Disclaimer: Hey everyone! This is just an apology for how long it took me to finish part four. I’m really sorry I let over two months pass between updates of the Terra saga, and I’m thankful you’ve been so patient with me. However, if you don’t remember what’s been happening so far, it may be worth it to review the "Journey into Final Fantasy VII" page, and maybe even skim the first three chapters of Contagion to refresh your memories.

Part Four
By Rachel D Dawson

Hidden within the mountains outside Angel Grove, buried deeply beneath the surface, the technological powerhouse known as the Central Access Complex buzzed with life. It housed weapons capable of destroying planets, as well as scanning devices that can find a particular microscopic organism within the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean. However, despite all this vaunted technology, there was nothing the individuals there could do but watch their friend die.

Aisha Campbell remained unconscious, suspended in a force field designed to slow the progress of the viral contaminant inside her body. Beside her, Adam Park stood vigil, keeping watch over the various systems to make sure Aisha was as stable as can be. Only a few feet away, Alexis Darling lay upon another cot, her skin flushed and moist, and her eyes closed in exhaustion. Rocky DeSantos busied himself trying to keep her comfortable, while Tanya Sloan monitored the virus' progression through the Purple Ranger's body.

"Rocky, how's that coolant holding up?" Tanya asked, looking up from the screen she was studying.

Rocky glanced at her, and then turned to the source of a small beam that bathed the prone Purple Ranger in its gentle pale blue rays. "It seems okay, but I don't think it’s really helping Lex's fever. Maybe we should crank it up to maximum?"

Tanya shook her head. "Alexis' fever isn't life threatening, so its not imperative to reduce it. I just want to keep it in check. There's little we can do to treat a Space Virus. Her best chance lies in her own enhanced immune system."

"Well, at least she fell asleep," Rocky sighed, gently drying the moisture off her forehead with a towel, "That should help her on her way to recovery."

Tanya nodded, and glanced up from her work once again. This time, however, she inspected the remaining Terran Rangers, who were all seated by the main computer. None wanted to get in the way of the established medical team, yet they didn't want to leave until they were at least certain their friends were out of danger. And that wouldn't happen until Zack and Billy returned from their present mission.

"Rocky," Tanya said, picking up a hand-held scanning unit, "why don't you check on the rangers, and see how they're holding up? They're still a bit under the weather, even if it isn't really serious."

Rocky nodded, and caught the scanner Tanya tossed him. He jogged over to the congregation of rangers, who remained in relative silence. In fact, several of them had fallen asleep.

"How're you guys holding up?" Rocky inquired, switching on the scanner. He ran it over Tommy's forehead, since he was the closest to him. Tommy groaned slightly when the buzzing sound of the scanner awakened him, and watched Rocky's expression through blurry eyes, trying to determine his own situation via his friend's reaction. He felt relief when Rocky had finished scanning without announcing another dire diagnosis.

"Never better," Kimberly muttered sarcastically, standing up and stretching her arms and legs.

"I can't believe Billy and Zack haven't contacted us yet," Jason sighed, being careful not to jostle Katherine, who had fallen asleep on his shoulder, "What could be taking them so long?"

"They have an entire planet to search," Tommy reminded him, "Did you think it would be easy to do?"

Jason closed his eyes, and shook his head. "No. I just don't like waiting."

"So we've noticed," Rocky quipped, passing the scanner over Jason's body. "Okay, you four check out fine. Still, the virus is still in you, and the fact that your bodies are fighting it may be resulting in your current exhaustion."

Kim smiled weakly with amusement. "You sounded so much like Billy when you said that."

Rocky grinned. "Now you've seen everything."

Suddenly, the alarms screamed to life, surprising both Alexis and Katherine out of their slumber.

"What's happening?" Kat yawned weakly, her head rising from Jason's shoulder.

"Lemme check," Adam said, leaving Aisha's side to glance at the incoming data, "According to this, there are five magical creatures in and around Angel Grove."

"What?!" Alexis asked, pushing the ray that hovered over her so she could sit up.

"There's evil energy exuding from the park, the school, the business district, the outlet mall... and right above us."

"Large concentrations of people," Jason said, standing up and helping Katherine to her feet, "and our headquarters."

"Let's bring up some visuals," Tommy said, standing at the console beside Adam. He pressed a sequence of buttons, and the large screen was divided into five squares, one on each corner and one in the center. On each screen, a villain appeared, firing energy beams or swinging its weapon at innocent civilians. However, in the center image, Goldar sat upon a large boulder, waiting at the location of the destroyed Command Center.

"Goldar, Rito, and three monsters," Kimberly commented, glancing up at Tommy who stood close beside her, "We're going to have to split up."

"That's exactly what they want you to do," Adam spoke, "You know that, right?"

"We don't have a choice," Jason said, his lips pressed into a thin line, "If we single out one monster to attack, the others will either back him up, getting the drop on us, or continue to threaten the rest of Angel Grove."

"Then split up it is," Katherine said, crossing her arms. She peered at the screen contemplatively. "I'll take the creature at the park. I can use the lake to my advantage with my Water powers."

