[All disclaimers in Book 1.]
Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Naomi Tilley
Keith looked around dazedly as Lance spoke. He held off rebuking Lance for the cuss, feeling a similar desire to let out a few choice expletives. He pushed himself up slowly, cringing at the residue pain that still coursed through his body, making it difficult for him to get moving. Throughout the clearing, the others were gradually getting themselves to their feet as well. The only ones who didn't move were Jason and Princess.
He crawled over to Princess first, praying that whatever Jase had done to her was not serious. Keith looked down at her pale features with a sinking heart, and knew that she would not be easily woken. His gaze flickered around, and he saw Tiny moving slowly over to where Jason lay.
"Is he okay?" His voice
ded in a hacking cough with the coppery taste of blood in his mouth. Tiny hesitated, looking Jason over carefully before answering.
"Took a blow to the back of the head. He's probably got a concussion."
Keith glanced around at his own team. They were confused, disoriented and fearful. Wincing with pain, he got slowly to his feet.
"Let's get back to the house. We'll figure out where to go from there. Lance, get over here and help me with Princess. Tiny, Hunk, you two carry Jason. Pidge, Allura, keep a lookout. We don't need anymore surprises right now."
Gradually, they got themselves in order, and began to make their way back to the house in heavy silence.
Spectran transport craft
Zoltar smiled broadly as Mark and Jason strode into his private room, a little dirty but no worse the wear for their fight.
"Well done, boys," he praised them. "You did a good job. Those fools didn't know what hit them."
"Thank you, Father," Mark murmured. "And Keop?"
"Is undergoing the treatment right now," Zoltar answered the unfinished question. "He'll be with us soon enough. Jason, I take it my suggestion worked?"
Jason nodded, smiling faintly. "Yes, it did. Thank you, Father. I... I just didn't want to hurt her." He shifted uncomfortably, eyes downcast, as though embarrassed and ashamed of his feelings.
"It's all right," Zoltar murmured reassuringly. "I can understand your desire not to harm her. That's why I suggested putting her into a coma, rather than risking further confrontations where she might well be killed. When this fight is over, and the Earth is ours, then you can go back for her. If need be we'll give her the treatment as well. But until then, we have important matters to deal with. Mordock will be here within the next two days. Everything must be ready for then. I think it would be best if we go on to the next phase immediately. I want you boys to go ahead and take care of it. I'll send Keop after you as soon as he's ready."
Zoltar stood up, then looking intently from one boy to the other.
"My sons.... You must display the utmost care from now on. Our enemies will use everything within their power to take you away from me. We can't allow that to happen."
"No one will take us away from you, Father," Mark said firmly. "We promise."
Jason's brown eyes flashed darkly. "And we'll kill anyone who stands in our way."
A cold smile touched Zoltar's lips. "Indeed we will, my children. Go quickly now, and carry out the next phase. And remember, G-Force and the Voltron Force won't be far behind you. Keep constant vigil, and take care of each other."
The two boys nodded in unison, then left the room. Zoltar waited patiently until the door swung shut, then sat back in his chair, laughing softly, evilly to himself.
Gavin Marcy was the only doctor in Woodeforde, operating out of the town's semi-defunct Medical Center. Like the rest of the townspeople, he knew of G-Force's residency in the otherwise quiet community. However, he'd not had much experience treating them for any injuries or illnesses. Usually, he knew, they went to Trinity Hospital in Washington D.C. for any required doctoring. So, when he received a call summoning him to the house where the famous youngsters resided, he went with a mixture of curiosity and concern.
He was met by a man who simply introduced himself as Cronus, and was ushered down a long, dark hallway which opened out into a large area. Briefly, Marcy was taken back by the size of the place. He'd known the house was big, but until you actually got inside, you really had no idea just how big it was. The room he was in right then was huge; the majority of his own quarter acre sized house could have fit in there. A winding stairway began off to his left, curved upwards to the next floor, with the balcony stretching out in both directions, and disappearing into darkened hallways. He shuddered a little, dimly wondering how such a house had avoided gaining a reputation for being haunted.
Marcy looked back to find Chief Anderson standing there, looking pale and immensely worried. Snapping back into professional mode, he took a couple of steps forward.
"I came as soon as I got the call, Chief. What can I do?"
Anderson motioned behind him, and Marcy noticed for the first time the two teens that lay spread out on the two sofas. Jason and Princess, Marcy reminded himself. He was drawn first to Jason by the sight of the blood that soaked the boy's T-shirt collar.
"What happened?" he asked as he carefully rolled the teen over to get a better look at the wound.
"We don't know, exactly," a voice answered, and Marcy glanced back to see a young man dressed in what looked like a red uniform of some sort. Marcy frowned, then looked back to the wound.
"From the looks of this, he's been struck with something hard and very sharp. Metal, I'd say."
One of the young people behind him groaned softly, and Marcy chose to ignore it.
"He'll need stitches, and day or two to get over the concussion, but it's no more serious than that." He turned then to the girl, paused as he looked her over, then looked around at everyone questioningly. "What happened to her? There doesn't seem to be anything physically wrong with her."
Tiny spoke, then, anger clear on his face.
"I don't know what he did to her, but I swear to God I'm gonna kill him myself when I get my hands on him!"
"Easy, Tiny," Cronus murmured. Tiny let out an indistinguishable sound, then turned away. Marcy watched the big boy for a long moment, then turned his attention back to Princess, conducting as thorough an examination as he had the time and equipment for. Finally, he looked away, back to Anderson.
"I honestly don't know what's wrong with her. As near as I can figure, there is nothing wrong. I'm going to have to admit her to the Medical Centre for tests Unless you prefer to take her to Washington?"
Anderson shook his head. "No, I have a feeling she'll be safer here. You can take Jason as well, and take care of his wound there. We have to start organising ourselves here."
"What d'you mean?" Pidge asked in concern. Anderson regarded the group grimly.
"I'm saying that we can't stay here. Not now. We have no way of anticipating their next move, but I think our first priority is to move to a much more secure location. We have to get away from here as fast as possible."
Marcy got to his feet. "I'll call an ambulance to come and get these two."
Anderson nodded. "We'll leave them in your care. How long will Jason need to recover?"
"Judging from the severity of that wound?" Marcy asked. "I'd give him two days."
"There's no chance he'll wait around in hospital for two days," Anderson murmured, "but we have to move tonight. Doctor, when he comes to, tell him someone will come back for him late tomorrow. Tell him not to leave the hospital, otherwise he'll never find us."
Marcy nodded and, although confused, went to make the call. Once he'd gone, Tiny spoke up with forced control.
"Are we going to Sweet Valley?"
"No," Anderson replied. "We're going somewhere that Mark doesn't know of. We can't risk being ambushed. We need a secure location to decide what our next moves will be."
"And while we're running like chickens, they'll be loose doing God knows what!" Lance growled.
"Lance is right," Keith said softly. "In the time it will take us to move to a new location, Mark and Jason may have done a lot of damage. Shouldn't we be trying to at least keep track of them?"
"Care to suggest how?" Cronus asked dryly. "If we still had Keop, that might have been a possibility. But now...."
"There is a way," Therese spoke up from the corner where she'd been waiting in patient silence. "Chief, you remember the tracking code you linked to the transmitters?"
Realisation dawned on Anderson's face. "Of course! Damn it, why didn't I think of that sooner?"
"Tracking signal?" Tiny asked, frowning. "What tracking signal?"
"It's something I developed without telling the rest of you," Anderson explained. "In case any of you went missing, it was designed to find you no matter where you were, whether it be on this planet or another. Now, it might hopefully work long enough to at least work out what their next planned moves are. Therese, go and take care of that, and as soon as you know where Mark is, let me know. I've no doubt he'll find a way to disable it after he realises what the signal is, so hurry."
Therese ran to do as she'd been told. Anderson looked around at the rest of them.
"All right. Let's get started. We don't have much time."
Two hours later,
Anderson was supervising the dismantling of the main computer link-up in the control room when young Penny ran in, breathing heavily.
"Chief! Therese found him!"
A mixture of surprise and relief passed over Anderson's face. "Where? Where is he?"
"She didn't tell me. She just told me to get you."
"All right. Have you, Jennifer and Sam packed your things?"
"Then go and wait at the Phoenix. Move!"
Penny took off for her room, while Anderson ran down the staircase, down a long hallway and into his study. Therese looked up at him grimly as he came in.
"I don't know whether to be surprised or not," Therese said softly, "but I am worried. He's in Angel Grove, Chief. I'll bet Jason is with him."
"Hell..." Anderson whispered. "They could be there for any number of things. All right, go and get your things together."
"What are you going to do?" Therese asked as they left the study. Anderson looked grim.
"We'll assume the worst, that their plan is to disable the Power Chamber. That's logical. After all, it's the only outpost of its kind on this planet. I'll have to send the Voltron Force to try and intercept them. We need Tiny to get us to our new location. Even if the Voltron Force can't capture them, they can at least warn the Power Rangers not to trust Jason or Mark. Perhaps we can even enlist their help. Go on, Therese. I'll meet you at the Phoenix."
Therese nodded and went to do as she'd been told, and Anderson headed towards the launch bay to pass on what he'd decided to the Voltron Force.
Some hours later,
"So what d'you think?"
Jason glanced back as Mark spoke, then returned his attention to the Youth Centre.
"It's not going to be a walk-over, that's for sure. Especially if Tommy and the others are in there. They'll want to know exactly what's going on."
"Just tell him it's to do with Zoltar, and you don't want to involve him."
Jason nodded, finally turning away from the building. "I could, but he won't leave it at that. I can't lie to him, Mark. He knows me too well. And if he thinks I'm lying to him, then he'll get suspicious. It's enough that we have to deal with G-Force and the Voltron Force. By disabling the Power Chamber we can put the Power Rangers out of action, but I really don't want to fight Tommy."
"You knew it might come to that," Mark reminded him. "You yourself said he can't keep his nose out of something if he thinks he can help."
Jason sighed, dropping into a crouch beside his brother. "I know. He's pig-headed and stubborn.... And the others are just as bad. They might not be Rangers anymore, but they could still cause us some problems."
Mark nodded, understanding what lay beneath Jason's words.
"I don't want to hurt them, either. I'd rather not meet up with them at all. But we know we may not have a choice. Remember what Father said, Jason."
"Yeah," Jason murmured. "We have to look after each other. Okay, I'm going in. Keep a lookout, okay?"
"I'll let you know if we have unwanted company," Mark assured him. "Go on. And don't be afraid to give a yell if you need help."
Jason smiled faintly and, after clasping hands briefly with Mark, rose up and hurried off towards the Youth Centre.
Tommy was lost in a world of his own, sipping on a fruit salad smoothie as he contemplated his up-coming car race. He was excited about it, of course, the same as he got excited about every race he drove in. It was a huge rush, almost as great as morphing had been. He supposed that, in a way, the racing was an attempt to replace the void that the power had left, but his uncle seemed to think he had a talent for the sport. That alone encouraged Tommy, and told him that it wasn't a foolish side-track.
