Disclaimer: They are Saban's, not mine. I don't have any official permission to write about these characters. I don't get paid for this.
Notes and Timeline: During the early ZEO period, before Jason's return, before the notorious letter from Kimberly.
Tommy felt himself falling, and while the sensation was not unpleasant, it was unnerving. Especially when he considered the landing that was surely coming up. It seemed he had been falling for at least five minutes, but without being able to see anything he could not judge the distance or speed. It occurred to him to wonder why he could not see-what had happened to him? What was happening to him? The questions ended with the sudden cessation of the fall and the abrupt feeling of his pliant body striking unyielding ground. He world internally, as well as externally, went black.
He regained consciousness an unknown time later. At first he simply stayed where he had fallen, unmoving, mentally going over his body's condition. Finding nothing wrong yet, he risked a couple of careful shifts in his position. Surprised when he still encountered no ill effects he cautiously continued until he was sitting up, gazing around with considerable curiosity.
If a surrealistic artist were to paint a picture of Angel Grove Forest, Tommy imagined the result would look something like where he now found himself. Oddly shaped trees, angular projections of rocks, vivid combinations of colors. But a living surrealistic painting. He felt a breeze, saw the trees and shrubs move, felt the texture of the blue/green grass under his hands.
"What the hell?" he muttered to himself, trying to remember where he had been, and what he had been doing just prior to his fall. He and the Zeo Rangers had been fighting Mondo's latest monster; they had been in Angel Grove Park. Had they lost? Had he been sent to a different dimension? Where were the others? He looked at his wrist, and noticed his communicator was gone, as was his zeonizer. He felt his heart drop at the thought that he was alone and powerless in a strange land.
"No sense in just sitting here, waiting for a rescue that might never come. Best I get moving and see what I can find," so saying he climbed to his feet and set out.
A couple of hours of walking did not get him out of the forest. However, he did find a dirt road, though no sign of tire tracks were evident on it. Deciding it was better than nothing, he started to follow the road with the vague idea that ALL roads had to lead somewhere, eventually.
He noticed the day was rapidly waning, he was going to have to find somewhere to spend the night. He was so engrossed in looking for a likely spot to set up his 'camp' that he almost didn't notice the pile of rags laying a few yards from the road. Once he caught sight of them though, he realized they could possibly be useful for bedding, so he headed over to check them out. He was appalled to find as he got closer that it was not a pile of rags, but a person, unconscious and badly hurt. He eased the figure over onto its back and got a glimpse of his face.
Tommy was shocked into immobility at the sight of his friend. Billy's face was a mask of blood and bruises. Tommy couldn't tell if he had fallen like Tommy had, or if someone had found Billy and beaten him up. He supposed that at this point it really didn't matter. What mattered was that Billy needed help immediately. Tommy carefully shifted him into a more comfortable position and debated what to do next. He had no choice but to decide this clearing would be his camping spot, and started to gather stones to build a fire pit. He then gathered some leaves and twigs and managed to start a fire using skills he had learned years ago. He had found a small stream followed the path of the road so he would at least have water for them. He then turned his attention to trying to help Billy.
He used a patch of material torn from his shirt to clean Billy's face and neck. With the dried blood and dirt gone, Tommy could see the extent of his injuries. He had a deep gash across his forehead, surrounded by extensive bruising. Another deep bruise was spread across his right cheek, almost meeting with the forehead bruise at his temple. The result made his look like he was wearing an odd half-mask. Tommy gently probed his body, searching for signs of broken bones. He found no evidence of breaks, but a lot of bruises and abrasions.
Tommy felt relief wash over him, for he had feared the worst when he first found Billy. Tommy wasn't sure he could have handled it if Billy had been critically wounded. Only three days before, Tommy had received word that an old friend of his, a young man a couple of years older than Tommy, had died in a snowmobile accident. Tommy had met Dustin when he was fourteen, and Dustin sixteen. They had met in karate class, and immediately forged a friendship. Soon they were spending as much free time together as possible, in school and out. Dustin had an infectious enthusiasm for life, he was willing to try just about anything and tackled new projects with all his heart and soul. Karate, skiing, dancing, basketball, whatever came along he attacked with vigor. Tommy had admired Dustin as much as he had liked him, and despite the fact they had not seen each other in over two years Tommy felt like a significant piece of his world had been lost.
Tommy carefully laid Billy beside the fire, the night was already growing chilly and neither of them was dressed for cold weather. Then Tommy settled down on the other side of the fire and tried to rest. He had no idea what the morning would bring, but he intended to be ready for it.
When Tommy awakened the next morning the first thing he realized was that the fire had gone out, so he had slept for quite a while despite himself. He looked across at Billy and was glad to see two blue eyes looking back at him.
"Good morning, are you feeling any better?" he asked.
Billy simply stared at him wordlessly.
"Billy? Are you feeling any better? I am kind of looking forward to hearing your ideas on this situation. Billy?" Tommy was growing steadily more uneasy. Billy did not speak, or even attempt to. Tommy looked closely at him, peering deeply into his eyes, and felt a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature. The thought occurred to him that if one believed that a person's eyes represented a window to the soul, then Billy's eyes were soaped over windows. They did not show any indication of the person inside; all Tommy could see was a reflection of himself. There was not a sense of lack of intelligence as much as a lack of occupancy. An expression he had heard occasionally flitted through his mind: the lights were on but no one was home.
"Ah, Billy, don't do this. Come on, give me a sign you are really with me here. I need you, man." But despite his pleadings, Billy remained mute, looking at Tommy with a singular lack of expression.
"Okay, well I hope you are up to walking. We need to get going, the sooner we find our way out of here the better."
By midday they had been walking for hours and had seen no sign of civilization, other people, or even animals. He had also been watching for anything that could serve as food. He was extremely hungry now as he had been without food for almost an entire day. They stopped periodically to drink water from the stream, but it was late afternoon before Tommy spotted something that might be edible.
The pale blue spheres hanging from the tree by the road appeared to be a cross between an orange and a pear. Tommy picked one and peeled it. To his surprise the inside portion was similar in texture to a banana. He took a cautious bite and found the taste to be somewhere between a strawberry and a cherry. He picked several and carried them with him, waiting to see if he had any ill effect from the small bite he had already had. When he suffered no problems in the next hour he decided it must be safe enough, and he and Billy sat down to a supper of the strange fruit.
Two nights later Tommy had a vivid dream. He was near the base of a large mountain, a few yards away from a temple of some sort. At least he thought it was a temple. He knew he had to reach the temple in order to get home, but he couldn't move. He was too weak to even crawl, all he could do is lie there in sight of his goal, unable to move. He looked around to see if there was anyone who could help him, but he was alone. Utterly alone. Then he looked up to see a huge being approach in a menacing manner. As the being came up to Tommy, it lifted up its foot to crush Tommy's head. The foot began to descend....
He awoke with a start, feeling the fear the dream had engendered in him slowly dissipate. He sensed his companion stirring. He didn't know if his friend was in pain, or having a nightmare, and knew there was absolutely no sense in asking. He wouldn't get an answer anyway. So he simply reached out, seeking Billy's shoulder and rubbing it soothingly. Tommy felt the tension ease from the shoulder under his hand and his friend slip back to sleep.
Tommy wished he could do the same.
"So, what do you say, bud. Shall we try to catch some breakfast?" Tommy asked his silent companion. He had fallen into the habit of keeping up a one sided conversation, it helped him think his problems through, and alleviated some of the loneliness.
In the past couple of days Tommy had discovered there were fish in the stream and had perfected a method of catching them using a spear. They had also encountered different types of fruit they could consume safely. At least Tommy was no longer worried about starving to death.
Having made a spear, he was concentrating on catching a couple of fish for their breakfast. He was so intent on what he was doing that at first he didn't notice the approach of a large creature. The strange beast which resembled a bear in body, standing over nine feet tall with large claws, but a face that looked more like an ape, approached the two teens rapidly.
When Tommy saw it he quickly shouted to Billy to get away from there as he searched desperately for something to use as a weapon. His fishing spear was far too unsubstantial to use against this creature. All he could find was a long, stout stick.
