Chapter Five: Blues for Breakfast
Siege, day seven
Katherine hovered around the edges of consciousness for a long time before awakening, slipping in and out of a dreamlike state in which she felt herself surrounded by softness, as though wrapped head to toe in a thick layer of cotton. She distantly remembered that something very important was happening: something that had taken all of her attention for days, but now, she could not think of what it had been.
Finally, though, she felt herself drifting back to full consciousness, but held onto the safe, warm dream-state as long as she could. She hadn't rested this well in weeks, certainly not in the time since....
She remembered. The attack, the five days at the controls of her zord, the constant strain: it all came back to her in a rush, and startled her awake. Her eyes popped open, but it was a long time before they could focus.
"Katherine?" a voice came at the fringes of perception. "Kat, do you hear me?"
Accompanying these words, a face came into her line of sight, and even though her vision was still blurred with sleep, she immediately recognized him. "Hullo Billy," she tried to say, but her throat was so dry that she choked on the words. She tried to clear her throat, but to no avail.
Billy placed one hand against her forehead; it felt cool and soothing. "Your fever finally broke about twelve hours ago. It seems to be almost gone. Would you like some water?"
Since she could not speak, she simply nodded. Billy vanished from sight for a moment, then returned with a glass of water. She tried to sit up, but her body felt like it was miles away.
"Carefully," he warned, coming around to sit beside her. He gently reached around her with one arm and helped her sit up enough to drink from the glass, which he held to her lips. She could not even move her arms sufficiently to take the glass for herself.
The water was as cool and soothing as his hand had been, though, and made her feel a bit better. After she'd had enough to drink for now, Billy took the glass and set it down somewhere out of sight, but for a moment, stayed where he was, apparently reluctant to take his arm away. Finally, though, he eased her back down, but stayed beside her, looking down at her with a soft smile. "How do you feel?" he asked, simply.
"Not altogether here," she whispered. "What's happening outside? Is everyone..?"
"Everyone's all right," he shushed her. "Kimberly took to your zord like a duck to water. I guess it was pretty tense there for a while, but I was, ah, otherwise occupied for the first few hours after she took over for you."
Katherine tried to remember anything past the moment when she'd passed her zeonizers on to Kim, but there was nothing there. "Where am I now?" she asked, realizing that she had no memory of how she'd arrived at her present state.
"You're in my quarters at the Power Chamber," he explained. "You've been unconscious for the better part of two days, but the rest seems to be doing you good. I think you're going to need more, though."
She took a moment to try and take stock of herself. To her surprise, there was no pain at all from her midsection. There was something funny about her right arm, though, and as she slowly looked over, she saw that she had been hooked up to an intravenous fluid feed. Distantly, she remembered that Billy had taken some sort of emergency medical training months ago, and wondered if this had been his doing. "Billy," she asked, carefully, "I didn't just get better on my own, did I?"
"Well... not exactly," he said, uneasiness creeping into his voice. His tone gave her memories greater clarity, and she began to remember more and more about the moments immediately preceding her blackout. "But I was... How did you..?"
"Please, Kat, don't worry about it. I did what I had to do. And to be honest, I don't really know how I knew to do what I did, but what's important is that it worked, and you're out of danger."
"You saved my life," she whispered, realizing this to be true.
"I got you to the point where those patented recuperative abilities could do their job," he said, softly. "Same as I did with..." He trailed off, the rest unsaid.
"With who?" she asked.
"I'll explain that later," he assured her. "Like I said, what's important is that you're getting better."
She still couldn't quite focus, but there was something odd about the look in his eyes. "Billy," she asked, quietly, "are you crying?"
He looked down for a moment, then wiped his eyes before looking at her again. "Maybe a little. I was... really worried about you, you know. We all were. The rest of the team's been constantly asking me about how you've been doing. Now I'll finally have some good news to tell them."
She mirrored his soft smile, and took a deep breath, marveling at the lack of pain. She could still tell that she was far from fully recovered, though: even this short time awake had worn her out. "Why am I still so sleepy?" she sighed.
"You're going to need that sleep to get better," Billy reminded her. "Do you feel hungry?"
She considered this. "Not really. I don't feel much of anything."
He nodded. "Give that a little time." Here, finally, his expression approached a frown. "Kat, why didn't you take better care of yourself out there?"
"I was needed," she whispered. "There wasn't time to worry about myself. Too much at stake."
He looked down. "No time to eat or drink anything for five days? No time to demorph even long enough to sleep?"
Now she had to look away, unable to bear the expression on his face. "I was worried that if I stopped to rest, I wouldn't be able to keep going."
"When you... came back here, repairing the damage to the operation was just the beginning. You were dehydrated, malnourished... Katherine, you nearly..."
"But you saved me," she smiled, weakly.
He looked into her eyes. "It was close," he whispered. "I nearly lost you."
"But you didn't," she assured him. Her smile widened a small amount. "Do you think for a moment, Billy Mitchell, that I would be so rude as to die before we had a chance to talk again? I think you know me better than that."
She had meant this to lighten the mood, but to her surprise, Billy reacted by gently but firmly taking her in his arms and holding her very close for a long while. She gradually got her arms to obey her long enough to return his embrace.
"Don't you dare even think about that," he whispered. At length, they broke, and he eased her back down onto the pillows. Before he could move away, though, she leaned her face close to his and softly kissed his cheek.
"Thank you," she whispered. "I'm glad to know I was in good hands." Quite suddenly, he looked more nervous than anything else, and Katherine was amused in spite of herself.
"Get some rest," he bade her. "I'll be close by if you need me."
"I don't doubt it," she whispered as she began to drift off again. "G'night."
* * *
Once Kat was sleeping soundly again, Billy finally left the living quarters and returned to the Power Chamber. The globe-map showed that the five Rangers were hard at work, fighting off the latest wave of spacecraft as handily as the day this had all started, almost a full week before. All of them had risen to the task. For a while, Billy listened to their transmissions, the five working as a team to make sure that not a single invading craft got through to attack the surface.
He was about to put out the call to them and let them know of the change in Katherine's condition, but there was something else he felt he needed to do first.
The cockpit of the Blue Lion was just a short teleportational jaunt away, and as Billy appeared on the bridge, he first took a look at the Operations station. Everything seemed to be running smoothly, and the repairs were picking up speed dramatically. He imagined the ship would be at a hundred percent within a day or two, which would be just in time. Its stored resources would be almost completely exhausted, but that was something that could be rectified.
Now both of his patients were recovering nicely. Before teleporting out again, though, Billy took a long look around the mostly darkened bridge, finally letting his gaze settle on the elevated pilot's chair. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Thank you," he said aloud. "Thank you for helping me save her." There was no answer, of course, but it made Billy feel better to say it. He opened his eyes, smiled, then reset his controls to teleport out. The other Rangers had waited long enough for the good news he now had for them.
* * *
Siege, day eight
As it turned out, the Machine Empire's intensified attack on the Earth had been a one-day ordeal, after which they settled back into old patterns of attack, regroup, and so on. In response, the Rangers had fallen back into similar patterns, among which were the "morning" meal and news from the Power Chamber.
This morning, the news was largely good. Katherine was resting comfortably, and it seemed that she was well on her way to a full recovery.
"Has she awakened again since that first time, Billy?" Tommy asked the air around him. He was once again Adam's guest in the Bull zord, sharing breakfast with his teammate.
"Not since then, no," Billy replied. "All of the medical scans are really encouraging, though. She's going to be fine."
"That's good," Kimberly sighed, her voice adding itself to the morning call.
Adam couldn't help but notice Tommy's features tighten somewhat at the sound of her voice, but just as quickly, the expression passed. "How's the rest of the world?" Adam asked, trying to steer the conversation back.
"Well, unfortunately, there's some bad news there," Billy replied, somewhat hesitantly. "Remember how I was saying this attack might actually benefit the world in the long run, by bringing the various governments together for the common cause?"
"Yeah, we remember," said Tanya. "What happened?"
"Nothing's happened yet, but..." Billy took an audible breath before he went on. "Nothing's been confirmed yet, but the rumors are circulating like wildfire that several of the major superpowers are trying to work out an alliance, and turn all of their weapons on the Machine Empire. They acknowledge that you guys are doing a miraculous job, but they can also see that after a whole week, we haven't stopped Mondo's forces, so they figure to end it their way."
Adam and Tommy looked up from their breakfast at one another, and Adam saw that Tommy, too, had realized what Billy was driving at. "Nukes?" Adam said.
"Yep," Billy sighed. "Which wouldn't work, of course. Once any missiles left the silos, I'll bet Mondo could take control of them and do whatever he wanted with them. And even if they did get through, I don't even want to think about the repercussions of lighting off that many nukes that close to the Earth's atmosphere."
"Oh, that's beautiful," Kimberly sighed, sounding frustrated.
"I wouldn't worry too much," Billy assured her. "Like I said, it's largely rumors, and even if they were already planning a strike, it'd probably take days to work it out to their mutual satisfaction. In the meantime, I can make another broadcast that encourages them not to go through with any such plans."
"Good idea, Billy," Tommy nodded. "Make sure you keep us up to date on this one, man."
"Oh, I will, don't worry. But moving right along, for those of you dying to know, it looks like it's going to be the Cardinals against the Braves for the National League pennant, and the Yankees against the Orioles for the American League. Sorry, Rocky."
Rocky let out an exaggerated sigh of frustration. "Well, at least the Yankees are still in it. Hey, I've got an idea! Once we finish kicking Mondo's tailpipes, how about we all try to make it to a game? I think we deserve it!"
"You're on, Rock!" Tanya agreed.
"That's the spirit, Rocko," Tommy grinned.
"Hey, I gotta take my incentive wherever I can, okay?" Rocky chuckled.
"I think that about wraps up the news, though," Billy went on. "Except to say that now that Kat's feeling better, I'll be heading into town for another supply run. Can I pick you up anything in particular?"
"Not as such for me," Adam frowned. "In fact, as much as I appreciate you looking out for my being a vegetarian, I could do without these soy-based breakfast sausages."
"Really?" Tommy asked, reaching across the small table to snatch one of the sausages in question from Adam's plate and take a bite. "What's wrong with 'em?"
"Well, with all due respect to the chef, they taste nasty."
"No they don't!" Tommy said, his mouth still full. "Hey, Billy, don't listen to him. If he won't eat 'em, I will."
"I'll try to add a little variety this time," Billy laughed. "Well, if that's it...."
"Hey, Billy, what about the other thing?" Kimberly interrupted.
"Yeah!" Rocky added. "And when do the rest of us get to hear something about this Other Thing?"
Adam nodded to himself; he'd been wondering about that, too. He imagined it had something to do with the ship that had crashed in the desert, but as yet, Billy had been hush-hush with the details.
"Nothing much I can say. Look, I promise, I'll tell you everything once the time is right. For now, though, I'd rather keep this particular news under wraps just in case someone's listening in from orbit."
"I'm looking forward to it when it happens," Kimberly replied.
"That makes two of us," Billy agreed. "Okay, checking the clocks, you've got twelve minutes to get to your controls, so I'll sign off for now. Good luck, you guys."
"Mondo's the one that's gonna need the good luck," Rocky replied, just before a small burst of static marked the end of the conference call.
Tommy took a deep breath and sighed. "I'm glad Kat's getting better," he said.
Adam nodded across the table at him. "Me too. I'm also glad Kimberly showed up when she did."
"Yeah," Tommy nodded in reply, looking somewhat distant.
"I wonder if she plans on sticking around once the danger's passed?"
"Yeah," Tommy went on nodding, still staring off into space.
"Hey, Ground Control to Major Tom," Adam waved, trying to catch his leader's eyes. "Don't zone out on me now, man."
Tommy collected himself, shaking his head to clear it. "Sorry. I've just got a lot on my mind."
"About Kimberly?" Adam asked him.
"Yeah," Tommy repeated, frowning. "I mean, she's been back for a couple of days, now, and we haven't had a second to talk, other than planning out battle moves."
"Well, we've all been kind of busy."
"I know. I just hope we can talk once it's all over."
Adam studied Tommy's expression for a while. "You've still got it pretty bad for her, don't you?"
Tommy looked up sharply, but then he had to nod in assent. "Yeah. I guess so. Some kind of hero I am, huh? Kat might've died if it hadn't been for Billy, and I can't get Kim out of my head."
"Well, what do you expect? She wrote you a 'Dear Tommy' letter, dumped you with barely an explanation, and you never had any kind of closure, am I right? Maybe talking to her would help."
"I don't think I could talk to her, though," Tommy sighed. "If I see her again, I just know I'll want to try to make things work out for us. I couldn't just nod my head and say 'Sure, seeya, bye,' without wanting to try."
"Then try, for pity's sake!"
Tommy shook his head forcefully. "Man, I couldn't do that to Kat! Especially after what she's been through in the last few days! She's been so... good to me ever since Kim left. That'd be a fine way to pay her back."
Now it was Adam's turn to shake his head. Being a confidante for most of the Rangers was not without its share of headaches, that much was certain. "Well, would it be better to try to pursue things with Kat just because you feel like you owe it to her, when what you really want to do is work it out with Kimberly? Tom, you'd probably both wind up being miserable. You have to do what's best for you this time, fearless leader. I think Kat would want that." Besides, he added to himself, Kat's probably not as hung up on you these days as you might think...
Quite suddenly, the comlink opened again. "Tommy, Adam, is everything okay there?" Billy transmitted. "We're down to five minutes."
"Yeah, we're fine," Tommy shouted back. "I was just about to teleport over to the Phoenix."
"Okay, just checking. Base out."
Tommy took another deep breath and sighed. "Thanks, man," he said to Adam. "I'll think about that."
"Hey, always glad to lend an ear."
* * *
Billy finished loading the last bag of groceries into his truck, and was about to return the shopping cart when a voice brought him short. "Hey, Braino!"
He held in a sigh of frustration as he turned around to face the source of the voice. It figured. Less than an hour back in Angel Grove after a week in the Power Chamber, and he was going to have to deal with Bulk and Skull.
The pair of former school bullies had pulled their two-man motorcycle up in a nearby parking space behind Billy's truck, and were quickly sauntering up to greet him. Billy noticed they were in their "work clothes," meaning shirt and tie, but had their characteristic leather jackets over these minor concessions to respectability. "Hey, guys," he called to them in a non-committal tone.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Mitchell," Bulk said in an overtly affected businesslike tone. "We're glad to see you, aren't we, Skull?"
"Very much glad to see you," Skull agreed, using a similar tone.
"Why's that?" Billy asked, forcing himself to look perplexed.
"Hmm, what have we here?" Bulk asked, scanning the bags of groceries piled in the back of the truck. "Stockpiling, are we?"
"Guys, that's really none of your business. Look, I'm in a hurry."
"Just a minute," Bulk warned, reaching to block Billy from reaching the driver's-side door. "I think this is all most curious, don't you, Skull?"
"Looks like a lot of groceries for just one person," Skull agreed. "What's wrong, Billy? Don't feel like coming back for a while?"
"In case you haven't noticed, the whole world's under attack," Billy grated. "It never hurts to be ready for an emergency, okay?"
"Very true!" Bulk agreed. "But that was what we were wondering about, you see. Ever since these attacks started, you've been nowhere to be found. Not at Ernie's, not at any of the other normal hangouts where we keep running into one another. Why is that, Mr. Mitchell?"
Billy didn't like where this line of questioning was going at all. "I really don't have time for this," he said, firmly. He then politely removed Bulk's hand from the handle and unlocked the door.
"Oh, we understand, don't we, Bulkie?" Skull grinned.
"Of course we do," Bulk said, conversationally. "After all, he probably has to hurry to get back to the rest of the Power Rangers."
