"I thought you didn't like water or fish" Trini needled as she manoeuvred the linked Tigerzord and Wolfzord into orbit around the ocean world.
Billy coughed in embarrassment. "I sort of had to get used to it when I came here for that prolonged stay...though I admit I was not as keen on staying in Cesmaria and Talis - of course it was like being eaten by a large starfish as the cities are massive modified marine organisms. That was REALLY difficult to deal with even if I thought I had faced and conquered my phobia." He shuddered unconsciously at the remembrance of that first time of entering those cities and that dawning realisation that he was wandering around inside a living being.
Trini smiled quietly at his expression, her dark eyes sparkling, but Billy continued oblivious to her silent amusement.
"They are a couple of the deep water cities. Quitaria and Sulis are shallow reef cities and large portions are above the surface."
Billy's eyes misted with memory "The reef lagoons of Sulis are the colours of the rainbow, and at sunset we used to watch the mesree – a species of flying fish - dance trailing phosphoresce from lagoon to lagoon." He smiled to himself nostalgically as recall swept him away on a wave of images.
Trini looked up suddenly concerned. There was something in his voice that alerted her senses, that paranoid sense that appeared to develop when you gain a significant other. We? We used to watch the sunset? Her tiger spirit stirred.
"Sounds beautiful" she said casually trying to provoke more of a response, "Sounds to be the most beautiful sight on the planet."
"Hmmm" Billy replied absently lost in memories. "Cestria said that it was a world renowned sight but Eternal Falls and the Singing Ice Fields are among the wonders of the galaxy."
So, Cestria was her name. Why had he never talked about her before? Come to think of it, he had never really told any of them what had happened on Aquitar before he had returned. It had been the longest time before she had known he had even left the planet! Trini's legendary calm was shaken in a way that battles and monsters could not touch. She glowered inwardly feeling distinctly unsettled, a feeling that was more alien to her than all the strange worlds and peoples they had experienced. She tried all the calming exercises she knew and on the surface seemed her normal serene self but inside it felt like some vital supporting part of her had been abruptly kicked out from underneath her.
Billy continued, totally unaware of the effect he was having on her. "You better disengage Tigerzord and leave it in orbit - we'll take WolfZord down yeah?" he said taking his place at the controls and already starting the procedure.
Irrationally, Trini felt a stirring of irritation and clamped it down swiftly "Fine." she said shortly and strode off. Billy blinked in surprise and shook his head bemused.
"Ooo might have been a bit abrupt there Billy boy," he muttered to himself "A little bit pushy." He kicked himself mentally a couple of times.
Sometimes he felt like he didn't understand her at all. He loved her, but he didn't always understand her. Sometimes that all encompassing calmness and serenity that she projected made her opaque to his perception. He’d never been the best person in the world at intuitively knowing what others were thinking or feeling though he could usually rationalise it out in the end. Occasionally, he wished that he could keep Skye's mindlink open to her all the time, but the link drained the Star Crystal Ninjetti, so they had agreed to limit it to essential use only. You could barely describe trying to work out if Trini was mad at him about some trivial misunderstanding as their number one priority. It seemed that on Drakan Skye had spent half the time asleep because of overusing his abilities one way or another, and he was still annoyed because he had missed the spectacular moment when the Great Sunstar had revitalised the world. So it had been quite a while since they had used the mindtouch for anything that was not completely necessary. He wondered what the telepathic Aquitians would make of his friends' abilities, though they themselves did not use them on a regular basis. With a brief sigh, but a rapidly growing sense of anticipation Billy opened a channel to the surface of Aquitar and requested landing permission on the Power Ranger frequency and, as expected, was given clearance almost immediately.
They touched down WolfZord on one of the few landmasses that dotted the vast Aquitar Ocean near to the home city of the Aquitian Rangers, Ce'Resma. As they exited Wolfzord, Billy, Trini and then Skye could see a group of figures waiting for them.
He heard Skye chuckle behind them and whisper to Trini. "Where's the red carpet and the brass band?" and knew without having to look that Trini was half-smiling whilst trying to remain serious.
The Alien Rangers were there to meet them fully outfitted in formal attire, but Billy recognised immediately that they were a somewhat different team than those he had worked with. The White and Blue Rangers were different for a start and he tried to hide his disappointment but then he smiled as he recognised Cestro and Delphine and of course Cestria approaching from the right of them. When they were all assembled he stepped forward and formed the handsign for "greetings to close friends".
He bowed smiling at the solemn faced Aquitians. "Greetings!"
"It is good to meet you Peacemaker." the new white Alien Ranger replied. "It is a great honour to welcome you once more to the Oceans of Aquitar." The assembled Alien Ranger team bowed in union.
Billy flushed slightly at the honorific they named him; some sort of meaningful term they had tagged onto him after that business with the Hydrocontanimators. They had never fully explained what it had meant and to be honest he had just regarded it as comparatively self explanatory.
"It is good to return to Aquitar and to see so many good friends." Billy responded struggling to remember the appropriate greeting swirl. If it was done the wrong way or heaven forbid the wrong height, you could be proposing anything from a simple greeting to a willingness to bear the other persons children or a request for the Aquitian equivalent of an aspirin. He smiled as he evidently got it right.
Trini and Skye remained silent but exchanged amused glances as they watched Billy for once monopolised the rather formal conversation. They considered themselves well out of it.
"Welcome back Billy" Delphine said in a surprisingly warm tone and Billy, more sensitive now as a Ninjetti spirit warrior felt the warm brush of her mind against his and grinned as he focused his own Ninjetti powers through his wolfspirit crystal and touched her mind in response. She blinked in surprise.
"You have the powers again?" Delphine asked tilting her head in question.
"That would be highly ironic" Cestro commented "As we have recently given up the powers to Talestra and Rideous."
The former Blue Alien Ranger looked even more solemn than Billy remembered and the Ninjetti warrior frowned a little to himself. There was more to this than was at first apparent.
Billy continued allowing himself a small smile at the news that he was about to impart. "I am a Ninjetti Spirit Warrior now, the Blue Wolf Spirit Warrior."
Cestria smiled shyly in return, an expression that was obviously not common to their people. "I am so pleased for you Billy."
Billy grinned back warmly and Trini felt her tigerspirit growling within her mind. She cautioned herself against leaping to snap judgements of people on the basis of conjecture and spurious conclusions. Then she cautioned herself to stop sounding like Billy on a bad day.
There was a long pause until Billy finally remembered to introduce them all to each other. "I would like to present Trini Kwan, former yellow Ranger of Earth and now Gold Tiger Ninjetti Spirit Warrior."
The Aquitian's bowed in respect and Trini returned the courtesy. She too felt the telepathic mindtouches featherlight on her thoughts.
