Author's Note: The beginning ideas for the series was Thunderlight's, my thanks to her. CD2D does not happen in this time line. This is the sixth story in the 'Once, and Great Power' series, after 'It's Morphin Time'. You might want to go back and read this and the previous stories first, before you read this one, or you might get lost. So, if you like this story, drop me a line.
Special Thanks: This is a special thanks to everyone who has answered any and all questions regarding information for these stories, and for everyone who reads them and has been asking when I'm going to finish.
Who would give their life for these, thy friends?
Darkonda watched as the Mega Ship left Earth's atmosphere, heading off in it's search for Zordon. A search that he was assured, would never get them any closer to Zordon then they were at that very moment. He grinned his feline like grin as he materialized on Earth's surface. He had a few moments to wonder how long it would take the new team of Rangers to show up, before they did, in their five columns of light.
"We were warned that you'd be arriving. Earth isn't defenseless any longer," Mike warned, his black shirt flapping around his hips.
"Prepare to face your worse nightmare," Leo intoned.
"Believe me kid, you aren't even close to being my worse nightmare. But I might just be yours," Darkonda sneered, leaping into the attack.
"It's time, guys!" Mike called. "Eagle!"
Within the blink of an eye, the five new Rangers were morphed into their uniforms and joining in on the first of many battles to come.
Kim sat up suddenly, gasping for air. Though her room, which she shared with Tanya, Aisha and Cassie, was warm, her body shook uncontrollably. Quickly she glanced around to see if she had awakened anyone. All three girls still continued to sleep, oblivious to Kim's state. In a way, she was glad that she hadn't disturbed them, and yet... she had hoped she had awakened them. Then, at least, she wouldn't have the overwhelming sense of loneliness she had at that very moment.
Quietly, she sat at the edge of her bed in the dark room, ignoring the sounds of the ship. She closed her eyes, trying to remember what had brought her out of her sleep. Slowly, like a slow moving reel of film, images began to flicker behind her eyes. Images of the past, a past that she hadn't been able to put behind her. A past reawakened by all that had been happening. Instantly, the images began to change to the present, then again to a possible future. It was here, in this future, that Kim stumbled upon the images that had brought her from the dreams. She opened her eyes immediately, not wanting to remember anymore; sweat beading on her forehead and soaking her sleeping gown. Letting the fear push her, she slipped her robe over her shoulders and made her way out of the sleeping quarters and down the corridors of the silent ship.
After some time and contemplation, Kim found herself standing outside the door to the men's quarters. She wasn't exactly sure why she was there, and what she wanted to do. Ever since the incident in Florida, shortly after she'd started training with Gunther Schmidt, she'd been unable to concentrate, fully, on any one thing. When Coach Schmidt threatened to send her packing, if she couldn't get it together, she'd forced herself to concentrate, at least on that part of her life.
Unable to ever face Tommy again, she'd quickly; looking through a veil of tears, scribbled out the letter to him. When she'd re-read it, she knew that it didn't sound like her, but she didn't care. She didn't care about anything at that time. Knowing that Tommy's folks were going to be gone at the time, on vacation, and that he'd be spending all of his time at the Youth Center, she'd decided that if she was going to get it to him quickly, it would be best to send it to him there. Knowing Ernie, as she did, she knew he would be sure to get it to him as soon as possible.
About a week after she'd sent the letter, Tommy had called. At the sound of his voice, she broke down and hung up on him; no words spoken. From then on, she'd have her roommate take the call and tell him that she didn't want to talk to him.
After three more calls, they had stopped all together. She had been just as confused about Tommy's calls stopping, as she did about why she was standing outside of the door.
Weary, she leaned against the cool metal of the door, closing her eyes and trying to remember why she'd come. As the images of the dream flashed, once more, through her mind, she quickly pressed her hand to the pad, that would allow her entrance, to the room. Carefully, cautiously, she entered the dark room, hearing the door close quietly behind her.
The room wasn't exactly quiet. There were sounds of deep breathing and several different kinds of snores. As she stood, listening, she hoped that she had come to the right room. Though the girls, as few of them as there were, took up two rooms, the boys had taken up the last three. Andros, TJ and Tommy, in one, Carlos, Jason and Billy, in another, and Zack, Adam and Rocky in the last one.
As quietly as possible, she padded through the dark room, her eyes adjusting to the little light, provided by the computers, in the room.
He had sunk down into a welcomed sleep. For too long, his sleep had been filled with images and other things that seemed to always disturb him, keeping him from a decent night's sleep, in months.
He'd tried to find peace during his days, hiding behind his work, but his mind always strayed to the things he'd given up, and to those he'd given up on. And now, finally having back the one main thing he'd missed for so long, he felt a sense of calm. He felt guilty feeling that way, knowing how desperate their situation was, but he couldn't help it. It felt wonderful to morph and to be able to join the battles once more.
Finally, he let his thoughts float to the back of his mind, his mind focusing on the sounds of breathing and snores filling the room around him. He smiled, remembering the numerous sleep-overs while studying for tests. With a sigh of peace, he drifted away into the fog of sleep.
He'd only been asleep for a short time, or so he thought, when a shuffling sound in the dark room brought him up from his sleep. Unmoving, he tried to concentrate on the sound that had awoken him, but everything was silent. Maybe he'd been hearing things, and it had only been a dream, he told himself as he closed his eyes and prepared to return to his sleep. No sooner had he closed his eyes, then the sound returned again. Before he could react, a hand touched his shoulder.
He spun quickly out of the grasp and his bed, landing hard on the metal floor, to face the startled intruder over the top of his bed.
"You scared me."
"I scared you?"
"I'm sorry. I just..." Carefully he moved around the bed, coming up next to her. He looked around at his roommates to see one of them roll over, then continue to snore.
"I just... needed to talk to you."
"Let's go to the commons area, so we don't disturb the boys." Kim giggled.
Without a sound, the duo left the dark confines of the sleeping quarters. They made their way silently down the corridors, past more sleeping quarters, past the silent bridge where they saw Alpha and... Andros; who seemed to be able to live on very little sleep. Soon they found themselves in the commons area.
Pressing a button, the lights came on and they seated themselves at one of the metal tables. After a few silent moments, Kim stood and moved to the synthitron.
"Would you like something?" she asked, gazing over her shoulder.
"I'm fine, thanks."
"Boy, what I wouldn't give for one of Ernie's smoothies, right now."
"I'll agree with you on that. I tried to conjure up one on the synthitron, but... it just wasn't the same." Kim smiled. He was relieved to see that.
As soon as she had her cup of coffee, she moved, reluctantly, to her seat. He watched silently, as she sipped at her steaming cup. A quick glance above her at the clock, showed that it was two in the morning.
"So, how do you think the new team of Rangers are doing?" She didn't look at him and he wondered if she was talking to him, or the cup of coffee she was staring into.
"I suppose they're doing as well as we did, when we first became Rangers." He looked at her, almost willing her to look up at him.
"Come one, Kim. You woke me up at two in the morning for something, and I'm fairly sure that it wasn't to talk about the new Ranger team. What's up?"
"I-I don't... I... can't..." She dropped her cup to the table's surface, watching as the cup overturned, spilling the dark liquid across it's top. Quickly, she grabbed the nearby napkins and began to sop up the spill. "I'm so sorry, I..."
A strong, familiar hand gripped her hand, forcing her to stop what she was doing, and look up at her companion.
"Kim, I won't press you to tell me anything, but I want you to know that I have, and always will, be your friend, no matter what. I'm here to listen if you want to talk."
Uncontrolled, her chin began to shudder, tears coming unbidden to her eyes. She felt the restraining hand release her and she fought with herself to keep from bolting. She didn't want to talk about what had happened in Florida, about the dreams, but wasn't that why she'd gone looking for him? She knew she needed to confide in someone, and here he was; a man who, after so much, was still willing to be her friend and listen to her troubles.
Kim looked across the table at him, then she slowly sank into her seat.
