Rangers in Space: Chapter Sixteen

Deception Within

 

Tommy paced back and forth across the front of the Megaship’s bridge. Only the quiet hum of the engines and thrum of control panels broke the silence. He crossed his hands behind his back. His eyes were fixated on the viewscreen, which showed a world covered with sand storms.

 

“Anything yet?” Tommy asked, pausing in front of Kat’s station.

 

Kat shook her head. “It’s still quiet…”

 

Chris manipulated a few controls. “The sandstorms are interfering with our equipment.”

 

“Ashley,” Tommy said, “see if you can boost power.”

 

Ashley shook her head. “It won’t do any good. Our signals can’t punch through that sand. It’s an element in the grains.”

 

Justin shook his head with frustration. “How is that possible? We were picking up a signal from this dust ball when we were light years away.”

 

Cy nodded. “And the signal pointed to Zordon.”

 

Tommy took a deep breath, his eyes fixed on the viewscreen. “We’ll have to go down there and look for ourselves. DECA, we’ll need breathing masks and sand robes.”

 

“Affirmative,” the ship’s computer answered.

 

“Cy, Zhane,” Tommy said, “You guys stay behind and guard the Megaship…try not to kill each other.”

 

***

 

The five rangers wrapped themselves in dark brown cloaks and slowly moved through the raging sandstorm. Their masks’ visors quickly became covered with dirt, hindering their vision. They pressed forward, scanners open, searching for any sign of life or technology.

 

Justin used the back of his glove to wipe sand from his visor. “These things need windshield wipers.”

 

Ashley widened the range on her scanner. “I’m picking up something…a life form.”

 

The other rangers’ scanners started to beep as they picked up the life form’s signal. The ground around them started to ripple like a pond of sand. The sands suddenly erupted like a geyser of dirt, tossing the rangers backwards.

 

A gigantic snake covered in bone-plated armor reared its head and opened its gaping jaw, hissing a dry noise while staring down at the rangers.

 

“Blasters!” Tommy shouted as they dove for cover while opening fire on the creature.

 

The snake dove downwards as the rangers split again to avoid being eaten. Tommy jumped straight up as the sand snake passed underneath him and dove back into the dirt ground below. Tommy landed on the creature’s bone-plated spine and held on while being dragged beneath the surface.

 

“Tommy!” Ashley shouted as the sand slowly started to settle, and only the howling wind cut through the silence.

 

“What happened to him!” Justin shouted.

 

Ashley shook her head, checking her scanner alongside Chris. “I don’t know…this damn sand…”

 

The ground suddenly erupted again as the sand snake climbed upward towards the air. Tommy was clutching on the edge of a bone plate along the snake’s spine. He pulled two plates apart, slowly jamming his blaster beneath the bone armor. The snake snapped back and forth in a vain effort to toss Tommy away. But the ranger held fast.

 

“I hate snakes…” Tommy grumbled as he twisted the blaster down further and started pulling the trigger.

 

The snake hissed and howled as it thrashed its body back and forth. Tommy lost his grip and went arcing through the air. The snake lunged forward and captured the ranger inside its gaping maw.

 

“No!” the other rangers shouted below as the snake looked down towards them, ready for another meal.

 

Pulses of energy suddenly shot through the snake’s head, ripping apart its skull and mouth with fiery explosions. The snake’s head exploded as Tommy flipped away from the flames and landed on the dusty ground below.

 

“That was sweet!” Justin said.

 

Tommy shook his head while wiping flesh from his cloak. “No. It was not.”

 

Ashley’s scanner started to beep again.

 

“What is it now?” Kat asked.

 

“More life forms,” Ashley said.

 

“Forms?” Justin said. “As in plural?”

 

The ground erupted again as dozens of sandy-brown, manta-ray-type creatures sprang from the sand and swarmed over the dead snake’s body, devouring the corpse with teeth snarling like chain saws.

 

“Let’s move,” Tommy said as the five rangers started to rush away from the feeding frenzy, none of them wanting to be the rays’ second course.

 

***

 

Zhane leaned his head back against the wall while sitting on his bed. He sighed while shaking his head, wishing he could get a certain princess of evil out of his mind.

