Disclaimer: It is still the case that I don't own the Power Rangers despite any suggestion that I might be Saban; it's not true, I tell you! This is a standalone and this is dedicated to Dagmar and Mele as I can truthfully say that this would not have been written without them ever so politely asking me to HURRY UP AND GET ON WITH IT!. It is set in the Zeo Era and inflicted upon me by my muse. It is a little darker than my usual fics and part of it is the product of a delirious mind ('flu has a lot to answer for!), but I hope you enjoy it anyway!
Rocky groaned. "I don't know what is worse," he complained to Billy in a long- suffering tone. "Doing math with you, or looking after Rosa."
The sandy-haired genius quirked a smile. "Or doing both at the same time," he finished off, looking across at where Ernie was holding his Open Party for the youngsters.
Rosa deSantos came running over excitedly to her big brother, clutching some cheap plastic beads.
"Rockino! Look what I won!" She thrust them under his nose.
Rocky looked at Billy with a pained expression. "They're...lovely, Rosa," he said with forced enthusiasm as he inspected the trinket.
The little girl frowned and put her hands on her hips. "You sure have lousy taste - they're horrible!" she said sternly.
Rocky sighed. "Then why do you like them so much?" he asked plaintively.
"Because I WON them!" she said as if the matter was self-evident. "Here, you have them." She dropped them on the table in front of him and ran off in a mercurial change of mood.
Billy was trying very hard not to laugh at Rocky's mortified expression.
"Well?" the Blue Zeo Ranger said. "What would you do?"
"Make an abacus out of them?" Billy said drily. "It might help your math."
"Very funny, Billy." Rocky toyed with the beads as he looked at the next problem until Billy confiscated them with a sigh.
"You can have them back when you have proved that quadratic equation," he said. At Rocky's total lack of response he smiled and said, "Fine; if you don't prove it, I will give it back!" That got some thought processes moving.
Suddenly Rocky and Billy's communicators beeped in unison and looking around, they carefully stepped out into the hallway.
"Rocky, Cogs are attacking in Angel Grove Park; the other Rangers need your assistance," Zordon's voice came through.
"On my way, Zordon!" Rocky said in a hoarse whisper, turning to leave quickly. He groaned suddenly. "Damn...I forgot about Rosa!" he said with a torn expression. He looked at Billy pleadingly.
"Errr...Rocky...I ought to be in the Power Chamber," Billy said, anxiously looking around.
"The party finishes in 10 minutes. My parents will be coming to pick her up by then, and you can help us out afterwards. I expect we will have just finished off the first batch of Cogs. What can happen in 10 minutes?" Rocky said persuasively. "C'mon man, I can't leave her alone in a monster attack!"
Billy nodded slowly. Very true; not that it was usually this end of town that got attacked, but it had been known to happen. "Fine, okay... 10 minutes and I'm up in the Power Chamber whether your parents are here or not," he agreed finally
Rocky sighed with relief. "Thanks Billy, I owe you."
Billy quirked a smile. "De nada," he replied as the Blue Zeo Ranger surreptitiously teleported away.
"Yer Majesty? " Klank approached King Mondo cautiously. "Would it not be easier to try this out on one of the other Rangers?" He was in a state of nervousness about this latest plan. Admittedly it was better conceived than most, but it had a certain personal risk factor in it for himself that he could live without.
"Easier, but less effective," Mondo said in a state of anticipation. "I had underestimated these organic lifeforms and failed to apply the rules that we utilise for other conflicts in creating our empire. To defeat a program you must understand that program, that's the fundamental law. So I applied myself to absorbing the information they have gathered on their own programming...behaviour. It is chaotic and imprecise, but I have gleaned some understanding of how they work. And now I will use that against them. Believe me, targeting the leader of the team will be more devastating. Prepare yourself."
"As yer Majesty commands." They were going to lose a lot of Cogs in the process though, Klank considered..He was more than a little apprehensive about his part in this grand scheme, but his lord and master had that edge to him again that had made him one of the most feared and powerful beings in this section of the Galaxy. It had been sorely missed since their arrival at this miserable solar system; he had been too powerful and become complacent in his programming, content to run the same routines over and over and not willing to spare energy for establishing new algorhythmic paths. In some ways, the Machine Empire had a lot to thank the Power Rangers of Earth for. The complacency of the Machine Empire was at an end, and they would witness first-hand the tactics that had made them such a force to be reckoned with elsewhere in the galaxy.
The attack of the Cogs seemed more deliberate, more focussed than usual, Tanya thought as she whirled and kicked another of the metallic drones in the chestplate. There was a familiar flash of blue over to her right and another figure joined the fray.
Ah, there was Rocky; well, they should have this wrapped up in no time now that the team was all here. Tanya relaxed as the conflict adopted a familiar smooth rhythm where they would wipe the floor with the Cog attack and then see what lame excuse for a monster Mondo had come up with this time. This sense of normality was abruptly dispelled when a second and third wave of Cogs appeared which was unheard of in the normal scheme of things.
"What's going on?!" Kat shouted to the others over the clangs and crashes of battle.
They all seemed to be swept away from each other by sheer quantities of Cogs. Tommy seemed especially hard-pressed, but was decimating his opponents one by one. Suddenly right behind the tiring leader of the Zeo Rangers, Klank teleported in, clamped one metallic arm around Tommy's throat and slapped a strange device to his left temple. Tommy instinctively threw the creature off, ripping his metal arm free from its socket in the process.
"Yer Majesty! It is done! Get me out of here!" Klank communicated in a pained voice. He knew he should have asked one of the others to be the one with the honour of infecting the Red Ranger with the living metal! But no, Mondo had "awarded him the honour" for his years of dedicated service.
"You have done well, Klank. Activated and countdown initiated," Mondo's voice replied, gloating already.
He vanished in a blaze of light and the device Tommy was clawing at desperately suddenly seemed to blossom with a delicate flower of shimmering silver blades and tendrils that sank into his flesh, crawling back unstoppable underneath the skin around his skull into his brain.
Tommy dropped to the ground with an agonised cry as the others made it to his side, unsure of what to do.
"Get it OFF him!" Kat demanded of anybody, trying to pull at a writhing, liquid metal tendril that was seeping its way with inexorable force into Tommy's left eye. The substance just flowed around her fingers and continued spreading until she was nearly ripping at his face in her frustration and panic.
Oh God no, no...it's happening again and I can't fight it, it's not even giving me a chance to fight, this is just like being chained down, pushed down. No! I don't want to hurt anyone! No...I said never again! Never again! I would rather die. Tommy railed at his disappearing will, his personality being infested and chained by the microtendrils of living metal that were permeating his brain. The cries were now against the violation of his self, as the living metal followed its built-in instructions and drew together the parts of Tommy that would perform the functions that its programming required. It forced them to the surface in a personality construct that would serve as Tommy for the limited time available, overriding who he was but drawing on his intimate knowledge of what would hurt and destroy the Rangers in the most comprehensive and effective fashion.
Tommy screamed silently as the words echoed in his brain.
SYSTEM READY; BLOOD RANGER PROGRAM CONSTRUCT INITIATED... DEFAULT IDENTITY CONTAINED. EXECUTE.
His eyes snapped open, the left one shimmering silver like a pool of mercury. In a flash, he was on his feet and morphed before his teammates could say a word. Except now his Zeo armour was a deep blood red, and instead of being edged with white or gold, it was trimmed with glittering black ... like droplets of congealing but still liquid blood. Only on the helmet was a sign of another colour, where the silver tracery of the living metal rose to the surface and wound around the black star that formed his faceplate. He drew his sword with a flourish, its blade rippling with crimson fire and levelled a blast of deadly energy at the other Rangers who flung themselves instinctively out of the way as explosions crackled around them.
The Blood Ranger stood back, amused by their evasion. "Now let us fight, Power Rangers. Five against one - seems like slightly unfair odds...for you, that is." He hurled another blast of energy. "Always helps when you can break the rules, of course!" he shouted as his friends scattered again.
As Jason rolled, his mind whirled with options. Billy, Billy will know what to do to stop him. We have to get back to the Power Chamber, and then Billy will know what to do to stop him and get that thing off of him. "Teleport, guys! Now!"
Instinctively following the orders, the rest of the team disappeared in their respective flashes of colour, while the Blood Ranger stood and laughed at their disorderly retreat.
Mondo drummed his metallic fingers thoughtfully. "Hmm... I can't afford for him to be standing around, wasting time." He glanced up at the large counter that was ticking down. "The living metal will die after 6 hours. If he is to do serious damage to the Power Rangers in that time, he cannot remain on standby. He should implement the next stage of the program immediately ... Klank ... stop dripping oil all over my throne room. Couldn't you at least have got a temporary solder patch before you came in?"
"My apologies, Sire." Klank said with an unbalanced bow as his arm was still unattached. "I was anxious to return to make sure the Rangers had not found a way to detach the living metal."
"My dear pessimistic Klank," Mondo replied indulgently. "That is where I have made a calculated decision. Rita and Zedd always wanted their own evil ranger teams bound to them forever and that's why they always failed. When you spread the power out over a period of time, the probability is highthat the control will break down at some point. I want my Blood Ranger merely to break the Power Ranger team. I don't want to keep him, which is why I got a short-term, time-limited device so he will create as much havoc as possible in only a short space of time ... and thus the control I exert in that limited time is absolutely unbreakable. Until the living metal dies, the Blood Ranger exists and follows the program that I wish him to perform!"
"But yer Majesty, all they have to do is outwait him!" Klank pointed out. A major flaw, if anyone had bothered to ask him! But the monarch of the Machine Empire did not appear to be unduly concerned.
King Mondo's metallic eyes glowed. "And that too was anticipated. All part of the plan, Klank, all part of the plan." He leaned across, pressed another button and settled back to watch the next stage.
"Now watch closely, Klank, because this next bit should be VERY entertaining."
Billy looked at his watch anxiously. The ten minutes he had promised Rocky to wait were up, and he needed to get back to the Power Chamber. Parents had begun to flood into the Youth Centre, but since the party had not quite finished, most were loitering around the sides, talking and waiting. Admittedly, he hadn't had another call from the guys as yet. Probably things had barely got beyond the first Cog fight, but even so...it was bad enough being in the Power Chamber during the battles, but it was a hundred times better than being HERE. At least he was doing something useful when he was up there. Billy looked around. There were Adam's folks. Maybe he could leave little Rosa with them until the De Santos' arrived.
"Rosa, wait here a moment; I'm just going to have a word with Adam's mother," he requested.
"Okay, Billy," the small girl replied, smiling shyly. Billy returned a hesitant smile and strode over to see his friend's parents.
"Billy...good to see you," Mrs Park said warmly.
"Nice to see you, too... could I ask a favour?" he asked anxiously.
"Of course, what is it?"
"Rocky kind of left me looking after Rosa because he had to rush off, and now I'm late for an appointment, and..."
"Lilian DeSantos is late as usual..." Adam's mother smiled understandingly and laughed. "In all the years I've known that woman, she has yet to make it ANYWHERE on time. Of course, Billy."
Billy grinned. "Great...I'll just tell Rosa that she's waiting with you now and I'll go..Thanks!" he said and strode back towards the little girl who had naturally disappeared into a throng of giggling children.
"Rosa!" he called out self-consciously. Damn it all, this was not what he needed right now. He should be up with Alpha and Zordon helping the others, not looking for a child. "Rosa!"
The Blood Ranger teleported into the Youth Centre in a whirl of scarlet energy startling the children into thin shrieks with his appearance. They began to run screaming from him, making for the doors. Raising his hand lazily, the Blood Ranger caused the door to slam in their faces with a small arc of the Red Power.
"Be still!" he shouted, and Billy looked up in horror. He recognised that voice, distorted or otherwise - that was Tommy! The entire room, children and adults alike, froze in their tracks with fear. The Blood Ranger began to walk among them with a predatory gaze and everyone tried to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible, including Billy.
"I need a volunteer," the Blood Ranger announced, scanning the pale fearful faces.
There was no movement from the crowd.
"No heroes in today's audience?" the evil ranger mocked. "Nobody eager to die for their children?"
Billy felt a chill. Oh my god, that was his plan - to kill someone? No...no, that couldn't be it. Tommy wouldn't be able to let that happen, would he?
The deathly silence spun out and the Blood Ranger gave a nonchalant shrug. "Then I will take whoever comes to hand." He reached out, grabbed the hair of a little girl and dragged her forward, screaming.
Billy made his decision. "No!" He stepped forward and wrenched Rosa away, giving her a push towards the crowd as a clout to the side of his face floored him.
"Ladies and Gentlemen..we have a volunteer!" announced the Blood Ranger, gripping him by the wrists and dragging him up in a mock-triumphant cheer. He then
seemed to take in who Billy was as the voice became positively delighted.
"Well! You, Billy boy, will do even better for my purposes."
Billy tried to steady his voice and asked with only the merest quaver audible, "And those purposes are?"
"To send a message to the Power Rangers that they can't ignore. To show them that I am deadly serious. But first I will ensure the hostages do not get away or prove troublesome." He lifted his sword and along the gleaming scarlet blade energy crawled. He pointed it out over the assembled hostages and there were screams as they appeared to be surrounded by the crackling light, fading to whimpers of panic and cries for help as they were slowly immobilised within ruby-tinted crystal prisons. Then there was silence.
"What have you done? "Billy asked frantically. struggling uselessly against Tommy's iron grip. Any morphed Ranger, good or evil, had more than enough strength to contain the strongest of humans, so he knew it was a futile gesture ... but he still had to try.
"Only frozen them. They will feel and see nothing until I release them." The Blood Ranger said it laconically and for a moment Billy felt that there might be a glimpse of compassion there, until he continued. "A room full of dead hostages means nothing, whereas a room full of hostages I can kill but who don't give me any trouble is much more useful. " He looked the young genius over with a calculating gaze. "And an ex-ranger and 'close personal friend' as my personal hostage! I can't think of anything better than seeing you die that would make them all fall to pieces."
"Tommy, you won't do that." Billy said calmly, putting all the sincerity and trust he could muster into his voice.
"Won't I?" The Blood Ranger took off his helmet; knowing that Billy was the only one who would see him, releasing him for a moment. He wanted, he craved that moment of realisation when his victim accepted the hopelessness of the situation. It would crush him with despair and make the final moments that much more poignant and effective.
There revealed was Tommy's face, but its left side was riddled with silver filigree circuitry that spread up, around, through his long flowing hair, pulsing and bright. Billy's analytical gaze flinched when he met Tommy's eyes. He wasn't there. Not his friend, not the Power Ranger Leader he had worked with for so long the dark eyes were dead and merciless, like a shark's, or gleaming a rippling cold implacable silver. The sandy haired genius didn't need to guess any more; Tommy would do it. Billy fiddled unobtrusively with his communicator - he could always claim that the Power Rangers had teleported him to safety. The familiar rush began and then faded away suddenly. The Blood Ranger scowled and lashed out, catching him around the head with a stunning blow.
"That, Billy, was VERY stupid," he growled.
Billy dropped to his knees as Tommy struck him again in the small of his back, hard enough to make him fade out for a moment. "You...you won't kill me, Tommy, I'm one of your friends," he gasped.
