The sun shone brightly in the California desert, pouring heat and light down to the earth below. On a mountainside far from any outpost of civilization, a young man named Billy Cranston was peering intently at what appeared to be no more than featureless rock.
"Strange," he mused, chewing at his lip intently. "I see no malfunction in the sensors, Zordon. Are you sure of that blip?"
"Quite sure," a deep voice rumbled from the band on his wrist. "There was a moment when the sensor feed hiccuped."
Billy shrugged, adjusting his glasses. He generally wore his contacts these days, but the dry desert air made that unfeasible for this task. If he had his contacts in right now, his eyes would be streaming rivers.
"Well, apparently whatever the malfunction was, the self-repair systems corrected it," he announced. "I'm headed back in before I cook out here."
Zordon chuckled. "Understood, Billy. I'll be waiting for you."
Breaking the connection, Billy stretched. Then he looked around himself carefully. If the sensor anomaly hadn't just been a malfunction, that meant there was someone or something around with the ability to "ghost" past the Power Chamber's sensors. He didn't like that idea at all. But even if one of King Mondo's goons did manage to gain entrance to the Power Chamber, it would never make it past the security system. A combination of Zordon's technology and Billy's innovations, the system was the most advanced of its kind anywhere in the universe. Shrugging, he rested his palm on the activation plate for the door, which immediately swung open before him. Then he walked back into the cool darkness of the Power Chamber's corridors.
The Power Chamber, the complete edifice, was huge. It ran for miles up and down the mountain range and extended deep into the Earth. Only someone who spent a great majority of time there, such as Billy, could find his or her way around without a map.
Absently, Billy headed for the bullet shuttle with the ease of much use. As he walked, he was mulling over the sensor glitch. Self-repair systems could have fixed it, but he would have seen evidence of the malfunction. More and more it seemed to him that someone had been "ghosting" the sensors.
Suddenly, the blaring of an alarm startled Billy out of his thoughts. It wasn't the alarm that signified an attack by Mondo; this was the short, staccato blast of the intruder alert. Then, as quickly as it had come, the alarm cut off. Billy's eyes narrowed. That was NOT normal behavior for that system. It SHOULD have kept blaring until deactivated by two Rangers, and they surely would have waited for his arrival. Tapping his communicator, he attempted to make contact with Zordon.
Only static greeted him. He tried again, and still got nothing. Switching frequencies, he tried to raise the other Rangers. No luck there, either.
A soft whir behind him tickled his instincts, and he immediately threw himself into a forward roll. Several high-powered laser blasts singed the ground where he had been, following him up the corridor. Coming out of his roll on his feet, Billy continued to run down the corridor, as other lasers began to unfold from emplacements on the walls.
"What the hell?" he muttered, with the little breath he had left. "Those things are supposed to be stunners!" Stun beams did not singe floors. Apparently, their mysterious cyber-ghost had been playing around with security settings.
In front of him, Billy suddenly noticed the security door rising from the floor. His reasoning had been that anyone could roll UNDER a descending door. A rising one was quite a different story.
However, long before the present, long before the Rangers, Billy had been first and foremost a gymnast. His powerful legs propelled him from the floor, and he tucked himself into a perfect aerial somersault, making it through the rapidly closing gap with room to spare. Coming out of his roll, he touched down and stuck his landing perfectly. _Kim would be so jealous,_ he chuckled.
There were no security lasers in this part of the corridor, and he took a moment to catch his breath. If this was a glitch, it was one hell of a nasty one. "At least I know the security system is effective," he puffed.
"Most impressive, Billy," a voice suddenly chuckled. It was obviously computer altered, sounding like a blend of three or four different voices. Something about it, though, was quite female.
"Who are you!" Billy demanded of the air. "What do you want?"
"I want what my master, King Mondo wants- the destruction of the Power Rangers and the assimilation of all the data in the Power Chamber's data banks. If you surrender now, I could spare you, Billy. Mondo would be quite pleased to have a servant with your genius."
Billy snarled. "Forget it! My coin and powers may be history, but I'm still a Power Ranger. I won't abandon my friends, and I'll NEVER serve evil!"
The voice chuckled. "Your choice. Just remember that when a security droid's weapon is the last thing you see."
"We'll just see about that," Billy muttered. Then, cautiously, he began to move down the corridor once more.
Having designed the security system almost completely single-handed, Billy knew exactly which corridors were equipped with lasers. He and Zordon had planned out a complicated, laser-free path through the Power Chamber, in case the system ever went haywire. That didn't mean the corridors were undefended, however. Far from it. The Power Chamber had a large fleet of security droids that patrolled everywhere.
As Billy crept down one of the corridors, he could faintly hear the sounds of laser fire, coming from the direction of the training gym. He frowned, stopping to listen. If he had been dealing with an ordinary malfunction, he could accept the system firing at nothing. But with an intelligence at the helm, the lasers wouldn't be shooting unless there was something for them to shoot at. Deciding that any enemy of the mysterious hacker was likely to be an ally, Billy took off down the hall, following the sounds of mayhem.
As he got a little closer, he began hearing a human voice shouting, although the words were incomprehensible over the noise of laser fire. Rounding a corner, he stopped dead. Kat Hilliard was ducked behind a makeshift barricade, a pistol in one hand. On one wall, the weapon panel hung open, showing where Kat had grabbed the laser. Looking closer, Billy saw with some amusement that Kat's barricade was the defunct body of a security droid. Three others were at the other end of the hall, firing. None had seen him yet.
