Disclaimer: Billy, the Aquitian Rangers, and various other characters all belong to
Saban, not me. Cavalier, Sear, Vendetta, Prism, General Dyrhan, and various others DO belong to
me. There's probably at least one other team of Disk Rangers running around somewhere, but if
they're yours, I promise I didn't steal them! This takes place the day Billy doesn't get the Gold
Ranger Powers and kinda goes on from there.

Destined for Darkness
By: SilvorMoon

*There they go again,* Billy thought as he watched his friends race off to save the
day again. Even he was surprised a little by the note of sadness in his thoughts. He had thought
that after time, he would have gotten used to seeing the Power Rangers leaving on their heroic
missions while he stayed behind to watch, but somehow, it never did. If anything, it grew worse
over time. Gradually but surely, they had come to accept his new position as a behind-the-scenes
helper, and without really meaning to, they had set in their minds the thought that he wasn't going
to be an active member anymore. Yes, he was their friend, and they cared about him and counted
on him, but... things had changed. A lot of the old close-knit camaraderie was wearing off. They
weren't doing it on purpose, and they would have been sorry if they had realized it, but it was
coming to pass, and it didn't look like there was much that could be done about it.

*Things like this happen,* he told himself, trying to be philosophical about the
whole thing. *Where are the others now? Jason, Zack, Trini, Kimberly, Aisha... they were as
much a part of the team as I was. When was the last time we heard from any of them? They're
living their lives, and we're living ours, and even if we miss them, we can't get back together and
make everything like it was. Things have changed. Even the best of friends can drift apart.*
He paused and considered. *The big difference is that I'm drifting away from my friends even
though I'm still here.*

For a moment, he was struck by a wild urge to follow after the Rangers. After all, there
was no real reason why he shouldn't be able to come. The Rangers were just going to meet Lord Trey
of Triforia as he landed on Earth, not going off to a full-fledged battle. Nothing was going to
happen that he wouldn't be able to deal with just because he no longer had powers of his own,
and nothing was going to happen in the Power Chamber that Zordon and Alpha would really need
his help with, though he was sure they would insist otherwise if he asked them. They had always
taken care of things like this well enough before he had started working with them full time, and
they could still take care of it now. There was nothing really preventing him from going along if
he wanted to...

*...except that I don't really even belong with them anymore. They won't feel
comfortable having me along, because they've all started to feel like the only place I belong is
here. It's not fair!*

The flash of anger evaporated almost as soon as the thought was completed, and he
sighed. He had volunteered for this position; he had no real right to complain. It just got a bit
frustrating at times... and a bit lonely.

"Are you all right, Billy?" asked a worried voice.

Billy dredged up a smile. "I'm fine, Alpha. Just thinking about something."

"Are you sure? You haven't been acting like yourself lately," the little droid persisted. "Is
something bothering you?"

"I'll be okay. Thanks for caring, though," Billy replied. He actually meant it, too. It was
hard to be depressed and talk to Alpha at the same time. There was just something about the
robot that was good for eliciting smiles. He had always liked Alpha, thinking of him almost like a
younger brother, and these days it seemed like the droid's companionship was the only thing
keeping him sane at times.

"As long as you're sure," said Alpha.

Billy nodded and turned back to the computers, wanting to feel as if he was being of at
least a little bit of use. King Mondo had set up an energy shield around the Power Chamber, and it
would have to be broken before anyone would be able to get back inside, which would probably
be necessary in the very near future if Trey was in as bad shape as he had appeared to be. He let
his other problems drop out of his mind, concentrating only on the problem at hand. It was the
best escape he knew, to lose emotions in a task of logic complex enough that there could be no
thinking of anything else...

By the time the shield was broken, he was in a better mood. After all, this was what he did
best, and no matter how badly he was feeling, there would still be some pleasure in doing it and
succeeding. It seemed he would be well rewarded for his work, too, because it seemed that the
Lord of Triforia was presently unable to use his powers, and he was looking for a worthy
recipient to keep them until he could be healed. Trey was teleported to the Power Chamber at
once. Billy, ever calm and logical, did his best to hide the excitement that was welling up inside of
him.

*I'm going to be a Power Ranger again!* rejoiced a voice in his mind. Maybe only
for a little while, but he would still be part of the team again. He would give anything for that,
even if it was just for a day. *All I want is one more chance.*

The Golden Power Staff was placed in his hands. Billy raised it high, and lights flashed
around him. For a moment, he could feel something happening, something wonderful and
glorious, a warm rush of power that he had almost forgotten. Then, just at the change was about
to be completed, something went wrong.

The feeling was like having something angrily ripped away from him, only intensified
incredibly, as if every force in the universe had suddenly screamed, "Don't you dare touch
that!" And then he was falling and crashing, and his heart cried out in pain. He was looking up
from darkness, and there were lights looming over him. They were angry at him, and he found
himself getting angry right back at them.

"What did I do wrong?" he demanded. "Why are you doing this to me?"

"You have attempted to take the Golden Powers," said a voice sternly.

"Trey is giving them to me! What's wrong with that?"

"You cannot take them. They are not meant for you."

"Why not?" Billy demanded. "I've been a Power Ranger for years. Am I not good
enough? What's wrong with me that makes me unworthy?"

"You are destined for darkness," answered the voice. "You will no longer be
a part of the team to which you once belonged. This is your fate, and you will accept it."

"What do you mean, destined for darkness?" asked Billy, a little frightened now. "I serve
the Power. I always have. There's no way I could be-"

"Silence! Your fate is what it is, and it cannot be changed. When the time comes,
things will go as you have been told."

"We'll see about that," Billy muttered defiantly.

"Destiny must come to pass," the voice insisted. "Go back to your own world
now, and tell no one of this meeting."

With no more warning than that, Billy was spinning and falling again, and then he was
back in the Power Chamber, holding a magical staff that would never do him any good. The three
Treys stood and stared at him curiously.

"What happened?" asked one.

Billy shrugged. "It didn't work."

"Why not?"

"I don't know," answered Billy, "but I'm going to find out. Excuse me, please; I need to
think about this alone."

Before anyone could try to stop him, he turned and stalked away, heading for one of the
smaller side rooms of the Power Chamber. He couldn't face anyone for a while, not after what
had just happened. The condemning words of that voice he had heard were still ringing in his
mind. Destined for darkness... what could it mean?

~*~

Time passed, and life went on, but Billy never completely forgot the conversation that had
taken place in that dark otherworld. For the first couple of weeks after hearing the ominous
prophecy, he had watched and waited for something catastrophic to happen to him, waiting for his
enemies to swoop down and attack him and take him away to their side. He was determined to be
ready when it happened, prepared to thwart whatever curse had been placed upon him... but
nothing happened. Things just went along the way they always had. The only people the forces of
evil seemed to have any interest in were the Power Rangers, and he was mostly just left to
himself. For a while, he began to wonder if nothing was ever going to happen. That comforted
him for a while. That was before it occurred to him that maybe nothing needed to happen.

Maybe it already had happened.

He didn't know exactly when that insidious little thought crept into his mind, but once it
got there, it wouldn't let him go. He began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, there was a reason
why he had suddenly begun to separate from his closest friends. Had something happened to him
that he didn't even know about? Could they sense, somehow, that there was something wrong
with him? Then he started to think that maybe it wasn't even something that had to happen.
Destiny wasn't something that just appeared out of nowhere; it was laid on you from the day you
were born, or maybe even before that. If that was true, than he might have already been tainted
from the start. All he would need, then, is the right tug to draw out his dark side, and then...

*You're getting paranoid,* he told himself sternly as he lay awake in bed one
night. *You've always been logical before, so don't lose it now. There's no point in torturing
yourself with a bunch of things that are only possibilities, maybe not even that. It won't do you
any good. What happens will happen, so there's no point in worrying about it.*

He went on in that vein for quite a while before he finally managed to calm himself. After
all, it had been quite a while since the prophecy, if that was what it really was, and nothing bad
had happened yet. It was probably just a trick of his imagination, some figment caused by his own
self-doubts. The vision was blurry in his mind now, after all this time. As far as he knew, he could
have dreamed it all, and who was afraid of bad dreams? How much could a dream do, really?

That night, he found out.

~*~

Far out in the more distant parts of the universe, there was a dusty desert world. It was
dry most of the time, and there was hardly any vegetation. It was one of the most inhospitable
places in all the galaxies that surrounded it. There were few people who were crazy enough to go
there, even if it wasn't prohibited for them to try. For those brave or skilled or desperate enough
to survive there, though, Onyx was home and shelter.

The most popular - and the only - hangout on Onyx was a tavern conveniently located in
the center of the small town. Ruffians, refugees, bounty hunters, drifters, assassins, mercenaries,
and criminals of every description came to gather here. Under the roof of the seedy old building,
shady deals were made over tankards of the house specials while monsters cheated each other at
card games. It was not a place one wanted to go alone, not unless you were either very good at
dodging trouble or very skilled at self-defense, so the threesome who passed through the saloon's
swinging doors attracted little attention.

The first of the group was a young humanoid man with pale orange skin and flaming red
hair. He paused a moment, surveying the scene through one surprisingly blue eye. The other eye
was covered by a tattered black eyepatch, and the scar that extended from beneath it hinted at
why it was needed. He was dressed plainly in dusty brown clothes that helped him to blend with
the general populace, but his brilliant hair was hard to miss.

His companion had taken no such precautions. Blue was his color, and he was determined
to wear it. His clothes were fine enough to attract some attention, being liberally trimmed with
silver, but the sword at his belt was a silent warning to any thief that it would not be wise to
tangle with him. His skin was pale, nearly white, but his eyes were black as coals. Locks of
brilliant blue hair fell to his shoulders.

The third member of the group was almost hard to see at first, as distracting as the other
two were. Gender was impossible to tell, for the person wore a hooded black cloak that
completely concealed face and form. Still, there was an air of watchfulness about the cloaked
figure, as if the eyes hidden by the hood were surveying everything, missing no detail.

"Where's Cav? Where's Jet?" asked the redhead a bit worriedly. "I don't see them. Are
they here?"

"Cav's over there," the other young man answered boredly. "See? He's in the far corner.
Looks like he's had a few. Jet's probably stalked off in embarrassment. You know how Cav is
when he's sloshed."

"After the way today's been, I might not mind joining him," said the hooded figure. The
voice was feminine, soft and pleasant, with just a hint of a southern drawl, but there was an
undercurrent of strength to it.

"Suit yourself, Vendetta," answered the redhead. "I want to talk to Cav and see what's
eating him."

"Sure thing, dear," answered the one called Vendetta. "This won't take but a moment.
Hold this, Prism."

So saying, she shed her concealing robe and handed it to the blue haired man, revealing a
tight-fitting black dress that clung to a curvaceous figure. Her skin was very white, but her hair
was jet black, falling past her waist. Her ears came to graceful points, like that of a storybook elf,
and there was a green mark like a four-pointed star in the center of her forehead. Eyes like
emeralds peered out from beneath her long eyelashes, and her red lips were set in a winning smile.
Several of the tavern's patrons turned to stare at her. Ignoring them all, she sauntered across the
room and up to the bar, where she leaned languidly against the counter top and gazed deeply into
the eyes of the nearest creature seated there.

"Hey, big boy," she said coyly. "How's about buying a drink for little ol' me, hmm?"

The monster, completely flustered, beckoned for the bartender and handed over a handful
of coins, never taking his gaze off of Vendetta. She took the drink that was produced and smiled
brilliantly.

"Aw, thanks. You're a sweetie," she said to her benefactor. She kissed the tips of her
fingers and brushed them against the creature's lips before sauntering away again, leaving him
dumbstruck.

"Bet none of you fellas can do that," she said to her companions as she returned to them.

"What a ridiculous display," said Prism, making a face of mild displeasure. "You have no
shame, Vendetta."

"Hey, it worked, didn't it?" Vendetta replied with a shrug, taking a sip of her free drink.