"Of course I will kill you," Tommy said gently as if promising a small child a treat. "That's always been the danger of having me on the team. But you not only put me on the team, you made me the leader. You even had your chance to take that away from me, but you didn't. And that was your responsibility, Billy; you were in charge whilst we quested for the Zeo Crystals. You COULD have held onto the leadership, but no, you let all of the rest of us have that chance. For a smart guy, Billy, that was a really stupid thing to allow." He tangled his gauntleted hands in Billy's sandy hair as if petting a dog and then yanked his friend's head back savagely, exposing his throat. He placed his blade against Billy's skin, drawing blood as the ex-ranger swallowed convulsively in fear. It trickled down slowly, livid against his pale, shocked skin.
"I could do it now..." Tommy hissed, and then a slow smile spread across his face. "But then the point is to make them suffer and break the team, and I just know they will hate seeing you destroyed in front of them. They all feel they have to protect you...that you are incapable of looking after yourself."
Despite himself, Billy stiffened at those words.
"Touched a nerve, did I, Billy boy?" The Blood Ranger laughed deep in his throat. "Well, let's face it, you never were the one who could pull his weight when it came to fighting. Only as strong as our weakest link - how many times has the team been incapacitated or the Powers lost because you weren't good enough? C'mon, a smart guy like you must have wondered. You know, I was really pleased when you couldn't take the Gold Powers. I never had to watch out for Jason. It was good to know there was someone who could handle himself at my back.."
A raw burning feeling choked in Billy's throat, regardless of the fact he KNEW Tommy was trying to hurt him. Damn him. He knew exactly what to say to hurt him the most. This was going to destroy Tommy when they broke the control on him. He would never forgive himself for hurting his friend, but if there was one glimmer of a silver lining, it was that it was him that Tommy was doing this to and not an innocent bystander. That would.... that would kill him as well as his victim. He couldn't allow that to happen.
"Fun as this is ... I don't have time to waste," Tommy said reluctantly. He slipped the helmet back on and looked around at the ruby frozen hostages. "Now then, let's see if we can get our friends to join the party."
Tommy readied a transmission and Billy thought frantically through his options, which were remarkably limited. He grasped at an elusive memory stirred by the upheaval of his mind.
Maybe ... there was one faint chance; if he could just ...He fiddled with infinite care with his communicator as Tommy addressed the absent Rangers.
"Power Rangers. I have here a roomful of hostages who I am quite prepared to slaughter one by one if you do not face me," he demanded. "This will start with.... this one here!" he yanked Billy across roughly, knowing that they would see him on the Viewing Globe.
Jason weakly leaned on the console in the Power Chamber. They had wondered where Billy was, and Rocky had told them about him looking after Rosa at the Youth Centre - but he had not anticipated this!. He slammed his fist down in frustration. He should not be in danger. That wasn't right! They were the Power Rangers, they faced the danger!
"In case you need some encouragement to join in the Open Party we are having at the youth Centre today - let me show you some of the games Billy and I will be playing until you get here." The Blood Ranger leisurely drew his sword and twirled it absently before hitting the ex-ranger with the hilt end in the ribs, making him drop into a ball of agony.
"Jason..come ON!" Kat said urgently, watching with horror as the Blood Ranger continued the treatment, obviously relishing every strike and going for the most damaging effect that he could on Billy and on those he knew to be observing the action.
"Power up guys!" Jason confirmed, anger and fear starting to build within him. "We've got to stop him!"
"On your knees, beg for your life!" Tommy ordered harshly.
"No." Billy said thickly, spitting blood to clear his mouth. They weren't going to make it this time, were they? A cold certainty threaded through the pain. They weren't going to make it "I will not do anything that will assist you against the Power Rangers."
"Brave words, but totally pointless. They will come anyway," Tommy replied blithely. "The only problem is that they'll assume that I just want all of them to show up ...I don't. I have what I want, and it will break them all. In fact...I do believe that might be them arriving now." He looked up and then said in an oddly kind voice, as if it was his friend there again, offering him advice on a karate move. "If you won't beg for your life, Billy, how about you beg to die?"
As the group ran into the room, the Blood Ranger theatrically raised his sword high and with a deliberate, calculated move pushed the blade through Billy's side. There was no way he could be stoic about that. He screamed hoarsely as he dropped to the ground, blood soaking immediately into his grey shirt, staining it crimson-black in seconds.
The Rangers stopped in amazed horror at what had just occurred before them, rendered momentarily speechless. They could not believe what Tommy had just done, under Mondo's control or not.
"Billy! No! Tommy, it's us you want!" Jason challenged, frantically trying to draw the Blood Ranger's attention.
Tommy waved a hand and the Rangers were blocked from approaching closer by a forcefield, and began firing into it frantically to break its lock so they could save their friend.
"Time to die, Billy," Tommy informed him seriously. "Any last words?"
Billy kept his hands out of sight as if he was clutching his wounded side in pain. "Words just for my friend Tommy," he said softly as that was all he could muster. "When they break the control, Tommy, and they will.-.remember I did this not just to protect Rosa and the hostages, but to protect you. If you killed an innocent ...I don't want you lost in the darkness, Tommy. I may be Powerless, but once a Ranger, always a Ranger ... especially in death," Billy said, his voice choking with blood and intense fear.
"Is that it?!" Tommy seemed impatient. "Well, at least I can destroy you in a sweet, ironic way. I will give you a final deadly taste of the Power, Billy. That's what you've been craving, isn't it? Envying all of us for? Consider it a parting gift from the heart of an old friend." Glancing across at the Rangers still frantically trying to break his forcefield, Tommy nodded once to himself and then swung around, launching a crackling maelstrom of blood-scarlet energy at his helpless friend. He laughed as he poured it into the writhing body. This would destroy them all! The team would crumble and break with the guilt and loss of a friend. Unfortunately the energy required to keep them at bay during the lengthy torturous death meant he lost control of the hostages. A small sacrifice.
The ruby crystal prisons shattered, and the parents and children were faced suddenly with the sight of the Blood Ranger destroying an innocent bystander whilst the Power Rangers battled helplessly to reach them. Screams of fear filled the air, and there was a massive stampede towards the door and to safety by the other hostages, a move encouraged by the Yellow Zeo Ranger who ushered them out of the way before rejoining the others' attempts to stop what was happening to them.
The energy filled Billy and rent him from within, blazing like a fire, inescapable and eternal. The dark heart of the red energy, the pure unrestrained vital force tore into him like a ravening beast, and at the same time there was an aching familiarity of the presence of the Power.
His consciousness started to blur into the agony...now...now he was dying... now, do it now.... Oh god, he was really dying, nothing was happening, it had been a false hope, a lie, he spent his last breaths on ...Once a Ranger always a ranger once a ranger always a ranger...once a ranger...once a....
Eventually the Blood Ranger lifted his sword away, and the last ebbs of the Power crackled loosely around Billy's blood-soaked grey shirt. Unnoticed, a tiny wisp of electric blue seemed to drift to the sky before it dissipated forever.
The forcefield shattered and the Blood Ranger turned to them all and laughed, a low, triumphant sound that echoed in the now emptied Youth Centre. "Too late, my friends, too late!"
"Leave him alone!" Jason yelled, furious.
"Oh, I will." Tommy said as he sauntered away nonchalantly, the blood still shimmering on his sword. "Why would I need someone who is dead?" he said mildly.
"No!" Adam protested explosively. "No, he's not!"
The Blood Ranger made a derisive sound. "Huh... I should know... I did kill him...and you saw me do it. Are you all blind?" he called out.
Rocky looked desperately for some sign of life in the crumpled form, a twitch, a merest hint of a breath. Nothing. He'd heard the expression "deathly still", but never really understood the depth of the lack of movement until this moment. An icy chill settled over him and he looked over at Adam and the others, who also seemed locked in place by their thoughts. It couldn't be true ... could it?
Jason broke the tension by launching an attack on the mocking Blood Ranger, and the others, freed by the movement from their consideration of what they had considered impossible, joined in the fray, fighting mechanically as their thoughts centred around whether Billy really was dead or not.
Tommy leapt forward, a falcon scattering a flock of birds, sheering livid sparks from their Zeo Armour with his sword as he whirled and twisted in a dancing attack.
"Lead him outside!" Jason shouted above the sounds of conflict. "Get him away from here, there are too many people around!"
"We're on it! " Kat responded in a strained tone, and the four other Rangers teamed up to draw the Blood Ranger outside where things were safer for the citizens of Angel Grove.
Jason broke away from the battle and ran straight for Billy's body. Maybe he was just unconscious ...or...or in a deep coma, or in some sort of stasis. There could be lots of reasons why they couldn't register his life signs. He lifted the body, the sounds of battle eerily fading away from his attention. Disturbingly, Billy's blue eyes were still open, staring and glassy. They looked strange. The pupils were dilated black disks that seemed to have absorbed all of their quick intelligent light.
"C'mon, Billy...c'mon! Wake up, little bro!" He shook him, with a growing coldness in his stomach. Jason reached and pulled away the blood-drenched shirt from the main wounds Tommy had inflicted, and there was nothing, just a congealing gaping maw that made him feel sick. No fresh blood.
"Zordon..I have Billy...scan him for me!" he demanded desperately.
There was a pause. "There are no additional lifesigns at your present location." Zordon's voice said, uncharacteristically strained.
"I have him here!" Jason insisted, his final hope crumbling
"I am sorry, Jason..."
Jason picked up the body and carried it, his entire being numb with shock, back out towards the battle.
He stood there opposite the Blood Ranger, seeing not Tommy, but a monster who had stolen from him one of the most precious things in his life a true friend.
The Blood Ranger saw him and laughed. Ah, this had been what he had waited for, whilst he had toyed with the others. "So you have discovered I told you the truth?" he announced proudly.
Kat gasped. "No!" Tommy could not have done such a thing!
The others stopped fighting, paralysed by shock. They looked around hoping more than anything that Jason would hurl those words back at their enemy, deny them and claim him a liar. But all there was from the Gold Ranger was a grieving silence and a palpable rage growing from the seeds of realisation.
Jason lay the body of his friend down almost tenderly upon the green grass, staring at the blood coating his ranger gauntlets. The glistening scarlet-black material triggered the release of the ice-fire rage, and with an animal roar he ran at the Blood Ranger, seeking to destroy him, to kill him.
He is not Tommy, Tommy would NEVER have done this! In that moment, Jason was fighting against Death, trying to deny its existence and its ability to touch any of them.
The Blood Ranger laughed at the attack, uncontrolled and uncoordinated. His plan was working, but there was one thing that would twist the knife, as it were. He carved his way through the distraught Rangers with ease, heading for the body. The Rangers were fighting fiercely, but half of them were hampered by not wanting to hurt Tommy, and the rest were so incoherent with rage as to be useless. He lifted the body and held it on high, relishing their cries of protest .
"Well, what do you know? The first trophy from today's Ranger Hunt! I believe King Mondo deserves a souvenir." He laughed again, imagining the stricken expressions behind their helmets and teleported to the throne room, bearing away the body of their murdered friend.
Jason dropped to his knees and shuddered in loss. The blood was still on his hands. Oh my god, his blood was still on his hands. Billy was dead and the blood was on his hands....
The Blood Ranger strode to the throne room of the Machine Empire with his trophy in his arms. A part of him was screaming in the back of his mind but he was in control now. A slow smile slid across his face. The rangers would be going to pieces even as he spoke with his Master.
"My Liege." He bowed before King Mondo and lay down his burden at the mechanical regent's feet.
"You have done well, Blood Ranger," King Mondo said with barely repressed glee. "But why have you seen fit to clutter my throne room with this organic trash? " He kicked at the body as if it were something distasteful. "Klank, dispose of this...decaying matter."
"My Liege, I brought this one's body because it would destroy the morale of the rangers. Humans are very sensitive about remains, even when life has fled the empty shell." The imposing scarlet-armoured form twisted suddenly. "Besides...this one held the secrets of the Power Chamber in his mind, securities, codes and overrides that none of the other rangers knew, even though he was without Power. Do you not have ways of finding that information?"
The portly mechanical entity considered. "I could get into the sanctum of Zordon of Eltare if I could extract that information. But it would mean dissecting this..mushy tissue that you humans use as brains. It is a constant source of amazement that with such an inefficient system you are able to function at all, let alone be so troublesome."
"Oh father, not that old speech again," Prince Sprocket said in a bored tone, poking at the body industriously "I'll do it! It'll be fun...!"
"Sprocket, this isn't like pulling the arms off of Cogs, you know. There's liquid inside of human, you know...red liquid." King Mondo pointed out sagely
"Like...like water?" Sprocket seemed less than enthused all of a sudden.
"Yes, son. And we all know how you feel about water." The mechanical monarch said, indulgently patting his son on the head with a surprising clang. "You nearly burnt out that emotion chip when you got caught in that storm on that miserable marsh planet."
"Get RID of it!" screeched Sprocket.
"Now, Son our Ranger is right, we might get some information that is stored in what these human call a brain. I understand they degrade quickly though, so... Klank!"
"Get a stasis pod and put this obsolete hardware...body in there until we have time to upload the memory engrams encoded in the brainmatter. We'll dissect it later after I have completed the destruction of the other Power Rangers. "
The King of the Machine Empire settled back on his throne, looking up at the countdown ticking away. Another 4 hours for the Blood Ranger to wreak havoc in ... and look what he had accomplished in such a short space of time! Well, best not to waste any more than necessary.
"In the meantime, I want to savour the experience when I demonstrate the superiority of the mechanical over the organic when we do what all those before us have failed to do, and destroy the Power Rangers. You, my Blood Ranger, will return and continue the destruction of the Power Rangers in any way that you see fit as you know them all SO well." He laughed, and his court laughed with him ... and the Blood Ranger laughed with them and at them. A part of him sought the clouded blue eyes in the white lifeless face at his feet and beneath the laughter a self-destructive horror began to consume him from within before he teleported back to battle his friends once more.
"Yes Klank?" King Mondo was fixated on the images of the climactic battle between his Blood Ranger and the broken Zeo Ranger Team. Though it seemed that five against one would be an easy conflict, the Red ZeoZord formed the connecting point for the other Zords and without it they were unable to join together; effectively they were fighting him singly. In the past nearly four hours he had harried the Rangers mercilessly, beating them physically and emotionally with every bit of ammunition he could draw upon.
"Plus of course, they are too enraged, distraught or anxious about hurting him to fight properly, if those human behaviour texts were accurate." Mondo muttered to himself.
"Yer Majesty?" Klank tried again
"What?! Can't you see that I am enjoying this?" Mondo snapped.
"The Control device is about to overload, Sire." his subordinate informed him, indicating the rapidly diminishing countdown with only a short time left ticking on the clock.
"Ah...Ah, I see. Well, he might as well leave my employ on a big finish. Send him into a destructive frenzy for the last few minutes." Mondo's eyes glowed with good humour. "The way they are fighting at the moment ... you know, he might just take them...if not, I want them weakened as much as possible. Potentially even a couple of them destroyed...that would be nice, wouldn't it, Sprocket?"
"Uh-huh!" agreed the young Prince, staring at the screen with avid intent. "And then I get to send down a monster, right Father? Can I? Maybe even two?"
