|Foreword||One and Two||Three, Four, Five||Interlude I and Six|
|Interlude II, Seven and Eight||Nine, Interlude III, and Ten||Eleven and Twelve||Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen|
She dreamed of sleeping for untold ages, lost in the labyrinth of her shattered mind. And then one day, someone opened the door to her cell, and with a long cackle of brittle laughter she lifted her arms into the sunlight, free at last. But she was no longer Bandora; that name belonged to another woman, another time and place. Who had she become?
RITA REPULSA came the answer. She let the name slide across her tongue and found it oddly satisfying. So be it.
She looked around the barren wasteland where her prison had sat for untold centuries and wondered where in the hells she was. Then her eyes fell upon a planet floating placidly in the sky, and the answer was obvious: she was on a moon. For some strange reason the planet vexed her greatly; there was something ...no, someone upon it, someone she hated with all her heart and soul. ZORDON. The name pierced her heart with terrible agony, though she couldn’t remember why. But so long as he lived, the pain would remain.
Fine. She’d rid herself of the irritant the easy way; she’d destroy the whole damned planet.
In order to do that, though, she’d need lackeys. Rita Repulsa remembered the strange inhabitants of her dreams and raised her wand high above her head. With a flash of mystical energy, the creatures came to life: Goldar, the winged monkey. Finster, the molder of monsters. Squatt and Babboo, the.... well, they had to have a purpose. She’d figure out what it was later.
Next ...every empress had to have a suitable dwelling. Rita thought one up and made it real.
She sat on her throne and sent her monsters to the site that most irritated her, a small town called Angel Grove. She ordered them to destroy it first, then the rest of the planet. She should have expected that The Hated One would take allies of his own, but the first appearance of the Power Rangers was a shock nonetheless. And they wouldn’t go away. Time and again she’d send her nastiest minions to destroy them, and time and again the Rangers would win. It got quite annoying.
One day she happened to find the Green Ranger’s power coin in a pocket of her robe, and Rita smiled as a terrible plan evolved in her twisted mind. She found a handsome young man in Angel Grove and enslaved him, overwhelming his soul with her sweet darkness. She gave him the coin and made him her Green Ranger, sworn to serve her for all time. And then, for some odd reason she couldn’t quite explain, she took him to her bed and further bound him to her through the chains of passion.
And to further shift the odds in her favor, she summoned her daughter from her own sleep and demanded that she join in the fight. Lamia was reluctant at first but eventually acquiesced, taking the name ‘Scorpina’ at her mother’s insistence. Rita smiled and sent her new soldiers to battle, confident that this time, the Rangers and the hated Zordon would finally fall.
Wrong. Not only did her daughter and Green Ranger fail, the latter somehow escaped her spells and joined the Rangers.
And then came the day when Lord Zedd, a figure both familiar and unknown to her, appeared without warning. He usurped her castle, her throne, her minions and sent her back into her cell, back into oblivion...
Back into her dreams...
“I’m sorry, man.”
Jason simply continued to stare at Tommy, ignoring his former friend’s apologies. There was no expression of anger, of accusation, of pleading in Jason’s face. There was nothing at all in it, which only made it more damning. Tommy finally sighed and turned away, trying to ignore the icy feeling in his stomach and the doubts in his head.
Jason, Trini and Zack were secured within one of the Command Center’s holding cells; Alpha had rigged it up as soon as the Rangers had gone forth to grab their ex-comrades. The trio stood silently within the cage, making no protest against their captivity. Zack and Trini stood at the backside of the cell, their arms folded over their chests as they stared accusingly at the Rangers. If their gazes seemed to focus more on Kimberly, who refused to meet their stares and had moved as far away from the cells as she could, no one could blame them.
“WHERE IS BILLY?” Zordon asked Tommy.
“Scorpina got him, Zordon.” The White Ranger’s voice was full of disappointment and contrition. “She’d been posing as Piniko all this time. I guess she was working undercover for Zedd, trying to get to Billy.” He shrugged his shoulders. “We blew it, Zordon. I’m sorry.”
“DO NOT APOLOGIZE, WHITE RANGER. YOU WERE ABLE TO SEPARATE THE FORMER RANGERS FROM ZEDD’S INFLUENCE, AND WE WERE UNABLE TO DETECT SCORPINA’S PRESENCE IN ANGEL GROVE. ONCE WE ARE ABLE TO HELP THESE THREE, WHEN ZEDD AND HIS MINIONS STRIKE AGAIN, WE WILL BE ABLE TO FREE BILLY FROM HIS EVIL INFLUENCE AS WELL.”
Jason’s head perked up, and his eyes narrowed as he stared at Zordon. “Evil influence?” he echoed. “If there’s an ‘evil influence’ enslaving anyone around here, it’s yours, Zordon, on them.” He nodded toward the other Rangers.
Kimberly came over to the cell. She tried to ignore the pain in Trini’s eyes, choosing instead to focus on Jason. “Look,” she pleaded softly. “Like, I won’t say that the things you said didn’t hurt a lot, but, well, if I knew that it was because of Zedd, not really the way you felt about me, I could forgive you, Jason! We could be friends again--all of us!” Her eyes darted quickly over at the other two prisoners, then hurried back to Jason’s face. “Please, Jason--let Zordon help you. Let him find a way to free you, okay?”
He stared at her for a long time. “Kim,” he finally said. “I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what you read, but I promise you--I didn’t write any of it. Not a word. I ...you guys were my best friends. I couldn’t hurt you. You know that.”
“I want to believe you,” she pleaded, tears filling her eyes. “But ...Zordon...”
“You gotta choose who to believe, Kim.” His gaze was steady, almost unnerving. Tommy had come over to join Kim, and now Jason’s gaze transfixed him as well. “Me ...the guy you’ve known for years, the guy you’ve trusted for a long, long time ...or Zordon. You gotta decide, both of you.”
For a long time, nothing was said between the three. Then, slowly, reluctantly, Kim turned away. Tommy’s face was ashen as he turned his back on Jason, who merely shook his head and sighed.
“Hey, it wasn’t a complete loss,” Adam commented. He held up Billy’s morpher. “Zedd can’t have Billy hurt us too badly if he doesn’t have this.”