She took a seat at the table where the males were already sitting and talking. The redhead
was having an argument with the fourth member of their group, with whom they had recently
been reunited. This new person's looks were as striking as the others when compared to a human,
but his coloring seemed a bit drab next to his friends. His hair was blue like Prism's, but much
lighter and with a slight metallic cast to it, and his skin had a faint silvery tone. He was dressed in
simple, unadorned clothing of pale grey. A knife hung at his belt, but it appeared to be mainly for
show; it didn't look as if it got nearly as much use as the guitar-like stringed instrument that was
propped against the table beside him. His eyes were the color of an approaching storm but slightly
unfocused, and a number of empty glasses (plus one half-empty one that he was still working on)
could attest to the reason. He seemed to be very upset about something, but in his inebriated
state, he was having trouble getting his point across.

"For the last time, Cav," said the redhead in frustration, "what is your problem?"

"I'm tellin' ya, Sear," Cav answered. "I'm tellin' ya, but ya won't listen. Told ya three
times," he insisted, holding up five fingers. "Gone."

"What's gone?" demanded Sear in frustration.

"Him. He's gone," said Cav unsteadily. "Gone. You can wait for him, but he ain't gonna
come. Gone... I want another drink." He made a face at the half-empty glass. "It's almost gone,
too."

"Give me that!" said Prism, snatching the glass away. "You've messed yourself up
enough. Who are you talking about? Jet?"

Cav managed to give his friend an annoyed look, even through his haze.

"Don't know how to listen," he accused. "Keep tellin' ya, he's gone. Gone, gone, gone,
gone..."

"Cavalier, if you don't cut that out and tell us who you're talking about..." Sear
threatened, raising a fist angrily. Vendetta gestured for him to stop.

"I'll do it," she said. She looked to her drunken companion. "Cav, sweetie? Look at me a
second."

Cavalier turned and gave her a glazed look. Vendetta slapped him.

"Ow!" he said. "Whatcha do that f-for?"

"To get you to stop talking nonsense. Now, listen. We know someone is gone. You said
that already. Now, tell us exactly who's gone, where they went, and why they're not coming, or
I'll bash your precious lute over your head, okay?"

"You wouldn't. Not really," said Cav in faint amazement.

"I would, so start talking."

Cav sighed. "Jet. He's gone. They got him."

"WHAT?" There was a general outcry.

"S'true. We were fighting them, and they got him. I had to watch it happen," said Cavalier
miserably. "They tried to steal the thing. Morph. Morpher. I got it from them, though. All that
was left of him. Couldn't let them have it. Here." He reached into a pocket and took out a small,
watchlike contraption, a silver disk inlaid with gold designs attached to a black wrist strap. He
shoved it across the table to Sear, who picked it up with a stunned expression.

"I don't believe it," he said softly. "Does this mean Jet is... dead?"

Cavalier nodded dejectedly. Vendetta gasped, wide eyed with shock. Sear and Prism
closed their eyes and hung their heads.

"This can't be happening," said Prism. "Why Jet? He was our leader. We need him.
How are we supposed to take over a planet when we're missing our most important member?"

"For crying out loud!" muttered Sear, his pain already turning into anger. "Jet was our
friend! They think just because we don't think like they do means we can't care about each other!
They're probably celebrating right now, just having a blast now because they murdered my best
friend."

"Not murder," said Cav, showing a flash of his usual character even through his alcoholic
haze. "Destroy. We're things, Sear."

"Yes. All who fight in the name of good are people, all who fight for darkness are things,"
Prism agreed bitterly. "And they get to decide who's evil and who isn't."

"We'll get them all for it," said Vendetta, her voice full of cold fury. "One day, somehow,
we will make them hurt for this. If they want us to be evil, then evil is what they'll get."

"Right," Sear agreed. He turned his lost companion's morpher over in his hands. "But
before we do that, we've got to find a new leader."

~*~

It was a long way to Earth. Billy sat in his little room beneath the Aquitian waves and
peered out the window. His was supposed to be a good view, a window looking down on an
ocean-floor basin full of coral and waving seaweed, dotted by the occasional bright anemone or
flitting fish. To Billy, though, the whole thing looked cold and dark. He was used to wide open
skies and bright sunshine, and living on the ocean floor didn't do much for his mood.

He had been living on Aquatar for a few weeks now, recovering from the effects of his
magical regenerator that had caused him to age far faster than the natural rate. He was safe now,
the effects having been neutralized by a dose of magical Aquitian water, but as of yet, he had not
gone back home.

Part of the reason, of course, was that he had friends here. He liked the Aquitian Rangers,
and they treated him with great respect. Though he might not be an empowered Ranger, he still
worked closely with all of them, just as he had when they were on Earth. And Cestria was here,
too, the beautiful Aquitian girl who had helped save his life and with whom he had become close
friends with on his first visit to Aquatar. He didn't feel so lonely here with all of them, which was
important to him, but that wasn't the full reason.

*I'm hiding,* he admitted to himself. *Running away. I don't know why,
though. It isn't like the problem was with the planet I was on. It's in me, and it isn't going to
change just because I go somewhere else for a while.*

It was the dreams that were doing him in. He'd had one of them at least once a week since
the night they had started. They were never exactly alike, varying with the events of his day and
the mood he was in, but the theme was always the same. The fear that he had been dodging since
he had been told he was fated to join the dark side would catch up to him in his nightmares, and
the part of him he feared most would go on the warpath. It happened in different ways, but it was
always the same result: he would end up hurting his friends, maybe even killing them, and then
turning on the rest of the world or himself, finally waking up in a cold sweat, heart pounding. He
had trained himself to ignore them, to forget them instantly and go on with his life, but the
knowledge that they would pounce on him without warning as he closed his eyes was a disturbing
one.

*So you ran away from your friends because you're scared you'll hurt them, and then
what do you do? You make new friends and move in with them. Some genius.*

Just then, a spatter of static emerged from a small intercom device sitting next to his bed.
Like the communicators he had built on Earth when he had first become a Power Ranger, this device
linked Billy with the Aquitian Rangers so that they could alert him in case of an emergency. Now
Aurico's voice came in through the small speaker.

"Billy! We are receiving a transmission from another galaxy. It seems rather urgent, so if
you aren't doing anything..."

"I'm on my way," Billy replied. Going by the way Aurico was talking, it was unlikely that
he would be able to do much that was really useful at the moment, but he might be needed later.
He grabbed up his tool kit and hurried in the direction of the Aquitian Rangers' headquarters.

Unlike the Rangers of Earth, the Aquitian Rangers had no bans against having their
identities known, so their headquarters, though off-limits to most people, was in fairly plain view.
The practical upshot of this was that Billy could get there fairly quickly on foot, which was a
good thing, since he wasn't currently equipped for independent teleportation. He seldom bothered
with his communicator these days, and the time it would take him to dig it out from the pile of
junk it was mixed with was about the same as what it would take for him to run, so he did. As he
sped down the tunnels, a few acquaintances nodded to him politely; nearly everyone knew by now
about their heroes' human helper. By the time Billy reached his destination, he found his friends
all gathered around a holographic generator, wearing serious expressions. However, since their
expressions were normally serious anyway, the situation probably wasn't that dire yet.

"Hey, everyone," he said. "Sorry I'm late. What's up?"

"We just received a distress signal from the world of Quandar, in the Torgah galaxy,"
Delphine informed him. "It seems they desire our assistance. Perhaps it would be best if we
replayed the message for you."

"If you don't mind," answered Billy, nodding.

In response, Cestro did something with a few knobs and buttons on the hologram
machine. Suddenly, an image sprang up, forming a flickering, translucent image of a distinguished
looking man with a neatly clipped beard and a military-style uniform standing importantly before
them.

"Greetings, Rangers of Aquatar," he said. "I am General Dyrhan of Quandar. I come to
you with an urgent message. My planet is under attack by forces of unbelievable power, and we
are nearing the ends of our strength in defending ourselves. Many have been contacted in hopes
that they will lend us their aid, but so far, none have agreed. You may be our last hope. Will you
help us? If you wish to speak with me in person, feel free to visit me in the capital city of
Quandar. I await your answer. End of message." The hologram blinked abruptly out of being.

"What do you make of that?" asked Tideus.

"It sounds really weird," Billy said. "What could possibly be wrong on Quandar that no
one else in the universe wants to deal with?"

"There can be no knowing that until we go and ask," said Aurico.

"But it could be a trap of some kind," Delphine pointed out. "Quandar is not a world
noted for its hospitality. They are known as fierce military fighters, and they are often unfriendly
to outsiders. I would be hesitant to trust them."

"But what if they really are in trouble?" Corcus asked. "We cannot leave innocent people
in danger because of possibly groundless suspicions."

"They've got one of the best trained armies in that part of the universe," Cestro said
thoughtfully. "If they are incapable of handling the danger, it must be a true emergency... but if
this is a trap, they could be formidable enemies."

"We can't make an informed decision at this point," said Tideus. "What we really need to
do is make some inquiries and get more information. A few of us can go and check out the
situation, and the rest can take action later according to the situation."

Delphine nodded. "A wise plan. I move we follow it."

The other Rangers expressed agreement.

"Good," she said. "Aurico, Cestro, Corcus, you shall remain here. I will go with Billy and
Tideus to speak with the general."

"You want me to come?" Billy replied. "Why?"

"I want a balancing of skills on both planets," Delphine explained. "Aurico and I are the
warriors, you and Cestro the scientists, Tideus and Corcus our voices of reason and wisdom. We
shall fare better if both teams are divided equally."

"I see," Billy answered. What no one was saying was that if it came to a rescue, it would
be better if the empowered fighter was free to move, rather than someone like himself whose
fighting skills were limited to natural strength alone. Then again, he also knew that Cestro tended
to dehydrate more quickly than some of the others when leaving Aquitar, whereas he would be
impervious to such problems and might actually benefit from the change, so it averaged out pretty
well. He was impressed with Delphine for making the choice so skillfully and quickly.

"I will monitor you all from here," said Cestro. "We'll teleport to you as soon as the
situation becomes clear."

"Very good," Delphine replied. "Are you ready, Billy? Tideus?"

"Of course," Tideus agreed.

"Ready as I'll ever be," added Billy.

"Then it we should waste no more time," Delphine said. "We will leave at once. Send
word that we are on our way."

"Of course," said Aurico, "Good luck, and may the Power protect you."

The Aquitians made gestures of farewell. Then Delphine, Tideus, and Billy disappeared in
streaks of color: white, yellow, and one in an incongruous deep black...

~*~

Quandar was impressive. Walking down the broad, clean, streets of the city, looking up at
the shiny white and silver blocks of buildings, Billy found himself wondering if it was impressive
in a good way or in a bad one. After a while, he decided it was impressive in its dullness.
Everything was clean, everything was orderly, everything conformed.

*Well, it's a military establishment,* he reminded himself, *and we're right in
the heart of it. Things are probably standardized here. Things can't look like this
everywhere!*

"Not very welcoming, is it?" asked Tideus, glancing at a pair of armed and uniformed men
marching down the other side of the street.

"What can you expect from a planet who is in constant threat of attack with no one to
help them?" asked Delphine.

Tideus shrugged. "Not parades and flowers. Still, you would think they would at least-"

"There you are!" exclaimed a voice. Everyone turned to see a young man in a
green uniform running up to him, smiling with relief. "You have no idea how good it is to see
you! We had begun to lose hope that anyone would agree to help us. All the other Ranger teams
we contacted were either too busy with their own problems, or, well... I'll let the general explain
it to you."

"We would be happy to speak to him," said Delphine, her normally serious expression
thawing a bit. The young soldier's relief was so evident and unfeigned that it wiped any suspicions
of treachery from everyone's minds.

"I've been sent to greet you and show you the way," said the soldier. "I really can't tell
you how grateful we are to have you. The situation's gotten quite impossible. They used to be
bad, but lately..."

"They, who?" asked Billy.

