Author's Notes: I was inspired for this as I was half-awake one morning, and I hope that you all like it. This is the first of a five-part series for me, which will feature two of my favorite themes: evil Rangers and original Rangers, not necessarily in the same person. Those who hate that sort of thing, consider yourself forewarned and leave now if you like. I won't hold it against you. Those who want to stay, enjoy the fic, which rates at somewhere around a PG-13 or so, with slight R overtones, but I tried to keep back on those. Thank you.
I hope I can ask her this time, he stared down into the pink drink quietly. Time's sort of running out.
"Carlos?" he almost jumped out of his skin when he heard Justin talking to him. The young Ranger was peering at him very curiously, and his lips quirked just a bit when Carlos almost spilled his drink. "Carlos, are you okay?"
"Yeah," the Green Ranger nodded, cleaning up a little bit of smoothie that had spilled on his jacket. "I was kind of thinking about something."
Justin grinned. "I sort of noticed that. What was it?"
"Nothing much," Carlos shrugged. He wasn't going to tell anyone how he felt about Ashley unless and until he could get her to go on a date with him. Some things were needed to be kept private.
He'd been trying to ask her out for over a month now, but every time, he either chickened out too soon or something interfered, be it one of the others showing up, a Piranatron or monster attack, or something of that nature. He was beginning to wonder if it was his fate to never ask her out, to never have the nerve to find out if she liked him or not.
"Hey, guys!" he jerked out of his thoughts to see Ashley and T.J. heading over to them from the mats, towels around their necks in their respective colors. Cassie was also coming over, humming something under her breath that was probably the latest song from the band she and her friend had. It was T.J. who had spoken, and Carlos wished almost for a moment that just he and Ashley were in the Youth Center. It would certainly be a lot easier on his nerves asking if they were.
"Hi!" he waved back, plastering a smile on his face. Maybe the others would leave for something and then he could ask her. He already knew where he wanted to go for their first date, if she said yes. Angel Grove High's Valentine's Day dance was in a week and a half, and he would love to have Ashley Hammond as his date, and hopefully girlfriend.
"So, who else is looking forward to the Valentine's Day dance?" Cassie asked as everyone sat down around the table Carlos and Justin were at. Carlos almost groaned audibly at the question; was fate conspiring against him or something?
"I am!" Ashley gushed, her eyes flickering unnoticeably to Carlos' face. "I just wish someone would ask me!"
T.J. saw the faint wash of pain that rippled across Carlos' face at that, and was about to say something. If he had, then perhaps everything that followed might not have. That would never be known however, for just as he was opening his mouth, a very familiar sound rang out, and the Red Ranger grimaced. The expression on Carlos' face was something akin to suicidal despair, however.
With a brief gesture, the five of them moved quietly to a dark corner of the outer hallway, and teleported away. No one noticed the small periscope peering out of the smoothie Carlos had been drinking.
"Uh, what are you talking about, Auntie D?" Elgar babbled from a corner near her. The Queen Pirate barely even looked at him; she absolutely despised the fact she was related to him. He couldn't get even the simplest plans done right, he was stupid, ugly, and incompetent, and those were his good points!! She didn't even want to consider his bad ones.
Rygog shuffled a little closer to her. "Would you tell us about your evil plan, your Evilness?" he requested. He knew how to get on Divatox's good side; assuming she even had such a thing. It wouldn't be safe to say those words; she hated even the mention of the word good. It gave her a rash.
"It's so simple even you could follow it," Divatox gloated, turning to look at the three henchmen who were watching her. She snorted a little. "Then again, maybe not. But the whole point of it is, I'm going to turn that tasty-looking Green Ranger against all his friends and get him on my team!"
Porto nodded eagerly; he was the only one who knew of the plan, since he'd been necessary to create certain portions of the scheme. "We've been planning and executing attacks at specific times and places so that Carlos is feeling isolated from his companions, and isn't able to perform certain tasks. When the time is right----"
"When the time is right, then I will bring him here," Divatox laughed. "And I will use him not only as my personal toy. . .but as the weapon that will finally bring down the Power Rangers once and for all!"
Elgar blinked a little, not quite certain he understood what was going on here. That was a usual condition for him, however. "Why use him?" he finally asked. "I can destroy the Rangers, Auntie D!"
He almost winced as Divatox whirled on him, her eyes sparking. "You? You couldn't destroy a roach! You've got the IQ of a salamander, and the looks of roadkill, and you stink like an open sewer! If you weren't my nephew and if I didn't owe your mother a life-debt, I wouldn't even have you on board my SpaceBase! What makes you think you could destroy the Rangers?"
Her nephew tried to stutter, but faced with his aunt's anger, could only meep a little. Rygog chuckled darkly. "I can destroy them, my queen!" he winced when Divatox turned her attention to him, a faint glow surrounding her eyes, indicating she was about to blast him with her eye-lasers. "I'm sorry, Queen Divatox!" he backed up instantly, hoping to apologize his way out of being rendered into dust. "Whatever your glorious evilness wants, is what I'll do! I know your plan will succeed!"
Divatox smiled, allowing her temper to fade a little. "I know it will too," she half-purred, letting her imagination roam freely over several of the things she had planned to do to and with Carlos once she had him in her clutches. She'd thought of using this plan on the first team of Turbo Rangers; it would have been the most delicious irony to use her feminine wiles to get Tommy or Adam to betray their companions. But a study of their psychological profiles had quickly proven they were too experienced in the ways their enemies worked to fall for her without drugs or spells of some type. Divatox didn't want that; she preferred to work a little more subtly, in ways that were not so easily detected. She'd thought she would have to discard the plan, or use her special tool on someone else altogether. Right up until the old team had transferred their powers to this current generation.
And I saw that GORGEOUS new Green Ranger, the pirate licked her lips sensuously, And I knew he was going to be the PERFECT one for my plan. It's taken me a while to get everything set up, but now that it is. ..her eyes danced wickedly, you're MINE, Carlos!
"Divatox has created a powerful monster today, Rangers," Dimitria told them, gesturing to the scanners. A moment of static passed, and something that looked rather like a mutated combination of an alligator and an octopus, with none of their redeeming qualities, appeared on the screen, surrounded by Piranatrons and running insanely through the business district of Angel Grove. "This is the OctoGator. Like a true alligator the jaws can snap through almost anything, and the eight tentacles it possesses have a grip that is almost unbreakable. You will have to be careful in the combat with it."
T.J. nodded quietly; he had learned more in the last three months since accepting the Red Turbo Key about combat and command than he had ever thought possible, or even realistic. He wondered for a moment if he were doing a good enough job, a thought that haunted him since finding out he would be the new leader of the team. Calm down, he told his jumping insides, you're doing something right, you're all still in one piece and Divatox hasn't taken over.
"What else can it do?" he asked, wanting all the details before entering the fight. The third leader of the Power Rangers wanted to be certain he wasn't taking his team into anything they weren't capable of handling in some fashion.
Dimitria smiled; she had expected T.J. to ask this. This team was in a special situation, the only senior member was a young boy who had proven his worth already over the space of a year, and the four older ones were still somewhat uncertain of how they worked together. T.J. was doing his best to lead, and she found herself more than impressed with his skill and his earnestness. Tommy had made a very excellent choice.
"It is capable of firing bolts of energy from it's eyes, and it is possible the tentacles also have an extra power, though what it might be I am uncertain of at this moment," she advised. "Be careful, Rangers."
Carlos almost snorted at that; the way things were going, he wouldn't be very surprised if the thing tried to strangle him! For some reason, most of the fights they'd been having lately, the monsters almost seemed to go out of their way to inflict damage on him. It made him shiver to think that the evil pirate could actually be ordering them to do that. The general bruises and cuts of a fight he could deal with, he knew she was after all of them. But something about the thought of being specifically targeted made his skin crawl. The others will keep an eye out for me, he thought. That's what being a team is about.
"Everyone ready?" T.J.'s voice sent spurts of adrenaline through them all as the Turbo Keys were brought out. For just a moment, each glanced at the item that had so changed their lives forever.
I choose you to lead the team as the new Red Ranger.
You'll be the new Green Ranger, Carlos.
I choose you with pride to be the new Yellow Ranger.
I know you will bring honor to the new Pink Ranger.
You will henceforth be known as the Blue Ranger.
T.J. shouted it out next, with all the strength of a true leader. "Shift into Turbo!"
Then words of English forced their way out. "Have you come for your destruction, Rangers!?"
"Actually we came for the cheese dip," T.J. wisecracked, leaping into a twisting spin kick onto the creature's forehead. "Trashing you is just a bonus!"
