Disclaimer: The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Power Rangers Zeo are the property of Saban Entertainment, Inc. The show's characters and concepts are used without permission in the following story, which is a fanfiction written for entertainment. Nobody is making any money off of this. Please do not distribute this story without my permission.
The communicator responded with static.
"Too much interference," Billy muttered. "Nothing on this ship is working."
At least the enemy ships were withdrawing. Billy watched through the viewscreen as the squadron of Quadrafighters that had been attacking him ceased fire and headed back to the Moon.
"They probably figure I'm done for," he said to himself. And they're probably right. At the rate this ship is leaking oxygen, I haven't got much time.
Suddenly, Billy caught a glimpse of Earth on the viewscreen... his home, so close yet so far away. He thought of his family and friends there below him, and was suddenly afraid.
Will I ever see them again? he wondered. Staring at the planet below, he suddenly felt like crying, or hiding, or running as far away as he could. Instinctively, he reached inside himself, searching for the quiet place he needed to quell his fears.
There was something there.
"That's impossible!" he breathed, for he recognized it instantly. After nearly three years of relying on its constant presence, he would know it anywhere.
It was the Power.
How can that be? he wondered. My Power Coin was destroyed, and I don't even have a Zeo Crystal. How can I still have the Power?
Nonetheless, it was there, a tiny blue flame burning in the depths of his soul. Blue... even though that cherished color now belonged to someone else. It glowed steadily, burning within him like the pilot light of a stove.
If the pilot light is allowed to go out, the stove is done for, Billy reflected. It was an apt analogy, but not one that he found comforting.
The blue flame, though, seemed unafraid, and Billy drew his strength from it. It never wavered, never flickered, never dimmed. It was just as he had remembered it. Not too long ago, all it had taken was a word and a coin to fan that tiny flame into an inferno, filling him with the energy of the Blue Ranger. Those times were past... but the Power was still there.
"I can't give up," said Billy with sudden resolve. "I've got to do whatever it takes. I have to keep that Power alive."
He began a systematic check of the ship, considering his options. The remaining oxygen would only last for about an hour, and the ship was losing more all the time. There was no way to repair the leak.
"Maybe there's still time to land," he said to himself. One look at the damage readouts put an end to that idea. Even if the propulsion systems had been working, the ship's shielding was too badly damaged to survive reentry.
"Isn't there anything I can use?" Billy exclaimed in frustration as he searched the rear of the ship. Then, he found it: an oblong escape pod, just large enough for one person. Billy checked it over eagerly. It had obviously been built with reentry in mind: the pod was streamlined and had plenty of heat shielding. What it didn't have was life support.
"Why would anyone construct an escape pod without life support?" he demanded angrily of no one in particular. "What would be the point?"
Water, he realized. The Aquitians didn't need oxygen, they needed water. The pod was probably designed to automatically fill with water before launching, enabling an Aquitian to survive for an extended period without additional life support. It was, Billy thought, an extremely practical system. Unfortunately, as a human, it wouldn't do him much good.
Billy sat down on the deck, sighing heavily. He was out of options. The dying starship had little to offer, and he was just too tired and scared to come up with any more ideas.
If only I had gotten a message through, he thought sadly. I wonder if the others even know I'm up here. He pictured his friends on the Earth below: Tommy, Adam, Katherine, Rocky, Tanya... and those who were no longer in Angel Grove: Aisha, Kimberly, Zack, Jason, and Trini. He wondered where they were at that moment, and what they were doing. He thought about everything they'd been through together... not just as Rangers, but as friends. Every little, insignificant moment stood out in his mind. He saw himself working in his lab with Adam... practicing martial arts with Tommy and Jason... reading science magazines with Trini.....
Suddenly, he recalled one of the articles they had once read. It had been about cryogenics and people who had their bodies frozen for later revival. Billy didn't believe that the dead could actually be brought back to life, but the process had intrigued him at the time.
Thinking of the article reminded him of something else, a TV show he had seen recently about "medical miracles." The featured "miracle" had been a child who was revived after several hours in a near-freezing lake. The extreme cold had slowed down his metabolic functions, Billy recalled, and allowed him to survive without oxygen.
The memories gave Billy a glimmer of an idea. If he could put himself into some kind of suspended animation... freeze himself... the lack of life support wouldn't be a problem. He could use the ship's escape pod without having to worry about warmth or oxygen. Unfortunately, though, there was nothing on board that even came close to cryogenic fluid. Nothing except....
"Coolant!" he realized suddenly. The starship's engines required a great deal of coolant fluid to keep from overheating. If he rerouted the coolant's flow into the escape pod, he could freeze himself in a matter of seconds. It would be perfect... as long as it didn't kill him in the process.
Billy inspected the escape pod and began to formulate a plan. He couldn't allow the coolant fluid to come in contact with his skin... but the walls of the pod had a layer of empty space, presumably a reserve storage area for additional water. If he filled that space with engine coolant, the pod's inner chamber would be supercooled by mere proximity.
He paused, considering. What would it be like? His scientist's mind knew exactly what would happen if the plan worked: the supercooled environment inside the pod would lower his body temperature to nearly freezing. It would stop his heart and lungs, putting every bodily function on hold and plunging him into the depths of a frozen sleep. That much he knew.
What he didn't know was what it would actually feel like. As he stood there, lost in thought, he could almost hear his own heartbeat. He listened to its steady cadence, wondering what would happen to him when it fell silent. The very idea was terrifying.
"I've got to do whatever it takes," he reminded himself, letting the sound of his voice push the fear away. "Whatever it takes to stay alive. Whatever it takes to keep the blue flame burning."
He set to work.
Hopefully. It all boiled down to hope, didn't it? There was nothing to be gained by waiting. With every second, more of the ship's precious oxygen leaked away. He had to go before it was too late. Billy took a long look at the escape pod. It was the best he could do... but would it be good enough? It had to be. He took a deep breath to reassure himself and stepped inside the coffinlike-wonderful time to think of that -pod. It slid shut over him, seals locking tightly.
It was silent inside the pod... utterly silent. Billy took his communicator in hand, ready to trigger the launch sequence. Then he paused.
Through the window, he saw Earth again. It hung silently in space, glowing blue like the Power burning within him. Everything he cared about was there, waiting for him. Billy stared at the blue of the Earth, then looked deep within himself for the blue flame, still glowing bravely.
"May the Power protect me," he whispered. He pressed the button.
With a rushing sound, white vapor gushed around him, obscuring the Earth in icy clouds. It was cold, colder than anything he had ever known, so cold that it burned. He took a sharp breath and felt the cold searing his lungs, paralyzing them.
I can't breathe! Oh god, I can't breathe! Let me out! Stop! A voiceless scream filled his mind, unable to reach his frozen lips. His lungs felt as if they were about to explode.
He closed his eyes tightly as the freezing clouds grew thicker around him, engulfing him in an icy shroud. He could feel every agonized beat of his heart, coming slower and slower as it was clutched by an icy fist. Thump... thump... thump.... He prayed he wouldn't hear it when it stopped.
