“Come on... rain!” Tommy exclaimed aloud. But his efforts were futile.
“Today, look for temperatures to hit a high around 80 degrees. Sunshine-y skies and not a cloud in sight...” Tommy groaned. The rest of the week was about the same... highs in the low-to-mid 80’s, and no rain in the forcast.
Something else bothered Tommy. Divatox and her goons had been increadibly too quiet lately. Usually, that meant they were planning something... and if they were, and if there was a battle, then there would be sparks... and as dry as it was, that put the city in great danger.
Somewhere in Angel Grove Forest, a group of nameless, faceless campers doused their fire with water and packed up their gear. It was a long walk back to town, and they had to set out early. So they packed up their gear and the father led his wife and kids on the long hike back to town.
They were too absorbed in what they were doing to notice-- or care about-- a single spark, still glowing dimly on the forest floor. They walked away, and were long gone before a gust of wind blew, providing just enough fuel for the tiny spark to glow brighter, and then burn. And it began to burn in the nearby brush, and then the trees...
And the fire to beat all fires had begun.
“Man it’s hot!” Adam exclaimed, wiping his brow as Tommy helped him to his feet after a roundhouse kick ended their sparing session by sending Adam to the ground. The Youth Center was usually kept nice and cool by the air conditioning, but that day it was so warm and so dry that the machine didn’t seem to make any difference.
“I’ll say,” Tommy agreed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish it would rain already! I’ve had enough of this drought business.”
“Me three,” Kat chimed in. “Hey guys.”
“Hey Kat,” Tommy replied. “How’s things at the shelter?”
“Great. The kids are really excited about the remodeling project... That place is due for some major improvements anyway. I don’t think the walls have had a fresh coat of paint in ten years!” She paused. “You guys ARE going to help out with it, aren’t you?”
“Of course, Kat,” Adam told her. “We wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
“Guys!” Justin’s voice interrupted their conversation and they all turned around to face him. “You’ll never guess what I just heard!”
“You’re probably right, Pal. What is it?” Tommy smiled at the boy’s enthusiasm.
“Something’s happening in Angel Grove Forest. I mean something BIG! I heard these two guys talking about it when I was on my way here. They said something like ‘Nobody’s gonna believe this. It’s gonna take people by surprise just like the sinking of the Titanic.’”
Tommy frowned. Already, he was getting a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Tommy asked his friends.
Adam nodded. “We better check this out.”
“I’ll contact Tanya and we’ll meet you there,” Kat said.
Tommy nodded and he and Adam headed for the door. Justin followed in bewhilderment of how his statement could cause his friends to worry so. But they didn’t get more than five feet when a news bulletin on Lt. Stone’s radio caught their attention.
The song that was playing was suddenly cut short and the host-of-the-hour reported, “Sorry about the interruption, folks, but we’ve just received some startling news. Apparently, sometime late this morning, a fire broke out in Angel Grove Forest and is burning rapidly. Fire fighters from five surrounding towns have arrived to help fight the blaze, but the recent dry weather is a major factor in this disaster. Local authorities are already beginning to evacuate people from their homes, and are urging Angel Grove residents to stay in their homes until they are given instructions to do otherwise. There is no need to panic... no need to panic?!” The man chuckled. “Be careful out there, folks... we’ll keep you posted.” The bulletin ended and went into a commercial.
“Well Justin,” Tommy said quietly, “Looks like we’ve got the rest of the story behind your BIG news...”
“What are we gonna do?” Justin asked, his voice just as hushed.
“First I’m going to take you back to the shelter. Then all of us are going to go home and be with our families so that we’re not separated in all the confusion that’ll come if the city needs to be evacuated.”
The others asked no questions. They simply followed orders as if it were a battle plan. Everyone was too scared and confused to think of anything better to do anyway.
Tommy and Justin got into Tommy’s jeep and headed across town to Little Angel’s Haven. As they got closer, they could see the signs that Angel Grove Forest was, in fact, burning. The smoke appeared, and got thicker, and soon Tommy realized--
He pulled the car off to the side of the road so fast Justin was jerked forward by the motion of the vehicle. “Tommy, be careful!”
