Reality Check

by Jeff Morris

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


Egon and Janine arrived in Angel Grove the next day. Their flight had been fairly uneventful save for an odd tingling sensation that struck about the time they reached the city limits. Janine shuddered and glanced over at Egon, but the scientist merely nodded thoughtfully to himself and muttered “Fascinating.” He wouldn’t elaborate further, much to her dismay.

They rented a car upon arrival and headed for their hotel. “Here you are, Dr. Spengler,” The front desk manager of the Angel Grove Holiday Inn said, handing him a key.  “Room 105. King sized bed, as you requested.”

“But...” He stole an angry look at Janine, but the redhead was just as flustered as he was. “Are you sure...?” he began to ask, but the manager suddenly recalled having a message waiting for Dr. Spengler and his wife.  Egon took the note and read it quickly, then thanked the manager and, taking Janine gently by the arm, hurried back to their rented car.

“What’s going on?” she demanded. “Egon, I swear I reserved two rooms!”

“I know.” He handed her the note:

You’re not fooling anyone, you know, and we can’t afford two rooms. Have fun.


“This calls for special consideration on the perfect way to kill him when we get back,” Janine said with a smile. Egon returned it with one of his own, then drove around to the back of the building to their room. Once inside, Janine took charge of unpacking the suitcases while Egon brought in his equipment bag and began setting up shop. He’d brought a variety of research tools along--a spectra-gigameter, two of his wide-range PKE meters, a box or two of spare parts for those ‘just in case’ situations that always seemed to crop up--and in the center of his operations base sat his pride and joy--a slender laptop computer.

Egon had purchased it from a wholesale manufacturer with “the works”--maximum speed, maximum memory, maximum hard drive, internal modem, sound card, CD-ROM--and subsequently taken it to the Banzai Institute, where their computer wizards managed to juice it up even further. Peter had blessed it with a “Ghostbusters” logo on the back of the monitor and the sobriquet “Spooktop”, and Ray had loaded it with a multitude of programs that could come in handy while doing field research.  He had also, Egon had discovered to his dismay one dismal evening while they’d been stuck in a cheap hotel on their way to a call, loaded it up with DOOM and DOOM II. He’d also managed to set up a security system that prevented anyone from deleting the games.

The one thing that was missing from the entire setup was a printer. Whenever anyone asked him about it, Egon simply peered down through his glasses at the inquirer and said, “Print is dead.”  Besides, when you came equipped with a nearly photographic memory, paper copies were pretty much redundant.

Egon hooked up the modem line to the room’s secondary phone line--it had taken awhile, but the hotel industry had finally seen the light and listened to the pleadings of thousands of computer-laden travelers--and called up his standard diagnostic program to make sure the computer was working correctly. While it ran, he picked up one of the meters and went outside. Janine put the last of her outfits on a hanger and joined him. “What’s up?”

“Hmmm.”  Egon was studying the fluctuating needle on the base of the device. “This is interesting.”

Janine frowned. “Is this place haunted? That thing’s really jumping, Egon.”

“The meter’s not set up to track standard PKE.”  He shut the meter off and retracted its legs.  “I recalibrated it before we left to pick up the ‘morphing grid’ radiation we found on those teenagers.”

“Are you saying this hotel’s got that radiation too?”

“No. The entire town is covered in a radiation similar enough to the one found on Billy’s friends that my meter can detect it, but it’s subtly different.  Fascinating.”  He stroked his chin thoughtfully. At that moment one of the hotel staff--from the look of it, the one with the strongest back and biceps--came puffing toward them. He was pulling a luggage rack bearing a huge shipping trunk with the instantly recognizable “Ghostbusters” logo on it.

Janine winced as the young man gently maneuvered the cart into the room and placed the heavy trunk in an unoccupied corner. “Here,” she said with a warm smile as she tipped him generously. “Find yourself a good chiropractor, and thanks, okay?”

By the time she’d shooed him out the door, Egon already had the trunk open and was inspecting the contents.  “Excellent,” he nodded to himself as he ran a quick check on the proton pack inside.  “No damage at all.” He lifted the pack out of the carrier and set it on the bed. “I was thinking that we ought to keep this in the trunk of the car for the time being.”

“You really expecting spook trouble?” Janine asked worriedly.

“To be honest, I have no idea what to expect,” Egon replied. “But if something bad does happen, I’d feel better having one of these close at hand.” He gave the pack a reassuring pat.

“Well ...okay.” Janine clapped her hands together. “So, we’re all settled in, and your computer says it’s hunky-dory, so let’s go get something to eat, okay?” Janine took Egon’s arm and guided him toward the rental car. “And I do not want fast food, so let’s rule that one right out!”

Egon nodded and opened the driver’s side door for her, then hurried back into the room and retrieved the pack, which he placed in the trunk. “There’s that youth center and juice bar Zachary told us about,” he offered as he got in on the passenger’s side. “The food sounds adequate, and Billy might be there.”

“Adequate?” Janine shook her head. “Anything edible is ‘adequate’ to a teenager, Egon.” She considered the possibilities among the restaurants she’d spotted on their drive from the airport, but nothing satisfactory came to mind. “Oh, all right,” she sighed. “Let’s give it a try. I’ll settle for anything that doesn’t begin with a ‘Mc’.”

* * * * *

Zack should have been surprised to see Jason at his front door, but somehow he knew better. “What’s going on, Jase?”

Jason’s features were grim. “Let’s head over to the Juice Bar.”

“Jase, you know that’s not a good idea,” Zack warned. “They’ll be there. And Dr. Spengler suggested we lay low until he had a chance to check things out.”

“I know what he said.”  It was quite clear that Jason had other ideas and wasn’t open to new ones.

Zack sighed; better to go along and watch his friend’s back than to let him get clobbered alone. “Okay, man,” he shrugged. “Let me call Trini first. Might as well do this together . . .”

* * * * *

Janine drove; Egon was busy taking periodic readings with the PKE meter and jotting them down in a tiny notepad. Fortunately, the streets of Angel Grove had been laid out by a man of vision, not a sadist, so the address for the Angel Grove Juice Bar and Youth Center was easy to track down. Oddly enough, the traffic wasn’t bad for rush hour.

The center was noisy but not unbearably so; from the look of things, it was the place for teenagers to hang out. Fully half of the main room was set up as a gymnasium of sorts, complete with exercise machines, tumbling mats, balance beams, climbing ropes--just about everything one would need for a good workout.  Janine watched as one lithe gymnast executed a series of movements on the balance beam with deceptive ease; she finished with a perfect backflip and landed on the mat in textbook form.  She accepted a pink towel from one of her friends and wiped the sweat away, then turned to watch something going on nearby. Janine followed the girl’s gaze and had to admit it was something worth watching.

