Title: "Just the Right Amount of Wrong"
Written by: Shawn30
(3/?)

Summary: Still on Rethirrion, Kim comforts Tommy after a their rescue effort goes horribly wrong. Billy leads a team of Rangers on a dangerous underground mission. Jason and Trini try to work through their personal issues while touring a devastated city. An old enemy bent on vengeance returns.

Category: Angsty Drama/Angsty Erotica
Rated: MA
Ship: Tommy/Kimberly
Characters: Tommy, Kim, Billy, Jason, Katherine, Zack, Aisha, Trini, Tanya, Rocky, and Adam. Gangs all here, lol.

Warnings: Graphic Sexual Content/Intense Action Sequences/Language

Timeline: Everything up to and including the end of Dino Thunder. All else is explained and is my AU.

Disclaimer: Saban owns it all again. If that's a good thing or not remains to be seen.

Authors Notes: Not every chapter will be as long as this one or the first as I'm using this verse to have fun and touch on a number of different themes. We'll begin a little here adding a focus on other characters even as this remains a Tommy/Kim centric series. Enjoy.

"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

No trait is more justified than revenge in the right time and place."
~~ Meir Kahane

"Love has its place, as does hate. Peace has its place, as does war. Mercy has its place, as do cruelty and revenge."
~~ Meir Kahane

******

******

Above "Veco-9" An Underground train system
Monday, February 27, 2007 6:15 PM
The Yarrel Continent
Planet "Rethirrion"

As day faded gently into twilight, Zack peered over the amber-colored horizon at more pure destruction than he had ever seen before. Towering structures, sprawling resort hotels, luxury casinos, hospitals, highways... nothing still stood. He tried to focus on the sound of his own measured breathing as the sheer magnitude of the devastation before him dwarfed his imagination. Miles-wide fires burned everything in the distance, roaring through a once robust seaside city that was now ashes blown to the far winds.

His internal sensors registered a temperature of 108 degrees, with a high level of radiation in the area. The stench of death tinged the hot air itself as the Black Ranger tried to wrap his mind around such annihilation. A God-fearing man, he could only think of the word biblical as he took it all in. The loss of life was nothing-less than catastrophic. With time running out on this world, he held fast to the hope that there were more lives yet to be saved.

After all, that's what it meant to be a Ranger. Hope never died. And they never gave up.

Steering his attention away from smoking ruins of the once great city, Zack approached a crouched Rocky from behind, who stood at the edge of a gigantic cracked sink-hole. One that appeared endless in depth, as if only hell awaited at the bottom. One that they would soon be traveling into. He bent down beside the Red Ranger, eying it closely. Gusting winds howled past them, swirling ash and dirt all around. Visibility would have been impossible without their helmets. "What do you think?"

Shrugging, Rocky picked up, and then tossed a small pebble off the edge and watched it soar into the pure darkness. "You know what they say about the worst case scenario?"

"Yeah."

"Well this is it."

With her Purple Ranger helmet in one hand, Katherine tapped her earpiece to insure she had a strong satellite signal. Standing alongside Billy, who was leading this mission, they peered off into the northern sky. "Communications with the Falcon Zord are online. We're ready."

Tapping his earpiece, Billy said, "Kim, can you read me?"

'Loud and clear, Blue. Satellite 7-G and 8-F are broadcasting strongly. But how long do you think they will be viable?'

Going over last second details of the mission via a holographic outline that extended from his chest plate, Billy compiled the information, "By my calculations we have exactly six hours before the satellites are out of range. At that point this mission is a failure, and likely any hope of salvaging the continent before the rescue effort is over. It's now or never."

Behind blustery winds Zack and Rocky walked over to where Billy and Kat stood. The Blue Ranger said, "Upload the train tunnel schematics to our helmet navigators."

'Uploading now.' Kim replied as she beamed the visuals to the ground team.

Billy began detailing their mission. "Hyven Ion Power Station is about three miles due east. We can't approach it from above ground due to the extremely high levels of Ion-radiation leaking on the surface. But the lower levels are automatically ray-shielded, and while the workers likely did not survive, we would be able to for a time. Hopefully long enough to re-engage the cooling systems and buy us a few more hours to evacuate this continent. The underground Veco Train system was used to transport workers to and from the plant on a daily basis. Though collapsed, that tunnel offers us the best solution to reach the plant before the reactors explode.'

"Here and here," Katherine pointed out to the team at the red outlined holographic display that extended from the Blue Ranger chest emblem. "We may encounter heavy debris that will require immediate removal. In addition, there's a S-class train that is unaccounted for in our rescue logs."

Zack inquired, "Any chance for survivors?"

After a solemn pause, Billy shook his head. "Negative. But we'll look just the same."

'The satellites just need a direct line of sight, Billy. The rest is up to you. Kim out.'

Walking to the edge of endless darkness, Billy unloaded the gear from his back-pack. "The train station itself is buried under over three thousand tons of rubble. The highway overpass is completely collapsed as well. Entering here is our only option, but we must take caution. The tunnel burrows further underground as it goes. We're jumping into its deepest section. Thankfully, these... lets just call them extremely elastic energy cables, will get us to the tunnel floor. Any questions?"

"Are you sure we can't just jump in?" Zack inquired.

"Yes," Billy replied. "We don't know what you might land on or hit on the way down. Going the slow route isn't as fast, but its safer."

That didn't exactly ease Katherine's nerves. But nothing about this doomed world did. "If this tunnel caves in on us we'll be buried alive."

"Way to be positive, Kat," Rocky joked with a grin that wasn't nearly as cocky as it sounded behind his helmet.

"Hey, I'll be fine. I'm a cat. I always land on my feet."

"You can't see it, but I'm rolling my eyes in my helmet." Zack unhooked his back-pack off his shoulders. "Time to get this show on the road."

Billy took out his gear. "Prepare your repels. And Rocky, if you got any jokes, now would be a good time to hear one."

"OK, here goes," the current Red Ranger began as he powerfully drove his repel anchor-stake into the dirt, grounding it deep, The others followed suit. "Two campers are hiking in the woods when one is bitten on the rear-end by a rattlesnake. 'I'll go into town for a doctor,' the other says. He runs ten miles to a small town and finds the town's only doctor, who is delivering a baby."

Testing her repel anchor-stake, Katherine prepared her long cable, attaching it to the device. "This wont end well," she teased.

"Stop interrupting." Ignoring her amusing middle-finger retort, Rocky made sure his cable wasn't hanging over any sharp edges. He then attached the rope to the shoulder harness he wore over his Ranger armor, clipping the rope into the locking caribiner. "Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. 'I can't leave,' the doctor says. 'But here's what to do. Take a knife, cut a little X where the bite is, suck out the poison and spit it on the ground."

Having set up his repel gear, Zack moved to the edge of the dark sink-hole, rope in hand. "Rocky, you're heading in icky territory."

"Will you let me finish?"

A smile he hadn't experienced in a while broke out on Billy's face behind his mask as he joined the others at the sink-hole's edge. Below, darkness and death awaited. He focused his mind, having calibrated the tech in his helmet. "Go on, Rocky."

"OK, alright." Rocky set his back to the sink-hole's edge, standing beside his team as they did the same. "So the guy runs back to his friend, who is in agony. 'What did the doctor say?" the victim asks. 'He says you're gonna die.'"

"Oh my God, that sucked," Katherine laughed as she glanced at the Red Ranger.

"That joke reached a new level of suck," Zack chimed in above the strong gusts of wind, snickering.

"Affirmative," Billy chuckled before drawing the team's minds back to the mission. "Guys, make sure your repel devices are firmly attached to your
harnesses. When we hit the ground make sure your internal scanners are set to broad spectrum. We are walking into the unknown, so be careful. Conditions could change down there incredibly fast. Stay alert."

All four Rangers moved to the sink-hole's edge, cables in hand, backs to the darkness below.

Billy looked to his team, and then nodded. "Three... two... one... Go!"

