"You have got to be the only nerd I know who drives a pickup truck," Chelsea Oliver declared, climbing out of said car. Descending from the driver's side, Raymond Sandburg sniffed.
"I not a nerd. I am a techno-geek. There's a big difference." Then he grinned. "Besides, it's my uncle's, and it comes in really handy for dump picking."
Chelsea nodded, looking around at the mountains of stuff that filled the Angel Grove junkyard. "I would imagine. Why are we here, anyway?"
"I've got an agreement with Mr. Potter, the guy who runs this place. He lets me have whatever I need at half the usual scrap metal price, and I fix anything he brings me, free of charge. You'd be surprised what's here- even some military stuff. If we're going to make Ranger gear for ourselves, this is the place to start."
"You'd think the others could have lent us a hand," the girl groused, moving to one of the heaps.
Raymond chuckled. "They had that meeting with Lt. Stone, remember? Come on, this'll be fun. You're always saying that you can lift as much weight as any of the guys." He ducked the swat she aimed at him, and the two of them began to dig.
"What exactly are we looking for, anyway?" Chelsea puffed.
"Transistors, circuitry, anything that looks like it could be used to make a laser pistol. I'll try and tie the power source into our crystals, but we'll need focusing stuff, maybe a solenoid- do you even have any idea what I'm talking about?" the Blue Zeo Ranger asked, reigning himself in.
Grinning, Chelsea tossed a circuit board into the basket at her feet. "Some. I used to hang out in Billy's lab a lot, with Tommy and the others." Her eyes clouded a little at the thought of her brainy friend, currently lying comatose in the hospital.
Raymond noticed, but decided not to mention it. "Must be nice to be part of the in crowd," he remarked, chucking a load of wiring to one side.
"I guess. Although I'm not that popular, really. The school elite still look down their noses at me."
"They're just jealous. Every boy in the school is slavering after you. You'd have a date every night of the week if it weren't for Tommy- well, and the fact that you're a black belt in your own right."
Chelsea was about to reply when she pulled the wrong piece of junk out of a pile. A cascade of cans and other metal pieces showered down on her, revealing a lump of red metal that bore, if you squinted, a surprising resemblance to a dragon's head. Raymond's eyes went wide.
"What in the world?" The young genius helped Chelsea to her feet, and the two of them scrambled over to their new find.
"Red Dragon Thunderzord," Chelsea murmured, remembering words that had rung across the skies of Angel Grove more than a year ago.
"I'll be damned." Raymond was quickly boring into the severed head of the Zord, pulling out circuit panels, being careful not to damage anything. "I think we've hit the mother lode, Chelse! Help me get this out of here- we've got to get it back to my lab!"
Meanwhile, in a private room at Angel Grove General, it was Adam Park's turn to sit vigil beside his unconscious friend. From the moment visiting hours began, Billy Cranston was never alone. Either his father or one of his friends was always with him, keeping up a running commentary. Doctors generally believed that comatose patients were aware of the world around them, in some subconscious way, so none of the people close to Billy were willing to leave him alone, if possible. For a brilliant scientist like Billy, being locked in darkness with no way to communicate and nothing to hold onto would be purest hell.
"We really need you, Billy," Adam murmured, lightly chafing his friend's hand. "Things are going nuts around Angel Grove. Did Tommy tell you that there's a new team of Power Rangers in town? I'm sure he did- it's the only thing he can think about. Zordon doesn't know who they are, or where they came from, or how the heck they got their hands on the Zeo Crystal. All we know is that they seem to be the good guys- but we can't even take that at face value.
"But it's more than that. I'm still slogging through your notes, trying to figure out some way to get the Power Chamber up and running, with our Grid access cut off. You could probably figure it out in a couple minutes. Maybe you and Zordon could figure out how to get us some new powers."
Adam sighed. Dark circles under his eyes hinted at the lack of sleep he'd been getting over the last few days, and if Billy had been able to see them, Adam would likely have found himself sedated and sleeping it off on the couch in the lab. "And we don't just need your brain, Billy- we need all of you. We need you to tell Tommy that he's driving himself into the ground- you're the only one he listens to, you know. Rocky and me, he just brushes us aside, but you know how to get to him. Even Kat can't do that, and you know how the two of them are.
"Speaking of Kat, that's another reason we need you. She's so busy trying to help all of us that I think she's stopped eating again. That's always been her reaction to stress, and it's beginning to show. Rocky- he hasn't cracked a joke in days, and he eats like a bird!" Adam's voice cracked slightly, and he drew in a deep breath.
"Oh, Billy, I wish you could see us now. You used to wonder how much we needed you, whether all you were good for was the science stuff. Well, you've got your answer now, Billy. Without you, we're falling apart."
"He's very important to all of you, isn't he?" a voice asked from the door. Adam looked up to see Tanya Sloan, the newest member of their group.
"Yeah," Adam sighed, watching as she sank into the chair next to him. "He's like a gyroscope for all of us, keeps us on an even keel. Especially Tommy. They're the last two members of the original team, you know, and the bond between them- it's like nothing I've ever seen. Tommy can be ready to go off like a volcano, and all Billy has to do is lay a hand on his shoulder, and Tommy calms down. And sometimes, Tommy's dark side comes out, and he's all doom and gloom, but Billy can always cheer him up."
Tanya studied the composed, peaceful face in front of her. "Hmm. I think I'll enjoy meeting him. Do the doctors have any more idea what's keeping him out?"
Snorting, Adam shook his head. "They haven't got a clue. They say there's no brain damage, no physical damage whatsoever. His EEG's have got the doctors in fits, though. Apparently he's in some type of interrupted sleep loop, cycling from stage 4 to REM and back again, without ever going any higher."
"Deep sleep and dream sleep?" Tanya repeated, surprised. Seeing Adam's expression, she smiled. "When you're out in the savannas of Kenya, you read a lot."
Adam grinned. "I guess so. Yeah, that's pretty much it. He's in the deepest part of the sleep cycle, where you recharge, but instead of going back up the cycle, he gets shunted back into REM and the cycle starts all over again."
"How strange." Reaching out, Tanya laid a hand on Billy's forehead. "I wonder what he's dreaming about."
