Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers or any other series used in this fanfic. No profit is being made from this venture.
Wheels in Motion
The battle had taken a disturbing turn that the Rangers had not expected. When they had first been alerted, they had assumed that this was one of Rita's monsters, a little ugly even by her standards, but made from either clay or an organic material combined with magic. The Zeo Rangers had taken the mission, assuming that the battle would not require the presence of the Morphin team.
Then had come the surprise. As the Zeo Megazord's blade had cut through the grey skinned brute, they had been surprised to find that it was not one of Rita's creations; inside the horned beast's skin there was the cold metallic shell of a Machine monster. The realisation that their last cut had probably not even phased it didn't sink in until the monster was on the move again, an uncontrolled engine of destruction.
"How do we fight it when it keeps walking away?" Tanya asked, frustrated by the machine's lack of interest in battling them. It seemed far more interested in blowing chunks out of nearby buildings.
Before they could find a strategy, a figure appeared on the building to the beast's left. It was another machine, clearly female but certainly not Archerina. She appeared to be partially human given the areas of flesh that were not covered by the dull grey metal. And she carried a whip, a long thick whip with an oddly serrated attachment on the end and which crackled with purple energy as she gently flicked it through the air.
"Who is that?" Kat asked.
The others didn't know, but as they watched the mysterious woman leapt onto the beast's shoulder. She lashed the beast with her whip, cleaving away a thin strip of fleshy material. Instead of glancing off though, the sharp blades on the whip dug into the creature's shoulder. The beast started thrashing as she sent wave after wave of purple energy through the steel cable.
"Oh no, she can control it," Adam realised.
The whip was a method of robot control, allowing her to gain access to the machine's circuitry and from there allowing her to control it. The serrated edges provided an interface while the purple energy transmitted instructions in a way that would punish the machine should it decide not to obey.
"Duck!" Rocky warned as the beast suddenly gave them its undivided attention and loosed a stream of fire.
The Megazord twisted, allowing the flame to pass by its left side before closing the gap between them. As they marched forward, they changed Battle Helmets, allowing the Megazord to use its firepower against the machine.
"Red Battle Zord!" Tommy called.
Using a two pronged attack, the Rangers were able to outflank their opponent and deliver a devastating blow with the Power Sword. They were not surprised as the machine dropped to the ground that the smaller robot abandoned her post. They were surprised when she turned her attention to them.
For months the virus left in the Power Chamber's computer had remained dormant, awaiting a designated condition that Gasket had specified; only when the Zords were deployed against a monster capable of controlling them but lacking the ability to bypass their software failsafes, would the virus trigger. As the lone female warrior used her whip against the Red Battle Zord, the virus detected that its time had come.
The virus generated an error in one of the Power Chamber's subsystems - a little protected and hardly noticed subroutine dealing with the teleportation of organic waste into the sewers that ran through Angel Grove. By distorting the coordinates so that the computer attempted to teleport the empty canisters to the exact spot where they were sitting, it created a power drain that increased as the Power Chamber's computer assessed that it needed more power to complete the transfer. In a rapid escalation the circuit breakers tripped for a fraction of a second, just long enough for the virus to lower the protection on the Zords.
From somewhere the woman had managed to find a second whip. As she jumped toward the Red Battle Zord, she used the left-hand whip against its chest panel. The whip bounced away, by the second whip somehow managed to chip away a flake of armour. That was enough for her to scramble the machine - for there was no way she could actually control the Zord.
As the red Zord crashed, she repeated the attack against the Zeo Megazord, affecting its operating system enough that the Rangers were forced to abandon their position or risk injuring innocent people. They jumped free, landing on a roof top where she was waiting.
"Who are you?" Tommy demanded as they fought.
Getting close was proving especially difficult since her whips seemed to be able to change direction at a moment's notice.
"You can call me Ferris," she told him as she blasted the Rangers with a ball of electricity.
