Rangers in Space: Chapter Eight
"It sickened me every time I saw it. Some were out there risking their lives to stop Sauron, while others just sat back and tried to make the biggest profit possible.
Motivated by their selfish greed."
— Tommy Oliver, 2005
From the Megaship's
A sleek amphibious-styled star craft sat amidst the jungles of Praetar IV's northern continent. Small groups of creatures, that appeared to be water dwelling, marched around the craft. The creatures, called Piranatrons, were dressed in slimy, organic armor.
A transparent blur of motion crept through the purple-and-cyan tinted foliage, closely watching the soldiers as they stood guard over a cyndrical object covered in a dark black tarp.
That's him, Phantom Ranger thought to himself after spotting the large tube. That's Zordon...
He ran away from the star craft and Piranatrons to find a clearing where he could send a message into space. Hopefully the Rangers, or at least an allied group with enough strength to take Zordon back by force, would retrieve the message.
Rygarg, a general who oversaw the Piranatron army, spotted the Phantom's blur deep within the jungle. It was a blur he recognized too well.
"There!" he shouted as he pointed into the distance. "All groups, surround that position! Bring me the Phantom!"
The Piranatrons converged near the site where the Phantom was spotted. They looked around for any clue of the Ranger's presence. Their clue came in the form of invisible fists slamming into their guts.
The Piranatrons tried to fight back, but they were ineffective against an enemy they could not see.
Rygarg fired a volley of crimson optic blasts in the direction of the attack. After blasting through a group of his own soldiers, one of his blasts struck the Phantom's side with a burst of spark, and the Ranger's cloak dropped.
The Piranatrons quickly regrouped and ganged up on the Phantom Ranger. He jump reverse sidekicked a Piranatron in front of him, then swung his leg around to hook kick a soldier to his left. He backfisted a soldier to his right, then launched a sidekick against that Piranatron's chest.
Phantom Ranger reactivated his cloak and leapt for cover amidst the trees, running as fast as he could.
He reached a clearing, saw that the Piranatrons were out of view, and de-cloaked. He placed a small tube-shaped recording device into the ground. He activated the device, and a red light on top of the tube began recording.
"This is the Phantom Ranger. Zordon is on Praetar IV. This buoy contains the spatial coordinates and data on Divatox's ship."
He picked up the tube and placed it in a small pistol-launcher. Just as he prepared to fire, small explosions sparked against his back, knocking him to the ground.
A squad of Quantrons materialized. Astronema and Eclipter led them.
A crooked smile spread across Astronema's face. "Hello Phantom...get him."
The Quantrons charged with their long boomerang-shaped staff blades. The Phantom tried to hold them off while keeping them from knocking away the transmitter. Unfortunately, this was the Phantom's first encounter with Astronema's foot soldiers, and they were giving him trouble.
The Quantrons tried to pile on the Phantom after damaging his armor with their blades. Phantom Ranger struggled to lift the probe into the air and fire it, sending it launching out of the planet's atmosphere.
"No!" Astronema yelled as she extended her staff towards the Phantom and blasted the Ranger with strings of electric energy. Explosions sparked across Phantom Ranger's armor as he fell to the ground.
The Astro Megaship was on course towards its rendezvous in the Valjoran System at maximum hyper rush velocity. They were almost to their destination.
"Drop out of hyperspace just outside of the system," Tommy commanded as he and the others manned their bridge posts. "I want to take a good look before we head in."
The Megaship speared back into real-space at the edge of the Valjoran system. Chris activated the long-range sensors and scanned the area.
"Three planets, only one's inhabited. Pre-industrial civilization. No ships within range," Chris reported. "But...there is a small asteroid belt with high concentrations of verbazium. The verbazium is reflecting our sensors. There could be anything in that asteroid field and we wouldn't know."
Tommy sighed. "All right, take us in slow. We're a minute or two early, so we have plenty of time to be careful."
The Astro Megaship drifted into the Valjoran system on impulse power.
"Any comm chatter?" Tommy asked.
Kat shook her head. "Nothing."
"They should be here by now," Justin said.
Tommy sighed impatiently. "Anything yet?"
"Just space dust," Chris said, then something on his console beeped. "Wait...two signals just emerged from the asteroid belt."
Justin analyzed the craft. "Hornet gunships. They're charging weapons."
"Polarize the hull plating," Tommy said. "Bring the Megalasers online."
The two gunships moved towards the Astro Megaship at full speed.
"They're hailing us," Kat said.
"On screen," Tommy said as he pulled down on his tunic to tighten it while assuming what he hoped would be an intimidating posture.
