Disclaimer: All characters, names, references to Power Rangers, Zeo Rangers, etc, are copyrighted to Saban. They are used here without permission, for purposes not pertaining to financial gain, or any same such reason. This story is not to be copied or distributed without the permission of the author (namely, myself), however, I'm happy to see it go on the Internet (which is a major contradiction in terms, but we won't worry about that because no one will probably read this anyway). The same goes for all references to G. Force, and the like.
The plane roared across the sky, smoke and flames billowing out behind
it. The exterior of the craft, once red, blue and white, was now black
and charred, and looking as though it had come directly from Dante's Inferno.
It rocked in the sky, tilting from one side to the other, unsteady and
unstable. It looked ready to explode at any moment....
The pursuing craft were relentless, firing laser blasts at it in a continuous assault. Hit after hit wore away the plane's defenses, leaving it open and vulnerable to destruction. Finally, a single, continuous laser blast eroded away what was left of the plane's engines. There was a loud explosion, and the plane went into a steep dive, plummeting towards the Earth below....
* * *
It was a clear, warm day in Angel Grove. The local teens were taking advantage of the good weather, and enjoying themselves down at Ernie's Beach Club. One particular group sat around a table, talking and laughing amongst themselves, and mostly enjoying the peace and quiet that had reigned for the past few days.
"Three days," Adam moaned comically. "It can't last. Something's gonna happen soon. I can feel it."
"You are so negative!" Tanya chided him. "Maybe Mondo's decided he's had enough for a while."
Rocky grunted. "Yeah, and pigs might fly."
Kat rolled her eyes. "Like we haven't heard that one before. Look, let's just enjoy the peace while we have it. Okay?"
The others agreed, each one silently wondering how long the peace would last. Their silent questions were answered by a low rumble in the sky, followed closely by a tremendous explosion. The teens were all on their feet in an instant, looking around anxiously for the cause, each one expecting trouble.
"Look!" someone yelled, and they looked around to see what looked like a huge fireball plummet through the sky, disappearing from sight behind the huge pine trees in the park. A second later, the ground shook as the fireball impacted, and they all saw a huge spout of water catapult into the air.
"What the hell was that?" Jason gasped, stunned.
"Trouble," Tommy said grimly. "C'mon, guys. Let's go check it out."
The teens all nodded their agreement, and they left the Beach Club to go and investigate.
* * *
The five were trapped. The hull of the craft have caved in, and the cockpit was less than half its original size. Water poured in from different places, slowly filling the remaining space, and depleting much needed oxygen.
It was Princess, and she sounded panicked. Not surprising, Mark thought dimly, considering their predicament. He looked around, only to realise he couldn't see. The explosion, the one that had sent them into the waters of the lake, had left him blinded.
"I can't see you!" he yelled back, only to discover his yell was barely more than a whisper, and the effort burned his throat raw. A moment later, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"C'mon, we've gotta get out of here..."
"Where is everyone?" Mark asked hoarsely, coughing as water splashed in his face. "Tiny...?"
"Jason's helping Princess. Keop's right here. C'mon, Mark, you have to get up!"
Mark shuddered and allowed Tiny to pull him to his feet. A second later, the craft lurched violently, and they were all thrown into the rising water. For a split second, Mark panicked himself, unable to locate the surface. Then, a hand grabbed his arm and pulled, and he could breathe again.
"C'mon," Jason's voice said to him grimly. "Before we all drown." Relying on Jason for support and guidance, Mark allowed himself to be led towards the exit.
* * *
"Oh my god..."
Kat's exclamation echoed the shock that all the rangers felt. There, sitting out in the middle of the lake, was the burnt and half-crushed hull of a plane that was twice the size of any one of the zords. Tommy took a step forward. There was something strangely familiar about that plane.... He couldn't place it, and decided it wasn't worth the time to figure it out.
"C'mon," he said to the others. "There might be someone still alive in there. Let's get them out."
Without waiting for a response, Tommy dove into the lake and struck out for the downed craft. A moment later, the others followed.
* * *
"It's not opening!" Tiny gasped, feeling frightened. "Jason, I can't get it open!"
Jason looked around anxiously. The water was rising fast, and they had only a few minutes before there was no air left.
"C'mon, Tiny! Use your damned strength! You're always bragging about how strong you are...."
Tiny shuddered, his head spinning as he fought off the immense pain that pounded his chest and skull.
He groaned as it became too much, and fell away from the hatch, barely able to keep his head above water. Jason looked at Keop, the only other member of the team who was even reasonably lucid.
"I'll try," Keop whispered, "but I don't know if I'm strong enough."
"Just try," Jason begged as he struggled to keep Mark above the rising water level. "We'll all drown, otherwise..."
Keop gritted his teeth and turned his attention to the sealed hatch, determined to get it open before they were all killed.
* * *
"Over here," Rocky said as he pulled himself out of the water and onto the part of the plane that was above water level. "There's a hatch here."
The others clambered around, and Tommy was half-angry to see Jason had come out as well.
"What the hell are you doing? You should've stayed on shore!" Jason glowered at Tommy. "Reprimand me later, Tommy. We've gotta get this open."
Tommy turned his attention back to the hatch and saw immediately that it would be useless to try and force it open as they were. The hatch was virtually welded shut.
"Okay, we've gotta morph, or whoever is in here is gonna die. Jase, keep a lookout for us."
Jason scrambled to the topmost point and looked around quickly. "You're clear."
"Tommy?" Kat asked in concern. He knew what she was thinking. "This isn't against the rules. It's not for personal gain. And if Zordon wants to hold that against us, then screw it. I'll take responsibility. Now... It's morphing time!"
Jason watched longingly as his friends morphed, silently wishing he could still do so. No point moping, he thought sadly. He at least had had one last chance, even if it had only been temporary...
His thoughts trailed off as something caught his eye, and he scraped away some of the black char to reveal a streak of blue and red on the surface of the craft. There was only one plane he knew of that was blue and red, and as big as this. Realisation struck hard, and Jason spoke in panic.
"Tommy! It's the Phoenix! This is G. Force's plane!" Tommy stared at Jason for a moment, then yanked out his Zeo laser. "Everyone, get back," he ordered.
They all fell back, and Tommy opened fire, blasting the hatch with maximum power. The laser seared a hole in the metal, just big enough to see through. Tommy leaned over, peering in, but all he could see was water, so dark it was almost black.
"Everyone, together!" Tommy yelled. "We've gotta make this big enough to get through!"
They all fired their lasers together, creating a hole large enough for two people to get through. Tommy looked back grimly at his friends.
"Deep breath, guys."
He then slid through the hatch, and into the black water.
* * *
Keop lost consciousness from the effort of trying to force the hatch, and sank beneath the water. Only Jason was left, semi-conscious, and trying desperately to support his now unconscious commander.
"C'mon, Mark," he moaned as the water rushed in. "You gotta get us out of here...."
Water flooded over their heads, and all thoughts of escape or rescue faded from the sixteen year-old's mind.
* * *
Tommy made contact almost immediately with an arm, and he grabbed hold, not letting go. The power suits, Tommy realised with relief, allowed for breathing in underwater conditions, giving them all the time they needed for the rescue. Adam had followed him through the hatch straight away, and he, in turn, had been followed by Kat, Tanya and Rocky. Once the way was clear, Tommy hauled his charge up towards the opening, and into the fresh air.
Jason was there, waiting to grab the motionless form that Tommy had rescued, and pull him out onto the surface of the plane.
"The Power Chamber," Tommy said breathlessly. "Call Zordon..." Jason quickly activated his communicator as Tommy turned to help Adam pull a second body out of the plane's crushed cockpit.
"Zordon, this is Jason. Come in..."
"We read you, Jason. Alpha is setting up a teleportation beam now. Stand by."
A moment past, and then the first one rescued vanished in a flash of white light. A moment later, he was followed by the second one.
Kat appeared, pulling up a much smaller figure, a child no older than twelve or thirteen. Tommy lifted the child out, and he was teleported away even before Tommy had the chance to put him down.
Rocky appeared next, hauling up a boy of massive proportions, and it took Tommy and Adam both to get him out. He soon vanished as well, leaving just Tanya to come.
She reappeared shortly after Rocky, supporting a girl of her own age. "That's all," Tommy said as he pulled her out, letting Adam help Tanya out of the water. "There's only five of them."
The girl disappeared, and the rangers looked grimly at each other. "C'mon," Tommy said breathlessly. He reached over to grasp Jason's shoulder.
"Let's get to the Power Chamber."
They activated their communicators, and the six teens vanished in a streak of rainbow light.
* * *
Billy glanced up as the rangers materialized in the Power Chamber and hurried over, still dripping wet.
"You guys might want to dry off. Towels are over there." Tommy collected a towel, then came back to look at the five motionless figures on the cots.
"Are they... you know... alive?"
"Yes," Billy replied as he checked the vitals of the child. "They're alive. They're all hurt, though. I'd say you got to them just in time."
Kat had come over, and was crouching down next to a boy cloaked almost entirely in white, except for blue boots and gloves, and a red phoenix emblazoned across his chest.
"Mark...." she whispered. "Tommy, it's Mark!" Tommy went over, and groaned silently at the sight of his former foster brother. "We've gotta get them out of these uniforms. But how...?"
Jason hesitated where he stood by another member of the team, a muscular boy whom he guessed was the other Jason that Mark had once told him about. He crouched down, then reached out and carefully removed the transmitter from the boy's wrist.
All the rangers were forced to shield their eyes as the Power Chamber was suddenly lit up by a near-blinding light. When they could see again, the boy was no longer in uniform, but in a pair of tattered jeans and T-shirt. Jason looked around at the rangers. "I'd say that's how to do it. Better shut our eyes, take the others off all at the same time."
Tommy nodded, and reached over to close his hand over Mark's transmitter. Adam, Tanya and Rocky did the same with the other four members of G. Force.
"On the count of three, everyone shield your eyes. One... Two... Three!"
There was a massive flash of light that rapidly faded away, leaving all the unconscious teens in similarly styled clothing, all torn and pretty much useless as far as body coverage went. Tanya shuddered as the rips in the clothing revealed multiple wounds.
"Oh god, they're hurt...."
Alpha shuffled over. "We can take care of them, now, rangers."
"Will they be all right?" Tommy asked anxiously.
Billy nodded. "I think so. As I said, you got to them just in time. You all need to help, though."
Tommy looked at the others, then consented. "Just tell us what to do."
Some hours later....
The five members of G. Force were all out of danger, and sleeping comfortably on the cots. Billy's only concern was with Mark, who he had discovered had burns and bruising on and around the eyes. While he tended to the young commander, the others wandered between the other four. Tanya paused by the youngest.
"He's so young," she said softly. "How can they let someone so young fight like this?"
Adam shrugged as he joined her. "Who knows? There must be a reason."
"That was close," Tommy said tiredly from where he sat on the floor. "Another minute or so, and they probably would have drowned."
Jason joined him, sitting down beside him and leaning back against the wall. "Someone was after them. Must have been Spectra."
"Someone got them," Tommy growled. "Someone got them good. Man, I've never seen a crash like that."
"We got there ahead of anyone else," Kat said quietly. "When the authorities search the plane at the area, they'll probably think no one survived."
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Tommy muttered. "Let's just make sure they'll all be all right, first. Billy, hows Mark?"
Billy stepped back. "Do you want an honest answer?" Tommy frowned and got up. "Yes. What is it?" The former Blue Ranger hesitated, then spoke in a distinctly soft voice. "Tommy, I think he's blind."
* * *
"How?" Tommy demanded later, when Billy finally finished treating the injured boy. Billy shrugged.
"I don't know, exactly. All I can say is that the corneas in both eyes have been burned. I don't know how badly, and I don't know if the damage is permanent."
"Damn...." Tommy muttered.
"It must have been that explosion we heard," Adam said. "That one before the Phoenix crashed."
"So what do we do?" Rocky asked. "Keep them here, or take them to hospital?"
"I do not believe that it would be beneficial to remove them from the Power Chamber," Zordon said in a grim voice. "Observe the viewing globe."
They all turned to look, and saw an image of Angel Grove Memorial Hospital. The place was crawling with disguised cogs....
"The hospital is also occupied by numerous Spectran soldiers," Zordon went on to say. "They are no doubt awaiting the arrival of G. Force at the hospital."
Tommy sighed. "I guess that settles it. They stay here."
"I'm gonna go and tell my dad," Jason said. "He'll be able to call Chief Anderson, and at least let him know they're all safe. Just in case anything goes on the news."
"Okay," Tommy murmured. "Listen, maybe everyone had better go home. Before our folks call the police."
"What about you?" Kat asked. Tommy shook his head. "I'll call my folks, tell them I'm staying at Billy's place, or something. Is that okay with you, Billy?"
Billy nodded. "That's fine."
Rocky spoke indignantly. "Well, if you're staying, then so am I." Tommy held his breath for a second. He was tired, and he didn't need an argument...
"Look, we'll take turns to wait it out here. Okay? I'll go first, and Rocky, you can come and relieve me in four or five hours. All right?"
Rocky was appeased by the suggestion and teleported out, too tired to put up a real argument. The others soon followed, leaving just Tommy, Billy and Jason.
"I thought you said you were going home," Tommy grumbled, not meaning to sound so harsh. Jason ignored it.
"I am. Just..." He shook his head. "Never mind." He nodded to Alpha, and the little robot activated the beam, sending Jason out of the Power Chamber in a streak of white light.
* * *
"Jason? Is that you?"
Jason rolled his eyes at his mother's voice as he walked in the front door.
"Yeah, Mum, it's me. Where's Dad?"
"I'm right here," Donavon Scott said, appearing in the doorway to his study. His eyed his son critically. "What happened to you? You're a mess."
"Something happened. Can we talk?"
Donavon ushered Jason into the study. "What's wrong?"
"Well, everyone was at the Beach Club today, and something crashed into the lake. We all thought it was a meteor, or something, to start with, and me and the guys went to check it out. It turned out to be a plane, not a meteor."
Donavon was horrified. "A plane crashed in the lake? Did you call the police? The rescue squad?"
"We didn't have time. Dad, it was the Phoenix." Donavon froze, his face draining of colour. "What?"
"The Phoenix," Jason repeated. "G. Force. We got them out... Well, the others got them out, and we took them to the Power Chamber. They'll be okay, but we couldn't take them to hospital because there was a whole heap of cogs and Spectran soldiers around the place. So, they're still in the Power Chamber. I thought you might want to call Chief Anderson, and let him know they're okay."
"Yes, of course... Jason, did anyone see you rescue them?"
"No. Well, I don't think so. I was watching at first, but then I started helping them get them out, and I wasn't paying much attention after that. But no one saw when the others morphed, so if anyone looked after that, they probably would have only seen me...."
Jason trailed off, suddenly uneasy. "You don't think someone might...."
"That's exactly what I'm thinking," Donavon growled. "We'll worry about that later. We'll have dinner now, then I'll call Chief Anderson, and then we two are going to make a little trip to the Power Chamber."
Later that evening....
Tommy was fast asleep on a cot in the corner when Jason arrived in the Power Chamber with his father. Jason stared at his friend for a moment, then looked over at Billy.
"He should go home."
Billy shrugged. "He'd kill me if I sent him home. He's too worried about Mark to leave."
Donavon looked around at the five unconscious teens in dismay. "Good god.... Please, Billy, tell me they're all right."
Billy sighed as he slumped against a control panel. "They've all got severe injuries probably sustained in impact. It's nothing that won't heal, given time, of course. It's Mark that I'm worried about. His eyes have suffered some damage. I don't know whether it's irreparable, and we can't get them to the hospital because both Spectran soldiers and Mondo's cogs are waiting there."
"We're in a deadlock" Donavon murmured. "Zordon, can't they be teleported to Washington, to Trinity Hospital?"
"We have tried teleportation beyond Angel Grove," Zordon confirmed. "Something is blocking the signals, and it is beyond our capabilities to do anything about it."
"Zoltar..." Donavon muttered to himself. "Damn it. Will they be all right here?"
