"Ow! Watch it Ash!" Zhane squealed.
Ashley sighed. "Sorry Zhane." She apologized, and went on tending to the deep cut on Zhane's forehead.
Zhane fidgeted childishly until Ashley became frustrated and threw the cotton ball down. "Zhane! I can not clean the cut if you keep acting like a two-year-old!"
"Well excuse me! It hurts!" Zhane snapped.
Before Ashley could come back with a snide comment, Andros broke in hastily. " Guys! Please don't argue. It's not making things any better!"
Cassie nodded in agreement. " Andros is right. Fighting is only going to make matters worse. Yes, the battle was hard, and the monster stronger then usual. But what we need to do here is figure out what Astronema is up to, not bicker."
Ashley blushed, embarrassed. Zhane looked up sheepishly and smiled that adorable smile. " Sorry, Ash. I didn't mean to fidget."
"It's OK, Zhane. I shouldn't have been so impatient with you. I guess I didn't realize how much it must hurt."
Ashley picked up another cotton ball and poured some medicine on it before placing it gently back on Zhane's wound.
The silence that followed was unbearable for the group of teen super-heroes. They were all worried about what Astronema had running through her thick skull. Would the next battle be their last?
Andros ran his hands through his oddly striped brown and blond hair nervously. Should I just tell them? He asked himself. Ahhhh.... what the heck. I have to sometime, might as well be now.
He cleared his throat breaking through the quiet. "Guys....", he started still wondering if he was doing the right thing. He continued again, stronger this time, " There's something all of you need to know. I don't know why I chose to wait until now, but that doesn't matter right now. A long time ago, when I went to Eltar I met Zordon for the first time. It was right after I had received the Red Ranger Powers. Zordon told me that he had the powers of a 7th ranger; the White Astro Ranger powers. He doesn't even know who the new ranger will be. Just that in our time of great need they will be revealed to us. I hate to be negative, but I can't think of time that we'll be in greater need then now. But since I don't know, we can only wait."
His fellow teammates began pounding him for answers.
Andros threw his hand up exasperated. "Hold on!" He insisted, "I don't know that much! Zordon only told me what I NEEDED to know, not every detail of this. For all I know it could be a girl or a boy. I have no idea. I'm as clueless as you."
Ashley bit her bottom lip thoughtfully. The jump bay was quiet again until Ashley took a shaky breath and spoke. "I guess I don't know what to think. Something tells me that all along I've been hoping for a new teammate. But now...it sorta makes me feel inferior. Like we can't do it with six of us. What will one more person do?"
"Now that; I do know", Andros explained, "These White Astro Powers are very powerful. The most powerful of all. This person, probably a teen our age, will bring balance to our side."
T.J. laughed and the group turned to him. "Will bring balance to our side." He mimicked. "Does that not sound like 'The Phantom Menace'?" T.J. was a Star Wars addict. He read every article he finds about the new movie. And yet, it wasn't coming out for another year.
They then understood and joined the laughter. Andros however, looked more confused then usual. He had just watched the first trilogy a few weeks ago, and wasn't interested in the new one yet.
Ashley took his hand and winked. "Don't worry. You'll get in about a year."
Andros was still confused and the laughter that followed lifted the dark veil of dread.
The room quieted down once more and they all excused themselves. They all had their thoughts to sift through. *********************
Zordon's energy tube stood in a corner of the throne room guarded by two Quantrons. The Princess of Darkness sat quietly, looking on. She reached for her staff and stood up walking curtly to Zordon.
"Are you ready to give up, Zordon?" She scoffed.
Zordon was silent.
Astronema scowled and continued on. "If you give up now, I'll stop torturing your young warriors. Agreed?"
"No. You are a horrible liar. You will never give up until all known Power Rangers are dead. I'm not stupid, young one."
Astronema stomped her staff on the floor angrily. "Fine. Keep being stubborn. You'll be sorry, Zordon of Eltar."
Zordon sighed as the teen walked out of the throne room. How she joined the side of evil he did not know, but he knew that she was not born into the side evil. She was good; as good as he was. She was vaguely familiar but with his powers being drained, it made him weak, and not able to concentrate on things of the past.
He did know one thing for sure. He had to release the White powers, now. **************** Andros.
Andros awoke with a start. He glanced around his dark room uncertainly. He was sure it hadn't been a dream. Some one was calling him. Andros. Listen to me. It's Zordon.
"Zordon?" Andros asked into the air.
No need to use your voice. Use your telepathy.
Duh...telepathy. And he thought Zordon was right there with him. Zordon? Where are you?
That doesn't matter right now. I need you to use your judgment to find a new ranger. I have teleported the powers from Eltar to the Mega Ship. I trust you, Andros. May the Power Protect You.