Readying himself, Billy threw himself at the weapons panel, grabbing another laser gun and rolling to come up beside Kat. She gaped at him. "Billy? What are you doing here?"
"I'm always here, remember? What are you doing here?"
Kat started to reply, but had to duck as a security droid's laser singed her hair. "I'll explain later! First we have to take care of these flying trash cans!"
Billy chuckled. Kat's description of the security droids was fairly accurate. Made of white plasteel, the droids were conical, going from four feet in diameter at the "shoulders" to two feet at the bottom. On their shoulders perched a "head" that consisted mainly of optical and auditory sensors. Their bodies provided housing for two mechanical arms, and an array of stun blasters. Well, normally they were stun blasters, Billy amended, ducking another laser bolt. Apparently their unknown adversary had pumped up the power.
"Go for the eyes," he suggested, firing around the upended droid. Three years of Blade Blaster practice paid off, and Billy caught two of the robots square in the optic sensors. Kat caught the third, and the two Rangers quickly cut the blinded droids down with a hail of laser fire. As the last shot died away, Billy and Kat leaned back against their barricade, sighing.
"Now," Billy puffed. "You were saying something about an explanation?"
Kat laughed. "Adam and Tanya are out on a date, and Tommy and Rocky are practicing katas together. I felt like a fifth wheel, so I decided I'd get a little gallery practice in." She gestured to the training gym. For the first time, Billy noticed that she was dressed in a tank top and leggings, her hair back in a tight French braid. "I'd just finished up and was heading for the showers when these things attacked me. I caught that one by surprise, but the other three backed off and just started shooting at me."
"Why didn't you morph?" Billy frowned.
"I couldn't! I tried, but nothing happened. That's when I went for the gun. Billy, what is going on here?"
He sighed. "Apparently we have an intruder. She's turned the security system lethal, and turned it on us. She's blocked off communications, and apparently morphing, too. Makes sense; it leaves the Rangers cut off AND helpless against Mondo's goons."
"How can she do that?" Kat wanted to know. "I mean, how can she just- turn off our powers like that?"
"The Zeo Crystal is nothing more than a power source, Kat," Billy explained. "All the actual morphing comes from the computer systems, and the chips in the Zeonizers. Cut the Zeonizer signal off from the rest of the computer system, and you can't morph. Kind of vulnerable, I know, but we never thought ANYBODY could get into the Zeonizer computers. They're physically isolated, not networked to anything but the Zeonizers themselves. That's why they weren't affected by Mean Screen." He shook his head. "I should have known better."
Leaning forward, she put a hand on his shoulder. "Billy, you can't think of every possible angle. There's too many for anyone to ever get their mind around. You do the best you can. Now let's stop beating ourselves up and come up with a plan!"
Billy gave her a half-smile. "Now I understand why you've been so good for Tommy," he murmured. Then he shook himself. "The first order of business is to get reinforcements. I'd rather have five Rangers than one, no offense, Kat."
"None taken," she replied. "I'd feel a lot better with back-up, myself. If she's blocking communicators, how do we contact the others?"
"There's a secondary communications nexus one level down," he answered, standing. Reaching out, he pulled her up as well. "It's an isolated system, so she won't be able to block it from the main chamber."
"You're sure that's where she is?" Kat asked, grabbing the last laser from the weapons panel. Checking the charge and the safety, she tucked it into her waistband, under her shirt. Seeing his look, she grinned. "Better safe than sorry," she pointed out.
"You sound like Tommy," he laughed. "To answer your question, yeah, I'm pretty sure. The main chamber is the only place from which you can access almost every system." He looked around, than pointed. "This way. Come on."
As they headed cautiously down the corridor, Kat cocked her head. "Which systems can't you access from the main chamber?"
"Back-up communications, of course," he flashed her a grin. "Also, the main power systems, including the Mako reactor, and life support. I never expected anything like this, but you can't be too careful."
"You certainly can't," Kat agreed.
Kat looked down the ladder well that led to the next level. "Dark down there," she remarked. Billy nodded.
"Good place for an ambush," he agreed. "Ladies first?"
She shot him a look, then dropped down the well. "Clear," her voice floated up. Billy jumped down as well, not bothering with the ladder. "Show-off," she chuckled.
"Says the woman who dates Tommy Oliver," he shot back. She made a face.
"Tommy's not a show-off," she protested. "Well- all right, he is. But he doesn't mean it, he's just- flashy."
"I know, Kat," Billy assured her. "Tommy and I may not have much in common anymore, but I'd still consider him one of my best friends. He's not showing off for attention; it's just that- he's Tommy."
"I forget sometimes that you two have known each other for so long," she mused, as the two of them crept down the darkened corridor. "You're both originals. The rest of us are just replacements."
Billy startled. "You're more than just a replacement, Kat. You've been a wonderful Ranger, and a wonderful friend."
"Thank you, Billy." She smiled warmly. "That's not quite what I meant, though. I'm not insecure about my performance as a Ranger anymore- I think that stopped when I got the Pink Zeo powers. They weren't KIM'S powers, and I didn't feel like I was being compared to her anymore. I didn't mean to say that I thought we were "just" replacements, but- we came in late. You and Tommy- you go back to the beginning."
Billy thought about that. "Yeah, I guess so," he said. "And even Tommy came in late, in a sense. Jason, Zack, Trini, Kim- of the first five, I'm all that's left."
