Disclaimer: All Power Ranger references, etc, are the creation of Saban, blah, blah, blah, this story is not for profit, etc. I have no idea who the creators and/or copywriters are of Battle Of The Planets. My apologies to them. Don't sue me for this, I'm broke, and my only assets are my dog and my nephews. (You can have my nephews, but I'm keeping my dog...)
The car travelled slowly along the highway, on its way to Angel Grove
from the airport in San Diego. It had been a long trip, and the slow speed
the car was travelling at only lengthened the nightmare.
In the back seat of the car, a boy of sixteen or seventeen years looked out the window in a cold, unbreakable silence. He had been like that for the duration of the journey, and did not look as though he planned to change his attitude any time soon.
In the driver's seat, the female social worker withheld a sigh. She had long since given up trying to communicate with the teen. It was almost as though he was able to cut her voice from his conscious mind, and anything she said simply bounced of an invisible shield.
She turned her full attention back to the road. Removing children from abusive home situation was never an easy task, especially when they were as old as Mark. She'd had her orders, though, and the boy had been removed from his home shortly before three a.m., along with several other children and teens.
After a minute, she glanced in the rear view mirror again and was treated to a hostile glare. She spoke again, hoping that something would register with the boy. "Mark, this is for your own good. I'm sure you'll realise that in time."
No answer. Janine Watson sighed audibly, then. "Mark, I know you don't understand now, but we simply couldn't let you stay in that situation. It wasn't satisfactory. For heaven's sake, you've never been to school in your life!"
Mark stared hard at the back of the social worker's head. "You have no idea what you've done."
Watson faltered, something in the boy's voice commanding silence. She turned her attention back to the road, unable to say anything more.
* * *
It was an average day in Angel Grove, different only because the city had suffered no destruction in a monster attack. Six teenagers now sat together in the local Youth Centre, taking a rare moment to relax.
"Y'think Mondo's gone on holiday?" Rocky De Santos asked. Tanya Sloan pulled a face.
"I sure hope so. I hope it's a real long one." Adam Park grunted as he drank his soda. "Let's hope he doesn't come back."
"Wishful thinking," a fourth teen commented casually. "He'll be back sooner or later, with all-new, creative monsters to try and destory us."
The other girl, Katherine Hillard, rolled her eyes and flicked the boy with her napkin. "You're too pessimistic, Jason. Lighten up, huh?"
Jason Scott merely smiled knowingly at her across the table. "So where's Tommy, anyway?" Rocky asked, referring to the group's leader, Tommy Oliver.
"He said he was going straight home," Kat answered. "The boy his folks are supposed to be fostering is arriving today."
Jason looked thoughtful. "It'll be interesting to see what he's like. Tommy told me yesterday that the social worker had warned them to expect trouble."
"That's not surprising," Adam said. "How old did Tommy say this guy is? Sixteen or so...? That's too old to be sent to a foster home."
"But we don't know what the situation is," Billy Cranston pointed out. "Welfare surely wouldn't remove any child or teenager from their home unless it's very serious. There must have been a lot of problems."
"Well, I doubt we'll find out what they are," Kat said. "Tommy won't be allowed to talk about it."
Rocky sighed. "Let's just hope Bulk and Skull leave this guy alone. Sounds like he's gonna have enough problems without being hassled by them."
The others exchanged grim looks, each hoping the same thing.
The Oliver Residence....
It hadn't seemed like a good start. Mark had been cloaked in silence from his arrival, refusing to acknowledge anyone or anything. The social worker had hung on for nearly twenty minutes before finally giving in and leaving. It was then, and only then that Mark finally spoke.
"I'm sorry about acting like that," he apologized to the Olivers, "but I really don't like her."
Michael Oliver smiled, relieved that the teen was not going to ignore them all completely. "A long trip, was it?"
Mark grimaced. "Twelve hours straight with her? That's an under- statement."
Tommy stepped in, then. "C'mon. I'll take you upstairs."
* * *
Showing the way upstairs and into his bedroom, Tommy indicated the spare bed that had been set up. "That's your bed. If you need anything, just say. Mum and Dad'll get it for you."
Mark nodded. "Thanks."
Tommy motioned to the cupboard and the chest-of-drawers. "I made space for your things. I'll help you unpack, if you like."
A small smile flickered across Mark's face. "It's okay. Just between us, I was kind of hoping I wouldn't be here long enough to need to unpack."
Tommy hesitated, then went over and sat down on his bed. "Well, my folks have never fostered anyone before, but I've heard it can go on for a long time."
The smile faded from the younger boy's face. "I know. I'd rather not think about it, though."
Tommy hesitated again, then spoke softly. "D'you mind if I ask something?"
Mark stared uneasily at him. "I guess not."
"Is it true that you've never been to school?" The teen sighed heavily and sat down with a thud on his bed. "It's true that I've never been to school, but it's not true that I haven't had any education. I've had private tutoring all my life."
Tommy frowned. "But... How can you...?" He sighed, and his shoulders slumped. "Sorry. It's just confusing. I've never known anyone who's had private education. It seems really weird, not going to school."
Mark leant back against the wall. "Then imagine how weird it's going to be for me, having to suddenly go to school. I'm not looking forward to it."
"Angel Grove High is a great school," Tommy burst out, eager to promote his school. "I'm sure you'll like it..."
"You sound like the social worker," Mark said dryly, and Tommy reddened considerably.
"It's okay. Look, Tommy, I'm not really worried about school. I'll get by somehow. Right now, my main concern is that this isn't dragged out for too long. The sooner I get home, the better off I'll be."
Tommy looked grim. "I hate to say this, but I don't like your chances."
Mark looked away, but for just a second, Tommy thought he'd seen tears in the other boy's eyes. "No. Neither do I."
The Oliver Residence....
Tommy awoke the next morning with a faint moan, then dragged himself up, expecting to half to wake Mark up as well. He was startled to look around and see that his foster brother's bed was empty. Rolling out of bed, he grabbed his robe and hurried out and down the stairs, half- wondering whether Mark had taken off in the middle of the night. His worries were eased when he found him in the kitchen, talking to his parents.
Michael Oliver grinned teasingly at his son. "You've got competition, Tommy. Mark here has been up since six o'clock."
Tommy wandered over and sat down. "Six? Man, what are you on...?"
Mark chuckled. "It's okay. I'm just not used to getting a lot of sleep."
Momentary silence fell as the Olivers wondered exactly what Mark had meant by the statement. Tommy quickly changed the topic. "You ready for school?"
"I guess so. I should be okay, as long as the teachers don't hound me."
Tommy clapped Mark on the shoulder. "You'll do fine. And if you need help with anything, just give a yell."
Mark merely smiled. The truth was that he did not expect the work to bother him that much. It was the restrictive timetables and the idea of having to be at a certain place at a certain time that bothered him.
Tommy started up, only to be pulled back into the chair by his mother. "Not so fast, Tommy. You aren't going anywhere without having breakfast. Even to school."
Tommy sighed heavily, but didn't dare argue.
* * *
They arrived at school, and Tommy immediately took Mark to Mr Caplan's office, waited until his foster brother had been given a timetable, then showed him to his first class. "You'll be okay?" Tommy asked.
Mark nodded. "Yeah, I think so. Thanks, Tommy."
"No problem. I'll meet you at lunch time, at the Youth Centre, okay? You can meet everyone else, then."
Tommy waited until Mark was inside the room, then turned and bolted back up the corridor, hoping he wouldn't get into trouble for being late.
Youth Centre: lunch time....
"You should've met him, Tommy," Kat chided as the Rangers sat together at their usual table in the Youth Centre. "He's probably wandering around totally lost."
Tommy grinned. "Nah. Some adoring girl will probably point out the way for him."
Rocky rolled his eyes. "And if not? What do we do if there's an emergency before he finds us?"
"I'm here, aren't I?" Jason put in, sounding indignant.
Tommy started up. "There he is. Mark, over here!"
The rangers all looked around eagerly to see a boy of approximately Adam and Rocky's age enter the Youth Centre and head over to them. Kat whistled softly, unable to help herself. "Not bad at all..."
The boys spared her exasperated looks, and Tommy was grateful Mark had not been close enough to hear. The teen finally made it through the crowd, and sat down in the chair that Tommy had kept for him.
"You have trouble finding the place?" Tommy asked in concern.
Mark shook his head. "No. I just got held up by a couple of goons in leather jackets. Something about casing the new kid...?"
Tommy groaned. "Bulk and Skull. Sorry, I should have warned you about those two."
Mark smiled calmly. "It's okay. I told them I was actually the Commander of G. Force, here on a secret mission, and they went off all goggle-eyed."
The others laughed at the image that sprung to mind. Tommy then quickly introduced everyone. "Everyone's here except Billy. You'll meet him later."
"Not here today?" Mark asked curiously.
The others grimaced, and Tommy explained. "He had enough credit to graduate, so..."
Adam interrupted, sounding sullen. "so Mr Caplan just gave him his diploma and shoved him out the door."
"He keeps himself busy with other stuff," Rocky said simply.
No other explanation was offered, and Mark didn't press for one. Lunch passed amiably enough, and when it was over, Tommy and Jason offered to show him to his next class. "What have you got?" Tommy asked.
Mark glanced at his timetable, then spoke. "Ah... Strategic Studies."
Jason grinned. "Hey, same here!"
Tommy smirked at his best friend. "Now you'll have someone to keep you awake."
Mark raised an eyebrow questioningly, and Jason sheepishly explained. "It's not one of my best subjects...."
"Strangely enough," Tommy added jokingly, drawing a warning look from Jason.
The former Gold Ranger went on quickly as they walked. "And Mr. Parker, who teaches it, doesn't exactly do a lot to make it interesting. I've started falling asleep in class, and Mr Parker said if I do it again, he'll put me in detention for a week."
"What's the subject about?" Mark asked, his curiosity aroused.
"Military strategies, things like that. He likes looking at battles, and comparing tactics."
Mark looked thoughtful. "Really..."
"We're here." Jason came to a halt outside a class room. "If I start nodding off, pinch me. Okay?"
Tommy grinned. "Give him a hard one for me."
Jason glowered at Tommy. "Beat it, Whitey."
Tommy laughed and hurried off down the corridor. Jason looked back to Mark, who had been watching the exchange with amusement.
"C'mon, let's go in."
* * *
_So far so good,_ Mark thought as the class progressed. Unlike the rest of the students in the room, he found the teacher's opinions on military strategies and tactics interesting. It was something that was well within his expertise, after all....
A faint snore from next to him jolted him back to reality, and he glanced around to see that Jason had, indeed, fallen asleep. Parker was facing the board right then, and hadn't noticed....
Mark's eyes narrowed slightly as he stared at Jason. A moment later, then older boy woke up with a silent start. He looked around, momentarily confused, saw Mark, and realised what had happened. He spared Mark a grateful smile as Parker turned around quickly.
"Well, Mr Scott, you're still awake. I'm honoured."
Jason reddened considerably. Another few seconds, and it would have been a week of detention.... "Yes, sir."
"Good. Then perhaps you can tell me what is wrong with the strategic air manueuver that I've drawn on the board."
Jason blinked and stared hard at the diagram. It was just a jumble of lines to him, though, and he could not make sense of any of it.
Parker waited several seconds, then sighed audibly. "One of these days, someone in this class will actually be able answer a question, and I'll have a heart attack when they do."
Mark hesitated, then gathered his courage and spoke. "The two planes are on a collision course. Plane No. 1 would need to invert and drop to avoid the crash."
Stunned silence filled the room, and then finally Parker spoke. "That... That's correct... Mr Anderson, is it?"
"Well, it seems I finally have a student with some intelligence. What a relief."
Mark glanced abruptly at Jason, but Jason merely gave a very slight shake of his head. He and the rest of the class were used to that sort of treatment from Parker.
"Not that I would have suggested inverting," Parker went on. "It's an interesting suggestion, though."
"No, sir," Mark said. "It's the only way to avoid it. By the time either pilot would know what was going to happen, there'd only be a few seconds to impact. The weight of the plane when it inverts would be just enough to pull it down, and avoid a collision. That's also providing the other plane pulls up. It would be rare to avoid a collision in that circumstance, though. Given the time of awareness of the situation, and reaction time and time the craft actually takes, chances are that it couldn't be avoided at all. The inversion technique is only theoretical, as would be any suggested manueuver."