"Our enemies," the soldier replied. "The general wanted to be the one to tell you the
details. He knows what's going on better than I do, anyway."

There didn't seem to be any answer for that, so Delphine wisely said nothing. The soldier
set a brisk pace, marching resolutely down the streets, but he chatted amiably as he walked. Billy
was reminded a bit of a tour guide as he obediently looked at the sights that were pointed out to
him. Once he had trained his eye, accustomed to the rounded shapes Aquitian architecture, to
appreciate Quandar's angular style, he actually found a lot of the structures to be fairly attractive.
He wouldn't want to stay there forever, but now that he was used to it, it seemed like a nice
place. After a while, he became so involved with admiring the scenery that he nearly tripped on a
flight of steps. He caught himself just short of crashing into Delphine, which would have made a
bad first impression on the man who was coming to meet them.

The travelers from Aquatar were standing at the base of a grand set of stairs that swept up
to an important-looking building that marked the end of the street. Sweeping down these steps
with all the dignity of a king was General Dyrhan. In real life, he seemed far more formidable than
he had as a six-inch translucent hologram. He seemed to radiate with calm power, a tall, broad
shouldered man with short black hair and a stern face. His uniform was also black, decorated with
gold buttons and a number of badges and medals and other marks of rank. He met his visitors at
the bottom of the steps and gravely shook hands with Delphine.

"You are the leader of the Aquitian Rangers, I presume?" he asked.

"Yes. I am Delphine, and my companions are Tideus and Billy," she answered, gesturing
to her friends. "We have come in answer to your message."

"You have come to help us, then?" asked General Dyrhan. "We are deeply indebted to
you for coming."

"We have not decided to help yet," Delphine replied. "We have only come for more
information on the problem. Once we understand the situation more clearly, we will make our
decision."

"I see," said the general. "Well, in that case, perhaps it would be best if you were to step
into my office so I can explain it for you in private. I admit, our situation is somewhat unusual. I
am very glad you have chosen to come here so that I can explain it for you in detail. Those who
have only heard part of the story have formed mistaken ideas of what is really happening here, and
it has made recruiting help difficult."

"We will listen to what you say," Tideus replied. "It is, after all, why we came."

"Right this way," said General Dyrhan.

So saying, he led the way up the stairs and into the building. Billy took a look around at
the neutral colors, chessboard floor, potted plants, and innocuous art before tuning it all out. It
looked just like any of hundreds of official buildings he had seen on Earth. Evidently, bureaucracy
was the same all over the universe.

After wandering through some hallways and past a few offices, where secretaries seemed
to be working busily on paperwork and filing, they came to a large door with a brass nameplate
discreetly marking it at the office of the general. He graciously opened the door and allowed his
visitors to pass through. They were seated in a few of the utilitarian but comfortable chairs that
were arranged around the general's desk while he himself took his place in his own leather
armchair.

"I think the right place to begin would be at the colonization of this planet," he began.
"Long ago, this world was inhabited by monsters, mutated creatures who often possessed
powerful magic. Fortunately, their technology never became advanced enough that they could
leave their planet, so they spent most of their time battling each other in bloody race wars.
However, when it was discovered by space travelers, ancestors of all those living here now, the
monsters were brought under control. They could not defeat the superior numbers and advanced
technology they were faced with, and so they agreed to leave the colonizers in peace in exchange
for being left to themselves. A bargain was made, and the planet was divided into four quarters -
one for humans and one for each clan of monsters, and laws were upon that would prevent people
of one race from disturbing the others. We lived in peace for many years, and all four civilizations
flourished in their own ways."

Billy considered the idea. He had never heard of such a thing. Monsters and humans living
together peacefully on the same planet... what a concept!

"However, the monsters could not forget their old feuds forever, and eventually, they
began to bicker again. This time, however, they were far more powerful than before, and their
wars damaged not only each other, but the people who were taking no part in it. Attempts at
peacekeeping came to nothing. Finally, they took a step too far and deliberately murdered a
human soldier who was doing guard duty at a station near one of the borders. At that point, total
war broke out. When it was over, most of the monsters had been slain, and the rest driven away.
At least, we thought they were."

"You have found survivors?" asked Delphine, her face creasing in puzzlement.

"Not survivors. Invaders," General Durhan replied. "They have decided that they want
their world back, and they will stop at nothing to get it. They have attacked our world multiple
times in unsuccessful attempts to destroy our city. As of yet, there have been serious injuries, but
no deaths, but we do not know how much longer this will last - they have become much more
vengeful and destructive since the death of their leader."

"That does sound serious," said Billy, "but why hasn't anyone agreed to help you? Even a
huge army can't do but so much good if their leader is gone."

"That's just it," answered the general. "They aren't an army. There are only four of them
now, but they are very cunning and very powerful. You see, the problem is that these monsters
aren't just any monsters. These monsters... are Power Rangers."

~*~

"Blast it!" muttered Prism, beating his fist into his palm. He glared angrily at the computer
he was seated in front of. "Blast, blast, blast it! Those dirty dogs have finally called in
some real fighters!"

"No problem. We'll just toast 'em," said Sear. He blew across the tip of his index finger,
and a flame suddenly lit on the end of it.

"Be serious," said Prism sternly. "I'm not talking about more grunt troops. They've got
real Rangers now, with powers equal to ours and more experience under their belts. This is
trouble."

"Incredible," said Cavalier. He was sitting on the other side of the room, strumming idly
on his lute. Having had a few days to recover from the death of his friend and the way he had
handled the situation, he was in top form again, and was now generally making an annoyance of
himself by making sarcastic remarks about everything that crossed his path. "They do everything
they can to keep us aliens off their planet, and when they figure out they can't do it, what
do they do? They call more aliens! And they called us the inferior races."

"You got that straight," said Vendetta.

"The logic of our enemy is not in question at the moment," said Prism. "What we should
be talking about is what they have decided to do, whether it is logical or not. How do we deal
with it?"

"Aw, I don't know," said Cav, pausing his song and making a face of frustration.
"Strategy was Jet's job. We just aren't up to dealing with complicated plans without him."

"You're the brain here, Prisim," Sear said. "You think of something."

"I'm not a planner. My talents, considerable as they are, are still limited to my fields of
expertise," Prism answered.

"That's my brother," said Cavalier. "Brilliant mathematician, unmatched computer
programmer, and dull as an old butter knife in the face of reality."

"Someday I'm going to disown you," answered Prism mildly.

"Oh, men!" said Vendetta, rolling her eyes. "If you all would quit insulting each
other and think, maybe you could come up with something. As of this minute, what are we up
against? If we made a concentrated attack right this second, what would we be facing? Five
Rangers? Six?"

"Three people teleported from Aquatar," answered Prism, looking back at his computer.
"Two of them are fully empowered. It's harder to tell about the third; the readouts are very
unclear."

"So, we've got three Rangers at the most, possibly two," Sear replied. "Maybe we can
fight them off. We might be able to scare them away, even if we can't destroy them."

"Or maybe we could just sting them into getting together a few friends and having them
come back to avenge them," added Cav.

"You are a wellspring of inspiration," said Vendetta sarcastically.

"Hey, somebody's got to tell it like it is," Cav replied.

"Enough is enough," Prism said, interrupting before an argument could break out. "We'll
go to Quandar, hit them with all we have, and trust it will be enough. It will have to be, because I
don't know how much more we can do without Jet."

"I hate to admit it, but you're right," said Sear with a sigh. "Okay, then, let's give this a
try. I sure hope we're doing the right thing."

The others nodded. Then, in four streaks of colored light, they teleported out of their
hideout, speeding through the darkness of space full of grim determination.

~*~

For a moment, there was silence in the room as the Aquitian visitors digested the news.

"Well, that does put an interesting face on the matter, does it not?" said Tideus at last.

General Durhan nodded. "No one wants to be seen as the ones who destroyed a team of
Rangers, even if we can convince them that there are monsters behind the masks - which isn't
always easy. If something isn't done soon, our world will be destroyed. We cannot hold out
against them forever. Please, will you help us?"

"We will consider it," said Delphine. "The other members of our team are still on our
homeworld. I would like to discuss this matter with them before any final decisions are made. If
we are all in agreement, we will stay as long as we can. You must be aware, however, that it is
difficult for us to survive long away from our own planet."

"I assure you, even if you can only stay for a short time, we will be eternally indebted for
any help you can-"

The end of the sentence was lost in the sound of an explosion. The building shook, and
everyone clung to the arms of their chairs as the floor trembled.

"Sounds like we're going to have to make a decision right now," said Billy. "Fight or
flight?"

"Fight," Delphine replied. Tideus nodded. They both got to their feet and struck their
morphing poses.

"Aquatar Ranger power, now!"

In the next second, both Rangers were fully attired in their bright armor. They hurried for
the door, but paused in the hallway as they realized that Billy was following them.

"Billy, what are you doing?" asked Delphine, half angry, half concerned.

"I'm coming," he answered simply.

"You cannot come," said Tideus seriously. "It is far too dangerous. If you try to take part
in this battle, you're bound to be hurt."

"That makes no difference," Billy replied. "There's only two of you and four of them. If
the three of us fight as a team, it's less likely that any of us will be hurt than if you try to take on
all of them."

*Besides,* he thought, before he could stop himself, *if something happens to
me, at least I won't have to worry about nightmares anymore.*

His dreams the night before had been particularly harrowing. He was sure they were
growing worse over time, as if they were increasing in intensity to prevent him from growing
accustomed to it. He had seen himself entirely in black armor, fighting a desperate battle in the
streets of some unknown city. It was a strange, otherworldly place, with pale grey streets,
unadorned buildings of the same, and an overcast sky of milky grey-white. He had been the only
dark thing anywhere, and people were fleeing from him as he pursued them, mowing them down
with his sword. He remembered the cries and screams of his victims. The last thing he
remembered seeing before he awoke was a woman with a tear-stained face, begging him for
mercy. He had been jolted awake then, and though the image was blurred now, the way it had
made him feel was burned into his memory.

*If this goes on much longer, I'm going to go crazy!* he thought. He shivered.
*When that happens, maybe I really will go on a rampage. I can't take much more of
this...*

"If you're determined to come, I can't stop you," said Delphine. "But be careful, and
promise me you'll get out of the fight as soon as the other Rangers arrive. You're too valuable to
lose."

"Sure, no problem," Billy agreed. He was going to say more, but at that moment, another
blast rocked the building, and a voice was faintly audible from outside.

"Rangers of Aquatar! We know you're in there! Come out and fight!"

"I think we're wanted," said Tideus.

"I think you're right," Delphine agreed. "We should waste no more time. If you're
coming, then come!"

They dashed out of the building, pausing at the top of the stairs to survey the situation.
Standing in the street, weapons raised, were a crew of heavily armored beings in different colors:
red, blue, green, and silver. They glared upwards through black visors, visibly tensing at the sight
of the Rangers.

"So, only two of you?" asked the warrior in red. "We can handle this! Get ready to
rumble, Rangers! FireBeam's going to take you down!"

"Save some for me!" added the warrior in blue. "I'm IceRay, and I'm ready to chill you
both!"

"I'm EarthBolt," added the one in Green. "Prepare to feel my wrath!"

"WindFlash is my name," the warrior in silver finished. "My power will blow you away,
just as it has to all who have come before you!"

"Don't count on it," Delphine replied. "Evil impostors will never defeat true Power
Rangers."

"We're no impostors," FireBeam replied. "We wield the Power just as you do, and that
gives us the strength to destroy you if we have to. Surrender now, before we turn you to dust."

"Never!" Delphine replied. "Aquatar Rangers, full power!"

The two Aquitian Rangers posed impressively for an instant, and then seemed to shoot
down the steps in a blur, almost invisible against the pale stone. Feeling terribly conspicuous in his
dark clothing and vulnerable without armor, Billy nevertheless followed determinedly after them.

"Would you look at that?" asked WindFlash of no one in particular. "It looks like their
little friend wants to help. How droll."