He was so lost in thought that it took a moment to register when he heard Adam say that Jason had just walked into the Youth Centre.
"Huh?" he asked dumbly, looking up and blinking as he came back to reality. Kat rolled her eyes.
"Earth to Tommy? Jason's back!"
Tommy looked around, and a grin lit up his face at the sight of his friend. Getting up, he hurried across the floor to meet him.
Across the way, Jason withheld a groan.
I hardly got in the door, and he's gonna have me cornered!
Don't panic, Mark's voice came to him. Just act like we planned it.
Jason forced a smile onto his face as Tommy reached him. "Hey, Tommy."
Immediately, Tommy's own grin dropped away like a rock as he sensed the tension that was barely hidden in his friend's voice. "Is something wrong, bro? The trip went all right, didn't it?"
"Yeah, that was fine," Jason mumbled. "Look, Tommy....." He hesitated, then pulled Tommy into the alcove, which they had frequently in the past used to teleport from. "I can't explain now Not here But there is something wrong. It's to do with Zoltar. We think he's planning a major attack."
Tommy stared at Jason in shock. "You mean on Earth?"
"Yeah. Listen, have you seen TJ? We may need the Rangers' help, but right at the moment, I just need to tell them to warn them. Zoltar might target the Power Chamber for attack."
Rendered almost speechless with shock, Tommy motioned across the Centre floor, to where TJ was working out with Carlos. Jason started out of the alcove, then looked back to Tommy.
"Look, Tommy, don't tell anyone what I just told you. We don't want to start a panic. And if anyone asks you if I was here, tell them you haven't seen me. Anyone at all, including G-Force."
The shock on Tommy's face faded to make way for confusion, and a touch of suspicion. "Why not G-Force?"
Jason hesitated, then spoke in a hushed whisper. "We got a report from a spy on Spectra. Apparently Zoltar has been working on robot clones of the team. They don't know if they're ready for use yet, but if they are.... Well, you get my drift, don't you?"
Tommy nodded, finally. "Yeah, I get you. Don't worry, I'll keep my mouth shut."
Nice touch, Mark's voice echoed in Jason's mind. It was all Jason could do not to smirk.
Turning, he made his way quickly across the floor, and over to where TJ was belting the daylights out of a punching bag.
"Try holding it steady, will you?" TJ growled, as his punch slid off the side of the bag. Carlos pulled a face at his friend and leader.
"Bite me. Try not kicking the damn thing so hard."
TJ shook his head and was about to take another shot when someone else walked into his line of vision, shattering his concentration.
"What the... Jason?"
"Sorry to interrupt you," Jason apologized. "But I need to talk to you. It's urgent. It's about...."
Jason let his gaze flicker down to the communicator that TJ wore. Realisation dawned in the younger teen's eyes, and he nodded.
"Okay. Over here."
Jason followed TJ over to a corner, away from the other teens.
"So," TJ asked as he grabbed a towel and wiped the sweat from his face and neck, "what's the problem?"
"Tell me," Jason asked softly, "have you had many problems with Divatox lately?"
TJ paused, eyeing Jason curiously. "Actually, no. The last time we heard from her was two weeks ago. Why?"
"I've just gotten back from staying with G-Force. As a matter of fact, they sent me back to talk to you. We've gotten word that Zoltar is planning a major attack on Earth."
"That's G-Force's territory," TJ said. "Not ours."
"It is if he's teamed up with Divatox," Jason retorted. That brought TJ up short.
"That's what we've heard," Jason hissed. "A spy got word back to us that Zoltar's gotten Divatox on his side, and that they're planning a major attack. If it's true, then it's your business as much as G-Force's."
TJ was silent for several seconds as he contemplated what he'd just been told. If nothing else, though, it certainly explained the sudden absence of piranhatron and monster attacks.
"Okay. Say I believe you. What do you want from us?"
"I need you to take me to the Power Chamber," Jason told him quickly. "I can't get in there anymore on my own. But if you take me there, I can set up a communications link between the Power Chamber and G-Force. That way, if it does turn out to be true, G-Force can contact you immediately."
"And if it isn't true?" Carlos asked from where he'd been listening. Jason shrugged.
"Then there's nothing lost. Personally, I hope it's not true. The thought of either one on their own is bad enough without them teaming up."
TJ grinned, then. "That's the truth, for sure. Okay, Jason, you got it. Just let me clean up, and we'll go there straight away."
Jason nodded. "Great. I'll wait for you over in the alcove."
He turned and headed for the alcove as TJ and Carlos began to pack up their things.
Jason, heads up! They're here!
Jason looked around in shock just seconds before the Voltron Force ran into the Youth Centre, led by G-Force's Jason. He was spotted immediately, and fell back into the middle of the workout mat as all six armed team members quickly circled him.
"I know you don't need a weapon," Jason said quietly, holding his laser in a rock-steady grip. "But don't even think of trying anything against us. You know I'll use this."
Jase regarded him for a moment, then smiled at the sight of the bandage beneath the brown helmet.
"Would've thought you'd need a bit more time to recover, Jason." His smile widened as a mental probe revealed Jason was not quite as steady as he seemed. The second in command of G-Force glared at the older boy with controlled fury.
"I have a real quick recovery record. Didn't Mark tell you? Look, just shut up, okay? Lie down on the floor, and put your hands behind your head."
Jase couldn't resist a quiet chuckle. "And what will you do if I don't? Six of you against me? That's not very fair of you."
"Don't even start with that bullshit," Jason snarled. "Get down, or I swear I'll shoot you down myself!"
In that moment, Jase's gaze flickered past Jason and the others, and then Jason and Keith were pushed aside and Tommy, Adam, Rocky, Kat and Tanya charged through, forming a protective circle around Jase.
"I don't know what's going on," Tommy said in a dangerously quiet voice, "but somebody had better explain right now why you want to shoot my best friend!"
Jason paused, then glanced around the Youth Centre. The commotion had scared everyone off; the place was empty aside from five teens who stood watching the unfolding scene with intense interest and concern. He turned his attention back to the center of the circle.
"Tommy, you're going to have to trust us. Move away from Jason, please."
Tommy glanced back over his shoulder at Jase.
"Clone?" he whispered.
Jase shrugged. "Could be," he whispered back, barely able to suppress his delight at the way things were unfolding. With any luck, Tommy and the others would be so busy fighting it out with the Voltron Force that he would be able to grab TJ, get to the Power Chamber and take care of business before they realised what was going on. Tommy turned back to face Jason, his face dark with anger.
"Back off, right now. If you want Jase, you'll have to go through us."
"Us too," TJ announced, quickly ducking into the circle with his friends. Jason looked helplessly to Keith, who spoke up in a quiet, but firm voice.
"Zoltar has control of Jason. He has Mark, too, and Keop. They're working with him. Whatever he's told you is a lie. Move away from him, please!"
Tommy glowered angrily at the accusation.
"That's bullshit! Jase would never work with Zoltar!"
"Then ask him straight out," Jason challenged the former Ranger. "You told me once that you and Jase could never lie to each other, Tommy. If you think I'm wrong, then just ask him."
Tommy hesitated, then slowly turned to face his friend.
"Jase? It's not true, is it? You're not...." Tommy trailed off as his gaze locked with Jase's. The other boy's brown eyes were hard, cold..... evil.
"Oh shit," Rocky muttered as the five former Rangers quickly fell back, away from their friend.
"Sorry to ruin your plans," Lance said casually, enjoying a moment of anticipated victory. It was very short-lived.
"Oh, you haven't ruined anything," Jase answered, smiling coldly. "You just forced us to take a different tact."
His eyes narrowed, and an instant later Jason and all five members of the Voltron Force went flying in all directions across the Youth Centre, slamming into walls and tables with vicious force. Then, while everyone was still recovering from the shock, Jase grabbed hold of TJ around the throat, holding him in a choking grip.
"We're going to take that little trip to the Power Chamber now, TJ," Jase murmured. "I have business there to take care of."
Before TJ could even start to fight, Jason activated the teleport button on the communicator, and the two boys vanished in a flash of red and white light.
"The Power Chamber," Tommy said, with sudden horror. "He's going to trash it!"
Carlos looked over at Ashley, Cassie and Justin. "C'mon, guys. Let's follow 'em!"
Then they, too, were gone in a flash of coloured light.
"Those idiots," Jason hissed as he dragged himself to his feet. "They're gonna get themselves killed! Tommy, can you get us to the Power Chamber?"
Tommy shook his head, suddenly feeling sickeningly helpless. "No. We gave our communicators to TJ and the others."
"Christ," Hunk muttered as the Voltron Force made their painful way back to the center of the floor. "Better start praying that he lets them live."
"Intruder!" Alpha 6 wailed in an eerie impersonation of Alpha 5. "Intruder!"
Dimitria appeared in her tube in a flash, her gaze falling on Jason and TJ as they appeared in the middle of the floor.
"Jason, what are you doing?" she demanded to know.
"What, a straight question from the mighty Dimitria?" Jason retorted. "I'm stunned. Okay, I'll play along. My father wants this planet. He wants the Power Rangers out of the way. He gave me the responsibility of making sure that happens."
Four more flashes heralded the arrival of the other Rangers.
"Jason?" Justin asked tentatively. All of a sudden, he was suffering bad flashbacks to Muranthias, and the beating he had taken from Jason there. "C'mon, you don't want to fight us, do you?"
"Honestly?" Jason asked. "No. I don't. But I will if I have to. Justin, you remember how powerful I was back on Muranthias under Maligore's power, don't you?" He laughed at the pale colour the boy's face went. "Yeah, you remember. Now I have five times that power, and it's not something that can be taken away from me. Now think carefully. Do you really want to take me on again?"
When Justin hesitated, Jason laughed again, and pushed TJ roughly away from him. The teen went skidding across the floor, and lay there, gasping for air. Ashley glanced worriedly at the current Red Ranger, then back to Jason.
"Look, Jason, none of us want a fight. And you obviously can't do a thing to this place with us here. If you leave now, we won't follow you."
"Yes, you would," Jason retorted. "But that doesn't bother me. What bothers me is the thought of leaving this place untouched."
"You want to trash the Power Chamber?" Carlos growled. "Then you have to go through us."
Jason stood still for a long moment, as though contemplating his options. Finally, he shrugged.
The control panel behind Carlos exploded.
"Shit!" Carlos yelled, diving for cover. An instant later, every panel in the Chamber began to explode, one after the other. The Rangers were forced to duck, rather than fight, as lethal fragments flew in every direction.
"Jason, stop this immediately!" Dimitria ordered him, but there was a note of desperation in her voice that Jason easily caught. He turned to face her, a truly evil smile on his face.
The tube exploded.
Nearby, TJ watched in horror as Jason effectively destroyed the entire Power Chamber in less than a minute. Panic, mixed with a sense of outrage, filled him, and he got to his feet, determined not to let the former Ranger get away with the destruction he was carrying out. With a cry of rage, TJ charged at Jason.