"And this is Skye Brannon, Star Ninjetti, holder of the Star Crystal of Sionas." Billy announced pulling the white-haired artist forward from where he was lurking behind them.
There was a murmur from the group and then as Skye bowed he "heard" the mind voice of Delphine.* Greetings...then Alesto was correct! *
* Greetings * he responded automatically and then asked. * Who is Alesto? *
Delphine looked startled at the response * You are telepathic? *
He nodded slightly and gestured to the Star Crystal hanging around his neck, * With the crystal, Yes. *
Billy and Trini watched the encounter, bemused but eventually understood that mindspeech was going on. Billy felt a little smug that finally they had managed to meet the Aquitians on their own level even with regard to their telepathic powers.
"You honour us Ninjetti" Talestra the new White Ranger said, "And if you would accompany us to the Power Island, our mentor Alesto wishes to speak with you."
Billy looked up with a gleam of enthusiasm in his blue eyes. "It is completed then? So quickly?"
"Yes." Aurico confirmed "Once our race was returned to normal after the Hydrocontaminator War, there was no lack of assistance in accomplishing its construction."
Trini had no idea what they were talking about but this was strangely like being on a planet populated by "Billy's", or at least Billy as he was when they were on the original Ranger team. No wonder he had liked this place despite the all encompassing water.
"Come Billy, " Cestria said, "Let us show you what your designs have become."
The Power Island of the Aquitian Rangers was significantly unlike the Power Chamber on Earth. For a start it was a huge dome like complex swarming with Aquitians and out in full sight of the city of Ce'Resma. There was no secrecy involved, no hiding or skulking about in corners, in fact it appeared like this incredible structure was the focal point of the city's attention. As they walked onwards, Billy seemed to know exactly where he was going and was excitedly talking with Cestria about changes that had taken place since his last visit. Trini began to feel superfluous - and not for the first time. A growing dissatisfaction had begun to encroach insidiously upon her since they had left Phaedos. Skye had said she was necessary but so far...well she'd done a fair amount of fighting, but that didn’t really seem like anything important. Skye sensed for potential Ninjetti, Billy sorted things out and so far she felt like she had just been hanging around. TigerZord had been more useful than she had. Skye glanced across at her quizzically with a hint of pain reflected in his eyes and she tightened a grip on her emotions. To all outside appearances she was all graceful serenity and calm. Inside however, golden eyes glowed and a tiger tail twitched.
They were ushered into the Aquitian Power Island Centre where, gleaming in a transwarp bubble, was the shimmering form of the Aquitian Mentor, Alesto. The bubble floated apparently unsupported over an energy source and the Aquitian Elder appeared to be sitting in meditation in a canopy of rainbows.
"Welcome back William of Earth" the Old One's voice echoed around them.
"Thankyou Alesto." Billy replied and bowed formally.
"What is the nature of your mission to Aquitar?" the ancient Aquitian inquired gravely.
Billy looked solemn. "I would like to say it was purely for the pleasure of visiting old friends, but sadly this is not the case." Billy explained heavily.
"A while back I gained the Great Power of Phaedos and became a Blue Wolf Ninjetti spirit warrior. Trini is also a Ninjetti spirit warrior and Skye was named Star Ninjetti by Dulcea of Phaedos for his possession of the Star Crystal".
Alesto's expression altered to one of deep concern as Billy continued formally. "We carry a message from the Ninjetti, from the ancient past; The Sun Goes Down; Beware the Darkness Visible.!"
The words, though so often repeated through their quest, never failed to stir a feeling of danger within them. Billy could tell from the Aquitian Mentors’ eyes that he had been aware of the warning before their visit, which was no great surprise. Personally, he suspected Zordon had known a lot more than he was letting on even before the ancient Ninjetti warning had swept through the galaxy. Alesto looked suddenly old and tired as if weighted down by a tremendous burden.
Alesto sighed. "Then it is confirmed. Aquitar will stand with the Peacemaker." He announced in ringing tones. "We welcome you to Aquitar."
Billy smiled. This had been possibly the easiest of their recruiting drives, in fact probably they needn't have come at all but there was one major thing they could do here and that was send messages home, and maybe see the others again even if it was only in a viewing globe. For that they would risk some of their precious and rapidly disappearing time.
"I would ask a favour of you Alesto" Billy asked eagerly. "May we use your planetary communications to send messages home to Earth?"
"Certainly. Though I warn you that interference is high owing to unusual solar activity." Said the mentor moving his hand in the delicate curl that indicated mild regret.
Billy felt a sting of disappointment. They had looked forward so much to talking to home. It had been many months since they had seen the others and there were times that despite the wonders and strange new places they had seen they had become unbearably homesick. They had prepared message capsules that would, if necessary send encrypted personal messages home, routed via the Power Chamber, direct to the various Rangers computers. Billy fiddled with the controls industriously but Alesto had not been understating the problem. The solar interference stopped a coherent signal from exiting the immediate environs of Aquitian space like a brick wall. Given enough time he might be able to punch a beam through, but time was something they didn't really have in abundance. In fact they were being rather self indulgent in landing on Aquitar at all considering that it was an assured ally. Time for Plan B.
Trini's face dropped as she saw Billy slump in disappointment. She had been looking forward to speaking to all the others. All three of them pulled out a data disc and placed it on the communications console in silence.
"Please could you send the contents of these discs to Zordon and Earth as soon as the solar interference dies down?" Billy requested feeling oddly deflated.
"This will be done honoured Ninjetti." Talestra assured remaining very formal in his presence.
"I guess in the meantime we will make ourselves useful by restoring the Aquitian Ninjetti Zords to working order personally." Billy mused. "It will mean that your candidates can attend Phaedos all the more swiftly." He brightened a little at that optimistic thought.
Skye and Trini walked over to join him as did the curious Aquitians. Alesto scanned the earnest group already locked in discussion and sighed as his bubble shimmered around him. Time to change their lives in ways they may not even appreciate until it was too late.
"You may go now." he said suddenly cutting through the technical exchange, "but the Star Crystal Ninjetti must stay. I have things that may only be discussed with him."
They all stopped, astonished. An Aquitian rarely interrupted, and an Elder never had to as all deferred to their wisdom and presence. Billy and Trini could tell the Alien Rangers were experiencing confusion at this uncharacteristic behaviour from their mentor.
Billy nodded but wondered at the strange request. "We shall attend to the Ninjetti Zords reactivation and seed the Aquitian space in the meantime with super-zebedees to continue the work that we may not be able to accomplish by the fall of night. At that time we must leave for we have many worlds to visit who are not so accommodating as Aquitar." He glanced across at the Star Ninjetti just to check that he hadn’t been out of line before being ushered out of the Power Island Command Centre.
