Disclaimer- The Rangers belong to Saban and the Ducks belong to Disney. I
am neither one of those corporations, but please don't sue me.
Author's note- This fic is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of
America for language and violence. It is a crossover between Disney's
animated series "The Mighty Ducks" and "Power Rangers in Space." Stop
laughing! You haven't even read it yet! Anyway, this is really written for
Ranger fans, or fans of both. You don't have to know a lot about the Ducks
to enjoy it, but it really was a good show. Duck last names other than for
Mallory and Duke were taken from the fanfics of a supremely talented writer
by : Ellen Brand
"Megaship is preparing for hyperspace jump," the computer warned softly. The young man at the helm looked up and smiled.
"Thank you, DECA," Andros replied. "Commence jump." The stars outside the ship blurred and wavered, as the ship transferred itself into hyperspace. Soon, all that could be seen were the shimmering rainbow colors that comprised the not-space they traveled in.
"Hard to believe it's over, isn't it?" TJ Carter asked, walking onto the bridge. Andros noticed almost immediately that the Blue Ranger was wearing a blue T-shirt and jeans, not the Megaship uniform that was their customary shipboard attire.
Andros nodded. "Extremely," he agreed, running one had through his dual-toned hair. "But it is over, TJ. I've finally got my sister back, and Dark Specter is history."
"Along with all the evil in the known universe," TJ added. "Pretty heavy thought, huh? I guess there won't be any need for Power Rangers after this."
"Evil's only gone for now, TJ," Andros pointed out somberly. "It always comes back- kind of like Darkonda."
"But good always comes back too." Seeing that he had reached their customary arguing point, TJ changed the subject. "So what's the first thing you want to do when we get back to Earth?"
Grinning, Andros contemplated that for a while. "Well, I think I want to go have a burger at- whoa!" His sentence was cut off as the ship shook under some blow. Andros quickly turned to the instruments, even as the rest of the ship's crew entered the bridge.
"That felt like a collision," Cassie Chan observed, sliding into her bridge station with the ease of much practice. "But what is there to hit in hyperspace?"
"Well, it appears to be some sort of electromagnetic life form," was Carlos Vargas' report, studying his readouts. "It's banging on the ship."
Ashley Hammond made a face at the information her screen was giving her. "And doing some major damage," she informed them. "If we don't stop it-" There was a sudden screeching sound, and the ship's engines suddenly stopped.
"We're stranded," Zhane, the Silver Ranger, declared flatly. "In hyperspace."
"We'll be stranded without a ship soon unless someone does something!" Karone cried. Andros' sister looked up apprehensively as the ship shuddered again.
"She's right," Andros agreed. "TJ, you're with me. The rest of you, see if you can't get those engines on line!" With that, Andros and TJ dashed out of the room, heading for the storage bay and their Galaxy Gliders.
Blue Ranger whistled, taking in the blue, writhing creature that was banging against the ship. "It looks like a giant worm!" he remarked. "How are we going to get rid of that?"
"If we prod it in just the right spots with our Astro Blasters, we can probably redirect it," Red Ranger replied, drawing his sidearm. "Go up to the other end and start firing. Try and move it away from the ship."
Snapping off a salute, Blue Ranger did as ordered. As his Galaxy Glider zoomed the length of the writhing worm, he realized that it was struggling with something. "Andros!" he called, opening the communication channels. "There's somebody out here! I'm gonna try and get the worm away from him."
"Okay, TJ, but be careful," came the reply. "Call me once you get him released and we'll try to drive the worm off."
"Will do." Cutting the channel, Blue Ranger aimed his gun carefully. The last thing he wanted to do was fry the guy he was trying to rescue. The trapped person's struggles were growing smaller and smaller, and Blue Ranger knew he didn't have much time. A few well placed shots, and the worm uncoiled, dropping its prey to float in hyperspace. Now, however, it seemed to have set its sights on him!
"Andros! NOW!" Blue Ranger called, suiting actions to words. The concentrated energy barrage from two directions proved strong enough to send the worm careening off in another direction all together- not that he could tell one from another without reference points.
The worm gone, Blue Ranger zoomed to the side of the man that the worm had released. He winced at the energy burns visible on the dark blue uniform, burns left by the coils of electromagnetism that had been holding the man prisoner. Reaching out, Blue Ranger reeled the man in, laying him across the front of the Galaxy Glider. That's when Blue Ranger got his second shock of the day. What he had thought was lightly tanned skin was in fact a covering similar to feathers- the man he had rescued was a giant duck!
Well, no, that wasn't quite true. He was feathered and possessed a duck's bill, but other than that, he was fairly humanoid in form, and quite heavily muscled. A brown patch covered his bill, but Blue Ranger thought that it was probably some type of decoration. He'd seen a lot of alien races during his time as a Power Ranger, but this guy was a new one to him. Maybe Andros would know. With that in mind, Blue Ranger flew his burden back towards the holding bay.
Canard O'Mallardson woke up in pain. That was something so normal for him that it didn't set any alarm bells. Ever since Dragaunus and company had conquered Puckworld, a day hadn't gone by that Canard hadn't been the recipient of at least a glancing blow. The pain wasn't unusual, but the softness of the mattress under him was. The resistance didn't have the resources for such cushy bedding, and Saurian work camps weren't about to waste such things on the prisoners. Besides, wasn't there something he was forgetting? Some reason why he shouldn't be lying on a bed at all. Suddenly the memory ripped through his mind, and he sat bolt upright. "Wildwing!"
In her chair next to the bed, Ashley jerked slightly, but she was too used to such rude awakenings to let it startle her much. Most Rangers wound up in the infirmary after trashings so severe that nightmares were par for the course. When the duck in the bed tried to stand up, however, she was immediately in action.
"Don't even think about it!" she scolded, moving to block his path. "You've got burns all over your torso, and the pressure from that worm cracked a couple ribs. We've knitted the ribs, but you're going to be sore for a while, so lay back down before you damage yourself even more!"
Meeting her patient's eyes, Ashley noticed mainly suspicion, but she thought she caught a glimmer of amusement there as well. "Are you going to stop me?" he asked, folding his arms across his chest. His voice was low, husky, and slightly threatening, reminding her a great deal of Ecliptor's, although slightly higher. His body language, however, reminded her a more of TJ when he wanted something. If that thousand-watt smile didn't work, TJ turned himself into a human monolith, hoping his sheer mass would convince you. It had long since ceased to work on any of the team, however.
