The fourteen of us materialised in a wide tiled plaza. In the centre of the plaza was a beautiful fountain, with water cascading off a dozen marble statues. I gazed around in wonder. On all sides were magnificent white stone buildings. There were palaces with towering turrets, quiet temples with rows of columns, picturesque lawns alongside ancient trees, and flower beds ablaze with colour. In the distance, I could see a gigantic statue of a god holding a lightning bolt high above his head. The strangest thing, though, was the noise. Despite the enormity of the city, it was almost completely silent. There were no sounds of traffic, no bird calls, and not even a hint of any of the city's inhabitants. Everything around us seemed unimaginably immense, even the silence.
Standing there with the Rangers, I suddenly felt very small. Even the Rangers grew quiet in reverential awe, and I later learned that it was the first visit for several of them.
Time seemed strange here, though. Standing there admiring the city, it might've been seconds before one of the Rangers spoke, or it might've been hours.
"We're here," said the Red Ranger. He checked that everybody had made it and then looked back to Eros. "Where to now?"
Eros shifted on the spot. "A teleport like that? Every god on Olympus felt us arrive," he said. "There's no use hiding. We might as well go straight to them."
I wanted to ask who the 'them' referred to, but a big part of me didn't want to know.
"Lead the way," said the Orange Ranger.
Eros beckoned us to follow him, and we set off through the city. We made our way through peaceful gardens and down quiet, tree-lined avenues, passing rows of towering statues, grand mansions and bubbling fountains. Every now and then, I caught a glimpse of gods, nymphs and other shadowy figures watching the procession from safely inside their palaces and temples, but none came out to greet us. Gazing around at all the sights, I soon fell to the back of the group. "So this is actually the Mount Olympus?" I breathed.
Walking beside me, the senior of the two Blue Rangers nodded. "Affirmative," he said. I was beginning to think that was his favourite word. "Architecturally alone, the city is a marvel, though the traditional laws of space and geometry seem to be optional here."
"It's definitely amazing," I agreed. "How many normal people do you think have ever seen this place?"
The Grey Ranger glanced over his shoulder. "Not that many," he said.
I had a thought and froze in my tracks. The Blue Ranger stopped beside me. "But hang on a minute," I said. "This is Mount Olympus. These are the Greek gods. Does that mean the ancient Greeks were right? That this is the only religion?"
The Blue Ranger shook his head, and gestured to the rest of the group. We jogged after them to catch up. As beautiful as Mount Olympus was, I had the feeling I didn't want to be lost here unaccompanied.
"I wouldn't think about it like that," the Blue Ranger replied, and gestured to his team-mates. "It's been our experience that, throughout history, different groups and families have attained a great deal of power through various means, and they came to be worshipped as deities by the peoples of their local areas. Think of the Greek, Egyptian or Norse pantheons, the spirits endemic to the native American tribes, or even the animal tribes of the indigenous Australian peoples."
"We're standing on Mount Olympus, Blue," said the Red Ranger. "You can call them gods."
"I'd prefer to remain objective," the Blue Ranger replied lightly, and I heard the Red Ranger laugh behind his visor.
"Wow," I said. "So, like, it's all real?"
"I can't speak for all of them," the Blue Ranger began, "but yes, the Rangers and I have encountered many representatives from various legendary pantheons over the years. Some of them were quite benevolent, like our friend Eros here. Others, decidedly less so. Earth's ancient peoples had a great talent for explaining the mysteries of the world around them without the benefit of contemporary science."
"Don't listen to B... Blue," called the Pink Ranger, but I could hear the good-natured tone in her voice. "Everything's always science with him."
"Because everything always is science!" the Blue Ranger chuckled.
"So you're a scientist?" I asked. He sounded smart, so it was a fair guess.
"Affirmative," he replied proudly. "It sounds like you share my passion?"
"A little bit, yeah," I said. "Can I ask you, though. How do you reconcile all of this," and I waved my hands around the palaces and temples around us, "these myths and gods and magic, with science? I get that this probably happens to you a lot, but when the world gets crazy, how do you make sense of all this?"
