With a faint click, an over-enthusiastic voice shattered the silence of the dark bedroom.
^…here in southern California. The mild temperatures and sunny skies are expected to extend into Thursday, when some moisture from the Pacific will bring showers, highs near sixty degrees…^
Rachel stretched from the comfort of her blankets, blinking away deep sleep as she reached for the clock radio.
It was still dark outside, and it would remain dark for a good three hours more. Then, at ten she had class, followed by a lunch break and then another class, culminating in three hours at Givens and Clark law firm, where she worked as an intern.
It was almost a typical schedule for a typical college student; with the exception of the five-hour shift she had monitoring Earth from an alien ship hovering in the stratosphere, which started promptly at four a.m.
There was no point in mourning the loss of half the night's rest. The sleep would be missed, making a typical day a challenge to complete. It was just one of the sacrifices she'd been willing to make when Spectra offered her the chance to be a defender of Earth.
Sliding out of her bed, she slipped her feet into fuzzy slippers to ward off the pre-dawn chill, and pulled her bathrobe over her sleepshirt. Typically, she wouldn't bother with such modesty… but now, there was a stranger in the apartment.
A stranger with the face of one of her dearest friends.
A different kind of chill swept the Purple Enforcer at the thought. She wrapped her robe tighter as she wondered what had happened to Jocelyn. What kind of reality was she trapped in? Could she summon the protective power of the orange Spectrum Stone, or was she completely helpless? Was she at the mercy of these so-called 'Power Rangers'? What were they really like?
The possibilities were endless, and most were terrifying. After all, why would Princess Celea banish Jocelyn into a benign universe? There must be some threat there that put Jocelyn in danger. There must be something that Kimberly didn't tell them.
And then there was the dilemma their visitor's presence created. What were they to do with this girl from another reality? At that moment, the stranger with a familiar face slept in their apartment. Hopefully she slept… unless she was busy plotting her escape so she could report to Celea whatever reconnaissance she'd collected.
They'd taken what precautions they could. Keith had volunteered to spend the night at their apartment, keeping an eye on matters. But knowing Keith, he'd probably fallen asleep hours ago, and nothing short of a fire alarm could rouse him.
Her eyes narrowing with fresh anxiety, Rachel opened the door and stepped out of her room, intending to check in on Jocelyn's room. But when she stepped into the common room, she stared in surprise at the lone figure sitting on the couch, staring at the flashing television screen like a zombie.
And it wasn't Keith. He lay on the carpet, snoring softly.
"Kimberly? What are you doing up?"
Kim turned, offering Rachel a tired smile. "I couldn't sleep. I couldn't get comfortable."
That certainly made sense. Especially when one gave a thought to Kimberly's situation. Stranded in an alternate dimension, powerless, surrounded by hostile warriors, with no guarantee that she could ever get home.
Rachel felt the stirring of sympathy, and squashed it immediately. She couldn't afford to feel bad for this stranger. The Denebians had proven that no tactic was beneath them. Kimberly could still be a spy for the Empire, and she already knew more than Rachel was comfortable with.
She knew the Spectrum Force's faces. That kind of information could make a sneak attack possible, allowing the Denebians to set an ambush outside a class building, or even in their homes…
Kimberly noticed her host's distraction, and chose to fill the silence. "It's funny… you guys have the same networks that we have. CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox… how weird is that? And I caught twenty minutes of 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective' on the late late movie. Same actors, same jokes."
She rubbed her forehead. "But there are still differences. There is no Angel Grove here. No Stone Canyon. You don't even have Mariner Bay or Silver Hills! But you've got Broadway in New York, Disneyworld in Florida, and the White House in Washington, D.C. But no Angel Grove, Stone Canyon, Mariner Bay, or Silver Hills."
She released a soft laugh that startled Rachel. "I don't even think Billy could figure this one out."
"Billy?" Rachel prompted.
Kim glanced up, apparently surprised by Rachel's interest. But she didn't hesitate to elaborate. "Billy's the Blue Power Ranger, but he's been one of my best friends long before that. He's a real genius; he was even in a Baby Genius program."
Rachel's eyebrow quirked at the oddity of such a program, but didn't interrupt.
"Whenever I get into a jam, I can always count on Billy. He'd always come up with some plan or gizmo to destroy one of Zedd's trickier monsters. He's the one that built this communicator," she revealed, holding up her wrist. "But, I'd be lying if I said all his experiments worked out."
A rueful grin appeared. "This one time, he built a machine that was supposed to let someone read another's mind, and he and I were the guinea pigs. Turns out it switched our minds! I spent a whole day literally in Billy's shoes, pretending to be a super-genius and failing miserably. That was the weirdest twenty-four hours of my life!"
Her amusement then faded. "Well, assuming this little adventure doesn't last that long."
The sentiment in Kim's words was incredible. Before, she'd spoken at length about floating heads, screeching witches, and evil lords with no skin. But such fanciful stories could easily be fictional, despite Kim's effective storytelling.
But when she spoke about her friends, it was different. There was a love that couldn't be feigned. Her esteem for this 'Billy' gleamed in her eyes. He couldn't be a character in some spun tale of knights in armor. He had to be real.
"I'm making coffee," Rachel stated, making her way to the small kitchenette. "Care for some?"
The offer took Kim by surprise. "No thanks. Coffee is addictive, you know."
Rachel grinned as she measured the water. "Don't I know it, but at least it helps make the all-nighters possible. Trust me, it's tough writing a twelve page report on the Civil Rights Act of '64 at three in the morning without it."
