Florida was as warm as California, but there was still a chill in the heart of Kimberly Harte as she worked through her never ending routines at Gunther Schmidt's compound. She tried very hard not to think about the past, though. The past distracted her, and she couldn't afford distractions.
She still wondered, deep in her heart, why she'd caved in to her coach's insistence to break up with Tommy. She had never imagined that Coach Schmidt could be so heartless and insistent when it came to making certain his gymnasts had absolutely no outside interests except quite probably eating, sleeping, and breathing. The former Pink Ranger was halfway convinced if he could have come up with a way to make certain that they didn't have to do those, he'd do it. The man was a slavedriver, and he'd threatened to make certain she not only didn't compete in the Pan-Globals, but was banned from gymnastics competitions everywhere if she didn't send that letter to Tommy.
I wonder if keeping my gymnastics career is a good enough reason for hurting one of the people I care about most in the world, she thought to herself. She'd realized almost as soon as she'd set foot on the plane that she didn't love Tommy the way she thought she had. She'd felt only anticipation for what was to come, almost no regret at what she was leaving behind, and certainly no gaping wounds in her heart from not being with the man she supposedly had loved to distraction at that point. I think I would've broken up with him anyway. But I would've done it in person, and not with a letter!
That still griped at her soul, that the coach hadn't given her so much as a day off since she'd gotten there, much less time to call back home and straighten things out with Tommy. She sighed and wiped away the tears that threatened to blind her eyes. If she was unable to see because of them and messed up her routine, she'd be on the receiving end of one of his lectures again. She still remembered how he'd chewed her out on her arrival in Florida for hitting her head on the balance beam back in Angel Grove.
Like it was MY fault I mis-stepped. Like I did it on purpose. Ohhh, I could hate that man with very little effort, she gritted her teeth deeply, and did a perfect backflip, landing flawlessly, or so she thought.
"Miss Harte! Center your point of balance, you were off your mark by a quarter of an inch!" the coach screamed. No matter where he was or what he seemed to be doing, he always could find any flaw in what his gymnasts were doing. As she half-heartedly nodded and got back on the balance beam, she could hear him screaming his lungs out at another gymnast who had not gripped the tumbling rings strongly enough. They were nursing a skinned shoulder, and the coach was reaming them out thoroughly for it.
Oh, forget it, she growled inwardly. I do hate him. How could I have given up so much that I loved for the chance to come here. . .and be screamed at twenty four hours a day, seven days a week? And I'm supposed to put up with this for the next year until the Pan-Globals? I think NOT!
"Coach Schmidt," she said, flipped back off the beam and landing flawlessly, completely flawlessly, this time. When he looked over at her, and opened his mouth, she quickly cut him off. "Thanks for everything you've taught me. I've learned a lot. But most importantly, I learned that I don't belong here. Good-bye. I'm going home."
The look of surprise on his face was worth everything she'd given up, just to see.
The mountains of Angel Grove were tall, shimmering in the morning sunlight, and pure, unadulterated beauty. They almost seemed to pierce the sky themselves with their sharp tips and snow-capped peaks. There was a deep beauty in them that Billy Cranston had come to love and appreciate all the more since his near-death from old age. I could never give up the beauties of Earth, he thought to himself, jogging on one of the trails that wound through the lower slopes of the mountains. Space is wonderful, and I was so severely tempted to remain on Aquitar, but there is still much HERE left to explore.
He hadn't spent much time with the Rangers after his return. Coming as close to death as he had had changed him, given him a depth and wisdom that they couldn't understand. Jason did, somewhat. He'd experienced much the same thing, though not the rapid aging, when he had nearly lost the Gold Ranger powers and his life. He and Jason got along very well these days, and he was going to be best man when the former Ranger married Emily, whom he had proposed to just a few days earlier.
I still find it a little hard to believe that they are so in love, Billy thought, enjoying the feel of light wear on his muscles as he jogged. I certainly would never have imagined that it would be a former bully and punk who would attract Jason's eye, mind, and heart in that fashion. But who can fathom the intricate workings of the human heart? Love is a mystery that no one has ever solved.
He paused for a few moments just a few feet from a cliff's edge, looking out over some the most magnificent scenery that Mother Nature had ever produced. High mountains for a backdrop, a cerulean sky for a roof, dotted with a few clear white clouds, the sound of a roaring waterfall that jumped and cascaded from peak to peak with a fierce mute natural joy, trees of pine, aspen, spruce, and birch rising up to touch as high as they could with emerald fingers in a thousand different shades.
It was all Billy could do not to cry with pure joy at looking at this. Who could give up Earth who has not seen it all? he wondered, staring hungrily at the scene splayed out before him. And how could someone want to destroy it? He didn't follow that line of thought however. He didn't want to think about Rita, Zedd, or the Machine Empire. He just wanted to look at this, and to be glad he was there. To be glad he and his friends, and now just them, had protected it for so long. He glanced down briefly at his wrist, feeling somewhat naked without his communicator. Gasket and Archerina moved in almost before Mondo and Machina's remains were cold, he remembered. I really should've brought it with me. Rita and Zedd are still there too. But with any luck, they should be busy getting themselves set back up at the palace, and working out something with what's left of the Machine Empire to bother me for the next few days. I'll be safe.
He started jogging again, stretching his muscles to their limit now, changing the jog into a run. This was his world, he had once helped to protect it, now he helped those who did protect it. He had wished he'd been able to take the Gold Powers, but now that he thought about it, it was probably best that he hadn't. Who knows what they would've done to me, in combination with the side effects of my regenerator. For all I know, I could've been struck dead right at that moment, and the Gold Powers would've been lost. It's for the best, I guess.
Still in his heart there gnawed that little piece of wonder, though. That wonder that if some way for him to gain powers again arose, without harm to himself or anyone, would he take it?
As Billy ran through the mountains, feeling young and strong and in love with the planet he felt more a part of than he ever had before, he realized: he would.
On the never-windswept plains of the moon, in one crater that had been as dark and evil and twisted as it was possible for a place to be and still stand, there was the Lunar Palace of Lord Zedd, Master of Evil, and Queen Rita Repulsa, his wife and queen of the past two years.
Hastily abandoned when the Machine Empire had invaded, the place had gathered dust and debris for a year, until now. With cackles of evil and groans of relief, Rita and Zedd retook their home.
"Oh, it's so good to be home, Zeddykins!" Rita sighed as she peered through her replaced RepulsaScope towards Earth. "I missed this place!"
Zedd nodded, it wasn't much, but it was a place to stay while they prepared for the next phase in their plan. Phase One had been relatively easily accomplished: the destruction of Mondo and Machina. Phase Two was already in the works. Rito and Goldar were on their way to the Skybase even then, with a super-powerful implosion device that would turn Gasket, Archerina, and the entire Skybase into so much scrap metal. Zedd hadn't hesitated once at giving the two bumbling boobs this task. Either they'll succeed and blow the last remains of the Machine Empire to the next galaxy, or they'll screw up and kill themselves. No matter what happens, I'm rid of a nuisance, was his reasoning.
Phase Three had also already been accomplished: choosing and spying on the two former Pink and Blue Rangers to see where they were and what they were up to. And things couldn't be better, he chuckled. "Are we almost ready, my dear?" he asked Rita.
"Indeed, my evil husband!" she cackled. "Billy's all by his lonesome in the mountains, he doesn't even have his communicator with him, and Kimmie dear is packing her things to come back to Angel Grove even as we speak!"
As always, Zedd felt a strange jump when he heard the name of the first Pink Ranger. It had always happened, from the moment he had first laid eyes on her. That was one of the reasons he had tried to take her as his queen before Rita had returned to so totally sweep him off his feet. He'd wanted to know what strange power she had in order to make him feel like that. "You will capture her," he decided. "While I will go make a prisoner out of that brainy pest!" whatever it was that was so mysteriously attracting him to Kimberly, he refused to give it a chance. He wouldn't even look at her. She was just another Ranger, former Ranger for now, to him. It had no bearing on his plan.
The lord of evil chuckled to himself as he pulled a box out of empty air with a flourish. As Rita shuffled quickly over to him to look at it's contents with the same greedy, acquisitive air that he was, he winced again at the memory of how he'd acquired what was in here. He had come to Earth once before, long before Rita had been released from her dumpster, and had tried to take the Zeo Crystal for his own. Until then he had not worn the silver-steel mask that covered his face completely, nor did he use the form of Lord Zedd that the Rangers were familiar with. He had looked humanoid, and had been handsome, until that moment. But when he had touched the forcefield that surrounded the Crystal, his face had been blasted to hideousness. In pain and in hate, he had slashed at the forcefield and the crystal hiding behind it, with his staff.
And had been surprised to see two shards of the crystal fall off. Unable to control his howls of pain anymore at that point, he had left with the crystals gripped tightly in his possession. He had forged the monstrous body of Lord Zedd, both to inspire fear and in memory of the pain that he had suffered, and had found within it a surcease to his pain. The two Zeo shards he had managed to claim he had placed in deep hiding. When the time was right, he'd promised himself, he would bring them forth and do great evil with them.
