Trini closed her eyes and sighed deeply, demorphing in the same moment. With a thought she had called forth the Gray Power Staff and stared at it, her eyes full of wonder. "I can't believe I'm a Ranger again," she whispered. "It's been so long."
"Three years," Billy and the others also demorphed, once he had quickly explained how to the two newest Rangers. "It's good to be back."
David leaned back against a tree and looked around the clearing where the five of them had gathered after teleporting away from the battle scene with the other Rangers. "Tommy's gonna flip out when I tell him!" he observed, chuckling. "They all are!"
The Gold Ranger shook his head a little. "If you guys don't mind, I think I'd like to keep the secret from them for a while. Just for a while."
"Why?" Kim wondered. "And can we? The guys aren't stupid, Billy, they'll be certain to figure something out."
"I don't know about that," Billy shrugged. "They haven't exactly been that observant lately, and you know it. Tommy actually fell for that stupid letter what's-his-name sent you!"
The Purple Ranger nodded a little. There was still a touch of pain in her heart from that, one she hadn't told Tommy of. She had always thought their love was strong enough for anything, and it seemed that it was. But she had also thought that he would know her well enough that a simple fake wouldn't fool him. But it did, she reminded herself. And I corrected it. But still. .. "You're right," she admitted. "But what do you guys think about keeping who we are a secret from the other Rangers?" she looked at the others whose lives had been turned upside down by this sudden elevation to Rangerhood.
David thought for a few moments. "Tommy would be very proud of me," he mused. "But I think I'd be more proud of myself if I could keep this a secret for a while. I say we keep our mouths shut. .. for now."
Trini's response was quick and firm. "This is the best thing that's happened to me in years. I want to savor the feeling of being. ..special. ..," she blushed a little at that. "As long as I can. Besides, there's no real need for them to know, is there? We can detect a battle just as fast as they can, and come when they need us. I like that thought."
"So do I," Raymond agreed. "This is an awesome responsibility, and it's one that'll take some getting used to, I think. Until we're all better used to working together, I think we should keep it from everyone."
Billy smiled faintly. "So it's unanimous? We keep it from the entire rest of the world, even the other Rangers?" four nods confirmed what he said, and he smiled. "Now, I promised you two a full history and law lesson, right?"
David and Raymond both nodded, while Trini and Kim cleared their throats. "We need to get back to the Youth Center," Trini reminded them. "You catch them up, while we go make certain no one notices that we were gone."
"I'll make up some communicators when I have a chance," Billy said, nodding. "Ones that work on a different frequency than the ones the others use, so we don't have to worry about them overhearing us. That way we can keep in touch."
"Sounds like a plan," Trini grinned. "See you guys later!" they hadn't landed very far from the Youth Center, and the Purple and Gray Rangers quickly ran off, happy and smiling as neither had been in some time.
Billy turned to his other new friends. He didn't know either very well, not nearly as well as he did Kim and Trini. But it was time to change that fact. "Let's head over to Pyramidus. I need to introduce you guys to your Zords, I can do that for the ladies later, and then I'll tell you all about the Power Rangers."
"Hey there, ladies!" Tommy smiled as they sat back down around the table. It was hard to believe so much had happened in such a short period of time. "Sorry we're late, but you know how those things go."
Kim nodded, smiling. "So, was it a tough one?" their voices were all preternaturally low, to protect their secret.
"They were tough," Rocky groaned a bit. "There were three of them. But we had some help."
Trini and Kim glanced at one another as if in confusion. "Help?"
"Five new Rangers," Adam breathed the words out near-silently. "Gold, White, Black, Purple, and Gray. They didn't say who they were, but they're supposedly here to help."
Kim almost choked on her drink, and as the others turned to her, she managed to cover it quickly. "New Rangers?" as if it were the most amazing thing in the world! "Wow!"
"Yeah," Tommy nodded. "Hey, have you guys seen Billy? We need to talk to him. He's owed one serious apology."
Trini shrugged briefly. "Haven't seen him for a bit. I'm sure he'll show up, though," she considered her next words for a moment, then nodded mentally. "He's capable of taking care of himself."
All five of the others winced, and both Trini and Kim felt a bit better. They didn't like the way Billy had been treated by these people, and they were going to let them know about it. Kim glanced down at her watch. "Trini, do you believe we've been back in town almost a full day and we haven't hit the malls yet!"
Tommy groaned out loud, somewhat theatrically. "Oh, the poor malls! They've been deprived of you for so long!"
The two girls chuckled a little, then looked at Kat and Tanya. "Shall we show Angel Grove Mall how real women shop?"
The Pink and Yellow Rangers glanced at each other, then jumped to their feet, eagerness in their eyes. "Should we take along. . .help?" Tanya asked mischievously, glancing at Adam.
"I think that might be a good idea," Kim's eyes fell on Tommy, who couldn't help but flinch melodramatically. He'd been through this sort of thing before; he knew what was expected of him. "Let's go!"
