Disclaimer: "This is not Saban's work; surprisingly enough, it is down to the insanity of my brain. It is based on an actual dream that I had and set some time after the Wave and before Terra Venture. I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote this, but I hope you enjoy it anyway!
He ran up to the building, looking up at it, frowning slightly. Yes ... yes, this was the one. There ... the woman wearing the short-sleeved floral top walking out, calling to her little fair-haired son to hurry up. Yes ... this was the place. Wide open doors - glass, commercial-looking doors. Run up the steps and look up to the clock on the wall ... 8 minutes to two ... was that date on the display? was that a 7, something 7? No time to waste, carry on moving. There, yes some sort of policeman walking up on the left.
A flash of images
No, he had tried the policeman before, and each time it had ended the same. Took too long to persuade him to listen. He ran straight inside looking around. Escalators ... levels ... open areas packed with people. A strange logo, blue and white ...
Don't waste time, don't waste time ...
He ran, smashing the fire alarm as he hurtled down the stairs to his destination. Lift was too slow ... too slow. Run and jump, skid around the stairwell. People streaming out of the place ... good ... Into the pool area. Smell of chlorine, thump of his heart, squeak of his trainers on wet tiles. Which one was it ...Flash of images
Third box on the wall, third ... yes. Yank the box off the wall next to the pool, cracking open the casing. Someone else running toward him ... familiar presence, male ... can't pay attention now, got to STOP this. The bomb, got to stop the bomb.
Wires ... lots of wires, very complex ... cut a wire, but which wire? Which wire?!Flash of images
Not the orange ... explodes
Not the purple ... explodes
Not the blue ... explodes
Not the yellow ... explodes
Two left. Red or green ...? Green.
Snip the green wire... timer stops before the counter 23 when it usually explodes. Yes! He smiles and looks up finally at the other person to celebrate and ...
White hot roaring pain and impact, crushing him ... whirled away in fire and force ...
Billy shot awake with a strangled scream, sweating profusely with the dream fear. He grabbed a pad and pencil and hurriedly sketched the logo and wrote down the details that he had noticed from last time, before the sharpness of the dream images faded. His head felt raw and as if someone had scrubbed out the inside with a scourer, leaving him open and vulnerable somehow. This time the chill, the unease did not fade with the images as he moved. The prescient dread had settled into his bones and he shivered even though the sun was shining in through his window.
This was definitely it. He was definitely out of time. He got up and had a quick shower, trying to wash off the taint of premonition and padded out in his towel to get the newspaper. He glanced casually at the top as he picked it up from outside his door. What was today's date? The seventeenth.
An icy shudder swept up his spine and it was with a kind of shock he realised that he was gripping the paper hard enough to tear it.
The old arguments poured through his mind.Just a dream, too much ... er ... Chinese takeout last night ... or perhaps not enough. Should never have watched that movie. Bad dream, okay, a nightmare. And what if it is real? Why should I do anything about it? Just because I see it over and over in my head doesn't mean that I am responsible for doing anything about it, does it? My Rangering days are over! I'm a respected researcher ... youngest ever too ... damn, you'd be out on your ear if they heard about this, off the Venture program. There will be a threat, won't there? They will get them out, won't they?
What if they don't? his traitorous inner voice responded. See that in any of your dream visions , did you? Going to let innocents die? Like before?
"It's just a FEELING." He berated himself aloud and doggedly ate his cereal alone, switching on the portable TV in the kitchen area, hoping its sounds of normality would somehow dispel the lurking nightmare.
Halfway through watching the banal early TV with the weather forecast 'warm and sunny, continuing bright with good air quality', Billy got up and flicked on his PC, spooning the cornflakes into his mouth as he waited for it to boot up, hastily picking the escapee bits of cereal out of the keyboard before they could stick the keys together.
Mail flicked in and he successfully distracted himself for a while. Mail from work - who was in that early? He looked at his watch. Ah, not quite as early as he thought ... well, anyway ... the mail ...
Doing anything good on your day off while your long-suffering colleagues carry the can, huh? So you 'knew' the air conditioning was gonna break, did you? Why else would you take the day off on a whim. Office goss says you sabotaged it with that "Cranston Effect" of yours. <winks>
Gotta hot date or something? The guys are stripping off here ... and the gals were all agog that we might see you that way ... (not me of course. <ahem.>) until I crushed their hopes saying you were on leave. You may well be lynched tomorrow. Chris says that it would be nice if you came back in with the solution to the mass propulsion gradient - he'll buy you a bagel. I told him was at least a ten donut bribe but he's a damn cheapskate.
<chris> I heard that! Get back to work!
Our master's voice ...
Seeya tomorrow ... I should forget the shirt ... for your own good, that is ... and shorts ... shorts would be good. <drools>
Billy chuckled to himself. Kathy was great. Behind all the banter lay a mind that had no equal in the realms of biospheres and environmental engineering. If someone was being pompous, she would pick up one of her stress toys and lob it at them from afar and only very occasionally hitting them.
He re-read the message again and frowned. A good question, why had he taken the day off? And why ... why was he running an internet search on blue and white local business logos?
