Author's Notes: New chapter. You guys are going to hate me…
Reviewer Thanks: Thanks to alias093001 (And the cruelty continues…), brankel1, Ghostwriter, exwindz, Gaia'schild (WAY too early for the white yet.), Willowxxx (Still, as far as original episodes go, these are really good to start with.), curly, Linariel, and sfinufan.
Book 3: Something Old, Something Green
Chapter 11: Wolf in the Fold
Predictably, Tommy overslept.
He awoke to the feel of a hand on his shoulder, shaking him gently. He almost thought it was a dream when he squinted to see Kimberly's face over him.
"Tommy…?" she said gently.
Then he realized that Kimberly was in his bedroom, standing over his bed, while he was just waking up and mostly naked.
When she saw the look on his face, she blushed furiously and turned around. "Sorry… People are starting to get here, and I just wanted…"
"It's okay," Tommy said, not daring to say what he wanted at that particular moment, and it had nothing to do with what was going on downstairs. "I'm up. Just… give me a few minutes."
Without really thinking, he grabbed her hand and kissed it, wanting her to turn around, wanting to kiss her lips, wanting…
They heard bounding footsteps on the stairs, and reality interjected. With a squeak, Kimberly ran out of the room.
Tommy decided to take a shower. It was probably for the best they'd been stopped before anything could happen. Things were heating up between him and Kimberly, but Tommy could tell Kimberly wasn't quite ready yet. And, boy, did he not want to screw this relationship up.
It didn't take him long to dress. Thankfully, there would be no tuxes. Part of that was because they just couldn't afford the rentals, but it was also because the entire wedding was really formal. Men were in suit jackets and ties, women, including the bride, in spring dresses of their choosing, no attendants or wedding party, and the whole thing would be a quick ceremony followed by a lunch outside. Tommy was definitely glad it was going to be a short wedding. Less time for everything to screw up.
When he finally got downstairs, still tying his tie, he saw Jason and Zack setting out tables. He rushed forward to help them.
"Oversleep?" Zack said with a smirk.
Tommy rolled his eyes. "Whatever made my dad plan a Saturday morning wedding, I have no idea. Where are Trini and Billy? Doing the security check?"
"Billy took care of that early this morning," Jason said. "Security checks out great, too. Not that we'll be relaxing our guard."
"Guys, relax," Trini said, walking up with an armful of tablecloths. "All three of you seriously look like you're gearing up for war."
"With you and Kim decorating, aren't we?" Zack said. He dodged a centerpiece that Trini threw at him.
Kimberly stormed up. "What are you doing?" She glared at all of them. "If even one of those centerpieces is damaged, all of you will be sorry."
Trini was giggling. "Sorry, Kim. We'll be good."
"Is everything all right?"
The five teens turned around to see Sylvia, who was wearing a pale yellow spring dress. She was also smiling broadly. She was so happy and relaxed that Tommy couldn't help relaxing himself.
"Everything's fine, Ms. Sylvia," said Kimberly, a little manically. She was obviously not affected by Sylvia's calm. "But you should be down here. It's bad luck…"
"I'm sure we'll survive this if I break a few arbitrary rules," Sylvia cut in wryly. "I just wanted to thank all of you for getting here early to help. You've all done so much."
"It's no problem," Jason said.
"Yeah, glad to help," Zack added.
"I don't know how anything would have gotten done without all of you," Sylvia said. She looked around vaguely. "Tommy, have you seen Billy?"
"Not yet," Tommy said, omitting that he'd only just gotten up, so he'd have no opportunity to see anyone not right there.
"I sent him to get ice," Trini said. "He should be right back."
"And hopefully he's buying ice and not inventing an instant ice-making machine," said Sylvia. "I still remember the time I sent him to buy a birthday cake."
"Don't you worry about it," Kimberly said with nervous cheer. She started herding Sylvia back into the house. "We'll take care of everything."
"I'm sure you will," the teens heard Sylvia say with laughter in her voice.
Please… Tommy thought, please nothing go wrong today.
Billy, at the moment, was not bound by the usual rules of teleportation being used for only Ranger business, so he was able to slip away unnoticed. He'd be able to get the ice in plenty of time without anyone noticing. There were advantages to putting Zordon out of commission, he pondered.
He stood in his lab, drumming his fingers impatiently against his work table. He absently thought of picking up one of his projects, but that just didn't seem to matter to him as much at the moment. He was bothered a little by that, but not too much. He knew it would only be a temporary condition.
There was a flash of fire, and Scorpina appeared in front of him.
"It's about time," Billy groused. "I can't absent myself for too long or else the others will suspect something."
