"Trini!" the others were teleporting out of the cockpit and over to her seconds later. It was Jason who had spoken; he'd been helping them out in Pyramidus. "Trini, was that what we all think it was?"
She nodded quietly. "A Purple Zeo Ranger."
"Who works for Mondo," Tommy whispered softly. He was still morphed so they couldn't see his face, but those who had known him during his Green Ranger days, especially in the beginning when he had been evil, knew that he would have the darkest and most haunted of expressions on.
"I couldn't recognize the voice, but that's not too surprising," Trini tried to remember everything she could about the brief encounter. "It could be I've never met them or they're using some kind of voice-switcher device. One thing I do know, they are a very good fighter, and a very unfair one."
She related everything that had happened, making certain to include the fact that Purple Ranger had been aiming directly at Adam. The Green Ranger shivered a little. "Thanks, Trini. You saved my life."
"Hey, we're a team," the Silver Ranger smiled, then glanced around, checking for company of the civilian type. With a flicker of silvery light, she had demorphed, and leaned against the nearest tree, breathing deeply and trying to settle herself. Seeing another evil Ranger, up close and personal, had rather shaken her.
She barely looked up when the others also shed their uniforms and gathered about her. She did notice that Tommy did have his 'haunted' face on, and Jason wasn't looking a lot better. She knew that, like her, the names of friends and people in their lives who could possibly have been corrupted by the Machine King were going through their minds. None of it made them any happier, either.
"We'd better get back to the Power Chamber," Tommy said after a few silent moments of rest and contemplating what they had found out. "Maybe Zordon can help us figure out who Purple Ranger is."
"Yeah," Trini pushed herself up and straightened her clothes a little. Then she frowned for a moment. "Um, has anyone seen Billy today?"
The other six glanced at each other, then around, then back at her. The movements almost looked comical, but none of them were feeling very humorous at the moment. "I haven't," Tommy said finally. "He hasn't exactly been himself for a while, you know."
"Ever since we came back," Trini murmured, glancing down at the silver-touched communicator on her wrist. She'd barely had time to talk with Billy since she had claimed her powers; whenever the whole group was together, he sort of just faded into the background, and he never seemed to be available when it could be just the two of them. She shook her head for a moment. She would take care of Billy later, right now, they had an evil Ranger to discover the identity of and to track down. It didn't even occur to her that Billy might be that evil Ranger; she knew him too well to suspect that even with his recent separation from them, that he might possibly be against them.
Or so she thought.
"You have indeed, Purple Ranger!" the Machine King was very thrilled with his corrupted warrior; Klank had done an excellent job on him. "How do you think they will be reacting to your appearance. ..especially the Red Ranger?"
Billy didn't answer right away, it was plain from the expression on his face that he was considering the reply carefully. At last he spoke. "Tommy will be having problems dealing with this situation with me attacking them, because of his own past as an evil Ranger. That will either limit his effectiveness because he will be concentrating too much on his past, or will increase it because he will want to release me from your service, my lord."
Mondo nodded thoughtfully; he trusted Billy's assessment of the leader of the Zeo Rangers. "Very good. Now, you were fighting directly against the Silver Ranger, the newest of them. What is your opinion on her?"
"Trini is an excellent fighter," Billy responded to that one at once. "She is calm and careful, and does not lose her temper easily. Of them all, she and Adam, the Green Zeo Ranger, would be the ones most likely to become suspicious of me."
The lord of the Machine Empire would have frowned at that, if his face could have moved quite enough. His eyes did flare somewhat yellowly, however. "It is your task then, to make certain that they do not discover the truth of your allegiance."
Billy bowed his head low. "As you command my lord. Have you further need of me?"
"Give me a status report on the building of your Zord," Mondo ordered. "I want to know how soon it will be before I can send you against those blasted Zeo Zords."
Billy nodded again, then quickly began reciting everything that he knew of the construction of his Zord. It was taking place in an underground section of his garage, with Cogs following his every command. He found a certain tantalizing pleasure in that. He had briefly considered creating it in a wolf-design, such as his NinjaZord, but realized almost at once that such a thing would be a screaming message to the others as to the identity of the Purple Ranger, and his orders were that none could know that, unless and until his master commanded differently. Instead, he was simply designing something that would be larger and more massive than Pyramidus, and would have weapons designed from scratch to counter anything that the Zeo MegaZord, the Super Zeo MegaZord, or Pyramidus, and any of their gestalt configurations, could throw at him. He wasn't playing around: he fully intended to destroy the Power Rangers, the moment he was ordered to do so. Until then, he would gladly toy with them, to a degree. If he had the chance to take out a Ranger without revealing who he was, he would take it.
Mondo nodded with the ending of the report. "Very excellent," he nodded. "Return to Earth and keep your cover up. If necessary, I do have a plan in mind to divert them from thinking you are the Purple Ranger."
"As you command, my lord," Billy bowed again, then teleported away in a cog-shaped teleportation gateway. He had work that needed doing, and a story to be thought up should anyone ask where he had been recently.
Tommy was leaning against a console as Alpha scanned, his eyes shut and his face having lost the fear that had filled it only moments earlier. Kat touched his shoulder briefly, glad when he looked up instead of ignoring her. "Tommy, are you all right?" she herself was feeling somewhat nervous and upset at the thought of someone else being forced to serve evil, but he was taking it far worse than she was.
