Notes and Timeline: Zeo Ranger period, with Jason and Billy. Set after my stories "Strangers with Familiar Faces" and "24 Hours". This story is a pseudo-sequel to "24 Hours" and it would help to read that story first.
"So my parents grounded me for an entire month, and I had to baby-sit the rugrats every weekend. Believe me, after that I did not ever lose a younger sibling again!" Rocky concluded his story to a round of laughter.
"You got off lightly, man. My parents would kill me if I lost Adrian," Adam declared.
"I could just see your face trying to explain to your parents how you managed to lose two kids in a laundromat. Geez, Rocky, the messes you manage to get yourself into!" Katherine giggled.
Rocky, Adam, Katherine, Jason, Tanya and Tommy were all in Rocky's basement bedroom/den. They had gotten together to spend a pleasant evening watching the newest Jackie Chan movie on tape, and were just killing time waiting for Billy to arrive so they could start the movie.
"Okay, Jason, it's your turn at last. What is the most trouble you ever got into when you were a kid?" Rocky asked. The others had already shared their stories, Jason was the last one.
Before Jason could reply there was a knock at the door. Rocky tilted his head back and shouted, "Enter!"
They turned to see Rocky's youngest sister, six-year-old Maria, at the head of the stairs. The excited expression on the child's face left no doubt as to her message.
"Billy's here!" she announced breathlessly.
"Well, send him on down and get on out," Rocky replied.
Billy slid past the little girl and started down the first couple of steps. Then he turned to her and smiled, "Thank you, Maria." He leaned toward her and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
The effect on Maria was immediate. She spun around and ran toward the living room shouting "Theresa!" at the top of her lungs. This elicited more laughter from the teens as Billy closed the door and came on down into the room.
"Oh great! Do you know what you have done? I'm going to hear of nothing else for the next week except how 'Billy kissed me!'" Rocky groaned. "And watch out Adam, Theresa is going to be jealous and she'll try to trick you into kissing her, too." The others were all aware of the fact that Rocky's two youngest sisters were nursing crushes on Adam and Billy. They all found the competition between the two youngsters regarding the objects of their affection to be very entertaining.
"Sorry I'm late, guys. Alpha shorted out at the last minute and I had to fix him," Billy explained.
Tommy snorted more laughter at that. "I'll say this for you Billy. You do have interesting excuses for being late."
"What excuse? It's the truth. He got excited once too often and overloaded his circuits. Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi!" Billy did a dead on imitation of the excitable robot, generating more laughter.
"Well, guys, we ready for the movie?" Jason asked after the laughter had died down.
"Not so fast, mister. You got to hear our embarrassing stories, you are not getting out of telling yours," Rocky declared. "We'll let Billy off since he wasn't here earlier, but you owe us one."
"What are you talking about?" Billy asked, as Jason looked a bit uncomfortable.
"We all told stories about when we got in the most trouble as kids. It's Jason's turn," Tanya explained.
"Come on, Jason, confess," Tommy used his best leader tones, but he was also trying not to laugh.
"Oh, fine. The most trouble I ever remember getting in is when I stole a car," he admitted.
"Jason, isn't your dad on the police force?" Tanya asked in astonishment.
"Jason Scott! You mean to tell me you hot-wired a car?" Rocky looked frankly amazed, as did the others.
Jason rubbed his hand over his mouth, obviously reluctant to say more. "Well, not exactly."
"What do you mean 'not exactly'?" Adam asked.
"What he means is: I hot-wired it," Billy contributed dryly.
The others turned to Billy with astonished expressions.
"You hot-wired it! Why in the world did you two steal a car?" Tommy asked, looking from one to the other in surprise.
"We didn't want to steal it, we just wanted to hot-wire it. Jason said I couldn't and I said I could. I was right," Billy explained with a shrug.
"You're kidding, right? Jason, I can't believe you would doubt Billy could do that," Tommy said. A thought occurred to him. "How old were you two when you did this?"
At that question Jason and Billy traded sheepish looks.
"Ten," Jason mumbled.
"Almost eleven," Billy added.
"Oh, my gosh. You two must have been in so much trouble. What exactly did you do?" Katherine asked.
"We were arguing about how hard it would be to hot-wire a car. We had seen it done on a TV show the night before and Billy kept insisting it was really easy. I said it wasn't. So we decided to see just how hard it was. We were a few blocks from my house, near the home of one of my Mom's friends. I knew she and her husband should both be at work, and that they had a car they weren't using because they wanted to sell it. So we decided to use that car to settle our argument," Jason explained.
"It turned out to be as easy to do as I had thought. Within minutes I had the engine running. I don't really know how we did it, exactly, but in our argument and messing around we put the car in reverse. I was the one in the driver's seat, I panicked and hit the gas instead of the brake," Billy contributed.
"We shot across the street, over a mailbox and into the neighbor's car. Fortunately the car stalled then. Unfortunately, the neighbor was at home and called the police. More unfortunately, it was my dad who answered the call," Jason continued. "To say he was upset would be putting it mildly. We spent an hour in the police car, two hours at the police station. When he took us home he was steaming."
"My Dad was out of town, I was staying with the Scotts that week," Billy added.
"Dad had this belt he kept in his closet especially for those special occasions when I messed up big time. We both got a good dose of it that afternoon. Believe me, we have never hot-wired another car," Jason concluded.
"He strapped you both?" Rocky asked.
"Yeah. Though he contacted my father first and made me tell him what I had done. He told me that Mr. Scott was to punish me the same as he would Jason. Dad came back to town later that day and took me home. I have never before or since seen my dad that angry. He took his own belt to me later. Only time I was ever subjected to corporal punishment and it was twice in the same day for the same offense. Any thoughts I entertained of a career in car theft were effectively quashed," Billy replied.
"Huh, I never knew your dad punished you for that, too. No wonder you never bragged of your hot-wiring skills again," Jason said.
"Well, you haven't questioned them since then, either."
"You two definitely win the prize for the worst escapade among us. None of the rest of us has committed a felony. Yet. Want to get on with the movie now?" Rocky inquired.
"Yes!" came the enthusiastic response.
* * *
Later that evening Jason and Billy were walking together toward the Scott residence. Wallace Cranston was out of town again, and Jason had invited Billy to spend a few days with him. Though Billy was certainly old enough to stay at home alone, he enjoyed spending time with the Scotts, so had eagerly accepted. They walked along in a companionable silence, each lost in his own thoughts.
Jason was remembering that day, so long ago, when he and Billy had hot-wired the car. It was not a memory he examined very often. Looking back with the insights gained over the last few years, he knew they had probably scared their parents half to death, to say nothing of having embarrassed his dad in front of his colleagues. Nothing like being the police lieutenant and having your ten-year-old son and his friend arrested for grand theft auto. His dad had controlled his anger very well under the circumstances.
The worst part of the whole thing, though, was something Jason had never mentioned to anyone....
.....That night, after Wallace had come and collected Billy, Jason's mom came into his room to find the boy crying inconsolably. She knew it was not from the earlier punishment, Jack had not punished either boy that severely. She sat on the edge of Jason's bed and gathered her solid son in her arms.
"What is it, Jason? What are these tears for?" she asked gently.
"I'm sorry! Please let him come back! I promise we won't ever do anything like this again, please!" he sobbed.
"What are you talking about? Do you mean Billy?" She felt him nod his head in her arms. "Oh, sweetie, do you think we sent him away for good? Oh, no, we would never do that to you. Or to him. I know what good friends you are. His dad was due home tonight, he would have been going home anyway. You are not being separated as a punishment." She rocked Jason in her arms, soothing him as well as she could. The physical and emotional events of the day finally took their toll on the child, and he fell asleep in his mother's arms.
Later that evening she called Wallace, just to assure herself that what she had told Jason was indeed true. Wallace listened to her account of Jason's reaction to Billy being taken home, and reported that Billy had had a similar response. They agreed that separating the two boys would not be used as a punishment in this case.
The next morning Marjorie told Jason to go ahead and call Billy to see if everything was okay. Jason would have to do chores that morning, as he would for a long time as he needed to raise enough money to pay for his half of the damage they did. But if he finished in time, and if Mr. Cranston said it was okay, they could get together to play for a while that afternoon.......
"Hey, Jase, you with me here?" Jason looked up to see Billy looking at him intently.
"Just checking to see if you were still on this planet. You give the term 'lost in thought' a whole new meaning. You okay?" Billy asked.
"Yeah, just thinking. About when we were kids. We sure had a lot of fun."
"That we did. It bothered you remembering that 'grand theft auto' incident, didn't it?" Billy commented.
"Yeah. You know, at first, I thought my folks were going to forbid me to ever play with you again."
"I thought my dad was going to do the same thing. I've always been grateful he didn't."
"Same here," Jason said softly.
They continued on to the Scott house without speaking, simply taking pleasure in each other's company.
* * *
The next morning found Jason and Billy in the Scott backyard doing a kata Jason had recently taught Billy. They moved in perfect unison, graceful and controlled. Marjorie Scott stood in the doorway, watching the two with a combination of pride and amazement. It seemed only yesterday that they were just children. When had they grown so tall and strong? She remembered so clearly when they first met. Some bigger kids had beaten up Billy in an alley, and Jason had stopped to help him. From that beginning had sprung a friendship that she was sure would endure a lifetime. About that same time Billy's father, Wallace, had been named head of the audit department in the accounting firm where he worked. His new position required him to travel to various locations to perform on-site audit work. Whenever he was out of town, Billy stayed with the Scotts. It was a situation that worked very well for all concerned. Wallace didn't worry about who was taking care of his son, and Marjorie had another child to take care of, something she had always wanted. Two only children had the chance to experience what it was like to have a sibling, and for motherless Billy it was a chance to have some maternal care. Everyone benefited from the situation.
Marjorie stepped out onto the back porch and called out to the two boys. "Breakfast in five minutes."
"Okay, Mom, we'll be right in!"
But as they started toward the house Jason spotted a hacky sack lying in the grass. With a gleam in his eye he managed to use the side of his foot to launch it in the general direction of Billy's head. At one time in Billy's life the missile would have hit him square in the side of the face before he could even begin to react. But his reflexes and control over his body had improved immensely. With almost casual ease he swatted the hacky sack downward, then kicked it with the side of his own foot right back at Jason. Grinning happily Jason backtracked far enough to handle Billy's return kick with his foot.
The game was on.
Engrossed in their game, which was taking them all over the spacious yard, they didn't notice at first when a portal opened behind them and five large bipedal beings appeared. The beings reached out and grabbed Billy, who immediately began to struggle, and to shout at Jason.
"Jase, get out of here! Go! Get!"
Jason saw that Billy appeared to know who his attackers were. He ignored Billy's shouts and threw himself at the closest ones.
"Jason, no! Don't! Get out of here! Ahhhh!" With a cry of pain, Billy collapsed.
Jason hit and kicked at the beings for all he was worth, but it didn't seem to bother them in the least. He felt a pinching sensation at the base of his neck, and dimly heard his mother scream as the world faded to black.
* * *
Marjorie Scott stood on her back porch screaming as she saw five large beings take the two unconscious teenagers through some sort of portal and disappear. Jack Scott hurried from the house to find out what was wrong with his wife just as the Power Rangers appeared in his backyard.
"Marjorie, what has happened? What's going on?" he put a steadying arm around his wife as two of the Power Rangers approached.
"Are you okay, ma'am?" the Red Ranger asked.
"Those things took the boys!" she cried, shaking in her husband's arms.
"Easy, Marjorie, calm down. Come on, it will be okay. What 'things' are you talking about?" Jack's police training kicked in, allowing him to deal calmly with his wife.
Marjorie forced herself to take a couple of deep breaths. "I don't know what they were. They were about six feet tall, two arms and legs, but their faces were almost simian, or maybe more like a Cro-Magnon man. They were powerful, Jason fought hard but they easily subdued him."
"They took Jason with them?" the Blue Ranger asked.
"Yes. Jason is our son. They also took his friend, Billy. I think maybe Billy knew what they were. He tried to keep Jason away. But Jason wouldn't leave," tears choked her voice at that point.
"What do you mean, they took them? Took them how?" Jack asked.