Kim winced. "You're kidding!"
"It comes with the territory, but it's not so bad. This is my fourth year at Dreiser, and so far I've only had to stay up all night for schoolwork three times."
"Were any of them because you had to stay out late saving the world? Because we've gotten into some trouble not getting assignments in on time. Like the time I had to read 'Animal Farm' for English last year, and I kept putting it off and putting it off, thinking I'd just read it that Sunday night, right? Only Rita had other plans…"
Rachel found herself listening to Kimberly's tale avidly, keeping an ear open for any inconsistencies with the information she'd previously provided, or just unusual elements that would put her on alert. But there was nothing outrageous, other than the attack by a freakish lion creature that kept the Power Rangers occupied.
Kimberly Hart just seemed so genuine, causing Rachel Castaneda, wary and suspicious by nature, to let go of some of her distrust.
* * *
A harsh ringing dragged Jocelyn from the obliviousness of deep slumber. Moaning grumpily, she opened one eye and glanced toward the clock.
Blinking, she realized her clock wasn't there. Neither was the computer desk that sat beside her bed. Instead there was a chair covered with stuffed animals and frilly throw pillows.
"What the hell?" she grumbled, sitting up. The room was cheery and bright, with sunlight pouring through the lacy window treatment to illuminate everything. Pale carpeting, flowers bordering the white walls, photographs lining the dresser... and finally a digital alarm clock, sitting on the right of the bed rather than the left.
"Six-thirty?" she gasped, throwing off the blanket, "I'm late for practice with the Force!"
Then, it all came flooding back. The mission to the North Pole, the strange window of light that sucked her into some sort of alternate world. A world which was defended by the Power Rangers, a team of seven high school students given power from a bodiless intellectual, and aided by a sweet natured robot.
The world of Kimberly Hart.
"This is Kim's room," she reminded herself, rubbing her eyes fiercely to induce some sort of coherence. "I've got to be Kimberly today."
She reached over to shut off the alarm clock.
"I can do this," she murmured, dragging herself out of bed, "I just need some caffeine. Oh hell… Kim's anti-java. Great. And I have a test to take, don't I?"
Zack had asked her not to try her best on the PSAT she'd be taking on Kim's behalf. Jocelyn doubted she'd be able to concentrate anyway.
"Okay… gotta wake up," she sighed, lightly slapping her cheeks. "Bathroom's across the hall."
She made her way to the bathroom, staring at the floral décor and assortment of beauty products lining the sink.
"Jeez… does everything here smell like flowers?"
She was still able to figure out which bottles contained the essentials, and then immersed herself in the flow of warm water.
The shower worked wonders, drawing the dazed young woman to her senses. As she shampooed her hair, she reviewed the extensive information Trini and Tommy had relayed to her yesterday. She closed her eyes, visualizing the layout of the house and trying to remember the faces and corresponding names of the Rangers.
It was frightening to imagine how much could go wrong.
Jocelyn reminded herself that the charade was only for one day. She'd pretend to be Kimberly Hart, take the PSAT in her stead, endure the rest of her day's classes, and immediately report to the Command Center and find out the status of their analysis.
"Okay, one day of high school. I can do this…"
She shut off the water, and wrapped herself in a fresh towel. She gathered her discarded clothes and returned to Kimberly's bedroom, where she faced another problem.
What to wear?
Obviously, a rumpled shirt and worn jeans would be a poor choice. Not only were her clothes wrinkled and less than fresh, but they obviously weren't Kimberly's style.
Which means, I need something pink.
She pulled open the closet, and her jaw dropped in unabashed shock.
Holy cow… did she always love pink, or did she buy a whole new wardrobe when she became a Power Ranger?
She sifted through a myriad of breezy dresses, intolerably short shorts and mid-drift baring tops, her glare intensifying with each article of shamelessly flirty clothing she pushed aside.
"Finally!" she sighed, pulling a pair of jeans off a hangar. At least they covered her legs… but upon closer inspection, she realized she'd never get them zipped.
A rueful smirk appeared. "Of course my nigh-identical twin would be a size four. Just what my self-esteem needed."
She slipped the jeans back on the hangar, and returned to the section of the closet devoted to flirty dresses.
"At least they don't cling like a second skin," she reasoned, selecting a white cotton dress with small pink flowers. It was loose-fitting, meaning a strong breeze would reveal much more than she cared to.
"Which would explain all these spandex micro shorts," she realized, pulling out a pale pink pair. "Eh, good enough."
Half an hour later she was fully dressed and ready for her day. She'd found a blow dryer at Kim's vanity, as well as a nice faux pearl barrette just the right size to clip her hair back in a twist that would hopefully draw people's attention away from the honey blonde highlights.
At a quarter after seven she hurried down the stairs, chewing her lip nervously as she tried to recall what taking the PSAT had been like.
"There you are! I was just about to come drag you down for breakfast!"
Jocelyn blinked at the woman standing in the kitchen, digging through the closet. "Breakfast is getting cold."
"Breakfast?" she repeated, sitting at a stool beside the small kitchen table. Mrs. Hart placed a plate in front of her, and a jar of honey.
"Pancakes with strawberries… your favorite."
"Wow," she muttered, staring at the short stack while trying to hide her dismay. Wonderful… I guess Kimberly doesn't share my allergies.
