Disclaimers and the like are in earlier chapters.
Special Author's Note: This chapter is dedicated to PsycoChick32, who passed away 6/3 and who I am going to miss speaking with online, reading her reviews and stories and wish I had gotten a chance to meet in person (we were supposed to see one another at PMC3). She will be dearly missed.
Chapter/Updated Summary: Blood is defeated but there is still an aftermath to deal with.
Hi all. So, this is it – the end of our story. After what seems years (wait, it has been years) we're finally coming to the end. Thank you everyone for all your alerts, reviews and messages over the course of this story. Now let's get to the story…
Answering the Call – Chapter 18: Saying Goodbye
By Jeannine Trevizo
The following morning the members of the team had slowly woken in groups; first Tommy and Kim had made their way to the living room turning on the television, clicking it to the news. They waited for the others as they continued their discussion from the night before, keeping their voices down as to not wake anyone unnecessarily.
Billy was awake next, rubbing his eyes as he held his glasses in one hand. Trini followed him from his room less than ten minutes later, prompting a pair of stunned looks from Kim and Tommy and a blush set across Billy's face. Tanya came from her room upstairs next, seeing the others settled in the living area and moved to join them.
Adam's door upstairs opened and closed five minutes later and when he saw the collected group below decided to knock on both Jason and Zack's doors.
"Wake up guys. Time to get a move on."
By the time Adam was downstairs Rocky's door on the bottom floor opened revealing both him and Aisha. They nodded to Adam with slight grins and moved to the couches with everyone else.
Finally Jason and Zack stumbled their way downstairs and they both recognized the serious look on their leader's face. Jason knew that come morning Tommy would bring up his suggestion again and it looked like he'd simply been waiting for the last members of the team to arrive before he started.
Tommy stood once Jason and Zack neared the living space and started to move to turn off the TV. It was obvious to everyone that he was preparing to start in on the next step for the future of the ranger team. Most of them had pondered heavily the suggestion he'd made the night before. However the moment of truth was now on them and they had a decision to make.
"So, now that we're all here, let's get this resolved, once and for all," began Tommy, looking from Kim to the others who were all still in varying stages of wakefulness.
"Look Tommy, it's not like we don't want to discuss this…" started Aisha as she rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands.
"But can we get something to eat first?" added Rocky causing more than a few people to give him a knowing look.
Taking a quick glance around the room, Tommy realized that they'd all been wired pretty tightly for the last week or so and letting them have a bit more time would probably ease the proposal he was getting ready to thrust upon them. Then he felt his own stomach rumble a bit and hoped no one had noticed.
He had to grudgingly admit that sometimes Rocky was right in his philosophy of eat first, think later.
"Okay, food first… Billy, we have cereal, toast and the like, yes?"
With that everyone moved to the kitchen and gathered around the fridge and counter. Kim and Adam started hauling out bread, butter, jam, peanut butter, fruit, milk and juice and passed them along to Billy and Tanya, who were taking dishes from the dishwasher and setting out a variety of boxed cereals on the counter along with the items from the refrigerator. Jason had moved to the coffee maker, needing the caffeine jolt and Zack stood by his side, anxious for the dark brew himself.
With food laid out the group started a buffet line, each person taking what they wanted. The first to finish dishing up their items was Aisha, having bypassed the milling about the coffee machine. Instead of taking a seat at the dining table she turned to the couches and settled down in what had sort of become her seat, setting her juice glass on the coffee table before her before taking a bite of her toast.
Rocky moved to join her, letting her sidle up close even as Zack and Jason took a seat in a couple of the arm chairs. Billy came to sit, Trini following close behind and they took another of the 'love seat' sofas. The current yellow ranger noted the TV remote before them and clicked the on button, filling the room with new sound, partially drowning out the noise of people banging plates and glasses.