After so many years on the Angel Grove police force, Lt. Jerome Stone had considered himself almost unsurprisable. After all, he lived in a town where monsters consistently went on the rampage, where Spandex-clad heroes were run-of-the-mill and giant robots drew little to no attention. However, upon seeing the trio of teens waiting for him, Lt. Stone's jaw nearly hit the ground.
"You- you finished the obstacle course in fifteen minutes!" the policeman sputtered. "Average is twenty, and qualifying is twenty-five!"
Eugene Skullovitch grinned, adjusting the red sweatband on his wrist. It was the only bit of his color that he had been able to wear, since the Jr. Police Patrol required uniform attire when working out. "We've been practicing, right guys?" Beside him, Connie and Bulk nodded. Following Skull's lead, they were wearing sweatbands in their colors as well.
Stone cast a skeptical eye at Bulk's still rather corpulent form. "If you say so," he sighed. "All right, you've requalified for Jr. Police Patrol duty. Actually, I must say I'm rather proud of all three of you. I hadn't thought you would want to stick around for a second term of duty."
"Thank you very much, Lieutenant," Bulk drawled. "Was this the only reason you wanted us to come in?"
"Well, there's some paperwork for your requalification, and I also wanted to talk to you and Skullovitch about an assignment I had for you."
Connie suddenly piped up. "With all due respect, sir, I request that I be given the same assignment as Bulkmier and Skullovitch."
Lt. Stone was floored for the second time in as many minutes. Connie Crandall was the daughter of the police chief, and quite probably the highest-profile junior officer that the Police Patrol had. She was a model officer, and an example to the rest of the cadets. The idea that she had just asked to be assigned with the two biggest clowns on the force was staggering.
"Are you serious, Crandall?" he asked.
"Extremely, sir." Connie thrust her chin forward defiantly. "We're a unit now."
Looking at the three teens, Jerome Stone got the very powerful feeling that he was missing something, something important. Meeting the three clear, bland stares directed at him, he sighed and made a note to talk to Ernie about it later. The Juice Bar owner always seemed to know just how to get to the bottom of a puzzle.
"Very well," the policeman sighed. "If you'll follow me to my office, I'll give you your new assignment."
With an exhausted sigh, Katherine Hillard dropped into the chair beside Billy's hospital bed. "Hey, Billy," she smiled wearily. "How are you doing today?"
Pulling the chair closer to her unconscious friend, she took his hand in her own. "I caught a glimpse of lunch on the way up here- trust me, you're lucky you're getting fed through a tube. Weren't you the one who summed up the cafeteria dining experience with 'Never eat anything you can't identify?' I'm not sure even your lab has the equipment to identify this stuff.
"Oh, and speaking of your lab, don't worry about it. Adam dusts it once a week- he's taken to spending a lot of time there. I don't know what he's working on, if anything. To tell you the truth, Billy, I think he just misses you."
Kat's voice caught in her throat. "God, Billy, we all miss you. Tommy's starting to scare me- he's almost obsessed with making this whole situation his fault, and I'm not sure I can handle it. Rocky actually turned down food today- after we worked five minutes to get his attention. You'll be happy to know that Tanya's been an absolute rock, though. I don't know what I would have done without her. She actually glared Rocky into eating lunch. Aisha chose her replacement well- not that it mattered.
"Which reminds me," the Australian continued. "The Zeo Rangers were on the news a couple days ago. Tommy's worried that they're some ploy of Rita and Zedd's, but they did save us from the Machine Empire. Besides, nobody's heard from the Gruesome Twosome since Mondo and Company moved in. Zordon thinks that our old friends have fled the system, and I can't say I blame him- or them.
"But we were talking about the Zeo Rangers. I think they're exactly what they seem to be- another group of heroes taking up where we can't. It's so weird to see them out there, and not be the one in the suit. There's a Pink Zeo, but she's not much like me. She's a lot tougher, and a much better martial artist."
Reaching up, Kat ruffled Billy's sandy hair. "Oh, Billy, we need you. It's so hard to sit on the sidelines, and not know what's going on. Maybe, if we could contact these Zeo Rangers, we could help, but... as it is, we just sit in the dark and worry. The stress is really beginning to get to us. I'm not sure I can do this on my own."
You don't have to, Kat.
Kat's head shot up at the words. "Billy?" she asked, looking around. There was, of course, no answer. A small, sad smile crossed Kat's face.
"I know you pretty well if I'm filling in your half of the conversation. You're right- I don't have to do this on my own. The others will help. I just wish- we were whole again."
Raymond's "lab" was in fact Skull's father's old workshop. Mr. Skullovitch never used the shed anymore, and it had long since been ceded to his son. All of the Zeo Rangers had agreed that it was the perfect spot for their techno-genius to set up shop. While Raymond puttered around with his new toy, Chelsea strolled idly through the lab, looking around herself.
There were a number of differences between this lab and Billy's, the place she was most familiar with. Number one, there was a lot less computer equipment. The only computer in the place was Marcia, Raymond's nondescript PC. Marcia's battered appearance was deceptive, however. Inside that scuffed black housing, Chelsea knew, beat a full Pentium processor, complete with anything Raymond needed.
Nor were the walls lined with strange inventions of unguessable purpose. Instead, the shelves held goofy devices, reminders of Bulk and Skull's nearly yearlong quest to determine "the true identities of the Power Rangers!" The Pink Zeo Ranger chuckled to herself. If only they had known what the future would hold.
Currently, the storage shed looked more like an auto shop than an actual laboratory. That was Raymond's style- he liked getting under the hood of whatever was in front of him.
The Blue Zeo Ranger's touch was everywhere in the lab, even though the building technically belonged to the Skullovitches. There was even a full-length couch in one corner, in case Raymond worked himself unconscious. It seemed to be a trait of genius inventors.
"Hey, Ray, who's this?" Chelsea called suddenly, picking up a photograph. Two men were in the picture, smiling broadly. One was obviously Raymond; the other was a much shorter man, with similar hair and features, dressed in a black graduation gown.
"Huh? Oh, that's my cousin Blair," Raymond responded absently. "The day he got his Masters." There was a clanking noise, and then- "Holy shit!"
Chelsea whirled to see the dragon head that Raymond had been fiddling with, now full Zord size. Raymond was lying on the floor, staring up at the piece of machinery in wonder. "Size expansion circuits," he whispered. "Hot damn!"