He was tall, muscular without being bulky, and had a set of buns that took Janine’s breath away. His long, black ponytail flew through the air as he performed a series of flying kicks, each punctuated with a loud combination cry and grunt. He seemed oblivious to the fact that everyone in the place had stopped what they were doing to watch him; he seemed oblivious, in fact, to everything but his workout. Janine sighed despite herself and decided that this was what they meant by ‘poetry in motion’.

“Janine,” Egon said quietly. She jumped, startled, and glanced guiltily over at him. He nodded toward the exercise area. “I’m picking up strong traces of residual morphing energy out there, in clusters.”

“The Rangers?” Janine asked softly. Egon nodded once. “Lay odds the martial arts guy is one of them,” she whispered.

“Quite likely,” Egon agreed. “In fact, I’d hypothesize that he’s Tommy.”

At that moment a large, round-faced fellow with an apron came over. He studied the strangers intently for a moment, his gaze lingering on the PKE meter for the longest time. Finally, he smiled hesitantly and said, “Can I help you with something?”

“Oh, yes, forgive me,” Janine said quickly. “We’re relatives of Billy Spengler--we happened to be in town and heard that he might be here. Have you seen him yet? My name’s Janine Melnitz, and this is Billy’s uncle, Egon.”

The man’s face filled with recognition. “Dr. Spengler? Of the Ghostbusters?  Sure, sure--Billy talks about you all the time.  How ya’ doin’? My name’s Ernie; I run this place.”  He shook their hands warmly and guided them over to the bar. A pretty Japanese girl was sitting there sipping at some fruity concoction, her eyes studying Egon and Janine with equal parts curiosity and caution.  “Billy hasn’t come in yet--Piniko here says that he had to finish some lab work at school.  Piniko Soga, this is Billy’s Uncle Egon and Aunt Janine.”

The girl smiled hesitantly and nodded. “I pleased to meet you. Billy has spoken often of you.  But he hadn’t told me of your marriage.”

“We’re not married. Yet.” Janine smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Egon smiled thinly and nodded, quickly returning his attention to his meter. From the way he was fiddling with the settings, Janine figured he’d picked up another anomaly and wanted to get a better fix on it.  “So,” she continued brightly, “I take it you’re a friend of Billy’s?”

“Yes, I am,” she said, a shy blush drifting across her cheeks. “Billy has been tutoring me.”

“Piniko’s parents recently moved here from Japan,” Ernie explained. “She’s attending summer school, trying to get up to speed, and Billy has been tutoring her. He’s also been helping out with the science classes.” He gave Egon a funny look--the Ghostbuster was waving the meter around again and squinting at the readings--then shrugged to himself. This was obviously a man who was used to dealing with Spenglers in his place.

“I see,” Janine nodded, wondering if biology was once of the subjects they’d been studying. She was very pretty, and her rather plain-looking clothing couldn’t completely hide hints of impressive curves.  Then again, Billy was a Spengler....  “Are, um, any of Billy’s other friends here?” she asked Ernie. “I’ve heard so much about them through his letters ...Egon lets me read them; he’s very proud of Billy, you know.”

“Oh, yeah.” Ernie pointed toward the martial artist, who had stopped his routine long enough to accept the gymnast’s towel with a big smile. “Those two are Tommy and Kimberly. Aisha’s the girl in yellow close by. And over in the corner are Rocky and Adam on the weights.”  A nicely-proportioned Oriental boy was pumping iron, spotted by another handsome fellow in a red muscle shirt. Perfectly normal looking, every one of them, especially if you ignored the fact that their clothing choices paralleled the Power Ranger uniforms perfectly. And no one’s noticed, Janine thought to herself in amazement. Egon’s right--there has got to be a stupidity spell on this town.

Someone abruptly jostled Janine from behind; she whirled around angrily to find two young men leering obnoxiously at her. They were dressed primarily in grimy black clothing and faded T-shirts; one was huge, the other almost pathetically skinny.  “Hey,” she growled at them in her best ‘I’m a redhead from Brooklyn’ voice. “Watch the hands or lose ‘em.”

The skinny one emitted a horrible, warbling giggle that set Janine’s teeth on edge. The fat one snorted in derision and stuck his tongue out at her, then suddenly noticed Egon working with his meter.  “Hey, Skull,” Fatboy announced loudly. “We got a grownup geek here playing with his toys.”

Egon slowly looked up at the intruders, his gaze the picture of cold annoyance.  “Pardon me?” he said quietly.

“Maybe he’s related to Billy the Science Dweeb, huh, Bulk?” ‘Skull’ said with another high-pitched giggle.  From the corner of her eye Janine noticed Piniko’s body stiffen and assume an offensive crouch--even odder, her right hand drifted down to her thigh, as if reaching for something that couldn’t be seen.

Egon’s gaze dropped fifty degrees.  “As a matter of fact, I am. I’m Doctor Egon Spengler. Of the Ghostbusters. Perhaps you’ve heard of us?” Janine cringed as she recognized the tone of his voice. It was one she rarely heard, but when it emerged, it boded ill for the recipient.

Not that these two dummies caught on.  “Ghostbusters?” ‘Bulk’ howled.  His fingers danced in the air in front of Egon’s face. “Oooooohhh! Save me, Skull! The spookman’s gonna get me! I am sooooo scared!” Their laughter brayed all through the juice bar, catching the attention of the five teenagers who had been working out, oblivious to the exchange. Now they were grouped together, watching closely and whispering to one another.

Egon slowly stood up, raising himself to full height. He stared coldly at the two teens. “You ought to be. I’ve detected a class seven, free-roaming vapor in this room.”  He held up the PKE meter, which was beeping merrily to itself, legs fully extended. “Class sevens are very nasty things to deal with. I know from experience.”

Bulk’s cocky, defiant expression wavered just a fraction. “S-so what? How do I know you’re tellin’ the truth?”

Egon smiled thinly. “You don’t. But you see, one interesting thing we’ve discovered about class sevens is that they’re easily annoyed. Loud noises, especially. And they don’t like hostile emotions or actions, either.” He leaned closer to the now-trembling duo. “And you know what else?”

“Wh-what?” they asked in unison.

Egon’s smile grew.  “They attach themselves to the sources of those irritations ...and they wait until nightfall ...when the sources are at rest ...and then....”

“WHAT?” Bulk and Skull screamed.

Egon pulled away, the smile gone.  “Well ...let’s just say I hope you don’t find out the hard way. It isn’t pretty.”

