. If you are to gain those to speak in my defense, you must go personally. And it will not be easy, Rangers." His image began to flicker in and out, and his voice began to fade. His last words before his image left the tube were perhaps predictable, but no less heartfelt. "May the Power protect you, Rangers. Good luck." Then he was gone. Alpha, standing in the corner, gave one last beep and shut down.
"Now what?" Fred asked, looking around.
"Now," Billy interjected, "we start making plans. Letís
go to the park. Thereís more room there." In a flash of light, the
twenty-seven teens disappeared.
"Our most obvious choices for witnesses on Zordonís behalf would be the other members of the Order of the Meledan," Andros informed the gathered Rangers. The inordinately large group was gathered in a rather deserted section of the park, sitting in a circle. Currently, all attention was on the Kerovan Astro Ranger as he spoke. "They were Zordonís teammates. Thereís no way they wouldnít testify on his behalf, no matter what. It would be like if one of us was on trial."
"One of us is," Rocky reminded him sardonically, looking at Trey.
Christina cocked her head. "Will they allow us to testify for him?"
"Wouldnít carry much weight," Andros replied, "but if we can prove that Earth Rangers are just as capable as any other team, that will reflect well in Zordonís favor."
"Weíve survived villains from Rita Repulsa to Dark Specter, and weíre all still here," TJ pointed out.
"Weíve also lost what, three sets of Zords and powers?" Jason reminded him. "Not a great record."
Tommy raised a hand at that. "Technically, we didnít LOSE the Dino powers. We simply modified the coins to draw both Dino and Thunder power. Admittedly, we lost the Thunder powers to Rito, but we would have needed to give up the Ninja Powers anyway, to fight the Machine Empire."
"Still, weíve had our share of losses," Andros interjected, taking the thread of conversation back. "But I think we can show that those were acceptable for the goal. The point is, we need to get Zordon some more respected witnesses as well. That means the three remaining members of the Order of the Meledan. Lord Zarador of Danata, King Lexian of Edenoi and Dulcea of Phaedos. And someone should inform the government of Eltare about this, too. If Treyís right about this being a railroad, Iím sure whoeverís responsible is keeping this as tight under wraps as they can. Weíll need to split up into teams to go to the four different planets."
The Triforian prince broke in, "Iíll head to Triforia, see what support I can drum up there."
"WEíLL head to Triforia," Chelsea corrected him firmly. "If you think youíre leaving behind this time, Trey, youíre sorely mistaken." He laughed and nodded, conceding the point.
"And the Turbo Rangers should stay behind to protect Earth," Adam added. "No offense, guys, but- someone has to stay, and I donít think a team of fourteen year-old humans is going to impress the Council."
Fred nodded. "We understand. We donít mind, do we guys?" Four heads shook in unison.
"So how do we split up the three remaining teams?" Jamie asked. "By team, and split the Zeos in half?"
Andros shook his head. "No, weíre going to have to do this a little differently. First off, weíre going to need pilots. At least five, because weíre going to have to find extra transportation along the way. Whoís qualified to pilot a space craft?"
Billy and Trey raised their hands. Andros winced. "I can fly one myself, but weíre going to need at least two more."
"That means civilians," Trini groaned. "We canít put ordinary humans in that type of danger!"
"Well," Andros said slowly, "I have something that might help one of the people. The other one will just have to be a darn good pilot. Anyone know anybody like that?"
Lillian raised her hand. "I do. My brother, Parker. Back before he was the _Gazetteís-_ most valuable reporter, he moonlighted flying a news chopper for K-Grove News. He can fly ANYTHING. Give him five minutes with the controls of a spaceship, and he could fly it as well as you can, Andros."
The Red Astro Ranger nodded. "All right. What about the other choice?"
Ashley bit her lip. "I have this- old friend," she said haltingly. "Back before I lived in Angel Grove, I was dating this guy- who wasnít nice at all. My friend, Chris Sterling, was always sticking up for me, cleaning me up if my boyfriend got a little rough. Heís excellent at keeping a secret, and heís the best Iíve ever seen on a flight simulator. I think he could fly anything you put him in."
"Do you think you could get this guy to join us?" Andros asked.
Ashley smiled slightly. "I can try."
"All right. We can split everything up once we hit the ships and see what skills are needed where."
"Guys," Tanya began, "if weíre going to be off Earth for an unknown amount of time, we probably ought to tell our parents where weíre going. That means telling them the truth, for some of us." The others nodded.