At this, Billy couldn't help but flinch, though he immediately wished he hadn't, as it made Bulk pounce. "I was right!" he said, his officious voice now becoming an astounded whisper. "I was right, wasn't I?"
"Hey, it was my idea!" Skull shouted.
Billy very slowly turned to look at them. Skull was looking hurt by Bulk's stealing his idea, and Bulk himself was peering intently at Billy, his expression half surprised and half victorious.
"What do you want?" Billy asked them in a small, hard voice.
Bulk and Skull looked at one another, then gathered their composure. "We shouldn't talk here," Bulk nodded, sagely. "Public place and all. You know?"
"Get in," Billy growled. He then swung himself into the cab of the truck and reached over to unlock the other door. Bulk and Skull hurried over to the other side, then crowded in and closed the door behind them.
"How much do you know?" Billy asked, carefully.
Bulk and Skull exchanged glances, but it was Bulk who spoke. "Well, if you remember, we've been trying to find out the identities of the Power Rangers for a long time. Kind of a hobby, I guess."
"Go on," Billy nodded.
"Well, Skull here had been suspecting Tommy for a while." Skull nodded affirmation. "We've watched him work out at the Youth Center a lot, and his moves are just about the best, so it made sense that he might be one of the Power Rangers. Then we started thinking that maybe your whole gang was involved, since you guys are always hanging out together."
"Yeah," Skull nodded, picking up the narration. "So last week, the Earth gets attacked, and the Power Rangers announce that they're on round-the-clock duty to fight the bad guys, right?"
"Right," Bulk agreed.
"But school doesn't get cancelled, even with the emergency. A few people don't show up to school, because maybe they were out of town when the invasion started and now they can't get back, right?"
"Right," Bulk repeated.
"But this is just a few unrelated cases. Yet strangely enough, all of you guys vanished at the same time, and no one, and I mean no one, knows where you went to. You don't come to the Youth Center, you don't come to school... well, they don't come to school, 'cause of course you already graduated... we knew that... and so I said to Bulkie-"
"We agreed," Bulk interrupted, "that you guys were probably the Power Rangers. Pretty good bit of detective work, eh?"
Billy had to hand it to them. The most inept detectives he'd ever met, but they'd figured it out. And he'd blown it by reacting to them.
"Now, don't worry, we haven't told anyone our theory," Bulk assured Billy, giving him a conspiratorial nod. "Your secret's safe with us."
"I'm glad to hear it," Billy replied. "So what do you want?"
The two detectives exchanged glances again, looking for all the world as though they were conferring in a language only they could understand. Then, Bulk looked at Billy with the most serious expression Billy could remember ever seeing from his former tormentor. "We want to help. That's all, really."
"I mean, we're not superheroes like you guys, but we are pretty good detectives," Skull added. "Besides, Detective Stone was visiting family in New Jersey last weekend, and now he's stuck out there, so we're out of work until the aliens go away."
Billy was frankly shocked at their sincerity, as he never would have expected them to display such an honest willingness to help. "You guys are serious, aren't you?" They again looked first to one another, then nodded in unison. An idea dawned. "Okay. There is something you could do to help us, and it would require your skills as detectives."
Bulk and Skull brightened, smiling widely. "But it might also be dangerous and difficult work."
Their faces fell at the word "dangerous," but they seemed to find some form of resolve. "We can handle it," Bulk nodded.
"Okay. I want you guys to go home and do some packing. Pack up a couple of changes of clothes and whatever else you might need for a two- or three-day trip, but try to keep it to one bag. Then meet me out by the lake, and I'll take you out to our headquarters to explain the assignment."
They seemed perhaps a bit too excited at the idea of seeing the Power Rangers' headquarters, but made a concerted effort to hold it in. "You won't regret this," Skull grinned.
"Come on, let's get moving!" Bulk nodded. He then gave Billy a clumsy salute, and piled out of the truck behind Skull.
Billy took the latest in a series of centering breaths and ran his hands back through his hair. For the first time all week, he found himself glad that Zordon had no way of knowing what was going on. How on Earth would Billy explain this little mess?
* * *
With a triple burst of energy, Billy, Bulk and Skull teleported into the Power Chamber, the latter two each carrying a duffel bag filled to bursting with "necessities." "This," Billy announced to his two guests, "is the Power Chamber. First thing you have to know is not to touch anything. Most of these computers are doing very important work, and mustn't be interrupted."
He led the two gaping detectives to the hologram-projector, and showed them the tactical image of the Earth. "From here, we monitor the attack, and the positions of the zords."
"Too cool," Skull whispered, staring wide-eyed at the three- dimensional map.
"Say, Billy, how come you're not out there with the rest of 'em?" Bulk asked.
It was a legitimate question, really. Bulk had no way of knowing. "Because I don't have my powers anymore," Billy said, patiently. "I lost them about a year ago. Since then, I've done all my work for the team from here."
"Oh," Bulk nodded, looking a mix of confused and sympathetic. "Sorry, man."
"Don't worry about it," Billy started to say, but another voice came first.
"Billy, who are you talking... Oh!"
Billy, Bulk and Skull all looked over to the source of this voice. It was Katherine, standing in the mouth of the hallway leading to the quarters, looking at the three with wide eyes. She was dressed in Billy's robe, and had her hair wrapped in a towel.
"Oh, hey, Kat!" Skull waved, apparently not surprised by her presence. "Told you she was one of 'em," he added as an aside to Bulk.
"Hello, Eugene," she nodded, giving him a small smile. She then turned to Billy and raised her eyebrows questioningly.
"Katherine, you've met Bulk and Skull, of course," Billy said, lamely.
"I'll bet she's the Pink Ranger, right?" Bulk asked Billy.
"Naw!" Skull disagreed. "Kimberly's gotta be the Pink Ranger!"
"Kimberly moved to Florida, numbskull."
"Actually, you're both right," Katherine said, approaching the little confab slowly, tightening the sash of the robe around herself. "Well, sort of, anyway." She gave Billy a humored smile, implying that she was still pretty surprised, but was really looking forward to hearing Billy's explanation for this development.
"That's right," Billy nodded, deciding to press on. "Kimberly was the first Pink Ranger, then Katherine took her place. Unfortunately, Kat's been... ill, so Kimberly had to take over being the Pink Ranger again for the time being."
"Cool!" Skull grinned, apparently delighted to know that Kimberly was connected with all of this. He immediately caught himself, though, and shot an apologetic look to Katherine. "I mean, not cool that you're sick, just..."
"I know what you meant," she assured him.
"But anyway," Billy went on, wrenching things back to the topic at hand, "the rest of the Rangers could probably use a little relief themselves. That's where you guys come in."
Bulk's eyes grew to the size of saucers. "You... you mean you want US to use the zords?"
"No," Billy said, simply.
"Oh," Bulk replied, looking both crestfallen and relieved. "Then what?"
"Do you guys remember Jason, Trini and Zack?"
"Yeah, sure," Skull shrugged. "What about 'em?"
"Well, they were three of the original Power Rangers, along with Kimberly and myself. They had to give up their powers when they went to the peace conferences in Switzerland. Also, do you remember Aisha?"
"Do I ever," Skull grinned, nudging Bulk with one elbow. "R-r-r- rowr!"
"Skull, this is serious!" Bulk hissed. "Is she another former Power Ranger?" he then asked Billy.
"Right you are. Now, guys, I don't mean anything personal about not wanting you guys to help us with the actual fight. It's just that the four of them have past experience with zords, and if they were here, they could take over and give the current Rangers a much-needed rest."
"So... you want us to find 'em?" Skull asked, picking up on Billy's intentions.
"That's exactly what I want you to do," Billy smiled. "Now, do either one of you speak French?"
The two looked at one another uneasily, then Bulk cleared his throat. "Uh, I know a little French."
Skull shot him an astonished look. "When did you take French?"
"Same time you took Classical Music," Bulk grumbled.
"Well, do you remember enough of it to get by?" Billy pressed.
"Uh, sure. I mean, oui."
"Why?" Skull asked.
"No, no, it's 'oui,'" Bulk corrected him.
"No, I mean why do you have to know French?"
"Because one of you is going to have to go to Switzerland to find Jason, Zack and Trini," Billy explained. "They should be staying at the International University in Geneva, and speaking French would be a big help."
"Wait, you said 'one of us,'" Skull objected. "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that one of you needs to go to Switzerland while the other goes to Africa and finds Aisha."
"You mean you need us to..." Bulk started.
"Split up?" Skull finished for him, aghast at the very idea. There was a running joke about Bulk and Skull that had its origins in the Mythology unit of the sophomore Literature class at AGHS. One of the myths spoke of three witches who only had one eye to use between them, and had to take turns with it. The joke, then, was that Bulk and Skull only had one brain between them, which was why they were always hanging around together: they never knew which one of them was going to need it at any given time.
"Yes, I need you to split up," Billy said, gently. "We need all four of them back. Now, it looks like you'd be best suited for Geneva, Bulk, and Skull, you'd be our man to go to Africa. Whatever detective work you need to do to find them, that's up to you."
"Well, how do we get there?" Skull asked. "No airplanes, remember?"
"I can get you there the same way I got you here."
"And how do we get back?" Bulk asked, taking the brain back from his partner.
"Funny you should ask," Billy nodded. He then went over to one of the computer consoles and typed in a code on a numeric keypad. A panel slid open, and he took out two wrist communicators. He handed one to each of them. "When you find the other Rangers, you need to use these to call back to the base and let us know. Then, we can bring all of you back. Also, if you run into any serious danger, call in and we can get you out of whatever it is. Most importantly, don't lose them, because if you do, we have no way to track you, or to get you back."
Bulk studied his carefully as he strapped it on. "This explains why all of you guys had the same bracelets," he nodded.
"Hey, Bulkie, d'ya think this makes us honorary Power Rangers now?"
Billy shrugged. "If you'd like. Guys, this is all very serious. I hope you realize how much trust we're putting in you, and how much we're counting on you to come through. Now, you said you wanted to help. Can you handle this assignment?"
There was another long moment of silent conferring between the two, further advancing the single-brain theory, then they turned back to Billy and nodded. "We're ready," they said in unison.
From there, Billy ran them through a few details, concerning the University in Geneva and the tribe with which Aisha was staying. He also gave them some cash to cover expenses (not that Skull would really need it), handed Bulk an English-French dictionary he'd brought from home, and sent them on their respective paths, teleporting Bulk to Geneva and Skull to the Serengeti.
Only when they were gone did Billy dare to look at Katherine. To his partial surprise, she grinned hugely and applauded him.
"Thanks," he sighed.
She gave him that impish grin that she'd used on him so often of late. "I think you handled that very well, all things considered. I'm going to assume they found us out, though, and not that you told them. Am I correct?"
"You are," he nodded. "They honestly wanted to help."
"Do you think they'll find the others?" she asked, more seriously this time.
"If they do, then great. If they don't, we're no better off than before, really. I just hope they don't get hurt along the way."
"Those boys have a knack for escaping from whatever trouble they inevitably get into," she noted. "They'll be all right." Her grin returned. "Though I wish I could be around when Skull tries to convince Aisha that he's there on official Power Rangers business."
"Kat, how am I going to explain this to Tommy and the others?"
"I'm sure you'll think of something," she smirked, crossing over to where he stood and leaning on a nearby console. She smelled vaguely of shampoo, Billy noticed.
He wished he had more time to properly appreciate the irony of seeing Kat wearing his robe, but there were, as always, more pressing concerns. "You know, you really shouldn't be out of bed."
"I had to have a shower," she shrugged. "After you left for your shopping run, I thought I'd give it a try. I'm really feeling a lot stronger, you know."
He nodded slowly. "I know. Just... please don't even think about going back to the fight yet."
"I know better than that," she assured him. "To be honest, being out of bed even this long has been exhausting. But maybe by the time Bulk and Skull get back with the others, I'll be able to take over for Kim again."
"Maybe," he agreed.
A long moment passed, and Billy had to force himself not to stare at her. "I, ah, need to get back to my place and pick up the groceries. Is there anything I can get for you?"
"Well, some clothes, maybe," she shrugged. "Your robe is very comfortable, but I could use something a bit more substantial, and I don't think any of the things Kim left behind would fit me."
Billy's mind treated him to some interesting images at this request, but he forced them back. "Right. I'll, um, pick up some things from your place, then."
"Thank you," she smiled. "I'd appreciate that."
"You're welcome. I'll be back in a few minutes. Oh, and when I get back, I'd like to introduce you to a new friend."
"Oh?" she asked, giving him a quizzical look.
"Mm hmm. She's the one who made it possible for me to help you, in fact."
"Is she, now? And what would her name be?"
"Blue Lion," he smiled.
She widened her eyes slightly. "Really? Consider me suitably intrigued."
"I'll explain it all when I get back."
He started to set his wrist unit to teleport out, but Katherine's voice stopped him. "Billy, wait."
Billy looked up to see her slowly cross the space between them. "There's something I promised myself I'd do once I was strong enough to stand up again," she said, quietly.
"What's that?" he asked.
In reply, she held out her arms, and took Billy into a warm embrace. He was somewhat surprised, to say the least, but carefully put his arms around her and held her in return, enjoying the feel of having her this close, and knowing that she was all right.
They held one another for a long time. There were still several million things to do, but at that moment, they could all wait.
Eventually, they broke a small amount, and Katherine placed her forehead against his, keeping her eyes closed. "I... was dreaming, before I woke up, but I think what I was really doing was remembering more of what happened after I came back to the Power Chamber. You... saved my life. There's no other way to describe it."
"We save each other's lives all the time," he whispered. "It's part of the business."
"Maybe, but not the way that you did." She opened her eyes to gaze into his own. "I'll never forget that. Not ever."
There and then, with Katherine in his arms and her eyes meeting his, Billy nearly told her everything. He nearly told her how he'd been admiring her from afar for so many months. He nearly told her how much he'd dreamed of holding her, as he was now. He nearly told her of the fear and despair that had gripped him as he'd held her, dying, in his arms, and of the clarity that had come after, once he realized that he could not and would not let her go. He nearly told her how much it meant to feel her next to him, alive and well.
Instead, though, he kissed her on the forehead. "I need to go," he whispered.
"Hurry back," she whispered in reply.
Chapter Six: If You Gotta Go, Go Now
It didn't take Bulk very long at all to get lost on the sprawling campus of the International University in Geneva. In spite of the act he'd put on for Billy (and Skull, for that matter), he really wasn't sure where to begin trying to find three exchange students in this enormous school. Billy had said that this was where the student peace conference delegates were being housed, though, so they had to be somewhere.
What was needed, then, was some detective work. For the first couple of hours, this involved going from building to building, reading signs, and looking up translations in the dictionary Billy had given him. Pretty soon, he found his way to a cluster of student dormitories. Deciding that one would be as good as another, he straightened his tie and strode in, trying his best to look like he knew what he was doing.
There was a decent amount of foot traffic on the bottom floor, so Bulk had to weave his way through the bustle to find his objective: an information desk. This particular desk was being staffed by a rather attractive young woman (young being a relative term, as she was probably three or four years older than Bulk) with wavy brown hair and a beautiful smile which she turned on him as he approached. "Bonjour, m'sieu."
"Uh, bonjour," he smiled, nervously. Bad enough he was going to have to make a fool of himself trying to speak the language; now he was going to have to do so in front of a nice-looking girl.
She looked at him questioningly, obviously waiting for him to ask the questions. Bulk wracked his brains for a moment, then remembered something he'd been told by Madame Loiseau, his French teacher back in school. "Uh, pardonnez-moi, mais je parle francais comme une vache espagnole."
The girl burst out laughing, but it seemed like friendly laughter rather than derisive laughter, the latter of which Bulk was far more used to hearing. "Quelle dommage," she grinned. "Vous etes Americain, n'est- ce pas?"