“Not,” Kim snorted. “Billy doesn’t need that to hurt us. He’s got his lab and his brains.” She snatched the morpher out of Adam’s hand and tossed it to Tommy, who looked at it for a moment, then shrugged and gave it to Alpha for safekeeping.
“Hey, something just occurred to me,” Adam spoke again, checking around to make sure Kim wasn’t going to cut him down again. “That didn’t look like the Scorpina Aisha and I fought.” He glanced over at the young black woman, who nodded in agreement.
Zordon had overhead them. “SCORPINA APPARENTLY HAS BEEN GIVEN THE ABILITY TO CAST MINOR SPELLS TO DISGUISE HER APPEARANCE AND BLOCK HER PRESENCE FROM OUR SCANNERS. THIS MAKES HER EVEN MORE DANGEROUS, RANGERS.”
Tommy looked up at the Rangers’ mentor. “What should we do, Zordon?”
“FOR THE TIME BEING, RETURN TO ANGEL GROVE AND KEEP WATCH FOR SCORPINA AND BILLY. WE WILL CONTINUE TO MONITOR FOR THE BLUE RANGER’S PRESENCE AND ALERT YOU TO HIS LOCATION SHOULD HE OR ANY OF ZEDD’S MINIONS REAPPEAR. ADAM WILL REMAIN HERE WITH ALPHA TO ANALYZE ZEDD’S SPELL AND DEVELOP A CURE FOR IT.”
“Me?” Adam squeaked. Science was more Billy’s forte than his.
“YOU ARE THE BEST QUALIFIED OF THE RANGERS TO ASSIST ALPHA, ADAM. I HAVE EVERY CONFIDENCE IN YOUR ABILITIES.”
Aisha slapped him on the back. “Hey, don’t worry about it! And for an encore, you can make Bull and Skull human next!” The other Rangers laughed, but it was laughter tinged with self-consciousness and uneasiness. They were all too aware of the stares coming from the holding cell, all too aware of the guilt that lay heavy on their souls.
* * * * *
They were everywhere and nowhere all at once; there was no up, no down, no direction, but at the same time there was no disorientation. They floated gently about the black nothingness ...and then without warning they were standing on an unseen surface, and some sort of order slowly manifested itself around them.
“I must apologize,” Scorpina said with a slight smile. “I was not expecting visitors.”
“Quite all right,” Egon assured her. “Anywhere’s a better place to be than where we were.”
“Where are we?” Billy demanded. His face was crimson as he angrily confronted Scorpina. “What have you done? Where are my friends?”
“Beloved,” she said so softly it served to diffuse his rage, “we are in my dimension. This is my refuge. You are my guests, not my prisoners. Which,” she added with a bit more edge to her voice, “is more than you would be had I let the Rangers capture you.”
Billy shook his head despondently and sat down on something that he was pretty sure hadn’t been there a moment ago. “I don’t understand anything,” he moaned. “I ...Uncle Egon, help me!”
Egon smiled and sat down beside his nephew. “All right,” he said. “I think I can get us started on the road to the answers. But this isn’t a good place.” He looked up at Scorpina, who couldn’t quite hide her own feelings about Billy’s outburst at her. “I assume you could take us anywhere we needed to go?”
She nodded. “From here all places are the same. Time,” she added with a slight smile, “is a bit trickier, but I suppose I could manage.”
“That’s not necessary,” Egon assured her. “Take us to the basement of Ghostbusters Central.”
“The basement?” Janine said incredulously. “Wouldn’t the first or second floor be better?”
“No,” the blond scientist said with a smile. “The basement has precisely what we need at the moment.”
Scorpina nodded. “Then it is done.”
* * * * *
“I dunno, Ray,” Winston Zeddemore was saying; he and Dr. Ray Stantz were standing directly in front of the containment unit at Ghostbusters Central, studying the readings on the main control console with worried expressions. “Was it this high when we blew up the first time?”
There was a soft “thump” from nearby; both men turned to watch a slow, steady rain of dirty clothing pouring out of a small shaft in the ceiling. Despite the gravity of the situation, they smiled at one another, then returned to the crisis at hand. “So,” Winston repeated. “Is it as high?”
“No,” Ray gulped. “It’s higher. We redesigned the grid to hold more, remember?” There was another soft thump as a particularly big pile of bed sheets hit the floor, but this time they ignored it.
“I hadda ask. So what do we do?”
Before Ray could answer, the basement door banged open. Seconds later, Peter Venkman came ambling down the stairs, dressed in an old faded pair of gym shorts, a pair of socks that had seen better days during the Depression, and a ratty old shirt of indeterminate color. “What’s up, guys?” he asked with a wave.
“We’re running over capacity,” Ray replied.
“Any chance of us going boom?” Peter retrieved a ladder from the corner of the basement and placed directly under the laundry chute; next he grabbed a broom and brought it over, then climbed up the ladder and began thrusting the broomstick up the chute.
“I don’t know,” the pudgy Ghostbuster said with a shrug. “Anything’s possible. We never figured we’d bag this many when we built this one.”
“Well, Sharyn said that the phones have been quiet, so I suppose we could just wait until Egon gets back. Or, if worst came to worst, we could keep any spooks we nab in the traps, couldn’t we?” A few stray socks and t-shirts drifted down from the clogged chute.
“I don’t know,” Ray said. “The traps weren’t meant to keep ghosts in them indefinitely. Sooner or later something would have to give.”
Winston walked over to where Peter was working and peered up into the chute. “Nice outfit,” he commented.
“Laundry day.” Without warning an avalanche of malodorous clothing came rumbling down; Winston was barely able to jump back, but Peter was completely enveloped. “Phew!” he said with a disgusted wrinkle of his nose. “Put this off way too long, you know?”
“I just wish Egon was here...” Ray said, and one abrupt explosion of light later, he had his wish.
