Warning: I admit right here that this fic is a wish-fulfillment self insertion. Why make up a character when I can just throw my real, flawed self in and write like I'm telling you what happened? Hehe! Okay, just to clear up some age confusion - In the story I'm fourteen, but IRL I'm a lot older. What you'll read is exactly how I was at fourteen.

Old school Power Ranger lovers and Saba fans will probably like this fic. It takes place shortly after the White Light episodes and has very loose ties to my first PR fic, "Peacemaker", but it is NOT a sequel.

Be careful of some violence and adult language.

Go now, and may the Power protect you.

o

The Temporary Ranger

o

"Someone I am
is waiting for my courage
The one I want
the one I will become
will catch me..."

- Josh Groban, "Let Me Fall"

o

Great, yeah, everyone just bump into me and push me aside. Pay no mind to the short girl who looks extremely lost and frustrated. Thanks for the help, you're great. Sigh. The halls before me became an endless maze full of people milling around. Talking. Laughing. Jostling past me. I felt like the shortest, most insignificant girl there.

Just this summer I moved all the way to Angel Grove. Out of my familiar territory and into a totally new place. Why Angel Grove? It wasn't even safe! I mean, even with the help of the Power Rangers, parts of the city sometimes take heavy damage.

And then there was the matter of a whole new school. I wanted to start High School with my friends and those I knew. Nope, thanks to the owner of my old place, we got evicted with only three weeks of notice because she wanted to sell the property. So now I get to be a freshmen in a totally strange school with totally strange people.

The worst part? Shopping for school clothes. My small body is such an odd size that I can never find clothes to fit me. With my stick-of-gum figure, long legs and tiny waist, I have to shop in the girls section just to find jeans, and even then finding a pair that fits me is all up to chance. Well, that day I wore cheap jeans and an oversized gray Godzilla T-shirt. Screw fashion, it never works for me anyway, so I decided to be comfy. Compared to most of the girls I see passing in the halls, I look like I should be back in the sixth grade. Ah the joys of looking younger than I actually am. My only striking feature is my hair. It reaches almost to my butt. Not many people have hair like that in school these days.

After locating my locker on the first floor, I hefted my backpack over my right shoulder and glanced down at the schedule card in my left hand. My RSP classes were second and sixth period. Good, they got me into the math and study hall just like I'd hoped. I have learning disabilities and I really need the extra help. Especially with math.

My first period class was room six hundred and six. The name on the card said Appleby. I had no clue where I was supposed to go and I didn't even have a map of the school! Frustrated nearly to the point of tears, I wheeled away from the two-hundred wing and half-ran in the opposite direction, pushing past people as I went. I couldn't get a good look at the markers above the doors - the heads of too many people were blocking the way.

Finally I spotted a guy off to the side. He had a brown ponytail that appeared to be at least a junior or a senior. He was wearing white jeans and a plaid flannel shirt over a white wifebeater. At least he looked nice enough to give me directions. I scrambled towards him, huffing and puffing.

"Sorry to bother you, but I'm kinda lost," I blurted nervously, "Can you tell me where room six-oh-six is?"

"Oh! That's my first class. I'll take you there." The boy closed his locker, spun the dial once and picked up his bookbag. He faced me fully and I realized he was pretty good-looking. I love guys with long hair. "By the way, I'm Tommy." He held out a firm hand to me and smiled a friendly smile.

"Cyndi," I put my hand in his and gave it a quick shake. Introducing myself to people always makes me feel uncomfortable. I hefted my backpack when it tried to slip off my small shoulder and let him walk a little ahead of me. "Thanks, by the way. I just moved here so...it's all a blur. New place. New school. I feel really lost."

"Yeah, I felt like that too when I was the new guy. You get used to it," Tommy replied. He seemed pretty nice. Not all macho like he was the hottest and everyone should bow to him. I hate men like that.

I was so busy thinking to myself that I didn't realize we were at the room until Tommy cleared his throat, "Here we are. Room six-oh-six."

"Ah, thanks." My hair swished as I stepped past Tommy and into the fresh-smelling classroom. Thankfully it wasn't a huge overcrowded room like Junior High. One time I was in a class full of forty-six people due to school overcrowding. There were no more than thirty desks here.

I took the front-row corner seat right by the door and dropped my bag at my right side. Tommy, his ponytail swinging gently, settled down into the desk next to mine and looked around while others filed in behind us. A tall, intense-looking young man wearing a sleeveless red pullover with matching cargo pants came in and plopped down behind Tommy.

"Hey, Jason!" Tommy twisted around to face the guy that was obviously his friend.

"Hey, Tommy," Jason rumbled back, his voice as deep and intense as his manner. He ran a hand through his short dark hair and sighed. "Boy am I glad I have Appleby for English again this year. Mr. Mathers piled too many book reports on my class last year."

They chuckled.

I butted out of their conversation and faced forward with my hands in my lap, examining the blue-gold mix inside my mood ring. Letting my mind zone out so I could daydream about what I would do later that day when I got home from school.

All of a sudden, two obnoxious boys swaggered into the room and looked around like they owned the place. The first one, obviously overweight, wore a torn black vest over a purple tie-dye shirt and black jeans. His greasy hair was pulled back into a ponytail similar to Tommy's. The second guy, tall and skinny, had shiny, slightly curly black hair. His bangs were slicked so they pointed straight up. He wore a spiked collar around his neck, a cross dangled from his left ear and he was dressed in camouflage cargo pants with a dirty camo-green tank top and a black leather jacket. Surprisingly he was somewhat cute - for a punk.

The skinny boy pranced over to sit in the desk behind me, making his gum pop loudly. I paid him no mind. The large oaf, however, bent down and placed his hands on the outer edges of my desk.

"You, shrimp, are in my seat."

"I got here first," I snapped.

As soon as the words left my mouth, the skinny kid behind me put his foot up on the metal bar that connected the desk to the chair. I grabbed my hair quickly and pulled it over my shoulder so it wouldn't contact the gum plastered on the dirty sole of his black hiking boot.

"Hey Bulk, she's just a shrimp. Move her yourself!"

"That sounds like a plan, Skull," said the fat kid I now knew was named Bulk. He lifted the front of the desk until the two legs were clear off the floor and I was at a precarious angle.

I grabbed the edges of the desk and shrieked, "HEY!"

Behind me, Skull blasted my ears with a high, whiny laugh. "Shake her right outta there, Bulkie!"

"Put my desk down, you jerk!"

"Bulk, lay off!" Tommy cut in. "It won't kill you if you sat behind Skull for one class. C'mon."

"Stay out of this, you goody-good." Bulk sneered.

The tardy bell rang so I didn't hear the rest of what Tommy said, but I nodded a thank you to him. At least the desk lowered and I wasn't in danger of falling into Skull. But the boot by my elbow was really getting annoying. It moved when a plump, jolly woman stepped into the room and introduced herself as Mrs. Appleby. As soon as she came in, Bulk hurriedly took a seat behind Skull and decided to shut up for awhile.

o

Ah, blessed lunch time! I wove my way through the line of people there to buy lunch and sat down at a deserted table, taking out my lunchbox in the process. Waiting inside was my peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, an orange-flavored Hi-C and a small bag of Doritos. I tore into the sandwich first and sighed as the sweet stickiness clung to the roof of my mouth. Hey, when you're hungry, anything tastes great.

So far my classes were turning out all right. Third period was my choir class, where I sing in the Women's Ensemble. The silver-haired choir teacher, Mr. Blanchard, seems like a nice man with a very sweet singing and speaking voice. I'm going to like that class, I'm sure.

Bulk and Skull emerged into the cafeteria, laughing to each other as usual. Bulk spotted me and made a beeline for my table with Skull close behind. I always have been a bully magnet because I'm so small. Cringe. As they came closer, I started putting my lunch away so I could move to another table. When I got up to walk away, Bulk clapped a hand on my shoulder and pushed me back down.

"Listen here, shrimp, and listen good!" Bulk snarled in my face, "When I say you're in my seat, you better move. Or next time I won't be so nice."

"Yeah!" Skull cut in, laughing. "And this is our table!"

"Assholes," I muttered, moving over to the other end of the bench while they sat down. I unpacked my Doritos and looked over to my left in time to see Tommy and Jason sitting down with four others.

The first kid was African American wearing a black, red, green and brown pullover and blue jeans with black sneakers. The brown-haired guy next to him wore blue overalls over a striped blue T-shirt and gazed around from behind a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. Next to him sat a smiling, but serious-looking Asian girl with long black hair, clad in a yellow and white peasant top with yellow stretch pants. Beside her, a brown-haired young woman giggled while biting into a granola bar; she wore a pink and white form-fitting seersucker shirt with loose sleeves and frayed cutoff shorts.

"Hi Tommy," I said quietly, not expecting him to hear me.

Much to my surprise, Tommy looked over and waved. "Hi! What are you doing at that table with those two? Come sit with us!"

Well that certainly is a change from what I'm used to! I gathered up my lunchbox and backpack and scooted over to the other table. The girl in pink moved her backpack off the folding chair so I could sit in it. I crossed my legs as soon as I sat down and re-opened my lunchbox.

"Hi," I repeated shyly, feeling like everyone was staring at me. Me, a shrimpy dweeb in geeky clothes, sitting in with a circle of someone else's fashionably current friends. At the same time I liked it, usually nobody wants to include me in anything because I sometimes act so immature.

One by one the people I hadn't met introduced themselves to me. The guy in black was Zach, the boy in blue was Billy, the girl in yellow was Trini and the girl next to me in pink was Kimberly. I introduced myself to them with my head down and my face almost in my lunch bag, so sure that my face had blushed red. I didn't look up until the heat left my cheeks and I had told them why I was so out of place.