Skye shrugged and feeling a little uneasy, watched as the others departed the Power Island before turning to the alien Elder finding himself distracted and mesmerised by the shifting swirls of his rainbow bubble. Human stood before Elder Aquitian locked in an atmosphere of silence and tension. Finally the Aquitian Mentor broke the deadlock that gripped them both.
"Star Crystal Ninjetti" Alesto intoned formally, "Pay heed to my words for in their saying passes a great responsibility from my line, passed from teacher to pupil through the uncertainty of time."
The hairs on the back of Skye's neck began to prickle in warning and he felt suddenly apprehensive. He nodded to indicate his readiness to listen.
The Aquitian mentor appeared tense as he intoned, "Then listen to the Secret Words of the Quilash that were meant for the Bearer of the Star Crystal of Sionas alone – listen and pay heed to the shape of your purpose and destiny."
And with that he began a rolling fluid recitation of words that filled the Star Ninjetti with a growing horror as the darkness of the prophetic words spilled into the air tainting all hope, churning his emotions into whirlpool frenzy that swallowed his optimism whole and left him stunned in the shadow of this unwanted knowledge.
They had been busy, working closely with the Alien Rangers, and Trini found that she liked and respected the calm intellectual Aquitians. Even Cestria. And somehow that made it worse. If only she had been hateful in some way, any way, but no, she was demure, charming, witty and beautiful. Instead of being able to hate her she had to be gracious to her rival whilst always acutely aware of her proximity to Billy.
The main group of ancient Ninjetti Zords had been located, much to the natives amazement, relatively close to their current position on one of the island groups in the Nevarin Sea, but undetectable due to their stasis field unless you knew exactly the energy frequencies that they utilised.
She could hear Billy cursing from within the Zord he was working on, which looked not unlike a Black Shark. The Aquitians had called it a Caracas and had been quite excited by it, but to her it looked like a Shark and "Jaws" it would remain. She turned suddenly realising Billy had called her name.
"Trini?" he called again. "Could you get me the sonic welder from WolfZord? It's in the grey toolbox - I'd get it but I'm kind of wedged in here..." He gestured at his predicament.
"Sure" she replied, trying to visualise what tool that was exactly. She jogged back to WolfZord eager not to leave Billy alone for too long. Aquitar was a lovely planet but quite frankly she would heave a sigh of relief when it was time to leave. She didn't know how much of this uncertainty she could take as it was almost making her feel physically sick with anticipating something that might happen. She pulled the toolbox out and stifled a sneeze - they hadn't had to use it...well since creating the Zebeedee's on Phaedos and it was a bit dusty. She poked around looking for the tool, and caught sight of a bit of paper crumpled at the bottom. Curious, she picked it up. Billy had used it to scribble diagrams on but it was a sealed envelope and under the scrawl she could see her name. How had it got here? She had a vague memory of Billy explaining something on Phaedos about the Zebeedees and then throwing it in the box as rubbish. Should she open it?
* Curiosity killed the cat *, her tigerspirit said abruptly. It appeared to be pacing in her mind obviously as agitated as she was.
* Tell me you don't want to know! * She challenged staring at the envelope as if she might somehow read the contents without having to take that decisive action and actually open the letter.
* Well of course...it is my nature to be curious. It doesn't always mean it is a good thing. Some truths are as fire, as they illuminate they destroy and burn. * the tigerspirit equivocated.
* I have to know! * Trini said defiantly.
* It is your choice, * said the tigerspirit reluctantly. * And you must live with whatever you find. *
Trini slowly opened the envelope and began to read Billy’s unmistakable handwriting, her hands beginning to tremble.
By the time you read this, I will be gone. I'm leaving Earth for a while, quite a long while because I have to get something straight in my head. You deserve better than me and I need to resolve my feelings for someone I met on my last trip to Aquitar. If I don't find out for sure then I won't be able to live with myself and you should not have to live with the uncertainty of my unresolved feelings. It is best if you let me go, and I let you go. I don't want to hurt you, which is why I am doing this before we get so deep that it would tear us apart. Don't wait for me Trini, you deserve better that someone who doesn't know what they feel, and until I know for sure, I will never be able to say that I truly love you.
Silence reigned in WolfZord punctuated by a few ragged breaths.
Trini felt like she had taken a direct hit from a monster. She found herself literally gasping she was so unprepared for what she had just read. Obviously he meant to go into space without her; equally obviously he was expecting to sort a few things out. She fought to focus, but every time her mind spiralled back to those damning words that spun around and around,
"I will never be able to say I truly love you" she whispered aloud, but they didn’t sound any better aloud than they did in her heart. The worst thing was that it was true. Billy had never said that to her, not aloud, not in the real world.
She tried breathing deeply asserting her training, forging an iron shell around her rampaging emotions.
* Young cub... * whispered her Tiger Spirit sounding hazy and distant.
* Go away! Just go away!! I don't want to speak to you! I don't want to know any more secrets!* She cried out pushing her animal spirit away.
Those feelings of being useless crystallised with the knowledge that Billy had never intended that she come along in the first place! He had probably covered the fact he was disappointed when he saw her step out on Phaedos. How could she have been so blind? How was it she had not realised this before? No, no...it must have been a ploy or something.
She began to rationalise this new painful knowledge, swiftly wavering between confusion and denial but every time her thoughts drew one conclusion. There must have been something between Billy and Cestria for him to use her as an excuse. There must be!
Trini called on all her strength to put in place an impenetrable mask of civility before returning to the others, Sonic thingumy in hand and the letter tucked away burning her with it's heart destroying message. It took all her courage to go out there again amongst the Aquitians.
"Seriously though Delphine" she heard Billy ask "Would you want the Power again?"
"Yes I would" Delphine admitted "The Rangers of Aquitar rarely give up the Power, yet it became necessary for Cestro and I to do so. Our Leaders were concerned that out commitment as life-mates would effect my impartiality as leader of the Power Rangers. To that end we resigned our positions. It was a...sensation." The former white ranger looked oddly tense.
Billy frowned. "So it is true what we learnt on Drakan? That it is only Earth that allows relationships within a team?"
The two Aquitian nodded. "Yes. We did not tell our mentor this fact about your Rangers for fear it might bring the attention of the Council of the Wise. I do not know if Zordon has told them of this behaviour."
Billy felt that they were omitting significant detail and evading his inquiries somewhat. Maybe if he could get to speak to Cestro on his own he might be able to pry some information from him. However in the meantime he didn't think he was being too premature in raising hopes.
"Delphine, Cestro, there is a way for you to regain the Power if you become Ninjetti as there is no bar to the Power through relationships there. Seriously, we need as many as possible and I can think of no better candidates than you and Cestro!" He said in ringing tones of sincerity.
Hope filled the two Aquitians’ eyes. "This would indeed be of interest to us."
"Good." Billy said smiling. He turned seeing Trini approach with the tool he had requested.