"All right," Tommy nodded. "We go home, make our good-byes,
and Ashley, you recruit your friend. Then we meet back here tomorrow morning
and head up to the Megaship. All right?" There were no objections,
and the Rangers all went their separate ways.
"Dad?" Billy swallowed as he walked into the house. He had no real idea how he was going to go about this. After his mother had died so many years ago, he and his father had come to depend implicitly on each other. Sure, his dad had survived Billyís trip to Aquitar, but this was different. This time, there was a very real possibility that he would never come back.
"In here, Billy." Hank Cranstonís voice floated out of the room he used as a study. Billy smiled fleetingly. He should have known. Just as his garage lab had always been his refuge, his father spent most of his time in his study, working on the various reports for the companies he consulted for- or just playing computer games. It was a bit of a toss-up.
Walking into the study, Billy paused for a minute to take in the surroundings. Dark wallpaper, a warm brown carpet, and brown leather furniture all conspired to give the appearance of a warm, cozy nest. Billy had spent a great deal of his childhood here, being read to, talking, and occasionally being chewed out by one parent or another. It seemed incredible that he might never see it again. "Dad, I need to talk to you for a minute."
The serious tone in his sonís voice alerted Hank to the fact that this wasnít just an idle conversation. Switching off his game, he turned his chair around. "Whatís the problem?" he asked seriously, as Billy took a seat in one of the other chairs.
"I have something to tell you," the teen genius began. "Well, actually a lot of somethings. Do you remember five years ago, how I was always dashing out of the house at odd intervals?"
Hank nodded. "And coming home bruised and dirty, when before, you seemed like you were made of Teflon. I may not be your level, but Iím fairly observant."
"Well- the reason all that happened was that- five years ago, I became a Power Ranger. The Blue one." Billy had expected his father to be surprised, shocked, and maybe even angry. He had certainly not expected amusement.
"Good grief, Billy, you thought I didnít know? Your wardrobe suddenly contained nothing but blue clothing, you came home bruised and battered, and suddenly Jason Scott and Kimberly Hart were over here all the time, when before you barely spoke to each other. Five kids, color-coded wardrobes, and you started taking martial arts? It didnít take me long to figure it out, and your trip to Aquitar just confirmed it. The only way you would have been in a position to go to an alien planet was if you were involved with the Power Rangers in some way."
Billy grinned. "And to think I spent all this time sneaking around, trying to keep you from finding out." He took a deep breath. "Dad, thereís a problem, sort of a- galactic emergency. Iím going to have to go off planet for a while, I donít know how long. It might be dangerous, and thereís a chance I may not come back."
Hank Cranston paled. With his wife and parents both gone, Billy was the only family he had left. How could he think of letting his only son go off into danger like that? But looking into Billyís eyes, he knew he could do nothing else. Letting out a shaky breath, he stood.
"Billy, something just occurred to me. I donít think that I ever told you before how very proud of you I am. And I know your mother would be proud of you, too. Youíve grown up into a better person than I could have ever dreamed you would be."
Getting to his feet, Billy threw his arms around his father in a tight hug. "I love you, Dad," he said quietly.
"I love you too, son."
"Absolutely not." Nina Vargas folded her arms over her chest and stared at her son. "I am not letting my son run off into deep space to fight monsters."
Carlos sighed. He had expected this type of reaction. "Mama, please. The safety of the universe may be at stake! Zordon is the most respected person in galactic society! If heís stripped of his position, anybody could be next! And without Rangers, Earth will be at the mercy of any invader that comes along! I HAVE to go."
"You donít have to go anywhere. You will tell them to get something else. I do not intend to lose you the way I lost your father."
"Mama," Carlos said quietly, "Iím not asking for your permission. Iím going, whether you give me your blessing or not."
"WHAT? Is this the gratitude I get for raising you? Working my fingers to the bone to bring you up all by myself? You just run off with your friends without a second thought?"
"No, Mama. I am doing this because of the way you raised me. You always taught me that I have to stand up for whatís right, that no one will do it for me. Well, this is whatís right. Iím doing this for you, and for Julia and Javier, and for all of Earth, because somebody needs to protect it. I love you, Mama, and Iíd rather leave knowing you understand. But Iím going, one way or another." With that, Carlos turned and walked out of the room. Heíd give her some time to think about it, while he packed for the trip.