"Damn Eternal Falls water ! they said it couldn't but it MUST have been that ... there's nothing else it could have been!" Billy cursed himself. "Never used to have this problem ... never. Slept like a log. Didn't see things, hallucinations ... and didn't sit alone talking to myself!"
He got up, irritated as a search page was loading in and dressed himself in blue jeans and a matching blue top. He somehow felt more in control when he did that, comforted by the colours. There was something very vulnerable about not being able to understand your own mind, or control it. What was worse was that everything he had seen had so far actually happened. Small things ... large things ... tornados, storms ... on Aquitar the toppling spire piercing the dome.
He shuddered, forcing back the pain that rose up from that memory. Coincidence, yes? Had to be, surely. So why didn't he dare seek out his friends if he was so sure of that? Why hadn't he told them he had come back? It had been a long time since Aquitar. God, he hated these dreams, they made him so depressed. But they had been getting worse and this one was the worst of all, and he didn't know why.
He sighed and made a strong coffee, glanced over at the PC screen and froze. He groaned as he could see from where he was sitting a white and blue blob he just KNEW would be the logo. Gently and deliberately he banged his head on the kitchen table three times and then with a sigh walked over to have his suspicions confirmed. Essences, Inc. had the exact blue and white design he had seen in the dream. He was sure the place was a mall or something.
"Why can't I be wrong?" Billy pleaded to the electronic display. "Can't you be something I've seen somewhere, picked up subliminally and put into a nightmare?"
But he had that icy cold sensation inside that he got when he saw something that made the dreams ... the visions real. He grimaced. He'd never mentioned that sometimes it happened when he was awake, a weird merging of images where he could see both at the same time. Where he could be talking to someone and then an image flood, translucent across his sight as he carried on nodding and trying to talk seriously about mass ratio converters and feasibility potentials as a different scene rose up in his mind. He was too worried that the Aquitians might find that too bizarre, and could it be that the disaster at Quitaria had happened because of his cautiousness? He smoothed back his blond hair and sat disconsolately at the computer before deciding to pursue this thread of activity to a natural conclusion.
He rattled off a short search-and-find script for premises locations of that company, or investor locations and then wandered around anxiously, tidying up a few things, arguing with himself in his head. Why would these dreams be so bad? These were nearly the worst he experienced. Mind you, none of them had actually involved him getting blown to pieces at the end of each one. But he could avoid that by ... just not going, couldn't he?
As the computer whirred and searched and names began listing on the screen, Billy tried to ignore it and continued compulsively tidying up his apartment as if by exerting some sort of control here he could control the totally alien feeling of not being able to understand the thoughts in his own head.
Last time it had come anywhere near this bad was the one about the Domes on Aquitar. Quitaria ... he could understand that ... people he cared for were involved. He swallowed briefly against the pain and then stopped, scaring himself. What if ... what if there was someone there he cared for, involved in this ... could that be it?
There ... that feeling. Was that a yes? Or just a ... 'you're scaring yourself, don't be an idiot' feeling? It's not going to happen anyway, so why are you getting yourself in a state about it?
"I hate this!" Billy said, looking up at himself in the mirror, searching for some sign in his own face that would say that he was marked and different and could therefore believe these images were more than hallucinations of a mind descending slowly into psychosis. Nothing. Eyes a little tired and haunted, a few dark shadows there. No glimmer of mystic aura, no sparkle of glowing Power.
He checked his watch. *Quarter to 12 already?* He hadn't been using his avoidance techniques that long, had he? The place was spotless. Looked like he had.
He started scanning the names in the search, looking for something meaningful that might strike a chord, reaching to fiddle with glasses that he wasn't wearing out of nervous habit. He kept fighting the urge to walk away from the desk and turn his back on the whole thing, but somehow he just couldn't. Just in case.
His new mail icon blinked on and he jumped on it as a distraction.
(of the mysterious hot date ... so Angie on reception says ...) Prove her scurrilous lies wrong and join us for lunch, if you can. Can you believe it ... Chris is springing for lunch ... Kelly's predictions that the end was nigh were correct!. Personally, I think it's because if we don't get out of here, his staff is going to consist of puddles of melted complex proteins all over the desks. He would have us believe it's his innate generosity, but somehow I don't believe him. Anyhoo ... we're busting out at one and trying that place at the Jacob's Ladder Mall ... sorry, 'Retail Complex'. It's a couple of blocks over from work. Never been there myself, but meant to be huge ... well, for this area at least ... so don't miss the event of the millennium (Chris paying), otherwise we will spend all lunch time gossiping about you ... like usual ... hehehe ...
P.S Okay, I will do some work ...I don't just write emails!
Billy froze. "No ..." Pieces seemed to fall into place. He looked back up the list. One of the retail outlets of Essences, Inc. ... was in Jacob's Ladder Retail Complex.
"No ..." he repeated, though his heart thumped in reaction. It was all falling into place, and strangely the fact that he had seen it made him feel oddly responsible. All of them, all his work colleagues ... his friends. A different set of friends, but treasured nonetheless. He rattled off a brief email, saying he would be there and then he looked at his watch and swore ... and leapt up, rummaged for some wire cutters from his tool box and ran for the door. He was going to be tight for time.