“I’m sorry, Buddy,” he appologized. “But I just realized something and I don’t like the feeling it gives me... the closer we get to the shelter, the worse the smoke gets. You understand what I’m saying? We can’t go back there, Justin... it’s going to burn. It’s right in the fire’s path.”
“But my friends!” the boy insisted. “We have to go back!”
“Justin, just relax. I’m sure the police have already evacuated everybody in that part of town.”
Justin was about to protest, but after a moment’s thought, he stopped himself. He knew Tommy was right. The police would do their job and get his friends out before they were in any real danger. “Alright.”
Tommy nodded at his young friend. “You can come with me and we’ll get everything straightened out after this is all over.” With that, he turned the key in the ignition to start it up again.
Justin looked over at the Red Ranger. “Tommy...”
Tommy tried the engine again. Still nothing.
“Tommy, uh...” Justin’s gaze landed on the gas gauge about the same time as Tommy’s and they both realized...
It was empty.
“Ohhh no,” Justin said under his breath. Then, raising his tone, “Tommy, what now?”
Tommy swallowed hard. He knew they were in a tight spot. They were too close to that fire for comfort, and it was getting closer every second. “We have to walk back,” he told Justin. “No, we have to run.” Both rangers climbed out of the truck.
“But Tommy,” Justin said as they took their first few steps, “Can’t we just teleport?”
Rolling his eyes at his own stupidity, Tommy stopped and both rangers pushed the buttons on their communicators.
Deja vous... NOTHING.
Justin looked up at Tommy with a confused look. “What happened?”
“Either Divatox is jamming the frequency,” Tommy replied, “Or the smoke and the fire are causing interferance... either way, we won’t be able to teleport out. C’mon.” They took off into a run again.
They weren’t fast enough and the wind was picking up. Suddenly, it seemed to be blowing in several directions at the same time. The smoke was stinging at their eyes, and it was thicker with every step. “Tommy, I’m scared!”
“Me too, Pal.”
“Where on Earth is Tommy?!” Pat Oliver exclaimed. She had called all his friends and none of them had seen him. As far as they knew, he was running Justin out to Little Angel’s Haven and then he would be on his way home. Now the call had come to evacuate Angel Grove and Tommy still had not returned.
David Oliver emerged from his son’s room carrying a suitcase. “I don’t know,” he answered his wife, trying not to let his own fear show. “But I packed for him, seeing as he’s not going to get here in time to do it himself. Aw Honey... I’m sure he’s fine. Maybe he heard about the evacuation and stayed to help out the ladies at the shelter with all those kids. Maybe he just thought it safer to head right out of town instead of waiting around for us and getting trapped by the fire.”
“Or maybe he’s in trouble,” Pat whispered. She glanced up at her husband with tears in her eyes.
Silently, David came around behind his wife and put his arms around her. He kissed the top of her head and stood there for a second, blinking back tears of his own. Then in a hushed voice, he said, “Come on. We have to go.”
“Tommy! Where are you? I can’t see!”
“Right here, Justin.” He reached out and took the boy’s hand. “I’m right here. Don’t let go of my hand, okay?”
“Okay... Tommy, how do we even know we’re going the right way anymore if we can’t see?” He paused and coughed from the smoke.
“We’re gonna be fine, Justin. We’re Rangers, remember? We have the power to protect us.” He stopped for a moment to catch his breath and to think. “Angel Grove Lake,” he said to himself. Then, to Justin, “It’s in... it’s...” Tommy closed his eyes. All of his martial arts training could never have prepared him for this. If they didn’t get to Angel Grove lake, they were, well and truly, screwed. Then he remembered back to his Zeo quest that now seemed so long ago. He remembered the things that he’d learned, and he concentrated. “It’s that way.” He pointed off to his right. “It’s our only chance. If we can get to it before the fire catches up with us, we can stay in the lake until the fire passes. It can’t burn the water, right?”
A flicker of hope appeared in the boy’s eyes. “Right.” They took off running again.
Little Angel’s Haven had been evacuated in plenty of time. All of Justin’s friends were safe and sound in the gymnasium of Stone Canyon Elementary. But...
A count of her charges revealed to Marisa Greene that only 43 children were presently seated around her. She counted again. Still 43... one short. She scanned the young faces that she knew so well that she didn’t even need to take a roll call... and realized that it was Justin Stewart who was missing.