Tommy ducked and backpedaled quickly. The move caused him to trip and he landed on his back awkwardly. The creature moved in quickly, listing one huge arm for a mighty swing at Tommy's head, when he was hit from the side with another staff. The creature and Tommy both looked to the side to see a trim, graceful young African American man move quickly out of the creature's reach.
The young man looked at Tommy with some confusion, then turned his attention back to the creature, as the creature had turned his attention to him. Tommy watched in awe as the young man moved gracefully around the much larger animal, darting in to score repeated hits, then dancing back before the creature could retaliate. The creature took about five minutes of this, then growling, moved on.
He was not even breathing hard when he turned his attention to Tommy. "Those beasts are nothing to mess around with. You can't let them get the upper hand or they will crush you. Name's Zeke, pleased to meet you," he held out his hand in greeting.
"What do you mean, 'Zeke'? You are Zack, I've known you ever since I moved to Angel Grove. I don't know what you are doing here, but I am glad to see you!"
"I'm sorry, friend. I don't know you. Nor do I know of anyone named 'Zack', or a place called 'Angel Grove'," Zeke replied.
"This is ridiculous. If you don't know me, then you certainly have to know Billy, you have been friends since you were ten years old," Tommy indicated Billy who had wandered over closer to them.
Zeke looked closely at the silent teenager. "Nope, I have never seen him either. Is there something wrong with him? I mean besides the obvious injuries. He looks a little...I dunno...off...I guess."
"He's been hurt somehow, his mind has been hurt, I suppose you could say." Tommy sighed in frustration. He looked again at Zeke, knowing it was his old friend, but unsure how he could prove it. He supposed it didn't matter. "Thanks for the help," he said at last.
"No problem. I think it was intended that I show up in time to help. I didn't lie when I said I don't know you, 'cause I don't. But I have seen you. In my dreams. My dreams foretold me meeting you, that you would need my help. That you would need all our help."
"What are you talking about? All whose help?"
"All of us here. My dream foretold of my meeting a young man who was seeking a way home, who had lost parts of himself. I am to give you something to help you on your quest. I am to give you my greatest gift-grace. And a talisman, as it were, to keep in honor of that gift," Zeke said, handing Tommy a wedge of metal.
When Tommy's hand closed around the object he felt a mild charge from it, as if it were suffused with energy of some sort. The sensation was fleeting, then all he was left with was a piece of metal shaped like a narrow pie wedge with slightly jagged edges.
"I'm sorry, I still don't understand," Tommy said at last. "Your greatest gift, grace?"
"Grace is a wonderful thing to have! Keeps your opponents off balance, makes them look bad while making you look so good. Grace in a battle is all important-it can mean the difference between a resounding victory and a brutal defeat. Grace in spirit keeps you in harmony, and happy with the world," Zeke explained.
"I understand that. But, why are you giving me this? And what am I to do with it? Where are we, and how do we get back home?"
"Hang on to that, and you will understand all in time," Zeke declared as he turned and seemed to disappear into the forest.
Tommy turned to Billy, "Well, that was weird." He looked around for a moment. "Guess I should get back to catching breakfast. We will need to keep moving."
He picked up his spear and resumed his fishing.
The next day they were walking along the road, still having seen no signs of anyone having actually used it recently. Tommy was growing concerned that they had not left the forest, or seen signs of civilization since he had arrived there. He calculated that he and Billy probably walked an average of 25-30 miles a day, which meant they had covered well over 100 miles. He was starting to get quite worried that they would never find anyone when he was suddenly attacked from a nearby tree.
His attacker was a small male humanoid, dressed only in a loincloth. The youngster was thin to the point of emaciation, his ribs standing out in stark relief. However, he attacked with a ferocity akin to a wild animal, and Tommy was hard pressed to avoid injury while still not hurting his adversary. Finally the boy breached his defense and managed to land a surprisingly hard blow to Tommy's side, impacting on his ribs painfully. Tommy rolled away, and as he landed found a long, thick stick to use as a staff to fight off the crazed attacks. As much as he did not really want to hurt the youth, Tommy ended up landing a hard blow to the boy's midsection, effectively dropping him where he stood.
"Stop it! Before I end up hurting you worse. I do not want to hurt you, but I do want to know where we are and why you attacked us. I need some answers," Tommy's frustration was starting to get the better of him.
The boy looked up at Tommy defiantly, then leapt to his feet to continue the attack. Tommy had no choice but to defend himself, again dealing the boy a blow that took him down, hard.
"Enough! Do not hit him again!" Tommy turned at the sound of the lightly accented female voice.
"Kat, am I glad to see you!"
The blonde woman ignored Tommy and went to the slight figure lying at his feet. She looked up at Tommy accusingly.
"You did not need to hit him that hard! He is not a threat to you."
"Excuse me, but he was the one who attacked, and he was not just playing around. He packs a pretty good punch."
"Not as good as yours," she murmured, enfolding the small figure in her arms. She started a soft cooing sound, soothing the youngster. When she released him the boy hurried away without a backward glance. She straightened up and faced Tommy.
"My name is Katrinka, who are you?"
"Oh, come on, you know who I am. We are teammates, friends," he saw the same expression on her face he had seen on Zeke's. "Oh, fine, I'm Tommy, that's Billy."
Katrinka turned, not having taken any notice of the other young man. She approached him slowly, looking at him closely. Taking in the expressionless eyes and placid face.
"What happened to him?"
"I don't know, he has been like this since I found him. I don't know if he fell, or was attacked. I don't know how he got here. As far as that goes, I don't know how I got here, either."
"How you got here is unimportant. What you are going to do while you are here is."
"And what is it I am going to do here?"
"What you must to get back to your home."
Tommy groaned. "What is this? The 'Land of Cryptic Answers'? What is this place? What do I have to do to get us out? How did I get here? Can you answer any of those questions?" His voice had risen with his frustration.
"No, it is your place to answer them. But I do have a gift for you-something you will require. I give you that which is so important to me: empathy. Any tactician knows that to succeed you must first know your enemy. Empathy is a must for that, as well as a wonderful aid in any interpersonal relationships. You will need this Tommy," with that she held out a wedge of metal, very similar to the one Zeke had given him.
He reached out and took the sliver, feeling again the slight surge of energy. "Thank you, I guess. Can you at least tell me if we are headed in the right direction?"
"Oh, yes, definitely. You will reach your goal soon enough. Good luck, Tommy."
She turned, and with a final solemn look at Billy, walked into the forest, away from the road.
"I don't know about you, bud, but I find this is just getting weirder and weirder. Maybe Mondo sent me here to drive me insane," Tommy commented to Billy. "Of course, that leaves the question: what are you doing here? How did you manage to tick off Mondo? God, what I wouldn't give to have you functional. Well, come on, we should get going."
That night Tommy dreamed of the temple again. This time he was able to stand, but just barely. He started to stagger toward the temple when he was attacked by the large assailant. He awoke before the being actually reached him.
Two days had passed since they had encountered Katrinka. Tommy was moving at an almost manic pace, determined to make it out of this surreal forest, whatever the price. He allowed only short breaks to eat and drink, and they walked from dawn to dusk. He had grown almost as silent as Billy, hours would pass without him speaking. He grew snappish with Billy if the smaller teen fell behind, refusing to slow down and threatening to leave him. Billy accepted this behavior as expressionlessly as he had accepted everything else.
Tommy finally called a halt as the sun sank beyond the horizon. He quickly found enough fuel for a small fire, and prepared to eat the fruit he had collected earlier. When he went to hand Billy his share, he found his companion already asleep. Looking at the pale, drawn features, Tommy felt a stab of guilt. The bruises on Billy's face had faded, but the resulting paleness only made the scar on his forehead stand out more. He knew Billy really wasn't at 100% as far as his health went, and the pace Tommy had been setting had sapped his strength. Heaven only knew how much pain he was in, he never indicated to Tommy.
"Sorry, bud, I'll take it easier tomorrow," Tommy murmured to his somnolent friend.
"Yes, you need to do that," said a soft, feminine voice from behind him. He leapt to his feet to find a beautiful oriental woman standing behind him.
