For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost,
For want of the rider, the message was lost.
For want of the message, the battle was lost.
For want of the battle, the war was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail. - Benjamin Franklin
"Goldar! Rito! I order you to leave at once!" Zordon's stern baritone rumbled throughout the Command Center. The two monsters sneered up at the inter-dimensional being.
"We were just on our way out," Goldar growled.
"And so's the Zeo Crystal!" added Rito. In a bright flash of light, the two goons disappeared, their precious burden carried with them.
Another flash of light, and the five Rangers who had left to see the Aquitian Rangers off reentered their home base. "What's going on here?" Tommy asked.
Alpha 5 dashed forward, a note of panic in his robotic voice. "Ai yi yi! Goldar and Rito have stolen the Zeo Crystal!"
"Oh, no," Kat murmured, a hand raised to her mouth. Just then, in the bowels of the Command Center, far below the current activity, the implosion device that the monsters had planted finally reached the end of its countdown. The world began to rumble, and in a series of bright, flashing explosions, the lives of the Power Rangers were changed forever.
It had all happened so fast- Tommy still wasn't sure exactly what had happened. The gist of the matter, though, was that Billy Cranston, teen genius, former Blue Ranger, and all-around hero, had thrown himself over an exploding console to protect the others, just before Alpha and Zordon had teleported them all to safety. When the smoke and dust cleared, five of the teens had risen to their feet. Billy had not. Now Rocky De Santos and their newest member, Tanya Sloan, were checking the unmoving young man over, and Tommy's heart was beating in his throat. Suddenly, he was reminded of a lesson he had learned years ago, back during his time as the Green Ranger. All the powers in the world don't mean shit next to my friends. God, how had he forgotten? Had he been so caught up in the White Ranger, the perfect hero, that he'd let himself believe he was invulnerable? Tigers and falcons, they both hunt alone, he realized. If I could bring Billy back, I'd gladly be a dragon again.
Rocky sat back, shaking his head. "I don't understand it," he announced. His brown eyes were serious, an unusual expression on a young man who was normally the life of every party. But Rocky was also a Power Ranger, a volunteer firefighter, and an apprentice curandero, not to mention a concerned friend. And these were the sides of his personality currently at the fore. "I can't find any wounds on him anywhere! Not a contusion, a lump, an abrasion- hell, he's in better shape than I am! His clothes are a loss, of course- but it doesn't even look like that explosion TOUCHED him."
"But it must have done something," Tanya argued. "His heart rate is low and steady, and his pupils respond normally to light, but- he won't wake up!"
Tommy bit his lip. "We can't leave him here- it's too exposed. And you can bet that as soon as Zedd and Rita figure out we're alive, they'll send someone to finish the job. The last time Zedd decided to force us to watch him conquer the planet, we kicked his butt to kingdom come." A ghost of a smile played on Tommy's lips as he remembered. The look on the Lord of Evil's face as the Green Crystal had smashed to the ground was a memory that still brought him pleasure, even now, years later. Then he turned his attention to Rocky. "Can we move him?"
The ex-Red Ranger sighed. "Normally I'd say no way in hell, but- I don't think he's injured his spine, and the possibility is better than the odds I'd give him against one of Zedd's goons right now."
"How about a backboard?" Kat Hillard broke in suddenly. "There's what appears to be a piece of planking over there. It's the right length, and it would keep his spine stable."
Adam nodded. "Good thinking, Kat. Tommy, give me a hand with this, okay?" With a great deal of effort, the two young men freed the piece of- what the hell was that, anyhow? Tommy found himself giving the question serious consideration. After all, anything was better than brooding on the events of the past few hours. By the time he and Adam had reached Billy's side with their burden, Tommy had decided that it was the remains of a diagnostic table. He'd spent quite a bit of time on those, back in his Green Ranger days. Now it would make a fitting stretcher for Billy as they tried to get him somewhere safe. And where would that be? a little voice asked sarcastically in Tommy's mind. Zedd and Rita have finally defeated the Power Rangers. You think you can just snap your fingers, and new powers will fall into your hands? Tommy ignored the speaker. It was a part of himself that he tended to think of as the voice of the Green Ranger, the ruthless, practical part of him that hadn't been seen for many years. Not since Jase freed me from that spell, he agreed. Not that the voice had STARTED there... Quickly, Tommy shook his head to banish it. Memories of the streets of Los Angeles had no place here and now.
Four belts, two sets of shoelaces, and a lot of jury-rigging later, Billy was secured on the backboard to Rocky's satisfaction. The young medic was just finishing up the last knot when he heard Kat's voice behind him, low and shocked. "What in the name of God?"