Jason heard TJ coming, and smiled to himself, waiting until the last possible second to react. It happened almost in slow motion. TJ flew at Jason, all fists and fury, with almost no control over himself. Jason, moving with calculated precision, spun around and delivered a high tornado kick that connected with the side of TJ's head.
Even above the sound of the lesser explosions, the cracking sound could be heard as TJ's head rocked violently to the side, and his body collapsed in a heap to the floor. Jason moved to stand over the top of the fallen teen, still smiling as he observed the trickle of blood from the boy's mouth. Then, laughing softly to himself, Jason vanished in a flash of black and red light.
Mark was waiting patiently when Jason finally arrived in the park.
"So, how'd it go?" he asked with a small smile. Jason chuckled.
"Dandy. You could have come and helped me in the Youth Centre, you know. I wouldn't have minded."
"I know, but you handled it pretty good. It would have ruined the effect if I'd shown up."
Jason burst out into full laughter. "The look on Tommy's face.... Man, it was priceless!"
Mark couldn't help but join in with his brother's laughter. "I could see it through your eyes. It was beautiful. But tell me something.... Did you really mean to do that to TJ?"
Jason's smile faded, then. "Not at first. If he'd stayed down, then he would have been okay. But it's like Father told us. We have to do what's necessary, even if we don't always like it. He came at me, and I defended myself. But on the other hand, now they'll know how serious we are. And maybe Tommy will understand that I'll do the same to him if I'm forced into it. We've taken our first real casualty, Mark. There's no turning back."
Mark grinned, then, and clapped Jason reassuringly on the shoulder.
"There never was, bro. C'mon, let's get going. We still have a lot to do."
Warning: This part contains some coarse language. (Like, two or three words...) But be warned anyway.
Nikki Scott was walking home from school through the park. Mostly her new adoptive parents arranged for her to be picked up, either by them or by someone else, but she'd asked to walk today. She didn't know why; perhaps it was some deeper instinct that urged her to make the request, or perhaps it was just that it was such a great day, she wanted to make the most of it. Either way, she was enjoying the walk, and was in no hurry to get home.
She looked around in surprise, and her young face lit up at the sight of her older brother.
"Jason! You're back!"
Jason broke clear of the trees nearby and trotted over to where she stood. Nikki immediately threw herself against him, wrapping her arms around him in a huge hug. Jason laughed, and returned the hug.
"I take it you missed me?"
"Me? Miss you?" Nikki retorted, then giggled. "I guess I did a little."
Jason chuckled, then straightened up. It was then that Nikki saw who was with him.
"Mark...? What are you doing here?"
"Jason and I are sort of travelling together," Mark told her. Jason nodded, then spoke quietly and urgently to his little sister.
"Nikki, I need you to listen carefully to me. There's some trouble, and I can't stay. I just came back to give you and Mum and Dad something. Here, hold out your arm...."
Nikki allowed Jason to unfold her left arm, with the crease of her elbow facing out. Jason then pulled a ring from his jacket pocket, and pressed the inscribed flat top to her flesh. The little girl's eyes widened a little at the slight hissing sound but, remarkably, there was no pain. When Jason withdrew the ring, there was a strange symbol, black against her white skin.
"What's this?" Nikki asked curiously.
"It's something that'll keep you safe," Jason reassured her. "Now listen carefully. When you get home, give these rings to Mum and Dad, one to each of them." He dropped two rings into her hand as he spoke. "Tell them to wear them at all times, okay? Not to take them off, no matter who tells them they should."
Nikki looked down at the gold rings for a moment, then back to Jason.
"Jason, what's going on?"
"I can't explain now," Jason told her quietly. "You have to trust me, okay? Please, Nikki. Trust me?"
She conceded, albeit reluctantly.
"Okay.... But when are you coming home?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "It might be a while. Just tell Mum and Dad that I'm fine."
"And Nikki," Mark added quickly, "one other thing. My second in command is going to show up at your house some time today. He might even be there when you get home. You make sure he doesn't see those rings, okay? Because if he does, he'll take them off you. And your parents need them to stay safe. If he is there, wait until you're with Chief Anderson before you give them to your parents."
Suspicion had finally lit up in Nikki's eyes. "Jason, what are you..."
"We have to go," Jason said abruptly, and the sudden harshness in his expression startled and frightened Nikki. "Just remember what we told you, Nikki, okay? It might save your life."
Then, they were gone. Nikki stood still in deepening fear and astonishment before slipping the rings into her pocket, and running for home.
"Who are you guys, anyway?" Kat asked as she helped Allura to her feet.
"They're the Voltron Force," Jason answered grimly as he sat in a chair, gingerly rubbing his head after de-transmuting. Tommy looked over the wound with a grimace.
"What happened? You look like you got hit by a truck."
"Nearly as bad," Jason muttered. "Mark did this to me. Got me in the back of the head with his boomerang." He looked up at Tommy balefully. "We might have had Jason if you lot hadn't butted in."
The former Rangers exchanged glances, and then Adam spoke up quietly.
"Well, maybe if you tell us exactly what's going on, then we won't make that same mistake twice."
Jason looked around at Keith, who nodded grimly.
"Okay," Jason sighed. "But let's go somewhere else before the local population decides to interrupt."
By the lake, Jason explained everything, with some help from Keith and the others. Tommy, Adam, Rocky, Kat and Tanya listened in heavy silence before replying.
"So Mark, Jase and Keop are all on Zoltar's side now," Tommy said softly.
"It's not like they went voluntarily," Jason growled. "Don't make it sound like they did. Zoltar's somehow got them under his control. It's up to us to rescue them and break that control before they can do too much damage."
"How, though?" Tanya asked. "With Mark, Jason and Keop together, none of us have a chance!"
"Yeah," Rocky muttered. "For all we know, Jase has probably trashed the Power Chamber by now."
"He has," a voice spoke behind them, and they all looked around to see Justin standing there, tears streaking his cheeks. Tanya stood up quickly to meet him, followed by the others.
"Justin? Tell us what happened?"
"Jason...." Justin whispered, his voice cracking. "He totally wrecked the Power Chamber.... Practically flattened the place. He destroyed Dimitria's tube and totalled Alpha. And TJ...."
Tommy felt the blood run cold in his veins. "What about TJ?"
Justin shook his head, the tears overflowing in an unstoppable flood.
"They took him to hospital.... I think Jason broke his neck!"
"Oh Christ," Adam whispered, though whether he meant it in a prayer or as a cuss, they didn't know. Tommy shut his eyes for a moment.
"He attacked TJ?"
"TJ ran at him to try and stop him," Justin said in between gulping sobs. "Jason just turned and kicked TJ in the head. TJ went down, and he didn't get up again! He's still alive, but...."
The younger boy broke into near hysterical sobs, and Kat and Tanya immediately tried to comfort him. Tommy looked over at Jason.
"We're going to the Power Chamber to see if anything is salvagable.
Then, we're going wherever you guys are going."
Jason started to shake his head. "Tommy, no, it's too dangerous..."
"Don't even bother, Jason," Tommy said softly. "You've just told me that my best friend is under the control of someone who is worse than Rita, Zedd, Mondo and Divatox all put together, and you expect me to stay here and do nothing about it? You know better than that. You wouldn't back off if someone told you to stay out of it, would you?"
Jason's shoulders slumped. "You're right," he conceded unhappily. "The chief's gonna kill me.... Okay, you go to the Power Chamber and see if there's anything you can salvage. We have to go and get Jase's parents and his sister. We'll meet you at the Power Chamber.... Or what's left of it."
Tommy shook his head grimly, and then he and the other four hurried off with Justin to get to the Power Chamber as fast as possible. Jason watched them go, then looked to the Voltron Force.
"Okay. Let's go."
Jason and Keith arrived at the Scott home in Bradman Drive to find Donavon, Sarah and Nikki waiting for him, both adults looking extremely worried. Donavon ushered Jason and Keith inside, quickly shutting the door behind them and taking them into the family room.
"Doc?" Jason asked quietly, his gaze flickering nervously to Sarah. "You folks need to come with us, right now."
Donavon nodded. "Mark and Jason said you'd be coming to get us."
Jason and Keith looked stiffly at one another.
"They've been here?" Keith asked tensely. Sarah shook her head.
"No. They met Nikki on her way home, and told her to tell us to expect you."
"Jason, what is going on?" Donavon asked, anxiety in his tone. Jason hesitated for just a moment. He was on the verge of ignoring the question completely when he spotted the ring on Donavon's left hand.
"Where did you get that?"
Donavon looked surprised as he looked down at the ornate gold ring.
Jason drew in a slow breath. "Doc, that's a Spectran ring. It's what Zoltar gives to his agents on Earth so they'll be recognised by other Spectrans. It's a protection ring."
Shock and horror filled the older man's face, and he looked to Nikki.
"Jason gave them to me!" Nikki protested, sensing she was about to get the blame undeservedly.
"Jason gave that ring to you?" Keith asked. Sarah spoke up softly.
"I have one too. Nikki said that Jason and Mark gave them to her to give to us."
"He said they should wear them all the time, no matter what!" Nikki said anxiously. "He didn't tell me what they were!"
Donavon shook his head and started to pull off the ring, only to be stopped by Jason.
"No, leave it on."
The psychiatrist looked incredulously at the teen. "Jason, you said it's Spectran."
"It is, and it'll protect you from being hurt by the Spectrans." He glanced over to Jase's mother. "You too, Mrs Scott. Leave the ring on. I don't know what Jase has in mind, but they'll keep you safe from harm."
Donavon let his hand drop, and then he spoke softly.
"Jason, I want to know right now why my son had two Spectran rings in his possession."
Jason's shoulders slumped, and for the second time that day he caved in.
"Mark, Jason and Keop have all been taken by Zoltar. He's got some sort of machine or device that's given him control over them. Some sort of treatment. We don't know exactly what it is, but it's made them totally loyal to Zoltar."
"Oh dear God, no," Sarah Scott whispered in horror. Donavon stared intently at Jason.
"My son is following Zoltar?"
Jason somehow managed to keep himself from cringing under the intensity of Donavon's stare.
"Yes, sir. Please, we need you all to come with us right now. For your own safety."
Sarah finally stood up. "Can we at least pack a bag each?"
Keith nodded. "Sure. But only what you need. We don't have much time."
Sarah nodded and hurried from the room with Nikki. Donavon was a moment longer in going, and paused to regard Jason and Keith intently.
"Just tell me you're doing everything in your power to get them back.
That's all I want to hear."
"We are," Keith confirmed softly, firmly. Donavon stared at Keith for a long moment before nodding and following his wife from the room.
An hour later, the Scott family was herded into a waiting car by Jason and Keith.
"You think they're still around here somewhere?" Keith asked softly as he closed the trunk of the car. Jason shrugged, looking around uneasily.
"I don't know. Shit, we've got a bad time ahead of us, Keith."
Keith clapped him lightly on the shoulder. "Stop thinking negatively.
