Wind and Thunder: Chapter Three

Imposters

 

Lothor paced back and forth across the bridge of his ship. Like all would-be evil geniuses, he hated waiting. And he was losing patience.

 

“Where is Chubo?” he grumbled to no one in particular.

 

Zergain wasted no time taking a chance to make Chubo look bad. “He obviously could not devise a strategy befitting of your greatness, Master, and has stepped down.. Allow me to send another creature from my Mecha Warrior Corps. I will...”

 

Lothor dismissed Zergain with a wave of his hand, barely paying the general any attention.

 

Centhrax floated towards his master. “Chubo is already at work on his plan.”

 

Lothor opened his eyes wide with annoyance. “Well then where is he?”

 

***

 

Chubo rummaged frantically through a storage area in the bowels of the Jakanja ship.

 

The villain muttered to himself while searching among several crates of scrolls and artifacts taken from civilizations across the galaxy. “Where is it, I know it’s here somewhere...Can’t let Zergain one-up me...”

 

Chubo searched for a particular scroll that would give his Bio Warrior Corps. a range of powers equal to and surpassing Zergain’s monsters.

 

His eyes lit up at the sight of the scroll, buried beneath a pile of scattered parchment. “That’s it! This is the one!”

 

***

 

Ashley sat in front of her computer terminal in Ops while Tommy leaned over her shoulder from behind. Simon and Justin sat nearby while watching a news broadcast. The station was showing non-stop coverage about a new Ranger team called Jet Task Force Aero Rangers, or Jet Force for short.

 

"This is ridiculous," Justin said. "Why do they get to have their identities public, and the only people who know who we are, are the bad guys trying to kill us?"

 

"Billy made that Ranger team," Simon explained.

 

"Who?" Justin asked.

 

"Dr. Cranston, the head of INET," Simon explained.

 

Justin's face lit up in recognition. "Oh, him!"

 

Tommy looked over his shoulder to Justin. “Remind me to give you and Rachel a little lesson about your heritage.”

 

Justin looked to his mentor. “So anyway, what is the big deal with keeping our identities secret from the public?”

 

“Several reasons,” Tommy said. “Mostly it’s for your protection. You’d have no chance at a normal life if the world found out you were a Ranger.”

 

“Um, we don’t have normal lives as it is,” Justin said. 

 

“And you honestly think that would change if you went public?” Tommy asked.

 

“Well...” Justin leaned back in his seat. “I guess not.”

 

Rachel entered Ops with a book bag slung over her shoulder and a schedule book in her left hand.

 

“Hey,” Simon smiled at her. “How’s our star doing?”

 

Rachel threw the agenda book onto the coffee table in front of Simon and Justin. “Star?” Her voice was thick with agitation. Simon immediately regretted saying anything. “Hardly. He has me singing at kids’ clubs and libraries. And if I’m lucky, cheap, foul-smelling bars.”

 

“So tell us, Rachel,” Justin said with a smirky grin on his face, “do you like your job?”

 

“I’m not laughing,” she said.

 

“Clearly,” Justin said. “Just lighten up, Rach. You’re 16. Most girls your age are flipping burgers or pouring lattes that cost more than a full-course meal.”

 

Simon smiled knowingly. “This is still about American Idol, isn’t it?”

 

“I should have been on that show,” she snapped, as if by reflex. Rachel had auditioned locally to attend American Idol auditions. She was not chosen, much to her dismay. “I would have had better luck if I was a tone-deaf Korean.”

 

In fact, a tone-deaf Korean in her audition group did pass and win a chance to attend American Idol auditions and meet the judges. His album went on to be a national bestseller.

 

Tommy turned to face his team. “Guys, come take a look at this.”

 

“What is it?” Simon asked as he and his friends walked closer to Ashley’s computer terminal. 

 

“Nothing specific yet,” Ashley said. “Just…strange behavior, all coming from around the same area. And I‘m getting vague readings that could mean a monster in that same zone.”