Jason looked at his watch. Half one and he STILL hadn't found a present for Trini. She would go all calm on him if he didn't come up with something for their 'anniversary'. It was a special type of calm reserved only for him, though she had another with which she could level an arguing room of diplomats. When she heard that he was due on another mission soon, oh man, was he ever in for some silent treatment!
He'd much rather do a hazardous night drop into hostile territory than face Trini when he told her that. He'd promised that he had done his last covert SEAL mission and would be doing training only - but there was always that last job that no-one else could do that was vital. If it weren't for their background as Power Rangers, he doubted that they would have lasted through the strain of him disappearing and rushing headlong into danger all the time they had been together. She had refused to get married, though, until she knew he was safe. He sighed.
The size of this place! He looked up and down the levels. There was such a thing as having too much choice. Jewellery was always a good idea as a present, something simple and elegant ... hmm, on the second floor ... right. He passed a table of chattering adults, noting one woman who unashamedly looked him up and down and grinned at him. He winked back at her and unobtrusively fiddled with his engagement band, seeing her disappointment.
As he departed, rather enjoying the attention, he heard a roar of laughter from the table and smiled to himself as he rode an elevator down towards the second level.
Then it hit him ...
Back of the neck prickled, an icy chill swept up his body, settling in the pit of his stomach. Heart began to race, and mouth dry with fear and urgency... Muscles pumping full of adrenaline, senses sharpening for danger ...
And he had no idea why.
But Jason had come to trust this sense; one of his team had started calling it his 'SpideySense'. He would get a sense of danger, a premonition, a feeling of wrongness, and it had developed over time. He could often tell the direction, the way out of things by his gut reaction. The trick was to go with it and let it flow and sense where the most danger lay and the path of least danger or most safety would become obvious. He had no idea why he had it. He assumed it was something to do with being a Power Ranger, but it was not something he could explain easily, so he didn't try any longer. Besides, none of the others seemed to have it and he was worried about being 'different' - though he had certainly found it useful. It was one reason why he had survived a record amount of covert missions ... and his team, too. However, the feeling he was getting from walking in this mall was on an equivalent with a situation where they nearly hadn't made it back at all and most of them not in one piece. That mission had taken out the best part of a small town one way or another, a thought that made Jason shudder as he looked around at the glass-and-concrete building around him
"Oh man ..." He gazed around, concern in his dark eyes, searching for something strange, someone behaving abnormally, focussing on the direction as his muscles shook with a need to fight or run.
Billy parked his car erratically and illegally and leapt out and ran, every stride drumming a feeling of déjà vu into his mind. His traitorous thoughts could not help but turn over and over again to the fact that never once in all the nightmares had he ever found the solution to stop the bomb from exploding. He thought he'd had it last time, but ...
He ran up to the building. Yes ... this was the place ... there was the woman with the floral top ... oh god, it was true! The pattern was there, even the warm slant of the sunlight was chillingly familiar and he slipped into the flow of the dream images.
Jason's heart thundered as he rode the escalator down another level, looking around ... and saw a small blue-clad figure below sprint across, turning to look briefly towards him and then out of sight.
Moments later the fire alarms sounded and Jason kicked into overdrive. He ran down the escalator and jumped clear as soon as he could, instinctively cushioning the drop by settling into a battle crouch. He sprinted, taking the stairs, his own awareness burning now like a fire in him ... the danger was close, very close. He was jostled by people fleeing out of the exits and the ringing sound of the firebells clamouring urgently. He stopped briefly to help a teenager who had fallen up the stairs, still wearing a swimming costume and dripping water, and knew immediately, with a sure unshakeable gnosis, that that was the place he needed to reach.
He hurried, a sprint that paid no heed to limitations such as space or obstacles and he burst into the pool area, seeing a strangely familiar figure seemingly hunting around and then pulling an object from the wall.
Jason gaped. Who was that ... wasn't that ...? But ... when had he come back? But ... and why here and now?
Billy knelt on the wet tiles of the swimming pool side, the bomb case open, the wires exposed, counter dropping down. That person was here. He looked up and froze, precious seconds trickling away.
"J-Jase?" No! His life maybe ... not Jason's, too!
"Billy? Wha ... What the hell are you doing trying to disarm a bomb?!"
Billy looked down at the wires. "Oh shit ... red or green, time's nearly up, Jase ... run ... get out of here! I never found out which one it was! I ... cut the green and there was still an explosion !" He poised the cutters over the red wire ... seconds to go ...
Jason felt a sharp, desperate and very focussed fear. "If you cut the red, it will blow. Trust me."
He looked at Billy's green fear-filled eyes, Billy stared at Jason's dark gaze, locked by the eye contact and cut the green wire ... and the device did not explode. Still, the raging premonitionary burning filled Jason, and Billy felt a crescendo of despair as the last few seconds disappeared.
"There's a second bomb," they said in unison.
A millisecond later Jason, trusting the instinct that pointed the way to best safety, dove at Billy, carrying both of them into the pool as white fire exploded behind them.
Billy watched the surface of the water boil with fire above them as Jason carried them downwards, the flashing heat scalding until they were far enough down in the liquid. They were hit by a massive concussive force, softened by the surrounding water but enough to make Jason lose his grip on his friend and the pair tumble apart.
