Legal Disclaimer: Hello and welcome to my very first fanfic!! This takes place after 'A Golden Homecoming', but after that, ignore that nasty little thing called 'standard continuity'. In fact, forget you ever heard the words, cause from here on out, continuity is so bent out of shape, it's not funny!! Saban owns the Power Rangers, the Power Ranger teens, the Power Chamber, Alpha-5, Zordon, Trey of Triforia, the Machine Empire, and those who rule the Machine Empire, and pretty much anything that's ever been shown on the show. The only thing in here that is mine is this particular version of the Purple and Silver Zeo Rangers, the mention of Terra Cranston, and that's pretty much it. I realize the plot is a touch similar to others out there, but I hope I've made this different enough so that it didn't copy anything enough for me to get blamed or accused of plagiarism. I tried to be as original as I could, but if I failed, I apologize profusely. The words 'damson' and 'argentine' mean 'purple' and 'silver' respectively. Ah, the things you learn while poking around your thesaurus. :)
It was a day like any other in Switzerland for Trini Kwan and Zack Taylor. Ever since their long-time friend and fellow delegate Jason Lee had returned to Angel Grove a week earlier, the two of them had almost literally been dragging through their days. Without him there, the spark had gone out of their lives.
"It's not the same, Zack," the former Yellow Ranger sighed as she stared out the window of their dorm room. "Heck, things haven't been the same since we came here."
Zack nodded, paging half-heartedly through a photo album. "I miss the action," he admitted what they'd all been thinking of for the past two years. "I think. . .I sort of envy Jason, really. I shouldn't, but I do."
Trini agreed with him. Jason's parents had died a month earlier, which was why he had returned to Angel Grove, for the funeral and to be with what was left of his family. He'd written back to them a few days ago, and in the code that the three of them had established with their friends back home, had informed them that he was now the Gold Ranger, guarding the powers of an alien prince for a time. It was a great way to keep his mind off what had happened, and he honestly enjoyed being back in the action.
"Hey, Trini, take a look at this!" Zack pointed to one of the pictures. She glanced over, and a smile curved her lips. Herself, Zack, Jason, Kim, Billy, and Tommy were in the picture, Tommy in a very flattering white shirt and with his arms around Kimberly and his head snuggled into her hair. Jason and Zack were right next to each other, horsing around as they always did together, while Trini and Billy were bent over a device.
_That was just after Tommy came back as the White Ranger,_ she remembered. _ Everything seemed perfect then. We didn't have to worry about Tommy's power problem, we had a strong team, one that had been together for so long. .._she almost winced at the thought. She knew the current team, now the Zeo Rangers, had to be working well together, or else the planet would have been crushed anyway. _It's just. . .I'm not there. . .we're not there. .._
Zack looked at his yellow friend for a long moment. He could see the longing in her eyes as she looked at the picture of their friends, and sighed to himself mentally. _She is NOT happy here. Neither am I. Why are we still here, when we're not doing any good for anyone? For the world or for ourselves? This Peace Conference has all the chance of succeeding as Bulk does of winning a beauty pageant. _ "Trini," he spoke suddenly, surprising himself every bit as much as he did her. "Let's go home." * * *
_Two Weeks Later:_
"Hi-ya!" the voice was proud and sharp as Jason Lee, the Gold Ranger, soared through the air and landed perfectly on the practice mat. Rocky DeSantos, the Blue Zeo Ranger, tried to leg sweep him, only to have his friend avoid the sweep neatly, and then perform the same movement on him. The workout continued, under the watchful eyes of Tommy Oliver, the Red Zeo Ranger, and Adam Park, the Green Zeo Ranger. Tanya and Kat were terrorizing Angel Grove Mall.
Those who were there didn't seem to notice the young, well-muscled man seemingly reading a science magazine at one of the tables. He was noticing them, however, and deep in the back of his blue eyes was a longing that was so much a part of him he wasn't sure if he would exist anymore without it. A longing to be a part of the group again.
He sighed heavily as he turned a page. _I don't care how much they say I'm still one of them, how much good I do helping out in the Power Chamber, I miss being a FULL Ranger. How in the world did Jason stand it for two years? I've been out of it for nine months, and I was ready to jump off a cliff after their first battle without me, if that would get me powers again. _
Billy practically jumped a foot when a hand landed on his shoulder. He looked up into the deep brown eyes of Tommy, and smiled a welcome. "Hey!" he shoved everything he'd just been thinking and feeling so far back into his mind it would have taken a telepath to figure out what was going on.
"Hey, Billy," Tommy sat down; he'd gotten tired of watching Jason and Rocky play around on the practice mat and had decided his friend needed someone to talk to. "What's on your mind?"
The young genius gestured quickly and briefly to the magazine in front of him. "Oh, the usual. I thought you were keeping an eye on the show-offs over there."
The two of them turned almost at once to where Jason and Rocky had stopped sparring and were now just exercising, in flashy, overblown moves that seemed almost designed to attract attention. Tommy winced, he wasn't going to stop them, but it hurt the part of him that was an instructor deeply to see it. _ Then again, I've done the same thing when Kim was around,_ he thought. He was surprised to find that thinking about his ex didn't bring a stab of pain, and decided to think about that a bit more later. He wanted to finish this talk with Billy first.
"They can fool around without my supervision," the young leader of the Power Rangers chuckled. "I came to talk to you. I know you wanted the Gold Ranger powers," he got right to the point, after making certain no one was around who would hear their conversation. "And I know it hurt you that someone who's been gone two years could get them when you couldn't."
Billy quickly revised several long-held opinions on Tommy's intelligence and perception. The Red Ranger had seen right into the heart of his current problem. "That's just how things go," he sighed. "I was the one who got bombarded with negative protons, and that just happened to make me unsuitable for the Gold Powers."
"I'd do just about anything if I could make you a Ranger again, Billy," Tommy said quietly. "I know what it meant to you."
The former Ranger wanted to scream in his friend's face, wanted to jump up and ask did he know what it meant, did he have any idea what it was to watch six of your best friends go running off into life or death battle day after day, and to know that the most you could to help them was maybe make a device that would exploit it's weak points, if it had any he could do something with. After all, every time Tommy had been powerless, he'd left Angel Grove until he could get a grip on things. He hadn't been there to watch them, unless it was a televised battle, which had happened a few times. _And he couldn't even make things to help out,_ Billy recalled. He wanted to shake his own self, couldn't he make up his mind on even how to _feel?_
"Yeah," was all he said out loud. "But that part of my life's over with, I guess," he decided, getting up. "I need some air. I'll see you guys later."
Tommy nodded, holding back the instinctive words of caution he wanted to say. He knew Billy was more than intelligent enough to call for help should it be needed, and more than skilled enough in a fight to handle a few Cogs. _If Mondo sent just a few Cogs,_ he reminded himself. Even the Rangers had to morph to deal with these things, and Billy would be one heck of a prize for the Machine King. He watched as the former Ranger headed out the door, and sighed. _Be careful, Billy. We don't want to lose you._ * * *
Hovering like a malignant tumor in the vacuum of space around Earth was the Machine Skybase, home of King Mondo and Queen Machina, the two monarchs of the evil robotic empire. For almost nine months now they had fought against the forces of good, and hadn't made that much progress. Mondo had almost started to get discouraged, and it was made even worse with the arrival of the Gold Ranger. If it hadn't been for a recent delivery to the palace, something totally unexpected, he might very well have changed his mind, packed up and left, consolidating his hold on the rest of the cosmos before coming back to deal with this pathetic little mudball.
Now, King Mondo had something that he had never thought he would. He had a chance that he couldn't and wouldn't throw away. A chance to turn their greatest friend into their worst nightmare of an enemy, and give him the weapon that would destroy the Power Rangers Zeo once and for all.
"Klank!" he roared as loudly as he could, whirling around to face the majordomo as he and Orbus raced swiftly up to him. "Klank, are the Cogs ready for my command?"