Bulk and Skull took one look at Egon, took another at each other, and fled out the front door as fast as they could.  The rest of the juice bar applauded Egon for his performance, but the scientist was already returning his attention to his meter. Janine ordered two strawberry floats and leaned over to kiss her favorite scientist on the cheek. “You were wonderful, Egon,” she whispered. “I almost believed you.”

“I wasn’t completely lying,” he replied under his breath.  “I’m getting some strange readings ...and one of them was definitely reacting to those two’s presence in a very hostile manner.”

Janine looked over her shoulder at Piniko, who was sipping at her shake but stealing glances at Egon all the while.  “Aim your meter at her,” she whispered.

Egon looked up at her and blinked. “Why?”

“Just do it,” she hissed.  Egon nodded and pointed the meter at Piniko Soga.

Jason, Trini and Zack walked through the front door.

The quintet in the gym area turned around as one.

And Egon’s meter squealed pathetically and exploded.

Janine’s attention flip-flopped between Egon, who had dropped the smoking meter on the floor and was trying to put it out, and to the showdown going on nearby.  Tommy had taken three steps forward, but Kimberly had wrapped her arms around his. “Don’t,” she frantically pleaded with him. “Calm down, Tommy. It isn’t worth it. Don’t make a scene...please . . .”

But Tommy was focused on only one person in the room. He gently extricated himself from Kim and stepped forward. His fists were clenched in tight balls; his jaw was clenched in an angry grimace.

Jason walked right up to him. “Hello, Tommy. Long time.”

Anger flooded the handsome boy’s features. “You got a lot of nerve coming back here, man!” he growled at Jason. “Especially after the things you said to Kim! I don’t know what got into you, but if you don’t leave now, there’s going to be a showdown--once and for all!”

Confusion fell across Jason’s face. “What I said? What about what you guys said ...?”  He started to raise his hands in a pleading gesture, but Tommy suddenly reared back and lashed out with a classic roundhouse right that sent Jason spinning back and to the floor.  Trini and Zack hurried over to where their friend lay; Kimberly and Adam grabbed at Tommy and pulled him back before anything else could happen. 

“You stay away from us!” Tommy bellowed at the fallen Jason. “You stay away, especially from me and Kim! You hear me!” Jason slowly rose into a sitting position and absently wiped at the trail of blood coming from his mouth. He didn’t speak, didn’t move, simply continued to stare blankly at Tommy and the others as they headed for the back entrance.

Janine hurried over and took the young man’s face in her hands, studying the already-swelling bruise with the expertise that came from nursemaiding four men who ran around hurting themselves on a daily basis. “Jason?” she asked. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

He turned in the direction of her voice and focused on the two raised fingers on her hand. “Two, Ms. Melnitz,” he said in a shaky voice.

“I knew we should have stayed away, but he insisted,” Trini explained as she and Zack hoisted Jason to his feet. The woozy teen let his friends guide him to a corner table, where Ernie was waiting with a towel full of ice. After making sure the boy would be all right, Janine hurried back to Egon’s side. The scientist was gazing down at the remains of his beloved meter, consternation on his face.

“I hate when that happens,” he muttered, waving the few remaining wisps of smoke away.

“So what did happen?” she asked softly, glancing around for Piniko. The girl was nowhere to be found.

“I was getting multiple readings,” he explained, accepting a dustpan from Ernie and scooping up the pieces of his device with it. “I was attempting to recalibrate the meter to differentiate, but the moment I picked up a discrete reading from that young lady...” He abruptly looked around. “Where did she go?”

“I don’t know,” Janine replied. “So, what? Was the concentration of Rangers too much for the meter?”

“Rangers?” Egon blinked, confused. Then he shook his head. “You don’t understand, Janine. I’d already screened their energy patterns from the scan. It couldn’t have been them.”

“You mean...?” Janine gasped.

Egon nodded grimly.  “There was a third paranormal source in this room ...beyond the Power Rangers ...and beyond Piniko.”




Billy sighed and shifted his backpack four degrees to the right as he headed up the sidewalk toward the juice bar. He was still a bit despondent over his lab experiment’s latest results, which had been far less successful than he’d hoped. At least the fire had been quickly extinguished, as had Mr. Kaplan’s hairpiece, though the high school principal hadn’t looked very pleased with him, even after Billy had promised his family would make restitution.

Billy had just reached the front of the juice bar, remembering his Uncle Egon’s statement that things like this were bound to happen when a scientist explored the frontiers of the unknown, when Piniko Soga came running out of the building, looking quite pale and shaken. “Billy!” she cried out, tumbling into his arms with a sob. “It was terrible ...just terrible!”

“Piniko?” Using one arm to hold her closer, Billy reached around with the other into his pants pocket to retrieve a slightly wrinkled handkerchief. “What was terrible? What happened?”  He glanced down at his communicator, but it was silent; logic therefore indicated that the source of Piniko’s distress was more mundane in nature.

“Your friends...” she gasped, dabbing at her tears with the hankie. “Those three people who used to be friends of yours appeared out of nowhere ...there was an altercation ...and your Uncle Egon was in there, and his device exploded...”

“Uncle Egon?” That was a surprise, to be sure. Billy would have thought his uncle would have called ahead to let him know about the visit. Illogical ... He put the bit about the exploding device to one side--being a Spengler himself, this was nothing unusual, merely one of those things--and focused on the first part of her statement.  “Piniko, are you saying Jason, Trini and Zack were here?”

She nodded. “Tommy lost his temper and struck Jason ...then left with Kim and the others. It was very upsetting, Billy; I had to leave...” She buried her face in his shirt, trembling slightly. Billy smiled and held her close, enjoying the proximity of her body to his while trying to deduce the overall situation.

He hadn’t heard a thing about the peace conference in weeks. Trini’s nasty letter to him had been upsetting, but after talking to Tommy and Kimberly (who’d apparently gotten a similar missive from Jason), he’d more or less put it out of his mind. After all, between helping out at summer school and his Power Ranger duties, there was more than enough activity to fill his schedule.

Apparently they’d returned back from Europe. But if they were adamantly opposed to ever seeing their former friends again, why did they come to the juice bar? It was the most probable site for a confrontation. Given Tommy’s anger over the things Jason said about Kim, Billy could well understand his friend’s loss of control. Still ...the whole scenario was deeply disturbing.

“Billy?” Piniko was sniffing his shirt suspiciously. “Why do you smell like smoke?”

Before he could explain, he heard a familiar voice call his name. Billy looked up and smiled brightly at the sight of his favorite relative standing in the doorway of the Juice Bar. And the striking redheaded woman beside him must be Janine. He’d been looking forward to meeting her; she had to be quite a formidable lady to be able to win the heart of a Spengler. Keeping the now-calm Piniko around his arm--he was rather enjoying the sensation, to be honest--Billy walked up and greeted his uncle warmly.

