A tear trickled down her cheek and she sighed deeply. If only she hadn't done some things before leaving. But there was no need, no reason to worry about that now. She would deal with that once she was back home. Slowly she fastened the final tab on the suitcase and checked the plane tickets on the nightstand. She had a short time to go until her flight left. Non-stop: to Angel Grove, California.
"Purple Ranger just isn't letting up," Trini rubbed her left arm, remembering a harsh slam she'd taken from their evil Ranger enemy. The Purple Zeo Ranger had attacked at least three times each day in the week since Zack had joined them, and had taken a severe toll on each of them when he did. It was as if he knew just how to hurt each of them physically, and was taking a severe sadistic pleasure in doing so.
A door slid back and they all turned to see Billy coming in with a device in his hands. He glanced up at them and smiled his usual friendly warm smile. "How'd everything go? Did the upgrades to the suits do any good?" He had been working on a way to increase the power of their Zeo Crystals and improve the protection the suits gave them, another of his attempts to protect them from the fury of their enemy.
"Not that we could tell," Tommy shook his head, wincing at the feel of his injuries. "Either that, or Purple's somehow got himself upgraded too!"
Billy raised his eyebrows, but said nothing else as he started to program something into the computers. What a moron. Of course those "upgrades" didn't "take"! At least not in the way you thought they were supposed to! He kept the smirk off his face as the others worked their way towards the medical area; Alpha was going to be taking care of them there. Another couple of "upgrades" and I should be able to take them out with a minimum of effort!
The evil Ranger had actually been decreasing the power of the Zeo Crystal, siphoning off the energy and blocking how much the others could draw at any given time. He couldn't do it too much at a time, since the others would figure out what was going on, but by telling them he was making them stronger, they hadn't questioned when they felt things different in their powers.
Perhaps I could convince my lord that I could simply take them out in their sleep. That would be quite amusing. For them to wake up and be in the power of their enemy.
He leaned back, looking up at Zordon with a concerned expression. "I've done all I can for now, Zordon. How are the others doing?"
"They are going to be all right. Do you wish to see them?" Zordon asked his young student. He was rather worried over Billy; the young man was still being distant on occasion, and even his massive intellect appeared to have failed in this crisis. All that he tried to do wasn't having any effect on helping their Rangers, and he knew Billy had to be feeling bad over it. He had lost two, possibly three, chances to be a Ranger again, and Zordon sensed there was something somewhat wrong with the young man. Just what it was, he had no idea, but it was beginning to disturb the old sage.
"Not right now." Billy yawned. "I think I need a nap. If I come up with any more ideas to help out, I'll let you know."
Before Zordon could say anything to dispute it, the young man had vanished out of the Power Chamber. The wizard sighed. Something is going on with him. But what? I must find out.
"Alpha." He said slowly. "Begin to retrace every action Billy has taken since ..." he thought for a moment. When had it all began? Ah, yes, he knew. "Since Jason returned to become Gold Ranger, up until just now."
The little robot nodded and started to haul up the records. "What are we looking for, Zordon?"
"Anything unusual." Zordon replied quietly. "Anything at all."
He chuckled a little, then returned his gaze to the kneeling warrior before him. "And what was your plan again, my Ranger?"
"The Rangers do not suspect me at all, my master." Billy repeated. "I can seize them in their sleep and bring them there. A simple invitation to a sleepover at my house, some drugs in their beverages...." a cold smile bent his lips. "And the Earth is delivered into your hands by those who had protected it."
The Machine King considered that. "Perhaps. It would be a very worthwhile plan, I admit, but let us wait until the Black Crystal shows itself. Whoever the Black Zeo Ranger is, they will complete the roster of Zeo Rangers and bring this search for those crystals to an end. You'll be able to capture them all in one fell swoop, without any extra Rangers showing up at the last minute to save everything."
Billy bowed his head. "As my lord wills it." Mondo was right, of course. He always was; that was his job as the supreme overlord of evil.
"For now, go back to Earth and resume normal activities. If you get any indications of who the Black Ranger is, then let me know at once. Understood?"
"Yes, master," Billy bowed again, then activated teleportation, heading back home. He had installed certain safeguards in the Power Chamber computers so they could only detect him when he wanted them to detect him. The controls for it were built into his communicator, which he'd recently torn apart and rebuilt from the ground up, using Machine technology to incorporate quite a few extra options into the device, without making it look any different on the outside.
As he arrived outside of his house, he smiled just a little to himself. It was due to that little device he was able to blank his teleportation color so it was pure white instead of purple, the way it rightfully should have been. As much as the Rangers might believe he wasn't the Purple Ranger, if they saw him traveling in that shade, even their credulity might be strained to some degree.
I'll reset the controls to drain a little bit more of their power tomorrow, he decided, going inside. And then do a universal scan for the Black Zeo Crystal; I can extrapolate what it's frequency would be by comparing the ones from the already known Crystals. Better come up with a way to have the Purple frequency without arousing suspicion.
With those sort of thoughts in mind, Billy laid down and fell almost at once into a deep, dreamless sleep. His unconscious mind paid no attention at all to the small part of his soul that wept for unutterable grief at how evil he was becoming. With every moment of every day, Mondo's hold on him grew tighter and tighter. Unknown to them all, if something was not done soon, there would never be a chance for him to be freed.
Kat shrugged. "Mondo's machines have always been tough. And the Purple Ranger is even tougher." The Pink Ranger had other things on her mind these days since the evil Ranger had come onto the scene. She had been finding herself less and less attracted to Tommy, as if it were something on the order of a schoolgirl crush that was fading. I guess that's pretty much what it was. Oh, well. She shrugged mentally as she rubbed some ointment Alpha had given her on the wounds she'd collected in the battle. I hope whoever he does fall in love with loves him as much as he deserves to be loved. She considered herself lucky she'd realized how she'd felt before anything untoward had happened; such as herself and Tommy starting to date or something. She'd hate to see him get his heart broken again.
