|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|
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It was a typical summer day in Angel Grove; the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and a giant monster was menacing the city.
But first, a little background:
The Angel Grove Youth Center was buzzing with people; it was the site of the “Book Fair”, where people could donate all their old, unwanted books and pick up new ones at low prices. In addition, they could buy a delicious fruit beverage from the chubby proprietor known as Ernie and browse along the heavily laden tables set up in the multipurpose area. Proceeds from the driver were going toward purchasing new books for the Angel Grove Library’s children’s section.
The drive had been set up by one of the high school’s brightest students, a lovely, energetic, and highly organized young woman named Aisha. She bounced from table to table, checking to make sure everything was running smoothly and pouncing upon any problems that might come up.
“So, how are we doing?” she asked one of the table monitors. Her dark skin contrasted sharply with the bright yellow blouse and matching shorts she was wearing. “Any problems, Adam?”
The handsome Asian teenager grinned and shook his head. “None at all. Rocky and I are doing just fine.” He dusted off his black muscle shirt and laughed as another young man, this one decked in a red T-shirt, staggered over to table. He was carrying a huge box of books in his arms and looked utterly relieved at having reached his haven.
“Just fine. Yeah, right,” Rocky snorted. “You could have helped, you know.”
“You lost the toss,” Adam reminded him with a grin.
“Yeah, well... ” Just then a very shapely blonde teenager, exquisitely clad in bikini top and bicycle pants, came up to the table with a smaller, lighter box. She smiled brightly at Rocky, who melted under the intensity. “Hey, Rocky, thanks for carrying that in for me. I really appreciate it.” She rewarded him with a kiss on the cheek and another smile. “I’ve got a few more in the car. If you wouldn’t mind, I could really use some more help... ” She walked away; Adam and Rocky watched her go, mesmerized.
They abruptly snapped out of their trances and stared at one another for a minute, then Adam whipped out a coin. “Call it.”
“No fair. I was going to call heads.”
“Then you should have called first,” Rocky pointed out.
“I was trying to be fair,” Adam retorted.
“If you were trying to be fair,” Aisha pointed out as she snatched the coin out of Adam’s hand, “you wouldn’t be using a two-headed coin.” She held it up for Rocky to see, twisting it around so he could see Lincoln’s head on both sides.
“Why do you think I called heads?” Rocky replied.
“Ohhh...” Aisha shook her head. “Go on, both of you. The more help, the better. I’ll stay here until you’re done.” They vanished in streaks of red and black; Aisha smiled and quickly set to work on getting the new books out on the table. So involved was she that she didn’t immediately notice the couple in front of her.
“Hello? Earth to Aisha?” grinned the pretty brunette. Her pink leotard and blouse was a perfect compliment to her boyfriend’s bright white shirt and jams.
“What?” Aisha looked up and blinked. “Oh, hi Kim! Sorry. I didn’t hear you come up.” She smiled brightly at her friends. “So...dropping off or picking up?”
“Like, most of the books I’ve got, no one would want,” Kim sighed. “I don’t think most kids are ready for Harlequin Romances, y’know?”
Tommy made a face and winced. “Shoot--I had some stuff, but I left them in my gym bag.” He smiled apologetically. “Need any help?”
“Always,” Aisha nodded. “If you guys work this table, that frees Rocky and Adam up to unload cars.”
“Like the blonde with the convertible outside?” Kim laughed. “Would you believe they’re trying to prove which one can carry the most books at once?”
“Nothing would surprise me where those two are concerned,” Aisha conceded. Just then a bespectacled teenager, laden with hardcovers, came up to the table. “So, what do you have for the fair, Billy?” she asked.
“Some of the textbooks I read in grade school,” he replied, dusting off his blue coveralls. “I really don’t have much use for them these days, and thought they might help someone become more interested in science or mathematics.”
Kimberly had opened one up and was thumbing through the pages. “Like, Billy, this stuff is tougher than the class I took last semester,” she said in disbelief.
“Really?” He peered over her shoulder and shrugged. “I thought it was remarkably simple, myself.” But before Kim could comment further, a sudden commotion rippled through the room. As the four teenagers watched, the crowd parted so that Angel Grove High’s resident bullies could pass by. Bulk and Skull snickered derisively at the display of fear...or disgust, and strutted up to Aisha’s table.
“So, geeks, how’s your stupid book fair going?” Bulk picked up one of Billy’s books and flipped it open, breaking the spine in the process. Billy started to intercept the rotund bully, but his skinny comrade quickly blocked the way. “Geez, not one picture in this! If I’d had to read this stuff as a kid, I’d probably be as dorky as you!” Bulk crowed.
Tommy smoothly snatched the book out of Bulk’s hands and gave him a long, hard stare. “If you’d learned how to read at all, Bulk, you might border on being human.”