The roads heading out of Angel Grove were so congested, the Hillard’s vehicle was barely moving. All around them, people were honking their horns and screaming obsenities out their open windows. Kat sat in the far back seat of her family’s van, cuddling her little sister Kara close to her. “It’s gonna be alright, Kara, I promise,” she whispered. She stroked the girl’s hair. “Everything’s gonna be alright.” But in the back of her mind, Kat wished she was taking her own advice. Where was Tommy? She’d been worrying since the moment she’d gotten the phone call from a frazzled and tearful Mrs. Oliver, and had to tell her that she hadn’t seen Tommy recently. Tommy, where ARE you? she thought. Please be okay... God, please let him be okay...
“Fire fighters from five surrounding towns have arrived to help fight the blaze, but so far they don’t appear to be making any headway,” the local on-the-spot newsman reported. “The wind is picking up, fueling the fire, and there is no rain in sight as the fire threatens the outermost edges of our city. I’m sorry folks, but it looks like this isn’t going to be over for awhile.”
“I’ve heard enough,” Sarah Park informed her family. She reached over and turned off the TV. The Park family was safe and sound in the apartment of Sarah’s sister and brother-in-law in Stone Canyon, but the fire was still hitting close to home.
Sam Park turned to his son. “Have you heard any more from the Olivers?” he asked.
Adam shook his head sadly. He was too engrosed in his own thoughts to give an audible reply. Where was Tommy? And why now, why T--
His thoughts were interrupted as he returned his mind to the television, which someone had apparently turned back on, only to receive another piece of frightning news... “This reporter has just been informed that this blaze has officially began what may prove to be a very disturbing death toll. It begins at 10, folks. Ten Angel Grove citizens have been declared dead as a result of the blaze, and 45 more have been reported missing. I--” there was a pause as someone off camera muttered something to the reporter. She took a moment to regain her composure. “I have just been told to inform you that the fire has officially passed into the city limits of Angel Grove, and it burns brigthly still.” The phone rang, and Adam’s thoughts were snapped back to reality. He picked it up on the second ring.
“Adam, this is Marisa Greene from Little Angel’s Haven... one of the kids told me I should give you a call because you might know-- well what I was wondering was-- please tell me you know where Justin Stewart is.”
Adam froze. Justin too? His voice was a somber tone as he replied, “N-no ma’am, I- I’m sorry. I don’t.”
On the other end of the line, the woman gasped. She sounded like she was crying.
In shock, Adam hung up the phone a few seconds later. Then he made a very rash decision. “I’ll be back soon,” he told his family, and without another word, he ducked out of the appartment and teleported to the Power Chamber.
Adam was more than surprised to find Kat and Tanya already at the Power Chamber. “Thank goodness,” Kat said as Adam arrived in a flash of green light.
“Yo yo yo! I haven’t been able to locate Justin and Tommy anywhere! The smoke from the fire is causing too much interference!” Alpha 6 babbled.
Adam glanced at Kat. She was biting her bottom lip nervously. “It’s gonna be alright, Kat,” Adam told her, giving her a reassuring hug. “Tommy and Justin are smart. I’m sure they’re fine.” I hope, he thought to himself.
Kat offered a half-smile. “We were supposed to start remodeling the shelter tomorrow,” she said. “Justin was so excitied...”
Adam didn’t reply. He studied the floor for a moment, thinking. Then he said, “Alpha. Is there any way we can see a map of Angel Grove and tell how much has burned? Is that possible?”
“Yo, anything’s possible! Just give me a second and I’ll pull up a thermal scan!” The robot pushed some buttons on the computer and a moment later, the Rangers were able to see exactly what Adam had wanted.
The Green Ranger studied it for a moment. “Tommy was going to take Justin back to the shelter,” he said. “That’s around here.” He pointed to one particular spot on the map in an area that had already burned. “We last saw them at the Youth Center... here.” He pointed to a second spot that was still untouched by the flames, but just barely. “Can you zoom in on that area, Alpha?”
“Yo, you got it!”
Now able to see the streets of Angel Grove, Adam traced a route with his finger. “So they must’ve gone this way.” He looked back at the others. “I’m goin’ out there.”
