Kimberly Hart waited impatiently at the airport, scanning the crowd of passengers making their way toward the luggage carousels to claim their bags. To compensate for her short stature, she was ducking and weaving among the departing people, determined to keep her gaze on the influx of new arrivals. Finally she saw what she had been waiting for.
"Trini! Zack! Welcome home, guys!" she cried out, rushing up to the other two teens with a squeal of happiness.
"Yo, Kim! You're looking good, girl!" Zack laughed giving her a quick hug.
"Kimberly! I wasn't expecting to see you here," Trini smiled, giving her petite friend a warm hug of her own.
"Yeah, I didn't even know you were going to be back in good old A.G.," Zack pointed out.
"Kind of a last minute thing. I suffered a severe muscle pull a couple of days ago. The doctor said if I wanted to make a full recovery I'd have to not practice for four to six weeks. No way was I going to stay that long in Florida not practicing. So I came home to recover here. How long are you two home for?"
"At least a month. There's a break in the meetings and seminars, and we wanted to spend it at home. We've really missed you guys," Trini explained.
"So, where's everyone else?" Zack cut in, looking around.
"Would you believe they were all here with me, but there was an attack? I don't know if it's over or not. Guess we should go check it out," Kim replied, leading her two friends out to the parking lot.
Quickly stowing their luggage in the trunk of Kim's car, the three friends drove toward Angel Grove Park. They were still a couple of blocks away when they saw the huge, humanoid shaped monster that appeared to be made out of chain link and hubcaps. The Megazord was going head to head with it, with Pyramidus quickly approaching.
"Looks like it should be over soon," Zack pointed out with a grin. "That's the new Megazord? Awesome."
"Billy told me all about their capabilities. They can do more than ours ever did," Trini added. "He's probably in the Power Chamber, right?"
"Yeah. Every battle he's there. Come on, let's get a little closer so we can surprise them when they're finished," Kim suggested, driving closer to the park before parking the car.
They stayed a prudent distance away as the Rangers finished off the monster in a brief but intense explosion. The Zords began to separate as they headed back at an incredible speed to the holding bay where they were stored between battles. The six Rangers landed on the ground close to the three former Rangers, then with a cautious look around, demorphed.
"Whoa, man, awesome zords you have now," Zack exclaimed, greeting Jason and Tommy with high fives.
"You better believe it. You gotta come check them out," Tommy agreed.
"And it's great to see you," Trini added, giving both boys a warm hug.
"Great to see you two, too," Tommy grinned. "Remember Rocky and Adam?" he asked, indicating the current Blue and Green Rangers.
"Of course, good to see you guys," Zack replied as he shook hands with the two teens.
"And this is Katherine and Tanya. Kat, Tanya, this is Zack, and Trini," said Tommy, smiling as the two newest members of the team finally met the last two of the original team.
"I've heard so much about you," Katherine murmured as she greeted them.
"Yeah, it's great to finally get to meet you," Tanya added.
Introductions out of the way, Tommy stepped back and surveyed the group. "We need to check in with Zordon, make sure Mondo is through for the moment. Once we do that we should be free to spend some time with you guys. I'll even drag Billy back with me," he grinned.
"I got a better idea. Can we go with you to the Power Chamber and surprise them? I'd like to at least say 'Hi' to Zordon, you know?" Zack asked with a sparkle in his eyes.
Tommy shrugged. "Don't see why not. Let's go."
Quickly making their way to a secluded area, they teleported to the Power Chamber.
"Oh my God," Kimberly muttered looking around. The look on her face mirrored the shocked expressions on all nine teens' faces.
The Power Chamber was dimly lighted, but there was enough to see the damage that had been done. Consoles smoked and sparked from the damaged wiring and Zordon's tube was destroyed and empty.
For Tommy, Adam and Rocky the scene took them back in their memories to two other times they had found the center of their Power Ranger existence in ruins. Once because of Ivan Ooze, the other because of Rita and Zedd. Kimberly shared their memory of the first destruction, Katherine and Tanya memories of the second.
"Zordon," Tanya whispered, her voice sounding shocked and numb as she gazed at the ruined tube.
Rocky and Adam spied what remained of Alpha Five at the same time. The little 'droid had apparently been hit with some sort of blast. In the center of his chest was a blackened hole which exposed his damaged internal wiring, his left arm was lying three feet away, his right one was only attached to his body by a thin strip of metal.
"Oh, jeez, what a mess," Rocky uttered, his face pale and stunned.
Katherine looked down in dismay from the sight of Zordon's empty tube, then gave a startled gasp, stepping backwards with an utterance of horror.
The others looked at where she had been standing and understood her reaction. There was a fairly large puddle of blood, now smeared from Katherine's feet. Tommy felt his heart clench painfully at the sight.
"Oh,no," Kim whispered, her hands over her mouth, her doe eyes wide with horror.
"Billy," Jason said softly, looking around in dismay. He noticed something on the consoles and reached forward to touch it. His finger came away red with slightly tacky blood.
"I though this place was supposed to be safe. I thought this couldn't happen," Kat cried out suddenly. "Zordon said this couldn't happen."
"Well, looks like he was wrong about that," Rocky said with a suddenly hard expression.
"Okay, guys, we have to keep ourselves together," Tommy said firmly. "Adam, I want you to check over the consoles, see what's working and what isn't. Rocky, you and Tanya see if you can do anything for Alpha. At least get all the parts together. Jason, you and Kat search the chambers, make sure we're secure. I think we should be, but let's be sure. Take your blasters and be very careful. Keep your communicators open. I'll help Adam."
"What about us?" Kim asked.
"I'd probably be better able to help Adam than you would be," Trini pointed out in her quiet way.
"You're probably right about that," Tommy agreed. "Okay, you help Adam, and the rest of us will help Kat and Jason search. Maybe Billy made it out of here and is hiding somewhere."
No one looked like they thought that was the case, but they didn't argue. Feeling a slight comfort in having something to do, they all set to work on their assigned tasks.
Two hours after they found the Power Chamber destroyed, Trini and Adam called everyone into the main chamber. Rocky and Tanya had tried to run diagnostics on Alpha, but found the little 'droid too damaged to even do that. They had ended up just setting him in a corner to wait until one of the more technical Rangers had a chance to work on him. Tommy, Katherine, Jason and Kimberly had searched the maze of corridors and rooms that comprised the Power Chamber complex and had found no trace of anyone. They did find where the Chamber's security was breached-a small entrance leading in from the desert. The security device had been disabled and the door forced. Zack had taken it upon himself to perform the duty none of them wanted to even think about, let alone do. He found some rags and an old bucket and cleaned the floor and consoles of blood, trying valiantly not to think about what he was doing.
"Hey, guys, did you find something?" Tommy asked as he entered the main chamber.
Seeing they were all there, Adam spoke quietly.
"You know Zordon records our battles, right? Well, there are also surveillance cameras set up throughout the Power Chamber, including in here. If an emergency occurs, these cameras activate, recording all activity until manually deactivated. We've managed to get the system working so we can see what happened in here." He reached out and flicked some switches. "Observe the Viewing Globe...."
Billy and Alpha were moving quickly between the consoles, obviously upset, the flashing red lights from the alarms adding to the sense of urgency.
"It looks like someone breached security at entrance Delta seven. I just checked that yesterday and it was working fine! They must have figured out a way to circumvent the security lock. They're approaching the main chamber, I'm shutting the security doors," Billy reported, still working frantically.
"The Rangers can't seem to find a weak spot in the monster," Alpha added worriedly.
"Damn! Someone got past the security doors before I got them closed. Zordon, I'm relaying the images from the security cameras to you. Do you recognize them?" Billy asked as he reached under the farthest console and removed a hand held blaster.
"She is Kyn'raem, a bounty hunter from the planet Gymaral. Her reputation is that she is one of the most vicious, successful bounty hunters in the known universe."
"Well, why would she be here? Who is she after?"
"I believe she may be after me. Eltar has been under attack, I suspect rewards have been offered for any Eltarans who are not on the home world at this time."
"Who is attacking Eltar?" Billy asked tersely, still working frantically at the consoles.
"Old enemies of yours, actually. The Briardians."
Billy winced. He had helped the Aquitians against the Briardians, and months later had been kidnapped in retaliation. Unfortunately, Jason had gotten dragged along on what had turned out to be a forty eight-day adventure that had included their being enslaved and tortured. They had managed to fake their deaths to escape the Briardians, which had been fortunate in the long run as Billy would not have to worry about them trying to get revenge against him again. Still, he had a deep fear and hatred for the Briardians for what they had already cost him.
Suddenly Tommy's voice was heard over the speakers.
"Zordon, Billy! Have you found a weakness in this monster yet? Nothing we've tried has made any difference."
"Still working on it Tommy. I'll contact you as soon as we know anything. In the meantime keep trying different tactics. You may find one that works," Billy replied, keeping his voice controlled so Tommy wouldn't suspect anything was amiss. The team had enough to deal with without worrying about what was happening in the Power Chamber.
Billy turned at the sound of an explosion at the door leading into the other chambers. He turned with the blaster in hand as a tall being walked through the ruined door and raised a weapon pointing it at Billy. The two fired simultaneously. The intruder was blown against the wall where he crumpled into an unmoving heap, and Billy was thrown back against the console behind him, shot in the side with some sort of projectile.
"Billy! Teleport out of here immediately!" Zordon ordered as Alpha hurried over to the injured teen.
"I'm okay, Alpha. Keep trying to find the weakness in that monster. They have to defeat that first, before they can help us. I'm putting up a force field over that doorway, hopefully that will keep out any other visitors. Zordon, I think it might be a good idea if you weren't here if she makes it through the security doors," Billy stated, moving quickly from console to console, one hand pressed against his side when not working the controls.
"Billy, you must leave here," Zordon insisted.
"I can't do that Zordon. The team still needs help, and we can't afford to lose you. I'm going to send you to a safe place until this is over," Billy said firmly. He looked thoughtfully at the console for a moment then started speaking again.
"This is like child's play, secret spy stuff. Plus five Henry, Charlie, Thomas, Zebra, Elephant, Yellow. Sorry, Zordon, but you will be safe there." As he spoke he entered information into the console and Zordon disappeared. Hitting more buttons he created a holographic image of Zordon inside the tube.
"Billy, I have the weak spot for the monster," Alpha declared happily.
"Great! Contact Tommy and let him know. I'm going to try to divert more power to them, if they can defeat the monster maybe they can get here in time to help us."
While Alpha relayed the necessary information to Alpha, Billy was tracking the progress of their intruders.
"Where are they Billy?" Alpha asked after closing communications with the Rangers.
"Just outside the door. Damn, this isn't good."
Another explosion rocked the Power Chamber, then a tall, regal looking woman in full quasi military uniform entered the main chamber. Billy leveled his weapon at her, but before he could pull the trigger he was hit in the shoulder by a shot from one of her companions, causing him to drop the blaster and collapse onto the floor.