"Not at all," Ashley drawled, putting her hands on her hips. "I don't have to. Take three steps and you'll collapse on your face."
Canard laughed. "You have a point," he agreed. "And whatever you are, you're not a Saurian. A member of one of their slave-races?"
"I'm human. My name is Ashley. I've never heard of Saurians, and I'm a slave to nobody."
"You expect me to believe that?" Canard raised an eyebrow. "No one else could have picked me up in Dimensional Limbo except the Saurian Overlords. Nobody else is stuck here."
"We're new in the area," Ashley replied. This guy was seriously beginning to remind her of Andros as he had been when they first met. Refusing to show weakness, or to make himself vulnerable by trusting anyone. "Look," she continued, "I'm going to go get the others, and we'll explain exactly what happened. In the meantime, why don't you sit down and wait. You're in no shape to go anywhere."
After a long moment, Canard nodded. "You're right- Ashley."
She was halfway out the door before she stopped and turned around. "By the way- what's your name?"
"Canard," he replied. She grinned slightly.
"It figures." Then she was gone.
"That's it, I think this infirmary is cursed," the Blue Ranger announced. "No one in it ever stays in that bed for the prescribed length of time- Carlos."
"You're a fine one to talk, man," his Hispanic teammate shot back. "Do the words 'sensor logs' mean anything to you?"
Ignoring the bickering behind him, Andros met Canard's gaze, rolling his eyes a little. Canard smiled slightly, indicating this was something he had dealt with in the past. Reassured by the lack of threat he was picking up, Andros stepped forward.
"Are you feeling better? You were in pretty bad shape when we found you."
Canard nodded slightly. "Yeah, thanks. I would like to know what happened, though."
"Not much to tell, really," TJ interjected. "We were making a hyper-jump when we ran into the worm. The collision took out our engines. When we went out to scare the worm away, we found it holding onto you. We made it drop you and brought you back here."
"Hyper-jump- you have a Gateway generator?" Canard tensed slightly, and Andros wondered why hyperspace capability was so important to him.
"We have hyperrush engines," Andros replied. "They translate us into hyperspace and then back out again."
Canard deflated. "I suppose there's no chance of following Wildwing, then. Without the coordinates, you could never find the right jump spot."
"Who's Wildwing?" Cassie asked, the first thing she had said since entering the infirmary.
"Wildwing is my best friend," Canard replied, sinking back onto the bench. "I guess you guys are okay- I can't imagine any reason you'd rescue me if you weren't."
Karone had been at the back of the group so far, and now pushed through it. "My name is Karone," she identified herself. "I know you must have a lot of questions- it can be very disconcerting, finding yourself in a situation so alien. Why don't we trade stories?"
The duck looked at her for a long moment, then nodded. "Sounds good to me. I'm from a planet called Puckworld, probably very far from anywhere you call home. Centuries ago, so our legends say, our planet was attacked by the Saurian Overlords, a reptilian race who care for nothing except conquest. They were turned back by a hero named Drake Ducaine, who had created a Mask which allowed him to see through their magical cloaks. They were banished to Dimensional Limbo- it was thought forever.
"Two hundred years later, one of the Saurian Overlords by the name of Dragaunus escaped, using technology. We were completely unprepared for his attack, and he conquered our entire world. I barely escaped being put into a chain gang, and joined the resistance. I did a lot of scouting missions, sabotaging anything to try and annoy Dragaunus. It was on one of those missions that I found the tomb of Drake Ducaine, and with it, the Mask. With it, I put together a strike force to take on Dragaunus. We managed to chase him off Puckworld, but he escaped into Dimensional Limbo. We followed him, but he sicced the worm on us. I wound up giving the Mask to Wildwing, making him leader- he was a lot better for the job than I was. Then I jumped, to distract the worm, and the rest you know."
The Rangers exchanged glances. Canard was older than they were, although not by much, but his history was still something no young person should have to deal with. Then Andros cleared his throat.
"Now for our story. Where do I start?" Taking a deep breath, Andros began.
Stories exchanged, Canard and the Rangers found themselves much more relaxed around each other, although the Puckworlder was too set in military habits to lose his wariness completely. The Rangers made sure that one of them was with their new shipmate at all times, but that was more to keep him from getting lost than a gesture of distrust. Plus Andros was worried about side effects from Canard's exposure to hyperspace and his fight with the worm. Canard himself, however, had no such concerns about his health, and had pitched into the ship repair with a will.
This afternoon, he and TJ were working on the hyperrush engines, the most necessary component to their escape from Dimensional Limbo. TJ knew a great deal about the construction of the engines, so Canard busied himself with the heavy lifting.
"Oof," the duck grunted, setting down his latest burden. "Who knew metal could be so heavy?"
"You watch what you're lifting," TJ instructed, not looking up from the circuits before him. "Your ribs are still fragile, and those burns on your torso haven't healed completely."
Canard rolled his eyes. "Yes, Mom," he replied, laughing. His amusement soured somewhat as he regarded the next box. "Boy, don't I wish Grin was here," he muttered.
"Grin?" asked TJ, shooting Canard a curious look.
"Yeah," Canard replied, hefting the box. "Grin Blithe, seven feet of pure muscle. Looking at him, you'd think he had the IQ of a rock."
Snorting, TJ turned back to his work. "I take it that's not the case?"
"Not hardly. Grin's actually pretty smart, although it's usually impossible to understand what he's saying. He's big on philosophy and meditation, that sort of thing."
Canard's tone was somewhat lost, prompting TJ to put down his soldering iron and give his companion his full attention. "I guess you must really miss your friends, huh?"
"That's just it," sighed Canard. "They really weren't my friends, most of them. They were my strike team. That was it, as far as the relationship went. I figured that with such a mixed bag of personalities, I was lucky just to get everyone's respect- and I'm not entirely sure I had that."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, for starters, there's Duke L'Orange. He was a thief before Dragaunus attacked, the best on Puckworld. When the Invasion came, though, he threw in his lot with the Resistance, and became one of their best operatives. Very big on honor and doing the right thing, which are qualities you wouldn't expect in a thief. I don't think he was all that impressed with me- I'm not sure I blame him.
"Then, just to balance the scales, there's Mallory McMallard. If the Puckworld Military had a poster child, she'd be it. She's fourth generation Army, and trust me, it's bred into the bone. She's a beautiful lady- red hair and looks like a dancer- but she's deadly in combat."
