Disclaimer: I fully realize that these characters with the exception of Anna Fraser are the property of Saban. I merely couldn't help myself in experimenting with them a little on my own accord. They are returned at the end of the story slightly used but intact. Of course if anyone questions me about it I had temporary insanity (and don't I wish I had it all the time). This story takes place before the Gold Ranger and Billy's rapid aging, and contains minor use of language and some violent scenes. Anyway, please enjoy the tale.
It was a peaceful fall day in Angel Grove, which was a rare thing for
this beleaguered town, and Billy Cranston reveled in it. The sun was shining
and the day was warm with a soft breeze blowing in his slowly darkening
blond hair. It was the first time in a long while that he had walked in
the sunshine. Most of the past weeks had been spent deep within the Power
Chamber repairing this or stabilizing that. It almost never ended. There
was always something to do there. He had converted one of the small supply
rooms into a makeshift bedroom. There were times he just didn't want to
spend the energy, either his own or the Power Chamber's, teleporting back
to his house. It was just easier to stay where he was, grab a few hours
sleep and start again where he left off.
He stifled a deep yawn. It was only 11 am. Tommy and the rest of the Power Rangers were still in class. He was on his way to meet them for lunch. Since he had been prolific with extra credit projects, he had officially graduated already. His time was his own which of late had been solely devoted to Zordon and the Rangers, like most of his young life.
Today though was a pleasant distraction. Mrs. Appleby, his old high school teacher, had spoken with Professor Milton Dorling of the Angel Grove University and had procured a quest lecturer spot for him. Billy was flattered and had accepted though he felt he had lost the students somewhere in the first hour. He lost Professor Dorling in the second. When the class had ended, the students had filed out quickly and he wound up reiterating the lecture to the Professor for another hour in an effort to explain most of his concepts. After which, Billy decided he should just stick to what he knew how to do best, tinker with the very finest, most advanced alien equipment in the universe. Of course there was a price.
He twisted his neck around trying to loosen a persistent cramp there. _That's what you get for lying under a zord for six hours at a stretch,_ he chastised himself.
As he approached the parking lot, he passed a group of students on their way onto the campus. They were laughing, smiling and had not yet a care in the world. They were as young as he was, but somehow he felt older, eons older. He frowned rubbing again at his aching neck.
He wasn't griping. He wasn't.
But those... kids... were just like the ones he had been lecturing to no more than an hour ago at Rerdon Hall. Every one of them had bright, innocent faces. Some eager to learn, others wishing they were outside enjoying the weather. But they were all so young looking.
He approached his jeep and keyed it open. He risked a glance at his reflection in the glass window. He looked old too. His face showed excessive wear thanks to the years of constant stress of saving the world every other day. That kind of strain takes its toll on you.
So then how come Tommy didn't look like that, he contemplated silently. Tommy still looked young and boyish. He was exposed to as much pressure being leader and all, yet it was Billy who seemed to age. He almost looked as old as Zordon. He grimaced at his own wry humor.
Suddenly a scream rent the air. Billy spun around dropping his notes and books on the ground. Instinctfully he ran towards the sound. He knew it was not a playful or surprised scream but one of absolute terror. He ran up and over the crest of the hill to his right and the sight that greeted him angered him.
A nest of ten Cogs were attacking a young woman. Two Cogs had hold of her and a third one was getting ready to touch her with some kind of device.
Billy didn't hesitate; he never even slowed down. There was no time to call for backup with only seconds to intervene. He raced swiftly at the Cog which turned its head his way at the last second, perhaps warned by the others, but there was no time for it to move out of the way. It merely squealed as Billy plowed into it from behind. Every bone in his body seemed to splinter with the collision. They both fell hard to the ground but Billy rolled with the impact and came up rapidly to his feet. He let fly with a round house kick at the Cog to his left, one of the ones holding onto the woman. Its head spun around emitting sparks that danced in the air. Even Billy was impressed. He still has some pretty handy moves even without a power coin.
Then the remaining Cogs were on him. He grabbed hold of one and flung it as hard as he could at the last Cog holding the woman. Direct hit. It pulled her to the ground as it fell but then she was free.
"Go," Billy shouted.
"But you...." She hesitated.
She pivoted around and disappeared over the hill. _Time for me to call some help,_ Billy thought just as a Cog connected a powerful stiff-armed blow to his chest. His breath rushed out in a whoosh. _That hurt!_ It had been a long time since he had felt a full fledged blow land on him. He really wished for a power suit and all its absorption qualities.
He backflipped a couple of times for some room until the agony in his ribs stopped him. He reached for his wrist as another Cog rushed at him, swinging a fist at his head. He couldn't avoid it. As it connected, his head snapped around already numb from the force of it. He spun to the ground.
He blindly reached for the communicator on his wrist and thumbed the switch. "Rangers! Emergency!"
Then the Cogs piled on top of him, punching, kicking, taking their aggravation out on the human who had denied them victory. King Mondo was not a very forgiving sovereign.
Darkness was slipping in on the edges of Billy's awareness. With a last grasp at remaining conscious, he saw the brilliant colors that heralded the arrival of his friends.
"We're here, buddy."
Tommy's voice was authoritative and comforting enough so to keep him awake. Soon, there was no longer any weight on him and Billy raised himself dizzily on his elbows to watch the fight. Shades of pink, yellow, green, red and blue flashed before him. He shook his head to clear his vision and wished he hadn't. Pain stabbed the whole right side of his face. He moved his jaw gingerly.
"Come on, let's get out of here," a voice said behind him. He shifted quickly to see who it was. The young woman he had rescued knelt beside him. She put his arm around her shoulders and hefted him up.
She's stronger than she looks, he mentally noted. And attractive. "I thought I told you to get out of here," Billy said though he was grateful for the assistance. His legs felt a tad wobbly.
"Actually, your exact words were 'go' and 'run,'" she corrected. "I did both." She paused. "Then I came back."
Billy grinned, but it hurt like hell. "I'm glad you did. Let's go over there, out of sight." He pointed to a stand of trees off to the side.
"What are those things?" she asked, stealing a fearful glance behind her. "Lackies of King Mondo," Billy answered concentrating on moving one foot in front of the other. They needed to put some space between them and the battle.
"I've heard of him. He sends all those monsters." By the time they gained the shelter of the trees and turned back, the Power Rangers were executing the coup-de-grac on the remaining Cogs which disappeared seconds later. The group of Rangers looked for Billy who waved weakly at them. They headed over. The young woman eased him gently to the ground, removing some tissues from her pocket gently cleaning the blood from his face. She was grimacing more than he was. It must look bad. He looked back towards the battle scene.
The Rangers had made short work of the enemy. Billy couldn't draw his eyes away from his colorful friends striding towards him. He really missed being one of them. The power coursing through you feeding your own natural energies and multiplying them a hundred-fold; the satisfied feeling of trashing the enemy and saving the world; and of course, the energy absorption abilities of the power suit, he thought again. He gently probed his ribs, wincing. They weren't broken thankfully, but he bet they were cracked or at the very least bruised.
He sighed gently. More and more often he found himself dwelling on the past. The decision he made to give up his Zeo Crystal still ate away at his conscience. He hadn't realized how different it was going to be. It was like an amputee sensing long lost limbs. It didn't matter whether it was day or night, reality or an illusion, there were times he dreamed he still possessed the power, feeling it unfold within his veins. It was a dangerous thing, this euphoria. It made him rush headlong into situations he couldn't handle, battles he couldn't win. It was another good reason to remain sequestered at the Power Chamber. He frowned. He was lucky this time.
The woman's quiet voice brought him back to the present. "Thank you," she said softly, her large emerald eyes boring deep into his. "I owe you my life. I just wish it didn't almost cost you yours."
"Uh... all part of the service," Billy murmured through clenched teeth as a burning sensation started across his right cheek. He wasn't sure if it was him blushing or if feeling was finally returning to his face. "My name is William Cranston. Everyone just calls me Billy."
She smiled at that. "I'm Anna. Anna Fraser." She thought for a moment. "You're the same Cranston that give today's dissertation on the hydro-regenerative properties on molecular bound metaphysics."
Billy felt a surge of pride at being acknowledged. "That's me," he answered. He thought for a moment. "Fraser. Aren't you in town working on some sort of NASA project?"
She nodded, amazed at his recognition. "Yes. My fame proceeds me, it appears."
Billy became excited. "I've followed your career." It had mirrored his own. They were practically the same age.
"Hey man, you okay?" Tommy asked as he ran up in his red Zeo Ranger suit.
"Ouch," Tanya said as she knelt down on the other side of Billy taking in his visible injuries.
"I think we need to get him to a doctor," Anna announced. That brought Billy round. "I'm fine, really. Just knocked around some. I'm just glad you guys showed up when you did."
"Glad to help," Tommy said. "Any idea what King Mondo's Cogs wanted?"
Before Billy could answer the young woman answered. "I believe it was me. Or at least my project."
"Ms. Fraser is working on something for NASA," Billy clarified for the team. "Though Mondo seems to have a vested interest in it as well."