"There was a p-p-portal or something and...and..and they just...just disap-p-peared into it. Both Jason and Billy were..were...uncons...." Marjorie's voice devolved into tears.
Marjorie nodded miserably. She looked at the Red Ranger. "Can you help us?"
"We are going to try, ma'am. Our sensors alerted us that there was an intruder, which is why we came here. We are going to go back to the Power Chamber now and see if we can trace them. We will be in touch as soon as we know anything."
"Please do. We are going to need to contact Billy's father, and I would prefer to be able to give him a complete answer," Jack said.
"I understand. We will be in touch." With that the Red and Blue Rangers joined their three companions who had remained near the area where Jason and Billy had disappeared. All five teleported away in colorful streaks of light.
* * *
Tommy was pacing the Power Chamber anxiously. They had just watched the abduction on the viewing globe, and Zordon did not recognize the creatures that had taken Jason and Billy. But it had been evident that Billy was the one they had been after, they had ignored Jason until Jason attacked them. Alpha and Adam were frantically running traces, trying to locate the two missing teens.
"I'm afraid I don't have any good news, guys. I located both their communicators and Jason's zeonizer. They are inside Jason's house. We can't find a trace of the craft that brought those beings to Earth. Guys, I don't know what else we can do at this time," Adam sounded defeated.
"Adam, try to raise the Aquitian Rangers please. Perhaps they can identify the kidnappers," Zordon requested.
A few moments later they saw Delphine's serene countenance on the viewing globe.
"How may I be of service, Rangers of Earth?"
"Delphine, intruders came to Earth this morning and kidnapped Jason and Billy. We were hoping you could possibly identify them," Zordon said.
"Billy had been kidnapped? I am so sorry to hear that. And about Jason as well. Billy spoke often, and with great affection, of a friend named Jason. Do you have an image of their abductors?"
"Yes, I am transmitting it now," Adam answered.
They all saw the expression of horror on Delphine's face when she saw what Adam sent her. Delphine looked down for a moment, gathering her thoughts before addressing the Rangers.
"They are Briardians," she said softly.
"Briardians. Why does that sound so familiar?" Tommy mused.
"Those are the ones who launched the Hydro Contaminators on Aquitar. Billy helped destroy a Briardian ship during that battle. Remember, we listened to him tell the story to Jason when Billy had that head injury," Tanya replied.
"Oh, man, you're right. That means they WERE after Billy," Tommy groaned.
"Yeah, and Jason got caught up in it," Katherine added.
"But at least now we know where they are being taken, right?" Rocky contributed.
They all turned hopefully toward Delphine. "I am truly sorry, we do not know where Briard is. However, we will get in touch with all the other planets we have contact with and see if we can find out anything. As soon as we learn something we will contact you," Delphine offered.
"Thanks, Delphine, we would appreciate that," Tommy replied as they ended the transmission.
"Rangers, I will also send out messages to all planets and beings I know, asking for the location of Briard, and sending out the word to be on the lookout our two missing friends. I am afraid at this point it is all we can do," Zordon announced.
"I'm going to have to go back to the Scotts and tell them we have no idea where the Briardians may have taken Jason and Billy. I am not looking forward to this," Tommy muttered. "I wish I could offer them something, some hope."
"You can tell them quite truthfully every effort is being taken to find them. Consider this Rangers, that for every planet Aquitar and I contact, we will request they contact others on our behalf. In time most of the known galaxy will likely know that Earth is looking for a couple of missing Rangers. Also, if you wish to, you could give Jason and Billy's families a modified communicator. One they can use to contact us if need be. It has been my experience it makes others feel better if they can contact us in a time of crisis. Alpha has a couple of hand held communicators that can be modified accordingly," Zordon suggested.
"Thanks, Zordon. That should help," Tommy said. A few minutes later he and Katherine teleported out to give the bad news to Jason's folks.
* * *
Jack Scott turned from the front door, closing it reflexively behind him. Marjorie stood there white faced and teary eyed, reaching for her husband as a source of comfort. The Red and Pink Power Rangers had just told them that they did not know where Jason and Billy had been taken. Only that the beings who took them were Briardians, but no one knew where their home planet was.
Jack looked at the communicators the two Rangers had left for them. "At least we can contact them if we need to. Speaking of contact, I guess I had better call Wallace. He needs to know what happened to his son."
That evening Wallace arrived on the Scotts front porch. Jack and Marjorie explained again to the distraught man what had happened. Jack gave him one of the communicators the Red Ranger had left, and Wallace activated it. The Red and Green Rangers arrived five minutes later.
The two Rangers explained to Wallace what they knew, leaving out the part about the Briardians seeking revenge for what Billy had done on Aquitar. Though they knew Wallace was aware Billy had gone to Aquitar, they did not think he knew exactly what his son had done while there. And they doubted the Scotts even knew Billy had been to Aquitar at all. So they had decided to omit any mention of it.
The unpleasant truth for the Rangers, for Jack and Marjorie Scott, and for Wallace Cranston was this:
There was nothing they could do but wait.
* * *
Jason opened his eyes with a groan. He hurt all over, and for the life of him could not figure out why. What in the heck had he and Billy been doing? Awareness and memory slowly seeped back in. The ugly guys who had grabbed Billy, his inability to fight them off, the pain at the base of his neck, his mother's screams. He tried to move and found his arms and legs were both bound, however he was not gagged nor was he blindfolded. Gradually his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting and he looked around, discovering he was also bound to a pipe in what appeared to be some sort of utility room. Billy was similarly bound a few feet away, still unconscious.
Jason waited quietly, trying to get a sense of his surroundings. There was no sensation of movement, he heard no sounds except a very faint hum which he assumed was from engines of some sort. His observations were interrupted by a groan from Billy, indicating his companion was regaining consciousness.
"Billy, come on, wake up. Easy there, bro, don't try to move too much, you are pretty well tied up at the moment." Jason kept his voice calm, trying to help Billy ease back to reality, such as it was.
When Billy realized he was bound he seemed to panic, he jerked at the bindings, eyes opening wide with terror. Jason kept speaking reassuringly until Billy became aware of his presence and calmed down.
"Feeling a little better now?" Jason asked at last.
"I don't know if 'better' is the right word, but, yeah, I guess so."
"You startled me some, panicking like that."
"Sorry, I still have nightmares about being tied to the wall in Mondo's prison, waking up bound is not something that is likely to engender a positive response in me," Billy replied.
Jason flinched at that. He knew a few details of what had been done to Billy and Tommy when Mondo had captured them. Both had come out of the experience with considerable emotional scarring, and he could understand Billy's terror at finding himself kidnapped again.
"Understandable. Do you know who these guys are?" Jason asked.
"Yeah, they are Briardians."
Jason paled a little with that news. "Guess they are a little ticked off at you, huh?"
"I guess. Dammit, Jason, why didn't you back off? It was me they wanted, they might have left you alone if you hadn't attacked them."
"There is no way I can watch some big, ugly thugs grab you and not interfere. How could I just step back and say, 'Okay, have at him guys, he's all yours'? Could you have just stood aside if our roles had been reversed?" Jason asked with some heat.
Billy sighed. "No, I couldn't. But, Jason, you don't know how much trouble we are in. I read the information the Aquitian Rangers had on these guys. They are brutal. They are not planning to take us on a vacation to Briard. I don't know what they may do to you, but I do know what they are likely to do to me. Death by torture is not something I have had a desire to experience."
"So I guess we are going to have to find a way to escape."
Billy leaned his head back and chuckled softly. "Right. I have to admit, Jason, I do like your attitude."
Before either could say anything else, the door banged open and one of their captors entered. Ignoring Jason, he stepped over to Billy, towering over the bound young man.
"You will pay for what you did on Aquitar, you young fool," he growled. "Our spy on that planet identified you, the ship transmitted the data before it was destroyed. Our code of honor prohibits us from attacking a planet that has handed us a defeat for a period of one hundred years, but you do not fall under that protection. You alone will be made to pay for what the Aquitians did to Drephon and his crew." With that he kicked out viciously at the helpless former Ranger, hitting him with a violent blow to his left thigh. Billy grunted in pain, but didn't cry out.
"Oh, so the little human is trying to be brave. It won't do you any good in the long run," he growled, grabbing Billy by the hair and forcing his head backwards. "You will scream until your voice is gone by the time we are finished with you." He roughly released Billy's head and started to leave.
"Pretty brave when your victim is tied up, aren't you, you pusillanimous bastard," Billy snarled. The Briardian turned and dealt Billy two more hard kicks, one to his hip and the other to his shoulder. Billy gasped in pain as their captor left.
Jason looked at Billy with concern. "That really wasn't too bright, was it?" he asked.
Billy snorted. "Probably not, but I couldn't let him walk out without at least trying to appear tough. I read enough about them to know they are particularly vicious with those they perceive to be cowards."
"Hmm. Please don't over do it. Any plan we make for an escape will most likely require you to be somewhat healthy. And what kind of bastard did you call him?"
"A pusillanimous one."
"And what does that mean?"
"When we get home, look it up in the dictionary," Billy said with a wicked grin.
"Damn, I hate when you say that," Jason smiled at Billy, heartened by the old joke between them. As kids Billy would tease Jason by using words his friend had little chance of understanding. When Jason would ask what the word meant, Billy more often than not would tell him to look the word up. Part of the fun was the few times Jason caught Billy using a word incorrectly, giving Jason a chance to tease his friend mercilessly.
The two settled back, making themselves as comfortable as possible, waiting for a chance to make good their escape.
* * *
The passage of time is hard to measure without external clues. For Billy and Jason, bound in a dim room, denied any outside contact, the difference between minutes and days was hard to distinguish. Their bodies told them significant time had passed. They were hungry, they were thirsty, they needed to relieve themselves, and they were sleepy. Their arms, bound behind their backs, and their legs, bound together, were numb. Their shoulders were on fire and their butts were sore from being unable to shift their position. In addition, Billy's thigh, hip and shoulder that had been subject to their captor's wrath, sent out their own separate messages of pain.
Despair was overwhelming them as they realized that even if they were released from their bonds, they would be barely able to move.
"Are you still flexing your muscles like I told you to?" Jason asked.
"Yeah, every now and again at least," Billy answered.
"Try this. Close your eyes and imagine yourself doing a kata. The one we did in my yard would be a good one. Now picture which muscles you use for each movement, and flex just those muscles. Like doing the kata without moving anything except the muscles. Try it, Billy. It will help the pain some," Jason told him.
Billy obediently closed his eyes and tried to do as Jason told him. The attempts to flex his arm muscles worsened the pain in his shoulders, especially the injured one. He worked through it as well as he could, finding he could almost reach the meditative state the kata helped induce when done properly. He did notice an improvement in his legs and hips.
Jason had watched closely, making sure Billy did it correctly. He was pleased to see the stress in Billy's expression ease as he did the kata.
"Good job! Did that help?" Jason asked.
"Yeah, it did. Thanks. How did you know I needed that?"
"I could tell you were in a bit of pain, and that you needed to get your mind more settled," Jason replied easily.
"Sheesh, I can't hide anything from you, can I?"
"Probably not. Let's do another, you need to loosen up more, as do I," Jason suggested.
They were halfway through when the door opened again. The huge Briardian entered the room and suddenly bent over Jason with a lethal looking knife. Before Jason could react the Briardian lashed out and cut the ropes binding Jason to the pipe. His arms fell free as the knife slashed out again cutting his legs loose. The Briardian repeated the procedure on Billy, 'accidentally' cutting his leg in the process. The big alien then dropped a bucket-like container on the floor and left.
"Guess they decided to feed us. I think. Smells like it could be food, if we are hungry enough. Here, let me help with that," Jason said, going to Billy's side and helping him use part of his shirt to bind the new wound on his leg.
"I expect I am going to experience a lot of 'accidents' like this if we stay here long enough," Billy muttered.
"Let's eat, then see if we can find a way to get us out of here. I'd just as soon not let them tie me up again. It isn't really very pleasant," Jason decided.
"Jase, we may be well advised not to eat that food. They may have drugged it for all we know," Billy suggested.
"Good point. Let's see if there is some way out of here."
The two did a thorough search of the small room without finding anything that looked like an alternate way out. The door opened from the outside only, there was no vent opening they could find. They were growing frustrated when Billy suddenly realized something.