On the TV, the team found that it had been turned to the news last, and the talk show pundits were discussing the destruction of Blood's ship and the ranger's affiliation with the UN to save Earth. It seemed a heated discussion between both conservative and liberal representatives addressing the future of Earth's security from alien races. The fact that the republican senator was advocating for a 'Star Wars' missile defense program was being laughed at by his democratic house member for being excessively expensive and unworkable.
Those that were just making their way to the living space sat wherever they could find a place, even though everyone had unconsciously left two seats together for Tommy and Kim who sat down last.
Once everyone was settled Tommy decided to leave the discussion until they had all finished their meals. Munching continued and there was a random slurp of coffee or juice barely heard over the continued 'moderated' discussion on the television. As soon as the last place was emptied Tommy reached from the remote from Trini and turned the set off, plunging the room into an almost uncomfortable silence. Everyone turned to look at Tommy as he took a deep breath, his eyes dropping to glance at Kim for support before he spoke, launching straight into his plan.
"Okay, so now that we've had the chance to rest and eat, we need to make some important decisions about the team. We have a few options as I see it; One, we keep doing what we're doing - be rangers, be a team until all of us can't hack it anymore. Two, we pare down the team here to five and one support person and everyone else can go back to their lives, and we can rotate people in and out as needed…"
"But you have another idea, don't you?" asked Jason, knowing his friend pretty well, especially following the previous evenings' aborted discussion.
"We do," interjected Kim, her eyes darting towards Tommy before she focused her gaze at the others in their seats around the room. "We can hand over all the tech and powers to the United Nations."
"What?" exclaimed Tanya, her coffee mug nearly falling from her grasp.
"Are you serious?" Adam questioned, stunned at the prospect.
"But… what about our identities?" added Trini.
"And can we trust them with all this?" Zack remarked, truly curious about how much their fearless leader and Kim had thought this through.
Tommy held up his hands, trying to settle everyone down. He knew that everyone was dedicated, willing to be rangers for as long as needed but they had no idea how long that realistically would be. Five years, ten, twenty… they would have to recruit replacements. It was just a matter of when.
And if they were going to have to do it sometime, he'd thought it might as well be now.
"Look, we all need to realize that we can't do this alone. What happens when Billy's money is gone," Kim commented, looking to the tech geek who shrugged… "And we're working without any kind of net…"
"You mean we aren't sanctioned by any government entity…" pointed out Jason as he started to understand Kim and Tommy's intentions.
"To some governments we could be considered a terrorist group," Tommy clarified, making more than a few of the team look at him in surprise. "If we work with the UN they'll see we're on their side and not just this time or last, but permanently."
"So, you're proposing we do what?" asked Rocky, "Just let them take over?"
"No," Kim interjected forcefully. "Tommy and I discussed that we'd make the agreement with the UN Security Council to hand over the ability to staff and assign rangers to the Photon team, but with the caveat that a few of the original group stay on as advisors, trainers, administrators…"
"So we get them to agree to our conditions and we get to leave," pondered Trini out loud, her eyes flicking to Billy's profile before turning back to Kim and Tommy.
"That's the only way we do this. If they won't protect our identities we don't hand over the tech," explained Tommy.
"And because we'll be 'watchdogs', we'll be able to keep them from abusing the zords and the power…" Aisha commented, her eyes widening in understanding.
"There's no way they can recruit enough potential rangers and staff to run this place in under six months," mused Adam seriously. "They'd need at least a few of us around and Billy could probably set up some fail safes…"
"I already sort of have them…" Billy remarked with a slight blush, his gaze falling on Tommy. "Ever since the Prince Gasket brainwashing incident I've needed to make sure we could shut down a zord or even a ranger's suit in case its owner was… taken over."
Tommy nodded in understanding, his mouth turning down into a slight frown before Kim's hand laid over his in sympathy. She didn't know the details but she could guess at what had happened to cause Billy to do such a thing.
"So, if we were to agree to this plan, and I'm not saying I'm for it," Rocky started before taking a sip of his now cold coffee, "what exactly are we asking from the UN in exchange for giving them the most advanced tech on the planet that could wipe out any country off the map?"
