"It was a stroke," the aged doctor said, sighing weakly as he glanced down the diagnosis form in his hands. An ominous frown wrinkled his dark features, and his almond eyes narrowed behind his gold-framed reading glasses.
He pressed the bridge of his nose wearily, and gazed up at the woman he was speaking to. She seemed to glow faintly, contrasting to the inky blackness of night through the open window that served as her background. She was short in stature and slim in form, with a seamless, almost ethereal beauty to her face that spoke of youthful vigor. Caramel hair, sweeping halfway down her back, shimmered in the sterile light of the hospital room.
To anyone looking at her, she wouldn't appear more than twenty-five years old. Perhaps, she could pass for seventeen or eighteen.
Oh, how far from the truth that was, as anyone who looked into her sage hazel eyes would discern. Those eyes were large and bright, yet they glimmered with wisdom, experience, and knowledge that was simply impossible for a young girl to acquire.
In fact, she was as old as the man lying on the hospital bed, breathing slowly with the aid of a respirator, with a peaceful look on his aged bronze face.
The woman's composure didn't change. Her large eyes were fixed on the patient, and her rose lips were pressed tightly together. She didn't cry... no, not a tear was shed. For the well of tears that flooded her soul, none had the solace of escaping from her tortured being.
She knew this day would come. In fact, she had tried hard to prepare herself for it. Through her decades of life, she had seen death many times. Inexplicable tragedy took the lives of several dear friends. Then, the ravages of time took their toll, wearing down all the rest.
The man lying upon the hospital bed was the only one left. He was also the most cherished of all.
She was now ninety-two years old. All her friends would be about the same age... if they were still alive. No, the forces of evil couldn't stop them. Luck was on their side... for the most part, at least. But no matter how brave a human is, there is one inevitability. Death.
One may be fortunate enough not to die from disease, famine, war, or accident. One can take care of himself all his life, eating properly and exercising. Still, age is the killer no one can avoid. It slowly eats away at you like the ocean crashing into a stone, beating on the surface and dragging some of it away, until there is nothing left but sand.
There is no escaping what the simple passage of time does to a physical body. Unless, of course, that person is ageless. Like the woman in the hospital.
"Are you alright, Queen Vespera?" the doctor asked, his voice laced with concern. The woman's lack of a response was startling to the experienced doctor, especially since he was well aware of the relationship she had with the patient, which spanned longer than he himself was alive.
The woman scrunched her nose in distaste, and waved her hand slightly. Although she didn't intend it, her gesture was of a most regal grace. Everything about her spoke of power and influence.
"Don't call me that, Daniel," she said dismissively, "That's not my name. Just call me Kim."
Vespera was the name given to her when she began her full reign of Venus Island. According to tradition, in order to be a full queen, she must be at least twenty years of age. So, in her full coronation, she was renamed Vespera, which is a traditional Venusian name of consequence.
Her people wanted to distance their queen from her human heritage. It is very much understandable, since the Venusian culture is more advanced than humanity on almost all aspects.
Yet, that wasn't what most prompted her counselors to give her a new name. Rather, it was to distance herself from her former life as much as possible. For, there was a cruel reality that came with humanity. Venusians were practically immortal, and lived for hundreds of thousands of years, circumstance permitting. Humans were fragile beings, who died within a century.
Kimberly understood that it was for her own good that she leave behind humanity. But no matter how she tried, she couldn't let go of her friends. She couldn't let go of him, either.
Even after she cruelly dumped him, he was the only thing on her mind. It became something of an obsession... her unrealized dreams plaguing her at every moment. The excitement of her coronation was eclipsed by the awkwardness of being so near him, yet so far. Still, that evening, a lifetime ago, gave her a hope that was entirely illogical, yet wonderful to grasp. Even for a short time.
Kimberly walked quietly through the vast and elegant rose garden behind the palace of Mount Ambrosia. Apparently, the previous Venusian queen, Syren, had really loved roses, and had decorated over an acre of land with bushes of roses of all the colors of nature. In the dim light, the white roses had an almost surreal glow to them, reflecting the light that hit them. The only thing in the garden that glowed brighter than the pure, white roses was Kimberly herself. The silver earrings, hair clasps, tiara, and lace on her regal gown made her shimmer like a celestial body, and the soft cape that trailed in the wind behind her were reminiscent of butterfly wings. She tried as hard as she could not to interrupt Tommy, who was still plucking petals off a pink rose laboriously.
His back was slouched, with one arm draped limply around his crimson helmet. His noble shoulders were slightly slouched with the weight of deep thoughts, as his ivory-gloved fingers grasped silken petals with deliberate slowness, just to release his grasp and watch the feeble stretch of pink flutter to the ground.
Rose petals were beautiful in bloom... yet they were so fragile and fleeting. Much like love.
She couldn't deny it... it hurt her so much to see him like that. All she ever wanted was to make things easier, for the both of them. That's why she let him go. She didn't want him to feel chained down by their relationship.
That fact was even more true now, after she dedicated her life to ruling an alien race.
Still, she hoped there was some way for them to just come to an understanding. Then, her guilt wouldn't be so burdensome, and he could finally comprehend why she did what she did.
Maybe... just maybe... he'd forgive her.
That was all she wanted at this point, and all she could hope for.
"Hello, Kim," he said flatly, his back to her. Kimberly startled, freezing just a few feet behind him like a doe caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
"How'd you know it was me?" she asked.
"From the sound of your approach," he explained in a measured voice, "The only three people I could think of that would come looking for me are you, Katherine, and Jason. Jason is a skilled marital artist, so he'd be far more quiet. Kat may be a graceful dancer, but she's not sneaky. I would've heard her coming a mile away. You, on the other hand, are right between the two. And, you were coming really slowly, as if you weren't really sure if you wanted to."
Kimberly swallowed nervously, fumbling with a few folds of her elaborate salmon-hued gown. She remained silent for a few moments, watching him return to his task of plucking the pink rose bare. Despite the warmth of the night, she shivered.
"I... I was wondering," she stammered weakly, "if you'd... like to talk."
"About what?" he asked, still not looking at her.
"Um, about what's been going on recently. I... uh... I'm really glad you and the guys came to my coronation."
"Of course we did," said Tommy, turning to her. He stood there for a few moments, gazing at her. Kim felt him drink in her ethereal appearance, and felt even more uncomfortable under the intense scrutiny.
Kim did her best to smile at him. Vaguely, she remembered how easy it was for her to talk to him... once upon a time. They would talk about anything, from the most mundane of topics to the most serious. They would switch back and forth, each unveiling their deepest thoughts, and laying their inner selves bare.
Oh, how she missed being so connected to someone!
"Tommy," she said suddenly, "come for a walk with me?"
Tommy looked at her questioningly. Kim wracked her brain for a good reason. "I'm really bored with these festivities, and I really just wanna get away for a few minutes. Besides, I haven't had much time to explore Venus Island. What d'ya say?"
Tommy shrugged noncommittally. "Sure. Lead the way, Your Highness."
Kim paled at the title, and turned away from him, walking through the garden to the main gate of Ambrosia. Tommy followed her, snapping his helmet back on his head.
Kimberly was crying outright, but not uttering a sound, for fear her voice would be tainted by her grief. She tried her best not to shudder or start sobbing. She didn't want Tommy to see her in tears. She couldn't help but feel hurt by the blandness of his voice. She also didn't like him calling her that.
She wanted to bridge the gap between them, at least to tie loose ends. Perhaps, they could even put aside the pain, and become friends.
Instead, Tommy seemed more than willing to keep them apart.
What if Katherine was wrong? What if Tommy didn't have feelings for her any longer? What if the rose that had blossomed from their love was already withered beyond restoration? What if... the only feelings he harbored were bitterness and anger?
That was a reality Kimberly knew she wouldn't be able to bear. Kimberly startled slightly when she heard the crashing waves on the shore. The trek down the mountain seemed to fly by, most likely because she wasn't looking forward to what she had to say. Sighing, she walked to the shoreline, staring out at the sea. The gentle waves licked at her sandalled feet, and her head tilted upwards to gaze at the stars. Tears slid down her face, as the warm sea breezes and smooth water calmed her tense muscles.
