Rangers in Space: Chapter Seventeen

Flight of the Mega Voyager

 

The five Rangers walked through the torn remains of Kruger’s ship. The vessel was dimly lit by flickering lights and sparks. The ship was venting atmosphere through several fractures and hull breaches. Support beams and debris cluttered the corridors.

 

Astro Red looked to Astro Black. “Are you picking up anything, Chris?”

 

Astro Black nodded. His helmet’s sensors were active. “One life sign. Very faint.”

 

Astro Pink ducked beneath a fallen beam while the group moved forward. “One life sign out of an entire fleet…this is terrible.”

 

Astro Red looked back to her. “We’ll have time to mourn later. Right now, let’s focus on saving who we can and finding out what happened.”

 

They continued down the corridor. Occasional sparks illuminated the darkness while the team moved further into the ship. Several crescent-shape blades littered the ground. Each blade was think with blood.

 

Astro Blue shook his head at the sight of the weapons. “Looks like they were boarded…but what happened to all the bodies? The crew and the Quantrons?”

 

No one answered. The team turned a corner and moved down a slanted passage that led deeper into the vessel. A slim figure was bent over a torn bulkhead. He was sodden with blue blood. His features made him look like a humanoid K-9. He was Kruger, from the planet Sirius in the Anubi System.

 

The Rangers moved forward and gathered around the alien. Astro Yellow pulled out her portable scanner and slowly waved the instrument over the humanoid’s body. “He’s suffered massive internal bleeding. He doesn’t have much time. We have to get him back to the ship.”

 

A loud clanging sounded from the other end of the ship. The Rangers stared down the corridor, not making a single move as they waited. They heard another noise that sounded like footsteps. The steps were coming closer.

 

“Chris,” Astro Red said. “I thought there weren’t any other life signs.”

 

Astro Black shook his head. “There aren’t.”

 

Two insect-like figures suddenly leapt from the shadows. Their bodies were unnaturally thin and covered with hard exoskeletons. They shrieked at the top of their lungs while arming foot-long spikes of bone that stuck out from their forearms.

 

Pores opened on the creatures’ arms and shot webbing towards the Rangers.

 

“Break!” Astro Red shouted as the five Rangers dove away from the webbing.

 

Several strands wrapped around Astro Yellow’s ankles and she fell to the deck plating. One of the creatures pounced towards her, but Astro Red ran to her defense.

 

“I don’t think so, web-face,” Astro Red said as he pulled out his Astro Sniper and fired at near-point-blank range.

 

The creature was not phased by the blast and pounced against Astro Red while slashing at him with bone claws. Astro Red rolled backwards, grabbing onto the creature and dragging it down, and pushed his legs against the monster’s chest. The creature went flying backward and crashing against a damaged bulk head.

 

“What are these things?” Astro Blue asked as he chopped his tomahawk into a creature’s skull, but the slender monster kept moving. He followed with a round kick to its side.

 

“Whatever they are,” Astro Black said as he hook punched another creature. More of them kept coming from the shadows. “They’re not registering as anything alive. Just bone and muscle.”

 

Astro Red flipped back to his feet and speared a creature through the gut with his Drill Saber. “Fall back. We have to get Kruger out of here.”

 

Astro Red used his Drill Saber to cut Astro Yellow’s legs free and helped her back onto her feet.

 

“Thanks,” she said, arming her Astro Sling and firing energy darts at a creature.

 

“Not a problem,” Astro Red said as he slashed another creature.

 

The Rangers started moving further down the corridor. Astro Pink and Astro Blue had Kruger draped over their shoulders. The others fought against the creatures while covering their retreat.

 

“Where’s the nearest docking port?” Astro Red asked while slicing a creature open with his saber.

 

Astro Black downloaded the information onto his visor. “Just a few meters down the central corridor. There’s damage in the area, so it will be a tight fit.”

 

The ship suddenly shook, and the Rangers were nearly thrown from their feet.

 

“We have another problem,” Astro Black said. “This ship is falling apart all around us.”

 

Astro Blue sighed. “Our lives are getting so cliché.”

 

Astro Yellow axe kicked a creature against the collar bone. “If the hull breaches, we’d survive in our armor, but Kruger wouldn’t.”

 

“Kat,” Astro Red said as the swarm of creatures continued to lunge at them. “Contact Cy. Tell him to prep a shuttle pod. We’re going to be cutting this close.”

 

Kruger weakly lifted his head and spoke to Astro Pink. “They…are everywhere…scavengers…entire fleet…”

 

The ship rocked again.

 

“That is so getting old,” Astro Blue said.

 

The corridor suddenly erupted with a shower of blue energy lances. Dozens of soldiers covered head to toe in silver-and-black colored armor rushed onto the ship and blasted at the creatures. The new arrivals pushed back the creatures with an impressive force of plasma blasts and particle beams.

 

They cleared the way, covering the Rangers as they moved to escape to the Megaship.

 

***

 

Kruger lied back on a bio-bed in the Megaship’s medical bay. He was hooked up to various medical devices. Tommy and Justin stood over the barely-living soldier along with the warriors who had mounted the rescue. They were all members of Kruger‘s race, the Anubiseijin.

 

A red-furred K-9 looked towards Tommy. “It is a wonder he survived.”

 

“What were those things that attacked us?” Tommy asked. “They didn’t even register as life forms.”

 

“They’re not alive,” said the red-furred being known only as Major. “They’re Scavengers. New weapons being developed by forces loyal to Sauron. They’re automated flesh and bone. They consume everything in sight, whether dead or living. Astronema must have unleashed them near the battle’s conclusion.”

 

Tommy looked to Justin. “Check out the Network. See if there’s any word on where these things are being made.”

 

Justin nodded and moved from the room. “Will do.”

 

Tommy looked back to Major. “We probably shouldn’t stay here for long.”

 

“Agreed,” Major said. “We will accompany you in your search for the Scavenger plant. In the meantime, might I suggest we head to Onyx.”

 

“Why Onyx?” Tommy asked. “It’s not exactly the most friendly of places, from what I hear.”

 

“Indeed it is not,” Major said. “But that is where the enemy fleet withdrew to. We were able to track their hyperspace trail.”

 

Tommy activated the nearest wall-mounted communicator. “Cy…set a course for Onyx. Hyper-rush nine.”

 

***

 

An hour later, Ashley stood at a corridor viewport and stared at the stars streaking by. Tommy walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.

 

“A public display of affection?” she said teasingly. “What’s the special occasion?”

 

Tommy shrugged and stared out the viewport. “I just wanted to remind myself why we do this…for the people we care about…”

 

Ashley ran her hand along Tommy’s. “What do you thinks been going on back at Earth since we left?”

 

“Hm,” Tommy said. “I hear they made another Jack Nicholson movie.”

 

Ashley rolled her eyes and teasingly elbowed Tommy in the ribs.

 

***

 

Onyx was a hive of scum and villainy. The world was nothing but scorched earth, burnt beneath the feet of pirates and killers that walked across the soil.

 

A tavern sat in the midst of the wasteland. The hut served various bounty hunters, thieves and pirates. Tables in the old shack were equipped with holographic gambling games and entertainment cubes. Darkonda walked among them.

 

The villain moved towards the upper level, laughing as he tipped over a drunken midget. He moved down a row of doors. He stopped at the sixth door to his left and knocked.

 

“Open the door, troll,” Darkonda said.

 

The door slightly creaked open, and a three-foot troll creature peaked his head out. “You’re...early.”

 

 “Thank you for noticing,” Darkonda snarled cynically. He stabbed out his hand. “The vile. Give it to me.”

 

The troll nodded. His nervous body was shaking. “Yes, yes…I just need to go in and grab it…”

 

The creature moved back into the shadows. A sleek metallic hand extended a small vile of orange liquid. The hand belonged to Eclipter. “Not a word,” he said in a low metal tone.

 

A chill shot down the troll’s spine at the sight of Eclipter’s blood-red eyes. The creature shook his head and took the vile as instructed.

 

The troll walked back to the door and cracked it open while handing the vile towards Darkonda. The villain snatched the vile with a blur of motion.

 

“Thank you,” Darkonda said. He extended his hand and fired a jagged pulse of orange-red energy that ripped through the troll, incinerating his body. “There’s your payment.”

 

Darkonda’s laughter echoed through the tavern as he walked downstairs towards the bar.

 

***

 

The Astro Megaship blasted through hyperspace on its way towards Onyx.

 

Tommy was reading a data pad at a desk in his quarters. He had a glass of caf in hand while reading through the manifests and data Gandor had given him months ago on Kilwan.

 

His mind suddenly slipped from reality. Visions danced across his mind’s eye. He saw himself, no older than five, on a grassy landscape. He was playing with his sister, floating a hovering series of spheres with portable tractor beams.

 

One of the spheres fell loose. Tommy ran after the sphere on short legs. It wasn’t long before he heard his sister scream.

 

“Karone!” young Tommy shouted as he ran back for his sister.

 

He skid in his tracks when he saw. A creature, Darkonda, was lifting Karone from the ground with a glimmer of sick pride in his red eyes. Before young Tommy could even scream, the sky started to burn, and he was knocked unconscious.

 

Tommy snapped back into realty within his quarters. He shook his head to clear the images, but they remained frozen in his mind.

 

He narrowed his eyes and tightened his fists. “Darkonda…it was you.”

 

***

 

Kruger sat up in his bio bed as Kat gave him a hypo-spray to dull his pain. The blue-furred being rubbed his neck where the hypo-spray had stung. “Thank you…”

 

Kat smiled at the alien. “It’s not a problem. We’re just glad you’re alright.”

 

Kruger smiled, although coming from the dog-like being, it looked more like a snarl. “My species has a special gift for healing. It’s probably why I…survived.”

 

Kat sat down on the edge of the bed. “It’s a good thing you did…so you could warn us. Now maybe we can stop the same thing from happening to other vessels. Stop the Scavengers.”

 

Kruger nodded. “But still…they were my crew. My ship. My fleet. I was responsible for each of their lives. I should have died with them.”

 

“But you didn’t,” Kat said. “So make that count for something. Everything happens for a reason.”

 

Kruger nodded, a low growl rolling in the back of his throat. “I will start with helping find the Scavengers’ nest. And helping destroy it.”

 

***

 

The Astro Megaship speared into realspace at the edge of the Onyx System. The ship hit its afterburners and started streaking towards the desert world. The Megaship’s holographic cloak made the ship appear like a wedge-shaped stealth freighter.

 

Tommy walked through the morphing bay while grabbing a cloak and blaster from his storage locker. He had a fierce look of determination on his face. He knew Darkonda was on Onyx. He could sense it.

 

“DECA, how long until we reach Onyx?” Tommy asked.

 

“At present course and speed,” DECA answered, “two standard hours.”

 

Tommy shut his locker and walked towards his morphing tube. “I’m going ahead towards the surface. Don’t tell anyone that I’ve left.”

 

“The planet Onyx is in a prohibited sector,” DECA warned. “Approaching alone is not advised.”

 

“Noted,” Tommy said as he leapt into the morphing tube.

 

***

 

Onyx’s atmosphere had a dusty, orange tint. Tommy wrapped his cloak around him, hiding his face while walking down a major route. Speeders and hovercraft zoomed by. He noticed Velocifighters as well.

 

He moved to his left and swung open the main tavern’s doors. He walked inside and made his way towards the bar. Through the corners of his eyes, he assessed every table and alien in the tavern. He noticed Darkonda gambling at a round table not far from the entrance.

 

They were playing a game called Zanaba. Cy had taught them the card game during a mission on a world called Nobrai. Darkonda was playing with four other aliens. One of them was a gray-skinned insectoid. The other appeared humanoid with an abnormally large, bumpy forehead and a rag covering the lower part of his face. The third was a dark-scaled reptilian with broad shoulders and red eyes. The fourth was a humanoid with dry, shaggy red hair.

 

“Hmm…” the insectoid said in a surprisingly deep voice. “I’ve got nothing…accept this!”

 

He laid his cards on the table. Tommy could tell the insect had the highest hand, because the other players made sighs of disgust. The red-haired humanoid was cleaned out, mumbled something Tommy’s translator could not pick up, and left the table.

 

“I just love this game,” the insectoid said, amused by his winning. “Deal the cards.”

 

“Wait.” Tommy made his move, slowly walking towards the table and seating himself.

 

“Deal,” he said in a low, mysterious tone.

 

The partially masked humanoid narrowed his brow. “And who do you think you are?”

 

“I am just a traveler,” Tommy said in a quiet voice.

 

“Hmph,” Darkonda said. “Aren’t we all? Deal them…”

 

The cards were dealt. Tommy looked at his hand, wishing he remembered more of the rules. Luckily, it was easy to give a poker face when your opponents couldn’t actually see your face.

 

The reptilian leaned forward and tossed five crystals into the pot. “Wager five against three bits.”

 

“I’m in,” Tommy said, also tossing in five.

 

Darkonda placed in eight crystals, and then another four. “Call three bits. Raise you four.” Darkonda snarled a smile at the sight of the masked man’s hesitation. “Perhaps this game is out of your price range?”

 

The bumpy headed man reached into his pouch and pulled out five sleek, black data cards. Tommy tried to hide his surprise when he noticed the INET logo on each of them. “I have, uh these key cards.”

 

The insectoid snapped his jaws and leaned forward towards the humanoid. “Those are worthless!”

 

The masked alien reached for his blaster. “I’ll show you worthless…”

 

“You don’t have to,” the insect said, snapping his jaws. “He’s sitting right in front of me.”

 

Tommy looked down at the cards, continuing to project a dusky persona. “Where did you get these?”

 

“They’re Zordon’s,” the humanoid said. “I stole them after the battle on Eltar.”

 

The insect clamped his jaws shut and stared down at the cards. “All right…I’m in.”

 

The humanoid smiled beneath his mask as he laid down his cards. “Three Zanabas.”

 

“Ha!” Darkonda said as he laid down his own cards. “Three Zanaba-tars!”

 

Tommy laid down his own cards and weaved a spell on them. It was a simpler version of the illusion-mask attack his friend Adam, the Lion Ranger, had often performed years ago. The spell altered the cards’ appearance.

 

“What!” the bumpy humanoid shouted. “A Zinta? You cheat!”

 

The man shot up from his chair and pulled out an energy rifle from his cloak. He aimed the rifle at Tommy. Tommy slowly, but powerfully, swung his leg out in a crescent kick that knocked the rifle away. The ranger followed by standing and snapping a sidekick that smashed the villain backward.

 

Tommy gathered the jewels and key cards and placed them into a pouch beneath his cloak. He turned and walked towards the bar. Darkonda followed.

 

Darkonda pulled up a stool and sat next to the disguised ranger. “A skilled player and a daring fighter…that’s my kind of match.” He looked to the bartender. “Server! Two Tomalian Ales for the traveler and myself.”

 

The server brought them the ales. Darkonda took a cup and slid it to Tommy. “This one’s on me…You know, I would be willing to pay you handsomely for those key cards.”

 

“I need them,” Tommy said in a quiet voice. “To buy information.”

 

“Ah,” Darkonda said. “Then today is your lucky day. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything.”

 

“I need information,” Tommy said, “on KO-35.”

 

“In the Kerovian System,” Darkonda said. “I know it better than anyone.”

 

Tommy slid the key cards onto the table. “Then perhaps we can make a deal…tell me what you know.”

 

Darkonda snatched the cars. “It’s the only M-class planet in the system. Trees, lakes…quite a dreadful place. It’s uninhabited now, but years before it was deserted, a did a little job there.” Darkonda snickered at the memory. “I kidnapped a little girl…while her and her brother were playing. You could go there now, but you’d be wasting your time…”

 

Tommy tightened his grip on his metal cup, nearly crushing it. “What became of the girl?”

 

“She’s alive and well,” Darkonda said. “You won’t believe where she is now. She…”

 

Darkonda noticed part of Tommy’s Digitizer beneath the cloak sleeve. He rose from the table. “What did you say your name was?”

 

“I didn’t,” Tommy said as he slowly rose as well.

 

Darkonda narrowed his eyes. “Then allow me…Red Ranger!”

 

Darkonda unsheathed his sword and swung towards the ranger’s head. Tommy looked back, quickly kicked a jagged sword from a patron’s belt, and grabbed the weapon with the blade pointed downward. Tommy reached up and blocked the blow, shoved Darkonda’s saber away, and snapped out with a sidekick.

 

The kick slammed against Darkonda, moving the villain back, giving Tommy time to hop onto the bar itself. Darkonda swung upward towards Tommy, but the ranger blocked or parried each strike.

 

Tommy flipped off the bar and landed near a stairwell that led up towards the balcony. Darkonda charged towards Tommy with a series of strikes. The ranger blocked each blow and struck back, but Darkonda knocked the blade aside.

 

Their duel continued, steel against steel, as Tommy backed up the steps. Darkonda pushed forward, never yielding. Tommy dodged right and parried a spear strike. He followed with a diagonal thrust that Darkonda blocked.

 

Tommy jumped backward over the last few steps and landed on the balcony. Darkonda charged forward and swung his saber towards the ranger’s head. Tommy ducked beneath the blow, the hood of his cloak dropping in the process, and stood with his back to the balcony’s railing.

 

Tommy smiled mockingly and held up the key cards he managed to lift from Darkonda during the dodge. “Thanks for the key cards.”

 

Darkonda shouted and pounced forward.

 

Tommy leapt from the balcony, grabbed onto a chandelier, swung forward, and flipped off while shouting. “Install!”

 

He morphed into his armor and landed on his Cyber Slider as the bar patrons ducked for cover. Astro Red leaned forward and shot into the streets outside the bar. He angled right and jetted forward, but a Velocifighter quickly fell into pursuit from behind. One of the fighters approached ahead of Astro Red as well.

 

He smiled beneath his helmet. “Sometimes they make this too easy…”

 

Astro Red moved straight for the fighter. Seconds before crashing, he flipped off his glider. The Velocifighter passed underneath the Ranger and crashed into the pursuing fighter. The two ships were destroyed in a massive ball of flame. Astro Red completed his flip and landed back on his Cyber Slider.

 

He blasted off towards space.

 

***

 

The other rangers were on the bridge as Major and Kruger stood by. Kruger’s condition had improved enough to let him move about the ship. Kruger, Cy, and Ashley stood over the port science station as information scrolled across the screen.

 

“The information is coming in,” Ashley said as she manipulated a few controls. “Got it…we have the coordinates for the Scavenger plant. It’s on a planet called De’jornel.”

 

Cy wrinkled his brow with thought. “I’m not familiar with it.”

 

“Few are,” Kruger said. “The world is in the Maray Arm. Near the Ravin’lah Cluster. De’jornel is of little significance. Humanoid population of 3 billion. Industrial and technological culture. They have not ventured outside the orbit of their own moon.”

 

Ashley pulled up an image of the small world. “Perfect hiding place…”

 

“Ashley!” Chris called from his station. “Tommy’s back. He just came in on his slider.”

 

Ashley breathed a sigh of relief. He is so going to get an earful.

 

***

 

A few minutes later, the bridge doors opened and Tommy walked in. He moved immediately to his station and looked over to Ashley, his face stern with anger. “It was Darkonda. He kidnapped Karone.”

 

Kat answered a signal on her station. “Incoming transmission from the surface.”

 

“On screen,” Tommy said.

 

The screen activated, and an image of Darkonda appeared. Tommy tightened his grip on the controls as he stared ahead at the screen. “Long time no see. Thanks again for the key cards.”

 

Darkonda laughed. “I’ve taken more from you than key cards, it seems. If you want to know where your sister is, you will meet me on De’jornel. See you soon.”

 

The viewscreen deactivated.

 

***

 

Ashley, the other rangers, Kruger, and Major sat around the situation room table. She activated the central holographic projector. An image of De’jornel appeared.

 

“This is the place,” she said. “The Scavengers are being made here in an underground lab. The inhabitants don’t even know life exists outside their world…needless to say, they’re unaware some of that life is making bio weapons in their basements.”

 

She looked to Tommy. He had that look in his eyes again. A look like he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. To Ashley, Tommy’s sense of responsibility was both his most endearing and most annoying quality.

 

Tommy looked to the other rangers. “I’ll take care of Darkonda while you guys go into the lab.”

 

Chris shook his head. “That’s too dangerous…you can’t go up against Darkonda alone.”

 

“Yeah,” Justin said. “That’s just what the creep wants, and he probably has something up his sleeve.”

 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a trap,” Tommy said. “It’s my fight. Destroying the Scavengers is more important. That’s where you guys will need to be.”

 

Tommy looked to Kat to change the subject. “What have you found out about those key cards?”

 

Kat called up the information on her data pad. “They’re activation programs and special coordinates. Everything’s encrypted. Ashley, Cy and I used DECA to try and decode the cards, but we haven’t had much luck yet.”

 

Ashley nodded. “Billy must have encrypted the code himself. “

 

“Yeah,” Justin said, “where is he, by the way.”

 

Tommy bit his tongue, and Ashley could tell he was trying to hold back a cynical comment or two. Instead, Tommy just shook his head. “That’s a conversation for another time….Now, what kind of help can we expect during the raid on the Scavenger plant?”

 

Cy activated his data pad. “Trey and his group are planning on rendezvousing with us.”

 

Justin turned to Cy. “Who’s with Trey these days, anyway?”

 

“A squad of Rigelian and Triforian commandos and three Titan soldiers,” Cy said.

 

“All right,” Tommy said as he shifted the holographic image. “Let’s go over the attack plan…”

 

***

 

The Megaship speared back into realspace around De’jornel. Pyramidus was not far behind.

 

Tommy stood at his station as the blue-green world flashed onto the monitor. “Polarize the hull plating. Standby weapons.”

 

Chris’s monitor started beeping. He shook his head while watching the monitor. “This can’t be right…Ashley, can you double check my readings?”

 

She did. Her face turned pale. “There’s nothing wrong with the sensors…I’m not picking up any life signs. They’re all gone.”

 

Kat sank in her chair. “Three million people…”

 

Tommy narrowed his eyes at the viewer. “How?”

 

Chris’s monitor beeped again before they could answer. “A squadron of Verox fighters are approaching.”

 

Justin completed his scans of the twelve ships. “They have modular shields, photonic pulse cannons, and concussion grenades.”

 

“Let’s play it by the books,” Tommy said. “Set Megalasers to rotating frequencies. Target the lead ship.”

 

The Verox fighters broke formation and opened fire with high-speed energy blasts. The Megaship rolled to starboard and opened fire with ventral Megalasers. Blue lances of energy stabbed against the lead fighter. 

 

The fighters arced towards the ship and poured on the fire. The rangers rocked on the bridge from the blasts’ impacts. Justin waited until the vessels passed and triggered a burst of Megalaser fire that pierced three fighters beneath their vulnerable engine manifolds. The three ships exploded, leaving their wing mates disorganized.

 

“Bring us around, heading 427 mark 385,” Tommy ordered. “Full barrage, all cannons.”

 

The Megaship barrel rolled around and burst forward, heading back towards the fighters. Megalasers opened fire, showering the fighters with neon-blue energy blasts. The energy darts slammed against the fighters’ shields. The Megaship climbed and banked as the fighters returned fire. The fighters’ blasts passed harmlessly over the ship’s hull.

 

The remaining nine ships broke into three groups and tried to catch the Megaship in a pincer movement.

 

“Bring us back around,” Tommy ordered. “Torpedoes, dispersal pattern sierra.”

 

The Megaship angled towards three incoming fighters. The ship fired a torpedo blast, and at the last second, the torpedo split into three and slammed against both ships, cracking their shields. The Megalasers opened fire and tore through the unprotected ships. The ships exploded into bursts of flames.

 

Pyramidus handled the remaining ships with a single, concentrated, golden lightning bolt. The bolt ripped through the ships and vaporized them.

 

Justin looked to Kat. “He’s efficient. You gotta give him that.”

 

Kat merely nodded, her mind fixated on the 3 billion lost lives.

 

“Bring us into orbit,” Tommy ordered. “Let’s take care of business.”

 

***

 

The five Rangers landed in the center of a deserted concrete plaza. The plaza was surrounded by tall buildings and coliseum-type structures. It reminded the Rangers of a 21st-century version of ancient Rome.

 

“Alright,” Astro Red said. “You guys head over to-”

 

Explosions suddenly sparked around them. The five Rangers looked up to see Darkonda standing before them with his arms crossed.

 

“Do you like what I’ve done with the place, Rangers?” Darkonda asked before cackling with mad laughter. “This planet was a little crowded…so I alleviated the problem.”

 

The Rangers snapped into fighting stances.

 

“This is it, Darkonda,” Astro Red said. “This is our last fight. You’re going down…”

 

“Doubtful,” Darkonda said. He pulled a vile of potion and drank. The potion energized every cell of the villain’s body. Orange and yellow energy crackled over his skin as his body shook.

 

Darkonda looked down towards the Rangers and started running towards them. His body electrified with energy. He darted forward in a blur of orange and yellow motion. He dashed back and forth between the Rangers at blinding speed. Explosions sparked across the Rangers’ armor and hurled them to the ground.

 

Darkonda streaked upward to a low building and landed on the roof. He looked down upon the Rangers and fired jagged pulses of orange and yellow energy that exploded around the team, kicking up concrete and debris in storms of fiery explosions.

 

Darkonda leapt down from the rooftop and energized his saber. He swung the weapon downward, in a streak of yellow energy, and slashed the saber across Astro Pink’s armor with a sparking explosion. He moved forward with a horizontal strike against Astro Blue, a wide arc that slashed Astro Black and Astro Yellow, and swing across Astro Red.

 

Darkonda turned sharply and struck Astro Red across the chest with another diagonal strike. Astro Red was taken aback, but pushed forward to counter strike. He snapped a roundkick towards the villain’s head, but Darkonda blocked the blow and followed with a hook punch across the Ranger’s helmet. Astro Red was knocked backward and went rolling across the ground.

 

***

 

Kruger, Major, and Trey led an assault team through the sewers beneath the city. They were on their way towards the Scavenger nest. Grifalzor, the Titan descendant of Goldar, sniffed the air at the scent of approaching danger. He tightened the grip on his longknives and snarled his teeth. The simian was dressed in silver armor with gold lining.

 

“There’s something up ahead,” he grumbled to Kruger.

 

Kruger held his sidearm at the ready. “Alert A and B teams. We’ll circle around to the central access shaft. Be ready for any-”

 

The screeching of Scavengers shot through the tunnels as a horde of the creatures pounced forward. They leapt from the shadows and attacked.

 

Kruger opened fire with pulses of blue energy that ripped through the lead two Scavengers. Trey stood behind Kruger and armed his wrist braces.

 

“Ultra Transform!” the Triforian shouted. Gold energy flashed around him as he morphed into his Ranger form.

 

Grifalzor rushed forward and slammed the end of one longknife against a Scavenger’s face, crushing its head. He followed by spinning forward and cutting open a Scavenger with a horizontal strike.

 

Zeo Gold leapt forward with a flying sidekick that crushed a Scavenger’s chest. He summoned his staff with a burst of golden energy and aimed the weapon forward.

 

“It’s time for a gold rush…Victory Flash!” Zeo Gold shouted. Bursts of golden energy shot through the Scavengers and started ripping them apart limb by limb.

 

***

 

Darkonda walked towards the fallen Rangers with his sword extended. He smiled, snarling his teeth. He was ready to give the final blow. But tendrils of energy suddenly exploded and sparked across his body. The jagged energy was coming from his own body. Slime started dripping from his pores, and his body convulsed.

 

Darkonda dropped his sword and started scampering off, afraid that his own body was attacking him. He retreated to a nearby concrete tunnel, that was likely used for transportation, and slid downward like a dripping syringe full of disease.

 

“What…” he shouted in the shadows as his body shook. “What’s happening to me?!?!?”

 

Darkonda heard a cold steel laugh from the shadows. The villain turned to see Eclipter step from the darkness. “Hello, Darkonda…you’re not looking too well.”

 

“You!” Darkonda spat as he stumbled towards Eclipter. “You did this to me!!”

 

Eclipter said nothing. The android stepped back into the shadows and vanished. Darkonda pounced towards the empty space where Eclipter had stood and swung his weapon like a madman, howling at the top of his lungs.

 

Darkonda’s body surged with energy again, rendering him incapable of coherent words or thoughts. His cells expanded, causing him to grow giant sized. Every spike and tendril grew even larger than the rest of his disfigured body. He howled at the top of his mutating lungs, a sound that shook the empty city.

 

Energy surged through his body and erupted from his eyes in twin crimson optic blasts. The blasts cut across the skyline with fiery blasts.

 

The Rangers gathered beneath the giant.

 

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

 

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

 

The Rangers joined in the cockpit, and Astro Red inserted his brace into his console.

 

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

 

Darkonda, still in pain with jagged spikes sprouting every second, started spinning. He fired optic blasts in energy direction. Beams of energy exploded against the Astro DeltaMegazord’s armor. 

 

The villain charged forward, his jagged nails longer than sword blades. Darkonda slashed diagonally against the Megazord, then horizontally. Each strike sparked against the zord’s hull with tremendous fury. The villain pounced forward again, using both hands to claw against the zord’s hull with bursts of spark. Darkonda pushed the robo backward.

 

“Gattling cannons,” Astro Red commanded, “fire!”

 

The shoulder-mounted cannons rained a shower of blasts towards Darkonda. The blasts exploded against the villain, but he kept moving forward. Darkonda slashed his nails across the Megazord with bursts of spark.

 

Astro Blue was nearly knocked from his seat. “Nothing’s slowing him down. He’s operating on pure psycho-mode.”

 

“We’ll have to hit him with the big guns,” Astro Red said. “Delta Knuckle, engage!”

 

The zord’s fists energized and shot towards Darkonda like cannon balls. The villain held his claws in an ‘x’ pattern across his chest. The knuckles slammed against the claws and bounced back towards the Astro DeltaMegazord. The knuckles exploded against the robo with a pair of fiery explosions that dented the zord’s armor.

 

The impact overloaded a cockpit conduit and caused a series of explosions to spark.

 

Astro Yellow monitored her station. “We’re losing armor integrity.”

 

“Tap into reserve power,” Astro Red said.

 

Darkonda leapt forward and landed while slashing the zord with his claws. He used one claw like a spear and stabbed forward at the zord’s midsection. The spear stabbed through the zord’s armor and tore through circuits and power conduits.

 

A massive overload exploded inside the Rangers’ cockpit. Power conduits and cables ruptured with sparks of energy.

 

Darkonda pushed forward with another slash across the Astro DeltaMegazord. The robo was forced back. A power surge in the Megazord caused tendrils of blue energy to dance around the robo’s armor with a series of explosions.

 

Darkonda leaned forward and fired an optic blast that bashed against the zord’s chest plating.

 

The Rangers rocked in their cockpit as another energy surge sparked across their consoles.

 

Astro Yellow read the damage report. “That last shot took out our MP relays. We’re leaking power.”

 

“Tommy,” Astro Blue said. “This freak’s power is getting stronger every second.”

 

“Keep it together, guys,” Astro Red said. “We have to hit him back, and we have to do it hard.”

 

Darkonda fired another optic blast that exploded against the Astro DeltaMegazord. The villain followed through by pouncing at the zord and ripping across its armor with claws.

 

Sparks ripped through the cockpit, knocking fixtures from above and short circuiting panels. The Rangers were jolted in their seats as Darkonda struck again.

 

“Transfer all power to offensive systems,” Astro Red said. “Ashley and Justin…I need a final attack.”

 

Ashley manipulated her controls. “We might be able to create a super-heated energy cyclone if we use all our reserves.”

 

“A vortex attack,” Astro Blue said. “Sounds like a plan…I’ll modify are weapon arrays.”

 

“Make it count,” Astro Red said as he tightened his grip on the controls. “We can only do this once.”

 

The Astro DeltaMegazord extended its arms and started spinning like a cyclone. Crimson energy gathered around the zord’s armor, creating a cloud of red mist. The spinning Megazord launched forward like a drill and punctured through Darkonda’s chest, driving all the way through, and landing on the other side of the villain.

 

Explosions tore through the empty streets and clouded Darkonda from vision with flame.

 

“That got him!” Astro Blue shouted in victory.

 

But as the smoke cleared, Darkonda still stood.

 

Astro Black shook his head. “That’s not possible…how did he survive that?”

 

http://www.rangercentral.com/images/pris-vi-mutantrus.jpgOne of Darkonda’s spikes fell from his back. The spike bubbled and mutated, expanding into a giant form of its own. The creature’s body was mostly a squid-like head. It had two giant pincer claws.

 

Darkonda fired a pair of optic blasts while the monster fired crimson plasma blasts. The energy beams exploded against the Megazord’s armor.

 

Darkonda pounced forward and slashed the robo across the chest, his claws cutting through the robo. The monster moved in behind the Astro DeltaMegazord and wrapped its pincers around the robo. The monster sent energy charges against the zord’s hull, causing explosions to rip across and through the robo.

 

The monster tossed the Astro DeltaMegazord aside. The robo went tumbling backward and slammed back-first against the street. The robo skid down the block, tearing up pavement and sparking with explosions.

 

The Rangers were tossed around the cockpit. Panels exploded from the consoles, and the cockpit viewport shattered.

 

The Megazord finally skid to a halt.

 

“Damage report,” Astro Red said.

 

“Long or short version?” Astro Yellow asked.

 

“Short,” Astro Red said.

 

“Everything’s broken,” Astro Yellow said.

 

Cy’s voice came through the Rangers’ communicators. “The key cards were decoded before the main computer core crashed.”

 

“Uh, Cy,” Astro Blue said. “Now is not the time.”

 

“No,” Cy said. “Zordon was making a new weapon. The key cards have a program for your Cyber Sliders that will teleport you to the weapon’s location.”

 

Astro Pink looked down to Astro Red. “We can’t just leave everyone here.”

 

Cy answered. “You can if you hurry.”

 

Astro Black turned to his leader. “We can separate the Delta Mega to take us a safe distance. Then we can teleport out.”

 

Astro Red narrowed his eyes beneath his helmet as he watched the Megazord’s damaged displays and readouts. “Doesn’t look like we have much of a choice.”

 

***

 

Rangers in its cramped cockpit, the Delta Mega separated and blasted into space while in ship mode. The monster spawned from Darkonda followed.

 

“Guys,” Astro Black said. “We have company…”

 

The monster clamped its massive jaws and pinchers onto the rear of the ship. Its teeth and claws tore into already damaged armor and circuitry.

 

Astro Red held up his Battleizer. “Boosters, engage!”

 

The Delta Mega ignited its thrusters, blasting the monster off of the ship.

 

***

 

Grifalzor jammed his saber through a Scavenger’s chest and twisted the blade, opening the villain’s wound. He stepped forward and slammed the heel of his palm upside the Scavenger’s head.

 

The team arrived at the central corridor near a elevator shaft. The group gathered on top of the elevator, grabbed onto the cord, and shot the elevator loose. The team was pulled up the shaft at alarming speeds as the elevator plummeted towards the shaft’s bottom.

 

***

 

The five Cyber Sliders flew over the surface of a barren moon. They angled their descent towards a crater extending from the rocky surface. Large, metallic doors opened on the crater’s side, revealing a runway with blinking lights.

 

Astro Blue turned to Astro Red. “That looks like our welcome mat.”

 

Astro Red nodded. “Let’s go in.”

 

The Rangers leaned forward and throttled into the crater’s entry port.

 

***

 

The Rangers walked through the dimly-lit corridors of the moon base. All atmosphere was vented. Only emergency power kept the compound running.

 

Astro Black used his helmet function to navigate the team through the halls. “Up ahead and to our left…I think.”

 

Astro Yellow looked to him. “You think?”

 

“It’s almost like these halls keep shifting,” Astro Black said.

 

Astro Red nodded. “Could be a security system…stay alert.”

 

They moved in silence through the shadows. They made their way through a narrow hall and entered an empty cargo bay. An open bay door on the other end of the cargo area caught Astro Black’s attention.

 

“That open door,” Astro Black said. “There’s a huge bay area on the other side. That’s where the weapon is.”

 

Bursts of purple energy erupted in the cargo bay’s center. Craterites appeared when the light faded. Eclipter appeared behind the Rangers with a burst of neon green light.

 

The Rangers snapped into fighting stances.

 

“We don’t have time for this…” Astro Red muttered under his breath.

 

Eclipter pointed his sword at the Rangers. “This base will be your grave.”

 

The villain angled his sword away from the Rangers and aimed towards the cargo bay door’s controls. He fired a burst of green energy that exploded against the controls. The bay doors slowly started to close.

 

“Let’s move,” Astro Red commanded. “Ashley and Kat, get to the door. Guys, screen ‘em.”

 

The Rangers dashed forward.

 

Astro Red slammed a jump kick against a soldier’s face, turned back towards Eclipter, and blasted the villain with an Astro Sniper shot. Astro Black charged forward with a flurry of punches, and Astro Blue used his Astro Tomahawk to chop soldiers aside, while Astro Yellow and Astro Pink moved towards the bay doors.

 

Astro Yellow reverse hook kicked a soldier aside while Astro Pink slammed an outer crescent kick against a soldier’s head. They made it to the door controls.

 

“Great,” Astro Yellow said sarcastically. She turned towards the others. “You guys better get over here quick! The circuits are fried! I can’t hold the door open!”

 

“You two go,” Astro Red commanded, using his Drill Saber to parry a trio of blows from Eclipter. “We’ll be right behind you!”

 

Astro Yellow and Astro Pink ducked underneath the sliding door and left the cargo bay.

 

“Chris, Justin,” Astro Red said while slamming a sidekick against Eclipter’s chest. “You guys are next.”

 

The two Rangers dashed forward, using their weapons to clear away Craterites, and dove forward towards the door. They slid to safety as the door lowered to five feet from the ground.

 

Astro Red held his saber against Eclipter’s blade, pushed forward, and glared at the villain. “We’ll have to finish this another time, Eclipter.”

 

Astro Red pulled his sword away and spinning-heel kicked the android backward. The Ranger ran towards the door and rolled underneath, seconds before it clamped to the ground.

 

***

 

Zeo Gold, Kruger, and the others had gone up and down several shafts, lifts, and rail systems. If not for their scanners, they wouldn’t be able to tell if they were two miles above the surface, or 60 miles below.

 

One of the Rigel troops glanced over his scanner as the group moved down a passageway lined with pipes and wires.

 

“The main nest should be up ahead,” he said. “The whole room is protected by reinforced trelium. We can break through if we focus at the weakest structural integrity points.”

 

The group approached the door. Kruger and the others set their weapons to the highest possible setting.

 

“On my mark,” Kruger said as he and the troops aimed. Zeo Gold pointed his staff forward.

 

“Fire!” Kruger shouted.

 

Blue and golden energy pulses slammed against the door, crumbling certain areas and sending cracks along the frame. The door superheated and exploded inward.

 

Zeo Gold and the Titan warriors leapt through the smoke first as the other commandos slid in behind. They found themselves on a catwalk extending over a massive cave. The cave was larger than several domed arenas. Millions of sacks hung from the cave walls and ceiling.

 

“Hmph,” Kruger mumbled as he looked over the vast cave. “I think we need more explosives.”

 

***

 

The Rangers pulled themselves to their feet. They were surrounded by darkness.

 

“Well,” Astro Blue said, “we should probably find a light switch, huh.”

 

Astro Pink smiled beneath her helmet. She took a few steps backward and tripped over something. She fell over a railing they could hardly see and screamed.

 

Astro Blue dashed forward and grabbed onto her wrist. “Gotcha.”

 

He pulled her back up.

 

Astro Yellow managed to find a small control console. “I think I’ve got it…”

 

Dim lights illuminated the catwalk that they stood on. Far below, five spot lights started to click on. Each spotlight illuminated a different vehicle: a large blue-trimmed missile, yellow, blue and black craft, and a red-trimmed robo with shoulder-mounted missile packs.

 

“Sweet!” Astro Blue said as he looked over the railing at the vehicles. “New zords! I love it when we get new zords.”

 

Astro Red divided the key cards among his team. “Let’s saddle up…and hope these zords are working.”

 

The Rangers moved to five different poles, and Astro Red noticed the INET logo nearby. They each slid down a pole that led them to their zords’ cockpits. The missile was in the center of the bay floor. The other four zords, surrounding the missile, were pointed in different directions.

 

Astro Red slid into his dark cockpit onboard Mega V-1. He noticed a slot on the forward console and inserted his key card into the slot. The cockpit’s lights flickered on, and two control stations lowered at the Ranger’s sides.

 

“Standard controls…” he said to himself as he looked over the panels. “Thanks, Zordon…”

 

Five bay doors and launch corridors opened. Four corridors led to exits at the sides of the crater. The fifth corridor led to an exit on top of the crater.

 

Astro Yellow looked over her controls. “This is great…what are we waiting for? Let’s launch.”

 

Astro Red smiled beneath his helmet. “Alright guys, you heard her. Let’s move out.”

 

The zords, the Mega-Vs, slowly slid towards the launch tunnels. Each zord accelerated forward with a blur of speed once reaching the tunnels. The five zords blasted off from the crater and grouped together.

 

Mega Vs 2 through 5 lined up with the missile taking the lead. Astro Red moved his Mega V-1 forward. The robo hopped onto the rear vehicle and pushed off, moving up the line to the Mega V-4. The robo pushed off and landed on Mega V-5, crouched, and jumped onto the missile Mega V-3.

 

“Thanks for the lift,” Astro Red said.

 

“Hey!” Astro Blue said as he rocked in his cockpit. “Watch the paint job!”

 

The monster spawned from Darkonda appeared as if from nowhere and slammed against the Mega V-1. The zord and monster went floating back towards the moon’s pull.

 

Astro Red used his zord’s thrusters to flip the robo around and hover over the moon’s surface. The monster landed as well, its movements slow in the vacuum of space.

 

“You are such a tag along,” Astro Red said. “Shoulder cannons, fire!”

 

The shoulder-mounted packs opened fire with darts of yellow energy that exploded against and around the monster.

 

The monster leaned forward and launched pulse blasts from its forehead. Mega V-1 activated its rocket pack and leapt backwards, the blasts exploding beneath the zord’s feet. The monster moved forward and slashed against the zord’s armor with its pincers.

 

Astro Black and his Mega V-2, a shuttle-type craft, arced around and blasted purple energy pulses at the creature. The blasts exploded against the monster and knocked the creature back.

 

Astro Yellow and Astro Pink moved their zords forward, each craft firing energy bursts that exploded against the creature.

 

Mega V-3 slid across the moon’s surface and landed.

 

“Did somebody call for a taxi?” Astro Blue said.

 

Mega V-1 leapt onto the missile. The craft fired its rockets and blasted off the moon’s surface.

 

“Bring us around for an attack run,” Astro Red said.

 

The missile blasted towards the monster as Astro Red triggered his zord’s shoulder packs. Yellow energy darts rained forward and exploded against the creature, ripping the monster apart until it exploded.

 

“Alright guys,” Astro Red said. “Let’s go finish Darkonda…”

 

The zords blasted back onto space.

 

“Tommy,” Astro Yellow said, “I found a fusion program!”

 

“Whoa,” Astro Blue said sarcastically. “Individual zords combining into one? That’s unheard of.”

 

“Let’s do it,” Astro Red said. “Mega Voyager, online!”

 

The five zords reshaped and combined into one robo: The Mega Voyager.

 

***

 

Darkonda thrashed through the deserted city. The villain moved back towards the damaged Astro Megazord.

 

Cy sat in the Astro Megazord’s cockpit and grabbed tightly onto the controls. He brought the zord upright and fell back into a defensive stance, wishing weapon systems were online.

 

Darkonda pounced forward in a mindless fit of rage. Galaxy Mega swung its fist against the monster. The fist crumbled as Darkonda was bashed backwards.

 

Cy narrowed his eyes as Darkonda prepared to strike back. The Kerovian knew that Galaxy Mega could not withstand another blow.

 

Before Darkonda could strike, a giant figure blocked out the sun. The Mega Voyager suddenly arced down from the skies and landed on the concrete streets. The five Rangers sat in the Megazord’s cockpit.

 

“Round two, Darkonda,” Astro Red said.

 

Darkonda fired another pair of crimson optic blasts at the Megazord. Mega Voyager activated its thrusters and leapt clear of the blasts as explosions tore apart the ground below.

 

Astro Red pushed the controls forward, commanding the new robo to thrust through the air towards Darkonda. Astro Blue brought the defenses online.

 

“Activating shield,” Astro Blue said.

 

Darkonda fired optic blasts as Mega Voyager activated its triangular shield. The blasts exploded against the shield while the Megazord continued its advance.

 

Mega Voyager moved the shield aside and swung forward, bashing its feet against Darkonda’s chest. The villain went crashing backward against the ground. Mega Voyager continued its thrust and landed on Darkonda’s chest, smashing and cracking his ribs. The zord jumped up and down on the villain.

 

Darkonda managed to roll out of the way and rise to his feet. The villain tossed a chain at Mega Voyager. The chain wrapped around the zord’s neck. The Megazord grabbed the chain and try to break free, but could not.

 

“New plan,” Astro Red said. “Pull!”

 

Mega Voyager used the chain to pull Darkonda forward. The Megazord slammed its fist against Darkonda, and the villain went stumbling backward.

 

“Let’s finish him,” Astro Red said. “Mega V-3 missile mode!”

 

The Mega V-3 missile mode landed in the Megazord’s hand. Mega Voyager aimed the weapon forward at Darkonda.

 

“Voyager Spartan!” the Rangers shouted.

 

The missile launched a concentrated burst of spinning kinetic energy that exploded against Darkonda. The blast ripped the villain apart until his energy overloaded and exploded.

 

The Rangers breathed sighs of relief and sat back in their chairs.

 

“Alright,” Astro Red said. “Kat, contact Trey and his team. Ashley, do a damage assessment of the Galaxy Mega. Chris and Justin…let’s figure out what happened to the people on this planet.”

 

***

 

Kruger and the others finished planting explosives around the Scavenger nest.

 

“That’s the last of them,” Kruger said. “Let’s go back to the surface.”

 

The team started running down the corridor as the charges blew, sending fiery explosions ripping through the Scavenger sacks.

 

The team was not around to see the smoke clear. They weren’t in the hive to see a dozen Scavenger remains combine and mesh together into one being.

 

***

 

Trey and the others regrouped on the surface plaza area among smoking debris from the zords’ battle with Darkonda. Small fires dotted the area.

 

Grifalzor snarled a grin of approval at the battle field.

 

A dark figure suddenly erupted from the ground. It was a Scavenger, only the creature had two mouths covered with fangs and six arms. Each arm had three curved blades extending from it.

 

The Rigel and Triforian commandos opened fire on the creature immediately, but it spun forward while holding its blades horizontally. Zeo Gold leapt in front of the soldiers to protect them. Blades cut across the Ranger’s armor and knocked him backward.

 

Grifalzor moved in next. He swung his left blade down and cut through a Scavenger’s spike. The Titan spun forward and used his right blade to slash across the villain’s chest. Grifalzor lunged at the villain, holding his sword in an ‘x’ formation, and crashed the blades against the creature’s chest.

 

The Scavenger stumbled back while Kruger and Major stepped forward. The two K-9s blasted the creature’s wound with pulses of blue energy from their weapons.

 

Zeo Gold energized his staff.

 

“It’s time for a gold rush…Victory Flash!”

 

A flurry of golden energy bolts crashed against the Scavenger, and the lifeless creature exploded.

 

***

 

The fiery remains of Darkonda stirred. A humanoid bulge started to take shape. The bulge shifted and grew arms, a head, and legs. The goop reshaped, and Darkonda was reborn. He coughed his first breath, hacking ichor onto the ground.

 

He didn’t know how it happened, and he didn’t care. He had pulled himself back together. And the Rangers, Astronema…and even Sauron…they were all going to regret it. He would see to that.

 

To be continued…Chapter 18