"It's your job to make sure your fellow Rangers suspect nothing," Scorpina said shortly. "Rita still has use of you before the spell runs out."
"And what are Empress Rita's orders?" Billy said. He was a little perturbed that Empress Rita sent Scorpina to tell him rather than telling him herself. However, he reflected, she hadn't seemed to like his lab all that much the night before.
"Not so fast," Scorpina said. "We have the Dragon Dagger, but Rita wants to know how well you've done with your other orders."
Billy folded his arms, impatient just to get on with the plan. "I have the key right here, of course." He patted his pocket. "And both Alpha and Zordon are out of commission right now. Alpha is in a diagnostic loop, so he's unable to function without the other Rangers suspecting. And Zordon is cut off from this dimension for right now. I have a computer program in his place, so no one will notice that Zordon is gone."
"A computer program," Scorpina said dubiously. "Those are usually so fake that anyone would notice it for a program right off. You can't just replace a whole person with a program without raising eyebrows."
"I don't have to fool anyone for a long time," Billy said. "Just as long as Empress Rita needs Zordon out of the way. Also, I'm pretty practiced at this. I've made a replica of myself so I could fulfill Ranger duties and my mother never noticed the difference. It was easier for Zordon since he's non-corporeal."
"Are you sure they're out of commission?" Scorpina asked, not to be put off her suspicions. "The last time the Command Center was disabled, it had to be destroyed wire by wire."
"That's because Tommy is a blunt instrument, whereas I am a technical genius intimately familiar with the Command Center," Billy said. "Now can we get on with it?"
Scorpina sighed. "You're lucky Rita trusts your abilities while you're under this spell. Okay, Blue Boy, here's the deal. You know that once you bring down security, you're to rejoin the Rangers and act like you're completely one of them."
"I do remember last night, thank you," Billy said. "But I surmise my duties will not end there."
"Of course not," Scorpina said. "We have something in mind that only you can do…"
The garden was completely decorated. The Rangers sat on lawn furniture that had been shoved to the side, resting before everyone quite got there. Two of Sylvia's sisters had shown up and were helping her in the house (Tommy had noticed a distinct wine bottle shape in one of their purses). Uncle Steve was in the house with John, for which Tommy was intensely grateful. Billy's very young cousins were chasing each other among the chairs, though even Kimberly couldn't bring herself to get up and stop them.
The guests started appearing, and the Rangers reluctantly got up to show the guests to their tables. Most of the guests were their parents, all being friends with Sylvia from years of their kids associating with each other. There were some other adults that Tommy didn't recognize, but he figured they knew Sylvia. His father didn't have many friends. Moving around and hospital stays took care of that.
Tommy was watching Jason talking with his parents when he felt a hand clap on his shoulder. He turned around, thinking it was his Uncle Steve wanting to pick a fight, when he saw it was a man he didn't immediately recognize. Kimberly was at his side, looking like she'd just stopped trying to tug him away.
"So you're Tommy," the man said. "I'm Frank Allen, Kimberly's stepfather. Kimberly just wanted to introduce us."
"Of course, Frank," Kimberly said through gritted teeth, panic in her eyes as she looked at Tommy.
Tommy tried to act as normal as possible. "Good to meet you, Mr. Allen," he said, shaking the man's hand.
Tommy steeled himself for whatever intimidation tactics the man wanted to impose, but Frank just smiled. "I met your father the other day. He's a good man. I'm so glad Sylvia found someone like him."
"Is this the boy you like?" Kimberly's brother, Tommy recognized, had followed them. "Why's his hair long like that?"
Kimberly grabbed Tommy's hand. "Thanks, Frank! Shut up, Kevin! Bye!" She pulled Tommy away from them.
Tommy was laughing when Kimberly stopped at the other end of the garden. "They seemed nice," he said.
"It's a nightmare," said Kimberly. "The sooner this day is over with, the better."
"Kimberly, your decorations are gorgeous," a warm voice came behind them.
"Thanks, Mrs. Kwan," Kimberly answered the woman. "This is Tommy, by the way."
"Yes…" Mrs. Kwan said, a little hesitant. "Good to meet you."
Kimberly tried to ignore Trini's mother's hesitation. Tommy knew that this wedding was a veritable minefield, possible attacks from Rita notwithstanding. Especially since his disappearance, he knew he'd have to be a subject of gossip. Just because his friends had accepted him back didn't mean everyone had. And they didn't have to be as hostile as Uncle Steve to still be cautious of him.