He could sense Zordon stop communicating.
He panicked. Zordon? Zordon please answer me! He pleaded.
But it was over. Zordon had gotten his message across, but why on earth hadn't he told Andros where he was so they could rescue him? I guess that wasn't important right now.
The young Kerovian threw his blankets off and grabbed his jacket before opening his door into the dimly lit corridor. He traced the familiar route to the Bridge and found what he was looking for. A brand new morpher and communicator. But there was something he didn't recognize. A small silver coin with a white strip following the edge all around. He picked it up in his hand and turned it over slowly.
What was it? He looked up to the on-line computer, D.E.C.A.
"D.E.C.A.? Can you tell me what this is?" Andros queried placing the coin into a slot in one of the control panels.
This is the ancient White Astro Ranger power coin. It was the first power coin ever used. It was discovered 4 thousand years ago. It holds more power then the all the Astro Powers combined.
Andros felt his eyes go wide. "Wow", He murmured, "Why does it have a power coin and the others don't?"
When whoever was creating these powers they meant to have all of them with as much power as the first one. The planet was taken under attack, and they felt they needed to hurriedly finish the other morphers but they wouldn't have as much power as the coin did.
"Why did Zordon give me the responsibility of choosing the holder for these powers? I'll never be able to do it." Andros sighed.
Zordon is wise. He obviously trusts you fully. I am sure he will show you whom to choose.
"Oh great", He muttered, "The fate of earth now rests in my hands. But don't worry...at least Zordon has faith in you." He finished sarcastically.
He glanced down at the coin uncertainly. He wished he didn't have to look at it, ever.
"Andros? Why are you up so early?"
Andros turned to the voice, Ashley, who was rubbing sleep out of her eyes while trying to put her jacket on. Andros grinned at the pretty, athletic, girl. He couldn't decide about his feelings for her, but he knew she obviously felt the same way back. That was a good thing, or so he thought. The Kerovian dating traditions were different from earthly ones.
He stepped forward and grabbed the sleeve that was dangling in the air. Ashley looked up at him and yawned and then turned so she could slip her arm in the open sleeve.
"Thanks." She said. That was it, 'thanks'. It still made his heart melt.
She stared at him for a moment and then her eyes darted to the coin in his hands and the morpher beside him.
"What's this?" She questioned, carefully picking up the morpher and examining it.
"That and this," he held up the coin in his hand, "Are for our new White Ranger."
Her eyes went wide. "Really? Where did you get it? Who's the new ranger? Where are they?"
Andros threw up his arms as if surrendering to her questions, then he gently lifted his fingers to Ashley's lips to shush her playfully. Her eyes fluttered for a second before she reached up and took his hand and placed it over her cheek.
It was Andros' turn to be surprised. He stroked her cheek thoughtfully taking in the soft skin. Slowly, surely he leaned down to her height and brought his lips to hers. She welcomed it and leaned into the kiss wrapping her free arms around his neck.
The kiss lasted as long as he thought it should and finally leaned back. Ashley was not ready to break away from the warmth of his body and cuddled her face into his shoulder. Andros beamed and ran his hand through the soft chestnut mass of hair. He hadn't been with a girl for so long. Not since Cherise. He cringed at the name. Why did he have to bring up bad memories now? He finally found some one else, that was that, no more thoughts of Cherise. Never.
Ashley broke away a minute later and looked up him. Her face was so filled with happiness he didn't know if he'd ever be able to match it. He put on his best smile, and that was enough for her. Her smile got unbelievably bigger and she reached up to kiss him again. It was a short kiss, just the right length.
Conversation finally went back to the Power Coin. But things had changed, they wouldn't be classified as 'friends' any more.
"Andros, now that we're not caught up, where did you get the power?"
"Zordon. He talked to me through telepathy and somehow teleported the powers from Eltar to here."
"Zordon?!" Where is he?"
Andros shrugged. "For some reason he wouldn't tell me. I don't know why."
"He didn't even tell you?" She asked, flabbergasted.
" 'Fraid not. But I guess if we have to look on the bright side of things, we at least have new powers."
"Who's the new teammate?"
He shrugged again. "No clue. But...yippee, I get to choose."
Her eyes went wide with pride. "You're picking out our new ranger? Whoa! That's great! Do you have any ideas?"
He sighed. "No. I wish I didn't have to make such a big decision."
As if on clue, she ran two fingers through his loose hair. "I trust your judgment, Andros. You'll find the perfect member. I have faith in you."
"Thanks, Ash. You eaten?"
"How 'bout a breakfast date on the Simu deck?"
"Lead the way." ****************
The voice rang through the Dark Fortress like an annoying song. Quantrons visibly shuddered.