Canard shifted position, still thinking. "Let's see, I've already told you about Grin, so next would probably be Tanya. She's a certified genius, capable in almost any field you wanna name, from biology to robotics. Kind of quiet and self-contained, though, and allergic to feathers."
"And she's a duck?" TJ winced. "Ouch."
"Exactly," Canard laughed. "She sounds like she's got a permanent head cold.
"Then there's Wildwing, my best friend. We've known each other for years, were practically inseparable. In a lot of ways, your friend Andros reminds me of him. Protective of people he cares about, sometimes to the point of smothering them. A natural leader, very good at earning the respect and loyalty of a team. Has a real problem letting anyone get close- especially after the Invasion. We all lost so much, but for Wing, it was just the latest in a long line. I'm one of the only people he's ever let close enough to know him, and then I had to go and leave him, too."
Shaking himself, Canard continued with the roster. "And last of all, Wildwing's little brother, Nosedive. I didn't want to bring him along, but Wing insisted. Maybe that was a good thing- the kid figured out how to fly a plane in about ten minutes and then saved all our butts. I used to think Dive was nothing but trouble- loud, brash, impulsive, a consummate practical joker, you know the type? In some ways, I can see reflections of him in Zhane. Anyway, when we were on the Aerowing, flying through Limbo, I saw a side of Dive I'd never been exposed to before. He was serious, and a lot smarter than I ever gave him credit for. I'm beginning to realize I underestimated him, but now it's too late to apologize."
"Sounds like Zhane and Nosedive do have a lot in common," TJ agreed. "Most people tend to underestimate our Silver Ranger, as well. He's such a goofball- until you get him mad."
Canard chuckled. "I can imagine. I just- wish I knew if they were all right. That's the worst thing- not knowing."
"Tell me about it." TJ made a face. "Remember Andros told you about our search for Zordon? Every time, we'd come so close, only to lose him again. We never even caught a glimpse of him, never knew if he was all right- it eats at you after a while."
The two men lapsed into silence then, returning to the jobs before them.
The sound of the doors sliding open alerted Andros that he was no longer alone on the observation deck. Turning around, he was only mildly surprised to see Canard standing there. The duck had traded his battle gear for a white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans, and Andros took a minute to wonder if he was the only one on the ship wearing a uniform anymore. He remained silent, however, as Canard sat in one of the other chairs, staring out at the churning colors of hyperspace.
"Couldn't sleep either?" the Puckworlder asked softly. Andros shook his head.
"I don't sleep much. Over the years, I've trained myself to get by on only a few hours. And- I don't want to go to sleep."
"Nightmares?" Canard's tone was of someone who knows quite well what he's talking about.
Andros nodded. "That's part of it. My sister was kidnapped when I was just a little boy, and for a long time I had nightmares about that. Then two years ago, my home planet was invaded and practically destroyed, and my best friend nearly died. I had to load him into a cryogenic chamber. Then there were the constant battles with Dark Specter and company... I don't even remember what it was like to sleep without dreams anymore.
"But it's more than that, too. For the first time in- forever, I'm HAPPY. My best friend is alive, my sister is back, and I've got friends- no, I've got a FAMILY again. I'm afraid if I go to sleep, it's all going to be some crazy dream, and I'll wake up alone again." The Kerovan laughed shortly. "Dumb, huh?"
Canard shook his head. "Not really. I understand both reasons quite well. When Dragaunus invaded, my world collapsed around my ears. I managed to escape the work camps, but I knew that Wildwing hadn't been so lucky. I started looking for him- hell, I was practically obsessed. He was all I had to hold onto. I'd have nightmares every night of how I'd find him- dead or broken at the hands of the Saurians, or worse, in perfect health- but gone on the inside, because Nosedive hadn't made it. Those two love each other more than anything in this world. I was so scared I'd find one alive and one dead. I'd rather have found them both gone than only one- because it's easier to deal with a dead friend than one who's simply given up inside. Even after I found them, I still had those dreams, and dreams of other things in the occupation. So many people died."
"My planet eventually overthrew its invaders," Andros said quietly. "Have faith- yours will do the same."
Staring out at the fabric of space, Canard said nothing for a long moment. Then he sighed. "I hope you're right, Andros. I hope you're right."
"He shoots, he scores!" Canard raised his stick in victory. Cassie, sitting on the sidelines giggled.
"You are REALLY into hockey, aren't you?" she asked. "I mean, you've been practicing for HOURS. That's beyond dedication, I would think."
Canard skated to the edge of the Simudeck's hockey rink, where Cassie sat on a bench. "Hockey is an integral part of Puckworld life. It keeps your mind and body sharp, which is pretty important when you're fighting Saurians. I even chose my strike team that way."
"What do you mean?" Cassie asked.
"I'll show you. DECA, could you bring up the files on the other ducks?" Canard requested.
"Of course, Canard," the computer replied. Five shimmers of light suddenly resolved into five other ducks. A sixth shimmer coalesced on the bench next to Cassie, startling her. The hologram didn't move, and Cassie noted that he seemed younger than Canard, with shaggy blond hair and a patch on his beak, similar to Canard's.
"That's Nosedive, Wildwing's little brother," Canard told her. "He's a forward, like me- which is why he's on the bench."
Next Canard moved to a tall, slender female duck with red hair and a purple bodysuit. "Mallory was the team's other forward. Forwards are usually fast and hard-hitting, but not all that adaptable."
"This is Duke L'Orange, who plays center." Duke was a gray-feathered duck with a black patch over one eye. A streak of lighter gray ran through the hair that fell in front of his face. "Fast and agile, Duke's great at changing direction and playing either side of a situation."
Moving back on the ice, Canard gestured to two more figures. One was a seven-foot-tall gray duck with huge muscles and a small black ponytail, while the second was a smaller female with yellow feathers and hair, and glasses perched on her beak. "Grin and Tanya," Canard identified them. "Defensemen. They tend to hang back and give the other members of the team support."
Last of all was a white-feathered duck in a goalie's uniform, although he wasn't wearing a mask. "And this is Wildwing, the goalie. Takes everything you throw at him and comes back for more. Literally unstoppable if he's got a goal- or if you hurt his brother."
