Rangers in Space: Chapter Five

Scorpion's Sting

 

“More happened at Kilwan than the destruction of a Kilrathi war group.”

 

-- R.H. Greene, 2111

“Astro Ranger: Behind the Masks”

 

Image:Mosexpanded3.jpegThe open, dusty roads of Valice Prime were bustling with activity as street merchants looked to sell everything from fruit to warp cores.

 

A trio of cloaked figures walked through the streets, trying their best to avoid the hagglers that popped up from left to right. Such attire was not uncommon in the small village, so no one could tell that the three individuals didn’t belong.

 

They turned a corner past a group of insect-like aliens. The cloaked figure in the center of the trio, Tommy, noticed a small group of leather-clad individuals stalking through the streets.

 

“We’re being followed,” he said.

 

“Already taken care of,” Cy said.

 

“How?” Justin asked.

 

“Remember that group of Calamarians? I left a little gift on their table,” Cy said.

 

“What gift?” Tommy asked.

 

The squid-like Calamarians leapt and screamed with fright as a small group of insects ran across their fruit stand. Their fear was quite aggressive as they knocked the table over and began kicking it.

 

The three teens ducked down a corner while the leather-clad men were distracted by having to use force to calm the Calamarians.  

 

“They have an unusually strong fear of insects bred into them,” Cy said as the trio continued to walk.

 

“This is the place,” Justin said as they stopped in front of a rusty metal door fastened to a wooden shack.

 

Tommy reached up to knock, and was surprised as the door creaked open by the small force of his first knock. He looked at his two teammates, silently signaling each of them to finger their blasters as they cautiously went inside.

 

As soon as the three teens entered, the door slammed shut and arms wrapped around their throats.

 

They each grabbed the arms of their assailants, twisted, and struck them down.

 

“Stop!” a voice shouted from in front of them. They turned to see small-framed male walk towards them, and he pulled back his cloak. His face and hair were pale white, as were the two stumps on his forehead. His eyes were dark red and dotted with small black spots. He was a Drandorlian. “Were you followed?”

 

“No,” Tommy said as he and the others pulled back their hoods. “There were a few guards further down the street, but they were distracted.”

 

“They will show us no mercy if caught,” the Drandorlian said.

 

“Then it’s best to act quickly,” Cy said. “Our merchandise…”

 

The Drandorlian nodded and walked back to a table that looked like it was made of straw. On top of the table was a wooden crate he creaked open. He pulled out a small glass tube filled with a glittery substance that seemed to flow within its confines.

 

“Pure Triterium,” he said. The Rangers needed the Triterium to repair their damaged Mega Accelerator. The Accelerator was what allowed the ship to transform into its Megazord mode. The ship’s engines had been damaged as well, so their options on where to quickly seize Triterium had been limited.

 

Valice Prime had an ample supply, but its government was run by corrupt, war-hungry soldiers who sold out to Sauron. The Rangers made contact with the planet’s black market in order to get their hands on the much needed substance. It was carefully guarded due to its potential for destructive capabilities.

 

“That will be 2600 credits,” the Drandorlian demanded.

 

“We agreed on 1600,” Tommy said.

 

The three nearby men pulled out their side arms and aimed at the teens’ heads while standing behind them, barely out of arms reach. One guard, standing behind the leader, drew his sidearm and aimed as well.

 

“Unfortunately, prices have gone up,” the Drandorlian said. “I’m sure you can understand.”

 

“We don’t have that much,” Justin said.

 

“Of course you do,” the Drandorlian said as he pulled a data pad off of his table. “My people get me hacked information on all ships docked here. You’re with the Yankee Pride. According to your ship’s smuggling records, 2600 credits will hardly put a dent in your wallets.”

 

The records for the Megaship had been falsified to go along with their holo-disguise fashioned by Ashley. They moved away from the Blue Voyager facade after the incident at Halcaron.

 

“What do a bunch of smugglers want with Triterium anyway?” the Drandorlian asked.

 

“Shouldn’t that be obvious?” Justin asked. “You’re new at this aren’t you.”

 

The bumps on the Drandorlian’s head shifted backwards. “Hardly.”

 

“Would you really risk opening fire in here?” Tommy asked. “With all those soldiers just down the street? Hell, they could be next door by now.”

 

The Drandorlian’s head bumps twitched. “Don’t tempt me. Now pay and be gone. This transaction is taking far too long.”

 

“I suggest you listen to him,” Justin said.

 

“Why?” the Drandorlian asked.

 

“Because he’s holding a thermal detonator,” Justin said as Tommy pulled his hand out of the cloak to reveal the device. It was, of course, fake.

 

“This is a dead man’s switch. If my finger comes off it while it’s activated, we’re all dust,” Tommy said.

 

“You’d die along with us,” the Drandorlian said, fear visible in his face.

 

“I don’t fear death,” Tommy said, glad no one could tell the bomb was an elaborate fake.

 

Before the Drandorlian could answer, a small cylinder smashed through the wall and landed on the floor.

 

“Down!” the white-faced man shouted as everyone ducked for cover. The object flashed with a blinding light, sending a sonic pulse crashing through the room.

 

Leather-clad soldiers busted inside the room with energy rifles in hand as they grabbed the rangers and rebels by their cloaks and lifted them up.

 

One of the guards had Tommy by the throat and slammed his head against a wall. “Which cell are you with? Answer quickly.”

 

Tommy did a quick survey of the room with his eyes, and despite the pounding in his head from the grenade, developed an attack strategy.