Ecliptor looked up from the battle plan, to the corridor. He wondered what the princess wanted. He let out a loud sigh before getting up and walking out of the room and down to the throne room.
"Yes, your majesty?" He asked loyally.
"The rangers are up to something. I know it! Send down a monster to distract them so I can poke around a bit." The purple haired teen around to face her faithful companion since she could remember.
The robotish being bowed and exited the room to find a monster and a fresh army of Quantrons.
Astronema turned to the window covering one whole side of the room and looked down at earth.
"They will soon surrender to me. Count on it." She spoke to herself. ****************
The alarm broke through the thoughts of the six teens aboard Bridge.
Their eyes darted in unison to the viewing screen, where a large army of Quantrons and a flower looking monster was attacking the park.
"This is getting old, fast." T.J. commented.
"I second that." Zhane said rolling his eyes.
"True, but they're attacking citizens we have to get down there, now. Complain later." Andros told them already running off the bridge.
The 5 other followed him down to the Jump Bay. Quickly taking their places in front of their tubes, they turned to their leader. He nodded.
"Let's Rocket!" They called. **************
"Here." Came the reply. The teacher nonchalantly marked the name off and looked up again. " Mackenzie Dekalb?"
"Mackenzie?" The teacher looked up to where the teen sat in the back row. There she sat, slouched so you could barely see her overly slim figure.
"Mackenzie!" Mrs. Matthew's was now ticked.
"Wha you want?" Came the answer.
Mrs. Matthews gave up. "Never mind, but see me after class."
"Sure whatever, hag."
Muffled laughter broke through the classroom. Mrs. Matthew's usually pale face turned scarlet.
"Mackenzie, report to the Principal's office. Now." She instructed pointing to the door.
"Finally. I thought I was going to have to let out a string of profanity to get out of this crappy class." The rebellious teen said, just loud enough to hear. More laughter.
She got up and gathered her books up. A chewed up straw hangs from her thin lips. Her clothes seemed to get looser every day. Today, her size 0 jeans were pulled up with a belt, and her XXsmall T-shirt barely stayed on her shoulders. It was obvious to all kids that she highly anorexic. Why? No one knew, before her mom died, she was skinny, but it was natural. Now it was gross. She was only skin and bones.
She waved as she exited the room. "Bye y'all."
Mrs. Matthews slammed a ruler down on her desk before the class could laugh.
"All right", she said after she opened the thick Geometry book, "Open your books to page 328 and start on the problems." **********
Six, beaten and bruised teens teleported back to the ship a few hours later. The team had just barely managed to beat Rosy Rose, and now they were feeling the pain of the battle.
They barely made it to the lounge and collapsed on the couch and few easy chairs.
"Ow..." Cassie moaned. She had took the hardest hit of all of them and you could see a purple bruise forming where she had been hit in the face by one of the exploding seeds the monster had thrown. Her helmet was badly damaged.
"Don't worry Cass. It'll heal quickly." Carlos reassured.
"I know, but it hurts so bad..." The Oriental girl was close to tears.
T.J. scooted closer to her on the couch and draped his arm around her. She let out a shaky sigh and leaned into the warmth of his flight suit.
Ashley glanced over to Andros. Neither of them had said anything about the new powers. Now was probably the time to do it. He nodded at her and then cleared his throat.
All eyes turned to him.
"OK guys. I know we're all in rotten moods, and I'm sure this will perk you up a little. A few days ago I told you about the White Astro Powers. Well, Zordon knew we needed them and sent them here. I-"That was all he could get out. The lounge exploded into squeals and shouts of joy and then questions.
Before things could get out of hand Ashley stuck her two fingers in her mouth and let out a sharp whistle.
A very cheerleaderish thing to do. The room silenced just as quickly as things got loud.
"Andros does not know who the ranger will be. It's his decision. Just listen and he'll tell you." Ashley informed.
Ashley winked at Andros and he smiled in response. "OK, thanks Ashley. And like she said, I do not know who the new ranger will be. Zordon is leaving that decision to me. And these powers will help us tremendously. They are more powerful then all of ours put together. And I really need you guys to help me out. I'm going to be majorly stressed out until I find a worthy teammate. It's not like I can pick a name out of a hat. I'm really going to need some time to find some one."
"Well Andros, Zordon obviously trusts your judgment. You'll find the perfect ranger." T.J. congratulated his friend by slapping him on the back.
"But....how did you hear from Zordon?" Cassie asked, puzzled.
"Telepathy. Last night. He wouldn't tell me where he was, though. I don't know why."
"Well, we'll just have to trust him on that one." Carlos spoke.
Heads nodded in agreement.
"Well we didn't enroll in AGH this year for nothing. Let's get back to class. I don't want double detention." Zhane explained getting up.
