Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers in any of their
forms, nor anything else recognizable from the Power Rangers TV universe
that may be in this story. I do not make any money from writing stories
Notes and Timeline: Set during ZEO period while both Jason and Billy are there, after my story "Strangers with Familiar Faces". While not absolutely necessary, it would help to be a little familiar with the episodes: "Hogday Afternoon", "Passing the Lantern", and "Graduation Blues". I am not involved in the medical world at all, so any medical inaccuracies in this story are because of my lack of knowledge in such areas. The same reason (ignorance) applies for any other inaccuracies. Enjoy.
Jason had a feeling something was wrong. He couldn't tell why, but he knew. Something bad had happened, was happening, or would happen shortly. He looked around the Juice Bar to see what his friends were up to. Tommy, Adam, and Rocky were all working out, practicing a routine Tommy was using as a demonstration for a karate seminar being held there in a couple of weeks. Tanya was being tutored in karate by one of Tommy's advanced students. Katherine was sitting beside him working on her homework. She looked up seeming to sense his disquiet.
"Is something the matter?"
"I don't know. I just feel edgy, like something is wrong, but I don't know what," Jason replied.
"Hmm, maybe we should call Zordon? From what I've seen your instincts are usually right," she suggested. The last time Jason had felt something was wrong it had turned out Tommy and Billy had been replaced by clones.
"Good idea, come on," Jason gestured to her to follow as he went to a quiet corner of the building to make his call. He started to simply call Zordon then changed his mind abruptly as the feeling got stronger. "I'm going to teleport to the Power Chamber. This feeling is just not going to go away unless I see some proof things are okay. Are you with me?"
Katherine's nod was all he needed to see. They teleported to the Power Chamber.
Zordon greeted them with a puzzled sound to his voice. "Is there a problem Rangers?"
"I don't know, Zordon. I just have a bad feeling, and I wanted to check in with you to see if you knew of any problems."
"All has been quiet. There is no unusual activity at the Machine Empire Base, and no intergalactic traffic has been sensed."
"Well, okay, maybe it's just a false alarm, but it sure was strong. Where's Billy, by the way?"
"Billy has been working in the zord holding bay. He should be almost finished, so perhaps you can convince him to take some time off," Zordon suggested. Billy had been spending more time with his friends recently, but Zordon was still convinced it was not enough, so he was always encouraging the others to engage Billy in outside activities.
"Good idea, let's teleport over there and get him out of here for a while. What do you say Kat?"
"Sounds like a plan to me," she replied as they prepared to teleport to the zord holding bay.
The holding bay was a huge cavern beneath a nearby mountain. All five Zeo Zords were housed in the one room, and as they walked in Jason and Kat immediately felt minute in comparison to the huge machines. It was like walking into an oversized fantasy world and Kat always found it a bit disquieting.
"Billy! Hey, Bill, you around?" Jason called.
An echoing silence greeted his call.
"Great, looks like we have to go find him. He may be inside one of the zords and unable to hear us out here," Jason theorized.
"Or not," Katherine suddenly exclaimed as she caught sight of something just beyond Zeo Zord III. She sprinted toward what she had seen, closely followed by Jason. They stopped together in dismay.Lying on the floor was Billy, pale and unmoving. Jason looked up at the zord and felt his stomach clench. There were some dangling wires and what looked like part of a safety harness hanging about fifteen feet above the ground. Billy must have fallen from there while working. They had no way of knowing how long he had been lying there.
Katherine was already kneeling by Billy's side. "Zordon, we need an emergency teleport directly to the Med Room. Billy's been hurt." Jason knelt beside her as the three of them were quickly teleported to the Med Room. A diagnostic bed was in the middle of the room, and he and Kat carefully lifted Billy from the floor and laid him on the bed.
Alpha hustled in and started a scan immediately. Zordon's visage appeared on the monitor above the communications console. In this manner Zordon was able to communicate directly with anyone in the Med Room.
"What is his condition, Alpha?" Zordon asked.
"Ay-yi-yi! He is unconscious, and it appears he has suffered a concussion. I am sending the results of the scan to you now."
"You are correct Alpha. He has a fairly severe concussion. Is he showing any signs of regaining consciousness?"
"Not yet Zordon. But it shouldn't be too long. I have already started the only treatment we can provide for this type of injury."
Zordon turned his attention to the two Rangers. "It is a good thing you found him when you did."
"It's thanks to Jason and his 'sixth sense' for trouble. I just came along for moral support," Katherine replied.
"It is fortunate you followed your hunch."
"Yeah, it worked out this time. But we have to do something about Billy being alone and doing hazardous duties like this. I may not always sense something is wrong," Jason replied in a distracted way.
"I agree. We will have to institute some sort of monitoring program so we will be alerted is someone is injured when working in a remote part of the Power Chamber complex. We cannot risk a repeat of this happening," Zordon said.
Just then Jason's communicator beeped and Tommy's voice issued from the device. "Jason, you there bro?"
"I'm in the Power Chamber, Tommy," Jason replied.
"Is there a problem?"
"Well, yes, actually. The rest of you should teleport here as soon as possible."
"We'll be there in a minute. Is Katherine with you?"
"I'm here, Tommy," Katherine called out.
Tommy didn't reply to that, but within seconds the other four Rangers arrived in the ops area of the Power Chamber. Jason and Katherine went out to meet them.
"What's up Jason?" Tommy asked, looking a little irked that he had not been contacted at the first sign of a problem.