The viewscreen activated and a young female's face appeared. Her yellow skin matched her orange hair, which was tied back in a long tail. Her pupils were black diamond slits that stared forward like daggers. A short line was tattooed on both sides of her face. The black lines started an inch above her eyebrows, and extended down past her eyes to her cheekbones.
"Power down your weapons and come with us," she said in a cold tone.
"Funny," Tommy said. "I usually like to at least introduce myself before ordering people around."
"I don't find you amusing, Terran. We would not even be speaking if my employer didn't owe Ketarin a favor. I would be boarding your vessel and claiming it as my own," she said.
"Some other time, perhaps," Tommy said.
"Follow us to the asteroid field and slave your ship with our nav computers. We will take you to the rendezvous point," she said.
"We thought this was the rendezvous point?" Tommy said.
"Ha," a mocking smile spread across her face. "Did you really think we'd just send you coordinates to our base? Your ship will be slaved to ours so you won't know the location of our rendezvous. The asteroid field will cover our exit vector. This is all for our safety. Come with us, or don't come at all. I don't care either way."
The view screen blinked off.
Ashley shook her head. "What I really love about our mission is the people."
Tommy turned to Cy. "What do you think."
Cy nodded. "We should follow. This is how their kind usually operates."
Tommy nodded. "Alright then, follow those gun boats."
The Megaship fell in formation behind the two gunboats as the three ships blasted off towards the asteroid belt.
"Hey Cy," Justin asked. "What was she?"
"A Taileon," Cy said. "Their home world was lost in a supernova a while back. Only a few of them are left scattered across the galaxy."
"Are they all as crabby as her?" Justin asked.
"They lost their home, Justin," Kat said.
"No reason to be rude," Justin grumbled quietly to himself.
The Taileon Vea'ra watched on the small monitor attached to her command chair as the Astro Megaship fell into formation behind her two gunships.
"Get ready to lock onto that ship if we have to," she informed her gunman, sitting to her left in the dimly lit bridge. "Let me know the second they start to try something."
"Do you think it's a trap?" her first officer asked from the forward navigation station. She was an Eltarian.
"One can never be too careful," Vea'ra said.
Vea'ra stared ahead through her viewport, giving her an aft view of the Megaship. She'd heard stories of the Rangers' exploits during their little crusade. She was not impressed, and viewed most stories as fabrications.
"Do you believe what they say?" the Eltarian asked. "That their leader is actually a slayer of gods."
"Slayer of gods or not," Vea'ra said. "A blaster bolt will kill him just the same."
The three ships shot into hyperspace.
The Megaship speared back into real-space along with its gunship escorts. The vessels angled their heading towards a large rocky planetoid lined with several bio domes. In the far off distance was a wide expansive nebula of blue-and-purple energy clouds.
The three vessels cruised towards the planetoid and its network of interlaced, transparent domes. Each dome contained clusters of stone-and-metal buildings.
One of the smaller domes slid open as the Megaship and its escorts descended on their vertical thrusters, landing in an octagon-shaped docking bay.
After landed, Chris, Ashley, and Kat stayed aboard the Megaship while the other three were led through a complex array of walkways on their way towards the main dome.
The rangers entered a building of roughly cut stone and steel within the center dome. They entered a main office area, where their contact sat behind a curved, wooden desk. The man sitting behind the desk appeared human, with a few minor differences. He had short dark hair graying above his temples. He had a slight ridge running down the center of his forehead and expanding across his brow. His name was Durak.
Behind Durak was his aide, a bald-headed woman with solid black eyes.
"Be seated," Durak said as he extended his hand in a seemingly friendly gesture. "Ketarin's people tell me you're looking for Zordon..."
"That's right," Tommy said as he nodded. "He said you know where Zordon is."
A grin spread across Durak's face. "There is little I don't know. Information is more valuable than gold-pressed latinum during these times."
"So what can you tell us?" Tommy asked.
Durak picked up a small data pad to his right and looked it over. "What can you offer?"
Tommy wrinkled his brow. "Offer?"
"An exchange," Durak said. "As I just said, information is not cheap."
Justin shook his head. "What about Ketarin? I thought you owed him a favor?"
Durak nodded. "That debt was repaid simply by escorting you here. Now I ask again...what can you offer?"
"What is it you want?" Cy asked, figuring the criminal had something in mind.
Durak leaned back in his chair while lacing his fingers in front of him. "Your abilities put you in a unique position. I'd be most interested in a sample of your Ranger technology."
"No deal," Tommy said quickly.
Durak sighed. "Then I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to be on your way."
A small alarm on Durak's desk beeped as a voice spoke through. "We have a situation sir...the Dark Fortress has just arrived in system."