"Trini?" he asked hesitantly.
"Tyra," came the easy reply. "And who might you be?"
"I'm Tommy," he said without argument, guessing he would have no better success with her than he had with the previous two manifestations of his friends. If she said she was Tyra, then she was Tyra.
"Nice to meet you. May I share the warmth of your fire for a spell?"
"Sure. Maybe you can tell me why I am here? I'm at somewhat of a loss to understand how I got here and what I am supposed to do."
"It is not my place to tell you these things. You are meant to discover them yourself, in your own time and manner. I believe you will be successful. My job is to give you a gift, something to help you on your way. Something I think you need desperately." She reached into her pocket, and Tommy was not greatly surprised to see she had a wedge of metal in her slender hand. "My gift to you is serenity. Serenity is the foundation for patience and fortitude. Inner peace is a valuable asset, it will strengthen you in a multitude of ways." With that she handed him the sliver, and the familiar small surge of energy entered him.
"Thank you," he said solemnly as she rose to her feet. He rose to join her.
"Take good care of your friend there, he needs you," she commented as she departed back into the forest.
Tommy looked at the three wedges he now had. He couldn't quite decide what they would eventually make, if anything. He sighed and lay down on his side of the fire. He could feel Tyra's gift at work in him. The fierce determination to move forward had been replaced by a feeling that everything would work out for the best if he was patient.
Tommy's sense of serenity held. He spent the next day resting, letting Billy regain some strength. More than once Tommy found himself reflecting that the abnormal colors and shapes of this land were becoming familiar to him. He guessed he would find the 'old' Angel Grove Park to be pretty odd looking to him when he got home. He scouted around the area, wandering farther away from the road. He began to consider leaving the road and setting off cross-country instead. All his friends had left walking away from the road, not along it. He was scanning the horizon when his eyes settled on a far distant mountain. With a jolt he recognized it from his dreams. That settled it as far as he was concerned. They would head out for that mountain, as Tommy was certain the key to their ever getting home would be found there.
They headed out in a northern direction, using the mountain as a guide. Whenever they were in a clearing large enough to allow Tommy to see the mountain he would check their location in relation to it. In this manner Tommy felt a little assured they were heading in the right direction.
The day passed uneventfully. They had found occasional streams where they could quench their thirst, and the various fruit trees were still abundant. As the afternoon grew into evening they noticed storm clouds forming. The storm came on so quickly they had no chance to search for shelter. Caught out, they were both soaked to the skin in minutes. Tommy searched around frantically for some sort of shelter, but could not see anything. Lightening began to flash not far from them, and Tommy knew if they were still out when that portion of the storm passed over them they would be in great danger. He was beginning to despair of ever finding a safe place when he heard a shout.
"Hey! Over here! Come on, get in here!" Tommy could make out a figure standing in front of what appeared to be a cave. With a quick word to Billy they both headed toward the stranger.
As they approached the figure turned and entered the cave. Tommy and Billy followed cautiously, ready to retreat if they sensed any danger from their unknown benefactor. A little further ahead they saw flickering light, indicating a fire. They felt the first comforting tendrils of heat touch their chilled hands and faces.
"Come on in by the fire, you must be half frozen. These storms come on quick, but on the bright side they leave quick, too. Come on in, I don't bite," Tommy was not really very surprised to find he recognized the voice.
"Close. Name's Rory. Who might you be?"
"Tommy and Billy."
"Well, nice to meet you. Come on and hunker down by the fire here and get warmed up."
"Thanks. Do you live around here?" Having never gotten a response to direct questions about where they were, Tommy had decided to try a different tactic.
"Well, actually, I live here. At least for now. I'm a wanderer, you see. I don't stay anywhere for very long."
Tommy sighed in irritation. It was obvious he would never get a straight answer. Gathering his thoughts, he let go of his frustrations and embraced Tyra's gift again. He was finding it came in very handy.
"I'm glad you are here. We had no idea the storm would hit so fast, or so furiously. Are they common?"
"Yes, quite. When you see clouds acomin', you'd best be agoin'. That is my sage advice for you," Rory chuckled.
"I'll keep that in mind."
Rory looked across the fire at Tommy, then his gaze shifted to Billy. "Your friend there, he doesn't say much, does he?"
"He's mute. Or, at least he is now. He didn't use to be, when I knew him before. Of course, when I knew you before your name was Rocky, so who knows what is going on."
"When you knew me before? Sorry, I don't know what you are talking about. I have never met you before," Rory looked confused.
"I have met you. I lived in Angel Grove, and your name was Rocky. You were one of my friends-we were Power Rangers. So were Trini, Zack, and Katherine. All of whom I have met here, using the names Tyra, Zeke, and Katrinka. Billy is a genius, and quite talkative. I have to find a way to get us back to Angel Grove, back to our lives. I don't even know how we got here, or where here is," Tommy said softly.
"Billy there is a genius? Sure can't tell now. Wish I could help you, but I don't have the information you want. All I have is a small gift, which I think you need. Here, hold out your hand."
Tommy held out his hand obediently. Rory grinned and laid a wedge of metal in the palm of Tommy's hand. "My gift to you is humor. Life is way too short to be taken so seriously. If you have humor, you have a potent weapon. Trust me, if your opponent is laughing, he ain't fighting. Humor is the foundation for optimism. Optimism is what can create success out of failure. Having a sense of humor can allow you to endure hardships, face adversity, overcome obstacles. If you can see the humor in a situation, you can find a way to deal with it. Hang on to your sense of humor, no matter what. And a well-placed pun will throw an opponent off balance quicker than a well-placed kick anytime. Plus, if you have a good sense of humor you will be a big hit at parties!"
"Thanks," Tommy said, feeling the small surge of energy, and adding the piece of metal to the others he had.
Rory produced some fruit, as well as some dried meat, for their evening meal. He spent the rest of the evening answering Tommy's questions about the fruit trees, and other general questions about the surrounding flora and fauna. After a while they checked the weather to find the storm had passed.
"It would be best if you spend the night in here. You would never be able to find a dry place to sleep outside," Rory offered.
Tommy gratefully accepted, and the three of them settled down to sleep.
The next morning Tommy and Billy awakened to find Rory was gone without a trace, except the now cold ashes in the fire pit.
"Guess he needed to get going in a hurry. We'd better be on our way as well," Tommy told Billy.
He fought down a rising sense of urgency, it would take days to get to the mountain, no matter how fast they moved. He forced himself to be patient, figuring whatever he may have to face once he got to his destination would require he be in good condition.
They had stopped by a stream at midday for a lunch of fruit they had gathered earlier. Tommy was looking pensively at 'his' mountain, considering all that had happened to them so far. He looked over at Billy and a sudden thought struck him.
"I wonder. Are you 'Billy', from my world, or are you 'Wilbur', or something like that, from this world? Did you get injured in a fall like I had, or were you injured here somehow? What were you wearing the last time I saw you? I'd swear it was the same outfit you are still wearing now, but I can't be sure. Why are you here? Why can't you speak?" Tommy's voice was slipping out of his control. The frustration he had been feeling was gaining the upper hand again. Billy's expression remained as impassive as always.
Tommy took a deep breath and quieted his mind again. He had never known himself to be so unsettled, and it bothered him a great deal. He reached into himself, finding Tyra's gift once again. He was becoming more adept at locating and utilizing the 'gifts' he had been given. Tyra's was the one he had used the most so far, but the others would all have their uses. Of that he was quite sure. He tried again, and found Zeke's gift. Perhaps he could combine Tyra's and Zeke's and bring himself a more lasting tranquility.
He stood and began the most complex kata he knew, focusing all his energies on making each move exactly right. The kata was quite lengthy, requiring some positions be held for some time. When he had finished, he found he had accomplished what he set out to do, his spirit was at peace again. The questions and confusion were gone.
He was startled out of his introspection by the sound of hands clapping. He looked around to see a petite African American teenager applauding for all she was worth.
"That was wonderful! Poetry in motion. Did it feel as good as it looked?" she asked.
"Actually, yes it did," he replied easily to the young woman, whom he had known as Aisha.
