Rangers in Space: Chapter Seven

Enter Darkonda

 

“Alien cultures are difficult to understand, and can sometimes seem immoral. What we must realize is that some of our customs seem just as wrong and unjust to them.”

 

-- Dr. T.W. Drakes, 2103

“Exploring Xenocultures:

The Path to Understanding”

 

The weeks following the Astro Ranger’s battle at Titan were filled with conflict. The ship had followed a lead on Zordon to a volcanic world in the inner galactic rim known as Aloc Four. The lead turned out to be false, and the Rangers had been forced to battle past an army of Magma creatures to escape.

 

Following their visit to Aloc Four, The Megaship was ambushed by a squad of  criminals known as the Red Star. The Red Star employed mercenaries and bounty hunters to attack the Rangers, but their Megazord managed to fight of the assailants.

 

After making three more probe drops, the Megaship answered a distress call from a crashed cargo vessel. The Rangers engaged Astronema’s Craterites and Quantrons before they could reach the crash site, then they had to defeat one of her genetic creations, this one having a mushroom motif Justin couldn’t shy away from making fun of.

 

The Rangers also took the offensive from time to time. They managed to intercept and destroy several patrol ships and supply convoys, and took out a few of Sauron’s smaller outposts.

 

Due to their extensive battles, Justin and the others talked Tommy into allowing a brief shore leave. They all suspected that Ashley alone was the one who managed to convince him.

 

Cy directed them to a small planet called Setiacu. Cy assured the teens that Setiacu was of no strategic or political importance and far removed from galactic happenings.

 

They agreed to spend only a day, and not even an entire day. They’d also use the time to make repairs, gather supplies, and rethink strategies.

 

The rangers and Cy all manned their bridge stations as they traveled towards Setiacu.

 

“Do they have pools and stuff?” Justin asked.

 

“Something like that,” Cy said.

 

“It’s not like any of us packed our trunks,” Tommy said.

 

“If we can make food in the synthatron, surely we can make clothes,” Chris said.

 

“Sure, if you want a swim suit made out of lettuce,” Ashley said.

 

“That might be nice,” Justin said.

 

“Oh please don’t,” Kat said as she laughed.

 

A small light beeped on Chris’ console. “I’m picking up something ahead of us on long range sensors. I’m having trouble getting a description…”

 

“Are we in visual range?” Tommy asked.

 

“Yes,” Chris answered.

 

“On screen,” Tommy said as Chris pulled up the image. It appeared to be a cloud made up of small metallic objects.

 

“Ashley, boost power to the sensors,” Tommy said.

 

“Sensors at 110 percent efficiency,” she said.

 

“They’re ships,” Chris said. “Thousands of small ships, no more than a few meters long.”

 

“Hail them,” Tommy said.

 

“I’m not getting a response,” Kat said.

 

“We should go to tactical alert, just to be safe,” Cy said.

 

Tommy shook his head. “I don’t want us to appear aggressive and risk drawing on an attack. What’s the tactical analysis of those ships?”

 

“It’s strange,” Justin said. “They each have power, but no individual power source. It’s like they’re all connected somehow. No weapons we can identify, but they do have some rather odd transceivers.”

 

“Odd how?” Tommy asked.

 

Ashley took a closer look on her monitor. “It’s not something I recognize. I’m not sure what it does.”

 

“Bring us out hyperspace. We’ll drop a probe to monitor them and then be on our way,” Tommy said.

 

Lights started flickering around the bridge as the ship shuddered and was pulled out of hyperspace.

 

“Report,” Tommy said.

 

“That swarm of ships has us caught in some kind of energy web,” Justin said. “I’m guessing that’s what those transceivers were for.”

 

“We’re losing power,” Ashley said. “That web is interfering with all our systems.”

 

The rangers looked ahead to see a large group of ships jet towards them.

 

“Polarize the hull plating,” Tommy said. “Bring the Megalasers online.”

 

“We can’t,” Ashley said.

 

Tommy watched one of the ships fly out of viewscreen range, and heard a clank as the ship connected to the Megaship’s hull. The other small ships seemed to keep their distance.

 

A quick flash of pink light appeared that formed into a soldier with an insect/reptilian-type face, whose body was covered in a bulky, leathery armor. The creature pulled out a weapon, but Cy was quick to draw both his side arms and blast the creature down.

 

A flash of light appeared to the right side of Tommy, and he side kicked the intruder in the gut, following with a backfist as two more intruders entered the bridge.

 

“Morph!” Tommy shouted as the five Rangers transformed into their armor. They batted away intruders left and right as Cy blasted the creatures with his two side arms.

 

“What are these things?” Astro Red asked.

 

“No clue,” Cy said as he fired two more shots. “Maybe new bio weapons for Sauron.”

