Damiana sighs as she tops the wooded hillcrest and looks down into the valley below. Home. She unconsciously rubs the encircling grooves of the silver bracelet around her left arm. It clinks against the bronze cuff bracelet also on her arm. Its bronze twin circles her other wrist. Damiana takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders, and walks purposefully down the hillside to the village of tents, half broken-in horses, and never broken-in women. Cries of "Damiana!" "Welcome home!" "Where's Ephanine?" " Tell us about Athens!" greet Damiana as she crosses over the outermost edge of the village's perimeter. She looks down at her silver bracelet as she passes by the back of the stable where she found it one summer ago. It had been her souvenir from that battle--her humbling reminder of her gullibility and her affirming reminder of her heroic redemption.
"Sister." A pair of maternal-like arms encircles Damiana.
"Aella," Damiana replies, returning the much appreciated hug.
"Queen Cyrene will want to see you first, but then come see me. We have a lot of catching up to do."
"Your majesty," Damiana says humbly and bows respectfully. "I bring this message from Ephanine."
She hands Cyrene a tight scroll. Cyrene looks annoyed, and her expression becomes worse as she surveys the scroll. Upon completion, Cyrene slams the scroll down on the arm of her throne.
"Damiana! You have single-handedly managed to undo all the progress Ephanine has made. She and I have had to work hard to forge the alliance with King Krokus, and you have almost ruined it with your foolishness," Cyrene steams. "For many moons I've been receiving coded messages from Ephanine explaining what she's had to do to smooth over your many incidents. But I had no idea to what extent she has had to go to to make amends. Damiana, your behavior has disgraced the Amazons. And as Ephanine's message states--and I quote-'King Krokus has requested that Damiana return home to Istria and not return.'"
Ephanine had talked to Damiana about Krokus's request and the contents of the scroll before Damiana left Athens. It stung then, but the mortification of hearing it from the Queen of the Amazons makes Damiana want to shrivel up and die.
"Leave me," Cyrene strains to check her temper. "Come back at sundown when I've had time to think about what to do with you."
Damiana offers a weak bow and scoots out of the tent meekly. Tears well up in her eyes as she tries to slip away from the area.
"Damiana?" Aella calls.
Without looking at Aella, Damiana tries to control her voice enough to neutrally shout back, "I'll be back before dark, Aella. I need to pay homage to Artemis."
Damiana walks quickly to the edge of the village and then breaks into a run. Even though her vision is blurred by streaming tears, her memory leads her deftly over log and through tangling underbrush, even at breakneck speed.
Damiana falls in a heap at the base of the Wells of Artemis. She almost vomits from adrenaline, fatigue, and the ingestion of tears. Damiana reaches a trembling hand out to cup and drink some of the Wells' restorative waters. She slowly rights herself and makes her way to the temple. Damiana smiles when a moonstone ring catches her eye. It had remained just where she had returned it the previous summer.
Damiana approaches the statue of Artemis and repeats the invocation Ephanine had taught her so long ago. All the gold jewelry and shiny weapons glittering in the lamplight used to distract her so much she could never make it completely through the invocation without losing her place. But today, heart heavy and eyes closed, she does it in one attempt. She unconsciously reaches for her silver bracelet as she bursts into tears again.
Why, Artemis? Why can't I do anything right? I thought my days of shaming my sisters were all behind me, but I've done it again! Help me, Artemis, to find my way....
Damiana sits down on the temple floor, burying her face in her knees and hugging them to her chest. She is oblivious to her surroundings--in particular to the momentary darkening of the sun.
"We read you, Cassie," Carlos says into his communicator while holding back a flexible tree limb so TJ can pass.
"Phantom Ranger and I have reached Andromeda 9 and have started issuing the emergency relief supplies to the rebels," Cassie's voice says. "We should be back in the next 24 hours or so."
"Good," says Carlos. "If you run into any trouble, Zhane is still on the Megaship. He can give you our coordinates. Right after you left we started receiving a strange reading on the monitor, an anomaly in the Morphing Grid. It led us here to this uncharted planet in the Tartarusian system. We wondered if it might be Zordon, so we came down here to check it out."
"Hey, keep me posted, will you? I want to know if you find Zordon."
"We will," Carlos says, trying not to get his hopes up.
Damiana wipes her closed eye lids with the backs of her hands. She opens her eyes and finds herself sitting in a forest. The trees look similar, but the Wells and the temple have vanished.
"Artemis?" Damiana whispers and thinks, Where am I?
She does the invocation again.
Uh, Artemis, thank you, but I'm not sure what I'm doing here. Is it because....
Damiana freezes and strains her ears to make sense of a strange whirring sound.
"Great Artemis...," Damiana gasps as a group of four metallic men charge out of the brush. She only hesitates for an instant before her Amazon training kicks in. She deftly ducks the first attacker's slicing blow from an oddly curved sword. Off balance from the move, the metallic man is quickly knocked off his feet by Damiana's sweeping foot move. She grabs his sword and slams her foot squarely into his solar plexus. She whirls around to meet two more attackers. Her form is sloppy, but Damiana manages to deflect their strikes. Battle spirit surging, Damiana screams a fierce warrior cry. Momentarily stunned by her volume, the metal men are easily bested as Damiana does a horizontal sweep across their abdomens with her new sword.
Mybe this thing isn't so different from my bo staff after all,Damiana thinks smugly.
Her self-congratulation ends abruptly as the final metal man easily knocks the sword out of her hands.
And maybe not, Damiana thinks and begins to back up cautiously. She turns her back on the metal man and breaks into a run. Damiana turns her head back toward the man as she nears a low hanging limb.
"C'mon, little metal man!" Damiana taunts. He picks up the pace and closes the gap. As Damiana passes under the branch she leaps into the air. With straight arms she swings around the circumference of the branch, planting her soles firmly into the metal man's back. The momentum from her release drives him face first into the forest underbrush.
Damiana grabs his sword and raises it high over her head.
"Wait!" Damiana hears a woman's voice yell.
A curiously attired young woman with blue spiraled hair steps out of the brush with more of the metal men beside her.
Damiana clunks her current foe on his head and then charges the other metal men surrounding the woman. The woman raises her black staff with the diamond-shaped tip and points it at Damiana.
"You fool!" she says and blasts Damiana with a bolt from her staff.
Damiana stops midstride and falls to her knees in pain. After recovering from the blow, she salutes the woman with the traditional Amazon gesture.
"Forgive me, Artemis. Now I understand," Damiana says in humility.
"Artemis?!" the woman snaps. "The name is Astronoma."
Damiana looks confused and then thinks, Of course, she must be a priestess of Artemis sent to test me.
"Yes, forgive my ignorance, my priestess."
"Priestess?" Astronoma mumbles to herself. "I could learn to like that." "Get up," Astronoma commands.
Damiana obeys and stands. Astronoma approaches her, circling Damiana to observe her strange attire.
"I saw you fighting my Quantrons. You're quite a good warrior."
"I could use a warrior like you in my army."
"It would be my honor to serve you," Damiana says, kneeling in respect.
"Oh, get up," Astronoma says testily.
Damiana rights herself, embarrassed.
"Come with me," Astronoma says sharply, "whatever your name is."
"Damiana," the young Amazon replies humbly.
Damiana is awed by all the strange objects in Astronoma's village. Lots of metal and enclosed flames emitting all the colors of the rainbow. Though the forest's temperature is warm, the aura of the village seems cold. Astronoma's metal dais seems out of place in the forest's lush foliage. Off behind it is a large cylindrical object covered by a silver-colored cloth.
"Doniana," Astronoma says climbing onto her dais.
"Damiana," Damiana corrects softly stopping at the dais's base.
"Whatever," Astronoma says turning to face her. "My spies tell me that my enemies are in the vicinity. I expect an attack by nightfall. They'll be coming for that." Astronoma points at the strange cylinder.
"What is it?" Damiana asks.
"It doesn't concern you. Stay away from it," Astronoma warns.
Priestess or not, this woman is starting to work my nerve, Damiana thinks. Astronoma can see Damiana getting angry and makes her tone sweeter.
"I need a skilled warrior like you, Damiana," Astronoma says noticing how Damiana seems to soak in the praise. "These intruders must be stopped at all cost."
"But why?" Damiana asks.
Can't this girl just follow orders! Astronoma growls internally. Quantrons are so much easier to work with.
"Because," Astronoma continues aloud, "one of them killed my last remaining family member, and now they're after me."
"I understand," Damiana says, remembering how it felt to lose sisters in the fight against Titus, even if they weren't her blood sisters.
"Elgar!!" Astronoma yells.
"Yes, Astronoma," a bumbling creature with a funny shaped head stumbles up to the dais.
"Show Damiana to the troops and get her ready for the attack. Those Power Punks should be here any time now."
Astronoma steps down from the dais, "I must tell Dark Spectre that I have Zordon and my plan is proceeding as scheduled."
"OK, boss," the weird creature says, waving dopely.
Elgar's orientation session is surprisingly brief and informal, unlike any training lesson Damiana had ever received from an Amazon. And his conversational style was beginning to thoroughly annoy her.
"So...yadda yadda yadda. Say, are you hungry? I'm starved. I think I might go get something to eat. You wanna come along?" Elgar says in rapid succession.
"No, I'm fine." Damiana lies. Having the annoying creature go away was more important than having food at the moment.