She ignored the injured Human for a moment, instead she aimed her weapon at Zordon's tube and fired. The tube exploded. She hurried forward, looking for Zordon's body, and turned around, enraged, when she couldn't find it.
Alpha had hurried toward Billy when he saw the former Ranger collapse. Without hesitation, one of Kyn'raem's companions blasted the little 'droid, sending him flying across the chamber to crash into the wall with tremendous force. Another of her companions began blasting the various consoles.
Kyn'raem stalked over to where Billy was lying on his side on the floor, moaning.
"Where is Zordon of Eltar? Where is he?" she demanded, kicking the helpless teenager repeatedly when he didn't answer her.
She reached down and grabbed the shoulder and collar of Billy's shirt, dragging him roughly to his feet. She shook him like a rag doll, her features twisted with anger and disappointment.
"Where did he get to? If you don't give him to me I'll make you pay for my not getting him."
"Go to hell," Billy spat out, his voice weak but his resolve strong.
"Oh, you are the one who will end up in hell, just you wait and see. Let's get out of here before those idiotic Power Rangers return and try to do something heroic," she said as she and her companions, along with Billy plus Kyn'raem's injured flunky, teleported out.....
"I think that's it until we got here," Adam said softly, turning off the Viewing Globe.
The nine teenagers all wore nearly identical expressions of horror and distress. Trini was the first to speak.
"He hid Zordon somewhere," she said softly.
"Yeah, but where? The console is angled so we can't see what coordinates he punched in," Adam noted.
"How many numbers constitute a coordinate where he might have sent Zordon?" Zack asked suddenly.
"Um, six, usually," Adam replied.
"Can you rewind the tape, or whatever, to where Billy was getting rid of Zordon?" Zack inquired.
"Sure. Just a second." Adam started punching buttons, then the viewing globe came back to life.
Billy's voice issued forth. "This is like child's play, secret spy stuff. Plus five Henry, Charlie, Thomas, Zebra, Elephant, Yellow. Sorry, Zordon, but you will be safe there."
Zack muttered to himself. "H-C-T-Z-E-Y. Okay, now if I can remember the code correctly..."
Tommy looked puzzled. "What are you talking about?"
"Jason and the girls should remember. We used to play a spy game when we were kids," Zack started as Kimberly gave a gasp of recognition. Trini and Jason both sported expressions that showed they had already realized what their old friend had been referring to. "The game was kind of complex, considering our ages. Complete with secret code. That is what Billy was talking about."
"What? The letters correspond to numbers? Not really very complex," Rocky noted.
"Ah, but those letters he gave us may not be the right ones. All I have to do is remember the right vegetables and fruits."
"What?" Tanya asked, amazed.
"It was Billy's brainstorm, as usual. We used the names of some fruits and vegetables to hide the letters. See, I do remember zucchini was one of the ones we used. So, z is really i, and i would be z, except he didn't use i. Come on guys, help me remember the rest of the darn things."
Working together in a huddle the four childhood friends struggled to remember the rest of the code words. The others found a replacement tube and installed it to prepare for Zordon's return.
"Okay, so the letters needed are W-S-A-I-N-B. That would correspond to 23-19-1-9-14-2. Try those coordinates," Zack said.
Trini and Adam entered the numbers and the entire team waited anxiously, watching Zordon's tube.
"Nothing," Adam announced at last, discouraged.
"I don't get it. It should have worked. That had to be what he was referring to," Zack muttered. "Can I see that part of the tape again?"
Adam wordlessly played the portion again.
"This is like child's play, secret spy stuff. Plus five Henry, Charlie, Thomas, Zebra, Elephant, Yellow. Sorry, Zordon, but you will be safe there."
"What did he say just before he said 'Charlie'?" Zack asked anxiously.
"He said 'plus five'," Katherine replied.
"Damn. I'm an idiot. Of course. Plus five." Zack scribbled furiously, then looked at Adam again. "Try these coordinates. 27-23-5-13-18-6."
Again they waited for something to happen, and again were disappointed.
"What now?" Zack cried out, frustrated. "I did the plus five thing." He stared at his cheat sheet for a long moment. "Oh. I forgot."
"Forgot what?" Rocky asked.
"Forgot that it never goes above 26."
"Okay, plus five meant that a equals 5, b equals 6, and so on. But when I got to v, which equals 26, I needed to make w equal 1, but instead I made it equal 27. That was my mistake. Okay, Adam third time should be the charm: 1-23-5-13-18-6."
Adam entered the new numbers and immediately Zordon's tube filled with light. Within moments their mentor's benevolent countenance once again filled the transparent cylinder.
"Zordon, am I glad to see you!" Tommy exclaimed.
"Rangers! You are unharmed. I am so relieved," the ancient being said.
"Well, mostly," Tommy muttered.
"Where is Billy? He was injured when I last saw him. Is he alright?" the interdimensional being asked gravely.
"He was taken by the woman who broke into here," Tommy told him quietly. "He'd been shot twice, and she kicked him severely." The Ranger leader hated having to upset their mentor, but he needed to know just what had happened.
Zordon's expression grew ever more serious. "I tried to get him to leave, but he disobeyed my order."
"Yeah, we saw that," Jason replied. "He's not as easy to boss around as he used to be."
"You have a recording of his abduction?"
"Yeah. Not real pleasant," Tommy replied quietly. "But it had the clues we needed to get you back."
"I see Alpha has been damaged. How bad is it?" Zordon asked.
"Pretty bad, near as we could tell. Not even enough working to run a diagnostic. His internal wiring is badly fried, both arms are unattached from the torso," Tanya reported, her voice subdued.
"I will work on his repair as soon as possible. First I wish to see the tape of what happened after I was sent away, then please feed the results of the diagnostic tests on the Power Chamber systems through to me so I can ascertain our status. Once I have had a chance to review the situation, we can determine how to best correct the problems," Zordon's voice was firm.
A half-hour later Zordon knew everything there was to know about what had happened when Kyn'raem stormed the Power Chamber, and the status of the equipment after her actions.
"What's our status Zordon?" Tommy asked tersely. "How long until we are up and running at full power?"
"The most critical repairs will take only a couple of hours with all of us working. That will get us to the point where we can defend Angel Grove against an attack by Mondo. Repairs to get the Power Chamber back to full capabilities will take almost a week, including repairing Alpha."
"What about going after Billy?" Jason asked.
Zordon looked gravely at the teens facing him. "I do not know if that will be feasible."
"What?! You want to just leave him out there? Alone and hurt? Zordon, we have to go after him, before it's too late!" Tommy cried out, shocked by Zordon's reply.
"It may already be too late," Zordon replied solemnly.
"But we don't know that for sure! We have to give him his chance," Jason started, his voice merging with the voices of the other Rangers and ex-Rangers, all of them expressing their desire to go after their friend.
"Rangers!" Zordon's voice was uncharacteristically harsh. The teens fell silent.
"Rangers," he said again, much more gently. "I will contact my sources to try and determine if Kyn'raem still has a Human prisoner. If she does, I will arrange for some of you to be sent on a rescue mission. But we cannot simply race off into space and leave Earth defenseless. I understand your concerns. Believe me when I say I share them. But we must proceed in a logical and sensible manner."
At his words the teens seemed to deflate some. Each understood that what Zordon was telling them was nothing but the truth. But it didn't make it any easier to bear.
Billy moaned as he became aware of the world around him. His shoulder and side both sent screaming messages of pain to his mind, almost overwhelming him. He finally forced his eyes open, and found himself looking up at a blurry face that was completely unfamiliar to him. He saw riotous red hair and eyes that were an almost startling shade of blue.
"Easy, laddie. Ye shouldna be moving around much yet. Ye're still bleedin', movin' around will only make it worse. 'Twould be best if ye went back to sleep for a while. Ye'll not much like what I'm needing to do now."
"What are you planning to do to me? Who are you?"
"The name's Edinburgh, but most everyone calls me Ed. And I need to cauterize yer wounds to stop the bleedin'. I'll be using this, I thought 'twould work the best." He removed a slender rod from an odd holder and showed it to the teen. The tip of the rod glowed red hot.
"Please, I don't know where he is. I don't know...please." Despite the pain and his weakness Billy tried to move away from the red-haired man, making a low sound of fear.
"No, no. Easy laddie. I'm not doing this to be hurting ye. Ye're still bleedin' badly, if I don't stop it ye won't survive. No, I'm not tryin' to cause ye more pain, lad, that's not my way, not my way atall." He continued to speak gently, breaking through the teenager's haze of fear and pain.
Billy gradually relaxed, looking deeply into the bright blue eyes of this strange man. He saw compassion and worry there, but no anger, no hint of a desire to hurt him. He lay back down cautiously.
"I'm sorry, lad. I wish ye'd not awakened until I'd done this, but there's naught to be done aboot it now. I would suggest ye bite doon on this piece o' wood, 'twill keep ye from screamin'. 'Twould be best to avoid gettin' her attention, if ye know what I mean." He held out a flat, smooth piece of wood, perhaps a half-inch thick and three inches wide and long. He held it to Billy's lips until the dazed teen took it between his teeth.
"Hold on tight, laddie. 'Twill be over in a minute or two. Try not to move too much, if ye can. I'll hold ye down, but it'd help if ye did yer bit to stay still."
He had already removed Billy's shirt, now the larger man straddled the teen's waist and used his free hand to pin his uninjured shoulder before pressing the heated rod against the shoulder wound. Billy screamed around the chunk of wood as his body arched against the pain. Shifting his position, Ed quickly kept Billy as immobilized as he could and treated the wound in the teen's side in the same manner. Placing the rod back into the odd holder, Ed spoke soothingly to the former Ranger.
"Ye did good, lad. Halfway there now," he began to gently shift Billy onto his stomach so he could have access to the exit wounds. Billy moaned and whimpered a bit, his pale face streaked with sweat and tears.
"I know it hurt, lad. I wish I could have found some other way to stop the bleedin', but there wasn't one to be had. Keep bitin' on that chunk of wood, now. We've almost got it done," he murmured as he took the reheated rod and applied it to Billy's shoulder. The sickeningly sweet smell of charred flesh began to fill the room they were in as Ed quickly pressed into the last spot. Billy's body tensed then relaxed completely as he finally gave in to unconsciousness.
"There ye go, laddie. 'Tis much better ye be asleep for a wee bit. Ye'll feel better when ye awaken," he said gently as he applied a thick, pungent salve to the two wounds on the teen's back. Rolling the youth over, he treated the two entrance wounds with the healing salve and loosely bandaged them.
"There. 'Tis the best I can do for ye. 'Tis up to ye now, whether yer brave enough to live, or weak enough to die." He carefully covered the injured teen, trying to make him as comfortable as possible.
Then Edinburgh settled back to wait and wonder about this new companion his captor had provided for him.
Two days had passed since the destruction of the Power Chamber, two days during which the past and present Rangers had labored ceaselessly to try to repair all the damage that had been done in less than ten minutes. Even the least technically inclined Rangers had been pressed into service rewiring, soldering, or programming.