"I don't know, Kat," he replied honestly. "I want to know who this person is, and try and stop them before they hurt themselves, us, or Angel Grove. Whoever they are. . .they're not going to be the same after this."
She nodded quietly. "Neither of us were the same after Rita entered our lives," she reminded him. "But in the long run, was it necessarily a bad thing?"
What she said shocked him, not just for the fact she'd said it, but for the fact that it occurred to him that she was right. Despite how much he hated thinking about it and remembering it, his time as Rita's Ranger had given him the chance to do great good for the world, and that was what he had always wanted in his life. It was for that reason he had never given up his powers unless he'd absolutely had to, unless they were ripped from him or in danger of being used by someone for evil. It was why he had joined the team after Jason had broken the spell on him. It was why he had always remained. To not just make up for what he had done, but to help as he had been helped. Kat herself had been lifted from normal life into the realm of the Rangers, and he knew that she had never been happier since then. From great evil had come greater good, and that would be the case for this Purple Ranger, whoever it was.
"Ay-y-yi!" Alpha backed away from the computers and turned to the Rangers. "Scanners can't find any trace of the Machine Empire having teleported anyone to or from their base except for the Cogs and the monster you were just fighting in the last forty-eight hours!"
All of them looked confused. How in the world could the Machine King dispatch his Ranger if he didn't teleport him? Or could he conceal it somehow? "This looks like something Billy should take a look at. He might be able to figure a way around whatever Mondo's doing to block our scanners."
"Good idea, Tommy," Adam agreed. "I'll check with him when we get back to Angel Grove."
"Why not teleport him in now?" Tanya asked, not understanding her boyfriend's reasoning. Adam shrugged for a moment.
"Because I want to have a long talk with him," the Green Ranger said quietly. "He's been by himself for almost two weeks now, almost constantly, and I'm getting worried about him. I don't want him thinking that we just think of him as a handyman."
The sudden raking glare he delivered to all of them made them step back, at least mentally, and wince. Despite knowing how valuable he was on the combat field, they had all fallen into expecting very little else from the young man except fixing the Zords and doing things around the Power Chamber. Tanya's wince was especially hard; that was all she'd ever known him to do, and she couldn't quite bring herself to believe he could do more than that, as hard as she tried. Adam nodded briefly, glancing quickly at Zordon, who seemed to agree with him. They had all treated Billy rather shabbily.
Now, the seven-member Ranger team was either dealing with Mondo's latest still (though he thought he'd heard on the news that it had went down) or were in the Power Chamber being debriefed afterward. He had no idea where Billy was; the former Blue Ranger was keeping to himself. Zack hadn't really seen him in almost a week now.
Since that day we got jumped by the Cogs, he remembered. He slowly tapped his fingers against the table, thinking about that fight. Something had been bothering him about it since it had happened. It had been a rather odd one. . .the Cogs had separated the two of them somewhat easily, but neither had been kidnapped. Zack knew he wasn't that good at fighting that he could hold off those things for as long as he had, and he knew that Billy wasn't that good either, though he had improved a great deal since the days when the former Black Ranger had known him.
It was almost as if the Cogs had wanted them unable to see each other for a few moments for some reason, he thought. No, that was ridiculous. Nothing had happened to him after all. ..but that did leave Billy for a victim. No, nothing's happened to him, he's just like he's always been, just a bit more to himself.
"Hey, Zack," his half-closed eyes snapped open to see the teenager he'd just been thinking about sliding into a chair next to him. Billy was carrying a pale gray towel, and looked slightly flushed, as if he'd just come from a workout of his own. "Been working out?"
"Yeah," his old friend nodded, stretching out a muscle that gave a sudden screech of pain at the unexpected movement. "There's this dance contest coming up next month, and I was getting in some practice for it."
Billy smiled, slapping him familiarly on the back just as he had in the old days. "Don't worry, you'll win it. There's never been anyone here who could beat you in dancing, and you know it."
"I know, but I've been gone a while," Zack shook his head. "And there were some good dancers here when I left.'
His friend smiled, the same old warm, familiar, Billy smile that he had always possessed, and any doubt that Zack might have harbored over anything that Mondo had done to him vanished. His friend was just as he always had been. As the two of them fell into the kind of deep conversation they hadn't had in years, Zack let himself relax. It felt good to talk at last with his old friend.
Billy, on the other hand, was mentally congratulating himself on having fooled the former Ranger so easily. Just act as he had in the old days, and they would never suspect anything was different. He would use this fool for practice, and when the active Rangers entered, as he knew they would, then they also would suspect nothing.
They're going to ask me to find a way around the block that stops them from locating the Purple Ranger. I do believe I'm going to have some problems with that, he thought, smiling in such a fashion and timing that it looked as if he were responding to something Zack had said. And I do believe it's time to start doing some damage to the Power Chamber. Some irreparable damage.
Billy only smiled and agreed, working as hard as he could on tracking down that mysterious Ranger. Or so it looked to anyone who checked on his work. He actually was looking for a way around the blocker that he himself had installed on the Machine Skybase's teleportation system, keyed only to his particular biorhythm so that the Rangers could still detect standard teleportation of Cogs and monsters. If he could find a way around it, he'd be able to adjust the blocker so it wouldn't exist anymore, and his signature would remain a mystery to the rangers.