"Well, not right away son," Mondo said as Klank transmitted the programmed orders. "According to human behaviour studies, often the impact of a grievous loss will not manifest until a short time after the event itself."
"Imagine it like a firewall in your programming, my boy, that holds a virus at bay for a while until eventually it comes crashing down all at once a bit later, leaving you totally vulnerable." Mondo explained and then laughed as he caught sight of a manoeuvre on the screen. "Look at that! He knows exactly where to hit them...they are going to HAVE to bring out Pyramidas and blow him away!"
"Go, Pyramidas!" Sprocket cheered the massive Zord on. "Crush the Blood Ranger!"
"Go, Blood Ranger! Blast Pyramidas!!" countered King Mondo, sitting his excited son on his knee and the two metallic entities laughed and shouted, knowing whichever way the battle went way they would both win.
"I summon Pyramidas!" The Gold Ranger raised his Power Staff to the sky, calling forth the mighty Zord. Though his voice cracked in an unspoken pain as he did so. He was going to lose two friends today or destroy himself. He didn't care; the rage filled him, he would end this or die. "Out of the way, Adam! He's mine!" he growled.
"He's still Tommy..." Adam protested, hesitating before a shot. The protest became academic as Zeo Zord V seized Taurus as it stopped and in a frenzied movement hurled it against a building. Adam was ejected from his Zord and fell unconscious to the street as debris from the building cascaded around him.
"Adam!" cried out Tanya, through already tear filled eyes.
They could hear Tommy's maniacal laughter echoing in their ears. "Oh, I think I'll finish him off personally, like I killed poor powerless Billy. He won't be as much fun to torture though...ah well , we can't expect everything, can we? My faithful Zord can keep you three occupied while I have my fun." The Blood Ranger leapt from his Zord in a crimson arc through the swirling clouds of smoke and rubble and stalked purposefully toward the helpless body of Adam, sprawled and pinned by debris. The Green Zeo Ranger stirred feebly and looked up, seeing a crimson sword held to his throat.
"Ah, good...you're awake. Slitting your throat without the knowledge that you were aware of your life flowing away would have been...boring. Certainly an anticlimax after the fun I've had today already with Billy. But now you are conscious, I will waste no more time..." The Blood Ranger raised his sword high, firelight from the destroyed building flickering along its edge, dazzling Adam's fear-widened eyes.
"No!" raged Jason from his vantage point where he was controlling Pyramidis. There was only one way to get there in time. "It's time for a Gold Rush!" He invoked the Power of his Staff, and in a blur of Gold light ripped through all obstacles to be there in time. He didn't even stop, for the blade was descending; he just crashed headlong into Tommy, bouncing them both against the wall. He shook his head to clear it and pushed himself up, seeing the Blood Ranger do the same.
"Back for a rematch, Jason? Didn't do you any good last time, did it?" Tommy taunted. "Couldn't save your 'little Bro', could you?" He whirled the sword, cutting arcs through the smoke. "Gonna kill me now? Your friend Tommy?"
"You are NOT Tommy!" Jason spat out. "Tommy would NEVER have killed Billy! Never! He would rather have died himself!"
"Like I would never have killed you ,Jason?" the voice purred, deep and menacing. "When I had you at my mercy in the Dark Dimension? Tell me that you didn't look into my eyes and know I would have enjoyed it...until Billy pulled you out. He saved you from me...shame you weren't good enough to repay the favour, huh bro?"
Jason gave an inarticulate cry and attacked the Blood Ranger with a ferocity that was blinding. Tommy wheeled and turned, dancing a deadly fluid battle with his best friend.
"I was always better than you at swords..." Tommy gloated as Jason seemed to falter. "You even told me that yourself...I'm going to take you down and then I'm going to take out your friends one by one." He laughed a low, evil laugh that Jason remembered all too well.
"I won't let that happen!" he shouted, lashing out.
"But Jase...bro...it's already begun!" Tommy retorted and attacked, his blade sheering energy sparks from Jason's Gold Ranger armour. Jason turned, whirling the Power staff ... and underneath the Blood Ranger's helmet the metallic filigree pulsed white hot, starting to disintegrate, the control breaking down...
Tommy lunged forward, jabbing the blade upwards in an ugly arc at his friend's heart.
Jason blocked and parried the sword, trying to pin it in the crest of the Power Staff.
The Blood Ranger sent a jolt of Power up the Sword, electrifying the Staff momentarily, slipping the sword free.
Jason began to draw the Gold Power through himself for a final, devastating Gold Rush that would sweep this murderer from the face of the earth.
Swift as lightning, Tommy swung out towards the neck of his friend to be blocked and pushed away.
Jason stepped back, raising the Power Staff crackling with Gold Energy.
In a silent death, the controlling circuitry that had surpressed Tommy's personality finally immolated itself in a cathartic blaze of self-destruction. The Blood Ranger personality was gone between one moment and the next, but the legacy of memories remained and rose inexorably to the surface, facing Tommy with the responsibility for what he had done. His counter move forgotten, Tommy turned to face the righteous cleansing fire of his friend's final shot. He let the sword slip from his hand and reached out his arms, seeing nothing but the image of Billy's clouded eyes as the light fled them in his mind, distantly hearing Jason shout the words that would bring the deadly Gold Rush and give him oblivion.
Jason unleashed the onslaught of energy, with all his rage at what had happened and at himself for not being able to help behind it. In a coruscating blast of white-hot Gold, the energy streamed out to envelop the Blood Ranger, Jason dimly aware that his adversary had dropped his weapon to the ground.
Out of nowhere there was a blur of Pink and Kat sped forward and knocked Tommy out of the reach of that fatal blast.
"Kat!" Jason yelled, desperately afraid for her. ""What the hell are you doing?! Get clear, he's dangerous! He's a monster!"
Kat looked down at the armoured form beneath her, that seemed strangely frozen. "No...no, he's Tommy." She touched the star-shaped faceplate with a gauntleted hand as if trying to reach him.
"You can't know that!" Jason disagreed, Gold Energy once more crackling up the Staff.
"Yes I can...He stopped fighting. The Red ZeoZord just stopped, leaving itself totally vulnerable as if it wanted to be destroyed. " Kat replied, anxiously looking for signs of movement or life. "And I knew...I knew when I saw him step forward to face your blow that Tommy was back and wanted to die." Her voice cracked on the end words.
Jason turned and screamed with frustration; denied the action he had sworn would balance the scales. He slammed the Power Staff on the ground, letting the Gold Energy arc to the clouds above to discharge the deadly force he had generated. Thunder spoke back, echoing his anger as it tore the sky apart with its sharp, deafening explosive sounds until he was drained of all emotion but despair.
He looked around at the group of them, wounded in body and spirit, and said in a dead voice, "Back to the Power Chamber. All of us."
There were no words to say to one another when they reached the sanctuary of the Power Chamber. Not when their usual memories would be of Billy half bent over a console turning with a smile to welcome them home after a tough battle as he continued working, drawing everything together as it should be. Not when it would usually be him who would tend to their injuries and listen to their excited banter as the adrenalin rush surged through them and swept them away in post-battle excitement.
Zordon had very little to say, nor Alpha; even they seemed shocked by this turn of events and unable to offer comfort at this point in time.
Rocky looked around, totally unable to bring himself to make even the lamest of wisecracks. f I hadn't made Billy stay to do my job and look after Rosa, he would have been up here safe and sound, he thought to himself. That should have been me. He helped Adam over to the "table", his friend likewise numb with shock.
There's a hole in my life...an aching hole where my friend should be and it's not going to go away, Adam thought, oblivious to any physical pain. The pain of loss sucked his thoughts and feelings into its gaping maw. He barely registered the healing energy that mended his injuries swiftly; this place held too many memories of Billy in every console and every shadow he expected to see the young genius walk up, peering intently at some device and then look up with a puzzled frown and...
This couldn't be happening, it just couldn't be. It wasn't real, how could it be real? They had all been hurt, sometimes nearly died when they held the Power, but no-one had ever been killed. But Billy didn't hold the power, did he? and people who weren't Power Rangers didn't get killed, did they?
Tanya and Kat were weeping softly as they tried to carry out their duties, whilst Jason dragged Tommy over to the table, shutting away his own feelings for the time being to try and hold them all together. He wasn't sure if Tommy's apparent semi-paralysis was a physical effect or a mental reaction to what he had done. But as his friend's armour had demorphed he saw a crippling awareness in his friend's eyes as if the deadly wound he had caused his friend had been mirrored by a deadly strike to his own soul. He knew with a cruel, unforgiving clarity what he had done; he knew all too well, and it was threatening to claim him.
There were no words of wisdom or comfort from Zordon of Eltar .He was locked as much in his own thoughts and self-recriminations as he was in the transwarp tube.
My son....he was the most like my son of all of them, a brilliant spark of spirit extinguished. He served the forces of Light faithfully and well and yet they tested and tested him to destruction at the hands of one he trusted and loved. Why? Couldn't you have let him have some happiness? He called out mentally to the universe. Why him? He gave everything that was asked of him when you gave him the Power, and he learnt the most difficult lesson of all and knew when it was time to give it up for another! And still he stayed and after all that...cut down by a friend, one he would name as brother. He remained sombre in his own thoughts as the others' initial shock deepened into a silence of denial.
Jason went from one to another of his friends, pushing away his own feelings as he tried to pull them together and offer support until they could stand alone. He, along with Zordon when he finally spoke, sent them home, told them to stay together while he watched over the catatonic form of Tommy. He knew that each one of them would find that task very difficult to do and that they would do better with the support of their families in the wake of this tragedy.
"I want to stay," Kat protested, wiping away fresh tears "He shouldn't be alone when he wakes up. He'll need someone."
"Kat ... he may not wake for a while," Jason said softly. What was left unsaid was the possibility that he might become violent. "And I'll be here. I'll call as soon as he seems...himself again. Go home for now, make an appearance. Angel Grove is going to be panicked about all of this and they will be looking for all of us...please, Kat."
She looked about to argue when Zordon overruled her in a tense, focused voice. "You all of you will go home except for Jason. He will stay and watch. Now." The tone was as near to an order as they had ever heard him issue.
Reduced somehow by their loss, the group of friends left, their expressions blurred and hurt by the dawning of the terrible truth sinking into their minds. This had happened, and it wasn't a dream, and there was nothing that they could do to make it right. Jason sighed and turned, seeing Zordon's tube flicker and fade every now and then.
"Zordon?" he queried. "Is everything okay?"
The Eltarian marvelled briefly at how strong these young humans were to turn their concern so rapidly to another in the depths of their own loss. "I will be fine, Jason. I find myself somewhat affected by this terrible occurrence. I may have to shut down the transwarp interface until I have regained control of my energy levels. Alpha will know how to bring me back."
"That's okay, Zordon." Jason said, having correctly understood their mentor's words to mean he needed privacy to get himself together. "I'll watch Tommy...you carry on."
The slightly warped image of the head seemed to turn away, and a clouded veil occluded Zordon from view.
Jason turned back to Tommy. How could he have done that? How could he?! Wasn't there anything that Tommy could have done to fight the control? He seemed to have enjoyed it! Enjoyed killing and hurting Billy, one of his best friends. But if...if he truly had been totally out of control, this would be disastrous for them all. Jason grimaced a moment, suddenly remembering what he had told Kat about their parents worrying.
"I can write a note and teleport it down," he muttered aloud. "They won't think it strange that I will want to be alone after what has happened." He took a deep breath and turned away from the table with its recumbent patient to scrawl something appropriate.
Tommys' eyes glimmered back into awareness suddenly. No! No, I don't want to be alive with this pain I have caused, I don't want to survive. Over and over the horrific images of the past 6 hours replayed in a never ending loop, faster and faster until he could barely think for the screaming in his head as Billy died again and again beneath his blade. The only thoughts that survived this onslaught were those that led to emptiness. He wanted to let go, to fly and leave all this pain behind him - soar through the air to oblivion. He looked around briefly and seeing Jason with his back turned, teleporting a note to his house, he seized the opportunity and swung himself from the table and flashed away in a blaze of red just as Jason turned and met his eyes for a split second as he disappeared.
Jason swore, seeing the abyss of self-destruction in his friend's eyes that had nearly claimed him when he was the Evil Green Ranger. "Shit! Dammit, where the hell did he go? Alpha! Get me there now!"
There was no time to waste on being civil. Though it was only a matter of a minute before he followed, Jason found himself gripped by the fear that he might not see another friend ever again.
A shape...a blurred visual shape of grey and whites, becoming more distinct as his eyes focussed. Vivid glorious colours and impressions alien to him flooding his mind, and another presence there with him, a part of him warm, comforting and questioning.
What the...I must be dead!, Billy thought to himself. Last thing I remember is...Tommy blasting me away and the pain...the pain..God the pain, and I was trying to activate...
Billy suddenly realised he was apparently moving - Where was he anyway? Chairs, tables, they looked familiar. Certainly not something you would expect in an existence after death. What had he been doing just before his death then? Trying to activate what?
Once a ranger, always a Ranger, the words came back to him,and then after a pause he gave a delighted mental chuckle. What do you know...it actually worked!! I can't believe it I actually made it! He turned to the other presence he was with,
Hey, Kata! Boy, am I glad that Jason uses the presents I give to his dog!
To his surprise he got a response.
Jason! And a rush of images and a feeling of immense satisfaction. Jason's Golden Retriever wagged his tail happily at the mention of his owner's name, and a simple, pure emotion of happiness swept through him and the passenger mind that he had acquired.
Billy smiled. It hadn't been a lie to make him feel there was something there that connected him with the team. He did still have a tiny fraction of the Power within him. He must have had just enough residue of the Blue Power left in him to activate the Consciousness Transferral Device as he was dying, maybe boosted by the surge of energy pouring into him from Tommy. He had adapted the prototype from the fateful mind-switching invention that had caused so much havoc with him and Kimberley.
Embarassing though that had been, there hadn't been all bad points to the experience, and he had of course begun to think of ways to learn from the opportunity. He had seen potential in it to transfer a mind to safety...or in his highest ambitions, find a way to transfer Zordon's consciousness out of the transdimensional warp and give their mentor back some of his freedom. But he hadn't been willing to test it on anyone aside from himself, and since he knew the others would protest and stop him, he had installed the prototype transceiver in his own communicator and the receiver in the collar that he gave to Jason for his dog Kata, intending to try out a quick transfer. Then he had lost the Powers, so technically it wouldn't work as it required the Power as a type of carrier wave to transmit one mind into another body.
It never got tried, and it was forgotten and written off as an interesting idea that was always going to remain an idea, because he was Powerless and he would not risk the others. It had been a last desparate long shot, based on the hope that Zordon had meant that he possessed a little of the Power though not a Ranger when he had said "Once a Ranger, Always a Ranger," also on the faint possibility that Kata had been wearing the collar and that the darn thing actually worked! Scientifically speaking, the methodology left a lot to be desired, but when you are facing death and you have nothing to lose, methodology and safety precautions become things for other people to worry about!
"I'm ALIVE," he thought aloud, confusing Kata. "And I'm sharing the body of a dog, this could be difficult! Interesting, but difficult."
The others would definitely think him dead; and oh gods, that hurt, the memories of Tommy. What had happened to them? How long had he been out? How long had he got? The prototype had not been designed for a protracted stay. He needed answers, and here he was trapped in the body of a dog.
"Improvise, you are meant to be smart" , he thought to himself.
Kata had wandered into Jason's living room and Billy tentatively tried to exert some control. Kata fortunately didn't seem worried, only amused as if they were playing some new game. The television, that would tell him something. At least how long he had been out of the picture and maybe some of the rest of it if they were running reports. Grabbing the remote awkwardly, Billy pawed the standby button until the set clicked on. He scrolled through the channels with difficulty, finally coming across a local news bulletin midway through what appeared to be a special report on the day's events
"...dramatic hostage situation that ended in tragedy. An entire group of 50 plus people were held hostage by an Evil Ranger and local teen William Cranston was killed in cold blood after exchanging himself for the sister of one of what locals at the Youth centre described as his close friend."
There was a close up image of a weeping Rosa DeSantos being comforted by her parents and superimposed over that picture came an archive picture of himself, obviously hastily retrieved from probably Angel Grove High. At least it was halfway decent for a change, taken after he had his contacts, he thought to himself, feeling slightly dazed at watching his own death.
"The entire group witnessed the killing, seemingly designed to provoke the Power Rangers into final conflict with the mysterious Blood Ranger. Speculation has been made as to the likelihood that the Red Ranger had turned on the other Rangers. This seems likely as due to the particularly extended nature of the ensuing conflict a great deal of footage was gleaned and there is no sign of any Red Ranger aside from the Blood Ranger. The final climactic moments were captured on film by our own cameraman on the scene."
The footage changed to a wobbly focus on the moments when the Red Zeo Zord was pounding the living daylights out of the others. The camera whipped round to focus on the Gold Ranger summoning Pyramidas, the picture shaking as the ground trembled at the approach of that mighty Zord. Taurus and Adam taking a nose dive, The Blood Ranger standing with a blade about to cut the Green Ranger's throat and so on through to the final moments.
"Tommy wants to die. I told him not to! Why does no one ever listen to what I say!" Billy thought as he watched the drama unfold, his fear for his friend making the dog anxious.
"Obviously the Power Rangers are upset by this turn of events..." the picture changed to an end sequence of the Gold Ranger slamming the end of his Power Staff into the ground and the Gold Power arcing as lightning to the sky and the incredible noise that followed.
"Jason..oh god Jason, I'm alive, I'm here!" Billy thought. He had to find them! He had to find and help them and tell them that he was alive, for the time being at least.
"No Power Ranger has commented on the events of today and the body of William Cranston has not been found. Witnesses say that the Gold Ranger initially claimed it, but it appeared that the Blood Ranger may well have had something to do with its disappearance.
William Cranston, known as Billy to his friends had recently graduated early from..."
The report continued in a short report of his life to date and his achievements, which Billy could not bear to watch. Unconsciously, his anxiety was making Kata pace nervously. He had several problems that he had to deal with. Firstly he had to let the others know that he was alive, and then he had to find his body. When he got within a one metre radius to his communicator on his body, the automatic recall would trip and he would return to his own mind. Preferably his body would be in a position to be healed at that point in time. How badly had he been hurt anyway? His memories were too painful to look at closely.
"Food " Kata suddenly thought interrupting his flow of thought. "Food. Hungry now...food? "
"In a moment, Kata. I'm trying to think."
"Food...now!" The dog was insistent. It was much more difficult to control the dog when he wanted to do something else, so Billy acquiesced. He trotted into the kitchen and carefully nosed open the sack of dog biscuits the Retriever knew was under the sink and pulled a few of them out, carefully nosing the bag shut again. The dog whined with eagerness and waited for Billy to tell him it was all right to eat them.
"He knows that I am a human...how does he know that? He knows who I am as well, I think. Dogs certainly have more senses than I gave them credit for. Strange, but I seem to be seeing smells in colour. Maybe that is just how my human consciousness perceives it. Maybe then Kata knows how to find Jason better than I ever would!"
Kata...Kata, find Jason!" he said brightly as they did when they were playing hide and seek with the dog.
"Now, Kata...find Jason!" Billy confirmed. With a joyful bark Kata ran to the utility room and pushed open the back window that did not seem to be very secure. Billy chuckled to himself. This was obviously not the first time Kata had pulled a stunt like this.
Golden plumed tail wagging joyfully, the Retriever ran through the streets of Angel Grove. "JasonJasonJason" his thoughts repeated over and over as the scents swirled around them, dazzling Billy with their Technicolor shapes. The dog's nails skittered on the hot pavement now cooling as the evening drew in as he cornered in his headlong rush into Angel Grove Park.. Now even Billy could feel a pull of sorts. It was difficult to describe, but it was like that sensation you felt when you'd been away from home and you entered into territory you knew intimately and you knew you were on the road home, you just knew that you were coming home.
There up ahead, recognisable from this distance through the dog's acute hearing and sense of smell, were Tommy and Jason. Through Kata's senses they appeared to have a miasma of black distress about them that was so intense it made the dog whimper and want to run up to Jason.
"No, Kata, wait here," Billy ordered firmly. He hadn't yet worked out how he was going to convince his friends that Jason's dog was in fact carrying a passenger. The dog gave a heavy sigh and followed Billy's instructions. The two appeared to be shouting at each other as he came into earshot and made the dog sit under one of the picnic tables not too far away but out of sight. Not that either of his friends appeared in any fit state to notice anything at the moment.
"No! I want this to end... I can't stand the pain inside!" Tommy yelled at Jason, his face pale with shock and distress and his hair in disarray.
"Tommy, no...listen, there's nothing more to be done about with it but live with it," Jason said, acutely conscious that he had no idea if he was saying things that were damaging to his friend.
"You live with it, Jason," Tommy said quietly. "I've never been as strong as you. I wish that Gold Rush had taken me with it. There is nothing more to say. It doesn't change what has happened. Nothing can change what I have said and what I have done..." He turned to leave, the visible darkness of his emotions becoming choking and deadly.
"NO!" Billy cried out silently. "This is EXACTLY what I didn't want to happen. For God's sake, stop him, Jason! Stop him! "
Jason reached out and clamped a strong grip on Tommy's shoulder.
"Look, Bro, I know you're hurting..."
The Red Zeo Ranger, half choking back what sounded like a sob, twisted and threw Jason with force into the bushes and then ran as if all the demons in hell were after him into the surrounding woods.
Jason untangled himself awkwardly, cursing under his breath, tried to stand and found to his horror and disgust that he had managed to twist his ankle in the fall. The Gold Ranger supported himself on the table, balancing precariously as he looked for his communicator.
"My one..hurt!" whimpered Kata, distress flooding his system.
Billy had to struggle to stop the dog from running to his master. "No, we must go after Tommy."
"Jason hurt..go to Jason!" the dog insisted, and Billy found himself fighting a losing battle for control.
Fortunately for him, Jason teleported out of the park, presumably to try and track Tommy at the Power Chamber, and once he was gone Kata acceded to Billy's demands to find Tommy. They hurtled off at great speed, dashing through the undergrowth following Tommy's trail. Billy sighed inwardly. He had assumed that the host personality would be dormant when a transfer occur, although thinking about it, it was just as well. How long would it take him to master a dog's senses and means of locomotion? How, when it came down to it, did a tail actually work? He sat back and let Kata, the expert, track his distraught friend.
Tommy hurtled through the undergrowth blindly with only a vague sense of where he was headed. Eventually he crashed to a halt within sight of the cliff edge that dropped away over Stone Canyon. He looked down at his wrist, seeing the communicator gleaming there. The communicator that Billy had made for him, that he didn't deserve to wear.
"I'm no Power Ranger, I'm a murderer of friends. I...shouldn't be allowed to live." He ripped off the band and threw it away violently into the undergrowth. There was no doubt at all in his mind that the world would be better off without him. What good he had ever done was sullied and besmirched by this action! His life would be total hypocrisy if he remained a Ranger, a murderer of innocents protecting innocents ... WHAT IF IT HAPPENED AGAIN!? What if he had managed to kill more of his friends, all the hostages? It would have been easy and he would have enjoyed it! That exultant feeling when he took Billy's life, he had craved it to happen again, like a drug for which he would do anything. That weakness was inside him now, that longing, and he would rather die than risk succumbing to the slightest temptation to do it again.
"I'm sorry." He apologised to the wind, the sky, the earth around him, apologising for his existence.
He stepped forward just as Kata/Billy located him, rustling through the undergrowth.
"No! Tommy!" Billy yelled silently. He seized control of the body instinctively in his need and sprang out as Tommy spread his arms wide and with a determined look prepared to soar over the edge to his death. He latched onto the material of Tommy's trousers and yanked him off of his feet, away from the edge. Tommy rolled and was up again in moments.
"Kata?" Tommy exclaimed. "Get out of here! Now, I've got something important to do..." It seemed strange that the dog would behave this way. It was a running joke that Kata was one of the softest, best-natured dogs on the planet. He had never made an aggressive move before. Not that it mattered now, those mysteries were something to be left behind him. He readied himself again and the golden dog cleverly slipped in front of him, tripping him over.
"Leave me alone!" Tommy yelled.
Billy growled internally "How could you do this to me? You OWE me, You killed me, Tommy, you owe me your life! And I choose for you to live it, not throw it away!" but of course all the suicidal Red Ranger heard was Kata growling angrily. He didn't care. He had to go. He tried to push past the ferocious dog again.
"Dammit Tommy! What did I ask of you? Why did I say to you I was willing to go through all of that? Does no one listen to me!?" Billy was furious in his fear for his friend's life and that rage transmitted itself to Kata who snarled, showing gleaming white teeth at Tommy.
Tommy lunged forward again only to be halted once more by the swift intervention of the dog.
"Don't be an idiot! How the hell does this make anything better?" Kata snapped and clashed his teeth noisily as Tommy tried to slip past him. Billy realised he was getting nowhere fast, he needed someone here to talk to his friend as he wanted to, but couldn't. It was so frustrating! At least Jason was looking for Tommy, he would be here soon he had to be! He wouldn't be able to stop Tommy forever. In fact, Kata's ears perked up at a familiar rush of sound as a teleportation beam flashed in close to them. Thank God, Jason was here. He would be able to do something, certainly more than he would be able to in the body of a dog!
"Tommy!" Jason limped across the rough grass at speed. His friend stayed rigidly at a distance from him, overlooking the sheer drop from the cliff, seemingly held there for some reason.
"Don't!" He shouted out desperately, incredibly relieved but also surprised he hadn't jumped already. He had been convinced he wouldn't get here in time
"Jason!" Kata's tail wagged tiredly. The usually sleek dog was matted with grass and twigs tangled in his silky fur, but he remained between Tommy and the cliff edge as he approached.
"Kata, boy!" Jason said with relief, smoothing the dog's silky ears and hugging him close; he had no idea why the dog was here, but he seemed to have distracted Tommy from his purpose for which he was very grateful. He looked up.
"Tommy ... I thought I wouldn't get here in time.."
"You nearly didn't," Tommy replied, his voice wound tight with control. "I would have done it, but I was stopped. You sent him after me, didn't you?"
Jason was momentarily puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Kata. He wouldn't let me jump. He seemed so angry and ferocious until I stopped trying..."
Jasons neck prickled, realising how close he was to losing a second friend that day. "I didn't send him, but I'm glad he stopped you for me. Bro, you can't do this! Can't you see? They would be winning!There's no reason for you to do this!" he said in an impassioned plea.
"I'm a murderer, Jason! A cold blooded murderer!" Tommy yelled back suddenly. "How the hell do you expect me to live with that?"
"You didn't know what you were doing, you were under their control..." Jason began awkwardly.
"Oh, and that makes a difference, does it?" Tommy lashed out. "I have news for you, Jase, that MONSTER that you were trying to rid from the world... that was ME! How do you think the Blood Ranger knew all your weaknesses, how to hurt you..." he choked on the last bit and turned away.
"Tommy, I was out of my mind with anger. Listen to me... listen!" Jason pulled his friend round to face him "If there was anyway to stop this...you would have found it. You were a victim here as well, I'm sure Billy knew that."
"Yes...he is hurting probably worse than I am right now. It hurt what he did, but it was out of my control, so I took responsibility for it and made it my choice to face him. I took what control I could so that he would not have to be totally responsible for my death...which fortuitously did not quite happen," Billy thought to himself. "Not that Tommy knows that..."
"But...you don't know what I did to him...said to him, how worthless I made him feel and how much pain I put him through. Some things are unforgivable!" Tommy shouted.
"You think that little of Billy that he wouldn't have understood!?" Jason's temper flared. "You think he was that small-minded? Fine then ... go ahead, kill yourself! Make that pain, his death completely valueless. Destroy the team.. give Mondo Angel Grove and the Earth on a silver platter. If you are going to take responsibility for what you did to Billy, then take ALL of it and don't run away from the consequences!"
Tommy's dark eyes widened with emotional pain at Jason's outburst.
"Way to calm things down, Jason.." Billy thought wryly in concern
"Look, man, you can't give up. We need you, as a friend and as part of the team. Don't let what Mondo did to you...and to Billy tear the rest of us apart! We are all going to find this difficult, we need to stick together. I need you to come back with me, and Kat will be devastated if you do this!" and Kim, he added to himself, thinking of some of their correspondence.
"Tommy, why don't you come back and stay with me tonight?" he offered, knowing instinctively that Tommy should not be alone on this night of all nights.
Tommy shook his head. "No... no..I just can't. I need to have some time to think."
"You okay now, though?" Jason asked, wincing inwardly at the awkward phraseology. What a stupid question, but what else could he say?
"No...I don't think I will ever be okay." Tommy said, his voice haunted and his eyes glittering darkly in the moonlight as he turned. "But if you mean am I going to try again...no, I'm not." He took a deep, semi-shuddering breath. "It took me a while to remember, but one of the last things that Billy said to me was that he accepted what would happen to him as a hostage, not just for the sake of the other hostages but for ...me. He said he knew if I killed an innocent child I would never forgive myself, but that he knew the risks of being a power ranger and accepted that. Once a Ranger..."
"Always a Ranger. " Jason felt his throat tightening as he capped the phrase automatically, understanding intuitively what Billy's final message had been. That's what you did as a Power Ranger, morphed or unmorphed, with the Power or Powerless, you took responsibility for the innocent and gave of yourself on their behalf. It was a state of mind as much as a result of any dramatic Power. And if the price was to be wounded or die, then that was the price that was paid without hesitation. Billy had known the price and given himself that final time not just to save innocents, but to protect the team.
"I..need an ending.." Tommy said finally into the darkness.
"No..No!" Jason exclaimed, startled. "You can't let Mondo win like this! Look man, you've gotta carry on! Billy wanted to save the team, he wanted to save YOU! We all need you...if nothing else, we have to pay Mondo back for what he has done."
Tommys shoulders stiffened. "Yes... Yes, we do.." he said slowly, with a hint of purpose in his voice. "But I need to do something, I need to get his body back at least. I owe his father that much."