"Suit yourself," Elgar shrugs and lopes away.
Damiana sits down on the edge of the dais relieved. The cylindrical tube catches her eye again. It doesn't concern you. Stay away from it, Astronoma's voice echoes in her head. Damiana sits still for several minutes listening to the birds.
I wish those Power Punks would hurry up and attack, Damiana thinks. Between Elgar and sitting here twiddling my thumbs, it won't be much of a fight. I'm going to die from boredom before they even get here.
Damiana sits quietly for a few minutes more. The cylinder seems to beckon to her.
No, Damiana thinks. For once, I'll do what I'm told. I always get into trouble when I don't. I can't afford to be shamed again.
Damiana sits for a few more minutes, drumming her fingers agitatedly.
Maybe I'll just take a little peek. What could it hurt?
Damiana looks around cautiously to make sure no one, especially Astronoma, is looking and then creeps over to the cylinder. She slowly lifts up a corner of the silver cloth.
"Oh dear gods!" Damiana shouts and then quickly muffles her voice. She drops the cloth, recoiling in horror. It was a giant floating head!
"Damiana," a deep, gentle voice rumbles.
Damiana almost falls over backward trying to move away from the huge talking head.
"Damiana, do not be afraid."
"How...how do you know my name?" Damiana asks in astonishment.
"Damiana, I am Zordon from Eltar. I was expecting you to come some day, but I'm surprised to find you here."
"But...who told you to expect me?" Damiana cautiously lifts the edge of the cloth again.
"The ancients," Zordon says. "The ancients prophesied that there would be one from the past who would be the key to the future. It's got to be you, Damiana."
"No, it doesn't 'gotta be me'," Damiana retorts, annoyed about not knowing what this bodiless creature was talking about.
A low rumbling of a laugh comes from the tube.
"They told me you would be a feisty one. You remind me of someone I used to mentor," Zordon pauses and sighs. "But those days are over. I can't help you in this state. You must find Zhane. He will give you...."
"ATTACK!!!!!" Astronoma's piercing voice echoes throughout the village.
Damiana drops the edge of the cloth and springs away from the tube. She snatches up her awkward new sword and charges into the woods along with the rest of the metal men.
CHAPTER 2 "We're getting close," TJ says reading a hand-held monitor. "The signal from the anomaly is getting much stronger. Unfortunately, so is Astronoma's signal."
"Let's morph," suggests Ashley turning her wrist over to expose her morpher.
"No, wait," Andros says gently taking Ashley's wrist. "The longer we stay unmorphed, the harder it will be for Astronoma to track us."
TJ punches a few buttons on his scanner and starts up a low hill.
"It looks like the signal is coming from the other side of this rise," he says. "A little bit further and...."
A high pitched battle roar startles TJ, but not as much as the Quantron sword which gouges his monitor, knocking it out of his hands. Another blow from the blunt edge of the sword catches him underneath the chin and sends him sprawling. His head hitting the base of a tree, TJ lies dazed. Three Quantrons quickly rush him. Two hold his arms while the third removes his morpher and communicator.
"TJ!" Ashley screams and runs to his aid.
The third Quantron rushes back to Astronoma who has just topped the rise. He proudly gives her TJ's morpher and communicator. Astronoma dangles them in the light and smiles smugly. Then--just for yucks-- she throws a few electricity bolts into the crowd.
Carlos does a dive roll to avoid the blast. He lands at Damiana's feet. Damiana places a kick to his abdomen as he rolls up to a stand. He quickly recovers and volleys with several kicks of his own to loosen her grip on the sword. He wrenches it away from her and uses it to slice two nearby Quantrons. Carlos finishes with a leg sweep leaving Damiana on her rear. He then leaves her to fight more Quantrons. Damiana growls in embarrassment and rage.
"Don't just sit there!" Astronoma yells. "Get them!"
Damiana pounds the ground and jumps to her feet. Elgar and the Quantrons have one of the intruders encircled. Damiana notices the intruder's strange hair coloring. The Quantrons hold him tight while Elgar strips him of his odd chunky bracelets. Elgar then replaces them with shackles.
Another group of Quantrons surround the blonde intruder who sits on the ground with her fallen companion. They too take her strange bracelets and shackle her.
"Noooooooo!" Damiana hears the remaining attacker yell as he charges toward Astronoma.
Astronoma sends a blast his way, but he dodges it with another dive roll. The completion of his roll places him in Astronoma's face. He shoves her backwards, sending her to the ground. Her staff flies off into the underbrush. The morpher and communicator in her hand also take wing.
"Priestess!" Damiana yells, knowing that she will surely fail Artemis's test if she allows the Priestess to be killed. Damiana darts and snatches Astronoma's fallen staff from the underbrush.
Carlos is so intent on grabbing TJ's morpher that he doesn't notice Damiana's approach. Just as Carlos catches the morpher and communicator, Damiana jabs him in the gut with the blunt end of the staff and then sweeps his feet out from under him. He lands unceremoniously on his backside. Damiana snorts in derision. Several Quantrons quickly surround Carlos.
"I'll take those," Astronoma says snatching the morpher and communicator out of Carlos's hand. "And those." She removes his morpher and communicator as well.
"Bring them back to base camp and lock them up," Astronoma orders Damiana and Elgar.
"Alpha, I think something must have happened to them," Zhane says, pressing buttons on the Megaship's scanning monitor. "They should've been back by now. If not back, then they should have at least checked in by now."
"Affirmative, Zhane," Alpha says teetering over to the console and pressing some more buttons. "How strange!"
"The scanner only tracks them to a certain point and then one by one their signals disappear. Ohhhhhhh," Alpha whirs agitatedly, "There is a strong presence of Astronoma there also."
"Call back Cassie. I can't wait. I'll meet her and Phantom Ranger on the planet." Zhane pushes a few buttons on his morpher and heads toward his launch tube. He shouts back to Alpha, "They were heading for that anomaly, so I'll head for that signal. Cassie can track me to wherever Astronoma is holding them...if she's still holding them."
"Be careful, Zhane. Ohhhhhhhhh."
The camp is dark and quiet except for the forest creatures and Damiana's steps as she makes her rounds. She walks by the large tube and stops when she hears a voice call her name.
"Damiana, you're being fooled," Zordon says.
"Your friends are your foes, and your foes are your friends."
"You don't know what you are talking about. These people killed the Priestess' family. They deserve to die," Damiana says in a huff.
"You are mistaken. You need the people you captured."
"I don't need anybody. Artemis has given me a test, and I will pass it."
"Ohh..Dami-AAAAnaaaa," Elgar yells from the door to Astronoma's compound.
Damiana groans in frustration and walks slowly but in a seemingly natural gait away from Zordon.
"There you are. It's my turn to take watch," Elgar says yawning and then bumbling into the darkness.
"That's OK, Elgar. I'll take your watch," Damiana says wishing he'd go lose himself in the forest.
"Really?" Elgar says excitedly.
"Really," Damiana says flatly but then croons. "You've really worked hard today. You deserve a full night's rest. Besides, I'm not really tired."
"In that case...," Elgar says and bumbles back into the compound.
After Elgar disappears, Damiana walks briskly back to the tube.
"Why do you think I need them?" she whispers tersely.
"They will help you achieve your goal."
"They'll help me pass my test?"
"How do I know you're not lying to me?"
"Ask them about Zhane."
Damiana sneaks over to where the Rangers are being held.
"Hey!" the female captive whisper-shouts from behind the door's grates. "Hey, I have something to tell you."
"You do?" Damiana says incredulously and presses her face close to the door.
The metal door crashes into Damiana's head as Andros "pushes" it open. She falls to the ground, and the Rangers rush out. The one with the strange colored hair flips an object at her before he joins the others. They quickly head into the concealing darkness of the forest.
Collecting herself from the blow, Damiana thinks, They fooled me! They all fooled me! She reaches into the edge of her belt to find the odd rectangular key Elgar had given her, but it's gone. She picks up the object the captive had flipped at her. How did they...oh no, I've messed up again.
"GUARDS!!!" Damiana yells.
A sleepy Elgar plus Astronoma and some Quantrons charge from the compound. Elgar and the Quantrons fan out into the woods, but Astronoma stops at the still sitting Damiana.
"What happened?!" Astronoma yells. "Where are they?!?"
"I'm sorry, Priestess," Damiana says chagrined. "They tricked me some how and stole my key."
"You idiot!" Astronoma snarls. "Find them, you fools!"
Damiana shrinks from the reprimand but then pulls herself up.
"I will return them, Priestess. On my honor as an Amazon."
"You better," Astronoma says jabbing Damiana in the gut with her staff's point, "or you'll be the one in the cage."
Astronoma storms back into the compound leaving Damiana shielding her tender abdomen and rubbing her silver bracelet. A dripping sensation causes Damiana to put her hand to her forehead. Instead of trying to clot the trickle of blood, Damiana smears a red line across her forehead with her fingers. She draws her dagger and holds it up to the moon.
"I won't fail you, Artemis," she swears and heads into the woods to track her quarry.
"What are we gonna do?" Ashley whines while leaning heavily against a large tree and trying to catch her breath.
"I don't know yet," Andros answers, leaning over to prop his hands on his knees to try and catch his own breath.
"First thing, we've got to get rid of these," Carlos says holding up his shackled wrists.
"Then we've got to get our morphers back," TJ chimes in.