Anna contemplated something quickly. The project was top secret, but these were the Power Rangers, they were responsible for upholding national security if not the world's. She could see no reason not to trust them. And Mr. Cranston's heroic actions spoke volumes about himself. Besides, the Rangers obviously knew him. Probably against NASA's better judgement, she made a decision and brought them into the veil of secrecy. "I'm working on an android capable of performing some of the more dangerous functions out in space. It is almost nearing completion. I have only a few bugs left to work out of the system. I believe that is his interest."
"Wow," exclaimed Rocky. "No wonder Mondo was after her."
"Has the government provided any form of security for you?" Tommy asked.
"Most of the security measures are at the lab. To be honest, we weren't really expecting any trouble at least not from foreign countries. This project is a joint effort between almost all countries dabbling in space. We truly had no idea that anyone else would be interested."
"Well, King Mondo is about as foreign as you can get," Adam interjected giving Billy a hand up. He didn't miss the wince of pain across his friend's features.
"Yeah and you can bet he's going to try again," Kat said emphatically.
"But we don't know who the true target is." Billy touched his face gingerly while contemplating the facts. "The Cogs came after Ms. Fraser. They didn't go after the lab. I want to know why."
Anna raised a hand guiltily. "I added a molecular sequester device around the lab's perimeter. That would explain their inability to sense the proximity of the lab."
Kat turned to Tanya whispering, "What did she say?"
"There's a cloaking device around the lab," Billy answered looking at the woman with renewed interest. "Ingenious. What phase did you set the sequester at to compensate for the shift in the ....."
Tommy grinned as the two "professors" continued with their techno-babble. He had a flash of the old, nostalgic days but he promptly got back to business. "Well, regardless of those measures, I think it would be safer if she completed her work under our protection. We'll move her lab beneath the Power Chamber. I'll clear it with NASA."
Anna hesitated. "Oh no, that's just not possible. I'm so close. If I moved the equipment now, months of research and results would be lost. I'd be set back indefinitely. It's out of the question."
Tommy stiffened. He didn't like having his orders countermanded. Billy immediately sensed the confrontation. He stepped forward. "I think it will be okay. As of right now, Mondo does not know the exact location of the lab. We'll just have to make sure that it stays that way. I can stay with Ms. Fraser and boost up the security measures around the lab." _And her,_ he added silently. Then he hesitated, turning back to Anna to see her reaction to his proposal. "That is if you wouldn't object?"
A broad grin split her features. "Not at all. I think that's a grand proposal. It solves all the problems rather neatly. And in addition I can ask your opinion on a few matters regarding the best location for the gyroscopic stabilizer." She turned back to Zeo Ranger V. "Does that meet with your approval?"
Tommy was annoyed but the helmet hid his reaction. "For now," he said finally. He motioned the group together for teleportation. He turned to Billy. "Keep us informed."
Billy nodded. "You can count on it."
* * *
Back at the Power Chamber, the five Rangers teleported in. Zordon and Alpha were waiting for them. "You did well, Rangers," their mentor praised. "How is Billy?"
Tommy removed his helmet. "Thick-headed as usual these days," he commented in irritation. Billy was slipping outside of his leadership influence, or at least it seemed that way now that the ex-Blue Ranger was stationed at the Power Chamber. The team had even begun to think of Billy as being on par with Zordon and Alpha in terms of authority. After all, it was where the "adults" hung out. Tommy couldn't quite blame them, occasionally even he was daunted by Billy's intelligence. It surpassed Zordon's at times.
Katherine laughed. "Don't be so coarse. Ms. Fraser wasn't going to come with us and you know it. Billy had the right idea."
"Yeah," Adam agreed. "Beefing up her security was the next best thing. And he's the perfect candidate for that job. None of us could do it."
Tommy stared at his teammates in annoyance as they failed to see the implications. "Why are you sticking up for him? He could have been killed today. He's just a normal guy now."
Kat stepped forward angrily. "Billy has never been normal. He's always been special." She quieted quickly not wanting to argue in front of Zordon. "Besides," she observed in a more even tone, "he obviously had something else on his mind."
"What do you mean?" Tommy asked heatedly.
Tanya shook her head in frustration. Their fearless leader could be so thick sometimes. "Didn't you see the way they were acting towards each other?"
Tommy's eyes narrowed. "What on earth are you talking about?"
Rocky slapped Tommy on the shoulder. Even he could see it. "Love, man. Billy's found a soul mate."
"Oh please," Tommy scoffed. Then he stopped. Actually that explained a lot of things. A small smile played about his features.
Katherine was relieved to see it. She sighed leaning back against a console. "What a nice way of putting it, Rocky... a soul mate."
"Rangers!" Zordon brought their attention back to the matter at hand. "King Mondo will not give up so easily. He will not allow a human being to create artificial life. It is a power he believes is his sole right to regulate. Ms. Fraser is his intended target. Another attack is imminent."
Tommy slipped back into command mode. "Definitely. And eventually Billy's going to need some back up. I want two people on patrol at the campus." Adam and Tanya stepped forward as volunteers. Tommy nodded and continued. "Mondo's attack will undoubtedly originate at that location. He obviously knows she's there somewhere. All he has to do is attack the whole campus and he's got her." He shook his head in frustration. "Man, I can't believe Billy is willing to sit on the front lines with her. What was he thinking?"
"Come on, Tommy," Rocky said. "He's trapped in here for weeks at a time. I'd jump at the chance to get out for a while too. Even if it was dangerous and especially if there was a pretty woman involved."
"That's right," Tanya agreed with her ever present twinkle. "I can't blame him either. It's about time he found somebody. I was afraid he'd start eyeing Alpha."
"Ay yi yi!" exclaimed the little robot.
That drew genuine laughter from all of them. Tommy drew in a deep cleansing breath. "All right, then let's make sure he doesn't lose this 'intellectual' soul mate."
Adam laughed clasping Tommy by the shoulders. "You're doing the right thing, bro. You'll see."
* * *
Anna led Billy into the building that housed her laboratory. Even before they actually neared the area, Anna activated a small device on her hip. Billy's old curiosity peaked. She laughed at his almost hungry expression and then showed him the device.
"It's a mobile clocking device,'" she explained. "Extends just over seven feet in every direction. I only use it as I approach or exit the campus. This way no one exactly knows where the lab is located."
"Most impressive," Billy murmured, intently examining the object. "It runs on batteries, I see. It means you can't run it extensively."
She confirmed his observation . "I've requested a better power source, but there's some delay. I made do with what I could."
Billy grinned. "I think I can help you with that. This way you can be disguised from Mondo's forces no matter where you are. Makes my job a little easier."
Her eyebrows lifted. "I hope that doesn't mean you'll be leaving soon." He felt a flush of pleasure at that. "No way. I've got a number of proposals that you might find very beneficial to your project. Not to mention adjusting the rest of the security measures."
"Excellent," she remarked her insides warming a bit at the prospect. It wasn't very often she met a daring knight. He was either very brave or very demented. But either way she was very appreciative of his valor. "Actually, I've got a number of questions to ask you as well."
Billy's internal warning bell went off. "Oh really."
She tossed her reddish hair gently as she looked at him mischievously with her green eyes. "You're not what I expected. I never imagined an expert in molecular physics would have such amazing athletic abilities." She scrutinized his lean, muscular frame curiously before dismissing it for now. "But we'll discuss that later. Right now, welcome to my lair." She held her palm to a photographic plate which hummed briefly and a door opened before them.
Billy held his breath in anticipation. He was pathetically curious at this new assignment. Though it paled in comparison to his sudden attraction to the instigator of this whole adventure. Anna Fraser was a complete and refreshing surprise. She was young, attractive, brave and smart. And she had a quirky sense of humor. He was practically in love.
The room they entered was momentarily dark until Anna hit a switch and then brilliant light illuminated a space filled to the brim with active machines. In the center of the room stood a figure shining in chrome and steel. Its appendages were barely human in form more suited to a variety of specialized functions necessary in the cold starkness of space. Wires and cables sprouted from various openings on its frame all connected to humming computers. Diagnostic displays glowed green and amber measuring the myriad amounts of data.
Billy was going to be very happy here. He could tell. He systematically began naming the diverse operations of the numerous machines which Anna quickly verified.
Anna grinned at Billy's expression. He looked as dopey as she when she got her hands on new equipment. God, it had been a long time since she had found anyone her equal. It made it tough on a relationship, not that there had been many. There was never time.
They approched her pride and joy. Billy was silent as he walked slowly around the android, his eyes scanning every millimeter of its build. He paused and then looked at Anna. "It's remarkable," he conveyed finally. "It truly is."
She swelled with pride and winked. "You haven't seen nothin' yet." Within minutes, she had the android running through its paces. Each move more intricate and delicate than the last. Billy shook his head in wonder and reached for a printout when he winced as his injuries reminded him to take it easy.
Anna quickly noticed and left the android performing a continuous basic routine while she went to a refrigerator and removed some ice from the freezer section and wrapped it in a towel. "Here, sit down," she commanded motioning to a chair.
Billy complied slowly and gratefully reached for the ice pack. She ignored his extended hand and applied the pack gently to his swollen cheek. Billy flinched at the pressure.
"Are you sure you don't want to see a doctor?" she asked.
