Ultimate Gene-Tech: Chapter Seventeen prologue

 

Angel Grove, 2004AD

 

The Zeo team — Tommy Oliver, Justin Kase, Chris Harris, Ashley Hammond and Katherine Hillard — returned to the Command Chamber and briefly celebrated their victory over the Machine King before Billy spoke to them.

 

“I have some news,” Billy said as he looked over the faces of the rangers. “I managed to repair Cestro’s morpher. Even so, he won’t be able to duplicate repairs for the rest of his team. With the Machine King gone, the Empire is nearly crippled. They won’t pose much of a threat to you now. So…”

 

“What are you saying, Billy?” Ashley asked.

 

Billy took a deep breath before answering. “I’m going to Aquitar. I’ll make the repairs myself and assist the Aquitions in any way I can.”

 

“For how long?” Chris asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Billy said. “Alpha can hold down the Command Chamber on his own and work with the INET crew I’ll be leaving behind, so none of you have to reveal your identities.”

 

“How considerate,” Tommy said sarcastically with a touch of venom in his voice.

 

“I have to do this,” Billy said. “I hope you understand…”

 

***

 

Billy followed Cestro to the crashed ship, which was still intact enough for a trip to Aquitar. Mixed thoughts and feelings went through his head as he prepared to leave Earth.

 

He would miss Ashley. She was smart, beautiful…a bright star in his life it hurt for him to say goodbye to. Billy liked to think that when he returned to Earth, he would have a shot with her.

 

Billy knew Tommy was mad, but he expected as much. Truth be told, he didn’t really feel close to Tommy anymore, or any of the rangers for that matter.

 

“Everything has changed…” he said to himself.

 

The trip to Aquitar was about far more than just repairing a few broken morphers. It was about preparing. This evil Zordon was getting ready to face seemed big, and provided Billy with the perfect opportunity to see what his INET creation was really capable of.

 

Billy continued forward, knowing his life would never be the same. He was the Shaper. This was his destiny.

 

Chapter 17: Ultimate Gene-Tech

Billy’s Motivation

 

live-ar-liverobo02Some days Dax really hated his job. Most days, actually.

 

The ranger grasped onto the controls of the Bio-Mech Megazord as another explosion rocked the cockpit. His teammate Ian sat to his right. And Kylie sat to his left — she looked pretty hot, even though she was covered with dirt and soot from the smoke that filled the cockpit.

 

Dax opened a commline to the ISIS Research and Education Initiative, one of several divisions that operated under Dr. William “Billy” Cranston’s INET organization.

 

“Any particular reason we’re getting our asses kicked?” Dax asked.

 

“Besides the fact you have no idea what you’re doing?” a female voice answered. The technician went by the codename Colynn, and Dax often teased her for the sound of the name.

 

“Serious answers only please, Colon,” Dax said.

 

“Dax,” Kylie chided.

 

“You’re being overpowered,” Colynn explained. “I told you to withdraw minutes ago.”

 

“I’m not a big fan of this ‘withdrawing’ concept you speak of,” Dax said.

 

“Since when?” Ian asked. “You almost let VOLT’s Plasma Beast wipe out an entire city block because you were napping.”

 

“That’s not withdrawing,” Dax said. “You can’t withdraw from a fight you’re not in.”

 

The cockpit shook again.

 

“Guys, focus,” Kylie practically shouted.

 

“Listen to Kylie,” Colynn said. “Your Bio Morphers are already damaged. And you’re about to lose your zords too. The Giga Volt’s too powerful.”

 

zzzThe Giga Volt stood tall as VOLT’s latest creation, a black-armored robo with bulky shoulder pauldrons, a black horn and a twin-pronged shield over its left arm. Two red orbs were embedded on opposite sides of its chest armor.

 

Giga Volt lunged forward and stabbed its shield against the Bio-Mech Megazord’s chest. The blow sparked through the Megazord’s armor and nearly ripped the robo in half.

 

The rangers clutched onto their controls as their Megazord shook.

 

“That’s it, I’m over it,” Dax said. “Re-route the servos. Channel everything we have from the auxiliary pods.” His fingers danced across his controls. “I’m whipping up a formula to-”

 

“It’s too late, you idiot!” Ian shouted.

 

Secondary explosions sparked throughout the cockpit. The Bio-Mech Megazord toppled and crashed onto its back. The impact jarred the rangers loose and hurled them from their robo.   

 

Dax, Ian and Kylie crashed against the ground and skid across the dirt.

 

Above, Giga Volt shifted its giant gaze and looked down upon the three injured teens.

 

Dax climbed slowly back to his feet and glared at the giant zord. “Come on…” he said quietly. “You wanna finish this, rust bucket?! Do it! Do it!”

 

Kylie grabbed him by the shoulder. “We have to find cover,” she said as she pulled him back. “Come on, run…”

 

Dax cursed beneath his breath as he reluctantly joined his teammates and fled.

 

But Giga Volt easily tracked the rangers, who couldn’t move far on foot, especially without their powers. The evil mecha armed its cannons for a finishing blow.

 

A salvo of missiles suddenly shot through the air and exploded against the evil mecha, knocking it back several steps. A second salvo blasted the mecha’s left arm hard enough to knock the shield from its hands.

 

Below, the shockwaves kicked dirt and dust through the air and knocked the three rangers onto the ground. They toppled across the dirt and rolled to a stop.

 

live-ar-liveboxer01Dax cursed beneath his breath while pushing himself to his feet. The other two rangers joined him, and they looked to see a pair of zords in the distance. Both looked like heavily-armored trailers — one appeared green with a rhino-like horn, and the other appeared black with bison-like horns.

 

“Huh,” Dax said. “Those are some ugly reinforcements.”

 

“What are they?” Kylie asked.

 

Colynn answered through their communicators. “You wouldn’t listen, so I brought in the cavalry: the Bison Liner and Rhino Fire.”

 

“She had a little help,” a second voice said. He sounded shaky, as if getting used to the rumble of the zord. 

 

“You’re swerving,” a third voice said. “Quit swerving.”

 

“These things don’t exactly come with an instruction manual,” the second voice said.

 

Dax wrinkled his nose. “Those sound like new people,” he said. “I don’t like new people.”

 

“You don’t like any people,” Ian said.

 

“True, but especially new people,” Dax said.

 

Above, the Bison Liner and Rhino Fire charged into action. A teen named Marcus Huntsman steered the Bison Liner, as Colynn sat behind him in his cockpit. Marcus’s friend Cam Maddox drove the Rhino Fire. The teens wore INET jumpsuits, which they stole.

 

“Getting the hang of it yet?” Marcus asked through his commline.

 

Cam shook within his cockpit as the Rhino Fire sped across the rough and bumpy terrain. “No…but close enough.”

 

“Good, because we’re out of time,” Marcus said.