"No problem," answered EarthBolt. "I could take him on with one hand behind my back."

"Do it, then," IceRay snapped. "We'll take the other two."

EarthBolt nodded. As Billy was rushing to join his friends, he was intercepted by the
warrior in green, who kicked him roughly out of the way. He cried out in pain as he spun through
the air for a dizzy moment, hitting the asphalt with a bone-jarring thump. He tried to scramble to
his feet as the Green Ranger neared him.

"You're not going to stop me that easily," he said. "I might not be a Ranger anymore, but
I still know a few tricks."

"Oh, really?" asked EarthBolt skeptically. "You'd better hurry up and use them, then. I
have no mercy left for you people."

"Fine. Watch this," he said.

He suddenly sprang at the warrior like a leaping animal, and they both fell in a tangle. Billy
was the first to regain his footing, having known what was going to happen, and he took off
running, trying to lead his attacker away.

"Come and get me, if you dare!" he shouted back.

EarthBolt looked from him to her companions, who were in a heated but seemingly even
battle with the White and Yellow Aquitian Rangers, and then back at Billy, evidently thinking
hard. Then, the strange Green Ranger shot after him, the ringing of metal boots echoing in the
streets.

Billy led a high-speed chase, not really caring where he was going, just as long as he could
distract this enemy from attacking his friends. The streets became narrower as he moved further
from the main roads, and the buildings seemed to dwindle from grand towers to plain whitish
boxes. He noticed distractedly that clouds were moving in across the sky and wondered why it
was that he felt like it was important. He didn't get time to think about it, though before he
noticed a soldier coming from the other direction. As Billy shot by him, he snatched the sword
that hung at the soldier's waist.

"Hey! Give that back!" the soldier shouted.

"Get away from here! EarthBolt's coming!" was all Billy said in reply. It was enough. The
soldier nodded and dashed around a corner and out of sight. Billy paused, brandishing his new
weapon, trying to get a feel for it before his enemy arrived. It wasn't really his choice of weapon,
but one had to make the best of what was offered, and he knew he didn't stand a chance against
EarthBolt unarmed.

In the next instant, the Green Ranger came into view, an emerald fury. Billy stood his
ground, trying to look confident. He must have succeeded in some measure, because he armored
warrior paused to size him up.

"So, you really think you can take me on all by yourself?" asked EarthBolt.

"I aim to try."

"I'll destroy you, you know. You don't really have a chance."

"Maybe I don't. Maybe I do. Only one way to find out."

EarthBolt looked incredulous. "You're insane, you know that, don't you?"

"You're wrong. I know what I'd do if I was insane, and it's not pretty."

"Well, then, you're at least a bit foolish. But if you really want to fight, who am I to stop
you?"

With that, Earth Bolt lunged at Billy, but he had expected such a move and dodged it. At
the same time, he swung his purloined weapon, scoring a nice hit across his enemy's side. The
Green Ranger staggered backwards, gasping in pain and shock, but quickly recovered enough to
aim a few angry punches in his direction. He managed to dodge the first few, but he hadn't done
any real hand-to-hand combat in quite a while, and he took the last blow squarely in the shoulder.
The force of the blow was enough to throw him against a nearby wall, momentarily stunned.
However, the sight of his adversary drawing closer was enough to shock him back into action
again. He dove out of the way as the Green Ranger attempted to bash his head in, raking his blade
across the warrior's back. EarthBolt fell, dazed, and Billy came and pressed the tip of his sword
against the fallen enemy's neck. Sensing death had just moved in very close, the Green Ranger
became very still.

"Surrender," Billy said.

"Never." The voice was hard and strong, ringing clearly in the empty streets. Billy was
shocked. For the first time, he consciously realized that EarthBolt was female!

"If you don't surrender, I'll have no choice but to destroy you," he told her.

"Kill me then," she answered. "Go ahead. Kill me. Show the universe that you have no
mercy. Destroy me without even understanding what I'm fighting for. At least I'll be with Jet
again..."

Billy paused, listening as the Green Ranger broke down in tears. Thoughts were running
wild in his brain. The buildings were pale white, nearly invisible against the overcast, milky-grey
sky, and a woman sobbed helplessly at his feet, awaiting the moment when he would put her life
to an end. The dream again! What did it mean? Destined for darkness... If he gave in here, would
he be sealing his own fate? Looking down at his captive, an image flashed through his mind,
thinking of the monsters he had slain when he was the Blue Ranger. How had he looked then?
What was it like to be a monster and stare into the cold, expressionless visor of someone as they
prepared to kill you? He shivered a little at the thought. Was what he had been doing really right?
Was the important thing to destroy evil or have mercy? What was he supposed to be doing? What
was right? What was wrong? Did it really even matter anymore? He was so confused...

"Get up," he said, taking his sword away.

"What?" The Green Ranger turned to stare at him suspiciously.

"I'm not going to kill you," Billy replied. "I don't know what's the matter with me today,
but I can't destroy you."

"Weakling," said EarthBolt scornfully.

"Maybe so," Billy replied, "but no one has to know if you don't tell."

"Maybe I won't," the Green Ranger answered thoughtfully. "It has been interesting
battling you. Perhaps we'll meet again."

"Don't count on it," said Billy.

"We'll see," answered EarthBolt thoughtfully. Then she was gone in a blink of green light.

For a moment, Billy stood there in the middle of the road, reflecting on what had just
happened. Then he glared down at the stolen sword and pitched it as far away as he could. He
turned and ran back to where he had left his friends.

On the main street of the city, he found all five Rangers of Aquatar congratulating each
other on a job well done. Billy went and joined them.

"How did it go?" asked Cestro. "We were beginning to worry about you."

"I survived. I'm a bit bruised, but I think I did okay," Billy replied, sounding more positive
than he felt. "I'm kinda tired now, though. Can we go home?"

"Of course, Billy. You've worked hard this afternoon," Delphine replied. "We all have.
We will return to Aquatar to replenish our energies, but we will return as soon as we are needed."

The others agreed. In six flashes of light, they streaked away from the world of Quandar.
No one but Billy had any inkling that this would prove to be a far more significant battle than it
seemed.

~*~

Billy dreamed again that night, and was slightly annoyed by it. Normally, he only had one
such dream in a week, and here he was having his second one in a row. It didn't seem quite fair to
him, even in his sleep. The emotion distanced him somewhat as he watched the visions reel by -
after all, they were almost exactly the same as the ones he'd had the night before, except that now
he was accompanied by the dark Rangers he'd been fighting against earlier that day. Now they
were there with him, helping him accomplish his dream-goals. Altogether, it didn't seem so
disturbing to him anymore. Then, suddenly, the warrior in silver turned to him and said, "Wake
up!"

"What?" said Billy, briefly confused. Without meaning to, he said it aloud in real life, and
then he really was awake, lying safely in his room on Aquatar. He sighed and shifted
positions, trying to settle back to sleep again. Dreams were such strange things...

"Come on, wake up! I can't stand here all night!" said the Silver Ranger's voice again.

Billy sat up with a jolt and looked around. He was not alone. Standing next to his bed was
a pale-skinned young man with deep grey eyes and pale blue hair. Though it was dark in the
room, he was as clearly visible as if he was standing in full sunlight, thanks to an aura of pearly
light that surrounded him. Billy noted with a strange calmness that both his skin and clothing were
a pale silver-grey.

*This is it,* he thought with a strange sense of relief. *It's finally happening.
They've come to get me.* If it had happened sometime earlier, he would have resisted, but
now he was too tired, too worn from worrying and restless nights to put up a struggle. Destiny
had come, and he would face it calmly.

"You're WindFlash," he said with certainty. "One of those Rangers trying to take of
Quandar."

"Clever, aren't you?" answered the visitor, with more than a hint of sarcasm. "I'll never
cease to be amazed at people who never cease to be amazed by the obvious."

"Well, most Rangers I know don't expect people to know their identities," said Billy.

The stranger shrugged. "Whatever. Anyway, you'd better get up and get moving. We both
need to get out of here before anyone notices me. You wouldn't want me to have to hurt anyone
while I'm trying to kidnap you, right?"

Billy shrugged and nodded. Kidnaping. Of course. Why not? This late at night, everything
seemed to make perfect, dreamlike sense, so he only did as he was told, getting out of his bed and
pulling on some clean clothes. The stranger only watched him with faint curiosity.

"It's interesting, you know," he offered after a while. "You really are Touched. I didn't
believe it when I heard it. I thought Prism was just blowing hot air."

"Touched?" asked Billy, puzzled.

"By the Power," the stranger explained. "You aren't fully empowered anymore, but you
used to have it, and part of it is still in you. Residual energy and stuff like that."

"Now who's stating the obvious?" Billy shot back, pulling on his shoes.

The stranger laughed. "You'll be all right, human. We're gonna get along just fine."

"I'm ready," said Billy. Out of habit, he reached for his toolkit, but his abductor stopped
him.

"You don't need that. Electric gizmos are Prism's department. We have other plans for
you."

"Oh," Billy replied. What else was there to say.

"Say goodbye to Aquatar," said the kidnapper. "We're out of here."

Billy silently took one last look around his room. It looked cold and barren. Then it
vanished from his sight as he was teleported away.

He rematerialized in a desert. Looking around as far as he could, all that he could see was
hard-packed ground, with only a few jutting stones to break the monotony. Looking up, he saw
the brightest star-spangled sky he had ever seen, bathing the landscape in mystical blue light.

"Welcome home," the kidnapper said, dragging Billy quickly across the desert. "Come on,
step lively. The others are waiting."

"EarthBolt," said Billy automatically. "And IceRay and FireBeam."

The kidnapper paused long enough to give him a hard stare.

"We have names, you know," he said. "But no one ever thinks of that, do they? No, of
course not. Nobody likes to think about their enemies having anything about them that would
arouse sympathy. But we're not going to be enemies, so you might as well know, my name is
Cavalier. Call me Cav."

"I'm William Cranston," Billy answered. "Call me Billy."

Cav nodded. "That'll do. Hurry it up, now. We're almost there. The others want to meet
you."

Billy thought he could see their destination now. Either that, or there was some other
reason why Cavalier was heading so determinedly for a fairly ordinary looking large rock. It was
roundish and fairly flat, though not so much of either that it would look like something out of the
ordinary, jutting about four inches above the surface of the desert and about the circumference of
a manhole cover. When they reached it, Cav kicked it impatiently, and it swivelled around to
reveal a deep black hole with a ladder leading down into the darkness.

"After you," said Cav with mock courtesy.

"Right," Billy agreed. "You wouldn't want me trying to run away, after all. Even if it
would be pretty stupid of me, seeing as how I have no idea where I am."

"You're taking my job from me, Billy," said Cav in faint amusement. "Sarcasm is my job."

Billy shrugged and began climbing down the hole. He knew he ought to be taking the
whole situation more seriously, but somehow, he couldn't really work up the energy. All he felt
capable of now was relief that the worrying was over. The dark side had come to claim him as one
of their own, and he was ready to go along quietly if it meant that he'd never have to have another
of those nightmares again. Maybe he'd be worried about it tomorrow, but now...

At the bottom of the ladder, there seemed to be a large, square, metal room that was
evidently his captor's main headquarters. Billy looked around with interest; there was nothing in
the universe that could dull his desire to learn, and it wasn't every day he was invited inside the
secret hideout of a band of evil Rangers. What he saw didn't impress him much. There seemed to
be a computer of some sort resting on a desk at the far side of the room and a jumbled mess of
parts and tools resting nearby, but it looked more like something Billy would have built in his lab
than one of the high-tech machines he'd worked with in the Power Chamber. The only other
furnishings in the room were several chairs and a rickety table. A few balls of light hovered here
and there, casting a cool glow over everything.

"Here we are! Home, sweet home!" announced Cav, sliding down the ladder and dropping
next to Billy. "I know it's not much, but when the universe hates you, you have more important
things to do than worry about frills."

