Rangers in Space: Chapter Nine

Christmas Bells

 

“The Holiday Season on Earth was a time of family and friends. A time of joy and peace.

The Holiday Season in space was a different matter entirely.”

 

-- Jacen Sular, 2115

“The Pre-Colonization Era Vol. 1:

Mankind’s First Journey

 

Snow covered the city streets of Angel Grove as Rocky DeSantos walked with Chelsea Oliver through the shoulder-packed shopping district. Holiday lights illuminated the night as the two made their way towards the nearest subway station.

 

Rocky’s hands were full with shopping bags that nearly blocked his vision, and Chelsea’s hands were noticeably empty.

 

“Ya know,” Rocky said with a grin. “When you asked if I’d help you carry all your stuff, I assumed you meant help carry. Not carry for you.”

 

Chelsea smiled. “Huh. I guess you need to work on your comprehension skills.”

 

“Right, right,” Rocky said as his smile widened.

 

Rocky was back in town for the holidays, taking a break from his professional fighting. One of the first people he paid a visit to was Chelsea.

 

Chelsea usually shopped with her brother Tommy during the holidays, but fate had other plans for her brother. She worried about him every day, but Rocky had a seemingly natural way of lightening up the mood.

 

***

 

Teddy Oliver lied back on his bed while continually bouncing a ball against the ceiling. His friend Simon sat on the floor, leaning against the bed while working on his Christmas list for his parents. The two attended junior high together.

 

“Aren’t you a little too old to be making Christmas lists?” Teddy asked, poking fun at his friend and secret crush.

 

“Teddy,” Simon said with a smile. “You are never too old to be making Christmas lists.”

 

***

 

Kimberly Hart missed the snow as she sat at her beach-side apartment, looking up into the night sky. Her boyfriend Scott walked up behind her and draped his arms around her waist.

 

She smiled as she tilted her head back against his.

 

“I was thinking,” Scott said. “Our freezer is small enough we could probably build a miniature snowman of some sort.”

 

She laughed at the joke as she reached back and ran her fingers through his hair. “You go ahead and get right on that…”

 

Scott turned Kimberly around and ran his hand along the side of her face. “Happy holidays, dearest.”

 

They leaned closer into each other’s embrace and kissed.

 

***

 

hideki-top-side“Report!” Tommy shouted as the Megaship rocked from yet another missile impact.

 

DECA answered from the audio speakers. “Hull integrity reaching critical.”

 

“Ashley,” Tommy said. “See if you can reroute power to our structural integrity. Do whatever you have to.”

 

The rangers were nearly thrown to the deck as Cy throttled the ship downwards through another evasive pattern.

 

Justin’s fingers danced across the control panel in front of him. “Six fighters are still on our tail.”

 

“Keep firing,” Tommy ordered.

 

The fighters belonged to a hostile race called the Sedementarians. The beings of living rock originated from the nearby Rigel Expanse and were loyal to Sauron.

 

“Ashley,” Tommy said again. “We need that fold gate back online.”

 

“I can only do 36 things at a time,” she said with frustration.

 

The fold gate was a small mechanism attached flat to the bottom of the Megaship. The gate served as a sort of hyperspace magnet that would pull in the Delta Mega whenever it was needed.

 

“Got it!” Ashley said. “The gate is functional.”

 

Tommy activated his Battleizer. “Delta Mega, Install.”

 

It took almost a full minute, but the Delta Mega speared back into real-space and came up on the fighters’ flank with pulse cannons blazing. The energy blasts tore through the fighter formation, shattering their deflector shields and ripping through their hulls.

 

The Delta Mega flew into formation next to the Megaship after destroying the fighter wave.

 

Tommy breathed a sigh of relief as he relaxed his posture. “Any more of our new friends nearby?”

 

Chris shook his head from his forward console. “Everything looks clear.”

 

Cy turned to Tommy. “We shouldn’t stay here long. That fighter wing was just a scout.”

 

Tommy nodded. “We’ll make what repairs we need and be on our way.”

 

***

 

The Delta Mega was equipped with a repair program for the Megaship. This program served to expedite their damage control operations and limit their need for other sources of external maintenance and support.

 

The triangular ship hovered into place above the Megaship and fired a concentrated energy beam from its ventral hull. The energy beam connected with the Megaship and spread across its hull like a glowing web. The web released particle clusters that danced across the hull until they reached cracks in the hull plating or other damaged areas.

 

Tommy watched the process from the Delta Mega’s cramped control room, and he couldn’t help but be impressed.