"It's great to meet you," Kimberly commented to me with a smile. "So where did you move from?"

"Oh," I ran a self-conscious hand through my bangs to get them out of my face(they needed a trim), "Orange county. I was supposed to go to Villa Park High School, but wound up having to move. The stupid owner of the property wanted us out of the house in less than a month. It was really a scramble to get out in time."

"Aw. I think it's terrible that people can't get more notice when their property owner decides to sell. Kind of unfair if you ask me." Kimberly stuffed her empty granola bar wrapper back into her lunch bag and moved it aside.

"Yeah, tell me about it. I feel like I'm in no man's...er...no woman's land."

Kimberly and the others laughed.

"I'm sure you'll fit right in," Trini told me warmly, tucking a strand of shiny black hair behind her ear.

I blinked and licked my lips. "I dunno about that. I have trouble fitting in anywhere. Bulk and Skull have already turned me into their newest teasing target. Bullies are drawn to me like a magnet."

"Actually, the human body doesn't generate a magnetic field strong enough to draw in other objects." Billy remarked, adjusting his glasses with a slight grin.

"Don't knock yourself down, Cyndi." Zach joined into the conversation after eating the last of his cheeseburger. "Bulk and Skull only bother you because you get mad at them. Find a witty comeback and they usually back off for awhile."

"I can't stand being teased!" I sighed, "It always makes me mad because I'm so easy to push around and can't fight back."

Jason dragged his bookbag off the table and dropped it beside his chair. He put his elbows on the table, leaning forward. Looking at me, he smirked a bit, "Just hang with us and we'll keep them off your back."

"Yeah, after school, come to the Youth Center with us and we'll show you around," said Tommy.

Yes! My mind shouted happily. I felt the corners of my mouth twist slowly upwards into a smile of my own. I self-consciously brushed a strand of hair behind my ear so I wouldn't look over-excited. "Sure, lemme call my mom real quick and let her know I won't be home right away. My 'rents are soooo overprotective it's not even funny. I guess I can't blame them."

"Sure, we'll wait right here. But hurry, lunch is over in about ten minutes," Kimberly said as I stood up. She blinked, "Gosh, your hair is long! Have you ever cut it?"

"Nope! Only trims for split ends," I replied proudly. Facing the doorway leading towards the outdoor pay phones, I said, "Be right back!" and made my way outside. I stuffed a few coins into the coin slot, dialed the number and waited. I got the answering machine, so I said happily, "Mom, I made some new friends and they're taking me to the Youth Center after school gets out. I'll be home by dinner time. Bye!"

Upon finishing the call, I headed back to the table right as Bulk and Skull walked out. Bulk shouldered me out of the way. Skull made a face at me that I quickly returned while I passed.

"Why ARE those two such jerks?" I asked, frowning.

Billy looked at me and shrugged his shoulders, "Some questions are better left unanswered."

"I guess so."

We all laughed again, just as the lunch bell rang. Out of habit I jumped up and slung my bookbag over my shoulders in preparation to haul butt to my fifth period History class. Then I remembered I still didn't know the school yet and looked down at my schedule.

"Hey um...anybody know which way I should go if I wanna reach room eight-fifteen in a hurry?"

Kimberly and Trini looked at each other and smiled. Trini hefted her pack onto her narrow shoulders and patted my shoulder, "Kim and I have to go that way to get to our class. We'll show you." She looked over my head, "See you guys after school!"

A chorus of 'bye' and 'see ya' and 'later' went up behind me. I waved over my shoulder without turning around and followed the two girls out of the cafeteria. When we reached the top of the stairs, I felt really silly because the room I was looking for was right next to the restroom.

Oh well. I thanked Trini and Kimberly for showing me the way, watched them vanish down the hall and entered the classroom.

o

"Ernie, this is Cyndi. She's new around here." Kimberly introduced me to the plump, Hawaiian shirt-clad man behind the Youth Center bar while I sat shyly in the stool with my legs crossed. Behind me, Tommy and Jason were practicing martial arts against a blue punching bag while Trini, Billy and Zach sat together at a table nearby.

"Nice to meet you," Ernie told me with a grin as he placed two cups full of ice onto the countertop. He poured soda into each one and dropped a cherry on top. "The first one's on the house."

"Thanks!" Kimberly and I said simultaneously.

So far I liked the Youth Center. There were a lot of video games to play, tables to hang out and chat, and exercise equipment to work out on. I reached for the cherry in my soda and nibbled it while watching Tommy and Jason practice. They made karate look so easy.

It's strange the way people say 'hi-yah!' or a similar inflection while throwing moves. I've never understood why they make noise when they should be concentrating on kicking an opponent's face in.

Tommy seemed to make his own kiai sound. Each time he threw a punch or a kick towards the punching bag before him, he made a distinctive "tsee-hyah!" noise. So different compared to Jason's loud "'ay-yah!".

"Boy, they make that look so easy." I commented after watching them for awhile. "It's the same with gymnasts, you know? I watch the Olympics and see girls doing all kinds of crazy moves. It's cool."

"I've been into gymnastics since I was a kid. It takes years of practice to make it look as easy as you see it on TV. Just like any sport it takes tons patience and perseverance to get everything perfect." Kimberly sipped her soda, looking pointedly at Tommy. "They've been doing martial arts for as long as I've known them."

"Cool." I wrapped my lips around the straw and slurped up a mouthful of my cherry coke while watching the two guys do their moves. "I'm not really good at anything useful. I can sing, that's about it."

"Singing is a great talent! It's one of the most expressive forms of art."

"That's why I enjoy it."

"Hey..." Kimberly sat up straight. "You should enter the school's talent contest! You could sing a Broadway song."

"Huh? No way...I'm too scared to sing in front of people. I might mess up and look like an idiot." I said. "Uh...I need to use the restroom. Where is it?"

"Give it a try, you might surprise yourself. I bet you can do it," she stopped staring at Tommy and looked over at me. "The restroom's over in that hallway with the lockers. Just take two rights and you'll find it."

"Thanks." I left my soda on the counter and walked quickly to the ladies room. Caffeine tended to go through me in a matter of minutes. Usually, I prefer caffeine free sodas, but rarely do public places serve them. I relieved myself and washed my hands before heading back out. As I exited the bathroom, I caught a flash of rainbow colors in the corner of my eye. I hurried back into the Youth Center.

Tommy and his friends were gone.

Ernie noticed my confused expression. He shrugged and said, "Emergency came up. Kimberly told me to tell you they're sorry to leave. I guess it couldn't wait."

Sullen about being ditched, I picked up my backpack and took a last drink from my soda. It was watery from half-melted ice. I left Ernie a five dollar tip. "Thanks for letting me know. I guess I'll head home, then. If they come back, just tell them where I went and I'll see them tomorrow."

"Sure thing." Ernie picked up the money I left and nodded his thanks. "They run off a lot, so it's nothing against you personally."

Like that made me feel any better! People ditch me all the time, I'm used to it. I waved half-heartedly before heading out into the afternoon sun.

o

It was so hard not to feel bummed out as I walked through the quiet Angel Grove park. People tended to talk to me for a while, leave and not want to hang out with me anymore. I could never figure out why, either. Maybe it's my immaturity, or maybe it's because the things I enjoy aren't what everybody else enjoys. Like...most kids my age are watching shows like Friends or Married, With Children. But me? I'm more into adventurous shows like the cartoon Gargoyles, or scifi shows like Babylon 5, Star Trek and Dragonball. A whole place can go silent if I mention any of those things.

Well, screw everybody then!

I still had three hours until I had to be home. The park was quiet and seemed like the perfect place to stick my nose in a book. I spotted a grove of bushes under a huge weeping willow tree. It looked secluded, I'd be hidden from view and I had enough sunlight to read. Sweet solitude! I could do a chapter from my English book early, giving me more free time at home to watch my favorite shows. My mind made up, I quickly crawled into the bushes and opened my English workbook to chapter one. The story was called To Build a Fire and written about a man who gets trapped in the frozen wilderness and makes his peace before dying. I let myself sink into the tale. The only sounds were leaves rustling and the distant roar of traffic on the main road. I also swore I could hear crashing sounds, but the source was far beyond the tall buildings across the street.

Suddenly, a flash of orange jolted me out of the story. Stupid, annoying disruptions! What now? I shoved my book into my backpack and peered between the leaves of the bush. The being I saw froze my blood. Some freakish monster stood on the grassy hill a few feet from my location. It...actually it looked more like a he...looked about seven feet tall. He reminded me a bit of those freaky winged monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, except his eyes were red, his face reminded me of a dog and he was BUFF under his elaborate golden armor. What the hell was that thing?

The gold dogface thing lifted his head to the sky. "It's just like you suspected, Lord Zedd! The Rangers are engaging the Sopranosaur in the city!"

Sopranosaur? Lord Zedd? What in the freaking hell!

'Dogface' nodded as if hearing another voice. He opened his hand and a device resembling a TV remote appeared on his palm. It had six buttons in various colors. White, black, pink, blue, yellow and red. Was it a coincidence that those were the Power Rangers' colors? I doubt it.

"Alert the Sopranosaur," laughed Dogface. He licked his chops like a predator stalking prey and muttered, "Just you wait, Rangers. You're about to be locked out of your own Morphing Grid! AHAHAHA! And then you'll be mine!"

A second later, the buildings across the street came crashing down. The Sopranosaur stood tall in the smoke. She...and I say SHE because I swore it had breasts...was all white with black eyes and musical notes running down her back. Kinda resembled Godzilla, but leaner and with a velociraptor's head. She spun to face the giant robot obviously driven by the Rangers. Her toothy jaw dropped and she sang. Her high A was flatter than a pancake...and SO LOUD that it sent the Ranger's robot thingy crashing into a building. Sopranosaur giggled, waved and disappeared in a tornado of musical notes.