"Oh," Billy replied. He continued looking around, wondering what it was about this place
that penetrated his own personal malaise and inspired a sense of... pity? It was almost the same as
what he'd felt when he'd released EarthBolt.

*Maybe I really am destined to help these people,* he thought. *I don't really
know why, but I think I want to...*

"What happens now?" he said aloud. "Where's everyone else?"

"Sleeping," Cav replied. "I was the only one crazy enough to stay up half the night to
come out and kidnap you. You can meet them all in the morning. And as for what happens now,
I'd say sleeping would be a good thing for you, too. Good night, Billy. See you in the morning."

A cool hand was suddenly pressed over Billy's eyes, blocking out his vision. Deep
weariness overcame him, and he felt consciousness slipping away. He gave it up without a fight,
dropping away into deep sleep. He dreamed of nothing at all.

~*~

Morning found him lying in a plain but surprisingly comfortable bed, wrapped up in black
blankets. He opened his eyes slowly and looked around, disoriented but not really frightened. That
was the difference a good night's sleep made. The room he was currently resting in looked barely
large enough to turn around in, but it seemed to be equipped with all the basic necessities. There
seemed to be a clock of some sort ticking away on his dresser, but even the system of numbering
was so completely foreign to hm that he couldn't decide if it was early morning or the middle of
the afternoon. After a while, he gave up trying to figure it out and got out of bed. He looked
himself over and decided that his clothes, though somewhat wrinkled from being slept in, were
still clean enough to be worn. Once he had given his new accommodations a brief inspection and
found nothing of interest, he tested the door. It was unlocked, which surprised him a little, but he
shrugged and walked out of the room.

His room seemed to be at the far end of a hallway. There were four other doors on the hall
as well, two on either side. Curious, he tried one and found it locked. Pressing his ear to the door,
he made out the sound of soft music being played on a stringed instrument, and he thought he
recognized Cav's voice singing. He moved on to the next door. Someone was snoring behind that
one, so he didn't bother trying to inspect it further. The last two doors were open, so he peeked
inside. Judging by the oddments that were strewn around the room, he guessed it was a female's
habitation, not somewhere he'd want to be caught snooping. The other room was filled with
random bits of wire and mechanical paraphernalia, and the surface of every piece of furniture
(including the bed) was strewn with tools, books, and scraps of paper.

"And I thought my lab was a mess," Billy said aloud.

"What was that?" said a voice. Billy thought he recognized IceRay, but he wasn't sure.

"Sounds like our guest is awake." That was definitely EarthBolt.

"Well, then, we should probably go claim him before he gets into trouble," answered the
first voice.

Billy followed the voices and found himself back in the room he had entered earlier. Two
people, a strange man with blue hair and a young woman with elfin ears and a green star on her
forehead, were sitting at the table, evidently enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Billy stared at them in
puzzlement.

"Monsters eat pancakes?" he wondered.

"Sure! What did you expect?" asked the woman. "Newt eyes and lizard gizzards?"

"Humans can be so prejudiced," answered the man in blue. "If it weren't for his
potential..."

"We still would have had to choose somebody," the woman pointed out. "Why not
him?"

"I suppose you're right," said the man in blue. He turned to Billy. "As long as you're up,
would you mind going and telling the others that breakfast is ready? I know Cav is awake, playing
his lyre again, but you'll probably have to kick the door a few times to wake Sear up."

"Syrup?" offered the woman, handing the jar to him.

"Don't mind if I do." He accepted the bottle of syrup and began pouring it on his
pancakes.

Billy suddenly began to laugh. He knew it was probably a bad idea, and that his hosts
would likely find it insulting, but the whole situation was so absurd that he couldn't help it. His
captors stared at him in puzzlement.

"And just what, may I ask, is so funny?" asked the man coldly.

"I'm sorry," Billy said, getting himself under control. "This is all just so... weird."

"You'll get used to us, sweetie," the woman assured him. "Now, do be a dear and run and
get the others. Cav will be irked if his breakfast is cold, and nobody wants to put Cav out of
temper."

"If he gets mad, its his own fault," said Billy, starting obediently towards the hallway. "If
he wants his breakfast hot, he should come out of the room and get it."

"Don't tell him that," the man replied seriously.

"Why not?" asked Billy, pausing to look back at him.

"Rule number one," the woman said. "Never, ever, make Cav angry. Ever."

Billy looked from one face to the other. They were dead serious.

"I'll keep it in mind," he said, and he went to retrieve the others.

It really did take a lot of kicking and shouting to rouse Sear from his bed, and there was a
lot of grumbling coming from behind the door before the redheaded man finally emerged, yawning
and scowling. Fortunately, all it took was a light knock on the door and a few polite words to call
Cav to breakfast, and Billy wondered why it was that he had heard nothing about Sear's
grumpiness but had been cautioned against the temper of the apparently easygoing Cavalier. Sear
looked like the kind who could rip phone books in half and bend iron bars. Cav, on the other
hand, was rather on the thin and gawky side, looking far more suited to quietly strumming his lyre
than to battle. Hopefully, Billy would get some explanations later on.

They all sat down to breakfast and quietly applied themselves to their food without much
conversation, and Billy deemed it wise to follow their example and wait until they were ready to
talk, rather than asking questions. Oddly enough, it was only while they were eating that Billy
actually began to wonder just why it was that he'd been captured. He no longer had any powers,
and it was fairly obvious that they already had a capable scientist on their side. What did they
want him for? A hostage, maybe? Why were they being so nice to him, then? They were treating
him more like a member of their team than a captive...

"He wants to know why he's here," said the woman. Billy jumped.

"Don't look so surprised," said Cav. "She's a minor sort of sorceress. She's good at
figuring out what people are thinking. Besides, it's only logical."

"True," said Billy. "So, are you going to tell me? I would kind of like to at least know all
your names."

"Fine. Let's get some official introductions, and then we'll explain this whole
catastrophe," said the man in blue. "I'm Prism, technical expert."

"I'm Sear," said the redhead.

"Call me Vendetta," the woman added.

"I think you remember my name," Cav said. "Everyone, this is Billy."

Billy glanced thoughtfully from Cav to Prism. Now that they were sitting next to each
other, he was seeing resemblances between them - blue hair, pale skin, dark eyes, serious
expressions.

"You two wouldn't happen to be related, would you?" he hazarded.

"As much as I hate to admit it, yes," said Prism. "We're half-brothers."

"Half-twins, in a way," Cav added. "Born on the same day, but of different mothers."

"I see," Billy replied.

"Well, now that we've got all that straight," Vendetta cut in, "and since we haven't scared
our new friend away, I think it's time we gave him an explanation of what's going on and why
we're all here."

"I'm getting to it," said Prism. He turned to Billy. "What did the general tell you about
us?"

"A little," Billy admitted, unsure what to say. "He did say you were trying to take over
Quandar."

"He's got that right, anyway," said Vendetta fiercely.

"He told us that there were three tribes of monsters who used to live on Quandar and
warred with each other until the humans came and pacified them," Billy went on. "And everyone
stayed that way for a while, until war finally broke out again, and the humans had to drive you all
off of the planet." He looked at all the cold eyes that were watching him. "I suppose you have a
different story."

"Only somewhat," said Cav. "The one thing he didn't tell you is who started the wars
again. Do you think we would go for hundreds of years in peace and harmony, only to suddenly
start killing each other again for no reason?"

"I suppose he made us out as barbarians," said Vendetta, spitting out the final
word as if it tasted bitter.

"That would be ironic," said Cav. "After all, the whole reason we were thrown off the
planet is because we got to civilized. Have you ever heard of such a thing?"

"I don't get it," Billy admitted.

"Let me explain, if I can," Sear offered. "There are three races of people who are native
the Quandar: the Firespinners, the Iceworkers, and the Darkweavers. The Firespinners were
warriors with powers over fire." He snapped his fingers in illustration, striking sparks.
"Iceworkers eventually became masters of science. The Darkweavers developed inborn powers of
sorcery. And the humans..."

"...sat on their fat buns and did nothing," Cav finished.

"And that's just it," said Vendetta. "We scare them. They are afraid of us all because we
could do so much more than they could, and so they decided they had to get rid of us."

"So there wasn't really any war?" asked Billy.

"Oh, sure, we had a war, all right," Sear replied. "We nearly wiped each other out in that
battle - which was just what they wanted. Then we found out who had really started the war and
struck out in revenge. As soon as we did that, they turned on us and drove us out of our rightful
home, as if we were the invaders!"

"Jet had the right idea," said Vendetta coldly. "He knew what he was doing. He was the
one who gave us the power to strike back."

"Who's Jet?" asked Billy.

"Our leader," Sear replied. "Also a sorcerer in training. Very powerful. He showed
us how to tap into our inner strength and create weapons to use against our enemies. When we
combined our powers, with his magic as the catalyst, we were able to create the Disk Ranger
powers."

"And then we went to war," said Cav. "No matter what it takes, we're going to get back
what we've lost, even if we have to destroy every last one of the dirty bastards." He beat his fist
on the table, striking white sparks that scorched the wood, and his friends jumped a little in alarm.

"I see," said Billy. "Where's Jet now? Why isn't he here?"

"They killed him," said Vendetta softly. "Last week. We didn't even get a chance to say
goodbye."

"Oh," Billy answered. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know..."

"Someone's going to hurt for that one!" said Sear vehemently. "Someone going to
pay for it big time!"

"Yes, yes, of course," said Prism, before the discussion could get too ugly. "Unfortunately,
Jet's death has left a slight gap in our team. You see, that's where you come in, Billy. We are now
lacking a leader, and when a certain ex-Power Ranger saw fit to spare Vendetta's life, we got to
thinking."

"So, you want me join your team?" asked Billy.

"We want you to lead it," Sear replied.

"Oh."

Billy turned the morpher over in his hands, thinking hard. To be a Ranger again, part of a
team... it had been so long since he'd had that chance, and he wanted it more than almost
anything, but still... He shook his head, confused. These were monsters, and they were asking him
to lead them off to possibly kill other humans like himself and his friends, and he didn't even know
for sure whether it was for a good cause or not. He battled with his conscience, struggling to find
the right choice. Good or bad? What was it, anyway? In his heart, though, he knew he had already
made up his mind.

"Well? Are you going to do it or not?" asked Cav impatiently. "Make up your mind. We
don't have all day."

Billy strapped on the morpher. "I'll do it."

"Excellent!" said Prism with a hint of a smile. "Welcome aboard. You are now officially
the Black NightStrike Ranger."

~*~

To the credit of Aquitian Rangers, they did figure out that Billy was missing... eventually.
Cavalier had done his work quite well. There were no signs of a struggle; only the rumpled sheets
of a bed that had clearly been slept in, and signs of a search for clean clothes. Since there were no
signs that the door had been tampered with, and there was naturally no way anyone could have
come in through the window, it seemed only as if Billy had decided to rise early and set off
somewhere alone. It wasn't a common occurrence, but it seemed so simple and innocent that it
was some time before it occurred to anyone that something out of the ordinary could have
occurred.

Hurrying down the hallway, Cestro rounded a corner and nearly collided with Cestria.

"Oh, Cestro! I'm sorry. My mind was in other places, and I wasn't looking where I was
going," she apologized. "Have you seen Billy?"

"I was just going to ask you the same thing," Cestro replied. "I was hoping to ask his
opinion on a new device I've been working on, but I haven't seen him all day."

"Neither have I. It's very strange," Cestria replied. "Do you think something could be
wrong?"

"It is too early to become upset," said Cestro, seeing the frightened light in his friend's
eyes. "We will make inquiries with the others and see what they know."

"And if they haven't seen him either?" Cestria asked, still worried.

"Then we will find him," answered Cestro confidently. "He can't have gone far."

"I suppose you're right," said Cestria. "I just have to wonder... he told me he was meeting
me for lunch today, and it isn't like him to go back on promises."

"In that case," he said, "perhaps we should become upset. Come; we need to find
Delphine and the others."