Tommy glanced around, checking on everyone. "All right, I think everyone's back to normal. Are we?" Various noises of assent rose from the rest of the group. "Okay; Zordon's already said there's nothing else we need to stick around here for. Billy's gone home to get some rest, and I think we should do the same thing."
Zack stretched again, wincing a little as another bone popped to where it was supposed to be. "Not me, I'm heading for the Youth Center. Mom and Dad are going out for the weekend 'together'." the White Ranger grinned a little at that. "And I'm going to need some decent food!"
"I'll go with you!" Trini offered. "I still haven't recovered from all that "food" they tried to feed us in Switzerland!"
A few minutes later, the two newest additions, or returns, to the Power Rangers were seated in front of the counter, waiting for Ernie's new waitress, Emily, to bring them their orders.
"It's really good to be home again," Zack sighed happily as he sipped at his smoothie. "I feel like we never left."
Trini smiled briefly, glancing down at the communicators on their wrists. "Things have changed a little, though."
"To say the least," Zack also glanced at the smooth white band he wore. Things were different...but still the same, in some ways. "So, have you asked Billy out yet?"
The Silver Ranger only smiled; most people would have been offended or startled by this. Trini was used to it from Zack, however. "No, and I'm not going to." She said it just as casually as he had asked it.
"Oh?" Zack raised one eyebrow. He had been feeling much more secure in his personal life since beginning to be in a solid, if long distance, relationship with Aisha Campbell.
Trini picked up the plate Emily set down before her and motioned her friend over to the table she headed for. "Billy and I are friends." She stated as the two of them started to eat. "And that's all we're ever going to be."
"I thought you wanted to ...do something?" Zack had always thought that his two friends would eventually get together, and the thought that they would not was a trifle shocking.
"I thought I did too," Trini considered the moment she'd realized she felt nothing but friendship for the young man. Not long after she had accidentally caught him exercising in his yard the previous week. She'd been mentally reviewing what had happened that day, and all she had come up with was just an appreciation for that which had been shown, not the slightest urge to want to be any closer than friends to him emotionally. "But I was wrong. We're just friends."
Zack looked curious. "Does he know that?"
"Yes." Trini stated it lightly. "It's nothing to worry about, Zack. Things just didn't happen the way I thought they would."
The two of them ate in silence after that, both of them in rather deep thoughts about the things that had been going on, and other items. "Want me to walk you home?" Trini asked with a grin as they left the Youth Center behind them. "Just in case you don't get jumped by anything?"
"Nah, I'll be fine!" Zack waved a casual hand. "Catch you later, Trini!"
"Bye, Zack!" the two of them waved again, then headed off in different directions. Trini hummed under her breath as she walked on, feeling happier than she had in a while. She had been waiting for someone to ask something about her minor interest in Billy, and it felt good to get it off her chest.
Though I am worried about him. The distance...it's not natural, and it's not right. Maybe I should talk to Zordon about this.
As she was about to find a quiet hidden place and teleport away, a shadow moved up ahead of her. Trini's eyes narrowed at once, and she slid her hand closer to her morpher. If that's the Purple Ranger...she felt no sense of danger, however, as she had every now and then when the evil Ranger was around.
She continued to go forward, her hands still ready to twist and summon up her power sources when or if she needed to. The shadow ahead of her remained stationary, but she was able to see it was a human one at least.
"Who's there?" Trini growled. The shadow seemed to step forward briefly, then turned and she heard the faint sound of footsteps going through the trees. Trini bit her lip, turning around to try and get some sort of glimpse of who was there. "Who are you?"
"Trini?" the Silver Ranger whipped around at the utterance of her name, and relaxed when she saw who was standing there.
The Red Ranger frowned just a little at her. "Trini, are you all right? You look a little nervous."
"No...I'm fine." Trini glanced around. "Tommy, did you see anything or anyone in the bushes over there?" She pointed over to where she'd seen the shadow.
Tommy peered over there, shaking his head. "Didn't see anything. I came over to talk to you, and when you weren't here yet, I decided to try and catch you on the way back. Why do you ask?"
"I could've sworn I saw something..or someone," Trini shook her head, then something her friend had said penetrated her mind. "You were coming to talk to me? About what?"
The young man flushed just a little, then smiled. "Well, I was kind of wondering if---"
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.
Both of them jerked at the sound of the communicator, then Tommy tapped his quickly. "This is Tommy. What's up, Zordon?"
"Rangers, Zack was jumped by Cogs and the Purple Ranger just outside his house, he is injured, and needs your help!"
Tommy growled something incomprehensible under his breath, then glanced at Trini. "We're on the way, Zordon," the Red Ranger said quietly. Just completely rotten timing. In a double teleportation of silvery-white and red, the two of them headed for Zack's house.
Zack couldn't say anything; his mind was nothing but a mass of pain, the same as his body. He'd been on the verge of entering his home when a powerful strike from behind had sent him reeling. Zack hadn't had a chance to morph, or call for help, as he'd had the living daylights beaten out of him. He caught various glimpses of the Purple Ranger and some Cogs, all of whom were taking their turns on doing him damage, with Purple doing most of it.
"I'm quite certain you're wondering why we're doing this." Purple Ranger said almost affably as he held the other Ranger up by the hair. "The answer's really quite simple: one Ranger in the hospital is one Ranger I don't have to fight."