"Good thinking," Jason affirmed, "The business district's mine."

An ironic smile tugged at Kimberly's lips. "I'll take Rito at the mall."

"Goldar's mine," Tommy stated, his fists clenching, "but what about the school...?"

"That's my cue," Alexis said, swinging around and hopping off the cot. She straightened out her shirt, and moved to join the other rangers by the main computer.

"Are you nuts?!" Rocky questioned, moving into her path, "You're still running a fever!"

"Do you have anyone else in mind?" she countered.

"Well," Adam commented, his gaze fixed across the room, "we still have the green Zeo shard..."

"Don't even think about it," Tanya said, her hands on her hips, "That thing has almost killed two Green Rangers. We're going to need time to figure out how to use it safely, and obviously, time's something we don't have right now."

"So, I'm the only option," Alexis decided.

Tommy gazed at Alexis, and then nodded. "Okay, you've got the school. Rocky, you keep an eye on us, especially Alexis. If it looks like someone's in trouble, teleport him or her out. I'm not taking any risks with this virus in our bloodstreams."

"You got it," Rocky said, moving closer to the computer. Tommy stepped away to a clearer area, and was followed by Jason, Katherine, Kimberly, and Alexis.

"It's Morphin Time!" Tommy uttered, his eyes flashing with red energy, "TERRA FIRE POWER!!"



"X-Ranger Two!!"

"Purple Ranger Power!!"

* * *

A knock at the door broke through Zack's dreamless sleep. His eyes shuttered open, then closed immediately when they came in contact with the bright light from outside. He yawned weakly, and sat up, rubbing his eyes. He peered into the light, trying to discern who had come for him.

"Wakey, wakey, Sleepin' Beauty," he cooed sarcastically, leaning against the entrance with his arms crossed, "We're comin' up on Cosmo Canyon."

Zack smiled, recognizing the biting voice easily enough. "Hello, Cid," he said, rising to his feet. He then looked around. "Where's Billy?"

Cid Highwind chuckled. "That poindexter friend of yours sure is a sponge for useless facts," he declared, lighting a cigar, "He's out talkin' with the techs about the inner workings of the ship. All he should be worried about is whether or not it can fly, but no, he has to understand the physical principles that make a ship like this possible! He must not have much of a home life."

Zack shook his head. "He just has a bottomless well of curiosity," he replied, walking towards Cid, "What's everyone else doing to prepare?"

Cid shrugged. "Cait Sith is still runnin' around like he's in charge, Barrett's tryin' to pick which armor he wants to use, Cloud, Red and Tifa are with the Huge Materia, Yuffie's on the deck, tryin' not to hurl, and Vinnie... hell, I don't know where he is."

"I'm right here, Cid," Vincent remarked from behind, causing Cid to jump in alarm and surprise. He swore when he realized he dropped his cigar.

"You owe me a smoke, Valentine," Cid muttered, "Why're you so $#@*(# spooky?!"

Vincent's expression remained stone. "I am what I am."

Cid rolled his eyes, a string of annoyed curses whispered under his breath as he left the crew quarters. Zack chuckled at Cid's anger, but his smile fell when he felt Vincent's crimson gaze on him.

"Uh, hi," Zack said uncomfortably. Vincent nodded.

"Are you feeling any better?" he asked. Zack was surprised to hear Vincent start a conversation.

"A little," he responded, "I guess I'm just anxious to find that cure and get back home."

"Follow me," Vincent said, turning around and leaving the quarters. Zack did as asked, and followed Vincent to the upper deck of the airship, which was where Zack remembered boarding the vessel a few hours ago. From there, they saw the rolling slopes of the mountains, and a small city built inside the wall of a rather large cliff. In that city was a huge dome on top, with a telescope peeking out.

"That is Cosmo Canyon," Vincent said, wrapping his cape around his body when he halted. Zack leaned against the railing, and looked out at the city in awe.

"It's amazing," he said quietly.

Vincent didn't respond. Instead, he pulled his hand out from under his cape, and held out a crystal armband, with six materia slots in it. Zack blinked, and looked at Vincent questioningly.

"This is the Crystal Bangle," he explained, "It is your armlet."

Zack's eyebrow rose. "How's that puny thing supposed to protect my whole body?"

Vincent couldn't resist a small smile of amusement. "That's the magic of its design. It basically constructs a sort of energy field around your skin, which increases the density of your skin to significantly limit battle damage. Also, it has some materia on it."

Zack accepted the bangle, and looked at the three shiny gems upon it. One was yellow, another purple, and the third green.

"What do they do?" he asked.

"The yellow is Deathblow, which empowers your weapon for a single mighty hit. You should put that one on the weapon you intend to use in battle. The purple is Enemy Away, which should decrease the percentage of monsters that try to attack you. And finally, the green is a magic materia Comet. If you feel in dire need, use it to attack all enemies with falling meteors created magically."

Zack frowned. "How do I know the Comets won't hit my allies."