 

In one fluid motion, he placed his left hand on the man’s wrist and brought his right hand hard against the man’s elbow, snapping his arm in two. Tommy twisted around, grabbed the man’s side arm, and pulled out his own blaster. He aimed the two weapons at the two soldiers near his teammates and shot them down before they could fire their own weapons.

 

The two soldiers at the rear of the room were about to open fire when Tommy kicked the table back at them, knocking them over.

 

“Ashley, anytime,” Tommy said into his communicator as he rubbed the back of his head.

 

Three more soldiers ran into the shack with their guns blazing, but the earth was tore out from under them as a large tank bore out from the ground. It was the Astro Megatank.

 

“Right on time,” Justin said as the door to the tank opened. Ashley was at the driver’s seat.

 

“Get in already,” she said to the guys as they grabbed the canister of Triterium and hopped into the tank. More soldiers appeared, but their shots bounced harmlessly off the tank as it drilled back through the ground.

 

***

 

Chris and Kat stood outside the Megaship’s boarding ramp as the vessel sat alone in a wide hanger bay.

 

“They should be back by now,” Chris said as he paced back and forth.

 

“They’ll be here,” Kat said reassuringly.

 

Just then, a group of soldiers piled into the hanger. “Don’t move! Your vessel will be impounded and you will be taken into custody.”

 

“DECA…” Chris said into his communicator.

 

A double-barrel cannon dropped from the bottom of the ship and fired rapidly, mowing down most of the soldiers as Chris and Kat ran up the boarding ramp while squeezing off shots with their blasters.

 

“Tommy, looks like we’ll have to go with Plan B,” Chris said into his communicator as he and Kat ran through the ship’s main corridor towards the bridge.

 

***

 

Valician soldiers surrounded the hanger building and set up large energy cannons designed to punch through hull plating.

 

Before the soldiers could squeeze off a shot, the front end of the hanger exploded, and the Astro Megaship blasted through the opening. In its holo-cloak, it resembled a rust-colored, blackbird-style jet.

 

“Quite an escape,” Kat said on the bridge.

 

“Surreal,” Chris said as he scanned for the Megatank. “I’ve got a lock on ‘em.”

 

“I’ll let them know we’re coming,” Kat said.

 

***

 

The Megatank neared the surface as it continued to boar through rock and soil.

 

“Hang on, this next part’s tricky,” Ashley said as the tank sprang up from the ground and landed on a dirt road in a lesser populated area of the city.

 

The Rangers were nearly shaken from their seats as the tank landed on all tires and screeched forward.

 

“Nice driving,” Tommy said.

 

“Thanks,” Ashley said.

 

“There’s Chris and Kat,” Justin said as he saw the Megaship fly over them from the viewport.

 

“Cy, bring the grappler up,” Tommy said.

 

Cy nodded and activated the tank’s grappling system. The grappling gun fired and latched onto the bottom of the Megaship’s hull.

 

“We’re going to have to reel you in quick,” Chris said from the tank’s communicator. “The military’s scrambled its fighters. Kat’s been listening to their broadcasts, and they’re convinced we’re terrorists.”

 

“We’ve been called worse,” Justin said.

 

The tank was lifted into the air, but the cable snapped, and the tank slammed back to the ground.

 

“That cable was supposed to hold,” Ashley said.

 

“Have Chris land the ship and we’ll take it up the ramp,” Tommy said.

 

“Bad idea,” Ashley said. “We have company.”

 

A group of four hover-sleds blasted over a hill and zoomed towards the Megatank. Rapid-fire gattling guns, attached to the tops of the sleds, opened fire on the tank as Ashley guided the craft through evasive maneuvers.

 

Tommy pulled out his scanner and tried to ignore the bumps and jolts as Ashley tried to avoid the hovercrafts’ assaults.

 

“Head for that cliff to your right,” Tommy said. “I have an idea.”

 

The tank almost tipped over as Ashley made a hard right. The hovercraft stayed tight on the Megatank’s tail. Cy pulled out his two side arms.

 

“Open the side hatch,” he said.

 

“Be careful out there,” Justin said as Cy leaned out the open hatch and started shooting plasma bursts at the hovercraft.

 

“What do we do once we get to the cliff?” Ashley asked as Tommy continued to read over his scanner.

 

“Go as fast as possible,” Tommy said as he activated his communicator and opened a channel with the Megaship. “Chris, I’m sending you some coordinates. I need you to get their ASAP.”

 

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Ashley said.

 

“Me too,” Tommy said.

 

Cy fired off another round of shots and blew an outtake vent out from the lead hovercraft. The pursuit craft lost control and rolled across the ground as it burst into flames.

 

“Nice shot,” Justin said.

 

“Thanks,” Cy said as he reloaded his energy cartridges.

 

Ashley saw the edge of the cliff through the forward viewport as the Megaship hovered several meters in front of it. The Megaship lowered its rear boarding ramp.

 

“We’re in position,” Kat said over Tommy’s communicator.

 

“Floor it,” Tommy said.

 

The Megatank drove off the cliff and jetted forward. The tank leapt into the docking bay and flipped upside down as it screeched to a halt. The boarding ramp closed, and the Megaship blasted towards the sky.

 

The hovercrafts pulled to a halt by the cliff and radioed sky-support for back up.

 

***

 

The rangers all joined on the bridge as the Megaship left the planet’s atmosphere.

 

“I can’t believe that worked,” Justin said.

 

“Me either,” Tommy said as he moved to his station.

 

WingCommander_Topdown_shipsKat was monitoring military frequencies between the surface and space. “They’re sending fighters after us.”

 

“Polarize the hull plating,” Tommy said. “Bring the Megalasers online. Ashley, how’s our little escape package looking?”

 

“It should work,” she said. “The timing has to be just right, though.”