"Uh, oui. Uh, je m'appelle... Bulk."
This got him another burst of laughter, which she quickly contained. "Bonjour, Bulk. Je m'appelle Muriel. Qu'est-ce que vous desirez?"
Bulk quickly consulted his dictionary, while Muriel watched him with a patient, humored smile. "Uh, je chercher pour... three... no, trois... etudiantes Americain... Ils sont ici pour les..." He drew a blank. "...Peace conferences," he finished, lamely.
"What are their names?" Muriel asked.
"Well, they're..." he started, then did a double-take. "Wait a second. You speak English?"
"It is helpful in this job to know more than one language," she smiled. Her English was a little stilted, but was certainly a lot better than Bulk's French.
"Why didn't you tell me right off?"
"Because you were trying so hard," she giggled. "So you're looking for three American students who came here for the peace conferences, yes?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"Uh, no. High school."
"Aha," she nodded, reaching down behind the desk to pick up a looseleaf binder. "They do not stay in this dormitory, but I can check the roster for you. Though they may not be here."
"Why not?" Bulk asked, creasing his forehead.
"Because many of the delegates have left for the protest. What are their names?"
"Well, their names are Jason Lee, Trini Kwan, and Zack... uh... Taylor, I'm pretty sure." He wondered what protest she could be referring to.
Muriel scanned through the pages in the binder (with his keen detective's insight, Bulk deduced them to be lists of the students housed in the dorms), looking for each name in turn. She then shook her head. "I'm sorry, Bulk, but according to my lists, all three of them have gone for the protest."
"What kind of protest?" he asked.
"A large number of the delegates will be traveling to the United Nations to protest the use of nuclear weapons against the aliens. Most of them left this morning by train."
"The U.N., that's in...." He groped for an answer.
"New York," she finished for him.
There was something wrong with that logic. "And they took a train?"
"They are taking the train to Marseille, and then will be crossing on an ocean liner. Since there is still no air travel, that is the only way." She frowned. "I wanted to go, too, but they had to restrict it to delegates."
"And when did this train leave?" he asked.
"This morning. No more than a few hours ago, in fact."
Bulk nodded a few times, hoping that this would knock a few ideas loose. Obviously, he was going to need to head them off at the pass, which was something he wouldn't be able to do from here. "Merci beaucoup, chere Muriel," he said with as much of an accent as he could muster, sketching a small bow. "You've been a big help."
"De rien," she smiled. "And do keep practicing your French. You're off to a good start."
"Thanks," he nodded, bowing again. He bowed a couple more times as he backed off, then hustled out of the lobby as fast as the foot traffic would allow.
Once outside, he ducked to the side of the dorm and punched the send button on his wrist communicator. "Bulk Ranger to base. Come in, base." His only answer was a sort of distant static. Bulk tapped the communicator a couple of times, then pressed the button again. "Bulk to Billy. Hey, Billy, are you there?" Still, no answer came. "Billy! Katherine! Anyone! This is Bulk! I found out where they're going, and I need you to send me there! Come in!"
A few students walked by and looked at him strangely, so he pretended he was just peering really closely at his watch. He waited several long moments for an answer, but there was none. The communicator was making a sound not unlike Skull's old CB radio when no one "had their ears on" out there.
With a sinking feeling, Bulk realized that something had gone wrong. Maybe Billy had been called away from the base, or maybe he was out of signal range. Either way, it didn't look like anyone was going to be able to transport Bulk ahead of Jason and the others. Which meant that if he wanted to complete his mission, he'd have to find another way on his own.
Pausing to again straighten his tie out of habit, Bulk proceeded to retrace his steps back into the dorm, and up to the information desk. Muriel gave him a puzzled, if still friendly expression. "Is there something else I can do for you, M'sieu Bulk?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," he nodded. "Now, the train with the delegates left this morning, right?"
She nodded. "Oui."
"Well... is there any other way to get where they're going other than by train? It's really important that I find those three before they get on that ship."
* * *
"So... this is the ship that crashed in the desert?" Katherine asked, looking way up at Blue Lion from the hangar floor.
"It sure is," Billy nodded, standing beside her. "She was in pretty bad shape when she went down, but she's nearly back to a hundred percent."
Katherine gave him a humored look. "Tell me something. Why do you keep referring to this ship as being 'she?' Is this like the nautical tradition of sailors referring to their ship as a she?"
"No, no, not like that," Billy nodded, looking somewhat flustered by the question. "No, it's a little more esoteric than that. I don't really know how to explain it. There's just something about the Blue Lion that's... female, somehow."
"Do you know more than the rest of us about spaceship anatomy, then?" she chuckled.
Billy frowned. "No, it's nothing like that, either. It's more like...."
Recognizing that he was being quite serious, Katherine's smile faded. "Like what?"
"Like a presence. I don't know. This ship runs off of a very intense neural interface with the pilot. Maybe the previous pilot was a woman, and I'm picking up echoes of that from the ship itself. But there's no doubt in my mind that she's... a she."
Katherine nodded slowly. "All right, I'll accept that," she smiled. She then turned to look up at the lion's immobile face. "How is it, then, that she helped you save me?"
Billy paused, looking more uncomfortable as her questioning continued. "Well, when I first interfaced, I was pretty well inundated with more data than I could sort out all at once. I got a feel for every part of the ship, and what each part was capable of. I think that the medical knowledge of the sick bay computers must have been part of the knowledge that I couldn't grasp right away, but when I needed it, it came to me like a post-hypnotic suggestion. I knew that I had to bring you to the sick bay, I knew how to sterilize the environment, and I knew how to...."
He paused, and then rather than finish that thought, he looked over at her and met her eyes. "All of that's pretty scary, come to think of it. I don't know what else the interface might have planted in my mind, or how much it might have taken out. But at the same time I don't think she could ever hurt me."
Katherine studied his thoughtful expression for a while, then looked back to the lion. "She IS a beautiful ship," she said at last. "The question is, what do you intend to do with her?"
Billy sighed. "That's something we don't need to decide right now."
* * *
Skull had gone from the high-tech wonder of the Power Rangers' base into what he guessed to be a rerun of "Wild Kingdom." He knew a little bit about Africa. He'd seen safari movies. He'd watched National Geographic on weekends when there was nothing else on. He'd even seen "The Lion King" seven times, so he was sure he could get by in the wild, so long as he stayed away from those crazy hyenas.
The only problem was that he hadn't seen a single human being since he'd appeared. It was looking more and more like Billy had been a little off on the landing site, but when Skull had tried to call back in, there had been no answer, and he realized that some kind of interference was keeping him from calling in. Probably sunspots, or maybe the aliens were causing something. So now he was stuck in the middle of the Serengeti with no way back, and not a human in sight. He still wanted to find Aisha, but more out of self-preservation at this point than desire to complete his mission for the Power Rangers.
So he'd set off toward what he hoped was the west (the sun seemed to be heading that way), trying to pass the time any way he could. At first he'd just hummed, but after about an hour under the sun, he'd switched to making up songs with whatever lyrics came to mind. All the thoughts of geography had put him in mind of that show "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego," and so he started trying to sing the theme song, but he couldn't remember the words. He settled for just singing the part of the song that contained the title, but replacing the name Carmen Sandiego with the name Aisha Campbell. But of course, Aisha's name had one too few syllables, so he had to try something else. Eventually, he surmised that if he clapped where the first syllable should have been, it would fit.
He had just sung "Where - In The World - Is - (CLAP!) A - i - sha Camp - bell" for about the thirtieth time when he saw someone approaching.
Finally, a human being! Skull picked up the pace and headed toward the distant figure, giving what he hoped was a friendly wave.
The person turned out to be a very tall black man wearing comparatively little clothing. At first Skull thought he really HAD walked into an episode of National Geographic, but there was something odd about this bushman. The wristwatch was his first clue.
"Hey, how's it goin', man?" Skull grinned, raising his hand in greeting. "I bet you're wondering how I got out here in the middle of nowhere like this, aren'tcha?"
The man gave him a questioning look.
"Uh... you don't speak English, do you?" Skull asked. No reply, except that the man's brow furrowed further. "What we have here is a failure to communicate," Skull nodded. "Okay, lemme try this." He slapped his chest a couple of times. "Skull. Me Skull." He then realized that this sounded like a bad Tarzan movie, so he tried a different angle. "I," he began, pointing to himself, "am looking," he mimed holding binoculars to his eyes and scanning the landscape, "for my friend." With that, he clasped his hands over his heart. "Her name's Aisha Campbell."
This, finally, got a response. "Aisha?" the man repeated in a deep voice.
"Yeah!" Skull nodded. "Aisha! I'm looking for Aisha!" He added the appropriate gestures. "Do you know where Aisha is?"
The big man studied him carefully for a moment, then pointed over his shoulder. He then said a sentence in a language Skull couldn't identify, but the word "Aisha" was part of it.
"Aisha?" Skull repeated, pointing in the same direction.
"Aisha," the man nodded, simply. He then waved for Skull to follow, and started back the way he'd come. Lacking an alternative, Skull followed.
They walked for at least two or three hours more, during which time Skull was treated to the best wild-animal show he'd ever encountered. No zoo could match the sights he saw on the plains. Giraffes, gazelles, zebras, other four-legged beasties he didn't recognize, and even at one point a lion. Several times he'd been ready to bolt for cover, but his guide didn't seem to find the presence of the animals to be either threatening or distracting. Skull imagined the animals left him alone since he was native, and resolved to walk in his guide's footsteps as precisely as possible, in hopes that they would think he was, too.
Finally, the mystery guide led Skull to a campsite, or more accurately a temporary village, built up on high ground. A couple dozen people seemed to live here, and he got a lot of interesting looks as he was led into camp.
"Say, is this where Aisha is?" Skull asked his guide. The man didn't answer. Instead, he led Skull to a huge fire ring made of stones, where an older lady was tending the low flames. The guide proceeded to tell her something in whatever language it was he spoke, after which he indicated Skull.
To Skull's partial surprise, the lady gave him a huge, warm smile, then spoke to him in barely accented English. "Welcome, child."
"You speak English?" Skull grinned. "Great! No offense to your friend here, but he and I just weren't communicating too much."
"This is my grandson, Kijana," the woman smiled. "My name is Ishala."
"Pleased to meetcha," Skull grinned, shaking first Kijana's hand, then Ishala's. "My name's Skull. Uh, well, it's really Eugene, but my friends all call me Skull."
"Then I shall call you Skull," she nodded, as if she didn't find his nickname odd in the least. "Kijana says you're looking for Aisha."
"Yeah, that's right. I'm a friend of hers from America, and it's real important I find her. Some friends back home need her help."
For the first time, Ishala's features fell into a thoughtful frown. She then gathered Skull close with one arm and led him to one of the huts in the temporary village. "Come, child, and tell Ishala everything."
The hut was small and dark, but somewhat homey. Skull made himself comfortable opposite Ishala, then tried to think of how to put this. "Well, you see..." he began.
"Does this have to do with Tanya?" Ishala interrupted.
Skull blinked a couple of times. "Yeah, actually, it does! Well, Tanya's one of the people involved, anyway. They need Aisha's help. Do you know Tanya?"
"She lived with us years ago," Ishala replied. "She was orphaned when her parents were lost on an expedition, so we made her one of our children. Now tell me, Skull, these friends... are they the ones who use the talisman crystals for the good of the world?"
Again, Skull had to process this a moment. "I think so. You mean the Power Rangers, right?"
"Yes," Ishala nodded. "Aisha told me much about her heroic friends and their deeds. And do they need Aisha's help now?"
"Yeah, they do. Y'see, the Power Rangers have been fighting these aliens for about a week straight, and they're all pretty worn out, so they're calling in backup."
"Then this is a good sign," Ishala smiled, warmly. "For you see, child, Aisha is not here. She and several of our family have left on a long journey. We have learned that there is a great fire at the top of the Ahaggar Mountains, where one of these heroes defends our lands. Aisha shall go to them."
In some ways, Skull had found communicating with Kijana easier than this. But then the facts clicked in his mind as he remembered what he'd seen on Billy's holo-globe. "Oh, you mean the zord! Yeah, one of the zords is on a mountain way north of here. In fact, I think that's Tanya up there!"
"Then the children shall be reunited," Ishala sighed, happily. "I am proud to know that Tanya is still watching over our lands."
Skull thought about this for a second. He'd taken a pretty close look at the globe before leaving, and he seemed to remember that there was about half the continent of Africa between where he'd been dropped and where Tanya's zord was. "So, exactly how far is it to these mountains?" he asked.
"Oh, the mountain is too far to reach on foot," Ishala replied. "They will be walking to Nairobi."
"Nairobi?" Skull asked, at a loss.
"The capital city," Ishala elaborated.
Skull very nearly expressed his surprise that there would be cities here, but he quickly realized this would probably be a bad move. He'd been so caught up in the safari atmosphere that he'd never considered the possibility that civilization would be anywhere close to this idyllic landscape. "Um, this may sound like a weird question, but what country am I in, anyway?"
"Kenya," Ishala smiled. "Nairobi is two days' walk, and they left yesterday. They will visit my brother, who still lives there, and will take one of his automobiles to reach the mountain."
"Oh," Skull nodded, thoughtfully. "Well, I'd better catch up with her, then. I don't think we can wait for her to get to the zord on her own. Do you... think you could point out the way they went?"
"I will send Kijana with you!" Ishala smiled hugely. "He will guide you in their tracks. But you will have to move swiftly to overtake them, Skull. They have a day's walk on you already."
Skull winced. "So, just me and Kijana? No one else? Like... anyone who speaks English, maybe? No offense, of course."
"We can spare no more than one," she replied, waving the rest aside. "And Kijana is a good guide. I will tell him all he needs to know, and he will show you the way."
"Cool," Skull nodded.
* * *
Siege, day nine
"Kat? C'mon, Kat, wake up."
Katherine stirred awake as a hand gently grasped her shoulder and shook her slightly. She blinked a few times to focus, then realized that it was Billy, sitting on the edge of the bed beside her.
Then, she noticed the way he was dressed. He was wearing some sort of skintight white uniform, not unlike the Power Ranger armor, with a broad blue V around the collar and across the shoulders, blue shoulder and elbow padding, a black belt with a diamond-shaped golden buckle, and an oval-shaped insignia over the left side of his chest. "That's a new look for you," she yawned.
"Kat, could you get dressed and meet me out in the Power Chamber?" he asked. His expression was dead serious, in spite of Kat's attempt at humor.
"Sure," she agreed. "I'll just be a minute." He nodded, then rose and left the quarters without a word. Katherine watched him go, then quickly got out of bed, put on a shirt and a pair of knee-length shorts (wincing a few times as she did: she didn't quite have full range of motion yet), then headed barefoot into the Power Chamber.
Billy was at the main console, typing away. Katherine noticed that a blue helmet with a lightly tinted full-face visor had been propped up next to his boom box. She came around beside him and studied the uniform for a while before she spoke.
"Where did you find that?"
"In the pilot's quarters on board Blue Lion. There were a few of them, but this one looked like it would fit the best."
"You're going out there, then, aren't you?"
He sighed. "Yeah. I wasn't planning on going this soon, but I think now's the best time."
"Why?" she asked, gently.
He turned to face her, leaning back against the console. "A few reasons, really. For one thing, I'm getting more worried about the whole nuclear assault idea. I've been listening in on some things I probably shouldn't have been, and let's just say they're a lot closer to making that choice than I would have thought."