The ex-Gold Ranger looked up through the water and could see the distorted shapes and shadows of the building's structure coming down on top of them. The massive ceiling of concrete and reinforced steel had been torn apart by the explosion crawling up the central struts of the building. It began to collapse down over the pool and a deafening roar sounded through the water as it closed down like a granite tomb lid, sealing them in.
The light vanished. Trapped in darkness underwater, breath running out, Billy kicked upwards instinctively, panicking as he felt sharp metal dropping down inexorably on top of him, whichever way he swam. Something large and tangled and pushing him down, forcing him against the floor of the pool, slowly and inexorably piercing his leg ... Jason, where was Jason?
He resisted the urge to scream in pain as that would mean the last of his precious air gone, striving to live a moment longer, just a moment, then another moment and so on. There was another thunderous roar through the water and Billy could feel the water suddenly swirling away from him.
Jason used his uncanny instinct like never before, but knowing where things were piercing silently through dark water didn't always mean you could avoid them. He finally took a hit to the head when he was not quite fast enough to twist away and was unconscious as the rush of water began sweeping him away. The floor of the swimming pool had cracked apart as the building infrastructure folded inwards, tearing the floor underneath them open into a yawning chasm.
Billy was fighting for his final breath as the metal strut seemed to move and the rush of water flowing away past him gave him incentive to hang on, to not gulp despite the burning in his lungs, to not inhale the dark waters. All that was in his mind was, what has happened to Jason? And in the midst of the drowning darkness...
Flash of images
Jason drifting past, buffeted by débris within arm's reach through near-opaque waters ...
For the first time ever since he had been troubled by these visions, Billy trusted them and reached out as his head cleared water into hot choking darkness. He gulped deeply, whooping in the acrid but breathable air and grabbed at the darkness, hooking onto the soft form drifting past. He gripped tightly as the weight pulled against him and then nearly yelled as the whole girder seemed to drop, missing the sharp pain in his immediate panic to stay alive. His fingers locked around Jason's wrist and he ignored everything else, focusing only on holding on. Jason would get them out of this, if he could just hang on, he would get them out of this and they would ... whoa!
The building was collapsing downwards; the floor of the swimming pool dropped away completely, leaving in a thunderous roar of water and concrete avalanching into an abyss. All of a sudden there was nothing supporting the weight of Jason except Billy and he was pulled sharply down, the piece of metal acting as a grotesque hook as they swung over the midnight void.
Starbursts of pain appeared in front of Billy's eyes, glorious against the blackness and tentacles of metal cable 'thwipped' past, clanged and coiled all around him as the clatter of a multitude of concrete missiles twanged and clanged their way into the abyss below. The huge girder creaked and settled, spanning an unknowable drop and Billy remained hooked and entangled, dangling over that drop, desperately holding on to Jason, praying he was alright and that he could hold on long enough for them both.
Jason came around groaning, his head aching fiercely and with a throbbing sensation that he recognised as a head wound. He was also immediately aware of a deathgrip on his right arm and an alarming feeling of insecurity in the rest of his body as regards floors, or any type of support beneath him. He moved and immediately heard a gasp of ... surprise? Pain?
"Billy?" he called up, trying to recall what had happened. Water and blackness, searching for a way out and for Billy ... there had been no-one else there, had there? It had to be him!
"Jase ..." the familiar voice sounded strained. "Try not to move too much ... please ..." the request was more a plea than anything else. Jason gripped the arm tightly, feeling relieved that it was his old friend but also inherently insecure, dangling above a void. The air was thick with heat and acrid with the taste of an explosion and he coughed up the remnants of the water he had swallowed, trying to minimise his movements in the meantime.
Jason listened to the noises above him, focussing on his friend. Billy's breathing sounded wrong somehow. Jason shifted his grip and heard a near-gasp ... a hitch of breath.
"Billy, what's holding you up?" he said hoarsely, trying to get a more secure grip and flick water ... or blood from his face. He wasn't sure which, though he was sure he had some sort of head injury.
"A ... girder ... I think," the voice replied from above him.
There was something familiar about that tone; he remembered it from battles when Billy was trying to prove he could keep up and there was something wrong, or that he had taken a hit and didn't want to think himself important enough to bother with. Many was the time that after a battle was over they would then discover that the Blue Ranger had been in need of medical intervention and had ignored it. Billy had always been like that, more ready to suffer something in silence than make a 'fuss' over himself. All that aside, they had to get out of here, and that meant getting to a secure position one way or another.
He felt a perceptible loosening in Billy's grip and said aloud, "Billy, I've got to come up to the girder ... we've got to get out of here, and that means not dangling over certain death."
There was a pause. "O-Okay." Billy's voice had a semblance of calm, but even though he hadn't seen him in a long while Jason knew him well enough to know something was wrong. But even knowing that, there was no other way and his strange sense reinforced that, too.
He shifted and used his well-developed muscles to claw his way up his friend's body, reaching up and twisting the sodden cloth of his friend's clothes into his grip and swinging upwards.
"Jase ... hurry ..." Billy choked out. Jason twisted to hook his hand around the metal of the girder. Billy seemed to drop slightly, then gave a strangled low cry and a peculiar whimper which nearly caused Jason to lose his grip in his concern. He scrabbled briefly, the adrenalin surging wildly in response to the near miss until he hooked his hand over the metal. With a mighty heave he removed his weight from Billy, securing a position on the groaning steel girder, his muscles trembling slightly with exertion.