"Shh!" Ashley warns, placing a slightly chipped, French manicured nail to her lips. "I thought I heard something."
A battle cry makes the Rangers freeze. Then like a yo-yo, Astronoma's strange new female warrior springs down from the branches above while holding onto a thick vine. She grabs Ashley, and then springs back up into the dense foliage.
Hidden by the leaves, Damiana stands on top of the branch. One hand holds onto a petrified Ashley. The other holds the dagger at Ashley's jugular vein.
"Surrender now or your leader dies," Damiana shouts down to the other Rangers.
"Leader?" they say in unison, including Ashley.
"I said surrender!" Damiana orders.
"Uh...guys, she's not kidding, and remember I'm afraid of heights...," Ashley waivers.
"OK, OK, just bring Ashley down and we'll talk," Andros says.
"No more tricks," Damiana says seriously. "Try anything and she dies."
"Agreed," Andros replies.
Ashley screams in terror as she and Damiana spring to the ground again.
"Ow!" Ashley yells as the impact drives the knife-point slightly into her neck.
"Move," Damiana orders the Rangers and points out the direction with her head.
"You're making a big mistake," Andros says.
"Shut up and move," Damiana barks.
"I'm serious. Where ever you came from, you obviously don't know who you're dealing with," Andros continues.
"I know exactly who you are. You are the Power Punks, and you killed Priestess Astronoma's family," Damiana says shoving Ashley forward.
"Power Punks?!" Carlos can't help but laugh.
"Look," TJ says, "Astronoma is no priestess, but I assure you she earned the title Princess of Evil."
The moonlight glimmers off Damiana's left wrist as she reaches up to push Ashley in a new direction. The shimmer catches Ashley's eye. Hoping to distract Damiana, she asks, "What a pretty bracelet. May I see it more closely?"
"Move it, blondie," Damiana says and smugly thinks, You're not going to fool me with that old trick.
A sudden shimmer of silver light comes down from the sky right in front of Ashley and Damiana.
"I said no tricks!" Damiana yells, grabbing Ashley around the shoulders with her left arm and strengthening her grip on the knife with the right.
"ZHANE!" the Rangers yell.
"Zhane?!" Damiana says. Her momentary distraction is long enough for Ashley to stomp Damiana's foot and slither out from beneath her grasp. Damiana recovers enough to grab Ashley by the hair and swing her off to the side.
"Owwwww!" Ashley yells, Damiana still holding onto her hair.
Zhane charges Damiana, knocking her down and causing Ashley's head to bend backward.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Ashley wails. "Hair, Zhane, HAIR!"
The force of Damiana's falling body finally releases Ashley. Unfortunately, not all of Ashley's hair is released with her.
Ashley stops cold in her tracks and touches the slightly bare patch at the back of her head. She whirls around and says, "You wench!"
Zhane grabs Damiana's knife-holding wrist. They roll on the forest floor, causing Zhane's digimorpher to fall out of his uniform.
"Ow!" Zhane yells as Damiana cracks his lower left arm against a tree root. He rolls Damiana back the other way. In trying to loosen the knife from Damiana's grasp, Zhane accidentally drives the butt of the knife into his digimorpher. The shock from the damaged electrodes causes Damiana to yelp and drop the knife. Soon after, Zhane out masses Damiana and momentarily pins her to the ground.
"Move over, Zhane. She's mine!" Ashley orders.
"NOBODY," she continues, hand on hip and with her neck rotating clockwise, "holds me at knife point. And I'll show you what it means to be snatched bald-headed!"
Ashley grabs a fistful of Damiana's braids and tugs.
"Ashley. Ashley! Let go of her!" Andros says.
"No way, Andros," Ashley growls in response.
Damiana starts to scream from the hair pulling. She manages to loosen her left arm from under Zhane and reaches up to grab Ashley's wrist.
"Let go of me!" Damiana yells.
"Never!" Ashley replies.
The moonlight bounces off Damiana's bracelet.
"What? I haven't seen one of those since....Where'd you get that?" Ashley demands.
Damiana continues to scream.
"Guys, she's got an old Turbo communicator!" Carlos says, his eyes opening wide.
"Where did you get that?" Ashley presses Damiana while maintaining a firm grasp on the Amazon girl's braids.
"It's mine! Artemis gave it to me," Damiana says, squirming in an attempt to release Ashley's death grip.
"Ashley, enough with the hair-pulling," Andros says, removing Ashley's clenched fist from Damiana's head.
"Man, get off her," Carlos says, dragging Zhane up by his elbow.
"Here," Carlos offers Damiana his outstretched hand, still shackled. "What's your name?"
She looks at him warily and then stands up on her own. She straightens out her vest-like top and knee-length skirt, both apparently made of animal hide.
"Damiana," she says defiantly.
Carlos pulls back his still outstretched hand not sure whether he should be offended or embarrassed. Damiana wonders why no one is actively holding her hostage and so turns her eyes to the branches above to plan her escape. Carlos can see the plan forming in Damiana's head.
"Now, just one minute," he says, gently but firmly grabbing her arm.
Damiana prepares her counterattack but aborts it when Carlos says, "Zhane, help me out here."
Zhane notices how Damiana visibly backs down when he grasps her well toned arm, and he smiles smugly.
No one can resist the old Silver charm, Zhane thinks.
Steady, Damiana. Study the enemy. Think first, act later, Damiana reminds herself.
"I still want to know where she got the Turbo-style communicator," Ashley presses.
"Look," TJ says coming forward, "as intriguing a mystery as the communicator is, it's going to have to wait. It won't take Astronoma much longer to find us. We've got to get out of here."
"But what about the morphers?" Ashley asks. "Only Zhane can morph."
"Correction," Zhane says, releasing one hand from Damiana's arm to hold out his smoldering digimorpher.
"Plan B?" TJ suggests.
"I'll contact Alpha and have him send the Silvercycle and the Galaxy Gliders," Zhane says matter-of-factly, shaking his communicator down his wrist.
"Alpha, this is Zhane," he says authoritatively. No response. "Alpha? Do you read me?"
No response. Not releasing Damiana, Zhane reaches over to tap the communicator face against his other hand.
"Alpha? Come in, Alpha."
The Rangers sigh in desperation.
"I must have cracked it against that tree root," he says apologetically. "Well, at least Alpha should be able to track us to this general area, and Cass should be able to follow the same signal we did."
"But we were tracking the signal from the anomaly in the Morphing Grid," TJ says confused.
"So was I," answers Zhane.
"But how could you when the only signatures here are from us? And we don't even have our morphers."
"The Turbo communicator!" Ashley shouts in excitement, "that's where the anomaly's signal came from!"
Ashley's enthusiasm quickly deflates as she realizes, "Then that means it's not from Zordon."
The Rangers sigh again in visible disappointment.
Zordon? Damiana thinks.
"GET THEM!" Elgar's voice booms from the dark of the forest. As Elgar and the Quantrons reach the edge of the clearing, Damiana does a back flip, using Elgar's surprise and the momentum of her flip to break free of Zhane and Carlos's grasps. She quickly relocates her dropped dagger.
"I've got them, Elgar!" Damiana shouts circling the Rangers in a battle-ready stance.
"Damiana, is that you?" Elgar says, pushing some tree limbs out of the way. "Man, I can hardly see in this dark." Elgar and a host of Quantrons surround the Rangers.
"Yes, it's me, Elgar. I have the Power Punks. Where is Priestess Astronoma?"
"She's still at base camp. Dark Spectre should be arriving soon," Elgar says smugly.
"Here," Damiana says roughly grabbing Ashley by the shackles and throwing her into Elgar. "Take their leader and lead the way. The others are still shackled, so they won't give the Quantrons any trouble."
Damiana uses a nearby Quantron's sword to cut off a length of strong vine. She roughly grabs Zhane's wrists and wraps them with it.
"I'll take up the rear and keep an eye on this new hostage," she says.
"OK," Elgar says and then bumbles off to his right, Ashley in tow. He stops and then bumbles off in the opposite direction. He stops a second time and tries a different direction.
Damiana sighs in disgust over his incompetence. She looks to the sky, notices the location of the key stars she noted earlier, and then points in the direction of a fallen log.
CHAPTER 3 "We're hooooooooome," Elgar shouts entering the compound. He and the Quantrons roughly shove Andros, Ashley, Carlos, and TJ into the dimly lit room.
"Well done, Elgar - for once," Astronoma says emerging from the darkness. "Did you find that stupid girl who let them escape in the first place?"
"I gave you my word that I would return them, Priestess," Damiana fumes as she and Zhane enter through the doorway. "I recaptured them, and I brought you another."
"Why," Astronoma says slinking forward, "if it isn't the Silver Ranger."
"Astronoma," he says cooly.
She eyes Zhane up and down, noticing the vine encircling his wrists and the pine needles sticking to his uniform and to the back of Damiana's hair. Whipping her blue corkscrew-curled head around, she barks at Elgar," Take them to the holding room and don't let them out of your sight."
"You," she barks at Damiana, "stand outside and guard the door."
"What about the prisoner?" Damiana asks.
"He stays," Astronoma says sharply.
"Yes, Priestess," Damiana says quietly and exits.
Elgar and the Quantrons drag the other Rangers away.
Several minutes later an agitated Astronoma shouts, "DAMIANA!"
"Yes, Priestess?" Damiana replies entering the compound.