"As always, m'liege, as always!" Klank bowed, Orbus bobbing next to him in his version of obeisance. "When shall I send them down to Earth?"
Mondo turned back around, calling the image of what he wanted up on the viewscreen. Billy Cranston appeared, walking in the park by himself. The Machine King almost quite literally rubbed his hands together in dark pleasure. "Quite excellent," he laughed. "Not just yet, Klank. I want to think this over a bit longer. This is not a step to be taken lightly, and I don't anything to go wrong."
"How could anything go wrong with one of _your_ plans, my dear?" Machina protested, waving her fan around briefly as was her wont. "You are completely brilliant!"
"Yes, I know, my evil queen!" Mondo patted her on the shoulder lovingly, his eyes glinting. "But this plan is so detailed, and so cunning that I must be extremely careful. Should the slightest thing go wrong, then the Rangers could thwart this scheme of mine, and I will not have that again!"
Sprocket bounced up from where he had been playing with a Cog arm, and clapped his hands together. "Please, daddy, let me help out! I can be the greatest help in the universe, I really can!"
Mondo shook his head. "I'm sorry, Sprocket, but this plan is too complicated for a little machine like you. Just be patient, and I might let you help with some of the lesser aspects of it," he laughed, turning back to the view of Billy. "I have something coming up that I'm certain you're going to _love_ helping with!"
The Machine King did what he could to smile, glancing down briefly from the viewscreen to the glowing Purple Crystal in his hand. _ I know I'm going to enjoy it a great deal._
* * *
The Power Chamber was somewhat silent and lonely today, with Billy out of it for once. He had hardly left it since giving up his powers, but Zordon was glad to see the young man out in the world again. _ If only we could find the other Zeo Crystals,_ he thought. He hadn't liked keeping it a secret from the Rangers that the Zeo Crystal they had retrieved, then scattered throughout time was only half of the original Crystal. There were still four others: the crystals of the Purple, Black, Silver, and White Zeo Rangers. He had known the Gold Crystal existed, but not where it had been, before Trey's arrival and passing of the powers to Jason.
_The other four were scattered throughout the universe, however. Each sealed in a different box, amethyst for Purple, ebony of Black, ivory for White, silver for Silver, and sent out to keep them safe from evil forces. The only thing is, if they are ever found by evil. .._the ancient sage shuddered in his time warp, praying with all his soul that they were never found by the dark forces.
"Zordon!" his thoughts were interrupted by the calling of Alpha. "Zordon, we're getting a message from the Lord of Triforia!"
"Place it on the Viewing Globe, Alpha," Zordon turned his head a little to see the communicators device, as the image of Trey appeared on it. "Greetings, Lord Trey. How may we help you?"
"Greetings, Zordon of Eltar," all three Treys were there, bowing their head in unison. "We have what could be fine news for you and your Rangers."
"As you are well aware, there are still four missing pieces to the Zeo Crystal. We have found one of them: the Silver Crystal, twin to my own hereditary Golden Crystal."
Joy burst through Zordon, and he smiled. "This is excellent news. I shall inform the Rangers at once. How did this happen?"
"One of our scout ships detected the silver shard's box floating near Triforian airspace and retrieved it. There is some bad news, however. Our scans indicate that it vibrates at a frequency roughly similar to the Gold Ranger powers, which mean that the same negative protons that prevented your friend Billy from taking on those powers would prevent him from taking these as well."
Zordon's heart quite literally sunk. "We shall seek someone who can claim them, then, he said slowly. "I will inform the others. When shall you send the crystal?"
"Contact me again when you have chosen your candidate, and I shall send it," Trey of Wisdom said. "Until then, Zordon."
As the Viewing Globe's image faded, Zordon turned his attention back to Alpha. "Run a scan of Angel Grove to determine who might make a suitable new Ranger, Alpha, then contact the others and Billy. They must learn of what is going on."
Alpha nodded as he got to work initiating the scans, and did what he could to breathe a robot sigh of relief when they showed up two perfect candidates almost at once. "Zordon! Data scans show that Zack and Trini have returned to Angel Grove! Perhaps one of them would be interested in becoming a Ranger again."
Zordon felt a touch of relief himself at that. _It would indeed be easier to have experienced Rangers in this position, rather than try and make a working team out of those skilled and novices._ "Contact all the Rangers and the former ones who are available. This decision must be made soon." _I'm sorry, Billy._ He could only hope that perhaps one day, his genius student would once more take his place among the full Rangers.
* * *
_I know the others aren't try to, but I do feel excluded these days,_ Billy thought, walking with his head tucked down and his eyes on the path beneath his feet. _I always have, but it went away after we became Rangers. For the first time, I was really part of something special. Something wonderful. And I couldn't believe that I, Billy Cranston, was the Blue Power Ranger._
He'd stopped wearing blue after he'd lost his powers for good. Instead, he now kept himself customarily garbed in shades of black and gray, and the black was vanishing fast since Jason's return as the Gold Ranger. Since black was a primary color of that Ranger suit, and gold clothing was hard to come by, Jason tended to wear the dark shade. Billy had shifted subtly to grays ever since then.
_And I don't think they even noticed,_ he sighed to himself. None of them had. Not even Jason, who had been so close to him at one time. But after Tommy had arrived, Billy had felt a subtle shifting in the team. Kim was in love with the handsome and athletic new Ranger, Trini was fascinated by the concept of having someone new to talk martial arts with, Zack just made friends with everyone automatically, and Jason had at last found a partner and an equal.
Billy, as had ever been the case before, was left out of the new friendships forming. And slowly he had drawn himself away from the others unless he was needed, not wanting to interfere. Yes, he'd been included in everything back then, and felt included, felt worthwhile, in their picnics and study sessions and games, he'd even joined the football team with them. But with Tommy's powers starting to fade after the Green Candle and his eventual recharge, Billy had felt himself subtly. . .not wanted.
He'd had high hopes that after Adam, Aisha, and Rocky had joined the team, things would be different. That maybe with these new people, he would be once again fully accepted, with wide open arms. It had been that way, too. He and Adam had struck up an almost instant friendship, with the two of them both so habitually quiet and somewhat smarter than the others. Adam wasn't on his genius level, but he understood the technospeak the senior Ranger slipped into on occasion without needing a translator. That had been another sore point in his relationship with the others; except for Trini, none of them had understood him half the time.
_Don't look at me, I don't speak Billy,_ Kim had said offhandedly during the preparations for Zack's Rita-infested birthday party, not long after they had become Rangers. He'd hid it absolutely perfectly, but he'd almost felt as if a small wound were opened his heart. He'd always cared about Kim and Trini perhaps a bit more than he cared about most females. To hear his customary manner so casually dismissed was somewhat painful to his heart. He'd done what he could to forget it though. He'd had other things to do. He'd always had other things to do, things to keep his mind occupied and his thoughts far away from how he was feeling.
_There was a time when I couldn't have done that,_ he sighed to himself. A time when he had had someone in his life who would have known how bad he felt, and wouldn't have stopped until he had cheered up. _ Oh, Terra, I miss you so much,_ he felt a trickle of tear in his eye, and managed to quickly wipe it away when he heard footsteps.
"Am I badly mistaken, or is that our main brain heading towards us?" he stopped dead in his tracks when he heard that voice, and jerked up to see two very familiar figures standing in front of him.
"Zack?" he breathed the word out. "Trini?"
Right in front of him, both wearing huge smiles, were two of his oldest and dearest friends! Billy completely forgot all the resentment and sadness he'd been feeling, and leaped over to his friends, feeling their arms around him and his around them. But before they could get into the serious reunioning, a beep so familiar to all three of them they'd occasionally heard it in their sleep sounded.
_Why did Mondo have to pick NOW to attack? _ Billy thought. "Just a second, guys," he said quietly, then touched the communicator. "What is it, Zordon?"
"Billy, please bring Zack and Trini to the Power Chamber at once. We have received a special message from Lord Trey."