"Jason, look up," he said excitedly.
Jason peered at the ceiling without a clue what Billy was talking about. "What?"
"That type of ceiling. I think those panels can be pushed up, and we could access some sort of crawlway there. We need to check it out."
"How to you propose to get up there?" Jason asked.
"Shimmy up the pipes," Billy said, suiting action to words. Jason watched from the floor as Billy reached the ceiling and pushed against one of the ceiling panels. He was able to push the panel up and over, creating a two-foot square opening. Moving carefully Billy maneuvered his way into the ceiling crawlspace and looked back down at Jason.
"Come on up, the view is terrific," he invited.
"Oh, I just bet," Jason mumbled, but he quickly made his way up by the same method Billy had used. Once Jason was up, Billy very carefully replaced the ceiling panel.
They found there were catwalks capable of supporting their weight above the ceilings. They started out with no idea where they were going, but grateful to be out of that small room.
"We are going to need to find a way to get off this ship safely. They should have some small utility craft they use to go to planet surfaces. We need to find one of those and liberate it," Billy whispered.
"Any guesses as to how much crew there is?" Jason whispered back.
"Maybe a dozen or so. A lot of the ship is automated."
"Any idea where one of those utility craft would be found on a ship like this?"
Billy didn't reply for a long spell, but Jason knew it was because he was thinking.
"Down. We have to go down. The schematics I saw on Aquitar showed those sort of craft were kept near the bottom of the ship."
"Okay, then, let's get down!"
* * *
After numerous wrong turns and back tracks they finally found what they were looking for. They opened a ceiling panel directly over the small craft and dropped down on its roof. They quickly scrambled into the craft and Billy began to study the controls, trying to figure out which button did what.
"Okay, Billy, anytime now would be a good time for us to get the hell out of here, before they figure out we aren't where we are supposed to be," Jason said.
"Just a couple more minutes, this is a bit more complicated than a car." Billy let out a huff of disgust. "However, this stupid thing actually needs a key to start. I don't believe it." Kneeling by the seat he had been using he released a panel from the console and looked at the wires within. He reached inside and pulled some of the wires outside to look more closely at them, then used the edge of the control panel to cut a few of the wires. He took a couple of them and twisted them together. Jason heard the engines suddenly fire.
Billy then began to flip switches, listening as the engines smoothed out, watching the instruments show the rise to normal working temperatures and pressures. He threw the control switch for the hatch to release the small spacecraft. Moments later they cleared the doors and were outside the ship.
"Um, Billy, you do know how to fly this thing, right?"
"Yeah, I think so. Guess we are going to find out."
"Oh, great." Jason sank back in his seat and allowed Billy to concentrate. Suddenly a thought occurred to him. "You realize you are going to be in big trouble when we get home. Consider the punishment for hot-wiring a car. What will our fathers say when they find out you hot-wired a space ship?"
"Oh, shut up."
Jason snickered and settled back to enjoy the ride.
His enjoyment was short-lived when the Briardian ship fired on their small spacecraft. Billy mumbled curses and maneuvered the in an evasive pattern. He frantically punched buttons on the control panel, trying to get some idea of where they were. They needed to get to a planet surface as soon as possible. He finally got a display showing nearby planets with information about each. He scanned quickly for one that could support human life, letting out a sigh of relief when he found one fairly close to their present location. He set long-range scanners to give him a preliminary idea of whether or not the planet was inhabited, and set a course for it at maximum velocity.
"Let's hope our luck holds, I found a planet for us. We are going to go in fast, maybe we can lose them when we enter the atmosphere," Billy told Jason.
They were silent as Billy piloted the craft on a random course, ultimately heading toward the planet he had found. The pursuing ship was closing fast, the only advantage they really had was their ability to duck and weave faster and tighter than the large ship. Billy was taking full advantage of that slight edge.
"The long-range scan shows the planet is populated, pretty densely in places. We are going to aim for an unpopulated area, I don't want to hurt anyone when we come in. Strap yourself in, Jason, this could get bumpy. Probably not the best time to tell you this, but I don't really know how to land this thing."
"Thanks for sharing that with me, Billy. Your timing is excellent."
"Sorry, just didn't come up before. We will be entering the atmosphere in about ten seconds, it could give us a good jolt."
They discovered Billy had understated that a bit. The small spacecraft bucked wildly as it entered the planet's atmosphere. Anything not tied down was tossed around the small area, and Billy and Jason both collected a few bruises from flying equipment and tools. Smoothing out, they started a steep, fast descent. Billy kept one eye on the scanners, trying to be sure they did not land in a populated area, and hoping he could find a fairly open area to set it down. He didn't have as much choice as he would have liked, and it soon became apparent they would land in a woodland area, approximately fifteen miles from the nearest settlement. As the ground hurried up to meet them Billy fired the reverse thrusters and tried to set down as gently as possible. He was not very successful, the craft skidded then rolled, finally crashing into a stand of trees and coming to rest on its side. Jason and Billy, bruised but otherwise miraculously unhurt, hurried from the ruined craft.
"You okay, Jason?" Billy asked breathlessly.
"Yeah, I think so. You did a pretty good job for someone who didn't know what he was doing. Are they still pursuing us? Won't they come to the surface and look for us here?"
"Probably. I have an idea that may get them off our backs. I could blow up the spacecraft," Billy proposed.
"Why? Oh, so they will think we crashed and burned, killing us both, right?"
"Good idea, let's do it," Jason agreed.
They quickly went back into the craft, where Billy rigged the engine to overload. They ducked behind an outcropping of rocks just before the craft exploded in a burst of flame and smoke.
"That should convince them. Unless of course they can distinguish our life readings from the natives," Jason commented.
"I do not believe their sensors are that accurate. At least the ones on the craft we were using were not. It's a little late to worry about that now. We better get going toward the settlement and see if we can find out how much trouble we are in now. I have no idea if the natives of this planet are friendly or not," Billy said.
"You are so much fun to travel with," Jason joked as they set out to find civilization.
* * *
The commander of the Briardian ship was furious. How was he going to explain how a couple of humans, young humans, were able to escape from a commander. He had to retrieve those two before they resulted in his dishonorable discharge from the military, possibly his execution for disgracing the uniform of the Briardian Empire.
"Sir," the sensor tech spoke crisply, "we have sensed an explosion on the planet surface. It appears the craft exploded upon impact. The two humans would have been killed instantly."
"Send a team down in the other craft to verify it. There must be no mistake."
Within an hour the landing party had returned to declare the stolen craft was indeed what had exploded on the surface of the planet. The two humans were presumed dead, their bodies incinerated.
The commander sent a communication to Briard reporting the death of the two human prisoners. The Emperor was not pleased, he had wanted the human known as Billy Cranston alive so he could be executed in the traditional fourteen day ceremony. He ordered the commander to report back to Briard, to take Cranston's place. The second-in-command immediately arrested the commander and placed him in the room that had so recently held the human captives, and headed back to Briard.
The matter of revenge against Billy Cranston for his part in the Aquitar fiasco was now considered closed.
* * *
The transmission between the ship and Briard was overheard by a Dilentian transport ship, which relayed a copy of the transmission to Triforia, who forwarded it to Aquitar, who forwarded it to Zordon on Earth.
In the eerie stillness of the Power Chamber, the five Zeo Rangers heard the transmission that told of the death of two of their closest friends.
They all agreed that the Scotts and Wallace Cranston would have to be told. With a heavy heart Tommy carried out the duty he had hoped he would never have to perform. He played a copy of the transmission for the three parents, watching hope fade in their eyes, being replaced by olid wood door which was bolted from the outside. He left them there with no explanation.
"Okay, that was unusual. I'm guessing we can figure the natives are not particularly friendly. Wonder what he is going to do with us," Jason commented, picking himself up off the floor.
"I have no idea, but I'm betting we are not going to like it," Billy replied.
"It's no bet. Guess we are on Primeria, ever heard of it?"
"No, I've not come across the name in any of Zordon's files. I couldn't really say if that is a good thing or not."
Jason sighed heavily. "I suppose we should get some rest, the next move is basically up to our host. I don't' see any way to get out of here."
They two stretched out on the dirt floor and tried to rest. Their exhausted bodies gave in to the demand for sleep, and soon both were slumbering peacefully.
* * *
Jason awakened to a burst of light and a hard pull on his arm. He found himself unceremoniously jerked to his feet and dragged out the door. He saw Billy being treated in a similar manner. They were forced toward what appeared to be a cage on wheels, being drawn by animals that looked to be a cross between an ox and a horse. Both were pushed inside the cage and locked inside. It looked like the driver of the cart gave some sort of currency to their captor.
Up to that point, neither teen had spoken, being too startled to protest their treatment. As their captor walked away Billy finally found his voice.
"Excuse me, but where are you taking us?"
The driver of the cart wheeled and lashed at the cage with the whip he had been carrying. "Shut up, human scum!"
Billy jerked away from the attack in a panic. Seeing the whip, having it lash out at him, transported him in his memory to Mondo's prison, and the nightmare he had endured there. Jason realized at once what was happening and tried to calm his friend down.
"Easy. Easy, bro. You're okay. It isn't going to happen again, okay? We are okay," he placed a calming hand on Billy's shoulder, then gave into his instinct to give his friend a hug. The hell with what their captor might think. Billy gradually settled down, his breathing and heart rate slowing toward normal.
"Thanks, Jason. Sorry I keep losing it on you."
"Nothing to apologize for, Billy. I'm in awe of how well you and Tommy recovered from what happened to you there. About the last thing you needed was to find yourself back in a situation where you are restrained and abused. If it were me I'd probably be going nuts," Jason said.
"Hate to tell you this, but I think I am going nuts," Billy mumbled. "Looks like asking questions is a bad idea at this point, so I guess we should just enjoy the ride."
* * *
The cart entered the city Billy had noticed on the scans just before they had crashed. The streets were dirt, the buildings clay and stone. There were no plants or trees in the city, the impression it gave was of dirt and poverty. They saw no overt signs of technology; the place seemed primitive.
As the cart made its slow way through the streets, Billy and Jason found themselves the object of considerable scrutiny. Kids in particular would run up and jab at the captives through the bars, then run off making a sound they could only figure was laughter.
"Jason, did you notice how big everyone is? The guy who caught us yesterday was actually pretty small if these folks are the norm. Except for young kids, I haven't seen anyone I would estimate to be under 6 feet tall," Billy said softly.
"I noticed. I also noticed we can understand what they say, how could that be? Do they really speak English?"
"I don't think so. While I was on Aquitar Cestro showed me a device they had that allowed people of two species to communicate easily. It translated the words from whatever language the speaker used to the language the listener understood. Given the circumstances surrounding my time on Aquitar, I did not have a good chance to examine it or how it worked, but it fascinated me."
"Figures. You know, I don't get it. I don't see any sign of technological advances, yet they have that kind of translator?"
"I don't know Jason. It makes no sense. I wonder where he is taking us."
"We may not want to know. Is it my imagination, or do you see other species among these folks?"
"Now that you mention it, yeah. But if this is some sort of 'melting pot' society, why are they reacting so negatively to us? I don't think humans have that bad a reputation."
"Maybe it's personal. You are looking a bit grody," Jason commented.
"You don't exactly resemble a model for GQ yourself," Billy shot back at him.
As they chuckled quietly, they noticed they were leaving the city. About two miles beyond the city limit they turned off the road they had been following and followed a narrow track into a wooded area. After going through perhaps two hundred feet of thick forest, they found themselves in a huge clearing. Taking up most of the clearing was a structure that looked like an old fashioned fort, surrounded by a fence made of logs twenty feet high and spiked at the top. The gate was huge and heavy, operated from the outside by a series of pulleys. The gate swung open at the cart's approach. It stopped in the middle of a dirt 'yard' and another huge man greeted the driver.
"Armos, what do you have for me today?"
"Just a couple of puny humans. Garlock found them on his property and turned them over to me. Only paid half the usual bounty as they are remarkably insignificant looking."
"Ah, but humans are quite rare. Get them out of there and let me see what we have."