So that was Canard's best friend, whom he had left leadership of the team with. Even from her position on the bench, Cassie could see the mischief and amusement lurking in his eyes. She wondered just how far back in his memories Canard had gone to bring forth this image. Then she shoved the thought away as far too depressing.
"Why do you have holo-images of your team?" Cassie wanted to know. "For that matter- who dreamed up this rink? I've never seen one open to the air like this, and the buildings are kind of- strange."
"This is the Ducaine Memorial Rink," Canard replied. "I guess I was feeling a little homesick."
"And the telepathic receptors in the Simudeck computer picked up on that," Cassie finished, understanding. "I can only imagine how hard this must be for you."
"Can you?" There was no sarcasm in Canard's tone, only curiosity.
Cassie smiled slightly. "Well, I know what it's like to be far from home. We all do. Our families and friends are all home on Earth, and we spend so much time in space. Sometimes I just get so homesick for green fields, or Angel Grove Park, even with all of the monster attacks. And there are definitely friends I miss."
"His name is Justin. He was the Blue Turbo Ranger before we went into space. In a way, he was the little brother none of us had. We all loved him like that... We miss him." Then she smiled. "But we all have each other, and you're welcome to stay with us as long as you need to. I know we're no substitute for the friends you've lost, but- we can be your friends anyway, right?"
Canard grinned down at her. "Definitely."
With a grunt of exertion, Canard finally managed to heave the last plate back into place on the Megaship's engine core. Wiping his brow, he turned to TJ and Andros, who he had been helping to finish the repairs. "That's it, right? The ship can get moving again?"
"If nothing else has gone wrong in the meantime," Andros agreed. Suddenly the Astro Morpher at his wrist beeped, signaling an incoming message. "Andros here," the Red Ranger answered.
"Andros, you'd better get up here," Carlos' voice declared. "We've just picked up a truly massive energy source, and it seems to be starting some type of hyperspatial jump. The readings are like nothing I've ever seen, but I'm picking up traces of normal space."
Canard had gone pale under his feathers, a rather interesting effect. "Andros, there's only one thing I can think of that would give off those types of readings," the Puckworlder said urgently. "The Saurian Fleet. And if they've found a way to get out of Dimensional Limbo..." Canard didn't have to finish. Both Rangers remembered the last alien invasion they'd battled only too well.
"Carlos!" TJ called. "Go after that energy reading! We may have some serious trouble on our hands!"
"Will do, Teej," the Black Ranger replied. The ship kicked into motion as the three ran out of the engine room, headed for the bridge.
"Yeah, those are Saurians," Canard reported, staring at the image before him. "I'd know that ship style anywhere."
Zhane, standing next to him, pointed at a multi-colored swirling hole in the fabric of hyperspace. "What is that?" he asked.
"That's a Dimensional Gateway. It looks like it's being generated from the other side- Dragaunus must have opened the gate for his relatives."
"We've got to stop them," Ashley declared. "If we don't, that kind of firepower could overrun the entire galaxy!"
Karone studied the scene, chewing her lip. "We've got some time," she suddenly announced. "That hole isn't big enough to let the flagships through yet- I estimate another twelve hours, given its current rate of expansion."
"But the Saurians have lots of little drones to send through," Canard argued. "Those could stomp a planet flat all by themselves."
"They won't want to stomp the planet flat. They'll wait until they can bring the whole armada through. Intimidating your enemies into surrendering is a lot more efficient than blowing them apart." Dark memories played in Karone's eyes, and Andros rested a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she favored him with a wan smile.
TJ crossed to stand beside Carlos at the main steering console. "So what we need to do is get through that portal and take out the generator, or at least find some other way to close the portal."
Canard nodded. "That would be my strategy. Carlos? You think you can do it?"
"I can try," the Hispanic teen replied wryly. "Battle stations everybody. They are NOT going to make this easy on us."
And the Saurian fleet didn't. No sooner had the Megaship made its move than hundreds of Saurian drones were on the attack, but the Mega lasers managed to keep them at bay. Finally the ship managed to zoom through the portal, leaving their pursuers behind them."
"Good," Andros declared. "Set her down here- we seem to be on the outskirts of civilization. We'll reconnoiter and decide just how we're going to find the gate generator."
Carlos had just crested a rise, some twenty feet from the ship, when he saw it. "Hey, Ash!" he called, waving to his nearest teammate. "Come take a look at this!"
The Yellow Ranger did as he instructed, coming to his side. The two of them looked down the mountain to where a road led into a forest of concrete buildings.
"If I didn't know better," Carlos continued, "I'd say we were on Earth."
"Maybe we are," Ashley responded. "Canard said that hyperspace is between universes. Maybe it's just not OUR Earth." The two of them thought about that for a moment, then turned to head back to the ship and report their findings.
They never made it.
Instead, Carlos found himself looking down the barrel of a strange-looking weapon, which partially resembled a bazooka. It was held by what appeared to be a female of Canard's race, with red hair and an annoyed expression. Beside her stood a white-feathered duck wearing thick white armor and a golden mask. He was pointing a fist at Ashley, and Carlos would bet a great deal of money that the gauntlets he wore held some type of wrist cannon. Exchanging glances, Carlos and Ashley did the only thing they could do- raised their hands in the surrender position.
Their captors marched them back to the ship, where four more ducks were rounding up the rest of the Rangers. Cassie, who had been giving their captors strange looks, suddenly snapped her fingers. "I know you guys!" she declared suddenly. "You're Wildwing, right?" she asked, pointing to the gold-masked duck.
Wildwing's expression became even more suspicious, if possible. "How do you know that?" he asked, his weapon swinging slightly to point towards Cassie.
"Honestly, Wing, don't you have any manners at all?" a voice said behind them. Everyone turned to see Canard leaning nonchalantly against the Megaship's wall. The former team leader was startled when all six ducks aimed their weapons at him. "Not exactly the reception I expected," Canard remarked, raising his hands.
Wildwing raised his hands to the sides of his mask, pressing down on the temples. The eyes glowed red, and he gave Canard a long look with the Mask. "He's real," Wildwing whispered. "Canard!" Lunging forward, Wildwing caught his oldest friend in a tight hug. "I thought we'd never find you."
Andros and Zhane shot each other grins, as the rest of the ducks holstered their weapons- rather reluctantly on Mallory's part, Cassie thought.
"So Canard," Nosedive chuckled, when Wildwing finally let the other duck go. "You gonna introduce us to your friends, or what?"