"Tommy," she whispered, "I'm sorry."
She remained silent after her confession, waiting patiently for Tommy to respond. After a full minute had passed, she fought the urge to turn around, and see if he was still behind her.
Nevertheless, she didn't turn around. She wanted to regain her composure first.
"For what?" he answered finally.
Kimberly felt herself tremble, and kept her voice low in order to force it to remain steady. "For being a fool. For breaking your heart. For breaking my heart."
"You mean the letter," said Tommy grimly, shrugging his shoulders slightly, "It's okay. I mean, I can handle it. If you've found someone else, I'm happy for you. He's probably better for you than I could ever be." He paused for a moment, as if finding the best words to encapsulate the deluge of feelings that were tapped by the very mention of the letter, "I'm... just sorry I failed you. I wasn't good enough for you."
Kim spun around, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her fawn eyes flashed with anger, and she stepped out of the water right up to Tommy.
"Are you crazy?" she shrieked, completely astounded by his answer, "I'm the jerk here! You never did anything but love me, and I just couldn't see it! You'd do anything for me, and I just didn't believe it!"
"What?" asked Tommy. Kim sighed. He certainly wasn't making this easy.
"Look," Kim said, averting her eyes from his and nervously fumbling her fingers, "I guess I'm a little paranoid when it comes to relationships. I mean, I've never really been in love before, and it was really a shock to my system. I don't think I realized how much you meant to me until I left Angel Grove. It really hurt not having you with me, to talk to every day, to hold me when I'm down, to lift me up when I fall. It scared me."
Kim glanced at Tommy one more time. She couldn't see his face, since he still wore his helmet, yet he seemed to be absorbing all she unveiled.
"But, if you loved me, why...?" Tommy stammered.
"Because long distance relationships never work. Whoever said 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' was severely mistaken. There are dozens of stories of relationships breaking up when the couple is separated. Renee broke up with her boyfriend when she moved to Florida from New Jersey, because he was cheating on her. My mother and father got divorced a year after my dad got that promotion, and was always on business trips."
The Red Ranger's muscles tensed, and he folded his arms ominously. "Oh, I get it," he muttered, "You just don't trust me. Is that it? You thought as soon as you boarded the plane, I'd be sneaking around behind your back! Am I right?"
"No!" she shrieked, slightly panicked at being so misunderstood, "That's just not it! I trust you, but... I just wanted you to be happy is all. I wasn't planning on returning to Angel Grove after the Pan-Globals. I would train for the Olympics, and then I'd move to Paris, and go to college there. It wouldn't be fair for me to ask you to wait for me, while I go off to another continent. Can you think of any relationship that could survive that amount of alienation?! You're better off with someone else. Especially now."
Kim turned away from Tommy, overcome with frustration and anxiety. She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself as she reflected upon the fact that, in all likelihood, she'd never lay eyes on him again... and he'd probably want it that way. Why wouldn't he just want to close forever that painful chapter in his life, with a selfish girlfriend who didn't have the nerve to speak to him face to face until now?
Kim jumped slightly when she felt Tommy's gloved hands fall upon her bare shoulders, gently turning her around to face him. He then retracted his hands and slowly removed his helmet, revealing a tear-streaked face. Kim fought the urge to brush his tears away with her fingertips.
"You know I would've done it," he said softly, a faint grin tugging on his lips.
"Waited for you. We could've worked it out, figured out some way for us to be together. Not having you in my daily life was hard, but thinking you didn't love me anymore was far worse. The sting still lingers."
"I'm so sorry, Tommy," Kim repeated, shaking her head in self-disgust, "I know you must hate me for what I've done..."
"I could never hate you, Beautiful," Tommy interrupted, "You mean the world to me."
"Still?" she choked, taking his hands into hers, "After all I've done to you?"
"Still. I've never stopped loving you, Kimberly Hart. Not for a moment."
Not even for a moment. His love for her didn't fade, even after how cruelly she treated him.
Kimberly knew she didn't deserve a love like that.
During the next several months, Kim and Tommy saw very little of each other. Several months after the restoration of the Venusian throne, the Power Rangers were forced to deal with Divatox herself, who came to Earth seeking Lerigot and the mystical island of Muiranthias. The Zeo Rangers had to make a shift into Turbo to defeat her. It was another change in power. Also, due to an unfortunate accident, Rocky was unable to join the team to Muiranthias, so a young boy named Justin Stewart was selected to be the Blue Turbo Ranger.
For the veteran Rangers, however, this new power was short-lived. The team remained Turbo during the summer between high school graduation and college. At that time Dimitria, who replaced Zordon as the Rangers' mentor, decided that the Rangers had come to the end of their service. She claimed that they had the Power too long, and needed to give it up. Kimberly didn't buy that, especially since Tommy had been a Power Ranger for three years, while Tanya had only been a Ranger for less than a year. Also, Dimitria couldn't have meant the teens had been Turbo Rangers for too long, since Justin would remain on the team.
Kimberly came to the conclusion that Lady Dimitria of Inquiris wanted to grant the Turbo Rangers freedom from the responsibility of protecting the world, so they could move on with their lives and attend college without feelings of guilt for abandoning their positions as Earth's defenders.
Kimberly wasn't around when these momentous events happened. She only learned of the Rangers' retirement after the fact, because she had remained out of contact for so long. She was on Phaedos for four solid months, working with Dulcea in coming to a greater understanding of the Great Power. The arrival of Divatox to Earth brought the Venusian culture to the brink of war, yet Kim knew a full-out attack wasn't the best way to handle the situation. In fact, it wasn't even certain if Divatox was or wasn't aware of the existence of Venus Island.
Kim wanted to beseech the Great Power for answers to her questions regarding her responsibility. She felt sure the Great Power would have the answers she sought.
Also, four months didn't seem that long. Once a person becomes ageless, years pass like days. To an immortal, four months is an eyeblink. Kim was astounded by the length of time she remained on Phaedos on that pilgrimage, and once she returned to Earth, she immediately tried to reach Tommy.
She was startled to discover that Tommy was no longer living at home. Rather, he was attending Brown University, in Rhode Island.
A glimmering pink crane flew high over the United States of America, gazing down at the state of Rhode Island with an eagle's eye. A package hung from her sharp talons. Thanks to the bright sunlight of late afternoon, she could discern clearly the shapes passing beneath her. Still, she had never been to Brown University before.
Fortunately, the one she searched for still was connected to the Great Power. She might not have been able to track down 'Tommy', perse, but she could feel the presence of the Falcon. The Falcon watched over him, despite the fact that he was no longer a Ninjetti warrior.
Despite the fact that he was no longer a Power Ranger.
The magnetic pull of the Falcon brought Kimberly to a large building. Kim swiftly transformed back into her human form, and immediately fell to the ground. She landed with cat-like grace next to the building, in an area clear of onlookers.
Kim hastily straightened the slight wrinkles from her tank dress, her right hand still holding the rectangular box. Then, she swept her lengthening golden brown tendrils over one shoulder, cradled the box under her arm, and strode into the building.
Once she pulled open the large glass door, she realized she was in a lecture hall. Kim hesitantly climbed the few steps, and walked down the empty hallway, the heels of her sandals echoing against the dark tiles. She suddenly stopped at the entrance to the second lecture room, the pull of the Falcon beckoning to her from within.
Kim immediately pulled open the heavy wooden door, and stepped into the darkened room.
"...and it undergoes sporadic outbursts that eject one or two sun's worth of gas, and is one of the most massive and energetic stars in the galaxy," the slender, middle-aged man stated, his head turned to the three hundred students seated in the darkened lecture room. His left hand gripped a narrow pointer, with which he pointed to the large image projected on the movie screen. It was a bright white dot against a heavy black background, with two enormous, dense clouds connected to it on a plane, one on each side.
"This here is Eta Carinae," he continued, pointing to the small white dot, "This star is large enough to reach a full-blown supernova, which will be visible from Earth once the light from that star reaches us. These two bubbles are the gases it is constantly ejecting, and it will continue to do so until it collapses."