Six figures streaked from the fallen robot to land near Dogface. They landed in ungraceful heaps, but recovered quickly. The White Ranger was the first to stand.

"Goldar!" he shouted, his voice eerily familiar. He pulled a saber from his belt and pointed it at the creature called Goldar. "What ever you're planning, it ends now!"

Was the White Ranger insane? Goldar towered a head taller than him!

"Guys!" yelled the Red Ranger. "We have to stop that lizard! We can deal with Goldar later!"

"No. You get to deal with me now," said Goldar. Then, holding out the controller, he pressed the red button. The Red Ranger screamed and disappeared in a bolt of crimson lightning.

"No!" cried the Yellow Ranger. "What did you just do?"

"I locked him out of the Morphing Grid! He's trapped in the Dark Dimension now, FOREVER!" Goldar laughed so hard his shoulders trembled. "Would you like to join him?"

The Pink Ranger executed a beautiful frontflip and tried to kick Goldar in the face. "Drop that remote!"

Goldar dodged her assault with ease. His red eyes narrowed and he pressed two more buttons. Both the Yellow and Pink Rangers disappeared.

"He's hacked the Morphing Grid!" The Blue Ranger materialized a long lance-like weapon. He said something else to the White Ranger that I couldn't hear. It must have been a battle tactic, for a moment later the White Ranger changed his grip on his sword. They both charged Goldar. Goldar pointed the remote at the Blue Ranger. The Blue Ranger leapt, but clearly the device didn't have to point directly at a source to work. One blue flash and the Blue Ranger dematerialized. Goldar wasn't fast enough to dodge the White Ranger's aerial roundhouse. The blow connected with his shoulder and knocked him backwards.

"You cannot save them, fool!" snarled Goldar defiantly.

"We'll see about that!" the White Ranger snapped, "Saba, contact Zordon! Hurry!"

The gold freak's stance widened. He looked ready to charge.

"Goldar's device is interfering with the signal," answered a strange voice. "I can't get through."

Was that voice Saba? I didn't see anyone else.

"What's the matter?" Goldar taunted, "A little interference?"

Taking in a sharp breath, the White Ranger lifted his saber and charged. He caught Goldar's side with the edge of his blade. Sparks flew as the two fighters exchanged blows. They grappled for the controller like a pair of pro wrestlers. I noticed immediately that the White Ranger wasn't at full strength. Something was draining him. Goldar snarled and knocked the White Ranger away with a sweep of his massive arm. The Ranger flew one way and his sword went the other direction.

It almost hit me!

This seemed to amuse Goldar. "Lord Zedd will be pleased. Not only will I have you locked out of your own Morphing Grid, I think I'll take your saber and TigerZord as souvenirs!" He laughed and pressed the white button on his remote. "So long!"

"S-Saba!" the White Ranger gasped as he disappeared.

Wait...the White Ranger's tiger saber had something to do with this TigerZord thingy? My eyes wandered to the saber, which had landed literally inches from my hands. The sword looked otherworldly, nothing like the sabers in old movies. Its pommel was an insanely well-detailed white tiger's head that wore a silver helmet. Honestly, it was one of the most beautiful artifacts I've ever seen. I couldn't let Goldar get ahold of it! He might use it to hurt the other Power Rangers. Or worse, blow up the city!

I felt a cold weight form in the pit of my stomach. My parents always say 'if it's not your business, stay out of it. That way you can't get blamed if things get worse.' But if I stayed out of this and let Goldar find the White Ranger's sword, things would get a lot worse. Swallowing, I reached for it.

Goldar started towards my hiding place. Oh, crap. Oh, crap!

Call me crazy if you want. I stuffed the saber into my backpack with my books. It was still warm from the White Ranger's hand. Then I praised my small size as I rolled completely under the bush. Goldar came to a stop practically on top of me, his left ankle an inch from my nose. I was dead if he dug in the bush. I was dead if he scooted his foot another millimeter sideways. I was dead if I sneezed. I was dead if he looked straight down.

His nose twitched and flared. Oh, God, could he smell me? I got my answer when he snorted and vanished in a cloud of orange fire. Guess his nose wasn't so great after all.

I waited for God knows how long before I dared to crawl out from under the bush. I was dirty, I had leaves in my hair and sweat made my armpits feel all slimy. Yuck, I hate that feeling. Smoke from the trashed city turned the late afternoon sunlight deep red. The sky seemed more like the atmosphere of Mars than Earth.

Goldar might come back. I had a list of people I never wanted to see again, and Goldar just topped it. I strapped my backpack down tight and ran home as fast as my little legs could go.

o

"...she just walked in. Yes, she's okay. Thank you, Ernie." My mom hung up the phone and crossed her arms. I could tell how worried she'd been by the pallor in her usually tan skin. "Where were you? I called Ernie's juice bar and he said you left at three o'clock! You were supposed to come right home after talking to your new friends! There was a monster attack in the city, Cyndi!"

"Mom, I'm sorry! I went to the park to study and..." and what? I tell her that some gold Wizard of Oz reject made the Power Rangers disappear before my eyes? Yeah, right, like she'd believe that. I did what I always do when cornered and in trouble - I told a white lie, "...I forgot the time."

Mom sighed and rolled her eyes. Her mouth tightened into a line. "Get to your room and do your homework."

My homework! Gah! I guess I'd have to finish it. But first, I had to whine. "Mom! I just ran half a mile more than I'm used to with a thirty pound backpack. Can't I relax for awhile?"

"You had better be doing your homework when I bring in dinner." And the smell of pork chops told me that wouldn't be long. I gave her a little nod and bolted for my room. A box in the hall almost tripped me.

I closed my door with a sigh. Boxes still littered the floor in irregular brown piles against a wall in my room. So far all I really had unpacked were essentials - clothes, TV, stuffed animals and my pink and white rose bedding. The bedroom was so huge that the boxes weren't a hindrance at all. I kicked my shoes off so my bare feet could feel the firm gray carpet. It seemed more like the carpeting in a doctor's office than a house. Really made me miss the soft, fluffy brown carpets in my old place.

I wanted to pretend the park incident was just a bad dream. Yet the second I opened my backpack and saw the tiger saber, I got a harsh reality check. That sword...I'd forgotten about it for a moment. I reached into my bag and lifted the saber out. Still warm, and a lot heavier than I first thought. Five pounds if I had to guess.

Dishes clanked in the kitchen. I hurriedly hid the saber under my backpack and yanked my English book out. A second after I opened it, my mom walked in with my food. Pork chops and broccoli, yum!

"What's your assignment?"

"I just have to read this short story and discuss it in class tomorrow. I guess Mrs. Appleby is starting us off easy." I replied. "I'm almost done. It's all I have tonight. Hey, when's dad going to get home?"

Mom stopped in the doorway and glanced over her shoulder. "The roads are blocked. He called to tell me he doesn't know when he'll be back. Might be late." She was worried. I could tell by how unsure her voice sounded. My dad was okay, but the unknowns tantalized my mother. It made me feel guilty for worrying her even more on top of that.

"Okay. Um...sorry about earlier. I-didn't mean to scare you by staying out so late."

Mom nodded and closed the door, leaving me again in solitude. It only took me five minutes to finish off the story. To Build a Fire turned out to be a really depressing piece of work. Not something I wanted to think about after seeing the Power Rangers zapped seemingly out of existence. I uncovered the White Ranger's sword and stared at it while eating my dinner. After I ate and put my plate in the kitchen sink, I returned to examine this artifact a little more closely.

For some reason it still felt warm, just like the top of a TV set someone left running all day. Whoever made it was really talented. Seriously, this thing even had teeth, a tongue and even individual strands of fur carved into its face. You'd think the head was alive. I stuck my finger in the tiger's mouth to see if the teeth were sharp.

It bit me!

"Ow!" I yanked my hand back and sucked on the smarting finger.

"Well, what did you expect when you stuck your finger in my mouth?" The sword's eyes snapped open and glowed like rubies.

"Ack!" I freaked out and dropped the tiger saber at my feet, where it landed with a clang. Was I losing my mind, or did it just speak to me?

"Thank you so much. I needed a larger headache."

Its voice sounded male. A little on the high, smooth side, but definitely male. Should I call this sword an 'it' or a 'he'?

I stared at him...it. "You feel pain?"

"My head does," the saber replied. "What did you expect? I am alive, after all."

"I think I'm losing my mind."

I reached down to pick it up again and stared at its face. Maybe if I looked long enough, I'd realize I just imagined the saber speaking to me. It blinked. I continued to stare. The tiger's head slowly arched a fuzzy 'eyebrow' at me. "Do I have something in my teeth, or are you just rude?"

"Excuse me?" I frowned at the saber. "I almost got killed by a huge, winged gold guy. I just watched the Power Rangers disappear. I've been scared more than I ever wanted to get scared today and you tell me I'm rude for staring? Do you talk like this to the White Ranger?"

"My name is Saba, and you are more rude for staring," said the sword-pardon me-Saba. In the same breath his snarky attitude melted away. "The Rangers...I can't seem to reach them."

"Look," I held Saba up to eye level, "I don't know what this Morphing Grid is or where that Goldar guy took Rangers. All I know is he said something about hacking the Grid. He also wanted to steal you and run off in the TigerZord. That's when I grabbed you and hid. I knew it'd be bad night in the city if he got you."

"I see...then I owe you my thanks, Cyndi." Saba blinked slowly. "That also explains why I can't teleport to the White Ranger."

"That's just- hey, how'd you know my name?"

