Legal Disclaimer:Saban owns the Rangers, we don't, been there, done that, got the T-shirt. This is the first, and is a sort of prelude in some ways, to our new series, Blue No More. Please, send us BOTH mail!!!! Thanks!!! This begins sort of in "Rangers of Two Worlds".'ll get the idea as you read. . .

Fading to Black
by: Cynthia and Kahva

"Dark are the days that last the longest, yet not long enough, when one needs forever to reach the light. . ." came the words of an old teacher to his mind as he watched the graph of lights ebb and flow left to right across the large monitor suspended from the ceiling. Looking at other monitors where his compatriots sought desperately for the same answer he desired to find did no good, they all told the same bleak tale. Curse Master Vile for ever turning back the hands of Time! We wouldn't know the Earth Rangers most likely if he hadn't, but neither would they know the imminent death that laughs at their fight against the darkness now! Sadly, the five Alien Rangers and their associate Cestria quietly continued to work back and forth in the lab, seeking to restore coldly stolen youth to the rapidly aged form of Billy Cranston, former Blue Ranger of Earth and associate of the Power Rangers. And our dear, dear friend. By the seas, I wish she had been wrong all those years ago, or at least that I'd never heard her pass on that bit of solemn wisdom to my class. At least then, I could fool myself into believing that what humans call a "miracle" really could happen here. "It does not look good, I fear," Cestro, the Blue Aquitar Ranger, quietly whispered to Delphine, their leader. The two of them had brought Billy there, along with Cestria, when treatments on Earth had failed miserably.

"I know," Delphine nodded quietly, her strong voice full of held back pain. "I had so hoped that the Eternal Falls would work... Why didn't they? Are we so different from our friends on Earth?" The White Aquitian Ranger moved to where their aged human friend lay helplessly, the last minutes of his wrongly shortened life slowly slipping away. "I had so hoped..." she repeated, looking back at Cestro.

A soft sobbing from the examining table caught their attention just then. Turning, they saw Cestria gently taking Billy's hand in her own. "So had I," she whispered, trying hard to stop her tears. "Cestro, isn't there anything else we can try? Anything?" she looked pleadingly to her cousin, but the shake of his head dashed her remaining frayed threads of hope.

"I'm sorry," he replied, the musical watery vibration of his voice cracking as he finally admitted defeat. "There's nothing else we can do. The Eternal Falls were our last hope. It appears, however, that they do not function on Earthlings."

The former Blue Ranger of Earth stirred at that moment, feebly squeezing Cestria's loving hand. Billy's voice was soft and weak as spoke. "Ce... Cestria?"

"I'm here, Billy," she assured him, leaning in closer to him to hear what he wanted to say. With every moment he grew weaker and weaker, older and older.

"Ca... call... the Rangers... please..." He knew perfectly well he was dying, no matter how hard they had been trying to hide it from him. His mind might be fogging with age and the nearness of the end, but he wanted his friends there. He wanted to tell them good-bye. "I... I wish..."

Cestria glanced behind her as Delphine and Aurico began to set up the communication to Earth. "Yes, Billy?"

He squeezed her hand again gently with what little strength he had left. "I... I love you, Cestria," he whispered softly, his voice having long since lost it youthfulness. "I - I..."

She smiled, bending down to kiss him tenderly for several long moments. To her eyes, ears and heart, he was still as young and vital as he'd been the first moment she had met him months earlier. "I love you, too, Billy. I've loved you from the moment I met you."

"I... wish we could... have had more... time," he whispered, gazing with all his strength into her eyes. "More time... together..."

Cestria nodded, doing what she could to keep the tears from returning to her eyes. I must stay strong for him, I must... "As do I, Billy." Aurico gentle hand on her shoulder signaled that all was set. "The communications are ready, if you still wish to contact the Power Rangers on Earth."

Billy tried to sit up, wanting to face his friends again, at least upright, if not youthful and whole. It took so much concentration and effort to perform that simple task, he didn't notice Tideus whispering softly to Cestro, "Do you hear those explosions?" Soft puk-puks of sound were just barely audible to them.

Cestro nodded in quiet acknowledgment. "Yes. Our defenses haven't been able to determine who is attacking however. We only know who it isn't: Hydro Hog, nor Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa. Neither is it Mondo, we haven't registered any aggressive activity from the Skybase at all."

"This is not a good time for a battle," Tideus frowned. "Do the forces of darkness have no respect at all for the dying?!" he growled in contempt. What evil villain dared to attack now, when someone lay dying only a few inches away? Or perhaps... he thought to himself with mounting alarm, that is WHY they are attacking?

"No, it is not a good time for battle," Cestro sighed, then glanced to the communications, where Cestria was preparing to make the momentous announcement. "Then again, there never is a good time for battle." As the viewscreen crackled into life, everyone gathered around Billy as a show of support, willing their strength to him. Cestro found himself wishing that somehow just talking to his friends could cure him, but he knew it wouldn't. Would be nice if it could though. Oh Billy, I wish I'd never shown you how to build that blasted device! If I hadn't, you wouldn't be in this condition right now! But then, you wouldn't have been able to put the Zeo Crystal back together again then, would you? Great Seas, why are you so unfair to one who has served the Light and Right so faithfully and well?! Why are you taking my friend from us? Why?!

The familiar image of Tommy Oliver, the Red Zeo Ranger of Earth, came clearly over the intervening distance between the two worlds at last. "Power Chamber here. What is it?" he snapped out in a business-like fashion. No hellos, or questions about Billy's condition, just a terse "What is it?" They must suspect our news isn't good, Cestro surmised. I hate this part of being a Power Ranger... His cousin pulled herself together, addressing the human in the viewscreen with as much emotional control as she could muster at that moment.

"Power Rangers, I am Cestria of Aquitar," the young Aquitian spoke. She stopped speaking for a moment as she saw the other Earth Rangers form up behind their leader on the viewscreen. "I... I am afraid I have some very sad news for you." She paused long enough to help Billy sit up so that his friends would be able to see him clearly on Earth. "Billy is dying. The Eternal Falls were not able to cure him. I'm - I'm so sorry."

The last thing they expected to hear was what they did hear. Tommy snorted with disgust, "Okay then, so he's gonna croak soon. So why bother us over it? Just toss him in a ditch somewhere, or whatever it is you do with trash. We don't want him."

"T-Tommy?" Billy stared at the communications screen that showed his best friends in the entire universe, not believing one word of what he had just heard.

"Red Ranger, surely you don't mean that!" Cestro shook his head with confusion; the Red Ranger's derisive reply made no sense what so ever. "Perhaps our equipment isn't working right!"

Tommy snorted again. "Of course I mean it! Why wouldn't I mean it? We certainly don't need that little wimp here, gumming things up! Keep him out of our way, on your planet, and if he's dying, then so much the better! Good-bye and good riddance to bad rubbish, I say."

"Tommy, no!" Billy cried. "Don't say that... you don't mean that! Tommy, please!" The small amount of strength his fear and upset gave him was also draining his remaining energy away. What little life he had left, measurable already in hours, could now be reduced to scant minutes if this outrage did not stop immediately.

The Red Ranger snorted. "Yes, I do mean that. What, are you going deaf too? Good grief, you are such a stupid fool... Now leave us alone, we've got real things to take care of. I just painted my truck and have to go watch it dry."

"Noooo!" Billy screamed, then what strength he had could hold him no longer. He passed out in Cestria's arms with a light shuddering moan, his aging increasing faster than ever before.

"Billy..." Cestria turned sharply to glare at the screen, anger searing her face with heat. "How could you?" she nearly screamed, her eyes burning with fury.

"I just did," Tommy smirked, his arms folded smugly across his white sweater. "See you later, losers!" With a electrical 'pop', the screen went blank.

The keeper of the Eternal Falls wiped away a tear, turning back to the unconscious man on the table. "Oh, Billy... Billy... please, fight this, don't give up, please!" Her heart leapt as his head started to slowly toss back and forth ever so slightly. "Billy?"

"Trick..." he mumbled feebly. "Trick... not real..."

"A trick?" Cestria turned to the Rangers, a slight frown creasing her features as Billy mumbled those words over and over. After only a moment's thought, Delphine nodded in agreement.

"He's right. The real Power Rangers of Earth would never treat one of their own like this, never." The leader of the Aquitian Rangers lifted her head as loud explosions suddenly intruded onto their peace and anger. A soft growl came from her as realized all too late what was happening. "Someone wants us to be all alone here, and unable to call for help. Or too hurt and angry to call for help."

"But who would want that?" Tideus wondered.

"And why?" was Aurico's question. But before Delphine could tender a guess, both questions were answered when five horrendous explosions sounded right outside the door to the lab where they had been treating Billy. "So they can defeat our defenses, it seems! We have to make contact with the real Power Rangers now!" Aurico jumped for the communications panel as he yelled over the sounds of battle, hoping to get a true signal. Cestro was already trying to raise the Power Chamber on Earth, however.