"Well, I was feeling a little antsy about things, had a feeling something was wrong. So Katherine and I teleported here to check in with Zordon. He said nothing was going on, but before we left we decided to check in with Billy to see if he wanted to come back to the Juice Bar with us. That's when we found him unconscious in the zord holding bay. Alpha and Zordon are treating him for a concussion," Jason reported.
"A concussion? What happened to him?" Tommy was clearly concerned.
"It looked like he fell when working on Zeo Zord III. I could see wires and a broken harness above where we found him," Jason told him.
"Damn. I knew he should not be allowed to do all that work up in and on the Zords without someone else around. I just hope he's going to be okay."
"Alpha and Zordon seem to think he will be," Katherine attempted to soothe Tommy.
Before anyone else could comment, Zordon's voice came over the intercom.
"Rangers, please come to the Med Room. Billy is regaining consciousness."
They hurried in to find their friend shifting restlessly on the diagnostic bed and mumbling. When he finally settled a bit and opened his eyes he found himself looking up at six faces displaying expressions ranging from concerned to somewhat peeved.
"Uh-oh. This can't be good," he muttered, closing his eyes again.
"Well, you are right about that. Can you remember what happened?" Tommy asked.
Billy was quiet for a moment, trying to recall what had happened to him that would result in his waking up in the Med Room. "I have no idea. The last I remember is going to the zord holding bay to make some repairs on Zeo Zord III," he said at last.
"Jason and Katherine found you unconscious on the floor of the zord holding bay," Rocky supplied.
"Oh. I don't recall how I would have gotten into that situation. How badly am I injured?"
"You have a concussion," Tanya reported.
"That would explain the headache."
"Is everything else okay, Zordon?" Adam asked.
"Yes, Adam, Billy's only injury is the concussion. He was lucky."
"Yes, very. And if he ever does something like this again he won't be so lucky," Tommy declared with a stern look at the team genius.
"Look, guys, I apologize if I scared or upset you. I assure you it was not intentional in the least, but sometimes I have to work on some fairly inaccessible areas of the zords."
"In the future we will have some way to monitor you and be sure help will be readily available if you meet with some difficulty," Jason decreed.
"Okay, guys, I think we have scolded him enough for now. When can he go home Zordon?" Katherine intervened.
"Rangers, I fear it will be a while until Billy can go home. With this sort of head injury it is imperative he be kept awake for 24 hours. If there are no signs of complications within that time he will be okay. It would be best if he is kept here for that period so Alpha and I can monitor his condition," Zordon announced.
"Oh, come on, can't I go home and stay awake?"
"NO!" six voices spoke as one.
"Geez, guys! You're enough to scare a person into convulsions," Billy griped, looking around at the Rangers.
"Listen here, Mr. Stubborn, you are staying right where you are until Zordon and Alpha give you an unconditional clean bill of health. And that is final," Tommy would brook no argument on the matter.
"Fine. What exactly am I supposed to do about staying awake lying on a bed in the Med Room? This is not exactly a stimulating environment," Billy asked.
"We can take turns staying with you and keeping you awake," Tanya suggested, looking around at the others.
The others all agreed and they decided they would work in 2-hour shifts, cycling around so each would have 2 shifts. Katherine took the first, Adam second, Tanya third, Rocky fourth, Tommy fifth and Jason the last shift.
It was 11:15 a.m. on Saturday.
Katherine seated herself in the comfortable chair they had brought into the Med Room. She looked at Billy almost shyly, wondering just what she was supposed to do for the next two hours. While she was fond of Billy, she really hadn't spent a great deal of time alone with him.
"What would you like to do?" she finally asked.
"Well, since I have been told I am not allowed to sleep, the only thing I want to do is sleep. Typical perverse human nature at its best. My head still hurts too much to want to sit up for long, so perhaps we could just talk?" Billy suggested.
"Okay, we can do that," she replied readily enough. The silence spun out between them.
Both were growing uncomfortable, but were not able to break the stalemate of silence. Then their eyes met, and they both burst into spontaneous laughter.
"I'm sorry, Kat. Really, I'm not laughing at you, but at myself I guess. It is rather difficult to think of something to say when someone says 'let's just talk', I'm sorry," Billy finally gasped out.
"It's okay, I just couldn't think of anything to say! I felt so silly, but my mind went completely blank," Katherine added.
Once their laughter had settled down, Billy looked at Katherine curiously. "You know, I have always wondered what your life in Australia was like. Could you tell me about that, please?"
"Of course. I was born in the United States but we moved to Australia when I was only six months old, and stayed there until last year. The members of my father's family are all natives of Australia, and most still live there," she started explaining. As she spoke a pensive look came over her face and she paused.
"Do you miss living there?" Billy asked gently.
"Yes, sometimes. But my life here is very good, so that helps a lot. As does having good friends," she smiled at him.
He gave her a shy smile in return.
"For all the good qualities of my life here, there are some members of my family I miss tremendously. My grandmother, for example. She raised five boys in a wilderness area, alone after her husband died. She was involved in a fight to protect kangaroos in their natural habitat. See, there is an awful lot of poaching going on. Anyway, we spent most summers with her from the time I was four until I was thirteen. And it was the summer I was eleven that I remember the most" Katherine said with a far away look. "I had helped in the rescue of a baby kangaroo....
As they approached the area where the shooting had been heard, Katherine suddenly became a little apprehensive. She saw large birds circling, and she knew from her father that their circling like that indicated something on the ground below had died. She had never seen something dead before, and she found herself a little afraid.
"Blasted idiots! Why do they do this?" Katherine had never heard her grandmother so angry.