Durak activated the comm after cursing beneath his breath. "Send out the proper welcoming. Make sure our guests' ship is hidden. If she finds these Rangers here we'll all be dead."
"Welcoming?" Justin asked in disbelief.
"I haven't picked sides," Durak said. "I don't ever intend to."
Durak looked back to Vea'ra. "Take our guests to the lower chamber."
"No," Tommy said. "We should go."
"Not until its is safe," Durak said firmly. "If she finds you here she will tear this outpost apart."
"Huh," Justin said. "Guess that would be bad for business..."
Vea'ra led the three rangers through a dimly-lit underground passage as they descended beneath the compound.
"I don't understand," Tommy said as he followed Vea'ra. "With all the resources you seem to have, you'd make quite an enemy for Sauron."
Vea'ra ignored the ranger as they continued forward.
Tommy shook his head. "You won't be able to play both sides forever. Eventually, you'll have to make a choice."
"We won't," Vea'ra said firmly, breaking her silence. "Either Sauron will be defeated or he'll control the entire galaxy. By 'playing both sides,' we're guaranteed to be in favor of whoever wins this conflict, while profiting from the business of both sides."
"That's crazy," Justin said. "How could you help Sauron when his people are slaughtering thousands by the day?"
"We are neutral," Vea'ra said with growing frustration. "Enough talking. I refuse to explain myself to a bunch of backwater Terrans."
"Actually," Cy said. "I'm Kerovian."
Vea'ra stayed silent.
"Something's going on," Ashley said as she paced back and forth across the bridge of the Megaship.
Chris and Kat were at their stations trying to reach Tommy and his group. They weren't doing well in their search.
"I don't get it," Chris said as he shook his head, his fingers dancing across the panel in front of him. "It's like they just vanished from our sensors all of a sudden..."
"Kat," Ashley said as she stood over them. "Try contacting Durak again."
Kat shook her head. "I still can't get through. There's some sort of interference."
Ashley sighed. "Okay...grab your blasters. We're going to go see what's going on."
A landing pad was cleared in the center dome as Astronema's personal shuttle descended. The craft was sleek onyx with sharp edges, giving it a menacing profile.
Durak stood at the base of the platform with his aide off to his right. They watched as the shuttle's boarding ramp extended and Astronema walked down alongside her android guardian Eclipter.
"Astronema," Durak said. "I apologize for this less than formal welcome, but you weren't expected."
"Of course I wasn't," she said as she walked over to him.
"What can I do for you?" Durak asked.
Astronema stood with her back straight, assuming an intimidating posture. "You have a supply route established from the Tinaran Arm to the Prizelus Sector. I want it."
Durak kept a straight face as he nodded. "I would be more than pleased to discuss possible arrangements. If you'll accompany me to my office, princess."
Astronema nodded as Durak escorted her back towards the main compound. "My time is limited. Resistance against Sauron is growing."
"I see," Durak said as they continued along. "That must be rather inconvenient."
"They're nothing but minor irritations," Astronema said. "They will be removed."
"I see," Durak said again. "I'm sure your people will-"
"Perhaps you misunderstood," Astronema said. "I came here for your supply route, not for pointless small talk."
Ashley, Chris, and Kat were a safe distance away from the landing platform. They hid behind a pile of crates, watching the exchange between Astronema and Durak.
"I can't believe it," Ashley said quietly through clenched teeth. "He sold us out."
"What now?" Kat asked.
Ashley turned to Chris. "Do you think you can work through their interference? Find the others?"
Chris pulled out his hand-held scanner and pressed a few small buttons. "No...but I can get us to the source of the jamming fields."
"Good enough," Ashley said. "Let's get going..."
"This way," Chris said as he nodded towards his right. The three rangers moved off, doing their best to stay hidden.
Durak sat back in his office chair as Astronema and Eclipter stood before him.
"I must admit, Astronema," Durak said. "I am uncertain as to what Sauron wants with the Prizelus Route. Surely there are more advantageous corridors through that particular quadrant."
Astronema flashed Durak a wicked grin. "It's not wise to question me, smuggler."
Durak sighed as he nodded. "Very well...I am prepared to offer-"
"Quiet," Astronema said. "You will turn over control of the route, its ships, and crews, to me. In exchange, I won't turn this quaint base of yours into a smoldering crater."
Durak stayed calm, giving Astronema his best poker face. "Such threats are not necessary, Astronema. And not productive."
Astronema flashed Durak a cold smile. "It's not a threat. Anyone standing in the way of what I want will be destroyed. That includes you."
Durak nodded, lacing his fingers in front of him while leaning on his desk. "Anyone except these Rangers, apparently."