The technical advisor sighed briefly, then nodded. "We'll be right there," was all he said, then closed the communications channel, turning to his friends. "Come on, whatever's going on, it sounded kind of important."
Zack nodded, as did Trini. "One question, though," the first Yellow Ranger wondered. "What's the Power Chamber?" * * *
A flash of red. A streak of green. A bolt of gold and black. A flare of blue. A column of yellow. A swash of pink. And three forms of white. The six Rangers and three friends appeared in the center of the Power Chamber.
"Whoa," was the first word out of Trini's mouth as she looked around, more than a little impressed with the setup in the Power Chamber as opposed to the Command Center. "This place is awesome!"
There was more than enough shock on the faces of Jason, Tommy, Kat, Tanya, Adam, and Rocky to fill the entire room when they saw who Billy had teleported in with. But time enough for explanations could come later. "What's going on, Zordon? What did Trey have to say?" Jason wondered.
"Observe, everyone," the message began to play on the Globe once again. As it rolled out, Billy's eyes first sparked with hope, then faded with a soul-deep despair. Zordon spoke again. "I am sorry for this, Billy."
The former Ranger only nodded. "I understand, Zordon. Perhaps either Trini or Zack can take this new power."
"That is what we hope, if you all agree," the wise sage turned his gaze now to the active Rangers, across whose faces had swept varying degrees of shock and surprise as what happened happened. "It will be your decision, and only yours, who takes this power.
The six currently actives look at each other, then at the only two currently available non-Rangers. "I think this is something that we need to talk about."
"You guys do that," Billy said quietly. "I've got some things of my own to do. I'll see you guys later."
He was gone before any of them could say anything. Trini looked at where her long-time friend had been, and they could all see a tear flickering in one slanted eye. With a deep breath, she tossed her hair to one side, and looked directly at Tommy. "I'm going to have a very _long_ talk with you very soon on what's been going on, but before we do that, we've got a choice to make and some introductions as well. I don't think I know a few of these people here."
Jason could hardly keep himself from laughing at the expression at the looks going back and forth. "Trini Kwan, Zack Taylor, I'd like you to meet Kat Hilliard, Rocky DeSantos, Adam Park, and Tanya Sloan, the Pink, Blue, Green, and Yellow Zeo Rangers. Guys, this is Trini and Zack, the first Yellow and Black Rangers."
"We already know Rocky and Adam," Trini grinned, waving at the two of them. She wondered what had happened to Aisha, and decided to find out as soon as she could; she had an interest in the young woman to whom she'd given the Yellow Ranger powers.
As greetings were exchanged, Tommy and Jason found themselves standing next to each other. "There's something wrong with Billy," the Red Ranger said quietly.
"I know," Jason nodded. "I can barely imagine how much he hurt when I could take the Gold Powers and he couldn't. Then to have it happen again. .and another old friend is going to do what he couldn't?"
Tommy shuddered. "He's hurting incredibly. I talked to him a little while ago, but he didn't talk that much. I think he's hurting more than we can imagine."
"I think so too," Jason agreed, then sighed. "We'll figure that out, though. Mondo's still up there, and we're going to need to pick a new Ranger."
The Rangers' leader glanced towards the others, and nodded. There were, on occasion, parts of being a Ranger he didn't like.
* * *
The message of the Lord of Triforia played over again on the viewscreen, and Mondo's eyes glinted with a dark evil and rage. "I don't believe this. The Rangers are going to have _another_ Ranger! This is getting quite on my nerves!"
"Dear, don't worry, you're going to blow a gasket!" Machina tried to reassure her wife. "You're going to have your own Ranger, remember? You're going to warp their happy little friend into your very own evil Purple Ranger, and he's going to destroy them for you!"
Mondo nodded harshly. "I'd like to get my hands on whoever they pick to be the Silver Ranger, however," he grumped. "One evil Ranger's useful, but _two_ could be even better!"
"Be patient, my love," Machina shook her head, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. "One thing at a time. Perhaps we could even turn _all_ the Rangers to the side of darkness."
Sprocket bounced up and down eagerly. "Yeah, daddy! We could make them _all_ slaves! They'd be so much fun to boss around!"
"Perhaps, perhaps," Mondo shook his head. "But we'll do all of that later. The first step is the Purple Ranger," he glanced to the Zeo Crystal he held in his firm metallic grip, and a cold smile bent his metallic face just a little. Far away in his conquered territory, a small amethyst box had been discovered half-buried in a mine. A scan had registered enormous power levels, on the same frequency as the Zeo Crystal. It had been sent to the king at once, and he had dealt with it rather simply: he'd smashed it, releasing the gleaming shard within. Klank's tests had told them that they would be able to make a Purple Zeo Ranger out of it. The first thing Mondo had thought of was the Rangers' genius buddy Billy, and how utterly delicious it would be to mutate him into a weapon against his friends.
But now with this news of the Silver Ranger, he wasn't quite certain if he should continue right away or wait until he knew who the new Ranger was. _No. I want to have my Ranger right away. I will wait no longer! I WILL have him!_
He whirled swiftly on Klank, and roared as loudly as he could, "Send the Cogs down! I want to have that human here in my Skybase within one _hour_! Is that understood?"
His majordomo jumped away and saluted, trying not to knock Orbus away as he did so. "Yes, m'lord," Klank gibbered, heading for the Cog Bay and hoping that they were able to get a hold of the ex-Ranger without too much trouble. _ If he fights too hard or the Rangers get there and rescue him, Lord Mondo will dismantle me bit by bit!_
Mondo turned back to the viewscreen, punching in the co ordinates of Earth and ordering the scanning devices to locate Billy at once. As the image cleared, revealing the young man in the park, Mondo laughed very softly, very, very evilly. "Prepare to serve me, young human. Prepare to serve your one and only master!" * * *
It was with a combined sense of joy and dread that the current Rangers and their two friends teleported to the park, settling down under the trees to try and decide which, Zack or Trini, would become the new Silver Ranger. Try as they might, however, they couldn't get their minds off Billy.
"What exactly happened so he isn't suitable for the Gold Ranger or Silver Ranger Powers?" Trini asked. "I wasn't really paying that much attention to the transmission."
"A few months ago, just after we got the Zeo Crystals, Rito and Goldar blew up the Command Center, and we all barely got out with our lives," Adam said, flinching a little as he remembered that horrible few seconds. "We found out when Trey tried to give him the Gold Power that in the explosion, Billy had absorbed a high amount of negative protons that made his body reject the Gold Ranger powers, and apparently make him reject the Silver ones too."
Trini frowned; most people were under the impression that negative protons didn't exist, but there were enough weird things in the Command Center, plus with the impact of whatever device Rito and Goldar had set off, it was possible such a thing could've occurred. "Not good," she mused. "I'm going to talk to Zordon once we've decided who the new Ranger is and see if we can find one of those other Crystals, and make Billy a Ranger again."
"Which means the faster we decide who the Silver Ranger is," Zack was already on his feet, he seemed constitutionally incapable of remaining still for more than a few minutes, "The faster we can track down something for our main brain to use!"
No one could resist a laugh at that, then Tommy leaned back against a tree. "All right, then, how do we pick one of you guys? It's not as simple as just tossing a coin or something!"
"Why not?" Adam raised an eyebrow. "I would think that's the most logical thing to do, it would eliminate the consideration of favoritism or anything like that. We'd know it was just luck or fate or whatever you want to call it."
Trini raised one delicately arched eyebrow, and glanced over to Zack. "What do you think? It would be a fair way, I think."
"I think so too," Zack agreed. "But not a coin-toss. Something a little more random," the first Black Ranger suggested. "Maybe. ..drawing straws?"
As everyone nodded, Rocky reached behind him to a sward of deep green grass and jerked two blades up. Making certain no one could see him, he pulled out a pocketknife and trimmed off about half of one blade, then set both in his hand so the length couldn't be seen. With a slight nervousness, he headed over to the two past and potential future Rangers, one hand held out.
