Note: This story takes place after "No Business Like Snow Business,"
The Darkness enveloped him, stretching out far beyond his field of vision. The only sound Billy Cranston could detect within his surroundings was a steady ticking emanating from somewhere behind him. To his chagrin, not even his suit monitors could penetrate the endless sea of black. _What am I doing here,_ he thought, searching his addled brain for an explanation.
A low growling noise broke his confusion. "I don't want to meet the owner of that," he whispered as he stumbled forward, hoping it was away from the angry creature he had just heard. Sweat poured down his body, and his knees felt as though they could give way at any moment. The sounds of his pursuer had become louder, and Billy panicked, breaking into a run. Almost at once, he found a wall blocking his path. Summoning his faithful Lance, he turned to face the beast, trying not to shake.
Billy saw a flash of silver, and then screamed as he was struck in the chest. Gasping in pain, he stared down in horror at the object embedded in his ribcage. The arrow was a distinctly familiar shade of pink. Shocked to the core, he lost his grip on his weapon. Sinking to his knees, he blinked in an effort to remain conscious. Light footsteps assaulted his hearing, coming rapidly near. The Blue Ranger hoped that it was one of his teammates approaching, he had no energy left to fight.
"So there you are," a soft feminine voice said.
"Kat! I'm glad to see you. I need help."
The Pink Ranger removed her helmet and sneered down at him. "Why should I help you? You're not even one of us anymore, remember?"
Billy felt his suit dissolve away at her remark. It was becoming hard for him to breathe. He felt his heart break as he stared into her hard features. She had become just like the others, cold and uncaring. "Not you too, Kat," he cried. "Why do you hate me? I did nothing to you."
His former teammate laughed at his plea. "That's where you're wrong coward! Soon you'll be nothing more than a memory, and a bad one at that!" Katherine drew her BladeBlaster. She laughed as he attempted to shield his face with his hands. "Good-bye Billy," she said coldly, and then pulled the trigger....
Billy laid back again, attempting to calm himself through a meditation technique that Jason had taught to him. After twenty restless minutes, he gave up and struggled to his feet. Grabbing a quick shower, he dressed and left the house. "Perhaps a pre-dawn run will help me out of this depression," he mused. He wished that he could call Kimberly, as he would have ordinarily, but she was in Florida training for the Pan-Global Games.
He found himself standing in the hills near his house, though he did not recall the trip which had brought him to this location. He considered talking to Zordon, but somehow, the thought of going to the Power Chamber unnerved him. The sun began to cast it's first golden rays on the field around him, a sight that usually brought him an unparalleled joy. On this morning however, he felt nothing but emptiness and despair.
"Hey pal! What's going on," Tommy asked
"Hmmm....Oh nothing," he responded, a weary look on his face. "I'm sorry if I'm a little distracted. I haven't been sleeping very well over the past few nights."
"Anything I can do to help," the Ranger asked, instantly slipping into his leader mode.
Billy smiled at the offer. "I don't think so. It's something I'm going to have to work out on my own." Clapping his old friend on the shoulder, he attempted to change the subject. "Enough about me, how are you doing man? Planning on doing any lady-killing today?"
Tommy contemplated this strange shift in his friend's behavior. It was unlike Billy to change the subject so abruptly, even when he was upset. He made a mental note to discuss the matter with Zordon as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Realizing that his silence was conspicuous, he attempted to return the focus to the former Blue Ranger.
"Uhhh... no, not really. What about you? Are you planning on making a move on Katherine anytime this century? You told Kim and me how you felt about her months ago." At the last comment, he shot his friend a conspiratorial wink.
Billy flushed a deep crimson. Truthfully, he thought about her much than he felt was proper. Several times, after repeated prodding from Kim, he had attempted to screw up the courage to tell his teammate how he felt. Each time, the second her eyes met his, he would lose his nerve and be forced to excuse himself. She could do so much better than a geek like him. "She's not interested in a guy like me," he sighed. "I'm sure she goes for the more athletic type, like you."
Tommy stared at his friend in concern. He had never seen him so depressed before. "Don't be so sure of that. Hey! Here she comes! Over here Kat," he exclaimed, waving the pretty blonde over, despite Billy's vehement attempt to stop him.
"Hi boys," she said in her bright, cheery accent. "Tommy, would you mind if I talk to Billy for a moment?"
Tommy beamed at her. He had a good feeling about this 'talk'. "Ummm..sure. I'll talk to you later pal," he responded, patting his friend's shoulder as he left. Once out of the duo's line of sight, he focused his attention back upon them. He hoped desperately that Billy would make the most of this opportunity, it could be his last.
"So what did you want to talk to me about," Billy asked, unable to keep the weary tone from his voice.
For the first time, Kat noticed the troubled look upon the young man's face. It was so unlike his usual calm demeanor. "Forget that for right now. What's wrong," she asked, concerned.
Billy stared into her freckled face. _I could fall into those eyes and drown if I'm not careful_, he mused. Those same eyes now looked at him in anxiety. Was there something else there as well? "It's nothing," he finally stated, more than a little unsettled by that penetrating sea of blue.
"That's not true Billy, and I think we both know it." The Pink Ranger's voice became softer, taking on a tone he had never heard before. "Please... Talk to me. I... I care about you. I don't like seeing you hurt this way."
Billy started to protest, but once more, the unexplained look in her eyes stopped him. _What is going on in her head?_ He dismissed it as a product of a tired imagination. Drawing a deep breath, he decided to confide his feelings to her. "You win... I'll talk. This is too public though. Would you mind if we went somewhere more private?"
The Green Ranger frowned. He hadn't been the only one to notice after all. "Actually, yes. He doesn't want to talk about it though. He denied having a problem when I asked him about it. What do you think we should do?"
Tommy shrugged his shoulders. "There isn't a whole lot we can do if he doesn't feel like talking. Maybe we should go ask Zordon, see what he thinks."
Adam agreed, and they left the Juice Bar in search of a place to teleport.
Billy's reply was hushed. "A special place. See that clearing over there?"
Katherine looked in the direction he had pointed and gasped. Somehow, in the midst of the gigantic redwoods, a single willow stood. A small clearing surrounded it, and it was as though the massive trees conspired to hide it's existence. "Billy, this is beautiful! How did you find it?"
He smiled weakly. "Remember Kim's stories of how we grew up together? Well... one day, when we were playing in this forest, we stumbled across it. There was no sign of litter, or even footprints. It was as though this clearing had been set aside for us. Ever since, when one of us had a problem or a secret, this was where we came to talk." Billy trailed off as he sat down underneath the cascade of leaves. He wiped his eyes, sniffling as he thought of his old friend.
Understanding bloomed on Kat's face. "That's what this is about, isn't it? You feel like you're alone.... Oh Billy, you know that's not true!"
"You're wrong Kat. I am alone." As he continued, his voice filled with anguish. "I'm not a Power Ranger anymore! The thing that I was best at, and it's gone! I'm worthless now, all I can do is sit in the Power Chamber and watch the rest of you in envy!"
"Billy! Please, calm down!" The despondent tone in his voice shook Katherine to the very core of her being.
Billy realized he had been yelling. Mortified, he stared at the ground. "I'm sorry.... I didn't mean to yell at you. It's just that, I've graduated, my oldest friends are gone, and the Blue Ranger powers will never be mine again. You never saw what I was like before the power. I was... hopeless." Katherine took his hand in her own, squeezing as she nodded for him to continue. "I didn't know a thing about martial arts. And girls? I couldn't even speak to them. Well, all but Kim and Trini. I... I'm afraid of becoming that person again."
Billy shuddered, fighting to control his emotions. Kat felt as though her heart was being wrenched from her chest. Slowly... gently, she wrapped her arms around him. He tensed at first, but soon his tears began to flow as he released all the pent up hurt and frustration. She patted his back and rocked him as he attempted to bring his sobs under control. Finally, he pulled away, embarrassed at his display.
The Pink Ranger swallowed the knot rising in her throat. It was now or never. Staring into his eyes, she fought down the urge to run away. Slowly, she drew closer... closer. When he showed no sign of resistance, she closed her eyes and brought her lips against his. A feeling of complete joy blossomed within her as their breath mingled. For that instant, time ceased to have meaning.
