Echoes of Distant Rangers

Disclaimer: Power Rangers Zeo don't belong to me, they belong to Saban the Dread and Puissant. I'm doing this for love, not money. Actually, this story has been trying to claw its way out of my head for nearly a year now. It finally escaped.

The command center was quiet and very still as Billy headed for the storerooms. ^With all of the young rangers out on their Zeo quests,^ he thinks to himself ^I'll have a chance to investigate some of the artifacts and historical archives in storage. I might unearth something useful.^

A tiny grin creeps onto his face. ^Oh, who am I kidding? I'm just indulging my own curiosity.^

After an hour or so of poking around, Billy comes across a square, brown case about 2 ˝ feet high by 1 ˝ feet deep resting on a shelved niche. Affixed to the front is a tarnished metallic seal with a raised inscription he doesn't recognize. Intrigued, he inspects the box for a way to open it. It appears to be seamless.

^That can't be.^ he decides, ^It must have a way to open.^ He pushes on the seal experimentally. Nothing. ^Hmmm.^ He presses upwards against it. Success! The seal moves upwards slightly; the sides and top of the box fold up and back, exposing the object within. A gray stone.

Training his flashlight's beam on the stone reveals it to be partially covered with incised symbols. About a dozen of them, each roughly the size of his palm.

^Room for several more.^ he muses idly, tracing along one of the designs with his fingers.

Dropping his hand to his side, he turns away from the curiosity and walks to the computer terminal in the storage room. After a little bit of deft maneuvering, he finds a match for the symbol on the seal. He discovers that the files regarding the Alcor Stone ^Never heard of it.^ have been archived to one of the 'data squares' that the command center computers use like floppy disks.

The computer gives the location of the data square archive - heading: "historical artifacts" - in this very storeroom. After a bit of rummaging, he retrieves the relevant data square. It was clearly marked, just like everything else in here. ^Due to Alpha's diligence and efficiency, no doubt.^

He inserts the data square into the computer terminal, only to discover that all the information on it is encoded. ^You don't derail my curiosity that easily.^ he thinks. He sets the computer to running its decryption programs.

^This may take awhile.^ he sighs mentally. Suddenly, he feels a tingle along his veins. A familiar song within him, the resonance of Morphin' energy.

He turns around to face the Alcor Stone. ^It's changed!^ he notes is surprise.

It was still the same shape, but its composition was completely altered. It had converted to pure energy. Lines and swirls of color, blackness, elusive shapes darting throughout the incongruent depths in the space the stone occupied.

^It's like ….a piece of the Morphin' Grid!^ he realizes with shock.

He makes a slow, careful approach. ^I can almost hear it….in my mind. ^ Trancelike, he reaches out to the stone. His hand makes contact and abruptly he is ....elsewhere.

* * * * *

Billy finds himself walking up a poorly lit stairwell, the concrete and metal are covered with grime. He has no trouble navigating it though, since his view is augmented by his helmet's internal heads-up display. Thermal energy signatures and u.v. spectral analysis data lightly overlay the visual image. Scanners and other environmental data make a thin border around the edges of the central view.

^How did I get here?^ he wonders, shaking off his disorientation. ^Where am I?^ Billy tries to halt his upward progress; nothing changes. He tries to turn his head; the forward view stays the same. He pushes down an incipient panic attack as he desperately tries to remember what happened.

^I was at the terminal in the storeroom…. I turned around….that artifact had…^ His memory clears. ^I touched It!^ Knowledge he never had before asserts itself in his consciousness. ^And now I'm viewing a memory stored in the Alcor Stone! Through someone else's eyes! ^

As he and his "host" gain the top of the stairs, Billy sees an armored couple waiting. "He" enters the large, dim room in what appears to be an industrial complex building and makes straight for them. The only remarkable difference between the two is the color of their suits. The male's is a dull crimson, the female's, a dusky orange.

The pair advance on "him," trailing an aura of grimness. They are both wearing what appear to be padded-leather armored suits with helmets. A gold medallion is set on the front-left shoulder of each, like a cape clasp. ^Can't make out the designs,^ Billy muses, ^but they look an awful lot like ...power coins?^

^What, no spandex?^ Billy quips to himself, trying to lessen the tension he feels like a gathering storm, as the pair finally reaches "him."