Janine shook his hand. “You can guess who I am,” she laughed. “And before you say anything, it’s ‘Janine’. Not ‘Ms. Melnitz’.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you ...Janine,” Billy replied. “Ahhh ...have you met Piniko?” She glanced up shyly at Egon and Janine and smiled hesitantly.

“Yes,” Egon said in an odd voice. “We were introduced inside.”

“I must apologize,” she stammered. “I was most upset by the fight and the explosion.”

“It’s quite all right,” Egon assured her, still gazing intently at her. “I can quite understand how that could be unnerving.”

“Well,” Janine said briskly with a clap of her hands. “I’d say this calls for a special dinner somewhere! Billy, why don’t you call your parents and have them meet us at a restaurant--your choice. After all, it’s not every day you meet your soon-to-be Aunt Janine!”

“What?” Billy said happily. “Are you...?”

“Not yet,” Egon said hurriedly.

“But soon,” Janine added firmly.

“Oh,” Billy replied, clearly not understanding. “Well, at any rate, my parents aren’t in Angel Grove right now. They’re on an archeological expedition in the Yucatan. They recently received a Banzai Fellowship grant, you know.”

“They did?” Egon said, surprised. He shot a glance at Janine, who shrugged. Odd that her cousin Little Red, who worked at the Institute, hadn’t told her. Red usually relayed that sort of news the minute she heard it.

“Ummm ...if it isn’t a problem, could Piniko come too?” Billy asked shyly. Piniko’s eyes widened in surprise ...or perhaps panic, and she quickly began to stammer an excuse on how she couldn’t possibly intrude on a family reunion, how Billy deserved a chance to talk to his uncle without having her along...

“We’d be happy to have her with us,” Janine declared in a voice that tolerated no further dissent. She led the way to the rented car, with Billy, Egon, and a very-reluctant Piniko in tow.  As they walked, Egon frowned and sniffed the air curiously. “Billy?”



* * * * *

“Like, how could you do such a stupid thing?” Kimberly angrily shouted at Tommy. “How could you? You, of all people!”

They were standing in the middle of the Power Rangers’ Command Center, oblivious to the presence of the other Rangers flanking them. Alpha-5, the citadel’s majordomo, tottered back and forth to this machine and that, obviously having decided that discretion and blind dedication to his duties were the better part of valor.

Tommy sighed in exasperation and held up his hands. “I don’t know, Kim. I just ...I just lost my temper. I know it was dumb, I just couldn’t help myself, you know?”

Kim wasn’t buying such a lame excuse. “Oh, right,” she said, waggling a finger in her boyfriend’s face. “You’re the one who teaches all those kids about how a true disciple of martial arts avoids violence whenever he can, how he always finds the way of peaceful confrontation, and the minute you lay eyes on Jason you deck him!” She folded her arms beneath her bosom and snorted. “Like, way to go, Tommy!”

“Kim...” Tommy followed her around like a lost puppy. “Can you blame me? After the things he said about us ...about you...”

“You nailed him with a pretty good shot,” Rocky offered; Aisha quickly shushed him.

Kimberly shook her head. “Look,” she said softly. “It hurt. I thought Jason was our friend, okay? And, like, maybe we were wrong. Maybe this whole thing where you replaced him as leader, and then his giving up the whole Ranger thing, maybe that really hurt him, too, y’know?” Finally she turned around, her eyes searching Tommy’s face. “But Tommy, we can’t let that get to us, okay? He’s got to go his way; we’ve got to go ours. We knew he’d come home someday and we’d have to deal with this. So why’d you have to go and make things worse?”

Tommy gently put his hands on her shoulders. “You’re right, Kim. I blew it big-time.” He sighed and looked at the other three Rangers, who were politely pretending to study the readings on the consoles nearest them. “Look, if it makes you feel better, maybe we ought to go over to his house tonight. I could apologize, and maybe then we could talk this thing out and get it settled.”

She smiled up at him. “I’d like that, Tommy. You two were partners, almost brothers. I hate to see things like this...”


“Huh?” Tommy said in surprise.


“Ay-yi-yi!” Alpha cried, obviously glad to be a part of the conversation once more.  “Look at the viewing globe, Rangers!”

An image of their old friends appeared on the screen. Around each of them was an angry red aura.

“What is it, Zordon?” Adam asked.


“Like, major bummer,” Kim muttered, her eyes transfixed on the globe. She glanced over at Tommy. “Maybe this explains those letters, you think?”

“Maybe,” the White Ranger replied quietly. His eyes were locked upon Jason’s image in the globe.

“So what do we do?” Aisha asked.


Tommy looked up at Zordon. “We gotta free them, Zordon. They’re our friends.”


“Okay.” The leader of the Power Rangers nodded, then returned his attention back to the others. “Let’s head on home. Stay in touch. If Zack, Trini or Jason tries to talk to you, be polite--don’t let them know we’re on to ‘em--but get out of there as fast as you can. Got it?”

“Hey,” Adam said suddenly. “What about Billy?”

“I’ll drop by his place and fill him in,” Rocky immediately volunteered.

“Sounds good,” Tommy said in approval. “That takes care of everything?” The Rangers nodded. “Okay, then. ‘Port us home, Alpha.”

“Ay-yi-yi--you’ve got it, Tommy!” The five teenagers vanished in a rainbow collage.

* * * * *

Dinner was an uncomfortable time.

After a brief discussion they’d chosen Wardell’s for dinner; Billy took advantage of his uncle’s VISA card and picked a porterhouse, as did Egon. Janine settled for sirloin tips, and Piniko opted for the salad bar, claiming a delicate stomach over the pleadings and protests from the two men. Billy and Egon chattered about everything under the sun, mixing family news with the latest scientific advances as they went. But try as Janine did, she could not get much out of the shy Japanese girl beyond general pleasantries. For the most part she kept her head down and picked at her meal.

One reason for her shyness might have had to do with Egon’s occasional glances her way. There was a silent determination in his eyes, as if to tell her you’ve got a secret, I know you have a secret, and it’s not going to be a secret much longer. Janine could have kicked him for his rudeness if not for the memory of how that meter had screeched and exploded at Ernie’s just a few hours earlier.

After Egon had paid for the meal (knowing the card’s balance, Janine had crossed her fingers and prayed fervently for acceptance), Billy asked to be let off at Piniko’s house. “Piniko’s having some difficulty in history,” he explained, “and I wanted to help tutor her over the rough spots.” Egon gave the girl another one of his stares before nodding and offering the usual goodnight benedictions. Janine smiled and waved goodbye to the young couple, thinking to herself what a sweet pair they made, how right they looked together ...and then the damned screaming meter went roaring through her thoughts again.