 

“Intruders have entered engineering,” DECA reported.

 

“Chris, Ashley, go,” Astro Red said as they ran to the turbolift. “Keep your comm lines open.”

 

Astro Black and Astro Yellow ran to the turbolift.

 

***

 

The three insectoid invaders in the engine room were tampering with the Mega Accelerator when lances of cyan energy pierced them, and they collapsed to the ground. Mega Black and Mega Yellow ran into the room with their Astro Snipers aimed forward.

 

“There were only three of them,” Astro Yellow said over her helmet’s communicator.

 

“Wish we could say the same up here,” Astro Red said. “See what you can do.”

 

“Right,” Astro Yellow said as she walked over to a terminal on the side wall in engineering. She removed the plating from the wall and began fiddling with wires.

 

“What’s the plan?” Astro Black asked.

 

“Those small ships out there are linked, right?” she said.

 

Astro Black nodded. “Yeah.”

 

“Well,” she explained, “I’m betting if we fry the systems on the ship attached to our hull, we’ll take out the whole swarm.”

 

“Worth a shot,” Astro Black said. “How exactly?”

 

“By overloading the hull plating,” she said.

 

“That doesn’t sound so…” Astro Black was cut off as three more soldiers appeared. He blasted one in front of him and backfisted one that snuck up to his side. “I’ll cover you.”

 

***

 

Astro Red used his Drill Saber to stab through a creature’s chest, and after he pulled out his sword, he spin kicked the soldier across the face.

 

“Tommy,” Astro Yellow said. “It’s about to get bumpy.”

 

“What do you…” before Astro Red could ask, the deck started to shake violently.

 

Blue sparks and electric flashes danced across the hull as Astro Yellow overloaded the plating’s defensive fields. The energy pulse generated by the overload slammed into the alien ship attached to their hull and overloaded its systems. The resulting feedback was enough to disable every ship in the swarm.

 

The deck stopped shaking as Tommy powered down his armor. “Whatever she did worked,” he said as he examined the ship’s systems. “Let’s get out of here.”

 

“Agreed,” Cy said as he grabbed the throttle control and pushed the ship to hyper-rush velocity.

 

***

 

Astronema was standing at her command post as Eclipter approached her side.

 

“The swarm has failed,” he reported.

 

“I knew they would,” Astronema said. “Nothing but a wasted experiment.”

 

The swarm had actually been a race of insectoid-like humanoids that traversed the galaxy, mostly keeping to themselves and operating under a hive mind. Sauron had bent that hive mind to his will.

 

 “Are the Rangers still on route to Setiacu?” she asked her prized warrior.

 

“Yes, princess,” Eclipter said.

 

“Excellent,” she said as a twisted grin spread across her face. “Send our new infiltration prototypes to Setiacu at once.”

 

***

 

The Astro Megaship approached Setiacu at impulse speed as the rangers manned their stations. The ship’s hull plating had been severely damaged, but all other systems were operating normally, and Cy was confident he could repair the plating with Ashley’s help.

 

The rangers watched the viewscreen as the gold-white-and-blue world twirled in the distance, surrounded by sleek space stations. Each station was highly ornate with symbols and carvings from more than 1,000 cultures.

 

The Megaship wore its latest holo disguise, the Titan’s Hammer, as it moved in towards the control station.

 

“Open a channel,” Tommy said.

 

“Channel open. Audio only,” Kat said.

 

“This is the Titan’s Hammer, requesting permission to dock,” Tommy said.

 

What they heard over the comm line shocked them. They expected to hear greetings and landing instructions, but heard only screams, explosions, and a single mad voice laughing.

 

“Quite a party down here,” the screechy voice said. “You should come join.”

 

“Where is that coming from?” Tommy asked.

 

“Looks like the main city,” Kat said.

 

“They’re under attack,” Chris said. “Some kind of fortress and Craterites. Lots of them.”

 

“Let’s go,” Tommy said as they all ran from the bridge.

 

***

 

A dark, circular fortress hovered over the pleasure planet’s capital city, blotting out the sun as hundreds of Craterites leapt to the surface. Fires tore through the streets as people everywhere ran in panic.

 

The fortress opened an iris port on its ventral side and reigned destruction upon the city in the form of blinding energy blasts.

 

The five Rangers raced to the city on their Cyber Sliders. This was the worst attack they’d seen yet, and they had trouble believing Astronema would launch such an assault. They had no doubt she was cold hearted enough, but Astronema always operated with precision and specific targets of importance in mind. The attack they witnessed was sloppy and relentless.

 

The Rangers leapt off of their Cyber Sliders and into the fray.