The back door of the cart opened and the two teens found themselves standing in front of a man who stood at least 6'7", and probably weighed 300 pounds, with no fat on his frame at all. Shoved to a position standing directly in front of him, Jason and Billy had to crane their necks upward to look at him.
"By the Priests, you are right. They are insignificant. I wager they won't last too long here. However, I will try to sell them at the next market. Get some money for the expense they have caused before they are so damaged they are worthless. Guards! Take them and put them in the bunkhouse." He turned directly to the two young men standing before him. "You two are my property now, you will obey me without question. Do as you are told and you may survive, defy me and you will pay dearly. My name is Sarlas, but you will never call me that. You will call me 'your lordship' if you address me at all."
"We landed on your planet by accident, we have committed no crime. You have no right to lock us up as if we were animals," Jason's temper finally snapped.
He never saw the blow coming. The guard behind Jason hit him in his already bruised ribs, breaking three of them with one blow, and kicked his knee at an angle. As Jason fell to his knees in pain, Billy rushed to help him.
Billy looked up at Sarlas, opening his mouth to speak when he reconsidered. It would do no good to get himself injured as well. He helped Jason to his feet and steadied him carefully.
Sarlas gave one last glare at the prisoners. "As you see, punishment is swift and sure. Take them to the bunkhouse now," he ordered the guards.
The guard unlocked to door to the large square structure and shoved the two captives roughly inside. With the door closed and locked behind them, Billy got to his feet and turned to assist Jason up. As they straightened they noticed they were the center of attention for a large group of large, rough looking males of various species. Exchanging a quick look they decided the best tactic would be to ignore the others and find some place to sit down and think this new problem out. Billy started to help Jason toward the back wall when he found a particularly large being blocking his way.
"What are you?" the man demanded.
"Humans," Billy replied in a steady voice.
"Humans do not turn up in this quadrant very often. Why are you here?" He was well over six feet tall and was trying to use his superior height to intimidate Billy.
"It wasn't our idea. Some Briardians kidnapped us from Earth, we escaped en route and ended up here." As the big man loomed over him Billy refused to give an inch.
"What would Briardians want with a human," he growled.
"I helped defeat one of their ships while on Aquitar. They apparently are honor bound not to attack Aquitar for a hundred years, so they contented themselves by going after me."
"Why is he here?" the man indicated Jason.
"He tried to help me."
"That was stupid of him."
"He is my friend, it is what humans do when a friend is threatened. He is injured, we would like to find a place to rest for a while. Why don't we make it easy for all concerned. There must be some place in this room where there is space for us. Why don't you point it out?" Billy continued to keep his voice as authoritative as possible, knowing a show of weakness in this group could prove fatal. He found himself in a staring contest with the other man, it was a battle of wills Billy was determined to win.
"You can settle over there," he finally said, indicating a dim corner, far away from the fireplace that provided the only heat in the room. "My name is Tarlop."
"I'm called Billy, this is Jason," Billy kept it short as he helped Jason to the corner they had been allotted.
Ignored for now, Billy eased Jason to the ground and carefully probed his side. "Damn, Jase, you have three broken ribs. This is not good, I have no way to bind it." He looked at what he and Jason were wearing. It had been a warm morning in Angel Grove when they were kidnapped, so both were wearing shorts and tank tops. They were going to be pretty darn cold by the time night fell. "It also looks like you have damaged the ligaments your knee. Just rest for now. Once I have had a chance to evaluate this situation, perhaps I can find a way to acquire some material to bandage your ribs."
"Thanks. Guess I should have kept my mouth shut. You know, this would be a good time to send that postcard."
"What are you talking about?"
"When I asked you if you would ever go back to Aquitar and you said yes, I requested you at least keep in touch. You said you would send a postcard with the message 'having a great time, wish you were here' on it. Now would be a good time to send that to our friends back home," Jason explained.
"Yeah, I suppose it would," Billy agreed with an odd look.
"What do you mean 'what'?" Billy asked.
"What was that expression? I didn't like that look you got when I mentioned sending the postcard. So: what?"
"Jase, I have worked with Zordon a lot recently. I know what he is likely to do in this situation. He would have sent out messages regarding our kidnapping to all his sources, telling them to be on the lookout for the Briardians, and for us. His sources would contact their sources, and so on. After we crashed here the main ship very likely contacted Briard reporting what had happened. If one of those sources heard any of that transmission, they would forward it to Zordon. There is a good chance they will end up thinking we did not survive. I'm sorry."
"If Zordon thinks that, the Rangers will think that, and our parents...."
"Yeah, them too. You said your mom witnessed our kidnapping. The Rangers would have contacted them. They would feel duty bound to tell our parents what they learn."
"Oh, God." Anguished brown eyes met blue.
"So basically, our friends and families think we are dead, and no one is looking for us?"
"IF someone overheard a transmission between Briard and the ship. And IF that someone knew Zordon was seeking information regarding two humans. It is a worst case scenario, but it is very possible," Billy said.
"Gee, this just keeps getting better and better," Jason muttered disconsolately. He leaned back and closed his eyes. Billy sat beside him silently, lost in his own thoughts.
They stayed that way until a commotion caught their attention. Everyone was rushing toward the front of the building, pushing and shoving. As some of the front ones made their way out Billy saw they were carrying some sort of loaf and a container of liquid.
"Looks like feeding time, I'll try and get us something," he said getting to his feet and moving toward the group.
Billy shoved his way in, finding it was made easier by the fact a lot of the others had gotten their food and moved away. Billy found the remaining loaves pretty well smashed, but took one each for him and Jason, as well as two containers of liquid. Billy was actually pretty surprised by the fact he found any food left at all. And the big loaves looked, and smelled, fairly good. He hurried back to Jason's side, handing his friend his half the food and drink. Billy was about to start eating when he noticed a sick looking man sitting a few feet away. Like Jason, this fellow appeared to be injured and unable to get up to fetch his own meal. There was no one by the trays that had held the food, so Billy could clearly see they were empty. This fellow sufferer would end up going hungry unless they shared. Billy sighed softly, got up and went over to the man.
"I see you didn't get anything. Here, take mine, I'm not that hungry," so saying he held out his loaf and drink. The man took them without a word and began to eat voraciously. Billy went back to Jason's side.
"Here," Jason said, offering Billy half his loaf with a slight smile. "As you well know, my mom taught me to share. And don't look like that. If you hadn't done it, I would have."
"I figured as much. Thanks."
They were almost done when they saw two large feet approach and stop directly in front of them. They looked up at the large man looming above them.
"Did you feed him?" the deep voice rumbled with power as the man pointed to the injured fellow Billy had given his food to.
"Yes, he didn't have anything," Billy answered.
They were distinctly uncomfortable sitting as the guy stood over them.
From this perspective he appeared to be giant, an angry looking one at that. They exchanged a quick look, then Billy pushed himself to his feet.
"Is that a problem?" Even standing up Billy had to tilt his head back to look at this guy.
"Here. I normally get him his food, but was distracted by some of the others. The general rule is they send out exactly enough for the number of prisoners they have in here. No one ever takes more than their allotment. My name is Tarkanas; he's Zilox. We are from Hattuno." With that Tarkanas handed Billy a loaf and drink.
"Thanks. I'm Billy; this is Jason. From Earth. You referred to us as prisoners, so this is a prison?"
"Of course, what else would it be?"
"Good point. We were never told where we were being taken, or why. How long do they keep prisoners? We are completely unfamiliar with the customs on this planet."
"Why don't we sit down, and I will tell you what you need to know to survive here," Tarkanas offered.
Billy split the loaf with Jason and the three of them sat together while Tarkanas told them what to expect. By the time he was done talking both humans were in despair.
The planet they had landed on, Primera, was an odd combination of primitive and advanced. In almost every settlement, including the one they had gone through when in the cart, was a spaceport where transport, and occasionally fighter, craft landed on a daily basis. Primera was ensconced in such a location that they acted as a sort of 'way station' to deep space vessels. That was the planet's main source of revenue. Yet the homes and lives of the people were far from advanced. A lot of homes had no electricity, some no indoor plumbing. They were mostly made of rock and mud, a few of wood, and even some that were literally grass huts. Agriculture was the secondary source of revenue and slavery was commonly practiced on Primera.
Jason and Billy had in effect been arrested on Garlock's property and sent directly to prison. Because they were not escaped slaves, nor had they really committed a crime, they were to be sold at the next open slave market, due to be held in about a week's time. Once sold into slavery they would remain slaves until their death. The bulk of slave owners on the planet were harsh and cruel, accustomed to dealing with slaves who were large and strong. Most of the slaves on the Primera were imported from other planets where the citizens were large in stature, such as Hattuno. Some of the imported slaves were simply unfortunate folks who had been kidnapped, others were petty criminals their governments wanted to banish.
The prison population was partially made up of escaped slaves, partially of actual criminals-murderers, rapists, those who had committed assaults (usually slaves who assaulted their owners). Each time the open slave market was held those prisoners who had served their time were sold.
Tarkanas pointed out some prisoners the two humans should avoid at all costs. Most of the prisoners were like he was, not necessarily friendly, but not vicious. However, there was the minority who enjoyed antagonizing the other prisoners, and given their small stature the two humans would be tempting targets.
"Just steer clear of them and you should be all right. They know the penalty if they are caught fighting, the punishment is hardly worth the fun of fighting."
"Should I ask what the punishment is?" Billy asked.
"No. Hope you do not have to witness one, let alone be subjected to one. I will say this for Primarians-they are good at inflicting pain without permanently damaging the goods," Tarkanas noted.
"Nice. Thank you Tarkanas, for telling us what to expect," Jason said.
"You're welcome. Thank you for taking care of my friend." With that the big man went to join his friend a few feet away.
The next few days found Jason and Billy simply doing all they could to survive the life they found themselves in. They kept to themselves, bothering no one. They stayed together everywhere, Billy helping Jason to and from the filthy room that did duty as a bathroom, and outside for the one brief period the prisoners were allowed in the yard each day. The only time Billy left Jason's side was when he went to get their food. The prisoners were only fed once a day, so if they did not get their food then, they went hungry. It was on one of his trips to get the food that Billy's luck ran out.
He had just picked up his and Jason's food when another prisoner pushed him to the side. He stumbled into a big, perpetually angry fellow who was one of the ones Tarkanas had warned him about. With a growl of anger the man attacked Billy.
Billy's adversary was nearly a foot taller and easily double his weight, mostly in muscle. But he was also slow, and a bit clumsy. Billy was not. As the big man rushed him, Billy stepped easily aside, reaching out to grab his assailant's arm and use his momentum against him. It was a slick move that made it look for all the world like Billy had thrown the big man over his shoulder. The other prisoners were suitably impressed. Billy stepped back, more than happy to call it over, but the other was not. He rushed again, not quite as haphazardly this time. Billy easily evaded the blow the man aimed at him and managed to land a blow to the man's midsection. The blow had little effect except to infuriate his opponent. With a bellow of rage the man attacked again, determined to destroy this puny human. Just as the man got close Billy went low and swept his legs out from under him. The big one went down to the amusement of the observers. Just then the guards and Sarlas entered.
The assembled prisoners immediately headed to their respective places, leaving Billy and his opponent to face the warden.
Sarlas wasted no time with unnecessary words. Turning to the guards he said simply, "Punish them."
Along the far wall Jason struggled to his feet, determined to go to Billy's aid. Tarkanas and Zilox both went to restrain him.
"No! You will only make it worse for him. No matter what it sounds like, remember this: He will survive." Tarkanas looked deeply into Jason's worried eyes. "He will survive," he reiterated.
The guards took the bigger man and forced him onto his back on the huge table in the middle of the room. Restraints had been bolted to the four corners, these were used to hold the man spread eagle on the table. One of the guards took a device that resembled a small flashlight out of his belt and held it against the prisoner's groin. Immediately the room was filled with the man's screams of pain. They continued for a five full minutes. When he was released from the table the prisoner could only curl up on himself in agony. Three of his companions carried him to a corner, as the guards placed Billy on the table.
The restraints were designed to hold a much larger prisoner. It took a lot of adjusting to release them far enough to reach for the shorter teen, and even then he was stretched out painfully. His reaction to the device was the same as the larger man's. His screams of pain continued for the full five minutes, then he was immobile with pain when released. Tarkanas and Zilox had to physically restrain Jason the entire time. As soon as Billy was released Tarkanas rushed forward and carried him back to Jason's side.