Minutes later, the entire Ranger team had gathered with Cestria in their headquarters and
discussing this disturbing revelation.

"I don't know where he could be," said Aurico. "I haven't seen him since he went to his
room last night."

"Nor have I," Delphine replied. "Tideus, Corcus, have either of you...?"

"Not since yesterday," Corcus replied. "We were planning on sparring together today, but
I thought he just got involved with one of his projects and lost track of time."

"Something is definitely wrong," said Delphine. "Billy would never disappear like this
without some explanation."

"I'll scan for him," Cestro volunteered, heading for a computer. His fingers moved rapidly
over the controls as he talked. "He couldn't have gone far on his own. He's bound to be in the
city somewhere, unless... Oh, dear. This is odd."

"What's wrong?" asked Cestria, looking concerned.

"He's not on the planet," Cestro replied.

"Then where is he?" she asked.

"I don't know, but we'll find out in a minute. I'm widening the search radius."

The computer hummed as it scanned the universe for Billy's life-force patterns. After a
few interminable seconds, it blipped a response.

"It found him!" Cestro announced. Then he stared at the readout and exclaimed in
surprise, "He's on Onyx!"

"He had to have been kidnaped!" said Aurico decisively. "He would never go there
on his own. No one would."

"There's more bad news," Cestro replied. "He seems to be in the company of four other
life forms. Their molecular patterns exactly match the Rangers we fought on Quandar."

"That does it," said Delphine. "We are going to teach them all a lesson they'll never
forget. No one is going to steal our friends and get away with it!"

"But we can't go to Onyx!" Corcus protested. "It's a desert world! There's almost no
water there! Between that and the evil energies there, we wouldn't survive more than a few hours,
even if we didn't have to fight."

"Then we will go to Quandar," Delphine replied, not to be deterred. "They will go there
sooner or later, and when they do..."

The other Rangers nodded in agreement. Cestria only stood there, still and silent, deep in
thought.

~*~

Billy was getting something few Power Rangers ever got: a grand tour of Onyx. He had to
admit, he felt a bit nervous there - he had been told enough horror stories about the place to make
him wary - but he felt reasonably safe traveling with Sear and Prism. To help him blend into the
rest of the populace, he had been instructed to put on some of Jet's old clothing. It actually fit
quite well, but he felt a bit odd about wearing the garments of a dead man. The other Rangers had
told him philosophically that Jet probably didn't care, and at any rate, didn't need them anymore.
Since the chances were good that he'd wind up dead himself if he didn't have some sort of
camouflage, he acquiesced. Now he was following his guides through the streets of the strange
alien town, taking in the sights. Except for the monsters everywhere, he was amazed at how
ordinary it all seemed.

*Well, what did you expect?* he asked himself. *Obviously, they aren't as
different from ordinary people as you thought. Just look at these guys!*

Despite their oddities, the foursome he was traveling with reminded him a lot of the way
he and his friends used to behave back on Earth, in the good old days when he'd been an active
Ranger. True, there was a sharper edge to their wisecracks sometimes, but the fact that they were
good friends wasn't hard to miss. They just had that feel of solidarity about them, almost as if
there were actual physical bonds holding them together.

"Is anyone thirsty?" asked Sear after a while. "I know I am."

"Hungry, too," Cav added, nodding. "The tavern's just up ahead. Why don't we drop in
for a snack?"

"Fabulous," said Vendetta, "if you're treating."

Prism sighed. "I'll pay this time. I know none of you have any money."

"I could steal some, if you want," offered Cav.

"I'd rather you didn't," said Sear. "Remember the last time you tried it? That punk nearly
bashed your brains in, and it was a week before we could launch any full-scale attacks because
you couldn't get out of bed."

"I could have. I just chose not to," Cavalier replied.

"Vendetta can get money," Sear offered. "She's done it before. What's the good of having
a mind reader if she can't win a few card games?"

"I think they're getting wise to that act," said Prism. "Besides, mind reading is fine, but
it's only so much good against creatures who cheat."

"Can we argue about this inside?" asked Billy. "It's hot out here."

Surprisingly, no one objected. They quieted immediately and quickly led the way to the
tavern. Billy was surprised. Had they accepted him as their leader so fast? They must have been
very desperate, he thought.

The tavern was crowded and noisy, but the Rangers didn't seem to notice or care. They
just filed into the room and grabbed seats at an empty table, and no one even looked up at them.
Vendetta was cloaked and hooded again, which helped. Prism shoved a handful of multicolored
crystals into Sear's hands and instructed him to purchase food and drink. He returned moments
later carrying a basket of what looked like almonds, only green, and a tray of drinks.

"I expect tips," he said.

"Don't play with small animals; they bite," Cav replied instantly. Vendetta hit him.

Cautiously, Billy sampled one of the almond-things and decided it tasted all right. Then he
took a sip of the drink he'd been given and choked on it, coughing and spluttering as the stuff
burned his throat.

"Sear, you idiot!" said Cav, shoving his friend roughly. "You knew he can't drink that
stuff! He's not like us!"

"Oh, sorry," answered Sear, sounding genuinely apologetic.

"Oh, let me deal with this," Prism said in exasperation. He stalked up to the bar and
returned with a glass of something that looked and smelled a lot like purple Kool-Aid and set it in
front of Billy, whisking the glass of offending stuff away.

"Here. This should be more to your tastes," he said. "Sear really shouldn't have tried
giving you that. It won't hurt you, really, but it certainly wouldn't have done you much good."

"Thanks," Billy replied. He sipped the purple stuff gratefully. It was cool and sweet, and it
did a good job of rinsing out the taste of the other drink. "So, what are our plans from here?"

"You figure it out. You're the leader," said Cav. "You give orders, we follow."

"Why are you all trusting me so much?" he asked. "You don't even know me! As far as
you know, I could just be spying on you to help the Aquitian Rangers."

"You can't really do that," said Vendetta. "I read minds, remember. I don't know
everything going on in that skull of yours, but I know a lie when I hear one. When you said you'd
lead us, you meant it."

"I guess I did," Billy admitted.

More quietly, Vendetta added, "You are also afraid."

"Well, of course he's afraid," Prism replied. "Who wouldn't be afraid, especially when he
knows what happened to his predecessor."

"That's not what he's afraid of," Vendetta replied. "I don't know what it is, but it isn't
dying that frightens him so."

"She's right," Billy replied. "What I'm really afraid of... well, I've never told anyone. I
don't know if I really should tell anyone, especially you."

"We're your teammates now," said Sear. "Tell us whatever you want."

"Okay," Billy replied. "A long time ago, I had a vision, and in it, someone told me that I
was destined for darkness. Up until then, I'd always considered myself one of the good guys - a
hero, even. After that point, though, I kept having these dreams about going wild and destroying
everything I loved. I guess I started to believe they were really going to happen. I agreed to do
this because I'm tired of fighting destiny... but I'm a little afraid of being evil."

"You know what?" said Cav. "So was I when I first started. You'll get used to it."

Billy was surprised. "You think?"

"Sure I do. I know better than anyone," Cavalier replied. "Being a bad guy isn't so bad,
really."

He was going to say more, but at that moment, a disturbance erupted at the other end of
the bar. Two monsters who had been playing cards seemed to be having a disagreement, and it
was rapidly escalating into a real battle.

"How dare you accuse me of cheating?" demanded one of the card-players, a
helmeted warrior in a suit of blue, red, and gold. He managed to glare angrily at his opponent
through his black visor.

"Everyone here cheats! Why should you be any different?" answered the other
player, a vaguely insect-like thing with sharp claws and glowing eyes.

"I am a man of honor, unlike a certain bounty hunter I could mention," the first player
retorted.

"Who needs honor? I'm worried about winning!" answered the second.

"Very well, then! Let's see you win this!"

The two monsters drew their swords and charged at each other in a rage, sending the card
table crashing to the floor and spilling the game pieces in all directions. A few other monsters
joined in the fun, and a free-for-all began to form.

"Of course," said Cav, ducking a flying bottle, "being evil does have its risks."

"I move we adjourn this meeting," Prism said. "All in favor?"

There was unanimous agreement. The group beat a hasty retreat, though Cav did pause
long enough to surreptitiously fill his pockets with the leftover almond-things. They hurried to the
relative safety of the street.

"Are things always this hectic around here?" asked Billy.

"No, today was actually a quiet day," Prism replied. "Those two don't like each other, and
sometimes they clash. It's kind of a regular thing."

"Crazy," said Billy, shaking his head. "Absolutely crazy."

"You'll get used to it," Cav repeated. "We did, and we've only been here a few months."

"Fellas," said Vendetta suddenly, "is it just me, or is there a dead body in the road?"

"Huh?" Four heads turned in unison to stare down the street. There did indeed seem to be
a body lying forlornly at the edge of town, and everyone seemed to be giving it some space as
they wandered about. Billy stared at it, wondering what exactly it was about the shape that struck
him as familiar. Suddenly, it hit him in a blinding flash of realization.

"Cestria!" he shouted, and shot down the street toward her. Looking at each other in
puzzlement, his friends hurried after him.

~*~

Some hours previous to that, Cestria had been quite alive and safe on Aquatar, watching
her empowered friends teleporting to Quandar. She was thinking very hard. Billy was a good
friend, though she had only known him a short time, and she hated thinking of what might be
happening to him while he was trapped on Onyx. No matter what Delphine and the others might
think, there was no guarantee that the evil Rangers would leave Billy alive much longer. She knew
as well as anyone that an Aquitian couldn't survive very long on a desert world like Onyx, but
how long could it really take to go there, rescue Billy, and get out? Not more than an hour or
two, surely. Aquitians were generally cautious people, not given to taking chances. The Power
Rangers had learned how to take risks when it became necessary, but they still preferred to take
the safest route when they could. At times, it could get annoying.

*I wonder if I could do it?* she wondered. *All it would take would be a quick
teleport to the right place and teleport out again. I know how to use the computers well enough
to do that. I'm not afraid of the risks.* She paused and considered. *Of course, getting
back again could be a problem. I can't take the computer with me, and without morphin
powers...*

"It's too bad none of us ever invented something like the communicators Billy invented,"
she said aloud.

Of course, Billy still had his lying around somewhere...

After about a half-hour's worth of rummaging around Billy's electrical supplies, she finally
found the blue and silver watchlike device, buried under a heap of circuit boards, and carefully
clipped it around her own wrist. She studied the tiny buttons and dials that surrounded its rim
with faint confusion.

"Billy will know how to use them when I find him," she said with certainty.

She started back to the Ranger's headquarters, reflecting on what she was planning to do.
It was risky. It was ill-planned. It was crazy. To her, it seemed like the only logical thing to do.
She found the computer where Billy's last known coordinates were saved, and she loaded them
into the teleportation controls.

"I hope this works. Hold on, Billy," she said. Then she pressed a button and was gone.

The place where she reappeared was unpleasantly hot and dry, and her head spun for a
moment as her system protested the unwelcome change in climate. She took a few breaths and
closed her eyes, struggling to overcome her dizziness. The feeling passed after a moment, so she
opened her eyes and looked around. All she could see for miles around was sand and rock. She
was actually standing on top of one, she realized, a fairly round, flat one about two feet across.
The sun glared down on her, almost as if it were angry at her for something.

"This can't be right," she said to herself. "There's no one here at all. Did I make a
mistake?"

She looked around again. Though she couldn't be sure, she thought she could make out a
faint trail leading across the dry, hard-packed ground, like the barest traces of footprints not yet
erased by the desert winds. Perhaps this was the right place, after all. Perhaps Billy's captors had
been leading him somewhere when he had been located.

"I suppose I'll have to go look for him," said Cestria, stepping down from the stone. "I
won't find him here, anyway. Not unless he's hiding under a rock or something."

With that, she set out walking, and the sun lashed at her in frustration. She moved on,
never realizing that what she had been looking for had been directly beneath her feet.

~*~

That explained why, half an hour later, Billy and his newfound teammates were crouching
around her sill form, all wearing expressions of worry and confusion.