Carlos couldn't help but chuckle at that; even in the darkest of hours, T.J.'s wacky humor was something to look forward to. He himself just wanted this fight over with, he had some serious talking to Ashley to do, as soon as possible. T.J. and Cassie were dealing with the monster, while he, Ashley, and Justin handled the Piranatrons that had come along with it.
T.J. winced behind his helmet as OctoGator moved to the side, avoiding one kick from him and a punch from Cassie. "What's the matter, afraid to stand and fight?" the Red Ranger grunted. Wonder if we'll have to pull out the weapons for this one?
OctoGator laughed, then two of it's tentacles lashed out, wrapping one around his waist and the second around Cassie. "I'll fight, but on my terms, Ranger!" the thing laughed at them, pinning their arms to their sides before they could stop him. "And I think taking the two of you out of the picture would make things much more entertaining!"
Cassie growled something under her breath that made T.J. wonder just what kind of neighborhood the Pink Ranger had lived in before coming to Angel Grove, and did her best to kick the monster in any area she could reach. "Get your tentacles off me!" was what it boiled down to, however.
Think, T.J.! the young man struggled as they were both lifted off the ground. It's part crocodile, part octopus. You've studied both of those in school. What are their weaknesses? His attempts to think weren't going very well as he was thrown back and forth across the street by the creature, landing harshly against Cassie several times.
"Hey!" laser bolts lashed through his field of vision, and he managed to catch a glimpse of Carlos rushing towards them, firing his weapon at them. "Let them go, ugly!"
OctoGator laughed harshly, sending another tentacle towards Carlos. The Green Ranger had been prepared, however. He could plainly see his friends struggling vainly in the grip, and he was ready with a plan. His Turbo Blade appeared in his hand a moment later, slicing downwards at an angle, and shearing through the tentacle effortlessly. OctoGator screamed, a sound that sent pain through all the Rangers, especially Cassie and T.J. as they were the closest two it.
Something about the sound triggered a memory of T.J.'s, and he jerked his head around to look at Carlos, the only one of them currently capable of fighting the thing. "Carlos! It's nose! Blast it's nose, a crocodile's nose is very sensitive!"
The Green Ranger nodded, and while OctoGator was still distracted by the pain of it's severed tentacle, leaped forward, sword extended, and pure raw determination in what could just vaguely be seen of his eyes. The pain of the tentacle was suddenly dwarfed by a harsher, more intense burst of agony across the nose, and OctoGator found himself unable to keep a hold of the two Rangers it had captured. Cassie and T.J. found themselves rolling free and back to their feet.
"I'll be back, Rangers!" Cassie could almost swear she heard tears in the thing's voice as it teleported away with the Rangers, unable to bear the pain another second. She almost felt sorry for it; Divatox wouldn't be pleased! She knew the thing was right, though. It wouldn't stop until they had destroyed it.
"I say she just blasts it," Rygog muttered to his fellow mutants. Porto shook his head.
"She might give it another chance," he suggested. The scientist hoped she would; he didn't like his creations being destroyed by his queen! The Rangers were one thing, the monsters were made to fight them, designed for it specifically. To have Divatox do it went against all the rules of the game.
Elgar blinked. "I hope she remembers to get me that toy mouse I wanted," he muttered, more or less oblivious to what was going on, as usual. Porto and Rygog both exchanged glances that meant the exact same thing: We have to put up with him?
"You ran," the pirate's voice was cool and calm. "You ran when you should have stayed and fought off the Rangers. You could have even crushed two of them."
OctoGator trembled at the unutterable calm in Divatox's voice. "I'm sorry, Queen Divatox, I truly am, but it just hurt so much!" it was still rubbing where Carlos' Turbo blade had came fairly close to drawing blood. "That Green Ranger hurt!"
Divatox raised one eyebrow and smiled faintly. "So it was the Green Ranger that hit you. Excellent. It appears things are going just as planned."
Confused, the monster stared at her as she retook her seat. "Your Majesty?" servility and humility would help, it decided.
"I'll send you out against the Rangers again soon," she told it, then made a 'shooing' motion with one hand. "Until then, go do whatever it is you monsters do when you're not failing against the Rangers."
Her attention completely left OctoGator at that moment, as she turned to Porto. "I want a full troop of Piranatrons scavenged up as fast as you can, Porto," she ordered. "They're to attack the Green Ranger the moment he's alone."
"Yes, Divatox!" Porto bowed low. "Do you wish him captured or just gotten out of the way?"
"Neither!" the pirate screamed suddenly, glaring at the scientist. She twisted her hand and a vial of glowing blue liquid appeared in it. She regarded it with an almost sensual gaze for a moment. "I want one of them to inject this into him, and he is not to notice it going in, either! Can they do that without screwing it up?" Divatox seriously doubted it; it seemed most of the time if something needed doing, she would have to do it herself. She deliberately avoiding thinking about all those times she'd done it herself and it had failed anyway.
Porto bowed again, this time more hurriedly and repeatedly, trying to gain her forgiveness for his stupidity. "Yes, my queen, they can!" while she normally summoned the Piranatrons, he did have some measure of control over them. In fact, he had been the one who had originally located the creatures for her when she had begun her pirating career. "If I might ask. ..is that what I think it is?"
Divatox almost seemed to purr in response. This little serum was going to be what sealed Carlos away from his friends for all eternity. "Oh, it is, Porto. Oh, yes, it is indeed."
The Green Ranger smiled, enjoying this feeling. This was just one of the reasons he was glad he'd decided to join the team when the chance was given. "Glad I could help," he half-murmured. He flushed a little, also half-angry with himself for the thought that had wandered through his head: that he wished Ashley had been one of those he had saved directly, so he might possibly gain the courage to tell her how he felt and maybe. . .just maybe. ..ask her out.
Go ahead and do it anyway, a voice whispered in his mind that was stronger than he was or could hope to be. Go ahead and do it.
He opened his mouth, raising his eyes to look at Ashley, when he saw the timepiece behind her on the console, and mentally swore. "Guys, I gotta run, if I'm late for supper, my mom's going to skin me!"
"Yo, Carlos, I can teleport you straight to your house!" Alpha offered. Carlos shook his head.
"Better not, just put me on the end of the street where no one's going to see me come in out of nowhere, as usual" the young man said. "I'll walk the rest of the way. See you guys tomorrow!"
Without another word, he vanished into his customary column of emerald light. The next thing he saw was the clump of bushes that he was getting used to seeing whenever he teleported in there rather late. He glanced around automatically, though he knew no one would be there. Stepping carefully out, he headed down to his house, a faintly amused smile on his face at the thought of how good his mother's food was going to taste. He always had a hearty appetite after a monster battle, and today didn't look to be a bit different.
He was less than two houses away from home when a school of Piranatrons quite literally leapt up out of nowhere in front of him with the standard 'gurgling' sound that he'd come to expect. "Oh, great, can't Divatox just give it up for one day?" he groaned, falling at once into combat readiness. He thought briefly about calling the Rangers, but decided if anyone happened to look out of their house, it wouldn't look half as suspicious to see one lone teenager fighting the Piranatrons as it would to see them being fought by a teenager and the Power Rangers.
Without a word or a sound except the echoing of finny feet sleeping, the Piranatrons charged him. Carlos quickly moved to the side, wishing mentally he dared morph, but the possibility of being seen once again raised it's ugly head. Instead, he'd just have to plow through this as a normal teenager, and do a lot of hoping that he came out all right.
Finned fists and feet punched and kicked him everywhere, with at least three of them on him at any one given time, until he managed to squirm away and gained a few seconds of breathing room. "Don't you ever give up?" he groaned, staring at the things that were gathering together and hovering just a few feet away from him. "Take a break, or something?"
The creatures looked at him, then at each other. Apparently they'd had enough of the fight, however, since they melted back into the ground in the reverse of the way they had come. Carlos glanced curiously at where they had been, rubbing one of the places he knew he was going to have a bruise the next day. Feels almost like I got pricked by a thorn or something. Oh, well, I'd better get on to the house.
As he walked, he didn't look at the area of his arm where the slight pain was coming from. If he had, he might have seen the needlemark there, though he would not have seen the sapphire-colored potion already coursing through his system, bonding to his molecules in a way that would take full effect within twelve hours. . .
"Looking at your picture of him again?" Ashley peeked over her friend's shoulder to look at what her fellow Ranger was holding. Cassie flushed a little; Ashley had been the first and so far the only one of her friends who knew that she liked the mysterious Phantom Ranger.
"Yeah," Cassie felt the sudden urge to put away the picture, and fought it. She knew he had to like her as she liked him, since he'd obviously given her the picture. It was the only way it could have happened, since no one else had ever taken any pictures of him. No one even could photograph him if he didn't want to be, since he could turn invisible at will.