Rocky was the only one who didn't move as Tommy and Adam got to their feet, and he looked just the triflest bit superior as the other boys started to follow their respective girlfriends out the door. That lasted until Kat turned around and beckoned towards him. "Come on!" she called out. "You don't get to stay behind!"
The Blue Ranger half-groaned to himself, but put up no resistance as he got up and followed Kat out. Indeed, there seemed to be a small smile hovering across his lips as he watched the pink-wearing blonde.
David was staring in total speechlessness at the Black PantherZord, lounging like a true cat would against the wall of the holding bay. It was as if all his wildest dreams were coming true all of a sudden.
"Yes, you do, Raymond," Billy told him. "This is rather amazing, isn't it?"
"Amazing isn't the word for it," David sighed. "This is bliss! What can these things do?"
Billy thought for a moment about the few things he'd learned. "Well, they can fight alone, they've all got lasers, missiles, and a few other optional extras, and they can also merge into the SuperZeoMegaZord, which pretty much can smash anything that gets in the way like the proverbial fly."
"Mondo is not going to like this," Raymond had only been in one battle, but already he had an idea of the temper of their foe. No one who lived in Angel Grove could escape that sort of knowledge, it was necessary for survival.
"Somehow, I think I can live with that," David chuckled. "Billy, you said something about giving us a history lesson? Think we've got time for that now? Tommy hasn't really told me that much."
"There wasn't a need for you to know," the Gold Ranger told him. "We've got the time for that lesson now, and I need to make your communicators anyway. We can go to my lab. That might make a good enough meeting place, at least until we get around to introducing ourselves to the others."
Raymond's brow furrowed. "Where do they meet at?"
"I'll explain everything in the lecture," Billy promised. "Come on, let's go."
A brief teleportation later, and the three young men were standing in a group of trees just outside of Billy's lab. "Here we are," Billy glanced around almost conspiratorially for a moment, then reached out a hand, touching what looked to be a simple panel on the side of the garage. Both his companions were surprised to see a wide section of the ground slide back, revealing a stairway that went beneath the garage.
"Whoa," David couldn't believe his eyes! "I didn't think your lab was like this!"
"It really isn't," Billy blushed a bit. "This is something I added on after the Rangers switched to Zeo power. I felt. . .isolated a lot, so I talked with Zordon, and made this place with some help from some tools there. The doorway will only open with my handprint for now, I'll change it to recognize you guys as well."
He led them down the stairway into a wide room that looked almost exactly like the original Command Center. "After the destruction of the Command Center," he told them, "I looked through some of the remains and some things in the storage chamber, and with Zordon's permission, I built this: the Power Center. It's kind of a back-up base, I've got all the files and everything that the Power Chamber has here, plus some extra stuff they didn't have space for there, and until now, Zordon, Alpha, and I were the only ones who knew about it. I don't think he'd object to me using it for us now, though."
Billy took a long breath as he glanced once more around the place. He hadn't known all the reasons why he'd built the Power Center, but now he was beginning to wonder if it hadn't been because some part of him had sensed that one day, he would become a Power Ranger again.
He'd added a few things here, though. Like the comfortable couch he now sank into, and the chairs he motioned the others to. "This is going to take a while," he said. "And I think I'll start in the beginning. .."
She pulled out a blouse and took a look at it, glancing briefly over at Tommy and the other Zeo Rangers to see if they were looking. Except for Kat and Tanya, they were outside the store guarding the other packages, and it looked as if they were talking with Rocky about something. Whatever it was, the Blue Ranger was blushing just faintly about it.
"How do you think this looks, Trini?" Kim called to her fellow Ranger, holding the blouse up against her. Trini glanced over at it, and nodded.
"Try it on. I'm going to get this one," she headed towards a changing room with the blouse she'd picked up in hand. Wandering in the back of her mind was the question of how Billy would like her in this thing. Wonder what he's going to start wearing. ..gold clothing isn't exactly the norm around here. But there's a lot of black in his uniform, too. That could be what he wears. I wonder if he and David will share clothes. She almost giggled at that thought.
Outside, the boys were having a conversation of their own, and like most male talk, it didn't concern clothes in the slightest. Something a bit more mysterious was the topic of discussion among these three, dedicated to the defense of their planet.
"So, why won't you ask Kat out, Rocky?" Tommy's voice was very calm, yet held a trifle bit of true curiosity. "The dance is next week, you could see if she wants to go with you."
The Blue Ranger flushed several interesting shades of red. "I dunno. . .I'm certain someone else has already asked her."
Adam shook his head. "I heard her talking to Tanya about it the other day, and she said that no one had asked her. Give it a shot, what do you have to lose?"
Any hope of having a relationship with her? Rocky thought, then gave in. He knew they would keep up at him until he gave in, and he wasn't really all that inclined to fight anyway. "All right. I'll ask her after we've finished shopping."
Tommy laughed out loud at that one. "You'd better ask her as soon as you see her, if you're waiting till this crew has finished shopping, you're going to be waiting for a very long time!"