 

“Better check it out just to be safe,” Tommy said. “But don’t do anything rash.”

 

***

 

Chubo’s monster had a simple task: stall for time until the ancient scroll could be located on board the Jakanja ship.

 

The monster, named Sotsuubo, a humanoid chameleon in colorful armor, decided the best way to stall was to use his magick to duplicate various citizens within the city. The plan was not very bold, but it amused Sotsuubo. And he had been far too bored for far too long.

 

***

 

Simon, Justin, and Rachel split up after arriving at Angel Grove East’s Capital Street business district, an area of high-rise office buildings linked by concrete walkways that arched over plazas and streets below.

 

Rachel tried to keep an eye out for anything suspicious, but could not stop her mind from wandering.

 

Rachel was the second-oldest of four daughters in her family. Her dad was a former hippie turned bible thumper, and her mother was an atheist who reminded Rachel of Cinderella’s wicked step mom.

 

As a child, performing was the only thing that brought her happiness and the only thing she felt she was good at. Coming from a poor family, she always dreamed about becoming a famous star.

 

***

 

Rachel failed to notice a pair of chameleon eyes watching her from the shadows. The monster held up a small wooden box with engravings on it, and opened the lid. The box sucked Rachel inside, hurling her into a miniature pocket dimension.

 

Sotsuubo used his magick technique to create a doppelganger of Rachel, which landed on the streets below.

 

“Excccccellent,” the creature hissed. “I never dreamed I’d be lucky enough to catch one of the rangerssss.”

 

Sotsuubo devised a way to gain more favor in Lothor’s army by using the captured ranger to his advantage. All he had to do was find the other two rangers and make sure they met his copy of Hurricane Blue.

 

***

 

Justin and Simon regrouped near a business plaza. Justin sighed and shook his head. “I’m not seeing anything weird,” he said. “Hell, I’m not even sure what we’re supposed to be looking for.”

 

Simon shrugged. “Normally something just pops up in these cases.”

 

“What do you mean?” Justin asked. “Like, whatever it is we’re looking for is just supposed to come to us?”

 

The doppelganger Rachel turned a corner and walked towards them.

 

***

 

Rachel rose to her feet in a small pocket dimension with mist across the ground. She staggered and nearly collapsed, but a man took her arm and helped keep her balance.

 

The pocket dimension was cramped with random civilians, each watching various images displayed on the black walls of the pocket dimension.

 

“Easy there,” the man said. “The dizziness will wear off in a minute.”

 

Rachel looked towards the images dancing across the walls.

 

“Impersonators,” the man told her. “At least we think so…”

 

Each image was of a person identical to someone in the pocket dimension. The impersonators shown in the images behaved violently or odd.

 

“Jakanja…” Rachel whispered.

 

The man arced an eyebrow. “What was that?”

 

She shook her head. “Nothing.”

 

Rachel’s gaze drifted to an image of her doppelganger speaking with Simon and Justin. “Oh no… “

 

***

 

Rachel’s doppelganger ran a hand along Simon’s shoulder and smiled seductively. She turned and caressed Justin beneath the chin.

 

“Hello, boys…” she said.

 

Simon arced an eyebrow. “Um…hi?”

 

Justin took a cautious step away. “Have you been drinking?”

 

***

 

“Oh, come on,” the real Rachel cursed beneath her breath. “I’d never do that. Maybe in their dreams…but no.”

 

***

 

“Are you feeling okay, Rach?” Simon casually slipped free of her arm.

 

“Actually…” Rachel swayed backward as if feeling dizzy. “I’m a little faint. Something…oh…something might be wrong.”

 

Justin took hold of the copy‘s hand to steady her. “We should get her to Ops.”

 

***

 

Rachel scoffed. “I swear he can be so stupid sometimes.”

 

She needed to escape. But Tommy and Ashley would not approve of her morphing in front of so many people.