Parker was openly amazed. "Well... I am impressed. How did you come to understand strategies like that, Mr Anderson?"
Mark hesitated, then, before finally saying weakly, "I... ah... read a lot of, um... military books....."
Parker's smiled faltered just a little. "Yes, well, it's obviously paid off. All right. Now, I'm going to hand out assignments for next week, and they are to be individual efforts, understood?"
The statement was met with loud groans, and Parker nodded, satisfied with the reaction. The rest of the class was spent studying their manuals, and Jason was visibly glad to get out. "Another five minutes," he moaned, "and I wouldn't have cared if Parker had caught me falling asleep. Damn, that class makes me so tired..."
Mark stared intently at the older boy. "Are you feeling okay? You look pale."
Jason nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. I was sick not long ago. I guess I'm still get touches of it now."
Mark nodded and said no more about it. Jason nudged Mark lightly as they walked. "How'd you know all that stuff back there? You really knocked Parker for a loop."
Mark smiled. "I guess you could say I'm interested in that sort of stuff. I've seen a lot of diagrams like the one he drew on the board, so it didn't throw me at all."
"Lucky. I don't s'pose you could lend me some of it?"
Mark merely laughed. "I'd better go. I have a Literature class to get to."
Jason pulled a face. "That's Miss Appleby. Good luck, you're gonna need it."
The two boys parted company, but Jason held back for just a moment, staring after Mark wonderingly. Now that he stopped to think about it, there was something familiar about him. Something that he couldn't quite place....
The thought was put aside when someone called him, and he turned and hurried off to his next class.
Angel Grove Youth Centre....
The figure watched in silence from the cover of the trees as the group of teenagers walked across to the entrance of the Youth Centre. The boy was with them, as he had been told, and now all he had to do was watch until new orders came.
The dark figure smiled coldly to himself. Divide and conquer. How appropriate. Without his friends, the boy was next to helpless, and would be easy prey. All they had to worry about was avoiding the involvement of the Power Rangers, whose territory they were on...
* * *
Just before the entrance to the Youth Centre, Mark came to a halt and looked around sharply, his piercing gaze scanning the far bushes and trees.
"What is it?" Tommy asked, and when Mark failed to answer, Rocky waved a hand in front of his face.
"Hey, earth to Mark! What's up, man?"
Mark blinked and came back to reality, smiling just a little. "Sorry. I... I thought I saw someone"
Grim, knowing looks were exchanged amongst the other teens. "In Angel Grove," Kat said with a shake of her head, "that is not surprising."
Adam grunted. "It was probably Bulk and Skull, on another top secret mission."
Laughter swept across the group and they head indoors. Mark held back for just a moment, though, turning to stare at the bushes once more. He continued to watch for a long moment before finally shaking his head and heading after the others. Had he waited just another few seconds, he would have seen the shadowy figure slip away from behind a tree, and flee back into the park.
* * *
Tommy looked around as Jason called to him, then got up and went over to see what his friend wanted. "What is it?"
Jason hesitated. "I'm not sure. You ever get the feeling that you should know something, but it's just out of reach?"
Tommy grimaced. "All the time, man. With Kim, Kat You name it."
Jason frowned. "I don't mean with girls. I'm talking about Mark."
"I've seen him before, I know I have. I just can't place it." Tommy shook his head. "No way, Jase. He said he's never been past Washington D.C. before, and none of us have ever been to the capital. You just mistaking him for someone else, maybe someone you met in Geneva."
Jason sighed. "Maybe you're right, but I've still got a weird feeling. Like there's something else about him? You know what I mean?"
Tommy spared Jason an odd look. "Actually, no. I don't. Are you feeling okay, bro.? Not tired, or anything?"
Annoyance filled Jason's face. "Knock it off, Tommy. I'm just saying that I've got the feeling that we aren't the only ones around here keeping secrets."
The Red Ranger shook his head. "Don't think so hard, Jase. Come and get a drink, take your mind off it."
Smiling wryly to himself, Tommy headed back to the group. Jason, however, stayed where he was, frowning deeply.
* * *
"What's with Jason?" Rocky asked disinterestedly when Tommy rejoined them.
"Deja vu," Tommy replied dismissively. When the others threw him confused looks, he just laughed. "Don't worry about it. He's pre-occupied."
"Uh huh..." Kat muttered, then turned her attention to Mark. "So, Mark, I don't suppose you're in to martial arts at all?"
"A little," Mark confessed. "Just enough for self-defence, really. Why?"
Rocky grunted. "If you don't learn martial arts around here, you don't have a hope. Its the only way to survive, what with all the monsters around."
Confusion edged on to Mark's face. "Monsters? What d'you mean?"
Momentary silence reigned, and the Tanya spoke tentatively. "You know... King Mondo and the Machine Empire? The ones that the Power Rangers are fighting against?"
"The Power Rangers?" Mark echoed. "This is supposed to be their home base? Sorry, but where I come from, we don't actually believe the Power Rangers exist."
Stunned silence reigned as the rest of the group tried to decide whether or not to be insulted. Mark, seeing he'd struck a raw nerve, hastened to apologize. "I'm sorry, I really am. Where I live, in Washington D.C., anything major that happens is caused by Spectra, and it's usually taken care of by G. Force."
Tommy grimaced. "And if we said we don't believe G. Force exist...?"
Mark smiled. "Touche. So the Power Rangers are real, huh?"
"Oh yeah," Adam said firmly. "They're real. Very, very real."
"And so are the monsters that Mondo sends," Kat added. "Warning: when the sirens start, get right out of the way. It means there's a monster on the loose."
Mark smiled wryly. "Sounds... interesting."
"That," Tommy stated, "is the biggest understatement of the year." Just then the last member of their group entered the Youth Centre. Adam spotted him first, and signaled him over. Billy Cranston joined the group, and Tommy quickly made introductions.
"So what d'you think of Angel Grove?" Billy asked Mark politely.
"It's a nice place," Mark replied, "but I'd rather be home."
Billy nodded his understanding. "I know what its like to be away from home."
Mark nodded, silently sensing some sort of connection with the other boy. Billy then looked around, and looked across to where Jason was working out with one of the punching bags, hitting it hard and fast, with almost disturbing ferocity. "What's the matter with Jason?"
Tommy shook his head. "I don't know. Don't worry about it."
Billy looked concerned. "He shouldn't be working out so hard. He's not fully recovered, yet."
Tommy started to shrug, then saw Mark's wondering look, and quickly explained. "Jason got pretty sick not too long ago. He's still recovering from it."
"So he said," Mark murmured. "It's why he's been falling asleep in class, isn't it?"
Tommy nodded. "Yeah. Um... Did he... You know?" Mark replied with a small smile and a single nod, and Tommy chuckled. "And Parker didn't pull him up for it?"
"He didn't know," Mark answered. "I managed to wake Jason up before Parker saw."
"Lucky for Jason," Rocky remarked. "Detention is the last thing he needs right now..."
Rocky had barely finished the sentence when a sharp beeping cut him off. The five teens all looked at one another anxiously, and then Tommy started up.
"Ah... Mark, I just remembered, we've gotta go and..."
"Check on a biology project," Adam finished off.
"No need for you to come," Tommy went on quickly. "Jason'll be here. We, ah... We'll be as quick as we can." Without waiting for an answer, Tommy, Rocky, Adam, Tanya, Kat and Billy all hurried from the Youth Centre. A moment later, Jason joined Mark at the table.
"Do they always act like that?" Mark asked, still surprised by the abrupt departure. Jason grinned.
"Yeah. You get used to it after a while." Mark shook his head and was just finishing his drink when a loud siren started up. Jason got back to his feet. "C'mon. Thats the warning siren. Let's get out of here."
* * *
The figure watched as the two boys left the building, and his dark eyes gleamed with malevolence. That had been close, before, and he had only barely avoided detection. He recalled that the boy was not quite so helpless as he'd originally thought, and cursed his foolishness over again. He could not afford to fail. Failure was not acceptable to his lord.
The boys disappeared from sight around the corner of the building, and only then did he move from the shadows to follow. As much as he wanted to, it was not the right time to strike. Just a few days, he had been promised, and then....
He smiled, and chuckled evilly to himself.
Angel Grove Monster Shelter....
"Will Tommy and the others be okay?" Mark asked as Jason led the way to a shelter nearby.
"Huh...? Oh, yeah, they'll be fine. There're shelters like this all over the place. Hey, wait a sec. You don't believe in the Power Rangers? Check that out."
Mark looked around in the direction that Jason was indicating, and nearly choked. Less than half a kilometre away, two fifty foot beings battled it out. One was a hideous creature of unmatched proportions, the other a multi-coloured robot wielding a bright sword. "That's them...?"
"You know anyone else who fights battles using a giant robot?"
A faint smile flickered across Marks lips. _Actually...._ "I guess not."
"Well, now that that's settled, let's get under cover."
Mark chuckled softly to himself and followed Jason to safety.
* * *
"So, he's had his doubts blown away, huh?" Kat asked as they rejoined Mark and Jason back at the Youth Centre a short time later.
Mark grimaced. "That's an understatement. Sorry I didn't believe you."
Tommy laughed. "Hey, it's cool. You couldn't have known. We... I mean, the Rangers don't seem to get much past Stone Canyon, let alone Washington D.C."
Mark kept his expression neutral, but the slip had not gone unnoticed. _We...?_
"Not like G. Force, huh?"
"I guess not," Tommy conceded.
Jason spoke, then, seeing something that he could discuss with Tommy's foster brother. "I've seen G. Force. They came to the Peace Conference in Geneva to talk to us."
Mark looked interested. "I read about that. It was in a lot of the newspapers back home. What was it like?"
"The conference?" Jason asked, and Mark nodded. "It was okay," Jason replied. "We got a fair bit done. It's unfortunate it ended when it did, though. There's a lot more we could have done."
Mark nodded his agreement. "So we heard. I don't think the beaurocrats liked being upstaged by teenagers. So, what were G. Force there to talk about?"
"Just about Spectra, and all that. We never realised how big a threat Zoltar was."
"Zoltar...?" Tanya echoed.
"The leader of the Spectran forces," Billy told her. "He led the first attack on Earth approximately twenty-two years ago, before any of us were born. It was the main reason that G. Force came about. Much for the same reason that the Power Rangers appeared. For the sole purpose of fighting a single enemy force. We've been lucky in Angel Grove. We haven't had any trouble with Spectra."
"Well, I bet the Rangers could handle it, no problems," Rocky said smugly.
Mark remained silent, not replying to the remark.
* * *
"So tell me about G. Force," Tommy asked as he and Mark sat in Tommy's room that night.
Mark shrugged. "Not that much to tell. I don't know a lot about them. Just that there's five of them, like the Power Rangers..."
"Now you know about the Rangers?" Tommy asked curiously.
Mark smiled sheepishly. "Jason told me about them. I think he knows more about the Power Rangers than I know about G. Force. Anyway, they fly around in a huge plane called the Phoenix... They have separate vehicles, too, but I've never seen them very much. You usually only catch glimpses of them going over the city in the Phoenix."
"Sounds like we get more contact here, with the Rangers," Tommy remarked as he stood up and pulled his dirty red shirt off, to replace it with a dark green night shirt.
Mark nodded. "Probably. Although, there are the times that one of G. Force lands in hospital, and then the media goes into a frenzy, trying to get to them."
Tommy froze. "Hospital...?" he echoed, as though it was a foreign word.
Mark nodded, seemingly oblivious to Tommys sudden unease. "Yeah. They've all been in hospital. The media makes sure everyone knows when they've been hurt. I don't know whether it's someone's sick sense of entertainment values, or whether they want people to know that G. Force can get hurt just like anyone else."
Tommy sank back down onto his bed. "I don't think the Power Rangers have ever been hurt. Not badly enough to put them in hospital, anyway. Their suits protect them."
"Same with G. Force," Mark replied. "A reporter who got to spend a week with them gave a brief explanation about their suits. Apparently it's pretty hard to hurt them while they're wearing the suits, but Zoltar developed a machine that sort of de-powered them. You know, so he could find out their identities. He used it on them, and though they managed to escape, from then on he knew who they were. Apparently, since then they've had to watch over their shoulders everywhere they go. They're never really safe."
"So they get hurt pretty badly, sometimes?" Tommy asked softly.