His head spun from lack of oxygen... or maybe it was the cold. He was so cold.... He felt strangely disconnected, as if he was part of the vapor around him. Swirling... floating away.... He couldn't think, couldn't focus. The icy fingers were wrapped around his brain, and his mind was shutting down.
The cold was a part of him now. It flowed through him, inexorably, slowing everything down like a great glacier covering him over, filling him up.
Deep inside, the blue flame burned, defiant to the last, determined to survive. It was the last thing he saw as the cold won him over. Then all that remained was blackness... and one desperate hope, burning brightly in the void of space.
"Good work, guys!" Tommy congratulated his fellow Rangers as King Mondo's
latest monster collapsed in a ball of flame. He swiveled around in his seat
to give everyone high-fives.
Chapter Two: Blown Away
"Let's get back to the Power Chamber," said Kat after a moment. "Billy should be getting back soon."
"Yeah," Adam replied, "and after being too late to see him leave, we sure don't want to miss his homecoming!"
"Okay," said Tommy, powering down the Zeo-Zords. "Let's go."
"Keep trying, Alpha," Zordon instructed. "It is imperative that we retrieve Billy at once."
As Zordon spoke, five columns of colored light appeared in the room. They resolved into the forms of Tommy, Adam, Katherine, Rocky, and Tanya, who all hurried forward to stand near Alpha.
"Alpha, what's wrong?" asked Rocky urgently.
"Aye-yi-yi! It's Billy!" the robot explained. "His starship was attacked by Quadrafighters!"
"Quadrafighters?" Katherine repeated in horror.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Tommy demanded.
"There was nothing you could have done, Rangers," Zordon told them. "You were needed to defeat King Mondo's monster."
"Well, we have to do something," insisted Tanya.
Adam leaned over Alpha's shoulder to survey the control panels. "Can we teleport him out?" he suggested.
Alpha shook his head sadly. "There's too much residual interference from the weapons fire," he explained. "It's making a teleporter lock impossible."
"What about the Quadrafighters?" Tommy asked. "Is there any way to get rid of them?"
"The Quadrafighters retreated some time ago," replied Zordon. "They are no longer a concern. However, Billy's ship was severely damaged in the attack. Sensors indicate that its oxygen and power levels are falling rapidly."
The Rangers exchanged worried glances. "Hang in there, Billy," Kat said softly, gazing up at the ceiling.
"I've got visual," Adam announced after a few tense moments. The viewing globe came on and displayed the image of a small, battered ship, alone in space.
"Can we contact him?" Tanya asked.
Adam shook his head. "I think his communications system was damaged," he explained. "All I'm getting is static."
"Aye-yi-yi! This is terrible!" Alpha exclaimed suddenly. "The ship's engines are beginning to overheat!"
"What?" Tommy responded in shock. He looked down at the readout Alpha was examining. The numbers and symbols meant little to him, but one thing was clear: the starship's temperature was rising rapidly. "We've got to get him out of there!" he exclaimed.
"I still can't get a lock!" said Adam, working frantically at the teleporter.
"The ship's core temperature has reached critical!" Alpha cried. He deserted the sensor readouts and rushed to help Adam.
"Temperature still increasing," stated Zordon. "It is now 82 degrees above critical. Eighty-five... eighty-eight...."
"Come on!" Kat urged, glancing at Adam and Alpha. Suddenly, a blinding flash of yellow-white light burst from the viewing globe, overloading it and filling the entire Power Chamber. The Rangers shielded their eyes from the sudden brilliance, which just as suddenly faded.
"What was that?" exclaimed Rocky, blinking to clear his vision. No one answered.
"Hey, where's the ship?" Tanya asked a few moments later. "Is something wrong with the viewing globe?" No one responded to her question, either.
"Zordon, what happened?" Tommy demanded. "Where's Billy?"
After a long moment, Zordon spoke. "The starship is no longer showing up on sensors," he stated, with a strange tone in his voice.
"What do you mean, it's not showing up?" Tommy pressed. "You mean the sensors are down? Is he out of range or something?" When Zordon didn't respond, he turned to face Adam and Alpha. "What's going on?"
Alpha said nothing, but Adam looked up from the console, his face white. "I... I'm reading traces of a massive energy surge," he said slowly, as if unwilling to believe it.
"Energy surge?" Katherine echoed worriedly. "Do you mean...."
"An explosion," Adam finished numbly. "The ship exploded."
"Oh my God," Tanya moaned softly.
"This can't be happening," said Katherine.
"Billy?" Rocky asked, as if to confirm what they all knew.
Adam nodded slowly, disbelievingly. "Gone," he said.
Tommy felt as though someone had just punched him in the stomach. His first instinct was to give in to the shock and shut down completely, but he wouldn't let himself. Instead, he turned away so that no one would see his face. He refused to break down... not now, not in front of the others. Facing the back wall, where the Rangers' old uniforms were displayed, Tommy fought back tears and stared at the blue costume that had been Billy's with a mixture of grief and denial.
All those other uniforms had changed hands over the years. Even Tommy himself had once been the new kid in town. But Billy... Billy had always been there.
Tommy remembered his first moments as a Ranger on the side of Light, and Billy's welcoming, forgiving smile as he handed the Green Ranger his first communicator. He remembered all the hardships that had followed: the guilt of being used for evil... the shame of his weakness as the Green powers waned... the agony of losing his powers not once, but twice. Through it all, his friends had stayed by his side, and Billy had been the only one of those friends who remained.
He remembered becoming the White Ranger... how apprehensive he'd been at the very idea of leading the team. It had been even worse after Jason left... like having his right arm cut off. He hadn't trusted himself to make the right choices without Jason there to guide him. But just when Tommy had felt that he couldn't handle it, Billy had been there. More than just a second-in-command, the Blue Ranger had been the rock they all leaned on.
Later, when Master Vile turned back time, Billy had taken care of them all... and even after losing his powers, he continued to support the team. And now, he was gone....
"I... I can't believe it," Katherine wept. Rocky drew her into a comforting hug, holding her as she cried. "Billy... it can't be true."
"We never even said goodbye," said Tanya, her voice quivering with tears.
"Aye-yi-yi-yi-yi," Alpha repeated over and over in a sad, nearly inaudible voice. He hadn't moved an inch since Adam's pronouncement, but simply stared down at the readout, as if it would magically change.
"He was... like a son to me," said Zordon sorrowfully. "His loss will be deeply felt."
"I just can't believe he's gone," Adam murmured, his voice faltering as he broke into tears. "It all happened so fast...."
"I only knew him for a few weeks," said Tanya quietly, "but he treated me like we'd been friends for life."
"He was like that with everyone," Kat responded. Memories brought a tiny smile to her face, in spite of the tears. She recalled the way Billy had comforted her in the hospital, the night Kimberly fell off the balance beam. He had always treated her with kindness... no matter what. Even after he found out the truth- that it was she who'd nearly killed one of his best friends -he had still accepted her. Thinking about those days reminded her of something else, too. "What about the others?" she asked Zordon. "The former Rangers?"
The ancient being experienced another kind of grief at the mention of his Chosen Ones. To face his first "children," and tell them that one of them had died a completely needless death... How could he do it? "We have no way of contacting Jason, Trini, Zack, or Aisha," he said finally.