 

The man from before stood besides Rachel again. “It’s best not to watch…these imposters have done some pretty…well…needless to say we’ll all have some explaining to do. Some of us to the police.”

 

Rachel nodded. She was not in the mood for idle conversation. She needed a plan. She knew morphing was not an option so she tried to think of something more subtle.

 

***

 

The chameleon monster had dozens of doppelgangers across the area. But they were hardly being used to their full potential. Sotsuubo inclined his head and extended his will towards his creations.

 

Mindless rage consumed the doppelgangers. The copies attacked everyone in their sights and smashed as much property as possible in the process. Minor acts of violence quickly turned into a rampage that engulfed the business district.

 

***

 

The captured civilians gasped in horror while watching their copies destroy property and attack civilians. Images became more bloody by the minute.

 

Rachel’s breath caught in her throat at the sight of the carnage.

 

I can’t panic…she told herself. I have to get to the others before this gets worse.

 

The citizens in the pocket dimension were too distracted by the images of carnage to be paying Rachel any attention.

 

She placed her right fist against her left palm and closed her eyes, focusing on The Power within her. The ranger thrust her hands downward and created a geyser of water that shot upward while throttling her towards the top of the pocket dimension.

 

***

 

Simon and Justin led the Rachel doppelganger across a city plaza. The copy was continuing her charade of acting weak and helpless.

 

The chameleon monster watched nearby from the shadows. A burst of light suddenly knocked the box from the chameleon’s belt and sent the object crashing into an alleyway. The box opened, and Rachel leapt out with a streak of motion.

 

Rachel landed in front of her two teammates and doppelganger. She leapt through the air and slammed a flying kick against her clone, knocking the doppelganger backward.

 

Simon knitted his brow. “What the-”

 

“Word of advice,” Rachel said. “Next time I hit on either of you, assume it’s part of an evil plot.”

 

Simon cringed. “Ouch.”

 

“Yeah way to pull your punches,” Justin said.

 

The doppelganger ran off, and Rachel followed. Simon and Justin were not far behind.

 

***

 

The doppelganger passed beneath a walkway connecting two skyscrapers. Rachel ran across the walkway and spotted her clone below.

 

The ranger somersaulted through the air, over the railing, and landed in a crouched fighting stance in front of her clone.

 

“Gyro Blades!” She thrust her bracer forward and triggered a volley of throwing stars that  stabbed towards her clone.

 

But the clone seemingly vanished from beneath her clothes the second the throwing stars struck her uniform, which crumpled empty onto the pavement.

 

The clone reappeared behind Rachel and swung a blue rope towards the ranger. Rachel did not have time to react. The robe wrapped around her upper body and snagged her off her feet, hurling her through the air and slamming her against a pillar.

 

***

 

Simon and Justin ran across a walkway above and stopped to look over the railing towards Rachel and the clone. Below, the two identical combatants were struggling for control with a rope between them.

 

Perplexed, Justin knitted his brow. “Which one is which?”

 

Simon shook his head, despite his experience with ranger doppelgangers. “There’s no way to tell from here.”

 

“Power Rangersssss.” a reptilian voice hissed from behind them. They turned to see Sotsuubo stalk towards them. “I’d heard you rangersss were wiped off the Earth. This seemsss to be an error...one I intend to fix.”

 

The chameleon acted with blinding speed and fired optic-pulse blasts that exploded around the rangers with bursts of spark, knocking them from the walkway.

 

Simon and Justin armed their bracers while falling towards the pavement below. “Ninjetti change!”

 

Hurricane Red and Hurricane Yellow landed, pushed off the pavement, and leapt back towards the walkway. They somersaulted over the railing while slashing their swords across the monster, blades sparking on impact and pushing the creature back.

 

The Rangers landed on the walkway and pushed towards their opponent with a trio of sword strikes, each sparking against the monster’s armor and forcing him backward.