He took a long time to answer, but again, this was Olympus and it might've been seconds. "To me, science has always been about answering questions," he replied. "Discerning the solid truth behind otherwise unexplainable phenomena. Being a Ranger means I get to explore and quantify amazing things every day, things that very few other people will ever have the opportunity to see or experience. Honestly? Being a Power Ranger is one of the greatest learning experiences in history, and I would be lying if I acknowledged it as anything else."
"Cool," I said softly. "I'm getting that. I mean, visiting the home of the gods? Definitely a new experience. I never even went to Sunday school. But we're safe here, right? High priestess crazy won't be able to find us here, will she? We're on a floating island of the gods after all."
The Blue Ranger leaned in close and, afraid of being overheard, lowered his voice. "That is accurate, yes," he began. "But the trick with the entities we're about to meet is that although they are very powerful, they can also be..." His voice trailed off, and I felt sure his next word would be 'dangerous'. But even the Blue Ranger himself thought better, and he finally settled on a more diplomatic option. "Unpredictable," he continued. "The gods can be reasonable but they despise outsiders. Remember all the old myths and legends?" he asked, and I nodded. "Remember them carefully."
I flashed back to all the stories from my ancient history lessons, and all the books I'd read in the school library to pass the time on long lunch-breaks. "Oh man," I breathed. "So this is a real frying pan and fire kind of a situation?"
"An apt metaphor, all things considered," the Blue Ranger replied darkly. "The one thing to remember? The gods value respect above all else. If we keep that in mind, we should be fine. My best advice is to keep your head down and be polite without patronising them."
"And if you're super-nervous," added the Pink Ranger, "let us do all the talking."
"Trust me," I murmured, "that will not be a problem."
"Good!" announced Eros suddenly. I looked up and the youthful god grinned. "I'm a god, dude. I can hear clouds scraping together. Like I said, good," and he nodded to the marble hall before us. "Because we're here."
It was as hard to gauge distance as it was to measure time, but at a rough guess, we must've been close to the middle of the island. Directly in front of us, in the centre of a dozen streets that converged around it, was a temple so utterly gigantic that it towered over the surrounding buildings. Set back over a steep row of stone steps, the front of the temple was held up by a line of columns so large it would've taken three people with their arms outstretched to surround them. The temple roof was high over our heads, and decorated with ornate golden statues studded with precious gems.
Inside the temple, I could see two figures seated on golden thrones. I gulped loudly. "Is... is that who I think it is?" I asked quietly.
The Aqua Ranger nodded beside me. "Yep," he said.
The Purple Ranger lowered her voice. "I don't like this," she murmured.
"I don't either," said the Red Ranger, then glanced back towards me. "But we don't have a lot of options here. Eros, we'll follow you."
Eros nodded, and he led us into the great temple. Everyone was quiet, and even Eros seemed unsettled. Not two hours ago, I'd watched the Rangers fight an army of homicidal robots without a second thought. But while none of them seemed scared, they were far more subdued than they had been.
What on Earth were we walking into, that even the Rangers were nervous?
Finally, we reached the top of the steps and made our way into the great hall. The first thing I noticed was that the ceiling above was a magnificent vista of the night sky, with planets, constellations and even shooting stars. But immediately afterwards, my gaze fell onto the two golden thrones in the centre of the room. Indeed, it was impossible not to look at them, as if the entire Universe existed just to revolve around those two chairs.
Seated in the thrones were Zeus and Hera.
Or, gods, I guess.
Even while sitting down, Zeus was the tallest person I'd ever met. There was a charge in the air as I looked at him. Power seemed to crackle around him. He was wearing flowing blue robes and he had dark eyes, a head of grey curls and a long, tangled beard that fell to his stomach. He didn't just look old, but ancient. An impossibly-huge eagle sat perched on the throne above him. As we approached, I saw him regarding us with a detached curiosity, as if we were strange specimens who'd appeared in a zoo one day.
Beside him sat his queen and wife, Hera. Beautiful and regal, Hera's face was majestic and solemn. I felt nervous just being in her presence, as if my sheer existence might offend her. An intricately-designed crown rested on her head, while her chestnut-coloured hair was curled in an elaborate style. Peacock feathers adorned her gown, while on a table beside her throne was a single lotus blossom and a bowl of fruit I later learned were pomegranates. As her gaze settled on me, I shrank back, but it was a futile gesture. Like those of her husband, her eyes had stars in them. I felt like she was staring straight through me, as if I was nothing at all.