"Sorry, guys, where are my manners? These are the Power Rangers, a team of heroes from another dimension. They picked me up in Dimensional Limbo when the worm ran into their ship."
Duke cocked his head. "Not that we're not real glad to see you again, Canard, but how in the world did you get to THIS universe? You didn't even know where we were headed."
Canard and Andros traded grim looks. "It's a long story," Canard replied. "Why don't we go in the Megaship and I'll tell you all about it."
Nosedive whistled as the Ducks followed their hosts into the Megaship. "Looks like the Raptor, but with a better color scheme," was his opinion.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Andros grinned. The group headed for the turbolift. "Sorry- it's going to be a little cramped."
"Don't worry about it," Wildwing assured him. "We've got the same problem with the elevator at the Pond."
As the group moved into the lift, the computer's voice suddenly rang out. "Alert, six unknown heat patterns detected. I repeat, intruders in ship."
"It's okay, DECA," Ashley called. "They're friends."
Canard suddenly spoke up. "DECA, save patterns to file 'Puckworld Strike Team.'"
"Affirmative, Canard," the computer blinked. "Ducks are requested to state names for voiceprint and identification."
"Duke l'Orange." Some of the Rangers grinned at Duke's accent, which sounded like he came from Brooklyn. They said nothing, however.
"Thank you. New patterns are given level two security clearance, equal to Canard. Is this acceptable?"
"Yes, DECA, thank you," Andros replied.
Wildwing raised an eyebrow at his friend. "Level two? Been on this ship a while?"
"Only a few days, actually. Time is different in hyperspace. Which reminds me- how long has it been for you? You seem to have become quite comfortable with each other."
"It's been almost a year, Canard," Wildwing replied. "And boy, do I have some stories to tell you."
"I believe it." Further conversation was cut off as the turbolift arrived at its destination. Andros led the group into the holding bay, where a table was set up for discussions.
"Canard?" the Red Ranger inquired. "You want to tell them what happened?"
Canard sighed. "Well, I've got some bad news. Dragaunus has opened a gateway to Dimensional Limbo, and in exactly twelve hours, the Saurian Overlords are going to come through and stomp this planet flat."
The other ducks groaned. "Not this again!" Dive complained. "You'd think after what Wing did to his Gateway Generator the last time, he'd know better."
"I guess he's rebuilt it," Wildwing sighed. "So, what do we do?"
"We've got to shut that portal, obviously," was TJ's assessment. "Can we take out the generator again?"
Duke shook his head. "That would mean finding the Raptor, which would take time we don't have. Wildwing only managed to get to the thing last time because he was captured."
Carlos frowned. "Then we've got to find some way of closing the portal itself. Some sort of spatial implosion?"
"Tanya, can you do it?" Wildwing asked.
"Well, I think so," the blonde replied in a somewhat stuffed-up tone. "With the technology on this ship, certainly- can your computer link to Drake 1?"
"I can link to any computer connected to a phone line," DECA replied, her tone somewhat affronted.
Mallory giggled. "Bet you're glad Drake 1 can't talk back, huh, Tanya?"
"Okay," Cassie broke in. "We know how to close the portal, but you can bet the Saurians aren't going to make it easy on us. They'll probably send an advance force through to secure the area. We're going to have to stop them. What do you think we'll be up against?"
"Land and air fighters," Canard replied. "They'll almost certainly hit us from two directions."
"Then we must adapt to the changes we face," was Grin's contribution.
Ashley nodded. "Right. We have to hit them in the air and on the ground. We can pilot our Galaxy Gliders, which gives six of us in the air."
"There'll probably be more in the air than the ground, at least at first," Wildwing remarked. "Duke, Mallory, Canard, you can take the Duck Gliders and help out. Grin and I will give ground support."
"And we'll need someone mobile, so I'll take one of the Duckcycles," Dive offered. Seeing his brother start to protest, the teenager held up a hand. "Come on, Wing, you know we'll need someone who moves fast to handle any strays. And I've got the most experience on a Duckcycle. You know I'm the best one for the job."
Wildwing sighed. "Yeah, but I don't have to like it."
"I'll take another one," Karone suddenly put in, the first thing she had spoken since the meeting began. "With Tanya in the lab, you'll need all the help you can get."
Andros shot to his feet. "Absolutely not! You don't have any powers- you can't risk yourself like that!"
"The Puckworlders don't have powers either," Karone shot back. "I am not going to sit by and watch another planet attacked by the forces of evil, not if I can do something to prevent it. Andros, I have to do this!"
"No! You're not going!"
Karone's tone was flat. "I AM going. Whether you like it or not."
Andros opened his mouth to say something else, then turned on his heel and walked out. Zhane got to his feet to follow him, only to be stopped by Wildwing.
"Let me talk to him," the Puckworlder said. "I have a feeling I know what he's going through." He threw his brother a small smile, which Dive returned. Then Wildwing followed Andros out of the room.
When Andros heard the footsteps behind him, his first thought was that Zhane had followed him out of the conference room. Whirling, he prepared to give his friend a piece of his mind, only to find that it was not Zhane standing there, but Wildwing. The Puckworlder was watching him closely, leaning against a bulkhead in a relaxed manner. Surprised, Andros crossed his arms defensively.
"What do you want?" he asked shortly.
Wildwing smiled. "She means a lot to you, doesn't she? Karone- she's your sister, right?"
"That's right," Andros replied. "Why?"
"I don't know anything about you, but from the way you behave I can make a few guesses. She's all you have left in the world, right?"
"Her and Zhane," Andros agreed. "How-" Wildwing cut off his question.
"I'll explain in a minute. I'll bet you lost her, too. And you're the big brother, the protector, right? You always have to be in charge."
Andros cocked his head, regarding the other man. "Did Canard tell you all this?"
"Some," Wildwing responded. "That you lost her when she was very young, and just got her back again. Most of it, though, I can just tell, because I've been there myself. When Dragaunus attacked, Dive and I got separated. He's my only family- our parents died long ago, and we've been shunted from one place to another all our lives. Without Dive, I almost couldn't go on. Now that he's back, I have trouble ever letting him out of my sight, even here, on Earth. It kills me every time I have to send him off with one of the others, when I can't keep an eye on him myself. I tend to think of him as my little brother to the exclusion of all else, and I nearly missed the fact that he's all grown up now. Duke's the one who finally had to explain it to me when I got a little too overprotective.