"For now," Billy conceded. "We've got to figure out a way to get them out of Angel Grove sooner or later, though."
"But for now we just sit tight," Jason said. "Billy, you're wiped out. Go home. I'll take over here."
Donavon looked grim. "I'll go home and send Sarah to Jenny and Bruce's place in Stone Canyon," he thought aloud. "Then I may come back here...."
Jason took off his communicator and handed it to his father. "Here, use this to contact us when you're ready to come back."
Donavon nodded and Billy joined him in the centre of the floor. A moment later, they teleported out in a flash of white light. Jason stood there in silence for a long moment before going over and sitting down on a little fold-up chair to wait it out.
* * *
The first thing she became aware of was the glare of bright lights, and she had to shut her eyes again, the light too much to handle after so long in darkness. She turned her head a little, and winced at the pain in her neck. Instinct ruled, and she didn't try to move again.
Gradually, she became more aware, and her eyes became less sensitive to the lighting. Her eyes flickered open, and she found herself staring up at a ceiling that looked as though it was made of rock. Since when, she wondered, did hospitals have rock ceilings?
But she wasn't in hospital. That realisation dawned on her slowly, and she moaned softly as parts of the incident slowly came back to her. The conference... The crash... She remembered screaming for Mark, after seeing him on the floor with blood covering his face. Then Jason had been there to help her, and she had forgotten about Mark. The rest was a hopeless blur, and she couldn't remember any of it.
A hand touched her arm, and her eyes snapped open, the unexpected contact frightening her some.
"It's okay," a kind voice reassured her. "You're safe. Don't be scared...."
Princess shuddered a little, and managed to focus on the face of a boy a little older than herself.
"My name's Jason," he introduced himself.
Princess frowned, confused. "No... That's not right...."
Jason smiled faintly, understanding her confusion. "I'm another Jason," he explained. "You're Princess, aren't you?"
"Yeah," she mumbled, too tired to wonder how this stranger knew her.
Jason hesitated, then gently brushed a rogue strand of hair away from her face. The light touch seemed to have a soothing effect, so he kept it up, quietly stroking her forehead. "Don't worry," he whispered. "We're looking after you. I'm gonna look after you...."
She fell asleep, her distress eased. Jason remained by her side, staring down into her bruised face with a feeling of anger. Why, he wondered, would someone be so cruel to do this?
Jason looked back over his shoulder to see Tommy standing there, exhausted and only half-awake.
"Yeah," Jason replied, getting slowly to his feet. "She just woke up for a minute. Man, you ought to go home. You look wasted."
"Thanks," Tommy muttered. "Remind me to repay the compliment sometime."
"Don't be a moron," Jason retorted. "You can hardly stand up straight. At least go to Billy's place, for crying out loud...."
"Don't tell me what to do," Tommy growled.
Jason finally gave up. "Fine."
"Did you let your dad know?"
"Yeah, he's been here a couple of times. He called Chief Anderson after I told him. Tommy, Zordon said all teleportation signals beyond Angel Grove are being blocked...."
"I know. We tried to teleport them to Washington D.C., but we couldn't do it."
"Well, Dad thinks Zoltar's responsible." Tommy snorted in response.
"Sure. Like he'd be able to block all channels."
"The Spectran army is as well equipped, technologically speaking, as the Machine Empire," Zordon interrupted. "It is possible that they are responsible for the block, as much as King Mondo."
Tommy sighed. "Okay, maybe so. But does it really matter? They're stuck here no matter who's responsible."
Jason and Zordon both remained silent, neither one saying a word.
Some time later....
Mark came round slowly, and tried to open his eyes, only to discover that he couldn't. He moaned faintly, agitated by the material that seemed to be covering his eyes. A moment later, a strangely familiar voice spoke into his ear.
"Take it easy, Mark. You're safe. Don't panic, bro." Mark lay frozen for a moment before the voice registered in his memory. "Tommy?"
"Yeah. Long time no see, huh?"
Mark turned his head a little. "Where am I?"
"The Power Chamber. We, uh... We got you guys out of your plane after it crashed."
The young commander started up abruptly. "My team..."
"They're safe," a second voice interrupted. "They're all here, man."
"Jason?" Mark asked hoarsely.
"Yes," Jason replied. "Just try and relax. Okay?"
"You've got no idea how glad I am to hear your voices," Mark murmured as he lay back down on the cot. "I thought we were done for, that time."
"Close, but not quite," Tommy tried to joke. "No one can get rid of G. Force, right?"
Mark couldn't bring himself to smile. "They're trying," he whispered. "They're really trying..."
"What happened?" Jason asked after a moments hesitation. "That was the worst crash I've ever seen."
"Not sure..." Mark answered. "All.... All I remember is being chased Nothing else."
Tommy lightly touched Jason's shoulder to stay any further questions, then spoke quietly.
"Don't worry about it now, Mark. Just rest. You've gotta rest." Mark mumbled something to himself, and only seconds later, he slipped back into unconsciousness.
Some hours later....
Day came, and with it a nation-wide news report that the Phoenix, G. Force's plane, had crashed in the Angel Grove lake. No bodies had been recovered, and all five members of G. Force were presumed dead. Security Chief Anderson could not be found for comment, only General Carlton. In a fit of self-righteous rage, the general accused G. Force of deliberately upsetting the chances of peace between Earth and Spectra, and declared their apparent deaths a relief to the so-called peace workers of the two planets.
"Son of a bitch!" Jason exploded as the rangers watched the broadcast on the viewing globe in the Power Chamber. Tommy spared him a grim look.
Donavon sighed heavily. "That doesn't surprise me at all. Carlton has always had it in for G. Force. He'd certainly use this to his advantage."
"It isn't fair," Kat snapped. "G. Force can't even defend themselves against him. He's stabbing them in the back!"
"That's Carlton's style, all right."
The rangers all looked around to see Mark sitting up on his cot, rubbing his left shoulder gingerly. Tommy went quickly to his side.
"How you feeling, man?"
"I've had better days," Mark murmured. "Are the others still out?"
Donavon went over, then. "Mark?"
Mark's head tilted slightly to one side, then he smiled faintly. "Hey, Doc."
"Mark, can you remember what happened, yet?" Tommy asked quietly. "No," Mark admitted gloomily. "It's just a blur. I can't remember anything past being at the conference that morning."
"Conference?" Rocky echoed. Mark nodded slowly. "Peace talks. Carlton arranged peace talks between Earth and Spectra. Made himself out to be a big hero because of it. We were sceptical, didn't trust him We had to be there, though. Show of goodwill, some crap like that. We were on the sidelines..." Mark trailed off, as memories slowly started to filter back to him. "There was a break around noon Carlton pulled us aside, asked if wed go check out some trouble just off the coast. I wanted to know why he didn't send his own men, but he said he needed them elsewhere. We went...."
He faltered, then shook his head. "I can't remember anything else. I don't even remember crashing."
"Don't try forcing yourself," Donavon told him. "It'll come to you eventually."
A faint moan drew their attention elsewhere as one other member of G. Force finally began to awaken.
"Who's that?" Mark asked softly, his brow creasing with worry.
Donavon frowned a little as he strained to look past the rangers as they saw to the other injured teen, then spoke. "It's Jason. He looks a little upset...."
Mark grimaced. That was not surprising. After being in such an horrific crash, and then to wake up in a strange place, to strange faces.... "Take me over to him."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Unless you want him trashing the place?" Donavon sighed softly and gently brought Mark to his feet. "This way. Easy...."
He led Mark across the floor to where Tommy and the others were desperately trying to subdue the panic-stricken boy. The rangers reluctantly fell back, and Mark spoke in a firm voice that held no indication of the pain he was in.
"Knock it off, Jason. You're safe."
Jason immediately calmed down at the sound of his commander's voice. "Mark?"
"Yeah. Take it easy, brother. We're all safe." Jason sat up slowly, painfully, and shielded his eyes against the lights of the Chamber. "Oh, Jesus...."
"Don't blaspheme," Mark said, only half-teasing.
Jason groaned softly. "Man, it's you all right. What happened?"
"You don't remember either?" Mark asked tentatively, struggling to hide his disappointment as he sat down carefully on the cot next to his second-in-command.
"No... Not really. Except, we were trapped.... Couldn't get out... The water was rising..."
Jason trailed off, tears filling his eyes as the shock started to wear off. Mark found his hand, and squeezed it gently. "It's okay. We're safe, thanks to the Power Rangers."
Jason blinked, surprise overcoming his fear. "Power Rangers?"
Tommy took the liberty of speaking for all of them. "Nice to meet you. Sorry it had to be these circumstances."
Jason stared at the long-haired boy for so long that Tommy started to wonder if there wasn't something else wrong with him. Then, finally, Jason spoke.
"You saved our lives. We would've all drowned if it hadn't been for all of you."
Tommy looked straight at Mark. "Just repaying the favour." Although Mark couldn't see, he seemed to know the comment was directed at him, and he spoke in kind.
"This was more than repayment, Tommy. You know it. We owe you guys our lives."
"No," Tommy said softly. "I'd accept that if I didn't know you, but you're a friend. You guys would have done the same for us. I know you would have."
Donavon stepped in, then, and carefully brought Mark back up to his feet. "C'mon. You need to rest, and so does Jason."
Jason looked around slowly as Donavon led Mark back to his cot. There was Keop... Princess.... and Tiny. All of them safe. He sensed someone next to him, and looked back to see a pretty girl with shoulder length blonde hair crouching beside him.
"Lie down," she told him in a soothing voice. "Just relax. We're taking care of you."
Jason blinked, then recognised the accent. "You're Australian," he murmured as he lay back down. Kat smiled.
"Is it that noticeable?"
"Yeah," Jason mumbled. "Know someone from Australia...." Kat never had the chance to ask him who; he was asleep barely seconds after his head touched the pillow.
* * *
Over the next several hours, all five members of G. Force fully regained consciousness, and by the same time the next evening, they were all awake, and ready to discuss what had happened. A brief introduction took place, courtesy of Donavon, and then Tommy opened the discussion.
"Okay. Do any of you remember anything at all beyond leaving Washington D.C.?"
Silence reigned. The five stared at one another, helpless to answer the simple question. Tommy sighed.
"I guess that means no."
"The human mind often represses traumatic experiences," Billy said quietly. "It would appear that that is the case now."
Jason shook his head. "I can't believe this. It's right there, but I just can't grab it! Damn...."
"Don't try forcing yourself," Donavon warned him. "You know what sort of effects that can have."
Princess looked distressed. "All I can remember is just after we crashed. I saw Mark on the floor and then Jason was there, trying to help me. Aside from that, it's just a total blank. How could we forget it so completely?"
Mark lifted one hand absently to the bandages that covered his eyes. "I think I remember an explosion.... A really bright light that burned my eyes. Nothing else, though."
"You said it was General Carlton who sent you out," Donavon prompted lightly. Mark chewed thoughtfully on his lower lip.
"Yeah... There's something... Oh, man I wish I could remember!"
Silence fell, and they all looked around at the person who had spoken. Princess sat forward a little in concern.
The little boy stared around the group slowly, his eyes brimming with tears. "You're all trying to remember I wish I could forget! God, I wish I could forget the whole thing...."
Mark started up, only to be held back by Tommy. "Easy, bro."
"What happened, Keop?" Donavon asked quietly, but Keop fell silent, refusing to answer.
Jason finally spoke up impatiently. "Damn it, Keop, quit being so stubborn! Just tell us"
"Jason, shut up," Mark said firmly, silencing the boy immediately. Mark then turned his attention back to his younger brother.
_Keop, talk to me. what happened?_
_Can't_ came the frightened reply.
_Why not? Keop, please, we have to know._
_It was ours._
Mark was confused, and it showed on his face. _What? What do you mean, ours?_
_Our planes. They weren't Spectran, they were U.S. planes. From General Carlton's squadron._
Mark felt sick with realisation as his own memories suddenly flooded back. "Ambush... It was a deliberate ambush. We weren't attacked by Spectran planes. We were attacked by American Naval planes. Carlton set us up to be killed."
"They can't do that," Tanya whispered, hoarse with shock and anger. Jason's hands clenched into fists.
"He did... That son-of-a-bitch! Mark, when we get back to Washington, I'm gonna strangle that bastard myself!"
"We aren't going back to Washington," Mark interrupted quietly. Stunned silence fell, and then Tiny spoke for the first time.
"Because if Carlton went to the trouble to set everything up to try and have us killed, he'd make sure to have a backup plan in case it didn't work. My bet is that the moment we show our faces, he'll have the five of us arrested for treason."
"Why?" Kat choked out in disbelief.
Jase spoke up from where he stood near his father. "You heard the news broadcast. Carlton publicly accused G. Force of deliberately disrupting the peace efforts. He probably had it set up for the Spectrans to claim G. Force attacked them, and that the U.S. planes had to go to their aid. With both groups testifying against G. Force, any sane judge would have to accept that version. It's a tactical ploy. He's got them in a deadlock."
Mark was smiling, to everyone's amazement. Jason looked nervous, thinking he'd said something foolish. "What is it?"
Mark chuckled softly. "And to think you were nearly failing Strategic Studies..."
Jason groaned and shook his head, hardly able to believe Mark could make a joke at such a critical time.
"Look, the bottom line is, it's better if they stay here for now, wait it out, and just let everyone think they're dead. At least until we can think of what to do."
"Jase is right," Tommy agreed. "You're going to have to stay here. You can't even leave the Power Chamber. Angel Grove has been crawling with Spectran soldiers and Mondo's cogs for the past day or so."
"Cogs?" Tiny echoed dazedly.
"I'll explain later," Mark murmured. "Okay, we'll just have to sit tight. For now, anyway. Donavon, does the Chief know we're alive?"
Donavon smiled a little. "Yes, he knows. I called him on the secure line. He'd probably come here himself, but it would look a little suspicious if he suddenly disappeared."
Jason looked miserable. "Man, I hope they leave Therese and the girls alone."
"The Chief will just move them to Sweet Valley if it gets too rough," Princess said as she lay back down, exhausted. "They've got nothing to worry about, as long as we stay dead, so to speak."
"For the time being," Mark said, more to himself than to anyone else.
* * *
The next few days were hard, but G. Force accepted their confinement without question. Whilst the rangers went to school, and Billy attended his college classes, the five teens took the opportunity to learn more about the Power Rangers, and more about Zordon.
"I have to admit," Jason said, a couple of evenings later as he looked slowly around the Power Chamber, "this is a pretty impressive place."
Mark smiled from where he lay on his cot. "You haven't seen the zords. Now, they're impressive."
Alpha shuffled over, peering at each of the teens with almost visible concern. "Is everything all right?"
"We're fine, Alpha," Princess reassured him. "Thankyou." Even as she spoke, she winced as bolts of pain shot through her neck and shoulders. Alpha nodded.
"I'll get something to help with the pain." Princess sighed. She knew by then that there was no point in protesting. "Thanks, Alpha."
Keop had gotten to his feet, and made his way over to Mark, limping heavily. "How are your eyes?"
Mark turned his head a little in the direction of his brother's voice. "There's no pain. I don't know how they're healing, though, if at all. We need to be in hospital, but that's impossible."
"If it were possible," Zordon said, "I would teleport a doctor here, to the Power Chamber. However, teleportation beyond Angel Grove is still down."
"It's okay," Mark said quietly. "We'll be all right, Zordon. We've been through worse."
"We've never been fighting our own people before," Tiny pointed out grimly. "We never got any help from them, but we've never had to fight them before. Carlton must know by now that were alive. He's probably turning the country upside down looking for us."
"You are all safe here," Zordon reassured them. "As long as you remain within the Power Chamber, no harm will come to you."
A flash of red and white light heralded Tommy and Jason's arrival in the Power Chamber. Mark instantly sensed the anxiety in them and spoke quietly.
Jason began to pace back and forth like a caged lion. "Soldiers showed up at the school today. They were U.S. Marines. They went into every class. Told us that they were searching for you guys, and if we saw you, we were to stay clear and call 911. I overheard one of them talking to Mr Caplan, and he said they were considering you to be armed and dangerous. He... He said they had orders to shoot to kill."