"Ah Trini, in the nick of time" He smiled at her thankfully and Trini smiled back but the light, warm mindtouch that usually went with it was absent and her dark eyes were like cold onyx. He was puzzled and looked at her quizzically but she had left the tool on the side and had turned to talk to Tideus.
Cestro looked at the read outs on the scanners they were using and called Billy over. "Billy, the White Ninjetti Zord appears to be in underwater Caverns within island's base. If you wish them to be repaired then we will have to go down there and fix them now."
Billy looked a little squeamish but nodded. "If we have to, we have to - it's not as deep as the tube ride to Talis."
Corcus laughed behind them "You are not still going on about that are you? You managed to hold your breath long enough didn't you?"
"Hmm barely. Some humans are trained to managed two minutes with ease, I was not." Billy grinned. "Last time you caught me out though Corcus." The Alien Ranger gave the Aquitian equivalent of a smile and nodded.
"I think Cestro and I better take a look. Cestria, do you mind looking after Trini whilst we are gone?" Billy requested as he appeared unable to attract his team mates attention.
"Certainly Billy." Cestria replied looking up at him demurely.
"Great - well we won't be long. Couple of hours tops." Billy and Cestro hopped into one of the small bubble subs and sank gently beneath the waves.
Trini groaned. She had been listening, and now she was going to have to spend hours in the company of someone she would quite frankly like to imagine really horrible things about. Though the fact that she and her species were essentially telepathic would limit her in her daydreams.
Trini was in despair. Cestria was graceful, beautiful, exotic, lovely and downright miss perfect. She kept trying to see something wrong with her but so far she was struggling. Damn it even though she hated her, she found herself liking her.
"You have known William of Earth long?" Cestria asked suddenly as they watched the water where they had dived.
"A long time yes. We were part of the first team of Power Rangers on Earth" Trini said calmly.
"I envy you". Cestria said softly.
Trini glanced at her sharply and caught a gleam of emotion in the Aquitians eye. No! No! She did have feelings for him, it hadn't been just a one sided thing.
"He is a very special person." She said coolly trying to quash the jealousy threatening to spill out of her control.
"I know." Cestria said melodically. "He is the Peacemaker."
"What do you mean? Billy never really mentioned what he did whilst he was out here on Aquitar?" Trini asked curiously.
Cestria looked as shocked as an Aquitian could be. "You mean he is not praised for his deeds on your planet?"
"Cestria, on our planet no-one knows who the Power Rangers are let alone praises them.." She hesitated "Well maybe an occasional anonymous festival. No-one even knows he came here except the Rangers."
"That is like him, to be so modest in the face of great achievement." Cestria nodded her face aglow at this new discovery. She gracefully indicated the Ocean before them. "Before he came here, you would have had to have stood here with a mask to protect you from pollution and toxins. Our entire world was constantly bombarded by filth from the Hydro-contaminators. Only one area, the Eternal Falls remained uncontaminated. Our entire planets was relying on that one source of "structured water"."
"Structured water?" Trini asked intrigued despite herself.
"It is what keeps the body healthy. Unstructured water is cause by contaminants and high pressures. You have it on earth as well, unstructured water is always present in unhealthy cells, and the Aquitian species biochemistry is dependant upon high levels of structured waters otherwise our vital organs begin to fail in rapid succession." Cestria explained knowledgeably and Trini groaned inwardly. Smart too!
"Billy managed to discover that the Eternal Falls produces a super-ionized structured water in small quantities which converted the polluted water back to the natural structured state. He devised, along with the other rangers, a method of amplifying that natural process and producing vast amounts of this catalytic water that cleansed our Oceans. With the population back to full health it was not long before we could force a treaty with the Hydrocontaminators, and again his wisdom showed..."
"What in front of all those people...." Trini muttered to herself. "Do go on!" she finished sweetly.
"He completed a treaty that gave them a moon that had very little sea life but plenty of water, and we would not attack them or vice versa. The Treaty has held, and as William pointed out, if they pollute themselves to extinction, then Aquitar can cleanse the planet and reclaim it, but otherwise they might actually learn to deal with it sensibly." The Aquitian woman looked practically brimful of emotion.
Trini would have been impressed by this glowing endorsement if she hadn't been obsessed with Cestria's reaction to Billy. The ‘little mermaid’ was practically drooling over him for crying out loud.
"You like Billy don't you?" She asked finally broaching the dreaded subject.
Cestria smiled and her face practically glowed. "Yes. I enjoyed working with him when he was here. I... believe in him I could find someone I could really relate to."
She looked curiously over at Trini who appeared to be miles away with her thoughts. "Trini, What is… sushi?"
"Nothing...nothing" Trini said hurriedly locking all those thoughts deep within herself. "Just an Earth delicacy, I must be getting hungry. I hope they are not going to be that much longer."
Billy fought the echo of his phobia as the tiny bubblesub sank beneath the crystal clear waves and began a long descent to the Ocean floor below. There had been a time when he would have been paralysed by fear by such an undertaking, but that had been a strange bonus of losing the Powers. He wouldn't have cared if something happened to him. In fact he wouldn't have been able to stay on Aquitar if it hadn't been for that reason, it was if he could tolerate anything because the worst had already happened to him. It was a side effect he could have lived without, and even now he felt the pangs of uneasiness.
"What's that?" He queried pointing to a large scar in the seabed to the left of them, trying to distract himself from the water around them.
Cestro flickered one of his rare smiles "Do you not remember Billy?"
The Wolf Ninjetti shook his head puzzled. The former Blue Alien Ranger made a handsign that Billy had always loosely translated to himself as "you'd forget your head if it weren't screwed on!"
"That was where the Gold Ranger crashed into the sea's of Aquitar." Cestro reminded him.
"We are that close?" Billy questioned in amazement. Now he looked at it a little more closely the area appeared familiar, though the abundant sea life had wasted little time in colonising the stripped area.
"To think we were that close to the Ninjetti Zords at that time, that close to a Power all that time!" Billy said with a trace of bitterness seeping through. Those were painful memories for him, even now he had the Power returned to him.
Cestro looked across at him seriously for a moment. "I have no idea how you managed to stay sane when you could not accept the Gold Powers, after being in Powerloss all that time" He looked down ashamed. "When I think of what I did after giving up the Blue Powers..."
Billy saw that haunted look on the Aquitian alien features that he had once bourne and realised that this was what they had been NOT saying.
His heart went out to him. "What did you do Cestro?" he asked quietly.
The former Blue Alien Ranger sighed and looked away. "Delphine and myself lost emotional control totally - we tried to wrest back our powers in a fit of insanity and had to be sequestered for a period of time until our mental equilibrium had been restored."