Astronema snapped her staff forward, aiming its point towards Durak. He didn't flinch. A look of amusement spread across Astronema's face. "When most face the blade of my staff, I can sense their fear. It's often palpable in those brief moments before their death. But not you...interesting..."
Astronema lowered her staff. "You would make a worthy business partner. Perhaps we can strike a deal."
A small moss-covered building sat in an outer dome. Ashley and Kat crouched behind a bush nearby the building along with Chris, who was looking over data on his portable scanner.
"The jamming field is coming from this building," he said. "It's way complex."
"How so?" Ashley asked.
"It's very specific in terms of what it blocks out," Chris said. "Intricate. It's hard to explain."
"Can you turn it off from out here?" Kat asked.
"No," Chris said. "We'll have to go in."
Ashley readied her sidearm. "Well...what are we waiting for?"
Eclipter roamed around the compound, his red eyes scanning for anything unusual, such as the jamming field that subtly covered certain smaller areas of the base.
Lesser computer systems and scanning device would have missed the signature left by the jamming field, but not Eclipter. He tightened his grip on his sword and moved towards a small moss-covered building.
Astronema stood in front of Durak's desk as a Quantron approached her, its voice a series of metallic whines only she and a few others could decipher.
Astronema narrowed her brow as she turned and looked at Durak.
"I wonder," she said in a soft voice that caused most to tremble with fear. "What is it you have to hide from me?"
Durak wrinkled his brow. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're taking about."
"Oh, but I think you do," Astronema said as she took a step closer to his desk.
"Astronema," Durak said calmly. "Of course I have secrets. It is the nature of my business, but I assure you, I am not hiding anything from you. I only-"
"Quiet," she snapped. "I'll know soon enough..."
Tommy, Justin, and Cy were in a circular room of stone as Vea'ra leaned her back against the wall.
"How long is your guest planning on staying?" Tommy asked. Vea'ra of course, did not answer.
Justin sighed and shook his head. "She's not much for conversation."
A small light started to flash on Vea'ra's left wrist band. A smirk spread across her face as she looked at the light, then her gaze drifted up to the rangers.
"There's been a change of plan," she said as she un-holstered her handgun and aimed it at the three rangers. "If you'll come with me..."
Chris, Ashley, and Kat crept through the narrow corridors of the small building while trying to stick to the shadows. The technicians they ducked out of sight from seemed tense and preoccupied. This made it easier for the rangers to sneak around.
Chris activated a few controls on his portable scanner.
"Just up ahead," he said as he nodded off to the distance. "Around that corner."
"How many in the room?" Ashley asked.
"Five," Chris said.
"Okay," she said. "Set your blasters to stun."
The three turned the corner and quickly barged into a small room of moss-covered stone. A few computer terminals were scattered across the room.
The rangers opened fire quickly, and the element of surprise allowed them to shoot down the room's occupants before they could counter fire.
Chris quickly moved to the center terminal as Kat activated a large iron door that sealed off the room. Chris's fingers danced across the controls as he shook his head with disappointment.
"I can outline the jamming grid, but that's about it," he said. "No idea how to turn it off."
Ashley stood at the monitor besides Chris. "Can we cut the field off from its power source."
"If we can find the source," Chris said.
Kat walked over to the room's rear console and found what appeared to be a communication's node. She called up a list of transmissions, and what she found was quite promising.
"Over here," she said as she turned to the others.
"What is it?" Ashley asked as she and Chris walked over to the console.
"A message this outpost intercepted," she said. "From the Phantom Ranger. He's found Zordon."
"Can you download the coordinates?" Ashley asked.
"Already done," Kat said as she flashed Ashley the portable scanner.
The doors to the room suddenly exploded open as a pair of ruby-red energy blasts streaked into the room. Eclipter stepped inside and turned his head to glare at the three rangers.
The villain fired another pair of optic blasts that the rangers rolled out of the way from as they readied their morphers.
"Install!" they shouted as they keyed in their morphing sequences. Their armor flashed around them as they rose to their feet.
Tommy narrowed his eyes at Vea'ra as she aimed her blaster at him.
"Ya know," he said. "I tend to not like it when people point their guns at me."
"Quiet," she said. "Astronema is getting suspicious. You'll be presented as our prisoners and turned over to her."
Justin shook his head. "Can't say that I agree with your business practices."
"I don't think you've noticed," Cy said. "There's three of us, and only one of you."
"Should I be frightened?" she asked.
A smirk spread across Tommy's face. "Only for your next few seconds of consciousness."
He sprang forward faster that Vea'ra could have possibly expected and hook kicked her weapon away, then brought that leg around in a round kick that slammed against the side of her head. Vea'ra slammed against the stone wall before slipping to the floor in an unconscious heap.