But had everyone accepted him back? They'd been busy with the wedding, so Tommy hadn't had time to dwell, but he still felt a certain amount of reserve from his friends. Billy, not so much, but Trini, Zack, Jason, and even Kimberly. It was like they didn't want to get too close to him, just in case he decided to leave again. Tommy… guessed he could understand that. He'd just have to prove to them that they could trust him. It would just take time.
One of Billy's aunts walked up to Tommy. "It's almost time," she said. "Your father wants you to meet him at the back door."
"Thanks," he said. He smiled and squeezed Kimberly's hand. "See you in a few?"
"Good luck," she said. "Well… that doesn't make sense, but you know what I mean."
Tommy rounded the corner of the house to where the garden path began. That's when he heard the crash.
"No…" he whispered. "Just… let me be wrong for once."
The crash had come from the front of the house. It sounded like their garbage cans. A raccoon. Please. Or a bear. Hell, even the Grizzlinator.
Maybe if he just ignored it…
Tommy cursed under his breath and walked past the back door to the front of the house to investigate. He peeked around the corner.
Putties filled the front yard, just past the boundary of the security protection around the house and garden. They were holding some sort of device, possibly to break through security.
"Of course…" Tommy said under his breath. "Because she couldn't just leave me alone." He punched his communicator. "Jas, we've got Putties in the front yard. They look like they're going to bring down security."
Jason's low voice crackled through the speaker. "We're on it. You stay with the guests and make sure no Putties break through our line."
"Got it," Tommy said in a resigned voice. He really wanted to fight with the rest, but he knew it made more sense for him to stay within the secure area. He started walking back to the garden path.
One by one, he saw the Rangers go to the front yard, trying to look casual even as they hurried. Jason in the lead, Kimberly, Trini, Zack…
At first he wondered if Billy stayed behind to keep an eye on the security, but that wouldn't make sense. Tommy could keep an eye on security just fine, and Billy was needed in combat.
He glanced in the house, trying to decide if he needed to tell his dad to wait before starting the ceremony, when he saw Billy in the hallway, doing something to the hidden control panel that powered the entire security system.
Tommy slipped into the house. "Hey, Billy, is security holding up all right?"
The blow came out of nowhere. So unexpected was it that even Tommy's finely tuned fighting reflexes didn't kick in until it was too late. Tommy felt himself hit the ground at Billy's feet. Billy had sucker punched him in the stomach, his blow aided by a heavy metal component of the security system.
"I really wish you'd stayed out of the way," Billy said coldly. "Empress Rita didn't want you involved yet." He smirked. "But I guess I can make this work."
Before Tommy could regain himself, a foot came out of nowhere, and all was darkness.
Jason took down the Putties holding the device, finally having broken through the outer circle. The other Rangers were positioned between the house and the Putties.
He saw a flash of blue. "Billy, where the hell have you been? I need you to look at this device."
Jason stopped short, though, when he saw the look on Billy's face, a pale, horrified look he hadn't seen since the Island of Illusion.
"It was a trap," Billy said in a hollow voice. "The Putties weren't here to bring down security. We've got to…"
There was a buzzing sound, and then silence. A Putty broke through their lines and went straight for the house. It passed right through where there should have been a barrier.
Jason's stomach dropped. "Security's down!" he bellowed. "Catch that Putty!" He jabbed at his communicator. "Zordon, we need to…"
"I'm sorry, Jason," Zordon said over the communicator. "It's too late. Security would be superfluous at this juncture."
Jason turned as pale as Billy, and they both ran to the garden, tossing aside the Putties as they went. The others followed.
The silence hadn't just meant that security was down. Everyone was gone.
The Rangers stared in dumb silence at the deserted garden. All that was left was decorations and a few scattered personal belongings.
"What about in the house?" Trini said, turning on her heel to run in.
The others followed. Trini vaulted upstairs while the others took the ground level. They found no one, until…
Kimberly's voice rang through the house. The others followed the sound to see her crouching by an unconscious Tommy. The side of his head was bruised and bleeding slightly.
Trini crouched to inspect the wound. "He's probably not too bad off, but I don't like head injuries. We'll need to get him to the Command Center to check him out."
"Any idea how he got like that?" Zack asked. "It's not like he's going to get hurt like that by a Putty, even if one could get through security that fast."
"I hit him."
Everyone turned at Billy's quiet statement. They stared at him, but Billy stared at Tommy's prone figure. He looked like he was going to be sick.
With one foot, Billy nudged Tommy's hand. A tiny black device fell out of it.
"The key to the security system," Trini said quietly. "But… that's supposed to stay at the Command Center."
"That was the plan," Billy said wryly. "I… I wanted to make sure the security system was safe. I guess I was being paranoid, but… then I saw him… And then there was nothing I could do."