 

Ahead, the Giga Volt lifted its shield and armed a trident in its right hand. The VOLT Agent Jaedus sat in the mecha’s cockpit. He glared at the approaching zords.

 

“How many of these toys does INET have?” he asked quietly as he triggered his weapon systems.

 

The robo’s chest cannons fired streams of red energy that exploded around the zords with massive bursts of spark and flame. The two zords swerved back and forth to avoid the blasts. But the energy beams still singed the zords and sparked against their armor. 

 

“Bison cannons!” Marcus shouted.

 

“Rhino…” Cam searched over his console but couldn’t find the right switch. “God dammit…” Then he found the button he needed. “Rhino missiles!”

 

Bison Liner fired bursts of blue energy. The blasts exploded against Giga Volt with bursts of spark that ripped across the evil robo’s armor. Rhino Fire launched a pair of massive rockets that blasted Giga Volt’s chest with bursts of flame. The combined assault knocked the robo backward, and it staggered to stay on its feet.

 

Colynn leaned forward in Marcus’s cockpit. “Use the fusion system. It’ll buy us some time.”

 

Cam’s voice spoke over their comm. “You realize we’ve only driven these things for less than five minutes, right?”

 

“I’ll guide you,” Colynn said. “Besides, you’re both geniuses. Act like it, and we’ll be fine.”

 

“Alright, let’s do this, Cam,” Marcus said. “Bio-Mechs assemble!” he shouted. “Battle-”

 

“This is hard enough without you shouting in my ear,” Cam said.

 

Marcus ignored him. “Battlezord fusion!”

 

live-ar-liveboxer02The two zords throttled forward with a powerful burst of their engines. Bison Liner and Rhino Fire crackled with electricity as they shifted shape, combined, and rose to form a giant robo: The Bio-Mech Battlezord.

 

Cam joined Marcus and Colynn in the central cockpit.

 

Cam breathed deeply to calm his nerves as he grasped his controls. “OK…,” he said. “OK, this is it. Let’s do it.”

 

“For Cyril and Lacey,” Marcus said.

 

The Battlezord lunged forward and swung its fist towards the Giga Volt. But the evil robo used its trident to swat the Battlezord aside. The blow whipped the zord off its feet, and it crashed against the ground while skidding backward.

 

The impact knocked Colynn from her chair within the Battlezord’s cockpit.

 

“Colynn!” Cam shouted.

 

“I’m okay…” She climbed slowly to her feet and moved to a side console. “We’re going to need a stronger attack. Cam, can you help?”

 

“I can try,” Cam said.

 

He moved from his seat and joined Colynn at the side console. She flipped open a control panel and started tinkering with wires, and Cam joined her.

 

Meanwhile, Marcus used his controls to bring the Battlezord back to its feet.

 

Giga Volt fired another duo of energy beams that blasted the Battlezord. Bursts of spark tore across the zord’s armor, and the Battlezord stumbled backward.

 

“We can’t take another hit like that,” Marcus said.

 

“We won’t have to,” Colynn said as she slammed the control panel shut. “It’s done. Use the Bio Punch!”

 

Cam took his seat and grasped his controls. The two teens moved the Battlezord into position.

 

“Bio Punch!” Marcus shouted.

 

The Battlezord lunged forward and swung a punch that energized with crackling power. The punch smashed Giga Volt with bursts of spark that hurled the evil robo off its feet.  

 

“Now we withdraw,” Colynn said.

 

The Bio-Mech Battlezord helped the Bio-Mech Megazord to its feet, and the two zords retreated before Giga Volt recovered.

 

***

 

Dax, Ian and Kylie stood in Dr. William “Billy” Cranston’s office along with Marcus, Cam and Colynn.

 

Dr. Cranston leaned forward, rested his elbows on his desk and laced his fingers. He glared at Marcus and Cam. “You both broke into INET and stole two zords…” His stare drifted to Colynn. “And you helped.”

 

“She helped us save your team,” Marcus said.

 

Dax shook his head. “We were actually doing just fine.”

 

“Dax…” Kylie chided.  

 

“Sir…” Colynn said cautiously. “Marcus and Cam each lost someone when VOLT attacked Academia. Marcus’s younger brother Cyril and Cam’s younger sister Lacey both went to school there. They were dating.”

 

“That’s unfortunate,” Cranston said without the slightest hint of sincerity. “But that doesn’t justify breaking-and-entering and theft. How did you get past security?”

 

“Your security sucks,” Marcus said.

 

Dax snickered and looked to Ian. “I take back what I said. I like the new guy.”

 

“How did you get past security?” Cranston asked again.

 

“We bypassed some protocols and forged some IDs,” Cam said. “It wasn’t that difficult…we just wanted to help. We had to do something.”

 

“Again, that doesn’t justify theft,” Cranston said.

 

“Cut them some slack,” Dax said.

 

Colynn laid a hand on his shoulder. “Dax, maybe you three should-”

 

“No,” Dax said as he shrugged off her hand. “This is ridiculous. Did we need saving? No, of course not. We’re awesome. But they did help. Besides, when were you going to mention you just happened to have a spare pair of zords sitting around?”

 

“I don’t make it a habit of sharing my inventory,” Cranston said. “The Bison Liner and Rhino Fire aren’t even fully operational. They need Rangers for support — you’re lucky they didn’t explode.”

 

“So make them Rangers,” Dax said.

 

“The rhino and bison morphers aren’t functional,” Cranston said.

 

“Neither were ours, but they work just fine,” Dax said.

 

Cranston looked to Colynn. “Take the others and leave us. Dax, you stay here.”

 

Colynn led Ian, Kylie, Marcus and Cam out of the room. Dax stood alone to face Dr. Cranston. They stood silently, saying nothing for several moments.

 

Dr. Cranston spoke first. “Do you still think this is a game?”

 

“I still think you think this is a game, yes. Absolutely,” Dax said.

 

“I won’t let them try the morphers because I don’t believe just anyone should be a Ranger,” Cranston said. “Untrained Rangers die. And they cause destruction, which causes others to die.” 

 

“You don’t strike me as someone who cares much about people,” Dax said.

 

Cranston leaned back in his chair. “Let me tell you a story, Dax. Something I’ve never told anyone…”

 

***

 

Aquitar, 2004AD

 

http://bastien641.free.fr/Naboo%20gungan%20city.jpgBilly left Earth days ago to help the Aquition Rangers repair their morphers. The alien race needed the ancient transformation devices to fight against Namor, a warlord from the Dark Waters. Namor threatened the people of Aquitar with an army of twisted, evil creatures from the planet’s legends. Aquitar needed the Shaper’s help desperately.

 

Billy worked tirelessly within his quarters, near the center of Nevian City. Like all Aquition cities, Nevian City sat within a network of connected spheres miles underwater. The spheres appeared glass-like but were actually powerful forcefields. The forcefields kept the water from the city but allowed the Aquitions to pass through freely. Billy felt like he stepped into a giant aquarium when he first arrived. But the feeling passed after the first couple days.