 

Astro Red flying sidekicked a soldier down near a pile of flaming debris and a row of half torn columns. He turned to his right and knocked a Craterite’s saber away before backfisting that soldier across the face. He snapped to his left and outer crescent kicked a soldier down, then skipped forward while jump kicking a soldier in the head.

 

The Rangers split up to attack their opponents, their year spent as Zeo Rangers had taught them everything they needed to know about how to work together to contain and eliminate a large enemy force.

 

Astro Red round kicked a soldier in the gut, then knife-hand chopped the Craterite in the back. He turned to his left and leapt towards a soldier. But as he set up to flying punch the Craterite, a blur of yellow energy swept the soldier away and replaced it with a small alien child. The switch happened too fast for Astro Red to avoid slamming his fist against the child’s face. The young boy screamed as he blacked out an fell to the ground.

 

“No!” Astro Red shouted as he leaned over and scooped the unconscious boy up in his arms. Bright red blood was across the child’s face. If the Red Ranger had not pulled his punch at the last second, the child would be dead.

 

The yellow flash bounced off of several columns before landing on top of what had once been an atrium. The other Rangers gathered around Astro Red, and the new villain laughed mockingly at them. “You really should try to watch your aim.”

 

“You’ll pay for this!” Astro Red shouted.

 

“Temper, temper,” the creature said.

 

“Who are you?” Astro Pink shouted.

 

“I am Darkonda,” he said as he bowed mockingly. “A pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be going.”

 

Darkonda flashed away in a streak of yellow light.

 

***

 

Setiacu was run as a business, and like all businesses, it had a manager: Ketarin, of the Gumbwei race. Ketarin’s face was pale blue, and his bald head was covered with blocky stumps. He had invited the rangers to his office to thank them for their assistance.

 

The six rangers sat around a rectangular table in Ketarin’s office as he poured them glasses of a green tinted liquid to drink.

 

“If not for your assistance, the casualties would have been much worse,” he said as he took a seat at the head of the table.

 

“Have you heard anything from the boy?” Tommy asked, visibly concerned.

 

Ketarin nodded as he looked over a data pad off to his side. “I did manage to track him down. He’s undergoing Tensian Spore treatment. He should make a full recovery by tomorrow. I could arrange a meeting if you would like.”

 

“Please,” Tommy said as he nodded.

 

Ketarin took a deep breath and leaned back. “Now, I would like to repay you if I could…”

 

“That won’t be necessary,” Tommy said politely.

 

“Yeah,” Justin added. “We’re not in this for rewards or anything.”

 

“The reward I offer is simply knowledge,” Ketarin said. “As you can imagine, many people from many different worlds pass through my resort. People tend to talk.”

 

“What sort of information do you have?” Cy asked.

 

Ketarin’s face was beaming with pride. “A few days ago a group of Krysh paid a visit to my resort.”

 

“Krysh?” Chris asked as he raised an eyebrow.

 

Ketarin nodded. “They are a band of mercenaries for hire. They stayed here under fabricated identities with the intent of harassing my good-willed customers. We of course, had them under surveillance.”

 

“What’d you find out from them?” Ashley asked.

 

“They were traveling from the Valjoran System near the Unknown Regions,” Ketarin said. “After falling back from a hit-and-run mission of little consequence, they sought cover near the Argolos Nebula for repairs. The Nebula interferes with sensor data, so they knew they could hide there for as long as they needed.

 

“While in that sector of space, they discovered an uncharted planet. A jungle world that by all accounts seemed uninhabited to them…except for a large school of Piranthocs.

 

“Our translators didn’t pick up that last word,” Tommy said.

 

“Piranatrons,” Cy said. “They saw Piranatrons.”

 

Ketarin nodded. “Yes.”

 

“They’re all extinct except for the ones enslaved by Divatox,” Chris said. “That means…”

 

“Zordon,” Justin said.

 

“Do you have the coordinates for this nebula?” Tommy asked.

 

Ketarin’s face grew less positive. “Unfortunately no. But I know someone who does. I can give you his coordinates and he will lead you in the right direction.”

 

“Thank you,” Tommy said.

 

Ketarin nodded. “It is the least I can do for your assistance. You Rangers are a rare breed this day and age. I’d like to stay on your good side.”

 

***

 

Astronema was not happy. She wrinkled her brow as she watched a replay of the battle on Setiacu.

 

“Who dared to attack without my command?” Astronema asked. “I had my own plans for that world.”

 

“A little competition never hurt anyone,” a demonic voice said from the entrance of Astronema’s bridge. She turned to face Darkonda.

 

Eclipter had his sword drawn in less than a heartbeat. He swung at Darkonda, but the demonic creature swung his own sword to block the blow.

 

“Eclipter,” Darkonda said with a hissing laugh as he held the android’s sword at bay. “Is this any way to treat an old friend?”