As if she had read his thoughts, she introduced herself. "I'm Alyssa. What brings you two so far from the beaten path?"
"We are headed toward that mountain," Tommy said, indicating the far distant peak.
"Ah, that is a good place to be going. Mt. Sagacity can provide the answers to life's most perplexing problems."
"Mt. Sagacity? Are you kidding?"
"Of course not. Why would you think that?" she asked with a frown.
"No reason. Sorry, I meant no offense. That name just seems...ironic...I guess. How far away is it from here?"
"For some it takes a lifetime to reach. For others, the blink of an eye gets them there," she replied calmly.
"Why am I not surprised?" Tommy muttered to himself. He turned back to Alyssa. "What are you doing way out here?"
"I am on a quest. I have been seeking the Blue Mantle Fox. They are said to live in this area, but I have seen no sign of them. I study animals to learn more about people."
"And what have you learned about people?"
"That they are more complex than animals, and at the same time more simple," she smiled.
Tommy considered this in silence for a moment. "I am not even going to ask," he finally decided.
Alyssa chuckled at his response. "I don't think I will be successful in finding a fox when a wolf is around," she commented at last.
Tommy had started to agree with her when it suddenly struck him what she had said. "What do you mean, when a wolf is around?"
"You know full well what I mean. The wolf spirit of your friend will scare off every fox in the area."
"How do you know about his wolf spirit?" Tommy asked.
"For gosh sakes, it is plain enough. As is your spirit, Falcon."
Tommy was shocked, and it showed on his face.
Alyssa chucked at his reaction. "I see you are not accustomed to those who can truly see. If you know how to look, things are rarely as they seem. I have a gift for you that should help. It is the gift of intuition-you will need it where you are going, here and at home. Don't be afraid to listen to that 'small, still voice' inside you. Tune yourself to it, it knows far more than your conscious mind is aware of. Keep this small token of my gift with you-you will need it eventually." With that she handed him a wedge of metal.
Tommy waited until the small jolt of energy passed into him, then added the piece to the others he had. "Thank you," he said formally.
"You're welcome," she responded in kind. "Have a care on your journey. May you find what you are looking for." With that she took her leave of the two young men.
"Well, come on, 'Wolf'. We should be getting a little further on before we have to stop for the night."
That night as Tommy and Billy sat by their fire Tommy took out the five wedges of metal he had been given. He laid them out in the palm of his hand, studying them thoughtfully. He turned them over and rearranged them until he was satisfied with what he saw. Still holding them in the palm of his hand he showed Billy what he had done.
"They appear to be parts of a round piece of metal. Almost like a power coin. I can't quite figure out what the symbol is going to be when it is finished, but the size is about right. Here's my theory-I will receive more pieces until it forms the entire coin. My guess is we will see the rest of our friends. At least all the ones before Katherine's time. I don't know if Tanya will be included, guess we will have to wait and see. So, if I am right we will be seeing Adam, Jason, and Kimberly." At the mention of his girlfriend Tommy's features softened and a warm light came into his eyes. "I'll be glad to see Kim, even if she doesn't know who I am. I wonder what their 'gifts' will be? Kim, maybe love. She is such a loving person. Jason, hmmm, strength maybe? From Adam I would guess intelligence. Normally I would think that would come from you, but, and I mean no offense with this, right now I don't think you have any to spare." Tommy sighed as he looked at Billy. "You really don't have any idea what I am talking about, do you? Funny, of all my friends, right now you are the one I miss the most."
Indeed, Billy listened to Tommy with that odd non-expression he had worn since regaining consciousness. Since that time Tommy had watched Billy closely, checking on him randomly, and he had never seen any sign of any of Billy's normal intelligence, curiosity, or spirit. He seemed to be nothing more than an empty vessel, traveling along with Tommy only because Tommy told him to. He didn't react to the old friends he had seen come and go over the last few days.
"We should get some sleep, it will be a long hike tomorrow. It looks like we will be traveling uphill for a time. Good night, my friend."
That night in the dream, Tommy was stronger. He walked confidently toward the temple, but was still intercepted by the huge being. He landed a few blows before taking a disabling strike from his opponent. He awoke with a start, his heart beating frantically.
The next day found the two travelers struggling over rough uphill terrain. Tommy kept forging forward despite the difficulties he encountered. The route he was following was rapidly becoming impassable, yet he kept going straight onward.
"You will never make it that way."
At the sound of the familiar voice Tommy whirled around, seeking its source. "Where are you?" he called out.
"Right here," came the response from their left as Adam came into view.
Tommy smiled slightly. "It's nice to see you. What is your name?"
"Really? That's kind of weird," Tommy mused out loud.
"Well, thanks so much. My parents thought it was a fine name."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. It's just that in our world we also know you as 'Adam', but you are the only one who has the same name in both worlds," Tommy explained a bit confusedly.
Adam gave his a wary look. "Whatever. I just wanted to tell you that you need to change your route a little. You will never get on if you keep going the way you are right now."
"We are in a bit of a hurry. I thought the straight way would be best," Tommy explained.
"It would be if it would allow you to get through. But it doesn't in this case. You need a more circuitous route," Adam explained. "Here, follow me and I will get you past this problem."
They followed Adam's lithe form as he led them away from the course they had been following. They traveled without speaking for almost an hour, and then Tommy suddenly realized they were again headed toward Mt. Sagacity. The route they now found themselves on was much easier.
"This looks much better. Thanks for your help, Adam," Tommy said gratefully.
"No problem. Here, I have something for you. This is the gift of flexibility. You have worked on keeping your body flexible. It is just as important to have mental flexibility. To have the ability to think around the corners of a problem. To look beyond the obvious and find the obscure. You already have intelligence, with flexibility you are well on your way to true wisdom," with that Adam handed Tommy the expected wedge of metal. He added it to his collection after absorbing the slight surge of energy.
"Thank you, Adam. Will you continue to travel with us for a spell?"
"No, I must follow my own path, as you both must. You are well on your way. I wish you every success." With a slight smile, Adam turned and walked away.
"Okay, so I was wrong about what gift he would give me. But I was right about his being here. Maybe I should consider this a sign we are headed in the right direction," Tommy commented to Billy as they set off once again toward the distant mountain.
For two days Tommy and Billy moved steadily onward, but despite their rapid pace, Mt. Sagacity never seemed to be any closer. Tommy fought the urge move even faster, but kept up the steady pace. The evening of the second day Tommy sat by the fire looking at the distant mountain in the moonlight and brooding about the seeming lack of progress in their trek.
"It is still so far off. We walk and walk and that mountain never gets any closer," he grumbled. "Maybe this means we are not ever supposed to get there, maybe we are heading in the wrong direction. Damn. This is so frustrating, not knowing what I am expected to do. Adam and Aisha hinted we were headed in the right direction, but are we? I hate this." His voice trailed off as he continued to stare at his goal.
"There are times when you simply have to believe a thing is meant to be, and act as if it will be."
Tommy whirled at the sound of the voice coming from beyond the ring of light provided by their fire. He relaxed as he recognized the figure that approached.
"My apologies, I did not intend to startle you. My name is Tatiana. Who might you be?"
"I'm Tommy, that's Billy. Pleased to meet you. What did you mean?"
"I meant that you need to have some faith, Tommy. Faith is a wonderful thing, no one should be without it. Faith gives strength to the weak, hope to the despondent, and courage to the timid. Faith can beget something from nothing, and give light in the darkest night. I make a gift to you of faith, you must have this if you are to succeed." With that the young woman gave him another wedge of metal.
"Thank you," Tommy said solemnly as he added her piece to the others he already had. He had felt the same small surge of energy from her piece as from the others he had received before. He wondered once again what caused that, but knew of no way to ask that would not make him sound like he was a bit insane. "Come on in and sit by the fire, it's cold this evening," he offered.
"I think I will at that. Why are you going to Mt. Sagacity? What do you seek there?" she asked.
"I have dreamt of a temple at the base of the mountain. My dreams indicated the answers I need to get home again are there."
Tatiana looked curiously at Tommy. "Where is your home? What is it like?"