"You need a good breakfast so you can ace that exam," Kim's mother stated, setting a glass of orange juice to complete the meal. "I've got a conference call with Paris at nine, so I'm leaving early. I'll see you when I get home tonight."
She leaned over to kiss her daughter's cheek, only freeze in place.
Jocelyn held her breath as the older woman drew back. "What's wrong?"
"When did you get contact lenses? And when did you color your hair??"
Oh no… I forgot about the eyes! "Uh… yesterday. I wanted to try a different look."
Jocelyn winced at the lameness of her excuse, but she noticed Caroline's surprise slowly melt into amusement.
"Well, be careful with contacts, Kim. You should only wear them for a few hours at a time until you get used to them. And next time you want to color your hair, I'll take you to my salon. I thought you liked the auburn Oscar put in last time."
"It's just an experiment," Jocelyn responded.
"Actually, it didn't come out badly," Caroline admitted, pulling a lock of hair out of the barrette and examining it closely. "It's a very natural shade. It'll look great over the summer."
She then kissed Jocelyn's cheek, and took her car keys from the table. "Good luck on your test, Kim!"
"Bye Mom!" Jocelyn called with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. The moment the door closed, she stared back at her plate, and scraped the strawberries off the pancake.
"At least there aren't strawberries in the batter," Jocelyn realized, drawing her knife through and eyeing the moist inside carefully. She took off the top pancake just to be safe, and ate the other one with one eye on the clock.
At exactly seven-thirty, a white Jeep appeared on the curb outside. Jocelyn grabbed Kim's backpack and hurried out the door, where Tommy was waiting.
"'Morning, Tommy," she greeted, climbing into the passenger's seat, "right on time!"
Tommy smirked, but Jocelyn didn't get the joke. "How'd your morning go?"
"First things first. Please tell me there's a Starbucks on the way to school!"
His eyebrow rose. "Starbucks?"
Jocelyn stared at him. "No Starbucks?" she declared, slumping into her seat. "This must be Hell!"
* * *
"Rocky, we're gonna be late!"
The teen flashed a mischievous smirk at the rearview mirror as he parked in the lot beside an unusually quiet strip mall near the border of Stone Canyon and Angel Grove. It was so quiet because the majority of the shops didn't open for business until ten a.m.
Rocky didn't flinch as his glance met the frustrated glare of one of his oldest friends. After growing up together, Aisha was wholly immune to Rocky's easy-going charm.
"We have the PSAT today," she reminded him, folding her arms. "If you'd told me you had to run an errand on the way to school, I would've asked Adam to drive."
"No can do," Adam reminded her from the front seat, "Car's in for service, remember?"
"Will you guys just relax?" Rocky sighed, stepping out the door, "I already called Rico, and he told me he'd be in early today so I can pick up the watch before school. It'll take two seconds, I promise!"
He slammed the door closed before Aisha's impatient sigh could reach his ears. He quickly jogged to the small jewelry store, the bell chiming as he pushed the door open.
Ricardo Vera, first cousin on Rocky's mother's side, was standing behind the counter. He gave the teen a tight grin as Rocky approached the counter.
"Okay Kid," Rico stated, "where the heck did you get this watch?"
Rocky blinked at the question. "It belongs to a friend of mine. Why?"
"Did you even look at this thing? I've never seen anything like it."
Rocky stared as Rico opened a plastic box, revealing the watch. All the bloodstains had been removed, restoring the silver and purple band to a new shine. Also the clasp had been replaced, and the numbers on the digital watch face had returned.
"The watch is a secondary function," Rico elaborated. "Under the face, most of the components are for something else. It looks like a walkie-talkie, at least in part."
"A walkie-talkie?" Rocky repeated, staring at the watch anew. "That's weird."
"It is," Rico agreed. "And there's some high tech microchips that I can't even begin to guess what they do. Did you get this from a cop? Or some kind of engineer?"
Rocky's mind raced. A space-age walkie-talkie/watch combo? Where did Alexis get this thing? And… who does she use this thing to communicate with?
The teen snapped out of his thoughts and gave his cousin a quick smile. "Oh, sorry," he mumbled, "I was just thinking. It belongs to one of my friends at school, but… uh… I think her father works at some big-shot tech company back East. She must've got it from him."
Rocky maintained his nonchalance, hoping his fib would appease Rico's curiosity. Finally, the older man shrugged.
"Well, do me a favor; ask your friend if she can get me in touch with her father. Watches like these would sell like hotcakes! Though, the design department definitely needs to put more work into it. Retro sci-fi styles aren't doing well."
"I'm pretty sure this is a prototype, but I'll do what I can. And thanks again for your help."
"Don't thank me," Rico answered, holding out the watch box. "Just remember you're babysitting Friday."
Rocky smirked at the thought of spending a perfectly-good Friday night with his hyperactive ten year-old second cousin, wondering if Alexis would appreciate his efforts to repair her watch… or, watch-like thing.
What is this thing? Rocky wondered, opening the box while he made his way to his car. His fingers traced seven buttons lining the edges, and his frown deepened.
Images of Halloween night flashed through his head. It was easily the most memorable night of his life: getting paired with Alexis Darling to chaperon a group of eager Trick or Treaters, only for the two dressed as Power Rangers to transform into alien maniacs.
The monsters focused their attack on Alexis, grabbing her while he'd been at a door with the other children. He'd managed to save her, and they'd made an escape into the bushes. But the creatures caught up with them, playing a sadistic form of "tag," and finally knocking Rocky out with one painfully sharp punch.