The air grew sickeningly tense.
"No," Kimberly said quietly, though she had stopped stoking his hair. "He can't be under a spell again."
"Why else would he bring down security?" Zack said hesitantly.
"NO!" Kimberly's face was livid. "It can't be. Billy, you saw things wrong. Why would Tommy warn us about the Putty attack?"
"As a decoy," Zack said. "To keep us out of the way."
"He could have gotten the key this morning when we thought he was asleep," Billy said dully.
Kimberly looked like she wanted to say more, but she was interrupted when Tommy moaned and stirred.
"Let's get him into custody," Jason said. "We can figure out what happened later. Right now, we've got to figure out a way to get our parents back."
Tommy felt himself coming out of a fog. His head was throbbing, and a buzzing sound near his ear made it no better.
He was surprised to see he was lying in the middle of the Command Center. Only, the Command Center was obscured by a faint shimmer in all directions. He carefully pulled himself to his feet. His elbow touched the shimmer, and sparks flew. He pulled back, rubbing his elbow, and he saw his friends staring at him.
In a rush, he remembered what happened.
"Guys! Security's been brought down! It was…"
Tommy's voice failed him as his brain kept putting the pieces together. Billy was standing to one side, aiming a monitoring device at him.
"Why am I in a force field?" Tommy said slowly.
It was Jason who answered. "Drop the act. We know you're working for Rita again. Billy's already confirmed that you have a spell on you."
Tommy kept his eyes on Billy, who looked like he was trying hard not to smile. No one else was looking at him, though, as all eyes were on Tommy.
"Guys, you have to listen to me," Tommy said, trying to keep his voice calm. "At the beginning of the attack, I caught Billy bringing down the security system. He attacked me before I could stop him. He called Rita 'Empress.' He's the one with the spell on him, not me."
"You know, I remember evil Tommy being a lot smarter before," Zack said. "This spell must not have taken as well."
"We should not underestimate Tommy," Zordon said. "He has deceived us before."
"And especially with the whole 'innocent' gag," said Jason. His face was immovable. Unsurprisingly, he hadn't bought Tommy's story. Hell, if Tommy hadn't lived through it, he wouldn't have believed it either. "Tommy, we caught you. You were found at the security system with the key in your hand. You knew the system well enough to bring it down."
"Same could be said for Billy," Tommy reminded him.
Jason's face hardened. "Also, the Dragon Dagger is gone. The dagger you placed under my care, along with your powers. How do you explain that? What possible reason could anyone but you have for stealing the Dragon Dagger?"
Tommy's heart was thudding in his ears. He felt like he was getting sucker-punched over and over again. Billy was evil. The Rangers thought he was evil. The Dragon Dagger was gone…
"Why would I want to steal the Dragon Dagger?" Tommy reasoned. "I can't even use it."
"Rita could effortlessly reinstate you," said Zordon. "You would only require your Power Coin."
"And getting the Dragon Dagger would deprive me of a weapon, so that getting the Dragon Coin would be that much easier," Jason added.
"Jason, we can't waste any more time," Zack said.
"You're right." Jason folded his arms and fixed Tommy with a cold stare. "Where has Rita taken our parents? You'll be helping everyone out if you just come clean."
Tommy opened his mouth to reiterate his innocence when he stopped dead. "P-parents? You mean, Dad? And Sylvia? And…"
"Everyone," Jason said. "Everyone at the wedding except us. Teleported out seconds after you disabled security. So tell us where your empress is keeping them. I know she probably promised safety for your father, but you and I both know she's not famous for keeping her promises."
"I don't know," Tommy said. "And you're wasting time questioning me. I'm not under any spells. You need to work at finding our parents right now."
"We have," Trini said. "We've scanned the Earth, contacted Rita, monitored for attacks…"
"We fully expected either an attack or a message after their kidnapping," Jason said. "We get neither. So we have to conclude that you're the message. So what does Rita want?"
Tommy was working to control his breathing. If he went into a panic, things could turn bad. He remembered how the Rangers had treated him when he was evil. They knew he was dangerous, and they took every precaution, even preemptive ones. He wouldn't be surprised if they had plans to gas him if he went into a fit.
"Do me a favor, okay?" he said calmly. "You said Billy confirmed that I was under a spell. Have someone else run the test. Alpha?"
"Alpha's running an indepth diagnostic," Billy said. "He apparently contracted a virus. He won't be operational for hours."
"Zordon, then." Tommy looked up. "Zordon, you know me. You could tell if I was under a spell."
Zordon's face was as impassive as ever. "The readings were eminently conclusive. You are under a spell."