 

The teen sat behind a desk of corral as he tinkered with the five Aquition morphers. He worked quickly, because he had little time.

 

The door to his quarters chimed.

 

“Enter,” Billy said.

 

The doors slid open, and in walked an Aquition girl named Cestria. Billy’s heart quickened at the sight of her. She looked beautiful and exotic, with violet eyes and soft features. The Aquitions assigned Cestria to Billy as an aide. She helped him learn to live and adapt on the alien world, and served as a sort of tour guide, secretary and personal assistant.

 

“Billy, I am afraid we are out of time,” Cestria said.

 

“Namor’s attacking? Billy asked.

 

“He is, with an army of Naga. The city’s defenses are helpless,” Cestria said.

 

Billy sighed as he looked to the gutted morphers scattered in front of him. “I need more time. Tell Delphine and the others to hold for as long as they can.”

 

Cestria started to leave, but Billy called out to her. “And Cestria? Tell them I’m sorry. I should have been finished by now.”

 

“Do not blame yourself, Billy,” Cestria said with more sincerity than Billy ever heard from a human. “Your bravery and genius have inspired us all. When we win this day, it will be because of you.”

 

***

 

nagaHundreds of serpent-like Naga swam through the ocean and into Nevian City. Their lower bodies were snake-like, and their upper bodies were humanoid with broad shoulders and thick arms. Their finned faces looked almost dragon-like, with fins and tendrils. The same fins ran down their backs. Slimy blue-green scales covered their bodies beneath suits of armor or fish-skin robes.

 

Aquitions screamed and fled as the first wave of Naga penetrated the city barriers. The villains slithered across the streets as their red beady eyes searched for targets. 

 

From the rooftops, Aquition guards aimed tridents that fired bolts of orange-tinted energy at the invaders. The first volley blasted through Naga with bursts of spark that tore through armor and flesh. Dozens of grunts dropped to the ground in pools of dark blood that sizzled like acid.

 

But the enemy force continued its advance without slowing.

 

Naga sorcerers hurled bolts of arcane energy that shot through the city like volleys of missiles. The blasts exploded through buildings, incinerating dozens of soldiers, and hurling dozens more through the air. Flames erupted across the streets, casting an orange hue to the reflection of waves outside the city domes.

 

Aquition warriors armed their tridents and rushed into battle to attack the sorcerers. But heavily-armored Naga warriors blocked the Aquitions’ path.

 

The Naga warriors hacked massive broadswords left and right, carving through Aquitions and hurling their bodies through the air with each strike. The jagged blades snapped through Aquition tridents and tore through Aquition armor. The demon creatures snarled with delight as blood soaked their swords. 

 

Delphine stood near the front lines along with her teammates. She itched to join the fight but knew she needed to wait for the Shaper to finish repairing her morpher.

 

“Delphine!” a voice shouted from behind. Delphine looked to see Cestria run towards her. “Billy says the morphers are not finished. He needs more time.”

 

The Aquition named Corcus grunted. “Time. That is something we do not have. We should never have trusted the human.”

 

“What choice did we have?” asked the Aquition named Cestro.

 

The Aquition woman named Delina waved her hand over Cestria’s chest, a gesture for her to back away. “Cestria, you should not be here. You have delivered your message. Now seek cover with the other civilians.”

 

“But I can help,” Cestria said.

 

“Cestria,” Delphine said. “Do not argue with-”

 

An explosion thundered nearby, and the shockwave hurled Delphine and the others through the air.

 

Cestria slammed against a building and crashed to the ground. Her head rang with pain as she looked up to see a wave of Naga tear through the Aquition troops. She could no longer see Delphine or the others.

 

The young Aquition pushed herself to her feet and ran, despite the vertigo and pain that thundered through her skull. She didn’t run to save herself — she ran to find Billy. They needed his help.

 

She barely made it out of the sector when a nearby arcane blast exploded and knocked her off her feet. This time, when she looked up from the ground, she faced a trio of Naga warriors. 

 

Cestria stayed on the ground and backed away as the Naga slithered around her. They snarled with delight, their red eyes mad with hunger, as they hissed and flicked their tongues. The creatures smelt her fear and terror. And they liked it.

 

The lead Naga snapped forward and chopped its blade towards the young Aquition.

 

Cestria braced herself.

 

But a red staff blocked the Naga’s sword, and a kick bashed the creature away. The staff spun faster than sight and bashed the other two Naga backward.

 

Cestria looked up to see the yellow-armored Kirin Ranger, who she knew as Billy. Kirin Ranger speared his staff through a soldier’s gut, pulled the weapon free, and spun while bashing through the heads of the other two soldiers. They dropped lifelessly to the ground. 

 

Kirin Ranger twirled his staff and stepped into a defensive stance. He looked left and right, making sure no other Naga planned to attack.

 

“Billy!” Cestria shouted as she rushed to her feet and hugged him from behind. “You are alright…”

 

“Did they hurt you?” Kirin Ranger asked.

 

Cestria shook her head. “I will be fine. But the others…they need help.”

 

Kirin Ranger turned to face her. “Where are they?”

 

“Come…” Cestria said as she took the Yellow Ranger by the hand. “I will guide you.”

 

***

 

Delphine spun forward and bashed a sidekick against a Naga. The warrior barely flinched and chopped his sword towards the Aquition’s head. Delphine dove aside and rolled across the ground.

 

She rose to her feet and quickly looked for her teammates. But she couldn’t spot them through the thick cluster of Naga that hacked through random soldiers. The enemy had completely shattered the Aquitions’ battle formation.

 

Suddenly, bursts of yellow energy sparked through several Naga, clearing a path towards Delphine. Delphine looked to see Kirin Ranger charge forward with Cestria trailing behind. The Yellow Ranger held his Thunder Blaster forward and fired another round of blasts that tore through grunts.

 

“Billy…” Delphine said.

 

Kirin Ranger and Cestria regrouped with Delphine. The Yellow Ranger holstered his weapon and eyed the Naga around him.

 

“Stay back,” he said to Delphine and Cestria as he charged yellow-tinted energy within his palm.

 

Kirin Ranger thrust his hand forward. “Time Crisis!”

 

A massive distortion wave burst from the Yellow Ranger’s palm, rippling through Naga and tearing them apart before they exploded. The shockwave lashed out with yellow lightning and electricity that caused massive secondary explosions to incinerate the enemy ranks.

 

Several dozen Naga remained, but they were scattered.

 

Corcus, Cestro, and the Aquition named Aurico spotted Delphine and regrouped around her, Cestria and the Yellow Ranger.

 

“Good,” Kirin Ranger said. “You’re all here. I have your morphers ready.”

 

“Delina has fallen,” Delphine said. “Cestria…you must take her place as the Pink Ranger.”

 

“No,” Kirin Ranger said. “It’s too dangerous. We need to get her to safety before-”

 

“Billy…” Cestria said as she laid a hand on his arm. “It is alright. I must do this. For my people. Surely you can understand?”