"Watch him," Astronoma says getting up in Damiana's face, "and don't let him escape like last time."
Damiana's blood boils in embarrassment and anger.
"Yes, Priestess," she says with a tone more testily than it should be.
Astronoma gives her an icy look.
"Astronoma!" a deep voice booms from an adjoining chamber.
"I'm coming, Dark Spectre," Astronoma shouts back in a sweeter tone.
"Don't blow it again," Astronoma pitches one last barb Damiana's way before grabbing a bulging metallic cloth bag on her way out. She slaps the door's panel irritably, and the door slides shut behind her.
Arms crossed and feet shoulder-width apart, Damiana stands rigidly in the doorway.
"Boy, that Astronoma's all charm, isn't she?" Zhane quips. "She can turn it on and off like a light."
Damiana glances over at him but says nothing. She notices the vine is off Zhane's wrists and he is cockily lounging on a padded seat. The aroma of succulent, yet mostly foreign, foods wafts through the room. Zhane pours himself a goblet of clear fluid from a decanter. As much as she tries to stifle it, Damiana's stomach emits a reverberating growl. Zhane almost spits his drink out laughing. Damiana's cheeks burn.
"You know, there's plenty here," Zhane offers. "I don't think Astronoma will miss it."
He picks up a piece of bread-like substance and begins to stand. Damiana jerks to a battle stance.
"Easy," he laughs warily and continues to stand slowly.
Zhane holds the bread out to her. Damiana's mouth waters as she remembers she hasn't eaten since before she entered Istria. Zhane can see Damiana silently arguing with herself over duty versus personal need. He takes a few steps closer. Damiana warily approaches him and then snatches the bread out of Zhane's hand. Damiana consumes the morsel in two bites.
"I've got more," Zhane says gesturing over his shoulder to the spread by the padded seats. "And I've got some water you could wash it down with."
He slowly backs up towards the seats. Damiana follows him cautiously, feeling strangely like the rabbit she once lured into semi-domesticity when she was a child. Zhane sits down and pours her an inviting cup of water from the decanter. She hesitates and then sits across from him. He passes her the cup. The light slightly better from the new angle, Zhane starts when he gets a good look at Damiana's bloody brow.
"Oh, wow, I'm sorry," he says starting to reach out to her.
"What?" she says shrinking back in her chair skeptically.
"I didn't realize we'd hurt you like that," he continues. "I'm sorry. Here."
He dips his cloth napkin into his water glass and squeezes out the excess. Damiana gives him a look of utter bewilderment as he gently presses the cloth against her wound. Her expression softens, and Zhane relaxes. But then she slaps his arm away. Her chair topples over in her haste to get to a fighting stance. Startled, Zhane leaps to his feet.
"I'm not buying it, Silver Boy," Damiana spits, throwing the cloth in his face. "You think you can fool me. When will your kind ever learn."
He removes the cloth from his face and drops it on the table.
"My kind?" Zhane asks honestly confused.
"Men, you idiot," Damiana says angrily, but shifts uneasily in her stance. "You think all you have to do is charm a woman to get her to betray her kind. Well, I'm telling you, those days are over."
Zhane throws up his hands in confusion and defeat.
"You're as bad as Astronoma. All I was trying to do was apologize, and you get all...all...hostile! Women!" Zhane huffs and sits down angrily facing away from her. "Look, you sounded like you might be hungry, so I thought I'd be friendly and offer. That's it."
"Is it?" Damiana sneers.
"Yeeeeesss," Zhane retorts, turning to face her. He points at her and says, "Your wound is bleeding again."
Damiana touches her fingertips to her still tender forehead. Zhane picks up the cloth again and walks slowly over to her. Standing at slightly less than an arm's length, Zhane gently presses the damp cloth to Damiana's forehead.
"Are you aware that you have a big clump of pine needles stuck to the back of your head?" Zhane laughs quietly.
Damiana puts her hand up to her head trying to locate the offending needles.
"No, here." Zhane takes her hand and guides it to the clump.
The door to an adjoining chamber whooshes open suddenly.
"Astronoma, I...." Elgar bumbles in.
"Elgar!" Damiana yells, startled. In a reflex action, she turns, elbowing Zhane in the gut. She breaks away and runs to the side saying, "He tricked me. Get him!"
Elgar charges forward to the best of his ability. As Elgar reaches Zhane, who is bent over holding his ribs, Damiana also charges forward. She grabs Elgar's clawed arm and whips him around to face her.
"You, my friend, are the biggest fool of all," Damiana says, punching him in the solar plexus.
Elgar stumbles backward, falling over Damiana's overturned chair. He lands on the floor, the tip of his pointy head catching the edge of the table and the tray. The impact tips the tray, sending the decanter of water arcing up and then crashing down on his head.
"Come with me," Damiana says, grabbing Zhane by the arm.
Damiana throws back the cloth covering the large cylindrical tube.
"Zordon!" Zhane says in amazement.
"Zhane," the deep, fatherly voice says. "You found him, Damiana. Now all you need is...."
A pink light and an odd sparkle land behind Damiana.
"Zordon!" the materializing young woman squeals. She releases the encased hand of a materializing man. Then she notices the odd looking girl standing beside Zordon's tube.
"Damiana?" Cassie says in bewilderment. "How...."
"You two know each other?" Zhane asks confused.
"It's a really long story," Cassie explains, grabbing Damiana's forearms in the Amazon symbol for friendship.
"What a sweet homecoming," a deep, sarcastic voice booms from the sky.
"Quite," an equally sarcastic Astronoma says from the doorway. Elgar stands behind her holding his sore head.
"Dark Spectre!" Phantom Ranger gasps and assumes a fighting stance.
"Sorry, but I'll have to cut this little homecoming short," Dark Spectre says. Zordon's tube lights up and begins to ascend into the sky.
"No!" Damiana and the Rangers cry.
Phantom Ranger fires his laser at Dark Spectre, who just laughs at the feeble attempt. Damiana jumps with all her strength. She clasps onto the edge of the rising tube.
"No, Damiana," Zordon says hurriedly but gently. "Let me go. Your place is with the Rangers. They need you now."
"But...," Damiana protests.
"Let go and take your place with them."
Reluctantly, Damiana lets go. As she free falls, Damiana panics. How is she going to land without shattering her legs? She feels a strange force catch her and then lower her gently into Zhane's arms.
"Good catch, guys." Cassie winks and then starts her morphing sequence.
As Zordon's tube enters Dark Spectre's grasp, Zordon shouts down, "Zhane! Give Damiana what I gave you!"
"Zordon! Nooooo!" Zhane yells as Zordon's case disappears.
"Deal with them, Astronoma," Dark Spectre booms and then disappears as well.
"Why aren't you morphing?" Cassie asks Zhane impatiently.
"I can't," Zhane answers. "I'll explain later. Right now we've got to get that bag," Zhane says and points to the bulging metallic bag hanging at Astronoma's hip. "She's got the other Rangers' morphers and communicators in there. She said she put the Rangers in the holding room."
"Right," Phantom and Cassie respond in unison.
"Cassie," Phantom Ranger says squeezing her gloved hand, "make your way to the other Rangers, and I'll follow shortly."
He turns to Zhane and says, "Zhane, if you'll provide a little distraction please...."
"What about me?" Damiana asks.
Zhane grabs her hand and pulls her toward Astronoma. "I think you'll distract just fine."
"You snake!" Astronoma says acrimoniously to Zhane. "You men are all alike! Fickle! Elgar told me how he found the two of you."
"That's right, Astronoma," Zhane shouts back in mock bravado while holding tightly onto Damiana's hand. "How do you think those pine needles got there in the first place?"
He grabs Damiana around her waist and kisses her firmly. When he breaks away, Damiana just stands there stunned.
"Damiana?" Zhane says, his face inches from hers.
She just stares at him.
"Duck!" Zhane shouts.
Damiana and Zhane dive in opposite directions. The tip of Damiana's braid singes as she rolls to get out of the way of Astronoma's blast.
So focused on her vengeance, Astronoma is easily toppled off her high-heeled boots by an invisible rushing force. Trying to regain her balance, she releases her grip on her staff. Astronoma topples into and over Elgar while trying to break her fall. In the
hub-bub she scarcely notices the bag being released from her belt. It quickly floats behind the compound's closing outer door.
Zhane stops and laughs, but Damiana scrambles to grab Astronoma's staff. She stands, holding it menacingly close to Astronoma. Astronoma tries to wriggle backward, but Elgar blocks her way.
"I trusted you," Damiana says turning the staff over in her hands, "but you used me. And...for impersonating a high priestess of Artemis, you must die."
Damiana draws the staff back. "This is for Zordon."
As the staff fires, Zhane pushes Damiana to the side.
"No, Damiana!" Zhane shouts.
The off-target blast lands close to Astronoma's head. Astronoma shrieks as she smells singeing hair.
"Look what you've done!" Astronoma screams feeling for her missing blue curls.
"Damiana, we don't kill people," Zhane says grabbing Damiana's hands, which are still on the staff.
"Let's go!" Cassie yells as the last morphed Ranger runs from the compound. She uses Satellite Stunner to blow a scorching hole in the door's locking mechanism. The remaining Quantrons pound on the door.
"That's not going to hold them long," Cassie warns.
"Galaxy Gliders, Hang 10!," Andros shouts, arm outstretched.