"No!" The word tore out of Tommy as he heard Zordon tell an outright lie for the first time ever. He looked around at the group, desperate for someone who would believe him. "Kimberly," he said finally, noting that she was the only one who hadn't denounced him yet. He hadn't wanted to appeal to her, as he knew this would be a move evil Tommy would make—using personal feelings to get free—but he was desperate, and she was the most likely to believe him. "Kim, please. You know I'm not evil."
Kimberly looked miserable, but her face was still hard and resolute. "I didn't think you were evil when we first started dating, remember?" she said quietly. "Why else would you come back to Angel Grove if it wasn't Rita pulling the strings?"
"Why… else… what?" Tommy said, completely bewildered this time.
"You see, we figured it out," Billy finally chimed in.
Tommy marveled at how sincere and hurt he sounded. Was I that cold-blooded? Tommy wondered.
Billy walked closer to Tommy, looking directly in his eyes as he lied. "You left and went off with your mother, bitter about losing your powers. Perhaps even bitter against all of us, who still had our powers intact and had failed to save yours. Rita, of course, still wanted you back, as she had when she was using the Green Candle against you. She teleported you when you were out of our immediate surveillance. She placed you under a spell and then sent you back to Angel Grove. Convenient that you arrived the day, the very minute, she kidnapped those people. Almost as if your arrival was the signal to teleport everyone up. And then you happened to find a way out of her impenetrable dungeon, made your way to Finster's lab, made contact with Zordon without tripping any security, and got the prisoners out… all without your powers. Of course, you had to be the wounded hero, so Scorpina had to poison you just so you could teleport back to the Command Center with a device you got from Finster… just in time for us to save you. We were so happy from winning and so proud that you had saved all those people that we didn't even give you a hard time for leaving in the first place. We just accepted you back, no questions." There was a ghost of a smirk on his face. "How am I doing so far?"
Tommy stared at him, horrified. He could tell why the others were so taken in. Billy had figured out exactly how to frame him, leaving no loopholes. After all, the heroic deed of saving those people had happened in the Moon Palace. The Rangers had not actually seen it happen.
"It makes sense," Kimberly said in a strangled voice. "We kept waiting for Rita to attack you, to get back at you for spoiling her plans, but she didn't. She let you gain our trust back. You've…" her voice broke, "you've been infiltrating our group just so you could do this. And you did a much better job of it than before. If it hadn't been for Billy, we would have never known until it was too late."
Every word from Kimberly felt like a dagger. He'd sensed that the group hadn't fully forgiven him for leaving. But to believe the only reason he had to be friends with them was under Rita's orders? "I didn't need anyone to make me come back," Tommy said, omitting the fact that his mother had told him to come back. "I came back because leaving was the worst mistake I've ever made in a life full of horrible mistakes. I was miserable on the road. And… I didn't come back at first because I thought I'd screwed up so badly here that no one would have me back." His throat was closing up, and the Command Center was obscured by more than the force field. "I'm sorry. Kimberly, please… I'm so sorry. Zack, Trini, Jason, I know I let you all down. And, Billy… somewhere under that spell you're still there. Everything you've said is valid, even if it's not true, and I'm so sorry I broke your trust that badly." He sighed and closed his eyes. "Do what you need to do to feel safe. Lock me away, knock me out… whatever. Just save our parents."
There was silence in the Command Center. Tommy was beyond caring what happened to him. All he could picture was his father locked in a dungeon, and every minute he spent defending himself against and unbelieving audience meant one more minute his father and Sylvia had to spend in fear.
"That's a very touching performance," Billy said coldly. "Almost enough to get us to take the force field down, if we were blindingly stupid."
"I'd just like to know one thing," Jason said quietly. "When did Zordon start talking like Billy?"
The silence in the Command Center grew tense. Tommy opened his eyes. The others were gaping at Jason.
"Through this whole time," Jason said, his voice growing colder, "Zordon barely speaks up, even when I expect him to say something. And when he does, it's just to confirm what Billy has already told us, and it's all 'eminently conclusive' and 'effortlessly reinstate.' Zordon uses big words, but not like that. That's Billy-speak."
Zordon, suspiciously, didn't say anything. In fact, he hadn't moved his face for several minutes, something no one but Jason had noticed.
"Trini," Jason said, "would you mind scanning…"
Before he could properly get the words out, Billy dived for a console. He pressed a button, and green gas immediately poured from the vents along the floor around the consoles. Billy fitted an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth as the Rangers slumped to the floor, all of the weakly pulling at their Power Coins.
Tommy watched in horror. The force field protected him the gas. "What have you done to them?"