Mark was silent. _Son of a bitch... Can't let it go, can you?_ Tommy spared Jason a grim look, then went over and sat down on the cot next to Mark. "What are you thinking?"
"Just what a stubborn asshole Carlton is."
"What's all this about? Why does this guy have it in for you so much?" Mark didn't reply for a long moment. Then, finally, he spoke reluctantly.
"It goes back to something that happened about five years ago. We had our first battle when we were around ten or so, and Keop was just seven... I think. After that, Zoltar learned pretty quickly that, unlike the CMF, we weren't easily beaten."
"CMF?" Jason echoed. The other Jason nodded. "Yeah. Combined Military Forces. It was headed by General Carlton years back, when we just started out in the war, and Carlton was only a captain. It was a combined team of Air Force, Navy, Army and Marine units. The idea was to have a little bit of each to hopefully gain the resources they needed to beat the Spectrans. They screwed up royally, and it didn't help that they had that idiot Carlton in charge. He couldn't have guided a leaf in Fall, even with a map."
Tiny took over, wanting to tell part of it. "Then we came into it, and made big headlines with the way we got rid of the Mother ship during the 1990 invasion. The papers had headlines that literally said CMF was finished, and Carlton's career was on a downward slope."
"And he didn't like that" Tommy murmured. "Not a lot," Mark replied. "Not that he could do much about it at the time. But that wasn't really it. It was what happened two years later, five years before now. After that first fight, it was a while before Zoltar showed up again, and wed taken to doing six monthly patrols of the planet more or less. When Zoltar struck again, Carlton was quick to send in a squadron from the CMF. He wanted to redeem himself, and he was so eager, that he sent his men in on a virtual suicide mission. We were close behind, and I took the liberty of pulling rank on them and sending them out of battle. Carlton was a lower rank than me then, and he couldn't argue. It turned out, when they analyzed the situation later on, that I'd saved their lives by doing what I did, but Carlton was humiliated all over again. He never forgave me for that."
"Hang on a second..." Tommy interrupted. "You said this happened five years ago, which means you were twelve. Right?"
"Something like that," Mark conceded. Tommy nodded. "Okay. So, when you were twelve, you were a higher rank than this General Carlton?"
Mark smiled, then. "We've all had military training. We spent two years of our lives in West Point, getting the best training they had to offer. And before you say anything, yes, it was a pain in the butt always trying to justify why five kids were training at a military base. Especially since we didn't know why until we were ten years old. Anyway, when we came out of West Point, I'd earned the rank of Commander. Don't ask me how. I've never figured it out. But for a while, I outranked Carlton, and it really made him mad."
"Man..." Tommy whispered. "Military training...."
"Chief Anderson was preparing for it for years," Princess said softly. "Even before he made Security Chief, he had plans to train a team. We're what came out of it."
Jason rolled over, cringing at the pain in his thigh as he did so. "It's not doing us much good now. For everything we've done, now the damned country wants our heads on pig poles. We can't do anything right anymore."
"Not everyone does," Tommy corrected quietly. "You've got friends right here."
Mark hesitated, then spoke tiredly. "Thanks, Tommy. We appreciate it." Tommy nodded. "No problem, bro."
"Okay," Jason said as he joined Mark on the cot, after Tommy and Jason had finally gone. "So what's going on, Mark? How do you know so much about these guys?"
Mark paused for a moment before sitting up. "I never told you.... Remember six months back, when we got separated and sent to foster homes?"
Jason grimaced. "Yeah, sort of."
"I was sent here, to Angel Grove. I ended up with Tommy's family."
"But how'd you find out that they were the rangers?" Jason wanted to know.
"By accident, sort of. There were a few things, little discrepancies. At one point, Tommy said something about the rangers not getting much past Angel Grove or Stone Canyon, only he said 'we', instead of 'they'. Then Zedd decided he'd like to have me on his side, so he snatched me.... right out from under J'boath's nose, mind you.... and used me as bait for the rangers.
"When they showed up, it didn't take me long to connect the voices. We didn't have much time to dwell on it, though. As soon as we got out, J'boath and Kaa showed with Zoltar, and Rocky, Tommy and I all ended up being shot."
"So that's how that happened."
"Yeah. Didn't the Chief tell you anything about it?"
"Not much. To be honest, we weren't that interested. However, if he'd said the Power Rangers were involved..."
"He didn't know about that," Mark told Jason quietly. "I kept that to myself. All he knew was the story that Donavon told all the parents; that J'boath and Kaa showed up for me, and Tommy and the others got caught in the crossfire. Literally."
"Two of 'em got shot, huh?"
"Yes. Rocky and Tommy. Adam ended up with a concussion when J'boath... I think it was J'boath.... cracked him over the head with his gun."
"Two out of five isn't bad, though" Jason mused.
"Don't say that to them," Mark growled. "Two out of five is two too many. None of them should have been hurt."
"Don't go all guilty on me," Jason snapped. "I'm not in the mood to pull you out of a depression."
Mark pulled a face. "You're a real character builder, you know that?"
"Uh huh. Oh, man I'm wasted. I think I'll just crash here...."
Mark reacted by shoving Jason firmly off the cot, and onto the floor. "Think again, brown boy. I'm definitely not sharing a bed with you."
Jason scowled as he picked himself up off the floor. "Fine. I save your butt, and that's the thanks I get."
"Adam saved my butt, not you. I remember that much."
"You were unconscious, bright boy."
"Maybe, but I woke up long enough to get an eyeful of green. That's Adam's colour. He was the one who pulled me out of the water, thankyou very much."
"I guess it was Tommy who got me out, then, huh? He's red, isn't he?"
Jason sighed as he straightened up and headed back to his cot. "Man, you'd think someone would wake up to the colour coordination bit...."
Mark smiled to himself and was just settling down to get some more rest when another voice spoke close to his ear.
"Mark, are you awake?"
Mark started a little, caught by surprise. "Princess?"
"I'm sorry," she murmured. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's okay. What's up?"
"I was just thinking... We're going to be all right, aren't we?" Mark could hear her thoughts almost as loud as her voice. _You're going to be all right, aren't you?_
"We'll be fine," Mark reassured her. "Don't worry."
Princess bit down on her lower lip. "I'm scared, Mark. We've never been in a situation like this before. And I hate having to be confined like this."
"So do I, but it's the only way. We agreed on that. And we've been through worse, Princess. Remember the grain mills in Greece?"
Princess paled slightly at the memory. "Oh god... That was bad..."
"Exactly. At least we're safe here. Therese can take care of herself and the girls, and Chief Anderson will probably be down here as soon as he can get away. We'll be okay. As long as we're together, we'll be okay."
Princess hesitated, then leaned over and hugged Mark close. He returned then hug, then sent her back to her cot to rest. He paused, waiting to see if either Keop or Tiny came over to talk. When they didn't, he finally settled down on the cot and, moments later, he was fast asleep.
"I think we've got to leave Mark alone for a while," Jason said softly, once he was certain the young commander was asleep. "He's got enough to worry about without us adding to his concerns."
"He's just as scared as us," Keop whispered. "He just won't admit it."
"Typical," Tiny grumbled.
"It's natural," Princess argued. "He's always looked after us. He'd never put himself ahead of us, not for anything. I think we owe it to him to give a bit of it back."
"You're right," Tiny conceded. "Okay. From now on, we keep our worries to ourselves."
"That is not entirely necessary," a voice interrupted from behind them, and they looked around to see it was Zordon who had spoken. The ancient wizard looked down on the four teens with a kindly gaze.
"If there is one thing that being trapped in an alternate dimension has afforded me, it is the ability to listen. I understand your wish to save Mark from further worry, but should you feel the need to share your concerns, I am right here. The rangers will also be happy to listen."
Jason swallowed hard. It was a rare thing for anyone to offer them an open ear, or a shoulder to lean on.
"Thanks, Zordon. We appreciate it."
Zordon nodded once. "You are most welcome."
* * *
Over the next twenty-four hours, G. Force finally had the opportunity to witness the Power Rangers in action, when Mondo sent his worst creation to date, a terrifying monster built in the image of a paper shredder. The Shredder, as it was called, shredded everything from trees to cars, to trucks in his metal jaws, and seemed unstoppable. The rangers were eventually forced to retreat back to the Power Chamber when an effort to stop him with the zords failed.
"That thing is way too strong," Tanya gasped, shaken by their narrow escape. "It nearly shredded the zords totally!"
"Zordon, what can we do?" Tommy implored. "If we go back up against that thing as we are, we're as good as shredded."
Tiny scowled from where he stood in the background. "Man, if we just had the Phoenix, we could blast that thing apart with the Fiery Phoenix, just like we did with the Mother ship...."
"Not now, Tiny," Mark said tiredly. Billy, however, was staring curiously at the large boy.
"Fire... Heat properties.... Proportionate power...."
"What are you thinking, Billy?" Jase asked quietly. He could almost hear the wheels spinning in his friend's mind. Billy turned around sharply.
"In the past, you've used the Zeo helmets separately, one by one. I may be able to program it so that you can put two or more to use at the same time. For example, if the gravity and fire power helmets are activated together, it may be enough to destroy the Shredder."
"Can you do it, Billy?" Tommy asked anxiously. Billy nodded. "Yes, I think so. Just give me ten minutes." He turned and hurried out of the room, leaving the rangers to wait anxiously for confirmation that the adjustment worked.
"Is it always like this?"
Jason looked around to see Princess had come over. He offered her a faint smile, but she could easily see the tension in his eyes.
"Sometimes bad... Sometimes worse. The longer a villain hangs around, the worse it gets."
Princess understood. "The longer they fight you, the more they become aware of your weaknesses. The harder it gets to beat them back."
"You know what it's like."
"Yes. We do."
Jase excused himself and strode over to the control panel. "I read you, Billy."
"Check the panel. There should be a red light flashing."
"I've got it. What do you want me to do?"
"Flick the switch next to it, before the entire holding bay explodes." Jason paled slightly and hit the switch hard. "What are you doing in there, man?"
"Nothing to worry about now. I've almost got it.... There!" Billy's triumphant shout was heard by all. "Okay, thats it! Just let me get out of here, and you can go and cream that monster!"
Tommy uttered a sigh of relief. "Thanks, man." A minute later, Billy's voice crackled over their communicators. "Okay, I'm on my way back. Jason can monitor the fight until I get there."
Tommy nodded, and glanced around at his friends. "Okay, guys. Back to action!"
They vanished in a flash of coloured light, leaving Jason to anxiously monitor the panel. Princess held back for a moment, then moved up to stand beside the older boy.
"Is there anything I can do?"
Jason glanced at her, then smiled apologetically. "Not really. Just... keep your fingers crossed."
"That's a familiar phrase," Billy muttered as he stalked back into the Power Chamber. "Where are they now?"
"Just re-engaging the Shredder," Jason said. Billy nodded and grabbed a small hand-held transmitter.
"Tommy, do you read me?"
"Loud and clear, buddy."
"All right. Don't waste time with hand-to-hand combat. Engage the first combination of helmets now. You'll sustain too much damage, otherwise."
"Okay, engage Sequence One, Active!"
The was a strange sound, like a tremendous groan, followed by sudden, palpable silence. Jason turned anxiously to his friend.
"Didn't it work?"
"Wait," Billy growled. "Four... Three... Two... One... Now!" The Megazord was nearly rocked off its feet as two helmets engaged at the same time. The Shredder howled as it went down with a crash, but it was not destroyed. Billy spoke quickly, almost frantically.
"Use the second combination now!"
"Engage Sequence Two," Tommy ordered breathlessly, "Active!" This time there was no wait, and the result was definitive. They all watched the viewing globe as the last three helmets were activated in unison, resulting in the complete destruction of the Shredder.
"Awesome..." Tiny murmured from where he was watching. Jason clapped Billy on the back.
"You're a genius, pure genius."
Billy smiled modestly. "On a scale of one to ten...."
"We'd say an eleven," Tommy announced as he and the other four rangers teleported back into the Power Chamber. He strode over and threw his arms around Billy in an unusually warm gesture. "Thanks, man. I really don't know what we'd do without you."
"I wouldn't say that," Billy murmured, suddenly embarrassed.
"I would," Tommy retorted, "and I am. C'mon, I'm treating you to a Double Fudge Sundae."
Billy's eyes lit up, and he put up no further protest as they teleported out. Princess was just heading back to her cot along with Tiny, when she realised that Jason had not left with the others. She hesitated, then approached him cautiously.
"Jason? How come you didn't go with your friends?"
Jason shrugged, trying to look casual. "Someone has to clean up and check the damage. Might as well be me. Besides, it's about time they started giving Billy a bit more recognition."
Princess stared at him curiously for a long moment, then spoke. "Could I come with you? I'd like to see everything."
Jason paused, not sure whether to concede or refuse. His gaze locked with hers for an instant, though, and he couldn't bring himself to turn her down.
"Sure. Better take my jacket, though. It's cold down there." Princess agreed and allowed him to drape the thick jacket over her shoulders, before following him down the long corridor to the holding bay.
* * *
"Oh, wow...." Princess whispered, in total awe of the massive machines. "These are incredible!"
Jason smiled a little. Too bad he was no longer the Gold Ranger. He would have loved to show her Pyramidas....
"Have a look around," he told her. "I just need to check the zords for damage percentage."
She took up his offer and wandered slowly around the huge bay area, looking first at the zords shaped to mirror mythical creatures, then at the Super Zeo Zords, and finally at the Red Battle Zord. She was just admiring that last zord when Jason finally rejoined her.
"Yes," she admitted. "I noticed that you guys have a phoenix, too." Jason smiled. "Yeah. That's Tommy's zord."
"Do you... I mean, have you piloted any of these?" Jason hesitated, fighting a sudden blush across his cheeks. "None of these, no. I, um... I was the Gold Ranger for while, and I piloted Pyramidas. That was a while ago, though."
Princess bit down lightly on her lower lip, guessing shed struck a raw nerve. "It takes a lot of courage to stay in the shadows, out of the spotlight," she said softly. "Sometimes, it's harder than fighting the battles themselves."
Jason looked around at her curiously. It surprised him to hear that, coming from someone who obviously spent so much time in the thick of battle. Princess smiled sadly.
"We wish we didn't have to fight so much. Don't feel bad about not being directly in the battles, Jason. Sometimes you can do more good on the sidelines."
Jason swallowed hard. It was just bit easier to say that than it was to accept it.
"C'mon," he said softly. "We'd better get back, before you catch a cold, or something."
He faltered as Princess suddenly shuddered and collapsed, her legs buckling beneath her. Jason reacted fast and caught her before she went down, preventing a nasty fall.
Princess shivered violently, clinging tightly to Jason. "My... My legs..." she whimpered, feeling frightened by the sudden attack of weakness.
"Okay," Jason murmured. "All right, I'm gonna pick you up, now. Just relax..."
Jason shifted his position and slid his right arm down, then lifted. He was caught by surprise at just how easy she was to pick up, and was able to straighten up without any trouble.
"Let's get you back to the Power Chamber," Jason said, and started back down the rock corridor. Princess shut her eyes, her head resting on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, tears building up in her eyes. Jason shook his head.
"Don't worry, it's not your fault. Just relax, okay?" She had no difficulties there. Jason was strong, and she felt remarkably safe in his arms. His shoulder was also broad, just right to rest her head on....
* * *
Jason started up as the other Jason emerged into the light of the Power Chamber, carrying a sleeping Princess in his strong arms.
"She collapsed," Jase explained as he carried her over to the empty cot and laid her down with the greatest gentleness. "She's okay, I think the walk just wore her out."
Jason eyed the older boy sceptically. Princess had just looked a little too comfortable in his arms.... "Listen, Princess is our sister. We look after family. You understand me?"
"Shut up, Jason," Mark growled from his cot. "He's not planning on seducing her."
Jase, for his part, reddened at the mere suggestion. "I only brought her back, okay? That's all...."