Jason gently ran his hands over Billy, trying to soothe him in some way. Billy had clenched his body into a fetal position and was making a steady low moan of pain. Jason looked up at Tarkanas desperately.
"How long do the effects usually last?"
"Hours. And that is for someone my size. Billy is pretty small, it may take longer, maybe not. I have never seen it done to a human."
"Is there anything I can do for him?"
"Not that I know of. Just be there with him, I suppose. Jason, he will be okay, really he will. Like I said-they are good at inflicting non-damaging pain."
"You call this 'non-damaging'? He can't move, he is in agony."
"He will recover in a day or so. I have seen much worse, and something about Billy tells me he has too."
"Yeah, I suppose he has."
Jason carefully laid down, reaching out to place one arm around Billy's shoulders. It was not a very comfortable position, but it enabled Jason to offer Billy comfort without moving him. The hours passed with agonizing slowness. Jason saw Billy's opponent finally stagger to his feet, moving with obvious pain toward the bathroom. Billy was gradually uncurling, his moans had stopped some time before. His eyes opened and Jason saw he was aware of his surroundings again.
"You are okay, Billy. That thing is not designed to do permanent damage, just cause excruciating pain. Tarkanas says the pain wears off completely in a day or so."
"Oh, great. Only a couple of days feeling like this," Billy groaned, closing his eyes.
"Got a question to take your mind off your troubles."
"Oh, yeah? What's the question?"
"What does pusillanimous mean?"
Billy opened his eyes and looked directly at Jason. "When we get home look it up in the dictionary."
Jason chuckled in relief.
* * *
It had been a couple of days since Billy's ill fated fight in the bunkhouse when he and Jason became aware of a commotion. They looked toward the entrance to see Sarlas enter with numerous guards. Walking the perimeter of the large area Sarlas simply pointed to various prisoners, who were then pulled to their feet and taken outside. When he got to Jason and Billy's location he indicated to both of them. They were roughly removed from the bunkhouse and marched to the far end of the yard where a large concrete slab was located.
Once there they were ordered to strip along with the other prisoners that had been removed. Once all clothing was removed they were quite literally hosed down while a couple of guards scrubbed the prisoners with long handled brushes. Once that was finished they were all handed simple cotton shirts and drawstring pants to replace whatever rags they had been wearing. Like everything else on this planet, the clothes were too big for the two humans. The clothes hung loosely on their trim frames, making them look smaller than they were. An older man they had never seen before drifted among them, examining those who appeared to have injuries. When he got to Jason he looked at the ribs and his knee, then produced a flat instrument which he placed over Jason's injured ribs. In moments the ribs had healed completely. He repeated the procedure on his knee with the same results.
When the man had moved on Jason turned an astonished expression toward Billy. "Any ideas on how he did that?"
"No, but I wish like heck he had done it days ago. You suffered a lot of needless pain."
"I suppose he just wants to be sure to get full price for me. It must be market day."
"I gathered as much."
Before they could say more the prisoners were loaded in the cage wagon and it headed back toward the settlement.
Unlike the first time they had been there, the settlement fairly burst with excitement. The wagon stopped in what appeared to be the town square and the prisoners were unloaded and herded to an area where what looked to be pole corrals had been set up. The group was sent into one large holding pen and guards took up positions at each corner. A large group of citizens immediately surrounded the pen and started discussing the prisoners.
Occasionally one person would approach the head guard and ask to see a specific prisoner more closely. The prisoner would be brought out and subjected to whatever examination the potential buyer wanted to do. Several prisoners had been bought when a particularly large and stern looking man approached and requested Jason.
Jason was removed from the pen and the potential buyer felt him over, paying particular attention to his arms and shoulders. After a brief negotiation, currency was handed over to the head guard and the buyer grabbed Jason and started to lead him away. Jason twisted in his grip, looking back desperately at Billy, still in the pen. What they had never spoken of, but what they had each feared the most since finding themselves on this planet had just happened.
They were being separated.
* * *
It was hours later before Billy was finally sold. By then there were only two other prisoners in the pen, and both of them were permanently damaged. One was missing a leg and moved awkwardly on a makeshift prosthesis. The other was quite insane, squatting in a corner of the pen, rocking back and forth, giggling softly.
The man who bought Billy was shabbier than the others he had seen. It certainly appeared he was sold for considerably less than the others, even Jason. When the shabby man grabbed Billy's arm and led him away, Billy offered no resistance. Shabby he may have been, but the grip on Billy's biceps was pure steel. The man had yet to speak to Billy, he simply pulled the unresisting young man through the crowds toward the outskirts of town.
They walked hours, through undeveloped forest, gradually moving to higher altitude. Billy's owner said nothing, just pulled him along roughly. For his part, Billy decided not to push his luck and start asking questions of the man. Disheartened by the day's events he was not feeling up to doing anything except what was absolutely required. With each step away from the settlement he felt more isolated and desolate.
It was well past dark when they arrived at a cabin in the center of a clearing. Livestock occupied several corrals and there was a large barn to one side. It was to the barn that Billy was taken. His companion finally spoke.
"I paid good money for you and I expect you to be worth it. I don't know, and don't care, what your old name was, to me you are 'boy', you will answer to that. You will call me 'sir' when you speak to me, and you will only speak with my permission. Come here."
Billy cautiously approached the man, not knowing what he was about to do. The man took Billy's left arm and put a metal cuff around it, securing it was a bolt and lock combination. He then took Billy back into the yard and attached the cuff by a thick chain to a post. He then turned and headed to the house, leaving Billy outside in the cold night air.
Billy sank down beside the post, drawing his knees up to his chest, trying to conserve body heat. He looked up at the night sky and wondered how Jason was faring.
He had never been so miserable, nor felt so alone.
* * *
Jason found himself the possession of one of the wealthier families on Primeria. He had been purchased as a 'training slave' for the man's younger son. The thirteen-year-old boy needed a slave to practice on, one he could command and intimidate, and his father had felt Jason would be perfect. At thirteen the lad was a couple of inches taller than Jason, and even sturdier in build.
Jason found the situation disgusting, painful, and humiliating. The boy, Merlic, was sadistic by nature. No matter what Jason did, the little fiend would find fault with it and punish Jason accordingly. The only rule the boy was subject to was to not permanently damage his new slave. So he contented himself with beating his slave with whatever happened to be handy, frequently in public, and always until Jason cried out in pain. After a time it got so Jason had forgotten what is was like to live without pain. Though the beatings rarely broke his skin, they usually caused welts that remained for days. It was a rare and wondrous occasion when Jason was not sporting several different degrees of welts.
When not doing Merlic's bidding, Jason spent his time in the slave quarters. The older slaves were accepting enough of the human, and one woman, Napie, would gently bathe Jason's back after particularly bad beatings. His actual duties were quite light, and if not for the beatings it would have been a decent enough situation, under the circumstances.
Sometimes at night Jason would go out into the secured yard and look up into the alien sky. He would think about Billy, wondering if his friend was doing okay, and when they would get to see each other again. On the rare occasions Jason was taken with Merlic to town he would scan the streets, hoping against hope to see Billy. He was always disappointed.
* * *
Billy had found his owner to be strict, demanding, and volatile. He worked from sunup to sunset, tending livestock, cleaning stalls, mending fences, building fences, digging ditches, and chopping wood. The chores were endless and exhausting. Most nights he was so tired he didn't notice the cold as he drifted into sleep. The first night on the farm had been the rule, not an exception. He slept outside in fair weather or foul. He was given a large meal in the morning and a light one at night. The food was nourishing, if tasteless. If Billy slacked off or made a mistake retribution was immediate. The man did not believe in long debilitating beatings, but swift, intensely painful ones that left Billy capable of going back to work, if somewhat gingerly. Billy was the only slave on the place, he was expected to do everything.
It was an overcast afternoon when the windmill ceased to work properly. Billy was called over to assist his owner, who was trying to force a popped gear back into place. Billy could see that the method he was using was not going to work. He needed to retract a bar that had popped out of place first, then the gear would slip back where it belonged.
"You need to fix that bar first," Billy started to say. The man straightened up and swiftly pulled the riding crop he carried and began to strike Billy with considerable force.
"Don't speak to me without permission," he growled as he replaced the crop in the holder on his belt. Billy lay gasping at his feet.
The big man turned back to the machinery, still trying to force the gear. He spoke without turning. "You have my permission to speak. If you can fix this problem, tell me now. If not, remain silent."
"You need to retract that bar back there first, then the gear should slip back into place," Billy rasped out, still struggling to quiet his breathing.
The man did as Billy suggested and the problem was promptly solved.
"Get back to work on that gate," was all the man said as he closed the door to the windmill's machinery and prepared to go back to work on the tractor.
"You're welcome," Billy muttered, very softly, as he walked away.
* * *
Jason had just had a very quiet day. Merlic was sick, some sort of childhood disease like chicken pox on Earth, and Jason had been left to his own devices in the slave quarters. He had volunteered his services helping the other slaves, especially Napie, wishing to pay her back for past kindness. By his estimate he had now been there about three weeks. Later that evening he was again in the yard looking at the sky when she joined him.
"What are you looking for, Jason? Your home?"
"Not exactly. I was just remembering something my father had told me, years ago. He had to leave town for a week for his work, he had never had to be gone for so long before. I was real young, maybe six or seven. Anyway, he told me that if I missed him I only had to look at the sky, at the sun, or the moon or stars, and know that those very same ones were looking down on him. It made it seem as if he were very close, even though he was far away. I was thinking of how far away he is now, we don't share the same moor, the same sun, or even the same stars." Jason looked at her with eyes that sparkled with the tears Merlic was never able to elicit. "I miss him."
"Maybe you will be able to find a way to get back there someday," she said. Saying such things went against her natural inclination to not lend false hope, but Jason needed something to hold on to. She had grown fond of the young man, he made her wish she had had a chance to have children.
"I hope so. I also wish I could see Billy again. He is probably looking at the same night sky. I wonder if he is okay."
* * *
The night after the windmill incident, it had rained heavily. Despite the downpour, Billy had been left chained, as usual, outside. Once the rain stopped, the wind started, dropping the temperature a good twenty degrees. Billy, soaked to the skin, shivered at the base of the post he was chained to. The next morning he was so stiff he could barely rise when his owner came to unchain him. He developed a deep, bronchial cough, his appetite waned, and he found it almost impossible to do his work. The beatings became more frequent. He knew if things kept going this way that he wouldn't survive another week.
Three days later his owner simply attached a slender cable to the cuff on Billy's wrist and headed back toward town. They started out in the early morning hours with Billy pushing a cart filled with produce, pelts, and grain. This represented the last few weeks' labors.
Billy had not been off the farm since his arrival and was looking forward to seeing something other than livestock and trees. He also planned to do all he could to avoid ever having to see the farm again. Unbeknownst to his owner, Billy had finally found a way to unlock the cuff, he had carefully guarded this secret, waiting until the proper opportunity presented itself.
As they marched along Billy thought grimly to himself, 'Come hell or high water, that opportunity is going to be today.'
* * *
Merlic had recovered from his illness with no lingering after effects, except perhaps an even shorter temper. He was planning to go to town on personal errands, and was taking Jason along to assist him. All morning Jason followed his owner from place to place; taunted and tormented almost constantly. His ability to put up with such treatment was rapidly fading. It was early afternoon when Jason finally snapped and told Merlic to shut up and leave him alone.
Merlic attacked Jason as if Jason had threatened to kill him. Using a length of rope he began to beat Jason about the shoulders and back, hitting him so fast and furiously Jason had no time to react. Not feeling like he was getting the response that he wanted from the human, Merlic picked up a length of board and began to beat Jason with that. Putting up his arm to protect his head Jason took a tremendous blow on the left forearm. Both bones shattered under the impact. The next few blows hit his hips and thighs, causing deep bruising. Another blow broke two ribs and the next one damaged his kidney. Before Merlic could manage to kill his slave, he found himself under attack and was knocked aside roughly, the board slipping from his hands. A blow to the side of his head from the board he had dropped sent him falling semiconscious in the gutter. Jason looked up to thank his savior, and felt a thrill of happiness and surprise wash through him.