"Oh my god, my father! I really hope they haven't told him yet," Billy thought suddenly. " Maybe if they get my body back tomorrow I can get back to it before he is told. I really hope so, I don't think he could stand any more loss."
"We'll see about that tomorrow in the morning. Now we all better go home," Jason said firmly. He lifted his communicator."Alpha, will you teleport Tommy back to his house immediately?"
"Yes, Jason." There was a flash of red light in front of him and Tommy vanished from his sight. Jason sighed and turned, hoping that what he had said had been enough.
Tommy landed literally inside the garage of his house and crept quietly to his room, his thoughts confused and whirling as he focussed in one moment on how much he hated himself, and the next how much he wanted to have revenge upon King Mondo for the suffering he had caused. He pushed open the door to his room and sensed rather than saw the presence of someone on his bed.
"Tommy...I was so worried," a soft familiar voice said.
"Kat?" Tommy murmured disbelievingly. He had been so sure that they would all hate him for what he had done ... Jason had only been trying to keep the team together, otherwise he was sure that he would also turn his back on him. "What are you doing here?"
"I couldn't let you be alone, not tonight." Her blonde hair was silvered by the moonlight and he could see the telltale glistening on her cheek where tears had tracked a slow path. "I know you must be hurting. Come here..." She reached her arms out to him and he found himself drawn to her embrace, a release occurring inside him. He began to shake in reaction to what he had done, and some of the chaos of his emotions began to untangle now that he had one point of stability to latch onto in his turmoil.
Kat held him close, feeling strange about her being the comforter and protector for a change, but Tommy had never shown himself as being vulnerable to her before. In one moment, she understood him deeper with more compassion than she ever had before. He was a human being just like the rest of them, not someone who always had the answers and led them without fear of getting it wrong.
She stroked his long dark hair as they clung together in the moonlight, reaching at least to each other rather than being alone in the wake of their loss.
Jason had himself and the Golden Retriever teleported back to his house and limped heavily up the steps, Kata following tiredly. Kata immediately went to eat and drink after their exertions in the woods, and Billy was looking forward to some rest as Jason disappeared rapidly upstairs and suggested to the dog that sleep would be a good idea. The Retriever had other ideas.
Needs me... Kata said firmly
What? Billy responded, his thoughts fuzzy with fatigue and from the emotional rollercoaster he had not only been on but been run over by.
"Hurting..protect ... needs me." Kata reiterated and lacking the strength to do otherwise, Billy let the dog do what he wished. The Golden Retriever trotted unsteadily up the stairs and gently nosed open the door to Jason's room where the Gold Ranger was already lying unmoving in bed, staring into the darkness. Kata jumped up onto the bed next to his master and unselfconsciously snuggled up next to him, laying his head on his chest, staring into his face with warm unjudgemental eyes. Jason had not realised how much he needed the presence of something warm and living next to him, confronted as he was with the finality and emptiness of death. He wrapped his arms around the dog's warm body as if he were a small child again, needing someone to protect him from the horrors and realities of life. His body shook as he wept silently into the golden silky fur, letting the pain he had choked back all day for the sake of the others rise to the surface. The sort of questions that rose from the depths of the mind in the middle of the night and refused to leave tortured his mind until he was saying in a nearly inaudible whisper over and over,
"He's dead...we couldn't save him, I couldn't save him...he's gone...forever...my best friend, my little bro..I..I never said I cared, never told him how much I need him...I never...I..." A choked sob and a shuddering breath in the night.
"Why?! Why...Why? All this Power, all this saving the world...I'd give it up in a moment to have him back... Billy... don't leave me like this...you can't be dead! You just can't be! I need you...I need you too much for you to be dead!"
Kata licked the salty tears from Jason's face, trying to ease his master's pain in whatever way he could, if only by the knowledge that there was a creature on the face of the earth that loved him unconditionally and would be there for him through anything.
It broke Billy's' heart to hear Jason like this... because of him. Jason, who had all the answers, who knew what to do ... the brother he always wished he had .
I'm still alive, don't lose hope... I'm still alive.
He looked at Jason's face, drawn by a private grief that under ordinary circumstances he would never have seen, that no-one would ever have seen. He was trespassing into that moment where the strong people break down and give in to their pain in the silence of their heart. He wished he wasn't here to see this, but Kata refused to move and Jason needed them both. Kata for his physical presence and comfort and Billy as the spirit Jason was trying to reach out to across the void of death - when instead he was nestled over his friend's heart, hearing him spill his pain and grief into the listening night.
Jason was gone the following morning when Billy and Kata finally woke up. The dog shook himself and had some food and drink as Billy tried to plan for the day. He had to sort this out, and first off he had to get his body back. This was something the others were meant to be looking into - for the wrong reasons, but still they were looking into it. So, finding out if they could get his body back would be a good thing. As soon as Kata was ready, Billy mentally prompted the dog to leave the house and go after Jason. It came as no surprise to him that the dog headed once more to the park, they either met there or the Youth Center; and obviously they were not ready to go back there just yet.
Kata crept up to within earshot of the group. Billy was surprised to see an impression of their respective colours clinging to them all, but hugging inwards as if all their strength were being pulled back, held within. An impression of a great miasma of depression swirled around them all, and all of them bore the unmistakable marks of what his loss had done to them.
"You wonder how people react if you die..it must cross the minds of everyone." Billy thought to himself. This is far more horrible than any hell I could imagine, seeing them like this. Unable to tell them that I am alright, not to worry about me...to tell Tommy that I forgive him and understand - if this is what it is like to be dead, I would rather move on than stay tormenting myself with their pain."
Kata whimpered in reaction and Billy tried to quell the maudlin thoughts as he turned towards the others, who were talking in subdued voices at their usual table.
"Look, " Tanya was saying in a low, intense voice. "Think about this, would Billy have wanted us to risk ourselves over his body?"
Billy tracked the others' responses carefully.
"Ordinarily Tanya, I would be behind you one hundred percent," he added mentally. "But this time... I need my body back!"
Adam spoke up, seemingly calm to the end, but to Kata's sensitive hearing, the signs of unbearable stress were obvious in his tight voice. "I'm sure that he wouldn't, but there is a sound reason to attempt retrieval of the body," Adam said, sounding distant and clinical as if he could not quite believe what his mouth was formulating.
"It appears that Mondo may well have the means to extract data from the brain tissue of a person even after death." The Green Zeo ranger shot a dark look over at Tommy, unable to completely hide the source of that information.
Kata whimpered softly in reaction to Billy's surprise. Now that was a twist he hadn't considered. He had to get his body back not only from the Machine Empire, but before it was dissected.?!
"He knew everything...if Mondo gets his hands on that sort of information, he could take us out easily and quite possibly Zordon too." Jason said, mulling over the information. "We can't allow that. "
"Plus, I can't leave him there." Tommy said in a flat tone of voice. "I will go and get the body, I owe his father that much."
"We go together." Jason said firmly, looking around at the others' nods of assent.
"No. I am going alone." Tommy flashed an intense look at him. "It is my fault, I caused all of this. I will take the risk and the responsibility..." he looked across at Jason as he used that word. "I will not allow anyone else to be hurt as a consequence of my actions."
"Tommy..." Kat placed her hand on his shoulder
"You won't persuade me otherwise," he said, determined and resolute.
"I'm not even going to try," Kat said wearily. "But you are not going to do this alone!"
Tommy stood up, shaking his head, backing away from them. "No..." he began.
Kat grabbed him more forcefully, her emotions finally getting the better of her, and forced him to meet her fierce blue eyes "That is ENOUGH!"
She stood up, blazing angrily. "Do you think you have sole rights on hurting about Billy? Don't you think we are all sitting here wondering, grasping for a way to make that pain go away? Don't you think we loved him too and want to do something, anything, to show that? You have no right to deny us the only chance we might get to make a difference. No right at all!"
"But I KILLED him!" Tommy cried out to them all, wanting in a strange way to take the responsibility so that he would have some control over what had happened. He could not bear to think, could not acknowledge that there had been a force great enough to overpower his will long enough to make him do anything for which he could not accept responsibility.
Kat turned to him, tears starting to trickle unheeded down her cheeks as she replied in a low, painful voice. "And we....failed to stop you!"
All the remaining rangers' faces looked stricken at those words that expressed what they felt should have been the case. They had been the ones who should have been in control and yet...they had let this happen.
"Who holds the responsibility? You who were under a control or us who were free to stop you and failed. We ALL feel at fault. We all want this chance." Kat's voice broke a little on the last words and Tommy looked around at the wounded expressions of his friends who nodded, agreeing with Kat's vehement words.
"As a team then..." he said and wrapped his arms around Kat for a brief, thankful moment that he had her here to be his strength and understanding.
"So how do we do this?" Rocky asked eventually.
"First we need to find out where his body is being stored," Adam said quietly. "To do that, we will need Alpha and Zordon." The instinctively looked to Jason to give the signal, but the Gold Ranger refused to speak, tacitly handing Tommy back the leadership he had assumed. That simple refusal to hold onto the command boosted Tommy's confidence by his trust in him in a way that could not be measured.
"Teleport then, guys." Tommy spoke up eventually. "Let's get on with it!"
He looked down at his bare wrist, frowning slightly. "Damn I must have left it at home. I'll pick it up later, I'll use the spare in the Power Chamber if one of you will give me a lift," he said and it said much for the atmosphere of the group that not one of them managed a quip about his forgetfulness before they departed.
Billy was cursing fluidly in the dog's mind, much to Kata's confusion. If only he was at the consoles in the Power Chamber, he would be able to tell them relatively quickly where his body was being stored. At least it was being stored, that was something. He had put a variety of tracking devices in their communicators that could be triggered from the Power Chamber to emit signals that could be detected through every conceivable barrier he had been able to think of, including dimensional shifts. He had spent too long in the past trying to track Rangers separated, captured for whatever reason for the idea not to have occurred to him. After they had nearly lost Jason in the Dark Dimension, Billy had woken for weeks in a cold sweat, paralysed by the possibility that he hadn't been able to find him in time and how close he had been to seeing his friend killed. He winced inwardly. Exactly what had happened to the others. After that he had taken every precaution he had been able to, meaning he had been able to find Rangers faster and faster as time went on and he refined his technique; when it came to a hunt in phased cloaked dimensional space there were few who had his hands-on experience. He sighed noisily. Still it was possible they might find it without him...he hoped. Realistically speaking, what could he do about it?
He could try and find out how much time he had left for a start, that would probably be a good thing to know, and maybe in the meantime he could figure out a way to tell the others that he was alive and in the body of a dog.
Oh, that old excuse, he thought to himself wryly as the Golden Retriever trotted happily through the Park.
Billy asked Kata to run as swiftly as possible to his house, which the dog did joyfully. The drive was empty which was a relief; his father either had yet to be told about his death or had yet to return home. He hoped it was the former option. He couldn't bear to think what his father would do when he was told the news that he had lost another member of his family. He made his way to the garage, which was of course locked, but fortunately with a keypad security code, not with a key. Strange really that a pressure sensitive pad would prove easier for him to get into than an old-fashioned key. His PC was just how he had left it in Standby mode, requiring only a tap on the space bar to bring it up. It had a half written email to Kim up on the screen as it came back to life and Billy's heart dropped. Would the others have told them yet? Were Kim, Zack, Aisha and Trini sitting there, thinking him dead? Just in case he nosed the return key a couple of times and then laboriously typed in with the aid of a pen gripped in his teeth and a few typographical errors, "Still alive" before sending the mail. Kim didn't usually check hers until after practice late in the afternoon and he wasn't sure how much time he had left. Which was of course the whole point of coming here.
"Thank heavens for the invention of the mouse" he thought as he scrolled and opened files, moving the mouse with his paw or nose. It took him a while to locate the research as it had been piled under a private directory but there it was. Nudge and click, nudge and click...ah, there. 'Duration of proposed consciousness transfer.' Billy scanned over the dry clinical words swiftly.
"Results of the computer simulation indicate that the transported consciousness, using the frequency of the Power as a carrier wave will experience increasing signs of energy dissonance with the host matrix as time progresses. This phenomenon will increase exponentially until discorporation occurs between 36 and 48 hours after the initial transfer."
Kata nearly yelped at Billy's shock.
"I'm running out of time - a couple more hours and I will be in the danger zone for this energy dissonance. I wonder if they have located my body yet? I need to let them know as soon as possible." He had a thought prompted by his message to Kim, and painstakingly composed a new mail message, attaching the file relating to Consciousness Transfer to it and then only had to type in Z for Zeo for the group name of recipients before he sent it. Even a dog could manage that!
The only problem is...who out of any of them is likely to check their mail at the moment. He sighed. Well, it was a thin hope at least. Now to try and discover whether or not his body had been found. Kata began to send him insistent messages about being hungry and thirsty, so he let the golden dog take them home. He was tired. He had been unable to sleep the night before with Jason in such an emotional state, so he seized the opportunity when they got in, conscious of his time trickling away.
He awoke with a start. Kata had picked up the return of Jason and someone else, who Kata recognised immediately as Adam.
"Are you sure that your parents aren't home?" he heard Adam's voice say clearly before they entered the door.
"The are giving me my "space" after...well, everything" Jason replied. "Dad...well dad managed to get through to Billy's father." There was a deep indrawn breath. "He's flying out to pick him up."
Kata ran up and greeted them both, his tail wagging enthusiastically. Jason stroked him absently on the head as the pair of them came in and Billy didn't have to prompt the dog to follow them into their lounge where the pair of them slumped into chairs.
Eventually Adam spoke. "How can I tell Tommy we can't find his body?"
Billy noted absently that he had rarely heard any of them speak his name after his "death". He sighed. This was not good news
"Alpha said he could be in any one of millions of subspace dimensions in the Machine Empire," Adam continued. "And it's not as if we can scan for lifesigns or a Power signature." They both winced, as did Billy mentally.
"The truth hurts," he thought. Even now, knowing that he must possess a fraction of the Power for the Consciousness Transfer to have worked at all did not help that ache diminish.
Jason shook his head. "We can't give up. He would never give up on one of us."
"Please don't give up!" Billy murmured unheard next to his friend.
"I...I...just don't know what to do!" Adam burst out. "I just don't know why! Why Billy? He wasn't out there on the front line...it should have been one of us.." he cried out in a voice half a plea and half accusation to the injustice of the fates
"He was still a Ranger. Probably the one who understood most profoundly what that actually meant out of all of us," Jason said, his dark eyes lost in memory. "I've been asking myself the same question...Why? And the only thing I can say is that Billy would have answered, Why not? He made it very clear to Tommy that he had made the choice and taken responsibility for what happened. He wouldn't want to die, but never would he have flinched from it either."
"The worst thing about those words," Billy thought, "is Jason's utter sincerity." There was not a hint of exaggeration or a sense of the melodramatic in his voice.
Adam rested his head in his hands, running slightly trembling fingers through his dark hair. "The first time we met him he saved our lives and he's been saving them ever since...right to the end," he said quietly, on the edge of losing control.
"I can't cope with this pain I'm inflicting on the others by not being here! I never knew this would happen...never realised how my absence would affect them all!" Billy thought.
The dog trembled as he made him stand, intent on going crazy, doing anything to get them to realise it was him! A blinding flash of pain swept over him, causing Kata to collapse whimpering to the ground. Adam and Jason were distracted from their conversation and Jason was immediately on the ground next to his shaking pet.