The former Aquitian Ranger looked deeply ashamed. Emotional outbursts were taboo in their society, so a public display of deranged behaviour would have been terrible for them both. Billy winced, even his ordinary behaviour had been regarded as uncouth and hyper emotional - he dreaded to think what they would have made of some of the other Rangers if they had come to live in their society as he had.
"Not being able to take the Gold Powers nearly destroyed me." Billy said into the silence by way of reassurance. There were very few he could have told that and known they would have understood. "It took a while for the strain to break me down but it did in the end. But I got through it, it does get better!"
"You don't know what it was like!" Cestro retorted angrily. He turned away.
Strangely, Billy was oddly flattered; an Aquitian only ever relaxed enough to show overt emotions with the closest of friends or life mates. Still, he could not let such an accusation pass.
Billy looked at him piercingly. "Think who you are talking to here, how many powers have been ripped away from me and you say I DON'T KNOW? Do you really want to know what not be able to accept the Gold Powers did to me? Do you want me to show you?" He used the spirit crystal to brush the Aquitians mind with a willingness to share memories, a rare and unusual thing and something he had been unable to do before becoming Ninjetti.
Cestro hesitated. And then focused upon the Ninjetti, his forehead pulsing coloured light as he activated his telepathic sense fully and Billy gave him the entire time from that crushing moment when the Gold Powers burst out of him, rejecting his incompatible body to the moment when he assumed the Great Power once again.
Billy ended up steering the bubblesub as Cestro appeared in shock. There was a long period of silence as the Aquitian absorbed what he had been shown.
"I had no idea..no idea it was like that for you." Cestro said finally. "You are so young, as a race, as an individual...we thought.."
"That it was over reaction, a primitive response from a primitive people and only to be expected from people at our stage of development" Billy finished. Oh he had known about that opinion. He had learned enough native Aquitian to hear it muttered in the cities on those days when try as he might his reaction to Powerloss came hacking through like a blunt knife polluting the telepathic environment. They thought he hadn't understood, but he had and he was embarrassed for the Alien Rangers sake for having to put up with him.
Cestro was open mouthed in amazement "Where did you hear that?" he asked.
"Everytime I stepped foot in the public places in the cities - until was announced Peacemaker." Billy said with a touch of bitterness.
"It was a judgement based on ignorance and assumption" Cestro admitted.
"And partly true." Billy said "We are a young race, we are emotional, but we have crammed our history full of experience. We do not always have your control but we have become flexible and adaptive. It is part of us. You have problems staying on Earth, the Triforians cannot stay here and there are many places where various races cannot go, but very few where humans, for all their frailty cannot find a way to exist." He was aware of the irony of him extolling the virtues of emotions, when he had spent most of his life trying to hide from his own. But then he had always been aware of another fundamental irony. On Earth, Water was the element of emotions, and yet on this world of water, emotions were strictly controlled and regulated by such conventions as the infinite variations of hand movements that they used to convey subtleties of emotion.
Cestro bowed his head in response. It was a statement that could not be argued with.
Billy heaved a sigh "Looks like we are nearly there." He said as he peered out into the dark waters at the Island stone roots.
"The scans show many cave like structures in the cliff. There are numerous in quantity and diverse in proportion" Cestro pointed out "It is my estimate that at one point they were above water"
* Which would make sense *, Billy thought and then asked, "Can we navigate the bubblesub inside?"
"I believe so, yes." Cestro replied and deftly took the controls, spinning the tiny craft up through dark mysterious chasms in the sea cliffs to the target area. They twisted and turned through the labyrinthine waterways towards the dark heart of the island massif.
As they wended their way, a phrase crept forward into Billy's consciousness, "Through Caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea" he murmured aloud feeling an eiree resemblance in their current journey to that described in the poem.
Cestro tilted his head in confused interest. "The sun would not penetrate to this depth anyway, and if you are interested I could measure the quantity of the caverns?"
Billy smiled "It's not important Cestro, it just reminded me of something I once read on Earth. Carry on." He chuckled inwardly. Aquitian poetry tended to be bound by incredibly formalised conventions that were designed to provoke thought, rather than imagery and emotion.
"Hmmm it appears there are air pockets still in the caves in this area" Cestro said with a degree of surprise. "I would suggest wearing the rebreather though - the air is likely to be stale."
Billy nodded and slipped on the gear. He was pleased though that he didn't have to work underwater, he'd done enough of that in the past and on a couple of occasions had nearly had problems. The water dependant aliens had not been able to comprehend the danger that water posed to him and initially had thought he was over reacting.
The bubblesub finally emerged up into the Zord storage cave and flooded it with light for the first time in who knew how long. It was a stunningly beautiful Cavern, it's walls threaded through with ropes of a shimmering gold mineral that sparkled starlike in the brilliant light glow they had introduced from the bubblesub. Cestro popped the seal and helped Billy to the dry part of the cave and they both stood for a moment in utter wonder as their wandering light picked out the smooth fine lines that delineated object of their quest. The White Ninjetti Aquitian Zord was obviously of avian design, but whereas Tommy's FalconZord was built for power, this Zord had a delicate shape. Billy was reminded of a fairy tern, or a gull.
Cestro stood drinking in it's grace and pure lines. "This must be Delphine's, a Vasherel Zord, a flying creature renowned in our world for it's grace and determination and in legend it is a symbol of the wisdom and leadership that is gain through the seeking spirit."
Billy nodded "She will still have to quest for the Great Power, as will you all but I agree, it feels like it should be hers." He shook his head slightly as his wolf spirit gave him a mental impression of a bored yawn as a subtle hint to get on with the work.
"Anyway, either way she won't be impressed if her new Zord doesn't turn up when she calls so we best get to work!"
Cestro agreed and within moments they were deep into technical repairs and discussions.
Billy was just finishing up behind the Vasherel Zord when something caught his eye. It appeared to be a slim crack into a cavern behind the one they were in. It was strangely compelling, emanating a sense of mystery that after the time he had spent fixing the Zord was almost irresistable.
* Let's look * said his wolfspirit curiously. There was an impression of it peering into the darkness.
* It's time we went back * Billy muttered back picking up his tools, taking a sneak look at the crack entrance.
* I think we should look *, the wolfspirit said in a firm tone. Billy groaned. His was the choice but when that tone was used if he didn't do what was suggested then he would hear about it for days.
"Okay fine..." Billy tried to squeeze through but the bulkiness of the rebreather prevented his passage through the slim entrance. Impatiently, he slipped it off and slid through the tight rock face. The air was stale but he wasn't going to be here long, he was just here to satisfy that ‘oh so human’ trait of reckless curiosity.
