Angel Grove Gym and Juice Bar--a place where kids could hang out after school or on weekends. Competitions were held there. Parties, too. Regardless of the time of year, the place was always bustling. Classes in aerobics, dance, gymnastics, martial arts... just about anything were conducted there. It was the place to do home work or just be with friends, all under the watchful gaze of the portly, jovial owner.
Not any longer.
For a mid-summer afternoon, the place was strangely quiet. Few kids were around. There was no music. No one was teaching a class, and behind the bar was a new face.
_I shouldn't have tried to come back. This isn't home anymore._ The watcher's eyes swept over the Youth Center, settling on one table in particular--positioned right in front of the bar near the steps. That table held many fond memories, but it was presently occupied by unfamiliar faces. Four teens: an African American boy in red, a girl of Asian descent in pink, a Caucasian female in yellow, and a Hispanic boy in green... four very different people yet obviously friends. They reminded the watcher of another group of friends many years ago. She scrutinized the quartet carefully--very much like the teens she had once known. The disparity in races yet a sense of oneness... even the colors could be coincidental, but the bonding of that group was no accident. A glimpse at each wrist revealed the telltale band.
_Your legacy lives on, Billy, wherever you are._ They looked so young, so innocent still. _They're probably only two years younger than me at the most._ A lot could happen in two years. It hadn't been all that long ago that she had been so innocent and carefree; it seemed like a lifetime. No, she shouldn't have tried to come back. The memories were too painful.
"TJ? Yo, earth to TJ!" Cassie called out, waving her hand in front of her team mate's face.
"Huh? Oh, sorry, Cassie," he apologized.
"You went spacey on us right in the middle of your sentence," Ashley added.
"That woman over at the door...." TJ began.
"The one in the boots and leather jacket, carrying the helmet?" Carlos queried, being the only other one able to see the door without turning around. That didn't stop the other two members of the quartet from craning around to get a look.
"Isn't she a little old to be in here?" Ashley wondered.
"She doesn't look that old," Cassie countered, "maybe like eighteen or nineteen?"
"A little overdressed, isn't she? I mean jeans and leather jacket in the middle of summer?" Ashley continued.
"What about her?" Carlos queried.
"Just a strange feeling... she was staring at us pretty intently for a while," TJ continued. "It was almost as if she knew who we were."
"That's weird," Cassie murmured, taking his meaning.
"Hey guys!" bright-eyed Justin, the youngest member of the group, called out as he joined his friends. He noticed their furtive glances and muted conversation. "What's up?"
Carlos jerked a thumb towards the figure hovering nervously by the doorway. "Wondering what the little lady is doing here."
Justin glanced where the Green Ranger pointed, and his already wide eyes grew even bigger. "Omigosh!" he gasped.
"Do you know her?" Cassie wondered, seeing recognition flicker across his features.
Kimberly Hart was about to take her leave when she heard her name called. She cringed, backing deeper into the shadows. She shouldn't have been so careless...then, she saw who had spoken. She smiled as she recognized the mop top and telltale blue clothes. She had met Justin the last time she had come through Angel Grove. She had tried to do then what she wanted to do now, but she had run into Jason, and once he started talking about his problems she knew she couldn't burden him with hers. Then, Divatox entered the picture. At least the tin cans had stayed away for the duration of that mess; however, they returned almost as soon as the dust from Muranthias had settled, and she had been forced to flee once again.
"Kimberly!" Justin bubbled happily.
"Hey, short stuff." It wasn't often she could say that to anyone. She ruffled his hair affectionately. She still wasn't sure about a twelve year old holding the power--genius or not--but she trusted Zordon's judgement.
"What brings you here?" he queried.
"Oh, just stopping by for a little visit," she answered evasively. She glanced knowingly at the table. "I take it there have been some roster changes."
"After everyone graduated, Dimetria wanted the Rangers to pick their replacements."
"Oh, you don't know? Zordon and Alpha went home; Dimetria is the new mentor for the Rangers. I thought one of the others would have written you."