“Hey, I know how to read!” Bulk roughly nudged Kimberly aside and bellied up to the table; he gave the stacks a frantic glance, trying to find something he could tackle without looking bad. Meanwhile, Skull was giggling his trademark high-pitched wail, trying hard to look tough for Kimberly but not too tough for Tommy to take on. It was a difficult undertaking.
Aisha fixed a long-suffering glare upon Bulk. “See anything you’d like?” she asked with saccharine-sweet tones.
“Uhhh...uhhh....” Suddenly his eyes widened, and he lunged forward to pick up an old, battered cardboard book. “It’s Pat the Bunny!” he cried in triumph. “I remember this! I did a book report on it last year!” He waved it wildly at his best (and only) friend. “Skull! It’s Pat the Bunny!”
Skull’s eyes popped out of his head. “Really? You found a copy?” He pressed himself against Bulk’s shoulder. “Read it to me again, Bulk. I can’t remember how it ends. Please? Please please please?”
“It’s all yours, guys,” Aisha declared. The bullies stumbled away, transfixed by the stirring saga in their hands; Kim and Tommy shook their heads and tried not to laugh too loudly as they watched the odd couple leave.
Suddenly four wrist pagers went off, emitting an odd, catching six-note tune. Billy, Aisha, Kimberly and Tommy glanced at each other and quickly made their way through the crowds to the hallway leading to the locker rooms. Rocky and Adam were waiting for them.
Tommy lifted his pager to his mouth. “What is it, Alpha?”
A high-pitched, whiny voice answered him. “Ay-yi-yi, Tommy! Zedd’s sent the Penny Dreadful down to Angel Grove!”
“Can you get a fix on him?” Billy asked, squinting and looking around.
“It looks like he’s somewhere in the city park!” Moments later, the sextet had left the youth center, rollerblading purposefully through the streets of Angel Grove. No sooner had they reached the park playground area, though, then a flash of light exploded nearby. When their eyes cleared, the teenagers found a team of gray, gibbering creatures approaching them, their intentions plainly ominous.
“Putties!” gasped Aisha.
“Let’s do it,” declared Tommy tightly. And so, instead of doing the logical thing--i.e., screaming and hightailing it in the opposite direction--the sextet stormed forward and engaged the man-sized monsters. Tommy bellowed a battle cry and leaped into the air, dispatching the lead putty with a devastating flying kick. The creature fell backwards and slammed into the ground; seconds later, its body fell apart, then vanished.
Kimberly and Billy performed a series of backward flips that drew a trio of pursuers closer. Then, without warning, they pushed off their hands into the air, grabbed hold of a convenient tree branch, and whipped around in a perfect arc. The putties flew backwards and disintegrated instantly.
Aisha growled as a putty snatched her from behind, then used her captor as leverage so that she could destroy its partner, which was approaching directly ahead. She then used the momentum from the kick to good advantage, flipping her self over the putty’s head and dislodging herself from its grip in the process. A few well-placed blows later, there was one less putty menacing Angel Grove.
Rocky and Adam somehow managed to trap a pair of putties on the playground merry-go-round. They each grabbed a bar and started running, making it spin faster and faster. Inevitably the putties lost their grip and went flying through the air, smashing into the ground and falling apart instantly.
Once they were satisfied the threat was over, the teenage team regrouped. “You okay, Tommy?” asked Kimberly.
“Yeah, I’m fine, Kim. Everyone else?”
“We’re cool,” Rocky assured him. “Looks like Zedd’s up to no good again.”
“So what else is new?” Adam pointed out.
There was a sudden flash from nearby, and standing before the teenagers was...well, basically, it was a giant penny with arms and legs, carrying a huge white staff. Lincoln’s face turned to face them. “Fourscore and seven years from now, I’ll be telling everyone how I led Lord Zedd’s invasion and destroyed his greatest enemies!”
Kimberly rolled her eyes. “Like, this is really reaching, y’know?”
“Amen,” Aisha nodded. “Zedd’s losing his touch.”
“Were Rita’s monsters this bad?” Rocky said, shaking his head.
“Discuss Zedd’s style later,” Tommy ordered. “Right now...IT’S MORPHIN’ TIME!”
The teenagers reached behind their backs in one fluid movement, then held out six small metallic devices as one. Their voices called out: “MASTODON!” “TRICERATOPS!” “PTERODACTYL!” “SABER-TOOTHED TIGER!” “TIGERZORD!” “TYRANNOSAURUS!” And with another flash of light and power, where six teenagers had been there now stood The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
“GET HIM!” The spandex-covered heroes leaped into battle, surrounding the bizarre creature and attacking from all angles. The monster flailed about wildly, every so often smacking a Ranger away, but it quickly realized that new tactics were needed. Without warning it vanished--causing a near collision between the Black and Red Rangers--and reappeared a few yards away. Laughing maniacally, it raised its staff into the air and unleashed an incredible barrage of energy. It slammed into the Rangers and sent them flying backwards.