Kat laid a hand on his shoulder. "That must be lonely."
"It is," he replied, green eyes hooded. Then he shook himself and smiled at her. "But only occasionally. I may miss my old friends, but at least I have some good new ones. Come on, the array shouldn't be far now."
A few minutes later, the two of them came to the room that housed the communications nexus. Placing his palm on the identification plate, Billy waited for it to slide open. It didn't.
He palmed it again. Still nothing. He shot Kat a worried look. "I don't like this," he murmured. Pulling a Swiss Army knife out of one pocket of his jeans, he went to work on the panel. Popping it off, he managed to twist two wires together, bypassing the door circuit. The door slid open, and the two teens walked into the room.
"Oh, shit," Billy whispered. That basically summed up the situation. The communications array had been completely smashed, and it looked as if someone had fired several rounds into it for good measure.
"Looks like she got here ahead of us," Kat managed. Billy leaned over to inspect the damage, then straightened up hurriedly.
"Out, Kat," he ordered. "Head for the ladder. NOW!"
Kat didn't even think; she did as she was told. Billy wasn't the type of man who issued orders just for fun. Backing out of the room, she turned and ran for the ladder, Billy close behind her. The sound of laser fire echoed up the darkened corridors as the security droids who had destroyed the array moved from their ambush.
Despite her long legs and the adrenaline coursing through her veins, Kat still wasn't moving fast enough for Billy's liking. Grabbing her wrist, he sped up, dragging her behind him as they dashed pell-mell for the ladder. Turning, Billy opened fire on the security droids. "Go!" he yelled. "Up the ladder! I'll cover you!"
"The hell you will!" she shot back. "It's my turn to bring up the rear!"
"Damn it, Kat! I jump better than you do! Now MOVE!"
Seeing that Billy wasn't going to back down, Kat shot him one final glare and swarmed up the ladder, laser still in one hand. As she climbed, Billy moved until his back was against the ladder, still firing at the oncoming droids. No sooner had Kat cleared the top of the hole than Billy leaped, one bolt barely missing the bottom of his sneakers. Hands strengthened from years on the rings grabbed at the rungs of the ladder, and he pulled himself up through the hole just as the security droids reached the bottom of the ladder. Billy had barely pulled himself through the well when Kat slammed her hand down on the security switch, causing a sheet of solid metal to thunk into place across the hole. For a moment, the two of them just looked at each other, then Kat managed to find enough breath to speak.
"Next time, don't cut it so close."
"Our only chance now is to get into the main chamber," Billy explained as they walked. "Unfortunately, that's where all the security systems are concentrated. It's going to be like breaking into Fort Knox."
"But you have a plan," Kat responded. It was not a question.
Billy smiled evilly. "Yeah, you could say that. When I was about ten, a friend of my dad's taught me all about computer programming. You always leave yourself a way into a program, he told me, in case you lose your password or something gets truly screwed. Programmers call that a "back door." Well, when I designed the Power Chamber's security, I left a back door, just in case. I'm not sure if Zordon even knows about it, and the Power Chamber's computers sure don't. There's a method to enter the main chamber through the old command center, in the building up top."
Kat raised an eyebrow. "That's still there?"
"Sure," Billy replied "It's mainly used for storage, and for some of the bulkier apparatus that we don't want to keep in the main chamber, but has to be funneled through the old structure. It's on a separate security system, just in case the system went haywire."
"So how do we get there?"
Billy grinned at her. "That's the REALLY fun part. We're gonna have to take the long way, and if our mysterious gate-crasher is on the ball, it's gonna be one hell of an obstacle course."
Watching him, Kat realized she hadn't seen Billy this alive since- well, since they'd accepted the power of Zeo. _He must miss being an active Ranger,_ she realized. The adrenaline addiction had taken her over almost immediately. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to give it up after almost three years.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" she asked quietly. Billy thought about that for a moment, then shrugged.
"I suppose I am. Strange, isn't it, that a guy who'd spent fifteen years as a bookworm would become such an adrenaline junkie." He was quiet for a moment. "I guess I like pitting my wits against an opponent. I always have. Battles as a Ranger offered me an unparalleled opportunity to do that. My position now allows me to do that, but not in the same manner. I suppose that, to some extent, I missed the physical component of this." He chuckled. "This should take care of me for the next few years, though."
A whirring noise broke into their conversation, and Billy looked up to see the security doors rising out of the floor. He and Kat ran for the end of the corridor, but the doors were rising too quickly, and had slammed shut before Billy and Kat could escape. Kat's eyes darted right to left. "I don't like this," she informed Billy.
The teen genius nodded. "I feel like a rat," he agreed, "and I think the cat'll be along any minute now."
As if to punctuate his statement, a low hissing noise became audible. Looking down, Billy saw a greenish gas hissing out of the grates along the walls. "Shit!" he cried. "That's the knockout gas!"
"Exactly," the mysterious voice broke in. "Mondo will be much happier with a LIVE Billy Cranston to serve him. As for you, Kitty-Kat, well- you'll never feel a thing."
"So very kind of you," Kat muttered. "Billy, the gas is getting higher. Any ideas?"
He nodded. "One." Quickly, he stripped out of his flannel shirt, leaving him clad in a blue tank top and jeans. _My goodness,_ Kat thought to herself. _I never noticed Billy was so- well developed._ In the tank top, his arm muscles were quite obvious.