"I-I don't know where to begin," Kim said, wiping at the tears on her cheeks.
"How about from the beginning?" he offered.
"I'll try." Kim closed her eyes, trying to find the beginning and the strength to talk about it. "It all started shortly after I returned to Florida after my visit at Christmas time. Coach Schmidt told me that, because I had missed so much practice during my vacation, that I would have to make it up after regular practice sessions. That was fine with me. I liked the extra practice time, alone, anyway.
"Well, to be certain that I didn't get hurt, he brought in an assistant trainer, a twenty-two year old named Mark. He was really nice and was always helpful in showing me my mistakes and how to fix them. Things were going well, and we'd even sit and talk for hours. He, about his family, friends and his girl friend back in Portland. I'd talk about all of you and my family.
"The following week, something changed. Things had gone smooth for the three weeks he'd been there, then he suddenly became short with me about my mistakes, and when I asked him what I did wrong and how to fix it, he'd snap at me and tell me that I should be smart enough to figure it out on my own. As soon as practice was over, he'd leave." Kim became suddenly quiet, and he wondered if she would tell him the rest. He'd already come to his own conclusions, and felt a rush of red hot anger boil up in him. But he didn't want to assume too much, if his thoughts were vastly different from what she would tell him.
"You don't have-"
"I do," she cut in. She couldn't take the easy way out now. She had to tell him, and she prayed that he'd understand. No one else knew. No one!
Carefully, she steeled her nerves. Would he still be her friend afterwards?
"One night, he didn't leave. He had watched me practice, in total silence. He didn't move from his spot until I was finished. I dared to walk over to him, hoping that he wouldn't snap my head off. But... as I... got closer to him, I saw that he had this weird... crazy look in his eyes.
"It terrified me, and so I ran for the door. All I could think of was to get away from him, then I'd tell Coach about what had been going on.
"When... I got to the door... it was locked."
Kim began to struggle with her story. The memories battling against her bravery. Gulping it back, she plunged forward before she lost her nerve.
"Before I could turn around, he was on me. He threw me to the floor, then he strattled my hips with his legs, pinning me to the floor beneath him. I tried to fight him, but he hit me so hard that I saw stars, and I tasted the sting of blood in my mouth.
"He-he... raped me, right there in the gym. No one came to the door, no one saw anything. When he was finished he told me that if I told anyone, he'd deny it. It would be his word against his, and that he'd always be watching me, even if I didn't see him.
"I don't know why I didn't tell anyone. If I was truly afraid that he was watching, or that no one would believe me. They never believed my friend, when she told the police. Even when he transferred, I didn't tell anyone. By then, it was too late for it to matter, and to prove. All I know is that, at the time, I wished that you were there that night."
"That's why you sent the letter..."
"Yes. I just couldn't keep the relationship going after that. I knew I as wrong, but..." Kim broke down into sobs, then. Her head buried in her hands, her shoulders trembling. Carefully, he got up from his seat and moved to her side. Gently he touched her shoulder. In one swift motion, she was wrapped in his arms, her face buried in his shoulder.
"Everything is going to be alright, now. I'll always be here for you." He felt her had shake against him, then she pulled back from him to look up into his eyes.
"I had a dream tonight, and that was one of the reasons I came looking for you. I dreamt that you were killed, Billy."
Billy pulled her back into his arms, as he gazed past her into a future he didn't know if he could face.
He had been locked in darkness for some time, now. How long? He wasn't sure. But he knew that the darkness was growing darker, if that was possible. He tried to call out. At one time, he was certain that he could be heard, but now... Now he was forced into screaming. Screaming so loudly that he felt horse. He had to be heard, he had to. If he didn't, he'd be lost to the darkness, forever.
As he felt despair slowly wrap around him; a voice, so much like his own, came to him.
"I can't believe that she betrayed me! That she would turn her back on the one chance she had to be a Queen over this mangy galaxy."
She? Who was he talking about? Carefully he listened again.
"I gave her everything she wanted, and she still betrayed me, even taking that traitorous Ecliptor with her!"
Astronema? Betray Arcus? Could he dare to hope that that was the case? With that small thread of hope, he felt his strength begin to return. Taking a chance, he called out, "Hey, Arcus, you head case! Can you hear me?"
Arcus stormed the deck of the Dark Fortress, pacing back and forth before the display screen which showed points of light zipping past him. He was growling under his breath, the boy, Justin, smiling from his seat at the controls. At least the boy hadn't betrayed him... yet. At the sound of a voice, he looked up at the boy, anger flaring in his eyes.
With two steps, he had the boy lifted from the chair, holding him by the front of his shirt.
"What did you call me?" Arcus growled into the boy's face.
"I said nothing," the boy sneered back, unfrightened by Arcus' anger.
"I heard you calling me a 'head case'!"
"I called you, nothing."
"It was me, dumb ass. Been a while, hasn't it? Been so long you've forgotten the sound of your own voice, my voice."
Arcus dropped the boy back into his seat, storming from the deck toward his private quarters.
"So, Astronema turned on you, did she? I guess you're not as great as you think you are." Zhane began to laugh hysterically. How ironic, that the very person who had ordered Arcus' creation, was the very person who would now be trying to destroy him. Zhane laughed even harder.
"No way, not since I've been able to find my voice, again. You almost had me there. I almost didn't exist anymore. Almost. You'll never be rid of me again," Zhane said in triumph.
Arcus stormed through the door of his quarters and stood before the mirror. The one thing in his room he'd been avoiding since his creation. Maliciously, he gazed up into his own reflection. With hate, he gazed deep into his own eyes, at the person who remained behind them.
Zhane gasped at the image reflected back at him. "What have you done to me?" he yelled.
Gone was his blond hair and handsomely boyish looks. In their place was a man with pale skin, black hair and evil burning within the eyes that Zhane couldn't describe. Along the side of his face was a metal device. He tried to will his arms to raise, to touch the thing that marred his skin, but every motion refused him, and Arcus laughed.
"Ah, I see you're surprised. Good. Now that you're back with me, you can watch as I destroy every Ranger that exists, and that traitor that you seem to have such strong feelings for. Karone will die with the rest of her 'friends'." Arcus' evil laugh rang off of the metal walls that surrounded them. Zhane wanted to throw his hands over his ears, to block out the laughter. With nothing else left for him to do, Zhane screamed out in denial as Arcus continued to laugh.
Karone wondered down the corridors of the Mega Ship, alone. So many things had happened in the weeks since she'd abandoned Arcus, and the person she had been, for her new friends and family. She had been faced with a dilemma that she never thought she would have to deal with. But it had happened and she had to make a choice, and she had to make sure it was the right one.
This is where her thoughts found her when the first blast rocked the Mega Ship. Taken off guard, Karone found herself grabbing for something to keep her from falling. It didn't work and she found herself sprawled on the hard floor. "Now what?" she wondered aloud as the sound of running footsteps echoed down the corridor toward her.
As she got to her feet, three figures came racing toward her. Trini, Zack and Rocky.
"Are you okay?" Rocky asked as he skidded to a stop next to her.
"Yeah, I'm fine. What's..." Before she could finish her question, another blast rocked the ship. This time everyone was able to keep their feet under them.
"Come on, let's get to the bridge," Trini called as a wire popped next to her.
"Right behind you," Karone said, Rocky coming up behind the girls.
Ashley, Kat, Jason and Carlos met the four at the bridge's door. As they slid open another blast rocked the Mega Ship, tilting it precariously to the side, causing the group to loose their balance and slide to the back wall of the corridor. Through the open door, they could see Andros and Tommy at the ships controls, while Kim and Cassie sat together at their station. Aisha and Tanya were trying their best to cover the controls that Ashley normally worked. At the back of them all, were TJ and Adam. They dashed from data bank to data bank, trying to keep everything working.
Quickly they helped each other to their feet, struggling to enter the bridge. Flames shot our from two of the control panels, but Adam was on them with an extinguisher in no time. He checked the panels and yelled his findings to TJ, who immediately relayed the information to someone on the other end of his headset link.