 

Corcus pulled her arm away and practically forced a morpher into her hand. “There is no time for debate,” he said. “Not while our people are dying.”

 

“Corcus is right,” Delphine said. “The time has come for us to act. To become the Rangers of our world.”

 

Cestro strapped his morpher onto his wrist. “You have done well, Billy. Aquitar is in your debt.”

 

“Cestria…” Kirin Ranger whispered.

 

She smiled reassuringly as she strapped her morpher onto her wrist. “I will be careful.”

 

Delphine stepped forward and narrowed her eyes at the horde of Naga ahead. “And now…it’s morphing time!”

 

22“Aqua Beast, rebirth!” they shouted while slapping their bracers’ activation panels. Energy flashed around them as they morphed into their armor.

 

“Sea-Dragon Ranger!” Aurico, the red-armored Ranger shouted.

 

“Griffandor Ranger!” Corcus, the black-armored Ranger shouted.

 

“Pegasaur Ranger!” Cestro, the blue-armored Ranger shouted.

 

“Mermaid Ranger!” Delphine, the white-armored Ranger shouted.

 

“Water-Bird Ranger!” Cestria, the pink-armored Ranger shouted.

 

The White Ranger unsheathed her sword and thrust the blade towards the Naga. “For Aquitar!”

 

The Rangers charged to attack.

 

The Red Aquition Ranger flipped through the air and landed in the midst of several Naga.

 

One of the grunts turned and chopped its sword at the Ranger. The Red Aquition Ranger armed a small white shield that blocked the blow, then kicked the soldier back. The Red Ranger unsheathed his sword and slashed the creature upward with a burst of spark.

 

Nearby, several Naga slithered around the Blue Aquition Ranger. They chopped their blades at the Blue Ranger. But he leapt upward to avoid the swords, and while in midair, flipped backward while kicking two grunts upside the head. He landed and spun while swinging his sword, which slashed a Naga’s gut with a burst of spark.

 

The Black Aquition Ranger leapt forward and stomped a Naga in the chest, forcing the creature back. He landed, dodged a sword strike, and grabbed the grunt by the wrist. He snapped the Naga’s arm and bashed a sidekick against the creature’s face.

 

The White Ranger dashed through a group of Naga while slashing them left and right. She jump kicked a grunt’s chest, parried a sword, and slashed through a Naga’s throat.

 

The Pink Aquition Ranger and Kirin Ranger stood back to back. A group of Naga rushed at them from all sides. The Yellow Ranger twirled his staff to bat the soldiers aside, and the Pink Aquition Ranger twirled her blade through a series of strikes that ripped through Naga with bursts of spark.

 

The six Rangers pressed forward, bashing into enemy formations, scattering them, and striking them down one-by-one.

 

They pushed the remaining few Naga back to the walls of the city, where the surviving creatures fled into the ocean.

 

The Black Aquition Ranger looked at his hands and tightened his fists. “This power is amazing…”

 

The White Ranger nodded in agreement. “It is the mystical power of our ancient ancestors,” she said. She looked to Billy. “You have done well, Ranger of Earth. Shaper.”

 

Kirin Ranger nodded. “Thanks,” he said, his voice uneasy. 

 

He couldn’t bear to tell them the truth. He couldn’t repair any of their morphers to their full potential. He couldn’t unlock the mystical and spiritual components of the bracers. Instead, he shifted the morphers so they channeled power to energize the Body. But in truth, they were meant to energize the Soul.

 

“Let us fall back and tend to the injured,” the White Ranger said.

 

“I’ll do what I can to help,” Kirin Ranger said.

 

The six Rangers moved back into the city, following a trail of dead Naga and Aquitions that cluttered the streets.

 

***

 

Billy left Aquitar to help Zordon prepare for the pending war against Sauron. Billy already had designs for a new team, called the Astro Rangers, and Zordon assisted with the project. They knew the galaxy would need a team like the Astro Rangers to spearhead the fight against Sauron’s mounting army of evil.

 

Once finished with the Astro project, Billy returned to Aquitar. He couldn’t stop thinking about their war with Namor, who pledged loyalty to Sauron. He wanted to help them. In particular, he wanted to help Cestria.

 

Billy visited Cestria’s quarters as soon as he arrived on Aquitar. She greeted him with a warm hug. “Billy…I am so glad you returned.”

 

“Me too,” he said. “How are you and the other Aquition Rangers?”

 

“We are all right,” Cestria said. She pulled away slightly, keeping her arms around Billy’s shoulders. “You look well…”

 

“You too,” Billy said. “Listen, Cestria, there’s something I need to talk to you about.” He sighed nervously. “This isn’t easy for me. I’ve never been one to express my…feelings…rather well.”

 

“You wish to mate,” Cestria said.

 

“What? No, yes but, no, I mean…” he stammered nervously. “I just want to…”

 

“It is okay, Billy,” Cestria said. She ran her fingers through his hair to place her hands on his head. “My people have latent telepathic abilities. I can sense your feelings for me. On Aquitar…we do not court as you humans do. Our lifespans are shorter, and we do not have time to waste with frivolous rituals. We have a way of… bonding, so that in a moment, we know each other as well as humans who have spent a lifetime together.”

 

“No one’s ever understood me,” Billy said. “And anyone who’s ever come close has fallen for someone else,” he said, thinking of Kimberly and Ashley, who had fallen for Tommy. He felt bitter jealously at the thought of his friend. “But with you…”

 

“There’s no need to tell, me, Billy,” Cestria said. “Share your mind with me. And I will share mine.”

 

She placed her forehead against his, and within moments, Cestria and Billy were as close as lifetime lovers.

 

***

 

Billy and Cestria didn’t have much time to enjoy their new relationship. They learned Namor assaulted the Throne of Tides, where the ruler of Aquitar sat and used his mystical power to keep the waters of Aquitar pure and life-sustaining.

 

An army of Naga infiltrated the Throne of Tides and captured the ruler of Aquitar, named Erunak, Aquitar’s version of a shaman.

 

Billy morphed into Kirin Ranger and joined the Aquition Rangers in a counterassault on the Throne of Tides.

 

The six Rangers moved through transparent tunnels that looked out upon the ocean depths. They fought through waves of Naga and Calamarians, another race that shared the planet with the Aquitions. At the beginning of time, the Aquitions enslaved the Calamarians to mine metals from the bottom of the sea. The Aquitions were loyal to Sauron at the time, and when the First Ranger Jestin defeated Sauron, the Aquitions turned to good and released the Calamarians. They then lived together peacefully for the most part, with the last skirmish happening hundreds of years ago. But when Sauron returned, he turned several Calamarian tribes to his side.   

 

The six Rangers kicked and slashed through a wave of Naga sorcerers and burst into a massive dome-shaped room. Light rippled in the room from the water outside the transparent dome.