Rocky turned, sure he was about to see Zedd's largest and ugliest monstrosity yet, striding across the desert towards them, or perhaps leading an army towards Angel Grove. Instead, what met his eyes caused his jaw to hit his knees. The wreckage of the Command Center was pulling itself up off the ground, reassembling itself into a whole building as the five dumbstruck teens watched. Finally, the last piece lifted itself into place, and in eerie silence, the doors closest to the teens swung open.
"Step into my parlor," Rocky cracked weakly, only to be elbowed in the ribs by Adam.
"Well?" Tanya asked, tossing Tommy a look. Aisha's replacement hadn't been on the team long, but she'd already figured out the dynamics.
The tall boy's face was unreadable. "It's shelter, and if it comes down to a siege, it'll be defensible. Come on." He led the way into the darkened structure, the others following behind. As Rocky and Adam carried the unconscious Billy inside, the doors swung shut behind them.
His portly companion shrugged. "We could go to the park," Farkas Bulkmeir offered. He was unsurprised when Skull shook his head.
"Too dangerous. I'm not in the mood to fight monsters today, are you?" The two young men shared a grin. For some reason, the park attracted trouble like no other part of Angel Grove. And since the two of them shared the same affliction, a trip to the park was likely to end in disaster. "How about the Youth Center?" Skull wanted to know.
"Nah," Bulk replied. "Ernie's closed for fumigation, remember?"
Skull nodded. "Oh yeah." There was companionable silence for a moment, as Skull attempted to spin his police cap on one finger. "Bulk?" he asked, staring thoughtfully into space. "Are you bored?"
The tone in Skull's voice alerted the other boy that this conversation was about more than just their current lack of something to do. Chewing his lip, Bulk considered the question carefully.
"Bored? No, I can't say that I am, Skull. We get attacked by monsters on a regular basis, we have to CONSTANTLY stay on our toes to stay on the force- no, I'm not bored. But I think I know what you mean. Being a cop is great, but it doesn't feel right. It's like there's something more out there that we're missing. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what it is."
Skull nodded. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I just wish-" Skull broke off, uncertain how to articulate the longings inside him. Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of trashcans crashing to the ground. "What was that?" Skull asked, leaping to his feet.
"I dunno," Bulk answered cautiously. "It's still daylight out, so I doubt it's scavengers."
"And we're a little far uptown for dumpster pickers," Skull agreed. The two young men exchanged glances. Even a year ago, there would have been no question what they would have done. They would have dropped everything and run away screaming. But their months on Angel Grove's Junior Police Patrol had created a new set of habits, ones more centered around protecting the innocent than saving their own hides. The decision only took a moment.
"Let's go check it out," Skull sighed. "Watch my back, okay?"
Bulk nodded. "With you, buddy."
Slowly, quietly, the two men crept out of the garage, heading towards the area where Skull's father kept the garbage cans. Rounding the corner, the two of them were rendered dumbstruck.
"Are you sure there's nothing to eat in there?" the giant walking skeleton asked. His companion, a tall blue-furred simian in golden armor, shoved him gently.
"Come on! This stuff isn't fit for a dog, let alone- whatever we are!" It complained.
"I guess you're right. I wish I could remember who we are. Do you think somebody's looking for us?"
The gold monkey sighed. "I don't know. I hope so."
Skull tossed Bulk a look. "Monsters with amnesia?" he mouthed. Bulk shrugged. This was Angel Grove, after all. Stranger things happened all the time.
Suddenly the walking skeleton looked up, catching sight of Bulk and Skull. With a small cry, the creature tried to hide himself behind his companion. This blatantly ridiculous display did a great deal to ease Skull's trepidation at facing off with two monsters.
"Uh... sorry about your garbage cans," the gold monkey began sheepishly. "You see, we're lost, we're very hungry, and we need a place to stay. I don't suppose you could help us?"
Bulk and Skull traded glances again. After so many years of friendship, they didn't have to speak to have a conversation. A silent discussion flew between them, and at last Skull turned towards the two monsters. "I'm probably going to regret this," Skull sighed, "but okay. You guys can sleep in the garage- my parents never come out there. It's sort of my personal space."
"Thanks a lot!" The skeleton piped up, coming out from behind his friend. "You won't regret it!" Coming forward, he pumped Skull's hand vigorously. Wrinkling his nose, the young police officer tried to ignore the smell.
"I think I already do..." he mumbled.
"Rito!" the monkey snapped. "Back off before you suffocate them!"
The skeleton blinked. Skull wasn't sure how that was accomplished, seeing as the monster had no eyelids, but it was definitely a blink. "Rito? Is that- my name? Do you remember?"
The other monster shook his head. "Just instinct, I guess. Do you know my name?"
Rito seemed to think for a long moment, until Skull was almost convinced he could smell insulation burning. "Goldar!" he suddenly cried. "You're Goldar!"
For some reason, that name struck a chord with Skull, but he couldn't quite place it. Shrugging, he put it out of his mind. If it were important, he'd remember later. "Well, Rito and Goldar, we're Bulk and Skull, and I guess you'll be living with us for a while."