Delphine's eyes narrowed. "This will not be an easy fight for them," she declared, preparing to morph. With the BattleBorgs and ShogunZords that were theirs now, they would do all within their power to defend their home and their visitor. "Whoever is so cold as to do this, they will pay dearly!"

"Communications are down!" Cestro called out. "I can't get through to anyone, anywhere!" Even as he spoke, the door to the lab was blown off its hinges, revealing the identity of their enemy at last. Master Vile stood there in the blasted doorway, a mocking smile on all three of his faces, flanked by raucous Tenga Warriors.

Cestria at once put herself between the lord of the M-51 galaxy and the slowly dying Billy. "Vile!" she hissed. "How dare you come here?!!"

"I'm coming for the poor dying ex-Ranger, little fish girl," he laughed, walking towards them quickly. His Tengas were spreading all over the room, some of them smashing and destroying as much as they could while others kept the Aquitian Rangers at bay. Cestria jerked out a blaster and aimed quickly at him, eyes blazing.

I won't let him take Billy, I won't!! "Don't you dare try and lay a finger on him!" Cestria's courage was all for naught however, as Vile raised his staff and blasted her with a storm of evil power before she could squeeze off a single shot. As she collapsed in burning pain, she whispered softly, "I... love you... Billy..." I shall wait for you in the afterlife, my dear sweet Billy, she tried to say, but couldn't find the strength as her life-force dwindled rapidly. Please know that...

Vile laughed as he coldly pushed the dying girl aside and seized Billy with more care than any of them had ever seen or heard of him touching another living being. He's being gentle before torturing him, or whatever he's planning on doing to him? What is going on here?! "Leave him alone, you monster!" Cestro ordered as he and the other Alien Rangers were finally able to morph.

Vile merely laughed at them, smiling nastily. "Oh sure," he growled. "Attack me Rangers, and he dies right here and now by my hand!"

Cestro growled, but none of them dared to make a move towards him. "Leave him alone! He's dying already, isn't that enough for you? Leave him here to pass from this world in peace!"

Vile laughed yet again, his voice dripping with pure evil, then he and his Tengas teleported away, with the aged, dying Billy still held captive in the evil wizard's arms. "Vile!" Delphine shouted, even knowing he couldn't hear her. "Come back here with him, now!" Pained coughing came from under the examining table, and as the smoke from Vile's exit cleared, Cestria could be seen struggling vainly to pull herself up off the floor.

Cestro rushed to his cousin's side and held her gently. "Cestria... Please, don't you leave me too... please, Cestria..." he begged, even as his very being felt her existence fading away, the gentle touch of her mind brushing against his as she passed on all of her intelligence and love to him for remembrance. "Cestria, no, please don't do this, we can save you, don't die, please!"

Cestria knew as well as Cestro that they couldn't save her though, not anymore than they had been able to cure or save Billy. Don't blame yourself, my cousin, I am to be one with the Great Ocean now, remember me for my life, not my death... she sent to him. She coughed, trying to gather the strength to speak aloud one last time. "Find... Billy," Cestria whispered weakly, begging with everything she had left. "Save him from Vile..."

The Blue Alien Ranger nodded, blinking back the tears welling in his eyes. "We will. I promise you, Master Vile isn't going to get away with any of this, Cestria!"

She nodded weakly, knowing it was her time now. "If you can... tell Billy... I love..." The young Aquitian gasped, then with a shudder, quietly died. Cestro nodded, hugging her lifeless body close to him, rocking back and forth as hot tears streamed down his face.

"I will tell him," he promised. "I swear it."

Delphine glanced around as she and the others demorphed. "Vile's troops have caused a lot of damage. It's going to be some time before we are together enough to look for Billy or inform Earth's Rangers what is going on," she stated grimly.

"Why did Vile take him?" Cestro shouted, looking up from where he was still cradling Cestria's body. "Billy is dying, he can't do anything for Vile now, and even if he was healthy, he wouldn't help Vile do anything! What is Vile up to?!" he cried, demanding an answer from his friends, knowing they had none to give.

Placing a hand upon the Blue Aquitian Ranger's shoulder, Corcus spoke quietly, "Whatever it is, it is sure not to be good. But we will stop him, and save Billy."

Cestro nodded, looking over to where Vile had last stood with the helpless Billy in his arms. "Be as strong as you can be, my friend," he whispered, willing his words to reach the former Ranger. "Know that we will not let Vile get away with this. He will pay... On my honor as a Ranger, I swear it! Do you hear me, Vile?!" he shouted to the ceiling. "You will pay!!!"

* * *

Far from Aquitar, in the heart of the M-51 Galaxy, Master Vile almost tenderly carried the nearly dead Billy into his fortress. The Tengas who had stayed behind on this mission immediately started crowding around him, cackling and laughing with evil glee. "Oh boy, a living punching bag!" one exclaimed. "For us boss? You shouldn't have!!"

"No, I saw the old geezer first!" another shouted, only to be pushed aside by a companion. "No, I wanna beat up the human!" came the shouts from the other Tengas, all anxious to beat on something, anything, just to have a little bit of action. Having been left behind on such a wonderful mission as crippling the Aquitian Rangers' base, and wrecking everything around it hadn't sat well with any of them... Not that any of them would ever dare to complain to Master Vile about it. Several Tengas reached out to take Billy from their master, feathered hands pawing at the nearly dead human.

But their master's reaction to their behavior surprised them all badly. "No!" Vile snarled. "Leave him alone!"

"But Master, why?" a Tenga wondered, half pouting. "We want to have some fun!"

Their master shook his head. "I said no, you fool!" Then Vile smiled down at Billy nastily, and chuckled. "I have something very special in mind for this human."

"He's just an old human," a Tenga squawked. "What makes him so special?"

Vile carefully put Billy down onto a table in his magical laboratory before blasting the offending Tenga into a pile of burnt feathers. Vile stared at them all, daring any one of them to question his actions, but of course none of them did. Tengas weren't known for intelligence, but they were smart enough to know when to shut up. Quietly, Vile hissed, "Because this is the former Blue Ranger of Earth."

"Whoa!" the Tengas all stared at each other in surprise. Some of them had even fought against the ex-Blue Ranger in the past, and remembered his strength and youth quite clearly. "Humans age fast!"

The wizard shook his head again, they didn't understand yet. "This isn't natural, you nitwits. But I'm going to fix him."

Squawks and screeches of confusion and outrage rose up from them. "What?! Fix him? I think Master Vile is getting soft!"

The Tenga who accused their master of weakening barely had time to notice Master Vile pointing his staff at him before he was nothing more than a pile of burnt dust. Five more Tengas who had agreed with him ended up the same way in the blink of an eye. The remaining ones squawked and shook, staring at each other and their overlord. Satisfied they had all finally learned their places, Vile chuckled. "I told you. I have a plan." Vile began to cast the spells he'd been preparing ever since he'd heard of this situation. The Tengas watched as Billy slowly grew younger and younger, until once again he was the seventeen-year-old he had been only a few hours earlier.

"Now what, Master?" one Tenga asked, ready to flee if the question offended their master.

Vile turned to them, knowing he had to speak quickly before the spells that were giving Billy his strength back were complete. "Now listen up, all of you. Anything I hear you say or see you do, or more precisely everything that he hears or sees from you must indicate that I care about him., that I am his friend, his only friend, and that the Rangers hate him and killed his little alien girlfriend. He must not know or hear anything different. Is that understood?!"

As the Tengas came to attention, they saluted sharply. "Yes, Master Vile!" they declared. Whatever their master had in mind, it was starting out with deception, and that was something they loved almost as much as trashing nice things and beating people up. Vile nodded, turning back to Billy and watching as the former Ranger began to awaken, surreptitiously fastening a tiny metal button on the sleeve of his shirt.

"Cestria," he moaned, moving his head a little as he started to wake up. "W... what's going on?"

"I saved you," Vile said quietly, in the most caring tones he could possibly muster. This was going to be the most delicate phase of his plan, when the captive was once more young and strong, but had not yet fallen into his power. He had confidence in what he was doing, however. I will not fail, I cannot!

Billy's eyes opened all the way, and focused on Vile, almost tripling in size once he realized who was there. "What... you?! Where am I, what have you done to me?!"

"I saved your life, Billy," Vile spoke as soothingly as he was capable of. "The Rangers were going to let you die."

"No!" Billy sat up, backing away as best he was capable of. "I don't believe you!" he snapped out. "That transmission was fake, I know it was! What have you done, why did you kidnap me?"

"I didn't kidnap you," Vile shook his head. "I saved you from the Rangers. They attacked the Aquitian lab you were in and almost killed you."