The team snickered. Zhane was still trying to figure out the earthly school system. He had detention at least 3 times a week.
They trooped down to their rooms to change quickly before heading back to class. ************
"Get out of my way, shrimp!"
Mackenzie turned around to face her classmate, Jeremy.
"Oh excuse me your fatness. Don't let me get in your way. Not like you could make it down the hall even if I moved." She said flatly.
The chubby sophomore's face scrunched up and he clenched his fist ready to strike.
Mackenzie saw it and rose her eyebrow. "Afraid you're going to lose that fly you caught for lunch?"
The boy let out a loud grunt and swung a flabby fist.
Mackenzie easily ducked and Jeremy stumbled into the row of lockers.
He turned around and swung again. She blocked it and brought a thin knee up to his bulging stomach. By now a crowd had gathered to watch the fight. They knew, even though Mackenzie was small she had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Jeremy didn't have a chance. Unless of course, he sat on her.
Jeremy was momentarily sidetracked but soon took another punch. Mackenzie blocked it and threw a upper target punch that hit him in the nose, and then a sidekick.
Now that Jeremy was sitting on the floor holding his bloody nose, Mackenzie turned back to her locker to get her books.
"Was that really necessary?" Mackenzie looked over her books to the voice. She found a senior she knew to be Ashley, the captain of the cheerleading squad. A little prep in Mackenzie's eyes.
"You tell me." She snapped.
"You seriously want my opinion?" Ashley asked the younger teen.
"Am I going to get it anyway?"
"Yes. That was really immature. Using your Martial Art skills for the wrong reasons."
"You're a stupid cheerleader. Don't they use their skills for wrong reasons?"
Ashley was slightly taken back. "What do you mean?"
" Do I have to spell it out for you? You're a slut! All cheerleaders are! Just a stupid ditz, that only cares about looks and finding Football jocks to use while they're dead drunk!"
Ashley dropped her books in anger. The little brat had quite a mouth. Before she could say anything else Principal Chaplan walked up and laid a firm hand on Mackenzie's shoulder. She quickly shrugged it off.
"Ashley...I'm disappointed in you. I'd never think I'd see you arguing with a younger girl. Especially Mackenzie. Especially, especially." Mr. Chaplan chided.
Ashley blushed. He was right. Why had she gotten involved?
"Come on Mackenzie. We're going to have a nice, lloonngg talk." Mr. Chaplan sighed.
"Oooo....whoopee. Hold on. Lemme get my cigarettes to celebrate." Mackenzie announced sarcastically.
Mr. Chaplan stopped dead. "You had better not have cigarettes in my school, Mackenzie Rose Dekalb. You better not be smoking, period."
"Look at me! I weigh 78 pounds. How long do you think I'd live if I started smoking?" She scoffed.
The principal shook his head sadly and pulled the teen down the hallway.
"Watch it!" Mackenzie protested.
Ashley watched, her face full of anger against the girl. She had known Mackenzie for a few years. Before her mom died a year and a half ago, she had told Ashley couldn't wait to try out for cheerleading.
Now she never talked to the sickly girl. She had quite a reputation for fighting and for a bad mouth, but that was a much as she heard about her.
Ashley bent over to retrieve her books and ran to meet Andros in the Library. ************
"We were so close!" Astronema yelled.
"Next time your highness. They are getting weaker." Ecliptor promised.
"Yes, but they are up to something. For all we know, they could be tricking us! Maybe they want to catch us off guard." Astronema insisted.
"Don't worry Princess. We'll be ready."
Astronema stamped her booted foot. "I don't want them to think that we're weak. We have to stir them up a little."
"That probably isn't the smartest thing, your majesty. We have to slow down a little. They'll think we've forgotten about them and then we can strike."
Astronema scowled. Ecliptor was the only person that ever stood up to her. He's the only she allowed to do that at all. She trusted Ecliptor's judgment.
"All right Ecliptor", she sighed, "We'll wait awhile." ************
"Hey Ashley." Andros greeted warmly.
His effort was rewarded with a scowl and a unlady grunt.
He frowned. "What's the matter?"
She sighed. "Sorry. I'm not mad at you. I just had a run in with Mackenzie Dekalb."
"Is that the girl that got suspended a few weeks ago for beating a kid up in gym?"
"Yes. That's her. Well....she got in another fight and I went over to her locker to give her a piece of my mind, but instead she gave me a big chunk of her bad mouth. She's got some serious problems. Her mom died almost two years ago. It was really hard on her. From what I heard, she tried to commit suicide 4 times. The fourth time almost worked and she spent a month in a coma. Now she's anorexic. Tiny. I can see she's harboring a lot of pain from her mom's death, but that is no reason to act up like this. Not that her dad is any better. He spends half of the time drunk. She never even sees him. He stays overnight at bars for weeks at times. It's sad, really sad."