"Someone you know?" asked Prism.

"A friend," Billy agreed. "I can't imagine what she's doing here. She should have known
better..."

"Is she really dead?" Sear asked. He raised her head a little before letting it drop back to
the ground.

Billy made a pulse check. "Just barely. We could still have a chance to save her."

"Who said we wanted to save her?" asked Cav.

"I did. And I'm the leader," Billy replied. He shot them all an icy look, daring them to
disagree. No one did.

"I might be able to help a little," said Vendetta. "Magic can be used as a substitute life
force... for a while, anyway. If she is dying, I can maybe hold it off for an hour or two. Long
enough to find out what's wrong with her and maybe help."

"I know what's wrong," Billy said. "The first thing to do is get her out of the heat. Help
me carry her, somebody."

"Let me," said Sear. He scooped her up and slung her over his shoulder. "She doesn't
weigh a thing. No problems."

"Fine. Let's get moving," Billy replied.

The others, still baffled but cooperative, followed him out into the desert.

~*~

The coming of the next hour found Cestria still unconscious, but with a computer, two
scientists, and a sorceress monitoring her vital signs. They weren't good, but they weren't getting
worse yet, either.

"What's the matter with her?" asked Sear.

"Guess she's been out in the sun too long," Cav offered. He was sitting at the table where
they had all eaten breakfast, his feet resting on its top while he strummed idly on his lute.

"It's more than that," Billy said. "She's an Aquitian, and Aquitians have to draw energy
from water to survive, preferably the water from her own home planet. I can't believe she was
crazy enough to come here! She knew this would happen!"

"So, if we give her some of that funny purple water of yours, she'll get well?" asked Cav,
still strumming. "I can do that. Won't take but a minute. But then we've got to get her out of
here. She's kind of cluttering up the place."

Billy glared at him. "Don't talk about my friends like that. Besides, it's not that easy. It
will take a little time for her to heal again. She's in pretty bad shape."

"Whatever you say," Cav replied. "Do you want me to do it or not?" He sounded a bit
irritated, and Billy remembered what he'd been told about getting on Cavalier's bad side.

"If you don't mind. I can do it myself if it bothers you," he said.

"Don't worry. I was ready for a break, anyway," said Cav. He shimmered briefly, then
vanished.

"Well, I guess that's that," said Vendetta.

"If I'm not needed, I think I'm going to my room," said Sear. "Let me know if she wakes
up so we can send her back home and get back to work. We wouldn't do this for just anyone, you
know," he added, shooting a look at Billy.

"I know, and thanks," Billy replied. "It's just that Cestria's my friend. She's saved my life
at least once before. I owe her this much."

The others nodded silently.

"Yeah, we know how that is," said Sear. "Hey, listen, you look tired. Prism and Vendetta
have this taken care of. Why don't you go relax for a while?"

Billy considered. "I don't really know..."

"Trust us! We're the experts," said Vendetta. "Hanging around worrying won't
accomplish anything, so just leave it to us."

"Maybe you're right," Billy admitted with a sigh. "I'll be in my room. At least if I worry
there, I won't be in your way." So saying, he drifted down the hall.

*This isn't what I'd thought it would be,* Billy wondered, looking down at the
morpher on his wrist. It was nice to have the Power back with him, but still... *None of this
makes sense. I don't understand what I'm doing anymore. These people... they say they're evil.
They want to take over a planet and tear the inhabitants to little pieces, so I guess they
probably are.* Now he had agreed to help them. After all, it was his destiny, wasn't it? It
would have been easy if Cestria hadn't appeared to remind him of what he'd left. Seeing her
putting herself in danger to try to help him - for why else would she be on this hostile alien world? - just
unsettled his mind again. One part of him wanted to get this all over with and hang the
consequences, but his heart was still insisting he was a warrior for good and should never have
agreed to do this. It made him feel weak to think he had given up fighting. He stretched out on his
bed and stared at the ceiling, arguing with himself for the umpteenth time. He sighed. He was
tired even of fighting with himself.

A knock on the door. Billy sat up and saw Sear standing thoughtfully outside.

"Could you stand some company?" he asked. His voice was casual, but his eye told
another story.

"Sure. Come in," Billy replied, "if you can find the room."

"Considering we built this place ourselves, it's not so bad," answered Sear, taking a seat at
the foot of the bed. "Jet never needed a whole lot of space, anyway. He was always outside
somewhere, practicing, or in the main room." He sighed.

"You miss him, don't you?" asked Billy quietly.

"We all do," said Sear. "Vendetta especially. They were... probably a lot closer friends
than they admitted in public. I could tell. Vendetta flirted with every guy that crossed her path,
except Jet."

"How long have you all known each other?" asked Billy. "Was it only when you formed
the team, or...?"

"All our lives," Sear said. "Prism and Cav are brothers, of course, but we all grew up
together, all believing the same thing. It's no surprise we were able to create the Disk Ranger
powers together." He sighed. "It scared the daylights out of people."

"What do you mean?" asked Billy.

"Well, aren't people going to be scared of evil Rangers?" Sear replied. "Our people saw us
almost the same way the Quandarians do. We're radical extremists who have gone overboard. We
know it's wrong, but its something we've got to do..."

Billy nodded silently, thinking. It had never occurred to him that they wouldn't want to do
this, either. He'd always been told that monsters were evil... well, just because they were."

"It's not fair," Sear said suddenly. "It wasn't our fault! We were set up!"

"Huh?" said Billy, jolted out of his thoughts.

"It wasn't our fault!" Sear repeated. "We didn't want to start a war. We were set up. We
never got any choice but to fight back, and when we did, they drove us away. All we wanted was
to live in peace, and they wouldn't let us."

Billy nodded thoughtfully. Things were starting to make sense to him.

"I guess I've depressed you enough," said Sear. "I don't know why I told you that. I
guess 'cause you're new here. The others have all heard it. We've talked it out a million times, but
it still hurts."

"It's okay. I'm willing to listen," Billy replied.

"Nah, I'll change the subject. You looked bad enough when I came in." He paused and
considered. "You look better now, though. How come?"

"Just finding out more about you guys helped," Billy answered.

"Oh. Well, is there anything you really want to know? I mean, if you're going to be our
leader, you should know about us, right?"

"Well, there is one thing I've been wondering about," answered Billy. "Earlier today,
someone told me something about how I should never make Cav angry. What was that all about?
He doesn't look that dangerous to me."

"He is and he isn't," Sear answered evasively. "He doesn't like violence. All he really ever
wanted to be was a musician - that's why he carries around that stupid lyre all the time. The
trouble is, he's a half -breed: half Iceworker, half Darkweaver. If genetics were simple, he would
have inherited technical and magical instincts, but maybe one would be dominant, or maybe he'd
just sort of be mediocre at both. Instead, he's got a genetic glitch. He's terrible at anything
technical, but he's an incredibly powerful mage. The only problem is that he is pretty much
incapable of controlling his magic, especially when he loses control of himself." Very softly, he
added, "Cav accidentally killed some guy back at our village one time. It was completely not his
fault. There was no way he could have prevented it, really, but when you've got a living time
bomb hanging around, it makes people very edgy."

"So you're saying that if I got Cav mad enough, he could destroy me?" asked Billy in
sudden horror.

"Theoretically," Sear replied.

"But you still stay with him."

Sear shrugged and got up to leave. "That's what you do for people you care about." And
then he was gone, leaving Billy deep in thought.

~*~

It was early in the evening when Prism and Vendetta's efforts finally paid off. Once Cav
had supplied the water, it was not long before her system stabilized, so that Vendetta no longer
had to keep constant watch over her. Within moments of her awakening, Cestria felt well enough
to walk around. Though she was entirely ill at ease with her strange saviors, Billy rescued her and
brought her up to the desert's surface so that they could talk in private. The stars shone down on
them both, turning the landscape to a surreal silver.

"I can't believe it," she said ruefully. "This was where I teleported the first time! I was on
the exact spot, and I didn't know it."

"It was good of you to come for me," said Billy. His tone was strangely neutral; he was
not expressing any joy or gratitude, but simply stating fact.

"I had to. I was worried about what they'd do to you," she replied. "The others didn't
want to come. They said it was too dangerous... and I guess it was. How did you convince them
to save me?"

"I didn't have to convince them, Cestria. They're not so bad," Billy replied.

"Not so bad? But they kidnaped you! They're trying to destroy Quandar! How can they
not be bad?" Cestria replied. Without waiting for answers, she dropped her voice to a whisper and
went on. "But it's all right now. I brought your communicator, so we can both escape. Then we
can convince the others to come back here, and we can finish this quickly."

"No."

"No? What do you mean?" asked Cestria in puzzlement. "Don't you think the Rangers can
do it?"

"Maybe they can, but I hope they won't," Billy replied. "And I wasn't kidnaped, Cestria. I
came here of my own free will, and I'm not going back. You are, though."

"I'm not going back without you," she stated flatly.

"You have to. Someone's got to tell the Rangers to stay out of this fight," Billy replied.
"There's going to be a battle on Quandar tomorrow, and I don't want them to be mixed up in it."

"How do you know there's going to be a battle?" asked Cestria, a little fearfully.

"I know," Billy replied, "because I'm going to lead it. I don't want to fight the Rangers,
but that's what I may have to do if they insist on coming."

"Oh, Billy, what have they done to you?" Cestria gasped.

"Nothing," Billy replied. "I came here because I thought I had no other choice. I'm staying
here because I believe it's the only right choice."

"But these are your enemies!"

"No. They're my friends, and I'm part of their team. It took me a while to see it, but
they're not as evil as they say they are. They're dark, yes, but not evil... and I've known for a long
time that I was destined for darkness."

"But-"

"No more arguments," Billy said sternly. "I'm staying and you're going and that's final."

Cestria looked into her friend's eyes. They were the same eyes she'd been seeing for
months, every day since he had come to stay on Aquatar, but there was something new in them
now. There was strength there, now, and determination and power and confidence. She suddenly
felt herself to be in the presence of someone or something very great. She backed down.

"I agree," she said. "I don't understand it, but I wish you good luck. Goodbye, Billy. I
hope we meet again soon under better circumstances."

"So do I," he replied. "Goodbye, Cestria."

So saying, he reached out and took her hand. Then he pressed the buttons on the
communicator that sent her shooting back to Aquatar in a flash of purple light.

"Enough of that," he said. "I just hope she can get the Aquitians to listen to her. There
wasn't really time to make her understand it all. I think she trusted me, though. I hope so."

Opening the sliding stone door, he slid down the ladder and landed in the main room. The
others, sitting idly around the table and playing cards, glanced up at him curiously.

"Okay, guys, put all that away. I've just made up my mind that it's time to get to work!"
he announced. He was almost grinning.

"All right!" cheered Cav, throwing his cards into the air. "It's about time!"

"See? I knew things would get better when she was gone," said Vendetta to no one in
particular.

"I'll get the maps," said Prism.

"I'll get the weapons," Sear added.

There was a scramble as the team leaped into action. Billy really couldn't resist smiling
then. Soon, the map was spread on the table, and the team was gathered around it, looking
anxiously at Billy as he began outlining the plans. Heads nodded in agreement as they listened.
The whole time, a strange feeling of both happiness and excitement was building inside of Billy as
he thought to himself, *It's time. It's finally time!*

~*~

It didn't take long for chaos to erupt on Quandar as the Disk Rangers made their
appearance. Billy, newly outfitted in his black armor as the NightStrike Ranger, was having the
best time he'd had in years. For once, he was worried about nothing, least of all himself.

"You all remember what to do?" he asked his companions.

"How could we forget? We've been over it sixty bazillion times already!" answered Cav,
but Billy could tell he was joking.

"Okay, then. Let's do it," said Billy.

"Right," said the rest of the team, nodding.