"Before you pick," Tommy interjected, "I say that short blade of grass, or short straw, becomes the Silver Ranger. Is that okay with everyone?"
Another round of nods, and Rocky held his hand a little closer. What might have been an ominous air fell across the small group. Tension literally crackled between them all, as Zack slowly reached out to take a blade. He didn't look at it, his heart was pounding too fast, as he wrapped it in his hand, and pulled back, eyes shut and not watching as Trini went to pluck the other one. Everyone shook a little as both of them unfolded their hands to see who had gotten the short grass.
Zack smiled a little, then hugged Trini. "Congratulations," he said, his voice full of warmth and sincerity. "You're going to make one excellent Ranger. Again."
"I'm glad," she whispered. "But. . .I'm not at the same time. It's so weird. .."
Jason put a hand on her shoulder and smiled down at her. "I know how you feel. It's the same way I felt when Tommy asked me to become the Gold Ranger because Billy couldn't. But we are going to be searching, and we're going to find one of those for Billy."
Trini smiled, looking at her fellow former Ranger. "We'll find two."
And her warm eyes were all on Zack.
* * *
It was happening again. For one moment he'd thought he'd have not just his powers back, but two of his old friends. Maybe _this_ time around he would be able to make them into permanent friends. He didn't know, but he was more than willing to try.
_And then those blasted negative protons have to rear up, making certain that not only do I get gypped out of these once more time, but ANOTHER one of my old friends is going to get them. I wonder who it's going to be this time, Zack or Trini? _
Raw, heart-wrenching bitterness filled his heart. _ Maybe they'd even pick Bulk or Skull. Anyone. As long as it isn't me. Because I'm so pumped full of those things I'm surprised I don't blow up things by touching them!_
Billy glanced up a little, and saw a very familiar group sitting under a tree a short distance away. He jumped behind some bushes before they could see him, and started off through the thicker part of the park. The last thing he wanted now was to see which of them became the new Ranger. He'd find out later, once he cooled off.
The young man knew his rage and jealousy were irrational and illogical, and that once he regained control of his temper, he'd feel a lot better, and would be much better company to be around. Right now, however, all he wanted was to be viscious and nasty. He took a deep breath, and seeing a broad expanse of open meadow in front of him, started a jog, hoping the exercise would cool him off and relax him.
Across the meadow, over a small trickle of a stream, through a thicket, and finally ending up in a tiny clearing, Billy stopped at last. He was breathing hard, but the adrenaline pumping into his system made him feel fantastic. _I've got to do this more often,_ he thought. He certainly had the time to now. He had time for quite a few things.
He leaned up against a tree, a faint smile on his face. It was almost as if he'd run all the bad feelings out of him. _ I guess I should go back and see who they decided on._ He shook his head even as the thought passed through it. _ No, I think I want to stay out here a bit longer._
Billy closed his eyes, enjoying the peace and quiet of the woods. It was a sensation he'd felt very, very rarely these days, being immured in the Power Chamber so often. He smiled, letting the clean wind wash away all his troubles and cares. It was a perfectly peaceful day out here, with nothing at all to disturb him.
Except, of course, the steely arms of the Cogs who reached around from behind the tree and seized him tightly. "Huh?!" Billy did his best to get away, but the grip was tight enough almost to cut off circulation. "Let me go!"
"I don't think so, young Billy!" he looked up to see the ugly face of Klank staring at him, Orbus hovering just over one shoulder. "King Mondo 'twould like to have a word or two with ye!"
"Not interested!" Billy growled as the Cogs holding him came from behind the tree and forced him to his knees, shackling his arms behind his back. He winced not just at the pain, but when he saw Klank reach out and rip the communicator off his wrist.
The evil majordomo did what was supposed to be a smile, Billy though. "You have no choice. Let's go, Cogs! King Mondo will be very pleased with our gift to him!"
A swirling blue circle of energy came down, sweeping over the Cogs, Klank, Orbus, and Billy. And then they were gone.
* * *
"We've chosen who it's going to be, Zordon," Tommy said, looking at their mentor. Billy wasn't around, but they hadn't expected him to be. He was still trying to adjust, they knew.
Trini stepped forward. "Zack and I drew straws for it, and I got the short one," she said simply. "Now what do we do?"
"We contact Trey again," Zordon looked at Alpha. "Open a channel to Triforia, to inform him we have chosen the Silver Range."
Everyone watched as the little robot turned knobs and flipped switches, sending out the signal to the tri-mooned world of the hereditary Gold Ranger. Slowly, his three forms appeared on the viewscreen. "Rangers, you have chosen?"
"Yes," Tommy nodded, gesturing Trini to come over to where Trey could see her. "This is Trini Kwan. She was the first Yellow Ranger, and now she's going to be the Silver Ranger."
All six of the Treys' eyes seemed to focus on Trini, then the three of them nodded in total unison. "Then prepare yourself for the coming of the Silver Crystal, Trini Kwan."
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be, I think," she said softly. The Treys nodded, then Trey of Wisdom reached out to touch a button on a console they couldn't see.
"The Crystal is now being teleported to you, Rangers," he spoke, looking at them. "If I might ask, how did young Billy take this news?"
They all looked at each other for a few moments, then Tommy sighed. "I guess you could say as well as can be expected. We're going to talk to him when we can, and maybe try and find one of the other Crystals if we can, and pray he can use it's power."
"From our research, only the Gold and Silver Powers are rejected by the negative protons he has absorbed," they were told by the wise Trey. "The White, Purple, or Black Crystals should be usable by him, should you locate them."
Zordon nodded. "I have been scanning for all three; Mondo's attacks are growing quite viscious, and the more Rangers the better. A full team of ten would be very effective."
Zack caught his breath a little at that, and Zordon turned his gaze to him. "Yes, Zachary, if you desire and if we can find them, you, too, shall once more be a Ranger. We shall need one other person once we have discovered the three crystals, and when we choose them, then a full ten-member Zeo team will be ranged against the forces of all evil."
The solemn moment was almost interrupted when a small ball of silver light appeared in front of them. Trini jumped a little, startled by it's sudden appearance, then reached out and let the tiny sphere fall into her hand. The minute it touched her skin, a delicately carved silver box lay there, and she faintly smiled.
"Open the box and claim your destiny, Trini Kwan," Trey said. The young woman slowly reached out and laid a hand on the lid, lifting in. On a plush cushion of purest silver there gleamed a long crystal, completely featureless except for a warm inner glow. Trini picked it up, and felt a sudden jolt of pure power as it sparkled for a moment, then vanished, enclosing her in a shining glow.
Everyone watched with bated breath as the glow increased moment by moment, until a flash of light swept throughout the Power Chamber, and Trini's familiar voice cried out sharply, "Zeo Ranger VII, Silver!"
The glow faded, and before them they saw Trini, standing tall and proud in her new Zeo Ranger uniform. In style it was just like Kat and Tanya's, only in a gleaming silvery color, and with a helmet marked with the same sabre-tooth markings that her original helmet had possessed.
"According to my scans, the Zeo Crystal fragment bonded with the remnants of your Morphin Power that were in your body to shape both your helmet and the new Zord that is now in the Zord Holding Bay."
Trey's picture vanished for a moment, as the Holding Bay appeared, and Trini's eyes moistened to see standing proudly alongside the other Zeo Zords and Super Zeo Zords: the Silver Sabre-Tooth Tiger.
* * *
"Welcome to the Skybase, Billy!" Mondo was doing his best to be terrifying, and Billy was shaking as much as he dared. He didn't want to be scared, but there was very little else he could be right now.
He glared at his enemy, eyes sparking with as much courage as he could. "Let me out of here!"
Mondo laughed quietly, coming over to the captive human and running one metallic hand over Billy's cheek. "Oh, no, my little brainiac! You're going to stay right here! I have some very. ..interesting services I have in mind for you!"
"Forget it," Billy grated. "I wouldn't tell you the time of day!"