* * * * *
Billy didn’t know what to do first. He wanted his uncle to explain himself. He wanted Scorpina to explain herself. And most of all, he wanted a tour of Ghostbusters Central. But from the look of things, the first and third items were going to have to wait; Egon was hurrying over to join Dr. Stantz at the containment unit, and Janine was heading over to see Mr. Zeddemore, who was standing beside a huge pile of laundry draped over a stepladder. He strained his ears to pick up the conversation between his uncle and his partner; Billy overhead something about “gargoyles” and “Not now, Ray,” but the rest was pretty incomprehensible.
Without warning, Peter Venkman erupted from his laundry mound. “When did you two get back?” he asked Janine.
“Just now,” she grinned.
“You didn’t lose the discount on those airline tickets by cashing them in early, did you?”
“We didn’t fly in.”
“They kinda just popped in outta nowhere,” Winston offered helpfully.
“Wait a minute,” Peter said, his expression growing dark. “You mean we’re still paying for a hotel room out in Angel Grove, and we’re going to have to eat the cost of those round-trip tickets, and we’ll have to pay extra to get all of Egon’s toys back to New York...”
“Oh, Doctor V, you’re such a...” Janine waited for his face to brighten at the prospect of a compliment, then let the boom fall. “ ...cheapskate. Don’t sweat it. We’re going back.”
“More airline tickets?” Peter groaned.
“Nope.” She nodded at Scorpina, who was trying desperately to capture Billy’s attention by looking cute. “She’ll take us back, same way we got here.”
Peter took one look at the armored woman and felt his jaw drop. “Hel-LO!” he called, hurriedly freeing himself from the dirty clothes. “My name is Dr. Peter Venkman, and I would gratefully become your utter slave if I knew your name...”
Her eyes narrowed, and her nose rose haughtily in the air--given the aroma Peter’s dirty clothing was giving off, it was the only sane way to breathe. “I am Scorpina,” she replied curtly. “And you annoy me.”
“Watch it, Dr. Venkman,” Janine warned as she rejoined them. “She’s a demigoddess.”
“Well, of course she is,” Peter said smoothly. “Obviously the demigoddess of beauty.”
“Not quite.” Scorpina smiled thinly, her eyes narrowing even further. If Peter had known more about her, he would have cut his losses right there and then, while his hide was still intact. “You are interrupting a conversation I am having with my beloved,” she said curtly. “Leave.”
Peter looked at Billy. “Him? He’s your beloved?” He moved closer to the increasingly annoyed Scorpina, oblivious to the fact that he was playing with fire. “Nothing personal, I mean, I’m sure he’s a really nice guy and all, but you realize he is a Spengler? With all that entails? Wouldn’t a slightly older and more experienced ...model ...be...” Peter was abruptly aware of something climbing up his leg. Glancing down, he saw the most pissed-off-looking scorpion he’d even seen in his life making its determined way up toward...
“AHHHHHHH!” The Ghostbuster performed a wild fandango, arms and legs flying in every direction. “GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!” While the others tried to settle him down, Scorpina knelt down and picked up her pet--which had jumped off Venkman’s leg the instant he’d started writhing around--and kissed it tenderly. “He didn’t hurt you, did he, my precious?” she cooed softly to the scorpion, which wriggled with delight. “All right now. Back home with you.” She gave it a final kiss, and the insect vanished into thin air.
Billy smiled despite himself. “That was very imaginative. Very effective, too.”
She smiled and nodded, accepting the compliment. “My beloved honors me with his praise.”
“You ...keep calling me that.” And truth to tell, there was some part of him that liked it, responded to it, and wanted to respond to it in kind. But ...she was an enemy. She was an agent first of Rita Repulsa, then of Lord Zedd. She’d tried to kill him and the other Rangers on several occasions, or at the very least made a good show of it. And yet, when he looked into her eyes, he saw Piniko there, warm and gentle, soft and adoring. And it was the Piniko in her that kept him from flinching away, kept his eyes locked on hers, kept him from protesting as she spoke:
“I never meant to cause you pain, beloved. I wanted merely to be with you, and the only way I could do that was assume another form.”
“So you deceived me,” he said quietly. But the words rang hollow, somehow.
“Yes,” she nodded sadly. “But I had no choice, beloved. Zedd was searching for me. I had to mask my presence. And had I come to you like this,” she gestured at her armor, “you would have delivered me to the Rangers and Zordon. Wouldn’t you?”
Billy had no answer to that.
“I ...it has been so hard for me, beloved,” she continued, her voice breaking and tears filling her eyes. “To be so close to you again ...and yet so far...” She turned away, sobbing. Billy stood there for a long time, not knowing what to do or say, but a sharp elbow in the ribs brought him back to reality.
“Put your arms around her and hold her, you dummy,” hissed Janine. “Honestly, you Spenglers...”
Slowly, hesitantly, Billy drew closer to the weeping young woman. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders and tugged slightly; she turned around, eyes wide and tears streaming down her face, then all but jumped into his arms, whispering “beloved” over and over again. He put his other arm around her waist and held her tight, feeling incredibly awkward and off-balance, but at the same time ...there was some sort of indescribable rightness about it he couldn’t explain. So he continued to hold her close until his uncle returned.
“Problem?” Egon said after studying the situation for a long moment.
“Just young love,” Janine said with a smile. “How bad’s the containment?”
“Bad, but not critical,” came the reply. “Scorpina,” Egon continued in a firm but understanding voice, “we need an explanation of what is going on. As soon as possible.”
She nodded, wiping her tears away and sniffling. Billy fished into his pants pocket and retrieved a tissue for her. “I ...know you are worried, Dr. Spengler. You have reason to be. There is far more going on in Angel Grove than meets the eye.” She looked up at Billy. “You have always remembered before, beloved. Perhaps not everything at first, but enough that we could join, flesh, hearts and souls, and then all became clear to you. But this time ...this time you do not remember me at all.”
“That’s ...that was true,” Billy stammered. “But...” Something was falling away inside him, some sort of barrier that he hadn’t realized was there until its absence was recognized. And the more he held her, the more he heard her, the more he looked at her, there was some sort of recognition growing. It was a sort of familiarity that he was growing to accept, even enjoy. He was Billy Spengler, and she was Scorpina, but she was Lamia, and she was ... “Beloved,” he whispered. “You’re my beloved.”