It was a good and valid question, and everyone waited for Tommy's well considered answer. It was one he'd pondered a lot over the hours since the idea had come to him and after speaking with Kim he was sure he was right in his beliefs.
"The ability to staff our own people here; as rangers first until they recruit and then trainers and advisors. I think there should always be at least one of the old guard here, but I don't want anyone to feel pressured to…" Tommy began before trailing off at the realization that someone from their group would probably always have to be affiliated with the rangers…
There was a long pause before 8 voices all spoke up nearly as one saying in some form or another, "I can stay…"
Tommy swung his eyes to catch Kim's before looking back out at their friends. The fact that they all were willing to give up their time, their dreams to do this heartened and humbled him all at once. And by volunteering to do that they were agreeing to the plan…
"Thanks everyone. I think then, if we're really going to do this, we need to contact the UN and ask for a meeting and lay out the requirements for a hand-over. Billy, can you do that without them tracking us?"
"Sure. Just tell me what we want to say…"
"Simply put, we want to negotiate a transfer plan to give the UN control of the Photon Rangers."
"Okay…" answered Billy, a look of awe in his eyes as he got up to prepare to send that basic message.
And with that one communication, the next step in the evolution of the rangers would begin.
Several days later the team were all gathered together again in the Command Center, preparing to alter their futures so they could all have one once again. Those members of the team that wore their uniforms did so, fully suited up and ready to go. The rest of the team stood behind the control panels, watching and waiting, knowing that their team mates were about to do something unprecedented… The UN had agreed to their offer and the uniformed members of the team were about to set off for that meeting.
"Okay, ready to do this?" asked Billy as he stood at the control panel, watching Tommy and the other four uniformed members standing by the transport pad.
"You mean have the butterflies the size of Buicks in my stomach settled…" Tommy answered as he clipped his helmet in place as he moved to his spot at the transport pad, "no, but it was my idea and I need to see it through."
"They want this meeting Tommy… they wouldn't have agreed to it otherwise," remarked Jason from his space beside him.
"Sure, but will they play hardball?" questioned Adam behind them.
"How? We can just up and leave," reminded Tanya.
"Just remember… we're the good guys. Make them see that," remarked Kim where she stood with those remaining at the command center.
"We will," replied Tanya.
"May the power protect you," Billy murmured solemnly before he flipped the switch, sending the team to their destination.
Billy's tech was flawless; they'd been transported into the area right outside the office they were to meet in with the seven core members of the Security Council. It had been discussed via 'electronic communication' that the rangers would only meet with a small group to discuss the transfer plan and, as needed reveal their identities.
With a simple knock, Tommy took the first step towards that final goal.
They were escorted in by heavily armed military and what looked like secret service. Of course even with their best weapons their ranger armor would withstand a lot more than they'd be able to dish out before the team took them down. But this wasn't supposed to be about a confrontation – it was about helping one another.
Before them seven members of the UN Security Council were seated on one side of a long table. Five chairs on the other side lay vacant, waiting for the team to sit. As they moved to their seats they noted the security; guards lined the room and then only exited once they were waived off as Tommy and the others sat.
"Rangers," spoke up the President of the UN Security Council from where he sat at the center of the opposite side of the long bench table.
"Sir. Ladies and gentlemen, you know why we're here…" spoke Tommy as the red ranger 'leader'.
"And most of us can't believe it… you want to give 'us' your technology?" questioned the representative from the UK.
"We don't have the resources we used to that would allow us to… continue as we are," explained Jason from behind the blue ranger helmet.
"So you trust us to use these weapons wisely," asked the member from China.
"We feel that you can do a lot of good. And you need to be prepared if this happens again," said Trini.
"You believe it will?" queried the Russian representative.
"It could. So we want the Earth to be ready if it does," answered Adam.
"Your message said you had… conditions to this transfer of power," stated the UN Security Council President, his tone almost… worried.