Ashley smiled, patting her friend's shoulder. "He'll be back one day."
"I hope so," Cassie sighed, slowly putting the picture and turning her gaze back to Ashley. "But enough about my love life, or lack thereof. What about you?"
"What?" Ashley almost paled, what in the world was Cassie talking about? Then she knew. "Oh. You mean why I haven't asked Carlos to the dance yet."
"Exactly," Cassie grinned. "It's the nineties, don't wait around asking for him to ask you! Besides, it looks like he won't!"
Ashley sighed, turning on her back and once again grateful that she'd talked her parents into letting Cassie move in with them when she had found out the other girl didn't have anywhere else to stay after they had become Rangers. Cassie's original goal had been to go to Stone Canyon, but after being sidetracked into Angel Grove, she had checked to see if the friends she had planned on staying with would still be able to help her out. She'd been rather dismayed to discover that they had been thrown out of their apartment for non-payment of bills a couple of days earlier, and they themselves had no place to go. Ashley had at once extended a helping hand to the girl she had so recently met, and now had a live-in best friend. Cassie's only other living relative, an old aunt who had financed her trip and who was perfectly happy that her niece had decided to remain in the somewhat safer Angel Grove and pursue her education for now, had been more than agreeable when it came to passing legal custody of the teenager to the Hammonds, until Cassie turned eighteen.
"I wish he would ask me," she sighed. "He's the only person I want to go to it with. Maybe you're right, maybe I should ask him."
Cassie grinned, tossing her long strands of midnight hair over one shoulder. The luckiest day of her life had been the day she'd met Ashley, Carlos, T.J., and Justin she believed. "Of course I'm right. I'm always right, didn't you know that?"
Her friend giggled, leaning over to tickle her a little, finding refuge from the threatening emotions in her heart in teasing Cassie. "If you're always right, how come I had to coach you through last week's Algebra test?" she teased. Cassie squirmed away from her, both of them forgetting everything inconsequential such as boys, dances, dates, saving the world, in favor of just being friends.
"Um, do you guys see what I see?" Justin stared down the hall as Carlos stood by his locker, getting out what he needed. Ashley glanced, and almost went chalk-white.
"Please, don't tell me it happened again," she half-whispered, half-prayed. The last thing she wanted to deal with was Carlos vampiric again. She hadn't told any of them, but after that whole ordeal was finished, she had had nightmares for almost a week.
T.J. bit his lip the tiniest bit, then handed his books over to Cassie. "Would you watch these for a second? I'm going to go find out if he's okay. We don't need to jump to any conclusions."
"Sure," Cassie agreed, shouldering the bag she kept her own things in and watching as her leader and friend headed over to where Carlos was leaning against the lockers, eyes apparently shut behind the sunglasses.
The Green Ranger lazily lifted the glasses as T.J. approached, and his friend was glad to see his eyes were normal, not touched by red as they had been in that previous incident. "Hey, Carlos!" he waved as cheerily as he could. "What's up?"
"Why do you ask?" was the cool reply. T.J. was taken aback by it; Carlos had never sounded like this to any of them!
"Just wondering," he replied. "What's with all the black?" he decided just to plunge ahead. "Not your usual color."
Carlos lowered the sunglasses over his eyes again before responding. "So? Is it a law that I can only wear green, I must not wear any other color or the universe will collapse?" there was a nasty edge to his voice that chilled his teammate.
"No, of course not!" T.J. shook his head. "It's just kind of a surprise, that's all."
"You don't react to surprise well, do you, Teej?" something about the way Carlos said his nickname was raising the hackles on the back of the Red Ranger's neck. "Well, you're in for a lot of surprises today."
T.J. stepped back, something primal responding to the nastiness directed at him. "Carlos, are you okay? You don't seem like yourself."
Carlos pushed himself off the lockers, literally, and glared at first T.J., then raked his glance across the three others standing a few feet away. "I'm more myself today than I've been in a long time. Now stay out of my way. I've got more important things to do than hang out with any of you."
As he walked away, his back turned to them all, T.J. rejoined the others, all of them in a mild form of shock. They had been just close enough to hear what was being said, and Ashley had gone even paler, if that were possible. "What's wrong with him?" she had to hold onto a locker just to keep herself up.
"Bad day?" Cassie offered weakly. This was worse than when Carlos had been a vampire; at least then he'd been more or less nice to them! But to have that icy expression turned to them. . .it was enough to terrify you, in more ways than one.
Ashley took several deep breaths, glancing after Carlos and wondering if she should go after him. The bell rang before she could make up her mind, and she automatically shifted her books and stood up straighter. "We'll take him to the Power Chamber after school," he said finally. "Maybe Divatox did something to him, we can't take any chances."
Nods from the other Rangers were the reply as they each headed off to their classes, and none had noticed the flash of blackness behind Carlos' sunglasses as he had left, or heard the subtle laughter of Divatox as she watched her plan unfolding.
The other Rangers were convinced by noon that it was something Divatox had done to their friend, but why they couldn't figure out, unless it was just the simple procedure of dividing them. Justin repeated over and over that he knew Dimitria could help him, once they got the Green Ranger there.
Of course, that was going to prove to be the really hard part, since he was avoiding them with a skill they had never thought he possessed. If it hadn't been for their communicators beeping almost at the same moment that the final bell rang, they might have been kept looking for the rest of that day.
"What's going on, Dimitria?" T.J. wanted to find out what was really wrong with Carlos, but since he had teleported in with the rest of them, he assumed it was either over with, or they would have a chance after the fight to help him.
"OctoGator has returned, Rangers," the sorceress told them. "He is causing trouble in the park, you must go stop him."
Carlos' almost slimy voice spoke up. "Then let's do it. I have some paint to watch dry, I can't be bothered with this sort of thing for long. Shift into Turbo!"
The Green Ranger was there almost before the rest of them had finished morphing, and he was tearing into the monster as if it had personally offended him. "What are you wimps waiting for?" Carlos half-shrieked as he punched and pummeled OctoGator, ignoring the Piranatrons circling between him and the other Rangers. "This isn't exactly a one-man job!"
"I'm coming, Carlos!" T.J. put aside the growing anger at the seemingly insane young man, and leaped forward into a spinning leap and kick over the Piranatrons and into the middle of the fight. The others would deal with the fish-things, hopefully working together would erase whatever it was that Divatox had done to his friend. "Let's take this thing----" his words broke off as OctoGator wrapped a half a dozen tentacles around him once again, slamming him into Carlos several times repeatedly.
"Hey!"" Carlos growled something very foul and harsh. "Are you trying to kill me, T.J.? Stop that!"
"I'm not doing it!" the Red Ranger managed to grunt. One arm hadn't been fully caught by the tentacles, and he managed to call up the Turbo Lightning Sword, slamming it down into the appendage holding him with all his Power-enhanced strength. "You've got to think straight, Carlos!"
A viscious hiss was the only reply, then a howl from the monster as the sword cut through the tentacles, dropping T.J. to the ground and falling back. "Whoa," the Red Ranger stared. I must have done something right that time! Small explosions were starting up wherever the tentacles had been attached to the body, but T.J. didn't hope that he'd gotten rid of it that easily. Something else was required here.
"Turbine Laser!" he shouted, and as it appeared, the others leaped over to help him balance it, something that couldn't be done alone. Even Carlos stood with him, and together all of them fired the mighty laser weapon at the OctoGator. That appeared to do it in. It glowed for a moment, and then exploded in a flash of light so brilliant it almost overloaded their helmets. They had won.
Or had they?
T.J. stared; that had to be the most illogical, irrelevant, stupid piece of tripe he'd ever heard coming out of a living being's mouth, much less a fellow Ranger's. "Carlos, you wanted help, remember?" he tried to reason with his friend. "You were the one being irrational, you went running off without waiting for the rest of us, you've been avoiding us all day, and being rude when you did talk to us. Let Alpha examine you, Divatox has got to have something to do with this, there's no way it could be anything else."
"Oh, I can't possibly just have realized you how stupid you all are, could I?" the Green Ranger hissed, his gaze shifting from T.J. to Ashley to Cassie to Justin to Alpha to Dimitria, then back again, watching them all like a hawk, not letting any of them get anywhere near him. "I haven't seen Divatox or any of her little flunkies anywhere around me unless I was with you guys, so it didn't happen." he saw no need or reason to tell them about his little encounter with the Piranatrons the night before. It meant nothing.
Ashley looked hurt as she stepped a little closer. "Carlos, please listen to us, you're not thinking straight, something has to have happened to you."