"I can read your mind. It is how I communicate with the Rangers when they aren't nearby. And at this moment that link is severed. I can't sense their location. Unfortunately, your rescuing me has also put you in serious danger." Saba gazed up at me with dead seriousness. "Goldar is greedy for power. He will likely return to seek me out and will not hesitate to destroy you. There is only one safe place on this planet, but I can't teleport us there. We'll have to fly...I'm sure Zordon will understand the situation."

Who was Zordon?

"Uh, fly?" I asked. "How?"

Saba levitated out of my hand. "I can fly."

My turn to be a smartass. "You plan to fly somewhere with me dangling off your handle?"

"Precisely."

"Hell no!" I leapt up. "I could fall off and die!"

Saba growled just like a real tiger. "You're more likely to die if you stay. You and your mother. Your chances are better if you come with me."

"I can't believe I'm doing this. My mom is going to be so pissed," I muttered, opening my window and climbing out into the huge back yard. Saba floated towards my hand.

"You would be wise to hang on with both hands. Do you suffer from motion sickness?"

I gripped Saba's handle in both hands. "No, I don't."

"Good."

"I'm...not going to choke you, am I?" I asked, stalling.

Saba saw through my little act. "No."

We took off without warning. One second I was on the ground and the next turned everything into a huge blur. The powerful wind peeled my lips back off my teeth. Either I got tunnel vision or reality actually funneled into a small blue point with a red rim through which I saw both ahead and behind me. How this didn't rip the skin off my body, or rip me off my arms, I will never know. I heard a bang and the world snapped back into normal clarity. We were hovering in the desert above the weirdest building ever built. It was white with round outer walls and had an odd hole on top. Saba dropped through the hole and into a room that reminded me of an unaired Star Trek set.

Except the focal point of the room seemed to be a giant blue head floating inside a tube.

Oh, hell, what have I gotten into?

Suddenly, a petite robot rushed from panel to panel, crying out, "Aye, yi, yi, yi, yi, yi! I still can't locate them! They've been locked out of the Grid!"

"Alpha, keep trying," said the huge head in the tube. His voice boomed around the round room, especially when he acknowledged Saba and I. "Saba it's good to see you safe."

"Zordon." Saba pulled himself free of my grasp and floated towards the talking head. I followed him and he said, "This is Cyndi. She kept me away from Goldar, but I fear he will retaliate. This was the only safe place for her."

"In this case, it's all right." Zordon replied. He turned his head to focus on me. "Cyndi, I know this situation is confusing to you."

"I-I'll say..."

"Do you have any fighting experience?"

His question made me laugh. Nobody else even smiled. I stopped laughing. Zordon was serious!

I gulped, majorly uncomfortable. "Not really...just a couple of really basic karate chops and kicks."

"Zordon, the fight is far from over. Someone needs to do battle with that creature." Saba drifted over to hover beside me. "You may be locked out of the Morphing Grid, but I can still call upon some of my own energy. Let me make Cyndi a temporary Power Ranger. I only need to tap the Grid when she morphs, then it will be my power that sustains her connection. I can act as a morpher, help her operate the TigerZord if necessary, and assist in defeating the Sopranosaur. Even you may not undo the block on the Grid in time to save the other Rangers. Zedd is already taking advantage of the situation. We must act now, even if it's just to buy time!"

Zordon looked sharply at Saba. They must have exchanged something telepathically, because they both showed tension in their expressions. Then they seemed to reach a silent agreement. Zordon spoke again, "You're right...but the power will not last long. I'll power down so the Command Center's controls don't overload."

"Um, wait. You want to make me a Ranger? A Power Ranger?"

"Yes," Zordon replied.

"But I'm...I'm so small. I'll get clobbered!"

"Sometimes the smallest one has the greatest effect on a situation," Saba said. His eyes were faraway as though gazing into the past. "If you don't do this, the world will be destroyed."

That didn't sound pleasant at all. I like the world! Sure, sometimes it really sucks, but I still want it to be, you know, not destroyed. "Okay. But I'm not as brave as the real Rangers. Hey, what color am I going to be anyway?"

"Gray," Zordon said.

"Gray?"

"White is all color. Black is no color. Gray is precisely in the middle, a power color that Zedd can not easily tap into." Zordon explained softly. "Unfortunately, you will not have your own Zord, since there is no gray Zord. You will borrow the TigerZord if the situation calls for it. Saba is to stay with you until the Rangers are freed. He will help you in battle."

"That's fine with me." Oh, dear God, I'm probably going to drive a giant robot through Angel Grove. I can't even drive a car! What if I run over somebody's puppy?

Zordon turned to the saber. "Saba, are you ready?"

"Yes," answered Saba. He began to glow an off-white and a sparkling light shot from his eyes to envelope me in tingling warmth. Zordon closed his eyes and his image faded from the giant tube. The glow from Saba grew so blinding that I barely saw him through the glare. Then things really got weird - I started to see images in my head.

At first I saw nothing but outer space. I love astronomy so the view was really cool for me. Then I gazed upon a red giant star, or maybe it was a supergiant, couldn't really tell. A large, ringed planet the size of Jupiter lazily orbited the star. I counted two moons and three other planets in the solar system. Then these images faded into what I assume is the planet's landscape. It had a purple sky and I could see the rings making rainbows high overhead.

Suddenly, I saw a face just like Saba's - no, identical to Saba's right down to the silver thing on his head - but this guy had a body like a man...or very similar. He wore a silver robe and carried a staff as tall as he was. He had a gold mark on his hand that resembled Saba's little sigil.

Next, I saw another tiger man wearing a uniform exactly like the White Ranger's, just without a Power Ranger-style helmet. Everything about him said "warrior". Yet that image faded to a gentleness when a young tigress entered the picture. She wore the cutest pink tube dress accessorized by a thick gold belt. They talked softly to each other and I found their voices eerily familiar.

Then the images grew nightmarish, flying across my brain like a movie trailer. That wizard guy lying dead with his guts hanging out. Light from TigerZord blasting off the planet's crumbling surface. The warrior tiger man and his lady friend kissing as lava, ice crystals and the glow of an impending explosion engulfed them. And finally, the planet itself exploding.

My vision stayed white for a few seconds. It faded to gray and finally returned to normal. I felt like I stood up too fast. I blinked a few times as my eyesight cleared. Lightheaded, I stepped back and bumped into the little Alpha robot. "Oh!"

"Careful," Alpha said, catching my arm. "Transfer complete, Saba! I'll call Zordon back." He turned to a blinking computer panel and began pressing buttons.

"Oh man, that was weird." I swayed again and put my hands on the control panel. It was impossible to tell whether the power or the images made me so dizzy.

A zapping noise jolted me out of my funk. Zordon's face reappeared in the massive tube. I could tell he was a no-nonsense guy when he started in with, "Now that you are a Power Ranger, you must follow three basic rules or lose the protection of the power. First, never use your power for personal gain. Second, never escalate a battle unless the enemy forces you to. And finally, keep your identity secret; no one may know you are a Power Ranger. Do you understand?"

"I think so. What about the other Rangers?"

Zordon flashed a slight smile. "You can reveal yourself to them, but only them. Their identities might surprise you, Cyndi. They are-"

Alarm bells exploded through the room. It scared the bejeesus out of me. This huge crystal ball-looking thing near one of the panels flickered to life. I saw that ugly Godzilla wannabe, Sopranosaur, terrorizing people in the downtown area. Wait, wasn't she like a hundred feet tall before? The worst part was she came dangerously close to a big, square black building labeled Angel Grove Aerospace, or AGA for short. My dad worked in that building! She might go in there and hurt him!

"Oh, no! Aye, yi, yi, yi, yi! The Sopranosaur is back!"

Ya think? I snorted silently.

"Cyndi," Zordon regarded me in utter seriousness, "you must morph and do battle with the Sopranosaur. Alpha and I will continue our attempts to unlock the rest of the Morphing Grid."

"Right..." I looked around and felt a little stupid. "Um, how do I morph?"

"Hold me up high and call out the TigerZord's name. I will act as a Power Morpher," Saba instructed, drifting down into my hand. "Heh, heh, heh! I've always wanted to say this... It's Morphin' Time!"

I gripped Saba's handle and held him straight out in front of me. "TigerZord!" Then I raised him above my head like She-Ra as the most amazing power rained down upon me. Light washed over my extended arm to cover my body completely. After it faded the room looked dimmer...and that's because I viewed it from behind the tinted helmet.

Not looking down at myself was impossible. My uniform appeared just like the White Ranger's, but the white parts were granite gray and my helmet had a "mouth". How...how weird! "Oh, wow!"

"Cyndi, you must teleport to the city and face Sopranosaur." Zordon looked down at me. "Go now, and may the Power protect you."

"Right, Zordon. I'll do my best!"

Don't ask me how I knew touching my belt would make me teleport. The knowledge was just there, same as a baby bird knows it has to fly someday. Saba must have sent me something extra with this power. I knew fighting moves that I never knew before I morphed. My world faded in a gray light as I streaked away.

To my surprise, I could still talk while teleporting.

"Hey, Saba."

"Yes?"

"I saw something when you gave me this energy. A planet, this guy who looked just like you and two other people."

"Ah, them." Saba's voice took on a pinch of melancholy, "You saw the world I came from, planet Saberius. The old man was Nikodai, the wizard who gave me life. His two friends were Magaki and Nara."

"They must miss you." I said.

"They're all dead. They died a long time ago, when Saberius exploded. I am the only memory of that world, Cyndi. I am a Peacemaker...that is what my name means. I plan to carry out Nikodai's wish. Fighting alongside the Rangers brings me one step closer to ending all evil in the universe. Magaki's soul will be reborn again and again and I will move planet to planet to find him each time he is reborn."

"That's...oh, I'm sorry." I felt stupid for poking a touchy subject. "Wait, Magaki's soul? So he's in the White Ranger right now?"