The time was right now. As Rita and Zedd gazed upon the last two shards of the Zeo Crystal, and then down to Earth where Billy Cranston and Kimberly Harte went so innocently about their lives, they laughed. The time was right indeed.
"Princess Kimonia! Your Highness!" the voice was light and cheery and full of laughter and love. "Will you never cease acting as a child, my dearest?"
Kimberly glanced around, where was she? This wasn't Angel Grove. ..it wasn't Florida, either. It was. . .she didn't know where it was. She looked down at herself, to see she was glad in a heavy gown of what looked like purest pale white silk. She almost jumped to hear words coming out of her mouth, words she had never intended to speak. "Being near you makes me near unto giddy as a child, my beloved!"
The man walking towards her took her hand and kissed it's fingertips gently. She could feel herself thrilling to his touch, and smiled with the bliss of it all. "As you make me the happiest of all men on this day, my heart."
"Who could not be happy on their wedding day, Highness?" a third voice spoke, and they both looked to see a stranger, at least to Kim's half-confused eyes, walking towards them. He bowed low to both of them, the bow slightly deeper to her companion, and smiled as he straightened up. "But come. The wedding feast is prepared, and the priestess is already waiting to give you both her blessing in the name of the Goddess."
Kim could feel a blush stealing across the cheeks of this body, which she felt was her own in some strange way. "And then tonight," a slightly mischievous giggle, "tonight we honor the Lady in her Aspect as. . .Lover."
Her betrothed smiled, pulling her closer to him. "Though we have loved each other all the days of our lives, and will until the end of those lives and beyond, tonight we shall consummate it forever."
"Indeed," more memories were flitting up in Kim's mind, and she knew now that the other man with them was her brother, Thomi. "Come. The entire kingdom awaits to celebrate the marriage of Princess Kimonia and Prince Zedd."
Kim sat up straight in bed, stuffing her hand into her mouth to keep herself from screaming. With her free hand shaking, she reached to turn the lamp on and looked quickly around the room. All was normal, all was as it should be. Her plane left the next morning at nine a.m., her bags were all neatly packed and lined up in rows. The Coach had screamed at her for running out on him, but she had been firm. She would not stay here one minute longer than she had to.
"It was just a dream," she whispered. "Just a dream. Nothing but a dream."
"Maybe so!" an all-too familiar voice spoke up suddenly, and she went absolutely stiff at the sound of it. "But I'm not! I'm more like a nightmare!"
She whirled to see Rita Repulsa standing next to the bed, big as life and twice as ugly. "Get away from me!" was Kim's greeting to the evil sorceress she hadn't seen in years, and didn't want to see now! "I'm not a Ranger anymore, I'm no threat to you!"
"True, you're not a Ranger," Rita agreed. "But you're going to be one! My evil Ranger!" she raised her staff and shot out a bolt of magic from the tip of it that knocked the young gymnast unconscious. The witch laughed wickedly, and teleported away, taking Kim with her. Part one of Phase Four was complete.
Billy put the last of the wood on the fire and stared up at the stars above him as it began to burn. He'd already been out here two days, jogging, running, thinking. He'd never been that much into physical activity, not like Jason, Zack, Tommy, Adam, Rocky, any of the other Rangers. He'd always been more of a thinker, a scientist. That was what he was, that was the reason he'd been a Ranger. Zordon had told him once he, unlike the others, had been deliberately chosen for his mind. Jason had been the brute strength of that first team. Zack had been it's joy, Kim the agility, Trini the compassion. But he had been the brains. That wasn't the only reason he'd been picked, Zordon had reassured him. His courage, strength, honor, and nobility, all qualities that a Ranger had to have, had also been factors. But the main purpose for him to be a Ranger had been to give them a brain.
He'd understood the necessity of it, and it didn't really bite into him the way it might have in the beginning. In fact, he'd been glad of it. Being a Ranger had been, quite literally, the best thing that had ever happened to him. Not only had he had the chance to see and do things few humans ever had, but it had tied him to his friends in a way he'd never thought possible. He had also made friends he would never have thought possible. Without being a Ranger, he would never have known Adam, Aisha, Rocky, Kat, or Tanya. He couldn't imagine his life without them in it.
He would always be closest to the other first Rangers, though. Together they had founded the Power Rangers, had begun the fight against evil on their planet. They had been the first to wear the uniforms of the Rangers in this time period. And one of them in particular had always looked so good in her suit. . .
Without quite thinking about it, his mind drifted straight to that one. He knew his cheeks were already flaming red at the thoughts that were going through his mind as Trini Kwan showed herself once more in his head. Calm it down, Billy, he thought firmly. Two things: she's in love with Richie and she's in Switzerland. Both of those mean the same thing: you don't stand a chance.
That hurt him perhaps more than anything else in the world ever could have. He'd had a slim chance with Trini, to tell her how he felt. He'd gotten over his nervousness for one day. They'd all been concerned over Tommy and him losing his Green Ranger powers around that time, and to get his mind off it, Billy had decided to tell Trini that he loved her. He'd been just about ready to ask her to take a walk with him, when Richie had come by.
He'd seen the look in her eyes in that moment when she saw the new guy in town. The look that Richie returned. The implications of it. And he had known in that moment, he had lost her forever. But in the next, he had realized, it didn't matter. He wanted her to be happy. And if that meant with someone else, then so be it.
Billy tossed a stick idly back and forth in his hands, and sighed. "I'm an idiot," he said out loud. "I could've had it all, and I threw it all away."
"That you did," in a blast of red flame, Lord Zedd was standing less than a foot away from him. Billy didn't even have time to react before the overlord had him in a grip of raw steel. "But I'm going to give some of it back to you, Billy. Congratulations. You've just been chosen to be a Ranger again."
"What are you talking about?" Billy struggled as much as he could, not understanding and not really wanting to just now! What he wanted was to be out of these mountains and back in the Power Chamber, back where he was safe! "Let go of me!" why did I leave my communicator back in Angel Grove??
The evil sorcerer laughed. "I don't think so! Time to go!" the two of them vanished in the next heartbeat, leaving only a solitary small fire, some camping equipment, and some scattered footprints as the only sign that anyone had been there.
Two shadowy figures made their way through the lower reaches of the Machine Skybase. Mondo and Machina had been gone for days, but now their old home and base was occupied by the rightful and indeed only heir to the throne of the Empire, Prince Gasket and his wife Archerina.
"Goldie, do you think there's any traps down here?" Rito Revolto asked his large friend. Goldar shrugged; he was rather surprised to hear what could possibly be mistaken for an intelligent question coming from the animated skeleton's `lips'.
"Who can tell?" he replied. "But with the main Machine Empire gone, I doubt it. Gasket and Archerina don't seem to be as viscious as Mondo and Machina."
Rito blinked stupidly; as if he knew how to blink in any other way. "Then why are we setting this explosive?" he glanced down to the small device he held in one hand. He was the one holding it for a very specific reason: Rito Revolto was immortal. He couldn't be killed. No matter how much damage his body took, it would always regenerate it, and he would be back. It was a side effect of the accident that had transformed him into the creature he was now.
Goldar looked at him, shaking his head. "We're doing it because Rita and Zedd told us to!" he reminded him. Rito nodded as he stumped forward a little more, then paused to look at him again.
"But why destroy them? Why not ally with them or something?" he asked. "Wouldn't that make more sense?"
Sense? Coming from Rito? Did I step into an alternate universe or something? Goldar shook his head. "Look, we don't have time to sit around asking questions about what Rita and Zedd are doing or why they want us to do this," he explained. "We just do it and don't worry about anything else. We do our job, and Rita and Zedd will do theirs and we'll all be just fine."
Rito frowned even more, trying to figure out why he just didn't want to destroy the Machine Empire. Finally he just shrugged. He knew why it was: he didn't like being here in the dark under the Machine Skybase. I'm scared of the dark, he shivered to himself. It was okay in the palace, there's lights everywhere. Well, in my room. But I still don't like the dark. Imagine that, a minion of evil, afraid of the dark.
He knew if he ever told anyone about it, he'd be laughed out of the United Alliance of Evil. He wasn't a very important member of the group, but he did love the fringe benefits, like the great dental plan and the camaraderie of hanging out with other sidekicks and henchmen. That reminds me, I've still got to get that twenty shilars that Rygog owes me, he thought. It had been a few centuries since he'd seen the chief henchman of Divatox, the evil Pirate Queen, and he kept forgetting to get those card game winnings off of him every time he did.
"Rito!" Goldar slammed his fist into the skeleton's shoulders and growled. "Watch where you're going! We're going to get caught if you keep this up!"
Rita's brother sighed briefly. He almost missed being amnesiac and living with Bulk and Skull. Goldar had been a lot nicer then. So had he. Was it worth it to get our memories back? he wondered. Ever since then. . .I just haven't been happy. Oh, sure, it was nice to know who I was, and to see Rita and Ed again. . .but. . .
For the first time in twenty five thousand years, Rito Revolto was wondering if he was really happy being evil.
"Catch it, Adam!" Tommy Oliver, the Red Zeo Ranger, shouted to his friend as the Frisbee went wheeling wildly through the park. "Catch it!"