"I know it's scary to let her go, Andros. You can remember too well what it's like to be without her, and you never want to go back to that again. But you can't wrap her up like a porcelain doll. She's a grown woman, and she has to make her own decisions. And the hardest thing you can do is let her go."
For a long moment, Andros said nothing, simply pondering Wildwing's words. Then he sighed. "You're right, I guess. That doesn't make it any easier."
"Hey, we're the heroes," Wildwing grinned. "Nothing's ever easy."
Canard looked up as the door to the observation deck slid open. Usually the only one who came up here was Andros, and he knew that the Kerovan wouldn't be interrupting him. So many things had been dropped on Canard suddenly, and he needed time to sort them out, a feeling the leader of the Rangers understood quite well.
It wasn't Andros at the door, but Wildwing. Canard acknowledged his old friend with a nod, as the other duck crossed to the windows.
"Nice view," Wildwing observed. "Sometimes I forget just how beautiful Earth can be, when there's not a giant lizard trying to blow it up."
Canard laughed. "Reminds me a little of some places on Puckworld- more to the south, you know?"
"Yeah, I know." Sinking onto the lounger beside Canard, Wildwing stared out at the skyline as a comfortable silence descended between the two men. Despite the length of time that had passed, at least on Wildwing's part, things still seemed to click into place between them.
For a long moment, Canard just studied his younger friend, absorbing the changes that had occurred. Wildwing seemed far more confident now- apparently, Canard had made the right choice in passing the Mask on to him. Despite the "all-business" attitude Wildwing was projecting, Canard could tell that the younger duck had opened up to the members of his team more than he had ever done in the time Canard had known him. Leadership had been good for Wildwing.
As if in synch with Canard's thoughts, Wildwing suddenly reached up and gently removed the Mask of Ducaine from his face. "Canard, now that you're back- I want you to have this. You're the real team captain here- you always have been."
"No, Wildwing," Canard answered, pushing the Mask away gently. "YOU always have been. You're more suited for the post than I ever was. All you needed was the right push- and a little experience. Back on Puckworld, I was only in charge because I was the one in the military. You're a far better leader than I ever could be."
"That's not true, Canard," Wildwing protested.
"Yes, it is. Look at your team. You've got no real rank on them- no military structure behind you, forcing them to obey your orders. But they do. And they do it without question. They respect you, as both a commander and a person. And more than that- they LIKE you. I'd known Duke for a while before we pulled this raid- I've never seen him let anyone get close. But he treats you like- like I don't even know what. Brother and student and leader all rolled into one. Wildwing, you've got more than a team, you've got a family. I could never have pulled this bunch together like that. As far as I'm concerned, Wing, YOU are the leader of this team, and you always will be."
For a long moment, Wildwing said nothing, just looking at his friend. Canard simply folded his arms over his chest and stared back at his friend, challenging him to continue the argument. Finally, Wildwing smiled.
"All right, Canard." He replaced the Mask on his face. "And- thanks."
Mounted on his Duckcycle, Nosedive shot a look at the woman next to him. "You ready for this, girlie-girl?" he asked, grinning. Karone chuckled.
"More than ready," she responded. Mallory had loaned her a puck bazooka for the upcoming battle, and Karone had taken to the weapon quite well.
"You keep an eye on my sister," Red Ranger instructed, from where his Galaxy Glider hovered. "Otherwise, Zhane and I will be forced to hurt you."
Dive saluted jauntily. "Roger Wilco," he responded. The members of the strike team were gathered in front of the slowly opening portal, ready for the first wave to emerge. The six Rangers hovered in midair, while Canard, Duke, and Mallory waited on the ground, ready to take off in their Duck Gliders the minute the fighting began. Behind them, Wildwing and Grin stood ready to handle the ground troops, while Dive and Karone would use their Duckcycles to deal with anything that got past the others.
A low rumbling echoed from inside the portal. "Everybody ready!" Canard called. "Because here they come!"
As if Canard had given them a signal, drone ships rocketed out of the portal, filling the air. "Let's go, Ducks!" Wildwing called. The three Duck Gliders rocketed into the air, as all nine of the airborne fighters opened fire.
Meanwhile, a troop of hunter drones began marching out of the portal, directly in the path of the ground-bound ducks. Wildwing, Dive, and Karone opened fire with their puck blasters, while Grin stuck with his usual- er, hands-on approach. Soon the air was filled with the sounds of laser fire and rending metal.
Unfortunately, a troop of the ground drones exited the portal and decided not to engage the defense force. Instead, they transformed into vehicular modes and began heading for downtown Anaheim.
"We gotta go after 'em!" Nosedive cried. Wildwing spared him a quick nod.
"Go! We'll handle things here."
Red Ranger shot his best friend a glance. "Zhane! Give them a hand- they'll need reinforcements!"
"You got it, Andros," Silver Ranger replied. "Silver Cycle!" His Galaxy Glider transformed into a motorcycle, and in a matter of seconds, Dive, Karone, and Silver Ranger were hot on the trail of the escaping drones.
Meanwhile, the ten fighters on the mountain crossed their fingers, hoping they would not be overwhelmed.
Over the past year or so, the citizens of Anaheim had adapted to their city being a battleground, much as the people of Angel Grove had done. So when Silver Ranger, Karone, and Nosedive roared into town, hot on the heels of the hunter drones, the streets were already clear of fleeing people. A few policemen were taking useless shots at the approaching mechs, but most were hunkered down behind their squad cars, waiting for the Mighty Ducks to handle things.
"YEEHAW!" Both guns blazing, Nosedive plowed into a horde of drones, scattering them in all directions. As the robots moved to encircle him, he pulled the motorcycle up and spun it on its rear tire, spraying pucks in all directions.
Not far away, Silver Ranger was covering the young duck's back, alternating shots from his Cycle's weapons with more powerful blasts from his Silverizer. The two warriors were cutting a major swathe through the mechanical soldiers.
Meanwhile, Karone was staying at the fringes of the conflict, picking off drones with pinpoint accuracy. ~ Andros would have a heart attack if he could see these two right now,~ she mused. ~ Look up 'daredevil' in the dictionary, and their pictures would be front and center.~ Although Andros trusted Zhane to be able to handle himself, the Silver Ranger's recklessness in battle was a consistent source of ulcers for his friend.