"But we can still reach Kimberly." Wiping her eyes, Kat went to the communications panel and examined the controls for a moment. After making a few minor adjustments, she punched in the number.
As she passed the gym office, Kimberly noticed that the door was wide open and the lights were on. Coach Schmidt had forgotten to lock up, as usual. Kim smiled and was about to close the door when the desk phone rang.
"Schmidt Gymnastics Center," she answered on the second ring.
"Kimberly Hart? Is that you?" The voice was vaguely familiar, but Kimberly couldn't place it at the moment.
"Uh, yes, this is she," Kim replied, a bit confusedly. "May I ask who's calling?"
"Kimberly, this is Katherine Hilliard."
It was the last person in the world she had expected. "Katherine? Why are you calling?" Great, Kim, that really sounded friendly.
Kat didn't seem to notice. "Something... something's happened, Kimberly," she said. "We need you to come home."
"Home?" Kim repeated, suddenly worried. It wasn't like Kat to sound so upset. "You mean Angel Grove? Why?"
"I... I don't think you should hear it over the phone. Can you be ready in ten minutes?"
Ten minutes? Kimberly could spend forever and a day packing for trips, and Kat knew it. Whatever had happened, it had to be incredibly serious.
"Make it five." She hung up and ran back to the dorm, leaving the office door banging open behind her.
The girls hugged, and Kim could tell that Katherine had been crying. "What's wrong?" she asked.
Kat didn't answer right away. Kimberly was about to ask again, but then she noticed her surroundings. "What is this place?" she asked, looking around. "What happened to the Command Center?"
"It's a long story," Kat replied, relieved that she didn't have to break the bad news right away. "A lot of things have changed around here."
Kimberly looked around at the other Rangers, confused by what she saw. All of the guys were wearing the wrong colors, and Aisha was nowhere in sight. A girl Kim had never seen before was dressed in yellow. She nearly asked about that, but knew it couldn't be the reason Kat had called her. This seemed far more serious.
Everyone looked upset... in fact, they hadn't even noticed her arrival. Adam was sitting on the floor, staring off into space as Rocky tried vainly to talk to him. Tommy stood with his back to the others, gazing bleakly at the back wall, and Alpha and the strange girl in yellow were standing by the teleporter controls, the girl in tears. Even Zordon was silent, and his insubstantial image had a distinctly sorrowful look to it.
Then Kimberly made an ominous realization. "Wait... where's Billy?"
Kat's mouth tightened, and she looked down at the floor as tears threatened to return. Her reaction filled Kimberly with sudden dread.
"He's the reason I called you here," Kat said finally.
Kimberly's eyes widened in fear. "What happened? Where is he?"
Katherine met the girl's gaze and told her, "Billy was on a spaceship that fell under attack, and... there was an explosion."
"Oh, my God." Kimberly felt herself weaken with shock. "You mean he's... he's...?"
Kat nodded, tears spilling down her face. "He's dead."
It was a beautiful morning in East Africa when Aisha Campbell awoke. As
she dressed in jeans shorts and a yellow T-shirt, Aisha reflected that the
morning was much like those in her former town of Angel Grove, California.
It was sunny and warm outside, and a gentle breeze was blowing as Aisha
stepped out of her family's hut into the midst of the awakening camp.
Chapter Three: Lovely To See You
As on most mornings, she headed for the research clinic: a large green tent on the outskirts of camp. When Aisha had first come to Africa, the clinic had not existed. Its presence was thanks to the Zeo Crystal, which had rewritten history to create a different "now."
Only Aisha and Ishala, the wise matriarch of the camp, knew about the changes. Only they remembered the past in which Aisha Campbell, the Yellow Ranger from Angel Grove, had come to Africa on a quest for the Zeo Crystal. As far as everyone elseincluding Aisha's parentswas concerned, the Campbells had lived in the camp for years. They all knew Aisha as an assistant at the research clinic, who was helping to save the local animals from a devastating plague.
When Aisha entered the clinic on this particular morning, she found her friend Rachel McCormick already there. The young veterinarian in charge of the clinic was busy examining something through a microscope.
"Hey Rachel," Aisha greeted her. "How's it going?"
"Oh, good morning, Aisha," the veterinarian replied, glancingup. "Fine, I guess." She pushed back a few strands of light brown hair that had come loose from her hasty ponytail. Between that and the rumpled khaki shorts and white shirt Rachel wore, Aisha concluded that she had been working for quite a while.
"What happened?" she asked. "You aren't usually here this early."
"Four infected zebras showed up at about one-thirty this morning," Rachel replied. "I had to check them over and then help get them out of camp."
"They wandered into camp?" Aisha commented. "That's strange."
"Yeah, normally the sick animals would avoid people. I think something spooked them."
"A few people said they saw something unusual in the sky last night," Rachel explained. "Like a meteor or something."
"You think that's what scared the zebras into camp?"
"It's as good an explanation as any," Rachel said with a shrug. "Not that it really matters, though. The important thing was getting them out of camp before that group arrives."
Aisha did a double take. "What group?" The isolated camp was rarely visited by outsiders.
"You haven't heard about it? I thought everybody knew... " Rachel's hand flew to her mouth. "Whoops!"
"I just remembered... you aren't supposed to know about it yet."
Rachel shrugged. "Ishala said it was supposed to be a surprise for you. I don't know what the big deal is, though. It's not like you'd actually know any of them."
"Any of who?"
"It's some kind of teen ambassador group," explained Rachel as Aisha's eyes widened. "I guess they go around touring a bunch of different countries or something."
Aisha shrieked excitedly. "I do know them, Rachel! This is amazing! Wow, it's going to be so morphinomenal to see them again...."
"Never mind," Aisha laughed, practically dancing out of the clinic.
"Hey, where are you going?"
"To see Ishala!" the exuberant girl replied. "This is so awesome!" She skipped off to Ishala's hut, leaving Rachel gazing speculatively after her.
"I take it she liked the surprise."
A particularly nasty bump jolted Zack awake. He looked out the bus window to see that the "road" had narrowed to little more than a dusty path through the savanna. A glance at his wristwatch, which he had fortunately remembered to set for local time, told him that it was nearly two o'clock in the afternoon.
"Are we there yet?" he asked groggily.
"Just about," replied his friend Jason Scott, who was sitting next to him. "There's half a mile to go."
Zack yawned and stretched out as far as the seat would allow. "Still tired?" Jason said disbelievingly. "Didn't you sleep on the plane from Cairo?"
"Man, I don't think I slept at all! I was too freaked out after hearing about all those curses!"
Trini Kwan, sitting across the aisle from the boys, laughed at that. "I don't think they'll be wanting you to endorse Egyptian tourism anytime soon, that's for sure!"
"I just can't believe you were scared of that scarab beetle," Jason remarked. "What did you think it was going to do, anyway?"
Zack rolled his eyes. "Excuuuuuse me! I just overreacted a little bit.... Hey, we're here!"
The three friends abandoned their conversation to look out the window. They had arrived at a small village of tents and huts, where a crowd had gathered to welcome them.