 

In the center of the room stood Erunak. He wore scaled robes that glistened with shades of purple and blue. A small, octopus-like creature had latched itself around the shaman’s head.

 

“What’s happened to him?” Kirin Ranger said.

 

The Aquitions stepped into defensive stances. “That is Ghur-sha. A parasite demon,” the Blue Ranger said. “He’s taken control of the High Shaman!”

 

Ghur-sha looked to the Rangers with glossy eyes. “I…hunger…”

 

Shadowy cracks spread from the shaman’s feet, snaked across the ground, and erupted into stone pillars that sparked against the Rangers and scattered them across the room.

 

The Rangers hit the ground hard and rolled into crouched fighting stances. But before they could counter, Ghur-sha fired beams of shadow energy from his head. The beams penetrated the Rangers’ helmets and stabbed into their minds. Pain ignited like fire and forced the Rangers down.

 

Kirin Ranger heard the Pink Ranger scream. His concern for her overpowered his own pain. He slapped his right fist against his left palm. “Kiryoku!”

 

He fired an invisible burst of Ki energy that knocked the shadow strand from his mind.

 

“Star Cutter!” He unsheathed his shortsword and hurled the blade at the shaman.

 

The blade sparked against Ghur-sha and knocked him back a step, causing his strands of shadow energy to snap loose.

 

“Thunder Staff!” Kirin Ranger armed his staff and leapt towards the villain.

 

He landed and slashed the staff through a streak of yellow energy that sparked against Ghur-sha, knocking the creature from the shaman. The shaman dropped to the ground, and Ghur-za floated through the air.

 

“I…hunger…” the creature whispered again.

 

The parasite shot forward and latched onto Kirin Ranger’s helmet. The creature completely enveloped the Yellow Ranger’s head and infiltrated his mind.

 

Kirin Ranger lost control of his body as his mind fell to blackness. Pain intensified. Physical and emotional. He felt the loss of his mother when she died of cancer. The isolation of school. He buried himself in science to become smart enough to one day find a cure for cancer. He thought of Kimberly, who he loved, but she chose Tommy. He thought of Ashley, who developed affections for Tommy. He always stood alone, even among his comrades. Despair thundered through his mind in waves. Loneliness. The bullies who dumped his books from his desk and laughed at him at gym. His loss to the Machine Empire when they initially attacked and injured his back. Loneliness.

 

Kirin Ranger crashed to his feet as his mind blurred back into focus.

 

He looked to see Ghur-sha dead near his feet. He lifted his head further and saw several dozen Naga corpses spread across the floor.

 

“What…” Kirin Ranger said. “What happened?”

 

The Black Aquition Ranger lifted the Yellow Ranger and smashed a hook punch across his helmet.

 

“She was too busy trying to save you to look after herself when they came,” the Black Ranger practically shouted.

 

“What-”

 

“The Naga,” the Black Ranger said. “They attacked in the middle of our fight.”

 

The Blue Ranger stepped closer towards Kirin Ranger and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Billy…” he said. “I am afraid that Cestria did not make it.”

 

Kirin Ranger shook his head. “No, that can’t be…”

 

He looked towards his side to see Cestria lying motionless on the floor, near a group of fallen Naga. 

 

“Cestria…” he whispered.

 

The Yellow Ranger walked slowly towards her as grief swelled in his throat. She had died trying to save him.

 

The White Ranger moved to his side. “You mustn’t blame yourself, Ranger.”

 

“I don’t,” Kirin Ranger said. He buried his grief with anger. “This is on you! You shouldn’t have asked her to become a Ranger…”

 

“She chose this, Billy,” the White Ranger said.

 

The Yellow Ranger kneeled next to her. He didn’t cry. He wouldn’t allow himself. He didn’t let his sorrow overwhelm him. He wouldn’t allow himself. He hardened his heart and rolled his hands into fists. He’d seen enough pain in his lifetime. And it had to end.

 

***

 

The present

 

“So…” Dax said after hearing the story. “You lost your girlfriend and now you’re a bastard? Still doesn’t add up. You’re hiding something…”

 

“A loss like that hardens you,” Cranston said. “And that was just one death. To make matters worse, I lost my home a few years later. Angel Grove Central. I grew up there.”

 

“Lots of people did,” Dax said.

 

“’Lots of people’ didn’t fail to stop their hometown from becoming Demon City,” Cranston said. “I can’t afford to mourn. I can’t afford to hesitate. I can’t afford to let failure happen again. So no…I won’t let just anyone become a Ranger or Rider. It’s not worth the risk.”

 

“Marcus and Cam already piloted those two zords,” Dax said. “They formed a Megazord and beat back Giga Volt — I still can’t believe we’re calling it that.”

 

“Why is this so important to you?” Cranston asked.

 

“Because it pisses you off so much,” Dax said.

 

Cranston cracked the slightest of smiles, which gave Dax chills that crept down his spine.

 

“Fine,” Cranston said. “You want them to take the rhino and bison morphers? Take them. They won’t even work.”

 

“Huh…” Dax said. “I didn’t expect you to break that easily.”

 

“I have better things to do than argue with a delinquent,” Cranston said. “Take the morphers and leave.”

 

***

 

Marcus and Cam paced back and forth in the bay area of the turtle-shaped Tor Carrier, which served as the base of the Bio-Beast team. Colynn stood with them.

 

“I can’t believe this,” Marcus said. “We saved his Rangers’ butts, and how does he repay us? By tossing us aside like this.”

 

“Why didn’t you just volunteer?” Colynn asked. “Instead of breaking in and stealing the zords.”

 

“We tried that,” Cam said. “The Silver Guardians wouldn’t take us, and they wouldn’t tell us anything about VOLT’s first attack.”

 

“What about you?” Marcus asked Colynn. He spoke with an edge to his voice. “Why’d you help us?”

 

“We appreciate it,” Cam said quickly. “He’s not trying to be mean or anything.”

 

Colynn nodded. “I had a younger sister who went to Academia too,” she said. “She was reported missing and presumed dead after the attack. My family never even got to…” She shook her head. “I understand the need for justice. I can’t imagine what I would do if I couldn’t help fight against VOLT.”

 

The doors to the bay area slid open, and Dax walked in with an arrogant grin on his face. Ian and Kylie followed.

 

“Come on, Dax,” Ian said. “Tell us what happened.”

 

“This happened,” Dax said as he pulled two pairs of bracers from his jacket and tossed them to Marcus and Cam, The two teens caught the morphers. “Congrats, you’re officially members of Crazy Town.”

 

“Morphers…” Marcus said as he held his bracers.

 

“Apparently they don’t work,” Dax said. “But that’s what they said about our morphers too. Which clearly isn’t the case, hence the frequent use of multi-colored spandex.”

 

The alarms suddenly blared throughout the carrier. “I swear, VOLT has to time things like this to happen on purpose,” Dax said.