The professor squinted at his wrist watch, and pushed his wire-frame glasses back up his nose. "Lights, please," he said, collapsing the extendible pointer. A student turned on the lights, flooding the large room with bright light. Kim immediately felt awkward standing by the entrance, so she quickly ducked into one of the empty seats on the highest row. Once her eyes adjusted to the light, she began searching the large room for Tommy.
"Now," the professor said, stepping to the rectangular table at the center of the stage and opening his briefcase, "the first exam will go up through chapter seven of the text, even though we didn't quite make it to neutron stars in lecture. Still, I think the text covers it well enough for that material to be included. Have a nice weekend, everyone, and I'll see you Tuesday at noon for the exam."
Then, the students began shuffling around, forming a single file to move through the narrow door. Kim waited patiently, scanning the moving students for someone wearing a red T-shirt.
She was shocked when she did find Tommy, wearing a white T-shirt and beige denim shorts. He was busily talking to a young man beside him, so he didn't turn in Kim's direction when he walked passed. With a mischievous glimmer in her eyes, she reached up and grabbed his sleeve as he passed. Tommy glanced down, and his chocolate eyes widened in shock at the sight of her.
The shock almost instantly turned to excitement, as his eager smile would relate.
"I'll call you later, Jeremy," he called over his shoulder, "I just saw someone I need to talk to."
Jeremy nodded, and continued walking through the doors. Tommy stepped out of the crowd exiting, and moved into the aisle, where Kim was standing. Despite the dozens of students still in the room, he unheedingly greeted her with a tight embrace and a full kiss on the lips. Kimberly was awestruck by the blatant display of affection in public, but she quickly melted under the spell of Tommy's lips.
"I can't believe you're here!" Tommy exclaimed, once their lips parted. His smile was so intense, it almost glowed with a light all its own. "Man, I haven't seen you in months!"
"Well, I've been away," Kim noted, glancing around self-consciously at the students who still spotted the lecture hall. She then smiled warmly when she felt Tommy's muscled arm slide around her waist, and fell into step as he led her out of the room.
Together, Tommy and Kimberly walked into the early autumn warmth of the outdoors. There were still students rushing to and fro, yet they managed to carry on a relatively private conversation.
"...so I felt it necessary to go to Phaedos and basically bond with the Great Power," Kim explained in a low voice, "I figure that, as queen, it's really my duty to become as familiar as possible with the source of Venusian magic and power. It's almost like a deity to Venusian culture."
Tommy nodded pensively. "Yeah, I got that feeling when we were all on Phaedos. The ruins really struck me as being something of a temple."
"So, what's been happening with you?" Kim pressed, leaning closer to him as the strolled leisurely along the walkway, "I can't believe you came to Brown University! I didn't even know you got in!"
"Well, I had applied senior year, but I didn't really think I'd get in," Tommy revealed, "When I did get in, I still didn't think I'd come. I mean, it'd be hard for me to deal with Ivy League classes across the country while still being a Ranger. But when we retired, I decided to check and see if the school still had a spot for me, and they did. So I packed my bags, and came."
"And... how are you taking it?" Kim asked, a faint cloud of worry on her face, "I mean... not being a Ranger anymore."
Tommy took a deep breath, casting his dark gaze to the clear blue sky. A serene grin crossed his face. Kim then noted just how peaceful and at ease he was; being released from the burdens of being one of Earth's primary defenders.
"At first, it was really hard figuring out what I wanted to do with myself," Tommy admitted, "I mean, suddenly I had so much... time on my hands! I still do martial arts, but there isn't the urgency in it anymore. I'm no longer preparing for war. I took a few weeks to figure out just where I wanted my life to lead. Originally, I had taken into account me staying a Ranger indefinitely, and I was willing to stay in Angel Grove all my life, and just open up a karate school to pay my bills. But, I don't need to make that kind of sacrifice anymore. I can literally do whatever I want to."
"And what would that be?"
Tommy frowned slightly. "I'm not entirely sure. At first, I was thinking of doing something in Astronomy." He chuckled at the perplexed expression in Kim's eyes. "Yeah, not what you'd think, right?"
Kim shrugged in response. "Actually, it does make some sense. You've visited Phaedos, Aquitar and Edenoi, and maybe even other planets. There is definitely something appealing about the expanse of the universe."
"But that's the problem," Tommy said, his voice slightly frustrated, "When you've been in the heart of a star, or physically on another planet with intelligent life, looking at slides of nebulae isn't very stimulating. This Astronomy class that I'm taking is really boring. The kind of physics we're doing is grade-school stuff compared to the equations Billy was always working with in the Power Chamber. Sure I'm not Billy, but I did pick up a lot from watching him do his thing."
Tommy's energetic grin then returned. "But it's not like I have to decide right now what I want to do. I'm keeping my mind wide open."
Kim's grin matched his own, and she snuggled into his chest a bit more. "I'm glad."
She really was glad. She was glad that Tommy had dealt with the loss of his powers so well. During their early days, when he was the independent Green Ranger, Tommy was subjected to two forced power losses. First, Rita stole his powers in one fell swoop with the Green Candle. The second time, Lord Zedd slowly siphoned off his energy bit by bit, reducing the Green Ranger to a husk of his former glory.
On both occasions, the loss of power brought on a severe depression, and feeling of emptiness.
Yet, this time it was different. Tommy had to surrender his powers, but it wasn't the forces of evil that brought it on. Instead, it was his growth as an individual. He had dedicated a significant portion of his life to the protection of the planet, and he was comfortable with leaving that part of his life behind, and starting something new.
Still, it hurt Kim slightly that Tommy had changed so much without her knowledge. It certainly wasn't his fault... she was completely unreachable while on Phaedos. But she couldn't help but assume that when she returned to Earth, everything would be as it was.
Kimberly had to accept the fact that the world would move on without her. Tommy would continue to mature and grow, even if she isn't there to witness it. Tommy would have both wonderful and painful experiences, and she wouldn't be able to congratulate his successes, or support him through his failures.
That day was a needed escape from the pressures of Kimberly's everyday life. She had a wonderful time just being a typical young woman. Strolling around the university, eating pizza and frozen yogurt, and even going to the movies was a wonderful refreshment. Also, she was completely informed on how Tommy had spent the past four months, and how her other friends were doing.
At the end of her visit, Kimberly bestowed upon Tommy the gift she had carried with her. It was a magical hand-held mirror, with silver frame. It served as a communication tool, allowing Tommy to contact Kimberly through her private magic mirror on Venus Island.
Yet, there was another feeling that erupted from Kimberly's first visit to Tommy while in college. Jealousy. She was happy that he was finally at peace, but she couldn't help but set up the comparison between them. While Tommy could move on with his life, Kimberly couldn't. She had to remain the Queen of Venus Island, and that occupation would never change. She had to continue to hone her skills as a Ninjetti warrior. There was no fulfillment... just routine.
For months afterward, the routine was practically endless. She remained on the island most of the time, separated from mankind. Now that her friends had moved on, the Power Rangers were suddenly strangers to her. There was no Home anymore, where she would feel welcome and surrounded by people who really knew her.
In fact, the next time she really entered the world of humanity was during their darkest hour... the infamous Countdown to Destruction.
"Surrender, Power Rangers!! Or else, this entire planet will be destroyed!"
The tumultuous threat reverberated through the crowded streets of Angel Grove. People gasped in horror at the prospect. The entire universe had surrendered to the forces of Astronema, the newly-proclaimed Queen of Evil. Without Dark Specter around, she was calling the shots... and as unbelievable as it may sound, she displayed even less mercy that the famed wizard and pure incarnation of evil.
Kimberly Hart, the Queen of Venus Island, and Ninjetti master of the Crane, clenched her Whistling Sticks all the tighter, and stared out from her vantage point to the top of the office building, where the armored villainess stood, leaning against her magical staff and glaring down at the thousands of Angel Grovites with contempt and impatience.
This was the first time Kimberly had lain eyes on Astronema. This was also the first time in several months that the Venusians were about to interfere with human events.