 

The doors to the control room opened as Justin and Chris walked in. Tommy had to back against a wall to give them room.

 

“Man,” Justin said as he looked around the room. “This isn’t exactly accommodating.”

 

Tommy pointed to his Battleizer. “There’s a reason the Delta Mega’s controlled with this brace, pal. What’s up.”

 

Chris handed Tommy a data pad. “Two things, really…”

 

Tommy looked over the specs. They appeared to be very rough and preliminary designs for a new armor system.

 

“What is this?” Tommy asked.

 

“Well,” Justin said. “We’re getting shot at all the time, and that whole ‘polarizing the hull plating’ thing is great, but once that goes down, we get banged up pretty bad.”

 

“What did you have in mind?” Tommy asked.

 

“A new armor coating,” Justin said. “Ablative armor that would protect the main hull.”

 

Chris nodded in agreement. “Cy doesn’t think it’s possible…but Ashley does.”

 

Tommy grinned. “Have Ashley see what she can come up with.”

 

“Excellent,” Justin said as he took the pad back. “Now on to the second thing…”

 

“Go ahead…” Tommy said.

 

“Well…” Justin started.

 

“It’s almost Christmas,” Chris said.

 

Tommy shook his head. “We can’t go back to Earth…”

 

“We know, we know,” Justin said. “But…we’re homesick enough as it is. And with the holidays coming up…maybe we could do something here. Like a party.”

 

Tommy arced an eyebrow. “A party?”

 

“Yeah,” Justin said. “We could have it on the simudeck.”

 

“A party?” Tommy asked. “Seriously? There’s only six of us, and Cy’s probably never even heard of Christmas.”

 

“But still…” Justin started to say.

 

“Guys,” Tommy said. “I miss home too, but we don’t have time to organize some party. We have a lot to do in the next coming weeks, and chances are even more will come up.”

 

“But Tommy,” Chris started to say.

 

“No,” Tommy said. “I’m sorry. Now…Justin, see if Cy needs help realigning our targeting scanners. Chris, see if there are any good locations for a probe drop on our way out of this sector.”

 

The two nodded, looks of defeat on their faces as they left the control room.

 

A smirk spread across Tommy’s face as he activated the comm unit in front of him. “Kat, this is Tommy.”

 

“Go ahead,” she said.

 

“Justin and Chris just paid me a visit,” he said. “Asking if we could throw a Christmas party.”

 

Kat laughed on the other end. “That’s wonderful.”

 

“My thoughts exactly,” Tommy said. “They won’t suspect a thing.”

 

***

 

Astronema stood on the bridge of her Dark Fortress as she watched a recording of the Megaship’s battle with the Sedementarian fighter craft.

 

“This Delta Mega is troublesome, Eclipter,” she said.

 

“Yes, princess,” Eclipter agreed. “Its systems are automated.”

 

Astronema nodded. “Leaving storage room for weapons, armor, equipment, and supplies…I want it taken out of commission.”

 

A cackling awe of disappointment came from behind the two. Eclipter spun around and aimed his sword forward at the voice. It was Darkonda.

 

“Be careful, Eclipter,” Darkonda said. “You could hurt someone with that thing.”

 

“Enough,” Astronema said as she reached out and lowered Eclipter’s sword while glaring at Darkonda. “What is it this time?”

 

“That ship of theirs is automated,” Darkonda said. “Instead of destroy it, why not take control of it?”

 

A lopsided grin spread across Astronema’s face. “Tell me your plan…”

 

***

 

Ashley was suspended from the ceiling of the engine room while working on a pair of power conduits as Justin talked to her from the deck below.

 

“I can’t believe he said no,” Justin said. “I can’t.”

 

“Did he give a reason?” Ashley asked as she adjusted some wiring.

 

“No,” he said. “Maybe you could talk some sense into him.”

 

Ashley smiled and shook her head. “I’d like to knock some sense into him sometimes.”

 

***

 

Cy sat in his quarters with a data pad, preparing to compile the latest report from the ship’s computer.

 

“DECA,” he said. “Have you put together a list of appropriate gifts for the Terran holiday?”

 

“Affirmative,” the ship’s computer answered.

 

“Good,” he said. “Download the list to my data pad.”

 

A list of potential presents started to scroll down his data pad.

 

Cy knew that Kat would miss home during this ‘Christmas season’ along with the others. He wanted to get her something. Something to alleviate the homesickness. Something to make her happy.

 

He shook his head while looking over the list. Perfume, clothing items…none of the presents listed seemed appropriate and most could never be replicated in the synthatron.

