Are these the shadows of things that WILL be, or of things that might be only? -Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.
On a not-so-quiet morning in Cross World City, a being of pure evil, known as the Shadowborg, was finally destroyed by the defense force formed to protect Earth. Upon the creature's demise, a shadowy Phoenix burst from its chest and blasted through the roof of the Ziktor Industries building, costing its owner another couple of hundred dollars in repairs and adding to his already unpleasant mood. The Phoenix, however, continued to rise, streaking out of Earth's atmosphere into the darkness of space. With a speed far beyond that of even the most advanced modes of travel, it shot through the icy depths, headed for a place that wasn't really a place.
Not too far outside the Solar system, a black hole sat, not doing much of anything. Occasionally some bit of stray matter would drift too close and be crushed into nothingness, but on a galactic scale, not much had happened in this neighborhood for a couple hundred millennia. Then the Phoenix came.
It hit the event horizon and didn't even slow down. Instead, it dove directly into the center of the black hole, into the singularity- and through, into a place that didn't exist. There, in an eternal darkness, the remains of the Shadow Empire languished.
The Shadow Empire were living bits of darkness, created by an insane and really stupid attempt to free the Demon Nyghtmayr from where it had been imprisoned beyond the boundaries of reality. Luckily for everybody, the sorcerer who had tried it had failed and had his spirit eaten by the side effects. For centuries, the little creatures had roamed the galaxy, building a criminal empire. But once Nyghtmayr had escaped and been destroyed by the Power Rangers of Earth, there had been nothing to give the Shadow Empire purpose. So they had wound up back in the place between places, slowly fading out of existence. Then the Phoenix came.
Upon reaching the Shadows, the Phoenix dispersed into a cold dark mist that floated everywhere, merging with the languishing creatures. For a long moment, all was still. Then countless heads rose from their perches, empty eyes glittering, one thought in all minds. Earth.
Black holes are so named because their gravity is so great that nothing can escape from them, not even light.
Darkness, on the other hand, is another matter entirely.
"Go Rocky!" Rosa De Santos yelled. The Power Rangers of Angel Grove had attended a number of competitions and sporting events over the years. Football games, martial arts tournaments, baseball games, martial arts tournaments, broomball games, martial arts tournaments, and a few martial arts tournaments thrown in for good measure. This event, however, was different from anything they had done before. Rocky De Santos, Blue Zeo Ranger, was currently entered in an eating contest.
"Good grief," Adam Park remarked, folding his arms over his chest. "What does that make, six pies he's put away so far?"
Katarina Petronov, Rocky's girlfriend nodded. "Yeah, and the contest only started five minutes ago."
The contest was the result of a good-natured bet between Rocky and one of his classmates at his community college. The girl, Kittie, had declared that she could put away more food in a ten minute period than Rocky could, and he had decided to call her on it. Currently, it looked to be anybody's game.
"I'm gonna be sick," moaned Tommy Oliver. "How does he DO that?"
Jamie Zedden shrugged. "I think he's got a tapeworm."
"Ew, yuck! Jamie!" Kat Hilliard, the pretty blond Pink Zeo Ranger, gave her shorter teammate a venomous look.
"What? You're not the one eating, Kat. Why should you care?"
"Yeah, but I'm gonna have to have lunch SOMETIME."
The Zeo Rangers had turned out to cheer their teammate on, as had Rocky's sister Rosa. As the clock ticked on, the crowd watched in awe as the pie plates piled up beside the two contestants. Finally, the ten minutes were up and the final bell rang. Everyone was silent as the judges slowly counted the plates.
"The winner, with twenty empty plates- Rocky De Santos!"
Rocky got to his feet, clasping his hands over his head in the classic "boxer's cheer." Kittie stood as well, clapping him on the back.
"So what do you have to say for yourself, Rocko?" she asked. He grinned mischievously.
Everyone groaned. "ROCKY!"
Rocky jogged along the pathways of Angel Grove Park, soaking up the warm sun. Jogging was his second-favorite form of exercise, right after the martial arts. And since he needed to burn some of the calories his recent snack had dumped into his system, he was taking a jog through the currently quiet park.
"This is nice," he thought aloud. "Why don't I do this more often?"