“Oh man!” Tommy, the White Ranger, yelled as he rose to his feet. “This one’s got a kick to him!”
“How about using the Power Gun?” Rocky asked as he raised his Power Sword high into the air.
“Sounds good. Give it a try, guys!” Piece by piece, the Rangers combined their individual weapons--Power Axe, Power Bow, Power Lance, Power Knives, and Power Sword--into one huge gun, then fired at the Penny Dreadful. It screamed angrily as the rays drove it back. And then, without warning, a small bomb fell from the sky; the monster took it into his hands and popped it.
One explosion later, the Penny Dreadful had grown several sizes and was now stomping toward downtown Angel Grove.
“Oh wow,” Kimberly, the Pink Ranger, groaned. “I thought we had him that time.”
“We need the Zords!” cried Adam, the Black Ranger. The others nodded in agreement, then stretched their right arms out into the sky and cried, “WE NEED DINOSAUR POWER, NOW!”
Within moments six massive constructs, resembling a griffin, dragon, lion, unicorn, firebird and tiger, had arrived from out of nowhere. The Rangers leaped into their Zords and wasted no time in assembling the individual pieces into the Megathunderzord. Tommy, in his White Tigerzord, switched his own machine into Warrior Mode and waited for his team to finish. Then the Power Rangers hurried to catch up with the Penny Dreadful, who had already destroyed several (fortunately long-abandoned) buildings and was looking for something else to trash.
When the monster turned around and spotted the two Zords approaching, the Lincoln-face smiled evilly and with a hearty cackle swung the staff forward, sending a massive burst of energy toward the constructs. The blast hit with a blinding flash, and the Rangers tumbled from their positions within the Megathunderzord. The White Tigerzord had managed to take only a glancing blow, though, and rumbled forward, the White Ranger guiding its every move.
“Okay, big guy, you’re about to become chump change!” the White Ranger declared as he sent a volley of crimson fireballs flying. They slammed into the Penny Dreadful and knocked it off its feet. It smashed into a long-abandoned building as it fell, sending a cloud of dust and fragments into the air. By the time the monster had regained its equilibrium, though, the Megathunderzord had recovered and was rapidly moving into killing position.
“Let’s do it!” shouted the Red Ranger. The Megathunderzord unsheathed its samurai sword and lifted it high. For some inexplicable reason, the Penny Dreadful chose a wild, kamikaze attack, running headfirst toward the Megathunderzord and screaming inane threats at the top of its lungs. The samurai sword descended with a long, sweeping arc into and through the monster, causing the Penny Dreadful to fall backwards one final time and explode.
The Power Rangers had once again triumphed over the evil minions of Lord Zedd.
Just a typical summer day in Angel Grove, California.
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Janine Melnitz smiled to herself as she gave the just-arrived vase of roses a tender caress. Who’d have thought that Egon would remember the anniversary of their first date, much less that the unlikely couple would have stayed together this long? And yet they’d somehow managed to forge a wonderful relationship despite their individual foibles and their crazy line of work, and day-by-day Egon Spengler managed to surprise her in new ways.
“Nice flowers,” Peter commented as he passed by her desk. “What’s the occasion? Paycheck cleared?”
Janine snorted. “No, Dr. Venkman. It’s for something you’ll never celebrate unless you settle down,” she replied as she settled behind her desk and switched her computer on. “Dana isn’t going to wait forever, you know?”
Peter’s head popped out from around the file cabinet. “Hey, you worry about your mad scientist, let Dana worry about hers.” A sly grin appeared on his face. “Say, haven’t you and the Crazed Genius reached the one-year milestone as of today?”
“As a matter of fact, we have,” she said placidly, typing her password into the computer. It was the German word for ‘incubus’, suggested by Egon one evening after Janine had found Peter messing with her word processing settings for his own nefarious purposes.
“Really? That’s great. Tell you what...” Two tickets magically appeared in Peter’s right hand. “Just so happens I have a couple of tickets for tonight’s performance of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and Dana and I couldn’t get a babysitter tonight. You guys want to go? Otherwise I gotta give ‘em to Ray, and he’ll bawl during the death scene and embarrass everybody.” He’d never forgotten--nor forgiven--his partner’s blubbing during the Ghostbusters’ viewing of the Disney movie.
“Well...okay.” Egon hadn’t mentioned any plans, and if it turned out he had other ideas about how to spend the evening, she could give them to Ray as payback. “Thanks, Doctor Venkman. If you’ll ever get around to paying me, this job will be perfect.”
“There are beautiful women all over New York just dying to work here for free,” Peter declared, vanishing from sight as he headed for his office.