"All of the charges are in place. We're ready." Nods the red-clad man, addressing "Billy." [Not in English, but Billy understands him nonetheless.]

"There's got to be another way!" Orange cries, distressed.

"We've been over this already." Billy hears "his" voice address Orange with a sigh. "If there were any other way, we would take it. But there isn't."

Orange hangs her head and turns away slightly.

"We can't let them take this installation." Billy's host insists earnestly, "If they do, they'll have all the supplies they need to finish this planet off! Not to mention gaining a base of operations they can use to launch an invasion on the entire quadrant. No--we stop them here and now. Or everything will be lost."

"But…" Orange begins to object again.

"We've hit them where it hurts enough times; they've got no reserves left and no reinforcements. A defeat here will break them. We'll be able to mop them up as they retreat. But we're in the same predicament. This is our last chance to stop them. Our only chance."

"The evacuation is complete." Billy hears in "his" helmet's com unit. "We'll meet you at the rendezvous site." The voice conjures an image of a man in a midnight-blue suit identical to the pair in front of "him."

Noises come to them from somewhere in the building. Many voices and the stomp of heavily booted feet.

"Go!" Billy's host urges the two rangers. "You've got three minutes to get clear of the complex's interference so you can teleport to the rendezvous."

Red grips "Billy's" left shoulder. "May the Power protect you." He whispers.

^Not this time, it won't.^ Billy hears his host think grimly.

The two rangers retreat through the doorway behind them.

Billy's host walks quickly over to an alcove as the sounds of approaching troops grow louder, closer. "He" places a detonation timer on the bulkhead above the dark alcove's only feature, a computer terminal. "He" rapidly presses a sequence of buttons, setting the timer, then turns around in the doorway.

^Perfect.^ thinks the host, ^This entrance is narrow enough, they won't be able to flank me.^ Billy feels a rueful almost-smile. ^Just gotta keep 'em from going through me.^

The machine begins to countdown behind "him."

*three minutes to detonation.* It says. [At least that's how Billy's mind translates it.]

^Three minutes.^ Billy hears the host think. ^I've only got to hold them off for three minutes.^

The enemy soldiers begin coming through the stairwell door at the opposite end of the chamber. They immediately make straight for "Billy."

Billy's host summons from Morphin' space a two-handed sword of dark grey metal and settles into a fighting stance. Seven enemy troopers clear the doorway and rush towards "him." He feels his host's readiness and determination. ^three minutes - the rest of my life.^ he hears the host think, then that train of thought is resolutely pushed away as the first two troopers come into sword range.

At the first metallic ring of sword on sword, the first jarring shockwave runs up "his" arms, Billy sees for the first time the moss-green armor covering the limbs of his host.

Parry. Strike. Feint and twist. Diagonal slash. The first two opponents are down. "He" changes the weapon into two shorter, single-hand swords as three more opponents rush forward.

*two minutes to detonation*

A commanding officer appears through the doorway to direct his troopers. "The Ranger's guarding an explosive on the power core's bulkhead! Get it!" he yells.

Some of the troopers begin firing energy weapons. Green switches back to the two-handed sword faster than Billy can believe and deflects the shots with it. The energy bolts ricochet back into the troopers, felling three more. Still more of the enemy troopers come pouring through the doorway.

Three troopers try a charge. Green's sword disappears once more, to be replaced by twin batons of muddy green (metal? wood? Billy' isn't sure) about two feet long. Green strikes them together at shoulder height in an X-shape. A shockwave distorts the intervening air, striking the attackers and knocking them back nearly 20 feet.

* 1 minute to detonation*

Troopers maintain a constant attack. Still, Billy and his host notice - peripherally - activity by the stairwell doorway. The trooper commander appears to be directing the commotion. Billy hears snatches of his voice.

" disrupt... -"

Another voice comes loudly over the commander's radio "...too narrow...'nt fit..."

"...damn well better fit..." Bellows the commander in return.

The two current opponents fall.

*30 seconds to detonation*

"Hurry!" someone shouts from the other side of the room.