The Rangers leapt backwards, free-falling into darkness while rappelling downward in long jumps. It was like leaping off the edge of a skyscraper as each moved past obstructions and overhangs as best they could, methodically descending into the quiet below.

One thousand and seven hundred feet straight down to the dusty ruins of a collapsed train tunnel.

"Down!" Zack shouted inside his helmet as his feet hit ground first. His helmet sensors swept the immediate area for any movement. "Clear!" He was soon followed by Rocky, Katherine, and Billy. They quickly unfastened their repel devices.

"Night-vision arrays activate," Billy called out. Black so vast it shrouded everything became a soft emerald glow as their night-vision visors illuminated the tunnel before them up to twenty feet. All else was deathly quiet. "Segment six-feet apart and check the structural soundness of the walls and ceiling. If this whole place comes down..."

"As Han Solo would say," Rocky interjected, "We're gonna become a permanent resident."

"This section of the tunnel ceiling was unaffected by the earthquake. But up ahead is any ones guess," Katherine offered as she fought off a chill not brought on by the temperature, but by the sheer nothingness that surrounded them.

"Guys, things are going to be very uncomfortable from here on out," Billy explained. "Closely monitor your radiation levels as well. They should incrementally rise the closer we get, but if you notice a sharp spike give us a heads up. Our first and only priority is getting that power stations cooling system online."

"Turn the refrigerator back on, got it," Rocky chuckled while maneuvering around a large block of fallen rubble.

"So let me see. Small chance of victory, check. Deadly, timed mission of doom, check. Success or death the only option, check," Zack chimed in. "Sounds like fun."

"Must guys turn everything into some Macho-man, tough guy movie-like dialogue?" Katherine asked with a smile.

"Yes," both Zack and Rocky replied.

Billy could only shake his head, grinning. "Times wasting, guys. Lets get going."

Scores of exotic dead animals that probably fell down into the sink-hole and or sadly wandered there searching for food, littered the initial section of the tunnel covering the silver tracks. The stench of decay accompanied swarms of insects that festered over the carcases. The sight was disgusting enough to turn ones stomach, but had to be ignored by the Rangers as they made their way down the huge dark corridor.

"Two-percent increase in radiation levels," Rocky called out ten minutes later. "Somebody tell me if I start glowing, alright?"

"Hush, Rocky," Katherine giggled as they soon found themselves walking through a foot deep of filthy water, splashing their way down the passage amidst a new swarm of flies and gnats. "Billy, does this tunnel pass under a body of water?"

"Yes. A small river barely two mile long," he replied as he scanned the walls for cracks. He found several small ones, with some bringing a constant stream of water down into the tunnel. But none seemed ready to crack fully enough to endanger them. "It won't pose a threat."

"Fuck!" Zack side-stepped the large body of something that resembled a horse floating down the waters. The decaying body was grotesque to look at, with its bones and flesh crushed together. His heart raced powerfully. "Great. Just great. So if the radiation doesn't kill us, maybe we'll drown down here if there's a aftershock."

"We'll be pass the area where the river sits shortly," Billy noted. "And our suits are water-proof, and fitted with nearly nine hours of air supply. Should the walls cave in and flood the tunnel we have a high-probability of survival even if we had to swim underwater back to the surface."

"That's the sexiest thing you've ever said, Billy."

"Thanks, Rocky. I think..."

The team blazed down the dark tunnel, stopping only when the radar systems embedded in their helmets alerted them to a large blockade up ahead before they actually saw it.

Flipped completely upside down, the narrow front end of the black bullet-shaped train was crushed by huge jagged slabs of ceiling debris. Tons worth. The shattered glass shell-canopy was smashed so level there was no hope for the crew, with the nose of the vehicle completely torn asunder.

"We have to remove this section at once. The clock is ticking," Billy called out.

"I'm on it." Removing a hockey-puck sized device with red lights surrounding its outside, Zack threw it at the ceiling above the train, and then threw another one on top of the train cabin debris. The ceiling device embedded, and then began spinning so fast it became a blur of dust as it surged upwards until it burst through the ceiling all the way up to the surface. Dirt and rocks rained back inside the tunnel, but a clear line of sight was set. "Skies above."

Katherine calculated the satellite position, and then quickly scanned the entire front end of the train and all the debris crumbled on top of it. "Billy, we're ready."

"Commencing teleportation now." Blue light flickered over the entire wreckage as Billy looked on, and then ten seconds later disappeared in a burst of light. Left behind were nine detached train-cars still on the silver rails. But the path ahead was open. "Guys, prepare yourselves. This was the morning train the day of the catastrophe. Scan for any life signs, but..."

"Hear you loud and clear, Billy." Katherine slowly walked alongside the track, aiming her hand-held data pad in both hands. The side cars weren't completely crushed like the forward car. but were all eerily quiet and in terrible condition. Shards of broken glass, shattered panels, metallic rips along the side, and a dangerous fuel leak only made matters worse.

"Billy," Rocky called out while noting his internal helmet monitor. "Zion gas elevations have risen twenty percent in the last ten minutes. If these people didn't die from the crash, they died from choking to death."

"Two minute sweep, guys. Everyone keep close watch on your internal systems. There's just not much we can do for them at this point."

With heavy hearts, the Rangers climbed and crawled into the wreckage of the train cars. One by one they quickly scanned for any life signs, identifying alien species via skull structure analysis while taking quick helmet-cam photos of any ID's worn on the bodies of the victims.

One car featured a pile of bodies that trampled each other in a desperate attempt to escape. Blood colored every square inch of it. Another fractured cabin was nothing but limbs torn asunder as a gigantic sharp rock crushed part of the train-car.

The dead faces were what they would never forget. Frozen in fear, facing hopelessness, death having visited them in the most horrific ways possible. Bodies hung lifelessly from windows they'd punched through trying to escape. Doors hung off hinges with torn fingernails and scratches adorning the metal. The Rangers discovered a total of eleven different species of aliens, with a body count of two hundred and sixteen.

Billy descended from the last train car, and then turned to face his team. "I found seven."

"Five," Katherine replied quietly as she hopped from the car back to the ground.

"Ten," Zack followed her.

"Six," Rocky said at last, noting the disgusting state of his boots.

Billy gave a nod, retrieving the ID information from the other Rangers. At least they identified twenty-eight individuals. Maybe that would offer some comfort to their families, provided any of them were still alive. They just didn't have time to retrieve the bodies. "We're a mile from the power station, but the Zion gas levels are gradually rising. That was a unforeseen occurrence." The worry in his voice wasn't hidden in the least. "Rocky and me can withstand up to ninety percent, but the tech-suits you guys are wearing weren't designed for anything past sixty-five. Couple that with the radiation levels rising, and the fact that so much as a single spark will detonate this entire tunnel, I've come to the conclusion that..."

"We're fucked?" Rocky asked in a joking manner.

"Though a crude way for stating the obvious, yes," Billy replied. "Our enemy here is time and things are worse than we thought. Let's get going now. Sprint the rest of the way, but if the radiation or Zion gas levels reach critical, Kat and Zack, you're gonna have to back-track. Otherwise you will die down here."

A ominous pause fell over the group before Katherine spoke. She was all business. "Lets get on with it then."

Without another word said they began racing the rest of the way, each Ranger lost in his and her own thoughts as the dire quiet surrounded them as surely as death.

Zack brushed aside a note of claustrophobic fear, both wanting to finish this mission and help as many people as possible. While also, and a bit guiltily, wanting to get the hell off this world as fast as possible. There was only so much death he could take. So much misery he could witness before he cracked. He knew the Rangers couldn't save this world.

Only what was left of it.

Katherine recalled as they traversed the pitch black tunnel the long discussion she had with Zordon when he prepared her for becoming a Ranger. But no matter the Zords they flew or the worlds they visited, theirs wasn't a life of adventure and excitement. It was a life of selflessness and sacrifice. They were keepers of the peace, not soldiers. This mission tested her resolve that she had what it took to be a Ranger more than any other. This was the side of their job that children didn't pretend to be when they played in their backyards after watching the news reports of their latest exploits.