“Yeah, but they all wind up in the containment,” she retorted, and set to work on the latest round of “Pay Up Or We Return Your Spook” letters. Amazing how few of these she’d had to send out since Peter and Winston had made good on the threat with a few of the more recalcitrant customers. Just then the door to the firehouse opened, though, and she turned in her seat to face the visitor.
Correction--visitors. Three teenagers were walking toward her, two boys and one girl. Their steps were slow and uncertain, and they glanced around warily, as if expecting something nasty to fly out of the shadows at any second. One of the boys, a handsome-looking, dark-haired fellow wearing a red shirt and matching pants, was just ahead of the other two, which probably made him the ringleader.
Janine sighed and waited for them to reach her desk. She wondered idly if this was a charity request, a response to a dare or tourists in search of a tour. She’d bet on the latter two options; they didn’t look or act like New Yorkers. Nice looking kids, all the same, she nodded to herself, especially the dark-haired guy. Yum.
“Excuse me,” Mr. Yum said to her with a shy smile. “This is Ghostbusters, isn’t it?”
“Sure is,” she grinned. “Sign give us away?”
They grinned back, and the leader blushed slightly, which only served to make him cuter. Ah, lust, Janine sighed silently. “What can I do for you?” she continued.
“We’re here to see Dr. Spengler,” the girl, a sweet-looking Oriental dressed in a pleasant yellow blouse and dress, said softly. “Is he available?”
“Well, he’s here, but he’s very busy,” Janine replied. “Can you tell me what this concerns?”
The three teens glanced at one another warily. The other male, a slender African-American, nodded to the other guy in encouragement. “Well...we wanted to talk to him about our friend. His name’s Billy Spengler.”
Janine nodded brightly. “Isn’t he the kid in California?”
“Yeah,” the black guy nodded eagerly. “He talked about his Uncle Egon all the time. See...” He caught himself and smiled. “Let me start from the beginning. My name’s Zack; this is Jason, and she’s Trini. We’re coming back from the Teen World Peace Conference in Europe, and we had some layover time to kill, and so...”
“Ah.” Janine nodded sagely; Egon had shown her several letters from his nephew, and upon reflection she remembered a few of those names, especially the girl’s. Kind of cute, and looked like she had plenty of on the ball. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll go get him,” she said, rising to her feet. “I’m sure we could give you a tour of the place, take you out to lunch...”
“Miss Melnitz?” said the girl in an odd tone of voice; it caused Janine to stop midway up the stairs and look down at the trio. “We’re not really here for a visit,” she continued. “We think there’s a problem in Angel Grove, and Billy might be in danger...”
* * * * *
Egon sat at the head of the dining table; Jason and Zack sat on the left side, Janine and Trini on the right. His ever-present PKE meter lay within arm’s reach, but for the moment he was content to sit with his hands resting on the table as he listened. Only Janine recognized the slightest narrowing of his usually serious features that hinted at the concern he felt for his relative.
Jason glanced over at Trini and Zack for a long moment before clearing his throat nervously. “Ummm,” he began uncertainly. “I...guess you’ve heard of the Power Rangers?”
Egon frowned. “Not really. Should I have?”
“What?” Zack exploded, his eyes wide with disbelief as he rose to his feet. “We’ve been fighting Rita and Zedd’s monsters for two years now! That kind of stuff makes headlines, you know! And you’re saying you’ve never heard of us?”
“Zack,” Trini pleaded quietly. “Please sit down.” The young man stared at his friend for a moment, then sat down with a sheepish expression on his face. “Dr. Spengler,” Trini continued, “with all due respect, I find it hard to believe you haven’t heard of the Rangers. As Zack said, we’ve been...visible.”
“I’m sorry,” Egon said with a shake of his head. “But rest assured Ray and I keep a close watch on the news for unusual phenomena, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of...‘power rangers’.”
The teens glanced at each other again, caught off-balance by Egon’s matter-of-fact dismissal of something that obviously held great import for them. Janine leaned forward and smiled at Jason. “That doesn’t mean he catches everything,” she said with a wink. “He’s been kept kinda busy the last year.”
Jason nodded and smiled back, but the grin was tinged with an uneasy concern. “Okay. I guess I’d better start from the top. About two years ago, a bunch of us were teleported to this command center, where we met Zordon...” He proceeded to explain the incredible story the Rangers’ wise, bodiless mentor had related to them about an evil witch named Rita Repulsa, freed after a ten thousand-year imprisonment, how she was out to conquer the planet in revenge, and how he had chosen the five of them to be granted great powers to be used in defense of their world. “We didn’t believe him at first, but right after we left, we got attacked by Rita’s putties. We realized he’d been telling us the truth, so we went back and accepted his offer...and became the Power Rangers.”
“Putties?” asked Janine.
“Grey guys, kinda rubbery, pretty much useless except as nuisances,” Zack answered with a smile. “They were Rita’s foot soldiers, first wave of attack. They were usually followed up by her ‘Monster du Jour’.”