Billy carefully pulled him to his feet, urging him to run.
* * *
Billy had chosen his time perfectly. There was a huge commotion as an accident between two wealthy merchants started a near riot. His owner was caught up in the excitement and didn't notice his slave was able to slip from his restraints. Before the man was aware of it, Billy had freed himself and disappeared into the crowd.
Hurrying from the area, he stumbled across Merlic and Jason. Without a thought Billy attacked Merlic and got Jason to his feet, forcing him to come with him. The beginnings of a plan raced through his mind. He couldn't believe his luck in finding Jason, and he was determined not to waste the opportunity that fate had given him. He knew they would be pursued, already the young man who had been beating Jason was trying to struggle to his feet. Others had noticed what was happening and were moving toward the two humans.
Moving at a dead run, Billy headed them toward the outskirts of town. As soon as they were out of sight of their pursuers for a moment he ducked them into a narrow alley, then into a building, hoping and praying no one would see them. He found a deserted utility room and hustled Jason inside with him, locking the door behind them. Jason was barely conscious, obviously in tremendous pain. Leaving him slumped against the wall, Billy looked around desperately for some sort of clothing to help disguise them. He found a few uniforms that would do, even the hats that went with them and would help hide their faces. The only thing he really worried about was their obvious smaller stature, but there was nothing he could do about that. Working quickly he managed to get Jason into one of the uniforms, then donned the other himself.
"Jason, I'm sorry, but you have to walk yourself. We are going to head toward the spaceports. I am going to try to sneak us on a freighter and off this godforsaken planet. But we need to not draw any attention on our way over there. Soon you can rest, but for now you have to walk. Okay?"
"I'm okay, Billy. I can make it," Jason said gamely.
They exited the utility closet, went back into the alley and toward the spaceports as quickly as they could without exciting any attention. They tried to look as if they belonged and knew what they were doing, and where they were going. Realizing Jason could not keep going much longer Billy chose a spaceport at random and they went inside. There they found a medium sized craft with the cargo ramp still open. Billy and Jason could not see anyone around, so they ducked up the ramp and quickly moved among the stacks of cargo, working their way back to the far wall and hiding there. Jason sank gratefully to the floor and stretched out on his uninjured side. Billy looked around for something that could be used as a weapon. All he was able to find was a rod about five feet long. It would have to do. When he looked over to check on Jason he realized that his friend was unconscious.
Billy heard sounds of movement in the cargo bay. Someone was walking around, inspecting the stacks, and hopefully readying them for takeoff. Billy tightened his hold on his weapon and prepared himself for a possible fight. He let out his breath in a deep sigh when the footsteps retreated and he heard the cargo bay door close. Then the deep sound of the engines started. With the sense of movement beneath his feet he felt a relief deeper than he had expected. For better or worse, Primeria was behind them.
He knelt down beside Jason and checked his injuries. He had not had time to really look at what was wrong with his old friend until now, and he was appalled with what he saw. He realized Jason's left arm was broken, he had more broken ribs, and possible internal injuries. How in the world had Jason managed to run off with him? Billy knew he was going to have to find some medical supplies. Jason needed treatment, and soon.
Billy was considering his options when he heard a door open, and approaching footsteps. He stood up gripping his makeshift weapon. He was not experienced fighting with a staff, but he would give it his all. He had to protect Jason, no matter the cost. Billy looked at the opening between the stacks of cargo that formed the entrance to their hiding place. When the being stepped through Billy felt his heart sink. The man was over seven feet tall, heavily muscled, moving with the inborn grace of a natural athlete. Though his features were human-like, his skin was a light olive-green color and lightly pebbled, and his eyes were an icy pale blue and very round.
Billy tightened his grip on the staff and faced the newcomer.
* * *
Modil was not surprised to find two stowaways in the cargo bay. His internal sensors had told him as much. What he was surprised to find was that they were human, as he had encountered very few humans in his years of running cargo throughout the galaxy.
Though fierce in appearance and intimidating in stature, Modil was not a violent being. Like most Nebulans he actually had a peaceful disposition, and was slow to anger. Looking at the small human who faced him he felt no aggression, but pity, humor, and considerable respect for the courage it took for someone to face a possible battle bravely when so clearly overmatched.
He looked closely at the human, it was obvious he was not well, and the one on the floor beyond was in even worse shape. He spoke quietly, knowing the translator would make it possible for the human to understand him.
"My name is Modil. I will not hurt you. Your companion needs medical attention, we should take him to my sickbay, where you can help him."
Modil watched the play of emotions across the human's face. Unfamiliar with humans, he did not recognize the emotions, but he could guess at them. He knew how the society worked on Primeria, he figured these two had been slaves. It was obvious this one in front of him was determined to protect his injured comrade. Modil leaned against the stack of crates beside him, relaxing his body to send a message of non-aggression to the human he was facing. He waited patiently for the human to make up his mind.
At long last the small human lowered his weapon and looked back at his companion. He turned back to Modil with a look that could only be hope. "You have a sickbay, and means to treat his injuries?"
Modil nodded at that, and approached his two unexpected passengers. He bent down and easily lifted the unconscious young man in his arms, taking note of the injury to his arm.
"Please be careful, his ribs are broken on the right side, and he may have internal injuries."
"I will be as careful as possible. Follow me, I will take you to the sickbay."
When they got to the sickbay Modil placed Jason on an exam table, and quickly got out the other human's way. Curious as to what the human might be able to figure out, Modil did not offer any assistance, but watched closely. He was impressed as the young man used various instruments correctly after only a quick examination of them.
"What have you found out?" he asked at last.
"Jason has broken bones in his left forearm, two broken ribs, his left kidney is damaged, and he has severe internal bruising."
"There are instruments here you can use to treat that. His name is Jason? What is your name? Or do I just call you 'boy'?" He was surprised to see the human shudder at that comment.
"I'm Billy. Please call me that. I think I need to treat his kidneys and other internal injuries first, then the arm and ribs. And I need some way to keep him warm, he is going into shock."
The next couple of hours went by quickly as Billy treated Jason's injuries, with Modil assisting. They did not speak more than necessary, and Modil wondered when Billy would settle down and trust him.
At one point Jason regained consciousness, but just barely. He was obviously unaware of his surroundings, and what was being done for him. He only recognized Billy.
"Billy, how am I?" he asked weakly.
"You are going to be fine, Jason. I'm taking care of all your injuries. You will be good as new before you know it."
"Thanks," Jason's voice was weaker still. "I still want to know something."
"What is that?"
"What does pusillanimous mean?"
"When we get home look it up in the dictionary," Billy said quietly, pushing Jason's hair back from his eyes with a gentle hand. Jason lost consciousness again, a faint smile on his face.
Modil had stayed back beyond Jason's range of vision, watching the exchange closely, curiously.
They had finally done all they could for Jason. His kidney and other internal injuries were healing rapidly, according to Modil they would be completely healed in a few hours. The broken bones would take three or four days at most. He was resting comfortably on the bed, covered by several blankets. Billy turned with a weary sigh and leaned against the side of the bed.
"Are you going to treat your own injuries now?" Modil asked.
"I am not injured. And I need to be here if Jason needs me."
"If you are not injured, then you are ill. And Jason will be asleep for hours. Use this to examine your condition, or I will," Modil held out the scanner Billy had used on Jason earlier.
With a sigh Billy did as told. He looked at the results and grinned ruefully. "Well, no wonder I feel like crap."
"You feel like what??"
"Um, I feel bad. Sorry, guess the translator doesn't recognize slang. I have pneumonia. A pretty mild case, but I could use some antibiotics."
Modil gave him what he needed, then said softly. "You need to sleep, too. Do you seriously think I am going to hurt you?"
"No. It's just hard to trust again after what has happened. If you were going to kill us, you would have already. You would have back in the cargo bay. Why didn't you simply overpower me and bring us here? You could have, easily."
"I don't know if it would have been that easy. You and Jason are the first humans I have ever spoken to, or spent any time around. But in the cargo bay it was not necessary to know anything about humans to know you were dangerous. You were scared, cornered, and protecting someone you care for. If I had tried force, yes, I probably would have been the victor, but I would have paid for it. And you would have, too. I would have had to knock you out some way to get past you. Ultimately, it was easier to convince you to come along quietly. No one gets hurt that way," Modil explained.
"Very logical. I guess I will try to sleep now," Billy said. Modil went to a corner of the sick bay and found a cot he kept there. He set it up for Billy, then left the two humans alone.
"Hang in there, Jason. I think we are in a much better place this time. Maybe in time we can convince him to send us on our way home. At any rate, I don't think he will hurt us. Rest well, heal. I'm here if you need me." So saying he settled down on his cot and was asleep as soon as he closed his eyes.
* * *
Jason woke up with no idea where he was or how he got there. He sat up carefully, looking around for something familiar, noticing as he did so he felt much better than he last remembered. Not great, but much better. He looked down and realized it was Billy lying on the cot beside his bed. He looked at his friend, wondering how Billy had managed to get them where they were, and what was going on. He didn't really want to wake Billy up, he looked so peaceful and Jason had no doubt he needed the sleep. He had just decided to lay back down and sleep some more when the door opened and a giant walked in. At least it looked like a giant to Jason, who leapt from the bed, knocking roughly into Billy's cot and waking him up.
"What? What's happening?" Billy gasped, startled and disoriented.
"Get back! Stay away from us!" Jason yelled at the thoroughly startled Modil, while Billy struggled awkwardly to his feet. Jason's leap from bed awakened the pain in his arm and ribs, making Jason feel dizzy and nauseated. He staggered a bit while looking for something to use for a weapon.
Chaos reigned supreme for a few moments, then Billy grabbed Jason's uninjured arm.
"Whoa! Jason, settle down. Modil is a friend, he has helped us. He's okay, and we are off Primeria. Take it easy." Billy was finally able to reassure Jason that they were in no danger from the very large man at the door.
Modil had remained motionless during Jason's outburst. Once he saw the humans were calm again, he approached slowly.
"You humans certainly are excitable. You must be feeling better to jump around like that," he said with some humor.
"Sorry," Jason mumbled. "You startled me."
"I gathered as much. I thought if you were awake you might want some food," he offered, holding out the two containers he had brought with him.
"Thank you, Modil. Jason, this is Modil, of the planet Nebulas. Modil, this is Jason," Billy formally introduced the two.
Jason reached out with his right hand; "It's a pleasure to meet you."
Modil took the proffered hand and shook it gently. "Same here."
Billy noticed Jason was quite pale. "Here, sit back down, Jason. You didn't do yourself any favors getting excited like that."
"I know. I woke up the pain from my arm and ribs. However, they feel much better than I last remember. How long have I been out of it?"
"Only a few hours. Modil here has some really neat toys in this sickbay. I should be able to get your ribs and arm completely healed in three or four days. Your internal injuries are already healed," Billy reported.
"Great. How about you? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Jase. No problems."
"Just the pneumonia," Modil noted with an innocent look.
"'Just the pneumonia'? And you call that 'okay'? Billy, pneumonia is not okay."
"It's a very mild case, and I suspect it is already cleared up. Let me get the scanner and I will check us both over, will that make you happy?"
Using the scanner Billy quickly checked their condition. "As I expected, my lungs are almost completely clear. Your internal injuries have healed, and your broken bones are knitting together nicely. Modil, you are a lifesaver, literally."
"I am glad to have been of help. Perhaps you can repay me by working as my crew," he offered.
"I think we are okay doing that, right Jason?"
"Sure. Do you think you will ever be going near Earth?" Jason asked hopefully.
"I never go near Earth, there is nothing there for a cargo transport ship."
"Oh. Well, at least we have a job," Jason sighed. He was thankful to be off Primeria, and grateful for the treatment of his injuries. He was not about to complain to the being that had made that possible.
He and Billy opened the containers of food Modil had brought and found they contained what appeared to be soup. They both tasted it and exchanged a wry look. It tasted awful, but something about Modil's expression told them he had made it and was pleased with the outcome.
"Delicious. Thank you Modil," Billy said with enthusiasm.