"You want to explain this one, Thomas Edison?" Chelsea asked, hoisting her tech-tranced friend to his feet. "How did this thing just grow three sizes?"
"Expansion circuitry. Its existence has been theorized by some physicists- Beckett, Spengler, Zalinski, you know, the outlaw types. An electrical field, properly set up, can cause molecular expansion on a uniform scale. In theory, that would allow an ordinary piece of metal to retain its tensile strength in a size expansion, so it would get bigger, but no weaker."
"What are the limits to this kind of expansion?"
Raymond was practically bouncing now, his eyes lit up with excitement. "That's the great part- it depends on the field strength and nature. This circuitry will allow an expansion of up to thirty times without losing any tensile strength. Don't you get what this means?" Raymond asked, seeing that Chelsea wasn't quite as excited as he was. "I can make us battle mecha!"
Chelsea raised an eyebrow at Raymond's use of the Japanese term, rather than "Zords," which was more popular in Angel Grove. "You hadn't thought you could?"
"No way! It would have required way too much material! I mean, we're talking 300-foot tall robots here! There is no way I could have gotten all this to work on our budget. But with this- I can make mecha that are the regular size, use old car chassis, and probably do this really affordably." The computer genius was practically salivating in his desire to get to work. Chelsea grinned.
"Cool your jets, tech-boy. Wait until Skull and the others get back, and you can brief us all then. In the meantime- how about drawing up some specs?"
"And a gracious good morning to you," Rocky De Santos announced, plopping into the chair beside Billy's bed. "How are you this afternoon? I gotta tell you, Billy, I've seen better days. Adam and I have pretty much given up sparring with Tommy- it seems to be hazardous to our health. My tailbone still hurts from the last fall he gave me."
The young man rested his elbows on the side of the bed. "These past few days have really been a learning experience, you know. I've never actually watched someone go crazy before. I thought it was a lot louder- screaming, crying, throwing things, you know? It's not like that at all. Tommy's actually very quiet. He just locks himself down, and nothing gets in, and nothing gets out. You'd actually think he was okay- and then you look in his eyes. I tell you, Billy, I haven't been that scared since that darn snake, when we first met you guys. His eyes- they're awful. He looks THROUGH you, Billy.
"Now, I'll bet Kat and Adam have both been sounding off on my lack of appetite. I know it's not usual for me, but I'm okay. How could I not be? Tanya practically threatened to give it to me in a vein if I didn't eat something. So don't worry about me and food. I should be fine.
"Fine- oh, hell, Billy, who am I kidding? I'm not fine! When I saw you lying there, and you wouldn't wake up- God, Billy, I thought we'd lost you. All I could think about was my dad, going in that car crash. I was nine... I wasn't ready. Not that you're ever ready for something like that, but you know what I mean. I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to him. I used to think that that was the worst- that maybe if I could have said goodbye to him, it wouldn't have eaten me up inside, the way it did. I know better now. The worst is having too much time, to have to watch somebody fade away."
Rocky hung his head, fighting to keep control. "But you know what? I'm not giving up hope, buddy. I am not saying goodbye to you, not yet, and maybe not ever. You'll beat this, I have faith in you. And-" his voice broke for a second, but he regained control. "And even if, by some freak chance, you don't make it, I won't say goodbye. You're a part of me, Billy, and no matter what happens, I'll always carry you in my heart. I should have said something earlier- I'm sorry. But I promise you, when you wake up, I'll tell you this again. It's something you ought to know."
A deep breath, and Rocky forced himself into another topic. "I guess everyone's been sounding off to you about the Zeo Rangers, too. You wanna hear my opinions? I don't have too many. They're something else, though. I don't think any of them are trained fighters, with the possible exception of Pink. They can hold their own, but they're kind of- creative, you know? I like the Red one... he seems goofy. Speaking of the Pink Ranger, I bet Adam and Kat didn't mention this, but she's got this figure that- well, I think I'm glad the Zeo uniforms are Spandex, just like our old ones. Wonder if she'd wanna date an ex-Ranger? Aw, who am I kidding? With my luck, they're all from another planet, and she's a giant lizard or something."
Looking at his unconscious friend, Rocky sighed. "You know, it is really hard to carry on a conversation with you. Lemme see-- Did Adam tell you about what happened in gym class today? Probably not; he can be so stuffy. Okay, it all started when Mike Larabie was bragging about his jump shots..."
"So what's got him bouncing?" Skull asked Chelsea, jerking his thumb at the excited Raymond. "The last time I saw him like this, they'd just opened that new computer store and were having a fifty percent off sale."
The girl grinned. "Well, now that we're all here, Raymond, why don't you tell them what you found out?"
"I can make us battle mecha," the young genius replied, not wasting any time. "I mean, affordably. See, I discovered some expansion circuits in the junkyard. They can induce- well, that's not important." Raymond cut his explanation off hastily, seeing Bulk's eyes begin to glaze over. "The point is that I can make mecha out of normal sized machines. Of course, everybody's going to have to buy their own chassis, but that shouldn't be a problem."
"Will it be?" Skull asked his friends. "Are anybody's parents going to flip if they come home with a new car?"
Connie grinned. "Not as long as it's paid for."
"So what have you got in the way of designs?" Bulk asked. "I know you, Raymond. You've got to have a few ideas."
"As a matter of fact..." Reaching under his desk, Raymond pulled out a sheaf of papers. A closer look revealed that those papers were in fact blueprints for five different mecha, plus a gestalt combination similar to the Megazords used by past Ranger teams.
"I saw the base vehicles for these at the junkyard and put a hold on them. If you like them, we can use them to start the building process," Raymond explained.
"Skull, you'll have a race car. I figure as the leader, you'll need the speed to get around, especially if we ever wind up fighting on multiple fronts. Forward cannons, of course, but a lot of the machine's battle ability will come from speed and inertia.
"Bulk, the base vehicle I found you is actually a jeep, but I think I can rebuild it into a Humvee. Serious cannon arrays on the front and sides. It won't be fast, but it should handle anything the machines can throw at it.
"For Connie, I've got another Jeep. It's got a solid top, and it's basically a balanced vehicle. Not incredibly strong, not incredibly fast, just a good all around vehicle.