Zack mumbled something as he was thrown into the waiting arms of a pair of Cogs, and Purple Ranger smiled beneath his helmet. And now the Rangers will be convinced I'm also a psychopath as well as Mondo's warrior. I wonder...Another plan shaped itself in his head, something to tap into their deepest fears and turn them against the Rangers. It was an old trick, yes, used on Ranger teams throughout the universe without real effect, but he thought he could put enough new spins on it so that it would overcome them, instead of the other way around.
Billy had been in deep dreams when Mondo's summons had awakened him. Zack was by himself, lost in thought, and the Rangers wouldn't be able to respond in time to help him before serious damage could be done. There was also another reason for the attack: Klank had determined he could duplicate the Rangers themselves, as he had created the robot double of Billy, and Zack was to be the first Ranger so honored. The blood and hair that now decorated Billy's gloved fists were going to become the basis of the flesh grown to cover the Zack-robot's metallic skeleton.
"Hey!!" A sudden swoosh alerted him to the arrival of a couple of the Rangers, and he wasn't all that surprised to see Tommy and Trini teleporting in. "Leave him alone!"
Purple Ranger chuckled to himself. Typical. One day Tommy's going to say something that isn't clichée and the world will probably fall down in shock. Well, on to business. He turned to the arriving pair and lifted his head, motioning to the Cogs to keep a tight grip on their captive. "And just what are you going to do if we don't leave him alone?" This should be interesting to watch.
Tommy's eyes burned with a dark fire as he stepped forward. "Purple Ranger, believe me, you are going to hate yourself once Mondo doesn't control you anymore! I know what you're going through, I had the same thing happen to me!"
Oh, I want to so badly...but I can't. Purple Ranger laughed out loud. "You must be joking! But I've done what I came to do. I'll be seeing all of you again....later." He strode over to where the Cogs held Zack and seized the nearly unconscious Ranger by the back of the neck. "Well..maybe not all of you!" With a contemptuous laugh he threw the young man towards the other two Rangers. "See you around, Rangers!! But I doubt you'll be seeing me!"
With a powerful flare of energy, not blanking his signature this time so it was a proper royal purple, he vanished, taking the Cogs with him.
"Zack!" Trini ran over to their fallen friend, her fingers going automatically to his throat. "He's still alive, Tommy."
"Good." The Red Ranger came over to join her. "We'd better get him to the Power Chamber, though." Unspoken between the two of them were the words before it's too late.
And now it's going to be so different. To outside eyes, her hand touched an empty space just by her hip, but her fingers felt and recognized the hilt of a sword. Her eyes hardened. But I will do what I have to do.
It wasn't going to be an easy battle, that she knew. But it would be a worthwhile one. No matter the cost to herself, she was going to do what she had come to do.
She glanced up ahead a little through the window. They were almost at Angel Grove, she surmised. Another few hours, and for the first time in a long time, she'd be sleeping in her own bed. Or at least in a bed in the only place she'd ever really called home.
Zordon took a moment to check with the medical database before answering. "Yes, he will be." Thank the stars the news was good! "Purple Ranger came very close to killing him, but Zack will recover in time."
Alpha was bustling about over the White Ranger, as the Silver and Red stayed out of the way. "Why were you attacked, ay-yi-yi???"
As Trini recited what the Purple Ranger had told them, Tommy stepped back just a little to watch her. Mentally he had been cursing the whole time because of the interruption of their conversation. He'd been thinking about doing something for a couple of weeks now, and just when he had gotten the nerve up to do it, the Purple Ranger had struck.
If I didn't know better, I'd swear he did it on purpose! The Red Ranger groused mentally. The first time I feel like asking Trini out in weeks and this has to interrupt!
Tommy wasn't all that certain if he loved Trini, not the same way he had loved Kimberly, but there was something about her dark hair and sparkling eyes that just drew him in. He still remembered quite vividly the hug she'd given him years before when he had been on the verge of surrendering to Zedd. It had been one of friendship, but in some ways he had always wished there could've been more. He wasn't sure on the love...but he did know that he liked her a lot. Perhaps a chance should be taken...if I can ever ask her out!
"Tommy?" he looked up to see Trini looking at him. "Alpha and Zordon are going to be taking care of Zack; things aren't quite as bad as we thought they were. They should have him back on his feet by morning."
He nodded. "Good. Let's hope Mondo's going to leave us alone until then."
"You and me both," the Silver Ranger agreed as the two of them teleported back to her house. Something occurred to her as they landed. "Tommy, you said you had come over to talk to me before everything started to happen. What did you want to talk to me about?"
Several emotions warred through Tommy in that moment, most of them without names. Somehow, however, one question managed to squirm it's way out of his mouth. "Would you like to go out to the movies tomorrow night..with me?"
Trini blinked a little; she'd never even thought about going out with Tommy! Oh, sure, he was cute, and sweet, and thoughtful, and...oh, what the heck, what did she have to lose? "All right. About seven okay?"
As the two of them made their plans, neither of them noticed two dark figures in the bushes, watching. Silently the two of them moved away, not speaking until they were out of earshot, and out of sight, of the house behind them.
"Are you sure?"
No other words were spoken, but two columns of black light rose up a moment later, and then were gone from sight.
Of course, things were somewhat easier since he had his robotic twin available to take his place. The robot was able to pass himself off as the true Billy very easily, performing family functions and 'hanging out' at those times when Billy had to be on the Skybase reporting to Mondo, working on his Zord, or in battle. Not only did it assuage all the "good" people's suspicions that he might be their evil enemy, but he was effectively able to get twice as much work done, since his double could play with the Rangers' powers just as much as he could.