Rocky winced at the memory, his free hand absently rubbing his stomach.
He had no idea how long he was unconscious, but it was the Purple Ranger that woke him up. And when he'd asked about Alexis, the Purple Ranger informed him that she was at a local hospital.
No wait… I assumed Alexis was at a hospital. The Purple Ranger said she was 'fine.' And she wouldn't give me any details.
Rocky glanced down at the watch once again, and slowly, his imagination began to conjure ideas that, an hour ago, he wouldn't have considered vaguely possible.
Nah, that's just ridiculous. Alexis isn't a Power Ranger! She's not even a martial artist! But… she's pretty brave, though. She didn't freak out at all when those monsters attacked us.
The sound of a horn drew Rocky out of his musings.
"You're not counting the cracks on the sidewalk again, are you?" Aisha called through the window.
"Will you relax?" he laughed, jogging to the car. He slid into the front seat, tossing the box into Adam's lap.
"Take a look at that watch," he suggested, buckling his seatbelt.
Adam's eyebrow quirked as he opened the box. "What about it?"
Aisha followed her friend's gaze, her brow furrowing. "Where'd you get this, Rocky?"
"Alexis. The weird thing is, Rico says he's never seen anything like it."
"It does look pretty weird," Adam admitted, tapping the green cover. "I think I've seen one before. I don't remember where, though."
"I'm gonna find out where it came from," Rocky announced, taking the watch from Adam. Steering with his knees, he slid the watch onto his wrist, and snapped it secure.
Aisha stared at the device warily. "Why don't you just give it back to Alexis? Wasn't that what you were planning to do?"
"Well, it was," Rocky confessed, "but now I'm curious. Let's see what kind of reaction I'll get out of her when she sees me wearing it."
Adam frowned. "Rocky, maybe you should… well… back off a little. I mean, it looks like Alexis and Jason are-"
"It's not about that," Rocky insisted, waving his hand to dismiss the idea. "I just have some questions, and I'd like some answers. That's all."
Adam shook his head, clearly not buying Rocky's excuse. "Hey Aisha, have you seen a watch like this before? You're the Queen of Accessories."
Aisha bit her lip. "I don't know… I don't think so," she answered noncommittally.
She then turned to stare out the window, and her discomfort brought a puzzled frown to Adam's face.
* * *
Fifteen minutes and a sixteen-ounce dose of French Roast later, Jocelyn stood at the threshold of Angel Grove High School. The steps were bustling with students, talking animatedly about the weekend's activities, Friday's dance, and the exam the junior class was about to take.
Tossing the empty Quick Stop cup into a trash bin, Jocelyn took a slow, calming breath.
Tommy loomed beside her, watching her nervously finger the shoulder strap of Kim's backpack. "Ready for this?" he whispered.
"Piece of cake," she responded. While the words were confident, her voice was anything but that.
After a few moments of debate, Tommy's sense of logic won out over his discomfort. He reached out his hand to Jocelyn.
"Just follow my lead, okay?"
Jocelyn's gaze leapt from Tommy's offered hand to his solemn face. "You don't have to-"
"We have to keep up appearances," he pointed out. "Just follow my lead, keep your talking to a minimum, and relax. You'll do fine."
Taking another deep breath, Jocelyn took his hand.
Tommy led her through the crowds, throwing waves and greetings at all sides. Jocelyn waved and smiled at everyone who made eye contact with her, trying her best to imitate the "popular cheerleader" persona she assumed Kimberly must have embodied.
Shortly, Tommy stopped at a locker. "Stay with me."
Jocelyn nodded, watching as he opened his locker and began exchanging the contents with those in his backpack.
"After Trini and I left you, we got back in touch with the others," he murmured. "We worked out a plan that should get us through the day. Just remember this: you're coming down with a cold, and your voice is scratchy. So don't talk unless you have to, and try to talk like you're losing your voice."
"Good idea," Jocelyn admitted, a small smile brightening her face. I just might pull this off after all!
"You only came in today to take the PSAT. So if we don't find Kim today, you can skip school tomorrow and hang out at the Command Center. It probably won't come to that, but just in case."
Tommy continued fumbling through the contents of his locker, and Jocelyn finally realized that he kept moving the same books between the locker and his bag.
"What are you doing?"
"Killing time until the others show up." Tommy glanced up at the wall clock, and grimaced. "They should get here soon."
"Hey guys!" a cheerful called. Jocelyn turned, and smiled as Alexis approached, with Jason at her shoulder.
"How'd you two make out?" Tommy asked.
Alexis smirked, pulling a folder from her backpack. "James Bond better eat his heart out."
Jocelyn accepted the file, and flipped through its contents. Her eyes widened in shock. "Is this…?"
"Kim's private record," Jason confirmed.
"Jase and I snuck into the main office last night and made a few copies," Alexis whispered. "Luckily the school hasn't installed video cameras, or we would've had a hard time explaining what the Red and Purple Rangers were doing in the file room."
"We only copied what we thought was critical," Jason explained. "Social Security number, birth date, address, current schedule, locker assignment. You might need some of this stuff to fill in the Personal Information part of the PSAT."
"Now that we have the combination to Kim's locker, we can head over there," Tommy decided, closing his locker. The group migrated across the hall, and Jocelyn's fingers hovered at the combination on the designated locker as Tommy read her the numbers.
She sighed in relief as the door creaked open, revealing the contents.
"Do I need anything in here?"