"Yes. The UN Security Council will take over and create a "ranger force" to protect the planet. We will provide you with access to the command center, the weapons, uniforms and technology," explained Tommy simply.
"But?" asked the French representative, leading the question as he waited for the proverbial other shoe to drop.
"Part of our terms will be we will always have a presence among the new ranger organization," stated Tommy, his authoritative tone undeniable. "Members of our current team will stay on in an advisory capacity until we decide it is no longer required."
"And we will have people on site to train your new recruits as both support and active ranger personnel," added Jason, letting them know their level of involvement now as well as Tommy's stated later approach.
"If we agree to these provisions…" began the UK member before the black ranger cut him off.
"And lastly you need to not only keep the origins of the rangers a secret, you will need to guarantee as well our identities stay secret too," interjected Adam, knowing this was the last part that was non-negotiable.
Once the final request was made the seven at the table looked to one another in silent questioning. To be asked to simply allow the people who knew the technology and how to be rangers to stay on and safeguard their secrets in trade for technology and the ability to protect Earth from intergalactic invasion… it was too much to pass up. Minute nods met his eyes before he turned back to the rangers before them, offering them safety as well as knowledge…
"We agree to your provisions, red ranger…" began the President of the UN Security Council before Tommy abruptly stood and reached for the latches of his helmet, surprising his team and stunning the council members before him.
With a dual pop Tommy then lifted his helmet off and tucked it under his left arm, now able to look the members of the council directly in the eye as they made this important agreement.
"Tommy Oliver sir," he stated as he took a step forward and reached out his gloved hand.
"My God, you really are…" stammered the UN President.
"Human? Or American?" asked Tommy even as he heard the sounds of four other helmets unlatching behind him.
"Both…" blurted out the French representative as he watched the others show their faces, displaying the youthful faces of the early twenty something heroes that had saved Earth from Blood's tyranny, "and you… all of you have been rangers… now and… before?"
"Yes. We have. And now members of your countries will be too," commented Jason as he moved beside his friend.
"Well then, Tommy Oliver, on behalf of the United Nations, we gladly accept your offer and look forward to working with you," said the UN President as he reached his hand across the table and took Tommy's in his, shaking it as the pact was made.
In the days following the government hand-off agreement the team was involved in a flurry of activity. They had been in daily, if not hourly contact with the government in regards to the transition to the newly created World Security Council, a subset of the U.N. Security Council, responsible for the ranger tech and team. All the calls and meetings with new counterparts, scientists and military personnel had sidetracked most of the team with the slight exceptions of Trini and Tanya.
As the others had spent countless hours going over top secret clearance and regulations, they had been in constant touch with the team's family and friends… including the Hilliard's.
So when the arrangements for Kat's funeral in Melbourne were finally agreed upon, Tommy made a big request – that the hand-off proceedings be postponed for two days while they attended. Instead of being distressed by the delay, the US government, on behalf of the President of the United States, who had been read into the situation with the rangers and informed about their nationality as well, they'd offered the full team transportation to Australia so they could attend.
With heavy hearts the group had made their way to Moffett Field near San Francisco and boarded a plane to Travis Air Force Base where they were then transferred to a military transport bound for Australia.
The trip was a long one, and for those still wearing the uniform while they could have transported in the blink of an eye, the rest would have had to travel conventionally. Since Billy hadn't created additional transporter mechanisms, they had chosen to stay together, wanting and needing the time with one another as they prepared to say goodbye to Kat.
The hours on the plane also gave the team some more time to come to terms with their new status… temporary rangers, advisors and for those who once the handoff was complete, civilians once again. On the plane they also had time to discuss a recent turn of events, among them being the delivery of several recently awarded honors on behalf of both the US government and the UN. When they had been delivered to the warehouse they had been shocked and humbled. The idea that they could finally be recognized for their service to their country and the planet was one none of them would ever forget.