Mark's expression turned grim. "The last time I heard about, the Commander and a couple of others were in hospital for two weeks in a coma after being shot. Zoltar doesn't play around, Tommy. He goes right for the jugular, whenever he gets the chance."
Tommy swallowed hard, suddenly feeling ill. He himself knew vaguely about G. Force, but he had assumed both G. Force and the Rangers were on the same level. None of the rangers had ever been badly hurt, though. Not _that_ bad....
Mark stood up, turned away and, without thinking, pulled off his T shirt. Tommy's breath caught audibly in his throat, causing Mark to realise what he'd just done and to spin around so fast that he nearly lost balance. There was a painfully long silence before Mark spoke again in a tense voice that was laced with bitterness. "Go ahead and ask. You might as well, now that you've seen."
Tommy faltered. Suddenly, he could not think of a single question to ask. Finally, looking into Mark's icy expression, he could think of only one thing to say. "I'm sorry."
Mark's anger faded, and he sank onto the bed with a soft thud. "Don't be. It's not your fault. I'm the one who screwed up and took my shirt off in front of you."
Tommy swallowed hard as his gaze swept over the multiple scars on Mark's upper body. Some were recent, he guessed, judging by the redness surrounding some. The whole thing was horrendous. "Have the Welfare people seen this?"
Mark paled dramatically. "No! They can't! Tommy, promise me you wont tell anyone. Please!"
Tommy's stomach twisted into a knot with worry, but he reluctantly agreed. "Okay, I won't tell anyone. I promise." He hesitated, then ventured on nervously. "Do you mind me asking.... Are some of those bullet scars?" Mark responded with a warning stare and Tommy held up his hands defensively. "Okay, I get the picture. I'm sorry."
The younger teen stood up and headed for the adjoining bathroom. As he reached the door, he looked back at Tommy. "Please, don't tell your parents."
He disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Tommy to fight it out with his conscience.
* * *
In the bathroom, Mark thumped his hands down on the basin and cursed his foolishness. He was so used to the way things were in Woodeforde, where he could go without a shirt and not be self-conscious, that he'd forgotten for a brief second. It was a second that could cost him dearly.
Tommy was very honest, he had seen that straight away. It was likely that he would not be able to keep the promise of secrecy that he had made.
"Damn..." Mark muttered under his breath. If Welfare found out about the scarring over his upper body, they would never let him go home. He paused, looking down at the numerous scars, recounting the cause of each.
_Bullet... Bullet... Knife.... Sword.... Stunner.... Another bullet.... Two more knife scars.... Electric whip...._
He sighed softly to himself, and wished uselessly that he would be allowed to go home very soon.
The next day....
"Aren't you going to invite Mark over?" Kat asked Tommy curiously.
Tommy hesitated, watching as his foster brother sat beneath a tree not too far away, slowly eating his lunch. He had been unable to forget the scars, and it was playing havoc with his conscience. "I guess so...."
"Well," Kat retorted, "don't feel heckled, or anything, will you?"
Tommy glowered at her, then got up and stalked over to where Mark sat. "Are you gonna join us, or what?"
Mark looked up at Tommy, startled by the sharpness of Tommy's voice. "Is that an invitation or an order?"
Tommy winced, realising he'd been too harsh. "Sorry. It's an invitation. You want to come sit with us?"
Mark shrugged. "Whatever." He got up and followed Tommy over to where the others waited.
Rocky whistled loudly. "Don't let him hassle you, Mark. He's just really grumpy, today." Tommy shot Rocky a threatening look.
Mark smiled a little. He knew what it was about, and he admired Tommy's restraint. "It's okay. I've seen worse."
"Now that's gotta be an achievement!" Rocky hooted, and finally won a clip across the back of the head from Tommy.
"Knock it off, Little Boy Blue," the Red Ranger growled. Rocky chuckled, but had enough sense to keep his mouth shut.
"I heard something awful on the news this morning," Tanya spoke up, abruptly changing the topic. "Coast City has been destroyed!"
Stunned silence hit the group. Finally, Adam spoke incredulously. "Destroyed? Who could destroy a whole city?"
"Yeah," Rocky interjected. "And Coast City is huge!"
Tanya shrugged. "That's what the guy on the radio said. The whole city had been wiped out, by an air, land and sea attack. You know, I think he said something about it being Spectran forces that did it!"
Mark stiffened considerably. "Spectra?"
"Yeah," Tanya said, sounding more certain as she spoke, "and G. Force never showed up."
Mark felt the blood drain from his face. Spectra had launched an attack on an innocent city.... "Did they manage to evacuate?" he asked hoarsely.
Tanya shook her head. "No. Hardly anybody got out. The attack happened in the middle of the night. A lot of people are dead."
Rocky scowled at the grass. "The Rangers would never have let that happen. Where the hell were G. Force?"
None of them answered, and a heavy silence enveloped the group as they contemplated the massive destruction that must have taken place. Mark turned away from the group, feeling nauseous all of a sudden. G. Force would be blamed for it, he was certain. Because they failed to show up...
_Hell,_ he though dismally, _even if they had been there, they would be blamed for the destruction. They got the blame for a lot of things that went wrong, lately._ He shut his eyes, suddenly struggling against tears that threatened. _Where were they...?_ he wondered helplessly.
* * *
School finished and by the time Mark and Tommy arrived home, Mark had fallen into a silence that no one could break. He refused to answer when spoken to, and Chief Oliver, in frustration, sent the boy upstairs until he was ready to talk.
"What are we going to do?" Melanie asked anxiously.
Michael sighed. "It looks like we're coming into the rough waters that they warned us about."
Tommy spoke from where he sat at the table. "He's been like that since lunch time, when Tanya told us about Coast City. It's almost like he's taken it personally, and every time Rocky took a shot at G. Force over it... Man, if looks could kill..."
Melanie looked thoughtful. "Maybe its time we did what the social worker suggested, and call in a psychiatrist. It couldn't hurt, at any rate."
"Hey," Tommy said quickly, "why don't you call Jason's dad? He's a shrink..."
Michael nodded. "I think that's a damned good idea. I'll call him now."
* * *
Donavon Scott arrived at the Oliver house a short time later with Jason, who had wanted to see Tommy about a Science project. While the two boys retreated into the study, Michael led Donavon upstairs. "He's totally withdrawn," Michael explained. "He's refusing to speak to anyone..."
"Sounds like depression."
"It may be, but it seems like it's over this Coast City business. At least, thats what I figured from what Tommy told us."
They reached the door as Donavon spoke. "I'll see what I can do."
Michael smiled grimly and pushed the door open. "Mark?"
The teen stood up and looked around, his expression cold and unreadable. Michael stepped in, making room for Donavon.
"This is Donavon Scott. He's a psychiatrist. He's here to talk to you. Okay?"
Still Mark didn't move or speak. Michael sighed softly. "I'll leave you to it, then."
He backed out and shut the door, leaving Mark alone with the psychiatrist. Once he was gone, Mark's icy expression melted with startling abruptness. "Hey, Doc. Long time, no see."
Donavon made no attempt to hide his own amazement. "Yes," he admitted quietly, "it has been a long time. Commander."
"I hate being called that! You know I do!"
Donavon smiled wearily. "I remember. I'm sorry, Mark. It's just a shock. I wasn't expecting it to be you."
"A shock to you...?" Mark grumbled. "What about me? I'm thousands of miles from home, and I've got no idea where my friends are!"
"Are you scared?" Donavon asked quietly, his professional instincts kicking in.
Mark sat back down with a thud on his bed. "Yes, I'm scared. I don't know what Zoltar's planning. It's scaring the hell out of me."
"Especially with Coast City?"
The boy's expression darkened considerably. "He did it to put the heat on us. People are gonna be after our blood, for letting that happen. Especially General Carlton."
"He's still bothering you?"
"Yeah. He's set us up for an ambush a couple of times, but we've never been able to prove it."
Donavon went and sat down beside the teen. "About Coast City.... You didn't exactly let it happen, you know."
Mark shot a warning look at Donavon. "Don't you dare say I couldn't have done anything about it. You know that's not true just as well as I do."
"I wasn't going to say any such thing," Donavon protested. "I was just going to say that you can't let him get to you like that. As hard as it is, you have to just grit your teeth and keep going."
"It's not that easy. I'm being watched."
"Oh? Who is it? J'boath, or Kaa?"
"Probably J'boath. Maybe Kaa. I'm not sure. If it is J'boath, then he's restrained himself beyond his endurance. It isn't his style to wait it out."
Donavon chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip. "Have you had a chance to contact Chief Anderson?"
"What do you think?"
Donavon winced, and Mark sighed heavily. "I'm sorry. I'm just pretty tense right now."
"Understood." He paused, his gaze falling on Marks bare wrist. "Left it behind?"
"Huh? Oh... No, they were confiscated. It happened so damn fast... Sometime after midnight, all these people showed up. We barely had time to get dressed and pack some stuff into bags. Then, we all got shoved into different cars...."
"That must have been a lot of cars," Donavon commented.
Mark grimaced. "You have no idea. They took me, Jason, Princess, Keop, Tiny, Penny, Jennifer, Sam, Michael...."
"Long story," Mark replied simply. "Anyway, as soon as the car I was in got to the airport, I got taken into a small room and that woman Janine Watson asked me all these questions while a couple of policemen went through my bag. I don't know... It was like they didn't have a reason to take us, and they were hoping I'd say something that would give them an excuse. I think they settled on the schooling issue, just to keep it legitimate."
Donavon looked deeply worried. "This is bordering on illegal, Mark."
"You're telling me that? I know the law, Doc."
Donavon sighed, then pulled out his cell phone. "Here."
Mark stared at the phone as though it were a foreign object. "What?"
The psychiatrist thumped the phone against Mark's chest. "Call Chief Anderson! Now, before someone walks in here."
Mark took the phone in trembling hands and quickly dialed a memorized number. Then, his heart beating a mile to the minute, he waited for the other end to be picked up.
* * *
"Okay, who did this?" Tommy asked sceptically as Jason finished setting up the home-made transceiver. "This is way beyond you, buddy."
Jason looked wounded. "Well, maybe I'm not as dumb as you think. C'mon, after spending so much time around Billy, you do tend to pick up a few things."
Tommy finally shrugged. "Well, I'm impressed. This is first class. Are you sure you want me to go in with you on it? I don't want to steal the limelight from you, or anything."
"Don't be stupid. There are still a few bugs in it. I need help fixing it up."
Tommy dropped to the floor beside Jason. "How come you asked me, and not Adam?"
"'Cause you're my best friend!" Jason retorted. "Man, you can be so insecure, sometimes...."
Tommy rolled his eyes. "I ought to deck you for saying that."
"Yeah, right. Switch it on at the plug, and pray it doesn't burn out all the fuses."
Muttering to himself about big trouble, Tommy went and switched it on. There was a sharp crackle, and then the transceiver hummed to life.
"Cool" Jason said, grinning broadly. "Come over here, let's see what we can pick up."
"This thing might be useful in the Power Chamber," Tommy remarked as Jason tried to tune it. "If it works, I mean."
"Wait till we get an A for it," Jason shot back, "and then you can confiscate it. Okay?"
"I'm getting something!" Jason said excitedly. "It's working!" He fiddled with the knob a bit more, then suddenly stopped as a familiar voice could be heard over the speakers.
"It's me, Chief."
"Mark?" Tommy whispered, confused.
Jason was equally confused. "But he's upstairs.... Dad must've given him the cell phone to use"
"But who's Chief?"
Tommy was cut off as a new, stern voice could be heard, speaking with clear concern. "Mark? Good god, how did you manage to call? Are you at a phone box...?"
"No. Chief, I'm in a town called Angel Grove, in California. They put me with the local police chief."
"Wonderful," came the dry remark. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm okay at the moment Chief. I'm with Donavon Scott."
"In the police chief's home. They called in a psychiatrist to talk to me, and it was him."
"Thank God... Somebody you can trust. Put him on, quickly." Tommy and Jason watched each other in wordless shock and confusion as the phone changed hands.
"Donavon, thank God. You have no idea how relieved I am to know you're there."
"Yes, well, it was quite a shock to find Mark here."
"Not as much of a shock as it was for the rest of us, believe me. Can I ask you a favour, now?"
"You don't have to. I'll keep an eye on him. I promise."