She didn't wait for the Rangers to recover from her first strike. She lashed out with both whips, throwing the Rangers around. With a more precise flick, the whip coiled around Blue Zeo's neck, gradually tightening until it cut off the flow of blood to the brain. There was a misconception that the quickest way to strangle somebody was to choke them from the front, using the hands to crush the windpipe. In fact crushing the arteries on the sides of the neck was a quicker and easier method of killing. And as the whip seemed to pulse, the crushing power increased, quickly bring the Ranger to his knees.
"Stay back!" Ferris warned as the other Rangers approached their friend. "I only need to make a small movement and Rocky is dead."
"Let him go or well shoot," Red Zeo told her, never lowering his Zeo Pistol.
"If you shoot, he'll be killed immediately, no matter whether I survive," she answered, walking toward her hostage.
Tommy didn't lower his weapon. There was no point in doing so since it would allow her to gain more hostages. As much as he hated to admit it though, they could not free Rocky... yet.
"Goodbye Rangers," Ferris laughed as she teleported away, taking the barely conscious Ranger with her.
"He's regaining consciousness," somebody said, the voice cold and slightly familiar.
"Good. While the study of the human subject is interesting, I compute that our time is extremely limited."
Rocky cracked open his eyes and tried to ignore the pounding in his head. Where was he and how did he get there? And why couldn't he move? The last question was answered as some of the feeling returned to his extremities. Somebody had bound his arms and legs tightly to whatever chair he had been placed in. The bonds allowed very little movement and with the dim light he was very uncomfortable.
"He is now aware, we can begin," the female voice stated.
There was a whoosh of power as a spotlight was turned on, the powerful beam causing him to close his eyes and squint until he became comfortable with the glare
"Hello Rocky, I've been waiting a long time for this," she said.
Something hard struck the side of his face; she had slapped him. He saw her move to strike him again when the robotic voice intervened.
"Not now, we need him undamaged."
"Of course, my apologies," she responded and Rocky thought for a moment that she had curtseyed.
"Do not let it happen again. When the process is complete, you may do with him as you please."
Discussion ended the female turned her attention back to Rocky and pulled a long probe into position. Rocky's eyes widened slightly. It was a mind drill, he remembered Trey telling him how the Machine Empire enjoyed using them to extract information from prisoners. It was not a pleasant experience and he remembered that not all those exposed to the device survived having their minds forcibly copied.
"You recognise this then," the female observed. "Good, it will save time if you know the damage it can cause. Don't move."
The Mind Probe was a very sensitive tool. If the subject moved too much, the beam would not be able to restore the information after copying it. Deciding that he did not wish to become a vegetable, Rocky tried not to move as the device was activated. That didn't stop him from trying to resist or the scream as the machine tore every available thought from his head.
"The first probe is complete. The computer estimates twenty minutes for a surface copy. If you want an accurate copy it will take longer," she reported.
"Complete the surface scan and then place him in the empty tube. The computer can complete the scan with him unconscious once it has mapped his mind; we do not want to allow him a chance to escape."
"Sit back and enjoy the experience, Blue Ranger," she told him, leaning deliberately forward so he could see her face. Disbelief was the obvious emotion, followed by panic. "From here things only get worse."
Whatever answer he received was drowned by his screams as the probe was reactivated.
Awareness returned hours later and despite having slept for hours, Rocky was exhausted. It was difficult to focus on what had occurred, but he did remember Josie's face as she had started the probe.
~Was it Josie or a machine that looked like her?~
Josie and her sister Jennifer had been allies for months when the Rangers had discovered that they were secretly agents of the Machine Empire; Josie had been aware of her origin while Jennifer, who Rocky had dated for a while, had believed that she was human. Jennifer's death had led to the Rangers destroying the Machine Sky Base, an event that should have destroyed Josie as well.
It appeared that she had survived the experience, the attempt to repair her damaged skin had failed, leaving vast potions of her body exposed. In fact only her legs seemed to have been repaired following her destruction.