Suddenly she pulled away, as quickly as she could. Her cheeks burned red. "I'm sorry. I had no right. You pour your heart out to me and I try to take advantage of it...." She trailed off, tears welling in her eyes.
Billy stared at her in shock. "You mean... all this time, you were love with me?"
Kat nodded, unable to look at him.
"Kat, I... I love you too."
"Really?" Her voice was a barely audible squeak.
He nodded. "From the moment I first laid eyes on you." Shyly, he touched her shoulder. "I must admit to some confusion though. I thought that you and Tommy...?"
"Are friends," she interrupted. "When Kim... ended things with him, I mistook feelings of loneliness for something else. It's you that I want."
A smile crossed Billy's lips. "Prove it."
With a grin, Kat leaned forward and took him into her arms once more.
"It is good that you brought this to my attention Rangers." Zordon's voice boomed through the room. "I too have become concerned with the change in Billy's behavior."
"I should have noticed this weeks ago. But with everything that's happened with... Kim, I guess I've been too wrapped up in myself." Tommy shuddered at the mention of her name. The pain of losing his long-time girlfriend still cut him like a knife.
Adam shook his head. "You weren't the only one to be distracted. Face it.... We've all taken him for granted."
"Indeed," Zordon added. "Alpha, Locate Billy on the viewing system."
The robot rushed to comply. Moments later, the former Ranger appeared on the screen. He and Kat were locked in a lover's embrace. Adam's face split in a wide grin as he clapped Alpha on the shoulder. "Now that is the best sight I've seen all day!" he exclaimed.
"KLANK! Get in here at once," he screamed.
"Yes, yuir Majesty," the robot asked, in his peculiar Scottish accent.
"Do we have a Robot with the capability to control human emotion?"
The Royal servant appeared puzzled. "Errrr... No Sire. We have nae had need for one before."
The Machine King felt his oil pressure rising. "We do now! I need to put a spell on that non-Ranger Billy, harnessing his frustration into hatred of the Power Brats!"
"Yes Sire! I'll get to work on it right away!" Klank bowed and shuffled out of the throne room as fast as his feet would carry him.
Mondo turned his gaze toward Angel Grove once more. _Soon,_ he thought. _Soon the Power Rangers shall be wiped out once and for all!_
"Hey guys! What's going on," Rocky asked.
Tommy and Adam exchanged smiles. "It would appear that a certain friend of ours finally got up the nerve to ask another friend a very important question," Tommy answered mysteriously.
Tanya squealed. "NO WAY! Billy actually asked her?"
"Yep. We caught them in mid-kiss," Adam grinned.
Rocky pumped his fist in excitement. "It's about time Casanova popped the question!" A ridiculous expression crossed the youth's face. "But was it really a Kiss-Kiss, Adam?"
"Let me put it this way. If kisses could kill, that one would have leveled several small cities."
The Ranger's table erupted in laughter. When he was finally able to regain his breath, Tommy glanced at his watch. "You ready for our workout, Rocko?"
The brash teen answered with his usual enthusiasm. "You bet, man! Heck, we've got this team competition in the bag!"
Adam was puzzled. "Team competition?"
"Yeah. Full contact, open invitation. It's being held at the end of the month, over the weekend," Rocky replied. "Me and Tommy plan on taking home the gold. You gonna enter?"
"I don't know. I don't exactly have a partner right now."
Rocky shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sure you'll find someone, even though you don't stand a chance at beating us."
Adam watched his friends walk over to the practice mat. He wasn't sure whether or not Rocky was kidding, even though he had smiled when he made that last statement.
"Kinda makes ya sick, doesn't it?"
The Green Ranger whirled around toward the source of the voice, half expecting another of Sprocket's haywire toys. To his surprise, it was Bulk!
"Mind if I join you," the older teen asked.
Too shocked to reply, Adam merely nodded. "What do you mean?"
Bulk chuckled. "C'mon Adam! I heard that conversation between you and Rocky."
"Well.... I guess so, a little," the Ranger replied sheepishly.
"Now I know for a fact that you are a match for either one of those two. I also understand that you need a partner."
Adam felt queasy over where this discussion was headed. Did Bulk actually want to be his partner?
As though reading his mind, the Junior Police Officer shook his head. "No way! Believe it or not, I actually learned a thing or two from butting heads with Jason all those years. I'm no martial artist."
Adam felt relief permeate his being. Curiosity got the better of him, and he asked the question that had been building since Bulk had joined him. "Who did you have in mind?"
"How 'bout Billy?"
Tanya smelled something fishy. "You seem pretty interested in who Adam chooses, why?"
The big teen turned bright red. "I uh...want to be your coach."
"WHAT?" the Rangers gasped in unison.
"Not so loud! The truth is... If I'm not involved, Lt. Stone is gonna make me run security. Bulk puffed up slightly as he continued. "Besides, I've always liked a challenge. What do you say Adam?"
The quiet youth thought it over. While his past history with the former bully had been rough, he seemed to have turned over a new leaf. And as Skull had so recently proven, there was more to a person than what was on the surface.
"You understand, I have to check with Billy, right?" At Bulk's enthusiastic nod, he broke into a grin. "I'll give it a try if you will. You've got yourself a deal! I'm sparring Billy at 4:30, why don't you join us then?"
Bulk hopped to his feet. For a man of his size, he had incredible agility. "GREAT! You won't regret this! I'll see you then." With that, the Junior Policeman hurried away, anxious to tell the Lieutenant the good news. Adam grinned at the retreating figure, then returned his attention to Tanya.
"I'll bet this will work out great for you two. You could give Mr. Smug a real run for his money," she said.
"Well... maybe. It all depends Hey! What's going on over there?" Adam pointed towards the door, where pandemonium had erupted.
The source of the commotion was Skull. He spied the couple sitting at their table and scrambled toward them. No obstacle would hinder his progress, as he ducked by several passing customers and vaulted the booth in his way. Finally, he skidded to a halt in front of them. "Hey Adam," he gasped, trying to regain his breath. "About the tournament...."
Adam interrupted him before he could finish. "Sorry, but Bulk already asked to be my coach."
"AHHGH!" Skull slapped his forehead and slowly dragged his hand down over his face. "Now I'll be security for sure! Or worse yet... concessions!" The desperate teen shuddered at the thought, before catching sight of Tommy and Rocky, working outnearby. A deranged smile crossed his lips, as an idea worked through his fevered thoughts. Adam and Tanya exchanged smiles as he ambled toward their friends. "Gentlemen, do I have a proposition for you," he began, then moved out of earshot.
"I hope Billy gets back in time to spar," Tanya remarked, turning away from Skull's wild gestures.
Adam looked at his watch. "I'm sure he will. After all, it's only 11:45."
"Well, Kat was supposed to meet me for lunch. Somehow, I get the feeling she won't make it."
"You could say that again! C'mon, I'll eat with you. Lunch should never be taken alone." Adam stood up, inviting her to join him. She accepted, and the two left. On the way out, the passed Skull, who was now on his knees in front of the others, begging for a chance to be their trainer.
"KLANK," he screamed.
The red and silver roboservant rushed into the room, Orbus in tow. "Yes, yuir Excellency?"
"Use the magic at once!"
"But I have nae had the chance to test it. I dinnae think...," Klank stammered.
Steam exploded from Mondo's temples. Orbus immediately teleported away, not wishing to share in Klank's punishment. "KLANK! Get down there before he wakes up, or you shall live out the remainder of your existence in a steel compactor!"
Klank fought off the power surge within his logic circuits. The air of peace emanating from the sleeping Rangers was overwhelmingly powerful to his evil nature. Quickly, he injected Billy with his aggression serum. The youth moaned, but remained still. Sighing in relief, Klank took a quick scan of him. As he had feared, the potion was simply not powerful enough by itself.
"P'rhaps wi' an energy boost," he said, not meaning to speak aloud.
Slapping his head, the robot noticed that Kat had begun to stir. Hurriedly, he gathered his equipment together. Making a final check of his perimeter, he teleported away just as the Pink Ranger struggled to a sitting position. "Whew," he mused. "That was a wee bit close! Now I have to figure out how to activate my formula"
A sideways glance at her watch snapped her back to reality. It was 4 o'clock! Somehow, she had managed to sleep through her lunch date with Tanya. "I wish I didn't have to wake you," she whispered. Gently, she told hold of his shoulders and began to shake.