Billy shook his head, trying to clear it. Why is my mind still so foggy? Wake up Billy, wake up! Master Vile has you, wake up, you're in trouble!! "I don't believe you, Vile! They wouldn't do that, I know them! They would never try to kill me!"

"Perhaps you do not know all that you think you know," Vile smiled warmly, his voice purring with false kindness and concern. He was glad he'd practiced this 'being friendly' act before he'd begun this plan. It wasn't easy pretending to be good.

"Let me guess, you're going to enlighten me?" Billy said sarcastically. Almost expectedly, Vile held out his hand in a gesture of friendship.

"I can show you the truth, Billy. You owe me your life now, and I am your friend," the old wizard insisted. Billy shook his head.

"I don't owe you anything!" he declared. "You're trying to trick me or use me as bait in a trap for the others!" Billy slipped off of the table, dodging a little from one side to the other trying to get away from Vile.

Vile shook his head. "I have little interest in the Rangers anymore. I just want to help you."

Billy raised an eyebrow. I have to buy some time until I can get out of here! I... I know that COULDN'T have been Tommy I heard... but still... I can't let Vile know that it hurt me so much to hear Tommy's voice saying those things. "Then prove it, if you can," Billy challenged him.

The wizard waved his staff, and Billy paled, watching the awful scene that played out before him. He watched in horror as the Rangers broke into the lab and began smashing everything that wasn't nailed down, and even some things that were. He felt even worse when he saw Tommy's sword cutting into Cestria's heart. "Cestria," he whispered hoarsely. "No..." Vile nodded his heads though, and something told Billy that this part at least, Cestria's death, was somehow true. But the cause of her death wasn't true, it couldn't be. "Tommy wouldn't hurt her, he wouldn't ever hurt anybody! You're lying!"

"No, I'm not," Vile shook his main head, seemingly sad.

Billy could feel the adrenaline going through his system, clearing his fuzzy thoughts and making him think faster. It's all lies, it's all lies! "Tommy didn't kill her!"

"Yes, he did," Vile reminded him, gesturing to the images. "You can see it for yourself."

Billy's eyes narrowed. I've got to be sure, I know Tommy wouldn't do it, but I have to be sure, I can't let Vile have anything to hold over me. "How did he do it then?" Billy challenged. "What weapon did he use? Did he use Saba?" he asked carefully. "Tell me how he did it, Vile, tell me what did. Your images aren't very clear, you know."

The evil wizard nodded quickly, fighting back a pleased smile. "Yes, that was it! His sword Saba! He just threw it out and right through her, heartlessly! That is how he killed your little girlfriend!"

"Wrong answer, Bile!" Billy leveled his hardest punch at Vile's midsection, dodged past him, and ran out as fast as he could move. "You messed up!" his voice rang out down the hallway as he fled.

"Go bring him back!" Vile roared at his Tengas harshly. I will NOT let this plan go wrong! I will NOT!

"Later, birdbrains!" Billy snapped over his shoulder at his pursuers, moving as fast as he was capable of. Vile DID save my life, but I don't trust his reasons. Most I'd might give him is a thanks, but I don't even want to do that, he's got something in mind for me, and I don't like it one little bit! There's got to be a way to get out of here, a teleportation room, some way to contact the others, or SOMETHING!! I've got to get help! He quickly dodged into a room, looking around swiftly. "There's got to be a communications panel here somewhere!" He felt his wrist absently. "Man, I wish I had my communicator!" What happened to it anyway - I remember. I took it off back at the Power Chamber that last time. Why did I do that?! he moaned inwardly.

He went stiff suddenly as he heard Vile's voice floating down the hallway. "Billy..."

The former Ranger glued himself to the wall, doing what he could to stay out of sight. "Don't come in here, don't come in here," he whispered over and over. "Oh, please don't let him come in here!"

The door to the room swung silently open, and Billy slipped into the deepest shadows he could find, hoping against hope that Vile wouldn't see him as he entered. He winced a little as he heard the door being closed and locked, then heard Vile's voice calling out for him again. "Come out, Billy," it coaxed ever so gently, barely masking a hint of malice. "I know you're in here."

He can't know I'm here, he can't!! the ex-Ranger thought. Don't let him know I'm here, please!

Billy's hopes were dashed when Vile reached into the shadows and dragged him out roughly by a shoulder. "Let me go!" he yelled, punching and kicking wildly. "I won't help you do anything!"

Vile's laughter was soft, cold, and evil, freezing Billy's blood. "Oh, but you will, Billy," he hissed, "and you're going to want to do it, too!"

"I'll never serve you!" Billy swore, launching a kick at Vile's stomach. "Never!"

The wizard raised his staff, still holding the struggling Billy in one hand, and drained all the energy from Billy that his spell had put into him. Billy staggered, suddenly having to hold onto Vile just to stay upright. "W... what... are you doing to me?" He felt almost as weak as he had when he'd first awakened. "I won't... serve... evil... ever!" he declared defiantly.

"Oh, but you will, my dear evil Ranger to be," Vile laughed evilly. "Oh, but you will!"

"The Rangers... stop you..." Billy was holding onto consciousness with all his strength now, but it was slipping away from him fast. Vile shook his heads, chuckling at the struggling former Ranger.

"Oh, no they won't. They will be too busy trying to stop you!" he laughed, hoisting Billy roughly into his arms and starting through the hallways once again.

Billy shook his head as much as he could. "No... let me go... I won't... serve... evil..." were the last words he spoke before his weakness overwhelmed him and he was unconscious. Vile took him to a cell he'd had prepared weeks earlier, and threw him onto a metal table, not having to be so nauseatingly gentle with the human while he wasn't conscious. With a wave of his wand, heavy leather straps appeared, firmly binding Billy there to the cold table. Another wave created an IV that would supply Billy with the proper nutrition he would need until Vile was ready to wake him up.

"So... you say you will not serve evil, my little captive," Vile looked down at him and laughed. A moment's work of magic started to rebuild Billy's strength, but much more slowly this time, and another spell sent a special gas into the room, gradually filling it. It was colorless and odorless to human senses, and the sweet irony of it was that it was Dramole gas. Vile chuckled to himself, remembering how Rita had told him once of how she'd controlled Billy's mind temporarily through that monster's emissions. She'd managed to get him to bring her the Green Ranger's dragon dagger, but the spell had worn off before Billy could do anything more for her. This enhanced gas will be much more powerful: on the verge of permanent. And what I shall do once he is fully awake will bind his will to me for all time!

* * *

Long, slow days passed on Earth, Aquitar, and M-51. The Power Rangers of Earth heard from their friend Billy, who was now young again and would be staying on Aquitar with someone he could relate to, Cestria. Some days later, they had managed to reunite Trey of Triforia into his united self, releasing Jason Scott from being the Gold Ranger, since those powers were draining away his strength. Shortly after that, the Machine Empire was blown up by Rita and Zedd, who immediately took hold of their old palace and began to launch regular attacks on the planet. The Zeo Rangers were holding their own however. All and all, things were fairly quiet on planet Earth... At least, as quiet as they ever usually were.

The Aquitian Rangers were beginning to rebuild their communications equipment, but it was slow going, since every now and then Vile's forces would sweep in and smash something else. There was no sign of Billy, or word of him, though it was plain the attacks were to keep word of his capture away from his friends. In spite of the repeated attacks though, they kept up their efforts. It didn't matter to them how long it might take, they were determined to make sure Master Vile paid dearly for anything and everything he'd done.

Vile kept a close eye on his prisoner during these long days, making certain he didn't grow too weak or wake up too soon. The Dramole gas would make what he had in mind once Billy did awaken far easier to accomplish. He also used this time to research more deeply into the Zeo Rangers, scanning Billy's memories with his magic, and making certain he wouldn't make the same terrible mistake as he had days earlier with the misnaming of Tommy's power weapon. That had almost cost him Billy; if he hadn't put that tracking device on him, then it would have been a disaster. Billy had somehow stumbled into the chamber that led to Vile's communications center, a few more minutes and he would have surely found the door to the center, and all of Vile's plans would have been ruined.

Almost a week had passed before he was ready to begin the next phase of his plan. He stood outside the cell for a few moments, watching as Billy slowly awakened. He'd removed the IV a day or so earlier, and hadn't let Billy be fed since. He wanted him properly weak for this stage of the plan. He grinned wickedly from his three faces. It was time.

* * *

Billy glanced around the small room in confusion. His memories were extremely vague of the past few... he wasn't even sure how long it had been. The last thing that he clearly remembered was going to Aquitar in hopes the Eternal Falls would cure his rapid aging. He glanced down at his hands, his young hands, and frowned. I... I'm not sure what's going on... I remember... a scream... then... someone... someone grabbing me...