As if in response to his question, the sky above him began to cloud over, and a cold wind started to howl through the park. Rocky squinted, quickly raising a hand to shield his eyes. "Oh yeah," he muttered. "Now I remember." In the clouds above him, lightning started to flicker and was almost instantly followed by rumbles of thunder. Not more than a hundred feet away, however, Rocky could still see golden sunlight pouring down on the park.
"I've heard of local weather, but this is ridiculous," he grumbled. Eyeing the clouds above him carefully, Rocky tapped his communicator. "Zordon, this is Rocky. I think we've got trouble in the park."
"I see it," Zordon acknowledged. "I shall inform the other Rangers immediately. In the meantime, I would suggest you-" A large burst of static cut the inter-dimensional being off.
"Zordon? Zordon!" Rocky yelled. The wind was picking up now, and the
Blue Zeo Ranger had the uncomfortable feeling that he was about to be caught
in the eye of a hurricane. Suddenly, from the air around him came a ringing
sound, like feedback from an amplifier. As the sound rose in pitch, Rocky
clapped his hands over his ears, his face contorted in pain. Suddenly a
bolt of blue energy shot from the clouds down to where Rocky was standing.
For just a second, the energy seemed to form a sphere around him. Then
the world flashed blue, and Rocky De Santos knew nothing more.
"It's quiet," Red Ranger remarked, scanning the park.
Beside him, Purple Ranger nodded. "Too quiet," she returned, raising her hands as the others glared at her. "Come on, guys. Somebody had to say it."
"I don't like this," Silver Ranger whispered. "Something jammed up teleportation so badly that we had to go to the edge of the park, and our scanners are out, so we're basically walking in blind!"
Green Ranger laid a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, Katya. Rocky can take care of himself."
From the front of the pack, Pink Ranger suddenly let out a low whistle. "Looks like Ground Zero for something- but what?" Mist seemed to be rising up from the grass, as if all the water in the vegetation had been turned to steam. The air had the unmistakable scent of ozone and in the middle of the clear area, a shallow crater had been scraped out. In the middle of the crater stood a robot.
Gold Ranger suddenly summoned his Power Staff. "That's a Blue Senturion!" he realized. "But- I don't recognize the model."
Black Ranger laid a hand on his shoulder. "Chill, Trey. He hasn't tried to arrest you yet."
Indeed, the Senturion wasn't doing much of anything. Instead, it was examining the area around it, apparently looking for something. Then it turned towards the nine Rangers. "You are the Zeo Rangers, are you not?" it asked. Gold Ranger noticed that the voice was obviously male, rather than the androgynous tones of the Blue Senturions he was familiar with. The robot's voice also had more inflection, making it sound less like a computer and more like a person.
"We are," Red Ranger assented carefully.
"If it wouldn't be too much trouble- what is the date?"
The Rangers looked at each other in confusion. "August 12, 1998," Yellow Ranger replied.
"Now we've got one for you," White Ranger added. "Where's Rocky?"
"Rocky?" The robot seemed momentarily confused. "Ah. Rocky De Santos, Blue Zeo Ranger. He was here?"
"Haven't you seen him?" asked Silver Ranger warily.
The Senturion shook his head. "Regretfully, I have not," he replied. "But then, I only just arrived." Suddenly, something seemed to occur to him. "If he was in this area when the transfer occurred, then there is only one place he can be. He has returned to my point of origin."
"And where would that be?" Green Ranger wanted to know.
"August 12, 2002."
"WHAT?" the Rangers asked in unison.
Purple Ranger articulated the common thought. "Rocky's in the FUTURE?"
"Oww..." Rocky groaned as consciousness rudely forced itself upon him.
"I think he's waking up," a voice said above him.
"Adam?" Rocky opened his eyes to find the barrel of a gun pointed directly in his face. Following that up, he saw, to his astonishment, Adam Park on the other end of the gun, glaring down at him with eyes like obsidian. Very slowly, Rocky raised his hands. "Look, if this is about the frogs in your bed, I think you're overreacting..." he began.
"Get up," Adam snarled.
"Could you possibly move the gun?" asked Rocky hopefully. Suddenly he was grabbed roughly by the shoulders and hauled upright. That was when Rocky got his first good look at his surroundings.
Angel Grove Park had been all but destroyed. The few trees that still stood were all dead, withered stumps, and the grass had long since given way to bare ground. Overhead, the sky was an angry red color, letting only a little light filter through to the ground. Rocky whistled. "How long was I out?" he asked.