Carlos was laying yet another black shirt in his duffel bag when a knock sounded at the door. "Come in," he called, expecting to see his mother. Instead, the door swung open, and his sister and brother came in. Carlos groaned. "Look, if you guys are going to try to guilt-trip me into staying, forget about it," he began.
His sister shook her head. "No, not in the least," Julia Vargas replied. "Actually, Javier and I think what youíre doing is the right thing. Thatís what we came in here to tell you."
His brother nodded. "Yeah. Although Iím still finding it hard to believe that my little soccer partner is actually a Power Ranger."
"You think YOU had a hard time believing it," Carlos grinned. "Man, when the Red Astro Ranger gave us the powers, I nearly passed out. It was like nothing Iíd ever imagined."
"Do you regret it?" Julia asked curiously. She realized just how long it had been since she actually --_looked_ at her littlest brother. Admittedly, sheíd been busy with her work at the clinic and starting her own private practice, but stillÖ How had she missed the new determination in his eyes?
"Not in the least," Carlos responded. "I have four friends who are like extra family, and the rest of the Rangers are really good friends too. Besides, Iím making a difference, helping people. You should know what thatís like, Julie."
She chuckled. "Yes, I do."
"Weíre going to miss you, hermanito," Javier said, a little more seriously. "Try not to get yourself killed."
"Iíll do what I can," Carlos chuckled. Reaching out, the siblings
pulled each other into a three-way hug.
"Two down, one to go." Ashley sighed. She hadnít had much of a problem explaining her Rangerhood to her parents. Sure, theyíd been shocked, and then worried about her, but when theyíd seen how intent she was on going, they had understood. Now she just had to see if she couldnít get Chris to join their merry little band.
"This place hasnít changed much," Ashley thought to herself, walking into the Dry Creek arcade. It was still full of people, laughing, talking, eating- and the largest knot was still in front of the flight simulator game. Crossing the floor, Ashley gently pushed her way through the crowd, fairly sure what she would find there.
Sure enough, sitting in the chair was Chris Sterling, eyes locked on the screen. Checking out the score, Ashley was impressed. He was well on his way to breaking the long-standing arcade record. While the people around her cheered him on, Ashley studied her old friend. He didnít look too different from the last time they had seen each other. He was still tall and solid, with dark hair and dark eyes. His taste in clothes hadnít changed either, she noticed, taking in his Robotech T-shirt.
Suddenly the last ship on the arcade screen exploded into a fountain of sparks, causing a cheer to go up from the watchers. On the screen flashed the words "Mission 9 completed. Game Completed. New record." Getting up from the chair, Chris pushed his way through the crowd, only to stop dead when he came face to face with Ashley.
"Hi, Chris," she greeted him, slightly nervously.
"A-Ashley," he managed. "Um, hi. What are you doing here? I thought you went to Angel Grove to get away from Ben?"
"I did, but- Chris, I need your help with something really important. Is there somewhere we can go to talk?"
"Um, sure. Come on." Chris led her out of the building and around to the back, to a secluded spot near some trees. "So whatís the problem, Ash?"
She sighed. "Chris, this is going to sound really strange, but youíve got to hear me out. Iím a Power Ranger. The Yellow Astro Ranger, to be precise. Anyway, weíve got this- galactic emergency, and weíre going to have to go into space. Unfortunately, weíre short of pilots. Thatís why I thought of you. Youíve got a gift for this sort of thing. If itís got wings, you can fly it. We need you to help us, Chris. But itíll mean that you have to go into space with us, and you may not be back for a long time."
"Youíre a Power Ranger?" he asked, not having gotten beyond that. Then he shook himself. "You, the Power Rangers, need me to pilot a spaceship? Youíre on!"
"Chris, this might be dangerous," she cautioned him. "Theseíll be real fighters youíll be piloting, with real enemies."
He shrugged. "Ashley, you know me. What type of life would I be risking? Arcade rat?"
She smiled. "Go home and explain things to your mom, and Iíll be
by to pick you up tomorrow." She disappeared in a flash of yellow,
leaving him speechless.
"You want to tell him?" Franklin asked his brother nervously.
"Oh, no, be my guest," Adam replied. Neither of the Park boys particularly wanted to be the one to inform their father that Adam was leaving the planet for a while. They were bantering back and forth low tones, standing in the foyer of their home. Occasionally, one or both of them would cast a glance towards the family room, where the sounds of the current Angel Grove Lions game could be heard faintly.