"Stabilizers, four and nine, are at thirty per-cent!"
Kat moved to Kim and Cassie's side, gazing at the occupants of the bridge. Then she realized something, "Where's Billy?" she asked the frantic girls.
"In the engine room, trying to keep us going," Cassie responded as her hand moved deftly over the panel, flicking switches at random.
"Is there anything that I can do?" Kat asked, feeling guilty about just standing around.
"Pray," was the only response she received.
Jason joined Andros and Tommy at the main controls.
"We've been found out," Tommy replied as he kept his hand wrapped firmly around the navigation controls; his arm feeling as if it was going to be ripped from it's socket.
Andros, standing at his side at the other control, offered a bit more information.
"We thought that we were being careful, and not being detected, as we followed the Dark Fortress through hyper rush. When we came out of it, they were waiting for us."
Karone gazed at the screen that covered the whole front of the bridge. Ahead of them, floated the Dark Fortress. The place that had been her home for years. There had to be some way...
She had already set in a meeting with Andros, Tommy, Jason and Billy, about how to go about getting Zhane back and putting an end to Arcus. Now she had to figure out a way to help them escape the Dark Fortress, as well.
Karone needed Ecliptor's expertise on things, but he was still not ready. Billy had been doing all that he could to help repair Ecliptor, but he already had his hands filled with other concerns.
Suddenly, everything became quiet. The Dark Fortress had stopped firing on the Mega Ship and was slowly approaching them.
"What's happening up there?" Billy asked through TJ's headset.
"I don't know. Arcus has stopped firing," TJ responded.
Billy gazed at the Power Cell. He'd tried as best as he could to keep it from burning up, as appeared that that was what Arcus was trying to accomplish. Burn up the Power Cell and keep them from following, leaving them dead in space.
"Do we have enough power for Astro Mega Zord mode?" came Andros' voice. Billy thought quickly, doing the calculations in his head.
"No. The Power Cell has been weakened by the blasts. Switching the ship's mode may weaken it further, causing it to burn out completely. I'll see what I can do," Billy responded, digging into his equipment, which was scattered across the table against the wall.
Billy pulled on his gloves and raised the power sensor up and moved to the base of the Power Cell. He watched as the energy within it pulsed in a rainbow of colors. Carefully, so as not to cross circuit, he raised the sensor up and placed it against the wall of the Power Cell.
Before Billy had a chance to scan it, an explosion of red light filled the cell, releasing a staggering blast of power. The repercussion of the blast, knocking Billy back against the wall. The sensor was wrenched from his hand to smash against the same wall, sending sparks and metal fragments scattering through the room.
Then, almost like a fire's back draft, the energy retreated from around him and the room, to be contained within the cell. A deep thrumming-hum filled the room as the cell began to pulse with a deep crimson light.
Shaking off the effects of the blast, Billy staggered to his feet, rubbing the back of his head where it had connected with the wall. Clearing his hazy vision, he took in the site of the shattered sensor scattered all over the floor. Bending carefully, he picked his headset up from the floor where it had fallen. Taking a deep breath he placed it back on his head and tried to open the link to TJ.
"TJ, what's going on up there?" At first the headset was filled with static. With a growl of frustration he tried to bring TJ up again, "TJ, this is Billy. What's happening?"
"Are you okay down there, Billy?" came TJ's fear filled voice.
"I'm fine. What's going on?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe Andros can fill you in." Silence followed TJ's response. After a few brief moments of silence, Andros' voice filled his ears.
"As far as I can tell, with DECA not functioning, we have been captured in a tractor beam. Nothing up here is functioning like it should. The controls are out. What about the Power Cell?" Billy looked over at the thrumming cell, it's new red light giving the engine room the appearance of a photographer's darkroom.
"I'm coming up there and see if I can figure something out. Is everyone else alright?" Billy asked, rubbing his head.
"A little shaken and startled, but other than that, we're fine."
"Alright, I'll be right up."
Billy removed his headset, and after taking a few staggered steps, he headed for the door. When the door refused to open at his approach, Billy opened the panel and crossed a few wires. Sparks shot out, but the door still remained shut.
Quickly he scanned the room, finding a flat rod against the wall in the corner. Grabbing it up, he headed back to the door. With all of the strength he had, he forced the rod between the doors, pushing it in and prying it as best he could, until he had some leverage.
With a pop! the doors slid open. Billy moved through them before they could close again. He began to toss the bar down, then thought better of it. Who knew what obstacles lay between him and the bridge. Wrapping his fingers tightly around the bar, he headed down the semi-dark corridors toward the bridge.
Within minutes, and no other obstacles blocking his way, Billy entered the bridge to find all the Rangers hunched over computer consoles, staring into monitors. He located Andros and Jason at the ship's controls.
"What's happening?" Billy asked, taking an offered stack of papers from Cassie. Quickly he glanced at them, his mind speeding over the lists of words and numbers.
"As far as we can tell, we've been caught in a sort of 'tractor' beam," Andros stated, rushing from the controls to the monitors behind him.
"That would explain the red surge of energy in the cell," Billy whispered to himself.
"The strange thing is, it's just holding us in place," Jason said, confused.
Billy finished looking at the papers then moved to stand behind Ashley. "Can you bring up the exterior visual?"
"I think so." Quickly, she punched a few buttons, and after a few sparks, the screen filled with a view of stars, colored red by the ray of the tractor beam holding them in it's grip.
"If you can, move the exterior camera around in a 360 degree sweep."
They watched as the stars seemed to spin around a stationary object. The surface of the Mega Ship coming into view and passing out of it as the camera rotated. Suddenly, and most unexpectedly, a huge orange orb filled the screen. Billy called for Ashley to stop the camera.
"Where are we?" Kat asked in awe, gazing at the unfamiliar orange globe.
Before Billy could find the answer in the computer, a soft feminine voice gave them the answer, from the back of the bridge.
Karone stared at the orb, long forgotten fears rising up within her. She had hoped to never see this place again. That she had finally been able to put her past completely behind her, but it wasn't so. She would always be reminded of how evil she had been.
Everyone grew quiet, weather to hear her, nearly whispered, response, or hoping she'd give them a little more information, they weren't sure.
"Darkonda's... home world," Andros filled in, remembering it from past files he'd brought up on their recent enemy.
"This is... where I spent five years of my life, before Darkona turned me over into the care of Ecliptor. This is where I was taught the arts of evil." They saw the small shudder course through her body, as she continued to glare at the image before them.
Unsettled by the announcement, the Rangers tore their gazed away from Karone, feeling as if they were intruding into someone's memories. Billy's voice broke the silence as he looked at the two printouts in his hands.
"The tractor beam is coming from a secluded area of the planet. Unfortunately, we have no way to break through the beam to get to the planet's surface to destroy it at it's source," Billy paused momentarily, "Yet..."
"Yo, Billy, my main brain, you've got an idea, right?" Zack asked, letting a hint of hope light up his face.
"Maybe, Zack. Maybe..." Billy's eyes sparkled as the ideas filled his mind.
"He does. He only gets that look in his eyes when he has an idea," Tommy stated, smiling.
Billy ignored the remark, letting his mind draw upon all the knowledge he had of the Astro Mega Ship, and everything inside of it.
"Trini, if you're willing, I sure could use your help." He didn't know who else would be as skilled at helping him, as Trini was. She'd always been there to help him in the past, when they were Rangers together, and he needed her again.
"You've got it, Billy." Trini quickly got to her feet and followed Billy, who was already on his way off the bridge.
No sooner had she passed through the doors, the ship began to shake once more, knocking them both off of their feet. The doors slammed shut, blocking them from the bridge.
"Trini, are you alright?" Billy called from his spot on the rocking floor.
"I think so. What's going on?"
"I don't know," Billy responded, and he hated the feeling those words invoked.
Every Ranger on the bridge grasped anything that was stable enough to keep them from tumbling around on the violently pitching bridge. A loud humming filled the air around them.