 

“There has to be something,” he said with frustration while scrolling down the list.

 

Kat deserved something special, not scented liquid or foot equipment.

 

“DECA,” Cy said. “Try again…”

 

***

 

The Megaship speared into real-space at the edge of the Sudabar System. The system only had one planet, Sudabar Prime, in orbit light years away from its sun. By all accounts, the world should have been a frozen ball of ice.

 

The colonists on Sudabar Prime developed a relay system of stations equipped with solar sails. The sail network transferred sunlight from the system’s main star and reflected it onto the world. The result was an M-class planet rich with life and commerce.

 

The rangers were scheduled to meet with a group of mercenaries interested in helping fight Sauron’s forces. Tommy was skeptical as to whether or not they could trust the mercenaries, but Cy assured him the small band had no hidden intentions.

 

Tommy watched the brown-and-white world grow closer on the forward viewscreen.

 

“Open a channel,” Tommy instructed.

 

“I have docking control on screen,” Kat said as she pulled up an image.

 

“This is the Knight’s Errand,” Tommy said. “Requesting docking clearance for pad 11-alpha-three.”

 

The docking coordinator, who appeared human by most accounts, looked over his computer terminal before glancing back towards the rangers.

 

“You’re clear to land, Knight’s Errand,” he said. “Follow landing course 9-epsilon-seven.”

 

The viewscreen blinked off.

 

“Chris,” Tommy said. “Plot all possible escape vectors in case we need to make a quick break out of here.”

 

“Already on it,” Chris said.

 

Tommy smiled. “Good man.”

 

11207aThe Megaship entered the planet’s atmosphere and came upon a city of ornate, oddly-shaped skyscrapers that appeared to be made of white stone and another marble-like substance.

 

The ship landed on a platform extending from one of the tallest towers. Tommy, Cy, and Ashley put on their cloaks to travel into the city and meet up with the mercenary group, while Justin, Kat, and Chris stayed behind to watch over the ship.

 

Tommy, Cy, and Ashley moved through the crowd along the main walkway. It was the most upscale market area the Terrans had seen during their journey. The streets were lined with different holographic signs written in various forms of glyph languages. Pedestrians went in and out of establishments to trade or barter, while others arranged for lodging at various inns.

 

The three rangers entered one such inn, a smaller building on the outskirts of the main city stretch. It was only seven-stories tall, simple in construction. They entered a turbolift attached to the outside of the building and rode up to the top floor.

 

They stepped into the building and walked through rows of triangle-shaped arches that covered the main hallway. Various forms of green and red plant life covered the arches.

 

“Of all the color schemes,” Ashley said quietly to herself while shaking her head.

 

The rangers approached a door in the center of the corridor and knocked. There was a brief pause before the door opened and they were beckoned inside.

 

The rangers removed their hoods as they stepped inside. They saw a young man who appeared no older than Tommy sitting behind a finely crafted desk of wood. He had short brown hair with streaks of white and deep navy eyes. His skin was almost as pale as the whites of his eyes. He was dressed in a simple brown jumpsuit.

 

The young man who had opened the door extended his hand towards three chairs in front of the desk. “Please, have a seat. Thank you for coming.”

 

“Not a problem,” Tommy said as he and the others took a seat. “Although I must admit, I’m still not entirely sure why you wanted to speak with us.”

 

“First allow me to introduce myself,” the man behind the desk said. “I am Macus, of the Rigellion Coalition. Are you familiar with the Coalition?”

 

“Somewhat,” Tommy said as he looked to Cy.

 

Cy nodded. “A group of Sedementarians loyal to Sauron invaded the Rigel expanse around a year ago. The surviving militia members formed the Coalition soon after.”

 

Macus nodded. “Our cells have been launching minor attacks against Sauron ever since…some of us feel the time has come for a much larger campaign.”

 

“What sort of campaign?” Tommy asked.

 

“To reclaim the expanse,” Macus said. “No single cell has the ability to do so, but if all the cells were to unite, we could retake our space.”

 

“What sort of forces do you have?” Ashley asked.

 

“I’m part of an elite ground unit called the Spriggan. We also have several fighter wings and a small task force of capital starships and freighters,” Macus said.

 

“And you want our help?” Tommy asked.

 

“Yes,” Macus said. “I realize most of your attacks against Sauron have either been hit-and-run attacks or defensive skirmishes…but just your presence alone would unite every cell in the entire Coalition. You are Rangers…”

 

Tommy was in a bind. He wanted to help these people, help any people willing to fight against Sauron. However, his primary responsibility was finding Zordon.