"So you're awake." He recognised her voice this time despite the slightly robotic undertone.
"How did I survive?" she asked coldly. "Unlike humans, we machines are capable of surviving a few knocks. But it was a close thing. For a long time there was darkness. It wasn't until your battle with Minion disturbed the remains of the Sky Base that things changed. Don't look so surprised, we landed on the surface of the Moon in an area shielded from observers on the Earth below. I don't know why Zordon didn't detect us, maybe Minion damaged his surveillance more than he let on."
That was true. Zordon's satellite network had been vast, but following recent events, there were massive gaps in the sensor net. It was possible that Ferris - and whoever her companion was, had managed to survive without being detected.
"But we destroyed everything in the Sky Base," Rocky pointed out.
"You couldn't destroy everything, even if you had gone through the wreckage blasting whatever survived your first attempt, something would have survived. Actually you did a thorough job of destroying the complex and everything within it; I was lucky that anything had survived and that he chose to repair me."
"Prince Grommet of course," she told him, evidently amused. "Did you think that there wouldn't be backups? He is a member of the Royal House of Gadgetry after all."
Grommet? Rocky wasn't sure whether or not to be relieved by that news. The Rangers had encountered Grommet twice and on both occasions he had been thought destroyed. He hadn't done anything that marked him as a major threat to the Rangers, except for the fact that he had survived two attempts to destroy him. The Rangers had truly believed that he had been permanently disconnected following the destruction of the Sky Base; his program had resided in the centralised computer banks.
"It wasn't easy for him to survive," Josie told him. She had been monitoring and decoding the electrical impulses of his brain. "Most of Prince Grommet's programming had been lost during the explosion, but his core data had been downloaded to the more versatile body of Mechanised Infiltration Unit Seven, known to humans as Josie Belle, better known as me."
Grommet's programming was far more complex than Josie's, and from the moment of transfer he had been able to rewrite the inferior machine's repair systems, prompting her circuitry to reroute essential functions and gradually restore minimal functionality as his most recently acquired memory had replayed over and over again.
Klank flicked the switch, powering down the prince's circuits before he could overload.
"I will begin work immediately Sire," he promised.
"There is no rush, you have other duties to fulfil. Grommet will not know how much time has passed." Mondo walked from the room, not seeing the faint glow of his son's eyes narrow behind him. "Now, onto more important issues, has she been prepared?"
In that instant King Mondo had managed to destroy the loyalty of one of his staunchest supporters and the machine that had prevented Gasket from taking over the empire in the King's absences. His careless dismissal coupled with Grommet's fractured logic center had encouraged the prince that his father had become defective. And like all defective machines in the Royal House of Gadgetry, part of Grommet's program called for its immediate replacement.
"The prognosis was not positive at the beginning," Josie explained, "This body had suffered severe fatigue and impact related damage that had led to the failure of repair programs. It took months for Prince Grommet to reroute the higher brain functions so that he could guide the repair process. At that point he had allowed me to assume control of our runtime, after ensuring that it would be dedicated to restoring the localised network functions."
During the repair period they had interfaced closely. Josie had used the network link to interact with other servants of the Machine Empire to gain a true assessment of the damage.
"Repairing myself would have taken too long, but by attempting to gain control of a Cog or at least one of Klank's construction droids, I managed to speed up the process." She paused so that she could look the Ranger in the eyes. "I survived no thanks to you and your friends. Now you're going to help us destroy the Power Rangers."
Rocky laughed. He couldn't believe his luck that of all the things Josie or Ferris, as she called herself could have chosen to do to him, she had decided to turn him evil. It was a plan doomed to failure, it had done so every time that Rita, Zedd, Gasket or Mondo had tried it in the past.
"I won't work for you," he told her defiantly. "You can force me, but I'll fight you all the way."
"See my prince, I told you he wouldn't understand," Ferris said, clearly not addressing the bound Ranger.
"Your ability to anticipate the behaviour of the human subject has been noted," came the reply from Prince Grommet.