At that particular moment, Robot Billy was at home, shut down, or "sleeping" as anyone looking in on him would think. Real Billy was in the Skybase, observing Klank as he put the finishing touches on the Zack-robot. Billy was necessary for this; providing background details that might have been difficult for Klank to know. All of that was essential to making certain that the double was indistinguishable from the real thing, with one single exception: who it served.
"When should the switch take place?" Billy asked his master, who was standing not that far away watching over the crafting.
Mondo considered. This was rather risky; but the thought of first duplicating the Rangers, then replacing them with their robot copies, then converting them to evil was far too tasty for him to turn down. After all, if it had worked once, it should again! The risk lay in the seizing of the original Ranger; if someone saw them or they were detected somehow.
"As soon as he is alone, and out of the Power Chamber," Mondo decided finally. "Try to make certain he doesn't encounter the other Rangers that much, if at all. They won't know anything at all has gone wrong...or right!"
Billy nodded. "Should my identity be revealed, or let that also remain a secret?"
"Do what you can to keep it a secret," Mondo ordered. "But it isn't imperative to keep it from him, since he will be joining us soon."
The two of them chuckled, then Klank coughed delicately for attention. "We are almost ready, my lord."
"Excellent!" Mondo praised his majordomo. "Soon all the Rangers will be my willing slaves! Just like you, Billy!"
Billy bowed his head and smiled. This was truly what he was destined for.
"How are you feeling, Zack?" Zordon had deliberately lowered the volume of his voice, making certain not to harm his young student. "Do you remember what happened?"
The White Zeo Ranger blinked for a moment or two, trying to clear the last bit of confusion out of his mind. "Yeah...Purple Ranger jumped me when I was at home."
"Yes." Alpha hustled up with a tray of devices and started to run them over his body. "Things weren't as bad as they could have been however, it seems."
"Good." Zack stretched, almost afraid to in memory of the pain he'd been through, and was glad to find that nothing appeared to be hurting anymore. The blessings of the Power...and of the Power Chamber being able to put just about anything back together!!
Zordon nodded. "The others will be waiting for you at the Youth Center, I believe. Tommy and Trini informed them earlier today of the attack."
The young man nodded, then did a double take. "Umm..how long was I out of it?"
"It is Saturday noon, and you were attacked on Friday night," Zordon explained. He did not tell his friend how they had worried he might not regain consciousness before his parents returned home; it would not be a good thing to have to explain about Zack being in a near-coma to Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. Zack nodded, the time confirmed by a major rumbling in his stomach.
"I think I'd better get on home. If I can?" he raised one eyebrow at Alpha, who quickly checked the readouts from the devices he was looking at.
"Everything looks to be okay!"
Zordon smiled; he had known the White Ranger would bounce back rather quickly. "You may go, Zachary. We will inform you if anything you should know about should arise."
With a wave and a grin, the White Ranger teleported off. Zordon sighed deeply. "Any results yet, Alpha?"
"Not yet, Zordon." The tiny robot was still going through, minute by minute, all the records the computer had on Billy for the last couple of months. So far, nothing had turned up that was in the slightest suspicious, and Zordon had begun to wonder if he had just suffered an attack of paranoia.
Regardless, this must be investigated. "Keep searching." He ordered, and watched as Alpha started once more on the investigation. He sighed mentally. If Mondo had done something to Billy, there had to be proof somewhere. It was just a matter of finding it.
And hoping they found it in time.
"Nothing yet. We know it has something to do with Zack, most likely. He's the only one alone right now, the others are all at the Youth Center."
A deep sigh. "And we're going to have to talk to them very soon, too."
Her friend put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "You know it was for the best. You knew that when you sent that, you know."
"I know," the other closed her eyes briefly. "I just didn't think I was going to have to look at him again after that."
"Do you regret it?"
She shook her head quickly and firmly. "No. It was for the best, it's what I want, what he wanted too, really. But seeing him again, I don't know what that's going to be like."
"Talk with him when you can, after this is over with. We've got more important things to deal with first, like saving my boyfriend from Mondo and your best friend."
Her friend chuckled just a little. "Right. We'll figure out a few complications later, but right now, we've got other things that need to be done. Let's go."
Two hands lifted up, one touching a bracelet on her wrist, the other a sword by her side, and with a small implosion of black energy, they were both gone.
What a day. Wonder if the mail's in yet. A quick run down to the mailbox and back produced a small stack of bills, postcards, and something that made his heart sing the moment he saw it. I got something from Aisha!
He dumped the rest of the stuff where his parents kept the bills and quickly opened his own letter. Miss you, love you, can't wait to be with you, I'm coming back to Angel Grove, I'm probably there by the time you read this, your life is in danger, Billy is the evil Purple Zeo Ranger and I would advise that you stay near the others as much as possible.
Zack did a doubletake, then reread the letter. "How in the world..." Every question possible popped up in his mind, and he shook his head. "I think I should take this to the Power Chamber," he muttered. Before he could move an inch, however, a tap came on the door. This has got to be the weirdest day yet.
Tucking the letter into his back pocket, he went to swing the door open. "Billy!" Wait a sec..Aisha said..but..how could she know, even if he is? He knew he hadn't told her about the evil Ranger in his last letter to her; he'd just said he had moved back to Angel Grove and things were going just fine. In fact, when he'd mailed that, there had been no evil Purple Ranger, he hadn't shown up until about three days later!
"Hi, Zack!" the young man appeared to be perfectly normal, just as Zack had always seen him since the first moment they had met. "Thought I'd drop by for a while. Mind if I come in?"
"Come on in," Zack stepped aside, wondering in the back of his mind if he were about to make some very nasty form of a mistake. If she's right..I'll just keep an eye on him.