 

“Eclipter,” Astronema said in a firm voice. “Who is this intruder?”

 

“I’m in the running for Sauron’s new right hand man,” Darkonda said, “our friendly neighborhood lord of darkness isn’t too happy with your lack of results.”

 

Astronema aimed her staff as Darkonda’s head. “I suggest you get off my fortress,” she said in an icy-cold tone. “I’ve never liked having company.”

 

Darkonda laughed. “Who thought after being raised by this block head you’d have a sense of humor. Very well, I’ll be going. But don’t be surprised if you bump into me again soon.”

 

Darkonda knocked Eclipter’s sword away and disappeared in a blur of energy.

 

***

 

It was the oddest hospital Tommy had ever seen. It appeared more like a zoo to him, with various animals and insects locked in cages, making noises as medical personnel fed them.

 

He walked down a circular hallway made up of white arches connected with a gray chained mesh. He eventually made his way into a large waiting room that was packed with the families of those wounded in the attack. He pulled out the data pad he was given and took a second glance at the pictures Ketarin gave him. The parents of the boy he had injured looked human enough. The only visible notices he saw were larger pupils and brown spots running from their temples and down the sides of their necks.

 

A white robed doctor, an Elanian, walked up behind Tommy and placed his hand on the ranger’s shoulder. “May I help you, young one? I am Doctor Krayra”

 

Tommy turned to face the doctor. He had  a scaly face and head with no noticeable nose or lips.

 

“Um, yes,” Tommy said as he consulted his pad. “I’m looking for the parents of a boy who was injured. His name is Icheb. He’s a Voran.”

 

The doctor sighed. “Yes, Icheb…I’m afraid his parents didn’t survive the attack.”

 

Tommy rolled his hands up into fists and took a deep breath to control his anger. “Can I see him?”

 

Krayra nodded. “This way.”

 

Tommy followed the doctor through the halls as he observed even stranger creatures locked in cages. “What are all these cages for? It looks like a zoo.”

 

The doctor cocked his head. “I am sorry, what is a zoo?

 

Tommy detested when translators failed. “It’s a place on my world where animals are held for display.”

 

“Intriguing,” Krayra said. “We use them all for medical purposes. Some of the best medicines and treatments were created by nature herself. Take, for example, Icheb’s treatment with the Tensian Spores. Those spores can be used to cure anything from the common aliment to reattaching severed limbs.”

 

“Where do the spores come from?” Tommy asked.

 

“Tensar,” he said. “Only Tensar. They are quite wealthy as a result.”

 

Tommy nodded. The doctor pointed towards a circular door. “This is Icheb’s room.”

 

“Does he know about his parents?” Tommy asked.

 

The doctor solemnly nodded. Tommy sighed as the door irised open, and he walked inside. Icheb was lying on a fanned out bed. His dark hair was a tossled mess. He looked to be around eight Earth years old.

 

“Hey, Icheb,” Tommy said as he walked inside.

 

The boy’s face lit up. “Are you the Ranger?”

 

Tommy nodded. “One of them,” he said as he tugged at his red undershirt. “I’m the red one.”

 

“It was an accident,” Icheb said. “Don’t feel guilty. I’m just glad you’re real”

 

“What do you mean?” Tommy asked.

 

“Teacher always said that those stories about Rangers were just stories, but I always hoped they weren’t,” Icheb said.

 

“How come?” Tommy asked as he took a seat near the bed and leaned forward, giving the child his attention.

 

The boy slightly waved his head back and forth, a gesture Tommy assumed was the equivalent of a shrug. “I just hoped. I really liked the stories. The stories said we had Rangers on Vora a long time ago.”

 

“What were they like?” Tommy asked.

 

Icheb smiled, his eyes bright as he told the tale. “They were Jakrai, outcasts cuz they couldn’t read minds like the rest of us. People back then were mean to the Jakrai, did bad things to them. Some of the Jakrai got real mad and started to hurt everyone else, cuz they didn’t wanna be hurt anymore. They tried to take over, and the bad gods helped them.

 

“The good gods like Korveil, he’s the god of fire, he’s my favorite, they picked five Jakrai and showed them love so they wouldn’t be mad anymore. Then each of the good gods gave one of the five Jakrai a power. They had a really big fight, and the good Jakrai beat the bad ones. That’s when people started being nice to all the Jakrai.

 

“That’s a cool story,” Tommy said as he grinned. “Are there still Jakrai on your world?”

 

He nodded. “My sister is one. My…” he stopped in mid-sentence as his face became sad. “My mom and dad didn’t like that at first but they loved her anyway.”

 

Tommy nodded. “They sound like good people.”

 

Icheb nodded.