He smacked her hand away as she tried to reach out to him, and glared with such fury that she flinched away, and Cassie put an arm around her friend in automatic comfort. "Sorry, jerks. I've had enough of risking my life for you, and getting nothing back."
"What do you mean by this, Carlos?" Dimitria's quiet voice cut through the tension in the Power Chamber, and Carlos quivered internally for a moment.
Am I doing the right thing? he wondered, then cold reason reasserted itself. He was. The only thing he could do right now. It was what he was supposed to do. They weren't his friends, they didn't care about him, and he didn't care about them. He'd stayed with them long enough. It was time to strike out on his own, and do the things that he wanted to do, instead of what they wanted him to do.
He flipped his wrists suddenly, and his Turbo morphers appeared on them. With a wrench, he tore them off and almost threw them at the others, watching with a cold heart as they fell to the floor. "Find some other jerk to be your green loser," he hissed. "I quit."
With that, he also tossed off his communicator, and glared at the little robot. "Send me home. Now."
Alpha dithered for a moment, not quite certain what to do; this was totally beyond his experience! Dimitria spoke. "If this is what you want, Carlos. But you are always welcome again among us."
"Don't hold your breath," the ex-Green Ranger growled as he dissolved into a column of now-white light and vanished from the Power Chamber. The Rangers glanced at each other in total confusion, as T.J. slowly bent over and picked up the Green Turbo morphers.
"Something very, very strange is going on here. I don't care what Carlos says, this is Divatox's doing," he insisted. "Carlos does not act that way usually, and something had to make him."
Dimitria nodded quietly; she had scanned Carlos as soon as she had sensed his unnatural activities earlier in the day. She couldn't detect anything right away, but she knew better than most that that didn't always mean nothing had happened. Whatever Divatox's plans were, they would do all they could to ascertain they did not succeed.
"Excellent!" Divatox laughed frostily. Her serum had worked perfectly! Carlos' feelings of frustration at not being able to ask Ashley out, combined with the constant attacks and some judiciously placed maneuverings of the combat situation with the OctoGator, had combined with the stuff to create the perfect environment for what had happened: Carlos' abandonment of the team. "He's all by himself and the others aren't going to come and help him!"
"Uh, Auntie Divatox, how do you know?" Elgar wondered, shuffling closer to her. "They're all still friends, aren't they?"
Divatox laughed. "Not after that little show he must have put on in the Power Chamber, I would wager!" she grinned, moving away from her periscope. "Porto, front and center!"
Her scientist almost literally popped up in front of her. "What can I do for you, my queen?"
"Go down to Earth and extend an invitation to Carlos to come to the SpaceBase," she instructed. "Do not kidnap him, he must come of his own free will. Just tell him that I'd like to speak with him, that's all. Don't force him. Can you comprehend that, you overgrown marshmallow?"
Porto quickly bowed deeply, he understood what Divatox was asking of him, but not why. What in the world could she possibly gain from having the now-former Green Ranger on the SpaceBase? Then his mind kicked into gear, and he almost kicked himself. How could I have forgotten, I helped make it for her! he cursed himself. Was he starting to become as incompetent as all the other forces of evil that had tried and failed to destroy the Earth? No, I'm not. I just forgot, that's all. It happens, I am a few thousand years old, I can forget things if I want to.
"Yes, Divatox!" he spoke aloud when it was obvious Divatox was waiting for a reply. "I'll bring him back without a scratch on him!"
"Good," the evil queen leaned back, picking up her mirror to examine her reflection in detail. She wanted to look her absolute best for her new crewmember. As Porto vanished, she smiled. She had no doubts about that. Carlos would become one of her warriors. The serum was still working on him, slowly increasing his hate from a hot burning weapon to a cold, icy desire to do evil. Hate and evil weren't always the same things, but evil had always been able to use hatred as one of it's best tools. "Rygog, prepare the training room. You and my new crewmember are going to spend some time working out. After all," she laughed low and wickedly, a sound that chilled even the hardened minions of evil with her, "I can't let my newest warrior get flabby, now can I?"
Elgar scratched his head. "Gee, I dunno, Auntie D, aren't I good enough for you? And I'm not flabby!"
His aunt turned slowly, her eyes flaring too suddenly for him to stop her, as she lashed out with her lasers and blasted him halfway across the room. "The next time I ask you something. ..shut up!"
A weak groan was the only answer, and that satisfied Divatox as she got up and headed for her private shower. She had a very special little greeting in mind for Carlos. A very personal one.
Without really knowing what he was doing, he began to drift into a light, yet profound, slumber. He had chosen his resting place well; very few people knew this particular glade in the park existed, and most of those wouldn't be there right now. They would be busy taking care of finding his replacement. His lips twisted darkly into something that was a faint mockery of his usual grin as he thought that.
As he slept, the serum still working in him began to alter his mind and memories, twisting them in the fashion Divatox had dictated. Porto had created this serum many centuries earlier, and now it did it's dark work well, recreating the young man in the image that she wanted him to be in.
"Carlos?" a voice was calling him, waking him up. It didn't appear to be one of his relatives, but it caused no fear in him, despite being faintly familiar. His eyes opened and he saw Porto standing in front of him.
"Oh, it's you," Carlos sat up straighter and stretched, yawning in the mutant's face. "What do you want?"
Porto smiled. "I don't want anything. Divatox would like to see you, however. If it's not too much trouble," this being almost nice was killing him!! Porto just wasn't used to it!
Carlos blinked a little, a frown forming between his eyes. "What does she want?" it didn't seem odd to him in the slightest that a woman he had considered his worst enemy as early as that morning now wanted to speak with him, and he was considering going.
"She didn't say, she just asked me to extend the invitation," Porto declared. Carlos stood up, brushing the dust off his jeans and turned to the inventor with a dark smile.
"Then shall we go see what she wants?"
Porto nodded, extended his teleporting capabilities to cover the teenager, and then with a warp, both of them were standing in front of Divatox's throne, which remained somewhat conspicuously empty. Carlos raised one eyebrow. "And where is she?"
"I'm here, Carlos," a sultry voice spoke from behind him, one he identified as Divatox's, yet with a richness and a quality to it that he could have sworn it never had before: friendliness. He turned around to see her standing there, clad no longer in the red and gold outfit she had worn on those few occasions when he had seen her, but in a long, flowing gown of pale rose satin. The way the light shown behind her made it almost translucent, though only the outlines of certain feminine features were visible. Slowly, knowing he was watching, she sauntered over to her throne and took a seat. With a flick of her hand, she dismissed the Piranatrons and Porto, leaving just the two of them alone in the chamber.
Carlos looked her up and down, a smile curving across his face. "Nice outfit," was all he said.
"Glad you like it," she smiled slowly in return at him. "Now, business before pleasure is what I always say. And my business with you is this: I want you to help me destroy the Power Rangers."
Carlos wasn't very surprised. "Why should I?" he responded. "What's in it for me?"
"First, the chance for revenge," she had her answers ready, she knew just what buttons to push on him. She watched for his reaction.
"And?" one eyebrow remained raised, and his eyes had lit with a definite interest, though if it was for her body or for the chance of revenge, he didn't know for certain.
She kept going, however. He'd get it all in the end. . .and so would she. "Authority. I'll give you half this world to rule once they're disposed of, it's really too big for me to deal with on my own. That includes all the wealth and anything you want to drain from it as well."
Divatox smiled, then picked up a small box from a table beside her throne. "Power. This will be yours, if you join with me." she held it out to him, the smile broadening as he took it and lifted the lid. The expression on his face was truly amazing. He looked up at her, and the smile on her face was twinned on his.
"Are these what I think they are?"
"Indeed they are," she nodded. "Porto crafted them just for you. We couldn't make them purely for evil, that's the nuisance of Ranger powers, but they are neutral. It's better than nothing, I would suppose."
"Fine," he nodded quietly, then shut the box. "What else?"
She played her trump card now, rising to her feet and pulling a cord from around her waist. The gown she was wearing collapsed into a puddle around her feet, and his eyes went round. The thought that this might be the first time he had ever seen a female in the nude made it all the more appealing to her. "This," she said coolly. "For as long as you are one of my crew."
Carlos looked her up and down, and she could tell he was very attracted to her. She would have quit being a pirate and a seductress if he hadn't been. "I still want Ashley," he said quietly and firmly. That was one aspect of his personality that hadn't changed.
"I don't mind," she shrugged, letting her violet hair ripple all over her shoulders and upper torso. "You can have all the other females you want, just as I can have any other males I want. But wouldn't you like to have some experience with a real woman before you go on to all those others?"