When he wasn't working on that, he blanked himself to the Power Chamber computers and went to the secret station under his garage to work further on his Zord. At times he would have to have the Cogs rip apart everything that they had done so far and rebuild certain sections as new ideas occurred to him or he discovered that certain things either could not be added or would work better elsewhere. He was going to make certain that this Zord not only dwarfed the others in size, but in raw firepower as well.
The Rangers were having no luck in discovering who Purple Ranger was. A few attacks came, some with the evil Ranger and some without. Those that he participated in tended to be far tougher and dealt out more damage to the Rangers than those without, and not just because he was an extra fighter. They could almost believe that he knew what moves they were going to make before they actually made them. He was more than a good fighter, he was a superb one, a general without compare, and one the Rangers wished were on their side.
Zordon had scanned every inch of the planet for any sign of the White and Black Zeo Crystals, but there had been nothing. He hadn't truly in his heart expected it; though the boxes the crystals were carried in could be detected by the scanners, as could the crystals themselves, the odds of them being on Earth already were quite literally astronomical. Wherever Mondo had found the Purple Crystal, the ancient sage was almost convinced it had not been on Earth.
The existence of the Purple Ranger was almost a palpable offense against Zordon, against all that he had thought was right and true of the universe. He had known for ten thousand years that the day would come when an evil Green Ranger would bring terror to the Power Rangers, and had done all he could to prepare Alpha, his Command Center, and the five teens he had chosen for that day from the moment Rita had escaped. This. . .this was a mockery of what one of those chosen had longed after for almost a year now, as if fate were telling him that not only would his friends be chosen before him, but even those who were his enemies would have the power when he did not. It was almost enough for Zordon to cry, if he were capable of it in his time warp.
The Rangers did everything they could to help Billy fit in more, and when he was around, he did seem happier, more like his old self with them. Trini noticed a distance in his eyes that no one else did, however, and she was beginning to wonder more and more if perhaps they had been wrong, perhaps the Purple Ranger was Billy. . .she had never seen them together, and Billy was acting like Tommy in small ways, whenever he thought someone wasn't looking or if he thought he was alone. Slightly snide looks at the rest of the team, and a mildly condescending attitude. . .she was starting to get worried.
It was for that reason she headed towards his garage-lab a week and a half after the Purple Ranger's first appearance. She had to find out what was going on here.
Slowly, carefully, she moved her head around the corner of the building, and peeked inside the lab. Her eyes widened at what she saw. The science equipment had all been moved to the side, and some of it had been moved out entirely it looked like, probably through whatever was through a door she had never seen before. Looks like he expanded. Makes sense, when he wasn't on the team, he had more time to invent things and keep old things, and that means he'd need more space. I wonder how long it took him to persuade his dad to build the extra room.
Her attention moved away from the room almost at once, being attracted instead by the one in the room. Low music was playing, something soft and rumbling and primal that she didn't recognize; it had no words to it, it was pure melody, and he was working out to it. More than working out. . .he was a work of art.
Trini couldn't help herself; her jaw flat out dropped when she saw him. He wore only a pair of workout gi pants, and for the first time that she could remember in over ten years of knowing Billy, he was shirtless as he moved. His hair was confined by a headband of deep gray, and his eyes were more distant than ever she had seen them before, obviously focusing on the workout instead of anything around him.
Even as she started watching, he started moving in a way she'd never seen anyone teach him before, a liquid, fluid style of kicks and punches. The kata was excellent, both in execution and in executor, and it was all she could to stop herself from actively drooling at the sight he was presenting her all-unknowingly with.
Almost half an hour passed, with Trini frozen in blind contemplation of the perfect specimen of maleness in front of her, and Billy moving in blind practice, unaware of anything or anyone anywhere near him. The music continued to play softly, it's thrumming echoing in the beating of two hearts, two hearts that might once have come together, had time and distance not come between them. Time, distance, and most recently, the power and darkness of the evil Machine King.
Suddenly, the music stopped, and Billy stopped with it, frozen in place. Trini gasped at the sleek, sweat-streaked form, and then clapped her hand across her mouth silently, wondering if he had seen her. Then she wondered why she was worrying, Billy was her friend, and he wouldn't hurt her! Even if she was right, and he was the Purple Ranger, which didn't seem likely when she really thought about it, then she could teleport away before anything stopped her.
"Trini," Billy's voice was calm, and held none of the menace she had suspected that one of the enemy might. "You can come out from behind there now."
Flushing darkly, she twined herself out from behind the edge of the door and half-shuffled into the garage to stand before Billy. She'd never been caught doing this sort of thing before, and indeed she had never before done anything like this. It was extremely embarrassing, to say the least.
The former Ranger chuckled. "Yeah, I know we are, but do you have to sound so. . .three-year-old about it?"
"Something wrong with being three?" Jason was feeling somewhat in a good mood that day; he'd been seeing a young lady around lately who was very attractive and he was considering trying to meet her formally. He planned to get all the 'silliness' out of himself that he could before then.
Zack favored him with a searing glance, with a grin attached that took every bit of bite out of it. "Guess not. So who is she?"
"Huh?" Jason hadn't told any of the others about the girl he'd been staring after, and as far as he knew, none of them knew her.
"Who's the girl you're going so gonzo over? We've known each other since we were in diapers, I know how you look when you've got a girl in your sights. Talk to me, Jase!"