"Wrap this around your nose and mouth," he instructed, startling her back to reality. "It'll help keep the gas away."
"What about you?" she asked, doing as he instructed. He pulled his tank top over his nose.
"I've got more body mass than you do, so I can last longer," he replied. "Hopefully, I can get us out of here before either one of us collapses."
With Kat behind him, Billy was quite aware of his time limit. She wasn't as small as Kim had been, but she was still slender enough that the gas would hit her hard. He didn't want to have to drag her around the Power Chamber, and leaving her behind was out of the question. Studying the door locks, he almost sighed, then remembered he was holding his breath. It was too much to hope that their mysterious antagonist hadn't changed the lock codes. Okay- Billy could play this game too. Quickly he typed in a code sequence. Before the lock could tell him it was wrong, he'd typed in another. Then a third, then a fourth. Behind him, he could feel Kat starting to sag, and knew he didn't have much time. After the sixth, the panel gave a strangled beep, and the door slid back into the floor. Grabbing Kat, Billy dashed down the hall, heading for a better-ventilated area.
Sitting near one of the airshafts that led to the top of the mountain, the teens took a long moment to breathe deeply. Then Kat turned to Billy, blue eyes curious.
"What did you do? Just hit buttons until you found the right code?"
He shook his head. "No, that could have taken forever. I just kept hitting buttons until I fried it, information overload. The overload causes the door to retract." He chuckled. "One of those glitches I haven't been able to fix yet."
"I do not believe I'm doing this," Kat grumbled. Billy did not answer, just kept crawling through the vents. "I mean, these vents are the size of a garden hose!" she continued. Still no answer. Kat frowned. It wasn't like Billy not to join in good-natured complaining about their situation. "Billy? Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Kat," he replied, but his tone sounded strained.
"The hell you are," she shot back. Up ahead, she spotted a four-way junction, where one of the ducts rose upwards. "Billy, wait for me up at that crossroads," she ordered. "We have to talk."
The junction was wide enough for both of them to sit comfortably, and Kat did so, scrutinizing Billy carefully. He looked a little pale.
"Billy, what's the matter?" she asked gently. "You look like you're about to throw up."
Billy took a deep breath before answering. "I'm claustrophobic, Kat. Badly. Coming back from Aquitar in that little spacecraft nearly did me in, and this is worse. It's the reason I've never gone scuba diving or surfing with the rest of you. The idea of being underwater-" he shivered.
"Then why did you suggest we crawl through the vents?" she inquired. "This has to be awful for you."
"Being turned into barbecue would be worse," he explained. "The corridors leading to the Zord Bay are among the most heavily trapped in the complex. We'd have been fried alive. I don't like small places, but I can deal with them."
She shook her head, but her expression was one of admiration. "I think you're the bravest man I've ever met," she told him. "More than Tommy, even."
Billy raised an eyebrow. "I don't think so," he replied. "Tommy's faced down Rita, Zedd, Mondo, and even himself. I don't come close."
"Wrong. You're facing down your personal demons, and you've CHOSEN to do it. Tommy can face his dark side, but that's something he can defeat, something that goes away, at least for a while. You're facing something that's always there. That takes a lot of courage."
He smiled, even though his complexion still looked rather green. "Thanks, Kat. That means a lot to me."
"It's stuck," Billy grunted. Kat sighed.
"Well, kick it again," she suggested. Billy did so, and the grate clattered to the floor. Kat couldn't help but notice how quickly Billy moved out of the vents.
The Zord bay was deathly quiet, to the point where the footsteps of the two teens echoed loudly. "Good think there aren't sound-sensitive systems in here," Billy mused quietly.
"So why are we whispering?"
Billy shrugged and led the way between the huge metallic hulks that were the Power Rangers' battle mecha. "As long as the Zeo power is cut off, these Zords won't be going anywhere. Which is a relief," he remarked. "I really don't want to think about these things rampaging through downtown. The Dragonzord caused enough trouble."
"I remember seeing that on the news," Kat agreed. "I thought Angel Grove was just one of those weird places. Never thought that a year or so later, I'd be moving there."
"Life is full of the unexpected," Billy grinned. "Especially for Power Rangers."
Out of nowhere, a laser bolt struck the wall right above Billy's head. "Get down!" he cried. He threw himself forward, taking shelter behind one of Zeo Zord IV's hooves. Kat took shelter as well, winding up behind the paw of the Sphinx.
"Billy, how many of these rotten things did you MAKE?"
"I don't know!" he yelled back, still firing. "I lost count after about a hundred!"
Kat shook her head. "I count at least six security droids out there. Any bright ideas?"
"One. Cover me!"
"WHAT?" Kat never got an answer, though. Tucking his laser into the waistband of his jeans, Billy began climbing up the side of the Zord, headed for the cockpit. Shaking her head, Kat began to lay down cover fire, keeping the security droids from noticing Billy's departure. That wasn't hard at all. Most of the droids were more than happy to concentrate on an armed opponent.
"Billy! Hurry up!" Kat yelled. "The charge on this thing is getting low!"
"Got 'em!" Billy called, dropping from the emergency hatch on the Zord's underside. "Come on!"
Grabbing Kat's wrist, he pulled her along down the Zord Bay, keeping the machines between them and the three attacking droids. "I thought you said there were six," he called back.
Billy shook his head. "Ask a stupid question."