"I live in the city of Angel Grove, in the state of California, on the planet Earth. I don't know where I am right now, but it is far away from where I want and need to be. Where WE need to be," he amended, looking over at Billy.
"He comes from the same place you do?" she inquired, looking at Tommy's companion for the first time.
"I think so. I mean, at home I have a friend who looks exactly like him, minus the recent injuries, who is named Billy. Of course, I also have a friend who looks exactly like you, but her name is Tanya. I have friends at home who look exactly like others I have seen here, yet no one I have encountered here has wanted to stay with me, or expressed any desire to leave here. Excluding Billy, who doesn't express anything, but who at least stays with me."
"That is odd. But I am certain you will find your answers at Mt. Sagacity. May you both travel in peace and happiness. I hope you find your way home, Tommy." With that she rose to her feet and left the circle of light and warmth emitted by their fire.
"Thank you," Tommy answered, watching her petite figure disappear into the darkness. Her gift was already steadying his spirit.
That night the dream was again a bit different. Tommy was definitely getting stronger each time, this time he actually got to the point where he was able to take some strikes from his opponent and retaliate well enough to make his adversary stagger a bit. But after a distressingly short time Tommy was down and defenseless.
As soon as he was down, he woke up.
The next day Tommy was oddly subdued. He walked on mechanically, not paying any particular attention to his surroundings, only checking occasionally to ensure they were headed in the right direction. He couldn't get the dream out of his mind. He had never experienced a recurring dream such as this, he had no idea what to think of it. Was it an omen? Was it a warning? He just didn't know, and it bothered him.
It was well past midday when he finally thought to stop to eat. Sinking down on a nearby rock he looked over at Billy apologetically. "Sorry, bud, I haven't been paying any attention today. See, I keep having the same dream, where I am at the base of the mountain, near this temple. I have to get to the temple, I know that, but there is this huge man, being, creature, whatever you want to call it, keeping me from getting there. I can't beat him. He always wins no matter how hard I try. I'm not strong enough in my dreams, I can't fight him alone." His voice trailed off as he contemplated the problem. He looked up at last and noticed they were quite a bit closer to the mountain. Instead of the expected excitement, he felt an odd sense of dread.
They spent the most of the afternoon trying to find the way around a huge gully they came across. They finally found a place where they could go down into it without hurting themselves, then it was several hours before they found a way to get out again. By then it was almost nightfall, so they set up camp.
Tommy was dreading going to sleep, not wanting to face the dream again. He found that he needn't have worried, because when he finally dropped off he slept dreamlessly.
He awoke to find the sky overcast and the temperature dropping. Recalling Rory's advice about seeking shelter when faced with a storm, Tommy concentrated on finding a cave or deep overhang where he and Billy could avoid the approaching storm's wrath. With the weather growing steadily worse he finally found a shallow cave at mid-morning. Keeping the cave in sight he and Billy scouted around to find enough dry wood to make a decent fire. As an added bonus, Tommy found a fruit tree with a bountiful crop of ripe fruit, so he gathered enough to last them a couple of days. Mere minutes after they settled in their shelter the storm unleashed its fury.
Inside the cave the two young men watched the falling rain sporadically illuminated by flashes of lightening. Their fire provided both warmth and light, the fruit was particularly good, and they were more comfortable than Tommy would have believed possible. The only problem he had was the sneaking sense of relief that the confrontation he believed awaited him at the base of Mt. Sagacity had been delayed at least another day.
"I'm a coward," he muttered to himself, staring outside at the pouring rain. He looked around their secure shelter, savoring the safety to be found there. "Nothing but a coward."
"Who's a coward?" a familiar voice asked.
Tommy swung his gaze back to the cave entrance with a gasp. There, silhouetted against the rain outside, was another familiar figure. Tommy didn't need to see the face to know who it was. No one else Tommy knew had the solid muscle mass of Jason.
"Jase!" he cried out happily.
"Huh? The name's Jonan. Would you mind sharing your shelter for a spell? I could find no other, the storm caught me by surprise."
"No problem, be glad to have you here," Tommy replied.
"Thanks. You know my name, but who are you?"
"Tommy, and Billy. What are you doing here?" Tommy asked.
"I'd been out hunting, I was just heading home when the storm hit. I knew about this cave, but I was surprised to find someone here."
"We'd been warned that if a storm approached we should seek shelter," Tommy commented.
The two young men fell into an easy conversation, Jonan telling Tommy about the types of animals he hunted in the area. For Tommy it was almost as if he were talking to his old friend, he felt easy and comfortable. As suddenly as it had hit, the storm ended. Jonan looked at the late afternoon sky and decided there would be just enough light for him to reach his destination.
"Thanks for sharing your fire and food. I wish you great success on your journey," Jonan started.
Tommy had come to a decision and spoke rapidly. "Could I ask a favor of you?"
"You can ask."
"Take Billy with you. I don't think I can keep him safe."
Jonan considered Tommy and his request. "Why do you believe you can't keep him safe?" he asked, looking over at the silent young man.
"I have a... a... a premonition that I will be involved in a battle with a fierce opponent. If I lose, Billy would most likely be the next victim."
"You said that YOU were not of this world. Is Billy?"
"I don't know for sure. I don't think my world's Billy was near me when I was brought here. So the odds would be this Billy is of this world. I mean, I woke up after a long fall with no injuries, why didn't he? I don't really know anything, except that I don't want him to be hurt in my fight. My dreams imply that if I can defeat my opponent, I will be able to go home. If Billy is supposed to go with me, I will come and find him. Please, I don't want him hurt."
"I don't think I can do that. Is this why you thought yourself a coward. Because of your fear for your friend?"
"Partly. Also, because I was glad the storm slowed us down, delaying the inevitable. I'm afraid I won't be able to beat him," Tommy was studying the tips of his toes as he said the last.
"Look at me Tommy. I have something for you. I give you the gift of self-confidence. You have all the requirements to make a leader, a good one. But without confidence all those skills will go to waste. Believe in yourself, first and foremost, and the rest of the world will tend to follow suit. Confidence is the basis for courage, which, despite your belief to the contrary, you have in abundance. You had been given the gift of faith. Confidence is the twin to that-faith in yourself. Be well Tommy, take care of Billy, you can do it." Jonan handed Tommy another wedge of metal with a warm smile. Tommy added it to the others with a grateful look.
"Thank you," he said, managing a smile.
"You're welcome. Perhaps we will meet again," with that Jonan strolled away from the cave, toward a home and destiny that Tommy would never know about.
Tommy debated moving on himself, but ultimately decided to stay the night in the cave. At least they were warm and dry there, the surrounding area had been thoroughly soaked by the rain.
He sat by the fire looking at the round disk the wedges of metal made. It was obvious he was missing only one piece now. One side of the coin was decorated with tiny renderings of a dragon, falcon and tiger, all inside a star shaped outline. On the other side of the coin was a symbol Tommy did not recognize. It looked like a two snakes with their lower bodies entangled and their heads and the upper quarter of each body separated, forming eyebrows over two eyes that resembled eagle's eyes. The eyes were set in a canine face topped by upright ears. Tommy found the image both mesmerizing and disturbing.
That night the dream was again different. He had more success against the huge being, was even able to believe for a moment he was winning. But a strong blow, unexpected and catching him unprepared, knocked him several feet backwards. He landed hard, the wind knocked out of him. As he struggled to breathe his antagonist raised his sword for the killing blow....
"Ugh, no!" Tommy gasped, waking with a start. He looked around the cave in fear and confusion, before remembering where he was and what had happened. He glanced over to see Billy sleeping unconcernedly on the far side of the now extinguished fire. Tommy let himself sink back down to the ground, trying to slow his breathing. He found he could not get back to sleep, he spent the rest of the night tossing and turning restlessly.
The next day the two travelers stopped by a lake to eat their midday meal. The day was one of the warmest they had had yet, and Tommy decided to take advantage of the warmth and take a bath. Encouraging a reluctant Billy to join him, Tommy stripped and eagerly swam out into the lake. The water was quite cold, but still wonderful as far as Tommy was concerned. Billy didn't seem to share his enthusiasm. After a quick splash he climbed back out of the water and went to sit in the sunshine to warm up. Tommy continued to swim, enjoying the experience.