"Thank you," Anderson replied, sounding immensely relieved. Donavon nodded. "I'll put Mark back on."
The phone changed hands again, and then Mark spoke again. "I'm back, Chief."
"All right. You listen closely, Mark. If anything happens there, no matter how insignificant you think it is, tell Donavon. Have him contact me immediately. Give him this number, so he can." He paused before going on. "Especially if you start having nightmares. You understand?"
"Chief, what about our transmitters? They took mine at the airport."
"I know. I managed to get them back, after a lot of arguing. I can't send yours to you without arousing suspicion, though. Do you need it urgently?"
"Not right now, but I think I'm being watched."
"You probably all are." There was a long moment of silence, and then Anderson spoke again. "Mark, don't blame yourself for Coast City. You know it wasn't your fault."
"Do I?" Mark replied listlessly.
"Yes," Anderson snapped, "you do. Don't go all guilty on me. You have to keep yourself together now. Wake up, Commander. You're in a Code Black emergency, here. You can have a guilt trip when it's over and you're all home safe, but until then, you don't think about it. That is an order!" Mark had to smile. The Chief had always known what to say to snap him back to reality, and he knew now.
"All right," he said quietly. "Understood, sir."
"Good. Now, for Gods sake, look after yourself, Mark. I want you back here in one piece."
"I will, Chief."
"Okay. Tell Donavon to keep in touch."
They finally broke the connection, and Mark handed the cell phone back to Donavon.
"Everything all right?" Donavon asked. Mark nodded. "Yeah. I think so. For now, anyway."
Donavon clapped the boy lightly on the shoulder. "C'mon. Let's go downstairs."
* * *
In the study, Tommy and Jason sat in stunned silence. "Chief Anderson?" Tommy finally said, dazed by all they'd overheard. Jason finally got himself in order and shut off the transceiver.
"I knew it," he growled as he unplugged the machine. "I knew I'd seen Mark somewhere before. It was in Geneva, at the conference!"
"Huh?" Tommy said dumbly.
Jason glared at him impatiently. "Tommy, don't you remember when Mark said he got Bulk and Skull off his back by saying he was the Commander of G. Force?"
"He wasn't kidding, man! He really is the Commander of G. Force! That was Security Chief Anderson that he was talking to!"
Realisation finally dawned on Tommy. "Oh god... I've got the Commander of G. Force living in my house!"
Jason stood up, the transceiver held tightly in his arms. "And my dad knows him. I think it's time we found out the truth about what's going on here."
* * *
"So what exactly was that thing that you wanted to show Jason?" Mark asked casually as he and Tommy lay in bed that night.
"A transceiver," Tommy replied quietly. "It's for our science project. Jason built it himself."
"Cool. Does it work?"
"Yeah. We tested it in the study, while you were talking to Jason's dad."
Mark froze. "Oh?"
Mark lay still and silent for a long moment before speaking quietly. "How much did you hear?"
"The whole lot, I think. That's some secret you've been keeping. 'Course, when you said that you'd gotten Bulk and Skull off your back by pretending to be the Commander of G. Force, none of us would have dreamed that you were telling the truth."
Mark sat up slowly. "You haven't called anyone about it, have you? I mean, so far, only you and Jason know?"
Tommy regarded Mark with inexplicable coldness. "So far. Why, do you want it to stay that way?"
Anger flashed across Mark's face at Tommy's snappish tone. "Why are you angry at me? You'd do the same if you were in my position."
"Would I?" Tommy retorted. "You don't even know me."
"No, and you don't know me. What's the problem, Tommy? Can't you handle someone keeping something secret from you? No, you can't can you? Don't like being left in the dark about anything. You have to know everything about everyone."
Tommy got up, equally angry, but also frightened by Mark's accurate description. "You don't have any right to say that! This isn't even your house!"
"No, but I'm stuck here until I can go home. Like it or not."
Tommy advanced on Mark, fists clenched. "Isn't Angel Grove good enough for you, then?"
Mark got up quickly to meet Tommy. "Hold it right there. I don't want to fight with you."
"Why not? Scared I'll beat you?"
"You probably would," Mark conceded, "but no. That isn't it. Look, it's true that I'm the Commander of G. Force. I'm not denying that. But the bottom line is I kept it secret to protect everyone."
"Protect us? Yeah, sure..."
Mark's gaze hardened considerably. "Don't try telling me you don't have any secrets you're keeping from your family, Tommy. I'd know you were lying."
Tommy faltered, staring into Mark's blue eyes. All of a sudden, there was something there that unnerved the Red Zeo Ranger. Badly....
Mark finally glanced away, releasing Tommy from the invisible hold he'd had on him. "There's no point in us fighting. I'm stuck here for the time being, and that's all there is to it."
Tommy glowered, suddenly angry again. "Oh? Well, the window is there, and there's a ladder right next to it. Feel free to use it any time, bro."
Mark looked back at Tommy. "What are you really angry about?"
"I don't like being lied to."
"You're being irrational. I never lied to you about anything."
Tommy stomped over and got back into bed. "I don't want to talk about it. Go to sleep."
Mark sighed and sat down on the bed. "You don't even know what you're angry about, Tommy."
Tommy rolled over, glaring at the young commander. "How about Coast City? Is that a good start? Man, everyone knows G. Force is responsible for the war with Spectra. Maybe not to start with, but you're responsible for it continuing on like it has."
Mark stiffened, his tanned face paling considerably. For once, he had no come back. Tommy nodded, seeing he'd gained some ground on his foster brother. "Yeah, you know I'm right."
Nausea rolled through Mark's stomach. The accusation hurt worst because, deep in his heart, Mark believed it was the truth. He lay back down with a thud, tears filling his eyes.
Tommy felt a touch of regret, but couldn't bring himself to apologize. Shaking his head, he shut his eyes and willed himself to sleep, telling himself that he would settle things with Mark first thing in the morning.
* * *
Tommy awoke with a start, and lay in bed for a long moment as he pulled his thoughts together. A moment later, the previous night's argument came back to him, and he sat up quickly. Mark, he was not surprised to discover, was not in bed. He hesitated, then heaved a silent sigh of relief at the sound of the tap running in the adjacent bathroom.
A minute passed, then Mark emerged from the bathroom, fully dressed. There was an icy expression on the boy's young face as he looked over at Tommy.
Tommy swallowed nervously. The hostility in Marks voice was all too clear.
"Uh... Listen, bro.... about last night..." Tommy started to say as he got up.
Mark cut him off abruptly. "I'm not your brother." The Red Ranger withheld a groan. "Look, man... About what I said last night... I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."
"Yes, you did," Mark snapped as he headed for the door. "You meant every word. Don't lie. It only makes it worse."
"Well, how am I supposed to know?" Tommy protested, and Mark turned on him like an enraged cat.
"Exactly, Tommy. That's it exactly. How are you supposed to know? How are any of you supposed to know? You don't know, you just assume. Think, brother. How do you think I got all the scars that you saw? You think they happened by accident? You think they happen while I just sit by and watch Spectra annihilate the planet? You assume, again. Do you know how many times I've waited in hospital, with one or more of my friends critically wounded, not knowing if they're going to live or die? Or how many times I've been in hospital myself? No, of course you don't. You just assume it never happens. You assume we're indestructible. Well, time for a reality check, bro. You think the rangers are the be-all and end-all of everything? Think again! When was the last time one of the rangers lay in a hospital Critical Care ward, in danger of dying from multiple bullet wounds? Huh? Tell me that!"
Tommy fell back, stunned speechless. Mark stared at him for several seconds, rage dying in his eyes to be replaced by something else that Tommy didn't comprehend.
"Tell me," Mark asked in a voice that suddenly trembled with emotion, "when was the last time any of the rangers had to deal with their father trying to kill them?"
Tommy's heart skipped a beat, but before he could even begin to think of a suitable reply, Mark turned and was hurried from the room.
* * *
Zedd had been watching Earth for a while, now, with an interest that was completely unnatural, even for him. Finally, Rita grew impatient, and interrupted him.
"All right, Zeddy, what's going on? You've been watching Earth for hours!"
"Look," Zedd hissed, and Rita looked in the direction he was pointing with her telescope made of scratch. For a long moment, she didn't understand, but then realisation struck.
"A descendant of Aareth..." she whispered, stunned. "I thought they were all killed!"
"A party escaped the planet before it was destroyed," Zedd admitted. "That's the problem with causing natural disasters. There's always the chance that some might escape. It looks as though they escaped to Earth."
"But he's only one!"
"Where there is one, the others will not be far away. The people of Aareth considered each other to be family, even if they were not. A disgusting concept, actually. In any case, perhaps this one will be of use to us. Single-handedly, he would have enough power to bring down the remains of the Machine Empire."
Rita's eyes glowed with excitement. "Yes, I can feel it... Zeddy, you're brilliant! Goldar...!"
* * *
"Aren't you going to invite Mark to join us?" Kat asked when, once again, the rangers sat together while Tommys foster brother sat off by himself.
"I don't think I'm high on his list of favourite people right now," Tommy said softly.
Jason looked at him curiously. "What's up, Tommy? Did you two have a fight over something?"
There was a hint of something in Jason's tone that Tommy couldn't ignore. He sighed heavily. "Yeah, we had a fight. It was pretty major."
"Hey, look," Tanya whispered. They looked, just as Mark slumped over, burying his face in his hands. A moment later, his shoulders began to shake....
Kat and Tanya reacted instantly, going quickly to where the younger boy sat on the grass. The boys took a little while longer to get themselves in gear. "Mark?"
Mark glanced up at Kat with red-rimmed eyes, then looked away again. "Leave me alone."
"No, I don't think so." She sat down next to him on the grass, and Tanya sat down on the other side. "What's wrong?"
"You can talk to us," Tanya encouraged him.
Mark looked from one to the other, then looked up as Tommy, Jason, Rocky and Adam approached slowly. "Why don't you ask Tommy?" Mark spat harshly. "I'm sure he could tell you."
Tommy shook his head helplessly when they all looked questioningly at him.
Mark shut his eyes against the threat of more tears. "It's really simple. It's my fault that Coast City was destroyed. That's the bottom line."
"What?" Rocky choked out incredulously. "That's stupid!"
Jason dropped into a crouch in front of Mark, quickly understanding. "No way, man. You can't believe that. You couldn't have known. It wasn't your fault!"
"Yes, it was."
They all looked up at Tommy, stunned by his words. Jason rose up slowly to meet him. "How can you say that?"
Tommy looked back down at Mark, who returned his gaze with a harsh, yet grief-stricken one of his own. "Everyone knows Spectra is only fighting the Earth now because of G. Force. Zoltar destroyed Coast City because of them. It's G. Force's fault...."
Tommy didn't get anything more out. Jason reacted, hitting him hard and sending him sprawling onto the grass. "What the..." Tommy spluttered, gingerly touching his jaw. "You hit me!"
"You're lucky that's all I did," Jason snapped. "How can you say all that, Tommy? It's no more Mark's fault than its the Rangers' fault that Zedd is trying to take over!"
Tommy started up, only to gasp in pain when Jason kicked him squarely in the chest. Rocky and Adam responded then, moving in to grab Jason and pull him back.
"Easy, buddy," Rocky muttered. "You want to get in trouble?"
Tommy got up quickly and started forward, only to be stopped by Mark, who suddenly appeared between the boys. "Don't fight. It's pointless. Jason, Tommy's right. It is my fault. I should have done something about it a long time ago, but I never had the courage."
Jason felt a chill run down his spine. "What are you talking about?"
"Surrendering," Mark said softly. "Maybe if G. Force surrender, then Zoltar will leave the Earth alone."
"That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard!" Jason exploded. "That wouldn't happen! With G. Force out of the way, Zoltar would just take over! Not even the rangers could stand up to Spectra!"
"Hey," Tommy growled. "I think they could do a pretty fair job..."
"Shut up," Jason snapped. "You've got blinkers on, Tommy. You've been in Angel Grove too long."
Without waiting for anyone else to speak, Jason grabbed Mark's arm and dragged him back towards the school building.
"Where are we going?" Mark asked breathlessly as Jason herded him along.
"To my locker. I brought something in today that I put together with a friend when I was in Geneva. I want to show it to you. Maybe then you'll stop thinking about surrendering."
"You don't understand..." Mark protested.