“So...tell me more about being a ‘Power Ranger’,” Egon ordered, the furrow in his brow deepening. Janine felt her cheery mood fading; the expression on Egon’s face boded ill.
“Zordon linked us to the Morphing Grid,” Trini explained. “We were given symbolic ‘totems’, so to speak, of ancient animals of great power. My totem was the saber-toothed tiger, Jason’s was the tyrannosaurus, Zack’s the mastodon...”
“Kim had the pterodactyl and Billy the triceratops,” Jason completed. “So when we morphed, we had extra strength and abilities, and weapons...”
“...And if we needed ‘em, we could call on our Zords,” Zack jumped in eagerly. “They were machines made up to look like our totems, and if we needed to, we could link ‘em together to form one big Megazord.”
“Zords,” Egon murmured softly. His fingers were drifting toward his PKE meter. “Morphing Grid. Fascinating.”
“Later on, we got a sixth ranger--Tommy. He started out evil, under Rita’s spell, but we broke it and he became the Green Ranger. He had a Zord all to himself--the Dragonzord. But his powers were never too stable--they kept cutting in and out--and eventually, they faded completely. But Zordon gave him new powers and he became the White Ranger,” Jason explained.
“So you fought this Rita person for...what, two years?” Janine asked.
“Actually, only one year,” Zack answered. “She got kicked out by Lord Zedd. He was a lot tougher--we had to go to new, more powerful Zords just to keep up the fight.”
“So...what happened?” Janine pressed. “You keep saying ‘we’, yet here you are. What’s going on in Angel Grove now?”
“We...don’t know,” Jason reluctantly admitted.
“We were selected for the World Teen Peace Conference,” Trini explained. “Zordon transferred our morphing abilities to three others just before we left. So far as we know, they’re still fighting Zedd, along with Billy, Kim and Tommy.” Her face fell for a brief moment. “We...haven’t stayed in touch much.”
Egon had picked the PKE meter up and was fiddling with it. “Yet you claim that they might be in some sort of danger,” he noted.
“We’re not sure,” Jason confessed. “It’s just...not long after we arrived at the conference, we started noticing things. Things felt...different, somehow. It’s hard to explain.”
“Life in Angel Grove seemed much simpler, much more...” Trini struggled to find an appropriate word. “...well, wholesome, I guess.”
Zack took up the line of conversation. “Yeah. I noticed that a lot of the kids were doing things I’d never even thought about doing--drugs, sex, that kind of stuff. They weren’t even being all that discreet about it. I got offered all kinds of things--I mean, that kind of stuff never went on at Angel Grove High School. Never!”
“Anyway,” Jason said, “the more we saw, the more we wondered just what the heck was going on--why we were so different. And when we wrote to the others--Kim, Tommy and Billy, the letters we got back were...” He handed Janine a folded-up pile of notebook paper. “Here. See for yourself.”
Janine carefully unfolded the wad and started reading. By the fifth letter she was ready to explode with indignation. “This is terrible! I thought you said these people were your friends!”
“That’s what we thought, too,” Zack said tiredly. “It didn’t make any sense. And it was like none of the other kids had ever heard of the Power Rangers, either--but I just figured it was because they were from other places. I guess I was wrong about that, too.”
“The other night, we noticed that we were going to have a long layover in New York,” Jason picked up the line of conversation. “I’d remembered all the stuff Billy had said about you, Dr. Spengler, and...well, it just seemed to us like something weird was going on, and you and your friends specialize in weirdness...”
“Hmmm.” Egon looked up from his meter. “Would you mind terribly if I were to take some radiation readings from you?”
“Radiation?” Trini said in alarm. “Why...”
“You had said that your...powers...came from some sort of energy grid,” Egon explained. “It would therefore follow that your bodies would retain some traces of that energy, regardless of how long it’s been since you last accessed that ‘grid’. I’d like to take some readings and pinpoint the radiation frequency. It might be useful later.”
“Well...” Trini said uncertainly. Jason, however, stood up and made a gesture of acquiescence; Egon carefully played the meter along his body, making minute adjustments to the controls from time to time. Zack stood up and allowed himself to be the second one studied, and finally Trini gave in, though the expression on her face was far from pleased.
“Dr. Spengler,” she said when Egon had finished. “This...radiation...could it possibly have a damaging effect on us? I mean, cancer, that sort of thing?”
He looked up from his hastily scribbled notes and pondered the question. “At this point, I couldn’t say one way or the other,” he finally replied. “We’re all bombarded with one kind of radiation or another every day. Until I’ve had time to study the ‘morphing radiation’, for lack of a better term, I couldn’t really tell you more than that.”
“Oh,” Trini said softly. Jason and Zack were standing nearby, talking quietly to themselves but obviously paying close attention to Egon’s statement. Janine quickly sized up the situation as getting too intense and decided a bit of comic relief was in order.