Franklin grimaced. "Really, I couldnít deprive you of the pleasure," he returned. This was generally their method for deciding who would clean the garage or tell their parents about the latest mess theyíd gotten into. They never really got anything done in this way, but the familiar routine always made him feel better.
"I really think heíll take it better from you, Frank. You were always his favorite."
"Shyeah, right. I bet Iíve been grounded more times than you have!"
"Actually," Trevor Parkís voice broke in, "itís about even, if you remove Ranger-related activities from your list, Adam. Iíve kept track." The brothers turned to see their father leaning in the doorway to the kitchen, holding an unopened can of beer. The police detective regarded his sons with one raised eyebrow. "I think my line at this point is ĎTell me what?í"
Adam sighed. "Weíve got an emergency, Dad. Zordonís in trouble, and most of us Rangers are going to have to go into space if weíre going to save him. Itís kind of complicated, but the gist of it is that weíre going to be gone for a while."
"Iím staying behind," Franklin added. "The Turbo Rangers are going to defend the Earth while everybodyís gone." The beer can clattered to the floor. For a long moment, Trevor just looked at his two sons.
"I see," he said finally. "My first instinct is to tell you ĎNo way in Hell,í but youíd leave anyway. All that would do is make you feel guilty. Just when are you leaving?"
"Tomorrow morning," Adam replied.
"Have you told your mother yet?"
Franklin shook his head. "We thought weíd get the easy one out of the way first. Momís even more stubborn than you."
"Iíd noticed," Trevor replied dryly. "Where exactly are you going?"
"Weíre not sure yet," shrugged Adam. "It might be Edenoi, Eltare, Danata, or Phaedos. It depends on what team needs to go where when."
Trevor sighed. "And I thought sending you to college was bad." Then his mouth quirked as a thought hit him. "Adam, do you mean to tell me that you are going to spend an unknown amount of time cooped up on a spaceship with Tanya Sloan, with no adult supervision?" Adam turned bright crimson, prompting a gale of laughter from his father. "Itís all right. As long as you act like that, Iíve got nothing to worry about."
TJ paced up and down the hall for what had to be the hundredth time. His uncle was due home at any minute, and TJ thought he was going to burst. Uncle Roy had been exceptionally lenient about curfews and absences, but at least two weeks in space would probably be pushing his limits, at least without an explanation. TJ grimaced. In a way, he was glad it was his uncle that he would have to deal with, and not his father. Not that he didnít love his father- he did, very much so. But Timothy Carter was not the most open-minded man on the planet. Heíd find the idea of his son being a Power Ranger kind of hard to swallow. Plus- his parents had more than enough headaches as it was. He didnít need to add fear for his safety to those.
It was his parentsí problems that had brought him to Angel Grove. His father had played in the minor leagues before a hip injury had cut short his career. He hadnít had many options to fall back on, and wound up making a fairly good living as a construction worker. The money troubles hadnít started until after he married.
TJís mother was a teacher, and at first, the joint salaries were quite comfortable. Then TJ had come along, followed in rather rapid succession by four others. The oldest of his siblings was his sister Kris, who was 12. Then came Howie, 11, Dina, age 8, and Ginny, the youngest at 6. Now that Ginny was in school, the money was getting tight, so when the family had seen the opportunity for TJ to get into baseball, theyíd jumped at the chance. It wasnít easy, juggling baseball, school, and Rangering, but so far, heíd managed. Luckily, practice was over for the season, and he had some time before he had to be back in Angel Grove.
The sound of a door opening brought TJ out of his reverie. He watched anxiously as his uncle entered for any clue to his condition. Roy Carter didnít look all that tired, so TJ decided to take a chance. "Uncle Roy?" he asked hesitantly. "Iíve got something I need to tell you."
"Whatís that, Teej?" Roy asked, taking off his jacket.
"Iím a Power Ranger. I have to go off into space to save an interdimensional being, so can you cover for me for a month or so?"
Roy stared at his nephew for a moment, then laughed. "Thatís a good one, TJ. Whatís really on your mind?"
TJ sighed. There was only one way he was going to be able to do this. "Letís Rocket!" he called, twisting his wrist as he did so. Typing in his activation code, he morphed in a flash of blue light, becoming the Blue Astro Ranger.