"When I'm through with you, human, you're going to be doing _everything_ that I want you to ...including destroy the Power Rangers!" Mondo declared. "As my _personal_ Power Ranger!"
Billy snorted. "Not possible, Mondo! I can't be a Ranger again!"
Klank shook his head, catching Billy's eye. "We have scanned both you and the Purple Crystal we have claimed, and the negative protons you so foolishly absorbed, young man, will have no effect on you wielding these powers."
The former Ranger took a deep breath; he knew Klank was evil, but he also knew he was fairly effective. He was at least inclined to believe they thought he could be a Ranger again, and Mondo wasn't the type to waste effort if he wasn't certain he would succeed. "Forget it," he growled. "I might want to be a Ranger, but I'm not going to be one for you! The others will find out I'm here and get me out!"
"I don't think so," Billy nearly jumped a foot when he recognized his _own_ voice coming from behind him, and jerked as much as he could in his manacles to see something very much like his own worst nightmare coming up behind him.
An exact duplicate of him stood there, with a slightly evil smile on his face. "Wh. ..what?" was all the real Billy could stammer out as he stared. _Oh, God. . he didn't get ahold of that clone Rita and Zedd made of me, did they? No, he couldn't have, it was destroyed. .._
"Billy, I'd like you to meet. .. Robot Billy," Mondo laughed wickedly, coming over to stand between the two. "He is going to take your place on Earth while you are being. . .taught your place in my army."
Robot Billy walked slowly over to where real Billy stood in the Cogs' grip, and looked him up and down. "That shouldn't be very hard," he said coolly. "What would be difficult would be trying to pretend to be a wimp."
Mondo placed what might have possibly been a comforting hand on his robot's shoulder, if he were capable of being comforting. "You will succeed in your mission. It will not be long, and then you will be brought back here to be retooled into a fine machine warrior against the Rangers."
Robot Billy bowed briefly. "As you command, my lord. I am certain I will do a fine job for you."
He barely spared another glance for Billy as the captive struggled harshly, and Klank handed him the communicator he'd taken from Billy. Mondo gestured with his staff briefly, and a teleportation circle took the robot away. Real Billy shuddered, not wanting to believe this was happening again, that his friends wouldn't notice he was gone.
_Kim noticed the clone last time, but she isn't here now, and I don't know if the others will know the difference!_ His heart sank as Mondo turned back to him. "Let me go!" he growled commandingly. Mondo took no notice of him, however.
"Take the prisoner to the brainwashing chamber," he said calmly. "Klank, I don't want to see him again until he is my complete slave."
"As you command, my lord!" Klank gestured peremptorily to the Cogs, and they dragged their captive after him to the special chamber set aside for the breaking of Billy Cranston's will.
* * *
"Zack, Trini!" Ernie's eyes were wide and full of joy as he saw the two returned old friends. "It's been a long time!!!"
Trini grinned, feeling a strange mixture of comfortable and uncomfortable in the new silvery blouse and jeans she was wearing. Except for color, it wasn't that much different from her old usual yellow garments, but something about it made her feel at home. "That it has. They didn't have _anything_ like your Smoothies in Switzerland!"
"Then I'm going to whip you and Zack up a couple right away!" the huge bartender shuffled away to the kitchen, beaming magnificently. The whole group of teens headed over to their usual table, pulling a couple of extra chairs up for the extra company.
"Ernie hasn't changed a bit," Zack observed as they settled in. "Still a great guy."
Jason nodded. "That was the first thing I noticed when I came back," he said. "Well, one of the first," he smiled just a little at that thought.
"Hey, where's Billy?" Ernie asked as he came over to them, the plate of drinks in his hand. "Isn't he usually with you guys?"
Tommy concealed his wince. "He's kind of busy right now, Ernie, I'm sure he'll be by later."
Jason agreed. "He had some thinking to do, but I don't think he's going to be very long."
As Ernie left, Zack leaned back in his chair, sipping at the Smoothie he'd been brought with deep relish. "There's no place like home," he murmured. "You look great in that outfit, Trini."
The new Ranger blushed a little, sucking down some of the treat, and couldn't help but be reminded of other times when she'd sat here with her friends. _It was always me, Zack, Jason, Kim, and Billy. Occasionally Tommy. _
Glancing around, her heart almost stopped to remember that this was the exact same table she'd been sitting at, and even the exact same chair she'd been in on that fateful day so many years earlier when an earthquake had shaken the Youth Center, and she and her four best friends had become Power Rangers. _And now here I am again, the Silver Ranger, she thought, I wish Billy were here, I'd like to talk to him about so much. We haven't seen each other in years. ..I've missed him._
"Trini?" she looked up at the sound of her name, to see Tanya looking at her, a little nervously. "Tommy tells me you're an expert in praying mantis kung-fu?"
"I wouldn't say an expert, but I do know a lot about it," Trini demurred. "Why do you ask?"
"Adam's taught me a lot, but I was wondering if you'd care to give me some lessons?" Tanya wondered. "I want to learn as much as I can."
The Silver Ranger smiled warmly at the Yellow one. "I'd be honored," she said, reaching across the table to pat Tanya's hand politely. She could easily see the warmth and love between the two of them. _ Adam is kind of cute,_ she thought,_ I hope they're happy together._
She prevented herself from looking around for either Richie or Billy. In all her young life they were the only two who had ever really touched her heart in anyway. And she hadn't really thought of Richie anywhere _nearly_ as much as she had of Billy while she was gone. _I. .I wonder. .._
What she was wondering was cut off even to herself, as Billy entered the Youth Center and came over to them.
* * *
Robot Billy smiled as he entered the Youth Center and pulled a chair over to the table, sitting down. "Hey, everyone!" he grinned a little wider, enjoying the expression. _So far, so good_. "So, who got it?" he dared not say anymore, knowing that the Rangers' identity was supposed to be secret.
Trini raised her hand a little, displaying the silver-touched communicator on her wrist. It had been one of Tommy's old ones, retouched with a light silvery coating, courtesy of Alpha.
"Congratulations," he smiled._ This is Trini,_ he thought. He'd been built with all the knowledge of the identities of the past and present Rangers, and as much of what Billy knew as it was possible for Klank to stuff him with, making him a perfect copy of that human, from his brain to his martial arts skills. "You're going to make a great Ranger, Trini."
"Thanks, Billy," she smiled. "I do wish you could've gotten them, though?"
He shrugged. "That's just how things go," he said as nonchalantly as he could. "Maybe Zordon'll get lucky and find one of those others," he whispered that last, just as the real Billy would. _Of course, my master already has one. ..and Billy WILL be a Ranger. . .an evil one!_
Jason leaned over, "Hey, you guys wanna spar a little? A free for all? We haven't done of those in a _long_ time"
Tommy was on his feet a moment later, feeling the adrenaline running through him. "Heck, _all_ of us have never really done one. Not at the same time. Come on, let's do it!"
Robot Billy had nothing in his programming on this, but let it pass, coming up to his feet. He wasn't _that_ much stronger than the real Billy, but it was enough to give him a slight edge, should it be required. "This should be interesting," he commented, heading for the mat with the others. "Very interesting."
Jason, Zack, Adam, Rocky, Billy, and Tommy quickly paired off, the three original Rangers with the three more recent ones, and soon a wild free for all was going all over the Youth Center. Trini, Kat, and Tanya watched for a few moments, each secretly wishing them each the best of luck.
"Billy's looking really good," Tanya noted. "He's very skilled."
Trini nodded. "He's really improved a lot from his old days," she remembered the days when Billy could hardly move without tripping over several things at the same time. To see him as he was now was quite amazing. "Tommy's been training him, I can see. Those are a few of his moves Billy's using."
Kat nodded, grinning as Tommy tripped Zack neatly, then would've pinned him if not for the awesome tornado kick and punch combo Jason struck with a moment later. Billy was facing off against Adam, and doing a very good job of it, twirling just in time to block Rocky swiftly. "He's _really_ good," the Pink Zeo Ranger murmured.