Let's just get to the Lions, and we'll regroup with the others. C'mon."
Jason nodded and climbed into the front passenger seat while Keith took his place behind the wheel. The car backed down the sloping driveway, and headed off up the street, none of its occupants aware of the two pairs of eyes that had been watching them from close by, from the broad, protective branches of a large tree.
"Well, Jason and Keith must be going out of their minds right now trying to figure out what's going on," Mark said with a soft chuckle. He glanced to Jase, and his smile faded a little. "You okay?"
Jase nodded once. "Yeah, I think so. I guess I'm a little confused myself. I was expecting Father to tell us to kill them. I didn't expect him to give me the rings for them."
"They aren't our enemies," Mark said simply. "G-Force and the Voltron Force are. And, regardless of anything else, Father wouldn't expect you to kill the people that had raised you."
Jason regarded Mark grimly. "But you accept that we may have to kill Chief Anderson."
Discomfort showed in Mark's eyes as he contemplated that. Finally, he shrugged a little. "That's different. Chief Anderson is an old enemy of Spectra. He stole me and Keop away from Father. The Scotts were just caught up in this by accident. They didn't know who you really were, and Father isn't holding that against them."
"I guess so," Jason murmured. "I mean, I'm not complaining. I didn't like the idea of having to hurt them anyway."
"It's only the people who are our enemies that we have to worry about," Mark reassured him.
"Like the Power Rangers," Jason growled. "And I speak from experience when I say that trashing the Power Chamber will only slow them down."
"That's better than nothing at all. They would have gotten involved eventually, anyway. It tends to involve everyone when the whole planet is under threat. Better that they're involved at the beginning with limited power and resources than later on at full strength."
Jason conceded wordlessly, chewing on his power lip for a long moment before shifting around and dropping to the ground. Mark followed close behind.
"Is there anyone else we should keep an eye out for?" Jason asked as they headed away from the house.
"Not that I can think of," Mark murmured. "No need to worry, though.
Father will have thought of everyone that could be a problem for us." He glanced around; the sky was already dimming, the sun close to setting even though it was just early evening. "We'd better move. We've done everything we needed to...." He trailed off as Jason came to an abrupt halt beside him.
"Oh shit," Jason hissed. "Where the fuck did they come from?"
Mark looked in the same direction, and saw three teens that he didn't recognise coming down the street towards them.
_Who are they?_
_Old friends. Kim, Zack and Trini. I told you about them, remember?_
_Damn it, this is the last thing we need!_
Mark didn't have the chance to give any reassurance, for the three teens had reached them.
"Jase!" Zack cried out, delight lighting up his face, and he very nearly lifted Jason clean off his feet as he caught him up in a huge 'Zack-hug'.
"Man, it's been too long!"
"Thought you were with one of the Peace Delegations going around the world?" Jason asked, coughing as Zack squeezed his ribcage. Trini smiled wryly.
"Didn't you get our letter? We've been given a holiday. We're home for a month, and then we go back to trekking all over the place."
Zack poked Jason in the arm. "And we figured maybe we could talk you into coming back with us. The Director said there was a place for you if you wanted it, buddy."
"And I'm on a sabbatical from training," Kim explained, watching Mark out of the corner of her eye with acute interest. "Coach decided we were doing so horribly that it wouldn't matter."
Jason lifted an eyebrow incredulously, and Kim giggled.
"Seriously, he said there was no point in wiping us out. So, I've got two weeks rest. Thank God...."
"And what about you?" Trini pressed. "Aren't you going to introduce your friend to us?"
Jason glanced sideways at Mark. _Well? What do I say?_
_Tell them I'm just a friend from out of town. We don't have time for long explanations_
"This is Mark," Jason told them. "He's from out of town."
"How out of town?" Kim asked curiously.
"Washington D.C.," Mark answered quietly. "I'm.... staying with Jason for a holiday."
Jason had to choke back laughter at the blatant sarcasm in Mark's voice, but thankfully the others didn't seem to notice.
"So, where are you headed now?" Zack asked. "You going to a movie, or something?"
"No," Jason muttered, starting to wonder how they were going to ditch the three without raising suspicions. "Just for a walk."
"Cool," Kim chirped. "We'll come too. It's a nice evening."
Jason stiffened a little, and Mark's hand came down lightly on his arm.
_Relax. We've got some time yet_
_I don't want to hurt them, Mark_
_You won't have to. But it'll only make them more suspicious if you run off without taking five minutes to talk to them_
Jason conceded reluctantly, and the five slowly began to walk along the path, chatting quietly.
"So," Zack asked in a low voice, glancing cautiously at Mark, "how'd you go with.... you know?"
"Huh? Oh.... It's okay. Mark knows about us being Power Rangers. He's been the Power Chamber, and everything."
"When did this happen?" Trini asked in astonishment.
"A while ago," Mark explained. "The first time I stayed in Angel Grove, Zedd thought he could use me against the Rangers. It backfired."
"It always does," Zack said with a chuckle. "Well, at least we don't have to talk in whispers. We got a message from Billy that Tommy and the others gave it up. That true?"
Jason nodded. "Yeah But I can't tell you who the lucky recipients are.
Zordon said we had to keep that secret for their protection."
Trini nodded thoughtfully. "Fair enough. It's probably better for us if we don't know. Then we can't get involved again."
"Exactly," Zack agreed. "I don't want to be a target for some bad guy with a grudge."
A brief silence fell as they walked. Then, just as they turned into Blackwell Avenue, a voice familiar to all of them called out.
"Jason! Guys! Wait up!"
While Kim, Trini and Zack all turned to meet the newcomer with delight, both Mark and Jason went almost rigid with sudden shock.
_Get ready to do a disappearing act_
Billy ran to catch up with them, breathing heavily.
"For a moment there, I didn't think you'd heard me."
Jason smiled, though it clearly strained. "Hey, Billy."
Billy returned the smile calmly. "Hello, Jason. Mark."
Trini looked from Mark and Jason to Billy in surprise. "You know Mark?"
"Sure," Billy replied. He looked to the young commander questioningly.
"Here for a holiday again?"
There was nothing in the genius's tone to suggest anything untoward, and the two boys relaxed just a little.
"Yeah," Mark answered. "Just a short one."
Billy nodded casually, and then turned his attention to the other three teens.
_I think it's time we cleared out_ Mark sent to Jason tensely.
_I wholeheartedly agree_ Jason conceded. _This is getting too uncomfortable_
Jason turned to say goodbye to his friends, only to be brought up short by Billy.
"By the way, Jason, did you hear about TJ?"
The teen froze, not even daring to breathe. Billy watched him closely, carefully as he spoke.
"He's in hospital. His neck is broken."
"That's terrible," Jason said hoarsely. "Will he... you know... Will he live?"
"The doctors seem to think so. He'll be a quadriplegic, though."
Jason let his breath out in a rush, feeling a small, inexplicable touch of relief that he hadn't killed TJ outright. A hand closed over his shoulder, and he heard Mark speak close behind him.
"You'll have to excuse us. We promised we'd meet someone. C'mon, Jason.
We're going to be late."
"Yeah," Jason muttered. "Sorry, guys. My father is expecting us."
"It's cool," Zack said. "We'll catch you later, okay?"
The two boys nodded, then turned and took off up the street at a run.
The others watched them go, and then Kim spoke tentatively.
"Is it just me, or did they seem a little anxious to get away?"
Billy spoke quietly, and in the dimming light, Zack, Kim and Trini noticed how pale he'd become.
"I seriously thought we were dead for a moment, there. That was foolish of me to mention TJ."
"Who is TJ?" Zack asked.
"He's the guy that took over the Red Turbo powers from Tommy."
Trini frowned, concerned. "But Jason said it was a secret, that we weren't allowed to know...."
"Jason was lying. C'mon, we'd better go back to my place. We're not safe out in the open."
"Billy, what's going on?" Kim pressed as they began to walk back towards Billy's home.
"I got a message from Tommy not fifteen minutes ago," Billy explained.
"There's a lot of trouble right now. You guys picked a wonderful time to come home. I don't have time to explain everything. I'll keep it as short as possible. Mark is actually the Commander of G-Force. We first met him over a year ago when he was placed with Tommy's family as a foster child. It was a Spectran plan to separate and capture G-Force. It worked out all right, and we've kept up contact with G-Force on a semi-regular basis. Most recently, though, about six months ago, Jason and the others went to Washington D.C.
for a holiday after graduating. To make a long story short, Mark and Jason discovered that they are actually brothers. Jason is older than Mark, but I'm not sure by how much."
"What...?" Kim asked in astonishment. "But Jason is an only child!"
"Jason is adopted," Billy told them. "He simply never told anyone.
Mark and Jason have the same father. And that man happens to be Zoltar."
"Oh shit..." Zack hissed. Billy nodded.
"Exactly. And that brings us to the present. Mark and Jason were captured. Zoltar apparently has some sort of device that allows mind control.
He used it on Mark and Jason. As a result, they are now serving their father.
What we know for certain right now.... What Tommy told me.... Is that Jason tricked TJ into taking him to the Power Chamber, and then trashed the place.
When TJ tried to stop him, Jason broke his neck."
"No way!" Zack protested. "No way, Billy. Jase would never do anything like that!"
"He can, and he did," Billy snapped. "He's under Zoltar's control. He isn't thinking for himself. Neither is Mark. We have to work together now to figure out what to do."
Trini looked at him questioningly. "You deliberately risked yourself to come and find us?"
"That was an accident, actually," Billy confessed. "I didn't know you three were back in town. I saw you pass by my house with Mark and Jason, and I think my heart nearly stopped. I don't think Jason would have done anything to you... But better safe than dead." He paused, looking around at them intently.
"You have to understand this now. You might think that Jason won't hurt you, but you can't take that for granted. If he's backed into a corner now, he'll fight back. No matter who it is that he's fighting. We have to accept that he'll take any of us out to avoid being caught. We can't risk a confrontation with him."
"So, what are we supposed to do if we see him again?" Zack wanted to know. Billy looked at them grimly as he let them into his home.
"Find anything useful?" Jason asked as he joined Tommy in the destroyed remains of the Power Chamber. Tommy's jaw was clenched tightly as he looked around. It was a scene that was disturbingly familiar to that time long ago when he had trashed the Command Centre as the Green Ranger.
"I can't believe Jason did all this. Not even I managed to do this much damage."
"You don't have the power that he does," Jason reminded him. "He wouldn't have needed to lay so much as a finger on anything. But you didn't answer my question. Did you find anything useful?"
Tommy finally nodded. "I hope so." He opened a black box to reveal the five Zeo crystals. "These should work. There's no reason why they wouldn't. And if they do, it'll give us the potential for ten Rangers. That is, providing we can find someone to step in for TJ."
Jason nodded. "Okay. If that's all you can find, then we have to get going."
Tommy hesitated, though, looking around miserably. "I hate leaving the place like this. It isn't right."