He then brought up a display on the viewer and pointed it out. The readout showed five bar-graphs, each one representing one of the Ranger colors. The red bar was much shorter than the others, and was flashing. "Reason number two is the Phoenix. The damage it took against the robeast took a lot of its power to fix. Even assuming that Tommy can fly as well as he has been flying, taking as little damage as possible from the fighters, that zord will be completely drained of power in about three days. On our limited power, we can't recharge it, and once it runs out of energy, all we'll have left for Tommy is the Red BattleZord, which can't cover nearly the same ground as the Phoenix. We'll get swarmed within a day, even with everyone working at their best."
"That soon?" Katherine asked.
He nodded gravely. "I'm afraid so. But on top of that, I've lost contact with Bulk and Skull."
"What happened to them?!" Katherine asked, tensing.
"Nothing, as far as I know. I hope they're all right, anyway. It was a stupid oversight on my part. You know how we've been running on such a limited power base lately?"
"Right, the same reason we can't recharge the Phoenix."
"Exactly. Well, the power's also so low that I can't get a lock on their communicators. Contacting the zords works because the zords have so much internal power backing the communication systems, but those remote communicators Bulk and Skull are wearing don't put out enough power for me to find them at that distance in our weakened state. Until we can get rid of what's blocking Zordon, Alpha and a large part of our power supply, we won't be able to find them, and even if they DO locate the rest of the old Rangers, they can't call in to teleport back. I basically sent them out there into foreign environments with no chance for backup."
He was obviously very upset with himself for this. Katherine put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Don't blame yourself," she whispered. "It was an honest mistake. Billy, you've been holding this entire defense together pretty much single-handedly. You're entitled the occasional lapse. Besides, like I told you before, those boys have a knack for getting out of danger."
"I hope you're right," he said, looking down.
After a pause, she reached to place her hand under his chin and turn his face upward to look at her. "So," she said, conversationally, "when do we go?"
He shook his head. "We don't go anywhere. You still need another couple of days, or you'll strain yourself again, and this time it'd probably be plenty worse."
"But you could probably use a good gunner," she pointed out.
"That's as may be, but we're still facing the same situation we had before. Someone needs to hold the fort here. I've pretty much done all I can from the technical standpoint, so now we need someone here in case of an emergency, or in case Bulk and Skull manage to get through somehow, or in case Jason or Aisha or any of the others miraculously show up here on their own. We can't leave the Power Chamber unoccupied, and quite frankly, I know Blue Lion a lot better than you. I need you here, Kat." He stopped himself before he could say anything more.
She shook her head, frustrated at this. "Yes, I know, you're right. Someone needs to stay. That doesn't mean I have to like it, though."
"I don't like it much either," he smiled, softly. "I'd love to have you out there with me. I think we'd be a pretty good team."
She couldn't help but smile in reply, but then she looked away, unable to meet his eyes.
"Anyway," he went on, "I wanted a chance to run you through the morning routine. I've been getting up an hour before each attack so that I have time to check things out, then cook breakfast in time to put out the wakeup call twenty-five minutes before zero hour. This morning's cooking's already done, and I've stocked up on everything, so there should be several days' worth of supplies. This clock here keeps track of assault times and rest times, so you'll always know how long you have before, after and during each attack wave. Zero and Eric should remain on automatic guidance and firing without need for any further adjustments. And of course you know how to use the main terminal, right?"
Here, Katherine looked up at him again and stared, wide-eyed. "Why are you talking like that?" she whispered.
"Like what?" he asked, puzzled.
"Like you aren't coming back!"
Now it was his turn to look away. "You saw how the Machine Empire turned all of its forces on the lion as soon as she arrived, didn't you?"
"That's probably going to happen again. Mind you, I think we'll do a lot better with a pilot at the helm, but the odds are still going to be well stacked against me. I just want you to be ready in case...."
"In case nothing!" she all but shouted. "Don't think about that! You asked me not to even think about dying, so don't you go doing the same! You're not going out there to die." After a pause, she added "I won't let you."
There was a long silence, during which Billy looked anywhere but at Katherine. Finally, he turned to her again. "Kat, I..."
Before he could say anything more, she stepped forward and embraced him fiercely. They stood like that for a long while, until the console beeped out three short tones.
Billy broke from her slightly. "It's time to put out the call to the Rangers."
She nodded. "You'll come back," she warned him, "or I will personally make you regret it."
"How?" he asked.
In response, she turned her face slightly to one side, leaned forward in his arms, and kissed him, very gently. "Now," she said, after they broke, "if you don't come back, you'll never know what that was all about, will you?"
"I guess you've got a point there," he whispered, looking surprised and maybe a little scared.
"Let's call the others," she reminded him.
"Right." He reluctantly released her from his embrace and turned to the console. He switched on communications, then pressed PLAY on his boom box. This morning's song was Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl," and as it started, Billy turned to Katherine and extended one hand. She took it, and he pulled her close again, this time to dance with her to the music. It wasn't so much a dance, though, as a prolonged embrace, swaying gently in one another's arms through the first verse of the song. Katherine felt very lightened inside, in spite of the forthcoming peril. Somehow, she knew that they were going to win, and that maybe, just maybe, something new and wonderful would come out of all this fighting.
After a while, they went back to the console. Billy turned down the radio most of the way and started speaking in a radio-announcer tone. "That was Neil Young coming at'cha on the KZPR Morning Zoo! With you as always, I'm Billy, joined this time in the broadcast booth by Kat! We'll be spinning the greatest hits of the planet Earth your way today and every day until the bad guys go home! Our request lines are open, so keep it tuned here to KZPR, Zeo Power Rangers radio!"
"Hey, I've got a request," Adam's voice replied. "How about the Laser-Blasting Spaceship-Smashing Machine-Empire Blues?"
"Good morning to you too, Adam," Billy laughed.
"Hey, Kat, are you really there?" Kimberly called in.
"I sure am," Katherine replied. "I'm doing a lot better, too."
"That's great to know, Katherine." Tommy, this time.
"Rocky, Tanya, you out there?" Billy asked.
"Yeah, I'm here," Rocky growled. "These rest breaks ain't gettin' any longer."
"I'm here too," Tanya added. "Sorry, I'm always slow to get up."
"I guess part of being a brick means sleeping like one, eh?" Adam chuckled.
"You learned to take your Z's where you could, back where I come from," Tanya told him.
"All right, folks, I'm sending breakfast out... now," said Billy, typing in the appropriate commands to the teleportation controls. "And while you eat, I've got some pretty big news to give you all."
"Good news?" Rocky asked.
"It might be. This is about that Other Thing that Kimberly and I keep talking about."
"Can we finally get in on the secret, then?" Tanya asked.
"Today's the day," Billy replied. "Now, you all remember that ship that crashed out here a few days ago, right?"
"I knew that was it," said Adam.
"So what was it?" Tommy asked.
"Well, it turned out to be a huge warship. Like a zord, but several times larger. It's called Blue Lion, and it's the last of five lion ships that apparently used to join together into a combination form, like the MegaZord. When it first got here, we teleported it to the hangar, and I was able to fix it to the point that it started fixing itself. After a few days of that, it's back up to full strength."
"Hey, man, that's great!" Tommy exclaimed. "So now that it's ready again, are you gonna send it back out there into the fight?"
Billy exchanged looks with Katherine. "Not exactly," he transmitted. "I will in fact be piloting it out there into the fight."
"Whoa!" Rocky cried out.
"I knew it," Kimberly added, sounding satisfied. "I knew all along you'd end up taking that thing up, Billy."
"There are a few things you guys should know, though," Billy went on. "Wherever these lions came from, they're apparently hated enemies of Mondo's new friends. When I go out there, they're probably going to turn most, if not all of the attack on me."
"You sure that's a good idea, then?" Tommy asked.
"Well, it'll be dangerous," Billy admitted, "but I've got a few ideas that should help."
"Hey, Bill?" Adam spoke up at this point.
"Yeah, Ad?" Billy grinned.
"It's gonna be good to see you out here, buddy."
"Likewise. In the meantime, though, Kat's going to be holding the fort."
"That's right," Katherine added, in a mock authoritarian tone. "So you'd all better just bring your problems to me, understand?"
"Yes, Ms. Hillard," Rocky replied in a small voice, making the others laugh.
"Billy, has there been any word from our detective friends?" Tanya asked.
"I'm afraid not," Billy sighed. "But let's all keep our fingers crossed for them."
"Knowing those two, they'll need all the help they can get," Kimberly sighed. "I can't believe they actually found us out."
"It had to happen eventually," Tommy noted. "I'm just glad they're cooperating. I wouldn't have wanted to be in your shoes yesterday, Billy."
"Let's just say that was one of my most harrowing adventures as a Ranger," Billy said in reply.
"How are we for time?" Tanya asked, as had become her custom.
"You've got about twenty minutes," Billy replied. "I'm going to be signing off early here, so I can go prep the ship. I'm pretty sure I was able to adjust its communications systems to be able to stay in contact with all of you, and I want to make sure all of that's working properly before I go up. But listen, guys, there's something I'm a little concerned about."
"What's up, man?" Rocky asked.
"Well, like I said, if I'm right, as soon as the lion's out of the protection of the hangar, they're going to send everything they've got against it. I figure that's either because they have some intense hatred of it, or because they're afraid of it. Or both, really. Whichever it is, though, I'm probably going to be under a lot of pressure. But the good news is that you guys should get plenty of clean shots at the bad guys, without worrying about any of them trying for the surface."
"Hey, man, you be careful up there," Tommy warned. "If it gets that rough, I want you to bail, okay?"
"Trust me," Billy replied, looking directly into Katherine's eyes, "I have every intention of not getting killed out there, same as you guys." She smiled at him, and he smiled back.
"Anyplace in particular you want us to be?" Rocky asked.
"Maybe, if my plan works," Billy answered. "Just do what you'd normally be doing for right now. Anyway, that should pretty much wrap up the Morning Zoo; I need to get the lion ready, and I imagine all of you have to get set up as well, so I'll sign off."
"Good luck, Billy," Kimberly said, quietly.
"That goes double for all of us," Adam agreed.
"Thanks, guys. Signing off." He pressed a button on the console, which beeped as communications were broken. He then took his helmet down from atop the console and turned reluctantly to Katherine. "I have to get going," he whispered.
"I know," she nodded.
"I've set up the teleportation controls to send the entire lion out into the desert, near where we found it. Once we're ready, I'll need you to press the command key to send us there."
She nodded again, but this time said nothing. After a while, he shook his head, looking nervous again. "I really DO have to go."
"Then I'll see you soon," she smiled.
He smiled hesitantly in reply then stood back and teleported himself out.
* * *
Once he was safely aboard the cockpit of the lion, Billy finally let out a long sigh. She'd kissed him! She'd actually kissed him! Why now, of all times, when he had to go out into a situation like this? Before, he'd felt himself ready to go out and do whatever he had to do to help his friends win this war, but he was quickly finding that all he wanted to do now was teleport right back to the Power Chamber and kiss her in reply. Many times.
He had a job to do, though. If he could do enough damage to the Empire's forces, maybe they could finish this thing sooner than hoped, and he and Katherine could have a nice long talk somewhere in private...
He stopped that line of thought. Now was not the time to get distracted, even about her. He put on his helmet, carefully sealing it with the uniform, then climbed the steps to the pilot's chair and took a seat. Pausing first to take a deep breath, he removed the key-insignia from the breast of his uniform and placed it in the oval-shaped depression from which he'd originally taken it.
The key shrank down to a circle as the golden rod extended, then was locked into place by motors. Lights came up across the main console, and Billy settled back, placing his feet on the pedals and taking hold of the control handles.
Once the cockpit powered up, the neural interface kicked in, and again, he was awed. The last time he'd done this, the lion had been near-dead, but this time it was quite alive and ready to go into battle. He found the various systems all standing by, waiting for his mental commands.
"Unreal," he whispered, momentarily lost in the vastness surrounding him. He realized that the helmet was helping somewhat: that it focused the neural interface, allowing him to access without being completely overwhelmed.
He brought up communications, and immediately felt contact established with the rest of the team, just as he'd hoped. "Blue Lion to Rangers. Come in."
"We hear you, buddy!" Tommy replied.
"You're coming in fine here as well, Billy," Katherine replied from the Power Chamber.
"Excellent. I'm going to run through some internal systems tests here. Katherine, could you let me know when we get down to a minute?"
He sank deeper into the interface, allowing his mind to put out "feelers" throughout the lion's structure. It was ready, no mistake. The many weapons were priming and prepping themselves, life support was fully functional... the mini-sleds in the hangar were even ready for battle, though Billy had no crew to fly them. He had to wonder what it had been like to have the lion full of people, all contributing to the effort, rather than the dangerous simplicity of pilot and machine.
One thing was certain, though: Blue Lion was hungry. Almost all of the stored resources had been exhausted during repairs and construction of new weapons, which meant, essentially, that no further repairs or replenishing would be possible until she had some sort of intake. The sky would no doubt be full of potential food sources for her, though. Best to feed the machine with other machines, he reasoned.
"Billy," Katherine's voice came suddenly, "we're at one minute."
"Thanks, Kat," he said, bringing himself back for a moment. "How's everyone else doing?"
"Everyone check in with us," Tommy relayed. "What's your status?"
"Zeo I, ready to go," Kimberly replied. "Just waiting to get someone in my sights."
"Zeo II, that goes for me, too," Tanya added.
"Zeo III, on the move, coming down out of the mountains now," Rocky reported.
"Zeo IV, trucking across the great white north," said Adam."
"And Zeo V, airborne over the good old U. S. of A.," Tommy finished. "Still no sign of incoming."
"Five seconds to enemy launch," Katherine informed them. "Four... three... two... one... zero. I'm checking the scanners... Confirmed. Enemy ships are launching from the orbital platforms, and should be in your range in a few moments."
Billy took a deep breath, and activated his own potent scanning systems. Using these, he was able to confirm Katherine's report. Ships were being launched from positions throughout the ring of orbiting cogwheels, streaking toward their target. "Katherine," he transmitted, "I need you to transport me out to the desert now."
"All right. Here goes."
There was a moment of disorientation, and then the scene around the lion changed, from the safety of the hangar to the brightness of midmorning in the California desert. He brought up a front-view on the main screen, but he didn't really need it: he felt as though he could see and feel everything the lion itself could, including the warmth of the sunlight on its huge metal frame.
He maneuvered the four controls, and the lion rose to its feet, ready to move. Billy felt his pulse quicken as he got feel for the controls. It was more responsive than any of his previous zords had been! The feeling of power at his fingertips was exhilarating, and he found himself smiling widely, anticipating the battle to come.
As predicted, his scanners registered a drastic course change on the part of the invading ships. They were all coming for him. "I show enemy ships changing course to engage with me," he called. "Can you confirm, base?"
"Confirmed," Katherine reported. "You'd better get moving."
"Right," Billy nodded. "Let's see what this thing can do..." He urged the lion into a walk, then a trot, and then a run, pumping its legs fluidly, pounding its enormous metal feet on the barren terrain. And he was running right along with it, feeling the wind in his face as he went. He had missed this more than he would ever have admitted to the other Rangers.
From there, though, there was nowhere to go but up. He pulled back steadily on both handles, pushed on both pedals, and with a press of g-forces and a sense of vertigo, Blue Lion leaped, extended all four legs, and left the ground, soaring skyward in a way no nine hundred ton machine had the right to. Powerful rockets ignited, and he was aloft. He let out a wild whoop of excitement as he felt himself leaving the Earth behind, spiralling into the morning sky. "We are AIRborne!" he called.
"Keep your eyes on the incoming, Billy," Katherine warned. "They're changing course to intercept."
"Kick butt, Billy!" Rocky whooped.
"You can do it, man!" cried Adam. "Knock a few down for us!"