Eros broke the heavy silence. "Um, so, hey guys," he said, but Hera silenced him with a wave of her hand.
"You have brought trespassers to Olympus?" she began, her voice echoing through the temple. "Eros, explain yourself."
"Yes boy," boomed Zeus, the irritation audible in his tone. "What is the meaning of this?"
"These are my friends from Earth," Eros replied, stepping forward and indicating the Rangers. "The mortal heroes I was telling you about. The Power Rangers! With a friend today," and he looked over to me. "I'm sorry, which one are you again?" he asked. He noticed my blue shirt and frowned in confusion. "The Blue Ranger?" and he turned to the Orange and Red Rangers. "I thought you already had a couple of those?"
"A band of mortal heroes?" Hera repeated, then glanced to Zeus. "How refreshing that none of them were sired by you, dear husband."
"That we know of," Zeus murmured.
Hera shot him a look, clearly unamused, then stood up. Or maybe the entire world lowered itself three feet for her benefit. Her movement was so fluid it was hard to tell. "Who is your leader, Power Rangers of Earth?" she asked. "Tell us so we can immediately send you back to them with our displeasure."
The Red Ranger stepped forward. "Zordon of Eltar," he stated.
Hera and Zeus froze. Hera's brow fell, and she turned to Zeus with a look of uneasy recognition. They both had the appearance of two people who realised that, despite their standing, a situation was suddenly out of their hands.
"Still," Zeus grumbled, "I'll be having strong words with Zordon later, about controlling his young charges."
"Yes," Hera said, regaining her composure. "Your trespass in our sacred temple is not appreciated. It is our nature to rule, not to babysit you mortals and your petty squabbles for fame and power. Earth is yours to defend. How dare you involve us against our wishes?"
I watched as the Red and Orange Rangers angrily marched forward, only to stop when the Yellow Ranger placed a hand on their shoulders to keep them in check. "Softly," she said. "Remember where we are."
"Speak up girl," Zeus commanded. "Have some respect. You are aware who you're addressing."
The Yellow Ranger stepped forward. "We mean no disrespect," she began, "and we're sorry for the offense of coming to your home uninvited. But while it may be in your nature to rule, it is our nature to protect," and she nodded back towards me. "You may look at him and see little more than a mortal boy, but we see someone who needs our help. And for the sake of this one boy, we would move mountains, alter the course of history and change the world. Any world. Every world. So while you may not understand or agree with us, we ask you respect that we, like you, are only acting as our nature dictates. And we are here because we need your help."
Silence fell. I doubted I'd ever be brave enough to tell anyone, but I swore I could see the faintest hint of a smile tugging at the corner of Hera's mouth. As the Yellow Ranger joined her friends, Hera turned back to Zeus, and the two began talking in their normal voices as if they'd completely forgotten the Rangers and I were standing ten feet away.
"Do you want to get rid of them?" Zeus asked with a wave of his hand. "I've just gotten comfortable. I don't want to move."
"On the contrary, dear husband," Hera began. "I feel it may be a wise course of action to indulge Zordon's teenagers, at least just this once. After all, dear Eros does still owe them a favour, and if we provide assistance..."
Zeus clicked his fingers, catching on quickly. "Then Zordon would be willing to do us a favour in the future!" he said. "That is excellent thinking, dear wife."
The Purple Ranger leaned in close to my ear. "Politics," she whispered, and shrugged.
Zeus turned back to face us. "Besides," he continued, "I cannot shake the feeling that getting rid of them might be more trouble than it's worth. Very well. The Rangers and their friend can stay."
"Excellent, it's settled," Hera said, and crossed towards us. "You're all welcome to stay in Olympus."
"Thank you," the Yellow Ranger said, and bowed her head.
"Yeah," added the Grey Ranger. "We really appreciate it."
Hera smiled warmly. "So how can we be of help to you?"
"Our mortal friend?" began the elder Blue Ranger. "Earlier today, he was assaulted by the robotic high priestess Automica, who infected him with the Skethani virus. Even as we speak, the virus is charging within him. He has less than three days."
Hera's face fell, and she shared a look with Zeus. I frowned. Even the gods were worried? "Then your situation is most dire," Hera said. "Tell us what you need."