"That's one heck of a life. Maybe you should try to talk to her. How old is she, anyway?"
"15, almost 16 I think. And no, if I never see her again it'll be too soon." **************
"Oh no. This isn't good." Zordon mumbled, " They need to get along, not fight. I need to talk to Andros. Maybe he won't have to choose his new team mate on his own after all." ************
"Checkmate!" Alpha yelped.
"Again? You've got to be kidding me! I'll never understand this stupid game!" Zhane whined.
The two were playing chess on the Bridge while the others did some scanning for Zordon.
Zhane was still looking over the board minutes later. "What about this horse dude? Doesn't he block that little castle thing?"
The group laughed. Alpha sighed. "I'm gonna find a new chess partner. Even D.E.C.A. is more challenging!"
Be quiet Alpha. D.E.C.A. insisted.
It brought more laughter from the teens.
"So Andros not to be pushy, but have you thought of any likely candidates for White Ranger?" Carlos asked.
"Sadly, no. I flunked a Science quiz today because I couldn't think about anything else." Andros relayed.
" I flunked that too! And I even studied for it." Zhane said a mater-of-factly.
Ashley rolled her eyes. "How 'bout a movie?" She asked.
" Can we see 'Saving Private Ryan'?" Andros asked.
"Andros! We've seen that 13 times!" Carlos reminded.
Andros shrugged with a smile. "So. They have a lot of explosions in that movie."
"Aghhhh...too much blood for me." Cassie said sticking out her tongue in disgust.
"I agree with Cassie. Us two could always go see 'Mulan'." T.J. grinned at Cassie. They all knew how much she looked like the character and she wanted to see it.
"Me too. I wanna see that." Zhane squealed. He liked anything with a girl in it.
"I'm gonna back out on this trip guys. I have a ton of Homework and I'm gonna bring it down to the school library to work on it. It's quieter down there with Alpha and D.E.C.A. always fighting." Complained Carlos.
"Fighting? We're not fighting. Just little disagreements." Alpha insisted.
An unexplainable sound, maybe like she was sticking her tongue out, came from D.E.C.A. up above.
The teens broke into laughter. It ended a few moment's later when Cassie announced that 'Mulan' was starting in ten minutes.
The group broke up, T.J., Cassie, and Zhane off to see 'Mulan', Andros and Ashley seeing 'Saving Private Ryan' for the 14 showing and Carlos to the library. **************
"Alpha?" Carlos called into the Bridge.
He was answered with the sound of yelling. Over in the corner Alpha was trying to operate a control panel and D.E.C.A. kept turning it off.
He watched in amusement for a moment and then decided to break up.
"Hey guys! Stop fighting, you look silly."
Alpha whirled around to Carlos. "Ay yi yi! I didn't know I was being watched."
"I just wanted to tell you that I'll be down at the school Library. You can reach me there, OK?" Carlos informed. He didn't really have to, but he was stalling. Geometry didn't sound a bit appealing.
"Alrightee Carlos. Happy Studying."
"Yeah right." Carlos snorted.
He hit his teleportation button and soon found himself in a deserted corner of the library.
He grumpily slumped down into a chair and opened his Geometry book on the table in front of him. *******************
"Ooooo goody goody goody!" Elgar yipped jumping up and down in the throne room.
A Quantron smacked him.
"Elgar what do you want?" Astronema asked, clearly annoyed with his presence.
"The Black ranger is alone in the library!"
Astronema perked up. "Really. Well go down with an army of Quantrons and capture him. We can hold him for ransom."
"What will be the ransom payment?" Elgar asked goofily.
"Hmmm....ahhhh yes. Their powers. I can get rid of them the easy way." ********************
"This is the most boring thing I've ever done in my whole life." Carlos muttered. He dropped his pencil and tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes. He glanced at his cold coffee and drank the rest of it anyway. He needed the caffeine.
He winced at the bitter taste and swallowed it quickly. Seconds later the mug was forgotten when a strong arm wrapped around his neck and a hand went over his mouth.
He reached up with his hands pulling, but dropped them when a kick in the back of shins made his legs collapse. The strong arms held him, and against his will he was teleported out, half conscious. ***************
"Oh, that movie gets better each time." Ashley told Andros as they walked out of the theater hand in hand.
"I agree. I keep seeing explosions I missed last time." He replied. He looked down at her and smiled. He was rewarded with a mischievous grin.
Their communicators broke through the wonderful moment.
Andros looked around before bringing his wrist to his mouth to speak. "Andros. What's up?"
"Astronema has got her hands on Carlos. She's holding him for ransom at the Dark Fortress." Alpha's voice was deep with worry.
The couple's high spirits plummeted. "What's the ransom?" Andros asked, not really wanting to know.