"DECA, what's happening?" Andros yelled above the noise, relieved that he had been semi-successful in getting DECA back online, once more.
"Sensors indicate that the beam has begun the process of releasing it's hold on the ship."
"We've got to get out of here, DECA. Prepare for hyper rush, the minute we are released."
"With the Power Cell at less than fifty-percent, I will do what I can."
Andros gripped the navigation controls with both hands, Jason taking up the post next to him at it's sister controls.
"When I give the word, push the controls forward as fast and as far as you can, go it?" Jason nodded and readied himself. "Everyone, get strapped in!"
Suddenly the shaking stopped. Andros thrust the controls forward, the ship firing up all the power it could, to propel itself out of reach of the tractor beam. Everything seemed to happen all at once. Happening so fast that no one knew what was happening until it was too late.
In the moment that the ship stopped shaking, a column of purple light flooded over Karone, and with a scream of fear, she disappeared from the bridge. Then, as suddenly as the tractor beam had released them, it had captured them again, stopping the ship in mid-hyper rush, sending Andros and Jason souring over the controls, to crash painfully to the floor on the other side.
The force of the stop, snapped everyone's heads forward, their harnesses holding them in place. The ship became still once more, as unconsciousness took everyone on the bridge.
Karone felt sick with fear. She never wanted to return to Oralontor, even when she was still evil. Multitudes of bad memories flooded her mind as she wrapped her arms around herself to try and take away the sudden rush of chills.
She had appeared in the semi-dark cave, the only light coming from the huge tractor beam at it's center, within seconds of disappearing from the bridge of the Mega Ship. Gazing around the cave, she spotted a tunnel leading out of the large room, on the other side of the beam.
Slowly she approached the huge column of light, it's defining thrumming-hum, filling the cave. The closer she got, the more she could feel the heat radiating from it. Carefully, she reached out a hand toward it, drawing back when the heat became too intense.
Realizing that she couldn't do anything with the beam from inside of the cave, she made her way around it to the only exit she could find. With caution, she paused at the exit's edge, back to the cold stone surface of the wall.
There had to be a reason she was brought here. But, why? Scanning the cave, she looked for anything she could use as a weapon. She was expertly skilled for hand to hand combat, but a fist was no match for a metal Quantron. Her gaze lit on a fist sized stone which rested close to the base of the tractor beam. Quickly, she contemplated the best way to retrieve the stone without the heat of the column scorching her.
Settling on a plan of action, Karone moved as close to the column as she dared, the heat causing her skin to sting. The stone sat only six feet away from her. Taking a deep breath, she lunged forward, dropping into a squat. Spinning, she kicked out with her foot. Feeling her foot connect with the stone, she watched as the stone rolled away from the column, and come to rest just feet from the wall.
In the same instant that her foot connected, she rolled over backwards, leaping to her feet, then jumping the rest of the way back from the column, letting the cooler air calm the burning of her skin.
As she tried to catch her breath and calm her nerves, Karone gazed around the cave, listening for any sign that she wasn't alone, or had been heard.
Nothing. Only the continues thrumming of the tractor beam filled the cave, casting her own shadow against the stone wall of the cave. Pulling it together, she dashed to where the stone had rolled. Crouching down beside it, she carefully reached out to touch it. The rock was still warm to the touch. Finding it sufficiently cooled, she wrapped her fingers around it, lifting it's weight into her hand. Carefully, she balanced it in her palm, getting a feel for it's weight and how she'd have to hold it to defining herself. Satisfied that it wasn't too heavy or akward, Karone stood, turning toward the exit. But, before she could fully turn, a hand clamped down on her shoulder, making her stumble back. Quickly, she raised the stone, prepared to smash the skull of her attacker.
The figure dropped to it's knees in the dirt at her feet, head bowed. One hand supported his hunched figure, while the other was buried in the folds of his torn and dirty clothes.
Instinct drove Karone back several feet, stone still gripped firmly in her hand, ready to use if the need be.
"Who are you, and what do you want?" she demanded, her voice quavering slightly.
"K-Karone..." The voice was barely a whisper over the noise of the tractor beam, but she could clearly detect the pain in the voice. She lowered the stone slightly, not ready to give up her defense just yet.
"Who..." Before she could get the question out, the man raised his head and Karone dropped the stone, gasping in surprise.
Zhane knelt before her, his dark uniform dirty from the floor of the cave. His blond hair was longer than she recalled, a slight hit of a beard shadowing his face. None of that drew her attention more than the blood that covered the right side of his face.
Happy, as well as frightened, she dropped to her knees in the dirt in front of him.
"Zhane?" She couldn't believe what she was seeing. How could this be?
Arcus had been kissing up to Dark Specter, and had secured his place as the Dark Overlord's favorite. Why would Dark Specter release Zhane, now?
Warning bells began to go off, but she couldn't deny what was in front of her.
Zhane reached out a blood covered hand, and she took it in her own as she moved closer to him, supporting his body with her own.
"I can't believe you're back. What happened?" Karone looked into his bruised and bloody face, to see the familiar, welcomed eyes gazing back at her. Gently she touched his blood stained face. Zhane hissed in pain, and Karone pulled away.
"Dark Specter no longer... needed my help. He removed the device. He was going to kill me, but he brought me here, instead. Why are you here?" Zhane asked, easing himself around to lean his back against the cool wall of the cave.
As Karone watched him, she found that something was bothering her. Just why had they been brought here?
"I don't know why I'm here. One minute I was on the Mega Ship, the next... We need to get out of here. Dark Specter has the Mega Ship locked in a tractor beam. Do you know how to stop it?"
She couldn't help the pleading tone that came into her voice.
"Andros? The others? Are they all alright?" Karone nodded as Zhane sighed in relief. He raised his pain filled eyes to meet hers, tears began to spill from their edges. "Oh, Gods, what have I done? The people I've killed. I can't go back, not now, not after all of this. I don't deserve to be a Ranger."
"You could no more help it, than I could. You were programmed to be evil, me... I was raised that way. No one will hold all of this against you."
"No. He's worried about you. We have to get out of here. Can you walk?" Karone looked down at his hand, as it clutched at his side.
"I think so. How are we going to get out?"
"No. I've been down the tunnel, there's no way out." Zhane settled back, watching as Karone threw her head back, growling in anger.
"We have to do something. We can't let Dark Specter destroy the Rangers," she turned pleading eyes to Zhane.
He gazed up at her, stretching out a hand to her. Cautiously, she took it, letting herself be pulled down into his comforting embrace. Like a dam releasing it's flood waters, Karone let the tears, that she'd been holding inside for years, come spilling down.
"I have to tell you something," she sniffed.
"As do, I." Zhane's voice was suddenly harsh and filled with mocking. From somewhere behind her, she heard the clapping of hands.
"Bravo, bravo. What a performance." Startled by the voice that filled the cave, Karone pulled away from Zhane's embrace, looking down at him.
Slowly, he raised his head, exposing glowing, red eyes and a sinister smile. Quickly she leapt up, nearly tripping over the rock she'd dropped earlier. Spinning, she faced the owner of the voice.
"At your service." He bowed low, then cackled maniacally. Karone turned to look at Zhane, or rather, the being she'd thought was Zhane.
He rose from the floor in a swift, fluid motion, a ripple washing over him as he shape-shifted into his true form.
"Yes," Arcus laughed from behind her. "Return to the Dark Fortress and prepare to continue on to the ZR-12 galaxy."
"As you command," the creature smiled a Karone, as he disappeared from the cave at his master's command.
"Why not? Dark Specter, did you hear?"
"I did. Bind the traitor in chains and leave her in the cave."
"Yes, my Lord."
It had been a trap. A way for Dark Specter to be sure that what Arcus had told him about her, was true. She was lost.
In a motion too fast for Karone to see, Arcus used his magic to cause chains to appear around her wrists. As she tried to move away from him when he approached her, she found that the chains were fastened tightly to the wall behind her.