"Let's go," Tommy said as he and the others ran off.
Eclipter slashed his sword across Astro Black's chest with a horizontal blow, and followed through with a diagonal strike that knocked the Black Ranger to the ground.
"Astro Sling!" Astro Yellow shouted as she fired yellow darts of energy with her weapon.
"Astro Capture!" Astro Pink shouted while firing rings of pink energy.
Eclipter blocked the blow with his blade, then extended his free hand and blasted the two Rangers back with a pulse of jagged-green energy.
Astronema glared at Durak while tightening her grip on her staff. A Quantron had given her the latest report from Eclipter.
"Perhaps you could enlighten me," she said in a menacing tone, "as to what Rangers are doing here at your outpost."
Durak swallowed the lump in his throat, trying to hide his fear. "With all due respect, princess, you didn't ask for a prisoner list."
Astronema arced an eyebrow at him. "Prisoner?"
"Yes," he said. "We planned to collect the bounty on their heads."
"Do you take me for a fool," she said as she leaned forward.
Durak remained silent as he met Astronema's glare.
"Quantrons," Astronema shouted over her shoulder. "Bring him with me. And make him watch while we rip this base apart brick by brick."
Astro Black, Astro Yellow, and Astro Pink regrouped outside the building as Eclipter stalked towards them. Before he could strike, a double sidekick slammed against his back and sent him stumbling face first across the ground.
Astro Red landed and ran over to his three teammates. "Guys!"
"Where are Justin and Cy?" Astro Pink asked.
"They went back for the ship," Astro Red said.
"Tommy," Astro Yellow said as she placed a hand on his arm. "We know where they're keeping Zordon. We found an intercepted transmission from the Phantom Ranger."
Eclipter rose to his feet as he pointed his sword at the Rangers. "You will never reach him, Rangers."
"Drill Saber!" Astro Red commanded as he activated his spiral-bladed weapon. "I beg to differ."
The android stood in a fighting stance. "You will find luck is not on your side today, Red Ranger."
The four Rangers heard an explosion come from behind them and turned to see a flame expand in the center dome as Quantrons marched about, wreaking havoc.
"Take care of those Quantrons," Astro Red said. "I may not like Durak, but I like Astronema even less."
"We're one it," Astro Yellow said as they ran off towards the distance, leaving Astro Red to deal with Eclipter.
"Now," Astro Red said. "Where were we?"
The Ranger charged forward while holding his saber in an en-guard position. Eclipter fired a pair of optic blasts, but Astro Red knocked the energy pulses away with a swipe from his saber and leapt forward.
Astro Red brought his Drill Saber down hard, and Eclipter blocked the blow with his sword. Their weapons smashed against each other, sparking from impact.
Durak was not afraid as the Quantrons held him on top of the main command building, forcing him to watch the soldiers ravage his outpost. He was angry. Astronema clearly knew nothing about how the galaxy functioned. She was supposed to accept his offering of the rangers as prisoners, even though she knew he was lying. She would have spared his outpost. He would have owed her a favor possibly. She had hand, and she wasted it on a brutal attack.
"She's mad," he said quietly to himself.
Astro Black armed his Astro Rod and spun forward while slamming the weapon against a Quantron's chest, smashing in its armor.
Astro Yellow moved through the soldiers with a flurry of kicks, using her Astro Sniper to block the soldiers' blades.
Astro Pink walked forward with her Astro Capture, firing rings of pink energy from the satellite that knocked the soldiers backwards.
Astro Black turned his attention to Durak and leapt up towards the roof while deactivating his staff.
One of the three Quantrons holding Durak broke away and charged towards the Black Ranger. The soldier swung its blade horizontally, but Astro Black ducked under the strike and rose while slamming a hook punch across the soldier's head. He finished the Quantron off with a round kick to its side.
The Ranger pulled his Astro Sniper and blasted the two Quantrons, darts of blue energy piercing through their armor and knocking them backwards.
Durak looked at Astro Black with confusion. "Why...I was going to turn you in..."
"You complaining?" Astro Black asked.
Durak shook his head.
"Good," Astro Black said as he turned and leapt off the roof to join his friends.
A small group of Durak's guards paced back and forth around the Megaship while grasping onto their energy rifles. They were aware of the Quantrons' assault and were on guard for any force that moved their way.
"This is crazy," one of them muttered. "We should be out there fighting."
The engines of the Megaship began to whine as they powered up.
"What the-" the guards said as they turned to look at the ship.
Cy and Justin barged into the hanger, their weapons blazing and stunning each of the guards before they had a chance to fire.