"Well, looks like we are a bit ahead of schedule," Tommy commented as they carefully reattached the top of the middle console. They still had one more to do, but the Power Chamber was completely functional. The operations performed by the still damaged console were being handled by backup systems at the moment. Adam was handling the repairs on Alpha, under Zordon's tutelage, but was only partially done.
"Yeah. It's good to know we have almost everything available to us if we are attacked. At least Mondo didn't try anything while we were down. Lucky thing he didn't know about Kyn'raem's attack," Jason noted.
"Yeah, we got lucky, all right," Tommy replied in a disheartened tone of voice.
"Worrying about Billy?" Jason asked quietly.
"Yeah. Aren't you?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm about ready to blast Zordon's tube myself. We've got to do something. Every hour that passes he's getting further and further away from us. I don't care if Zordon doesn't hear that he's alive. That doesn't mean he isn't. I mean, you guys all thought we were dead when the Briardians had us. And we weren't. Billy's the most resourceful guy I know. If there is a way to get out of where he is, he'll find it. I refuse to believe he would die without giving one heck of a fight." Jason's voice rang with his conviction.
"I agree. But it isn't like we have a spaceship at our beck and call right now."
"Actually, we do. Pyramidus."
"But that can only take one person, right?"
"Possibly as many as five or six, if they are friendly. I found Billy's notes on Pyramidus yesterday, and they indicated that when originally built it was intended as a space ship, kind of a giant, roving weapon, taking a small crew to wherever their help was needed. There are some areas inside it where we could remove some extra equipment and stuff and make it comfortable enough for an extended space flight. However, when carrying a crew she can't go at that extremely high velocity she was using when she appeared here. She can go quite fast, but not that fast. Probably as fast as any other space ship out there, plus she has the awesome weaponry," Jason's eyes sparkled at the thought of all his zord could do.
"Then there is no reason some of us can't go with you in Pyramidus, find Billy, and get him away from Kyn'raem."
"None I can see. Let's get the group together and talk to Zordon."
Zordon listened to Jason and Tommy's plan patiently, a worried expression on his face.
"I understand your concerns, Rangers. But the fact remains we cannot leave Earth undefended for any length of time."
"So, we'll go instead," Kimberly said, indicating herself, Trini, and Zack. "That'll leave the full Zeo team here, and take only Jason and Pyramidus. Zordon, I know we're not allowed to use the powers for personal gain, but Billy's part of the team. He got captured protecting you and the Rangers, and it isn't right that we let that happen and not try to rescue him!" Her voice cracked slightly at the end, her large eyes bright with tears.
Jason, Trini, and Zack stood closely around Kimberly, all of them looking beseechingly at their ancient mentor.
"We don't even know if he is alive or not," Zordon started sorrowfully.
"Hey, this is Billy we're talking about! The guy has ways of getting out of stuff the rest of us would never dream of," Zack interrupted with a knowing grin.
"You know that's true, Zordon. Of all of us he's the best equipped to try to find ways out of alien situations. He's done it before," Jason added. "And, like I told Tommy a while ago, you all thought we were dead after the Briardians took us, and look how that one turned out."
Zordon looked again at the solemn, determined faces of his past and present Rangers, all of them focused on finding their lost friend. His heart swelled with pride, compassion, and love at the sight. He had indeed chosen well.
"Jason, you take Pyramidus and Kimberly, Zack, and Trini, and search for Billy. We will modify your communications systems so you can keep in contact with us. May the power protect you all."
Billy was riding in the backseat of the family car, tired and happy after a long day in the city shopping, visiting a museum, and seeing a movie. His parents spoke quietly in the front seat while he started to doze in the backseat. At nine he was small enough to curl into a fairly comfortable position to nap while still wearing his seatbelt. He heard his father's gasp and mother's small scream just before his world exploded in pain and the horrible sounds of tearing metal. Moments later he awakened as someone gently picked him up and pulled him out of the car. He looked over to see his mother's blood-streaked visage and staring eyes before the man who held him twisted away, blocking the sight.
"Mom!" he cried out in despair, struggling against the strong arms holding him. He looked up to see Zedd's metal face.
"Looks like we got her first," the harsh voice rasped out dropping the stunned teenager on the floor of the lunar palace.
"Let me go, Zedd, you have no right to do this to me."
"No right? Who are you to tell me I have no right, I have the right to do whatever I want, geek," Bulk's voice boomed in his ear as the two larger teens literally threw him into a dumpster behind a busy restaurant. The trash stank of spoiled food and grease, and Billy climbed out painfully, fighting nausea.
"Oh, good, you're here. Now, Billy, all you have to do is go over and ask Kelly to dance. She's sure to say yes," Trini prodded him gently toward the far side of the dance floor where a pretty, smooth-haired girl stood alone, watching the dancers dreamily.
Billy looked down at his befouled clothing and up at Trini in dismay.
"Trini, I can't go over to her looking like this. I can't!"
"That's right, powerless twerp, you can't. Can't even fight my cogs, can you? Good thing you gave the powers to someone else, rather than a loser like you. Someone deserving, someone who matters, not a geek. Oh, sure you clean up well, but under it all you are still nothing. Nothing but a brain to be used then set aside when not needed anymore." Mondo's voice grated on his nerves.
"That's not true, it can't be. I am someone, I deserved the powers, I know I did."
"Yeah, right. A guy whose own mother deserted him years ago, whose dad barely realizes he's alive," came Rita's screeching voice.
"No! That's not true. My dad cares, and my mom didn't desert me, she died."
"Are you so sure, son?" the gentle voice that had been stilled so many years ago startled the teen. "Perhaps I simply knew what was to come and decided to take the easy way out, rather than find out what a loser I'd given birth to."
And far away from Earth's blue swirled beauty a lonely man named Edinburgh watched his young patient moan and mutter, caught in the depths of delirium, crying out for a mother long since gone.
They were finally ready to leave.
It had taken a day to get Pyramidus ready, and to set up their cover stories so their families would not be worried. The intricate web of deceptions would allow them to be gone for up to three weeks without any of their parents becoming too concerned. Wallace Cranston included.
They had loaded the huge zord with supplies enough to feed five for twenty-one days, and all other necessities they could think of. Adam and Zordon had worked on the communications system, upgrading it to the point that intergalactic communications was possible.
After much discussion and debate, they had decided to set a course for Eltar, since that was Kyn'raem's last known destination. They had not received any word yet on the location of her ship, let alone if she was still carrying a Human prisoner.
Last good-byes had been said, and the three former Rangers were already boarding Pyramidus when Tommy turned to Jason with a hint of humor in his dark eyes.
"You know, I think we saw more of you before you became the Gold Ranger," he said, trying to lighten the mood a bit.
"I know what you mean. I never would have believed I would spend this much time in space or in other dimensions. The only thing I don't like about this plan is leaving you guys with only five Rangers again."
"We'll be okay. We have to be. And you'll be back soon."
"You know it, Bro."
Tommy's expression sobered.
"You be careful, Bro. I want to see you all come back. All of you."
"You know I'll do my best, Tommy."
"I know. Bring him back. Then we'll find a way to keep him safe, we can't keep losing him."
"You got it. Take care of our home, okay? After all, we need somewhere to come back to."
They looked solemnly at each other; two teenagers with responsibilities few adults could handle.
"May the power protect you," they said simultaneously.
Billy opened his eyes and looked around curiously, vaguely remembering the room from his previous brief period of consciousness. He noted that he was lying on a pallet of some sort, covered by several blankets. He had been stripped down to his undershorts, and it felt like there were a couple of bulky bandages on his upper chest and abdomen. At present, nothing really hurt, but he felt incredibly weak.
He shifted his position carefully and gasped at the sudden, mercifully brief, flares of pain from the injured areas. The soft noise brought his companion to his side, and blue eyes stared intently into his.
"So, yer awake now, are ye laddie? Good to see ye feelin' a wee bit better. Or at least knowin' who ye are and what yer aboot."
Billy flinched involuntarily at the sight of the larger man. He remembered the pain of what this man had done to him, even as he recalled that he had been told it was necessary. Apparently the procedure, no matter how crude, had worked, as could be attested by his survival.
"You're Ed, right?" he said cautiously.
"Aye, lad, that I am," the redhead smiled.
If the sight of Ed brought back unpleasant associations, his voice did the opposite. Thinking back to the time he was delirious, Billy had a recollection of moments of peace and comfort, all associated with that pleasant Scottish accent, so thick and luxuriant one could almost lose oneself in it. He used a strange dialect, somewhere between Scottish and Irish. The warmth of that voice had brought him comfort when nothing else made any sense.
"I guess I owe you my life," Billy said at last, trying to shift his position again. This time the pain was a bit less.
"'Twas ye who did all the work, lad. Yer a wee bit stronger than ye looked at first. Ye ken my name, what might yers be?"
"I'm Billy...Carter, from the planet Earth."
"Pleased to meet ye, Billy Carter," the oddly homely face was split by an engaging smile.
"Same here," Billy replied, unable to suppress a return smile. "Speaking of which, where exactly is 'here'?"
"I dunno, lad. We were on our way to Eltar, but the mistress, she dinna get Zordon to offer the Briardians. So I'm not knowin' what she plans next."
"Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't involve the Briardians," Billy muttered.
"Why would that be?"
Billy started to answer, then stopped himself. True, this man had saved his life. But he had done so in one of the most painful ways imaginable. It was not inconceivable that this man's purpose was to gain information from him for the bounty hunter.
"No reason," he murmured at last.
Ed gave him a questioning look, but didn't pursue it.
"Would ye like to set up fer a spell? Maybe try to drink some warm broth? Ye haven't eaten a bite in 'most three days. Ye must be hungry."
"I can't say I'm feeling real hungry, but it would be nice to sit up for a while," Billy replied gratefully.
Ed carefully helped the teen sit up against the nearby wall, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders to keep him warm. Then he disappeared for a moment, returning with steaming mug.
"Here, lad, sip a wee bit of this. 'Twill make ye feel better."
"Thanks," Billy said softly, appalled at how his hands shook and how weak he felt. Ed noticed his expression.
"Yer lucky to be alive, lad. Weakness is to be expected. Ye'll recover well enough in time," he said gently.
"I hope so." Billy took a tentative sip of the broth and found it to be excellent. A few minutes later he looked at the empty mug in surprise.
"Guess I was hungry after all."
Ed chuckled indulgently as he took the mug back. "Would it raise your ire if I said 'I told ye so'?"
"Maybe not this once," Billy yawned around his answering grin.
"'Tis time for ye to lay back doon and sleep some. Ye need yer rest, lad, if ye wish to recover fully. Don't ye worry none, I'll be here if ye need me," he said as he helped the former Ranger lay back down on the thin pallet.
"Thanks," Billy mumbled as sleep overtook him.
"Yer welcome, lad," the big man said softly, gently brushing the light hair back from the sleeping teen's forehead.