“Well?” she asked after the front door to Piniko’s house had closed. “Is it safe for him to be alone with her?”

“In what sense?” Janine snickered; it was rare that Egon let loose a joke, let alone a potentially off-color one. He smiled briefly and rolled the car out of the driveway. “In all seriousness, I believe he is safe for the moment. At any rate, I couldn’t very well express my concerns without tipping both Billy and her off.”

“Got news for you, Egon--you did a great job of tipping her off at the restaurant.”

“That was deliberate.” He pointed the car toward the hotel and turned the headlights on.  “I wanted her to know that if anything did happen to Billy, I’d be coming after her first.” He smiled in the darkness of the car. “As Peter would say, a little intimidation never hurt anyone.”

“Well, I sure hope that you’re right about her being a paranormal. Despite everything, I thought she was kinda sweet, and she was definitely sweet on him.  And vice versa.” She sighed and leaned back in her seat. “So ...what now?”

“We’re going back to the hotel. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like for you to call Red and see if she can corroborate that grant information. I need to get in touch with Raymond and relay the scan results to him; he can also cross-reference the information we’ve acquired on Piniko through TobinNet tonight and see if we get a match. The more we know about her, the better I’ll feel.”

“Well, while you do that, I’m going to take a nice, long soak in the tub,” Janine declared.  She stared through the windows and shook her head. “You know something? It just hit me--in all the time we’ve been here, I’ve yet to see a single McDonalds!”

“How ever have they coped?” Egon replied absently, his mind divided between driving and analyzing the day’s data.

* * * * *

“You sure you’re okay?” Zack asked Jason for the eighth time. With Trini’s help, he’d managed to get their friend back home; she’d scouted the rear exit of the Juice Bar to make sure none of their old comrades were waiting for them, then returned to assist Zack. Jason’s mother had quickly whipped up an ice pack for the ugly swelling on her son’s face and demanded an explanation. Fortunately, Zack had come up with a plausible ‘got hit by a ball, never saw it coming’ excuse that she’d accepted for the time being.

“I’m cool, Zack,” Jason said wearily.  He pressed the ice pack against his cheek, wincing at the sting it brought.

“Well, it’s obvious that something’s not right,” Trini commented. She rocked from foot to foot, her arms wrapped tightly around her body.  “Tommy said something about letters you’d written to him and Kimberly--and they must have contained some really nasty stuff, for him to lose his temper like that.”

Jason smiled slightly and winced again. “Yeah ...I’m lucky he just smacked me with a fist. If he’d thought about using any of his kicks, I’d still be lying on Ernie’s floor.” He pulled the ice pack away from his face; Trini firmly guided it back. “Okay, okay. I get the message.”

“Maybe we’d better lay low for a while,” Zack said worriedly. “Stay away from the juice bar and all until Dr. Spengler’s had a chance to investigate.”

“Good idea,” Trini nodded. “Frankly, the entire town’s given me goose bumps since we got back.” She glanced at her watch. “Oops--I’m running late. Gotta go, guys.” She reached down and gave Jason’s arm a gentle squeeze. “You going to be okay?”

He nodded tiredly. “I’ll be fine. No sweat.”  Trini nodded one final time and hurried out the front door.

Zack turned to Jason and patted him on the shoulder. “I gotta go, too,” he said with an apologetic smile. “I was going to meet Angela at the movie house.”

“Oh yeah?” Jason said with an upraised eyebrow.

“Ohhhh yeah,” Zack grinned.  “Later, Jase.”  He flashed a ‘thumbs up’ sign and headed out the door as well. Jason watched him go, then returned his attention to the ice pack. With a pained grimace, he pressed it against his face again and tried to concentrate on the television.

* * * * *

Rocky snorted in disappointment as he stopped his evening jog directly in front of the Spengler residence.  The house was completely dark; not even the garage light was on, which confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Power Rangers’ resident scientist was not home.  Rocky absently wiped the sweat off his brow and stood there, hands on hips, trying to figure what to do next.

Of the three neo-Rangers, Rocky took his position most seriously. He was well aware that his predecessor had been the squad’s original leader, and even with Tommy in charge, he still sensed that the others sometimes expected him to lead the way. It was most keenly felt inside the Thundermegazord, when he sat in the center seat and coordinated the Zord’s attack.

Jason had left incredibly large boots to fill, and despite his best efforts Rocky still felt as though he was coming up short, not only in his teammates’ eyes but in his own as well. To compensate, he plunged into his studies and workouts, trying constantly to improve himself.  Trouble was, no matter how far he might have progressed, every time he looked, he saw Jason standing directly in front of him, a moving target that constantly mocked him.

And now the first Red Ranger was back home. When he’d seen Jason at the juice bar, Rocky had felt an icy fear spread across his stomach; what if Tommy decided that his old partner ought to resume the role?  Fortunately, things had not worked out that way, but even so, Rocky wasn’t sure he liked what had happened any better.  It didn’t seem right. Rangers shouldn’t fight among themselves, no matter what the justification.

Rocky loved being the Red Ranger. He never wanted to give it up. But if Tommy had asked him to surrender the morpher to Jason, he would have in a minute. Not without regrets, but in his view, a Ranger did what was asked of him, no matter what the personal consequence. It was part of the duty--no, the privilege--of being a Power Ranger.

Rocky sighed and kicked at the sidewalk with the front of his sneaker. He could wait until Billy got home, or he could simply try to call and leave a message.  He really didn’t like that idea--it was kind of dangerous, leaving messages like, “Billy, Jason and the others are back, and Zordon thinks they’ve been possessed by Zedd, so try to stay away from them. Talk to you later.” But there was no telling when Billy might get home. What to do?

Rocky reached a decision. He’d been meaning to start extending his evening jog, and this would be a perfect excuse to do it.  He’d go a second lap and check on the house when he passed by again later.  Maybe Billy would be home by then.  Smiling with satisfaction, Rocky took a deep breath and took off down the sidewalk at a brisk pace.

* * * * *

“Now, you see, Bismarck’s philosophy was to play his enemies one against the other, orchestrating these alliances very carefully so that Germany always came out ahead.” Billy smiled at Piniko, who was sitting attentively beside him on the sofa. He was amazed at how she listened so intently to his every word; how her eyes sparkled as they watched his every gesture. Her body was leaning ever so slightly toward him, indicating (according to the teenage psychology books his parents had purchased a few months back) a positive interest. He smiled with equal parts shyness and nervousness, and glanced down at the page to see what the blazes Bismarck was up to.

