Chapter 2: Blown Away

by juniperphoenix

"Good work, guys!" Tommy congratulated his fellow Rangers as King Mondo's latest monster collapsed in a ball of flame. He swiveled around in his seat to give everyone high-fives.

"Let's get back to the Power Chamber," said Kat after a moment. "Billy should be getting back soon."

"Yeah," Adam replied, "and after being too late to see him leave, we sure don't want to miss his homecoming!"

"Okay," said Tommy, powering down the Zeo-Zords. "Let's go."

"Aye-yi-yi, Zordon! It still isn't working!" Alpha 5 exclaimed anxiously as he worked at the teleporter controls. "There's too much interference!"

"Keep trying, Alpha," Zordon instructed. "It is imperative that we retrieve Billy at once."

As Zordon spoke, five columns of colored light appeared in the room. They resolved into the forms of Tommy, Adam, Katherine, Rocky, and Tanya, who all hurried forward to stand near Alpha.

"Alpha, what's wrong?" asked Rocky urgently.

"Aye-yi-yi! It's Billy!" the robot explained. "His starship was attacked by Quadrafighters!"

"Quadrafighters?" Katherine repeated in horror.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Tommy demanded.

"There was nothing you could have done, Rangers," Zordon told them. "You were needed to defeat King Mondo's monster."

"Well, we have to do something," insisted Tanya.

Adam leaned over Alpha's shoulder to survey the control panels. "Can we teleport him out?" he suggested.

Alpha shook his head sadly. "There's too much residual interference from the weapons fire," he explained. "It's making a teleporter lock impossible."

"What about the Quadrafighters?" Tommy asked. "Is there any way to get rid of them?"

"The Quadrafighters retreated some time ago," replied Zordon. "They are no longer a concern. However, Billy's ship was severely damaged in the attack. Sensors indicate that its oxygen and power levels are falling rapidly."

The Rangers exchanged worried glances. "Hang in there, Billy," Kat said softly, gazing up at the ceiling.

"I've got visual," Adam announced after a few tense moments. The viewing globe came on and displayed the image of a small, battered ship, alone in space.

"Can we contact him?" Tanya asked.

Adam shook his head. "I think his communications system was damaged," he explained. "All I'm getting is static."

"Aye-yi-yi! This is terrible!" Alpha exclaimed suddenly. "The ship's engines are beginning to overheat!"

"What?" Tommy responded in shock. He looked down at the readout Alpha was examining. The numbers and symbols meant little to him, but one thing was clear: the starship's temperature was rising rapidly. "We've got to get him out of there!" he exclaimed.

"I still can't get a lock!" said Adam, working frantically at the teleporter.

"The ship's core temperature has reached critical!" Alpha cried. He deserted the sensor readouts and rushed to help Adam.

"Temperature still increasing," stated Zordon. "It is now 82 degrees above critical. Eighty-five… eighty-eight…"

"Come on!" Kat urged, glancing at Adam and Alpha. Suddenly, a blinding flash of yellow-white light burst from the viewing globe, overloading it and filling the entire Power Chamber. The Rangers shielded their eyes from the sudden brilliance, which just as suddenly faded.

"What was that?" exclaimed Rocky, blinking to clear his vision. No one answered.

"Hey, where's the ship?" Tanya asked a few moments later. "Is something wrong with the viewing globe?" No one responded to her question, either.

"Zordon, what happened?" Tommy demanded. "Where's Billy?"

After a long moment, Zordon spoke. "The starship is no longer showing up on sensors," he stated, with a strange tone in his voice.

"What do you mean, it's not showing up?" Tommy pressed. "You mean the sensors are down? Is he out of range or something?" When Zordon didn't respond, he turned to face Adam and Alpha. "What's going on?"

Alpha said nothing, but Adam looked up from the console, his face white. "I… I'm reading traces of a massive energy surge," he said slowly, as if unwilling to believe it.

"Energy surge?" Katherine echoed worriedly. "Do you mean…"

"An explosion," Adam finished numbly. "The ship exploded."

"Oh my God," Tanya moaned softly.

"This can't be happening," said Katherine.

"Billy?" Rocky asked, as if to confirm what they all knew.

Adam nodded slowly, disbelievingly. "Gone," he said.

Tommy felt as though someone had just punched him in the stomach. His first instinct was to give in to the shock and shut down completely, but he wouldn't let himself. Instead, he turned away so that no one would see his face. He refused to break down… not now, not in front of the others. Facing the back wall, where the Rangers' old uniforms were displayed, Tommy fought back tears and stared at the blue costume that had been Billy's with a mixture of grief and denial.

All those other uniforms had changed hands over the years. Even Tommy himself had once been the new kid in town. But Billy… Billy had always been there.

Tommy remembered his first moments as a Ranger on the side of Light, and Billy's welcoming, forgiving smile as he handed the Green Ranger his first communicator. He remembered all the hardships that had followed: the guilt of being used for evil… the shame of his weakness as the Green powers waned… the agony of losing his powers not once, but twice. Through it all, his friends had stayed by his side, and Billy had been the only one of those friends who remained.