Billy smirked through his oxygen mask. "Don't worry. It's not poison or anything. It's just a security measure, like we fitted into your cell when you were evil." He grinned. "You didn't tell me how fun this was."
"Billy, you've got to listen to me. The spell makes you feel really good… I know that for a fact. But it's destroying you. Think about it. Your mother has been kidnapped, and you helped the people who did it. You've just attacked your friends. Just… really think about what you're doing."
"I am," Billy said. He pulled off the mask when the gas had dissipated. "The spell is only temporary. I have," he consulted his watch, "another fifteen minutes before the spell's worn off. That gives me just enough time to finish the plan."
Time limit. That was just the glimmer of hope Tommy was looking for. All he had to do was to keep Billy talking. "What plan? Rita already has the Dragon Dagger and our parents. I mean, yeah, you didn't succeed in framing me, but…"
"Framing you wasn't Rita's idea in the first place." Billy was searching through Zack's pockets at the moment. "She just wanted me to cause a diversion. When you stumbled on to me dropping the security, I figured this was the best diversion possible."
"So if you're not after me, what are you really after?"
Billy stood up with a grin on his face. "These." He held the black Power Coin in his hand. He pulled a wooden box from a hidden compartment and placed it carefully inside. Then he pulled the morpher from Jason's hand.
It took all of Tommy's self-control to stop from throwing himself at the force field. "Billy, no! That'll kill them!"
"Then why not… just… ransom off the Power Coins?" Tommy said desperately. "Rita has leverage. She could ransom our parents off for the Power Coins. You know they'd choose to give up their powers before any harm came to our parents."
Billy had moved on to the girls' Power Coins. "Unfortunately, Empress Rita has not made me privy to her plans after this. I can only imagine she has something in mind." He placed the last of the Power Coins into the box, and then pulled his own out of his pocket and placed it with the others. "One more thing," he said. "Empress Rita said that if I had the opportunity, I was to put you out of commission. This looks like as good an opportunity as ever."
He punched a few buttons on a console and teleported out without a word.
Tommy looked around. Zordon was gone, replaced by a flickering, silent image. Alpha was in the corner, silent and immobile. Jason, Trini, Zack, and Kimberly were sprawled out on the floor. Billy had gone with the Power Coins, his dad and Sylvia were kidnapped, and there was nothing he could do. He wondered if there was any way possible this could get worse.
As if in answer, sparks hit his already injured elbow. He drew back, hissing in pain, only to brush against the force field from the other direction. He stayed still, trying to keep in the center of the slowly contracting circle.
"Guys?" Tommy said tentatively. "Now would be a great time for you all to wake up."
Billy sat on top of a picnic table in the park. He'd been waiting at the rendezvous point for a few minutes, but he was impatient. The Rangers would surely not stay unconscious forever.
"Come on," he said under his breath. "We're almost out of time."
Jason woke up to a headache, a sour taste in his mouth, and the sound of cries of pain and panic.
He pulled himself up as quickly as his body would allow, but he stumbled as he was shunted aside, the point of a high heel scraping his face.
"Sorry!" Trini said breathlessly. "But I've got to…"
Jason's eyes refocused to see the source of the cries. Tommy was closely surrounded by the force field. He had pulled off his suit jacket to shield his face, but the force field had already burned away the cloth at his shoulders and was starting to burn into his skin. The entire field was sparking wildly, and the smell of burnt cloth was heavy in the air.
"Hurry!" Jason yelled out, aware that Zack and Kimberly were doing the same, Kimberly crying from wild panic.
In an instant, the force field was gone. Tommy fell forward, and Kimberly caught him. Trini was already running to get serum.
"Never mind me!" Tommy said furious, throwing the jacket off his head. "Billy has all of your Power Coins. He's going to give them to Rita, but there may still be time!"
Zack took over the controls before Trini could reach them. Tracking a fellow Ranger was something they all knew how to do. "He's in Addams Park, and Goldar's with him."
"Get down there!" Tommy said.
All four jammed at their communicators and disappeared, leaving Tommy to stare helplessly at the Viewing Globe, too worried to care about his burns.
Flames appeared in front of Billy, forming themselves into Goldar.
"It's about time," Billy said. "I can only hold off the other Rangers for so long."
"You've done well," Goldar rumbled. "You have the Power Coins?"
Billy held up the box. "I have them right here." He paused, frowning and remembering Tommy's words. "I want assurance that the hostages will be all right."
Goldar brandished his sword threateningly. "That wasn't part of the deal, human. You are to follow orders. Now hand over the Power Coins."
Billy frowned at the box in his hand. His brain was turning… odd. Like he was two people, and he didn't know which person he was at the moment.