He was treading water, looking at Mt. Sagacity, when he was grabbed from behind and his head forced under water. He struggled futilely against his attacker, unable to get a grip on the person, or to find anything he could use to push off against. He was starting to panic, his lungs felt like they were near bursting. As a reddish darkness came over his vision, he felt the hands gripping him release. He propelled himself to the surface and gulped in air convulsively. He whirled around to face his attacker.
"Kimberly!" he cried in surprise.
"My name is Kimba. I don't know any 'Kimberly'," she said calmly. "Go on back to shore and get dressed. I'll meet you there."
Tommy obeyed, his mind trying to process the thought that the girl he loved had just tried to drown him. He dressed quickly and wandered over to where Billy was sitting. He settled down on the grass and waited for Kimba and the explanation she had promised.
She appeared a couple of minutes later, wearing a simple tunic over leggings with sensible boots. She approached the two young men confidently and sat down facing Tommy.
"Why did you do that?" Tommy asked abruptly, feeling more than a little hurt at what she had done.
"You needed to focus. And I needed to get your attention. I think it worked on both counts," she replied.
"What are you talking about? I needed to focus?"
"Yes. Thoughts and memories of your dreams consume you. Doom can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you let it be. You need to think of something else. Or at the very least change the way you think about it," she explained.
"Just a little something to get my mind off my problems?" Tommy hated the petulant sound in his voice, but was unable to change it.
"Something like that," she replied. "Let me ask you something. When you were under the water, what did you want the most?"
"Air. To take a breath."
"Were you thinking of anything else?"
"Not that I can remember. All I wanted was to get free from whatever held me and to get some air."
"So, you would say you had a passionate urge to breathe?" she asked, looking at him intently.
"Yes, you could say so," he replied.
"Hmm. That is what you will need in your battle tomorrow. That is my gift to you, passion. If you want something passionately, you will not allow anything to stand in your way. Passion is the driving force behind some of the greatest accomplishments in the history of mankind. If you see someone do something amazing, you know behind the effort is a passionate nature. Passion will enable you to focus completely on what you need to do, it will make you want success as much as you wanted air a few minutes ago. Passion in your fight, passion in your work, passion in your love, passion in your life. You need all of this." She handed him the final metal wedge.
Tommy halfway expected the jolt of energy to be stronger this time, but it was the same mild sensation as before. The nine pieces did not magically join together, but clinked and clanked with their own separate sounds at the bottom of Tommy's pocket. He looked over at Kimba and smiled. "Thank you."
She gave a warm smile that gladdened Tommy's heart and soul. "You're welcome. You have all you need to succeed in your fight. The rest is up to you." She stood up abruptly. "Be strong, be brave, believe. You can do it." She started away.
She turned to look at him.
He opened his mouth to speak and realized there was nothing he could say. He wanted to say he loved her, that she was the center of his world and his primary reason to fight to live. But this wasn't Kimberly, he would be saying these things to a stranger. "Thank you," he said at last.
She gave him another of her heart warming smiles, and walked away.
Tommy watched her until she disappeared beyond a boulder. He sighed and again looked at the nine pieces of metal that represented the gifts he had received. He arranged them into the coin, the symbols now complete.
"Grace, empathy, serenity, humor, intuition, flexibility, faith, confidence, and passion. All the best my friends have to offer," he murmured. "I will use them well, my friends, in honor of you all. Come on, Billy, we can get a bit further before nightfall."
That night he did not dream of the fight at the base of Mt. Sagacity. Instead he dreamt of Dustin, remembering their friendship, the times they spent together, how he had always looked forward to seeing him again, someday. And how that chance had been taken from him by the accident. The dream was both joyful and sorrowful, and Tommy awoke to find his eyes feeling swollen, as if he had cried in the night.
He lingered over the morning routine, delaying the inevitable. He felt the need to shake the emotional backwash from his dream before he faced the coming confrontation. He did another complicated kata, striving for emotional balance and serenity. Finally achieving a measure of peace he indicated to Billy they would head on out.
"Time to hit the road, bud. Today is going to be a big day."
Oddly, Billy seemed reluctant to get going. In all the time they had been traveling together, Billy had always been ready to go whenever Tommy gave the word. This morning he was dragging his feet.
"What's up, Billy? Maybe you understand more of my comments than you are letting on, huh? Don't worry, we will be okay. And home awaits us."
They started out, moving at a steady pace toward the base of the huge mountain that loomed ominously over them. At midday they arrived at the spot where Tommy's dreams always started. A large clearing was in front of them, and across the clearing was a stone temple, the one Tommy felt was the key to his getting home.
Tommy turned to face his companion, placing his hands on his friend's shoulders. "Stay here, Billy. No matter what happens, no matter what you see, you stay here. This is my fight, I'm ready for it. But I can't fight my best if I am worried about you. So, stay here."
Tommy stepped into the clearing. Immediately a huge being, resembling a cross between a WWF wrestler and a gorilla, but standing well over six feet tall, confronted Tommy.
"You no pass!" it growled.
"I come in peace. I wish only to reach the temple, to learn how to get home again. I have no desire to fight," Tommy said evenly.
"You no pass!"
"I must. You can let me by peacefully, or we can fight. It is your choice."
"We fight. You defeat Melnish-you pass. You lose-you die."
"So it shall be."
Melnish attacked without another word, charging Tommy and swinging powerful arms at the teen. Tommy easily evaded the blows, feeling the grace Zeke had gifted him with. He stood at the ready, watching to see what Melnish would do next. It appeared that the initial attack had been made in the hope that Tommy would prove an unworthy opponent. Now that Tommy had proved himself, Melnish would attack with more caution.
Tommy reached into himself, seeking the intuition and empathy he had been given, using them to determine how Melnish would react now. Forcing himself to not expect Melnish to react as he himself would, Tommy opened himself to all possibilities.
Melnish still surprised him when he suddenly started throwing rocks at Tommy, launching the sharp stones accurately and with tremendous force. Tommy reacted instinctively, batting the stones aside before they could strike. He found this odd attack to be somewhat funny, it reminded him of a kid pitching a fit on a playground. Tommy snickered as that thought passed through his mind. Melnish roared in frustration.
Again the two antagonists considered their next actions. Tommy needed to disable Melnish, to render him defenseless. He launched himself at his larger foe, striking out at him with a series of powerful kicks, but Melnish was easily able to withstand the attack, and landed a painful blow to Tommy's back in the process. Tommy was dismayed by the power of the blow, realizing he would not be able to withstand many such hits. He felt the fear he associated with the dreams return, and forced himself to let the thoughts go, to embrace a sense of serenity.
Melnish found a long pole to use as a staff. Tommy, seeing what he would be up against next, looked desperately for a staff of his own. He could not find anything to use before he was attacked. Tommy ducked and dodged, evading blows that would have easily incapacitated him. Finally, as he rolled away from yet another swipe he found a staff of his own. Much shorter and smaller than the one Melnish had, it would have to do. Tommy refused to believe he would lose this fight, it meant too much to him.
Deciding the best defense would be a good offense, Tommy started attacking. Using his superior agility to advantage, Tommy darted in, landing quick, painful blows. The only chance he had, it seemed, would be to simply wear his opponent down. He was starting to think he had a chance when a blow Melnish timed perfectly hit him with tremendous force. Tommy went down hard, his right side on fire from the hit. He felt his will to fight waver when he glanced over to see Billy watching from the edge of the clearing. The sight of his friend renewed Tommy's passionate desire to win this contest. As the adrenaline rushed through his body Tommy sprang to his feet and once again attacked. This time luck was on his side and Melnish stumbled over a rock hidden in the tall grass. That small opening was all Tommy needed, he swung his staff at Melnish's head, connecting solidly. Melnish fell to the ground dazed. Tommy followed it up with fierce blows to the large being's ribs and arms, causing Melnish to curl up on himself in defense.
"Give up?" Tommy panted.
"Yes. You pass," Melnish gasped.