The pose she struck at that moment stirred up whatever hormones hadn't quite woke up yet, and Carlos put the box he'd still been holding to one side. "Deal," he said finally. "I'll do it all."
She smiled, holding her hand out to him. When he took it, she teleported them directly into her bedroom. She had quite a lot to teach him. And the sooner she started the lessons, the better.
T.J. sighed, pulling his drink closer to him. "We sort of did. We had a fight with Carlos."
The former officer nodded quietly. "Fights can be a problem. What was it about?"
"It's kind of hard to explain," Justin said, sipping his own drink. "Very complicated."
"I see," Stone started back behind the bar, then looked back at them. "You might want to consider apologizing for whatever the fight was about. It doesn't matter who was right or wrong. What matters is the friendship you guys share. It isn't something I've seen very often, but when I have, it's very hard to get rid of it. Don't let anything stop you."
As he went back to work, the remaining Rangers all sighed a collective sigh. "I wish it were that easy," Cassie murmured. "We know that whatever Carlos is doing, he's doing it because Divatox did something to him."
Justin shook his head. "Actually, we don't know that for certain. We think it, because that's not how Carlos usually acts. But we don't have any proof just yet. And we can't get any unless we can get him back to the Power Chamber."
Ashley wiped away a tear from her eyes and sighed. "And we can't just teleport him in because he's not one of us anymore, and we can't do that sort of thing to a civilian. He's got to come because he wants to. He hasn't really hurt any of us, just quit the team."
Silence fell between them all. It was only broken by T.J.'s quiet voice. "Do you think Dimitria will want to replace him?"
"We don't have a choice," Cassie pointed out. "If Divatox attacks before we can get Carlos back on the team, then we're going to have to be at full strength."
All of them winced at the harshness of it, but they also knew it was the truth. Whether they liked to admit it or not, they were in a war, and one that they dared not lose. Speculation began to turn on who the prospective new Ranger might be, but only three took any part of the discussion. Ashley was too busy staring at the door of the Youth Center, hoping against hope that Carlos might walk in and they could talk things out once and for all.
It was getting onto six o'clock, almost three hours after Carlos had teleported out of the Power Chamber and quite probably out of their lives, when the sound they'd all been dreading beeped at them: their communicators. All of them stared at it for several moments, not quite certain just what they should do. They knew that whatever it was Divatox was doing, they had to stop it, but out of nowhere, the thought of going into battle without Carlos was repellent.
"You guys had better answer that," T.J. automatically covered his communicator as he looked up to see Jerome Stone looking at them from across the bar. There was a small smile on his face as he did so. "It could be important."
"Umm...yeah," T.J. jerked his head to the others and they followed him outside to a secluded area. All of them had the same question wandering through their minds: does he know about us?
Cassie glanced around briefly out of habit, forcing every other thought out of her mind but business. "We're clear, T.J."
"Let's go," he said briefly. Seconds later, all of them were in the Power Chamber. Ashley's shoulders slumped just the tiniest bit when she saw that there was no sign of Carlos anywhere. "What is it, Dimitria?" T.J. asked, noticing Cassie squeezing her best friend's hand in support.
"It appears that there is a new Ranger in Angel Grove," Dimitria said, gesturing to the scanners. "And this Ranger is Divatox's warrior."
All of them turned as one to stare at the viewscreen. With a team of Piranatrons under his command, a Turbo Ranger, in a coal-black uniform, was trashing the abandoned warehouse district, a favorite of the forces of evil. None of the Rangers had been able to come up with any reason why their enemies attack there so often, but they weren't going to complain. It kept them from attacking populated areas, and that kept injuries and causalities down to a bare minimum.
"Any sign of Carlos anywhere around?" Ashley had to ask, hoping he'd come to help them. Dimitria shook her head.
"The scans indicate he's still in his home," she told them. "And we cannot go against his wishes to remain off the team."
T.J. sighed. "We'll figure out something to do about him later," he decided. "We've got an evil Ranger to deal with now. Let's go."
"Excellent," he purred the word out. "Power Rangers," he glanced at his troops. "You can take on any of them you like. But the Red Ranger is mine. I've got something personal to settle with him."
The fish things nodded over and over as the Rangers' forms solidified, and the four of them looked around for their enemy. Black Ranger felt his lips twisting into a mocking grin beneath his face. They weren't going to know what had hit them.
He didn't bother with an attack cry. He just leaped towards them, the long sword he had been given held out, and the Piranatrons on his heels.
"Whoa!" T.J. barely had time to pull his own sword out and parry the brutal first strike by the Black Ranger. "Who are you and can't we talk about this? Rangers aren't supposed to be evil!"
Black Ranger chuckled darkly. It was the only sound he made as he twisted his blade around and struck again, this time at T.J.'s middle. The Red Ranger managed to block the attack, then shoved quickly away, wanting to get a bit of breathing room before continuing the fight. His opponent was having none of that, however, as he leaped for the leader of the Rangers, their blades skittering along the edges of the swords with a harsh sound that caused T.J.'s teeth to set on edge.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" the good Ranger grated as the blades clashed back and forth repeatedly. He could hardly believe this was all happening at the same time; Carlos' quitting, this evil Ranger attacking them. . .I wonder. . . "Carlos?" he asked, his voice quavering just a moment. The Black Ranger didn't so much as twitch, and T.J. shrugged mentally. Should've known better, Dimitria said he was still in his room. This is probably just some poor guy Divatox brainwashed or something. We've got to help him.
Black Ranger chuckled again, enjoying the sound and the effect it seemed to have on his opponent. Every time he did it, the strength of T.J.'s blows seemed to fade a little. He briefly considered going into maniacal laughter, but since he wasn't a maniac, it just didn't seem worth the effort.
Carlos! Divatox's voice rang in his brain, a nice side effect of what they had done before he had come down to Earth again. They shared thoughts now. You've done enough damage to them for now. We don't want to give them any clues as to who you really are just yet, now do we, my dearest?
No, he sent back almost reluctantly. When should I take the Yellow Ranger, however?
I'll let you know.
His eyes narrowed beneath the shadow-dark helmet he wore, and he wondered for a moment just why he was letting her order him around. Then, with a shake of his head so slight no one noticed it, he stepped back. She had given him everything, and more, that was why she was giving the orders. For now, he thought, making certain to conceal it from her. With a wave of his sword, the Piranatrons vanished, and he pointed it threateningly at the Rangers, the Red Ranger in specific.
"Next time," was all he said before warping away.
Divatox chuckled warmly, her fingers playing around in Carlos' hair. "Little does he know."
The two of them exchanged glances, then both burst into evil gales of laughter at that. Carlos almost snuggled up against her, then bent his head back a bit to look at her. "He did call my name. I didn't react to it, I didn't want him to know who I am, but couldn't they figure it out?"
"Probably not," she shook her head. "It's very hard to figure out a Ranger's true identity, even if the evidence is right in front of you, unless they actually morph or demorph before your eyes. Besides, I threw a little obstacle in their path."
He raised one eyebrow, and she explained, "I've planted something in your bedroom at home, it'll deactivate when you personally go in there. It gives off a field that tells the Power Chamber scanners that you're in there, and will also disrupt their teleportation if they try and take 'you' there."
"Excellent," Carlos curled himself around her, gazing deeply into her eyes. "I'm going to have to go home for real, though. I don't want my parents suspecting anything," his face twisted into a pout for a moment. "I wonder if I should make some arrangements to be away from home for a few days. I really don't need to stay there, I can stay here."
Divatox shook her head. "No, it's best if you keep up a normal cover, that way the Rangers won't ever suspect that you're really Carlos. All they need to know about the Black Ranger is that he's evil through and through. And you are, aren't you, my dear?"
The Black Ranger smiled, kissing her suddenly, deeply, and savagely. "You better believe I am," he purred, his lips traveling from hers all the way down her. "I'm evil to the core."
The Pirate Queen could barely keep a full grip on her thoughts as he touched her. This plan was going far better than she'd ever imagined, not only did she have Carlos so totally in her thrall that he was considering leaving his own home to stay with her, the Rangers were completely and utterly befooled by her simple tricks! She wondered if she'd somehow overestimated their intelligence. . .
Then all coherent thought vanished as Carlos began to do something particularly nice, and the only thing she was capable of focusing on was doing things in return that were equally nice.
Carlos, on the other hand, was keeping a very firm hold of his brains, despite the alluring distraction that Divatox's body provided. Being only sixteen, he'd never had a female before her, and he was intent on learning everything he could about the joys of feminine contact. After all, they would in so very handy once he had taken Ashley away from the others and had her all to himself. He made a mental note to have Divatox provide him with some of the more amusing toys such as she had in there for them to play with. It would be quite amusing to teach Ashley the lessons she would need to learn in there.
