Disclaimer: Power Rangers and all things related belong to Saban/Disney. If the Rangers go missing, it's not because I'm keeping them all to myself…promise!

Impending Darkness

Chapter Thirteen

This is in all probability the same room Tommy described from the length of time he was under the control of the World-Burners, Billy thought to himself, a slight tingle of unease dancing down his spine. It was indeed round and white, with no other remarkable features. There were no obvious sensing devices or even windows, and the only interruption in the plain surface was the door. His memory was a blank, however, as to how he had come to be in this room. He had initiated his nocturnal rest at the same time as his companions; however, it failed to completely surprise him that he had not awakened with them.

The logical part of his brain had suspected all along that it was only a matter of time before they were each experimented upon again. He wished it wasn't like that, but without further data to disprove his hypothesis, that was all Billy was left with.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door opening. He quickly got to his feet and turned to face whatever opponent had been brought against him...and saw Azalea. She was slightly out of breath, and if the Blue Ranger wasn't mistaken, she looked exhausted. Distantly, he recorded that observation for examination later. Right now, he had to get out of there.

"Azalea," Billy began, moving toward the girl, but she made an abrupt silencing gesture and pointed to something behind him. She knelt suddenly, tucking her chin against her chest and pulling her black hair to one side, letting the back of her neck show. Billy turned quickly to see the image of a Liame-Menashi standing behind him, it's hooded robe hiding its reptilian features.

"Naiss saj." The first word meant nothing to Billy, but he understood the last to be 'me'. Assuming a literal word-to-word translation...show me? Help me? No, 'assis' means help, Billy thought.

Azalea began speaking quickly, head still bowed. Her eyes were closed, and everything about her was tense, as if she were ready to bolt.

The World-Burner listened, unmoving. When the little girl finished, it said nothing. Was it still listening? Or was it merely a projection as Tommy said, and needed outside commands to function? Perhaps it was a live transmission instead, instead of an automated image.

"Shua ties sho suev sal." The words were abrupt; Billy recognized the word 'you' but didn't know if the lizard-like alien was speaking to him or Azalea.

That dilemma was solved when the World-Burner closed the distance to Azalea's huddled form and struck her across the face. She fell over on her side and did not try to rise. Was it a futile action? Was she safer on the floor in her submissive position?

Billy belatedly moved to intervene, but he found himself frozen in place, much as Zack had described when he had been frozen to his bed. The hem of the World-Burner's robe twitched, and slowly its tail snaked into view. The alien flexed the powerful appendage once, where Azalea could see it.

The girl apparently knew exactly what the threatening gesture meant; she got to her feet and practically scampered to the door. She was gone with only the slightest parting look over her shoulder at Billy.

The Blue Ranger turned his attention back to the World-Burner, but just as silently as the creature had appeared, it evaporated. Definitely a substantial hologram, like the screen in our living quarters.

Billy didn't understand—weren't they supposed to do something to him? Would he start hallucinating like Tommy? He clenched his hands into fists; he was anticipating something, theorizing without a complete set of data, and that frustrated him.

He took a deep breath and tried to calm his racing thoughts. Billy pondered his next move; it was not often that he had unoccupied time to himself. Normally he would make notes about his newest discovery, tinker with the interface, or work through his suppositions with his teammates.

Not having pen and paper is no reason to obstruct the path of science, he decided. He seated himself on the ground and wilfully ignored the anxiety attempting to build inside him. My companions are depending upon me. Anything I can come up with may be useful later. Together we will solve these problems, of that I can be certain.

"This symbol occurs here, here, and here," Trini said, pointing to a particular character. Kimberly rubbed her eyes sleepily; she felt as if she'd been staring at the computer interface for hours. "It's probably not a vowel, but a frequently-used consonant."

Kim cast a sideways glance at Jason, but he was busily writing the phrase Trini had indicated down. It was one of several reoccurring passages that kept popping up on the interface, in the section where the alien text kept streaming by. They hadn't found a way to pause the moving characters, so they had put up with it as best they could.

Billy had begun to notate all the different symbols he had seen on the interface, treating them as if they were letters in a cryptogram to be decoded. His analysis of the numbering system was as complete as could be; it was a ten-digit system just like the Rangers were used to. What was left, however, was the real puzzle.

As far as the three of them could tell, the alien alphabet had twenty-three distinct letters. The difficulty, however, was that some of the letters often appeared to have extra dots above and below; they didn't know what the significance of that was yet. Trini's guess was pronunciation related, but Kimberly thought it might be emphasis. Jason, who didn't come from another country and had only visited Canada in terms of international travel, really had no reference to come up with his own theory.

