Klank was in his element as he searched the abandoned castle formerly occupied by Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd. He may have spent most of his existence acting as the major domo for King Mondo, but at heart he was an explorer. That he might find something to impress King Mondo, and thereby better his position, was of secondary concern. Or so he told himself.
Despite having left in a somewhat hurried and disorganized fashion, Rita and Zedd had pretty well stripped the place. He was about to give up in disgust, when he noticed a slight flaw in the far wall of the main room. If the lighting in the room had been different, or if he had not glanced to that area of the room at that exact moment, he most likely would have missed it. He examined the section of wall closely.
"Well, what do you know, there is a door here," he muttered to himself. "Now, to find out how to open it."
He started pressing and knocking on the door and the surrounding wall areas in the hope there was some sort of hidden switch to be found. Luck was with him, the door suddenly cracked open.
The door led to a small, perfectly square room, which appeared to have been used as a storage area. Boxes and other containers lined the side walls. Against the far wall there was a veritable mountain that appeared to be made up of body parts. Very strange body parts indeed. Arms, legs, claws, antennae, fins, and other unidentifiable items, some clothed, some not.
"Why in the world would they keep these things?" Klank wondered to himself. Still, there was the possibility of creating some sort of monster from these remainders. He looked the pile over carefully, already starting to mix and match parts in his mind. He sent a quick message to the Machine Empire Base, requesting a transport vehicle be dispatched, along with a squadron of cogs to help load it. He would take the entire mess with him. That way he could work out the details at his leisure. He then turned his attention to the other two walls.
The containers were filled with an odd mixture of machines, devices and such as he had never seen before. Klank had heard of Rita's "monster maker", Finster, and realized suddenly that this room must have been for his use. Klank set aside a few of the most intriguing items, muttering to himself as he worked.
He had worked his way down to a couple of rectangular containers that had been buried under smaller items. The containers resembled nothing so much as a couple of coffins. He opened them and fell suddenly silent and still. He did not dare breathe, couldn't think. And he certainly could not believe what he was seeing. Forgotten was the pile of monster parts. Forgotten were the other machines he had set aside. The contents of those two containers made all else pale in comparison.
He was startled out of his mental fog by the arrival of the transport and cogs.
"Get in here at once!" he demanded. He carefully replaced the tops on the two containers, and supervised their loading on the transport.
"King Mondo is going to be beside himself when he sees what I have found," he thought gleefully. "I am sure to gain permanent favor after today's work." So thinking his self-satisfied thoughts, he set out on the transport back to the Machine Empire's base.
"Kai! Kai! Kai"
"Ka-yah! Ka-yah! Ka-yah"
The Youth Center rang with the sounds of Tommy and Jason sparring. Interspersed with their cries were the sounds of their feet, and other areas of their bodies, hitting the mats.
Sitting at their usual table, Adam, Rocky, Kat, and Tanya enjoyed the show. They were all familiar with Tommy's skills, but none of them had had much opportunity to observe Jason in action. It was proving to be an eye opener.
"Man, I would hate to see them go after each other for real!" Rocky exclaimed.
"No kidding. Tommy is faster, but Jason is so strong," Adam added. "It would be too close to call."
"After watching those two I feel like I should just give up on my karate lessons, and take up something else instead. Knitting maybe." Tanya sighed.
Adam gave her an encouraging pat on the arm. "They were beginners once, you know. All you need to do is practice, concentrate, and believe, and you will be at their level. In twenty years or so." Adam grinned.
Tanya had perked up at the start of Adam's little pep talk, but when she heard that last comment she swatted him one. "Lotta help you are!" she huffed.
A general laugh went around the table at that. Jason and Tommy finished their practice and joined their friends.
"What's so funny?" Tommy asked.
"Oh, nothing. Adam is just being his usual, charming self." Tanya replied, with a mock frown for Adam's benefit.
"Hey guys, wasn't Billy supposed to meet us here?" Jason asked, looking around the crowded room.
"Yeah, but he probably got distracted in the Power Chamber, as usual" Kat commented. "We did bang up the zords pretty good yesterday."
Jason looked around again. No one seemed to be paying any attention to his actions, so he lifted his arm up close to his mouth and spoke into his communicator.
"Billy? Hey Billy, you there?" he asked softly.
"Yeah Jason, what's wrong?" came the tinny reply.
"What's wrong is you aren't here. Did you forget about meeting us here this morning?"
"Oops, I did forget, actually. I'm sorry. I got Kat's, um, car, kind of torn apart at the moment. I need to keep at it until it is fixed. Can I have a raincheck on our practice?"
"Okay. This time. Stand me up again and I won't hold anything back next time we spar."
"Ouch! I'll keep that in mind. Billy out," he signed off.
"Jase? Let's go change so we can head on out to the lake. Rocky borrowed a couple of jet skis from his cousin, so we had figured to take them up to the lake and make a day of it. You game?" Tommy asked.
"Sure. Let's go."
Jason was quiet as he and Tommy headed to the locker room for a quick shower and change. Tommy threw him a curious glance, but Jason appeared to be deep in thought. It wasn't until they were getting dressed that Jason spoke.
"How long has Billy been like this?" he asked.
Tommy was puzzled. "Like what?"
"Like keeping to himself all the time. Like rarely smiling, and when he does it doesn't reach is eyes. Like a part of him has quietly died." Jason spoke calmly, without rancor. He seemed to honestly want an answer.
Unfortunately, Tommy did not have one for him.
King Mondo was not happy. He had been resting, contemplating his next move against those pesky Power Rangers, when Klank burst into his private room.
"Your Majesty! Your Majesty!" Klank was beside himself with excitement. "Come with me at once. You must see it. Them! You must see them! You won't believe it! Hurry! It is marvelous. You have the secret weapon you have always wanted."
"Klank! You idiot! What is the meaning of this? What are you babbling about?" King Mondo's outrage went unnoticed as Klank almost literally dragged him to the throne room where the cogs were carefully setting down the mysterious containers from Zedd and Rita's castle.
Queen Machina and Prince Sprocket entered the throne room, drawn by the uproar.
"What is going on my dear?" Machina asked, snapping her fan.
Before King Mondo could reply, Klank cut in, "Just the most amazing discovery. Look at what Zedd and Rita left behind."
Without further ado, he removed the covers from the two containers.
Neither Mondo nor Machina spoke-both were busy formulating plans to best utilize this unexpected boon.
Prince Sprocket had his own idea.
"Give them to me! Please Daddy? Give them to me! I want to play with them. I can practice being mean and cruel. Please?"
King Mondo replied to his offspring in a distracted manner. "Not this time. Not these, son. Maybe something else, but not these."
King Mondo continued, still speaking as if to himself. "I had heard of these existing. I just never expected to see any. One of the few things our technology is incapable of doing. Good job, Klank!" he added.
Inside the first container was a young man, with dark brown hair, somewhat long and layered. He was dressed in a multi colored, sleeveless plaid shirt and green pants. The second container housed another young man with lighter, short brown hair, a white and blue plaid shirt over a blue tank top and light denim jeans.
Tommy and Billy. Or, rather, their clones.
It was turning out to be one of those sunny Southern California days that most people associated with that state. The six teens on the shore of the lake were taking full advantage of the beautiful day. Taking turns zipping around on the Jet Ski, swimming in the clear water, or just soaking up the sun on the beach. It was the perfect counterpoint to their hectic secret lives as Power Rangers.
One teen, however, seemed to have something more serious on his mind. Tommy was still bothered by Jason's seemingly offhand question about Billy. Tommy was ashamed to admit that he had not paid much attention to his old friend lately. With all the changes the team had undergone in the last few months he had been pretty preoccupied. And nothing about Billy's behavior had screamed out that he was having any problems. Billy had been quite "Billy-like": quiet, unassuming, always there ready to help, seeming to pull a solution to their problems out of thin air. Basically, business as usual with him. But, now that he thought about it, he did not see much of Billy outside of the Power Chamber. With Billy having graduated, he wasn't around school. And school is where they often made their plans for their free time. Did any of them think to ask if Billy would care to join them? Tommy was beginning to doubt that they did. God knows he didn't.
The more he thought about it, the worse he felt. Tommy had been so caught up in the excitement of having Jason back on the team. Did Billy feel like he was being pushed aside? Billy seemed glad to have Jason back, but it had to have hurt to not be able to assume the Gold Ranger powers. Tommy certainly had enough experience with losing his powers. He knew how awful it felt. And Billy had never complained. In fact, he never spoke of it so far as Tommy knew. Tommy thought back to when he had experienced his power losses. The other rangers had been completely there for him. Especially Kimberly. She seemed to dedicate herself to making things easier for Tommy, being sure to include him in all their activities, providing a steadfast source of comfort to him during those difficult times. (Oh, how it hurt now to remember those days, when she had been his!) For that matter, when Kim wrote him that devastating letter, who was there for him? Billy. He and Kat had arranged that ski weekend to cheer him up. It hadn't helped as much as they had hoped, but the gesture had been greatly appreciated.
"Man, if I felt any lower, I'd be underground!" Tommy sighed to himself. "How could I treat him like this? The guy does all these things for us, and we treat him like a piece of equipment-useful in its time and place, but only when you need it."
He reached a decision. He strolled on over to where Kat and Adam were sunning themselves on the shore.
"Hey guys, I need to run a quick errand. Tell the others for me, okay? I'll be back as soon as possible"
"Is everything okay Tommy?" Kat had not missed his pensive mood.
"I hope so," he replied as he prepared to teleport.
In the secret chamber that housed the Zeo Zords, a soft voice was heard drifting out from the pink zord.
"Damn, Damn, Damn!"
"Does your father know you use language like that?"
Billy cracked his head a good one when he jumped at the sound of Tommy's voice. "Double damn!" He had thought he was completely alone down there.
"Sorry about that, I didn't mean to startle you," Tommy apologized.
"It's okay. And, to answer your question, yes, my father does know I use that kind of language. Zordon doesn't." Billy grinned.
Tommy answered his grin with one of his own, but also noticed that Jason had been right. It didn't reach his eyes, which retained their solemnity.
"What brings you below ground on a day like today?"
"Actually, I was hoping to get you above ground for a change. We are all at the lake and would like to have you join us." Tommy offered.
"Inviting as that sounds, I must decline at this time. As you can see, I have Kat's zord at somewhat of a disadvantage. It would be our luck to have Mondo mount an attack with us short-handed." Billy noticed Tommy's disappointment. "However, if I can affect the necessary repairs in the next hour or so, I will be happy to join you. And thank you for the invitation in any event."
Tommy knew he wouldn't show up. He also knew he couldn't force Billy to discuss whatever was bothering him. If and when Billy was ready to talk, he would let them know. But until that time, he would effectively dodge any attempts to draw him out. Tommy had learned this the hard way over the years he had been friends with Billy. He made one last attempt.
"Can I help you? Then you might finish in time to enjoy some time with your friends. I may not have your technical knowledge, but I am good at 'grunt work'."
"Really, Tommy, it is a one-man job at this point. But thanks again."
Tommy knew he was beat, he teleported back out.
Billy looked thoughtfully at where Tommy had been. He had been quite surprised at Tommy's appearance, and offer. Unfortunately, he really did have a lot to do. He had discovered that if he stayed busy-very, very busy-the loss of his powers did not bother him so much. His natural inclination to isolate himself in times of trouble had come to the forefront. He was unaware of this tendency, as he was also unaware of the reason for it. He didn't realize that by avoiding his friends, he also avoided the necessity of discussing his feelings, facing his feelings, or acknowledging his feelings. He also did not realize he avoided coming to terms with his feelings, and the resultant healing. Avoidance was just so much easier.
* * * * * * * * * * *
At the Machine Empire Base, Mondo was deep in thought. The first rush of excitement over the discovery of the clones had faded, and more practical concerns had arisen. The first thing they had had to ascertain was that the two clones were alive. Klank had been able to determine that they were, and that he would be able to figure out how to revive them when the time came. But there was the problem of the clones' appearance. While both were close in appearance to the real ranger and his friend, there were enough subtle differences that there was no way they could replace the real ones. Something needed to be done. Suddenly, his eyes lighted up with an evil gleam.
"Klank! Klank! Where the blazes are you?"
"Right here Your Majesty! How may I serve you?"
"Do you remember when we conquered Daquarious? The strange machine they had created to combat the famine there? Maybe we could use that to 'update' our 'Tommy' and 'Billy' so they can take their places in the current Ranger team."
Klank knew of the machine Mondo referred to. The Daquarians had been in the middle of a horrible famine, their people were dying by the thousands. The scientists created a machine that could subtly alter biological entities. It could not create something from nothing, nor could it alter the basic chemical state of an item. But it could alter just about everything else. The Daquarians used it to change inedible plant life into edible. Not being that well versed in biology, Klank could not comprehend how the device worked-something to do with realigning chemical compounds. He just knew what it did. And he realized King Mondo was correct. It could be used to alter both the clones into perfect replicas of the two rangers. That would leave the problem of updating their memories. Perhaps he could find a solution to that one as well. He seemed to remember something that could do the trick........
"Aha! The Delusia Device! Your Majesty, we can also use the Delusia Device to update the clones' memories as well. If you recall, the device will add the memories without changing the basic personality of the recipient. It will be perfect! After all, the last thing we need is for our evil clones to be infused with the nauseating 'goodness' of our two subjects."
"Get to work setting everything up. We must be ready as soon as possible. All that will remain is waiting for the perfect chance to capture the Red Ranger and his brainy buddy."
Klank hurried away to do his king's bidding, chuckling as he did so. It was not a pleasant sound at all.
* * * * * * * *
Things had been peaceful in Angel Grove the last few days. Consequently, the Rangers were getting worried. The concept of the "calm before the storm" was one they were all too familiar with.
"This is nuts!" Rocky moaned. "Sometimes I think I am just going insane. I don't want Mondo to do anything, but when he doesn't it is worse, waiting for him to do what you didn't want him to do but expect him to anyway."
"Huh?" Tanya was confused by Rocky's somewhat incoherent rambling.
"I think he means sometimes nothing is worse than something" Adam clarified.
"Oh, yeah, that makes much more sense." Tanya rolled her eyes and glanced over to Kat for help.
"Don't look at me. The rule of thumb for me is that if Rocky starts making sense it's a bad sign."
"That makes sense"
Both boys groaned at that. But before they could work up a reply, Jason joined them at the table.
"You guys look kinda glum, is anything wrong?" Even though Jason was no longer the leader of the Power Rangers, indeed had not been for a long time, he couldn't seem to avoid slipping into "leader mode" now and again.
"We're not glum, we're apprehensive," Adam explained. "King Mondo never goes this long without launching an attack unless he has something big planned."
"And we can't decide if we can't wait or don't want to see it" Rocky added.
* * * * * * * * *
Tommy hurried along the path through Angel Grove Park. He was supposed to meet the gang at the Youth Center a half-hour ago. Predictably, he was running late. He was so preoccupied he almost did not notice a lone figure strolling across the park to his left. He just caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, but something about it drew his attention.
Tommy decided to try again to see if Billy was ready to talk about whatever was bothering him. If nothing else, he would invite Billy to join him with the rest of the gang for the outing they had planned.
"Hey, Billy, wait up!" Tommy called, breaking into a jog to catch up with his friend.
"Hi Tommy," Billy smiled at his friend as he approached. "You looked like you were in a hurry."
"Um, well, I was supposed to meet the guys at the Youth Center." Tommy confessed.