"Your powers." *************
Carlos woke up slowly. He had one heck of a headache and it made his eyes sore. He was laying face first on a brick surface. He pulled himself up on his elbows and took a glance around to gain his bearings.
"No, no, no", He moaned, "Please don't tell me I'm on the Dark Fortress. Oh jeez, please no."
"Ahhh...but you are aboard the Dark Fortress. Welcome Black Ranger. Hope you enjoy your stay." Ecliptor was obviously amused with what he had said. Like he was overly clever or something.
Carlos rose shakily to his feet.
"I don't know what I'm doing here Ecliptor, but I'm leaving now." He whispered threateningly.
"Lock 'em him up." He ordered.
Quantrons immediately came forward and grabbed the Mexican teen.
"Lemme go!" He demanded struggling blindly against to their iron grip. He was soon chained to the far wall of the Throne room. He bucked against the chains, but to no avail.
"Ecliptor, let me go!"
"You are in no position to be making demands Black Ranger."
"I'll make whatever freakin demands I want to!" Carlos spat.
Ecliptor shook his head slightly, making a tsk sound. "You need to learn who is in control now Black Ranger. Me! And soon all your pathetic teammates will kiss my feet."
Carlos snorted. "Sure we will."
Ecliptor looked slightly baffled with the bravery of the Mexican teen. He turned, and walked away, leaving Carlos to his thoughts.
He pulled a few more times at the chains and then gave up. "I need my Astro Morpher." Irresponsibly, he had taken it off at the library, after it had started buggin him.
He sighed quietly, and laid his head against the stone wall.
"This is insane! We can't just give her our powers! But we can't certainly leave Carlos on the Dark Fortress!" Andros reasoned, pacing back and forth the Bridge.
Ashley sat in one of the Leather control chair. She was biting furiously at her bottom lip, as she always did when nervous.
"Guys, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I really don't think there's a good way out of this one." T.J. mumbled.
"Well, thanks for your sensitivity!" Cassie snapped.
"I was just trying to tell the truth! You're not exactly 'miss sunshine' either, Cassie!" T.J. shot back irritably.
"Guys! Don't start, please don't start!" Ashley insisted.
"Yeah, c'mon we have to figure something out! Carlos is alone up there! He's got to be scared out of his mind! He probably thinks we've forgotten about him!" Zhane yelled.
"We haven't forgotten about him!" Cassie scowled.
"Well then let's show him that, ok?" Ashley suggested.
"Any ideas?" T.J. looked hopeful.
Ashley slumped back into the chair. "No."
When Carlos awoke he was slumped down to the floor.
His upper arm muscles were sore from being in the chains above him.
He let out a frustrated sigh and pulled himself to his feet. He glanced around the Throne Room of the Dark Fortress. He'd only been on the spacecraft once before. It was something he wished had happened again.
He heard heavy footsteps approaching and his head swiveled over to see Ecliptor. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.
"Hmmm, aren't you glad to see me?" Ecliptor greeted dryly.
Carlos said nothing, but glared at the robotic beast.
Ecliptor shook his head and reached to undo the chains that held the teen in place.
Carlos stumbled forward to the stone floor.
"Get up, weakling."
Carlos worked to regain circulation in his arms, ignoring Ecliptor.
Ecliptor grunted and grabbed the black astro's shoulder, pulling him.
"Watch it!" Carlos demanded.
"How many time do I have to tell you? You aren't in charge any more. You listen to me."
"Not in this lifetime."
Ecliptor grabbed Carlos' other shoulder and spun him around so he was facing Ecliptor. "Listen, and listen good. I am sick of you're attitude. You have no respect for me."
Ecliptor threw Carlos to the floor and placed a heavy metal foot on his chest.
"Yes, from here out, you will do what I say, when I say it. If I want you to bark like a dog, you'll do it."
"No I won't," Carlos rasped his breath being cut off.
Ecliptor stomped his foot down hard, and could hear the snapping of the young human's bones.
"Do we understand these rules?" Ecliptor asked his face only inches from Carlos'.
Carlos took a second to glare at the evil lord before nodding.
Ecliptor pulled up the injured teen and handed him over to a few Quantrons. "Fix him up. I want to see how well he can fight, unmorphed."
"Hey Cassie. You wanna talk?"
Cassie looked up as T.J. entered the room. "I guess," Cassie answered sullenly.
The African-American teen plopped down onto Pink Astro's bed and looked at her quietly.
"I know what you're thinking about," T.J. whispered after a while, "We're all scared. Carlos is our best friend and teammate. He's up on the Dark Fortress all alone, and there's nothing we can do about it."
Cassie turned to him; "We can't leave him up there, Teej. What would he think?"