Billy awoke to a pair of ocean blue eyes staring into his own. "What a sight to wake up to," he smiled.
Kat grinned back. "Flattery will get you nowhere Mister!"
"Then how about this," he asked, taking her into his arms and kissing her.
The Pink Ranger blushed at his aggressive display of affection. "Umm.... That... that will work just fine," she stammered. "We have to get back to the Youth Center though. You are due to spar with Adam in half an hour."
Billy sighed. "I suppose you're right."
As they stood up, Katherine suprised him with a kiss. "Thank you for sharing this place with me Billy."
With that, the two young lovers hurried through the trees, hand-in-hand.
The roboservant cowered before the uncharacteristic display of rage from King Mondo. Not since the early days, when he had been a mere foot soldier in the previous Machine King's armies, had he so feared for his own life. Fortunately, the King's faulty temperature regulator kicked in, and the anger passed. Taking courage from the now calm atmosphere of the Throne Room, he attempted an explanation. "I cannae offer any excuse Sire. However, I do know how to rectify the problem."
Mondo relaxed even further. "Indeed. How do you propose to fix this blunder?"
"Well, yer highness, all I need to do is outfit MegaBuster with a new weapon."
Once more, the regulator died, bringing the King's oil pressure to the boiling point. Sparks ignited around him as his temper erupted. "How in blazes will that help, you BUFFOON!?"
"Sire, Please! This beam will act as a booster to the serum already in his bloodstream. I have already tested it. The weapon shall work."
Mondo appeared thoughtful. "It would appear I mispoke, Klank. Please continue."
Bowing, the robot resumed his explanation. "Thank ye Sire! I have also nearly finished fabrication of the Armour of Command as a failsafe. Wearing it, not only will Billy be a match for the Ranger's Zeo Powers, it shall prevent him from resisting your orders."
Mondo began to cackle in evil delight. "Excellent! Continue with your plan my servant. I wish to strike a soon as possible. I feel an end in sight, and victory within my grasp!"
The rest of her statement was drowned out when Tanya grabbed her in a bearhug. Adam exchanged high-fives with Billy, then traded places with Tanya. Billy chuckled. _They must have been watching in the Power Chamber,_ he thought to himself.
Tanya flashed her winning smile at the guys. "Umm.. Why don't you boys go and change for your workout? I'm going to borrow your girlfriend here and gossip."
Adam elbowed his friend. "I guess that's our cue. Let's go, man."
Billy smiled as he turned to leave, although not before stealing a quick kiss from his lady. Together, he and Adam went to the locker room. Katherine stared after him, a dreamy look in her eyes. Tanya noticed her expression and released an envious sigh. "It must be nice having someone care for you that much."
"What," Kat exclaimed, snapping back to reality. She hadn't realized that her friend had been talking to her. "I mean, yes it is! Sorry Tanya, my mind was..."
"...Somewhere else?" The Yellow Ranger began to giggle at her friend's preoccupation. Kat stared at her feet, then began to laugh as well.
"No Billy. I'm very serious." Adam paused to look up as he laced up his sparring feet. Drawing a deep breath, he continued with his story. "I told him I'd have to ask you though. What do you think?"
The quiet young man didn't answer right away, as he considered the implications. With a sigh, he turned to Adam and nodded. "Let's just hope we don't regret it."
"Hey! It'll work out! Trust me on this." Adam shot a sly grin at his best friend. "So tell me... Have you set a date for the wedding yet?"
Billy laughed. "Not yet. I still need to find a best man."
"Sorry Kat! I couldn't help myself." Rocky put an innocuous on his face, one that the others had become very familiar with. "Seriously, we heard about you and Billy. C'mere," he exclaimed holding out his arms. Kat shook her head in amusement, then fell into his bear hug.
Upon being released, she turned to Tommy, who stood nearby. A bittersweet smile on her lips, she began to apologize. "Tommy, I"
The Red Ranger smiled. "You don't have to say anything. I'm just happy that you two found each other." Grabbing her in a hug. he spoke into her ear softly. "Be good to him. He deserves it... and so do you." Kissing her cheek, he let her go and took a seat with the others.
Adam and Billy had just entered the practice ring, and as the others watched, received some advice from their new coach. As they began to stretch, Rocky turned to his partner. "What do you think, Tom? Can they take us?"
Scratching his chin, Tommy relaxed in his seat. "We'll see, dude."
Adam began to run through a kata, while Billy nearly stood in one corner. When the two began to spar, Tommy found himself suprised by Billy's aggressive display. Adam actually found himself on the ropes several times. Bulk blew his whistle, then motioned his team over. Speaking a few words of encouragement, he then signaled for their sparring partners to enter the ring. They were no match for the fluid teamwork of the two best friends, who made short work of their opposition. Rocky gave off a low whistle of admiration. "We could be in trouble," he admitted.
Billy smiled shyly. "Thanks. I'm glad too."
"Rocky, Tanya, and I are going rock climbing. You guys want to come?"
Billy shook his head. "Can't. I need to call my dad. That project he's running in Arizona has him moving eight different directions at once. Besides, I think we're going to go out to a movie later."
"All right pal, but you're missing out!"
The Machine Skybase....
Mondo saw the opportunity he had been waiting for. With only two Rangers near his target, he could easily initiate the next phase of his plan. "Klank, send in the Cogs to distract Adam and Kat while MegaBuster activates your virus."
"At once Sire!"
Adam joked with his friends as they cut through an alley to save some walking distance. Straight ahead, an all too familiar flash of light signif ied the arrival of the Machine Empire's foot soldiers. Adam and Kat immediately fell back into defensive stances as the Cogs swarmed toward them. "Get back! You don't have any protection against them," Kat yelled at her boyfriend.
Billy nodded. "Be careful." Hopping a nearby fence, he disappeared.
Adam nodded to his teammate. "It's Morphin Time!"
"Zeo Ranger One, Pink!"
"Zeo Ranger Four, Green!"
And then the Cogs were upon them.
"Well, well Billy. It would appear there's no one around to protect you this time. Give up?"
"Not in this lifetime," the former Ranger called back defiantly, as he launched a flurry of kicks at the metal monstrosity. MegaBuster laughed at the ineffectual attack. "That's quite enough, thank you," he laughed, grabbing the youth by the arm.
Billy struggled fruitlessly. The monster's grip was simply too strong. As he watched, a beam projector locked into place on MegaBuster's shoulder. Desperately, he shielded his eyes as the ray washed over him. Billy felt anger... hatred beginning to well up inside him. Frantically, he fought to retain to control, but it was no use. The chemicals coursing through blood activated at full potency. Slowly, he stood erect and faced the MegaBuster. "What are your orders, master?"
"When I attack the others, you shall place this device in the Power Chamber and cut them off from their accursed Zords," MeagaBuster said as he handed over a small device the size of a walkman and then waved a hand over Billy's face. "For now, Forget!" The monster laughed as he teleported away.
Billy blinked. The fight had stopped as quickly as it had started. As he looked around unsteadily, he saw that his friends had powered down and were now running toward him. "Are you OK?" Kat asked breathlessly, a worried look in her eye.
"I'm fine, really," Billy replied.
Their conversation was interrupted by their communicators. Zordon's voice came through Adam's watch. "Rangers, Mondo has unleashed the MegaBuster. Teleport to the Power Chamber at once!"
Power Chamber - Operations and Tactics....
The assembled team stood before their leader. Billy had taken his usual position with Alpha 5, monitoring the Atmospheric Early Warning System. Zordon gazed at his Rangers for a moment, then gathered himself to speak. "I have picked up a disturbance in the Crystal Mountain vicinity. Mondo has sent his arsenal, the MegaBuster, to Earth."
Tommy stepped forward, a serious look crossing his features. "Isn't that where the Zord Complex is located?"
"Yes, Tommy. There is little time. Your Zords are in danger of being destroyed. You must go to them at once."
The Ranger's leader nodded solemnly. "Right Zordon. It's Morphin Time!"
"Zeo Ranger One, Pink!"
"Zeo Ranger Two, Yellow!"
"Zeo Ranger Three, Blue!"
"Zeo Ranger Four, Green!"
"Zeo Ranger Five, Red!"