The Gold Ranger could feel himself blushing severely, and considered not saying anything for a while. The way Zack kept looking firmly at him as they headed for Grandma Taylor's house made him realize he wasn't going to get away with it, however. Finally, he sighed. "Emily Harris. She just transferred from Stone Canyon over here, and she's gorgeous!"
Zack thought for a moment, trying to remember if he'd seen her before. "I think I know the one you mean. Blonde, blue-eyed, wears an elephant necklace all the time?"
"Hey, what are you doing looking at her that close?" Jason mock-grinned, and Zack held up his hands.
"Have more faith in me than that, Jase-man! She's not my type!" he protested. Jason glanced at him, and was somewhat startled to see Zack blushing! He almost grinned; time for some payback!
"So who is your type?"
Zack at once regretted ever trying to probe into Jason's love life. It was too easy for things to be turned around on him! "Umm. ..I've been trying to get back in touch with Angela," he grasped for the nearest straw he could find. Jason wasn't being fooled by this, though.
"Zack, you know as well as I do that Angela's dating your cousin Curtis. I checked into that as soon as I got here, so I could tell you the next time I wrote to you."
The former Black Ranger winced, he'd forgotten about that! "I. .umm..well. .."
"Spit it out," Jason's voice was faintly amused, but Zack could feel and hear the steel beneath it. He had forced the name of Jason's crush out of the Gold Ranger, and he was going to return the favor, such as it was.
Zack sighed. "You remember Aisha?"
"The girl who replaced Trini on the team, and who picked Tanya to be the Yellow Zeo Ranger, staying in Africa to deal with a plague there? The girl who let Kim stay in her house when Kim's mom moved to France, and who adopted Kat when Kat was a. . .cat. ..? Who was a black belt in karate and won the Team Ninja Finals with Rocky and Adam?" Jason raised his eyebrow. "I think I might have heard of her once or twice. You like her type?"
His eyebrows both raised even higher as Zack muttered something too low for him to hear. "What was that?"
"I like her, okay?" Zack was as red as his dark skin would let him be, and Jason immediately backed off. Luckily, Zack continued speaking, satisfying his suddenly rampant curiosity. "The first time I saw her at the Team Ninja Finals, I completely and utterly forgot about Angela. I met up with her alone the next day. ..we talked a lot then, and whenever we could the day after that, and so on, until we found out that the two of us and Trini were going to the Peace Conference. She gave me her address and phone number, and we wrote back and forth right up until time got all messed up. Since then, things have been a bit slow, but I did get a letter from her the other day."
Whatever it said, Zack wasn't saying, since he clammed up right after that. Jason nodded quietly to himself. This was one relationship distance had strengthened, not weakened. He found himself thinking almost automatically about Tommy and Kim with that, and wondered if he would ever have the chance to talk to the former Pink Ranger about what she had done. . .and why.
"I think about thirty minutes or so," Trini ducked her head a little. "I just came over to talk for a while, we haven't really hung out since I got back."
He nodded, picking up a towel to wipe the sweat off and hide the momentary twisting of his features with hate. Once he was calm again, he looked over at her. "Let me get a shower first, I'm not going to hang around and talk with all this sweat all over me."
Trini barely had time to nod before he had swept into the shower and she could hear the water running. Setting herself carefully down on one stood, she sighed. I finally come to talk to him, and I get so distracted that I make a total fool of myself. I actually think he's mad at me! He's never been angry at me before. . .
So caught up was she in her shame and anger at herself, she almost didn't notice when Billy had returned, dressed now from head to foot in gray, with his damp hair neatly combed and his eyes calm and collected. Without even noticing it, she muttered, "No purple. . ."
"Why would I wear purple?" Billy tilted his head to one side, and she vaguely noticed that he was wearing his glasses again. She hadn't seen that in a while. "I'm not a Ranger, and most certainly not the Purple Ranger."
She was beet-red a second later. "Um, I wasn't saying that," all her traditional calm had left her a nervous, stuttering wreck. How in the world had things escaped her so swiftly? Of course Billy wasn't the Purple Ranger! He'd be dripping with purple if he was! She mentally slapped herself, what had she been thinking?
"I see," he nodded. "So, you wanted to talk?"
"Um, yeah," she shivered a little, trying to regain her inner peace. "Want to go for a walk?" she hoped if they got moving, and if she got away from the scene of the offense, then she'd be able to think straight.
Billy looked for a moment as if he were going to say yes, then he shook his head. "That does sound nice, but I've got some things to take care of right away. May I take a raincheck?"
"All right," it wasn't what she really wanted, but if he had obligations, she wasn't going to argue. It would give her some time to calm herself down too. "I'd better be going, anyway, now that I think about it. See you later?"
"Sure," he nodded and waved to her as she left, still embarrassed over what she had seen.
Mondo's eyebrows, such as they were, drew together firmly. "Then we must implement the plan to assure that she doesn't become certain."
"As you wish, my master," Billy bowed his head briefly. "Might I know what this is?"
The Machine King stamped his staff briefly, but loudly, and the Purple Ranger was almost surprised when an identical duplicate entered the chamber. This was his robot double, built by Klank as a semi-hybrid of flesh and metal to take his place when he had been remade into his master's chief warrior. For a moment, Billy suffered a flashback to a dark and hideous place, with enormous pain and anguish in his soul. He thought for a moment that he hated and feared his master, then with a jolt, he recalled who he was and why he was.