Jason sat in the pilot's compartment of Pyramidus and glared at the surrounding stars. They had been out a full day, and still had no word from Zordon's numerous contacts concerning Kyn'raem's ship. Alone in this small compartment, staring at the vast expanse of space surrounding him, he found his fears for his friend intensified. Given the time and lack of anything else to think about, it was all too easy to remember the scenes of the violence that occurred in the Power Chamber when Billy was taken. The shootings, the beating, the ominously large pool of blood left behind...
Jason shook his head angrily, irritated that he'd let his imagination run amuck with him again. Forcing his thoughts away from their morbid path, he focused on checking the instruments' readings for the hundredth time in 24 hours.
"Hey, Jase, how's it going?" Zack's grin looked a bit forced as Jason turned to him.
"Okay. All systems are working fine. No word on anything, though. How's it going below?"
"Oh, long stretches of tedium broken up by the occasional bout of boredom. Other than that, okay. The girls were starting to discuss 'The Americanization of European Fashion' or something like that. I needed to find someone to engage in guy talk with," he grinned.
"And out of the hundreds of choices, you picked me. I'm flattered," Jason joked back, grateful for Zack's cheerful presence.
"As well you should be," he replied amicably. He sat down on the only other seat in the compartment and looked around in awe.
"You know, it is really so amazing. What we're doing, where we are. I mean, this is incredible. We are out in space man. Unbelievable. It's so beautiful. And so....vast. Times like these, I kind of wish I had Billy's vocabulary so I could say what I mean."
"You don't need that, man. I know what you mean. It is incredible. I just wish it wasn't necessary."
"You and me both. But, still, we are lucky we have this chance at all. To help him, I mean. And somehow, I just think it's going to be okay," Zack smiled more openly, and Jason could see his friend truly did believe things would be fine.
"Thanks, Zack, I needed to hear that right now."
"Anytime. Now, after you left, I met a sensei in Switzerland who specialized in what he called a hybrid discipline..."
Soon the two young men were deep in a discussion about karate as the stars continued to stream past, undisturbed and unmindful of the concerns of those who moved among them.
"Here ye go, lad. A bite o' real food. Now, ye be takin' it slow, don't wolf it doon," Ed admonished the former Blue Ranger as he handed the teen a bowl of soup laden with what looked to be vegetables of some sort.
"Thanks, Ed. It smells wonderful." Though still very weak, Billy was obviously mending quickly. Ed was frankly amazed.
"How old are ye, lad?"
"Eighteen years, right?"
"Yeah, eighteen years. How old are you?" Billy countered.
"I'm not sure. I wasna born on Earth. Was born in the Gnorium system. My mother had been born on Earth, my father I don't know aboot. He was a trader, according to Mother."
"Is your mother still alive?" Billy asked softly.
"Nae, lad, she died long ago."
Ed gave the teen a sympathetic look. "Ye spoke o' her while ye were ill. Called out to her. But somehow I got the feelin' ye weren't expectin' an answer. I'm sorry, lad."
"Your...um...your accent. Your mother spoke that way?" Billy asked, wanting to change the subject.
"Ah, never mind. My mistake. Have you ever been to Earth?"
"Nae, lad. 'Tis my dream, to see Earth. To see the city my mother so loved that she named me after it."
"I'm going to find a way home, Ed. And when I do, I'll take you with me. That's a promise."
"Thank ye, lad. I'll hold ye to it," the older man smiled in the manner of an indulgent parent not wishing to shatter a child's dream.
Billy accurately read his tone and expression, but made no comment on it. He had decided to keep certain aspects of his life and experiences quiet until he knew more about his companion. So he opted for another change of subject. "How long have you been with Kyn'raem?"
"I'm nae with Kyn'raem, lad. I'm her prisoner. Like ye are. I've survived longer than any of the others, but I'm still a prisoner."
"She's captured prisoners from time to time. They dinna live long around her. Ye musna anger her, lad. She's naught to be messed with. If ye can escape her notice for a while, ye may have a chance of survivin' to fight another day. Promise me, lad. Promise me ye'll avoid angerin' her, defyin' her. I don't want to be sendin' yer body out to spend eternity driftin' in space. I'm wantin' yer promise."
The insistent beep from the communications system got Jason's attention as he re-entered the pilot's compartment.
"Zordon, Jason here. What's up?"
"Jason, we have finally gotten word on Kyn'raem's location. It appears she may still be heading toward Eltar, but she has veered off to Proxicordia, intercepted communications indicate she is planning to land there for a couple of days. You may have a chance to overtake her there if you are lucky. We are transmitting the coordinates now. Good luck."
The Gold Ranger fed the information into the helm, entering the new coordinates and setting the speed to maximum.
"Proxicordia," Jason murmured as the powerful engines propelled the massive zord toward its new destination.
Kyn'raem was not pleased with how the last few days had gone. First she missed getting Zordon, then the rendezvous she was supposed to make with another bounty hunter had gone bad. She had gotten to the agreed upon location, only to find space debris from the other ship. Apparently it had been blown up by some unknown enemy.
"This is just great," she growled angrily. She had been planning to trade the Human she'd picked up on Earth for a couple of intergalactic traders who had worked against the Briardians ten years before. Now that opportunity was gone as well, and all she had left to show for the last few days' efforts was a half dead teenage Human.
"Might just as well make him all the way dead, as much good as he is going to do me," she decided, heading toward the holding bay where the two Humans were kept. "Set our course to Proxicordia," she barked at her helmsman as she left.
The ship she commanded was quite large, yet required only four crewmembers to run it, not counting herself. So the corridors were quite deserted as she made her way deeper into the bowels of the ship, until at last she stood outside the holding bay doors. Grinning unpleasantly to herself, she unlocked the doors and entered.
She found the two Humans sitting quietly by the far wall, looking apprehensively at her as she approached. She had captured Ed several months before, and had kept the older man alive because he had turned out to be useful around the ship, fixing things. And, he also fixed the various beings she captured, at least until she decided to get rid of them.
As for the new Human, he was looking at her out of calm, pale blue eyes. His steady expression startled her a little, considering he still looked half-dead. She strode over to him purposefully, withdrawing a small device from her pocket.
"You! You have been nothing but trouble. I don't like trouble. At least not unless I'm the one causing it. Let me demonstrate how I deal with troublemakers," she yanked the teen to his feet, pushing him hard against the wall and placing the device against the left side of his neck. Agony flared throughout the former Ranger's body, an involuntary scream of pain wrenched from him.
"Stop it! Stop I say, ye witch! There's no need to be killin' the boy," Ed cried out, trying to push the bounty hunter away from her now helpless victim.
Startled, Kyn'raem withdrew the device and turned to Ed with a speculative look. "So this one means something to you? Is it because he's Human? What's he worth to you, Edinburgh? Eh? What's this puny boy's miserable life worth to you?"
"Whatever ye need me to do, that's the price I'll pay," Ed said softly, looking worriedly at Billy, who'd collapsed into a painful huddle on the floor.
"Even completing the Extirpator? Are you willing to go that far, Ed?"
"Aye, I am. If ye'll agree to leave the boy be."
"Oh, I can promise that, Ed. But, if you renege on the deal, I will kill him by inches, and you will be forced to watch. Keep that in mind. I'll have you moved back to the workshop."
"I'll be wantin' the boy with me," Ed said firmly.
"I'll allow that for now. But, any signs of you not doing your best, and he will be the one to suffer."
Ed watched the bounty hunter leave, then turned swiftly to Billy, kneeling by the injured teen's side.
"Easy, lad. I'm sorry, I should've warned ye about her fondness fer that device o' hers. It stimulates the nerves somehow, sending pain everywhere. I've tasted its sting a few times myself."
"Oh, man," he moaned as he sat up gingerly. "Last time I felt something like that was in a prison on Primeria. Never wanted to feel it again."
"Ye've been to Primeria? Ye never told me that, lad. That's not a good place for a lad like ye to be."
"I know. It wasn't by choice, believe me."
"How did ye come to be there?"
"Ed, I really don't feel up to telling the story right now, please. Ask me later?"
"Okay, lad, I won't be pushin' ye right now. But soon ye'll be tellin' me how ye came to be on Primeria, and the other stories ye've held back on."
Billy looked closely at Ed, a bit surprised that he'd realized Billy's deceptions. But something else was foremost in his mind at the moment.
"What is it you agreed to do to make her stop?" he asked the older man.
Ed sighed. "I believe ye could say I've sold my soul to the Devil, so I have. Or at least to the Devil's handmaiden. She's got a device she stole from some unfortunate race, dinna ken who 'twas, and I suppose it doesn't matter now. It's a nasty contraption, a bastard cross between a sonic transmitter and a laser gun. Verra destructive. Dependin' on the setting, ye can kill one, or a roomful, or stun them, even cause the explosion of small objects, includin' an unfortunate soul's skull. It isna ready fer use quite yet, still needs some modifications. And none of her crew has the skills needed fer the job. I do, but I've refused to do it. 'Til now."
"Ed, you can't complete that. Not for the likes of her. You can't. Even if it is to save my life."
"I know, lad. I have no intention of doing so. But I needed time, so that's what we got. Now we work on a way of gettin' ourselves out of here."
Ed's workshop was much smaller than the holding bay, and was crammed full of various devices he was either modifying or he needed in order to modify other devices. Billy was reminded of his lab at home, and felt strangely comforted by that fact. He assisted Ed as much as he could, hiding the fact that he was quite capable of doing a lot of the same work Ed was doing, perhaps even a bit more. When not holding something for the older man, Billy wandered about the room idly, looking at the devices with a mildly blank look plastered on his face.
"Ed, what's this?" he asked quietly, holding up a device that looked a bit like an old fashioned projector.
"'Tis a holographic image recorder/projector, lad. Ye put it doon, now. 'Tis a delicate piece of equipment, that is."
"What do you use it for?" Billy asked, putting it gently down on the workbench.
"I sometimes record images of what I'm workin' on, then project it larger than life so I can check details more closely. 'Tis a useful tool in its place. Now, come here, lad, and hold this for me, please."
Billy obeyed wordlessly, but behind his slightly vapid expression his overactive mind was working frantically.
"Ed," Billy whispered, his mouth nearly in his companion's ear. "Ed, wake up."
"Wha...whass up, lad. Why're ye whisperin'?" Despite his confusion Ed matched Billy's quiet tone.
"Do they monitor us here while we're sleeping, like they do in the lab?" Billy asked.
"Nae, lad, I don't think so. Why?"
"I have an idea. What if we use the holographic recorder, set it to record our work for a while, with us doing a lot of very close work, not moving a lot. Then, we interrupt their monitoring for a split second, move out of their camera's range and set the projector to play directly into their feed. The recorder can do that, right? That could give us time to escape. We can have it set up to do the next time we land on a planet. You said it should be soon, right?" Billy spoke quickly, urgently.
"Aye, lad, it should be. 'Tis verra unusual for her to be goin' so long between planets. For all that her work's dependent on space flight, she's not over fond of being onboard ship for too long at a time." Ed fell silent for a moment, thinking.