"I'm moving in to intercept," Billy reported, changing course to do just that. He brought up a tactical map on his screen and in his head. Here again, the enemy ships showed up as red dots, all moving in toward his location. Rather than head straight for the nearest enemies, though, he adjusted his heading to get all the way out of the atmosphere. Better to engage in the emptiness of space, to reduce the risk of any wreckage surviving long enough to hit the surface.
Suddenly, he became aware of a green blip off his "shoulder." He checked it out with scanners, and to his surprise, he saw that it was the Phoenix.
"Tommy, what are you doing?" he shouted. "The entire fleet's going to be here in a second!"
"Fine by me," Tommy replied, and Billy could hear him grinning. "This time I get to be YOUR wingman. Zeo Zord V, go to space-travel configuration!"
"Ten seconds to engage!" Katherine warned them. "Be careful, you two."
"Let's do it!" Billy cried. "Engaging megathrusters, and all weapons are go!"
He dove into the first formation of enemy ships with wild abandon, tearing into them with lasers from over a dozen turrets. Tommy spun the Phoenix in a tight arc to circle the lion, strafing the enemy as he did, then dodging the wreckage with a few deft maneuvers. Billy then swerved onto a new course to meet more of the enemy fighters, and he and Tommy made short work of these as well. They got a few shots off at the lion, but nothing that did any substantial damage.
"That's a pretty impressive ship you've got there, Billy!" Tommy noted.
"Yeah, I'm beginning to notice," Billy replied, distantly. "How are you holding up?"
"Just fine. They haven't taken a shot at me yet. I think you were right about them turning all their attention on you. Don't worry, I'll keep as many off you as I can."
"Billy, Tommy, they're unloading more ships at you!" Katherine called in, sounding very worried. "More than they did the other day, even. The scanners show hundreds of ships activated, and they're all closing in on you!"
"Well, then, we'll just have to do something about that," Tommy said in reply.
Billy checked his tactical map, and saw that they were indeed being surrounded. "Tommy, I've got a few ideas. I'm willing to bet these guys can't outrun either one of us, but that's not to say they won't try. I'm going to get as many as I can to follow me. If they don't pay any attention to you, feel free to pick off as many as you want. Adam, Rocky, I want you guys to get as close to the eastern edge of South America as you can, okay?"
"We're on our way!" Rocky responded.
"Billy, it'd take me a pretty long time to navigate Central America," Adam reminded him. "How about I go to the tip of Florida instead?"
"Good idea," Billy agreed. "Ready to pick up some speed, Tommy?"
"I'm right on your tail!" Tommy confirmed. Billy again kicked in the megathrusters, and swung the lion to orbit the Earth perpendicular to Mondo's ring of orbiting platforms. As expected, all of the ships changed course to follow, and Billy kept adjusting his own course to keep them behind him. He then lowered his speed, letting them start to catch up, then kept pace, leading a string of literally hundreds of ships in a pied-piper trail. Tommy, still being completely ignored by the enemy, wove in and out of the line of pursuers and started methodically picking them off.
"I'm in position!" Adam reported from the surface. "Rocko, you ready?"
"Yeah, I found my favorite cliffs, even!" Rocky laughed. "Holding position and switching all power to weapons!"
"Great!" Billy replied. "Okay, here's the plan. I'm leading these guys in for a flyby. We're going to pass over your position first, Adam and Rocky, then I'll lead them right through the area where the I and II zord's firing ranges cross. Fire at will, you guys: just don't hit me and Tommy."
"It'll be just like a shooting gallery," Tanya laughed. "Bring 'em on!"
"Let's do it!" Tommy shouted.
Still leading the way, Billy rocketed the Blue Lion on a new course, bringing his pursuers right into the sights of the Bull and Sphinx, passing above the Caribbean at an altitude of about a hundred fifty miles. This would be a tricky range for the two zords, but well within their ability. Scanning behind him, he saw that Tommy was still weaving in and out of traffic, shooting down fighter after fighter while they basically ignored him.
"Adam, Rocky, they'll be in your firing range in ten seconds!" Kat transmitted from the base.
"Sounds like my cue to get out of the crossfire!" Tommy answered, as the Phoenix swerved out of the pursuit line. "I'll catch up with you after the flybys, Billy!"
Leaving the course to Blue Lion for the moment, Billy turned the majority of his attention to his own weapons. He didn't have a great number that could fire backwards, but he had one good one, and that was enough. "Activating tail-gun," he said, bringing the lion's tail under his control and switching it to laser cannon mode.
"In range in two... one... In range!" Kat cried.
Billy brought the view from the tail-gun to his main viewer, and started unloading blast after blast of blue energy at the onrushing ships. From the surface, blue and green beams came on in deadly crossfire. Between the three of them, they brought down over a hundred ships in the time it took Blue Lion to fly across the Caribbean and out over the Atlantic Ocean.
"Nice shooting, you guys!" Tommy cheered them on.
"Moving into position for flyby number two!" Billy reported. "Kimberly, Tanya, are you ready?"
"Ready!" Tanya replied.
"Let's rock their worlds!" Kimberly growled. Blue Lion went for even greater altitude, then, into the optimal range for the gun-zords. More pursuit ships were coming in and falling into line to replace their fallen comrades, so Billy let them gather for a few moments before moving them into position, passing over the Indian Ocean.
"Five seconds to intercept!" Katherine called in. "Four... three... two... one... go!"
Again, Billy took control of the tail-gun and started firing, but far more effective than this was the devastating barrage of pink and yellow energy which erupted from the surface and shredded the line of attackers. Kimberly and Tanya didn't even appear to be aiming. It was like shooting fish in a barrel: they simply fired at will, and brought down ships by the dozens every second. By the time Billy finished his pass and started climbing further from the surface, they'd taken out another two hundred or more.
As he sped further from the Earth, Billy noticed that the ships were no longer trying to follow him directly. "Well, I'll be," he said. "It looks like they can learn from their mistakes after all."
"We'll have to try a different tactic, then," Tommy answered.
"Don't mind if I do," Billy nodded, willing even greater speed from the lion's engines. "Keep your eyes peeled for stray fighters, you guys. I'm going to try to hit a few of them at the source!"
That said, he set course for the nearest orbiting platform. He mentally scanned through the weapon options at his disposal, and zeroed in on "Lion Blade." This one looked like fun.
He activated the weapon, and a sharp two-headed blade materialized between the lion's jaws, the titanium-steel edges extending fifty or more feet to either side of the lion's head. "Hey, I think I like this one," he transmitted. "Kind of like the old power-lance, but a lot bigger!"
"What're you gonna do with it?" Tommy asked.
"Oh, something like... this!"
He swooped down on one of the craft-carrier platforms, shrugging off a few hits from cog-driven lasers as he went, and pulled up just in time to rip through an entire line of inactive quadrafighters with the Lion Blade, leaving explosion after explosion in his wake. As he pulled up, he fired missiles from the claws of the lion, which sent the entire platform up in a blazing fireball. "One down, about a hundred more to go!" he called.
"Now that's what I call firepower!" said Tommy, admiringly. Checking his tactical map, Billy was startled to see that the Phoenix had followed him all the way up to Mondo's ring of platforms, and was still strafing fighter after fighter. "Tommy, be careful! They're going to be all over the place up here!"
"It looks like they still don't know I'm here," Tommy assured him. "I'll give you cover fire. Let's take out a few more of those bases!"
"Sounds good to me!"
With the speedy and more maneuverable Phoenix there to provide the aforementioned cover fire, Billy went right after the next carrier base. He dematerialized the Lion Blade this time, though, and opened the lion's mouth to spit out a few missiles, all of which found their mark, and this second platform went nova as well, taking with it the scores of fighters still inactive on its surface.
"Billy, Tommy, you've got more incoming than I can count!" Katherine warned them. "The monitor screen is packed solid with red around you!"
Checking his own sensors, Billy realized that she was right. In the time it had taken to blow up the two platforms, they had been set upon by innumerable fighters. "Tommy, I know you're team leader and all, but the moment one of these things fires at you, you'd better bolt," Billy told him. "Your power's too low to be taking a lot of hits."
"They haven't even nicked me yet, but I'll keep that in mind."
"Okay, then. What do you say we pay Mondo a visit? I'd love to see if that shield around his citadel can hold up to what we've got!"
"I'm with you, man!"
Okay, Blue, Billy thought. You wanted revenge. Let's get you some.
Deactivating weapons and turning all attention to maneuvering, Billy wove in and out of the ring of platforms, skimming past each one close enough that many of the pursuing fighters did not dare fire, and those that did damaged their own forces more than Blue Lion. After several long minutes of this, the main orbiting fortress came into range on Billy's tactical scan. The Phoenix was still with him, and was still taking out ship after ship before they could fire upon the lion. Billy was amazed despite himself at Tommy's skill. While Billy had always dreamed of flying a zord, Tommy seemed born for the job.
"Here we go!" Billy transmitted, kicking in thrusters and making a beeline for the citadel. As previous scans had indicated, it was completely surrounded by an energy shield. Billy launched a barrage of missiles at it, hoping that they would break though, but they merely impacted on the surface and exploded.
Katherine then confirmed Billy's fears from the surface. "The missiles didn't even scratch it! Try something else!"
"Preparing water-blast!" Billy replied. Even as he spoke, the internal hangar sealed off, and the lion's "throat" went from vehicle- track to a smooth tube, ready to expel the contents of the water tanks.
He skirted the edge of the shield. Looking down, he could see the towers of Mondo's mechanized castle. "Here's one from Earth with love, King Mondo!" Billy shouted, then unleashed the water-blast.
To his surprise, the water passed right through the shield, and rained down on the citadel. Sparks flew as the flood caused massive shorts in the structure of the base, and explosions rocked its surface. But still, the shield held, and there was no appreciable damage. "Kat, did that have any effect on the other platforms?" he called in.
"I don't think so," she replied. "The shield's still at full strength, so I can't tell how much you damaged the inside, either."
"Well, I'll just have to make another...." Without warning, a blast of greenish energy launched from the top tower of Mondo's castle and slammed into Blue Lion, spinning them off course, out of control. Billy let out a scream of pain that was accompanied by a roar from the lion, sharing its rage through the interface. Warning lights flashed all across the bridge, and Billy felt, rather than saw, dozens of electrical explosions throughout the lion's interior.
"Billy, are you okay?!" Tommy shouted.
"Billy, answer me!" Katherine cried.
He coughed a few times, shaking himself down and taking stock. "Helm controls are down!" he reported. "Auto-repairs online. I should have control back in a few seconds."
As he finished saying this, the helm indeed came online, but to Billy's shock, the thrusters ignited without his command, and started speeding him away from the battle, and away from the Earth, at top speed.
"Where are you going?!" Katherine asked.
"It's not me! The thrusters kicked in on their own!" He tried to change course, but found himself locked out. His dread increased as he realized that the navigation systems were pointing the lion out into deep space, and preparing the megathrusters for a full burst. "The automatic pilot must have come on! I've got to get manual control back!"
"TOMMY!" Katherine suddenly shouted. "The fighters are breaking off pursuit of Billy! Get out of there, quickly!!"
The next sound was a shout of surprised outrage from Tommy, accompanied by a small explosion. "I'm hit! Billy, I've got to fall back!"
"Get out of there, Tommy! I'll be back as soon as I get control!" A look at the sensors showed that Tommy was making a hasty retreat, well ahead of any pursuing fighters. Billy hoped the Phoenix wasn't damaged too badly: it wouldn't be able to repair itself for much longer.
The control handles and pedals did nothing to change the course, and try as he might, he couldn't access Navigation from the pilot's chair: the interface still had him locked out for some reason. "I'm going to try to gain control from the navigator's chair!" he reported, then unbuckled his restraints and started to get up out of the pilot's seat.
But he couldn't get up. As he tried to stand, a wave of agony crashed down upon his mind, literally slamming him back down in the chair.
Even through the pain, though, he could have sworn he heard the lion roar, and over this, a single shouted word.
He couldn't tell if the last shout had come from Katherine, or from his own mind, as he was quickly losing coherent thought. "Katherine...." he gasped. "Kat, I'm... I'm sorry."
That was the last he was able to say before the thrusters kicked in full-force, and the sky became streaked with stars. This was lost to Billy, however, who chose that moment to finally lose consciousness.
Chapter Seven: Pressing On
Jason Scott Lee adjusted the strap of his travel-bag for the umpteenth
time as the line slowly inched forward. He felt restless from all the waiting.
First the wait to organize this trip to the United Nations, then the wait
to arrange an ocean liner that would brave the Atlantic during an alien
invasion, and now the seemingly interminable wait to board the ship.
More than anything, he wanted action. This waiting game just wasn't his style. Had it really been that long since Jason had been the Red Ranger, and the leader of the modern-day Power Rangers? It seemed like an eternity now, especially since the invasion had begun and Jason and his fellow former Rangers had found themselves stuck in Europe with no means to contact their Ranger friends.
Now there was nothing left but to strive for peace the only way they could, and that meant this protest. No zords, no powers, just three faceless student delegates among hundreds travelling across an ocean to stage a protest that would probably mean nothing.
As though reading his thoughts, Zack Taylor let out a long sigh from his place in line beside Jason. "Man, I just hope we make it across before they launch the nukes," he said, quietly. "Otherwise we're gonna be taking a long sail for nothing."
"I just wish we could get a plane," Jason mused. "I'll bet if a plane flew low enough, it'd be safe from the aliens."
Trini Kwan looked back over her shoulder from her own place in line, just ahead of the two boys. "You've been saying that for days, Jason," she half-smiled.
"Yeah, well I've been saying it 'cause it's probably true. Everyone's panicking, trying to leave the governments and the Power Rangers to work everything out."
Zack let out a snort of laughter. "Well, you KNOW which of those two I'll put MY money on."
"I just wish someone else would DO something," Jason sighed.
"That," Trini reminded him, "is exactly what we're here for, remember?"
He nodded. "I know, I know. You know me, though."
"Man of action," Zack teased. "Yeah, I know what you mean." After a few minutes more, they finally arrived at the front of the line, where their passports, student ID cards and bags were checked before they were allowed to go up the gangplank and onto the deck of the ship. Once aboard, Jason drifted over to the railing and looked out over the Mediterranean. It was a beautiful night on the Riviera: too bad they didn't have time to stick around and enjoy it.
Trini and Zack drifted up to either side of him. "Come on, man," Zack suggested, giving Jason a light cuff on the shoulder. "Let's go below and find our cabin. We'll have plenty of time to hang over the rail later."
"Sure. Say, guys...?"
"What is it?" Trini asked, looking up at him with curious eyes.
Jason paused. He had been about to ask "Are we really doing any good for the world at all here?" That thought had summed up his frustrations this past week, as all the peace talks in the world had been useless against an alien invasion. But as he studied Trini's eyes, he realized that she, at least, still believed in the cause. There was no sense in being a downer for the entire trip. "Nah, it's nothing."
As they headed across the crowded deck, though, Jason heard the sounds of an argument coming from somewhere nearby. "But m'sieu, this voyage is for delegates only!"
"I KNOW that! And I need to FIND some of those delegates! This is official business, okay?!"
Jason froze at the sound of the second voice, and looked from Zack to Trini. From their expressions, they'd recognized it too. "Guys, was that..?" he asked.
"It couldn't be!" said Zack, shaking his head.
"Let's check it out," Jason suggested, heading back to the near railing and looking down at the base of the gangplank.
There, holding up the line as he argued with the ship's personnel, was the all too familiar rotund shape of Farkus Bulkmeier. "No way!" Zack gasped.
"What in the world is he doing here?" Trini asked, astonished.
"Let's find out," Jason nodded. He then cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted down from the railing. "HEY, BULK!!"
Bulk looked up at them, and his round face lit up. "GUYS!" he shouted back, stepping away from the line (which immediately resumed its slow progress). "Am I ever glad to see you!"