As Rocky watched, Grommet descended from on high, a single red eye mounted on a robotic arm that allowed him to move around the room.
"I know my appearance is less than aesthetically pleasing," Grommet stated, mistaking the Ranger's expression. "However given the power this new form provides, it is a perfectly logical choice."
"You're nothing more than a computer," Rocky stated.
The response was for his chair to start spinning, granting the teen a quick and unobstructed view of the room he was in as Grommet deigned to increase the light. The room was a small office with a clear window and door that led to a large factory.
"I am much more than a computer," Grommet told him. "I am the mind of this complex and control the foundry, the factories and the distribution network. From here I can create my Cyborgs and dispatch them to target your little city."
Rocky processed what he had been told and quickly reached the conclusion that Grommet was right, he was more than just a computer. The prince appeared to have a complete manufacturing plant at his disposal, and Rocky hated to think what the machine would do with that technology. More importantly, Grommet was the manufacturing plant and if he ever found a way to become mobile.
"You do not realise just how much I control," Grommet continued. "This factory was once used to build flying machines before Gasket took it over and replaced the workers with Infiltration Units."
"Prince Gasket replaced the entire town," Ferris corrected.
The thought of an entire town filled with creations of the Machine Empire, going about perfectly ordinary tasks, fitting in among the general population until ordered to strike, was probably the most frightening thing he had learnt since he had woken up.
"Not just the town," Grommet told her. "Gasket's logs reveal that he planted many agents in positions around the Earth, all waiting for the order to strike. Imagine it Ranger, a lone saboteur in one of Earth's energy production facilities, traitors in your armies and leaders. Gasket's plan was extremely logical, unfortunately my brother's processing abilities were too limited to oversee the task."
"So you see Rocky, it doesn't matter whether you are willing to surrender, the Mind Probe has already copied your mind. Once implanted into a suitable Infiltration Unit and given your Zeonisers, we can destroy the other Rangers from within." Josie paused and turned Rocky's chair towards the back of the room. "I calculate that you'll find the company most interesting."
If Rocky had had a hard time believing everything that had happened so far, it was nothing compared to the shock of the sealed chambers containing four humans he had believed to be dead.
"Yes, the Belle family," Grommet observed. "They're quite alive, I assure you. My brother kept them in case the Infiltration Units required replacement skin at anytime."
The other Infiltration Units had used a synthetic flesh product that they could replace every few days. However, due to their interaction with the Rangers, the replica Belles required real skin grown from samples taken from the humans. Gasket had kept the family unconscious, but surprising well cared for.
"No," Grommet answered. "They will continue to function until I deactivate their life support, just as you will survive until the Rangers are destroyed. I could release them now and they would awaken in a few hours with no memory of recent events."
"And now, you shall join them," Ferris told him. "I don't expect you to trust me, but I assure you that I am going to enjoy this, Rocky."
"Wait, you haven't finished the story," Rocky protested. He was desperate for some way to buy more time. Once they sealed him away, he doubted he would have the opportunity to escape. He needed to remain in control of his surroundings, or at least remain as in control as his current situation allowed.
"You're stalling," Josie accused, recognising the tactic. Since she knew that help would not be coming though she decided that there would be no loss in disclosing the information.
Time had passed in the ruined Sky Base as Josie made use of whatever machine she could take control of at any given time. As each day passed, she tried to compute new ways to speed up the process, but was limited by the materials available. In the end she had decided and Grommet had agreed, that the needed to get to Earth.
"Finding Cogs in the correct placement was extremely difficult," she told him. "I needed soldiers that were located close to one of the ammunition silos and that still retained their optical lasers; I don't know how such a stockpile managed to survive your little tantrum, but they were intact and primed."
Projecting the resulting blast had proven more difficult since Josie's processor had been damaged, making calculations difficult. It took a sustained explosion to lift the heavy metal components off the Lunar surface, followed by a smaller series of timed detonations to push it in the right direction.