"Yes. Once his natural lifetime completes itself, the soul will be born in another child. That will be the time I leave to join him again."

Could that be why that Magaki guy's voice sounded familiar? But why did I feel like I'd met the White Ranger before? Something didn't add up. I shook my head and decided not to frustrate myself pondering it. "Then I guess the Pink Ranger is Nara, seeing as she wore pink in the vision..."

"That's very astute of you," Saba replied. "Are you always that observant?"

"I always notice the weirdest things," I laughed. "How many times have they been reborn?"

"This is the first, but it has been a long time coming," he said matter of factly. "It may be a long time before reincarnation recalls them again. I spent ages waiting for Magaki. And no matter where he is reborn, Nara will find him. They are so lucky because they get to fall in love over and over."

"Aw, that's so romantic, Saba! Mind telling me how old you are?"

"Take a guess."

Figures he'd say that. It's what I sometimes say when people question my age. "Okay, a thousand years."

Saba laughed at me. "You are way off."

"Ten thousand years?"

"Nope."

"A hundred thousand?"

He snorted. "Not even close."

Guessing games always did frustrate me. "Oh, I give up. Just tell me."

"Hmmm...very well." Saba made a sound as if clearing his throat. "One billion, give or take a few hundred million."

I almost dropped him on the spot. I've been arguing with a half-eon old artifact? Saba wasn't old, he was ancient! He was made around the time multicellular organisms were forming on the Earth! That's...just wow. What made me feel even worse was that, in one billion years, Saba still hadn't found the peace he sought. Was evil so universal that a person could find it no matter where they went? Thinking about it would only take my mind away from where it should be. I had to focus on this fight and pray that I didn't get my ass handed to me.

o

Teleporting must have some kind of time dilation effect. How do I know this? My watch said 5:45 pm when I morphed. The conversation with Saba on the way over took at least ten minutes. Yet a huge digital clock outside a shopping center showed it was only 5:47.

I hadn't even landed and these ugly, gurgling gray men zapped into being. They all had a letter Z emblazoned on their chests.

"Putty Patrollers! Zedd must be aware of you," Saba warned, "Cyndi! Quick! You must hit their Z sigils!"

"Thanks!"

Before I could move, one of the Putties knocked me flat on my back. Good thing I had a helmet on, or my brain would be coming out my left ear! I rolled over and over as the same Putty kicked the ground. Then I leapt up and hit its Z with a sideways chop. The Putty shattered. Hey, that was easy!

Then his friends decided to attack. Guess they didn't like seeing their pal blow up.

I didn't expect them to gang up on me! "Crap!"

"Jump!" Saba cried.

"Are you nuts?"

"Trust me!"

I jumped. I didn't jump three feet in the air like I usually do. I jumped thirty feet in the air. "Oh my GOD!" I screamed as the ground shrank away. The knowledge Saba gave me began flooding forward in my thoughts. My body followed in a knee-jerk type reflex. I slashed the second Putty with Saba's blade. The third one's crotch met my foot in a most unpleasant way before I knocked it out. Then I leapt sideways and literally ran around the other Putties like stepping stones. All I heard was their bodies shattering apart. A second later found me alone in the city square.

"Sopranosaur is coming," Saba said. "Look to the left."

I heard the Sopranosaur singing before I saw her. Even at "human" size she stood closer to Goldar's height. She had musical notation patterns spiraling down her white arms and legs to match the "spines" on her back. Could somebody from Toho please sue Lord Zedd for copyright infringement? Please?

"Oh, what have we here?" Sopranosaur sang, narrowing her black eyes at me. Late afternoon sunlight created menacing shadows across her face. "One puny little Ranger all by himself!"

Damn my flat chest! Saba's snickering didn't help much, either.

"I'm a GIRL, you idiot!" I shook my fist at her, shouting, "By the way, your high A's are flat! Your intonation sucks!"

She stopped suddenly and her lips pulled off her sharp teeth. "You dare insult my singing?"

"Yeah, I do. I'm a singer, too, you know!"

"Grr! Let's see you out-sing this!" Sopranosaur immediately broke into song again. As her voice rose higher, rainbow colored notes launched off her chest and exploded all over me. I flew backwards in a shower of sparks. I was so small that her music bombs threw me like a toy! The only thing that saved me was the Ranger suit, which seemed to keep the explosions off my skin. I tried to rise. A huge crescendo symbol slapped into me before I got up. It sent me crashing into another wall. I managed to roll behind a chunk of debris. Just in time because Sopranosaur started blasting it with staccato sixteenth notes.

"Hey, how about a half rest so I can get up?" I growled. Then I called her a word I won't repeat around children.

"Such language!" Saba tut-tutted me. Then he got serious. "You have to go on the offensive sometime soon."

"I already told you I'm not as brave as the other Rangers!"

Saba turned himself around to look straight up at me. "Bravery isn't about having no fear. It's about facing what causes you fear."

He had a point...and I'm pretty sure a billion year old sword knew a thing or two about fear. Did he know the idea of singing for an audience terrified me? And I had to do that! I wrapped my hand around Saba's handle and said with more courage than I felt, "I can out sing her."

"Your half rest is becoming a whole rest!" taunted Sopranosaur. She cackled, slapping her tail on the ground.

Taking a deep breath, I attained a vertical base and stepped over the debris. I was glad the helmet covered my face so she couldn't see my deer in headlights expression. Was I scared? No. Terrified? Very much so, with a side dish of stomach butterflies to make me feel oh-so-peachy. But when I saw my own reflection in a window, saw myself as a Power Ranger, I felt like I belonged to something bigger than myself. That gave me courage.

Sopranosaur giggled and spread her arms. "I'll start this off simple so you can follow me." Then she began singing a plain 'ah' at middle C.

I countered with an E natural. My voice squeaked at first because of my stupid nerves. But I did hit it. I guess she realized I wasn't going to goof around, for she began singing complicated runs that climbed the scale. Really, it sounded like something out of a nightmare opera. I easily countered by singing the same thing a third above her and much faster. My slow, wavy vibrato was a perfect opposite to her fast machine-gun vocal tremolo. Her voice was heavy and chesty, like a rock versus a soap bubble. It'd be her downfall.

"Nice counter!" said Saba.

Sopranosaur's eyes began to glow. I guess I was pissing her off. She climbed the scale again and went right to that high A. Its sweetness was lost because she sang just under the pitch. But in music, being even a hair off can ruin the harmony and throw entire choral sections off.

I shook my head at her. "I'm telling you, you're flat!"

"Prove it, brat!"

The shakes came back. Crawling in a sewer would be more pleasant than blowing this note. God, the planet rested on my ability to sing! I can't go running off!

I took a deep belly breath and vocally climbed the musical scale once again. I started on a high F, floated to the G and nailed the A. Sopranosaur jumped back in and passed the A! She sang to a high B-sharp, still off-pitch. I scooped myself onto the high C. My voice couldn't take much more of this. Could hers? Sopranosaur hit the C with me. Now she was flat again.

This got annoying. It was like being stuck next to the worst singer in a choir. Her flat singing created a terrible dissonance that rang in my head. Saba grimaced and flattened his ears, making me wish I could plug mine.

Time to end this! I jumped from a C to an E, the very tippy top of my voice where the border between singing and screaming became nonexistent. Mariah Carey would be so proud. Sopranosaur inched up towards my note. Closer, closer, closer...her voice cracked! Sparks shot off her throat, cutting her singing off. I did it! I outsang the Sopranosaur! I made her voice blow out!

Boy, that really made her mad.

"How dare you!" the monster shouted. Now her voice cracked and squeaked. She tried to throw note bombs at me, but couldn't sing a single thing. Instead, she clutched her throat in pain.

I struck a fighting pose and felt power surge over my muscles. "Aw, I'm sorry, I guess you're only a mezzo soprano."

"Nice voice, Cyndi. I prefer you over her any day." Saba said by way of a compliment.

"Thanks." I felt heat race to my cheeks. Funny how the shakes hit me harder after I'd finished singing. I really hope I don't have to repeat that E again. I just barely hit it and doing it over and over could ruin my vocal cords.

"Don't count me out yet!" cried Sopranosaur, launching herself at me. I jumped over her, kicked off the wall and slapped her with the side of Saba's blade. The attack knocked Sopranosaur on her butt. I moved in for another assault, but her tail came up to smack me against a tree. "Nice try! Let's turn things up a bit." She held her hand up high and something round landed on her palm. I watched her pull off the top and slam the ball into the ground. Steam shot from the sphere to engulf Sopranosaur. She laughed and started to grow! In seconds she towered over the buildings!

"Saba...the spotlight's on you." I swallowed, stepping back. "Now would be a good time to call that TigerZord thingy!"

"Right," Saba replied. His red eyes began to glow brilliantly like tiny suns. I held him up high and he called out, "ACTIVATE THE TIGERZORD!"

Less than a minute later I felt the ground shake. Ka-boom, ka-boom, ka-boom, ka-boom! A very huge quadrapedal something was coming fast. Suddenly, lasers shot out of the south and blew Sopranosaur clear out of the city square! I heard a deafening crash and the source of all the noise appeared over my dad's workplace.

So that's the TigerZord, I thought while gazing up at the gigantic machine. It really looked like something from Transformers or Beast Wars...maybe even Voltron. I really can't think of a description to suit it other than that. The TigerZord reacted to Saba by sticking its gold tail straight up like an overgrown metal housecat.

"It's not going to eat me, is it?" I asked.

Saba chuckled. "Not unless I tell it to. So behave and I won't feed you to my Zord."

"Thanks. Hey, I thought that was the White Ranger's Zord!"

"Technically speaking, it's Nikodai's. I inherited it from him. The White Ranger only drives when I hand over the controls." Saba winked at me, "Come on. Let's take care of that terrible singing lizard together!"