"And how long ago were you supposed to meet them?" Billy knew of Tommy's forgetful ways.
"Thirty minutes ago," Tommy admitted sheepishly.
"Oh, well, you are right on time then," Billy kidded.
"Oh, thanks so much. You are sooo funny," Tommy blushed a little with embarrassment.
"So what have you been up to the last few days?" Tommy asked, realizing he had not seen Billy since the day he had dropped by the Power Chamber to ask Billy to join them at the lake.
"Got all the zords fixed, rewired the teleportation console, and updated the databases in the main frame."
"Gosh, is that all? Did you wash and wax the floors too?" Tommy joked.
"That was next," Billy said dryly, "but Zordon kicked me out. Something about me needing to see birds and trees, the light of day, whatever."
"Great! Now you have no excuse for not joining us today. We are planning to hike in the mountains. Take a picnic lunch and make a day of it. You have to come along. Just what Zordon wanted, lots of 'birds and trees' up there." Tommy enthused.
"I dunno Tommy, I'm not really an 'outdoorsy' sort."
"What do you mean? You are outdoors now. The only difference is that we will be higher, there will be more trees, and spectacular scenery." Tommy pointed out.
"Look, it's not that I don't appreciate the offer," Billy started.
"What is it with you?" Tommy interrupted. "You are avoiding us like we have some disease or something. What is bothering you, man? You can tell me, I'm your friend, I want to help."
"Nothing is bothering me." Billy said.
"Bull!" was Tommy's response.
Before Billy could react to Tommy's outburst, cogs arrived.
* * * * * * * * * *
King Mondo had started to think he would never find the two humans he needed alone together when he spied them in the park. He immediately dispatched the squadron of cogs he had standing by for just this event. These cogs had been specially briefed on what to do, and exactly how to do it.
Tommy and Billy wouldn't stand a chance.
* * * * * * * * * *
The cogs appeared directly in front of the two teens. Before either boy could react the cogs grabbed them, pinning their arms at their sides, preventing Tommy from morphing or Billy from teleporting. They struggled in vain to loosen their captors' hold, kicking at the cog's legs trying to gain some sort of advantage. Then Tommy noticed something that made his blood run cold. Two of the cogs help hypodermic needles, and they were rapidly approaching. Tommy redoubled his efforts, but with no effect. He cursed angrily as he saw the cog administer the injection to Billy, and Billy's sudden collapse. Then it was his turn.
Moments later, the cogs disappeared back through the portal from whence they came, taking their two unconscious victims with them
* * * * * * * * *
"Beep-beep-beep-beep!" Jason's communicator beeped out the familiar notes, alerting the Rangers that Zordon was trying to reach them.
"Jason here Zordon, what's up?"
"Rangers, please teleport to the Power Chamber immediately."
"Tommy isn't with us Zordon, but the rest of us will be there in a minute."
The five teenagers found their favorite deserted corner of the Youth Center and teleported out.
"What's wrong Zordon?" Rocky asked as soon as they had materialized. He couldn't shake the feeling of impending doom, having discussed Mondo's unusual peacefulness just minutes before.
"We have a problem Rangers. Observe the viewing globe," Zordon intoned.
The viewing globe started to glow, a picture slowly formed at its center. The Rangers could see Tommy and Billy walking together in the park. They then saw the cogs attack, and their two friends collapse after being injected with whatever was in the syringes the cogs had brought with them. They observed the cogs escape back through the portal with their friends. Zordon remained silent while the Rangers watched.
"Where did the cogs take them? Can you locate them, Zordon?" Jason asked.
"Ay-yi-yi, Rangers! I have been trying to locate them, but it's like they vanished into thin air!" Alpha-5 was distraught.
"The cogs left behind both the communicators, and Tommy's zeonizer," Zordon added. "As you could see, the attack was well planned. This was no random event, Mondo had a specific reason for wanting Tommy and Billy. What that purpose is cannot be determined at this time."
"What can we do, Zordon? We have to get them back," Kat asked.
"The first thing to do is to locate them. Adam, perhaps you can assist Alpha with the scans. The rest of you need to be ready for whatever rescue opportunity that presents itself. In the meantime, you should resume your normal activities." Zordon knew it would be difficult for the Rangers to wait, but there was really nothing else that could be done.
"We will contact you as soon as we know anything."
* * * * * * * * * *
Mondo was happy with the first phase of his plan. The Ranger and his friend had been captured so easily! And with no damage. It could not have gone better. Now for the second phase.
"Klank, prepare the clones for the procedure. Our 'guests' will be reviving shortly, and I am anxious to see if this will work. I think I will try it on Tommy first."
Klank hustled out to do his King's bidding.
* * * * * * * * * *
Tommy awoke with a pounding headache.
"Ah, man, what happened?" He wondered.
Awareness of his surroundings came slowly. He realized he was cold, and that the surface he was laying on was clammy and hard. He saw the metal bars across one side and gray brick walls on the other three, creating a room approximately ten feet to a side. He also noticed he was not alone. The other figure was curled up a few feet away. Tommy crawled to the other's side and carefully turned his companion over.
"Billy! Billy, can you hear me? Come on man, wake up!" Tommy was worried by his friend's unresponsiveness.
Tommy checked Billy's pulse and respiration. Both seemed okay, if a bit slow. He recognized that there was little he could do except wait. Billy would either come to, or not, and there was nothing Tommy could do about it. The best thing would be for Tommy to get himself moving, and * * * * * * * *
The cogs holding Tommy followed Mondo to a little used area of the palace. There a laboratory had been set up, featuring two mysterious machines. One consisted of two clear cylinders approximately eight feet tall and with a three-foot radius. Smaller tubes and assorted wires ran between the tops of the two cylinders. The other machine resembled nothing so much as hairdryers similar to the ones found in beauty salons. Except for the fact the two "hair dryers" were also connected by tubes and wires.
Tommy did not like the looks of either machine. He was looking around desperately for a way to escape, trying to break the cogs' grips.
"Do not struggle against this, Red Ranger. If you do escape, I will have your friend killed before you reach the end of the hall." Mondo held up a small communicator. "If you wish him to live, you will do as your are told. If you do not, after your friend is killed, we will still capture you and force you to co-operate. It is your choice."
Tommy realized that he had no choice. He ceased his struggles.
"Good. Now, I need you to strip. Don't be shy, it is just these things work better when the operation is simplified as much as possible." Mondo directed.
Tommy soon found himself standing naked in one of the cylinders. He watched as the cogs led in another figure. He did not get a clear look at the other until he was in the second cylinder. It was him! Tommy recognized his clone. Oh, God, what was Mondo doing? He had no time to organize his thoughts before Klank threw the switch.
To Tommy it felt as if he were in a dry, reversed shower. Particle waves seemed to wash up his body and into the tubes that went from the top of his cylinder into the other. As he watched, the other 'Tommy' began to change appearance. His hair lengthened, the body seemed to enlarge slightly, his face to age subtly. It was a fascinating process to watch. Then it was over, and Tommy realized he was a little shaky as he was taken out of the cylinder and seated on one of the chairs.
He found himself seated across from himself. It was as if he were looking in a mirror. The clone was perfect. He had no chance to reflect on this, as Klank placed the half dome above the chair onto Tommy's head, and repeated the process for the clone. Another throw of a switch, and this time Tommy felt as if someone were rummaging through his brain. The sensation was bizarre, not particularly painful. It was also mercifully brief.
One of the cogs tossed a bundle of clothes on his lap.
"Dress yourself," he was ordered. He recognized the clothing. He had not worn this particular outfit in a long time. Tommy glanced across and felt a stab of fear. The clone was dressed in the clothes Tommy had been wearing earlier. He looked exactly like Tommy. Exactly.
Two cogs grabbed Tommy, and the group retraced their steps to the dungeon. Billy was obviously relieved to see them. The cogs tossed Tommy carelessly to the back of the cell, and grabbed Billy before he could see to his friend. He was quickly taken from the cell and out towards where Tommy had been taken just a short while before.
Tommy gathered himself and stood shakily. It had been an unsettling experience. At least he was spared the worry Billy had undergone. He knew what was being done to Billy, and knew his friend would be okay. He was actually anxious to exchange information with him. They needed to figure out what Mondo's plan was if they were to find a way to foil it.
* * * * * * * * * *
Adam was frustrated. He had been helping Alpha-5 try to scan for Tommy and Billy without any success. They had tried broad-spectrum scans, narrow beam scans, even a scan specifically for Tommy and Billy's unique biorhythms. Nothing. The Machine Empire Base was simply too well shielded.
"Ay yi yi yi yi! Nothing will get through! Zordon, I don't know what to try next." Alpha was just as frustrated as Adam, and considerably more verbal about it.
"We must keep trying Alpha. Perhaps if we try random frequency changes we will hit upon one that will get through the shielding." Zordon suggested.
"Okay, this just has to work!" Alpha moaned. Adam was in complete agreement with the little robot.
"This just has to work."
* * * * * * * * * *
Tommy had prowled around the cell he was being held in. There wasn't a lot to see. The two side walls each had a built in shelf about two feet above floor level that would do to sleep on. There was a small drainage hole by the back wall that Tommy supposed would serve as the "toilet". An old spigot sprouted from the wall above it. Tommy had tried turning it on and was rewarded with some tepid water that had a chemical smell and slightly oily feel. The view through the bars showed a corridor approximately six feet wide with a barred door at one end, and a wall at the other. There were a total of four cells, two to a side. Near as Tommy could tell, he and Billy were the only "guests" at this time.
He heard footsteps approaching. Mondo and a contingent of cogs were returning with Billy. He seemed much as Tommy had been when he was brought back from the laboratory. A little dazed and confused, but otherwise unharmed. He had also changed clothes, wearing a blue tank top under a white and blue flannel shirt. An outfit he had worn back when he was the Blue Ranger.
"What are you doing, Mondo?" Tommy demanded. "You can't keep us here long, our friends will find us."
"Ah, your faith is touching, but your friends can't find you if they aren't looking, now can they?" Mondo replied.
With that Billy was thrown into the cell with Tommy, and Mondo and his escort left. Tommy hurried to help Billy up to one of the benches.
"You okay, man?" he asked.
"I think so," came the shaky reply. "Give me a few minutes and I may know for sure."
While Billy collected himself, Tommy filled him in on their situation in the cell, and what he had observed on his trip to the lab. Billy had noticed the same things, and had figured out what the machines had done to them.
"It seemed that the first machine, the cylinders, 'copied' our physical appearance and replicated it on our clones. The second machine read our minds and presumably transferred that information to the clones." Billy explained. "The clones are now perfect physical replicas of us, with our memories up to the time of the transfer."
"If you're right, those clones will be able to take our places without raising any suspicions. I wonder if a scan would reveal them for what they are?"
"Probably, but unless the clones start acting oddly, no one will think to scan them. We can only hope they act as badly as they did the first time they were used," Billy said.
"If they have our memories, they may very well do a better job blending in this time." Tommy worried. "And between them they have access to everything."
"Yes, this is a most unfortunate situation." Billy agreed. "Hopefully, 'our' easy escape from Mondo will raise suspicions to begin with, and they will run a scan as a precaution."
Their discussion was interrupted by the arrival of King Mondo, Queen Machina, Prince Sprocket, Klank, the clones and five cogs.
"Enjoying your stay?" Machina asked.
"Immensely" Tommy replied, refusing to show any fear.
"I just wanted to introduce you to your replacements. Quite a stunning resemblance, wouldn't you say?" Mondo taunted them. "They will fit right in, and by the time they are finished with their sabotage, the Power Rangers and Zordon of Eltar will be destroyed."
"It won't happen. Zordon and the Rangers will find a way, we always do," Billy responded. "There is no way these fakes will fool our friends."
"Ah, we will do all we can to ensure they raise no suspicions." Mondo explained. "Let me demonstrate how well we have thought this out."
He nodded to the two clones who appeared to brace themselves. He then signaled the cogs. The cogs approached the clones, and started punching them about the face and body. The clones did nothing to protect themselves, accepting the beating stoically.
Tommy and Billy watched aghast. It was over quickly. The Tommy clone had a split lip, and would obviously develop a black eye, while the Billy clone had a cut above his left eye and a bloody nose. There were signs that other bruises would appear soon. In short, the two looked like they had been in a pretty serious fight.
Mondo addressed the clones. "You fought your way out of my dungeon. You were able to get to the throne room, where 'Billy' was able to activate a portal to allow you to escape back to earth. You do not know exactly why you were taken in the first place, but were lucky to escape with just minor injuries. Any questions?"
Both clones shook their heads.
"Okay, we will send you on down, you know the plan. We will be in touch." The two clones left the area, never having spoken. "Well, still think it will be so easy for your friends to spot the clones?" Mondo asked.
Neither boy responded.
"I will leave you to consider all this. Enjoy your thoughts." Mondo chuckled as he left with his wife and son.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The alarm sounded in the Power Chamber.
"Ay yi yi yi yi! Now what?" Alpha exclaimed. "We better check the viewing globe!"
Alpha and Adam activated the viewing globe, which showed a deserted area of Angel Grove Park. Suddenly, a portal appeared and two figures leapt through.
"It's Tommy and Billy! They escaped!" Adam was excited. "I'm going to teleport over to meet them, contact the others Alpha."
"Wait!" Zordon cautioned. "Approach them with care, Adam. We do not know what may have been done to them. It is not easy to escape from Mondo, it may be a trap."
"I'll be careful," Adam promised.
He teleported to the area where 'Tommy' and 'Billy' had appeared. As he approached, he noticed the cuts and bruises on his friends' faces. That decided him. He hurried up to them.
"Are you guys okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," 'Tommy' replied. "We fought our way out of Mondo's dungeon. We made our way to the throne room, where 'Billy' was able to figure out how to open a portal and get us back here. I don't know why Mondo grabbed us, but we were lucky to escape with just minor injuries."
"Let's get back to the Power Chamber and we will patch you guys up. I'm so glad you are okay. I was getting really worried. We all were." Adam said.
The three of them teleported out of the park to the Power Chamber, while up in the Machine Empire Base, Mondo laughed and laughed.
* * * * * * * * *
Jason arrived early for his practice with 'Tommy'. Since Tommy and Billy's capture, and subsequent escape, three days before, Jason had experienced a vague sort of unease. It was nothing he could define or explain. He hadn't even mentioned it to anyone else. He just knew something was "tweaking his antenna" enough to keep him in a mild state of alert. Unfortunately, this made for poor sleep patterns. To say nothing of bad dreams. He decided the only thing to do was exhaust himself so he would have no recourse except to sleep. Hence, his early arrival to supplement his workout routine in the hope of reaching a state of complete physical exhaustion.
While he worked his way through the sets of reps on the various machines, he went over the events of the last few days, especially the day of the kidnapping, for the umpteenth time. There was nothing untoward in either Tommy or Billy's behavior on that day, or since. No one else seemed to notice anything wrong. Certainly if there was something wrong in either boy's behavior the other Rangers would have noticed it. They had spent more time around the two of them in recent months than Jason had. It stood to reason they would be the first to notice something wrong with them.
"Maybe it is because I have been away for a while. Maybe the different perspective is what allows me to pick up on some subtle differences, or whatever it is that is bothering me. It may be the others are simply too close." Jason was both dismayed and relieved by this idea. Relieved because he was seriously thinking he was losing his mind. Dismayed because if he was right it could only mean Tommy and Billy were in grave danger. He honestly hoped he was losing his mind.