Jason grunted, mumbled something under his breath, and rolled over, facing away from them. Jase was about to give up and teleport out when Mark called him over.
"What is it?" Jase asked nervously.
"I wanted to tell you, don't worry about Jason. He's just over- protective of Princess. It's nothing to worry about. The situation doesn't help much, either."
"I know," Jason murmured. "It's just...."
Jason sighed heavily. "Nothing."
"Tell me," Mark persisted.
Jason sighed again. "Don't get the wrong idea but I was just thinking, she's really pretty."
Mark smiled, and laughed softly. "She is, isn't she? I guess we don't notice it so much, because she's always been our little sister. We've spent all our lives together, we have nothing to hide from each other I guess neither Jason, Tiny or myself noticed that she grew up." Mark paused, realisation suddenly hitting him. "You know... That's probably why the Chief insisted we have separate rooms when we moved base from Centre Neptune. Not for us guys... But for Princess."
Jason winced at the inference. "Are you saying you all shared a bedroom at one point?"
"Up till we were fourteen or fifteen. We never thought about it. Like I said, we have nothing to hide, physically or otherwise."
"Man...." Jason murmured. "We all went camping once, and we had to sleep outside in tents, because the cabin only had enough sleeping space for a few. The girls would've flipped if we'd suggested anything like that."
Mark propped himself up on one elbow. "It's not something that you can just jump into. Like I said, we've been together most of our lives. We shared a bedroom up till two or three years ago. It doesn't matter. Not between the five of us. However, with anyone else it would be a completely different matter."
Jason got to his feet. "I'd better go," he said quietly. "Dad will be worried."
Mark nodded wordlessly and lay back down. Silence followed, only to be eventually broken by the gruff voice of his second-in-command. "Who's he trying to impress, anyway?"
Mark fought back a groan. "Jason, will you let it rest? He only carried her back when she collapsed. Any decent person would have done the same thing."
Jason grumbled something under his breath, and Mark shook his head in exasperation.
"You're impossible. Look, do us all a favour and keep your mouth shut. Especially around Princess. She seems to really like him."
"How can you tell?" Jason retorted.
Mark's hands curled into fists. Sometimes, Jason really got on his nerves. "Do you really need to ask that?"
"Oh...." Jason muttered. "Well, you might be wrong."
"What's your problem?" Mark demanded. "Anyone would think you wanted Princess yourself!"
Jason reddened visibly. "If you werent already laid up, I'd deck you for that."
"I'm just stating fact. We're all protective of her, but you've never been this protective before."
A moment of silence followed, and then Jason sighed heavily. "Look, I'm just worried about her. We all tend to get a bit emotional in tense situations... Hell, look at the way you acted around Jessica that time."
It was Mark's turn to go red. "You don't need to bring that up."
"Just making a point. I don't want to see Princess get hurt in the same way. She's just a kid!"
"No," Mark interrupted quietly. "She isn't a kid, Jason. She hasn't been for three years. We just haven't realised it. And, if she decides to take a chance with someone, then it's her right and her business to do that."
Jason grimaced. "You sound like the Chief."
"Now you're being insulting," Mark said teasingly.
Jason had to laugh. "Hey, after all, you are his favourite."
"Shut up," Mark grumbled. "You're making me sound like a chocolate bar."
"Now, that I could handle," Jason sighed. "Remind me, next time one of those guys comes in, to put in an order for some chocolate."
Mark could only shake his head in amazement, turn over and will himself back to sleep.
Security Chief Anderson was, generally, a very unflappable person. Few things upset him anymore... except when it came to five certain teenagers that he regarded as his own children. Then, he tended to get very upset indeed. It was painfully obvious, too. He sat at the table, drumming his fingers incessantly against the surface, his other hand clenched so tightly around the coffee mug that it was in danger of shattering.
"Will you calm down?" a second figure asked quietly. "You won't do them or yourself any good by giving yourself a heart attack. Ryder warned you about your blood pressure."
Anderson glowered into his coffee. "Five minutes. That's all I want. Just five minutes alone with Carlton. How dare he accuse them of treason? That black-hearted son of a...."
"Stop it. Name-calling is futile, and stupid." Anderson sat back in the chair with a thud. "How can you sit there so calmly?"
"Because I know how useless it would be to panic. You know they're safe, don't you?"
"Yes. They're at..."
"No, don't tell me. Keep that to yourself. Don't tell anyone. And Therese and the others?"
"Safe. Carlton can't reach them."
"Then you worry about getting yourself out of the capital. You know Carlton will eventually try and use you to lure those kids out into the open."
"I can't leave," Anderson said in a tight voice. "If I go, it will be almost like saying they're guilty! I can't do that."
"I understand, my friend, but right now, I don't believe you have a choice. If our suspicions are correct, it isn't only Carlton that you have to worry about. If he's in league with Zoltar, you and those kids are in serious danger. You know Zoltar can locate Mark and Keop."
"I know Damn it, Cronus, what can we do? There has to be some way to prove their innocence."
Colonel Cronus adjusted the dark glasses on his nose. "I'm sure there is, but it will have to wait. You have to leave the city."
"What do you plan to do?"
"I have a few of my men planted within the less well known departments of the military and the government. They're digging for whatever they can get. I have a few ideas that I plan to put into action. I want you to go, and get to them, and make sure they're all right."
"You should come with me, Cronus. You're worried sick about Mark, I can tell."
Cronus sighed softly. "True. I am... But I can do more here. Just do me a favour and tell him I'm here?"
The two men rose up, and Cronus clapped Anderson on the shoulder. "Go, now. Don't trust anyone."
"No one," Anderson agreed. "I'll contact you." They nodded, and then finally parted company.
* * *
Across the street, a man dressed shabbily, holding an old newspaper, mumbled to himself, unnoticed by the crowds of people that passed by.
"They're moving. Pretty sure that Anderson knows where they are. Yes, we'll stay with him. Yes, sir. I'll report again at 2200 hours."
Still mumbling incoherently to himself, the man hurried off down the street, careful not to let Anderson out of his sight.
* * *
Anderson knew he was being followed. Even if he hadn't seen the man, he would have suspected it. But Carlton was a fool to think he was so out of touch with his military training that he wouldn't have noticed. He didn't walk any faster or slower, but continued at the same pace, glancing around occasionally, as though he were looking for any tails.
He didn't know where, or if, his pursuer had a vehicle, but he had to assume one was always at hand. They weren't planning to arrest him; if they had that in mind it would have already happened. No, they wanted him to lead them to wherever it was G. Force was hiding.
He fought back a smirk. The truth was he did not know exactly where they were. All he knew was that they were somewhere in or around the Angel Grove vicinity in California. Donavon had contacted him twice, the first time to tell him the team was safe, the second time to tell him they were being kept safe by the Power Rangers. Subsequently, he himself had no idea where they were.
To get there, Donavon had told him, he would need to use the extensive radio equipment in their home base in Woodeforde, and the rangers would then teleport him straight to to wherever they were. Anderson let his breath out in a rush. Whatever teleporting meant....
He reached his car, and got into the back seat, slamming the door shut. "Drive, Nathan. Back to Woodeforde, now." Nathan pulled the car out of its parking spot and put his foot down. "We being followed?"
"I was. No doubt they'll have a car to follow us all the way back home. It won't matter, though. They can follow us right into the house, if they want."
"What's happening, sir?"
"We get back to Woodeforde, and you'll take the other car on to Gotham City. You know who to contact. You'll be safe there. I'll go to where the team is."
"Yes, sir. You'll make sure they're okay?"
"I intend to."
"I hope so. I'd hate to see anything more happen to them."
"So would I, Nathan."
"What took you so long?" Donavon asked when Jason finally arrived home. Jason went in and sat down with a thud in an armchair.
"I had to check the damage on the zords. Princess came with me, and she sort of collapsed, so I had to carry her back."
"Oh, really?" Donavon asked, half-amusedly. Jason reddened considerably.
"So I carried her back! What's the big deal?" Donavon smiled apologetically. "Sorry, son. Is she all right?"
"Yeah, just wore herself out." Jason hesitated, fiddling nervously with the sleeve of his jacket. "She is kind of pretty, though..."
Donavon had to laugh, then. "You live in Angel Grove all your life, and you choose now to get a crush on a girl? And of all girls, you pick Princess? Oh, Jason...."
Jason stood up, flustered by his father's teasing. "I'm going to bed. Goodnight."
Donavon watched him go before chuckling again to himself. He knew it was cruel, but he couldn't help it.....
* * *
Jason heard his father's soft laughter, and felt a deeper hurt in his heart. For him, the laughter and the teasing was hard to take, especially since he had never had proper girlfriend before. There had only ever been Emily, and she had broken up with him after only two weeks of dating. Not right for each other, was her excuse. She needed time to herself. Couldn't handle always looking out for someone else. And two days after breaking up, she was seen heading up to the lookout at sunset with Danny Pembroke, the quarterback of Angel Grove University's football team.
Jason stripped off his shirt, pulled off his shoes and lay down with a thud, not bothering to change from his jeans. That had been a real kick in the ribs, losing his girlfriend to the universitys star quarterback. And he'd never even had the courage to kiss her....
* * *
He woke up with a start what could have been minutes or hours later, to find his father standing over him and shaking him hard.
"Jason, damn it, wake up!"
Jason sat up, rubbing his eyes.
"What is it?"
"Get up. We have to go, now. Where's your communicator?" Reaching over, Jason snatched the wrist device off the desk. "What's wrong?"
"There are men outside in military uniforms. Hurry up!" Jason swallowed hard and got up quickly. He started to reach for a shirt, but Donavon stopped him.
"There's no time. Just get us out of here!" There was a crash as the front door caved in, and men flooded into the house. Jason wasted no more time, but activated his communicator, causing himself and his father to vanish in a flash of white light.
* * *
Tommy looked around in surprise as Jason and Donavon rematerialized in the Power Chamber, Jason wearing only jeans and socks.
"Our place just got raided," Jason said grimly. Donavon nodded. "We had to leave very quickly."
Jason walked over and sat down on a narrow step. "It's my fault. I wasn't careful enough when we were at the lake."
"No," Donavon interrupted lightly. "It wasn't your fault, Jason. To be truthful, I was expecting that to happen."
Mark propped himself up on his elbows. "That's from when you came to Woodeforde for those four months. It went down on official records. Carlton would have gone through everything, looking for people who have had some sort of connection with us. It was only logical that he'd focus on you guys."
Princess sighed. "I'm glad you managed to get out without getting hurt."
Tommy watched from where he leant against the control panel. "You'll both have to stay here, then. You can't go home, that's for sure."
Tiny grinned from where he sat. "Great. We won't be isolated on our own."
"This is starting to get out of hand," Tanya said grimly as she joined Tommy at the panel. "There's got to be something we can do!"
Mark shook his head slowly. "No. Not yet. You're doing enough at the moment by letting us stay here."
Tommy looked sceptical, but Donavon stepped in. "We'll talk about this tomorrow. It's late, now." He glanced over at his son, and saw the teen was trying to stifle a yawn. "We all need to rest."
"Alpha," Tommy said softly, "are there any more of those cots out back?"
Alpha nodded. "I'll go and get them."
As Alpha shuffled out, Tommy went over to where Jason was shivering on the step. He pulled his jacket off and offered it to his friend.
"Here, put it on. I'll bring you a shirt from home." Jason smiled wearily as he pulled the jacket on. "Thanks, Tommy." Alpha returned and quickly set up two extra cots. Jason fell into the nearest one, and was asleep almost immediately.
"Man, he's tired," Tommy murmured. Donavon nodded. "Yes, and so am I, so if you'll excuse me...." Zordon spoke from the column of light as Donavon occupied the other cot.
"Tommy and Tanya, you should both go home and get some rest also." The two exchanged looks, then conceded.
"Okay," Tommy murmured, "but let us know if anything else happens, please."
The two teleported out a moment later in a flash of yellow and red light.
* * *
Jason awoke to the sound of crying. He lay still for several seconds, trying to pinpoint the sound before he rolled over to look. Everyone was asleep except for Princess, who lay with her face buried in her pillow, trying to muffle her sobs. He hesitated, looking around the darkened Power Chamber in concern, but no one else was awake. Grimacing a little, he pulled the jacket tightly around his body and went to see if he could help.
Princess looked up, startled, then reddened with embarrassment. "I'm sorry," she whispered, pushing herself up and rubbing self-consciously at her eyes.
"Don't be," Jason told her, sitting down next to her on the cot. "Is it anything specific or just everything all together?"
Princess stared at the floor, very much aware of Jason's closeness. "Sort of.... I'm really sorry, I don't usually get upset like this."
Jason shrugged a little. "Everyone has to let off steam some time." She dared to look at him just briefly. "I thought you'd be angry at us."
"Well... You had to leave your home in the middle of the night. Who knows when you'll get to go back? We're responsible for that!"
Understanding dawned in Jason's eyes. "I get it You aren't responsible. That General Carlton is. Don't blame yourself. Besides I've been through worse than this."
Princess looked straight at him, then, curiosity and eagerness in her eyes.
"You were a ranger, weren't you? You said you were once the Gold Ranger."
"I was the first Red Ranger," Jason explained softly. "It was when Rita first escaped. Zordon brought me and my friends Zack, Billy, Trini and Kimberly to the Command Centre. It was different, then, to what it's like now. We had different powers.... different zords..... The first zords were in the shape of dinosaurs. I piloted the Tyrannosaurus. Man, that was awesome...."
Jason told her about Tommy's joining the team, the change to the Thunder Zords, and then his departure from Angel Grove with Zack and Trini. Princess listened intently to his every word.
"Was it hard? Giving up the coins, I mean..." Jason paused. "Yeah, it was. It was okay at first but after a couple of days, we sort of got depressed. That, on top of the homesickness... We were the real life of the party in Geneva for a week or so. My roommate, Tory, he couldn't talk to me for a week and a half. Every time he tried, I practically bit his head. It didn't last, luckily. I got less grumpy, and he put it down to bad homesickness."
"And then you came back."
Jason sighed. "Yeah, then I came back. I came back because I felt like I'd done all I could. It was different for Zack and Trini. They had the patience and the diplomacy to handle all of that stuff. I'm a fighter, though. I always have been. Don't get me wrong. I'll talk my way through something if I can, but I need to feel as though I'm getting somewhere. Sometimes, at the conference, it felt like we were taking one step forward and three steps back. I couldn't cope with that after a while. So, I came home, and two days later Tommy showed up on the doorstep. He said there was a problem, and they needed my help. I said sure, and he told me to come with him. No questions asked. He told me on the way here what was going on."
"What?" Princess asked, eager to hear as much as she could get Jason to tell her. Jason explained quietly.
"Trey was here, and his three personalities, or whatever it was, had split into three completely separate people. While he was like that, he couldn't hold the Gold Ranger powers, and he needed someone to take them while he pulled himself together. Literally."
Princess smiled a little at the joke. Jason went on softly. "They'd already tried giving the powers to Billy, but thered been some sort of accident a while back, and he couldn't manage them. So, that left me. It was good, to start with. Being a ranger again, I mean It felt good to be back in the fight. I didn't realise just how much I'd missed it until I was back in the middle of it."
"But after a few weeks I started to get weak during the fights. I thought I wasn't getting enough sleep, but it was worse than that. One day, I collapsed in here after a fight and a few days after that, I collapsed in the Youth Centre in front of everyone. Turned out the powers were sort of filtering out of my body, and they were taking my life force with them. The powers were killing me."
Princess felt her throat constrict with inexplicable fear. "Killing you?"
"Yeah. We had to transfer the powers back to Trey, and fast. Another day, or so, and it would've been too late."
"You managed to do it, though."
Jason smiled a little, touched by the concern in her voice. "Yeah, we did it just in time. It was the last time for me being a ranger, though. The Gold powers screwed up the energy patterns in my body It doesn't affect me physically, but I can't support any ranger powers now."
"I'm sorry," Princess murmured. Jason shrugged. "It's no big deal. I've done my time."
Princess hesitated for a long moment, then slipped her arm through his. "It is a big deal. I can read your face like a book. I saw it in your eyes when your friends went off without you the other day."