But all that was for the future, he reminded himself, starting to turn full attention to Divatox. For now, he had lessons of his own that needed learning. And he was a very eager pupil.
Dimitria spoke up. "Rangers, I wish that we could bring Carlos back, but as he no longer wants to be a Ranger, we must select a replacement."
Ashley's hands almost shook at the thought, as she tried to bring focus to her mind, to forget about Carlos for the moment and think about the good of the team. "Who should we pick? Does anyone know anyone?"
"Owen," Cassie said quietly. "Carlos' friend."
"Why him?" Justin asked, curiosity tingeing his voice. "I guess he's a nice enough guy, but why him in particular?"
Cassie almost seemed to sigh. "Because he's Carlos' friend, he's in excellent physical condition, and it just might snap Carlos out of whatever is wrong with him if he sees Owen as a Ranger."
"Do you all agree?" Dimitria glanced around at the entire team. T.J. had his face buried in his hands, and shrugged noncommittally. She would have to watch him for a time; the way the Black Ranger had went straight for him had obviously shaken the Red Ranger. He would need help. Justin nodded quietly, though it was obvious that he wanted Carlos back, as did Ashley, who didn't appear to care one way or the other.
She glanced over at Alpha. "Where is Owen?" she asked. The little robot scanned Angel Grove briefly, then looked up.
"He's by himself right now, practicing in his backyard. Scans indicate no one is near him at this moment."
"Teleport him here," the rules concerning who could be teleported and who couldn't were able to flexed when new and potentially new Rangers were concerned. A silvery column of light suddenly formed in the Power Chamber, then resolved itself into a young man with a very startled expression on his face.
Owen blinked a few times, looking around him. He had never seen a place like this before, it looked like the world's most advanced computer system and then some. Standing and sitting in various places were four young people he knew. They were friends of Carlos, though he had seldom spoken with them personally. All of them looked somewhat dejected about something. "Ummm. ...what's going on?"
"Owen Sanchez," a female voice spoke, and he turned to see a beautiful woman robed in white floating in a blue-green tube before him. "I am Dimitria of Inquirus, guide and guardian to the Power Rangers Turbo. We have need of you."
T.J. slowly pulled himself around, his duties drawing him away from his shock for the moment. "Carlos was the Green Ranger," he said bluntly. "But he quit, and now we've got an evil Black Ranger who's causing problems, and we need a new Green Ranger. We picked you."
The young soccer player was shocked, to say the least. "Me?"
"Yes, you," Dimitria nodded quietly. "We are uncertain as to the true reasons behind Carlos' abandonment of his duties, and suspect Divatox in this. But until we know for certain, we must have a full team of Rangers, and Carlos, for whatever reasons, will not serve. Will you?"
Owen was quite literally in shock. He fumbled around until he found a firm place he could grab onto, then quite frankly stared. "Me? A Power Ranger?"
"Yes," T.J. nodded. "Will you?"
Thoughts and questions poured through Owen's mind as he tried to figure out what was going on. Then, one simple word echoed out of his mouth.
He already felt closer to the other Rangers, despite just having his first real conversation with them in the Power Chamber itself. The next day at school, the five of them were hanging around T.J.'s locker and talking. The friends Owen had spent most of his time being with before suddenly just didn't seem quite as important, and he made a note to apologize to them when he got the chance. He realized now why Carlos had stopped hanging out with him and the others as often as he had; it was something about the Power that just drew you irreversibly to others that had it.
"Look," Cassie's voice was low and concerned as she glanced at something beyond them. The team looked where she had, Ashley raising her gaze for the first time in hours. Owen had noticed she seemed to be taking Carlos' abandonment the hardest of any of them, while T.J. was more concerned over the attack of the Black Ranger.
Carlos was walking by them. He was dressed from head to toe in solid black, not a single touch of green or anything else relieving it anywhere. His hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, and his eyes were very distant, as if fixed on something a thousand miles away from them all. Ashley reached out her hand as if to stop him, only to pull back when he turned his head and delivered a look of such coldness that all five of them shivered involuntarily.
"Congratulations, Owen," his voice was lower than it had been, and somehow icier. "I see you took my place."
Owen tried to say something, but Carlos merely shook his head and continued on to his own locker, ignoring them all. The very faintest of smiles tugged at his lips, something none of them could see. What fools they are. Their newest enemy is inches from them, and they can't believe it or understand it. And that puppy Owen thinks he can fill my shoes. Well, they'll all learn better.
He walked past them again, not letting them see that he was looking at Ashley. I will have you, my dear Yellow Ranger, his mind filled with his dark laughter. Divatox had come up with a flawless plan, one that would deliver Ashley right into his hands. He sensed that his paramour had more in mind for the young cheerleader than just being his concubine, but he didn't care. He wanted to use Ashley in any way he could, from the way he was using and being used by Divatox, all the way to having her fight beside him against the Rangers. She was a fine fighter, why let her be wasted on the side of good as he had been?
T.J. looked after his friend, and felt a sudden shiver running all through him as Carlos turned the corner and vanished out of sight. I know Dimitria said he was in his house all the time we were fighting Black Ranger. ..but. ..he couldn't shake the feeling that Carlos knew something he wasn't telling any of them. And he is wearing all black. ..but he was doing that before the Black Ranger ever showed up. The Red Ranger found himself to be very confused.
"Come on," he looked over to see Owen with a hand on his shoulder. The new Green Ranger looked just as worried as he did, if not more so. After all, he'd known Carlos longer. "We've got to get to class." unspoken in his words was the fact they'd deal with all of it later. T.J. smiled, sensing that no matter how long Owen was on the team, he'd made himself a new friend.
"Anyone seen Carlos?" Ashley's voice was dull and disjointed as she lifted her head a little. It dropped back down when everyone shook their head. "Why is he avoiding us?" What did we do? Should I have went on and asked him out? This just doesn't make any sense!
T.J. pushed away what was left of his lunch, and sighed, stretching out his long limbs. He had baseball practice scheduled for just after lunch, and he was hoping nothing would interfere. The exercise would help him relax, and he needed that badly.
"Who wants to meet after school?" Justin suggested. "We've got to try and work out some sort of plan of action against this Ranger."
"Has this ever happened before?" Owen wondered. He hadn't really paid that much attention to the escapades of the Power Rangers in the past, but felt a definite interest in them now.
T.J. shrugged vaguely. "I think I remember hearing something about an evil Green Ranger back in the early days of the Rangers, a few months after they first showed up, but I don't remember that much. We can check into the databanks to see if it's true, and how the Rangers of the time handled it."
Everyone nodded, Ashley's more vague than anything else, and Cassie was about to suggest they try one more time to talk to Carlos, when sudden screams lifted from a corner of the lunch area. T.J.'s head snapped around, and he almost said something nasty.
"Piranatrons, and the Black Ranger," did manage to come out in a fairly restrained tone. "We'd better get somewhere and morph."
Owen glanced around, instincts he'd never known he had guiding him right now. "Over there," he gestured to a patch of trees that would provide sufficient cover. "That should do."
The few teenagers who were still trying to escape the Pirantrons and this sudden evil Ranger didn't notice five of their number slipping into the trees, or the faint flashes of light that came from the grove, but they did notice the five Turbo Rangers who flipped over them to land in front of the forces of evil. Those students remaining took the chance to run, clearing out before any of them got hurt. After years of this, the kids of Angel Grove knew what to do.
"What are you doing here, Black Ranger?" T.J. asked harshly, not letting his eyes leave the evil Ranger for one moment. He felt a little more confidant having a full team with him once again, even if it wasn't the Green Ranger he was used to.
Black Ranger chuckled only, then delivered a stunning series of kicks and punches to his opponent, while waving the Piranatrons into fighting the other Rangers. T.J. was setting himself to another long fight, when suddenly the black-clad warrior leaped over his head, twisting just long enough to knock T.J. helmet forward into the dirt. The Red Ranger managed to look back over his shoulder long enough to see the stranger seizing Ashley by one wrist and slam something into the back of her neck hard. The Yellow Ranger stiffened just for a moment, then her suit flickered and was gone, and she went limp. Black Ranger's expression was unseeable behind the helmet, but all the rest of the team could sense that he was smiling as he picked Ashley up.
"See you later, Rangers," he hissed, deliberately pitching his voice far lower than normal, and adding a harsh quality to it. If they were able to get a voiceprint, he knew they'd know who he was, but it didn't matter. He had who he wanted, and with a mere effort of thought, he and she were gone.