"Mostly?" the Red Ranger began. "Time. Time to strategise and figure out our next move. Automica has an army of robotic bishops with her. We managed to destroy two of them but she has ten more, and we're certain she'll be coming for Tim."
"Then time we shall give you," Hera said. "You! Mortal boy. Step towards me."
I realised with horror that Hera was talking to me. My legs were suddenly weak, and I felt like I was in danger of collapsing again. In the back of my mind, I knew that bolting would've been the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. But just as I was about to run, I felt one of the Rangers step close. I looked down to see fingers in a white glove intertwined with mine. The girl White Ranger was standing beside me, reminding me of everything she'd said back on Earth. I nodded, and feeling a little stronger, I stepped forward.
"Yes?" I stuttered.
"Is there anything you have need of?" Hera asked. "A pillow to rest on? Food for your stomach? Perhaps medicine for your injuries?"
The Rangers looked to me. A goddess was talking to me and I had no idea what to do. But the Rangers weren't fazed. Trying not to look like a total idiot in front of them, I found my voice. "I'm a little thirsty, actually," I said.
Hera clapped her hands. "Of course!" she said. "I should've remembered you mortals need that sort of thing. I'll fetch one of Dionysus's best wines at once!"
"You don't have to go to all that trouble," I said. "I'm only sixteen! Just some water would be nice."
Hera fixed me with a stare that could've sliced through glass. For a second, I was terrified I'd said the wrong thing, but then she laughed with genuine amusement. "You mortals are a curious bunch," Hera said. "I'll send someone to get some for you immediately."
Zeus climbed out of his throne and walked towards us. The floor shook with every step. As he approached, I took a step back without even realising it, but so too did most of the Rangers. "I just had a thought," Zeus began. "Why not visit Hephaestus's palace? He's here on Olympus presently. Just last week, he was complaining that he hasn't been challenged by anything lately."
The elder Blue Ranger turned to the Orange Ranger. "Orange?" he asked.
"Hephaestus is the god of craftsmen and the blacksmith of the gods," the Orange Ranger replied. "It couldn't hurt."
"Good," Hera said. "Eros, take your friends there at once. I'll send word."
We all headed back outside and down onto the street. The Red Ranger raised his wrist. "I think it's time we checked in," he said, and tapped a button on the communicator around his wrist. Nothing but static blared forth. "Wait..."
Several of the others tried as well, but they received no response either.
"I thought you would've realised," Eros said. "Olympus is more or less cut off from the rest of the mortal realm. You won't be able to reach your base from here."
"So we can't teleport there either?" the male White Ranger asked.
"Not without my help," Eros replied.
"Zordon doesn't know where we are," the Red Ranger said, and I could hear him frowning beneath his helmet. "That complicates things."
"Worse still, we can't use the Command Centre's resources," said the Yellow Ranger.
"Or my workshop," added the Blue Ranger. "We should definitely pay a visit to Hephaestus."
"Okay," the Red Ranger began. "Blue, Blue, White and Grey, go talk to Hephaestus," he said. "Black, you go too. Take Tim. Whatever you do, don't let him out of your sight. Orange?"
"I know my myths," the Orange Ranger replied. "I'll go with them."
"Good plan," the Red Ranger replied. "The rest of us will stay here and try to figure out our next move."
With that, the group split up, and I followed Eros and the six assigned Rangers as they walked away from Zeus and Hera's temple. Eros pointed out Hephaestus's palace, rising over the rooftops of the city with a dozen chimneys belching black smoke, and we headed straight towards it. The palace wasn't far, and we'd only been walking a few minutes when it appeared up ahead. But as we walked, I stepped closer to Eros.
"So I'm guessing that if even you guys are worried," I said, "this virus must be as bad as everybody says."
"They'll figure it out," Eros replied, and nodded to the heroes around us. "It's what they do."
"But how do you even know about it?" I asked. "It's an alien virus. I get that you're gods, but do you spend a lot of time on other planets?"
"You'd be surprised," he said. "A lot of other worlds have beings like us. And powerful deities sometimes like nothing more than to sit down and have a good gossip. It helps pass the time."
"Just a few months ago, we met the alien god Altos on another planet," the Grey Ranger said. "He was quite friendly, too."
"An alien god?" I repeated. "Wow I'm losing my sense of perspective today. But you," and I looked back to Eros. "You're not like the rest of them, are you?"