Adam Park, the Green Zeo Ranger, leaped up as high as he could, only to fall back down and wind up rolling in a pile of fall leaves. "Oh, man!" he laughed as he hadn't in a long time. "That was fun!"
The five still active Rangers were enjoying a long, leisurely day in the park. Jason was talking with his parents and Emily, preparing for their wedding. Billy had went camping for a few weeks, enjoying being young again. The Machine Empire was history. Rita and Zedd, not to mention Gasket and Archerina, were not planning anything that they could tell, so the Rangers were taking today off. If anything happened, Zordon would call them.
They were all praying that nothing would happen.
"Adam, you are a mess," Tanya shook her head over her boyfriend's leaf-covered state and went to brush him off. "I just can't take you anywhere can I?" she chuckled briefly.
Kat looked up from where she was setting out the food for their picnic, and spoke before Rocky, sneaking up behind her, could do anything. "Touch this food, Rocky, and I'll make you regret it. This is for the picnic."
"Aww, come on, Kat!" the Blue Zeo Ranger pouted. "Please?"
"No!" she retorted sharply. "Not one bite until we're all ready."
Any more protests he might have had were cut short by the beeping of five communicators. Tommy, Adam, and Tanya all ran straight to where their other two friends were. "What's up, Zordon?" Tommy asked.
"Rangers, come to the Power Chamber at once," Alpha's tinny voice came over the communicator. "It's an emergency!"
"Looks like vacation is over with," Adam sighed. "Time to go back to work."
"Wonder who, or what, it is this time," Rocky wondered. The five of them checked quickly to make sure no one else was around to see them, then in streams of red, green, blue, yellow, and pink, teleported to the Power Chamber.
Once inside, the first thing they noticed was Alpha running around as he always did, but this time with a far more worried note to his `ay-yi-yi's. "What's going on?" Tommy asked, fighting down the fear that was threatening to overwhelm his senses.
"Yeah, what is it, Zordon?" Kat's eyes turned to the large floating head above them.
RANGERS, I HAVE TERRIBLE NEWS, their mentor's voice was quiet. AS YOU ARE AWARE, THE MACHINE EMPIRE'S THRONE WAS RECENTLY DESTROYED BY LORD ZEDD AND RITA REPULSA. IT APPEARS THAT THEY HAVE ALREADY MADE THEIR FIRST TWO ATTACKS ON EARTH, THOUGH NOT ON ANGEL GROVE ITSELF.
The Rangers paled. Two attacks, and they hadn't been able to do anything? "Zordon?" Tommy's voice was quiet. "What happened?"
OBSERVE THE VIEWING GLOBE, RANGERS, was his only reply. The five of them turned to see Kimberly's room in Florida being shown, and to see her awakening from what must have been a nightmare. Tommy's hands clenched into fists at the sight of Rita Repulsa kidnapping his former girlfriend and still friend.
"She's going to pay for that," he whispered. The scene shifted almost at once to the mountains outside Angel Grove, to Billy's campsite. The Rangers growled almost as one when Zedd appeared and snatched their friend up without even a chance to fight. "Zordon, what are they doing with Kim and Billy? Do they want to use them as hostages or what?"
AT THIS TIME, THAT IS UNCERTAIN, TOMMY, Zordon told the worried Red Ranger. BUT REST ASSURED, WE WILL NOT LET THIS GO UNANSWERED. WE CANNOT ATTACK THE LUNAR PALACE, BUT RESCUING THAT WHICH HAS BEEN STOLEN FROM US IS NOT AN ATTACK. ALPHA, PREPARE THE SCANNERS. WE ARE GOING TO FIND A WAY INSIDE THE PALACE.
"Urf!" Billy grunted as the Tengas to whom Zedd had so unceremoniously tossed him when they had arrived on the moon threw him into a cell. He collided sharply with something or someone who made an almost identical sound, if in somewhat more feminine tones. Wait a second. . .he rolled to his feet and looked at who he had bumped into. "Kim?"
"Billy?" the former Pink and Blue Rangers stared at each other in shock, then wrapped their arms around each other. "Oh, my goodness, it has been so long!"
"Indeed," Billy nodded, stepping just a step away to look at her. She had grown even slimmer and stronger during her time in Florida, and in her eyes there shone a warm and fierce light that could never be dimmed. He'd always thought of it as the light of her courage, and it gave him hope even now to see it. "I wonder why we're here."
Kim glanced around the cell and shivered. "I'm almost afraid to ask," she whispered. The cell they were in was small, barely large enough for the two of them to stand up in, even as small as she was, and obviously hadn't been built with comfort in mind. A light heap of bad-smelling straw was the only thing it offered in the way of a bed, and there were no facilities for the needs of nature. Then again, Billy had absolutely no intentions of eating anything that was given to them here, if it was. He trusted Rita and Zedd just slightly less than he had trusted Bulk and Skull back during their bully days.
"I know," Billy nodded. "I would assume, given our former status as Rangers, that we are to be used as hostages of some type against the current team."
Kim remembered what Rita had said, and shivered again. "I don't think so," she murmured. "When Rita grabbed me, she said something about me being her evil Ranger."
"I also heard something like that," Billy recalled. "Zedd said that I had been chosen to be a Ranger again, and the connotations were not that it would be on the right side."
Kim leaned against Billy, the dream she'd awakened from just before her capture still dancing in her mind, but fading in the face of what was going on right now. "The Rangers will get us out of here," she said firmly, holding on to that belief. "They've never let us down before, have they?"
"True," Billy agreed. He was feeling slightly pessimistic however. The ease with which Zedd had captured him had struck hard in his mind, and remembering how not too long before he'd been thinking of how he'd wanted to be a Ranger again, and what he'd do to become one. . .it was already doing something to his mind. Would they even need a spell on me? he wondered. Or could I really want to be a Ranger again so badly that I'd do anything. ..even go bad. ..
He didn't shake himself, but a shiver ran through him at the thought of it. No, he decided firmly. I don't care HOW much I want to be a Ranger again, I'd never hurt my friends. Never.
"Billy?" Kim glanced up at him. "Are you okay?"
"Yes," he replied. She didn't have to know about the momentary hesitation he'd suffered. "I'm just concerned over what Rita and Zedd have planned for us. I do not wish to fight my friends."
She nodded, shivering a bit. "I know what you mean. But whatever they do to us, we can fight them. We won't just give in." it was nasty enough for us fighting Tommy. And he's never told us just what he went through while he was evil. What it was like for him. I wonder how it feels. ..on the other side of the spell.
Rito's strange thoughts didn't last long; few thoughts in his mind ever did. It had been rumored that any thoughts that wandered into his mind died of sheer loneliness. He didn't know, and he seldom cared. What he was focusing on now, as much as he could focus on anything, was simply planting the bomb his sister had given them and getting out of the Skybase before they were blown sky-high.
"Where are we supposed to put this thing again?" he asked. Goldar was the one who had the map to this place; Zedd had stolen it from Mondo's circuitboards before they had ground them up into powder, making certain no one could ever rebuild the king, queen, and younger prince of the Machine Empire.
Goldar looked over the printout he'd been given, grumbling a bit to see that it had jelly stains on it from Rito's lunch. "We're almost there," he said, checking to make certain the marks on the map and on the corridor they were following matched up precisely. "We'll be at the very core of the Skybase, where the implosion device will rip this place apart like a can opener."
"Oh, cool!" Rito giggled. "Hope I can watch!"
"We're going to be too busy teleporting out of here to notice it," Goldar reminded him. "We're only going to have ten seconds before it goes `boom'!"
Rito giggled again. "I like things that go boom! Are you sure we can't stay?"
Goldar sighed and shook his head. There were days, many of them, where he seriously wondered why Zedd had insisted he remain with this idiot. Had he angered his master in some way, thereby bringing this creature into his life in such a fashion there was no way he could get him out? What could he possibly have done to get this moron stuck as his permanent partner? And best friend, he reminded himself. As much as he hated to admit it at times, Rito was the only being who had actually taken the time to get to know him. He'd told Rita's brother all manner of secrets about himself, things no one else had ever thought existed, things that no one even knew. Mainly because I knew he'd never tell anyone. If he even remembers himself.
He glanced at the map again, then grinned. "We're here!" he declared, stopping where he was. It looked just like any other mess of wires, tubes, and pipes leading throughout the Skybase, but it was actually the weakest spot in the entire base, and where the destruction would be able to spread the fastest from. Snatching the bomb from Rito, he quickly set the timer to ten seconds and grabbed his partner's arm. At least this time they didn't have to stop and grab anything else, not like when they'd blown up the Command Center. "We're out of here!"
In their usual teleportation signatures they were gone. The countdown continued quietly behind them. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
Prince Gasket and Princess Archerina had never detected their presence. They never had any idea they were in any danger. The arrogant prince and haughty princess were reduced to nothing more than scrap metal parts that quickly melted in the blistering heat of the explosion. All over Earth, people's attention was lifted to the skies at the sudden magnificent display over their heads. Slowly, shards of the Skybase began to rain down over Earth, but such was the force of the explosion, none of them were of any size to do any damage. The few pieces of it that didn't melt in the atmosphere were too mangled to be of any use to anyone, though they were quickly gathered up and shipped to labs to see if the alien metal or circuitry could be utilized.