"Nice shooting," Justin said as he holstered his weapon.
"Thanks," Cy said as they sprinted towards the ship. "DECA, lower the boarding ramp," he said into his communicator.
The ramp lowered as the two rangers ran inside.
The Megaship crashed through the hanger bay ceiling and blasted towards the top of the dome. Justin and Cy watched the transparent bubble glow closer as they moved farther up.
Justin looked with doubt at the approaching barrier through the viewscreen. "So we're just going to crash through?"
Cy nodded. "We're crashing through."
The Megaship shattered through the top portion of the dome and shot into space. Emergency force-fields sealed the dome to prevent air leakage.
The ship angled its course towards the main dome, where the other Rangers were.
"Getting in will be trickier," Cy said. "Polarize the hull plating. Arm Megalasers."
Justin brought the weapon turrets online as DECA activated the hull plating.
Cy continued his instructions while staring ahead at the viewscreen. "You'll need to fire the Megalasers at specific entry angles to crack the dome enough for us to crash in..."
Justin aligned the targeting scanners as the main dome started to fill the forward viewport.
"Fire," Cy commanded as Justin triggered the firing sequence.
Lances of blue energy slammed against the dome with cracks that formed like webs across its surface. The Megaship shattered through the top of the dome and moved towards the center of the complex. Emergency force-fields shimmered into place.
Justin and Cy spotted the streaks from the other Rangers' Cyber Sliders as they flew towards the ship.
"Astronema's sending Velocifighters," Justin said. "We're going to have to move fast."
"DECA," Cy said. "Plot an exit vector steering us away from Astronema's Dark Fortress."
Cy looked to Justin. "We may have to fight through those fighters."
Justin shrugged. "Better them than the Dark Fortress."
Astronema walked onto the bridge of her fortress and watched as the Megaship shot its way past her Velocifighters and left the planet's atmosphere. One of her Quantrons reported that the ship was heading towards Praetar IV
"Follow them," she shouted. "Send one of the gene beasts to Praetar III."
Praetar III was inhabited by a barely sentient amphibious race. The world was of little significance, but Astronema knew the Rangers would protect it. This would give Divatox's ship enough time to leave with Zordon.
A cackling voice entered her bridge. It was Darkonda. "When are you going to learn? Sending down unarmed kittens would have the same effect as your gene beasts."
Astronema raised an eyebrow. "I suppose you have something you think will work better?"
Darkonda bowed mockingly. "Already, you know me too well, princess..."
The Rangers left on their Cyber Sliders nearly a second after the Megaship speared back into real-space near Praetar IV.
They penetrated the atmosphere and flew over the purple-and-cyan tinted foliage towards the Phantom's coordinates.
"Chris," Astro Red commanded.
Astro Black used his satellite scan feature to zero in on the Phantom's location.
"This way," he said as he arced to starboard, and the Rangers followed.
The Rangers leapt off their boards near a small opening in the treetops, and they flipped down to the ground below. They dashed forward the second they hit the dirt.
They spotted the Phantom Ranger up ahead, slowly walking through the trees while clutching his side with his black-armored hand.
"Phantom!" Astro Red shouted as he and the other Ranger's ran to the Phantom's side.
Phantom Ranger leaned against a tree as the others gathered around him. "They're gone...Zordon is gone."
Astro Red rolled his hands into fists, wrinkling his brow with anger beneath his helmet.
"I'm sorry, Rangers," the Phantom said. "I tried to stop them..."
Astro Pink shook her head. "You did the best you could."
Astro Black looked to Astro Red. "Maybe we can trace their exit vector. Try to figure out where they went."
Astro Red nodded. "Good idea."
Phantom Ranger pulled a small disc out from behind his back. "One more thing...take this..."
"What is it?" Astro Red asked while taking the disc.
"Coordinates and an activation program," the Phantom Ranger said. "For a new weapon. You'll need it."
The Rangers' helmets sounded an alert as Cy spoke to them. "Astronema is attacking Praetar III..."
Astro Red looked to his teammates. "You guys take the ship and head to Praetar III. I'll go after this weapon and meet up with you."
Astro Pink started to grab hold of Phantom's arm. "Come on...let's get you to the ship."
The Phantom shook his head as he pulled away. "I'll be fine. You guys go."
Astro Red activated his communicator. "Cyber Sliders."
The Cyber Sliders appeared, and the Rangers hopped on and blasted off. Astro Red jetted in the opposite direction of his teammates while plotting a different exit vector so he could track down the weapon.
A blur of orange-and-yellow light slammed into him before he could reach high altitudes, and he slammed back to the ground below.