Suddenly the two monsters began whispering to each other, something that made Skull slightly nervous. He still wasn't quite sure why he'd offered to take these two monsters into his home. At last, Goldar turned back towards them.
"Since you guys have been nice enough to give us a place to stay, we want to give you something, too." Reaching out, Goldar produced a shiny crystal that seemed to glow in five colors; red, green, blue, yellow, and pink. Swallowing, Skull reached out to take it from the armored simian. No sooner had his hands touched its surface than a brilliant red light flared, filling the alley.
Skull let out a long breath. "Oh boy."
Quickly, Rocky jerked himself back to reality. That had been bad, but today had definitely been worse. First, Zedd and Rita had destroyed the Power Coins, then Goldar and Rito had destroyed the Command Center and stolen the Zeo Crystal. Then, when the smoke had cleared, Billy had just been lying there, not moving. And now they were creeping down a corridor that he was CERTAIN had not been in the building before, at the behest of an unknown force, and Tommy, taking point, looked as if he expected Tengas to come pouring out at them at any minute. Which, Rocky admitted wryly, was probably the case. ALL their problems as Power Rangers could generally be traced back to Rita and Zedd. And as leader, Tommy was always on the alert for trouble. It was his job.
God, how had everything gotten so crazy? The Command Center had been an integral part of his life ever since he became a Ranger, and now it was a cold, alien place. Billy, one of the few people he had learned would ALWAYS be there for him; he was lying there unconscious, perhaps dying. It had been hard for him to open his heart to others, after losing his dad. Adam and Aisha had gotten through to him, but it was hard for him to believe that anyone else could be depended on. And then he'd become a Ranger, where trusting your teammates was second nature, and often your life depended on it. And now he was in danger of losing another part of his soul, and he wasn't sure he could go through that again.
"Rocky." Adam's low voice suddenly cut through the former Red Ranger's reverie. Looking up, Rocky saw his friend smiling back at him in understanding. "It's going to be all right," Adam continued. "We're going to make it."
"I- I never told him how much he meant to me," Rocky choked. "God, sometimes I was pretty mean."
Adam shook his head. "No you weren't, Rocky. And Billy understood. You were just you, and no one would want you to change. Billy knew- knows you care about him. And when he wakes up, you can tell him yourself."
Rocky desperately wanted to accept that, but the words slipped out before he could stop them. "If he wakes up," he muttered. Seeing a grim expression flash across Adam's face as he turned away, Rocky knew those thoughts had occurred to his friend as well.
Suddenly the procession came to a halt as Tommy stopped dead, holding up his hand to signal for the others to do the same. They stood in front of a portal embossed with the Power Ranger lightning bolt. Inside, a green glow pulsed slowly, hypnotically. Faintly, they could hear a metallic voice intone, "Rangers, please step through the vortex."
The teens exchanged glances. "Do we chance it?" Katherine asked apprehensively.
Tommy shrugged. "We can't stay here," he replied. His eyes were still cold and blank, no fear left in them at all. With only the slightest hesitation, he stepped forward and was swallowed by the light.
Next, Kat and Tanya joined hands, stepping through together. Left alone in the hall, Rocky and Adam regarded each other over their silent burden. Taking a deep breath, they stepped forward together, into the light. It swallowed them up, and the hall was empty, as the green light slowly died.
"What are you?" he whispered, watching the colored lights play within the crystal. "What am I supposed to do?"
Suddenly red light surged, washing throughout the garage in a blinding flood. Skull's strangled shout was suddenly cut off as he realized that he could still see. But the images before him were not the comforting ones of his garage and home. Instead, he saw a huge, strange craft cutting through the depths of space. Ahead, it's target twinkled peacefully among the stars- the planet Earth. Then he saw a charred, smoking ruin, and somehow KNEW that it was all that remained of the power that had defended Earth for the past two years. Then five shapes coalesced in his vision, a new team of defenders to meet the new threat. Finally everything was swallowed up by a brilliant red star.
When the light faded, Skull found himself on the ground, with three concerned faces staring down at him. "I'm all right, I'm all right," he assured them, sitting up. The shift in position left him momentarily dizzy, and he raised a hand to his head. "What happened?"
"Damned if I know," Bulk replied, his voice still somewhat shaken. "There was this flash of red, I heard you yell, and when I turned around, you were out cold on the floor. You were only out a minute or so, but I was beginning to get really worried."
"Bulky, this may sound nuts, but I think I just had a vision," Skull groaned. Suddenly his gaze fell on the crystal- or crystals, as the case now was. Somehow, the one solid crystal had fragmented itself into five separate shards. One glimmered redly, and Skull crawled over to it. As he picked it up, he noticed that it was carved into the shape of a five-pointed star.