Under normal circumstances, Billy would have been extremely uncomfortable in this situation. When a girl whose parents were away invited a boy to “study”, the general implication was that the only item on the agenda would be courtship rituals.  But Piniko had quelled his hesitation by insisting that she knew him to be a very honorable and trustworthy gentleman who would never think of taking advantage of such circumstances.

Billy wasn’t quite sure he was worthy of the praise; while part of him doggedly pursued the study material, the other couldn’t keep his eyes off her perfectly-chiseled features, her long black hair (which shone like silk), and those full, soft lips that he was dying to find out how full and soft they were. Fortunately, he had that traditional Spengler dedication to knowledge and single-minded determination to bulldog his way through any distraction, just like his Uncle Egon.

Who, he suddenly realized, had been rather pleasantly sidetracked by that rather striking redheaded woman...

“Billy?” Piniko said, suddenly jolting him from his reverie. Her eyes were filled with concern. “Are you all right?” she asked. “You seemed to drift off just now...”

He blushed and fumbled with the book, trying to figure out where he’d left off.  “Ahh ...I’m sorry, Piniko. I just started thinking about something ...where were we?”

She smiled brightly at him. “Perhaps we could use a break?” Before he could protest, she had stood up and was walking with incredible catlike grace to the kitchen; moments later, she returned with some soda and cookies.

Billy hadn’t realized how thirsty he was; he’d drained the glass without a second thought. She gently took the glass from him, letting her fingers brush against his an instant longer than needed, and filled it back up. “Here you are,” she said. Again, when he took the glass from her, her fingers caressed his a fraction longer than necessary.

“You know,” she continued as she tasted one of the sugar cookies, “I am very grateful that you tutor me, Billy. I ...enjoy being with you.” She blushed prettily and glanced shyly at him.

Billy suddenly felt very warm as his hormones began pumping pheromones into his bloodstream. “I like being with you, too, Piniko,” he said with a smile.

Her hand moved across the sofa, stopping only when it reached his. “I really enjoy being with you, Billy.” He wanted to reply, but his mouth had gone desert-dry and his tongue had gotten tangled up with his vocal chords.  All he could do was smiling dumbly as she scooted over to his side of the sofa, lifted one soft hand against his cheek, and pressed her lips against his.

It was a long, slow, sweet kiss that echoed through his mind, body and soul. It was a kiss that stirred him somehow, bringing back new yet familiar sensations, memories that were shadows in the back of his mind. Billy let himself become lost in the pleasure of the kiss, responding with gentle firmness and savoring every part of it. Piniko sighed and tenderly caressed his cheek, letting her other hand leave his and wrap around his neck and shoulders; Billy let his arms circle her waist, pulling her closer...

And then Piniko slipped her tongue into his mouth.

Billy yelped and withdrew from her embrace, acutely aware of his body’s reaction to hers. “Umm, I think it’d be best if I went home,” he stammered, hurriedly shoving his books into his backpack and trying not to look at her. He was on his feet and heading for the front door before she could react.

“Billy!” she cried, her eyes wide and growing wet. “I ...I’m sorry! I thought ...I didn’t think...”

He took a deep breath and tried to reassert control over his body. Trouble was, part of him wanted to recreate the setting of the experiment, but change one of the variables ...such as slipping his tongue into her mouth and see what happened next. “Piniko...” he gulped. “I ...I like you a lot. More than I’ve ever liked any girl. But ...this is not could lead to trouble. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Before she could protest, plead or do anything that might persuade him to stay (and at this moment, it wouldn’t have taken much), he flew through the front door and shut it behind him.

Piniko stood there beside the sofa, her hands clenched in tiny fists and her mouth still open but unable to say anything. Finally she folded her arms beneath her bosom and snorted in disgust. “Ohhhhhh.... damn!” she declared, stomping her foot and just barely missing the scorpion that had been crawling toward her.



One nice thing about the Angel Grove Holiday Inn, there was lots of hot water and plenty of room for a good soak, Janine decided as she stretched in the bathtub.  She picked up her latest romance novel and opened it to where the bookmark lay, hoping that Egon managed to get off the phone before midnight.  From the sound of things, though, she wasn’t making any bets on it.

“Yes, Ray ...that’s very interesting, and I agree that we should look into it, but ...Ray, if you really want to begin a preliminary investigation, that’s ...Ray, I need you to ...yes, aerial photographs might be a good start, along with infra-red shots at night, but ...Ray, I’m sending you, I don’t think there’s a cover-up in the Manhattan police department...”

Janine smiled to herself. You could practically feel the frustration in Egon’s voice as he struggled to overcome his colleague’s enthusiasm over something new and weird to chase.  Any second now, Egon is going to have enough, and he’s going to...

“Ray, is Peter there?”  Long pause. “Oh. Well, Dana does deserve a night on the town, I don’t think they’ll notice any flying around about Winston? Good. Can I speak to him? Yes, Ray, I’ll read your e-mail...” Janine giggled and nodded to herself as Egon’s voice dropped to more conversational levels. He spoke at length with Winston, then hung up the phone with an incredibly exasperated sigh; seconds later, he came into the bathroom and sat down atop the toilet seat, looking utterly exhausted.

“What’s got Ray going?” Janine asked sympathetically.

“Oh, something about gargoyles in Manhattan,” he said absently, rubbing his eyes with his hands. “Honestly, sometimes Raymond gets so worked up on these things, you couldn’t get through to him with a megaphone.”

Janine smiled and said nothing.

“At any rate,” Egon continued, “I did manage to speak to Winston, and he’s promised to make Ray settle down and research the information I sent him.”  He yawned and shook his head. “Did you talk to Red?”

“Yeah. She didn’t remember hearing anything, but she promised to ask Rawhide and get back to me.”

“Good.”  Egon stared at the opposite wall, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a beautiful woman was lying naked in the tub. “I wish I knew what was going on around here.”

“You’ll figure it out,” Janine assured him.

“I hope so. Frankly, I don’t have the slightest idea what to do next.”

She smiled invitingly.  “Wanna take a bath?”

* * * * *

Ray Stantz looked postively despondent as Winston turned off the phone and handed it back to him. “Gosh, I thought Egon would be excited,” he said dejectedly.

“Hey, don’t take it personally,” the black Ghostbuster smiled, patting his partner’s shoulder affectionately. “As soon as he finishes up this case, I’m sure he’ll look into these flying monsters first thing. You’ll see.”

“Flying monsters?” came a familiar voice from the stairwell; the Ghostbusters turned to find Peter Venkman and Dana Barrett coming into view. Peter was smartly decked out in a dark suit, while Dana’s long red dress was breathtaking. “Ray, is this anything like that little blue guy who lives inside your computer and beats you at all your games?”