"Such is the nature of materia," Vincent responded coolly, "It knows what you want it to do, and that's what it does. It is relatively simple to use."

A shadow crossed Zack's expression. "I wish finding this cure was that simple."

Vincent nodded, and turned again to the scenery below them. He bowed his head slightly. "You fight for a noble cause," he said finally, "I wish you success, for her sake as well as your own."

Zack blinked. "Huh?"

Vincent turned to Zack again, his red gaze boring into Zack's soul with unnatural perceptive power. "I was once where you are now, at a crossroads in my life. The life of the woman I loved hanged in the balance, and I was the only one who could save her from the eternal night. I tried, but I failed, and her innocent flame of light flickered and died before her time. It is my gravest sin, and it will forever torment me. When Lucrecia perished, two lives were destroyed. Hers, as well as mine. And of the two, she is the lucky one. She is at least at peace, where I shall never know that bliss. My sin can never be atoned."

Zack looked at Vincent for a moment. Vincent stood stiff as a board, his eyes locked in a faraway gaze that not only looked a great distance in physical surroundings, but also a great distance in time as well. Perhaps, to a nicer time. Zack remained in silent amazement, reflecting on what Vincent had said. The stoic warrior of the night bore his soul to Zack, in the hopes that he could somehow prevent his great pain from being suffered by another. Zack found it astounding that after spending only a handful of hours with this crew of heroes, he was already confronted by two crewmembers on the subject of his relationship with Aisha. Was there something he was missing, that was plainly visible to everyone else he encountered?

"Zack, Vincent," Cloud said, ascending the final steps leading to the deck, "We've been looking for you."

"How do you feel?" Billy asked, coming to a halt beside Zack. Zack noticed that Billy too was equipped with a Crystal Bangle, and his Partisan reflected the bright sunlight. He also noted that Billy had materia on him as well. There were two green spheres on his bangle, and a red one on his lance.

"I feel better," Zack answered finally, "So what've you got there?"

"These are Shield and Time materia respectively," Billy explained, pointing to the two green materia, " and this is a summon called Typoon. Shield creates different kinds of shields around allies, and Time can slow down an opponent, completely freeze him in place, or hasten an ally. Interesting materia, indeed."

"Yeah," Zack said, glancing up at the others. On the deck, all the members of Cloud's team were standing, their weapons at the ready, waiting for the airship to land.

"Okay, team, here's the plan," Cloud said, "We can't land anywhere on the canyon itself, so we're going to land on the grasslands, and walk over. It’s no more than a quarter of a mile, so we should be okay. The monsters in this region aren't particularly dangerous, and considering there are ten of us, they don't stand a chance. Now, we need to carry the four pieces of Huge Materia, so Cid, Barrett, Cait Sith and I will carry the materia, while the rest of you travel in a circle around us, and ward off any attackers."

"Sounds like a plan," Cid said, dropping his cigar onto the deck and stomping it out with his heel, "Let's move out!"

* * *

The sound of deafening silence greeted the Black Terran Ranger as he materialized in a parking lot just outside a large corporate building in Angel Grove. As soon as the teleportation was complete, Jason took a defensive stance, and looked around for the monster he was to fight.

"It's too quiet," he decided, his eyes scanning the empty lot. There was obvious battle damage-- crushed cars, trees on fire, broken windows-- but there weren't any people in sight. Nor were there any monsters.

"Black Ranger," said a voice in a purposefully slow manner. Jason whirled around, and saw a short, slightly overweight man standing before him. He was dressed in a business suit, and he carried a briefcase.

"Are you alright, sir?" Jason asked, approaching the man, "Did you see where the monster went?"

The man smiled, and opened his briefcase. Bright light leapt out, knocking Jason back several yards, and causing him to crash into a parked car. Slightly shaken from the impact, Jason steadied himself on his feet. When he looked at the man, he was stunned to realize that where he was standing earlier, a dozen people stood, all glaring at him with violet eyes.

"What the--" he uttered, just as the men and women released laser fire. Instinctively, Jason leapt out of the way, and rolled away from the car, which would likely explode if exposed to too much firepower. Yet he found himself in the middle of an empty parking lot with no protection.

"Time to use these Earth powers of mine," he muttered, holding his palms to the asphalt. A wall rose from the ground beneath him, blocking the laser beams effectively. Jason leaned against the wall, and carefully looked out of the side. The people were closing in, continuing to fire energy from their hands and eyes.

"That monster somehow put a spell on all these people!" he declared in surprise, "Now what am I gonna do?"

Inside the building, surrounded by injured and unconscious civilians, Nirvana giggled excitedly, twirling a lock of curly snow-colored hair. "My powers are working perfectly against him. He hears, sees, and feels exactly what I want him to! Now, the perceived pain he'll feel at the illusionary laser fire will weaken him enough for me to finish him off."

* * *

A column of gold energy landed amongst the chaos of hundreds of shoppers running frantically from a skeleton creature, who was randomly firing blasts of energy from his sword. He cackled insanely as he continued to wreak havoc, his continuous laughter halted only by the occasional sneeze.