But the only person of Earth ancestry with the knowledge to do that was currently in Rita and Zedd's dungeon. And without him, the scientists of Earth simply threw up their hands, unknowing of his existence, and trashed the worthless space junk.
"Can you believe it, Zeddy?" Rita laughed. "Two easy captures, soon we'll have our own evil Rangers, and now the Machine Empire is gone, gone, gone forever! My brother destroyed them!"
Zedd glared at his queen. "Your brother? It seemed more to me like my servant Goldar was the one who did that! All Rito did was stand around looking stupid! Like he always does! It must be a family trait!"
"Are you trying to say I'm stupid?" Rita's voice was already climbing up into the registers of a shrill shriek, and Zedd winced visibly at the noise. "Remember, I'm the one who married you, if you say I'm stupid, then that means I was stupid for marrying you!"
Maybe I'm the stupid one for marrying HER! Zedd groaned inwardly as she started yet another of her tirades on how he owed everything to her. He could, and did, switch off his hearing, letting what she said simply flow by his mind without actually affecting him in the slightest. I wish I knew why I had. It just doesn't really seem like I love her. Not like it did when we got married.
Ah, the halcyon days of that early marriage. He let himself think over that for a few moments. They'd come so close to destroying the Power Rangers then, and if they'd just been able to keep them in that theater a few more moments, it would've happened. He shrugged to himself mentally. It would be so much more satisfying to destroy them in person, with his own two hand-picked evil Rangers.
Both had been chosen, not just because they were former Rangers and it would be satisfyingly sweet to see both of them kneeling before himself and his queen and claiming them as master and mistress, but for specific reasons. Billy had been chosen for his brains; to have those turned against the Rangers, perverted and corrupted for all the destruction he could cause, would be a major coup against the forces of good, not to mention a major slap in the face for Zordon.
Kimberly had been picked for her agility and courage, and for the fact she had once dated the leader of the Rangers. As hard as it would be for Tommy to fight his friend Billy, it would be harder still for him to fight someone he cared for as deeply as he did her. Zedd could only hope that he would be able to see the confrontation and conflict that would most certainly be spreading across his face in that moment. All that he had went through, being forced to flee his palace, married all this time to a screeching crone, the countless defeats of his monsters and his plans and schemes, all of that would be worth it if Tommy Oliver fell to the small girl who had helped him recover from his own time as the evil Green Ranger. All of it would be worthy just that one sight.
It is time. He stood up, cutting Rita off in mid-word. As she stared at him in shock, he grasped his staff firmly and laughed wickedly. "Time to go make our evil Rangers," he declared. "I can't wait to see their faces when they realize what we're giving to them!"
Rita's own cold laughter sounded. "And all we require in return is the total destruction of the Power Rangers!"
As the two of them swept out of the throne room and down to the dungeons, Zedd couldn't help but remember something he had seen once: Kimberly's eyes. How they'd been filled with such strength, such courage, such determination to never be evil, to never hurt her friends. For a moment, he didn't want to take that away from her. Then he chuckled to himself. It will be all the sweeter to destroy her goodness then. As I once thought when I wanted to make her my queen, once she has tasted the power of evil, her days as a do-gooder will be over forever!! And not just her, but that brainy power pest friend of hers as well! No one who has ever been evil has ever went back. . .
"I think I hear them coming," Kim shivered a little, pulling Billy's arms a little tighter around her shoulders. It was cold in this dungeon, and they were each other's only source for warmth. "I wonder what's taking the Rangers so long."
Billy shook his head. "Dunno. I just wish they'd hurry. If they don't get here soon, then we're going to be in some major trouble."
"I'm afraid trouble doesn't quite cover it, former Blue Ranger!" they both jerked up at the sound of Zedd as he and Rita swept into the dungeon cell chamber. "In fact, you're going to be causing a great deal of trouble before this is over with!"
Kim and Billy both jerked to their feet as fast as they could, backing away from the two evil minions. "What do you want with us?" Kim growled. "Oh, forget it, just let us go home!"
"Sorry, Kimmie dear!" Rita laughed. "But you and the brainy blue power pest are here to stay! And in just a few moments, you're going to be our oh-so-willing Ranger slaves!"
"Never!" the two ex-Rangers both hissed the word out, and the two evil minions glance at each other, laughing.
"That's what they all say," Zedd declared, holding one hand out before him. An intricately carved box appeared there, with a silver-hinged lid. Marked on the top were two symbols in gold, one inside the other: a perfect circle cut by a diamond. Both Kim and Billy felt a sudden lifting in their souls at the sight of it, a call they had only ever felt once before: when they had first morphed.
The call of destiny. Whatever lay in that box, they knew it was meant for them. Just as the five other Crystals had been meant for Tommy, Rocky, Kat, Tanya, and Adam, these two here were theirs. And they lay in the grip of one of their oldest enemies. Billy whispered softly to Kim, "I'd give anything if I could just reach over there, grab that box, and get us both out of here."
"I know," she replied. "I would to."
Rita laughed. "Well, I'm afraid you two can't! It's your destiny to be our evil Rangers! Are you ready, Zeddykins? Which one of the little darlings," her voice held thick sarcasm, "should we make our little slave Ranger first?"
"I think the former Pink Ranger shall be first, my dearest," Zedd said, gesturing for a pair of Tengas to open the cell and seize Kimberly. "Do you have the spell ready?"
"Of course!" Rita lifted her spellbook with one hand and laughed again. "I'm ready whenever you are!"
As the Tengas grabbed onto Kim, Billy tried to attack, tried to get them to let her go, only to find himself knocked into the filthy straw. He watched helplessly as Kim was taken out of the cell and Zedd seized her firmly by an arm. The skinless overlord jerked her to the side, whirling her around to face him for a moment as he laughed in her face. "Face your fate, former Ranger!" he mocked. "And welcome to the side of evil!"
Rita laughed, waiting for Zedd to whirl Kim around so she could be put under the spell. She waited. . .and waited. "Zedd?" she asked, drawing her eyes away from Billy, cowering in a corner, to see Zedd and Kim staring into each other's eyes so very deeply. "Zedd!? Zedd!"
Billy looked up at Rita's harsh voice, and his eyes widened to see how the two of them were staring each other right in the eyes, and acting as if they had absolutely no intentions of ever stopping. There didn't seem to be real sense in those eyes, however, it seemed more as if there was information or something being communicated, something beyond the level of conscious communication. Something more like. . .from heart to heart. . .soul to soul. . .
Something of such purity it made Rita want to wretch, and Billy could feel a spark of hope. . .something of the ancient past. . .
Something of love.
Three hundred thousand years ago, on a planet so long destroyed it's name no longer even exists on the star charts, a beautiful kingdom was ruled over by a young and handsome prince, known as Zedd. Tender and kind to the extreme, the young ruler was deeply in love with Kimonia, princess of a neighboring kingdom, who returned the love with all of her heart and soul. Kimonia's brother, heir to their kingdom, Prince Thomi, approved of the match and preparations were made for the day when they would be married, to the delight of both their kingdoms.
There were forces in the cosmos that were determined not to let anyone have anything that even remotely reassembled happiness, however. One of those forces, the powerful and twisted King Tyris, hovered over the planet, and had been sending down warriors every now and then, infiltrating various kingdoms. When he learned of the upcoming marriage of Zedd and Kimonia, he swore he would have that prince, or destroy that entire world. It was a habit of his that he took over the minds, hearts, souls, and bodies of the rulers of various kingdoms, converting them into his evil army of dark warriors. He had expanded the ranks of his foul empire a great deal like that.
His foul seeds had been sown deep within the kingdom already, and now he sent his messages, preparing for the precise moment when everything would be ready for the royal wedding.
The days passed, and on the day of the wedding, it looked as if Zedd and Kimonia would be happily wed without incident. Things were seldom as they seemed, however, and just as the ceremony was getting underway, Tyris' forces invaded. With all the warriors assembled for the celebration, his army faced no resistance, sweeping all ahead of them until they reached the palace and the wedding itself.
And there Tyris himself was there, and in under a minute had taken the entirety of the wedding party, consisting of the royalty of both families, captive. It was the work of a second to bring Kimonia's father under his command as a dark and evil minion. Then Kimonia, Thomi, and Zedd were brought before him.
"Surrender to me," the evil sorcerer commanded. "Surrender yourselves, your lives, and your kingdoms, and I shall permit you to live."
"Never!" Zedd and Thomi were both struggling, trying to escape, but to no avail. Those who held them had grips of purest steel. "Never, you monster!"
Tyris gently stroked one finger across Kimonia's cheek, and she glared directly into his eyes. "A pity," he laughed. "For if you had surrendered, I might have spared her life."
He gestured to her father to ram a swordblade through her heart. As the former king, now his enspelled slave, moved to do so, Zedd called out. "No! Stop! Leave her alone!"
"Why do you care?" Tyris laughed. "You do not wish to save her, do you?"
"I do!" Zedd said fiercely. "Only spare her and anything you want is yours."
Tyris raised an eyebrow. "What I want is your servitude and these two kingdoms as part of my empire. I already have the kingdoms, too. Will you serve me, Prince Zedd?"