"Is he okay?" Adam asked in concern.
The pain flowed away suddenly and as Billy's consciousness reeled from the impact, Kata sat up and licked Jason enthusiastically.
"He seems okay now." Jason said, staring at the dog intently. "Maybe I should take him to the vet for a check up.."
"Damn,damn, damn..." Billy chanted to himself. That had to have been his first dissonance episode. A fancy name for a blast of debilitating pain and not likely to get any better. Time to face facts. They were not going to find his body without his help, but at least from what Tommy had said it was in a stasis of sorts. They might get lucky and find it, but the odds were that they wouldn't soon enough to help him to be bluntly selfish about it and Jason's plans to take Kata to the vet's would not help one little bit.
Their plans were interrupted by the two rangers' communicators beeping in unison. "Rangers...Mondo has sent down another monster." A tinny voice sounded in the room.
"God even Alpha sounds upset!" Billy thought.
"On our way." The pair of them vanished in flashes of green and gold.
Alone once again in the empty house, Billy was frantically trying to think of a way to locate his body. There was a beacon in everyone's communicator that he had installed and to trigger his he needed to get to the Power Chamber. Two options, get one of the guys to take him there, or find a way there himself.. Unfortunately, he estimated it would take him at least a day to reach the site of the Power Chamber under the best of circumstances, and then he would need a communicator to get in. He didn't have that long and unsurprisingly he didn't have a communicator. He had less than twelve hours at the very outside. So the logical course of action was to find one of the others and find a way to convince them that Jason's dog was also Billy and to take them to the Power Chamber. Billy and Kata gave a heavy sigh together. How likely was that to happen?
He got up. Well, maybe it was one of those fabled million to one shots he read about. He had to hope, he had nothing else to do.
Rocky was walking back late home from the latest monster attack. It had been a struggle. The monster wasn't particularly tough, or tricky or even intelligent, but the team had not moved together. Tommy had...been frozen for a while and then gone absolutely ballistic. He had almost literally torn the creature apart with his bare hands whilst the others looked on in astonishment. Rocky shook his head. What had happened to them? Billy was gone and it was like the glue that had invisibly pulled them together had vanished. Their ... heart that they had thought protected and invulnerable had been ripped out. Rocky grimaced. It was his fault. What if...What if I hadn't left him? What if I had stayed? What if ...what if...
The words cycled over and over as he trudged up his path, the sting of tears being held back burning brightly behind his eyes. He was so absorbed he nearly missed the golden yellow shape sitting on his doorstep.
"Whoa...hey, Kata?" Jason's dog? What was he doing out?
Billy and Kata barked in acknowledgement and impatience on the part of the ex-ranger. Rocky's had been the closest house and time was ticking. He needed to get someone to recognise him now!
"Go home, Kata!" Rocky said, his voice depressed. "Go on...get!"
Billy and Kata turned as if to go and as Rocky opened his front door, turned and shot inside the house, sliding past the Blue Zeo Ranger like a streak of golden oil.
"Hey! Get out of there! Kata!" Rocky yelled. The dog bounced up the stairs, heading straight for Rocky's room. "Kata! Damn stupid dog! Kata, get out of my room!"
Billy/Kata leapt onto the chair next to Rocky's computer and managed to press the button to fire it up before Rocky tried to manhandle the Golden Retriever from off of his furniture. Kata barked loudly in Rocky's ear, causing the Ranger to drop him in surprise and Billy grinned inwardly. Kata had occasionally done that to him, usually when he had something edible in his hand he was likely to drop in shock. The dog darted past Rocky and jumped on the bed trying to distract the Ranger whilst the computer booted up.
"Kata!... I am not in the mood for this, dog!" Rocky reached out and grabbed the retriever by the collar, fully intent on hauling him from the room.
Billy became alarmed. He didn't need the collar damaged in any way, and Kata was twisting violently to get free as he was yanked off the bed. He caused the dog to growl menacingly.
"Yeah, yeah, fleabag, like you're going to do anything..." Rocky said derisively, knowing Kata to be one of the gentlest dogs on the planet. Kata/Billy looked up and growled again, scrabbling for purchase on the carpet. The computer was nearly loaded up completely, he just had to buy a little more time.
Kata mentally suggested an option and Billy groaned "I am really going to hate myself for this...okay, Kata, go on boy."
The dog suddenly lunged forward at the crotch of Rocky's jeans, causing the Blue Ranger to freeze in absolute shock.
Oh man, If I make it out alive from this I am NEVER going to live this down! Billy thought to himself. Kata didn't seem to see what the problem was and the dog's eyes looked up to find a rather pale, shaken expression on their friend's face.
"You've got mail." A computerised message chimed behind them and Kata/Billy released their delicate grip abruptly and dashed to the computer, jumping on the chair. Rocky turned, totally confused. What the... The dog barked impatiently, jumped down and tugged at his sleeve.
"Damn me...I don't remember Lassie having this sort of problem, two barks and everyone had realised there were two kids fallen into an abandoned mineshaft and there was a flash flood coming!" Billy commented to himself drily, oddly nervous now it looked like he might actually be getting somewhere.
Rocky glanced at the screen, more aware now of the dog and froze when he realised who one of the mail messages was from. He sat down suddenly, the impact of loss hitting him all over again, forgetting all about the dog's strange behaviour. He opened the mail and then the attached file and frowned, bemused.
"Notes Pertaining to Consciousness Transference - Protoype.." He glanced across the technical file. "I have no idea why you sent this to me, Billy... the last message before you died and I can't understand it!" Rocky buried his head in his hands and then looked up slowly. "Wait a moment...that was sent...this morning." He frowned.
Billy was frantic with impatience. Rocky was NOT making the connection. He looked around for anything that might help him. Rocky and him did not really share many interests. No handy pictures... or..anything. Books... clothes...trinkets. Wait a moment. Books. Rocky liked some of the same books as him, a few of the dark fantasy or horror books. Billy hunted swiftly across the shelves, and then finally under the bed... there! Yes. A very well read and dog-eared copy of "Watchers" by Dean Koontz. He dragged the book out and carried it to Rocky who was still staring at the screen and nudged him imperiously.
"What?" Rocky picked up the book, feeling as if this was some sort of bizarre dream.
"Make the connection, Rocky.." Billy pleaded mentally, the novel being about a super intelligent Golden Retriever who pretended to be normal. He looked around and pulled down a stuffed ape that he had given Rocky as a joke for his last birthday and dropped it in his lap. Then he found a textbook of his he had lent Rocky and did the same. He carried on delivering items that were connected with him in some way until a light seem to dawn in Rocky's eyes.
"Billy?" Rocky said disbelievingly, searching the face of the dog for some familiar sign as if there should be a telltale like... a change in eye colour or something!
"If you are Billy..." Rocky said slowly, "bark the amount of Zeo Rangers."
Billy made Kata bark five times. Jason was technically not a Zeo Ranger after all.
"Could be an accident." Rocky shifted uneasily "Okay ... how many cousins do I have?"
Billy paused, trying to remember. 'A dirty dozen of cozens,' Rocky always said. He barked 12 times slowly and deliberately.
"It is you!" Rocky seemed stunned. "It...this is incredible!"
"Yes!" Billy shouted and Kata echoed his exuberant mental shout with a volley of barks and his golden plumed tail wagged frantically.
Rocky was rendered speechless again and reached down and hugged the warm living body of the dog tightly for a long time, unwilling to let go of the hope that had sprung up within him. The relief that Billy felt at being recognised was incredible and he waited patiently for Rocky's ragged breaths to calm. When he still did not show signs of letting go, Billy judiciously applied the fearsome weapon of Kata's cold wet nose to the Blue Zeo Ranger's face and then sat back with a wolfish grin as Rocky looked again at the file, actually seeming to absorb what it meant.
He looked at the book "Watchers" and said, "Okay ... let's do what they did. One bark for yes, two for no.."
Billy barked yes in confirmation and Rocky grinned. "Great! We need to get you back to your body, right?"
One bark and a lot of tail wagging as Billy's emotions began to affect the dog.
"From here?" Rocky asked
Rocky looked at the file in front of him. "How?" he asked absently. Billy whimpered, frustrated, and then tugged back Rocky's blue sleeve, exposing his communicator. "Oh...the Power Chamber?"
Billy barked once, a bark that turned into a yelp as an energy dissonance episode burst over him, crippling him with pain and blinding light. Kata whimpered and slumped to the floor in a boneless heap.
"Billy? Billy?" Rocky cradled the dog's head until the episode ceased. "Something else is wrong though, huh?" Rocky said quietly. There was a weak feeble wag of the tail by way of a reply.
Rocky picked up a pen and twiddled it absently. "We must be up against a time limit." the Blue Zeo Ranger said astutely. Billy gave a weak affirmative response. It was late, it was dark outside and they had maybe until noon the following day to find his body, retrieve it and get him back into it. A tall order but possible if they got onto it straight away.
"Do you want me to contact the others...they are going to be so hyped!" Rocky said, excited at the thought.
Billy barked twice sharply.
"No? Why not?" Rocky sounded surprised. There was no way Billy could answer that. If they thought they had found him again and then lost him forever tomorrow morning.... an unnecessary torture to put them all through what they had been experiencing all over again. Being dead to them once would be bad enough.
"Ah.. Ah you don't want to get their hopes up ...just in case, huh?" Rocky said, showing uncommon perception.
Billy barked once with relief. "Thank God, he knows."
Rocky grinned. "Well then, we better get to it...there is no way I'm going to be able to sit on this secret. As soon as we find your body, I get to tell the others. Deal?"
Billy barked once, happy to make that bargain.
"Right then." Rocky got up. It was getting dark. "And Billy?"
The dog turned and looked at him questioningly.
"When we find your body and you are safely re-installed...you and I are going to have a SERIOUS talk about your way of getting my attention.!"
Dogs couldn't blush but Kata's expression certainly looked comically dismayed if not at all repentant as they teleported to the Power Chamber.
Zordon did not seem to question the fact that Rocky had brought a dog into the Power Chamber. He seemed distant and distracted, and Alpha was totally absorbed in searching for Billy's body. Billy/Kata loped across to his private lab in the back of the Power Chamber and leapt up onto one of the chairs, studying the screens as Rocky sat down looking bewildered. Billy guided Rocky to the appropriate files by nudging his hand and giving little chuffs of encouragement. He unfortunately had another energy dissonance seizure, but managed to shake it off whilst Rocky watched in concern. However, despite that setback, Rocky finally managed to trigger the dormant tracking devices. He entered the hidden command sequence and one by one a name came up on the computer with a glowing light, representing the ranger colours. Rocky looked at the names... not just the current Ranger teams but all of them.
He looked at Billy solemnly. "You've got one of these on everyone?" He looked at the options display. "Even Aisha, Trini, Zack and Kim?"
Billy barked in acknowledgement.
Rocky grinned. "I bet you never thought you'd be using it on yourself!" He laughed a little, some of the strain draining away. Billy snorted as he watched the data process.
After a while Rocky looked at Billy and said more seriously as he sat back in the chair, "Your...body was pretty badly injured, Billy." His memories of Tommy pushing that sword through his friend...his helpless body contorting and writhing in pain before that terrible stillness ... "They won't have healed it. Do you have to go back into it straight away?"
Billy barked forcefully once."Yes!"
Rocky winced. "That bad, huh?" This couldn't be good, for Billy to consider that he must be closer to fading out than he thought.
"You don't know the half of it, Rocky." Billy thought silently with a tinge of fear. The energy dissonance was about to cascade out of control. He had about 5 hours left...before either his energy was subsumed into the host's body, or his energy and Kata's interacted so badly that they both died.
"We'll get you back, Billy, don't worry," Rocky said optimistically. The scan bleeped suddenly. Scan complete - all subjects located. Co-ordinates logged.
"Woohoo! Rock and Roll Billy! And there you are!" Rocky punched the air exultantly. "Now I get to tell the others." He smirked to himself, imagining their surprise.
The monster warning alarms wailed suddenly, breaking the triumphant moment.
"Aw man .. bad timing!" Rocky groaned. "I can't wait to see their faces when you walk in as a dog!" He was about to teleport when Billy tugged at his sleeve impatiently.
"Oh..oh, yeah." Rocky punched the buttons to send the co-ordinates of Billy's body in a blanket wave to all the communicators, so as soon as they had dealt with the current crisis they could go get their friend. Billy/Kata gave a thankful sigh and trotted over to join Rocky as they teleported to join the others.
King Mondo looked at the replay of the fight with his last monster. Well, for once those human behaviour texts had been right to nine decimal places. The team integrity had been damaged and was deteriorating as time went on. Though the worst case scenario had not materialised for the Rangers in that the Red Zeo Ranger had shown remarkable resilience in forcing himself to live. If there had been no one else there with experience in leading a Ranger team it would have been entirely possible that today he would be expanding his empire building by one more planet. Still, he could wait another day if necessary. They were ripe for the final blow.
"Now, father? Can I send them now?" the princeling asked excitedly. "I picked out three really good ones!"
"I said when the time was right you could. Not just yet...remember we are wanting their Powers and we can't get them if we blow them up too quickly." Mondo said indulgently. "But get which monsters you would like to send down ready and in the meantime we'll soften the Rangers up with some Cogs. "
He sighed a little. "We really are going through them at an alarming rate and there's only so many times they can be fixed before they get brittle. I swear that last batch of alloy was tainted. Well, that's not important; they are only distractions. Might as well use them up."
Billy, and Kata for that matter, once he had seen Jason fighting the strange metallic Cogs had been ready to pitch into the early morning battle to help where they could, only to have their worst and longest energy dissonance episode that effectively paralysed them, leaving them lying hidden in the undergrowth. The Rangers fought in what was a shadow of their old unison, though Tommy looked like he would rip anything metal limb from limb if it came within striking range of him and he proved that assessment to be true. Ragged though their performance was, it did not take them long to dispose of the Cogs and it was then that Rocky turned to the others who were dusting themselves off.
"Guys! I have some really good news, I've found Billy!" Rocky announced, grinning broadly .
Billy stood up to join them and Kata's ears twitched as he heard three separate teleportations displace the air in a quiet whoosh. Billy scrambled to his feet, suddenly alarmed.
"You've located his body?" Tommy asked eagerly.
"Well, yeah..." Rocky began smiling, bursting to tell the good news. "But it's more than that..." He turned, hearing a volley of frantic barks from where he had left the dog, and turned straight into a direct hit from one of Mondo's creations. He crumpled to the floor unconscious. The three monsters triangulated upon the group of Rangers and flooded the area where they stood with a charge that knocked them all to their knees.
Tommy, his eyes blazing, tried to move, fumbled with his communicator and commanded urgently. "Alpha, teleport all our Zeonizers and communicators back to the Power Chamber now!" He was not going to let Mondo win even if it meant all of them were lost!
The three monsters, enjoying themselves thoroughly, zapped the group again and this time they all went out for the count. One of them bent over preparing to seize the zeonizer from Tanya's unconscious form and then roared in dismay when in a flicker of teleportational light, all the zeonizers disappeared, robbing the monsters of their target. After a brief consultation amongst themselves they decided to make the most of a bad situation and each of them seizing a Ranger under one arm, disappeared through a swirling portal to the Machine Empire and the their waiting king.