He was so wrapped up in his random violence, he didn't notice the searing bolt of lightning headed for him until it penetrated his back, sending a painful shock through his entire skeleton.

"Give it up, Rito," the Gold Ranger said, her Thunder Bow poised with another bolt of lightning aimed and ready, "You're obviously not cut out for a strategic assault."

"Oh, hey, it's the Gold Ranger!" he said, waving his sword in greetings, "Here to join the party? I thought you'd be laid up or something."

"Well, you thought wrong," she returned, "Now, are you going to leave peacefully, or do I have to hurt you first?"

In response, Rito's body vanished, his head floating in the air. Kim was so surprised by this, she didn't notice his body reforming behind her.

"Um... I'll take choice number three," the head said, vanishing from sight. At the same time, his head reappeared atop his neck, and head-butted Kim in the back. She sprawled forward, dropping her bow in her descent.

How’d he do that?! she marveled silently, rolling along the ground to make some space between herself and her opponent, He snuck up on me!

Kim rolled onto one knee, and fired a pulse of telekinetic energy in Rito’s direction. He managed to teleport before the pulse reached him, his head spinning in place just above where the energy passed.

“Hmm,” he muttered, “now, where did I put my body? Oh yes...”

Kim felt the presence behind her, but wasn’t able to react before she felt the blunt side of Rito’s large sword slam into the small of her back as if it were a baseball bat. She flew through the air with the force of the attack, and groaned as she struck the side of a building, unable to slow her descent with her telekinetic powers.

“Now I’m steamed!” she shrieked, leaping to her feet again. She held her hand forward, summoning her Thunderbow to return to her grasp telekinetically. Once she caught the weapon, she prepared to fire again. Yet once again, Rito had vanished.

This is too weird!! How is he blocking my telepathic powers? Is his mind so vapid that I can’t track him?!

This time, Rito failed to get the drop on the Gold Ranger. A tell-tale sneeze warned Kimberly of his proximity, causing her to whirl around and fire her Thunderbow instantly. The electricity struck Rito’s sword, forcing him to drop his weapon for fear of being burned again. Still, Rito wasn’t out of options. His hands flashed slightly with energy, which flew at Kimberly in the form of a continuous beam. Kim immediately responded with a telekinetic stream of her own, colliding with Rito’s energy midway between them. She focused her mind to increase the power of her own attack, intending to overwhelm Rito’s attack. Yet before she could, she noticed Rito’s head vanish from his neck, which strangely didn’t hinder the energy stream from his hands.

“Uh oh...” she muttered, not daring to discontinue her energy fire. Yet a bolt of pain ripped through her body suddenly, forcing her to release her telekinetic assault. The very moment her energy fire dissipated, Rito’s energy moved forward, crashing into her stomach with the force of a truck, and throwing the Gold Ranger through the wall of a nearby outlet store.

Kim groaned in pain, slowly rising into a sitting position and pushing chunks of concrete from on top of her. She rubbed the back of her neck, where she had felt the sudden pain earlier. She had no doubt that Rito’s head managed to attack her from behind, by biting through her neck armor enough to distract her.

“Incredible,” she muttered, shakily rising to her feet, “His ability to be two places at once is really confusing my telepathy, and that’s just making it harder for me to focus enough to skillfully use telekinesis. This fight isn’t going too well.”

* * *

The Blue Terran Ranger flipped through the air, just managing to dodge a spiraling stream of black fire. The fire impacted with the grass where Katherine was standing, exploding on impact and causing the surrounding grass to catch aflame.

Kat breathed out slowly, steadying herself for Blaze’s next assault. This time, the tall, pale Dreadkin held her hands about a foot apart, creating a whirling focus of black flame energy. Also, the air around the warrior sparked and darkened from the saturation of power.

“Now’s my chance,” Kat considered, her Ice Daggers forming in her hands. She held the points of the blades towards Blaze, creating streams of rapid-fire hailstones to streak at Blaze like a machine gun. However, the marble sized pellets of ice melted as soon as they came in contact with the intense heat field surrounding the creature.

“Nice try, Blue Ranger,” Blaze taunted, raising her hands above her head. The swirling fireball was now the size of a watermelon, and continued to rotate on its own axis, creating a powerful wave of air to blow in the surrounding area, weaving through Blaze’s crimson hair and causing the nearby lake to ripple. Kat braced herself, trying her best to prohibit the powerful building winds from knocking her off balance. She steeled herself when she saw her opponent hurl the flaming ball in her direction.

First, Katherine fired more hail at the ball, yet again they melted long before they came into contact with the sphere of heat. Then, sensing the futility of that measure, Kat concentrated, causing her daggers to fire streams of highly pressurized water from the silver metal tips. The water shot forth like a fire hose, with the intention of dowsing the powerful fireball. Yet, to Kat’s infinite horror, the water all evaporated once it came near the intense heat of the sphere.