"I've... been out of touch for a while. Would you know where the others are?"
"Let's see, Kat won a scholarship to study ballet in London, Tanya is out east; she got a recording contract! Adam is on location in Australia for the summer; he's a stuntman on some big budget picture--he couldn't tell us what it was, though. Rocky has his school; I don't know where Jason has gotten to...."
"What about Tommy?" Kim asked quietly.
"Oh, he's still around, I think. He's been racing for his uncle John... has been since before graduation. I think he's getting ready to drive in the Canyon Classic."
"Driving a race car? Somehow, I figured he'd have gone into the dojo business with Rocky or Jason," Kim mused, her heart fluttering at the mention of her former boyfriend.
"Tommy hasn't done much with martial arts since the tournament," Justin answered, referring to the competition that had provided the money to save the shelter.
Kim noticed that he was studying her intently. It made her feel exposed and skittish. "Kim, is something wrong? I thought you were supposed to be on the Pan Global team. Aren't the games going on now?"
She should have realized that the young Blue Ranger would be as perceptive as the original. "Things... didn't quite work out."
"Are you in some kind of trouble?" Justin asked.
"You're better off not knowing," Kim sighed.
"You're one of us, Kim; we can help," Justin insisted.
"Not this time, Justin." Kim glanced up and noticed that Justin's team mates had vacated their table and were heading towards them. "Look, I have to go. It isn't safe for me to stay." She readjusted her backpack and slipped her helmet on. "Promise me one thing; if anyone comes looking for me, you never saw me. Got it?"
"Just trust me. You keep those rookies in line, okay?"
"Sure, Kim," Justin gulped.
"Is there a problem?" TJ queried, placing a protective hand on Justin's shoulder.
"No," Kim replied. She glanced down at Justin once last time, then at the others. "May the power protect you." In the stunned silence that followed her words, she slipped out the door.
"Who did you say that was?" Carlos mumbled.
"Kimberly Hart, the original Pink Ranger."
Tommy couldn't get the tune out of his head as he guided the car through turn one; Aunt Jessica had the stereo going all morning, and she was a major Chicago fan. She listened to it so much that Tommy had gotten to know their music quite well in the time he had been living with his aunt and uncle while his folks were in Europe. It had turned out to be prophetic.
"Tommy, I don't quite know how to tell you this..." A phone call from London... Kat telling him that she had met someone at the ballet academy. Unlike the poor soul in the song, Tommy genuinely was happy for Kat. The news wasn't unexpected; in fact, he had been hoping that she might find someone else who could treat her as well as she deserved. He certainly hadn't been able to give her much of a relationship.
_If you can call it that_, he mused bitterly. They had tried to make a go of it after his break-up with Kim, but it had never worked. It was all his fault; if only he had been able to let go... but he hadn't been. Kat tried, bless her. It just hadn't been enough to make him forget.
It hadn't helped that he had seen Kim just a few months ago... seeing her in Divatox's bilge in the viewing globe had brought everything he thought he had locked away back to the surface.
_Maybe if I hadn't seen her... if Divatox hadn't kidnaped her..._ Who was he kidding? Even if he hadn't seen Kim again, he still wouldn't have been able to forget her.
_I wish I could have talked to her... gotten some answers..._ In the wake of the business on Muranthias, there hadn't been time for talking, and the ninja tournament was scarcely over when he noticed Kim slipping away. She never showed up at the victory celebration at the Youth Center; it was as if she had just disappeared. Tommy had thought about getting a hold of her in Florida, but there hadn't been time. Divatox had kept them on their toes... Zordon left... graduation had been right around the corner, then came his uncle's offer to race.
Tommy sighed, pushing his thoughts aside. Time enough to nurse old wounds later; the time trials for the Canyon Classic were in four days. It was a major race, and his uncle thought he was finally ready for one.
Although he turned his mind to racing, it did nothing to fill the hole in his heart.