"I calculate that a three millionth of a deviation was all it would have taken to miss the Earth altogether," she told him. "Fortunately Prince Grommet found the errors in my calculations before we attempted detonation. While you Rangers were preoccupied dealing with Minion, we managed to guide a large chunk of debris toward Earth."
Most of the structure had burnt up as it passed through the atmosphere, but some survived the heat of re-entry and a final explosion was enough to direct it to a landing somewhere in Russia. There Grommet had been able to signal Infiltration Units designed by Gasket and already on the planet to assist them. They were taken to one of Gasket's production facilities where work commenced on their new bodies.
"Wait," Rocky said as he tried to understand everything they had said, searching for something he could use to his advantage. "How are you going to convince the others I simply escaped, they're bound to run their scans?"
"That is why I chose this facility," Gasket boasted. "This is where my brother developed his limited time travel technology. I intend to use a few of the remaining units to transport Ferris, our new agent and myself back to the battle where I suffered my first defeat. There I will replace your past self with my agent, changing the past and ensuring a victory for the Machine Empire."
"Where is this factory anyway?" Rocky asked, still attempting to stall the inevitable.
"Do not answer that Ferris," Grommet ordered. "These humans have a habit of escaping from our forces. We do not need to give them a target to strike. Now, put him in the pod."
The Rangers had been searching for Rocky since arriving back at the Power Chamber. A detailed review of the battle had revealed the identity of their opponent, although it was difficult to understand how Josie had survived. Using that information though they had started searching for traces of Cog Oil.
So far their search was proving futile. They didn't know where Josie was hiding, Earth, or perhaps some distant planet. And with each hour that passed the chances of finding their friend alive diminished.
"Oh no, not another one," Kat whined as the alarm sounded. Continued attacks on the city had not helped their cause. They had called in some of their allies, Skull and Jamie to monitor the Power Chamber while they dealt with the likes of mechanised Godzillas and ugly mecha worms.
"Let's go guys," Tommy instructed, looking at the situation report. "We'll take the -- is that a deep sea diver?"
"Affirmative," Billy told him.
"Good luck Bro," Jason said. "We'll try and keep the other one busy until you can get there."
The Morphin Rangers were not as effective against Machine monsters as the Zeo Rangers, although that was mostly due to their powers failing against the Iron that Mondo preferred using to construct his machines. Still they had proven that they could hold the flesh-covered monsters at bay long enough for the Zeo Rangers to finish them; the Power Sword had proven totally ineffective against them.
"It's Morphin Time!"
Awareness returned and Rocky was relieved to find himself back in the chair. The capsule had been a terrifying experience, and had he been Billy, he expected he would have gone mad from the confined space. He didn't know why they had awakened him again, they had taken pretty much everything they wanted before sedating him. Still, he had used the opportunity to learn more about his situation.
Apart from himself and the Belles, there were no other prisoners kept in the facility or at other locations. The Belles were being kept because nobody had bothered disposing of them yet. He had been a little taken aback to learn that Jennifer Belle was in truth named Jessica; she had adopted the name Jen after bullies had started calling her Jezebel. It seemed that when the Machine Empire had copied her mind their computers had taken her preferred name as her real name. Nobody would have noticed such a slip except perhaps her relatives, but it gave Rocky hope that perhaps there would be some flaw in the copy they were making of him that would tip the Rangers off to the impostor.
As he remained half-lying, half-sitting in the chair, his thoughts turned to escape. His Zeonisers had been taken from him and he was unsure what Morphin energy if any he possessed. His Dragon Orb had used up its powers and he no longer possessed a Gem Coin Transformer. It appeared that his only hope lay in retrieving his Zeonisers.
"Good, you're awake," Ferris remarked when she noticed his head moved. "You will repeat the words 'Zeo Ranger III - Blue'."
Rocky refused. It was clear that whatever failsafe that Billy and Zordon had placed on the Zeonisers meant that Grommet's copy was not realistic enough to use them. So long as he refused to help them, they wouldn't be able to use his powers as a weapon.