Astro Red shook off the blow as he rose to his feet and spotted his assailant. It was Darkonda.
"Miss me?" Darkonda asked.
"No," Astro Red said as he assumed a fighting stance, and the two opponents started circling around each other.
Darkonda extended his sword and charged forward.
"Drill Saber!" Astro Red shouted while downloading his spiral-bladed weapon.
The two blades clashed against each other as they began dueling. Parry. Thrust. Parry. Strike.
Astro Red dashed forward while swinging horizontally, but Darkonda blocked the blow and turned with a diagonal counter strike. Astro Red parried the villain's sword and swung his own blade towards Darkonda's head.
Darkonda blocked the blow and swung his saber towards Astro Red's neck. Astro Red blocked the blow, but the villain's blade was still pressed against his collar bone. Darkonda snarled at the Ranger while pushing his blade down harder.
Astro Red kicked away and took a few steps back.
Darkonda became a blur of energy once more as he dashed past Astro Red, slashing the Ranger across the chest.
Astro Red pulled out his Astro Sniper to try and shoot Darkonda down, but the villain rematerialized. Darkonda knocked the sidearm away, and followed through by knocking the Drill Saber away.
Darkonda brought his blade back around towards the Ranger's head, but Astro Red jumped forward. He leapt over Darkonda while slamming his heel against the back of the villain's head. The Ranger twisted through mid air and slammed his feet against a tree, shattering bark as he pushed off and leapt back towards his opponent.
"Battleizer!" he shouted as the brace appeared on his right wrist. "Riser Chop!"
His knife-hand chop energized as it slammed against Darkonda's collar bone with a burst of spark.
"Riser Punch!" Astro Red shouted as he slammed his energized fist against the villain's chest with a burst of spark.
Darkonda limped backwards. "This is far from over..."
The villain's head spikes fired waves of yellow-and-orange energy darts that exploded around Astro Red with a shower of sparks. The Ranger leapt through the explosions to counter attack, but Darkonda was gone.
The other four Rangers flew on their Cyber Sliders over the Praetar III swamplands. They spotted an alligator-type monster chasing after a group of amphibian creatures.
"Let's go," Astro Yellow said as the four Rangers dropped to the swampy ground.
The Rangers snapped into fighting stances as the Alligator turned and snarled at them.
The monster charged forward and started to knock the Rangers back one-by-one. He slammed his tail arm against Astro Black, a backfist blow across Astro Yellow's helmet, and his tail arm across Astro Pink.
Astro Blue held out his arm for an outer block, but the monster bit down on the arm and tackled Astro Blue to the ground.
The Ranger struggled to break free as the monster bit down harder. "Someone get this leather head off me!"
Astro Black slammed against the back of the creature and started bashing his fists against its hide. The monster wrapped its tail around Astro Black's neck and tossed the Ranger aside like a rag doll.
Astro Yellow and Astro Pink readied their weapons.
Their combined blasts exploded against the monster as his grip slacked on Astro Blue. The Blue Ranger pushed away from the monster and regrouped with the others.
"Thanks," he said.
"Don't mention it," Astro Yellow said.
The monster started to expand and grew to giant size before the Rangers could attack again.
Astro Blue activated his communicator.
"Astro Megazord, online!" he commanded.
The Megaship activated its Digital Fusion program and assumed its warrior form, with the Megashuttle forming the head. The four Rangers gathered in the cockpit.
"Astro Megazord...Galaxy Mega!" they shouted as the Megazord landed near the alligator creature.
The creature swung its tail arm like a whip, lashing across the Galaxy Mega's armor. The Megazord managed to grab hold of the tail with its left arm, and bashed its right fist against the monster's head.
The Megazord grabbed hold of the creature by the jaw and flipped it overhead. The monster rolled across the ground as the Megazord prepared to finish its opponent off.
"Download, Astro Megazord Saber!" Astro Blue shouted as the saber appeared. "Energize Saber!"
The sword energized and slashed diagonally through the genetic monstrosity. The creature split in two, but each half started to bubble and form an individual monster.
Astro Blue opened his eyes wide with disbelief beneath his helmet. "Well that's a first."
Astro Red zoomed across space on his Cyber Slider as he neared the small docking station that held a triangular-shaped, black-armored ship. He leaned forward, accelerating with a burst of energy as he throttled closer to the ship.
The two monsters charged towards the Galaxy Mega. Each creature bit down on an arm as their fangs ripped through armor with small explosions and sparks.
The Rangers struggled to break free as they were rocked about.
"Ashley," Astro Blue said. "Do something..."
"I'm working on it," she said as she tried not to get knocked out of her seat. She manipulated a few controls an prepared an energy serge. "Chew on this..."