 

“Macus,” Tommy said. “Our mission is very specific…we’re out here to find Zordon. We’ll help along the way as needed, but we can’t dedicate ourselves to a full campaign.”

 

“What about Trey?” Ashley asked.

 

“Right,” Tommy said as he nodded. “There are a few options. We can have Prince Trey of Triforia’s group contact you. He’s organizing a resistant movement against Sauron. Also, we’d be willing to make some kind of rallying speech to the other cells. Try to convince them all to come together…”

 

Macus shook his head, a look of disappointment in his eyes. “I suppose it was foolish of me to ask.”

 

“Not at all,” Tommy said as he leaned forward. “I wish we could help, but you have to understand, time is against us. We have to find Zordon. We’ll help anyone that needs it defend themselves along the way. Hurt Sauron as much as we can…but we can’t concentrate on one particular area.

 

“And like I said, we’ll speak with Trey on your behalf. I’m sure he can spare ships and troops. And we will speak to the other cell leaders. Convince them to band together.”

 

Macus nodded. “Any help would be appreciated,” he said in a defeated tone.

 

***

 

The three teammates walked down the main road after leaving the hotel.

 

“I feel terrible,” Tommy said.

 

“Don’t,” Cy said. “You were right. Finding Zordon is our primary objective.”

 

“Besides,” Ashley said. “We only have two ships. What they really need is to band together with a little help from Trey’s resistance. We’re giving them that.”

 

Tommy nodded. “I suppose.”

 

***

 

Kat was at the bridge’s starboard station while monitoring the planet’s comm traffic as Justin sat next to her.

 

“Anything exciting?” Justin asked her with a grin.

 

She smiled. “It depends on what you consider exciting…”

 

The two rangers carried on while Chris sat at his forward post, reviewing sensor readings from the area.

 

Chris noticed an energy spike coming from the center of the city and zeroed the scanning field in on its location. It was a bio sign ripe with energy, carrying a unique signature. The signature of Astronema’s genetic creations.

 

“Guys,” Chris said. “We have company.”

 

***

 

mega-nb-centipedenejireA monster that wore organic, centipede-type armor stood on top of a skyscraper as he emitted an energy pulse from between his eyes.

 

The five Astro Rangers ran along the city streets towards the bottom of the building.

 

“Up there,” Astro Black said as he pointed to the roof.

 

The Rangers tele-skipped to the top of the roof in multi-colored streaks. They snapped into fighting stances, but immediately noticed they were alone.

 

Astro Blue shook his head. “Is that visor of yours working, Chris?”

 

“Yes,” Astro Black said. “A gene-beast was up here just a second ago…”

 

“Let’s look around,” Astro Red said as they started to split up. “He couldn’t have gone too far.”

 

The ground suddenly started to shake as the Rangers snapped back into fighting stances, ready for an attack.

 

A blur of light flashed to the side of the Rangers as an all-too familiar monster appeared and charged towards them. It was the drill-nosed beast that had attacked the INET building before they left Earth months ago.

 

The monster bashed the Rangers away one-by-one: Astro Black, Astro Blue, Astro Yellow, and Astro Pink.

 

Astro Red held his ground and grabbed onto the large drill nose. Astro Red was flipped back over the monster’s shoulder and crashed against the roof’s surface.

 

Astro Red rose to his feet as the others regrouped around him. The monster started stomping his feet against the roof like a bull preparing to charge.

 

“Didn’t we already clobber this freak?” Astro Blue said.

 

“Looks like he’s back,” Astro Red said. “Astro Snipers!”

 

The Rangers aimed their weapons just below the creature’s drill nose and blasted lances of blue energy that exploded against the monster. The gene-beast fell backward and vanished in a puff of light.

 

“That’s strange,” Astro Yellow said as she holstered her weapon.

 

Astro Pink shook her head. “Why’d it just disappear?”

 

“That was way too easy,” Astro Red said. “Stay on guard…something’s not right.”

 

A group of creatures suddenly leapt onto the rooftop and surrounded the teens. They were all monsters they’d already faced and destroyed. The moth creature responsible for spreading the spores on Titan, the lobster beast that had attacked the Galvopsee outpost, the bee creature they blasted from orbit over the mage planet, a twisted toad monster, and the drill monster yet again.

 

The gene-beasts growled as they circled around the Rangers.

 

“This is crazy,” Astro Blue said as he stood back to back with the others.