"Hey, who's that?" wondered Jason, pointing to someone in the crowd.
"Which one?" asked Zack confusedly.
"The girl in the yellow. She seems really familiar, but...." Trini squinted out at the crowd, trying to make out the girl's features. "It's Aisha!" she realized suddenly. "What's she doing here?"
"Let's go find out," Zack suggested, gesturing towards the front of the bus. He, Trini, and Jason followed the other delegates out into the blinding sunlight. As they paused to let their eyes adjust, Aisha came running up to them, her dark braids flying around her and her eyes dancing with excitement.
"Wow, it really is you guys! I can't believe this!" she exclaimed.
"Neither can we!" replied Jason. "What are you doing in Africa?"
"Working in a veterinary research clinic," she replied, drawing blank looks from her three friends. "It's a long story. How are you guys doing?"
"Great!" said Trini, as the four friends began exchanging hugs. "We've been having a blast. But how's the rest of the team?"
"Well, things weren't so great the last time I saw them, but...."
"The last time you saw them?" echoed Jason.
"Yeah, what happened?" asked Zack.
Aisha laughed. "Boy, have I got a lot to tell you guys...."
"You let him get away!" King Mondo was screaming at a group of Cogs. "Do you call yourselves fighter pilots? You retreated when you had a chance to destroy him!"
"The enemy ship was losing life support," the squadron leader said in flat, mechanical tones. "Victory was assured."
"Don't talk back to me, you junkheaps! Thanks to you, that brat managed to escape back to Earth! Now I'll have to start from scratch! A new plan, a new monster...."
"Yer Majesty?" Klank interrupted hesitantly.
"What is it, Klank?" Mondo sighed, frustrated now that his anger was spent.
His confidence slightly improved by the Machine King's change of mood, Klank continued, "Our sensors have detected Billy's escape pod, Yer Majesty, and the Power Rangers dunna even know about it!"
"Excellent!" replied King Mondo, pleased by the surprise. "Send down the Cogs at once to retrieve it."
"But why, Yer Majesty?" Klank asked. "We canna detect any life signs. The Rangers' friend is finished!"
"We must make absolutely sure of that," Mondo said. "We'll never defeat the Rangers if Billy is always there to fix everything for them!"
"And we simply must defeat them," interrupted Queen Machina from across the room. She snapped her fan decisively. "It would be so embarrassing if we couldn't manage to take over this last little planet. What would they think of us back in the Alliance?"
Mondo shuddered. He could just hear what Dregon and Aradon and all the rest would be saying. Who was it again that defeated the Machine Empire? Was it Aquitar? Ihlyra? Oh, no, it was Earth! You know, the planet that's defended by children! He would never, never in a million years be able to live that down.
"Don't worry, my dear," he said to appease Machina. "The Rangers will be taken care of." I hope.
"Can I send a monster down, Dad?" Prince Sprocket begged. "Can I, can I, please?"
"I hardly think that's necessary," Mondo replied. "If Billy survived, he'll be in no condition to defend himself. The Cogs should have no problems capturing him."
"But, Dad... " Sprocket whined.
"The Cogs will handle it," the king said firmly. He turned to the Quadrafighter pilots that were still cowering fearfully in a corner.
"I want you to get down there immediately and find that escape pod," he told them. "If Billy is alive, bring him to me at once. If not... so much the better."
Aisha had spent the past hour updating Jason, Trini, and Zack on everything that had happened in Angel Grove since they left. The four friends had begun their conversation in the village, immediately after the peace delegates' brief tour. By the time Aisha finished her narrative, they had wandered nearly a mile into the savanna.
"So that's what happened," Zack remarked after Aisha had finished telling them about the Zeo quest.
"A couple of weeks ago," Jason explained to Aisha, "something really weird happened to us in England. One minute, we were touring Buckingham Palace, and the next minute, we were sitting in a fifth-grade classroom. The weirdest part was, we couldn't remember how we got there."
Aisha nodded. "My parents don't remember how it was before, either," she said. "As far as they're concerned, we never lived in Angel Grove. The only ones who know the truth are me and Ishala."
"Why?" Trini wondered. "Why didn't everyone notice the changes?"
"It's got something to do with being Rangers," replied Aisha. "When it first happened, Billy said that we retained our memories because of the Power Coins. But I don't know why we didn't lose our memories when the coins were destroyed... or why I still remember, even though I'm not a Ranger anymore."
"Probably because you were close to the situation," speculated Jason. "You already knew what was going on, so you kept your memories."
"No matter why it happened, I'm glad," Aisha said, looking around at the vast grassland. "I love it here, but I wouldn't want to forget Angel Grove."
"I know what you mean," commented Zack. "The peace tour has been morphinomenal, but I still miss the old days." He smiled, a bit ruefully. "Sometimes I think I'd give anything for the chance to beat up a few putties again."
The former Rangers laughed.
"Be careful what you wish for, Zack," Trini warned him jokingly. "You just might...." She cut off abruptly as an unearthly violet glow appeared before them. "What's that?"
Suddenly, a dozen figures emerged from the violet light. They were humanoid in shape, but seemed more like machines than people: they had golden heads and silvery bodies, and walked with robotic stiffness.
"What the...?" Jason instinctively dropped into a defensive stance. "Aisha, what are they?"
"Nothing I've ever seen before!" she exclaimed, shaking her head in bewilderment.
"Well, whatever they are," said Zack, "they're trouble!"
"Right," Jason replied. "Let's get 'em, guys!" The four teenagers charged toward the robots, ready to do battle despite their lack of powers. Most of the robot creatures turned to attack them, but a few wandered off, farther into the savanna.
"It seems like they're looking for something!" shouted Trini as she dodged a blow from one of the robots and delivered one of her own.
"Whatever it is, we've gotta stop them!" Jason yelled back. A powerful kick sent his attacker flying. He had just turned to face another of the robots when a beam of blue light shot from its eyes, catching Jason full in the chest. He dropped to the ground, momentarily dazed.
Aisha kicked a robot's legs out from under it and then rushed to help Jason up.
"Jason, are you all right?" she asked, worried.
He nodded. "I'm okay now. But it's gonna be tough to defeat these things without our powers."
"No kidding. I wonder what they're doing so far from Angel Grove?"
"Who knows? Maybe... Hi-yaah!" A tornado kick made short work of the robot that had been creeping up on them. "Maybe it's because whatever they're looking for is here.... Zack! Behind you!"
Zack punched the robot in front of him and then swept into a low kick, knocking down the one behind him. Both attackers shattered into an assortment of springs and gears.
"These things are tough!" Zack exclaimed, rolling to avoid another energy blast like the one that had hit Jason.
Aisha glanced at Trini. "Air attack?"
"Right!" Trini nodded. "Ready, guys?"
The two girls raced toward Zack and Jason, who boosted them into the air. They somersaulted down in two blurs of yellow and landed on the robots, smashing three of them to pieces. As the teens regrouped, the remaining few attackers fled into the grassland. A moment later, the violet light reappeared and swallowed them up.
"What was that all about?" Zack panted after the robots were gone.
"Those were way beyond putties," remarked Jason, wiping sweat from his forehead.