"I'm sure. It's nothing serious, trust me." Billy had been in enough fights and had been hurt worse than this. It was painful but tolerable. One thing being a Ranger taught him was how to gauge battle damage. There was nothing any normal doctor could do for cracked ribs and they were already doing the best thing for the swelling. He could use some time on the diagnostic table back at the Power Chamber but there would be time for that later. All he really wanted right now was some aspirin. He had a splitting headache.
Anna came back with some Tylenol. Billy popped a few of them, content in the fact that they would eventually take affect. Time to get down to business. They probably didn't have much time before Mondo would strike again.
"Show me what you got in the way of security," he said.
* * *
Meanwhile in the Machine Empire, King Mondo's menacing bulk furiously paced the length of his palace. The main gear at his back clanked loudly as steam was expelled from various orifices in his massive frame. His Queen, Machina, watched quietly from the side of the throne room, concerned at her husband's agitated state. It was rare that Mondo worked himself up into such a frenzy as this and when he did he was dangerous, not only to his enemies but to everyone, herself and her son included. Prince Sprocket's tiny form hovered behind her, fascinated by his father's enraged performance. Finally, Queen Machina could stand quiet no longer.
"All that expulsion of steam is doing yourself no good at all, dear," she stated matter-of-factly, much to the King's annoyance. He didn't need anyone to relate the obvious right now.
"That blasted powerless brat has spoiled everything, as usual," he shouted. "I had the puny human woman in my grasp ready to be punished for her crimes!" He paced past Machina. "Then that damn ex-Ranger interfered! How dare he defy me of my pleasure! He himself is guilty of the self same crime! They will both be punished! I swear it! I want that boy out of the picture permanently!"
Machina was ever the voice of logic. "We will no doubt find the human woman again. She will have to come out of hiding soon enough."
"Not now she won't! Not with the Power Rangers' resident 'genius' getting involved! The opportunity to take the woman unobtrusively is gone! It is time to a more direct approach! And this time I will rid ourselves of that annoying Billy Cranston once and for all and all those that follow him!"
Prince Sprocket quivered with excitement. He loved to see his father this way. Anything could happen. Perhaps he would even let the heir apparent to the throne have a hand in the evil plot his father had hatched. He had his own vendetta against that human geek. He stepped out from behind his mother to be more visible to him.
"What do you have in mind, father," Sprocket inquired. Machina was almost afraid to know. King Mondo ignored them and bellowed for his major-domo, Klank who appeared instantly.
"Yuir Majesty?" Klank possessed an odd Scottish lilt to his mechanized voice.
"Prepare Surge," the King demanded simply. Klank fell back a step in abject shock. "But sire, he's uncontrollable! Faulty! I have ne'er been able to adjust him properly."
"Be that as it may he will spearhead the next attack. I want him to obliterate the burrow where my prey is hiding. Also install him with the new Cog program."
Machina approached. "I'm not sure this is wise, dear. If he fails there will be nothing left standing."
"That is not my concern. I will gladly destroy all of Angel Grove in order to stop the humans from creating artificial life. In this way, Zordon will be robbed of his one true asset and I will have my revenge."
Queen Machina sighed. "I was thinking of us and the Empire. Surge retaliates rather harshly when he loses and never cares where he aims his anger."
"ENOUGH!" Mondo shouted. "This is not open for debate! Bring me Surge and may Angel Grove prepare for its final hours!"
* * *
Billy stripped the insulation off the last two wires and merged them together. He was elbow deep in a odd diamond-shaped, medium-sized device set on a table. It had handles set at its midpoint on both sides and decorated with numerous buttons atop one point. Anna was working quietly on her android to his left. He was so engrossed in his actions that he forgot where he was and started mumbling to the apparatus as he realized there was a fault somewhere within its circuits. Billy had gotten into the habit of talking to the Zords whenever he was working on them. To him they were not just assault hardware to be taken into combat and left at the doorstep when they were finished; they were living breathing compatriots in battle. They had saved his life more times than he remembered. Unfortunately, this unconscious tendency towards one-sided conversations had recently carried over into other things.
The barely discernable whispering from where her new defender labored amused Anna. Her grandfather used to talk to himself whenever he was too intent upon his work. At times like that Grandpa Fraser rarely came up for air. Her bemused expression faded as she remembered Billy's injuries. He shouldn't be working so hard. He had been at it for hours. He needed a break.
Anna rose and walked over to where he was working so diligently. Leaning over his shoulder so as to disturb him, she asked, "How's it going?" She could plainly see and to be honest she was astounded. She had never seen circuits like those. How could this contraption possibly work, whatever it was? She had no idea but she assumed it had something to do with the new security measures.
Billy glanced at her bewildered expression thoroughly enjoying it. He paused, wiping the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve, glad of the interruption. Getting all the defensive devices on line in so short a time was grueling.
Anna pointed at one of the printed wiring boards. "Why on earth have you connected that there?" She scrutinized another portion of the machine. "Where is the power for that being drawn from? And why does such a small device need that much power anyway? Look at how thin this insulation is!"
She would have kept going but Billy stopped her. "I'll explain." And he did with such amazing detail and accuracy that Anna quickly realized she had met her match. But she still had doubts as to the machine actually operating. "You haven't turned it on yet," she pointed out.
Billy feigned hurt. "You don't trust me." He quickly found the fault and righted the path.
"No. I don't trust those connections," Anna admitted. "They'll never hold that much power."
"Oh ye of little faith." He reached for the 'on' switch. Anna quickly stepped back but stopped when the machine came to life and placidly hummed with precision. "You're remarkable, Billy. Where did you learn this? These techniques are positively astounding."
"Most are my own concepts."
"Derived from what?" she exclaimed.
Billy shrugged sheepishly, feeling self conscious. He couldn't tell her the truth. Alien technology and mystical ninjas. Of course, he had taken the concepts and expanded them way beyond their original designs. Instead, he answered lamely, "I've got a great imagination."
She raised an eyebrow. "That doesn't even begin to cover it." She pointed to the device. "Don't think you're getting that back, mister. I want to take a better look at it later. By the way, what is it?"
Billy had a sinking feeling in his gut. This was the wrong woman to show off in front of, not that he was really. It all came so naturally to him and he had been working on equipment like this for so long he just didn't think in terms of simple designs anymore. He hadn't realized how far he had really advanced regarding engineering standards until just now. Even Anna's android had basic principles that if given the opportunity, he could expand to the point of almost rivaling Alpha 5. Not that he would. The world wasn't ready for that.
"Aren't you going to tell me?"
Anna brought him back to earth. But still he hesitated. "It's just a safety precaution." He knew King Mondo too well to believe that a new security system, even one as advanced as he had installed, was going to be enough to protect Anna Fraser. But he didn't want to worry her.
Anna studied him a minute, sizing up exactly how much information she could extract from such an individual. It wouldn't be much, she concluded. She mentally shrugged. She enjoyed a good mystery as much as the next genius. And Billy was certainly both. "Let's take a break and get something to eat. You need to rest."
"I just have to make a few adjustments." He picked up a hand held scanner which she promptly took back from him.
"It can wait. You need to eat something. I know I do." Billy balked. "An attack from Mondo can come at any moment. I have to...." Anna shivered violently at the mention of the Machine King's name. Billy noticed and cursed his lack of observation. He never considered how she was handling the attack. As an ex-Ranger, he took skirmishes like today all in stride but never contemplated the shock and trauma it would have on an ordinary human being, especially one from out of town and unaccustomed to Angel Grove's bizarre criminal element.
He eased an arm around her shoulders. "Don't worry. He's not getting near you again. The Power Rangers will see to that. And with all the enhancements I've made, we'll have plenty of warning."
"What does he want anyway?" she asked. Her voice held a touch of anger as well as fear. Billy knew exactly why but he couldn't just come out and tell her. "From what I've heard, he doesn't like the idea of humans creating intelligent machines. He considers it a crime against... well machines."
"Has he come after you before?"
Billy laughed. "More times than I care to think about. But thanks to the Power Rangers, I'm still here. That's why I'm so sure nothing's going to happen to you. Especially not if I have anything to say about it. That's a promise."
Anna stared into his blue eyes and read determination and faith. She breathed easier. It felt good to rely on someone else beside herself for a change. She was rather enjoying the strength of his arm about her, again amazed at how muscular and fit he was for a scientist. He was so very protective. "That's more comforting than you can possibly know," she told him softly.
"It's nice to be appreciated," he murmured unintentionally aloud. She queried him with her eyes. He shook his head trying to dismiss it. "Just a mood I've been in as of late."
"Not a healthy one," she insisted. She studied him intently. "Where do you work, Billy Cranston? Not here at the University."
"No. I...." Billy hesitated. He hated lying to her and tried instead to deal in half-truths. "I'm currently just working on some projects of my own."
"You know, I find it hard to believe that no one has tried to offer you a job. Someone with your obvious IQ should have had multiple offers long before you graduated. Did you just turn them down?"
Billy shrugged, regretting the turn of the conversation. "Sort of. There were some things I had to take care of, responsibilities that I couldn't abandon."
"And now you regret it, don't you?"