The Power Rangers teleported out to confront the Machine King's latest creation. Intent on monitoring the battle, Alpha and Zordon did not notice the strange object that had materialized in Billy's hand. Quietly, he moved away from his station and toward the console that housed the interface to the Zeo Crystal. Zordon glanced at the former Blue Ranger, who now stood transfixed before the interface. As the device came into view, the ancient wizard realized its dark purpose. "Billy, NO!"
Zordon's cry was too late. The machine in Billy's hand made contact with the control panel and instantaneously bonded to it. At the same time, an intense golden light surrounded the youth. The unnatural light continued to build in intensity, until finally even Zordon could not see it's center.
The last thing Billy felt was a murderous rage building within him.
The Yellow Ranger glanced down at her status board. The readings confounded her. Somehow, their energy levels had begun to drop, and rapidly. Running a diagnostic merely served to confirm the readings. Very soon, the MegaZord would be utterly defenseless.
"Tanya? What's wrong," Rocky asked.
"We're losing power," she shouted.
Kat turned around in her seat. "How is this possible? It's not like that monster"
"No time! I'm summoning the Zeo Saber," Tommy barked.
Rocky threw up his hands in disgust. "Better hurry! We just lost the Battle Helmets."
With a slice of their mighty sword, the Power Rangers dismembered yet another of the Machine King's champions. Taking a deep breath, Tommy secured the MegaZord from battle mode. That task completed, he swiveled his chair around to face Tanya. Before he had the opportunity to ask her what had happened to their reserves, danger alarms sounded at each control station. Tanya looked up from her readout, this time unable to mask her sense of terror. "Tommy! We have to get out of here! All systems are still showing a drain, power down to 20% of normal!"
"Abandon ship! I'm disengaging the MegaZord!" Tommy waited until the other Rangers had evacuated the cockpit before turning back to his command console. Fingers moved in a blur as he activated the Zord recall system. Satisfied that their ships would at least have enough energy to return to base, he jumped down and joined his friends in the valley below. "Everybody all right," he asked. One by one, the Rangers nodded affirmatively. As they watched, the hangar bay at nearby Crystal Mountain recovered their vehicles.
"Rangers, Can you hear me?" Zordon's voice was barely discernible through their communicators.
"We read you Zordon. I'm picking up an awful lot of interference though," Tommy replied.
"We have a serious problem. The...." A squeal of static cut off the remainder of the Power Chamber's answer.
"Zordon! Alpha! Billy! Can anyone read me?" The Red Ranger felt himself becoming agitated as his attempts to reestablish communication failed. Giving up, he cursed in exasperation.
"Guys, I think we better go back to the Chamber." Kat's voice left her lips as a barely audible whisper.
"I think not, Power Rangers!"
All five heroes whirled around to regard the source of that eerily familiar voice. A behemoth in golden armor strode calmly toward them. It stopped just short of the startled teens and stared at each in turn. It's eyes were cold, inhuman.
"You're not going anywhere! It was I who drained your Zords and blocked those wretched communicators. You are on your own, and soon you won't even have your vaunted powers to protect you," the evil creature sneered.
"I don't know how you managed all that Goldy," Tommy shouted, "but we're gonna send you packing!"
"Oh... really Tommy! Don't you ever grow tired of that same old speech? As for how I disabled your equipment, the answer is simple enough for even you to understand. Behold!" With that, the armored figure reached up to grasp it's helmet. The Rangers tensed, fully prepared to strike at the slightest word from their leader. Laughing defiantly, the stranger removed the helmet. Kat felt her stomach twitch convulsively, and then her legs gave way. She collapsed, sobbing, as the others stood transfixed in mutual terror and confusion.
Billy stood before them.
"The Rangers shall die, Billy will be the cause, and the Earth shall be mine," he mused. "So far, it's turning out to be a pretty good day!"
"That does not matter. I am willing to give to give you the chance to surrender. If not...." he trailed off leaving the threat unspoken.
Katherine rose unsteadily, and took a few tentative steps toward her love. Desperately, she attempted to reason with him. "Billy, Don't do this! You're under a spell!"
For a moment, her pleas seemed to have an impact on him. Billy hesitated, but the Rangers hopes were dashed when his features darkened once more. "Enough talk," he snarled, locking his helmet back into place. "Who will be the first to die?"
Rocky shoulder his way to the forefront. "Maybe he just needs to be knocked around a little to get his senses back," he yelled, just before charging his former teammate. The Blue Ranger leaped through the air, his devastating side kick aimed at Billy's head. Suddenly, a chain shot from his target's wrist, wrapping around Ranger Three and slamming him into the ground. Rocky struggled to free himself. The chain's links were razor sharp. He noted, with a great deal of suprise, that they had begun to penetrate his suit. To add to his torment, Billy was tossing him left and right, battering his body against the cliff walls that isolated the little valley. Desperately, he summoned his arm blades. Gasping in pain as his bonds sliced into his arms, he lunged forward and succeeded in cutting through the chains. Shrugging them off, he gaped as the breach repaired itself, and the whip prepared to strike at him again.
He wanted to pass out. _Some kind of drug... Billy's poisoned me,_ he thought. Wobbling unsteadily, he forced back the waves of nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. Sluggishly, he turned to face the thing that had once been his friend, knowing full well he couldn't withstand another attack from that weapon.
With an anguished cry, Adam turned away, reluctantly following orders.
The Blue Ranger giggled compulsively, unable to feel the grievous wounds that were going to bleed him to death. His eyes would stay open no longer, their lids seeming to weigh tons. Rocky DeSantos welcomed the darkness as it overtook him. With a final gasp of pain, he toppled backwards and remained still.
"You must remain calm, Alpha. All is not lost. Can we access anything other than the viewing system," the Eltarian intoned quietly.
"Ai yai yai! I'm afraid not. Mondo wants us to watch, but that's it! I'm afraid that even if we win... we lose."
Again, the massive gold figure hesitated. Just then, he caught sight of the Yellow Ranger, creeping up behind him. Blind rage welled up within Billy, exploding in an inarticulate scream. Whirling around, he suprised Tanya, who froze in her tracks. Savagely, he lashed out with a front kick, sending her flying into a cliff. A wicked looking blaster slid into place on his shoulder, locking on target....
But the killing blow missed, thanks to a desperate tackle by Adam. The shot went high, impacting instead with the rocks above her. Tanya could only scream as she was buried beneath the rubble.
Adam was suprised when the attack actually began to drive his friend back, even scoring a few hits. Emboldened, he pressed his advantage. Out of nowhere, Billy caught one of his fists and bore down. Adam screamed as his hand was mangled. Mercilessly, Billy followed that with an axe kick that shattered his opponent's collarbone like a twig. Laughing hysterically, he tossed Adam aside and turned to face... the Pink Ranger.
Klank agreed. "True yuir majesty. You wouldna believe how much energy MegaBuster had to expend to subvert him."
"No matter. Only two Rangers left, until victory is ours, once and for all!"
"That's so sweet, Tommy. It's just too bad that Kim isn't around to hear that heroic speech by our oh-so-perfect leader. Oh, that's right, she dropped you like a bad habit, didn't she," Billy cackled.
The Red Ranger was livid. He felt white hot rage batter against his carefully constructed walls of control at the mere mention of HER name. He fought to rein in his temper.
Billy's mocking voice assailed him once more. "Perhaps I should visit her next, just to make sure Zordon doesn't try to recruit someone else after I eliminate you."
That tore it. Outraged beyond reason by that callous remark, Tommy sliced wildly. Billy parried the blow with a laugh, and the battle began in earnest. The two combatants circled one another warily, each seeking to find an opening. Neither fighter seemed able to capitalize on a mistake. For each slash, a counterstroke was made. Soon both teens were bleeding from numerous wounds.
Gasping for air, Ranger Five gauged his opponent. He knew that Billy was stealing his powers away from him. Already, he felt exhaustion begin to take it's toll. An idea popped into his head. _If Mondo thinks like Rita, his enchantment is tied into that sword._ Channeling his spiritual power into his own, he swung the blade into Billy's with all his might. The resulting explosion destroyed both weapons and threw their owners into the ground.
Tommy's wishes died as Billy rose to his feet and charged. Even a few well-placed kicks seemed to have no effect. Likewise, his laser pistol only served to anger him. Finally, Billy grew tired of the game and smashed into the Ranger's face with a thunderous backhand. The force of the blow shattered Tommy's helmet and sent him spiraling into unconsciousness.