Kat gasped, and threw herself to the ground just before the ball struck her body. The fireball sailed above her, affording the Blue Ranger some time to rise to her feet. She turned around, preparing to dowse whatever fire the ball would start once it impacted the trees behind her, yet to her shock, the fireball had stopped moving, and hovered only a few yards behind her. Then, it suddenly turned around, and flew towards the Blue Ranger again.

“Don’t you know anything about Black Flame?” Blaze chuckled, her fingers beckoning the fireball, “It’s intensely hot... far hotter than any fire you’re familiar with. Water can’t dowse it! And, it is totally under my mental control!”

Kat glowered under her helmet, and turned swiftly to the fireball that streaked in her direction. At a loss for options, she quickly erected a wall of ice, at least two feet thick, blocking the path of the ball. Yet, it melted through the partition, and slammed into the Blue Ranger’s chest, exploding on impact and sending her into the lake behind her. Blaze laughed triumphantly when she saw steam and bubbles surface.

Blaze’s laugh caught in her throat as a column of water stretched from the center of the lake, and hovered in the air. Atop the water sat the Blue Ranger, her uniform singed and smoking.

“This isn’t over yet, Blaze!” Katherine yelled, her usually gentle, melodic lightly accented voice harsh and determined.

* * *

The Purple Ranger struggled to stay on her feet, her knees buckling beneath her body’s weight. To her, it seemed as if the force of gravity had tripled from its normal intensity.

“This is pathetic,” Shade muttered, her wispy cape and dark ponytail fluttering in the calm breeze, “Of all the Power Rangers, I get the runt of the team. You can barely stand on your own two feet!”

Alexis glared at her opponent under her helmet, but she chose not to respond to the insulting remarks. Instead, she focused every ounce of energy in her being into her hands. Her white gloves sparked with faint violet energy, which coalesced into a sphere of flashing purple light. She pulled her arms back, and extended them quickly, hurling the sphere into the air. Shade chuckled as the sphere passed through her body unhindered.

Damn her intangibility! Alexis swore, There isn’t a thing I can do to her! Good thing she can’t hold it for very long...

Alexis attempted to concentrate her powers again, yet this time only faint flashes of energy appeared. She sighed inwardly, a scowl on her face.

“It looks like the Purple Power-less Ranger is out of steam,” Shade commented, a gleam in her emerald eyes, “This should be easy.”

That said, Shade bent her knees, and leapt into the air, hurtling her body towards the Purple Ranger at an astonishing speed. The wispy cape somehow managed to allow the Dreadkin to glide on the air currents, giving her unsurpassed control over her aerial assault. Alexis extended her hand, causing her sparking Laser Whip to materialize at her silent command, and cracked it menacingly in the air as Shade approached. Yet, when Shade was finally close enough for Alexis to strike, the whip passed harmlessly through Shade’s body, and then Shade herself passed through Alexis, landing on the ground behind the startled Purple Ranger. Alexis turned around sharply, only moving right into a powerful roundhouse kick that struck her in the jaw, and caused her to fall clumsily to the green grass that accented the baseball field just behind Angel Grove High School.

“You’re about as dangerous as a declawed kitten,” Shade sighed, looming above Alexis threateningly, “if even.”

Alexis felt fury building in the core of her being, rushing to her extremities a jolt of adrenaline that she desperately needed to get back on her feet. Unseen by the haughty Shade, Alexis grasped her Laser Whip tightly, and in one clean movement, she raised her right hand, and arched her wrist firmly. The purple colored whip wrapped around Shade’s leg, and instantly sent a jolt of purple tinged energy. Shade shrieked in surprise and pain as the energy travelled along her entire body, flashing brightly as a web of energy that encased her tightly.

Alexis rose to one knee, tightening her grasp on her whip. She knew the energy would only continue to flow as long as she could maintain it, and her weakened state has left little energy to spare. Still, Alexis was determined to fell her opponent, virus or no virus. She felt the sweat streaking down her cheeks, and a throbbing pain echo her heartbeat in her mind. With a grunt of frustration, Alexis’ focus weakened for a split second.

That was all the time Shade needed.

In one precise movement, Shade whirled her free leg around, smashing into the Purple Ranger’s arms and forcing the whip out of her grip. Alexis sprawled weakly to the ground, gasping for breath and fighting the veils of unconsciousness from overpowering her. While Alexis was otherwise occupied, Shade yanked the purple leather strip off her leg, and tossed it out of her way. An infuriated scowl on her dark features, Shade grabbed the corner of her cape with one hand, and cast it over Alexis. A cold chill raced through the Purple Ranger’s body as the sight of the baseball diamond was replaced by an infinite black void.

“AHH!” she shrieked, waving her arms and legs frantically. She was floating aimlessly in a pit of nothingness, without even the dimmest source of light or the slightest sound besides her own terrified screams.

She didn’t feel the presence of something beneath her, so she was certain she was somehow floating. All she could feel was a penetrating cold, that stabbed at every inch of her body like knives. Shivering fitfully, Alexis recoiled into a ball, hoping to keep herself alive with her own body heat.