"You will say it, or the humans will be terminated," Grommet warned.
To illustrate his point the lights on one of the capsule dimmed, closing down the supply of fresh Oxygen and placing the occupant in peril. There was little choice although Rocky had to admit he was potentially placing more lives in danger.
"Okay, I'll do it, just don't hurt them."
A smirk spread across his face as the Zeonisers were brought over to him. It would take split second timing, but he was surprised that he had not thought of it before. Of all the weapons the Rangers had accumulated, the Gem Coin Blasters were stored in their personal pocket dimensions. When Grommet had threatened to close down the capsules, the miniature power supplies used to provide the various ammunition had popped into his head.
"No tricks, human."
"I'll need to be standing close to the Zeoniser when I say it," Rocky told them, "range is important."
He waited until the Cogs had approached, released his restraints and pulled him to his feet before summoning the Gem Coin Blaster loaded with standard ammunition and a Number Six cartridge. He threw the cartridge across the floor and fired, piercing the capsule and producing a blinding flash.
In the confusion that followed as optical sensors attempted to adjust to the burst of light, Rocky closed the gap toward his Zeonisers, strapped them on and morphed.
Grommet ordered, but it was now a morphed Power Ranger that they were fighting as opposed to an unmorphed human. In his morphed form, Rocky easily dealt with the Cogs before turning his attention to Ferris.
"This time I won't let you live," she warned, wielding her whips.
"What is with those things anyway?" Rocky queried, as he narrowly avoided one of the razor sharp ends.
"Data suggests that machine success is inversely related to the number of control protocols. Logic dictated that removal of all control systems would make machines invincible, but prevent them from taking direction. Ferris's whip provides a control field that directs their attacks."
While Grommet was explaining, Ferris had not stopped her attack, pushing Rocky further and further back through the factory. But she was not just aiming for the Blue Zeo Ranger, some of her lashes were aimed at machinery, such as the vat of boiling liquid she attempted to empty over him.
He had already lost his weapons; his Zeo Pistol had been knocked out of his hand and his Gem Coin Blaster had been crushed by her whips.
"You cannot win, human," Grommet told him. "The odds that you manage to defeat Ferris are astronomical. She draws power from this complex."
Rocky dived under a wooden table, seconds before it was lifted and tossed aside by the barbed whip. Still, Rocky was not diving from side to side without good reason. He was guiding the machine through the factory, searching for something he could use against her.
"You're wasting my time, Rocky," Ferris called as her whip cracked the visor of his helmet. The other whip hooked his ankle and pulled it out from under him. "Give it up."
Instead of climbing back to his feet, Rocky chose to crawl under the machinery, using the time it took her to find him again to find the cable he needed.
"If you want me, come and get me!" he shouted defiantly, every bit the hero as he urged her to attack him.
When she did attack, he was ready, ducking the end so that it wrapped around the metal pipe work. He cheered as it did so, earning himself a questioning look from Ferris. When he revealed the electrical cable he had liberated from the conduit her eyes widened. Without hesitation he touched it to the whip, watching as she was electrocuted.
"That should prove a hair-raising experience," he quipped before taking off at a run back toward the Belles.
He had to hurry to get to the capsules, hoping that he reached them before Grommet managed to free Ferris or decided to destroy them. He hoped that the short circuit would distract the prince from what was going on. He had deliberately chosen the power cable that supplied the CCTV network.
"Where are you human? There is no escape, your friends cannot find you here. Surrender or I will dispose of the other humans."
Rocky ignored the prince. He knew that Grommet had probably already shut down the life support. It was more important to get the Belle's out of the chambers and away to safety. When he entered the room, he found that the chambers had indeed been shut down and from the look of the dials, the family had been without Oxygen for some time. He didn't hesitate to shatter the glass on Josie's capsule before moving on to do the same for Jessica and her parents.