"Feeling better today, Billy?" He looked up to see Master Vile standing there in the doorway to his room. Billy growled harshly, a few more memories returning. "You're growling, I guess that's a good sign then. Feeling better, stronger?" Vile's voice almost sounded pleasant. The former Ranger's only reaction was to jump up, intending to at least deliver a hard kick to Vile. What happened was that he smacked harshly into some kind of forcefield between the two of them. "I'll take that as another yes, but I really wish you wouldn't do that, Billy. I'm your friend, don't you know that?"

Billy shook his head harshly. "You're not my friend!" he spat out.

"You still believe that even after I saved your life?" All of Vile's faces looked sad, even hurt. "Billy... Billy, think about something, will you? If I wasn't your friend, I wouldn't have saved you. In fact, if I were truly the enemy you think I am, I would have killed you, or let you die on Aquitar." He stepped a little closer to the forcefield, his voice lowering a bit. "But I couldn't let you die. The Rangers could, and would have, but I couldn't. I care about you, enough to save you, and enough to keep you here where you can't go off and hurt yourself, until you start to see the truth of things."

Billy snarled, "Keep your scuzzy breath away from me!"

As Vile backed away shaking his head, he sighed sadly. "They really messed you up, didn't they Billy? It wasn't enough that they made you so ill you nearly died, they had to destroy the person you were. Billy, reach inside yourself, you can still be that brilliant young man that is my friend, that is like a son to me. Don't you remember the truth about me?"

"I remember you ripping up time with the Orb of Doom and turning us all into kids! You turned back time so that we couldn't stop you from taking over the world!" Billy snapped. To his eyes, Vile looked almost wounded at the accusation.

"I was trying to repair time!" he insisted. "Zedd, Rita, Goldar and Rito, that idiot son of mine, they were wrecking time, I was trying to stop them! Don't you remember me calling you, telling you what they were going to do?"

"No!" Billy wasn't going to believe these lies, he wouldn't. "That's not what happened!"

Vile continued on, "I called you and the Rangers and warned you about what was going to happen. I told you where Rito was going to put the Orb. Surely you remember he was the one with the Orb, not me!"

Billy blinked; not quite so sure of himself all of a sudden. "I... Rit... Rito was there, he was the one with the Orb.... but you told him to put it there!"

"Yes, I told him to place it on Earth," Vile admitted with a heavy sigh. "But not where he put it. I tried to trick him and the others, and failed miserably." He looked at the young man. "And because of my failure, everything that followed only served to hurt you, and nearly kill you, Billy. If you had died, I never would have forgiven myself."

"I don't believe you!" Billy growled, shaking his head. He felt a surge of elation; he wasn't falling for whatever Vile was trying to do to him, and wasn't going to.

"I suppose I can't blame you for not believing the truth," Vile sighed again. "Zedd and Rita put on a very good show, and what happened is partly my fault." Vile almost seemed to be pleading with Billy now. "Won't you please give me the chance to show you the truth, Billy? After that, then judge me evil, if you must."

Billy struggled for a moment with two equally strong desires: not to want to take anything, anything at all from his enemy... and his own hunger for knowledge. Could Vile actually be telling me the truth? I guess there's only one way to find out, he decided. "I... a... all right," he decided finally. "Show me the truth." Billy couldn't understand why, but some part of him wanted to trust Master Vile, needed to trust him.

"Not just yet," Vile shook his head. "First you need food and rest, the Aquitians didn't feed you, did they?" he clucked with disapproval.

"There was no time," Billy said dully. Vile seemed surprised at that.

"You were there three days and there was no time to give you food?" All of his faces looked indignant at that bit of news. Billy repeated softly the length of time over and over in disbelief. "You don't remember, Billy?" Of course you don't, you little fool! Your memories are a little fuzzy at the moment, aren't they? Almost dying of old age and then having what I've done to you happen will screw up anyone's mind! Even one as brilliant as yours! Oh, you are mine, stupid human, you are going to be mine! "Think Billy, think!" Vile urged with all of the concern and worry he could put into his voice.

"I... I can't remember," Billy shook his head. "It's all fuzzy."

"It's all right," Vile said gently. "You'll start to remember more as you get stronger, and get something to eat. In fact, I'm sure you could use something right now. What would you like?"

Billy thought for a moment. "I'm not sure," he said finally. Nothing really sounded good; and whether he liked Vile, or believed him or not, he did need to eat. I just hope the food isn't poisoned. But it probably won't be, if he's trying to put a spell on me or use me as bait, then I wouldn't be very useful if I died.

"You probably shouldn't have anything too heavy to start with, you're still very sick from the rapid aging. I repaired that, but it's still going to take a while before you're well again." Billy suddenly looked rather queasy, and Vile nodded, smiling inwardly with satisfaction. This is going to be easier than I thought!! "How about some chicken broth and crackers to start with? I think that's what they give sick people on your planet, isn't it?" As Billy nodded, Vile smiled. "All right. Then if you can keep that down after a while, we'll get something a little more solid into you. Would you like that?"

"Yes," the young man admitted in spite of himself. Refusing Vile right now was so hard. "Th - th - ..." Billy stopped right there, though. As much as he was grateful for the food and the decent care it seemed he was getting, he still didn't trust Vile.

The wizard seemed to know what he'd almost said, though. "You're most welcome. I'll have it sent to you at once. Would you like a soda, too? Some of my Tengas have a taste for Earth-food, we have quite a bit around here."

"All right," Billy nodded, unbending his stern resolve just a little to accept all of it. I can't very well figure out what's really going on, much less escape if I'm starving and weak. Was I really on Aquitar for three days without any food at all? If so, why?

Vile smiled; a practiced, friendly smile. "Please rest and get well, Billy." The wizard looked sad for a moment. "It hurts so much to see you like this." As he stepped away, Billy just barely overheard what else he said. "And to know you don't believe me anymore, son."

He started out the door, then looked back once again. "Get well, Billy. I'll see you later. Please don't try to hurt yourself anymore."

As the door shut behind the wizard, Billy sat on his cot, a living picture of confusion. Something... strange is going on. Vile is being so nice... Maybe we have misjudged him. And he did save my life... the Rangers certainly didn't. They didn't seem to give a flip if I lived or died. Wait, that transmission from Earth was faked; it had to be... but... who would do it? The answer seemed to be right at the edge of his tired mind, but he couldn't break through the mental fog to grasp it. Why can't I think right? What is wrong with me?

"He's in such bad shape..." Billy looked up at the soft sound of voices coming down the hallway. "Thought we would lose him... Master Vile loves him so much... careful, not too hot, not too spicy, he's so ill still..."

Those must be Tengas. They're talking about me. Ohhh, this is a perfect chance to find out what's really going on here; they won't be able to keep their beaks shut, they never have! He sat as quietly as he could on the cot, listening, concentrating as hard as possible on hearing what they said.

"Keep the forcefield... he might hurt himself... poor boy, so sick..." The voices continued, and with them came the soft sounds of clattering plates and utensils. "Master Vile... trying to make him well." Billy couldn't hear full sentences, but what he did hear more confusing than ever. "Poor young man..."

The former Ranger frowned to himself. "Maybe I've been wrong about Vile..." he mused softly. "Could it be?"

"It would hurt Master Vile so much if he loses him... he doesn't trust the master anymore... he's so sad..." the voices continued. "The Power Rangers betrayed the boy... he's so sick... Master Vile wants him to get better... poor Billy Cranston."

Billy blinked a little, hearing that brought back memories of hearing Tommy's voice. "The Rangers," he whispered. "They... wanted me to die..."

"They left him on Aquitar, destroyed the Aquitian Rangers." The main voice was a little louder, its owner was probably coming towards him now. "He nearly died. Master Vile hates what they did to him. Poor Billy. He's so sick still."

Billy shivered a little, remembering now. "He saved me." Suddenly, he could remember Master Vile picking him up so very carefully from the examining table, Cestria's body slumped to the side of it, a gaping wound in her chest from Tommy's sword... "Master Vile saved me..."

"Don't talk to him about it," another voice said. "It might upset him. Be quiet, take the soup to him, don't upset him. Poor little Billy, so sick. Master Vile will make him better."

"All right," the other voice spoke. "He'll be better soon, I hope."

Billy was still shaking somewhat when the door to the room opened and a Tenga entered with a tray. She, for it appeared to be a female, opened up a hole in the forcefield and slipped it in to him. Billy blinked for a moment as he took it, then said, half questioningly and half as a statement, "Vile... is helping me."

"Yes," she nodded. "If you will let him." She glanced down somewhat nervously, then looked back at him. "Please eat, it will make you feel better, Billy. Go slow, you don't want to make yourself sick."

Billy nodded; he knew if he ate too swiftly, the food would do him no good. And it did look good, better than anything he had seen in a long time, and the smell of it was wonderful. "I am here to serve my Master Vile and those who he cares about. Eat and rest, young Billy. You need to get better, Master Vile is so worried about you."