Tommy breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Angel Grove Lake appear ahead of him. “Look, Justin!” he exclaimed.
The boy smiled. “We did it!”
“We sure did.” Tommy glanced around them. To the west, he could already see the thick black smoke approaching them. “We better hurry.”
“Adam, you can’t! You’re crazy!” Tanya exclaimed, looking her teammate in the eyes.
“I have to. Look. Those are our friends out there. Our teammates, and people we care about. And I’m not just going to sit around and do nothing while they might be--”
“Adam, no!” Tanya exclaimed. “This isn’t as simple as all those other times, don’t you understand?! You can’t just morph and make it all better. Your powers won’t do you any good. For all you know, they could be dead out there, and--” She stopped, mid-sentence. Adam was glaring at her, more angry than she’d ever seen him.
“Don’t you think I know that?” He replied. “But I have to try. If I don’t, and something happens, I’ll never forgive myself. You can go with me or not go with me, it’s your choice. But I’m going.” With that, he pushed a button on his communicator and was gone.
Beginning at the Youth Center, now virtually abandoned, Adam began a slow search of the city, inching his way towards the fire, but choosing his route carefully. He hadn’t gone more than two yards when he was joined by his friends.
“Tommy and Justin are our friends, too,” Kat told him with a shrug. “We have to do whatever we can to help them. Even if it means... even if it... it costs us our lives.”
Adam stiffled a laugh as he recalled a line from a movie he and Tanya had recently went to see, The Man in the Iron Mask. “Then if we must die, let it be like this. All for one, and one for all.”
The trio shared a brief moment of laughter in spite of it all and then continued bravely on for quite some time. But they didn’t get far-- the fire was too close. Coughing from the smoke, Adam said, “There has to be... another way... to find them.” He stopped walking and pushed the button on his communicator. “Alpha,” he said, “Have you found anything yet?”
“Yo, I’m pickin’ up a weak signal from the northernmost end of Angel Grove Lake.”
“Is it them?” Tanya asked.
“Yo-- woah! Rangers! I got a positive ID on the blue and red rangers, safe and sound in Angel Grove Lake, waitin’ for that fire to a’burn around ‘em.”
Tanya, Adam, and Kat exchanged grins. “We should get back to the Power Chamber,” Adam advised. The others nodded, and they teleported to safety.
Back at the Power Chamber, it was only a matter of time before Alpha locked on to the coordinates of the blue and red rangers and was able to teleport them out of danger and reunite them with their friends. And what a reunion it was.
“Thank goodness you’re safe!” Kat exclaimed, embracing Tommy. “Both of you.” She looked down at the boy and pulled him into the hug as well.
Accross the Power Chamber, Adam and Tanya were talking quietly. “I’m sorry I got angry with you,” Adam said, gently reaching up and brushing the side of her face. “I didn’t mean--”
“No, Adam. You had every right to be angry. I was being selfish. I was putting myself before the team. I’m sorry.”
The two teens smiled at each other, and after a moment, came together in a hug. As they pulled apart, they looked into each other’s eyes. They began leaning toward each other...
And the would-be kiss was interrupted by Dimitria. “Rangers, will not your parents be worried about your whereabouts during this crisis?”
“You’re right,” Tommy answered. “Come on guys. We better get back to town. Or what’s left of it.”
Tommy found his parents, anxious and terribly worried but all in one piece nonetheless, at one of the Red Cross centers in Stone Canyon. He spotted them from about ten yards away, talking with a volunteer who was carrying a clipboard. “Mom! Dad!”
Pat Oliver jumped to her feet at the sound of her son’s voice. She turned, and there he was. “Tommy!”
Tommy ran to greet his mom, who wrapped him in a warm hug. “We were so worried... so scared...”
“Me too, Mom,” Tommy replied. “Me too.” The two stood for a moment, both of them crying, until they were joined by Tommy’s father. He joined in the hug, pulling his wife and son into his arms.
“Thank God you’re alive,” David said to his son. “Thank God...”
After a few more moments, Tommy had to ask, “Dad... the house. Is it--”
A flicker of pain resurfaced in David’s eyes. “Gone. Everything we couldn’t pack into a few suitcases and the car... gone.” He sighed. “But son, we are alive. We have so much to be greatful for.”