Suddenly, he felt a jolt like almost physical pain run through his head. He felt himself walking slowly forward, half willing and half unwilling.
He heard cries behind him, and he fought to turn his head. Jason, Zack, Kimberly, and Trini were running toward him. He opened his mouth to ask what was wrong, but before he could they were blown back. They fell to the ground.
Still staring at his friends trying to raise themselves from the ground, Billy absent-mindedly held the box out at arm's length. He felt it pulled roughly from his grasp. There was a loud laugh, a flash of fire, and Goldar disappeared with the box in hand.
At that moment, the spell dropped, and Billy thought clearly for the first time in hours.
He dropped to the ground, shaking violently, his eyes wide with silent terror and denial. He barely registered the tingle of teleportation.
The Rangers were at the Command Center once more. Trini was at a console, trying to get Zordon back, while the others stared in helpless horror at Tommy and Billy crouched in the center.
"Billy, you need to listen to me. Just calm down and listen."
"It… but… it wasn't… but I… It was all me. I did that."
"It wasn't you, Billy. Not really. You had no choice, Billy."
Tommy was holding Billy's shoulders, trying to steady him. Billy noticed Tommy's bleeding arms.
"I did that," he repeated. "Oh, God, I… I almost killed you. And our parents are gone and Zordon's gone and the Power Coins are gone and everyone's going to die and it's all my FAULT!"
The cry tore from his throat as a more-than-physical manifestation of pain. He started hyperventilating from the sheer panic.
"You can't blame yourself," Jason said desperately, seeing that Tommy couldn't calm him by himself.
"You were under Rita's control," Zack added.
"Come on," said Kimberly, "you were the first to stand up for Tommy! You were in the same situation."
Trini abandoned her attempts at finding Zordon. "Billy, you've got to calm down!" She crouched at his side and tried to pull him into a hug, but Billy flinched away.
"We're all going to die because of me," Billy said, his voice barely over a whisper. "Rita's won, and…"
Tommy's voice hardened in response. "Okay, fine! You did all those things!"
At the outburst, Billy stopped hyperventilating. In fact, he was barely breathing. But Tommy finally had his attention.
Rather than talk more, Tommy pulled Billy off his feet, ignoring the almost unbearable pain in his shoulders. He pushed Billy to the main console. "You're going to start making it right, because that's the only way you're going to be able to live with yourself. Now get Zordon back from wherever you sent him."
Billy was still trembling, but his color was starting to return to normal. Almost mechanically, he keyed in a complicated set of commands into the console. The fake image of Zordon flickered away, and the real Zordon was restored seconds later.
Billy slumped against the computer, as if the effort of not going mad had exhausted him.
Zordon, in the meantime, got the faraway look that meant he was accessing all the events he'd missed. "I'm sorry, Rangers," he said quietly. "I'm sorry I could not prevent this from happening."
"We couldn't have seen this coming," Jason said in a low voice.
Zordon closed his eyes. "Trini, we cannot use your serum without the Power Coins, but Tommy's wounds must be treated. You will find the appropriate medicine in the utility closet."
"Right," Trini said, dashing off and obviously glad to have something to do.
"Billy," Zordon said even more softly.
Billy flinched, unwilling to look up. He was no longer showing outward signs of panic, but Tommy knew that just meant his feelings had all turned inward.
"Billy, you must keep yourself together long enough to recover everything. You may break down as much as you wish after the danger has passed. Do you think you can manage?"
Billy looked at Zordon, a shudder passing through his frame. "I… I think I can."
"Good," Zordon said, his attention turning to the rest, "for we must prepare for Rita's inevitable message to us."
"Why would she contact us?" Zack said grimly. "She's got everything already."
Zordon gave an uncharacteristic bitter smile. "She does not have everything. Not yet, at least. She does not have me, for instance."
Jason paled. "You… you think she's going to try to ransom off our parents for… you?"
"That is one possibility," Zordon said. "One of many. She holds your Power Coins, and therefore your very lives, since even Billy parted with his unwillingly in the end. She also has your parents, which is of a greater concern. Power can be replaced, though not easily. People cannot."
"We can't just give you up to her," Kimberly said.
Zordon smiled kindly. "I appreciate the sentiment, but that is not entirely up to you."
Trini arrived with the medicine and pulled Tommy aside to treat his wounds. The look on her face told them she'd heard enough to know what was going on.
"It doesn't have to come to that," Tommy spoke up, more to ignore the pain than from having any ideas. "We can mount a rescue. I'm betting since Rita expended so much energy on daily monster attacks, the spell, and teleporting all those people, she's relying on the Moon Palace's security system to protect both our parents and the Power Coins. It'll be risky, but…"
"She's calling," Billy broke in, his voice dull and exhausted. "Rita's hailing us."