“Yes, yes!” she cried happily. “You are remembering at last!” She turned around to face a smug-looking Egon. “How is this possible?” she demanded.
“Two things,” he replied. “First, we’re well out of range of Angel Grove. My suspicion is that there’s some sort of spell over the city that keeps everyone in some sort of innocent thrall. It also tends to keep outsiders from going in.”
“Then how did we get in?” Janine asked.
“That’s the second thing,” he replied triumphantly. “PKE. Our continued exposure to it has given us a sort of tolerance to supernatural forces. When Jason, Trini and Zack came here, they must have picked up enough to permit them to go home--if they hadn’t come here, they probably would have found an excuse to stay away from Angel Grove. As it is, they probably had some reluctance to leave the plane.”
Scorpina nodded. “I saw them arrive. They were ...uneasy.”
“Exactly. And the limited exposure Billy has received has helped cast off the majority of that spell’s effects. Which apparently included his inability to ‘recognize’ you.” Billy blushed and suddenly realized just how closely Scorpina was to him. At the same time, however, he did not retreat, merely looked down at her and smiled shyly.
“I’m afraid ...I don’t remember everything yet,” he said softly.
She smiled up at him and drew his face to hers. “Then remember this for now, my love,” she murmured as they kissed.
“Oh Egon, isn’t is just too sweet?” Janine sighed happily, wrapping her arms around his.
“We really don’t have time for this,” Egon muttered.
“You romantic, you,” Peter snickered.
Scorpina finally broke the clinch and smiled naughtily. “My beloved and I have much to ...discuss,” she informed the Ghostbusters. “We will be back ...shortly.” And before Egon could protest, they were gone.
Peter peered over Egon’s shoulder and shrugged. “Definitely a woman of the nineties.”
“Well, there’s no point in staying down here,” Janine declared, rubbing her hands together. “Let’s head upstairs. I’ll check on things with Sharyn and fix a snack. I’m sure they’ll be very hungry when they return.”
“Hey, this is great!” Ray suddenly beamed. “I can show you the information I’ve compiled on...”
Egon pressed his fingertips against his temples. “Yes, yes,” he groaned. “You can show me the data on your ‘gargoyles’, Ray. Just let me get some aspirin first. I’ve got such a headache...”
* * * * *
It really shouldn’t have surprised Janine that when she reached the second floor, Billy and Scorpina were waiting. They were lounging side-by-side on the sofa, wearing adoring glances and matching kimonos. Hers was composed of a stunning, shimmering red and gold pattern; his was a knightly blue and silver ensemble. Most interestingly, Billy’s face had a different look to it--his features were more mature looking, more confident.
“Oy,” Janine said, smiling and shaking her head. “That didn’t take long!”
“As I’d said, time passes differently in my dimension,” Scorpina noted.
“Oh. Well, can I get you two anything?”
“We are fine for the moment,” Scorpina said, smiling and snuggling closer to Billy. “I have everything I need right here.”
“If you two are quite finished...” Egon was unamused by the lovebirds’ games.
Scorpina nodded and assumed a more sober demeanor. “I apologize, Dr. Spengler. I was so overjoyed that my beloved and I were at last truly reunited that I got a bit ...impatient. It will not happen again.”
“Sorry, Uncle Egon,” said Billy, looking extremely unapologetic.
The warrior goddess took a deep breath. “What is going on in Angel Grove, Dr. Spengler, is less a battle between the forces of good and evil ...than a board game.” Noticing her beloved’s puzzled expression, she sighed and shook her head. “Zordon has been trapped in his formless state for many centuries now, and time passes no differently for him than it does for you. He grew bored and sought to amuse himself by setting up a sort of living chess game. Of course, he first needed an opponent, so he freed my mother from her prison. She set up her pawns--Goldar, the putties, myself--and he chose his. The Power Rangers.”
“Your mother...” Billy paled. “Your mother is Rita Repulsa?”
Scorpina made a face. “That is her latest name. I knew her as Bandora, back many centuries ago when I was a child.” She touched her lover’s arm tenderly. “Mother was not always as you see her now. She has borne so much pain and anguish in her time, and over time it ate away at her sanity until the Rangers were forced to imprison her for her own good. She lay sleeping in that prison for ten thousand years ...until Zordon freed her.”
“Rangers?” asked Egon.
Scorpina smiled. “My beloved and his friends are only the latest to bear that proud mantle. Long ago, the Rangers were a formidable force across the galaxy. I even fought at their side for a time, while waiting for my beloved to return to me.” She glanced at Billy for just a moment, but in that single gaze was so much love and adoration that Janine had to turn away and stifle a sniffle. “Many brave men and women have possessed the coins through the centuries,” Scorpina continued. “But at some point, Zordon obtained all but one coin and kept them to himself until he needed pawns for his little game.”
“So Angel Grove’s a sort of arena for this to-do,” Janine commented. “And Zordon rigged things so that no one outside the city ever wanted to go in, and the people inside never thought twice about giant monsters attacking, teenage superheroes saving the day, and all that?”
“Exactly.” Scorpina paused to sip at a glass of iced tea. “As things were initially set up, the game was ‘winner take all’. But as time passed, it became evident to Zordon that his champions would eventually triumph. Mother and her schemes were simply too easy to defeat. A stronger opponent was needed. So he summoned Lord Zedd, who imprisoned my mother again and started the game anew.”
“And where do you come into all this?” Billy asked.
Scorpina sighed. “After you left me the last time, beloved, I was weary. I decided to sleep until I sensed your return. There is a temple dedicated to me far off in the mountains of my homeland, and there I dwelt until Mother roused me.” She shook her head. “I was not enthused about playing the ‘warrior villainess’, especially after I realized who you were, but...” She raised her hands, palms up. “She was my mother, and I feared for her...” A smile played on her lips. “And ...I confess it was enjoyable.”
“You found trying to kill us enjoyable?” Billy asked with more than a trace of peevishness.
“If I’d truly wanted you dead, my love, you would not be here now.” Something in her tone made him gulp and shut up.
“So what happened when Zedd showed up?” Egon asked.