"I need another person's opinion. Trini and Zack are too far away, as is Aisha. That leaves Kimberly. Her last letter indicated she would be spending two weeks here in Angel Grove this month. This is going to be tricky. Tommy will not be glad to see her, and I don't know how Kim is going to react to him either. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to at least call her and discuss the problem." Jason felt better having a plan of action. He put the thoughts away as he spied 'Tommy' entering the gym for their practice. Time to go to work.
* * * * * * * * * * *
In King Mondo's dungeon, Tommy and Billy had found their days falling into a pattern. Since the two of them had different hobbies, interests, and talents, they found they could pass the time pleasantly if they exchanged their knowledge. Tommy was teaching Billy every kata he knew. He went over and over each one until Billy had it perfectly. In between the katas, Tommy continued Billy's karate lessons. Billy was already a brown belt, with this tutoring he would be able to qualify for a black belt soon after getting back home.
Billy was tutoring Tommy on the Periodic Table, as chemistry was one of Tommy's weaker subjects. He was also teaching Tommy all the various math formulae he knew. With this tutoring Tommy would have no excuse for not passing every level of math right through calculus.
That was the thought that kept them going. The thought of how good it was going to be to get home. They had come to realize that the clones must have been accepted and that they were basically on their own against Mondo. It also meant their friends were in danger. They made a conscious effort to not dwell on what may be happening with the clones. They needed to focus on the here and now. There was an extra reason for the karate lessons, it kept them in as good of physical shape as possible under the circumstances. King Mondo was not terribly concerned about human cuisine, so the food they were served was barely edible. Billy dubbed it "mystery mush", which was as good a description as any. It looked and tasted terrible, but it kept the hunger pangs at bay, and provided minimal energy. In short, it was better than nothing, just not by much.
There was no sun to rise and set, so they had no way to determine how long they had been there. They estimated three days only because they had slept three times. Billy had expressed the opinion that their body's "internal clocks" would continue to keep their own time despite the lack of visual evidence to indicate the passage of the days. Despite the bleak, barren situation they were in, the two friends fared well. They helped and encouraged each other, and on occasion the cold, dreary dungeon rang with the sound of their laughter.
* * * * * * * * * * *
King Mondo did not know whether to be satisfied or annoyed. His plan appeared to be working perfectly. The Rangers had accepted the clones. Once the clones were in place, the plan called for the gradual and systematic sabotage of the Power Chamber, zords, and, ultimately, the Rangers and Zordon themselves. To work it up to the grand climax, 'Billy' would be placing explosives around the Power Chamber, with 'Tommy' helping whenever possible. Of course, they could not just stroll around planting explosives, even Alpha would have questioned that. No, they were setting them one at a time, while doing other work that just happened to involve the various consoles. The same routine was being used to set up the destruction of the zords. All the while, both 'boys' had to maintain the façade that they were what they seemed to be-nice, normal, social teenagers. 'Tommy' in particular was spending the bulk of his time attending school and social functions with the other Rangers.
So, while the work was progressing well, Mondo was bored. He sent down the occasional monster to keep the Rangers from suspecting anything was amiss, but he knew that they were just a deception. With no hopes pinned on the monster attacks, and no scheming needed, he found himself with too much time on his hands.
That was when he remembered he had two of his hated enemies in the dungeon. At his mercy-to do with whatever he wanted to.
"Yes, Your Majesty." Klank was at his king's side in an instant.
"I want you to do some research. Look through all the reference materials we have on earth culture. I want to have some 'fun' with our prisoners-give me some ideas of what would work best. I expect to see what you have in six hours."
"Of course, Your Majesty. I will not disappoint you"
At the end of the allotted six hours, Klank presented King Mondo with the results of his research. Mondo considered the various options, then made the choice he felt would be the most painful and humiliating for the two teenagers. At least he could have some fun while he waited for his plans to reach fruition.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Kat! Hey, Kat, wait up!" Katherine Hilliard turned with a smile at the sound of the voice calling her name.
"Hello, Tommy," she said as the longhaired teen jogged up.
"Hey," he replied. His behavior seemed a little strange. After calling for her to wait, he did not seem to be in a hurry to say or do anything. He looked at his feet for a few moments, seemingly lost in thought.
"Did you need something, Tommy?" Kat asked.
"Um, well I was wondering, would you like to go out to dinner with me tomorrow night?" 'Tommy' asked in a rush.
Kat smiled. Tommy's occasional fits of shyness struck her as unbelievably touching. He was so confident in most ways.
"I'd love to," she answered, her heart soaring. She had waited a long time for a real date with Tommy.
"Great! I'll pick you up at seven. I thought we'd go to Marco's, I hear the food is excellent, and the atmosphere is comfortable."
"Wonderful. It's a date then," Kat replied.
"It's a date. I'd better get to class, Mr. Baker is a bear about students, especially me, being late." With that 'Tommy' hurried off.
Kat stared after him for a moment. For just a split second, she would have sworn she saw something dark in his eyes. But, that was ridiculous, nothing was wrong with Tommy, she was just jumping at shadows. So saying to herself, she headed off to her own class.
* * * * * * * * * * *
After school, 'Tommy' headed over to 'Billy's' lab for a quick meeting. They had found they needed to set up special times to meet, as the two of them had very different schedules.
"You alone?" 'Tommy' asked 'Billy' as soon as he entered the lab.
'Yeah, 'Dad's' still at work," was the reply.
"So, how's it going?" 'Tommy' asked, "How much longer until we are ready to rock?"
"Since I'm basically working alone, it may be a while longer," was the terse reply.
"Hey! It's not my fault you're taking the place of a boring, technological nerd with no life of his own." 'Tommy' protested. "While I have to keep up the appearance of an active social life."
"Oh, how you are suffering! My heart just breaks for you!" 'Billy' was ticked off.
"Knock it off! We are here to do a job, and you know full well what will happen if we fail. Whatever we have to do we will do. I have no desire to experience death at King Mondo's hands. So, again, what is the status?" 'Tommy' insisted.
"I have planted explosives in three of the consoles. The wiring is done for two others. I will need to wire and set the explosives in a total of nine locations in the Power Chamber to insure complete destruction. Only two of the Zords are set with explosive devices. The other three will be done as soon as possible. It would help if you guys would maybe damage them some in the next battle. I need a decent excuse to work on them. My guess is it will take another week or two to get everything done. Good enough for you?"
"The real question is if it is good enough for Mondo. I hope so for our sakes." 'Tommy' replied.
"Are you going to be around this afternoon?" 'Billy' asked.
"I'm meeting the gang to study for a chemistry test. What are you up to?"
"Guess I'll do a little work in the Power Chamber, then maybe drop by the Youth Center and visit with you guys for a while" was 'Billy's' plan.
"Good," 'Tommy' lowered this voice and leaned toward his companion, "Between you and me, I am in no hurry to get the job done. This is not a bad life at all, I could get used to this. I even made a date with Katherine for tomorrow night. Tommy has been hemming and hawing around about asking her out. What's the big deal? She's beautiful, and she wants Tommy. Maybe I can gain some special experiences before we are done here," 'Tommy' said with a leer.
"Great. I'm stuck in the damn Power Chamber communing with Zordon and that walking tin can, and you are getting cozy with the Pink Ranger. Guess I'm gonna have to get this guy a life," 'Billy' grumbled.
"Go for it!" 'Tommy' snickered as he headed out to meet the gang to study. "See ya!"
"Yeah, right, see ya."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Tommy and Billy were sparring. Though the cell was fairly small, they could still get in a pretty good workout if they were creative. The dungeon rang with their cries of "Kai" and Tommy's comments on Billy's skills.
"Good job buddy! You've almost got that move down pat." Tommy said encouragingly.
Before he could say anything else, there was the sound of the door at the end of the corridor opening. Both boys glanced out, expecting it to be the delivery of their meal. It was King Mondo, Klank, and a contingent of cogs.
"Ah! I see you both are feeling quite well. I hope you have appreciated this time I have allowed you to be unmolested in this safe cellblock. But, as you humans like to say, all good things must come to an end. I have always wanted to see just how much you frail humans can endure. Looks like this would be a good time to find out." Mondo relished the uneasy looks the two young men gave him.
While Mondo had been talking, Klank and some of the cogs had been working in the corridor. They had affixed a couple of manacles to the back wall, and a couple more to the bars of the cell across the way from the cell Tommy and Billy occupied. These additions to the décor heightened the teenagers' apprehension.
Mondo had kept one hand partially behind him while he addressed his prisoners. He now brought the hand out and displayed what he was holding. It was a short whip of braided rawhide. Less unwieldy than a traditional bullwhip, but it looked like it would do as much damage, if not more.
"Klank did some research. Seems you humans do not respond well be being whipped. I like to do my own experiments in order to verify the information we receive from the various planets we conquer. Bring them both out!" Mondo suddenly ordered the cogs.
Both Tommy and Billy resisted the cogs, but it was futile. Billy was bound to the bars of the cell, while Tommy was stripped of his shirt and manacled to the back wall, face to the wall.
"Damn it! No! Let him go!" Billy strained against the restraints.
Mondo ignored him and unfurled the whip. The sound of the blow was loud in the enclosed area. Tommy drew in a sharp breath, but didn't cry out. The lash had drawn blood.
"Hmm. Must be a cumulative effect," Mondo mused as he lashed Tommy again.
He delivered five blows to Tommy's back as Billy watched in horror. The last blow drew a cry from Tommy. His body was visibly tensed, a sheen of sweat covering his torso despite the chill. Mondo found his reaction interesting.
"I think that is enough for the first time. Switch them!" he ordered.
The cogs quickly reversed the two prisoner's positions. Tommy went wild realizing they were going to do to Billy what they had done to him.
"Mondo! You have had your fun! You touch him and I'll see you are destroyed if it is the last thing I ever do!" Tommy had never felt such helplessness and rage.
Tommy's threats were ignored as Mondo plied the whip again. The five blows drew blood, and Billy's suppressed cries seemed to ring in Tommy's ears louder than a scream would have.
Mondo appeared to have enjoyed himself. "Most interesting reactions. I must consider what I have observed today. Klank informed me that you would be in danger of an infection if your open wounds were not cleaned. I am providing you with the medicine you need to prevent that. A small gift as it were. After all, I don't want you dying prematurely."
With that, both boys were released back into their cell to deal with their injuries as best they could.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"May I speak to Kimberly Hart please?" Jason asked the operator at Schmidt's Gym in Florida. "This is her friend Jason Scott of Angel Grove, California."
"One moment please while I locate Miss Hart."
Jason waited impatiently, hearing the white noise of the miles between California and Florida through the phone's speaker.
"Jason?!? Jason, is that you?" Kimberly's voice clearly communicated her joy at hearing from a friend.
"Yep. How you doing girl?" Jason was just as glad to talk to an old friend.
"It's going good. But I will be glad for the break. I'm heading home next week. Will you still be there?" Kim asked.
"Yeah, I think I'm back for good now," He replied.
"Jason, is something wrong?" Kimberly had picked up on something in his voice.
"I don't know," he replied. "I think there may be something wrong with Tommy and Billy, but I can't be sure. I don't want to ask anyone on the team since they all seem to think everything is okay. I haven't even asked Zordon since it is such a vague feeling. But I can't get it out of my mind. I was hoping maybe you could ease my mind about it." He admitted, feeling guilty for asking this of her, since she probably had her own problems.
"Did something happen that makes you suspect this?" Kimberly asked.
"They were captured by Mondo a few days ago. They escaped after a couple of hours, and were pretty banged up when they showed up. But since then I just get these 'weird vibes' as Zack would say," Jason explained.
"Look, I'll be there Tuesday, and I'll make it a point to visit Billy to see if his behavior seems odd. Well, actually, I want to visit Billy anyway, but I will check him out too. Um, that sounded bad. You know what I mean," if a blush could be heard, Jason heard one in Kimberly's voice.
He chuckled. "I know what you meant. I'll see you Tuesday. Thanks."
He felt a little better after that, but he was still anxious for Kimberly's opinion. Tuesday couldn't come soon enough.
Tommy sucked in his breath with a hiss and clenched his jaw to keep from crying out. Mondo's idea of medicine was rubbing alcohol to clean their wounds. Billy was being as gentle and careful as possible, but it was agony. It didn't help to know he would be doing the same to Billy in a little while.
Tommy's soul was in torment. It had been bad being beaten that way, but seeing Billy beaten had been far worse. As the leader of the Power Rangers, he expected to be able to protect his teammates. To stand by helplessly was a torture he couldn't bear. He would have to find a way to keep Mondo from harming Billy.
"There, it's the best I can do." Billy commented as he capped the bottle of alcohol. "You can get your revenge now," he added with a wry grin, handing the bottle to Tommy.
"Don't joke about it!" Tommy snapped, "I would rather Mondo had beaten me senseless than to see you whipped!"
Billy was taken aback by Tommy's vehemence. "Easy, Tommy. None of this is your fault. You could not have done anything to change what happened."
"I'm the so called leader! I'm not supposed to sit by and watch a teammate be beaten," Tommy spat out, frustration making him sound harsher than he had intended.
"Tommy, do you really expect you can protect us from everything? Come on, man. That is unrealistic. You are a great leader, but, as the saying goes, shit happens. You cannot hold yourself responsible for the entire team, all the time." Billy tried to soothe Tommy.
"You don't know how I felt, seeing you beaten that way," Tommy explained.
"You think I enjoyed seeing you beaten?" Billy was losing his patience. "You think it didn't about drive me mad seeing them hurt you? But, I recognize there was nothing I could do. All I can do is try to put it behind me and go on. That is what you have to do also. Remember what you drilled into me during my karate lessons? 'Let go of the anger, it will hurt more than help you'. The same applies here. Forgive yourself for not being omnipotent, and forget it." Tommy found some solace in his friend's words.
Tommy had finished cleaning Billy's wounds. He wondered if he looked as pale and drawn as Billy did. Both boys carefully pulled on their shirts. (Billy had donated his tank top for first aid purposes, so he had only the flannel shirt.) They both lay down on their "bunks" and tried to relax. It wasn't easy, wondering as they were what Mondo had planned next.
Kat had been ready for her date with Tommy for almost forty-five minutes. She realized she was being ridiculous, but she was unable to help herself. She had dreamed of this night since she had first met him. Going out with Tommy on a real date. Not just hanging out, but an honest to goodness, real, live, date. She tried to calm herself, knowing that if she were too keyed up she would ruin the evening.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the buzz of the doorbell.
"I've got it!" she called to her parents, hurrying to answer the door.
"Kat, you look terrific," 'Tommy' greeted her. She was wearing her favorite black cashmere sweater with pink trim, and a simple black skirt. The dark colors set off her fair beauty to perfection.
"You look pretty good yourself," she demurred. He was wearing a black tailored shirt with red piping and black pants.
"Well, at least we don't clash. But with both of us wearing black, we might not want to loiter in front of a bank tonight." He quipped.
She smiled in reply as her parents walked into the room.
"Mum, Dad, you remember Tommy," she said.
"Of course, how are you son?" greeted her father offering his hand in greeting.
"Fine, sir," 'Tommy' replied, shaking the proffered hand.
"Where are you kids going?" Kat's mother asked with a smile.
"Marco's for dinner, maybe a late show at the triplex if they are playing anything good," 'Tommy' replied easily.
"Well, have the princess home by midnight please," Mr. Hilliard requested.