"Asking who what?" All of them looked up to see Kat and Tanya standing there, both carrying packages. It was Kat who had spoken.
"Ummm. ...," Rocky's face now resembled more the red he used to wear than anything else right now. "Um, Kat, I was wondering something. .."
She raised one eyebrow. "What was that?" Tanya, who knew her fairly well, could just now see the excitement that was starting to fill Kat's deep blue eyes.
"Would you like to go to the Spring Dance with me next week?" Rocky blurted the words out, and Kat flushed a rose-pink herself. The Spring Dance was held every year on the spring equinox, and Kat had been hoping for weeks now that someone, most especially Rocky, would ask her out to it.
Slowly, she reached out to take his hand. "I'd love to. I'd absolutely love to."
It was during one of those practice sessions in the Power Center that they discovered something unusual: they didn't need the communicators to speak with one another, they could do so directly mind-to-mind. It wasn't necessary for them to be morphed, either, it just seemed to happen. Billy checked the references in Pyramidus, but could find nothing that would indicate this sort of ability was a product of the Power they wielded.
"Then again," David noted. "Don't the records say that the Staves have never all been active at the same time?"
"True," Billy agreed, he'd read them thoroughly, and given his teammates access to them as soon as he could, once he'd downloaded them to the Power Center's computers. "That could be something that comes only if all five are active, like they are now."
Kim looked a trifle worried. "Do we actively read each other's minds, or do we have to work for it? I mean, there are some things that should be kept. ..private."
"I don't think we're actually reading each other's minds," Trini interjected. "I think we're just sending to each other. It's sort of like a private message, that only the five of us can hear."
Billy agreed. "I think it works a bit like this," he concentrated for a moment. Can you guys hear me?
Amazing! The five Rangers looked at each other in shock, smiling at the same time. "I guess that was a yes," Billy grinned. Each of their mental voices had been flavored with a strong 'taste' of what the real voices had been, and seemed so much more real than their spoken ones had been.
"This is going to come in very handy," Raymond declared. "I don't know much about communicators and fighting, but I think it would be a lot easier if we didn't have to talk to each other, we can just think it."
The next few battles proved Raymond very right; without having to worry about being seen talking to their wrists, or trying to co ordinate battle-strategy while being apart, they were a far more effective team than they had thought they would be in the beginning. They didn't know everything that was on each other's minds, but it quickly became apparent to anyone who watched the second set of Zeo Rangers that they knew each other in ways that the first just couldn't match. It was almost eerie to the original five.
Tommy turned from his examination of a computer printout. Billy once again wasn't in the Power Chamber, but he'd been spending quite a lot of time with Kim and Trini lately, so that wasn't very surprising. The three of them were every bit as tight as they had been before the two females had left for Switzerland or Florida, if not more so. He'd also seen them hanging out with his brother David and Raymond as well. He wondered briefly if there was anything going on that he should know about...then shook his head. He trusted them all. Whatever it was they were doing together was something harmless. And it was good for them all to have friends outside the 'group'.
"From everything we've been able to find out, which isn't much, the new Rangers have got to have some method of communicating like ours, but I don't know what it is," he reported.
Adam glanced through the printout himself, and shrugged. "Billy might be able to tell us something. Have you had a chance to talk to him yet, Tommy?"
"Not yet," the Red Ranger sighed deeply. "He's been with Kim and Trini almost constantly since they got back, I think he's avoiding me!"
"Well, to be honest, can you blame him? Remember how we've been treating him since he lost his powers. If I were him, I'd be doing the exact same thing."
The others knew Kat was right, as harsh as it was on all of them. Tanya wondered what it had been like to fight alongside Billy, she had only ever known him as a helper and aide around the Power Chamber. Somehow, she couldn't associate the brave warrior that the others described with the mostly soft-spoken and caring young mechanic that she knew.
"Where's he at?" Rocky wondered. "Can we teleport him here?"
Alpha checked the scanners, then shook his head. "He, Trini, and Kim are with David and their other friend Raymond in the park. I can't page him without Raymond hearing it. Unless it's an emergency."
"No, let them have a normal life, as much as he can, anyway. He's earned it," Tommy decided. "It's not really all that important, anyway. Whoever these new Rangers are, they're obviously on our side, and that's all we really need to know. However they communicate and whoever they are isn't really our business, as long as they fight for good."
Kat nodded, and was about to ask Rocky if he wanted to go for a walk; the two of them had been spending a little more time together ever since they had decided to go to the dance together. It was starting to look like the two of them were heading for a solid couple-hood. Her question was cut off, however, by the blare of a monster alarm.
"What is it, Zordon?" Tommy groaned. "What's Mondo sending down this time?"
Their mentor checked the scans. IT IS CALLED THE NUCKELAVEE, AND IT IS CAPABLE OF DESTROYING PRACTICALLY ANYTHING IT TOUCHES. IT DELIGHTS IN THE CAUSING AND SPREAD OF PAIN AND ANGER, AND IS ONE OF MONDO'S MOST POWERFUL MONSTERS. YOU MUST BE CAREFUL, RANGERS.