"Zhane, it doesn't have to be like this. We can defeat Dark Specter. We have the power." Arcus rushed at her, her words fueling his anger, pinning her against the wall, a hand placed firmly over her mouth.
His face was just inches from hers, and as he spoke his warm breath fanned her exposed skin.
"Zhane is dead. Where he should have been, years ago, before Andros saved him. And, after I have destroyed your friends... I'll rule their pathetic universe, as well as many others. Unfortunately, being a new evil Lord, I still have to start at the bottom and work my way up," Arcus leaned in closer, whispering into her ear; his breath causing chills to rush down her spine. "Given time, I'll even be able to overthrow Dark Specter. You know; to continue to do what you were trying to do, and failed at... miserably." Arcus grinned. Removing his hand, he attacked her lips, crushing them with a hateful, hungry force of his own lips, bruising her's in the process.
When he pulled away, he found her lips swollen and red, tears trickling down her face to wash over them.
"What are you crying about? You're the one who betrayed us. You could have had it all."
"No. Not everything, and neither will you," Karone growled out through her pain and tears.
"I'm going to have so much fun watching all of you die. You see, Dark Specter, as soon as I get back to the Dark Fortress, is going to cause the tractor beam to start pulling the Mega Ship, and your friends, down into the planet, causing the ship to impact on this very spot, exploding in a fireball. I can't wait."
Arcus moved away from her, just ahead of the length of her chains. She growled and cursed at him as she pulled against the chains that held her away from him.
"I guess it really is goodbye, this time." Arcus began to walk away, then stopped. "I guess the least I could do, is leave you with some company, in these, your last moments of life." With a twist of his wrist, a small figure appeared across from her. It, too, was bound by chains to the wall.
"You can't do this to me. I helped you!" the young boy screamed.
"That you did, but... after all, you were once a Power Ranger, and therefore, my enemy." Arcus laughed as he disappeared from the cave, leaving Justin glaring at Karone.
"This cannot be happening! Not again!" Andros yelled, trying to pry the doors of the bridge open. He couldn't be sure how long they had lingered in unconsciousness, but when he became aware of his surroundings once more, he remembered seeing Karone disappearing from the bridge.
"You can't help her, not like this," Jason said, pulling the angry Red Lightstar Ranger, back from the doors.
Beyond them, they all could hear Billy and Trini calling to them.
"Are you guys alright?" came Trini's voice, muffled by the thick metal doors.
"We're all fine, how about you two?" Kim asked.
"A little shaken, but fine. We need to get the doors open," came Billy's response.
"Andros. Do you think you can focus that anger on getting the doors open, so we can find out what's going on?" TJ asked, looking at his friend. He had seen Andros use his telekinesis to move objects, and hoped that it would do some good on the doors.
"Do I have a choice?"
"No." He gazed up to see Ashley glaring at him.
"We can't find Karone and help her, until we've helped ourselves first," Cassie stated, trying to locate something, anything, to pry open the doors.
With the combined strength of four out of fourteen Rangers on the bridge, as well as that of Billy and Trini from the opposite side, the doors were finally pried open.
Billy rushed past the group of Rangers to the computers at the back of the bridge.
"DECA, talk to me," Billy called out, as he began to methodically press buttons.
"Engine is temporarily overloaded. All systems running at twenty-five percent capacity."
"Damn!" Billy reached into his pocket, extracting a long, slender rod-like device. He moved to another panel next to the computers. Slowly he moved the device around the edges of the panel, before placing the device back in pocket. With both hands freed, he gave a yank on the panel, popping it from it's place, exposing a bit of smoke and some singed wires.
The Rangers gave him room as he moved around the panel, examining each wire carefully. Normally, it would have bothered Billy having so many eyes looking over his shoulder, but there wasn't a lot that they could do for now. Besides, they might learn something in case something like this happened again.
For a brief second, Billy stepped back from the panel, hands on hips, deep in thought. Then, all of a sudden, he looked up at Trini. "I need you to head down to the engine room, take Alpha with you. See what you can do to stabilize the engines."
"I'm on it." Trini left the bridge in a rush, knowing that time was of the utmost importance. Andros paced back and forth across the front of the bridge, worried about the fate of his sister. Would he find her alive? Would she still be Karone, or would she be Astronema, once more. He released a growl before he realized that he'd done so out loud. He glanced at the stares directed toward him, then looking away, he continued to pace.
"Adam, I need you to help me with the panel. Everyone else, take your places at your stations and keep me informed as to when they're functional.
"Right." Billy watched as everyone scurried around, except Andros, who reluctantly stopped pacing to take his place next to Jason and Tommy.
With a slight sigh of frustration, Billy returned to his work.
Trini and Alpha worked frantically to stabilize the over heated Power Cell. That's when they felt the first vibrations, and the barely discernible feeling of motion. The ship was moving.
"Alpha, did we do that?" Trini asked the small droid, who stumbled around the edge of the engines, before the ship evened out.
"Aye, yi, yi, Trini. It wasn't us."
"Then Billy must have fixed things up top." Trini smiled and approached the com system, when Billy's voice rang out.
"Good job, guys. I think you've got it fixed." Trini looked, puzzled, at Alpha.
"Billy, we didn't do anything, you did."
"That's not possible, we've got wires disconnected, up here. I hardly think we'd have done anything."
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Trini said, with concern.
"Hang in there," Billy uttered, closing the communications.
The bridge exploded with activity when they all realized that the ship was moving, but not due to anything Billy or Trini had done.
"DECA, what can you tell me?" Billy questioned, checking the readings.
"The tractor beam that has been holding us suspended in space, is now slowly pulling us toward the planet," came DECA's reply.
Rocky looked at Billy, hopeful, "They'll release the beam once we're safely on the planet's surface, right?" He wanted someone, anyone to agree with what he'd just said, because he didn't want them to tell him what he was afraid would really happen.
Billy wanted to tell him that he was right, but after dealing with their kind; Arcus and Dark Specter, he knew better than to give the team a sense of false hope.
"I don't know, Rocky. I'd like to think that it will be that simple, but after years as a Ranger... I think we know better than to assume too much."
"What are we going to do?" Aisha asked.
"What can we do, is more the question," Carlos added.
"Pray that they don't pull the ship in any faster, so that we'll have time to put together an explosive device that I've been planing out, for years."
"Do we have time?" Adam questioned, Billy.
"I don't know, but we can't just sit here without doing something." Billy opened the link to the engine room again. "Trini, you and Alpha keep working on the Power Cell, I'll have Adam head down and help you out."
"They're pulling us toward the planet, and if it works, I have an idea."
Questionable glances were cast at Billy, as he left the bridge to unknown parts of the ship.
"This is crazy. We're being pulled toward the planet, and Billy's off on some crazy idea he has, that may or may not help us. We're all going to die if we don't do something, and do it now," Carlos demanded. He wasn't usually like this, but the fear of dying, or being taken prisoner, scared him more than any battle he'd ever fought.
Tommy was ready to put in his two cents, when he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. When he realized it was Kim, he tried to hold back the chuckle he felt coming on.
Kim had heard about all the negative remarks she was going to listen to. Who'd this guy think he was? He wasn't the only one who's life was at stake.
"What are you doing, being a Power Ranger, huh?" Kim stopped in front of him, her finger in his chest. "Billy is the smartest person I've ever known, and if he says he might have an idea, then by God, you can rest assured that he'll do everything he can to make that idea work.
"Billy's never backed down from a challenge, with or without powers, especially those challenges that concern the safety and welfare of his friends. We can help him, by doing our jobs up here, to help find a way to break free from the tractor beam's hold. Now, I don't want to hear another negative word, alright?"
Carlos could only nod. He'd been taken completely off guard by the small petite Pink Ranger. Satisfied, Kim left him standing there in stunned silence, as she took her place at the computers.
A few chuckles were heard, muffled as they were. Cassie and Ashley exchanged surprised glances, and Andros had on of his rare, appreciative smiles for Kim, as they all took their places on the bridge.