She started to the door, but Billy's voice stopped her again. "He's worried about me?" Billy was so confused still, the ancient wizard he'd always thought of as one of his worst enemies was now his... friend?

"Yes, he is," the Tenga nodded. "He's very worried about you." She glanced around nervously, then whispered just loudly enough so he could hear. "You nearly died on Aquitar when the Power Rangers attacked. They almost destroyed the Aquitian Rangers entirely because they were trying to help you. One Aquitian called Cestria died trying to keep the Red Ranger from killing you." She spoke a little louder with her next breath. "You should eat now, Billy, then rest so you can get better."

Billy couldn't help but shiver at that. "To... Tommy was trying... to kill me..." Very faintly, he could remember someone charging towards him, and Cestria getting in the way.

"Don't think about that now," the Tenga advised. It appeared to Billy that this breed of Tenga was far more intelligent than the ones that fought for Rita and Zedd. Billy certainly couldn't remember ever hearing any Tengas talking like this before. "Just eat and rest, you need to get well," she told him as she backed out of the room. Before Billy could stop her again, she was gone. He glanced down at the inviting food, then started eating, his thoughts slowly revolving around what he'd been told. And with each turning of the mental wheels in his head, it sounded more and more true, more and more realistic. More like the truth.

He couldn't see the Tenga he'd been talking to watching him through a hidden window, or see when it slowly reverted to its true form, Master Vile. "Yes," the old wizard chuckled very quietly. "Just eat, and don't think about anything right now, Billy. Except for how much I am trying to help you get well, and how terribly your friends have betrayed you."

Once Billy was finished, he put the plate aside and leaned back on the bed. He remembered what Master Vile and the Tenga had told him, and felt dampness building in his eyes. "How could the others do this to me?" he wondered. How could they let me just die? How could they WANT me to die? After everything we've been through together, all these years...

"You're a fool!" Billy's head jerked up at the sudden sharp, clear sound of Tommy's voice in the room. He was the only one there, though, the Red Zeo Ranger was nowhere in sight. "Once a Ranger, always a Ranger, right?"

Billy shivered, clutching at the sheets on the cot at the hideous mocking sound of Tommy's voice. "Th - that's what you told me..." It's also what I told him when he lost his powers!

"You are such a fool! All those brains and you're still so stupid! Zordon should never have picked you, you're too weak, you always have been! You couldn't handle the power of defending the world! You're pathetic!"

Billy shook his head, his whole body trembling with fear and hurt as he heard more voices joining in the attack. "Tommy no, you're my friend," he whispered. Must be because I'm sick... I'm hearing things... they... they wouldn't say this... but... it's so real... What's happening to me?!

"Ohhh, poor little sick Billy, he thinks we like him!" It was Jason's voice now that assaulted him. "Poor stupid Billy!" Cold, icy laughter echoed all around him.

"Jason?" the former Ranger shuddered. "We've been friends all our lives!"

The response was thick with contempt. "I was never your friend! The strong are not friends with the weak and stupid!"

"But... you taught me to fight," Billy flinched away. "You taught me karate. You helped me get stronger!"

He could almost hear the shrug in Jason's voice. "Color me mean, stupid boy! I didn't teach you a thing, we only put you up there so we could get a good laugh!"

Billy was weeping hard when a female voice spoke up. "Don't be so hard on him!" it ordered.

His head jerked up. "Kat?" It was indeed the young Pink Ranger's Australian-accented tones that defended him.

"Billy can't help it if he's an idiot, it's not his fault that he's so lonely that he'd try to make friends even with those who hate him."

"Kat?" Billy jumped away quickly at the sound of that. She continued, her voice lowering, becoming seductive and sweet.

"Get strong for me, Billy," she purred. "You're kind of cute... get strong for me and I'll forget you're an idiot. Get strong and smart for me, Billy, and I'll love you. You want that so bad, you want someone to care about you so much... you need to feel like someone loves you, don't you?" At Billy's weak yes, the voice continued. "Get strong and smart for me, Billy. I'll forget you're an idiot if you do... get strong and smart for me and I'll love you..."

"Kat," he murmured. "Kat..." Kat...

Jason's voice overpowered hers. "He's too stupid to ever do that! He'll be an idiot forever! A weak, stupid, pathetic idiot!" All the voices of the Rangers joined in then, first to last, all of them, laughing harshly at Billy, calling him stupid, weak, a fool. Jason, Zack, Trini, Kim, Tommy, Adam, Aisha, Rocky, Kat and Tanya... All of them repeated it over and over, how much of a moron he was, how pathetic and helpless he had always been, and always would be.

"Stop it!" Billy curled up and cried. "Stop it! Shut up!!" he screamed. Tommy's voice became clearer and louder as he tried to get away from it.

"I'll kill you!" Tommy threatened. "I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"

Billy huddled in a corner, screaming, "Leave me alone! Leave me alone!"

"Billy?" A voice, softer and caring, spoke. "Billy, what's wrong?" He felt arms around him, not quite human arms, but human enough, and they weren't hurting, they were holding him as he cried, protecting him from the harsh voices of the others, still jabbering and screaming at him of his weakness and stupidity.

Slowly, as Billy's tears stopped, he saw it was Vile who was holding him, rocking him as gently as a mother would her beloved child. "Calm down, you're safe with me, I won't let anything hurt you, son. What happened, what's wrong?"

"I... I heard..." Billy whispered brokenly, his eyes still misty, "The others... Tommy... Jason... Kat... I heard them in here..."

The wizard growled. "Even here they send their cruel thoughts to you, knowing you can't fight them... yet," He waved a hand, and the voices finally fell silent. "Can you hear them now?" He smiled as Billy shook his head, then gently helped him back into the bed. It felt softer now to Billy, and he dimly thought Vile must be helping him even more. "Get some rest, I'll try to keep them from hurting you with their mean thoughts. They shouldn't pick on you, you can't help that they are stronger than you physically. They are so mean to you." Despite the distinct masculinity of him, there was such an overtone of maternal concern that Billy couldn't turn it down, he couldn't disagree with Master Vile at all.

"They are," he murmured, leaning against the pillows, completely exhausted. "They are so mean..."

Vile sat beside him. "They are jealous of your intelligence, they always have been. That's why they wanted you in the Power Chamber, they wanted your mind. They've never cared about you."

"They ignored me after that," he whispered, his half-closed eyes on his new friend. "Like the only thing that mattered was if I kept building things."

Vile nodded slowly. Good thing I took those memories and information from his mind! This requires delicate handling! One wrong step... "Kat's the only one who's ever cared even a little for you. But Tommy has her now. Tommy always takes things from you. He took Kimberly away, he took Trini, Aisha, and now Kat. He even took Cestria away, he killed her!"

"Cestria," Billy whispered, remembering her falling across him, the avowals of love, the simple moments they'd had, quite literally just moments together... what they might have had... all gone because of Tommy.

"He made Adam take Tanya away from you," Vile continued to weave his spell. "Tanya liked you, she didn't want to take the power from you, did she?"

"No, she didn't," Billy yawned; he was growing more and more tired with each word. "She was willing to step down."

Vile's voice grew lower and lower. "Now she's like the others, because of Tommy. The others might have started to like you a little, but Tommy took all that away from you. He always takes all of the attention, the power, the glory, the love..."

"He's always had to have it all," Billy murmured. "Ever since he first showed up... all the attention was on him..."

Vile nodded. "And now he's destroyed the Aquitian Rangers. He tried to kill you. He's killed Cestria. He's always hated you. He hated you even more when you took over as leader while he and the others were children. He'll always hate you and try to destroy everything and everyone you care about. He killed Cestria." Vile gently tucked a blanket around Billy, barely able to stifle the evil smile that wanted to spread across his face. To him it looks beautiful and whole... the fool can't even see this thing is as torn and tattered as his heart will soon be!! Thanks to Vile's magic, Billy thought he was laying on a soft cot in a small, warm room. In reality, he was in a cold, damp, gas-filled cell, laying on an icy metal table. Oh yes, this is going perfectly!

"He'll pay for it," Billy whispered half to himself as he began to drift off into a drugged sleep. "He'll pay..."

Vile nodded, waving a hand over Billy's face to send him into an even far deeper sleep. "Tommy will pay, my son," he chuckled softly. "Sleep well my soon to be evil Ranger. Sleep very well indeed."

* * *

Billy was never aware of it, but he slept for almost three more days under Vile's spell. Vile made certain his strength increased only slowly, and that the Dramole gas never left his room, even though it was invisible to the human's eyes. He wasn't going to ruin any of his careful work so far. The forcefield he'd kept up in there was gone now, it hadn't been needed since Billy had broken down under the barrage of his 'friend's voices'.