As the light faded, Roy Carter regarded his nephew calmly for a moment. Then his eyes rolled back in his head and he crumpled to the ground in a dead faint.
"Must have been a longer day than I thought," Blue Astro mused.
"I need a beer," Peter Venkman announced, climbing out of Ecto-1 and heading for the stairs. After calming down, the Ghostbuster had figured out how to shift back to his normal state, and was now clad in his original jumpsuit. Behind him, his colleagues just shook their heads.
"Iíll take THESE little beauties," Winston hefted the traps, "down to the basement and store them."
"Careful they donít eat through the grid," Ray called after him.
"Morniní, Dr. V," Janine greeted the dark-haired psychologist. He just stalked past her without a word. "Whatís wrong with him?" she asked the garage at large. "He hasnít got a speck of slime on him, but heís in the worst mood Iíve ever seen."
"Aw, donít mind him," Ray said earnestly. "Heís just found out heís a superhero."
Egon adjusted his glasses. "It appears that our run-ins with the Power Rangers are having some interesting effects. Somehow, during the bust today, Peter transformed his partial grid connection, caused by the Thunder Crystal, into a full-fledged Morphin Warrior transformation."
"You mean- Dr. Vís a _Power Ranger?_" Janineís mouth quirked at the thought.
"In the most basic sense of the term, yes," Egon replied. "Luckily for his ego, though, there is no Spandex on the costume whatsoever."
"Yo, Egon," Winston broke in, coming up the stairs. "Do you still have that communicator Tommy gave you the last time we met those kids?"
"Of course, Winston," Egon replied. "Itís up in my lab."
"Is it still in one piece?"
Egon grinned. "So far. I havenít wanted to take it apart until I could get a spare. I thought we might need it."
"Then it might be a good idea to call the Rangers and ask what the heck is going on. Maybe find out about any other surprises we should watch out for."
"Good point," Ray acceded. "Iíll go make sure Peter confines
himself to ONE beer, especially if weíre going to be teleporting. That
mode of travel is AWFUL on the stomach." The occultist headed up towards
the TV room, as Egon and Winston headed up the stairs.
"I donít know HOW we are ever going to get this place to run on automatic," Justin complained, pulling himself out from under a console. "I mean, I never realized just how much a part of the computer system Zordon actually is."
Billy nodded, from where he was soldering together a few wires. "No kidding. Every feed from every sensor in the place got fed into his time warp. Without him, weíre going to be half-crippled in a dozen departments."
"It would be like if someone ripped DECA out of the Megashipís systems," Ashley mused. "Youíd be left with life-support and not much else." The three teens were alone in the Power Chamber, trying to get the place into some semblance of an order they could use. Suddenly a console crackled to life. Ashley frowned.
"Billy, whatís that console for?"
"Huh?" the Blue Warrior looked up and frowned as well. "Thatís the communicator console. Who would be trying to contact us?"
"Power Chamber, come in," a bass voice called, as a picture flashed on one of the viewing screens. Billy raised an eyebrow, thumbing a toggle switch.
"This is Billy, Dr. Spengler. What seems to be the problem?"
"Peter, as usual," the physicist stated succinctly. "Heís- well, I donít know how it happened, but heís managed to turn himself into a full Morphin Warrior."
Justinís jaw hit his knees. "Youíre kidding!" he blurted.
"Iím afraid not- and heís not taking it all that well. We were wondering if we could bring him into the Power Chamber and find out exactly whatís going on."
"Sure. Get everyone together and Iíll teleport you here immediately."
"Ahhh." Les Fortunes reclined on the cot in his jail cell, placing his hands behind his head. "And to think, I used to be GLAD to live in a crypt," he grumbled to himself. "No doubt about it, Iíd rather be in jail."
"Thatís too bad, Cartoonist," a deep voice replied, as a flash of light coalesced in the insane artistís cell. Whimpering, the man rolled off his cot and backed himself up against the bars. His brown hair seemed to stand even more on end than usual.
"Nukus! What are you doing here?" he managed. The red behemoth smiled, fingering his sword.
"Settling an old score. Surely you know that no one betrays me- and lives to tell about it." Suddenly Nukusí eyes fell on Lesí sketchbook. "But perhaps you can still be of service to me. Come!"
"I really donít think I can make it," the penciller whined. "I mean, Iím in JAIL. They get kind of touchy about letting people out of here."