"There's no point in sulking about it," Jason said firmly. He paused, and glanced at the clock that Adam had installed on the wall of the Power Chamber. "No point staying up all night, either. Think you can get some sleep?"
"I'll try," Princess murmured. "I... I just wish there was something we could do I hate being here like this, and being so helpless."
Jason slid off the cot, letting her lie back down. "Don't think like that. We're doing all we can to keep you safe right now. We'll get this mess sorted out soon enough. Don't worry about it. We'll take care of you."
Princess smiled tearfully. "Thankyou, Jason. You're really sweet, you know that?"
Jason blushed red with embarrassment. "Ah... Thanks." She squeezed his hand lightly, then sighed and shut her eyes. Jason waited until he was sure she was asleep, then straightened up and turned to go back to his own cot. He realised a moment later that the other Jason was awake,
and watching him. He hesitated, then went over to talk to the younger boy, hoping he could make peace.
"I wasn't doing anything," he said defensively as soon as he was within whispering distance. Jason shook his head, pushing himself up onto his elbows.
"Never said anything. Is she okay?"
Jase answered cautiously. "I think so."
"She gets like that sometimes," Jason murmured. "Not real often... Just when we're in a really tough spot, like now. She usually holds up well. Like when Mark and I were trapped in the Fairgrounds. She took charge, then, even over the Chief."
Jase had to smile. "Sounds like Kimberly."
"Another former ranger. She was the Pink Ranger before Kat."
"Oh. So what about you?"
Jase withheld a moan. Not again....
"I used to be."
Jason noted the shortness in the other boy's reply, and took the hint. "Gotcha. Man, I can't wait till this is over and we can go home."
"Same," Jase muttered. Jason regarded him coolly. "You don't know what it's like to be away from home, and wonder if you'll ever see it again. Don't even start."
Jase's gaze hardened considerably. "Oh no? Well, to start with, there was the time that I was trapped in the Dimension of Darkness, with no way out, and I was about to get a sword straight through my chest. Then there was the time on the Island of Illusions, where a single self-doubt was all it took to make you vanish from existence..."
"Whoa," Jason interrupted. "I'm sorry. I should've kept my mouth shut." Jase didn't reply, but it was clear he agreed. Jason lay back down with a thud.
"Look, we appreciate you guys helping us out, but the sooner we can get out of here, the better off we'll all be. You guys can forget about us, and we can forget about you."
Jase frowned. "Just what is your problem? Mark and the others don't seem to have any difficulties being here."
"That's because they're too polite to make any complaints."
"But not you."
Jason stared hard at Jase through the darkness. "No. Not me." The two stared at each other for a long moment, and then Jason went on, his voice taking on a warning tone. "Listen, don't get some warped idea that just because we have the same name, were gonna be best buddies. It doesn't work that way. You've gotta earn my friendship."
"You're an arrogant son of a bitch, you know that?" Jase snapped. Jason smirked.
"So I've been told. Now why don't you go back to bed, like a good boy?" Jase clenched his jaw. *Conceited moron...* He straightened up and turned away....
"God, I hope the recorder didn't get smashed up like everything else." Jase turned back to the older boy quickly. "What was that?" Jason eyed him with sudden calm. "What was what?"
"That bit about a recorder?"
"Hhmmm? Oh... Well, we have the black box like every other plane, but when we started to get suspicions about General Carltons loyalties a couple of years ago, we installed a second device, one that had audio and visual recording capabilities. We never told anyone about it, not even Chief Anderson. Just in case something like this happened. I just remembered, Carlton contacted us before the ambush. He practically said he'd set us up, made some crack about planning our funerals already.... Stuff like that. That will all be on the recorder. If anyone's searched the plane, they will have taken the black box, but they wouldn't have known about the recorder. That should still be there, and it was designed to last in severe conditions, like crashes... underwater situations.... stuff like that."
Jase hesitated. "So... Where exactly is this recorder?"
"Up the back of the cockpit. Course, with the way the cockpit was crushed, there's no guarantee it'll still be there. Probably got knocked off. No point worrying now, though, is there?"
Jase took a step away. "No..."
Jason smiled a little to himself and rolled over, turning away from the former Gold Ranger. Jase turned and headed slowly back to his cot, only to stop halfway there. A recording device, planted there by G. Force... Jase glanced around. No one was awake, no one would notice he was gone, and he would hope- fully be back before anyone realised....
Pulling Tommy's jacket tightly around his body, Jason slipped out of the Power Chamber.
* * *
Over on his cot, Jason heard the door slide open, then close. He had judged the other boy's character correctly. The other Jason was just like Mark, willing to do anything for others without regard for his own safety.
Pleased with his cunning, and without a thought for the foolish and dangerous thing he'd just done, Jason shut his eyes and soon fell asleep.
Temporary Base Camp, Angel Grove Forest....
General Carlton had just about given up for the night. He was exhausted, especially after the raid on the Scott home had proved futile. He could have had men check the relatives' home in Stone Canyon, but that would have cause more trouble than he could handle. No, they would simply have to bide their time, and hope Anderson would lead them to G. Force.
He was just about ready to pack it in completely when a young lieutenant skidded up to him.
"Sir, there's activity at the lake!"
Carlton was on his feet in an instant. "Is it them?"
"No, sir. We believe it's the son of that psychiatrist you wanted to take into custody. He's out at the Phoenix now. Do you want us to move in?"
"No! No, tell them to hold. I'm on my way." Grabbing his gun, Carlton ran for the nearest jeep.
Angel Grove Lake....
Jason slid carefully into the icy water, holding on to the edge of the hatch to keep his head above water. The back of the cockpit, Jason had said.
_Get in and get out as quick as you can._ Drawing in a deep breath, Jason plunged into the water.
* * *
"He just went under," a sergeant announced as Carlton arrived on the scene.
"What the hell for?" Carlton growled as he grabbed a pair of night- vision binoculars to see. A minute passed, and Jason surfaced, gasping for air. He stayed there for nearly a minute, then went back under again.
"He's looking for something," Carlton muttered. "What the hell is he looking for? We've already got the black box...."
It was a lot longer before Jason resurfaced that time and Carlton was starting to think the boy had drowned himself, when he appeared, lifting a strange-looking device out and onto the hull of the plane, then pulling himself out after it.
"What is that?" the sergeant asked. Carlton shook his head. "I'm not sure. One thing's certain, though. That kid isn't just there to do a bit of treasure hunting. Okay, listen up! We'll let him swim back to shore, and then we grab him. I'll be willing to bet he has some idea where G. Force is Plus, I'd like to know what it is that he pulled out of there. So wait until he's standing on solid ground, then move in!"
* * *
Shivering violently with cold, Jason slid back into the freezing waters of the lake and began to swim for shore. For a long moment, he was fearful he wouldn't make it, but just as his strength was starting to fail him, he felt his feet scrape the sandy bottom, and he stood up with a deep feeling of relief. Clutching the recorder to his chest, he stumbled out of the water and up onto the grass, where he stopped to check his communicator.
Not surprisingly, it had become water-logged and non-operational. He cursed softly and was about to head back towards town, and Tommys place, when he heard a strange sound behind him.
He looked up, and jumped a little with fright to find he was surrounded by CMF soldiers, all armed and aiming their weapons straight at him. A tall, heavily-built man walked through the circle of soldiers, and approached Jason calmly.
"Out a bit late, aren't we, son?"
Jason's grip on the recorder tightened as he recognised General Carlton. The general eyed the soggy teen critically.
"If I was your father, I'd tan your hide for being out this late." Jason's jaw tightened. "Well, you aren't, so can I please go? I need to get home."
Carlton glanced down a notepad he held. "Let's see Jason Lee Scott. That is who you are, isn't it? We've been looking for you and your father, over a very serious matter."
Jason glanced around nervously at the guns. He had always hated firearms, and having several pointing at him did nothing to ease that hatred.
"Am I under arrest, or something?"
"Well," Carlton replied quietly, "that depends on how cooperative you are. I just want an answer to a few questions, that's all. Starting with what you have there, in your hands."
Jason glanced down at the recorder, and suddenly noticed that it was vibrating very slightly against his chest. Somehow, in holding it so tightly, he had managed to switch it on. Maybe... Just Maybe....
"It's nothing," he stammered. "Just a piece of metal."
"I'm not a fool," Carlton said in a dangerously soft voice. "No one would come out in the middle of the night, swim out to a sunken plane in freezing cold waters just for a piece of metal. Now, what is it?"
Jason clenched his jaw, refusing to speak. Carlton nodded. "Fine. How about this, then? Where is G. Force?" Again, silence. Carlton sighed in annoyance. "You're coming very close to landing yourself in jail, boy." Jason took his chance. "You mean, you'll frame me the same way you framed G. Force?"
Carlton's expression altered considerably. "Now what, exactly, do you mean by that?"
Jason stepped back, painfully aware of the guns at his back. "I know what you did to G. Force. I know you set them up for an ambush, then played it out like it was their fault. You lied about them attacking the Spectran ships, it was you that arranged for the Phoenix to be attacked, and you had your own planes do it! Then, because you weren't sure if they were dead, you went around saying they'd committed treason, so you'd have a reason to arrest them, and when you arrest them, you'll kill them!"
Carlton stared intently at the teen. "I hope you realise you've just signed your own death warrant."
Jason felt his body go numb with fear. "You... You're going to kill me?"
"You've just proven you know too much to be allowed to live."
"Then it's true," Jason said hoarsely. "You really did set G. Force up to have them killed."
Carlton stood still for a long moment before finally shrugging. "Yes, it's true. Not that you'll ever have the chance to tell anyone about it."
Jason glanced around frantically, and in the space of a millisecond, opted for the oldest trick in the book. He focused his gaze on a point some distance away to his left, hesitated, then yelled with as much panic as he could muster.
"Mark, no! *Run!*"
Unbelievably, it worked. Carlton and all his men looked around sharply, expecting to see the Commander of G. Force nearby. Jason took advantage of the brief seconds, and fled as fast as he could.
* * *
By the time Carlton realised it was a sham, Jason had already vanished between the trees. It was then that he realised just what had been going on.
"A recorder..." he whispered in shock. "That was a recorder... Damn it! Get that little shit! Bring him back now! Go!"
The soldiers took off after Jason, determined not to let him get away.
* * *
Jason knew they were chasing him. It would have been stupid to assume anything else. He ran as fast as he could, the adrenaline in his system the only thing preventing him from collapsing. He was cold, exhausted, and hell- bent on making it to safety before Carlton caught him. Only, he wasn't going to make it to safety. He knew that, as much as he wanted to deny it. He was simply too exhausted to outrun the men that were chasing him.
His foot caught on an out-jutting tree root, and he went down hard, the wind knocked out of his body by the painful fall. Groaning softly, he started up, only to stop when he saw an opening at the bottom of the Oak tree he had fallen next to. Thinking quickly, he shoved the recorder into the hole, and scraped dirt and leaves across to conceal it. That way, if he didn't get away, the recorder would at least be saved from certain destruction.
Struggling to breathe evenly, Jason staggered to his feet and ran onwards, unaware of how slowly he was actually moving. The next thing he knew, something or someone slammed into him from behind, and sent him to the ground with a crash. He was not so lucky that time, and his head struck a rock as he went down. His world exploded in light and pain, and then everything faded away to nothing.
* * *
Donavon awoke to sounds nearby and looked up to see Adam and Billy working at the control panel with Alpha. He sat up slowly, rubbing his eyes tiredly.
"What's going on?"
Billy glanced over at him. "We just received a communication from Security Chief Anderson. We're teleporting him here now."
Relief filled Donavon's face and he started up, only to realise some- thing was amiss.
Both Adam and Billy looked around, taken by surprise. Neither of them had noticed Jason's absence on arrival....
"Maybe he went to take a constitutional," Adam said, half-jokingly. Billy looked sceptical.
"For twenty minutes?"
Adam shrugged. "Hey, each to their own...."
"Incoming," Zordon announced abruptly, diverting their attention. A moment passed, and then a flash of white light heralded Security Chief Anderson's arrival in the Power Chamber. Donavon went to greet him immediately.
"Good to see you again, sir."
Anderson nodded. "Same. I just wish it hadn't been these circumstances." He trailed off as his gaze fell on the team of teenagers that slept on the cots. "Good lord... Please, tell me they're all right...."
"For the most part," Billy replied. "However, Mark suffered some burns to his eyes."
Anderson strode across the floor to where the young commander lay. He crouched down there for a moment, then shook his head in anger.
"Damn Carlton... Damn him to hell!"
Anderson looked around to see Princess sitting up and looking around in tired confusion. He went to her quickly, anxious to see that she was all right.
"It's me," he reassured her gently, taking her trembling hands in his own. "It's all right, Princess. Everything will be all right."
Princess fell against him, crying softly with relief. The others were starting to wake up, then, and quickly gathered around their mentor.
"We're glad to see you, Chief," Tiny said firmly. Anderson nodded. "I'm glad to see all of you safe. I was worried sick." He looked over at Mark, who had also woken up by then. "Colonel Cronus asked me to pass on reassurances from him, as well. He's working hard in Washington D.C. to get this sorted out."
Mark shook his head. "It won't be sorted out unless we can turn the tables on Carlton. We have to prove that he's the traitor. Not us."
Anderson went over and sat beside the teenager. "We'll do it, Mark. Somehow, we'll prove that."
A short distance away, Adam and Billy exchanged smiles. The Security Chief's presence seemed to lift G. Force's spirits considerably, and give them the extra touch of hope that they all needed. Billy turned back to the control panel, only to find Donavon standing by the door, near-panic in his eyes.
"Mr Scott? Is everything all right?"
Donavon turned around sharply. "No, it is not! Just where the hell is Jason? He's been gone for half an hour now, probably longer!"
Billy and Adam were helpless to answer. Over the other side of the Control room, though, Jason's relieved smile faded quickly, and he realised with a touch of unease that the teen could not have made it back from the lake. If he had even made it to the lake to begin with....
Mark's head turned a little as he sensed his second-in-commands growing anxiety.
"What's wrong, Jason?"
Jason swallowed hard, and forced himself to speak. "I, um... I might know where he went...."
Donavon walked forward slowly. "Where, exactly?" Jason cringed a little, feeling everyone's eyes on him. "I sort of mentioned the recorder to him last night, when we were talking and he might have gone to, you know... find it."
Anderson frowned in confusion. "Recorder? What recorder?" Mark sat forward some.
"You... did... what?" he asked in a dangerously soft voice. Jason stood up, agitated.
"I didn't think he'd actually go to try and find the damn thing! It isn't my fault!"
"What time was this?" Tiny asked tensely. Jason shook his head. "I don't know. Two.... Maybe two-thirty. I'm not sure."
"Wait just a moment!" Anderson snapped, his tone bringing down a thick silence on the Power Chamber. He looked over at the team's commander.
"Mark, what is this recorder?"
"It's just an audio-visual recorder," Mark explained. "We installed it a couple of years ago when we started to get worried about General Carlton. We never told anyone, just in case something like this happened. Damn it, Jason! Why'd you tell him? Did you want him to go out in the middle of the night to find it?"
Jason sank back down onto his cot miserably. "I don't know. I thought he would have been back by now!"
"Anything could have happened to him, Jason," Donavon said in a strained voice. "You heard us say that we were forced to leave our home last night. Carlton's men would have known Jason by sight. He probably never even reached the damn lake!"
Princess got unsteadily to her feet and shuffled over to Jason, anger and pain in her eyes. "If anything has happened to Jason, I swear to God, I'll never forgive you."
Zordon finally spoke from the column of light. "Billy, try to get a lock on Jason's communicator. With luck, it will still be functioning. Alpha, contact the other rangers and summon them here immediately."
As Billy and Alpha went to work, Mark turned his blind stare in Jason's direction.
"How could you, Jason? How could you do it?" Jason couldn't answer, and he rolled over to face the rock wall, trying to get away from accusing stares that simply would not leave him alone.