 

“A group of fighters is coming at our starboard side,” Chris said.

 

“Armaments?” Cy asked.

 

Justin reported from his station. “High-yield torpedoes, particle beam cannons, some of them have plasma weapons.”

 

“Alright,” Tommy said, “head out on our escape vector, full throttle.”

 

The Megaship blasted away from the planet as the fighters formed up and launched a barrage of torpedoes. The missiles that weren’t destroyed by the ship’s Megalasers crashed against the hull.

 

“We’re approaching the tractor field grid,” Chris reported. The grid surrounded the entire planet and made escape almost entirely impossible. Any ship trying to flee could be trapped before reaching enough distance for a hyperspace jump.

 

“Keep us steady,” Tommy said. “Brace for impact…”

 

The Megaship slammed to a complete stop as a trio of tractor beams latched onto the hull plating.

 

“Full barrage, all cannons,” Tommy ordered as each of the Megaship’s weapon platforms opened fire.

 

The Valician fighters opened fire with missile salvos designed to destroy the ship’s weapon platforms. One missile struck the aft engine, and the entire aft of the ship erupted into flames. A giant ball of fire consumed the Megaship. When the flames cleared, only a cloud of dust remained.

 

“The vessel has been destroyed,” the leader of the fighter wing reported back to its headquarters. “We are returning to base.”

 

***

 

The black hood was lifted from the pale-faced Drandorlian’s head as he looked around the dark strange room he had been dragged to. It appeared hive-like and pulsed with energy, making it almost appear alive.

 

The man, Zekar, didn’t remember anything past the flash grenade’s detonation in his shack. He assumed he’d been picked up by authorities. He was wrong.

 

scorpiusThe creature that had lifted his hood tossed him to the ground. The wall in front of him irised open, and a large scorpion creature crawled out.

 

“Do you know why I have brought you here, whelp?” the scorpion asked.

 

Zekar recognized the creature as Scorpios. The Drandorlian swallowed the lump in his throat as he shook his head.

 

“I control all in this sector of space. Every crime that occurs, from thievery to murder, does so only because I allow it,” Scorpios said. “Nothing is beneath my notice or control.”

 

Zekar nodded.

 

“When events transpire that go against my design, it is by no fault of my own, but by the inefficiencies of my underlings. Do you understand why you are here now, whelp?” Scorpios asked.

 

The man shook his head.

 

“The vessel that escaped your system recently. You were supplying them with illegal goods, and I want to know who they were,” Scorpios said.

 

Zekar shook his head. “That vessel was destroyed.”

 

“You are as incompetent as the government you oppose,” Scorpios said. “They are alive and well. What do you know about them?”

 

“Only that they are smugglers of considerable wealth and fortune,” Zekar said. “I believe a terrorist group of some kind was using them as the middle man to secure a supply of Triterium. They all appeared human.”

 

“Their records were of course falsified, so your information is useless,” Scorpios said. “Is there anything of worth you know of them? A destination they mentioned? Anything?”

 

Zekar shook his head, and Scorpios knew the Drandorlian was telling the truth. Scorpios had a low-level skill for telepathy that allowed him to sense such things.

 

“Unfortunate…Furio…”

 

mega-vi-nejihinelarAt Scorpios’s command, Furio unsheathed his sword and decapitated Zekar.

 

“We must work quickly, general,” Scorpios said. “I suspect Zordon’s elk are behind this.”

 

“Shall I contact her highness Astronema?” Furio asked.

 

Scorpios vocalized his version of a laugh. “No. That child is in over her head. I question the authority granted to her by Sauron.”

 

“Then why swear allegiance to him?” Furio asked.

 

“To openly oppose Sauron is to guarantee death,” Scorpios said.

 

***

 

“Good work, Ashley,” Tommy said on the bridge.

 

“Yeah,” Justin said. “That was crazy, but it sure worked.”

 

Ashley had rigged a mesh patched with explosives around the hull. It was the mesh the tractor beams had grabbed a hold of, so Ashley simply detonated the mesh and jumped to Hyperspace before the tractor beams could latch onto their hull.

 

“Where to now?” Kat asked.

 

“Anything interesting, Chris?” Tommy asked.

 

“I’ll check,” Chris said as he monitored data retrieved from the few probes they’d dropped so far. Ashley also reconfigured the ship’s computer to hack into several sensor networks throughout the galaxy.

 

“It looks like Sauron’s forces are setting up to take a system called Drilax,” Chris said.

 

“If Sauron takes the Drilax System, he’ll be able to push out of this region of space,” Cy said.

 

“Any sign of Zordon?” Tommy asked.

 

Chris shook his head.

 

Tommy sighed. “Let’s get to the Drilax System then. We’ll warn them of Sauron’s advance. Then we’ll push back into Sauron’s territory and gather whatever information we can about Zordon.”

 

Cy nodded. “I’ll pull up a list of locations where we can gather information.”

 

Tommy nodded. “Good.”

 

The Astro Megaship altered its course and headed for the Drilax System.

 

***

 

Astronema’s Dark Fortress swirled through the vacuum of space near the Golios Cluster. Ships of various sizes were amassing at the cluster to launch an assault against the Drilax System.

 

Astronema sat in her ready room and reviewed a report that Eclipter had handed to her on a data pad.

 

“So…Scorpios thinks he’ll be able to catch the Rangers and win Sauron’s favor over me?”

 

“He is a fool, empress,” Eclipter said. “He claims the Verachian Sector as his own.”

 

Astronema smiled. “Send a scout team to watch him. If the Rangers don’t kill him, have the team punish him for acting outside the will of Sauron.”