 

***

 

Below, Rachel circled around her doppelganger while in a fighting stance. Her eyes narrowed at her imposter. “I bet I have one move you can’t copy.” She armed her bracer. “Senpu! Ninjetti change! Ha!”

 

Energy swirled around her like a tornado and morphed her into her Ranger form.

 

“Sonic Fin!” Hurricane Blue armed her blaster and aimed the weapon forward. The Blue Ranger triggered a torrent of energy that splashed across her doppelganger. The imposter screamed as her body broke down into water and exploded.

 

Hurricane Red and Hurricane Yellow leapt down and regrouped with their teammate.

 

“Way to go, Rach!” Hurricane Red laid a hand on her shoulder.

 

The chameleon monster leapt from the walkway and landed in front of the Rangers. Sotsuubo fired optic blasts that exploded around the trio. But when the sparks cleared, the Rangers were gone.

 

Sotsuubo turned to see the Rangers standing on the walkway. The trio snapped into fighting stances.

 

“Power of Air…Hurricane Red!”

 

“Power of Earth…Hurricane Yellow!”

 

“Power of Water…Hurricane Blue!”

 

“Hurricane Task Force, Power Rangers!”

 

Sotsuubo waved an arm to his side. “Kelzaks!”

 

The monster summoned a group of the Jakanja soldiers. 

 

Hurricane Red and his teammates unsheathed their swords. “Let’s take care of business!”

 

The Rangers leapt from the walkway and attacked.

 

Hurricane Red slashed through a pair of soldiers and smashed a sidekick against a third grunt’s face, snapping the soldier’s body backward.

 

Hurricane Blue held her blade with the tip pointed downward and swung in a butterfly pattern, hacking through a trio of soldiers with bursts of spark.

 

Hurricane Yellow ducked beneath a Kelzak’s swing and slashed the grunt across the midsection. The Yellow Ranger turned and hacked the grunt across its back.

 

The Rangers rushed past the fallen grunts and somersaulted through the air towards Sotsuubo, swinging their blades down vertically as they shouted. “Hur-ri-cane!”

 

But the monster vanished before the Rangers’ blades could strike.

 

Hurricane Red cursed under his breath. “I hate it when they do that.”

 

The chameleon monster reappeared nearby with a longknife in each hand. The villain laughed mockingly at the Rangers. “You’ll find I’m too fassst for the likesss of you,” he said. “There’ssss nothing I can’t dodge.”

 

Hurricane Blue placed her right fist against the palm of her left hand. “Water Style! Hydro Trap Jutsu!” A watery pocket dimension appeared below Hurricane Blue and Sotsuubo before sucking them both inside.

 

Disoriented, Sotsuubo floated in the conjured waters as Hurricane Blue started to speed around him.

 

“Dodge this.” She spun like a tornado while circling the monster, slashing against its armor. She circled in front of the creature and thrust her arms forward. “Hydro stream!”

 

A torrent of water shot forth and blasted against Sotsuubo, knocking him from the pocket dimension.

 

The pocket dimension dissipated, and Hurricane Blue landed above alongside her two teammates.

 

“Let’s bring ‘em together,” Hurricane Red said as they assembled their three weapons into a single cannon.

 

“Storm Striker!” they shouted. “Fire!”

 

The cannon fired a spherical pulse, crackling with energy, that ripped through the monster and exploded, tearing the villain to shreds and consuming his body with flame.

 

The creature’s destruction dissolved the remaining doppelgangers and released the captured civilians from the pocket dimension.

 

***

 

“I’ve found it…” Chubo walked into the throne room to find an annoyed Lothor standing with his arms crossed over his chest.

 

Lothor narrowed his eyes. “Explain to me why your monster was destroyed before your plan could even start.”

 

Chubo thrust the scroll forward. “This is my plan.”

 

Marah wrinkled her nose. “A dusty old scroll?”

 

“Not any scroll…” Chubo traced his hands along the edges. “The spell Lord Zedd himself crafted to make his warriors gigantic. The first spell in the galaxy to make warriors grow!”