The prince raised his head fiercely, ignoring the protests of his friend. "Spare Kimonia and I will serve you faithfully all the days of my life."
"That you will," Tyris needed only to wave a hand; his spells were strong and skilled by any era's standards. Kimonia and Thomi stared as the prince they had both loved in their own ways stood there, free of encumbering guards, and laughed a cold and evil laugh. "And now, my slave," Tyris handed a sword to him. "Kill them both."
"With pleasure, my master," Thomi had only a moment to watch the treachery, as Zedd imbedded the sword in his stomach. With his last breath, he swore he would gain revenge on Tyris, who had done this to his best friend. Then Zedd turned the sword to Kimonia, who stood proud and upright.
She gazed into his eyes, and spoke firmly. "Kill me now, my love, that I might be free of the evil you have become. But the day will come when I shall be reborn, as shall my brother, and together we shall find a way to free you from this life of evil. I love you, my lord Zedd, and will until the end of time."
"I am Zedd, Master of Evil!" was all her former betrothed said, harshly swiping her head off and releasing her soul. And his service to evil began. . .
"Zedd! Zedd!" Rita screeched, pushing the half-entranced former Ranger back into the grip of the Tengas. "What's wrong with you?"
Her husband's eyes blinked for a few moments, and he looked confused. . .somehow softer. . .tenderer. Rita's own eyes flashed with anger as she remembered what she had once been told, how Zedd had once loved a girl. . .this can't be! she growled. I won't LET it be!
She struck quickly, while Zedd was still bemused by whatever he had seen in Kimberly's eyes. With a wave of her staff she wiped his mind clean of the last five minutes, and implanted the suggestion that he had let her handle enspelling the two captive Rangers. With another stamp of the staff, she had captured the minds of both Billy and Kim, making them her evil slaves.
"How can we serve you, Queen Rita?" Kim's voice was harsh and husky and cold. "We are here to serve only you."
"Excellent," Rita nodded, glancing as Zedd's mind seemed to clear. As much as that fool's mind is clear, anyway!! "Zeddy, they are ours now!"
Zedd glanced around, feeling a curious blank spot in his mind. He shrugged mentally; whatever it was, he trusted Rita had dealt with things appropriately. "Excellent, Rita," he approved. "Are you ready to assume your powers, my Zeo Rangers?"
"As you command, Lord Zedd," Billy's `evil-voice' was very deep and strong. It sent chills down Rita's spine to hear it; it reminded her so much of that brief second when she'd had him under her command and he'd stolen the Dragon Dagger. If things hadn't turned out as they had, with that spell being temporary, he might've made her a very fine lover.
Zedd picked up the box where it had fallen to one side, and turned it around to face the two enspelled teens. The first crystal gleamed brightly white, and everyone watched as it floated free to hover briefly over Billy. "You, Billy, are granted the power of Zeo Ranger VII, White, with the power of the Circle. You are the fierce warrior of the body and the mind, the strong arm of our power. Do you understand?"
"Yes, my lord," Billy felt the power of the Zeo Crystal enveloping him, shimmering all through him, singing through every part of his being, and smiled coldly.
"Kimberly," Zedd turned to the female Ranger, as the second crystal, glowing a deep black. "You are Zeo Ranger VIII, Black, with the power of the Diamond. You are agile, swift, cunning, ruthless, the perfect assassin, warrior, and anything else we order of you. Do you understand?"
"Yes, my lord," Kim replied. Zedd glanced at her strangely; for a moment it seemed as if she had, or should have, said something else. He shook his head; everything was as it should be.
Rita looked at him, and smiled wickedly. "They are magnificent, are they not?"
"Indeed," Zedd agreed. "And now, White and Black Rangers. . .go cause destruction in the name of evil!"
"Any word yet on what Rita and Zedd have in mind?" Tommy asked, glancing over a sheaf of printouts and wishing for many reasons that Billy was there with them to look through this. He'd always understood this stuff far better than any of them.
"No, nothing," Tanya looked up from where she was manning the communications center. If Rita and Zedd sent out anything out on any channel, she was going to know about it.
RANGERS, WHATEVER RITA AND ZEDD HAVE IN MIND FOR OUR FRIENDS CANNOT BE GOOD. WE MUST BREAK THROUGH THE SHIELDS THEY HAVE PLACED AROUND THE PALACE TO GET TO BILLY AND KIMBERLY. WHAT LUCK ARE YOU HAVING, ALPHA?
"Ay-yi-yi, this isn't easy without Billy, Zordon!" none of them had really realized just how much the former Blue Ranger had done around there till he suddenly wasn't there. "But I think we might have found a way in."
"You have?" came from five different throats all over the Power Chamber, along with ten feet converging on the little robot. Adam looked quickly over what Alpha had come up with, and nodded.
"I think this could work, guys," the Green Ranger told them. "It appears this place here," he gestured to the few sketches of the Lunar Palace they had, at an opening in the base of it. "This could be the only weakness it has. If we're lucky and it's unguarded or lightly guarded, then it could be our way into the palace."
Tommy glanced at it himself, and nodded. "As far as I know, it's usually not guarded. Kat?" he glanced at the only other person who knew anything about the inner workings of Rita, Zedd, and their court.
"I don't think it is," she mused, looking over the blueprints. "And if it is, we should be able to avoid the guards without a great deal of effort."
EXCELLENT, RANGERS, Zordon approved. REMEMBER, YOU CANNOT ATTACK WHILE YOU ARE THERE, THOUGH YOU CAN DEFEND YOURSELVES AND RESCUE OUR FRIENDS. BUT THE RULES OF THE POWER STATE THAT YOU CANNOT ATTACK.
"We know, Zordon," Tommy nodded, holding in his temper. He knew if he lost it he wouldn't be of any use to them, and he wasn't getting left out of this rescue, not now, not ever.
ARE YOU READY, RANGERS? Their mentor asked. Five nods were his answer. THEN GO AND RESCUE OUR FRIENDS. THEIR LIVES, AND MORE THAN THEIR LIVES COULD DEPEND UPON SWIFTNESS.
Alpha's hand was in the very process of reaching for the teleportation button, when the alarms rang out harshly. "This had better be good!" Tommy growled.
RANGERS, IT APPEARS THAT RITA AND ZEDD HAVE ACCOMPLISHED A DARK AND EVIL DEED WITH OUR FRIENDS, Zordon's voice was quiet and firm. PLEASE OBSERVE THE VIEWING GLOBE.
The Rangers all turned, and the sight they saw in there nearly made all five sick to their stomachs.
"It. ..it can't be," Adam whispered, shaking his head. "It just can't be. It's not possible. This can't be happening."
But it was. Two Zeo Rangers were causing serious damage in Angel Grove's business distract. One, the male, was in a white uniform with a circle emblem on his helmet, while the female was in black, with a diamond shape on hers. It took Tommy two tries before he was finally able to speak. Two words, and only two, fell from his lips.
"You know, this kind of makes me wonder why we spent so much time protecting these idiots!" Black Ranger laughed harshly as she kicked several people away. Her voice was audible only to her evil partner right now, a feature that their masters had decided on to make them even more terrifying. It would be bad enough facing a pair of evil Rangers, if they were totally silent and deadly, it was that much worse.
And these two were being hideously evil. Their blaster fire had already set several houses ablaze in the few minutes they'd been there, and people had been sent screaming, some wounded from powerful strikes or the occasional laser fire. The citizens of Angel Grove, most of whom still vividly remembered the attacks of the evil Green Ranger so long ago, did the most prudent thing they could at this point: they ran. They ran as fast as they could, hoping the Zeo Rangers would show up soon to contain these menaces.
"I know how you feel!" White Ranger licked his lips under his helmet as he swept through a light pole with a powerful side kick. "Being evil is so much more powerful! No restraints, nothing we can't do, it's just. . .evil!" a low and wicked laugh sounded in Kim's helmet, one that she returned.
"Billy! Kim!" five streaks of light touching down a few feet away announced the arrival of the other Rangers. It was Red Ranger, naturally, who had spoken. The evil Rangers barely gave the new arrivals a look, preferring to keep up with the destruction they had so well begun. They did, however, call for backup: which appeared in the form of ten Tengas. At a gesture from their leader, Tanya and Rocky headed into the fight. The three closest to the two who were now evil would deal with them. Adam took a deep breath.
"You think we can do this?" he asked softly.
"The question is," Kat's voice was just as soft. "Do we have a choice?"
Green Ranger shook his head, then leaped straight in front of Billy, catching his arm as he tried to knock down a telephone pole. "Billy!" he growled. "What do you think you're doing? You're one of us, one of the good guys, remember?"
"Not anymore," Billy's voice was harsh. "I serve Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa for now and forever, until the end of time. I'm not the little wimp I was, Adam. I've finally gotten the power back, and I'm not going to give it up to anyone again, not for you or that little girlfriend of yours or anyone!"
"So you're a Ranger again," Adam tried to reason with him. "That's great! You know what side you should be on, don't you? You should be with us! You're not evil!"
Billy seized his friend by the throat, and laughed. "Oh, but I am," the Green Ranger shivered at the sound. "I am."