Once more, he turned his attention to Katherine. Rising unsteadily, she summoned her Power Disk and braced herself to fight a battle that she could not win.
The golden hulk steadily approached. Kat knew in her head that she should fight, but somehow, she couldn't bring herself to battle that... creature. It was still Billy, someone she loved with all of her heart. Her course of action was clear. The Power Disk fell to her feet, where it was joined by her weapons belt. Taking a deep breath, she unsealed her helmet and discarded it as well. Locking eyes with his, she made it clear that the next move was his.
Moving with a speed that belied his size, the monster that was once known as Billy Cranston closed the distance between them. Wrapping one massive fist around her neck, he lifted her into the air. "You just sealed your fate. Now you shall be the first to DIE!"
The silence spoke volumes to the little robot. For the first time in his centuries-long existence, Zordon did not have an answer.
The Pink Ranger's eyes rolled back into her head, and her body ceased its struggling, as life escaped from Katherine Hillard's body.
"Billy... I love you, forever."
A disembodied form whirled around as the sad voice reached his ears. It was familiar to him, but where? "Billy.... is.... ME! No time! Must... reassume control!"
Billy scrambled over and knelt beside her. She was pale, growing cold, and worse, not breathing. _I did this,_ he thought, frantically tearing off his helmet. Finding a dangerously weak pulse, he immediately began artificial respiration. Katherine did not respond. Billy continued to try, although he knew it was too late. Cradling her still form in his arms, he screamed, every fiber of his being in anguish. Reverently, he laid her down gently and folded her arms in repose over her heart. Tears blinded him as he bent down, kissing her lips one last time.
Kat's sweet breath mingled with his own. Billy realized with a start that she was ALIVE! Slowly, her eyes opened, and as they focused on him, once more in control of his own faculties, she managed a weak smile. Billy began to laugh and cry at the same time. Taking her into his warm embrace, he whispered a silent thanks to the heavens above.
Klank mulled over his response, fearful of what the King was capable of in this state. "Sire, he does still wear the Armour of Command. While we may not hold sway over his mind any longer, we can still control his body!"
Katherine knelt beside him, speaking softly. Due to an incredible ringing in his ears, he could not make out what she was saying. Wincing in pain, he attempted to sit up. The sudden dizziness he felt prompted him to sink back his earlier position.
"Thomas Oliver, you try a stunt like that again and you won't live to see the doctor," Kat scolded.
"Not so loud," he groaned. "What happened?"
"Billy shattered your helmet and you were knocked out," she said softly.
Tommy felt a sense of dread build up inside him as he noticed welts and bruises on his friend's neck. "Where is he? What happened," he demanded, trying to rise again.
Kat placed a restraining hand on his chest. "Easy," she whispered. "He broke the spell. He was going to kill me and he came back!"
Tommy saw his old friend appear from behind a nearby stand of trees. Billy was still clad in the strange golden mail that resembled a samurai. Slowly, the Red Ranger forced himself into a sitting position. Nauseated by the effort, he held onto his hips tightly, fighting the urge to sink back into darkness. From the corner of his narrow field of vision, he saw a flash of gold as Billy ran to his side.
"Ease up man! You'll just start bleeding again," Billy exclaimed.
"Your eye. You had some glass from your visor embed itself in your cornea when...." the young man trailed off, misery and guilt apparent in his voice.
Tommy feebly clasped his comrade's shoulder, ignoring the throbbing in his head. "Listen buddy, I know better than most what it's like to be manipulated. It wasn't your fault. How are the others?"
Billy choked and looked away. Katherine spoke quietly. "Not good. Adam's shoulder and hand were crushed, and he has at least three broken ribs. Tanya managed to deflect the biggest rocks, but she's still bleeding internally. And Rocky... we think he's dying."
Billy rose suddenly. "We have to get them to Zordon if they're going to stand a chance. Our communicators are down, but I have another way." Fiddling with a device on his wrist, he quickly locked onto the frequency of the Ranger's base.
"Alpha, Zordon, this is Billy."
"Dude! You're back," squeaked the robot's voice through his radio.
"It's good to hear your voice too. I need your help. Open up my laptop. You'll need to click on the telecommunications package three times... Now enter the password: Sapphire.... Then click on the left corner of the screen."
"I'm in the Power Chamber's mainframe," Alpha exclaimed.
Billy sighed in relief. "Prodigious! The back door wasn't locked out with the rest of the system. Reactivate the teleportation system. You can control it, and the rest of the Chamber, from my computer."
Without warning, a small rocket launched from the weapons module on Billy's back and fled skyward. Shocked, he discovered that the Machine Empire was attempting to take control of his armor, having removed the cell containing the stolen Zeo energies. Working quickly, he tried to disengage the suit, to no avail. By his estimate, he had no more than seven minutes before Mondo made him an unwilling puppet once more. He had only one more option, one desperate chance to save his friends. "They're attempting to take control of the armor. I'm locked in!"
Kat bolted up, fear blazing in her eyes. "There has to be a way to get you out! Maybe my blaster...."
"No time! It would take hours to cut through this thing. Only one choice."
Katherine knew from the grim expression on face exactly what that final option was. "Billy! No," she pleaded. "Come see Zordon, he will know what to do!"
Billy lowered his eyes as he shook his head. "I can't risk jeopardizing the Power Chamber. If I were to lose control there...." Gathering her into his arms, he continued. "You know I'm right. Please, don't make this any harder. It was your love that saved my soul. Now I have to save your lives."
Tommy staggered to his feet, facing his old teammate. The two clasped hands, then embraced. Pulling away, Billy attempted a smile. "I wish we could have had the opportunity to stand together one more time. Take care of Kat for me" Voice cracking, he continued haltingly. "Tell the others that I love them... and I'm sorry."
The Red Ranger could only nod solemnly. "I swear to you Billy, we'll get them for this." Tapping his communicator, he contacted Zordon. "Bring us back. Kat will be along in a minute."
"Acknowledged. Billy, I am sorry there was not another way. You shall be missed." The ancient wizard's voice was thick with emotion.
Billy swallowed. "Just take care of them," he croaked. Blinking away the tears in his eyes, he turned back to Kat, who fell into his arms, sobbing. He held her tightly, wishing with all his heart that this moment would last forever. "We'll be together again someday. A love like ours can't be destroyed. Just remember it, and I'll always be with you."
Reaching around his neck, he removed his good luck charm: a ring which had belonged to his mother long ago. "I want you to have this... to remember me by," he whispered, placing the sapphire and silver circlet in her hand and closing her fingers around it. He felt his heart skip as he gazed into her eyes. Knowing his time was short, he kissed her one last time. The passionate moment was over far to soon, and Billy reluctantly broke away from her. "Good-bye."
"I love you Billy," she cried, as the teleportation energy surrounded and carried her away.
Crying freely, Billy punched in the code that began a power overload within his weapons systems. The terrible energies they contained rapidly built toward meltdown. As the armor's power core reached critical mass, Billy took a small sense of satisfaction in knowing that Mondo would not be able to kill his friends after all.
Then all that existed in his world was the bright flash as his life-force winked out of existence.
"Look on the bright side yuir Majesty. We have the Zeo Rangers energies."
"Not completely," Orbus interjected.
"Bah! Only Katherine still has access to her powers, and with Billy gone, I daresay that she won't be doing any fighting," Mondo laughed.
Klank sensed an opportunity to better his position even further on this day, and addressed his King once more. "There is the matter of how to best use the Ranger's energies." At Mondo's puzzled expression, he continued. "I believe I know a way to utilize them and prevent the do-gooders from recovering them."
"Indeed? Very well Klank, I shall allow you to set your plan in motion. I wish to see results as soon as possible."
2 minutes after the explosion....
The Operations and Tactics Room was deathly still. Only Adam's labored breathing broke the silence. Kat was off to one side, hugging her knees to her chest as she cried softly. Reluctantly, Zordon focused his attention away from her, and toward his assistant. "Alpha, what is the status of the other Rangers?"