"Or Tengas," Aisha added. "I don't have a clue what those things were."
"I don't get it," said Zack. "I mean, what could they be looking for way out here?"
"Wait a minute!" Aisha exclaimed with sudden realization. "The meteor!"
"What?" asked Zack.
"Some people in camp said they saw a meteor last night. It landed somewhere out here and spooked a bunch of animals."
"Where is it?" Jason asked.
"Well, some of the robots went over that way," said Trini, pointing to a small rise nearby.
Jason nodded. "Let's go."
The four friends had walked about twenty yards when they saw something glinting
in the hot afternoon sun.
Chapter Four: Vital Signs
"That's no meteor," Trini said.
"But what is it?" breathed Aisha.
It was an oblong metallic pod, lying on a patch of bare, blackened ground where the grass had been burned away. Good thing it rained last night, Aisha thought. That could have started the entire grassland on fire.
The pod's silvery surface was covered with scorch marks, as if it had gone through incredible heat. Attached to it was a large white parachute, its collapsed folds rippling in the breeze. As the four teenagers got closer, they saw a puddle of thick greenish fluid around the base of the pod. The puddle bubbled and steamed in the hot sun, and the air around it seemed much cooler than normal.
"What's that green stuff?" wondered Jason, leaning over the quickly evaporating puddle.
"I wouldn't touch it," advised Trini, keeping her distance. "It's probably cold enough to burn your hand off."
"It looks like those robot guys were messing around with this thing," Zack remarked as he looked around. "Maybe that's why it's leaking."
"Which means," Jason realized, "that there's probably something in here that they want to destroy. Something that needs to be kept cold."
"And we stopped them from taking it, so they just settled for thawing it out," Aisha finished.
The four friends exchanged glances, each of them thinking the same thing: But what is it?
"Let's open it," Trini said softly.
Jason nodded and stepped carefully around the green puddle to stand beside the pod. He located a locking mechanism on the pod's side and fumbled with it for a moment. Finally managing to undo the lock, he tried pushing the door open, to no avail.
"Zack, take the other side," he instructed, walking around the pod to join him. "Let's try pulling it open."
"Right," Zack replied, taking up position next to Jason. "On three," Jason ordered. "One... two... three!" The boys pulled with all their strength, breaking into sweat as the top of the pod began to slowly slide towards them. Trini and Aisha went to the other side and began pushing, adding their strength to that of their friends.
Thick clouds of cold white vapor poured out of the pod as the door was forced farther and farther back. Trini fanned the vapor away with her arm and peered inside the pod.
"Oh, my God!" Every bit of color suddenly drained from her face.
"What?" Jason asked. "What is it?"
Trini was speechless. Looking down into the pod, Aisha realized why. "It's Billy!"
"Those good-for-nothing piles of scrap!" he raved. "They can't do anything right!"
"I'm sure they would have succeeded, Yer Majesty," Klank said diplomatically, "if it hadna been fer those four teenagers."
"They weren't even Power Rangers!" Mondo exclaimed. "They destroyed my Cogs without any powers at all!"
"I told you we needed a monster," Prince Sprocket jeered.
"Hsssh! Don't sass your father!" Queen Machina scolded. "He's upset enough as it is!"
"Hmph!" The stomping of Sprocket's metallic feet clanged loudly on the floor, and his purple cape rustled behind him as he left the room, pouting.
"Those Cogs are completely worthless!" the king ranted on. "Not only did they not manage to capture Billy, they led those meddling teenagers straight to him! Now everything is ruined!"
"Darling, don't carry on so," said Machina soothingly. "It's bad for your oil pressure."
"But now that brat is going to survive!"
"Perhaps not," said the queen, twirling her fan slyly. "The Cogs did manage to drain all the coolant from his escape pod."
"And without that," Orbus chimed in from Klank's shoulder, "he'll need oxygen again!"
"Those frail humans are so dependent on oxygen!" remarked Klank. "He cannae survive fer more than a few minutes without it. We've won!"
But the Machine King was inconsolable. He stormed off as Sprocket had, muttering despairingly to himself.
"Back to the drawing board! By the time I conquer this planet, I'll be so old and rusted...."
Queen Machina watched him go, and absently fanned herself. "He doesn't cope well with stress, does he?"
"Billy!" Jason said urgently. "Billy, can you hear me? Come on, man, wake up!"
"Something's really wrong, guys," said Aisha fearfully.
Trini reached into the pod to check Billy's vital signs, but she had barely even touched him when she pulled back in surprise. "He's freezing!" she exclaimed, astonished.
"Just like that green stuff," puzzled Zack. "I wonder what happened?"
I have no idea was on the tip of Jason's tongue, but he had hardly opened his mouth to say it when Trini interrupted.
"Guys," she said, looking up with fear shining in her dark eyes, "I can't find a pulse."
"Oh, no," Aisha reacted, shaking her head in frightened disbelief. "Please, no...."
"Give me a hand, Zack," Jason ordered, his instincts kicking into emergency mode. The pair easily lifted Billy from the pod and laid him down on the scorched ground, away from the puddle of coolant.
"I can't believe this," Aisha began. "He can't be...."
"There's still a chance," Jason insisted firmly. "Somebody has to go and get help!"
"I'll go," replied Zack, leaping instantly to his feet.
"Get Rachel from the clinic!" Aisha told him. "She'll know what to do! Hurry!"
Zack nodded in acknowledgement and sprinted off toward the village. "Remember scuba training?" Jason said to Trini as he pulled Billy's shirt open. "You breathe, I'll do the compressions."
"Okay, then. Let's do it."
He and Trini began CPR as Aisha scooted back to give them room. "One, two, three, four, five!" Jason counted as he repeatedly pressed down on Billy's chest. "Breathe! One, two, three, four, five! Breathe!" After every fifth compression, Trini administered a breath. The pair worked side by side for several minutes as Aisha looked on.
"Come on, Billy," Trini coaxed between breaths. "Come on, breathe!"
"One, two, three, four, five!" Jason continued, pausing to let Trini deliver a breath. "Come on, Billy! One, two, three, four, five! Breathe!"
"Nothing's happening!" Aisha exclaimed despairingly.
"He's gonna make it!" insisted Jason. "Don't give up!"
Fighting back tears, Aisha took Billy's cold, pale hand in her own. "Come on, Billy, please! You've got to fight back! Come on!"
"One, two, three, four, five!" Jason continued doggedly. His arms were beginning to ache, and the merciless sun wasn't helping much, either. Sweat trickled into his eyes, but he couldn't pause to wipe it away. He couldn't afford to miss a single compression, not when Billy's life hung in the balance... and it was a precarious balance indeed. Jason couldn't help wondering how long it had been since Billy stopped breathing. Were his and Trini's efforts too little, too late?
"One, two, three, four, five!" He wouldn't let himself think about it. Billy was not going to die, not if Jason Lee Scott had any say in the matter. "One, two, three, four, five!"
"Jason, it's not working." Trini fought back tears. "It's been over five minutes." There was hardly a chance left that Billy could be revived; even less that he would survive without some sort of brain damage.