Jason glowered at him. "You're right about that. I don't understand how anyone could give up to a force as evil as the Spectrans. So shut up and move it."
Mark groaned inwardly and hurried to keep up with the older boy.
* * *
They reached Jason's locker, and the boy sifted through his books, looking for something. Finally he found it, producing a scrap book from the locker. Shutting the door, he pushed Mark back along the corridor.
"What's that?" Mark asked.
"You'll see. In here."
Jason pushed Mark into an empty classroom, strode over and slapped the scrapbook down on the table. He opened it to the front page, and Mark drew in a sharp breath as he read the headline of the article that was taped there.
G. Force defeats Spectra, saves thousands of lives, read the very first article, dated back approximately seven years.
Mark swallowed hard. "That was our first fight... When the Spectran mothership attacked Washington...."
Jason nodded. "Yeah, I know. It looked like something out of Independence Day. Covered at least a third of the city. I'll never know how you guys survived that."
Mark felt his stomach do a backflip as he remembered the incident. In an effort to get rid of the mothership and all the attack planes in one hit, Mark had ordered Tiny, the pilot of the Phoenix, to initiate the Fiery Phoenix for the first time. They had done so, and deliberately flown into a collision path with the mothership. The action had won them all nearly one month in hospital, recovering from burns and other multiple injuries. Mark shut his eyes for a moment. He had been nine years old at the time...
Jason turned the page as he spoke. "I used to think like Tommy does. I used to think the Power Ranger were the ultimate. Then, when I got to Geneva, I was roomed with a guys from England. He was really hyped up about G. Force, he knew as much about G. Force as my friends and I know about the rangers. We argued about it at first, and then we went to the library, to see what things were documented. This is all the stuff we found on G. Force. There was plenty on the Power Rangers, too, but nothing like this."
Mark watched as Jason slowly turned each page, and he saw his life literally go by in a matter of minutes. "I... I don't think there was one time where one of us didn't end up being hurt in some way," Mark whispered, tears building up in his eyes. "But no one saw the reality. Right from the start, we were just another team that people could cheer for when we were winning, and blame everything on when something went wrong."
Jason grimaced. "Sort of like a political party, huh?"
Mark had to smile at the comparison. "That's about right."
Jason turned the page again, and was startled when Mark suddenly slammed his hand down on the page. "What is it?"
Mark didn't reply, but rather stared in shock at the headline. G. Force pair escape carnival trap with their lives. Nausea rolled through Mark's stomach. "I didn't think anyone knew about that...."
"The trap that Zoltar set at the Washington Fair Grounds? Everyone knew about that. That... That was you, huh?"
Mark turned away, the tears finally finding their way down his cheeks. "That was when I met your father. It was me and my second-in-command. He's Jason, too... We were all in Washington D.C. for something or other. Jason and I were on patrol, and we were taken by Spectran soldiers. When we came to, we were in the Fair Grounds. Zoltar said he wanted to play a game with us. He said we had ten minutes to run, and then he'd send his soldiers after us. It was confined to the Fair Grounds, we couldn't get out. He'd shielded the whole place."
Mark sat down with a thud. "I've never been so scared as I was that night. He'd said if we survived till midnight, he'd let us go. It was ten o'clock when he made us run."
"Four hours? Couldn't you have hidden?"
"Four hours is a hell of a long time to hide when you've got about two hundred soldiers tracking you down. Everywhere we took cover, we were eventually found. By... By the time our friends finally got in to help..." Mark faltered, his face ashen as he remembered. "I'd been shot earlier on, and I don't remember much of what happened until I woke up in hospital. That was three weeks after we were rescued."
"You were in a coma for three weeks...?" Jason whispered, stunned.
Mark nodded quickly. "Yes. And that was the least of our troubles. We both had nearly complete physical and emotional breakdowns after that. Chief Anderson ended up calling your dad to Washington to help us."
"I remember that," Jason said. "He took off for Washington, but he wouldn't say why. He was gone for four months..."
"That's how long it took to get us back on our feet," Mark admitted. He looked back at the article. "I didn't realise anyone knew about it. Or cared..."
"A lot more people care than you probably realise," Jason said, carefully closing the scrapbook. "Don't you remember when you came for that week during the Peace Conference?"
Mark smiled faintly. "We nearly got mobbed when we first arrived. After that, we hardly had a minute's peace... Just a second... I remember now. On the third day we were there, we listened in a miniature conference on human rights. You were giving the talk...."
Jason grinned, slightly embarrassed. "You remember, huh? I met you guys afterwards."
Mark nodded, recalling it with a smile. "We were impressed by everything you said. You really knew what you were talking about."
Jason shrugged. "That's why I was there, I guess. I knew I'd seen you before, but I just couldn't place it."
Mark chuckled softly. "I didn't remember you. I would have been a lot more cautious if I had."
They headed for the door when Jason suddenly remembered they hadn't resolved the original problem. Darting forward, he pushed the door shut, closing them both in. "We haven't finished yet. We still have a problem to work out."
"Huh...?" Mark said, and then he realised. "Oh. Jason, I said you didn't understand, and I meant it. Theres a lot more to it than what anyone knows."
"I can handle that," Jason said firmly, "but surrendering isn't going to make anything better! Don't you get it? Handing yourself over will only cause even more trouble. And there won't be anyone who can deal with it, because you guys wont be there! What would happen if the rangers surrendered? The planet would be overrun by Zedd, or the Machine Empire! It's the same thing!"
Mark shook his head slowly. "No. It isn't the same situation. I can't even begin to explain this. It just goes too deep."
"Look," Jason said, frustrated, "I'm just asking you not to go and do anything stupid. Okay? Don't just walk out right now and let them take you. Is that too much to ask?"
Mark finally conceded. "Okay. I promise I won't do anything dumb. Satisfied?"
Jason nodded, relieved. "Yes. Thank you." Mark clapped him on the shoulder. "C'mon, lets get to class before we both end up on detention."
The former Gold Ranger smiled, and they hurried to get to the classes.
"I really am sorry," Tommy said as he and Mark walked home that afternoon. "I know I was pretty harsh."
"It's your opinion," Mark replied coolly.
Tommy slowed to a halt. "Look, we can't keep arguing like this! It's only gonna make things really unpleasant."
"Well, you made it pretty clear how you feel about me and my team," Mark said. Tommy sighed.
"It's just, the Power Rangers have only been around for a few years, and look at what they've had to fight against! G. Force could never handle fifty foot monsters like they do!"
Mark shrugged. "Maybe we couldn't. But at the same time, what could the Rangers do about an entire military fleet that was attacking? Look, this isn't the point. Arguing over which team is better is damned stupid! The bottom line is they're equal in their own right!. You can't compare us, Tommy. We fight two completely different enemies." He paused, then added; "Besides, even you admitted the Rangers don't really get past Stone Canyon. We're fighting for the entire planet here, and that's how far our battles extend. We might be in Europe one day, or Asia the next. It's impossible to guess."
They started walking again, both cloaked in heavy silence. Finally Tommy spoke. "Look... It's not that I don't respect you or anything. It's just that..." He suddenly realised he was talking to thin air, and looked back to see that Mark had stopped again. "What's wrong?"
"In your driveway," Mark said tensely. "That's Janine Watson's car."
Tommy looked, and realised Mark was right. "Well, c'mon!" he said. "Lets go see what she's here for!"
Mark grimaced and followed Tommy up to the house.
* * *
Michael Oliver stood up to meet the boys as they walked into the family room. "Tommy, Mark, I'm glad you boys are home. Mark we have good news for you. You can go home!"
For some reason, Mark felt no euphoria. Only dread... "Home?" he echoed dumbly.
Michael nodded. "That's right. Your father has been granted custody of you through court. You're going home today!"
"Hey, that's great!" Tommy said enthusiastically, clapping Mark on the shoulder.
Mark, however, felt a rush of nausea through his stomach. "My father? Don't Don't you mean my guardian?"
Watson snorted indignantly. "There is no way we could allow you to go back there. No, Mark, your father. He applied for custody of you as soon as this began. He wants you back."
It was all Mark could do to stay calm. Finally, he forced a smile onto his face. "That's great. I'll go pack."
Next to him, Tommy's own smile faltered. Mark's voice had sounded almost wooden, and his smile was almost certainly feigned. He paused, then hurried up the stairs after his foster brother.
* * *
Tommy strode into his bedroom and froze. The room was empty, Mark was gone. "Mark? Mark, where'd you go, man?"
There was an obscure sound from outside, and Tommy ran to the window, just in time to see Mark jump from the middle of the ladder to the ground.< "Where the hell are you going?" Tommy hissed. Mark looked back up at Tommy.
"I have to get out of here. If I go with that woman, I'll be dead by the end of today."
"But she's taking you home!"
"No. Home would be to my guardian, Chief Anderson. She's taking me to my father. If I end up with my father, then this war really will be over. For the entire planet. Please, Tommy. Give me a couple of minutes leeway, at least. That's all I need."
Without waiting for a reply, Mark turned and bolted away from the house, disappearing down the street.
* * *
Zedd gave an exclamation of delight, immediately gaining the attention of Rita and his minions.
"What is it?" Rita asked sleepily. Zedd motioned with his clawed hand. "The boy is away from the Red Ranger, and on his own. It is time to take him. Finster, is the device ready?"
"Yes, my lord," Finster replied. "I have already set the beam for the boy. We need only activate it. This button, right here."
"Good," Zedd hissed, and his finger hovered over the button, ready to activate the teleportation machine.
* * *
Mark tore down the street as fast as he could. He could think of only one safe place to go, and that was to Donavon Scott, Jason's father. He had no idea where Jason lived, though, and had only one chance of locating the house. Drawing in a deep breath, he concentrated everything he had on Donavon, on sensing the mans very presence. He then began to make his way towards that presence, heading in the direction that it was strongest.
He'd made it nearly half way to the house when a familiar figure suddenly appeared in front of him. Mark skidded to a halt, his concentration shattered. For a long moment, no one moved. Then, Mark spoke in a soft whisper.
J'boath, one of Zoltars two chief lieutenants, smiled coldly at the boy.
"Commander. How nice to run into you."
Mark glanced around, and was not surprised to find he was suddenly surrounded by soldiers in plain clothes. All of them had guns.
"Yeah," Mark said dryly. "What a coincidence." J'boath stepped forward. "We knew you'd run. It was to be expected. You honestly didn't think you'd get very far, did you?"
"I had hopes," Mark replied, and J'boath responded with a chuckle. "You have two choices. Go back to the house, and go with the woman, or we shoot you down here and now."
"You take what you can get."
Mark glanced down at his bare wrist and wished desperately that he had his transmitter. He looked back up at J'boath, anger in his eyes.
"You never were one for fair play, were you? Not like your brother." "I follow in my fathers footsteps," J'boath replied proudly. "And I still owe you for his death, boy."
"I was only defending myself," Mark argued. "His death was an accident."
"So you say. It doesn't matter to me."
"No, it wouldn't."
J'boath jabbed at Mark with his gun. "Enough of this! Back to the house, now!"
Mark's gaze narrowed. "What is he planning that he needs me so badly? If he just wanted me dead, you would have killed me already."
J'boath glared at the boy. "Don't tempt me." Mark drew in a deep breath. "I am not going back. So you might as well just shoot."
No one moved. Mark looked around at them all. "No one's shooting. Is there a problem, guys?" J'boath hissed in fury. The truth was that he had been threatened with death if he harmed Mark in any way. Shooting the boy was out of the question entirely...
Mark couldn't resist a smile as he read J'boath's mind with ease. "What a pity. You can't hurt me. So, if you'll just excuse me..." Mark started forward, and walked straight into the barrel of J'boath's gun.
"Not so fast," the lieutenant snarled. Mark took a single step back. "You're going to shoot me after all?"
Mark's patronizing tone was all J'boath's short temper could handle, and he lifted the gun, released the safety catch and fired.... into thin air. The young commander had suddenly, inexplicably vanished in a flash of white light.
* * *
Mark hit the ground with a crash, his legs buckling beneath him. He gasped in pain as he landed on hard ground, and lay still for a moment as his head spun dizzily.
He sat up slowly, looking around, and was startled to discover he was surrounded by rock walls and a thick mist. J'boath and his henchmen were nowhere in sight; he was completely alone. He got up slowly, taking in his surroundings in confusion. The rock seemed impenetrable. There were no openings, no footholds or jagged edges to enable climbing. Nothing.