"I've given myself a van. We need something big to be the torso, and besides, we need something with offensive power. Bulk's Humvee can stand up to incredible amounts of damage, but it can't return it. In the back of the van, though, I should be able to fit an arsenal or two.
"And last, but not least, Chelse, you get a battle cycle. Don't worry- it'll be heavily armored, but your basic strength is maneuverability. You should be able to avoid anything in your path.
"Now, since we're going to have to take these things home with us, I've been working on a sort of cloaking transformation, so that the mecha morph when we do. Maybe I can install a rudimentary 'come-call' system, so we can summon them, but that's still up in the air."
Skull clapped the long-haired boy on the back. "Are you kidding? That's more than enough! I'm impressed you came up with Zords! So what do you say, guys? You like?"
Fervent nods answered him. Then Chelsea grinned. "So let's get to work!"
Far off in space, King Mondo of the Machine Empire, newest threat to the safety of Earth, was involved in the most common activity that villains attacking the planet engaged in- fuming. "No! The Rangers were defeated!" he shouted, causing Klank, Orbus, and Prince Sprocket all to take shelter behind the throne. "How could new ones possibly come up? And powered by the Zeo Crystal, of all things! We could have swept Morphin' Rangers aside in an instant! But these... KLANK!"
The major-domo poked his head out from behind the throne, fervently hoping he would not get it blasted off. "A-aye, yer Majesty?" he ventured.
"Get out here, you craven excuse for a toaster. I'm not going to blast you- yet, anyway." Klank did as he was ordered, coming to stand by his king.
"Klank, I want to know who those Rangers are," Mondo declared. "I want to know their names, faces, strengths and weaknesses! Where they live, who they care about, everything!"
"But- I canna do that, yer Majesty," Klank sputtered. "They're nae tied into Zordon's systems- they don't radiate Grid energy! Unless they're morphed, we canna find them, and then we canna see who they are!"
For a long second, it looked as if steam was going to hiss out of Mondo's ears. Then, with a great effort, he seemed to calm himself down.
"Well, then," Mondo said pleasantly. "Perhaps we should continue our plan from last time. Send a team of Cogs down to capture Zordon's five teenagers! They're all together in the park. By the time any help comes, we'll have them here, and our own team of evil Rangers to play with!" Mondo's evil, metallic laughter echoed through the Skybase as Klank rushed to do his bidding.
The sun shone beatifically down on Angel Grove Park, in direct contrast to the moods of the five teens walking in it. Silence, Tanya Sloan decided, had become the order of the day. Not surprising, though, considering none of them ever knew what to say. The five of them were only together out of habit, a habit born of years spent waiting for attacks. However, none of them had their minds anywhere in the vicinities of their bodies today.
Tanya hadn't known her new friends for very long. It had only been a few days since Aisha had sent her back with the Yellow Zeo Shard, to restore time to its proper alignment. Her memories there were kind of fuzzy, since she had two different pasts for the seven years that had gone by during the transition. It was usually best not to think about them, because they didn't make much sense. Even without years of experience, however, Tanya was finding herself adept at reading her new companions.
Tommy was walking point, scanning the park for enemies even while his conscious mind was off on a round-the-world guilt trip. She doubted he was even aware of his behavior, or that he'd care. Tommy was far too sunk in guilt over the condition of his one remaining friend from the original team.
Next Tanya's gaze lit on Rocky. The former Red Ranger was missing a lot of the bounce from his step, but a light in his eyes indicated that he was beginning to come through the deep depression that had held him in thrall. Good, Tanya grinned to herself. Maybe now he can help me with the others.
Meanwhile, Kat was focused completely on Tommy, ready to catch him should he break down in any manner. Privately, Tanya didn't think it was likely; Tommy would just go on internalizing his pain until he was nothing but a shell. But that was Kat's method of dealing with the crisis- focus on someone else until all of her own pain went away. Not the most healthy response, perhaps, but there wasn't much Tanya could do about that.
Last of all was sweet, introspective Adam. Although Adam didn't retreat behind a wall of ice, Tanya could never manage to read his facial expressions. She could ask him what he was thinking, or feeling, and he would tell her, but unless she asked, she'd never know. He seemed a little less burdened, however, and she was subtly reassured.
Suddenly a strange wind cut through the park, smelling of ozone and hot metal. In the air before them, a strange gear-shaped portal irised open, dropping a fleet of Cogs in front of the teens. Adam and Rocky traded looks.
"Oh, shit, not again," they muttered in unison, dropping into fighting stances. The other three did the same, Tanya silently praying that the lessons she'd taken were going to be enough. Then the Cogs rushed forward, and the battle was joined.
Tanya was impressed, but not surprised, to see that Kat was apparently a kickboxer, and was holding her own against the flood of machines. Rocky and Adam were a deadly tag-team whirlwind, destroying everything in their path. As for Tommy...
The former leader of the Rangers stood a little back from the battle, eyes alight with some type of emotion Tanya couldn't identify. Suddenly, in a voice that was barely audible, she heard him speak. "Finally. My turn to come out and play." The somewhat chilly, ruthless tone of the words worried Tanya, but not so much as Tommy's next actions. The tall boy threw himself into the horde of machines with a fury that seemed almost inhuman, demolishing everything in his path.
Somebody better come help us quickly, Tanya thought, fighting off the press of goons that surrounded her. Because I'm not sure we're going to win this one on our own.
Skull was up to his elbows in car innards when he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Pulling out from under the hood of what would someday be his Zord, he saw the rest of his team doing the same. "Anybody else feel that?" he asked, knowing what the answer would be. All of them had sensed the rippling of space-time that accompanied one of Mondo's teleportations.
"The park," Connie informed them, her eyes distant. Of all of them, she was the Ranger who had formed the tightest bond with the sense-enhancing aspect of her crystal. Closing her eyes, she extended her hands, and none of the other Rangers were surprised to see the Yellow shard appear between them. However, the beam of light that suddenly began projecting on the wall of the lab was a bit more of a shock.
"Oh my God!" Chelsea exclaimed, one hand going to her mouth. "Mondo's after Tommy and the guys again!"
Skull's features hardened at the thought. "We'd better get down there, Rangers. Looks like they're fighting a losing battle."