Once Divatox had destroyed the Power Chamber, she left planet Earth inexplicably. One would think she would try and conquer the planet, but something called her away.
Kimberly desperately wanted to help the Power Rangers. She wanted to send them on a quest to Phaedos, to gain strength from the Great Power, and renew their mission to battle evil in all its forms. Yet this third generation of Power Rangers was quite innovative. Even without Alpha or Dimitria to help them, and even stripped from their powers, they cleverly came up with a plan to seek Zordon, who had been captured.
The fact that they were powerless didn't hinder them, and they went to NASADA for transportation into space.
Kimberly couldn't help but be surprised that the Power Rangers didn't seek assistance from her. Had they wanted to contact Venus Island, all they needed to do was call Tommy. He had a magical mirror, which allowed him to 'call' Venus Island whenever he wished. It was her graduation present to him.
Could it be that Dimitria never told them about the Venusians? True, they were no longer often involved in the Rangers' missions directly, but could they actually have no knowledge of their culture?
Kimberly found that notion distasteful, to say the least. And so, she vowed to take a more definitive position in the affairs of Earth. When the Power Rangers left for space, she decided to insure that Earth would be safe.
And it was.
The Venusians had discreetly prevented several invasions from becoming outright attacks, which enabled the Power Rangers to leave Earth for long periods of time in their search for Zordon. Still, they didn't actually step into the open. Venusians were still hidden from view, from both the Rangers and humanity at large.
"I want the Power Rangers!!" Astronema screamed with frustration.
Kimberly knew the stakes had never been higher, as she beckoned her team of Venusian warriors to prepare for their attack.
"We are the Power Rangers!" came a powerful voice, unfamiliar to Kim. She craned her head, and saw five teenagers standing in a row atop a nearby building.
She recognized T.J., Ashley, Carlos, and Cassie, since she had heard a great deal about them from Tommy. She assumed the fifth was that new Silver Ranger that had been popping up on occasion.
She gasped. They were revealing their identities to the entire world!
They had just opened Pandora's Box.
The five Rangers morphed, and leapt to the street, fighting the scores of Piranatrons and Quantrons. Although they put up a valiant fight, and even though the Angel Grovites were eager to help, the odds were still overwhelming.
"Let's move!" Kim ordered, leaping into the air. Her sheer pink wings held her aloft like a hang-glider, allowing her to sail through the air freely. While her forces went directly to engage the ground forces, Kim approached Astronema and her right-hand servant Ecliptor.
Astronema growled with contempt as Kimberly landed gracefully on the rooftop, brandishing her Whistling Sticks in an unspoken challenge.
"So," Astronema commented in a smooth voice, "this is the famous half-breed Queen of Venus Island. I've heard much about you."
Kimberly shrugged her eyebrows. "Well, I'm afraid I've heard hardly anything about you, Astronema."
The young Queen of Evil smirked. "Then I guess the advantage is mine. I'm sorry, but I'm not in the mood for a confrontation just yet." Her smirk widened. "I've already promised Divatox the privilege of killing you, the great-grandchild of her hated sister."
Kimberly was forced to take a step back as massive purple thunderbolts struck from the clouds, allowing both Ecliptor and Astronema to vanish into the hovering Dark Fortress. Kim gazed at the enormous ship bitterly, and then turned her attention back to the ground.
She duly noted the Yellow Ranger was losing ground to the twelve Quantrons that surrounded her.
Kim flipped into the air, and fell sharply towards the ground feet first. The flat heels of her boots slammed into a Quantron's head, reducing the robot to a pile of sparking wires and circuits. The Yellow Ranger startled as Kimberly expertly decapitated another Quantron with her Whistling Stick, while in the same fluid motion striking another with a devastating roundhouse kick. The Yellow Ranger soon snapped out of her bewilderment enough to assist as the befuddled Quantrons were annihilated speedily.
"Who are you?" the Yellow Ranger panted, observing Kimberly from head to toe.
Kim couldn't help but feel slightly hurt at the girl's ignorance. Her suspicions were correct... none of the newer Power Rangers knew anything about Venus Island, and the allies they had.
"A friend," Kim answered, turning away from the Yellow Ranger. She then proceeded to destroy any monsters that dared come within her reach.
With the help of the Venusian forces, the alien beings were held back long enough for Zordon's purifying energy to sweep over the universe, and cleanse all of creation from evil.
The repercussions of the Countdown to Destruction were incredible. First and foremost, it spelled the tragic end of Trini Kwan and Zack Taylor, who were aboard a trans-Atlantic flight back to America when the Velocifighters began their aerial assault. Their plane was one of the seven or so to be shot down, and there were no survivors. It was a horrible tragedy, which still plagued Kimberly. Their deaths were so pointless it sickened her. They were the first of her close friends to go.
The death of Trini struck Billy especially hard. She was in fact the third woman to leave Billy by way of a tragic, unnecessary death. First, he lost his mother. Then, his fiance Cestria. Finally, his beloved Trini. As the Silver Ranger, he was obliged to go to Aquitar, the planet from which he gained his powers, in an attempt to defeat the armies that threatened that culture. After the Countdown, he returned the Sword of Tympanus to the Aquitian council, believing his mission was complete. Mirthfully, he returned to Earth.
Trini and Zack's loss, coupled with the biochemical changes in his system from having retired from active service, catapulted Billy into deep depression. Two days after his return to Earth, he visited the plateau where the destroyed Power Chamber remained. He then jumped off the cliff.
In addition, Zordon, friend to the Venusians long before Kimberly was born, was now dead. Also, all evil was vanquished, including Divatox herself. She still lived, but the darkness within her was erased. She was penitent, and her sentence was to remain on Phaedos with Dulcea, so she could learn the true code of the Ninjetti. Divatox was a sorceress, so learning the Ninjetti was a trial to her. Yet, it widened her spiritual horizons, and helped forge a noble heart in the woman who was once manacled by rage and bitterness.
Also, there were amazing ramifications regarding the Power Rangers. Once the world knew the faces of the Astro Rangers, they were able to connect names and identities to them. For months the six teens were hounded by reporters and curious citizens, who wanted to know what being Rangers was like. For a long amount of time, the teens managed to avoid the public eye, and T.J. even once begged the world to just leave them alone, since their service had ended.
Yet the media-hounding didn't end there. Since T.J., Ashley, Carlos, and Cassie were discovered to be high school sophomores of about sixteen years of age, it was easily determined that they couldn't have been the same Rangers who first came to Angel Grove in 1994. Also, since they were all humans, it was safe to say that the previous Rangers were human too. And so, the hounding began again.
The first discovery was the Astro Rangers' connection to Justin Stewart. He was known to have been close friends with this circle, and his intelligence and martial arts prowess made him a good candidate. That connected Justin to Tommy, who was like an older brother to him, and even taught young Justin a good deal of self-defense. And from there, the web continued to spread, until finally, in a historic statement on the first anniversary of the Countdown, Tommy, Katherine, Tanya, Jason, Justin, Adam, Rocky, and Aisha gathered in Washington DC, and admitted to formerly being Power Rangers. They also made mention that Kimberly, Billy, Zack, and Trini were also Rangers, and were in fact the majority of the original team. A large section of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia was chosen to be a memorial to the Power Rangers, and plaques memorializing the dead Trini Kwan, Billy Mitchell, and Zack Taylor, as well as the believed-dead Kimberly Hart, were constructed. In addition, marble statues of each of the Power Rangers, both in and out of costume, were displayed in a small museum nearby. The day of the Countdown was a day celebrated as Universal Independence Day, and annually each of the Ranger teens were thanked by everyone they came in contact with, and were sought for parades, fresh interviews, and all the other burdens of fame.
They were the most famous humans in our modern era.
Kim stared blankly through the open window at the heavy raindrops that fell from the pitch black sky. It didn't rain often in Angel Grove, but when it did rain, it really poured.
She couldn't help but release a small sob as she thought of the Countdown. In some ways it felt like only yesterday. That can be attributed to how time passes for an immortal, or pseudo-immortal, which was Kim's case. It marked the end of an era of war, and heralded an era of peace.