Billy felt sick with pain, the metal in his leg tearing deep and ripping when Jason pulled as he was inadvertently twisted sideways by his friend. There was no other way though, but despite his best intentions to be stoic he was feeling dizzy and nauseous and in the darkness tears of pain started from his eyes which he was glad his friend could not see. He became dimly aware of Jason speaking to him again.
"Billy? ... let's get you up here with me," Jason was saying.
. "... no ... no ... don't ..." he protested weakly, or maybe he just thought it ... things were getting hazy.
But Jason was trying to move him anyway and he cried out again as he pivoted slightly on the penetrating metal.
"You're snagged on something,"Jason stated, stopping immediately as he felt resistance, his concern jumping a notch. He was used to dangerous situations and this had a bad feel to it - with or without that intuition of his. His fingers probed in the dark along Billy's body and down his leg, finding it tangled in steel cable. He probed underneath, found a sharp edge and ... a freezing sensation in his stomach accompanied the revelation - .it wasn't just pushing against Billy's thigh ... it was IN his leg.
"Oh man ... Billy ..." Jason gulped.
I hate it when one of mine gets hurt, he thought instinctively. "I need light ... I need light." At least I still have my emergency kits. Never go anywhere without them. Little known enemy bases, heavily defended stronghold ... the Mall ...
It would have been funny in any other situation but now. He found the miniature flashlight, panicking for a moment that it wasn't waterproof ... but of course it was ... they all were. Idiot, that's the point of them, he berated himself. The tiny light was dazzling in the darkness and Jason sucked in a restrained breath as the dark glistening of blood shimmered in the illuminating beam. Not good.
"Billy ... I'm going to have to ... get you off of that thing," Jason said clinically, trying to sound as if it was something he did every day.
"Mmmhuh." His long time friend managed a vague sound of assent.
Never did argue, did you, Billy? Always trusted every word I said, even when it was going to hurt you? If only you knew how rare that was ... Jason steeled himself. "This is gonna hurt, little bro ..." he said, automatically slipping back into the frames of speech he used when they were younger.
He wedged his hands under Billy's right leg and pushed upwards, pushing hard, trying to ignore the muffled groans and cries in the meantime. It moved and Jason repositioned to support Billy and then pushed upwards again, grunting with effort. There was a sudden 'shlock' and a gush of warm liquid over his hand, the metallic smell of blood filling his nostrils. He pressed the heel of his palm against the wound and ripped off a strip of material, balled it into a pad and pressed it to Billy's thigh, ripped one strip more and tied it in place efficiently, betraying the fact he had done it before. Then he lifted him and settled him next to him on their precarious perch, gazing into the abyss, feeling the silent shudders under his arms.
"You okay?" Jason asked eventually when Billy seemed to have calmed down. A stupid question, but you had to start somewhere.
"F... Fine," Billy seemed to stutter. There was a lengthy silence, then an almost inaudible "Thankyou."
Jason laughed in amazement. "Did you just say 'thankyou'? Geez! Billy, if this had been one of my unit, the air would have been blue around now."
There was a strained chuckle. "Blue would have been apt ...I'm glad you're here, Jase ..." the voice was trusting. The girder creaked ominously and Jason paused for breath. The palpable sense of danger flowed around him. That familiar danger sensation he had come to associate with fire overshadowed him. A quivering sense showed him the inherent unstableness of the area around him. The steel of the girder rang with the percussion of the debris and vibrated with groans of strain.
Got to get off of this thing ... He flicked on the light briefly, seeing his own hands smeared with blood. They couldn't go up ... but they could go down, with the steel cables.
"Billy? You okay?" he asked, noticing his friend had been unusually quiet. Doesn't surprise me, he's been dangling on a hook and then yanked off .... and supported me. I'm not exactly a light weight, am I? And when I twisted ... He felt sick at the thought.
"Mmmfine." The reply was a little indistinct, but at least Billy was conscious.
"Billy, I'm going to try and get us out of here ... you can hold on up here, can't you?"
"... yes ..."
"Good." Jason reached for the steel cables and began trying to unravel the heavy sharp stuff. There was a massive tangle of the wiry length a little ways along the girder.
"Hold on, Billy. Don't move." Jason inched his way along the metal support and started pulling at the cable. He looped one free end in a secure knot ... easier said than done. The metal fibres cut into his hands. He heaved the tangled over into the darkness, hearing it disappear and immediately, to his sense there was a clear way of an exit away from the danger they were in. The sense of danger around them and above them was not lessening in the slightest, quite the opposite. He coughed. Smoke was thickening the air, tickling at his lungs. He half-choked and reasoned that if his sense told him there was a safer way, then they could take the chance of getting out that way, even not knowing how far down the drop was. Better than staying here, at least.
Now for Billy. "Billy, can you get over towards me?" he called out, then coughed.
There was a grunt and movement was telegraphed along the metal.
It seemed to take a long time for Billy's questing hand to find him in the darkness, but Jason grabbed hold of the fingers. "Good going ... We're going to have to go down, Billy."