 

“Ya know, what happened here…” Tommy shook his head. He had mentally prepared a speech to give Icheb, but nothing seemed appropriate at the moment.

 

“Why did it happen?” Icheb asked.

 

“Well, there are just some bad people out there. People that like to pick on those weaker than themselves,” Tommy said.

 

“Like bullies?” Icheb asked.

 

Tommy nodded. “Yeah, just like bullies. I’ve never liked bullies.”

 

“Me either,” Icheb said. “They’re like the bad people that picked on the Jakrai.

 

“Exactly,” Tommy said. “That’s why I’m a Ranger. I don’t like to see people get picked on or hurt because of bullies.”

 

Icheb and Tommy continued to talk, neither one of them noticed a blur of yellow light approach the building.

 

***

 

Cy and Ashley had returned to the Megaship to repair the hull plating and other damaged systems before heading out to the Valjoran System. Chris accompanied them to plot the fasted route using the coordinates they were given from Ketarin. The Black Astro Ranger was becoming quite good with sensor and scanning systems, and had expressed interest in astrological navigation. He found he had quite a knack for that as well.

 

While the three were top side and Tommy was visiting Icheb, Kat and Justin walked through an open market to gather supplies. It was the closet thing to a shopping district they had seen, only enhanced by a variety of holographic images.

 

Kat picked up a transparent ball of light that had a dozen points of light bouncing inside of it. As she shifted the sphere, the dots joined to create different landscape images.

 

She sighed. “We’ve seen all these wonderful things since we’ve been out here, but the circumstances…” she shook her head.

 

Justin nodded. “Maybe when this is all over we can take a pleasure cruise or something.”

 

Kat’s heart fluttered for a moment, then she realized that Justin meant ‘we’ as in all of them, not just the two of them. She smiled anyway.

 

“That would be nice,” she said.

 

The two rangers continued walking through the market plaza and noticed a crowd start to form behind them. The crowd seemed to keep their distance, some with looks of awe and others with fear.

 

“Fans?” Justin asked Kat as he pointed out the crowd to her.

 

“I don’t know,” she said.

 

One of the crowd members, a female that resembled a walking panther dressed in dark purple rubes, walked over to the two Rangers and knelt.

 

“Rangers…my world, Vashala, was taken by Sauron’s forces. I would ask you to please free the place of my birth so that my people can once again walk tall and proud,” the Vashalan said.

 

Other members of the crowd started walking up to the rangers as well. Some kneeled, others bowed or just offered gifts.

 

“Please watch over Sanak. My home it is,” a male covered in orange fur said.

 

“Glarkom has fallen under his shadow. Save us,” said a female, who was only a meter tall with bubbly eyes.

 

The two rangers were speechless as the crowd continued their pleas.

 

***

 

“DECA, display grid 6-3-B,” Chris said in the Megaship’s Astrometrix lab. The room was circular and covered with gray steel plating. A large holoprojector took up the majority of space in the center of the room as it emitted an image of the section of space Chris referred to.

 

He stood in front of the room’s sole control console, which was mounted on a small pedestal near the room’s entrance.

 

He sighed as he examined the large three-dimensional map. The fastest way to their contact in the Valjoran System was unfortunately the most dangerous. The quick route required them to take the Tershat Corridor. Even if they managed to pass Astronema’s patrol ships along the corridor, they would have to travel through a small gravimetric anomaly which, although harmless, would deny them hyperspace travel. Traveling at sub light velocities through the anomaly would open them up to assault from the pirate group within. To make matters worse, the area the anomaly spanned was covered with asteroids.

 

Once past the gravimetric anomaly, the Megaship would simply have to travel through several sectors of space known to harbor armies loyal to Sauron, move through an area dotted with plasma storms, and avoid the subspace tear on the edge of the Valjoran system.

 

He sighed as he ran through another set of calculations. The doors behind him swept open, and Ashley walked in. “We’re almost ready to go.”

 

“Great,” Chris said without looking up from his station.

 

“What’s wrong?” she asked as she stood behind him.

 

“This astronavigation stuff is a lot harder than I thought,” he said. “There need to be…I don’t know…highway signs or something.”

 

Ashley smiled as she put her arm around Chris and kissed him on the cheek as she would kiss a brother.

 

“What was that for?” he asked as he blushed.

 

“I’m just proud of you, that’s all,” she said. “It wasn’t too long ago this whole space thing had you scared out of your mind.”

 

Chris shrugged. “It’s still taking some getting used to.”

 

Ashley smiled. “I’m getting back to the engine room. Let me know if you need any help later.”

 

“Thanks,” Chris said a he looked over his monitor again, determined to find the best route.

 

***

 

“What’s the power output up to now, DECA?” Cy asked.

 

“90 percent efficiency,” DECA said.