"I know how you feel," Jason murmured, only to be startled when Tommy whirled on him in fury.
"Do you? I don't think so. When was the last time you had to abandon a place that was virtually your second home, and run for your lives?"
"When Zoltar attacked and destroyed Centre Neptune," Jason snapped back, equally angry. "Except, Centre Neptune _was_ our home, and around two hundred people died because we couldn't get them out quickly enough. Is that a good enough comparison for you?"
Tommy faltered, taken aback. "I... I'm sorry...."
"Forget it," Jason muttered. "Let's just get out of here. We have a lot of travelling to do."
"Don't forget Adam," Rocky reminded them as they made their way out of the mountain substructure. "He went to find Carlos and the others."
Keith nodded. "We'll collect everyone that we need to on our way out of town."
Jason looked to Tommy. "Are you coming?"
"Yeah," Tommy murmured, suddenly feeling very tired. "Yeah, I'm coming."
He paused, taking one last look around before following the others outside to the Lions that would hopefully take them all to safety.
Angel Grove Park
"We're early," Mark announced as he and Jason arrived at the designated spot to meet Kaa. "Kaa won't be here for a good ten minutes at least. We'd better keep our heads down in case anyone shows up."
Jason nodded his agreement. "We don't need anymore surprises." He'd barely finished speaking when a flash of gold light caused them to turn around, and they found themselves facing Goldar and Rito.
"Wonderful," Jason growled, his hands slowly curling into fists.
"Goldilocks and the resident bag of bones."
"Watch your tongue, Earthling," Goldar snarled. "Unless you want to be taught a lesson by my sword."
"Feather brain," Jason retorted. "Push me any harder, and you'll be the one getting taught a lesson. What do you want?"
"Rita and Ed want to talk to you," Rito answered. "Right now."
Jason looked to Mark. "That sounded like an order."
"Sure sounded like an order to me," Mark agreed. Jason turned back to the two lackeys with a dark stare.
"I don't take orders from either of you. Ask nicely, and I might consider it."
Goldar bristled with rage. "Why, you impudent human!" He started forward with the clear intent of taking a swipe at Jason with his sword. Jason never gave him the opportunity. One instant, Goldar was charging the two boys.
The next he was a flat on his back with the sword hovering in mid-air, the serrated edge pressed lightly against the ape's exposed throat. Jason walked across to stand over Goldar, hatred in his eyes.
"You were saying, fur-face?"
Goldar whimpered, all the fight taken out of him by the unexpected and frightening display of power.
"Lord Zedd and Empress Rita request an audience with you, if you have the time."
Jason laughed softly. "Much better. What do you think, Mark? Should we go?"
"Well, we have some time before we're supposed to meet Kaa," Mark mused. "Why not? Might be interesting."
"Hey, Ed didn't say nothing about you," Rito protested. "They only want the ex-power brat... Whoa!"
Rito's protest ended in a yelp as he ended up on the grass next to Goldar.
"Wherever I go," Jason snapped, "so does Mark. And vice-versa. If Rita and Zedd don't like that, then fine. We aren't the ones that asked to see them."
Goldar groaned as he got to his feet. "All right, you can both come.
Please, can we go now?"
Mark and Jason both nodded, and a moment later all four vanished in a flash of coloured light.
"We request an audience with them?" Zedd exploded when Goldar and Rito arrived in the Moon Castle with Mark and Jason. "Goldar, you brainless moron!"
"Relax, Zedd," Jason retorted. "You'll fry your brain, or something."
"Like it isn't already over-exposed," Mark added, and the brothers exchanged grins. Zedd waved his staff at them threateningly.
"You think you're going to step in and take over, do you? Well, think again, Jason. This is our planet, and no one is going to take it from us."
"You mean, aside from Ivan Ooze, King Mondo or Divatox?" Jason asked with mock innocence. "Give us a break, Zedd. This planet belongs to our father. Get that straight right now, and you might live through this war."
"That's right," Mark agreed. "Pledge your allegiance to Zoltar, and he may look favourably on you when we secure this planet for our own."
"I don't believe this," Zedd growled incredulously. "First he makes my life a misery as Ranger, and now he's trying to take over! This is too much!"
"Oh, I don't know, Zeddie," Rita said as she eyed the boys with an almost hungry gleam. "I think they're actually cute when they're evil. Don't you?"
"No, I do not!" Zedd roared. "Pathetically good or annoyingly evil, they are still annoying! And I will not surrender my position to anyone!"
Jason shrugged. "Suit yourself. Just remember, for all your ranting, in five minutes we succeeded in doing what you couldn't do over two years. The Power Rangers are disabled. In the time it will take them to get themselves organised, we will have swept over this planet in a wave of destruction, and only the favoured few will survive. The rest will die, or serve out the rest of their worthless lives as slaves. It's your choice which side you want to be on."
Rita's grin had broadened considerably. "Definitely cute when he's evil. I should have chosen you instead of Tommy, Jason, to be my evil Ranger."
Jason sneered at her. "If you had, you'd be dead now. Father will not tolerate any interferrence with us."
Rita regarded the teen for several seconds before walking down the steps to join the two.
"Count me in, boys."
"Rita!" Zedd exploded. "Get back here now!"
"Sorry, Zedd," Rita answered casually, not taking her eyes off Jason.
"I'm tired of being hooked up with a loser. I'm joining the winning side now."
Mark smiled coldly. "You're more intelligent than you look, Rita." His gaze went to Zedd. "Well? Will you join us, Zedd?"
"As a lackey under Zoltar?" Zedd retorted. "Forget it. I'd rather join the Power Rangers. I told you, I will not surrender this planet to an upstart from another galaxy."
Jason shrugged. "Suit yourself. Just remember, we gave you a choice." He favoured Zedd with a mock bow. "When we see each other again, I suggest you run. Fast. In the other direction."
Then, the two boys were gone in a flash of light, taking Rita with them. Zedd continued to stare at the space where they'd been just a few seconds ago, then got to his feet , trembling with rage.
"That little ex-power brat is not going to get away with this! Goldar!"
Goldar was there in an instant, cowering before his master. "Yes, Lord Zedd?"
"Go to Earth and locate the Power Rangers, wherever they are. When you do, don't cause trouble. Just come back and tell me."
"What are you going to do, Master?" Goldar asked. Zedd's visor glowed with evil red light.
"I want my wife back. She may be annoying, but I will not tolerate losing her to that upstart showman from Spectra. And, if getting her back means joining forces with the Power Rangers to defeat Zoltar, then that's what I'll do." He looked, and saw that Goldar hadn't moved. "What are you waiting for?
Goldar fled, with Rito close behind.
Somewhere in Canada
"Nice place," Zack commented dryly as he and the others alighted from the Lions. "Cold, but nice."
Along with the Turbo Rangers, Keith had stopped to pick up Billy at Tommy's request, and they had then discovered the presence of the other former Rangers. Zack, Trini and Kim had all flatly refused to be left behind and Keith, anxious to get away from Angel Grove, had consented. Now, twelve teens- along with G-Force's Jason and the Voltron Force- found themselves in an enormous house that was to serve as their sanctuary while they decided what to do.
"Don't complain, Zack," Trini told him. "Remember, they didn't have to bring us."
"Hey, I'm not complaining. I just hope there's enough blankets to go around."
"There's plenty of everything to go around," Security Chief Anderson replied as he passed the teens. "That's why we're here, and it's the sole purpose of this house's existence; to provide a safe haven when it's needed."
"How come you never told us about this place?" Tiny asked as he came into the docking bay to help unload equipment and bags. "Would've made a great holiday resort."
Anderson favoured Tiny with a tired look. "I kept the location of this place secret out of paranoia after Centre Neptune was destroyed. Now, I'm glad I did. Mark has no idea of this place's existence. We'll be safe here for the time being."
"Until Mark, Jason and Keop decide to make a concerted effort to locate us," Billy added grimly. "In which case, we could easily find ourselves trapped."
"You say such comforting things, Billy," Rocky grumbled. Anderson shook his head as the large group made its way into a huge room furnished with comfortable furniture, at the end of the long tunnel which led from the docking bay.
"Billy is quite right. We have to accept that we may only be safe here for a very short time. Everyone, sit down, please."
It took a few minutes, but finally everyone found a seat, whether it was on the floor or on a chair or a sofa. Anderson paused, looking around the group. There were the two remaining members of G-Force: Jason and Tiny. The Voltron Force, the current serving Power Rangers.... Anderson frowned a little as he observed the present teens in their colour-coordinated clothing.
"Pardon my ignorance, but shouldn't there be five Power Rangers?"
"There would have been," Keith spoke up, "but Mark and Jason got in ahead of us."
"Jason forced TJ to take him to the Power Chamber," Cassie explained in a trembling voice. We followed, but we couldn't stop Jason from trashing the place. TJ went at him...."
"And Jason took him down," Carlos finished, his eyes dark with rage.
"He kicked TJ in the head, and broke his neck. I swear to God, I'm going to fucking kill him when I get my hands on him!"
"You'll do nothing of the kind," Cronus snapped. "Jason, Mark and Keop are all to be considered lethal. No one is to try and approach or confront any of them alone. Is that understood?" His gaze fell on Carlos. "If you do, you will most likely receive the same treatment as TJ."
"Except the next person who tries will probably end up in a body bag," Lance muttered. Anderson nodded in agreement.
"Lance is right. TJ is lucky to still be alive. The next person won't be that lucky." He looked around at them all seriously. "Listen closely, all of you. Those of us who are particularly close to Mark, Keop or Jason are greatly at risk. Don't think for a moment that they won't act against you.
They will. So no one is to get any ideas about any heroics." Anderson paused, staring directly at Tommy. "Especially you, Tommy. Don't delude yourself into believing that Jason won't harm you. He will. Given the chance, he could well try to kill you."
Tommy nodded, pale but sure. "I understand."
Anderson nodded grimly. "I certainly hope you do."
"Chief, what are we going to do?" Tiny asked, and there was a touch of desperation in his voice that could not be ignored.
Anderson looked back to Cronus and Coran uncomfortably. The truth was, he could only think of one way to the resolve the issue, and he dared not say it in front of any of the young people in that room.
"Right now," he said finally, "we are all going to get some sleep.
There's not point in exhausting ourselves. Tomorrow, with clearer heads, we can start thinking through strategies."
He expected that to be the end of it, and was startled and concerned when Jason spoke up in a tense voice.
"You wouldn't be planning anything that you wouldn't want to let us in on, would you?"
Anderson froze, locking stares with the young man for several seconds before he was able to reply.
"What sort of a question is that?"
Jason shrugged as he rose slowly to his feet. "Oh, I don't know. Let's just say we want to be sure that you aren't planning... shall we say, drastic action. I think you know what I mean."
For just an instant, Anderson's stomach rolled. _They know_ he thought numbly as he looked into the accusing stares of Jason, Tiny and the Voltron Force.
"Go to bed," Cronus said firmly, from where he stood next to Anderson. "All of you. We'll talk about this more tomorrow."