“Well, he does!” Ray retorted hotly. “And it’s not just him, either! There’s this pretty green-skinned girl and their son, too!”

“That does it,” Peter said sadly, winking at Dana. “We’re going to have to suspend Raymond’s Saturday morning TV privileges.”

“So what are you guys doing here?” Winston asked, amused. “I thought this was dinner-and-tickets-to-’Forum’ night?”

“Dinner was wonderful,” Dana answered with a smile.

“I left the tickets on the fridge,” Peter concluded as he went to get them. “The mere thought of going out with this vision of angelic beauty makes me utterly irresponsible.”

“You’re always irresponsible,” Dana pointed out.

“I’m always thinking of you.”

“Flatterer.” Dana took his arm. “Keep it up.” They started down the stairs, then Peter paused and turned around. “Egon call?”

“Yeah,” Winston nodded. “Wants Ray to do some digging on some stuff he’s found.”

“After one day?” Peter whistled. “Man works fast. He going to need any help?”

“He didn’t think so.” Winston caught Dana’s discreet but impatient tug on Peter’s jacket and grinned. “Better get going if you’re going to make the opening curtain, Pete.”

“Yeah, guess so. See you guys later...maybe.” Winston and Ray heard Dana hiss “Peter!” as they hurried downstairs and chuckled softly. Then Ray reluctantly cleared the TobiNet gargoyle FAQ from his screen and set up a search on Japanese legends.

“I sure wish I knew what Egon was looking for,” he sighed.

“So does he,” Winston agreed.

* * * * *

Billy paused at his front door and turned around; he heard an odd wheezing and panting coming from down the street, and from all indications the source was approaching his house. Curious, he walked over to the front lawn and waited.

Within moments Rocky appeared; his red shirt was soaking wet, plastered to his body. His skin was blotched with angry red spots and coated in a fine sheen of sweat.  Mystified, Billy moved to the sidewalk and waited for his friend to meet him.

Rocky stopped directly in front of Billy. His eyes were glazed over and his chest was heaving. His hair, skin and shirt were drenched in sweat.

“Are you all right?” Billy asked.

Rocky opened his mouth to tell his fellow Ranger about Zordon’s warning, but at that moment his body decided that, having run fifteen laps without a break, throwing up was a far better course of action ...and immediately implemented the plan.

* * * * *

Trini sat hunched up on her bed, hugging her knees against her tightly and staring at the telephone sitting in front of her. She nibbled thoughtfully on her left thumbnail, wondering if she ought to do it, just pick the receiver up and dial the number and ask Kim what the devil was going on.  It sounded so easy, so very easy, and yet Trini hesitated.

It hadn’t helped that, despite her best efforts, she’d gained a pound today. She’d thought that coming back to Angel Grove and eating home-cooked meals on a regular schedule would have helped keep her weight down. Life at the peace conference had been so hectic, she’d fallen into the habit of grabbing meals on the run. And even when she had time for a meal, it was a choice between restaurant cuisine or room service. It was a miracle she’d escaped gaining as little as she had.

Then again, the bathroom scale wasn’t all that accurate. If she was going to be serious about keeping the weight off, she really ought to consider getting a top-grade scale. The one in the German hotel’s gym had been wonderful; Trini wondered if the one at Ernie’s was a similar model, and made a mental note to herself to check that out tomorrow. Then she remembered what had happened there that afternoon and made a face. Maybe Ernie’s wasn’t such a good idea, right now. Maybe she should just check the stores instead.

Trini sighed and buried her face in her arms. This was ridiculous. She’d originally thought that the best way to get things resolved was to confront the issue head-on. Jason’s encounter with Tommy at the juice bar had proven the futility of that idea. So perhaps a direct confrontation wasn’t quite the right course to take.

Her eyes fell on her beside telephone.

How many hours had she spent on that phone, talking and giggling to Kimberly? Kim had been her best friend; there’d been no secrets between them. Kim wouldn’t lie to her. All she had to do was make the call, and the first step toward patching things up would be done, and they’d all be friends again.

Trini picked up the phone, listened to the dial tone for a moment, then punched in Kim’s phone number.

* * * * *

Kim and Tommy were sitting at opposite ends of the family room sofa, ostensibly watching TV. Every so often he would glance over at her, hoping to make eye contact and maybe find some way of easing her troubled mind. She was nibbling absently on her right thumbnail, eyes locked on the TV but her mind obviously a million miles away. It didn’t take a genius like Billy to figure out what she was thinking about.

He hadn’t meant to hit Jason, but seeing his former friend ...his former partner, for crying out loud, how could he have written the things he did about Kim? Standing there after all that time, after those terrible letters, acting like nothing had happened between them...

Tommy could handle any criticism aimed at him. Leadership of the Rangers had not come as easily to him as it had to Jason, and Tommy could understand if his friend felt some resentment. But that letter he’d gotten a week or so after Jason had gone to Germany ...and the ones after it ...Tommy still had a hard time dealing with the hatred and bile that had leaped from the pages. It hadn’t sounded like Jason at all.  But for crying out loud, Zordon and Alpha had analyzed the letters--just in case this had been a trick of Zedd’s--and vouched for them. And then Kim had received the final letter from Jason, and come to Tommy in tears over its contents...

“You okay?” he asked softly.

She glanced over at him. “Yes don’t know,” she said tiredly. “I wish we’d gone and talked to Jason, no matter what Zordon said, that’s all.” She shot a slightly peeved glare at her boyfriend. “And I wish you’d talked to him instead of decking him right off the bat.”

Tommy rolled his eyes in exasperation. “What do you want me to do?” he demanded. “Go up to him and apologize? Say to him, ‘Hey, Jase, it’s okay, no hard feelings about calling Kim those names, I understand’?”

Kim sighed and leaned her head back against the sofa, closing her eyes. “No,” she conceded slowly. “But, like, I just wish ...he was our friend, Tommy. He was like a brother to you. I just...” She stared up at the ceiling, gathering her thoughts.  “ ...I just wish we could all be friends again...”

The phone rang.  Kim got up to answer it. “Hello?”  Her face abruptly paled. “Uh ...hi, Trini,” she stammered, staring wildly at Tommy as if to say what do I do? “Uh, no, I was just watching TV with Tommy, that’s all...”

Tommy rose to his feet, mouthing the word Zordon. Kim made a face, then nodded. “You want to talk? Uhh, look, Trini, I’m really busy right now. I’ve got a big gymnastics meet coming up and ...yeah, we were friends, I mean, we are friends, I’m not angry about anything, I just ...well, after the letters we got from you guys...”