Across the road, Pink and Red Rangers were trying to reason with the new Black Zeo Ranger. "Kim!" Kat shouted. "You're my friend! There's no need for you to keep on doing this!"
"I'm evil," the Black Ranger mocked them. "You two, of all people, should know what that's like. How sweet it is, how much it gives you. Or have you gone so far in your treachery you don't even remember where you came from anymore? Would either of you be anything at all, would you even know each other, without having been evil?"
"Being evil might've given me my powers in the beginning, but it was being good that showed me how to use them," Tommy retorted. He and Kat had both talked that over not long after she'd joined the team and Kim had went to Florida. "Evil only knows how to hate and destroy. Good heals and helps. You taught me that, Kim. You taught me how to love, how it was possible to love. Don't you remember?"
The Black Ranger paused only for a moment, before laughing and relaunching her attack. "I remember how good it is to be so bad!" she told them. "And I remember how much I'm going to hurt you!"
"That was one of the worst fights I have ever been in," Tommy groaned as he eased his helmet off and leaned against one of the consoles. Billy and Kim had teleported away after only a short fight, the other Rangers had no idea why. Alpha had called the Angel Grove Fire Department to deal with the fires the two of them had caused, and the people were starting to filter back in. He made a note that he should make some sort of statement to the press about what was going on now, as soon as he could figure out what to tell them. "I don't know which was worse, having to fight Kim and Billy or just the actual fight itself."
Tanya frowned deeply. "What I don't understand is how they were made Rangers again anyway. I thought we found all the Zeo Crystals, and that Trey had the last one."
THE ZEO CRYSTAL WAS ORIGINALLY ONE SOLID PIECE OF CRYSTAL, Zordon told them. IT COULD HAVE FRACTURED INTO ANY NUMBER OF SMALLER SHARDS AT ANY TIME SINCE IT'S CREATION. IT APPEARS THAT WHEN ZEDD FIRST ATTEMPTED TO CLAIM THE ZEO CRYSTAL, TWO PIECES DID BREAK OFF, AND HE HAS KEPT THEM UNTIL THIS TIME. A THIRD SHARD WAS BROKEN OFF PRIOR TO THAT TO BE MADE INTO THE GOLDEN POWER STAFF, AND THE OTHER FIVE REMAINED THERE UNTIL YOU SOUGHT THEM OUT TO PROTECT THEM FROM MASTER VILE.
Adam sighed. "And now Zedd and Rita have given them to Billy and Kim. It's great they've got powers again, it's rotten we've got to fight them. How can we break the spell, Zordon?"
"The question is, can we break it at all?" Tommy interjected. "The spell Rita had me under was broken when Jason destroyed the Sword of Darkness, and Kat, you broke your spell on your own. What are the odds that something like that could happen again?"
AS YOU WERE FIGHTING KIM AND BILLY, I HAD ALPHA SCAN THEM BOTH TO DETERMINE JUST WHAT SORT OF SPELL IT IS THAT BINDS THEM, Zordon told them. ONCE THE RESULTS HAVE COME IN, THEN WE WILL KNOW WHAT TO DO FROM THERE.
Tommy nodded, demorphing completely as he did so. "I think we're going to have some explaining to do to Billy's dad, and try to get in touch with the coach in Florida to explain Kim's absence somehow," the leader of the Power Rangers said. "We don't know how long this could take, and they're going to need some sort of explanation."
"And I seriously doubt they're going to accept `your children were kidnapped by Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd'," Kat said dryly. "And I don't think they're going to let Billy and Kim come home in between attacks. That would give us too much of a chance to help them."
RANGERS, BILLY'S FATHER IS ALREADY AWARE OF HIS IDENTITY AS A FORMER RANGER, Zordon told them. I INFORMED HIM WHEN BILLY TOOK HIS FIRST TRIP TO AQUITAR. HE HAS LONG SINCE BEEN SWORN TO KEEP THE SECRET.
The Rangers all looked at each other, remembering even as their mentor spoke of how Mr. Cranston had been so understanding when their communicators beeped at times, when he'd simply said nothing when Billy had spent so many long hours in the Power Chamber. The evidence had been right before their eyes, and they'd just never noticed. "What about Coach Schmidt?" Kat wondered. "And everyone at the gymnastics camp?"
"That's a really good question," Tanya murmured. She had never met Kim, but she understood the necessity of what they had to do. The Rangers' secret, even evil Rangers, had to be protected absolutely. If even a hint of who they were escaped to the public, it could be disastrous.
Tommy sighed. "I'll teleport home and give them a call," he said. "I've still got their number from when Kim first moved down there. I'll figure out something to tell them. Somehow."
As he teleported out in his usual red flare, the four other Rangers just looked at each other. Facing an evil Ranger was something they'd never done before, much less facing two, even far less those two being two of their best friends. Something told them all this was just the beginning of one of the greatest battles of their lives, and quite probably one of the longest.
And all they could do was hope they could win.
There is something wrong with my memory, Zedd realized as Rita summoned back their Rangers. He didn't pay that much attention to what they were doing, he was too caught up in his own thoughts right now. Something has been taken out of my memory.
It was possible that it was harmless, just a little touch of memory loss. With the forces of evil magic running all through him and through the palace, not to mention being near Rita as much as he was, it could have strange effects on his mind. It was probably nothing to worry about. He tried to put it out of his mind as the Black and White Rangers appeared in the throne room, bowing at once.
"You've done well, my Rangers!" Rita praised. "The Rangers are very confused, to say the least! Soon, we'll be able to destroy them forever!"
In smooth, identical motions, the two of them removed their helmets and stood at attention. "As you command, my queen," Billy spoke. "But we could've destroyed them today. They were hardly fighting back. It would've been easy!"
"Too easy!" Zedd growled. "And remember, the Rangers are cunning and canny opponents. It's possible if you'd gotten too close to them, they would've teleported you back to that stupid Power Chamber to try and make you good again!"
It was a mark of how deeply entrenched in them the evil was that both former warriors of the light flinched away from that. Zedd's eyes, resting lightly on Kim as he spoke, sparked a little at that. There was something teasing at his mind, something about her and her eyes. . .
"Well, that's not going to happen!" Rita screeched, breaking into his thoughts. "You're our evil Rangers, and you're going to destroy them! Is that understood?"
"Perfectly, my queen," Billy bowed low from the waist. "Absolutely perfectly."
"Yes, majesty," Kim also bowed low. "We will destroy them for you."
Rita smiled coldly, noticing two things out of the corners of her eyes. For one, Goldar and Rito both looked jealous of her two new warriors. For another, Zedd couldn't seem to keep his eyes away from the Black Ranger. She growled under her breath and screeched, "What shall we do with our Rangers for now, Zeddy?"
"What? Oh," Zedd shook off the odd feeling of memory that was trying to envelop him and shrugged. "Let them rest for now, they've had a hard day. We can attack again later."
With a flip of her hand, Rita ordered the two evil Rangers to demorph and had Rito and Goldar show them to where they could rest. As jealous as they might be, her brother and the gold ape knew far better than to try and touch the Rangers in any violent way. That would be a major death sentence. Once they were all gone, she turned to look at Zedd, only to see he had left his throne.
"Zedd?" she growled, then saw him standing on the balcony overlooking Earth. She screeched his name at the top of her lungs, only to have him completely ignore her as he stared at the twirling blue planet they orbited. She hissed a few vile insults under her breath, then stormed off to their bedroom. She was going to have quite a few things to say to him once he finally pulled his attention away from the planet they were going to conquer, and she wanted time to think carefully on all of them.
Zedd didn't even notice her screeching, all his attention was on the Black Ranger. He wasn't even seeing Earth, really. Something about her, something about her eyes, was trying to fill that blank gap in his memory, and he would not stop until he knew what it was he had forgotten, and just how he had forgotten it. Something whispered in his mind that if Rita had anything to do with it, she was going to pay a very dear price.
Two very long and harsh weeks went by. Zedd was seldom seen as he fought with his memory, trying to figure out what had happened to it. When he was around, he was short-tempered and crueler than usual, and it didn't take long for the palace to clear once word got around that the master was starting through it again. The only person who he never seemed to scream at, who seemed to be able to calm him, was the Black Ranger. Whenever they were in the room together, he would stare at her as if drinking the sight in, as if trying to figure out something that he never could.
Rita kept a careful eye on what was going on with her husband, she knew if he ever regained the memories that had flowed back into him when he had first locked eyes with the reincarnation of his ancient love, then she was going to be in serious trouble, and that was the mildest way to put it she knew.
The White and Black Rangers ignored the inner workings of the palace, the two of them lived only to fight and fought to live. The only thing they did was go down to fight the Rangers when ordered to, eat, sleep, train, then go down to fight the Rangers some more. It was a dull existence to some, but with both their minds somewhat dulled already by the spell that kept them evil, there wasn't much else they could do.
Tommy had been about to call the gymnastics compound, when he received word via one of Kim's friends there that she had decided to leave, and that she had asked the friend to inform Tommy of when she would be returning to Angel Grove. Apparently, the friend said, Kim had left early, and she wanted to know if Kim had reached home safely. Though it tore him apart to lie, especially about Kim, he had told her friend that Kim was there and everything was fine. The friend had seemed happy, and had went on about whatever she was doing with no idea that Kim was now the evil Black Zeo Ranger that was all over Angel Grove news and all over Angel Grove causing trouble.