Wherever he was, he was trapped.
Seeing no apparent way out, he sat down on the mist-covered floor to wait it out.
* * *
Tommy landed in the Power Chamber and immediately strode forward. "Zordon, can we use the computers to find Mark? He just took off. I'm worried..."
"Your concern is justified," Zordon replied grimly. "I had been about to alert you and the others. Mark was teleported into another dimension less than one minute ago."
Tommy felt sick. "It was Mondo?"
"The teleportation beam did not come from the Machine Empires sky base," Zordon replied. "I am afraid I do not know who is responsible, Tommy. Alpha is trying to locate Mark now, and I will contact the other rangers."
Minutes later, the rest of the team arrived, along with Jason and Billy.
"What's going on?" Tanya asked.
"Mark's disappeared," Tommy said, and went on to explain all that had happened, including just who Mark was.
"The Commander of G. Force?" Kat whispered in shock. "You mean, he wasn't kidding when he said"
"No," Jason said grimly. "It was for real. Billy, do you think you can find him?"
Billy looked up from where he had joined Alpha. "We already have. Look in the viewing globe."
They looked, and saw Mark, sitting in a dank cave that was layered with thick mist. Jason, Tommy, Billy, Rocky and Adam all stiffened. "That place is familiar," Adam said tensely.
Zordon spoke grimly. "It is one of the caves in Rita and Zedd's Dimension of Darkness. It is similar to the cave in which you, Rocky and Aisha were first held."
"Zedd and Rita?" Kat echoed, distressed. "I thought they were gone?"
"Apparently not," Alpha said. "Only Zedd and Rita have access to this dimension, for they were the ones to create it."
"If that's where Mark is," Tommy said grimly, "then we've gotta get him back. Zordon, can we teleport in there?"
"Yes, Tommy. You must move fast. I fear Mark is in grave danger. Zedd and Rita may be planning to use him in the plans to destroy the Machine Empire and retake their castle."
"But how?" Rocky wanted to know. "What could Mark do? He can't even transmute, or whatever it is that G. Force do."
"There is no time to explain now," Zordon said. "The coordinates are set. Teleport now, rangers, and may the power protect you."
"Hang on!" Tommy said quickly. "Jase, can you do something for us?"
"Sure. What is it?"
"Go and ask your dad about Mark. Find out why Mark would be so scared of going to his father. I mean, he wanted to go home so badly, but when he had the chance, he bolted."
Jason nodded. "Will do."
Tommy nodded, the five teens morphed, then teleported out.
Somewhere in the park....
The tall figure stood still and silent, his face dark and unreadable as the lieutenant gave his report. Finally, the man finished speaking and the figure in the purple uniform responded with a fist to the man's head.
"You stupid fool," he hissed, his voice dangerously soft. "I sent you to return him to the house, and you wasted time with idiotic threats! The boy is more intelligent than you! I should have sent Kaa to do the job."
J'boath lay still on the ground, not daring to move. He knew he would be lucky now if he didn't lose his head. Literally... The figure in purple moved away.
"Now, he's in the clutches of those fools, Zedd and Rita. Although that may be harsh. They were obviously smart enough to recognise a descendent of Aareth. It's a pity they weren't smart enough to realise just who it was they'd set their sights on. Now, I'm going to have to go and get the boy back..."
"You could allow the Power Rangers to do it," a silky voice said from behind him. The figure turned to face another lieutenant.
"We were hoping to avoid them, Kaa."
"Yes, but attempting a rescue from a dimension to which we have no access would be futile. I suggest we allow the Rangers to rescue the young Commander, and then we step in. Those suits may be fine to deflect a few heavy blows, but I'll wager they are no protection against a bullet. Even the uniforms of G. Force are no match for a bullet."
The figure in purple rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and two eyes glowed behind a cowl. "It is worth a try. Even if we fail, I'm sure we'll succeed in doing some damage. Hopefully those rangers won't come out unscathed."
He shook his head. "Unbelievable that a group of teenagers could do so well in protecting one planet. First G. Force, and now the Power Rangers...."
Muttering to himself, he headed off, leaving the lieutenants behind. J'boath waited until their leader was out of earshot before speaking. "Always out to steal the glory from me, aren't you Kaa?" he snarled as he got up. Kaa regarded his brother coldly.
"I need to steal nothing from you. You're a hot-headed fool. You're lucky Zoltar didn't order your execution on the spot."
J'boath scowled. "He wouldn't dare."
"Oh no? You're delusioned if you believe you're that important to him. Father was the longest serving officer, and only because he made himself invaluable. We are not. The sooner you learn that, the better off you'll be. Now, let's go. We have an assault to prepare."
Somewhere in the Dimension of Darkness....
Mark was just about to give up on anyone coming when there was a flash of reddish light, and a tall figure appeared in front of him. Mark was on his feet in an instant, staring tensely at what was definitely the strangest looking person he'd ever seen. The figure bowed his head just a little in what Mark sensed to be mock respect.
"Welcome to the Dimension of Darkness, boy. I am Zedd, lord and ruler of the universe."
Mark fell back a few steps as realisation started to dawn. Zedd, according to what Jason had told him, was one of the original villains the rangers had fought, before Mondo came along. Zedd nodded.
"That's right. I ruled from the moon before Mondo usurped me." Mark stiffened. "You read my mind."
If Zedd could have smiled, he would have. "As I am sure you have tried with me. I know who you are, boy. I know that you are descended from the people of Aareth, and I have brought you here to propose a bargain."
Mark's hands curled into fists at his sides. "I don't make bargains with people like you."
Zedd chuckled. "I'm sure. Perhaps you should hear me out, first." "If you know who I am," Mark growled, "then you wouldn't have considered taking me in the first place. You should know I have the power to leave here..."
Zedd looked amused. "If that is the case, why haven't you?" Mark faltered, his bluff called. Zedd nodded. "Now that we're past that foolishness, I'll propose my bargain. I'll eventually release you, unharmed, if you aid me in destroying the Machine Empire, and the Power Rangers."
"You can't be serious..." Mark said, stunned. "Oh, I am serious," Zedd assured him. "Unless you do as I say, you'll remain here for a long time. A very long time."
Mark glanced around him. That was not an enticing thought. Still, there were other options...
"Can I at least have some time to think it over?" Zedd chuckled again. I don't see what there is to think over, but very well. I shall return in an hour."
Zedd vanished, and Mark fell back against the rock wall. Perhaps he couldn't get himself out, but hopefully....
His thoughts were interrupted by a second flash of light, and all of a sudden he was surrounded by five colourfully attired figures. He looked around at them in momentary confusion, then suddenly realised who they were.
"The Power Rangers?"
"That's right," the Red Ranger spoke. "We've come to get you out of here."
Mark started forward... and stopped. That voice... "Tommy?"
The Ranger didn't move, gave no sign of uncertainty or nervousness. "I am the Red Power Ranger. Your friend Tommy is back in Angel Grove."
Mark hesitated, then shook his head, too tired to argue. "Okay, let's get out of here, then."
"Not so fast, rangers."
They all looked around, and none were surprised to see Zedd standing there, flanked by Rita, Goldar, and a large team of putties and tengas.
The Red Ranger moved slowly forward.
"It's been a long time, Zedd."
"Yes, it has. You've changed colours again."
"Why did you bother to come back?"
"We have come to claim what is ours!" Rita shrieked, and the rangers all winced at the familiar, scraping voice.
"In your dreams..." the Blue Ranger growled, wishing he had cotton wool for his ears. Zedd laughed, a dangerously quiet laugh.
"You don't seem to realise you have walked straight into my trap. Why don't you try and teleport out of here, Rangers? Amuse me."
The rangers looked wordlessly at one another, then reached tentatively for the teleporters on their belts. It only took a moment for them to realise it wasn't working. Zedd burst into full laughter. "You see? You're trapped, all of you! Trapped here to await your doom. Oh, I don't know why I didn't do this earlier...."
"Great," the Pink Ranger growled in what Mark recognised as an unmistakable Australian accent. "This is really great. Some rescue this turned out to be."
"Any brilliant ideas?" the Green Ranger asked dismally. Mark fought a smile. Adam....
"Who knows?" the Blue Ranger grumbled. "I dont know why we bother anymore..."
By then it was a struggle for Mark not to laugh, as he pieced it together. Tommy was Red, Kat was Pink, Tanya was Yellow, Adam was Green and Rocky was Blue.... He'd known there was something about them, he just hadn't been able to place it.
"Why don't you guys take your helmets off so we can talk this over properly?" Mark asked, and the request bought him five silent stares. Mark sighed. "I am not stupid. I can recognise voices. It's something you learn to do. Besides, I think you owe me for knowing my secrets. I'm sure Tommy and Jason spilled the beans by now. Right, Tommy?"
There was another long silence, then the Red Ranger sighed heavily and pulled his helmet off. A moment later, the others followed suit.
Mark nodded his appreciation. "Thankyou. Now we can focus on getting out of here."
"I don't see how," Rocky muttered.
Mark eyed him curiously. "I don't see how you guys could get anywhere, with negativity like that. Now, listen, I think I can get us out of here. It's just going to take some time."
"Time is what we don't have," Tommy pointed out.
"We have just under an hour," Mark replied. "That's how long Zedd was going to give me to consider his bargain."
"Bargain?" Adam echoed. "That's what he took you for?"
"More specifically," Mark told them, "because he wanted me to help him bring down the Machine Empire... and destroy all of you. I planned to tell him to take a running jump anyway, but I asked to think it over to buy myself some time."
"Why you?" Tommy wanted to know, as did the rest of them.
Mark hesitated, then spoke softly. "Things are rarely what they seem. There is usually something hiding just beneath every surface." He looked around at each of them. "What if I told you I was not born on this planet?"
Silence fell, and then Kat spoke nervously. "What are you talking about?"
"I was born in transit between this world and another. My people come from a planet called Aareth. It was destroyed in a natural disaster years ago, and only a handful of us escaped. My people were renowned for the many types of psychic power they wielded, but also for their reputation as a peaceful race. Every disagreement or fight my people entered in to was settled without bloodshed."
"Psychic power...?" Tommy echoed. "Are you saying..."
Mark folded his arms slowly across his chest. "That's right. I won't waste time explaining anything else to you. There's no time. As I said, I can get us out of here, but I need more energy than I myself have. That's where you five come in. I need you to concentrate your power to me, and I'll use it to free us."
"Are you sure?" Tommy asked in concern. "You wouldn't be hurting yourself?"
Mark eyed Tommy curiously, on the verge of asking whether Tommy even cared. He bit back the thought. "I have to take the chance. Otherwise, we arent going to get out."
Tommy conceded, as he and the others put their helmets back on. "All right. Just give the signal, bro."
Again, Mark spared Tommy a curious glance, then settled back against the wall and shut his eyes. Several seconds passed, and then a single word echoed deep in their minds.
One by one, the rangers concentrated their power, until a glow of multi-coloured light filled the cavern. Then, even as they concentrated, the glow got stronger....
* * *
Zedd stiffened as he stood outside the Winnebago. Something was happening....
"What is it, Zeddy?" Rita asked. Zedd turned around slowly, not answering. _No,_ he thought. _It couldnt be. The boy wasn't strong enough...._
It was, though. He knew, even as he felt the vibrations. With an angry growl, he vanished, teleporting himself back to the cavern in the Dimension of Darkness.
By the time Zedd arrived, the light was brilliant and blinding. He was forced back, unable to see through it. Then, suddenly, it faded as quickly as it had appeared. Zedd was finally able to look again, and his fears were confirmed. The rangers... and his other prize... were gone.
* * *
They reappeared in Angel Grove Park, six teens huddled together close. Realising where they were, they quickly separated, looking around to see that no one had noticed. They were lucky; there was no one else in sight.
"That was one of our better escapes," Rocky commented as he and the other powered down. Tommy nodded.
"That's for sure. Not like when we got trapped in Gaskets arena. I thought we were done for, then..."
"Cmon," Adam urged them. "Lets get back to the Power Chamber. Before something else happens."
Mark spoke up suddenly, his gaze fixed on a point beyond the rangers. "Something else just did."
They all looked around to see numerous men in unfamiliar uniforms emerge into the clearing to surround them, each one carrying a rifle of some sort. There was nearly twenty men, and they were led by two figures familiar to Mark.