She went to look at what had gotten her grandmother so upset, and ended up loosing a bit of her innocence. There were three dead kangaroos sprawled in the dust, gaping wounds visible where they had been shot. Nothing in Katherine's life had prepared her for such a sight. She gave a cry of anguish, and turned away, suddenly ill. Lucille realized what was happening and went to her granddaughter's aide.
"I'm sorry, Luv. I didn't think it would be quite this bad. It's hard to see, but seeing it now, maybe you will remember it, and a new ally in the fight against senseless cruelty will be born today. Here, let me help you get cleaned up, and I want you to sit here while we check the site out to see if we can find any evidence of who did this," so saying, Lucille left her granddaughter in the large vehicle, and joined the other adults
Katherine shivered slightly in the after effects of being sick. She heard the others talking, but had no desire to look out there to see what was going on. Why had she thought this would be some adventure? It was horrible, and the people who did such things were monsters.
She was lost in her thoughts, so was startled when her grandmother opened the door and handed her a tiny creature. "One of the females had a baby, at least it's still alive. Hold it dear, we will take it back with us and raise it until it is big enough to be released back into the wild."
Katherine looked at the small creature in her arms and her emotions took another dizzying spin. She was overcome with a feeling of protectiveness and love. She would not allow any harm to come to this innocent victim of cruelty. In those few minutes she dedicated herself to helping this young kangaroo survive.
Once back at her grandmother's Kat threw herself into learning what a baby kangaroo eats, and what they would need to do to ensure it could survive in the wild once it was mature enough to release.
She named the orphan '"'Roo" after the character in Winnie the Pooh, and spent most of her free time taking care of him. He grew quickly, adopting Katherine as his mother. He followed her everywhere, looking like nothing so much as a misshapen puppy. They explored together, had adventures together, and became almost inseparable playmates.
However, all too soon her grandmother announced that 'Roo was ready to return to the wild. He was now old enough to look out for himself, and he had to be released back into the wild before his instincts were completely overwhelmed by human contact.
On the last morning together, Katherine gave 'Roo his favorite meal for breakfast, and she sat by the cage talking to him while he ate. His cage was loaded on the truck and they started out to the area where they had first rescued him.
When they got there, Katherine noticed only scattered bones where the bodies of the kangaroos had lain. She and Lucille let 'Roo out of his cage and he bounded around, exploring, not understanding why Kat did not join in.
When Lucille and Katherine went to leave, 'Roo tried to follow them. Following her grandmother's instructions, Katherine took out a long switch from behind the seat. 'Roo was approaching her window, trying to figure out how to join them inside the truck.
"Take the switch and hit him across the nose. Their noses are sensitive enough, that will hurt sufficiently to discourage him from trying to follow us."
Katherine looked at her grandmother with wide eyes. "I can't hit 'Roo! He's my friend. It's not his fault he doesn't know what we are doing!" she cried.
"Katherine, I know it seems cruel, but we have been over this. 'Roo has to be free. It is his birthright, it is where he belongs. That is why we rescued him in the first place. He is not a pet. I know you don't want to do this, but it won't hurt him that much, and it will set him free. You have to do this, don't you see?"
Katherine sniffled quietly. She thought over what her grandmother was saying. She did want what was best for 'Roo, she didn't want him to spend his life caged in a zoo with people gawking at him. She finally raised the switch and gave 'Roo a stinging blow across his nose.
"Get out of here! Go away!" she yelled at him with as much strength as she could muster. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. "Go on! Beat it! Go!"
As Katherine yelled at 'Roo, Lucille sped the truck up. She looked in the rearview mirror to see 'Roo standing there, looking after the truck with a puzzled air. She felt tears in her own eyes at the look of betrayed surprise on the animal's face....
"...and we didn't slow down until we were back at my grandmother's house. I cried most of that afternoon. I think my grandmother did too," Katherine concluded.
Billy was looking at her with sympathy and admiration. "That had to be awful, having to leave him there. Did you ever see him again?"
"No, and that was for the best. I learned a lot that summer. A lot of hard lessons about the unfairness of life, about cruelty, and sacrifice. I guess I made my grandmother sound like a mean woman, but she was a realist. She was tough, and expected others to be tough. But there was so much kindness in her too, the way she worked for the kangaroos, the way she would go to h elp anyone in the area who needed assistance. I learned hard lessons, but I learned them from someone who I loved, who loved me," Kat's eyes softened with the memories.
"Is she still there in Australia?"
"No, she died the winter I was fourteen."
"I'm sorry. But thanks for telling me that story, Kat. You had a remarkable grandmother, and a pretty remarkable childhood from the sound of it."
Katherine smiled at him. Then looked up as she heard the door open.
"Well, looks like my time is up. Adam is here," Katherine announced.
"How is the patient?" Adam asked as he approached them.
"Alive and awake. Please keep him that way," Kat said as she rose from the chair. "Have fun boys, and I'll see you in ten hours," she reminded Billy.
"Thanks again, Kat. Well, Adam, welcome to my nightmare."
Adam chuckled, "It may be a nightmare, but we don't intend to starve you, here's some lunch." With that he handed Billy a brown paper bag.
"Thanks, Adam," he said opening the bag and extracting a soda and sandwich.
"How's the head doing?"
"Still hurts some, but better than it was. It would be even better if I slept for a couple of hours, what do ya say?" Billy looked at him hopefully.
"Nice try, pal, but no way. I am not risking incurring Tommy's wrath by letting you fall asleep. He's still ticked off about you getting hurt in the first place."