"Yer idea verra well may work, lad. 'Tis worth a try. We can take the Extirpator with us. We'll set it up tomorrow. Get yerself some sleep, lad, ye'll be needin' it."
Billy settled back down on his pallet, pleased to know their time on this ship was now limited. If only they could find safe passage back toward Earth.
"How long until we reach Proxicordia?" Kimberly asked as she handed out mugs of coffee to go with their breakfast.
"About nine hours according to the helm computer," Jason replied, taking a grateful sip of the fragrant brew.
"Do we have a plan for when we get there? Any information on what this planet is like?" Zack asked.
"It's a kind of a general spaceport, all sorts of space travelers land there: cargo carriers, military, general exploration vessels. Fuel, supplies, and various forms of entertainment are available. It's a frequent meeting place for all sorts of exchanges. In short, it's a busy, dangerous place," Trini reported.
"Sounds like fun," Zack joked, albeit a little uneasily.
"Humans would not be expected to be seen there," Trini added. "However, a Triforian would not be that surprising."
"I guess I can add the facial tattoo, and uniform of a Triforian, but a scan will reveal me to be Human," Jason mused.
"The Gold Powers will thwart that to a degree. Just avoid being scanned," Trini told him.
"Good idea if it can be done. So, I can go into the spaceport, and you three will remain on board?"
"That would be the safest. I'll set up your communicator for continuous feed back to me so I can monitor your activities. I can teleport you out in an emergency. I'm also going to place a tiny receiver behind your ear, so I can contact you if need be. We can also monitor the various messages and transmissions, listening for clues that might lead us to Billy," Trini concluded.
"Good plan, Trini. I think you have every base covered," Jason said with a warm look at the pretty Asian.
"I hope so. We may only get one chance to do this right."
"Planetfall," Ed whispered as he reached past Billy for a tool.
"I felt it," Billy breathed back, his heartbeat quickening.
"Give her time to get off and gone, lad. Then we go," Ed's softly uttered instructions were all but inaudible.
They continued to work patiently. Fortunately for them, the original design of the device had numerous flaws, and setting them right was a painstaking task. Kyn'raem seemed content that Ed was doing his best, and the younger Human was apparently trainable as an assistant. Perhaps she wouldn't kill him after all.
"Lad, go get me the harmonic distender there on the bench," Ed directed him, using the phrase that signaled they would put their plan into action.
Moving sedately over to the bench Billy activated the holographic feed they had set up step by slow step during the long day. The crewmember watching their activities didn't notice the slight interruption of the visual, and a glance at the screen showing the workshop revealed the two Humans working busily on the Extirpator.
In the workshop Billy stepped back and began frantically waving at the small camera. When no one came to check on them, he turned to Ed with a triumphant look.
Ed quickly picked up the Extirpator, handing Billy some of the extra parts they would need, then he quickly and efficiently deactivated the lock on the door and poked his head outside. The corridor was quite empty.
Motioning for Billy to follow, Ed began moving quickly through the ship, working his way confidently to the small access hatch that would let them off the ship. Only once did they encounter a crewmember, and they were able to take refuge in an empty room until he was gone.
Opening the hatch, Ed dropped down to the floor of the gigantic bay, followed closely by Billy. Taking a quick look around, they noticed the closest door and made their way hastily toward it, exiting the bay less than ten seconds after leaving the ship. They heard no signs of pursuit from the direction of the ship, indicating they had been successful in avoiding detection.
Pulling the cloaks they had filched from Kyn'raem's ship closer around themselves, they endeavored to blend into the crowd, moving further and further away from the bounty hunter's spaceship and the certain death that awaited them there.
Once he figured they had put sufficient distance between them and the ship, Billy stopped and looked around, trying to get a feel for their location.
"What're ye doin', lad? We'd best keep movin', lest she discover we're gone and start a search for us."
"I know, Ed. But we need to have some idea of where we are running to. I'm thinking we should try to catch a ride out of here as quickly as possible. You agree?"
"Aye, lad. 'Twould be best to get gone from here," the larger man agreed. "Yer thinkin' of stowin' away?"
"Yeah. If we can find a ship that doesn't look too hostile. Let's head over toward those hangars and kind of snoop around."
Moving quickly toward the indicated hangar, the two of them strolled along the open doorways, glancing inside each one, hoping to spot a likely ship. Suddenly Billy stopped, shock evident in his stance.
"I don't believe it," he muttered.
"What is it, lad? What do ye see?"
Billy turned a warm smile on Ed. "I see our salvation. Come on, we need to get on that ship."
Before Ed could resist or question him, Billy had swiftly moved toward the ramp that led to the open cargo door of the ship and sprinted up its gentle incline. Ed followed reluctantly. They moved among tall stacks of cargo until they found a small area where they were surrounded on all sides by walls of crates, with only a narrow entryway, easily defensible. Billy moved to the 'wall' across from the entry and sat down gratefully. He was still quite weak from his injuries, and it was quickly catching up with him.
"What's the big idea, lad?" Ed hissed at him angrily.
"This is a good place for us to be, unless things have changed in the last few months. Wait until we take off, then we can talk."
Glaring at the teenager, Ed nevertheless kept quiet, keeping his eyes riveted on the narrow opening to their small haven.
Jason strode purposefully through the crowded main street of the spaceport. He was headed toward the largest restaurant/bar/entertainment center there, a place one of Zordon's resources had indicated was the type Kyn'raem frequented when planet side. Seemed she liked a bit of social interaction.
The outfit he wore included a large hood that partially obscured his face. It allowed him to feel just a touch more confident that no one would recognize him as Human. He entered the large establishment, and stepped aside for a moment, scanning the crowd. He spotted the bounty hunter at the bar, sipping a tall drink that was a veritable rainbow of swirled colors. She was talking to a fierce looking male humanoid who wore a uniform of combined orange and purple. Not that Jason figured anyone would mock his sense of color.
Moving as unobtrusively as possible, he took up a position not far from her and ordered a drink by pointing to one he wanted. He took a cautious sip, hoping it wasn't poisonous to Humans.
He had been watching Kyn'raem for nearly a half hour when suddenly she became agitated after speaking into a small device that Jason guessed was a communicator. Moving cautiously closer, he heard her say that there was a problem on her ship, that her prisoners had escaped. She told him she was in hangar 43287, and that once she had recaptured the prisoners she would like to meet him there.
With all the information he needed, Jason headed out the door, mindless of where Kyn'raem might go.
The throbbing of powerful engines signaled the ship's take off from Proxicordia, and Billy relaxed visibly. Turning to his red headed companion he smiled a bit.
"We should be okay, now. Trust me on this one, Ed."
"Trust ye? Yer just a lad, from Earth no less. What could ye possibly know of space travel?"
"More than you realize. I know this ship. And more importantly, my friends know this ship. If they traced us to Proxicordia, and Jason discovers this ship was there, he should know where I went, and they'll find us that much quicker."
"What in heaven's name makes ye believe yer friends are seekin' ye? Ye looked more than half dead when Kyn'raem threw ye into the room after she took ye from Earth. They'd be smart to think ye dead."
"But they won't. Not unless they know for certain. And they will come after me."
They had had this argument before, and Billy had never been able to convince Ed that his friends would come looking for him.
"I still have a hard time believin' ye on this matter. And now ye've put us on a strange ship headin' heaven alone knows where."
"It's not a strange ship. I know the owner of this ship."
"Oh, ye do, do ye? And just who might that be?"
"That would be me," came a deep, calm voice from the small entry. They turned to see a Humanoid standing over seven feet tall, with thick muscles, blue eyes, and pale olive green skin.
"Hi, Modil," Billy greeted him.
"Guys, Kyn'raem's hostages escaped. Have you heard anything?" Jason asked softly as he strode through the crowded street, heading toward the outskirts of the settlement where he had landed the cloaked Pyramidus.
"No, not yet. But I have an idea. They probably escaped a while ago. I'm going to set up a bogus transmission from one of the recently departed ships, saying they have found stowaways-you said more than one, right?- and are taking them to....um....Seraptus? Wasn't that the planet you found where outlaws can live?"
"Yeah, that's it. And, yeah, she definitely said plural. Can you do that without them being able to trace it?"
"I think so. It's worth a try, and would send Kyn'raem far away from us, at least for a while. Ever since we got within sensor range, I've been running tracers on all departing ships, recording the information and any transmissions made. I had already picked a ship to use if the opportunity arose. Planning ahead a little, just in case."
"Excellent, Trini. Go ahead, I'm heading back. I'll teleport in momentarily."
Finding a quiet, deserted area, Jason touched his communicator and teleported to the cramped bridge of Pyramidus. Trini and Zack were both there, Zack speaking as if sending a message, talking about finding stowaways and sending them to Seraptus. Trini was providing the dialog for the 'home planet'. Jason stood there silently until his friends finished.
"That sounded very convincing, guys. Now if only Kyn'raem will buy it. She's in hangar 43287, can you scan to see if the ship is still there?"
"It's still there, Jason. I'd picked it up a while back. I'm also scanning for Humans in the settlement, but only you showed up. It took some time to set up the parameters, plus Kyn'raem's been here a while, so they may have already left on another ship. But I'm pretty sure they aren't here now."
"Do we have information on the ships that have left? Maybe we can pick a likely one out from them," Jason suggested, looking doubtful even as he advanced the idea.
"Sure. Here, I'll print this out. It's the information I could get on each one," Trini replied, punching a few buttons. In a couple of moments she handed Jason the printout, which he began to scan quickly.
"Hey, it looks like our ruse may have worked. Kyn'raem's ship is powering up. That would make things so much easier. There she goes," Trini announced, watching the viewer which was showing the bounty hunter's large ship make a gradual climb away from the crowded spaceport.
"Which way are they headed?" Jason asked anxiously.
There was a pause as Trini studied the information from the computer.
"Headed in the general direction of Seraptus. It worked," she said quietly.
"Excellent. Trini, you're a genius!" Jason told her with a wide smile as Zack gave her a quick hug.
"Not really. But I used to spend a lot of time with one," she replied.
"And you will again, soon," Zack told her firmly.
"I think he may be right. I have it. This is where he is, I'm sure of it," Jason said with mounting excitement, pointing to a page of the printout that Trini had given him.
"How can you be so sure?" Zack asked.
"Because, we know this guy. If Billy saw this ship, and I'm betting he did, he'd find a way to get on board. It's Modil's ship." Jason poked his finger emphatically against the printout as he spoke.
"One of your 'gut feelings'?" Zack queried.
"Actually, yes, partially. And partially simple logic. We have nothing else to go on at this point. Lay in a course to follow this ship, but don't try to contact them. I don't want any chance someone could overhear our transmissions."
"I agree. Extreme caution would be best at this point," Trini stated, entering data quickly into the helm. "They've got a couple of hours head start on us. Modil, huh? The guy you and Billy ended up with after the Briardians kidnapped you, right?"
"Yeah. He's a good guy. I know he'll help Billy if he can."
Within minutes they were leaving Proxicordia behind.