He looked genuinely surprised. "I'm not?"
"No," I said. "You care."
"It's my youth," Eros shrugged. "It's part of the deal. Although I suspect I have something a lot of my family doesn't."
He winked. "Friends."
We reached the end of the street, and Hephaestus's palace rose above us. The chimneys were still bellowing black smoke, and I could feel the heat of the fires just standing there.
The Orange Ranger noticed the sweat beading on my forehead. "According to myth," he explained, "Hephaestus has twenty bellows in there that work by his command. It's pretty cool."
Standing by the entrance to the workshop were two enormous bronze statues. They were easily twenty feet tall, with stern expressions on their metal faces and giant spears raised high. But I had the strangest feeling I was being watched. All of a sudden, as we approached the palace's entrance, the two statues turned to face us. With the hiss of steam and the clanking of gears from within, they stepped off their pedestals and moved menacingly towards us.
The Rangers were instantly all business, forming a wall in front of me and summoning their Power Weapons with a thought.
"Eros, what's the deal?" asked the White Ranger. "What's going on?"
The statues took another step towards us. Eros glanced from them to me and then back again. "It's the virus inside your friend!" he said. For the first time, he sounded genuinely worried. "They're responding automatically! I can't stop them!" In one smooth motion, he pulled an arrow free of his quiver and aimed it at the advancing statues. "Hephaestus!"
The doors to the workshop swung open and a hulking figure stepped outside. He was almost as tall as Zeus, and the ground under his feet shook with every step. He had a work belt of tools dangling around his stomach. His clothes were charred and blackened, his face scarred and pitted, and his beard was ragged and twisted. But I knew instantly I was staring at Hephaestus. He gazed from the two bronze statues to where the eight of us were backing away and stepped towards us.
"Stand down," he commanded, in a voice like the rumbling of a volcano.
The statues immediately froze before stepping back onto their podiums, motionless once again a second later.
"My apologies," he said, as we all met up in front of the workshop. I noticed the Black Ranger stepping away from the group to keep a watchful eye on the streets around us. "Hera sent word you were coming, but I forgot to switch them off," Hephaestus explained.
"No apologies necessary," said the elder Blue Ranger, staring in wonder at the statues. "What brilliant designs."
Hephaestus smiled. "You have your machines, Rangers," he said. "And I have mine." His gaze fell onto me. "Ah! But you must be the boy! The poor mortal with the Skethani virus coursing through your veins," and he stepped closer to inspect me.
"We thought you might be able to help," said the White Ranger.
"Please?" I added.
The god allowed himself a slight smile, but as he looked me up and down, his expression faded. After a few minutes he stepped back, his face sombre. "I'm sorry Rangers. I wish there was something I could do for your friend, but I'm afraid the Skethani virus is beyond both my magic and my craftsmanship."
The Black Ranger looked to me. "It was a long-shot," he said. I'm sure in his head, it sounded reassuring.
"Please," the Orange Ranger said. "Are you sure?"
Hephaestus appraised me with fresh eyes and stroked his beard. For a long time, we waited, silently hoping. Finally, his eyes narrowed and he turned to the White Ranger beside him.
"It's odd that Olympus was your first stop," he said. "Why didn't you take him back to your fabled Command Centre? The protections surrounding that fortress are exquisite. Zordon invited me there once to test them, and try as I might, I could not break into the building."
"We wanted to," explained the White Ranger. "But we couldn't risk it. According to legend, the virus is at least halfway self-aware."
The younger Blue Ranger nodded. "Everything that Tim sees and hears, the virus does as well," he said.
"So you couldn't risk taking the virus into your base?" Hephaestus surmised. "Good thinking Rangers. And I suddenly have the inkling of an idea. I don't think I can pull the virus out of your young friend, but I may be able to keep it inside of him. For two and a half days at least," he added darkly.
"We'll take whatever you've got," said the Grey Ranger.
"Brontes and Steropes are running errands for me today," Hephaestus explained, "but my third assistant Pyracmon should be able to help me. Yes," and he snapped his fingers. "Give me an hour in the forge, and I may have something for you."
"Thank you," said the Orange Ranger. "We'll go back and wait with the others by Zeus and Hera's temple. C'mon guys," and as Hephaestus disappeared into his workshop, we walked away.