For now, however, they had decided to ignore the dots and work from the words Billy had written down. Even that wasn't much; most of the communication they'd had with Azalea had been in the form of pictures and gestures. Jason was reasonably confident they had 'a', 's', and 'i' figured out; those were the primary letters used in most of the World Burner language. Guessing at all the symbols that went in between, however, was proving to be more of a challenge.

Finally, Kimberly decided that she was going to go blind from staring at the screen, and possibly even partially brain-dead from exhaustion. She stood to stretch, and teetered off-balance for a moment as the blood rushed to her head.

"You okay?" Trini asked, glancing up over her shoulder at her best friend.

"Yeah," Kimberly replied. "I'm just tired…I'm going to catch a nap before Zack and Tommy wake up."

"All right," Trini said with a small, tired smile of her own. "Maybe we'll have cracked this stuff by the time you get up."

"I hope so," Kimberly said with a sigh, before disappearing into the sleeping quarters.

Jason also took a moment to stretch, and as he did, his stomach rumbled hungrily. "It's not too early for breakfast, is it?" he asked Trini, who just rolled her eyes in amusement. He got up and started hunting through the kitchen half of the room for a sphere with cereal or something similar inside. "Do you want something?" he asked as an afterthought.

"Sure, a cup of juice," the Yellow Ranger replied, picking up a fresh sheet of paper and idly beginning to jot some words down.

Jason found a glass and filled it up as requested. This he delivered to Trini while experimentally shaking one of the meal-bubbles in his other hand. "Does that sound like cereal to you?" he asked.

Trini paused and listened to the rattle from the plastic sphere. "I'd say Fruit Loops." She took a long sip of her juice and turned back to the screen, contemplating it silently.

"Hm. I was hoping for Lucky Charms," Jason said more to himself than to her, but he opened the sphere anyway. The contents were indeed cereal; Honey Nut Cheerios, which were almost as good, in his opinion. Bingo, Jason thought, hunting for a spoon before adding milk. He took Kimberly's vacated seat beside Trini. "What are you thinking?" he eventually asked into the silence that stretched between them.

The Asian girl paused, her lips pressing into a thin line. "I think that I'm worried about Billy." She looked at him. "Jason, he's the best one out of all of us to work on this translation. Sometimes I feel like I'm just guessing. Billy's the brilliant one, but sometimes I think he's more vulnerable to fear than any of the rest of us."

Jason set down his breakfast and faced Trini squarely. "Zordon chose him too, Trini. Never forget that. Billy is the Blue Ranger because he is worthy of the Power given to him. He has the strength and the will to be a Power Ranger the same as you. I don't doubt that he's just as afraid as any of us right now, but," Jason reached over and squeezed his friend's shoulder, "he'll get through. We all will."

Trini gazed back at him, tears standing in her almond-shaped eyes. "Thanks, Jase," she said quietly after a moment. She looked down at the pages of alien language arrayed in front of her. "I just needed a little boost, that's all."

As if on cue, the familiar sound of the outer airlock cycling reached their ears. A sense of foreboding swept over Jason as he jumped to his feet and took a defensive stance. He was about to have Trini run and wake the others in case it was the World-Burners returning, but by that time the inner lock was cycling. The door irised open to reveal Azalea. There was no sign of Billy, and Jason felt Trini stiffen beside him, then slump just as quickly.

Azalea took in Jason and Trini crouched in front of the computer interface without so much as blinking. For a moment, the Red Ranger felt as if he had been caught doing something wrong, but the alien girl didn't seem inclined to object. He wondered if she already knew that they wouldn't be able to access anything from the interface without her help. Jason was abruptly reminded of the Sylvi and decided that he didn't want to bring that back to Azalea's memory. Not if they were going to successfully convince her that the Rangers were different, that they weren't going to trick her.

Trini appeared to be having the same thoughts, for instead of turning back to the screen, she set down her page of notes and stood up, empty orange juice glass in hand. "Good morning," she greeted Azalea with a smile. "Are you feeling better?" She pointed to Azalea and mimed being sick, ending with passing out.

Although Azalea wouldn't have known about the fight that had occurred when the World-Burners had come for her, she looked chagrined. "Hasi," she replied to Trini with a small nod. "Sei Liame-Menashi sahi sho desi saj morasmi. Jas asi suto lis aylas avi." She said it all with an indifferent tone and a shrug, but Jason read her posture and guessed that she had been punished from the hunch of her shoulders and the stiff way she moved into the room.

Trini wasn't able to translate what Azalea had said completely; she knew it had been about the World-Burners...maybe they still wanted to take care of Azalea if for no other reason than they needed her to interact with their test subjects? She shook her head slightly at Jason when he looked at her for a translation.

Azalea came closer and appeared to look the Yellow Ranger up and down. "Komas asia sal?" she asked. "Shasa sal menasma sein?" She gestured to the half-eaten container of cereal Jason held and then to the cupboards before looking pointedly back at Trini.

At that, Jason had to squelch a laugh. Clearly, Azalea thought it was high time Trini got herself back onto solid food instead of intravenous substances. So much for being the only mother hen, he thought, taking another couple bites of cereal as Trini tried and failed to come up with a response that Azalea would understand.

Trini, for her part, wasn't sure if she could find something that her system could tolerate without opening a bunch of the meal bubbles. Of course, if push came to shove, she could probably count on the guys to handle disposing of whatever it was she did turn up. "All right," she said resignedly. "Come on, you can help."

"Hasi," Azalea agreed. By standing on her toes, she was able to slide one of the cupboard doors open fully. She pointed to one particular section of bubbles. "Sun im sosh." Trini got down two and handed both to Azalea. The little girl took one and scrutinized the alien script on the side. "Kh-amp-bel-l's kh-hic-kh-en noodle s-soup," she read aloud slowly. "Sei s-soup dise asi hasi, jas issai."

Trini's mouth dropped open. Jason's did, too. Azalea, heedless of the reaction she'd just caused, picked up the second bubble and tried, "Kh-amp-b-bell's min-eh-str-o-nee soup." She shrugged her shoulders, obviously not caring which one Trini tried, as long as she ate. Then Azalea happened to look up at Trini's dumbstruck expression, and she froze, eyes widening in fear.

Trini, however, wasn't paying any attention. "Jason-!" she exclaimed, but needn't have bothered. Jason had already snatched up the paper with all the symbols Billy had noted down and vaulted over the back of the chair he'd been sitting in.

Azalea dove out of the way as the two Rangers put their heads together and began referencing the script on the container to Billy's notes.

"Look, there's the 'h'...and the 'i', we had that right."

"'Campbell's' on the container only has one 'l'...wait! The dots must mean double letters! It happens again with the 'o' in 'noodle'."

In less than a minute, the two of them had written down every letter on the first bubble before reaching for the other one. By the time they were finished, Azalea had dared to venture back over to the other side of the counter, her eyes just level with the tabletop. She seemed to accept that whatever emotion Jason and Trini were expressing was not negative and also not directed at her.

Eventually, the two Rangers sat back and studied their work. "I'm not sure that there's the same distinction between 'c' and 'k'," Trini said after a moment. She glanced at Jason. "Did you ever study phonics?"

Jason shook his head. "Nope. You're thinking that the aliens just did a..." he fished for the term, couldn't find it, "...direct translation?"

"Yes," Trini answered, with a significant glance in Azalea's direction. "You heard how Azalea pronounced 'chicken'-with the 'c' and the 'h' separately. Now, we've never heard her use the 'ch' sound, so what she was reading was just the sounds the symbols mean to her. If we ask her what these symbols sound like," and Trini tapped the few unlabeled characters that were left on their sheet, "we'll know what we're missing."

Jason nodded, and gestured for Trini to try it. The Asian girl circled back around to the sitting area and settled herself down so that she was on Azalea's level. The small alien girl watched her go, obviously trying to decide whether or not to keep her attention on Jason or Trini. In the end, Trini won when she called Azalea over.

"Can you say this for me?" the Yellow Ranger asked, pointing to a symbol with two curlicues. "Um...saet, pasfavas?"

"Vv," Azalea said clearly. "Deas vas si voss."

"That's the 'v'," Trini mutterd, noting it down. She went to the next character that looked something like half of an backwards 'c'. "This one?"

"Dh," Azalea said after looking at it a moment. "Deas 'deas'."

In the next few minutes, Trini managed to get Azalea to sound out each of the missing characters. "This is great," she said excitedly to Jason as she made one last note. "I mean, the different 'c' sounds are going to throw us off in terms of what we've heard said and how it reads off of the screen, but..." she paused, turning in her seat to see the pensive look on Jason's face for the first time. "What is it, Jason?"

He turned his back to the counter and leaned against it, crossing his arms as he thought. "Why label them in a language we can't understand, but Azalea can read?"

Trini's momentary elation dimmed as she considered the question. She tapped her pencil against her cheekbone as she thought. "Maybe for the same reason this door was locked when we first woke up here? We had said that this room wasn't ready yet; what if the aliens cut corners by not providing the English translation? What if it was meant to be like the syringes that had alien numbers and our numbers, but they just ran out of time? Maybe we woke up too soon."

"They keep underestimating us," Jason mused. "That's a good thing." His mind was already attempting to strategize the next best thing to do with their cracking of the alien alphabet. "That might buy us some time, Trini."

"Time?" she repeated. "Jason, if anything we're in even more danger. The World Burners are just going to keep torturing us, taking us away, and eventually they're going to succeed and-and-"

"Woah, slow down. We're not going to let that happen," the Red Ranger broke in before Trini could really work herself up again. He waited for her to nod, however reluctantly before forging ahead. "Okay, I want to try something," Jason said, straightening up. "Azalea, Anassa and Dysi." He pronounced the names exactly as he had heard them in the memory. "Do you know them?"

If he'd wanted Azalea's attention before, Jason couldn't have found a better way to capture it. Perched on the edge of a chair, she was staring at him so hard that she wasn't blinking. Then something happened, something so un-Azalea-ish that Jason and Trini nearly backed away from her. She began to cry.

As soon as the first tears fell, Azalea gasped in horror and tried to scrub them away with her hands. Then her sobs overtook her and all she could do was cover her face and shake. "San, san," she said, her tone mortified. "Lemmas. Jas asi lemmas."

Jason and Trini exchanged awkward glances. "It is all right, Azalea," Trini began, leaving her seat to kneel beside Azalea's chair. "We want to help you." As the small girl continued to try and get her emotions under control, Trini carefully put an arm around her shoulders. Azalea stiffened as if she'd turned into a statue. She appeared to be holding her breath, waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, Azalea turned to look at Trini.

"H-help? Sal desia assis saj?" Her disbelief was apparent on her face without Trini needing to translate the question. But there was something else in her eyes...belief? Did she really think that they could do it?

"Yes, help. We want to escape from the Liame-Menashi and we will take you with us," Jason said firmly. "But if we're going to get out of here, you've got to help us." He pointed at the round screen before turning back to her. "Azalea, we know you've been hurt, but we're different. We can do this together."

He wasn't sure if she had understood everything he was trying to communicate, but he had to try. Azalea could...feel them somehow. Jason was convinced, from her own memory, that right now the alien girl could feel the sincerity from both of the Rangers.

Azalea sucked in a tremulous breath and peered at the interface for several long moments before looking at Jason and Trini in turn. Tear tracks were fresh on her face as she said with a slow nod, "Hasi." She sat forward and reached for a sheet of paper and a pencil. As she did so, Trini moved to pull the screen closer and her forearm accidentally brushed against Azalea's hand.

As cleanly as if it had been done with a scalpel, a three-inch gash appeared on the Yellow Ranger's arm. It was so sudden that all Trini could do was stare at the cut in shock. Azalea jumped away from her, horror and shame on her face, and the paper in her hand fell to the floor, forgotten. She backed away from the pair, her words running together as she...apologized? Explained? Neither Ranger was sure; the torrent was too fast to translate.

"San. Jas asi lemmas, Trini. Sal lisea'a jas sho ties assis sal. Jas sho ties tous sal, jas asi san. Lemmas!"

Azalea had backed right up to the door, almost throwing herself against it in her haste to get out of the room. Jason and Trini stared after her in stunned silence.

Trini recovered first as blood welled up from the gash. She jumped up and ran into the sleeping area, snatched a cloth from inside the nearest bathroom and pressed it against the wound. Turning back to the living room, saw the silhouette of Jason standing in the doorway. His shoulders slumped and Trini knew exactly what that meant.

"Now what?" she muttered to herself.

To be continued

Language Translations:

Naiss saj: Tell me.

Shua ties sho suev sal: We cannot sense you.

Hasi: Yes/okay.

Sei Liame-Menashi sahi sho desi saj morasmi. Jas asi suto lis aylas avi: The Fire-Eaters do not want me dead. I am better to them alive.

Komas asia sal? Shasa sal menasma sein: How are you? Have you eaten yet?

Sun im sosh: One of those.

Sei soup dise asi hasi, jas issai: The soup will be okay, I think.

Um...saet, pasfavas: Um...say, please.

Deas vas si voss: Like on and off.

Deas 'deas': Like 'like'.

San, san: No, no.

Lemmas. Jas asi lemmas: Sorry. I am sorry.

Sal desia assis saj: You want to help me?

San. Jas asi lemmas, Trini. Sal lisea'a jas sho ties assis sal. Jas sho ties tous sal, jas asi san. Lemmas: No. I am sorry, Trini. You see I can't help you. I can't touch you, I am bad. Sorry.