"This was in my vision!" he yelped. "The star, power of Red!"
"You're not making much sense," Rito remarked.
Goldar elbowed him. "Look who's talking," the monkey replied smartly.
"No, you don't understand! I know what this crystal is for!" Skull exclaimed, trying to get them to listen. "It's designed to make- well, Power Rangers. The old team of Rangers is gone- something happened to them, I'm not sure what. And a new threat is coming, something truly awful. This crystal- it makes Power Rangers, and-" Skull swallowed as he realized what his vision had meant. "This one wants me."
Bulk looked skeptical. "You, a Power Ranger? No offense, Skull, but somehow, I just can't see that. I mean, you don't even know martial arts." While he talked, Bulk had stepped closer to his friend. Suddenly, one of the shards on the floor glowed green and flew towards the portly boy. Almost instinctively, Bulk reached out and caught it.
"Zeo Ranger IV, Green, Power of the Square." The words fell from Bulk's lips before he could stop them, and he looked up at Skull in astonishment. The other boy grinned slightly.
"You were saying, Bulk?"
Was that why whatever had brought them here? To gloat over their defeat? No, that didn't feel right. This room wasn't a trophy room, despite the cases in the back. It looked more as if someone was preparing for all-out war, and that scared him more than anything else.
Upon entering, Kat's heart had leapt as she noticed the plasma tube along one wall, but she was quickly disappointed to see that it was empty. Surely, if Zordon had survived the explosion, he would have been there to meet them? But the five of them were alone in this cold, empty room.
Suddenly a hissing noise caused the five of them to spin around. Smoke was spilling into the room from a small opening, and from that opening came a shadowy form. Tommy tensed as the form came closer, ready for anything. Then the smoke rolled away to reveal Alpha 5.
"Rangers!" the little robot cried gladly, throwing himself towards Tommy. The tall boy didn't flinch, simply caught the little android and held him tightly, as if greeting a long-lost sibling. "I was so worried about you!" Alpha continued. "I am so glad you're unhurt."
Tommy released the diminutive machine, his jaw tight. "Not all of us are, Alpha," he replied gently. "Billy's unconscious, and he won't wake up. Can you help him?"
Alpha stiffened, then nodded. "I'll do my best, Tommy."
"Alpha," Kat broke in softly, "what about Zordon? Is he..."
"Not yet," a familiar voice boomed, "but that was rather closer than I would like."
"ZORDON!" Six voices chorused joyfully, as the familiar image began to take shape in the plasma tube.
"You certainly know how to make an entrance," Rocky grinned in relief.
The inter-dimensional being chuckled. "I apologize for the suspense, Rangers. It took me some time to reestablish connections with your dimension."
Adam stepped forward. "Zordon, what is this place?"
"This is the Power Chamber, a secondary command post I prepared in case the Command Center was ever destroyed. I created it in anticipation of a day I knew might come, when the forces of evil would raise the stakes to an all-out war."
"Look," Tommy interrupted, "I'm as curious about this place as all of you, but it'll keep. Right now, our number one priority is helping Billy. Zordon, Alpha, can you do something for him?"
The ancient sage sighed, looking down at the still form, the last of his original team. "We shall do everything we can, Tommy. I can promise no more than that."
Tommy sighed. "Then that'll have to be enough."
"Let me try," Adam replied quietly, taking the sheaf of papers from Tommy's unresisting grip. He scanned them quickly, a frown creasing his brow as he did so. "Now this is weird," he murmured. "Billy doesn't seem to have any injuries on him at all, but- he's comatose. Look, almost no alpha-wave activity. It's like- something just shut off his brain."
Rocky made a face. "Thanks, Adam. You think you could possibly have put it LESS sensitively?" the former Red Ranger snapped, putting an arm around Kat. The blond girl hid her face in his shoulder.
"You're a good one to talk, Rocky!" Adam responded sharply. "What you know about sensitivity would fit on the back of a postage stamp!"
Quickly, Tanya stepped between the two men, before things could come to blows. "Whoa, whoa, calm down here, guys. Look, we're all stressed out, but the last thing we need is to be taking it out on each other."
Tommy rubbed his forehead. "She's right, guys," he replied wearily. "Alpha, what's the prognosis? Can we do anything for him?"
"Ai yi yi yi yi! I'm afraid not, Tommy," the little android replied despondently. "On the bright side, however, he is not in any physical danger."
"You will have to take him to a conventional hospital," Zordon rumbled. "They will be equipped to give him the care we cannot."
"What do you mean?" Kat asked, looking up in puzzlement. "The Command Center's medical facilities are- were state of the art. I can't imagine the Power Chamber would be any different."
Zordon sighed. "Unfortunately, Katherine, we simply do not have the power to run anything more than the most essential systems. Light, life support, teleportation, and basic scanners are the only things we have on line right now. Not to mention that I don't know how long Billy will remain in his comatose state. He must be taken to an Angel Grove hospital, where his father will at least know what has become of him."