This mission was the purest essence of what it meant to be a Ranger. To preserve and protect life no matter the cost.

Rocky wished he could learn of Aisha's condition. His fiancee was one tough cookie, but he always preferred to have her back during a mission. Whatever happened in New Phoren left her with a bad concussion and some bumps and bruises. She was alive and that was enough, for now.

He tried, as always, to keep his teammates thoughts light no matter the darkness surrounding whatever mission they faced. It was never because he lacked a more serious side. It was because he was the light to theirs, and he understood how best to break their tension and help them refocus. Even if it was with a dumb joke or bad pun. But here and now, he only wanted to know how Aisha was doing.

As for Billy, he quietly grasped with internal feelings of anxiety and even self-doubt. Being in the "Zordon" role fit him far more than the "boots on the ground" version of leadership Jason and Tommy preferred. But he had to do this. Not only for himself, but for how it looked to the Galactic Ranger Alliance leadership off-world. And to the government of Earth who knew he had no military background to speak of. His days as a Ranger were looked upon as him being the "Tech guy," and not respected the way Tommy and Jason were when they met with government officials.

He secretly detested that.

He wanted... no deserved... no, he demanded! their respect. And even as he had earned that, he knew it didn't matter. Because things moved by his design whether they liked it or not.

He suddenly felt cold and alone, but shoved those thoughts aside to refocus.

Twenty minutes passed as the dire tension grew so thick, and then Katherine and Zack came to a sudden halt. Rocky and Billy stopped up ahead only after they did.

"Bro, the radiation levels are..." Zack swallowed deeply, nearly stumbling as she struggled to gain his bearings. His voice trembled mightily. "They're spiking fast. They're too high. We... we gotta go back."

Both Rocky and Billy knew Zack would never back down from any mission unless he was truly certain there was little hope. Billy approached Katherine, taking hold of her elbow when she appeared groggy on her feet. "How are you doing?"

"As bad as Zack, I'm afraid," she coughed hard, her breathing labored. "We're at maximum radiation levels now. If we go any further the suits might rupture."

"And that would be instant death for both of you," Rocky concluded with his arms crossed his chest. "Billy, old friend. Looks like me and you ending this date together. But just because I bought the lobster and steak doesn't mean you're getting any."

"Rocky, you're delightfully disgusting sometimes," Kat laughed while standing beside Zack as they supported each other.

"Guys, take care and stay safe. Kat and I gotta get out of here. We're gonna try to teleport back at the river section," Zack coughed hard. "Rocko, Ill check on Sha for you. No worries. We gotta go now. Good luck."

"You too, now go!" Billy turned to Rocky as their two friends quickly departed into the darkness. "The power station should be a quarter of a mile from here. We get inside, and then need to reach the cooling system controls in the main control center."

"Then let's go before we start glowing."

"You're really afraid of glowing, aren't you?"

"An old childhood fear," Rocky smirked.

Tracing the ground-mounted train rails, the Rangers trudged through piles of wet rubble, slabs of jagged debris, and waist-deep water. Moving as fast as they possibly could down the deep, underground tunnel.

"Scanning a structure up ahead," Billy said as they quickly reached a smooth black wall that ran from floor to ceiling. "This is one of the stations emergency protocols. This security wall was meant to protect against a attack or unexpected explosion."

"Can we open it from the outside?"

"That should not be a problem." Moving to the right side of the wall, Billy located a still-lit panel. He retrieved a magnetic security card given to him by Rethirrion officials and swiped it in the card slot.

"Open sesame," Rocky noted as the huge door rose up into the ceiling, revealing a blinking, red-tinged stairwell. Emergency lights criss-crossed the walls and ceiling as alarms blared loudly. "I think the night-vision needs to go off here."

"Agreed," Billy replied. "Radiation levels are critical. Pull up the schematics for the power station."

"Got'em."

Billy looked over a lined-overlay inside his helmet visor. "Let's go. This stairwell leads to a elevator that can take us three floors up to the control station. With any luck its still operational." He then pointed out an alternate route. "If not we will take this emergency escape staircase here."

"Just to play Devils Advocate, what if both are not available?" Billy ignored the question, causing Rocky to gulp. "They'll be a lot of slow singing and flower bringing, I guess."

"Affirmative."

The Rangers ran across the bridge towards what was left of a security checkpoint desk, the guards bodies buried below rubble. They rounded a corner and reached the main elevator in the lobby, only to find it half open and filled with dead bodies. Arms and legs literally stuck out of the opening, bloodied and limp.

"OK, Plan B then," Rocky sounded as he followed Billy down another long corridor, dodging more of the dead workers and staff as the emergency exit staircase was up ahead. They hit the stairs two at a time, moving up until they reached the top floor where the control station was.

"The power station is up ahead!" Billy shouted above the still blaring alarms as they entered a large circular room with several computer stations and an entire wall of holographic monitoring screens.

"Everything's in the red. This is most troublesome." Billy shoved a tri-pod chair aside in front of the main station and went to work, typing furiously to calculate where things stood. Never mind the dead bodies all around him. "Five of the nine Ion reactor cores are overheating and leaking massive amounts of radiation. The coolant temperature is 347 degrees, and the residual heat removal system is down. We have to get that system back online."

"OK, how?"

"I need you to go to the cooling system chamber and do exactly what I tell you," Billy explained. "I have to remain here to monitor and calibrate the controls."

Rocky quickly pulled up the route to get to the cooling chamber in his internal helmet monitor. "I'm on my way."

The Red Ranger sprinted past the initial staircase until he reached another, and instead of taking it, leapt down the middle, nine flights until he hit the floor below. Flashlight beams danced off the walls as he pushed past the bone-weary exhaustion of the mission.

Rocky reached the chamber housing the 'Emergency Core Cooling System', pushing inside to face an entire room of holographic command consoles. So many, and far beyond what he knew to work with. "Billy, I'm here. And I might be way outta my league."

"Take a deep breath and look to your left. You'll see the primary and back-up cooling systems tinged in a green color. The primary should be reading a catastrophic error. Look to the back-up. What do you see?"

Rocky quickly searched, and then found what Billy described. His internal visor translated the keys into English, or its closest translation. "The back-up reads its online. It looks like one of the worker's tried to engage it manually, but it didn't kick in. There seems to be an obstruction blocking a main cooling valve." The Red Ranger blinked when he actually heard Billy swear under his breath. "Did you just curse?"

"Irrelevant," Billy sighed. "Okay, that cooling valve is fifty-feet from your location. Get there and see what you can do. I was able to shut down half the reactors, but the other half are still dangerously unstable."

"I'm on it!"

Rocky sprinted from the chamber down the hall towards the sprawling reactor core's cooling valves. Six gigantic cooling ports. One was crushed entirely, while the other five just weren't operating. He visually trailed them to a blinking wall-panel. Sparks popped from the keyboard pad. "Billy, patch into my helmet and take a look at this. I think this panels malfunction is why the emergency cooling systems aren't working." A brief pause as Rocky knew Billy was taking in the whole picture, as usual.

"That red wire is emitting electricity that's canceling out the others. We need to patch it as soon as possible it in the next thirty... No pressure though."

"SHIT!" Rocky thought fast, then looked up and saw the words 'RESTROOM' down the hall. He raced there, not caring it was the womens bathroom at all. Pushing through two sets of doors, he vaguely recalled that the restrooms were radiation proof and a secondary emergency area. The Red Ranger ripped off his helmet, took his gum out of his mouth, and then shoved his helmet back on.

Racing back down the hall, Rocky pressed the gum to the red wire, watched as the sparks stopped, and then heard a loud whooshing noise as the cooling ports came to life.

"Billy, I think I got it. And with four seconds to spare. Bruce Willis ain't got nothing on me."

"I said thirty minutes, Rocky, not thirty seconds."

"Oh... well... hell, my version sounds cooler with thirty seconds."