"I regret a few things in my life, yes. Lately, they're all I think about. But I'm not doing anyone any good by beating myself up over it. I just have come to terms with what needs to be done." He tried to act nonchalant. "Besides, logic dictates that there's no sense dwelling on them. It's too late for that."
She felt his pain. "It's never too late." Her stormy emerald eyes locked with his. He turned away from them. _In this case, it is,_ he noted sadly to himself. He doubted there would be another chance to become a Ranger again. Besides, he was more useful on the side lines. And that was what hurt the most. He missed the action. It was selfish and he hated himself for thinking it. It was just painful to see his friends go off to battle and all he could do was monitor the fight. He also felt weaker without the power. His friends had almost unlimited reserves to draw from thanks to the crystal but Billy was a mere human again. He couldn't keep up with them anymore even though he tried. All he wound up doing was exhausting himself.
Anna came up behind him and hugged him quickly, sensing there was much more affecting William Cranston than just physical wounds. She was grateful for the chance to offer some support of her own. "Come on, let's get some food in you and another ice pack for those bruises. There's actually a place for you to lie down in the back. I get so busy in here, it's like a second home."
Billy cringed but not with pain. They were so alike in so many ways that it was becoming disturbing instead of reassuring.
* * *
Outside, steadily patrolling the campus, Zeo Rangers' Yellow and Green walked along the outskirts of the university property. Tanya and Adam were demorphed and easily blended in with the throngs of students who were busy rushing to their next lecture hall.
"It's hard to believe that we'll be in the same frantic state next year," Adam commented.
Tanya glanced at him. "You nervous?"
The dark haired Ranger kicked at a stone in front of him on the sidewalk. Tanya could read him so easily. "A little. It will certainly be more pressure. I'm barely juggling school and superheroing as it is. I don't know what I'll do when the curriculum leaps up a couple of notches."
Tanya laughed at his apprehension. "It won't be that bad. You're a good student, Adam. You'll do fine. Besides, Billy will be there to help you over any rough spots."
Adam wasn't comforted by that. He was haunted by a uneasy dread concerning his best friend. He finally found himself willing to confide his fears to Tanya. "I get the feeling Billy won't be sticking around for much longer," he said softly.
Tanya froze in her tracks turning towards him with concern. "What makes you say that? Do you know something the rest of us don't?"
Adam drew in his lower lip and shrugged. "Don't you feel it sometimes? I don't think he's happy here anymore. He never smiles and he rarely hangs with us either."
"He's probably just too busy. There's a lot of work do. Things we always take for granted."
"Exactly," Adam emphasized. "Billy just cleans up after us, maintaining and repairing the Zords. He just sits in the Power Chamber experimenting, making all those handy devices for us. Don't you think that bothers him?" He paused and lowered his voice. "You never got to see him in action. He used to be a great fighter, one of the best."
Tanya's face fell and Adam realized he had just errored seriously. Billy gave up his Zeo Crystal so that Tanya could become a Ranger. She had always had a shred of unvoiced guilt concerning that. Way to go Adam, he chastised himself. He tried to remedy the situation. "It's not that Billy... you know... is resentful or anything."
"But he has regrets, doesn't he," Tanya said softly. "Did he confide this to you?"
Adam shook his head. "No, of course not. Billy hardly talks to me anymore. But it was his decision, Tanya." Adam emphasized that for her sake. "He'll deal with it."
"I guess it had to happen sometime. I always wondered why he was still with us. I mean all the old, original team members are gone, moved on to other things, better things in some ways. Yet, Billy's still here. He can do anything he wants and yet he stays with us. It's just strange."
Tanya was quiet for a long time, but then, "He has the most to offer the Rangers. Even without the power, he's an asset. Without him, we'd have lost... I don't know how many battles. He's always been more than just a power jock like the rest of us."
"Gee thanks," Adam murmured.
"You started this," she reminded him.
"I just said that Billy seems restless of late. He looks more and more exhausted every time I see him which isn't very often. He's almost completely withdrawn from the group. The only time I ever see him it seems is when we're at the Power Chamber. And sometimes not even then." He trailed off. "They're signs, I think," he admitted finally.
"Signs of what?" Tanya asked, trying to help Adam come to an understanding of his friend.
"I don't know!" Adam slammed his hand against a tree they were passing. The barely restrained blow shook the tree to its roots.
Tanya placed a quieting hand on his shoulder. "You're his best friend, Adam. Maybe you should talk to him."
"I don't want him to go, Tanya," he whispered fervently.
"Then tell him so. But if he wants to leave then we have to let him go."
"Not if it's for the wrong reasons."
"He's changing, Adam. We're all changing. We won't be teenagers for much longer. We have new lives approaching us at some incredibly high speeds. We're growing up to be adults."
"Yeah, but why does it feel that Billy reached adulthood long before any of us. He even looks way older than we do."
Tanya shook him playfully, trying to snap him out of his defunct mood. "You're moodier than Billy is, for pete's sake. Just think of it as a brand new adventure. Who knows what's out there and what our lives will be like a mere year from now. It could be fun."
Adam's frown deepened. "I doubt it. I don't know about you but it scares me witless just thinking about it. Sometimes I'd rather face King Mondo."
Tanya sighed in defeat. "Well, all I can say that if Billy does leave, you'll be more than adequate to fill his depressing shoes." She was finally rewarded with a small smile from Adam.
In the distance behind the two unsuspecting Rangers, dark clouds began to gather.
* * *
One mile outside Angel Grove University, the very air began to seethe with electrical energy. Seconds later the dimensional doorway opened and a large black being stood in an open meadow that served as a soccer field for the university. The creature had one huge red eye that glowed and its body was a swirling mass of movement with bolts of lightening striking out savagely from within. A round bubble protruded from its chest which gave the impression of a lightening globe that kids found so fascinating in nature stores.
It laughed manically as it waved its arms, its fingertips sparking with electricity. Just for fun it pointed at the empty bleachers and an arc of energy flew towards it, obliterating the wooden frame into a pile of smoldering kindling. It was more than a match to defeat the Rangers if they tried to interfere.
The laughter increased as it danced with delight at its own destructive nature. The creature spun around and quickly got its bearings. The true target was just beyond those trees. A whole campus to play with. It struck out, eager to start its rampage.
* * *
Billy was lying on the cot in the lab. It felt good to lie down for a minute. His head still throbbed slightly and his aching ribs made breathing a painful chore. He had looked at his face in the bathroom mirror and was not shocked to see that the whole right side of his face was a beautiful motley coloring of yellow and purple. He was going to have a tough time explaining this bruise to everyone. He couldn't use the klutz excuse anymore since he had long passed that awkward stage. No, this called for some definite ingenuity.
He heard pots and pans banging off in the distance. Anna had left to get a start on dinner in another room off the main laboratory. He decided he'd best use this opportunity to contact Zordon and get an update as to the situation outside.
He sat up carefully bracing his chest. He opened a communication line to the Power Chamber. "Zordon, this is Billy."
Instantly, he heard his mentor's voice. "Yes, Billy. I read you. How are the security measures progressing?"
"The new systems are on line. I've established a link to the main computer bank at the Power Chamber. Have Alpha log in under my password. That should activate it immediately."
"Alpha is accessing the program without delay. Well done, Billy."
"Thanks Zordon. Has there been any activity from Mondo's palace yet?"
"No, not at this time. But I do not believe King Mondo will wait much longer."
"Neither do I. Where is the rest of the team?"
"Tanya and Adam are presently on campus. They will be on hand immediately should trouble arise. The rest of the Rangers are resting, awaiting King Mondo's next move."
Billy couldn't help but smile. Adam and Tanya were good friends and he was moved by their loyalty, Adam's particularly. He realized he hadn't been spending very much time with his best friend. He remembered days when they were inseparable, the hours they spent together in the library or in Billy's lab in the Cranston garage. God, the things they used to talk about. They discussed everything, especially those topics that never went beyond the two of them. He'd have to remember to spend more time with Adam when all this was over.
Billy was about to resume talking with Zordon when his alarm sensors went off. He could also hear the muted siren from the Power Chamber echoing the danger over his communicator. He stood up quickly and wished he hadn't. He held onto the edge of the filing cabinet beside the cot until the dizziness passed.
Zordon's voice cut through his lightheadedness. "We have picked up the use of King Mondo's teleporter one mile outside of your vicinity, Billy. Adam and Tanya are already there." There was a pause. Suddenly, Billy heard Alpha cry out.
"Zordon, what's wrong?" Billy wished he could see what was going on.
"The Machine King has sent his most deadly monster," Zordon replied. "Power Surge. It is a highly voitole creation. I am shocked that the Empire is willing to risk so much. Surge is highly unstable. I must contact the other Rangers." And with that the communication ended.
"Good luck." Billy's unheard wish lingered in the empty air. He made his way forward to the main lab. Anna came rushing in behind him.
"What is it?" she asked but she already knew.
"We've got a contact on one of my sensor webs." Billy toyed with the idea of telling her more as he shut off the main siren so only the glare of the flashing emergency light signaled any real danger. He checked the readouts. The power levels were off the scale. Anna stared in horror as she read the same printout, immediately recognizing the implications.
"Oh my God," she whispered.