 

“And what of the Rangers?” Eclipter asked.

 

“Their time will soon come,” Astronema said.

 

***

 

Ashley hung upside down from the engine room ceiling as she worked on one of the conduits.

 

“How’s the view up there?” Justin asked as he walked in.

 

“Not bad,” Ashley said. “Just tweaking a few things.”

 

“What’s on your mind?” Justin asked.

 

“Same thing that’s been on my mind this whole trip,” Ashley said.

 

“You always try to act tough, but when it comes down to it, you’re such a girl,” Justin said with a grin.

 

“Don’t make me drop a hydro-spanner on your head,” Ashley said.

 

“They actually make those?” Justin asked. Ashley rolled her eyes.

 

“So what is it about Tommy that’s bugging you this time?” Justin asked.

 

“He has a secret,” Ashley said. “A big secret.”

 

Justin shrugged. “Well, yeah. That’s how he is. He’s a private guy.”

 

Ashley sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to accept that…or…”

 

Justin shook his head and held up his hands. “Oh, no. No way I’m helping you spy on Tommy.”

 

“Oh come on,” Ashley said. “It’ll be fun.”

 

“What, are we back in high school now?” Justin asked. “Need I remind you what happened freshman year with Bill Dexter.”

 

Ashley chuckled. “Did his hair ever grow back?”

 

“Because that’s what’s important,” Justin said.

 

“Oh come on,” Ashley said as she lowered herself to the deck. “You’re just as anxious to find out what he’s hiding as I am.”

 

“That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,” Justin said.

 

“Meet me in my quarters after your shift and we’ll make a plan,” Ashley said.

 

“I have no choice, huh?” Justin said.

 

“Nope,” she said as she started walking out of the engine room. “See ya later.”

  

***

 

kilrathiScorpios’s ship moved through space with fluidity that only a living bio-ship possessed. Deep inside the vessel, three creatures with lion-like features stood in front of Scorpios. They wore armor tinted with dark green and small breath masks, which were connected to tanks worn on their belts. The atmosphere of their homeworld contained a unique spore required for their survival, and the tanks produced those spores.

 

“The Kilrathi Imperium has sworn allegiance to Sauron’s forces,” the lead Kilrathi said.

 

“As have I,” Scorpios said. “The act I am proposing does not go against the dark monarch, but advances his cause.”

 

“We do not trust your motive,” the lead Kilrathi, Garood said.

 

“The mages of Kilwan are second only to those of Eltar,” Scorpios said. “You are in a position to launch a crippling blow against them. Sauron will of course applaud your initiative.”

 

“What is in it for you?” Garood asked.

 

“I would assist your efforts, gaining favor with Sauron as well,” Scorpios said.

 

“What’s to stop us from attacking Kilwan on our own?” Garood asked.

 

“Failure,” Scorpios said. “Your military forces are exceptional but not enough to fight a force of magick. That will require unconventional means. Means I can supply you with.”

 

“My people prefer not to associate with those who use Kriveshi in their battles,” Garood said. Kriveshi was the Kilrathi word for monsters and grunts. “They are without honor.”

 

“You forget the honor you would win if you conquer Kilwan,” Scorpios said. “The Kilrathi Imperium would become the backbone of Sauron’s military force.”

 

The Kilrathi looked down for a moment as he thought. Then his gaze drifted back towards Scorpios. “I will discuss your proposal with my superiors.”

 

“Very well,” Scorpios said.

 

***

 

Tommy sighed as he paced back and forth across the bridge alone.

 

“Scanning complete,” DECA reported. “Results negative.”

 

Tommy sighed and shook his head as he walked to the port sensor station. “Reset scanning specifications for grid 219. Begin sensor sweep.”

 

He walked to the forward station and sat down as he pulled out his locket and activated it. “I know you’re out there somewhere…” he said quietly to himself.

 

***

 

Once the Kilrathi left Scorpios’s ship, Furio took a moment to speak to his master.

 

“Why are we allying ourselves with the Kilrathi?” Furio asked. “They’re the stench of the quadrant.”

 

“This way we kill two birds with one stone,” Scorpios said. “Kilwan will fall, and we will gain stature in Sauron’s eyes. The Kilrathi will be dealt a crushing blow my the planet’s defense, however. Once the Kilrathi Imperium is weakened, I will move into their territory, and it will become mine.”

 

“What of our forces aiding the Kilrathi?” Furio asked.

 

“They will draw out and crush Zordon’s Rangers,” Scorpios said. “It will take an attack on a key location like Kilwan to draw them out.”

 

“I will ready our troops,” Furio said.

 

“Very well,” Scorpios said.

 

***

 

“No way,” Justin said to Chris as they walked through the Megaship’s corridor, the lines of stars zooming by visible from the view ports. “Your torpedo went in after mine. You have it backwards.”

 

Chris shrugged. “Whatever.”

 

“Oh come on,” Justin said. “We’ll re-examine the simudeck logs. My shot destroyed the Death Star, not yours.”

 

“Ok,” Chris said with a smile. “You know I don’t like to argue.”

 

“And you know that drives me crazy.”

 

Chris shrugged as they both stood in front of Ashley’s quarters and pressed the door chime. The doors slid open, and they walked in to see Ashley sitting on her bed and Kat sitting at the room’s sole table.

 

“Sorry we’re late,” Justin said.

 

“More simudeck maintenance?” Kat asked with a smile.

 

“Hey, there are only so many ways of relieving stress, Kat,” Justin said.

 

“Well, what did you find out?” Ashley asked.

 

Chris sighed. “Did we mention we’re against this.”

 

“Sure did,” Ashley said.

 

“Well,” Chris said. “Justin had me access sensor data, from the sweeps we’re using to try and find Zordon. Some new information was added after our trip to KO-35.”

 

“What information?” Ashley asked.

 

Chris handed Ashley a data pad. She looked at it as her eyes opened wide. She passed the pad to Kat. Kat’s reaction was similar.

 

“That’s what we said,” Justin said as he took a seat at the table with Kat.

 

“So now what?” Chris asked. “We should tell him we know.”

 

“You’ve seen Tommy when he gets mad, right?” Justin asked.

 

Alarms began blaring as the stars outside the viewport returned to normal.

 

“Let’s get to the bridge,” Ashley said as they ran out of her quarters.

 

***

 

New Bitmap ImageGandor walked through the halls of his stone tower in the capital city of Kilwan. The Magister had retreated to Kilwan after the fall of Eltar. Only few of his fellow mages made it to safety.

 

He stepped out onto a balcony and pointed his head up to the sky while closing his eyes. He tightened his grip on his staff as he sensed trouble approaching.

 

Just beyond Kilwan’s moon, the Kilrathi fleet arrived. Thirty warships armed to the teeth along with a few wings of fighters. Accompanying the fleet was a group of creatures Gandor had never seen before, but he had of course heard of them. They were called Sting Wingers, the grunts of Scorpios’s army.

 

“War makes strange bedfellows,” Gandor said.

 

***

 

Garood sat on his ship‘s bridge, its lighting casting a deep-green hue over everything.

 

“Prepare a laser bombardment of their capital city. Then send down the first wave of troop transports and their fighter escorts,” Garood commanded.

 

The warships opened fire as their energy blasts lanced through the planet’s atmosphere. Where the lasers should have pulverized the towers and city walls, they simply crashed against invisible force fields. Magisters and Adepts stood on top of several towers with their staffs extended outward, casting protection spells over the city.

 

Garood wrinkled his brow. “Send in the first fighter wave.”

 

***

 

The Rangers gathered on the bridge as they looked through the viewscreen to see the Kilrathi fleet advance towards Kilwan.

 

“Where are we?” Kat asked as they manned their stations.

 

“Kilwan,” Tommy said. “They’re under attack.”

 

“Looks that way,” Justin said. “Who are the bad guys?”

 

“The Kilrathi,” Tommy said.

 

“They have a small empire in this quadrant, near the Verachian Sector,” Cy said.

 

“So how are we going to stop 30 ships?” Justin asked. “They’re armed to the teeth.”

 

“Kilwan’s mages are holding off orbital bombardments with magick, so the ground battle will be key,” Tommy said. “We’ll cut our way through the ships, land, and morph to help fight against the ground troops.”

 

Cy shook his head. “This doesn’t make any sense…”

 

“What?” Tommy asked.

 

“Those insect soldiers flying down with the troop transports aren’t Kilrathi. They’re Sting Wingers. The whole race is bred by a being called Scorpios,” Cy said. “They’ve never had an alliance before.”

 

“Well they do now,” Tommy said. “Cy, use DECA to help plot the best way through those Kilrathi ships. I’m taking the Rangers and switching the ship to Megazord mode.”

 

Cy nodded.

 

“Let’s take care of business, guys,” Tommy said as they left the bridge.

 

New Bitmap Image (2)***

 

The five teens entered the shuttle cockpit.

 

“Alright,” Tommy said as he grasped his controls. “Astro Megazord, online!”

 

“Astro Megazord, Galaxy Mega!” The ship transformed into the Galaxy Mega and fired its back thrusters. The Galaxy Mega held its shield forward as it zoomed towards the rear of the enemy fleet.

 

“I’m sending you a flight plan,” Cy said over the cockpit’s comm line.

 

“Thanks,” Tommy said. “Ashley, split auxiliary and emergency power between thrusters and hull plating. Bring the Mega Accelerator up to full power.”

 

“On it,” she said as she nodded.

 

“Download, Astro Megazord Saber,” Tommy said as the saber appeared in the Megazord’s hand.

 

“Head vulcans ready to fire,” Justin said.

 

The Megazord zoomed closer to the fleet.

 

“I don’t suppose you two guys did anything like this on the simudeck?” Tommy asked to break the tension, something he did rarely.

 

Justin smiled. “Everything but this.”

 

A control beeped on Justin’s monitor. “They’re in firing range.”

 

“Head vulcans, fire,” Tommy said.

 

A rapid-fire pulse cannon was attached to each side of the Astro Megazord’s head. The two cannons opened fire with darts of yellow energy that knocked out the engines on one of the Kilrathi ships. Justin switched his aim and knocked out the engines on two more ships before the Megazord was close enough to attack in a different manner.

 

“Energize Saber!” Tommy shouted. The saber energized, and the Galaxy Mega flew between two Kilrathi ships while slicing through their hulls.

 

The Rangers brought the Megazord through evasive maneuvers as it dodged counter fire from the Kilrathi ships.

 

“Fire head vulcans at will,” Tommy said as the counter fire intensified. “Download, Astro Megazord Beam Cannon!”

 

A rifle cannon appeared in the Megazord’s hand and fired a sweeping energy beam that tore through three ships, causing them to explode.

 

“Fighters heading our way,” Chris said.

 

The Megazord turned its back towards the planet as it flew in full reverse so it could face the oncoming fighters. The Megazord aimed its rifle and fired, incinerating the enemy squadron.

 

“Get us back on an entry angle,” Tommy said. “Get ready to enter the atmosphere.”

 

***

 

Astronema smiled as her scout team relayed data about the battle over Kilwan. Eclipter stood behind her as always.