The grim knowledge only served to increase Jason's determination. "Fight, Billy!" he shouted, in as commanding a tone as he had ever used as the Red Ranger. "You've got to fight! Don't give up, fight! Come on! You're gonna make it!" With renewed strength, he continued the compressions, shouting encouragements the whole time.
"One, two, three, four, five! Breathe! Come on, Billy, now!"
"Please, Billy, fight!" Aisha joined in. "Come on, you can do it! Be strong, Billy! Breathe!"
Suddenly, a tremor went through Billy's body, and he drew a long, ragged breath.
"Something's happening!" Aisha said, leaning forward excitedly. "He's starting to breathe!"
"Yes!" Jason exclaimed. He sank to a sitting position in exhausted relief.
"Did it really work?" Trini looked anxiously at Billy, as if to confirm for herself what Aisha had said. He was indeed breathing again, albeit shallowly and with a halting, ragged sound.
"He's got a pulse," Jason announced, rather unnecessarily. His wide smile showed the relief all three of them were feeling. "We did it, Trini."
They hugged, Trini breaking into joyful tears as Jason barely restrained tears of his own.
"You guys were great," Aisha told them, smiling broadly as tears streamed down her face. She leaned across Billy to join in the hug. "He's gonna be okay."
"We need to get him warmed up, though," said Jason after a moment, and pulled off his sleeveless red shirt. He draped it over Billy's unconscious form, simultaneously realizing that a sleeveless shirt wasn't going to be much good to someone that cold.
"How will we get him back to camp?" Aisha wondered.
The three friends looked around for a moment until Trini suggested, "The parachute! We can hold it up, you know, kind of like a hammock."
"Speaking of the parachute, what are we going to do about that pod thing?" Jason asked. "Zack's gonna be back any minute with Rachel, and she'll want to know...."
Just then, Zack appeared, dashing toward them along with Rachel McCormick. Out of breath, the two nearly collapsed when they reached the scorched area, but Rachel managed to sit down next to Billy and open the medical bag she had brought. "What have we got?" she panted.
"His name's Billy," Jason told her. "He didn't have a pulse or anything when we found him. We did CPR for five or six minutes."
Rachel nodded. "Good job. I'm glad you knew what to do. Six minutes is a heck of a long time without oxygen." She rooted around in her bag and finally came up with a stethoscope.
"Hey, wait a second!" Trini interrupted. "Aren't you the veterinarian?"
"Yeah," Rachel replied as she put on the stethoscope. Pushing Jason's shirt aside, she positioned the instrument on Billy's chest and listened silently for a moment. Then she looked back up at Trini and explained, "I trained as an EMT before I came over here. It comes in handy from time totime."
She paused to listen again, then took Billy's pulse and blood pressure. "He's pretty much stabilized," she concluded, "at least until we can get him to the clinic for a full exam. But how did he get so cold? It's at least ninety degrees out here, and he feels like an ice cube."
Jason, Trini, Aisha, and Zack exchanged glances. Zordon had drilled the need for secrecy into them time and time again. Keep your identities secret, he had said. No one may know that you are the Power Rangers.
"She has to know what happened if she's going to help him," Trini pointed out. She and the others gazed at Jason. Powers or no, he was still the Red Ranger, and the decision would be his.
Jason's dark eyes met theirs, and then he looked down at the unconscious body of a friend whom he hadn't seen in two years. We'll get you through this, Billy, he promised silently. I promise you'll be all right. Rules or no, they had to do whatever it took. But that doesn't mean she has to know everything....
Jason gestured toward the escape pod, then looked at Rachel. "We found him in there...."
There was a fifth light as well, a pale flame of silvery-white that was like the others, yet somehow different at the same time. It was unfamiliar, but friendly, and the blue flame clung to it as it did the others. The lights were warmth and safety and love, and whatever they had done had caused the blue flame to flare brilliantly again, with renewed strength and hope.
As it basked in the warmth of the colored lights, the blue flame reached out around itself, whispering a triumphant message to the sleeping mind it sustained.
It was evening, and Aisha, Trini, Zack, and Jason were back in camp. The
four friends were sitting in the research clinic, where Billy had been brought
several hours earlier.
Chapter Five: Vigil
Still unconscious, Billy lay on the clinic's exam table, which Rachel and Aisha had converted into a makeshift bed. He was breathing more easily now, but he still seemed pale against the dark blankets, and the limp hand Trini held was still cold to the touch.
"I wish he would wake up," she said, worry evident on her face. "Rachel said it might be a while," Aisha reminded her gently. "Just give him some time."
"Speaking of Rachel," Zack interrupted, "where is she, anyway?"
"She was up practically all last night," replied Aisha, "so I told her to go get some sleep. She was going to stay, but I said we could handle it."
Jason nodded. "We need time to work out a plan, anyway," he said.
"What do you mean?" asked Aisha as she and Trini came to sit with the guys.
"A way to contact the others back in Angel Grove," he replied. "We've got to let them know where Billy is."
"How are we supposed to contact them?" Zack responded. "There aren't any phones around here."
"What about communicators?" Jason asked, looking around at his three friends. "Could we use Billy's?"
Trini shook her head. "He's modified it somehow. I found it wired inside the pod, like some kind of control switch."
"Can you fix it?" Zack asked hopefully.
"I'm not even sure what he did to it. Besides, the cold probably ruined it, anyway. I don't think it would work, even if I could fix it."
Jason glanced at Aisha. "Do you still have yours?"
"Yeah, but it won't do us much good."
"I'm not a Ranger anymore," Aisha replied, as if it were self-explanatory.
"What does that have to do with it?" Trini asked with a baffled expression.
"The communicators are tied to our powers," the other girl explained. "They're useless without a Power Coin or Zeo Crystal."
Trini looked doubtful. "Who told you that?"
"Billy did. When the earth was sent back in time, our communicators stopped working, and he said that was why. They were linked in to our Power Coins."
"Well, the teleporter won't work," replied Trini, "but the communicator should be fine. It doesn't really take much power at all."
"If they don't need much power, then why did Billy link them to the coins?" Zack wondered.
"He didn't at first," replied Trini. "Alpha changed it that way because the Power Coins were a more reliable energy source."
Aisha choked back a laugh. "The Power Coins? Reliable?" Jason, Trini, and Zack looked at her strangely. "Never mind," Aisha said quickly.
"Anyway," said Trini, returning to the subject, "I should be able to get your communicator working in no time. I just have to hook it up to a new power source."
"Like what?" asked Jason.
Trini shrugged. "A couple of batteries should do it."
"I'll get the ones from my camera," Zack offered, and hurried out of the clinic. Aisha went with him to get her communicator.
When they had gone, Trini walked across the packed dirt floor to stand at Billy's side. For a long time, she said nothing, but simply stood there, studying his tranquil features. "He's missing his glasses," she observed at last, a bit wistfully.
"Maybe he finally got rid of them," suggested Jason, coming to stand next to her. "Remember how they were always getting in his way in battles?"
Trini laughed softly and nodded, despite the fact that her eyes were brimming with tears. "Remember the very first time we fought the Putties?" she reminded him. "Billy stopped to take his glasses off first, and then he couldn't even see them coming. They tossed him on the ground in about ten seconds flat."