Suddenly a noise from behind alerted the young woman, and she threw herself from her Duckcycle just before the vehicle burst into flames. "Hey!" Karone protested. "I LIKED that thing!" Throwing herself behind a parked car, she continued to take shots at the drones.
Slowly, the number of hunter drones thronging the streets lessened, until the trio of warriors found themselves with no more targets. "Is that it?" Nosedive asked, more apprehension than disappointment in his voice. After a year of battling Dragaunus, he had come to expect a sort of rhythm to their battles, and simply petering out just didn't fit. "I'm gonna make the mistake of quoting Duke here- did anyone else find that just a little TOO easy?"
A loud rumble shook the ground, and the three of them looked up to see a Hunter drone roughly two stories tall shambling down the street towards them. Silver Ranger gulped.
"You had to ask, didn't you?"
"Ooof!" Red Ranger hit the ground, barely managing to roll with the impact. He'd had his Galaxy Glider literally shot out from under him, and had crashed into the middle of the battle. He quickly leaped to his feet, as Wildwing and Grin shielded him from the attacks of the ground drones.
"This is NOT going well!" he growled.
"Tell me something I DON'T know!" Wing shot back.
Meanwhile, the seven fliers still in the air had their hands full as well. Canard was locked into a dogfight with two flying drones. Finally, he pulled into a dive, causing the drones to swoop after him and crash into each other. Unfortunately, one managed a final blast, which caught Canard's wing, sending his Duck Glider hurtling towards the ground.
"Canard!" Pink Ranger yelled, swooping after him. Catching up with the falling duck, she managed to snag him only inches from the ground. Unfortunately, her Glider then caught the rough terrain, sending them both pitching forward. Canard quickly shed his now useless Glider, and the two of them jumped into the fight.
"I think we're turning the tide!" Red Ranger yelled. Suddenly there was a green flash, and four large lizards appeared.
"You just HAD to say it, didn't you?" Canard sighed.
"Anybody got any ideas?" Silver Ranger asked, looking up at the monstrous robot approaching them.
Karone shrugged. "I suppose calling the Zords is out?"
"I say we clear the area!" Dive replied. He patted the seat behind him. "Karone! Hop on!"
"Don't have to tell me twice!" The Kerovan girl leaped onto the motorcycle, and the trio quickly took off down the street, staying out of the range of the drone's weapons.
Skidding to a stop much farther down the street, the heroes took their momentary reprieve to have a brief conference. "That thing's gotta have armor plating a foot thick!" cried Nosedive. "Our puck blasters won't do more than tickle it!"
"Well, if we don't bring this thing down fast, it's going to do a Godzilla all over the city," Silver Ranger shot back. Karone tilted her head.
"Bring it down, hmmm? Wait here- I have an idea." Leaping off the Duckcycle, she dashed into a nearby hardware store.
Dive blinked. "Do you have ANY idea what she's doing?"
"Not a clue. But trust me, it's going to be a doozy." Just then, Karone dashed out of the store, a coil of something held in her hand. Reaching the two men, she grinned.
"Either of you ever seen "The Empire Strikes Back?" she asked sweetly. Understanding began to hit as Karone quickly outlined her plan.
The coil of heavy metal cable was quickly strung between the two motorcycles, then Dive and Silver Ranger roared down the street, heading for the hunter drone. From her relatively save position, (behind yet another car,) Karone watched apprehensively. This stunt was going to take split-second timing, and she gave thanks that the two guys trying it were compulsive daredevils. No one else would probably have the skill to pull it off.
Moving quickly, the two motorcycles quickly looped around the hunter drone's legs. Once the ankles were securely bound, the two men released the cable ends and began roaring down the street, as the drone pitched forward. It crashed into the pavement with a force that shattered most of the roadway and all of the drone's circuitry. The huge metal carcass fizzled twice, then fell silent.
"Well, I'd say that was a job well done," Dive chuckled.
"WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY STREET?" a voice blared. Karone thought he sounded something like one of the cops from those shows Elgar liked so much. Detective Scipi- something. Turning, she was surprised to see that the speaker was a short redheaded man in a rumpled trenchcoat.
"Just saving the world, Klegghorn," Nosedive replied coolly. Obviously, he had dealt with the man before.
"That's CAPTAIN Klegghorn to you, duck. And the next time, could you POSSIBLY save the world with less property damage?" The policeman stalked off in the direction of the nearest donut shop, muttering imprecations and slurs on the race of ducks, all under his breath.
"He shouts a lot, doesn't he?" Silver Ranger observed.
Dive shrugged. "You get used to it."
An explosion from the hills reminded the trio that their work was far from over. Karone quickly remounted Nosedive's bike, and the two motorcycles sped back towards the battle site.
In the hills, the battle was still raging. While the fliers took care of the drones still streaming from the portal, the groundbound fighters found themselves embroiled in combat with the four Saurians who had teleported in.
For thousands of years, magic had been nothing but a myth on Puckworld. So when the invasion began, Wraith, the tall, cadaverous Saurian sorcerer, had found himself with a distinct advantage. Even after a year of facing off with him, the Ducks were still unused to the fireballs he liked to throw. A year of practice couldn't completely make up for a lifetime of inexperience.
Red Ranger, meanwhile, was from a world where magic was plentiful, and throwing fire was the first spell any evil sorcerer mastered. As a Ranger, he'd fought more than his share, and been trained to deal with any type of magic. Batting the fireballs back to their caster, he was more than holding his own.
In short, Wraith was getting his butt kicked.
Meanwhile, Pink Ranger found herself facing off with the shape-shifting Chameleon, and not enjoying the experience at all. Every time she moved in for a damaging strike, the short green lizard turned into a hugely muscled behemoth, and drove her into the ground. To make matters worse, he was doing some of the worst impressions that she'd ever heard.
"Forget escalating a battle," she growled. Drawing the Astro Blaster from the holster at her waist, she opened fire on the annoying reptile.
In yet another part of the field, Siege and Grin were slugging it out. The orange Saurian had a major grudge against the burly duck, who was the only member of the Duck team to be able to go toe to toe with him on a consistent basis. Once again, Grin was dealing out punishment to his Saurian foe. Nothing new there.