"Oh, great. Are you telling me I am going to have to spend two hours in here with Tommy while he is pissed off at me? There's something to look forward to," Billy sighed.
"Eh, he should be calmed down by then. Jason was working out with him. So what were you and Katherine doing?"
"She told me a story about her life in Australia."
"Oh, I guess I could do that, too."
"Tell me about your life in Australia?"
"Very funny. Tell you a story. If I had one to tell, that is," he muttered, unable to think of a single anecdote from his youth that might entertain Billy.
"How about a story about one of the previous keepers of that lantern? Remember, you promised me long ago you would share some of its history with me. Now would be as good a time as any."
"Okay, I did promise, didn't I? How about my father's story about how it affected his life. That's my favorite. My father was given the honor of keeping the lantern when he was twenty....
However, this reunion was a special one. It was time for the traditional Passing of the Lantern, a tradition followed in the family for centuries. One Keeper of the Lantern was chosen for each generation, and it was time to choose the one for his generation. He figured it would be one of his cousins, as they all had studied the old traditions. However, as the ceremony came to its close he got a tremendous surprise-he was the chosen Keeper.
As they handed him the red lantern, he was busy trying to figure out how to decline the honor. He knew it would have meant more to someone else, he just wasn't into this tradition at all. But one look into his uncle's eyes and he knew he had no choice but to accept the responsibility.
He was told solemnly that it was part of his duty to have the inscription on the lantern's tag translated, and to understand its meaning. As Keeper of the Lantern it was his duty to keep the lantern safe, to bring it to all traditional family gatherings, and to act as the historian for his generation.
He went to his apartment that evening grumbling to himself. "Just what I didn't need, some big family responsibility. Great. And why didn't they just tell me what the inscription says, why do I have to go research it? I knew I should have just skipped this reunion!"
For the next few weeks he ignored the lantern, as well as the calls from his father and uncle asking if he had found out what the inscription said. Finally, after a thoroughly frustrating day, he found himself in his apartment staring at the lantern. His life was not going in a positive direction at the time. He couldn't find a well paying job, or even a full time poor paying job. He lived in a lousy neighborhood, and couldn't even afford a car. He had dropped out of college after two at the sight of her granddaughter. "Valerie! You honor me with your presence. Please come in and brighten an old woman's afternoon. And who is this you brought with you?"
"This is Donald Park, and he has a question for you."
At the woman's inquisitive look Don held out the lantern. "I am supposed to find out what this inscription says. Can you help me?"
"Come on in and sit. Let me get my glasses so I can see this mysterious inscription."
They went into the tidy living room and sat side by side on the couch. Valerie's grandmother came back in wearing her glasses and gingerly took the lantern from Donald.
"The lamp may light the path, but the soul must light the way," she read. "This is a very wise observation."
"I don't understand it," Donald said.
"You must think more about it. You will understand when it is time for you to understand. These things take their own time," the old woman told him. Then she deliberately set the lantern aside and turned the conversation to other matters.
Later, when Valerie dropped Don back off at the university, he was still mulling over the inscription. He thanked Valerie and headed home, his thoughts still on the lantern and the message that he couldn't get out of his mind.
The next few days found the message on the lantern interrupting Don's thoughts on a regular basis. At odd moments he would find himself pondering their meaning. He dreamt of the message, and an ancient wise man who told him what it meant, but the wise man's words were always just beyond his range of hearing. And when thoughts and dreams of the lantern weren't distracting him, he thought, and dreamed, of Valerie. Again faced with a problem he couldn't solve, and one he possibly could, he chose to take some action.
He went to the university, not knowing anything about Valerie's schedule, or even her last name. That did not deter him, he simply started wandering around the campus, and within a half-hour he had found her in the library.
"Hello. I wanted to thank you again for your help the other day. Please convey my gratitude to your grandmother as well," Don said softly.
"You are welcome. I'm glad she could help. You didn't have to come all the way here just to thank me," she said gently.
He blushed a bit. "I didn't just want to thank you, I wanted to know if you would go out with me." The words hurried out of him.
"I would like very much to go out with you," she replied. "What did you have in mind?"
"Maybe dinner and a movie tomorrow?. Nothing too fancy, though," he looked at her nervously.
"Sounds wonderful. Here is the address of the dorm where I live, can you pick me up at six?"
"It's a date," he agreed.
When he arrived at her dorm the next evening he was dressed in his best, driving a friend's car, borrowed for the occasion. They had a nice dinner at a reasonable restaurant, and watched a diverting, if mindless action movie. They went to an all-night cafe for pie and coffee after the movie.
Their conversation covered a wide variety of subjects, but eventually it came to Don's unhappy situation in life. As he talked with her, he suddenly realized he had held the key to his future in his hand when he was in college. But he had impatiently thrown it away to chase a future he was not prepared for.
By the end of the evening he had come to two conclusions: he would have to find a way to finish his college education if he wanted to have the kind of future he dreamed of; and he was deeply in love with Valerie.
The next few weeks found him scrambling to arrange financing for two more years of college. He gave up the apartment and moved on campus, he found sponsors and applied for every loan and grant available. He was accepted back as a junior, and immediately took a full slate of classes.
And he and Valerie dated as much as their busy schedules allowed.
They graduated at the same time, and two days after the graduation ceremony, Don asked Valerie to marry him. Her answer was short and to the point-yes.
It was when they went to tell Valerie's grandmother of their engagement that she asked Don about the inscription on the lantern.
"Did you ever decide what that message meant, Donald?"