The Rangers had been seeking a way to get the two evil Rangers free, but so far, there was absolutely no luck. Whatever the spell was, it was too strong for them to break on their own as Kat had done, and it didn't seem to have the same physical link that Tommy's had to the Sword of Darkness, giving them something to destroy that would break the spell. None of them actually said anything, but they were all starting to wonder if they would ever break the spell.
Mr. Cranston, Billy's dad, accepted the fact his son was once again a Ranger, though on the side of evil, with perfect equanimity. He said rather bluntly that he knew the Rangers would save both Billy and Kim, he had complete faith in them, no matter what happened. Even as the days passed, his faith and belief in them didn't waver. It was heartening.
Rita was growing more and more concerned over Zedd's absence and search for how to restore his missing memories, but she concealed it as well as she could. If she showed even the slightest hint of knowing something he didn't about the situation, she knew what he did to her would be horrible. It was bad enough at times being married to the scrap of heap, to have him truly angry at her would be even worse.
Goldar and Rito grumped around, Rito still wondering occasionally if being evil was still right for him, but mainly they were upset over having to wait on the two evil Rangers the way Rita ordered them to. They were never sent to fight the Zeo Rangers anymore, that was the province of Black and White Rangers now. They were just used as sparring partners and servants. It was most humiliating.
Two weeks after their restoration as Rangers, Billy and Kim were summoned into their queen's presence.
"You sent for us, Your Majesty?" Billy's voice was just as chilling as it always had been the last fortnight, and Rita once again found it to be somewhat arousing. She fought it down, however, she had other plans for the White Ranger.
"Yes," Rita nodded. She alone sat on the throne today, Zedd hadn't been seen in almost two days, and she was going to be searching for him soon. She absolutely had to know if he was coming any closer to breaking the memory block she had placed on him. "I have orders for you both. You, White Ranger, are going to go down to Earth and finish off the Power Rangers once and for all. I want you to destroy them completely. I'm tired of playing around with them, and I don't want to see you back here until they're gone, do you hear me?"
Billy bowed deeply. "As you command, my queen."
"And what of me, milady?" Kim asked, lifting one eyebrow. Rita almost glared at her, then fought it back; the Black Ranger had no idea of what her very existence did to Zedd. If it had been possible, though, the evil queen would have destroyed her to make certain Zedd never regained those memories.
Then again, if I did that, if he ever DID get them back, he'd destroy ME for killing her. It was a fine line she had to walk, in order to get what she wanted the most. "You will remain here as my bodyguard, Black Ranger," she ordered aloud. "We must go seek out Lord Zedd, I believe he. . .is ill, and he must be taken care of. The two of us are best suited for that."
Kim bowed again. "As my queen commands," was her only reply. Rita nodded; despite what Zedd was trying to do, and what she knew would happen when. . .no, if those memories returned, she appreciated good service.
"White Ranger," Rita snapped, glaring over at Billy momentarily. "What are you still doing here? Get down to Earth and destroy those Rangers! You should've already left as soon as I told you to!"
Billy jumped, for a moment he'd been lost in thought over what his master could be doing, could he truly be sick? "I'm sorry, my queen," he said. "I'll go at once."
Teleporting out in molten white fire, he was gone. Rita turned to Kim. "Morph," she ordered. "We will be going to the lower levels of the palace and there are things down there that you will need to be morphed in order to handle."
"Zeo Ranger VIII, Black!" Kim's voice was practically dead as she morphed, the only enthusiasm she showed for anything was when she was fighting the Rangers. Fighting whatever horrors lived under the palace didn't interest her. Destroying Rangers was what the spell she was under had programmed her for. It was actually what kept the spell going. There were only two ways for it to be broken: for all the good Rangers to be destroyed or for either Rita or Zedd to remove it from her and Billy.
"Let's go," Rita snapped, moving her heavy skirts out of the way as they started down a corridor. Her staff held in one hand, she was already beginning to think on various spells that would keep Zedd's memories at bay for a few centuries. Maybe something to wipe it completely of his entire life, then fill him with anything I want him to know? Yes, perhaps that would be best. . .it would be sad to lose all those memories of evil magic and spells he must have, but sacrifices must sometimes be made.
As the two of them walked side by side through the lower corridors, they didn't see a tall figure that stepped from an alcove behind them. Neither did they hear the single word that fell from lips long-hidden by a silvery mask.
"Guys, we've got Billy on Main Street, no sign of Kim," Adam's voice came over the communicator. It sounded just as weary as they knew he looked, as the only slightly-technically minded person they had now, he stayed in the Power Chamber as much as he could, trying to figure out any and all ways that might break the spell, not to mention keeping an eye out for attacks. "He's got Tengas with him this time, though."
Tommy's voice responded. "Meet us there, Adam. Maybe we can figure out something this time."
"You got it," Adam stood up, half-waiting internally for the call that rang out a moment later.
"It's morphin' time!"
Five Rangers were there to meet the White Ranger as he rather visciously chopped his way through some of the cars left on Main Street. As they looked at the damage, they all had to be glad that Angel Grove Insurance had added monster attacks to their coverage shortly after Rita had been released from her dumpster. Evil Rangers counted as monsters under their policy as well, since Tommy himself had caused quite a bit. In fact, pretty much anything Power Ranger related was covered.
"Billy!" it was safe to use names, since the entire street had been deserted. Tommy shouted again. "Billy, what in the world do you think you're doing?" stupid question, Oliver, he's just short of blowing the town to smithereens!
"Destroying you!" came the sharp answer as Billy charged towards them, fists held low. Before Tommy could move or block, three sharp hits had landed on his chest and shoulders. "Queen Rita has demanded that you perish, and I shall not fail her!"
Tommy shivered, as Rocky and Adam tackled the enspelled Ranger and pulled him off their leader. He hated hearing things like that, it made him think far too much of his own evil Green Ranger days. He shook his head a little; he had too much to do right now to get caught up in nostalgia, good or bad. "She's not your queen, Billy, she's your enemy! Don't you remember how you fought against her with us all those years? You were one of the first, the first Blue Ranger!"
For a brief second, the Red Ranger thought he was getting through to his friend. Then Billy shook his head. "I am the White Ranger now, but not the perfect little puppet you were, Tommy. I am power. I am evil. I am destruction!"
He shook both Adam and Rocky off and slammed them to the ground. They didn't know how he possibly could be moving as fast as he did, but in a second he had also pinned Tanya and Kat to the ground, and stood over the five of them. Tommy was about to call forth his Zeo Sword, when Billy rather pointedly put his booted foot on his throat. In under thirty seconds, he had captured them all.
"Well, this is a pretty picture," the evil Ranger laughed. "And it was so easy to do as well. I don't think I've been here more than ten minutes!"
He lifted a hand, in which appeared a long, cruel-looking sword. "I wonder if this can penetrate those suits of yours," he laughed. "Oh, why bother. . de-," he broke off in mid-word, raising his head as if someone had called his name. For a moment he stood like that, then leaped back, releasing them. "Another time, Rangers. My queen calls me."
Billy vanished in what appeared to be his new signature, a spark of white flame, and the five Rangers looked at each other as they got up. "Something's going on up there," Tommy said. "Something really strange."
"Strange doesn't cover it," Kat shook her head. "Let's get back to the Power Chamber. Maybe Zordon has some answers."
Zedd's eyes flashed golden for a moment, as he watched Kimberly and Rita walking through the lower levels of the palace. Golden: not the red of rage as they usually were. He closed them briefly, and he could plainly see the mental block that had been put in his mind. In magical terms it `tasted' of Rita and her evil magic. A `taste' that not so very long ago had been sweet to him, that he had enjoyed more than anything.
Now, evil filled him with sickness, hate, and misery. He let a small tear flow down one cheek. In the two days he had been gone, he had detected Rita's mental block. He hadn't punched through it yet, but that would require the work only of a moment. He could already sense what was on the other side: the reason he kept staring at the Black Ranger, the reason his entire being sang at the thought of being near her.
He punched through. The memories were slow in coming at first, then sped up. He remembered how Thomi's eyes had looked, when he had killed him and remembered where he had seen those eyes before: in the face of Thomas Oliver. He remembered Kimonia's promise to return to him, and how that promise had finally been fulfilled. When he had first looked into Kimberly Harte's eyes, he had seen the face of his old love looking back at him, the face and the soul, and the spell that had made him evil had been broken by the touching of their souls. He had been free.
But Rita had sensed it, Rita had struck before he could act on his new freedom, and he had lost it. She hadn't made him evil again, but she had wiped his memory of being anything but evil, and that was enough. Until now. Until that blank spot had been wiped away by the power and force of his will to know what it was he had forgotten.
She wasn't good enough to block the sensation of amnesia I had, and thank all the heavens for that. Oh, Kimonia, will you ever forgive me? Only one way to find out, he realized. It was time to start making up for what he'd done. "Rita!" his voice was every bit as harsh as the `old Lord Zedd' had been. He watched in satisfaction as the Black Zeo Ranger and his `wife' turned around.