"You were right, Kaa," J'boath said with a tight smile. "All we had to do was wait, and the Power Rangers would bring him to us."
Kaa nodded calmly. "How often have I tried to tell you that patience is sometimes better than a hot temper?"
"Who are these guys?" Tanya whispered, eyeing the guns with fear. Mark spoke tensely.
"Spectran soldiers. They've come for me. Let me do the talking." He moved forward. "All right," he said grimly. "You've got me cornered. Let them go."
J'boath laughed softly. "You have a good sense of humour, Commander. I'm sorry, we have our orders."
"They aren't part of this fight!" Mark yelled. Kaa lifted his weapon to aim it directly at the sixteen year-old.
"They are, now. However, you can save them from immediate death if you come quietly. You know we cannot harm you, but we can certainly harm them. And, you yourself know what it is like to lie in hospital for weeks at a time, too frightened to go to sleep in case you don't wake up."
Mark shivered, and realised his hands were trembling. He was about to concede, when he heard Tommy speak behind him.
"We don't have to take this. Ready guys? Its morphing time!" Neither Kaa nor Jboath were willing to wait and find out whether Kaa's speculation over the uniforms was true. Lifting their rifles, and shouting for their men to do the same, they opened fire on the teens.
"Down!" Mark yelled, reacting with the precision timing that had saved his life so many times. Tommy and Adam went down fast, taking Kat and Tanya with them. Rocky was not so lucky. As he dropped to the ground, he felt something strike him hard in the right shoulder. There was an instant of fiery pain through his upper body, and then everything went black.
Kaa strode forward, eyeing the teens that lay frozen on the ground. "I trust," he snarled, "that that will be the end of your heroics?" He paused, then crouched down beside Tommy and grabbed a fistful of the boy's long hair, forcing him to look up. "Is it?"
Tommy croaked out an affirmative. Kaa nodded and released him from his grip. "Good."
The lieutenant straightened up and looked back to one soldier. "Go back, and tell his Lordship that we have them."
The soldier ran off to carry out his orders. Kaa then went to Mark and ordered him up.
"You should have done as you were told, Mark. You could have avoided all of this. Once again, you are responsible for the pain of others."
Mark clenched his fists at his sides. "This had nothing to do with them. It was only between us."
"But you made it necessary to bring them into it," Kaa pointed out. "You know that's true. So do they."
"No!" Adam protested from where he lay. "That's not true! Mark, don't listen..."
Adam's cry ended abruptly when one soldier struck him viciously over the head with the butt of his rifle, knocking the boy out cold.
"See?" Kaa said with a cruel smile. "Another one down." Mark looked away from Kaa, and that was when he saw it. Nearby, Rocky lay face-down on the ground, disturbingly still. Just beneath him, blood was seeping slowly across the ground, forming a dark patch. Rocky had been shot....
Kaa saw as well, and chuckled softly. "It looks as though we've done Mondo a favour."
Mark started to move backwards, only to stop when Kaa prodded at him with his rifle.
"No, don't move, Commander. Just leave him." The bushes nearby parted, then, and the soldier returned, accompanied by a figure that Mark knew only too well.
Zoltar approached slowly, scanning the scene with moderate interest. Five teens on the ground, one shot, one probably with a severe concussion...
"Well done, Kaa," Zoltar remarked dryly. "You managed to take casualties."
Kaa knew Zoltars dry humour, and allowed himself a small smile. "It was the least we could do, sire."
"Yes," Zoltar said. "Apparently." He looked back to Mark. "You thought you could escape me, didn't you?"
Mark managed to shrug. "I tried."
"Not very successfully. Now, you've provided me with prisoners. How thoughtful."
Mark bit back his anger. If only he had his transmitter.... "Zoltar, let them go, please. I... I'm begging you."
Zoltar stared at the boy in amusement. "Begging me? There must be something special about these brats, then."
"Please," Mark pleaded. "Haven't you taken enough lives? I'll go with you, you can do what you like to me, but let them go!"
"My boy," Zoltar said with a laugh, "I intended to do what I liked to you regardless. Please, begging is so undignified."
He stepped back, eyeing the prone rangers with distaste. "However, hostages do present problems that I don't need...." He made a sweeping motion with his hand. "Kill them."
Zoltar froze, then looked slowly back to Mark. "What did you call me?"
Tears filled Mark's eyes, but he forced himself to say it again. "Father. I called you Father."
Zoltar turned back to the boy, signaling the soldiers to hold their fire. "What are you trying to do, blackmail me? I could kill you here and now!"
"You could," Mark conceded, "but you won't. You know you won't." Zoltar's upper lip curled slightly in an angry snarl. As much as he hated to admit it, Mark was right.
"Why are they worth saving, Mark? Give me one reason."
"Because they're my friends."
Zoltar laughed at that. "That alone is reason for their execution."
"Please," Mark whispered. "I'm not asking as an enemy. I'm asking as your son. Don't kill them. Just leave them. Please...."
The tears had begun to fall even before he realised it. Zoltar stared at the boy in fury, fury because he realised he could no longer carry out the task. Something in his son's plea had touched a remote, warm corner of his cold heart, and he simply could not do it. Finally, he stepped back.
"You've won this time. Watch over your shoulder, my son. You never know when I'll be there, waiting for you in the shadows." He paused, then drew a small automatic gun from his cloak. "Another scar, to remember this by."
He fired once, then turned and fled back into the park. Kaa, J'boath and the soldiers all followed, and soon the area was clear.
Tommy, Kat and Tanya all looked up just in time to see Mark fall to his knees, clutching his stomach in obvious pain. Scrambling to his feet, Tommy ran to his foster brothers aid.
"Mark... Oh god..."
"I'm okay..." Mark said through clenched teeth. "He wasn't aiming to kill. Just to wound. See to Rocky. He's in a bad way."
Tommy went to the Blue Ranger, his heart pounding in his chest. Being as careful as he could, he rolled his friend over to discover a pool of blood nearly half Rocky's size.
"Rocky...." Tommy whispered as he searched desperately for some sign of life. "C'mon, buddy... Don't do this to me...."
He finally found a pulse, weak but definitely there. Silently thanking God, he gathered Rocky carefully up in his arms and spoke into his communicator.
"Billy, this is Tommy. Teleport us to Angel Grove Memorial, now." He hesitated, then said the words that he had hoped he would never need to say. "We've got casualties."
* * *
They arrived at a point close to the hospital, and found themselves in difficulties, because Tommy, Tanya and Kat were the only ones fit to walk. Rocky and Adam were both unconscious, and Mark was laid out on the ground from his own wound.
Laying Rocky down carefully on the grass, Tommy spoke anxiously. "Billy, we really need you down here."
"I'm on my way," came the reply. Billy appeared less than a minute later, and immediately went to Mark's side, while the girls tried to lift Adam between them. "Can you get up?" Billy asked, trying not to look at all the blood.
Mark swallowed, but his throat was dry. "I... I think so.... With some help...." Billy nodded and helped Mark up, letting the younger boy lean heavily on him for support. Then, the group began to move slowly towards the hospital.
* * *
Dr Andrew Davis was taking a rare moment to relax in the ER of Angel Grove Memorial when something happened that he would never have expected in Angel Grove. Four teenagers came in, two boys and two girls. The girls were struggling under the weight of an unconscious boy, while one of the boys had another boy slung across his shoulders. The fourth teen was helping a slightly younger boy to walk.
"Help...." Kat gasped, and some orderlies ran over to help. The girls were relieved of the burden, as were Tommy and Billy. Davis came over to see what was the matter. He expected it to be three cases of heatstroke, due to the hot weather. He was very, very wrong. "Shot...?" he gasped in shock as he looked down at Rocky.
One of the orderlies spoke grimly as he guided Mark onto a gurney. "This one, too, Doc. Bullet wound to the stomach."
"Christ...." Davis muttered. He took a quick look at Mark, and immediately judged Rocky as critical. "Okay, can we have some help over here?" he called, and the ER team ran over to help.
Another doctor who joined them paused to look at Adam, and at the heavy bruising developing on the boy's scalp. "Okay, get this one upstairs to X-ray, stat!" He then went to deal with Mark.
* * *
Tommy, Billy, Kat and Tanya fell back, watching with mild shock as their friends were taken care of. Finally Billy turned and headed for the door. "We might as well go to the waiting room. Theres nothing we can do here."
The others followed slowly.
"We'll have to call Rocky's parents," Kat said as they sat down in the waiting room. "Adam's, too."
"And my dad..." Tommy said dimly. He winced as he sat back. Now that the adrenaline and the shock was starting to wear off, he was aware of a throbbing pain in his back that was gradually getting worse....
Kat looked at him in concern. "Tommy, are you all right? You look really pale...."
Tommy didn't answer. The pain was getting worse, to the point where he could no longer ignore it.
Billy frowned and started forward to ask what was wrong, when Tommy suddenly shuddered and lost consciousness, sliding out of the seat and to the floor. It was then that they saw it; blood soaking the dark red material of his shirt. They had not noticed it before, but they saw it now. Tommy had been shot as well...
"Oh no..." Kat whimpered.
Tanya looked up and called frantically for the nurse. The young male nurse ran over, took one look at the wound, and went to get help. Within minutes, Tommy had been taken from their sight, leaving just the three of them alone in the oddly silent waiting room.
Donavon Scott looked up from his paperwork as the study door slid open, and Jason looked in. "Dad, can I talk to you?"
"Sure. Come in and have a seat."
Jason went in and carefully shut the sliding door behind him. "I need to ask you something. It's about Mark."
Donavon raised an eyebrow curiously. "Tommy's foster brother? What about him?"
"Dad... We know who he is."
The curiosity and amusement died from Donavon's face. "Oh? Care to let me in on the secret?"
"You already know. You knew long before we found out."
Donavon put his pen down on the desk and sat back in his armchair. "You have my complete attention. Please explain what you're talking about."
"Well, the night you talked to Mark, Tommy and I had a transceiver set up in the study. We heard the call you let Mark make. We know he's the Commander of G. Force, Dad."
Donavon glanced towards the door, then spoke in a much softer voice. "Taken to eavesdropping, have you?" Jason went red with embarrassment, and Donavon sighed. "I'm sorry, that was below the belt. Yes, the truth is I've known Mark for nearly five years. Do you remember, back about five years ago, when I went to Washington D.C. on urgent business? I was gone for four months."
Jason nodded. "I know all about it. Mark told me when I showed him the scrapbook I brought back from Geneva."
"Then I'd say you don't need any more answers, son."
"Wait," Jason said quickly. "There's something else. Dad, something's happened. Mark took off from Tommy's place...."
"The social worker showed up. She said that Mark's father had gotten custody of Mark and she was to take him home."
Donavon struggled to get a grip on his nerves. "You mean his guardian, don't you?"
"That's what Tommy said Mark's reaction was," Jason told his father. "No, it's his father. Not guardian. The social worker made that really clear. Anyway, Tommy said that Mark went really stiff, and he went back into their room, and went straight out the window." Jason faltered, seeing the deathly shade of white his father had gone. "Dad, what's wrong?"
"Phone..." Donavon said hoarsely. "I have to call Anderson..." He snatched up the phone and quickly dialed a memorized number. It was picked up almost immediately at the other end.
"Hello?" a voice said that was laced with exhaustion.
Donavon spoke quickly, straining to keep his voice level. "Anderson, it's Donavon Scott."
On the other end of the line, Chief Anderson sat up quickly. "Donavon? What's wrong?"
"Plenty, I'm sure. Mark's father has made a claim for him. According to my son, a social worker showed up at the Oliver place today to take him home to his father. Mark panicked, and ran. Now, he's missing."
Jason stood up slowly as the conversation between his father the faceless person on the other end continued. It was possible the others had rescued Mark from Zedd and Rita by now. Maybe.... His communicator beeped suddenly, startling him back to reality. He drew in a ragged breath, then shook his head to clear it and began to back towards the door. All of a sudden, his father was there beside him, one hand firmly on the door to keep it shut.
"Where are you going, Jason?"
"I... I just remembered" Jason stammered. "I... I have to... ah..." He was at a total loss, and finally fell into a deflated silence.
Donavon leaned against the door, staring hard at his only son. "How about you let me in on a few secrets yourself, Jason? Starting with that piece of metal around your wrist."