"I think so. At least what it meant for me. The lantern led me to Valerie, and to you and the rest of her family. You could say it 'lit the path to you'. My love for Valerie, and my desire to be worthy of her, and of her family, changed my life radically. I went back to school, took on the responsibility of my own financial future, and re-established my ties to my culture and background. 'My soul lit the way'. It's like the lantern showed me where to start, but it was up to me to find the way. I don't suppose that makes a whole lot of sense, it is more something I feel than something I can explain. But that lantern changed my life. They told me at the ceremony that the lantern had great powers. I have seen proof of that."
"I'd say you understand what it was trying to say," the old woman said with a chuckle. "And we are a lucky family to have such a fine addition as you will be."
Don reached out and gingerly hugged the woman, who returned the embrace enthusiastically....
"...and they got married on August fourteenth," Adam concluded.
"Wow, great story. I remember Lord Zedd wanting the lantern for its 'powers'. Boy, would he have been disappointed if he had known what kind of powers you meant," Billy laughed.
"Yeah, somehow I don't think Zedd would have cared about something that had the power to change someone's life for the good. Uh, oh, looks like I finished my story just in time. Tanya's here," Adam greeted her with a warm smile.
"Hi guys. Doing okay?" she asked.
"Just fine and dandy. What's happening in the real world?" Billy inquired.
"Very quiet at the moment. Jason and Tommy went off together, Rocky is off doing gosh knows what, Katherine is teaching a dance class and I am here," was her report.
Adam stood up and prepared to go. "See you in about ten hours or so," he said to Billy as he headed out the door.
Tanya took his place in the chair and contemplated Billy. "What have you been doing?"
"Me? Nothing much. Both Katherine and Adam told me stories to keep me awake. If you are up for it, I would love to hear a story from your childhood. Or anything else you might want to tell me."
"Hmm, sounds to me like you are getting spoiled," she commented with a grin. "But I suppose we can allow for that just this once. A story, huh? I'm going to have to give this a little thought."
"We are in no hurry, you have two hours, and I have, what, twenty or so. Take your time," Billy said amicably.
"You are being way too agreeable, what gives?"
"Nothing! I am just grateful for your suggestion that you all keep me company, otherwise I would have had to be content with Alpha and Zordon, and while I am fond of both of them, spending 24 hours listening to them would have been tantamount to torture. So, I am not about to antagonize the woman who saved me from that fate."
Tanya thought that over. "You're welcome. I think."
Billy chuckled and settled back down and closed his eyes.
"Oh, no you don't! Open those eyes immediately! You are not falling asleep on me," Tanya demanded.
"I am not falling asleep, I am simply resting my eyes a bit."
"Well rest them while they are open."
Billy sighed and opened his eyes, sitting up more on the bed. He looked at Tanya expectantly.
"Okay, I guess I am going to have to tell you a story to get you to behave. You know that I am aware you are manipulating me, and I will get my revenge," she said with a glint in her eyes.
She chuckled at him, unable to even pretend irritation when he gave her his most innocent expression. "I swear, you look like you have been taking lessons from Adam. I can't get mad at him either when he gives me that look. All right. The only story that comes to mind happened shortly after I was accepted into the camp following my parents' disappearance. We had gotten there a couple of days before they disappeared, to visit Ashalla, whom my father had known for years. They were going to fly to Mysterio Island to search for the lost Tiki of Auric but decided the trip was too hazardous for me to go with them. I was only seven. So I stayed with Ashalla, and was not there when the plane went down. The first I knew of it was when a messenger from a camp near the ocean came through and told the story of the strange wreckage they had found. Ashalla realized it was most likely from the plane, and what that indicated as far as my parents were concerned...."
The girl was alone now, neither of her parents had any surviving family who could take her in. Ashalla knew everyone in the camp would agree with her decision to keep the child, and raise her as one of her own. This is what Ashalla explained to her when Tanya was calm enough to listen. She would not be alone any longer, but would be a part of the camp 'family', wanted and accepted.
Gradually Tanya began to adjust to camp life. All the adults and children lived, worked and relaxed together. Duties were shared, as were blessings as they came along. Each person did their part to help, based on their abilities and talents. Tanya soon discovered her niche in the camp, and found contentment in her life there. She dreamed of her parents occasionally, and each year on the anniversary of their disappearance she observed a day of silence in their memory.
Six months after she joined the camp the first lion attack occurred. A young man, only nineteen, was severely mauled. Though he survived, he would have scars for the rest of his life to remind him of the attack. Ashalla was very upset by the attack, she told Tanya it was extremely rare for a lion to attack a man. There were simply far easier sources of food for them. The elders of the camp called a meeting to discuss the situation. As was the custom, the elders sat in a circle and discussed the matter. Other members of the camp, Tanya included, could sit outside the circle and listen, but could not contribute to the discussion. The elders remained very calm, and decided the attack was a fluke, and that no action would be taken at this time.
Only three weeks later there was another attack, by a different lion. That attack was on a middle aged woman, who suffered massive damage to her leg. She survived, but only due to the heroic efforts of the camp healer. Another meeting of the elders was held, this one much more emotional. They decided to trap some of the lions to see if it was an illness causing them to be so much more aggressive.
After trapping a half dozen lions and examining them, they determined there was an illness spreading among the big cats. Its symptoms were almost like what humans experience with the flu-fever, pain, and congestion in the lungs and nasal passages. However, the illness appeared to be chronic, instead of something that cleared up in a few days or a week. As with humans, the disease made the lions uncomfortable, irritable, and that appeared to be what triggered the attacks. The big cats were simply grouchy-very, very grouchy.