Tommy looked over at Billy again and signaled him over. As the two young men started briskly toward the temple Melnish recovered enough to gain his feet.
"Melnish never loses!" he cried in anger.
Tommy and Billy whirled around at the sound to see Melnish draw his arm back and throw a large knife at Tommy. The sun glinted on the blade as it turned end over end on its way toward the target. Tommy watched, mesmerized. Then, before Tommy had a chance to react, an obstacle appeared between him and certain death.
And Tommy could only watch in horror as Billy stumbled forward under the force of the blow, the knife buried in his back, the tip of the blade protruding a couple of inches from his chest.
"Nooooo!" Tommy cried in despair as he caught his falling friend in his arms. Beyond him, Melnish, satisfied with the results, lumbered off.
As Tommy looked down at Billy he noticed something that surprised him. For the first time since he found his old friend in this strange world, Tommy saw life, light, and intelligence in Billy's eyes.
"Billy?" Tommy whispered with almost superstitious dread. Billy didn't reply, but pawed at Tommy's jeans pocket where he kept the wedges of metal that formed the mysterious coin. Tommy reached into the pocket and withdrew the pieces. "Do you want these?"
Billy still did not speak, but wrapped his hands around Tommy's hand, closing it around the wedges he had been given. A strange golden glow surrounded their hands and Tommy felt a strong surge of power rush through him. It was reminiscent of the feeling of morphing. As the glow began to fade, Billy focused on Tommy and spoke for the first and only time in this strange land.
"Self sacrifice," he said softly, then the light faded from his eyes and he collapsed into Tommy's arms, dead.
Tommy, tears streaming down his face, eased Billy's body to the ground. Then he opened the hand Billy had grasped. Inside was the gold coin, seamlessly whole.
"Is this about the powers? Because if it is, I don't want them if the price is a friend's life! He didn't deserve to die! Is this what I came all this way for, to sacrifice a friend?" Tommy yelled at the temple, at the sky, at the impassive mountain.
Suddenly a feeling of vertigo hit, and his vision began to fade. Panicked, Tommy felt as if he were falling as his vision faded to black. He struggled to find a sense of location, to orient himself some way. He had no idea how long the dark, silent fall lasted, but gradually he realized he could hear a distant voice.
"tommy... hear me?... tommy... movement... awake"
Tommy wanted desperately to answer the mysterious voice, but try as he might he could not utter a sound. He strained his ears, listening with intense concentration, and eventually the voice became clearer.
"Tommy, come on, man, give me a sign here. I know you are close, come on, wake up! Come back to us, we need you," the voice said.
Tommy recognized the voice, he just couldn't quite remember who it was. He tried to determine if his eyes were open and blind, or closed. He focused on opening his eyes and was rewarded by the gradual lightening of his vision.
After what seemed like ages he could see enough to determine someone was leaning over him, speaking gently, urging him to wake up. He found he could see light brown hair, a fine-featured face, highlighted by weary looking blue eyes. Eyes he thought had been closed forever just a short time before. Shock and joy rushed through his mind and he found his voice.
"You're alive!" he gasped.
He was rewarded by a slight chuckle. "Yeah, Tommy, I'm alive, despite the ungodly hour. Why can't you guys ever regain consciousness at a decent time?"
"You can talk!" Tommy added grabbing Billy's arms in a painfully hard grip.
"Uh, yeah, I can. I can walk and dress myself as well," Billy said mildly, gently extricating himself from Tommy's grasp.
Tommy released him, leaned back down and closed his eyes in relief. "You aren't dead."
Billy looked at Tommy worriedly. "What exactly do you think happened?" he asked.
"It's a long story. Why don't you tell me what happened here, then I'll tell my tale," Tommy suggested. Suddenly he sat upright in a panic. "Are the others okay? Where are they?"
"Whoa, Tommy, settle down. Everyone is okay. Completely. They are all at their homes, in bed. It is two in the morning."
"They are really okay?"
"Yes. Tell you what, why don't I call them in to see you. Actually, the only way I got them to go home was by promising I would call them as soon as you awoke." Billy touched a button on his communicator, sending a signal to all the others.
"There. They should be here in a few minutes. Why don't you lie back and relax. Let me do a quick scan just to be sure everything is as it should be," Billy said as he went over to pick up a portable scanner and a couple of other devices Tommy had seen all too often.
He settled back, reflecting how different it was having Billy as the team nurse, after Kimberly had done it for a couple of years. With Kimberly you woke up to this warm, motherly presence. A lot of touching and soothing. Billy was gentle and reassuring, very competent, but not much for touching. Yet, despite his lack of physical demonstrativeness, Billy was obviously just as dedicated to helping his injured teammates. It was quite common for him to remain in the Command Center/Power Chamber for days when tending a patient.
Tommy's thoughts were interrupted by the noisy arrival Alpha Five who waddled in happily burbling about how glad he was to see Tommy feeling better. Zordon's visage appeared above a nearby monitor, also expressing relief at his recovery. Moments later the rest of the Zeo team hurried in.
"Tommy, you are awake!" Katherine's voice telegraphed her joy and relief.
"Glad you made it back, man!" Rocky added happily.
Tanya and Adam both chimed in with their quieter greetings as Tommy looked around with relief at his teammates.
"I am so glad to see you guys! I never thought I'd get back here again. Did you have to give my powers to someone else until my return? What has been happening? Are my parents worried?" Tommy was starting to get wound up, more and more worrisome thoughts occurring to him.
"Whoa, slow down there Tommy. We were able to handle fifteen hours without you. Hope that doesn't hurt your feelings too much," Rocky commented, giving Tommy an odd look. "As for your parents, I think Billy called them and said you were spending the night at his house." Rocky looked over at Billy for confirmation of that.
"Fifteen hours? What do you mean? I was gone a couple of weeks at least," Tommy said with a wondering look at his teammates.
"Tommy, you were out of it from about ten thirty yesterday morning until two this morning. You have been in the Power Chamber the entire time since Vapornator hit you with his poison dart. You were very lucky, it just grazed you," Billy told him in a steady, reassuring tone.
Tommy looked at him with considerable confusion. "No, man, I was somewhere else, and a lot of time passed. We had to travel a long way to Mt. Sagacity so we could come home."
"We? Mt. Sagacity? Tommy, I think it might be best if you got some sleep, then you can tell us about it in the morning. Guys, it's time to clear on out." Billy gently herded the other Rangers toward to door of the Med Room. "Come back in the morning and we will talk about it then," he added softly.
Once they were gone, Billy returned to Tommy's side. "Try to sleep, Tommy. You are still showing some aftereffects of the poison. You should feel much better in the morning."
Tommy obediently settled back down and tried to relax. "You were easier to deal with when you were mute," he muttered. He didn't see the odd look Billy gave him.
He awakened much later to find himself alone in the Med Room. "Billy? Zordon? Anyone here?" he called out.
"I'm right here Tommy. Good morning," Billy's voice preceded him into the room. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay. I think. It really has only been about a day since I was hurt?" Tommy was still boggled by the idea.
"Yep. About 23 hours now. You should be pretty hungry."
"God, yes. I could eat a horse," Tommy declared.
"I took the liberty of getting you some breakfast, but, sorry, I couldn't find any horse. I thought about cooking you breakfast myself, but decided one poisoning a week was sufficient," Billy said with a grin as he handed Tommy a bag emblazoned with a well-recognized restaurant's trademark.
"Thanks, man. My favorite," Tommy tore into the food with enthusiasm. He was almost finished when he looked over at Billy sheepishly. "Uh, did I just eat your breakfast, too?"
Billy chuckled. "No, I had mine earlier. Go ahead and finish. If you are feeling okay the others would like to hear more about where you think you were while you were unconscious."
"Sure. I feel fine. I guess I must have sounded like a lunatic earlier, but really, I swear, I experienced a couple of weeks worth of events while I was out of it."
"I believe you, Tommy. Anything is possible. And we would like to hear about it."
"Do I have to stay here?" Tommy asked, crumpling up the last of the food wrappers and neatly putting them in the bag.
