Disclaimer:Saban owns all Rangers and property thereof. I just like to shuffle the color assignments and powers around. Let's see. Trevor, Eileen and Franklin Park; Chelsea, Teddy and Sarah Oliver are Ellen Brand's creations. Hank Cranston is Kittie's. The team symbol is courtesty of Wong Yew Meng (Bobby). Phew! Anything else I borrowed? Oh! The song is Twila Paris' "Love's Been Following You". Jeremy Ray, without you, this would never have been written (you had my muse!). You're the best, lil bro! A huge thank you to all of you who wrote asking if I was ever going to write this second part. Well, after my computer died, then was replaced, I got re-inspired. Here it is! I hope you enjoy, minna-san! ^.^
SHADES OF THE PRISM
A true friend is someone who can make us do what we can. -- Emerson
Chapter 2: Infinity
by Julia H.
Jason stood in a shadow, leaning against the gym wall, watching the girl in the green and purple leotard warm up. She had mahogany brown hair tied back in a ponytail, high cheekbones, a generous mouth and doe brown eyes. Crossing his arms, Jason frowned slightly. There were dark circles under the girl's eyes, and a pensive expression he didn't remember seeing there last time he'd visited. In fact, if he tried, he could probably count her ribs too, she was so thin.
_Maybe Kim's been feeling as on edge as the rest of us._ He decided to wait until she was finished with her floor routine before announcing his presence.
Warmed up, Kim straightened and walked over to a tape player. She hit a button then walked back to the blue mat, adjusting the wrist guards wrapped around each wrist.
Kim rolled her head and shoulders trying to ease the tension that seemed to be permanently residing there lately. _Clear your mind. Concentrate on the routine._ She closed her eyes and visualized her first tumbling run.
As the music began, Kim blocked out all else and concentrated on her exercise.
Swaying with the beat, Kim went into the first opening handstand and roll, making her way towards one of the corners to begin her tumbling run.
I know sometimes it's hard to believe it
But love's been following you
From where I stand I'm able to see it
And love's been following you
All through the stormy night
Didn't you see the light
Goodness and mercy right there behind you
Love's been following you
Kim pirouetted, turned and came up on her toes. With a determined expression, she dashed forward several strides before catapulting herself forward into a series of end over end flips. Nearing the other side of the mat, she sprang into the air, twisted several times and landed perfectly to touch the second corner.
Without a break she went right into a ballet-like dance that brought her nearer and nearer the third corner.
Some days your heart just couldn't be colder
But love's been following you
All you have learned just makes you feel older
But love's been following you
You think that no one cares
Still love is always there
It would go anywhere just to find you
Love's been following you
Jason watched, a proud smile parting his lips as he watched Kim perform. She danced as light and graceful as a leaf on the wind, making the strength and sheer agility of the moves look easy. He knew better. Jason had seen her botch up plenty of tumbling runs, almost landing on her face when the power and speed exceeded the confines of the mat. She'd almost broken her neck one time trying to stay in bounds.
Love has been following you
Love's been following you
Love has been following you
Following you, following you...
She was set for her next tumbling run, and Jason held his breath as she charged forward, fearlessly throwing herself into a twisting sequence of dizzying flips. She sprang up, tucking her legs up to complete a double forward flip before landing just at the white border of the corner.
Going back to the swaying, graceful motions, Kim danced her way towards the last corner.
Somehow the road just seems to get longer
But love's been following you
Wait for the one who will make you stronger
'Cause love's been following you
In a sudden break, Kim went back to a slower tumbling run, coming up to a handstand, then down to a split. She rolled to her feet, once again dancing.
Wherever you go from here
Run far away from fear
Keep one thing very near and believe it's true
Love's been following you
Love's been following you
Love's been following you
At the last corner, Kim finished her routine as the music faded, arms outstretched as if to embrace someone.
Jason's grin widened and he applauded, startling her. Kim jumped and whirled, peering at the shadows. A worried frown marred her normally smiling face. "Who's there?!" Her hands clenched and unclenched, an indication of her uncertainty.
"And Kimberly Ann Hart takes the gold!" Jason stepped forward.
"Jason!" With a whoop of joy, Kim threw herself off the platform and dashed towards him.
He braced himself as the miniature whirlwind hit him and tried to hug the air out of his body. "Easy, girl." He returned her hug, then held her away to study her for a moment. The usual sparkle in her eyes was missing, replaced by a haunting sadness. "How are you?"
"What are you doing here? When did you get here? Why didn't you tell me?!" Hands on her hips, Kim gave him a scolding look. "What's going on?"
"Kim," he protested. "One at a time!" Jason laughed and put his hands up. "I didn't tell you because I didn't know, I just got here, and I need to talk to you."
Kim's face paled. "Is something wrong?" She grabbed his arm in a surprisingly strong grip. "Is everyone all right?"
"Kim, calm down. We're all fine." Jason took her elbow and guided her over to two nearby chairs. "Sit and I'll tell you why I'm here."
* * *
Billy watched half in amusement, half annoyed as Tommy paced restlessly around the cobblestoned area in front of the gymnasium. _If he had a tail, he'd be lashing it._ Billy grinned as Trini rolled her eyes and sighed. He caught her eye and the two shared a smile.
Adam was standing near a column, chewing on his bottom lip and shifting his feet every several minutes.
_If we could harness the nervous energy from those two we could power the entire city of Angel Grove for a year!_ Sighing, Billy closed his eyes and lifted his face to the sun, enjoying the warmth once again. The sound of water from the fountain behind him was soothing, and helped cover up the padding sound of Tommy's shoes.
"You're going to wear the stones out, Tommy." Trini's dark eyes twinkled mischievously. She twirled a flower in her hand, and brought it to her nose to sniff it's delicate fragrance. "Jason's only been in there about twenty minutes."
"Yeah." Tommy stopped and ran a hand over his hair. He couldn't decide if waiting was worse than actually seeing Kim again. _Do I want to see her again? Can we really be just friends? What if Jason can't convince her to come out here? What if -_ His thoughts came to a screeching halt as the doors opened and two people emerged.
Tommy suddenly had a dry mouth, sweaty palms and butterflies in his stomach. A twitch developed under his left eye as he stared at the one person he had both dreamed of and dreaded seeing again for the past two years.
Kim hesitated, biting her lip as the doors shut behind her. She saw Tommy, standing absolutely still and immediately looked for a diversion. "Trini! Billy!" Kimberly dashed forward to embrace her childhood friends and the tears she'd held back when Jason had told her about their coming to Florida finally burst free.
Jason walked over to stand next to Tommy, lifting an eyebrow in an unspoken question. There was no response. Tommy continued to stare at Kim with a carefully neutral expression. Jason shook his head, resigned to let the two play out their conflict in their own time, their own way. He just hoped it didn't take too long. He wasn't sure the rest of them could put up with it forever.
Adam found himself the next one to be caught up in a tight hug, and he blushed slightly, but smiled. "Hi, Kim."
"Adam! Look at you." Kim brushed a lock of curly black hair out of his face and grinned at him. "You've become the handsome prince Dulcea predicted."
The red blush crept from Adam's cheeks down his throat, as he grinned sheepishly.
_No more putting it off I guess._ Taking a deep breath to steel herself, Kim pinned a happy smile firmly on her face and turned to face the one person she didn't run to and hug. She raised a hand in a waving gesture, then let it drop. "Hi, Tommy." _Oh, God! Did that sound as lame as I think it did?_
Every word, every single thing Tommy had stored up to say at this moment slipped from his mind like water through a sieve. All he could hear was the pounding of his heart. All he could see was her happy, confident face smiling at him like none of the feelings that had churned and clenched his heart had ever existed.
_I guess I didn't mean as much to her as I thought._
As if from a great distance, Tommy heard his own voice say, "Kim." It came out flat, emotionless. He looked away, unable to look at the person who had held his heart and then broken it.
Jason winced, turning so they didn't see his expression. _Not a great start, bro!_
Kim's smile faltered and she turned her gaze on the ground.
Trini looked from Tommy to Kim and had a flashback to an old western they'd watched once. High Noon. _Oh boy, better stop this right now!_ "Kim, can we go somewhere and talk?"
"Away from other ears?" Jason added. He raised his wrist and pointed at it -- their sign for Power Ranger business.
"Huh?" Kim started as if waking suddenly. "Oh! Sure. Um...let me go get my gear and leave a note for Coach Schmidt." She bolted back into the gym, letting the doors bang shut behind her.
"I'll make sure she's okay." Trini followed Kim.
Tommy's shoulders slumped and he shook his head. "I can't do this, guys." He looked at Jason, dark eyes full of doubt. "It just won't work with both of us being here like this."
_Here we go again._ Jason stifled the urge to smack his best friend upside the head and instead gave him a stern, no-nonsense look. "We're adults now, Tommy. You and Kim have some differences you need to work out. You can't run from that." He gripped Tommy's arm. "The team is back together, man!" He amended, "Except Zack. You know this is right, Oliver. Don't give up just because there's some rough road ahead."
"Jason is correct." Billy walked over to them. "Besides, you're reading Kim wrong. She's just as uncertain about this as you."
Tommy looked from Jason to Billy, searching for confirmation in their faces. He was always sure of himself -- until it came to girls. Certain girls, like Kim and Katherine, left him completely clueless. He just didn't know how to handle the feelings. If it was a fight, or a physical challenge, Tommy knew exactly how to tackle it. Emotions were just something he didn't deal well with. "Okay." Tommy sighed heavily. "Okay." _Jase is right. I can't let everyone down.... Not again._ His expression tightened into a determined mask. "I'm with you all the way."
Jason nodded and smiled. _Whew!_
Billy grinned. It never failed to amaze him how much of a contradiction Tommy could be. In a lot of ways, he was like Billy -- for different reasons -- but Billy was beginning to understand him better.
The doors opened and Kim and Trini walked out.
"Ready?" Jason asked with a smile.
"What now?" Adam joined the circle.
Jason looked at Tommy who stared back. "Uh...we haven't got that far."
"We just know we had to get all of us together again." Jason shrugged, feeling more than a little lame.
Kim giggled. "This is like an X-Files episode. Old friends re-unite, drawn together by unseen force."
Trini felt it before the others and stiffened. Acting on reflexes, she dropped her flower and reached out to grab Kim's arm. "Something weird is -"
Silver light washed over the group, engulfing them as it flared. Before any of them could move, it swept them up in a silver inferno. When it died away, the six were gone, leaving no trace of them ever having been there. The only sound was the water splashing on the fountain as a flower drifted down to settle on the cobblestones.
* * *
The wash of silver light receded, leaving Jason in complete darkness. He lifted a hand to his face and felt his breath against the palm, but saw nothing.
There were no sounds: not even his own breathing penetrating the darkness. He had never felt so isolated or so alone.
Reaching out, he stumbled forward. _There have to be walls somewhere..._ Jason stopped. _Unless I'm in another stupid Dark Dimension. I could fall off the edge into an abyss._
So much for exploring.