 

“This is crazy,” he said to himself. “She’s killed thousands…”

 

But something about her seemed off. She didn’t seem evil as much as angry. Angry at a world she didn’t understand. Angry at a world she believed tarnished.

 

“Astronema,” Zhane said, shaking his head. “What’s going on in that mind of yours?”

 

The door chimed, and Zhane sat upright. “Come in…”

 

The door slid open as Cy stood in the entryway. “We’ve lost contact with the rangers. We should go check on them.”

 

“Couldn’t it be interference from the atmosphere?” Zhane asked.

 

“No,” Cy said simply. “Something…strange happened before we lost contact. Now‘s not the time to be difficult. We should check it out.”

 

Zhane held up his hands defensively. “I’m not being difficult. I just think we need more information before jumping to conclusions.”

 

“Fine,” Cy said, “lets go get more information.”

 

Cy left as the door closed behind him. Zhane sighed and shook his head before rising from bed and following Cy through the ship’s corridor.

 

“DECA,” Cy said while the two Kerovians made their way to the bridge. “Prep the shuttle pod.”

 

Cy turned to the ranger before he could object. “We’ll go into low orbit and take closer scans. We’ll head to the surface if we can’t find anything. I know this isn‘t just interference. Something is wrong down there.”

 

***

 

“Something is wrong down here,” Chris said while glancing over his scanner. The wind continued to whip tons of sand at him and the other rangers.

 

Justin stepped up to his friend. “You mean besides the giant snake and sand-swimming-flesh-eating manta rays?”

 

Ashley nodded in agreement while she looked through her dusty visor at her own scanner. “Yes…energy signatures. Right up ahead.”

 

“We’ll circle around and check it out,” Tommy said through his breathing mask. “Chris and Justin, take-”

 

The ground suddenly collapsed beneath them, and they started tumbling down a dark slope of sand, falling beneath the planet’s surface, and landing in a wide, artificially created crater. The crater’s walls were made of sand-struck metal.

 

A dozen armored mechs rose from the shadows, each pointing double-barreled blasters at the rangers. Each mech was skeletal in design with dirty metal framework. The mech pilots appeared human.

 

The rangers stood still. They knew the mechs could open fire before they triggered their morphing sequence. One of the mechs extended a small pitch fork from its frame. The fork emitted an electric burst that knocked the rangers unconscious.

 

***

 

Astronema sat in her ready room while staring out her viewport. A battle was raging outside the Dark Fortress, but she paid it no attention. It was only the fleet that had launched from Aquitar a week early. Astronema’s mind was on more important matters. Such as Zhane.

 

It wasn’t just the thought of him that bothered her. It wasn’t just her attraction to him. It was how he shook her whole belief system. Being around Zhane made her think that people could be good. Could be happy.

 

There was laughter…she thought to herself, recalling the settlement she had visited with Zhane. If people could laugh and be happy, then what was she fighting for? Astronema had been led to believe, for her whole life, that the universe was a corrupt place. A corrupt realm in need of change. The only way to make that change was to meet violence with violence. But was she wrong?

 

There was laughter…

 

Astronema’s thoughts drifted from Zhane as she wondered what her own laugh would sound like.

 

***

 

The rangers were pulled to their feet with their hands bound in chains. Their human captors stood in front of the mechs. Each wore dark brown robes over leather armor. One of the men stepped forward. He had short-buzzed gray hair and a trimmed goatee. He appeared to be in his mid 40s by human standards.

 

“Who are you?” Tommy asked, struggling against his bindings and contemplating snapping them off with a surge of heat.

 

The man raised an eyebrow. “Who am I? It is you, young man, who is intruding on my territory. So allow me to ask...who are you?”

 

A few mechs clicked their ammo into place to enunciate the man’s point.

 

Kat looked to Tommy. “Tell him.”

 

Tommy nodded, looking the man straight in the eyes. “We’re Rangers. From Earth.”

 

A voice snorted a laugh from behind the mechs. A man walked forward. He had dark spiked hair and a patch of black hair on his chin. “The infamous Earth Rangers? You’re barely children. Surely you five are not the ones causing so much trouble across the galactic plane.”