Trini and Tanya exchanged glances, then looked over to where Kat was staring at Tommy. Slow smiles spread across both their faces. They could easily see where _this_ was going to lead. Trini leaned back in her chair, noting Tanya's eyes on Adam in much the same way Kat's were on Tommy's. She smiled a little, then her eyes drifted from Jason to Zack, and finally landing on Billy. _What a day._ * * *
Billy had no more sense of time or place. He hadn't in a long time. There were vague flickers through his mind of being dragged into a small steel room, being strapped to a table, and something coming down over his head. After that, he knew only pain and agony, and a ceaseless, droning voice, drilling words into his mind.
"King Mondo is your only master. He is the only one who can be trusted. The Power Rangers are your enemies," came over and over. He twisted as much as he could, trying to escape and avoid the voice, but it was of no use. The bonds holding him were stronger than he was, and held him tight. He tried to shout back against it, to claim that what it said were lies, but he couldn't speak. As scared as he already was, this was even worse for him.
Small pinpricks of pain entered him, and the voice began to fade from it's monologue. Images now floated up behind his eyes, scenes of Bulk and Skull pushing him around, of his disastrous first fight with the Putties, how many of his devices had simply failed, how he'd handed over the Dragon Dagger to Goldar, how he'd lost his powers finally with the destruction of the Power Coins, how he'd almost literally cheated _himself_ out of a future as a Ranger by absorbing the negative protons. Everything that had ever went wrong in his life played out over and over again for him, until tears ran down his cheeks in purest agony.
"Things don't have to be like that, Billy," the voice was back again, and he was almost glad as the images shut off. "You don't have to be a failure. You can be a warrior."
He shook his head, trying not to believe, knowing this was all a plot. _ Mondo's just trying to make me evil, make me serve him, I won't do it. . .but. .to not fail so much. .to really DO somethi. .NO!! I can't give in, I can't!_
"This is your destiny," the voice continued, somewhat firmer. "You cannot escape it. You _will_ be Mondo's tool, his weapon against the Power Rangers. He is your master, you cannot avoid what is meant to be. You are evil, you are his slave, you are his. You are his. You are _his_, slave."
More little pricks in him, and a wash of warmth spread all throughout his body, as if he were being carried away on a wave of strange peace. _What's going on here?_ he wondered. He found that though he couldn't speak and his body was held down, his thoughts were unfettered, and they roamed freely. _I have to stay strong, I can't fall for these lies. The Rangers will get me out, that robot won't fool them forever, it'll make a mistake, it probably can't even get into the Power Chamber, and that'll tip them off right away._
"You belong to King Mondo," the voice seemed to be right inside his skull, echoing in his mind. "He _chose_ you, Billy. He could've had any one in the world, from a thousand worlds, but he chose _you_. You, the great genius. You, a warrior whose had bad luck. He can change that for you. He can be the friend and the teacher that Zordon never was for you. Did that stupid floating head ever even _try_ to find a way to help you? No. He was too busy guiding the _real_ Rangers. The ones who hadn't lost their powers. You've seen it before, Billy. As soon as a Ranger retires, they go completely out of Zordon's mind."
Billy tried once again to shake his head, to deny, to call up times when Zordon _had_ talked to him alone, cared about him, given him special projects, like the. .like the. ...he couldn't remember any. ..there _had_ to have been, he'd done _something_ with his time, but he couldn't recall it. . .
"King Mondo will never turn from you, Billy," the voice just kept on going. "He will always listen to you, be there for you. All you have to do in return is destroy the Power Rangers."
The young genius wanted to shake his head, but couldn't seem to find the strength to do so all of a sudden. He wanted so much to say no, but the thought of having someone who actually listened to him was beginning to sound very, very attractive. "The Rangers don't deserve your loyalty, Billy. What have they done for you? Turned their backs on you every chance they got, always clustered around a new face as soon as it arrived. When you lost your powers, they didn't say _anything_, did they? No one tried to talk you out of it? They just couldn't _wait_ to get rid of you. To shove you into the Power Chamber where you 'belonged'. Away from where you were at your best."
Bitterness welled up in Billy's heart, remembering how Tommy had just shaken his hand and wished him well, not so much as _considered_ that maybe it was time for _him _to step down instead, after all, he'd lost his powers four times already, maybe that was someone trying to _hint_ something to the long-haired leader of the team. What could Tommy bring that Billy couldn't? A few extra muscles? A wardrobe that changed colors more time than the leaves do in fall?
"You have been used and abused by the Rangers, Billy," the voice spoke softly, almost tenderly. "But all that can change. All that can stop. You can be the one in charge. You can be the one who makes them afraid. Who destroys them for what they've done to you. You could end all the fighting. You know once Mondo rules Earth, it will be at peace. No more fighting. No more destruction. Nothing but peace, and you as the general of his great armies, to spread his peace all over the universe. All because of you."
_No more fighting. The universe at peace at last_, that sounded so _good. So right._ Billy's muscles relaxed all over his body, and a faint smile creased his lips. "You have only to say it, Billy. Say who your master is. For whom will you fight, and whom will you destroy?"
Billy found his voice at last. A darkness seemed to insert itself into his heart and soul as he uttered the words, a darkness that swept over him and imbedded itself in every portion of his body. His voice was cold, icy, and flat as he said, "King Mondo, Lord of the Machine Empire, is my master, and for him I will fight. For his glory and that of the Machine Empire, I will destroy the Power Rangers." * * *
Zordon had tuned the Viewing Globe in to the Youth Center to keep an eye on the Rangers, while the scanners were busy looking for either trouble for Mondo or any of the missing Zeo Crystals. So far, the only thing that had developed was trouble from Mondo; the last week had been full of his Cogs and monsters; he was obviously bent on giving the new seven-Ranger team a run for it's money.
The ancient one hadn't been disappointed in the performance of his children, either. They'd proven themselves to be a solid team despite the fact their newest member had been out of action for almost two years. They were fast, strong, and worked together almost as if they'd been born with a single mind that just happened to have seven different bodies.
But it wasn't really the Rangers that Zordon was worried about today. He had something, or rather someone else on his mind. Billy had been acting just a little odd ever since Trini had become the Silver Ranger. _Is he jealous, I wonder?_ Zordon thought, staring at them as the two of them sparred together at the Youth Center. Billy seemed outwardly just as he always had since the day Zordon had first met him, but there seemed also to be a slight petulance, a coldness in him that no one could penetrate.
For a time, Zordon had wondered if perhaps Mondo had somehow done something to the young man, since there had been hints of Machine activity on Earth the day of Trini's claiming her new power. _But the scans have revealed nothing unusual about him; they say continually that he is normal._
Trapped in his timewarp, there was very little Zordon could do about the situations his Rangers and their friends found themselves in save give advice, and over the years since the founding of the Rangers, he had found himself in that position quite often. It had only been after a long talk with him that Kim had went to speak with Tommy after he lost his powers to the Green Candle the first time; he had urged her to follow her heart. He had been glad she had, and gladder still when she realized that she and he had grown apart. _ I did think she could have done him better than sending him that in a letter. _
He made a mental note to check into that when he had the time, once he had dealt with whatever it was that was making Billy act so strangely. He'd already checked to make certain that it was nothing in the boy's home life; Mr. Cranston was away on a business trip with his new wife, Billy's stepmother, and they hadn't had any arguments or anything before he left. His relationships with the other Rangers had been a little distant since he'd lost his powers, but since this second failure to regain them, he seemed even more distant._ Perhaps he is only feeling sad because one of his old friends once again has powers, while those negative protons prevented him. But he knows I'm still looking for the other Zeo Crystals, and that he can use one of them, with luck. He didn't seem very happy over it, though._
Zordon frowned slightly, thinking over just how Billy had been acting the past week. _ I've seen him smile, but there always seems to be just the tiniest bit of an edge to it. As if he knows something he's not letting on. _
He turned his gaze back to the Viewing Globe just in time to see Billy trip Trini up, then extend a hand gallantly to help her to her feet. She shook her head, Zordon knew the last time he'd done that and she'd accepted, she'd went flying over his shoulder. She hadn't hurt herself, having landed correctly, but Billy had seemed to think it was quite amusing, at least for a moment, before he had went over to check on her. _Something odd is going on here._
"Alpha," he said at last. "Scan Billy again for _any_ abnormality. I cannot explain the feelings I have had concerning him, but something is wrong."