* * *
Within half an hour, the full compliment of rangers was there, waiting anxiously to be able to act. Finally, Billy stepped back from the panel, shaking his head.
"It's no good. His communicator is non-operational. I can't find him." Tommy clutched the edge of the panel in a death grip. "Just like when he was losing the Gold Ranger powers. Damn!"
Anderson moved away from the group, and walked over to where Jason lay on his cot, trying to conceal the sobs that were wracking his body.
"You sent him out on a suicide mission, Jason," Anderson said quietly. "Why?"
"I don't know," Jason choked out, his eyes tightly shut against a hot flood of tears. "I don't know...."
"They went out of their way to help you, and protect you, and this is how you pay them back." Anderson regarded the boy somberly. "I've never been more disappointed in you."
"I'm sorry," Jason whimpered. Anderson shook his head. "No, don't tell me that. Tell that to Donavon. It's his son that's missing."
Rising up, Anderson left Jason alone to consider those words.
* * *
"You probably hate me don't you?"
Donavon looked up from where he sat to see Jason standing there, tears visible in his eyes. He looked away again, unable to hide his anger.
"I don't hate you, Jason. I just I don't understand what you have against my son."
"You're angry, though," Jason pressed. Donavon's hands clenched into fists.
"Yes, all right. I am angry. I'm very angry. Jason is my only child... I'm petrified I'm going to lose him. So yes, I am angry."
Jason looked away. "I'm sorry."
Donavon looked back up at him. "Do you mean that? Are you really sorry, or are you just feeling guilty?"
"Both I guess...."
The older man let his breath out in a rush. "Look, now is not the best time to talk to me, Jason. I think you'd better just go back to your cot."
Jason stood still for a long moment, then went silently back to the other side of the chamber.
Angel Grove Park....
General Carlton stood in silence, not moving or talking, just thinking. Finally, his right-hand man approached cautiously.
"Sir? What now?"
Carlton chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Call 911." The sergeant blinked, startled. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. Call 911, immediately. Tell them we've found a teenage boy in the park. Brutally attacked... And we suspect that G. Force is responsible."
The sergeant smiled, then. "Yes, sir."
Carlton watched him go, then went over and crouched down beside Jason's motionless body.
"No, you won't be talking to anyone," he murmured, and laughed softly to himself.
Billy frowned deeply as the Power Chamber computers picked up on a 911 call coming from the park. He made some quick adjustments, then glanced around.
Silence fell instantly, just as a voice became audible over the speakers.
"...found a boy in the park. He's been assaulted, by more than one person."
"Can you give me any details, sir?"
"The injuries are serious.... This kid is in a critical condition. He has head injuries.... Got a fractured leg... It might even be broken. There are wounds.... look like they might have been made by some sort of knife. He's got burns and some strange marks around his throat, like something nearly strangled him. Can you hurry it up with the ambulance, please? We have reason to believe G. Force may have been responsible for this attack."
Silence reigned, and everyone in the Power Chamber glanced grimly at one another.
"Very well, sir. We are dispatching an ambulance from Angel Grove Memorial immediately. Do you have any idea of the boy's identity?"
"He's a local kid... I think his father is a psychiatrist. Ah, Scott is the name. That's it, Jason Scott! It's Jason Scott that's been attacked...."
Donavon fell away from the control panel, and bolted out the doors. Anderson hesitated, then followed. Over on the cots, Princess turned an angry glare on Jason.
"You did this. It's your fault."
Jason opened his mouth to protest, but stopped short, knowing she was right.
* * *
"He's got them."
Anderson came to a halt just a metre behind Donavon. "What are you talking about?"
Donavon turned back to face Anderson head on. "Carlton. He has those kids in a deadlock and now he's using my son as leverage to get what he wants. God, this has gotten so damn dirty..."
"You're telling me that?" Anderson retorted. "We always knew Carlton was capable of this, Donavon. We were just never able to prove it, because he's never actually gone to these lengths before. If we can get someone in to Jason, we may be able to put one hell of a nail in Carlton's coffin."
Donavon stared at Anderson with haunted eyes. "Do you really believe Carlton would leave Jason in a condition where he was capable of telling anyone what really happened?"
Anderson faltered, then, realising Donavon was right. Finally, he spoke in a tense voice.
"We'll pull through this, Donavon. Somehow. Jason will be all right. If need be, we'll go into the hospital with an army of our own to reach Jason. He won't die, I swear it."
Donavon wiped the tears from his eyes. "Don't make promises that you can't keep."
* * *
The ambulance arrived nearly five minutes after the call went through. Leaving Jason lying unconscious on the grass, Carlton went to meet the men, acting as pompous as ever.
"It's about time you boys got here. You'll be lucky if that boy survives, now."
The first ambulance officer glowered at Carlton. "Someone gave us bad directions. We ended up on the other side of the park. Where is he?"
"Right over there," Carlton replied, motioning back over his shoulder. "Just between us, I seriously doubt he'll make it. G. Force have gone too far this time, attacking a completely innocent boy."
The men started forward then stopped. The second officer glared angrily at Carlton.
"All right. If this is some sick practical joke, we've had enough." Confusion filled Carlton's face, and he turned, then froze. Jason was gone.
* * *
There was little the rangers could do. That much they'd conceded. So, the team had retreated to the Zord holding bay to talk amongst themselves.
"Damned, stupid, arrogant idiot..." Tommy muttered as he sat down on the cement floor. "If Jason dies...."
"Don't think that," Kat interrupted gently, leaning over and hugging him from behind. "He'll be all right, Tommy. Jason's tough."
"You heard that call," Rocky said gloomily. "They said he was in a critical condition. Head injuries, and all that...."
"It was probably one of Carlton's men that made the call," Tanya mused. "You heard him blame it on G. Force."
Tommy clenched his hands into fists. "Yeah, well, in a way, G. Force is responsible. Jase would never have gone out by himself if that other Jason hadn't said anything to him. Son of a bitch...."
"If you put the blame on Jason," Adam said softly, "then you're putting it on Mark as well. You know he'll take as much responsibility as any of the others."
Tommy moaned softly and buried his face in his hands. "Mark... Hell, this is such a mess."
"Do you think," Kat asked softly, "that maybe one of us could slip into the hospital to see how Jason is? They wouldn't know any of us. Carlton's men wouldn't, anyway. We'd only have to look out for cogs."
Tommy's head came up slowly. "That's a good idea." He looked around at his friends. "Who should go?"
"Adam can," Rocky said, cheerfully volunteering his best friend. Adam pulled a face.
"What about it?" Tommy asked. "You're the fastest on your feet, Adam. Think you could get in and out without any trouble?"
Adam was silent for a moment, then nodded. "I'll try. Better not tell anyone back in the Power Chamber what's going on, though. Especially Mr Scott."
Billy stepped forward. "I'll come with you. Just in case there's any trouble."
Adam nodded his consent. "We'll go now. Just tell Zordon... Tell him we went to get some breakfast."
Billy touched Adam's shoulder lightly. "C'mon, Adam. Let's go."
* * *
Adam entered the hospital at a walking pace, hoping he appeared more calm than he felt. The corridor to the admissions and information desk was unusually long, and seemed to go on forever. At one point, he passed a couple of CMF soldiers, and his heart started to pound so hard in his chest that he was sure they could hear it.
Panic clutched at his chest, and his eyes stung as sweat trickled down from his forehead. For just a brief second, he contemplated turning a running out of the hospital as fast as he could. The soldiers spared him a glance, though, and nothing more. Breathing a silent sigh of relief, Adam hurried up his pace just a little.
The front desk loomed up suddenly in front of him, and he found himself suddenly out of breath when the nurse looked up and asked if he needed help.
_Jason_ he thought anxiously. _Just ask about Jason and get the hell outta here_
"My, ah... I think my friend was brought in this morning. He was, um, attacked in the park."
Across the room, a second pair of soldiers looked abruptly in Adam's direction, their curiosity roused.
The nurse nodded. "What's your friend's name?"
"Jason Scott," Adam replied, tugging nervously at his tight collar. The soldiers began to walk across the room, towards the teenager. The nurse typed the name into the computer, waited a moment as it searched, then offered the boy an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry. There's no record of a Jason Scott being admitted. Perhaps it was the hospital in Stone Canyon?"
Adam was notably confused. "But... An ambulance went out to the park this morning! I heard.... I mean, I saw it go into the park!"
Looking slightly less amicable, the nurse made a second check, then nodded.
"There was a call this morning, but it turned out to be a false report. No injured person or persons were found. Perhaps you should try calling your friend, young man. You might find he's at home."
Adam backed away from the desk. "I, uh... I'll do that...." He walked into someone, or something, that was suddenly behind him, and looked slowly around to find two stocky-looking soldiers standing there, watching him with acute interest.
"What's your name, son?" one soldier asked. Adam swallowed hard. "That's none of your business."
The two men exchanged glances, then they both grabbed a fistful of Adam's clothing and, ignoring the wondering stares they were getting from curious onlookers, hauled him into the nearest empty room, pulling the door shut behind them.
"All right," the first man said gruffly. "What do you know about Jason Scott?"
Adam blinked, confused. "What do you mean?" The second soldier stepped forward. "We mean, where is he?"
"I don't know!" Adam choked out, suddenly frightened. "That's why I came here! I heard he was hurt...."
"Where did you hear that?"
"On.... On the radio... The news..."
"It hasn't been released to the press, yet," the soldier went on in a dangerously soft voice. "You couldn't know, unless you know something you aren't supposed to."
Adam's mind was in a whirl. _They lost Jason... Jason's hurt, he can probably prove one way or another whether G. Force are guilty of treason... and they've lost him_
He stiffened. Jason had gone missing again, and this time, no one knew where he was....
Reacting purely on instinct, Adam spun around and slammed straight through the door, jarring his shoulder but not stopping. Cursing angrily, the soldiers took off after him, knowing the trouble they'd be in if they let the boy get away.
* * *
Billy leant back against a tree, glancing repeatedly at his watch. Though it had only been a couple of minutes, the young genius understood all too well how time could stretch out in grave situations.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, the hospital door swung violently open and Adam came charging out, taking the steps several at a time and nearly going head- over-heels in the process. He was followed closely by four soldiers, none of whom looked happy.
"Adam?" Billy asked as the teen fled towards the park. "Run!" Adam yelled over his shoulder. Billy took one look at his friend's pursuers, and promptly took Adam's advice.
* * *
The boys had an infinitely better knowledge of the park than the soldiers chasing them, and soon lost them by side-stepping into the hollow trunk of a huge Oak tree. There they waited, hardly daring to breathe, until all four soldiers had gone by and were out of sight.
"They gone?" Adam asked, breathless. Billy nodded. "Yes. Adam, what happened in there?"
"Asked the nurse..." Adam explained as they left the hollow trunk. "Billy, Jase isn't there! They.... They lost him!"
Billy turned to face Adam. "What? What do you mean, they lost him? Who lost him?"
"General Carlton, I think. The nurse said they sent an ambulance out, but it was a false report. They didn't find anyone. Then, two of those soldiers pulled me up and wanted me to tell them where Jason is. Jason must have gotten away from Carlton and his men! He's probably still in the forest somewhere!"
Billy hit Adam lightly on the shoulder.
"C'mon, let's get back. We have to tell the others."
* * *
General Carlton was furious. And that was putting it lightly. He paced back and forth, almost steaming from the mouth, while his soldiers stood by in heavy silence.
"Damn it, the little bastard was half dead! He couldn't have just gotten up and walked off! It's impossible!" He swung around to focus an enraged glare on the sentries. "But you never saw anyone."
One man shook his head slowly. "No, sir. Nothing. Perhaps the boy was just pretending...."
Carlton snagged the man by his shirt collar and dragged him closer. "When you have a fractured skull, a broken leg and a damaged larynx, you do not fake being unconscious. Somebody took that boy, and we have to find out who!"
"Maybe it was G. Force," someone suggested helplessly. "Could have been the Power Rangers," someone else mused. "This is their territory...."
Carlton turned away from his men, seething with fury. "You all have ten seconds to get out of my sight, and after that, I start shooting."
Every man ran for his life.
Everyone listened in tense silence as Adam repeated what he had learned. Finally, Donavon spoke in a voice that was audibly strained by fear.
"My son could be anywhere, then. He could be dead, for all we know." Tommy swung around to face Zordon.
"We're going to go and search for him."
"The forest covers an enormous area, Tommy," Zordon said quietly. "It would be a futile effort."
"Well, it'd be better than waiting around here and doing nothing!" Tommy exploded. Mark got slowly, carefully to his feet.
"Tommy's right. Every minute wasted standing around here could mean Carlton finding Jason before we do."
Anderson's expression darkened. "Mark, what do you mean by we?" Mark clenched his jaw. "We're responsible for the trouble Jason is in, and we owe it to him to do everything we can to find him."
"What'd I tell you?" Adam whispered to Tommy. Mark heard the comment, and chose to ignore it.
"If you guys are going out to search for Jason, then we're coming with you."
Silence reigned for a long moment, and then Tommy stepped forward. "We appreciate it, Mark, but I don't think...."
"All your technology couldn't find a wounded teenager in a hundred square miles of forest," Mark interrupted quietly. "If it could, you'd be trying now. I told you about myself when I was here months ago. You may have a better chance of finding Jason before Carlton does if we come with you."
"You're all hurt, though," Rocky protested. "What if we run into trouble?"
"We can't hide forever," Mark replied. "And this is what we were trained for. We help others at the risk of our own lives."
The rangers all looked to Chief Anderson, hoping he would say some- thing to dissuade G. Force. Instead, the security chief spoke in support of his adopted children.
"I suggest you concede and take them with you. If you don't, they'll only go out and search on their own. A combined effort would be far more profitable than separate ones."
Tommy sighed heavily. "Okay.... Okay. Let's hurry, though. We don't have a lot of time, here."
Angel Grove Park....
Carlton swung around to face the younger officer. "What is it, sergeant?"
The sergeant winced a little under Carlton's angry stare. "Sir, General Stewart has arrived."
Carlton paused, shutting his eyes against a developing headache. He had hoped to have reached G. Force and dealt with them before Stewart arrived....
"All right," he said grimly. "Thankyou. Dismissed, Sergeant." The sergeant hurried off, and Carlton turned to face his superior. Stewart strode across the grass to where Carlton waited, with his own entourage of soldiers behind him.
"Carlton," Stewart said abruptly. Carlton nodded. "Sir. I'm glad you're here."
Stewart looked sceptical. "I'm sure. What's the situation?"
"We haven't found G. Force yet, sir, but I believe were close. They're starting to panic. They attacked a local boy some time last night..."
"So you say," Stewart interrupted. "But you lost the boy." Carlton flushed red. "Yes, sir."
Stewart looked around at Carlton's men with a cool expression on his face.
"I don't have to tell you I was thoroughly unimpressed with your shenanigans on the television last week. You do not come outright and accuse anyone of treason! Especially not G. Force!"
"But sir..." Carlton protested weakly. Stewart spun around to face Carlton.
"I know you have a grudge against those kids, Carlton. I'm no fool. I know you would like nothing more than to see G. Force go down. Well, I'm telling you now. You play this by the book. If so much as one of those five kids ends up with a bullet wound, I will personally crucify your ass on national television! Do you understand me? You tell your men they do not shoot to kill. They not shoot at all!
G. Force will come peacefully if they believe they have a fair chance ahead of them." He paused, then shook his head. "Not that we're likely to find them. They're a hell of a lot more advanced than you'll ever be."
Carlton was about to protest further, when one of his men called out anxiously.
"General Carlton, we're picking up movement in the forest! Multiple persons, covering an area of a hundred or so metres."
"That must be them," Carlton growled. "Everyone, ready to move out!" He looked around, and faltered when Stewart focused a seething glare at him. Groaning inwardly, he called out a second order.
"Attention, everyone, do not open fire unless fired upon, is that clear?"
A murmur of consent swept through the camp, and Carlton turned back to Stewart.
"Is that acceptable, sir?"
Stewart glowered at the man. "Not a drop of blood, Carlton. I dont want to see a single drop of blood."