Slowly, reluctantly, everyone got to their feet and filed from the room. Eventually, only Anderson, Cronus, Coran and the Scotts were still in the room.
"What was that all about?" Donavon asked softly, staring intently at Anderson. "Please tell me that my imagination is just working overtime, and that wasn't what it sounded like."
Anderson looked away, unable to bring himself to either answer the question or look the man in the eye. Donavon felt his stomach heave as he came to the logical conclusion.
"You're planning to kill them."
"It's a possibility that we have to consider," Cronus told them gently.
Sarah shook her head, bordering on hysterical.
"No, it can't be! You can't kill Jason, he's only a boy! He's my baby boy..."
She broke into tears, falling into Donavon's embrace. Anderson turned back to face them, then. The haunted look in his own eyes matched that of the Scotts.
"I don't want to go down that path. I raised Mark and Keop as my own children. I love them as much as I do my own son. It's killing me to think that we might have to take that avenue. But it can't be ignored. As much as those boys are our sons, under Zoltar's control they are also lethal killing machines. Jason has already proven how dangerous he is with what he did to TJ.
If we discover that it is impossible to reverse what Zoltar has done to them, then I'm afraid we may not have a choice." He shook his head, clearly distressed. "I don't want to have to initiate it, but if it's the only way to save the billions of people on this planet, then that is what I will do."
Donavon shut his eyes. "I can't bring myself to think of my son as dangerous, Anderson. And he is my son. I won't accept that he's calling that monster 'Father'."
"You had better accept it," Cronus growled. "Because that's a fact.
Unless we can reverse the control, given a choice between you and Zoltar, Jason will choose Zoltar."
"Cronus is right," Anderson said quietly. "To be honest, I don't know why Zoltar didn't order Jason and Mark to kill you both. The only reason I can think of is that Zoltar is being extremely careful not to force the boys to do anything that might put a strain on the control. It's all I can think of as a reason for what Jason did to Princess."
Donavon stiffened. "What did he do to Princess?"
"He literally put her into a coma," Coran explained. "She wasn't physically harmed in any way."
"Jason cares about Princess a lot," Donavon murmured. Anderson nodded.
"So Zoltar tells Jason not to kill her, but to comatose her instead."
"And after everything's over, he can have her then," Cronus finished off. "Even if it means using the same control on her. And considering what Jason told us about young Joseph Well, I don't want to contemplate it."
"Tell me one thing," Donavon said before turning to guide Sarah from the room. "Who on this planet would even want to attempt to kill the Commander of G-Force? Let alone three boys capable of.... of so much?"
Anderson glanced downwards, though at what Donavon didn't know.
"I have connections. There are people who are on their way here right now. They'll be here by tomorrow afternoon."
"And then the proverbial is truly going to fan," Cronus muttered.
"Trained killers?" Donavon guessed. Anderson nodded slowly.
"Yes But also trained rescuers. If there is even the slightest chance of getting them back on our side, then we'll take that chance. I promise you both. We aren't giving them up without a fight. I'd die trying."
Donavon was silent for several seconds, watching Anderson piercingly before nodding slowly.
"I believe you." He tightened his grip around his wife's shoulders, and led her from the room in heavy silence.
"They'll be here tomorrow, then?" Coran asked, and Anderson nodded.
"Yes. I called immediately after the incident in Woodeforde. They're on their way."
Cronus shut his eyes, and buried his face in his hands, speaking words in an eerie echo of Louis's sentiment on Spectra which, though had only been a couple of days ago, now seemed like a lifetime.
"May the gods help us all...."
Kaa smirked at his brother's startled exclamation.
"You heard me. They brought that witch Rita back with them. It would seem that she is, and I quote, 'sick of being hooked up with that loser Zedd'.
Actually, I can understand that sentiment."
J'boath chuckled, unable to resist. "Well, I can't see her being of any real use to us, but better that she's working with us than being in a position to interfere and cause us problems."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Kaa said with a short laugh. "The silly woman could cause us more problems working with us than if she were working against us."
Both brothers laughed, then, only to be interrupted by a younger soldier.
"What is it?" J'boath hissed, not pleased at being interrupted by anyone. The soldier spoke in a trembling voice; he was terrified of both lieutenants and made no effort to hide it.
"Sirs... My Lord requests your presence in the docking bay. The Great Lord Mordock is due to arrive."
Kaa nodded, and waved the soldier off. The young man fled, glad to be away from them.
"With Mordock here," Kaa said quietly as they began to hurry towards the docking bay, "nothing will stop us."
J'boath laughed evilly. "The most evil, feared family in the universe.
No one will dare stand against us."
"Except a pitiful few," Kaa corrected. "And they are of no consequence.
This planet is going to fall, and then, so will the entire universe." A cruel, evil smile lit up his face. "We are going to win, and there is no one who can stop us."
The brothers continued towards the docking bay, their chilling laughter echoing down the long corridor.
A private chamber
"What's our grandfather like?" Jason asked as he, Mark and Keop lounged in the room that had been allocated to them. Mark shrugged.
"He's a hard man, but he's also good to anyone who isn't against him." A cold smile lit up the teen's face. "A lot of people are terrified of him.
We don't have anything to worry about."
Keop whistled softly as he flipped through a book on his bed. "With only Jason and Tiny left to stand against us, with the Voltron Force and a disabled Power Ranger team, they don't have a hope of defeating us. Between Father, Grandfather and us, Earth is going to fall."
Jason laughed. "It's going to be great when it happens. But why didn't Father ask us to go to meet Mordock with him?"
"Why put us through the official stuff?" Mark asked. "As soon as they're finished with that, Father will bring him here to see us. Personally, I'm happy with that. I hate all that official crap. It's mind-numbing."
Jason nodded in concession, wordlessly rolling a gold marble over in his fingers. A moment later, he tossed it into the air where it remained, hovering in mid-air. Mark grinned at him.
"Is that the best you can do?"
Before Jason could answer, the chair on which he sat suddenly rose into the air, taking him with it. Keop burst into laughter, curling up on his bed as he chortled. The startled look quickly faded from Jason's face, and a moment later Keop's entire bed abruptly lifted off the floor a couple of inches and began to shake like something of 'The Exorcist'. Keop's laughter turned into a shriek as he tried to hold on. Jason's gaze then flickered to Mark, who quickly got to his feet, not sure what to expect.
_Put me down, little bro_
A grin lit up Mark's face. _Not a chance_
In the next instant, Jason vanished. Mark blinked, startled, and the chair dropped to the floor with a crash as Mark released it. It was then that Mark noticed the mouse that leapt off the chair, and he realised that Jason had shape-shifted.
_Cute_ Mark sent wryly. _Real cute. Can't you do any better?_
_Well, how's this?_
Mark took an abrupt step back as the mouse grew, and shifted into the shape of a huge tiger. The beast advanced on Mark, teeth bared in a threatening gesture.
"Uh, Jason..." Mark stammered. "I was just kidding. C'mon, bro..."
The tiger launched itself into the air, and pounced on the Commander of G-Force, pinning him to the floor.
_Can't wait to try this on someone who'll actually be scared of me_ Jason sent with a mental grin. Mark sighed, and finally relaxed.
"Man, you had me worried for a second, there."
The tiger began to purr. _Me? Freak out you? Surely you jest. You know I love you, bro_
For emphasis, the huge beast began to lick the helpless boy beneath him, thoroughly bathing his face. Mark gagged and struggled to get out of the way, but Jason wasn't letting him up. Keop, whose bed was still shaking furiously, whined out to his brother as he held on for dear life.
"Jason! Make it stop! I'm gonna hurl..."
The bed abruptly ceased its shaking, and Keop groaned with relief.
Meanwhile, Jason had Mark begging for mercy.
"Ack... Jason... Knock if off!"
_You mean I'm not cute anymore?_
"Smart ass... Get off me!"
A low rumble met Mark's plea, and Jason moved back, releasing his younger brother and shifting back into human form. Mark sat up, rubbing his face in mock disgust.
"What the hell was with that? Did you have to lick my face?"
Jason smirked at him. "There's a moral, baby brother. Don't mess with me."
Mark shook his head as he got up. "Baby brother. That's rich."
"Well, you are. I'm the oldest."
The younger teen looked ready to pounce on his brother when the door suddenly opened and Zoltar walked in, a tall, cloaked figure just behind him.
Zoltar eyed the boys critically.
"What's going on here?"
"Nothing," Jason said quickly, straightening up his clothes. "Really.
We were just..."
"Play fighting," Mark finished off when Jason hesitated.
"Well, you can continue your games later. Come over here and say hello to your grandfather."
Zoltar stepped to one side, and the cloaked figure pushed back his hood to reveal a head covered with jet-black hair. The man was enormous, almost seven feet tall, but it was his eyes that caught the most attention. Like his hair, they were coal black, and they glittered with an almost confusing mix of emotions; kindness and cruelty, love and hate.
Keop moved first, scrambling off the bed and running over to the big man.
Mordock chuckled, catching Keop and swinging the little boy off the ground.
"How's my little one, then?"
"Good," Keop informed him seriously, "now that we're on the right side, with Father."
Mordock glanced sideways at Zoltar as he set Keop back down on solid ground.
_I'm impressed, son_
Zoltar merely smiled, saying nothing. Mordock then turned his attention to the younger of the other two boys.
Seeing nothing but kindness in the old man's gaze, Mark strode forward and allowed himself to wrapped up in a warm hug. Mordock held the boy tightly, all the while conducting a subtle mind probe of the teen to see just how strong Zoltar's control was. He couldn't find even the smallest glitch in the control that encased the boy's mind, and finally released him.
"It's been a long time, my boy," he murmured, looking the young man over appraisingly.
"You've grown up well and truly."
Mark smiled proudly, then looked back to his older brother.
"Jason, come over here."
Jason advanced uncertainly, not out of fear but rather out of a sudden sense of not quite belonging. Mordock regarded the teen with a bright-dark gaze.
"So, this is my long-lost grandson." He stepped past Mark, and reached out to grasp Jason's shoulders as he looked the teen over carefully. "We'd almost given up on ever finding you, Jason. This is a great day for our family.
All of us, here together." He favoured the young man with a smile and spoke softly. "Don't be afraid of me, Jason. I'm your grandfather, and I'm here to protect you. While I'm here, you need fear nothing." He looked to Mark and Keop. "Your father and I will protect all three of you. No one will take you away from us again."
He reached his arms out, drawing all three close to him, a cold smile edging onto his face.
"Let the destruction begin."
Somewhere in Canada
Tommy sat on his allocated bed in silence, looking around slowly at his friends. There was Kat, Tanya, Rocky and Adam, and Billy, Trini, Kim and Zack. They were all there, members of the past Ranger teams, both Dino, Ninjetti and Zeo. His stomach curled a little. All except Jason. He felt an indentation on the bed next to him, and looked to see Kat sitting there.
"We're going to get him back, Tommy. We have to believe that. You've been evil before, and so have I, and those spells were broken."