"Yeah, it's great. Thanks," Jason added with a wide smile.
"You should probably both rest some more. There is plenty of time before you need to start working. Get your strength back," with that the big man left the two teenagers alone again.
"Ugh, this is worse than anything your dad made!" Jason whispered.
"Hey! My dad isn't that bad a cook. But, I agree it is pretty bad. But it is warm, nourishing, and, um, warm," Billy whispered back. They both forced themselves to finish the soup.
Billy got out a couple of the instruments he had used earlier on Jason's injuries and treated the broken bones again. Then both settled back down on their beds and drifted back to sleep.
* * *
Three days later Billy declared the last of Jason's injuries healed. They were growing used to life on the ship, and fond of Modil, who treated them quite well. Their duties were fairly light; maintenance, minor repairs, moving cargo in preparation of delivery. Having discovered Billy was very good with numbers, Modil gave the job of inventory tracking and invoicing to him, with Jason assisting.
Whenever they came into a port the two humans were hidden in a far cargo area, safe from prying eyes. Modil was not worried about them escaping, or doing any damage, just about others finding out he had two humans on board. He was doing his best to protect his crew.
One thing Modil noticed was that the two of them did not like being separated. Though the ship was fairly spacious, the two shared one room. When they were hidden they insisted on being together. If working in different areas of the ship, he knew they contacted each other often. He figured it had to be because of what had happened to them on Primeria, but they seldom spoke of their time there. They seldom spoke of their pasts at all, and Modil figured they simply found it too painful.
Modil called the two of them to the bridge of the ship, as they approached a planet that was almost Earth-like in appearance.
"We are approaching Guenwilli, a peaceful planet, sparsely populated. The atmosphere is close to that of Earth. I think the two of you should debark here and spend a few hours on a planet surface. You need to be off the ship for a while, and this is one of the safest planets I know of." Though obviously worried, they agreed to the plan.
Guenwilli turned out to be an extremely pleasant experience for both. The settlement where the spaceport was located was small, and the people living there paid little or no attention to those who got off the ships. Billy and Jason walked around the settlement in their stolen uniforms from Primeria, reveling in the freedom of being on a planet surface and not pursued by anyone.
Following directions they had been given in the settlement, they found a pond in a large field. Given permission to swim there, they took the opportunity to bathe, and clean their clothing as well as possible. Though the results were less than perfect they boarded the ship much cleaner and happier than they had been in a long time.
Modil derived great pleasure in the two humans' enjoyment of the experience. For the first time he saw a glimpse of what the two young men must have been like before the events of their recent past. Their eyes sparkled, they laughed and joked about their encounter with what they called a turtle, which they had found in the pond.
"I take it you enjoyed yourselves?"
"Yes, thank you," Jason said with a smile. "It was nice to see the sky, the sun, to feel the open air."
"Tired of being on board the ship, are you?"
"We are not complaining. We are very grateful for all you do for us," Billy said in his quiet way.
"I am grateful you took the opportunity to bathe. You were starting to smell so bad I feared port authorities would be able to find you just using their noses."
Both young men looked very embarrassed and Modil chuckled at them. "I am just kidding. Well, mostly kidding."
Time passed quickly on board the ship. Kept busy, Billy and Jason had no time to reflect on their situation, they had decided to simply live each day the best they could and hope that someday they could find a way home. They did not question Modil about it, not wishing to appear ungrateful.
They had just left a port in what Modil described as a pretty unsavory area of the galaxy when they found themselves under attack. The first Billy and Jason knew of it was when the ship shuddered violently and tilted to the side. They hurried onto the bridge, wondering what had happened.
"We are under attack! They managed to sneak up on me. I don't believe it! We are losing our shields," Modil was frantically trying to do three things at once.
"Where are the shield controls?" Billy asked tersely.
Modil didn't ask questions, just pointed the controls out to Billy while trying evasive maneuvers. Billy set to work on the shields.
A few tense minutes later Billy said quietly. "Shields are back up to 93%, it was the best I could do."
Modil checked his readings to confirm it and shot an incredulous look at Billy. "How did you manage that?"
"Re-routed some of the power from systems we don't need right now. After the attack is over we can fix the problem permanently. What else can I do to help?"
"If I had more power in the thrusters I could maneuver better, and if I could add about 25% to my speed I could outrun these pirates. I can't outshoot them."
"Got it, thrusters and speed. I'll go back to the engine area and see what I can do. Keep the intercom open, okay?"
Modil indicated he would as Billy, followed by Jason, headed to the engine compartment. Billy lowered himself into the cramped area that housed the engines, bidding Jason stay at the entrance in case he needed anything. Moving quickly he found the control panel and set to work. He called up to Jason to send down several instruments, then called to Modil on the bridge asking for some readings. Modil gave him the information he needed then made an ominous announcement.
"There are two of them now! We need more speed! They are approaching from both sides, how are the thrusters looking?"
"Give me just another second," Billy muttered to himself, making another connection. "Try it now!" he called out loudly.
On the bridge Modil wasted no time in hitting the thrusters as the two ships approached from opposite sides pinning him in a deadly cross fire. Unexpectedly the ship bolted forward as if shot from a cannon. The attacking ships ended up hitting each other with their laser blasts, destroying one and crippling the other. Modil was thrown back in his seat by the sudden acceleration, while Jason was pitched across the room by the motion. He heard a thud and Billy's mumbled curses from the engine area.
"WooHoo! That did the trick! Good job, boys. We are out of here," Modil called to them as he set a course to their next destination. "Billy, Jason, you alright?"
"I think so," was Jason's response as he went to check on Billy. He gave his friend a hand up out of the engine compartment and noticed blood in Billy's light hair.
"You okay, man?" he asked worriedly as he helped Billy to his feet.
"Yeah, it's not that bad," Billy replied. "I take it that worked?"
"Guess so. Let's get to the bridge and find out what happened."
They made their way to the bridge to find Modil happily settling back after setting the course.
"Thanks, Billy. You did a great job, saved our lives, really. I didn't know you knew so much about engines and such," he commented.
"I have an aptitude for mechanical devices," Billy replied with a slight smile. "I like to work with my hands."
"Well, anytime you want to work on my engines you go right ahead. I want you to show me what you did and how you did it so I will know for future reference," Modil requested, looking up at the two humans for the first time. "Oh, feces, you are injured!" he cried seeing the blood now running slowly down the side of Billy's face from a scalp wound.
"It isn't bad, on humans head wounds bleed a lot. And what did you just say?"
Modil looked a bit abashed. "Isn't that what you both sometimes say when upset-'Oh, feces'?"
"Well, sort of. Actually the term is 'Oh, shit', but I think the translator is making a mess of that."
"That's what I said, 'Oh, feces'."
"Guess that's right, then," Billy conceded, wanting to end the conversation, realizing Jason was struggling to maintain his composure and not wanting to hurt or embarrass Modil. "I should head to sickbay and take care of this cut. No sense in letting it get infected."
"I'll help," Jason volunteered, following Billy out and managing to make it a good ways from the bridge before almost collapsing in laughter.
"Oh, feces! He cusses like you would have in your 'big words' phase."
"Oh, shut up."
* * *
The next few days Billy spent helping Modil repair and upgrade the engines. Now that Modil knew Billy's talents he was determined to take full advantage of them. Billy found Modil to be a quick learner, with more practical knowledge than Billy had. They made a good team and worked well together, Billy knowing more theory, Modil more reality. Jason found himself feeling a little left out as his two companions discussed technological theories beyond his scope of knowledge.
They continued to make the scheduled stops, dropping off cargo on one planet, picking some up on the next one. Billy and Jason were on a sleep period when Modil called them up to the bridge.
He had turned off the view port and greeted the two teens with an odd smile.
"You have both long since repaid any kindness I could have done for you. I think it is time you debark again, this time here," he said, activating the view port. Both young men turned to him with tears in their eyes. The view port showed they were fast approaching Earth.
"You are sending us home?" Jason asked, scarcely daring to believe it was true.
"Yes, unless you didn't want to be returned here," Modil replied.
"Oh, we want to be here!" Billy exclaimed, smiling widely.
"Good, it's settled then. Zordon, they are yours. Please do not let them go astray again, they find much too much trouble to get into," Modil called out.
"Modil, thank you," Billy said.
"Yes, thank you so much for everything you have done for us," Jason added as the familiar feeling of teleportation overcame him.
* * *
Tommy was wondering why they had been called to the Power Chamber. There were no alarms sounding, nothing showed on the viewing globe. He heard an unfamiliar voice say something about something being Zordon's, and not letting them go astray again, then Alpha announced he had a teleportation lock.
Two beams of pure white appeared, fading to reveal friends the Power Rangers had believed lost forever. Jason and Billy looked around with happy, dazed expressions while the assembled Zeo Rangers looked at them with confusion. For a moment neither group spoke or moved. Then the paralysis broke and the two former Rangers found themselves enveloped in a group hug. Tears shone in everyone's eyes as Zordon looked down on his 'children' with delight in the return of the two missing ones. Alpha kept exclaiming "Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi" to no one in particular.
Tommy backed off from Jason and Billy, looking at them with undisguised delight. "Good God, you two look awful. Don't smell too great, either. And I have never been happier to see anyone in my life," he laughed.
"Geez, the greetings we get," Jason grumbled good-naturedly. "Can we go home now?"
"First we need to give you a quick exam. Then you can go home, I know you must be anxious to see your families," Zordon said.
"Yeah, we are. Are they okay?" Billy asked worriedly.
"They are fine. Except, your dad is out of town again. Sorry, Billy," Adam said gently, seeing the expression on his friend's face.
"I guess I should have figured that," he said, trying to hide his disappointment.
"Hey, my parents will be delighted to see you. And you know your dad will be home as quickly as he can," Jason said comfortingly.
"Yeah, I know. How long were we gone, anyway?" Billy asked.
"Forty-eight days, three hours, and about seventeen minutes," Tommy told them.
"Whoa. We were gone longer than I thought," Jason started, then noticed an odd expression on the Rangers' faces. "What is wrong?" he asked with some trepidation.
"We were sent a copy of a transmission between the Briardian ship and Briard. It indicated you two had been killed in some sort of crash. We gave that information to your parents," Tommy admitted.
Jason and Billy exchanged an unhappy look. "I was right. We were afraid that would happen."
"Sorry, but we felt they should know. We have been in frequent contact with them as Rangers. As civilians your parents told us you were suddenly called out of the country, back to the peace conference, and that Billy went with you," Tommy explained.
"We didn't question it, obviously." Katherine added.
"All the more reason we need to get home. Please get the exams over with and let us go home. Please," Jason asked with an anxious look.
Katherine led them to the Med Room, where she made quick work of a full scan of both. Billy could have told her what she would find, but knew nothing would stop her from doing her own scan. He had been the 'team nurse' until he was kidnapped, he knew the rules as well as anyone. It would be easier and quicker to simply go with the flow and let her do the scan.
Once that was done Tommy, Katherine and Adam prepared to teleport with Jason and Billy to the Scott residence. If necessary they would ask the Scotts to take Billy as well, to give his father time to get home. They had considered teleporting Billy directly to his father's location, but that was not feasible, as the company he was auditing was strict with their security measures. It would be best to let Wallace come home to his son.
When they arrived on the Scott's large front porch they saw no neighbors were out and about. That was best, as they wanted to keep this quiet. Tommy knocked on the front door, stepping back so they would be able to see Jason immediately.
Marjorie Scott answered the door and saw the Red Ranger standing to the side. She started to ask him what was going on as she stepped out on the porch. The words never made it all the way out as she saw Jason standing there. She let out a cry of joy, then grabbed her son in a tight embrace, holding on as if she would never let go. Hearing his wife's cry, Jack Scott came out on the porch and saw his wife and son. He added himself to the embrace as all three let the tears flow freely.
Tommy stepped over beside Adam and Kat, who flanked Billy. Katherine had her hand on Billy's arm, offering silent comfort as they watched the Scotts. She could only guess at his feelings as he watched Jason's happy reunion with his family, knowing it would be hours before he finally got to see his own father. After several minutes Jack and Marjorie looked over to thank the Rangers and saw Billy standing there with them. Marjorie immediately hurried over to hug her 'second son'; joined by Jack and Jason, all offering Billy the welcome his father wasn't there to offer.