 

“This will be a victory for us no matter what the outcome, Eclipter,” Astronema said.

 

“Scorpios has yet to enter the fray,” Eclipter said.

 

“He’ll wait until there’s the smallest possible threat to himself,” Astronema said. “He is a coward.”

 

“I agree,” Eclipter said.

 

“What news do you have on our plans for the Drilax System?” she asked her general.

 

“The last of the ships have arrived, princess,” Eclipter said.

 

“Hm,” she sad. “Pity we won’t need a single one of them. Are the spores ready?”

 

“They have only to be loaded into their carrier,” Eclipter said.

 

“Excellent,” she said. “If this works, we’ll be able to liberate the entire galaxy in a matter of days without lifting a finger.”

 

***

 

Gandor walked along an outside plaza as he heard the sounds of fighting in the distance. He held his staff ready as the first group of Sting Wingers approached him from two corners.

 

“And so they come,” Gandor said as the Sting Wingers gained speed and Furio marched among them.

 

Furio pointed his sword at the Magister. “Your mages are good, but not good enough.”

 

“Leave him alone!” someone shouted from a walkway above the plaza. Gandor turned and smiled as he recognized Tommy, standing with his team.

 

“Who might you be?” Furio asked.

 

“We’ll show you,” Tommy said as they readied their digitizers.

 

“Install, Astro Ranger!” they morphed into their armor and assumed fighting stances.

 

“Astro Red!”

 

“Astro Black!”

 

“Astro Blue!”

 

“Astro Yellow!”

 

“Astro Pink!”

 

“Digital Task Force, Astro Rangers!”

 

Furio pointed his sword at the Rangers. “Sting Wingers, attack!”

 

“Let’s take care of business,” Astro Red said as the five Rangers jumped to the plaza below.

 

“Kat, Ashley, get Gandor to safety,” Astro Red said.

 

“Right,” Astro Yellow said as she and Astro Pink started to guide Gandor away from the Sting Wingers.

 

Astro Red flying sidekicked a Sting Winger in the chest. Then he turned to his left and used his Drill Saber to cut down a soldier across the chest. He brought his saber back towards his right with a fluid motion that sliced a Sting Winger’s neck with a burst of spark.

 

Astro Black used the left end of his Astro Staff to slam a soldier in the gut. Then he pivoted and chopped the right end of his staff against the Sting Winger’s back.

 

Astro Blue jump kicked a Sting Winger and struck it down with his Astro Tomahawk.

 

“You three do have some talent,” Furio said as the three Astro Rangers cut through the last of the Sting Wingers and ran towards the general.

 

“We’re just getting started,” Astro Red said.

 

Astro Red leapt through the air and chopped his blade towards Furio’s head. The villain high blocked the blow with his sword, but Astro Red twirled around and struck horizontally, slicing his Drill Saber across Furio’s chest with a burst of spark.

 

Astro Black leapt off of Astro Red’s shoulders. “Rod Break!” he shouted as his staff energized and slashed across Furio, knocking the villain several steps backward.

 

“Tomahawk Hurricane!” Astro Blue shouted as he started to spin like a tornado and zoomed towards Furio while striking him several times. The force of the blows hurled Furio off his feet.

 

The villain rose to his knees and fired crimson eye blasts that exploded around the three Rangers.

 

“You’ll pay for that,” the villain said as he rose to his feet.

 

Before he could strike again, Astro Yellow leapt forward and flying axe kicked him against the collar bone. She followed with a combination of kicks that forced him backwards.

 

“You’re the one who’s going to pay,” Astro Yellow said. “Astro Sling!”

 

The Ranger’s Astro Sling fired darts of yellow energy that exploded against Furio with bursts of spark. Astro Pink then leapt down towards him, knife handed him across the neck, and outer crescent kicked him.

 

Furio rolled across the ground.

 

“Drill Sniper Custom.” Astro Red combined his Drill Saber with his Astro Sniper and a booster module. Ashley had added the booster module component after repairing the Drill Saber from damage done by Eclipter, who had snapped the drill blade in half.

 

“Quadroblaster,” Astro Blue said as the other four Rangers combined their weapons.

 

“Fire!” their combined blasts tore through Furio and caused him to explode.

 

***

 

Gandor led the Rangers back into his chambers and used a holo-map to show them the battle’s progression.

 

War mages were rounding up the remaining Sting Wingers and making short work of them. Without Furio, their efforts were chaotic and easy to control. Kilrathi ground troops had regrouped and launched a frontal assault against the main city walls, but the mages easily dealt with the felines.

 

The fighters and battle ships took more creativity to deal with. While protection spells formed an invisible barrier around the city, the mages were left with few options to use when launching a counter attack against the craft. Most mages combined their efforts and used boulders or chunks of rock from the city and telekinetically slammed them through fighters.

 

The enemy attack that troubled Gandor the most was an electric barrage coming from space. The barrage was capable of blasting through protection spells and striking down mages and city structures. The source of the blasts was hidden.

 

The Rangers saw through the chamber’s window as one of the blue bolts of electricity struck a tower in the distance.

 

“Let’s find out where those blasts are coming from,” Astro Red said.

 

The Rangers leapt through the large window as they called for their “Cyber Sliders!” and blasted off towards space.

 

***

 

The five Rangers flew through space in high orbit above Kilwan. An electric bolt blasted against their armor, but they managed to stay steady on their sliders.

 

“Chris, picking up anything?” Astro Red asked.

 

He shook his head. “Not a thing.”

 

“Kat,” Astro Yellow said. “Try using your Astro Capture and helmet icon like a sonar.”

 

“Right,” Astro Pink said. “Astro Capture!”