"No problem, sir," 'Tommy' assured him as Kat blushed. "Ready?" he asked her.
"Absolutely, lets go," she replied.
The two of them made their escape to 'Tommy's' waiting car, laughing as they held hands.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Rocky, Adam, and Tanya were hanging out at the Youth Center. Supposedly, they were studying for an upcoming math test. In reality, they were gossiping. Though, of course, only Tanya would have called it that. The guys would have called it something more macho, "shooting the bull" perhaps, but the bottom line was, they were gossiping.
"I think Kim made a better match for Tommy," Rocky declared. "Kat is too serene for him."
"Serene? Where the heck did that come from? Too serene?" Tanya teased.
"Well, she is serene, isn't she?" he shot back.
"Yeah, I suppose she is, but what of it? Tommy could probably use some serenity in his life," Tanya said.
"Sure maybe for a while, but long term? Nah, he needs excitement, fire, someone who ignites him. That was Kim." Rocky insisted.
"Actually, I think you got it backwards. He needs the 'ignition' short term, and 'serenity' long term," Tanya replied.
"Nope, Tommy is an 'ignition' sort of guy," Rocky sounded very sure of himself.
"I think Kim would be a great match with Billy," Adam interjected before Tanya could reply to Rocky.
"Billy!?!?" both Rocky and Tanya were surprised at Adam's suggestion.
"Sure. The same way I think Tommy and Kat are a good match. They create a balance with each other. One fiery, one more placid. Balanced, ying and yang, whatever you want to call it," Adam explained.
The other two considered his suggestion.
"I guess that makes sense," Rocky thought out loud. "I just always thought Kim and Tommy made a great couple."
"I'm sure they did, it just ended up being short-term," Tanya added. She liked Adam's logic. "It would be interesting to see Billy and Kim as a couple. I can't quite picture it. Of course, it might help if I knew Kim personally, not just by reputation."
"She's going to be in town next week, you will have to meet her. I think you two will like each other," Adam remarked.
"I'm sure they will." All three jumped at the voice behind them, and turned guiltily to see 'Billy' standing there.
"How long have you been standing there?" Rocky croaked.
"Long enough to know who you guys think I should be dating." 'Billy' replied.
"Oops, sorry, we meant no offense," Tanya stammered. 'Billy' made her a bit nervous sometimes.
"None taken. I'm actually flattered you think I could date someone like Kimberly," he smiled.
"You should ask her out next week when she's in town," Rocky proposed.
"Maybe I will," 'Billy' replied with a grin.
Something about that grin bothered Adam, though he couldn't say why.
Dinner at Marco's turned out to be as good as it was reputed to be. Kat was having the best date of her life. 'Tommy' proved to be a charming dinner companion, keeping up a light, entertaining conversation. He even danced with her to the soft music provided by a four-piece band. The entire evening felt dusted with enchantment.
After dinner, they strolled hand in hand down the main street, window-shopping, something Kat had not done since her youth in Australia. Eventually, they made their way to Angel Grove Park, to the path along the pond. 'Tommy' paused and looked out over the pond, seemingly deep in thought. Kat was silent, not wanting to break the mood. 'Tommy' finally turned to her and gently took her into his arms. The kiss was gentle and passionate at the same time. When at last they parted, Kat was left weak-kneed. Her eyes met his, and she felt herself lost in the depth of his gaze. Again their lips met, this time his kiss was deeper, more insistent. Kat was shaken by its intensity.
"Mmmm! Tommy, please!" Kat pleaded, pulling away from 'Tommy'.
"What? You don't like this?" 'Tommy' asked incredulously.
"I..I..It's going a little too fast," she stammered. "I like it, but, it's too, um, intense, I guess."
"Intense can be good. Just go with it, try, please," 'Tommy' pleaded, using his considerable charm.
Before Kat could answer, 'Tommy' kissed her again. Kat tried not to pull back, not wanting to disappoint him. Then she realized where his hands were. She tried to back away from him, but he just pulled her tighter against him, his hands roaming freely over her chest and up her skirt. She struggled more desperately, finally managing to drive her knee into his groin. That worked.
"Damn! Why did you do that?" 'Tommy' groaned.
Kat was in tears, "I...I..You...You...didn't....stop..." she was unable to complete the sentence.
'Tommy' realized he had gone too far. He hadn't wanted to hurt Kat, he was appalled at what he had almost done.
"Please, Kat, I'm sorry. God, you must hate me. I didn't mean to do that, I just got carried away, please, forgive me, I didn't mean to hurt you.." 'Tommy' pleaded with Kat, who continued to cry and back away from him.
"Let's just sit here at this table and collect ourselves, okay?" he proposed, seeing Kat couldn't even reply to him at this time.
She sat down on the edge of the bench, 'Tommy' sat the other end, waiting for her to regain her composure. Eventually, she was able to speak calmly.
"Tommy, I asked you to stop and you didn't. How could you treat me, treat anyone, that way? I never would have expected it of you."
"I don't know what to say Kat. I got carried away, I truly meant you no harm. I apologize for what I did, and I promise, I will never try to do something like that again," he replied.
Kat eyed him warily. "Please take me home now," was all she'd say.
They drove back to Kat's house in silence.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Tommy and Billy were carefully working out in their cell. Their lash marks had scabbed over, but they still had to be careful not to twist or stretch too far. The wounds had a tendency to reopen, an experience they found to be quite unpleasant. The two friends were trying to put the beatings behind them. They were making a conscious effort to regain some optimism. It was hard going, though. Both jumped at the sound of someone entering the cellblock. They started having bad dreams, their sleep was interrupted, and their tempers grew shorter.
"Damn it, Billy, be careful!" Tommy snapped as Billy accidentally hit him in the ribs.
"Sorry, I forgot how close you were, you could try keeping your distance consistent," Billy responded.
"Oh, of course, it's my fault. So sorry!" Tommy shot back.
"Don't be such a jackass!" Billy was getting madder by the moment.
"Look who's talking, jerk!" Tommy found himself face to face with Billy.
The moment spun out.
"Geez, I'm sorry Tom." Billy apologized. "I don't know what got into me."
"Hey, I'm sorry, too. We are just on edge these days. It's not like you hurt me, I just lost control there." Tommy felt as bad as Billy did.
Billy sunk down on the bench. "We're the original fun couple, aren't we?" he sighed.
"Maybe we're not fun, but we sure are cute!" Tommy quipped.
That got them both giggling. It wasn't that funny, it was just how they seemed to react these days. Between lack of sleep and the constant stress they were having mood swings that put any menopausal woman to shame. And both were sick of it.
Kat stared out her bedroom window. Since her date with 'Tommy' two days before, she had rarely left her home. She knew her parents were worried, but she felt she couldn't face anyone. She just knew they would take one look at her and know what had happened. That was a shame she couldn't face.
"Kat, telephone!" her mother called up to her.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"Tommy, again," came the reply.
"Please tell him I'm busy," of all the people she couldn't face, he topped the list.
She heard her mother's muffled response to 'Tommy' and the sound of the phone being hung up. She heard her mother's tread up the stairs and down the hall to her door. Kat sighed, knowing what was to come.
"Kat, please, what is wrong? Did he hurt you somehow?" Kat's mother was more than a little worried. It was not like Kat to hide.
"No, Mum, we just had a disagreement. I need some time to get over my disappointment. I thought I could have a good relationship with Tommy, but it didn't work out." Kat tried to keep her voice steady.
Her mother heard the waiver in Kat's voice, and it broke her heart. However, she remembered the mercurial relationships teenagers were apt to develop. She had had her fair share of heartbreaks in her youth.
"I'll leave you alone then, if that is what you want. But, please remember, whenever you want to talk, whatever you want to talk about, I will be here for you." Kat felt tears come to her eyes at her mother's words.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Rocky and Adam were at the Youth Center sparring when their communicators emitted the familiar beeping tune. They hurried to a deserted corner of the building and contacted the Power Chamber.
"This is Rocky, what's up guys?"
"Rocky, you and Adam must join the other Rangers in Angel Grove Park. Mondo has sent down the dangerous Machete Monster, who is decimating the foliage in the park." Zordon replied.
"On our way, Zordon!"
"It's morphin' time!"
"Zeo Ranger three - blue!"
Zeo Ranger four - green!"
In a flash of green and blue the two teleported out to join the other Rangers in Angel Grove Park.
The Machete Monster turned out to be like the other monsters Mondo had sent down recently, reasonably easy to destroy. They did not even need the Gold Ranger's assistance, though Jason was standing by in the Power Chamber. As soon as the Machete Monster was destroyed the five Power Rangers teleported back to the Power Chamber.
"That was quick," 'Tommy' commented. "Is it just me, or are we kicking butt big time recently?"
"It has gone quite easily," Adam concurred.
"If that is all, I am going to go on home," Katherine said softly.
"Are you okay? I haven't seen much of you the past few days," Tanya asked.
"I'm fine," was the soft reply. "I've just been busy."
Something in her tone told Tanya she was anything but "fine", but this would not be the time or place to pursue it. 'Tommy' barely glanced at Kat, he was going over something with 'Billy' regarding the just completed battle. The coolness and distance between 'Tommy' and Kat worried Tanya. She made a mental note to contact Kat privately as soon as possible.
"Yes, Katherine, nothing more needs to be done at this time. You are all free to go about your lives again," Zordon announced.
Without another word, Kat teleported out.
"I guess we can get back to our practice," Adam suggested.
At Rocky's nod, they also departed.
Jason walked up to Tanya. "Is something bothering you?" he asked quietly.
"Kat is bothering me. I think something is wrong between her and Tommy. Could be they had an argument. It might be a good idea if I drop on by her house for a visit." With that, Tanya teleported.
Jason glanced over to where 'Tommy' and 'Billy' were still discussing the battle.
"I think it would be a good idea to check over the Blue Zeo Zord. Rocky's reaction time seemed a little slow, and I don't think it was due to Rocky." 'Tommy' was saying.
"Will do," was 'Billy's' reply.
"I was going to head on over to the Youth Center for a workout. Either of you guys want to come alone?" Jason offered.
"I'm game," 'Tommy' replied.
"I think I'll finish up around here," 'Billy' responded. "Thanks for the offer. You guys enjoy yourselves."
Jason and 'Tommy' teleported out, leaving 'Billy' to continue his work in the Power Chamber.
Tommy and Billy were resting in their cell. They had just finished an intense workout that had left them sweaty and exhausted. The quiet was broken by the sound of the door at the end of the corridor opening. Both teenagers looked up apprehensively. It was Mondo, Klank, and a half dozen cogs.
"Playtime!" Mondo announced with demonic glee. "Get them ready," he ordered the cogs.
Billy was stripped of his shirt and bound to the end wall. Tommy found himself bound to the bars of the cell, where he would have an unrestricted view of whatever happened to Billy.
The boys had discussed what they could do when Mondo came for them again. Both had agreed to suppress their anger and fear, or at least their expressions of the emotions, as much as possible. So while Tommy experienced a fear and anger more intense than he could ever recall, he remained silent.
Mondo looked at Tommy curiously. Though the young man was silent, Mondo looked into his eyes and saw the truth. Klank was right. The Red Ranger would suffer more seeing his companion hurt, than if he himself were hurt. Interesting.
Mondo unfurled the whip. He glanced again at Tommy, then let loose with his first strike. Billy's gasp of pain was clearly audible. Mondo checked Tommy's reaction. The pain and fear in Tommy's eyes were a joy to behold.
"How does it feel, Red Ranger, to see a friend beaten in your place? Yes, this for your benefit." Mondo taunted the teen.
He continued the beating. By the sixth stroke, Billy was crying out loudly in pain. By the eleventh he was frantically screaming and struggling against his bonds. By the fifteenth he was unconscious.
Mondo had continued to observe Tommy's reactions during his friend's beating. Even as inexperienced as Mondo was in reading human emotions, he knew what he saw in the teenager's eyes. Pain, hatred, guilt and despair. Some things were universal after all. Looked like the torture of the Red Ranger was going well.
Mondo had to cogs released Tommy first. "Release your companion from his bonds, and take him with you back into your cell," he ordered Tommy.
Tommy carefully released Billy from the manacles. He lifted his unconscious friend gently in his arms and carried him back into the cell. He was shaking with emotion as Klank locked the cell door.
"I WILL get you for this, some day, some time," he promised Mondo.
"Some day you might," Mondo agreed. "That is, if you survive your time here. You must realize by now that your so-called friends have accepted the clones in your places. They haven't even noticed a difference. Seems the two of you are quite replaceable."
King Mondo chuckled as he and the others departed the cellblock.
Tommy looked down at Billy, tears in his eyes.
"Oh, God, I can't believe what he has done to you. Please, hang in there, we can't give up," he pleaded softly, as he reached for the alcohol. It would be best to clean the wounds before Billy regained consciousness. Tommy set about his painful task.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tanya found herself outside Katherine's home. She steeled herself and walked up to the front door. Kat's mom answered her knock.
"Hello, Tanya, here to see Katherine?" Mrs. Hilliard asked.
"If she's here," Tanya replied.
"She is in her room. Go on up. I have had the feeling she needs to talk to someone since her date with Tommy. Did anything happen? She says not, but she has been so depressed it upsets me. Maybe she'll talk to you," Mrs. Hilliard paused, "I guess I'm babbling," she said sheepishly, "Sorry, I'm more worried about Katherine than I like to admit."
"I understand, Mrs. Hilliard, I'm concerned too. But she hasn't said anything to me about it. I'll see what I can do about that," Tanya promised.
Mrs. Hilliard offered her a thankful smile, as Tanya headed up to Kat's room.
Kat answered the knock on her door with a disinterested "come in." She had expected her mother, so she was surprised to see Tanya standing there.
"Tanya, I wasn't expecting to see you!" Katherine sat up and hurriedly tried to pull herself together. She felt definitely "rumpled" and didn't want her friend to see her this way. It might lead to too many questions.
"I know you weren't, but we need to talk," Tanya said in her direct manner. "What happened between you and Tommy?"
"I don't know what you are talking about, Tommy and I are fine. Nothing important happened," Kat hedged.
"Don't give me that line. I know better. I saw how you two reacted to each other in the Power Chamber. I felt the chill. Heck, I can see it now in your eyes. Something happened, and I want to know what it is. If you won't tell me for your own sake, then tell me for the team's sake. Having two members at odds with each other could lead to very big problems. Come on, Kat, spill it," Tanya ordered.
Kat paled, and tears came to her eyes. But still she didn't speak.
Tanya sat down beside her and put her arms around her friend.
"I won't tell anyone, unless it is a clear threat to the team. But seeing your reaction tells me that you need to get it off your chest. Please. If you won't tell me what happened, tell me who you would be able to speak to about it, and I will go with you to them. Kat, you need to talk about this," Tanya pleaded.
Kat started to cry. "It was Tommy. He....he kissed me. God, that sounds stupid. I mean he kissed me so...so.... intensely. I asked him to stop, he wouldn't. I got upset, I don't know, the kiss was just too much, too fast, I was feeling things, I wanted more, I wanted him to stop, I just...just...just..." Kat's voice devolved into sobs.
Tanya was beginning to understand what had happened. It was not as bad as she had feared, but it was not good. Tanya had sometimes heard older boys in her former village talk about how hard it was to stop when they got "excited". (Of course, the boys had no idea she was listening, that had been the point. Often, at the time, she had not even understood what they were talking about. Time had brought understanding.) Tommy had always struck her as having more control than that, but maybe that was a false impression.