"Billy's father is out of town at work. I can get ahold of him later and let him know Billy is back. If it is okay with you we will keep him here until then," Jack said, wiping unashamedly at his streaming eyes.
"If it is okay with Billy, it's okay with us," the Green Ranger said. At Billy's nod of acceptance, the Rangers prepared to leave.
"Thank you for bringing our sons back," Jack said.
"We didn't do anything, they did it themselves," the Red Ranger replied as they teleported away.
* * *
Marjorie Scott listened to the water running in the two bathrooms. Before anything else the boys had requested a chance to shower and put on clean clothes. Marjorie certainly didn't have any objections to that-they were quite fragrant. She also had noticed they were thinner than before, obviously they had not been eating well. As soon as she felt reassured they were physically okay she would feed them anything they wanted. She heard the upstairs shower shut off, so she set off to that one first to check Jason over for injuries. Despite his protests that he was okay, she insisted on examining him. He submitted despite his embarrassment, he knew how determined his mother could be. Her only concern seemed to be his loss of weight, since thanks to Billy's work on Modil's ship he bore no other physical reminders of his time on Primeria.
Reassured about Jason's condition, she headed to the downstairs bath to examine Billy, who turned out to be in the same condition as Jason. She found it remarkable the two teens had escaped with no injuries. She wondered how they had done that.
Marjorie and Jack had agreed to ask no questions at this point. They definitely got the impression that the boys were having enough to deal with just being home, without a lot of questions being asked. There would be time for that later, once they felt more settled.
When Marjorie asked them what they wanted to eat, neither Jason nor Billy could come up with a response at first. Having subsisted on bland, alien food, then on the nasty tasting stuff Modil ate, they had forgotten what it was like to actually look forward to a meal. For far too long they had simply viewed eating as a necessity, an ordeal they had to go through in order to survive. They went into the pantry to see if anything sounded good to them and were overwhelmed with the choices. They found themselves unable to choose. Fortunately, Marjorie realized what was happening and chased the boys out of the pantry, then prepared them a soup and sandwich lunch. The two wolfed the food down, and looked for more. After a desert of milk and cookies, they began to look more obviously tired, yawning and glassy eyed.
"Not to treat you two like children, but you both obviously need a nap. Why don't you lie down for a while and rest. Wallace will be back this evening, then maybe you could tell us a little about where you have been, and what happened to you," Marjorie suggested.
"I hate to admit it, but that's a good idea. I could use some sleep. What do you say, Billy, ready to take a nap?" Jason laughed.
"It does sound like a good idea. You will come get me if my dad calls?"
"Of course. I don't expect him to call until this afternoon, I tried all I could do to get them to bring him to the phone earlier, but they are a weird group. I will come get you as soon as he calls, I promise," Marjorie reassured him.
The two were asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows, Jason on his bed, Billy on the rollaway they kept there for his use. Marjorie came up later and stood looking at their peaceful faces. She had always had a habit of peeking in on Jason when he was sleeping, checking to be sure he was okay, or simply standing there watching him, feeling the love she had for him overwhelm her. Never had she looked at her sleeping son with the feeling of gratitude she felt at that moment. She had dreamed of having a big family when she was younger. But a medical condition had made it so she could only have one child-Jason. She loved her son with all her soul, his disappearance had caused her such pain she had wondered how she survived. Now standing over his sleeping form she felt the wonder and love return in all its primal force. If she could have, she would have been content to watch her sleeping child forever. However, she finally backed out and went downstairs to let the boys sleep as long as they needed.
An hour later the phone rang. Jack answered it, and from his words Marjorie realized it was Wallace. She made a gesture to Jack that she was going to get Billy and headed upstairs to Jason's room. Kneeling by the bed she gently woke Billy.
"Your dad's on the phone," she said softly. Billy quickly rose and went downstairs. Jack handed him the phone and they quietly went into the kitchen, leaving the young man to talk to his father. A few minutes later he joined them.
"He will be here about seven tonight. Thanks for coming and getting me," Billy said quietly.
Marjorie gave him a hug. "I know it had to be hard for you, coming back, and him not being here. He didn't leave town for weeks after we heard from the Power Rangers that you and Jason had probably died. This was his first out of town assignment since you disappeared."
"That's what he said. It's okay, I just hope he'll be careful coming home, he promised he would be," Billy sighed. "I should probably try to get some more sleep, if you don't mind."
"Of course not. Go on, if you need anything we will be right here."
Billy gave her a spontaneous hug. "Thank you."
* * *
By late afternoon both boys had awakened and wandered into the kitchen in search of more food. Marjorie laughed at their odd requests. It seemed that having normal food again had awakened some rather bizarre cravings. Between them they had a desire for pickles, wheat bread, maple syrup, jack cheese, oranges, bacon, and chocolate. She fed them sandwiches with chips and cookies, even though dinner was in a couple of hours. Something told her they would have plenty of room for more.
Seeing them more relaxed and comfortable, Jack asked a couple of questions about what had happened to them. Jason and Billy exchanged a look, then Jason turned to his dad.
"If you don't mind, can we just tell you guys the story tonight when Billy's dad gets here? We really would prefer to only tell it once. We would also like to have our friends come over to hear it. I don't know what you told them, but we want them to know the truth. We can trust them to keep it quiet. We kind of figured you made up some sort of story to explain our absence, as you haven't taken an official statement from us, Dad. That tells me there was no report filed with the police or FBI or whatever."
"You are correct about that, Jason. We thought about it, but the FBI really doesn't provide much help in alien abductions, X-Files notwithstanding. We were afraid we would just end up with tabloid type coverage, and we just didn't need that. Are you sure about telling your friends?"
"Yeah. They are cool, they won't spread weird stories about us. And, really, it would just be a lot of work to maintain some sort of lie long-term when we are all so close. No, it would be best they know the truth from the start. But only them. No one else," Jason said.
"Okay. Why don't you give them a call and ask them to come over about 6:30. That will give us time to have dinner, and they can catch you both up on what's been happening in their lives while we wait for Wallace to get here," Marjorie suggested.
Jason and Billy hurried to make the calls.
* * *
Six-thirty found Jack and Marjorie Scott, Jason, Billy, Tommy, Tanya, Adam, Rocky, and Katherine all in the Scotts' spacious family room. The comfortable room boasted large, sturdy furniture that favored comfort over beauty. The walls were lined with bookcases, and shelves housing various games and magazines. One wall was dominated by an entertainment center, currently sitting dark and silent, while the opposite wall featured a fireplace that was seldom used. It was the perfect room for three boys to spend rainy afternoons in, plotting all sorts of dubious activities to engage in once the weather permitted. The furniture had done duty over the years as forts, horses, and other unlikely things as only children can imagine.
Jason and Billy, along with the now absent Zack, had spent some of the best times in their childhood in that room. It was the perfect place for telling the story of what had happened over the last month and a half. This room represented comfort, happiness, and safety to the two young men. Here they would feel secure enough to speak of their recent travails.
At the moment Rocky was regaling the assembled group with the story of Bulk and Skull's most recent 'case'. The two aspiring detectives had been hired to find a missing tortoise, of all things. The animal had wandered from its yard and disappeared. Bulk and Skull and labored mightily, putting up flyers, questioning neighbors, following 'clues'. Eventually they found it completely by accident. Skull had tried to hide his house key under a convenient big rock, and was quite surprised to find the 'rock' had a head and feet.
Everyone was chuckling over the story when Billy suddenly looked up, an expectant look on his face.
"Excuse me," he said as he hurried toward the front of the house.
"What was that all about?" Katherine wondered, looking after him.
"I think his dad is here," Jason said with a smile.
"How in the world could you tell?" Adam wondered.
"Heard his car pull up. If you know what to listen for, it is easy to tell when someone pulls up," Jason explained.
"So that explains why whenever we came back from an evening out we would find three perfectly angelic children sitting on the couch watching TV?" Jack asked with a grin.
"Yep," Jason admitted with a sparkle in his eyes.
"And I just thought you and your friends were well behaved," Marjorie laughed.
"Me and Billy and Zack? Well behaved? Um, sometimes."
Everyone chuckled at that, knowing full well how they would behave when their parents left them alone. They could all imagine the mischief Jason, Billy and Zack would have found to get into when left alone together.
They all chatted idly, waiting for Billy and his dad to join them. It was a good half hour before they returned, both a bit damp eyed, but very happy looking.
"Jason, come here," Wallace said, reaching for the teen. He gave Jason a firm hug, holding him for a few moments. "I'm so glad to see you."
Jason returned the embrace, gladly. Wallace had often seemed like a second dad to Jason. Indeed, he had once joked to Billy that it was almost like they were brothers with three parents. Billy had laughed at the idea, but he hadn't disagreed.
Wallace settled down on a recliner, Billy sitting near his feet. Marjorie and Jack shared a loveseat with Jason perched on the arm. The other teens were scattered around the room on the couch or on the floor.
For a moment an awkward silence fell over the room. Then Jason spoke quietly.
"I guess the only thing to do is start at the beginning, when Billy and I were messing around in the back yard," he started. Taking turns they told the story of their abduction, their time on the Briardian ship, and their escape on the small spacecraft.
Billy had just described how they had taken the craft when he was interrupted by Rocky.
"Wait a minute, you hot-wired a spaceship? Isn't that a felony, grand theft spaceship, or something?" he asked with a laugh.
Jason chuckled into his hand as Billy blushed. Jack Scott looked from one to the other with a stern expression.
"Didn't we deal with this sort of thing about eight years ago? Have you forgotten already what happens when you steal things?" he asked seriously, trying to hide the smile in his eyes.
"Yes, sir. But it was an emergency," Billy said. "Under the circumstances we really didn't have a choice."
"Did you return the ship?"
"Um, not exactly. I sort of crashed it," Billy mumbled.
"'Sort of crashed it'?"
"Okay, I crashed it. Then I blew it up. Guess I'm in trouble now. Thanks a heap, Rocky."
That did it, the room erupted in laughter as Billy fixed Rocky with a mock glare. It was exactly what was needed, cutting the tension in the room. After they all settled down Jason again took up the narrative.
They spoke of their being arrested, and their time in the prison, omitting the torture Billy went through. They told of their being sold as slaves. When they told of being separated a sense of their anguish came through, and the others realized how frightened the two of them left your communicators behind. But take your time, get used to being home," Tommy said.
"We will. I'm sure we will see you tomorrow, thanks for coming over."
"Sure thing, and maybe someday you two will tell us the parts of the story you left out this time," Adam said.
Jason and Billy both looked a bit guilty, but neither one disagreed with his statement.
"When you are ready," Tanya added gently.
"Or when Billy gets a concussion, whichever comes first," Rocky couldn't resist adding, remembering how they finally got the whole story of Billy's time on Aquitar.
Chuckling at Rocky the five teens headed home, and Jason and Billy went back into the Scotts' house. Their parents were chatting quietly when they returned.
"I guess it's time we headed home Billy," Wallace said, clapping his son on the back. "Thanks as always for taking care of him. I'm glad you were here," he said to Marjorie and Jack.
"You know he is always welcome, as are you. I don't think I have ever been happier to see two people in my life as I was to see these two this morning," Marjorie replied.
"Yes, I couldn't quite believe it when I heard Billy's voice on the phone. I still find it hard to believe," Wallace agreed. "Well, we'd best be going. Good night." Wallace and Billy headed out toward Wallace's car.
"Hey, Billy!" Billy turned to see Jason coming down the front steps toward him. "I forgot to tell you: good word."
"Excuse me? What are you talking about?"
"Pusillanimous. Good word."
Billy chuckled. "I thought you'd like it. See you tomorrow, Jason."
"Yeah, see you tomorrow."
Jason watched Billy and his father get into the car and drive away. He watched until the taillights disappeared around a corner, then he headed back toward the house.
To his home.
Author's note: I swore when I started writing fan fiction I would never do a series. I don't have the self-discipline for it. But this sequel just came about naturally, and I hope it has been enjoyed. Special thanks to Lori, who introduced me to 'pusillanimous' a couple of years ago, and shares my fondness for a 'good word'.