Tommy sighed. "We'll tell them we got attacked by monsters while hiking. They ought to accept that," he decided. "Now for our second problem. We're running on skeleton systems, with no powers. Meanwhile, Rita and Zedd are at full strength, just waiting to overrun Earth. And we can't stop them. What are we going to do?"
No one had an answer.
"We need to find the other three chosen wielders, right?" he asked, hefting the aforementioned bag. "Now, our activated crystals disappear into sub-space pockets, but the other ones don't. And I can't think of a better place than school to expose the crystals to whoever might be chosen by them." Almost in response to Skull's statement, a soft yellow light began to shine from the bag. Turning in a slow circle, Skull watched as the glow swelled and died, depending on the direction. "That way," he instructed, setting off.
"Skull, we've got class in five minutes!" Bulk called, already following. Skull was taking this whole thing extremely seriously, fueled by some sort of desperation Bulk himself couldn't sense. Still, his friend's hunches had never let him down before, and so the portly youth followed without much protest.
As the two of them walked, Bulk noticed that they were entering the "D" area of the lockers. Almost without conscious thought, he looked over at Rocky De Santos. Sure enough, the other young man was staring off into space, not seeming the slightest bit aware of his surroundings. Not that anyone could blame him. The news that Billy Cranston was in some sort of coma at Angel Grove General had hit the entire student body hard. Even Miss Appleby, the toughest teacher in the school, was making allowances, especially for the five students who were Billy's best friends.
Those allowances were needed, Bulk mused, following Skull through the halls. Rocky's attention span, short-lived in the best of times, was now almost non-existent. He seemed unable to concentrate on any one thing from minute to minute. Meanwhile, Kat Hillard had responded by bursting into tears seemingly spontaneously throughout the day. Adam, on the other hand, had withdrawn into the impenetrable shell he erected around himself during times of stress. Tanya Sloan seemed subdued, but was handling things better than the others. That made sense, he supposed. After all, she hadn't known him as long.
Bulk blinked. That wasn't right, was it? Tanya had been there as long as Rocky and Adam, hadn't she? She'd started hanging out with the group after Trini moved away. No, that wasn't right either, he realized suddenly. He had memories of a dark-skinned, yellow clad girl, that was true- but wasn't she much shorter? But then- when had Tanya come in? The fuzziness of his recollections was giving him a headache, and finally he let it drop.
Last of the five, of course, was Tommy Oliver. Ninety percent of the student body had been giving him a wide berth today. Normally Tommy was warm and open, but now he was snappish, radiating cold. Bulk had half-expected to gain a layer of frost after sitting next to him in English that morning. It was a side of Tommy that Bulk hadn't seen for a long time, not since before Jason went away.
For that matter, Bulk hadn't seen the outfit Tommy was wearing since then, either. A green sleeveless denim shirt over a pair of black slacks, it conjured up half-memories of a cold, withdrawn young man, the only person Bulk had truly been afraid of. A tiny suspicion began to take root in the back of his brain as he considered this turn of events. There had been something else that changed back then, too, hadn't there? Something- no, it was gone.
Bulk snapped out of his reverie to find they had arrived at their destination. Before him, Skull was talking to a nondescript young woman with sandy hair and blue-gray eyes. Connie Crandall, Bulk remembered, daughter of the police chief. He'd seen her at one Jr. Police Patrol function. She obviously wasn't believing a word Skull was saying.
"Look, I'll prove it to you," Skull decided finally. Placing the duffel on the floor, he looked around quickly to make sure no one else was watching him. Then he unzipped the bag. Suddenly a brilliant yellow radiance spilled out. Connie's eyes grew as big as saucers as the glowing crystal leaped into her hands. She turned it over and over, fascinated.
"Zeo Ranger II, power of the Balance," she whispered. Then she looked up at the two of them. Bulk grinned.
"Welcome to the team."
Ahead of him was Marge Helman, a girl he barely knew. She'd dated Billy for a little while, he remembered fuzzily, but that was all he really knew about her. She was a possibility, but somehow, it didn't feel right.
Adam Park and Billy Cranston were usually in this class together, but today, of course, Adam was alone. Judging by the shell-shocked expression in Adam's eyes, he wouldn't be much good as a Ranger, either, although if Skull had been the one making choices, he might well have recruited Adam. But the Asian teen wasn't the one the shard wanted.
That left only Raymond Sandburg, who was currently doodling something in his notebook. Skull didn't know Raymond that well, but what he did know, he liked. Usually Raymond kept to himself, but he was a certified computer genius, and had gone head-to-head with Billy in many a science fair. As Skull watched the other boy taking notes, his conviction grew. Yes, Raymond was definitely the one.