"Right! Let's do it!" I did another insane thirty foot leap and landed on the TigerZord's massive head. "TigerZord, power up!"

The crazy thing took off running with me still outside! Amazingly, I didn't fall off. It was actually pretty cool! Roller coasters had nothing on this baby. Think about it - I was a Power Ranger standing on top of a billion year old robot about to kick the snot out of a monster.

Could this day get any cooler?

"Yeah! This rules!"

At least, it ruled until a huge eighth note blew up in my face. I dropped onto my stomach to hug the TigerZord's armored gold head. For a moment I forgot this wasn't a joy ride.

Saba scowled as more explosions rocked the Zord. "We must enter the cockpit."

"How do we do that?"

A door opened underneath me, dumping me inside a small room. I hit the ground chest first. "Ow, thanks for the advance warning, Saba!"

"Don't mention it," came his witty retort.

Groaning, I picked my head up to look around. The TigerZord's "dashboard" had five black glass orbs that flickered eerily in the light. Behind me, I saw a circle of small, clear baubles with symbols painted on them. I peered at the central dashboard orb. I guess that was the steering wheel for this huge thing.

Saba freed himself from my grasp and floated towards the same sphere I was staring at. Knowledge came to me, telling me that gave me control of the TigerZord if I so wished it.

Another explosion went off. I was thrown backwards into the wall.

I looked at Saba. "Uhh, do I dare drive this thing?"

"We'll both drive. We're a team, aren't we?" he darted into my hand and smiled. How could he be so calm? "Ready, Cyndi?"

"Ready! TigerZord, convert to warrior mode..." Don't ask me how I knew to do what I did next. I pulled on the end of Saba's blade to extend it and pushed him down into a slot beside the main control sphere. In unison he and I shouted, "Now!"

With a jolt, the TigerZord reared up and slowly transformed like Optimus Prime. Despite the changes I heard no loud creaks, snaps or groans, just the grinding of gears. It took everything in my power not to hum the Transformers theme. I know the situation was serious, but being a Ranger was way too fun! I held onto the wall as the TigerZord's head changed position and the Zord slowly stood erect. I've seen this thing fight before, so I knew it was in its more humanoid shape.

"Power up!" I shouted, clenching my fist. Lights flickered to life around me as Saba brought the Zord into a fighting stance.

"You think that stupid Zord can stop me?" snarled Sopranosaur. "Take THIS!" she blasted us with an entire musical staff, trying to immobilize the Zord. She used the music staff like a multicolored energy whip to slap the Zord around. I held on tight when the cockpit rocked around me. I guess it didn't take her voice long to recover.

I got frustrated. "She's too fast!"

"Patience," said Saba. "You man the weapons, I'll do the fighting."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Excellent." Then Saba put his game face on. His expression became one of tight-lipped concentration. He expertly manipulated the Zord through complicated attack patterns. I noticed a gold saber in the huge Zord's right hand. Saba wasn't going to fool around!

Sopranosaur pivoted, slapping the Zord with her tail and then the whip. She prepared for a third blow, but the Zord's sword knocked her away. She nailed us with her long claws. The windshield actually had scratches! I heard Saba groan softly. God, did he feel pain from the Zord? Asking him wasn't a good idea. I refocused on the ugly Godzilla wannabe. She got in a few hits and now she thought she had us beat. Ha!

"Cyndi, the orbs behind you," Saba spoke with that surprising calmness of his, "Place one in the receptacle below me."

Images of a fireball flashed across my mind. I grabbed a glass sphere from the circle behind me and dumped it down the golden opening. It slid out of sight and the TigerZord's cockpit became suddenly warm. Saba bore his teeth in a fierce snarl as he spun the Zord around another note bomb. Sopranosaur's hideous visage filled the cockpit window.

"White Tiger Thunderbolt! Fire!" I shouted.

"Firing...now!"

I watched the fireball shoot right through Sopranosaur's belly like a knife through butter. She flew backwards as a huge, blinding explosion completely engulfed her. When the smoke and sparks cleared, Sopranosaur was gone. Not a trace of her remained.

I stared, stunned. "Did we just win?"

"Yes. Nice work."

"You were the one driving this thing."

"But you still-" Saba's voice cut off and he closed his eyes for a moment. He frowned, blinked and looked up at me. "Zordon has just informed me that Goldar is in the park. He has the other Rangers with him."

I groaned. Not Goldar! Didn't I already mention he's on my list of people I never want to see again? And now I had to fight with him! The worst part is I was beginning to tire a little bit. I wasn't used to constant, strenuous exercise. Heck, I was never very athletic to begin with. Speed seemed to be the only thing going for me.

And if I didn't go after Goldar, who would? He might be killing the Rangers one by one while I sit around whining about my lack of prowess.

"Goldar is just a big bully," I grumbled. "I mean, don't bullies get off on making other people feel awful? Isn't that what they enjoy the most?"

"You're very right." Saba disengaged from the panel and floated up to me. "And bullies don't like it when their victim isn't afraid of them."

"But he IS scary!"

He flashed me that smarmy little smile of his. "You won't be facing him alone." With that, he lowered himself into the sheath on my left hip.

"Why can't we just use the TigerZord to stomp him?" I complained. "It'd be a lot quicker."

"That's against the rules. Zords are only to be used when the enemy escalates the battle to giant proportions."

Well, so much for that idea. I stared straight ahead in thought. If I just had the element of surprise, I just might beat Goldar. Yes! That's it! "Saba, is it possible to land on someone when teleporting?"

"If you're careless, yes."

"Then let's be careless." I said, glancing at Saba. "Let's teleport right on top of Goldar. He'll probably have a mob of those Putty things running around, waiting to clobber me when I appear. But if I land right on him, they won't be of much use, will they?"

"That is the most absurd battle tactic I have ever heard!" Saba replied, laughing. "I like it. Let's go."

I put my hands on my belt and bid the TigerZord's cockpit a silent farewell.

o

It was possible to pause while teleporting. Saba advised me not to hold my position for long since it drained a lot of power, but I needed to see the battlefield first.

Just as I expected - fourteen Putty Patrollers darted around the park. Some hid in the bushes, some ran free and others milled around Goldar. Goldar himself stood by the bushes where he nearly discovered me earlier. His gold armor gleamed brilliantly in the setting sun. He still had that remote in his right hand. In his left, he held a huge golden sword. I mean this thing looked like a freaking claymore. Was he mad because somebody beat the Sopranosaur? It looked like it. Beside him, tied back to back in twos by a golden chain, were the other Rangers. Black and White, Pink and Yellow and Red and Blue. They were moving, which told me they were alive and conscious. They were also still morphed, but I'm guessing the device kept them from using the abilities the Ranger suits gave them. Putties kept a careful eye on the trapped Rangers.

Saba jolted beside me. "I have just intercepted a telepathic message from Zedd." The usual calm dropped from his voice, making his tone waver. "He's given Goldar the order to begin executing the Rangers. Cyndi, we must move NOW!"

As Saba spoke, Goldar stood over the Black and White Rangers and lifted his sword high.

"Right. Here we go!" I resumed teleportation and planted myself square on Goldar's huge shoulders. Without a word I started punching him in the head as hard as I could.

"What the?" Goldar flailed, caught completely by surprise. Despite the strength of my blows, he did not fall. Off to the side, I heard the other Rangers whispering amongst themselves. Probably wondering about me. Unfortunately I didn't have time to introduce myself.

"Saba, get the Putties!"

"No problem." Saba launched himself out of the sheath and circled the Putty people. Man, that saber could MOVE! Like a deft little hummingbird, Saba darted between the Putties, striking with his sparkly white eye lasers or slamming his blade into their chests whenever he saw an opening. He shattered a couple of them all on his own. Then he came spinning towards the Rangers like a circular saw and cut through their chains with ease. They immediately got up and took on the other Putties. Guess they didn't need Ranger strength to fight those guys.

"Saba! Boy am I glad to see you!" the White Ranger climbed to his feet. He helped the Black Ranger up. I heard the Black Ranger ask about me, but I have no idea what Saba said in reply. I was too busy punching Goldar in the head to eavesdrop on their conversation.

Goldar flapped his wings to no avail. I wasn't letting go. "Get off me, you wretch!"

"Make me!" I wrapped my arm around Goldar's eyes, blinding him. He stuck his sword in the ground, literally palmed my head and threw me down on the ground at his feet. The air was forced from my lungs.

"Oh, and what have we here?" Goldar sneered and planted his big, booted gold foot on my chest. The toes on his boot had little claws that scraped my helmet. He peered down at me with narrowed eyes. "A puny little Ranger?" his mouth curled in a fangy grin. "Yes, you are the most puny Ranger I have ever seen."

I twisted my head sideways to find the other Rangers busy with the Putties. All around were the sounds of a fight.

Suddenly, Goldar jerked his head up. He fired crimson eyelasers...hey he had them too? A set of glittery white lasers contacted Goldar's, creating a tiny explosion. Goldar growled and stepped back, rubbing his eyes.

Saba zipped down into my hand. "You can't do anything without me, can you?" he teased.

"If you'd timed that any closer, I wouldn't be here to answer that." I laughed, relieved to be alive. "We have to get that remote."

"Not to worry. The others will get it. We have to keep distracting Goldar." Saba pulled me to my feet. For such a small thing he was strong! "I will help you."

The idea lost its luster the second Goldar picked up his massive sword. It was as tall as me! I looked over at Saba and gulped. No offense to Saba, but Goldar's sword made him look puny. "Need I remind you that he's two feet taller than me?"

"A small target is harder to hit." Saba replied simply. "Don't lose courage now. He might be big, but bigger isn't always better."