 

“Blaster bolts,” Cy said as he slammed his fist against the engine room wall. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to try and calm himself. He went through a silent prayer in his mind, asking for patience and clarity of thought. He needed the latter as the result of a certain Pink Ranger.

 

She’s so unlike the others, he thought to himself. So…pure.

 

He shook his head and continued his work. He was beginning to notice a connection forming between her and Justin. A connection that went beyond friendship. Would it be right of him to step in and get in the way of that? Could he if he tried?

 

He shook his head again to clear his thoughts. I’ll have time to think about this later…need to stay focused on the mission…

 

He would have returned to his work, but an alarm distracted him as it blared throughout the ship.

 

“What’s wrong, DECA?” Cy asked.

 

“Darkonda is approaching the Setiacu Medical facility.”

 

***

 

Tommy left Icheb’s room and tracked down Dr. Krayra in a hallway.

 

“What’s going to happen to him?” Tommy asked. “Does he have any other family he can stay with?”

 

Krayra sighed. “It doesn’t work quite like that in their culture.”

 

“What do you mean?” Tommy asked.

 

“You will find this hard to understand,” Krayra cautioned, “but you must remember that they hold their customs as dear as you hold yours.”

 

Tommy grew even more concerned. “What will happen to him?”

 

“The Vorans view a child losing his parents at Icheb’s age the greatest of tragedies. He no longer has his caregivers to lead him to adulthood, and Vorans believe it would be a great disrespect to the parents’ memory to have another raise him,” the doctor explained.

 

“What are you getting at?” Tommy asked.

 

“Vorans believe that when they die, their mind is released from their body and joined to the Gai-hikara, the Great Light. The Voran believe that a child who has lost both his mother and father has no other choice but to join his parents in the Great Light,” Krayra said.

 

“That’s crazy,” Tommy snapped at the doctor. “He’s only a kid. There has to be someone who’ll look after him.”

 

The doctor shook his head. “To have someone else raise him would disrespect the memory of his parents.”

 

Tommy’s communicator went off, but he ignored it. “He’s just a kid. He deserves to have a life. He has no one, who will know if he’s raised by someone else?”

 

“He would,” Krayra said, understanding Tommy’s frustration. “He understands his fate.”

 

Tommy raised his voice. “He’s just a-” his communicator went off again, and he answered. “Yes?”

 

“This is Ashley,” she said, choosing to ignore his tone. “Darkonda is in your area.”

 

“I’ll meet you guys outside,” Tommy said. When he looked up, the doctor was gone.

 

***

 

The rangers regrouped outside of the hospital and morphed. Cy spoke to them over their helmet communicators. “Go to the west entrance,” he directed him. “Down to the lower level.”

 

The Rangers descended a wide stair case into the dimly-lit lower level of the medical facility. The stairs led to a corridor with pipes running across its walls. They came to a stop and looked ahead of them in shock. A insectoid-type monster covered in a red-and-purple tinted exoskeleton stood behind a group of Craterites that were shielding themselves behind a dozen children. The kids seemed to be in some sort of a trance, their empty eyes staring ahead into nothingness.

 

The monster made a series of clicking noises that their translators couldn’t decipher.

 

“This is just wrong,” Astro Blue said.

 

“We can’t fight past those kids,” Astro Pink said.

 

Astro Red rolled his hands up into fists as he thought of Icheb.

 

The insect monster extended his hand, and the kids charged alongside the Craterites. The Rangers were faced with the challenge of countering the enemy soldiers’ attacks while not harming the children. They had little, if any, room to maneuver, so they kept their blows simple and short-ranged.

 

Astro Red kneed a soldier in the gut, then elbowed it in the back. He moved forward, but was blocked by a group of children. He dove over them, somersaulted across the ground, and landed behind them. The Red Ranger started to run down the corridor after the insect monster.

 

After seeing he had enough space for an aerial maneuver, Astro Red flipped over the creature and landed in front of it while assuming a fighting stance.

 

“You’re not getting away that easy,” Astro Red said.

 

The monster made more clicking noises as it charged towards Astro Red and swung his right claw arm towards the Ranger. Astro Red grabbed the creature’s arm, then slammed the back of his fist across the insect’s face.

 

Several meters down the corridor, the other Rangers were being overpowered by the Craterites. The enemy soldiers used their sabers, kicks, and punches to knock the Rangers onto the ground. Children piled on top of the Rangers, preventing them from moving since they dared not fight back against the kids.

 

Astro Red attacked the insect monster with a punch combination, then he jump-hook kicked the monster to the ground.

 

Darkonda appeared in a streak of yellow light as he stood with his arms crossed, standing in between the two combatants while staring down at his fallen monster. His back was towards Astro Red.