"Guess that taught him to leave them on." Jason smiled at the memory. "God, that seems like a long time ago."
"It's been nearly three years. Two, since we left Angel Grove. We didn't even keep in touch, not really." The tears finally came, glistening on her face like diamonds in the light of the clinic's Coleman lantern. "I wish we had. Now... we might not get the chance."
"Trini." Shaking his head, Jason put his arms around her reassuringly, and she rested her head on his chest. "Don't say that. He'll be okay."
"I hope so."
They said no more, but stood together silently in the lanternlight, holding each other close as they kept vigil over their friend.
"I still can't believe it," Tommy sighed, shaking his head sadly. "I... I just never thought something like this could happen."
Tanya nodded. "I never really thought about the danger," she remarked. "It's like, 'I'm a Power Ranger, so I'm invincible,' you know? You think you're protected somehow... and then you realize how risky it really is."
"And Billy was even less protected than the rest of us," added Rocky. "Without the Power, he was defenseless out there." Rocky felt anger beginning to bubble up inside him, and he let it. Anger was easier than the hollow, aching sense of failure and loss that had haunted him since Billy's death.
"I never dreamed King Mondo would attack someone who wasn't even a Ranger," said Kat quietly, her blue eyes troubled.
"It's been done before," Kimberly pointed out.
"I know," replied Kat, "but never like this. Not targeting a specific person and then... then...." Her pale face crumbled with grief, and she couldn't finish the sentence.
"Mondo's gonna pay," Rocky promised her, his expression fierce. "Someday, he'll pay for this."
"What's the point?" asked Adam suddenly. The others nearly jumped at his voiceAdam had hardly spoken all morning, just sat there between Tanya and Kat with a look of utter desolation on his face.
That look hadn't changed. Adam's face was still flatly expressionless, and his normally lively dark eyes seemed dull and empty. Losing his best friend was simply too much to deal with. Billy had been like a big brother to him... and to even contemplate the fact that he was gone....
"There's no point in getting revenge," he continued dully. "No matter what we do to Mondo, it won't bring Billy back."
Tanya put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "I know it hurts, Adam, but it really would help to talk about it. Billy wouldn't have wanted you to be like this."
A long moment passed, in which there was no response from Adam. Finally, Kat said, "Adam is right about one thing. There's nothing we can do to change this... and we can't keep it to ourselves forever."
"Katherine's right." Kimberly hesitated for a moment before continuing, "We're going to have to tell his father."
Tommy looked away quickly, tears stinging the corners of his eyes. "I know," he whispered.
Kimberly put her arm around him comfortingly. "I'll talk to him, if you want," she offered. "I can tell it bothers you, and I've known him longer than anyone."
"No." Tommy shook his head and wiped the tears away stubbornly. He'd done his crying already. The night before, he'd gone down to the docks at Angel Grove Harbor, where his Dragonzord slept beneath the waves. He always went there when he needed to work through something, and it always made him feel better... as if the little things he worried about could never compare to the horrors he'd gone through as the Green Ranger. This time, it hadn't really helped. It had been a relief, though, to finally let go of the tears he'd been hiding. He could cry at the harbor, alone with the old friend who had shared in so many of his sorrows. There, he was just Tommy. Here, with the others, he was Zeo Ranger V again... and he couldn't cry anymore.
"I'll do it," he said finally, when he was sure he had control of his voice. "I just... I just need a little more time."
Kimberly smiled at him, an awkward smile considering that she, too, was on the verge of tears. "I understand, Tommy. We all miss him." She kissed him lightly on the cheek, and the two stared at each other for a long moment.
Tanya and Rocky actually smiled at the sight, although Adam was still beyond noticing. Kat watched the couple for only a second, and then looked away with a strangely uncomfortable expression. Tommy and Kimberly didn't notice.
Suddenly, the Rangers' communicators went off. Kimberly grabbed for her wrist reflexively, and was mildly surprised to find it bare. Adam didn't react at all, but the others started slightly and glanced around themselves. A moment later, Tommy stood. "I'll go see what's up," he said softly, and left the table. He walked quickly around a corner, out of sight of prying eyes.
"I wonder what Zordon wants," commented Rocky, sounding as though he couldn't have cared less.
"He's probably just checking up on us," Kimberly replied. "I know he's worried about us."
At least, I hope that's it, she thought. If there was a monster attack right now, I don't think these guys could handle it.
She surveyed her friends' faces. Adam was almost completely out of it, Tanya was on the verge of crying again, and Rocky looked ready to kill something. Katherine's expression was the most puzzling. Her teary, red-rimmed eyes contrasted strangely with the tight, uncomfortable line of her mouth, and she refused to look at Kimberly.
I wonder what's wrong with her? Kimberly thought, and then dismissed the question. Billy's death had affected them all strangely, and Kimberly supposed Kat's mood swing was just as normal a reaction as Adam's withdrawal.
She abandoned her speculations a moment later as Tommy returned to the table, bright-eyed and excited.
"What is it?" she asked him.
"Yeah," Tanya chimed in. "What did Zordon want?"
"It wasn't Zordon," Tommy replied, looking as if he were about to burst with some huge secret. "It was Jason."
"Jason?!" Kim and Rocky repeated, surprised and puzzled. Even Adam seemed to show a bit of interest.
Kat and Tanya glanced at each other, confused. "You mean that guy you told me about?" asked Kat. "From Switzerland?"
Tommy nodded, but didn't elaborate. Instead, he took a deep breath and continued, "They've found Billy."
Kimberly was on her feet in an instant. "Billy?!" she repeated in disbelief. "They've found... Billy?!"
Tommy nodded and broke into a wide grin. "He's alive."
"YES!" Rocky whooped, jumping up from his seat. He hugged Tanya, who had been sitting next to him, and then leaned over the table to Adam. "Did you hear that, man? Billy's alive! They found him!"
Adam's jaw had dropped practically to the tabletop. "He's not dead?" he said, confused. "But... the ship. I saw it. I saw it blow up."
"He wasn't on it," explained Tommy breathlessly. "They found him in an escape pod out in the middle of nowhere."
"And he's alive," Kimberly whispered, not quite believing it. Tommy quite literally swept her off her feet and whirled her joyously through the air. Her pink flowered dress swirled around her knees as he set her back down and hugged her tightly. Tears of joy ran freely down their faces, and both of their souls seemed to shine out of their hazel-brown eyes as they shared the ecstatic moment.
"He's alive," Tommy half-laughed, half-sobbed. "He's really alive."
Other Juice Bar patrons were beginning to cast odd looks in the Rangers' direction, but none of them noticed or cared. Even Kat, who had appeared so sullen a moment ago, was crying in relief. She hugged Tanya and then Tommy. The second hug was more of a threesome, since Kim was still clinging to Tommy's shoulders, but Kat barely noticed.
Billy's alive, she thought. For that moment, nothing else mattered.
Trini was sitting alone in the clinic, watching over Billy. Aisha and the
guys had gone outside to wait for the others, but Trini wouldn't leave.
Although there had been no change in Billy's condition, she wanted to be
there, just in case.