 

Chubo extended the scroll to Kapri. “Make copies and fire one like you would an enlargement torpedo. Use it. Now my warriors will be able to grow as large as Zergain’s!”

 

***

 

The scroll shot through the air, unfolded, and expanded to giant size. Ancient markings on the scroll glowed with dark power that attracted the dusty remains of Chubo’s chameleon monster.

 

The monster resurrected as a towering giant.

 

“Great.” Hurricane Yellow took a step back. “Are they going to do this every time?”

 

“Basically,” Hurricane Red said. He lifted his Gyro Morpher closer to his faceplate. “Storm-zords, mobilize!”

 

The Storm-zords passed through a trio of holographic entry portals. Hurricane Hawk flashed into existence by sliding through a plane-shaped portal and blasted off into the skies. Hurricane Lion stomped through a portal disguised as a giant faris wheel. Hurricane Dolphin teleported through a portal disguised as a boat.

 

The Rangers leapt into their cockpits.

 

“Storm-zords assemble!” Hurricane Red shouted. “Whirlwind Fusion!” The three zords transformed and started to combine. The lion zord formed the chest, body, left arm, and legs. The dolphin formed the Megazord’s right arm, and the hawk flew in to form the head.

 

“StormMegazord!” Hurricane Red shouted from his cockpit. “Senpuujin!”

 

Senpuujin faced off with Sotsuubo. The monster folded his hands together and whispered a spell that caused him to split into six different copies of himself.

 

“Aw, man.” Hurricane Red leaned forward in his cockpit to make sure he was seeing right.

 

Hurricane Yellow was just as shocked. “I don’t suppose this is some kind of illusion?”

 

The copies sped back and forth across the Megazord with streaks of motion, hacking across the robo’s armor with bursts of spark.

 

The Rangers tried to counterattack but could not keep up with so many rapid assaults coming from so many different angles.

 

***

 

Hurricane Red’s voice came through the comm channel in Ops. “Our Megazord isn’t fast enough to take this freak.”

 

“Just hold on, Simon,” Tommy said. He looked to his fiancé. “Is it ready?”

 

Ashley nodded. “Ready enough…Simon, I’m uploading a new program into the Megazord. Activate ‘Lightening Mode.’ It decreases StormMegazord’s mass and increases its speed and agility.”

 

“That is sick,” Hurricane Yellow said.

 

Tommy didn’t realize how old he felt until he found out the word ‘sick’ also meant ‘cool.’

 

“The problem is it only lasts for a minute,” Tommy said. “Then the Megazord will power down to its normal form.”

 

“That will have to do,” Hurricane Red said.

 

***

 

“StormMegazord, lightening up!” Hurricane Red commanded.

 

The Megazord’s armor retracted and folded back, decreasing its own density to form a slender humanoid robo.

 

“Senpuujin, Lightening Mode!” the Rangers shouted.

 

StormMegazord snapped into a fighting stance and hopped back and forth on its feet like an antsy boxer.

 

The monster fired jade optic bursts, but Senpuujin cartwheeled away as explosions sparked around its armor. 

 

The Megazord landed and leapt off the streets, smashing a flying sidekick against a copy of the monster. Senpuujin pushed off that monster, leapt backward, and smashed a double-sidekick against another copy of the creature. 

 

The Megazord used its footing to launch towards another monster copy, and smash an axe kick down on the creature’s collarbone.

 

“Fifteen seconds left,” Ashley warned them, while the Megazord smashed a flurry of knifehand blows against a monster and turned to smash an outer-crescent kick across another creature’s head.

 

“14...”

 

Senpuujin smashed a sidekick against a monster.

 

“13...”

 

The Megazord flipped back into a crouched fighting stance and armed a pair of crescent-shaped blades.

 

“12...”

 

The Megazord leapt back and forth through the air, slashing its blades across the creatures and raining bursts of spark upon the streets below. The robo moved faster than the monster could counter.