“I escaped,” Scorpina replied, the smile gone. “He returned Mother to her prison first; while he was busy dealing with her, I fled, thinking that with time I could find a way to free her and leave all this madness behind. I took the identity of Piniko Soga and with the little magic I am able to command, I masked myself from my enemies.” She smiled sardonically at Egon. “Until now.”
Billy frowned. “Adam and Aisha had a run-in with someone calling herself Scorpina.”
“It was not me,” she sniffed disdainfully. “Zedd must have found someone weak-willed enough to fall under his sway and used his power to create his own version of me.”
“Come to think of it, she did stay out of most of the battle,” Billy nodded. “I kept thinking that wasn’t like you.”
“Now you know why.”
“So...” Billy said hesitantly. “If Rita is your mother ...who’s your father?”
His lover shook her head. “I don’t know. Mother was imprisoned when I was very young. The Rangers put me in the care of a group of priests. They raised me to adulthood ...or, more exactly, when I met you for the first time and we ran away together.” She smiled tenderly.
“Hmmm.” Egon was stroking his chin thoughtfully. “Is there any way we can get into the Command Center and rescue Jason and the others?”
Billy shook his head. “There’s no way to get in without a power coin. Adam knocked my morpher off when they attacked us, so I can’t get in.”
“Or the ability to counter Zordon’s wards. They are considerably more powerful than my abilities,” Scorpina added. “Mother could have, at one time, but her imprisonment drained her considerably. I doubt she could do it even now.”
Egon’s head slowly rose; his eyes were shining with the birth of an idea. “That’s it.”
“What’s it?” Janine asked, but Egon was already on his feet. “Janine, get Billy a set of coveralls, then bring everyone up to my lab. Ray, do you remember that dimensional portal project we’d been working on? The one way we originally wanted to send excess PKE into? Didn’t you tell me you’d brought some of the equipment out of storage because of our current crisis?”
“Well, yeah,” Stantz conceded. “It’s in your lab right now. But the energy siphon was destroyed in the initial test!”
“Doesn’t matter.” Egon was already halfway up the stairs. “Scorpina, I need you to come with me. You’re critical to this experiment.”
“For the last time, mad scientist, what experiment?” Peter demanded.
Egon smiled grimly. “We’re going to free Rita Repulsa.”
* * * * *
Janine and Scorpina stood by the lab door, watching Ray, Egon and Billy as they worked on the dimensional portal system. It was almost uncanny how smoothly the younger Spengler meshed with the other two men, supplying tools and equipment with a minimum of talk. In almost no time at all a bizarre-looking contraption was standing in the middle of the room; it resembled nothing less than a metallic arch of sorts, connected to a nearby control panel.
“All right,” Egon said. He switched the construct on, and Janine gasped as the center of the arch shimmered. A rift in the air appeared, slowly stretching out until it completely touched the gateway. “There, it’s working,” the blond Ghostbuster nodded. “Now ...Scorpina, could you come over here?”
“Of course,” she said as she gingerly stepped around the arch. Somehow she’d slipped back into her golden armor when no one had been looking. “What can I do, Doctor Spengler?”
“I suspect you can probably start calling me ‘Egon’,” he said with a tight smile. “Just stand there a moment while I obtain a reading.” He reached over to the bench and retrieved his heavy-duty PKE meter, the model that he used for only the major-league paranormal situations. This time, when he turned it on and waved it around Scorpina, the legs spread wide and a long shriek came from the device, but it did not explode. Egon studied the readings for a moment, then hurried back over to the gateway control panel and entered several notations on the keyboard section.
“What are you doing, Uncle Egon?” Billy asked.
“I’m using Scorpina’s paranormal energy frequency as a baseline for the search parameters. I’m hoping that there’s enough of a similarity between mother and daughter that we can narrow down the number of dimensions we need to search.” Janine moved over to stand with the others, and gasped as she watched sight after bizarre sight flicker and flow through the portal. It looked like that strange Star Trek episode about time travel.
A crisp odor of ozone drifted through the air as the search continued. Egon and Ray babied the construct, regulating the power flow and the speed with great care. Sparks shot from the metallic arch with sharp crackles. “I don’t know how long we can hold it, Egon,” said Ray.
“As long as we can,” the Ghostbuster replied grimly. He took another scan of Scorpina, compared the results to the first time, and made a few minute adjustments to the console.
Minute after minute passed with no luck. Ray’s efforts to keep the device running were growing more frequent. “It’s about to go!” he finally called.
“Just a few more minutes,” Egon pleaded, to Ray or the machine no one could be sure.
And suddenly the image of a remarkably striking woman appeared. Her eyes were tightly shut, and her body lay in funeral-like repose. “MOTHER!” screamed Scorpina.
“Hold it, Ray!” Egon yelled. He and Billy and Scorpina lunged forward as one and reached through the now-shimmering portal, which retracted just a bit from the arch.
“It’s going!” Ray yelled. “Hurry!”
“Just a few more seconds!” The three rescuers felt their hands grab warm flesh, and they pulled in unison as the portal began to collapse on itself. They only barely got the unconscious woman through before the entire portal went up literally in smoke. She fell on top of them like a lead balloon, sending them all sprawling wildly across the floor.
“Egon?” Janine asked, panic in her voice.
“We’re fine,” he assured her as he slowly rose to a seated position. Billy and Scorpina were similarly pulling themselves up. They stared at the garishly garbed woman for a long time, as if willing her to return to life.
The fingers of her right hand, tightly wrapped around a bizarre staff, flexed once, twice.
A soft moan came from beneath the robes. And slowly, surely, she pushed herself up on her hands and knees ...and sighed.
“Ahhh.... after ten thousand years ...I’m free....”
“How long has it been?” Zack asked.
Jason glanced down at his watch. “Eight hours since we got here, fifteen minutes since the last time you asked me.”
“Time flies...” Zack sighed and leaned against the bars of their cell. “How long you think they’re going to keep us here?”
“Till they cure us ...or we starve to death.” Jason snorted and glanced over at Adam and Alpha, who were hunched intently over a console whispering to one another. They’d tried a variety of experiments over the past few hours, most of which involved pretty colored lights and odd noises, but apparently nothing had worked, because the captured Rangers were still in their cell.