Billy smiled as he entered, casually removing the door from Zack's hand and shutting it as the other one headed towards the basement they usually hung out in. As Zack stepped out of sight, the young man quietly clicked the locks shut and then followed his 'friend'. There was no need for anyone to interfere in what he was planning. This should take absolutely no time whatsoever.
Zack still had his back to him as Billy entered the basement and began to slowly creep up behind him. A quick blow to the head should suffice to keep him quiet until we get to the Skybase. When he wakes up, he'll be undergoing my Master's convincing treatment.
The White Ranger wasn't exactly as unobservant as the Purple thought he was, however. Forewarned by Aisha's mysterious letter, he kept every sense alert, and wasn't overly surprised to see Billy's shadow creeping up on him, one hand slowly going up and up. He pretended not to notice, however, and appeared to be sorting through some tapes.
"Have you talked to the others today?" he interjected a note of brightness into his voice, as if he had no idea what was going on whatsoever. I don't know what's happened to you, Billy, but I will help you.
Billy sounded absolutely normal himself. "Not yet. I think they're at the Youth Center. We could maybe go over there later." Or your robot twin and I will. Must keep up appearances, after all!
A couple of light exchanges later, Billy was almost right behind Zack, who still hadn't moved except to search through tapes. Now!! His arms flew down quickly, heading right for the vulnerable spot on Zack's neck, just enough force ready to knock him out.
And both of his hands were stopped as Zack whirled around, seizing his wrists in a powerful grip of his own. Zack looked calmly and quietly at his friend. "Why, Billy? Why are you working for Mondo?"
To his credit, Billy didn't waste him time with asking how he knew that, he simply twisted around and threw him as hard as he could to the far side of the room. "Because he is my one and only true master," Billy growled darkly, stalking over to him. "And quite soon he will be your master too!"
Zack groaned in pain as his head struck the hardwood wall. That wasn't fun. "Billy...."
"Silence." There was a harshness to Billy's voice Zack had never heard before, a deepness to it that sent chills down the White Ranger's spine. "I chose whom to serve, and I will be my lord's true Ranger for all time. I was the first, but I won't be the last."
Billy had taken no more than a few steps over when a sword suddenly placed itself in between the two Rangers. Standing there was a suit of black armor, apparently encasing a humanoid form, with a long blade dividing them. It was evident from the armor that a woman was inside, and Billy was rather quick to figure she didn't work for Mondo, as she stepped around to keep the blade between himself and Zack, pointing directly at his chest.
"I don't want to hurt you, Billy," she said quietly. "But your game of deception is over with."
Billy stepped back, then turned his head quickly. Standing behind him was another Ranger, this one in black armor, her helmet with the design of a crane on it. In her hand was a staff similar to the Golden Power Staff, only in solid black, and she appeared as immovable as a mountain.
Purple Ranger! Mondo's voice rang sharply in his mind, transmitted by receptors placed in there during his conversion. Return to the Skybase at once, the charade has ended! The Rangers are headed for your location, I will not have you removed from my service! We must fall back and regroup!
Billy could hear footsteps up above, and cursed himself for not locking the front door as well. "Another time, Rangers. And you won't be this lucky then." Just as the Rangers came to the stairs and could see him, he teleported out, not blanking his signature into white this time.
"Someone tell me I didn't see that," Tanya breathed as they took in everything. Zack slowly shook his head as he got up with the armored woman's help.
"You saw it," the White Ranger sighed, then looked at his strange savior. "This might sound a little odd, but I was wondering..who the heck are you? Both of you?"
The Knight chuckled quietly. "I told you I was coming, Zack. Don't you read your mail?"
Zack stared in complete shock as the Knight sheathed her sword, then reached up to unlatch her helmet. Dark hair spilled out, and a long-gone face grinned at them. "Knight Protector Aisha Campbell at your service."
"And you?" Tommy raised one eyebrow, finding refuge in revealing the newcomers' identities instead of trying to figure out why they'd received an emergency transmission from Zordon telling them to get to Zack's house as soon as they possibly could.
The Black Ranger said nothing, but her Staff vanished, and she turned slightly to look Tommy directly in the face. Black light ran up and down her armor momentarily, and then vanished. "Hello, everyone," Kim Hart said quietly. "I'm back."
"I...I don't know, sire!" Billy cringed. "They never showed up on any of the scans!"
Mondo growled out something in various Machine dialects that the Purple Ranger couldn't understand, then glared at him. "You have a room here now; you will no longer return to Earth unless it is for battle, understood?"
Billy bowed quickly. "I understand." Mondo motioned for a Cog to lead him there, and as the robot and human left, the Machine King almost seemed regretful.
"What is it, my dearest?" Machina asked, noticing the strange emotions, if they could be called that, flickering across her husband's metallic features. "What is wrong?"
The King shook his head. "Our greatest scheme ever, collapsed by a pair of females! Human females! How could they have escaped our sensors, Klank?"
Contrary to his expectations, Klank had an answer for him. "If what I suspect is true, sire, then one of the powers of the Black Zeo Ranger is to be completely invisible to all forms of scanners. According to Billy, she neither registered on the Power Chamber's sensors, nor on ours. As for the other girl, her powers are not based on the same sort of matrix as those of the Rangers, which is all we are currently set up to detect, thus she went unnoticed."
Mondo grunted briefly. "Recalibrate the computers to recognize her power configuration, then!" he commanded. "And recycle those robot doubles now, they're useless to us!"
"As you wish, m'lord!" Klank agreed, hurrying away to do his master's bidding. Mondo turned his attention to the viewscreen, watching the events playing out in Zack's basement still. He was going to learn as much as he could about these two people...and crush them all!