At the time, Kim had thought that the end of the intergalactic wars was a blessing, since now she had more time to spend with Tommy and her remaining friends. Yet, there was a darkness that forever hung over the vibrancy of Kim's character, and that was the losses of three of the best friends she's ever had. She couldn't help but contemplate whether she was at fault for their deaths. If she and her forces had remained in the forefront of Earth's defense, perhaps they could have reinforced the defenses more. Perhaps she should have unleashed the Ninja Zords, still in service of the Venusians, in an effort to fend off the aerial forces of Astronema. If she had seen the Countdown coming, she would have saved Trini and Zack... and therefore Billy. Billy's death was far more painful, because she knew she should have saved him. Just a little human affection and compassion would have been enough to pull him back from the ledge. If only she had been there for him in his time of grief, just like she was when he lost Cestria. She used to be good at discerning people's emotional needs. Now... she was just too disconnected from her own humanity to truly appreciate anyone elses.
There was another, even darker side to Kimberly's epiphany: she would witness the deaths of all her friends. Some day, within the next few decades, they would all succumb to human nature. Surely they wouldn't all die such horrible deaths, but she knew she'd have to say goodbye to each of them.
That point was made even clearer when she returned to Venus Island in February, and was crowned Vespera, fully ordained Queen.
She separated herself from humanity for several months after her coronation. Part of it was because of her people's obvious desire for her to abandon her former life. The rest of it was her own fear, of not really being part of that close circle of friends. She didn't experience life in the same way as they did. She felt it best to distance herself from it.
Still, one man refused to let her separate. No... he wanted her as close as possible.
"Kim!" he called, racing after her as she hurried down the dark sidewalk, "Please! Stop!" He growled slightly when he realized just how difficult it was to catch up to her while he was still confined in the inhibiting graduation gown.
She stopped. She so badly wanted to run away... to hide her tears from him. But she knew he wouldn't let her. And on some level, she wouldn't mind. She was always happiest when she and Tommy were together, when she did what he asked of her. She loved making him happy.
If only she could make him happy this time... but it wasn't in her power to do so.
Vaguely, she regretted coming to Rhode Island, to see him graduate with the highest honors at the prestigious Brown University. She knew it would be difficult to see. He was maturing and growing. He was getting ready to begin his life in earnest. She, however, was forever stagnant. She wouldn't change. She wouldn't grow.
She'll always be the same... her face frozen in time like a painting.
Tommy finally caught up with her, and gazed into her teary eyes fondly. "That wasn't really the answer I was hoping for," he said quietly. Although he tried to hide it, Kim noted the pain in his dark eyes.
"Tommy," she whispered, unable to prevent the tears from streaking down her face, "please, take it back."
Tommy shook his head, clasping her hands in his. "I can't, Beautiful," he responded in a firm voice, "That's how I feel. Kim, I love you, and I know nothing is going to change that. Not time, not circumstance... not anything. I know we'll be separated by an ocean, and I know that we can't be together. Still, nothing would make me happier than you saying 'yes'."
Kim swallowed, her whole body trembling. "You've... got to be reasonable!" she begged, "I can't marry you! I'm dead to the world, and I know my people wouldn't accept a human as their king. I..." Her voice lowered. "I don't want to hold you down."
Tommy smiled. "I won't be."
Kim shivered violently, pulling her hands from his grasp. "Yes you will! I won't be here for you! You... you'll grow old alone. Who knows where my duties as Venusian queen may take me? Tommy, I can't live for myself... or for you. I want to... but I can't!"
She was sobbing outright, and shaking uncontrollably. The dam that she erected, to bottle in the hopelessness regarding her love for Tommy, was fully razed by Tommy's proposal. Weakly, she sank to her knees on the pavement.
Tommy lowered himself in front of her, and gently lifted her chin.
"Kim, trust me, I know what I've got to sacrifice to love you. I've been thinking about it for years... ever since you took the Venusian crown. I know I can't have you in my life like I want you to be. Still, I know that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to love you. If that means growing old alone, or living alone, or only seeing you once in a blue moon, then I accept it. I love you, Kimberly Anne Hart, and I'll take you however I can get you."
Kim whimpered slightly, turning her glistening eyes to the smooth pavement. "I... I still can't marry you," she affirmed.
"Kim, I didn't ask you to marry me."
Kim lifted her eyes, and frowned slightly. "Yes you did!"
He shook his head. "No, and you ran away before I could make myself clear. I said would you marry me... not will you marry me. It's conditional. If it were possible, would you marry me?"
Kim chuckled slightly, despite the weight of the moment. "That's a silly question," she breathed.
"I'm asking you to love me as if we were married," he clarified, drawing the shivering Venusian queen closer, "I know we can't have the ceremony, and we can't live happily ever after, but think of me as your husband, and I'll think of you as my wife. We'll be married in our hearts, with or without the contract."
Then, Tommy rose to his feet, and lifted Kim with him. He gathered the loose folds of his graduation gown, and removed his cap and pressed it to his heart. He then sank to one knee, gazing up at Kimberly as if he were gazing in reverence to a distant star, and pulled a gold band from his pocket. The small diamond within a heart-shaped design twinkled in the moonlight, as he offered it up to his goddess.
"I'll try again," he said, humor in his voice, "Kimberly Anne Hart, Queen Vespera of Venus Island, would you marry me?"
Kim choked back another sob, her trembling fingers reaching down. Tommy slid the ring onto her finger, and she fell to her knees in front of him, still quaking from the raging emotions in her heart.
"Yes," she whispered, clasping her arms around his neck in a tight hug, "I would."
She remained in his arms, her tear-stained cheek pillowed in his firm chest, for a long time. She heard the sounds of the graduation party in the distance, but she didn't care. She knew he didn't either.
When they were together, nothing else mattered. That was why they couldn't be together on a lasting basis.
They cherished the moment, while it lasted.
"Mom?" whispered a gentle voice, as sweet as birdsong. Kimberly turned her eyes from Tommy's blissful face, and rested them upon the visitor. She smiled with affection as the slender woman, just a few inches taller than herself, leaned over to embrace her mother in a warm hug. As she leaned over, tendrils of ebony hair rolled over her shoulders like currents tumbling down a waterfall, and crystalline droplets of moisture fell from her large hazel eyes onto the queen's tender neck.
Kimberly's hands reached away from Tommy to return the tearful hug, meanwhile trying desperately to calm the raging feelings within her.
She needed to be calm and collected before the Princess of Venus Island.
The woman released her mother, and smiled weakly at Daniel. The aged doctor couldn't help but feel younger just by gazing at the exotic beauty before him.
After all, she was only two years his junior.
"I'm glad you're back, Hope," he said, although the greeting was tinged with despondency considering the situation.
"Likewise, Daniel," she said, straightening to her full height. She moved around the bed, and sat down beside her father. Her lips trembled slightly, and Hope gently kissed her father's forehead.
"Is he any better?" she inquired.
Daniel exhaled, a sure sign that he didn't want to answer her. Hope nodded in understanding.
"There's been no change since you left," Daniel said, "Actually, he's really lucky you were with him when he had his stroke. He'd be dead by now."
Hope sniffled slightly. "Well, I try to spend as much time with him as I can... while I have the chance."
Hope wiped at her eyes again, and gazed at Kim. "Where were you?" Hope asked, "I 'called' you eight hours ago."
"I was on Phaedos with Dulcea. I was still performing the Restoration."
Hope nodded in understanding. Both women were only partially Venusian, and relied heavily on the Great Power to remain young. Whereas full-blooded Venusians didn't require these immersions in the blinding silver fire of pure energy, Kimberly, Hope, and their fellow partial-Venusian Renee Ryan were required to visit Phaedos every twenty-five years to restore their power.
As Ninjetti, they were granted the privilege of communing with the Great Power. As Venusians, they could extract far more from the Great Power than an acquaintance with their animal guardians.
"So, where did you go, Hope?" Daniel asked, "You were gone for over two hours."
"I went to see James and Gregory Trueheart, and their families. I thought Dad's nephews would want to know what happened. He was like a second father to them."