 

***

 

Astronema watched the gene-beasts surround the Rangers from the viewscreen of her Dark Fortress. Darkonda was gleaming with amusement while standing next to her, but she was not impressed.

 

“This has nothing to do with the Delta Mega,” she said to Darkonda, staring at him through the corner of her eye.

 

Darkonda cackled. “Now, now…this is just the warm up. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the looks of terror on those Rangers’ faces.”

 

Astronema narrowed her eyes. “They have helmets…”

 

Eclipter stood behind the two, tightening his grip on his sword. Astronema didn’t know who she was dealing with. Eclipter didn’t trust Darkonda and would throw the creature out the nearest airlock if he could.

 

“I am curious,” Astronema said, her eyes fixated on the viewscreen, “as to how you managed to resurrect five of my former creations?”

 

“You’ll see,” Darkonda said. “Now might I suggest using those quaint little sate-lasers of yours…”

 

***

 

The Rangers stood in fighting stances as the monsters continued to circle around them. A thundering boom diverted their attention, and the Rangers looked off into the distance. They saw the centipede monster, giant-sized and stomping through the streets.

 

“Not another one…” Astro Blue grumbled.

 

Astro Red downloaded his Drill Saber and faced the group of five monsters. “Let’s take out these guys first…”

 

Astro Red leapt towards the lobster creature while powering up his weapon. “Saber Slash!” he shouted as the energized Drill Saber cut through his opponent.

 

“Astro Rod!” Astro Black shouted as he leapt forward, spearing his staff against the toad monster.

 

“Astro Capture!” Astro Pink shouted while firing rings of pink energy that exploded against the moth creature.

 

“Astro Tomahawk!” Astro Blue yelled while spinning forward and slashing his weapon across the drill monster.

 

“Astro Sling!” Astro Yellow shouted, firing lances of yellow energy that exploded against the bee creature.

 

Explosions ripped through the five gene-beasts as they fell backwards and vanished in puffs of light and smoke. As soon as they vanished, they reappeared, materializing out of thin air.

 

“Damn,” Astro Red said as he fell back into a defensive stance with the others.

 

The ground started to shake as the giant centipede monster continued to crash through the streets.

 

Astro Pink shook her head with concern. “We can’t let him run loose…”

 

Astro Red held his right wrist across his chest. “Battleizer!” The Battleizer brace appeared in a flash of crimson light. “Delta Mega, Install!”

 

Space started to fold in low orbit around the planet as the triangular Delta Mega slowly took shape, yellow energy flashing across its hull as it finished the hyperspace fold maneuver.

 

The Delta Mega angled towards the surface and fired its boosters, throttling through the heated atmosphere as fiery energy resisted against the hull.

 

The craft entered the planet’s lower atmosphere and rolled to starboard, angling towards the centipede monster while firing its pulse cannons. High-speed lances of yellow energy exploded against the monster’s organic shell armoring.

 

The Delta Mega landed on the streets and assumed its warrior mode while snapping into a battle-ready stance.

 

On the rooftop below, the Rangers split up and slammed through the group of creatures. They didn’t notice as the air around the Delta Mega seemed to distort at the cause of an unseen source.

 

The drill creature bashed Astro Red to the ground and placed its foot on the Ranger’s chest. Astro Red looked from the corner of his visor to see that the Delta Mega wasn’t moving. He lifted his Battleizer to his mouth, ignoring the foot continuing to press down against his ribs.

 

“Delta Mega…gattling cannons…”

 

Nothing.

 

“Delta Mega…come on…” Astro Red said with frustration.

 

The zord placed its feet together and ignited its thrusters, blasting back into space against its orders.

 

The centipede monster laughed at the zord’s departure and teleported away in a flash of light. The small group of gene-beasts disappeared in puffs of light.

 

The Rangers regrouped on the roof.

 

“What just happened?” Astro Blue asked.

 

***

 

Darkonda cackled as he watched the Rangers through the Dark Fortress’s viewscreen. “This is getting good…”

 

“How did you do it?” Astronema asked.

 

“I took the liberty of modifying a few of your fortress’s systems,” Darkonda said. “Simple hacking work, but enough to scramble the Delta Mega.”

 

***

 

The Delta Mega flew over the city streets while firing its pulse cannons at random, ripping through buildings and tearing through concrete. Citizens ran in panic below as fiery chunks of debris crashed downward.

 

The rangers regrouped on the Megaship bridge to find out what was wrong with the Delta Mega. They huddled around the port engineering station as Ashley manipulated the controls.

 

“Definitely outside interference,” she said. “I can’t pinpoint the source…”

 

“Can you shut the zord down?” Tommy asked. “Override whatever has control of it?”

 

“No,” she said. “And that’s just the problem…the interference isn’t bending control of the Delta Mega, it’s scrambling control.”

 

“So in other words,” Justin said. “The thing is going berserker.”

 

***

 

The Delta Megaship cast a large shadow over the city below as it streaked through the air. The ship set down and configured to zord mode while arming its gattling cannons.

 

Delta Mega brought its arms along a wide arc while blasting the streets below with lances of yellow energy. The zord’s cannons thundered like a chorus of chainsaws while reigning destruction upon the city.

 

Tommy ran across a walkway of concrete that extending through the towering skyscrapers as he approached the out-of-control zord. He activated his Battleizer.

 

“Delta Mega,” he said into the brace. “Stand down.”

 

The zord continued to sweep its arms across the city while launching volleys of gattling blasts. The blasts superheated the air and ripped through concrete and steel.

 

“Delta Mega!” Tommy shouted again.

 

The zord turned to face Tommy and aimed its gattling cannon forward.

 

“Stupid zord…” Tommy said under his breath as he leapt off the walkway seconds before the Delta Mega shattered it to pieces with its blasters.

 

Tommy activated his morpher and transformed into his armor while flipping and landing on the ground below him.

 

The other four Rangers ran to Astro Red’s side.

 

“No luck again, huh?” Astro Blue said.

 

“One way or another,” Astro Red said to his teammates, “we have to stop it…”

 

He activated his communicator. “Astro Megazord online!”

 

The Megaship launched from its landing pad and blasted across the sky while opening and transforming its configuration to zord mode. The Rangers entered the shuttle cockpit as the Megazord slammed onto the streets near the Delta Mega.

 

“Astro Megazord…Galaxy Mega!” they shouted from the cockpit.

 

The Delta Mega turned its head to face the large target and moved forward while swinging its fists like giant clubs. The blows sparked against the Astro Megazord’s armor on impact, forcing the robo backwards.

 

The Galaxy Mega blocked a punch and returned with a blow of its own, slamming its right fist against the Delta Mega’s chest.

 

“Tommy,” Astro Black said as the Megazord dodged a blow. “I may have an idea…”

 

“Let’s hear it,” Astro Red said as the Galaxy Mega slammed a backfist across the other zord.

 

“Since the Delta Mega’s transceivers are being scrambled, their frequencies are constantly rotating…modulating…” Astro Black said. “Maybe if we modulated your Battleizer, we could get through to the Delta Mega.”

 

Astro Red looked over his shoulder to Astro Yellow. “Ashley…”

 

“It might work,” she said as her fingers danced across the control panel in front of her. “I have a modulation sequence programmed. Try it now…”

 

Astro Red rose his brace. “Delta Mega, stand down…”

 

The Delta Mega slowly lowered its gattling arms. The Rangers all breathed sighs of relief, but their moment of peace was short lived. The zord raised its gattling cannon again and opened fire. Lances of yellow energy exploded against the Megazord’s armor and forced it backwards.

 

“What went wrong?” Astro Red asked.

 

“The command code went through,” Astro Yellow said, “but the zord’s systems aren’t stable enough to accept the code long term.”

 

“Meaning?” Astro Red asked.

 

“We need a stronger command code,” Astro Yellow said. “Something that will let us keep the Delta Mega under control long enough to undo the damage that’s been done.”

 

The Delta Mega fired again, its blasts exploding into showers of sparks against the Galaxy Mega.

 

“What kind of command code?” Astro Red asked.

 

“I’m looking,” Astro Yellow said as the cockpit rattled from another powerful impact. “Got it…”

 

Astro Red’s forward control panel flipped over, revealing a slot to place his Battleizer.

 

“What is this?” Astro Red asked.

 

“I found a fusion program,” Astro Yellow said. “The two Megazords were designed to combine.”

 

“Excellent,” Astro Blue said from his station.

 

Astro Red nodded as he removed his brace and placed it in the forward console. “Let’s hope this works…”

 

Lines of energy traced through the brace and into the control panel as the Galaxy Mega hummed with power.

 

“Astro DeltaMegazord, online!” Astro Red commanded as he activated the ‘one’ key on the brace.

 

A line of code symbolized by a stream of golden energy poured from the Galaxy Mega’s chest array and into the Delta Mega. The code started to stabilize the Delta Mega’s systems as the black-armored zord reverberated.

 

***

 

Astronema looked over her shoulder to glare at Darkonda. “What are they doing?”

 

Darkonda shook his head, a devilish grin still spread across his face. “Not to worry…the Rangers are in over their heads this time.”

 

Darkonda heard a soft metallic laugh come from his side. He looked to see Eclipter staring ahead at the viewscreen.

 

“Apparently not,” the android said.

 

They watched as the Megaship and Delta Mega flew side by side while breaking free of the planet’s atmosphere. Once in open space, the two ships began to reconfigure.

 

***

 

The Delta Mega separated and formed over the Galaxy Mega, locking in place like a bulky suit of armor. The two zords fused together to form the Astro DeltaMegazord.

 

The zord blasted back through the atmosphere and landed in Sudabar Prime’s capital to face off with the centipede monster.

 

The centipede turned and fired optic blasts that exploded against the zord’s hull. The Astro DeltaMegazord walked through the explosions, its armor absorbing most of the impact.

 

“Tommy,” Astro Yellow said. “The energy signatures on this creep…they match the revived gene-beasts we fought earlier. They must have been holograms of some kind.”

 

“Nice trick,” Astro Red said sarcastically. “Let’s take him out of commission…gattling cannons, fire!”

 

The shoulder-mounted gattling cannons fired lances of energy that exploded against the monster.

 

“Later, bug brain,” Astro Red said as he brought the finishing move online. “Delta Knuckle, engage!”

 

The zord’s fists energized and blasted through the monster as its energy overloaded and exploded.

 

***

 

Nearly five hours after the battle, the Astro DeltaMegazord remained standing in the city streets while Cy and Ashley made sure the zord’s systems were back under control permanently.

 

Tommy sat in his dimly-lit corridor, a steel panel covering the viewport since the ship was in zord mode. He was looking over a data pad when a voice spoke to him from the dark corner.

 

“Interesting reading material?” the voice asked. It was the Dark Man.

 

Tommy glanced up, hardly ever surprised at his presence anymore. “Possibly…why are you here this time?”

 

“The Rigel Coalition asked for your help in their liberation campaign. You turned them down. This was a mistake,” the Dark Man said.

 

“How so?” Tommy asked as he set the data pad down.

 

“A darkness is growing in the Rigel Expanse,” the Dark Man said. “Your presence is crucial.”

 

Tommy shook his head. “It could take more than a month…and that’s only if everything went according to plan.”

 

“It hardly ever does.”

 

“Tell me about it,” Tommy said. “What more can you tell me?”

 

“Only that this evil is potentially more powerful than Sauron,” the Dark Man said. “Only that you must be there…”

 

“And what if I’m not?” Tommy asked.

 

“Then the galaxy will be ripped apart, and you and your friends will die in the resulting chaos,” the Dark Man said.

 

***

 

Tommy found himself walking down the inn’s upper hallway a few hours after his meeting with the Dark Man. Justin and Chris were by his side.

 

“Man,” Justin said, “Cy is going to flip.”

 

Tommy nodded. “I know, but this is something we have to do…he’ll understand.”

 

Justin looked to Chris and they both raised their eyebrows at each other with disbelief.

 

Tommy stopped in front of a door off to their left and knocked. The door opened and the trio walked in to find Macus sitting behind his desk.

 

“Tommy,” Macus said. “This is unexpected…”

 

Tommy nodded as he, Justin, and Chris took their seats. Tommy slid a data pad across the desk towards Macus.

 

“We’re going to help you take back the Expanse,” Tommy said. “That’s a list of the ships Trey can spare. He’s sending one of his admirals, a Fray’loth named Trefli’ah.”

 

Macus nodded in recognition of the name. “I’ve heard of him. His people served alongside the Kerovians during the Kyrana Wars.”

 

Tommy nodded, making a mental note to ask Cy about the Kyrana Wars.

 

“We’re rendezvousing with Trey’s battle group at Elan,” Tommy said. “That system is neutral, but we could assemble a battle group there, formulate a strategy, and head into the Expanse.”

 

Macus nodded, still slightly taken aback by Tommy’s change of heart. “I can not thank you enough. You have made a friend today, Ranger…”

 

The two stood and clasped hands.

 

***

 

“Training…” Justin mumbled under his breath as he walked down the Megaship’s corridor alongside Chris. “It’s Christmas Day and we’re going to spend it training…”

 

The ship was blasting through hyperspace en route to Elan.

 

“This is hard on all of us,” Chris said. “But we still have a job to do, ya know?”

 

Justin sighed as he approached the simudeck doors. The doors slid open, and the two rangers stepped inside as their mouths opened in shock.

 

The simudeck was programmed to resemble a well-furnished log cabin with a snowy window outside. An assembly of couches and plush chairs sat around a fire place, casting illumination around their faces. The room was decorated with tinsel and various pine arrangements, along with other trademarks of the holiday season.

 

Tommy walked out from the side of the “cabin” with two wine glasses in hand.

 

“Here’s your party, guys,” he said with a smile as he handed them both a glass.

 

Ashley, Kat, and Cy were in the room as well. Cy looked slightly uncomfortable, but the two girls were nearly glowing.

 

“You are full of surprises, boss,” Justin said.

 

Chris looked at the red wine in his glass. “You know we’re not 21 yet, right?”

 

Tommy shrugged. “If you’re old enough to fight for the fate of the galaxy, you’re old enough to drink.”

 

Justin laughed as he took a sip.

 

“Now,” Tommy said. “I suggest we all go back, get our presents, change out of these uniforms and meet back here in 15.”

 

“Yes sir,” Justin said as he ran out.

 

Ashley smiled as she walked over to Tommy and laced her hand through his arm. “Was this really your idea?”

 

Tommy blushed slightly. “Kat helped…”

 

She kissed him on the cheek. “You impress me sometimes, Tommy Oliver. You impress me.”

 

***

 

The six teammates sat around the fireplace fifteen minutes later and talked while drinking wine and enjoying a few snacks they cooked up in the synthatron.

 

They watched intently as Cy had his first experience with a gingerbread cookie. He held up the cookie with a puzzled look on his face.

 

“I don’t understand why it’s shaped like a person,” he said as he looked to Kat and raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that strange?”

 

She laughed as she placed a hand on his arm. “It’s tradition…”

 

After poking fun at Cy a while longer in good humor, they exchanged a few gifts for each other. Ashley tore open a box wrapped in blue and black. It was from Justin.

 

She pulled out a small cube-shaped object and raised an eyebrow as she held it up. “What is it?” she asked with a smile.

 

“A holographic camera,” Justin said. “I picked it up on Setiacu.”

 

Ashley’s face lit up. “Excellent…”

 

The group of six started to splinter off slightly after exchanging a few Christmas stories, and they gave a few of their more private gifts.

 

Justin led Kat to a corner of the cabin and pulled out a small velvet shaped box. “I got this for you on Setiacu…just didn’t want to give it to you in front of an audience, ya know?”

 

Kat’s face turned slightly red as she reached out and took the box. She opened it slightly to reveal a beautifully crafted gem almost as big as the palm of her hand. The gem contained dozens of bouncing lights inside that changed color and speed as they streaked across the inside of the gem.

 

“The guy that sold it to me called it a True Stone,” Justin said as he leaned in close to her, and they looked at the stone together. “It’s supposed to have some kind of soothing ability to it when you use it with another person…it’s supposed to alleviate all your fears…”

 

Justin placed his hand on the stone, and the two friends watched the lights bounce back and forth. Their emotions began to dance together just as the lights within the stone. They looked deeply into each others’ eyes and smiled. No words were necessary.

 

Cy’s heart sank as he watched the two from a distance. He had Kat’s gift in hand, one he had made himself. It was a musical holo-cube that displayed images of various landscapes along with its songs.

 

Cy watched Justin and Kat smile as they held the True Stone. Cy placed the holo-cube back in his pocket while turning and walking away. His head hung low all the way back to his quarters.

 

***

 

Ashley sat in her quarters getting ready to turn in for the night when her door chimed.

 

“Come in,” she said as the doors opened and Tommy stepped forward.

 

“Hey,” he said. “I, uh, have something I wanted to give you…just didn’t want to in front of everyone …”

 

Ashley smiled as she walked over to Tommy. “What is it?”

 

Tommy reached in his pocket and pulled out a small purple leather case. He opened the case to reveal a triangular necklace of gold with an orange gem in the center. Various markings were around the necklace that she didn’t recognize.

 

“It’s a good luck charm…literally,” Tommy said. “I etched a spell into it that’s supposed to bring good fortune and protect its wearer.”

 

“Thank you,” she said as she reached out and placed her hand along his.

 

Tommy’s face turned slightly red. “It’s the least I can do,” Tommy said. “You’ve been…I mean, I really…”

 

Ashley placed a finger gently onto his lip to quiet him as she leaned forward.

 

“You don’t have to say anything…” she whispered.

 

Tommy ran his hand along the side of her face and pulled her close. They kissed while falling into each others’ embrace.

 

To be continued…Chapter 10