"Ay-yi-yi, Zordon, I'll get right on it! What do you think it could be?"
It was several moments before the ancient sage answered. All he could say was, "I don't know, Alpha. I truly do not know." * * *
Mondo looked up with greedy pleasure as Klank entered the throne room and bowed quickly before him. "Have you done it, you bucket of bolts?" he grated. "Have you carried out my orders?"
"Yes, Yer Majesty!" Klank was _very_ proud of himself. It had taken almost four solid days of brainwashing before Billy had broken, and the last three had been spent in conditioning and reinforcing what had been done. Klank didn't want any slip ups, he knew they'd be taken out of his hide if Billy broke free of Mondo's control. "May I present your newest servant and slave, William Cranston of Earth!"
At Klank's triumphant gesture, Billy slowly stepped into the throne room. He had changed from the first time he had entered it as their captive. Instead of being shackled and held by Cogs, he was free and standing on his own two feet. His eyes had lost their defiance, replaced instead by a cold blankness that shifted at once to servitude the minute he saw Mondo. "I am here, Master," he said calmly.
Mondo said nothing at first, walking around the motionless young man and approving of what he saw. Klank's handiwork was evident; Billy's shoulders were a trifle broader and he was a little taller, indicators of the hormones Klank had injected him with, to make him more of a match for the Rangers in battle. His prodigious intellect was still intact, and Mondo had some fairly interesting plans for how to use it, once he'd seen how well his new warrior carried himself in actual combat.
"What is your mission, Billy?" Mondo asked at last.
"The destruction of the Power Rangers," he responded at once.
"Why will you do this?"
"Because they are the enemy," his voice held no emotion in it at all, not one touch of passion or compassion for anyone in the cosmos.
Mondo would have smiled if his face were capable of such. "You will destroy them at my command, and only at my command. You will be shortly returned to Earth, and will give no indication at all of your time here. The Rangers were completely taken in by your robot duplicate, and think nothing at all has happened to you."
The brainwashed young man's lip curled contemptuously, but he said nothing, not having been spoken to. Mondo reached into the amethyst box he had been keeping the Purple Crystal in, and held it out to Billy. "Take this, and claim what is rightfully yours, my warrior."
There was a tremendous flash of purple light, and where Billy had stood before, now the Purple Zeo Ranger did. His uniform was the same color and style as the Zeo Rangers, with a Zeo Blaster by his side, and a perfectly shaped diamond on his helmet.
"Excellent, Purple Ranger," Mondo nodded very approvingly. "what is your Power Weapon?"
Billy made a sudden move, and a longbow appeared in his hands, similar to the Power Bow Kim had used as the Pink Morphin Ranger long ago, only a deep violet in color. "From this I can shoot energy arrows that can penetrate almost anything," he reported. "With your permission, sire, I will also construct myself a Zord, as this particular Zeo Crystal does not provide me with one, as the Silver and White Zeo Crystals will."
"How do you know this?" Mondo was genuinely curious; that was something he knew Billy couldn't know just yet, the secrets of the Zeo Crystals shards were known to only a select few, and most of them were dead, and none of them were from Earth.
"The Power of the Purple shard informs me," he told the Machine King, who seemed even more impressed, and gave his permission for Billy to create his own Zord. "What are you further orders, my lord?"
Mondo chuckled darkly. "Demorph and prepare for your return to Earth. We must exchange you with your robot twin without anyone noticing."
"As you command, my lord Mondo."
* * *
Robot Billy sipped at his smoothie, glad that Klank had seen fit to provide him with an internal compartment for the processing of food. It made his disguise that much more perfect and reasonable. Everything about him was an identical duplicate to Billy, except for his orientation towards good and evil, and the robot knew perfectly well even _that_ would be changing soon. His interior skeleton was of forged steel, but covered by artificially grown skin and hair that had been spawned from Billy's own DNA, secretly stolen from a towel he'd used at the Youth Center the day before his capture.
He glanced around at his companions, a few random thoughts running through his mind. Jason and Tommy were sparring again, an activity the two muscle-bound fools never seemed to tire of. Trini, Kat, and Tanya were discussing shopping, with Adam and Rocky listening in and having a mysterious combination of fear and attraction on their faces. He'd noticed that look often whenever those girls talked about that sort of activity. Zack was the only one of them not talking, he was too busy dancing a few feet away to the beat of the music rocking through his headphones.
"Billy!" he looked up at the calling of 'his' name to see Kat looking at him. "Billy, did you hear me?"
"I'm sorry, I was thinking about something else," he said with a deprecating smile. "What is it, Kat?"
"Trini, Tanya, and I are going shopping," at this point Adam and Rocky found it necessary to be elsewhere, moving unobtrusively and quickly away before the girls could say anything to them. "Would you like to come with us?"
He was about to say yes, when a sudden internal sensor lit up. He knew what it meant, and his computer mind raced for a quick excuse. "I would, but Zack promised he was going to teach me some of those hip-hop kedo moves of his," _and am I glad I set that up with him earlier, just in case I DID need an excuse!_
"All right," Kat nodded as she got up and waved to the others. "You guys have fun!"
They watched as Billy went over to Zack, tapping him on the shoulder and talked with him for a few moments. Together, the two headed out the door obviously heading for some personal space to begin Billy's lesson. As the girls headed out another way, Tommy and Jason both spared a glance for each, then drew closer to Rocky and Adam.
"Something's a little. ..odd about Billy," the Blue Zeo Ranger said first. Everyone had noticed it, but no one really dared to say anything about it. The ones who had noticed it strongest were Trini, Zack, and Jason, who had known him almost since they were all in diapers.
Tommy nodded. "He's been kind of distant ever since Trini got her powers, but it was starting even before then, I guess," he thought for a few moments. "Well. ..actually now that I think about it, he's only. ..ever really been happy. .." he frowned even more. "I don't think I've _ever_ seen him really, one hundred percent happy. I've seen him glad, relieved, sad. .."
"I know what you mean," Jason said. "I've known that boy his entire life and the last time he was really happy was when he was thirteen."
Adam raised one eyebrow. "What happened then?" _that would've been just before he and the others were chosen as Rangers, I think. A couple of years before. Something like that._
Jason's eyes darkened for a moment, and he sighed. "That was when his mother died. It was a plane crash. It was a family trip; they'd been visiting relatives in Maine when it crashed. Billy and his dad survived, his mother and sister were killed instantly."
Tommy looked both startled, scared, and sick. "I . .didn't even know he _had_ a sister. Or what had happened to his mom."
"Billy doesn't like to talk about it," Jason sighed. "His sister, Terra. ..they were twins. She was just as smart as he was, and every bit as popular as Kim was back then. She and Billy were inseparable. After the crash, Billy kind of turned inward on himself for about six months. It took the combined efforts of all four of us, me, Zack, Kim, and Trini, to get him back to normal again. Ever since then, he's been like a shadow of what he once was, though. He never talks about Terra, though. He never even _thinks_ about her if he can help it, he told me once. He lost something when he lost her. A part of himself."
The others looked concerned. "I think he needs to talk to someone about it," Rocky said slowly. "I had a close friend die once, and I went to a psychiatrist for a few months. It helped me a lot."