"Will she be all right?" Owen didn't know the Yellow Ranger very well, but he was concerned over her as a friend, a fellow Ranger, and someone currently in the grip of the evil Ranger.
Dimitria nodded. "When she recovers, she will be able to morph again, and I do not believe the Black Ranger will find her an easy prisoner to keep."
All the Rangers agreed with that; one thing they knew about Ashley, she was tough. In the aftermath of the attack, school had been canceled, and the four of them had covered up for Ashley as best they could. T.J. glanced down at the controls for a moment. "We'd better start finding her, though. Divatox isn't stupid, she'll probably have Ashley held somewhere that she can't get away from very easily."
He seated himself in front of a console and started scanning, his fingers dancing easily over the controls. He wasn't as technologically inclined as Justin was, but they had all took the equilivant of 'crash courses' in how to work some of the simpler mechanisms of the Power Chamber. The scanning system was one of those.
"Think we should tell Carlos?" the old Green Ranger was never far from anyone's mind, and Cassie glanced over to Owen, who had asked the question. "I know he likes Ashley. . ."
Cassie nodded. "I'll find him and get him here," she headed over to an unoccupied station and dropped gracefully into it. Wonder what Phantom Ranger's doing. ..the thought wandered through her mind as she tapped in the codes for Carlos' bio-spatial signature, which the teleporter would use to locate him. We sure could use his help here. He said he went wherever he was needed. ..we need him here and now.
She let herself drift momentarily into thoughts about the mysterious warrior, until a beeping distracted her. She glanced down, expecting the controls to be telling her that they had found Carlos. Her eyes widened instead in shock. "Ummm, guys," she almost murmured the words. So deep was the silence, everyone turned to her at once.
"What is it, Cassie?" T.J. asked, catching the concern in her eyes and coming over to her. He could tell by the readouts she'd been looking for Carlos, and wondered what was bothering her so much.
"The scans say that Carlos isn't in his house, he's on the SpaceBase," she half-whispered, looking up at them. "And if these power readings are right, then we are in some serious trouble."
Owen frowned, he didn't quite understand what he could see over her shoulder, but the thought of Carlos being in the SpaceBase was sending his hackles high. "What's going on?"
She didn't say anything, she just pointed to the readouts. The Power Chamber had scanned the Black Ranger during his two fights with the Rangers, and the computers had been trying to cross-reference it with the interspatial bio-vibrations of every known human. The results had come in almost at the same time as Carlos' location had become known.
T.J. went absolutely, one hundred per cent white. His fingers gripped at the console, and Justin leaped to another set of controls, cross-checking. He looked up moments later. "It's right. I don't know how it happened or why. . .but Carlos is the Black Turbo Ranger."
"You've finally awakened," a familiar voice spoke, and she blinked, starting to be able to see what was in front of her. She was in a wide, well-appointed bedroom, on a bed that looked as if could have come from some alien palace. Black silken sheets covered it, and she could feel thick pillows behind her head.
The entire room seemed to be done in shades of green and black, with a sort of barbaric feel to it that repulsed her as much as it attracted her. She turned her head to where the voice had come from, and gasped audibly to see Carlos leaning in an ebony chair, his eyes cool and ice-cold.
"Carlos?" she stared. "What are you doing here? And where's the Black Ranger?"
Her friend chuckled, and she paled as she remembered where she'd heard that sound before: coming from the Black Ranger. She tried to jerk up and off the bed: which was when she realized that her arms were spread out to both sides and tied to the headboard by cords that glowed a faint dark gold. "Would you be trying to leave my hospitality, Ashley? How rude of you."
She paled even more, jerking at the cords with all her strength, hoping in vain for at least a little bit of give to them. Carlos only smiled. "You're not going to be able to undo those. Only someone who is evil can. Someone like me."
"You're not evil!" Ashley cried out. "You're my friend! Divatox has done something to you, we were right all along!"
Carlos only smiled. "Divatox has done something to me, all right. She's done more for me than any of you ever have. The powers I have now are used the way power should be used, to command and control. Once I've disposed of all the other Rangers, then we will slowly take control of this planet, and it will be the starting point for control of the rest of the universe."
Ashley shook her head sharply. "You're not evil, Carlos! You're not!"
"I am," he stood up, and she quite literally gulped to realize that all he was wearing was a pair of black silk shorts: very tight black silk shorts. Only the sharp memory that she was being held captive kept her from admiring the body that was so suddenly in view. "And you're going to be evil too."
She stared. The complete confidence he had in that simple statement terrified her more than anything Divatox could have accomplished by blustering and threatening. Whatever Carlos had become, he didn't need to threaten. He believed it, or more, he knew it. "No!"
Something that could possibly have been a smile twisted across his face. "Oh, but yes. It won't take long, just a few hours," he lifted something from a table she couldn't see, and she felt a chill down her spine at the crystal-blue vial of liquid. "Then you're going to be just like me."
"Forget it," Ashley quite literally hissed. "I'd rather die!"
Carlos smiled again. "That's not really an option. Once you're like me, then we'll get a few things switched around here on the SpaceBase. Starting with disposing of Divatox. She's taught me quite a bit. ..in many different areas. . .but she's already outlived her usefulness. Once she's gone, then the rest of the Rangers will follow."
Ashley watched, terrified and unable to move, as Carlos picked up a syringe and slowly filled it with the blue liquid. Her eyes tracked it as it plunged deeply into her skin, injecting it's foulness into her. Carlos smiled darkly once the last of the serum was in her, and tossed it casually to one side. It would take roughly twelve hours for her to convert completely, and Divatox had told him there was no antidote for it. Until then, he decided to spend some time on Earth, spreading destruction and disaster. Quietly, he teleported away, leaving Ashley bound behind. When he returned, she would be his, totally.
"Carlos," Owen whispered the word. The scans had been run and rerun five times over, they knew it was him now. Somehow, Divatox must have tricked the computers during the initial attacks to make them think Carlos was safe in his house.
Dimitria attracted their attention quietly. "As we have suspected, Divatox is somehow controlling Carlos, at such a level he might not even be aware that she's doing so. We must release him from her power, and rescue Ashley as well."
"First things first," Owen suggested. "We find a way to get rid of whatever it is that's controlling Carlos."
T.J. agreed. "That means we'd better go fight him. For now. Maybe we can get him to let something slip about how it happened. If he knows. And if he doesn't, then can you scan him during the fight, and see what you can find out?"
Dimitria nodded patiently. "It will not be easy, but I believe that we can do something. Go, Rangers, and bring both our friends home safely."
T.J. took their morphin stance, and swore in his soul that he wouldn't be coming back here until he had both Ashley and Carlos, free of all evil taint, with him. "Shift into Turbo!"
There was a flash of corresponding colors, and then the four of them were in front of Black Ranger, who for a change hadn't come down with any Piranatrons or a monster. He casually looked at them. "Nice to see you again, Rangers. You do seem to be one short, don't you?"
"We know it's you, Carlos!" T.J. grunted. "Where's Ashley?!"
The Black Ranger glanced around with exaggerated care, then slowly slipped his hands to the snaps of his helmet, revealing the cold-etched face of Carlos. "Where you can't find her, and I can," he said. "And very soon, you'll be joined by the evil Yellow Ranger. As evil as I am. .. or more so."
Owen stepped forward, hand outstretched, about to say something, when Carlos moved suddenly, slapping him almost hard enough to break his neck. "The next person who tells me that I am not evil is going to get a laser through the brain. I am evil, I like it, and I am not giving it up!"
T.J. shook his head. "Divatox has really messed you up."
Carlos' eyes narrowed, and he slammed his helmet back on, a viscious growl coming from between his teeth. That was the only sound he made, except for a savage growl of fury, as he kicked full force into T.J.'s stomach. It was powerful enough to stagger the Red Ranger back several feet, and the other Rangers jumped forward, hoping to get enough of a grip on the Black Ranger to be able to get him back to the Power Chamber.
"Piranatrons!" Carlos literally snarled, summoning up the fish-creatures that Divatox had given him command of. "Attack them! But remember. . .the Red Ranger is mine."
The battle began.
"Yellow Ranger," her heartrate tripled as she jerked her head up to see Divatox standing in front of her. Ashley jerked away from her as much as the bonds on her wrists would let her.
"What are you doing here?!" she growled. As if things weren't bad enough, now she had her archenemy in here to gloat over her! She was beginning to wonder if she should have ever bothered getting out of bed that morning.
Divatox stepped a little closer, and held up something in one hand: a syringe of yellow fluid. "Saving you from a life of evil. Of course, if you'd rather work for that thing I created, that's up to you. . .," she turned as if she were going out.