Billy's host sees the silvery leading edge of a bulky disrupter cannon in the stairwell doorway. ^That'll stop me.^ he hears the host think. ^And probably the detonation timer too.^ All the while still concentrating on the ongoing battle.

*20 seconds to detonation*

The gunnery troopers clear the stairwell doorway with the disrupter cannon and quickly place it in position.

"We're in position. Everybody, clear the shot." The trooper commander orders.

*10 seconds to detonation*

Opponents of moments ago scramble out of the cannon's line-of-site.

*5 seconds to detonation*

The gunnery trooper shouts. "Cannon charging up to peak now, sir." A High-pitched whine builds, reverberating off of everything in the room.

*2 seconds to detonation*

Billy hears a despairing wail come through the helmet's com unit. "Sister!" the voice cries in anguish. "I love y..."


* * * * *

Billy is abruptly out of the memory. Finding himself back in his own time and place.

He sits quietly, stunned, for a long while thinking on what he's just witnessed. ^What was her home like? What would her parents think? What about her loved ones? Did they succeed? Who were those rangers?^ His thoughts circle chaotically.

Turning his attention to the computer terminal, Billy finds some of the answers waiting for him. The decryption is partially complete.

The invaders were defeated - in a series of strikes - by what remained of the native military and guerrilla forces, led by the four surviving rangers. Much of the planet and its population were decimated.

Billy felt hollow as he read the small pieces of information that had so far been translated.

The Alcor Stone itself is a memory repository for the most heroic moments in ranger history, recordings of the most valiant examples of ranger ideals.

^Like a posthumous Medal of Valor. Great. So why is it stuck in a box in a dusty corner of a storeroom on a planet out in the middle of nowhere?^

He sank to his knees as the full significance of a life lost struck him - the decades of living that will never happen - the thoughts and dreams, the loves and family, the inventions or creations that would now never have a chance to exist.

Dread descended on Billy. Such bravery and selflessness hidden here - the only memorial to it stuffed inside a box in a dark corner of a storeroom on a distant planet.

Billy placed the now silent Alcor Stone back into its niche and re-fastened the box's seal. His footfalls echoed along the command center's empty corridors with a hollow sound that matched his mood as he retreated to the familiarity of the main chamber.

* * * * *

The rangers returned from their quests, eager to take up their powers and duty as before, continues on as they had been. They didn't feel it. Billy found himself unable to tell them about the Alcor Stone and what it had shown him, but he could not escape the memories. When the time came, he couldn't take a Zeo crystal, couldn't bring himself to knowingly accept what could very well be his eventual doom.

He couldn't restrain himself from dwelling on the terrible knowledge. ^Rangers are honor-bound to defend to the death... Death..^ The echo of an agonized last call to a loved one and the boom of an explosion ran coldly across his heart. ^That could be us - me - some day... ^

^Oh, God,^ Billy's mind moaned. ^Why didn't it ever hit me before? We could die doing this! I've always known it, but it just never seemed real to me before. We've always seemed so - invulnerable. But we're not. How can I ever go out there again?^

He felt a coward as he watched Tanya's face shine with the 'honor' of being granted a Zeo crystal, a place on the team.

* * * * *

As the weeks passed, Billy labored in the Power Chamber, but the work he did there couldn't distract him - he found himself consumed by what he'd witnessed. His thoughts wouldn't calm, refused to let the matter go, never allowed him any peace. And most appalling of all was that his friends seemed oblivious to their mortal peril.

He had gotten a sense that his host, as well as her ranger teammates, were young adults - felt like early 20's. ^Maybe that's why Zordon chooses teenagers to be rangers.^ he mused ^Strong enough in body to handle the job, but still with the arrogant conviction of invulnerability. The older people get, the less invulnerable they feel. When we get older we realize more and more that we aren't immortal. I've been feeling that mortality myself lately.^

Billy's anxiety rose and his temper became increasingly short as the weeks passed, laboring in the power chamber, watching his friends risk their necks.

He shook himself. ^I should've stayed on Aquitar with -(Cestria)- Cestro. That's the only time since I touched that damned Stone I've been relieved of this oppressive dread.^

He felt tired and old - so old. He even looked older. Could his worry be aging him so prematurely? ^It must be, how could I literally be aging at an accelerated rate?^