That was an excellent touch, if I do say so myself, Vile thought as he shuffled along to Billy's room, ready for the next stage of his plan. This is all going along without a hitch. And quite soon, this human will be listening to every word I say, and nothing that the Rangers say! Your oldest student shall be the downfall of your precious Earth, Zordon!!!

He entered the room, and smiled at Billy; he'd been practicing the expression the last few days to make sure it appeared genuine. "Feeling better today, Billy?"

The former Ranger sat up and nodded. "Yes, somewhat."

"Do you feel up to either talking things out or perhaps talking a walk instead?" the wizard wondered. "You've gotten stronger since you rested finally."

Billy thought for a moment, a flicker in the back of his mind was trying to get him to stay away from Vile, but Vile was being so nice though.... Vile is my friend, he's been taking care of me, surely I can trust him. "Ummm... could we walk and talk both, if you don't mind?"

"Absolutely," Vile helped him up gently and started towards the door. "Don't overdo it, though. You still have some healing to do, son."

Billy nodded, thanking him, then halted in his tracks for a moment. "Umm... why do you keep calling me son?"

"It just feels right to call you that, Billy," Vile told him a little sadly. "I often wished for a son to be proud of, a son like you. But I got Rito instead," he sighed. "I'll stop it if you want me to."

"No." Billy felt pity for this old wrinkled creature, trapped in a hideous form, but with a heart as kind as goodness itself, he was finally learning. He has a horrible family, he's been trying to help us all this time, and we never knew. Well, I know now. I'll do what I can to pay him back for helping me, I must, somehow...

"Thank you." Vile sound very grateful for the chance to keep calling him 'son'. They walked a little, Billy's steps somewhat unsteady. "Are you sure you're up to this? We can go back to your room, you don't need to overdo things, you're still sick."

Billy shook his head. "No, I can handle this. Thank you, though."

"All right, then," Vile smiled, plainly glad to see him so much stronger. As they walked carefully through the halls, Billy was silent, deep in thought. "You're so quiet," his new ancient friend noticed finally. "Is there something on your mind?"

"No. Yes. Well..." Billy wasn't sure if he wanted to deal with this just yet. Vile led him to a beautiful garden outside, with a warm golden sun like that of Earth gently blessing it with light. They sat down on a white marble bench and Vile looked at him.

"You can talk to me about anything, Billy. Sit here and rest, tell me what's bothering you, please."

"Well..." Billy decided to admit it. "I've been sort of thinking about the oth... the Rangers." Not the others. I'm not a Ranger anymore.

Vile stiffened a little, and Billy almost heard him growl at that. "The Rangers," he said, relaxing himself by force. "What have you been thinking about, son?"

"It's just... I still can't believe that after everything we've been through together that they'd do this... try to kill me, kill Cestria..."

Vile sighed. "They only wanted your mind, I'm afraid. I personally don't believe they ever cared about you at all."

"Yeah, I think you're right," Billy sighed. "But, at least they were going to give me a chance, they wanted me to be the Gold Ranger."

If Billy hadn't been listening carefully, he might have missed what Vile said next. "That's what they wanted you to think."

"What?" Billy looked at him, eyebrows upraised. Vile shook his head, seeming to try and dismiss the muttered comment.

"Oh, nothing. Just ignore me, I'm just a rambling old wizard." When Billy insisted, Vile sighed sadly. "I - I can't. It would hurt you too much Billy, please don't ask me."

Billy shook his head. "Please Master Vile, I can't be hurt much more. The people I thought cared about me hate me and killed someone I loved. What more can they have possibly done?"

Vile looked him up and down carefully, judging just how strong he was. "Are you sure? You're not going to like the truth, do you really want to hear it?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

"Billy," Vile sighed deeply. "They lied to you about the Gold Powers. Tommy made them lie, and they let him make them lie. No one stood up to him, and no one wanted to stand up to him. No one."

Billy sat there, stunned completely. "W - what?"

"Are you sure you want to know what happened?" Vile asked tenderly. "I can show you if you're sure."

"Yes!" Billy declared firmly.

Vile stood up, offering a hand to the young man. "Come with me then," he said. "There's a lot that you don't know, but we'll start with the Gold Ranger Powers." He led Billy into a well-appointed library and sat him in front of a computer screen. "Ask it to show you whatever you want," he told him. And watch all the twisted memories you like, fool!!

Billy took a look at it, then said quietly, "Show me what really happened before Trey came to the Power Chamber to try and give me his powers."

The green-screened monitor beeped and glowed for a moment, then a metallic voice spoke. "Access requested, Billy Cranston, former Blue Power Ranger of Earth... granted. Playing record of Lord Trey of Triforia's arrival on planet Earth before transferal of the Gold Ranger Powers."

The screen went black for a moment, then showed the Rangers and the Treys on the beach outside of Angel Grove. Tommy was smiling at their new friend. "I think we know just the right man for the job," he said firmly.

"Indeed we do," Kat nodded, as Tommy stepped over to Trey Of Wisdom and leaned closer to him.

"Go to the Power Chamber, you'll find your man there," he said quickly, then whispered, "Don't give the power to Billy, but make it look like you're trying to. I've got someone else in mind to be the next Gold Ranger."

The Treys seemed surprised at this, and Tommy hissed, "I've got my reasons, just do it! He can't handle being a Ranger right now," his voice softened. "No matter how much he wants to be. He's been out of action too long; he'll get hurt or worse."

"Very well," the Treys nodded, though a hint of suspicion was still in their eyes. It was plain they were going to let Tommy make the decision on this, however.

"Trust me," Tommy said firmly. "It's for the best. Billy has never been the best of fighters anyway." As the Treys teleported away, Tommy chuckled softly. "We may have our new Gold Ranger already... not!"

"Tommy..." Kat, even though still morphed, somehow managed to look sad at what he was doing through her helmet. Tommy practically glared at her through his own.

"What?" Nothing in his voice permitted any objections.

"N... nothing," she stammered. "I... just... well..."

Tommy walked over, demorphing as the others did, and held her around the waist. "Don't start feeling sorry for him. He's not good for anything but his brains, and you know that. I'm going to bring Jason back, he's the man for the Gold Power, not Billy."

Kat winced a little at the strength of his grip around her. "Yeah. I guess you're right. You always are," she finished reluctantly.

"Of course I am," Tommy nodded. "Now let's get back there and comfort the loser," the disgust plain in his voice.

"We're going to have to fake like we don't know he doesn't have the powers at first," Rocky declared, posing a moment as he grinned at Kat and Tanya. "Anyway, who looks better in blue, me or him?"

"You do, Rocky," Kat sighed. "Let's get this over with, please?"

Tommy glared at each and every one of them. "Anyone who has a problem with this can overrule me... if they can beat me. But none of you can, so get used to it! I'm the leader here, and I'm doing what's best for the team! The only thing useful about Billy is his brains, and Adam's coming up so fast now, we soon won't need the geek for that. Until then, humor him. Now shut up, power back up so the brainy idiot won't suspect anything, and let's get going. I want to call in Jason now, we're going to need him against Mondo! This is our planet and no one else's!"

The record faded away, and Billy looked ready to cry with hate, misery and fear. They lied to me... they LIED to me... those negative protons didn't have ANYTHING to do with fighting off the Gold Ranger powers, he wasn't ever going to give them to me!!!

"I should never have shown you this," Vile said, reaching for the power switch of the monitor. Billy shook his head quickly.

"No, you should have," he interjected. "Don't turn it off, please. I want to see what else they've lied to me about."

Vile nodded. "All right, if you're sure. Do you want me to leave?"

"No," Billy shook his head. "Please don't."

Vile smiled. Quite excellent. He trusts me completely already! "I will stay with you then. Ask the monitor anything, and it will show you all the records we have. We don't have everything, but we do have most of the activities of the Rangers recorded to some extent."

Billy nodded, thinking. "Wh... when Rita and Zedd cloned me." He remembered that awful time; that half moment of fear when he realized everything depended on the Rangers knowing him completely...

The monitor beeped for a moment. "Accessing... request granted. Please specify whole record or desired segment."

"Whatever they said and did when I was rescued. Once the whole truth about the clone was known."

"Accessing," the monitor said in its flat metallic monotones. "Playback initiated."

Billy watched, biting his lip, as he saw the fight once again, and the destruction of his clone. He'd seen Tommy and Kim whispering to each other for a moment, but this time he was able to hear what they said. "Too bad we had to get rid of the clone," the then-White Ranger whispered. "He looked like he was a good fighter, unlike our resident geek here."

"And he was kind of cuter, too!" Kim whispered. "Those muscles at the Youth Center when he was lifting those weights - wow!" Billy was pale and shaking as he heard their secret conversation revealed.

"End of record," the monitor told him, going blank again.

"No," Billy whispered, clenching his fists and shaking his head. "No!"