"Nope. I ran another scan earlier, and Zordon confirmed it. It seems you check out fine and are free to leave."
"Cool. Let's go," Tommy enthused, all but leaping from the medical bed.
Billy laughed quietly. "You are definitely feeling better. I told the others we would meet them at the Youth Center. Okay with you?"
The six teens sat around a table in a quiet corner of the Youth Center discussing the events of the previous day.
"So you pushed Adam and Katherine out of the way, but didn't have enough time to dive out of harm's way yourself. You were lucky it was a glancing hit. You were unconscious when we got to you, and you stayed that way until you woke up in the Med Room," Rocky concluded the story.
"I remember the first part of the fight, up until Vapornator launched the attack against Tanya. After that the next I remember was waking up on the blue/green grass in that other place."
"Blue/green grass?" Tanya asked.
"Yeah. Everything was oddly colored and a lot of things had strange shapes. The rocks were all real angular, the shrubs were squat and very wide, the trees had long branches shooting off in every direction. It is kind of hard to describe, but everything was a bit off, nothing seemed quite right," Tommy said reflectively. He then began to tell them about the events that occurred in that strange land. Finding Billy, meeting Zack, who called himself Zeke, then Katherine.
"Except, you said your name was Katrinka, and your gift was empathy. You were pretty mad at me for fighting that little guy," Tommy admitted. He continued through the rest of the meetings, telling the other Rangers what names they used there, and what their gifts were. The Rangers and Billy listened quietly, not interrupting, caught up in the narrative.
"When Melnish went down that last time I knew I had him. I asked him if he gave up and he said 'Yes, you pass'. Billy and I went past him toward the temple," here Tommy paused, considering.
"Well, what happened when you got to the temple?" Tanya asked.
"I guess I blacked out. The next thing I remember was waking up hearing Billy's voice," Tommy said, not looking at the former Ranger.
"Wow. No wonder you were confused," Adam declared. "That would be enough to confuse anyone."
"Yeah. It was so real, though. And the time seemed to pass like real time. I don't understand it." It was obvious to them all that Tommy was bothered by the experience.
"I'd tell you it's all in your head, but you'd probably smack me," Rocky grinned.
Tommy smiled back and lurched forward to smack the Blue Ranger, much to the amusement of the team. The solemn moment passed, and their youthful natures reasserted themselves.
Shortly thereafter they group dissipated. Adam and Rocky started sparring, Katherine and Tanya went shopping, Billy headed back to the Power Chamber, and Tommy went for a walk in the park.
Tommy found himself sitting at the edge of the pond, near a place that held special meaning to him. Just a few feet away was the place where he first kissed Kimberly, just before asking her to a dance. This place always lifted his spirits, but today it just wasn't working. Tommy sighed deeply, knowing there was only one person who could help him.
Zordon greeted Tommy with a slightly puzzled sound in his voice. It was apparent that the teenager was struggling with something, but he had no idea what it might be. "Is there something I can do for you, Tommy?" he asked.
"Not really. Is Billy around?" the longhaired teen asked.
"He is in the zord holding bay."
"Thanks," Tommy said as he prepared to teleport out.
He found the team genius working on a console in the corner of the huge holding bay. Tommy always found it awe inspiring to enter the holding bay and see the massive fighting zords at rest, ready to be piloted into battle at a moment's notice. He paused as always to admire their powerful beauty, then crossed the area to talk to Billy.
Billy looked up from his work on the console to see Tommy approach. He smiled his greeting before turning his attention to the exposed wires inside the console itself.
"What brings you down here, Tommy?"
Now that he was here, Tommy had no idea how to proceed. He looked at Billy and found he was incapable of broaching the subject that was weighing on his mind. Billy seemed to sense his friend's problem.
"Why don't you ask me what I am doing?" he suggested to Tommy.
"What are you doing?" Tommy asked obligingly.
Billy's response was a long and convoluted explanation involving words Tommy only vaguely recognized. Tommy held up his hand in confusion. "Please, Billy, translate that to simple English."
"Oh, simple English. Okay. I'm tinkering," Billy's eyes sparkled with suppressed mirth.
Tommy looked at him in exasperation for a moment, then burst into laughter. "Thank you."
"For that fine translation. And for your earlier silence," the laughter in Tommy's eyes suddenly extinguished.
"You're welcome. For both. I figured you would explain what went on when you could."
"I need to talk about it, and you are really the only choice I have. But I'm afraid what I say might upset you," Tommy explained haltingly.
"Tommy, you can tell me anything you need to. If it upsets me, well, I'll deal with it. It bothers me much more to think you feel you can't talk to me about something. And it's not like I don't have some idea of what may have happened. I remember your comments when you came to."
Tommy took a deep breath as if preparing for an ordeal. "After I defeated Melnish you and I started toward the temple. That much was accurate. But when Melnish recovered and got to his feet, he threw this huge knife at me. You stepped in front of me, and took the knife that was meant for me. It went all the way through you. Then you held my hand with the wedges I had gotten from all the others, and our hands glowed. You looked at me with eyes that were finally there and said 'self sacrifice', then died in my arms," Tommy finished in a rush.
Billy looked at him quietly for a moment. "I'm sorry, Tommy. That had to be horrible for you. No wonder you were so surprised to see me when you woke up in the Med Room."
"I can't remember the last time I was so glad to see someone."
"I can only imagine. So I did have a gift for you after all. I had wondered about that."
"Heck of a gift-your life for mine. Remember this, Billy: I never want that gift. Never."
Billy gave him a cryptic smile. "I'll remember. So, what do you think it all meant?" he asked.
Tommy's expression indicated the thought had not occurred to him. "What it all meant?"
"Yeah, why did you have this particular dream, vision, whatever?"
Tommy started to respond, then stopped and a thoughtful expression drifted over his features. Billy saw what was happening and gave Tommy time to organize his thoughts.
"I don't know," Tommy muttered at last.
"You sure about that, Tom? I think maybe you do. What did you learn from it? What was it trying to tell you?"
"That we are all, at least in part, the sum of those we have known?" Tommy said hesitantly. "That we all carry within us a part of those who have meant something in our lives," he concluded more confidently.
"Mm-hmm. Anything else?"
Tommy was lost in thought. "Why were you mute? And brain damaged? What was the meaning of that?" he muttered more to himself than to his companion.
"Maybe it had to do with my being powerless now. I'm here, but I'm not here," Billy offered, keeping his expression carefully neutral. This was not the time to get into his feelings and issues surrounding his powerless status.
"And you have always been here. That makes sense, you are the only other one to be teammates with all the others," Tommy added. "But, this still doesn't answer why I had this dream."
"Maybe it was offering you some comfort, about how through others' memories a person can live on past their death," Billy offered with a sympathetic look. He was the only one Tommy had really spoken to about Dustin's death.
Tommy looked thoughtfully at Billy. "Maybe."
"It's like Dr. McCoy said about Spock at the end of the second Star Trek movie: 'He's not really dead, as long as we remember'."
Tommy outright laughed at that. "Deep philosophical lessons from Star Trek. I never know quite what to expect from you, Billy." He sobered again. "However, it is a nice thought."
"Yes, it is."
Tommy fell quiet, his gaze fixed on a far corner of the holding bay as he sorted through his thoughts and feelings. Billy went back to work on the console, allowing Tommy all the time he needed.
"You know, Dustin was a terrific person, he had such a passion for life. The kind of person who saw an opportunity where someone else would see an obstacle. I hope he did gift me with a portion of that attitude, it is a valuable thing to have. I've been very lucky, I have had extraordinary friends, who have given me extraordinary gifts."
Billy smiled at Tommy gently. "You know, Tommy, it works both ways. We have received from you as well."
Tommy smiled back a bit embarrassed, having no reply to that comment. Billy put his tools away and closed the cover to the console.
"Have you had enough philosophy for today? Are you feeling better about what happened?" Billy asked.
"Yes, to both."
"Good. I'm ready to get the heck out of here for a while. What do you say we round up the others and go to the park for a picnic and game of volleyball?"
"Sounds like a plan to me!" was Tommy's enthusiastic response.
The two young men headed out together, back to their ordinary lives.