“Oh, don’t let it worry you,” Janine assured the teenagers with a wink and a smile. “I’ve been exposed to PKE for years now, and all it’s done is make me really attractive to ghosts. I bring ‘em in like catnip.”
Jason stepped forward. “So, Dr. Spengler...what do you think?”
Egon pushed his glasses back up his hawkish nose and studied the three teens. “I believe you,” he said quietly. “I think there’s enough evidence to warrant a visit to Angel Grove and see what’s going on. I’d like to do some background research first, however, before we go in, and there may be a few more tests Ray and I would like to run on the three of you. Janine, can you take care of their tickets so that they can stay another day or so?”
“Sure,” Janine nodded. “No problem.”
“But...we don’t have any money for a hotel room,” Trini protested.
“Not a problem,” Janine assured her. “You can stay with me, and Jason and Zack can stay here. No big deal.”
“We don’t want to cause any trouble...” Jason began.
“You aren’t. We tend to keep odd hours this time of year,” Egon replied. “I imagine we’ll need to run by LaGuardia to pick up your luggage--we’ll do that when Ray and Winston get back with ECTO-1. Janine, I’m going to need an airline ticket to Angel Grove along with them.”
“I’ll call and make the reservations,” she agreed. “Two tickets to Angel Grove...”
Egon looked up in surprise. “No. Just one.”
“I’m going with you.” He opened his mouth to protest, but she gave him the patented Melnitz Stare that had forced dozens of salesmen, cranks, weirdos and bill collectors to retreat with their tails between their legs. “And we’ll need a room at a decent hotel...”
“Two rooms,” Egon pointed out firmly.
She glared at him intently. “One. Room. Egon.”
He glanced worriedly toward the teenagers, who were politely pretending they hadn’t heard a word. “Do you really think it’s a good idea to advertise the fact we’re...you know...?”
“I’ve got no reason to be ashamed, Egon. Do you?”
“No,” he said, desperately pleading. “But Janine, think about how it would look...especially if Angel Grove is in the grip of some sort of ‘wholesome’ spell.”
She considered that for a time, then reluctantly nodded. “Two rooms,” she conceded, then her eyes flashed. “Connecting rooms.”
Jason, Trini and Zack were the last ones off the plane. They paused just outside the 747's door and looked warily at one another. “This is silly,” Trini commented, but she stayed where she was.
“I know,” Zack nodded. “I mean, they aren’t going to be there waiting for us. Not after the things they said in those letters. And even if they are, they wouldn’t try anything. Would they?”
Trini took a deep breath. “Look,” she said with a resolve she did not feel. “Our parents are waiting for us. We’ll all go home, have dinner, go to bed, and in the morning we’ll probably realize we were worrying about nothing. It’s all been in our imaginations--culture shock, being away for so long, being around all these strangers. We just need some time to readjust. We’re home. It’s going to be okay. Right, Jason?”
Jason said nothing for a long time; his eyes seemed fixed on some distant horizon only he could see. Finally he nodded at his friends and took a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
To their relief, the only people standing there were their parents. The three teenagers were quickly engulfed in family embraces and rapid-fire conversations about how much they’d been missed, how was the trip, what was Germany like, and a thousand other questions and answers about nothing in particular. They picked up their luggage from the carousels, headed to their respective cars, and left the airport for home, each looking out the window at the passing scenery and thinking how nothing had changed in the meantime, and yet everything had.
Under the circumstances, they could be forgiven for not noticing the young Oriental woman who had been standing a short distance from the arrival gate. To be honest, while she was very attractive, there was nothing else that particularly set her apart from the crowd, unless one happened to make eye contact. Then someone might shiver as an eerie sensation came from the girl’s gaze, something akin to timelessness that, as soon as it hit, made one look away hurriedly.
She waited until she was sure they’d gone, then left the airport herself, her gait strong and steady, almost reminiscent of a soldier.
* * * * *
No one noticed the nondescript sanitation engineer who was aimlessly wandering around the terminal with his equipment cart, either. If anyone had bothered to keep an eye on the man in the grey jumpsuit, he or she might have noticed that while the worker appeared to be quite busy, he never actually did anything . . . except follow the three families down to the luggage retrieval area, his eyes locked upon the three teenagers who’d just arrived.
The worker was in fact performing a valuable function for someone. From his citadel on the moon’s surface, Lord Zedd, master of all things evil and despicable, gazed through his minion’s eyes and clenched his skinless fist tightly. Nearby, his chief lieutenant, a huge winged gorilla decked out in golden armor, paced anxiously from one end of the main chamber to the other, waiting for his master’s orders.
Zedd hissed as he recognized the teenagers. “So . . . ” he hissed through his chrome mask. “They have returned.”
The monkey, Goldar by name, jumped to attention. “What is it, my dread master?” he growled happily. “Who has returned?”