She continued to hold Kat, soothing her with comforting words. Finally Katherine was able to speak.
"I'm sorry I lost it like that. You see, Tommy did not really do anything bad, I am just overreacting," Katherine started.
"Stop right there! He DID do something bad. He didn't stop when you asked him to. He overstepped the boundary you set up, and he betrayed your trust. Yeah, he did something bad." Tanya was adamant.
"Okay, it was bad, but it could have been worse. He did stop, eventually." Kat explained.
"How did you get him to listen to you?" Tanya asked.
"I, uh, kneed him where it counts." Kat was blushing furiously.
Tanya giggled. "I wish I could have seen that! Good job!"
"It did work remarkably well," Kat started to giggle too.
"Kat, you need to decide what you want to do about this situation. You can't ignore it, you need to resolve your feelings about Tommy." Tanya advised once they had stopped giggling.
"Tanya, I just don't know what to do at this time. I'm so confused. See, I wanted him to stop, but part of me didn't want him to. I am mad at him, and I still like him very much. Part of me never wants to see him again, and another part is ready to go out in search of him. God, and I thought PMS made me nuts!" Kat explained.
"You need to see him. Talk to him and get his reactions to what happened. If you are still confused at all, ask him to give you time to sort things out. He owes you at least that much. Do you think this would allow you to at least work with Tommy on the team, and maybe leave your room now and again?" Tanya asked gently.
Kat thought it over. "It's a plan. I'll call Tommy and set up a meeting so I can talk to him." She looked at Tanya almost shyly. "Thank you so much. I already feel a thousand times better."
"You're welcome. You know, you can always come to me if you need something. That's what friends do, isn't it?" Tanya asked.
"Yes it is, and I'll be here for you too, should you need me," Kat said sincerely.
"Tell you what I need. Ice cream! Let's say we get out of here and get some ice cream down at Ye Olde Ice Cream Parlor. Sound good?" Tanya was ready for action.
"My treat, let's go!" was Kat's response.
Mrs. Hilliard heard Kat's quick shout that they were going out for a treat, and the girls' giggles. The sound of that lifted her heart. It sounded like Kat was okay.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Tommy replaced the cap on the bottle of alcohol. He had done the best he could cleaning the mess that was Billy's back. Since Billy was still unconscious, he took the chance to clean some of the deeper cuts quite thoroughly. Most of them had stopped bleeding and were already scabbing over. Billy had once commented that the Power Rangers seemed to heal more quickly than normal. He speculated that it had to do with their connection to the powers. Tommy thought they must still have that ability, as he and Billy had both recovered from the first beating fairly quickly. However, looking at Billy's condition after this last beating, it was going to take a lot longer this time. If it were available, he could really use some time on the "table" as the Rangers referred to it. The "table" was a device Zordon had that could be used to accelerate the healing of soft tissue injuries. They only used it for severe injuries, and it was not useful for broken bones, but in a case like this it would be perfect. It would even keep it from scarring.
Tommy sighed and reached out to gently brush back the hair from Billy's face. He thought about how long he had known Billy, the things they had done together. There was a time in Tommy's life when, if he had been told one of his closest friends would be a quiet genius, Tommy would have laughed out loud. The thought that he would be a part of a team of young people dedicated to saving the world would have resulted in more derisive laughter. Odd how life worked out. Tommy didn't like to think where he would have ended up without the Power Rangers and the friends he made there.
Of the friends he made on the Power Rangers, Billy was the least likely. Tommy was far from stupid, but intellectual pursuits were not his thing. He was more a man of action, possessed of a natural athletic ability that allowed him to master any sport he attempted. Billy was his opposite. He could spend hours sitting in one place researching or studying an idea. Though Billy was certainly physically capable of athletic pursuits, it was not where his true interest was. He pursued karate for the ability it gave him to fight the minions of Rita, Zedd, or Mondo, and for the meditative aspects of the sport.
Thinking of Billy's pursuit of karate brought a ghost of a smile to Tommy's face. Billy had been so bad at karate at first. Tommy had heard of the awkward teen years, but he had never met an embodiment of them until he met Billy. He had been so clumsy. It took him at least twice as long as anyone else to learn the basic moves. But, Tommy had quickly come to respect Billy's determination. He never gave up. It had paid off, when finally Billy's body got in harmony with his mind, and overnight it seemed Billy could fight effectively. Tommy had a strange sort of satisfaction seeing how well Billy did in hand to hand combat now. He was proud of his friend.
When Jason came back, he commented to Tommy on how improved Billy was. Jason had been Billy's first karate teacher, but had had to leave before Billy had gotten very far. Tommy thought back to those early days, and one conversation in particular.
They had been working out at the Youth Center. Tommy was still the Green Ranger, Jason the team leader, and Billy a beginning karate student. Billy had finished his lesson and headed home to do some research. Tommy and Jason had been alone at their usual table talking.
"Do you think Billy is ever going to get it?" Tommy asked.
"Oh, yeah, he'll get it," Jason assured him. "I've known Billy a long time, if he sets his mind to learning something, he will learn it."
"If you say so. It is just that he really isn't very good," Tommy replied. "You have a lot a patience with him."
"He's my friend," Jason stated simply. "In some ways I think of him as a younger brother. Which is kind of silly since he is actually a couple of months older that I am." He laughed.
"Really? I thought he was at least a year or so younger," Tommy was surprised.
"Nope. But I understand your confusion. There is just something about Billy that makes him seem like the quintessential younger brother. If you look at him, he is almost exactly the same size as Zack. Maybe even slightly taller. But in my mind Billy is much smaller. I don't know why, but that is how he appears in my mind. Maybe it has to do with the fact I know Billy has had a hard time in life. He has always been a misfit, his mom died a few years ago, bullies like Bulk and Skull are forever targeting him. Whatever, but he gives the illusion of needing protection. Boy, would he be pissed if he heard me say that!" Jason said.
Tommy thought about what Jason had said. He had articulated what Tommy had been unable to regarding their quiet friend and he had never forgotten that conversation. Billy did still sometimes seem smaller and more vulnerable than the other Rangers did. Even though it was an illusion, it still brought out the protective tendencies in Tommy. Which made this situation even more hellish.
In the Zeo Zords secret hideaway, 'Billy' had managed to successfully wire an explosive device in the blue zeo zord. That meant he now had three of the zords set, as well as four locations in the Power Chamber. Things were progressing nicely. He decided he had done enough for one day, time to get out and see the real world for a while. He had been careful to try to keep up the schedule his memories indicated were normal for Billy. But it was hard to labor all day in the Power Chamber while there were so many other things he could be doing.
He headed to the Youth Center intent on getting in a workout. He knew Billy did that occasionally, and it was one activity the clone actually enjoyed. Maybe he could hook up with a date for the evening.
He spotted Rocky and Adam upon entering. He waved to them before stopping by the counter to get a smoothie. Both boys smiled at 'Billy' when he joined them at the table.
"Escaped from your cage, did you?" Rocky asked with a smile.
"Yep. Alpha turned his back, and I got away. They got to learn to be more careful," was 'Billy's' cheerful reply.
Adam grinned at him. "Getting out is pretty easy. Getting in, now that can be the problem. Just ask Mondo."
"Tell you what, you ask Mondo. I'd just as soon avoid the place. I came close enough on the trip back from Aquitar."
Though they all chuckled at that, Adam's heart wasn't in it. They had come much too close to losing Billy that time. He still felt a chill when he remembered how close it really had been. He decided a change of subject was in order.
"Kim is going to be in town for a couple of weeks, she arrives Tuesday. It'll be great to see her again. Though I feel a little guilty after the way she dumped Tommy."
"Yeah, it does make it a bit awkward. But, Kim is still our friend, I plan on seeing her, I just won't tell Tommy about it," 'Billy' said.
"It's been long enough, maybe Tommy can handle seeing her," Rocky suggested.
"That would be nice. It would also make things easier for all of us. Guess we'll just have to wait and see," Adam replied.
Tommy sat on his "bunk" staring morosely at the floor of the cell. He was deeply worried about Billy, who was still unconscious. He had no idea if this was normal or not. He sighed and looked over at his friend. He was startled to see weary blue eyes looking back at him.
"Billy, welcome back," Tommy greeted him quietly.
"If you ask how I feel, I will kick your butt," Billy replied gamely. "Provided, of course, I ever get to the point where I can stand up."
"I guess I'd better not ask, then," Tommy smiled slightly, more heartened by Billy's attempt at humor than he would have believed. It told him his companion was still fighting. "Probably wouldn't like the answer anyway."
"Probably not. How bad is it? It doesn't actually feel that bad right now, but I haven't tried to move yet."
"Bad. You've been out two or three hours. I didn't count, but I think he got you fifteen times or so. Some are very deep, but the bleeding stopped pretty quick," Tommy looked away. "I'm so sorry. This is my fault." Tommy's voice was nearly inaudible.
"How do you figure this is your fault?" Billy was frankly amazed at Tommy's attitude.
"Mondo said your beating was for my benefit."
"That doesn't make it your fault. Mondo is the one who is at fault for everything we are going through. Tommy, you can't blame yourself for the evil actions of a psychotic pile of scrap like Mondo," Billy said with quiet emphasis.
Tommy looked over at him with haunted eyes. He wanted desperately to be able to believe what Billy was saying, but his heart just didn't buy it. But, he realized he shouldn't burden Billy with his guilt. God knew Billy had enough problems of his own to deal with right now.
"Dinner came when you were out of it. Think you could eat anything?" he asked.
"I suppose I should at least try. And to do that, I'll have to try to sit up," Billy replied. He very slowly started to shift around so he could sit up. Tommy hurried to his side to help. Despite their care, it was extremely painful. Tommy was appalled at how pale Billy turned.
"Maybe we shouldn't have done that," he worriedly said.
"Had to be done some time," Billy gasped. "I can't spend the rest of my life lying on this bunk afraid to move. Since I'm up, I might as well try to eat."
"Oh, yeah, that will make you feel MUCH better," Tommy noted, making a face of disgust. Both boys smiled wearily and settled down to eat.
In the silence, they both were wondering how much longer before the Rangers discovered the clones, and how much more they could take.
Katherine met Tommy in a quiet corner of the Youth Center. She was nervous, but determined to come to some sort of decision, even if it was only to request more time to think about things. Talking with Tanya had made her realize that she was allowing what had happened with Tommy to rule her life. That had to change.
"Kat! It's good to see you," 'Tommy' greeted her, looking up with a bright smile and hopeful eyes.
This was not going to be easy.
"Tommy, hi. Thank you for meeting me here," Kat replied.
"Hey, no problem, I've been wanting to talk to you," 'Tommy' said. "I really wanted to apologize again. I feel terrible about what happened. There is no excuse for my behavior, so I can't even try to offer one. All I can say is, from the bottom of my heart, I am sorry." 'Tommy' directed his gaze downward, almost as if expecting a blow, either verbal or physical.
Kat sighed. "I know you are sorry Tommy. And I accept your apology." At this 'Tommy' looked up hopefully. "But I don't know if I want to try to date you again." Katherine blushed a little, realizing she might be assuming more interest on Tommy's part than actually existed.
"I would like to be given another chance. I hate to think I blew my only chance to date you," 'Tommy' stated.
Katherine almost wavered in her decision. Then she looked into 'Tommy's' eyes, and she remembered what Tanya said regarding if she had even the slightest doubt.
"I need some time, Tommy," she said firmly.
"Well, time I guess I can give you," he answered quietly.
"Um, are we going to be okay working together?" Kat asked hesitantly. "Are we still friends?" She felt a bit silly asking, but she had to know for sure.
'Tommy' gave her a smile. "Yeah, we are still friends. Nothing has changed between us regarding the team. Right?"
"Right" Kat finally felt the weight she had been carrying around on her heart since the disastrous date lift. She felt like she was okay, at last.
Jason waited impatiently at the airport. Kimberly's flight had been due forty minutes ago, and the most recent announcement indicated it would be another fifteen minutes at least. The last couple of days had been quiet. The only thing Jason had noticed was that 'Tommy' and Katherine seemed to have worked out whatever problem they had developed. They were cordial to each other, if not particularly friendly. Jason figured their date must not have gone too well.
'Tommy' and 'Billy' continued to bother Jason, and he still could not figure out why. He had found himself analyzing everything the two of them did or said. Then he realized what he was doing, and that he was bound to find all sorts of problems if he approached the two of them that way. He needed a new perspective, and he hoped Kimberly could provide that.
And, of course, he would be glad to see her. It had been far too long, and so much of the time they were literally on different sides of the world.
He moved over to the gate area as passengers finally started to filter into the airport from the long delayed flight. Jason searched the crowd for the familiar, petite figure.
"Kimberly! Kim! Over here," Jason shouted once he had spotted her.
Her smile warmed his soul. "Jason!" With that, she threw herself into his waiting arms. "It is so good to see you. It is so totally cool to be back!" She appeared to be trying to look everywhere at once with her usual energy. "I can't wait to see everyone!"
"Everyone?" he asked discretely.
"Well, almost everyone," her excitement waned suddenly. "Does he hate me?" She asked in a small voice.
"I doubt that he could ever hate you," Jason replied. "But he was very hurt. It has taken him a long time to get over it."
"So, he is over it? Good. I hated thinking I was hurting him." Kim looked over to the luggage carousel.
"So how is it going with your new boyfriend? Is he going to be coming to visit you here?" Jason asked as they headed over to collect Kimberly's luggage.
Kim's voice was quiet. "We broke up about three weeks after I wrote the letter. How's that for ironic?"
"I'm sorry. You must have been incredibly hurt."
"It is in the past. Why don't you tell me what is going on with Tommy and Billy. You sounded so worried when I talked to you," Kim said as they headed toward Jason's car.
"You will probably think I'm nuts, but I think the best thing is if I don't tell you anything. I would like for you to visit Billy without any preconceptions from me. I know it sounds mysterious, but I really want your unbiased opinion." Jason explained.
"Okay, that works for me. Let me get settled and I'll go hunt up my favorite walking encyclopedia. I've really missed him. And if he acts weird, we will figure out what we need to do then. 'Course with Billy it is sometimes hard to tell weird weird from normal weird." Kim smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry Jason. If something is wrong we will get to the bottom of it."
Jason actually did feel a lot better.
Tommy was performing his least favorite duty. While Billy lay on his stomach on his 'bunk', Tommy cleaned the few cuts that were steadfastly refusing to heal. It was painful for both of them, but they couldn't afford for any of the injuries to become infected.
"You never did answer my question," Tommy stated, trying to distract Billy from what he was doing.
"What question was that?"
"Why you have been so unhappy," Tommy replied.
Billy twisted around to give Tommy a "you have got to be kidding" look. Tommy suddenly realized what he had said.
"I meant before we were kidnapped and brought here," he clarified with a sheepish look. "I pretty well know why you have been unhappy since then."
"You almost had me worried there." Billy said. He fell silent.
"Well? Come on, give. What had been bugging you?" Tommy insisted.
There was a long pause, and Tommy started to think Billy simply was going to refuse to talk about it. Finally in a soft voice Billy replied, "I didn't feel like I was a part of the team anymore."
Tommy looked at him, honestly puzzled. "How can you think that? We depend on you for everything it seems. You are the reason the Power Chamber runs so smoothly, the Zords even exist, and are directly responsible for at least half the victories over Mondo's monsters thanks to your inventions."