Billy checked his watch as he made the last adjustments to the final device. A half hour. Much longer than he'd wanted to take, but finding the necessary parts on the ship was difficult. He found himself dismantling a few things that were not of the utmost importance, at the time, so he'd be able to finish.
"How's our situation?" Billy asked, contacting the bridge.
"DECA says that we will enter the planet's atmosphere within ten minutes," came Cassie's reply.
"Thanks." There was no time to waste. He had to get down to the planet's surface, fast. After the ship hit the planet's atmosphere, there would be only a matter of minutes.
Gathering up both of his inventions, he headed to the bridge.
"How are we doing?" Billy asked, as he entered the bridge.
"Seven minutes until we hit the atmosphere," Kat stated, gazing over her shoulder at Billy.
"We need to get moving, and fast."
"What are these?" Tommy asked, coming to stand next to him.
"One is a device that should punch a small hole in the tractor beam, and allow a handful of us to teleport down to the beam's location."
"An explosive mechanism. I'm going to use it to destroy the beam at it's source. I'll set it to detonate after we've teleported out." Billy looked up into Tommy's trusting gaze.
"Who's going?" Kim asked from behind them. She knew who one of them would be, but something inside of her, just needed to hear it. As Billy answered, the nightmares began to become reality, and she h ad to fight the lump that started to grow in her throat.
"I'll go down first, just in case. Once I'm down, I'll contact the others. Tommy, Jason and Andros will follow me down."
"What about Karone?" Andros questioned. He had to find her. He couldn't leave here until he did.
"We'll find her, but first thing is first; because if we're dead, we won't be of any use to her," Jason added.
"Exactly." Billy connected the blocking device into the ship's teleportation system, then flicked it on. The lights onboard dimmed, and a light humming filled the silent bridge.
"It's time. Let's morph, so we can get down there."
"Four minutes until we hit the atmosphere," came Kim's choked voice. Billy gazed at her, trying to give her his best reassuring smile, and hoped that it looked more convincing than it felt.
"Let's do it," Tommy called.
"Let's Rocket!" Andros called out, transforming into his uniform.
"White Tiger!" Soon Tommy found himself armored in his old familiar uniform, as well.
"Tyrannosaurus!" Jason smiled as his armor enfolded him once more.
Looking at the other, Billy called out those familiar words he'd never thought to speak again, "Triceratops!" Billy felt a strong sense of elation, as the armor encased his body. As he felt the sensation fade, he heard Kim's voice call out again.
"Here goes nothing." Billy brought his hands to the side of his Morpher, which was attached to his belt. Immediately he felt the tingling of teleportation. As his body moved through the beam, he shook violently, until he was all the way through it.
As he came to a hard landing on the planet's surface, he took inventory of things around him. To his right was a cave, and from above it, the red column of the tractor beam shot up into the orange sky.
"It worked." He wanted to cheer, but restrained himself, knowing that time was of the essence. Brining his communicator up to his lips, he notified the other three Rangers of his safe arrival.
"It worked. Let's get going." Billy gripped the explosive mechanism in both hands and moved to the entrance of the cave, where he waited for the others to arrive.
As Billy listened for the faint sound of teleportation, he gazed at the entrance of the cave.
"I knew there would come in handy, sometime," he said, gazing down at the small dome-shaped devices in his hand. Quickly, he placed them back in the pocket dimension he'd pulled them from and slowly m ad his way toward the entrance of the cave, one hand on his blaster.
As he looked down the long dark length of the tunnel, he kept an eye and ear open for company. As he reached the entrance, flashes of red and white light flickered in his peripheral vision.
"Over here," Billy called, waving the trio over to the cave. Tommy brought up the rear of the group, backing his way toward them.
"No welcoming party?" Jason asked, surprised. Never, during their time as Rangers, had they teleported into enemy territory, and not been greeted by a squad of goons.
"It just doesn't feel right. There should be Quantrons everywhere," Andros stated, feeling a chill crawl down his spine.
"Well, let's just be thankful that we haven't run into them yet," Tommy said, keeping an eye open behind them, just in case.
"We still have to enter the cave. I think it would be expedient for the Quantrons to lay-in-wait, inside. Is everyone ready?" Billy asked, as he drew his blaster and entered the dark tunnel of the cave.
"Right behind you, bro.," came Jason's reply from behind him, as the Red and White Rangers armed themselves, following Billy into the darkness.
The group kept their backs to the cold stone walls of the tunnel, stopping and listening around each bend. At one point, Billy was certain he'd heard voices ahead, but when he'd motioned for the others to be silent, he could hear nothing but the steady, increasing hum of the tractor beam.
"TJ, how are things looking up there?" Billy whispered into his communicator.
"We've just entered the planet's atmosphere. The Power Cell is beginning to overheat again."
"We're nearly at the core of the beam. Just hang in there."
"You've got it." TJ seemed confident that they'd be successful in knocking out the beam, now if only they could feel so confident.
As Billy began to move forward, a hand on his shoulder stopped him. Turning, he found Jason looking at him.
"I've got a real bad feeling about this."
"Me, too. But we don't have a choice. I'll understand if you guys don't want to continue any further. I won't ask you to risk your lives doing this. I can handle it from here, on my own."
"No way. If you're going in, you're not going alone," came Andros' reply, as he looked at Billy over Jason's shoulder.
"We never abandon another Ranger. Especially not a friend," Tommy said from the back of the group.
"Okay, let's get this done." Billy turned and headed them off down the last stretch of the tunnel.
So tired. She wanted to close her eyes, to trick herself into believing that all of this was just a bad dream. But, she was afraid to close her eyes. Afraid of the real dreams that would return to haunt her. She didn't want to die with her eyes closed. She wanted to face it head on.
Movement from beside her drew her attention to her left. Slowly she turned her head, gazing down at the young boy. He sat on the dirt floor of the cave, knees drawn up to his chest, his back against the cool stone wall. Every now and then, she'd catch a small shiver, that would rock the boy's body.
"Are you cold?" The boy only glared at her, all the hate in the world, in his young eyes.
"If it wasn't for you turning traitor, we wouldn't be here, in this filth pit, right now."
"I've got news for you. We would have been here, regardless of what I've done. Arcus has what he wants, as well as Dark Specter. We're useless to them, now.
"I've never been useless to them! I've always done what they have asked."
"For now. But, they can't forget that you were once a Power Ranger."
"That has nothing to do with it. Arcus was a Ranger, too."
"Yes, he was, but he is also quite different from the rest of us." Karone grew silent then, refusing to look at the glaring boy, any longer.
Tilting her head back, she tried to face what was going to happen. There was no way out, this time. She'd pay for her crimes, and if this was the only way to do so, then so be it.
From somewhere, the sounds of footsteps floated to her. Quickly, she focused her attentions to the sounds she'd thought she'd heard, but the hum of the beam grew even louder. Stretching as far as the chains would allow, Karone struggled to see around the beam, to the cave's entrance.
Sighing in frustration, she moved back against the wall, blaming her all-to-human-hope, for making her hear things. As she began to close her eyes, she caught a movement within the shadows. She wanted to call out, but was afraid that it would only be a Quantron.
Across from her, Justin had risen to his feet, and was growling in the same direction in which she had seen movement.
"Impossible!" he screamed, darting out to attack, only to be savagely stopped by the chains that bound him to the cave's wall.
A spark of hope ignited within her. If he was angry, then it could only be someone else, perhaps someone there to help.
"Help us!" Karone called out, trying to be heard over the hum of the tractor beam.
At first, she thought she'd been mistaken, and that the boy was just seeing things, then, from out of nowhere, a familiar Red form appeared. She watched as it moved around the side of the beam.
"Andros!" From behind him, there emerged three more familiar figures.
Tommy rounded the beam to see Andros make his way to his sister. He was surprised to see her there. The surprise lasted only seconds when he realized that he shouldn't have been surprised in the first place. Not with the kind of beings they were dealing with. As he moved further into the cave, a movement to his right, brought his attention around.
"Justin?" Now he was surprised. Why would Arcus and Dark Specter leave the boy there?