"So that's how it happened," Kat's voice was somewhat sad as they watched the records Alpha had finally tracked down revealed on the Viewing Globe. They saw Billy's kidnaping weeks before, and how a robot took his place, counterfeiting him so expertly they hadn't even suspected.
Rocky shook his head. "I feel like a chump," the Blue Ranger said flatly. "A complete and utter idiot."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Kim spoke since she had entered the Power Chamber for the first time. "None of you knew what was going on; that robot could've fooled Billy's own parents!"
Zordon nodded slowly. "What is important now is rescuing Billy and removing Mondo's mind control of him. Until then...Kimberly, Aisha, it is good to have you back home. But how did you get the Black Crystal, Kimberly, and what is the nature of your new power, Aisha?"
The two young women glanced at each other, then Kimberly spoke up. "Mine's a little easier to tell, I guess. The Black Crystal was sent to me in a package from my mother in France. She sent a letter that said she'd found this really weird ebony box in a junk store in Paris, and had the feeling she should send it to me. When I opened it up..." there was a sudden far away look in her eyes. "I knew what I was supposed to do. I had to come home. I packed up everything I had there and started getting ready to come back here."
Zordon nodded, and attention subtly shifted over to Aisha. The young woman shrugged. "Things got started after I got settled back into the village after the Zeo Quest. We were tending to the animals, working on trying to figure out a way to cure them. Everything was going just fine, until we ran across what looked like an excavation of some sort." Her fingers subtly brushed the sword visible at her side now. It should have looked out of place being hung on a leather belt around the waist of a pair of blue jeans, but it didn't.
"As far as we could tell, someone was digging up looking for something. They'd gotten fairly deep too, when they just...vanished." Aisha shook her head. "It only took us a couple of days to get through to what they were looking for, and then Ashala decided we should send to one of the big cities to get some professional archaeologists to look at things."
Aisha closed her eyes briefly, her hand now clutching the swordhilt spasmodically. "That night I couldn't sleep. I tried to, but every time my eyes shut, I kept seeing these swords in my mind. Six of them. One of them came closer to me, and I knew I had to go down there. If I didn't, I knew I was going to lose my mind." She took a deep breath.
"No one was guarding the site, we didn't think we had a reason to. I managed to get down to the underground cavern we unearthed, and started looking around. The first cavern was decorated with all kinds of paintings and murals of swords, and people in strange armor. Armor like mine, I know now. There was another room, though, and the door just...vanished when I came up to it." Her eyes were distant, reliving events, and Zack's hand closed tighter around her free hand. "In it were six sheaths hanging on the wall. Over them were written words literally carved into the earth itself."
She smiled just a little. "I remember seeing them as if they were yesterday. I don't think I'll ever forget them."
"Not yet," Aisha shook her head; she was rather surprised that Zordon didn't seem to know about whatever it was she was capable of doing. "They're somewhat like a Ranger's, though; I know how to fight when I have my armor on and there are some special abilities I can use." She smiled just a little. "I even sort of morph...there's no way I can get all that armor on in time for a fight without that, you know."
Zack raised one eyebrow. "What do you do?"
His girlfriend grinned a little, then stepped back, pulling her sword out easily. The long blade was as straight as could be, sharp as thought, with the hilt shaped like that of a bear's head. "Knight Protector, transform!"
Light flared up around her, and as it faded, they saw the armor had formed around her once more. She still carried the sword in one hand, the sheath hanging still from the belt around her armored waist. With her free hand she flipped her visor and grinned at them. "Knight Protector, ready for action!"
Another light-flare, and the Rangers once more saw Aisha standing there, her sword invisible now. She glanced up to Zordon. "I can't speak for the other Knights, whoever they are, but I will help the Rangers as much as I can, in whatever way I can."
"We accept that help," Tommy said, glancing at the others. "But first...how did you two know about Billy?"
Aisha glanced over at Kim, and the two of them sighed in unison. "That's one of the other things I can do. Or that happens to me, I'm not sure which," Aisha said. "I was right in the middle of packing things up when all of a sudden I was in the Machine Skybase. I couldn't believe what I was seeing...I would've panicked, but I had this weird feeling that I was safe. That I was just seeing something, like you'd watch it on television. I saw Billy strapped to a table, with Klank over him. He injected something into Billy, I couldn't tell what it was, but I didn't like it. Then he put some sort of helmet thing on Billy, and turned it on. I'm not sure just what was going on, but I could see Billy tossing around, fighting it for a while. Then he just sort of stopped...as if he were giving in."
Kat shuddered, her blue eyes suddenly full of tears. Kim reached out and touched her friend's shoulder gently, compassion in her own deep brown orbs. Aisha wasn't stopping, though. The horror in her own eyes said she would've liked to.
"I think time passed, I got that impression, anyway, and then I saw Billy standing in front of Mondo. I could hear them this time, I heard them talking about a robot double of some description, and then Mondo gave Billy the Purple Zeo Shard. Then I was back doing my packing again."
She took a long breath. "There was one difference, though: I felt the strongest compulsion to get into contact with Kim as fast as I could. As soon as I got to the nearest city, I dialed up Florida, and we scheduled flights for home."
"I got lucky," Kim said quietly. "Aisha's call came right after I got the Zeo Crystal. I don't know what could've happened if she hadn't told me about Billy."
A strangled gasp broke the momentary silence that fell, and they all looked to see Kat's brilliant eyes full of tears. Kim, Aisha, Trini, and Tanya quickly hurried her away to one of the back rooms; it was rather plain to them just what was going on, but it was also something that didn't need to be discussed with the males around.
"Um...what's that about?" Rocky asked, curiosity tinging his voice.
"Girl things," Adam told him. "I think Kat's taking Billy being evil a little bit harder than the rest of us."