Billy shook his head, laughing. "While this goes against my life-long stance on grammatical correctness, you da man, Rocky."

******

Five hours Later

******

The ruins of Vamino Prime City
Monday, February 27, 11:15 PM
Night-time on "Rethirrion"

Moon-lit ash rained down softly from the heavens, covering the ravaged terrain below.

Amidst howling winds gusting hard, the Golden Eagle and Canary Zords tore across the night skies. Their cargo, heavily-augmented scanning equipment capable of reading something as small as a single heartbeat through tons of rubble and nearby radiation leaks. With the thirty Vision-class heavy-capacity transport starships E.T.A in two hours, as well as short-range teleportation bursts enabled, Jason and Trini volunteered for this last minute fly-over of the second largest city on the planet in hopes of finding any survivors before the Galactic Alliance gave up all hope on this forsaken world.

A longshot at best. But a worthwhile one.

Peering through the clear canopy of the Eagle Zord, Jason could almost hear the faint echos of the dead as nothing was untouched by this
merciless apocalypse. He recalled a history class in his senior year of high school where they watched footage from Hiroshima post the Atom Bomb. The sheer unimaginable ruination was so terrible it was hard to believe it was even real. And now as he witnessed first-hand as dozens of blustering fires raged out of control from every direction, he could scarcely believe what he was seeing. What was once a bustling, vibrant megalopolis with a population well over twenty million was now a devastated wasteland where dark ash covered every surface for miles without end. "Let's fly lower just in case any survivors marked rooftops of buildings that didn't collapse. I don't trust our scanners as much as Billy does."

"Of course Billy tested and calibrated them himself."

"I trust his genius without question, but not more than my own two eyes. When technology says there's likely no survivors I want to believe in something
more. If we could save even one life then this long trip would be worth it."

Ever warmed by his good heart, Trini agreed in silence, which in actuality made up the bulk of their conversations in recent weeks. Ever since that scandalous night at his apartment when they almost crossed a line they could never come back from. One that, in that moment, she wanted more than anything to open up to him. To truly let go and feel normal again, something she hadn't since the horror she experienced in Rome just one year ago. But she was forever changed now. Scarred. Broken in some way she was still coming to grips with. And so she fled his apartment into the night without so much as a word said, cutting off all contact with him until just two short days ago. "We should head three miles east toward Syer Dome."

"Why?"

"Records show that the night the asteroid hit there was a huge concert taking place there. And while I'm not expecting to find..." she exhaled deeply into her comm-link, searching for the optimism of her youth. "The stadium can hold a capacity of seventy-nine thousand. It would have been the most heavily populated venue in the city that night. Its a long shot, but the underground garages and tunnel system beneath the dome could possibly have survived."

"Good call. Setting a course for Syer Dome now." Veering eastward, Jason ignited his Zord's ion-thrusters, enjoying the visceral rumble of velocity. Before him countless towering skyscraper hotels that once kissed the clouds were now the vile evidence of the colossal scope of the devastation. Banking steeply, he all but willed his radar to give off a sharp beep that it found something. Anything. But the earthquake that hit this city would have registered a 17.0 on the Richter scale on Earth. A cataclysmic event to be certain. "How long until extraction?"

"One hour."

That was all the time had left before the last of the survivors were transported off-world and Rethirrion was no more. Jason said a silent prayer for the dead, knowing that they had done the best that they could do. While keeping his eyes open for anything resembling an S.O.S, the Gold Ranger turned his attention towards a more personal nature. One that he'd held his tongue on for long enough. "So are we ever going to talk about what happened or am I just supposed to pretend it never did?"

There was less anger in his tone than hurt, causing Trini to cringe inwardly as she flew just off his wing. He was a good, proud man. But like Tommy, he saw things in a very black and white sort of way. And these days shades of gray were all around her. "I... It was a mistake to kiss you."

Jason expected as much. "Tell me why?"

She could never tell him. Never reveal her shame or her rage. The words choked in her throat. Died along with that piece of her that she could never get back. And yet, a small voice in the back of her mind whispered that Jason would never, could never see her as less than or weak. Unfortunately, her actions afterward were... darker than anything she'd ever done before. "Its complicated."

"We're adults, so please explain it," Jason replied while maintaining an even tone. Anger and venom would not make her want to open up to him. Something was very wrong with her, and he intended to get to the bottom of it. "We've been spending a lot of time together in the past five months and it felt like we were growing closer." He sighed, "Look, I know we've been friends for years and flipping that switch to something else isn't easy. Its probably kinda weird. But when we're together its just... its different now. And that night when we were sitting on my couch talking about life, and you kissed me. You made the first move and then when I kissed you back you ran out of there and didn't return my messages for weeks. I don't understand that. Its not the way you've ever acted before."

A shiver swept over her. "... people change, Jason."

"Not their character, Trini."

She absolutely hated the cold fear that gripped her heart like a vice. Kissing him triggered her as it was the first time since Rome she'd felt a connection with another person. Had even allowed the concept. The emotion of it was overwhelming. Running away like a child was far from her shining moment. Her heart racing, she offered, "I'm sorry, alright. I am very sorry."

Jason knew Trini better than anyone not named Kimberly Ann Hart. When she returned from overseas a year ago she had changed. Was a bit quieter, and dangerously clever. She'd taken to their return to being Rangers with a vigor that matched his own. But there was a softness, and a gentle nature she always carried within that had taken a backseat to a darker new reality. Sarcasm replaced her gentle teasing nature. As courageous and smart as ever, but far more world weary than he had ever seen her before. But she was right, people do change and grow. Experiences, both public and private, reshape you all the time. Still, there was a nagging ache in the back of his mind that she'd faced something she had no intention of sharing with him. And that hurt a great deal. "Is there someone else?"

"Yes."

The Gold Ranger didn't buy that for a second. "Can I ask who?"

"It's none of your business," erupted from her lips.

"You kissed me and then ran out of my apartment and ignored me for weeks. If for the sake of our friendship alone, I'm owed the truth."

Gritting her teeth, Trini wished she was anywhere but here. Doing anything but facing the man she's grown to care for so deeply outside of friendship. A man who could make her laugh at action movies, and infuriate her with his cheating when they played Poker, and then shoot her a look that made her thighs clench together. In a moment of weakness she indulged the intense urge to kiss him because she had wanted to since forever. But once his lips met hers and the heat grew exponentially, so did her fear. Cold, blinding, crippling ear. What if he ever found out... What if he ever learned what she did... It was as if the very air was being strangled from her lungs. She ran like a coward and hated herself for days. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because I'm falling in love with you, and you are worth fighting for. But I deserve to know what happened and why. And if you don't feel the same way then you need to say so. All I'm asking for is the truth, whatever that is." Silence on the other end. Jason knew he was being pushy, but a closed mouth doesn't get fed in this world or any other. He lived his life facing things head on, damn the consequences. "There isn't anyone else."

Stated, not asked. She shook her head, sadly evading the claim. Even as her heart wanted his declaration of love more than anything she'd ever wanted
before. She felt sick with shame. "I can't do this, Jason. I'm... I'm different and..."

"Do you need time?"

"I need... wait, hold on, you reading this?"

The holographic outline shown inside the curved glass canopy of his Zord registered a sharp red beep. A beacon lock. "That's a distress signal. Seven miles North-East. Maximum thrusters now!"

All personal issues aside, the Zords blazed over the collapsed rooftops, gusting swirls of debris as they intensified their scans.

"Adam, come in?" Jason called out.

'I read you, Jase.'

"Trini and I are tracking a distress signal. On-board navigation says it towering structure. Sending you the coordinates now. We need schematics and a teleportation array set on stand-by."

Typing furiously at his console, Adam found the information. 'Quinn Sectorals. It's the Earth equivalent of a bank. Its vaults are ray-shield. I'm sending schematics to you both now.'

"Copy. Stand by. Trini?"