"Too late," Connie intoned, still in that distant, breathy voice. And indeed, even as she said so, Mondo's Cogs dragged the five struggling teens through another hole in space and were gone.
"No!" Chelsea yelled, and only Raymond's quick interference kept her from slamming her hand down on the metal worktable.
"Easy, Chelse," he said quietly. "Won't do much good if you break your hand."
She turned helpless eyes to him. "Mondo has my brother- my friends! God knows what he's planning to do to them."
Bulk rested a hand on her shoulder. "He's not gonna get the chance, right, Skull?"
The Red Zeo Ranger nodded, eyes flashing. "Definitely. Raymond! Can you find some way of tracking them? Letting our Zeo teleportation follow them?"
"Hmm..." Raymond began to walk around in circles, his expression one of deep thought. "Yeah, I think I can. See, Mondo doesn't use real teleportation. He uses a gating system, probably because it's more efficient for transporting large loads. The only problem is, gating leaves a big hole in the residual continuum. Maybe if I hit it with an energy beam..." His voice trailed off as he strode to his workbench and began to tinker.
"You do that," Skull instructed. "I hope Mondo did housekeeping, 'cause he's about to have party crashers."
"Everybody okay?" Tommy asked, as the five teens picked themselves up off the floor. After being transported to the Machine Empire's Skybase, they had been flung rather unceremoniously into a corner of the throne room, which had then been cut off with a forcefield.
A series of groans greeted his question, but most of them were moans of assent. Reaching down, Tommy helped Kat to her feet, as Mondo swaggered up to the forcefield.
"Well, well. Zordon's ex-Rangers. Welcome to my home. Enjoy it, because you won't be leaving."
Rocky shot Adam a sidelong glance. "Wasn't that a line from the Late-Late Movie last night?"
Mondo chuckled. "Such insolence. You have a great deal of spirit, human, but I would have expected no less of one of Zordon's chosen. But really, there is no reason for us to wage verbal war. I brought you here to give you back that which you have lost- the powers of Rangers."
"No dice, Mondo," Tommy retorted. "We'd never work for you."
"Really, Tommy? But I thought the Power meant so much to you. Weren't you the one who almost died several times, simply because you wouldn't walk away when there was a ghost of a chance your powers could be saved?"
"That's loyalty," Tommy retorted coolly. "Not something I would expect you to know anything about."
Shaking his head, Mondo drew closer. "Now, really, Tommy. Let's have no lies here. The power is an addiction- every sentient being in the cosmos knows that. And for one such as you, it's even stronger. You've known the power of the darkness. Pledge to me, and I can give you that which you most desire."
Something flickered deep in Tommy's eyes. If his friends had not had their attention locked on Mondo, they might have noticed a change in his posture, a hint more coldness in his voice. "My powers?" Tommy's voice was almost wistful. Then he shook his head. "No way, Mondo. Not at that price. My dark side's gone- retrieving the Zeo Crystal proved that."
"All it proved, boy, was that the darkness inside you held less sway than the light. Something which is all too easy to change. But, since you won't let it out yourself, I'm afraid I'll just have to do it for you. KLANK!"
The hench-robot stepped out of the shadows and bowed. "Aye, yer Majesty?"
"Is the reprogrammer ready?"
"Indeed it is, yer Majesty. If the Cogs will just escort our subject over here, we can get started."
At those words, the Cogs advanced, reaching through the forcefield and plucking Tommy forth. The panicked teen struggled, kicking and thrashing like a two-year-old having a tantrum, but to no avail. Finally, the Cogs simply grabbed him by the arms and legs and carried him bodily over to the chair. Once he was settled in it, Klank quickly strapped him down and placed a metallic band across his forehead.
"I'd say this wouldn't hurt a bit, Ranger," Klank chuckled, reaching out for the main switch, "but I'd be lying." With that, he activated the machine, sending a bolt of energy coursing through Tommy. The ex-White Ranger's back arched, and he let out a wail to rival the cry of the banshee. In the forcefield, Kat turned away, burrowing her face into Rocky's shoulder as he held her.
"You might as well watch, Kitty," Mondo chortled. "It'll be your turn soon enough."
While Raymond worked hurriedly on a device to force open the residue of Mondo's gate, the other Rangers engaged in the time-honored activity of such heroes- pacing. Finally, Bulk broke the silence. "So, Skull. When we get the gate open, what's the plan?"
"Get in, get Tommy and the others, and get out. And see how much property damage you can cause along the way."
Chelsea blinked. "That's your plan?"
"You're beginning to resemble my brother."
Skull shuddered melodramatically at the thought, winning a small smile from Chelsea. All too quickly, however, she lapsed into silence again. Threading an arm around the pink-clad girl's shoulders, the Red Zeo Ranger steered his teammate over to Raymond's couch. "Sit down," he suggested, following his own advice. "If we keep pacing like this, we're all gonna get seasick."
It took a bit of pulling, but Chelsea soon sank onto the couch beside her friend. Brown eyes stared off into space, not locking on anyone thing. Gently, Skull laid a hand on her arm. "Scared?" he asked softly. Chelsea laughed, but it was a bitter, humorless sound.
"Shitless. He's not just my brother, Skull, he's my twin. All I can think of is the awful things that might be happening to him up there. I've never been the one he depended on- he's always been the protector. Even back in LA, he was always the one looking out for me and Teddy. What if- what if we don't make it in time?"
Skull took a deep breath. "I don't know," he told her honestly, "and that scares me silly. We just can't think about that now- we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. All you have to know right now is that we are here, your friends. You are not in this alone."
Looking up, Chelsea's warm caramel eyes locked with Skull's blue ones. After a moment, she smiled. "How did you learn just what to say?"
"Hey, when you spend half your life as the town outcast, with only one friend for company, you learn pretty quick what friendship means."
He held up a hand before she could get started. "Don't. Don't apologize. You guys- you, Jason, Kim, Tommy- you were the only people who ever even treated us halfway decent. Which," he admitted wryly, "was probably more than a couple of punks like us deserved. You have nothing to apologize for, Chelse. Don't worry."
"All right, I won't. I'll just say that you're not the town outcast anymore, Skull, and anyone who treats you like you are will answer to me. To all of us."
Their conversation was interrupted by the snap of a plastic casing being assembled. Chelsea and Skull looked up to see Raymond approaching, carrying some sort of ray device in his hands.