 

Astro Pink swept rings of pink energy across space until it struck something. Energy and small explosions blasted around the source of the energy beams, a bee-type monster.

 

“Hit him,” Astro Red said. “Drill Sniper!”

 

“Capture Sniper!”

 

“Sling Sniper!”

 

“Rod Sniper!”

 

“Tomahawk Sniper!”

 

Their combined attacks speared against the monster. The creature succumbed to the planet’s gravity in his weakened state and was pulled back towards Kilwan’s surface.

 

“Follow him,” Astro Red said as the Rangers leaned forward on their sliders and blasted back towards Kilwan.

 

***

 

mega-nb-beenejiraThe bee-type monster landed in a wooded area as the Rangers leapt off their Cyber Sliders and ran towards him.

 

The monster extended his left arm, which was a stump with a spear sticking forth from the center. Dozens of robotic bees blasted from the creature’s appendage and swarmed around the Rangers, striking against their armor.

 

“Astro Sniper!” Astro Yellow shouted as she blasted the appendage. Explosions sparked against the villain’s arm as the bees fell to the ground.

 

“Download weapons,” Astro Red said as the Rangers regrouped.

 

“Astro Capture!” Astro Pink shouted as she leapt towards the monster and fired.

 

“Astro Tomahawk!” Astro Blue shouted as he spun through the air and struck the creature.

 

“Astro Sling!” Astro Yellow shouted as lances of energy struck the monster.

 

“Drill Saber!” Astro Red shouted as he leapt forward and jabbed the creature using his blade like a spear.

 

“Astro Rod!” Astro Black shouted as his weapon slammed the monster back.

 

The creature pulled out a small metal cylinder. The cylinder contained a liquid, developed by the space pirates Balban, that expanded body mass but shortened the life span. The monster drank the liquid and grew giant. It fired yellow eye blasts towards Kilwan’s capital city.

 

“Astro Megazord, online!” Astro Red shouted as the Megazord jetted towards their location.

 

“Astro Megazord, Galaxy Mega!” the Rangers shouted as they joined in the cockpit.

 

The monster swung its appendage weapon down towards the Megazord’s head, but the Rangers activated their shield to block the blow, then drove the Astro Megazord Saber through the creature’s chest. Galaxy Mega used the saber to lift the creature and toss it backward.

 

The monster rose to its feet and fired yellow blasts from its antenna. The Galaxy Mega used its shield to block the blow, then activated its beam cannon and fired, blasting the creature through the left side of its chest. The creature flashed with yellow energy before exploding.

 

***

 

The teens were joined by Cy at the city plaza following the battle. The few remaining Kilrathi ships had withdrawn, and the remainder of Scorpios’s troops had been rounded up and defeated.

 

Gandor walked towards the rangers. “I cannot thank you enough for your help.”

 

“It was no problem,” Tommy said.

 

“Please, feel welcome to stay. We’ve prepared a banquet in your honor,” Gandor said.

 

“We appreciate it, but we really have to get going,” Tommy said.

 

“Actually,” Cy cut in, “it would be nice if I could have a few hours to finish repairs on the ship. We’ll need to be in top shape once we reach the Drilax System.”

 

Tommy sighed. “Well in that case…we’d be glad to say.”

 

“Excellent,” Gandor said as he patted Tommy on the back.

 

***

 

The rangers were each given a temporary room to prepare for the banquet. Servants brought them a wide assortments of gowns to try on for the small celebration, as well as a small tub and scrub brush to clean up their faces and hands.

 

Ashley was looking through her closet at the wide variety of dresses. “I never did like dressing up.”

 

Someone knocked on her door, and she instructed them to come in, expecting it to be one of her teammates. She was pleasantly surprised. The young mage that walked in had short, neatly-combed blonde hair that glistened in the sunlight. His blue eyes sparkled as a diamond or jewel would, and their color was brought out by the garments he wore. He had a white-shirt that highlighted the features of his muscles perfectly. Over the shirt, he wore two blue sashes in an ‘x’ pattern, each sash was outlined with gold. Similar sashes were around the mage’s forearm, and he had small shoulder pads with the same decoration. The front of his shirt had two tails trimmed in gold that extended downward, underneath his black belt. His pants were jet black with gold lines running down their sides.

 

“Greetings,” he said.

 

“H-hi,” she said as she shook her head to return to her senses. “Can I help you?”

 

“My name is Kerice,” the mage said. Ashley found the soft tone of his voice soothing, but at the same time, she sensed power and strength in his words. “I came to thank you for help. Your prowess in battle matches your beauty.”

 

Ashley blushed, something that rarely happened. “Thank you.”

 

“There is time before the banquet,” Kerice said. “I would be honored if I could show you around our city.”

 

Ashley smiled.

 

***

 

“Carance?” Tommy asked.

 

“Kerice,” Justin said again. He and Chris were in Tommy’s room, and Justin had made the mistake of mentioning Ashley’s whereabouts. “Keh-reese. It’s Eltarian apparently.”

 

Tommy shook his head. “Why is she…how can she…” He shook his head again and rummaged through his closet. “What else did Kat say about this guy? And why is Ashley wasting her time with him? We’re leaving in a few hours. We have a galaxy to save, remember?”

 

Justin held up his hands. “Calm down, man. They just went for a walk. If I would have known you’d get this upset I wouldn’t have said anything.”

 

“Are you jealous?” Chris asked.

 

“I just…” Tommy shook his head. “I just don’t see the point, that’s all.”

 

Justin and Chris decided it best to drop the subject.

 

***

 

Ashley walked through an elaborate garden with Kerice at her side. She felt uncomfortable walking in her dress at first but had gotten used to it.