Jason chanced a look at Zordon. "We can't do anything but listen. She holds all the cards, after all."
Zordon nodded. "Put her on the Viewing Globe, Billy."
Rita's smirking face filled the screen. "Well, I see my recently former servant couldn't properly dispose of my other former servant," she said. "Too bad. He did everything else so well."
"Stop this, Rita," Zordon said, trying to save Billy further anguish. "Surely we have more important business to discuss."
Rita was laughing to herself. To Tommy, she looked like she was wild with joy, but only just containing it. "I suppose so. I hope you all realize what incredible danger you're all in."
"We don't need reminding, thanks," Jason said through gritted teeth.
"I only said it," Rita said, "because I want to give you all the opportunity to save your parents and regain your powers in one fell swoop."
"Waiting for other shoe to drop…" Kimberly said quietly.
"And what's the price?" said Zack. "Haven't been visited by three ghosts, have you?"
Rita frowned for the first time. "I will ignore that inane human allusion." She regained her good humor. "The price is simple. You must work for me. You will be my Power Rangers."
The Rangers looked at each other in disbelief. Jason turned back to Rita. "You've got to be kidding. What makes you think we would work for you willingly?"
"How about a dead prisoner a day?" Rita said coldly.
The Rangers stared at her, unable to say anything. It was as if their insides were frozen.
"I'll give you an hour to think on it," Rita said. "Have your answer ready then, or one of your parents dies. I will make it quick and painless, but they will be dead all the same." She smirked. "See you in an hour."
She blinked off the Viewing Globe, leaving a picture of a peaceful Angel Grove. But they knew that Rita didn't need monsters to destroy Angel Grove.
"Well, what the hell are we going to do?" Zack broke the silence. "We can't risk a rescue mission without powers."
"We could agree to it… just long enough to get our parents back," Kimberly said a bit wildly. "And then we could fight back."
Trini was shaking her head. "That would be too much of a risk. Rita would have some sort of insurance against a trick like that. She'd put a spell on us, or corrupt our powers, or make candles for all of us, or something…"
Billy wasn't talking. He looked like he had drawn in to himself to suffer silently.
"Jason," Zordon said, "I think it's time to tell everyone Rita's mistake."
Jason's face split into a grin. "I didn't know how long I could contain it."
Tommy was starting to smile, too. "I was wondering if anyone else had noticed. I was about to say something before she called."
Trini, Zack, and Kimberly stared at Jason and Tommy as if they'd just started spouting Greek. Even Billy looked up to puzzle at their smiles.
"Okay, for those of us who haven't gone completely insane," Kimberly said, "do you two mind explaining?"
"In a minute," Tommy said. "Billy, if nothing else will comfort you… You were resisting the spell as much as you could the entire time."
Billy looked absolutely lost. "But… how…?"
"By intentionally making mistakes," Jason said. "And if I wasn't such a bonehead and actually followed your clues, I would have kept us from getting into this much danger. The one clue I should have noticed is, while we were on Earth, you never actually said that Tommy was the one who brought down security. You, in fact, told no lies.
"Then, I finally noticed the really crappy reproduction of Zordon. Not only was he pixilated around the edges… but I've already told what tipped me off about Zordon."
"You were also the first to accuse Tommy, and you didn't even defend him." Kimberly's face went serious. "If we hadn't…" She stopped, casting worried glances at Tommy.
Tommy sighed and smiled ruefully. "I don't blame any of you for not trusting me. I should have apologized a long time ago. Hell, I should never have left, especially like I did." He linked his hand with Kimberly's and pulled her closer. "Kim… I…"
"I know," she said softly. "I'm sorry, too."
Zack cleared his throat loudly. "Guys, there's time for PDA later… or not at all, please."
Tommy and Kimberly reluctantly broke apart, looking happily guilty.
"What I want to know is," Zack continued, "what Jason, Tommy, and Zordon are so freakin' happy about."
"The last thing Billy could do," Jason said. "The biggest mistake in our favor he could possibly make, and the one thing Rita obviously didn't count on."
Billy was starting to break out of his fugue state. "What are you talking about? She has our parents, the Dragon Dagger, all five Power Coins…" Billy trailed off, realization slowly dawning on his face.
Jason slowly pulled from his pocket the Green Power Coin. "The thing is… there are six Power Rangers."
He turned to Zordon as the other stared at the Green Power Coin in shock. "Now, Zordon, I think it's time you told all of us about those experiments you and Alpha have been running."