Carlton clenched his jaw in silent anger, and went to take charge of his men.
Angel Grove Forest....
Tommy watched Mark with visible concern. "Are you all right?" Mark nodded slowly as he paused to get his breath back. "Yeah... Just out of shape. I'll have to do maximum time in the gym when we get home." He turned slowly, reaching out with his senses. "There's no one around here but us. Let's keep moving."
Tommy grimaced, but made no protest.
* * *
Moving ahead in the line, Carlton drew even with his most trusted officer. "Davis, listen close. We can't draw fire on any of those little brats. Stewart will have my head on a silver platter if we shoot any of them."
"So what do we do?" Davis asked, keeping his gaze fixed firmly ahead. A moment later, something long and cool was slipped into his palm. A glance downwards revealed it to be a knife.
"I don't care that much about the others," Carlton whispered, "but no matter what, you put that through the Commander's rib cage. Understand?"
Davis smiled coldly. "Yes, sir."
* * *
Mark came to an abrupt halt as he and Tommy were joined by Adam and Keop, and Kat and Jason.
"What is it?" Tommy asked hopefully.
Mark didn't smile. "Trouble...."
No sooner had he said the word when CMF soldiers converged on the area, hemming the four teens in. Carlton, once the excitement had died down, spoke sneeringly to them.
"Well, look at this. Two of G. Force, and two Power Rangers. The Red and the Green ones. Colour coordination. How nice."
Mark's hand curled into fists at his sides. "Carlton...."
Carlton chuckled. "Nice to see that you're the helpless one, for once, Mark. Now, let's see who else my men can find."
* * *
Within a few short minutes, all members of G. Force, all of the rangers, plus Donavon and Security Chief Anderson had been caught. Carlton watched the large group with obvious delight.
"What a wonderful little gathering! We get five brats for treason, another five for aiding and abetting wanted fugitives...."
"Carlton, when the hell are you going to learn to keep your mouth shut?"
Beside Tommy, Mark breathed a quiet sigh of relief. "General Stewart...."
"Who's General Stewart?" Tommy asked softly.
"One of the men who trained us at West Point. We'll at least get fair treatment from him."
Stewart came forward, eyeing the group critically. Finally, his gaze came to rest on the commander. "Mark? Do you have anything to say?"
Mark stood up straight. "Yes, sir. We were set up, sir. General Carlton conspired to have us murdered, and create a secret agreement with the Spectrans."
"That's ridiculous!" Carlton exploded.
Stewart looked sceptical. "It's a less ridiculous notion than them being guilty of treason. Mark, do you have any proof at all?"
Mark's shoulders slumped. "No, sir. Not on hand. Only what we remember of the incident, and that's sketchy, at best. There's one thing...."
"We installed a recorder in the Phoenix in case anything like this ever happened. If what we remember is correct, then it would have recorded General Carlton admitting to us that he'd set us up, right before we were attacked. However, a local boy went in search of the recorder, and didn't come back. We believe he may have been seriously wounded by Carlton's men."
Stewart looked grim. "I believe you, Mark. I really do. But unless we find that recorder, I'm afraid there's nothing I can do."
Mark remained stoic. "We understand, sir."
Stewart moved forward, painfully aware of Carlton's triumphant grin. "Commander, I'm placing both you and your team under arrest for treason...."
Everyone and everything froze, and they looked around to see a small crowd of people moving through the trees towards them. Carlton signalled sharply, and his men all drew their weapons, ready to use them if the need arose.
Anderson took a step forward, barely able to believe what he was seeing. "Cronus?"
Colonel Cronus strode forward, flanked by nearly fifteen of his own men.
"I refuse to allow this to happen!" he said sharply.
Stewart took a slow step back. He, too, recognised the other man. "Colonel, I'm afraid I don't have a choice."
"Yes, you do, General. G. Force are innocent, and we have proof." He looked around. "Come through, lad."
The men parted, to let through a familiar figure. "Jason...."
Donavon whispered in shock. Jason came through slowly, his face the colour of ash and he was leaning heavily on a makeshift crutch. His throat was noticeably bruised, and there was a rough bandage wrapped around his head. In his free hand, though, he clutched the recorder device that he had so frantically hidden from Carlton the night before.
Across the way, Carlton stood frozen. Forget G. Force; that one boy had enough under his heel to put him in the brig for thirty years....
Jason reached Cronus' side, and the colonel gently took Jason's arm to guide him the rest of the way. Stewart watched tensely.
"I take it this is the boy that G. Force is supposed to have attacked?"
"Yes, sir," Carlton spluttered.
Anger filled Jason's face, and he spoke in an angry whisper. "That's a lie! They never touched me! That General Carlton, there, ordered the whole thing!"
Stewart spoke quietly. "Would you be willing to testify to that in court?"
"I can do better than that," Jason rasped. "Listen." He put the recorder down carefully on the ground, fiddled with the controls for a moment, then pressed a single button. A moment later, Carlton's voice filled the air.
"I've already got your funerals planned. Yours especially, Mark. Do you know how long I've been planning to have you five killed? Years. Ever since you first showed your faces in those ridiculous uniforms. And ever since you first made a fool of me."
"You made a fool of yourself, Carlton!" That was Mark....
"No, it was you little brats. Now, I'm going to rectify that. I've made a little agreement with Zoltar. I see to your deaths, and he'll give me a high position in the new world. Not bad, for one day's work. My boys should be arriving soon to finish you off, so see you in Hell, kids."
There was brief shouting, and then static. A moment passed, and then suddenly Jason's voice filled the air.
"It's nothing. Just a piece of metal."
"I'm not a fool. No one would come out in the middle of the night, swim out to a sunken plane in freezing cold waters just for a piece of metal. Now, what is it?"
"Fine. How about this, then? Where is G. Force?" Again, silence.
"You're coming ever closer to landing yourself in jail, boy."
"You mean, you'll frame me the same way you framed G. Force?"
"Now what, exactly, do you mean by that?"
"I know what you did to G. Force. I know you set them up for an ambush, then played it out like it was their fault. You lied about them attacking the Spectran ships, it was you that arranged for the Phoenix to be attacked, and you had your own planes do it! Then, because you weren't sure if they were dead, you went around saying they'd committed treason, so you'd have a reason to arrest them, and when you arrest them, you'll kill them!"
"I hope you realise you've just signed your own death warrant."
"You.... You're going to kill me?"
"You've just proven you know too much to be allowed to live."
"Then it's true. You really did set G. Force up to have them killed."
"Yes, it's true. Not that you'll ever have the chance to tell anyone about it."
* * *
Jason stopped the machine, and looked back up at Stewart.
"Well?" Stewart turned slowly to face Carlton, who had gone white as a ghost. "No miracle explanation, General Carlton?"
For a long moment, Carlton didn't move or speak. His plan was in tatters, that much he was sure of. It left only one option to him... Finally, he looked over at Lieutenant Davis and nodded, motioning slightly with his hand in Jason's direction. Davis darted forward and grabbed Jason, pressing his knife into the boy's ribcage. Carlton started forward, gun drawn, as his men all lifted their guns against Stewart's men and Cronus men.
"We're leaving now. If anyone follows us, that boy is dead. Under- stand...?"
Carlton's threat ended in a strangled whimper as G. Force's Jason lifted Mark's metal boomerang from his commanders belt and took Carlton from behind, pressing the lethal point into Carlton's throat.
"Tell him to let the boy go," Jason whispered menacingly, "or I cut your throat."
Carlton didn't speak. He didn't dare. Jason dug the knife in further, drawing a pinprick of blood.
"You know I'll do it, General. I've wanted to do this for five years. Tell him to let Jason go."
"Let him go," Carlton croaked out. "Davis...?"
For a long moment, nothing happened. Davis remained frozen, Carlton's men remained in a face-off with Stewart and Cronus' men. Then, finally, Davis thrust Jason away from him, sending the boy to the ground with a crash.
Stewart signalled frantically and his men rapidly moved in to arrest Carlton's followers. He then turned to where Jason was still holding Carlton in a death grip. "Let him go, Jason."
The boy remained still, his jaw clenched in suppressed rage. Stewart reached out, but stopped short of actually touching him. "Jason, let him go. It is not worth it. He isn't worth it."
Mark came forward slowly. "Jason, it's over. We're clear."
Finally, slowly, Jason released Carlton, and stepped back, letting Stewart's officers arrest him. Stewart clasped a hand on each teens shoulder.
"Just for the record, very few people believed Carlton's claims. You would have been acquitted in a fair trial."
Mark smiled weakly. "If Carlton had his way, we would never have made it to trial."
Princess, Keop and Tiny came over, all trembling with relief that. The five embraced, thankful that once more, they'd escaped with their lives. Gradually, the shock wore off and, as Carlton and his men were led away, the rangers joined G. Force with a tremendous cheer.
"We did it!" Rocky said, giving a victory howl.
"Yeeha!" Mark smiled faintly. "We did, didn't we...?"
Tommy threw his arms around the commander in a huge bear hug. "You guys are free! And Carlton's going down, big time!"
Laughter filled the quiet air as the two teams celebrated the victory. Then, Jason felt a sharp twist of pain, and he looked around anxiously, finally spotting Donavon, Colonel Cronus and Chief Anderson a short distance away, gathered around the disturbingly still form of Donavon's son. Pulling away from the celebrations, he hurried over. "Is he okay?"
The men looked up as Jason joined them. Donavon was cradling his son in his arms, and for a frightening moment, Jason thought the other boy was dead.
"He's badly hurt," Cronus said softly, "but he'll survive."
Jason moved around, so that he was kneeling on the other side of the former Gold Ranger. "Jason?"
Jase opened his eyes a little, and finally focused on Jason. A weak smile touched his lips. "How... How'd I do...?"
His voice was little more than a whisper, and he cringed from the pain in his throat. Jason reached out to grasp Jase's hand. "You did good. You did real good, bro. I'm sorry, Jason. For every- thing."
Jase sighed a little. "S'okay. So..." He smiled again. "... Did I earn your friendship?"
Jason fought back the sudden threat of tears. "For sure. You're way too good for me, man."
Anderson placed a gentle hand on Jason's shoulder. "That's enough. We need to get this young man to hospital."
Jason got painfully to his feet. "I'll call for one." He paused, looking down at Jase one more time before going to keep his promise.
Angel Grove Memorial....
The adults and rangers gathered in the empty waiting room of the hospital to talk while Jason and G-Force were being treated for their wounds. Chief Anderson was the first to break the silence and speak.
"You said you were going to stay in Washington D.C.," he said to Cronus. The colonel nodded.
"That had been my plan. However, the man I had planted in the Pentagon was caught, and had to go underground to escape. Carlton's men turned the heat up on us, and I had to get out. By the time I left the capital, I had at least seven different men tailing me."
Donavon leaned forward. "What about Jason? How did you find him?"
"That was an accident," Cronus replied, "and a very fortunate one at that. I'll explain. I knew G-Force was somewhere in Angel Grove, but I had no idea where, and no way of contacting them. So, my men and I took to the forest to wait it out. I was scouting with one of my lieutenants when we came across Carlton. I'm ashamed to admit this, but we came across Carlton when he was beating your son up, and we couldn't do damn thing about it. It would have been too much of a risk. So, we were forced to wait. Carlton had his men call an ambulance It was only when the ambulance arrived that Carlton took his eyes off Jason. All up, we had approximately fifteen seconds to go in, grab the lad and disappear again. We took a big risk, but thankfully the boy wasn't hurt any more seriously than he already had been."
"I appreciate it," Donavon murmured. "If Jason had ended up in hospital, under the guard of Carlton's men, he may not have survived the night."
"That is probably true," Cronus said quietly. "Carlton would not have taken the risk of having Jason recover to testify. It was touch and go for a while, though, when we had him in the forest. Thankfully, a couple of my men had some medical knowledge. We were able to bring Jason back to a lucid state, where he was able to incriminate Carlton."
"And in doing that," Anderson concluded, "he not only freed G-Force from the treason charges, but himself and you as well, Donavon."
Donavon looked around at the rangers. "If Jason hadn't done what he did, we would have all been in jail ourselves, for aiding and abetting."
"Maybe," Tommy conceded reluctantly, "but I'm still gonna sock him one when he's better. He scared us all half to death!"
Donavon had to agree. "I understand. I think you might have to get in line, Tommy."
Laughter swept across the group, and they fell into a comfortable silence while waiting for news of their friends.
One week later....
Mark drew in a slow, calming breath as the bandages were carefully removed from his eyes. This had been a long time in coming, and he dreaded the possibility of opening his eyes to discover the blindness was permanent.
"C'mon," Jason growled impatiently. "Hurry up and open your eyes!" Princess slapped him on the arm. "Leave him alone. Let him take his time."
Mark smiled mentally. He knew Jason was right, though. Biting back the fear, he opened his eyes.
"Well?" Anderson asked finally, sounding a little impatient himself. Mark couldn't hold back, and a grin lit up his face. With a loud cheer, Jason, Princess, Keop and Tiny all crowded around their commander in celebration. Anderson held back, watching for a moment before smiling to himself and slipping silently out of the room.
* * *
He found everyone in Jason's room, gathered close around the bed. Donavon saw him first, and spoke anxiously.
"Are the bandages off?"
Anderson nodded, unable to resist a broad smile. "He's going to be fine. No permanent damage."
A sigh of relief swept across the room. Anderson walked further into the room and spoke to the teen in the bed.
"How are you feeling, Jason?"
Jason pulled a face and scribbled a message on a notepad, which he ripped off and handed to Anderson. Although not serious, the damage to his larynx had left Jason temporarily without a voice. It was a condition that his friends were taking full advantage of. The Security Chief laughed as he read the note.
"I can understand that completely. You'll have your voice back soon enough, though."
"Too soon for us," Rocky teased. "It's been great, not having to listen to him all day.... Ow!"
Rocky howled in protest as Jason reached over and slapped the notepad across Rocky's head. Laughter filled the room.
"Easy," Rocky grumbled, rubbing his head gingerly. "That hurt!" Jason scribbled a new note, which he handed to his father. Donavon glanced at it, then nodded.
"All right, visiting times up. Jason needs his rest." The rangers bid their friend goodbye, and filed out. Anderson started to leave, only to stop when Jason motioned anxiously to him. Anderson went back, a touch of concern in his eyes.
"What is it?"
Jason quickly wrote another note.
_Is Jason up to moving around?_
Anderson glanced worriedly at Donavon, then finally answered truth- fully.
"More or less. Why?"
_I want to talk to him._
A concerned frown filled Anderson's face. "Are you sure about that?" _Yes._
Donavon had come around to peer at the notes over Anderson's shoulder. "Jason?"
Jason clenched his jaw, and wrote as fast as he could. _I'm not upset or angry. I just want to talk._ Anderson nodded. "All right," he conceded finally. "I'll see what I can do."
Some time later....
Jase was drifting in and out of sleep when there was a light knock on the door frame. Looking around, he smiled weakly and dragged himself back into awareness. Jason ventured into the room, looking painfully nervous.
"The Chief said you wanted to talk to me." Jase nodded slowly, writing carefully on the pad. _Have a question._
Jason read the note quickly, then nodded, dreading the anticipated question. "Shoot."
_Got any scars?_
Jason nearly choked. It was nothing like what he had expected. "You want to know that?"
Jase smiled a little. _Did you think I was gonna ask why you set me up that night?_
Jason swallowed hard. "I.... Hell.... You really want to know?" _About the scars? Yes._
Jason shrugged. "Okay, then. Sure, I've got scars. We all do." He pulled his pyjama top open to reveal a multitude of scars across his chest and stomach. "It's like this on my back, as well. Ended up with a reminder from just about every battle. What about you?"
_Just one before now._
Jase sat up and pulled his top up to show a thin scar in the center of his chest. Jason leaned in for a closer look.
"How did this happen?"
Jase grimaced. He didn't have enough note paper to explain. Jason reddened some.