John Rush hit the stopwatch and frowned as he looked at the time.
"Bad?" Eddie, his crew chief, queried.
"He didn't even do this badly the first time behind the wheel," John muttered. "His time is way off, and he's all over the track in those turns."
"Why don't you call him in," Eddie suggested, "see what's bugging the boy. And while you're at it, I'll take a look at that left front wheel he was complaining about yesterday."
"Good idea," John agreed and slipped the radio headset back on.
_What am I doing here?_ Kim wondered from her perch high in the bleachers overlooking the old AG Speedway. It was only used for practices, demolition derbies and monster truck rallies these days; all the important races were held at the Angel Canyon Raceway, located between Angel Grove and Stone Canyon. Kim didn't know much about the sport, and she hadn't thought Tommy had either. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered, the coldness coming from within.
She felt a lump in her throat as she watched the race car pull into pit row and the driver climb out of the window. From this distance, all she could make out was his white helmet and red jumpsuit; still, she would know Tommy anywhere. She saw him hang his head as his uncle talked to him. It made her heart ache.
_You knew it was going to be like this--seeing him again. You knew it was going to hurt._
It had hurt like hell seeing him a few months ago; she had wanted to talk to him so badly--to tell him the truth, but she couldn't.
_You gave him up to save his life, so what are you doing? Putting him in danger just by being here._ Still, she hadn't been able to resist the impulse to see him one last time. To know that he was alive and well... that her sacrifice hadn't been in vain....
_When did this nightmare begin? When I went to Florida, or before I ever left Angel Grove?_
She had been in Florida for a few months when she received the first letter--a warning that dire things would happen to all those she knew and loved if she didn't stay away. She hadn't paid it any mind... just a bad joke. The second letter came right before Christmas, promising terrible things would befall her family. Again, she dismissed it. There was no third warning--just an anonymous note with her dad's name on it. Twenty-four hours later, he and her stepmom had been in a car accident---a hit and run that had nearly killed them. Coincidence, she tried to tell herself, but she was nervous now. The next letter had Kenny's name on it, and twenty-four hours later, her brother's apartment had been torched; he barely escaped with his life. Another warning came; it told her not to go to the police or inform her friends--the Rangers. Trini's name had been on the bottom of that note. The following day she read of the bombing in Geneva at the university where the peace delegates were housed.
Whoever was sending her the notes was serious. She had begun to suspect someone was watching her. More than once she had glimpsed strange shadows as she went from the gym to her apartment. She knew that either her mom or Tommy would be next. There was nothing she could do about her mother, but she could protect Tommy. If her pursuer thought she no longer loved him--that he meant nothing to her--maybe he would leave him alone. She got rid of nearly everything he had given her and sent him a letter saying she had found someone else. It killed her to do that, but it was the only way she could think of. No note with Tommy's name on it ever arrived, but one with her mother's had.
After that, Kim saw the first of the silver plated sleazoids. Standing close to seven feet tall, heavily armored and armed with high tech weaponry, he looked like one of Zedd and Rita's monsters. He wasn't. He was far more deadly and was casing the gymnasium. Kim knew then that she had to leave; she couldn't endanger the lives of the other girls and coaches. She made her plans carefully and secretively--or so she thought. She had slowly wiped out her savings account. She purchased a motorcycle for a fast getaway. Her backpack was loaded with necessities in case she needed to leave at a moment's notice. It had proven necessary sooner than she would have liked. Her watcher and his tin can buddies attacked the gym one afternoon. Kim slipped out under the cover of chaos and made her escape. She had been running ever since--for over a year. It didn't matter where she went, they always found her.
These days, she no longer recognized herself when she looked in the mirror. Gone was the perky teen with hopes of gymnastic gold and the love of the most wonderful man in the world. In her place was a woman who had endured a lot of hard living in the name of survival. That woman was tired now. What was the point? Survival just wasn't enough of a reason any longer. There was no joy in her life, nothing to look forward to but another day on the road--a meal and a safe place to sleep if she was lucky. She was tired of running. Tired of being afraid. She didn't know why those thugs were after her or who sent them. It didn't matter anymore. When next they came, she'd face them instead of fleeing. They might take her at last, but not without a fight. That was why she had come home. She had wanted to say good-bye to her friends.