“The three original Rangers, you fool.” Zedd leaned back against his throne and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He was an odd sight, looking very much like a walking version of the “your body’s muscle system” illustrations found in a high school biology textbook. Skinless, clad only in a chrome exo-skeleton that connected to his faceplate, Zedd was nonetheless an intimidating, terrifying sight. “So . . . ” he repeated. “Zordon calls his children home, no doubt to prepare for one final assault against me.”
“Let me lead my putty army against them, Lord!” Goldar pleaded. He unsheathed his sword and waved it wildly through the air, letting it punctuate each word with a brutal swipe. “Let me purge us of the Power Rangers once and for all!”
“Yes, yes,” Zedd nodded absently, waving his hand for silence. “But not just yet. Let Zordon show his hand first. Then we will unleash all our forces at once, crushing his pitiful team once and for all! And once that has been accomplished, the rest of the planet is ours for the taking!”
“An excellent plan, my Lord!” Goldar cried, ever adaptable to his master’s whims. “I will be proud to lead the assault! Say the word and I shall begin gathering your servants!”
“Not just yet,” Zedd snapped. “It is too soon. Zordon might be monitoring our every move. I do not want to alert him that we know his ultimate plan. Let us continue to watch and wait for the right moment to strike.” He flicked his power wand slightly, and in response a portal shimmered into existence before him. A moment later, and his putty-eyed view of the airport came into view; they watched as Jason bent down to pick up his bags.
Goldar’s grip tightened around his sword. “Yessss ...” he hissed softly. “Red Ranger. I have much to repay you for . . . ”
“When the moment is right,” Zedd growled, “you will have him all to yourself. For now, we watch and wait.”
“As my Lord wishes,” Goldar said, bowing to his master but still watching Jason with hungry, eager eyes.
* * * * *
“Do you want to go to Ernie’s?” Trini’s father had asked. In fact, her mouth had been watering for one of his bizarre but incredibly delicious creations, but the thought of running into . . . them . . . put a chill in her belly. She opted instead for Wardell’s Steak House and hoped that the salad bar was as good as she remembered. Along the way she stared out the window and realized to her shock that Zack had been right--there was not a single McDonald’s in Angel Grove. Odd how she’d never noticed that before.
The waiter, a handsome, clean-cut guy that Trini vaguely remembered from school, took their order. While the rest of her family ordered steaks or burgers, Trini chose to stick to the salad bar. Her mother peered over her bifocals and studied her daughter. “Young lady,” she said in mock disapproval, “at these prices, you do not drag us out here and then choose a vegetarian meal.”
“I’m sorry,” Trini apologized. “I need to watch my weight. I put so much on in Germany.”
“Where?” demanded her younger brother Jackie. He regarded her thin frame carefully. “The only extra weight you brought home is in your suitcase--I know it was lighter when you left!” Everyone laughed heartily and dug into their meal, and so caught up was her family in the wonderful stories she told about her trip that no one noticed Trini’s plate was still relatively untouched when they left the restaurant.
Trini showed them her pictures and handed out her souvenir gifts, then pleaded exhaustion and went upstairs to bed. She changed into a nightgown and padded into the bathroom to brush her teeth. Before she left, though, she quickly stepped on the bathroom scale and peered at the digital readout. Relieved at the results, she sighed and returned to her room.
She was about to turn off the lights when she spotted a picture on her desk. Trini walked over and picked it up, staring at the six smiling faces in the shot. It had been taken only weeks before she, Jason and Zack had left for the conference. How could so much have changed in so short a time? How could everything have fallen apart so quickly, so irreparably?
Her eyes drifted unwillingly to her nightstand. A small figurine of a robotic saber-toothed tiger stood watch beside the bed. It had been a present from Billy, who had somehow managed to persuade Alpha into giving him the plans, tools and materials to build a miniature version of her beloved Zord as a goodbye gift. She had been touched beyond measure by the gift. How could Billy--kind, gentle, Billy-- have turned around and written such hateful things to her only weeks later?
Trini sniffed back her tears and turned off the light. But before she closed her eyes, she reached over and plucked the tiny Zord from the nightstand, clutching it tightly to her chest as she drifted off to sleep.
* * * * *
Zack took a deep breath and savored the incredible aroma, the indescribably delicious aroma, of barbeque, and knew that at long last he was home.
He sat outside on the back porch and watched his father baste--no, caress--the ribs and burgers on the grill with his homemade sauce, giving each piece loving attention. Inside, his mother alternated between the corn on the cob, the mashed potatoes, the biscuits, and slapping the hands of his brothers and sisters whenever they attempted to snag a piece of chocolate cake. Zack watched it all, breathed everything in with great relish and savored it. Be it ever so humble, there was no place like home.
“So,” his father said as he placed the lid back on the grill. “Meet any pretty girls over there?”
“A few,” Zack conceded.
“Get anywhere with ‘em?”