 

“5...”

 

Senpuujin spun through the air like a tornado and landed while thrashing its blades across the last two monster copies.

 

“4...”

 

The Megazord finished the creature copies off with a flurry of strikes that ripped them apart, bursts of spark tearing through their bodies.

 

“3...”

 

Senpuujin charged towards the chameleon monster. The monster swung its blades towards the zord, but Senpuujin parried the blow and spun past the creature while slashing across its midsection.

 

“2...”

 

StormMegazord turned and swung its blades in an x-shaped pattern that sparked across the monster’s chest.

 

“1...”

 

StormMegazord thrust its blades forward, the weapons’ edges hacking against the monster and throwing him off his feet.

 

The robo powered down to its original form as the monster stumbled back to its feet.

 

“Power Disc,” Hurricane Red inserted a disc into his console. “Lock…and drop.”

 

StormMegazord’s chest plate opened, and a Power Sphere hovered out. The Sphere itself opened, and the Megazord’s saber formed.

 

“Serpent Sword!” Hurricane Red shouted.

 

The chameleon monster stumbled towards the Megazord.

 

“Serpent Sword, Triple Strike!” Hurricane Red shouted.

 

The Megazord emitted two holographic duplicates that stood by the original’s sides. The blade of each Megazord saber energized and slashed one-by-one through the villain.

 

See ya!” Hurricane Red shouted.

 

The monster’s energy overloaded and exploded.

 

***

 

Lothor rubbed his temples and closed his eyes. “So let me get this straight…your ingenious plan, that you took all day to perform, was to find a scroll to make your monster grow? To employ a tactic that, time and time again, for more than seven years, has failed, on each and every occasion?”

 

“Well…” Chubo stuttered. 

 

Lothor casually lifted his hand and blasted Chubo with a shadow bolt, knocking the villain off his feet.

 

***

 

Rachel and the others watched a news broadcast later that afternoon while in Ops. Dozens had died at the hands of the doppelgangers. Dr. Cranston organized a press conference to deny the Ranger team involved had anything to do with INET.

 

“I can assure you,” he told the press. “The Ranger team involved in this skirmish was completely unsanctioned. Had INET been involved, our trained teams would have kept the death toll down to zero.”

 

Simon narrowed his eyes. “I can’t believe him.”

 

Rachel shook her head. “What’s his deal anyway?”

 

“Dr. Cranston used to be a Ranger with Tommy,” Simon explained. “They don’t get along.”

 

“But why?” Justin asked.

 

“He got carried away,” Tommy said as he walked into the room. He walked to the television station and stood to watch. “He experiments with The Power like it’s just another energy source. That’s dangerous.”

 

“Why?” Justin asked

 

“For one thing, those Vyram that Jet Force fight? They entered our dimension through a rift Billy accidentally created when he brought J-Force online. The Power balances itself. For every Ranger team Billy creates, another enemy will appear.”

 

“What about you?” Justin asked. “You made Ranger powers…”

 

“In direct response to the threat of Jakanja, a threat that already existed,” Tommy said. “It was The Power that led me to make your Ranger gear. The Power has a will of its own, and it doesn’t like being tampered with.”

 

***

 

Dr. Cranston leaned back in his office chair within one of INET’s high-rise buildings in Silver Hills, a rich suburb adjacent to southeastern Angel Grove.

 

His holo viewer was tuned into footage of the Hurricane Power Rangers’ Megazord battling the giant chameleon monster.

 

“MINT,” Billy activated his virtual computer. “Categorize Hurricane Power Rangers as potential threat.”

 

“Categorized,” MINT’s voice replied.

 

“What’s the status of our latest programs?” he asked.

 

“Rider Initiatives PHI, ZECT on standby. DECA Project on phase three. Dragon Blade ready for testing. SGS formation complete. Academia Program complete. Instrumentality project proceeding…”

 

To be continued…Chapter 04