The surfboard-like contraptions arrive almost instantaneously. Damiana's jaw drops in amazement as the Rangers hop onto their corresponding gliders. Phantom jumps up behind Cassie, wrapping one arm around her waist. Damiana tugs her hands and the staff loose from Zhane's grasp. She aims it once more at Astronoma.
"Now you've been shamed. I guess that's punishment enough." Damiana tosses the staff in her hands and adds tauntingly, "You want this?"
Damiana takes a few preparatory steps and then hurls the staff with all her might. Like a javelin it flies deep into the forest.
"Send Elgar to go get it," Damiana laughs. "He's got a pretty good sense of direction."
Astronoma just sits there and fumes.
"Damiana," the Ranger dressed in black says quietly and offers down his hand. His accent strikes a chord in Damiana which causes her to hesitate. Carlos silently wonders if she's going to refuse his help yet again and embarrass him in front of the other Rangers.
The warrior, Damiana revels in amazement remembering his battle prowess and the sense of honor he exhibited in their previous encounters.
"Don't let them get away!" Astronoma yells to the Quantrons who are beginning to emerge from the now broken door.
Damiana grabs Carlos's forearm in the Amazon gesture of respect and then jumps up behind him.
"Hold on," Carlos advises.
Gladly, Damiana thinks and firmly hooks her left arm under his arm and across his chest. Carlos jumps slightly at the firmness of Damiana's grasp. Damiana is momentarily stunned by the electricity the grasp seems to ignite in her. As they make their ascent, Damiana can't help but squeal in delight as the wind rushes through her hair.
"C'mon, Zhane," Ashley says sympathetically and offers her hand to her visibly crestfallen friend.
Astronoma watches as the Power Rangers soar off into the stars. In a tantrum she pounds her fists on the ground and then on Elgar. She fights back tears of anger and humiliation as she counts all the losses accrued that day.
Chapter Four "By the gods," Damiana gasps as she and the Rangers walk down the hall of the Megaship.
The door to the control room whooshes open.
"Welcome home, Rangers," Alpha says, tottering over to greet them.
"You start your warriors young," Damiana marvels, rapping on Alpha's metal chest.
"Hey, hey, hey!" Alpha protests. "Don't ding the merchandise!"
The Rangers laugh.
"Alpha," Cassie says, "You remember me telling you about Damiana. She was the Amazon who…uh…helped us get the antidote and save the Turbo Rangers from Divatox's deadly virus."
"Ahhhhh," Alpha nods in recognition.
"You remember how Alex thought she lost her communicator in the time porthole?" Cassie continues. "From what Damiana has been telling me, I think Alex must have lost it before then--while she was in Istria."
"Where is Alex?" Damiana looks around hopefully. "And Trini and Kim? And what about the men…uhh Adam and Tommy?"
"I'm sorry," Cassie says. "They're not here. They're not Rangers any more."
"Oh," Damiana says visibly disappointed.
"They've all moved on with their lives," Cassie says. "But you know, they still remember that Spring Break adventure fondly."
Cassie gently taps Damiana's left wrist, where Damiana's Amazon cuff and Alex's old communicator collide.
Zhane clears his throat.
"Speaking of Rangers who have a tendency to break their equipment…Alpha, I have a job for you." Zhane sheepishly holds out his blackened digimorpher in one hand and his cracked communicator in the other.
"Zhaa-aane," Alpha whines and takes them.
"Alpha, we saw Zordon," says Andros. Alpha perks up. "But Dark Spectre captured him." Alpha sighs.
"Zhane," Cassie says, "what was Zordon talking about when he said give Damiana what he gave you?"
"I don't know." Zhane scratches his head. "I don't remember him giving me anything except my digimorpher."
"Think, Zhane," Cassie presses.
"I'm sorry. I really have no idea what he could have meant."
TJ slaps Zhane on the back in a friendly way.
"You know, sometimes the best way to think of something is to try not to think about it," TJ offers.
"Right," Zhane says and turns to Alpha. "Alpha, let's get to work on rebuilding my equipment."
"Damiana," Cassie says, "let me go see Phantom off and then we'll get you moved in."
- * *
"I think that'll do for the mean time," Cassie says surveying Damiana's new quarters. "A little Spartan, but we can pick up some more things the next time we go to Earth. Ashley's a real whiz with interior design." Damiana continues to pick things up and study them.
"I think you'll like Ashley once you get to know her."
"I don't think she's ever going to like me." Damiana shrugs, mock tugging her own hair.
"Oh, she'll get over it…eventually," Cassie says sitting down on a sleek silver chair. "I guess our next step is to find a way to get you home. Maybe Phantom can rig another portal."
"Hmph," Damiana snorts and sits down heavily on her bed.
"What's that all about?"
"I don't want to talk about it," Damiana says picking imaginary pills from the gray bedspread.
"OK," Cassie says and tries to change the subject. "How are Ephanine and Queen Cyrene?"
"Well," Cassie says rubbing her knees and then standing, "I'm sure you're tired, so I'll let you get some rest."
Cassie heads for the door.
"Let us know if you get hungry. We'll show you how to use the synthetron—the thing that makes our food."
"Thanks," Damiana says with a weak smile.
As the door slides shut, Damiana flops backward on her bed and stares at the ceiling. She curls herself into a protective ball and stares blankly at her bleak room.
Why am I here? How can I get home? What am I going to do if I get home?
Damiana rubs the comforting grooves of the communicator around her wrist.
The Rangers probably hate me. And why shouldn't they after what I did to them? Well, at least Zhane seems to like me. And Cassie. Maybe Carlos.
Exhausted, Damiana drifts into a dreamless sleep.
- * *
Damiana wakes with a start not sure of how long she has slept. After reminding herself of her recent adventures, she shakes the sleep from her head. Hungry, she decides to search out a Ranger for directions to the synthetron. Damiana opens the door to her sleeping quarters and steps into the hallway. Several doors down she hears Cassie's voice. "Give her a break, Ash. She just traveled more than two millenniums in time. She doesn't understand our culture. She's bound to make some wrong decisions."
Damiana hears Ashley's mutterings but can't quite make out the words.
"This wouldn't happen to be about more than just the hair-pulling incident, would it?" Cassie continues.
"Oh, don't tell me that you didn't see Zhane falling all over himself," Cassie says.
Damiana can't help but grin in amusement.
Ashley's muttering gets louder, "…I just don't want to see them get hurt. I think she's using them. She's toying with Carlos and relishing in Zhane's suffering. She's just like Astronoma: manipulative and an opportunist. You saw how she played both sides of the court. She's probably just waiting for the right time to betray us to Dark Spectre."
Damiana slumps against her door frame.
"I think you're wrong this time, Ash. She's an Amazon. And from my experience, they are fiercely loyal. She realizes that Astronoma duped her, and now she's trying to make amends. You know, you really should try to be more compassionate. After all, she did help save your life once—even if it was indirectly."
"And if I remember correctly, you said she caused the virus because she was flirting with that sick guy, and she betrayed the Amazons by plotting with the queen's sister."
So my story's out, Damiana thinks horrified. She slides to the floor crushed by the return of her guilt and shame.
"What I said was…yes, she did have a fling with Titus, but she didn't know he was infected. And she didn't know the queen's sister was setting her up."
"She doesn't seem to know much about a lot of things. And her gullibility keeps getting her…oops…wrapped up with the wrong people," Ashley says sarcastically. "I'm telling you. I don't trust her."
Ashley opens the door.
Damiana scrambles quickly back inside her room out of sight. She draws her knees up to her chest and lays her head on them.
"Watch your back," Ashley warns, jabbing the door closure button with the chipped nail of her index finger. She looks at it in disgust and huffs away down the hall.
- * *
An hour later, hunger pangs draw a desperately homesick Damiana out of her room. A delightful, unfamiliar scent wafts down the hall. Damiana follows her nose until she finds the canteen. Her spirits sink when she finds Ashley sitting alone at the table, staring into her steaming mug of coffee. "Ashley?" Damiana says cautiously as she enters the canteen.
Ashley looks up from her steaming mug but says nothing.
"Could you show me how to work this thing so I can have something to eat?"
Again, saying nothing, Ashley gets up and jabs the synthetron's buttons with her now filed nail. Ashley waits long enough for the magic box to spit out a putrid-smelling plate of haggis and then quickly heads out the door without another word.
- * *
"Ashley?" Damiana says, entering the control room. Ashley sighs, stops pressing the console's diagnostic buttons, and looks up at Damiana annoyed.
"I…uh…I wanted to apologize for..uh…," Damiana does the hair-pulling motion.
"Fair enough," Ashley says flatly.
"Well…," Damiana shifts uneasily from foot to foot, "that's what I came to say."
"OK," Ashley replies without stopping her work.
Damiana starts to leave and then stops and turns.
"If you want, I know a way I can braid your hair that'll cover the spot up until it grows back. It's all the rage in Athens right now," Damiana offers.
"I'll think about it," Ashley says.
"OK." Damiana starts out the door once again.
"Damiana?" Ashley stops her. "Why did you think I was the leader of the Power Rangers?"
"Why wouldn't you be?" Damiana says in all sincerity. "It just seemed like the obvious choice."
"Oh," Ashley can't help but smile a little, "just wondering."
- * *
"Oh for the love of Artemis…," Damiana says in frustration, placing yet another plate of unwanted food on the canteen's table. "I just want a stupid drink of water. How hard is it to get water around here?" Cassie stifles a laugh as she enters the canteen. She leans over and presses a few buttons. Shortly thereafter a glass of ice water appears. She hands it to Damiana.