The little robot dutifully scanned the fallen teens, including Tommy. Moments later, he had his answer. "It isn't good. Our mainframe cannot metabolize the poison that Rocky, Adam, and Tommy have been infected with. Worse, Rocky's vital signs are steadily weakening and Adam has a punctured lung! Ai yai yai! I don't know what to do!"
"Perhaps I can help!"
"It is good to see you again too Tommy. I only wish that it could be under better circumstances. I felt Billy's... passing... through his connection to me. He was a valiant warrior in the Army of Light."
Tommy blinked rapidly. He was beginning to have trouble focusing on the keeper of the Ninja Power. The poison was beginning to overpower him. "How can you help?"
The blue-suited warrior paced in front of him. "It is my belief that if Zordon and I combine our energies, we might have a chance at healing your injuries." Ninjor focused on the Eltarian. "Zordon, are you willing?"
"I can do no less for my charges. Please proceed."
Excellent. You will need to focus your mental energy through the symbol on my chest."
Kat stood and walked over to the Ninja Master. "You need a test subject. I volunteer," the young woman said, wiping away tears.
Zordon stared at his Pink Ranger. He feared the actions that she might attempt as the sole remaining Ranger. Billy's death seemed to have built a grim resolve within her, and this saddened him, eve more than losing one of his oldest "children". "Very well Katherine."
Ninjor concurred. "Relax your mind. Allow your mental barriers to fall. Hear me, O' spirits of warriors long past. Grant me, your humble servant, the strength to save this young one, that she might continue the quest for justice."
Zordon added his formidable brain power to his comrade's spiritual power.
Kat felt a warm light pass over her. She bathed in its purity, and rejoiced as she felt the light mend her body and mind.
One by one, the spirits left her, each offering solace on the loss of her beloved. When she was alone once more, she felt that sense of peace flood through her, bringing her back from the trance.
"Excellent! Let's get our young friends back on their feet then, shall we," Ninjor replied.
Kat hurried aside, moving out of the way as her teammates were prepared for the ceremony. Knowing that all she could do was wait, she began to pace along the upper walkway. Unconsciously, she stopped at the portal containing the Blue Ranger's power suit. Biting her lip to hold back tears, she felt her mind's eye looking back into the past. She remembered good times and bad. The ski trip they took with Tommy. Countless hours spent on her training as a Ranger. The camping trip they had taken with Tommy and Kimberly. Her lip quivered as bad memories surfaced. The fear that had gripped her when Billy had been marooned in space, or when he had lain deathly still following the Command Center's implosion. The short time they had been together as more than friends was far too painful to even consider.
"You must really miss him, don't you?"
Kat jumped, then attempted to regain control of her breathing when she realized it was only Alpha. "Yes," she whispered, knowing that if she spoke any louder, she would burst into tears.
Alpha put his arm around her. "I know how you feel. It's not the same of course, but he was still my friend. You know, being a robot, I have outlived many companions, and I never found a more noble and gentle person."
Kat threw her arms around him and began to cry. "I... couldn't save... him. Now he's gone... before we even had a... chance at a... life together," she managed, between sobs.
"I know it only seems like words, but it won't always hurt as bad," Alpha consoled, holding her tightly. "It will get easier. I promise."
2 hours later....
Rocky awoke with a jolt, raising his hands to ward off an unseen threat. Tommy quickly rushed to his friend's aid, before the youth made an attempt to leap off of the diagnostic bed on which he was lying. Slowly, it dawned on the Blue Ranger that he was indoors, and he relaxed. "How did we get here, Tommy," he asked, struggling into a sitting position.
"We were teleported back. Zordon and Ninjor saved you from the poison, but they said that you'll be weak for a couple of days." The Ranger's voice was hushed, and he had a haunted look in his eyes.
"Ninjor's back?!?" Rocky scanned his surroundings. Tanya stood nearby, staring at the ground quietly. In the corner, Zordon's dimensional interface tube was dark, indicating that he and the Ninja Master were in his private chamber. Turning slightly, he caught a glimpse of Alpha dutifully monitoring the surveillance system. Adam, Billy, and Kat were nowhere to be found. Rocky suddenly felt very scared. "What's going on Tom? Where are the others?"
Tommy reluctantly gathered himself to speak, fighting the lump in his throat. Before he could begin, the Chamber's outer door opened, ushering in the return of Kat, and a very dazed Adam. "Rocky! You're awake!" The Pink Ranger rushed across the room and grabbed him in an emphatic hug. "How do you feel," she asked softly.
Rocky knew that he was not always the most sensitive guy in the world, but the tortured dullness of her eyes told him that something was very wrong. "I'm fine," he mumbled, feeling a need to hold his friend tightly. When she broke away suddenly and turned her back, he focused on his leader once more.
Tommy shifted uncomfortably under Rocky's inquisitive gaze. His stomach in knots, he began his tale. The Blue Ranger's face contorted in disbelief as he related the events of the battle, then fell at the mention of Billy's sacrifice. Tommy broke off; if he said another word, he would lose his mind. The look of utter defeat on his face was a mirror for the others. Adam had collapsed into a sitting position on the steps to the upper walkway and was staring blankly at his hands. The Green Ranger had not uttered a single word since hearing of his friend's fate, and had instead retreated within himself.
Zordon chose that moment to return. Seconds behind him was Ninjor, who teleported in from the other room. Quietly, the old wizard directed the Ranger's attention to a case on the far wall. Enclosed within were the remnants of the Red, Blue, Green and Yellow Zeo suits. Only Katherine's was missing. When Zordon spoke, even his once mighty voice seemed much diminished. "Rangers, during your last battle, your subcrystals were completely drained. The resulting energy loss is what caused you to be physically injured." After a pause, he continued, even more quietly than before. "Your powers are now in the hands of the Machine Empire."
Tanya stared up at him. "How can we get them back?"
Ninjor answered her question. "Only by defeating the monsters sure to be guarding them."
Rocky turned to Tommy. "How are we going to do that? We don't even have the power to morph."
The Red Ranger exploded with repressed anger. "How should I know? I got us into all this! And then I lost Billy!" Tommy stopped as quickly as he had begun. When he spoke again, it was through a flood of tears. "I failed him ... failed you all."
"I can't believe you are all willing to QUIT!" Kat jumped to her feet, her eyes ablaze. "We are POWER RANGERS! I am ashamed of you all! Especially after Billy... saved us. Well, I still have my powers, and even though I'm not at full strength, I'll fight!"
Ninjor studied the Australian thoughtfully. "Truly Kim made a wise choice in naming you as her replacement. But you are not thinking rationally. Your power level is at less than half strength. You would be no match for the creatures that Mondo is sure to utilize in protecting the stolen Zeo energy."
Kat stared back at him with a ferocity she had never displayed before. "Do you have an alternative," she shot back.
Before he could reply, the Power Chamber's alarm sounded. Tommy whirled around to face Alpha. "What is it," he demanded.
Ai yai yai! We have an intruder alert, and it's headed this way!"
"Be ready guys," Tommy commanded, then dropped into a fighting stance.
"Zeo Ranger One, Pink!"
Kat morphed and positioned herself at the forefront. She braced herself for the coming attack, summoning her Power Disk to her side.
With a hiss, the door opened... and in walked a timber wolf. The Rangers slowly dropped out of their defensive postures and stared at each other in puzzlement. Their visitor padded to the center of the room and calmly sat back on its haunches. Relaxing a bit, Kat removed her helmet and shot a an inquisitive glance up at Zordon. "How did he get in here?"
At the sound of her voice, the wolf immediately locked his attention upon her. Before the Pink Ranger could react, it bounded over and placed a strange gem in her hand. Stepping back, the hunter raised it's voice in a low wail. Kat was so confused by the animal's behavior that she did not notice that the crystal in her hand had begun to pulsate and glow with a pale light. Tommy leapt forward and knocked the object from her grasp, pulling her back roughly.
"Stand back," he yelled, struggling to be heard over both the wolf and the growing whine of the crystal. "We don't know what that thing's gonna do!"
Breathlessly, the teens watched, fascinated, as the crystal expanded outward. The glow began to take on a bluish tint that steadily grew in intensity. The noise rapidly became painful to the Rangers then modulated out of their limited range of sound. A sudden explosion of light blinded Kat. When the spots cleared from her vision, she could see that the crystal had vanished.