"But I'm not a Ranger. I thought I was making the right decision, but then when Rocky got the Blue Ranger powers, I wanted to step forward and tell you I'd changed my mind. But I couldn't. My only comfort was that I could assume the powers if needed in an emergency. Then I tried to assume the Gold Ranger powers and found that the exposure to negative protons had stolen that hope from me. It's not just that I couldn't be the Gold Ranger-I can never be a Ranger again. I felt I had lost the most important part of my life. None of you knew me before I was a Ranger, but I was pathetic. Except for Trini, Kim, Jason and Zack, I had no friends. Even with them I found myself wondering why they let me hang around. Then we became Rangers. I had never experienced the feeling of truly being a part of something, until then. That was almost better than the feeling when morphing. Now it's all gone. I can't stand beside my friends and confront the forces of evil face to face. All I can ever be is a mechanic." The last was nearly inaudible.
Tommy was at a loss for words. He reached out and put a comforting hand on Billy's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I had no idea what you were going through. When I lost my powers I knew I could assume others if they became available. I can't imagine how it would feel to be unable to ever assume those powers again. Are you sure the effect from the negative protons is permanent?"
"It sure looks that way. I haven't felt up to doing a real thorough research into it. I think I'm afraid of what I might find."
"You need to, man. The powers are all different, you might be able to assume the zeo powers. But even if you can't, and I truly believe I can speak for all the rangers present and past when I say this, you will still always be a Power Ranger. Even if you never morph again. No matter where you go or what you do, you will always be part of the team. Let me ask you something: Do you no longer consider Trini or Zack your friends? Do you think less of them because they no longer have the powers?" Tommy asked.
"Of course not!" Billy's answer came so quickly and emphatically it almost startled Tommy. Billy paused a moment, then said, almost as if speaking to himself, "I see what you are getting at. I was attaching too much importance to the powers." His demeanor indicated he was still thinking it over. Tommy stayed silent, giving Billy the time he needed.
"I guess I was not thinking very clearly about this. I also wasn't giving any of you credit for depth of character or loyalty. I feel pretty stupid now." Billy said at last.
"No reason to feel bad about it, we wouldn't take your feelings as an insult. I know how hard it is to lose the powers. It would have been better if you had opened up a little to us and let us help, though. You need to remember you can come to any of us if you need help." Tommy chided him gently.
"I know, but I have a tendency to avoid people when I'm upset. For a guy that's supposed to be a genius, I can be pretty dense sometimes," Billy admitted softly.
"Wasn't it Will Rogers who said 'we are all ignorant, just in different subjects'?" Tommy asked.
Billy turned to give Tommy an incredulous look. Then he suddenly burst into laughter. It hurt his back to laugh, but he did so anyway.
Tommy was completely confused by Billy's reaction. "What? What is so funny?"
"Everything!" Billy laughed, trying to get enough breath to answer Tommy. "It just struck me, I'm lying here, half naked, while you treat my open wounds with rubbing alcohol, discussing the difficulties of losing super powers, and suddenly Tommy Oliver is quoting Will Rogers to me. It is too surreal." He started giggling again.
Tommy looked a little startled, but had to laugh himself. "Yeah, I guess it is kind of weird." He found that once he started laughing, it built in intensity. And the more he laughed, the more Billy laughed.
Until, seamlessly, their laughter turned into the long suppressed tears.
It was such a beautiful day, Kim decided to walk over to Billy's house. She headed out early, remembering that Billy was not a real early bird. She would probably catch him just waking up, with his defenses down, hopefully. Kimberly wasn't too worried. Billy was one of her oldest and closest friends. Unless he was angry with her for breaking up with Tommy, she was not expecting to encounter anything but a pleasant visit. Then she could put Jason's worries to rest and enjoy the remainder of her time in Angel Grove. She only wished Trini, Zack, and Aisha could be here as well. But she could catch up on things with Kat, and finally get to meet the much-talked about Tanya. She was looking forward to that.
She came to the Cranston's door and knocked rapidly. Mr. Cranston, who was obviously on his way out to work, opened it.
"Well, hello stranger. When did you get into town?" he greeted her with a smile.
"I got in yesterday afternoon. You look great! How have you been doing?" she asked.
"Not bad at all. And if I want to keep it that way I'd better not be late for work. Billy! You have company!" he shouted the last upstairs towards his son's room. "He should be right down," Mr. Cranston told Kimberly as he headed for his car.
Kimberly waited just inside the front door. She could hear 'Billy' moving around upstairs.
"Be right down!" The familiar voice brought a smile to her face.
She heard him clumping his way down the stairs. His face lighted up when he spied her standing there, and he advanced with a wide smile.
"Hey, welcome home!" he greeted her with a hug. She returned it enthusiastically.
"Geez, you look good! I can't believe it has been so long. I've missed you," she added.
"I've missed you too. It hasn't been the same since you left. How long can you stay?"
"I have two weeks off. And, believe me, I plan to make the most of it. Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying myself in Florida. But, really, my entire life there revolves around gymnastics. It will be a treat to be a 'civilian' for a time," Kimberly smiled.
"Why don't you join me for breakfast and tell me what you have been up to? My treat," 'Billy' invited.
"Great! Let's go," was Kimberly's enthusiastic response.
They ended up at the Youth Center, where after greeting Ernie and placing their orders they found themselves in a quiet corner where they could talk freely.
"....So, according to Coach Schmidt, I am supposedly on schedule to be in peak condition to compete in the games." Kim concluded her tale of the last few months. "What about you? How are you doing?" she asked after a pause.
"I'm doing great. You know how I enjoy tinkering with all the equipment in the Power Chamber. I can go in there and contentedly lose myself for hours working." 'Billy' replied.
"How are you dealing with the loss of you powers? I know it is difficult. And Jason told me that they had wanted you to assume the Gold Powers, but you weren't able to. Are you okay?" Kim was concerned.
"Yes, really, I am okay. I never was that keen on fighting, I have always preferred intellectual pursuits to physical endeavors. I feel my talents are better suited for more behind the scenes work." 'Billy' assured her.
Kim studied him carefully. Darned if she wasn't having the same very low-grade, subtle uneasy reaction to him as Jason seemed to have. What was going on? This was Billy, for pete's sake. She'd known him forever, she trusted him implicitly. But she felt an almost overwhelming urge to get as far away from him as possible. She decided to cut the visit short and check in with Jason. Something was definitely wrong.
"Um, Billy, I forgot that I had made plans to visit Trini's parents at ten this morning. I better get going if I am going to be on time," she said.
"Oh, okay. I should get to the Power Chamber anyway. Uh, do you think we could get together again later? Maybe I could treat you to dinner?" he asked hesitantly.
"I tell you what, I'll call you later when I have had a chance to get more settled. Okay?" She replied.
"Okay, I look forward to that," 'Billy' responded as he watched her rise from her seat. She gave him a quick smile and headed for the door.
'Billy' watched her go thoughtfully. Her behavior seemed very odd, he found himself wondering if she suspected anything. It might be a good idea to keep an eye on her.
Jason was waiting impatiently for Kimberly to return from her visit with 'Billy'. He couldn't shake the weird feeling that time was running out. That he had no idea what was going to happen when the time did run out didn't change the fact he was experiencing steadily increasing anxiety.
Jason paced around his living room, picking up a magazine from time to time, trying to read it only to toss it down after a couple of minutes. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the front doorbell rang.
"Kim, I've been going nuts waiting for you to get here. Did you see him? Does he seem okay to you? Am I insane?" Jason fired the questions at Kim without giving her a chance to respond.
Kim held up her hand to stop the flow of questions. "Yes, no, and no. Settle down Jason. I've never seen you like this!"
"Sorry. It's just that the tension has been building for almost a week and a half. I don't do as well with mental stress as I do with physical." Jason admitted. "So he did seem a little 'off' to you?"
"Yeah, he did. But I couldn't say why. It is the oddest thing I have ever felt. It was like one of my best friends was lightly covered with a disgusting slime. But so lightly covered you can't even see it. Just sense it. Does that make any sense?" she asked.
"Sort of. I guess the real question is, what do we do?" He replied.
"I was thinking about that on the way over. I think we should talk to the other Rangers first. We have both been away for a time, maybe both of us are jumping at shadows. Besides, we owe them the courtesy of including them in any decision making process. They all have seniority now," Kim mused.
"I agree. But we have to be careful that Tommy and Billy do not get wind of what we are doing. They are the most senior of all, and even if there turns out to be nothing wrong, I don't want to step on any toes." Jason said.
"True. Look, I have already planned to meet with Kat and Tanya tomorrow at Kat's house. Think you can lure Rocky and Adam over there, about eleven?"
"No problem. Tommy had said he was going to go hunting with his brother David tomorrow morning until mid-afternoon. Billy is usually in the Power Chamber. It should be clear," Jason figured. "We should be okay unless Mondo sends down a monster."
"Isn't that always a condition? If he does, well, we will just work around it. I am anxious to see if any of them have noticed anything different."
"You and me both," Jason replied. "And, thank you Kimberly, for being here. I'm sorry to involve you with this problem, but I'm also darn glad to see you."
"What are friends for?" she smiled.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Tommy was working out, going through one of the most energetic katas he knew. He was completely engrossed in the movements, capturing the harmony between body and soul. For a few minutes at least, the horror of recent events faded to the background. In his mind he could be anywhere, someplace warm, bright, and safe, far away from the cold, dark, dank cell. He stretched the kata out to last as long as possible, but eventually he had to come back to reality.
Billy watched his friend enviously. His back was healing nicely, but trying to twist and stretch like that would be inviting trouble. He could mentally remove himself from this unpleasant reality, but it didn't work as well when not using the kata. Imagination was not his strong suit.
The laughing fit, that had turned into a crying jag, a few days before had helped them both begin to emotionally heal from what Mondo was doing to them. The release of their long suppressed rage, hate, pain and fear had left them both with at least a little peace. Despite everything else, they found they were sleeping better, and their temper flare-ups ceased. They were both well aware that Mondo would be back, most likely soon, to have more "fun". They did not need to be wasting precious energy fighting each other.
Tommy finished and dropped down on his "bunk" across the cell from Billy. He was breathing hard and had actually worked up a sweat. But Billy noticed his eyes reflected a sort of inner calm. He had a feeling Tommy was going to need that inner calm to face whatever Mondo had in store next.
"What are you thinking so seriously about?" Tommy asked, noticing Billy's expression.
"Just wondering what is going to happen next. Lets face it, I'm almost healed, so Mondo should be ready to 'play' some more," Billy said.
"I've thought about that. It is driving me nuts that we can't do anything. Maybe this time we should act like we are going along with the program, but try to escape. Maybe we can catch them off guard," Tommy suggested.
Billy thought about that. "I kind of doubt we will catch them that off guard, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to try. We haven't offered much in the way of resistance. Since you are the healthier between us, why don't you go for the cogs and Klank, and I'll try Mondo."
"Sounds okay to me. Mondo shouldn't be too hard, he's a 'king', not a fighter." Tommy agreed.
Though they both knew the chances of escape were somewhere between slim and none, they both felt a little better having a plan. And, who knows, miracles happen every day, just not usually in the Machine Empire Base.
'Tommy' hurried into 'Billy's' garage lab for their usual meeting. This last week was a school vacation, he had almost forgotten the to show up. He turned and locked the door once he was inside and had ascertained 'Billy' was there as well. He didn't know why exactly, but he had the feeling the two of them were starting to worry the other Rangers.
"About time you got here, I thought you'd forgotten entirely," 'Billy' grumbled.
"I almost did, I guess the memory transfer worked too well, I ended up with Tommy's forgetfulness," 'Tommy' replied.
"No matter. I think we may have a problem, we had better contact King Mondo." One of 'Billy's' first tricks had been to create a 'screen' to protect their transmissions from detection in the Power Chamber. He knew Zordon regularly monitored transmissions throughout the galaxy as a precaution, and they did not need him happening upon one of their transmissions and discovering they were not what they seemed.
He pulled out the special communicator he kept hidden and activated a transmission to the Machine Empire Base. King Mondo first requested an update.
"All the zords are wired, and all but two locations in the Power Chamber. I should have them finished tomorrow, the day after at the latest." 'Billy' reported. "But I think we may have a problem," he added.
"What sort of problem?" King Mondo demanded.
"Kimberly came to visit me this morning," 'Billy' started.
"Who is this 'Kimberly'?" Mondo interrupted him.
"Kimberly Hart was the first Pink Power Ranger. She left the team a few months ago to pursue training as a gymnast and Katherine replaced her. She has known Billy for over ten years. She dated Tommy for about a year. In short, she knows both of them very well. Anyway, she showed up on my doorstep early this morning. I thought I pulled everything off perfectly, but she left rather abruptly. The memories I have of her do not indicate this is a normal reaction. I guess you could say I have a bad feeling about this," 'Billy' concluded.
"'A bad feeling about this'?" Mondo raged. "If you two idiots blow this I will kill you both one piece at a time! I'll make you suffer in ways you could not conceive! I'll make you not only wish to die, but wish you had never been created!" Steam started to come out of Mondo's ears. Both clones were properly worried.
Eventually Mondo settled down. "You," he addressed 'Billy', "get to the Power Chamber and do what you can to facilitate the rapid installation of the final two explosive devices. Does Zordon not have a device that allows those in the Power Chamber to observe activities in distant locations? Then use that device to keep an eye on this 'Kimberly'. You" he indicated 'Tommy' "hang around with them as much as possible today. See if you notice anything out of the ordinary. I want to be ready to spring the trap tomorrow. Get everything in readiness and wait for my command." Mondo signed off without another word.
The two exchanged worried glances. It was almost over, and they were just starting to enjoy themselves.
Kimberly found she did like Tanya a great deal. The girl had a direct, friendly way about her that was extremely pleasant. She was a great addition to the team.
Kat was happy to see the two of them hit it off. She had hoped the three of them could spend some time together while Kim was in town. Though she had had little time to spend with Kimberly before Kim took off for training in Florida, Katherine had felt a strong bond with the first Pink Ranger. And she wanted to better know the young woman who possessed such a kind heart as could forgive Katherine the attempts to hurt her and steal her boyfriend.
"So, what do you want to do today?" Katherine asked Kim when the conversation lagged for a moment.
"Actually, I'm just enjoying sitting around and visiting," Kim said. "At camp the conversations all tend to center around gymnastics, it is a treat to talk about something else. Anything else!" She laughed.
Before anyone could reply, there was a knock at the front door. Katherine opened it to find Jason, Adam and Rocky on the front doorstep. She invited the boys in with a somewhat puzzled smile. What were they doing there?
Kimberly and Jason exchanged a quick glance. Jason turned and locked the front door.
"Kat, is there a back door?" he asked quietly.
"Yeah, through the kitchen," she replied automatically.
He went in the direction she indicated and returned in a moment. Again he locked eyes with Kim, and sighed.
"I guess you are all pretty confused. Sorry, we needed to get you all together, but without Tommy or Billy finding out about it," he said.
"Something is wrong with them, isn't it?" Adam asked suddenly.
"You feel it too?" Rocky asked, relief evident in his expression.
"Thank God!" Katherine breathed.
Kim and Jason looked around at the other Rangers in surprise.
"Well, Jase, I guess we won't have too hard a time convincing them something is wrong with the leader of the team," she observed dryly.
They took turns explaining how they had individually come to the same conclusion. But not one of them could explicate why they felt the way they did. But all agreed something had to be done, and soon.