Goldar lunged straight at me. "Come here, shrimp!"

"Yikes!" I jumped straight up to let him pass beneath me. He stopped, did a backflip leap and planted both of his huge feet in my stomach. The blow sent me flying over forty feet in a dizzying spin. Lucky for me, I landed in a huge bush right outside a picnic area.

Goldar landed nearby and used his sword to smash a picnic table. He waved the remote in a taunting manner. "You'll never get this remote away from me, puny Ranger!" he laughed as he advanced on me. Saba helped me out of the bush a half second before Goldar's sword would have cleaved me in two. Holy crap!

"Aah! Get away from me!" I ducked another swing. "Back off!"

"And end this game so soon?" he snickered. Stupid Goldar! He thought this was just hilarious. He wasn't even trying to fight for real! Was I a toy to him? I kept dodging him at lightning speed. Tables, benches and even a chain link fence got all cut up. The worst part is he'd wave that stupid remote at me, daring me to grab it. I knew he'd cut my arms off if I reached for it that way.

Finally I found myself backed up against a brick wall. It was the vanity wall outside the park restrooms. I had a wall behind me and Goldar's huge sword pointed at my throat. Sunlight gleamed down the blade's length. Its tip looked very sharp. Goldar glared down at me with bloodlust in his eyes. His lips curled back in a twisted grin that bared a hint of his purple gums. Off in the distance, the Pink Ranger screamed to the others. Over that, I could literally hear the tendons in Goldar's hand tighten as he prepared to run me through.

Too bad...I didn't feel like dying. You know what they say about backing an animal into a corner? It gets dangerous. And I was tired of being pushed around. Scared or not, I had no choice but to fight. I flipped Saba up and shoved Goldar's blade aside. Metal clashed against metal in a deafening clang. Images of Saberian fighting moves danced across my head, my body following them of its own accord. Maybe Saba helped me, I really don't know. I just knew that I could NOT let Goldar impale me!

"Well, well, well, if I'd known backing you into a corner was all I took, I would have done it sooner." Goldar's deep voice took on a sickly sweet tone, "It's so cute how the puny Ranger is trying to fight me."

"This puny Ranger is tired of being pushed around!" I snarled, parrying another sword swipe. Over the gold giant's hip, I saw the other Rangers running towards us. They had tied short chains together to form one long chain! Goldar slapped his sword into Saba's blade. I ducked aside and slashed Goldar's flank. Sparks flew, causing him to stumble back. I took a few seconds to breathe.

"Cyndi!" Saba cut in, sounding peeved, "Use both hands to hold me!"

"He might hurt you!"

"He won't. Only my head feels pain, remember?" the saber growled. "I am a weapon, now use me as such and DEFEND YOURSELF!"

"Hah!" Goldar charged again. Without another thought I gripped Saba in both hands and held him up, blocking Goldar's sword. Now my leverage was better! But Goldar started to get serious. His blows came down harder and faster. I spent more time parrying than I did thrusting. I couldn't get a hit in like this!

Then I glimpsed a flash of red and white. A second later, Goldar's feet went out from under him. They used the chain to trip him! He landed on his back across the last intact picnic table, crushing it. He kipped up just in time to have the Pink Ranger kick the remote from his hand. In that short time the Red and White Rangers swung the chain like a huge jump rope. Then they crossed in front of Goldar, pinning his legs together. The Pink and Yellow Rangers grabbed his arms, immobilizing him.

The remote was still in the air.

"I got it!" yelled the Blue Ranger. "I got it-OOF!" he tripped on a bench and went down.

Saba darted from my grasp and caught the remote in his mouth before it hit the ground.

"Nice save!" I cheered.

"Ho ho'um!" Saba replied with his mouth full. He set the remote down in the Blue Ranger's gloved hand. "I mean, 'no problem'."

Goldar chose that moment to elbow the Yellow Ranger. He cut the chain off his legs, punched the Pink Ranger in the head and charged the unsuspecting Blue Ranger. But that was the moment the Blue Ranger disabled the device. Ranger colored lightning streaked from the sky to strike each Power Ranger in turn. Their bodies glowed brilliantly as their powers were restored. They looked like wilted flowers getting much needed rain. It also gave the Blue Ranger just what he needed to leap over Goldar's sword.

"Not today, Goldar!"

I ran over to the Power Rangers, glad to see them back to full strength. I stood with them as they advanced on Goldar, who didn't seem so scary anymore. Goldar obviously didn't like it when the tide turned against him.

"Lord Zedd will get you Power Punks next time," roared the gold freak. He shook his fist and disappeared in a cloud of orange fire.

Good riddance! I thought. Just when I turned to introduce myself to the others, the Blue Ranger spoke up.

"Guys, we should return to the Command Center and make sure the systems are undamaged."

Could that be...Billy? No, impossible. Billy was a nerd who probably spent his time behind a computer, not out fighting armored gold guys from space.

"Good idea," the White Ranger turned to me. "You're coming, too."

"No problem." I nodded.

"I'll see you there," said Saba. He smiled at me and floated over to the White Ranger. The White Ranger placed Saba in the sheath on his hip. Then the Rangers all touched their belts and disappeared in streaks of colored light. Sighing happily, I joined them.

o

I found all six Power Rangers waiting for me in the middle of the Command Center. They were talking to Zordon, but turned when I materialized next to the TV globe...thing.

"Ah, there you are!" Zordon regarded me with a slight smile. "I was prepared to tell the Rangers your true identity."

"Oh! Wow, that's okay." I shifted nervously and reached for my helmet. "I'll do it." I undid the clasps, cracked the helmet open and pulled my hair free. Cool air rushed up around my face as I lifted the helmet away from my face.

"Cyndi?" they all gasped in unison. The Black and Red Rangers slapped hands, laughing. How the hell did they all know my name?

I got my answer when they took their helmets off. I hadn't been wrong...their voices were familiar for a reason. Now I knew why Tommy, Zach, Kimberly, Billy, Trini and Jason all disappeared on me earlier. They were the Power Rangers! A sudden laugh jumped from my throat before I could contain myself. "Oh, wow, this is the coolest day ever!"

"Man, you were awesome out there!" Zach clapped a hand on my shoulder.

Heat crawled into my cheeks. I ducked my head, smiling. "Saba helped me."

"He told me all about it on the way here," said Tommy, who I noticed had his arm around Kimberly. For a second I flashed back to what Saba said about their souls. Were Tommy and Kimberly aware of their reincarnation? How much of Saba's story did the Rangers know?

Billy arched an eyebrow behind his glasses. "The Morphing Grid does not detect your power signature. This doesn't correlate with normal morphing procedures."

"That is because I acted as a morpher and power source," said Saba. "Speaking of which, I must demorph you, Cyndi."

"Okay." I nodded. Saba closed his eyes and my gray Ranger suit vanished in a flash of light. Once again I was wearing my Godzilla T-shirt and jeans.

"It's a good thing Cyndi was there to take Saba. Who knows what Goldar might have done with him!" Alpha tottered out from behind Trini. "By the way, you sang great against the Sopranosaur!"

Now I really blushed! I hid behind my hands and smiled again.

"Cyndi. You fought well today," Zordon said, calling my attention to his blue face floating in the tube. "It is very important that you never reveal the true identities of the Power Rangers."

I looked up at Zordon, my face serious. "I promise I won't tell anyone. Their secret is safe with me. I really had fun being a Ranger...but...I had no idea how hard the job really is." I glanced at the others. "It's such a huge responsibility. I see now why you're a team and not just one person like Superman. I mean...Saba really saved my butt out there a dozen times."

They laughed amongst themselves. Saba was hovering by Tommy's shoulder, and blushed when he heard me. He drifted up to me and grinned.

"I enjoyed our time together, Cyndi. I do apologize for biting your finger earlier," he said. Then, just like a cat, he bared his fangs in a huge yawn. "Goodness gracious! I used more power than I'm accustomed to. So, if you don't mind...I could use a nap."

"It's fine." Reaching out, I caught Saba in my right hand. "Thanks for teaming up with me."

Saba's eyes closed and he did not move again afterward. I swore that I heard very, very faint snoring noises. I carefully handed him back to Tommy.

"He liked you." Tommy sheathed Saba, chuckling.

"He's got a mouth on him." I grinned.

"It's old age."

"I heard that," Saba muttered between snores.

I bit my lip so I wouldn't laugh. Then I glanced at my watch and felt my heart rise towards my throat. It was almost eight o'clock! "Oh, my God...my mom! She is going to skin me alive if she finds out I went out of the house this late! I need to get home...uh..." I looked from the Rangers to Zordon and Alpha, "...can somebody please beam me to my house?" The sentence had barely left my mouth when I felt gray light surround me. Just before I got teleported, I said, "See you guys later!"

A minute later, I reappeared outside my familiar room. I had just climbed inside and pulled my window shut when my mom opened the door. She saw me close the window. "What are you doing?"

Startled, I spun to face my mom. "Closing my window. It's chilly."

"Oh." She didn't ask any 'where were you?' questions. Good, that meant she hadn't come into my room during the time I was gone. Phew, very close call. "Well um, your dad just called and said to turn on the news."

"Okay." I turned my TV on in time to see myself, as the Gray Ranger, leaping up onto the TigerZord.

"This new Power Ranger appeared shortly after the other Power Rangers vanished," said the young female reporter. "He has not been seen since. More on this at eleven."

"I'm a girl," I mumbled.

My mom blinked, "Huh?"