Their flight soon led them to an elevator shaft. That's when Kat got her first good look at what Billy had in his hands. "A rappelling harness?"
"You'll see," he assured her. Strapping the harness on, he quickly attached the cable to a strut at the top of the shaft. "Good thing this place is made out of titanium," he remarked. Snapping the cable to his belt, he suddenly grabbed Kat around her waist, pulling her closer to him. "Hold on," he chuckled.
The three security droids were closing in, and Billy backed into the elevator shaft. "Here you go, guys. Something to remember me by." So saying, Billy tossed a small black sphere at the approaching droids and jumped into the elevator shaft.
"BILLLLEEEEEEEE!" Kat screamed, as they fell. Suddenly the cable snapped taut, and they slammed against the metal walls of the shaft. The Pink Zeo Ranger clung to her friend with all her might, just as an explosion boomed above them. Billy silently gave thanks that the elevator shafts were open on both sides, as the fire roared above them, rather than being directed down. Then the explosion died away, leaving the room silent.
The two teens hung in midair for a long moment. Then Kat pulled her face out of Billy's shoulder, glaring at him with flaming blue eyes. "Are you CRAZY?" she asked.
He shrugged, smiling slightly. "Has anyone ever told you how pretty you are when you're mad?"
Kat just shook her head. "Men."
"Billy?" Kat asked, as the two of them crept through the tunnels that led through the mountain. "What do you think we're up against here?"
Billy was quiet for a long moment. "I can think of a number of things, and I don't like any of 'em," he replied. "We're obviously dealing with an intruder, that's for sure. It could be some sort of self-aware computer virus, like when we dealt with Mean Screen, remember?"
She made a face. "I remember. But how could something like that get past the Power Chamber's anti-viral systems?"
"Anything's possible, but I don't think it's likely. There are too many things that could go wrong if Mondo sent a virus. Besides, the Chamber is physically isolated. There's little to no way a virus could enter the system. No, I think we've got a physical adversary. It would make sense- if you weren't a solid body, you'd have no reason to ghost the sensors."
"So there's a robot in the main area of the Power Chamber?" Kat shuddered.
Billy's expression was set. "I'm very much afraid that's not the case," he admitted. "Whoever's up there either knows a hell of a lot about computers, or a lot about the way the Power Chamber works. It's possible Mondo's got us set against one of our friends."
"You think it's Tanya?" Kat asked, incredulous. "I'm sorry, I can't even get my mind around that."
"Despite the voice, our antagonist doesn't have to be a woman," Billy pointed out. "That voice is computer-altered, to disguise the speaker's identity. We could easily be up against one of the guys, or perhaps one of the former Rangers. We're all pretty easy to find."
Kat shivered. "I really hope it's not Tommy. He's been evil enough to last the rest of forever."
Billy chuckled. "No, I don't think it'll be Tommy. In the first place, computers aren't his strong suit. He's not incapable of operating them, but they aren't his favorite things. Second, Mondo's had first-hand evidence that turning Tommy evil isn't a great idea, after what happened to Gasket. No, I don't think it's Tommy up there. But we have to be ready for the idea that it might be any one of our friends."
Kat sighed. "This happens way too often, doesn't it?"
"Yes, it does." Billy sighed. "I almost wish it WERE Tommy up there. He's my friend, really, but- fighting each other is almost a part of our friendship. We've always known that Tommy could and probably would be turned against us. We all understand quite well the necessity of fighting each other. But- what if it's Jason? He's been my best friend since I can almost remember. He taught me how to fight, stood up for me. Adam's the person who understands me best in the world. How can I fight that? Rocky, Tanya, hell, they're practically my last links to sanity. And it doesn't have to be a current Ranger. It could be Zack, or Kimberly- I don't think Mondo would go after Aisha, but it could possibly be her, too. These people are my life, Kat! How can I possibly fight them?" He sagged to the ground in frustration, lightly banging the back of his head against the rock walls.
Kat knelt before him, turning his head so that she was looking directly into his eyes. "Because they'd ask you to do no less," she replied firmly. "Billy, they're Rangers, even if they aren't on active duty anymore. We all know that sometimes you have to fight your best friends, for the sake of the world, even if it is the hardest thing we've ever done." Then she cocked her head. "Billy, you forgot one Ranger. Why didn't you say anything about Trini?"
Billy's eyes became flat. "I don't want to talk about that," he replied. "It's over now."
Kat bit her lip. "You care about her very much, don't you?"
"I did," Billy levered himself to his feet. "Then she left. I don't know what I feel for her anymore." He turned away and began walking down the tunnel again. "Come on, let's get moving. I'm not sure how much time we've got left."
"What god did I offend?" Billy grumbled, pulling back around the corner. The undertunnels were lightly defended, but they still possessed an impressive laser array. Currently, Billy and Kat were pinned down under fire, ten feet away from their goal. A conveyor belt, generally used for transporting Zord parts and new weapons, rumbled past them. If they could get onto it, they could get into the corridors that led directly to the old Command Center structure. That, however, was proving difficult.
"Offhand," puffed Kat, "I'd say one that deals with technology."
"You're a big help."
She grinned at him and turned her attention back to the laser array that was firing at them. Billy, standing behind her, was suddenly forcibly reminded just how attractive a woman Kat was. It wasn't the first time that afternoon, either. _Stop that,_ he ordered himself mentally. _Drooling all over Tommy's girlfriend is a good way to get a black eye. Or didn't you learn ANYTHING from Skull's mistakes?_ Still, she looked awfully good in a tank top and leggings. With an effort, he drew his mind back to the situation at hand.