"If youíre worried about the guards, Cartoonist, donít bother.
Theyíre all sleeping quite peacefully for the moment. But weíve wasted
enough time here. Letís go!" With that, Nukus grabbed Les by the collar
and the two disappeared into a flash of light.
A flash of light in the center of the Power Chamber signaled the arrival of the Ghostbusters. Billy was slightly amused to see that Peterís teleportation signal was predominantly green, rather than the white of an unpowered human. As the four adults materialized, though, he could see the expression on Peterís face hung somewhere between disgust and misery.
"What the hell is going on here?" the psychologist asked, spying Billy. "Just when I thought my life couldnít get any weirder, Iím suddenly a superhero?"
"What exactly happened to trigger this, Dr. Venkman?" Billy asked, scanning the man as he did so. While the four paranormalists related the events of the warehouse, Billy and Justin were nodding, clucking, and checking the readings of the hand-held scanner.
"Hmmm," was Billyís only comment at the end of the story.
"Looks like a perfectly natural Grid connection to me," Justin added. "Probably you opened the link out of a need for the energy. Thatís usually how such latent powers are uncovered. You just HAVE to do something, but you physically canít, and the split activates your power."
"What about the costume?" Ray wanted to know. "And how did he pull a proton pack out of nowhere?"
"Costume and weapons come from the subconscious of the warrior," responded Billy. "The four of you tend to regard ghosts, goblins, and heroics as all part of a dayís work, so Peterís costume is simply a color-coded version of his work clothes."
"Same thing with the pack," Justin continued. "Subconsciously, he picked the weapon he felt the most comfortable with. After so much time with a proton pack- youíve been doing this what? Fifteen years? Those packs are practically a part of you now. Of course Peter would chose one as his weapon."
"Forget all of that. How do I turn it OFF?" Peter wanted to know.
"You canít," Billy replied. "Itís a natural part of you now. You can ignore it, if you want. You might occasionally find yourself transforming under extreme stress, but that shouldnít be much of a problem. Your appetite will probably increase, and your healing will go up. In your case, there shouldnít be much of a metabolic change." Billy looked up. "In short, if you donít transform, this shouldnít make much of a difference in your life."
Peter sighed, but nodded. "Egon, Ray, what are you doing?" he asked suddenly, turning. His two colleagues were looking over one of the consoles in something approaching awe. Winston and Peter exchanged looks.
"Great. Now itís gonna take a crowbar to get them out of here," Winston grinned.
Justin, Ashley, and Billy exchanged looks. "Dr.- Spengler?" Ashley asked hesitantly. Egon looked up.
"Yes? Iím afraid I donít know your name. Youíre with the Astro Rangers, right?"
"Yeah, Iím Ashley. Yellow. Listen, we were wondering- we have to leave the planet for a while on a special mission. That means we need somebody to tend the Power Chamber for the Turbo Rangers. You guys seem pretty into the technology, so we were wondering if you wanted to do it?"
"Would we?" Ray breathed. "WOW! Egon, wouldnít that be great?"
"Excuse me!" Raising a hand, Peter stepped into the conversation. "Much as I know you two mad scientists would love to have a month or so alone with these consoles, donít we have a business to run?"
"Sure, Pete, but we can three-man most of our busts," Winston pointed out. "We do it all the time when somebody has a day off."
"And if absolutely necessary, the Power Chamber can run on automatic for a while," Billy broke in. "And you can keep in touch via communicator."
Peter looked around and sighed. "I can see arguing is useless here. Are you two geniuses SURE you can do this without blowing anything up? I remember how complicated those Zords are, and I had powers telling me what to do."
"The Power Chamberís systems are designed for ease in interface," Justin explained. "I can walk you through some of the basic stuff, and then everything else is intuitive, pretty much."
Billy reached into a cabinet and pulled out four communicators. "Welcome
to the team," he grinned.
"So, how did your family take the news that you and Tommy were headed off into space?" Trey asked his girlfriend. The two of them were in the "living room" area of Pyramidas, sitting on the couch.
"Teddy thinks itís cool, and he wants us to pick up a souvenir when the dust settles. Mom and Dad- not much surprises them any more, but this sure did. After we scraped Dad up off the floor, they basically agreed. I think theyíre a little worried about all of us spending so much time together, but theyíre okay with the idea."
Trey chuckled. "How out of hand could I possibly get with your brother on board?" he asked, kissing her lightly. "And how out of hand could HE get with Parker OíNeil around?"