"Probably not," Jason admitted, "but you might want to fix your hair."
Jocelyn's hands rose to the nape of her neck. "Did it fall out?"
"You look fine," Alexis assured the nervous girl. "It's just part of Kim's routine."
"Oookay," Jocelyn sighed, peering into the small mirror and toying with her forelocks.
"Hey gang," another voice called. Jocelyn looked in her mirror, and smiled as Zack approached.
"Any luck?" Jason wondered.
"Zordon said the storm has slowed down, and he's scanning more easily. But there's still some weirdness up at the Pole, which means that the portal, or at least a remnant, is still floating around."
Jocelyn's grin widened. "Thank God for that!"
"We're all gonna check it out after school," Zack informed the group. "Zordon said he'll keep us posted if anything particularly weird pops up in the meantime."
"Sounds like a plan," Alexis agreed. "Then let's book it to homeroom; that's where the test will be held."
"Who's in Kim's homeroom?" Jason wondered.
"Me and Billy," Alexis confirmed. "Where is he, anyway?"
"Over there," Zack noted, waving him and Trini over. The two remaining Rangers wove through the crowded halls, and met the group.
"Jocelyn, I hope your eyes aren't too sensitive," Billy began, pulling a small plastic case from his pocket.
"I don't think so," she informed him, taking the small, two-compartment container. She slowly unscrewed the cap.
"Brown contact lenses?"
"Just to complete the illusion," Trini explained. "Billy can show you how to put them on."
Jocelyn frowned. "Not here he can't. This mirror's too small, and he can't come with me to the girls' room."
"The biology laboratory has a full sink and mirror, and it should be empty," Billy explained. "We'll get these lenses in, and I'll bring you to homeroom."
Jocelyn nodded, closing Kimberly's locker. She grinned at the other Rangers, holding Kim's file tightly. "Wish me luck!"
Trini smiled warmly. "You'll do fine. And thanks again for helping us out."
Tommy leaned against the lockers, watching Billy lead Jocelyn down the hall. "You guys think this will work?"
"I'll be keeping my fingers crossed," Zack responded, glancing again at the clock. "We'd better move it, or we can add detention to our list of problems."
The group waved their farewells and separated, hurrying to homeroom while trying to turn their thoughts away from their predicament with Kimberly and Jocelyn, and back to the subjects at hand: language and mathematics.
* * *
Aisha winced as she watched Rocky adjust the band of Alexis' watch-like device. The band was uncomfortably small for him, but he hadn't been able to figure out how to expand it. Also, the deep purple streaks decorating the silver band looked awful beside the scarlet of his shirt.
Of course, it would match perfectly with the largely purple wardrobe of the Purple Power Ranger.
Once a person knew who the Rangers were, recognizing the machine wasn't difficult. Aisha noticed the same unit on Zack and Kim's wrists, and each was color-coded. But what Aisha didn't know was what the unit actually did. What if it was a weapon? What if Rocky accidentally activated it?
What could she do about it? On the one hand, if she didn't get that thing off Rocky, he could hurt himself. But on the other, she'd promised not to reveal the Rangers' identities.
I've got to tell him the truth, she realized, glancing down at her interlaced fingers. Hopefully Zordon will understand. If Rocky disappears, or turns into a monster, or blows himself up, or does whatever that thing does, it'll be my fault. She grimaced. It's not like Rocky can't keep a secret. I mean, what's the harm in letting him know? So long as he swears to keep his mouth shut.
She glanced up as the door opened, and Alexis walked into the classroom. Since she sat near the front, and Aisha and Rocky sat in the back two seats due to their mid-semester transfer, Alexis probably didn't even know they were there.
But Rocky didn't simply sit in his seat and wait. Instead, he rose to his feet, and strolled right to Alexis' desk.
Alexis glanced up from her backpack, postponing her search for her calculator. She met Rocky's deep brown gaze, and smiled warmly.
"What's up, Rocky?"
"Do you by any chance have an extra #2 pencil? I must've left mine in my locker."
"You're in luck, DeSantos," she answered with a smirk. She opened the outer pocket of the bag, and pulled out two extra pencils. "Don't leave home without 'em."
"You're a life-saver," Rocky commented, reaching out his left hand. Alexis moved to lay the pencils in his palm, when her eyes fell upon his watch.
Her jaw dropping, she let the pencils fall to the floor.
Rocky hid a triumphant smirk by bending to pick up the pencils. "You okay? You might want to get that depth-perception checked; you missed my hand by a good half a foot!"
Alexis shook herself. "Uh, sorry… I just remembered something I have to do."
"Now? The bell rings in less than a minute-"
But Alexis was already out the door.
* * *
Dammit, dammit, dammit! Alexis lamented, hurrying down the mostly-empty hallway. How could I be so stupid??
She skidded to a halt when she finally found Billy and Jocelyn. The latter was blinking furiously, occasionally rubbing her eyes as she got accustomed to the lenses that transformed her eyes into the soft brown that mirrored Kimberly's.
"Billy, we've got a problem," Alexis gasped.
Jocelyn looked alarmed. "Another one?"
"What's wrong?" Billy pressed.
Alexis lifted her wrist. "Remember the communicator I had before this one? The one I lost when the Misfits attacked last week? Well… Rocky DeSantos found it."
Billy grimaced. "Then our communications with the Command Center may be compromised. We need to determine whether or not it's functional."
Just then, the bell rang.
"We'll have to deal with it later," Billy decided, heading towards homeroom. "Zordon said he wouldn't interrupt the test, so hopefully we can reach him before he sends out a signal."
"But I lost it last week! Zordon's already contacted us since then. If my old communicator is still on the network, Rocky may have heard everything!"
Billy rubbed his chin. "Did Rocky give you any inclination that he knew anything? Did he make any double entendres?"
"Did he say anything that might have a double meaning, that suggests he knows who you are?" Jocelyn elaborated.
Alexis swore under her breath. "Yes! He called me a life-saver when I gave him a pencil!"
Billy laid a hand on her shoulder. "Alexis, there's nothing we can do about it now. Let's just take this test. I'll contact Zordon as soon as the period is over. Okay?"
The trio stepped into the homeroom, where Ms. Applebee was already distributing copies of the examination.
"Now that we're all here," she answered pointedly, "we can begin the overview of instructions."
Jocelyn felt her cheeks burn as she made her way to the seat Billy indicated, trying her best to ignore the stares of the rest of the class. Soon she sank into the hard plastic chair, clenching her fists to keep her fingers from shaking.
I can do this, I can do this…
Then, a test landed on her desk. "Kimberly, are you all right?"
Jocelyn held her breath as she looked up, and met the teacher's worried gaze.
"You look a little pale, and your eyes are red."
Jocelyn cleared her suddenly clogged throat, remembering Tommy's instructions from earlier. "I've got a cold," she explained, her voice raw.
Ms. Applebee only nodded, patting her shoulder. "Let me know if you need some air, okay?"
The teacher continued distributing exam booklets, reciting the instructions for everyone. Jocelyn settled in her seat, grasping her pencil tightly as she carefully filled in the personal data.
Then, the time came to tear open the exam booklets, and Jocelyn's eyes fell to the first question. A small smirk forming, she filled in the answer, and proceeded to the next one.
Her confidence soared as she turned the page, long before anyone else in the class. Kim's making out like a bandit on this one!
* * *
"Hello? Anyone here?"
Rachel pushed open the front door, tossing her jacket on the couch as she scanned the small apartment.
Her face gradually fell as she opened each of the three bedrooms, and found no one in sight. By the time she searched the bathroom and hall closet, she was positively thunderous.
"I should've known she wouldn't be able to resist!" she sighed, tearing the receiver off the kitchen phone. Tense fingers stabbed a familiar phone number as she began breathing deliberately, hoping to rein in her temper before she found her wayward roommate.
* * *
"That's adorable!" both girls squealed in harmony. Kimberly and Tamara turned away from the baby doll T-shirt that had drawn both their praise, and exchanged a startled glance.
Then, they both giggled.
"This is so much fun!" Tamara sighed, pulling the shirt off the rack. "Jocie can be such a bore at the mall, and Ray has absolutely no patience to enjoy shopping as an art form."
Kim grinned, watching as Tamara posed in front of a mirror. "I know what you mean. My best friend just isn't a big shopper. Lately I've been dragging Tommy, but I can tell he'd rather be anywhere than a department store."
Tamara rolled her eyes. "Well, taking Keith to the mall is even worse than the others. He loves shopping even more than I do!"
Kim's eyes widened as she looked to the bags hanging from Tamara's wrist. "Really?"
"Really. He's been adding to his collection of Calvin Klein cotton shirts. I mean seriously, even I have my limits! I think he's up to twenty-eight. Stripes, solids, V-neck, collared… you name it, he's got it. I have no idea how he fits all those clothes into his closet!"
Kim couldn't contain her laughter as she imagined Tommy urgently searching through stacks of preppy shirts at Bloomingdale's. "Maybe I should be grateful Tommy'd rather knock the sand out of a punching bag then shop with me."
"Trust me, you get a lot more shopping done when you go by yourself," Tamara noted. "You get to spend as much time as you want in the shoe department without someone hanging over your shoulder."
She then frowned, shaking her head. "Nah, I don't think so. I just don't like the way it falls."
Kim grinned in amusement. "You can tell how it falls just by looking at it?"
"It's one of those skills you pick up when you blitz-shop with Rachel."
Tamara then bit her lip, holding the shirt up in front of Kimberly. "You know, I think it'll look fantastic on you."
Kim's smile turned wry. "And how should I pay for that? With my credit cards and cash, all neatly stuffed in my wallet back in Angel Grove?"
"Oh, right." She glanced at the price tag, and shrugged. "Then it's my treat."
The Pink Ranger shook her head emphatically as Tamara turned toward the nearest cashier. "Tammy, no! I couldn't ask you-"
"Think of it as a souvenir from your visit. You can't leave our universe empty-handed."
Kim gave the shirt another quick once-over. "It doesn't even say 'Langstrum Alps' on it."
"Right. Hmm… let's see if we can find you something at one of those little gift boutiques? Something more… souvenir-ish. And we'll throw in the top, too. It's adorable, and it's thirty percent off!"
Kim laughed. "Far be it for me to turn down a bargain."
As the pair took their place at a register, a ring from Tamara's purse drew Kim's attention. "Is that a communicator?" she whispered.
Tamara shrugged. "We usually just call it a phone, but it serves the same purpose." She pulled the small cell phone from the outer pocket, and rolled her eyes at the caller ID. "Mother Hen's at it again," she sighed, handing Kim her credit card. "I'll be back in two seconds."
Tamara retreated to the entrance of the store as she drew the phone to her ear. "Where's the fire, Ray?"
^I'm fairly sure we decided to keep Kimberly here until Spectra returns. Here being our apartment, not the general vicinity.^
Oh great, she's in one of her moods! "Ray, just relax. Why should we keep her under house arrest? It's not like she's done anything to make us suspicious-"
^You mean besides falling through an inter-dimensional portal and replacing Jocelyn?^
"Which we've figured out isn't her fault. Craig told me about that 'aggressive portal' stuff Spectra was talking about. Kim said she got sucked in, and the evidence supports that. She hasn't lied to us yet, and I for one think she deserves the benefit of the doubt… and maybe a new outfit as a peace offering."
Tamara grinned as she heard the resigned sigh issue from the receiver. Rachel was definitely caving, and even faster than Tamara had predicted. ^Did you at least bring someone along? Just in case you need backup?^
"Everyone's busy. Keith's got that Human Resource Management class today, Craig has a quiz in Psychology of Violence, and Matt's monitoring. But we're doing just fine. Kim's a great co-shopper! She even hunted down these fantastic platform boots on the sale rack, and I was absolutely sure they were out of size seven…"
^Okay, okay,^ Rachel surrendered. ^Just make sure you're home by quarter of two. You've got to fill in for Matt.^
"I'll be back in plenty of time. See you later!"
Tamara switched off the phone, a satisfied grin on her face as she arrived at the register just as Kim handed the cashier the credit card.
"What's the story?" Kim wondered.
"Rachel's just being Rachel. So we have a 1:45 curfew." She signed her name on the receipt, and together she and Kim collected the shopping bags. "Let's stop by the gift shop and then the food court. Do you like souvlaki? Because 'It's Greek to Me' serves the best souvlaki I've tasted on this coast!"
Kim grinned at the thought, hurrying to keep up with the energetic Yellow Enforcer.
* * *
Even though he had not directly attacked the Power Rangers in several days, Lord Zedd was far from inactive. He had been hard at work on the surface of the moon, overseeing the final stages of preparation for his ultimate weapon. A Zord of such scale and power, no counterattack the Rangers could mount would even scratch its serpentine hull. Once the final programming was completed, and the power core fully charged, nothing would stand against the might of Serpentera.
However, when he sensed the strange energy reading emanating from the extreme north of the Earth, his attention was diverted. Intrigued, he directed his attention to the Earth, watching as the Pink and White Rangers vanished into the energy vortex of the pole. When they finally emerged, only the White Ranger was standing.
They had disappeared into the Command Center, hidden from his scrutiny, only to return to usual activity later that evening. Yet, while all seven Rangers were accounted for, there was certainly an increased concern for Kimberly's well-being.
Something has happened at the arctic pole, he surmised, tapping his steel-tipped fingers against the arm of his stone throne. Perhaps it is something I can exploit. "Goldar! Finster! Get in here!"
The bellow resonated through the cavernous hallways, until the gilded warrior appeared at the doorway, bowing deeply as he approached his Lord. Moments later, the Monster-Baker also appeared, though his bow was more ceremonial than heartfelt.
"Yes, Lord Zedd?" they both spoke.
"Something bizarre is happening on Earth, and it seems to be focused at the North Pole," he revealed, rising from his throne. He approached the balcony, sending his telescopic crimson beam toward the planet. "My sight can't penetrate the energy field, but I must know exactly what is there. Finster, you will journey to the North Pole and report back to me your findings."
Finster seemed surprised by the order. Rarely was he given the opportunity to take an active role in Zedd's devices. "As you command," he responded.
Zedd turned to the Titan warrior. "Goldar, you will provide a distraction to keep the Rangers out of Finster's fur. Go to Angel Grove with my Putty Patrol, and attack the high school. Capture the Pink Ranger, and bring her to me."
Goldar frowned, clearly remembering the last time he'd tried to spirit her away, after her visit to a fortuneteller. "Again?"
The low growl Zedd released was enough to make the tall beast shiver. "Yes, again. Only this time, get it right! Kimberly and Tommy saw firsthand whatever anomaly is currently focused at the Pole, and what the Rangers know, I shall know." The despot sneered beneath his silver mask. "Besides, if I sent you to capture Tommy, you'd surely fail. I would hope you'd fare better against the Pink Ranger."
Yellowed fangs bared at the insult, but Goldar held back any overt reaction. Instead, he nodded curtly to his master, his bruised ego giving the Titan a determination he typically did not exhibit.
This time, he would not fail.
* * *
Done, and done, Jocelyn reflected with satisfaction, closing the exam booklet and stretching her arms. According to the clock, she had over fifteen minutes before the exam period was over, and she'd even had enough time to go over her answers.
She grinned as she glanced around the classroom. Everyone else seemed to be hard at work, filling in the Scantron circles, punching values into calculators, chewing their pencils, scratching their heads, or staring at the question booklet in dismay. All except Billy, who sat near the front of the classroom, quietly reading the latest issue of 'Scientific American.'
Jocelyn's eyes widened as she glanced at the clock again. He must be really smart…
Almost as if he'd heard her thoughts, Billy turned around and grinned at her. When he turned back to his magazine, a sudden six-tone signal issued from his watch.
Billy dropped the magazine, muffling the sound with his free hand. He then discreetly collected his belongings, rose from his desk, and approached Ms. Applebee.
Jocelyn watched, dumbstruck, as Billy nodded a silent thanks and hurried out the door.
Must be Ranger business, she concluded, turning toward Alexis. The Purple Ranger stared at the door through which Billy left with unveiled concern, before finally turning her attention back to her incomplete exam.
Jocelyn didn't waste another moment. She grabbed the exam booklet and Kimberly's backpack, and made her way to the front of the room.
Ms. Applebee stared in surprise as Jocelyn approached her. "Is something wrong?"
"I was hoping I could, uh, be dismissed?"
"I can't dismiss you until the exam is completed. You know that."
Jocelyn then sat her exam booklet on the teacher's desk. "I'm all done, and… I'm feeling a little dizzy. I'd like to go to the nurse's office and lie down for the rest of the period, if that's all right."
Jocelyn put on her best 'exhausted pout,' hoping to capitalize on her comparative pallor and convince the teacher of her sincerity. After a beat, Ms. Applebee nodded.
"If you're sure you're finished with the exam…"
"Yes, I'm done."
"Then I'll write you a pass," the teacher concluded, pulling a pad from her top drawer and writing quickly. "I hope you feel better, Kim. You really do look ill; I think you should consider going home." She then leaned closer to her. "We're not doing much in English today."
"Thanks," Jocelyn breathed with a tired grin. She then turned, smiled briefly to a startled Alexis, and made her way out the door.
The halls of Angel Grove High were eerily quiet, no doubt because she'd left almost fifteen minutes before the period ended. Her steps echoed down the long corridors as she stared down each alternate path that could possibly lead to the Blue Ranger.
Maybe I should've thought this through better, she realized with dismay. He could be anywhere, and I don't have one of those wrist-gizmos to page him.
Frowning in frustration, she simply chose a direction, and began walking.
Jocelyn nearly jumped out of her skin at the loud voice, coupled with a bizarre, high-pitched giggle. She turned around, her eyes wide as she saw two figures stroll towards her, one large in frame, the other tall and lanky. And both wore torn jeans, grungy T-shirts, and bandannas.
Puzzled, Jocelyn turned around, checking to see if there were any "Babes" in the area. No one had ever leered at her in school before…
"Whatcha looking for?" the thin one questioned, a smirk on his face as he stood before her. The larger one was a step behind, looking impatiently at his watch.
"Let's move it, Skull," he hissed. "If we leave now, we'll get to Ernie's early and beat the lunch crowd."
"Be right with ya, Bulkie," the other responded. He never took his smoky blue eyes off Jocelyn, which made the latter incredibly uncomfortable.
Apparently, he noticed her anxiety, for all humor slowly dropped from his face. "You okay, Kim?"
"Fine," she answered quickly. "Just a little run down."
Skull's eyes drifted from her reddened, slightly puffy eyes, to her unusually pale face, to her oddly blondish hair, all the way down to her Keds.
Surprise washed over his face as his gaze darted back to her face.
Jocelyn noticed his reaction, and bit her lip anxiously. "Uh… I uh… have a cold," she murmured, rubbing her eyes once again. "It's been a tough morning."
She opened her eyes, and Skull's eyebrow rose as their gazes met. Then his scrutiny began again, and his gaze lingered on the pink note she gripped in her palm.
"You're headed the wrong way, Kim," he realized, his tone slightly incredulous. "The nurse's office is that way."
Jocelyn looked in the direction he pointed, feeling the embarrassed blush she knew would reach her cheeks. "Yes, well… I was looking for Billy, actually. He's got a book of mine I need back."
Skull's eyes narrowed, and Jocelyn suddenly felt the urge to slap her forehead. I really need to work on this lying thing.
Then, the punk stepped back, jerking his thumb down the hall from which he came. "The mega-geek just ran into the bathroom. Must've been something he ate."
"Thanks, Skull," she said with real gratitude. "I'll see you later."
Skull watched her leave until Bulk impatiently cleared his throat.
"Get the lead out, Skull! I want my cheese fries!"
Skull approached his best friend, and in silence they headed out the door. But the vapid grin that typically brightened Skull's face never returned.
Instead, a worried frown curled his lip as he glanced back towards Kim once again.
She was taller than normal. Usually when she wore sneakers her head came up just above his chin, but today her head topped his nose. And her eyes… he knew he saw a sliver of green peek through after she'd rubbed them.
* * *
The Denebian Flagship
It had taken nearly an entire day, but the young princess finally found what she was searching for.
Her smile turned malicious as she opened a scroll, clearly depicting an ancient carving. The carving she'd attempted to replicate in the frozen tundra of Earth's northern pole. The carving she failed to replicate flawlessly.
"It matters not," she decided, re-rolling the ancient parchment. "All I have lost is a day of time."
All things considered, she'd been able to make an excellent recovery after her… mistake. Her mother was reasonably merciful, only restricting the princess to her rooms. The empress lacked the foresight to confiscate all of Celea's luggage from Fesp, which included dozens of priceless scrolls and irreplaceable volumes. She was either too distracted by her own pursuits, or she underestimated the princess' determination.
Celea decided it was most likely a little of both.
"Now, all I need to do is correct the carving, and the portal will open as intended," the princess reasoned, stuffing the scroll in a leather pouch to protect it from the elements. "By the time Mother learns what I have done, I will command a demon army!"
She smiled widely at that, imagining the scores of hellish creatures that would emerge from the portal. They would either bow to her or fall at her feet, just like every other creature she faced in her lifetime. They would recognize the princess of the Denebian Empire, the power she held, and the destiny she would someday fulfill.