_Good-bye, Tommy. You'll probably never even know I'm gone. I just wish there was someway to tell you the truth... to tell you how much I love you and miss you...._
Kim felt herself getting choked up, but she shoved those emotions down to the bottom of her soul lest they overwhelm her. She pulled her helmet back on and made her way towards the exit. First, she'd head back to her hotel room and maybe catch a quick nap; she had ridden all night to make Angel Grove ahead of her pursuers. Since there was no one else to see, she'd hit the road again. Better not to be around innocent by-standers when the attack came; the sleazebuckets didn't particularly care who got hurt in the crossfire.
Suddenly, she felt the hackles on her neck rise. The metal bleachers began vibrating, and Kim heard the hum of a teleporation beam. They had found her again. _Not here! Not now! Not with Tommy down there!_
"Target has been located; proceed as directed...." the soulless voice intoned as the first of the hunters materialized. Kim sprinted towards the aisle; she had to lead the goons out of the stands... away from Tommy.
"I'm sorry, Uncle John," Tommy apologized as he saw the disappointment in his uncle's face. "My mind's just not on driving today."
"That phone call you got this morning?" John queried.
"Look, I know it's hard to put your personal problems aside, but if you want to qualify for the Canyon Classic, you've got to get your head together."
_If you only knew how good I've gotten at pushing my personal problems aside; I've been doing it for a very long time_, Tommy reflected. "I know," he said aloud.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
He had been bottling things up inside for so long, Tommy wasn't sure he could discuss it anyone. While he deciding whether to take his uncle up on his offer or not, he saw his Aunt Jess and her friend Muriel emerging from the trailer. The family pretty much stayed at the track right before a major race; Jess when everywhere with John, and while Muriel worked with Tommy's mom at the hospital, she spent a lot of time at the track because her husband was a member of the pit crew.
"Not having a good morning?" Jess asked.
"You could say that," John answered, slipping an arm around her shoulders.
"Don't worry, Tommy; it'll pass," Jess said cheerfully as she mussed her nephew's hair.
"I suppose," he said glumly.
The air was suddenly filled with the screech of tearing metal. "Good Lord, what are those things!" Muriel gasped. All eyes turned to the stands to see a tiny figure in leather jacket and helmet leap nimbly over the aisle railing with four men in wicked looking armor in hot pursuit. A beam of energy shot out of the lead pursuer's arm-mounted gun, blowing away a large portion of the bleachers ahead of his quarry. The fugitive tried to leap across the blob of fused metal but mistimed the jump and went tumbling down the concrete stairs.
"I don't know what's going on, but that guy needs help," Tommy said grimly, old battle instincts kicking in.
"Tommy, no!" his uncle shouted, but Tommy was already racing across the track.
Kim somersaulted down the stairs until she could get her feet under her. She felt a twinge in her ankle as she came up running, but there was no time to worry about that. She narrowly dodged another shot.
_They're herding me away from the exits, dammit!_ She was going to have to try a new tactic if she was to get out of there. Kim charged towards the lamp post and used her momentum to swing around. She caught her closest pursuer in the chest, knocking him aside. Then, she started back up the stands, running up the seats instead of the steps. _They won't be expecting that!_ Maybe she had come home to die, but not yet... not here where Tommy could see... The hunter bringing up the rear lashed out, a steel jacketed forearm smashing into her back, sending her sprawling across the metal seats. Fire flared in her chest. _Not my ribs again!_
The pain was inconsequential; she had to keep moving even though it was hard to draw a breath. There was a way to take her assailants out but, she'd do it only as a last resort. Killing monsters was one thing, but killing men... Pedro had taught her to be a crack shot, and she had discovered that the only thing that could dent that armor was the sleazoids' own weapons. Still, in spite of everything she had endured, she had not become a killer. Kim rolled out of the path of another blast and bobbled to her feet. "Scanners indicate approaching humanoid life forms...." one of the hunters intoned.