"Thank you!" Damiana says, taking a large gulp. She makes a face and then looks into the glass. She pokes at the chips of ice floating on top. "What in Hades is this?"
"Ice cubes," Cassie says and then explains further. "You know, like snow."
"Oh. I've heard of it, but never seen it. The elders tell stories of Amazons who live on the northern side of the sea, opposite the ancient tribal lands. They sometimes have this…snow…for many moons. After the Athens incident, I thought about running away to live with them. If I could find them."
Damiana falls silent as her shameful past revisits her mind.
"Cassie? I know it'll be hard for you to trust me after all I did, but believe me when I say I'm…sorry," Damiana says.
"That's OK, everybody gets played for a fool one time or another," Cassie says with a shrug.
"But that's just the thing, that makes three times that's happened to me now."
"Oh?" Cassie takes a seat at the table, somehow sensing that it is going to be a long story.
"I didn't want to tell you before, but somehow I feel like I can trust you. You remember when Ephanine asked that I be the one chosen as ambassador to go with her to Athens?"
"Well, they eventually asked me to leave and not come back." Damiana stares into the table, her cheeks burning.
"I really have bad luck with men. The ones that like me always end up betraying me. I didn't really know Titus very well, but I did know Perocles well--or so I thought. Perocles was King Krokus's captain of the guard. He was always good to me. Every time I got into trouble for saying or doing something I shouldn't, he'd listen to me and tell me that I was just misunderstood. He said he liked my 'fiery and untamable spirit.' He said my boldness and candor was 'refreshing,' much different than any of the other women of the court. But then I found out. One night when I was on my way to see him, I saw him talking secretively with an enemy of the king. He accepted a bag of gold and a foreign-style dagger, like one used by the people of a bordering kingdom. I had to make a difficult choice, but I told Ephanine what I saw. Together we were able to foil Perocles' plan. We caught him sneaking up the back way into the king's private chambers." Damiana fights to hold the tears back. She continues with a slight waver to her voice.
"Perocles said all sorts of ugly things to me when we stopped him. How I was no woman, an uncouth barbarian, an outcast, a fool. As much as I hated betraying him, I had to do what was right. Telling Ephanine and saving the king were the only things that saved me from being crucified along side of Perocles."
Cassie looks horrified and sick to her stomach.
"The king didn't want me in his sight any more. After all, that was my second offense of being indirectly involved with someone trying to assassinate the royal line. He sent me back to Istria and demanded that I not return."
"Wow," Cassie says solemnly, "I don't know what to say."
"Don't know what to say?! That must be a first!" Zhane quips having caught only the last part of the conversation. He plops down next to Damiana.
"I just haven't been able to figure out what Zordon was talking about. Did he say anything else to you while you were hanging perilously?" Zhane asks.
"Just that you all needed my help," Damiana says with a shrug. "He did say something odd another time though. He said something like the ancients had told him I was coming. He said they prophesied that one from the past would be the key to the future…."
"Key. KEY! That's it!" Zhane kisses Damiana on the cheek. "C'mon!"
He grabs Damiana's hand and drags her toward Andros' room. Damiana stumbles after Zhane, the shocked look never leaving her face.
- * *
"Andros! Wake up!" Zhane turns the blinding overhead lights on. "Whaaaaat? Man, turn the lights down," Andros whines sleepily, covering his eyes with the crook of his arm.
"Andros, when you cryogenically froze me after the accident, what did you do with the contents of my pockets?"
"I remember what Zordon gave me!" Zhane says excitedly. "I saw him the morning of the accident. He gave me this little box thing and asked me to hold onto it. But he never told me what it was."
"I remember something like that," Andros says, sitting up. "It felt solid like a silver ingot or something. I didn't think the cold would damage it so I just left it with you in the tube so it wouldn't get lost."
Zhane charges for the door, pulling Damiana behind him.
- * *
"What's the deal?" TJ says, entering the once-secret room which houses Zhane's empty cryogenic tube. Andros and Carlos follow close behind. Cassie and Damiana stand off to the side as Zhane fishes around the inside of his old home. His rear end sticks out of the cryogenic tube. "Zhane thinks he remembers what Zordon was talking about," Cassie fills the other Rangers in. She then shouts to Zhane, "Try over by the fish sticks and the popsicles."
"Ow!" Zhane bumps his head on the lid of the tube. "I found it!"
He holds up a rectangular matte silver box, which is slightly smaller and thinner than a brick. Ashley walks slowly through the door followed by a tottering Alpha.
"Here!" Zhane enthusiastically holds the box out to Damiana. "I remember looking at the box after Zordon gave it to me. See…."
He points to a barely visible seam and an etched place on the front side of the silver box. "I figured this must be the locking mechanism, but I couldn't get it to open. I remember thinking, 'Man, Zordon forgot to give me the key.' So that's gotta be it. You must have the key!" Damiana takes the shiny box from Zhane cautiously.
"Well?" he asks eagerly.
Damiana looks at it blankly, turning the intriguing box over in her hands and pressing the etched place. Nothing happens.
"Did you bring anything else through the time portal with you?" Zhane asks.
"Just the communicator." Damiana tries rubbing the communicator against the engraved space. Nothing.
"What is it any way?" Cassie asks.
"I don't know," answers Zhane. "I was hoping Damiana would know." Damiana shakes her head.
"Can I see it?" Cassie asks. One by one the Rangers and Alpha examine the box until it eventually ends up back in Damiana's hands.
"Well," Zhane says taking Damiana by the elbow sympathetically, "maybe TJ's advice will work for you too. Let's just wait and maybe we'll figure it out."
"Yeah, let's all get some rest," Andros yawns.
- * *
Damiana slumps over the control room's main desk staring at the enigmatic box. Unable to sleep, she had offered to stand watch for Alpha so that he could do some routine maintenance work on his system. Holding her scalp with her hands Damiana stares out the large viewing screen/window. Who would have thought that one day I'd be in the sky with the stars? I've only ever tracked them. But from this view I can't get my sense of bearing. I'm…lost. Damiana begins her familiar invocation and prays, Artemis, I followed your path, and you led me here. Why? I thought this was all part of a test, but I'm not even sure I passed. Yet again, I let someone fool me. You didn't kill me, but you punished me by sending me here. Will I ever see my sisters and my time again?
Damiana rubs the grooves of her silver bracelet for comfort.
My home is down there, Damiana thinks, looking longingly at the planet below.
No, it's not, she rebukes herself. My world is gone. This is theirs.
She picks up the silver box and turns it over in her hands. She sets it back down on the table and lays her chin on her folded hands.
I'm going to miss Ephanine and Aella. They were the only ones who ever cared for me, even when I made mistakes or let my emotions cloud my judgment. I'll never have truer friends.
Damiana sighs. She stretches out her left hand to trace the silver box's engraved latch with the pad of her thumb.
They taught me the skills of war and peace, but I still haven't learned who and how to trust. And I guess I haven't learned how to act so people will trust me.
Damiana tilts her head to the side to rest her cheek on the tabletop. What am I going to do without them? I still have so much to learn.
Damiana sits bolt upright in her chair. The engraved latch protrudes from the rest of the box.
She carefully lifts the lid and gasps. Bursting like a supernova, a bright white light envelops her.
Part Five "What the…," Cassie says sitting bolt upright in her bunk. "Did you hear that?" "Yeah," Ashley replies and throws off her covers.
The pair hit the floor and rush to the door. Outside, they find the guys also emerging from their bunks.
"It sounded like a yell," Carlos says as they run toward the control room.
"Yeah, it sounded like that crazy yell Damiana did when she attacked us," says Ashley.
"Wait for me!" Alpha shouts, emerging from the maintenance room with cords still hanging from its chest cavity.
As they reach the door, the Rangers assume a fighting stance. Andros presses the door mechanism. As it opens, the Rangers gasp.
"I'm sorry I woke you with my spirit yell," Damiana says turning to face the Rangers, "but I just couldn't contain myself."
Damiana holds a purple helmet in her white-gloved hands. A retracted bo staff hangs from the belt of her purple Space Ranger uniform. All that remains of her Amazon attire are the feathered braids in her hair.
The Rangers circle Damiana and admire her new uniform.
"Wow!" Zhane says. "So this is what Zordon was getting at."
"A new Purple Ranger." Cassie gives Damiana a hug. "Zordon couldn't have picked a better person."
Damiana looks doubtful.
"You're going to be great." Zhane hugs Damiana tightly.
For a moment Damiana is afraid Zhane is going to do a repeat performance of the last time he held her. But he doesn't, and she's relieved.
"Welcome to the team," Carlos says, squeezing Damiana's shoulder.
One by one, Alpha and the rest of the Rangers congratulate her. Ashley is the last to approach Damiana. She hesitates and then holds her hand out. As Damiana awkwardly reaches her hand out in response, Ashley deliberately grasps Damiana's forearm. Damiana completes the grasp in the gesture of Amazon respect and friendship.