"Down ... down there?" Billy's voice trembled a little.
"Believe me, we stay here, this thing is coming down." Jason tore more of his top up and wrapped strips around his palms. "Fire above us, too. This building isn't going to be here much longer."
"Then is going down any safer?" Billy questioned the wisdom of going downwards if the building was going to collapse on top of them.
"Just trust me, Billy; I can't tell you how I know, but I know, okay?" Jason replied, working busily.
He could imagine the nod through the darkness, a familiar gesture and a holding of breath, too.
"Okay, what's wrong ?" Jason asked, testing the knot.
"How ... Jase, you're going to have to leave me," Billy's voice said wearily. "I can't make it ... not down there ... not ... like this ..." He sounded ready to be left behind, a disturbing harmonic to Jason's finely tuned leadership instincts.
"You think I'd leave you here, bro? You gotta tell me what you been up to." Jason was satisfied that the cable was tight. "You can hold onto me, right?"
"Hold on to ... Jase, you can't carry me down there!" Billy exclaimed aghast. "We're not Rangers anymore!"
"Nope. Rangers never had to do boot camp drills, did they?" Jason replied. "Trust me, Billy ... I'll get us down. Done this sorta thing many times. Take hold." He felt Billy's arms tentatively creep around his neck and encouraged him. "That's it, try and wrap your legs around me as much as possible, too." The left leg hooked around ... the right hung limply.
"Hold tight ..." Jason admonished once more and with a gasp of effort, lowered himself down into the midnight void beneath him.
They swayed in the blackness, Jason controlling their descent, his muscles burning with strain as they clambered down and down . The worst was trying not to cough as his lungs heaved for oxygen and found only smoke-tainted air. Billy's grip seemed to be loosening, though, and he stepped up the pace of their descent. How far had the floor fallen through, for crying out loud?
A metal scream above him flashed a wild alert to his survival sense.
Girder's gonna drop ... how far are we up, anyway? He focussed downward, knowing he could survive the fall ... and equally sure that he would not survive a girder collapse. He sprinted hand over hand a little closer to the ground and then, as his sense fired an acute warning, without telling Billy he let go of the cable and fell ...
About 3 metres.
There was a cry of pain from Billy still clinging to him as they hit the rough ground and above them, the metal girder crumpled and snapped under the pressure of the collapsing walls. Jason paused, then picking a direction seemingly at random, rolled with his friend and froze as two heavy reinforced metal struts struck on either side of them in the pitch blackness, bouncing them into the air with their force of impact.
Jason lay covering Billy, breathing heavily as the adrenalin surge died down once again.
Eventually he paused, reaching out with his mind and felt a gap in the danger, the immediacy of their peril having faded.
He shifted, feeling the warm body underneath him move a little. "Billy?" He moved and there was a moan. "Sorry, bro."
They had to get out of here, they had to get away from the destruction folding towards them from above. The place of best safety, where was that? He questioned that instinct and very few options presented themselves, but at least there were options. He began dragging Billy across the rubble towards an unknown direction and found a waste grating under his seeking fingertips. Fingers linked in and pulled it free.
"Billy, c'mon, if we get out into the sewers, will we be fine?" he asked, trying to get his friend to stay with him and talk.
"Maybe ..." Billy responded finally. He was dizzy and lightheaded and his limbs felt heavy and unresponsive. "Better than here."
"Good - because there isn't anywhere else to go." Jason hauled him into the vent and they dropped chaotically further down into the service ducts that existed in a labyrinthine mass beneath every building ever erected.
Finally, finally they found a tunnel that was lit by the guttering flicker of interrupted electric lighting, but it was still illumination of sorts and welcome after the smothering darkness. And Jason groaned, too, as he settled down next to his friend. He had discovered that there was a grille at the end of the tunnel and they could go no further, not right now, and if he wasn't mistaken, for all his infamous hardheadedness he had a concussion of some description.
He propped Billy against the wall and lay back next to him, breathing deeply, trying to quell the nausea. It didn't help that his eyes strayed down; Billy's leg looked bad in the flickering light and for the first time he looked at his friend properly. He didn't seem that much different from when they had been Rangers together, not physically, but marked in his face and in his eyes when he turned to gaze at him were the imprints of experience livid with their own burning life.
Had he changed that much? Were his eyes touched that deeply with all that he had seen, or had something unimaginable laid its hand over Billy's life in the time he had been absent from them?
"Jase ... you're hurt," Billy said softly, touching the blood on Jason's face, tracing it back to a nasty wound in the short dark hair. He took a strip of cloth and wiped away the worst from his friend's face as gently and deftly as he could. "You must rest ...head wounds are tricky," he admonished.
Jason chuckled. "Billy ..." he shook his aching head slightly. "This so bizarre, here you are, treating me and talking as if there is nothing wrong with you. God, I remember that. The amount of times I chewed you out over that ..."
Billy chuckled as well. "And Tommy did it, too ... and Adam, Rocky, Trini, Kim, Zack ...Kat ... everyone, I believe, at some point or another."
There was a hint of sadness in his voice when he spoke of the others that Jason picked up on immediately.