"I have an idea," he announced suddenly. "How much charge do you have left on that laser?"
"This one? Not much. Ten shots, maybe. But I've got the spare, remember? Why?"
"Give me your laser, the low one," he instructed. "I've got a plan."
"Do tell, MacGyver." He shot her a look, only to find her expression one of complete innocence.
"With a few modifications, these lasers make excellent explosive devices," he informed her, pulling his Swiss Army knife out of his pocket. He waited for another MacGyver crack, but when none was forthcoming, he continued with his lecture. "Now these systems are heat, motion, and sound activated. If we toss 'em a decoy, they'll fire at it, and the explosion should "blind" all three sensors long enough for us to get onto the conveyor belt and into one of the ore carriers. If we're fast enough, the sensors won't even know we made it."
"And if we're not?"
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "Let's not think about that." Finishing the last of the modifications, he stood up and took a deep breath. "Cross your fingers."
Quickly, he hurled the laser so that it flew spinning across the cavern. In mid-flight, the automatic defenses caught it and literally blew it out of the air. "NOW!" Billy yelled, barely audible over the explosion. The two of them started for the conveyor belt, Billy pushing Kat before him.
They almost made it. Reaching the belt, Billy boosted Kat up and helped her scramble into the container. No sooner had he hauled himself up onto the edge, however, than the sensors reasserted themselves. A laser shot out, clipping his arm. With an anguished cry, Billy fell into the ore container and out of the sensors' line of sight.
"All clear," Kat reported, rolling her body around the jamb of the infirmary door.
"I'm not surprised," replied Billy following her in. "Robots aren't big on medical supplies." He sat down on the medical table as Kat began to rummage through the drawers.
She made a disgusted noise and turned back to him. "Well, somebody obviously is. Our mysterious intruder's picked this place clean. The neural stimulators, the cellular regenerators- Billy, there aren't even any bandages." She sighed. "I found something to clean the wound with, a pair of scissors, and that's it."
Billy regarded his flannel shirt dispassionately. "Well, I guess this is clean enough to use for bandages," he sighed. "Dang it." Leaning forward, he reached for the bottle she held, but she pulled it away from him.
"You can't doctor yourself, Billy," she scolded good-naturedly. "Take that shirt off and let me at it."
Billy looked at her for a moment, then shrugged, wincing as he remembered why that wasn't a good idea. He slipped the shirt off and sat stoically as Kat cleaned the wound in his shoulder.
"Good thing laser wounds self-cauterize," she remarked. "I'd just as soon not have to deal with you losing blood, too. The bandages will just be to keep the wound clean." Kat began cutting up Billy's flannel shirt. "It's not so bad, Billy," she grinned. "At least you still have your tank top."
"Are you suggesting that you wouldn't want to see me shirtless?" he asked, in mock hurt.
Kat pretended to consider the question. "Well, I don't know. I've never seen you shirtless, so I can't make that decision. You even wear a tank top swimming. And you're not half the beanpole Tommy is. Why don't you ever go without a shirt?"
"Old nerd habits, I guess," Billy replied, with a one-armed shrug. He looked over to where she was finishing the dressing on his shoulder. "I used to have a figure like a five year-old."
"Well, you've filled out since then," Kat teased, finishing the last knot. Reflexively, she turned to look at Billy- and found her lips an inch away from his own.
The world froze, and for a timeless instant, the only sounds were the pounding of their hearts and their ragged breathing. Then Billy reached up and gently brushed Kat's cheek.
"Kat-" he began helplessly. She laid a finger on his lips.
"Don't," she whispered. "You don't have to say a word." Leaning forward, she kissed him gently.
At least it was supposed to be gentle. As their lips touched, Kat and Billy lost all control, leaning into each other with abandon. Billy's arms went around her back, one tightening around her waist, one sneaking up to cradle the back of her head. Kat dug her fingers into the sides of Billy's tank top, trying to pull him closer. Then suddenly she pulled away, blue eyes wide.
"Oh God," she whispered, turning away from him. Billy felt as if someone was tearing his heart apart, but he managed to put a hand on her shoulder.
"Kat, what's wrong?"
"Tommy," was her answer. "I forgot about him."
Billy felt a rush of pleasure at her admission, but fought it down. "Do you love him?" he asked quietly.
"Until today, I would have said yes," she replied. "Now- I don't know. I- I don't think so."
Billy sighed, turning her gently to face him. "Kat, Tommy will understand," he told her. "He wouldn't want you to stay with him if you didn't love him. He'd want you to be happy."
Kat looked at him hopefully. "You really think so?"
"I know so," Billy nodded. Tommy'd said as much to him, years ago, when both had been active Rangers. More than anything else, Tommy wanted his friends to be happy, perhaps because his own happiness was so elusive. Billy was still a little worried about how Tommy would react to the news, but squashed it, for Kat's sake. "C'mon," he said, trying to sound a little more upbeat. "We've passed the worst of it. We're almost home free."
She made a face at him. "Yeah, right."
"God, this place is a mess," Kat remarked. Billy grinned at her, as the two of them picked their way through the pieces of equipment that filled the old Command Center structure.
"Consider how much stuff you've collected in seventeen years, then multiply that by a couple thousand," he teased.
She stuck her tongue out at him. "I never knew Zordon was such a pack rat."