Then they made the discovery that the other wildlife appeared to be infected as well. It appeared that almost every species was affected. However, not every animal was sick, approximately 40% of the animals continued healthy, even if exposed to the ill ones. Animal researchers >from all over found their way there to study the illness, now being called a plague, and they all went away puzzled. The potential devastation to the local ecology had everyone concerned.
Ecology aside, the camp was also very worried about the sporadic attacks on the camp by plague crazed animals. So far no one had been killed, but several had been injured. The people of the camp had taken to observing the animals' behavior closely, so they could determine which ones were sick, and to monitor them once the illness had started. This was an activity Tanya excelled at. Calm and studious by nature, she was patient and observant enough to be an excellent observer. She had already helped prevent several attacks by alerting the elders to potentially dangerous animals, giving the hunters in the camp a chance to capture and remove them before they could attack.
It was when she was following a lioness that was showing signs of illness that Tanya found herself in trouble. The lioness had led her to an area Tanya was not familiar with. Her first instinct was to backtrack and wait until the lioness came out, then she could resume her observations. When she went to reverse her path, she found the lioness had circled around her, trapping her quite efficiently. As the lioness approached, Tanya did the only thing she could think of. She climbed a nearby tree, quickly getting out the big cat's reach. There was a problem with her plan, however. The lioness decided to camp out at the base of the tree and wait for her prey to come to her. Tanya sighed in exasperation at this turn of events. Ashalla would have her head if she spent all night in the wilderness.
Fortunately, the tree was very large, the branch Tanya was perched on was wide enough for her to lie down on, as long as she didn't try to move around. As the hours passed into a day, then two days, Tanya found herself grateful for the width of the branch, she was rapidly becoming very weak. If she had been in a position where she had to depend on her strength and sense of balance to stay safely out of the lioness's reach, she would have been in trouble indeed. She found her grip on reality slipping a little as hunger, thirst, and lack of sleep took their toll on her young body. The boundary between dream and reality blurred, then seemed to disappear altogether. It was near the end of the second day that she had the waking dream that would shape her future.
In her dream a man, his face the only part she could see, told her she was destined for great things. That she would survive this ordeal, and go on to a future beyond her wildest imaginings. It was her destiny to help save humanity, to fight evil, and to protect those weaker than herself. The voice was so calm, so knowing, so confident, that she did not question what he said. She felt her troubled mind settle down peacefully, and the fear that had been steadily rising in her abated completely. The voice acted like a comforting blanket of assurance about her, and she rested without fear for the first time since the lioness had treed her.
She awoke to the sound of men's angry shouts. A group of men from her camp had found the lioness, and were driving her away from the tree. As soon as the big cat was gone, Tanya scrambled down to the ground and was engulfed in a hug. They carried the exhausted, hungry child back to the camp, to Ashalla's waiting arms....
"...and Ashalla did not let me leave the camp for weeks unless I was with someone else. She did eventually let up a bit on the protectiveness, but it took some time."
"Tanya, who was the person you saw in your vision?" Billy asked, peering closely at her.
"Don't you know?" she asked, seeing the expression on his face. "You do know. It was Zordon. That vision is what gave me the courage to leave behind the only life I really knew, and come to Angel Grove alone."
"Wow. I'm surprised you didn't freak when you first saw Zordon in the Command Center."
"I saw him in the sky before Aisha sent me back with the crystal. And I think I knew what was going to happen as soon as I met Aisha. Things just felt right, as if destiny was being met. That must sound silly, but I can't find the words to say what I felt."
"It doesn't sound silly. I understand what you mean. I thought you were the bravest person I had ever met when you arrived at the Command Center. I couldn't begin to imagine how it must have been for you, to give up everything you were familiar with and go to a place where you knew no one at all," Billy commented.
"It helped to be met with a smile, and a kind word. And I seem to recall someone greeting me just that way," she smiled at Billy, remembering how kindly he had looked at her when she arrived.
They exchanged smiles, but before either could speak another voice piped up.
"Hey, I was nice too!"
They turned to greet Rocky, but both were struck speechless at his appearance. Tanya found her voice first.
"What the heck happened to your head? You look like Little Orphan Annie from hell."
"Wow, and I'm glad to see you, too. Don't you like my new look?"
"No," was Tanya's verdict.
"Not really," Billy added, finally finding his voice.
"Geez, try something new and everyone's a critic."
"Rocky, you have a purple Afro. Excuse me, but I don't think that is a look that will catch on," Tanya predicted.
"You never know. I might just be a trend setter."
"Not likely. Well I'm off boys. See you later, Billy, Rocky," Tanya announced as she stood up to leave.
"Thanks, Tanya. For everything."
Tanya answered Billy with a smile as she took her leave.
Rocky plopped down in the vacated chair and looked at Billy with some amusement. "So, how is life treating you? Bored to tears yet? Ready to dismantle Alpha just to see what makes him tick? Personally I think there's a midget inside him. Or maybe it's Zordon's missing body with a metal head. Hey! I like that idea!"
Billy had to grin at Rocky's antics. Whatever the reason behind the bizarre hair, Rocky was in rare form. When hyped up and in this kind of mood Rocky could be exhausting, but extremely entertaining. Billy had no doubt that he would not fall asleep with Rocky in the room.
"What have you been doing while the others were here?" Rocky asked.
"They have each told me a story. I would hate for you to be the one to break with tradition, and I really want to hear how you ended up with a purple brillo pad for hair."