 

The villain made a sigh of disgust as he shook his head. “You can’t find good help these days.”

 

“You,” Astro Red said as he snapped into a fighting stance. “We have a score to settle.”

 

Darkonda turned to face the Ranger, in his hands were the shoulders of a boy around Icheb’s age. “Temper, temper…remember where that got you last time.”

 

“Who are you?” Astro Red asked. “You’re not just one of Astronema’s goons.”

 

“My, my…not only can he put up a fight against little kids, but he’s tough too,” Darkonda said. He laughed tauntingly at the Ranger. “Now come on,” Darkonda said as he extended his arms. “I’ll let you take a clear shot.”

 

Astro Red stood still, his gaze drifting to the tranced boy standing in front of Darkonda.

 

“Nice little trick, isn’t it?” Darkonda asked, speaking of the trance the children were locked in. “Courtesy of the Verilian Bug you met and so nicely kicked the crap out of.”

 

“You better hope it’s reversible,” Astro Red said.

 

Darkonda laughed. “Or what? You’ll attack me? That worked so well last time.” He ran his clawed finger across the boy’s cheek.

 

Astro Red slightly lowered his guard, and Darkonda was quick to take advantage of it. From his eyes, he fired yellow energy lightning that whipped against Astro Red, lashed across his armor with bursts of spark, and knocked him to the ground.

 

The villain tossed the boy aside and walked towards the fallen Ranger. “You Terrans are all the same.” He kicked Astro Red upside the head, then he charged in, lifted the Ranger by the neck, and slammed him back and forth between the two piped walls.

 

Darkonda held Astro Red by the neck and pressed the Ranger’s back to the piping as he kneed the hero in the gut and tossed him down. Astro Red barley had time to rise to his knees before being kicked against his face plate.

 

Astro Red rolled with the blow and somersaulted backwards across the ground. Darkonda became nothing but a blur of motion as he zoomed past the Ranger in all directions, slicing him across his armor with bursts of spark as he fell to the ground.

 

Darkonda landed in front of Astro Red and laughed. “Gods, I’m good at this.”

 

“That’s it,” Astro Red said as he rose to his feet. “I’ve had just about enough of you.”

 

“So the Ranger gets a second wind?” Darkonda asked.

 

“Let’s see how great you are when you have to fight fair,” Astro Red said as he assumed a fighting stance.

 

Darkonda snapped his right hand out as he held a dagger. The dagger pulsed with energy as it extended into a long saber. “Have it your way, Terran.” He ran towards the Ranger and swung horizontally, but Astro Red ducked under the blow and dashed behind the villain.

 

The opponents turned to face each other, and Darkonda immediately swung his blade towards the left side of Astro Red’s neck. Astro Red grabbed the villain’s wrist and twisted him around while slamming him against a pipe.

 

“Now who’s laughing,” Astro Red said as he tossed Darkonda backward. The villain went crashing through a wall and ended up outside of the medical facility in a wide open plaza area.

 

Astro Red landed in front of the villain, and Darkonda slowly rose to his feet. The Ranger activated his helmet display and selected a weapon they recently discovered in the Megaship’s database. He had been itching to try it out.

 

“Battleizer!” he shouted as a slender black brace appeared on his right wrist. He pressed the first of three buttons on the device, which caused his fist to illuminate with a red glow of energy.

 

He leapt towards Darkonda. “Riser Chop!” He knife-hand chopped the villain on the chest with a burst of spark, then leapt towards Darkonda a second time. “Riser Punch!” Astro Red’s knuckles slammed against the villain with a burst of spark that knocked him backward.

 

Darkonda rose to his knees, and the two lines of spikes on his head emitted fierce energy blasts that exploded around Astro Red as he rolled through the sparks.

 

The opponents stood and faced each other. Darkonda smiled, displaying a mouth full of crooked, pointy teeth. “Well, as much fun as this is, it’s time I got going.”

 

The villain disappeared in a flash of light.

 

***

 

On the other side of the plaza, Astro Yellow, Astro Pink, and Astro Blue were forced to roll across the ground on their backs as the children tried to get choke holds on them. They were in no danger from the kids, but they couldn’t risk harming the young innocents.

 

The Verilian monster had its arms wrapped around Astro Black’s chest and was preventing him from moving. The Black Ranger struggled to break free from the creature’s grasp.

 

“Hey bug brain, leave my friends alone!” Astro Red shouted as he ran to the scene. The monster squeaked something in his own language and tossed Astro Black to the ground.

 

Astro Red snapped to a fighting stance as he and the monster started to circle around each other. Then they dashed towards each other as Astro Red leapt through the air.

 

“Riser Punch!

 

“Riser Chop!”