If it weren’t so damned serious, it might even be funny, Zack reflected sadly.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Trini grumbled. She was sitting on the floor, her chin in her hands.
Zack winced. “Don’t remind me.” He whistled over at their captors.. “Yo! Adam! Any chance we can have a potty break?”
Adam paled and instinctively glanced over his shoulder, but Zordon had vanished a few hours back. “Uhh ...I don’t know. Alpha?”
“Ay-yi-yi, Adam! Don’t you see? It’s a trick! They want you to free them so they can overpower you and escape!”
Trini stood up. “As if we could even get out of the Command Center, or even back to Angel Grove, without you guys calling the others. Sure.” She folder her arms over her chest and glowered. “Look. Either I get to a bathroom, or you’re going to have to find a mop. Your choice, Adam.”
The young man blanched and looked around for some assistance, but no one save Alpha was present. “Uhh,” he stammered hesitantly. “I ...well...”
Two bright bursts of light--one yellow, one pink--heralded the return of Aisha and Kimberly. The latter was carrying a huge picnic basket on one arm. “Problem, Adam?” she asked.
“Uhhh ...Trini’s got to use the ...you know...”
Aisha shook her head. “And you’re just going to let her sit there until she explodes? Get real, boy.” She pursed her lips and reached over to the cell console controls; a moment later Trini was standing outside the slightly smaller cell. “I’ll take her, Kim. You get dinner ready.”
Kim set the basket down on the floor and regarded Zack and Jason. “What about you guys? Potty emergency yet?”
“Gettin’ there,” Zack admitted.
“Adam, get your butt in gear and show him the way,” Kim ordered. The Ranger looked up, a momentary burst of panic lighting up his features, but the expression on Kim’s face made it clear that no excuses would be tolerated. Sighing, he worked the cell console controls and freed Zack, then indicated with a nod for his prisoner to lead the way.
Adam kept a vigilant watch on Zack the entire time. “Man, are you just going to stand there and watch?” Zack finally demanded out of sheer exasperation.
“I don’t want to give you a chance to escape,” his guard said with what he hoped was calm authority.
“Like I’m going to even try, the way I’m feeling?” Zack rolled his eyes heavenward and tried to focus on the task at hand. “So,” he said a moment or two later. “You’re me. The Black Ranger.”
“Cat got your tongue?”
Adam scowled. “I don’t have anything to say to the likes of you. How you could turn your back on your friends like you did...”
Zack whirled around. “How I could? How could you just go around and take everything Zordon says as fact? When you became a Ranger, did you forget how to think for yourself?” He sighed and shook his head. “I hope to God I wasn’t this bad, but somehow I think I was. Man.”
Adam shuffled his feet nervously but never let his gaze falter. “Zordon says it isn’t your fault. It’s a spell, man. We’ll get rid of it and everything will be okay.”
Before Adam knew what had happened, Zack had lunged forward, grabbed Adam by his uniform and slammed him into the nearest wall.
“You listen, man. You listen, and you think. What have you really accomplished the last eight hours, short of giving me a full bladder and a headache? You aren’t Billy, man. That’s no crime, but don’t you think that Alpha at the very least would have come up with a solution by now?” He stared intently into his successor’s terrified eyes, then abruptly let go and stepped back.
“Come on,” he said in disgust. “Time to take me back to my cell.”
* * * * *
Rita Repulsa’s head moved back and forth feebly. “Free...” she croaked.
Scorpina knelt directly in front of her and reached out to tenderly touch the exhausted woman’s cheek. Rita’s face slowly rose into view, and a small smile shone from her dry, cracked lips. “Daughter...”
“Mother.” Tears shining in her eyes, Scorpina helped her mother to her feet and wrapped one strong arm around her frail form. “This way, Mother. We’ll find a place for you to sit and recover your strength.”
“So ...barren ...so ...dark...” Rita shuffled across the room, supported by her wand on one side and her daughter on the other. Billy came over to offer his assistance, and the old woman abruptly stopped, staring intently into his face. “I ...know you...”
Rita frowned and shook her head.
“The Blue Ranger?”
The frown deepened.
Scorpina smiled. “My beloved.”
The old witch’s eyes narrowed, then her face brightened and she reached out to pat Billy’s cheek. “Ah. Of course.” She allowed the young man to move beside her and lead her to the sleeping area. Rita collapsed on the closest bed and lay back on it, closing her eyes and sighing heavily. “I am so weak ...so drained...”
“It has been a long time, Mother. Rest.” Scorpina accepted the glass of ice water that Janine had brought over and guided the straw to the old woman’s mouth. “It’s going to be all right, Mother.”
Rita grimaced slightly. “Power.... there is a ...power ...here...”
Egon came over to the bed and bent over slightly. “It’s paranormal energy, ma’am. No threat.”
She nodded sagely, then squinted. “You’re ...a Spengler. Aren’t you?”
Everyone blinked in surprise. “Uhh ...yes, I am. How did you know?”
She snorted. “Clear as day. You stand out ...like sore thumbs. Where ...am I?”
“In New York City. Away from Zordon’s influence.”
Rita scowled. “Definitely a Spengler ...too clever for your own good. All right. What’s he up to ...this time?”
“He’s taken over a town called Angel Grove,” the Ghostbuster explained. “It’s some sort of bizarre match between his forces, a group called the Power Rangers--and someone named Lord Zedd...”
“Zedd?” Rita sat bolt upright. “Zedd?” she repeated. “Gods...” She put a hand to her head. “It’s so hard to make sense of everything ...my memories are clouded ...oh, damn you, Zordon, damn you to every hell imaginable, and damn me with you for my foolish pride...”
“Boy, she’s sure getting better fast,” Janine whispered to Egon.
“I know...” he started to reply, but Winston’s frantic call sent him running to the intercom. “What is it, Winston?”
“Egon--it’s the containment!”
His eyes widened. “Is it going into overload?”
“No, man--just the opposite! In the last two minutes, the levels have plunged!”
Nearby, Rita hiccuped and smiled contentedly to herself.