I am the Purple Zeo Ranger, the warrior and servant of King Mondo, eternal monarch of the Machine Empire. Mondo chose me, even when I did not know of his wisdom and when I fought against him. Now I know better, now I know that he is the only one I shall ever serve. He is evil and I am evil, and so shall it ever be, forever and always.
Deep within his soul, in a tiny part untouched by the brainwashing and conditioning that Klank had tormented him with, the true Billy Cranston was shoved to where he could do nothing to affect the implanted part of his personality that was the evil Purple Ranger. The warrior glanced at his double.
"I take it this has something to do with playing a trick upon the Rangers?" the flesh Billy asked calmly. Mondo nodded.
"This will completely discredit any theories that the Rangers might have that connect you with the Purple Ranger," the Machine King told him. "You, robot Billy, are to once again resume your role of my warrior, but it shall be different. This time, you shall be attacked by the Purple Ranger. And the other Rangers shall rescue you. When an opportunity presents itself, you shall once again switch places, with you returning here, my robot creation."
The two Billys exchanged cold glances, then both bowed in unison towards the Machine King. "As you command, my lord," both of them spoke in eerie harmony. Mondo couldn't help himself, he giggled in sheer glee as he watched his two evil Billys. One evil because he was built that way, one evil because he had been brainwashed that way. And both his, his for all time! Then something else occurred to him.
"As far as you know, Purple Ranger, has Zordon made any progress towards discovering either the White or Black Zeo Crystals?"
Billy-real shook his head. "He is searching still, however, in an attempt to give me powers again," he chuckled mockingly. "It would be so sweet if I could tell him that it is unnecessary."
"You will have a chance to tell him," the king reassured his fighter. "Just before we destroy him and all those Rangers once and for all!"
The Purple Ranger paused for a moment, then glanced at the king. "My lord, might I make a suggestion?"
Billy composed his thoughts for a moment. "I would prefer not to destroy the Rangers, or at least not to kill them. I have another plan, if it pleases your Majesty," when Mondo nodded, he continued. "Render them incapable of resisting, then as you convinced me that it was best for me to serve you. . .do the same thing to them."
Mondo tilted his head for a moment, considering. An entire team of evil, that had once fought against him. . .the thought was most tantalizing. . ."I will keep it in mind," he finally decided. "Now, take some Cogs and go deal with this situation."
"How much did your grandmother say she was paying us to do this?" he asked again, looking around. The attic to Mrs. Taylor's house was absolutely huge, and was filled with chests, trunks, boxes, old furniture, all manner of things, not to mention cobwebs a good ten feet wide or more. And those were the smaller ones.
Zack took a long breath. "A hundred and fifty dollars each," he replied. "I'm beginning to wonder if we should ask for a raise."
He bent down and pulled up the supplies they had been given: brooms, dusting supplies, mops, and rags, plus various sprays and solutions that were all reputed to clean everything in the universe up. They're certainly going to get a major run for their money in this, he thought, straightening up and handing his half of the stuff to Jason.
"So, what's it like being active again?" Zack had to ask after almost half an hour of working in near-silence, save for the occasional 'look at this!'.
Jason paused for a moment. "It's kind of odd. I know I'm not going to have them forever; once Trey gets his selves combined, the Gold powers will go back to him. I'll be retired again then."
"Weird," Zack swished the mop over a particularly stubborn area of floor and then glanced back to Jason, who was searching through a dresser and organizing what he found there. "Got any plans for after that happens?"
His friend leaned back again. "Nothing yet. With two other Zeo Crystals still yet to be found, who knows. . .maybe I won't be retired for long after all," he grinned. "Though one of them is going to Billy when. . .and if. . .we find them."
"Yup," Zack had already come to terms with the realization that it probably wasn't going to be him who got one of the other Crystals. Billy would get one of them, whoever the Purple Zeo Ranger was had one of them already, and that meant there was one extra. He sincerely doubted two things: that the Purple Ranger would give up their crystal and that he would get the extra. It was probably going to go to Jason, now that he thought about it. He didn't really feel all that upset about it, either. If the chance came for him to get a power of some type, he wasn't going to turn it down, however. He just didn't think he'd have that chance. "You know, I wonder who the Purple Ranger is."
Jason shrugged. "Zordon, Alpha, and Billy are looking for any sign of that. To be honest, though it would be nice to have the old team back together, I'm really hoping it's not anyone we know. A former Ranger."
"I know what you mean," Zack shuddered at the thought of Aisha or Kim being forced to serve Mondo. It wasn't a thought designed to inspire pleasant dreams: or even the desire to sleep in the first place. "It's not really all that fun thinking about it being a stranger, either. I mean. . .remember how it was with Tommy? He was convinced that we'd never find him worthwhile as a Ranger, since Rita picked him."
Jason quite literally winced. "I know," he clearly remembered an all-night session with the entire team, a week or so after he had joined the team. They had talked constantly, and it had been a cathartic cleansing for all six of them. They had talked out their fears, their worries, their hopes, and their dreams. All of them had felt better afterwards. Even though Billy didn't say much, he remembered. The Blue Ranger of the time had been the only one who had not said that much about himself. They had then, and would now, let him keep his secrets.
"Oh, man," Zack groaned suddenly as Jason's communicator beeped. "Does that mean I'm going to have to be cleaning this thing alone?"
Jason grinned briefly as he opened the communications channel. "What is it?"