"We will be," Tommy glanced at the others. "It's morphin' time!"
"This thing is ugly," Rocky groaned at the sight of the thing, a metallic humanoid with powerfully built muscles and a pair of large metal wings on it's shoulders. "I've seen better looking things in my nightmares!"
Tommy shuddered briefly, trying not to think about a few of his nightmares. "So have I," he shook himself, returning his thoughts to the creature in front of them. "Let's get rid of this peabrain!"
"You Rangers have a high opinion of yourselves!" Nuckelavee laughed harshly at them, causing two swords to materialize in it's hands. "I'm going to cut that a little!"
All five Rangers groaned. "Why do these things always have to make bad puns?" Tanya wondered. "You'd think they' have something better to do than that!"
"Oh, but I do," Nuckelavee laughed, then launched itself towards them, blurring as it ran beyond what normal speed would be for anything remotely human. "I'm going to cut you to ribbons!"
The Rangers didn't have time to react as it charged into them, slashing at each of them at least once or twice. The five of them fell back, feeling the pain even through their armor, something that almost never happened. As they lay on the ground groaning, Nuckelavee laughed. "And these are supposedly the mightiest warriors that your world has to offer? This is a joke!"
"You're the only joke around here, chrome-dome!" a harsh voice called. The Rangers looked beyond the monster to see five forms standing on a building not far away. Five voices called out almost simultaneously.
"Purple Power Blast!"
"It's time for a Gold Rush!"
The energy unleashed by the five-part strike knocked Nuckelavee back a good twenty feet, landing flat on his back. The Gold Ranger chuckled. "Didn't expect that, did you?"
The creature slowly stood back up, glaring at the newcomers with unabashed hatred. "You're going to pay for that, Gold Ranger!"
"Put it on my credit card," the leader of the second team wisecracked. He took a sudden step back, however, when from out of nowhere a small robot flew, and perched itself on Nuckelavee's shoulder.
"Here's a little something from King Mondo, to turn you into a big something!" Orbus cackled as he grew the monster to supreme size. "Have fun, Rangers!"
As the tiny robot vanished away, all ten Rangers stared at the rising form of Nuckelavee towering over them. "You're going to die, Rangers!" the creature declared. "And I will dance upon your graves!"
"This thing needs an attitude adjustment!" Gray Ranger grumbled. "What's the plan, Gold?"
Their leader glanced at the thing for a moment, then at the five originals, still groaning in pain from the strikes the monster had landed on them. "I hope we're ready for this," he muttered, then threw up his Staff. "We need Super Zeo Zord Power, now!"
"Super Zeo Zords?" Tommy managed to whisper, bending around to look at the newcomers. He turned his head to look where they were, and gasped in shock.
Five Zords were coming towards them. A hawk, a panther, an eagle, a fox, and a very large pyramid backing them up. The five new Zeo Rangers stared briefly at the things in front of them, then leaped up, transmuting into the appropriately colored flecks of light and headed for the proper Zords.
"Oh, man, this is awesome!" the White Ranger's voice came from the Hawk. "What now?"
Gold Ranger's reply was summed up in one simple phrase. "Let's blow him away."
The creature didn't have time for anything that even resembled a snappy comeback, as the five Zords locked weapons on it. All that remained of it was a pile of dust, and as the original Zeos looked to where their strange allies had been, once again, they were gone.
He walked all the way to Billy's house the day after the second team had premiered their own set of Zords, clear across town from his own. It took almost half an hour, but he enjoyed every second of it. He had a lot of thinking to do.
Billy would be perfectly within his rights to knock me flat on my rump, he considered. I've treated him like he wasn't capable of taking care of himself for too long. It's been months since I taught him any martial arts. I wonder if that's why he's hanging around David now, is David teaching him? he knew his brother was a skilled fighter, but he hadn't ever thought if he would teach someone. Especially not Billy.
"Tommy?" when he heard his name, he looked up to see Billy's dad standing in the driveway, obviously just getting into his car, and looking curiously at him. "It's been a while since you've been around here!"
The Red Ranger smiled for a moment. "I know. Is Billy here?"
"Yeah, he's in his room. Did you want to talk to him?"
"Yeah. He and I have a lot to discuss," Tommy took a long breath. He wasn't quite certain if he was scared or nervous or happy or what that this was about to happen. All he knew was that it had to happen. He wouldn't be able to sleep at night if he waited to talk any longer.
Mr. Cranston nodded and pulled out of the driveway, heading off to who knew where. Tommy turned for a moment, then without so much as another thought, headed for the door, lightly tapping on it. "Billy?" he called out. "It's me, Tommy."
Footsteps came from behind the door, then it opened to reveal Billy, clad all in unrelieved black and looking very quiet and resolved, standing there. "Tommy?" his voice was curious. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to talk to you," he replied. "And. . .to apologize."
"Apologize?" Billy looked confused as he beckoned his friend in. "What for? We've hardly even seen each other for a while."