Calibrating her signal strength, Trini noted, "The signal is getting stronger. We're close." Gunning the Canary Zord's engines at maximum thrust, she eased off as they approached the mammoth twenty-story building, half destroyed by another building that collapsed onto its side. One that was on fire as thick, dark smoke billowed skyward. "My scanners are telling me there are three main vaults, all below ground. If anyone is inside they will need immediate medical attention." Then she recalled. "Dammit, we can't teleport inside something that's ray-shielded."

Jason switched gears. "Adam, we're scanning over the building now. Lock on everything above the vaults and teleport it away."

'Gotcha. Will do.'

Jason and Trini hovered their Zords over the massive slabs of debris, and watched as a flash or red removed tons of it, revealing three 20-foot wide silver vaults.

"Trini?"

"The one on the left," she calculated, double checking the signal strength. "That's the one the distress beacon is coming from. Nothing from the other two."

Locking his Zord's blasters on their target, Jason took careful aim. "Lets blast those doors off. Laser fire set to seven. Aim for the twin latches on the right side. FIRE!"

The Eagle and Canary Zords rained thunderous laser-fire down on the vault door latches. Frantic flashing sparks exploded everywhere until at last the thick latches buckled and fell off to the side, red-hot and simmering. The vault doors were finally open...

Inside were nothing but dead bodies. Thirty-nine to be exact, all huddled against one another. Aliens of various sizes and colors were lying against the back wall. They likely locked themselves inside the vault in hopes of awaiting a rescue that didn't come fast enough. Suffocation was the likely murderer.

Shutting her eyes, Trini gasped, the euphoria of their discovery as dead now as the victims of this terrible tragedy. "There were to many people piled in there. The emergency life support systems ran out of power or were damaged."

As Jason scanned for heat signatures and vital signs on the other two vaults, sadly, nothing was alive down there. He smashed his fist over his console in anger, the pain flaring in his knuckles. Alas, time had run out and the extraction was about to begin. There was nothing more that they could
do here. "Dammit," he swore softly, slumping back in his pilot's chair.

The old Trini knew how to comfort and find the bright side of situation. She often found the reason in the why. Could find hope in anything. But that woman was no more, buried beneath the rubble of her own personal tragedy. The woman she was today, and she was not proud of this, simply had lost
her way.

They were quiet for a short time before the Yellow Ranger solemnly declared, "I'm heading back to home base. There's nothing more we can do."

Clutching the small gold cross he wore around his neck, Jason Watched the Canary Zord swivel sharply, and then ascend in a burst of velocity as blue-white thrusters blazed into the night sky. "There may not be any hope for this world, but I'm not giving up on us, Trini. Not by a long shot."

Jason knew she heard what he said over the comm-link. Her lack of a reply wasn't surprising. Igniting his own thrusters, the Golden Eagle Zord soared into the heavens.

******

Five Hours Later

******

"The Reliant"
Vision-class Heavy Capacity Transport Starship
Currently housing thirty-five thousand survivors from the planet Rethirrion
Tuesday, February 28, 2007 3:30 AM
En route to a short-term settlement on the planet Phaedos

"'Syfer' Milians offers his sincerest regards for you VALUED assistance. The added security provided by the mere presence of such acclaimed Rangers offer a sense of calming peace to the survivors of the Rethirrion tragedy. And with reports of various space-pirate factions looting their world of anything left of value, as well as slavers threatening other transport vessels, we are in your debt."

"The cloaking device is functioning as expected and we will rendezvous with a substantial Galactic Alliance escort-squadron in twenty-four hours." Kimberly took the covered black tray from the silver humanoid-droid, offering a polite nod. "Tell the 'Syfer' we are honored to escort his starship, and that he has nothing to fear. Please thank him on our behalf for his hospitality. Good journey."

"Good journey," the droid acknowledged the universal goodbye, and then took its leave down the long corridor.

When the automated sliding door shut with an audible electronic chime, the small wall-mounted display flashed green, signaling that the door was
locked. Carrying a tray with dinner for two, Kim maneuvered barefoot through the small cabin to a tri-legged wooden table near the foot of the bed, where she sat it down. Tommy hadn't wanted the lights on ever since they arrived, so they were bathed in the shadows of the starboard blue-green glow from outside the massive ship.

"Smells good at least," she noted while uncovering the top as a faint gust of steam lifted about. The Reliant's cuisine replicators were capable of duplicating food from over two hundred worlds. Two juicy New York Strip steaks, mashed potatoes and gravy with vegetables had never looked so good as she
was starving. Looking to her boyfriend, she asked, "Are you hungry?"

Brooding shirtless not far from her, Tommy quietly peered out into the endless cosmos through the broad ceiling-high Vibra-glass hub. The vast majesty of deep space was nearly hypnotizing in its infinite mystery. Alas, the answers he sought tonight couldn't be found in the stars. The slightest shake of his head was all the reply he offered in reply.

Frowning slightly, Kim sighed as she gave him his space, covering the food while watching him closely. Thankfully the serving droid that delivered dinner to their private quarters couldn't have cared less that she was only wearing a mans Emerald-green pajama top. Hung low enough for sinful intent, but a bit more provocative than what would have been appropriate had their server been human. Considering how Tommy couldn't get enough of the sight of her whenever she wore it, she purposely packed only his overnight wear as she had hoped that post the mission they would indulge in what she coined 'The Universal Club'.

If the Mile High Club was love making on a plane, this was something altogether more spectacular.

Sadly though, all seductive plans ended hours ago when Tommy cradled a dead little girl in his arms while her distraught younger siblings looked on in mute horror. Kimberly had comforted him as best she could, ever mindful of the internal guilt he battled over past transgressions as the Green Ranger and every life he couldn't save over the years.

Today he had been the hero she always knew he was born to be. He saved three children that would have otherwise died in a watery grave. Lives that the Galactic Alliance would not have spared a rescue effort on as the chaos worldwide was vastly out of anyone's control.

So Kimberly watched over him closely, protective as ever of his precious heart. She wasn't surprised when he volunteered to escort the transport ship the surviving children were on to the first relocation moon the Galactic Alliance was setting up. The sense of responsibility he felt coupled with the need to do something useful was simply part of his D.N.A.

Just one of the many things she adored about him. And there were so many.

Intensifying her scrutiny, Kim recognized the stress-etched small lines at the corners of his eyes. The hard set of his jaw. The grief behind the stoic expression he wore. She could almost feel his gnawing regret that he couldn't save the child's life even as the clues clearly mark that the little girl knew what she was doing.

Approaching him slowly in the darkness, Kimberly pressed warmly against him from behind, wrapping her arms around around his waist. She rested her head over his right shoulder as she closed her eyes. She held his demons at bay as evidenced by the way he relaxed against her, resting his arms over hers. Having showered a short time ago, the fresh scent of his skin was as soothing as its warmth over her cheek. Their window reflection revealed the quiet intimacy they enjoyed as she tried to reach him, pressing a soft kiss to his back. "Talk to me."

Tommy swallowed hard, hating the emptiness he felt inside. "What is there to say?"

"Today was traumatic and you need to talk it out. It's what we do. It's how we cope." He slowly shifted from her warm embrace, the message that he didn't want to talk was as clear as day that he needed too even more than she thought. Her loving, patient gaze followed after him. "You did your job today."

His nose wrinkled at the memory. "Will her siblings see it that way when they bury her?" Wincing sadly out of her line of sight, Tommy struggled with the blood on his hands. The grief grew tight in his chest, forcing the air in and out of his lungs. He kept replaying what happened over and over in
his head. Swimming towards the damaged escape pod... the brave little girl who prepared her younger siblings... her sweet little innocent face. His voice cracked ever so. "I should have checked. I should have done more."

While listening intently, Kim rose to his defense. "You didn't have time. The escape pod was damaged beyond repair and you couldn't possibly tow it to the surface. She had already made the decision of what she was going to do after you communicated with her. When you told me you saw her look at the original oxygen mask she was going to use, and then one for her brother, when she switched them she obviously made the choice to save him. She did what any big sister is supposed to do. She sacrificed herself to save her family."