"Are they here?" Daniel asked, turning away from the screen showing Tommy's vital signs, "I can probably get them up here, even though it's past visiting hours."
Hope shook her head. "I came ahead of them. I... I didn't want to leave Dad for too long."
Hope took her father's hand again, and stroked it gently. As she soothed his hand with tender affection, she began humming to herself. A faint ebony aura built around her body as she sang an almost entrancing, serene melody.
Kimberly smiled as Hope sang her father's favorite lullaby. The lullaby he sang to Hope, when she lay in a cradle so many decades ago. Surely, Hope sang it far better. That was because the spirit of the Nightingale was always with her.
Through her sixty-four years of life, Hope Oliver, Princess of Venus Island, remained true to her name. She was a bond joining Kimberly and Tommy through the decades, even when distance tore them apart.
She was something of Tommy's that would live far beyond him. In a sense, his spirit and compassion lived in Hope, and since she was all but immortal, so was Tommy.
Kim knew that Tommy had wanted a large family. It was a dream he confessed to her ages ago, when they first began dating. It was one of his desires, to be a real father to a large, happy family. This was probably due to the fact that he had been adopted, and hadn't really known his biological family.
Kimberly couldn't give him that. They had one child, and as of now, no grandchildren.
Still, they always had Hope... the cherished, eternal personification of child-like innocence and purity, with a song that could soothe anything living.
Hope was truly a bright spot in Kimberly's long and often difficult life.
"Hey, Kim!" called a voice, as the incessant pounding sliced into the queen's consciousness, numbing her body while enflaming the headache that made her cranium ten times heavier than it should be.
"Please," Kim moaned, burying her face into her feather pillow, "go away!"
"No can do!" the voice proclaimed, "You're gettin' us all really worried here, Kim. Now, open the door or I'll open it for ya!"
Kim grumbled under her breath, refusing to move. Moving was torturous.
She barely registered the sound of teleportation, as a power signature of orange light flooded the room. She then felt the bed move slightly, as someone sat on the edge of the bed.
"Sheesh, Girl!" Renee Ryan declared, a wry smile on her face, "You look like crap."
Kim peeked out from within the deep crevice she made in her pillow, and glared at her close friend. "Is that any way to talk to your queen?" she demanded weakly.
Renee giggled a bit as Kim forced herself onto her back. Renee gasped in shock when she saw how flushed Kim's face was.
"Are you okay?" Renee asked, her deep brown eyes wide.
"No," Kim groaned, touching her forehead with her sweaty palm, "I feel like I was hit by a truck. It just hit all at once!"
"I've never seen anyone sick on Venus Island," Renee noted, her eyes rolling around the room as she rummaged through her mind, "There aren't any doctors, medicines, or anything like it. The closest thing is healing spells for injuries, but that's different. You look like you've got the flu."
"But where could I have gotten the flu?" Kim asked, rolling her hazel eyes blankly.
Renee shrugged. "Maybe you got it when you visited Tommy."
Renee duly noted how Kim's face got increasingly red. Renee's eyes widened.
"Kiiiiim," she drawled, her eyebrow arched, "did you...?"
Kim smiled guiltily.
"And you didn't TELL ME?!" Renee shrieked, folding her arms, "Man! This is unreal!"
"It's not any of your business, 'Ne," Kim said weakly, propping herself on her elbows, "A woman can have some secrets, can't she?"
"Not from me she can't!" Renee affirmed, shrugging her eyebrows. Kim couldn't help but laugh at her friend's antics.
After the years of their "marriage", Kimberly and Tommy had been intimate on several occasions. Granted, since they lived apart they spent far less time together than any other married couple. Still, Kimberly didn't feel comfortable being confronted about her relationship with Tommy. It was the one part of her life that was sacred, and personal. Once she became queen, she accepted the role of a public figure. That necessarily included a blatant breach of privacy.
Suddenly, Renee's jaw dropped. Kim immediately stopped laughing, and stared at her inquisitively.
"Kim," she said, standing up from the bed and turning to her, "lie flat."
Kim conceded, worry furrowing her brow as Renee brought her palms together as if she were praying. Her hands began to glow with a faint aura of orange light, and she slowly separated her hands, and lay them on Kim's abdomen. Kim watched in silence as the orange glow intensified. Renee's slight frown of concentration melted into a warm smile as the light began to pulse.
"What?" Kim asked, panic setting in her eyes, "What are you smiling about?"
"Kimmie," she said gently, pulling her arms away, "you're going to have a daughter!"
Kim blinked, her eyes widening as she slowly reached down, and stroked her stomach in awe. "R... really?" she whispered faintly, her eyes transfixed on her stomach.
Renee's smile widened. "You got it, Girl."
Kim's forehead wrinkled into a troubled frown once again, and she nibbled on her lower lip slightly. "I... I wonder what Tommy'll say..."
Renee huffed. "You know he's gonna be thrilled about it!" she answered, "and it's not like you're placing a burden on him! She'll be the Princess of Venus Island."
Kim cringed slightly, glancing around the room more. She suddenly felt a wave of dizziness overcome her slight headache, and her mind began to swim. She knew Tommy had always wanted to be a father. It was one of his goals in life to be the center of a stable, happy family. A goal... he had to give up by devoting himself to Kim.
Now, he would have a child. But, she will be on Venus Island. She couldn't hide her pregnancy from the others, and it would be an outrage to have the Queen's daughter living with mankind.
Besides, she doubted Tommy really wanted to raise a child alone. He wanted a family, and that included a wife.
...a wife he could never have.
"I've got to talk to him," Kim said, rolling her eyes to Renee as she tried to stand up, "I've got to tell him."
"Whoa, there, Honey," Renee said, gently restraining the dazed monarch, "You're in no condition to go anywhere! I'll call him, and he can come here."
Kim frowned even more. "He... he doesn't much like Venus Island," she said quietly.
Renee chuckled. "And with good reason! This island has taken you away from him." Renee lowered her voice a bit when she saw Kim cringe slightly. "But, he loves you, and so he'll love being wherever you are. Especially once you tell him he's gonna be a Daddy!"
Kim sighed quietly, lying back on her bed and letting her muscles go lax. She then grinned weakly at Renee, letting her know her approval. As she watched Renee leave, the exhaustion of her condition overcame her, and she drifted into a light sleep.
"Hey, Beautiful," a voice said, and a gentle hand caressed her warm cheek, "time to wake up."
Kim smiled even before her eyes opened. Those six words, which drew her into the realm of lucidity years ago, triggered the memory of when he first became the White Ranger. She was overwhelmed at the sight of him, donned in the noble armor that would forever be the armor that fit him the best. She was so overcome with astonishment that she fainted.
She was a different person then. She was a girl. Now, she was a Venusian queen.
"Hey," she breathed, trying to sit up. She did her best to smile, but she couldn't bring her muscles to respond properly. The result was a quiver of her lips, which brought a small frown of worry to Tommy's face.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, continuing to stroke her head.
"Tired, but not bad," she answered, glancing around the room. To her surprise, Renee wasn't there.
Maybe she's not as nosy as she seems, Kim reflected, locking eyes with Tommy once again. She saw the worry that darkened his chocolate eyes, and reached out to catch his hand as it trailed down her cheek.
"What did Renee tell you?" she asked, holding his hand steady.
"She said that you wanted to see me," he answered simply.
"That's it?" Kim asked, slightly surprised.
"That's enough for me," he responded, a lop-sided grin spreading on his face. The grin faded slightly when Kim's grip on his hand strengthened.
"Tommy," she said, her voice beginning to quiver, "Th.. there's something I need... to tell you."
Tommy's eyes grew wide. Clearly, the worst possible scenario was floating through his mind. After all, Kim realized she looked like death warmed over. Maybe he thought she was dying.
She had to clear that up right away. "Tommy, um... I... we... are going to have a... baby."
The last word was whispered so quietly, Kim herself didn't hear it. But the amazed look on Tommy's face made it clear that he had.
"A... a baby?" he repeated, his voice not much louder than hers. She nodded, tears beginning to shine in her eyes.