Tommy nodded. "That's one of the things I want to apologize for. And for treating you like crap ever since you lost your powers."
"It's all right," Billy's smile came easier than Tommy had seen it in months. "I probably would have done the same thing if our positions were reversed."
Tommy caught his breath; he'd never expected things to go like this! "I'm really sorry," he murmured. "I should never have done that. You're just as much a part of the team now as you've ever been."
Billy smiled. "I know, Tommy. I know."
"Not really," Kim shook her head. "I'm just. ..missing people," she turned the album around to show that it was open to two pictures: one of Jason, Zack, Trini, Kim, Billy, and Tommy, and one of Rocky, Aisha, Adam, Kim, Billy, and Tommy. "I miss Jason, Zack, and Aisha. I didn't know Aisha like I know you, but still. .."
"I know," the Gray Ranger agreed; she hadn't known the young girl who had taken her place on the team very well, but there was still a bit of a connection, since both had worn the Yellow Ranger armor at one point. She felt linked to Tanya as well, but it wasn't quite the same. She knew Kim had to feel the same way about Kat as well. "Do you think they'll ever come back?"
Kim shrugged. "Who can tell? Who would have thought that we would come back?"
"I wasn't even sure I wanted to leave in the first place," Trini murmured softly, turning the pages of the photo album back. She paused on one, and bit her lip. A picture of her sixteenth birthday party was looking back at her. It was one taken only a couple of months after they had become Power Rangers. She and Billy were dancing, and he'd actually looked graceful for once. Her hand touched the picture for a moment, and she sighed.
Her old friend couldn't keep her mouth shut any longer. She'd been wanting to ask this for years, especially since Trini had left. She had almost asked the night before their flight to Switzerland, but had lost her courage at the last moment. "Why haven't you ever told Billy how you feel about him?"
Trini's head jerked up and she stared at Kim. "What are you talking about?" she quickly rushed back to the mental denial that had made life livable for the past few years.
"Why haven't you ever told Billy that you're in love with him?" Kim pressed. "Don't try and say you're not, I've known you all your life, Trini Kwan, and I know when you're in love. You are in love with him, and have been for years. Why don't you tell him?"
Trini's perfect face quivered for a moment, then she buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with repressed tears. "I can't! How could I tell him anything? He's so gorgeous, he could have any girl in the entire world, and why would he wantme?"
"Hmmmm....," Kim considered for a moment. "Maybe because you're beautiful too, and I think he's in love with you too."
Her friend's head lifted to look at her with suddenly hope-filled eyes. "You think so?" she dropped her head just as suddenly again. "No, he couldn't. How many girls did he date once I left?"
Kim tilted her head back for a moment, thinking. "I think two. Once each."
Trini's eyes widened in shock. "Two? Just two? But I was gone---"
"I know," Kim smiled. "Trust me, Trini. He loves you. I don't know why he hasn't said anything about it to you, but he does. And you should do something about it."
Trini glanced out the window for a moment. They were in her house, Billy's was right across the street. She'd seen Tommy going up there a short while earlier, and had considered asking Billy what they were talking about. Respect for 'male talk' had kept her from doing it, however. Now, she was beginning to wonder if she should have after all. ..
She stiffened just the tiniest bit as the door swung open and both Tommy and Billy came out. Her heart almost stopped as they crossed the street and she heard a knock on the front door.
"I think we'd better go see what our fellow Rangers want," Kim smiled; glad that Trini's parents were out for the afternoon so that she could speak freely. One nervously, one with hope, the two of them headed downstairs.
Machina waved her fan calmly. "Dear, you really must remember your oil pressure! You could blow a gasket if you don't!"
Her husband almost glared at her, then looked back at Earth. "I wonder what that human would do if I attacked his friends. ..," he mused out loud. "What do you know of them, Klank? The two girls, that is. I already know about that annoying Billy."
"Their names are Trini Kwan and Kimberly Hart, Yer Majesty," Klank reported. He'd been researching them since they had first appeared in Angel Grove and started hanging around the Rangers. "They were the first Yellow and Pink Rangers. The Hart girl is currently dating the Red Ranger, and the Kwan is a master of something called 'praying mantis kung fu', a very special human martial art."
Mondo's eyes suddenly gleamed with pure greed and the desire to possess. "Yes," he hissed. "What are the special talents of the other, aside from being romantically linked to that blasted Tommy?"
"She is a world-class gymnast, and has taken a special prize in something called the "Pan Globals", a very prestigious human event. Do you have any orders regarding them, master?"
The king of the Machine Empire glanced down at Earth and saw Kim was currently with the Red Ranger. That would provide too many problems; he would be able to morph and protect her. Trini and Billy were alone, however, walking down the street, and were out of sight of anyone who would be able to help them, unless those new Rangers came up out of nowhere. Mondo's evil mind hatched a plan then.
"Get the best Cogs you can get your hands on, Klank," Mondo commanded. "I want them to go kidnap those two ex-Rangers, so I can use them as hostages!"