"She was a fucking child, Kim!" Tommy roared angrily, swearing out of character as his eyes blazed. So furious with himself he was shaking. His voice joined along. "I'm the trained adult here. I should have... I just acted on instinct. I didn't pay close enough attention."

She met his grief with calm resolve. "Tommy, there is nothing fair about what happened today. Nothing ever is where a dead child is concerned. But you did your best given the options at that time. Their escape pod was damaged and would have killed them all. You had to crack the canopy and swim them to the surface. You didn't have time to check their masks underwater. The little ones wouldn't have been able to hold their breaths for very long."

"DAMMIT!" his fist bashed into the hard glass with an audible thud, and then he backed away in measured steps, ignoring the pain in his knuckles. He combed his fingers through his short dark hair as frustration swept over him. There was no villain to focus on, hunt down, or kill. No bad guy to point the finger at. This was far from the first time a Ranger mission ended with casualties. But this time it involved a child, and for some reason it felt so very personal to him. "Their faces, Kim... her siblings faces... they'd already lost their parents, there whole world, and now this," and then bowed his head, breathing heavily, his face a mask of anguish. "It's not fair.

"Life rarely is."

The edge in his tone was sharp, his gaze narrowed at her. "I don't want any bullshit wisdom tonight, Kim."

"Swearing doesn't get your point across anymore than it'll lessen your hurt." She watched him brush past her to the side of the bed, where he sat down, half bent over. He was as heartbroken as she had ever seen him before. Walking over to him, her soft hands framed his face as she forced him to look into her
eyes. "James and Carolyn did an amazing job with you. And we will make sure Galactic Alliance relocation services finds a special family for those children. I promise you that."

Of course she knew his issues with being adopted tied into this as well. Those children had already lost their parents earlier in the day, and now their older sister. They were all alone like he was once upon a time. "What can we do?"

"Dulcea is working with the settlement committee. We have direct contact with her. We can make sure those kids are looked after, and even check up on them if you want. They will be taken care of. Their sister sacrificed her life for them, and we will honor that. But understand this, Tommy. They are alive because of you," she implored him to understand without fail, determination lacing her tone. "That little girl was able to make her sacrifice because of you. It's not a happy ending, but it is a new beginning. And there's victory in that, even if its not a perfect one."

Ever his savior, Tommy slipped his hands around hers and drew her over his lap, curling his arms around her, snuggling her against his chest. Its been barely two months since they got back together and as scary as the notion was in his head, the woman he held so closely was his whole world. Kim meant the world to him, and whenever he felt lost, she was his true North home. As he pressed his face to her neck, her soft skin smelled of roses. He could never recall the name of her perfume, but he loved it so. The faintest hint of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. His voice carried just above a whisper. "I love you."

"Like you had any other choice," she teased lovingly, her smile so bright. "And I love you too."

"What would I do without you?"

Brushing a warm kiss over his temple, she whispered into his ear, "You'll never have to find out."

"Promise?"

"Promise." Cupping her cheek, Tommy drew her down to him, and then captured her beautiful mouth with a soulfully erotic kiss. One luscious taste of her ignited his desire like wildfire as she softly suckled on the end of his tongue. His arm tightened around her slender waist, needing to feel her body flush against his own. His cock grew thick beneath her as passion ferociously swept over them.

Gasping as they finally broke for oxygen, Kimberly rested her forehead against his, swallowing hard in the back of her throat at the sheer intensity of what they shared. This man awakened such raw lust in her, so much so that she trembled lightly when his fingers began nipping the buttons on her top. The hard heat throbbing against her was an intoxicating allure as the corner of her mouth lifted into a sinfully sexy grin. "Better?"

Devouring her darkly erotic gaze, Tommy gave a small nod. "Thanks to you, Beautiful."

What he said was priceless to her heart, being able to ease his troubled soul when nothing else could. "You're welcome." She's been in love before, deeply more than once. But never as profoundly as she loved him now. It terrified her that she could lose him as much as it inspired her to battle her own inner demons to ensure that never happened. With this relationship she intended to not be her own worse enemy.

When she broke their quiet her tone carried only a hint of playfulness, "Are you hungry now?"

"Hungry for you," he half-growled, now caressing the baby-soft skin of her bare thigh as his touch ascended until her center clenched hotly as he edged ever closer. The feminine heat of her drew him like a moth to a flame when he firmly cupped her mound, tracing the juicy arousal he felt, drinking in the lustful moan that escaped her lips and the shiver that coursed through her. Gorgeous brown eyes fluttered shut when he French-kissed the side of her neck. "I love you so much."

The sheer intensity of his passion melted all over her, rousing flames of lust that left her rocking softly over him. They needed to bury all the hurt and pain of the day in their love.

Slipping out of his warm embrace, Kim stood between his spread legs, and then gave his chest a little shove. Wicked mischief best described her smirk as he fell back over the bed. He looked so damn sexy she nibbled her bottom lip to maintain her focus. "Let me take care of you."

There was no part of his heart she didn't fill completely. "I'm yours."

"I know." Her fingers carelessly danced down his hard chest, crossing past those chiseled abs of his until her palm grazed over his hard erection. The sharp gasp that escaped him when her small fist wrapped around it, stroking lightly, was music to her ears. Having captured his undivided attention, her hand dove inside his pants to grasp that hard length of him. Twitching against her palm, so soft and yet hard at the same time, he jerked the moment she squeezed him tight. "So do you want my romantic train of thought or what I'm truly thinking about right now?"

Tommy's voice hitched as she caressed his cock so damn good he was arching into her grasp. "I want... I want whatever you want."

"But what if I just want to suck on this for a little while?" her tone as sinfully innocent as a forbidden secret. The way his eyes widened at her daring declaration was evidence that she struck a nerve. "What would you say to that?"

She never actually gave him time to answer as she tore the pajama pants down off his hips, past his feet and then tossed it aside. Settling half over his lower body, she took hold of him once more, stroking lightly as his eyes rolled back. "Just lie back and enjoy this, baby."

Tommy's senses provided what his eyes couldn't as the warmth of her breath fanned hotly over his throbbing cock. His thighs trembled as she caressed him, and then a lazy swipe of her tongue over the head sent shivers up and down his spine. He heard a gentle little chuckle and was lost once more when the juicy flat of her tongue began lapping from the base of his cock all the way up to the head, and then slowly back down again, teasing such pleasure. Over and over again her tongue bathed the hard column of flesh as his hips tensed powerfully.

With her mouth hovering above his cock, she promised, "If you liked that, you're gonna love this," and then softly parted her lips around the head, tongue swirling as she closed fully around him, drawing him deep inside the moist-heat of her mouth. Trickling warm saliva down his cock, she reveled in the masculine taste of him as she began sucking softly... slowly... drowning him in pleasure.

The silky strands of her hair splayed over his upper thighs as his gaze opened to the erotic vision of her head bobbing over his lap... of the gripping ring her lips formed around him as they glided up and down, sucking a bit harder, taking him as deep as her comfort level allowed. Time ceased to exist as he reveled in the bliss of her warm mouth. The soft, sucking noises she made crippled his senses as he writhed over the bed. His fists bit into the sheets, nails clawing as a deep groan of husky applause fled his lips.

Lifting off of him, Kim took a deep breath, and then responded in a whisper, "Don't worry, baby. I finish every job I start, pun intended." Winking, she inhaled the hot flesh of his cock once more, now stroking the base hungrily, and with a warm glow of confidence as his face was cursed with pleasure. Her tongue seduced his cock round and round the head, before claiming him fully with a long sucking rhythm that left him writhing at her exquisite skill.

Stroking him eagerly, Kim was relentless in her pursuit of his sweet end, his cock straining in the humid confines of her mouth as his raspy breathing spurred her on. Rising and falling around him, drawing tightly, her cheeks hollowed as she sucked his cock faster until he began shaking. He gasped a warning in a cracked tone that he was so close... so damn close...