"Oh yeah. He never throws ANYTHING away." Billy smiled slightly. "Reminds me of my dad."
"So what are we looking for, anyway?" Kat asked, regarding a spider-webbed box with suspicion.
"The old consoles should be around here somewhere. Way back when Zordon made Tommy into the White Ranger, he retreated into a room that would eventually become one of the main portions of the Power Chamber. Well, Zordon NEVER clears codes out of the computer. So, if I can remember the access code, we've got a portal straight into the main chamber."
"And we can take our uninvited visitor by surprise," finished Kat.
"Bingo." Turning a corner, Billy found the console he was looking for. Closing his eyes for a minute, he then typed a combination on the keypad. With a whooshing sound, a door of light irised open just behind Kat. She and Billy exchanged glances.
"Come on," he said quietly, taking her hand. "Let's go." With a deep breath, the two teens leaped through the door.
"You will not succeed," Zordon rumbled. That was the first thing Kat heard as the door of light dropped her and Billy in one of the hallways that lead into the main chamber.
"Of course I will," another voice replied. The cold, sneering quality to it let Kat identify the speaker as the person who had been taunting them all along, although now there was no distortion. Kat didn't recognize the voice, but one look at Billy told her that he did. The former Blue Ranger was pale, and a look of pain flashed in his eyes. Then, setting his jaw, he motioned for Kat to follow him.
"Your pathetic Rangers aren't even aware there's any danger, and they won't be until it's too late," the speaker continued. "As for the two little mice running around this maze, they won't be causing any trouble to anyone, anymore."
"Famous last words," Billy announced, stepping out into the light. The tall Asian girl standing before Zordon's tube whirled to face them. Sadness in his eyes, Billy shook his head. "Hello, Trini."
Trini Kwan smiled, an expression that would have looked more at home on a crocodile. "Well hello, Billy. I'm so glad you and your little kitty could make it to the party. I'd hate for you to miss the surprise I have planned."
"Trini, what happened? Why are you doing this?" Billy asked, desperate to keep her talking.
"What happened? I was all by my lonesome in Geneva when a band of Cogs attacked me and brought me to my master," the first Yellow Ranger replied. "No Rangers around to protect me, of course. Out of sight, out of mind, right?"
"We didn't know!" Kat replied.
Trini laughed humorlessly. "You didn't care. What good is a Ranger that doesn't have the power? Well, I'll tell you what good I am. In five minutes, a satellite uplink will deliver the contents of every database in the Power Chamber to King Mondo. Then his monsters will crush your Ranger friends like ants!"
"We have to stop her," Kat informed Billy quietly. The teen genius shook his head.
"I can't fight her, Kat. She taught me everything I know! I can't-"
"I know," she replied gently. "I will. You stop that uplink!"
Nodding, Billy dashed off down the corridor that led to the main computer banks. Meanwhile, Kat and Trini began to circle each other cautiously. "You really think you can take me, Kitty?" Trini taunted. Kat smiled, looking dangerously like Tommy as she did so.
"Take you? Honey, I WAS you. And I'm not going to let you hurt anyone- including yourself."
Trini's eyes flashed, all the warning Kat had before the other girl attacked. And the fight was on.
Billy was having a little trouble concentrating on the computer problem ahead of him. Most of his thoughts were focused on the two women having it out in the main room of the Power Chamber. Kat was a kickboxer, and in her time as a Ranger, he'd seen her fighting abilities improve tremendously. But Trini had been a black belt in Praying Mantis for years, and now she was evil. He'd fought both Tommy and Kat when they were under evil control, and he knew how much more dangerous it made an adversary. An evil opponent had no qualms about fighting dirty.
This wasn't the time for such thoughts, though. The satellite uplink Trini had set up was a very efficient system, and he was going to have to concentrate solely on beating its security before Mondo got every piece of information Zordon possessed. He couldn't think about anything else, especially not the fact that in a way, he still loved Trini with all his heart.
With a muffled curse, Billy slammed his fist down on the keyboard. Trini had set the system up to be impervious to outside commands. His old friend had learned some hacker tricks since they last met, apparently. Tricks good enough to keep out almost anyone. "Anyone but me," he muttered. The problem most hackers had was that they were bound by conventional thinking. Billy knew from experience that there were a hundred ways to access almost anything.
"When in doubt, go around." So saying, he reached out and ripped the console facing from its moorings. If he couldn't reconfigure the software, maybe he could do something with the hardware. Quickly, he began twisting wires together, his pace becoming more frantic as the clock in the back of his head neared zero. Finishing his last connection, he crossed his fingers, closed his eyes, and prayed.
_Our Father, who art in Heaven-_
_If this doesn't work out, I love you, Kat._
There was a beeping, and Billy looked up to see the status screens showing the uplink copy being dumped into an unused databank in the Power Chamber. He jumped to his feet, pumping one fist in the air. "YES!" Mondo was going to be REALLY pissed off. Suddenly a different sound caught Billy's attention. Going down on his knees, he saw a bomb planted inside the console.
Billy dropped his head to the floor. "Oh, shit."
"Kiyah!" Dropping into a split, Kat barely managed to duck as Trini's foot scythed through the air where her head had recently been. The prone Pink Ranger then kicked out with both feet, aiming for Trini's midsection. Unfortunately, the Asian teen dodged, but Kat used her momentum to regain her feet.