 

Colynn moved to the nearest wall monitor and activated an image of Giga Volt stomping through the city. She looked to Marcus and Cam. “Are you two both sure this is what you want?”

 

They both nodded as they stared at the monitor, thinking of all the people who died because the evil organization’s attacks.

 

“See, they’re sure,” Dax said. “We’re all one big happy team now. Let’s get going, I hate standing in one place for too long.”

 

***

 

The five teens ran through a park area nestled in the city. They ran as fast as they could towards the evil mecha’s rampage in the distance. But before they could reach the robo, explosions sparked around them and hurled them off their feet.

 

Dax groaned with pain and slowly pushed himself to his feet. He looked to Marcus and Cam. “FYI, that happens a lot.”

 

Beams of energy struck the ground nearby as Agent Jaedus and a group of Mechaclones teleported to the park. No older than 18, Jaedus wore a gray suit of high-tech armor over black leather. He wore his dark hair short, and his skin was pale. His eyelashes were so thick, he looked like he was wearing eyeliner. Short, black fur trimmed the edges of his armor.

 

The villain crossed his arms over his chest. “Five of you now? I had to see this for myself…”

 

Dax looked to Marcus and Cam. “Hope your morphers work.” He looked back to Jaedus. “Obligatory taunt!”

 

They armed their morphers.

 

“Bio Burst!” They connected their bracers, triggering waves of light that washed across their bodies. They leapt across the park through streaks of energy and landed on a hill as they morphed into their Ranger forms. They faced Jaedus and snapped into fighting stances.

 

“Red Falcon!”

 

“Black Bison!”

 

“Green Rhino!”

 

“Yellow Lion!”

 

“Blue Dolphin!”

 

“Gene-Tech Task Force…Bio-Beast Rangers!” they shouted together.

 

Yellow Lion armed his weapon to scatter the enemy’s formation. “Lion Bazooka!”

 

He fired a pulse of yellow energy that exploded though the enemy group with bursts of spark. The blast hurled several grunts off their feet. 

 

“Falcon Sword!” Red Falcon armed his double-edged blade and leapt through the air.

 

The Red Ranger landed in the midst of several Mechaclones and hacked through their mechanical bodies. Sparks flew everywhere with each strike that carved through metal and steel.

 

Nearby, Blue Dolphin leapt through the air and armed her weapon. “Dolphin Bow!”

 

The Blue Ranger snapped a volley of arrows that punctured through grunts with bursts of spark that whipped them backward.

 

Black Bison leapt towards a smaller group of grunts. The Black Ranger bashed his fists through the soldiers, left and right, as he pushed through their ranks. He released months’ worth of anger with every punch and blow.

 

Nearby, Green Rhino leapt through the air and slammed his helmet’s short horn against a grunt, knocking the soldier backward. He turned, caught two soldiers’ punches by the wrists, and flipped the grunts off their feet. 

 

Black Bison and Green Rhino regrouped and faced Jaedus. The two Rangers immediately pounced through the air to attack the man they blamed for the death of their siblings. Black Bison slammed a double corkscrew punch against the villain, and the Green Rhino Ranger bashed his forehead against the agent’s face. 

 

Their combined blows hurled the agent off his feet.

 

The five Bio-Beast Rangers regrouped. But the ground shook violently before they could attack Jaedus. They looked up to see the Giga Volt stomp towards the scene.

 

“That thing again?!” Yellow Lion shouted.

 

Red Falcon cursed beneath his breath. “This bites…”

 

“No one says that anymore, Dax,” Blue Dolphin said.

 

“Is cultural relevance really important right now?” Green Rhino asked.

 

“This is how we do things,” Red Falcon said. “Just roll with it.”

 

live-ar-liverobo01Red Falcon activated his communicator. “Bio-Mechs! Deploy!”

 

The three Bio-Mechs burst from the massive, turtle-shaped Tor Carrier. The yellow Bio Lion stomped through the woods, and the red Bio Falcon and blue Bio Dolphin flew overhead.

 

The Red Ranger, Yellow Ranger and Blue Ranger leapt into their cockpits.

 

“Bio-Mechs assemble!” Red Falcon shouted. “Gene-Tech fusion!”

 

The three zords combined to form one robo. The Red Ranger, Yellow Ranger and Blue Ranger joined in their central cockpit. “Bio-Mech Megazord!”

 

Black Bison activated his communicator. “Bison Liner! Rhino Fire! Deploy!”

 

The Bison Liner and Rhino Fire charged from the Tor Carrier. The two Rangers leapt into their cockpits and activated their controls.

 

“Bio-Mechs assemble!” Black Bison shouted. “Battlezord fusion!”

 

The two zords shifted shape and combined to form the Bio-Mech Battlezord. The Green Ranger and Black Ranger joined in one cockpit. “Bio-Mech Battlezord!”

 

The Bio-Mech Megazord and Bio-Mech Battlezord stood alongside one another to face Giga Volt, piloted by Agent Kaidaron.

 

The evil mecha fired beams of crimson energy from its chest. The jagged beams exploded against the Rangers’ two robos with massive bursts of spark. But the zords stood their ground.

 

The Megazord and Battlezord pounced through the air and swung their massive fists. The punches slammed against Giga Volt and hurled the evil robo backward. The enemy mecha crashed against the ground and skid through the park, ripping through dirt and trees.

 

Colynn spoke to the Rangers through their comm systems. “Rangers, bring your two robos together. That should give you enough power to stop Giga Volt.”

 

“We actually seem to be doing just fine-” Red Falcon started to say, but Yellow Lion cut him off.

 

“We’ll do it,” Yellow Lion said. “Dax…”

 

“Fine, what the hell,” Red Falcon said. “Bio-Mechs assemble! Mega Battle Fusion!”

 

live-ar-superliveroboThe Bio-Mech Battlezord pulled apart. The zord shifted to form a suit of armor that wrapped around the Bio-Mech Megazord, forming powerful arms and legs, reinforced chest plating and a horned helmet.

 

The five Rangers joined in the central cockpit. “Bio-Battle Megazord!”

 

Giga Volt fired its chest beams, which exploded around the Megazord as it stomped towards its target.

 

Giga Volt swung its trident when the Megazord moved close enough. The Bio-Battle Megazord used one arm to block the blow, then swung its other arm to slam a punch against the evil robo’s chest.

 

The evil mecha staggered backward, and the Bio-Battle Megazord swung another punch. Giga Volt lifted its shield, which blocked the punch. But the Bio-Battle Megazord leaned forward with a powerful blow that pushed past the shield and bashed against the robo’s chest armor.

 

“Let’s turn that thing into scrap metal,” Red Falcon said. “Mega Bio-Blast!”

 

The mouth of the lion on the Megazord’s chest opened, and a sphere of energy crackled within its jaws. The energy sphere siphoned the energy from the five individual zords, creating a powerful charge.