Billy realized his precautions were no where near capable of handling that much energy if that creature made it to the lab. He'd be lucky if the initial strike didn't immediately overload his systems. "I need to make a few adjustments."
Together the two made modifications to various components and machines about the lab. With Billy's help Anna easily made the necessary adjustments. Billy couldn't believe Mondo had anything like this monster in his arsenal and why hadn't he used it against them before? Zordon had said the creature was highly viotile but in what way? Billy could hear the sounds of battle getting closer. It sounded like a thunderstorm, a big one. Anna heard it too and periodically glanced towards the exit.
He could see her fear struggling to take over but she held it down. "We could make a run for it, Anna," he offered. "We have the mobile cloaking device with the newly installed power source. I can get us out of here with no one the wiser."
For an instant, he thought she was going to accept but then she stood. "No. I'll not be run out by some overbearing, conceited metal dictator that's jealous of a little competition. He wants me, he's going to have to come and get me."
_And he's doing just that,_ Billy thought. He admired her spunk but he knew it was a little naive. She had no real idea of her adversary's capabilities. Billy had first hand knowledge. He decided that if things got bad he'd carry her bodily out but for right now he had faith in his friends. The Rangers had a long standing record against Mondo, no need to start panicking yet. They'd just wait for now.
* * *
Zeo Ranger's Red, Blue and Pink arrived to back up Adam and Tanya who were already morphed and struggling to keep Power Surge at bay. Tanya was down with nasty black burns across her chest. Adam was valiantly standing before her, his Zeo weapon powering up. Surge had one hand planted on the lightening globe. Adam let loose a volley which impacted on Surge with fantastic force. The creature swayed for a second and then pointed his hand at the Rangers. His other hand immediately went to the globe.
Katherine grabbed Tanya and pulled her out of the way. Adam leaped to the side as five bolts of electricity seared the ground where they had stood.
"Anybody got any ideas?" Adam shouted with just a touch of hysteria. He was glad the others had showed up. He knew he was outclassed.
Tanya shook her head groggily but was already regaining her senses. "Those blasts are powerful. They almost overwhelmed the suit." She rubbed at the burn marks. Man, that is going to smart tomorrow.
Tommy had an idea. He used the internal helmet mics. "Katherine, Rocky distract that creep. Adam, Tanya you're with me. We'll take him from the back." With a flash of coordinated light the three teleported.
Rocky and Katherine executed a frontal attack on Surge. The creature removed his hand from the charging globe and fired a five-fingered shot at the two Rangers. The creature sneered at their attempts to avoid them. Only Kat's and Rocky's incredible agility kept the rapidly flying energy bolts from connecting with deadly intent. However, the trees behind them exploded into flames as they took the brunt of the dodged shots.
"Whoa!" Rocky shouted, staring back at the destruction. "That could have been us!" The creature lumbered forward towards its goal, now visible through the burning trees. It attempted to fire a barrage towards the campus.
Katherine flew up in the air and aimed straight down on the creature's chest. Her foot connected solidly just to the left of the globe forcing Surge to stumble. But Zeo Ranger One screamed in agony as residual energy reached out and enveloped her ankle. She fell to the ground and instinctfully rolled away a second before more lightening reached out towards where she had been.
Rocky went forward and landed a blow the only place that didn't seem to be electrified. Its legs. He scissor-kicked and was rewarded with bringing Surge to one knee.
"Damn pitiful human," the creature screamed. "You'll pay for that." Rocky leaped backward landing near Kat who was shakily standing. "Move Kat!" he shouted, pushing her in one direction as he flew in the other. More bolts of pure energy rained down among them. "Come on, guys! Where the hell are you?" Suddenly, the rest of the Rangers teleported in behind Surge.
"Relax, Rocky. We're here." Tommy's voice was as cool as ever. To the rest of the team, he shouted, "Execute!"
The three Rangers sprang forward each power striking Surge at the same time in three vital areas, head, mid- back and legs. Surge fell headlong into the ground digging up a divet into the softening dirt. The glow of electrical energy could be seen radiating beneath the creature as the smell of ozone lingered in the burning air.
Rocky let loose a whoop of victory.
Katherine limped over. "I don't think he's down for the count yet." She turned to Tommy who was running up. "The energy globe in his chest. It's where he's drawing all his power from. It nearly burned my foot off. What ever you do, don't touch it."
"Then that's where we'll concentrate our attacks. But long distance only. Use your Zeo weapons." Zeo Ranger One brought forth her power disc in answer. The rest of the Rangers followed suit with their Power Weapons.
Surge pushed itself off the ground, anger etched into the swirling mass of clouds. A face of sorts appeared, one that was twisted with rage and hatred. The globe was dimmer but not empty. Bolts of electricity were slowly building back up inside the form. Relentlessly, Surge reacquired his main target, the campus. Two lightening bolts fell onto the buildings.
A flash of light later and miraculously the school still stood, the damage almost negligible considering the force of the attack. Tommy caught a glimpse of blue energy flash across the school. A force field. Billy's defensive measures were holding but for how long.
Zeo Ranger Five came to a decision. "Form the Zeo Blaster!" The ZEO Blaster consisted of the Ranger's weapons put together in order to combine their power sources. The ZEO Blaster fired a destructive beam of energy that few of Mondo's creatures could withstand.
The Zeo Rangers aimed the Blaster and fired at the globe. The beam scored a direct hit but instead of shattering the globe as they had hoped, Surge absorbed the energy and glowed brighter than ever.
"Oh no," cried Tanya.
"Damn!" Rocky slammed his fist into his hand. "We're in trouble." Adam stated the obvious. Surge threw its head back and howled with delight. "Thank you ever so much, fools." Both hands were soon drawing the energy from the globe. "Now watch as I complete my mission." He aimed both hands at the campus and let fly with ten bolts of lightening all arcing towards where Billy and Anna were hiding.
"NO," screamed Adam.
"Billy," whispered Kat with foreboding doom.
* * *
Anna was frantically putting out small electrical fires as some of the equipment overloaded during the first attack. Billy used the moment of distraction to his advantage. The ex-Blue Ranger was in contact with Zordon. He had hoped that with a little more information, he could help Zordon and the Rangers find a way to diffuse Surge.
"Kat's hit it right on the head, Zordon. They'll need to drain the energy from the globe. They'll have to do it by getting Surge to expel it. Once the energy level is down to a reasonable state they can destroy Surge. Right now, he's way too powerful to handle without the Zords."
Anna shouted from the other side of the lab. "Billy, I'm reading a tremendous build-up of energy out there!" She was monitoring the sensor equipment focused on Surge.
Billy ran up and shock froze his expression of horror. "Get down now!" He shoved her to the floor and under some equipment as the lab glowed white hot for an instant. He dove beside her as an explosion ripped through the air. He felt the backwash of heat and his skin prickled with the energy from the lightening that had landed on the lab. Equipment shorts and burst displays showered the room with glowing sparks and debris. Their ears rang from the initial blast.
Billy raised his pounding head cautiously. The lab was in ruin, smoldering in places with raging fires in others. But his breath stopped short as he spied a form of electrical energy moving through the equipment and heading their way. It appeared to be alive and searching. Dead equipment glowed bright for an instant and then faded as the energy form moved on.
It was heading straight for them. Billy pulled Anna roughly to her feet and shoved her to the back of the lab. The form was leaping from equipment to equipment, sometimes following the exposed wires, sometimes making a small arc to the next nearest target.
Anna gasped with terror as she saw it for the first time. Then she realized where it was heading. The android still stood in the center of the room. The machines about it were nothing but scrap metal but not her creation. It was meant to stand the rigors of space, it would take something more than a lightening bolt to destroy it.
Billy realized the target at the same time. He ran forward and began shoving equipment out of the path of the energy form, hoping that it needed a close proximity to its next mark before it could make the leap over.
He was wrong. All he did was make it angry. It turned on Billy and arced towards him. Anna screamed as Billy barely dodged the bolt. It seared across his right forearm and then leaped for the android.
* * *
Tommy just got finished communicating to Zordon. He gathered the team. "We need to drain its energy. Get it mad and make it discharge at you."
"Well, it's made me mad that's for sure." Tanya was angry. "Time to reciprocate." She dove at Surge using her power strikes to bring it to the ground once more. "Come on you cheesy light display, show me your stuff!"
"My pleasure," it growled regaining its feet and firing at Tanya who danced a bizarre ballet to avoid all the bolts.
Tommy was next and again performed a dizzying complex series of movements which Surge could not hit. Katherine could see the energy globe diminishing in strength. "I'm next," she shouted with renewed vigor. Adam turned to look back at the campus, which was on fire. Fire trucks were called in to handle the blaze. Most of the students had been evacuated when the monster first arrived. Used to the various monsters preying on Angel Grove, the evacuation went smoothly. There shouldn't have been anyone left at the campus, except for Billy and Anna. He prayed they were okay. Then he leaped into the fray after Katherine.
Rocky went last and his teammates could see that their strategy had paid off. The globe was practically dim. Even the last few bolts aimed at Rocky's agile form were no where near the strength of the previous bolts.