The serge exploded against the two monsters, pushing them back. The creatures quickly retaliated and started whipping the Megazord with their tail hands.
Astro Red ran through the corridors of the dimly-lit station as he searched for the entrance into the triangular ship.
"It has to be here somewhere," he said as he used his portable scanner to search for an opening.
Astro Red slid down a stair rail and landed on a lower deck as he sprinted forward.
One of the alligators wrapped its tail arm around the Megazord and held it steady as the other creature bashed against the Megazord with its organic whip.
Explosions rocked the robo as the monster lifted the Megazord and started slamming it repeatedly against the ground.
Astro Red spotted a turbolift door, with the INET symbol on it, down the corridor ahead of him.
"There," he said as he ran forward towards the lift. He entered, and it carried him down into the ship's command room.
The small room was crowded and dimly-lit by a faint crimson glow. Astro Red looked around and spotted what appeared to be the main control port.
He walked over to the port and flicked a red switch as two disk drives popped open. Neither were labeled.
"Great help, Billy..." he said sarcastically. "Which one...?"
The monster released its grip on the Megazord and tossed it to the ground. The second creature began crashing its tail against the Megazord's back.
"Okay..." Astro Red said as he held the disk while looking back and forth between the two drives. "This one..."
He inserted the disk into the right drive. Both drives suddenly slammed shut as red lights started flashing and alarms started blaring.
"Not good," Astro Red said as he manipulated the controls to try and release the disk. "Not good, not good..."
Astro Red slammed his hands against the console with frustration. "What's going on in this damn thing..."
The alarms continued to blare as a computerized voice spoke. "Launch codes downloaded. Battleizer interface established. Command code: Delta Mega, Install...Delta Mega, Install...Delta Mega, Install..."
Astro Red breathed a sigh of relief.
"Battleizer!" he commanded. The brace appeared on his right wrist with a burst of red energy. "Delta Mega, Install!"
The Delta Mega broke free from the station as it fired its thrusters. The ship blasted into hyperspace with a streak of blue light.
The Astro Megazord was forced to its knees as the two monsters stalked towards the robo. They were distracted as a high-pitched whine cut through the air. The creatures looked up to see the Delta Mega enter the atmosphere with its forward cannons blazing.
Lances of yellow energy exploded against the two monsters, forcing them back as the Delta Mega touched down. The zord crackled with energy as it assumed its warrior form and stood in a battle stance.
In awe, the Rangers looked through their viewport at the newly-arrived Megazord.
"What is it?" Astro Black asked.
The doors to the cockpit opened as Astro Red walked in and moved towards his station. "That, is the Delta Mega."
He took a seat as the others turned to him.
"What does it do?" Astro Blue asked.
Astro Red grinned beneath his helmet. "Let's find out..."
He lifted his Battleizer. "Delta Mega, Gattling blasters, full power!"
The Delta Mega's hands began spinning, each finger acting like a barrel and firing rapid-blast volleys that sparked against the two monsters.
"Download, Beam Cannon," Astro Red commanded as the Galaxy Mega armed its massive rifle. "It's time to take care of business, guys...fire!"
The Galaxy Mega's Beam Cannon and Delta Mega's gattling cannons fired simultaneously, ripping through the two creatures as their energy overloaded and exploded.
Durak watched through the viewport of his command ship while his outpost was engulfed with flames. Vea'ra stepped up behind him.
"She'll be after us," she said.
Durak nodded, his eyes fixated on the outpost.
"Have our convoys regroup at the Parius System," he said.
"What about Astronema?" Vea'ra asked.
Durak shook his head. "I don't intend to let her find us."
Tommy sat at the table in his quarters while going over the book Gandor had given him. The door to his quarters chimed, and Tommy closed the book.
"Come in," he said.
Ashley smiled as she walked inside. "I see you started locking it."
Tommy shrugged as he set the book aside. "Has Chris had any luck tracing Divatox's exit vector?"
Ashley sighed and shook her head as she took a seat at the edge of Tommy's bed. "He's still working on it...but I don't think he's going to have any luck."
Tommy shook his head. "We were so close, Ashley...so close."
"I know," she said. "We'll find him again...quit moping."
A lopsided grin spread across Tommy's face. "I'm not moping, I'm reading."
"Moping," Ashley said with a mischievous grin.
Tommy held up the book. "This book is important."
"Riiiiight," Ashley said playfully as she rose from his bed and made her way to the door.
Tommy smiled at her as she left. "Reading."
"Mope, mope, mope," she said as she left the room and the door closed.
Tommy smiled and shook his head as he set the book aside and followed.
To be continued...Chapter 09