 

The Megazord blasted the fiery bolt of power. The energy burst punctured through the evil mecha’s chest with massive bursts of spark, and secondary explosions ripped apart the robo. Agent Kaidaron teleported from his cockpit just as the evil robo collapsed and exploded in a sphere of flames.

 

***

 

Dr. Cranston turned off his holographic monitor after watching the end of the battle. He leaned back and laced his fingers thoughtfully.

 

“Fascinating…” he said. Months ago he thought the Bio-Beast Rangers were nothing but a failed experiment. Now they were becoming almost as powerful as the Jet Force Rangers.

 

Dr. Cranston’s mind drifted to the story he told Dax. He hadn’t thought of Cestria or Aquitar in what seemed like ages. He hadn’t given himself the luxury of feeling. Emotions were what got Cestria killed. He couldn’t make the same mistake.

 

His mind drifted further, and he thought of the aftermath of Cestria’s death.

 

***

 

Aquitar, 2005AD

 

Billy didn’t attend Cestria’s funeral ceremony. Her fellow Aquitions sent her drifting into sea, and Billy didn’t want to watch. Nor did he want to know who the Aquitions found as a replacement for their Pink Ranger.

 

Better to know nothing. He wanted to focus — focus on using INET to stop tragedies from happening. 

 

The teen sat alone in his quarters when a burst of energy suddenly rippled through the center of the room. The shockwave hurled Billy from his chair, and he slammed against the wall before crashing to the floor.

 

He climbed slowly back to his feet and armed his morphers, but when he looked up, he froze. He faced what looked like an older version of himself, dressed in a black jumpsuit with hardened features and a cold look.

 

“Intriguing…” Billy said. “But I won’t-”

 

The older Cranston thrust his palm forward and fired an invisible burst of energy that slammed Billy against the wall and pinned him there.

 

“I don’t have much time for pleasantries,” Cranston said. “I came to deliver a warning.”

 

Billy struggled to break free and glared at his older self. “Who are you really?” Billy asked. “A shape shifter? A doppelganger?”

 

“I’m you from the future. The year 2017, to be exact,” Cranston said. “I know you won't believe me. We're scientists. We're supposed to be skeptical and question everything. But I need you to listen. If I let you go...will you do that?”

 

“If you're me, don't you already know the answer?” Billy asked.

 

Cranston shook his head. “I haven't been you in a long time.”

 

Billy saw the faintest look of sorrow in his older self's eyes. The teen nodded. “Okay...I'll listen.”

 

Cranston released his grip. “You're planning on using INET to protect the Earth, and the rest of the galaxy. It seemed like a good idea, and it even worked, for a time. You'll win the war against Sauron. You'll work with Tommy to stop the Saima and Org, and you'll defeat the Mogralord. Then you'll both work together to lead the next generation of Rangers.”

 

“I thought this was supposed to be a warning,” Billy said.

 

“It is,” Cranston said. “For all the good you and Tommy will do, it won't be enough. The monsters and demons you fight are symptoms of a larger disease. You won't realize this until it's too late to do anything about it.

 

“There's a natural order to the universe. Some call it mystical. Others scientific. Either way, Tommy threw that order off balance during what you'll learn to call the Second Countdown to Destruction. I didn't realize it at the time, but he doomed all of mankind. 

 

“I did what I could to try to reverse the effects, but it was too late. Reality had already started to unravel. I lacked the resources I needed, and when I went to more...drastic lengths...Tommy started to question my methods. He betrayed me.” Cranston traced his fingers across the mark on his forehead. “That's how I got this scar.”

 

“Tommy would never-“

 

Cranston waved his hand dismissively. “He took Kimberly. He took Ashley from you. He allowed both of them to die. Then he recruited Rangers, children, who weren't ready for the burden, just like Cestria wasn't ready. And you let it all happen. You didn't wake up until demons slaughtered half the planet, including the Rangers. You blamed Tommy. He blamed you. That was three years ago from my perspective. Now demons roam the whole world, and they've nearly wiped out mankind.”

 

“You've altered the events you described just by telling me this,” Billy said.

 

“To an extent,” Cranston said. “But I calculated dozens of scenarios. Hundreds of variables. Nothing you can do will stop the Second Countdown to Destruction from happening. Reality will unravel. It's out of our control.”

 

“Why warn me if you don't think there's anything I can do?”

 

“There is something you can do,” Cranston said. “But not to save reality. To save mankind.”

 

Billy shook his head. “You're not making any sense.”

 

“That's because you're not thinking big enough,” Cranston said. “And you won't until it's too late. That's why I came back here, to this time period, where you have the resources we need to start our work.”

 

“What work?” Billy asked.

 

“You're not ready to hear the details. In fact, you never will be, not until you've seen what I've seen, and by then it will be too late,” Cranston said. “I can't trust you to take action based on my word alone.”

 

“Then show me,” Billy said. “If you can travel through time, let me see your future.”

 

“I can't do that,” Cranston said. “This was a one-way trip.”

 

Something about the cold and calculated way Cranston spoke made Billy tense with caution. “What are you saying?”

 

Cranston ignored the question and pulled a card from his pocket. “There's a program I started called BOARD. I could never tap its full potential, something I hope to fix in your time period. All I could do was make this one card. But if it works? If it works, I'll have taken the first step.”

 

“Now you’re just rambling…” Billy said. “What is it you want?”

 

“I want to take back all the time I lost,” Cranston said. “That's where you come in.”

 

Cranston lunged forward and thrust a buckler against Billy's gut. Billy had barely seen his older self move. The teen staggered backward and felt the buckler seer into his skin. The device reached through his body with tendrils of dark, vile energy.

 

Cranston swung his other hand to swipe his card through the buckler. But Billy managed to sidestep and roundkick Cranston in the gut.

 

Cranston barely felt the blow. He thrust his hand and fired an invisible wave of energy that hurled Billy off his feet. Billy smashed against the wall, and before he crashed to the floor, Cranston tightened his grip. Invisible energy tightened around Billy and suspended him in midair. The energy distorted space and time around the ranger, sending waves of vertigo through his mind and body.

 

“Don’t make this more painful than it has to be,” Cranston said.

 

Billy narrowed his eyes at his older self. He reached into his spirit and ignited his own power of the Heaven Time Star. He pulsed with yellow-tinted energy that knocked him free from Cranston’s grasp.

 

Billy landed in a crouched position and armed his morpher.

 

“Chakra ignite!” Energy flashed around him as he morphed into his Ranger form. He stepped into a fighting stance.

 

“You squander that power of yours,” Cranston said as he pulled back his jacket. He revealed a high-tech buckler around his waist. The buckler looked scorched and battered. “You have the power to bend time and space, and you use it to wear…that. It’s disgusting to see you like this.”

 

“What are you?” Kirin Ranger asked.

 

“I already told you,” Cranston said as he pulled another card from his pocket. “I’m you.”