"Ay-yi-yi!!" Alpha's voice was terrified. "Jason, Zack! Billy's being attacked by Cogs! And the Purple Ranger is there too!"
"Uh-oh," Jason murmured. "I'm on the way, Alpha," he glanced to Zack. "You'd better stay here."
Zack nodded. "Don't let them get him," he said firmly. Jason nodded, then as a wash of gold and black light passed out of the room, the former Black Ranger sighed. Now he had this entire attic to clean.
A short distance away, Billy was struggling with a pair of Cogs, while the Purple Ranger leaned against a telephone pole with what seemed to be a bored expression, as well as they could tell since he had his helmet on. His entire attitude was one of faint amusement.
"Oh, come on, Cogs, how hard can it be to capture one powerless Ranger?" the evil warrior laughed. Billy was putting up a good fight, but he would be overwhelmed soon, in fact, the Cogs were already starting to drag him towards Purple Ranger.
Trini's eyes widened beneath her helmet as every doubt she'd had about her old friend was suddenly and completely erased. There's no way Billy could be the Purple Ranger and be threatening himself at the same time! Whatever Billy's problem is, it's not this. Somehow, that filled her with relief and fear at the same time. Relief because it wasn't Billy. . .fear because that meant they still didn't know who the Purple Ranger really was.
Purple Ranger turned towards them as the seven Rangers headed as fast as they could towards their helpless comrade. "Oh, look. The idiot patrol is here."
"You'll never get away with this, Purple Ranger!" Billy growled as the Cogs dragged him even closer to the evil one. Their eyes met, Billy's face filled completely with hate and rage . . .and with the faintest hint of amusement. They both knew this was nothing more than a very large farce, and one they were both subtly enjoying.
"Oh, but I will, human. . .oh, but I will!" and Purple Ranger laughed. It was a sound that echoed in all the Rangers' minds for a very, very long time.
It's been a while since I heard from Aisha. Last thing I heard, they'd almost figured out a cure for the plague. I was really shocked when I heard about that. I've never been so relieved as I was when she told me humans can't catch it.
He shuddered a bit at the thought of the girl he cared so much about being sick. He had always felt ready to hop the nearest flight if she told him she had so much as a cold. Of course, since mail delivery to her village was a trifle slow, by the time he would have heard about it, she would already have been over almost any disease she had in the first place, but he felt that way anyway.
I've got to let her know what's going on here. She should find out about the new Ranger powers, and me being back in town. I wonder if she can make it here for the holidays. That would be so nice. . .
He worked in physical and mental silence for several minutes, enjoying the workout he was getting. Cleaning was something he seldom indulged in to this degree, but it was actually becoming somewhat fun. To restore a practically destroyed area to cleanliness and organization was quite an accomplishment, and if he could get the entire attic straight. . .that would be a miracle, he admitted with an amused grin.
"Whoa," he stretched, hearing the bones in his back creak as he did so. "Wonder how long it's been since Grandma and Grandpa even came up here!" by the look of things, it had been quite some time. Years, at the very least. Decades looked to be more appropriate though.
It happened so slowly he wasn't quite certain just when it had begun. Gradually, he became aware of a faint, musical humming just barely on the level of awareness. It appeared to be coming from somewhere near him, but just where, he couldn't tell.
Slowly, he stood up, glad of two things: the attic had a high enough ceiling so he could without bumping his head and that his grandparents had left for the weekend so he and Jason could clean the place without interference. The sound was starting to grow louder, and he could identify it as coming from a large chest he hadn't gotten around to yet. As he moved closer to it, the noise grew louder, deeper, and more musical, almost as if a giant bell had been struck.
He stood by the chest for a moment, then reached out and lifted the lid, his heart fluttering at the thought of what could possibly be inside. For the barest moment, before he could see what was within, he felt as if he were on one of those kid adventure shows where the hero is drawn to his foretold destiny. Then, a pure white light shone from inside the chest, bathing him in it. His eyes widened in shock as he beheld something that drew him as nothing else in the universe could have, and reached out for it. . .
A flash of light and infusion of power later, a new Zeo Ranger stood in the attic. His uniform was pure white, with the same old design of the mastodon, imaged there in black, and he could sense the new existence of his Zord: the White Mastodon, and what his Power Weapon was: the Zeo Staff. Information and power coursed through him in a way he had never known before. Even as the suit faded from it's first appearance, he became aware that the other Rangers needed him. The battle in the street had suddenly escalated, and things were growing a little desperate.
"It's morphin' time! Zeo Ranger IX, White!" with that, the ninth and penultimate Zeo Ranger went into battle for the first time in years.
The real Billy was having the time of his life, kicking, punching, striking, and flipping Rangers all over the street. He had a special hatred in his heart for two of them: the Gold and Silver Rangers. Both of them used powers that had been denied him by the negative protons, and while that was bad enough, it was even worse that they had both been friends of his from his childhood. Though he had his own powers, the slight to him must be avenged, and was a little more with each time he struck one of them.
"Tell me, Rangers, how does it feel to know that my master is planning to destroy you all?" he laughed coldly, knowing that the Power, despite being used for evil now, would keep them from recognizing his voice. "But of course. . . it won't be until after he ruins your world. . .you must be alive to see it, of course!"
Tommy growled as he kicked a pair of Cogs to the side and ran over to join the Gold and Silver members of the team. "Not going to happen, Purple Ranger," he said frostily, parrying a blow that the evil Ranger struck with his own sword. "Mondo will never destroy our world! And once we find out why you're working for him, you're going to help us defend it!"