- * *
With the exception of Zhane and Damiana, the Rangers crowd into the control room above the holodeck/training simulator room. They see Zhane give Damiana a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder and then head for the simulator room's door. Oblivious to the other Rangers watching, Damiana doesn't even try to cover her mouth to stifle a horrendous yawn. She wipes her sweaty palms on the legs of her gray jumpsuit, catching Alex's communicator on the edge of her holstered pistol. Zhane had handed her the strange weapon at the start of their very short orientation session. She hadn't had the nerve to tell him she'd never seen anything like it before, much less admit a skilled warrior like herself had no idea how to operate one. He just apparently assumed she knew what it was, and so she let him continue assuming. That's okay, she had thought, I have my new bo if I need a weapon.
"Do you think she's up for this?" TJ asks. "She looks exhausted."
"I know," Andros answers, adjusting the settings on the holograph machine. "I don't think she slept much last night."
TJ laughs and remembers fondly, "I remember that first night after Tommy gave me his Turbo Ranger powers. I was so excited and scared and thrilled that I couldn't sleep either."
"Zhane and I found her in the main control room this morning, head down on the desk in front of the main viewing screen," Andros says.
"Ranger uniform still on?" TJ asks, recalling how he had paraded around his room for hours his first day as a Ranger.
"No. In fact, she had her Amazon clothes back on, and her morpher was lying on the desk in front of her."
"Well, it is kinda bulky until you learn how to put it in the pocket dimension," Ashley says.
"Do you think she's having second thoughts?" Carlos asks.
"I've never heard of anyone refusing 'The Call'," Andros says.
"Kim told me once that she almost did," Cassie says. "Hmmm. Damiana asked me after breakfast this morning if Phantom was going to be visiting any time soon."
"Is he?" Ashley can't help tease her friend.
Cassie swats her playfully.
"Hey, Andros." Zhane steps out of the elevator and into the control room. "Try running this disk in the holodeck."
He hands Andros a shiny silver disk the size of a U.S. half dollar. Andros carefully turns it over in his palm.
"I haven't seen one of these in ages." Andros says. "Where'd you get it?"
"Damiana found it underneath the lining of her morpher's box."
"Hmm." Andros loads the disk into the computer. "It's an outdated holodeck disk format, but I think the machine will still run it."
Andros presses a few more keys. The holodeck starts building its scene. The Rangers see predominantly what Damiana sees, but from their perspective the images appear ghost-like.
Damiana's heart races as her familiar surroundings suddenly turn alien.
"By the gods," she swears, "what kind of magic is this?"
She hadn't wanted to admit that she had no idea what Zhane was talking about when he was
explaining what would be happening to her.
What were his words? Holodeck? "Don't worry, they're just sensory holograms?" What in Hades is a hologram?
Damiana reaches down and grabs a fistful of terra-cotta-colored sand. She lets it slowly sift through her fingers as she stands. She cautiously turns in a circle scanning her surroundings. About 100 feet away, a series of ragged terra-cotta cliffs approximately 200 feet high surrounds her on three sides. Boulders of varying sizes litter the valley floor. Light reflecting from top of the tallest of the rises catches Damiana's eye.
Zhane said the goal of the test would become obvious once the holodeck sequence began. The source of that light has to be it.
Damiana starts toward the base of the tallest cliff. She stops suddenly and strains her ears as her innate tracker's sense alerts her to impending danger. An instant later, three attackers appear from behind boulders about 25 feet away and fan out in an arc in front of her. Damiana looks panicked.
"C'mon, Damiana," Zhane says quietly back in the control room, ringing his hands anxiously, "morph like I showed you."
The strange creatures, with gray mottled skin, waddle--in a surprisingly threatening way--closer and closer, and yet Damiana doesn't morph.
"Well, if you're not going to morph," Zhane says to himself and then frantically presses the button to the speaker function.
"Use the pistol!" he shouts with concern.
Damiana momentarily jumps as Zhane's voice booms across the sky like a personal message from Zeus.
"No coaching!" Andros reprimands Zhane, smacking his hand from the speaker button. "If she's going to pass, she has to do it on her own."
Pistol? PISTOL! Damiana remembers and fumbles for it. She takes it out of the holster and heaves it like a boomerang at the nearest creature.
Andros slaps his forehead in disgust.
"Oh dear," Cassie says and adds charitably, "I guess we're going to need some weapons training."
Though not used as intended, the pistol hits its mark and momentarily stuns the attacker, causing it to bend over and hold its face. But the other two creatures press dangerously close, one from either side. They each grab one of Damiana's arms.
"Stop. Stop!" Andros waves his hands in disgust. "There's obviously been some sort of mistake."
He reaches toward the stop button on the holodeck.
"Wait!" Zhane says, quickly grabbing Andros's outstretched arm. Zhane looks Andros in the eye and says very seriously, "Show some faith in her, will you?"
Damiana looks nervously to either side. The third creature, recovered, looms threateningly in front of her. She turns to face it, her anger and adrenaline kicking in. Using her captors for leverage, she front kicks her attacker in the lower abdomen/right hip joint. The creature doubles over. In one fluid movement, Damiana hooks her booted heel on the creature's lowered head and throws herself up and over her captors, breaking their grasp.
"I think we've seen that move before," Carlos chuckles, looking at Zhane.
Grabbing the befuddled creature to her left by its shoulder and arm, Damiana whips it around and slams it face-first into a nearby boulder. The full body splat causes the creature to make an odd warbling noise. It breaks into gray pieces and then disappears. Damiana looks bewildered, but then lunges for her other former captor who is quickly running in the opposite direction. She grabs the creature by its arm and pulls it to a stop. Turning the ugly being to face her, she aims a punch at the fleshy area beneath what appears to be its breastplate. Anticipating the blow, the creature starts to cower. This movement puts Damiana's fist right square in the center of its breastplate. Damiana is duly surprised when her hand doesn't shatter against the metal plate marked with a Z. Instead, the strange creature makes that odd warbling noise and disintegrates.
What bizarre creatures, Damiana thinks.
"Are those...Putties?!?" TJ says in amazement.
Damiana turns just in time to deftly dodge a slicing blow from the remaining creature.
No fair! Damiana thinks, wondering where the creature suddenly pulled a sword from.
She ducks again and starts to back up. She continues to back up until she is pressed up against the cliff face. She reaches to her hip and feels around frantically for her new bo staff, but it's not there.
If I could only call upon my bo, Damiana thinks.
"Morph, Damiana, morph!" Zhane urges her frantically, his hands clenched by his sides. Cassie puts a death grip on Carlos's arm. Ashley bites her lip, and TJ's brows furrow. Andros stands poised to press the stop button.
Damiana does a dive roll underneath the creature's outstretched arm. She races to a large nearby boulder and scrambles upon it. She wobbles precariously to a stand when she reaches the top. The creature slowly makes its way up the side of the boulder.
"MORPH!" The Rangers cheer lead from the control room.
<>Morph! Damiana's innervoice intertwines with theirs and ricochets around her brain.
"Artemis!" Damiana yells stretching her left hand up to the sky. "Let's rock it!"
The Rangers snicker at the mispronunciation, but it seems to work anyway.
The morpher miraculously materializes next to her Amazon cuff and Alex' communicator. She quickly reaches up to hit the sequence of buttons Zhane had shown her to press. A blinding purple light envelopes Damiana. The quickly approaching creature shields its eyes from the light and then realizes what it has done. The putty slides down the boulder's face and tumbles into the sand below.
The Rangers gasp as they watch the holodeck's diagnostic screen project Damiana's transformation.
"So that's what it looks like from this end," Ashley says in amazement.
The combination video-diagram paints a picture of Damiana going through the morphing sequence. She stands feet firmly planted shoulder-width apart instead of in the usual female fourth-position. Text about her strengths, weaknesses, and weapons flashes too quickly around her image for the Rangers to read it. A purple Ranger uniform envelopes her, and a purple helmet wraps around her determined-looking face.
The morphing sequence complete, Damiana stares down at her foe, who is lying in an ungraceful heap at the base of the boulder. She grabs her bo from her hip and does a stretching motion to extend it. Holding it almost horizontally, she leaps from the boulder, landing effortlessly in a crouch at its base. The creature stands, sword in hand. Damiana laughs and with such speed that her movements are almost invisible, she snaps her bo diagonally down across the creature's neck. The creature stands stunned for a moment and then its clay-like head slides off its neck and rolls to the left of Damiana's feet. The body slumps to the ground.
"Ohhh gross!" Ashley recoils in disgust.
"Uh...I think Damiana's going to need a reminder about Ranger battle protocol," Zhane cringes.
Feeling smug, Damiana swings her bo in another lighted arc. She does a scooping motion, much like a golfer. She catches the creature's head with the bo's tip and sends it flying several hundred yards.
"Ewwww!" Ashley turns her head in repulsion.
"Add a lesson in battle etiquette to Damiana's training list too," Carlos sighs.
Damiana retracts her bo and starts for the cliff where she saw the flashing light earlier. She climbs and climbs, pulling herself onto one ledge after another. Near the top, she clings perilously to one particular outcrop, trying to strengthen her handhold. Her toes barely graze the ledge below. She struggles to pull herself straight up against the rock face, but can't make it. She bangs her helmeted forehead against the cliff as she slips back down to a hanging, straight-armed position. She drops to her feet with a loud, frustrated exhale. She stares angrily at the top of the ledge, and then with an angry, determined growl, she pounces to reach the edge of the upper ledge.
Unaccustomed to her morphed state's increase in power, Damiana finds herself rocketing up in an exaggerated, out of control arc. Caught off guard by her own strength, she crashes unceremoniously into the side of the next outcrop's rock face.