"That wasn't nice Ranger!"
He turned at the sound of Ferris's voice. He was not surprised to see that she had gotten free. If also appeared that the electricity had had an adverse effect on her synthetic flesh. The high voltage had caused the cells to breakdown, causing the flesh to swell and take on a rubbery texture. Her face and chest were now metallic, her hair for some reason appeared to have turned into a bunch of long red balloons. She now carried a single whip, but the weapon appeared minuscule compared to her bulk.
She lashed out and he dodged again. The tails flew passed his shoulder and struck the open capsules, causing it to overload. Rocky had already freed Jessica and her parents, but Josie was still inside when the current struck her.
"If you don't want the other hurt, stay still!" Ferris warned.
The ground shook and Rocky smiled as the machine looked around for the source of the shaking. There was a crash in another part of the complex and she turned in time to see the Zeo Zord III storming through the factory.
"Not again!" she complained, but it was too late as Rocky teleported himself and the Belle's to safety as his Zord tore through the factory.
"Ferris, what is happening?" Grommet demanded; the loss of the CCTV cameras had left him blind with the exception of a single camera.
"The Ranger has gotten free," she replied as the Zord tore through the far wall, bringing the ceiling down as she teleported away.
Rocky had appeared in a panic and had quickly explained all that had happened. Working as a team, the Rangers had administered emergency assistance to the Belle's and transferred them to the Power Chamber's medical area. They would need to get them to the hospital where they could be properly taken care of, but before they could do so the alarms sounded.
"Ferris!" Rocky growled when the Viewing Screen revealed the machine rampaging through Angel Grove in an enlarged state.
"It's Morphin Time!" Tommy cried.
The battle had been short and the Rangers had emerged victorious. Ferris despite being a survivor, had easily succumbed to the Super Zeo Ultrazord formation and the Rangers had returned to the Power Chamber. They had been unable to use the Zeo Ultrazord, because the machine was still rampaging through the remains of Grommet's headquarters. It had returned shortly after the Rangers, slightly singed but otherwise intact.
At that point the Rangers had turned their attention to their guests.
Against impossible odds, Grommet had survived yet again. His program refused to be erased no matter how many unfortunate events he was forced to live through. As he waited in the darkness for his father to recover him, hoping that his last transmission to Mondo had gotten through, Grommet assessed his options. His body had been destroyed, his brother's factory had been damaged by the Blue Zeo Ranger; a little work and it would be possible to repair the production line. The production of synthetic agents was at an end since Grommet had erased the control program when he had downloaded his mind. Besides, with the containment tubes and mind probe destroyed, there was no way to collect the mind prints for future units.
Ferris had been fortunate to survive as long as she had, although the recent damage she had sustained had deleted her secondary memory point, the device that had allowed her to store and emulate the personality of Josie Belle. Without it she was just another machine, a broken and directionless machine.
"We will have our revenge Prince Grommet," she promised, her voice crackling due to broken insulation on her speech synthesiser.
Grommet's processors predicted that Ferris was almost useless to him in her current condition and estimated only a small possibility that her repair protocols could improve the situation. If she could not repair herself, he knew it would be a major setback to his cause. Ferris had proven to be an effective servant and by design she was an integral part of controlling the Neo-Machine Monsters. The additional loss of her combat skills and effectiveness against the Rangers made it an expensive loss.
If the human, Rocky, had not taken the Belle's with him, Grommet might have been able to build a replacement. Unfortunately even if he could still reach them, Josie, had been damaged during the escape and was no longer a suitable candidate for the creation process.
~Perhaps an alternative body design could be used'~ he mused, his Computer Aided Design software rapidly designing a new form for his servant now that secrecy was no longer an immediate concern.
It was not a total loss. There were still agents of the Royal House of Gadgetry in position around the globe. And while those agents could not influence major decisions, they were the eyes and ears of the Neo-Machine Empire that would lead to the eventual annexing of Earth. And while the Blue Zeo Ranger had damaged the complex, he had not destroyed it. It would be a time-consuming effort to return his kingdom to full capacity, but when it was restored, the humans would submit to the will of the machines.