"Billy, what are you doing here?" the huge Nebulan asked, his tone somewhere between exasperated and angry.
"Would you believe I got kidnapped again?" the former Ranger asked with a sheepish look.
"What'd you do this time?"
"Um, a bounty hunter, Kyn'raem, came after Zordon. I got him hidden, but didn't have time enough to get away myself."
"Zordon is safe?"
"I believe so. He should be."
"Do ye mean to tell me ye knew all along where Zordon was? 'Tis a good thing she dinna ken that, lad. Ye'd been in a world of hurt," Ed interrupted, giving his younger friend a surprised look.
"I figured as much. Modil, I'm truly sorry to barge in on you like this, but we really needed to get away from her," Billy said, looking at the huge Humanoid with a hopeful expression.
"I'm not the safest ride you could have picked up. I've been sneaking supplies in to Eltar for the last few weeks. They're standing tough against the Briardians, but it's only a matter of time before they fall. I'm hoping I can find a way to help more than this little bit. I owe them a lot."
"As do I. Zordon has done so very much for Earth. Perhaps we can find a way to rid them of the Briardians once and for all," Billy replied.
"Ye can count me in as well. The Eltarans have always been good to me, helped me out once when I had nae where else to go."
"We'll have even more help when Jason or the others turn up," Billy added for Ed's sake more than anything.
"Yer so sure of yer friends. Ye know they're coming as well as ye ken yer name is Billy Carter, is that right?" Ed asked, with more than a touch of sarcasm.
"Um, Cranston," Billy muttered, flushing a little.
"What?" Ed asked sharply.
"Cranston. My name is Billy Cranston. I lied about that. Sorry."
"Ye lied aboot it? And ye lied aboot Zordon as well. Anything else?" Ed looked uncharacteristically angry.
"No, that's all," he said softly. "I'm sorry Ed. I didn't know for sure if I could trust you, or if Kyn'raem was monitoring our conversations. Zordon's safety was the most important thing."
"But ye dinna even tell me yer true name, lad."
"Like I said, I thought she could be monitoring us, and the Briardians would be very pleased to have me turned over to them. I didn't think that would be a good idea to give her."
"Nae, lad, it wouldn't have done atall." The bigger man sighed. "I suppose I can't fault yer reasons. Ye plannin' on introducing me to the green giant yonder?"
Billy chuckled a little. "Modil, this is Edinburgh. Ed, this is Modil, the ship's captain and a Nebulan."
"A pleasure I'm sure," Ed said, his tone wary.
"Perhaps," Modil replied, then turned his attention back to the younger Human. "You've managed to get injured again, haven't you? Let's get you to the sickbay and get you fixed up. We'll be arriving at Eltar sometime tomorrow."
With that he led his two unexpected guests toward the sickbay, the three of them already tentatively discussing possible strategies to use against the Briardians.
"I still say yer insane, lad. There has to be another way of getting on board that ship without putting ye in so much danger," Ed argued for the third time in the last fifteen minutes.
"If you can come up with a better idea, I'd be thrilled to hear it," Billy shot back.
"Any idea would be better than walking straight into the mouth of the shark," Ed replied sharply.
"Then let's hear it!"
"I don't have one, yet. Modil, ye tell him he's insane."
"You're insane," Modil told the former Ranger, only slightly kidding. "But, that idea might actually work," he added reluctantly.
"Okay, then let's get ready. I'll use some of the instruments in the sickbay to make me look like you've roughed me up. You should send the transmission now, so they won't be surprised by our approach and just shoot us before asking any questions. We have the explosives already. Ed, you should start studying the layout of the ship so you can finish as quickly as possible. I have your personal cloaking device just about ready. Anything else?" Billy asked.
"Nae, lad, that's all fer now. I still say it's too dangerous for ye, but I guess I've been outvoted," the redhead muttered.
"It'll work, Ed. It has to. The Eltarans have to win this fight," Billy declared quietly, trying to hide his own unease with the plan. For all his intelligence, Billy was not really a tactician. Modil was a freighter pilot with no battle experience, and Ed was inexperienced as well. The former Blue Ranger sighed, wishing Jason or Tommy were around to provide advice. They were much better than he was at planning battles.
Their plan was fairly simple. None of them were comfortable with the idea of doing something like blowing the Briardian ship up, as it was Billy still felt guilty over his part in doing that to the Briardians that had been attacking Aquitar. They would prefer to disable the ship, making it vulnerable to the Eltarans' defensive strikes. Billy knew that if the Eltarans defeated the Briardians they would be safe from the Briardians for a hundred years, per Briardian cultural decrees. They decided that planting explosive devices in the shield and weapons systems to disable them would work best. The problem was how to get on board. Billy had told them that the Briardians wanted him because of what had happened at Aquitar. So, he suggested that Modil offer him to the Briardians as a means of establishing Modil's 'loyalty to the mighty Briardian Empire', and while that was going on, Ed could sneak off their ship and onto the Briardian ship and set the devices. Billy had devised a personal cloaking device that would keep him from being seen by the other Briardian crewmembers. At the last minute Modil would 'change his mind' and get Billy back on board his ship and away just before the explosions.
Ed had been amazed at the ideas that the teenager came up with, and his ability to make those ideas a reality. Having believed the young man to be at best of normal intelligence, he had been unprepared for the demonstrations of Billy's considerable intelligence and creativity.
"I still say yer insane, lad."
"What are they doing now?" Jason asked tersely, unable to believe what they'd been seeing.
"It appears that Modil's ship has docked with the Briardian vessel. I though you said this Modil was a good guy?" Trini said, giving Jason an accusing look.
"He is. I swear it. He saved both our lives. I can't believe he would do anything to hurt Billy. He likes Billy," Jason replied, clearly upset.
"Well, we know he has had two Humans on board, and according to these new readings, one of those Humans has disappeared, presumably in a shielded part of the ship. And the other is on board the Briardian vessel. And the signal for that Human matches computer records for Billy. What else can we think, Jason?"
They were less than two hours behind Modil's ship, moving at maximum speed. With the beefed up sensors, they had been able to track the life signs on Modil's ship for the last few hours, and had been thrilled to find two Human readings. Now, they were confused as the Nebulan's ship rendezvoused with the Briardian vessel.
"There has to be a logical explanation. Is the cloak working right?" Some time back Billy had perfected a device that would render the ship invisible. They had been using it almost continually, and maintaining communications silence to hide their presence in this sector of space.
"Perfectly. We will be right up beside them and they won't even know we are there. Now all we need is a plan," Trini replied with a determined look.
"For a good plan, we need more information. Let's keep our ears and minds open to any opportunities."
Trini nodded her agreement, and quietly spoke into the intercom, updating Kim and Zack on the situation. Jason looked out the large view screen toward their destination and fought down his feelings of fear for his childhood friend.
"Just what do you think you're doing, Little Bro?"
Modil and Ed both gave involuntary starts when they saw their companion for the first time. Using the medical equipment in Modil's sickbay in a manner it was never intended for, Billy had given himself some vicious looking bruises, enough to hopefully convince the Briardians that Modil had become tired of his hostage's smart mouth and attitude. He had trashed his clothes and added other outer signs of neglect and abuse. He looked terrible.
"That isna a good look fer ye, lad. Let's hurry and get this folly over with so's ye can get back to normal."
"You can undo that, right?" Modil asked, flinching at the appearance of the young Human.
"Yeah, I can undo it. Don't worry about that. I made this transmitter so if we should become separated some way you can track me," he said, holding up a tiny device about the size of a pencil eraser.
"Be careful where ye hide that, lad. They'll verra likely search ye quite thoroughly."
"Good point." Billy looked at the transmitter thoughtfully for a moment, then popped it in his mouth and swallowed it. "That should solve that problem. At least for a few hours. Anything else?"
"Nae, lad, that's all. I suppose I should be getting' meself into hidin' afore we dock with the Briardians. Ye be careful with the lad, got it?" Ed declared, poking Modil in the chest.
"I've got it," the huge Nebulan growled.
They all looked up a little surprised as they drew ever closer to the Briardian ship. Ed scurried off to his hiding place and Billy to the room they had designated as the brig. They were now in range of the Briardian sensors and would be docking in a few minutes.
The next couple of hours were bound to be interesting, to say the least.
Modil stood with his 'hostage' in front of a group of Briardian officers, trying to work out a deal with them. He spoke slowly and thought over each counter offer thoroughly, using as much time as possible so Ed would have a chance to set the explosives and get himself back on board Modil's ship. The Nebulan could all but feel Billy's nervousness. He glanced down at his Human friend and saw how pale the teen looked underneath the bruising. Modil wanted nothing more than to tell the Briardians to forget it, he would keep his hostage, and get out of there. But he hadn't received the signal from Ed to let him know the explosives were set. Modil was wearing a small receiver made to look like an earring, through which he would receive Ed's signal that all was in readiness.
"I want the Briardian Empire's guarantee that I will be exempt from any sort of prosecution when making deliveries in areas under Briardian rule. Plus, exemption from having to pay the safe passage toll ever again, in addition to the four million standard credits to my intergalactic account," Modil stated firmly, rejecting the latest counter offer.
"Fool! You should be on you knees in gratitude that we do not kill you right now!" the Briardian captain growled.
Modil wasn't worried about that. For all their ruthlessness, Briardians had one of the strongest codes of honor known anywhere. They had agreed to negotiate, and negotiate they would. Modil knew he was safe from them. Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, he would be free to return to his ship and leave, unless they captured Ed setting the explosive devices. That would alter things considerably. Modil was still formulating his reply when he felt his 'earring' vibrate, the signal that Ed was done and safe.
"Then your offer is completely unacceptable. I shall take my hostage back with me, I'm sure I can find someone willing to meet my demands, or I will simply enjoy killing him myself," Modil replied angrily, tugging roughly on Billy and turning to leave.
"Wait! We accept your offer," the captain said hastily.
Modil and Billy turned to the captain with wide eyes.
"You do?" Modil asked incredulously.
"Yes. As we speak the arrangements are being made. Ah, here it is now," the captain reached out for some documents a crewmember arrived with. He read them over while the two guests waited nervously.
"These appear to be in order. Just sign under my name and we will be done," he said at last, handing the papers to Modil. The Nebulan read them over and sighed. The Briardians had agreed to everything, and his account had been credited for the requested fee, he had unlimited permission to fly in Briardian controlled space free of charge, and documents granting him immunity from prosecution. He looked at Billy wordlessly, then reluctantly signed the papers. Two large guards came forward and took the helpless Human away.
"What are you planning to do with him?" Modil asked, his voice carefully neutral.
"That is none of your concern, Nebulan. He is ours now, and our emperor has a great desire to see him. Our business here is finished. Get to your ship and get out of here before I change my mind," the captain snapped, dismissing Modil from his presence.
"It's been a pleasure," Modil replied acidly as he was escorted from the room and toward his ship. Once on board he disengaged from the dock and moved quickly away from the Briardian ship.