Pursing her lips at the head of his cock, Kim whispered, "Let go, baby. I want it." Sucking harder while stroking him, her mouth sent him flying clear over the edge. Tommy grunted her name loudly as the delicious stirring she allowed to simmer suddenly blazed in raw ecstasy. His cock erupted in strong pulses that spurted against her tongue and the roof of her mouth. His back arched wildly, her name fleeing his lips in carnal worship as she never stopped
sucking. Her hands held down him down while she swallowed greedily, nursing at the tip until she'd gotten every last drop of his seed. Until at last he fell back back on the bed, lungs heaving, thoroughly satisfied.

Grinning wildly while catching her breath, Kim rested her head over his thigh, tucking some of her hair behind her ear. She grazed the back of her hand over her mouth to remove a bit of excess essence. "I'm know I'm pretty awesome, but should I dial Intergalactic 911 for you?" she teased playfully, crossing her legs as her own desire spiked. So overcome he was still shivering, all that Tommy could offer her was a limp thumbs up, even as he was still
semi-hard. "That was all for you, baby. I love you."

"You're incredible," Tommy exhaled as he felt her sensuously crawling up his body, her rosy nipples brushing over the muscles of his chest. And when she kissed him hard he couldn't think of anything but how deeply he loved her with all that he was. Already he felt the flames of passion reignite as she maneuvered
above him. His fingers tangled in her silky hair while deepening their lush kiss, drawing greedily around her tongue, devouring the heady taste of the passion they created. He just couldn't stop touching her as he ripped off her top and threw it in the corner of the room, dying for nothing to be between them. His hands roamed over the soft expanse of her bare back, tracing her smooth skin, his caress easing down her spine. The scent clinging to her skin filled his senses like an irresistible aphrodisiac. She was the balm to his soul, soothing and healing, ever drawing him back from the edge like she had tonight. "Do you have... any idea... what you mean to me?"

Pressing little kisses over his cheek, Kim hummed. "No, tell me."

Filling his hands with the softly-rounded cheeks of her firm backside, squeezing her tight against him as she straddled his lap, Tommy gazed into her beautiful eyes. Far from a wordsmith like Zack, the White Ranger simply spoke from the heart. "You're the most precious person in my life, Kim. I love you so much it scares me, and I need you... God, I need you all the time. And I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to love another person."

Beaming down at her boyfriend, Kim had to tease, "Are you sure that's not just the after-effects of the Worlds Greatest BJ I just gave you?"

"No, Beautiful," he groaned when her hips shifted, grinding her slick center along the hard length of him in such a erotic way his heart
nearly stopped. "I want to love you for the rest of my life, Kim."

Their passion burned hot enough to burn down the whole damn world, but as she stared into his eyes she felt something so powerfully meaningful between
them. A bond so intense and genuine her eyes grew teary as it swept over her that what they were building was something lasting. She swallowed down the terror of loving someone so much, her courage bolstered by the profound love she felt for him. Her hands framed his handsome face, and then she bent down to brush her lips over his once more, swaying passionately until she ended it with a gentle little nip. "You so obviously want to marry me."

The loving expression he wore was a promise he hoped she understood the depth of. "Maybe, someday."

"Maybe, someday," Kim repeated minus pushing that conversation any further. Shifting over him, she angled the head of his cock to her entrance, and then slowly rocked back, sinking him deeply inside her until she rested over his upper thighs. A small gasp escaped her, catching in the pit of her throat as he filled her so deeply. So full of him her eyes fluttered shut while clenching around the hard column of flesh, loving how much man he was. Her hands braced on his shoulders as she rose high, her knees digging into the bed, and then slid all the way back down until she had taken every inch of him. "Baby, you feel so good."

"... so good," Tommy moaned as she eased up and down over his lap, riding him with long, lazy strokes. Her back arched, and then she tossed her hair back while riding him. The bed creaked in time with her rhythm while his hands held her slender hips, drawing her down. Slick and so snug around him, the hypnotic tempo she rode him with left him in a lustful fog of pleasure. Her face was a erotic mask of passion, lips parted, white teeth bared as she clenched tightly around him on every withdrawal, and then sank back down hard. The way she fucked him was the stuff wet-dreams was made of. The ends of her hair kissed the side of his face as she rode the man she loved with deep thrusts of her hips. Her small breasts softly bounced as she moved over his cock with a maddening rhythm. Lifting his head, his mouth captured a nipple, sucking hard, swirling his tongue round and round. Her urgent grinding on his cock felt better than anything ever had the right to. He was so addicted to her and there would be no getting over that, ever.

"OhGod...Tommy, baby...fuck..." Kim felt the fiery ripples of tension amplified as she rode hard over his lap, straining for her climax, losing herself on how hard he felt and the way he stretched her so deliciously. Warm tension built in her belly, firing off rising sensations as her face twisted in a lust-driven expression. Her blood felt on fire as it coursed through her veins. She fucked him harder, lost in her own pleasure... in what she needed, and then finally grinding her clit against him, she soared to the heavens. A mute roar erupted from throat as the wrenching waves of her white-hot orgasm swept over her so hard, squeezing tightly as pleasure drowned her until she finally slumped over him, trembling, her heart slamming in her chest. Tears of ecstasy wet her eyes, sweat trickling down her back.

Staring at her lovely blush-stained face, her expression so sensual, Tommy held on tight to her hips as after-shocks left her shivering on top of him. His hands skimmed over the soft skin of her sweat-slicked back, the need to caress her out of his control entirely. Brushing soft kisses over the side of her head, his arms embraced her tightly to his chest.

Her heart beating like a war-drum inside her chest, Kim felt him slip from inside her, leaving a damp trail along her inner thigh as he gently rolled her over onto her side, and then maneuvered around to spoon behind her. His fingers traced softly over her thighs before his hand fit behind her knee, lifting her leg while shifting so close his cock slid all the way back inside the slick heat of her body. His hard body lovingly surrounded her from behind, one arm securing her tight around her waist as every thrust of his hips was captured with a pleasurable collision of their bodies. She rocked back into him, meeting his passion as they moved as one. Big brown eyes met his gaze. "Bout time you did most of the work."

"Hush, Beautiful."

"Hushing," she noted playfully.

While French-kissing the back of her neck, Kim's lust-driven cries coiled around his senses, threatening madness. Tommy watched himself smoothly glide into her while holding her so close, her nipples tight against the palm of his hand as he caressed her breast while thrusting into her. Thrusting against her gorgeous little ass looked as amazing as it felt. The emotional fury she roused was beyond words. Biting his bottom lip against a sharp moan, his hips arched deeply into her, rocking the bed, her slender hips straining back against him as they fucked slow and deep over the sheets. "Never been so good, Beautiful... Fuck, I love you so much."

"Don't stop. Harder..." Her face drenched with pleasure, their breathing was synchronized to the rhythm of their grinding hips, each thrust being met with a husky groan. He was taking her with urgent desperation now - hard, impacting thrusts.. the audible smack of fucking flesh. Each stroke rubbed his cock over her clit, sliding against it. His arm muffled her sobs of ecstasy as she could feel every beat of his heart pulsing over her back. They were mating, all glistening soft skin and thrusting in the dark. The room filled with the rasping sounds of the sheets twisting beneath them as her legs and thighs began to tremble. Her teeth bit into a pillow as his hips pushed her forward, fucking her harder. He was so deep she felt him everywhere. Felt so damn good holding him inside her. Knowing exactly how she liked to be touched, his hand drift down between her legs, his thumb now massaging her swollen clit.

Violently, she was twisting and cumming again in his arms, crying out his name as she tightened repeatedly around the twitching cock bursting hotly inside her. For a brief time they were one, cumming so hard together, grinding out this intense ecstasy they shared.

Short shallow breathes - hers and his - finally his hips stilled against her, her sex having milked his cock of all that it had to give. She trembled in his arms while he shivered behind her, holding her against him so close.

Smiling in the dark against his arm, Kim felt the pull of sleepiness falling over her quickly. "Love you, baby."