Suddenly the bell rang, startling Skull out of his thoughts. Quickly, he made for the door, catching up to Raymond as the class spilled out into the hall. "Hey, Raymond," he began, steering the other boy into a quiet alcove. "I've got something I'd like to talk to you about..."
Skull nodded, shutting his locker door. "Who'd have thought any of us as Rangers? But this is something we have to do. We can't just walk away from this."
"Raymond Sandburg, right?" Connie inquired, extending a hand. "I'm Connie Crandall. Yellow."
"I'm Blue," he replied. "Shouldn't there be five, by the way?"
Unzipping the duffel bag, Skull removed the last shard. "Yep. Pink. But it hasn't so much as flickered all day."
With the usual sense of dramatic irony that magical objects possess, the crystal suddenly flared with a deep rose light. Startled, Skull let it fall back into the bag, only to be almost literally pulled off his feet as the shard started tugging. "I think we've got a live one!" the Red Ranger gasped. "Hey!" With that, he lost the tug of war, and was dragged unceremoniously behind his duffel as it began flying down the halls of the school. The other three exchanged glances, and quickly ran after him.
Skull had long since stopped trying to reign in his berserk bag. Instead, he was simply concentrating on hanging on, and saving what few shreds remained of his dignity. He flashed a smile at Miss Appleby as he was pulled past her classroom.
The bag was moving faster now, and Skull was beginning to worry about impact velocities. Not only would hitting something at this speed do him serious injury, but Pink was generally a feminine color, and the last thing he wanted was to bowl over the girlfriend of some football player.
His train of thought derailed abruptly as the bag jerked him to the floor. Letting go of the straps, he covered his head with his arms just in time to cushion himself as he plowed into the lockers.
"I'll say this for you," a voice said above him, amused. "You certainly know how to make an entrance, Skull."
The groggy teen looked upward and groaned slightly. "Hi, Chelsea," he managed, sitting up. Reaching down, Chelsea Oliver helped the slightly dazed young man to his feet, shaking her head the whole time.
"Two questions, Skull. One, are you all right?"
"Nothing bruised but my dignity," he chuckled, flashing her a roguish grin. She grinned back.
"That's good. Two, you wanna tell me why your duffel bag is glowing pink?"
Skull looked down to find his bag nestled at Chelsea's feet, shining with a soft pink light. He sighed. "Well, it's a long story... How do you feel about pink Spandex?"
The force that had prompted this exodus was the mighty Machine Empire, a society made completely of robots. Well, perhaps "society" was too strong a word. Most of the members of the Empire were Cogs, drone foot soldiers possessing only marginal intelligence. Only the Royal Court had any real self-awareness, and there were only five of them.
In the throne room of his Skybase, King Mondo was regarding the peaceful planet below him. Behind him stood his Queen, Machina, and their young son Sprocket. Rounding out the roster were Klank and Orbus, major-domo and assistant.
Klank stepped forward hesitantly. "If I may ask, yer majesty, what are yer orders?" the robot asked. Oddly enough, his voice sounded vaguely Scottish, although Klank had never been to Earth in his life.
"It seems that this planet has recently lost a team of Power Rangers," Mondo laughed evilly. "How tragic. And now there is no one to defend it."
"But these humans are quite stubborn, my love," Machina reminded him. "What good will the planet do us if we have to eradicate all of our potential slaves to take it?"
Mondo's metal face somehow twisted into a smile. "Ah, but my dear, I have a much better plan in mind than simply crushing the humans with our forces. Why not recruit their former defenders to lead our assaults?"
"Wow, daddy! Our own personal team of evil Rangers!" Sprocket cried. "All the other kids have 'em! I want some too!"
"And so you shall have them, Sprocket," Mondo replied. "Cogs! Go to Earth and bring me the five humans who bear the signature of the Power!"
Machina raised her fan. "And bring the unconscious one, too," she ordered. "He may come in useful as leverage." Bowing, the Cogs transported out.
The former Black Ranger nodded. He was leaning against the wall of Billy's hospital room, listening as Rocky related the events of the day to their comatose friend. The five of them had decided almost without discussion that they should go visit Billy as a group. "Studies have shown that coma patients are at least peripherally aware of the world around him," Adam explained, just as he had earlier. "We have to let him know we're here, Rocky. Let him know he's not alone."
Rocky nodded. Taking a deep breath, he returned to his storytelling.
Kat and Tanya were talking quietly in a corner of the room when Kat happened to look up at Tommy. Her boyfriend was standing by the window, preferring a view of the scrub-covered hills to watching Billy lying motionless in a hospital bed. Suddenly the tall boy stiffened, his attention fixed on something she couldn't see. Moving to his side, Kat put a hand on Tommy's shoulder.