It wasn't a legal action, strictly speaking, but it definitely felt like the right thing to do. The Belles had lost everything due to a plot by the Machine Empire and it seemed only fair that the Rangers helped them back into a new life. With Zordon's help the Rangers had taken advantage of Grommet's scheme and been able to use one device to transport the Belles, Rocky and the other Zeo Rangers to the site of Grommet's first battle on Earth.
After manipulating the official records they had allowed the emergency services to pull the unfortunate family to safety. The family retained only vague memories of the incident, which served to explain how they had been found on the remains of an experimental energy centre.
In the past they would have the chance to live the lives they had lost and Josie would receive the medical treatment she needed. It wasn't the perfect solution, but in this case it was the best they could manage.
Angel Grove Hospital,
Josie Belle did not know how she had received her injuries, but she knew deep down that the Power Rangers were involved. The experts had told her she would never walk again, never be able to move more than her head and right hand to be precise. They had finally taken her off the life support, declaring that while she was physically paralysed, her organs were fully functional for now.
She would make them pay, the ones that had hurt her. She would find a way to destroy the Machine Empire and then she would turn her attention to the Power Rangers. She looked at her left hand, resting on the wooden bed table and willed it to move. It didn't even twitch, but that didn't mean anything to her. Josie Belle was a survivor, and one way or another, she would find a way to get her revenge.
"How are they?" Katherine asked.
In the days following the rescue of the Belles and their eventual return to ordinary life, Rocky had kept a watchful guard over them at the hospital where their oldest daughter was still undergoing treatment. The other Rangers and their friends, those that knew their real identities, had been growing more and more worried about him. It seemed that despite his assurances to the contrary, at least some of Rocky's feelings for Jennifer Belle had remained after her death.
The problem was that Jessica Belle and her family had never met the Rangers and had never been a part of their adventures. Rocky's relationship had been with Jen, not the woman that looked like her. Physical similarities aside they were not the same girl. It appeared that even if the Belles had known him, which they didn't since they had never met the Rangers before Gasket had kidnapped them and had spent over two years in cold storage, there was very little chance that he could rebuild the relationship he had once had.
"They'll be fine," Rocky told her. "They don't remember anything that happened to them, except perhaps the Rangers pulling them from their prison. I think Josie might remember more than she lets on, but she has more important things to worry about than us."
Even though this was not the Josie that had turned her back on the Rangers, it was very different to think of her as an innocent. If he were honest then Rocky would admit that he had felt a small amount of satisfaction when the doctors had revealed that Josie Belle would remain paralysed from the neck down for the rest of her life. It wasn't right, it wasn't fair, but that was life and Rocky couldn't help the way he felt.
"You miss her, don't you?" Kat asked.
Rocky considered the question. Did he miss her, really? He had already grieved for Jen once and had started to move on with his life. Jessica was not his Jen, but she had rekindled some of the feelings he had once felt.
"Yes," he admitted in the end. "But I'll get over it."
He had survived her loss once and as much as he yearned to approach her, he knew in his heart that he would forever be trying to turn her into Jennifer instead of Jessica. No it was better for her, for them -- better for him, if he just walked away and let the Belles attempt to rebuild their lives.
"Come on, let's go and find the others," she urged.
Rocky needed his friends, he needed their support, and most importantly in Kat's mind, he needed something to distract him from thinking about Jessica. If he chose to approach them to talk, they would welcome him wholeheartedly, but she could see the pain that just watching caused him.
Reluctantly he nodded. The Belle's had been through enough, perhaps it was time to let them live without the added problem of being friends with a Power Ranger.
~What is it they say, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?~ he wondered. He snorted. ~Yeah, a likely story!~
He reached out and took Kat's hand, allowing her to lead him away. They had been in the past for much too long. It was time to go home.