An hour later....
"Jason!" Billy called out to the former Gold Ranger as he ran into the waiting room, followed closely by his father. "Where have you been?"
Jason looked upset and guilty. "Got caught out. I had some explaining to do."
Donavon grimaced. "And frankly, I wasn't surprised by any of it. Not even by Zordon. What's happened, Billy?"
Billy stared at Donavon in momentary shock and confusion, but then it wore off and he spoke softly, not wanting to upset Kat and Tanya any worse than they already were. "I wasn't there, I only saw it through the viewing globe. They got Mark out of the Dimension of Darkness.... or Mark got them all out. I don't know which it was. They landed in the park, but they were ambushed by Spectran soldiers. Tommy and the team tried to morph, but the soldiers opened fire on them. Rocky was shot. So was Tommy, but we didn't discover that until we'd gotten here. Adam was knocked out by one of the the soldiers that were there. He's just got a concussion, but the doctors are keeping him in overnight to make certain he's all right."
"What about Mark?" Jason asked tensely.
Billy looked dazed as he spoke. "I saw it in the viewing globe I still don't understand. Mark didn't do anything. He didn't move, didn't attack, didn't try to run.... but Zoltar still shot him. He just shot him...."
Donavon moaned softly. Three teens shot in one day. The media was going to go off its hinges... "Has anyone contacted Tommy, Adam and Rocky's folks?" he asked.
Billy nodded. "Yes. They'll be here soon. Jason, how are we going to explain this?"
Jason shook his head helplessly. For the first time that Jason could remember, Billy was confused, and that made Jason feel confused as well. For once, none of them had an answer to their problems.
Donavon placed a reassuring hand on each boy's shoulder. "I think you'd better leave the explanations to me. I'll tell them the truth about Mark. I'll simply explain to them how they were in the park, and the kids just got caught in the middle when the Spectrans came for Mark. They don't need to know anymore than that."
Jason sighed with relief. "Thanks, Dad."
"What are fathers for?" Donavon asked, a twinkle in his eye.
* * *
Jason, Billy, Kat and Tanya all retreated back to the Power Chamber the first chance they had, to escape the exhausting questions of the adults, and Tommy's father, in particular. They took the chance to have a few of their own questions answered. "Mark said he was from a planet called Aareth," Tanya said, vaguely recalling the explanation the commander had given.
Zordon nodded. "That is correct, Tanya. Although Mark is not directly from Aareth. The planet was destroyed before he was born. I should have known Zedd would notice Mark. I recognised his alien signature as soon as he came within the ranger of the Power Chambers computers. There are few of his people left, but those who still live bear great power, as you have seen in Mark."
"Mark said something else," Kat said tentatively. "When Zoltar told his soldiers to kill us... He said 'father, wait'. What did he mean by that?"
Jason knew. "Zoltar is Mark's father. Mark was right. I didn't understand. We talked, after Tommy and I found out who he was and Mark said there was more to it than anyone knew. That's what he meant. It isn't just a straight fight anymore, between G. Force and Spectra. Not like it is with us and the Machine Empire. Mark isn't just fighting an enemy. He's fighting his own father."
Tanya moaned and buried her face in her hands. "Why do I feel like I'm suddenly in the middle of a Star Wars movie?"
Billy had to smile at the similarities. "That's probably how it feels to Mark.... If he's ever seen The Empire Strikes Back, and Return Of The Jedi."
"Well," Jason murmured, "if nothing else, I think we finally found out what it's like for G. Force."
"Baptism of fire," Kat whispered, staring at her friends through a thin film of tears. "Isn't that what it's called?"
"We learned the hard way," Billy agreed. "Tommy, Rocky and Adam, especially. Let's do our best to make sure no one else has to go the same way."
The others nodded their agreement, and they fell into a long, but understanding silence.
* * *
A couple of hours later, they returned to the hospital to find that Tommy, Rocky and Mark had all come through surgery safely. Rocky, they were told, would be in Critical Care for the next forty-eight hours or so, but the doctor believed he would be all right. Tommy and Mark had both suffered flesh wounds. The bullets had gone through, but done no serious damage. They were in Recovery, and would be put in a ward within the next hour.
The parents had all been told exactly what Donavon had said he would tell them, and the explanation had been accepted, if a tad reluctantly. Finally, when the parents had all gone to see their respective sons, Jason pulled his father aside to talk to him. "Dad, what's going to happen to Mark now?"
"I spoke to Chief Anderson again while you were out. He's on his way here now. It turns out that everything had been sorted out nearly a week previous to this, but Spectran operatives kept throwing a spanner in the works to buy themselves time to get to Mark. The social worker, Janine Watson, turned out to an operative herself. She had actually been given orders to take Mark to the airport and put him on the first plane back to Washington D. C., but instead she said she was to take him to his father... and you know the rest."
Jason grimaced. Mondo would never have gone to so much trouble to get to any of them, he was sure of it. Donavon put an arm around his son's shoulders and gave him a quick hug.
"Everything's managed to work itself out. Pretty soon, Mark will be back where he belongs, and things will be back to normal here" He trailed off, eyeing his sons communicator. "Well," he conceded, "as normal as they could ever be for Angel Grove."
Jason laughed and, in that moment, he felt that everything could be all right after all.
Epilogue Two weeks later....
Tommy sat on his bed in silence, watching as Mark packed the last of his clothes and zipped up the suitcase. It was two weeks after the incident in the park that had nearly gotten the entire ranger team killed, and both he and Mark were healing up well. Mark, Tommy reflected wryly, seemed to be healing up faster than himself, although whether that was due to alien heritage or experience, Tommy didn't know.
"Got everything?" he asked finally, and Mark nodded.
"Yeah, I think so." He paused for just a moment to rub his stomach gingerly, then reached down and picked the suitcase up, ready to leave. Tommy got up quickly, wanting to speak before it was too late to say anything.
"Just a second, Mark. I've got to say this. I don't want you to leave without us sorting out everything that happened. You know what I mean?"
"You don't have to explain yourself," Mark told him gently. "Tommy, a lot of people feel that way. It's a hard fact of life that I just have to live with. I shouldn't have taken it out on you... It's just that you happened to be a convenient target."
Tommy had to smile. "I guess I was, wasn't I? Look, I've changed my mind. I'm allowed to do that, aren't I?"
"You are," Mark confirmed, returning Tommy's smile.
Tommy nodded. "Well, I was wrong. I'm admitting it. I really didn't understand what it was all about before, and I didn't had any right to judge. I'm sorry, Mark. I hope you can forgive me for it."
Mark sighed and put the suitcase down carefully on the floor. "There's nothing to forgive, Tommy. There really isn't. People can't be faulted for having an opinion. Especially when it was probably coerced by the media to begin with."
Tommy stared at his foster brother in wonder. "You might only be sixteen, but right now you sound like you're a hell of a lot older."
"You age quicker in a war," Mark murmured. "Maybe not physically, but you do age. Sometimes I feel like I'm so old that I can hardly stand up."
Tommy hesitated, then spoke cautiously. "Promise me you wont flip out if I do something?"
"Depends on what it is," Mark said.
Tommy waited another moment, then strode forward and threw his arms around Mark in a tight embrace. Mark stiffened for just a moment, startled by Tommy's actions, before finally relaxing and allowing himself to be hugged.
Finally, Tommy pulled back and, grinning broadly, clapped Mark on the shoulder. "C'mon. Let's send you home."
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, after a tearful goodbye on the part of Tommy's mother, Mark sat in the backseat of a taxi, on his way to Angel Grove's airport with Security Chief Anderson. "Feeling okay?" Anderson asked, glancing towards the thick gauze that was visible just beneath Marks shirt.
Mark smiled and, although he was tired, it was a genuine smile that reached his blue eyes. "Actually, I'm feeling pretty damn good. I'm going home, aren't I?"
Anderson laughed softly. "Yes, you are. The rest of the team will be glad to see you. They've been home for two weeks, after all."
Mark smiled wryly. "And I had to go and get myself shot..."
"The things you'll do to get out of a patrol."
Mark laughed, not stopping even when pain shot through his stomach. "Oh yeah, not even Jason thought of that. I'm one up on him, finally."
Anderson merely shook his head, grateful to hear the old cheer back in Mark's voice. A comfortable silence fell for a while, until Mark spoke up quickly. "Can we make a detour? Stop by the hospital?"
Anderson looked at Mark in surprise. It was a well known fact that Mark hated hospitals with a vengeance, so for him to want to go to one.... He suddenly realised what it was. "You want to see Rocky?"
"Yeah. He's had it pretty hard the past two weeks. I just wanted to stop in and see him before we go. Who knows when I'll have a chance to come back here?"
"Fair enough," Anderson conceded, and ordered the driver to make the detour. Minutes later, Mark slipped out of the taxi and ran up the steps and into the hospital.
* * *
Rocky was channel surfing, and trying hard to stay conscious. The pain and medication had nothing to do with his exhaustion, but the sheer boredom did. He was just starting to lose the battle when a voice spoke into his ear.
"You know they do weird things to you in hospital when you fall asleep?"
Rocky jerked back into awareness, then grinned when he saw Mark beside him. "Well, how d'you think I ended up like this?" he joked. "Hey, I thought you were leaving today."
"I am. We're on our way to the airport now. This was sort of a last port of call. How are you feeling?"
Rocky rolled his eyes. "I've been shot in the chest. I've been in the hospital for two weeks, practically being force-fed that crap they call jello. How d'you think I feel?"
Mark chuckled. "Yeah, well, you get used to it after a while."
Rocky smile faltered for just a second as Marks words hit home, then he pushed his guilt to the bottom of his soul. "Better you than me."
Mark shook his head. "If you weren't laid up, I'd deck you for that one."
"Sure. You might be the Commander of G. Force, but I'm a blackbelt in karate. You wouldn't stand a chance." Rocky paused, then grinned. "'Course, we could find out for sure...."
"Are you challenging me?" Mark asked in amazement.
Rocky grinned deviously. "Next time you're near Angel Grove, stop by. You know where to find us. We can settle it on the sparring mat."
Mark stood still for a long moment, then a smile filtered back onto his face. "I might just take you up on that, Rocky."
"I'll be looking forward to it."
Mark laughed and headed for the door. "See you round, Bluey."
Rocky pulled a face at the nickname, then called after Mark. "Don't be stranger, okay?"
"I won't," Mark promised. He paused in the doorway for just a moment, then with a final glance in Rocky's direction, disappeared from sight around the corner.
Three months later....
"This was a good idea," Tommy remarked as he lounged on the soft grass up at the Angel Grove Lookout. "We haven't had a picnic for so long."
Rocky nodded. "Yeah," he said around a mouthful of food. "Good idea, Tanya."
The Yellow Ranger smiled. "Well, at least I know my cooking is appreciated."
Adam reached out and hugged her quickly, his cheeks flushing an adorable shade of red as he did so. "You know I appreciate you."
Tanya received his shy comment with a brilliant smile. Across the picnic blanket, Billy grinned. "Should we leave you two alone?" he teased. Adam flushed an even deeper shade of red, and this time so did Tanya.
They went back to eating, and enjoying the beautiful summer's day, when a strange sound reached their ears, like a low rumble that seemed to be coming from the sky.
"What's that....?" Jason muttered, and the rangers got quickly to their feet, looking all around, expecting trouble.
Eventually, Tommy spotted the cause of the disturbance. "Look!"
They turned and looked... and saw. Coming towards them, low in the sky, were two planes. One was awash in brilliant blue and red, and the other reflected the sun of a sliver-white surface. The silver-white plane was not even half the size of its red and blue counterpart, yet the two seemed to fit perfectly as they came through the clear sky.
"G. Force..." Tommy whispered. "It's Mark!" They watched as the two planes shot overhead in formation, then separated. As the Phoenix flew on, soon disappearing from sight, the smaller plane turned and flew back. It rolled as it reached the rangers, executing a perfect turn, seemingly acknowledging the teens that the performance had been meant for.
Silence reigned as they watched the plane pulled upwards and over, in an ineverted position for just a moment before rolling and righting itself. Then, as the plane passed over for the last time, Tommy lifted his right hand in a silent salute. The others hesitated, then followed his lead as the silver-white plane finally disappeared from sight into the horizon.
The seven teenagers stood in silence for a moment longer before exchanging smiles and returning to their picnic.