"It's finished," the young genius said seriously. "Let's go kick some ass."
It was dark, as it always was. Tommy stood in the center of the darkness, waiting. The darkness was old, and he took a moment to be grateful that he was no longer wearing the white shorts and tank top he'd had on in the park. Instead, he wore his jeans, and a soft gray T-shirt. His hair was back into the half-ponytail he had favored recently. That was the piece of information that told him where he was.
"Come on out," he called. "I'm tired of waiting."
"And I'm tired of having this confrontation," his own voice replied, from out of the shadows. Slowly, the speaker swaggered into what light there was. He was identical to Tommy, except the T-shirt he wore was a brilliant emerald green, and his hair was in a low ponytail.
"You're tired of it?" a third voice cracked. This Tommy wore a T-shirt of pristine white, with hair hanging loose around his face. "I'm tired of you."
Tommy Green folded his arms over his chest. "Well, if it isn't God's gift to the Morphin Grid," he sneered. "Stolen any glory lately?"
"Not as such," Tommy White replied lazily. "So how are you doing? Got your... strength back? After all, you don't have Kim and Jason to hide behind now."
"At least I didn't alienate my entire team and lose two sets of Zords and powers!"
Tommy Gray raised his hands to his head. "Would you both shut up?" he yelled, not wanting to deal with the voices that plagued his slumber every night. Startled by his belligerence, the Green and White pieces of his personality turned to regard him curiously.
"That's better," he sighed. "Look, we have a problem. A very serious problem. Mondo wants us- me- aw, hell... he wants evil Rangers. He intends to do that by letting the darkness in our hearts out. You both know what that means."
Tommy Green went pale, while White made a disgusted noise. Suddenly yet another voice came out of the darkness.
"It means me." This Tommy looked extremely different from the others. His hair was much shorter, reaching just below his ears. His T-shirt was a deep forest green, almost black, and a cruel amusement sparkled from his eyes.
"And frankly, it's about time," the Evil Green Ranger continued. "Do you know how boring it is to be shut up in the closets of our mind, while the three of you get free run of the place?"
Tommy Green's eyes narrowed. "Well, maybe if your idea of fun wasn't murder, pillage, and random destruction, we might let you out more often."
Evil Green smiled lazily. "I get out more than you think," he assured them. All three personalities went cold.
"All right, guys, I think we have a common goal here," Tommy Gray announced. "Whatever else we disagree on, we all made the same vow. This guy does not hurt anybody, ever."
"You got it," Tommy White agreed.
Tommy Green nodded. "Not as long as we draw breath."
Evil Green laughed. "You think you can defeat me? Here? This is my playground, boys. You don't have the slightest idea what you're dealing with."
"And you don't know who you're messing with, Buddy," Tommy White returned.
"Oh, White Ranger, you'd be surprised what I know about you. We shared- quite a bit, actually... Tell me, did anybody ever notice those bruises on her arms?" Tommy White clenched his fists, but did not reply.
Next, Evil Green turned his attention to Tommy Gray. "You're certainly no challenge... everything and everyone has abandoned you... I've had no desire to live your life.
"And you, my old alter-ego," Evil Green continued, turning to Tommy Green. Zordon's Green Ranger pushed a strand of hair out of his face and looked at his other contemptuously.
"Forget the psychological warfare shit," Tommy Green snapped. "Zedd's stomped on my brain more than you ever could."
Evil Green shrugged. "Believe that if it helps you sleep at night." Extending his hand, he gestured, and suddenly the Sword of Darkness appeared, gleaming as if it had never been destroyed. "All right, boys, come and die."
Tommy Gray snorted. "You're not the only one that can do that trick." In three flashes of light, the others were also armed. Tommy Green held the Dragon Dagger, while Tommy White was armed with Saba. In Tommy Gray's hands was a double-edged sword unlike anything he had held before.
Three voices spoke in unison. "Let's do it." And the old, old battle was once again joined.
In the park, Blue Ranger trained his device on the spot where Mondo's gate had been. At first there seemed to be no effect, but after a little while, Yellow Ranger noticed that the air was turning a faint blue color.
"All right, troops, weapons ready," Red Ranger instructed. "We're teleporting blind, so we could wind up with just about anything. There'll probably be an atmosphere where we come out- Tommy and the others would have needed it."
"How do we get back?" Pink Ranger wanted to know, checking the charge on her Zeo Blaster.
Yellow Ranger gave her a thumbs up. "Not a problem. Just grab a human and teleport out. As long as you can picture where you want to go, teleportation will get you there."
A ripping sound announced Blue Ranger's success, as the dimensional fabric parted, revealing a swirling vortex. "Just step on through," the teen genius said apprehensively. "It should take us right where we need to go."
"Remember, grab one of the guys and get out," Red Ranger ordered. "Don't stop for anything."
Green Ranger shook his head. "Not a chance, buddy. We went in together, and we'll get out the same way. And there is nothing you can say that would make me abandon you."
Red Ranger looked at his companions, their body language reinforcing Green Ranger's message. He smiled. "Thanks, guys. Let's try not to test that, okay? Cross your fingers, Rangers- we're going in." With that, the five heroes moved through the portal and were gone.
Over the years, a number of enemies had made the suggestion that Tommy Oliver's head was dark and empty. Usually such insults were levied by Zedd and Rita, and Tommy never paid them much attention. All jokes aside however, in certain places that description was nothing less than the truth. One such place was the dumping grounds where Tommy had shoved his dark side, the part of his soul he never wanted to see again- Rita's Evil Green Ranger.
Now, however, that battlefield was no longer dark and silent. Confined for so long to the world in Tommy's head, the Evil Green Ranger had discovered how to manipulate his surroundings into a psychic battleground, and it was here that Rita's evil Ranger had brought his alter-egos to fight. The place around them was the beach, on the west side of the city. Angel Cove, to be specific, the place where Tommy had once proven himself "worthy" of the Sword of Darkness.
Tommy Gray ducked as that weapon scythed towards his neck, attempting to sever his head from his shoulders. As he rolled away, he heard the unmistakable clang of metal on metal as one of his other sides blocked the blow. Looking up, he saw Tommy White fencing fiercely with the Evil Green Ranger, while Tommy Green attempted to circle the pair and come in from the back.