"I'm... I'm gonna be a father?" he asked in disbelief. Slowly, his hand traced down her torso, and rested upon her stomach. His dark eyes were suddenly transfixed upon that spot, as if expecting the miracle that would happen in the near future.
"Yes," Kim said, carefully examining his face. She was dismayed by the fact that he didn't smile. His eyes were wide with shock... and maybe fear? "Tommy," she began, "I'm.. I'm sorry if..."
"Sorry?" he asked, turning to her again, "For what?"
Kim averted her eyes, and gently bit her lip again. Tommy recognized her nervous habit, and planted a tender kiss on the tip of her nose.
"Kim, this is wonderful!" he exclaimed, his face brightening as the shock slowly gave way to glee, "I'm going to be a father!"
Kim released a few weak giggles at Tommy's joy. "So, you're okay with this?" she asked hesitantly.
"Kim," he said, his own eyes watering, "I couldn't have hoped for anything more."
That's why she was named Hope.
The birth of the princess was a day of great celebration on Venus Island. Tommy had made it a point to stay with Kimberly as much as possible throughout the pregnancy, teleporting in at least three times a week. By the time the third trimester rolled along, he was at the island all day just about every day. Finally, after a great deal of insistence by Kim, Renee, and even the visiting Dulcea, he remained on Venus Island for the two weeks preceding the birth, and a week after.
During that time, an arrangement was forged.
Hope would live her first year entirely on Venus Island, since a child so young is quite dependent upon its mother. Then, the parents would switch off, each taking a period of three months at a time.
Kimberly was at first reluctant to leave Hope with Tommy for so much time. After all, she didn't want the burden of being a single parent of an infant upon his shoulders, and unlike herself, Tommy didn't have the aid of an entire nation. Yet, he insisted... he wanted to see his baby grow. He wanted to be a father to her... not just some guy who donated half her chromosomes.
Of course, during the months that Tommy had Hope, Kimberly was a frequent guest. And while Hope was on Venus Island, she spent much time with her father.
The first five years of Hope's life were the most wonderful in Kim's memory. The three were as united in love as a family could be, even though they weren't always united in space. Still, they did spend a great deal of time with one another.
After much discussion, both Kim and Tommy concluded that Hope would be better off being raised as a Venusian. It would be problematic for her to enter into the world of mankind, especially since she was born and lived her first year on Venus Island. She wasn't registered as a citizen of the United States, and there would inevitably be questions revolving around her parentage.
No, it was best to avoid that.
Not long after Hope's birth, Tommy had moved from California to Washington, to assist the federal government's preparation for contact with other planets. It didn't take much convincing for the world to accept the fact that intelligent beings crowded the galaxy, which was very much proven by the Countdown. Since Tommy was recognized as being a former leader of the Power Rangers, as well as an accomplished political theorist and author, he was given a position as a sort of diplomat. Earth would finally join the rest of the universe in interplanetary-relations, and Tommy would spearhead the project.
Also, that made it possible for Tommy to conduct the illusion that Hope was his niece, who visited him often. It would be quite difficult to explain her parentage in another means, and for Tommy to have a daughter out of wedlock might have tarnished his political reputation.
Of course, if it was known that Tommy was romantically involved with an alien queen, then problems would seriously arise. Especially since the world at large was still unaware of the existence of the magical Venus Island.
The years went by so quickly for Kimberly. It didn't take long before Hope was old enough to go to Phaedos, and discover the spirit of the Nightingale within her. Several years later, NASADA made their first communication with the space colony KO-35. It was a momentous event, and Tommy even went on a mission there, accompanied by the three known alien residents on Earth: Zhane, Karone, and Andros.
Kimberly and Tommy didn't spend very much time together. Kimberly had busied herself with the prospect of moving the Venusian remnant from Earth, and possibly restore the planet Venus to its natural beauty. That way, it would be easier for Venus and Earth to become allied planets, since living on Earth would almost force Venusian culture to assimilate into a country. Also, Tommy was busied by his political duties, and spent a great deal of time with delegates from Aquitar (including some of the former Aquitian Rangers), Edenoi, Inquiris, Liaria, and even distant Eltar. Both found fulfillment in their heavy responsibilities... but they both longed for the happiness that they only felt when they were together.
It became painfully clear to them on Tommy's sixtieth birthday that his time alive was fleeting. It was frightening for Kimberly to even fathom Tommy dying, but since several friends had passed on by that point, it was an inevitability that she was forced to face. Then, Kim, Tommy, and Hope made a momentous decision. They would dedicate a single month each year to being together explicitly. It was difficult for Tommy to schedule, but if broken into four weeks, it was possible. During those four weeks, they were a united, cohesive family unit. Sometimes they stayed on Venus Island. Sometimes they went to a foreign planet. Sometimes they just lived in Angel Grove with friends and family. But they were together, and that was what mattered.
The four-week "vacation" periods became an almost religious observance, and remained consistently throughout their lives. The last week together had taken place just before Kimberly's most recent trip to Phaedos. Hope and Tommy thought Phaedos was a wonderful, relaxing spot to visit, and they decided to travel there with Kimberly, and then leave after the one-week period to allow Kimberly her time for Restoration.
It was only about a week ago...
With slow, even strokes, Kimberly brushed the ivory powder over her cheek. The make-up brush glided across her face, leaving a snowy trail along her skin. Kim pursed her lips tightly as she continued the process, covering her entire visage with the thick ritual paint.
Once her face was ghostly white, she lay the brush upon the vanity, and lifted a narrow paintbrush. Dipping it in a small pool of thick magenta liquid, she then lined her full lips with the stain.
While she busily prepared her face for the Restoration ceremony, the slender fingers of her daughter busily wove the queen's long caramel tendrils into an intricate bun, with silver strands of material and small pearls highlighting the style.
"I guess that's it," Hope said, lying her idle fingers on her mother's shoulder. Kim nodded slowly, and rose to her feet. She smoothed the wrinkles from her Ninjetti uniform, and smiled at her daughter.
"I really wish I could have come with you back to Earth," she said, hugging Hope tightly, "I don't know if it's just me, but I sense something... different about your father."
Hope nodded. "It's not just you. There's a cloud about him, and I can't seem to penetrate it. He usually brightens when we're together, but this time, things are different."
Hope's seamless face took on a delicate frown, and she gazed at her mother inquiringly. "Do you think something is gravely wrong?"
Kim pondered this for a moment. "No. I think he'd tell me. He wouldn't hide something serious from me."
She then took a deep breath, and together with her daughter she walked out of the chamber, and onto the plateau upon which the temple stood. The temple was restored from the ruins by Divatox, who had remained on Phaedos to serve the Power she shamed.
Kim gazed toward the setting sun, and noticed a tall, noble form staring out at the Neola jungle, absently rubbing his wrist. Kim could almost see him wearing his white Ninjetti uniform, with a pensive and determined expression on his face as he thought of the great quest ahead of them.
So many years ago... yet so very clear in her mind.
Kim separated from her beloved daughter, and stood beside her love. She craned her head in the direction he gazed, and watched in admiration as the bright sun lowered beneath the horizon.
"It's time," Tommy said, turning back to Kimberly. His aged eyes rested on his only love, who looked exactly the same now as she did so many years ago, when they first came to this magical planet. Her hair was longer, and the glimmer in her eyes was more reserved, but she was still the same.
He, on the other hand, was aged and withered. He still stood tall and proud, with broad shoulders and deep, wise eyes. His hair, still kept long in respect for his Native American heritage, had long since grown gray. His bronze skin had lost much of its radiance, and had accumulated many creases around his narrowed lips and observant eyes.
All the same, he was still the beautiful, gentle, pure-hearted man Kimberly had fallen in love with decades ago.
Kim nodded at him, her hand slowly creeping into his grasp. Her fingers gently wove themselves around his wrinkled, crooked ones, and held on firmly. She did her best to smile, but she felt the overwhelming despondency in Tommy's heart. She gazed at him quizzically.
"What's wrong?" she asked gently, worry furrowing her brow.
Tommy shook his head dismissively, lying his other hand atop hers. "I'm just going to miss you," he answered, smiling weakly, "When will you come back to Earth?"