It was time. Tommy drew his Zeo Sword. He wasn't foolish enough to stab the globe while holding onto the sword. There was still plenty of juice left in there to fry him to a crisp probably. So instead, he threw the weapon with pinpoint accuracy and watched in satisfaction as it penetrated the eye in a brilliant display of energy release.
The Rangers covered their heads and when they looked again Surge was down and out. They let loose with wild whoops and cheers.
Adam didn't join in, instead he eyed the burning campus in the distance. "I want to check on Billy."
"So do I, bro," said Tommy slapping him on the back. The group turned as one and then Katherine looked back and gave a shout of alarm.
King Mondo's footman arrived and quickly began to swing Orbus around his head. "Arrrround and arrrround and away we go." Orbus sailed through the air and with eerie accuracy landed atop Surge. Orbus took no time in downloading the growth program and re-energized the fallen Power Surge who began to grow to immense proportions.
Rocky cursed. "I always forget about him."
"We need Zeo Megazord Power now!" Tommy ordered, echoed by the others. Power Surge roared with pleasure as new life flooded his components. He towered over his enemies. "Yes, this is what I needed. Only one thing left to do. Just to make sure that my mission is complete." He hit a switch inside the globe. "Now I can destroy these annoying Rangers at my liesure."
Seconds later the Ranger's Zeo Zords arrived and transformed into the Zeo Megazord. The battle continued with still no word on Billy's fate.
* * *
There was a tremendous flash of light as the bolt of living energy enveloped the android. Billy and Anna were forced to cover their eyes as the brilliance washed over the entire room. As soon as it began to die away, Billy was moving. He had to get Anna out of here. There was no telling what that energy surge would do to the android but from his experience it wasn't going to be good.
Mondo had surprised him. He hadn't realized the Machine King had access to such power. There was the question of why he hadn't used it against them before. The logical answer was that there was a price. Billy could only wonder what is was.
An unearthly whine was coming from the android as wisps of smoke drifted up to the ceiling from its joints. Sluggishly it came erect and its head swiveled to follow Billy as he made his way slowly over to Anna. As soon as he realized the android was watching him with luminous yellow eyes, Billy stopped, waiting for its next move. He'd rather have its attention centered on himself than on Anna. But when it made no aggressive move, Billy continued as before.
"Anna, get back." Billy kept his voice low and steady. "Head for the exit but move very slowly." Anna Fraser didn't seem to hear Billy. Instead she took a step forward marveling at the fluid movements the android was performing. It was something she had only hoped to emulate but doubted she ever could. It was alive; her android was alive.
"Billy," she whispered in reverence. "Look at it! It's moving on its own accord!" The young man recognized the enraptured state Anna was in. Again, he remembered that Anna had never seen such things. Humanity was so far behind, technology-wise. Only a few years ago, Billy had been just as oblivious to danger as he was exposed to fantastic power and technology. It was dangerously intoxicating. He needed her to understand the peril they were in, but he might not have the time.
He spied the overturned table where his diamond-shaped device had been resting before the attack. He inched his way over. If he could reach it they might have a chance.
The android had finally registered the new voice and turned towards Anna. Billy's heart leaped into his throat.
"Damn it, Anna! Get out of here!" Billy shouted, more to attract the android's attention back to him than anything else. It worked. The android moved towards Billy, shoving aside any obtrusive obstacles blocking its path. They fell away like paper boxes.
Billy quickly leaped over the upended table, desperately searching for the device. Fearfully, Anna stepped forward waving an arm distracting it. Confused, the android swung back to her. She retreated a little, maneuvering closer to Billy. The wonder of life within her creation still amazed her. There had to be a rational explanation for it. "Billy, maybe the electricity was all that was needed to energize the positronic brain. The currents were infused with enough energy for simultaneous generation of...."
"Anna." Billy's voice was quiet and even. She turned to him. "Listen to me. This isn't natural." He stood slowly. In his hands was the diamond-shaped device. He turned towards the android. "It's evil. The energy bolt was not from this world. It was evil energy created by an psychotic monster." There was no way to make it sound rational. He flipped a switch and the device hummed. He pointed the diamond's tip at Mondo's newest monster.
With frightening clarity, Anna realized the purpose of Billy's device; he had called it a safety precaution. "You're going to destroy it?" she cried in alarm.
He hesitated briefly. "It's evil, Anna. Trust me on this. This is Mondo's work. An attempt to get at you." He glanced over at her, pleading with her to understand.
Suddenly, as if receiving a signal, the android's eyes blazed red. With another flash of light, its body transformed into a heavily armored Cog.
"NO," Anna howled, staggering back.
Billy reached for the trigger on the device but the Ultra-Cog was faster. The face split and exposed the lasers within its eye sockets. Twin blasts landed on either side of Billy. The concussion lifted the young man up into the air and flipped him back onto the remains of Anna's diagnostic computers. Billy descended with a sickening thud, sliding bonelessly down to the floor and was still.
Anna's scream reverberated in the ruins of the lab as the Ultra-Cog turned his attention to her.
* * *
An explosion rocked the cockpit of the Zeo Megazord. Everyone was flung back in their seats and then forward against the consoles. Another blast landed near them. Rocky and Tanya protected their eyes from the glare.
Adam quickly brought up a damage control display. "Power down 15%," he announced. "And that was from only one of those blasts!"
"We won't be able to withstand him long." Kat struggled to maintain control over her systems. "Whatever we're going to do we better do it fast!"
"The Zeo Megazord's not agile enough to drain him of energy like we did on the ground." Tommy was sweating inside his helmet.
"So what are we going to do?" Rocky was trying hard to remain calm as the Megazord was again buffeted by another powerful blast.
Tommy racked his brain for a solution. _Man, I wish Billy was here,_ he thought. The man had so much knowledge about practically everything that he always had an answer to their dilemmas. But Billy wasn't here, he might even be dead which meant they were on their own. "Tanya, contact Zordon and Alpha. See if they registered any other weak spots on that monster. We need a miracle and we need it fast!"
"That last bolt severed communications," Tanya told him. "We're on our own."
Tommy cursed silently, not wanting the others to sense his overwhelming frustration. Then his leadership qualities kicked in and he settled down. When brains weren't available, muscle was, and at present they still had an abundance of brawn at their disposal. Not to mention that the Megazord had plenty of insulation that rivaled their own zeo suits. It could take a lot of punishment. Billy had seen to that.
He formed a plan. One that Billy was going to have a fit about when the Megazord came in for repairs. A stab of emotive pain hit him. He prayed Billy was okay.
He turned to his teammates. "We're going in and we're smashing that lightening globe." They all turned and looked at him. Even through their helmets he could see their fear.
Rocky finally spoke what the others could not. "Tommy, we'll get fried if we try to do that!"
Adam called out another status report. "We're down 35% guys."
"Zeo Megazord's insulation will hold," Tommy insisted. The view from the cockpit showed horrible destruction over a three mile radius. The campus was a blazing ruin. "We've got maybe fifteen minutes to bring this monster down. The damage he's caused is already immense. We don't have a choice, guys. This has turned into a slug fest now and we just have to pray that the Megazord can handle whatever Surge can dish out."
No one said anything else and the decision was made. They maneuvered in for the kill, the Zeo Megazord's arms raised high above the cockpit.
Surge immediately raced forward to meet his challenger, confidence evident in his swirling body of clouds, electrical energy crackling almost as loud as the monster's laughter. He extended his hands and ten bolts of lightening rained down on the Zeo Megazord.
With rote precision, the Rangers piloted the Megazord deeper into the maelstrom. Smoke and sparks were erupting from every console, barely withstanding the punishing electrical surges being flung at them. Each Ranger gripped their controls, valiantly prevailing in order to protect the damage control group at the campus who were trying to prevent the fire from spreading to the residential areas.
"Systems down to 75%," Adam shouted over the clamor.
"It's now or never," Tommy yelled. They had brought the Zeo Megazord within range. The Rangers brought the arms down and thrust them into the creature's chest and shattered the energy globe. Electricity slithered up the Zord's embedded arms as if it was a living entity. It engulfed the Megazord. Tommy heard Katherine scream as smoke and flames swelled within the cockpit. _The insulation is failing,_ he thought. Every nerve in his body was on fire as the equipment under his hands were enveloped with deadly energy.
* * *
Back at the Power Chamber, Zordon watched in horror as his charges disappeared in a cloud of black smoke and seething electrical energy. For the first time he doubted the strength of the Zeo Crystals. What could withstand that punishment? He was to blame if the young adults were hurt or worse. In just one horrific battle he might have lost all of the Rangers, Billy included. Brief anger flared within the wizened face. This was Mondo's doing. He had never believed the Machine King would be so desperate as to utilize Surge. All this to punish a single human woman? Or was their more? He gazed down at the Power Chamber where Alpha stood alone for the first time in months. He again looked at the viewing globe at the distant flames engulfing the campus. Was Billy Mondo's true target all along?
Billy was still a Ranger in Zordon's eyes but he had seen the restlessness of his eldest charge and suspected a decision on his future any day now. His pride in the young man's growth in wisdom and leadership had not gone unnoticed by Zordon.