Just then, Evil Green Ranger dropped to the ground, throwing a handful of sand towards his opponent's eyes. Tommy White blocked, but Evil Green had taken the opportunity to leap up onto one of the rocks that dotted the coast.
"I'm through fighting fair," Tommy Green growled. He cast a glance at Tommy Gray. "You with me?"
"All the way," his alter-ego assured him. "Let's do it!"
In unison, the two of them leapt to the top of the rock, Tommy White close behind. For once, all three aspects of Tommy's good side were in complete agreement, moving and attacking as one. The Evil Green Ranger never had a chance. The Dragon Dagger knocked his blade to the sand, and three side kicks sent the evil Ranger right after it. Moving quickly, Tommy Gray placed the tip of his sword at Evil Green's throat, ensuring that his dark side would remain still.
"It's over," the powerless Tommy hissed.
Evil Green snorted. "Okay, fine. So what are you going to do? Kill me? You've tried that a thousand times. I always come back. So all you can do is just lock me away down here again and run. Run as far and as fast as you can, and don't look back over your shoulder, because you know I'll be there."
Faster than thought, Tommy Gray reached down and pulled the Evil Green Ranger to his feet. "I'm through running," he replied, voice low and dangerous. "You see, I'm not afraid of you anymore. We beat you, here, on your turf, your terms! I've finally understood what Jase had been trying to tell me since the day I joined the Rangers. You may be part of me, but you are sure as Hell not the strongest part."
"Oh, and I'm very happy you've regained your self-esteem," the dark Ranger sneered. "But exactly what good is this revelation going to do you?"
"I know what you are, now. You're just the nasty, bitter little part that's inside everybody, that makes us human. I'm not going to let you run my life anymore. You're a part of me- a part of us. I know that now. And I'm sending you back where you belong."
For the first time, an expression of fear crossed the Evil Green Ranger's features. "You can't."
"Watch me." Tommy Gray looked at his two 'brothers.' "Guys?"
Tommy Green nodded, a glimmer of respect in his dark eyes. For a second, White looked as if he was going to protest, then he sighed.
"We accept it," he said quietly. The two of them moved forward to grasp Evil Green's shoulders. No sooner had all three Tommys made contact, the evil Ranger began to fade out, and a dark green glow pulsed up the arms of his captors. As the Evil Green Ranger faded into final oblivion, the world around them began to fuzz out as well. Before darkness swallowed them all, Tommy Green looked at Tommy Gray and got in one last comment.
"Not bad. Not bad at all."
Tommy had stopped screaming some time ago. Kat wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad one- or if it simply signified that Tommy's throat was too raw to continue. Several times, one of her friends had tried to turn her away, but Kat continued to stare at her former leader in perverse fascination. This was the fate that awaited them all. She'd had the good fortune to escape from evil's grasp once, but she very much doubted she'd have the same luck again.
Kat's dark thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a sound very familiar from her time as a Ranger- complete and utter chaos. Something was making its way to the throne room, apparently tearing through legions of Cogs as it did so. After a moment, the sounds of combat died away, only to be replaced with one very large explosion, which tore the throne room door off its moorings, flattening a good portion of the Royal Guard in the process.
"Hi, honey, I'm home!" Red Ranger called, flipping into the room, his Zeo Blaster blazing. The rest of his team followed behind him, charging over the mess on the floor.
One Cog gave off the protesting squeal of metal under stress as Green Ranger's not-inconsiderable mass moved over it. Looking down, Green Ranger shrugged.
"Excuse me," he chuckled.
While Mondo and the rest of his court looked on in utter shock, Red Ranger scanned the room. "Pink, get him offa there," he barked, indicating Tommy lying motionless in the reprogramming chair. "Yellow, Blue, why don't you get our friends out of that forcefield?"
"Will do, Red," Blue Ranger saluted, and the two Rangers quickly used their Zeo Blasters to begin opening a hole in the forcefield.
"DESTROY THEM!" Mondo screeched, steam hissing out his ears. The remaining Cogs surged forward, only to be met by Red and Green Rangers, who were not intending to let anything get past them.
While Blue Ranger held the forcefield open, Yellow Ranger helped the four teens out through the hole. Kat, last to leave, quickly grabbed onto the Ranger's arm. "Tommy," she whimpered.
"Don't worry, we'll get him," Yellow Ranger assured her.
"No, you don't understand. Mondo was trying to turn him evil."
Hearing that, Red Ranger cursed under his breath. "Pink, you catch that?" he hollered.
Pink Ranger snap kicked a Cog, then vaulted over another one, still making a bee-line for the unconscious Tommy. "I heard," she replied. "I'll be careful." Like a rose-colored juggernaut, Pink Ranger plowed her way to her brother's side. Reaching out, she quickly removed his restraints, fighting down a wave of nausea as she did so. The chair he was in... it was like something out of a horror movie. Just as Pink Ranger finished with the last restraint, Tommy began to stir. Holding her breath, Pink Ranger wondered just who she would see when his eyes opened. With a low groan, Tommy came awake, raising a hand to his head.
"Tommy?" Pink Ranger asked quietly, helping him sit up. He blinked at her.
"Do I know you?" he asked fuzzily.
Her face was covered by the helmet she wore, but her smile was visible from her body language. "No. Your friends mentioned your name. How are you feeling?"
A wide grin spread across his features. "Like myself again," he responded.
"That's good. Think you can use one of these?" Pink Ranger tossed him her Zeo Blaster.
"Not a problem," he responded. Pink Ranger summoned her Shield, and together the two of them cut a swathe through the Cogs back to their companions.
"Took you long enough," Red Ranger greeted them.
Pink Ranger snorted. "You're a good one to talk. It takes you twenty minutes to get dressed in the morning,- or so I'm told," she finished quickly, receiving a few stares from her teammates.
Chuckling, Blue Ranger tapped his leader on the shoulder. "That's everybody, boss. Let's blow this joint!"
"I'm on it," Red Ranger agreed, grabbing Kat by the shoulders. "Sayonara, Mondo." In a flash of multi-colored light, the Zeo Rangers and teens disappeared, leaving five steaming Royal Robots-- and a large collection of Cog parts.