 

He slid his card into his buckler and snapped the device shut. The device spoke with a shutter as if damaged. “DE-DE-DECADE.”

 

Kamen_Rider_Decade_(World_of_the_Rider_War)Energy distorted around his body as he transformed into Kamen Rider Decade. His armor looked red and black, with a black X along the upper left chest and shoulder. His faceplate appeared red with black lines of bar code. He stared ahead through green, bug-like eyes.

 

Kirin Ranger armed his Thunder Staff. “And you mock what I’m wearing?”

 

The Yellow Ranger spun his staff and lunged to attack. He speared his weapon towards Decade. But the Rider sidestepped, kicked the weapon from Kirin Ranger’s hands, and kicked the Ranger across the helmet.

 

Decade moved as fast as a blur and pommeled his fists against Kirin Ranger’s chest and gut. The Rider hook punched the Ranger across the helmet and bashed an elbow against his chest. The blow hurled the Ranger backward, and he crashed through the wall and into the next room.

 

Kamen Rider Decade pulled a blank card from a holster on his waist. The card distorted and revealed an image of Kamen Rider Black. He slid the card into his buckler, which spoke: “KAMEN RIDE-O.” He snapped the device shut. “B-B-B-BLACK.”

 

Energy distorted around Decade as he transformed into the armor of Kamen Rider Black.

 

Kirin Ranger climbed to his feet and looked up to face his attacker. “Intriguing…”

 

Kamen Rider Black somersaulted through the air. “Rider Kick!”

 

The Rider launched a flying sidekick that ebbed with crimson energy. The kick bashed Kirin Ranger in the chest with a burst of spark that hurled him off his feet.

 

The Yellow Ranger shattered through a nearby forcefield and plummeted towards the street below. He twisted through the air and managed to land in a crouched position.  

 

Kamen Rider Black leapt downward and landed in front of the Ranger.

 

“There’s no way you’re me!” Kirin Ranger shouted.

 

The Rider said nothing. He distorted back into Decade and pulled another card from his holster. He slid the card into his buckler. “KAMEN RIDE-O.” He snapped the device shut. “K-K-K-KUUGA.”

 

He distorted into the armor of Kuuga.

 

Kirin Ranger armed his Thunder Sword and Star Cutter and leapt through the air to attack.

 

Kuuga shifted into his green-armored Pegasus Form, armed his crossbow, and fired bolts of green energy. The energy blasts sparked against Kirin Ranger hard enough to whip his body from the air. The Yellow Ranger crashed against the ground and dropped his swords.

 

The Rider shifted back into his Decade armor and pulled another card from his holster. He slid the card into his buckler. “KAMEN RIDE-O.” He snapped the buckler shut. “RYU-RYU-RYU-RYUKI.”

 

Kirin Ranger pushed himself to his feet and charged to attack.

 

Ryuuki thrust his left gauntlet forward. “Rider flare!”

 

The Rider fired a stream of fiery energy that sparked against the Yellow Ranger and whipped him backward. Kirin Ranger smashed against the ground.

 

The Rider rippled back into his Decade form and stalked towards the fallen Ranger.

 

Kirin Ranger climbed to his feet but staggered. He felt weak and defeated, and could barely stay conscious.

 

Decade punched Kirin Ranger across the helmet. “I know what you’re feeling.” He smashed a punch against the Ranger’s gut. “That pain.” He punched again. “That loss. You couldn’t save your mother from cancer. You couldn’t save Cestria from the Naga. Imagine that pain intensified when you see your entire city, your home, reduced to rubble.”

 

Decade kicked the Yellow Ranger in the side. “You’ll watch Kimberly die. And Ashley. Everyone you ever cared about.” He smashed a kick upside the Ranger’s head. “Tommy, your best friend, will turn on you. You’ll be left alone. With nothing.”

 

He grabbed the Yellow Ranger by the throat and lifted him from the ground. “It’s only when you’ve lost everything that you’ll finally realize the truth. That the fate of destruction, that pain, that loss, is also the promise of something greater. The promise of rebirth.”

 

Decade armed his sword, which ebbed with distortion energy. He thrust the weapon through Kirin Ranger’s side with a burst of spark. The Yellow Ranger screamed with pain as the blade pierced his armor and his body. Yellow energy flickered as his armor powered down.

 

Decade dropped Billy to the ground. The Rider powered down his armor and pulled out his BOARD card.

 

“I’m sorry it had to come to this,” Cranston said without the slightest hint of sincerity or regret. “But you’ll understand in a moment.”

 

Cranston grabbed Billy by the shirt and pulled him close.

 

“You’re…” Billy said. “You’re not me. I’d never let go of…never let go of it…”

 

Cranston tilted his head quizzically. “Of what?”

 

“My humanity,” Billy said

 

Cranston tightened his grip on Billy’s shirt. “You already did.”

 

Cranston slid his card through the buckler on Billy’s waist. The buckler distorted with an energy wave that washed across Billy, as well as Cranston. The two waves combined and meshed together with a crackling burst of energy that rippled through the air like waves across a pond. The energy waves ignited with a final burst of power that nearly tore through the fabric of space/time itself.

 

The energy dimmed, and Billy collapsed to the floor. One Billy — the Billy of the present, and the Billy of the future. They had merged, mind, body, and soul.  

 

He rolled his hands into fists. The pain of Cestria’s death still clenched his throat with grief. The feeling seemed as strong as if she had died yesterday — which she had. Billy almost forgot how deeply he had felt her loss.

 

“Cestria…” he whispered. “Kimberly…Ashley…”

 

He clenched his fists tighter, so tight, that his knuckles turned white. “Mother…”

 

Confusion washed across his mind. Was he his younger self with the memories of his older self? Or his older self in the body of his younger self? Or both? Both…He was both.  What have you done? What was needed. But why? You know why. There was no time to convince myself. I had to act. Cestria’s gone. You’ve lost your home. Even now, you’ve lost your home and loved ones, even while they’re still alive. You’ve felt detached from them for how long now? Weeks? Months?

 

Or did I ever really connect with them? Did I ever truly belong? This is the truth of the human condition. Even in peace, there is pain. Even in friendship, there is loneliness. Despair. I can end all of that…

 

Billy rose slowly to his feet and stretched his muscles. He appeared as his younger self, fully healed from his wounds. He felt fresh and alive. And at the same time, cold. He buried his feelings of loss and pain with calculated logic, as he had learned to do years ago, in the future.

 

Footsteps suddenly rushed towards Billy. He looked up as his mind cleared, and he saw Delphine along with her teammates.

 

“Billy…” Delphine said. “What happened to-” She paused when she noticed the hardness in his eyes. “What happened here?”

 

“I was attacked,” Cranston said.

 

“Attacked?” Delphine asked. “By who?”

 

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Cranston said dismissively. “Take me to your command hub. I need to open a commline to Eltar, and then to Earth. War’s coming…and we need to prepare.”

 

To be continued…Chapter 18