In it's place stood a figure garbed in blue. Gasping, Kat realized that he wore the uniform of the Ninjetti. Deliberately, the man before them turned around to face the team. Even Adam rose to his feet, although he still made no sound. The stranger reached to his head, efficiently removing the hood and mask that concealed his identity.
Katherine's helmet dropped to the floor with a clatter. Laughing, she jumped into the Ninja's arms with a kiss. Billy Cranston had returned.
Tommy stared in disbelief, tears flowing freely down his face. _How is this possible? I... I saw him die,_ he thought. Paralyzed by shock, he watched Kat release his friend. She narrowly avoided the surging green figure who tackled Billy in a hug. "You're alive!" Adam exclaimed.
"Yeah, buddy. I'm alive. Go easy on the ribs, okay?" Billy laughed at the display from his "little brother," returning the hug.
"I thought we'd lost you! I... I didn't know what was going to happen without you around." The Green Ranger still held his friend as he sniffled.
A soft look filled Billy's eyes. "I love you too man."
Rocky and Tanya gathered around their friend, offering their thanks that he was alive. Billy noticed that Tommy was still off to one side, his hands balled into fists as he stared down at the ground. To his suprise, he realized that the Red Ranger was crying. Pulling himself free, Billy walked to his side. "Tommy?"
The leader looked up at his comrade. He seemed real, but how was that possible? "Is it really you," he asked, fearing the answer.
"Yeah, it's me. I'm fine Tommy. Even if I wasn't... here, that wouldn't be your fault. I did what I did because it was the logical thing to do, and it was my decision. You have to realize that. You're not to blame for every bad thing that happens to us. If Jason was here he would say the same thing," Billy felt tears welling up in his eyes as he finished.
The Red Ranger smiled despite himself. Good old Cranston logic, it was definitely his old friend. Tommy grabbed him in a bear hug. "It's good to have you back, man."
Rocky scratched his neck. "But who?"
"Good question. As you recall, the new Coins were tied in to our spirit animals. Mine... um... stepped in," Billy answered sheepishly.
At this statement, Ninjor exchanged a wordless glance with Zordon, and both began to listen even more intently.
"He can explain better than I as to what we must do to fix my... mistakes. May I present the WolfLord... Padishar Lupine!" Billy's tone had taken on a strange, almost reverent tone as he gestured to the forgotten wolf, who still sat calmly in the corner. The canine grew suddenly, taking on a humanoid form with a wolf's head. He was dressed in resplendent robes of shimmering blue and gold. Strangely, where his eyes should be, there burned twin flames of indigo fire. The Rangers realized with a start that they had each fallen to one knee.
Chuckling, the WolfLord motioned them to their feet. His was a voice that was at once warm, and filled with a wry humor. "Come now, my young friends. You'll certainly give me a swelled head with such senseless formality!" Continuing his gentle laughter, he focused on the newest Ranger. "Tanya. Aisha made a wise choice with you." Tanya's face broke into a smile, which Lupine returned before continuing down the line.
"Mister DeSantos, guardian of the Ape's mystic power. I am heartened to see that you have recovered."
Padishar looked down at Adam. "The Frog! Adam, my young friend, it is truly an honor to meet my comrade's chosen hero. Know that he has been very impressed with your development." The young man looked away quickly, flushing at the attention.
"Tommy, I fought alongside your ancestors centuries ago. You are a credit to your people, and a fine leader."
Tommy's voice was no more than a squeak. "Thank you, sir!"
"Don't mention it kid." Padishar placed a hand on his shoulder, before coming to rest near Katherine. "Ah, Billy. I see now why you were so anxious to return. I am honored to meet you, my lady," he said, bowing before her.
Although a little frightened, Kat was able to keep the tremor from her voice. "Thank you... for bringing him back." Tears began to roll down her cheeks again.
The WolfLord smiled. "There there, little flower. I would not allow the Machine Empire to deny my knight of one such as you. Now please, save your tears. There is much work to be done."
"Zordon, Ninjor, I have need of your assistance if we are to recover the Ranger's powers. I have chosen Billy to be the living embodiment of all my mystical strength."
Ninjor gasped. "The time of prophecy has come at last."
Adam looked puzzled. "Prophecy? What do you mean?"
Billy gathered himself to explain, drawing an amused grin from Tommy. "One of the Order of Meledon was a great seer. He foresaw the coming of a great evil, which he described in a series of writings. One of these said 'The Warriors Zeo shall fall/ In these bleak times shall come a single Knight/ He shall be powered by his patron spirit, and shall stand alone against the tides of Darkness/ In so doing, he shall wipe clean a stain upon his soul, and once more serve the Army of Light' Funny thing is, I never put much stock in them before now."
Padishar continued. "Our young friend has agreed to be that Knight. However, in order to focus my energies, I need a Power Coin."
Ninjor looked down. "They no longer exist. Worse, my forge only functions during certain astronomical events that occur once every thousand years."
"Then there is no chance for our plan to succeed." Lupine's voice dropped in disappointment.
"Wait... There just might be a way." Everyone in the room turned to stare at Rocky. Swallowing hard, he continued. "We can use the Green Coin."
And what a team they were! Standing at the beginning of the ranks was the Black Minotaur of 61 Cygni. Sole survivor of the genetic experiments that wiped out his race, he stood over eight feet tall and at least half as wide. His cruel eyes regarded Mondo coldly, before giving a reluctant nod of respect.
Next to him was Sivar, the new guardian of Adam's stolen energies. Silver Champion-Regent of the Baatezu, a race known for their ferocity in battle, he was thought to be second only to the legendary Goldar in ability. His oiled weapon rested at his side, a show of respect for his new leader. Wisely, Mondo returned the gesture, gaining instant gratitude with the beast-man.
A mysterious figure draped in robes of black was the keeper of the incomplete powers of Zeo One. It could only be Kesla, Warrior Princess of the Barakeen Nomads. Klank had told him that no one had ever seen her face and lived. Her manner indicated a haughtiness that could prove troublesome, but the Machine King had confidence that she would not dare to challenge him.
The next Guardian was infamous throughout the known Universe. Ermaciak was the most feared bounty hunter in existence, and for good reason. Hisbody was indicative of the grisly trophies of victory. He had made a habit of replacing damaged portions of his own body with those of his victims. Shining tritanium armor covered his vital areas, and a strange blue-tinged pelt hung like a Roman cape from one shoulder. Mondo could see a great intelligence flashing in those strange eyes. "I shall have to watch this one closely," he nodded.
The keeper of the combined energies of Tommy and the Zeo Megazord was unable to fit in the room. Taller than even the Ranger's massive Zord, Stunticore rested outside. He cared little for the insignificant machines within. Rather, his only reason for coming was the opportunity to replenish his life-sustaining energies, the chance to feed.
Klank rushed to his King's side. "Sire, they are now fully energized. None of the young fools who held these powers can recapture them!"
"Excellent, Klank! Without that meddlesome Billy to scheme a way out, those loathsome parasites are finished! The Earth is ours at last!"
"I cannot allow this. The Dragon Coin is far too unstable." Zordon shook his head, dismissing the idea.
"I'm afraid that I must disagree with your logic Zordon," Ninjor exclaimed. "Billy must be given this chance to purge the darkness that infected him, or it could destroy him utterly."
Tommy chose this moment to break in. He had been silent throughout the whole exchange, but knew that his friend was their only chance. "Zordon .... I know better than anyone, except maybe Kat, what it's like to be seduced by evil. As the Green Ranger, I very nearly killed the others, including you." The Red Ranger turned to face the others. "I think we've all been guilty of ignoring Billy. He sacrificed his powers, heck, his happiness, to allow Tanya her chance as a Ranger. He's saved our lives with his gadgets countless times. What it comes down to is this. Billy's dealing with a lot of shame and guilt right now, just like I was when I first joined. Well... I trust him, more than anyone else, to do what's right. Zordon, it's our only shot."
Reluctantly, the Eltarian summoned the last remaining coin and surrendered it to it's former owner. Tommy smiled, then walked over to his friend. "There was a time when this was my most valued, most prized possession. I know you'll wear it with honor, old friend."
Billy clasped shoulders with Tommy, eyes conveying silent thanks. Taking the Green Coin, he turned it over in his hand for a moment. Finally, he turned to face Padishar.