_No!_ Kim shrieked silently. Her pulse quickened, and her blood ran cold as she heard a familiar "ki-yai!"
It had been months since Tommy last fought as a Ranger; his skills had atrophied. His timing was off as he met the first of the armored thugs with a flying kick, and he no longer had the Power augmenting his strength. Yet, the longer he punched and blocked, the more things came back to him, and what he lacked in strength he compensated for in speed and maneuverability. However, he quickly realized that he was outmatched. Even the robot cogs weren't as solid as the armor these guys wore; they were brushing him off like a pesky fly. They weren't pulling their punches, either, as a glancing blow had his head spinning. Perhaps he couldn't take them out, but he could buy their quarry enough time to escape.
_Damn it, Tommy; why'd you have to try and be a hero?_ Kim lamented, recovering from her latest dive to the pavement. The thug she had sent sprawling had recovered and had Tommy pinned from behind. He struggled fiercely, but there was no way he could break the sleazebucket's grip. The team leader leveled his weapon at Tommy's chest.
"All who interfere with the primary directive are to be eliminated."
Kim couldn't have said where the burst of energy came from, but it couldn't have arrived at a better time. She launched herself forward and lunged at the leader, knocking him aside. His blast went wide, clipping the man who restrained Tommy.
"Nyah, nyah, can't catch me, ya bucket of bolts!" Kim taunted as she let her momentum carry her forward. However, in her haste to save Tommy, she had lost track of the other two assassins. A blast came in from her blind side; the metal beneath her erupted, sending her flying.
"Oh no you don't," Tommy growled, kicking at the recovering hunter at his feet. He sent the goon sprawling, his gun flying from his hand. While Tommy's attention was diverted, the other two armored soldiers came forward, grabbing his arms and effectively restraining him with no small amount of pain. Their leader stood before Tommy once again, and Tommy glared at him blackly.
"Scanners identify the subject as Thomas Oliver, age eighteen... instructions indicate that he is not to be terminated. He is to be used to draw out the target."
Kim was slow getting up; her eyes wouldn't clear. Her jacket still smoked from being singed, and in spite of the cushioning protection of her helmet, her head was still ringing. As she climbed to her hands and knees, she noticed three people running towards the stands. That's all she needed: more innocent by-standers.
"Let me go... ugh!"
Kim whipped around. The sleazebuckets had Tommy again, one having just delivered a vicious blow to his solar plexus. Tommy went limp in their grasp. She didn't know why he hadn't been shot yet, but she wasn't about to wait to find out. She crawled towards the tin-plated thug Tommy had taken out; he must have damaged the armor's power pack with his kick, otherwise the killer would have been back on his feet already. Fortunately for Kim, his gun was well out of reach--his, but not hers.
"You heard him; let him go!" she rasped, leveling the gun at the trio who held Tommy. Although she was shaking on the inside, the gun never wavered.
"Throw down your weapon and surrender, and the subject will be released." Actions, however, belied the cold words as the leader raised its forearm mounted blaster--not at her but at Tommy.
Kim didn't even blink. She simply pulled the trigger.
Tommy's eyes went wide as the assassin holding him at gun point suddenly had no head. It had been completely vaporized. He felt the heat of the lethal beams as they shot past his cheeks, taking out his other captors. The three bodies fell to the bleachers. In a flash of light, they were gone. On his knees and numb with shock, Tommy raised his head to regard the person he had been trying to help; now he could tell that it was a female. She slowly lowered the gun; he could see that she was shaking. "Are you okay?" she asked.
He still didn't have enough air to speak, so he simply nodded. Then, he caught a flash of silver... movement behind her. His body stiffened as he tried to call out a warning. Apparently, she had caught it, too, for she whirled around and fired, taking out the fourth would-be killer. It dissolved in a burst of light like its companions. The woman quickly tossed the gun aside; it, too, vanished.