"Jason's been evil before, too," Adam reminded the former Ranger and team leader. "Don't forget about Muranthias."
"Oh god, don't remind me," Kim moaned. Tommy shook his head.
"I know all of that, but this is different."
"Different in what way?" Tanya asked.
"I don't know how" Tommy admitted. "It just is."
"It's different because Zoltar is their father," Billy said quietly.
"This isn't the same as when Rita took you, Tommy. Then, she just used you as her warrior. You were nothing more than that to her, and you knew it. There's a connection between Jason, Mark, Keop and Zoltar that we can't do anything about. It's the connection of blood. Zoltar had that hold over them from the very beginning, and now he's simply expanded that hold to control them completely. Yes, we've succeeded in breaking spells before, but this is not a simple spell. We have to understand that first and foremost, or we aren't going to survive."
"The way you're talking," Zack said uneasily, "it sounds like we don't have a hope! C'mon, Billy, don't be so damn negative!"
"Billy's right," Tommy said softly. "This is more serious than any time that any of us have been taken and put under a spell. We have to face facts that we might not be able to pull Jason out of this one."
"So you'll just stand back and let them be killed?"
All nine teens looked around, startled by the voice from the doorway.
G-Force's Jason stood there, with Keith close behind him. The two walked into the room, and Keith pulled the door shut.
"What are you talking about?" Kat asked suspiciously. Keith spoke quietly, grimly.
"The night before we found out that Jason had been turned as well as Mark, he spoke to Princess and told her that he'd overheard Chief Anderson, Colonel Cronus and Coran talking about bringing in a special unit to deal with Mark. In other words, trained assassins. And because it's Jason and Keop now as well as Mark, they're planning to have all three of them murdered."
"Oh shit," Zack whispered, his throat abruptly drying up. Jason nodded.
"Hang on a second," Adam protested. "If you now know that Jason was...
was _turned_ when he told that to Princess, then how do you know he was telling the truth about that?"
"Didn't you see the look on Anderson's face when I asked him if there was anything he was planning that he didn't want us to know about?" Jason growled. "He nearly had a heart attack on the spot. Trust me, this is for real.
And I know that because I overheard Mark to telling the Chief once that if Zoltar ever managed to use him like this again, to go ahead and kill him.
Because he would rather be dead than be the cause of the deaths of innocent people. You're right when you say it isn't going to be easy to break the control. It could turn out to be the hardest thing that any of us have ever tried to do. But we have to try. Because I'd rather die myself than stand back and let the Chief sign their death warrants."
"We agree with you," Trini told him. "Really, none of us want to see Jason be hurt, much less killed. We're going to have to watch it, though. I think we all know that we can't trust Carlos or the other Rangers not to try anything."
"They'll only get themselves killed trying," Jason muttered as he sat down in a nearby chair. "They don't know Mark, and they have no idea what any of them are capable of. Especially Mordock."
"That's not going to make any difference," Adam said quietly. "I know that Carlos in particular is pretty hot-headed. TJ is his best friend. If he thinks he can take a shot at Jason, then he'll take it."
"So what are we supposed to do?" Tommy asked finally, and the frustration and helplessness in his voice was all too clear.
"Right now," Keith said quietly, "there's nothing we can do. We can only wait, and see what these people are like that Chief Anderson is making his little arrangement with. Maybe they can be talked to."
"And if not," Jason growled angrily, "I'll kill them myself before I let them take Mark down."
"Hang on a second," Kim piped up, only a slight trembling in her voice giving away how nervous she felt. "Maybe we should all just stop and think about this. If Jase and...." She glanced to Jason. "And your two friends are as dangerous as everyone says they are, and this control is as powerful as we think.... Well, maybe we should consider that killing them might be the best thing for everyone."
"How can you say that?" Tommy choked out, barely able to believe that such a statement had come from Kim. "Damn it, Kim, I thought you were Jason's friend!"
"I am!" Kim exploded, tears streaming down her cheeks. "I love him like a brother and I can't stand the thought of losing him! But you don't understand, Tommy! After Muranthias, Jase and I spent a lot of time together.
We both sort of high-tailed it out of town for a while, up to the cabin that Zack's folks own. We really had a hard time coping with what happened on that island, but I think it affected Jase worst of all. Before we came home, he said that he never wanted to be used or manipulated like that again, and that he'd rather let himself be killed than hurt anyone. He's already hurt someone, Tommy. He hurt TJ. Not even you did anything like that during any of the times that you were under Rita or Zedd's spells. Now how do you think he's going to cope with that if we do manage to break this control that Zoltar has over them?"
Tommy shut his eyes, wanting desperately to block out the frightening images that were coming to mind. Kim went on softly, but in the quiet room her voice and words had all the power of a cannon.
"I don't want to see Jason hurt, and I definitely don't want him to be killed. But if I were him, and I was rescued from the same sort of control after doing the same amount of harm, I think I'd probably take my mother's gun and turn it on myself."
"She's right," Jason said, and he sounded very much like he wanted to be sick. "Mark's exactly the same. The only difference is that I don't think Mark would kill himself because of his position as Commander. But it's gonna cripple him. It'll cripple all three of them. And that's when this planet will really be in danger."
"You think that's Zoltar's plan?" Adam asked wonderingly. "You think he's going to get Jase, Mark and Keop to do as much damage as possible, and then release them?"
Jason shook his head, smiling grimly at the naivete of the question.
"Not a chance in hell. Zoltar won't let them go without a fight, and he sure as hell won't release them himself. He'd kill them first."
Tommy fell back against the wall, not bothering to wipe the tears from his cheeks. "We have to get them back. Somehow, we have to rescue them."
Rocky grunted his agreement. "Yeah. And kick Zoltar's balls into the next goddamn dimension. That bastard isn't gonna get away with this."
A murmur of agreement swept across the group, and they fell into silence with a feeling of renewed hope. Only Jason and Keith did not share in the new optimism, but rather shared a grim look that was filled with the hard knowledge of experience.
The next day
"It's so quiet here," Allura murmured as she and the other females of the gathering walked along a forest path close to the house. "It reminds me of Aurus before Zarkon attacked."
Trini looked around wistfully. "This is sort of like Geneva." Her shoulders slumped a little. "I went home planning to talk Jason into rejoining the delegation. I never imagined this."
"None of us did," Kat said quietly, giving Trini a reassuring hug.
Therese, the oldest of all the females there, with the exception of Sarah Scott, paused to look over the small group. Somehow, all the women had fallen in together, as though drawn by some natural, invisible bond. It seemed to be the same with all the young men. As far as she knew, they were in the gym at that moment, working on their fighting tactics. She supposed the women should have been doing the same, but they needed their space to understand the problems at hand.
"Just remember, everything is going to work out all right in the end.
Things may look bad now, and it may not get any easier in the foreseeable future, but eventually we're going to get through this."
"No fate but what we make, right?" Jennifer queried, and Penny poked her friend playfully.
"That's off Terminator 2!"
Jennifer shrugged. "It's still relevant."
Therese put her arms around both young girls, hugging them gently.
"Yes, it is. We're going to keep fighting until the tide turns in our favour, and we get our friends back safely."
Cassie kicked at the snow, then looked up unhappily. "Carlos is really upset. We tried talking to him last night, but he wouldn't listen to us. He kept saying that he's going to make Jason pay for what he did to TJ."
Kim stiffened a little. "That wasn't Jason. Jason would never have hurt anyone like that. That was Zoltar controlling Jason's mind."
Ashley nodded quickly, not wanting to cause a fight. There was enough tension already without more arguments.
"We know, Kim. We don't blame Jason for it, and I don't think TJ does, either. But Carlos can be so hot-headed. It was TJ that kept him cool before, so without him.... I just don't think anyone can control him. And we're frightened of what will happen if he does try to take on Jason."
"That's simple," Trini said bleakly. "Jason will kill him."
"And even if Carlos does somehow manage to get the drop on Jason," Allura added grimly, "then Mark will kill him. Either way, Carlos is dead."
"But he doesn't understand that!" Ashley burst out. "He just doesn't get it!"
The girl burst into tears, and was quickly wrapped up in Cassie's protective embrace. Therese sighed as she looked around at the group of girls and young women. The situation was bad, no matter how much she tried to soften things up. It was serious, and they all knew it. Right then, there seemed to be only one solution, because no matter how things worked out, it looked like people were going to die.
"This sucks," Penny said softly, and Therese refrained from chipping the girl on her language.
"Yes," she agreed softly. "It does."
Kim glanced back briefly towards the house, then back to the group of women.
"I refuse to believe that Zoltar has absolute control over Jason. There has to be a chink in there somewhere. We have to find it."
"You know Jason the best," Cassie said, looking to Kim. "Is there anything we could use?"
Kim shrugged. "Don't ask me. I mean, I know Jason, but not half as well as Trini. They've known each other since Kindergarten."
All eyes turned on Trini, who cringed under the sudden attention. The young woman hesitated, then spoke quietly.
"I can't think of anything off-hand, but maybe this is something to bring up when we all meet together this afternoon. Maybe between Billy and myself we can think of something to trip Jason up and break the control."
"And maybe our Jason and Tiny can think of something that we can use for Mark and Keop," Therese murmured.
"I wish Lucy was here," Penny said miserably. Therese nodded.
"I do and I don't. If she were here, Zoltar probably would have taken her as well. Jason, Mark and Keop together against us is a terrifying thought.
I don't know that we could begin to imagine what Jason, Mark, Lucy and Keop might have been capable of all together."
"Who is Lucy?" Cassie wondered aloud.
"Lucy was Mark's twin sister," Therese explained. "Zoltar killed her nearly three years ago, now. She was almost as powerful as Mark. If she was still alive and on our side, we may have had a chance at stopping Mark, Jason and Keop...."
Therese trailed off, abruptly realising what she'd just said. Several of the younger girls had paled considerably, while the others looked plain sick. Quickly, she tried to recover lost ground.
"We're going to stop this. Somehow...."
No one answered. No one really believed her.
Tommy had just finished sparring with Adam and wandered over to where Jason and Tiny stood, talking quietly.
"What are you talking about?"
Jason regarded the older boy grimly. "You don't want to know."
"Look," Tommy growled, "don't even try to leave me out of anything.
Jase is my best friend. He's the closest thing I had to a brother before I found that I really did have a brother. So anything you're planning, I want in on."
Jason sighed heavily and leant back against the wall. "The truth is that we don't have any plans. We don't even know what Zoltar's first move will be. All we can do is wait, and react when something does eventually happen."
"So we wait for those assassins to show up?" Tommy asked. "Shit....
Why can't we go looking for them ourselves?"
Tiny lifted a single eyebrow with a mixture of amusement and incredulity.
"After the time that we spent with you and you guys spent with us, how can you be dumb enough to even suggest that?"
Jason silenced Tiny with a sharp look, then spoke quickly before Tommy could take offense.
"There's nothing I'd like more than to just go and find them right now, but even if we could find them, what would we do then? Think about it, Tommy.