He remembered becoming the White Ranger… how apprehensive he'd been at the very idea of leading the team. It had been even worse after Jason left… like having his right arm cut off. He hadn't trusted himself to make the right choices without Jason there to guide him. But just when Tommy had felt that he couldn't handle it, Billy had been there. More than just a second-in-command, the Blue Ranger had been the rock they all leaned on.

Later, when Master Vile turned back time, Billy had taken care of them all… and even after losing his powers, he continued to support the team. And now, he was gone…

"I… I can't believe it," Katherine wept. Rocky drew her into a comforting hug, holding her as she cried. "Billy… it can't be true."

"We never even said goodbye," said Tanya, her voice quivering with tears.

"Aye-yi-yi-yi-yi," Alpha repeated over and over in a sad, nearly inaudible voice. He hadn't moved an inch since Adam's pronouncement, but simply stared down at the readout, as if it would magically change.

"He was… like a son to me," said Zordon sorrowfully. "His loss will be deeply felt."

"I just can't believe he's gone," Adam murmured, his voice faltering as he broke into tears. "It all happened so fast…"

"I only knew him for a few weeks," said Tanya quietly, "but he treated me like we'd been friends for life."

"He was like that with everyone," Kat responded. Memories brought a tiny smile to her face, in spite of the tears. She recalled the way Billy had comforted her in the hospital, the night Kimberly fell off the balance beam. He had always treated her with kindness… no matter what. Even after he found out the truth — that it was she who'd nearly killed one of his best friends — he had still accepted her. Thinking about those days reminded her of something else, too. "What about the others?" she asked Zordon. "The former Rangers?"

The ancient being experienced another kind of grief at the mention of his Chosen Ones. To face his first "children," and tell them that one of them had died a completely needless death… How could he do it? "We have no way of contacting Jason, Trini, Zack, or Aisha," he said finally.

"But we can still reach Kimberly." Wiping her eyes, Kat went to the communications panel and examined the controls for a moment. After making a few minor adjustments, she punched in the number.

It was early evening in Florida, and most of Gunthar Schmidt's world-class gymnasts were off in their dorm rooms. Kimberly Hart was alone as she headed for the practice area, hoping to get through her routine a few times before dinner. Her floor routine, that was… after the previous year, she refused to practice alone on the beam.

As she passed the gym office, Kimberly noticed that the door was wide open and the lights were on. Coach Schmidt had forgotten to lock up, as usual. Kim smiled and was about to close the door when the desk phone rang.

"Schmidt Gymnastics Center," she answered on the second ring.

"Kimberly Hart? Is that you?" The voice was vaguely familiar, but Kimberly couldn't place it at the moment.

"Uh, yes, this is she," Kim replied, a bit confusedly. "May I ask who's calling?"

"Kimberly, this is Katherine Hillard."

It was the last person in the world she had expected. "Katherine? Why are you calling?" Great, Kim, that really sounded friendly.

Kat didn't seem to notice. "Something… something's happened, Kimberly," she said. "We need you to come home."

"Home?" Kim repeated, suddenly worried. It wasn't like Kat to sound so upset. "You mean Angel Grove? Why?"

"I… I don't think you should hear it over the phone. Can you be ready in ten minutes?"

Ten minutes? Kimberly could spend forever and a day packing for trips, and Kat knew it. Whatever had happened, it had to be incredibly serious.

"Make it five." She hung up and ran back to the dorm, leaving the office door banging open behind her.

"Kimberly! I'm glad you're here!" Kat exclaimed with relief when the former Pink Ranger materialized in the Power Chamber.

The girls hugged, and Kim could tell that Katherine had been crying. "What's wrong?" she asked.

Kat didn't answer right away. Kimberly was about to ask again, but then she noticed her surroundings. "What is this place?" she asked, looking around. "What happened to the Command Center?"

"It's a long story," Kat replied, relieved that she didn't have to break the bad news right away. "A lot of things have changed around here."

Kimberly looked around at the other Rangers, confused by what she saw. All of the guys were wearing the wrong colors, and Aisha was nowhere in sight. A girl Kim had never seen before was dressed in yellow. She nearly asked about that, but knew it couldn't be the reason Kat had called her. This seemed far more serious.

Everyone looked upset… in fact, they hadn't even noticed her arrival. Adam was sitting on the floor, staring off into space as Rocky tried vainly to talk to him. Tommy stood with his back to the others, gazing bleakly at the back wall, and Alpha and the strange girl in yellow were standing by the teleporter controls, the girl in tears. Even Zordon was silent, and his insubstantial image had a distinctly sorrowful look to it.

Then Kimberly made an ominous realization. "Wait… where's Billy?"

Kat's mouth tightened, and she looked down at the floor as tears threatened to return. Her reaction filled Kimberly with sudden dread.

"He's the reason I called you here," Kat said finally.

Kimberly's eyes widened in fear. "What happened? Where is he?"

Katherine met the girl's gaze and told her, "Billy was on a spaceship that fell under attack, and… there was an explosion."

"Oh, my God." Kimberly felt herself weaken with shock. "You mean he's… he's…?"

Kat nodded, tears spilling down her face. "He's dead."

Friction. Heat. The roar of metal plummeting through air with fiery speed. It was all a counterpoint to the icy black silence that it surrounded. The silence was complete and seemingly eternal. The blackness was not. For deep within, nearly indiscernibly, there glowed a faint bluish light…

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