"Zeddy! Where have you been? I was almost getting worried about you!" she tried to act concerned, but he saw through her this time. Everything she had ever done, she had done trying to get power over his empire. Well, she could have it now. He had something else, or at least wanted to have it. And it was standing next to her right now.
He stepped forward. "I've been learning," he grated, and before she could move, brought his staff quickly around. White light burst forth, wrapping around Kimberly and showing for a moment the web of evil magic that surrounded her. The light burned through the web, and she stood there blinking in confusion, free of evil.
"Wha. . .what . ..?" she mumbled, her own memories unleashed by this as well. She stared in purest surprise at Zedd, who held his hand out to her. In that gesture was a request for forgiveness, for his past treachery, for all he had done in the present, and an offer to go home regardless. Once again their eyes met, and she could feel a stirring in her heart that had been dead for thousands of years.
Kimberly Harte, once the Pink Ranger, now the Black Ranger, reached out and took the hand of he who had been Lord Zedd, Master of Evil, and was now just Zedd. He took time only to do one more thing, turning to Rita.
"We quit," he growled, lashing at her with his staff. "Deal with it."
He watched with satisfaction as Rita fell back against the wall, taken so totally offguard by what he'd done that she had no time to fight back. He turned to Kim, who was staring first at her erstwhile mistress, then back at him. "Ready to go?"
"Yes," she replied. "And I think when we have time, we're going to have to have a very long talk. We need to get caught up on a few centuries," she giggled that giggle he hadn't heard in so long, and had never thought to hear again.
"That we do," he smiled, shedding the form of Lord Zedd to resume that of Prince Zedd of so long ago. "That we do."
"This is going to be a surprise for the Rangers," Kim grinned, then her eyes darkened. "Billy! We've got to save him!"
Zedd was going to nod, when he saw Rita starting to make her way to her feet. "We can rescue him later. He'll be safe, Rita won't abuse the only evil Ranger she has left. And I might be able to break the spell on him later myself. Let's go."
Billy appeared in the throne room, glancing around for Rita or Zedd or the Black Ranger or any sign of what was going on. He had heard only her insistent mental summons for him to return, there had been no explanation or anything. "Queen Rita?" he called out. "Lord Zedd?"
No answer. "Black Ranger? Kimberly?" his usage of his partner's true name was a trifle rusty, but he managed it well enough as he started to search around for them. There was also no sign of Rito or Goldar, but he didn't expect them to be anywhere useful. He remembered Rita saying something before he had left about them exploring the lower reaches of the palace in search of Lord Zedd, and ran there as swiftly as he could.
Of all the things the White Ranger had expected to see, finding Rita half-unconscious against the wall was not one of them. "My queen!" the White Ranger raced over to the prone form of Rita, who had slumped back down as soon as Kim and Zedd had left. "Majesty, what has happened?"
When Rita didn't answer right away, Billy powered down and picked up the far-too-light queen and raced with her to Finster's laboratory. "Finster!" he growled. "Something has happened to the queen, and there is no sign of Black Ranger or Lord Zedd!"
The little inventor looked at the spellbound Ranger; he knew now was the perfect time to release Billy if he could and for them to both leave. He'd only wanted to serve Rita in order to sculpt things, it was what made him live, sculpting all manner of things. He also knew there was no chance of that; only Rita or Zedd could break the spell, and both of them were unavailable. He did the only thing he could do for now.
"Lord Zedd has betrayed the queen and done this to her, taking the Black Ranger with him," he reported. Being as small as he was gave him the chance to watch everything that was going on unnoticed, and he often took it. "I believe she will be all right, just give her some time. Perhaps you should rest yourself, I'm certain she'll reward your faithful service once she has recovered."
Billy nodded, his eyes returning to the blankness of being deeper under the spell as they did so. Anything he heard or saw that told him he was being obedient to his master or mistress did that to him. Finster sighed as the evil Ranger turned and walked away. What a brilliant young man he is under that spell. I'd give ANYTHING to be able to have a decent conversation with him. But what intelligence he has is being blocked by the spell; Rita and Zedd didn't want his brains to be able to break through it. All he is. . .is a fighter. All he does is want to hurt and kill.
I wonder how Lord Zedd broke that mental block Rita put on him. And just what it was he saw in the girl's eyes and mind that made him so. . .well. ..so good. Ah, well. . .I shall probably never know. But wherever he goes and whatever he does, no matter what, I wish Lord Zedd and his lady well. They have both earned it. He most of all.
Finster turned his attention back to Rita, wiping her forehead and quickly tending to her various evil needs. He wondered briefly what would happen if she didn't awaken from her unconscious state, and for a moment, actually considered doing something so she wouldn't. Then, he shook his head. I've never been a murderer. And even now, I won't begin.
Besides, it would be so much more satisfactory to heal her, so someday she would see her evil empire crumbling around her ears. And he would do everything in his power to make certain that happened, as he always had and always would. After all, that was also why he lived.
"Adam, could you get me a reading on the Palace and see what's going on up there, if at all possible?" Tommy asked. The Green Ranger nodded and was about to turn towards the controls, when every alarm the place had blared suddenly.
"Could someone turn all of those down, please?" Tanya shrieked, holding her ears tightly. "I think I'm going to go deaf!"
Everyone was nodding, when suddenly all the noise shut down. Everyone turned to thank whoever had done it, but the second their minds comprehended who was there. . .Tommy simply stared. Adam looked as if someone had hit him in the head with a large board. Rocky didn't look any better. Kat was in pure shock. Tanya was simply confused and unknowing.
"Um, hello?" she was the one who finally spoke to the young man and woman standing in the Power Chamber. "Who are you?"
That question was answered by Tommy. "Kim? Is .. are you okay?"
"I am now," she replied, smiling that familiar grin. "Thanks to. .my friend here," the way she looked at that young man almost made his heart spasm, for she had once looked at him like that.
I SEE IT HAS FINALLY HAPPENED, Zordon's voice seemed very satisfied. WELCOME BACK, ZEDD.
"Zedd!?" the Rangers had never expected to hear those words coming from Zordon. "Here in the Power Chamber!?" Tanya exploded. She hadn't fought against Zedd as the others had, but that was still unusual, to put it one way.
Zordon nodded, and as everyone stared at the young man, began to explain how he had been pulled to the side of evil. Kim stared at her mentor. "Zordon, you mean, you knew all along that I was..um. .used to be. .whatever you call it. .Kimonia, Zedd's fiancée, and you never told me?"
WOULD YOU HAVE BELIEVED ME? Zordon said simply, and Kim knew it was true. She probably would've found the nearest bathroom and hurled until her toes came up. But now. ..Tommy. She remembered her ex was standing about two feet away, and was probably every bit as confused as she had been when this had first happen. She was about to ask him if they could go talk for a few moments, when Zordon interrupted once again. ZEDD, IF I UNDERSTAND CORRECTLY, YOU BROKE THE SPELL ON KIMBERLY, RESTORING HER TO GOOD, AND SHE IS STILL IN POSSESSION OF THE BLACK ZEO RANGER POWERS?
The former evil overlord nodded. "That's right. I would've rescued Billy if I could, but he was down here at the moment and I didn't want to risk Rita waking back up and putting both of us back under spells again. I had to move as fast as I could."
WE WILL RESCUE BILLY, Zordon promised them all. BUT IT IS GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK ON THE TEAM, KIMBERLY: IF YOU WISH TO BE. IT IS ALWAYS YOUR CHOICE.
Kim took a long breath, and thought it over. The feeling of being evil repulsed her, now that she was good again. She wondered if this was how Tommy had felt when he had been released from Rita's spells. As if she were there again, she remembered what Jason had told Tommy back then. You own the power now.
That was the answer. "I choose to be where I belong, Zordon. With the Rangers. As the Black Zeo Ranger. And we're going to find a way to get Billy back to. The team needs to be complete."
THEN WELCOME BACK, KIMBERLY. WE HAVE MISSED YOU. They didn't need to hug her to welcome her, that from Zordon was all she needed, but they did anyway. She glanced at them all. Tommy, the tender friend she would need to talk to so much. Rocky, the gentle joker whose laughter she had missed so much. Adam, the wisdom and the strength she had longed for. Kat, the best friend, almost sister, she had always wanted. Tanya, the new person, whose eagerness she could sense even now. All her friends. All her fellow Rangers once again. We'll get you back, Billy, she swore to the last of them. Somehow.
She looked to Zedd now. The love from the past, so far past. She nodded quietly to herself. She had a lot to talk about, to everyone, and a lot of choices to make. It was quite a shock to realize that the same person who had fought against them all this time was now someone who she had once loved, who quite probably still loved her, and she realized, she could very well love again.
Me in love with Lord Zedd, she chuckled mentally. Who would ever have thought of that?
Zedd only smiled as he looked around. He was heading for a major culture and mental shock, he knew. It wouldn't take long. But he was just glad that the love he'd always had buried for Kimonia, for Kim, had finally burst free, redeeming him from the evil overlord he had been. Whether she loved him again or not, whether he loved her again or not, and he was still somewhat uncertain at this moment if he did, the memory of what they had had was more than enough to have freed him. For that, he was glad.