"I know he would understand IF we left him up there. But we're not leaving him up there."
"We can't teleport up there, he can't teleport here, the only thing we can do is...give our powers to Astronema?"
"Andros and I were talking about that possibility."
"We have to think through everything, Cass!"
"There has to be some other way!"
"There just might not be one, this time."
Cassie turned away from him. "You can leave now."
"Cassie, don't shut yourself out like this! We need to discuss this as a group. We need everybody's opinion!"
Cassie whirled around her eyes flaring; "You already have my opinion! No! A big n-o! There's always a way out of these things! Look past the problem to find the solution! Now get out, just leave me alone."
"Ok, Cassie, if that's what you want," T.J. mumbled standing.
Cassie kept her gaze out the window, and T.J. took in a shaky breath before leaving the room.
After the door closed Cassie turned around.
"If they aren't going to do anything logical, then I will." She stood and grabbed her Astro Morpher before exiting the room in the direction of the Jump Bay.
"Hello, Black Ranger. Feeling Better?"
Carlos said nothing. He stared past Ecliptor and down the hall. Miraculously whatever the ship's physician had given him, it had made his ribs feel like new.
Ecliptor took the ranger's shoulder and steered him down the hall. Carlos gave him no trouble. He was saving his strength.
Ecliptor reached the end of the hall and stepped through a swirling portal in the wall.
On the other side Carlos found himself in a swirling fog that reached a foot or so off the ground.
"Welcome to my Dark Dimension, got the idea from an old buddy. Like it?" Ecliptor gloated.
"Of course you got the idea from some one else," Carlos said simply.
Ecliptor looked down at the ranger, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You have no imagination, you couldn't have come up with this."
Ecliptor grunted. "Don't start with me."
Carlos grinned. "Well, are we going to fight, or what?"
An familiar voice sounded behind them, "Yeah, Ecliptor, do you think you can beat both of us?"
Ecliptor and Carlos both turned around to face the Pink Astro Ranger.
"Cassie! How did you get here?" Carlos asked beginning to run to her.
Ecliptor grabbed the ranger, holding him back. "Yes, Cassie, how did you get here?"
"You have poor security around here, you know that?"
"Well, you have just taken a wrong step in coming hear, earthling. You now find yourself in the same fate as your friend," Ecliptor voiced, still holding Carlos back.
"And what's that?"
"I knew it! You were never going to let Carlos go! It's a good thing I came up here."
"If that's the way you see it."
"Yeah, I do. Here, Carlos, catch!" Cassie tossed a small object into the air, which Carlos swiftly caught.
He unclenched his fist and found his Astro morpher!
"I'll be taking that, young man," Ecliptor ordered reaching for it, doing this taking his grip away from Carlos' arm.
"I think not, metal scraps," Cassie broke in stepping between Carlos and Ecliptor.
Carlos gave Cassie a thankful grin and pressed in the 3 number code, instantly transforming into the Black Astro Ranger.
"Now's there's two of us, Ecliptor. What are you going to do?" Carlos asked crossing his arms over his broad chest.
"Easy, destroy you both!" Ecliptor shouted lunging at the Pink Ranger.
"You're trying too hard," Cassie realized, sidestepping the flying robot. She stepped next to Carlos, and as Ecliptor came at them again, they hit their transportation buttons. The first thing they did after rematerializing in the Jump Bay, power down and embrace in a hug.
"Thanks Cassie. I owe you my life," Carlos said after they had pulled apart.
"Don't mention it, Carlos. You would do the same for me."
"How did you get by all the Quantrons, anyway?"
"It wasn't as easy as I made it sound. I'm just lucky that Astronema was asleep in her quarters. Most of the Quantrons were guarding her door. I just took another corridor to reach the portal to Ecliptor's Dark Dimension."
"And my morpher?"
"It was teleported here, after you were teleported to the Dark Fortress. It's a wonder that Ecliptor didn't take it. What a moron."
"Carlos?" A startled voice asked from the doorway.
Cassie and Carlos turned to find Ashley, a paper in hand, looking flustered and worried.
"Carlos!" She shouted after she saw his face. She ran toward him and threw his arms around his neck. Carlos could hear her crying.
"How'd you get here?" Ashley asked.
"Why don't you ask Cassie?" Carlos smiled and gestured to the blushing Asian teen.
Ashley's shouts had brought the rest of the comrades into the Jump Bay.
Questions followed, and Carlos suggested they sit in the lounge to explain it all.
After telling the story once more, the group decided to turn in. It was after 2 in the morning.
Andros shot up in bed. He knew who it was this time.
Zordon? What is it?
I've chosen your teammate. You have no need to worry over the matter any longer.
Who is it Zordon? Who?!
Macken---Mackenzie Dekalb?!!? Are you sure? Do you know this girl?