Only seconds after her descent into darkness, Alexis felt herself fall. The fall didn’t last long, and she suddenly crashed into the semi-soft ground of the baseball diamond. She collapsed flat onto the ground, still shivering with fear and cold. She didn’t understand what had happened to her, yet from the wicked look in Shade’s green eyes, she knew what caused it.

Unfortunately, she didn’t think her body was capable of paying the villainess back.

* * *

The two mighty swords, one of silver, and the other of gold, clashed again and again, at a frightening speed and with deadly strength behind each powerful thrust. A shower of sparks flew in all directions each time the two blades collided, creating a heavy amount of friction. The clashes of the metal echoed so loudly, anyone near the mountaintop would hear it. Yet, the area was completely deserted, save the two bitter enemies, and the remains of the Command Center that littered the rocky earth.

“You’re much slower today,” the hideous beast Goldar commented, “Under the weather, Tommy?”

“Actually, I’m feeling much better, thanks,” Tommy rebuffed, “If you had attacked... say, an hour ago, you might have had me at a disadvantage. But of course, you missed your golden opportunity, Lassie.”

Goldar ignored the witty human’s latest jibe to his canine appearance, not allowing himself to lose the perfect rhythm of his attacks. Still, although the two warriors were about evenly matched, Goldar was easily the stronger of the two. It was simply Tommy’s speed and agility that allowed him to counteract that advantage. Yet, Goldar pressed even harder, focusing all the strength in his body with each thrust, hoping to overpower his young opponent.

Tommy received each thrust with a perfectly timed counterthrust, yet he couldn’t stop himself from being pushed back slightly at every turn. It was like standing in the way of a speeding train... simply impossible to hold one’s ground. Tommy knew he was inching backwards, and considering the hazardous battle ground, he was sure he’d eventually either fall off the cliff, or strike his foot against a mound of debris and trip. In either case, Goldar was quick and sharp enough to use that momentary distraction to his benefit.

In an attempt to push the odds in his favor, Tommy sidestepped a particularly powerful downthrust, allowing Goldar’s sharp blade to plow into the earth like a shovel. Tommy then whirled around and slammed his knee into the small of Goldar’s back, using the beast’s own momentum to throw him hard on the ground face first. Tommy grabbed Goldar’s sword, which he had dropped, and channeled his heat energy through it. Once it started to glow with fire energy, Tommy returned his gaze to Goldar, who had returned to his feet.

“Here,” Tommy said, tossing the heated sword like a dart to a target. Goldar scowled, dodging the sword and letting it lay on the dusty ground. He noticed the heat energy, and wasn’t stupid enough to injure himself by trying to use it.

“Your tactics have grown less sportsman-like each day,” Goldar hissed, “Perhaps you aren’t as much a goody-good as you like to appear.”

Tommy’s face was grim beneath his helmet, but his exaggerated breathing gave testimony to his own fatigue. “Well, this isn’t a game, Goldar, so losing fair and square isn’t an option.”

* * *

Rocky watched the five battles on the main computer screen so intensely that he almost felt each blow his friends received at the hands of the various evil opponents sent to destroy them. It was painful to watch, yet Rocky knew it was necessary, in the hopes that he could somehow help them.

If only Billy were here, Rocky lamented, He’d know how to help them. Maybe with some secret weapon or something. I feel so useless!

Tanya and Adam were still busily tending to Aisha, trying to recalibrate the coolant to effectively reduce her life-threatening fever, or perhaps devise another way to inhibit the spread of the virus, to prolong her life-expectancy. No one knew how Zack and Billy were faring on their mission to Midgar, and if they would even be successful in finding a cure. Tanya and Adam desperately searched for other options, in case the primary solution fell through.

“I’ve gotta do something,” Rocky said aloud, his focus fixed on the lower, right-hand corner. There, he watched the Purple Ranger painfully steady herself on her feet, preparing to launch another attack that most likely wouldn’t connect. Out of the five battles, she was faring the worst. Not only was she fighting Shade, one of the mighty Dreadkin, she was also fighting a dangerous virus. This was a fight the brave Alexis Darling might not be able to win.

Several times, Rocky’s hand passed over the emergency teleport button, which was locked onto the Purple Ranger’s coordinates at all times. Tommy had advised him to keep an eye on all five rangers, and to teleport them out if it appeared they were losing. It was clear that Alexis was dragging her feet, yet he couldn’t bring himself to bail her out.

Rocky cared about the brash Purple Ranger a great deal... perhaps more than he himself realized. They were friends at first, and then they sort of dove into a relationship. Still, it was far more casual than the bonds that connected Kim and Tommy, Tanya and Adam, or Kat and Jason. It was far more sudden, and far less nurtured. They spent time together, but they seemed more like very close friends than a romantic couple. It was something Rocky wanted to remedy, although it never seemed like the opportune time to do so.

“And now isn’t the time either,” he determined, glancing away from Alexis. He knew she would hate to be pulled out of the fight, especially considering there was no one else to fend off Shade. Also, he had strong faith in her willpower and ability to recover. After all, she picked up the pieces after the loss of her powers, and became an even more formidable Purple Ranger, protecting the streets of Philadelphia without the aid of other rangers, nor the support of a mentor like Zordon or an advisor like Billy.

She was the bravest person he knew, and if anyone could bounce back into the fight, it was her.

“No, Alexis isn’t coming out yet,” he said, watching the other battles, “but I have to contribute something here!”

Tommy seemed to be about evenly matched with Goldar. Although anyone could tell Tommy wasn’t at his peak performance, it was clear that Goldar wasn’t as focused as usual either. The Red Ranger could hold off without help for a bit longer at least. Unfortunately, the others were losing ground with every passing minute.

“Kim can’t get the edge on Rito, because she can’t focus her telepathic or telekinetic powers effectively against him,” Rocky judged, “Kat’s water isn’t enough to quench Blaze’s Black Flame, and Jason still can’t shake the perceptual manipulations of Nirvana. Nirvana confuses all five basic senses...”

Then, an idea dawned on Rocky. “...but, can she confuse the sixth?”

A grin crossed the former Red Ranger’s face, and his rusty brown eyes widened with excitement. “Of course!! Jason, Kat, and Kimberly are fighting bad guys with abilities that cancel out their own! Jason can’t beat Nirvana’s perceptual control, but I’d bet Kim can, with her telepathy. Also, Kat’s water powers aren’t enough to quell the Black Flame because the water evaporates, but Jason’s earth powers may do the trick. And since Kat’s powers don’t require the concentration Kim’s powers do, she’d be able to respond to Rito’s attacks better.”

Rocky immediately flipped on the communication relay, and channeled the signal to reach the Gold, Blue, and Black Rangers.

“Listen up, gang,” he announced, “I’m going to teleport each of you to another fight. Kat, you’re going up against Rito in the mall, Kim, you’re going to fight Nirvana in the business district, and Jason, I’m sending you to the park with Blaze. Kat, watch out for Rito’s weird teleports. Kim, be prepared for Nirvana’s sense disruption. And Jason, get ready for Blaze’s powerful Black Flame. Maybe we can turn the tables on these guys.”

^You got it,^ Kim’s voice chimed.

^Great thinking, Rocko!^ Jason congratulated.

^Thanks a lot,^ Katherine added.

Rocky’s smile widened as he activated the teleporter, and then watched the fight scenes again. Nirvana, Rito, and Blaze were all shocked to see the sudden teleportation of their opponents, and were even more stunned to see their replacements. However, whereas they were acquainted with the abilities of the other rangers, the new opponents were a mystery to them. Yet, they had the feeling they weren’t a mystery to the rangers.

“Score one for Rocky DeSantos, Master Strategic Advisor!” he said, sitting back smugly on the chair behind him, “Now, all I need to do is figure out how to help Lex...”

* * *

“This... place is incredible!” Zack whispered in awe, holstering his Winchester rifle. After an arduous journey through the cliffs, the members of Cloud Strife’s rebel forces, accompanied by Zack and Billy, arrived at the towering stairs leading to the city of Cosmo Canyon, carved into the side of a mighty cliff. Once they reached the top of the staircase, Billy and Zack were treated to an incredible view. Dozens of tents were erected along the plateau, which served as entrances to the coves that contained residences, shops, and rest areas. Also, at the very center of the plateau was a blazing fire, whose burning embers flashed with an almost magical radiance. A handful of citizens stood around the fire, either admiring its beauty, enjoying its sustaining warmth, or even consulting its majesty. And finally, another case of stone stairs stretched upwards, leading to another level of the town.

“It feels so peaceful here,” Billy commented, glancing at Red XII, “It must have been wonderful to grow up here.”

The crimson wolf nodded. “Cosmo Canyon is a city fully devoted to nature and philosophy. My grandfather Bugenhagen is the present elder and head sage. The knowledge he has accumulated over the centuries is awe-inspiring. Believe me, in the forty years of my life I still haven’t absorbed all the wisdom Bugenhagen has to offer. Also, his understanding of nature and the Lifestream is second to none, other than the Ancients themselves perhaps.”

“It’s not all that impressive,” Cid huffed, placing the blue Huge Materia on the ground so he could light another cigar.

“Anything is better than that awful airship of yours,” Yuffie remarked, “The slightest turbulance turns the entire thing into a blender!”

“It’s not my baby’s fault you have such a weak stomach,” Cid growled, glaring down at the teenager.

“Would you quit yer yappin!” Barrett grumbled, his wide arm wrapped around the yellow Huge Materia, “This thing is heavy!!”

“Yes, let’s get to the tower,” Cloud decided, glancing at the red Huge Materia he was holding, “The sooner we get answers from Bugenhagen, the sooner we save the planet from Sephiroth and his Meteor spell.”

Cloud glanced ominously at the enormous rock that filled the majority of the horizon. “We don’t have much time left.”

“I’ll lead the way,” Red XIII announced, bounding in front of the rest of the party and hurrying up the stairs, “Grandfather is probably in his observatory.”

Zack, Billy, Yuffie, Tifa, Vincent, Cloud, Cid, Barrett, and Cait Sith followed the excited wolf up the stairs as quickly as possible, considering the latter four were still burdened by the large pieces of materia they confiscated. After climbing several flights of stairs, they reached the doorway to the wisest being alive, the ancient sage Bugenhagen of Cosmo Canyon.

“Grandfather!” Red XIII exclaimed, hurring through the entrance towards the elderly, bald man within. The latter smiled when he saw his adoptive grandson, and scratched his forehead in greetings.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Nanaki,” he said, kneeling on the ground to look him eye to eye. “How has your quest fared?”

“We’ve brought the four Huge Materias,” Red announced, gesturing behind him. Bugenhagen rose to his feet when he saw the train of heroes that followed Red inside, with the four last ones each carrying a single Huge Materia.

“Wonderful!” Bugenhagen exclaimed, “The Huge Materia is far too powerful for the Shinra Corporation to control. Hopefully, the intense magic dwelling within each crystal will aid you in your mission to defeat Sephiroth. His power grows with each passing day, you realize.”

“Yes, we do,” Tifa spoke up, “But now that we have this materia, what do we do with it?”

“For now, you can store it in my laboratory, so I can examine it further,” the elder decided, glancing across the crowded room to a computer console. The hem of his green robe ruffled slightly as he ascended from the ground by several inches, and floated to the machine. He beckoned to Cloud with his hand.

“Cloud, Barrett, Cid, Cait... please step on the platform. Just lay the Huge Materia within the dome.”

The four men nodded, and stepped to the slightly elevated platform in the center of the lab. Bugenhagen pulled the lever, causing the platform to lift off the ground, and through an opening in the ceiling.

“Uh, Mister Bugenhagen,” Zack said suddenly, stepping forward towards the ancient wiseman, “we have another problem that we were hoping you could help us with.”

Bugenhagen squinted at Zack, and then removed his thick glasses and wiped the darkened lenses with his robe. He then put his glasses back on, and squinted at him once again.

“Ho ho hooo... I don’t think I recognize this young man, Nanaki!”

Red XIII stepped forward. “He is Zack Taylor, and his friend here is Billy Mitchell. They have travelled a great distance in search of healing magic to restore a friend of theirs to health.”

“Hmm,” Bugenhagen muttered, gazing at Zack and Billy with new interest, “What kind of symptoms does your friend suffer from?”

Zack bit his lip, mulling through his brain to decide the best way to explain the situation to the elder. It was difficult to make someone who had no experience with disease understand Aisha’s condition.

Bugenhagen noticed the discomfort in Zack’s dark eyes, and nodded when he saw the same look expressed in Billy’s blue ones. He then fingered his gray beard, and once again rose from the ground.

“That bad, eh?” he commented.

“It’s... really difficult to explain--” Billy started.

“As a matter of fact,” Tifa said suddenly, stepping forward, “their friend is suffering symptoms similar to what Zack himself has, but on a magnified scale.”

Bugenhagen’s peering gaze fell once again on the Silver Ranger, who nodded in agreement. “Yeah, we both have the same... uh, problem. But she’s dying! I’m just, not feeling my best.”

“Interesting,” Bugenhagen said, clenching his hands together. The long sleeves of his robe draped over his hands, covering them completely. “Then the first thing to do is examine what is wrong with you, young man.”

Bugenhagen glanced up when he saw the platform lower again. Once it reached the ground level, Cloud, Cid, Barrett, and Cait Sith stepped off, towards the remainder of the assembled heroes.

“Would you all excuse the three of us for a few minutes?” Bugenhagen asked, floating onto the platform, “The two strangers and I have a problem to discuss.”

“Sure,” Cloud said, “We just left the Huge Materia in the lab.”

“Thank you,” Bugenhagen said, beckoning Billy and Zack to step on. Then, the platform once again ascended through the ceiling, and stopped once it was level with the observatory floor.

Both Billy and Zack gaped in astonishment. The observatory was a large dome, with lifelike images of the nearby stars and constellations projected onto the tiled surface of the dome. In the center, several feet above their heads, a large, yellow ball floated, spinning slowly on its own axis. Several smaller balls revolved around the miniature sun, each at its own speed. Also, a purplish rock, about one tenth the size of the sphere representing Midgar, hovered near it, glowing faintly. Finally, hovering only about three feet off the floor, the four Huge Materia were placed in a square shape, with the center being the platform itself.

“This is... amazing,” Billy mumbled, staring up at the model solar system, “So, you are an astronomer also, Bugenhagen?”

The wiseman nodded. “There is infinite knowledge in the surrounding planets of the universe, Billy. The only way to truly understand one’s own world is to understand as much of its environment as possible. The majesty of the universe must remain in mind when studying one’s own problems. It is the proper perspective.”

Bugenhagen’s gaze turned from the two young men to a computer terminal along the wall. He floated towards it, and pressed a sequence of buttons, causing the model of the solar system to vanish.

“So,” he said, not turning around, “how is Zordon anyway?”