The Blue Zeo Ranger glanced down towards the retreating figures, then shrugged. Girl things were things very much out of his league.
He started a quick scan going, then watched as various results came in. There was the Purple Ranger, still in his chambers, probably plotting some horrible revenge on the Black Ranger and whoever that armored one had been. There were the other Rangers, in the Power Chamber, and the armored one. He was going to have to learn about that one as soon as possible; blank spots in his knowledge were not good.
The scan started to go wider, stretching out to other galaxies. Klank nodded; nothing unusual was coming up. He hadn't really expected it to. He was about to turn the thing off, when something began to beep at him.
"What in the name of the great gears....?" he muttered, checking on the results. Shock registered in his computer-brain and he shook his head. "Orbus, are you getting the same readings I am??"
The little robot attached to one shoulder hovered a little closer to the computer, checking over what Klank saw. "Yes, I am! There are eight power sources connected to the Morphin' Grid in the Kerova system! Colony KO-35!"
"What a magnificent find!" Klank crowed. "King Mondo will want to know about this at once!"
The two of them rushed for the throne room, Klank shouting out for his master. "King Mondo, we've discovered something on the new long-range Power scanners!"
The Machine King looked up from where he was designing some of the new monsters that would go up against the Rangers shortly. "What is it?? And this had better be good, Klank. Very good!"
"It is, sire!" Klank and Orbus both bobbed low. "We've discovered Ranger powers on KO-35!"
A gleam of interest at once lit the dark monarch's metallic eyes. "How many and what kind!"
"I'm not certain, m'lord, but there are eight of them. We can't tell what colors until they are used, however."
Mondo chuckled most darkly. "Are any of them in use?"
"Two appear to be, but we cannot be certain of the others," Klank reported, having gleaned everything he could from the monitors. "What are your orders, sire?"
The lord of the Machine Empire considered. "Ready a spacecraft, and stock it with whatever it is humans need to survive. The Purple Ranger is going on a trip. Perhaps he can still be useful...even if he doesn't have spy potential anymore for Earth's Rangers."
As Klank and his miniature partner rushed away to obey, Mondo deepened the volume on his voice synthesizer. "Billy! Get in here! I have a new mission for you!"
The sound of footsteps came from the corridor almost immediately, and Mondo turned to face his warrior. This was going to be quite amusing, quite amusing indeed.
"But you're in love with Billy and it's really hurting you to know all this is going on and you didn't know anything about it," Kim replied quietly. Kat blushed a little.
"Is it all that obvious?"
Tanya smiled at her friend. "Just a little. You know for a while, I thought you were going to fall for Tommy."
The Pink Ranger shrugged, glancing over at Kim just a little. "Just friends. I won't deny he's gorgeous," there were murmurs of assent from everyone, especially Kim and Trini, "But he's really not my type. We're better off as friends."
"What about you, Kim?" Tanya looked at the person she had only vaguely heard of. All she really knew was that Kim and Tommy had dated for a couple of years, and then she had sent him a 'Dear Tommy' letter. The Yellow Ranger hated to be this blunt, but she wanted to get things laid out here.
Kim shrugged. "I know I'm going to have to talk to him about the letter, but the plain truth of the matter is that I don't love him. I did, and I don't."
"What about your guy in Florida?" Kat wondered, taking a little more interest in the way things were going on around her. She had seen the flash of hope and fear in Trini's eyes when Tanya had asked her question, and she hoped things were going to be working out all right.
The Black Ranger sighed, leaning back into the couch she was on. "His name was Robert Anthony, and he was a self-centered, self-serving, emotionally abusing son of a skunk and I'd rather date Goldar on a regular basis than have to look at him one more time."
Trini blinked briefly, raising one finely arched eyebrow. "I take it you don't like him?"
"You might say that." Kim sighed. "Thankfully I'm not going to ever have to see him again." She glanced over to Trini, a smile suddenly gracing her face. "Are you and Tommy still going on that date tonight?"
The Silver Ranger was taken by surprise, to say the least. "How..how did you know?"
Aisha chuckled. "We've been back in Angel Grove for almost two days now. We kept an eye on you guys. We had to know where to be if Billy attached. In fact, Trini, I think you saw me last night, just before you got called to go help Zack."
Trini's eyes widened. "I knew I saw something in those bushes! Why didn't you come out?"
"What would be the use of hiding from Mondo if we jumped out and showed ourselves?" Kim asked reasonably. "If he knew we were around, he would've had Billy try something else and you guys wouldn't have the proof of what he's been through."
Kat shuddered a little at the thought, and then went all business. "Now that we know what's going on, how do we help him?"
"Zordon might know something," that came not from any of them, but from Rocky, standing in the doorway of the room. "Could you come back in the room? Is..everything okay?"
One by one the girls stood up. "As okay as it can be," Kat said quietly, drawing strength out of being with her friends. "Come on."
"Yes, my lord. I take the craft Klank has prepared and go to KO-35, where I locate the powers that have been detected there. According to his research, two of them are in use. I locate and capture those two Rangers, then bring them and the other morphers to you. Once I have returned, those two shall be made to serve you, as shall others you will choose to wield that power."
Mondo nodded. "Excellently done, slave!" There was no need to let the human get above himself, now that he was a permanent fixture in the army. In the back of Mondo's mind were plans on setting a division of Cogs under him, as well as learning just what it was this Ranger knew about science and all the rest. No need to waste a resource, either.
"I live but to serve you, m'lord," Billy bowed his head low, and Mondo nodded in approval.
"Never forget that, Purple Ranger. Never forget that!" Mondo gestured towards the ship a short distance away. "Now get out there, and remember to report in on a daily basis."