It would not have escaped Mondo's notice either. Billy was a constant source of blatant disregard of Mondo's law. Billy's demise would be a fine jewel in the King's crown. Had Mondo won? Was it possible that Billy and the rest of the Rangers had perished? He prayed he would get the chance to tell the Billy that he still believed in him. He prayed he could tell all of them.
Alpha 5 ran towards the viewing globe, his arms flailing in despair. "Oh, Zordon, we have lost them!" Zordon was strangely silent.
Then suddenly the smoke cleared. The massive form of the Megazord was the only one left standing. Power Surge lay at the great Zord's feet, defeated and lifeless. With a sudden flash, he was gone, teleported back to the Machine Empire. Zordon sensed that Surge was already gaining his energy back. Surge would drain the entire universe in an effort to regain what he lost. He would strike out at any one. With any luck, Surge would siphon the Machine Empire dry.
"I'm reading life signs within the Megazord," Alpha shouted happily. "The Rangers are all right!"
Zordon closed his eyes in relief. "Bring them home, Alpha. And try again to raise Billy."
* * *
Anna desperately searched for cover behind the remains of her charred equipment. The Ultra-Cog fired again in her direction but the blast only impacted on the machinery and under the cover of the developing smoke she tried to make her way closer to where Billy lay so still.
He had been right. What had she been thinking? The bottom line was she hadn't been. She had been blind to the danger, swept up by the euphoria of creating life. But it hadn't been her hand that had created life, it was the monstrosity that hunted her. Why hadn't she listened to Billy? God, what a fool she had been. _Please be okay, Billy,_ she prayed silently. _I'm so sorry._
He was no more than six feet away from her, his limp body, bruised and burned, lying half slumped against the console. Inches away from his slack hand was the diamond device. If she could only reach it.
She risked a glance at the Ultra-Cog. It was searching the last position where it had registered her presence, a good ten feet away from where she was presently. There wouldn't be a better chance. She ran towards Billy. But she missed the tangle of melted cable that grabbed at her ankle. She sprawled headlong raising enough clatter to signal an army of her location much less one Ultra-Cog. She scrambled to her feet and ran as laser fire followed her.
It was either a miracle or just dumb luck, but the android missed. It shuffled towards her, attempting to acquire a clear shot.
Anna wasn't going to give him one. She weaved through the breaks in the demolished lab and flung herself towards Billy. She slid across the slick floor and into the device. She flipped onto her back and raised the weapon. She had a flash of dread as she realized that the device might not have survived the first attack but then the comforting hum reached her ears. The Ultra-Cog smashed through the remaining debris, its eyes blazing red with hate. They fired at the same time and the room erupted in a blazing display of light and flame.
* * *
The Zeo Rangers teleported into what was left of the lab. They were unprepared for the devastation that greeted them. Heat and smoke permeated the very air which they could just barely feel through their suits already weakened by the incredible abuse they had sustained in the Megazord. Every Ranger's suit was covered with burns and tears.
"Oh my God," Kat whispered, taking in the damage.
Adam rushed forward fear swelling inside him. "Where are they?"
"Over there!" Tommy pointed and the group rushed to where Anna cradled an unconscious Billy. She was hunched over his still form, talking in low murmurs.
Tanya knelt beside her, running a scanner over both of them. "Ms. Fraser is okay aside from some burns and scrapes."
"And Billy?" Adam's voice was strained with worry.
Tanya looked up at them, concern deeply etched in her expression. "We need to get him back now."
Anna seemed to acknowledge them for the first time. She glanced at Tanya with tear streaked eyes. "It was my fault. It's all my fault. Help him please." Each breath she took seared her lungs. The heat within the room was almost unbearable.
Tanya placed a hand on Anna's slumped shoulder. "We will."
"Look at this," Rocky called out. He had found the remains of the Mondo's assassin. Tommy arrived and gave a low whistle. The two Rangers turned the Ultra-Cog over. There was a smoldering six inch diameter hole in its chest. Rocky pointed to the diamond device lying beside Anna. Tommy nodded in understanding and retrieved the device.
Adam was taking Billy in his arms, easily lifting his friend. Anna still held Billy's hand. Tommy turned to Rocky. "Take Ms. Fraser to the hospital. Get her checked out. We'll take care of Billy."
Rocky put his arm around Anna. "Come on. He's in good hands. They'll take care of him." She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She squeezed Billy's hand one last time and then released it. The two groups stood apart ready to teleport. Anna couldn't take her eyes off Billy's silent figure. "Will I see him again?" she asked Rocky.
"We'll see to it," he assured her.
The five figures disappeared in colors of pink, green, yellow, red and white. She smiled that Billy's color was pure as driven snow. It gave her mind some slight peace.
As soon as the Rangers materialized within the Power Chamber, Adam gently placed Billy on the grid. Kat stood on the other side. They could all use some time there but Billy's injuries were by far the worst. Alpha was already scanning Billy and programming the table with specific commands as to his treatment.
Tanya read off the worst of the damage as it flashed across the display. "Two broken ribs, punctured left lung, concussion, severe laceration of the upper arm, smoke inhalation, third degree burns...."
Tommy placed a hand on her arm to silence her. "He'll be all right, Tanya." He turned to look up at Zordon. "Won't he?"
"Without a crystal to help him recharge his energy, his injuries are severe." Zordon's voice was heavy with emotion. A sound the Rangers were not used to hearing.
Fear gripped Tommy's chest. "What if we give him some of our energies?" The whole team stepped forward as one towards Zordon, acquiesce written on their faces.
"Your own energies are dangerously low. It will take days before the Zeo Crystals can re-energize them. You are all at risk."
"It's one we're willing to take," Adam stated.
Zordon nodded and the Rangers formed a circle around Billy who lay utterly still. They joined hands and raised them above their heads, their eyes closed, each concentrating on willing a portion of their own life energies to anoint their fallen comrade. Slowly from each Ranger a coordinated colored light emerged from them and drifted over the table where Billy lay. The individual lights merged into one brilliant ball which filled the entire Power Chamber. Alpha was forced to look away. Then the ball of light sank slowly onto Billy, bathing him in white radiance and then it faded.
The Rangers all nearly collapsed with exhaustion. Tommy was the first to regain his voice. "Did we do it, Zordon?"
"Yes," Zordon answered not bothering to keep the relief from his face. "It will still take him time to recover, but he will heal."
The Rangers gathered around Billy whose face was no longer drawn in pain, his vital signs were gaining strength and his breathing was not so labored.
Zordon continued. "I want you all to go home and rest. I will contact you the minute Billy regains consciousness. You have all done well under very trying circumstances. You should be very proud."
Adam stepped forward. "I'd like to stay, Zordon. I want to start repairing the Zords."
Tommy stood close to Adam. "I'll help."
"And I want to tell Rocky and Anna the good news," Katherine said.
Tanya still stood at the morphing grid where Billy lay. She gently moved a wisp of damp hair from his pale forehead. "I want to be here when he wakes up." She smiled bravely at Zordon.
Zordon was immensely proud of all of them. They were truly the finest choices for the defenders of this earth. Their futures were bright indeed.
* * *
Tanya sat in the silence of the Power Chamber, a book she had been holding but not reading lay in her lap. Billy was finally sleeping instead of the state of unconsciousness that had existed prior. His breathing was regular and easy but he was so still yet. It unnerved her. He didn't look well to her. The bruise across his face was fading with the accelerated healing but it was still dark and ugly, shadows lingered around his eyes.
She had always looked up to Billy. He was the first "adult" she had met when she had arrived in the Power Chamber for the first time as a young girl. Billy had greeted her warmly and had accepted her presence in Aisha's place. She wondered for a moment whether Billy had made his decision then to give her his crystal. It couldn't have been a spontaneous decision. He had to have been contemplating such a thing long before his announcement. It was the last thing she had ever expected. Tanya had assumed that she would deliver Aisha's crystal and then her mission would be over and she would leave to start a new life. After all, there could only be five Rangers and six people stood in the Power Chamber.
But it hadn't happened that way. Billy had restored them to their rightful ages. Goldar and Rito stole the reformed Zeo Crystal and planted the implosion device. It was then that Tanya witnessed Billy's bravery first hand as he leaped on the exploding console to shield Alpha from the terrible blast just before they were forcefully teleported out. That one small act of bravery had endeared him to her. She would never forget the expression of utter desolation on his face only moments later. When he had regained consciousness and saw the obliterated Power Chamber he had been in tears. The destruction of the Power Chamber had hit Billy the hardest. He felt as if he had failed Zordon and Alpha. Could that have been the reason for Billy giving up his crystal?
Tanya gently reached out and touched Billy's face. He had come so close to dying both then and now. She shuddered briefly. They had never lost anyone yet thanks to first the coin's and now the Crystal's powerful protection. But Billy was without either and therefore so vulnerable. It took a brave soul to stay in a battle with no shield or armor.
Suddenly, Billy groaned drawing in a deep breath as he labored to wake up. Tanya nearly dropped the book to the floor. He shifted, his hand lifting towards his head. She immediately grabbed hold of it. "Billy!"
He moaned again and his eyes gently fluttered open. His vision was blurry and for a brief second he wanted his glasses but then he remembered he didn't need them any more. He fought to bring the hovering form into focus. From the yellow shirt he realized who it was. "Tanya." His body felt strangely numb.