He turned on the light and froze in awe. The entire domelike cave was painted or etched with thousands of gylph images, strange animals, creatures, figures, and strange designs incorporating the glittering gold veins of metal. In the centre was a shimmering silvered globe and as Billy shone the beam of his light on it seems to intensify and bounce around the Cavern of images until it illuminated the one blank area on the wall. There, deeply etched and beginning to throb with an actinic brightness, the stylised shape of a bird and a star burned, as a sinuous serpentlike shape appeared to coil outwards around the curves of the cave, in some strange way formed from the gaps behind the pictures but seeming more real than the drawings themselves. Billy became dizzy, the colours seem to shift and glow with a rainbow aurora and he coughed, the sound echoing like a heartbeat and he felt he could hear words muttering in the echoes.
Rememberememberemember…it throbbed and echoed in his pounding head.
He stumbled back to the crack, knowing he had spent too long without oxygen and that he should have told Cestro where he was going. He gulped instinctively for air, his vision starting to dim as he pushed his way through, fumbling around for the rebreather he had left of the other side. He was through but he still couldn't see. The world was there, just receding from him rapidly.
"Cestro...." He croaked out hoarsely between hyperventilating gasps and felt the world slip away as he passed out abruptly.
He woke with a start. He was in the Bubblesub and they were exiting the underwater cavern system.
"Cestro...what are we doing ?" he asked slightly disorientated. A moment ago it seemed that he had been in the cave filled with strange glyph and then – oh he must have passed out.
The former blue alien ranger seemed to relax a little as he heard his voice "I was about to convey you with all haste to a medical facility. I was concerned that you would not awaken."
"Oh...oh no need." Billy protested. He just had a splitting headache "I just took off my rebreather and got a little oxygen starved before I knew what was going on."
"Why?" asked Cestro tilting his head in query.
Billy was about to tell him about the cave of glyphs and images when his wolf spirit stepped in.
* This is not for them to know, not for any others, * it said fiercely, * that was for you, for us. We have seen, we know, its purpose is fulfilled. *
Billy didn't have a clue what his spirit animal was talking about but found himself saying, "Well I took my rebreather off to take a look at something that I couldn't reach with it on and the next thing I knew I was dizzy and couldn't see it again, and then I passed out."
Not a word of a lie, but Cestro naturally assumed he was talking about working on the Ninjetti Zord.
"Well it is good that you have recovered with no damage. I would be very unpopular with many people if I let you come to harm." The Aquitian answered, and Billy realised with a jolt that actually he was being completely serious. Just how seriously did they take this Peacemaker title anyway?
"I thank you for your concern," he said sincerely "But please don't tell anyone - I would never live it down if the others started to think I got so involved with my work that I even forget to breath properly!"
Cestro grinned and gave the handsign for humorous assent, which made Billy laugh again as it was thumb and forefinger pressed together in a circle with the fingers curved in a fan above it.
"A-OK to you too!" he laughed as they rose up towards the glittering surface and the others once more.
They returned to the Power Island Centre, having seeded the known space with self replicating Zeebeedees that would seek out and repair any additional Zords in the vicinity as well as fixing directly what Ninjetti Zords they could. Billy guessed Trini was tired after the day's work as she was particularly quiet; he knew he was and his head still ached from that little mishap. They made their way back to see Alesto to report before they had to leave to continue their quest.
As soon as they entered the Power Chamber they knew something was wrong. Skye was sitting silent and pale staring into space and didn't acknowledge their presence. Billy was not even sure if his friend was aware that they had returned. Alesto appeared not much better, trapped though he was in the transwarp bubble.
"Skye?" Trini called out concerned. No response.
Billy touched his spirit crystal, * Skye? * he pushed forward with his mind and then recoiled. For the first time, his friends' mind was barriered tight against him. He felt like he'd run into a wall.
"What's wrong with him?" Trini asked in growing alarm whilst Billy clutched his once again aching head. She approached the white-haired artist and put her hand on his shoulder in a mute question.
Alesto spoke in a strained voice. "He has had some distressing news - It will require him a little time to adjust."
Skye abruptly looked up and met her gaze with such despair darkening his eyes that they looked like those of a stranger’s. He got up and without saying a word half ran from the room as if he couldn't bear to be near them. Billy turned to follow him but was stopped by the Elders words,
"Let him, go - he needs to be alone at this time"
"But..." Billy protested, looking after the way his friend had run.
"He requested this" Alesto said "Some time alone to think."
"Can you tell us what this is about?" Trini asked troubled by this turn of events. If she had had some distressing revelations then it appeared that Skye had had worse. If only she had been with him, instead of out there being nice to the little mermaid; he had needed them and neither of them had been there to help him!
Alesto shook his head "Not specifically though it concerns your Quest."
"In what way?" Trini pushed feeling his reluctance.
"On most planets there are Prophecies of the return of the Evil of the Darkness Visible. You have such Prophecies on your world, and Aquitar is no exception. Certain sections are common knowledge, others are known only to certain members of the Wise." Alesto explained in deliberate generalities "One of these passages entrusted to my line hold specific reference to the identity and role of the bearer of the Star Crystal of Sionas. I have revealed this to him, which I was forbidden to reveal to any other save the holder of the crystal. It was difficult for him to absorb. Also his answers have confirmed to me the truth of the Prophecy and that the time draw near."
Billy drew himself up. "Then Alesto I request of behalf of Dulcea of Phaedos that you gather as many candidates to quest for the Great Power and send them as soon as possible."
"It will be done Wolf Ninjetti - there are many here who have trained to be Power Rangers who would be worthy." Alesto reported. Any other time this would have been an occasion for great rejoicing amongst the team but not this time. They appeared to be deflated and the taste of victory was tainted in their mouths.
"Believe me, we need as many as possible and we have very little time, Trini said.
"And also we need Skye back." Billy said pointedly. Damn, this was not what they needed, things falling apart everywhere. "Will he be okay?"
Alesto hesitated. "It will take him time to adjust but I believe he will be fine."
And with that they had to be content.
It was a strangely subdued parting. What should have been one of the high points of their mission, familiar territory, an easy recruitment drive and a chance to speak to home had turned out to leave a bitter aftertaste. The high that they had experienced after Drakan evaporated, and this water planet had left them confused, unsettled and drawing apart from each other.
Billy had rarely seen Skye depressed. After Kim's fall over the cliff yes, he had been in shock for that brief time. Otherwise he had taken on alien planets, near death experiences, battling evil with equanimity. But whatever Alesto has said had made the white-haired artist close himself off almost completely. He spoke only when spoken to, was civil enough but he did not mind-touch, he did not project. Not at all. In fact in a strange way he reminded Billy of himself a while ago, before Phaedos. As they made their last farewells and entered WolfZord to leave, the sun disappeared beneath the ocean horizon, leaving Aquitar’s usually brilliant oceans black and implacable.
"Farewell to the Sunless sea" Billy muttered and knew that somehow and at some point in some subtle way, the waters of Aquitar had taken something from them all in repayment for its commitment to their cause.