 

His strikes sparked against the monster’s chest as the injured creature stumbled backward. As the monster fell, its control over the children was released. The kids rose off the Rangers as the team regrouped.

 

“You guys okay?” Astro Red asked.

 

“Never better,” Astro Blue said.

 

The Rangers faced the fallen monster’s form, waiting for the inevitable. Then it happened. The monster grew to giant size.

 

“Astro Megazord, online!” Astro Red shouted as the Megazord was formed. The Rangers joined in their cockpit. “Astro Megazord…Galaxy Mega!”

 

The Galaxy Mega blasted through the planet’s atmosphere and landed to face the giant Verilian Bug. The creature charged towards the Megazord, but Galaxy Mega dodged each strike with seemingly little effort.

 

“Nice footwork,” Astro Yellow said.

 

“Let him have it,” Astro Blue said.

 

The Megazord backfisted the monster twice with its left arm, then slammed its right fist against the creature. The Verilian bug crashed to the ground.

 

“Download, Astro Megazord Saber!” Astro Red shouted as the Megazord’s saber appeared. “Energize saber!”

 

The blade energized as the Astro Megazord swung horizontally, running the monster through as it fell backward and exploded.

 

***

 

Icheb’s room was empty.

 

Tommy walked down the halls of the medical facility at a heightened pace, looking through the crowd of patients and doctors as he tried to find Krayra.

 

He noticed the back of a bald head covered with brown scales tinted orange and recognized the man as Krayra. He grabbed the doctor by the shoulder and twisted him around.

 

“Where’s Icheb?” Tommy asked.

 

The doctor sighed. Tommy couldn’t tell if it was out of sympathy or impatience, nor did he care. “A group of Vorans are returning him to their homeworld as we speak. The ceremony will be completed there.”

 

“Ceremony?! They’re going to kill him!”

 

The tint of Krayra’s scales changed from orange to red as he pried Tommy’s hands from his shoulder. “I understand your frustration, but the situation is out of my hands. I am bound to respect the customs of other species. I healed the child and returned him to his people. What they do with him is their own business.”

 

“But…it’s wrong,” Tommy said as he shook his head.

 

“Not to them,” Krayra said. “To them, they are reuniting a child, struck with grief, with his parents. They’re honoring his parents by not letting an outsider raise their offspring.”

 

Tommy sighed and shook his head.

 

“I am sorry,” Krayra said. “Now if you’ll excuse me…I have patients to attend to.”

 

The doctor walked off.

 

***

 

Astronema slowly removed the light suit of armor from her black leather body suit as she stood in front of the mirror in her quarters. She laid the armor in a pile on the right side of the mirror as her staff rested on the frame’s left side.

 

Lastly, she removed her locket. She flicked it on as she stared at the hologram it projected. The hologram of her family. When she saw their faces, she was reminded of why she fought. She was reminded of why she needed to be relentless and merciless in order to defeat her enemies.

 

A dark laughter came from the shadows behind Astronema, interrupting her nightly ritual. She grabbed her staff and snapped around. The laughter came from Darkonda. The devilish creature held his hands up in a non-threatening manner.

 

“How did you get in here?” she asked. She knew Eclipter was standing guard outside her door and contemplated sending him in to escort Darkonda to the nearest airlock and toss him into space.

 

“I have my ways,” he said with a fiendish grin. “I figured this was the best way to get your attention.”

 

“This is the best way for you to get killed,” she said. “No one enters my quarters.”

 

“I’ll just be a minute,” he said. “I have a generous proposal for you.”

 

“I don’t want to hear it,” she said.

 

“Of course you do, or you would have shot me down already,” Darkonda said. Astronema hesitated as the creature continued. “Allow me to join you. Those Rangers were more trouble than I thought, and they’ve been quite a problem for you too.”

 

“Eclipter believes you are not to be trusted,” Astronema said.

 

“Of course I’m not,” Darkonda said. “But we do have a common enemy. If we combine our forces, we can defeat our enemy.”

 

“And then?”

 

Darkonda laughed. “After the Rangers are gone…well…like you said. I’m not to be trusted.”

 

Astronema couldn’t help but grin. “I see.”

 

“Sleep on it,” Darkonda said as he bowed and teleported out in a flash of yellow light.

 

***

 

Zordon was surrounded by a shroud of darkness, his mind trapped and unable to travel the astral plane. For the first time in his existence, he was cut of from The Power.

 

He knew what Sauron was doing. The fiery clouds of darkness closing in on him were the warlord’s dark energies, and they were consuming him.

 

His mind drifted to his Rangers. He knew they were looking for him and knew they would find him. Zordon relaxed, ignoring the flow of evil around him. He prepared for what he had to do when that time came. He prepared to face death’s embrace.

 

To be continued…Chapter 08