Still, that was secondary to the reality that once they headed back to the states after the funeral they would be going their separate ways again. For one specific couple the prospect of being away from one another once more was more worrisome than before, given their history…
"It feels strange to know that I'll be heading home and you…" Kim finally said quietly to Tommy as they sat together on the cargo plane after the talk with the others on team matters had died down.
"I know. But when the replacements are trained… I'd like to see about transferring colleges."
Her eyes widened, immediately understanding the implications of his unspoken suggestion. She had hoped their relationship would be able to survive the separation, but the circumstances of a long term, long distance relationship had made her fearful of a repeat of history between them. This though…
"You want to try and make this work… outside of the team," she nearly whispered and watched him nod his head even as he took her hand, raising it to his lips for a brief kiss.
"Both Billy and Adam are going to stay on long-term so Jase, Trini and I only need to stay in uniform until all the new recruits get trained, and then I'll head home… to you…"
"Of course you know we could all stay on…" Kim pressed, bringing back the issue that the whole team had argued about for nearly a day – no one wanted to desert the others.
"It's better this way, we all agreed on that. Jason decided to put his life on hold and Adam is just going to move here to be part of the team staying past the hand-off. Tanya and Zack have jobs and significant others to get back to, Aisha needs to get back to school… and I don't want Rocky to have to stay behind…"
"Like you are," she pointed out with the tone of voice that told Tommy just how much she didn't want to separate from him and he smiled a bit at the realization once again that she loved him enough to put her life on hold and stay.
"Yes, but you know I have to do this…" Tommy remarked seriously, she nodded in acknowledgement and he continued on. "Billy has been off planet, knows this tech in and out and I'm going to seriously push to see if he'll stay on as the formal adjunct to this new World Security Council and oversee the recruiting process of military candidates to take on the ranger roles."
"He'll be good at that. Plus if he stays he'll be in Trini's city…" Kim remarked with a smirk and raised eyebrow that prompted both of them to glance across the plane to see Trini and Billy sitting side by side and hand in hand.
"Adam is okay uprooting things and once everything is set, then we can all leave it behind… at least to some degree."
"So now it's just about saying goodbye…" she noted, the feelings they all were having about leaving the rangers once again weighing heavily on them all.
"In more ways than one," said Tommy with a heavy heart as they heard the pilot announce they were descending into Melbourne.
When the team arrived at the funeral service there was already a large gathering at the gravesite. Several people around the edges of the cemetery plot started at the government vehicles and the rangers exited to stares as they moved to find a spot to accommodate their large group.
They stood and listened as the service started, the preacher speaking of accidents and fate and how you never knew when your time on Earth was done. How you needed to remember those you loved every day as though it was your last. He spoke the benedictions and then invited others to share their memories of Katherine.
Friends of the Hilliard's and of Kat's stood and spoke, recalling humorous stories of telling of meetings or adventures over the years. Kat's fiancé, Damon talked about how he first met Kat and how much he'd been looking forward to the rest of their lives together… before swallowing heavily and ducking his head as he let the pain and sorrow overwhelm him once again.
When everyone had spoken that desired to, the preacher finished the service and signaled for the casket to be lowered, speaking the common final words, "we commend unto thy hands of mercy, most merciful Father, the soul of this our sister departed, and we commit her body to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; and we beseech thine infinite goodness to give us grace to live in thy fear and love and to die in thy favor, that when the judgment shall come which thou hast committed to thy well-beloved Son, both this our sister and we may be found acceptable in thy sight. Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Savior, Mediator, and Advocate… Amen."
A quiet chorus of amens rose around the gravesite as the casket continued to lower until it was no longer visible. Finally the preacher threw a handful of dirt onto the casket and moved to speak quietly to the family as the service ended. With the service now over the crowd began to disperse and the team waited until nearly everyone had gone before they even made a step towards Kat's family to give their condolences.
Tommy ventured forth first, his hand holding Kim's, not caring if his former girlfriend's family would be scandalized by his attachment to Kim at Kat's service. They stood before Kat's grieving parents and Kim tightened her hold on Tommy's hand briefly as they prepared for the worst part o the day.