"A 'purple brillo pad'? That is most definitely a derogatory term if ever I heard one. You don't deserve a story if you are going to make those kind of comments," Rocky's feigned indignation made Billy chuckle.
"I'm sorry, Rocko. But I really would like to hear how it happened. Something tells me it's a great story."
"Of course. It is all Maria's fault. That girl is going to be the end of me yet."
"Rocky, Maria is six years old! How in the world could she be responsible for the mess on your head?"
Rocky shot Billy a surly look, which Billy returned blandly. "You have obviously never had a younger sister."
"Obviously. But Maria's a sweet child." Billy was partial to Rocky's youngest sister. It probably helped that Maria had been nursing an incredible crush on the former Blue Ranger since she was four.
"She's a little monster child. She drives me nuts! Her and Theresa. Why do I have to have little sisters anyway? Do you know what I had to listen to the other night? Those two girls debating who is cuter: Billy or Adam? Thirty minutes of those two arguing about how cute my friends are. Now this. I'm telling you, it was all her fault."
Billy was chuckling at Rocky's story. "What exactly did she do? And who won the argument?"
"She lost her blasted doll. And Theresa won, Adam is way cuter than you."
"Thanks a heap. Now, let me get this straight, Maria lost her doll and you got purple hair? Rocky, I'm not following this very well. Perhaps a few details would help."
"It's all because Maria lost her favorite doll, Mrs. Penelope Pink, and I was to blame for it."
"So to punish you the family dyed and permed your hair?" Billy guessed with a wicked twinkle in his eyes.
"NO! Oh, for gosh sakes, I guess I'm going to have to tell you the whole story. See, Maria loves that doll, and rarely goes anywhere without her. But last night she was invited to a sleepover at Charlene's house. Charlene doesn't always play nice with the dolls, so Maria left Mrs. PP at home to keep her safe. The problem started when Maria got back home this morning....
After his jaunt to the bathroom he went back to sleep, resting peacefully, until he was awakened by howls that surely indicated one of his young sisters was being murdered. He hurried out to find Maria crying inconsolably in her room.
"Hey, little one, what is the problem?" Rocky asked, picking up the little girl to comfort her. Despite his constant grumbling about his siblings Rocky loved them and was quick to come to their aid.
"Mrs. Penelope Pink is gone! I left her here alone and now she is gone!" Maria sniffled.
"Oh, she can't be gone very far. Why, I saw her just a little while ago. She was in the hall, and I, um, put her in here. I think near those box..es....hey, where are the boxes that were here earlier?"
"The guys from the Salvation Army took them. They were full of old clothes and junk," Theresa replied.
"Uh-oh. Maria, maybe Mrs. PP is having a little adventure after all. I think she may have been in one of those boxes," Rocky said hesitantly.
Maria immediately burst into renewed hysterics, pleading with Rocky to "go and bring her home NOW!"
Mrs. DeSantos arrived on the scene to find out who was tormenting her youngest, and when appraised of what had happened added her own pleas to her daughter's.
"Rocky, please, find Mrs. PP. You know how Maria is about her. It was a gift from grandma, just before she died, and if Maria loses her she will feel so guilty. You have to find her, for your sister's sake."
Rocky actually felt very bad about the doll, even though he had not done anything intentionally. He agreed to do all he could to find the missing doll.
After getting all the information he could about the Salvation Army truck and drivers, he set out on his search. He quickly found out that there were seven Salvation Army trucks in Angel Grove and vicinity on that day. He would have to find the right one and convince the driver to let him look for the doll.
He was talking with the driver of the first truck he found (the wrong truck, unfortunately) when a couple of Rocky's friends walked by.
"Hey Rocky, what are you doing? Holding up Salvation Army trucks? That's pretty pathetic, man," the speaker was Steven, who lived across the street from the DeSantos.
"I'm looking for the truck that picked up some stuff from my house this morning. Maria's doll was taken by mistake and I need to get it back. I could really use some help if you guys are up to it. Please, I'll really owe you one."
"Sorry, man, would love to help, but we are on our way to Stone Canyon to run some errands for my dad," the other teen, Samuel, replied.
"Wait, that's perfect. Three of the trucks have gone on to Stone Canyon, if you see them just ask if they picked up some boxes from my address, and if they have then you need to see them. Maria's doll, Mrs. PP is the one missing. You guys have all seen her, I know. Everyone has seen her."
Steven looked thoughtfully at Samuel. "Welllll, I guess we could do it. But you won't owe us one 'cause I need a favor in return. We are supposed to baby-sit my younger brother, David, for three hours this afternoon. If you baby-sit him, then we will look for the Salvation Army trucks, and we will be even."
Rocky almost groaned. As the eldest of seven he was used to younger kids, and had done his fair share of baby-sitting. But David was a little monster. Still, it would enable him to still look for the trucks in Angel Grove, make his scheduled practice with Tommy and Adam, and save him a trip to Stone Canyon.
"Deal," he said.
The boys exchanged pertinent information and parted ways. Rocky hurried to the Juice Bar where he had a practice with Tommy and Adam scheduled. After they finished their practice they noticed Jason and Kat were gone, so Tommy contacted Jason to see if everything was okay. Of course, it wasn't, Billy was injured. After agreeing to sit with Billy that evening and the next morning, Rocky hurried out to start looking for the other three trucks. He was now quite behind schedule.