And finally, in the center of the field, a new spin was being put on a very old vendetta, as Wildwing and Canard faced off against the author of ninety percent of their troubles, the warlord Dragaunus, last of the Saurian Overlords, and current laughing-stock of the supervillain population. Dragaunus was using both his wrist blaster and his incredible strength to try and keep the two ducks at bay. As you might expect, this was rather like trying to hold water in a sieve. Wildwing and Canard were far too angry at Dragaunus to be stopped, and now that they were together, they were a near-perfect team. The large red dragon dodged a punch from Canard, only to take a kick in the ribs from Wildwing. Attempting to take Wildwing's head off with a laser beam, Dragaunus nearly lost an arm to Canard, who was implementing one of the techniques TJ had recently taught him. The Saurian overlord was getting his tail handed to him, and he knew it.
"You may defeat me," he hissed, pulling away from his opponents slightly, "but you have already lost! Behold! The flagships of the Saurian Empire!"
Wildwing and Canard looked up to see that the portal was dilated to an incredible amount, and the first of the ships was beginning to make its way through. In unison, the two best friends breathed, "Oh, ~ shit.~ "
"I'VE GOT IT!" Tanya's voice suddenly rang from every communicator on the battlefield, except for those belonging to the Saurians, of course. "Carlos, coming at you!"
A strange device suddenly materialized in Black Ranger's hands. Punching a few buttons, he nodded curtly as the device beeped to life. "Cover me!" he called.
"On it!" Duke sent back. The ex-thief quickly began clearing a path to the portal, while Mallory and Yellow Ranger kept the drones off Black Ranger's back. The young Ranger then swooped closer to the portal, made a last-minute adjustment, then tossed the device into the vortex. Then he made air tracks.
A brilliant light flared, and a loud sucking sound was heard, like someone trying to inhale an entire milkshake at once. When the light cleared, the portal was gone.
"NOOO!" Dragaunus yelled. "Siege! Chameleon! Wraith! Back to the Raptor!" He favored the Ducks with a murderous glare. "This is not yet over, you meddling mallards," he warned. Then, in a flash of green, the Saurians were gone.
The sound of motorcycles announced the return of Silver Ranger, Nosedive, and Karone. Wildwing raised an eyebrow upon seeing that the trio was one Duckcycle short, but said nothing.
"Looks like you missed the excitement, baby bro," the leader of the Ducks observed, his body losing its tension. Blue Ranger muffled a snicker. Wildwing was completely transparent; he didn't relax when the battle ended, he relaxed when he knew his brother was safe. It was obvious by the grin on Nosedive's face that he knew it, too.
"Trust me, Wing," Dive replied dryly. "We had PLENTY of our own."
Stepping forward, Canard suddenly placed a hand on Nosedive's forearm. "Can we talk for a second, kid? In private? I think I have some apologizing to do."
Struck dumb at the thought of Canard apologizing for anything, Dive allowed the older duck to lead him away from the group. Red Ranger looked around at the shattered drone parts, which were already being teleported into deep space by DECA's systems.
"Well that was fun, but what are we going to do now?"
Wildwing gave him a smile. "Well... how do you and your team feel about hockey?"
"All RIGHT!" Cassie pumped her fist in the air as Mallory managed to shot yet another puck into the net, making it a grand total of four goals for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. The six Rangers, plus Karone and Canard, had been given box seats for the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and were thoroughly enjoying the game. Commando team from another planet or not, the Ducks could CERTAINLY play hockey. And they had a number of fans- in fact, the arena was packed.
The blare of a buzzer cut through the air, signifying the end of the game, and yet another victory for the Mighty Ducks. The eight spectators waited in the box until some of the crowd cleared out, then headed to the locker room. Once there, Canard was almost immediately pounced on by reporters, being the first Puckworlder OTHER than the team that they had seen. Only the arrival of Wildwing and Duke prevented a feeding frenzy, as the visitors were ushered into the locker room.
"Good game," TJ grinned. "I think this is the first time I've ever enjoyed professional hockey."
Nosedive faked a heart attack at TJ's words, then straightened up as Canard punched him in the shoulder. Watching them, Wildwing smiled to himself. After all the time that Canard and Dive had spent at each other's throats, it was good to see them getting along better.
"So, you guys are getting ready to move out?" Mallory asked, as the commotion quieted down. Andros nodded.
"Yeah. Much as we'd like to stay, we have GOT to get home. There are people waiting for us."
Ashley grimaced. "THAT is an understatement. We are not going to be able to MOVE for reporters."
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Carlos replied easily. "But we do have to go home."
"Not that it hasn't been a blast," Zhane hastened to assure them.
Grin held up a hand. "We understand. Many places are pleasant to visit, but only home is the center of your soul."
"What he said," Dive responded. Despite the teenager's grin, something lonely flashed in his eyes for a moment, and the Rangers realized just how homesick the Ducks must really be.
"Oh!" Karone suddenly straightened. "What about Dragaunus? What's to keep him from trying this trick again?"
Duke laughed. "Are you kidding? With the amount of power he expended today, he'll be lucky if he can run anything more than the Raptor's cloaking device for a month!"
Wildwing nodded. "It's back to cat and mouse, but this time, we've got an advantage."
"AND an extra forward," Dive chuckled. "So, Canard, you wanna take my position in the next game?"
"Maybe next time, Junior. I've got a LOT to catch up on... and a lot of practicing to do."
Ashley sighed. "Well, then, I guess this is goodbye."
Just then, the door to the locker room slid open, and an overweight man with brown hair and a bad suit strode in. "Boobies! Great game! I-" His gaze caught on Cassie, and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Wow! Babe, you ever thought about modeling? Because I know some magazines that would just be dying to get shots of you!"
"Ignore him, Cassie," Mallory instructed. "We usually do."
Tanya put a hand on the man's shoulder. "Meet our manager, Phil Palmfeather. Phil, Cassie was just leaving, right?"
The pink-clad girl nodded, grateful for the escape. "RIGHT. Come on, Andros, let's get back to the ship." The seven humans then dissolved into streams of light, leaving a very astonished Phil to stare after them.
Back on the ship, systems checks were quickly made, and the Astro Megaship rose into the air. "Coordinates ready for hyperjump, Andros," DECA intoned.
"Thanks, DECA." Andros favored his friends with a smile. "Come on, guys. Let's go home."
"Right," Carlos grinned. "Second star to the right, and straight on until morning." And as the Black Ranger was being pummelled by his Earth-based teammates, the Astro Megaship translated into hyperspace and was gone, resuming its journey home.