Gently pulling of of her, Tommy drew the covers up over her shoulders. "Now I'm starving." He heard her little chuckle. "You mind if I eat before bed?"

"Not at all." There was a peace and serenity to his face now. To the sound of his voice. To the way he moved. No doubt love making played a part, but she knew how best to take care of his heart. And she knew he would do anything to protect hers. As sleep called her at last and she answered, yawning into her pillow, for that brief moment before she closed her eyes she was sure they had conquered the worst of what life could throw at them.

******

2 Years Earlier

******

The Forest of Briarwood
Sunday, December 31, 2006

"How the mighty have fallen," echoed quietly as a wind whisper through the dense forest as day swayed gently into nightfall.

Parting the thick green foliage as he ventured further into the depths of the immense woods, the withering old man sought the source of the familiar voice that had spoken to him. Save for the gentle rustle of leaves, his prey was being elusive. "Show yourself, woman. I have no time for ghosts or childish parlor tricks."

"I am neither dead nor truly alive in the widely understood meaning of the term," came an ethereal reply, the soft voice a far contrast from her dark days long ago. "I exist, nonetheless. And now I wish to know why you are here after all this time?"

Coming to a small clearing as the towering, ageless Mountain Ash trees lorded over him, dark eyes rich with hate gazed skyward. His weary, drained body ached with every step he took. Time, undefeated since the dawn of the universe, was at his throat. "You have lost your corporeal body," he noted with no small amount of surprise, his gravely voice the only element left from his past. Wrinkled, elderly fingers brushed over the salt and pepper ruin of his ragged beard as he came to rest upon a splintered tree stump. "I have heard that you took the name Mystic Mother, Empress of all good magic," he snickered
ever so. "As if a seconds worth of redemption could cleanse the hundreds of years of blood on your hands."

"You are forever blind to its meaning," was her reply as it cascaded through the treetops like a gust of wind, rustling branches through the
night. "Redemption is earned through effort and sincerity. It has no weight or calculable amount. It is passion made of the character with which you attempt to change. Sadly, your only passion is revenge."

His voice lifted above the tree-tops. "No passion is more justified than revenge in the right time and place."

"And yet ruin follows those that seek it."

He felt out of place here. A man out of time. Out of options. The decrepit state of his dark cloak stood in sharp contrast to who he once was. And would be again. The muscle tensed hard along his jawline as his eyes took in his natural surroundings. Miles upon miles of magic-rich land laid before him. Yes, this place was connected to the Great Power. He could feel it deep down in his bones.

The purity of such magic disgusted him.

"I wish to know how you gained your power."

Of course that was all he cared to know. With him, it had always been about the power. "Your wishes have no place here."

"Your continued existence does," he snarled at her. His impatient stare searched through the fast darkening shadows around him. Moonlit blades of illumination shown down through the bristling treetops. "How did you become the Mystic Mother?"

Suddenly a phantom form of shimmering blue lit the darkness, momentarily driving it back as it settled into being before him. Her mystical attire of white was foreign to his ancient glare. But that face and those brown eyes... He would not ever forget them. Not even unto the end of days.

"Zedd..."

Never mind the sunken skin tinged by age pits that scored his face, the tall man rose from the tree stump to stand before his newly arrived guest. White welted scars adorned his neck and hands as he allowed her a moment to simply look at him for the very first time in eight long, hard years. "Humanity, like Zordon, has not been kind to me."

"When have you ever been kind to it?"

"Zordon trapped me in this fragile form!" he deftly accused, his voice murderous despite the utter lack of power his old body appeared. "Andros brought us to Earth to start over. Do you recall that?"

She gave a slow nod. And even in this ghost-like form, a tingle of fear flowed through her. Truthfully, she had hoped he was dead. The thought of which left no guilt within her. "Andros, with a heavy heart and with full knowledge of our evil past offered us a chance to change."

Zedd's face scowled with pure rage, his fists clenched at his sides. "He offered pity and death! A life devoid of meaning save the same slave mentality all of humanity possessed."

"No," she corrected him. "He offered us the chance to help people. To change and turn away from our dark days. To start over."

With a face of stone, Zedd peered skyward. His gaze seemed to search the stars. "Do you know what became of Goldar?"

"No. He disappeared a few weeks after you did. Although there were rumors he returned to his villainous ways and was now locked away on a cold prison world."

"I was hunted!" Zedd declared venomously, now walking a small circle around her. "Old enemies found out I was far less than I used to be. Space pirates. Bounty hunters. Assassins. Intergalactic gangs now operating on Earth tried to kill me at every turn... they chased me across this accursed country! You will never know the depths I sank to in order to survive."

Her brow rose. "And now you want what, sympathy?"

As close to a smile as he could muster upon a face of nearly eighty years, Zedd faced her. "There are those that say if you could make God bleed then people would cease to believe in him. There will be blood in the water, and then the sharks will come."

Eyes rich with hatred raged at her. His voice blared like thunder. "The sharks all came after me, Rita. They hunted me for years. And all I have done is run. Hide. Sometimes begged and pleaded like a dog! I have slept under expressways and eaten from trash cans and walked until my feet bled. Until I passed out just trying to survive. All done in this old, sick body. All because of Zordon!" he roared.

"Will even one breath of the life you have left be spent on acknowledging your own hand in your fate?"

"Spare me the wisdom of the ages from a woman who once ordered every child in a village burned to death." When her gaze fell Zedd looked confidently on. 'Who did you con, blackmail, or kill to gain your powers?"

"Only you would see those means as the only way to do so," she began. "Unlike you, I embrace a selfless life now. I want to do good for others. I want to give back and try to make up for all the hurt that I have caused. And to that end I was given a chance to change."

"...by whom?"

"It does not matter. The only thing that does is that you are a very old, very angry, very lonely man. You have no legacy to leave behind. No lasting event or deed that offers a glimpse into more than you have been. Why spend your last days chasing the past? Zordon is dead. I am in another place. Goldar is gone. Can you not see find the smallest glimmer of need to change?"

Her words pleaded for a place within him that did not exist. He was cold. So very cold. "Did you miss me?"

Her eyes shut briefly. "I wished to never see you again for as long as I lived."

With his back to her now, Zedd calmly reached into his pocket. "Consider your wish granted. Goodbye dear wife. And thank you for giving me the means to exact my revenge."

Having phased into this new form to assist the Mystic Force Rangers, Rita had not felt pain until this very moment. She had no time to react when Zedd aimed a small circular device at her, its jeweled center beamed a dark light into her chest. Her eyes widened with horror as she attempted to scream in the way she would have if she were flesh and blood. But all sound choked inside her chest as she felt her body burning away... light ashes to the winds... her very essence was being torn apart... the relentless agony so acute she could not make a sound... felt her very soul being taken and transferred into pure power... and then nothing.

All that Zedd felt was a gentle breeze caress his elderly face. Within the palm of his hand rested a powerful artifact that now housed a great deal of magical power. All that the Mystic Mother had once possessed. And as he pressed it inside his cloak against his heart, that great power sank back into his old body.

Raw, untapped power that was now his to command once more!

But it was not enough and he knew it. Not nearly enough. Not yet.

Sparing a last glance at the spot his ex-wife stood just moments ago, he considered the moment's true meaning. To no one but himself, he whispered, "I will bring ruin to Zordon's legacy and crucify every single one of his Rangers. When next we meet, they will know they have stared into the face of death. And then I will make the galaxy tremble.."

"My Lord?"

Zedd did not turn to his new emissary. Cloaked in a dark hooded robe similar to his own, he stayed back just as he was commanded too. "It is done."

"Your will, sire," the emissary bowed his head in reverence. "What is next?"

"I must venture off-world across the stars. I seek a weapon I have heard whispers about that is capable of hurtling asteroids... I now possess the power to take such a weapon!"

"And what of me, my Lord?"

"Your world requires your guidance. Your influence... Continue as planned. The time draws near that my vengeance shall desecrate my enemies... as they say on Earth, like a thief in the night."

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The End of Chapter 3