"I would suggest we have Alpha run a scan on both of them. Perhaps they are under some sort of spell," Adam supplied. "He could run it without either of them knowing it was being done."
"That would be a good place to start. Let's all go to the Power Chamber this afternoon. I know Billy is there now, but he usually leaves for lunch at about two." Jason suggested.
They all agreed to meet in the park before going there. There was an undisputed feeling of relief among them, at last they could get to the bottom of things.
* * * * * * * * * * *
In the lower section of the Power Chamber 'Billy' quietly deactivated the auxiliary viewing globe. He had seen enough.
* * * * * * * * * *
Tommy and Billy were resting quietly in their cell. They heard the sound of footsteps approaching and both went to stand at the bars that formed the front of the cell. From the sound of it there was a fairly large group approaching, too large to be just the delivery of their meal. They exchanged a meaningful look-this was it. Tommy reached over and squeezed Billy's hand.
"Good luck," he said softly.
"You, too," came the equally quiet response.
King Mondo, Klank, and a half dozen cogs entered the corridor. Mondo had the whip in his hand, making it obvious what he had in mind.
Klank opened the door and signaled the cogs to enter. Tommy nodded at Billy, then in a flurry of motion attacked the cogs. Billy sidestepped two cogs and Klank, and threw himself at Mondo. The fight was furious, but brief. Klank immediately turned to assist his King, and with the help of two cogs was able to subdue Billy. Mondo then produced a small, deadly looking weapon.
"Stop!" he shouted at Tommy, who looked up then to see how Billy was doing. "Stop this nonsense at once or I will kill him!" Mondo held the weapon to Billy's head. Tommy had no choice but to desist. He glared at Mondo with impotent rage as three cogs grabbed hold of him.
Mondo turned to the sixth cog. "Go ahead," he ordered. The cog approached Billy with a syringe in one hand. Billy saw him coming and struggled, but to no avail.
"What is this?" Billy demanded as the cog administered the shot. "What are you giving me?"
"Just a stimulant. You passed out much too quickly last time," he told the terrified teen. "This will help you stay alert. You wouldn't want to miss anything, would you?" The cogs holding Billy forced him toward the back wall, removed his shirt, and placed him in the restraints.
Mondo turned to Tommy. "I get the feeling you just hate being the observer, am I right? This time I think you should have a more active role." So saying, he tried to place the whip in Tommy's hand.
Tommy dropped the whip as if it were red hot. He turned disbelieving eyes to Mondo. "There is no way I will do this!" he declared.
"Oh, I think you will," Mondo replied. "It is very simple, either you whip him, or I will kill him where he stands." Mondo stepped up to Billy and again placed the weapon to the helpless former Ranger's head. "The choice is yours."
The moment spun out. Tommy was overwhelmed by the helpless rage that consumed him. How could he possibly do this? He found himself incapable of coherent thought or speech. Mondo let him think it over.
Suddenly, a soft voice spoke up. "If I get a vote in this, I'd prefer to be beaten. I can probably survive that. Surviving being shot in the head is considerably less likely."
Billy had managed to twist around enough so he could see Tommy. Tommy couldn't meet his friend's eyes.
"Tommy, please," was all he said.
Tommy slowly bent down and picked up the hated instrument.
"You are to give him eighteen lashes, one for each year of his miserable life. If you try to hold back I will know it, and the lash will not count." Mondo instructed. "You will count the lashes out loud, and believe me, you do not want to lose count."
Tommy made no reply. He tried to shut off his mind as much as possible, to distance himself from what he was about to do. This act went against everything he believed in, everything we believed himself to be. He drew his arm back and dealt the first blow.
Billy had felt the stimulant he had been given start to work. He felt wired, as if he had had five cups of coffee. He was usually careful to avoid overindulgence in caffeine, but the occasions he had, he'd felt like this. It felt as if his nerve endings had been sensitized and an electrical current was running along his neural pathways. That first lash sent pain rocketing through his body and he cried out involuntarily. Oh, God, this was the worst yet. He just hoped he hadn't lied about being able to survive this.
The next few minutes would be ones neither young man would ever forget. As one was subjected to a mental anguish he could never have imagined possible, the other was subjected to an equal measure of physical pain. In less time than it took to walk across the campus at Angel Grove High, both boys' lives had been changed, possibly forever.
Tommy dropped the whip. He turned to Mondo with eyes that burned with hatred.
"Release your companion, and return to your cell." Mondo ordered.
Billy was, unfortunately, still conscious. He was struggling mindlessly against the manacles, sobbing in agony. Tommy had a difficult time releasing him, then had to grab Billy to keep him from collapsing. Tommy could feel his friend's body vibrate with the effect of the stimulant, and shake with the force of his sobs. Trying to keep a grip on him without touching his injured back, Tommy got him back inside the cell. He lowered himself, still holding Billy, to the floor, his legs unable to support them both anymore. He continued to cradle Billy, trying to ease his friend's pain.
"Well, that was indeed the best yet. It will be interesting to see how you both do after this. I will admit, I have been a bit surprised by your resilience." Mondo commented. "Oh, the end of your friends, the Power Rangers, should happen tomorrow morning. After then, there will be no more Zordon, no more zords, no more Power Chamber, and no more Power Rangers. You two will be all that remains. At least for a little while." Chuckling to himself, he left the cellblock with his entourage.
Tommy closed his eyes. "This can't be happening," he whispered to himself. "There must be something we can do."
He forced those thoughts to the back of his mind. Right now, Billy needed him. Tommy maintained his hold on the smaller teen. Billy's sobs had lost their frantic edge, but showed no sign of abating. Tommy held him and murmured words of comfort, trying to help his friend through the pain.
They stayed that way for a long time.
* * * * * * * * * *
Katherine, Kimberly and Tanya waited impatiently in a deserted area of Angel Grove Park, at the spot where they had agreed to meet the boys.
"Darn it, where are they?" Kim fidgeted. "I want to get this over with."
"Here they come now," Katherine supplied, spying the three approaching boys.
"Sorry we're late," Jason said, "We ran into Mr. Kaplan." He rolled his eyes in exasperation with the High School principal.
"Well, lets get going," Tanya replied. "Kim, you can hitch a ride with Kat and me."
With that the five Rangers and one former Ranger turned into pillars of light and teleported to the Power Chamber.
All six immediately turned their attention to Zordon, who looked down at them with a frantic expression. His mouth was moving, but no sound issued forth. Before they could react, they heard an unpleasant chuckle from behind them. They turned to see 'Tommy' and 'Billy'.
"Welcome to our parlor," 'Tommy' said with a sneer. "We have been expecting you."
'Bars' made of pure energy suddenly descended from the ceiling to the floor. They made a circular cage just large enough to contain the six teenagers.
"What are you doing? You guys are under Mondo's control somehow. Fight it! Don't give in to him!" Jason pleaded.
"You don't get it, do you. I'm not Tommy, he's not Billy. They are both incarcerated in the Machine Empire Base. But, three of you have met us both before, just not both at once." 'Tommy' explained.
Adam, Rocky and Kimberly exchanged an incredulous look. These were clones!
"But, how? You stayed in the past 'Tommy'." Rocky stated. "And we blasted you, 'Billy'," he added.
"Oh, I remember what you did to me very well," 'Billy' said. "If I had the time, I'd pay you back personally for what you did. However, I have more important things to do." He picked up an ominous looking device and went to a control panel in the far side of the chamber. He crawled underneath it and went to work installing the device.
"What are you doing?" Adam asked.
"Should I tell them, or let them be surprised?" 'Tommy' asked the room at large. "I think I should tell them. My friend there is planting an explosive device. It is the last of nine such devices, and when they are detonated, they will completely decimate this Power Chamber. In the process they will also do a fine job of terminating all of you, and you mentor too." 'Tommy' looked quite pleased with himself.
"Maybe if we morph, we can get out of here," Rocky suggested quietly. "We should at least try."
They each activated their zeonizer, but they didn't morph.
'Tommy' chuckled evilly. "Won't work. Nice try though. 'Billy' here figured you would try that. There is some sort of interference beam set into the system for that cage that neutralizes your ability to morph. Nifty, huh? I tell you, it helps to have a genius on your side."
The captive Rangers looked at each other in despair. How in the world could they get out of this?
Tommy's arms were numb with exhaustion, and both his legs were asleep. He had held his uncomfortable position for an unknown length of time. Billy's sobs had finally abated, though the tremors caused by the stimulant continued. The one time Tommy had attempted to move them, Billy had cried out in pain, so Tommy simply continued to hold his friend, waiting for his pain to decrease to the point he could be moved.
While he waited, Tommy went over what Mondo had told him. There had to be a way to stymie Mondo's plans. But try as he might, Tommy could not see a way.
"So," the voice, soft and hoarse as it was, startled Tommy, he had thought Billy was completely out of it. "So, you want to get out of here?"
"What? Do you have a plan?" Tommy asked gently.
"No," Tommy could feel Billy moving his left arm, seeming to grope for something. "But, I do have a key."
Billy handed the key to the astonished Tommy, who looked down at him with amazement.
"Where did you get this?" A foolish question perhaps, but all Tommy's overtaxed mind could handle at that point.
"Took it off Mondo when I was grappling with him," came the response. "We should move quickly, before he notices it is missing."
"CAN you move quickly?" Tommy asked.
"If it means we get out of here, I can," Billy replied with determination. "Can you help me up?"
Both struggled to their feet. Billy had to steady himself against the wall, and Tommy staggered trying to get his legs to wake up. He finally got his body working as well as he could under the circumstances, and looked over to see how Billy was doing. Billy was unnaturally pale, pain etched deeply in his face and showing clearly in his eyes. But, he was standing, and carefully pulling on his shirt.
"As I'll ever be," was Billy's response.
Tommy tried the key, and felt excitement surge through him when it worked. He quickly moved to the door at the end of the corridor and repeated the process. For the first time in almost two weeks they stepped out of the cellblock. Thanks to the excitement of their escape, both were suddenly able to ignore their pain and weakness. They moved quickly and quietly toward the area of the Base where they had been taken when they were used to update the clones. They knew there was a teleportation station in that area. They were almost to the throne room when Tommy felt a soft tap on his back.
He turned to Billy, who indicated down a hallway to their right. "The lab is down there, I think," he said.
"We should disable those machines if we can. I would hate for anyone else to have this happen to them," Billy said softly.
Tommy nodded in agreement, and they headed down the hall. They entered the deserted lab, and Billy made quick work of finding the vital information centers of each machine. He removed a couple of important looking parts from each, and tore at any exposed wires he saw. Meantime, Tommy searched around until he found a piece of metal about the size of a baseball bat. When Billy was done, Tommy smashed the machines as much as possible, praying no one heard the noise.
When they were finished Tommy checked the hall. So far so good, there was no sign of anyone in the area. They all but sprinted to the throne room, finding it deserted. Billy recognized the device in the far corner from schematics he had seen the in the Power Chamber computer.
"There!" he pointed.
Tommy didn't ask any questions, just followed Billy to the odd looking device.
"This will get us home," Billy explained. "I just need to set coordinates. Where exactly do you want to go?"
"It wouldn't be a good idea to teleport directly into the Power Chamber, I doubt we can, anyway. But that is where we need to go. If we land just outside the Power Chamber, can we get inside without setting off any alarms?" Tommy mused.
"I can," Billy responded. "I know how to circumvent the security system."
Tommy smiled. "You're awful handy to have around. Let's do it."
Billy leaned over the controls for a couple of minutes, entering information, confirming the location. He turned to Tommy with a triumphant smile.
"Just step this way, we are going home."
Both boys stepped toward where Billy had indicated, and disappeared in a shimmer of light.
'Billy' was bustling around the Power Chamber. He had finished setting the last explosive device, now he was setting up the detonator. 'Tommy' helped when needed, otherwise he simply observed the captive Power Rangers.
"You have the memories of the real Tommy, don't they tell you this is wrong?" Jason was trying to get through to the clone.
"Mondo tells me this is right," was the response. "I don't want to know what he would do to us if we fail. What Zedd did was bad enough."
"If you release us and stop what you are doing, we could help you," Adam said. "But if you carry out this plan, you will be beyond all help."
They could all see the confusion in the clone's eyes. There was good in him, had been since he was first created. That goodness was at war with the fear Mondo produced. The battle was decided when 'Billy' walked over.
"Time to call Mondo," he announced.
Just outside the Power Chamber a portal opened, and two figures leapt out. Billy quickly led the way to a discreet entrance. While Tommy kept a lookout, Billy removed a hidden control panel, and fiddled with the wiring inside. The door slid open and both young men slipped inside.
"Your majesty, all is in readiness," 'Billy' announced. "The Power Rangers are captive here inside the Power Chamber, as is Zordon. All the explosives are set, ready for me to initiate the detonation sequence. What are your orders?"
"Set the timer and get out of there," was the reply. Mondo's image faded from the screen.
'Billy' punched some commands into the console. "There, detonation is in ten minutes. Let's get out of here," he said, "It's been fun, guys."
'Tommy' turned to 'Billy', but before he could speak, a door at the side of the room opened revealing the real Tommy and Billy. The four of them paused briefly in surprise, then 'Billy' went after Tommy, leaving Billy to deal with Tommy's clone.
Tommy found himself almost too evenly matched against 'Billy'. Tommy's recent period of depravation had weakened him enough to even things out. He found he was going full out, with little success.
Billy was quite obviously overmatched by 'Tommy'. He was only evading blows, not landing any at all. Then 'Tommy' smashed him with a double et it up that way," he added.
"Then all we can do is wait."
It seemed an eternity before they heard the twin beeps that indicated they could now teleport to the Power Chamber. Without a word they activated the teleportation controls on their communicators and seconds later were standing in the deserted Power Chamber. Well, deserted except for the voiceless Zordon, powerless Alpha, and two unconscious clones.
Adam hurried up to a console and began to work on getting communications back open with Zordon. Rocky and Jason dragged the two clones over to a corner of the room and activated a containment field. Katherine and Tanya set about reactivating Alpha, and Kim hurried to a side room they used as an infirmary to be sure the "table" was powered up. She figured they were going to need it.
"Rangers! It is good to see you are okay." Zordon's voice boomed out.
"Do you know where Tommy and Billy went?" Rocky asked.
"They are in the zords holding area. There were explosive devices set there as well. My sensors indicate they have successfully removed them all. They should be back here shortly." Zordon reported.
"Ay yi yi yi yi! What happened?" Alpha was back on line.
Before anyone could respond, two beams of white appeared and faded to reveal Tommy and Billy. Billy staggered a little and Tommy hurried to steady him.
"He needs some help here," Tommy said. "Some time on the 'table' is in order."
"Here, I'll take him," Kim offered.
Tommy handed Billy over to Kim's assistance gratefully.
They were finally home.
Kim sighed deeply. She was waiting for Alpha to get the results on a blood test to determine what Billy had been injected with. Though the "table" was easing his pain considerably, the stimulant was hindering its effect.
It had taken all her control to keep from showing her dismay at the injuries Billy had suffered. She hadn't wanted to upset him with an emotional display, but it was close. How could someone do that to him? The signs of pain still evident on his face tore at her heart.
"Kimberly, I found it. And we do have an antidote, I am preparing a batch now. It won't be long." True to his word, Alpha waddled up a couple of minutes later and administered a shot to Billy. Almost at once the look of pain eased, and he looked at peace.