"Sorry. Tell me some other time. It was in a battle, though?" _Sort of. One on one._
"The worst kind," Jason muttered. He looked up at bandage that was wrapped loosely around the other boy's throat. "Well, I hate to say it, but that is definitely gonna leave a scar. The head wound, too."
Jase nodded. _Figured._
Jason stood there in silence for nearly a minute before speaking, his eyes cast downwards.
"I don't know why I did it. I really don't. I've never done anything as stupid as that before."
Jase didn't move, or make a sound. He had guessed that by avoiding the topic himself, the other Jason would eventually bring it up. Jason went on, his voice audibly strained.
"It was really, really stupid, I know that. I had no right to do it... I don't know, maybe I was jealous of the way you were getting close to Princess...."
Jase conceded that silently. It was a logical explanation. He scribbled a reply.
_Maybe you were just over-protective._
Jason swallowed hard. "Maybe. Look, I'm really sorry. I mean that, it isn't just guilt. I nearly got you killed...."
"Easy for you to say," Jason growled, annoyed that the other boy could be so flippant about it. Jase smirked.
_Not at the moment, it isn't._
Jason stared at the note for a moment, looked up at Jase's half-grin, then burst into laughter before he could stop himself.
"That's not funny!" Jason choked out, but he was unable to stop laughing.
Jase lay back down, grinning broadly, and wrote another note. _We friends now?_
Jason nodded. "Yeah.... If you want me for a friend."
_Sure... always looking for someone new to beat on the sparring mat..._
"Is that a challenge?" Jason asked, grinning now himself.
Jase hesitated, then put the pad down and, drawing in a deep breath, spoke in a barely audible whisper. "Sure.... When we can both walk straight."
Jason laughed again softly. "You're on. Oh... And about Princess...."
Jase watched with barely concealed apprehension. Jason smiled reassuringly.
"She really does like you, bro. We're gonna be here for a few more weeks at least, so you'd better make your move soon."
The former Gold Ranger went beet red, but he nodded his understanding. Jason clapped him lightly on the shoulder, then stepped back from the bed.
"I'm wasted. I'm going back to bed."
Jase nodded, watching him go in silence before smiling to himself and sliding back down in the bed to rest.
*Two weeks later
"What do you think?"
Mark looked around as Jason spoke behind him. "Of what?"
Jason motioned with his hand, and Mark looked to see the other Jason walking along the beach with Princess.
"Of those two."
A faint smile flickered across Mark's lips, and he got slowly to his feet.
"I think I'm glad the Chief suggested we stay a while longer. Leave them alone, Jason. Princess deserves the chance, and you owe it to Jason for that stunt you pulled."
"You're not gonna let me forget it, are you?" Jason grumbled. Mark's expression hardened considerably.
"No, I'm not. That's not the sort of mistake that you should forget. You're just lucky that Colonel Cronus showed up when he did."
Jason turned away and started to walk slowly back in the direction of the Youth Centre. "I know. But it wasn't lucky for me, it was lucky for Jason. I really didn't want him to get hurt, Mark. You know I didn't. We've lost too many friends like that. I wouldn't deliberately put someone in the firing line like that. I just wasn't thinking straight."
"I know, Jason." Mark paused, looking up at the sky. "But the next time you have a grudge against someone, think about what you're doing before you say anything to them."
"Will do," Jason murmured. Mark clapped him lightly on the shoulder.
"C'mon, let's get back to the Youth Centre. I owe Rocky a sparring match."
Jason spared Mark a curious look, then hurried after his commander.
"Are they gone?"
Princess glanced up the hill, and smiled.
Her smile broadened a little as Jason slipped his hand around hers, gently drawing her closer. Nerves suddenly struck, and she tried changing the topic from their growing closeness.
"How are you feeling?"
A crooked smile tugged at the corners of Jason's mouth. "I'm fine. I won't be shouting over the top of crowds for a while, but I'm fine. What about you?"
It was rhetorical, and she knew it, but she answered anyway. "Good. Now that this is over, I think we're all doing better."
Jason slowed to a halt on the sand, impatient with Princess's evasive tactics.
"I know that we might not see each other again when you guys go back to.... to wherever you live."
"Washington," Princess murmured. Jason nodded.
"Yeah. Washington." He squirmed a little on the spot, nervous and uncomfortable. Perhaps this was the reason Emily had broken it off with him... "I mean... You're always off fighting Spectra, and we sort of have our hands tied with the Machine Empire..."
She watched him silently, half anticipating what he was edging towards, but not daring to cut in and ruin the moment. Jason felt his cheeks start to burn red with embarrassment. He was screwing it up, the way he always managed to screw it up when he tried to talk his way through delicate situations like this. She probably thought he was an idiot....
Princess giggled suddenly, unable to help it. Jason stopped talking abruptly, staring at her with a wounded look.
"What is it?"
"I'm sorry," she apologized, shaking her head hard and trying to put an end to the laughing fit. "It's just... I've never seen anyone go as red as that. Jason, what are you trying to say?"
Jason clenched his jaw for a moment, torn between acting and simply letting it drop. A moment later, he caught hold of Princess's other hand, pulled her towards him and pressed his lips against hers in a quick but tender kiss.
Princess's eyes went wide in momentary surprise, and then she quickly surrendered herself to what was happening. When they broke apart, she offered him a shy smile.
"Is that it?"
Jason nodded, red-faced with a mixture of excitement and embarrassment. Princess stared up at him for moment, then looked down at their joined hands. After barely a second of thought, she leaned in against his broad chest, slipping her arms around his waist, and allowing him to do the same.
"It's about time," she murmured contentedly.
Everything seemed right. Tommy looked around the place slowly, with a strong feeling of contentment and relief. Rocky was on the mat, sparring with Mark, each one taking it in turns to put the other on the mat. Rocky was taking it easy; Tommy could tell. For all his strengths and abilities, and powers, Mark was literally just deadweight when it came to proper martial arts.
His gaze roamed further, to where Adam and Billy were deep in discussion with Tiny, and Tanya and Kat were happily entertaining the youngest member of G-Force. Or rather, Keop was entertaining them... The little boy was quite an actor, Tommy thought with an amused grin, and he was very much enjoying the attentions of the two older girls. He shook his head, started to turn back to his soda.... and stopped.
Tommy's feeling of contentment faded as he saw Jason sitting in a far corner by himself, sulking over a Coke. For a long moment, Tommy debated over whether to act, or simply ignore the other boy. He hated feeling obligated towards someone who had nearly gotten a member of his own team killed, but at the same time, he couldn't help feeling some degree of grudging affinity with G-Force's second in command. He knew he could not legitimately continue to sit in judgment of Jason when he himself had committed so many wrongs. He reluctantly thought back to when he had nearly killed Jase in the Dimension of Darkness and realised that he was, in reality, not a hell of a lot better than Jason.
He could see himself in Jason, he realised reluctantly. It was all there; the dark, brooding nature, the aloofness from the everyone else... The sense of not quite fitting in. All of it. Tommy had already gone through it all, and he grudgingly found he understood the position the other boy was in. Trying to keep his reason and his calm, Tommy picked up his smoothie and made his way over to the other teen.
"You know, Coke is really unhealthy for you."
Jason looked up slowly to find Tommy standing there. The Red Ranger offered him a smile that, to Jason, seemed forced. "You should try one of Ernie's smoothies. He's famous for them."
Jason looked away again, to the wall. "You don't have to feel obliged to entertain me. I can look after myself."
Tommy frowned, and sat down with an indignant thud. "Why do you have to act like such an arrogant asshole all the time? Just what are you trying to prove, anyway?"
"I don't have to prove anything to anyone," Jason replied stiffly.
"Then stop acting like it." Tommy shook his head. "Man, I've never met anyone like you before. Where did you get such a huge damn ego?"
Jason suddenly found himself fighting to suppress a grin. _Ego? He thinks it's a matter of ego?_
"Why don't you go on back to your friends? They're probably wondering why you bothered to come over here in the first place."
"Let them wonder," Tommy retorted. "Look, so you made a mistake? We all do."
"Not like that."
"No? I don't suppose Jason told you about that scar on his chest? The one that he thinks no one else knows about?"
Jason looked up at Tommy, then, suddenly curious. "He showed me, but he never told me how it happened."
Tommy's expression hardened with an emotion that Jason knew all too well.
"He probably didn't tell you, because I'm the one who gave him that scar. I didn't start out on this side, Jason. When I first became a ranger, it was as Rita's evil Green Ranger. I started out my term as a ranger trying to destroy the others. And man, I came real close to killing Jason. You think you nearly got him killed? Nah. I mean, maybe you put the idea in his head, but he didn't have to go off like he did. So, in a way it was partly his fault, too. But back then...." Tommy hesitated, remembering the incident that had given him nightmares for a month.
"Rita wanted me to get rid of them one by one. She thought it'd be easier than taking them on altogether. I decided to start with Jase. I figured that if I got rid of their leader, then the rest of them would fall apart. I didn't understand then what teamwork really was. Anyway, I got Jase in school, when no one else was around. Used my coin to send him to an arena in Rita's Dark Dimension. Goldar started with him first, while Rita sent me to deal with the others. By the time I got there, Jase had taken a pretty bad beating. I was supposed to finish the job, and kill him.
"I don't know whether I unconsciously stalled, or whether it was sheer luck, but Billy teleported Jase back to the Command Centre, as it was back then. He didn't get out of it unscathed. My sword... the Sword of Darkness... nicked him just as he teleported out. Right in the centre of the chest. I don't know how he held out until the whole business was over, but as soon as things were back to normal, and the spell on me had been broken, Jason landed in hospital. He was sick for two weeks, and the doctors never quite figured out what was wrong."
"What is your point?" Jason demanded, quietly fascinated by the story. Tommy watched Jason intently.
"I nearly killed Jason. If he had died from the poison from the Sword of Darkness, then it would have been my fault. I could have let that haunt me for the rest of what probably would have been a really short life, but I didn't. The others wouldn't let me. They didn't hate me for what I could have done to Jason, even though they had every right to. I'm telling you now that we don't hate you for what happened. It turned out okay in the end, didn't it?"
"Yeah," Jason conceded softly. "It did. I have to say, when I realised what Jason had done, I had a hell of a lot of respect for him. It took a lot of courage to do what he did."
Tommy laughed softly. "Yeah, well, I talked to him yesterday, and he said that since he missed out on all the action the last time, it was his turn this time round."
"Some action," Jason muttered, rolling his eyes.
"Jase has always been like that, though," Tommy went on quietly. "If he thinks he can do something to make things right, he'll go ahead and do it, no matter how dangerous it is. Stupid moron, he really knows how to scare the hell out of us."
Jason had to smile, then, and he looked over to see that Mark and Rocky had finally called a truce and had retreated to the bar.
"It's the same with Mark. He takes such stupid risks, sometimes..." Jason turned his attention back to Tommy and held out his hand to the older boy. "Peace?"
Tommy grinned and took the offered hand without hesitation. "Peace."
"Now that we've infringed on your territory," Jason remarked casually, "maybe next time it'll be our turn play host."
"We might take you up on that," Tommy mused. "I know Jase would, anyway."
Both boys laughed, then, drawing the attentions of the others, who made their way over to the table.
"What's so funny?" Kat demanded. Tommy shook his head as they all gathered around. "Nothing. Just..."
"A private joke," Jason finished off, and he and Tommy exchanged knowing grins.
"So when are you guys heading off, anyway?" Tanya wanted to know.
"Tomorrow morning," Mark answered.
"Or when Zoltar attacks next," Keop added. "Whichever gets here first."
"Before tomorrow morning?" Tiny grumbled. "He'd better bloody well not."
Suddenly, Rocky gave a soft whistle. "Hey, check out what just came in."
They all looked, and were not entirely surprised to see Jase and Princess come into the Youth Centre, their arms firmly wrapped around each others' waists. Tommy chuckled softly.
"I hope Emily isn't jealous."
"Emily?" Keop echoed. Tommy nodded.
"Uh huh. Long story."
"Especially since Danny Pembroke dumped her two days ago for a college squad cheerleader," Kat interjected with a satisfied smirk. Mark looked amused.
"You mean Jason and Emily...?"
"She dumped him for Danny Pembroke," Kat explained. "Looks like she's gonna be the loser, now."
"Serves her right," Tanya muttered, straightening up. "Now, if everyone will excuse me, I have to get home and study. I have an Algebra exam tomorrow."
"Me, too," Adam admitted reluctantly. "Man, I hate school, sometimes."
"Hey, be grateful," Jason told him. "Don't take it for granted. You're lucky you're not like us and you can't go to school at all."
"That's true," Tommy agreed. Mark grinned.
"I don't know about that. I had to go to school here for a couple of weeks, and it wasn't that great."
The young commander had to duck as several napkins were launched in his direction.
"Later," Adam chuckled, and he and Tanya hurried out, bidding Jase and Princess goodbye as they went. Kat and Rocky soon followed as they remembered a History assignment they had due the following day. Soon, only Tommy was left with G-Force, and they were finally joined by Jase and Princess, who were still glued at the hands.
"I think we'd better head back to our hotel," Mark said firmly. Tommy rose to his feet.
"We'll walk with you. Jase and I can just teleport home from there, no problems."
Mark nodded. "Okay. Let's get going, then."
"We're still learning, aren't we?"
They all looked around at Tiny, who had spoken the cryptic question.
"What do you mean?" Mark asked.
"Well..." Tiny hesitated, gathering his thoughts, then went on. "I guess I mean that we get to the point where we sort of think we know every- thing, and then something happens, and we find were right back to square one. This whole thing has been one big learning experience."
"You can say that again," Tommy agreed. He shot a half-serious glare at Jase. "Like, learning not to go running off like an idiot and not tell anyone where you've gone."
Jase reddened considerably. "Hey, you're not perfect, Oliver."
Mark smiled. "None of us are perfect. We'll always be learning. That's the way life goes. Maybe you guys will make it to Washington one day, and then we can teach you a thing or two."
"Is that a challenge?" Tommy asked with a shark-like grin. Mark rolled his eyes.
"Please, I've had enough of that with Rocky."
They all laughed, then, and kept laughing until they reached the hotel. The rest of the team bade goodbye, and disappeared inside, but Mark held back to talk to Tommy and Jason.
"I haven't had the chance to say this, yet," he told them quietly. "Not properly. We'll never be able to thank you guys for everything you've done to help us. We would all have been dead now if it weren't for you. I hope we'll have the chance to pay you back one day."
Tommy smiled calmly. "Excuse me for saying so, but I hope you don't. I do hope this won't be the last time we see each other, though."
"I'm sure it won't be," Mark murmured. "If you ever come to Washington, you can be sure that we'll find you."
"And if you ever come back here," Jason added, "you know where you can find us."
Mark nodded and clasped hands with both teens. "Thank you again. For everything."
"Hey," Tommy said with a chuckle, "thanks for the excitement."
Mark rolled his eyes again. "Idiot."
Tommy hit Mark lightly on the arm as the younger boy turned away to head back into the hotel.. "We'll see you round, bro."
Mark paused halfway up the steps to look back. "You can count on that."
He hesitated for just a moment, then turned and disappeared into the hotel after his friends. Jason and Tommy watched him go until he was out of sight, then turned and walked wordlessly around the corner into a darkened alley.
"You think we will?" Jason asked finally, breaking the silence.
"Will what?" Tommy asked. "You mean, see them again?"
Tommy chewed lightly on his lower lip. "Maybe. I really don't know." He looked at Jason in the fading light, and guessed what was bothering him.
"Did you get to say goodbye to Princess?"
Jason cast his gaze downwards. "Yeah. On the beach. We knew we wouldn't get much of a chance later on with everyone around."
Tommy clapped him lightly on the shoulder. "If she likes you as much as you like her, then youll see her again. Im sure of it."
Jason offered Tommy a grateful smile. "Thanks, bro." He paused, then grimaced as he looked around. "But I won't be seeing daylight again if I don't get home now. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
Tommy nodded, and stood back as Jason teleported out. He hung back, pausing to look up at the night sky in silent appreciation before finally activating the teleportation button on his communicator, and disappearing from sight.