"Bulk, what are you doing here?" Trini called down to him.
"Look, you guys, this is probably going to sound weird, but Billy Mitchell sent me! He and the... others really need your help!"
Jason again looked from Trini to Zack, seeing his own surprise mirrored on their faces. Somehow, Bulk knew about them.
"What if he's pulling our leg?" Zack asked, but he didn't sound like he believed it.
"Man, would he BE here if he wasn't telling the truth?" Jason pointed out.
"We'd better go," Trini suggested.
"What about the protest?" Zack asked.
"I think the protest will do just fine without us," Jason replied. He then raised his voice to shout over the railing again. "Hang on, Bulk! We'll meet you down there!"
If Billy had sent Bulk for the three of them, then obviously this had something to do with the Power Rangers, and Jason would rather deal with that than a protest any day of any week.
* * *
Once the three were off the ship, they joined Bulk in a seaside cafe, where he told them his story, starting with everything Billy had said, and continuing with his own arrival at the University, and how he'd managed to catch a ride to Marseille with another delegate thanks to the help of Muriel.
During the drive down, Bulk had wondered how he would explain all of this to the three, and more importantly, how much they'd believe him. But to his relief, they seemed to take his every word seriously. Jason, in particular, seemed very intrigued by the situation.
"So they need us to take over for a while so they can rest," Jason nodded. "That sounds like a good plan."
"You look like you could use a little rest yourself, Bulker," Zack pointed out. "When's the last time you got some sleep?"
Bulk took a long drink of his black coffee before he replied. "I kinda lost track. It was about nine at night when I left the base, but then when I got here it was morning again, so it's been a really long day."
"Teleport lag," Zack grinned. "Kind of like jet lag, just faster."
"I had no idea how much work the Rangers were putting in," Trini added, shaking her head slowly from side to side. "We've been watching the news religiously, but the details were always sparse."
"Hey, man, I wouldn't mind the chance to get back in a zord for a while," Zack agreed. "How about you, Jase?"
"Do you need to ask?" Jason snorted, looking across the table and raising his eyebrows at Zack.
"Well, then, looks like we're mostly all set," Bulk nodded, wondering how he was going to tell them the one catch to this plan.
To Bulk's surprise, Zack looked him right in the eye, and gave him a nod of grudging yet genuine respect. "Bulk, my man, you did a good job tracking us down," he said, patting Bulk's shoulder.
"Oh, sure," Bulk replied, determined not to let his surprise show. "I mean, we all do our part to help save the world. You guys know how that is."
"So how do we get back to Billy?" Jason asked.
Bulk winced. "Well, that's what I meant by 'mostly' all set."
"I beg your pardon?" Trini frowned.
"Y'see, Billy gave me this communicator," he explained, rolling up his sleeve to show them the bracelet. "He said to call in as soon as I had news. I've tried to call in a few times, but there's been no answer. I think something might have happened back at the base."
"May I see it?" Trini asked, indicating the communicator.
"Sure," he nodded, unfastening it and passing it across the table to her.
Trini studied it for a while, then tried pressing a couple of buttons. "Trini to Command Center," she said into it. "Come in, Command Center."
There was no reply except the same low static that Bulk had previously encountered. "The same thing happened when I tried before," he explained.
"Zordon, come in," Trini tried again. "Zordon? Alpha? This is Trini. Do you read?"
Bulk furrowed his brow at her. "Who's Zordon?"
All three turned looks of surprise on him. "You were at the Command Center, and you didn't see Zordon?" Jason asked.
"No, I didn't. Or anyone named Alpha, either. The only ones I saw there were Billy and Katherine."
"Katherine?" Zack asked, looking over at Jason.
"The new Pink Ranger," Jason explained. "Remember? Tommy told us about her in one of his letters."
"I hope nothing's happened to Zordon and Alpha," Trini whispered.
"Well, just because I didn't see them doesn't mean they weren't there," Bulk rattled on. "I mean, Skull and I weren't there for very long. It looked like Billy was pretty much in charge of the whole operation, though."
"Trust me," Zack frowned, "if Zordon was there, you would've seen him."
Trini took a look around the cafe, then tried another combination of buttons. The unit bleeped, but nothing happened. "It won't teleport on its own either," she frowned. "It seems really low on power for some reason, and it can't make a connection with the Command Center."
"So we can't teleport back?" Jason asked. "We can't even call in?"
"Not with this," Trini grimaced. "It's pretty much useless."
"Well, it was... like that as soon as I arrived at the school," Bulk explained, lamely.
"I don't think it was anything you did, Bulk," Trini assured him. "Tell me, when you were at the Command Center with Billy, was there any kind of power shortage going on?"
Bulk thought about this. He didn't remember Billy actually saying so, but it certainly seemed possible. "Yeah, I think there might have been."
"Maybe that all ties in with Zordon and Alpha not being there," Jason suggested.
"Man," Zack sighed, frustrated. "Maybe we should have stayed on the boat. At least that way we'd be on our way to America. Now we're just stuck here again."
"Sorry," Bulk muttered, looking down at his coffee.
Trini surprised him by reaching across the table and laying one hand over his. "No, it's best that we stayed," she said to Zack. "All of my tools are at the University. I might be able to jury-rig some kind of power source to amplify our signal enough to contact Billy. If we were on the ship, I wouldn't have the means to do that."
"Good point," Zack nodded. "Guess we're headin' back to school, then."
"Well, we won't be able to find any trains back tonight," Jason sighed. "Let's find a place to crash, and we'll catch the first train back in the morning."
This was the best idea Bulk had heard all day.
* * *
Billy was running, and the stars streaked past beneath his paws. Free from the bounds of a world's gravity, free from the constraints of a battle, he was running at speeds unchecked and until now unreachable. And for a long time, there was only the running.
"I can't run away!" his mind cried out. "I have to go back!"
To go back now would be foolish, came a woman's voice. It sounded familiar, but strange.
"I have to! I have to get back to the battle!"
A battle which would be lost. Their forces were too strong.
"But that's all the more reason to go back! My friends need me!"
As do I, Maker.
Only then did Billy realize that the running paws were not his. They belonged to the Blue Lion. And yet she was close enough to his mind that he felt her every move through the void of space, and her voice in his thoughts.
"Alth," his thoughts whispered. "Your name is Alth."
That is the name I was given, Maker. I am Alth, the Blue Lion. First and last of my kind.
"I can't believe this... I knew I felt a presence, but I never thought..." He paused, unable at first to put words to the idea. "You're sentient?" he asked, finally.
Only as a reflection of you, Maker.
Now, finally, he recognized the voice. Most of it was Katherine's softly accented tone, but there were hints of Kimberly's smile, Trini's seriousness, Aisha's warmth and Tanya's brashness all mixed in with it. The voice was that of his female friends, with Katherine's foremost.
New images came to him, then. He was now a tiny figure on the back of a running lioness, holding onto her blue fur for dear life as they plunged headlong through space. "Where are you taking me?"
You are needed, Maker.
"Why do you keep calling me that? I'm not your maker. All I did was help you to repair yourself."
True, you are not Alfor, the Father-Creator, but you are a Maker, as he was. Your work revealed this to me. Only a Maker could have pulled me back from death. And only a Maker may hear my voice.
"You sound like Katherine," he answered, weakly.
This, too, is only a reflection of you, Maker.
He closed his eyes against the swirling stars. "What do you want from me?"
Only for you to do for my kin what you did for me. You must give them life again, Maker. My mate, my family and my world were slain by the drones of the witch Haggar, leaving me to avenge them. But I am weak alone. And now that I have found you, Maker, you must help us.
"But my friends..."
Maker, I helped you to save the life of your mate. I beg you, now, to save the life of mine.
"Kat's not my...." he started to say, but then he broke off mid-thought. "It was you? You were the one showing me what to do?"
He hid his face in the lion's thick fur. Put that way, how could he refuse her pleas? And yet, there was still more to consider. "Alth, my friends are exhausted. They won't be able to hold off the Machine Empire forever."
No, they will not, particularly with the magic of Haggar and the force of her armies added to their might. But you and I alone could not sway the battle as you would wish to. We would be overwhelmed, and we would be slain, and then no Maker would ever return to heal my mate and kin.
"But I can't leave them there to die! You can't ask me to choose between helping you and helping my friends!"
Then, Maker, perhaps we may endeavor to do both.
Billy was going to ask what this meant, but his thoughts were soon overwhelmed by Alth's memories, which took his senses so fully that he all but lived the images as they were played out before him.
* * *
The Father-Creator, King Alfor of planet Arus, first built Alth as a guardian of his world. He gave her claws and fangs to destroy the enemies of Arus, a crew to care for her and maintain her functions, and piloted her himself in times of war. And for a long time, this was enough, and Arus knew great peace.
In time, though, Alth alone was not enough to protect the world, and Alfor, in his wisdom, sought to build another great lion. But rather than simply make the next in Alth's image, he decided that he would give her a counterpart. And so he created Toth, the Yellow Lion, her equal in size and strength. And then, knowing that he could not pilot both of them himself, Alfor shared with them his own knowledge, so that they would be able to carry on with another pilot of his choosing. To pilot the Blue Lion or the Yellow Lion was the highest honor Alfor could bestow upon one of his people, and the pilots were hand-picked and trained rigorously for the task.
Another time of peace followed, but even the strength of the counterpart lions would be tested by time and by force. Alfor, then, was nearing the end of his mortal life, and he wished to leave his people a legacy of freedom: a legacy of strength alone and strength united, which would stand watch over his kingdom for the centuries to follow.
And so Alfor continued to build. To lifemates Alth and Toth he gave two children, and they were called Muth, the Red Lion, and Rith, the Green Lion. And then, to watch over the four, he created Seth, the Black Lion, who would take Alfor's place in death as the unifier of the lions.
For with the creation of the five mighty lions, he had also given them the gift of unity. As five, they were powerful, and they had the strength of numbers. But together, they were something more. In structure, Blue and Yellow Lions joined to form two legs, Red and Green Lions joined to form two arms, and Black Lion was the body and head with which the others merged. And in spirit, they were more: Blue Lion was their eyes and nose, Yellow Lion was their ears and voice, Red and Green Lions were their hands and fists, and Black Lion was their heart and mind. Together they were the guardian of freedom, of life, and of planet Arus. Together, no force could stand against them. Together they were Voltron, Defender of the Universe. And together, they defended Arus for generations, even after Alfor's death, and after his final gift to his beloved creations.
But peace bred contentedness, and in time, there was seen no honor in piloting one of the great lions, nor was there seen the need for them to maintain trained crews. In the time of greatest peace, the lions were abandoned entirely, left in their lairs as reminders of the warlike life that was surely behind the people of Arus forever.
And this time of peace became the darkest hour of planet Arus, as their pastoral, simple world was invaded by the forces of Planet Doom and the witch Haggar. They swarmed over the peaceful Arus in devastating force, and there were none left who remembered the secrets of the lions.
None but the lions themselves, who rose to the danger by the strength of their own will. They rose to fight, and to defend this world which had all but forgotten them. They joined together as Voltron, and lay waste to the forces of Doom.
And perhaps they would have won, but for the witch Haggar and her evil magic. She lashed out at Voltron with all of her sorcerous might in an effort to destroy them once and for all. And she in turn would have been victorious, but for the strength of Alfor himself, who even in death defended his creations.
Nevertheless, the magic took its toll, and forced the five lions apart. They had their lives, but they could no longer form Voltron on their own. With no strong-willed pilots to guide them, their strength of unity was destroyed.
The lions fought bravely as five, then. The battle raged for days, but they were five against thousands, and the battle drained their strength.
Toth was the first of the five to fall, and as his life-spark flickered and died, Alth flung herself at the enemy with newfound strength. Her strength was met with innumerable foes, however, and they brought her down. She did not die, though: an oversight on the part of her attackers. Instead, she drifted, aware of all that happened around her through her powerful senses, and yet powerless to stop it. She watched as the forces of Doom killed her children, as they had killed her mate, and then finally, though he fought with the strength of Alfor himself, even Seth, the Black Lion, fell before their weapons.
And then Alth watched, helpless and furious, as her beloved planet Arus was pillaged and gutted by the invading forces. Those who were not murdered outright were taken as slaves, or as food for the witch's horrible Robeasts. Fertile fields were burned, cities were levelled, and the oceans were fouled with poison and waste.
Beneath her, Arus died, and Alth could hear her final cries, smothered into silence by the forces of Doom. And Alth could do nothing.
Nothing save avenge her.
When their dreadful task was done, and they had taken all the life that they could from the plundered Arus, the forces of Doom set off for their next conquest, leaving the corpses of the Voltron lions adrift in orbit around the world they had failed to protect. But ever so slowly, the spark of life left within Alth began to grow, and she slowly and painstakingly began to heal. Time lost all meaning, as days stretched into weeks and into years. When at last she could move again, she fed herself from the drifting wreckage of the Doom ships, and this made her stronger. And when she was strong enough, she followed in the wake of destruction, to carry out her revenge.
But upon finding the forces of Doom now joined with another empire of evil, poised to lay waste to another blue and beautiful world, she found herself filled with rage. Still it went on, and still it would continue, unless she could finish it. This world -- which even seemed to have defenders of its own! -- would not die as Arus had.
But she had not been strong enough, and again, she fell to their weapons. Her dying thought was that she had to reach the defenders of this world, and warn them of the nature of the evil they were fighting, but she did not even survive long enough to deliver her message. Her failure was complete.
And yet it was not, as she found herself alive again. By some unfathomable chance, she had drawn the attention of a Maker, who healed her most critical wounds and gave her the strength in turn to heal herself. And miracle of miracles, this Maker was a worthy successor of the pilots of old, and his mind was filled with echoes of wars much like those Alth herself had survived. To have come so far, and to have been met with one such as this, Alth knew that the time had come to defeat the forces of Doom once and for all.
And, the Maker willing, she would defeat them alongside her family.
* * *
Billy slowly opened his eyes, and found himself back in the pilot's chair. Stars continued to streak past on the main viewer, so he gingerly reached forward to shut it off. He didn't really want to see that right now.
He closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair, and again, he heard the mixed voice of Alth in his own thoughts.
Do you see now, Maker? Bring back my kin as you did me, and together, we will help you and your Power Rangers save your Earth.
Wordlessly, Billy nodded, unable to find his voice or his thoughts sufficiently to reply.
* * *
After another several hours of walking across the plains with Kijana, night fell, and Skull was grateful for the chance to crash out for a while, even in the middle of the wild.
He felt pretty safe with Kijana around: even if Kijana's grasp of English was about as good as Skull's comprehension of Swahili, they seemed to be communicating better as they spent more time on the road. If Skull had a question about something he saw, he'd point it out to Kijana and shrug his shoulders in confusion, and Kijana would tell him what the thing was, building Skull's Swahili vocabulary one word at a time. When Kijana needed to warn Skull of some potential danger, he'd simply hold one hand back to restrain his travel partner and say "Skull, ssh!"
That night under the Serengeti sky was both frightening and invigorating for Skull: he'd never seen so many stars, nor so many shooting stars in all his life. And every so often, they'd see a beam of yellow light cut through the night sky high above them, making Skull cheer on the good guys. The first time they saw it, Skull pointed to the sky and said "See, Kijana? That's Tanya doing that!" Kijana didn't seem to get it at first, but Skull kept trying to explain it, and soon the big man grinned with comprehension and cheered along with Skull the next time a laser shot passed overhead.
Just before dawn, Kijana woke Skull from a surprisingly peaceful sleep and indicated that it was time to keep going.