"It is my thought Alesto" Talestra, the Aquitian White Ranger said as they watched the Ninjetti depart once more into the realms of space, "That the Star Crystal of Sionas would have been better utilised for the Powers of Good by a naturally telepathic keeper. For the sake of the safety of Aquitar, I envy the possession of the crystal in their hands."
It was a thought that must have occurred to them all. Humans were not a telepathically orientated race, and the evidence showed that they did not appear to have the mental discipline to make the most of their abilities. Talestra had not served with the Earth Rangers or with the one called William Cranston and still held a firm belief that the Aquitian Rangers were a stronger, more balanced team than anything produced by such an immature race, whatever Delphine and the others assessments were of their capabilities. Just look at the Star Ninjetti's reaction to Alesto's briefing as a point in favour of her argument.
In a voice as close to anger as they had ever heard him, Alesto responded, "Never envy Skye of Earth for possessing the crystal or assume his ability less because he is human. He deserves respect and pity rather than envy for his role in forthcoming events!" With that their mentors rainbow warp bubble became occluded and opaque to their sight as he withdrew from abruptly from their presence.
The Aquitian Rangers were stung by the unprecedented rebuke, and finally their analytical brains deduced a reason for his behaviour. The Aquitians realised that their mentors' harsh words stemmed from one simple fact.
He was afraid.
That was cause for great alarm in itself. This was more serious than they had thought possible. If their revered mentor had been provoked to an emotional response over a situation, it would be because it held a great deal of potential for disaster. Logic dictated that as he had not reacted in such a manner regarding the Hydrocontaminators then it was a threat that held the potential for more than just the destruction of Aquitar. The Aquitian Rangers looked at each other in the darkness suddenly chilled to the core by an uncharacteristic but entirely accurate premonition of the approaching future.
Billy was reading alone in the cockpit of WolfZord. Trini was avoiding him for some reason; Skye appeared to be avoiding the entire universe at the moment, he was hiding out in the back cabin sketching and barely speaking more than a couple of words – and those were usually "Go away!".
Obviously in Trini's case he had done something wrong. He just wished he knew what it was, but as she wouldn't talk to him and without the link through Skye he couldn't tell what was on her mind. What had happened in that time whilst he was beneath the waters? Had someone said something to her, though for the life of him he could not think what it might be. His wolfspirit seemed as bemused as he was so that was no help. How could he put it right when he did not know what was wrong!?
Same with Skye; he felt like he should do something to help him but he couldn't because neither of them would tell him what the problem was. So instead he was studying the Quilash - the Aquitian equivalent of the Prophecies of Nostradamus or Revelations. After the incredibly vague description from Alesto of what he had said to Skye, and his own experiences in the sunless, but illuminating, Cave of Glyphs he had decided to start studying whatever prophecies he could find.
What he had read so far filled him with a sense of pervading unease and despair.
"Just once I'd like to see a Prophecy that is not all doom and gloom." He muttered turning the page. "How about...in the year nineteen ninety nine everything will turn out fine"?".
His wolf spirit chuckled at him * That is not the nature of Prophecy, it is a dangerous thing, double edged as it gives, it takes away. *
"I take it you don't like Prophecy?" Billy queried amused.
The wolfspirit gave the impression of a growl and snarl flickering around it's muzzle. * Prophecy is a man-thing, to try and control the future. You never seem to understand, when you control you impose limitation on your options in countering the prophecy whereas where it does not exist then there is no boundary on what you can do to change events. *
Billy frowned. He thought he understood what his wolfspirit was getting at, but he didn't quite understand why it was such a problem. Surely a Prophecy limited what could be done to you, as well as what you could do, provided you with a framework to counter attack.
The wolfspirit looked sorrowful, * One day you will understand it said. You do not always have conscious awareness of where you are steered. Look to the examples before you and think upon them. *
Billy looked again at the Quilash scanning some of the text. In hindsight some passage were obviously referring to him, the Ninjetti and the events of the preceding years.
"And the waters will become shadow darkened by poisoned conflict, yet the protectors leave the home-sea's for other skies."
Hmmm like their own, obvious when there was a context, but otherwise so general as to be nigh on impossible to interpret. That was obviously referring to the Alien Rangers protection of Earth. But it shook him to read of himself, described with precision from the vantage point of the ancient past.
"And one shall come to repay a debt and though young in years, is old in experience; He is Warrior, Teacher, Reconciler and Peacemaker though he stands powerless in the face of the enemy,"
At least it explained why they called him Peacemaker, though it made him shudder now he understood the source material. Some were downright ambiguous. "Darkness rises, deception its heart,its being shaped from the darkest fears of the living"
"There is one, a Life bought by Purpose, gifted a sea-path of storms and darkness. "
What exactly they meant he could not say but he sensed a profound premonitionary disturbance in his spirit. That a confrontation with the Darkness Visible was going to happen at some point appeared obvious. And there was this peculiar phrase "Shahin tara zed" that kept cropping up over and over, but there was no translation although the context implied it was a fundamental part of the final confrontation. The strange thing was that it sounded strangely familiar, and it didn't sound like an Aquitian word. All that aside he couldn't shake the feeling that the Prophecy was pointing to something bad for them in particular. His gaze drifted to Skye's cabin almost unconsciously. Well, he would do his best to defy these Prophecies and their grim forbodings. There would be other worlds and other Prophecies and somewhere in them would be the answers he sought. He hoped.
"You did what?" Zordon exclaimed as Alesto contacted him.
"I told the Star Ninjetti of the Prophecy that involved him." The Aquitian Mentor supplied.
"I thought the Council of the Wise decided not to reveal any of the Prophecy fragments until nearer the time." Zordon stated. "You may have seriously damaged his emotional equilibrium."
The Aquitian bowed his head, still resolute. "It is part of the knowledge, that the Prophecy will be told when the custodian of this knowledge first meets the Bearer of the Star Crystal. Those were my instructions...which date back to before the Council of the Wise even existed."
Zordon sighed. "This is true. Forgive my anxiety. There is so much at stake and, he is very young. How did he take the news?"
"Not well. I forget how emotional humans can be." There was a mildly disapproving tone in his voice.
"It is a strength as well as a weakness." Zordon defended. "And he is strong. He will learn to deal with it."
The ancient Aquitian Elder did not look convinced and Zordon was concerned as to how exactly the Star Crystal Ninjetti had reacted. Humans needed a delicate touch and a great deal of understanding; if the Council of the Wise knew of half the things that had occurred in the latest tenure of holders of the Power on Earth they would be astonished and probably horrified. Knowing the controlled Aquitian way and analytical approach to emotion he doubted that Alesto had been subtle in breaking whatever news it was he had held secret all this time.