"Did it work? Where's the lad?" Ed asked coming up behind Modil's seat.
"It worked, just not the way we expected. They accepted the offer," Modil mumbled.
"Ye left him there? How could ye?" Ed exploded angrily.
"I had no choice. We had discussed that possibility, you know that! I just can't believe they accepted that offer."
"We must find a way of getting' him off that ship. I set all the explosives, it should blow in less than an hour. When that happens they'll be bound to blame the boy. Ach! I knew we shouldna listen to the lad."
"We'll find a way to get him back," Modil promised.
"Get him back from the Briardians? Why was he left there?"
The voice from the hatchway startled the two, who turned to unison to look at the newcomer.
"Jason! How did you get on board?" Modil asked, surprised to see the young Human.
"We came to find Billy. Did you actually turn him over to the Briardians? I can't believe you'd do that, Modil."
"It wasn't really the plan, but I didn't have a choice," the unhappy Nebulan replied.
"What were you doing on the Briardians ship in the first place?"
"I was going to offer to turn Billy over to the Briardians, just as a distraction as Ed set explosives to disable the ship and give the Eltarans a chance against the Briardians. Our plan backfired a little. They accepted our offer and kept Billy," Modil explained.
"We need to make a plan to get him back. If you have no objections, I'll get the rest of us over here, and we can brainstorm."
"Rest of who, lad? Where's yer ship?" Ed spoke up at last.
"Are you the other Human who was on Kyn'raem's ship?"
"Aye, lad, I am. Ed's the name."
"Ed, I'm Jason, a friend of Billy's. From Earth. Our ship is cloaked, and I want it to remain so in case the Briardians try scanning us. 'Us' being myself and three friends. Let me get them over here so we can find a way to get our wayward friend back. I'm assuming there is limited time?"
"Aye, lad, that there is."
Jason nodded and moved his communicator closer to his mouth. "Trini, put Pyramidus on remote and you guys teleport over here, okay? We need to do some planning."
Within moments three beams of while appeared, then faded to reveal Trini, Zack, and Kimberly. Introductions were quickly made.
"Now, what exactly happened, starting with when you first met Billy, Ed. We need to know exactly what has been going on," Jason requested.
He and the other former Rangers settled in to listen.
The Briardians' new prisoner was first taken to the captain's conference room, where he was formally placed under Briardian arrest, and informed that he would be transported to Briard as soon as Eltar was defeated. Once on Briard he would be executed in the traditional 14-day ceremony. The teen winced at that idea, but remained silent. His captor took delight in detailing all the ways the young man would be made to suffer before he would finally be put out of his misery. He then ordered the guards to take the former Ranger to the brig.
Billy was still wearing the manacles Modil had placed on him. That had been another part of their plan, just in case. The restraints were designed with a child's toy in mind. As children Billy, Jason and Zack had been fascinated by 'Chinese handcuffs', a woven tube that you placed at the end of one finger, then put another finger in the other side. The more you tried to pull them apart the firmer they held. You could only get your fingers out of the tube by releasing all pressure. Similarly, the restraints Modil had put on Billy could not be released by force, but by a careful twist and manipulation. So as Billy was forcefully propelled by the brutish guards toward the brig of the ship, Billy carefully released the manacles, keeping his wrists together to hide what he had done. As he was pushed ahead once again, he suddenly whirled and grabbed one guard's weapon, striking the hapless guard sharply across the head. He was able to knock the other guard out the same way before he could raise an alarm, then dropped the weapon and sprinted down the hallway, looking for a way to conceal himself while he made his way to the area of the ship that would house smaller space craft.
"...and we headed out so as to not arouse suspicion. That's when you showed up," Modil concluded.
Jason sighed. "So, he's there alone, and pretty much defenseless. You say he has a transmitter...inside...him? Can you get a reading on that from this distance?"
"Yes. Here," Modil pulled up a display that showed a blinking blue dot moving sporadically through the huge Briardian ship.
"That's strange. He most likely should be in the brig by now. Maybe he's escaped," Modil commented.
"Fat lot of good that'll do him. Where's the lad to go on a ship full of Briardians?" Ed asked.
Jason turned to Trini with an expression that indicated he was forming a plan. "Trini, could I teleport through the Briardian's shields? Or will they deflect that?" He had vaguely remembered hearing Billy and Adam discussing once what could and could not penetrate a space ship's shields. He had been surprised to find some things could penetrate.
Trini had remotely accessed Pyramidus's computers for her information. "Yes, you could get through. It appears they are designed to repel pure energy only. Teleportation is not pure energy, and should be able to penetrate it easily. You have a plan?"
Zack and Kimberly perked up as well, turning to Jason hopefully.
"It's not much of a plan, really. I'm going to take Pyramidus up close to them, teleport in and grab Billy, and teleport back out. When the explosions occur that should distract them from attempting pursuit. Unless someone has a better idea?" He looked around hopefully.
They all looked at Jason silently.
"Okay. Modil, since this out of the Briardian sensor range, you keep your ship here. We'll meet back up with you when we're done. Kim and Zack, why don't you two stay here, just in case. Trini and I will be enough for this effort. We need the frequency for the transmitter he's wearing, and I think that's it. How long until the explosives go off?"
"Aboot twenty minutes, lad. Not a lot of time fer ye."
"It'll do. Come on Trini, let's do it."
With that the Gold Ranger and former Yellow Ranger teleported back to Pyramidus and set a course toward the Briardian ship.
Billy knew he was in big trouble. He couldn't find any kind of ventilation system to hide in, no hidden access shafts. No place to hide. He scurried along the corridors, hiding as much as possible, well aware his escape would be discovered soon. The only thing in his favor was the fact the ship was so large and the crew so small. But it was only a matter of time before he would be discovered.
He heard the announcement of his escape all too soon. He gave up all pretense of stealth and set out as fast as he could toward what he hoped was the engine room. His memory of the ship schematics was shaky at best, but he believed from that location he could access all other parts of the ship. It was the only idea that occurred to him.
He turned a corner at a dead run and found himself facing pursuing guards at the far end of the corridor. He turned immediately into an offshooting corridor that terminated at a door that led to the system's control room, according to the sign on it. He stopped in a panic. This was one of the places Ed was to have planted explosives. He tried to backtrack only to find his way blocked by the arriving guards. One of the guards shot him in the leg with an energy weapon, causing the teen to collapse in pain. They advanced, raising their weapons and training them on the fallen former Ranger. Billy closed his eyes and turned his face away, convinced his life expectancy had been reduced to mere seconds. His only thought was a vague sense of relief that at least he'd be spared two weeks of torture.
He heard the sound of a weapon discharging, and stiffened against the expected flare of agony. It didn't come. Before he could even fully process the fact he wasn't dead, he was hauled roughly to his feet and found himself gazing at an all too familiar face.
"Jason!" Billy gasped, his mind having a hard time grasping this totally unexpected turn of events.
"In the flesh."
Billy turned to look at the guards and saw them all lying unconscious on the floor, then his gaze shifted to the weapon in Jason's hand. It was the Extirpator, set for stun.
"It works," Billy mumbled, still not quite processing things as quickly as normal.
"Yeah, it does."
They both glanced up at the sound of approaching footsteps.
"We need to get out of here," Jason said, pushing the pad that would open the door behind them. He dragged the protesting former Blue Ranger into the room with him, closing the door before the arriving guards could get off a shot.
"Jason, there's a bomb in here! This is not a good plan," Billy protested.
Jason didn't bother with a reply, but touched his communicator, teleporting them to Pyramidus seconds before the explosion that would disable the Briardians' shields and weapons occurred.
"You were saying?" Jason smirked as he deposited Billy gently on the floor of the pilot's compartment of Pyramidus.
"Nothing," Billy sighed, collapsing gratefully, for the moment too stunned to even register the pain from his injured leg.
Jason quickly turned to Trini.
"Did the explosives work?"
"Yes! Shields are completely down. Weapons systems show as totally disabled. You guys did it!" she crowed, turning her smile toward Billy.
"Good." He smiled back at her, seemingly not surprised to find her there.
"The Eltarans will have a chance now. Let's get back to the others," Jason said. "How're you doing, Bro?" he asked gently, seeing that Billy seemed to be a little overwhelmed by the recent events.
"Truthfully? I think I finally hit overload when you appeared at the last minute to save me. Thanks, by the way. It's good to see you. How did you know where I was? What are you doing with the Extirpator? Hi Trini," he added as she approached him, looking concerned about his odd and disjointed comments.
Trini knelt down and looked at the wound on Billy's thigh. It was a graze, rather than a direct hit, but she knew it had to be extremely painful. She looked up at his pale face and slightly glazed eyes.
"We'll be on Modil's ship in a few minutes, and we'll get you to the sickbay then. Why don't you lie back a little and rest?"
Billy made no protest, but settled down quietly. Trini went back to the helm to check their route back to Modil's ship.
"Is he okay?" Jason asked softly.
"He's in shock, I think. Was it that close?"
"Actually, yeah, it was. Well, he'll be fine once Kim takes care of him. I hope."
"If she doesn't kill him first for worrying her."
Kimberly scolded Billy for taking chances with his life while she treated his leg wound. She berated him for risking his safety while she undid the damage he had done before they had gone onboard the Briardian ship. And she chewed him out for destroying her favorite earrings, in one of his experiments when they were both thirteen, as she checked him over for any other injuries.
"Kim! That was years ago," he protested feebly as he was lying on the treatment table.
"Yeah, well, I'm still ticked off about it," she said sternly as she moved yet another device over his prone form.
"No," she sighed. "But, dammit Billy, you really scared us this time. When we got to the Power Chamber and saw all that blood..." Tears filled her eyes at the memory of how she'd felt at that moment.
"I'm sorry. I never meant for any of this to happen. Please, Kim, don't cry," he looked at her with a stricken expression.
She dried her eyes and gently took his hand in hers. "I know you didn't intend it to happen. But it did. I just can't stand the thought of losing anyone I care for," she sighed, then forced herself to perk up. "I guess I've scolded you enough for one day. I want you to sleep for a while, give your leg a chance to heal. No arguments."
"No, ma'am. No arguments." He closed his eyes and almost immediately drifted into sleep, much to Kim's surprise.
"Well, that's a first."
Trini monitored the communications between the Briardian ship and Eltar. The Eltarans had monitored the explosions and the Briradians' loss of shields and weapons, and immediately afterward trained all available planetary weapons on the now vulnerable ship. The Briardians had no recourse except to surrender, but rather than do that they had turned tail and run. The Eltarans opted to not pursue, sensing the captain and crew of the vessel would punished by their own government more than adequately.
"The transmissions also indicated that Billy Cranston and a mysterious would be rescuer were killed in an explosion onboard the ship. That was a happy accident, I'd say," Trini concluded.
They were seated around a large table to enjoy one meal together before the Humans all headed back to Earth in Pyramidus, and Modil made his scheduled delivery to Eltar. The Eltarans knew of the sabotage done by Modil and the Humans, and had invited them all to the planet surface to be rewarded for their efforts, but Jason and his friends had respectfully declined, wanting to head home as soon as possible. They had already contacted Zordon to tell him they had been successful and would be heading home with all available speed.