Sprocket whined almost as soon as the words left his father's voicebox. "Daddy! You said that the human was my project! You said I could have Billy all to myself!"
"Now, now, dear, don't talk back to your father," Machina reprimanded her offspring. "If he wants to take the human, then he can."
Mondo looked down at his son. "No, Machina. I did say that Billy was Sprocket's. And he will be, once he and his little friend have been brought here. I'll make a formal present of him to you, once he's here. But the other one is mine!"
"Oh, thank you, Daddy!" Sprocket bounced up and down on his spring-like legs, giggling with evil glee. "I'm going to have a lot of fun with him! I want him now, now, now!"
Machina patted her son on his head. "I know you will, son. But you must be patient. You'll have him shortly."
"I'll have them both here in no time, sire!" Klank saluted, then sauntered off to do as he was commanded. Trini and Billy were in great danger.
"Wonder what Tommy and Kim thought we needed to talk about," Billy said quietly. He really didn't need to ask that; he knew what it was. His conversation with Tommy had turned almost as once to Trini and his eternal, unspoken love for her, the love that had shaped his being for almost his entire life. It had been Tommy's idea that he come over to Trini's house, and try to talk to her at last about his feelings.
The Gray Ranger shrugged deeply. "I have no idea," she lied. She wanted to tell Billy what was on her mind, and in her heart, but something kept her from it: her own cowardice and fear. She could face down Cogs all day long, but when it came to facing her fear, she just couldn't do it.
Billy glanced over at her, and found himself captivated by her sparkling beauty. It had been too long since he had really seen her, and ever since they had become Rangers again, he had been too caught up in leading the new team, and in trying to keep their secret from the original Rangers, he hadn't paused to look at her. Now, he took the time at last.
"Trini," he whispered suddenly, gazing at her. "I. ..you...know there's a dance tomorrow night, right?"
"Yes," she breathed softly, wondering if she was about to have her dreams come true. "What about it?"
The Gold Ranger closed his eyes for a moment. "Would you like to go with me?" the question was in such a low tone of voice that if she hadn't been actively listening for it, she might not have heard it at all. Slowly, wonder and love filling her heart.
"Yes," she murmured. "I thought you'd never ask me."
Trini and Billy stood for a moment on the sidewalk, staring at each other as if they were the most magnificent thing that each of them had ever seen. Then, Billy leaned forward, touching his lips gently to Trini's, in a first kiss that should have blown up a few nearby star systems in it's strength.
It was also one that was interrupted by the sudden whining screech of a teleportation and the arrival of a dozen Cogs, rushing at them all of a sudden. Billy and Trini both pulled themselves apart quickly, glaring at the things that had ruined the special moment they had found themselves in so unexpectedly.
"You ready to rumble, Trini?" Billy's voice was harsh and upset; he had waited years to tell Trini how he felt, and he didn't take kindly to it being interrupted. Both of them knew they couldn't face these things unmorphed.
"I'm ready, willing, and able," Trini's voice was just as furious! Together, the two of them jerked their Power Staves out of thin air.
"Gold Ranger Power!"
"Gray Ranger Power!"
As the Cogs approached, the two of them were covered by a brilliant flash of gold and gray light respectively. The next moment, twin warriors smashed into the piles of Cogs, intent on reducing them to Cog parts.
Oh, man!! Billy's voice echoed in Trini's mind. It's like every time we smash one, another three pop up in it's place!
We'd better call for help then, Trini whispered back to him. Sensing his agreement, the two of them shouted mentally to three other minds. Kim, David, Raymond! We're under Cog attack about three blocks from Billy's house, get here fast!!!
Then, they plunged straight back into battle.
Kim, David, Raymond! We're under Cog attack about three blocks from Billy's house, get here fast!!!
The Black and White Rangers barely bothered to exchange glances, or even check for anyone near them. They knew they were safe, they were so far out in the woods that it would take a near-miracle for anyone to find them. Both of them thrust their hands out sharply, morphing and teleporting practically in the same motion.
Back in Angel Grove, Kim and Tommy had been going for a walk themselves, in a different direction than their friends. Kim stiffened just the barest bit as she heard Billy and Trini's joint call for help in her mind. "Tommy, I've just remembered, I've got something I've really got to take care of at Trini's, I'll talk to you later," she smiled warmly at him, pulling him down for a quick kiss on the cheek, then dashed back towards the house as fast as she could. The moment she was out of his sight, she dived behind a bush and summoned forth her Power Staff, going to the aid of her friends.
The Gold and Gray Rangers needed that aid, too. Despite being morphed and having that extra strength and reactions, they had to deal with what looked to be thirty Cogs, and there was no way that just two Rangers, no matter how strong, could deal with that many. Their friends leaped into the battle straight away.
Sorry to interrupt your walk, Kim, Billy thought to his friend as they flipped and kicked around, trying to reduce the Cog population as swiftly as possible.