"No ill effects," Alpha reported, looking up from his hand-held scanner. "Tommy seems to be just fine."
After being dropped in the park by the Zeo Rangers, the five teens had quickly hustled to the Power Chamber, both to have Tommy checked for residual damage, and to discuss the newest turn of events.
"Really, guys, I'm just tired," the former leader of the Rangers agreed. "Fighting off Mondo's machine took a lot out of me."
"I bet." Kat laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. "It must have been awful." The blonde spoke with certainty, having been in Tommy's position a few times on her own.
Folding his arms across his chest, Rocky looked up at Zordon's tube, one of the only things working in the Chamber. "Well, at least we know what side the Zeo Rangers are on," he offered. "No way would they have just brought us back and let us go if they were Rita and Zedd's."
"Rocky's right," Adam replied. "Looks like we can relax, at least a little. From what I saw today, Earth is in pretty good hands."
"Hmm," was Tanya's contribution. "Still, I wish there was some way to get in touch with them. I mean, we have all this stuff- databanks, computers- maybe there's some way we can help. I have to admit, being able to make a difference is seriously addictive."
Tommy laughed. "Don't I know it. Billy and I could tell you stories..." His voice trailed off. After a second, he shook himself, shedding the unpleasant thoughts as a dog sheds water. "Speaking of Billy, it's my turn to go sit with him. I'd better get moving- Mr. Cranston will be wondering where I am."
"You're sure you're all right?" Kat asked, grasping his arm. Tommy smiled.
"Yeah. I'm going to go sit with Billy. That'll let me rest." Then, in a flash of red light, he teleported out.
All was fairly quiet in Raymond's lab, as the Zeo Rangers worked on transforming their base vehicles into Zords, following the designs Raymond had drawn up. Skull was currently underneath his car, making some adjustments to the undercarriage. Over by Bulk's Humvee, Connie was assisting the less technologically inclined Bulk through some adjustments to the drive train. And Raymond and Chelsea were deeply involved in the modifications that her motorcycle would require. However, the adventure that had just passed was still present in all their minds.
"You think they'll be okay?" Chelsea asked, absentmindedly wiping a hand across her face, leaving a smear of oil on the bridge of her nose. "I mean, what if Mondo decides to go after them again?"
Pushing out from under his Zord-to-be, Skull shook his head. "Not likely," he assured her, rising to his feet. Crossing the room, he picked up one of Raymond's welding guns and a face shield, then slid back under the car. His voice was slightly muffled as he continued.
"After the amount of damage we caused, Mondo will probably never risk something like that again. He'll be sweeping up Cog parts for weeks."
Connie looked up from her work. "Why do you suppose Mondo went after them in the first place?"
"Evil Rangers," was Bulk's analysis. "Do you guys remember the Evil Green Ranger? It's a strategy that makes a lot of sense. Fight fire with fire, and all that."
Looking up, Raymond pushed back a strand of hair that had escaped his ponytail. "But why teenagers, and why those five?"
Skull laughed. "Why teenagers? Because nobody thinks anything of it when teenagers start acting strangely. They put it down to hormones or something. As for why those five- well, I don't know about Tanya, but the other four are really good martial artists, a quality that comes in useful in an evil Ranger."
"Kat's a martial artist?" Connie asked, astonished. Chelsea nodded.
"Kickboxing. And she's good at it, too. So, it isn't because they're our friends?"
Bulk shook his head. "I doubt it. Frankly, I doubt Mondo knows who we are. There haven't been any attacks on us while we're unmorphed."
That satisfied, Chelsea returned to her original question. "So, do you think they'll be all right? I feel really awful about just going off and leaving Tommy on his own after what happened to him."
"Not much you could do," Raymond reminded her. "It would be too hard to explain how you knew what happened without compromising your identity. And we have to keep that secret from everybody. Otherwise, Mondo could find out."
"And then he'd probably go after our families," added Connie.
"Yeah, I know," Chelsea sighed. "Although any Cogs that tangled with my family would probably regret it."
That drew laughter from her four teammates. "No kidding," Skull grinned. "Having seen your little brother in action, I can safely say that Mondo would have to be stupid to try anything around your family." Questions answered for the most part, the Zeo Rangers returned to their Zords, laughing and joking as they went.
Sinking into the chair by Billy's bed, Tommy Oliver dropped his face into his hands. His posture was that of a man on the edge of total exhaustion. It had taken all his self-control not to break down in front of Zordon and the others, but they were worried enough about him as it was. No sense panicking them further.
So you lied to them, is that it? Way to go, Tom, a sarcastic voice whispered from the back of his mind. Whatever happened to trust between a leader and his team?
Shut up, Green-boy, came the reply. A leader can't show weakness on that scale, not if he wants to keep the confidence of his team.
Are you nuts? No, I forgot, you're just stupid. A team is there so nobody has to shoulder burdens alone. Even leaders are human.
Just what I'd expect from a coward like yourself. A leader has to protect his teammates. He can't do that if he's hiding behind the Pink Ranger's skirts.
"Would you both shut up?" Tommy hissed, then looked around furtively to see if anyone had heard him. The last thing he wanted was to end up occupying the psych ward of this hospital.
Ignoring the White and Green Rangers arguing in the back of his head, Tommy pulled himself up to the edge of the bed, taking Billy's hand in both of his. "Billy, man, I need your help. It's just getting worse. Mondo kidnapped me today, tried to turn me evil. I- we had to face down the Evil Green Ranger- and we beat him! We finally took him back into our minds, where he belongs. But- they've gotten stronger, Billy. They're not just ideas in the back of my head anymore. They've become real. And they won't shut up and leave me alone!" Tommy's voice nearly broke into a sob, but he quickly got himself under control.
"God, I need you, Billy. My whole world's falling apart... I need someone who understands, someone who's seen it all. I tried to call Kim, but... I'm not sure I could talk to her. I scared her badly enough sometimes when she was here... I don't think I could bear to do it again. Billy, wake up soon. We need you- I need you." And with those words, Tommy Oliver- black belt, tough guy, and former leader of the Power Rangers- dropped his head into his hands and began to cry. From outside, the rays of the setting sun flowed in through the window, painting the room with beautiful, golden light. Off to the west, the sky was painted in colors of fire, the day's last gasp before the fall of night.