"I--I'm sorry," the woman stammered, and she turned and fled.
Kim wanted to be sick. She had known what would happen if she went for the head; she had seen it once, but it had been the only way to keep them from killing Tommy. They wouldn't have let him go; she knew better. Clutching her bruised ribs, Kim staggered towards the entranceway. She had to get out of there; when the sleazebuckets returned, there would be more of them. "Not so fast, miss."
Kim recognized Tommy's uncle as he stepped in front of her. "Please, I--I've got to get out of here," she insisted, trying to push past him.
"You're in no shape to go anywhere."
"You don't understand... they'll be back... if you help me, you'll be in danger."
"It's too late for that, I'm afraid."
"We'll take care of her, John. Go help Tommy," Jess directed as she and Muriel caught up with her husband.
"Tommy? Is he okay?" Kim asked anxiously.
The two women traded puzzled glances. "I think they only knocked the wind out of him," Muriel answered.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this! He wasn't supposed to get hurt... that's why I let him go... so he wouldn't...."
Kim suddenly went limp in Muriel's arms. "Let's lay her down and get this jacket and helmet off of her," she directed.
The two women were struggling with Kim's outerwear as John helped Tommy over. "Tommy?" Jess queried. Her sister would never forgive her if something happened to her son. "I'll be okay... need to catch my breath," he gasped. He eyed the prone young woman, noticing that the black covering on her helmet was chipping away, revealing flashes of pink and white underneath. Her jacket reminded him an awful lot of the bomber jacket he owned.
"What did you think you were doing?" John demanded. "You could have been killed!"
"She needed help," Tommy replied. He couldn't even begin to explain it to his uncle that he'd been closer to dying than this. "Who is she?"
"Okay, we'll just ease her helmet off...." Jess murmured as she worked the protective gear off, freeing a caramel colored braid.
It was fortunate for Tommy that his uncle was still supporting him, otherwise he would have toppled over in shock. Even so, it felt as if he had been kicked in the stomach as he gazed on the thin, pale face. He could only manage one word.
Tommy had never been more grateful that his uncle loved his personal space; he paced about the trailer's spacious living area like a caged tiger as he waited for word on Kimberly's condition. Aunt Jess and Muriel were seeing to Kim's injuries. Why was it taking so long?
"You're going to wear a hole in my carpet," John teased him gently.
"I can't help it," Tommy sighed, running a hand up under his hair and around his neck.
"Your little girl was pretty beat up; she needs a hospital not a track nurse."
"I know that. Why didn't you call for an ambulance?"
"And run the risk of those silver plated goons going after her in the hospital? She seemed to think that they'd find her no matter where she was." John regarded his nephew for a moment. "Tommy, I know you've been keeping something from us... something important."
Tommy's blood suddenly ran cold. "What do you mean?"
"Your sudden departures at all hours of the day or night haven't exactly gone unnoticed, and your excuses were pretty thin. You never could lie convincingly. Your folks never pressured you about it, but they knew something was up, and they always had this feeling that if you could have told them about it, you would have."
For a moment, Tommy thought of giving his uncle the answer he deserved, but old habits died hard. "It... doesn't matter any more, Uncle John. That part of my life is over now."
"Is it?" John asked pointedly, and Tommy understood what he was getting at. Those creeps chasing Kim were an awful lot like some of the things they had fought as Power Rangers, but they were colder somehow, more lethal. And the way Kim had taken them out was just as cold and lethal. Tommy desperately wanted answers; however, the only person who could give them to him was out cold in his aunt and uncle's bedroom.
The words to the song brought Tommy up short. He had gotten so used to Aunt Jess having music on all the time that he scarcely paid attention to it, and he was so preoccupied with Kim that he hadn't realized that it was even. Tommy recognized the group as another of his aunt's favorites: Queen.