"Maybe," Tommy agreed. "We can talk to him about it later. Let's get back to practice: before the girls show up and want us to go to the mall!" * * *
"I never really thought you'd want to learn hip hop kedo, Billy," Zack said as they left the Youth Center. He'd been startled, but he was more than willing to teach his friend. Besides, maybe he could finally break through that shell Billy had built around himself, that had only grown thicker over the years. They were the only two non Rangers living in Angel Grove at the moment, and Billy hadn't really been talking much, though he had hung out with them.
Robot Billy smiled faintly. "It only makes sense to learn as much as you can, correct?"
"Yeah, I guess so," Zack nodded; his own base was karate, like Jason, but he'd been so steeped in dancing that he'd had to develop his own style, one that went more smoothly with what he did. "Let's head for my place, I've got a workout area set up in the basement we can use, unless my parents messed with it."
"I doubt they would have," Billy countered. "They value you too much to interfere with your belongings."
Zack glanced sidelong at his friend, then nodded. "Yeah, I guess you're right," he said quietly. "Let's go."
They were both quiet as they headed towards the Taylor household. Robot Billy's 'mind' was on what he had been told. Real Billy's conversion to evil was complete, and they would be exchanged in a short time. The only thing he really had to worry about was just when. He didn't know how Mondo was going to arrange things, but he trusted his King, as much as anyone evil could be trusted, anyway.
The answer to his worry came a few moments later, when Cogs boiled up suddenly out of nowhere all around them. Klank was a few feet away, shouting, "Take the humans! They'll make excellent hostages against the Rangers!"
"Oh, great!" Zack groaned, wishing he'd remembered to put his communicator on that morning. "Billy, can you get some help here?"
Before 'Billy' could get to his communicator, however, a Cog flipped near him and knocked it off his wrist. "I don't think so, Zack! We're gonna have to fight!" _so this is how it is to be done! Very wise, my lord!_
In a moment, both guys were embroiled in a fight. An outsider might have noticed the difference in the two combats at once. The Cogs surrounding Zack were more involved in keeping him a good distance away from Billy, while the ones around the robot were unobtrusively guiding him to behind some bushes.
There, out of sight of everyone, two more Cogs appeared, with a third figure between them, wearing an identical outfit to what Billy was. Or rather, to what _Robot_ Billy was. Real Billy stood quiet and drawn up, his eyes the precise shade of warm and pleasing blue they had been, no sign of his experiences on board the Skybase showing. The two of them looked at each other calmly. "You have done our master a great service," real Billy said finally. "I look forward to fighting by your side once you have been reengineered."
Robot Billy nodded. "The same to you, Purple Ranger," he replied. "You were going to a hip hop kedo class with Zack, and the girls are currently shopping, while the boys are practicing martial arts at the Youth Center. Trini was chosen as the Silver Ranger."
As he and the Cogs vanished, the real Billy stepped back into sight, knocking down a few Cogs of his own and leaping over to help Zack. "Zack! Are you all right?" he asked solicitously. "Some of the Cogs almost grabbed me, I just managed to get away."
Even as he spoke, the metallic creatures all vanished, along with Klank. Zack took several deep breaths; there had seldom been any attacks on him when he didn't have powers. "I'm all right. Thanks."
Billy smiled as he picked his communicator up from the ground and strapped it on. "It was my pleasure." _you simple human fool._ * * *
Robot Billy had done such a good job of impersonating real Billy that no one noticed when they'd changed back. Billy kept to himself exactly as much as his copy had, but for different reasons now. His metallic twin had done it so no one would know he wasn't real; Billy did it to keep himself in perfect physical condition, awaiting the time when he could strike out in the name of his evil master.
That time came a week after his return to Earth. He had made tremendous progress on building his new Zord, though it was still far from completion. He had retuned his communicator to send and receive signals to and from the Machine Skybase, so his master would be able to remain in contact with him without them having to be concerned about the Power Chamber detecting unusual teleportations. As he worked out some plans for the Zord, his communicator beeped in a particular fashion.
"Yes, my lord?" he asked softly, making certain no one was near to hear him. "I am here to serve you."
Mondo's voice came over the device. "I have sent Cogs and a monster to attack and draw out the Rangers into Angel Grove Park. Morph and go at once. Do not reveal yourself to them under any circumstances, is that understood?"
"As you command, my lord," Billy bowed his head, then quickly put away his tools, hiding the incomplete Zord from prying eyes and scanners. He smiled frozenly, then took up his morphin stance. "It's morphin' time! Zeo Ranger VIII, Purple!"
With a flash of light, he had not only morphed, but drawn upon the Skybase's systems to teleport to the battlefield. He watched for a moment from a small hill, seeing the seven good Rangers fighting furiously against the Cogs and the monster, which was currently going against both Jason and Tommy. _This should be interesting,_ he thought, licking his lips under his helmet. _Very interesting indeed._
He pulled his Zeo Bow out of it's pocketspace and aimed directly for Adam's back. _How fitting that the first one I take down be the one that was my best friend . ..before._ He took aim, knowing it wouldn't kill Adam through his armor, but it would cause quite a bit of pain, and maybe even injure him physically enough to take him out of the action for a while._ And six Rangers would be so much easier to fight than seven. We shall just see._
With a viscious grin, he let fly with the arrow, watching as it arced across the battlefield. His eyes widened in shock when a silver-tinted shield flew in between his arrow and Adam's back, blocking the missile weapon and destroying it. He let loose with a low growl as he turned to see the Silver Ranger standing next to him, her arm still extended in the throwing position.
"Who are you?" she hissed dangerously. Zordon had contacted her and told her a strange energy reading was detected on the hill overlooking the battle, and she'd quickly headed up there by a back way to find out what was going on. Someone in a purple Zeo Ranger uniform was _not_ what she'd expected to find.
He stood up proudly, his gaze focused on her. "I am the Purple Ranger, warrior and servant to King Mondo of the Machine Empire."
Trini could feel her face paling. _Not again_, she thought. "I don't know who you are under that helmet, but you can't serve him! He's evil!"
"I know," he nodded. "I am too." with just those words, he knocked her down the hill and jumped after her, his blaster firing swiftly at her. Trini just barely managed to squirm out of the way, wishing she had the breath or the time to call to the others.
They noticed what was going on, though. Tommy and Jason couldn't spare the time from fighting the latest of Mondo's monsters, Explosor, a short-fused monster with one powerful punch and detonator-like weapons. Jason knew Tommy was having incredible flashbacks to his own evil Ranger days when he saw the trouble the Purple Ranger was giving Trini, and turned to see Rocky had just kicked the last of the Cogs halfway back to the Skybase. _He's not going to be any good in this fight until he can get himself under control._
"Tommy!" he grated. "Red Ranger, you'd better get back to the Power Chamber before you lose it!"
The team leader shook his head, doing what he could to keep himself under control. "Come on, let's finish this guy off."
"I don't think so, Rangers!" the Purple Ranger could obviously hear them. "Klank, Orbus! Would you give those Rangers something to deal with that's a bit more. ..massive?"
The two named robots appeared, with Klank already swinging Orbus towards Explosor. "As ye command, Purple Ranger! King Mondo is pleased with ye, keep up the good work!"
As the monster grew to major wrecking proportions, the Silver and Purple Rangers still faced off; Trini had a Zord, but it couldn't fit in with any of the current gestalt Zord configurations, and Billy had been too busy lately to figure out a way to cobble one up. Silver Ranger glared with all her might at the Purple. "At least tell me who you are under that helmet."
He laughed; he'd installed a special device in his suit to distort his voice and bio signature so the Rangers couldn't figure out who he really was unless and until he wanted them to. "You really don't think I'll fall for that, do you?" he asked as they fought.
"Not really," she grunted, trying to sweep him and failing when he leaped over it and smashed a fist into her helmet's faceplate. "But it was worth a shot."
A beeping in his ear alerted him to his master's will. "I must go now, Silver Ranger, but we shall meet again."
Then Trini was alone, except for the fighting MegaZord and monster, staring at where only moments before, an evil Purple Ranger had stood. She closed her eyes for a moment. "God help us all."
THE END. For Now.