Waiting patiently had never been Jason's strong suite. He tensed and released his jaw muscles as the seconds, then minutes ticked by in his mind. His mind wandered and he began to wonder and worry about his friends. No doubt they were in similar predicaments.
Thinking of his friends in danger increased Jason's fretting and impatience to be free of the darkness constricting him. Someone or something had them all playing some sort of game -- and reuniting the gang must have been the trigger to spring the trap.
Jason glared into the darkness. "What do you want?!" He turned in a circle. "Hiding like this is the coward's way! Come on, show yourself!"
A faint noise behind him made him spin and stance, expecting to see his foe. Instead there was only a tiny spec of light, no larger than a firefly. "Wha-?"
The spec grew and became the size of a candle's flame. It came nearer. _Someone carrying a candle?_ Jason's speculation was cut short as the light continued to grow in size.
A sizzling, popping noise reached his ears. As the light approached Jason could see it actually was flames. Swirling patterns of fire danced as if winds from an unseen source fanned it. It was beautiful, the colors almost hypnotic as he stared.
Before Jason could move, the flame rushed at him, towering over him in a solid wall of burning fury. The low sizzle was now the roar of a fully engulfed forest fire burning out of control. Jason threw his arms in front of his face as the heat and light grew, and took a step back. The fire was on him before he could move to avoid it, flames leaping up around his feet. In a flash he was engulfed in the inferno.
* * *
Opening his eyes, Adam clenched them shut again as the sense of vertigo overwhelmed him. Throwing out his arms, he flailed for balance as up and down tumbled end over end. Adam tightened his muscles for the impact of a wall or floor....
It was that very sense of absolute nothingness that made him open one eye to peer around. He felt weightless, almost buoyant. Adam looked up and saw only dim light reflecting down, as if through a prism. There was a gentle undulating motion to the light that sparked a memory.
_Light under water!_ Adam frowned and shook his head. _But I'm not in water._
The light began to undulate faster, swirling together in an irregular shape. Growing and spinning, it suddenly fractured, revealing facets and patterns. Mesmerized, Adam stared as the crystal of light grew closer, it's spinning producing a tinkling sound like that of fine crystal when it's tapped. As it spun faster and faster, it came closer. Adam closed his eyes, hearing only the crescendo of ice and crystal as it descended upon him.
* * *
Trini watched in rapt fascination as the silver light pulled away from her to disperse into a fine mist that filled the area around her.
It wasn't cold or wet like fog, and it swirled in eddies and currents as if unseen air blew against it.
Cautiously Trini reached out to let it spill through her fingers. It felt like fine grains of sand sifting past her fingers. When she pulled her hand back, she found it coated in silver tint. She rubbed her fingers together. _It isn't wet. It doesn't smell. What is this stuff?_ Trini's eyes widened as she moved her hand and realized she could see through it.
It was as if her hand were merely a glowing outline, filled with a silver incandescence.
_I can still feel my fingers._ Trini forced herself to remain calm, even as the mist swirled closer around her. Gulping in a deep lungful of air, Trini closed her eyes as the mist engulfed her entirely.
* * *
"Hello! Anybody?" Kimberly walked around the spherical room searching for any signs of a doorway. The silver walls were entirely smooth, without even a weld to show where they had been put together. "Great. I'm inside a giant pachinko ball." Kim leaned against the wall and bit her lip. "This wasn't supposed to really become an X-Files episode!"
_Wonder what happened to the others?_ She sighed and looked around again to see if there was something she'd missed. Nothing. _All I remember is that light flashing then...this. Am I dead?_ Kim scowled. _If so, this is NOT my idea of Heaven!_ She gulped. _Or Hell. Don't panic, Hart._ Straightening, Kim started to walk around the sphere again.
_Strange I'm not cold._ Dressed only in her leotard and a sweatsuit jacket she should've been at least chilly in the sterile, silver room. _Is it me, or is this place warming up?_ Kim looked up, hoping to see a vent of some sort. Her eyes widened and she took a step back.
There was nowhere to run.
A ball of energy, red-orange in color, was forming at the top of the sphere. Heat radiated from it in waves Kim could feel were getting stronger by the moment. "Oh man, oh man, oh man! I'm gonna get one heck of a sunburn if this keeps up!"
Kim removed her jacket and covered her face with it as she cowered down. The sphere was growing. It was actually beautiful, the colors meshing and crossing, pulsating as the ball enlarged. It already filled all of the top, and the heat was generating winds that ripped at Kim, blowing against her with savage fury. One gust ripped the sweatjacket out of her hands, sucking it up into the pulsating ball.
"NOOOO!" Kim threw her hands out as the firery sphere suddenly exploded out and engulfed her.
* * *
_This is quite fascinating._ Billy didn't know how he had arrived where he was, or why he was still alive for that matter. _Perhaps, I'm not?_
With a mental shrug, he looked around, enjoying the beauty of space. His view was unimpeded by the walls of a ship, which is why he knew he should be dead. _Let's see.... Where are those constellations?_ Using his arms to generate some movement, Billy managed to get turned around.
His breath caught in his throat at the sight.
The whole of the Milky Way was spilled out behind him.
"My God." He knew if he'd been standing he would've collapsed. Nothing in his travels had prepared him for this. _I'm outside our galaxy._ And yet, he felt drawn to it, as if a thread were holding him and pulling him back.
Silver light flashed around Billy, blinding him momentarily. He blinked to clear his eyes, then closed them again, tightly scrunching them as he grimaced. A silver globe had formed around him and was carrying him back towards the galaxy, but at a rate of speed he had never known. _This...has...got...to...be...what...hypertravel...would...feel...like!_
As the globe re-entered the Milky Way, silver light flashed again, sending Billy to his knees. Holding his head in his hands, he fought against the rising tide of information suddenly flooding his mind. It was a losing battle, and he collapsed, unconscious, to sprawl against the wispy walls of the globe that carried him homeward.
* * *
_Oh, damnit! Not the moon again!_ A snarl of annoyance curled his lips. Tommy knew exactly where he was as soon as he opened his eyes. _At least it isn't Rita's Palace._ He also knew he should be dead, but with all the things Tommy Oliver had gone through as a Power Ranger, it didn't truly surprise him to find he was breathing. _Breathing air that isn't here._
The thought provided little amusement. He looked around. Tommy stood at the terminator -- the point between the dark side and the light side of the moon.
The symbology wasn't lost on him. _Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten into, Oliver._ He didn't know how, or why, but trouble seemed drawn to him like a magnet. _Ever since the day Rita chose me._ He sighed and pushed the negative thoughts aside. _No sense dwelling on the past. I can't change any of it._
Tommy turned and watched the Earth rise, his heart beating almost painfully as he realized how much that small blue sphere meant to him. It was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. _My family, my friends...._ The thought made him frown. _Wonder where the others ended up?_
He jumped and yelped in surprise as part of the dark shadow broke off and floated into the light side. A wisp of the luminous side floated to hang motionless in the darkness. Both hovered for a long moment as Tommy watched warily, wondering what horror would be spawned from them.
Slowly the two parts floated towards one another and for a second, hung side by side looking like an eerie representation of the yin and yang symbol. Before Tommy could do more than shake his head in wonder, the two halves merged. Silver light flared, blinding Tommy momentarily.
When it cleared he stared wide-eyed at the shadowy form before him. It was almost pearlescent, dark yet illuminated from the inside. Tommy swallowed hard and took a step back.
The form pounced before he could move, engulfing him and, once again, his senses were overwhelmed as the silver light claimed him.
* * *
"Very good." Aster nodded as she watched the prism. "Now let's see how they react to a new agenda."
"It remains to be seen whether they'll follow or not, Aster." Nevil shifted in his seat as the woman's cold gaze settled on him. "You chose the ones most familiar with the power. It's been with them almost since puberty." Stubbornly he met her gaze. "We should have picked an untried group. The newest Rangers would have been better."
"Would they?" Sitting, Aster lounged back in her chair. "We needed those familiar with the power, Nevil. Warriors. Not children." She shook her head, eyes unfocused as she looked at what he could not possibly see. "The die is cast, the members chosen." Eyes as blue as arctic ice bore into the man. "We will stand or fall with these."
Nevil shook his head, refusing to meet her gaze. "Be it upon your head then, Aster."
She rolled her eyes as he left in a flash. "Such a drama king."
Jason landed in a huge room with a thud, as the teleportation beam dumped him several feet above the floor. * * *
"She called it a training exercise!" Jason flopped bonelessly down on one of the beds in the male dormitory. He groaned as every muscle protested the rigorous workout.
_Where in the sam hill am I now!_ It was easily double the size of Angel Grove High's football field, made entirely from some sort of metal on the sides, the floor and the ceiling.
He was actually surprised to be alive after the run-in with the towering inferno. _Now what?_ Jason looked down at himself then, only beginning to realize he wasn't in his street clothes. _My God...._ For a moment he had thought he was in the past somehow. He was wearing armor -- the kind he'd worn as a Ranger. It wasn't red though. It was a dull grey color, almost charcoal. Black gloves covered his hands and forearm, ending at the elbow. Black boots that looked like the stuff the armor was made of covered his feet and calves.
Slowly, he walked over to the wall, seeing it was polished enough to see a reflection. A smooth helmet covered his head, bearing no markings, or visor of any sort. "No way!" Jason put a hand up to touch his face, and encountered the hard surface of the helmet. _But I can see just fine! I didn't even know I had it on...._
He whirled, hearing a muffled "oof!" from behind. Another figure, dressed exactly like him, lay on the floor, shaking it's head. Jason waited to see if it would prove friend or foe.
"OW!" The figure scrambled to it's feet and faced Jason, apparently startled to see him standing there silently. "Who are you?"
"Adam!" Jason let out his breath in a relieved sigh. He jogged over to his companion. "Man, am I glad to know you're okay."
"Jason?" Adam reached forward to touch Jason's arm, saw his own armored hand and jumped again as he realized he was in the same armor. "What's goin' on?"
"Don't know...yet." Jason's voice was grim. "But I hope the others show up too."
They did. One by one, spaced apart by about ten minute intervals that allowed the others to catch up on what they had gone through and seen. By the time Tommy dropped in the rest were waiting, impatiently.
"Leave it to Tommy to be the last," Trini said with a chuckle.
"This was NOT my fault," Tommy grumped.
Jason crossed his arms and shook his head. Whatever he had gone through had not made him too happy apparently. "Bro, what happened?"
Billy listened as Tommy filled them in on his experience. The pieces of the puzzle began to fit together. Jason quickly summarized what the others had seen. When he finished Billy spoke up. "I believe we've been recruited."
Holding up his hands, Billy tried to hold off his friends' comments for a moment. "Guys, please." He sighed. "I don't know, I'm only theorizing. We appear to have each passed a test of some sort, different for each one of us. Although we are dressed similarly I think we may find the test was a foreshadowing of what is to come."
Everyone spun as the sound of clapping filled the room. "Very good, Billy Cranston."
A woman stepped into the room, seeming to walk through the wall. Red-gold hair fell to just past her shoulders and a form-fitting grey suit covered her slender body which did nothing to hide the feminine curves. She walked towards the group, a smile curving generous lips, but somehow failing to reach the ice-blue eyes.
Jason stepped forward, sensing Tommy's presence right at his shoulder. "Who are you? Why have you brought us here?"
Amusement lit her eyes as she stopped an arm's length from them. She was easily 5' 10, a fact that didn't escape Kimberly who scowled under her helmet at the amazon.
"My name is Aster, Jason Scott." Her gaze moved beyond Jason. "Tommy Oliver."
"So impatient." She sighed. "Hasn't being a Ranger taught you the value of patience?"
"Why are we here?" Jason ground the words out, fisting his hands. He did not like games, and he was sick of the Rangers always being jerked around like puppet on strings.
"Very well." Aster turned and walked several steps before turning again to face the group. "You were chosen from all of the Rangers who have come before you to face the crises. We face it now and turn it, or we fail and Earth falls."
She waved a hand and one of the walls shimmered, replaced by a view of space. "This is what you will face."
"I don't see anything." Kim shrugged.
"Precisely, Kimberly Hart." Aster looked at the image, a brooding frown marring her beauty for a moment. "The very nothingness you see was once a star system much like your own. Until it came."
"What is .... it?" Adam stepped up to stand next to Billy.
"Nemesis." Aster shrugged. "The void. The Dark Kingdom. It has been called by many names."
"You said, we face it and turn it." Tommy looked from the image to see Aster nodding. "Why not defeat it?"
"None has. None will." Aster raised one eyebrow. "Do you think even you could defeat Chaos itself?"
"Chaos?" Billy repeated in surprise. Memories rose to his conscious. "The Aquitians spoke of Chaos...."
"Indeed." Aster smiled almost mockingly. "It comes this way. Once Earth and her system falls, Aquitar will not be far behind."
"You don't seem too sad about that." Jason crossed his arms. "Just who are you?"
"Does it matter?" Aster leveled a cool gaze at Jason. "I have my reasons for not wanting Earth to fall. You six are the means to that end."
"I don't trust her." Kimberly crossed her arms and scowled.
"Oh, I'm heartbroken." Aster rolled her eyes. "I don't care if you like me or not. Hate me for all I care." Her eyes narrowed. "You want to save your planet, don't you? Your solar system?"
"And if we refuse?" Jason felt a muscle in his jaw tick as the cold gaze settled on him.
"Then you will see the effects of Chaos increase on Earth. Before your lives are over, you will witness the complete end as this system is obliterated." She shook her head. "Already there are signs. Increasing violence, rampant hatred, and even the Earth itself suffers. Did you think all of the eruptions, earthquakes, famines and severe storms were simply a result of some Greenhouse Effect or El Nino?"
Tommy swallowed hard, as he listened to her voice his thoughts. "She's right."
Everyone turned to look at him. "What?"
He shrugged. "Maybe it's because I've been touched by the darkness, guys. I know what she's saying is true." Tommy gazed hard at the woman. "But you aren't like Zordon or Dimitria. You're not one of the Morphin' Masters."
"No." Aster's smile was bitter. "And yet for all their vaunted efforts and power, they will not do any more than sit by and watch as Chaos continues on it's way here."
"Why should we believe you?" Kimberly made little effort to hide her distaste for the woman.
"You don't have to." Aster shook her head. "Go ask Zordon or Dimitria yourselves." She lifted her chin. "They will not act, though they know the time nears. The Morphin Masters are too proud, too high to do what must be done." Aster's eyes lowered, her voice dropping. "And so they will fail, and in doing so, pull us all down."
"What would you have us do?" Tommy was almost afraid to ask.
Aster looked at each of them, one by one and smiled.
"You think you hurt." Billy felt like one big knot. "All those months on Aquitar in a environment of almost pure water. I didn't work out enough obviously."
Adam winced and laid down, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his head. _Should've seen that dumb sphere coming and ducked._ Even in the armor...it had hurt.
The last one out of the showers, Tommy walked out slowly, wearing only his jeans and drying his hair with a towel. "At least it's comfortable here." He winced as he sat and bent to rub his calf.
"How's the leg?" Jason turned his head only enough to look out of the corner of his eye. To move any more would hurt.
"Talk about dumb." Tommy sighed. He'd let himself be distracted, watching Kim instead of paying attention. He taken a hit from an attack drone that would've broken the bone if it weren't for the armor. "I'll be fine." He shrugged and grinned. "I'm used to having powered armor that absorbs the hit." _Nothing like learning the hard way that this was just plain old armor. Chalk another one up to Oliver's hard head school of learning._
"Yeah, well, just stop watching Kim and you'll be fine." Jason didn't even try to duck the wet towel that fell on his face. He didn't want to move and make his body hurt again. Grabbing the towel he tossed it back then groaned again. "Oh, please tell me she doesn't plan on doing this again tomorrow."
Adam and Billy chuckled. "She said she'd see us in the morning, Jase."
"Yeah. Well, I'm exhausted." A yawn punctuated Jason's statement. "Night guys."
Billy blinked as Jason was out in a matter of seconds. "How can he just...switch off?"
"He lives in a college dorm." Adam grinned. "You can sleep through anything after the first week." With a yawn, he too sprawled on his bed and was soon snoring softly.
"I don't believe this," Billy muttered. Tommy was out like a light also. _Obviously I'm the only one who can't sleep._ "Lights...dim for sleeping." As the lights obediently darkened, Billy sighed. He laid back on his bed and stared into the darkness.
_Chaos. My God, what have we gotten into?_
* * *
"...the police are trying to gather clues on the mysterious disappearance of a local young man, Jason Lee Scott. He vanished from Angel Grove almost a week ago after taking a leave of absence from Angel Grove University. His roommate said he hasn't seen him since then, but mentioned he was accompanied by another young man, approximately the same age. Police are concerned since both young men appear to have been involved in several mysterious disappearances in the past connected to Rita and Lord Zedd, the Machine Empire and the Space Pirate, Divatox. As of this hour, we still have been unable to contact the Power Rangers for a comment."
Hank Cranston tried to push back his worries as he watched the newscast. Billy had told him they were working on some new project and not to worry about his disappearance. _As if the words alone would do the trick!_ Hank snorted. _Not likely!_ He knew the Power Rangers and Billy had been associated in the past. He could only hope the same held presently. _I hope they know what they're doing._
* * *
And in Florida.
"...the disappearance of Kimberly Ann Hart has local authorities stumped. Teammates and her coach were equally puzzled and suspect foul play. The police are continuing to pursue all leads, but there seems little to go on, other than a short note to her coach. The young Olympic hopeful was practicing her floor routine, stepped out to take a break and vanished. The local UFO club is claiming alien abduction...."
* * *
"Have you seen Adam Park lately?" The pretty female student shifted her books. "We were going to meet to study and he never showed."
"I heard he took a leave of absence." The young man shrugged. "Maybe he had family problems."
The girl bit her lip, worried for her quiet classmate who had the most gentle eyes she'd ever seen. "I hope he's okay."
* * *
Sarah Oliver pulled Teddy closer as a band of reporters chased them out of the local mall. "Teddy, run for the car. Lock the doors." She handed him the keys and turned to face the mob with an irritated expression. "Leave us alone!"
"Mrs. Oliver! How do you feel about your son's disappearance?"
"Do you think it's true he joined a cult?"
Microphones and cameras crowded closer, each reporter trying to shove his or her mic in front of the woman.
"I have nothing to say at this time." Sarah held her head high, eyes flashing angrily. "Why don't you piranhas leave my family alone!"
"The racing world is wondering where he is, Mrs. Oliver."
Inside the car, Teddy Oliver's expression tightened to one of anger as the reporters continued to surround and harass his mother. He opened the door and stepped out.
"Stay inside, Ted." Detective Trevor Park put a restraining hand on Teddy's arm. The kind expression melted into a disgusted scowl as he looked over at the reporters mobbing Sarah Oliver. "I'll take care of these animals."
Teddy grinned as he got back in the car and locked the door. Adam's dad was gonna wipe the asphalt with those reporters! This was gonna be great -- and he had a seat on the front line.
Every single person jumped as the angry voice roared over the top of the shouted questions. Almost as one, the group turned to face the man.
"This inquisition is over!" Reaching past the reporters, Detective Park pulled Sarah to him. "You vultures should be shot for harassing this woman!" With a last disgusted scowl, he guided Mrs. Oliver over to her car. Quietly he said, "Get in and go, Sarah. I'll call you later." He turned and threw his arms at the mob of reporters still clustered together. "Go on! Get!"
* * *
Eugene Skullovich sat chomping his gum and watching the television. "Hey, Bulkie. Did you know Adam, Tommy and Jason all disappeared the same day?"
"What, lunkhead?" Farcas Bulkmeier scowled as he looked up.
Skull nodded. "Kinda weird, huh? They were always running out from stuff in school too."
Bulk's eyes narrowed as he mulled over what his friend had said. "Hmmm. How much do you wanna bet the others were involved too?" He stood suddenly, knocking his barstool over. "This calls for Bulkmeier and Skullovich, P.I.'s! Come Skully, the game's afoot!"
* * *
A flash of white briefly lit the Power Chamber. A young woman stepped out from the shadows and looked around. "Alpha? Dimitria?"
"Yo! Tanya! What're you doin' here?" Alpha 6 walked forward.
Dimitria appeared in the large tube that dominated the room. "You have heard the news reports and come seeking answers, Tanya?"
"You could say that." Tanya's eyes narrowed angrily. "What's going on, Dimitria? Why have my friends suddenly disappeared?"
"We don't know either, Tanya." Alpha 6 shrugged.
"I see." Tanya circled the room, growing angrier by the moment. "They're not Rangers anymore so who cares, is that how it is?!" She stopped in front of the tube and thrust a finger forward, pointing accusingly. "If you're hiding something, -" _If Adam is hurt..._
"Tanya," Dimitria closed her eyes for a moment then appeared next to Tanya, assuming a the normal proportions of a human. "I assure you, I am also most concerned about the former Rangers disappearances. We are currently watching all former and current team members for fear this might happen to you also."
Distrust, fear, and anger all mixed in Tanya's expression as she bit her lip. "What's going on?" She couldn't help but feel something was horribly wrong. The first place she had thought to run to was the Power Chamber. "What can I do to help?"
Dimitria sighed. She had expected this to happen as soon as the news got out to the former Rangers. It was only a matter of time before all of them showed up, demanding answers and wanting to help. _I think I'm developing a massive headache._
Another flash of light signaled someone else had arrived. "Dimitria?" Kat's soft accented voice was heavy with concern. "What's going on?"
_Definitely a monstrous headache._
* * *
A shrill whistle cut through the mayhem filling the Power Chamber. "GUYS!" T.J. sighed as every eye in the room suddenly focused on him. He grimaced, feeling a little self-conscious. "Uh...we're not gonna get much done without some organization."
_I can't believe how crowded this place is!_
And that was with six of them missing.
"Too bad we couldn't hold a reunion for a happier reason." Aisha Campbell crossed her arms and looked distinctly unhappy. She was thrilled to see her old friends, but was still feeling a little confused about now having two sets of memories. She had almost a dual personality thing going on. Aisha Campbell of Stone Canyon/Angel Grove and Aisha Campbell from Africa. _So much had changed! Has it been that long since I went on my Zeo crystal quest?_ She looked at Tanya again and shook her head. _Even for the Rangers, this is weird!_
"Have you been able to track them at all, Justin?" Rocky De Santos, former Blue Zeo Ranger walked over to stand next to the current holder of that position.
"No." Justin Stewart flicked thick brown hair back, frowning. _I can't even tell if they're on Earth!_ Frustrated, he bashed a fist down on the console. "It's like they vanished off the face of the planet!"
Rocky's eyes widened in surprise at the anger in the boys' voice. Suddenly he felt bad for pressuring the kid. _Like I expect him to be Billy and pop up with the answer to all our problems._ "Justin, you're doing your best."
The boy shrugged, not looking up. _I've GOT to think of something! What would Billy do in this situation?_
There were ten people in the room, counting the current Ranger team. Dimitria was feeling even her infamous patience begin to wear thin as the ten young people prowled around the Power Chamber, each wound to the breaking point. _Do NOT let Rocky have a Jolt._ She kept a close eye on him especially, knowing if he went off he could take the rest with him.
"Maybe Divatox has them?" Cassie shrugged as several skeptical looks were aimed at her. "Hey, it could be why we can't track them, right?"
"It's worth a try." T.J. put a comforting hand on Justin's shoulder and smiled wearily. "Can we check it out, Jay?"
"I'm on it."
"This waiting is driving me crazy!" Zack paced over to Dimitria's tube. "Man, we aren't even safe after we're Rangers!" He spun to face Dimitria. Having just met her that evening, he wasn't exactly certain he liked her. She never gave a straight answer! "And just how would Divatox know who us former Rangers were anyways?"
"Yo, Zack man!" Alpha 6 tilted it's head. "We're all uptight about this, but we can't turn on one another."
"Alpha is correct, Zachary." Dimitria regarded him somberly. "It is perhaps the wish of the enemy to confuse us, unnerve us and turn us one against the other. All here have served as Rangers. I honor that. You are equals in my eyes."
"We'll find them, Zack." Aisha squeezed his arm, and smiled. They had only been re-aquainted that night, but had quite a lot in common. "They might not have any powers but they're still a group to be reckoned with."
"Aisha's right." Kat walked over and stood on his other side. She was tired and worried like the rest, but he seemed to respond better to the other former Rangers rather than the current team. Dredging up a smile she gently squeezed his shoulder. "Jason, Tommy, Billy, Trini, Kim and Adam. They've all been through a lot, with and without powers. Just think of all the experience they have."
"Yeah." Zack nodded, feeling better. Tanya walked over and joined them, feeling closer to them than the current Rangers.
Carlos shook his head and turned to face Ashley, his back to the group. "We're already breaking into groups." He sighed. "I don't think they trust us."
"Give them time, Carlos." Ashley put her arm through his. "They don't really know us yet and they're worried about their friends." She shook her head. "OUR friends."
"Once a Ranger, always a Ranger." T.J. said it clearly, loud enough for everyone to hear it. "We'll find them..." He smiled. "And then we'll have a blow out with all the Rangers."
Dimitria could've kissed the Red Turbo Ranger for the statement as everyone laughed and the tension level went down slightly. It was still going to be a long vigil, but at least they would get through it together. _They are learning more and more what makes them so special is not the Power, but who they are._
"Hey, did you guys hear the one about the piece of string?" Rocky bounced on his toes and grinned.
_Who gave him a Jolt?!_ Dimitria seriously considered placing a call there and then to Zordon and retiring.
Aster stood silent in the middle of the circle, looking searchingly from one face to the next. Her expression indicated nothing, giving the group no clues as to why they were there. All six teens stood in a circle, an arm's length from one another, wondering what the heck the woman was going to do to them now. Time had ceased to exist as they'd trained and trained, until their bruises had bruises. They were faster and stronger for it now, bodies toned to a point none of them had ever thought they could be. * * *
"Man," Tommy's whisper echoed eerily in the corridor. "This place is gigantic. Which way?"
_Is it only me who has noticed the length of time we've been here?_ Billy hid his mental worries behind a stoic mask, uncertain of what Aster would do if he confronted her. He wasn't even certain how long it had been. _Long enough to worry everyone, no doubt._
He pulled his attention back to the present as Aster's gaze focused on him. "The time has come for you to accept your true abilities."
"What abilities?" Jason knew the armor was only armor, lacking power. He had the bruises to prove it.
"Have you paid attention to your training?" Aster's voice was like a whip, causing Jason to recoil slightly.
"Yes." Jason noticed Tommy shift slightly and reined in his temper. "I'm only concerned because we've fought in the past with powered armor and still been wounded at times. This armor is tough, but it wouldn't hold out two seconds against some of the monsters we've fought."
"Are you backing out, Jason Lee Scott?" Aster sneered. She looked at each of them in turn. "Your previous lives as Power Rangers were like children playing superheros. Color codes, secret hiding spots, a mentor to guide you...."
"We're not looking for a mentor anymore." Tommy steeled himself for her reaction. He refused to back down as her eyes bored into his.
"Good." Aster smiled suddenly, her amusement increasing as she saw the group's reaction. "Then perhaps we can move on."
Fuming quietly, Kimberly clenched her hands into fists and made a vow to take the cold-hearted wench down a notch. _Someday...._
Aster closed her eyes and suddenly each of the six was enclosed in a silver sphere. "Then let it begin. Jason Lee Scott, to you goes Fireshadow."
The sphere surrounding Jason was suddenly an fiery inferno, completely obliterating his form.
"Jason!" The other five pushed forward against the spheres, trying to get free and go to their friend. It was like trying to shove through titanium steel. The spheres were see-through, but incredibly resilient.
"Relax," Aster told them. She rolled her eyes. "He's fine."
The flames died down to reveal Jason now wearing metallic black armor. The black color changed as he moved, revealing hints of orange and red in the metal also. His helmet now had a dark visor set in it. Above that was a gold stylized design that was made up of crescents. The largest was like a crescent moon laying flat with the curved edges pointing up. A smaller crescent, backed up against the large one, pointed down. From the curves of the larger crescent two designs whirled out, to curve up and down. They reminded Trini of the symbol used for the zodiac sign Aries.
Aster turned and faced Trini. Raising one eyebrow, she smiled mockingly. "Trini Kwan to you goes Etherealshadow."
The sphere around Trini became completely silver, oblitering any view of her. The others watched silently, knowing what was coming now.
When the silver cleared Trini was gone.
"What?!" Kimberly shoved against the sphere. "Where is she? What have you done with her-"
"Kim, I'm right here."
Everyone except Aster blinked in surprise.
"What? Can't you see me?"
Aster smirked. "Allow me." She waved a hand and Trini appeared.
The metallic black armor encasing Trini's slim form shimmered as she moved, almost seeming to phase out in places. Her helmet was exactly like Jason's.
Not waiting for them to quiet down, Aster continued. "Adam Park, to you goes Crystalshadow."
There was a roaring sound, like that of waves crashing on the beach and Adam's sphere filled with aquamarine light. When he reappeared, he was wearing black metallic armor that had a blue-green tint to it.
"Kimberly Ann Hart." Aster strolled over to look the young woman up and down. She seemed to find Kim's angry flush amusing as she smiled coolly. "To you goes Solarshadow."
The others had to look away as the sphere containing Kim began to glow yellow-orange. It increased until it was pure white, then with a flash it dissipated and Kim stood wearing black metallic armor that almost rippled as she moved, like heat shimmering off pavement on a hot day.
Tommy tore his gaze from her as Aster stopped before him. "Thomas Oliver. To you goes Moonshadow."
Silver-white light filled Tommy's sphere. They broke into motes, looking like silver mercury as they danced around him. Circling him, they began to disappear into him forming into black metallic armor with a silver sheen to it.
"William Cranston. To you goes Sonicshadow." Aster stepped back into the center of the circle.
Billy looked down as a silver mist filled the bottom of his sphere. Slowly it turned black and started to creep up his legs. As it went, armor encased him, until he was completely covered in black metallic armor.
The silver spheres dropped away from the six.
"There are no ridiculous calls to summon your abilities." Aster shook her head. "You are Warriors, silent and cunning. Merely think of your shadow ability and it will be summoned." She looked at them and her expression sobered. "Do not think this is over. It has only begun. If you survive and prove adept you will be ready to face Chaos. This is the calling you are now given over to."
The words sent a chill down Billy's spine and he swallowed hard. Her words had the ring of finality. Words sprang to his lips almost unbidden. "And if we chose not to continue?"
Aster shook her head. "There is no turning back." With that, she walked out of the circle and turned. "Training is now part of your lives, not set sessions. If you chose to try and live your former lives..." She shrugged. "Go ahead, try. You have been given over to one purpose now, and it will not be denied."
"We can leave?"
Aster's smile was mocking. "There are no chains fettering you, are there?"
"There are no doors letting us out either," Kim snapped. She couldn't wait to get away from there.
The woman's amused look grew. "Indeed? There are ways to leave, Solarshadow. Expand your horizons above that of the mundane." Shaking her head, Aster turned and walked away. She reminded them, "Simply will your armor away, Shadows." Aster disappeared.
"Some day, I'm gonna-"
"Kim." Jason sighed. "Not now."
Billy concentrated for a moment and the armor melted away much as it had formed. "Fascinating."
"I'm outta here." Kim scowled and the armor melted off her form. She looked around. "So how do I get out?"
"I suspect we are capable of a form of teleport." Billy looked at her. "Try concentrating on where you want to go, Kimberly."
"But..." The petite brunette shook her head. "I don't have a communicator on."
"Above the mundane." Trini echoed Aster's words. "I don't think we need them anymore, Kim." As the armor faded off Trini's slender form she walked over to her friend. "Here. Let's try together." She took Kim's arm. "Close your eyes and concentrate on where you want to go...."
With a silent wash of silver light, the two girls disappeared from the chamber.
"Amazing." Jason turned from the spot the girls had been in to find Tommy, Billy and Adam experimenting with the armor. Tommy's body was encased in the metallic armor, but his head was not. "Did you take the helmet off?"
"No." Tommy looked surprised. "I was wishing I could and -" He shrugged. "Suddenly the armor was gone from my head."
"All we do is wish it off whatever portion we want and it does so." Billy pointed to Adam who had both of his hands free.
"This is strange." Adam fisted his hands. The black armor ended just above his wrists. He frowned slightly and almost quicker than any of their eyes could follow, the armor once again encased his hands. "It's flexible on our hands, just like our old gloves were, but it feels different."
"I wish I could run some tests on this compound." Billy was definitely intrigued by the metallic armor.
"Why can't you?" Tommy asked with a shrug. "Aster said we could leave."
Billy looked at him, as if weighing his options.
"I'll go with you." Adam let the armor slither off his body and shivered slightly at the odd sensation the effect produced.
"Be careful." Jason knew the caution wasn't necessary, but it was almost a reflex.
"Will do." Billy smiled. He and Adam 'ported out.
"So," Tommy concentrated and the armor dissipated. "What now?"
Jason gestured to the right and the two young men crept silently down the corridor. They had no idea where they were going or even where they were. This was a part of the complex they had never explored.
_Like we had time._ Jason gave a mental snort. _All we've seen are our quarters and that dang training simulator._
Light under a doorway caught their attention and they froze. Slowly the door opened and someone walked out.
Both young men held their breath, waiting for Aster's stinging words of rebuke.
"Guys!" Billy was a little pale as he stood backlit by the wash of light coming out of the open door. "I was going to go look for you."
Jason's eyebrows rose in surprise and he turned to Tommy who looked equally baffled. "I thought you were going to your lab?"
"Yeah," A wry smile twisted Billy's lips. "So did we. This is where we ended up." His expression sobered. "We've got something you need to see."
_Uh-oh._ Tommy didn't like the way Billy said that. He braced himself for bad news and followed Jason into the room
* * *
"Hey!" Kim made a moue of disgust. "This is NOT where I pictured!" She turned to look accusingly at Trini.
The Asian girl shrugged. "Me neither." She looked around their quarters with a perplexed frown. If you chose to try and live your former lives.... Go ahead, try. You have been given over to one purpose now, and it will not be denied. _Was Aster telling us we're actually stuck here?_ Trini got the feeling that was precisely what the woman meant. She turned her attention to Kim who was shoving her things into her gym bag, muttering angrily.
"...kidnap us, don't give us a chance to speak our minds, work our butts harder than Coach Schmidt ever did and expect ME to kiss your feet!" Kim zipped her bag up and straightened with a determined look. "I am leaving."
Trini blinked at the pronouncement. _I know that look._ Kim was a flake about some things, but once she set her mind to doing something, it was probably easier to turn the current of the Mississippi River. "Okay. I'll go too." Trini grabbed her jacket, following Kim out into the corridor. _Someone has to keep you out of trouble!_
In the depths of space, far beyond Pluto a lone ship flew stealthily. Onboard was one occupant. He sat staring at the viewscreen with a brooding frown. "D.E.C.A., did we lose them?" * * *
Silence so oppressive it was almost a second gravity held the group spellbound. Jason stared at Billy as if he'd grown a second head and it had introduced itself.
"Affirmative, Andros," the computerized feminine voice answered.
"Good." He nodded and turned his attention to the hologram of the system. "Set a course for Panjera." Under his breath he muttered, "I want to find that little loud mouth before Dark Specter does."
"Course set, Andros."
"Hyperrush eight, D.E.C.A."
"What?" Shaking his head, Jason refused to understand what his friend was telling him. "Are you sure? Maybe the sensors aren't right...."
"We checked them against other systems." Adam sighed, adding quietly, "we didn't want to believe it either.
Tommy cleared his throat and looked from Adam to Billy. "Then where are we?"
Billy shook his head. "Somewhere beyond Pluto. Nowhere familiar to me."
It unsettled Jason to find they had been off Earth probably since Florida and hadn't known. "Our families are gonna be going ballistic." A frown creased his forehead. "Is there some way to get a message back to Earth?"
"Communications have been disabled." Billy shook his head. "We already tried."
"Damnit," Tommy growled in a low voice. "Aster knew this whole time we couldn't leave and lied to us!" He wasn't exactly surprised, but the discovery did tick him off. "Where is she?"
"Looking for me, MoonShadow?" Aster walked in, the mocking smile they were all beginning to associate with her curving her lips. "I did tell you."
"Not straight." Jason walked over to stand in front of her, his temper under tight control. Clenching his jaw he mentally counted to ten before continuing. "What kind of game are you playing?"
The smile dropped off the woman's face, her eyes becoming ice cold. "Listen to me well,
FireShadow. You have been given over to one purpose now. Your former lives are gone." Aster raised her chin and narrowed her eyes. "Go against me on this and you will see exactly what I mean."
Jason tensed, raising one hand to point at her. Before he could say a word, Tommy was in Aster's face, his dark expression promising trouble. "What makes you think we're your puppets? I've been a puppet, lady." Tommy shook his head, dark eyes flashing. "Never again." He stepped back to stand next to Jason. "You picked the wrong group to screw around with."
"We won't cooperate." Jason's voice was low and calm, a sure sign he was very angry. Adam and Billy came over and stood with the others. All wore resolute expressions of determination on their faces.
"Oh?" Aster raised one eyebrow. "Care to make a wager, gentlemen?" Her smile dropped a few degrees. A flash of silver heralded the arrival of Trini and Kimberly who looked around in confusion.
"Where are we?"
"You'll do whatever I tell you to."
Kim dropped her bag. "That's it!" She took a step towards Aster, all set to slap the smirk off the woman's face.
Silver light flooded the room, engulfing the six like a sudden squall. It died almost as suddenly, leaving six figures now morphed into their armor.
Billy willed the armor away but found it did no good. He swallowed hard, realizing just what kind of power the woman had over them.
"Like I said..." Aster smirked. "You're mine." She winked and the group disappeared in a flash of silver. "Rookies."
* * *
Tommy felt the solid ground drop out from under him as his view flashed to silver. There was a moment of total disorientation then suddenly he slammed into a hard surface. "OOF!" Even with armor, he felt that! He sat up and looked around. The small command screen on his helmet offered a menu of choices and he realized he had no idea how to use it.
_But... We always just knew before. The power took over and gave us the knowledge._ Tommy swallowed hard as he realized this wasn't the power he was used to. Nothing was coming. No knowledge, no sudden promptings...nothing. Nada.
"Great." He stood up and looked around. Wherever he was, it looked deserted. "Jase? Billy? Adam?" Tommy sighed. "Anyone?"
Through the internal comm Tommy heard the grunts and sounds of impact that indicated a fight going on. "Billy?"
Where are you?!
Tommy spun in a circle, looking around for any sign of his teammates. "Where am I," he muttered in irritation. "Where are you?"
Currently getting the snot beat out of m- OOF! Billy's signal cut out suddenly.
"Shit!" Tommy didn't normally cuss, but this day was going from bad to worse. Rapidly. Taking a deep breath he closed his eyes and thought about the way things had worked in his previous Ranger positions. It had been automatic, but he had still needed to complete the actions. "Activate tracking."
Opening his eyes, he grinned. "Yes..." He had a heads-up on the entire team in a neat little graphic on the lower right hand side of his view. Closing his eyes, he envisioned the site that showed Billy's signal and willed himself there.
* * *
Jason opened his eyes and found himself staring at Trini and Adam. He started back in surprise. They were almost helmet to helmet. "What the-"
He broke off as Adam suddenly careened forward, knocking both Trini and Jason on the ground. They landed in a heap.
Looking up, Jason saw why Adam had decided to imitate a bowling ball and quickly disentagled himself. Jumping to his feet he pulled Trini up. Adam bounced to his feet. All three stanced.
"What are they?"
"Ugly." Trini grimaced.
Twelve beings faced the trio, grinning and elbowing one another.
_Laugh it up, bozos!_ Jason had plenty of pent-up anger he was more than willing to vent on the beings, but first he had to be certain. "What do you want?"
The six guffawed loudly, snorting and pointing at them. One, the largest and burliest of the group, stepped forward. "Your hides hung on our trophy wall," it grunted. That set the six into more gales of laughter.
Jason clenched his fists, a grim smile curving his lips. "You're welcome to try." He saw Adam and Trini set themselves and gave free rein to all that anger as he launched himself at the creatures.
* * *
"Oh, this...." Kimberly looked around in dismay. "This is the limit!" With an annoyed growl, she looked around. "Hello!" She stomped her foot. "Where is everyone! This is not funny!"
_PMS has nothing on how I feel right now._ Kim was royally ticked off. A burning anger filled her she had only felt once before, on Muranthias while under Divatox's spell. "I am gonna kick someone's butt into the twelth of never!" _A certain blonde someone._
A sudden noise made her whirl, heart pounding. "Who's there?!"
Kim bit her lip. _Oh God...do I even remember how this works?_ Momentarily forgetting the potential danger, she frowned. _Wait! This used to be automatic!_ It was not something she had enjoyed at first -- the feeling of being filled and almost taken over. She hated that feeling of losing control. _At least it directed my movements. Guess I'm on my own here._
Licking her lips nervously, Kim turned in a circle. Nothing.
Taking a deep breath, she decided to investigate. _I'm armored. Aster, even if she is a platinum bitch, said we had abilities. I'll just learn on the go._ Gulping, she began to walk in the direction she had heard something. _Hope it's just a lizard, or something...._
* * *
Billy gritted his teeth and backflipped until he put some distance between him and the goons trying to beat him into a pancake. Coming upright again, he grumbled, "Tommy, I could really -"
A black blur passed him and smashed into four of the thugs coming after him. They crashed to the ground, grunting in surprise and took out two more of their cohorts.
Blinking Billy realized he could barely see Tommy moving through the mass of attackers. _The clinical study's going to have to wait!_ Two of the huge swine-like creatures were coming at him, waving massive clubs.
"Bill! Try to figure out what abilities Aster gave you!" Tommy was weaving and ducking the barbed clubs the creatures were swinging at him like maniac dancer doped up on speed.
_Abilities._ Billy frowned, calling to mind what the woman had said. _To you goes SonicShadow._ "Great," he muttered and dropped to sweep the feet out of one of the creatures. A club whistled over his head and he rolled to one side. "Does this mean I'm some sort of hedgehog?" Grinning at the porcine attackers, Billy added, "No insult guys, but being a hog of any sort-" He snap kicked, managing to knock one of the creatures back. "is not my thing!"
_Sonic is the speed of sound..._ Billy ducked one blow but missed the one from the other side. He tumbled sideways, unhurt, but shaken. Rolling to his feet he decided discretion was the better part of valor and ran. Fortunately the beings were slow, lumbering after him with grunts and squeals.
Tommy was having better luck taking out his opponents. His trademark "Sie-kyah!" accompanied the grunts and snorts of the porcine attackers. Soon only two stood facing him. Executing a complicated kata he leaped towards them, hands formed like the claws of a predator.
Eyes wide, the creatures backed away, turned and ran. Tommy laughed at the unique sight of two huge pig-like creatures running away squealing. He turned to see how Billy was doing. "Uh oh." _Looks like Bill hasn't figured out what the heck Aster's little gift to him is yet._
Billy was getting a little frustrated. _It's hard to figure anything out with two slobbering creatures trying to bash your brains out!_ So far his gymnastic training was keeping him at a safe distance from them.
He saw a black blur coming at him and grinned. "Teamwork!" Jauntily saluting the two creatures, Billy grinned. "See ya!" He leaped up and over them just as the black blur barreled into them sending them crashing.
_Amazing. Tommy never moved that fast before..._ Billy watched as his friend took out the creatures before they could do any more damage. He walked over and nodded. "What took you so long, Oliver?"
"Nice," Tommy grumbled. The two high-fived each other.
"So, how did you figure out what to do?" Billy truly was intrigued.
Tommy shrugged. "It's not in the name, really. Aster gave us powers that match abilities we already have. Mine's to be sneaky."
Billy heard the grin in his voice and nodded. "Hmm." _SonicShadow. Speed of sound. Physics. Natural laws?_ "Let me try something..." Concentrating, Billy stared at the bulky beings.
One began to slowly rise up off the ground.
"Whoa." Tommy stared in amazement. "Cool." He looked at Billy. "So SonicShadow is...?"
"My theory is it correlates to the scientific laws of nature." Billy lowered the creature and turned to Tommy. "Gravity, speed, mass."
Tommy grimaced. "You got the power of physics?"
The comment made Billy chuckle. "I suppose it is appropriate."
"Wonder what the others got?" Tommy frowned. "We'd better try to find them."
* * *
Adam and Trini stood back to back as the pig-like creatures hefted clubs spiked with wickedly sharp prongs and yelled what must be a battle cry. "Charge of the Pork Brigade!"
Trini choked back a laugh and honed her focus on the burly group of squealing, grunting thugs lumbering towards her and Adam. _Focus. Concentrate. It's been so long since I was actually in a fight..._
A muffled "oof!" behind her told her one of the clubs had connected with Adam. Trini ducked to avoid getting hit and swung around, using her momentum to lash out in a wicked kick that sent one of the fighters tumbling. Two more converged on her, grinning evilly as they rushed to crush her between them.
"Alley oop!" Trini jumped up and somersaulted, bounding over the top of one of the goon's heads. Momentum did the job and the two thugs collided, sprawling back with grunts of surprise.
Adam had found his rhythm and made short work of the three piggish fighters who attacked him. One last roundhouse kick and the remaining fighter crashed to the ground.
"He's okay." Trini held Adam back, shaking her head. She'd seen Jason like this before, although not often. "Watch."
The six fighters had surrounded Jason. He held still, body relaxed and alert at the same time, turning slightly to keep the goons off-guard.
One of the porcine fighters bound forward, club raised to smash the armored figure.
Jason stepped aside at the last moment, grabbed the burly creature's arm, and used it's momentum to shove it into two of it's comrades. He whirled and whipped his leg out, taking out one with a kick to the head. Dropping down, he punched up with both fists, hitting the creature in it's gut. It dropped to it's knees, sqealing in pain.
Bounding to his feet, Jason faced the last standing fighter. The creature looked past the armored figure, saw his companions laying on the ground groaning and made an executive decision.
He turned and ran.
Shaking his head, Jason turned to face the others. "You two okay?"
"Fine." Adam examined the armor where he'd been in the side by one of the creatures. "I'm just glad this stuff is powered armor now."
"No kidding." Trini sighed. "All those practice sessions with just armor paid off."
Jason? You there, bro?
"Tommy? Where are you?" Jason wondered briefly how he'd figured out the way to get the communicator in the helmet to work.
I'm with Bill. We're heading towards you, but it -
"Tommy?!" Jason tapped the side of his helmet. "Bill?"
A black smudge was moving towards the trio, moving so fast it was on them as soon as they saw it.
"WHOA!" The blur zoomed past the group and skidded to a halt, revealing it to be two more armored figures.
"I overshot that a little." Billy couldn't help the smugness in his tone. "How's that for timely delivery, Mr. Oliver?"
Tommy swayed slightly, a little overcome by the speed of their journey. "Man..." He bent over to lean his hands against his knees. "What a head rush!"
"You okay?" Jason walked over to stand between them. "What just happened?"
"I figured out what abilities, or at least a part of them, Aster bestowed on me." Billy felt astonishingly good considering how fast he had run -- and that, carrying Tommy also. "SonicShadow seems to be power over natural laws of science."
"Super speed," Trini said in amazement. "Billy, if that's true -"
He shrugged. "I haven't tested all my theories yet, but I was able to effect gravity and velocity."
"Where's Kimberly?" Adam looked around.
"She isn't with you?" Tommy straightened.
"We thought she might have ended up with you two." _Considering her state of mind..._ "We'd better look for her, guys." Trini checked the readout on her visor. "I'm not picking her up anywhere."
"I think we should stay together." Jason looked around to see the rest nodding. "Any suggestions?"
A dizzying wave washed over Trini and she swayed slightly. Adam steadied her. "You okay?"
"I think so." She took a deep breath, trying to counteract the light-headed feeling. "I just-"
"Trini?" Billy took her other arm as the girl swayed again. "Maybe you should sit down."
His voice came to her as if he were far away. Trini felt disconnected, as if she was in two places at one time. The dizziness intensified. Everything was spinning, then with a lurch, suddenly stopped.
Trini looked around and realized she was looking down at the group. They were all clustered around one armored form laying on the ground. _Oh my God! That's me!_ As if from miles away, she could make out echoes of what they were saying. _They think I died. But..._ She could feel a connection, like a silver cord, running between her and her body. Reaching out, she grasped it and began to pull herself back. _Guys, hang on! I'm okay! I'm on my way back!_
"Trini?" Billy looked up and then back down at the unconscious form.
"You heard it too?" Tommy sounded relieved.
"It was Trini! But-" Adam shook his head. "She sounded-"
"Far away." Jason nodded. He bent and tried to take her helmet off. It wouldn't budge.
"The armor isn't like our old suits, Jason." Billy shook his head. "It's actually one continuous covering. Adam and I experimented some more with it."
"Trini will have to will it off." Adam's voice was subdued. _I just hope she can!_
_Guys? You heard me?_
"Yes," all four of them answered in unison. They looked at one another then at Trini's body.
_This is strange._
"Trini," Billy looked around, wondering if he could see her in her current form. "I suspect this has to do with your being EtherealShadow."
"Of course!" Tommy slapped his helmet.
_You mean, I can travel out of my body?_
"So it would seem." Billy shrugged. "What were you doing before you...separated?"
_Thinking of Kim and wondering where she was._
"Maybe that's the way to do it," Adam theorized.
"You mean Trini was going to Kimberly, without really going?" Jason felt a little out of his element, and it made him uncomfortable.
"Astral Projection." Tommy shrugged. "Looks like that's at least one of your abilities, Trini." The subject wasn't one Tommy was well-versed on, but his sensei had touched on it in conversations.
"Perhaps if you think of Kimberly again..."
_Guys, I'm going somewhere._ Trini felt herself moving, without any physical sensation of movement. The ground rushed away from her at a ferocious pace as she soared like a bird up into the sky and over the landscape.
Jason sat with a thump and shook his head. "Sometimes being a Ranger was weird, but this beats it all."
"Life has definitely become more interesting." Tommy grinned and sat next to him. "So, what do you think your abilities are?"
* * *
_I would really like to have my Power Bow again._ Kim walked slowly, stopping to look around every few steps. Her heart was pounding, her mouth was dry.... _Just like the old days._ The wry thought made her smile and she felt a little better. _I just wish I wasn't alone._
Some rocks rattled to the ground and Kimberly whirled to face that direction. Steeling herself, she made her voice as commanding as possible. "I know you're there! Come out and show yourself!"
An odd wooshing mechanical noise behind her was the only notice she got. Instinct took over and Kimberly dove to one side just as a metal blade whistled past her helmet.
"Yikes!" Rolling to her feet, Kim saw a group of six metal, android-like beings attacking. Some were primarily grey, some black. Both colors had a chest shield and armor, and a helmet that reminded her of the Stormtropers from Star Wars. Four of them carried some sort of crescent-shaped, two-handed weapons that had blades on both ends.
"What are you guys? Rejects from George Lucas' next movie?" Kimberly knew she couldn't possibly win a fight against six of them, not without some help. _Why doesn't the power tell me what to do?!_ Gathering herself, she backflipped away to gain some space.
The metal things charged after her.
Kim braced herself, hoping some of what she had learned as a Ranger would come back.
Stancing, she set her feet to kick the one heading straight for her.
"GET DOWN!" A figure in Red armor suddenly leaped in front of her, grabbed the android's sword and shoved it back.
Kim didn't argue. She ducked down and let whoever her rescuer was fight off the beings. _At least until I figure out how to use whatever SolarShadow is!_
From nowhere the guy in red produced a sword that looked something like a drill bit and started using it to carve up the androids.
Kim watched in awe as he made short work of the metal attackers. She didn't recognize his armor, but he was obviously a Ranger of some sort. Seeing the last metal android fall to the ground in a smoking heap, Kim stood up. She felt pretty foolish, and for once, was glad of the helmet that covered her face.
"Um..." She looked around then back at Red, who was standing facing her. "Thank you. I don't know-"
"What are you doing here? Don't you know how dangerous it is on Panjera?" Red stalked over to stand in front of her. "You should leave. Now."
Taken aback by his abrupt, almost rude manner, Kim ruffled. "I'd leave in a heartbeat, buddy! I don't know how!" She crossed her arms and glared up at him. "And it wasn't exactly my choice-"
"Look," Red cut her off. "I don't have time to chat." He took her arm and pulled her along with him. "You're leaving."
* * *
Trini fought the dizziness that assaulted her senses, feeling like she was swimming to the surface as she struggled to regain her equilibrium. _Guys!_ "Guys!"
"Trini!" They crowded around her. "What-"
"No time." Trini sat up, ignoring the way the world tilted crazily. "I found Kimberly. She's with some guy in red armor who looks like a Ranger. Not to far from here. We need to go!"
Billy opened his mouth to volunteer when the world went silver.
* * *
"WAIT!" Kimberly yanked her arm free from Red's grip. "I'm not going anywhere!"
"The quantrons will be back, with a larger force." Red turned to face her, clearly impatient. "Are you up to facing that?"
"Then stop arguing and come-" Red broke off as silver light suddenly flared in front of them.
When it cleared, five figures in black armor stood before them. One sagged slightly. "I did it!"
Jason didn't waste time wondering how Trini had managed to get them there. He stepped forward. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tommy move to stand to one side of the guy in the red armor. "Kimberly! You okay?"
"Guys!" Kim ran to join them, grabbing Trini's arm. "Boy am I glad to see you!"
Stepping forward, Jason had a weird feeling of deja vu as he looked at the red armored figure before him. _Must be what we looked like._ "Who are you?"
"He helped me," Kim called. "A bunch of metal goons attacked me and he fought them off."
Red was warily watching them, obviously uncomfortable as he shifted his gaze from them to Tommy who stood off to his left. "Who are you?"
"We're from Earth," Jason explained. "How we got here is a long story." He held out his hand. "Thanks for helping Kimberly."
Red recoiled slightly, as if expecting an attack as Jason held out his hand. He turned his head to look at Tommy who was still standing off to his left.
Holding up his hands, Tommy moved away, back towards Jason and the others. "Sorry, man. Didn't know whose side you're on."
Almost reluctantly the figure in red stretched out his hand and briefly shook Jason's hand. "I am the Red Lightstar Ranger." He stepped back, releasing Jason's hand. "If you are from Earth, you are quite far from home."
"Don't we know it," Jason sighed. "Hey, I'm Jason."
For some reason Tommy was almost reluctant to say his name. He regarded Red, almost postive the Ranger was scrutinizing him just as cautiously. The memory of Jason offering his hand to him right after the Sword of Darkness had been destroyed popped into his mind unbidden. Squaring his shoulders, Tommy held out his hand. "Tommy."
Red briefly shook his hand. "I am called Andros."
"Thanks, Andros," Kimberly said. "You saved my butt back there."
"You must leave Panjera," Andros told Jason. "It is not safe to remain."
"We can't just leave you." Jason shook his head. "You're a Ranger."
"Where's your team?" Tommy looked around warily.
"I fight alone."
Tommy stared at the lone figure in red. _My God, that was me once._ He heard the tone of arrogance, but there was a bitter tinge of loneliness to it. "You don't have to." Tommy's words were quiet.
Andros faced him. "I do not know who you are, other than you're from Earth and you wear armor unfamiliar to me." A brief electronic pulse sounded from his wrist. He shook his head and raised his wrist to his helmet. "What?"
"Andros," an electronic feminine voice spoke from his communicator. "The Dark Fortress just appeared in orbit around Panjera."
"On my way." Andros looked them over and shook his head. "You'd better leave."
Before any of them could say another word, the Red Ranger teleported out in a flash of red.
"How rude!" Kimberly complained.
"Guys, we need to figure out what we're gonna do." Jason gestured for everyone to gather around. "I don't know what the Dark Fortress is, but it can't be good."
"How do we get back?" Adam asked. "We don't even know where Aster is really."
"Maybe we click our heels three times and say there's no place like home," Tommy muttered dryly.
"I suspect we've been monitored the entire time." Billy began.
The area suddenly flared with silver light and when it died, the six were gone.
"Eccliptor," Astronema stared at the screen with a brooding expression. She was a beautiful young woman, long hair flowing in purple waves down her back. A headband with a long, dangling decoration circled her head. Her black bodysuit was armored in places, but left no doubt that here was an attractive woman. "Did you notice that energy spike just now?" * * *
"Yes, my Princess." The henchman almost blended in to the darkness of the space fortress. Black armor encased his body, with green lines running up and down in a criss-cross pattern. "Running a scan through the database now."
Astronema narrowed her eyes as she looked down at Panjera. She wasn't as old as many of the would-be villans Dark Specter had gathered under his banner, but she was ambitious and smart. "It wasn't Phantom Ranger again, was it?"
"No." Eccliptor didn't look up as he ran the computer through the litany of possibilities for the energy spike. "It doesn't match his profile."
"And you ruled out the Red Lightstar Ranger?" Astronema knew Eccliptor was capable, but felt the need to assert her knowlege -- just in case he got any thoughts that she wasn't up to par.
"Yes, Princess." The henchman's voice was a raspy whisper, but full of respect. He knew what Astronema was capable of, even if she hadn't realized her full potential yet. He intended to make sure she was at the head of the laughable crew Dark Specter had assembled. "The MegaShip was here, but is no longer orbiting Panjera."
"Very well." Astonema smiled, a cold, chilling smile that never reached her eyes. "Inform me the moment the computer correlates it."
Eccliptor bowed respectfully. "I will, my Princess."
_Something is not right._ She shook her head. _The balance has been disturbed._ With one final look at the planet, Astronema left the bridge.
"Mom!" Teddy Oliver regarded the two young men standing in the doorway skeptically. "You gotta see this!"
"What's up, squirt?" Chelsea Oliver, still holding her calc book in her hand, joined her brother at the front door. She grinned when she saw who was standing there. "Oh. Hello, Bulk. Skull. What brings you guys here?"
Bulk saluted. " Bulkmeier and Skullovich, P.I.'s at your service." He grinned at the attractive girl. In school, he'd been intimidated by the idea of even asking her out seeing she was Tommy's sister. Now, however, with Tommy gone.... _Might be the opportunity of a lifetime!_
"Yeah," Skull grinned. "We're investigating your brother's disappearance. The others too, but we wanted to ask you some questions about Tommy." He eyed the boy standing next to Chelsea curiously. _The kid could be a miniature Tommy!_
Teddy started laughing, not bothering to cover up his opinion of the two. Shaking his head, he let his mom take his place at the door, and walked away, still giggling.
Sarah Oliver stood next to Chelsea. "Oh... Hello, boys. How can we help you?"
"They opened a detective agency after graduation, mom." Chelsea tried to keep a straight face. It was hard with Skull chomping away on his gum and Bulk doing his best to ignore it. "They're investigating Tommy and the other's disappearances." _If they only knew HALF of what we know about Tommy...._
"I see." Sarah Oliver kept a pleasant smile on her face. "Well, come in then, boys." _It can't hurt to have two more people looking._ She closed the door, following them into the house as Chelsea answered a question about school. _I really don't think there's much of a problem with them figuring out who Tommy and the others really were, after all._
That settled, Sarah waited until they sat down. "Can I get you something to drink, boys?" _Anything to help find my son!_
* * *
"Dad?" Franklin Park walked over to where his dad stood in the back yard, staring up at the night sky.
"Hmm?" Trevor Park turned and saw his youngest son watching him sadly. In the dim light he could see his resemblance to Adam and his throat tightened. "What's up, Frank?"
He tried to smile, only partially succeeding.
Franklin wasn't usually demonstrative. Between the fact that it wasn't cool and his age, he just wasn't in to showing a lot of affection. This whole situation was a new game though. He'd just comforted his mother after finding her misty-eyed as she stood in Adam's old room. She'd clutched him tighter than he'd ever been hugged by her before -- like she didn't ever want to let go.
It had scared him a little.
Now here was his father, the tough, street-wise, Detective Park, standing in the back yard, staring up at space with a longing look in his eyes. "Adam will be okay, Dad." Franklin knew about Adam. His brother had told all of them. "He's smart and he's a good fighter."
Trevor stared at his son. _When did he get so smart?_ Reaching out, he pulled Franklin to him, hugging him in a rare show of affection. Trevor closed his eyes, his cheek against Franklin's hair. _Please, God. Keep Adam safe._ He kissed his son's hair and held him back to smile at him. _And thank you for blessing me with two wonderful sons._ "You're right, Frank...but thanks for the reminder."
Shrugging, Franklin looked away, embarrassed. "You hungry, Dad? I saw some leftover turkey in the fridge, perfect for a sandwich."
* * *
_Who in the world could that be?_ Hank Cranston sighed heavily and opened the door. His expression turned to one of surprise. "Mr. and Mrs. Kwan!" Stepping back he opened the door and ushered them in. "Come in, please."
"We're sorry to bother you Hank, but we wondered if you had any information on the kids?" The couple looked hopeful as they sat in the livingroom.
Hank sat, a sad smile curving his lips. "No. I haven't heard from Billy at all."
"Oh." Mrs. Kwan looked down, tears pooling in her eyes. "We had hoped...."
"We were over at the Scott's earlier and they haven't heard from Jason either." Mr. Kwan sighed heavily. "It makes no sense! These are good kids -- the best! Why would they just disappear?"
_So Trini never told her parents about the Rangers._ Hank sighed. That severely limited what he could tell them. _Sounds like Jason never told his either._ "Once, when Billy disappeared for some time, two Rangers showed up on my door."
"Power Rangers?" Mrs. Kwan paled slightly. "It couldn't have been for a good reason."
Hank smiled. "Actually they came to assure me that Billy was doing fine, but was helping them and that was why he was gone." He shrugged. "Don't know about your daughter, but Billy was always disappearing for a time, then he'd show up again. Once the Rangers explained he was helping them..." Hank nodded. "It made sense. That was why he was always bolting off somewhere without an explanation."
He leaned forward to pat Mrs. Kwan's hand. "I know Trini. She and Billy were good friends. There's no doubt in my mind that she was probably helping the Rangers also."
"Do you think..." Mr. Kwan took a breath, letting it out. "Maybe, Trini is with him?"
"Definitely." Hank smiled, blue-green eyes twinkling. "I'd be willing to lay you money that's where the other kids are too."
"Hank...." Mrs. Kwan smiled. "Thank you. You don't know how much that makes me feel better."
Mr. Kwan took his wife's hand. "Those kids have been together a long time. If they are in this as a team, I'm sure they'll be all right."
"Honey, we should tell the Scotts." Mrs. Kwan turned to Hank. "That is all right, isn't it?"
Hank shrugged. "Sure. I haven't seen any of the Rangers for a while, but if they show up again, I'll tell them to go see you and the others too." He stood as the Kwans got up and walked them to the door. "Tell Jason's folks hello for me."
"Will do." Mr. Kwan shook his hand.
Mrs. Kwan hugged him. "Thank you, Hank."
Hank closed the door after they drove off and sighed. "Billy, I hope you're all right." He smiled sadly at a picture on a the table. It was of Billy and him. "I sure do miss you, son."
* * *
"I don't care what it takes," Kimberly's mother insisted. She frowned at the phone. "Just find my daughter."
Mrs. Trudeaux, I assure you, we are doing all we can to find her. There are simply no clues to go on. She walked out of the gymnasium and from there, the trail ends.
"Look I hired you to find her. How hard can it be? She's a world-class gymnast! Her face is known! Just...question everyone on the team. They probably know more than they're letting on." Kate Trudeaux's hand shook as tears formed in her eyes. "Please...." Her voice broke. "Just find her."
She set the phone down with a thunk.
"Kate, cherie." Pierre came over and helped his wife stand, enfolding her in his arms. "Do not fall apart. Kimberly is a strong, spirited girl. She is smart." He kissed her forehead. "You will see. Do not lose faith, ma chere."
"I miss her so much!" Kate cried into his shoulder. "Oh, God! Why did I ever let her talk me into letting her go to Florida by herself?" _Please, please, God. Let my little girl be safe!_
* * *
"Hey." Rocky sat on the ground next to Katherine. "What's goin' on?"
"Nothing." Katherine's smile was sad. "I took a leave from the Ballet School." She picked some blades of grass and shredded them. "I just can't concentrate on ballet right now."
"Yeah. I know what you mean." Rocky sighed. "Going back and forth between here and Stone Canyon is no big deal, but I swear I know every pothole on that highway!"
"How's the dojo?" Kat ripped up another blade of grass, letting the pieces fall in a green shower.
"Good." Rocky grinned. "Mr. Tsukino has been great about giving me a little extra time." He sighed and sat back against the tree, staring up at the blue sky. "Have you seen the others?"
"Mm-hmm." Kat smiled. "Aisha is staying with me. She and Zack were going rollerblading today. Tanya had a job interview at KZAP."
"She's gonna stay then." Rocky sighed, torn between feeling glad she would be around, and sad she was giving up her singing career. Again. "Kat, what are we doing?"
"What?" The young woman brushed a curl of long blonde hair out of her face as she looked at him in surprise.
"It's like we're waiting around for something." Rocky pushed himself to his feet. "Something that might not happen."
"You're wrong, Rocky." Kat stood and brushed her shorts off. A firm look of resolution settled on her face. "We'll find them. I know we will."
Rocky smiled, feeling better for some reason. "Well, okay. If you say so." He grinned. "I'm hungry? Wanna go get something to -"
He broke off as a dozen figures suddenly appeared in front of them. They were humanoid, but there were no features, or faces on them. Instead there was a sickly green outline shimmering around them filled in with...nothing. No eyes, no ears. No hair or mouth. Looking at them was like looking into the bottomless pit -- it looked like the swirling darkness never ended.
"Kat, run!" Rocky shoved her behind him, knowing without powers neither one of them stood a chance.
Before either one of them could speak they were swept up in a teleportation beam.
The Power Chamber appeared before their eyes.
"Alpha, summon the Turbo Rangers and tell them to morph immediately and go to the park." Dimitria looked at Kat and Rocky. "It is as I feared. All of you who have been Rangers are now targets."
Zack and Aisha suddenly 'ported in, rollerblades carrying them forward still until they crashed against the wall.
"Hey!" Zack helped Aisha to her feet. "Next time want to warn us first?" He spotted Rocky and Kat. "What-"
Tanya appeared and strode forward, a grim frown on her face. "What's going on, Dimitria? Did you find them?"
"At least she wasn't teleported in unawares," Zack muttered. He and Aisha pulled their rollerblades off and set them down out of the way.
"I was on my way here anyway and heard Alpha call Turbo Rangers," Tanya told him.
Dimitria regarded the group soberly. "It is time to call you back into duty as Rangers." She looked at Alpha and nodded. The little robot disappeared into the back of the Power Chamber.
"She's not speaking in questions." Zack stared at the woman in shock.
Aisha elbowed him. "What do you want us to do, Dimitria?"
A shower of rainbow sparks hearalded the return of the Turbo Rangers. T.J. removed his helmet and stepped forward. "They took off when we appeared, Dimitria. I don't think Angel Grove was their target."
"Indeed it wasn't T.J." Dimitria nodded. "They seek those who have served as Rangers."
"Wait," Tanya held up her hands. "Who are they?"
_The time has not come yet._ Dimitria was silent a moment. _I will not lie to them, but I cannot tell them all._ "Rangers, you must trust me. Until I am certain, it is best for you not to know all about the enemy."
"Power down." One by one the Turbo team quietly de-morphed back to civilian clothing. They looked at one another, then at the former Rangers.
"Dimitria..." Ashley hesitated, then pushed herself to finish what she started. "Are you asking us to pass our powers to the former Rangers?"
"No." Tanya spoke before Dimitria could. "I gave you the Yellow Turbo power, Ashley." She looked at Dimitria. "It's hers. I won't take it back." Tanya had already been the benefactor twice of someone else's loss. The first time by Aisha trading places with her, and the second when Billy had forgone his place on the team.
"There is no need for anyone to step down." Dimitria smiled at Ashley, proud of the girl's generosity. "Turbo Rangers, you shall remain as you are. The rest of you, please step forward."
Rocky's heart was pounding so hard he thought he would pass out. _A chance to have the power again!_
Aisha hesitated then stood next to him, grinning at her lifetime friend.
Kat licked her lips nervously, took a deep breath and stepped up to join them.
Zack grinned from ear to ear. "All right!"
Tanya slowly took her place next to him. She had an inkling of what Dimitria was going to do, but didn't have time to analyze her feelings. _I just want to get the others back!_ Her chin rose a notch. _Whatever it takes._
"Alpha, will you bring me the Zeo Crystal?"
"Yo! Right here Dimitria" Alpha carefully carried the colorful, pulsing shards forward. Once he stood before Dimitria's tube he turned to face the line of former Rangers.
"It's beautiful," Cassie whispered.
"They're gonna be Zeo Rangers!" Justin grinned happily. He momentarily caught Rocky's eye and gave him a thumbs up. Rocky winked then turned his attention back to Dimitria.
"You five have served as Rangers both with honor and loyalty. When the time came to step down you did so with grace and pride. I commend you for that, for it is one of the most difficult tasks every Ranger must face." Dimitria closed her eyes for a moment and the Zeo shards began to pulse even brighter. She opened her eyes and regarded each one of them soberly. "Will you once again take up the duties and powers, the title of Ranger, and swear to protect the Earth and her people with your lives if necessary?"
The yea's were unanimous. Dimitria smiled. "Close your eyes and search deep within yourselves. Seek to find the color, the true calling of your heart and mind. When you have it, call it to you."
Rocky had half-expected to see blue. Even though the color still reminded him of Billy, it had been his as he served as a Turbo Ranger. It was almost a shock to see a vibrant Green filling his eyes.
Aisha took a deep breath and closed her eyes. It had been so long -- and one part of her had no memories of holding the power at all. Tears welled up in her eyes as she thought of all she'd gone through, all that had tempered her. Her grandmother's smiling face filled her sight for a moment, then pink engulfed her vision.
Kat calmed herself and closed her eyes. Instead of seeing pink, she began to see scenes of herself helping the other Rangers; making suggestions; the times she had been on her own and had used her resourcefulness to get out of trouble. The scenes faded until all that remained was a pulsing, true blue.
Zack had a hard time holding still. He wanted to dance! _I'm gonna be a Ranger again!_ He grinned to himself and in his mind's eye, held a hand out, as if calling to a shy animal. _Come on. It's okay. Zack-man will show you how a Ranger has fun._ At first he thought the Zeo shards must have flared again. It was like sunrise was appearing behind his closed eyes as yellow light bloomed in his vision.
Tanya clenched her eyes shut. She felt desperate, but was afraid that would make the Zeo shard refuse her. _Oh, please,_ she prayed silently. _My friends were all the family I had for so long._ Only darkness filled her vision and she thought it was over. _I'll sacrifice myself if I have to, just give me the means to help find them!_. A color leaped at her, so vibrant and strong she took a step back. Red suffused her vision.
"Call it to you, Dimitria urged quietly. "You know what to do."
"Zeo Ranger IV, Green!"
"Zeo Ranger I, Pink!"
"Zeo Ranger III, Blue!"
"Zeo Ranger II, Yellow!"
"Zeo Ranger V, Red!"
The Turbo Rangers watched as the shards which had been floating above the heads of the five, disappeared into the bodies of the new Zeo Rangers.
"Awesome," Carlos whispered.
"All right!" Justin bounded over to Rocky to hug him. "You're green!"
Carlos joined him, shaking Rocky's hand. "Congratulations."
"Hey, two greens." Rocky took off his helmet and grinned. "How can we go wrong?"
T.J. smiled at Tanya as she looked at the red armor covering her arms. He knew exactly how she felt. Being chosen as leader was almost overwhelming. It had been in the beginning, and was still. He walked over and held out his hand. "Congratulations."
Tanya removed her helmet, tucked it under her arm, and shook his hand. "Thanks." She shook her head. "I never imagined I'd be Red."
"I was just as surprised when I got it." T.J. grinned.
"Kat," Aisha shook her head as she turned to her friend. "I'm pink!"
"So you are, luv!" Kat hugged her. "It suits you."
"All right!" Zack did a little dance step. "I'm a Ranger again!"
"Wow." Cassie grinned. "I remember seeing the Zeo Rangers on t.v."
Ashley nodded. "Weird, huh. Now we know the real Zeos." The two walked over to check the Zeos out.
Dimitria watched as the Turbo Rangers and the Zeo Rangers mingled, congratulating and commenting on the colors. They were getting along better already. "Congratulations Zeo Rangers."
Tanya turned with a smile. "Thank you for believing in us, Dimitria. We won't let you down."
Rocky high-fived Zack. "Hey, let's go celebrate at the Surf Spot! I hear they have the best fries in town."
Dimitria watched, smiling, as the Zeos de-morphed into their civilian clothing. _This will be the last time I see them not wearing their colors._ "Go and celebrate, Rangers. This is a great day."
The noisy, laughing group of teens left in a pyrotechnique display of colors.
"Yo, yo, yo!" Alpha exclaimed. "Ten Rangers! That's quite a light show!"
"Indeed, Alpha." Dimitria mentally sighed. As happy as she was, she couldn't help but remembering the dark void creatures that had appeared in the park. "I only hope they will be enough."
* * *
"Where-" Jason broke of his exclamation as he recognized the training chamber.
Aster smirked at them. "Not so full of overconfidence now, are you?"
"You did that deliberately." Kim shook her head. "You're playing a sick game!"
"It is no game." Aster's expression was cold, as she swept her eyes over them. "Shadows...disperse."
The black armor melted off of the six, leaving them in their civilian clothing.
Aster walked over to them. "That was merely a demonstration." Her blue eyes were cold. "If you doubt me you're more than welcome to try again."
"Where are we?" Jason "What is this place?"
"Home." Aster swept past him and turned to face them. "Some of you did well today." Her gaze settled on Kimberly. "Others had better improve."
"Or what?" Kimberly crossed her arms. "You send me home?"
"You will die for lack of skill." Aster's voice was as cold as an arctic wind. "Each of you must reach your full potential or you will not stand against Chaos. This is an all or nothing proposition." Her eyes flicked to Kimberly again. "There are no half measures."
"We don't know how to use our abilities." Jason tried to reason with her. "Are you going to show us?"
"They are within you." Aster shook her head. "You must discover them yourself, FireShadow." She held up a hand to forestall his argument. "If I told you it would not work." Aster turned and walked away. "You will find clothing and food in your quarters. I suggest you get some rest." She stopped and turned to face them. "Tomorrow training begins anew." With that, she left.
Adam groaned. "Torture she means!"
"We've got to do this," Tommy said quietly.
"What?!" Kimberly looked at him, unable to believe what he was saying. "Have you lost your mind? She's evil!"
"The alternative is Chaos." Tommy's gaze was unwavering as he looked at Kim. "You heard Aster. We live as a team or we die as a team." Kim looked away, frowning. "I, for one, want to live."
"I second that." Jason sighed. "We don't have to like her, Kim. She's given us no choice, at least at this point." He looked at each of his friends, meeting and holding their gaze for a moment. "We play this game out, but keep our eyes open for wildcards."
Billy nodded. "Jason is correct. Many times an alternative will present itself."
"I'm in." Trini held out her hand.
"Me too." Adam put his hand on top of hers.
"All the way." Tommy's gaze was steady as a lopsided grin curved his mouth.
"Count on me." Billy too added his hand.
Jason looked at Kimberly. She reminded him of a little girl, pouting. "Kim?"
Sighing heavily, she turned to face them. "I don't like it, but...." Kimberly added her hand. "I'm with you."
"All for one," Jason said with a grin and added his hand.
"And one for all!"
* * *
At the Surf Spot Adelle dropped off another basket of her fries and shook her head at the laughing teens. "You kids just holler if you want anything else." She grinned at one of the boys she didn't recognize. "You especially."
"She means you, Rocky!" Justin chuckled as Rocky grinned happily.
T.J. held up his smoothie, leaning forward. "To the Zeo and Turbo Rangers."
Tanya nodded and held up her glass. "To new friends and," her throat tightened. "To those missing."
"To friendship and peace." Aisha added her glass.
"Nothings gonna stop us now!" Zack clinked his glass against the others as everyone joined in the toast.
Kat nodded and sat back, thinking of those missing. "Hang on, guys. Just hang on."
To Be Continued...