Kim’s eyes suddenly widened. “What we said? Like, Trini, get real! I wrote you maybe one letter, and the nastiest thing in it was telling you how we found out that Bulk doesn’t wear underwear ...and like, if I told you what Jason said to Tommy and me, then like maybe you’d understand why Jason got what was coming to him today!” She glanced over at Tommy, who was making frantic cutting motions at his throat. “Look, Trini, I just don’t think this is a good time to talk, okay? Let’s ...wait and see. I gotta go. Bye.” She hung the phone up with a despondent sigh and glanced over at her boyfriend.

“Like, I feel like such a scumbucket,” she muttered.

He took Kim into his arms and hugged her tightly. “I know. I feel bad, too. But we gotta do what Zordon said and wait for our chance to free them from Zedd’s spell. It’s rough, but it’s going to work out in the end.”

“I know,” she whispered, snuggling into his embrace. “But I just ...I thought Jason was our friend.”

“So did I, Kim. So did I.”

* * * * *

Trini stared at the receiver for a moment or two, then slowly replaced it on the cradle and put the phone back on her desk. Only then did she allow herself to begin crying.

* * * * *

It should have been the ideal situation. A good romantic comedy was on the screen, the theater attendance was low, and a very beautiful young woman was snuggled up against him, sneaking bites of popcorn from the tub on his lap. Unfortunately, Zack had one small detail keeping the evening from being perfect.

“They’re still there,” Angela whispered. She had glanced over his shoulder on the pretext of doing some important neck nibbling. Adam and Aisha were sitting directly behind them four rows back, staring intently at the happy couple. She’d checked during a few genuinely funny scenes, and they hadn’t so much as cracked a smile.


“They’re still staring at us.” She looked up at him, her expression equal parts curiosity and amusement. “Mind telling me why we’re so interesting?”

Zack chuckled. “Maybe your parents hired them.”

Angela made a face. “Ugh.” She smiled naughtily and reached up to pull his face to hers. “Kiss me, you fool.”

“You sure?” Zack said, surprised.

“If they’re going to spend all this time and money to watch us,” she said as her lips moved toward his, “then we might as well make it worth their while...” His lips moved softly, slowly against his, warm and hypnotic.

Zack couldn’t fault her logic one bit. And if even he could have, he wouldn’t have.

* * * * *

“You’re sure that’s what Zordon said?” Billy questioned Rocky, who was sitting on the front steps, groaning softly and wrapping his arms around his chest.

“Yeah,” Rocky replied, adding a nod for emphasis. “I mean, on the surface it sounds crazy, but you gotta trust Zordon and Alpha ...I mean, why would they lie? And it’d be a great way for Zedd to try and get back at us ...using ex-Rangers as his pawns.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Hey, I’m really sorry about ...y’know.”

“It’s okay,” Billy assured him.  “I was able to hose it all down into the sewer.”

“Well, I figured I could either wait here, which would look a bit odd, or I could call, but it’s hard to talk about this stuff on the phone, where anyone could be listening, so I figured I’d keep running and check back.” He glanced over at Billy. “Studying with Piniko again?”

To Rocky’s surprise, Billy blushed and for a moment seemed utterly flustered. “Uhhhh ...yes, I was,” he finally nodded.

“She’s really nice,” Rocky commented. “I think she likes you, man.”

Billy nodded quickly.

“You really ought to take her on a date or something,” Rocky continued, rather enjoying himself; Billy was normally the most unflappable person he knew. To catch him off guard and keep him that way was a treat. “You never know what it might lead to, huh?”

Billy paled. “I ...suppose you’re right.” He quickly rose to his feet. “Well, Rocky, I’ve got some work to do in my lab, and I’m sure you want to be getting home now. Good night.” He was through the front door and gone before Rocky could reply in kind.  The Ranger smiled to himself, shook his head and headed for home at an easy walking pace, chuckling quietly.

“She must have tried to kiss him or something.”

* * * * *

Piniko Soga tossed and turned in her bed, frustration and fury keeping her from falling asleep. She cursed herself in fluent Japanese for giving in too soon, for letting her desires overcome her careful planning. She’d come so close, and now, thanks to her foolishness, she further away than ever from claiming her beloved again.

And what made it even more frustrating was that, for a moment there, he’d responded. She knew it for a fact, she’d felt him remember for just an instant, maybe two, and for that precious time he’d been hers again. And then, just as quickly, the wall had reasserted itself, and he was simply Billy Spengler once more. And she was left with the tantalizing memory ...and her pain.

Why didn’t he remember?

It had never been so difficult, the previous times. Always they’d found each other, no matter how rough the circumstances, and always she’d managed to make him remember. And then they would share the remainder of that lifetime together, until he would leave her once again, until the next time...

So close, and yet so far...

Despite her better judgment, she’d let her mother persuade her into joining this silly game she’d been playing, agreeing to become the warrior villain. Think of the challenge, Mother had argued. Think of the thrill of besting him in battle, then claiming her victory in the sweetest possible fashion. Of course, Mother had been occupied with her new Green Ranger at the time, and she herself had been so eager to reunite with her beloved, so maybe neither of them had been thinking too clearly ...Piniko snorted and rolled over on her side, punching her pillow to fluff it up. She should never have agreed to it. All it had succeeded in doing was to alienate her from him, to make things twice as difficult.

And then Zedd had shown up and tossed Mother back into her prison. And she’d been forced to go into hiding, to assume the role of a mousy little Japanese girl who was oh-so-sweet and oh-so-shy. And hell of hells, he seemed to be drawn to her instantly, as though her beloved preferred her that way. Oooh, she thought to herself, when I finally make him remember, I’ll give him a reminder of how good it can be. I’ll show him how a true warrior loves her chosen...

She realized that the current train of thought was only frustrating her more, and quickly banished further reflection. Or at least she tried to. Her body had other ideas.

* * * * *

Jason lay in his bed staring up at the ceiling. His cheek wasn’t hurting quite so badly, thanks to the ice and the ibuprofen his mother had given him. That pretty much left his pride and his heart as the only things aching.

Why? He yelled silently into the night. How did things fall apart like this? What went wrong? Why can’t I talk to him? Why can’t I say the things that need to be said? Why does he hate me so much? What did I do?

Oh, there’s one thing that might make him hate you, some darker part of himself said with a chuckle. And you know very well what that thing is.

No. Not that. He couldn’t possibly know about that. No way.

Way, the voice mocked in a tone eerily similar to Kim’s. He knows your little secret, how you feel ...and he hates you for it. And Kim would certainly never understand. If she knew, she’d probably laugh.

“Shut up,” he whispered, rolling over in bed and closing his eyes tightly. “Go away.”

I will. For now. But sooner or later, it’s all going to come out, and they’re both going to hate you ...almost as much as you hate yourself...


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