Vile put a hand on his shoulder. "Perhaps you shouldn't watch anymore, you're still weak, Billy."

"No," Billy shook his head. "No, I want to see more."

"If you're sure," Vile sounded somewhat reluctant. If the former Ranger could've peered into his thoughts, they would've seen a seething mass of wicked joy that Billy was submitting so quickly.

Billy took a deep breath, coughing a little. I can't watch much more. This hurts to see, but I have to know! "I want to see what happened after we first got our powers. What the others said when I wasn't there."

"Accessing," the monitor spoke. "Please specify." Billy gave the date and time. "Accessing creation of first Power Ranger team. Granted. Playback initiated."

Billy watched, nodding, as the events inside the Youth Center were replayed; the earthquake, their teleportation... then it went blank. "No records exist for events inside the Command Center. Playback for next segment initiated."

The ex-Ranger shivered as he saw the five of them walking through the mountains, then getting ambushed by Putties. They spread out to fight, and Jason snapped, "Leave us alone, claybrains!"

In moments, Billy had been knocked to one side by the Putties, and Trini whispered quickly to Zack, "See that! Billy's down already! Kimberly only went down first because she was dealing with more than twice as many as Billy was!"

"Man!" Zack shook his head. "How are we supposed to fight these guys to begin with when they're so tough, plus be saddled with the brain in blue over there? We can't fight these guys and baby-sit him at the same time!"

Trini shrugged. "We'll figure out something!"

"The best thing to figure out is how to get Brainiac off the team; we'll lose for sure with him on our side!" Zack declared. Billy, in the record, was staring at the Putties in fright, not hearing what his companions were saying.

Trini nodded. "There's got to be someone who can really fight out there, someone who could take his place."

"Any one of my beginning students can fight better than him!" was Jason's contribution as he whirled and kicked at his attackers.

"But I think we've got to use him for now," the Yellow Ranger of the time grumbled. Zack nodded.

"Awwww man, why did that Zordon guy have to pick him?"

Trini shrugged. "Who knows? But I hear there's this guy moving to Angel Grove in a few months, Tommy Oliver, I think is his name. He's supposed to be really good at martial arts!"

"Hey!" Jason shook his head. "Don't talk about that too much! I'm supposed to fight him at the Expo then, and I'm not supposed to know too much about him just yet."

The real Billy was watching in horror as the rest of the events played out just he remembered them. Billy ducked his head down, shaking and crying. "Billy, please," Vile said softly. "You shouldn't do this to yourself."

Billy growled, now with a faintly evil sound. "No! I want to know what those traitors really think of me!"

"I don't think you should look at anymore," Vile shook his head. "This all too much for you to deal with, you're still sick -"

"No! I want to see - " he growled. "I want to see what they said after I quit the team."

The monitor beeped and glowed. "Accessing... there are no records of events inside the Command Center or the Power Chamber. Please specify a different location or record."

Billy thought for a moment, then named the time and place he thought would be most useful. "Accessing. Request granted."

The monitor glowed for a moment, then cleared to reveal Tommy, Adam, Rocky, Kat, and Tanya in the Youth Center. Billy nodded; when this had happened, he had been familiarizing himself with the Power Chamber; and had joined them later at the outdoor cafe. Tanya glanced around to make sure no one could overhear her, then asked, "So, what's this Billy guy like?'

"A flat-out loser, Tanya," Tommy snorted. "I don't know why Zordon picked him to be a Power Ranger to begin with. I'm just glad he didn't insist on keeping your Crystal, Tanya. Even with no training, you're much better than he's ever been, or could hope to be. The only thing he's good for is his brain, that's all."

"But we're going to have to start really protecting him now," the new Blue Ranger complained. "He's totally pathetic without any powers to draw on now. What we need to do is to get rid of him completely," Rocky reminded them.

Tommy groaned. "Yeah, we're really going to have to look out for the brainy wimp now. That's the only thing that makes him both dangerous and valuable, his blasted brains. If Mondo ever got a hold of him, his knowledge of the Power Chamber and our powers and Zords could really hurt us. That, and the Aquitian Rangers and Masked Rider seem to like him, so we can't just toss him out like he needs to be tossed. Why do even a few people like that wimpy loser anyway?"

Kat bit her lip for a moment, as if trying to decide whether or not she should speak. "He... well... he... I..."

"He what?" Tommy glared, growling at her a little. Kat shook her head quickly, muttering a timid "nothing" in reply. Tommy nodded, squeezing her hand a little too tightly. "That's exactly right, Kat, he's a nothing, except for his brains. That's the only thing about him that's valuable to us: his brains." He turned to Tanya then. "Be careful what you say to or about Billy in front of other people, as far as anyone knows, we're all perfect friends," he laughed derisively. "Yeah, right. Oh, and be really careful around Zordon and Alpha, they actually seem to care about the loser."

"He seemed okay to me, though," Tanya nodded. Tommy shrugged.

"If thinking that helps you act right around him and everyone else, fine. But don't ever forget that he's a loser, and only his brains are worth anything. Hey, if he keeps on training Adam, we'll maybe finally get to the point where we won't need the brain!" he laughed and smiled coldly.

Tanya bit her lip. "All right."

As the recorded faded, tears streamed down Billy's face. He couldn't stand another moment; he collapsed to the floor, crying his heart out. Vile quickly went over to him. "Billy? Billy, that's enough! Don't do this to yourself! Billy!?"

"All... all this time," Billy sobbed. "All this time..."

Vile held him gently. "I'm sorry you ever had to find out, but I suppose it is best that you know the truth finally. Is there anything I can do, son?"

Billy looked at Vile, his eyes almost seeming to pulse with hate. "I wish I could show them what it's like to have a friend turn on them!"

Excellent!!! Exactly what I wanted! "Not all of them seem to hate you," Vile said slowly. "Are you really sure you wish that, Billy? Being so vengeful has never been your style."

"Then maybe it's time to change my style!" Billy hissed, his eyes glowing a little faintly.

Vile squatted in front of him, seriousness in his voice. "Billy... are you absolutely sure about this?"

"Yes I am," Billy nodded. "I want to make them all pay for what they did. Maybe they didn't all hate me, but those who didn't all went right along with the ones who did."

"If that is what you really want, I'll help you anyway I can, if you want me to. This is all up to you, son."

Billy looked at him. "Can you help me get stronger? A lot stronger? Better at fighting, better than Tommy?" He could feel the eagerness to punish those who had hurt him pulsing all throughout his body.

"Yes," Vile nodded. "I can do that. I can have you train with my Tengas, and I can do something else for you, if you really want it."


Vile glanced around for a moment, then looked back at his guest. "There's... there's another Zeo Crystal. The last Zeo Crystal. I've been keeping it safe, in case it was needed. It needs a good owner. And I think that you are the most worthy being alive or dead for this crystal. But this has to be your choice, son."

Billy blinked in surprise. "Z... Zeo Crystal?" To be a Ranger again... to be able to get back at them for all the lies, all the pain, for killing Cestria...

"Yes," Vile nodded. "Would you like to see it?" When Billy nodded, Vile stood up. He quietly led Billy to a small room, where a small case stood on a table, then handed Billy a key. "Open it, if you really want the Crystal, if you think that this is what you should do."

Billy took a deep breath, glancing from key to case to Vile. "I... I don't know," he whispered.

"It is a rather hard decision to make." Vile's voice was very tender and full of care; Billy could tell that he only wanted what was best for him.

Billy took a deep breath. "Maybe... maybe I shouldn't," he whispered. "I -I don't know, I'm so confused right now." A pounding headache was beginning to overwhelm him, his nerves were completely shot, and his feelings had taken an incredible beating from what he'd seen. They're still my friends, the only ones I've ever had.

Vile nodded understandingly. "Well, let's see what they're doing now," he suggested. "Maybe they don't feel the same way anymore, people change you know, maybe when they found out how ill you were, they realized how important you really were all this time, how wrong they were. Would you like to see?"

"You think so?" A desperate hope sparkled in Billy's voice. "Maybe they didn't mean it earlier?" He thought about it carefully for a few moments. "Yes, I want to see what they're doing. I have to know what they feel right now, I have to know."

Vile nodded, gesturing towards a dark corner of the room, creating a viewscreen there. "Just look over there and it'll show just what they're up to right now."

"Please show me, Master Vile," Billy asked, almost begging, going over to the screen. "I have to know." He was visibly steeling himself for whatever might happen next.

Vile nodded, then waved a hand, forming the image of the Rangers being at the Youth Center. And the little fool will never know that this is pure fabrication!! All the Rangers were shown, even Trey, since by now he had been given his powers back. He wore normal human clothes, fitting in rather well with the human Rangers. Even his tattoo had been hidden, Billy noticed.

"So, what are we going to do about Billy being dead?" the alien prince asked. "Who gets to tell his family?"