 

He turned to the silver haired man. “They’re lying, sir. Allow me to confine them for interrogation. Sauron may be on to us.”

 

Chris narrowed his brow. “We’re fighting against Sauron.”

 

“Yeah,” Justin said. “Do we look like Sauron’s goons?”

 

The dark-haired man signaled his men. “Take them away at once.”

 

The mechs and guards escorted the rangers down a side corridor. The team reluctantly followed, not wanting to cause a scene or risk getting torn apart before triggering their morph sequence. The two men stayed behind, along with a woman who had long red hair.

 

The woman laid a hand on the silver haired man’s shoulder. “They may be telling the truth, Sorwat. We should hear them out. See what they want.”

 

The dark haired man interrupted. “What they want? They clearly want us dead and came here to destroy us. Disguised with the innocence of children.”

 

Sorwat shook his head. “That is enough for now…we will question them. See what they know. They are not to be harmed in the meantime.”

 

“But sir-”

 

“Enough,” Sorwat said. “You are new to us, Karahn. Do not test my patience. We are not savages. We are not in the business of prisoner brutality or torture. Now see to your duties. Dismissed.”

 

Karahn wrinkled his brow and walked away while rolling his hands into fists. He spoke quietly beneath his breath. “Perhaps I will need to be more persuasive.”

 

***

 

Astronema walked onto her command deck to watch the battle rage outside. Velocifighters ripped apart sleek Aquition cruisers. Kyrana ships tore through the Triforian and Titan flank. It was madness. And Astronema had been taught that madness was the only language the universe understood. The only way to change the corrupt peoples of the galaxy.

 

One of her Quantrons signaled that the enemy fleet was sending a transmission. Astronema narrowed her eyes and stared at the forward viewer. “On screen.”

 

An image of the fleet commander flashed on screen. His head looked like a K-9 with blue fur. He wore a dark black uniform with silver and red trimming. “This is Capt. Kruger. This is your last chance. Surrender and you will be treated with mercy.”

 

Astronema arced an eyebrow and gave the captain a look of amusement. “Surrender? Maybe you haven’t been monitoring this battle closely, Kruger.”

 

The K-9 lowered his head. “Very well.” He said as the viewscreen flashed off.

 

Alarms suddenly started blaring within the Dark Fortress. Astronema narrowed her eyes and looked to her general. “Eclipter!”

 

The android quickly assessed the situation. “A wing of Titan ships are on a collision course.”

 

“Are they mad?” she said as she walked towards Eclipter. “Send in the Velocifighters. Destroy their engines.”

 

Astronema’s attack craft swooped in to attack the giant ships belonging to the simian race of Titans. The fighters opened fire with pulse cannons and plasma blasts. The blasts dented the armor protecting the Titans’ engines.

 

“Arm our torpedoes,” Astronema commanded as she walked back towards the forward viewer. “Destroy them.”

 

The Dark Fortress’s launchers opened and launched a volley of super-charged torpedoes towards the Titan ships. The torpedoes exploded against the cruisers’ hulls with a surging flash of fire. The ships’ shields flickered briefly before vanishing. Without shields, the ships were torn apart by the torpedoes and ripped to shreds.

 

***

 

Karahn kneeled in a dark, dug-out chamber filled with sand. The eye of Sauron appeared overhead, igniting in black flames. The eye emitted a low rumbling noise of intense power as Sauron spoke into Karahn’s mind.

 

“Yes,” Karahn answered. “The rangers are here…………yes my lord………yes…….I understand. The rangers will be dead by nightfall.”

 

***

 

Tommy ran his fingers across the bars caging the rangers in their make-shift cell. “I could break us out…but we have no idea where our morphers are.”

 

“Well,” Justin said, “we won’t find them in here. Break us out and let’s get going.”

 

Chris leaned against the stone wall with his arms across his chest. “We should play along for a while. These people don’t seem too hostile…”

 

Ashley smiled. “At least compared to everyone else we’ve met in this galaxy.”

 

Tommy nodded. “Agreed. Let’s see who these people are and what they want.”

 

Footsteps sounded from the shadows. The rangers looked to see Karahn and his men walk forward towards the small cell. He pointed at the cage with a short staff. “Bind them and bring them to the main chamber.”

 

“Ah,” Justin said quietly, “our humble tour guides.”

 

***

 

The main chamber was cluttered with bodies lying across the ground. Each person looked sick with twisted growths of corral punching through their skin. Their groans of pain echoed throughout the caverns.

 

Karahn led the five rangers deeper into the chamber. Medic teams tended to the wounded as Sorwat entered. He wrinkled his brow with concern while walking towards Karahn. The silver-haired man had a look of horror upon his face.

 

“What has happened here?” he asked Karahn. “What is wrong with them?”

 

Karahn narrowed his eyes and turned to the rangers. “Perhaps you should ask our visitors.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Ashley said while knitting her brow with anger. “We had nothing to do with this.”

 

Tommy nodded. “But we might be able to help. Find the real cause and stop it.”

 

Karahn pulled a small vile from behind his back. White fluid twirled within the small glass container. Karahn threw the vile, and it shattered against a nearby stone wall. The fluid spread across the stone and solidified into coral.

 

“I found that vile hidden in the intruders’ garments,” Karahn said.

 

“Bull!” Justin shouted.

 

Karahn looked to Sorwat. “What further proof do you need? They should be executed. At once.”

 

“Executed?” Sorwat said with disbelief. “Karahn, this is not a trial.”

 

Sorwat walked past Karahn and moved towards Tommy. The old man stopped in front of the ranger and looked him straight in the eye. They stood silently for a moment before Sorwat spoke. “Why should I believe you? Sauron’s people are known well for their tricks.”

 

Before Tommy could answer, another dozen sick and injured were brought into the main chamber. Their bodies were dumped among the others as medics tended to the protruding growths of bloody corral. Sorwat wrinkled his brow at the sight.

 

“Now is not the time,” he said, looking to Karahn. “Take them back to their cell.”

 

***

 

Karahn kneeled in a secluded chamber as the roaring eye of Sauron looked down upon him. Karahn spoke as Sauron’s words were blasted into his mind. “Yes, my lord………the corral is spreading as planed and the Rangers are taking the blame………yes………the Rangers will die and I will stay among the rebels, doing your work, tearing them apart from the inside………yes………I will, my lord………”

 

The eye faded as Karahn stood upright, a wicked smile across his face.

 

“So,” a voice said from the shadows as Karahn snapped around. It was Sorwat, stepping forward with a blaster aimed forward. “You are the traitor. You are responsible for this sickness.”

 

Karahn narrowed his eyes. “Your curiosity…will be your undoing.”

 

A gene-beast suddenly lashed out from the shadows and wrapped its arms around Sorwat from behind. The creature pulled Sorwat into the darkness in the blink of an eye.

 

***

 

Tommy snapped off a cell bar, making enough room for the rangers to squeeze through their cage. “Let’s get moving, guys...”

 

The teens followed Tommy out of the cell and towards a side corridor that led towards a lift station. Guards had used the station after capturing the rangers. The team remembered that four soldiers were stationed there, each armed with energy rifles.

 

The rangers ducked behind a corner adjacent to the lift station room. They didn’t want to risk a frontal assault without being able to morph into their armor for protection.

 

“Justin,” Tommy said. “Feel up to being the decoy?”

 

Justin sighed. “I was decoy last time. It’s Chris’s turn.”

 

Kat playfully nudged him in the back. “Just go, Justin. And be careful.”

 

Justin nodded and crouched down before sprinting forward. He skid to a halt in front of the four guards, as if surprised to see them there. “Damn!” he shouted before ducking back and running down the corridor from where he came.

 

“Stop him!” one of the guards shouted as his two men ran forward to catch the ranger.

 

The two guards turned and corner and fell flat on their faces as their legs were knocked out from underneath them. Their rifles went flying from their hands and skidding across the ground. They immediately turned onto their backs and pulled pairs of small blasters from their ankle holsters and aimed upwards towards their attackers.

 

Ashley kicked one of the weapons aside before slamming her heel against a soldier’s collar bone. Tommy grabbed and twisted the other guard’s wrist, causing the blaster to fall from hand.

 

Chris quickly picked up one of the blasters and inspected its power meter. “They have stun settings.”

 

Tommy and the others picked up blasters as well. “That will make the next part so much easier.”

 

The rangers moved forward and opened fire, their blasts slamming against the remaining two guards and knocking them unconscious.

 

Reinforcements moved in from the rear and opened fire on the rangers as they piled into the lift. Ashley hit the lift’s activation switch, and the crate started to climb towards a higher level within the dust-filled compound. Blasts ricocheted around the rangers as they returned fire, the lift carrying them further away. Suddenly, the lift slammed to a halt.

 

Ashley quickly looked over the single control panel. “We’re stuck. Some kind of security devises are clamped onto the lift.”

 

Tommy looked over the railing and noticed the trio of clamps. The guards below continued to open fire as Chris and Justin returned the assault with their own blasts.

 

“Not for long,” Tommy said as he took his blaster and shot out the clamps one by one.

 

The lift suddenly sprang forward at triple the velocity and nearly knocked the rangers from their feet.

 

“What’s going on?” Chris asked as the lift zoomed up towards the cavern ceiling at dangerous speeds. The force practically crushed them against the bottom of the lift.

 

“Some kind of fail safe,” Ashley said as her fingers danced across the controls. “I can’t stop it. The controls are locked.”

 

The lift slammed to a stop again and swung off its hinges, tossing the rangers through the air like a catapult. They slammed against a wall, which surprisingly crumbled on impact. The rangers skid down a steep curve on the wall’s other side. 

 

They tumbled onto the ground of gravel and rolled to a stop, their uniforms tattered from the fall.

 

“Ya know,” Justin said as he slowly pulled himself to his feet. “You would think we’d be better at this by now.”

 

Tommy rose to his feet to and gave Ashley a hand up. “We’re still alive…so you can’t complain.”

 

A dozen mechs suddenly sprang from the earth and armed their weapons, aiming at the rangers. Soldiers surrounded them in a pattern similar to when the rangers were first captured.

 

“Tommy,” Ashley said. “I think you jinxed us.”

 

“Wouldn’t be the first time, Ash,” he said.

 

Karahn walked forward from behind the soldiers and tossed a body to the ground. It was Sorwat. His body was ripped apart by growths of coral.

 

“Murderers!” Karahn shouted. “You will pay for this, you Terran scum!”

 

Tommy narrowed his eyes at the man. “We had nothing to do with this. We’re only here to-”

 

Karahn stepped forward. “Enough lies! You arrive, and hours later, our people start to die!”

 

Ashley wrinkled her brow. “That’s hardly evidence. And if you let us, we can help you figure out what these coral things really are.”

 

“Enough talking,” Karahn said as he pulled a blaster from his robe. “It’s time for an execution…”

 

An orange plasma burst knocked the weapon from Karahn’s hand. The rangers looked to see two cloaked figures move in from the shadows. They removed their hoods and masks. It was Cy and Zhane. 

 

The red-haired woman, the late Sorwat’s companion, grew pale at the sight of the two. “Cyin…is that really you?”

 

Justin arced an eyebrow and leaned in to whisper at Tommy. “Cyin?”

 

“No idea, pal,” Tommy said.

 

Cy stepped forward. “These people are not your enemies. They’re rangers. From Earth.”

 

Kat opened her eyes wide with amazement while looking at the gathered soldiers and troops. “You’re Kerovian. Aren’t you?”

 

The red-hair woman looked to the troop commanders. “Stand down.”

 

The mechs and soldiers lowered their weapons. All except Karahn, who snarled his teeth and pulled a second blaster out, swinging the weapon towards Cy and Zhane. “You two have horrible timing.”

 

Cy and Zhane dove for cover as Karahn opened fire. Tommy snapped forward with a jump kick, knocking the weapon away. Karahn turned towards Tommy and grabbed the ranger in a chokehold. Karahn lifted the ranger from his feet with a surprising display of strength. The dark-haired man tossed Tommy like a rag doll, slamming the ranger against his teammates.

 

Tommy wrinkled his brow and rolled his hands into fists while standing. “Something tells me there’s more to this clown than meets the eye.”

 

Karahn shot the rangers a cold stare. “Well…aren’t you clever.”

 

http://www.supersentai.com/database/1997_megaranger/images/mega-nb-coralnejire.jpgKarahn snapped his fingers, summoning a gene-beast with a flash of light. The creature’s jagged body was made of multi-colored coral fragments.

 

The coral creature lunged forward to attack the rangers. Karahn slid into the crowd of troops and tried to sneak away from the battle.

 

Cy charged towards the gene-beast and opened fire with his two blasters. Zhane took off in pursuit of Karahn.

 

The rangers dove for cover as the coral monster started lashing at them. Ashley stayed down in a crouched position and kicked the creature’s legs as Tommy and Chris slammed sidekicks against the monster’s chest. The gene-beast toppled over.

 

“Rangers!” the red-haired woman shouted. She tossed the team their morphers.

 

The rangers grabbed their Digimorphers and strapped the devises onto their wrists, just as the coral gene-beast rose from the ground. Tommy narrowed his eyes at the creature. “Let’s take care of business, guys…”

 

“Install! Astro Ranger!” they shouted while inputting the code 3-3-5-enter. Energy flashed around the team as they morphed into their Ranger forms.

 

Astro Blue downloaded his Astro Tomahawk. “Now this is more like it…”

 

Astro Blue leapt towards the creature and spun horizontally, slashing the monster across the chest. Astro Pink and Astro Yellow somersaulted across the ground to opposite sides of the beast and rose to their knees.

 

“Astro Sling!”

 

“Astro Capture!”

 

Astro Yellow’s weapon shot energy darts that exploded against the creature, while Astro Pink launched rings of pink energy that thrashed the gene-beast with a series of crackling sparks.

 

Astro Black leapt forward with his staff. He swung the weapon downward, smashing its edge against the monster’s head. He landed, and Astro Red leapt onto his teammate’s shoulders before pushing off.

 

“Drill Saber!” he energized his blade while swinging downward in a powerful diagonal arc that sliced through the coral monster.

 

The gene-beast fell backward as its body overloaded and exploded.

 

***

 

Zhane launched forward with a double sidekick against Karahn’s back. The villain went stumbling forward, but rebounded and turned to face the ranger.

 

“You don’t seem to realize who you’re messing with…” Karahn said, then started ripping at his own flesh, tearing his skin from his body, much to Zhane’s disgust.

 

When the organic disguise was stripped away, Darkonda stood.

 

“Darkonda!” Zhane shouted while flipping open his morpher. “Keitizer…Install!”

 

Astro Silver’s armor flashed on just as Darkonda fired a jagged blast of energy. The blast exploded against the Ranger and knocked him backwards. Darkonda charged forward, moving in towards the kill.

 

“I’m really going to enjoy this,” the villain snarled.

 

Astro Silver armed his Silver Blazer blade and spun forward, slashing the villain with a horizontal strike. Darkonda extended his own blade and lashed out at the Ranger with a series of diagonal blows that sparked against Astro Silver’s armor.

 

***

 

The coral creature’s body suddenly started bubbling and expanding on the chamber’s floor. Astro Red and the others signaled the troops and soldiers to fall back.

 

“Everyone, move away!” Astro Red shouted.

 

The coral gene-beast revived and grew giant size, bursting back onto the windy surface of sand. The Rangers leapt to safety onto the surface.

 

Astro Blue activated his communicator. “Astro Megazord, online!”

 

Astro Red activated his Battleizer. “Delta Mega, Install!”

 

The two ships speared into the atmosphere. The Rangers called their Cyber Sliders and hopped onto the boards, riding towards their cockpit. The Rangers slid into position as Astro Red inserted his Battleizer into the forward panel.

 

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

 

The Delta Mega wrapped around Astro Mega like a suit of armor. The combined Megazord landed against the sandy surface as sand beat against its hull. The storm intensified as wind howled against the zord.

 

“Not exactly the best fighting conditions,” Astro Blue said.

 

Astro Black nodded. “Our visibility is at zero.”

 

The coral creature lunged forward and slammed a double punch against the Astro DeltaMegazord. Explosions sparked against the zord’s armor and forced the robo backward.

 

Astro Yellow was jarred in her chair. “He doesn’t seem to have the same problem.”

 

“Forward thrust,” Astro Red commanded. “Tackle him.”

 

The back thrusters ignited and propelled the Astro DeltaMegazord forward. The megazord slammed its shoulder against the coral creature.

 

“Gattling blasters,”  Astro Red commanded. The shoulder-mounted cannons opened fire at point blank range. The blasts exploded against the monster.

 

Astro Yellow monitored the monster’s vitals. “He’s wounded.”

 

“Let’s take care of business,” Astro Red said. “Delta Knuckle, engage!”

 

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

 

***

 

Astro Silver swung his weapon upwards in a diagonal arc. The blade sparked against Darkonda and forced the villain backward. The Ranger pushed forward with a jump kick, his heel slamming against the villain’s chest.

 

Darkonda leaned forward. The spikes on his head fired orange-and-yellow tinted energy pulses that exploded against Astro Silver’s armor with a shower of sparks. Astro Silver pushed through the explosions and swung his blade horizontally. His Blazer’s edge slashed across Darkonda’s chest.

 

Astro Silver smiled beneath his helmet. He tried to stay confident despite the timer ticking down on his visor. “Kind of stings, doesn’t it?”

 

Darkonda snarled at the Ranger. “Not as much as this will!”

 

The villain energized his sword and swung diagonally. The blade exploded against Astro Silver and knocked the Ranger backward. Astro Silver crashed against a wall and slid to the ground. When he looked up, Darkonda was gone.

 

***

 

The red-haired woman, Lanan, led the team of five through the base caverns. “I can not believe…that this whole time…it was Karahn. That Sauron has been watching us. I was such a fool for not seeing it.”

 

Tommy shook his head. “Darkonda is a snake. Don’t blame yourself.”

 

“Yeah,” Justin agreed. “Blame Sauron, the floating eye.”

 

They moved deeper into the compound where soldiers were packing small transport ships.

 

“How soon do you move out?” Chris asked.

 

“As quickly as possible,” she said. “We must always stay on the move…it’s become the way of our people. But one day, when this war is over, we’ll return to KO-35 and rebuild what Sauron took from us.”

 

Cy and Zhane approached the group.

 

“The Megaship is loaded,” Cy said. “I’ve given the rebels encryption codes and frequencies for communicating with Trey’s fleet.”

 

Tommy nodded. “Good.”

 

Tommy didn’t notice that his hand had drifted to the locket he wore. He was running his thumb along its golden edges. Being around the Kerovians was an odd experience for him to say the least. Were they really his people?

 

Lanan suddenly moved forward and embraced Cy, her face full of sorrow. “Your brother would be proud of you, Cy…I am so sorry. One day, all of this sorrow will be behind us. Have hope…”

 

Zhane stepped forward towards the rangers. “Guys…there’s something I need to say…I’ve decided to stay here. With the rebels.”

 

“Why?” Ashley asked.

 

Zhane didn’t answer with the entire truth. He wanted to stay and fix his powers. His time limit was a hindrance. But among the scientists of KO-35, he could find a way to fix his morpher. “I can help them get back on their feet. I owe it to them. But don’t worry…I’ll meet up with you guys again eventually.”

 

***

 

The rangers gathered on the bridge of the Megaship. They watched the last KO-35 transport leave the barren world below.

 

“They’re all clear,” Chris reported from his station.

 

Justin sighed and shook his head. “I’m going to miss that white-haired clown.”

 

“He’ll be back,” Tommy said.

 

“Unfortunately,” Cy muttered beneath his breath.

 

Kat’s console started to beep. “We’re picking up a distress signal…it’s encrypted.”

 

“Decode and put it on screen,” Tommy said.

 

A static-filled image filled the forward monitor. It was Kruger. “Our attack wing…destroyed…few survivors…assistance…”

 

To be continued…Chapter 17