Chapter Six: Reunion
We can't let him wake up all alone, she had thought. He's going to be scared and confused... someone has to be here.
Trini had been sitting next to Billy for several minutes when she heard a low sigh. "Billy?" she asked quickly, leaning over him with an anxious expression. "Billy, are you awake?"
A muscle twitched in Billy's face and he sighed again, but didn't awaken. He was shivering, and Trini pulled the blanket up closer around him, as if she were tucking in a child.
"I know you're in there, Billy," she told him, "and I believe you can hear me." She caressed his face tenderly with a soft hand. "Please come back to us. You can do it, I know you can. Please don't take too long."
The faintest shadow of a smile drifted across Billy's sleeping face. Trini wondered what, if anything, was going on in his mind. Was he dreaming? Had he heard her?
Suddenly, a familiar sound caught Trini's attention. Glancing outside, she saw six columns of light appear next to the campfire and resolve themselves into the figures of Tommy, Kimberly, Rocky, Adam, and two others whom she didn't recognize.
"The others are here," she said, turning back to Billy. She kissed her first two fingers and touched them gently to his lips. "I'll be right back," she whispered.
Trini stood quietly and headed out to join her friends. A blush colored her face when she saw Jason standing at the clinic entrance, and she wondered how much he had seen. The former Red Ranger smiled faintly at her embarrassment, but didn't bring up the subject. "They're here," he said simply.
An emotional reunion was in progress when Trini and Jason stepped into the circle of firelight. There were so many hugs and back-slaps and tearful greetings happening at once that it was hard to tell who was who.
"Trini!" someone exclaimed excitedly, drawing her attention. The familiar voice came from a petite brown-haired girl in a short flower-print dress, who had been hugging Aisha a moment before.
"Kimberly!" Trini dashed forward to embrace her best friend. "Aisha said you were in Florida!"
"I was," Kimberly replied. "I came back when they told me that Billy was...." She shook her head, as if to negate the thought. "It's great to see you," she finished simply.
Trini grinned as they hugged again. Over Kim's shoulder, she saw Aisha hugging another girl in yellow, then one dressed in pink. Jason and Zack were talking with Tommy, while Rocky went over to Aisha and dragged Adam along with him.
"I guess I need to introduce everybody," said Tommy as the greetings tapered off. "This is Katherine...." He gestured toward a tall blonde girl who was wearing a fuchsia sweater and black skirt.
"Call me Kat," she said in a warm Australian accent.
"... and this is Tanya," Tommy continued, indicating the other girl, who wore yellow. Tanya smiled, a bit shyly, and said 'hi.'
Jason stepped forward. "I'm Jason," he told the two girls. Then he introduced Zack and Trini, and more greetings followed.
"Where's Billy?" Kim asked. She was obviously worried, despite the group's cheerfulness.
"In the clinic," Jason replied, nodding in the direction of a large green tent. "He's not awake yet."
"Can we go see him?" asked Tanya hopefully.
"Sure, go ahead," Aisha replied, forcing her attention back to the matter at hand. Seeing Tanya as a teenager was a bit unnerving... when the two girls had met, they'd been only ten years old.
"We should probably take turns going in," Kimberly suggested. "You know, so there's not, like, a whole mob in there."
"You're probably right, Kim," responded Tommy. He turned toward Adam, who was hanging back a bit from the others and had hardly spoken. "Hey, man, why don't you go ahead?"
Adam nodded, his face a strange mixture of anticipation and dread, as he silently began walking toward the clinic. The others watched sympathetically as the melancholy teen trudged away.
"He's been really torn up over this," Tommy explained softly. "Even when we found out Billy was alive, I don't think Adam really believed it."
"He's barely even talked since it happened," added Kat.
"Well, I hope he doesn't freak out in there," Aisha said with concern. "I mean, when he sees Billy like that. He's not looking so good, and it might make Adam even more upset."
Trini was staring off in the direction of the clinic. "I think he'll be okay," she murmured distantly.
"Yeah," Kimberly agreed. "Adam'll snap out of it."
Trini smiled to herself. I wasn't talking about Adam.
The others had all seemed happy and excited when they found out Billy was here. They were anxious to go see him. Why? Adam didn't know. For some reason, though, he now found himself entering the tent and looking around.
The interior of the clinic was illuminated by a Coleman gas lantern that sat atop a filing cabinet. Soft light fell on the figure of Billy, who was lying on a makeshift bed that seemed to have originally been a table or workbench. He was covered nearly up to his chin with a navy blue blanket that made him seem very small and pale.
Hesitantly, Adam approached his friend. He wondered why his face hadn't been covered up. Isn't that what they're supposed to do when somebody dies?
When Adam finally reached Billy's bedside, he had to force himself to look down. Billy's eyes were closed, and there were dark circles under them. He looked completely peaceful, and there was even the faintest suggestion of a smile on his face. He looked so... so normal. He could have been asleep, even. Why, why did he have to look like that, just the way he had looked when he was alive?
Adam felt tears building up inside him, but they refused to come. An iron fist was clamped around his heart, holding everything in just as it had been doing ever since the previous afternoon. Dry-eyed, he stared at Billy and sobbed silently inside himself.
Gradually, Adam became aware of a soft, rhythmic sound. He watched his friend closely, noticing for the first time the nearly imperceptible rising and falling of his chest. Breathing... Billy was breathing....
"Billy?!" Adam gasped, and took a few faltering steps backwards. "You're... you're...."
The dam finally broke, and hot tears spilled down Adam's face. "Oh, God...." he choked. "Billy... you're alive? You're.... I mean, I thought... I thought that you were.... Oh, Billy!"
Adam sank to his knees and sobbed in relief.
He was just now, gradually, becoming Billy again, aware of himself as more than just the blue flame. The cold, black void of cryogenic freeze was slowly dissipating, and he was slipping gently into the softer, lighter grey of normal sleep. He sighed contentedly, and the blue flame grew inside him to fill his entire being with a soft, comforting glow.
Faintly, as if from a million miles away, a voice crept into the fringes of Billy's awareness.
"I thought that you were... Oh, Billy!" The voice itself was familiar, but the words were blurred and meaningless. Only the light made sense... the light of the black/green flame that the voice came from. It was warm and alive, glowing softly with the same Power as all the other flames... the same Power that burned blue within Billy himself.
He watched for a long time until the flame went away and another came to take its place. It was even stranger than the green and black flame, for it seemed to be made up of three colors: a thin red halo encircling an inferno of pure, blazing white, with a hint of emerald lying deep down at the center. Other flames came and went after that: pink, yellow... even a blue flame like Billy's own, though it was blended with a tinge of red. They were all familiar and cherished, and with every one, the blue flame glowed a little brighter.
If he could have, Billy would have watched the lights forever. Eventually, though, his awareness of them faded and he slipped into dreams. He dreamed of vast oceans in turmoil; of strange, gentle beings and a tunnel in the stars. He saw a young man, green-eyed and sandy-haired, working side by side with one of the mysterious creatures. The young man was very, very familiar, but Billy didn't have a chance to think about it as the dreams went on, deep into the African night.
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