Purple Ranger's laughter was evil, vile. "Never! I will be triumphant over the shattered forms of your Zords and whatever is left of your bodies, and I will bring a reign of terror such as this world has never known down upon it!"
"Promises, promises," Tommy snorted. He'd heard all the same things before, heck he'd said and thought the same things when he had been the one inside the evil Ranger suit. It might not be the same thing controlling this Ranger that had been him, but he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the day would come when the Purple Ranger would stand with him and the others and. . .Oh, shut up, Tommy. Save the heroic speeches for your diary, he thought, half-amused, to himself. You've been watching too much television, he'd had a weakness lately for the type of program where the hero stood around giving half-hour soliloquies while the villain stood there and listened. It was almost starting to affect his fighting style. Almost.
"Oh, I'm not promising anything," Purple slammed into him with a crescent kick and knife hand strike almost at the same time, and Tommy winced at the force of the blows. "That's what's going to happen."
As the Red and Purple Rangers slowly circled around each other, one of Mondo's teleportation circles appeared, not very far away from where Billy was still struggling with Cogs, but with Adam and Tanya helping him out in their disposal. The circle deposited the Machine King himself there, looking as foul and evil as he had every time the Rangers had seen him.
"Purple Ranger!" the evil overlord shouted, and the warrior leaped away at once, doing a double backflip that landed him in a perfect kneeling position in front of the king. "You have not captured the Rangers' associate!" Mondo started the next part of the play designed to deceive the Rangers. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"I am sorry, my lord, I was on the verge when these imbeciles interfered," Purple seemed to be very contrite. Mondo waved the Cogs suddenly away from Billy.
"Forget him, then. He's more trouble than he's worth," another wave of his hand produced a large feline-looking robot. "I want you and Felinotron here to take care of these Rangers! I've had enough of their interference! Obey me, my Purple Ranger!"
The warrior bowed his head. "As you command, my lord!"
Mondo nodded, vanishing in one of those lightning teleports he seemed to prefer. Billy, freed from having to fight the Cogs, ran as fast as he could out of sight. The Rangers were glad of it; they knew he was no warrior, and they'd all felt a relief to hear Mondo say he was going to forget about their friend. Not that they trusted him, of course. Evil could never be trusted.
But sometimes. . . good could be too trusting.
Mondo laughed harshly. "Of course, they have, my dear Machina! They will now be so completely convinced that their friend is not my warrior, he could almost morph in front of them and they wouldn't believe him!"
Sprocket looked a little put out of sorts. "Why couldn't I play with the human's brain, dad? You never get me any fun toys!"
"Now, now, son, just be patient," Mondo reassured his offspring. "If I can get hold of those other two Zeo Crystals, then you'll have two humans you can torment and play with until they break!"
"Oh, sire, there's something we need ta tell ye about that," Klank shuffled over. "We were scanning Earth whilst ye were there, and we detected somethin'!"
Mondo whirled on his scientist pair at once. "And you didn't tell me when I arrived? Klank, if this isn't good news, you and Orbus will be recycled into paperclips!"
The tall robot shuddered at that, then quickly spilled out, "We detected the new White Zeo Ranger."
"What?" Mondo's voice was frost-cold suddenly, and Klank found himself possessed of a sudden desire to run as fast as he could away. Unable to do so, he kept going.
"It appears the White Crystal has been kept inert in a chest in Angel Grove, and was just a short time ago opened and claimed by. ..," he stopped, not wanting to say who it was, knowing that would send his king off the deep end, as the humans said. But with Mondo's eyes flaring at him the way they were. . .he knew he didn't have what it would take in order to avoid it.
"Who?" the Machine King's voice was almost enough to put ice on the edges of the Skybase.
Klank paused for a moment, gathering his courage. He was about to say the scanners couldn't pick up who it was, when he saw the faintest trace of steam rising from Mondo's joints, and knew his time was running out. "The Crystal was in the attic of Bartholemew and Cassandra Taylor, the grandparents of. . .Zachary Taylor, the former Black Ranger and. . .just made. . .White Zeo Ranger."
He shrank away the moment the words were out of him, keeping his eyes on Mondo and hoping with every part of him that the king wouldn't blame him for this.
"So there are now eight Rangers of good, and I have but one Ranger," the king was surprisingly calm, and that worried Klank. "And knowing the odds, the Black Zeo Ranger will also join their side before I can claim them. Finding the Purple Crystal was a fluke. Very well," he appeared to be thinking, and that caused fear in them all. "The Zeo Crystals are not the only power source in the universe, and there are still former Rangers. I want to use as many of them as I can, to hurt the Rangers as much as possible, and possibly even their friends and relatives will come to my service. Seek out nine other powers, of any and all kinds, Klank. And when all ten Zeo powers are claimed. . .I shall begin the search for my own complete Ranger team. . .and I will not lose to those foolish teenagers!"
Quickly he gestured to the viewscreen, showing his own evil Ranger and his monster fighting against the Zeo Rangers. He had successfully broken one of the original Rangers. The rest would be no problem whatsoever.
"Why don't you just surrender?" the monster shrieked, clawing at them with talons of steel. Tommy ducked out from under the blow and slammed a hard punch into it's stomach.
"Because we're the Power Rangers, and we never surrender!" he snapped. "You're never going to defeat us!"