Billy leaped for the ship, sliding into the control section. "As you command, master." The thought of leaving his friends, family, and all the rest behind didn't even occur to him as he throttled out of the hangar bay. He had a mission, and that was all he needed. He didn't even look back as he headed for the Kerova system and KO-35.
"He has?" Kat's eyes lit up. "Where is he going?" Unspoken, yet evident in her voice, was the hope that he was going to be coming to them. To her.
Alpha didn't sound all that happy, however. "According to his flight trajectory, he is headed for the Kerova system, colony KO-35."
"KO-35?" Tanya frowned. "What's that?"
"It is a space colony populated by an offshoot of Eltar, my home planet," Zordon explained. "The people there are natural psychics, telepaths, telekinetics, and other such abilities. They are also in a strategic point in the defense of the galaxy, so are guarded by a pair of Rangers. They have extra Morphers that have never been used, and we surmise this is what Billy is going for."
Tommy looked worried. "Is there any way we can stop him? Or warn them?"
"No, Tommy," Zordon shook his head. "KO-35 does not have the capabilities of picking up our communications signals, and none of the Zords are as of yet capable of that sort of travel. We are not certain just what boobytraps could be in them at this point in time, either. All we can do for now is hope that the Rangers of KO-35 are capable of resisting Billy."
Silence fell in the Power Chamber. One by one, the Rangers began to drift away. Kat teleported back to her house, wanting to spend some time alone, to deal with the events that had so suddenly fallen onto her. Rocky, Jason, Zack, and Adam headed for the Youth Center, to put in some training time. Trini wended her way home; she had things she wanted to do before her date with Tommy that night, and she felt as if they were best done on her own. Aisha went to talk with Adam and Zordon about the extent of her new powers and how they could work in with the Rangers, and how to find the other Knights.
When it was just Tommy and Kim in there, they found themselves staring at each other somewhat nervously. "Tommy---" Kim looked him in the eyes quietly. "Let's go talk somewhere. I think we've got a lot to go over."
"Yeah," the Red Ranger nodded. "Quite a lot."
"Who was he?" Tommy asked the first question as he and Kim walked side by side. "There was someone, wasn't there? You..weren't lying to me, were you?"
She shook her head, then told him about Robert Anthony and all that had went on in Florida. "When I was ready to come back here," she continued. "He tried to make me stay." Her eyes flashed with remembered fury. "He tried to tell me that the reason I was going back was because I couldn't cut it there. I think he realized he was wrong when I nearly relocated his private parts to somewhere around his nose."
Tommy both winced and chuckled at that one. "I'm not surprised, Kim, really I'm not. You've always been tough when you had to be." Various instances passed through his mind, and he smiled. "That's one of the things I've always loved about you."
She stopped and stared up into his eyes. "Tommy, I want one thing perfectly clear between us. I don't love you like I did. I will always treasure what we had, but it's over between us. Like that, anyway."
"I know." Tommy smiled a little. "It was great while it lasted, though, wasn't it?"
Kim smiled back at him. "It was incredible. I'd never loved anyone like that before, and I really don't think I will again. You never forget your first love, you know."
Tommy nodded. "I've...kind of found someone else of my own, too, you know."
"I know," Kim agreed. "I saw you asking Trini out last night. Kind of funny...I had this weird idea you might wind up with Kat!"
Her ex-boyfriend chuckled just a little. "Not in this universe. She's a very sweet girl, but she's so in love with Billy I'm surprised she hasn't went off running after him by herself."
Both of them paused, thinking of their friend, so completely under Mondo's thrall. "We are going to get him back," Kim said firmly. "And we're going to make Mondo pay for what he did to him."
"You know it!" Tommy's voice was firm. He smiled down at the small girl next to him, then took her chin slowly, lifting it up as he bent down to touch his lips briefly to hers. Between them passed two things: friendship and farewell. "I've got a date to get ready for, Kim. Are you going to be all right out here by yourself?"
She smiled. "I'm the Black Ranger now, Tommy. I can take care of myself very well."
Tommy smiled. "Welcome home, Kim." With a touch to his communicator, he turned into a column of red light and headed towards Angel Grove. Kim sighed just a little, then sat down on a small rock, feeling all the energy that had carried her all through the day draining away.
So this is how things stand. Billy is evil and is probably going to recruit more powers for Mondo to use. Tommy and Trini are about to start dating. I've got a good feeling about those two. I'm the Black Zeo Ranger, and I'm back in Angel Grove without a boyfriend, but with some of the best friends I could have ever wished for.
She glanced up at the half-visible moon. She knew Rita, Zedd, and all the rest of their entourage were there as well; plotting who knew what. The Skybase couldn't be seen, but she doubted Mondo was going to wait until Billy got back before launching some sort of attack. Then there were Aisha's Swords and the other Knights, whoever they were.
The future of the Rangers, as always, was unclear, but it held one thing, the one thing she had always longed for in the core of her soul: the promise of unending adventure, forever and always.
The Black Zeo Ranger, Kimberly Ann Hart of Angel Grove, California, slowly stood up. "We'll get you back, Billy," she murmured. "And anyone else that Mondo has the nerve and the luck to corrupt."
She touched her own communicator briefly, rising up and teleporting to her room in her dad's house, where she and Aisha were staying now. She had things she wanted and needed to do there.
Far away, in the vast distances between the stars, somewhere in the darkened soul of Billy Cranston, evil Purple Zeo Ranger, there stirred the heart and mind of Billy Cranston, gentle scientist, and for one moment, he felt himself free. But as that moment passed, his eyes flashed with darkness and once more, he was the slave of the Machine Empire, not even remembering that moment had existed.
But in his eyes, there glowed faintly two brilliant tears, soon
away and forgotten, as if they had never been.