As Tommy advanced toward the boy, he leapt at him, jerked back by the chains that held him to the wall. Damn, Dark Specter! Tommy had known this boy well. He was on an intelligence level to rival Billy's. He was a good kid who'd just realized that being a kid was better than being a Ranger, and Arcus had ripped that away from him. He only hoped that some way, somehow, they could give that back to him again.
"Just hang in there, Justin. We'll get you out of here."
"Keep your grimy hands off of me, Ranger! I'll rip you throat out if you get near me!"
Tommy choked back the tears that suddenly rose in his throat. This wasn't Justin. He only hoped there was a part of the boy, he knew, left to save.
Billy circled the beam, counting his steps until he was back where he had started. Jason gazed at him in confusion.
"What are you doing, Billy?" Billy pulled the small dome-shaped devices from the pocket dimension where he'd put them. "What are, those?"
"Small self contained force fields. I'll place one every fifteen feet around the beam. Once I've set up the explosive mechanism, I'll activate all of these. They'll create a barrier around the beam and explosive, keeping any of Arcus' goons from stopping it."
"I knew you were the team genius for a reason." Jason smiled behind his visor.
"I'll take that as a complement." Jason laughed, then grew suddenly serious.
"This is going to work, right? Don't get me wrong, I'm not doubting your abilities."
"I didn't take it that way." Billy paused, looking at the large device at his feet. "I hope it works."
Billy took two of the small force fields from his hand, placing them in Jason's.
"I'll plant the first one here. You move around the beam fifteen feet ahead of me, planting the next one, and I'll go fifteen feet past you, and so on, until they are all planted."
"You've got it. How do I set it?"
"See the small black button? When you're in place, set it on the ground, press it and a small cylinder will shoot a small projectile, with a barbed end, into the ground. That will keep anyone, or anything, from uprooting it to close it down.
"Once you've planted it, press the red button to set it. That will synchronize it with the other three, so that when I press the remote, they'll all close around the beam at the same time."
"I'm on it." Jason clutched the devices in his hand, and began to pace off the next fifteen feet from Billy.
Kneeling down, Billy leveled off the spot on the floor for the force field device. Carefully, he placed it on the ground, holding it secure as he pressed the black button to plant it. An explosion, like that of gun fire, sounded in the cave, catching everyone's attention. All eyes turned to Billy, who, oblivious to their stares, continued on with his work.
Frustrated by his failed attempts to contain Justin, Tommy looked behind him at Billy.
"Billy, man. Do you think you'll be okay for a few minutes alone?"
"Andros and I have to get Karone and Justin out of here, and back to the Mega Ship, we'll need Jason to act as back-up."
Billy looked ahead of him, where Jason had just finished planting the last force field device.
"Go ahead, all of you. The force field is in place. All I have left to do, is set up the explosive mechanism, close the field and meet you on the ship."
"Are you sure?" Jason asked, still feeling uneasy.
"Go. I'll be right behind you."
Nodding in agreement, Jason joined Tommy. It took both of them to restrain Justin long enough for Tommy to blast through the chains. As they turned to leave, Andros and Karone were already heading toward the tunnel.
Jason quickly helped Tommy restrain the struggling and cursing, Justin, then raced ahead of Andros, blaster at the ready, always prepared for the welcoming committee who seemed to be late to the party.
Billy watched them go, until they disappeared down the dark tunnel. Acting quickly, he grabbed up the explosive from the floor, placing it at the base of the beam. Even though his armor was protecting him from the intense heat of the beam, Billy could still feel a bit of it through the armor.
Careful not to knock the device into the beam, Billy balanced it on the lip of the column's base. From it's sides, he pulled two wires out. Once the first wire was completely out, Billy made his way around the column, placing the end of the wire, half way around the column's base. At it's end, was a small circular disk. Returning to the device, he took the other wire, doing the same on the other side.
Once the two wires were firmly in place at the base of the column, Billy returned to the explosive mechanism. As he carefully programmed it, a voice sounded from his communicator.
"Come on, Billy. What's taking you?" came Rocky's nervous voice.
"Hang on. I'm programming the explosive, right now. What's our time?"
"Ten minutes to impact."
"I'm on my way." Billy closed the link, finishing the programming. He'd set the timer for four minutes, which would be more than enough time for him to teleport up, and prepare the ship for hyper rush.
With the last button pushed, and the explosive programmed, Billy closed the top of the box, being careful not to accidentally hit the emergency detonator.
"Here goes nothing," he whispered.
Before he could turn, a sharp pain began between his shoulder blades, and radiated into his chest, pushing the air from his lungs. He tried to turn, to see what had happened, but he couldn't move. From behind him, a low growling voice appeared next to his ear, giving him the answer to his unasked question.
"You weren't expecting me, were you... Blue Ranger?" The voice was so familiar. A voice that had given him many nights filled with horrifying dreams. A voice he had hoped to never hear again, yet here it was.
Billy tried to speak, but the pain in his chest grew deeper, keeping him from drawing the breath to speak. And, whatever the object was that had entered him, as it hit a rib, Billy knew that a sword, a powerful sword, had managed to do what no one had ever done before, it had pierced his armor, and was now making it's way though his body.
He could feel the searing pain of the blade as it sliced against his ribs, cracking them as it made it's deadly path through his body. The pain threatening him with an endless darkness behind it. And, as the pain grew more intense, it ment only one thing to his screaming mind....
He wasn't going to make it out of this one, alive.
As Billy gasped in pain, he heard Rocky's voice echo from his communicator, yet he could not find the breath to answer. Even the shallowest of breathes filled his body with an unbearable wave of pain. He felt the bile rise in his throat, and the coppery sting of blood on his tongue. The blade had cut through his lung, and he was suffocating.
"Billy, what's taking you so long?" Rocky's voice was filled with fear.
Billy tried to raise his arm, but he couldn't move. Gazing down, he saw the medallion on his chest, arch outward. With fear and surprise, he watched as the blade divided the medallion down the middle, releasing the crimson coated end of the sword from his body.
"One Ranger down, 15 to go," came the deep voice, in his ear. Suddenly, Billy was shoved savagely into the base of the beam, knocking what air was left in his body, out.
The sound of shattering caught his attention, and he gazed down to find his communicator shattered by the concrete-hard, solid stone. Billy tried to move, to get away from the tractor beam, but a pressure to his back held him in place. He heard a grunt as the blade was pulled from his body, allowing him to sink to the ground like a rag doll. Finally, he was able to find a small amount of breath, as the Morphin Powers fought to fruitlessly mend the damage to his body.
Billy gazed up at his attacker, to find mocking, red eyes glaring back at him. His voice was barely a whisper, as he spoke the name of his enemy, "Goldar!"
"Long time, no see, Ranger. I would have rather that we'd have met on the battlefield, but I can't allow you to do what you were planing. You see, Dark Specter has promised me great power, and for him to do so, he must be allowed to finish draining the remainder of Zordon's power."
Billy felt the last strands of strength filling his body, for one last time. With all he had, he kicked out with his foot, catching Goldar on the knee, sending him off balance. Taking the small window of opportunity he had, he immediately powered down, and pulling his Morpher from his belt, he tossed it out beyond the reach of the force field devices. Goldar watched as the Morpher slid across the floor. With a howl of victory, he dashed toward it.
As Goldar reached out a clawed hand to grab it, a bright yellow, burning light encompassed his hand, shocking him. With a roar of anger, Goldar spun to face Billy, his blood stained sword raised.
"You... didn't think that... it would be... that... easy to get... the powers... did you?" Billy tried to laugh, but it was choked.
Slowly, Billy inched back, pain wracking his body with every movement, toward the column of the beam. He could feel it's welcomed warmth against his back. He had become suddenly cold, his teeth on the verge of chattering. Looking down, he moved his blood-stained hand from the wound in his chest, letting new blood flow freely down his shirt. He looked back up to see Goldar moving toward him.