"Shut up." Adam still had the gun pointed directly at him. To take his mind of the sight of his best friend threatening to shoot him, Rocky looked to see who had hauled him to his feet. Behind him stood two young men he didn't recognize, although they seemed vaguely familiar. The shorter one (he stood about five-ten, as opposed to his companion's six foot plus) shook his head.
"Adam, calm down. We're not going to get much information out of him if you blow him away."
"What do we need to know?" the taller one shot back, folding his arms across his chest. His dark eyes flashed. "The Shadows figured out what we were doing, and sent him out here to stop the launch."
His blue-clad companion shook his head. "No way. If that was the case, where're the rest of them? Looks to me like he was deposited by the magnafield that the time gate opened."
"Time gate?" Rocky asked. "What's the date?" He directed his question to the young man in blue, who seemed the most reasonable of the group.
"Why do you want to know?"
"Just humor me, okay?"
The man shrugged. "August 12, 2002."
The starch went out of Rocky's knees and he sat down rapidly on the ground. "I must have been pulled forward in time by that gate you were talking about," he realized. He looked up at Adam, who was still aiming the gun at him. "Adam, the last date I remember is August 12, 1998. Whatever I did between then and now to make you hate me, I don't remember it."
"I've heard enough Shadow lies to last me a lifetime," Adam spat. "You're not Rocky. Rocky is dead."
While Rocky was processing that shock, the taller, dark-haired man looked thoughtful. "Could he be telling the truth, Justin? That is the date we sent the Senturion to."
Justin nodded. "Could be. If he was in the area when the Senturion touched down, he could have been magnafluxed to our time. Conservation of mass. There's only one way to tell, though- we'll take him to Billy."
Adam's eyes widened. "You want to take THAT into the center of our base?"
"Look at it this way," the dark-haired man replied. "If he's telling the truth, that's where he'll be safest. And if it's not- he'll never be coming out again anyway. Billy will know, one way or another." Reaching down, he and Justin hauled Rocky to his feet. For a moment, their eyes locked. One dark eyebrow quirked. "Do you remember me, Rocky?"
For a second, Rocky was confused. Then he noticed the other man was wearing a battered, dirty red baseball cap, turned backwards on his head. Rocky's jaw dropped. "Fred? Guess you finally hit that growth spurt, huh?"
Fred Kelman laughed. "Well, if he's not Rocky, he's one HELL of an imitation.
Come on, let's go."
Rocky looked around himself in a sort of horrified awe. In the four years he had skipped, Angel Grove had been completely decimated by something. Many buildings had been reduced to nothing but rubble and others were only partially standing. As Rocky followed the three men who had once been his friends, he couldn't help shivering at the eerie silence that seemed to fill the streets. "What in the name of God happened here?" he asked quietly. Justin snorted.
"God had nothing to do with it," he replied.
"May 25, 1999, marked the beginning of the end for life on Earth as we know it," the Blue Senturion began. "For at least nine months, the Shadow Empire had been on Earth, working in secret to finally achieve what no other villain could do- destroy the Power Rangers and claim the Earth for their own. We don't know exactly when or where they arrived- they camouflaged their activity far too well. All we know is that on May 25, they erupted, seemingly everywhere at once, far outnumbering the heroes of Earth. Despite alliances, despite fighting bravely, Earth's defenders were finally defeated."
"Most died in battle, of course. Rocky De Santos was one of them," Justin explained, shooting Rocky a sideways glance. "Hardly any of us escaped that day."
"Who exactly is still alive?" Rocky managed, through the lump in his throat.
"Trini, Billy- sort of, Adam, me, Fred, and TJ. And maybe Tasha- she disappeared, but we never found the body. Our powers are history, of course... The Shadows destroyed the Power Chamber, the Megaship, Pyramidas- all of our vehicles, Zords, and bases."
Rocky closed his eyes in sorrow. Out of twenty-seven Rangers, only six remained. In only an instant of subjective time, his entire world had been taken away. "How about civilians? Our families?" he croaked.
Justin shook his head. "I'm sorry, Rocky. Your family- didn't make it. Neither did Adam's parents- his dad went down fighting, though."
Nodding, Rocky summoned up a half-smile. "Sounds like Detective Park," he agreed. No wonder his best friend seemed not quite there. Adam had lost his entire family, including the woman he loved. Then he remembered something. "You said something about allies?"
"Just as the Rangers suffered heavy losses, so too did the other heroes that joined the effort. Of the Beetleborgs of Charterville, only Drew McCormick survived the Fall of the Shadow, as that day has come to be called. Masked Rider was overcome during the destruction of Leawood, and none of the VR Troopers escaped the attack on Cross World. The Shadows have solidified control over the Earth, and have cast a veil of night over the entire planet, letting only a very small portion of the light come through."
The Rangers were silent for a long moment. Then Jamie cocked her head at the newcomer. "So what's your story?"
"I was created by Justin Stewart and Billy Cranston from the records the Power Chamber possessed on Blue Senturion units. It was among the only information salvageable from the wreckage. They of course made some modifications to my programming, as I'm sure you are aware, Gold Ranger," the robotic police officer responded dryly.
Trey chuckled. "Yeah, I'd noticed that. You're sentient, aren't you? That's not common with Blue Senturion units."
The Blue Senturion shrugged. "Billy and Justin thought that it would aid me in my mission," he replied.
"Mission?" Tanya asked. "What mission?"
"My mission was to return to your time and give you this information, and do what I could to ensure that the Fall of the Shadow never occurs."
Tommy made a face. "I hate time travel," he remarked to no one in particular.
"Figuring out the problems always gives me such a headache."
The base for what little resistance remained on Earth was located in the bowels of the city, in what had once been the sewer system of Angel Grove. No water ran there now, and the tunnels were clean, dry, and well lit, much to Rocky's surprise. As his three guards led him into one of the main areas, he was conscious of a number of eyes fixed on him.
"What is THAT doing here?" a tall, blond young man asked coldly, folding his arms across his chest. Rocky realized that he must be Drew McCormick, the former leader of the Beetleborgs. The look on his face mirrored that on Adam's, the look of a man who has lost everything else in the world.
"We found him at the launch site," Justin explained. "He might be the real thing, magnafluxed forward in time by the Senturion's passage. We're taking him to see Billy."
A young woman with dark hair and eyes stepped forward, sliding an arm around Adam's waist. "Good idea. I think he's between projects at the moment. Do you want me to call down and ask Trini?"
Fred nodded. "Yeah, thanks, Audrey." As the girl moved away, Fred explained under his breath. "Audrey is kind of Adam's keeper. She's pretty much attached herself to him to keep him from getting himself killed."
"I see," Rocky replied numbly.
Audrey looked up from the console before her. "Trini says bring him
Trini Kwan didn't look much different than she had the last time he saw her, Rocky reflected. Only the deep sadness in her eyes spoke of the changes the last four years had brought. "Have you told him yet?" Trini asked Fred, as the younger man lead Rocky out of the elevator. Fred shook his head.
"I thought that was your department," he replied.
Rocky looked warily from one to the other. "Tell me what?" he asked apprehensively.
"Rocky," Trini sighed, "Billy isn't- quite the way you remember him."
The Blue Zeo Ranger snorted. "Nothing is around here."
"But this is different. During the last battle, the Shadow Empire captured Billy. I guess they remembered him from when they held him on Aquitar. Anyway, we broke him out, but- not before some changes were made."
Rocky had to fight to keep control of his stomach. "What kind of 'changes?'" he croaked.
"I- think you'd better see for yourself," Trini replied. Turning to the door in front of them, she keyed in a code sequence. The door opened, and Rocky gingerly stepped inside. Behind him, the door swung shut, leaving him in perfect darkness.
"Hello?" he called, hating this more and more.
"Rocky?" The voice seemed to come out of thin air beside him, and Rocky spun hurriedly. It sounded like Billy's voice, but there was a strange echoing quality to it that he had never heard before. "It is you," Billy continued, sounding almost awed. "It's really you."
"Everybody keeps ASKING that," Rocky replied. "Why wouldn't it be?"
"The Shadows are shape-shifters, Rocky. Capable of taking any form they want," Billy replied sadly. "And we thought you were dead."
"I was brought forward in time by the Blue Senturion unit you sent back," Rocky explained. "Billy, what's happened to you? Why aren't there any lights in here?"
Billy chuckled, a small, chilly sound. "I no longer need the light, Rocky. And there are some things I'd rather not see."
"Trini told me the Shadow Empire captured you, Billy. What did they do?"
"I'm changed, Rocky. They wanted to assimilate me, but they failed. My mind is my own, but my body..."
"Billy," Rocky said gently, "turn on the light."
"You don't want to see me, Rocky."
"I'm not afraid of you, Billy. I never have been, and I never will be. Please, turn on the light."
With a sigh, Billy complied. "Lights, one-quarter," he commanded. Instantly the room was filled with a dim radiance. It looked a great deal like Billy's normal lab, although not so brightly lit. But standing where his friend should have been was something out of a nightmare.
In shape, it still looked like Billy, but it was completely black, the color of deepest space. Two brilliant green eyes were the only color anywhere on the thing. And those eyes were warm, sad, and oh so familiar. "This is why they sent you to me," Billy sighed. "Because of- what I am, I can spot a Shadow a mile away, whether shape-shifted or not."
"Oh, Billy," Rocky sighed, his heart almost breaking. Slowly he reached out towards his friend, but Billy raised a hand and backed away.
"Don't touch me, Rocky," he warned. "I'm cold as ice. Trini tried it once, and I nearly seared all the skin off her hands." He smiled slightly. "I guess I'm just a shadow of my former self."
Rocky cocked an eyebrow at the young genius. "Puns are my department, buddy."
"True enough." Then, with a visible effort, Billy wrenched himself back
to the present. "Well, if you were brought forward through time, hopefully
we can send you back as well. Between you and the Blue Senturion, maybe
we can keep this timeline from ever coming into being."
Billy's assurances that Rocky was not a Shadow didn't much change his reception from the other members of the resistance. TJ, the last of the Astro Rangers, was the only one who seemed to have enough warmth left in him to even offer Rocky a smile. Everyone else was cold and businesslike, and it gave Rocky the chills.
Currently the former Rangers, who formed the leaders of the resistance movement, were engaged in a discussion of exactly how to handle Rocky's presence in their time. "The way I see it," Billy's voice explained, through the communicator in his lab, "is that without Rocky, the timeline will never heal correctly. We might avoid the Fall of the Shadow, but it would almost certainly be a setup for something worse."
TJ cocked his head. "Explain something to me. We sent the Blue Senturion back, right? We've already changed history. Why aren't we gone or something? Was it not enough?"
"It doesn't work like that, TJ," Trini explained. "As long as Rocky is temporally displaced, our world won't change. It's like having a rope through a door. You can't close the door unless the rope is removed. As long as Rocky's here, there's a rope through the temporal doorways."
"I'm getting a headache," Fred sighed.
Adam shrugged. "Forget the technical stuff. We have to send him back, end of story."
"Right. Which means we have to recreate the time gate generator, since they tend to burn out after one use," Billy replied dryly.
"Recreate it?" Justin snorted. "Billy, we barely got our butts out of the Shadow camp in the first place! How do you expect us to get BACK in?"
TJ was actually grinning. "Simple. This time, we have a Power Ranger on our side." All heads turned to look at Rocky, who nodded slowly.
"I'm in. What do we have to do?"
"The time gate is really just a version of the Shadows' portal teleportation system, with a few modifications by Billy and Justin. We need one of their portal teleporters, and to get it, we have to stage a raid on the main labs in the middle of the Shadow Base, right where the center of the city used to be," explained Adam.
"On a REALLY big ley line, of course," Fred added. "They can throw just about anything at us."
"We attack at dawn tomorrow," Trini declared. "The sunlight will give
us a minimal advantage, what little of it gets through. In the meantime,
I suggest we all get some rest- we've got a big day coming up tomorrow."
Rocky sat on the cot in the small room he had been given, head in his hands. He was far too keyed up to try and sleep yet, his thoughts circling like hungry vultures. Ever since joining the Rangers, he'd known that there might someday come a battle that the team couldn't win, but- he'd never really believed it until now. They were the Power Rangers! They didn't lose! But they had, and for the first time, he really KNEW what the consequences were.
His family was dead in this world, but he couldn't grieve for them. Nor could he really grieve for the friends who had died in the last desperate battle for the fate of the Earth. Those events weren't real to him, seeming more like a dream or a nightmare than something that really existed. And if this mission was successful, they would never have died at all.
Quickly he jerked his mind away from the paradoxes involved in time travel. He did NOT need a headache on top of everything else. No, he couldn't grieve for his lost friends and family- not even Katarina, although the thought of her death was like a blow to the stomach. But for some strange reason, he could grieve for the ones who still lived. He'd thought that the Rangers had loss their innocence, that the constant threats and dangers they had face had destroyed that utterly. Now, though, he saw that wasn't true. The Rangers here, those few left alive, had really lost that quality, and in far too many cases, they'd lost everything else as well. Adam wasn't even Adam anymore. In too many ways, he seemed like an older, more bitter version of his father. And then there was Billy, warped by the Shadows into a form beyond recognition. Billy was forever cut off from his friends, denied even the most basic human contact. There was a certain cruel, sick humor to it. His isolation now echoed his time as a nerd and his distancing during his time in the Power Chamber. The Shadows had denied Fred and Justin the chance to really be kids, in a way that even being a Ranger never had.
Lying back on his bunk, Rocky sighed. He needed to get some sleep- after
all, as Trini had said, they had a big day ahead of them tomorrow.
"Everybody ready?" Trini asked. The strike team was composed of all the former Rangers, except Billy, and Audrey, who absolutely refused to let Adam leave her behind. Currently they were checking weapons and gear, making absolutely sure nothing would backfire on them in a fight.
Rocky checked the charge on his laser rifle, more to give himself something to do than out of any real worry. It had been agreed that he wouldn't morph unless it was the last resort. As TJ had said, the energy from the Zeo suit would be like holding up a sign saying "Come and get it!" Nobody wanted to advertise their presence to the Shadows if at all possible. Besides, temporally separated from the Zeo Crystal as he was, his Zeonizers only held a small charge. His morph could fail him at any time.
TJ nodded at Trini, who had been chosen to lead the team. "I think we're all set," he informed her.
"Not quite," a voice replied. The occupants of the room turned to see Billy, wearing black clothes and a pair of sunglasses. In one hand, the young genius carried an energy rifle, different in design from the others. "I'm coming with you," Billy informed them.
"That's insane!" Trini burst out. "Billy, if the Shadows recapture you-"
He shuddered, raising a hand to cut her off. "I know, Trini. But you see, it doesn't really matter. If we're successful in sending Rocky home, this timeline will cease to exist, no matter where I am. And if we fail- well, how much longer could I have held out anyway? You need me, guys. I've got- abilities that will come in very handy."
Trini sighed, but nodded. "All right, troops. Let's get going. We've
got a world to save."
"So what's the plan, Fearless Leader?" Rocky asked jokingly, as the eight soldiers studied the exterior of the huge complex the Shadows had erected in what used to be the town square.
"We split up into two teams," Trini replied. "Adam, Audrey, TJ and I will stage an assault on the front gates as a distraction. Meanwhile, the rest of you will slip in the back way, find the main lab, and open a time-gate to send Rocky home. Think you can handle that?"
"Oh, sure," Justin replied. "You're giving us the easy part and reserving the suicide mission for yourself. No biggie."
TJ shook his head. "Somebody has to do it, and you two geniuses are gonna be needed to work the gate. Fred's along to keep an eye on you. Now go! And whatever you hear from the front gate, don't come back. No matter what. Do you understand?"
Justin nodded, and the two men clasped hands for a minute. Then the diversionary force headed off to begin their work, leaving the other four alone.
"So how are we gonna get in there?" Fred wanted to know. Billy grinned, a disturbing sight.
"I told you I had- abilities," he responded. "Come on."
The four of them crept up to the back gate. Laying a hand on one of the control panels, Billy began to concentrate. Rocky couldn't see his friend's eyes behind the pair of sunglasses he wore, but they were no doubt closed. After a long moment, the door swung open, and the teens crept inside.
"Think they know we're here?" Rocky asked Fred quietly. His statement was punctuated by a bolt of black energy from a cross-corridor. Looking up, the two men saw a number of humanoid Shadows barreling towards them, all armed with energy rifles.
"I'd say that's a yes!" Fred replied. He and Rocky opened fire, shielding Justin and Billy as they did so.
"Which way?" Justin asked, looking down the corridors that branched before them. Billy concentrated for a moment, then pointed.
"That way. Come on!" The four of them pelted down the hall with the Shadows in hot pursuit. Rocky and Fred continued to snap off the occasional shot over their shoulders, and the numbers were beginning to thin.
"You know," Rocky remarked. "These guys are worse shots than Stormtroopers!" A bolt of laser fire singed the wall by his head. Fred chuckled.
"I think you hurt their feelings." Suddenly their flight came to a screeching halt as Billy attempted to open a set of security doors. Justin drew his rifle and joined his two teammates in covering Billy as he did so.
"I've almost got it!"
"Almost got WHAT?" Rocky wanted to know. "What's through there?"
"Prisoner labs," Billy responded tersely. "The security doors will buy us some time." A sudden whoosh and the doors slid open, allowing the four to duck inside. Billy quickly slammed the doors again, leaving the Shadows outside.
The lab was quiet, only the sounds of the mayhem from outside breaking the stillness. Rocky's eyes narrowed as he regarded the equipment, from tables with restraints to suspension tubes, some of which still held occupants. "Billy," the Blue Zeo Ranger said quietly, "is this where you-"
The genius nodded. "Yes. Which is why I intend to blow it sky-high."
"I hope you'll take me with you when you do," a low voice said. The four men whirled to see a small force cage in one corner of the room. There was only one occupant, a tall, attractive young black woman, wearing the dirty remains of jeans and a yellow T-shirt. Justin's eyes lit up.
"TASHA!" he cried, running over to the force cage. "I thought- when the Shadows raided the outpost, I thought you were dead."
She grinned. "I got better," she replied. "Seriously, I think they wanted to pull the same thing they did to Billy on me, but they haven't gotten around to it yet. Can you get me out of here before this place goes up like a Roman Candle?"
"Sure," Justin replied. A quick search turned up the control for the force cage, and Justin quickly freed the young woman. Looking over at Billy, Rocky noticed a thoughtful expression on his friend's face. Then the young genius shook it off.
"Help me plant these charges, and then we'll go find the teleporter," Billy instructed, tossing charges at each of them. Once the charges were set, Billy and Tasha shot each other identical grins.
"Let's blow this pop stand," they chorused. Then the group ducked out
the other door to the lab and moved on.
Looking up at the huge, shimmering portal, Rocky whistled. "Where's Richard Dean Anderson and Kurt Russell when you need them?" the Blue Zeo Ranger asked. Beside him, Fred chuckled.
"You watch the door," Billy instructed, moving towards the keyboards. "Justin and I will get this thing modified." Before the young genius could begin his work, however, a tendril of black energy shot out, encircling his neck and pulling him away violently. He crashed into the other wall and slid down to rest in a crumpled heap on the floor. The other three watched in shock and astonishment as the tendril then snaked back to its caster- Tasha.
"She's a Shadow!" Fred yelled, pulling his rifle. "But- why couldn't Billy sense it?"
"Because I'm not exactly a Shadow," the girl laughed. "I'm the next step from that pitiful thing on the floor over there. A melding of the darkness and your pitiful human forms. The next step in our evolution, humans- and your pathetic Resistance is doomed."
Rocky fought down a wave of nausea as he realized what had happened. "It's like- possession," he murmured. "The Shadow- took over her body somehow. Madre de Dios..."
Turning away from the sickened Ranger, Tasha fixed Justin with a deep black gaze. "Come to me, Justin. It's wonderful. You'll have power you never dreamed of. You won't ever have to be afraid of the night again, because it'll be part of you. And we'll be together- forever. Darkness is immortal, you know."
"Justin, no!" Fred yelled, watching his friend take a step forward. "That thing is not Tasha! Tasha is dead!"
"Do I look dead?" the girl asked innocently. "Come on, Justin. Come to me. Forget the light- all it brings is pain. Come with me. I love you."
Faster than thought, Justin pulled a blaster from his belt, snapping off a shot that struck the Shadow-Tasha in the center of her chest. She staggered back, eyes wide with astonishment as he stared at her impassively.
"You almost had me, but that last bit-" his voice broke for a second, but he managed to get it under control. "Tasha loved me. She wouldn't want me to turn my back on my friends, on all the things we fought for. She wouldn't have loved me for that- she would have hated me."
"Then die, you romantic fool," the Shadow hissed. Before either Rocky or Fred could move to interfere, the Shadow had launched itself at Justin, knocking him to the floor. Raising an arm, the creature slowly changed her hand into a wickedly sharp sword blade and lifted it high, preparing to plunge it into Justin's heart. The young man simply stared up at her, refusing to close his eyes.
THUNK. The blade struck home- in the floor beside Justin's head. "I can't do it," the Shadow said, with something approaching wonder. She rolled off him, burying her face in her reformed hands. "God help me, I can't do it!"
Justin knelt beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Maybe there's still some of Tasha left in there after all," he said quietly. She shook her head.
"I don't know. I don't know who or what I am, and I feel like I'm being torn apart."
"Trust me, I know the feeling," Billy replied, lurching to his feet. "Oof. She really knocked the wind out of me."
Rocky looked around nervously. "No offense, guys, but- could we speed this up? It's only a matter of time before security finds us, and I _don't_ want to spend the rest of my life here."
Fred nodded. "He's right. Can you two get that console working?"
"On it," Billy and Justin replied in unison. Leaving the Shadow-Tasha sitting on the floor, the two men began typing code sequences into the machine. After a long moment, the portal began to glow and shimmer with a bright light. Billy looked up and smiled lopsidedly.
"There's your ticket home, Rocky," he said quietly. "You'd better hurry- we can't keep this open forever."
Rocky nodded. Climbing the steps to the portal, he stopped for a minute to take one look back. Fred waved to him, and Billy gave him a wistful smile. Justin and the Shadow-Tasha had their arms around each other, taking what little time they had left in each other's company. When he went back, this world would cease to exist, and suddenly Rocky was hit by the magnitude of these people's sacrifice. He smiled slightly.
"Good luck, guys. Wherever you wind up." Then turning, he dove through
the portal and the world dissolved around him.
"Rangers!" Zordon boomed, startling everyone in the Power Chamber out of about six years of life. "I have detected another disturbance in the park, similar to the one which heralded Rocky's disappearance. Unfortunately, it's burned out the sensors again."
Tommy groaned. "What now? H.G. Wells?"
"Maybe we should go check it out," his girlfriend replied sarcastically. Tommy made a face at her, but nodded.
"It's morphin time!"
In ten flashes of colored light, the Zeo Rangers and the Blue Senturion appeared in the park. Once again, the grass had been seared by the release of energy, and for a moment, the smoke obscured everything. Then a dark shape began to appear through the smoke. All of the Rangers tensed, readying for an attack.
"GUYS!" Silver Ranger was nearly bowled over by the force of her boyfriend's hug. She wrapped her arms around him, returning the embrace as tightly as she dared, while morphed. After a long moment, she pulled back.
"Rocky! Are you all right? Where have you BEEN?"
He smiled, running a hand along the side of her helmet. "It's a long story, Katya, and one which I'll tell you guys AFTER I've had a shower and a meal. It's been a rough couple of days."
"Couple of days?" Green Ranger echoed. "Rocky, you've been gone an hour, tops."
The Blue Zeo Ranger nodded. "Time travel will do that. Come on, let's
get back to the Power Chamber. I've got a LOT to fill you guys in on."
Katarina Petronov was descended from a number of extremely gifted gypsy fortunetellers, and the power of Second Sight ran in her family. She herself didn't have it- as far as she knew- but her hunches were almost always correct. She was following one of those hunches now, one which told her where to find her boyfriend.
Rocky was sitting on one of the many cliffs that surrounded the Power Chamber, watching as the sun set over the bluffs to the west. He looked far more pensive than usual, and Katarina was careful to make a fair amount of noise as she approached. Walking silently around a troubled martial artist was a recipe for disaster.
"You feeling all right?" she asked him, sliding an arm around his shoulders. He shook his head.
"No, I'm not, Katya. I'm scared. That future world- it was like a nightmare. Almost everyone I knew or cared about was dead- including you. There was nothing, no sun, no stars, no light- only varying degrees of darkness."
"We won't let it happen," she assured him. "We've got the Blue Senturion, we know they're coming- we can beat them, Rocky."
"Maybe," he acknowledged. "But we've already changed history, so the Blue Senturion's information is almost useless to us now. And they're not just coming, Katya- they're already here."
"Then we will stop them," she replied. "We're the Power Rangers, Rocky. It's what we do."
He smiled, squeezing her around the waist. "And that is why I love you so much, Katarina. Whenever I need you, you are my light."
"Same here, Rocky. Same here." The two of them watched the sun go down
in silence, each contemplating what the future might bring.
The End... for now