We already know that talking is pointless. And we sure as hell can't match them in a fight for one simple reason. Before this, Mark, Keop, and probably Jase as well, would never use their power unless the situation was life- threatening. Now, under Zoltar's control, any self-restrictions like that are totally out the window. You saw what happened in the Youth Centre! And that was just a tiny sample! When we do eventually go up against them again, they're gonna do a hell of a lot more than throw us across a room."
Tommy stood silently for a long moment, then slid to the floor helplessly.
"Why do I suddenly feel like using a steak knife on myself?"
"Don't start freaking out yet," Tiny told him softly. "It's not totally hopeless. There is one chance."
Jason looked around at Tiny questioningly. "What chance?"
Tiny stared at Jason with a piercing gaze. "Answer me this. Where were Mark and Jase headed when all this started?"
A frown creased Jason's forehead as he thought back to their plans.
"They were going to the Mountain.... Oh shit, that's right!"
"The mountain?" Tommy echoed, confused.
"Witch Mountain," Jason explain quietly. "That's where Mark's people are. He was taking Jason to meet them. The Elders, more than anything. Damn it, why didn't we think of them before?"
"Only problem," Tiny added, "is that we don't know where it is. Not precisely. Chances are we'll get ambushed trying to get there."
"Well...." Tommy murmured. "Do you think it's worth trying to get their help?"
Jason spared Tommy a flat stare. "Imagine at least ten or twenty people with power equal or in excess of what Mark, Jase and Keop have. Not only could they help, they might be the only chance we have of getting them back and breaking the control."
"It's an admirable thought," a voice spoke behind them, startling all three teens. Looking around, they saw Chief Anderson standing there, a grim look on his aging face. "However, there's a flaw in your plan, and it's one that you don't know of."
"Such as?" Jason pressed. Anderson sighed.
"Such as the fact that the people of Witch Mountain will have nothing to do with our war against Zoltar. It's not a case of them being fearful of reprisals. They simply refuse to have anything to do with someone that they banished from their community nearly eighteen years ago."
Tiny frowned deeply, unable to reconcile that logic in his own mind.
"I don't understand that. They didn't banish Mark and Keop. Why wouldn't they want to help them?"
"Especially knowing the damage that Mark can do," Jason pointed out.
"And this is their planet, too, that's at risk now. Surely they'd realise that if we lose, then they'll be at risk as much as the rest of the human race?"
Anderson shrugged. "I can't explain their logic. Even Mark could never completely understand what was behind many of the decisions of Elders. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying we shouldn't pursue that avenue. I'm simply saying that, going with past experience, I doubt we'll get any help from them."
Tommy's head rolled back against the wall. "We have to try everything, even if it's a slim chance. We can't give up."
Jason stared hard at Anderson. "We won't give you the chance to give the order to have them killed."
Anderson returned Jason's stare for several seconds, on the verge of saying something. Finally, he shook his head and turned away from the boys to return to where Cronus was standing.
"He still won't admit," Tiny growled. Jason leant back against the wall, arms folded imposingly across his chest.
"He doesn't have to admit it. We know. He knows that we know. That's all that counts. He won't try to deny it, either."
From where he was still sitting on the floor, Tommy sighed heavily and glanced at his watch.
"It's twelve-thirty. When are we having lunch?"
Keith regarded Tommy in amusement as he joined the three by the wall.
"You'd better try resetting your stomach clock, Tommy. There might be times that we'll have to go without a meal or two."
"Especially if we get captured at some point," Jason muttered. "Zoltar has this habit where he likes to starve his prisoners. So get used to being hungry."
Tommy grimaced, unwilling to protest. Even during his darker times as Ranger, he couldn't recall unnecessarily going hungry.
"So.... Do we even know when or if these so-called assassins are coming here?"
Before Jason, Tiny or Keith had the opportunity to answer the query, the entire house began to tremble, and the low rumble of jet engines broke the generally quiet atmosphere. Jason glanced up uneasily, then looked around in time to see Anderson share a word with Cronus, then hurry from the gym.
"I'd say they just arrived." He started for the door. "C'mon. I want to see these clowns for myself."
"Anderson, good to see you again, my friend."
"Same, Nambu. It's been a while."
On the other side of the door, Jason, Keith, Tiny and Tommy listened to the voices, hardly daring to breathe.
"Nambu?" Keith whispered, and Jason shrugged. He'd never heard the name before.
"Maybe he's the assassin."
"Shh," Tiny hissed. More voices could be heard from within the room.
"Hello, Commander." That was Anderson.
"Good to meet you, sir." That voice was new. "Dr Nambu has explained the situation to us in full."
"It's not a pleasant task, I know. But it's rapidly beginning to look as though we have no other alternative."
"We understand, sir."
"Son of a bitch," Jason hissed furiously. "How could he do this?"
"Because he loves Mark enough to respect Mark's wishes," a hard voice replied. The teens looked around to find Colonel Cronus standing behind them.
Cronus glared at Jason.
"How can you be so blind not to realise that having to make that decision is tearing Anderson apart? Damn it, Jason, if the Scotts can accept that it might come that, why the hell can't you?"
Jason fell back, uselessly trying to fight off a flood of tears. Cronus reached for the doorknob.
"You four might as well come in with me. No point in leaving you out here to listen through the door and jump to all the wrong conclusions. Go on, move."
The four found themselves hustled quickly through the door before they could argue. Inside was Chief Anderson and another man who, although bearing a slight resemblance to Anderson, was clearly some years younger. Anderson turned his frown on the teens, and Cronus spoke in a tight voice.
"They were listening outside the door. I thought they may as well come in and hear everything first-hand. Otherwise, they're only going to misconstrue it all."
Anderson conceded reluctantly.
"I suppose. But when this is over, Jason and Tiny, you can consider yourselves grounded."
The two boys exchanged rueful glances. As long as things would be drawn out, they knew Anderson would not forget that. The man had the memory of an elephant.
"This is Dr Nambu," Anderson told them, indicating the younger man beside him. "He's my counterpart in Japan. He's here to help."
None of the four spoke, but watched instead with sceptical gazes. Nambu regarded them all seriously.
"Only two of your team left, Anderson?"
There was no taunting in the man's voice; merely concern. Anderson nodded. "I'm afraid so. Princess was put out of the equation in Woodeforde. I didn't have time to let you know."
"No. She's comatose. She's safe in the medical centre back home."
Nambu nodded, and then his gaze went to Tommy and Keith.
"The captain of the Voltron Force, I presume?" he asked, and Keith nodded in wordless astonishment. Nambu then looked at Tommy.
"And this young man is?"
"Tommy Oliver," Anderson explained before Tommy could get a single word out. "He was previously the leader of the Power Ranger team, and a good friend of Jason Scott."
Nambu nodded again.
"I see. Well, I certainly hope he won't allow his emotions to get in the way."
Tommy bristled visibly, angry at being talked about as though he was not even there. Jason stepped forward, then.
"You think you're going to be able to take out Mark? And Keop and Jason as well? Chief, what kind of stupid joke is this?"
Nambu smiled, then, although is was grim and held no humour. "Not me, Jason. My team. Allow me to introduce them."
Nambu stepped aside, and for the first time the four teens saw the five figures that waited patiently by the wall in the shadows. As they stepped forward, into the light, Jason's mouth dried up in shock, and Tiny reached out for the back of the nearest chair to support himself. Keith and Tommy could only gape.
"What is this?" Jason asked finally, his voice no more than a strangled whisper. "Chief...?"
"Yeah," Tiny added in an equally strained voice. "I thought we gave up on the idea of robots long ago!"
The walking replica of Jason stiffened, anger flashing across his face.
"We aren't any damned robots, so knock that bullshit off!"
The young man wearing a uniform nearly identical to Mark's laid a hand on his companion's shoulder.
"Easy, Joe. You know G-Force were never told about us. They don't know."
"What the hell is going on here?" Jason whispered, unable to speak evenly. Anderson answered the question solemnly.
"This is the Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman. The Science Ninjas, if you will. They are the Japanese equivalent to G-Force. Unlike yourselves, though, they have operated over the past several years in utmost secrecy. Their existence, to the general public, has only been a rumour."
The young man who looked so much like Mark spoke up in a quiet, serious voice. "My name is Ken. This is my second-in-command, Joe. And this is Jun, Jinpei and Ryu."
Jason and Tiny shared disconcerted glances. The five young people standing in front of them could have been mirror images of the five members of G-Force, they were so close in appearance But the members of the Ninja Team were older, by maybe two or three years. The youngest member of the team- Jinpei- was older than Keop and nearly as old as Jason and Tiny themselves.
Ken went on in that same quiet voice.
"We know you must be confused, but you need to understand that...."
"We do understand," Tiny cut him off sharply. "We understand that you're here to kill Mark, Keop and Jason. Well, we aren't going to let you. Get that straight right now. We'll kill you ourselves before we let you....."
"Tiny!" Anderson thundered, bringing the big boy into submission immediately. "All of you, just stop and listen for five minutes! Yes, it's true that they will take it upon themselves to kill Mark, Jason and Keop if necessary, but _only_ if necessary. We will try everything we can possibly think of before we initiate that course of action. Killing them will be kept as a last and absolutely desperate measure. First and foremost, they are here to try and rescue Jason, Mark and Keop. To _rescue_ them. Do you understand me?"
Tiny stared at the floor sulkily, not answering even with so much as a nod.
"Perhaps this is not the best time to discuss this," Nambu suggested.
Anderson nodded his agreement.
"Lunch will be in a few short minutes. Then, we'll hold a meeting, and bring everything out into the open." The Security Chief looked to Jason, Tiny, Keith and Tommy. "And you four can keep quiet about this for the next forty- five minutes or so. At least allow everyone else an undisturbed lunch. All right?"
Jason said nothing, favouring the Ninja Team members with a scathing look before leaving the room. A moment later, Tiny, Keith and Tommy followed.
Anderson watched them go, then looked back to Ken and his team.
Ken shook his head. "There's no need to apologize, sir. We understand."
Jun nodded in agreement. "If it was Ken in the same situation as your commander, we'd act in exactly the same way. Don't be angry at them for it."
Anderson sighed, then. "I'm not. I'm angry at myself for allowing this to happen. I should have been aware that Zoltar would try something like this at some point. I should never have allowed Mark and Jason to make an unescorted trip."
"There's no point in blaming yourself. Our priority now is to rescue them. That is first and foremost above all else."
Cronus nodded his agreement. "You couldn't have known, Anderson. None of us are blessed with the foresight that Mark has, and even he didn't see anything like this happening. Look, it's pointless to stand here debating who is at fault. The bottom line is that Zoltar is at fault. Let's just go and eat, and then decide exactly what we're going to tell everyone at the meeting."
Nambu laid a hand gently on Anderson's shoulder. "The Colonel is right. Let's go and eat."
Anderson was silent for a long moment, contemplating in his mind the horror that was to come, before conceding and leading them all from the room in heavy silence.