“Uhhh... ” A difficult question to answer; Zack could have gotten much, much further with a few of the ladies he’d charmed, had he been interested, but his mother had raised him to be a gentleman at all times, so he’d declined their invitations, no matter how aggressive they’d gotten. And a few had gotten very aggressive--there was the one who’d somehow gotten into his bedroom and had been waiting for him when he’d returned, wearing the covers and nothing else.
“Don’t worry,” the old man assured him with a wink. “I won’t press. Just hoped you treated them with respect.”
“I did, Dad.” Just then his mother appeared in the door, flashing a grin that meant something was up. “Mom?”
“Someone’s here to see you, Zack.” For a moment his heart froze, fearing that Tommy or Kimberly had found out about their return. And at the same time he felt angry that he’d be worried about them finding out--what would they do? What could they do, with his family right here around him? Then he thought about the morphers, and the Zords, and the chill returned for a brief instant before his mother moved to one side and revealed . . .
“Angela!” Zack leaped to his feet and raced over to embrace her tightly.
* * * * *
Long after the Dinner of the Gods, Zack and Angela went for a moonlight walk. For a long time neither said anything, merely strolled side by side down the sidewalk stealing shy glances at each other. Finally Zack offered his hand, and she accepted it with a bright smile and giggle.
“I’ve missed you,” she said softly.
“I’ve missed you,” he echoed.
“Oh, I’m sure,” she drawled. “I know you, Zack. You were dazzling every girl there from day one.”
“Not really. You’ve seen first-hand how ‘dazzling’ I can be when there’s a pretty girl involved.”
“I always found it kind of sweet, the way you stumbled all over yourself to impress me. Kind of flattering, really.” She blessed him with another shy, sweet smile, and they walked hand-in-hand around the block in companionly silence before returning to his house. He motioned to the front porch swing, and she nodded.
Zack felt at peace. It didn’t matter how his old friends felt about him. None of that Power Ranger stuff mattered right now. He was home at last, sitting with a beautiful girl in a picture-perfect setting, and all was right with the world.
“Angela?” he found himself asking.
“Hmmm?” Her head was resting on his shoulder. Nice.
“Do . . . do you talk to Tommy, or Billy at all?”
“Not really. They all seem to keep to themselves, they and those three kids that came here at the beginning of the school year. You know, Adam, Aisha and . . . Rocky?”
“No reason.” She lifted her head up and turned to examine his face closely. Zack couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity; he slowly leaned over and kissed her softly, gently on the lips.
To his surprise and pleasure, she returned the kiss . . . with interest.
* * * * *
Jason’s mother had, as usual, surpassed herself with a magnificent feast. She watched approvingly as he devoured three helpings of pot roast, mashed potatoes and green beans. “I knew they weren’t feeding you right over there,” she said as he downed his second glass of milk.
He shook his head and smiled. “The food was fine, Mom. I just skipped lunch today, that’s all.”
“Why ever for?” she demanded, shocked.
“Because I knew you’d be cooking dinner,” he replied with a wink. He was rewarded with a pleased smile from his mother and an approving nod from his father. Next came pumpkin pie for dessert--Jason’s favorite--and after helping his mother with the dishes, he sat down and told all the expected stories of how great the conference had been, all the wonderful people he’d met and the things he’d seen (complete with photos). It wasn’t until ten o’clock that he could plead exhaustion and head up to his room.
Jason shut the door behind him but did not turn the light on, preferring the light of the full moon for the moment. His mother had left his things untouched, unless you counted the periodic dusting. His fingers drifted across the numerous trophies he’d won at the martial arts tourneys, and as he touched each one he smiled, remembering each match with perfect recall. Then one particular trophy, smaller than the others, came into contact with his fingertips, and his hand shot back as if burned. He stared at it for a long time, the smile no longer etched on his lips.
It was the award from the match where he’d met Tommy. They’d fought to a draw, and had afterwards jokingly agreed to trade off the award every six months. They’d been opponents then, quickly became partners, almost brothers. And now . . . what?
Jason moved to his desk, where a framed picture sat on the top shelf. He picked it up and studied it. There he was, standing proudly alongside his best friends. Kimberly. Billy. Zack. Trini.
He heard a soft sigh drift across the room and went to close the window, only to find it had been shut all along.
* * * * *
Angel Grove was ringed with a small mountain range. Nestled high in the midst of the most imposing hills sat a bizarre looking citadel. The architecture defied description; oddest of all, there wasn’t a single door to be found anywhere along the exterior. Most of the hikers and rock climbers who’d found it over the years gave it a long once-over, shrugged in bewilderment, and moved on.
Which was just the way the two inhabitants of the building wanted it.
Deep inside the building, two voices could be heard:
“Ay-yi-yi! They’ve come back!”
“I KNOW. IT CHANGES NOTHING.”
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
|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|