"Oooooo!" the Rangers cringe at Damiana's splat and crumpled landing.
Damiana lies stunned for a moment on the cliff's ledge. She pulls herself up to her hands and knees and shakes the reverberations from her head. Collecting herself, she slowly stands and surveys the next level--the top! She walks to the edge of the outcrop, and turns so that her heels rest right at the edge of a 175-foot plummet to death.
"Ohhh, she's scaring me standing that close to edge," Cassie says, surprised at the holodeck's convincing sense of reality.
With a battle cry, Damiana springs with all her might up and over the remaining ledge.
"Wow!" Ashley exclaims as Damiana reaches extraordinary height in a purple streak.
Damiana's landing is a little smoother this time and certainly more controlled. Her goal gleams only yards in front of her. Impatient, Damiana carelessly tosses her bo down and struggles to remove her helmet. After several frustrating moments, Damiana is able to unhook her helmet. Her feathered braids cascade down. Damiana lets the helmet drop to the ground and rushes toward the shining object. Damiana falls to her knees in front of it, pressing her palms toward the shining light.
"Congratulations, Damiana. You've done well," a deep fatherly voice says. "You have passed your test and have truly earned your Purple Ranger powers."
Damiana bows her head in humility but keeps her hands on the lighted glass-like substance. She then turns her face up, the warm light bathing her.
"What is she seeing?" Andros presses buttons to adjust their visual perspective. "It looks like...."
"Zordon!" the Rangers yell in unison.
"Turn it up! Turn it up!" Ashley shouts. "I can't hear what he's saying!"
Andros slaps frantically at the buttons trying to find a way to amplify the sound, but to no avail.
"The ancients chose you long ago," Zordon's holographic image continues. "They chose you because you embody the characteristics of a Ranger: courage, skill, and moral goodness. You are a true warrior with your tracker talents, extraordinary strength and speed, and heightened perception. The Ranger team would do well to have you--your unique characteristics will benefit them. But you will also need to learn their strengths and to learn about trust. Now, the choice is yours. You may take your place as a Ranger, or you may decline and return home to your people. If you choose to return home, there is another disk concealed within the lid of your morpher's box. Give it to Alpha. It will be your key to returning to your own time. Remember, Damiana...."
"I can hear him! I can hear him!" Ashley squeals, "Quick, keep turning it up!"
"Remember, Damiana...the choice is yours," the Rangers hear Zordon say, but then he is silent.
"You lost it, Andros! Try again!" Ashley shouts.
"That's it," Carlos sighs, "the end of the transmission. Look, the holograph is starting to break up."
"Zordon...," Damiana cries, her hand reaching out for him. Her hands drop as the lighted glass facade dissolves beneath her fingertips. Still on her knees, she bows her head and pulls her arms tight against her body. Tears stream down her cheeks as she habitually rubs the grooves on her silver bracelet for solace.
Stop it! Damiana chastises herself, as was her habit for dealing with displays of "weak" emotions. But this time, her inner command wouldn't work. Her brain struggled to make sense of the new emotions she was feeling.
Why would Zordon have such an effect on me? I hardly even know him, but he seems to know so much about me. Then he must know about my many mistakes.
Damiana feels a wave of shame as one-by-one her foibles and times of poor judgment play out quickly in her head.
And yet the ancients--who or whatever they are--still chose me. And Zordon believed them...and believed in me.
Though the light from Zordon's tube had dissipated, Damiana still could feel its warmth enveloping her. Her feelings of shame were beginning to morph into feelings of hope and unconditional support, like feelings she might receive from Ephanine or Aella, from a mother, from a father.
To Damiana, that was more alien a concept than Zordon's actual being ever could be.
Father? Amazons don't have fathers. We have no need for them, Damiana tries to rationalize her confused state. But as the warmth from the light enveloping her starts to fade and cool, Damiana realizes, Maybe other Amazons don't need fathers…or men…but this Amazon does.
Damiana huddles tighter on her knees and rubs her bracelet. A silver streak lands at her side, and a pair of strong arms wraps around her shoulders comfortingly. Zhane is genuinely surprised to see this previously unseen side of Damiana, and even more surprised when she sits up and lays her tear-stained cheek against the crook of his neck. He hesitates and then rests his chin on her head. Zhane strokes her hair, and they both sigh.
Damiana sits silently at the desk in her room. Her chin rests on top of her folded hands, and she stares at the insides of the silver morpher box. Her revelry is broken by a knock on the door.
"Come in," she says quietly.
Cassie and Ashley stand in the doorway with an armful of clothes.
"We thought you could use some cheering up," Ashley says. "So, we thought we'd share a little trick with you that always helps lift us out of a deep blue funk...."
The pair look at each and say giddily in unison, "A new outfit!"
"Since we can't go shopping for a totally new outfit just yet, we thought you might like to look through these for an outfit that's at least new to you," Cassie says cheerfully holding out a pile of clothing articles. They vary in style but have a common color scheme: pink.
"I'm sorry, but neither one of us has much of a variety when it comes to wardrobe color," she jokes.
"What I'm wearing now isn't suitable?" Damiana asks standing and holding out a lapel from her grey jump suit. Her purple top peeks out from beneath the uniform's jacket.
"The uniform is fine," Ashley says, "but sometimes we like to look…well...special. Here…."
Ashley places her pile of yellow clothing on Damiana's bed.
"I hope between the two of us there's something that'll fit you and that you'll like. I tried to pick out things that I thought would accent your natural features," Ashley continues.
"Thanks," Damiana says in genuine awe.
Shortly thereafter, a second knock on the door startles Damiana. She fumbles with the small silver disk she's been fingering. It drops to the floor, rolling in lazy wide circles. It finally rattles to a stop near the leg of Damiana's desk.
"Come in," Damiana says, letting the disk stay where it lies.
"Hey, Damiana," Carlos says casually.
Damiana's pulse quickens.
"Carlos…hi," she stammers.
"We were thinking about taking you down to Earth to celebrate your initiation. Do you feel up to it?"
Damiana beams and shakes her head in affirmation.
"Great," he smiles. "I think you'll really like Adelle's Megaburger. It's much better than anything the synthetron can make. So...we'll see you in the control room shortly?"
Damiana nods again.
"All right," Carlos says, tapping his palm on the door jam twice as he exits. "See you then."
Damiana stands momentarily in a daze. Then reality hits, and she starts digging frantically through Cassie and Ashley's piles of borrowed clothes.
Several minutes later, a third knock on Damiana's door makes her jump.
"Just a moment," she says making her way to the door while tucking the last bit of jet-black hair into her Athenian-style braid. Her bangs dip, covering her still-healing head wound.
"Wow! You look…gorgeous," Zhane, in a silver lamee'-like shirt and snug black pants, gawks as the door opens.
"Not that you didn't look good before," he quickly back pedals. "It's just that…wow." He holds onto the door frame.
"Thank you," Damiana blushes, suddenly feeling very self-conscious. Her yellow- and-pink flower-print dress accents her tanned skin and hazel eyes. The sundress's thin straps and short length accentuate her defined arms and legs.
"Just a moment please," Damiana says, looking for the pair of shoes Ashley had loaned her. She puts one dainty, though slightly too large, sandal on. As she reaches for the other, something silver by the leg of the desk catches her eye.
"Calling all Rangers," Ashley announces across the ship's intercom system in her best Deca imitation. But then she cracks up, her laughter echoing throughout the ship. She adds in her normal voice, "All aboard that's going aboard. Adelle's Megaburgers are awaitin'."
Damiana laughs and crouches down to slide her other sandal on. She pauses again to look at the silver disk lying on the floor inches away from her foot.
Now Cassie's voice comes across the intercom, "Zhane, get your butt down here, man. I'm starving! Damiana, c'mon girrrrrl, you're gonna miss your own party if you don't hurry up. Move it people!"
"Excuse me, please," Zhane says and walks down the corridor. Damiana hears him yell, "We're coming! Wait a minute, will ya? Hey, Ashley, can you help me with something...."
Damiana stands and smoothes out her sundress. She steps toward the desk and looks at the silver box. Damiana stares at its contents which she had returned to its cushiony lining after her holograph experience. She takes out the morpher and lays it on the desktop. Then, she slowly removes her left bronze Amazon cuff and gently places it on the box's purple silk lining. Damiana gives the grooves of Alex's old communicator one last rub and then takes it off as well. She places it beside her cuff bracelet and then gently closes the box lid with a smile but a sigh. She clasps the morpher around her left wrist and holds out both arms. Damiana feels at peace as she gazes at her bracelets, her metallic fraternal twins.
"Ready?" Zhane suddenly reappears in the doorway. "Here."
Zhane holds out the small bouquet of daisies which Ashley had just helped him conjure up in the ship's replicator. Damiana smiles awkwardly--no one had ever given her flowers before. She steps up to receive them, but then quickly steps back uncontrollably in retreat. She finds her heel accidentally resting on top of the silver disk.
"M'lady," Zhane hams a mock bow and offers his arm in exaggerated gentility.
Damiana looks at him confused, and he looks at her a little hurt. But then Zhane steps toward her. He takes her free hand and positions it on his arm. As they begin their exit from her room, Damiana discretely grinds the small silver disk underneath her sandalled heel. She smiles at Zhane in friendship, and he smiles at Damiana in delight—being sure to flex his bicep.