Are you untrusting of my judgement?
No, it's just that...
Mackenzie is rough around the edges, she lives a life like none of you. In time she will learn the Ranger ways.
Andros couldn't help himself. Zordon! She's a brat! She'd probably kill us in our sleep!
I'm disappointed in you, Andros. Mackenzie needs you more then you know and you need her to carry the White Astro Powers!
Andros sighed deeply. I'm sorry, Zordon. I don't know her very well, I was too quick to judge.
You need to talk to her immediately. I feel that Astronema is planning something big.
Zordon, where are you?
Andros groaned. Why wouldn't Zordon just tell them where he was? He didn't understand. He wouldn't be able to sleep now. He had just found out who his new teammate was. Mackenzie Dekalb...why? He pushed his blankets off his body and swung his legs out of bed.
His blond and brown striped hair hung around his face, a tangled mess. He leaned his face into his hands.
He knew he needed to go wake up the others. They needed to know. What would they say? He let out an uninterested growl and stood up. He grabbed his jacket and slipped it on before exiting his quarters in direction of the Bridge.
The teen in red turned to find Ashley, in a pair of flannel pajamas standing in the corridor.
"Hey Ashley. Was I loud?" Andros asked.
"No, I was just going down to the synthetron for a glass of warm milk, cause I can't sleep."
"Well, I have some news. I was gonna wait 'til morning, but two of us are up, we might as well wake up the others and meet in the lounge."
Ashley had a look of surprise across her face, and then nodded.
Andros went to wake up the three boys while Ashley woke Cassie.
They met in the lounge ten minutes later.
None of them looked partially happy to being woken up at 4:00 in the morning.
"Any time now Andros, we have school tomorrow," T.J. mumbled.
Andros opened his mouth, but nothing came out. The others watched him intently.
"Zordon...contacted me again tonight. He's found our new ranger," Andros relayed the message.
The group woke with a bang. "Who is it?" They asked in unison.
"She's...um...a girl from school...and...uh..."
"Andros, just tell us!" Ashley demanded.
"It's Mackenzie Dekalb."
Looks of shock.
"No way! You must have heard Zordon wrong! It can't be Mackenzie!" Cassie shouted in disbelief.
"Of course Zordon didn't make a mistake!" Andros yelled, angry.
"If anything, Mackenzie, should be on Astronema's side!" T.J. realized.
Andros jumped up off the couch. "Listen! I don't know why Zordon chose Mackenzie! He obviously has a good reason, ok? Now stop acting like 5 year olds and accept this!" With that Andros stormed from the room.
Ashley sighed. "This is not how we thought it would turn out, huh?"
"Not at all," Carlos mumbled.
"Is there anything we can do to stop it?" Cassie asked.
"As in, asking Zordon to change his mind?" Zhane questioned curiously.
"Yeah! I can't see myself fighting along side a 15 year old girl, who's been suspended more times this year, then any one in our school put together!" T.J. snarled.
Ashley was silent. She was beginning to feel a change of heart. Although she felt much hatred toward the girl, she knew there was no way she could change the fact that she'd soon be fighting with them.
"Guys..."Ashley started, "I don't like Mackenzie any more then you do, but...but...maybe we should try to give her a chance."
"How can we? Look at her! She's says rebel all over her!" T.J. observed.
"I think I know what Ashley is saying. None of us know that much about her. She can't be all that bad," Carlos said the last phrase with hesitation.
T.J. looked at Carlos and Ashley oddly. Then a look of acceptance passed through his eyes.
"Well...there isn't much we can do about it now, can we? I guess, I too, can learn to live with it."
Zhane nodded, as did Cassie. None of them looked like they liked the idea, but what could they do? Quit the team, because they didn't like a new teammate? I think not.
Ashley stood to go check on Andros and the others headed back to bed, only to sort out their thoughts.
Ashley knocked lightly on Andros' door.
Quiet, and then, "Come in."
Ashley opened the door and stepped in to find Andros sitting by the window staring blankly at the stars.
"We're all sorry about what happened out there. We didn't realize how hard it would be to relay this message from Zordon, when you don't accept it yourself."
Andros nodded understandingly. "I'm worried. Mackenzie, could I don't know...lose the powers to the side of evil!"
Ashley grinned. "We're gonna have that doubt. But...we have to trust Zordon. That's all we can say. Zordon knows that Mackenzie is the rightful White Ranger...I guess."
"Yeah, I guess it's going to be a long next couple of weeks, eh?"
"Definitely. But we'll get through it. Who knows....maybe Mackenzie will teach us something about accepting people."
Andros leaned forward and took Ashley's hand in his. "We can do this, can't we?"
Ashley smiled broadly. "Yeah...I guess we can."