"All well and good- but you know how parents are." She snuggled closer to him, only to sit bold upright when the proximity alarms went off. "If itís the Varox, Iím gonna scream," she growled.
"On screen," Trey ordered. A screen of golden energy coalesced at one end of the room, showing a dark, shadowy form standing outside Pyramidas. Despite the lateness of the hour and the blackness of the visitor, Trey recognized the figure immediately. "Ecliptor!" he breathed, leaping to his feet. Chelsea followed her boyfriend as they headed to the main hatch of Pyramidas.
"What do you want, butcher?" Trey called from the hatch.
"To talk, Gold Ranger. I believe that you and I can help each other."
"And howís that?"
"I know of the Blue Senturion squadron that attempted to arrest you this morning. At this moment, youíre a fugitive from the law, are you not?"
Trey did not deny it. "Whatís your point?"
"My point is that if youíre heading back to Triforia, youíll never make it in that pyramid- or with the other Rangers. The IGPF will be waiting for you to show your face. But I have a scout ship that can get you through their blockade with ease."
"Forgive me for not jumping at your offer," Trey drawled, "but what do you get out of this bargain? I canít see you doing this out of the goodness of your non-existent heart."
"The power behind your troubles is an old enemy of mine, Darkonda. I hate him worse than I hate Rangers, which is a fairly strong feeling, believe me. I would rather see his plans fail than see you destroyed. That is my offer, Gold Ranger. Take it or leave it."
Trey thought for a long moment. "Deal." He ignored Chelseaís raised eyebrow. "I donít trust you, Ecliptor, but I also donít have much of a choice." Then he grinned. "Besides, if I get caught, better to implicate you than the other Rangers."
"Very well. Inform your Rangers that you have made other arrangements, and we shall go."
Chelsea placed her hands on her hips. "Not without me, you wonít," she informed them.
Ecliptor shook his head. "I donít have time to baby-sit humans."
"I donít need a baby-sitter. I can take care of myself."
"She can," Trey replied, "and Iíd like someone I can trust at my back along for the ride."
With a sigh, Ecliptor shrugged. "Then sheís your responsibility."
"Understood." Trey and Chelsea headed into the Zord to call the Rangers. Before disappearing from sight, however, Chelsea spun around and stuck her tongue out at Ecliptor. The crystalline being just chuckled, shaking his head.
"This is going to be an interesting trip," he mused.
It was early morning, but you wouldnít know it down here. The crypt was cold, damp, and smelled like rot. In short, not much had changed since Les Fortunes had walked out on Nukus. Now he was being hauled back in by the scruff of his neck, no longer even a pseudo-ally.
"Welcome back, Cartoonist," Horribelle sneered in her strange accent. Her green armor winked in the half-light. Les stuck his tongue out at her.
"Is it too much to ask that just one of you, just once, call me by NAME?" he grumped.
"Aw, be quiet," Vilor rumbled. "Whatcha got there, boss?"
"A sketchbook. Letís see what you have for me this time, Cartoonist." Nukus flipped through the pages of the sketchbook, finally finding an image he liked. "This one! Tell me about it."
Les looked down at the page and blanched. "Oh, you donít want that one," he managed, swallowing hard. "It was one of Vexorís guys. I just- drew him up for a laugh."
"íShadowborg,í" Nukus read. "An evil Beetleborg? The idea is intriguing."
"Heís worthless," Les replied, an almost pleading note entering his voice. "The Beetleborgs blew him to kingdom come, back when they had their original powers."
Flipping the page, Nukus found not another drawing, but instead a page of writing. "Design notes?" he rumbled, fixing Les with a piercing stare. "You redesigned him, didnít you? Tell me what he can do!"
Swallowing miserably, Les began the litany of Shadowborgís powers. Nukus
listened approvingly, then nodded. "The perfect creature to destroy
those blasted Beetleborgs, and any other resistance on this planet, once
and for all!" With that, he raised his sword and pointed it at the
book. "Shadowborg, come forth!" As black flames began to shoot
through the room, Les Fortunes crouched down against a wall, his thoughts
consumed with the image of Pandoraís Box.
At the same time, in Angel Grove Park, the Rangers were beginning to gather for their trip up to the Megaship. Duffel bags, the luggage of choice for most of the teens, were piled in one spot, making a strange riot of color. Those Rangers present were talking in small groups, waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Throwing his black duffel onto the pile, Carlos headed over to where TJ and Cassie were involved in a conversation.