"Is he okay?" Kimberly was startled by the voice behind her. She turned to see Tommy standing there with a tormented expression.
"He will be fine," she soothed. "Let me take a look at you."
Tommy ignored her and stepped closer to the 'table'. He reached out as if to touch Billy, but the gesture fell short as Tommy sighed deeply. Kimberly had never seen him look so sad.
She gently reached out and guided him to an examination table. "Let me at least run a quick scan over you. You know the rules," she said. Zordon insisted that any Ranger hurt in the line of duty be examined, even if they insisted they were okay. It was a good rule, one that had saved a lot of trouble over the years.
She waved a portable scanner over him and looked at the readings. She sighed, and went behind him to lift up his shirt. He stiffened, but did not move. She examined his back, and consulted the readings again.
"You are okay. A little malnourished, but otherwise healthy enough. Some time on the 'table' will keep your back from scarring," she reported.
"I think I'll just go home," Tommy replied with another long look at Billy. He left without another word.
Adam and Jason came in a couple of minutes later.
"How is Billy?" Adam asked.
Kimberly gave them a quick report, omitting the exact nature of his injuries. Whoever acted as team "nurse" was required to maintain some confidentiality. If the nature of the Ranger's injuries did not pose any sort of threat to the team, it was up to the injured party to disclose the details. During her time with the Rangers, Kimberly had been the team "nurse", she had been told Billy had assumed those duties when she left.
"Is Tommy okay?" Jason asked after Kimberly had finished her report.
"Yes, physically. His mental state didn't look too good though. Is he still here?"
"No, he asked to be teleported to a location near his house. He left his communicator and zeonizer here. We didn't argue with him, Zordon had told us he might do that." Jason looked grim. "This is sure a mess, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is."
Ernie looked over at the group sitting at a corner table in the Youth Center. Usually the teens were animated, talking, laughing, and making plans. Today they sat there in grim silence. And neither Tommy nor Billy was with them. Ernie had not seen either of them in several days. He hoped nothing was wrong.
Jason was deeply troubled. He had tried repeatedly to talk to Tommy and Billy. He was constantly turned away, shut out. He knew the others had tried as well. They could get nothing from either of them, and the entire team was frustrated.
At least the problem of what to do with the clones had been taken care of. Zordon had offered them the option of being returned to Mondo (but with a device implanted in them that would set off alarms if they came back to earth), or being exiled to a distant planet called Seraptus, where exiles from various planets lived communally. The clones had chosen Seraptus, so Zordon had contacted the Acquitian Rangers to arrange the transport. The last they had heard, the clones had arrived there safely.
If only the problem with the real Tommy and Billy could be solved so easily. Jason came to a decision.
"Kimberly, I know that as 'nurse' you are not supposed to divulge information concerning your patients' injuries unless it poses a threat to the team. Well, I feel this is a threat to the team, so I have to ask. Is there something about their injuries that we should know in order to help them through whatever happened to them while they were there?"
Kimberly sat deep in thought for a moment. "They were beaten, you know, like with a whip," she said softly.
The Rangers exchanges unhappy glances.
"The thing is, Tommy had maybe five lash marks on his back, and they were mostly healed. Billy had something like 35-40, the scan indicated three different degrees of healing, meaning he had been beaten three different times. The most recent just before they escaped."
"Why would Mondo beat Billy and not Tommy?" Rocky asked. "No offense intended to Tommy, but he would be the more likely to cause problems."
"Unless he beat Billy to punish Tommy," Jason said with dawning horror. "It would be far harder for Tommy to stand someone else being hurt in his place."
"Oh, God, that would explain his reaction in the infirmary," Kimberly said. "He looked at Billy with so much pain in his expression. I wondered about it then, but put it out of my mind."
"What can we do to help?" Tanya asked practically.
"We need to get them to talk to each other," Jason decided. "Even if they decide they hate each other for what happened, we need to get them to face it."
Tommy sat on the edge of the cliff on the outskirts of Angel Grove. It was his favorite place to come to think. Not that he had been doing much thinking lately. He had been doing everything in his power to avoid thinking.
He stared out over the city and tried to clear his mind. He was startled by footsteps behind him. Jason sat down on his right, Katherine on his left.
"You're a hard man to find," Jason commented.
"Maybe because I didn't want to be found," Tommy growled in response. "Leave me alone."
"No can do. See, what is happening between you and Billy is affecting the team. We need to do something about it."
"There is nothing you can do. And I am resigning as leader of the team, you should be leader, you always were better at it. No one ever got hurt when you were in charge." The last was nearly inaudible.
"Yeah, people got hurt. Even Billy. You're a great leader, Tommy. You can't give up just because Mondo used your strength against you," Jason said.
Tommy shot him a wary look. "What do you mean by that?"
"Billy was beaten to punish you, wasn't he?" Jason asked gently.
Tommy looked sick. "What makes you say that?" he asked in a tight voice.
"The fact he was beaten several times, and you only once. The fact that I know you well enough to know that would affect you this way. I'm only surprised Mondo figured it out." Jason stated.
Tommy felt curiously exposed, they knew him too well. He felt the pain he had been trying to ignore come back in force. Why were they doing this to him? If they wanted to help they wouldn't hurt him this way. But a part of him recognized that what they were doing was exactly what he needed. His confusion and despair were tempered by the thought that at least they didn't know the worst. There was at least that.
Jason watched the play of emotions on Tommy's face. He hated having to cause his friend pain, but it was necessary if he was to heal. Something told Jason there was still something they didn't know about, something worse than what they already knew.
"There is something you aren't telling us, isn't there? Come on, Tommy, you need to get if off your chest." Jason urged.
"You can tell us anything," Katherine spoke up. "We are your friends, we care about you. Nothing you can tell us will change that."
"I wouldn't be too sure about that," Tommy said softly.
Jason flinched at the sound of Tommy's voice, it sounded so hopeless. It served to reinforce his belief that Tommy needed to "confess" what had happened. He put a comforting hand on Tommy's shoulder.
"Please, let us help," he said gently.
Tommy couldn't help the tears that came unbidden to his eyes. He knew he needed to tell them what had happened. He realized it was necessary if he was ever to heal and move beyond what happened. He just didn't know if he could get the words out.
"I..I..Mondo.." he couldn't get the words past his locked throat. He took a deep breath. "Mondo forced me to beat Billy the last time," he whispered.
Jason and Katherine exchanged horrified looks. Damn Mondo!
"It wasn't your fault," Jason said comfortingly. "It was Mondo's fault, he did the wrong, not you. Somehow he caught on to the fact that you have an extreme sense of duty, a belief that you have to protect your friends and teammates. That is one of your virtues, your strengths. And Mondo perverted it into something to use against you. You were a victim here, Tommy. It is hard to accept, but you could have done nothing to prevent what he did."
"I'm sure Billy realizes this, too," Katherine added, praying she was right. "You could not have done anything different."
The relief that they understood overwhelmed Tommy. He had been sure they would hate him for what he had done. Their acceptance gave Tommy the confidence to begin to accept what had happened. But there was one more thing he needed.
He needed to know how Billy felt.
Just outside the Cranston residence two colored columns of light appeared. They dissolved into Adam and Kimberly. They walked up to the front door and rapped sharply. They knew Billy was inside, but apparently he was not going to answer the door. Kimberly was not going to let that stop her. Finding the door locked, she reached up and felt along the top of the porch light. She was rewarded with the key to the front door.
To Adam's amazed expression she explained, "I've known about the key for years, from when Billy and I were kids. Knowing how he and his father are, I figured it would be in the same old place."
She unlocked the door and ushered Adam in. They headed upstairs to Billy's room. The door was ajar, so Kim simply pushed it the rest of the way open. Billy was lying on his bed reading. He looked anything but pleased to see his guests.
"Doesn't a locked door mean anything to you?" he demanded angrily.
"Not when it stands between me and a friend who needs help," Kimberly declared. "And you do need our help."
"No I don't, I'm fine, go away," he grumbled.
"Yeah, you sound real fine," Kimberly said sarcastically. She sat down beside him, her demeanor changed, "I've known you far too long, you can't hide things from me like you can some of the others. What exactly happened to you over there? I know how badly you were beaten, that couldn't be easy to deal with. You need to talk about it."
Billy looked away. "I don't want to talk about it."
"I didn't say anything about 'want', I said 'need'. And you do need to talk about it. Now we could suggest you see a shrink, but about the time you tell them you used to be the Blue Ninjetti Ranger, well, we will be visiting you in a padded room. So, let's avoid that, and you talk to Adam and me." Kim suggested.
"We want to help you," Adam added. "We need you, if not back in the Power Chamber at least as a 'civilian' friend."
"I was beaten, what more is there to tell?" Billy responded. "It was miserable. They did it to get to Tommy, kind of a two for one deal. We both ended up hurting, just in different ways. I suspect it was easier on me, at least it didn't mess with my sense of self. Not like it did Tommy." But didn't part of that statement sound like a lie?
Kimberly gave Billy a searching look. "Are you sure it didn't mess with your sense of self as well? I remember when we were kids, everyone picked on you, and you were the perpetual victim. Then you got stronger, more confident, bullies didn't mess with you anymore. Then Mondo forces you back in the victim role, makes you the helpless pawn in his perverted mind games. That had to hurt worse than the beatings." A look at the expression on Billy's face confirmed she had found the heart of the problem.
He looked away, "I couldn't do anything to stop it. I couldn't even take the beatings stoically. I was reduced to screams, tears. Tommy had to tend to me as if I was a child. It was humiliating, just like when I was younger and bullies would torment me until I cried." Kimberly and Adam hurt to hear the pain in his voice.
"I'm sorry, so sorry you had to go through that," Kim said softly. "But judging from the condition you were in when you got back to the Power Chamber, no one could have endured those beatings stoically. You have nothing to be ashamed of, everyone has a breaking point."
"I suppose. I just had hoped mine was harder to find. Stupid male ego, huh?" he added with a sheepish look.
"Happens with the best of you," Kimberly sighed.
"Do you blame Tommy for any of this?" Adam asked.
"No, I don't. He couldn't have done anything to stop what happened. Like I said, I felt he suffered more than I did in some ways. I think he was blaming himself for events he had no control over. That is why I felt so bad about breaking, it make it even harder on Tommy."
"Think maybe Tommy needs to hear this?" Kim asked quietly.
Billy thought it over carefully. "I haven't even spoken to him since we got back, is he okay?"
"We don't really know for sure. He hasn't been around, and has been as friendly to our inquiries as you were. Jason and Katherine are supposed to be meeting with him now." Adam replied.
"I think maybe I should go there and see how he is myself." Billy said at last.
Tommy was still sitting on the edge of the cliff, flanked by Tommy and Katherine. They had been silent for a long time, simply being with each other in friendship. They heard footsteps approach.
Jason looked up to see Billy standing there. "You guys mind if I talk to Tommy for a bit?" Billy asked.
"No problem, we should be going anyway," Jason replied, looking closely at Billy's expression. Billy looked better than he had in some time, with a determined expression in his eyes.
Once the other two had left, Billy eased himself down beside Tommy. The two of them glanced at each other, and quickly looked away.
"How are you doing?" Tommy finally asked.
"Good, better. You?"
Billy sighed. This was ridiculous, they were as awkward as strangers. "I have been on first dates where I have felt more at ease than I feel right now," he said suddenly. "We need to talk about this Tommy."
"I know, I just don't know what to say to you," he replied. "Do you hate me?" he blurted out.
Billy looked at him incredulously. "Of course I don't hate you. What would give you that idea?"
"My, God, I beat you almost senseless. I can't believe I did that!" Tommy said.
"You saved my life!" Billy declared firmly. "You have forgotten that part. You did it so I wouldn't be killed. I am grateful for that." Billy was faintly surprised to find he really did mean it.
Tommy looked at him with eyes that wanted to believe. "If you feel that way, why have you been hiding away at your house?" he asked.
"I was ashamed," was the soft reply.
"Ashamed? Of what?" Tommy was honestly confused.
"I broke down completely. You had to take care of me, it was humiliating," he said softly.
"Billy, no one could have withstood those beatings. I didn't do that good with the one I got. I found myself impressed with just how tough you really are," Tommy said earnestly.
"You don't mean that," Billy said, more to himself than to Tommy.
"Geez, talk about being tough on yourself. Billy, you broke physically, but you never quit fighting. When you came to after the second beating, the first thing you said was a joke. I was so astonished. Here you looked half-dead, and you are cracking wise. That, my friend, is a tough attitude. You have nothing to be ashamed of." Tommy's sincerity was evident in his voice.
Billy smiled at Tommy, feeling suddenly shy. "Thank you."
"Are you okay now?" Tommy asked.
Billy thought it over. "Yes, I believe I am. Are you?"
"Yeah, I am. I'm ready to get on with life, put this behind me." Tommy stood up. "Guess we better go see the others. They have been pretty worried about us." He offered Billy a hand up.
"You're ready to go back to active duty now?" Billy wondered.
"If they still want me as the Red Ranger, then I'm ready to go back to work. Are you going to resume your Power Chamber duties?"
"Guess I'd better. I think my clone left a bit of a mess to clean up." Billy grinned. "I can be a bit of a slob."
Tommy laughed at that. "Let's go find our friends." He said.
The seven friends gathered around the table at the Youth Center were chatting amicably. For the first time in two weeks, all was well with them. Tommy had reclaimed his zeonizer and communicator. Billy was back in the swing of things in the Power Chamber. Tommy and Kimberly had even had a quiet discussion of their past relationship and had decided they were still friends. Things were as close to perfect as they could get in an imperfect world.
"They are showing the new Woody Allen movie at the triplex, I was wondering if you would like to go?" Tommy asked Kat quietly.
Katherine smiled happily. "I'd love to," she replied. She had decided not to mention to Tommy what had happened between her and his clone. She accepted the fact it was not Tommy who she went out with. She would tell Tommy at some point, but not now when he was still feeling a little vulnerable about what had happened.
"Oh, I've heard that movie is great!" Kim enthused. "Maybe I can get someone to ask me to attend it?" She nudged Billy pointedly.
"What?" He had not been listening to their conversation.
"You were getting ready to ask me to the movies," she explained.
"I was? Ouch! Okay, I was. Kimberly, will you do me the honor of attending a movie with me?" He asked.
"Of course, I thought you'd never ask," she demurred as the others chuckled.
"You and me both," Billy muttered.
That produced another laugh and a kick to Billy's shins from Kimberly.
When they had quieted, Tommy suddenly spoke up.
"There is one last thing that is bothering me. Billy, how in the world did you defeat my clone? I mean, he was healthy and you weren't. How did you do it?" The snickers from around the table puzzled Tommy.
"I, um, used a maneuver he was unfamiliar with." Billy was blushing.
Jason snorted a laugh into his hand, while Rocky and Adam had lowered their heads onto their arms to suppress their laughter. The girls were all giggling softly.
"What maneuver was that?" Tommy asked.
"Uh, one that is not exactly regulation," Billy hedged.
Jason couldn't take any more. "He fought dirty! Kicked him in the groin, then in the head. Quite efficient."
Tommy turned to Billy. "YOU fought dirty. I'm shocked. Just shocked." He shook his head in mock dismay.
"I know, that is why I won. 'You' weren't expecting it. It pays to be unpredictable sometimes."
"I guess the important thing is that it is over. We are together, and we're all okay." He held out his right hand.
The other six at the table quickly overlaid his hand with theirs. They looked at each other and very softly said: