..........It Started Harmlessly Enough....
..........When the last bell rang in the
classrooms of Angel Grove High School that particular Friday, the reaction
was louder than usual. "WHOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOO!!!!! It's Christmas!!"
..........Along with a deluge of equally excited (and equally loud) students flooding out of classroom doors and into the halls, Rocky DeSantos let out a cry of triumph. He bounced out of Chemistry as if he was wired from Jolt Cola (which of course he was). Behind him, slower and quieter, Adam Park and Tanya Sloan laughed at their friend's antics.
.........."Slow down already, Rocky!" Adam managed to move in quickly enough to grab the Blue Ranger's shoulder and pull him back to earth.
..........Tanya smiled. "It's not Christmas yet."
.........."Says you! We're free for 12 days, and that's what I call a present!" Still, Rocky stopped jumping around and slowed to a normal pace. "Don't know about you guys, but I'm going to make the most of it."
..........Adam and Tanya exchanged knowing glances. To Rocky, that usually meant sitting in front of the television with a bag of chocolate covered pretzels and ten million monster movie tapes.
..........After a few minutes of pushing and shoving their way through the masses of crazed teenagers, they spotted the other two Zeo Rangers at the end of the hall. Tommy Oliver was trying unsuccessfully to pry open his locker, and Katherine Hilliard was wisely standing out of the way. As they approached the pair, Tommy delivered a hard kick to his locker in final frustration.
..........The locker swung open easily, and Kat laughed at her boyfriend's chagrin. "Figures, doesn't it?"
.........."No kidding. Hey, guys," Tommy added in a lighter tone, turning to the approaching group, "glad to be out?"
.........."Heck, yeah!" Rocky shouted.
..........Tanya stifled a laugh at Kat and Tommy's confused looks. "Too much cola."
..........The other three guys grinned. "We'd better get going," Tommy said. "Where's Jason?"
.........."Left early, I think," Adam said. "Doctor's appointment or something."
..........Slowly, the five teens turned and headed out into the cool December air. Kat pulled up the collar of her coat with a shiver and slowed her pace, falling behind the group.
.........."Are you okay?" Tanya fell back to walk with her friend, concerned as always.
.........."I guess," Kat said with a sigh. "Am I the only one who feels like something's missing?"
..........Hearing that comment, Adam fell into step with the two girls. "No. I wish Billy was here. Nothing seems quite right without him around to make me feel like an idiot."
.........."You don't mean that," Tanya said with a smile. "I think you understood his old vocabulary more than any of us."
..........Kat looked out into the misty afternoon sky. "I wonder what he told his parents?"
.........."The truth, I guess, or something close to it," Adam said. By that time, Rocky and Tommy had slowed down with them, and the four Rangers stared at their friend. "Well, think about it. His dad was already starting to suspect something, and his mom... well, I think his mom's just known for a while. I don't know how, but she got such an understanding look on her face every time our communicators went off in front of her."
..........There was a long silence, and Kat sighed. "If not for the fact that I miss him, I wish he was here to field off my cousin Sarah." She closed her eyes. "She's majoring in computer sciences, and the girl cares more about computers than people."
.........."He could teach her a thing or two," Tommy said as they piled into Rocky's van.
..........From the sound of things in the battered Machine Skybase, King Mondo was having a temper tantrum of sorts. Queen Machina fanned herself calmly as she listened to the ruckus below. The past few months had been irritating, to say the least. First, Rita and Zedd had managed to build up the energy to send a formidable monster down. Then, the Alien Rangers had helped beat off their assault, and finally the "present" from that infuriating pair... no wonder Mondo was in such a mood.
..........Standing nervously near the door, Klank fidgeted. "Beggin' your pardon, your Majesty, but shouldn't someone go stop him?"
.........."Let him blow off some steam," Machina said cheerfully. "He always gets like this during this blasted holiday."
.........."But..." Klank paused, "he's letting it off in MY LAB!"
..........As if he had heard, the sounds ceased, and the Machine King clomped up the stairs to the observation tower. He was actually rather calm, an aspect Machina found deceptive. "I have decided," he said, "not to send down a monster of any sort this time."
..........If Klank had a discernible jaw, it would have dropped open. "Your Majesty! How can we not take advantage of the Rangers' momentary chaos?"
.........."Because it NEVER WORKS!" was the response. Klank took a step back and abruptly shut up.
..........With a flurry of waving arms, Sprocket rushed in. "Dad! Hey, Dad! If it's Christmas, do I get any presents?"
.........."NO!" all three robots shouted.
..........Mondo paused and checked himself. "On second thought, I do have an idea for a present...."
.........."Zeddy!!!" an unpleasant female voice shrieked. "Where's my wand?"
..........The Lord of Evil cringed. Two years of marriage, and he would never get used to that sound. He turned to Finster, who was using the wand to charge up the new telescope. "All done!" the gnomish creature exclaimed as Rita dashed up and snatched the wand away, clutching it possessively.
..........Zedd pushed past Finster to take a look. "Aahh! A perfect view! And I see that the Rangers are preparing for another disgusting Christmas!"
.........."Deck the halls with gasoline, fa la la la la..." drifted from the RV, and Zedd gripped his staff tightly. Another sound he could not stand was Rito and Goldar singing.
.........."Silence, you idiots!" he shouted. "If you want to 'get in the spirit,' go back to Earth and housekeep for those two stupid humans again!" That shut them up.
..........Rita, meanwhile, seized the opportunity to hog the telescope. "Look how happy they are! Ughhh! What do you say we send a monster down to smash their fun?"
.........."I am sorry, Empress, but the combined energy of your wands will not be enough for a decent monster," Finster said. "At least, nothing that will stand a chance against the Rangers."
..........With a growl, Zedd slammed his staff against the dry ground. "Blast those Rangers! One of the perfect attack opportunities comes along, and we can't even irritate them!"
.........."Well..." Finster paused, thinking. "A handful of Putties still wouldn't take much, and if we caught them off their guard--"
.........."So what?!?!?" Rita swung her wand about as she spoke, causing Zedd and Finster to duck. "It wouldn't stop them anyway!" She fumed. "The only good thing that's happened since our gift to Mondo was when Baboo and Squatt were flattened!" On a scouting mission (it was actually an excuse to get them out of sight and mind), the two useless flunkies had encountered one of Mondo's guard robots.
..........Zedd seemed to glow, a deep crimson hue. "If we can't stop them, my dear," here he paused for emphasis, "then we will make sure that this Christmas will be one they won't soon forget!"
When the Going Gets Tough, Get a Credit Card!
..........From an old radio/tape player
on the Juice Bar counter, holiday music drifted across the Youth Center,
marred only by a slight radio sizzle and the deejay's occasional annoying
interruptions. Students were scattered about the interior, making crafts
with children, teaching and taking classes, putting up the decorations.
The Zeo Rangers were passing the time as they waited for the last member
of their party to show. Kat had planned a major last-minute shopping spree,
but had to pick up her cousin first.
..........Jason Scott was hanging Christmas lights around the perimeter of the Youth Center, perched on a stepladder with Ernie feeding the string of lights up to him. Adam had managed to turn Tanya's attention to tree decoration, and they were laughing over something or other. Bulk and Skull appeared somewhere in the middle of it. They were attempting to look for possible cases, which translated into getting in the way.
..........Over by the mats, Tommy and Rocky were running through a few new combinations. The door blew open and two figures hurried in, bundled from head to toe. The Rangers turned as the two new arrivals peeled away a layer and revealed themselves to be Kat and a strange girl who they assumed was her cousin.
..........You couldn't tell by looking at them. Where Kat was petite and lithe, the other was taller and leaner, with straight pale brown hair that fell down her back like a curtain. The long, tattered camouflage Army coat over jeans and sweatshirt seemed to contradict her height rather than downplay it. Her large brown eyes were framed by wire-rimmed glasses, and in her arms she clutched a laptop and a stack of papers possessively. Unlike some newcomers they'd met, her eyes traveled the room not like a scared rabbit, but a fox assessing new territory.
..........Kat waved and led her cousin over to the counter. "Sorry we're late," she said by way of apology. "Guys, this is my cousin, Sarah Adams." Everyone waved back from various places as Kat pointed out names and faces, and Sarah set her burden down on the counter with a "klunk".
..........Skull looked up from his inspection of a nearby wreath. "Hey, Bulky. Who's that?"
.........."Some detective you are, Skull," Bulk snapped. "For your information, that's Kat's cousin. I heard. I listened."
.........."You think she might need some detectives?" Skull said.
.........."Worth a shot," Bulk said, standing up and moving towards the pair. As he did so, his foot caught the extension cord near the lights.
..........Several things happened at once. The cord pulled taut, tripping Rocky in the midst of a move. As Rocky stumbled, he failed to block Tommy's kick, which passed over his head, sending the Red Zeo Ranger spinning to the floor. Bulk stumbled himself, and as he fell, he grabbed wildly and whacked into the stepladder, knocking it over. Jason crashed to the floor, and was partially caught by Adam and Ernie as the stepladder crashed into the tree, barely missing Tanya.
.........."Uhh, what do we do now?" Skull muttered.
.........."Ever hear of the case of the vanishing detectives?"
.........."You're about to," Bulk muttered as he grabbed his friend and dragged him towards the back door.
..........With a groan, the Rangers and their friends turned to cleaning up. As they picked up debris and righted the stepladder, Sarah could not avoid snickering.
..........Tommy stared at her. "What's with you?"
.........."Nothing very bloody important," she fibbed, and he noticed that her accent was thicker than Kat's. Tossing the last of the mess into the trash can, he followed her back to the counter, determined to keep her talking before she returned to her thermos of coffee and her laptop.
..........He paused for a moment, seeing that it was empty. "You want anything to drink?"
.........."Thomas," she said, turning to stare at him, "you don't have t'be polite. I know you're being nice to me because you're going out with my cousin. So stop."
.........."You can't spend the holidays with your computer," he reminded her, reaching over and turning it off. Sarah glared at him. "Water, orange juice, soda, etc. Take your pick."
..........Sarah wrinkled her nose. "Orange juice? Are you joking? Can't a girl get a bleeding cup o' coffee around here?"
.........."Uh, well..." Tommy was momentarily confused. "I think you can get some at the Mini Mart a couple blocks down. But didn't you just have a cup?"
.........."A cup? Ha! More like a sip." She smoothed her shirt and stood. "Caffeine is life."
.........."Right on!" Rocky interjected before looking embarrassed and bending back to the cola he'd just ordered.
..........Sarah ignored him. "I'm going to go get some before I lose it in here. All these pastels and plastic ornaments are driving me nuts."
..........The Red Ranger was not to be daunted so easily. "You shouldn't drink so much caffeine. Ever hear of that?"
.........."Don't be daft." She scooped up her papers and snatched her laptop. "By the way, mate, if you try a hitch-kick move before the rush, you'll get so much more altitude."
..........Kat was faster than all of them, and caught her cousin's arm. "Oh, no, you don't! Not here, and not now! Just because your brother vanishes doesn't mean you can act like this."
.........."I think we had better get going now," Adam said wisely, reaching for his coat on a nearby stool. "It's almost noon anyway." Nodding, his friends stopped what they were doing and grabbed their coats.
..........Sarah demurred frantically. "Shopping? Um, no, I have work to do..." Ignoring her pleas, Kat grabbed Sarah by the elbow and dragged her out the door with them.
.........."I really like her," Tommy muttered sarcastically to Jason, who shrugged.
.........."New York? I thought you were from Melbourne." Jason was trying to help Kat coax her cousin into talking, with little success.
..........Sarah shook her head. "I work in New York. Almost finished undergraduate school anyway."
.........."And of all people, she works for David Xanatos," Kat muttered.
.........."I work for his wife, she knows my brother. Mind dropping me off at Radio Shack?"
..........Tommy and Rocky seemed obscenely tempted to do so literally, but Kat shot them a warning look. "We're staying together," she declared. "And that means the department store is first."
..........Like the rest of the mall, the department store was packed. Sarah had been persuaded to leave her laptop under the seat in the van, but not her thermos, which was hidden inside her coat and full of hot coffee. Tanya and Kat had instantly homed in on the clearance items and were leafing through the pile in search of something givable. Adam and Tommy tried vainly to help their girlfriends, eventually giving up in confusion. As the girls rejected a piece, they tossed it to the side, and within minutes, Adam and Tommy were half-buried in clearance clothing.
..........Sarah snorted. "Ever try moving out of the way?" she quipped as the Red and Green Zeo Rangers pulled themselves free.
.........."For his sake," Tommy murmured as they cleaned up, "I'm glad Billy isn't here. Not with her around."
.........."She's not that bad, just kind of obnoxious," Jason said.
.........."Kind of obnoxious? Haven't you been listening to her?"
..........Goldar's gravelly voice interrupted whatever response his friend might have had. "Need a hand, Rangers?"
.........."Huh?" Rocky said as they jumped up.
.........."Rangers?" Sarah asked.
..........A squadron of Putties leapt out from behind the layaway counter. "Uh-oh," Tanya said. "Always thought something nasty was behind there, but not that bad!"
.........."Scatter!" Tommy yelled as the Putties charged. He jumped up and kicked a nearby cart, sending it smack into the Z-plates of the two foremost Putties. Beside him, Jason spun and took out three more as gray bodies swarmed from behind racks and shelves of clothing.
.........."Oh, this is not happening!" Sarah yelled as she grabbed a nearby chair and pitched it into an advancing wave of Putties. "What the f*** is going on?"
..........Tanya ducked out of the grasp of a Putty, dropping to the floor and lashing out with a low sweep kick. As they crashed to the ground, face first, their chest plates made contact, and they shattered. "This is normal around here," she cried as she vaulted over a rack. "I don't remember these guys, though!"
.........."They were around before you got here," Adam shouted. With a flurry of punches, he destroyed three Putties, kicking and punching a path through the swarm.
..........With a shout, Kat jumped up onto the layaway counter, and grabbed whatever she could throw, kicking away any Putty that dared get close. After a few moments of her barrage, the Putties retreated.
..........Rocky yelled as two Putties came up behind him and grabbed his arms, and swung his legs up to knock away another. Their grip loosened, and he broke free of the brawl for a moment, casting about for all the members of their party. A confused look came over his face, and he shouted something that his friends couldn't hear as they began to beat back their attackers.
..........Surrounded by Putties, Jason dived out of their grasp behind the clearance bin, long enough to shove it into the group. Adam had made his way to Tanya, and together they took on the decreasing numbers of Putties. Behind them, Jason and Rocky took out a cluster who were about to ambush the pair. Tommy was punching and kicking Putties furiously as he moved towards Goldar. Kat leapt off the layaway counter, wielding a staple gun.
..........All of a sudden, the Putties and Goldar vanished, and the group was left standing in the midst of a silent mess. "That didn't make sense," Adam said. "What was that all about?"
.........."Ummm...." Rocky said.
.........."Yeah, man," Jason remembered, "what were you trying to tell us?"
..........The Blue Zeo Ranger fidgeted. "Where's Sarah?"
..........The six teenagers stared at each other in horrified understanding. "Oh, my God," Kat gasped, easing into a chair. "Oh, my God."
..........As she did so, the situation got worse. "Excuse me," the department manager snapped, "who's going to pay for all this?"
Mistakes and Malfunctions
.........."This is what you
brought back?" Lord Zedd roared, brandishing his staff menacingly.
"Goldar, you had better have a good explanation for this idiocy!!"
Standing atop the RV as he was, glowing and bellowing, it was no wonder
that Goldar cringed and the Putties shrank back from the Lord of Evil.
..........Sarah, however, didn't move. She was taking in her surroundings with the sort of perverse fascination generally reserved for 3 a.m. movies on cable. From the crimson figure on the weird, souped-up trailer to the assortment of flunkies to the grey desert sand and dark sky that stretched for miles, it was all too much. Plus, seeing the earth in the sky above her was not good. Sarah's brain switched into high gear as she stood frozen amidst the strange scenario, planning her next move.
..........As she remained in her seeming catatonia, she was ignored by the group about her. "My lord," Finster put in, "I did caution you that Putties are not extremely intelligent. It was no one's fault but the Rangers that there was more than one non-Ranger in the group! The Putties may have simply oriented on her because she has never held the power, period!"
.........."What??" In a blaze of red, Zedd vanished and reappeared beside the little gnome. Finster proceeded to launch into a lengthy explanation, and Rito turned to needle Goldar about cheap solutions and how they should have used the Tengas. Rita charged out of the trailer, shrieking at her husband how their captive could at least be useful in blackmailing the Rangers. In the confusion, the circle of Putties encircling Sarah loosened just a bit.
..........It was enough.
..........When Sarah was twelve and her brother was seventeen, she had begged and begged her parents to let her take fighting classes like he was. After a week of whining, she had started kickboxing lessons, and now she was glad for them. It had been worth straining her vocal cords, she mused as she shattered a Putty with a series of punches, breaking out of the circle.
..........Rolling out of their grasp, she jumped to her feet and made a break for it across the dunes. Behind her, she could hear a series of shouts and threats (plus that awful woman's shrieking), and kept on running. The ground behind and around her erupted under blasts of energy, and she ran harder.
..........As she reached the peak of the dune, she tried to brake, but instead pitched forward and rolled down the slope. Sand swirled around her, catching in her hair and mouth as she finally tumbled to a stop. Coughing, she collected herself at the bottom and dived behind a smaller mound just as her pursuers came over the rise.
..........Sarah barely dared to breathe as she listened to them argue for a few moments, then heard the leader growl, "Let her be! She'll either starve out here or be flattened like Squatt and Baboo!" They turned and headed back towards the RV.
..........After what seemed like an eternity, Sarah poked her head up. Her breath left her in a gust of relief as she realized that she was alone. "So what in the bloody hell am I going to do?" she murmured.
..........As if in answer to her question, the outline of some sort of base became visible ahead of her. Sarah shrugged and plodded off towards the apparition, putting more and more distance between herself and the trailer. In the distance, she heard the shrill voice say something along the lines of "I told you so! Idiots!"
.........."Oh my God," Kat said for the ninth time as the six teens left the police station. After two hours of answering and fielding questions, they were all drained.
..........Tommy put a comforting hand on her shoulder as he pulled open the sliding door of the van and they began to climb in, one by one. Jason was the first to clamber aboard, pushing around bags and parcels to make room. "Hey, didn't Sarah leave her laptop in here?"
.........."Of course. I made her," Kat said glumly.
..........An expression of confusion and apprehension crossed Jason's face. "Well, it's gone now."
..........Before anyone could react to that piece of news, their respective communicators went off in a familiar series of beeps. "Guess what that's about," Tommy said, getting into the cab as the rest of the Rangers climbed in and shut the door. Once safely inside, he pressed a button on his communicator. "Zordon, this is Tommy."
..........RANGERS, YOU MUST COME TO THE POWER CHAMBER IMMEDIATELY, Zordon intoned. I AM FULLY AWARE THAT KATHERINE'S COUSIN HAS BEEN ABDUCTED, BUT THERE ARE OTHER CONCERNS CONNECTED TO THAT.
.........."What else is new?" Tanya said with a sigh.
..........Tommy paused a moment before responding. "We'll teleport as soon as we get to the Youth Center, Zordon. Tommy out." The others stared at him, Kat's look that of impatient near-anger. "We're right in front of the police station. Think about it."
..........Kat sighed in reluctant agreement and burrowed into the plush of the seat as Tommy started the engine. Her eyes were glistening with tears. Oh, Sarah, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I never knew this would happen. I should have just left you alone.
..........Reaching over, Tanya patted her friend's hand in compassion. "We'll find her, Kat."
.........."I hope so," was the murmured reply.
.........."Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi!" Alpha greeted them as six flashes of light landed in the Power Chamber, and Tommy released his grip on Jason's arm.
..........The former Gold Ranger stared at his friend. "What was that for? You don't need me here. I'm no use to the team anymore."
..........THAT IS INCORRECT, JASON, Zordon chided calmly. YOU, BILLY, KIMBERLY, TRINI, AND ZACH ARE STILL MEMBERS OF THE TEAM IN OUR EYES. The mentor of the Rangers paused to let that sink in. ALSO, THERE IS THE MATTER OF SARAH'S KIDNAPPING. ACCORDING TO OUR READINGS AND ALPHA'S CALCULATIONS, SHE WAS NOT THE INTENDED TARGET.
..........Kat blinked, her face tear-stained. "What?? After all that? You must be joking!"
.........."It's true, Katherine," replied Alpha. "Zedd and Rita, you must remember, are still lacking in resources compared to what they had before. The Putties were ordered to abduct the non-Ranger in the group."
.........."Then who were they--" Rocky began, trailing off as all eyes fastened on Jason. "Oh."
.........."I get it," Adam said bitterly. "The old fall-back of trying to capture a Ranger or a former Ranger and make him evil."
..........IT IS UNLIKELY THAT SARAH WILL BE VICTIM TO THAT TREATMENT, Zordon interrupted. SHE IS INEXPERIENCED, HAS IRRITATED MOST OF YOU, AND MAY NOT BE CONSIDERED WORTH THE ENERGY NEEDED TO CONVERT HER. HOWEVER, THAT IS NOT MY MAIN PURPOSE FOR SUMMONING YOU. THE BIGGEST THREAT WE HAVE TO DEAL WITH IS HER LAPTOP COMPUTER.
..........Despite himself, Rocky could not stop the laughter that spurted between his lips at that comment.
.........."Shut up! He's serious." Adam nudged his friend as a picture of a grey metal monster with a familiarly shaped head appeared on the viewscreen. True to form, it looked just like the laptop it was spawned from.
..........Tommy sighed. "Zedd and Rita, same old routines."
..........ACTUALLY, KING MONDO IS BEHIND THIS, Zordon added. MACHINES ARE HIS SPECIALTY, AND WEAKENED AS THE SKYBASE IS, THIS PROVIDED THEM WITH A SIMPLER SOLUTION. COLD CIRCUIT, HIS NEWEST CREATION IS WHAT HAS BECOME OF SARAH'S LAPTOP.
..........Calming down for a second, Kat squinted at the screen. "It doesn't seem to be attacking anyone or smashing anything. What gives?"
..........As if in answer to that question, the laptop robot turned on a small group of people loaded with shopping bags. But instead of scaring or attacking them, it fired a burst of strange green light, which bathed the shoppers.
..........The effect was almost immediate. Under the strange ray, the happy, cheerful group seemed to sag in unison. Their smiles faded to nearly blank expressions, and they dropped their merchandise and walked aimlessly off in separate directions. It was as if they neither knew or cared about anyone else.
.........."Cold Circuit has the power to drain the caring and hope out of people," Alpha explained. "If you don't stop him, Rangers, he may turn the entire town into uncaring zombies!"
.........."We'll have to stop him, then," Tommy said. "One New York City is enough."
..........Kat grabbed her boyfriend's arm. "Hold it! What about my cousin??"
..........ALPHA AND I HAVE FORMULATED A PLAN. JASON, YOU MUST REMAIN HERE WHILE THE RANGERS FIGHT COLD CIRCUIT. Jason opened his mouth to protest, but Zordon continued. WE WILL NEED YOUR HELP TO RESCUE SARAH.
..........Nodding reluctantly, Jason turned to the Zeo Rangers. "Be careful out there, guys. You don't want to get hit by that thing."
.........."Same goes to you, man." Tommy turned and readied his zeonizer. "It's morphing time!"
.........."Zeo Ranger I, Pink!"
.........."Zeo Ranger II, Yellow!"
.........."Zeo Ranger III, Blue!"
.........."Zeo Ranger IV, Green!
.........."Zeo Ranger V, Red!"
..........Jason sighed and turned back to Zordon and Alpha. "What do you need me to do?"
..........Angel Grove Park was fortunately empty of bystanders, and the Zeo Rangers surrounded Cold Circuit immediately. "All right, freak!" Rocky yelled. "Prepare to get your circuits fried!"
..........The Yellow and Green Rangers exchanged glances. "Remind me to hide all the caffeine from him later," Adam said.
.........._This does not compute._ the laptop intoned in a monotone. _Specimens have emotions, and are therefore imperfect. 'Freak' does not apply._ With that, it fired its green ray at Kat, who dived out of the way.
..........At that moment, Rocky rushed the robot from behind, letting off a Spinning Power Punch. The monitor cracked, but Cold Circuit seemed unaffected. With a sweep of a robotic appendage, it whacked the Blue Ranger squarely in the chest, sending him flying. Tanya, then Tommy, attacked him with similar results, barely dodging the blasts from the small cannon atop the monitor.
.........."New plan," Kat muttered, whipping out her blaster. As Cold Circuit turned towards Tommy, she took aim and fired several shots at its ray cannon. With a shower of sparks, the discharge tube was destroyed, melting into a useless lump over the monitor.
..........Under his helmet, Tommy blinked. "Why didn't I think of that?"
.........."This can't be it," Tanya said as Cold Circuit stumbled around a bit. As she said that, a blue light began to shimmer across its monitor, and a blast of frigid wind knocked the Rangers off their feet.
..........Adam was right in the center of the blast, and he collapsed to his knees, shaking. "So... cold...." he murmured as Tanya ran towards him. As her glove brushed his back, the cold chilled her fingers.
.......... "I'd better get you back to the Power Chamber," she said, and they vanished in streaks of yellow and green.
.........."Oh, great," Rocky muttered as they turned back towards the robot. "What next?"
..........In a flash, Klank and Orbus suddenly appeared at the top of a nearby hill. And all of the Rangers knew exactly what that meant.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time, Dumb Luck
..........Jason and Alpha were bending
over a communicator as Tanya and Adam teleported in. Dropping the tool
he was holding, Alpha greeted them with his characteristic cry of anxiety.
With a sigh, Jason retrieved the tool and placed it safely beside the communicator.
..........Too worried to bother with formalities, Tanya looked anxiously at Zordon. "Zordon, you have to help him! Cold Circuit almost froze him to death!"
..........WE MAY BE ABLE TO REVERSE THE EFFECTS WITH A CONCENTRATED TREATMENT OF HEAT ENERGY, was the reply. A compartment opened in one of the consoles, and two pairs of heavy gray gloves rolled out. TANYA, JASON, PUT ON THESE GLOVES AND PLACE THE GREEN RANGER ON THE EXAMINATION BED. ALPHA, READY THE PROPER EQUIPMENT.
..........Putting on the gloves, Tanya and Jason were able to lift a near-comatose Adam onto the bed without freezing themselves. Looking down at Adam's still form, Tanya swallowed a lump in her throat. "Will he be all right?"
.........."We can still help him," Alpha answered, pulling a set of scanners and sensors up.
..........Jason recognized them from when Billy and Alpha had saved him from the effects of the Midas Hound's power. I really wish he was here, he thought for what felt like the thousandth time since his friend had left. He always seemed to know what to do. Wish I did. Alpha activated the equipment, and an orange light spread across the Green Zeo Ranger.
..........For a moment, nothing happened. Then, slowly, deliberately, Adam's muscles seemed to relax, and his breathing came more deeply. "He's all right!" Tanya cried.
..........HE STILL NEEDS MORE TREATMENT, Zordon reminded her, AS YOUR FRIENDS NEED YOU. An image of Cold Circuit, grown to giant proportions and facing off against Super Zeo Zords I, III, and V appeared on the viewscreen. READY YOUR ZORD AND HELP THEM HOLD OFF COLD CIRCUIT. ADAM WILL JOIN YOU IN ZEO ZORD IV AS SOON AS HE HAS RECOVERED. ALPHA, YOU MUST FINISH MODIFYING THE COMMUNICATOR FOR THE CORRECT SIGNATURE.
..........With a "Back to action!" Tanya was gone.
.........."All done!" Alpha said a few moments later. Turning, the little robot handed Jason the communicator. "This will emit a signal on a special frequency that only Zordon and I know. Although it is on a limited band, I've modified it to emit a more powerful signal. Once you have found Sarah, press this button--" here he showed Jason-- "and the signal will allow us to teleport you and anyone within a two-foot radius through most interference."
..........BUT YOU MUST ONLY USE IT WHEN YOU HAVE SARAH WITHIN RANGE, Zordon cautioned. THIS PROCESS WILL TAKE UP A LARGE PORTION OF THE BATTERY, SO IT CAN ONLY BE USED SUCCESSFULLY ONCE.
.........."But how am I going to find Sarah?" Jason pointed out. "We don't know exactly where on the moon Rita and Zedd have their base of operations."
..........REMEMBER, JASON, RITA AND ZEDD WERE ORIGINALLY AFTER YOU. THERE IS NO GUARANTEE THAT THEY WILL NOT TRY AGAIN.
..........Jason got it. "So I have to use myself as bait."
..........A groan from the operating table caught Alpha's attention, and he rushed over to the Green Ranger's side, Jason following. "According to these sensors, his body temperature has just about returned to normal!" Alpha said excitedly as Adam sat up weakly, shaking his head.
.........."Adam? You all right?" Jason asked nervously.
..........Slowly, Adam removed his helmet, shaking his head harder to clear it. "I guess. I'm a little stiff, though."
.........."I still have to run a few tests," Alpha said. Adam took one look at the viewscreen and grabbed his helmet. "Forget it, I'm going. The guys need me now."
..........ADAM, YOU MUST-- Zordon began, but Adam had already vanished in a burst of light. With a distorted, ethereal sigh, the head shook from side to side. KIDS TODAY.
..........Jason picked up the communicator and slipped it on. It was wider, and slid farther up his arm, hidden beneath his sleeve. A thought occurred to him. "Zordon, is there a way I could teleport us to the park rather than the Command-- uh, the Power Chamber?" Inwardly, he groaned; he'd never gotten that straight. "I don't know how much Sarah knows, but I could probably get her to believe that they just grabbed me as well."
.........."I can program it to land you in the park," Alpha said, reaching over and coding yet another sequence into the communicator.
..........Sliding down his sleeve, Jason turned to face Zordon again. "All right, I'm ready."
..........GOOD LUCK, JASON, Zordon said.
..........Alpha hit a few buttons. "Teleporting now."
..........He landed in the park behind a stand of trees-- Alpha had been thoughtful enough to keep him out of sight. In the distance, he could see Cold Circuit surrounded by the five Zeo Zords, Adam having just joined them. Hope he's all right, he thought as he left the safety of the trees and headed across Angel Grove Park. Since monsters inevitably almost always made an appearance there, it seemed like the best place to decoy.
..........Jason was still wearing his old communicator-- Rita and Zedd would probably take the wrist communicator and not search further. He rubbed it for a second as he looked back at the fight in the distance and sighed. "Billy, I know how you must have felt," he murmured to the frigid air.
..........Immediately, he found himself surrounded by gray figures. That was fast, he thought, and then something else registered. Jason muttered something unprintable as he prepared to take on about a dozen Cogs.
..........Safely in the Skybase, King Mondo chuckled as he watched the action on the planet through the scope. "That's my son," he chortled as Prince Sprocket dashed in, waving his arms as usual.
.........."Dad! Dad! Did I do good? Wasn't that a great idea?"
.........."A wonderful idea, my son." Mondo waved his scepter in the air to emphasize his point. "And what a brilliant idea on my part to have you concoct a plan of attack this time for your present. Mark my words, you will make a great king someday!"
.........."If I make it that far," Sprocket muttered, eying the charred and battered metal about him.
..........Mondo snorted. "You will, I will make sure of it. Anything to keep that traitor Gasket from taking over! Marrying that Archerina!"
..........A metallic clearing of the throat caused both robots to turn. Klank had developed the habit of moving silently, which drove Mondo crazy. Klank knew this, of course-- he had not forgotten about his lab. "Yer majesty, I have some news t' report. It seems the Cogs have picked up a prisoner--the former Gold Ranger!"
.........."What?" Mondo seemed confused. "Just like that?" His attention turned back to the scope as the Zeo Zords began to come together. "Errgh! Didn't you program it to keep that from happening?"
..........Klank sighed. "Sir, what shall I do about--"
.........."Just dump him in a cell somewhere! And see whether the intruder alarms are false or not!" Mondo turned back to the action, and Klank sighed again.
.........."I need a new line o' work," he muttered. "Mebbe vacation."
..........Orbus poked his head up. "You know, Antares ain't bad this time of year..."
..........Unconsciously, Jason folded his arms as he paced around the small metal room. It wasn't as tight it had been; the walls were warped, and some of the seams were split. But the metal was still so thick that he could do nothing with that.
..........The ceiling, however, looked much thinner, and he wondered if he would be able to pry open one of the loose panels. Rita and Zedd, for once, had done him a favor by sending that bomb. There was still a chance of escape.
..........Thankfully, the signaller Zordon had given him had gone undetected by the Cogs and Klank. It seemed that they hadn't exactly planned on capturing him, so he was being tossed aside while they figured out what to do. So in that respect, he was in the clear. But he had two problems: he couldn't reach that panel, and Sarah was nowhere near him. Getting to Rita and Zedd would not be easy from here.
..........A sound made him turn, a horrible scraping and creaking of rusted metal, and someone else was thrown into the cell with him. Or rather, onto him; he was just barely able to keep himself from falling over as he caught her.
.........."Jason? That you, mate?" Sarah said, wiping her glasses and staring at him. "I didn't expect to have company."
.........."Neither did I," Jason answered. Well, at least one of his problems was solved.
Home Again... But Is It Over Yet?
..........The Machine Skybase, it seemed,
had plenty of air vents and old tunnels. Apparently, none were lighted.
Two figures crawled side by side through the dark labyrinth, not speaking;
neither could figure out what to say to the other, and preferred the deathly
quiet to discovery.
..........Then again, darkness and silence could get to a person. "What did that gold bloke mean by 'Rangers'?" Sarah suddenly asked.
.........."Huh?" Jason was startled to hear actual sound. They'd spent over an hour crawling through tunnels after she'd been able to hotwire the loose panel in the ceiling, and he'd grown accustomed to the quiet.
.........."You know, when those gray things grabbed me this morning," Sarah explained. "He called you Rangers, like the Power Rangers."
..........Jason snorted. "I don't know. Guess he made a mistake."
.........."Some bleeding mistake! You were in that group when they attacked, and coincidentally you get dumped in here with me?" Even in the pitch darkness, he could feel her piercing glare. "I don't know you too well, but I know you're hiding something."
.........."I'm not hiding--"
..........She grabbed his shirt, stopping their progress. "I want the truth. Now. Or I'll start banging and screaming and blow our cover."
..........The truth. A light bulb was turned on somewhere in Jason's head. "Fine. I tried to get captured to go after you because Kat has been going crazy. But I am not a Power Ranger."
..........There was a long silence, and Sarah started moving again, muttering under her breath. Jason sighed and followed.
..........Suddenly, the floor beneath them vanished, and the muttering became a shriek as the two of them plunged into darkness.
.........."Whoah!" Rocky yelled as Zeo Zord III was rocked by an explosion. Although the Zords were apparently immune to the freezing effects of Cold Circuit's ray, other effects did penetrate.
..........As the laptop advanced on its target, Zeo Zord IV appeared behind it and bashed into Cold Circuit, knocking both of them into the condemned warehouse. The laptop robot was on its "feet" again, appendages spinning and Windows logo on its cracked screen bright as ever.
.........."I'm glad we got it down here," Tanya observed as her Zord ducked a punch from Cold Circuit. They'd been able to lure it down to the abandoned docks outside of the business district of Angel Grove.
..........Frustrated, Kat moved her Zord to confront Cold Circuit, battering it with a series of punches. "Let's just beat this scrap metal so we can get Sarah!" The laptop shoved her violently backward, but not before sending a few ill-aimed blasts into the sky.
.........."We need a new plan," Tommy groaned as he met with similar results. "Time to join up!"
.........."Ooff!" Dim light suddenly penetrated, and Jason and Sarah suddenly found themselves half-buried in oily rags.
..........Jason sat up, casting about for his companion. "Sarah? You there?"
..........A light brown head popped out of the masses of rags. Sarah spit out the one in her mouth, wincing at the taste of motor oil. "I'm fine, mate. Where are we?"
.........."Looks like the laundry room," Jason half-joked, looking about. They had landed in one of many piles of such rags, which were being thrown away as quickly as they were manufactured and used by the row of Cogs at an assembly line in the far corner of the room. Fortunately, they still hadn't noticed the two new arrivals. Nearby, there was an open doorway that wasn't being used. Exchanging a glance with Sarah, Jason put a finger to his lips and beckoned.
..........Slowly, quietly, they crawled out of the pile, shedding swatches of oily cloth as they went. As the Cogs still failed to notice them, Jason and Sarah crept along the perimeter of the wall. Reaching the door, they darted into the nearest corridor just as one of the Cogs turned.
.........."That was close," Sarah whispered as they made a left at a fork.
..........And came face to face with Klank. "Too close."
..........Surprised as they, Klank took a moment to respond to the sight of two thought-to-be locked away teenagers right in front of him. "The prisoners!" he exclaimed. "Cogs! Get them!"
..........Several gray figures leapt at his command, ready to fight. Jason took a fighting stance as well. Glaring at him, Sarah grabbed him by the arm and pulled him down the hallway. "Forget the macho act! This is serious!"
..........They took off at top speed down the remaining corridor, the Cogs hot on their heels. Their metallic footfalls, steady, hard and fast, battered at Jason's eardrums, and he ran faster, Sarah keeping pace. After rounding several corners in a random pattern, they made a left only to see light--outside light!
.........."Yes!" Sarah gasped as they reached it, Jason ahead of her--and then he reared back as he struck a forcefield head-on with a crackle of light. He crashed to the floor with a growl of pain and frustration. Sarah bent down beside him. "Are you all right?"
..........Jason shook his head, dazed. "I'm fine, I guess, but they're still behind us."
..........The metallic footfalls were coming closer, louder, like steel bells clanging the knell of doom. Jason stumbled to his feet as they realized that there was no other way out. They were trapped.
.........."And Kat wonders why I hate to shop," Sarah muttered.
..........The Zeo MegaZord swung at Cold Circuit menacingly, with a familiar blow that usually meant a monster's imminent doom. But not this time. The laptop let out another icy blast, this time in a green cloud that seemed to strike the MegaZord's chest and explode upon impact. The blast sent out brilliant blue streaks of light, and when the blinding light dimmed and the dust settled, the MegaZord was once again five separate battered Super Zeo Zords.
..........Adam spoke for them all. "What the hell happened?"
.........."I don't know!" Tommy shouted. "But if we take another blast like that, we're finished! Joining up is out!"
.........."So then what do we do?" Tanya cried as Cold Circuit charged Zeo Zord III.
..........With a well-aimed punch from his Zord, Rocky sent Cold Circuit flying towards the docks. The panic circuits went on, and the laptop violently braked a few feet from the water.
..........Dawn in the mountains. "Of course!" Kat exclaimed, pounding on her console in her excitement. "It's a computer, isn't it? And what computer do you know that could withstand a bath?"
.........."Surround it!" Tommy yelled, and the five Zords formed a semicircle around Cold Circuit, blocking off all escape. Seeing what was about to happen, the computer sent out another gust of frigid air. As Zeo Zords II, III and V, right in the blast's path, were knocked back, Adam and Kat brought their Zords in on each side, whacking Cold Circuit into the icy waters.
..........The docks shattered under the robot's weight, and it hit the water with a tremendous splash, followed by a shower of sparks. Energy crackled frantically about the malfunctioning and sinking computer as it fired yet another blast into the clouds.
..........Suddenly, there was a bright flash, a sound like a thunderclap, and Cold Circuit was gone. Sitting serenely atop one of the posts, however, a small gray laptop rested.
.........."We've got to disable that forcefield," Sarah decided. She was inspecting a panel in the wall (the Skybase was just packed with loose panels) that Jason had managed to loosen. "I have to cut off power, or short-circuit it somehow." She squinted at it.
..........Jason grunted, mainly because he was holding up a barricade of scrap metal (the corridors were littered with junk) through which protruding Cog arms flailed. "Yeah, but how?"
.........."I don't know! This is bloody awful to figure out! Everything's cross-wired and patched! It's such a mess I can't make head or tail of it." Sarah poked at a wire and jumped back as it sparked. "That ain't it. Ok, girl, if you could hotwire the security pads at Xanacorp, you can hotwire this."
.........."We need a quick solution," Jason gasped as he strained to hold back the onslaught.
..........Sarah moaned. "I'm stuck on the moon with a bunch of robots after me, I have to find my cousin, she might be in trouble too, and my laptop is missing! This is not what I meant by a vacation. God, I wish I had some coffee!"
..........Jason blinked. An idea was forming in his head. "Coffee! Of course! You still have that thermos, don't you?"
..........She drew it out of her coat as he twisted a sheet of metal to balance the barricade. "Oh, yeah! Why?"
.........."That ought to short-circuit it," Jason guessed as he pushed and twisted.
.........."I can't do that! It's all I've got left!"
.........."Oh, for pete's sake! There won't be anything left if we don't get out of here!"
.........."But--" She trailed off as a Cog began smashing through the barricade. "Oh, screw it!" Yanking the top off the thermos, she dashed the brown liquid into and over the open panel.
..........The panel exploded with a shower of sparks and a crackle of electricity that scythed into the Cog fighting Jason, sending it crashing to the ground in a lifeless heap. All the lights in the Machine Skybase went out.
.........."Now that's what happens when you use shoddy technology," Sarah remarked as they dashed out into the open air.
..........More Cogs surrounded them, but it was too late. Jason snatched Sarah's arm, pulled his sleeve up, and punched in the correct sequence. Before the Cogs could attack, they had vanished in twin flashes of white light.
..........Sarah opened her eyes and wanted to immediately close them again at the searing headache she received. Never had she ever dealt with such a hangover, even after some of the parties her roommate had roped her into in the past. Rolling over on her stomach, her fingers clutched at the dry grass beneath her.
..........She blinked. Grass?
..........Sitting up, her brain recognized grass, trees, buildings, evening sky. Earth. Home. And six familiar faces grinning at her.
.........."Kat? Is that you?" Headache forgotten, Sarah jumped to her feet and hugged her surprised cousin tightly. "You don't know how bloody glad I am t' see you!"
.........."I'm just glad this is all over," Jason said woozily. He was still reeling a bit from the effects of the forcefield. "They aren't kidding when they say this is a rough holiday."
.........."I don't believe this! I just don't believe this!" Mondo was nearly screaming, and Klank was beginning to fear for what was left of his lab. "First that stupid creation of my son's fails, then you let our prisoners escape! And they weren't even Rangers!"
..........Machina flicked her fan a few times idly. "My dear, you could always go to plan B."
..........Mondo looked up. "Plan B? What plan B?"
..........The Machine Queen smiled and closed her fan with an audible snap. She'd been waiting for this chance for a while. "It's called an ambush, husband. Now here's what we do...."
.........."Jingle bells, Mondo smells,
.......... Machina laid an egg!
.......... Something something lost a wheel,
.......... And the Gold Ranger got awaaaay!"
.........."SHUT UP!!!" Zedd roared. "It's bad enough that I have to listen to your attempts to sing! Don't rub it in!" Growling fiercely, he clutched his staff in rage.
.........."Oh, uh, sorry, Ed," Rito said. Taking his sword in hand, Goldar whacked him on the head, which was so hard that it didn't do much good.
..........Finster tried to offer consolation. "At least the Machine Empire failed. And we could always send down a monster of our own."
..........The Lord of Evil snorted. "I'm not in the mood. Putties didn't work, neither did Mondo's creation."
.........."Then let's use Tengas!" Rita shrieked. "Besides, I have a great idea for getting back at the Rangers!"
..........Before Goldar could protest, she shuffled over to Zedd's side and started whispering. Zedd burst out laughing, an evil, horrid sound. "Perfect! Perhaps, my love, this holiday surprise is not over yet."
Some Christmas Miracles Are Just Plain Weird!
Two days later (Christmas Eve)
.........."So you don't hate me?" Kat asked pleadingly for the ninth time as her cousin (the tallest of the girls) stood on her tiptoes to secure the last of the tinsel. "I know your mum will have a fit."
..........Sarah grinned, adjusting her glasses. "So? I spend most of my time at college and at work. And it wasn't your fault, Kat," she added. "What in the bleedin' hell were you supposed to do... storm that moon base to save me? I don't think so."
.........."Ridiculous, huh?" Kat laughed weakly, stil unsure just how much Sarah knew. Jason had assured them that Sarah had bought his cover story and that the Zeo Rangers had recruited him right off the street, but you never knew. Then again, Sarah didn't think enough of Tommy to even believe it if they morphed in front of her...
..........Her thoughts were cut off as a figure in a Santa suit, carrying a bulging sack and yelling "ho ho ho" at the top of his lungs, came barging out of the men's locker room. The children gathered around Tanya (who was reading them a story to keep them occupied) squealed with delight and nearly bowled "Santa" over. Kat chuckled at the scene. "Good old Ernie. Every year he fools them."
.........."Who, me?" The girls turned in surprise to see Ernie and Tommy standing there, hands full with decorations. Kat's mouth dropped open.
.........."Wait, if you're there, then who..." She trailed off, eyes widening as she recognized the bellow. "How on earth did you two con Bulk into that?"
..........Ernie grinned. "It's his 'punishment' for the tree disaster," he explained. "My back's been getting to me, and he fits the bill nicely."
.........."And we got a pianist in the bargain," Rocky added, coming up to join them. Near where Tanya and Adam(who had seized his chance the moment the kids saw Bulk) were sitting, Skull was playing scales on an old piano they'd found.
.........."That reminds me," Tommy added, "where's Jason?"
..........Sarah fixed the tinsel and dropped down from her tiptoes, dusting off her hands. "He took off in a hurry about half an hour ago. Said something about a surprise of some sort and told me to keep you all here."
.........."Well, he better get here soon," Rocky said.
..........As he said this, the door opened with a rush of cold air, and a figure in a black coat rushed in. "Speak of the devil," Sarah said as Jason hung his coat over a chair. "Hey, close the door, mate!"
.........."In a second," Jason called back, beckoning for Adam and Tanya to come over. He leaned out the door and yelled, "All right, guys, you can come in now!"
..........The Rangers looked confused as three other figures, covered in layers of clothes, rushed in and Jason mercifully shut the door. "Hey, start the party, the Zackman is here!" a familiar voice came from the tallest as they began to shed their layers.
..........Tommy's eyes widened. "Zack? Trini?" He paused. "Kim??" The Rangers, followed by a confused Tanya and Sarah, hurried to embrace their friends.
.........."Aaahh!" Trini cried under an assault by Tommy, Adam, and Rocky. "Let me get my coat off!"
..........Zack scanned the room. "Hey, Ernie, Skull, Bu... uh, I mean Santa!" he added, noting the kids surrounding the red figure.
.........."Ho, ho, ho!" Bulk answered back.
..........Jason was ready to burst with pride. "How's that for a surprise?"
.........."Is Angela here anywhere?" Zack asked hopefully.
..........Kat was full of questions for Kim. "How was the Games? And where's that boyfriend of yours?"
.........."Boyfriend?" Kimberly blinked, genuinely puzzled. "What boyfriend?"
..........Before anyone could react to that, Ernie had sidled over and bustled the group down towards the tree by the open mats, taking coats and hats. "All right already! Get away from the door, we're going to have enough traffic as it is!"
.........."What about Aisha?" Rocky began, but Tanya held up a piece of paper. "She sent me a Christmas letter. I'll show it to you all later."
.........."This is great! We're all here!" Adam was grinning from ear to ear.
..........Looking around the room, Trini's face fell. "Not all of us. What about Billy?"
..........There was a long silence. "It's a long story, Trini," Jason said sadly. "A long story."
..........Sarah patted Trini on the shoulder. "I really don't know this bloke Billy, but I think I know how you feel. I wish Dingo was here."
..........Kat moaned. "Sarah, will you quit whining about your brother already?"
.........."Huh? You have a brother named Dingo?" Rocky asked.
..........There was a pause as Sarah tried to figure out how to answer that. "Ummm....did you ever watch that show 'The Pack'?"
..........On two areas of the Moon, almost directly on the other side from each other, plans were being made.
.........."Are they done yet?" Mondo snapped harshly, for the millionth time.
..........Klank glared. "They would be if ye hadn't trashed me lab a while ago! But if ye kin be patient, they kin be done in time!"
.........."Good!" Mondo roared. "Maybe at least something will go right for once!"
.........."Finster!!" Rita shrieked. "Aren't you done cloning yet?
.........."Almost done!" Finster replied hurriedly. At least working for Rita kept him on his toes.
.........."You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain,
.........."You something something drive a man insane!
.........."I love you still, oh what a thrill,
.........."Goodness gracious, great balls of fire!"
..........Skull's latest offering was halted as Ernie put a hand on his shoulder. "Skull.....I don't think that's a Christmas carol."
..........Everyone laughed. The sky was darkening outside, and most of the parents had arrived to the party the Rangers had arranged. None of their parents would consent to letting them have a party at their houses, so the Youth Center was a neutral ground. "Play some actual carols, maybe," Tanya suggested.
.........."Oh, all right," Skull said as he started into 'O Christmas Tree.' "But that was more fun."
..........The next wave of laughter was interrupted by a tremendous thudding sound outside. A silence suddenly descended over the Youth Center, and Skull stopped mid-note as a series of yells, beeps, and squawks came from outside. Everyone else stopped singing and dashed to the window. The scene on the empty playing field that greeted them was not a pleasant sight.
.........."Uh-oh," Rocky said.
..........Ringed around the perimeter of the Youth Center were an army of Tengas and one of Cogs, Goldar on one side, Klank on the other. "Merry Christmas, Zeo Rangers!" Klank shouted. "But it won't be one if you don't surrender now to King Mondo!"
.........."Forget that hunk of junk!" Goldar roared, and the Tengas started squawking madly. "Surrender to Lord Zedd, the Emperor of all Evil! You have ten minutes to decide before we crush you all!"
..........The Rangers, current and former, huddled together in a corner. Everyone else was too busy staring at the armies before them to notice. "What are we going to do?" Kimberly said. "You can't morph with everyone seeing, and we can't take them all on!"
.........."Oh, this is not good," Zack muttered.
..........Tommy tapped his communicator. Nothing happened. "Zordon? Zordon, this is Tommy. Come in." No answer. The teenagers exchanged horrified looks.
..........Eyes wide, Tanya swallowed against a dry throat. "Any suggestions, guys?"
.........."Maybe we should surrender," Kat said.
.........."Hell no!" Rocky hissed.
..........Adam closed his eyes in frustration. "You got a better idea?"
.........."YOUR TIME IS UP!" Klank and Goldar bellowed in unison from outside.
..........Sarah, for all her finery, was still in an ornery mood. "It's only been six minutes!!" she shouted through the glass, shaking her fist at the figures outside.
.........."You get an army of Tengas, you can pick the time!" Goldar roared. "Hey, wait a minute, aren't you--"
..........Another voice suddenly cut in, its timbre and pitch oddly... and familiarly... distorted. "No! Your time is up, not theirs!"
..........All eyes turned to the far end of the playfield where the Tengas and Cogs were lined up, to see five helmeted figures in colored suits... white, blue, red, yellow, and black. The Tengas began to squawk and the Cogs made a few anxious sounds as they recognized the group. "I told you we should have taken that vacation!" Orbus squeaked.
.........."Uh, oh," was all Goldar managed as the five figures attacked.
..........Tanya broke into a big smile. "It's the Aquitian Rangers! Yes!"
.........."Who are they again?" Zack asked. He, Kim, and Trini had just gotten most of the story from Jason at the airport, but there were a few points their friend had forgotten to mention.
..........Unable to do anything else, they watched as the army of Cogs and Tengas set upon the five warriors befors them.
.........."Fan out!" the White Aquitian Ranger shouted as she was set upon by a swarm of Cogs and Tengas. "Draw them away from the humans!"
..........The other Rangers were only too happy to comply, cutting through the mass of metal and feathers with swords and laser fire. Cogs and Tengas dropped left and right as the Aquitian Rangers sliced through their ranks. It didn't help that the Tengas and Cogs, as well as fighting the Aquitian Rangers, were attacking each other. Bolts and feathers flew as the forces of evil once again proved that they didn't know a thing about teamwork.
..........As the Zeo Rangers watched, the Tenga and Cog armies dispersed in screaming panic, and the Aquitar Rangers turned to face the crowd at the window. With a salute to their friends, they teleported away in five beams of light. The entire party broke out in cheers and yells of delight.
..........Relieved and tired, the Rangers sagged against the wall. "Now that," Tommy said, "is what I call a Christmas present."
..........Rocky's brow creased. "That was it?? I mean, you'd think they'd make a monster grow or something. It usually takes longer. And another thing," he finally added, "how'd they know?"
..........There was a long silence as they sat there, trying to figure it all out. "We've really missed a lot, haven't we?" Trini finally said.
.........."Yes," said a voice, "you sure have."
..........Slowly, the Rangers turned, one by one. As one, they jumped to their feet and nearly smothered the figure in the blue raincoat. "BILLY!!!!"
..........Billy Cranston grinned weakly, his blue eyes shining. "Merry Christmas!" He paused. "Uh, Trini, Kim... you're crushing me."
..........Adam's jaw was almost to the floor. "Billy?? You look... you look... well, normal!"
..........Billy screwed up his face, and Jason and Tanya noticed a few laugh lines that hadn't been there before. "Not quite," he admitted. "I still have a few treatments to go. It was an extreme pain getting Cestro to let me come when we spotted the ambush and the interference over the Power Chamber."
.........."Does that mean you'll have to leave the minute you need treatment?" Kimberly asked worriedly, loosing her death grip.
..........Reaching into his coat pocket, Billy produced a plastic water bottle. "Just don't let me forget it."
.........."We're not going to forget any of this," Kat assured him, looking over to where Sarah was sitting, cocoa in hand and arguing happily with the Hilliards.
.........."Waahhh!" Rita whined as Zedd tried half-heartedly to console her. "I wanted to get rid of them! Why don't I ever get what I want for Christmas?"
..........Rito poked his head in the trailer. "Hey, you could always use the Home Shopping Channel."
.........."SHUT UP!!!" they screamed, and Zedd whacked his brother-in-law on the head with his staff.
.........."Geez," Rito muttered as he edged away from the trailer, rubbing his head. "No wonder these holidays are supposed to get to you."
..........Finster was busy tinkering with something outside, as was evident by the crashing sounds. After a few moments of listening to it, Zedd got up and stormed out of the RV, Rita following. "Finster," Zedd began, "what are you doing--" The Lord of Evil stopped dead in his tracks as he saw what Finster had created.
..........It was a Christmas tree... well, sort of. Instead of pine branches, it was fashioned from old car parts and chicken wire, with ornaments that looked suspiciously like Putties and Tengas. At the top, instead of a star, was a miniature version of Zedd and Rita, standing with wands crossed. At the foot of the "tree", looking even smaller than usual, Finster bowed. "Lord Zedd, Empress Rita, may I present my gift to the two of you."
..........Rita looked appreciatively at her likeness above. "I like it, I like it!"
.........."Oh, well," Zedd said with a shrug, and then his gaze moved past the tree to Rito and Goldar, who had managed to get themselves tied up in the red duct tape they'd tried to use as a garland.
..........Rita and Zedd started cackling. "Perhaps," Zedd finished, "I could get to like this holiday."
..........It was nearing midnight, and most of the parents... those with small children... had gone home. Out of the Santa suit and buzzed on eggnog (which was odd, since it was non-alcoholic), Bulk was trying to teach himself to play piano. Adam and Tanya were seated together on a bench, fast asleep. Rocky was elated to discover a bag of chocolate covered pretzels behind the counter, and was sharing them with an exhausted Ernie.
..........Seated at a table near the Juice Bar, Tommy, Katherine, Jason and Kimberly were trying to sort out the origin of the breakup letter, which looked to be the work of a guy who had been stalking Kim. By some strange miracle, the tension they'd all been anticipating between the three of them just wasn't there at all.
..........Zack was trying to steer Angela under the mistletoe, with more success than usual. Trini, Billy, and Sarah were talking computers over hot cocoa (the closest thing to coffee Sarah could find). Sarah sighed, stood, and excused herself.
..........Jason excused himself as well and followed her. "Where are you going?"
..........She yawned. "Back to Katherine's, I believe." There was a shadow across her face. "Seems I'm the only one who didn't get what I wanted for Christmas."
.........."And that is?"
..........Sarah looked at him much the way she had in the Machine Skybase. "My brother, of course. You know, the one I've been whining about these past few days."
..........Jason sighed. "I guess... things don't always work out the way you plan them to."
..........A sudden clamor at the door caused them to turn as a large form stumbled in, shedding layers to reveal a tall man, heavily built, with light brown hair and mustache. "Keerist, it's cold out there!" he snapped.
..........Kat looked up. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me," she said as Sarah vaulted over the railing and barreled full-force into the new arrival. "Dingo, you should be glad Mum and Dad aren't here. They'd tar and feather you for sure."
..........Jason stared. "That's Dingo??" he muttered. "That's the big brother?"
.........."You expected another computer geek?" Kat answered quietly.
..........Sarah was oblivious to all this. "How'd you know I was here? I didn't get a chance to call!"
.........."Fox and Detective Maza," Dingo answered. "They may not like each other all the time, but they oughta team up more often!" He shivered. "You know, I didn't know it would be so bloody cold out there. Didn't someone say it's not supposed to snow in California?"
.........."SNOW!?!?" Everyone who was still awake rushed to the window to see a fine white powder falling gently outside. "I'll be damned," Tommy whispered.
..........Kimberly gasped. "It's a miracle! I was daydreaming about snow this morning!"
.........."Not really," Adam murmured, turning to Tommy. "Remember that last blast Cold Circuit let off?"
..........Trini sighed and rested her head on Billy's shoulder, watching as Zack and Angela finally put the mistletoe to good use. "No, it's a miracle," she asserted. "For Christmas, everyone got exactly what they wanted."
..........Mondo stared down at the earth below, ignoring the rest of the Machine Empire's court, something which suited the dented and battered Klank to a T. Machina, for her part, really didn't seem to care.
..........Sprocket wasn't happy at all. "Dad! Dad! What about my present????"
.........."You had your chance," Mondo growled uncharacteristically. "Go play in the compressor."
.........."Mooomm!" Sprocket whined as Machina whacked her husband with her fan. "Will you stop torturing him? It's not his fault!"
.........."Are you saying that it's mine?" Mondo retorted, and the three robots started squabbling amongst themselves.
..........While they argued, they were oblivious to the sight of what looked like a small red space sleigh zooming by. Klank and Orbus exchanged glances. "D' ye think we should tell them?" Klank asked.
.........."Naaahhh," they said in unison as it passed by.