 

“Beautiful isn’t it?” Kerice said.

 

Ashley nodded. “It is.”

 

Kerice extended his hand and telekinetically plucked a rose from the garden. He lightly clutched the rose from the air and handed it to Ashley. “A rose for a rose.”

 

She blushed yet again as she felt the soft petals of the rose.

 

“Thanks,” she said. “No ones ever…I mean…thanks.”

 

“Surely you’ve been given a flower before,” Kerice said.

 

Ashley shook her head. “I’ve always been something of a tom boy.”

 

Kerice raised an eyebrow. “My translation spell didn’t pick that up.”

 

“It means I’ve always been into martial arts, mechanics, science…I’ve never really been given flowers before or worn a dress except to my older sister’s wedding,” Ashley said.

 

“It seems to suit you though,” Kerice said as he stepped closer to her and ran his fingers through her hair. She reached up and touched his hand as she closed her eyes. He leaned forward and kissed her.

 

***

 

The atrium was set up with rows of tables and chairs and a large platform where Gandor spoke. He introduced the rangers to the crowd and awarded them each with a medal made of crystal as clear as glass. Inside each crystal were beams of multi-colored light that danced around from edge to edge, forming various patterns said to symbolize bravery.

 

The rangers sat together at a table, and Kerice had joined them. Tommy had remained silent as the other rangers laughed at the mage’s tales of adventure from his schooling.

 

“What of you, Dragon Ranger?” Kerice asked. “I’m anxious to hear some of your tales.”

 

“I don’t have any,” Tommy said.

 

“Oh come on, Tommy,” Ashley said. “You never talk about the old days.”

 

“Yes,” Kerice said. “What adventures and excitement have you experienced?”

 

Tommy wrinkled his brow.

 

“Uh oh,” Chris said quietly.

 

“Should not have said that,” Justin said quietly.

 

“Adventures and excitement?” Tommy asked. “Your homeworld has been invaded by some lunatic from eons ago, and you think this stupid war between good and evil is exciting? There’s nothing exciting about it, Candace.”

 

“Kerice,” he said.

 

“I don’t care,” Tommy said. “Now if you’ll excuse me…”

 

***

 

Tommy walked down a small bridge outside of the Atrium as Gandor approached him. “Hello, Tommy. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

 

“No,” Tommy said as he shook his head.

 

“I just wanted to thank you again. Zordon would be proud of how you’ve grown, I think,” Gandor said.

 

Tommy nodded. “Were you there when it happened? The attack on Eltar?”

 

Gandor nodded. “It was quick and merciless. Many of my charges did not survive.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Tommy said. “Did Raisik…”

 

“Oh, he survived,” Gandor said. “He left the school shortly after your visit. He was determined to find ways of making himself more powerful. The fool.”

 

Tommy shook his head. “I never should have dueled with him.”

 

“You did nothing wrong, Tommy,” Gandor said as he pulled out a small book from his robe. “Now, the real reason I came to speak to you. I want you to have this.”

 

Gandor extended the book, and Tommy took it. “What is it?”

 

“A book of spells,” Gandor said. “Your ship’s computer can translate it for you, and there’s nothing dangerous contained in the pages. This book will allow you to better understand The Power and how it works. How it fuels the magick and life itself.”

 

“Thank you very much,” Tommy said as he opened the book. He had always been curious as to how The Power worked, and Billy’s explanations and approaches had always been too scientific for his liking.

 

“Now, I must be going,” Gandor said. “Good luck to you Tommy.”

 

“We’ll need it,” Tommy said as he walked back towards the atrium.

 

***

 

The Megaship blasted through hyperspace at maximum hyper-rush velocity on its way to the Drilax system. The rangers were turning in for the night, resting before they arrived at the system the next day.

 

The door chimed to Ashley’s quarters. “Come in,” she said as she looked over reports of the ship’s systems while sitting at her desk.

 

Tommy walked into her room, and from the look on his face, he wasn’t happy. “So I just found out what you did. Spying on me?”

 

“I was going to talk to you about that on Kilwan,” Ashley said.

 

“I guess you got a little distracted,” Tommy said.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Tommy shook his head. “Nothing. I just wish you’d respect my privacy, that’s all.”

 

“And I wish you’d just learn to open up a bit,” Ashley said. “After all we’ve been through, you’re still almost as cold as the day we met you.”

 

“That’s not true,” Tommy said. “Just because I don’t sit around talking about the ‘glory days’ like your little pet magician back there doesn’t mean-”

 

“Whoa, whoa,” Ashley said. “My pet magician?”

 

“Clarance,” he said.

 

“Kerice.”

 

“Clarance, Kerice, Frank, I don’t care,” Tommy said.

 

“What does he have to do with this?” Ashley asked.

 

“Nothing,” Tommy said. “It’s just…” he shook his head. “Nothing.”

 

“That’s right, just hold it all in like always,” she said.

 

“Fine,” Tommy said. “Why did you let him hang all over you like that? Kat said you kissed him? Kissed him?”

 

“Gossip? Are we five now?”

 

“That’s less immature than spying how?”

 

“Argh,” Ashley said. “So I kissed him. What’s the big deal?”

 

“I don’t like him.”

 

“You don’t have to kiss him, then, do ya?” Ashley said. “He treated me like no one’s ever treated me before. I liked it. So I kissed him. Get over it.”

 

Tommy shook his head. “Fine,” he said quietly. “I’m over it.” He turned and left her quarters. Ashley turned and looked at the bear Tommy had given her at the start of their journey. She picked up the bear and tossed it against the wall.

 

To be continued…Chapter 06