"What is it?" she asked. He didn't reply, simply raised a finger to his lips. From the blank look in his eyes, Kat realized that Tommy was concentrating on his hearing, not his vision. Taking a deep breath, she did the same.
Metallic clanking met her ears, and it seemed to be coming in their direction. Then she heard a robotic voice intone, "Where is the one named William Cranston?" Kat's eyes flew open in horror.
"They're coming this way," she informed him needlessly. Tommy nodded, his face set in granite.
"Rocky, you've got medical training," the former White Ranger instructed. "Get that IV out of his veins. We're about to have company, and I DON'T want to be here when they arrive."
"Rita and Zedd?" Rocky asked apprehensively, automatically moving to obey Tommy's orders.
The other shrugged. "I don't know, and I don't think it really matters. Now get moving! Kat, Tanya, give him a hand. We're going to need to get Billy OUT of here." Quickly, he tapped his communicator. "Zordon?" Only static greeted him.
"Shit!" he snarled. "They must be jamming the communicators. So much for teleporting out."
Adam had already slipped into the hall, and Tommy quickly followed him. The quiet young man was barricading the hallway with overturned gurneys. As Tommy moved to help, Adam shot him a wry grin.
"What I wouldn't give for a Blade Blaster right now," he muttered. "Or even my .45."
"Ditto," Tommy chuckled. Then an evil smile crossed his face. "But maybe we can buy some time anyway." Quickly, he grabbed the fire extinguishers off the nearby walls, handing one to Adam. Then the two settled themselves behind their makeshift barricade to wait.
"Well- the house was empty, and we were hungry!" Rito explained.
"So I made brownies," Goldar replied, proffering the pan. "Don't worry, I didn't let Rito handle any of the ingredients."
While Connie and Raymond were recovering from the sight of two monsters in the Skullovitch garage, and Bulk and Skull were recovering from the idea of Goldar being smart enough to operate a stove, Chelsea slipped through the press and took a brownie from the pan. Carefully, she took a bite, chewed, and swallowed. Then she smiled.
"These are pretty good, actually. Trini once made some that had snails on them. After that, these are like Martha Stewart quality."
Goldar beamed at the modest praise. With the food tasting out of the way, the five Zeo Rangers got down to business. "So we're superheroes recruited to save the world," Raymond remarked. "Now what?"
Skull shrugged, leaning against one of the many cabinets. "You got me. I've been running on instinct for the past couple days." No sooner had he said those words than he felt suddenly dizzy, as if something indefinable in the fabric of reality had altered. Looking around at his friends, he saw that they also seemed affected.
"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes," Connie murmured, raising a hand to her head. "Does anybody else have a sudden compulsion to get to Angel Grove General?"
Four hands went up, answering that question. Chelsea had another one. "What is going ON here?"
Raymond bit his lip, the abstracted expression in his eyes hinting that he was already hard at work on the problem. "I think there was some sort of- ripple in space-time, probably caused by a teleportation," he theorized.
"In other words, there's a monster attack," translated Bulk. "We'd better get down there." He paused. "I can't believe I just said that."
Skull snickered. "Grows on you, doesn't it? Now we just have to figure out how to morph."
While they were talking, Connie's eyes had drifted closed, and suddenly she extended both hands in front of her. A yellow flash, and her crystal shard had materialized in her hands. "Zeo Ranger II, Yellow!" she called. In a burst of light, she was clad in a yellow Spandex uniform with a full helmet.
"Guess that answers that question," Chelsea chuckled. "Ready?"
Nodding, Skull rose fully to his feet. "Let's do it! Zeo Rangers!"
"Zeo Ranger I, Pink!"
"Zeo Ranger III, Blue!"
"Zeo Ranger IV, Green!"
"Zeo Ranger V, Red!"
Once all five Rangers were in costume, they dissolved into a rain of sparkles, leaving Goldar and Rito struck dumb. Not that that was a great stretch.
Tommy swore quietly. "Worse news," he reported. "I'm almost out of foam." Tommy and Adam had been using their fire extinguishers to make things slippery for their attackers, but the canisters weren't going to hold out forever, and the sheer press of robots was bound to give somebody traction sooner or later. Kat and Tanya, meanwhile, were keeping their attackers at bay by tossing anything not nailed down. It was obvious, however, that they wouldn't be able to last much longer.
"Tommy, we're going to have to retreat," Adam told him quietly. "Barricade ourselves in Billy's room and make a stand. It's all we can do."
"Not a great option, Adam. There's too damn many of these things, and we're gonna run out of ammo. And I'm afraid nobody's gonna come to our rescue."
Adam sighed. "I know, Tommy. We have to TRY, though. Maybe Zordon and Alpha will figure out a way to punch through the shielding or something."
"You're right." With a gesture, Tommy ordered Rocky and the girls to pull back into the room. He and Adam brought up the rear, their extinguishers sputtering as they neared empty.