"Impressive, Kitty-Kat," Trini allowed, her breathing deep and even. "Which one of the boys taught you that?"
"Actually, Kim did," the blonde shot back. "Give it up, Trini. Without your powers, you're my equal in a fight, not my superior. You'll never win- let us help you!"
Trini laughed coldly. "Help me? Says the girl who tried to kill my best friend, and then stole her powers and boyfriend? Sure, I'll let you help me!" She launched a fierce punch at her opponent, who barely ducked in time.
"You fight dirty," growled Kat. "And I didn't steal Tommy! I don't even LOVE him anymore!" As she said that, she felt a weight rising from her shoulders. She DIDN'T love Tommy, and in a way, that was good. Because he'd never been able to give her his heart in return. "I love Billy," she declared, more to herself than her opponent.
Unfortunately, Trini didn't like this piece of news. "What makes you think that a slut like you could hold his attention?"
Kat grinned widely, recognizing the emotions contained in that sentence. Time to take a calculated risk. Breaking off from the fight, she shrugged. "Well, YOU certainly couldn't, luv. Maybe he just wants a REAL woman, not a translator."
Fighting with words had always been one of Kat's strong suits, and her time as Rita's pawn had taught her even better than that just what buttons to push. Trini forgot her training and her patience, forgot everything in her desire to get her hands around Kat's throat. It was a simple matter for the Pink Ranger to grab her opponent and help her forward motion directly into the wall. Stunned, Trini dropped to the ground, semi-conscious.
"And in case you're wondering," Kat panted, leaning against a console, "I came up with THAT move myself."
"Aiyiyiyi!" Alpha cried, scurrying out of one of the side rooms. "I've come up with a device to reverse Mondo's brainwashing."
Kat smiled. "It's about time, Alpha," she sighed. The little android trained the ray in his hands on the fallen Trini, bathing her in a silvery light. After a minute, the girl sat up, one hand to her head.
"Oh, what happened?" she asked. Then, as the events of the day came flashing back to her, she winced.
"It's all right," Kat said quietly. "I understand what you're going through."
Trini smiled lopsidedly. "Yes, I suppose you do." Then her eyes widened. "Oh my God, Billy! I wired those consoles with a bomb, to prevent tampering!"
"What?" Kat cried, leaping to her feet. Suddenly a large explosion sounded through the Power Chamber. Trading glances, the two girls rushed off down the corridor towards the direction of the sound.
The computer room was a total loss. Scanning the devastation wrought by Trini's booby trap, Kat raised a hand to her mouth. Twisted pieces of metal shrapnel peppered the walls, and black soot coated everything. Beside her, she heard Trini's whispered "Dear God."
Kat had only one thing to say. "Billy," she murmured. A sudden cough caught her attention.
"Stop the ride, Mom, I wanna get off," Billy Cranston groaned, levering himself to his feet. At the last second, he had taken shelter behind an upturned metal table, which had thankfully taken most of the blast. Still, he was scorched and battered, and Kat could see a few bleeding wounds where he hadn't quite escaped the shrapnel. It didn't matter. With a glad cry, she threw herself into his arms.
He smiled down at her, and she suddenly noticed something. "Billy- where are your glasses?" Reaching into his pocket, he produced a pair of twisted, shattered frames.
"Wouldn't you know it?" he cracked. "They survive the entire trip, and break at the end."
"You can get new ones," she replied. "At least you're alive."
"I'll second that," Trini replied, entering the room. "Oh, God, Billy, I'm so sorry. I- there just wasn't anything I could do!"
He nodded, turning towards the black-haired blur he assumed to be Trini. "I know, Trini. It wasn't your fault." Extending a hand, he took a step towards her. "Come here." As she did so, he pulled her into a tight hug. She hugged back for a second, then pulled away slightly.
"You like her, don't you?" Trini whispered. Seeing the flush of red climbing her old friend's cheeks, she smiled. "I'm glad, Billy."
He nodded. "I am too." Kat crossed the room, threading her arm around Billy's waist.
"I don't believe it!" a voice declared from the doorway. "Billy throws a party, and he doesn't invite us?" The teen genius turned to see five colored blurs standing in the hall outside.
"Sorry, Rocky," he apologized, a smile tugging at the outside of his mouth. "Things got a LITTLE out of hand here."
The red blur- Tommy- nodded. "I would say so," he replied dryly. "Since the room looks like Poland after WWII, you're bleeding in six different places, and Kat's sporting a beautiful shiner."
"Don't forget Trini's split lip," Adam added.
Jason continued, "What happened here?"
"Or don't we want to know?" finished Tanya.
Billy was suddenly conscious of the arm he had wrapped around Kat's shoulders. "Um- Well, it's kind of a long story," he began. He wished mightily that his glasses were intact so that he could read Tommy's face.
"And I look forward to hearing it," the leader of the Rangers replied, his tone amused. "After you all get cleaned up. Go on- Alpha's waiting in the infirmary."
Jason stepped forward. "Here, Trini, why don't you lean on me? You look a little dizzy." She took his arm gratefully, and from the expressions on both their faces, it wasn't all about support.
As the other Rangers filed out the door, Tommy grabbed Billy's arm, forcing him to hang back. "Billy, I have something to say to you."
Billy braced himself. "Yes?"
For a long moment, Tommy was silent. Finally, he spoke. "Make- make her happy, okay, man? She deserves it- and so do you."
Smiling, Billy nodded. "You got it, Tommy. You got it."