I laughed. "Nothing."

o
-One month later-

Bright spotlights illuminated the navy blue curtains. Above the school stage, a wooden sign with Angel Grove High School Talent Competition hung as a decoration. Well, I couldn't see the sign for sure from offstage, but I'm guessing that's what it said. Some girl was already out there, playing badly on a violin. I cringed and turned to the mirror for a one last makeup check. Red lipstick, light brown eyeshadow and a touch of mascara. My sleeveless slate gray velvet dress reached to the floor. I wore gray opera gloves and black pearls to dress it up a little. It bothered me that I still looked like a little girl wearing her mother's clothing. Well, honestly...I saw the same dress in light blue, but of course it wasn't in my size.

But gray seemed a suitable color for the talent show.

The violin stopped. The silence brought me back to awareness. I heard the principal, Mr. Caplan, call my full name. Jitters made my hands tremble, but I closed my fists to steel myself and walked out into the bright spotlights. My heart beat like a machine gun as the crowd applauded.

Mr. Caplan's voice barely reached me, "...will be singing Memory from Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS."

Tommy, Zach, Kimberly, Billy, Trini and Jason all sat in the front row together. I just barely made out their faces in the glare from the spotlights. Tommy had his backpack in his lap with the zipper undone. Saba's red eyes peered through the crack in the fabric. He winked. I smiled.

I could do this.

I lowered the microphone to my level and nodded to Mr. Blanchard, who sat at the piano. The music started and I swallowed to control the butterflies in my stomach. If I could outsing an ugly singing lizard...I could do this, too.

Taking a deep breath, I stared into space and let my voice come forth. "Midnight, not a sound from the pavement. Has the moon lost her memory? She is smiling alone. In the lamp light the withered leaves collect at my feet-and the wind begins to moan... Memory! All alone in the moonlight! I can smile at the old days, I was beautiful then. I remember the time I knew what happiness was. Let the memory live again..."

I felt myself drifting to another plane of awareness as I sang-remembering those visions I saw when Saba gave me his power. I imagined him with Nikodai, Magaki and Nara. Them laughing at a joke. Magaki holding Saba while he dashed across the green plains. The four of them watching a sunset together. Nikodai patting Saba's head. Magaki riding the TigerZord like I did.

But Memory was a song that grew dark at some points. During the first lower part, I felt the terrible loss Saba suffered when his homeworld blew itself to dust. If the people there had only listened to Nikodai, the planet might still be there today. The sorrow lifted slightly as I came to the next line.

"Daylight...I must wait for the sunrise, I must think of a new life, and I mustn't give in. When the dawn comes tonight will be a memory too. And the new day will begin..."

I looked around the room without really seeing. My reality went no further than the microphone four inches from my face. Still, I glimpsed my new friends all watching me. They weren't hoping I'd fail...they wanted me to succeed. That alone gave me the courage to continue the song. It was time for the big finale. I braced my feet on the floor, clenched my fists and put everything I felt into the song's last verse.

"Touch me! It's so easy to leave me all alone with the memory of my days in the sun. If you touch me...you'll understand what happiness is!" I dropped from triple forte to pianissimo, "Look, a new day has begun..." and that last note floated like a feather on the wind. I stood, poised, as Mr. Blanchard played the last few bars on his piano. When the piano stopped, there was a moment of silence.

Then, deafening applause broke the spell. I blinked back into reality to find my six friends on their feet. The people behind them stood. Then the people behind those people. Before I knew it I had a standing ovation. Kimberly and Tommy ducked out a side door. I found them waiting backstage when I finished taking a bow. Tommy reached into his backpack for a white karate gi. I guess he was in the show too.

"Cyndi! That was beautiful!" Kimberly hugged me tight and chattered a mile a minute. "I knew you could do it! Oh, you're shaking! Guess it's better to get the shakes afterward than during. Tommy, wasn't she amazing?"

"Yeah! I'm proud of you...you should get all the choir solos with a voice like that!" Tommy said, grinning. "Saba cried through the last half, though."

"I did not!" Saba muffled from inside the backpack.

Tommy mock glared at the bag. "I heard you."

Saba didn't reply. He sniffed audibly. Poor guy probably missed his home. I knelt and moved a flap of the backpack aside. Yup, Saba was crying in there. Aw. Seeing that just made me think of him more as a tiny person rather than a magical sword. Really, he had one heck of a personality.

"It made me remember...but in a good way," he whispered, turning to look up at me. Somehow, he smiled despite the tearstreaks on his white face. "Thank you for such a wonderful evening. Tommy, thank you for bringing me." He nodded briefly to Tommy and Kimberly. "I should go before I'm discovered. Goodbye, my friends!"

Amidst the farewells of Tommy, Kimberly and myself, Saba vanished in a cloud of white sparkles. Bulk and Skull came swaggering into the little room less than a second later. They were both dressed like hair band rejects - Bulk in a green fishnet shirt under a black leather jacket and a black bandanna on his head. Skull, wearing ripped jeans, a spiked collar around his neck and a camo vest, was carrying a white V electric guitar.

"So, you think you can sing?" Bulk leaned down to my level. His breath smelled like garlic, ew! "You shrimp!"

"Yeah, shrimp!" Skull laughed. "Good one, Bulkie!"

"Let's see you two do better," I snorted. I was in too good a mood to let them ruin my night.

"Count on it!" snapped Bulk. He and Skull stomped onto the stage. Bulk tripped over Skull's guitar cord. They both made a production of plugging the guitar into the amp.

Skull leapt in the air as he struck the first note. He held up his arm and proceeded to play the most awful riff in history. Bulk grabbed the microphone and screamed, "Welcome to the jungle! We've got fun and games! We've got everything you want, honey, we know the names!"

"Why is it always Guns N' Roses?" Kimberly sighed, picking a piece of fuzz off her pink T-shirt.

I looked over at her. "Are they always this obnoxious?"

She giggled. "Usually...they're worse."

Tommy tied the belt on his white gi and sat down to stretch his legs. Without missing a beat, he said, "They never learn."

Onstage, Skull danced in circles around his large pal. Bulk tried to copy Axel Rose's sideways shimmy. His belt caught on the guitar cord again. It made his pants fall down! He was wearing happy face boxers with "Have a nice day" written across the butt. To make matters worse, he tripped on his pants and fell into Skull, who toppled off the stage!

I know I shouldn't have laughed, but you always laugh the hardest when you know you shouldn't. Besides, the entire auditorium broke into laughter.

Mr. Caplan took the stage during the pandemonium and tried to calm the audience down. "Thank you, Eugene and Farkus, for that lovely...um...rock and roll. Tommy Oliver is next, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, he will be demonstrating his martial arts skills. Let's give him a hand!"

More applause rang out as Tommy took the stage. I followed Kimberly back into the auditorium, where we sat in the front row to watch Tommy. I saw how she looked at Tommy and smiled at the dreamy look in her eyes. It was the sweetest thing...kinda made me wish I could fall in love like that. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

I turned back to watch Tommy put on the most awesome show ever. It made fighting look more like a dance. The spotlights glanced off his ponytail as he did spinning kicks, lightning fast punches and broke bricks with his bare hands. His "tsee-yah!" cry pierced the auditorium. Occasionally, Jason and a couple others would clap and cheer. Tommy finished up with a beautiful backflip and aerial roundhouse combo. Then, facing the audience, he placed his hands at his sides and bowed. The whole place erupted in loud cheering. Tommy winked at Kimberly and walked off the stage.

Bulk and Skull finally untangled themselves from the guitar cord. Skull tripped again!

"Come on, idiot!" Bulk grabbed Skull's ankle. Holding his pants up with one hand and Skull's ankle in the other, he stomped to the back of the auditorium. The guitar scraped across the ground behind them both.

o

The talent contest went on for another hour. I saw many students with various fascinating abilities. A contortionist, a juggler, a sophomore who rocked on a saxophone, a ventriloquist...then most of it became a blur. Some were good, but a few were terrible. I spent most of the time daydreaming or whispering to Billy, who looked as bored as I felt. Turns out he wanted to enter, but the chemistry set he planned to use for his demonstration didn't arrive on time. I went back to staring blankly at the stage. Kimberly grabbed my arm when Mr. Caplan stepped up to the podium.

"Thank you very much. We have many talented people in our student body. This was a hard contest to judge, but the third place winner is..." I missed the name, but it was the contortionist kid. He got a little plaque to mount on his wall. "First place was a tough call between two students. I've never seen scores this close before. But one of them won by a single vote." Mr. Caplan announced. He asked for Tommy and I both to stand. "And the winner is..."

I found myself holding Tommy's hand, both wanting him to win and wanting myself to win at the same time. Reality slowed to a crawl. It took forever for Mr. Caplan to announce the winner.

"...Tommy Oliver!"

"Aah! Tommy! Great job!" I hugged him and laughed, though inside I felt bummed out for not winning.

"Thanks. You, too!" Tommy smiled at me and went up to accept a huge golden plaque. A tab with his name engraved on it had been stuck to the very bottom. He grinned, holding the plaque up while a photographer took his picture. I'd probably find it in my yearbook at the end of the year. As I watched Tommy standing on stage, I felt my disappointment melt away. It didn't matter that I didn't win the competition. The fact that I got up there and gave it my best...that's what mattered.

Besides, after outsinging the Sopranosaur, after facing Goldar, and tonight, after singing for a live audience, I realized that I did win something. I won over my fear. And it's all because of my brief time as a Power Ranger.

"Hey, Cyndi!" Jason called, stirring me to awareness. "We're going to celebrate at the Youth Center! Are you coming?"

"Hold on, I have to ask my dad." I got up on a chair and glanced around until I found my dad, who was standing by the back exit with his arm around my mom. Daddy is never hard to spot. At six foot five, he towers over most people. I caught his eye, pointed to Jason and then in the direction of the Youth Center. My dad gave a quick nod. Then he gestured to his watch and held up ten fingers to tell me I had to be home by ten o'clock. After that, he waved me off.

Laughing, I jumped down to join my friends.

.o

.o

.o

The End