"Does it matter?" Tommy shrugged. "We can draw straws or something, I guess."

Rocky raised an eyebrow. "Will they even care?"

"Of course they will care!" Kat was a little aghast at Rocky's suggestion. "He is... was.. their son!"

"True," Rocky shrugged. "I guess they'll care."

Tanya glanced at her leader a little nervously. "Tommy, why don't you do it?"

"You've got to be kidding!" Tommy snorted. "Me, tell them? Oh, that's rich!"

Kat spoke quietly, "I want to be the one to tell."

"You do?" Tommy stared at her suspiciously. "Why?"

Kat nodded, speaking louder. "Yes, I do want to tell them. Look, Billy may not have been the best of guys, but he was nice. I - " She bit her lip, glancing at Tommy, obviously a trifle scared. "I just want to be the one to tell, that's all. We all should go tell them, you know. We are all supposed to be his friends, after all."

Tommy sighed dramatically. "I guess you're right," he glanced at his watch. "I don't have anything more important to do right now anyway, I guess."

"You really hated him that much?" Trey asked. "Was he all that bad? Kat said he was nice."

"Yeah, I guess he was," Tommy shrugged. "But he was useless, except for his brains."

Billy, watching this from M-51, whispered, "Don't listen to him, guys, please don't listen to him, please don't feel that way too!"

"At least we don't have to worry about that anymore!" Adam said lazily.

Tommy nodded, patting him on the back, grinning broadly. "Yeah, since he trained you so well!"

Billy's eyes went wide. "What? Adam, what are you talking about?" He reached out, trying to touch him, even knowing it was just an image of the Ranger he'd considered to be like a brother.

Adam blushed a little. "Yup, no more need for Billy," he leaned back in his chair. "And now I don't have to pretend to be his friend any longer! You don't know what it was like having to put up with that geek for about two years, supposedly being my 'best friend'! Man, it nearly made me sick!"

"No!!" Billy screamed, his heart being crushed beneath the weight of the words. "No, we're friends, you can't mean it, Adam, please! No... not... not you, Adam! Please!!"

Adam chuckled dryly then, "But we're rid of him now, for good at long last!"

Billy couldn't believe his eyes or ears. "No! I trusted you! I treated you like a brother! How could you do this to me? How could you people do this to me?!"

Vile reached out as if he were going to shut down the viewscreen. "I think I should turn this off, you're working yourself up to much. You're still not well, remember."

"NO!!" Billy growled harshly, his eyes glowing brighter. "I have to know if they all feel like that, I have to know who has betrayed me. Surely they all haven't!"

Vile nodded. "All right." Both of them returned their attention to the viewscreen, where Kat appeared lost in thought briefly. She glanced at her friends.

"You know, he was kind of cute. For a wimp," she giggled.

Tears began to run down Billy's face almost at once as she half-grinned at Tommy, plainly forgetting him quickly. "We are going out tonight, right?"

Tommy nodded, planting a long kiss on her. "Of course we are. You don't go out with wimps, naturally!" he laughed. "You know, I think that loser might have had had a crush on every single female Ranger we've had. Stupid wimp! As if he could ever have been good enough for anyone!"

Tanya smiled, wrapping her arms around Adam. "I'm not surprised!"

"Do you all really hate your former teammate?" Trey glanced at them, raising an eyebrow delicately.

Tommy nodded. "He was nothing but a wimp, and you could see that for yourself, Trey. He wasn't even all that bright, he didn't even think to check to see if that stupid machine of his would have any side effects!"

"He was really that bad?"

"That he was," Adam agreed.

Tears dripped down Billy's cheeks as he watched. "Adam... no... don't say that! All of you stop saying that!" He could feel a cold anger building up inside of him, a harsh and twisted desire to do some incredible damage to his former friends. They have to pay for this, they have to pay!!

"I really should turn this off, you're not well enough to see this," Vile said, reaching out with his staff.

"Don't you touch it!" Billy growled. Vile stepped back, nodding. Perfect!!!

"You know," Adam said, leaning back in his chair. "Now that I think about it, I'm glad Billy's dead. I don't have to hide my own brains just so he thinks he's doing something useful."

Billy's jaw dropped, the tears drying up as his sorrow was replaced with pure anger and rage. "Your own what!?"

Adam chuckled a little, then started speaking in the same complicated 'techno-babble' that Billy had once used so often. The former Blue Ranger balled his hands up into fists. "No!" he growled. "How dare you do that to me!? How dare you?!"

Tommy laughed icily. "See, people? Whoever needed that idiot to begin with anyway? Heck, his parents will probably be glad he's dead, just like us, because now they won't have him dragging them down anymore either!"

Billy growled, getting up and hurling the chair he'd been sitting in at the viewscreen, blocking out the malicious laughter of the others. "Shut up!" he screamed. "Shut up, all of you, shut up!" He winced, moaning, holding his head in pain as it almost seemed about to explode. "How could they do this to me?! All this time... how could I have been so stupid?!?!"

Vile came over, waving off the screen as he did so. "I shouldn't have shown you that, you need more rest. You're not well yet. It's all my fault..."

Billy straightened up, glaring at the dark screen, then growled, "Nothing is your fault, it's all theirs!!"

"Well, there's nothing that can be done about that now," Vile said. Just a little more... just a little more...

Billy's voice was pure steel as he spoke. "Where is that chest?"

Vile gestured the way back to it. "Right over there." As they stood before it again, Vile probed delicately, "Are you sure, Billy? This is a huge step. You can't go back once you do this, you'll be against them forever."

"They are already against me," Billy growled. "It makes no difference. I want that crystal."

The lord of M-51 stepped aside. "It's yours."

Billy took the key, opening up the chest and looked at the shimmering black crystal inside. A Black Zeo Ranger? Well, why not? And I do look good in black, if I do say so myself. "So I was never worthy of a Zeo Crystal, eh, Tommy?" He reached out and grasped the Crystal, feeling it sink into him and the power course through his system. "Ohhh... that feels... so.... good!"

Vile smiled. "You have earned this, Billy. As soon as you're completely healed, you can begin training with my Tengas to reach your full physical potential."

Billy glanced at him, smiling evilly as the twisted nature of the Crystal he had taken fed his desire for revenge and fueled his anger. "I want to know everything you can teach me, Master Vile. Those so-called friends of mine have a lot to answer for, and I intend to make them pay."

A cold, cruel, evil smile spread across Vile's face, and he didn't bother to hide it this time. He didn't need to anymore. The spell was complete: Billy was completely under his power now; had taken the twisted Zeo Crystal of his own free will, and even now it was increasing his desire for revenge. "And they will pay, my Ranger. They will pay a very dear price, indeed."

Billy laughed, then winced, holding his head. Stop hurting, stop hurting!! "They're going to pay all right. One by one, they're going to pay! And Tommy will get to see them all fall, knowing he can't do anything to help them or stop me. And then he's going to go down forever!"

Vile came over to him. "Yes, indeed! But first, you must rest. You can't get your revenge if you're still sick."

Billy sighed reluctantly, "You're right. I'd better get back to bed. Thank you for telling me the truth, Master Vile. I'll never forget that you're the only one who has really cared anything at all about me. Thanks for everything."

"It is what friends do," Vile smiled. "I'm just glad that I was able to do something for you, however small. I will always be here to help you, Billy. Always."

Billy nodded as he entered his room, locking away the pain of what his friends had said about him. "I know. Thank you, Vile. I can never pay you back for what you've done for me, but somehow I'm going to at least try," he smiled a little. "Consider my taking down the Power Rangers as my way of paying you back."

Vile smiled as he tucked him in gently. "They don't deserve any mercy from you for what they've done."

"They won't get any, trust me," Billy mumbled as sleep washed over him. "None what... so... ever..."

Vile whispered softly as he left Billy to rest. "Oh, I do believe you, my Ranger. I do indeed."

* * *

Billy leaped, jumped, twirled and struck the Tengas he was training with as powerfully as he could. Far more force was behind the blows than there had ever been before, and they were delivered with more skill and cunning. Vile watched from his throne, and nodded slowly to himself.

"Train well, my Ranger," he whispered. "Train well and grow strong."

He smiled. Soon they would be ready to return to Earth, and begin his master plan. And then, Rangers... you will know the destruction of all that you have held dear all these years... at the hands of one who was once one of your own! He laughed, watching as Billy knocked Tenga after Tenga down. He was going to have to step up the training soon, this was starting to get too easy for his pupil. Already a genius. Soon to be a master warrior... He will be EVERYTHING that I need to destroy the Power Rangers, once and for all!!

In the training ring, Billy ended the combat, and looked up to Master Vile, who nodded approvingly at him, very well pleased. They would be leaving for Earth in a few months, he knew. And then I get my revenge...

"Revenge," Billy breathed softly. "On all of them... at last...."