Kata/Billy howled in outrage and despair. So close, he had been so close!! Now all of his friends were in danger and he was doomed. He had only a matter of hours before the energy dissonance destroyed them both. It could not end like this, he could not believe that he was going to die and his friends would be in danger, unable to save themselves. Five hours and he would be gone forever, all he had was that time and all he could do was spend that time wisely. Make every precious moment count towards saving his friends if he could not save himself. They would have been transported to Mondo's mechanical Empire and for once they had co-ordinated to teleport in... in the communicator. Which of course he didn't have. And his spares were up in the Power Chamber. He growled at himself and sat down overlooking the lake. Kata revelled in the moments of beauty, feeling each moment intensely as only a dog could, his only concern not for himself but for Jason and Billy, but no thought of the future.
"Dogs are wise," Billy thought. Experiencing every moment as if it were their last, not in self pity but wonder and joy. I wish I could do that...or Tommy. Maybe he won't have the opportunity to get over this after all, but at least he will know that he does deserve to be a Power Ranger. No-one can take that away from him and he didn't manage to throw it away either....when he...wait a moment!"
The Golden Retriever sat up alert, silken ears flagged as Billy tried to chase the thought down. Tommy had thrown his communicator away into the bushes! Before he tried to jump... he had thrown it away in a frenzy of guilt! Yes! Despite their fatigue, the dog trotted off into the undergrowth on a mission.
"If I can find the communicator I can get to the Power Chamber." Billy thought, excitedly." Once there I can teleport to the Machine Empire...and do what exactly? They have no way to teleport out...unless I take their communicators with me and use them. Hmmm. But to get out they will need modifications to boost the signal through the Machine Empire's shields. I can't do that, there's no time and I'm a dog! Paws are not designed for circuitry modification. Something to boost the signal then that I can use like this...my old teleporter sphere? Short range and powerful and terribly erratic in its put-down point, which is why I've never used it. Didn't need to after I fused the communicators and teleporters to the Grid. It would work. They may be scattered all over the place on the return, but they would be safe!"
A wave of pain interrupted him and the possessed dog dropped to the grass in a trembling dissonance seizure that was by far the worst to date. He struggled to continue, realising that he was running out of time as any plan with any hope relied on him being able to stand.
Another seizure later and he had found the area where Tommy had stopped, being amazed at how well the smells lingered to the dog's senses. It seemed that the glowing scents were still fresh to his nose, and just as well. It took a little time to locate the communicator, Tommy having thrown it a surprisingly long distance in his turmoil of emotions. But find it he did, well actually it was Kata who found it with his enhanced senses.
"Chalk up a mark for the superiority of dogs over man," Billy thought as he pawed at it. There was an override button that would immediately take the wearer to the Power Chamber. He was overexcited and tremors rippled through the weakening body, making it difficult to be precise. Growing pain made it hard to focus, but he managed to pull the communicator onto Kata's leg and then hit the button with a sigh of relief.
He landed in the Power Chamber, acutely conscious of his dwindling time. He had perhaps an hour left before he reached the critical cascade energy dissonance. The episodes were getting more and more frequent and he had very little time in which to find his body. But if he did that, then the others would die. His body was too injured to be able to help them, he would have to save them first; then, if there was any time left, try and save himself; otherwise they would die...all of them. He had to find a way into the Machine Empire which would require precision teleportation. That would not be easy to accomplish as a dog.
"What are you talking about... the way in... you have a way in from the carrier wave of the beacon. Rocky sent those co-ordinates to ALL the communicators including this one," Billy thought to himself, mentally kicking himself. He ran into the chamber where the Communicators were now stored and pulled them one by one into a small bag. He dared not take the Zeonizers, he could not risk handing them over to Mondo if things went wrong and there were too many things that could. The ideal would be an automatic teleport programmed into each communicator...but he didn't have time for that. He ran to a storage cupboard in his private lab and poked around in the dusty shelves. Eventually he pulled out a sphere about the size of a tennis ball and made sure it was active. When the button was pressed it would teleport through anything...it would pull them out of danger. All he had to do was reunite them with their communicators...and press the switch and they would be free. Scattered all over the place, but free. Would he have the strength to do it? He had to avoid being within that one metre radius of his body until they were all safe, but he could make himself last that long. Kata agreed. He nosed the device into the bag and picked it up, then took a long last look around. There was no more time to plan, no more time. He took a deep breath and nudged the teleportation switch to leap into danger.
The Zeo Rangers and Jason were all confined in a forcefield cell. Rocky was still barely conscious and after an ill fated attempt to make a break for it, many of the others were not that well off themselves. They had made it as far as a corridor before they were totally overwhelmed by superior numbers and without their morphers they went down under the attacks rapidly. All of them sported cuts and bruises as souvenirs from that attempt. Tommy paced, trying to see a weakness in the barrier, but without any luck. He could not see how they were going to get out of this one. Who was left to look for them... Alpha and Zordon. From the sound of what Mondo had been saying they would be kept far too busy to help them at all with the three monsters preparing to return to Angel Grove as they mouldered in this holding cell.
There were the sounds of metallic footsteps approaching the room. Mondo entered the cell, followed by Klank and Orbus and strangely some Cogs pushing a covered trolley.
"Well, well..Powerless Rangers all in a cell. How nice." The monarch of the Machine Empire said. "You know...it occurred to me that you might be bored waiting here for me to decide what to do with you..."
"Don't do us any favours, Mondo." Tommy replied defiantly, and the others murmured agreement.
"Yes, well, I thought you might like some entertainment," Mondo offered. "All you have to do is watch. No audience participation required."
The rangers looked at each other and then back at the robotic regent suspiciously.
Mondo felt a surge of glee through his system as he gestured with one metallic hand and the Cogs pulled off the cover from the trolley. Tommy stepped back, paling in shock. It was Billy's body, gaping wounds and all.
"I thought you all might find it interesting to watch the dissection process. Particularly you, Red Ranger. After all, you were the one who suggested it." Mondo twisted the emotional knife a little more. "I was all for ditching him as garbage but you convinced me of the virtues of slicing him to pieces first."
Tommy heard the startled gasp of Kat beside him and felt the others' burning looks upon him.
Mondo looked very smug and continued, pleased with the success of this tactic. "Mind you, I wish you hadn't been quite so enthusiastic in killing him. Look at all this damage! It might skew the results of the investigation."
Tommy opened his mouth to protest, but the words seemed to have been stolen from him. His eyes became locked upon the deep gashes that he had inflicted as vivid memories surfaced of the exultation he had experienced when he had caused them. Mondo laughed, delighted at the Rangers' reaction, and signalled for the others to follow him from the room, leaving the Rangers alone with the cadaver.
"Are we not starting on him now?" Klank asked, uncertain of his king's thought processes.
"You have much to learn about humans," Mondo rumbled. "They fear deactivation and the shell reminds them of that. We will leave them there for a short time with the remains of their comrade and that will hurt them more than anything we can do physically to cause them discomfort. It will break their will."
He looked at his subordinate with a chilling gaze. "I want them to suffer for the trouble they have inflicted upon the Empire as an object lesson to those that would oppose us. However, the moment they become troublesome, I will order them executed. My logic modules are still intact and not slave processors to my emotion chips after all."
Klank nodded mutely in agreement, hoping that this statement was true.
The group of Rangers were left staring in silence at their dead friend. Eventually Jason and Adam glanced across at Tommy who had frozen in shock, totally fixated on the sight before him. He hadn't moved, turned, blinked at all, he just stared at the body. Both of them together grabbed him and made him sit down, and Kat immediately wrapped her arm around his shoulders.
Tanya in the meantime had been distracted by something else. "Rocky?" The Blue Zeo Ranger had finally opened his eyes, but they were still glazed and unfocused.
Jason crouched down, his throat still tight with emotion "Rocky..you okay?"
"Fine.." his voice slurred.
"Looks like he might have a mild concussion," Tanya whispered, her dark eyes concerned.
"Rocky?.." Jason began. "Rocky, c'mon, we've been caught by Mondo, we need you with us, bro.."
Rocky laughed dizzily. "No worries...Billy will get us out of this...he always does.."
The others were astonished.
"He must be delirious..." Kat murmured. She didn't say anything, but the sound of Billy's name had made Tommy gasp in a near silent sob. She just held him tighter.
Rocky smiled. "Billy the Wonder Dog!" he giggled.
The other Rangers were firmly convinced Rocky had lost it. Jason stood, his gaze inadvertently finding the face of his dead friend and a silent tear trickled down his face out of sight from the others.
"Billy can't help us, Rocky " he said in a quiet rough voice.
Rocky frowned. "Why not?"
Adam placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "He's dead, Rocko.."
Rocky shook his head in utter disbelief. No that wasn't right, Billy was alive, wasn't he? He remembered him being alive. "No... still alive...definitely..yeah."
Tommy erupted suddenly from out of the corner. "He is DEAD, I killed him I think I would know! There is his body!" he pointed violently. "He is not coming to save us this time, however much I want that to happen...he is DEAD and he isn't coming back!" Tommy yelled.
"That's enough, bro!" Jason intervened. "Let go...let go of this now. Nobody blames you...Billy didn't blame you and the least you can do is follow his example."
Rocky had been trying to focus on his watch, oblivious to the emotions he had triggered in Tommy. He frowned. "Time is running out..." he said suddenly. "Time...time for Lassie to come home." He giggled again as Jason and Adam exchanged despairing looks.
Billy flashed into a laboratory that was now empty. He relaxed a little, he had been all ready to make a fight of it if necessary. His body had apparently been here but appeared to have been removed which was probably a good thing as he might have arrived too close to it. He set off to try and track down the others as quickly as he could.
His legs trembled and he was barely able to walk. He would have been totally lost but Kata knew exactly where to go following the unique trail left by the scent of his body.. The Golden Retriever staggered down a corridor, gripping the bag of communicators in his mouth. Kata's ears pricked up suddenly, his body alert.
"Smell Jason...there... must protect!" Kata surged forward. "Here, in here!"
"Slow down..slow down!" Billy implored, worried about a trap. "Otherwise we will not save Jason..stop!"
Kata stopped dead at those words just outside of the room that he had been about to rush into.
Billy looked cautiously into the room, the colourful scents of his friends drifting out to him. He fought the dog instinct to run in and confront the enemy threatening his Pack because his body was there. It gave him a chill to see it.. it seemed strange to the dog's senses, an empty presence, a smell without any dimension or life, like something two dimensional in a three-dimensional world. Maybe once he had freed the others, there might be a slim chance that he might make it back into his body before the time ran out. But not yet, not until it was time. He turned, glimpsing them in the forcefield cage. He had to get them out of there first and to safety. The teleporter would transport his body and Kata back with the others and maybe then he would be able to transfer. It was a faint hope.
"Hurry, hurry..things coming!" Kata whined anxiously. Billy cursed. There was no time for subtlety, he would have to take out the locking mechanism and try and do this immediately. He stumbled into the room, steering well clear of the gurney with his body laid out on it.
Jason was utterly astonished to see Kata stagger into the room, weaving a little but with a determined look.
"Kata??!" The others looked up slowly and then pushed themselves up.
"My dog?" Jason answered "Yes..I don't know how, but yes."
The Golden Retriever dropped a small bag on the floor and then savagely attacked the control panel on the cell door.
Rocky opened his eyes, seeing the golden dog. "Told you Billy would come.." he said with a hint of smugness.
"That's Kata," Jason said with mounting excitement at the prospect of freedom.
"And it's Billy," insisted Rocky firmly. The others looked at him. "I am not concussed..anymore," he said, seeing their speculative looks. "Seriously - that's him!" he pointed.
Jason shook his head, unable to believe what Rocky was saying could possibly be true, but it had to be said that this certainly was not the normal behaviour of Kata, or any Golden Retriever for that matter. He watched the dog fiercely tackle the sparking wires, readying himself for action, the others mustering behind him.
Billy ripped the connections out on the forcefield just as King Mondo and his entourage re-entered to perform their gruesome 'entertainment' for the captured Rangers. Desperately he grabbed the bag of the communicators and with a flick of his head sent them flying at the assembled Rangers and turned to growl defiantly at the King of the Machine Empire.
"What the...Klank! Stop them!" Mondo ordered, panicked to see them all free directly in front of him. Klank immediately raised a weapon at Jason to fire at the unprotected Ranger in a move that would most certainly kill him. His finger squeezed the trigger and a bolt of energy surged out to strike the Gold Ranger in the heart.
Kata and Billy's mind moved in perfect harmony as they sprang up into the path of the energy. There was no force on earth that would have stopped the dog making that final leap and there was nothing that Billy would rather do with his last ebbing moments of time than help save the life of a friend. The graceful golden body absorbed the impact of the blast, Billy recognising immediately the sensation of the mortal damage that had been done as they bounced to the floor and slid in a boneless heap.
My one...safe... Kata's presence was fading
The dog's tail twitched feebly as a sense of joy flooded through them both.
Thankyou Kata..for...everything...at least I won't be alone.. Billy's consciousness was beginning to drift also.
Home...Jason home... Kata demanded fitfully, his chest heaving painfully.
Can't...too late ... both of us dying...
Billy could see the sphere-like shape of the teleporter and Kata, with a burning determination, headed not towards that but in a different direction.
Kata... it's too late..
No.. live...long enough to save my one...live. It was a plea from one soul to another as they faced the darkness together. The dog pushed himself forward with his dying strength within the critical range of Billy's human body. The receiver triggered finally, switching on the recall mechanism.
There was a crackle of Blue Power and Billy felt himself begin to lift away from the fading presence of Kata.
Goodbye my friend... Billy whispered.
Love you... were Kata's last thoughts to him before the light faded from his warm eyes and Billy was thrown into the darkness with one last purpose in his mind.
The Zeo Rangers were backed into a corner. Without their Zeonizers...even with them they could not defeat the hordes of Cogs that were pouring into the room, summoned by the irate mechanical monarch. They could not teleport away either and had been beaten to a standstill, all of them showing the marks of conflict.
King Mondo laughed. "You have nowhere to run, Rangers. nowhere to hide!" he shouted. "Surrender now and I may make at least some of your deaths swift."
"Never!" Tommy yelled back .
"Then be destroyed," Mondo said implacably, as he had said he knew when to be sensible about these things. This incident defined the Rangers clearly as "troublesome", and as such it became imperative that this influence be eradicated. To his amazement, his announcement did not seem to have had the desired effect of launching the Rangers into a last-ditch suicidal battle where they could be picked off at his leisure. Instead all six of them seemed frozen stock still, staring in the direction of the strange creature, a canine of some description that had launched itself at them and been summarily destroyed. Surely it was not that? Was it?
To the Rangers they were locked in place by the vision of an apparent miracle taking place before their very eyes On the gurney behind the lifeless body of Kata, behind Mondo now something appeared to move. Rocky was reminded irresistibly of far too many of the bad monster movies he had watched, only now appreciating the hope and awe that the bad acting failed to convey.