"Wait!" Ashley wasn't certain if she could trust Divatox, but she also wasn't going to turn down what looked like a chance for help. "Why are you doing this?"
The queen looked back at her, and Ashley was surprised at the expression on her face: regret. "I made Carlos evil with the same potion that's now coursing through your veins. I had my Piranatrons attack him and inject it in when he wasn't looking, that's why he doesn't know what's happened to him. Because of that, he's now trying to take over my empire, and I won't have that. No amount of evil warriors is worth treachery like that," she gestured to the syringe in her hand. "This is the antidote to it. I have enough for two, but just enough for two, if anything happens so you can't deliver it to him, then you're going to be completely out of luck freeing him."
Ashley stared at her. "You're really going to let me go?" this went beyond the bounds of what she could believe could happen.
"Yes," Divatox reached over and snapped the cords on her wrists, then tossed her something. "Your morphers. Carlos took them from you when you got here; you wouldn't have gotten them back until you were evil."
As Ashley shook off the last bits of the cords, then strapped her morphers on, she felt a sting in her shoulder, and looked sharply to the side. Divatox was moving away from her, the syringe in her hand. For a moment, Ashley thought there was some form of treachery, till she saw the remains of the antidote in the syringe.
"Now, take this," Divatox handed her another syringe of the golden liquid. "Inject it anywhere in him that you can, and it'll do it's work. Since he's had it in him longer than you have, he'll probably pass out for a while. Once he wakes up, he'll be his old good self again," her eyes narrowed for a moment, and she sighed. "Another perfectly good plan down the tubes."
Ashley couldn't help but grin. She'd never seen Divatox this close after one of her plots failing. "You really should be used to it by now. It's been happening for what, about two years now?"
"Don't get smart, human," Divatox growled suddenly. "I can still put that serum in you, and deliver the antidote to Carlos the same way I put the original in him. And I can have Porto modify it so that you won't be trying to take over my empire."
The Yellow Ranger flinched back a moment, and Divatox smiled at the flickering flash of fear in her eyes. No need for her to know that once it's in the bloodstream, I can't alter it. "Now, get out of here. Scram!"
Ashley snapped the communicator back on her wrist. "I'm gone," was all she said, then a wash of gold filled the chamber, and Divatox alone stood there. She glanced around for a moment, then sighed deeply.
"I'll almost miss that spicy burrito. Almost."
The Black Ranger's dark chuckle echoed in T.J.'s ears. "Ah, yes, this is just the beginning, Teej," the nickname was made a mockery by the slithering tones of the evil one. "After I've finished you off, I'll take care of the rest of the Rangers, one by one."
T.J. might have said or done something about it, if his head wasn't ringing like a churchbell. The other Rangers were being kept off by the Piranatrons, Rygog, and Elgar, who had all teleported down in the middle of the fight to keep them away from the two fighting Rangers. As it was, he was just barely capable of thinking that Carlos would't get away with it.
"We've got to do something!" Owen shouted, considering pulling out the Turbo Thunder Cannon and seeing if he could splatter the various evil villains across the landscape, if that would help T.J. in any way. Four Piranatrons quickly removed that thought from his mind as they leaped on top of him, pinning him to the ground. As he fell, he could see the other Rangers also being grappled down by the fish-things.
Carlos stopped pounding T.J. into the tree, and had the Piranatrons hold him in a near-fatal grip. With a flash of black light, his sword appeared in his hand, and with a careful and cunning twist of the blade, T.J.'s morphers had been cut away from him. Where the Red Ranger had stood, T.J. alone was there now. He glared up at his friend through pain-dazed eyes. He would meet his death on his feet, or as much as he could, anyway.
Black Ranger couldn't help but smile as he stepped forward, his sword upraised. "Say hello to hell for me," he purred, starting to bring the blade down in a blinding arc.
Then he went stiff. . .and toppled to the side, one hand going to rest on his left posterior cheek. A flicker of black light passed over him, and as the Black Ranger fell towards the ground, Carlos hit the pavement.
Ashley, who had stood behind him with the syringe Divatox gave her, smiled a little, then turned to the Piranatrons, Elgar, and Rygog. "I am in a very bad mood," she said almost sweetly. "You can stay and face me if you want to, but I really wouldn't advise it. It's entirely up to you."
The evil creatures glanced at each other, then vanished. Ashley grinned wildly for a moment, then ran over to T.J. "Are you okay?" she asked, handing him back his Turbo Chargers.
"Y..yeah," the young man shook his head for a moment, wishing he had an Excedrin. "I've got such a headache, though."
Owen glanced at Carlos, who lay wearing nothing but the same black silk shorts that he had had on in the SpaceBase, and almost winced. "This is just me, guys, but I think we might want to get back to the Power Chamber. Before anyone should happen to come this way who shouldn't?"
T.J. nodded, dragging himself up to his feet. "Is Carlos going to be okay?"
Ashley checked him over quickly. "Looks like he's just passed out, she said it would happen like that."
The Yellow Ranger glanced over to Justin. "Don't ask. I'll tell you guys everything when we get back to the Power Chamber. You're not going to believe most of it. Especially the end."
"Divatox?" Porto shuffled over. "You called?"
"Yes," she smiled at him, and Porto couldn't help but feel a thread of ice-cold fear going down what passed for his spine. She tossed him a vial of something blue that he recognized. "Alter the formula for that. Make certain anyone affected by it views me as their supreme mistress and that they will never attempt to take command in any way, it won't even occur to them!"
"As you wish, my queen!" Porto scuttled off to his lab with the vial in hand. Divatox leaned back in her throne and smiled.
What I did once I can do again. ..and this time, I'll do it RIGHT!
"Carlos!" T.J. spoke quietly, but firmly. "You're safe, you're in the Power Chamber. How are you feeling?"
He blinked for a moment. "I feel. ..all right, I guess," Carlos replied. He paused for a moment, then went stiff as full memory of the last few days crashed into his mind. "I. .ohh. .I..." his face went first pale, then red, then finally settled on green. "I think I'm going to be sick."
Alpha held a pail out to him. "If you do, do it in here, I gotta keep this place clean!" the little robot told him. Carlos almost smiled, then turned to look at the others, barely noticing his almost total lack of attire.
"Guys. ..I.. I don't know what to say. ..I'm so sorry...."
Dimitria cut him off. "It is not your fault, Carlos. You were under the influence of a powerful serum Divatox had her Piranatrons inject into you when you were unaware. Ashley managed to gain the antidote and used it on you."
The young man reached around, rubbing gingerly at the entry point of the syringe. "I remember that."
Their mentor continued, "Carlos, you have a choice now. You left the team because of Divatox's influence on you. Do you still wish to remain away?"
"No!" Carlos' eyes went wide. "You guys are the best friends I've ever had, I don't ever want to lose any of you!" his eyes fell on Owen. "But. . .you're the Green Ranger now. .."
Owen shook his head. "These were yours, I was just a temp," he said, almost reluctantly. For just about a day he'd been a Power Ranger. ..
"On the contrary, you are the Green Ranger now, Owen," Dimitria corrected him. "And you are the Black Ranger, Carlos."
The young man's eyes widened in shock. "You mean the powers. .they still exist?"
"Once something is made, it cannot be unmade," Dimitria told him. "The Black Turbo powers were made originally for evil, but they can be used for either good or evil. It is your choice, as their proper and chosen wielder."
Carlos stared down at the morphers on his wrists. Divatox had made them to use as a weapon of evil, to destroy the Rangers and shatter his soul. Perhaps in the last she had almost succeeded, but he felt a new and stronger commitment to making certain she didn't in the first. After his experience on the side of evil, he knew better than any active Ranger that Divatox must not be allowed to win.
He felt a hand on his arm, and looked up to see Ashley looking back at him. Softly, she smiled. "Whatever you choose, would you answer me something first, Carlos?"
Her smile broadened. "Would you go to the Valentine's Dance with me?"
His eyes quite literally bugged out of his head at the question, and he gibbered the first thing that came out of his mind. "Yes!"
Soft chuckles came from everyone as the two of them embraced, and Carlos was suddenly acutely aware of the fact he wasn't wearing that much. He pulled back a little, then glanced around at the others. "And that's my other answer too. I'm staying. ..as the Black Ranger."
Slowly, he put his hand out, moving almost against his will, sensing somehow in some way beyond conscious thought. One by one, each of the others put their hands on top of his, until an entire pile was between them. Then, one of metal joined them, and one covered in what looked to be white silk, as Alpha and Dimitria joined them.
The cry came from the very depths of their souls, and each of them felt a small leap of joy as the echoes came back to them.