"One other thing. There is increased activity by the Alliance of Evil. They are beginning to strike and seize not just the unallied worlds but are making forays into the area's of space protected by our Alliance." Alesto warned.
"So soon?" Zordon questioned more than a little alarmed. Things were moving faster than anticipated.
"There have been reports of skirmishes from the Ronani indicating that Chi'iten space is under attack. That sector appears to be the Ninjetti’s next target area. And of course I have the Ninjetti's report about the Drakan system. That is not distant from your home planet Zordon." Alesto pointed out.
"That I know of from C'haal himself." Zordon agreed evading the issue about his home world. "Has anyone heard a report from the Phantom Ranger recently?"
"The last one to speak with him was Rhahamadra. What do you intend Zordon?" Alesto asked curious.
The Eltarian Mage looked up "Just thoughts echoing in my transdimensional warp old friend". He said softly.
* I intend to leave a false trail away from Earth big enough that even the combined brainpower of the Alliance of Evil could not miss it. I intend to be bait for them so they don't think to question why I was here. * He thought to himself. And that would mean walking away from the world he had guarded and cherished for thousands of years. Giving up his adopted sons and daughters to the care of another.
"What is Dimitria of Inquiros doing at the moment?" He asked suddenly.
Alesto sounded surprised "Questioning the meaning of life as usual." His response was met by silence. "Well I despatch the messages that your pupils left with me and I will beginning the selection procedure."
Zordon seemed to break from his deep thought. "My thanks, and send everyone you have, the need is great."
"But if you fail the test of the Great Power you die!" Alesto protested, unwilling to send his chosen needlessly to their deaths if they did not stand a chance.
"Dulcea has waived the death requirement, if they die in the quest she will return them with no knowledge of their participating." Zordon explained patiently. " She is using her ability to manipulate time and said that she can loop them back to before they entered the test and turn them away before they realise that they failed. She does not want to waste any potential warriors who could fight alongside the Ninjetti, just because they are not suitable to accept the Great Power."
Alesto nodded gravely. "She is indeed wise. I will attend to it at once".
His image disappeared.
Zordon sighed and the stream of information from Billy, Trini and Skye flooded into his awareness and the rest of it out into the world. Their reports from a multitude of planets they had visited indicated some frightening trends, and he could waste no more time. This was happening now.
"Yes Zordon?" replied the automaton.
"We are leaving for Eltare. Contact Dimitria of Inquiros to take my place whilst I am gone."
Alpha, imbued with feeling or not appeared shocked. "Ayiyie! Zordon, with Divatox here surely it is not a sensible idea to abandon the Rangers so soon after they assumed a new Power!"
"The Turbo powers were designed to be stable - Divatox does not deal in magic as Rita and Zedd did, therefore Dimitria will be capable of dealing with the Space pirates ploys." Zordon explained and then added, "Eltare is under attack and I must return."
Alpha seemed to understand. It was a genuine explanation up to a point but left out significant points.
"When shall we leave Zordon?" Alpha asked almost plaintively.
"Tonight, there is no time to lose."
Rocky sat alone in his room staring at the glowing computer screen in the darkness. He'd snapped at Kat again, he just couldn't seem to help himself. He was moody and irritable and he couldn't understand why on earth Kat might even want to waste her time with him. He thought, he thought he'd seen her eyes glisten with tears as he brushed her off. She didn't deserve it, she was the kindest, most wonderful girl he had ever met and he was treating her like this! What was he thinking?! There was a time that if he had ever thought Tommy had been treating her like this then he would have done his best to teach him a lesson. He wouldn't have got too far, especially as he was now, but he would have tried!
His back spasmed painfully, agonisingly and he got up to walk around. He couldn't move like he used to, he couldn't just react to things in the same way; he would never have been able to reaccept the Powers, though secretly he wished they'd pushed a little harder to make him accept. That made it harder, Kat having the Powers and him being a half cripple, while she was out saving the world everyday he could barely turn up and teach his dojo classes without it taking his whole strength. When had he last seen Adam? Tommy? Any of the others?.
He noticed briefly his computer was downloading mail and had been for the past few minutes - a big message then. Eventually, sometime later, as he was wishing desperately for a faster connection it arrived and he looked in shock at the title "Greetings from Space!". It was a huge encrypted document from their three friends sent to all of the Rangers.
"But of course, they wouldn't know that I am no longer part of the team" muttered Rocky, a glimmer of his usually happy demeanour re-emerging. At least in their eyes he still was. He read through their adventures at top speed, greedily soaking up the contact and felt oddly satisfied at the end of it. He was about to go through it again when he saw a small flashing link at the bottom of the document; a tiny crystal star icon, and a place to enter a password. Rocky considered a moment and after trying "Star Ninjetti" and "Skye Brannon" suddenly grinned and typed in "snowball" his joking nickname for the artist. The computer whirred noisily and gave up it's message.
You have read the report about Drakan and what happened. I’m telling you this alone because I don’t trust myself enough to be sure of what I saw, though it was more detailed than I would care to describe. I didn't say to the others but I didn't see you there, when I was linked with Kim. I saw an unfamiliar Blue Ranger, but it wasn't my friend Rocky. I'm so sorry, more than I can say. Billy would know what it is like - think back to that talk along time back and the ones we had afterwards. You are getting a taste of the Blue testing I guess. I wish...I wish I had warned you more about it. There were things I dreamt that I hoped were nightmares and now I have seen too many of them come true to ignore the possibility. I wish I was there to help you but it isn't forever Rocky. I don't know how or why, but if you get through this then you get it all back and more, like Billy did, and don't ask me how I know that either because I don't really know myself. I do know that you are hurting and you feel alone, I also know that you will never admit it to the others. Try not to let it drive a gap between you all, I know it is hard, but hold on. All things pass in time; learning the hard way is sometimes really hard, but not as hard as the easy way.
Don’t isolate yourself my friend, and don’t let them isolate themselves from each other. You were always the one who could bring them together in laughter."
Rocky felt his eyes burn with tears "Too late, Skye, the gap is already there, too late!"
He paused and then said aloud "Why? Why didn't you tell me sooner? Why didn't you stop me if you saw it? Why?! WHY?!"
He stared at the screen until his vision blurred with burning, unshed tears and finally said,
"And I have no laughter left even for my friends."
Authors Note:- Things that may be of vague interest to someone. The phrase "Through Caverns measureless to man, down to a sunless sea" comes from the poem Kubla Khan by S.T Coleridge. And the whole business about structured water and super-ionized water is apparently true – I give credit for that to one of those marvellous emails that found it’s way to me telling me how it existed and is going to change the world. If you want to read it then I’ll gladly forward it, but lets just say it was a very useful plot device and as it doesn’t belong to me then anyone else can also use it. And if anyone is sitting there thinking – hey where did that letter come from?, you can find it in Twilight: Lengthening Shadows.