They walked the majority of the day. Finally, as Kijana crested the next rise, he waved Skull to join him with one hand, while pointing into the distance with the other. When Skull made it to the crest, he looked down to see an honest-to-Pete city right here in the middle of nowhere.
Not only that, but a big city: Skull had the impression he was only seeing its edge.
"Nairobi," Kijana told him, but Skull could have guessed this by now. He high-fived Kijana (which required first showing him how to do so), and they set off into the city. Kijana took a moment to remove a shirt, a pair of loose pants, and shoes from his own small travel pack, and put them on before they continued.
Ishala's brother, as it turned out, was the owner of a garage on the near outskirts of town. Skull was somewhat surprised to have his trek across the wilds of Africa end in an auto repair shop, but by now, he was getting used to things not being quite like he remembered from National Geographic. Kijana was warmly greeted (in Swahili) by yet another extended family unit, and when he introduced Skull to them (in Swahili), they all heartily shook hands with him, or hugged him, or simply called out hellos (in Swahili). Skull just smiled his most endearing smile, returned gestures as precisely as he could, and nodded a lot as Kijana went on at length, probably talking about their trip (in Swahili).
Finally, though, as most of the family dragged Kijana off to talk more (in Swahili), probably about how they hadn't seen him in so long and so on, an elderly man took Skull aside. He was a tall, spindly guy wearing wire-rimmed glasses, and he had the same air of ease about him as Ishala. "My name is Kipchoge," he said to Skull. "I am Ishala's brother, and this is my home and business."
"Oh, then you're just the guy I wanted to talk to!" Skull smiled, sighing with relief that the man spoke English. "Sorry I didn't have more to say back there, but I've only had a day to learn the language."
"Kijana told me some of why you are here, but perhaps you could tell me more?"
"Sure," Skull nodded, as Kipchoge led him out of the home proper and back out into the garage end of the property. Looking around, Skull thought for sure he'd come to Old Car Heaven. "It's... kind'a hard to explain, but I was sent here to find Aisha. It's pretty important."
"Yes, this is what Kijana said. Aisha and others of my family arrived and left again only yesterday."
Skull grimaced. "Bummer. I was hoping we'd get here before they left. Y'see, it's really important I catch up with Aisha as soon as I can."
"Why is that?" Kipchoge asked, simply.
Put on that footing, Skull was momentarily robbed of a reply. To be honest, he wasn't sure why it was still an emergency to find her as soon as possible, considering that he'd heard nothing from Billy, and thus had no way back. But then again, he'd come this far, and figured it would be best to stick to his guns. But how to express this to Kipchoge, who might or might not know about Aisha's past with the Power Rangers? "Well... it's kind of hard to..."
Recognizing his discomfort, Kipchoge smiled a gap-toothed smile and nodded. "Is it for the same reason that Aisha had to get to the mountains in such a hurry?"
"Exactly!" Skull nodded. "Yeah, it has a lot to do with that."
"Then that is all I need to know," Kipchoge replied, spreading his arms wide in a gesture not unlike a shrug. "We all know that Aisha has secrets, but they are good secrets, and we respect them. I will help you if I can. They have my best truck, but there may be another for you to use."
Skull was bewildered. "You mean that's it? You're just going to let me use one of your cars after having just met me?"
"Ishala would not have sent you to me if I could not trust you. Besides, Kijana speaks well of you. Now, would you like to leave tonight, or won't you stay and have dinner with my family first?"
For a moment, Skull was sorely tempted by the offer for dinner, as the travel-"food" he and Kijana had shared on the trip over hadn't been much. But the longer they waited, the further ahead Aisha would get. "No offense, Kipchoge, but the sooner I find Aisha, the better."
"Very well," Kipchoge smiled. To Skull's relief, he didn't seem insulted by having his hospitality declined. "Then let us find something for you to drive, and I will tell you the route they have taken."
They toured the seemingly endless sea of old broken-down heaps and restored beauties, as Kipchoge gave him the same road instructions he'd given Aisha just the day before. Skull took mental notes as best he could (he'd always been pretty good at these kinds of directions) while studying the cars as he went. Finally, he came to a stop, eyes wide.
"Do you like that one?" Kipchoge asked.
Wedged between an ancient Ford pickup and a jeep with three flat tires was a very familiar motorcycle-sidecar set. Skull cautiously stepped closer to check it out more closely, and as he did, he realized that it was almost exactly like the one he and Bulk tooled around in back home.
Upon still closer inspection, he realized that it was in fact the exact make and model as the bike back home. A little slice of Angel Grove in the middle of Africa.
Skull wasn't normally the type to believe in omens, but this seemed like a good one to him. "Does it run?"
"It runs well," Kipchoge told him. "I thought you would need a truck, but this may be better for when there are no roads. Have you driven one?"
"Yeah, a little," Skull whispered, kneeling down to look at the engine. He was still in partial shock at his good fortune. "Is it fast?"
"Fast enough," Kipchoge told him with a lopsided grin. "I will have my grandsons look it over one last time. Come, though. We must get you some things first. You have a long journey to come."
An hour later, Skull was packed up with as many travel needs as he could fit into his pack, had a blue full-face helmet that was very nearly the correct size, and had Kipchoge's directions written down for further perusal. In the time it took for him to get all of this together, the bike had been hastily gone over, washed, and filled up with gas, and was waiting for Skull when he and Kipchoge re-emerged from the house.
"Man, you guys have been great," Skull said, at something of a loss to express his gratitude. He'd never really met people quite like Aisha's adoptive family. "Thanks for everything, I mean that."
"You are a friend of Aisha's, and that makes you family," Kipchoge grinned.
Skull felt a pang of guilt. He hadn't exactly been a FRIEND of Aisha's. An acquaintance, an admirer, and no doubt a pain in the butt to her, but in this situation, he was willing to stretch things a little. "I guess Kijana got mobbed by the folks. Could you tell him I said goodbye, and thank him for me too?"
"There is no need," Kipchoge shrugged, pointing back to the house. Looking back, Skull saw Kijana approaching, carrying his pack in one hand and a helmet in the other. To Skull's surprise, he got in the sidecar and strapped on his helmet without so much as a word.
Skull stared at the man, who eventually looked up at him. "Are you coming?" he asked, incredulously.
Kijana said something that was lost to Skull, but which Kipchoge translated. "He said someone needs to make sure you don't get lost."
"All righty then!" Skull grinned, giving his partner the thumbs-up, which Kijana returned. Skull strapped on his own helmet and kick-started the engine. "Let's roll!"
* * *
Maker, we have arrived.
Even as these words came, Billy felt a perceptible change in the ship's "feel." He could tell from the sound of the engines that they had slowed down from warp, or hyperspace, or Ludicrous Speed, or whatever this technology termed it. He looked up from the Operations console, where he had been studying the schematics of the five lions in hopes of giving himself a head start on the repair process. "Where should we start?" he asked aloud, crossing over to the Science station to run a scan of the area.
What he saw in the scanner made his guts clench. They were coming into a high orbit around an Earth-like planet, surrounded by a dense cloud of wreckage from the war Alth had described. The planet showed negligible life signs, and none at all for the graveyard of ships here in orbit with them. Alth gracefully wove a path through the shattered hulks of claw-fighters and larger warships as they spun in their endless circles around the dead world. Here and there, an orbit decayed enough to plunge a fiery mass of metal into the atmosphere to further blast the tortured surface.
Billy could feel that coming back to this place had been very difficult for Alth. Echoes of her frustration, her hunger, and her numbing sadness reached him even away from the pilot's chair.
Something finally came up on the scan: a structure similar to Alth herself. The Yellow Lion. You must start with him.
"I'll try, I promise. There's just one thing that worries me, though."
"Well, it took you several days to fully repair yourself. Even if I can get the other four activated again quickly, my friends on Earth can't wait that many more days for us to get back."
Our unity shall give us strength, Maker. When I was alone, I was weak. With another at his side, the Yellow Lion will fast recover, and with us both alive, our father and our children will grow strong again that much faster.
Billy checked the display one last time. Alth was bringing them in right up in front of Yellow Lion, face to face. "Okay, I'd better head on over. I hope this suit holds atmosphere as well as the specs say."
You shall be safe.
"I appreciate that, trust me." With that, Billy left the cockpit and headed down the spinal corridor, all the way to the main Operations and Engineering section. Here, he picked up his tools and a portable power supply. He then dropped by the armory to pick up a hand-held thruster for use in EVA's, and at length, made his way to the hangar.
There was scarcely enough room in the cockpit of the front sled-fighter for Billy and his equipment, but he stowed it the best he could, brought down the canopy, and powered up the one-man fighter. Using the knowledge Alth had given him during the first merge, he keyed in a series of commands to open the hangar doors, and then the lion's jaws.
"Cleared for takeoff," he noted to himself, checking out the status lights on his console. He then took hold of the single control joystick and slowly propelled himself along the rail-tracks, out through the lion's jaws, and into space.
Once free, he was immediately wrenched by vertigo as he saw the enormity of the Yellow Lion drifting lifelessly before him. Seeing it in Alth's memories, it had been more a living thing than a machine, and even though he'd gained a pretty good idea of its structure from reading the schematics, he simply wasn't prepared for the sight of it.
Where the Blue Lion had merely borne a strong resemblance to the WolfZord, the Yellow Lion was a dead ringer for the original Sabretooth Tiger zord, only once again much, much larger. Seeing it here, in this context, took Billy way aback, and for a while, all he could do was stare at it, wondering what the connection could be.
He then kicked in a little with the thrusters and made a slow circuit around the lion, to better survey the damage. It was in plenty worse shape than the Blue had been, even after the crash-landing on Earth. The hull was holed in several places, the legs were tweaked in strange directions (hyperextended, as it were), the tail was halfway severed, and blast point after blast point scarred its surface. Billy was at a loss. Even with his help, how soon would even this one lion be ready to fight again?
As he continued examining the ship, he began to pick out differences between this lion and the Sabretooth Tiger, apart from the size. For one, the head had a huge ear on this one side (and presumably the other), which appeared to be mounted on enormous hinges, enabling it to pivot out from the face. The ears were more dog-like than lion-like, and Billy found himself momentarily reminded of the big furry puppy-dragon from "The Neverending Story." In addition to this, there was an enormous laser cannon mounted on Yellow's back, and spike-shaped missile mounts at the shoulder of the foreleg. Its offensive power seemed to be on display for all the universe to see.
Billy continued back around the other side, trying to take in as much of the damage as he could. As he came around to the other side of the lion's head, however, he saw something that made him feel positively ill inside.
During the battle, something (probably a robeast) had grabbed onto the right front leg with gigantic claws, leaving great gouges in the shining metal. Then, it had brought another claw down across the right side of the face, and ripped deeply into it. The right ear had been all but pulled clean away, taking most of the right side of the face with it, leaving both hanging onto the rest of the head by just a few twisted pieces of metal. Looking into the gaping wound, Billy saw, to his disquiet, the inside of the cockpit, open to vacuum.
He wasn't going to be able to do any more good from here, so he decided to try docking. The lion's lower jaw was hanging open, so he brought his tiny ship around and maneuvered into the open mouth.
It was pitch black inside: not even emergency lighting was left. Only the external lights of Billy's craft enabled him to see where he was going and navigate into the docking passage. The going was pretty rough, as the tunnel was filled with both wreckage and what appeared to be sand, but he managed to get through it, and finally touched down in another hangar, similar to the one he'd left behind.
Pausing first to make sure that his suit was properly sealed and pressurized, he popped open the canopy, gathered up his equipment, and pushed himself out into the weightless environment of the hangar. The first thing he pulled out was his high-powered flashlight, and he used it to scan the room.
It was filled with ships much like his own mini-sled, but only one or two appeared intact: the rest were smashed, as was most of the hangar. He checked for exits, and found them where he'd have expected: at least Alfor had been more or less consistent with the interior layouts.
He used his hand-held thruster to give himself momentum, then navigated the tangled maze of damaged internal corridors to Engineering. Once here, he started unpacking his tools.
Truth be told, Billy wasn't very easy to spook. He jumped during horror movies as much as the next person, but he wasn't by nature the type to be particularly scared of the dark, and didn't have much truck with the idea of anyplace being haunted, per se. None of which changed the fact that he was slowly finding himself deeply terrified of his surroundings. This was a genuine ghost ship, after all. But in horror movies and ghost stories, the scariest part was knowing that something... someone was out there that you couldn't see. Here, he felt no one at all: Yellow Lion was lifeless and empty. And after having unknowingly felt Alth's presence all the while he'd explored Blue Lion, this emptiness scared him more than any haunting.
"Alth, can you hear me?" he whispered into his helmet microphone.
I am here, Maker. Her voice was distant, but still present.
"Oh, good. Um, just making sure. Listen, I'm in Engineering, and I'm going to try to put things in motion over here. Maybe now would be a good time for you to... I don't know... get something to eat. You need to replenish, don't you?"
I hunger, Maker, but the life of my mate is more important.
"Well, I might be a little while here at first, so you ought to go ahead. From the looks of the debris outside, you won't need to go far."
I shall be close by if I am needed.
"Believe me, I appreciate that. Thanks."
Alth said nothing more, and Billy heard the distant sound of engines as she set off to search for nourishment.
Billy set up an electric lantern to at least give the darkness around him an outline, then took the portable power supply and brought it over to the main computer terminal. It was a relatively simple process to hook the supply up, and once it was in place, he fired up the computers.
To his relief, the room lit up with red emergency lights, and the computers flickered to life, displaying schematic diagrams riddled with warning lights. Billy checked these out in reference to the original schematics, and tried to get an idea of where to even start.
Then, he figured it out. Even as damaged as the Blue Lion had been, she had still been partially connected to her main crystalline power source. The Yellow Lion, it appeared, was not so lucky. When Billy needed to do, then, was get that power supply working with these systems again, and he only had a few hours of battery-power to work with.
After considering it for a while, he picked up his all-purpose power-tool, opened a service hatch, and got himself up into the maintenance crawlspaces, taking great care not to snag his suit against any sharp edges. Once more into the guts, he thought, and this calmed him somewhat.
He began testing contact points with his multimeter, seeing which of the severed power leads might still be connected to the main source. Of course, if the main source itself had gone out entirely, then there was probably very little Billy, Alth or anyone could do about it, but he preferred not to think about that.
After a few failed checks, he found, to his amazement, an entire section that was still holding power, but which had seemingly been severed from every external system systematically. Studying the extensive wreckage, Billy realized that this had been in self-defense: the battle must have caused a massive power-feedback surge, which might have damaged the main crystal had these circuit breakers not blown. They'd gone out a few at a time, protecting the power source bit by bit, until finally, after one attack too many, it became disconnected entirely, and the extensive backup repair systems had been unable, for whatever reason, to fix it.
This, at least, gave him a starting point. On something of a whim, he switched his communicator to external speakers, and began to talk aloud. The sound wouldn't carry through the airless environment, but he didn't really care. "Hello, there. I don't know if you can hear me, but I'm Billy. Billy Mitchell. I understand your name's Toth. And from the looks of things in here, you're not in good shape. I'm going to have to do some serious rerouting of power to access your main source. I hope that's okay with you."
The tough part was figuring out which leads went to which systems, and which could be salvaged. Repair was most important, though it wouldn't hurt much to get environmental controls back to give the interior some gravity and atmosphere again. Billy experimentally connected a pair of leads, and got a shower of sparks for his trouble.
"It's okay, I think. You can trust me. I've been doing this kind of thing for years, now. You know how it is: you get good at something, you stick with it. Anyway, your mate brought me here all the way from my home planet, Earth. She says I'm a Maker, and I guess you and I will be finding out whether or not she's right. And believe me, I hope she is."
After a pause, Billy sighed. "So why am I here? Well, my world's in trouble from the same people who attacked yours, and I've got friends back there who could really use some help... I sure hope they're still okay...."