Don't worry about it, I can go for another walk later. How are you and Trini doing? the Purple Ranger wondered. One very nice side effect of the five-way telepathic link was they could carry on calm conversations while in the middle of harsh battle.
A wash of love and semi-surprise was her answer. The love was purely for Kimberly, while the semi-surprise was that she would think to ask that right now. She chuckled. You two are my best friends, and I went to a lot of trouble to get her to talk to you. Why wouldn't I ask? Are you guys going to the dance together?
That we are! the answer came from Trini this time, and they could hear Raymond and David sort of `in the background', chuckling a bit at over how long it had taken their friends to figure out they were in love. It seemed it had been apparent to them all, once they'd seen them together. Raymond, watch out, three Cogs on your left!
Thanks, Trini! the young computer genius nodded as well as thought his thanks, then slammed a powerful fist into one of the robots' abdomens and watched as it fell back into it's friends, taking them all down. "These things are wimps," he chuckled to himself aloud.
With a series of flips and kicks, the five Rangers landed together and faced the still-on coming Cogs as a group. "Haven't you metalheads figured that we don't lose?" Billy grumbled. The Cogs seemed to look at them with curiosity for a moment, then vanished into a teleportation circle. It seemed that they had won.
"Them?" he almost growled. "They are those new Rangers who have been a thorn in my mechanical side recently? How could it be them?" for the first time since the arrival of the new Rangers, he had been watching the ex-Rangers, or those whom he thought had been powerless ex-Rangers. Now, he knew better.
Klank peered at the monitors. "It appears so, m'lord. What are your orders?"
The lord of the machine empire mused for several moments. He felt as if those humans had insulted him personally, as if they had used their powerlessness to trick and taunt him into ignoring them. Well, he would show them a few things. He didn't care what Sprocket thought or what he had promised his son. This touched upon the honor of the entire Machine Empire, and it wouldn't do for anyone less than the Machine King himself to deal with this insult.
"Klank, those bands you invented a few thousand years ago," he knew just the perfect way to deal with these humans. If they were going to insult him. ..he was going to pervert them. And he was going to have fun once he'd done it. "Do you still have the prototype?"
His chief henchman checked his memory banks briefly. "I believe I do, sire, why do you ask?"
"Craft five of them," the king ordered. "They are to program the wearer to serve me and only me, without question and without attempting anything that I don't order of them, beyond basic human functions such as eating and sleeping. Anything other than that, I will command them to do. How soon can you have them done?"
Klank was startled; he'd never expected his experiments in organic mind control to actually pay off! He'd never even thought Mondo remembered them! "I should be able to have five fully functional bands in twenty-four hours, m'lord."
"Then get to it," Mondo commanded, and was pleased to see Klank hurrying out of the throne room at once. Instant obedience was something he prized above almost everything else in those that served him. And soon, those five will be among those that serve me. The thought of that tantalized the evil monarch deeply.
"Dad-dee!" he winced at the shrill tones of his son. "You promised!"
Mondo glared down at the little prince. "Sprocket, this has to do with the honor of the Machine Empire! These humans deliberately made fools of us, and they are going to pay for it! Once I've defeated them, then you can play with them! But until then, they are mine to destroy, Sprocket!"
His son slouched off pouting, and Mondo almost regretted his decision, remembering how annoying evil Rangers had proven to other galactic overlords in the past. They always went good in the end, either by overcoming whatever spells had been used to control them or by having them broken. On occasion, it had been by the death of their masters, but that was something he didn't have to concern himself with. Though magic wasn't his method, he had other ways to control his warriors. The bands Klank was creating would be surgically implanted within each Ranger, and would overwhelm any efforts they made towards self-will with his own agenda. The programming Klank had in each band was incredibly powerful, though it had yet to be tested on human subjects. These shall be the first then. And should they fail, they will not return to the side of good. Should they fail me. . .they will die.
By that night, all ten of the Rangers, for whatever their reasons, had decided they just weren't going to worry about their enemy and were just going to have a good time that night. Couples had almost quite literally sprouted out of the woodworks to be coming. Billy and Trini, Tommy and Kim, Rocky and Kat, Adam and Tanya, and others. Raymond had asked out a former girlfriend of Billy's, Laura, and David was going with Angela, the same young lady who had once turned down the original Black Ranger Zack so many times. All ten Rangers were in varying forms of bliss as the night began.
"How do I look?" Kim fussed at the light violet gown she was wearing, and hoped that Tommy wouldn't figure out her sudden attraction to that color. She really doubted he wouldn't; with his memory and the general tendency everyone else had to overlook a Rangers' color choice. She herself had totally ignored the fact Tommy was wearing green when he had first shown up.
Trini smiled briefly. "You look beautiful! I know you're going to knock Tommy off his feet when he shows up!"
Rather than get driven there by their dates, the Rangers had all agreed to meet at the Youth Center where the dance, like all similar functions at school. Kat, Tanya, Laura, and Angela were already there, standing by the refreshments table.
"Don't get so excited!" Tanya chuckled. "How long have the two of you been together anyway?"