"What? Okay, now is a good a time as any to talk. Neither of us can get up and walk away," Jason began. "So what's wrong with you? How long have you been back? Why didn't I know? What the hell were you doing trying to defuse an about-to-explode bomb? That'll do to start off with ."
Billy closed his eyes. "Jase, I ..."
"Bro, if you don't spill it ...I'll deprive you of donuts for a week," Jason threatened.
There was a mild chuckle. "You don't even know that I eat them anymore," Billy responded.
"Bet you do ... sugar junkie ..."
"Muscle-head," Billy retorted.
Jason chortled a little at that one. "The insults have to be true, remember?"
Billy gave a little shrug to indicate that his imagination was somewhat pressed by circumstances.
"And don't think you can get out of it that easily. I still want to know what's been happening." Jason shifted a little closer to his old friend.
Oh god, how could he tell Jason anything without sounding like a complete maniac? "There's nothing much," Billy said finally. "Nothing much to tell."
Jason studied him carefully. "If I believed that, I would be kicking your butt for not contacting me immediately when you came home. Last I heard, you were in blissful happiness with Cestria on Aquitar."
There was a sharp intake of breath. "Cestria ..." and the pain in Billy's voice was different and deeper than the physical strain of their ordeal.
"What happened, Billy?" Jason urged. "Come on , you used to tell me everything ... after a little poking and prodding. Things didn't work out?" he finished up gently.
"Cestria was killed," Billy replied in a tight, emotionless voice.
Jason felt that news like an impact, leaving him momentarily stunned. "Oh, man ... I'm sorry ... how?"
"It was my fault." Billy seemed to be teetering on the edge of breaking down.
"Oh man ..." Jason couldn't imagine Billy being responsible for anyone's death. Was that why he hadn't told anyone he'd come back?
"Tell me, bro ... all of it," he ordered. If they didn't make it out, then at least he could have helped him this way.
"There was a disaster on Aquitar," Billy began in a strained voice. "We had 'swum the waters' together ... been married for a year. I was ... I was setting up a trip to Sulis for us and she went to Quitaria to get some last minute things ... and the City Dome was pierced. A spire of rock shook free in an underwater quake and pierced the dome. It crumpled immediately. Aquitians can breathe underwater but they are also susceptible to water pressure. The entire city was lost. A few made it to escape pods ... Cestria wasn't one of them." The grief in his voice was barely suppressed.
"But ... how was it your fault?" Jason asked and then mentally kicked himself for being tactless.
"I can't ... can't tell you," Billy replied, shaking his head.
"Come on, man, you have to."
Billy shook his head again. "I ... I lost so much ... I can't afford to lose any more."
Jason frowned. "You mean us? Billy, we are your friends, we fought together, faced life and death together ... you think any of us would turn away from you, especially when you were hurting?"
"You might if you couldn't trust me," Billy said softly.
"Not trust you? Why on earth wouldn't any of us trust you?" Jason exclaimed with genuine surprise.
There was a pause before Billy admitted in a tone rich with resignation. "Because I don't trust myself anymore."
"Why?" Jason queried bluntly.
"Because I'm not in control of what goes on in my own mind any more ...okay?" Billy said abruptly. He would never have spoken to Jason that way normally, but he was so sure of rejection that he was already starting to push his friend away.
Jason blanched. The thought of Billy mentally disturbed was frankly scary. He knew how much his friend had sacrificed so that he could be friends with all of them. Things could have been very different if Billy had ever decided to make a point of how much more intelligent he was than the others. He remembered a serious conversation they once had about what might happen if Billy was turned evil or captured. They hadn't spoken for days afterwards because Jason as the Red Ranger knew Billy would have to be eliminated as swiftly as possible and he had a very hard time dealing with that. In the end, Billy had made him promise to do it and that had been an end to the matter. But if he was ...going insane ...
"Tell me," Jason demanded again.
"I saw it ... I saw it happen in my dreams and yet I didn't stop it," Billy remembered in a broken voice. "Over and over I saw the spire fall, saw it pierce the Dome," Billy berated himself. "And yet ... I did nothing. I saw it as a dream ... a hallucination. I did nothing and countless of innocents died ... including Cestria."
The flickering light caught the glistening moisture on his cheek as he stared into space and continued.
"Jason, I see things ... strange things ... I don't know what they are, but they haunt my dreams, and now when I'm awake they are there, too. I don't know why ... I don't know why ... I don't know why I couldn't save her!" Billy buried his face in his hands and Jason, still reeling a little from shock, put his arm around him. Had his old time friend really lost it? Why had he come back then?
Because he had lost his love? Who else do you turn to when you are in pain but your family and friends ...
So why HADN'T he contacted them? If you thought you might be losing your mind ... would you? No ...
Is Billy dangerous? he asked that instinct of his and received a resounding 'no'. If anything, he showed up as an opposite, as a way of safety.
"Billy, it wasn't your fault," reassured Jason. "And you aren't dangerous to any of us."
Billy looked at him sharply. "How do you know, Jase? Huh? I don't even know!"
"Because I do," The ex-Ranger replied "Don't ask me how, but I know." he took a deep breath. "I have an instinct. I can't explain it, but it developed after I lost the Powers for the last time; I know if things and people are dangerous ... and you aren't. Was it only then?" Jason asked, distracting him.