Billy opened his eyes. His world was pain. Every shallow breath burned and he could barely move, but his promise to Kata motivated him to push the boundaries of the possible. He slid off of the gurney, disorientated at only having two legs ... and those two he had didn't work anyway. He collapsed slowly to the ground, the gentle impact nearly robbing him of his senses, Mondo totally oblivious to his presence. His blonde hair flopped back as he turned looking for the sphere of the Power Teleporter which had rolled from the bag near by.
He reached out with a trembling hand and with immense effort he stretched out just as Mondo yelled "Fire!" and brought his hand down on the activation button. There was a swirling blaze of light that spiralled out from the sphere and just as they were surrounded by the snap and hiss of laser fire, all those present wearing communicators were transported away in a blaze of bright white light.
Left in a deserted chamber, Mondo roared in an anger overload that shorted some of his emotion circuitry and most certainly did his logic modules some permanent corruption.
Adam landed in a bush, adding scratches to his collection of discomforts but he couldn't have cared less. He disentangled himself frantically and emerged onto the grass looking around desperately.
"I can't believe it... I CAN'T believe it! Tanya? Tommy ? Guys!"
"Adam?" It was Kat who ran over from his left. She looked brimming with an impossible hope. "Did you see? Did you see him?!"
She could only mean one thing. "Yes! Come on, we have to find him!" Adam said, his eyes shining with hope. "I'm sure the others will be looking too, we'll find them as we go." With that the pair set off to scour the area for signs of their reanimated friend.
Billy landed somewhere in the woods and lay unable to move, hurting and alone. His heart beating once more pumped his life's blood inexorably from the wound received just before he had been...killed the first time.
"You only bleed if you are alive...but not for long.. Kata, I lived long enough to pay you back..long enough" He looked up at the glorious blue sky, drinking in the vibrancy of colours that had been absent from the dog's perception. He could let go now, he had done it. He had stolen back thirty-six hours of life and had spent them well. No-one could ask for more.
The sharpness of pain faded to a dull ache and he felt as if he were beginning to float,, tugged by tides outside of his body waiting to sweep him away on a wave of light. He needed to rest so badly, rest now but he did not want to lose the deep blue of the sky. Sounds whispered distantly in his ears, his limbs leaden and unresponsive as his life drew away from his extremities. There were voices as heard through water, muffled and distorted and the brightness of the sky seemed to grow in his eyes, blue-white and pure.
There were the voices of his friends, in his mind maybe. He could not make out the meaning, but they were there with him. That was all he wanted, that was all he had ever wanted. A hand seemed to grasp his in tight desperation and he managed a weak squeeze in return before his vision faded. Before the darkness took him he heard the words sliding past his consciousness.
"We have him! Ready? Let's go!"
"Did we get him here in time?!" Tommy nearly shouted in a rough emotional voice as Jason and Adam placed Billy gently on the table. Alpha was rushing around, letting out an Ay-yiyie! every few seconds. The energy from the table bathed him in golden healing light and the entire group held their breaths, watching the result flicker erratically for what seemed like a very long time before finally levelling.
"He has stabilised, though weak." Alpha reported. "He will recover eventually."
There was a moment of utter silence as they absorbed this news and then all the Rangers erupted into a melee of cheers, tears and emotional embraces whilst at their centre their friend slept peacefully, a faint smile on his face.
Tommy had insisted on watching over Billy as he lay unconscious. At some point in the proceedings he had transferred from that deathly coma-like stillness to a deep sleep, born of injury and exhaustion. Half-formed words and fitful movements deepened Tommy's worst fears as Billy seemed to be pleading for the pain to stop, for the darkness and the loneliness to end. He called out their names with a longing, a yearning in his voice, but when he cried out "Tommy!", the Red Ranger thought he could detect fear and wounded betrayal. Billy must hate him...how could he not? What he had said to him...wounding his friend more than physically. He would be furious, he would hate him. He hated himself, after all.
Billy was floating in darkness. It was so lonely, so cold and alone now. The warm presence was gone, that unquestioning support of Kata's mind. He could not leave...he could not go... He was trapped in between as if his mind had tried to leap once more from his body and had been only partially successful. The memories of the past couple of days swallowed him whole, replaying themselves over and over, his human mind trying to find the reconciliation and understanding for what had happened to him that Kata had accepted so easily. It came...anything, anything was better than being alone. Kata's life had ended in joy in giving himself unreservedly to save Jason, no matter what the cost to him. There had been an absolute certainty that this had been the right thing to do, and that there had been no regrets, only the gift of his life. It was a gift more profound than the deepest philosophy, the simple wisdom of an animal. The capacity for unreserved forgiveness and acceptance that meant their lives could experience pure joy. He could learn that... he could learn...even through the pain he could learn.
Billy stirred. His fingers twitched. Tommy leaned forward, reaching for his hand...and then snatched it away suddenly before he touched him. No..no..it was going to be bad enough as it was when he opened his eyes and looked at him with pain and hate without making it worse by touching him.
There was a sharp inhalation, loud in the silent room, and Tommy stood frozen for a moment as Billy's eyes flickered open and appeared to focus. Unable to bear what he might see in them, he stepped backwards away to the door.
Hearing the noise, Billy's head turned slowly and Tommy stopped. "Tommy..." Billy's voice reached out to him.
He turned slowly, unconsciously defensive, expecting an attack. Billy lay there looking at him in silence, the faint remainders of his bruises fading almost before his eyes under the healing energy of the table.The silence drew out until Tommy couldn't stand it any longer. "Go on then!" he demanded. "Just get it over with!" His tone was challenging and aggressive.
Billy blinked in a heartbreakingly familiar habit that Tommy thought he would never see again. "What?" the patient queried bemusedly.
"Shout at me! Tell me you never want to see me again.." Tommy raised his voice.
Billy looked dazed and confused. "Why?" he asked in a weak voice.
"Goddammit, Billy! Are you an idiot? I KILLED you!" Tommy shouted angrily. "Just end it now and be done with it.. you know that you are angry with me, that you won't be able to forgive me." He turned to half run from the Power Chamber, starting to disappear into the darkness.
There was a panicked intake of breath. "Tommy! No...please..." The darkness seemed suddenly overwhelming and Billy tried to push himself up. "Tommy.."it was a cry of intense loneliness, and Tommy hesitated and turned.
"Don't leave me alone.." the call came.
He stepped back towards Billy, reaching for the outstretched hand and Billy grasped it and pulled him closer with a strength that surprised him, gripping him a tight embrace.
Tommy was startled, unsure of who was comforting whom, but he found he didn't care.. A tentative smile appeared on his brooding features as he held a friend he had seen die by his own hand, by some miracle living once again.
Eventually he said, "You..you aren't angry with me?"
Billy pulled back, his composure regained somewhat. " I'm pissed as hell you tried to kill yourself.." he replied, his gaze icy for a moment as he met Tommy's eyes. "Doesn't anyone listen to me?! But...no..everything else..it happened, it's over. Not something I want to do again...but.." He looked away. "I knew what would happen and even if I didn't make it I would have been happy knowing that it wasn't someone else and that my friends would be safe. Would you have wanted me to do what you tried to do if our positions had been reversed?"
Tommy shook his head. "No."
"Well then." Billy said. "Jason was right about what he said to you; I was there, I heard it. I don't want to spend all my energy trying to convince you of something I know that you are going to have a hard time accepting...just...just don't draw away from me, Tommy? I didn't realise until it was nearly too late that I needed you all so much." His voice had become weak and his breathing was a little strained. Tommy felt abruptly guilty for forcing this confrontation on his friend. His expression must have shifted because Billy lay back and then said, "There is nothing to feel guilty about now, Tommy. I'm going to be fine."
The Red Ranger was astonished. "You've become a mind reader, too?"
Billy raised a small smile. "Spend a couple of days as a dog and you become very sensitive to people moods." He swallowed abruptly as the choking emotion of loss rose up at the memory that Kata was gone. "Kata..." he whispered aloud, affected more than he would have dreamed possible.
"Jason... Jason found him," Tommy said, remembering that cloud of tragedy in their happiness in getting Billy back. "He took him back to his parents' house as the Gold Ranger, telling them that he had saved the Rangers' lives... they've put up a little memorial stone to him."
Billy looked pained. "I owed him so much. It was the promise I made to him that kept me conscious long enough to send us all to safety. My presence in his mind led him to his death...yet he never once resented me...not even at the end. It was as if I had given him an opportunity rather than an ending. I feel...so empty without him here with me."
"Billy, you've just been telling me how I shouldn't feel guilty about you making a sacrifice, and you are doing exactly the same." Tommy leaned forward. "Jason understands...he really does." He looked at his friend's drooping eyelids with concern; he was still hurt pretty badly. The Table might be efficient and advanced, but it was not miraculous, he was probably concealing his pain. Billy always did and he always ended up chewing him out for being stubborn and trying to prove that he wasn't the weakest of them all. He shied away as the words that he had said to Billy at the Youth Centre flooded back, triggered by that thought. They were all going to be a long time healing.
."Anyway, this is not the time. You have to get some rest and heal up. Jason is telling your father you are alive and will be returned when your injuries are healed and you are well enough."
"Good...I don't want him to.." Billy yawned, interrupting himself "...worry any longer. I'm fine. I'm..."
"Asleep," Tommy finished for him as he slipped into sleep before he could complete his sentence. He smiled, still finding it incredible Billy was really back and with a genuine grin went out to call the others and tell them Billy had woken up and seemed to be recovering well.
The Gold Power Ranger had taken great delight in being able to visit his own home in his official guise. He got to tell his own father and Billy's father that William Cranston had been saved by their advanced medical treatment and would be released back to their care as soon as he was healed enough. He had left leaving Hank Cranston sobbing with relief, being comforted by his parents. Billy did not know what was going to hit him when he made it home. He would probably be a local celebrity, something he would undoubtedly hate and avoid until all the fuss had calmed down. Rocky had filled them all in on what had happened in graphic detail. Even though the continual references to Kata gave him a pang of loss each time he was mentioned, he along with the other Rangers had been almost hysterical with laughter when Rocky described how Billy /Kata had got his "attention". Billy was in for a rough time over that one when he was strong enough to stand the teasing. It amazed Jason what Billy and Kata had managed to do in that short time, and there was lingering shame over that night when he had broken down like a child in his bereavement. Billy would not say anything about it, but he had been worried that somehow his friend would have lost respect for him having seen him like that. Also he could not forget that it was not just Kata who had saved his life, that had been Billy too. At the moment they were all skating lightly across what had happened and it would be some time before all this was completely out in the open. In the meantime he had promised to do something with Billy upon which the ex-ranger had been very insistent.
As soon as Billy could walk, he insisted on going to visit the small memorial they had put up to Kata. Jason escorted him, aware that his friend still had a lot of recovering to do and walked slowly with him to the site.
"I'm just glad this weird invention of yours worked, Billy," Jason said. "Though I wish you'd been able to use it sooner."
"I didn't know it was going to work at all," Billy replied. "In fact, the odds were that it wouldn't." He was able to say that calmly now.
"What?" Jason gulped "You mean that... that you didn't plan that?"
Billy shook his head. "Not at all. The original device was based on the subject holding the Power, being a Ranger. As you know... that is no longer the case.." There was still an emptiness there, but there was a faint flicker of hope now as well.
"But how then..." Jason began, feeling himself react with anxiety all over again.
"I had to hope... what Zordon had said turned out to be true. That I'd have enough of the Blue Power left in me to make the jump" He shrugged as if it didn't matter "Maybe it was the fact Tommy chose to try and end it by filling me with Power. That might have jumpstarted the process, but I had no other options than to just hope that "once a ranger" was not just a soothing phrase." He was sounding very logical and rational, but Jason knew how much this meant to him and was also filled with fresh horror at how tenuous the twist of fate was that had brought Billy back had been.
"Don't do it again!" he admonished sternly.
Billy chuckled. "You sound like Rocky...that's all I've heard from him..Just don't do it again, and then a worried look.."
Jason snorted. "It's going to take a long time for you to live that one down...I'd appreciate it if you didn't make it a habit with the rest of us."
"How many times do I have to say this? I was desperate!" Billy replied.
Jason arched an eyebrow "Oh? Desperate for what exactly?" and slapped Billy companionably on the shoulder as he saw the sandy haired genius struggle for words. He then had to steady him as he wobbled slightly
"I had a dog's mind in there as well - it was all Kata's idea. There were certain things that Kata was very insistent about." Protecting Jason for a start, Billy thought to himself.
The shadow of loss crossed both of them and their flippant remarks faded. Jason knew there would come a time that they would get Billy to open up about the experience but it would not be now. It was too raw. They walked on to the memorial in silence and Billy stood there looking at the inscription for a moment that he had requested Jason to put on there.
Kata - a true Watcher against the Darkness.
Eventually he spoke.
"I'm sorry you lost him, Jase, more than you could know, but it might help you to know this. He..didn't want anything more than just to be there for those he cared for... He sacrificed himself willingly without a hint of resentment, giving his life as a gift to save others, expecting nothing in return, only feeling happy that he had been able to spend the last moments of his life in a way he would have chosen above all others...saving someone he loved. You can't know what a pleasure it was for him just to be there and do that, that's all he seemed to want in the world. He didn't ask for anything, he was grateful for what he received and at the end what he could give. He taught me more about being a friend, about how to live each moment and what true responsibility is - caring so much that each sacrifice was seen as a gain rather than a loss..."
Billy turned away slowly, leaving Jason staring at the small stone. He swallowed. Billy may not have realised that what he had just said could have very easily been said by Jason over a memorial stone to him. His old friend had described his own actions and motivations perfectly, as if speaking his own epitaph and a chill ran down Jason's spine.
"A gift or not, Billy, I'm glad one of you were sent back to me...to us." Jason thought solemnly to himself. "And maybe now you won't feel so alone now you know you still have some of the Power." He turned to join his friend again.
"I've been meaning to ask, Billy...what does the inscription mean?" he asked as they prepared to teleport back to the Power Chamber.
Billy gave a half-smile. "Its from the book I used to convince Rocky I was me as well as Kata. Read it and you'll find out." And he would not be drawn further on the subject. So after he had left Billy resting once more, he sought a copy of the book and read it avidly while his friend slept. A few hours later, surprisingly engrossed he found the passage to which Billy had obviously been referring
"We have a responsibility to stand over one another, we are watchers, all of us guarding against the darkness. You've taught me that we are all needed, even those who sometimes think we're worthless, plain and dull. If we love and allow ourselves to be loved...well, a person who loves is the most precious thing in the world, worth all the fortunes that ever were. That's what you've taught me, furface, and because of you I'll never be the same."
Jason sat there, hearing Billy's voice saying those words in his mind, realising how profoundly this experience must have touched his friend and them all. Substitute Rangers for Watchers and you described all of them as well as Kata.
"We are all Rangers, guarding against the darkness" he said to himself in the otherwise empty Power Chamber and then thought of what Billy had proved by living through this ordeal and added in a soft triumphant voice,
"And.. Once a Ranger, always a Ranger!."
Author's note: Go and read "Watchers" by Dean Koontz now! Go on, what are you waiting for!Thanks to Dagmar for being a star beta reader - and the answer is...no, I don't know what commas are for!