"Three years or so," Kim paced briefly. "What's your point?"
The girls all rolled their eyes to varying degrees, and then every last one of them paused as the doors to the Youth Center opened. Six young men stood there together, looking across the room. They were all wearing rented suits of varying colors, and each looked spectacularly handsome in them. David and Billy looked almost as if they were mirror images of each other in pure black, except for Billy having a tie of deep gold and David having one of black.
"Trini," Billy breathed the word out as if it meant the entire world to him. "You're beautiful."
The young woman blushed deeply as she walked over to him. Just as their hands touched, a slow song began to play over the stereo system, and they both smiled at each other. "May I have this dance, Miss Kwan?" Billy asked tenderly.
"Always, Mr. Cranston," she replied, and the two of them spun out onto the dance floor together. The rest of their group watched them for a few moments before all of them headed out there together. For once in their lives, they weren't Rangers, they weren't warriors, they weren't teenagers living in a city that was under siege by the forces of evil and darkness. They were just a group of teenagers who were out having a good time at their Spring Dance.
Lights sparkled everywhere, there was music and dancing and laughter, even Bulk and Skull were behaving themselves properly for a change, both having brought escorts to the dance and greeting the other teens with respect they had never thought possible for the two former bullies. It looked as if the night was going to be one of purest, unadulterated, uninterrupted bliss. And it was.
Right up until the moment when one of Mondo's teleportation wheels appeared in the center of the dance floor, and over fifty Cogs quite literally appeared out of nowhere.
No kidding, Billy and Trini did the best they could to get to somewhere where they could morph and at least try to fight the creatures off. They weren't having any luck, anymore than the rest of the team was.
David and Raymond had managed to get together, but they still couldn't get to a place to morph. We NEED to get someplace out of the way! Something very weird is going on here! Raymond declared. He and David had both noticed that as soon as they were just out of sight of any of the original Zeo Rangers, the Cogs around them closed in even thicker, but still kept enough normal humans around so they couldn't morph.
You noticed, Kim said sarcastically. She couldn't see Tommy any longer, but there were still plenty of Cogs around, as well as fellow students who had just been trying to have fun. There were almost fifteen Cogs surrounding her, and she had the least guard of all of them. I think I can see Kat over there. ..and . ..oh, I do not believe this!
Kim? the thought came from four different minds; none of them could see each other right now. Kim, what is it?
Kim winced briefly. She just got away. The others managed to get to her. But they can't get to me. ..and ....the Cogs just did!
The others didn't have a chance to respond, as each was dragged just far enough away from prying human eyes, and not for long enough to actually do anything about it before they were swept up into teleportation circles.
Not that far from where Kim had seen Kat being pulled to safety by Adam, the five original Rangers caught their breath briefly. "I think we need to get back in there," Tanya said. "I could see Cogs all around Billy and the others. They could be in trouble."
Tommy nodded, and threw one wrist out, ready to morph, when Rocky peeked back around the corner. His jaw dropped almost at once. "Just a second, Tommy. I don't think it's necessary. But we could have trouble anyway."
The Rangers peered around to see what he was looking at. All of their faces went pale to see no Cogs there at all: but a parchment lay on the floor. Slowly, Tommy went out and picked it up. The writing was unexpectedly elegant, and he read it aloud, his voice slowly trembling as it reached the end.
"To the Red, Pink, Yellow, Blue, and Green Rangers. As you may or may not have noticed, five of your friends are missing. I believe you refer to them as Kim, Trini, Billy, David, and Raymond. You have a great deal to fear. Your friends are in my clutches, but do not totally despair. They will be released. You need not even surrender. Once I have accomplished what I need to with them, you will see them again. Of course, by then, you probably won't want to. But that's going to be the most amusing part. Wait in terror, Power Rangers. And the end of your wait shall be the most terrifying of it all. Yours most insincerely, King Mondo, Lord and Master of the Machine Empire."
The five of them looked at each other, every ounce of blood draining from their faces. None of them could imagine how this could possibly get any worse.
"So, you are the Gold Ranger," he glared at the human he'd tried to capture not long before. Billy returned the expression, his eyes full of pride. "You were saved once from my troops, Billy. It won't happen this time. You and your little team here are going to regret the day you chose to take up arms against me."
"I doubt that, Mondo. No matter what, we'll never regret fighting the forces of evil!" Kim screamed at the mechanical overlord. Mondo only chuckled.
"You will learn better manners soon, my dear. Klank!"
The five Rangers turned as the robot shuffled closer. "The bands are ready, m'lord, they need only to have the final programming installed once they have been implanted on the humans in my lab!"
"Then do so," Mondo commanded. "Do so at once!"
Billy, Trini, Kim, David, and Raymond didn't even have time to scream as Cogs dragged them to the floor and down to Klank's lab. The sound was sweet to Mondo's auditory circuits as he whirled to gaze back at Earth, and gloated to himself about all the sweet destruction that he would soon be causing at the hands of his Zeo Rangers.