They split up, hurrying in five different directions. Everywhere they went, panic ensued...
except along the paths where a single warrior in dark armor was picking his way through shadows
and trying to be inconspicuous. Billy had given himself the most dangerous part of the mission,
in a way. True, it was the others who were actually going to have angry soldiers (and possibly,
he had to admit, Aquitian Rangers) shooting at them, but they still had a lot of room to maneuver.
A minor mistake wouldn't hurt them much, but if Billy could not do what he had to do and
do it right, the whole plan could collapse and they would likely all be killed. It was imperative
that no one see him until it was time to reveal himself. Something in his alter-ego's powers must
have been aiding him, because he slipped unnoticed through the well-lit city.

Unnoticed, that is, until his friends from Aquatar came looking for him.

Billy was a bit annoyed that it was Aurico who managed to find him. Delphine might have
been the leader, but Aurico was the team's prize warrior, and he didn't forget it during battles. He
could be hot-headed, for an Aquitian, and now he was appearing in a flashy fireball and shouting
dire threats.

"Come out and show yourself! I know you're here somewhere," he challenged. "Stop
hiding and fight like a real warrior!"

*He doesn't know it's me,* Billy realized.

"Shut up, Aurico!" he called in irritation. "You're going to ruin the whole thing!"

"Of course I'm going to - Billy?" The Red Aquitian Ranger glanced all around in
confusion. "What in the universe are you doing?"

"There's no time to explain! I'm already late because of you!" Billy shot back. He leaped
from his hiding place, running past his friend at top speed.

"Hold it!" Aurico shouted. When Billy didn't hold, Aurico actually leaped and tackled
him, sending them both spinning to the pavement.

"Let go of me! You don't know what you're doing!" cried Billy, struggling to escape his
friend's grip. His desperation gave him the strength to do it, and he began getting to his feet.

"What's the matter with you?" asked Aurico. "Have you gone insane?"

"No," Billy replied. "Just trust me on this one. I know what I'm doing here, but if you
hold me up any longer, everything will fall apart, and maybe some innocent people will be killed.
One already has, and I won't let it happen to anyone else, especially my friends."

"Friends? What friends?" Aurico asked in amazement. "Is it really true what Cestria said,
that you've joined these people?"

Billy shook his head; there was no way he could make Aurico understand the whole
situation. It had taken long enough for him to do it himself.

"I promise, it will all make sense later, but don't make me stay any longer!" Billy replied.
"Find the others if you can and tell them not to attack the other Disk Rangers." He turned and
began running again.

"Where are you going?" Aurico called.

"The courthouse. Meet me there," said Billy, and then he was lost in the shadows.

*That was too close,* he thought as he ran. *I sure hope the others are doing
better than I am.*

In another part of the city, Vendetta was struggling valiantly to keep abreast of the mob
that was pursuing her.

*This plan of Billy's had better work,* she thought, *or I'm going to end up
like Jet.*

The thought of her fallen friend's name made tears sting in her eyes, and she blinked them
rapidly away before they could obstruct her vision. These people would not hesitate to kill her any
more than they had offered mercy to Jet. Not like Billy. He knew better. Now she was going to
make them both proud. The plan was very simple, really. She had taken her laser and fired a few
shots at a nearby building, scaring out a few red-uniformed soldiers, and a few taunts convinced
them to give chase. A few more shots and insults had her crowd growing large enough to draw
new followers by itself, as other soldiers heard the sounds of chaos and followed it. A few of the
soldiers had laser guns and other unpleasant things, and Vendetta was keeping busy just dodging
the things that were being shot and lobbed at her. She dove, tumbled, leaped to her feet, and
dodged around a corner. It was only a temporary respite, though. They just had to keep following
her until they got to the courthouse, where Billy had promised that he'd be. Then... then, oh, it
would be beautiful. She smiled behind her helmet. This was going to be interesting.

Suddenly, there was a flash ahead of her, and Corcus appeared, his sword held at ready.
He leveled a stern glare at her.

"Prepare to fight," he said quietly.

"Not today!" she replied. She shoved roughly past him and continued dashing along at top
speed.

"Huh?" said Corcus in confusion. "Where are you going?"

"Better run, sweetie, before you get squished!" Vendetta giggled.

"What?" asked Corcus. Thoroughly bewildered, he looked around and saw a rampaging
crowd, agitated past the point of distinguishing what they were shooting at. Weighing his options
quickly, Corcus decided that running away was probably a good idea. He sprinted along after
Vendetta as fast as his feet could carry him.

Nearing the main roads, the sounds of angry shouting increased. All four of the Disk
Rangers converged in the street and ran together as a single group. The Aquitian Rangers also
met each other, but they didn't get much time for a happy reunion. The mob was still behind
them, and the only real choice they had was to keep moving. Behind them, the people continued
charging.

"Would you look at that?" asked Cav casually, putting on an extra burst of speed. "We've
got a pretty considerable group of witnesses, wouldn't you say?"

"Oh, yes," Prism answered dryly. "I just hope there will be a show waiting for them when
we get to the courthouse."

"They will, they will," Sear assured him, panting a little. "What could go wrong?"

~*~

About fifteen minutes previous to that, Billy was mounting the steps of the courthouse,
taking them two at a time in his hurry to make up the time he had lost. He crashed through the
doors, causing several secretaries to shriek and hide behind their desks in a flurry of papers. Billy
passed by, uninterested, shouldering guards aside as if they weren't even there. He had a goal in
mind, and nothing would deter him from it now. Nothing.

General Dryhan looked up from his paperwork at the sound of the commotion, but he
could not get up in time to stop the NightStriker Ranger from bursting into his office, a gleaming
black sword held at ready. The general paled somewhat in sudden shock.

"Hello, general. Nice to see you again," said Billy in his darkest tones. He was enjoying
every minute of it.

"You!" exclaimed the general in shock. "No! It's impossible! I was there; I killed you
myself!"

*I'm not surprised,* Billy thought. *Looks like my hunch was right.*

"We Power Rangers don't kill very easily," he replied. "Much less easily than generals, I
might add. Take that as a warning and surrender now, before things get ugly."

"You're no Power Ranger!" General Dryhan insisted. "You're a monster in human guise,
you and all your kind! You could never wield the Power!"

"Darkness is a very strange thing," said Billy casually. "It's not always easy to see at first
glance. For example, you don't look like the kind that would start a war out of prejudice and
greed."

The general stared at him in shock for a moment, and then his features twisted into a
savage snarl.

"So, you figured it out, hmm? I was wondering how long it would be before you saw the
light," he said. "Well, that's no problem. No one else will ever find out about my little exploit. I
killed you once, and I can do it again."

In a silver flash, a blade was pulled from a scabbard at his belt, and he lunged at Billy. The
Black Ranger almost wasn't fast enough in dodging - the blade scraped his armor, drawing
sparks, but he was not hurt. He crashed into the desk, putting a considerable dent in it, but not so
considerable as when the general drove the point of his saber into the wood where Billy's head
had been just a split second before. Billy's stomach clenched a little at the shock of realizing what
had almost happened, but he didn't let it stop him. While the general was still trying to free his
sword, Billy tackled him, and they both tumbled and fell out the door. Springing to their feet, they
launched a furious sword fight. Billy was the better warrior, with the enhanced strength and skill
that came from morphing, but the general had helpers. Billy did what he could to throw them out
of the way without injuring them; he didn't want to hurt innocent bystanders. From outside, a
distant roar began sounding, and the Black Ranger realized that his plan was working, and that
now the main street was being filled with people - angry people. He had to get this battle outside
now. With a powerful kick in the midriff, Billy send General Dyrhan staggering out the
doors and onto the porchlike area at the top of the steps, where he stumbled and fell. Dazed, he
rolled over to look with bewilderment at the angry crowd that was approaching. A brief flash of
paranoia ran through his brain; they had discovered his secret! They were coming to get him! Billy
loomed over him, petrifying in black armor, casually holding his sword a few inches above the
general's heart. As he stood there, the Disk Rangers came running up to him, followed closely by
the Aquitian Rangers.

"Billy, what are you-?" Delphine began.

"Somebody quiet those people," he interrupted. "I want everyone to hear this."

"QUIET!" Sear roared. The people were quiet.

"Don't move. Don't say anything," said Billy to the crowd. "I know you all believe we're
the villains here. Maybe we are, in a way. Maybe wrong has been done here. But I think it's time
you all heard the truth. Do you have something to tell them, general?"

"You're not getting anything out of me, monster!" cried the general in panic. "I won't
admit anything! You're forcing this out of me. I should have killed you all a long time ago!"

"Watch who you're calling a monster," Billy replied. "Prism, my helmet."

Prism quickly undid the straps, revealing Billy's face. There was a gasp from the crowds.

"You," the general snarled. "Traitor! I can't believe a human would join sides with those
freaks! They're animals! How can you turn against your own kind?"

"Animals?" muttered one of the soldiers near the front lines. He was wearing a uniform of
deep green and looked fairly important. "What is all this? I thought this war was over land."

"It all belongs to us," said the general. "I started the war in the interest of the human race.
We shouldn't have to share this world or any other with these savages."

"Interesting," said the man in green. There were mutters in the crowd as people began
whispering to each other.

"Come on, out with it," said Billy. "Everybody wants to hear the whole story. It's too late
to stop now."

"Oh, all right! You win," said the General. "I started the war, all right? I restarted the clan
wars, I had the border guard killed, I did it all! I had to do it. It was the only way to be rid of
them once and for all."

"This man is a maniac!" said Corcus in quiet horror.

"Indeed so," said the soldier in green, ascending the stairs. "By the way, I am Sergeant
Inhur, and I would like to know a little bit more about this war. It sounds to me as if you've done
a good deal of damage. There is no cause that justifies killing your own men, I was always told."

"Have this man arrested and taken away," ordered Delphine, pointing at the general. "We
will have inquiries started into this at once."

"Agreed," said Sergeant Inhur. "As the general's second in command, will anyone mind if
I take over?"

There were voices of non-objection. Nodding, the Sergeant signaled to a few lower-
ranking troops, and they came and dragged the general away as he screamed threats and insults.
Sergeant Inhur turned back to the Rangers.

"This puts a very different face on your attacks," he said to the Disk Rangers. "You will
be asked to participate in his trial, but I think it is safe to say that your actions will be forgiven. I
can't promise anything yet, but I will try to see to it that someday you and your people will return
to your rightful home."

"All right!" cheered Cav. The others Rangers laughed, Disk and Aquitian alike.
Billy smiled peacefully. His mission was over now, and everything would be all right.

One Month Later


"I can't believe it's finally over," said Sear to no one in particular.

"Me neither," answered Vendetta. "After all this fighting, peace feels like some kind of
dream."

"A good dream, though," Billy replied.

The other Disk Rangers nodded in agreement. They were all sitting in the shade of a tree
outside the city limits, just relaxing and watching the clouds roll through the pale blue sky. The
trials had lasted for weeks, but the issue was finally decided. General Dyrhan and his closest
followers were imprisoned, and the Sergeant had officially taken over as leader of the planet.
Under his just rule, arrangements were being made for the native Quandarians to return home.
Meanwhile, the Aquitian Rangers and the Disk Rangers had been kept busy sweeping the city for
holdouts and protesters. It would take a long time for the populace of Quandar to see their new
neighbors without the prejudices that Dyrhan had planted in their minds, but there was finally
hope for real peace.

"What are we going to do now?" asked Cav. "I mean, we've completed our mission.
What's next?"

"Well, we are Power Rangers," Billy replied. "Our job is to protect the universe from evil
wherever it is. I say as long as we still have the Power on our side..."

"We go and find some evil to fight!" Sear finished. "I like that idea! I'm tired of being a
bad guy."

"You were never evil," Billy assured him. "Only dark. There's a difference. Believe me,
I've thought about it for a long time, and I know. But, after a while, the light always comes
through."

His teammates smiled, and Billy smiled back at them. He was happy to have found new
friends, and it was good to have a mission again. He sighed with contentment, leaning back
against the tree trunk and watching the clouds wander out of sight, feeling the darkness in his soul
lifting at last...

The End