"The modifications shall take some time." The Wolf-Lord shot a wry grin toward his young Knight. "I don't think you will want to be around with what we'll be throwing at it."
"Good point. Alpha, would you teleport us to my house? We can wait there."
Pleased to be needed, the robot scurried over to Billy's laptop. "Right away Billy! We'll summon you as soon as we are ready."
5736 Mockingbird Lane - Cranston residence
The Rangers rematerialized in Billy's living room. An insistent growling in his stomach made him realize that he had not eaten all day. "You guys want to order some pizza? I'm starved," he asked.
Adam nodded. "Sounds great! I'd watch it though, being dead seems to have turned you into another Rocky. Ow!" The youth rubbed his arm where the Blue Ranger had punched him.
After phoning in the order, Billy took a seat on the couch. From the looks on his friend's faces, the tale of his resurrection could wait no longer. He scooted over to allow Kat to sit next to him, and began his tale.
"As I said earlier, triggering that explosion returned my Ninja Powers to me. I remember everything going dark, and when I awoke, I was wearing this uniform and stretched out in the middle of a forest. At first, I figured it was a product of delirium occurring at the moment of death, but soon ruled out that theory. Unable todecide on another plan of action, I began to walk, in what I hoped was the direction of the Power Chamber."
"I was in that forest for what seemed like days. Just when I was beginning to think that I would be lost forever, I came across a clearing. In the center was a single stone column. It was there that Padishar revealed himself."
Billy paused as Katherine got up to answer the door. He took a moment to compose himself while he awaited her return. Billy was unsure of whether he should tell his friends of the entire prophecy. The last warrior had been foretold as dying in the final battle. _No,_ he thought. _I can't burden them with this. Besides, there is bound to be a way out, I just have to find it!_
He was startled back to reality by a gentle tapping on his shoulder. Looking up, he was pleased to see Kat smiling down at him. "Were you planning on staying in here all night, luv," she teased.
"Sorry, my mind was... somewhere else."
Katherine suddenly became worried. "Is everything all right?"
Billy smiled, and impulsively swept her into his arms. "It is now," he whispered.
"Well, since my body is still basically just highly charged energy, the micrometallic mesh prevents a total breakdown at the cellular level."
"Whoa, slow down guy! Trini isn't around to translate you into English anymore," Tommy exclaimed, sparking a chorus of laughter from the others.
Adam spoke when noise had finally died down. "So what happened after you met Padishar?"
Clearing his throat, Billy continued. "I argued with him for hours. Nothing I said could convince him. Finally, I was able to give him a reason to bring me back that even he could not dispute." He paused, and directed a pointed glance at Kat, who blushed at his intimation. "He then proceeded to stabilize my powers to act as a containment field, and the next thing I knew, I was in the Power Chamber."
At that precise moment, his communicator beeped. The color drained from his face before he answered it. "This is Billy."
Zordon's voice boomed throughout the now silent room. "Billy, you need to return. All is in readiness."
"I'll be right there." Billy rose from his seat and exhaled slowly. He was beginning to shake when Katherine put her hand in his. Drawing strength from her, he steadied his racing heart. Tommy shot him a thumbs up sign, and came to stand beside him. "Alpha, we're ready," Billy said grimly. "Let's do it."
"Are you ready, my young friend," Lupine's melodic voice floated down from high above.
Billy let his gaze fall upon Katherine once more. She held her hands up to the window of the control room and winked at him. Upon her right hand, he saw his mother's ring, glistening like a beacon through the darkness. He forced a smile, and hoped that no one would notice his trembling. "I'm ready!"
"Is he all right Ninjor?" Tommy asked apprehensively.
"Do not fear. Our friend is safe. The visual spectra that you are seeing is merely his energy form converting back to a more stable physical state. The real trick is in bonding his essence to the modified coin. If...."
The remainder of Ninjor's explanation was cut off by an explosion in the blast tunnel. Helplessly, Tommy watched as the Ninja Master's hands began to move faster than he could see, desperately trying to prevent a system-wide shutdown. The Red Ranger looked back toward his old friend. Flashes of blue lightning prevented him from seeing any sign of Billy. Throughout the flurry of activity, Kat remained motionless, staring at the spot where her love had been.
Tanya felt the same way as she cut power to the computer systems. Even though she would not give up, she had a sinking feeling that Billy was doomed.
Rocky's vision blurred. Still weak from the poison, he had overextended himself in trying to single-handedly stop the explosions shaking the Power Chamber. "I wish I hadn't come up with that stupid idea," he muttered.
Some time later....
Katherine crawled unsteadily to her feet. The control room was pitch dark, illuminated only by an occasional spark from a shorted relay. Groping blindly within the blackness, her hands found the pedestal that housed the room's control panel. Unable to find any sign of Tommy or Ninjor, she fumbled with the dials until one of the screens winked back to life. Through the static she could make out a timer, counting down the minutes to system reboot.
Her attention was diverted by lights within the tunnel. A faint blue glow seemed to be emanating from the center of that room. Forgetting everything else, she made her way to the door. With the power still down, she was forced to open the blast door manually. With agonizing slowness, it inched open just enough to allow her to squeeze through.
The entire tunnel was in shambles. Steel framework hung loosely in patches where the maverick energy blasts had battered the walls. Hearing a crunching noise beneath her feet, Kat jumped, startled. Pieces of the once priceless GlowGem littered the floor. The light she had seen before had dwindled to near nothingness. She could see no sign of Billy. Despairing, she cried out his name in the hope that he was conscious, somewhere within the inky confines of the wreckage.
Her response was a flash of gold.
"I do not know Adam. We have lost all contact with Ninjor."
"As near as we can tell, there was an overload that set off a chain reaction. We're still picking up the pieces," Alpha added.
"Are you all right my friend," Ninjor asked, concerned.
Tommy groaned. "I'd be better if you got off of me."
After both had climbed to their feet, Tommy searched the room fearfully. "Where's Kat?"
"She was by the window earlier."
Before either had a chance to look for her, Adam's voice sounded through the intercom. "Tommy, are you OK down there?"
"Yeah. No sign of Billy or Kat though. What happened?"
"No time to explain. Get up here quick!"
Tommy shot a worried glance at Ninjor, and then raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
Just then, a flash of pink and blue teleportation energies bathed the room in light. Kat looked around, flashing an infectious grin at her friends. Beside her stood an imposing figure in blue and gold. The suit he wore was reminiscent of the Ranger's old costumes, although it more closely resembled armor. Upon his chest was the newly restored Dragon Shield, it's symbol changed from a diamond to a Celtic cross. The helmet no longer resembled a Triceratops however. In its place was the image of a snarling timber wolf.
Slowly, the new Ranger unlocked his helmet. Removing it carefully, Billy smiled at his friends and bowed to his mentors.
"Good show lad," Padishar laughed. "You shall find, that while in this form you are invisible to the Machine Empire's tracking and detection equipment."
"Thank you, my lord," Billy said, bowing once more.
"It is good to have you back Billy," Zordon boomed. "It is now time for you to receive the tools which will aid you in your fight against the Machine Empire. The old weapons of power have been combined to form this staff." Billy held out his hand to receive a rather wicked looking horsecutter. "Upon your left gauntlet is your crossbow. It is equipped with explosive bolts and the net which can draw the Zeo Matrixes from his monsters. You are equipped with additional beam weapons mounted on the other wrist. Of these weapons, only one can be summoned at a time. Additionally, Ninjor has recovered two valuable artifacts to assist you in your quest."
Billy looked to his waist. Upon his right hip rested the Dragon Dagger, on the other....
"Saba," Tommy cried out.
"Good to see you again Red Ranger," the enchanted saber replied.
"Saba will be used to control the FalconZord primarily. The other mech under your command is the DragonZord," Ninjor added.
Billy nodded thoughtfully. "I understand."
Padishar stepped forward once more. "You have been give your chance at redemption. Use this power wisely, for it is also your life force. Remember the Rangers' code and follow it's tenets. I have faith that your wisdom and experience shall yet win this battle. Henceforth, I declare that you are the Wolf Ranger, last in a distinguished line."
"I promise, I won't let any of you down." Billy smiled, showing no sign of the doubts that had plagued him earlier. Katherine gathered him into a hug as the others surrounded him with their love. For now at least, all was well.
Vol 1 Vol 2