Rocky slammed his fist down on the communications console. "Where is he? Something's wrong!" Jason felt the cold claws of fear grip him at Rocky's words.
"Teleport him here. We'll deal with his anger when he gets here," Jason said, pacing the bridge.
"Teleporting," Kim said, pressing in the codes. For a brief minute, it seemed as if nothing was happening. Then suddenly, a blue column of light converged on the bridge. Sighs of relief were barely out, when the column faded, leaving only Billy's Morpher in it's place.
"NO!" Kim gasped, covering her trembling lips with her shaking hand. "This can't be happening. It was all just a dream. Only a dream."
Tommy looked at her, swallowing back his own fears. Before he could make a decision, he saw a column of red light disappear from the bridge. Immediately he did a head count of the Red Rangers.
Without a second thought, Tommy was at the communications console. "Rocky! What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"The right thing. We can't leave a Ranger behind, no matter what."
"It's too late, Rocky," but, before Tommy could say a word, the communication between them was broken.
"We have to do something. We only have six minutes to impact," came Tanya's uneven voice.
Tommy looked to Jason and Andros. "Teleport him back, now!"
Rocky materialized and immediately ran toward the cave. He'd responded to Tommy's call until he'd entered the cave, and the communications were cut.
"Billy! Where are you?" he called as he ran, heedlessly, down the tunnel. At the end, he skidded to a stop when he saw the yellow light of the force field ahead. Cautiously, he approached, to find his worse nightmare come true right in front of his eyes.
Rocky found himself frozen in place, just feet away from the pulsing force field, like he was being forced to watch a horrible movie. He watched as Goldar converged on a bleeding, pale, Billy. Billy's back was against the base of the beam, his cheeks red from the heat of the beam. Rocky watched as he inched his blood soaked hand up toward the explosive device, and the emergency detonation button. He tried to scream as he watched Goldar lift his blood stained sword above his head, it's blade aimed down toward Billy. But, the scream didn't come. He watched, helpless, as Billy tried to grin at the beast, while he continued to reach higher for the device.
Just as Goldar thrust his sword down, Rocky felt the familiar tingle of teleportation wrap around him. It was then, in that moment, that he found his voice, putting his hate, pain and sorrow into that one, single word, "NO!"
Billy had seen movement outside of the force field, as he backed away from Goldar. He turned his head, only slightly, so that Goldar would know that they weren't alone. He nearly choked on a sob, when he saw Rocky standing there. He wanted to scream for him to get out, but he had no breath left in him. He was slowly bleeding to death, he couldn't breath and the heat of the tractor beam was beginning to burn his skin. It was only a matter of which one would take him first. Then, in the last flashes of his dying mind, he remembered the explosive device and the emergency detonator.
He had to do it, regardless. Too many other lives were at stake. He slowly struggled to reach for the button, and when he looked up, he saw Goldar's sword descending.
As the blade pierced him through, one last time, he let a whisper pass his lips, "I'm sorry." For a long moment, his pain stiffened hand hovered, a mere fraction of an inch over the emergency button. As his body slowly sank into the deep abyss of death, his hand relaxed, falling against the button.
Goldar had only just a second to see what he had done, before a fireball of white light engulfed him, and everything around him.
No sooner had Rocky appeared on the bridge of the Mega Ship, then he sank to his knees, sobs racking his body.
As Kim moved to rush to his side, the answer to her question was quite clear as the ship began to rock violently.
"The tractor beam has been destroyed," Cassie called from her station.
"Hyper rush, now!" Andros yelled, holding onto the controls to keep from being thrown from his feet. Tommy and Jason synchronized their controls with Andros', forcing the controls forward, keeping just ahead of the fireball caused by the exploding tractor beam, as they prepared to leap into hyper rush.
It seemed like an eternity before the ship made the jump, and as the stars began to streak by, the ship leveled out, the shaking ending.
Everyone remained still and silent, dazed by what all had just happened.
Billy was gone. Lost to them forever, this time. There was no going to Aquitar to find him, no place where he was hiding from his pain and loss. He was gone. Gone.
Another sob from Rocky broke the spell they were under. Kim rushed to his side, tears staining her face. Tommy moved toward them, but was stopped by a hand on his arm. As the hand spun him around, a fist connected with his jaw, sending him stumbling back.
Catching his balance, Tommy gazed up, tasting blood on his lip.
"You son-of-a-bitch!" Adam glared at him, fists raised.
What was happening? The normally calm, shy Adam was suddenly spouting curses at him, and using violence instead of his head.
"You left him down there to die!"
"I didn't want to leave him anymore than Jason or Andros did. It was his choice, and his alone," Tommy said, defending himself.
"Then you, as leader, should have done something to bring him back aboard. But, no, you abandoned him, just like you abandoned Kat."
The last bit came as a bit of a surprise to Tommy, as well as Kat. What was Adam talking about? Abandoned, Kat?
"You know what I'm talking about. She loved you, and you threw her away like yesterday's trash. I guess you don't remember that last conversation we had when you were in LA for a race. Told me that you were no longer with Kat, then proceeded to tell me about how long you spent talking on the phone to Kim."
"I think you're missing a very big part of the picture, here. I didn't abandon Kat. She was in England, and I was on the road in the US. We mutually agreed to go our separate ways, because the distance and time between us was too hard on our relationship. We still care about each other, and Kim and I are just friends," Tommy said, wiping a trickle of blood from his lip.
Adam looked to Kat, who stood beside him; she nodded in agreement to Tommy's words. Unwilling to let go of the anger he felt, he attacked once again, this time a little less harsh than before.
"You still abandoned Billy," Adam growled, the anger nearly drained from him. Tommy stood up tall, to face Adam and his anger.
"Billy did what he had to do, to save all of us. Don't let his sacrifice mean nothing to you!"
"Stop it!" Rocky yelled. He pushed Kim away from him, getting to his feet. "Both of you, stop it, and grow up! Billy was dead before the explosion ever happened. No one could have saved him. No you, you, you, or the med-bed," Rocky said, pointing to various Rangers.
"What are you talking about? He was alive and well, when we left to bring Karone and Justin up to the ship," Andros questioned.
"But he wasn't alone," Rocky stated, new tears springing to his eyes.
"What?" TJ asked, stunned.
"There was no one there when we left. We had Justin and Karone with us..." Tommy said, trying to understand.
"I don't know about all of that, all I know is that when I got there, Goldar was standing over him with a sword. From what I could see, he'd already run Billy through with the blade once. When you teleported me back here, Goldar made one final blow. Billy was dead already." Rocky pushed past the gathered Rangers, stopping momentarily next to a console. There, sitting alone on it's top, was Billy's Morpher, a few drops of blood marring it's shinny casing.
Without knowing exactly why he did it, Rocky scooped up the Morpher, leaving the Rangers and the bridge behind him.
The group watched in silence as the doors slid shut behind Rocky.
"Goldar?" Zack whispered.
"What the hell was he doing there?" Trini questioned.
"Wasn't he with Zedd and Rita?" Aisha wondered.
"Apparently, not." Adam gazed up at Tommy, letting all of the things that had happened sink in. "Tommy, I'm really sorry." Adam offered his hand.
Tommy took the offered hand. "It's alright, man. Things are spinning out of control, and we're all in the middle of it, all standing on the edge of insanity."
Silence took over the bridge. Kim returned to her station, continuing to wipe away at the tears that refused to stop flowing. A hand gripped her shoulder, and she looked up to see Jason gazing down at her, concern in his red eyes. He'd been near tears as well, she thought to herself. He tried his best to smile, to reassure her, then he made his way back to his station.
Tommy stood beside Andros, a blank expression on his face.
How could they all go one, now?
"We have no choice." The sound of his own voice startled him as much as it did everyone else.
"Tommy?" Kat looked back at him.
"Billy didn't sacrifice himself just so that we could give up, to quit trying. Zordon's out there, and if we don't get to him soon, then everything we've done will be for nothing."
With nothing but nods for a response, Tommy, Andros and Jason
headed for the ZR-12 galaxy.