* * * * *
Kimberly walked up to the cell and opened her picnic basket. “Aisha and I figured you guys would be starved,” she said, rummaging through the basket. “So we made some sandwiches and stuff.” She glanced up timidly at Jason. “Interested?”
“That depends,” he replied with a slow grin. “Any of your egg salad sandwiches in there?”
She laughed and handed him one. “I figured you’d want some. Zack? Trini? I’ve got everything you could ask for--chips, sodas, the works!”
Zack glanced up hopefully. “Any more egg salad?” He was rewarded with a flying sandwich. Nearby, the other Rangers had arrived, and they watched the strange scene from the console area. Tommy’s face was twisted in a perpetual grimace.
Trini looked away. “I’m not really hungry,” she whispered.
Her fellow cellmates turned and stared at her. “You have got to be kidding,” Zack declared. “I’ve been spending the last fifteen minutes listening to our stomachs sing a duet.”
“Trini, you gotta keep up your strength,” Jason reminded her. “Aren’t going to do anyone any good if you pass out.”
“I’ve been trying to lose some weight,” she protested weakly.
“Huh?” Zack yelped. “Why?”
“I...” Her shoulders slumped. “All right,” she said meekly. “Just ...anything.” Kim relayed a sandwich to her via Jason, and Trini opened it slowly. The sheer scent of the food made her mouth water furiously, but she forced herself to take slow, small bites and chew everything carefully. Control was essential.
Meanwhile, Jason was starting on his second sandwich. “Heaven as always,” he sighed to Kim’s delight. “Reminds me of the picnic you, me and Tommy went on just before I left for the conference. Up at the Point, remember?”
“Yeah,” Kim smiled at the memory. “That was a perfect day.” Then the reality of now struck, the smile faded, and she looked away. “Jason...”
“Kim.” Slowly, unwillingly, her face turned to meet his intense stare. “Kim, we’ve known each other for a long time, haven’t we?”
“Yeah.” Don’t cry, she ordered herself silently. Don’t you dare cry...
“Have I ever lied to you before, Kim?” She shook her head, feeling the tears welling up and hating herself for her weakness. “Kim ...you’re one of my best friends. You and Tommy both. I couldn’t hurt either of you. Never. I love you guys, Kim. You gotta believe that.”
Oh, damn. There they go, right down the cheeks. And after all the time I’d spent doing my eyes. “Jase...” Without realizing it, her gloved hands had wrapped around the bars of the cell. She felt his hands gently press against them. “Oh, Jason,” she sobbed softly. “What’s going on? I’m so confused...”
“Hey!” Tommy declared hotly, marching over to the cell. “What’s going on...?”
And then all hell broke loose.
* * * * *
Egon, Janine and Billy blinked and looked around them in amazement. One second ago, Rita had suggested they pay a surprise visit to Zordon. Before Billy could explain that he no longer had his power coin, the witch had raised her wand high into the air and shouted something arcane. And now here they were, smack in the center of the Command Center, surrounded by stunned Power Rangers.
“Ay-yi-yi!” screamed Alpha. “It’s the bitch!”
Rita snarled and thrust her wand in Alpha’s direction; a bright yellow burst of energy leaped from the moon-like icon atop it and slammed into the robot. Alpha shuddered violently for a second or two, then tumbled lifelessly to the floor, looking all the world like the proverbial puppet with its strings cut.
Unfortunately, the momentary diversion was enough time for the Rangers to recover from their surprise. “GET HER!” Tommy screamed, turning to leap into the fray.
They never had a chance. Rita extended the wand out at arm’s length and made a long, sweeping arc with it; there were no energy bursts this time, but Egon and the others could sense something filling the room. The Rangers halted in mid-attack, staggering slightly and holding their heads in their hands.
Rita’s gaze now fell upon the prisoners. “Enough,” she said, and suddenly the cell was gone. Jason hurried to Kim’s side and wrapped a supporting arm around her shoulders. Nearby, Trini and Zack were doing the same for Tommy and Adam, respectively. Rocky and Aisha were more or less leaning against each other for support.
“Kim?” Jason whispered.
She looked up slowly. “Jason?” she mumbled dazedly. “What ...I...” She shook her head. “Like, I am so confused...”
“What’s going on?” Tommy said, squinting around at everything.
“Good question,” Zack commented. He looked over at Billy and Scorpina. “You got any answers?”
Billy shrugged. “It’s a very long story. Can you settle for ‘weird stuff’ for now?”
“Yeah,” Zack said slowly. “I think so. For now, anyway.”
Rita, Janine and Egon were standing in the center of the room, watching everything. “Much better,” Rita said with satisfaction. “Much, much better.”
“Great,” Janine nodded. “So, uh, what did you do?”
“I freed them from ...ah.” She glanced up and smiled brightly at the ghostly face glowering down at her. “Speak of the devil.”
“Husband,” she said with a tight smile.
“Husband?” the Power Rangers, past and present, gasped.
“Husband?” Scorpina echoed, glancing first at Rita, then at Zordon.
“Father?” she asked meekly.
* * * * *
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, RITA?” Zordon demanded.
“I’ve freed them from your spell.” Rita lowered her staff to a vertical position. “They can think for themselves now.” The fury in her eyes grew deeper, darker, sharper. “And I’m just warming up, husband.”
The fury now flowed across Rita’s face. “I have a few bones to pick with you, you toad-humping, pasty-faced, lying, deceiving abomination of life itself. You used me. After all we meant to each other ...after all I did for you ...you used me as your plaything. Your little opponent. And I am royally pissed off about it!” Energy crackled around her body, and the top of her wand began to glow ominously.
“THIS IS NOT THE TIME OR PLACE TO DISCUSS SUCH THINGS,” Zordon replied, with just the slightest tinge of worry creeping into his normally calm tones.
“Au contraire, my dear,” Rita smiled nastily. “You manipulated these children as well. They have the right to know just what you’ve done. Let’s explain the spell that made them extremely agreeable to anything ‘wise Zordon’ said to them. Let’s talk about the suppression of their natures so that they’d be ‘good little Rangers’.”