Felinotron grunted a dark burst of laughter, and it's metallic tail twisted around to seize the Red Ranger by his waist and drag him into a powerful hold. "It looks like you're already defeated, Red Ranger!" a long blade emerged from the tail to hover just outside of Tommy's throat. "And this is going to be fun!"
Tommy stared at the blade approaching his throat, and hoped his suit would protect him. It looked so sharp. . .
"Hey, don't go pointing that thing at people, it could go off!" a strong voice suddenly spoke. Tommy couldn't see who it was; the monster was blocking his field of vision for everything. But the voice sounded so familiar. . .
Felinotron whirled around, claws and fangs bared and the blade still at Tommy's throat and tail wrapped around him. "Who are you?"
A staff seemed to come out of the sun, and slashed across the robot monster's face, following by a powerful kick to the face. Tommy grunted as another slash came down, and the monster's tail loosened, releasing him. As he rolled away, he heard the sound of booted feet striking the pavement, and gasps of awe from the other Rangers. He looked up to see a White Zeo Ranger there!
"Who are you?" he breathed. Sudden shock filled him. "Billy?"
White Ranger shook his head. "I don't know why this thing didn't come to him, when it should have, but it's the Zack-man as the new White Ranger!"
Tommy leaped to his feet, standing with the seven other Rangers of good as Felinotron and Purple Ranger regrouped, the monster without it's tail now! "So, the White Crystal has been found!" Purple Ranger growled sharply. "Enjoy your newfound power, Zachary. It won't do you much good when my master rules the world!"
"Cut the chatter and get to the fight," Tommy hissed. "I've got plans for the evening."
"As you wish! Klank, Orbus!" Purple Ranger threw a hand to the sky in a commanding motion, and the two named robots appeared in a flash. "Make Felinotron grow!"
"As ye wish, Purple Ranger! King Mondo also requires ye to return to the Skybase, this fight is no longer one ye are to take part in!"
Purple Ranger nodded, then turned his gaze to the Rangers. "We shall meet again, Rangers. Oh, indeed. . .we shall meet again." he vanished and almost in the same breath, Felinatron was towering over everyone.
"Time for some destruction!" it shrieked, pounding through town. The Rangers glanced at each other, and Tommy nodded briefly.
"Do you have a Zord, Zack?" he had to know something before they got into battle; the combat abilities of all his team. The new White Ranger nodded shortly.
"The White Mastodon," he grinned. It was going to be good to be back into his old friend once again. He'd highly respected the ThunderZord that he had fought with after Zedd's arrival, but at the same time, he couldn't forget the power and strength of his DinoZord. It had been with that he had begun his warrior's career and he was glad it was his new Zord, recreated and supercharged by the White Zeo Crystal.
His leader nodded, this was becoming more and more like old times! "Then let's do it! We need Zeo Zord Power, now!"
Mondo nodded very briefly. "I've already returned your double to storage for the moment. You will return in your human form to Angel Grove, and go to the Power Chamber. Learn all you can of the new White Ranger, and factor him into the plans for destruction."
Billy nodded. "Construction on my UltraZord is almost complete," he reported. "I will have to add modifications for the new Ranger's existence, however."
"As you need," Mondo was inclined to be indulgent with his fighter. Billy had done fairly well so far, and things were going well. The Rangers might think they were winning and holding off their forces. . .but that was only because Mondo had not yet brought his full power to bear. When he did, all of Earth would shudder and collapse into subservience at his metallic feet. "When your Zord is complete. . . there will be nothing to stop you from defeating them. . .and without them, there will be nothing and no one to stop me!"
The last thing Billy heard as he teleported to Earth was the wild mechanical laughter of the Machine King.
The eight Rangers demorphed almost at once, and Zack turned to Billy, who was standing by a console, turning from them as they had entered the chamber. "Billy, I'm really sorry," he said quietly. "I found this in my grandparents' attic when I was cleaning it. I should've called you for it, you deserve this more than I do."
"No," Billy shook his head firmly. "I've been doing some research into the Zeo Crystal, tapping into some of the greater history archives. Each shard chooses it's proper wielder. Jason, you wouldn't be able to use the Gold powers if the shard in the Golden Power staff hadn't permitted it. You know it won't be forever, of course."
The Gold Ranger nodded. "I've already come to term with that, Billy. But you should be picked by a shard, you deserve it more than any of us."
"If any of the shards choose me, they will," he smiled just a little, that same smile that seemed to say he knew more than he was saying. "If they don't. . .I'll just have to live with it. I'm happy here, though."
None of them could fully bring themselves to believe that, especially Tommy, remembering the conversation that he had held with his friend not long before Trini and Zack had returned to Angel Grove. Something very, very strange was going on, and the Red Ranger wanted to know what it was before it was too late.
"One final shard remains to be discovered, Rangers," Zordon announced. "When the Black Zeo Ranger comes, then the entire Zeo Crystal will exist, in all it's true and final glory. And when we have freed the Purple Zeo Ranger, we will be a unified force against the forces of all that is evil."
Billy was glad the position of his body hid the smile on his lips as he began to seek out the protections against viruses and hacking that were installed in the Power Chamber computers. He knew something they didn't, and he was going to have a great deal of fun destroying everything that they held dear.
When I'm through. . .the name of Billy Cranston, evil Purple Zeo Ranger, will live forever. . in infamy!