"I mean it, he passed right out on the floor," TJ was saying. "He was pretty good when he woke up, though. God alone knows what heís going to tell my parents."
"My mom had a fit," Carlos replied. "She was all set to hogtie me to keep me from going. Julia and Javier talked to her, though, and this morning she apologized. She still doesnít like the idea, but she understands."
"Howíd your folks take the news, Cassie?" TJ asked. His pink teammate shrugged.
"I didnít tell them."
"WHAT?" both boys cried in unison.
"Just what I said. IF they even notice Iím gone, it might actually do our relationship some good. Besides, they never care if Iím worried about them, so I donít care if they worry about me." Looking around for something to change the subject, she stood. "Look, Andros is here. I guess thatís everybody."
"Everybody got their luggage?" the Kerovan Ranger called. He was met with various calls of assent. "Ashley, bring your friend up here, okay?"
Ashley and Chris walked up to the front of the group. As they did so, Ashley noticed that Andros had an Astro Morpher in his hands. Looking the newcomer in the eye, Andros began to speak. "Chris, I want to thank you for coming to our rescue. I know you donít really know anybody yet, but hopefully that will change after weíre on the ship. Weíre going to need you as a pilot, but weíre also going to need your help in other matters. This is the Astro Morpher of the Silver Ranger. He- was a good friend of mine, and I think heíd want his powers to be used like this. Unfortunately, thereís a limit to your powers. They can only be used for three minutes at a time. After that, they will fail you, so you have to be careful about when you use them. Will you join us?"
Chris looked around himself for a long moment, then nodded. "Yeah, Iím in." As he took the Astro Morpher from Andros and strapped it on his wrist, he raised an eyebrow. "Iím not gonna wake up and find out this is all a dream, am I?"
Andros smiled slightly. "No, but there may be times you wish you
could." Turning to the rest of the team, he grinned. "All right,
itís going to be a little crowded on the Megaship, but we can make do.
DECA, twenty-two to beam up, plus luggage." In a bright flash, the
Rangers were gone, and the park was empty.
Nano Williams had just sat down behind the counter of Zoom Comics when the door jingled. She raised an eyebrow. People were in and out of the place all day, but sheíd just opened the store three minutes ago. This was early, even for the most Beetleborg-obsessed customer.
Her eyebrow climbed higher as the newcomer entered the shop. A boy of about fifteen, his eyes were dark and seemed to look at everything at once. "Josh Baldwin," Nano mused. "Havenít seen you in here for quite a while."
Josh shrugged. "Iíve been- busy," he replied. Nano nodded.
"Iíll just bet. This have anything to do with that bad blood between you and Drew?"
Josh tried to play innocent, but at the sight of Nanoís expression, he relented. "Nah, we took care of that, Nano. Iíve just been busy."
"Youíre up awfully early for a summer morning, Josh."
"Tell me about it," he grumbled. "Iíve been up for two hours. Iím just too antsy to sleep." He shrugged. "So, is the newest issue of Beetleborgs Metallix in yet?"
"Thought you said Beetleborgs was for babies," she grinned, hauling an issue out from behind the counter. He grinned back.
"Someone showed me the error of my ways," he responded, thinking back to his short tenure as the White Blaster Beetleborg. As he picked up the comic, his head began to swim. He blinked heavily, but the sensation did not go away.
"Josh? You all right?" Nano asked.
"Sure, Nano," he replied dazedly. Placing his hands on the counter, he tried to steady himself, but the feeling grew worse. Now the room was spinning around him. The roaring in his ears changed to mocking laughter he had only heard once before in his life.
"Shadowborg," he whispered, his hands going to his head. Suddenly all the starch went out of Joshís knees, and he fell to the floor, unconscious.
Instantly, Nano was at the boyís side, taking his pulse. It was strong, but far too fast. Joshís heart was beating like a jackhammer. The door swung open, and Nano looked up to see her daughter-in-law walk in.
"Abbie, donít just stand there, call an ambulance!" Nano ordered. As the younger woman did so, Nano returned to checking Joshís vital signs. "Come on, kid, donít quit on me now," she mumbled. What, she wondered, could make a perfectly healthy fifteen year-old collapse like that? She had a feeling that something was going on, something big. She just wished she knew what it was.