* * *
The ninth wave of attack ended precisely on schedule, in spite of the interruption in the routine earlier, and by all accounts, the fight was still going well. No ships had come through to attack the surface, no great amounts of wreckage had made it through the atmosphere, and none of the Rangers had fallen asleep at the wheel yet in spite of the grueling hours.
From her place alone in the Power Chamber, though, Katherine had a much different perspective. She could see the remaining power reserves of the Phoenix dwindling down, and before long they would be measuring its available energy in hours rather than days. She could see that all five of the Rangers were running temperatures, though perhaps the brief rest would help set that right. She could see that the Machine Empire was still building and recycling, building and recycling, reclaiming many of their own damaged ships to build anew in a seemingly never-ending stream. Billy had been right: to win this, they'd have to take on the source, but to do that would require the MegaZord, and then how many people would die on the surface while they were fighting in space?
And now Billy was gone. It would have been one thing had Blue Lion been destroyed: at least then Katherine would know that he was dead. Instead, he was last seen headed into deep space on an out-of-control alien craft, in obvious pain. And he'd even directed his last words to her. He'd apologized. For what? She didn't even want to think about it.
She spent the end of this "day" monitoring the transmissions between the five Rangers. Tommy would be staying with Rocky tonight, as he'd ended the day closer to Rocky than to Adam, and they needed to conserve as much of the Phoenix's strength as possible. Kimberly, the freshest of the fighters, seemed to be doing okay, as did Tanya, who apparently packed a full night's sleep into every three hours, but Rocky and Adam were in bad shape, and Tommy couldn't possibly be much better.
After listening to the final good-night transmissions between the fighters, Katherine finally stood up and turned away from the main console. She couldn't sit and look at the long-range scanners any longer. The others would need her now that Billy was gone, and she'd do well to be rested when the time came.
Before she left, though, another transmission came in. "Katherine, are you still awake?"
It was Adam. Looking at the console, she saw that he was calling in on a one-to-one frequency, making this basically a private call. "Hullo, Adam," she replied, wearily. "How do you feel?"
"Do you want bravado or honesty?"
"Why not give me both?"
Adam chuckled. "Well, the bravado says 'Yeah, we showed those robots! Bring 'em on again tomorrow!' The honest part says I don't know if I've got another day left in me. I think I might have accidentally shot down the Hubble today, but I'm not quite sure. Who knows, maybe I'll feel better after my nap."
"I hope so, Adam."
"So... how are YOU taking things?"
She laughed a single, humorless laugh. "Oh, I'm fine. Even without my powers, I'm still recovering as speedily as ever. There's not even much pain when I move anymore."
"Kat, you know that's not what I meant," he told her.
"What do you expect?" she sighed. She would have snapped, but she didn't have the energy to be angry, and certainly not with Adam. "I watched him take an unknown alien ship out there to fight hundreds of enemies, and then he just... disappeared. I'm worried, I'm scared, and I've never felt so alone in all my life. Do you know how quiet and lonely this place is without anyone else here? I was so used to having Zordon, Alpha and Billy here all the time, and now they're all gone... And I tried to teleport him back, Adam, before the lion took off, but I couldn't get a lock in time, and...."
Adam paused for a moment, probably to make sure she was done. "I'm sorry, Kat. But I'll tell you this: Billy's the most resourceful and clever guy I've ever met. He'll find his way back. I'm sure of it. After all, he's got a lot to come back for."
Katherine had a vivid flashback to the moment she'd kissed him for the first and only time. A lot to come back for....
"Kat?" Adam asked.
"I hope he comes back soon," she whispered. "I have so much I need to tell him."
"He'll be back. And you know what? I'm probably saying more than I should, here, but I think he's got a lot to tell you, too."
"Do you think so?"
"In all good faith, I should leave it at that. I'll let him tell you the rest."
She nodded, though of course Adam wouldn't be able to see this. "Thanks," she whispered, brokenly. "You'd better get some rest."
"Promise me you'll do the same, Katherine. Okay?"
* * *
Trini burst through the open door of Jason's dorm room and unceremoniously flopped herself down on the tiny futon-couch. "I," she announced, "am frustrated."
"Good evening to you, too," Jason nodded, looking up from his desk. "Things aren't going too well?"
She rolled over and stared at the ceiling. "That would be an understatement. There is nothing at all I can do with that communicator. It is so difficult sometimes to make Earth technology and Zordon's technology work together. Right now, it's proving to be downright impossible! I tried everything I could think of, but I can't make any outside power source compatible with the communicator, and that means I can't boost its signal."
"Hey take it easy," Jason said, crouching down next to the futon. "You're doing the best you can."
"If I were in the Command Center, I'd be able to rig this up with no problem."
"If you were in the Command Center, we wouldn't need to." Trini finally took a look around. "Where's Bulk? I thought he was going to stay here with you."
"Zack's showing him around a little. You know, he's a lot different than I remember."
"A distinct improvement," Trini agreed.
"So... does this mean we've still got no way back?" Jason ventured.
"I wouldn't quite say that," Trini sighed. "I got enough information out of the communicator to duplicate its frequencies, but it's going to mean constructing something from scratch using Earth technology, and it could take days to get it right."
Jason closed his eyes. He hated setbacks worse than just about anything, but now was not the time to get frustrated. "Well, you don't look like you're in much shape to do any more work tonight. Why don't you make me a list of what you need to make this work, and I'll see about finding stuff for you."
She shot him a look. "No offense, but I don't know if you'd recognize half the things on the list. I'd better come with you. Incidentally, did you try calling?"
"Well, I tried, but it looks like transatlantic calls are still down. I guess if the phones had been working, Billy probably would have just called us instead of sending Bulk."
Trini sighed, then gracefully swung herself to her feet. "Come on, let's head into town. We're not getting any closer just sitting here."
"Let me just leave a note for Zack and Bulk."
* * *
If this didn't work, Billy was afraid that nothing would. He'd managed thus far to repair and hook up the Yellow Lion's auto-diagnostic scanners and matter-transference emitters, which under normal circumstances would effect the lion's self-repairs by scanning for damage and then "beaming" stored matter into the various gaps to seal them. But even though he had them hooked up to what he believed to be live power leads, they were not firing up properly. His meters showed that the integrity of the connections was fine, and his repair job had been sufficient, but he was getting nothing.
In a last-ditch effort, he'd disconnected his power supply from the computers and re-hooked it to the repaired sections, hoping that giving them a boost would kick-start the power flow again. But barring that, he was out of ideas.
Once he had all the requisite contact points established, he extricated himself from the service hatch and pulled himself down next to the power supply. It was getting pretty low on power itself, and might not be able to give him much more than one or two jump-starts.
"Well, Toth, let's see if this works," he said, quietly. Without really considering why, he first shouted "CLEAR!" before he applied the jolt.
Something sparked in the works, and at first Billy wondered if he'd burned out the very systems he'd been trying to repair. But then, very quickly, there was a sense of activity and power flow, and the emergency lights came up.
"All right!" Billy cheered, pushing off from the floor to check on his work. Power was flowing normally now, and the emitters were already at work restoring more and more connections from the central source. Billy disconnected his wires quickly and got out of the way to let the lion heal.
He packed up his tools, took his thruster in hand, and with a few tiny bursts, got himself moving again. He wound his way through the still-darkened internal passages, up to the spine, and then made a straight shot for the cockpit. Maybe he could speed things along by removing the key, as he had with Alth.
The design of the bridge was all but identical to that of the Blue Lion, but as he had noticed from outside, most of the right side of the outer hull was missing. Each of the crew stations was present, but Billy noticed one key difference: here, the Communications console was by far the most sophisticated. He was beginning to get the idea that each of the five lions would have its own strengths, and the layouts would play to these strengths.
Still weightless, Billy pulled himself up along the staircase railing to the pilot's chair, and scanned the main console for the key. He found it right where he expected to, and reached to slide it out.
Mid-reach, though, he stopped, and looked down at the chair. He paused for a long while, then gingerly sat down.
The mental touch he felt was very faint, but present. The spark of life was growing, starting from the center and working its way out to every extremity.
And then, Billy heard the voice: barely perceptible, on the fringes of his consciousness. Hello, Maker....
"Good morning, Toth," Billy smiled.
Forgive my lack of hospitality, but I fear I would not hold an atmosphere long in my current condition.
"That's just fine." He tried to place the composite voice, as he had with Alth's. It was still faint, but was already showing signs of Adam, Zack, and even a little bit of the modern-day Bulk and Skull. The greater part of the voice, though, Billy did not recognize.
By Alfor's Gift, my mate is returning! It is good to see her well.
Since none of the monitors were working, Billy looked out through where the right-hand bulkheads had been, but saw nothing. From Toth, though, he got the impression that she was approaching from somewhere off to the opposite side. "She brought me back for the rest of you. And she insisted I help you first."
Then I thank you both.
Leaning forward in the chair, Billy once again reached for the key. "Toth, I'm going to remove your key, all right?"
Wait, Maker. Please do not do that.
Billy stopped, his fingers resting on the key. "But won't it slow down your repairs if I leave it?"
I have slept too long already. Allow me to enjoy my mate's company again. She will be able to help me, as I sense she helped you with your own mate.
"Kat's not my...." he started to say for the second time, but again, a question brought him short. "You can't communicate when you don't have your keys in place? But she communicated with me when Kat was dying, just like you said."
That is because you held her key, Maker.
"Oh," Billy blinked. "Oh, okay. So... will you be okay taking things from here? I should probably get started on one of the other lions."
Alth and I shall finish what you have started. Again, Maker, I thank you with all my spirit.
At that moment, to his shock, Billy recognized the core of Toth's voice as being his own. That meant that in this reflection of his own psyche, he and Kat.... "You're welcome, of course," he whispered, pushing himself up out of the pilot's chair and retracing his path back to Engineering. Once he had gathered up his remaining gear, he headed back to the hangar, powered up his ship, and headed back out into space.
As he left, he looked back over his shoulder at the now-active Yellow Lion. As he watched, multiple beams emitted from the gaping wound in the face, and started pulling the almost-severed section back into place. After about thirty seconds, the two parts joined, and the fissure lit up brilliantly, as though welding itself back together.
Billy turned his attention to the Blue Lion, which was hovering in front of its counterpart, eyes lit up a brilliant yellow. In reply, the Yellow Lion's eyes lit up blue.
He lives again.... Billy heard in his mind. The voice was Alth's, but more powerful than the words were the mental tones of first surprise, then disbelief, and finally deep gratitude.
"Can you two handle things from here?" Billy asked, softly.
Yes... Of course. Maker, I... found Rith.... He drew his gaze to the Blue Lion's tail, which was emitting a tractor beam. Sure enough, she had the wreck of the Green Lion in tow behind her.
"I'll get started on her right away. In the meantime, you and Toth might have a little catching up to do."
* * *
Siege, day ten
When Katherine had first come to the realization that Billy was not going to be coming back to the Power Chamber, at least for a while, she'd spent the remainder of the attack day wandering from station to station, trying to figure each one out. This was partly to familiarize herself with the current setup, partly to increase her own ability to help the Rangers from here at the base, and partly to keep her mind off worrying about Billy.
By early in her second attack day alone at the helm, she had familiarized herself pretty well. She continued going station to station, but now she did it partly to make certain everything was running smoothly and mostly to keep her mind off worrying about Billy.
The tenth attack day was just three hours old when Katherine noticed something odd while checking out the tracking systems for the Zero Zord. Zero's tactical screen reminded her of her own viewer back in her zord, only much smaller, and the computer took care of all the tracking, guiding the laser cannon atop the roof of the base to fire at the enemy. While the gun was about as powerful as a real zord, it was also much, much slower, hence its function as limited backup for Adam and Tommy.
She watched it slowly bring the sights around to lock on a target, fire, and vaporize it. Then it began its relentless search for the next. After a while, it found one, zeroed in slowly, and fired. Kaboom. Katherine continued to watch, wondering if maybe she'd be able to do a better job with manual control, as she had with her zord. Probably not, she considered, as she'd had her powers backing her up then, and her response time would be slowed without them.
The computer went on tracking. Point, shoot, boom. Point, shoot, boom. Point, shoot, dodge.
Katherine's eyes widened. The latest red blip had dodged out of the way a split second before the laser had fired. She'd never seen a cog pilot do that before!
Undaunted, the computer continued tracking it, re-established a lock, and fired again. For the second time, the enemy blip dodged, as though it knew exactly when Zero would fire.
Her first thought was that it might be Billy, somehow, but she shook this off and went to one of the few unoccupied scanner terminals to get a better look at this blip.
The resulting scan revealed the incoming ship to be of a very simple design, with no visible weapons. A vector-diagram outline of it appeared on the screen, and Katherine's breath caught in her throat. It looked a lot like a coffin. The others had mentioned something about a coffin back when this had all started, or more accurately, they had mentioned the thing that had come out of the coffin.
And this coffin was on a course for the Power Chamber. She darted for the main console and activated communications. "Tommy! Adam! There's a robeast coffin coming in, and it's heading right for the Power Chamber! Zero can't get a clean shot at it!"
"I've got it on scan now, Kat!" Tommy reported back. "I don't know if I can get there in time!"
"I'm too far away to take a shot!" Adam shouted. "I've kind of got my hands full over here! Do you need backup?"
"Stay there, Adam, I'll handle this!" Tommy ordered. Katherine watched the main viewer tensely, as the Phoenix zoomed in at top speed. But the coffin was coming in too fast!
The ground literally shook from the impact as the coffin-ship slammed into the ground no more than a mile from the Power Chamber. Katherine quickly brought up a scan of the crash site. The coffin had smashed into pieces on impact, leaving a smoldering crater filled with wreckage. But amidst that wreckage, something was moving.
Then, to Katherine's horror, the something began to grow. With a screech, the Phoenix sped by, strafing the crash site with laserfire, but it did nothing more than irritate the monster, which continued to grow unchecked. Only in her worst nightmares had Katherine envisioned anything like the twisted demon-thing now before her eyes. Human only in shape, mottled green skin oozing with slime, powerful hands with claws half again the length of the fingers, a mouth filled with rows of teeth like a shark's, and eyes that burned with evil and fury.
"Kat, I can't take that thing with the Phoenix!" Tommy was shouting. "I need you to prep the Red BattleZord! I'm going to have to ditch the Phoenix out in the desert until we can ace this creep!"
"Right!" she replied, tearing her eyes from the screen and scanning for the appropriate controls. Her efforts to familiarize herself with the systems paid off, here, and she was able to find the right series of switches within about five seconds. But during that five seconds, the robeast continued to grow, and was starting to walk purposefully forward, right toward the Power Chamber.
It was then that Katherine realized that hers was not the only life in danger.
She hurried back to the scanners and switched to an external view of the immediate vicinity. The crowd of several hundred campers and onlookers surrounding the mountain was still there. They all looked startled by the nearby explosion and accompanying earthquake, but they were standing there, milling about, not making any efforts to get away.
Katherine returned to the communications controls, switched over to external speakers, and then remembered herself enough to disguise the outgoing voice with the vocorder.
"Attention, everyone!" she shouted into the microphone. "All civilians surrounding the mountain! This is Zeo Power Ranger I! We are under attack! Evacuate the area, immediately! You'll all be in great danger if you stay! Please, evacuate the area, as quickly as you can!" She then turned the mike off and got back to the scanner.
"Kat, I've landed a few miles away!" Tommy called in. "Send out the Red BattleZord!"
"Here it comes!" she called back, slamming her hand down on the control to fire the zord out into battle. "Tommy, please hurry! I don't know how quickly all these people can get away!"
"Don't worry, Kat! That robeast'll have to get through me first!"