Suddenly, a five-colored rain of sparkling light filled the corridor. When it cleared, five Spandex-clad forms stood in the hallway. They looked like Rangers, but not any Rangers Tommy had ever seen.
"Whoa," Blue Ranger observed, as the Cogs began to reorient on the newcomers. "Looks as if somebody threw quite a party."
Green Ranger, meanwhile, was inspecting his new waistline. "Where the- how does twenty pounds just disappear into thin air?"
"Don't knock it," Yellow Ranger chuckled. "You'll fight better."
With a quiet gasp, Pink Ranger noticed who was standing in one of the doorways, watching the scene in disbelief. "Tommy?" she whispered.
Red Ranger nudged her in the side, reminding her about their identities. Then he took a step forward. "I don't know what you guys want here, but you're not going to get it. So clear out, and go back to wherever and whoever you came from!"
"Destroy them!" one Cog ordered. Mondo's mechanical minions swarmed forward, heading for the five Rangers.
The Cogs were precision machines, created by King Mondo solely for the purpose of doing battle. The Rangers were novices, lacking training and experience. Not to mention, the odds were almost ten to one. It was a slaughter.
The robots never had a chance.
Pink Ranger, the only one of the team with any martial arts training, ripped through her attackers like a rose-colored whirlwind. Punches, kicks, and throws struck anything stupid enough or unlucky enough to move in her direction. At her back, Blue Ranger was holding his own, despite having a far more unusual style. Specifically, he had picked up a gurney and was using it like a gigantic baseball bat.
Red, Green, and Yellow Rangers had all been trained in hand-to-hand combat by Lt. Stone during their time on the Police Patrol. That wasn't really a part of the standard training regimen for Junior Patrolmen, but considering Bulk and Skull's ability to get into trouble, Stone had thought it a good idea. And Connie was the daughter of the Police Chief, so she certainly had to know self-defense. As a result, their styles were a strange mixture of boxing and ordinary dirty street fighting, plus some techniques of unknown origin. Unknown, primarily, because none of the trio had yet had the courage to ask Lt. Stone where he had learned them.
Despite their unorthodox approach, the Zeo Rangers had soon managed to send the Cogs scampering back to Mondo. For a long moment, the five simply attempted to catch their breaths. Then a quiet voice broke into their resting.
"That was awesome," Tommy said quietly, taking a step out into the hall. "You really saved our bacon. Thanks."
"All part of the job," Red Ranger cracked. "You okay?"
"We will be. Who are you guys, anyway?"
"We're the Zeo Rangers," Blue Ranger replied. "Now that the first set of Power Rangers can't defend Earth anymore, we're here to make sure it stays safe."
The Zeos teleported out then, missing the startled expression on Tommy's face. Just how the heck had these people known about the Rangers' defeat, anyway?
Zordon of Eltare sighed, his expression grim. "I am afraid so, Tommy. The Machine Empire has come to Earth."
"The who?" Adam and Rocky asked in eerie synchronization.
"The Machine Empire are a mechanical race, bent on enslaving all organic beings to their rule."
Tanya stepped forward. "Okay, then what the heck would they want with us, specifically?"
It was Kat who answered her, however. "Evil Rangers. It's a lot easier to conquer a planet with five teenagers in Spandex fighting for you, rather than against you."
"Which brings us to our last question," Tommy finished. "Who were these Zeo Rangers? Were they using the Zeo Crystal? If so, how'd they get it? And whose side are they on, anyway?"
Zordon sighed. "All excellent questions, Tommy. I am afraid, though, that the only way to discover the answers is to wait. Only time will tell us what we seek to know."
"But by that time," Rocky sighed, "it may be too late."
Skull shook his head. The five of them had returned to his garage and demorphed after their battle with the robots at the hospital. "No. We're in this for the long haul, and that means we're going to have to start making some preparations."
"First aid supplies, for one thing," Chelsea declared. "We won't always be as lucky as we were today. We need to provide for when and if we're injured."
Raymond nodded. "And we'll need battle mecha. I can maybe scrounge the parts from the local junkyard- you wouldn't believe some of the stuff that gets thrown out. Unfortunately, I'm going to need someplace private to work."
Grinning, Skull held up a hand. "My dad has a workshop out on the other side of town, but he doesn't go there anymore. I've pretty much taken it over."
"We'll need communication devices as well," Connie added. "I can- uh, borrow some walkie-talkies from the Police Patrol, at least until we can come up with something better."
"And we'll need to keep this a secret," Bulk cautioned. "The fewer people who know about this, the safer we are, and the closer we can come to having a normal life. Agreed?" "Agreed," the other five chorused. Then Skull stuck out his hand.
"For our families."
"Our friends," Bulk continued, placing his hand atop Skull's.
Raymond was next. "Our homes."
Connie. "Our honor."
"And for our planet," Chelsea finished.