He went to get David at the appointed time, only to find out the boy was not feeling good, so Rocky could not take him out driving around town. Frantic because he still needed to find two of the trucks, Rocky started calling around to find someone to take his place. He finally had success with Samuel's older sister, Joni. She agreed to baby-sit David if Rocky would take her place as a practice subject for her friend, Rosanne. Rosanne was taking a crash course in cosmetology, and needed someone to practice on. Rocky was desperate enough to agree....
"...and this is what happened," Rocky said, indicating his hair. "I found the last two trucks, but neither was the one I wanted. So I go to Rosanne's place, and she is gorgeous. But a lousy cosmetologist. She put all these tiny curler things in my hair, then dumped a bunch of chemicals on them. Then after 30 minutes or so says 'Uh-oh'. Now the last thing you want to hear under these circumstances is 'Uh-oh'. So she takes more chemicals and adds them to my head. You talk about a stink! Anyway, when all was finished I came out the vision of loveliness you see before you. And that is how my hair is purple because of Maria's doll. See, it was all very logical."
"Actually, it was logical. Did Steven and Samuel find the doll?"
"No, they didn't. But when I got home all was calm. I looked in on Maria and she was taking a nap with Mrs. PP in her arms. Seems I overshot the boxes and the doll ended up behind the dresser. They found it while I was working out with Tommy and Adam."
Billy looked at Rocky with a bemused expression that quickly started to crumble into a grin, then a giggle, then a guffaw. Soon both were laughing hysterically.
"So, you went through all that for nothing! I'm sorry, Rocky, but that is too funny."
"Laugh all you want, wise guy. Actually, it's all your fault I have this hairdo. If I hadn't had to come to the Power Chamber because of your mishap, I would have been on time to baby-sit David and I wouldn't have had to draft Joni, so I wouldn't have had my hair 'done'. I was wrong, it is all your fault," Rocky concluded.
"Ah, it's okay. Rosanne felt so bad about what she did to me she accepted a date with me for tomorrow night. She's beautiful, kind, sweet, and I've been admiring her from afar for a long time, so it all turned out okay."
"You know, Rocky, you're a weeble."
"I'm a what?"
"A weeble. It's a toy. Its slogan was 'weebles wobble but they don't fall down'. That's you. Things may trip you a bit, but nothing seems to knock you down for long," Billy's expression and tone made it clear to Rocky that this was something he admired.
"Yep, that's me," Rocky agreed amicably.
They heard the door open and looked up to see Tommy approaching. Billy's expression sobered immediately. Rocky noticed his reaction, but knew better than to ask. Since Tommy and Billy had been kidnapped a couple of months before, their relationship had changed, and the others on the team were not always sure if it was for the better or the worse.
"Looks like my work here is done. I'm off to find a pair of hair clippers and some shoe polish and see if I can get back to normal again. See ya tomorrow." With that Rocky exited, ignoring Tommy's puzzled look at his appearance.
"Purple hair? That is odd, even for Rocky," Tommy observed. He turned to Billy. "I brought you some dinner. Mom made her famous noodle casserole, hope that's okay for you."
"It smells great. Thanks." Billy sat up with the plate on his lap, but he only pushed the food around. The two sat in silence for a bit, then Billy spoke up abruptly.
"Tommy, if you are going to chew me out, please, just get it over with."
Tommy looked at Billy in surprise. "What gave you the idea I was going to chew you out."
"Veiled hints from some of our teammates. They indicated you were a bit miffed with what I did today."
"I'll admit I'm not happy you got hurt, but I'm not mad at you. Geez, Billy, I thought you knew me better than that."
"I thought so, too. But you did seem ticked off earlier, and the others apparently noticed it as well."
Tommy sighed. "I was upset, not angry." He looked away pensively for a few moments, than spoke again. "Do you remember when the Command Center exploded? You threw yourself in front of that console, shielding us. Then we were teleported out just before the whole darn place went up. When I regained my senses I looked around to see if everyone was okay. I thought everyone was, until I heard Kat scream your name. I looked over and you were lying on the ground, face down, unmoving. Thank God you came to almost immediately, but for a couple of seconds all I could think was 'it killed him-he died protecting us'. Then when we were in Mondo's prison, after he beat you the second time and you were unconscious for a few hours. You were so still and pale. I was starting to wonder if you would ever wake up, if Mondo had literally beaten you to death. See, when see you unconscious, I immediately remember two of the worst things I have faced in my life: the explosion of the Command Center, and our incarceration in the Machine Empire's Sky Base."
Billy had listened to this silently, a solemn expression on his face. "I'm sorry Tommy. I should have realized," he paused for a moment, considering, than decided to try to lighten the mood. "Tell you what, I promise to try not to be knocked unconscious anymore, at least not when you are around. Would that help?" He smiled at Tommy cheerfully.
"Oh, that's a big help. Eat your dinner or I will chew you out. Smartass." But Tommy's features had relaxed.
Billy chuckled and started to eat.
"What have you been doing here, anyway?"
Billy told Tommy that each of the others had told him a story to keep him entertained. "How about it Tommy? Want to add to my store of tales? I'm willing to bet you have a vast number of stories you could tell."
"You want me to tell you a story? That will keep you awake?"
"Sure. Unless it's boring."
"I thought I told you all my stories when we were in Mondo's prison. There can't be any I missed."
Billy looked thoughtful. "I think there was one. You started to tell me a story about George, a friend of yours when you were twelve. You had just started the story when they delivered our meal. Klank had come along with the cogs and taunted us for a while. After that you forgot about the story, and I never remembered to remind you."
"I remember now. Yeah, I don't remember ever finishing that story. George was the cool kid in class, and I was surprised he would approach an outsider like me...."