Billy was watching him closely. "No. What do you mean about this instinct ... do you see things?"
Jason shook his head. "No. No, I feel them. Look, this may sound weird," he began. "But I feel it ... I feel where danger is and to a certain extent what it is and the best way out of it. That's why I knew where to find the bomb and when you suggested cutting the red wire, I knew that was very wrong." He gave his friend's shoulder a little squeeze. "You are not dangerous to me, Billy. I thought it was something that all the ex-Rangers might get, but I appeared to be the only one. I kept quiet about it. How about you?"
"I see things ... over and over. In dreams, mainly. They run through options," Billy replied. "I never did dream how to stop the place blowing up ... I always got killed ..." he shivered.
"You sounded the fire alarms, didn't you?" Jason said and then realised something. "You saved all those people and you went after the bomb, knowing that you were going to be killed?"
Billy looked at Jason for a long time. "I didn't at Quitaria, did I? There was a debt to be paid."
"Oh Billy ..." Jason felt his heart ache for his friend. "Could you have saved Quitaria?" he asked rhetorically.
"There must have been some way I could have," Billy insisted in a voice threaded with guilt. "If I had only ... oh Cestria ..." He wept mutely into his arms until Jason pulled him over against him to show him he didn't have to be alone with his loss.
There was a sense of release and relief in Billy's outburst. He hadn't let go of the guilt but, suddenly he had the knowledge that he could count on his friends not to see him as a crazed, mentally unstable individual ...well, no more than usual. He nearly laughed at that and calmed down a bit, the pain from his leg starting to make itself VERY noticeable. In the silence that followed, he turned his mind to a few things to distract himself from the pain, both pains.
Eventually, his mind cleared of some of the clouds of self-doubt, Billy turned a mental corner and instead of looking for reasons why he might be insane began to look for reasons why this might be happening and so patently meaningful. Jason had something strange happen to him ... he had acquired an instinct.
And I have a curse ... Billy shifted. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and think logically for the first time in ages.
None of the other Rangers had it. Jason obviously knew this as a fact. So, did anything happen to them that did not happen to the others? His mind ran through various scenarios. It could be ... no ...
His breathing slowed and his head drooped forward with the effort of concentration and Jason began to worry.
"Billy ... hey ... you still with me?" Jason's voice was anxious.
There was a pause. "Jase ... can you remember the first time that this instinct worked for you?" Billy asked.
"Wha ... well ..." Jason considered, finding his thoughts a little fuzzy. "I think it was ... well, I remember not long after Trey got the Gold Powers back, I was walking down the road and I suddenly stopped and then ... jumped into someone's garden as a drunk driver screamed around the corner and crashed into a wall." He gave a rueful chuckle. "That at least is the first time I remember it clearly."
Billy looked up, shocked suddenly at how close Jason had been to death.
"The Gold Powers." Billy breathed. "I researched them after they proved incompatible. They were somewhat different to the other Powers."
"Well, the other Powers didn't try to kill us for a start." Jason's tone was wry.
"The Gold Powers actively bonded with the physical and energy levels," Billy said slowly. "It actually reacted with human physiology, trying to bring it up to speed. The Aquitians said it was my attempt to take the Gold Powers that triggered the aging as it tried to catalyse the cells in my body to accept the Gold ...maybe it catalysed more than we thought. I never linked that with the dreams and the visions ... but yes ... hypothetically, since the Triforians are a telepathic race, they have mental abilities which ..."
Jason was quietly laughing beside him.
"What?" Billy asked, stopping his musing.
"Billy, you are the only guy I know who can baffle me when you have a hole in your leg." Jason felt more positive. "You're saying my instinct and your visions are part of the Gold Powers ...but bro, I don't like to bring it up, but you didn't actually hold the Gold Powers ..."
Billy shrugged. "They tried to merge with my body ...tried to catalyse physical changes - contact enough, I guess."
"Then why the different abilities?!" Jason asked, confused.
"Because we are different people, I guess," Billy said thoughtfully. "Why did you take the Red and I the Blue? Different personality types."
It made a strange kind of sense, but that might have been the concussion talking. "That's all well and good, but does it actually help us?" Jason wondered.
"It helps me," Billy said quietly. "At least I know I can trust my judgement now ... and the visions are useful rather than just tormenting nightmares."
Jason felt a vibrating sensation in his pocket. "Ah man, I'm an idiot! " He fished out his damage-proof pager. "It's probably Trini, wondering where I am."
"You have a PAGER?" Billy let out an exhalation of hope.
"Text message capable, too." Jason admitted, grinning sheepishly.
Billy groaned and slumped against Jason in mock despair. "Then message ...Trini."
For the first time he noticed the ring on his friend's finger and with a note of wistfulness said, "And belated congratulations."
Jason looked up quickly from his industrious text messaging and said, "We would have told you, had we known you were here to tell. We are just engaged, but we still haven't resolved some issues about my profession yet."
"Trini doesn't like those she loves being in danger," Billy observed distantly.
"How do you know ...blast ...I can't spell ... what I do?" Jason asked as he fumbled over his text typing.
"Just because I didn't come and see you doesn't mean I didn't care." Billy said quietly, earning himself an appraising glance as Jason sent the first message to Trini.
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