"We're all so sorry for your loss. We all will miss Kat dearly," Tommy said to the Hilliard's and then he reached into his pants pocket to pull something out, "We… I thought you should have this."
In his hand he held out to them one of the newly struck medals of valor that had been awarded to all the members of the ranger team by the President of the United States. This one was his, and since Kat had died before the arrangements with the UN, no one knew she had been a ranger so one had not been awarded to her.
And of all of them, Kat was the one that deserved the bronze disk heralding her valor and sacrifice.
"Tommy," said Mr. Hilliard, comprehension slowly dawning on him just what Tommy was holding in his hand after staring at the object and seeing the presidential seal in the center.
The international news had been buzzing for days around the fact that the power rangers were being recognized by several governments for their service to protecting the planet. He'd absent mindedly noted the story since when he, his wife and Kat had lived in Angel Grove the rangers were a constant defensive presence and the news of their return and being rewarded for their service to the world. And now here Tommy was with this medal that had to be…
"You…" he started to say, memories of Kat, her boyfriend and their friends in Angel Grove all starting to click in his mind, the pieces of a puzzle falling in line and he looked from Tommy to his wife and then back again in awe.
Both Tommy and Kim recognized the moment Mr. Hilliard figured out that Tommy, and most likely all of Kat's friends had been rangers and Tommy nodded slightly in acknowledgement. Then Tommy pressed the disk into Mr. Hilliard's hand, holding it there as he waited for the other man to grip it.
"Please… you should have it. She died… a hero. We wanted you both to know that."
Mrs. Hilliard started crying harder at his words and Kim tightened her hand in Tommy's as she willed her strength to him as he faced his former girlfriend's parents, knowing deep down in some small part of him he'd always blame himself for Kat's death on the field… the first person to die under his leadership.
"Thank you Tommy. We appreciate you," he started, and looked past Kim and Tommy to see the rest of the group of people with them, some he knew as Kat's other friends and now recognized as probable rangers too before he continued, "all of you coming. We know you have a lot to do."
Tommy simply nodded and then turned with Kim to wait as the others made their way to shake hands or provide hugs to the Hilliards.
"That was a very wonderful thing you just did," Kim said as they walked back towards the government vehicles that had waited for them, ready to whisk them back to the air base to be transported back to the US so they could complete the hand-off of the rangers.
"They deserved to know… have something that said what she meant not just to them or us, but to the world."
Kim nodded understandingly and then turned her head to note the rest of the team had caught up with them and they all shared compassionate, knowing looks. Saying goodbye to Kat was also the final act of the entire team together before they would go their separate ways when they returned to the states.
Still, they all would be able to still stay in touch. The camaraderie they all had, the friendships and relationships built over the years would continue to grow and change. And they would be able to watch as the power rangers evolved knowing that they had been the first, the best and the reason humanity was still here, ready to defend itself against any future threats.
With a final turn back towards the gravesite Tommy said quietly, "bye Kat." Then he turned, tightening his grip on Kim's hand as he looked to her with a small smile before glancing around to the others and then directing his gaze to the vehicles awaiting them.
"Okay everyone…" he announced, his voice taking on the leadership quality that they all knew and had come to depend on when things got rough, "let's go home."
- end -
A/N 2: I want to again mention how this is dedicated to Kim. I will forever wish I had gotten this done sooner, but I cannot change the past. I found though that working on this was cathartic and while I had always planned the last chapter to include Kat's funeral (the chapter title had always been Saying Goodbye since I started the story) it made it all the more bittersweet to be writing it with Kim in mind…
So, that's it… no epilogue, just a future that you can make your own assumptions on how the members of the team moved on.
I hope everyone that stuck this out enjoyed the story. As usual, any and all feedback is welcomed and appreciated. I am actually thinking of going back and filling in some more holes in the Always a Ranger universe so if you like that series, keep an eye out for new one-shots or possibly more…
Thanks for reading, Ms. J.