"Before a month has passed," she answered, leaning against his shoulder slightly as she guided him away from the plateau's edge, "As soon as I return, I'll stop by your house and pay you a visit."
"Will the Venusians mind?" Tommy inquired.
Kim shook her head, an amused smile creeping on her face. "Probably. But we're still making progress with the restoration of Venus. Renee has headed the circle of sorceresses who have devoted themselves to reversing Divatox's spell, and Divatox herself is researching it while serving the Great Power. Still, since the universe is at peace, there is no urgent need for me to be on the island." She then smiled mischievously. "Besides, I'd like to see how your work is coming on your newest novel."
Tommy chuckled, shaking his head. "I've decided not to write another one," he revealed, "My work is done."
Kim blinked in surprise, and locked eyes with him searchingly. "Since when?"
"I guess I'm tired," he answered, sighing deeply, "I might as well take a few moments, and look back on all I've accomplished. There's no need for me to constantly be producing. I should just appreciate what I've already produced."
He nodded to himself, as if trying to come to grips with that notion. He then leaned down slightly, and planted a gentle kiss on Kimberly's lips. "I'd better be going," he said, "President Lee invited me to dinner tomorrow, and I should be well-rested for it. We're going to discuss that Aquitian Academy project."
Kimberly smiled. "Could you imagine human college students studying on a foreign planet?" she said in awe.
Tommy nodded. "Jason's son was always impressed by the stories of what Billy accomplished during his stay there, and now that he's the leader of the free world, he's in a position to make use of that inspiration. The ocean of knowledge on Aquitar is really abundant." He then grinned. "No pun intended, of course."
Kim giggled. "Of course."
Kim turned when she noticed Dulcea approach them, a small smile on her face. "Farewell, Falcon," Dulcea said, leaning over and kissing Tommy's cheek, "The Power will always protect you. Always."
Tommy nodded, clearly grateful for the encouraging words. Kimberly absently wondered why Dulcea had said that phrase in such an ominous manner. True, she said it all the time, but it seemed to carry more weight this time.
Then, Divatox and Hope joined the circle on the plateau. When Divatox reached Kimberly and Tommy, she immediately fell to her knees, and cast her eyes downward.
"She really unsettles me when she does that," Tommy stated in good humor.
"I can never atone for the pain I've caused you, Tommy..." she began.
"Save it," he interrupted, "I'm not one to hold a grudge. I'm just glad to see you've reformed."
Divatox then rose, and took a deep breath. She looked amazingly child-like and innocent, as if the thousands of years of wickedness were only a faint dream. "Safe journey, Falcon. And you, Nightingale."
Hope grinned, hugging both her great great grand-aunts before standing beside her father. Kimberly once again touched her lips against Tommy's in a departing kiss, and then kissed her daughter. She then stepped back, and watched as the pair vanished in flashes of ebony and ivory light.
The queen touched her rose lips gently, as she stared at the horizon to which the flashes of light traveled. There was something very different about that kiss.
She didn't realize it at the time, but that sweet, lingering kiss was his goodbye to her. It was the last time she saw him alive and vibrant.
He had known his health was fading, but he didn't want to burden Kimberly with that knowledge... especially since she couldn't do anything about it.
The faint beeping grew faster, until it became a continuous knell. Tommy's chest stopped moving, and his grip on Kimberly's hand became lax. Kim sniffled a bit, while trying desperately to hold back her tears.
Daniel Park immediately fell to resuscitative methods, and prepared to summon the nurses to assist him. However, before he could do anything, Hope gently lay her hand on the doctor's arm, preventing him.
The doctor gazed at the woman inquisitively, his eyes wide in shock. A river of tears poured out of her hazel eyes uninhibited, and dripped down her angelic face.
"It's over," Hope said in her steady, light voice, "He's gone. I felt him slip away."
"It's not over yet," Daniel said firmly, "We can still save him!"
"For what purpose?" Hope asked gently, leaving the doctor and returning to her mother. She kneeled at Kimberly's side, and clenched her mother's free hand tightly. Kim then pulled her hand from Tommy's flaccid hand, and gently stroked Hope's pure black hair.
Daniel was dumfounded by the calm reaction of the two women. "What purpose?" he repeated, "So he can live!"
"Live," Kim repeated weakly, unshed tears glistening in her eyes, "We have to be realistic here, Daniel. Tommy just had a severe stroke. There would no doubt be serious consequences on his motor functions, and even memory. He would lie in this bed, paralyzed and speechless, while watching others make use of their lives. No... I don't think he wants to live. He is tired, and he doesn't fear the end. The falcon has flown free. Why cage him again?"
Daniel stood speechless as the noble queen leaned forward, and planted a farewell kiss on Tommy's cold lips. A single teardrop slid down her smooth face, and splashed upon his clammy skin. Kim leaned back, and gently wiped the tear from his pale cheek.
"He was the last," Kim reflected, rising to her feet, "The last of the first two generations of Power Rangers. The friends I cherished all my life. Trini, Zack, and Billy died because of the Countdown. Adam and Rocky died in a car accident caused by a drunk driver in 2022. Jason died on a space-exploration mission in 2029. Aisha died from a tropical disease in Africa in 2033. Katherine died from breast cancer in 2040. Tanya died in her sleep in 2067. That was four years ago..."
Kimberly glanced up at Daniel, a curious look in her damp eyes. "How are you and your family coping, Daniel?"
Daniel smiled weakly at the clear memory of his devoted mother. "She lived a long and full life," he answered, "She lost Dad when I was just sixteen, but she put her life back together. She had two kids, six grandchildren, and even four great-grandchildren. And now she's with Dad. What more can a person ask?"
Kim nodded, briefly turning to Tommy again. "I suppose that makes sense," she said dully.
Hope kept her steady eyes on her mother, catching her breath. The morbidity in Kim's tone was frightening to her. Kim's eyes were glassy and unfocused, as if she were staring through time.
"Kim, trust me, I know what I've got to sacrifice to love you. I've been thinking about it for years... ever since you took the Venusian crown. I know I can't have you in my life like I want you to be. Still, I know that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to love you. If that means growing old alone, or living alone, or only seeing you once in a blue moon, then I accept it. I love you, Kimberly Anne Hart, and I'll take you however I can get you."
"You had me," Kim whispered, brushing the loose locks of gray hair from his face, "You always had me. Nothing could, or ever will, change that."
Kim then glanced at Daniel, and smiled wanly at him. "Thank you for letting me in to see him in secret."
Dr. Park smiled. "It was nothing, Mrs. Oliver."
Kim's smile strengthened at the name. Ever since Tommy proposed, she always considered herself Mrs. Kimberly Oliver. Her daughter was Hope Oliver, and would remain so.
"Do you want to take him with you?" Daniel asked gently.
Kim shook her head. "No. I'm certain the United States government will see to it he's buried alongside the other Power Rangers at Arlington. He deserves nothing less than to be beside his dear friends in the heart of the earth. He'll be remembered and cherished by everyone, for all the good he's done with his life."
She exhaled deeply, and turned back to Hope. "We'd better get going."
Hope nodded to her mother obediently. She smiled her gratitude to Daniel, and kissed her father's forehead in farewell. She then wiped at her eyes, as she and her mother vanished in flashes of pink and black light. Instantaneously, they materialized outside the hospital. Hope automatically erected an energy dome above them, holding off the heavy rainwater from drenching them. Kim shook her head, and stepped out from the protective shield, and into the rain.
"Mom?" Hope asked, "Will you be all right?"
Kim nodded, the rain mixing with her salty tears. "He was my last link, Hope. My heart and soul. The only one left who knew Kimberly Hart. Not the Pink Ranger, not the gymnast... but the vibrant, idealistic girl with her head full of daydreams and her heart full of passion." She paused for a moment, coming to terms with the grim realization. "Now, I'm not human anymore."
She sighed, and gazed up at the full moon, the fingers of her right hand toying with the gold diamond ring on her left... the single ornament she always wore. "Let the rain soak me. Let me feel human again, just for a while."