Egon strode over to her side, his gaze seething with barely-contained fury. “While we’re at it, let’s discuss your exposing them to all that morphing energy without any thought to potential aftereffects, shall we?”
Janine jumped in. “Yeah--and let’s talk about sending them into battle time and again. And let’s be sure and talk about how you shattered their bonds of friendship with those phony letters you mailed to them.”
Kim had been listening intently; now she turned around and stared at Jason. “Jase...” she whispered, and without warning leaped into his arms and hugged him tightly. “I knew it,” she whispered. “I knew it couldn’t have been you!”
“Glad you finally admitted it,” he grinned. Kim withdrew, blushing and wiping her eyes on her pink sleeve, then went over to Trini and hugged her as well. Jason turned and faced Tommy. “Well, partner?” he said quietly.
The White Ranger glanced down at his feet for a minute, then took a deep breath and looked his best friend in the eye. “I’m sorry, man. I should’ve known better.” He offered his hand. “Friends?”
Jason shook his head and smiled. “Partners.” He moved forward and embraced Tommy tightly; after a moment, the stunned Ranger returned the bear hug. Nearby, Adam was apologizing profusely to an amused Zack as Aisha and Rocky looked on uncertainly.
“Well, Zordon?” Rita demanded imperiously. “What about your apology to them?”
“IT WAS ...NECESSARY.” The words rang hollow.
“Like hell it was. You manipulated all of us for your own little games, but now it’s over, and it’s time to pay the price.” She raised her wand; a gentle shudder of power filled the room. “It’s time to do what I should have done ten thousand years ago...”
Tommy’s eyes widened as he realized (or thought he realized) what Rita intended. He hurried past his comrades and positioned himself directly in front of Rita. “Don’t.”
Her gaze fell upon him, and the energy buildup subsided. “Tommy,” she smiled. “My Green...” The smile faded as she stared at the different uniform. “No,” she whispered. “You’re my Green Ranger...”
“Not any more,” he said with a smile. “I lost those powers, Rita. Zordon made me the White Ranger instead.”
Rita screamed in anguish and whirled around to face Zordon again, fury and pain etched like jagged lines upon her features. “DAMN YOU, ZORDON! HOW DARE YOU! HOW...DARE ...YOU!” She raised her wand high, and a terrible bolt of lightning flew from the moon, striking Zordon’s interface screen full blast and shattering it into infinitely tiny pieces. “DAMN YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID!” Rita continued to scream, and the energy continued to rage across the now-destroyed construct. “TO HIM ...AND TO ME!”
Tommy grabbed her by the shoulders. “RITA!” he shouted. “RITA!”
She blinked once, twice, and stared into his eyes. The fury slowly ebbed away from her face. And then, to everyone’s surprise, she fell into his arms and began to weep. “Oh, Tommy,” she sobbed brokenly. “My Green Ranger ...my beautiful Green Ranger ...how could he do this ...how ...”
Kimberly had slowly moved over to join her boyfriend. “Rita? What’s wrong?”
The witch squinted through tear-filled eyes. “White ...don’t you see?”
Kim shook her head. “Well ...no, actually.”
Rita shuddered. “I ...I can’t explain. But those rituals have not been performed in thousands of years--with good reason! And he ...he...” And now the tears were falling once more.
“But, like ...Tommy lost his powers,” Kim stammered, trying to understand.
“No.” Rita shook her head. “Impossible. I gave those powers to him. That coin was mine by right, mine to do with as I pleased. And it pleased me to give it to him.” She looked up and caressed Tommy’s face tenderly. “Oh, my lovely Green Ranger...”
Kim scowled. “Like, getting a bit too friendly there, aren’t you?” She folded her arms over her chest expectantly.
Rita laughed through her tears. “My dear, there is no ‘too friendly’ between my Ranger and I. You do remember, don’t you?” she asked Tommy, who was growing redder by the moment.
So was Kim, but for different reasons. “Tommy,” she said in a low voice. “You didn’t...”
“Uhh...” He smiled weakly. “Kim ...she put me under a spell...”
“The first time, at least. The other times were all your idea,” Rita purred. Kim’s hands clenched into twin fists and she stormed off, Tommy glancing back and forth between the two women before chasing the furious Ranger. The others meanwhile tried to look away or hide the grins on their faces.
Egon cleared his throat. “Rita,” he called. “As much as I’m pleased to see everyone friends again, I have to wonder if this is the right place for a reunion.”
“Agreed, Mother,” Scorpina nodded, glancing around the Command Center uneasily. “I am wary of staying in the home of our enemy for any longer than necessary.”
“Good point,” Rita agreed, her eyes still riveted on Tommy’s retreating backside. “Ah well,” she sighed. “Where do you suggest we go, daughter?”
“There is my pocket dimension. Give me a moment to prepare for guests...” Scorpina and Billy winked out of view a second later; Rita sighed again and slumped over slightly. Egon and Janine were instantly at her side.
“Are you all right?” Janine asked.
Rita nodded. “I’m tired, is all. And I’ve used up a good portion of the energy I took from your containment earlier. It was enough to serve my initial purposes, but if I’m to be of any use in the coming battle, I’ll need to tap deeper magicks soon.”
“Coming battle?” Egon echoed.
Rita looked up at him tiredly. “You certainly don’t think this ends his game, do you? No, no, Dr. Spengler. Zordon’s retreated somewhere to lick his wounds and assess his options, but he’s not done. If nothing else, he’ll want to avenge this little humiliation, and...” Her gaze grew troubled. “Zordon ...is much like a child,” she finally said. “He’s been playing with this game for some time now. And now it’s over ...and...”
Rita’s gaze narrowed. “And now it’s time to pick up the pieces and put things away. In this case, Angel Grove, the Rangers, and anything else that suits his purpose.” She slowly straightened up and raised her wand into the air. “Including the entire planet if he’s feeling particularly petulant.”
Before Egon could respond, Rita cast her spell, and one final explosion of light later, the Command Center was empty once more.
|Foreword||One and Two||Three, Four, Five||Interlude I and Six|
|Interlude II, Seven and Eight||Nine, Interlude III, and Ten||Eleven and Twelve||Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen|