Rangers in Space: Chapter Six
Beware the Spores
"The warriors of Titan were known for their prowess, bravery,
and their relentless spirits.
For Tommy, they were simply a reminder of all he had lost."
— H.T. Covington, 2110
"The Rise and Fall of INET Vol. 3:
Flight of the Galaxy Mega"
"We're entering the Drilax System," Cy said as he and the rangers manned their stations on the bridge of the Megaship.
"Take us out of hyperspace," Tommy said. "Kat, open a channel to Drilax One."
A face on the viewscreen appeared that caused a massive surge of anger to well up inside of Tommy. It was a cross between an ape and a wolf, and it looked almost identical to Goldar.
"State your purpose," the simian said. Tommy simply wrinkled his brow.
Cy spoke up. "We have an important message for your people. Astronema's forces are gathering to attack this system. They're using the Golios Cluster as cover."
The simian nodded. "We have detected some strange activity in that area...We'll send you an approach vector. Your ship will be thoroughly scanned before docking at our space port."
"Understood," Cy said as the viewscreen blinked off.
"Cy, can I talk to you," Tommy said as he and Cy entered the turbolift.
"That thing...what was that thing...I thought that planet was Drilax One?"
"It is. Drilax One. Titan," Cy said. "Why?"
Tommy shook his head. "Goldar..." he muttered quietly with venom in his voice.
Astronema sat in her ready room as she gazed out her viewport into the Golios Cluster. It had nebula-like qualities that were pleasing to her eye.
Eclipter walked into the room and stood at attention in front of her desk. "The carrier is ready, princess."
"Excellent," Astronema said. "Send him to Titan at once. Then to Drilax Two."
"It will be done," Eclipter said. "There is something else. Our spies on Titan have informed us that the Rangers have just arrived."
A crooked smile spread across Astronema's face. "How unfortunate for them. Send the carrier."
The Megaship was docked at an orbital spaceport, and the teens were led down to Titan's capital city via one of their shuttles.
The city's skyscrapers appeared as if they were carved from stone. Giant statues of winged Titan warriors lined the streets. They made Tommy's stomach churn as he followed their guide along the streets.
"We are honored to have you here," their guide said as he led them. He was dressed in a suit of bronze armor. "Tales of your exploits have reached even our corner of the quadrant. We are impressed, a feat not accomplished lightly."
"What are all these statues of?" Kat asked.
"Warriors who have died in battle," said the guide, named Balthus. "We are a proud race of warriors. To die in battle is a great honor."
Tommy's head whipped around to his right as he saw a Titan dressed in a mixture of gold and silver armor. He was armed with two long-knives, each a few inches shorter than Tommy's Drill Saber.
"Vengeance is mine!" the simian warrior yelled as he charged towards Tommy. Balthus stood in front of Tommy to protect him, but Tommy pushed the bronze-plated Titan aside and charged towards his opponent.
"Install, Astro Ranger!" Tommy shouted as he transformed into his armor and leapt towards the Titan. He flying sidekicked the simian in the chest and landed as he backfisted the warrior across the face.
The Titan rolled with the blow and spun, swinging his blades horizontally while aiming for Astro Red's chest. Astro Red quickly grabbed the simian's wrist, before the blow could connect, and twisted. The longknife fell out of the warrior's left hand, and Astro Red hook kicked the simian across the head.
A barrage of bronze flame slammed against the silver-plated warrior and tossed him backward as Balthus leapt between him and Astro Red, using his wings to make the jump.
A trio of black-armored warriors swooped down from the air and surrounded the silver-plated assailant. One of the black guards stood behind the silver warrior and held him steady by the arms as the other guards pointed spears at his throat.
"Take him away," Balthus said.
"Wait," Tommy said as he demorphed and walked towards the simian that attacked him. The other rangers and Cy stood by watching with peaked curiosity.
"Who are you?" Tommy asked as he stood in front of the silver warrior.
"I am Grifalzor," he said.
"Doesn't ring a bell," Tommy said.
The warrior snarled at him. "You brought dishonor to my family."
Tommy glared at Grifalzor. "Maybe your family deserved it...take him away."
Titan's Grand Hall was circular and lined with 12 pillars. Each pillar represented a different godling that the Titans worshipped. The ceiling of the room domed off, and several slits let the light of the setting sun pour into the room, casting a golden hue across everything.
In the front of the room sat the emperor. He was dressed in a blue cloak that brought out the dark navy color of his fur. His broad wings swept backwards and over the throne he sat upon. Behind the emperor was a statue half the size of a Megazord. It was of a large Titan with six wings extending outward and four hands stretched out, holding a sphere that was shaped to resemble their homeworld.
"That is our interpretation of the Lifegiver, He who shaped the cosmos," Balthus explained to the humans as they filed into the room. The Astros were morphed, but carried their helmets off to their sides, the equivalent of dress uniforms, Cy had told them.
"My lord," Balthus said as he kneeled before the emperor. "I present the Rangers of Earth."
The emperor nodded. "Speak."
Cy stepped forward. "We came to..."
"Ranger speak," the emperor said, cutting off Cy. Cy looked to Tommy, and Tommy hesitantly stepped forward.
"We came to warn you," Tommy said. "Astronema's amassing a fleet in the Golios Cluster. She means to take over your system and use it as a stepping stone into the fourth quadrant of our galaxy."
The emperor nodded. He stared at Tommy silently as he rose from his throne and walked towards the teen, his robe flowing. "Your fear."
Tommy wrinkled his brow. "What?"
The emperor snarled. "Sorrow, fear, anger, aggression..."
Tommy took a deep breath to try and stay patient. "We're not talking about me, we're talking about Astronema, and while we're talking, she's getting ready to invade this whole system."
The emperor snarled again as he looked Tommy up and down. "You care not."
Tommy sighed. "I care about stopping Sauron."
The emperor lifted his head and sniffed the air. "They come."
A warning bell rang outside as Balthus turned to the Rangers. "We are under attack."
"Let's go," Tommy said as they left the atrium.
A moth-type creature was flying through the air over Titan's capital with a cloud of dust trailing behind it.
The Astro Rangers ran across the street as the monster swooped down low. Astro Red leapt through the air, bounced off a statue, and tackled the monster in mid flight. The Ranger and monster went crashing to the ground.
The monster rose to its feet as the Rangers regrouped. The moth creature spread its wings and fired a cloud of dust at the Rangers. The five Rangers braced themselves, but the cloud of particles passed harmlessly over them.
"That the best you got?" Astro Red said.
The monster shook its head. "You'll see." It spread its wings and shot up through the air and out of sight.
Tommy was in his quarters on board the Megaship, the planet Titan visible from his viewport. He was going over the book Gandor had given him, when his door chimed.
"Come in," he said.
The door slid open, and Tommy snapped to his feet as a female Titan entered the room.
"How'd you get here?" he asked.
She held up her hands as a sign she meant no harm. "Your friends let me on board and directed me to your quarters. I am Balthus's mate, Jintara. May I have a seat?"
"Actually I'm..." before Tommy could finish his objection, Jintara took a seat on his bed. The female looked much more wolfish and slender than her male counterparts. She also had no wings. Tommy reluctantly took a seat. "What is it you want?"
"To speak to you," Jintara said. "About him."
"What makes you think I want to talk about Goldar?" Tommy asked. "I got rid of him a long time ago."
She nodded. "You would judge our whole species by the acts of one?"
"I never said that," Tommy said sternly. "Now if the only reason you're here is to psychoanalyze me, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"I came to explain the actions of Grifalzor," she said.
"I could care less," Tommy said. "I-"
"He is only a pup," she said before Tommy could object. "Nineteen of your years. For centuries, his family has been of the lower class, without honor, without purpose, all because of Goldar. His ancestor. The actions of Goldar damned his family line."
"Why does he blame me for having a bad family line?" Tommy asked.
Jintara smiled. "Makes about as much sense as you blaming my entire species for the acts of Goldar."
"That's quite a helpful explanation," Tommy said sarcastically.
"Grifalzor believes Goldar was tricked into joining Bandora. When he resurfaced on Earth after centuries of being thought dead...Grifalzor believed that Goldar intended to redeem himself and restore honor to his family," Jintara said.
"That's bull," Tommy said.
Jintara nodded. "As I said, he is only a pup. It would take an act of great honor to restore his family's status. He had high hopes."
"Well just explain to him that his family is a bunch of blood-thirsty psychopaths," Tommy said.
Jintara rose from the bed. "I pray your time here will lighten your heart." She left the room.
Cy, Balthus and Jintara called the rangers into the Megaship's sickbay a few hours later. Also in the room were two creatures who the teens didn't recognize until they were introduced as Faleans, a cast of healers that coexisted with the Titans. Their features were cat-like.
"I've got bad news," Cy said as the rangers filed in.
"What is it?" Tommy asked.
Cy looked to the orange-furred Falean named Bet'la, who pulled up an image on the medical bay's monitor. It was a spore interacting with other cells.
"These spores were spread by the creature you fought earlier," Bet'la said. "They're designed to attack their hosts on an atomic level, breaking an organism apart quark by quark.
"The spores are highly adaptive," Bet'la continued. "Even when we simply examine a spore, it changes its own composition, making it almost impossible to counter."
"Are you saying we've all been infected?" Justin asked.
"Yes," Bet'la said. "You, and half of Titan's population by now. The spores are easily spread by air and can strive and multiply outside of a host for hours."
"How long do you have to come up with a cure?" Tommy asked.
Bet'la's fur bent backwards, a sign of distress. "In 24 hours, those already affected by the spores will die. I can not develop a cure in that amount of time. The spores are too adaptive."
The rangers turned pale, except for Tommy, who's face turned blood red. He glared at Balthus and Jintara. "You people are cursed," he said as he stormed out of sick bay.
Astronema was in her ready room, reviewing reports from patrol ships in the sector, when Eclipter walked in.
"The carrier has delivered the spores to the capital city and is continuing to circle the planet," Eclipter said.
"Excellent," Astronema said. "Prepare our occupation forces."
"Yes, my princess," Eclipter said as he stepped out of the room.
The door to Tommy's quarters chimed, and Ashley barged in before Tommy could respond.
"I have to start locking that thing," Tommy said.
Ashley stood over Tommy with her hands on her hips. "First of all, I just wanted to clarify that I'm only doing this because I'm your friend...What the hell is the matter with you?"
"Excuse me?" Tommy asked as he stood.
"No," Ashley said. "We just find out about this...these spores....and you yell at those innocent people."
"They're Titans. They're not innocent," Tommy said.
Ashley shook her head. "What happened Tommy? You've been acting weird since KO-35, but this...God, Tommy what is it?"
He shook his head.
"Argh...I can't believe you," she said. "I just can't. Fine...we have 24 hours to live...spend them moping around your quarters feeling sorry for yourself. You wonder why you're alone. Jesus, Tommy, you do it to yourself."
She turned and stormed out of Tommy's room. He stood silently.
The door chime to Kat's quarters beeped, and Justin walked in.
"Hey Kat," he said with a smile as Kat stayed seated at her table. "Just came to see if I could get you anything."
"You can wipe that fake smile off your face," Kat said quietly.
Justin sighed and sat down across from her. "Cy and those scientist guys will figure out a way to get rid of these spores."
She shook her head. "You heard what the doctors said. This is it."
"It's not even the fact that we're dying," she said. "I always knew this could happen...just not like this." A tear streamed down her cheek.
Justin reached across the table and wiped the tear from her face. "Hey...where's that optimism we've come to love, huh? We'll find a way..."
She smiled and reached up to hold his hand. Their eyes met, and they felt like they were looking at each other for the first time. Before either of them could think or speak, her door chime sounded.
"Come in," Kat said. The doors slid open and Cy walked in. He hesitated for a moment.
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't realize you had company."
"It's okay," Kat said with a smile. "Is there any news?"
Cy shook his head. "No. I just came to see if you...or anyone...would like to join me on the shuttle run back the surface. The Falean are further analyzing the spores at their lab."
Kat looked to Justin. He shrugged. "Beats sitting around here. Let's grab Chris and go."
"What about Ashley and Tommy?" Cy asked.
"They're going to have things to work out," Kat said.
"Just hope they don't kill each other," Justin said as they left Kat's quarters.
The door to Ashley's quarters chimed, followed by a thud, then some cursing.
"I lock my door," Ashley said. "Come in."
The door slid open and Tommy walked in, immediately walking to stand over her as she sat on her bed.
"Fine," he said. "Flashback to 2001. Bandora's first attack. I was young, liked practical jokes, a straight-A student, sort of, and very much in love. Her name was Shannon.
"Bandora's first attack. Goldar, a Titan, one of them, tears through Angel Grove. He blasted..." he shook his head. "He blasted a building. I tried to push her out of the way but I was too late. She died. Then they took me."
"Took you?" Ashley asked. "Tommy, sit," she said gently as she grabbed his hand and motioned him to sit next to her.
Tommy sat and nodded. "Bandora kidnapped me and turned me into one of her warlords. I was fighting alongside the people that took her from me. Fighting against the Rangers. When the spell broke and I returned to normal..." he shook his head. "I wanted to die.
"Because of Goldar, my whole life shattered. I...Zordon gave me a home. He made me realize that these powers were my chance to make sure no one else had to go through what I did. I couldn't save Shannon, but with these powers, I'll never be too helpless to save innocent lives again."
"It wasn't your fault, Tommy," Ashley said.
He nodded. "It was. That's why I kept fighting, even though..." he shook his head.
Ashley said nothing, she simply rubbed his hand. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "When I was with the Rangers I always felt like an outcast. They were my friends, but I just felt guilty, like I could never make up for what I'd done. That's why I didn't tell you and the others about any of this. I wanted it to be a fresh start. I didn't want you to think less of me.
"Now all this...Everywhere I look on this god-forsaken place, I'm reminded about what happened. Goldar. Shannon. Everything," Tommy said. "It's like I can't escape my past...that's why I have to find Karone."
"My father was a Gorma. I was Bandora's warlord. I need to know...I need to know that someone in my family is good. Someone in my family isn't tainted by this stupid, pointless war. Made something out of themselves. I know it sounds stupid, but Karone is my last hope at finding something good about my past. It's not that I don't love my adopted family. I just...I need to find her."
"I understand," Ashley said. "But you have to realize that it doesn't sound stupid at all..."
Tommy sighed. "So anyway...I just wanted to let you know."
She reached over and hugged him. "I will never think less of you. None of us will. Understand that or I'll beat it into you."
Tommy smiled. "Thanks...I'm sorry."
"Me to," she said as she released him. "For different reasons. You picked one hell of a time to open up."
He shook his head. "There's still time. They'll find a cure."
Ashley sighed. "Be realistic. You heard what those doctors said. This isn't something we can fight. It's something we have to accept."
Tommy shook his head. "I thought you were supposed to be stubborn."
"Don't get me wrong," she said with a smile. "I'm going to put up one hell of a fight against these spores..." her face became serious. "But in the end...hey, we all knew this could happen."
"But they didn't," Tommy said as he looked out the viewport.
Tommy nodded. "I can't stand the sight of them, but something Jintara said about Grifalzor...his family's been punished for generations because of Goldar. What if I was punished for the sins of my father? He's a victim. There's a lot of victims down there."
Ashley sighed. "If only those stupid spores wouldn't be so adaptive."
Tommy wrinkled his brow as a thought hit him. "Maybe if they can't examine the spores...they can examine the source."
"The monster himself?" Ashley asked.
"It's our last shot," Tommy said.
"Well, what are we waiting for?"
Justin, Kat and Chris walked along the streets of Titan's capital outside of the Falean medical complex.
"So this is it," Chris said as he placed his hands in his pockets and hung his head down low. "Funny I'm not as scared as I thought I'd be."
Justin nodded. Then a group of young Titans walked by. They looked like little bear cubs as they laughed and ran around their mother. One of the cubs tripped and fell in a puddle as his siblings and parents continued ahead.
Kat walked over and helped the cub to his feet. He stared at her with round brown eyes, licked her face, then scurried off. "We can't let them die..."
Justin and Chris looked at the cubs and realized, although they weren't scared for themselves, they were scared for the Titans.
"We won't," Tommy said as he and Ashley ran over to them. "Now come on...are you going to stand around and mope, or are you going to help us save these people?"
The moth creature flew over a city on the southern continent as it spread its spores. Lances of blue energy struck the creature, knocking him to the ground near the city's plaza. The Rangers holstered their snipers as they walked boldly towards the villain.
"You again," the monster said as he rose to his feet. "Don't you realize there's nothing you can do?"
"We'll see, won't we," Astro Red said. "Let's go!"
The five Rangers ran towards the villain as he fired an energy pulse. The pulse exploded around the Rangers, but they ran through it. Astro Red flipped through the air and landed behind the monster while grabbing it by the arms and holding it steady.
Astro Yellow and Astro Pink rolled across the ground towards the monster. "Astro Snipers!" they fired darts of blue energy that sparked against the monster. The creature retaliated by firing twin energy beams from its antenna that exploded against the female Rangers. He then flipped Astro Red over his shoulder.
"Astro Tomahawk!" Astro Blue shouted as he spun through the air and chopped off one of the creature's leathery antenna. Astro Black rolled across the ground to the antenna, picked it up, and placed it in a glass cylinder.
"Get that back to the lab," Astro Red said. He and the other three Rangers stood in defensive stances in front of the monster as Astro Black flew off on his Cyber Slider towards the lab.
"Alright," Astro Red said. "It's time to take care of business."
Before they could attack, Astro Yellow keeled over to the ground in pain.
"Ashley!" Astro Red was at her side in a second.
"It must be the spores," she said softly. One-by-one, the Rangers fell to the ground as pain shot through their bodies.
"See how easy it is," the monster said as he extended his hand and fired an energy pulse that exploded against the Rangers.
After Astro Black delivered the antenna to the Falean, he jetted back towards the Rangers on his Cyber Slider. He watched from a distance as the monster struck the other Rangers down one-by-one.
He hopped off of his Cyber Slider and flying elbowed the creature's back. His legs then failed him, and he collapsed to the ground.
The Rangers managed to slowly regroup as the monster laughed at them. He fired another energy lash that whipped against the Rangers and sent them flying backward. Their armor disengaged as they landed.
The monster laughed as he turned to fly off.
"Stop!" the creature turned to see the rangers climb to their feet. "We're not through yet," Tommy said.
"Fools," the monster said.
A wide assortment of ships entered the Drilax System, all under the control of Astronema. Her own Velocifighters, Quantrons, and Craterites made up the backbone of her army, with pirates, bounty hunters, and mercenaries filling in the gaps.
Astronema watched from her viewscreen as the Dark Fortress remained in the Golios Cluster.
"Order Velocifighters and Verox fighters to take out the outer defense platforms," Astronema instructed. The automated platforms were the only threat Astronema viewed to the armada, since most of the planet's inhabits would soon be dead.
The teens were knocked away by the monster one-by-one. They tried to put up a fight, but weren't able to in their weakened condition.
The teens lied on the ground and struggled to rise to their feet as the monster crept towards them.
Astronema smiled as the first of the defense platforms went up in flames.
"Astronema," Eclipter said. "A group of ships just came out of hyperspace in the Drilax System."
She wrinkled her brow as she saw. "It can't be...destroy them!"
Tommy pulled out his side arm and fired plasma bursts, but the monster kicked the gun away and stood on Tommy's chest.
"I admire your bravery. As a reward, I'll put you and your friends out of your misery," the monster said.
"I don't think so!" a voice shouted as bolts of golden energy exploded against the monster and sent him tumbling backward. Zeo Gold leapt in front of the teens and held his staff in a fighting stance while facing the monster.
"Who..." the monster said.
"Zeo Gold!" the prince shouted as he switched stances.
"Trey!" the rangers shouted, glad to see their old friend.
"Déjà vu," Justin said weakly.
In orbit around Titan, Pyramidus led a flotilla of Triforian ships against Astronema's attack wing. The royal fleet outflanked the attackers and dealt them a crippling blow as the battle raged on.
Zeo Gold thrust the end of his staff through the monster like a spear, then kicked the creature backwards.
"It's time for a Gold Rush...Victory Flash!" he shouted as his staff fired spheres of energy that tore through the monster and caused it to explode.
The last thing the teens saw was Zeo Gold running towards them. Then, their world was surrounded by darkness.
Astronema slammed her hand against her control panel as she watched her fleet torn to shreds.
"Order the ships to fall back and regroup," Astronema said. "We still outnumber them. They just had the element of surprise."
"Yes, princess," Eclipter said.
"Is that all you can say?" Astronema asked as she turned to her general. He looked away.
Ashley awoke and found herself staring at a white ceiling. She tried to look around, but she couldn't move her head or any other part of her body.
"You're okay, Ash," a voice said next to her. It was Tommy. "It'll take a while before you can move again. The Falean used the piece of that moth thing and found a cure. We're going to be ok."
Ashley managed a small smile and felt Tommy squeeze her hand.
After recovering, the rangers and Cy gathered around a stone table in Titan's capital city along with Trey and Balthus. In the hours during the Rangers' recovery, the Triforian fleet managed to wipe out Astronema's armada, but not without casualties.
"How many ships can you afford to leave behind to guard Titan?" Tommy asked Trey.
"Maybe about half the fleet," Trey said. "It won't make the nobles happy. I had to put a lot of political pressure on them to get command of the ships in the first place."
"We will appreciate any aide you can render," Balthus said. "Sauron's forces will strike again, and strike again hard."
"Trey, what do you have planned after you leave here?" Tommy asked.
"I was going to return to Triforia and aide them in their defense...why?" Trey asked.
"I was thinking that someone should organize a counter offensive against Sauron's forces," Tommy said. "Everyone's worried about protecting their own planets and systems, when what they really need to do is unite to fight against Sauron."
Balthus nodded. "The emperor would be willing to spare troops to that effort."
Tommy nodded. "Good. Trey, your fleet can be the spear head. Hit-and-run attacks, cut off supply routes...there are plenty of ways to slow them down."
Trey nodded. "We would need allies. What are the chances of us locating refugees from KO-35 and other worlds already taken by Sauron?"
Cy thought for a moment. "They would be difficult to track down, but not impossible."
"What about all those combat mages we met at Kilwan? It seems like they're kind of wasted," Justin said.
"And the Avataars on Avalon," Tommy said. "The Rangers of Aquitar. We could gather quite an army."
Trey nodded. "Then it's settled. Half my force will stay here in an effort to keep Sauron out of the fourth quadrant. I'll go with the rest of my fleet to rally support for the fight against Sauron."
"What of Eltar?" Balthus asked. "An attack on Sauron himself would cause his army to crumble."
"It's way too early for that," Cy said.
Tommy nodded. "We need to close in around Eltar. Take back every path to the world. Move in around it."
Trey nodded. "My captains and I will develop a strategy before leaving Titan."
"Good," Tommy said. "Thanks for your help, Trey."
The prince nodded. "It was an honor. And good luck with your search. I hope you find Zordon alive and well."
"Me too," Tommy said.
Tommy walked through the capital's prison and approached the rear cell. A force field blocked off the area where Grifalzor was chained to the floor. He snarled at Tommy.
"I've been doing some thinking, Grifalzor," Tommy said.
"A first for your kind," the simian said.
"I've come to realize that you're a victim," Tommy said. "Your family line has been punished for centuries based on crimes committed by one Titan."
"A Titan that would have won back our family's honor had you not slain him," Grifalzor said.
"I had to fight him in self defense," Tommy said. "And besides, he murdered someone very important to me in cold blood. He took my life from me, but that's besides the point. The point is you shouldn't be punished for Goldar's actions. I've spoken with your emperor. You've been given a death sentence for trying to kill me, a Ranger. I've asked that he remove that sentence and release you on one condition..."
"And that would be?"
"That you accompany Trey on his mission to gather opposition against Sauron and fight against his forces," Tommy said. "It would give you a chance to win back your family's honor a dozen times over."
"The emperor has agreed to this? To grant me warrior status?"
Grifalzor straightened his back. "I agree to your terms."
Tommy nodded. "Good."
"But...why do this?"
"Like I said...you're a victim. You deserve a chance to make up for Goldar's mistakes."
The Titan lowered his head. "It will take time to remove all the shame..."
"Each battle you wage against Sauron will take you one step closer," Tommy said.
Grifalzor nodded. "Thank you, Dragon Ranger. I am glad I did not kill you."
Tommy smiled. "Me too, Grifalzor. Me too."
To be continued...07