She grinned broadly in relief. "Oh, thank God you're all right. We were so worried." He struggled to sit upright but Tanya held him firmly down. "Not so fast, genius. You don't move until Zordon and Alpha say it's okay."
He relented but held her arm. "Anna...." His last conscious thought had been her danger. "Is she all right?"
Tanya smiled. It was so typical of Billy to think of others before himself.... "She's fine. She was treated for smoke inhalation and some burns and released the same day. That was two days ago. Rocky's with her."
That brought Billy struggling upwards once again and Tanya had to grab his shoulders."Rocky?" Now Billy was really worried. No girl could resist that rogue's charisma for long.
Tanya leaned down and whispered in Billy's ear. "He's under strict orders not to apply any romantic charm."
Billy blushed and offered a small smile. "Boy, am I obvious or what?" His voice was hoarse and scratchy.
Tanya reached over and pressed a button on the console to her left. Within seconds, Zordon's commanding presence floated down within the tube and Alpha and the rest of the Rangers flooded in from the Zord holding chamber.
Tanya turned to greet them. "He's awake."
The gang rushed forward and crowded around the table. "How are you feeling, man?" Tommy asked.
Billy shrugged. "I... don't know. Fine I guess." He felt a little self conscious with the all the attention. "Have I really been unconscious for two days?"
"Two long days," Adam emphasized, concern still etched in his face. He turned to Alpha who was running a diagnostic on his patient. Adam exhaled a long breath as he saw for himself that Billy was definitely on the road to recovery.
Billy's vision was gradually coming back and the faces of his friends took definition. Adam's looked positively morose. He playfully tapped him on the arm. "I'm fine," he insisted.
Adam merely nodded. "I just didn't want you going anywhere without talking to me first," he said finally. Billy almost laughed but then stopped, sensing that there was more to Adam's words. He locked eyes with his best friend. "Scout's honor, I'll ask you before going anywhere."
Adam finally smiled and Billy relaxed again. "I am glad you are well, Billy." Zordon's voice was oddly low.
Billy raised his eyes to the large projection tube and saw his mentor. "Thank you, Zordon." He coughed abruptly as unused vocal cords cramped up. Adam immediately procured a glass of water. Billy took long, slow sips. Then his arm began to tremble and Adam took the glass from him, easing him gently back down on the bed.
Alpha took over being nursemaid. "Billy needs his rest. Might I suggest that you all go and get something to eat. The Power Chamber has been way too crowded these last couple of days. I am just not used to all this company. Ay yi yi." They all laughed.
Tanya squeezed Billy's hand one last time. "I'll go tell Anna you're awake." Waving goodbye to Billy, the Rangers teleported out and Alpha moved off to check on some other readouts across the room.
Billy's eyes were about to slip shut when Zordon spoke quietly. Billy turned his head to look at him. "Billy, I haven't had a chance to tell you how proud I am of you and your achievements these past years. You have never stopped being a Ranger in my eyes. You are the eldest in the team and they draw strength from your wisdom. This is not something to be taken lightly. Your place in the Rangers has been the cornerstone of the group, always present, always the voice of reason and logic. Never forget that."
Billy's eyes were moist with emotion. He had never heard Zordon speak so. It was truly an honor. "I won't forget, Zordon. I promise."
Zordon nodded and disappeared. Billy lay back. He had a lot to think about.
Epilogue A week later, Billy sat with Anna in Angel Grove Park, the remains of a picnic lunch beside them on the bench. Billy placed his arm around Anna as she leaned back against his shoulder. The last few days had been like this, peaceful and serene. Just the two of them enjoying each other's company and the beautiful weather. Neither of them showed any signs of their ordeal, which made savoring the moment all the more pleasant.
Anna couldn't help the heavy contented sigh that escaped her lips, which Billy relished as he watched the kids playing football across the field. They had both been through a lot together. There was a certain sense of satisfaction in just being alive.
"Comfy?" Billy asked. His eyes were closed, his face lifted up towards the sun soaking in its warm rays.
"Very," Anna murmured, her thin hand slipping gently into his. He gave it a quick squeeze. One of Billy's friends, a very charming fellow, had arrived to stay with her while at the hospital. He had said that the Rangers would help Billy and not to worry. They were as good their word. For that Anna was grateful. Her fear at being the cause of his injuries, however indirectly, ate at her conscious. But Billy had forgiven her, explaining that she had done remarkably well for her first battle with King Mondo. It hadn't taken the sting away completely but the pain was finally fading with Billy's tender care. She didn't want to lose it.
"You're doing it again," Billy observed watching her distant expression. She started at his voice. He held her tighter. "What happened was no one's fault. You can always make another android."
"But I can never make another you, right?" she teased with all sincerity.
"Exactly." He leaned over and kissed her. "Trust me, you made a wise decision." He smiled and closed his eyes again.
She chuckled at his playful arrogance and then relaxed again in his arms, letting the tension ebb. Actually there was something far more important to tell him. She shifted to look up at him. She drew in another breath but this time she held it. "NASA has extended funding for the creation of a new prototype...."
Billy opened his eyes. He had been dreading this. "But they're moving the site," he finished softly. She nodded gravely. "I tried to tell them it wouldn't make a difference, but they refuse to let me work in Angel Grove. Too many monsters," she mimicked NASA's serious tone.
"Mondo will still try to stop you wherever you are. Of course, that is if he's still around. The Power Rangers told me they had registered some amazing electrical storms within the Machine Empire. Maybe Mondo is paying the price for Surge's failure, right now."
But one thing Billy knew, Mondo was resilient. He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. He grinned wryly for a moment.
"I know the danger, so does NASA," Anna continued. "They said they'll protect me. They're taking more precautions this time, all hush-hush and so on. Keep it under your hat, will you?"
Billy laughed. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small delicate bracelet. He stretched out her arm and placed it on her wrist. "This is a communication device. If anything should happen, press this button. Wherever I am, I'll get the message." She stared with intense interest at her new adornment. Billy noticed. "Just whatever you do, don't dissect it okay?"
She looked up at him with moist laughing eyes and winked. "Does this mean we're going steady?"
A warm glow washed over Billy. For the first time, it wasn't embarrassment but pure joy. He titled her chin towards him and kissed her long and deep. She returned it eagerly. After a few moments they pulled slowly apart.
Anna's face was flushed, her breathing labored. A smile broke over her face. "I'd say that was a yes." She snuggled closer against him and he held her tight.
He was at peace for a change. Something inside him was suddenly different. The weight of self-doubt was gone from his shoulders. He couldn't quite put his finger on what had changed, but he wasn't willing to over analyze it for once. He was willing to just go with the flow.
Anna sat up and quickly turned to face him, her expression suddenly serious. "Come with me," she implored.
For an instant, Bill was almost tempted beyond reason to say yes. But he hesitated. He wasn't ready to leave the Rangers yet. He felt renewed in spirit for the first time in months. He felt sure of his decisions over the last few years and wanted a chance to show the others that he was now at peace.
He touched Anna's cheek tenderly. "Not yet," he whispered. "I have some unfinished interests here in Angel Grove."
She nodded, not really understanding. Billy had secrets, that she knew. A part of her suspected deeper involvement with the Power Rangers. Of course, someone with his intelligence would be a valuable asset to them. They probably called on his assistance quite often. She understood that kind of responsibility. She was also glad that they called him a friend and were there to protect him. It was easier to leave that way.
"You're staying for them, aren't you?" she asked. Billy was shocked at her powers of observation. He answered slowly. "Partly yes. But also for me. Somebody pointed out something to me and I realize that I've been giving people I care about the wrong signals. There's a great many unresolved issues for me here. If I left now, they might think I'm leaving for the wrong reasons. I can't do that to my friends."
She hugged him fiercely. "I understand," she spoke softly into his ear. Her throat was choked with emotion and she dared not speak any louder. "I'll wait for you." She kissed him squarely on the mouth, drawing from him all the love she could. It would have to be enough to last her for awhile. She stood quickly and gathered her things. "I'll keep in touch."
With that she was gone. Billy sat there, his lips pressed thin with the pain of sudden loss. It passed slowly. Eventually, he turned his attention back to the football game. He remembered when Jason and Zack were always playing football with Curtis on that very same field. They were good days. God, he had been so awkward then. He still found it hard to believe how anyone had tolerated him. He had been such a geek. But the Rangers had always accepted him right from the start. He had learned so much from them and from his friends now. How to cope with every day things and some not so every day things.
Without the Power Rangers as his family, he wondered how he would have turned out. Someone so completely different, and Billy knew he probably wouldn't have liked that person very much. He would have been too shy, too reserved, too distant. Far worse than what he was now. The Rangers had molded him into someone who could cope, someone who could be a part of society as well as contribute to its well being. For that he would be eternally grateful. The Rangers were a part of him. He carried a piece of all of them now. It would be enough to last him forever no matter where he went. And who knew, maybe somewhere there was a coin or a crystal or some other great power with his name on it. He could wait.
He stood up and made his way through the park, heading for the Power Chamber. He could teleport, of course, but it was such a nice day, he'd rather walk.