Jason had told the others a while back about Modil's horrible meals, so Kimberly, Zack, and Ed had commandeered the kitchen, preparing a gallimaufry that turned out to be exceptionally tasty.
"This is wonderful. Where did you get the ingredients?" Modil asked after tasting a few bites.
"You had them all in there," Zack said with a smile. "It's just a matter of mixing them correctly. Actually, Ed here shows signs of true talent for cooking."
"Ah, lad, I've spent many a year working my way across the galaxy, often as a cook and general handy man. 'Tisn't a bad life, really. Lonely sometimes."
"Same as working freight," Modil added. "If you're interested in remaining out here, I'd be happy to have you on my crew. Well, actually, as my crew."
Ed looked thoughtful at that, but before he could reply there was a soft voice from the doorway.
"That smells great. Is there enough for me?" Billy asked entering the room.
"Of course. Come in and sit down before you fall down, I'll get you some," Zack ordered him, indicating a vacant seat.
The former Blue Ranger sat down gratefully. He was still quite weak, though the pain was completely gone after Kim's treatment. "Is everything okay?" he asked.
The others filled him in on what had happened with the Briradians, the Eltarans' offer, and their plan to head home immediately.
"Sounds good to me. I'll be happy to see home again," Billy sighed. "And my dad. Geez, he must be going nuts,"
"I doubt it. He thinks you're in Europe with the rest of us," Zack told him with a smug look. He'd been in charge of covering their absence.
"Really? Great!" Billy perked up at that. His father had been through enough recently when it came to Billy's misadventures. Zack went on to regale them with how he had set up the deception in the first place, generating several rounds of laughter.
"Well, if everyone's done, let's get this mess cleaned up and we can get going," Kim said at last. The table was soon cleared, and Modil went back to the bridge to radio the Eltarans of his intention to dock soon. Kim and Jason set about cleaning up the kitchen, while Zack and Trini did the dishes. Billy went to the sickbay to set that to rights after his treatments there. Ed went with him.
"I'm grateful yer alright, lad. Ye had me worried plenty. I thought I'd have to kill the green giant when he came back alone," Ed said quietly.
"I'm glad it's all worked out. Are you looking forward to seeing Earth?"
"That's what I wanted to talk to ye aboot, lad. I'm stayin' here," he said softly.
"Here? You mean with Modil?"
"Aye, he asked me, and I'm thinkin' I'll take him up on it. 'Twould be nice to have a friend I could be dependin' on. He's a good man, Modil is. Despite bein' stubborn and pig headed."
Billy bit back a chuckle. "Yes, he is a good man. You're sure about this?"
"Aye, lad." He looked away pensively. "'Twas because of yer faith, really. Ye believed yer friends would come for ye, no matter what. I dinna believe ye, but ye never gave up on them. I canna say for absolute sure, of course, but I'm believin' Modil could be that kind of friend. I've never had that before in my life. And I'm thinkin' 'tis more important than seein' a city where I don't know a blessed soul. Besides, he's lonely," Ed concluded self-consciously.
As you have been, my friend Billy thought. "I guess I see your point. I hope you're happy. If you ever change your mind and want to see Earth, you'd always be welcome to stay with me. Of course, you'd have to find me first," Billy chuckled.
"Ah, lad, I could find ye, easy enough. And thank ye for the offer, lad."
"Billy, Ed, we should probably get going," Jason said from the doorway.
"'Tis only Billy 'twill be goin'," Ed told the burly teen. Jason nodded as if not surprised, then led the way toward the bridge to say goodbye to Modil.
They found Modil already saying goodbye to Kimberly, Zack and Trini. Even in the short time they'd been around him, they'd all gotten fond of the huge Nubulan.
"You take good care of yourself, or I'll hunt you down and make you sorry," Kim teasingly told him.
"Yes, ma'am," Modil replied to the petite girl who stood almost two feet shorter than him.
Ed walked up to Modil diffidently. "If ye were meanin' yer offer to work with ye, then the answer's yes," he said stiffly.
Modil grinned at the older Human. "The offer still stands. I can use someone to do all the work while I get all the profit."
"We'll be negotiatin' that point, ye can be sure of that," Ed growled, his blue eyes twinkling with good humor.
"First day and you're already arguing with me?" Modil demanded.
"Just ye wait until the second day," Ed threatened with a grin.
"Well, looks like you two will be getting along just fine," Billy commented dryly.
"Care to join us, lad?" Ed offered with a challenging look.
"No thanks. I'll just head on home with these guys. Modil, thank you again. You were in the right place at the right time to save my tail once again. If ever I can do something for you.." he began.
"You can not get yourself in so much danger anymore. I would consider that quite a favor," Modil scolded the teen gently.
Billy just smiled at the Nebulan and tuned his attention to Ed. "Thank you. You saved my life, no doubt about that. I can never thank you enough." He reached out to shake the redhead's hand.
Ed took the proffered hand and pulled the blond teen into a warm embrace. "Thank ye, lad. Ye gave me back my hope, got me out of Kyn'raem's possession, gave me the chance to change my destiny. Ye reminded me that there are times ye have to fight, not take the path of least resistance. Now, I don't ever want to see ye again unless it's on Earth or yer out here in yer own ship, chasing yer own dream. Hear me?"
"I hear you." Billy backed away and smiled at the older man, then joined his friends.
"Jason, despite the circumstances, it was good to see you again. But next time let's make it less exciting, okay? Give my regards to Zordon."
"Will do. Thanks again for taking care of Billy."
With that the five teens disappeared, teleporting back to Pyramidus for the long trip home.
As Mondo's latest monster exploded in a geyser of smoke and flying debris the Power Rangers gave a shout of triumph, and prepared to disengage their individual zords and send them back to the holding bay. They teleported back to the Power Chamber to find newly repaired Alpha bustling around in a state of excitement that was unusual even for him.
"What's going on, Zordon?" Tommy asked worriedly.
"Good news, Rangers. Pyramidus is landing as we speak. They are home," the Power Ranger mentor announced.
The assembled Rangers gave a collective gasp of joy as four pure white and one black/gold beam landed in the Power Chamber and revealed the five former Rangers.
"Billy!" Katherine and Tanya cried as one, hurrying forward to greet their friend enthusiastically. Rocky and Adam were right behind the girls, to give him their own quick bear hugs. As they stepped back Tommy looked closely at his oldest teammate for a long moment before pulling the smaller teen into his own firm embrace. Ten voices mingled as the weary travelers were welcomed home.
The hubbub finally died down and Zordon's voice could be heard.
"Let me add my thanks to those of all other Eltarans for what you did. It was in incredibly brave act and one that probably saved the lives of thousands of Eltarans."
"We're just glad it worked," Billy said quietly.
"And if someone ever again tries to use himself as bait, I'll kill him myself," Jason added with a stern look at his friend. Billy blushed and looked down at his feet uncomfortably.
"Can we go home now?" Zack asked to distract the conversation away from the discomfited former Blue Ranger.
"Once Katherine done medical scans on you, you are free to go home if she clears you," Zordon said.
The five teens headed toward the Med Room with Kat, talking quietly amongst themselves.
"Zordon, I suspect you wish to speak to me," Billy said as he arrived alone in the Power Chamber. He'd slept for almost twelve hours the night before, then met with the rest of the current and former Rangers to exchange news of the last few days. Billy had found himself at the receiving end of quite a scolding from his friends. He decided he might as well let Zordon have his turn.
"Are you okay?" the Eltaran asked.
"Yes, I'm fine. I have a couple of scars I'll have to hide from my dad, but otherwise I'm okay. I'm sorry I disobeyed you, but I felt it was necessary."
"I realize you acted in the way you thought best, but my sworn duty is to the Power Rangers, to guide and protect them. That is hard to do if one of them tires to sacrifice himself in my place," Zordon chided him gently.
"I didn't intend to sacrifice myself. I intended to get out of here before she arrived. My timing was a little off."
"Yes, it was."
"And, I felt it was necessary for you to be here to continue your sworn duty. We need you, Zordon."
The ancient mentor looked down on this most unusual charge of his. In eons of training Power Rangers, this one stood out as unique, on a team that was itself unique.
"Next time, if I tell you to get out, I will expect you to do as I say. Otherwise, I cannot allow you to continue in this capacity. Is that understood?" Though the words were stern, the tone of voice was gentle.
"Yes, sir. Understood." Billy looked up at Zordon with a questioning look. "Is that all?"
Zordon sighed mentally and shook his head. "Yes, that is all. Go relax some more, there is nothing critical that needs to be done, and you still need to recover some. Come back in a couple of days."
A few days later, Trini found Billy in the auxiliary engine room, working on a device that appeared to be part of the electrical system.
"Hi Billy. I've been looking for you. What are you working on now?"
"Zordon keeps getting a minor flux reading from this. I thought I'd take this quiet time to tie it down for him. What did you need, Trini?"
"I just wanted to talk to you. We haven't had a chance to talk face to face for a couple of years now. I've missed you," she admitted softly.
"I've missed you, too," he smiled back.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Of course," he replied easily.
"You seemed to be very comfortable out there in space. With Ed and Modil. At ease, more so than I have ever seen you. Why?"
He looked at her, a little taken aback by her perception. Though thinking about it, he realized she had always been the one who had truly understood him, and what it was like for him.
"I guess I feel like I fit better out there," he answered at last.
"Trini, out there I'm not so smart. You know, in comparison to others. Earth is really a fairly primitive planet, when you look at, say, Aquitar. Here, my intelligence sets me apart. Out there, it doesn't. In fact, in some places, a lot really, I'd be considered average to below average. I guess I find that oddly comfortable."
Trini considered his words for a moment. She knew, perhaps better than any of the others, how much and how often Billy's extraordinary intelligence had hurt him. The times other kids had proffered friendship, when all they had really wanted was to pass Chemistry. Especially once they became teenagers, that age when fitting in is often of paramount importance, Billy's intelligence acted to single him out more than a handicap would have. As for that, most children are taught not to mock or torment those who have physical or mental handicaps. But geeks and nerds are open to any and all types of abuse. And Billy had been subjected to them all, despite Jason and the others' attempts to counter the other kids' cruelty.
Considering this, Trini could understand why Billy would relish a situation where he was considered normal. It hurt her to think that her gentle friend could not find such acceptance so easily on his home planet, but she understood.
"I hope that doesn't mean you are thinking of eventually going out there to stay," she said at last.
"I don't think so. I wanted to get home, more than you can imagine. However, that doesn't mean I wouldn't consider the occasional trip to other galaxies. Just, it would be nice to be doing it voluntarily, not being kidnapped."
Trini chuckled softly at that comment. Then she stepped up to Billy and gave him a friendly hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"I guess it's okay that you want to go back out there, just don't forget all the people who love you at home, okay?"
He returned her hug and kiss gladly.
"I won't forget."