He’s right, Tommy knew. I’m alive. We’re all alive.
“Justin!” came the cry from his friends as Justin appeared with Kat in the doorway of the Stone Canyon Elementary gymnasium.
“Justin!” Marisa Greene echoed, standing up and hurrying to meet him. “Justin, we were so worried...” To the boy’s surprise, she pulled him into a momentary hug. “Where WERE you?” she asked. “And how in the blaz-- I mean, how in the world did you get out...”
Stepping back from the hug, Justin replied, “I had the help of some very special friends, Ms. Greene. Really, I did. Real special friends.”
“Well, I’m just glad you’re here now, safe and sound. Thank you Kat, for bringing him here...”
“It was my pleasure, Ms. Greene.” And with that, the girl departed to find her own family.
The Angel Grove Fire continued to burn out of control for four more days. In the early morning hours of the fifth day, there came a blessed event: it rained. The rain put out most of the fire, and brought the rest under control. Firefighters battled small pockets of flame for three more days before the city was officially declared “safe” and residents were allowed to return and assess the damage.
Tommy’s first thoughts when he laid eyes on the rubble that remained of his house were a simple, “Good Lord...” He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what he and his family would do. And he had no idea where to even begin to repair, to rebuild, to start over.
The other Rangers were all met with similar fates. Years of memories gone, burned, damaged. Little Angel’s Haven was completely destroyed, and what the children had, which was very little to begin with, they lost.
The figures released were astounding. 342 people dead... 121 still missing. More than 20,000 homes destroyed, and millions, maybe billions of dollars of damage. The pictures of Angel Grove on the news were mirrors of what was actually there-- nothing. The city looked like a wasteland. And nearly all the residents of the sunny California town now faced the same question... What do we do now?
But the citizens of Angel Grove did not give up. Slowly, ever so slowly but surely, they began to rebuild their city. With donations of money, food, and clothing from other cities across the country and from the Red Cross, the city began to look like a city again. They united and together, as a city and a team, they brought life back to Angel Grove.
“Is it time yet? Is it time yet?” Justin bounced up and down excitedly between his friends.
“Almost, Justin. Just be patient,” Kat replied.
The boy sighed. He and the other children from Little Angel’s Haven were so excited. Today was the day. Today was the official groundbreaking ceremony for a new shelter. In less than two months, they would have a place to call home once again.
“Can I have your attention please?” Mayor Carrington called to the children and all of the others who were present. “Thank you.” She paused. “Today is indeed a very special day. It has been two and a half months since the fire began that ravaged our town. Two and a half very long months. But through it all, the residents in Angel Grove, the surrounding cities and counties, and throughout America have pulled together to make this city what it once was. Well, we’re on our way. It’s going to take some doing, but today is a milestone in the resurection of our city. Today we break ground for a new youth shelter, and when it is finished, it will become home to Angel Grove’s most treasured citizens-- it’s children. And now, may I introduce, Ms. Marisa Greene.” She passed off the microphone.
“Thank you, Mayor Carrington,” Marisa began. She looked out over the audience. “Two and a half months ago, we were getting ready for a big remodeling project on Little Angel’s Haven. It was going to be bigger, it was going to be newer, it was going to be better. But we never got the chance to change what was already there. After the fire, there was nothing left to remodel. So we had to start from scratch.” She paused. “I was shattered when I came back here and found this shelter completely gone. I love these kids, and I knew that without the shelter, they had nowhere to go. I was at a loss for what to do. I owe my life to the 44 families in Stone Canyon who volunteered to house these children. And now, they will get their shelter, right here, right where we’re standing. And it will be bigger, and newer, and better-- more than any of us ever expected. And it all starts right now.”
There was a shuffle while the mayor stood once again, picked up a golden shovel, and handed it to Marisa. Marisa stepped down from the platform and onto the grass. She turned to the children. “Congratulations, kids,” she said, and with that, she dug the shovel into the ground.
In the clapping and cheering that followed, the children stood from their seats and surrounded Marisa. It was then that Tommy realized, as he saw Justin and his friends once again excited about their “remodeling project”, that hope had finally, truly, been restored to their city. And now he knew that everything really was going to be okay.