Rangers in Space: Chapter Twelve
She ran across the barren world of black ice as fast as possible, legs pumping to carry her away from the crashed refugee ship. The middle-aged woman's pursuers were growing closer. She couldn't outrun them. She was going to die.
The woman slipped and fell face first onto the icy surface. Pain shot through her body and stung as badly as the bitter cold.
Her mind flashed back to the family and friends she'd lost when her homeworld of Sudabar fell to Sauron's forces. Spider-creatures from the Ravin'lah cluster had spread across her world like a cancer, devouring everything in its path.
The refugee convoy was supposed to carry her to the safety of the recently freed Rigel Expanse. That was until the princess of darkness arrived. Before Astronema.
Her Dark Fortress was dispatching forces to hunt down and destroy all refugee convoys. They were succeeding.
The refugee slowly lifted her head to see a Quantron's blade aimed towards her face as the enemy surrounded her. She braced herself for a finishing blow that never came.
A red-armored foot kicked the blade away and snapped against the soldier's chest. It was Astro Red and the other four Rangers.
Astro Red moved forward with a round kick against a Quantron's gut, then slammed a knife-hand chop against the back of its neck.
The Ranger snapped into a defensive stance as another wave of Quantrons rushed forward.
"Astronema's reached an all time low," he said while downloading his Drill Saber.
Astro Black ducked under a Quantron's strike while slamming an uppercut against the soldier's chest. He followed with a quick hop and slammed his elbow against the soldier's back.
"Astro Tomahawk!" Astro Blue shouted as he downloaded his small axe. "Tomahawk Hurricane!"
The Ranger spun forward in a blur of motion while slashing through several Quantrons.
Astro Pink leaned down and helped the humanoid woman to her feet.
"You'll be okay now," the Pink Ranger said while aiming her Astro Sniper forward and firing lances of blue energy at any soldier that came too close.
Astro Yellow spun forward with an axe kick that crashed against a soldier's collar bone.
The Rangers made quick work of the Quantrons before turning to their task at hand: rescuing the passengers of the crashed refugee ship.
"Cy," Astro Red said into his wrist communicator. "Try to find solid enough ground to bring the Megaship down. We have to get all these people to safety before Astronema sends reinforcements."
"I'm on my way," Cy said.
Astro Red sighed as he lowered his communicator. He looked out in the distance towards the large tube-shaped passenger ship Astronema's Velocifighters had shot down.
Astro Yellow noticed his concern and walked over to him.
"I know that look," she said. "Even through your helmet."
Astro Red nodded. "I just wish there was more we could do out here..."
The whine of the Megaship entering the atmosphere broke off any chance of them having a conversation, something they hadn't done since their first kiss.
Astro Red looked to his team. "Let's get moving."
The Dark Fortress, half its hull covered in a grid of neon green energy, spun through space.
Astronema was on the bridge of her ship while three bounty hunters kneeled before her. Each was dressed in cobbled together armor plating and various pieces of rustic equipment.
"I understand that some of the refugees from Sudabar made it to safety," she said as she walked back and forth in front of them with her eyebrow raised. "I'm sure you appreciate my concern, being that I loaned your hunter pack an entire wing of Velocifighters to ensure that such a thing would never happen..."
"Astronema," one of the bounty hunters said. "We weren't expecting the Rangers to interfere."
The other bounty hunter nodded in agreement. "They've been patrolling the Hathiac route for days, weeding out all forces loyal to Sauron in order to secure refugee passage."
Astronema looked over her right shoulder to where her android general stood.
"Eclipter..." she said.
The general fired a trio of optic blasts that slammed against the hunters' armor, knocking them back and injuring them.
Astronema leaned down and narrowed her eyes at the villains.
"I was well aware the Rangers would interfere," she said. "That's why I gave you the Velocifighters and Quantrons in the first place."
She slammed a kick upside the center bounty hunter's head and turned to walk away.
Eclipter fell into step besides her.
The princess narrowed her eyes. "We're no closer to defeating the Astros than we were at the beginning. This is inexcusable."
Eclipter kept his head down low. "Yes, princess."
Astronema tightened her grip on her staff. "I want battle records from every engagement studied. Their every move analyzed. I want a way to counteract their every attack."
"It will be done," Eclipter said.
Tommy, Cy, and Chris were in the Megaship's astrometrix lab. They had a giant hologram of the galaxy on display.
"It's senseless," Chris said. "Why go after refugee convoys?"
"Fear," Cy said while staring ahead at the holographic map.
Tommy nodded in agreement. "Astronema's way of showing what happens to people who don't sign up with Sauron."
"We aren't going to be able to keep this up forever," Cy said, referring to their efforts to safeguard refugees from Sauron's latest wave of attacks.
Tommy sighed as he looked over the map. He hated to admit it, but Cy was right. Trey's resistance was continuing to build, but his forces were spread too thin. The Spriggan units had only recently begun efforts to set up a network of resistance cells within enemy territory. In the meantime Sauron was growing stronger and gaining more allies.
They were running out of time.
"Maybe we need to change our tactics," Tommy said.
"How so?" Cy asked.
"The Rigel campaign came as a big blow to Sauron," Tommy explained. "It wouldn't have happened without our being able to unite all the Coalition cells. Maybe what we need to do...is use our status as rangers to rally more support to our opposition movement. If not to contribute directly to the war effort, at least to establish some kind of...underground railroad for refugees. "
Chris nodded "Not a bad idea. We're stopping off at planets all the time for supplies anyway..."
Cy shook his head. "It wouldn't work. We can't become that high profile."
"We wouldn't necessarily have to be high profile," Tommy said. "Look, I'm not saying this plan doesn't have plenty of wrinkles to iron out...but I definitely think it's worth pursuing.
"Sauron has a significant foothold in three-fourths of the galaxy now," Tommy continued. "It's only a matter of time before he pushes past Drilax and into the Fourth Quadrant."
Chris narrowed his focus while looking towards a system in the Fourth Quadrant. "What's this Confederation?"
Chris and Tommy looked to Cy.
Cy shook his head. "They mostly keep to themselves. Humanoids and a few other species. They don't like outsiders and they don't like Rangers."
"Why?" Tommy asked.
"No one knows," Cy said.
"Huh," Tommy said as he looked at their sector of space. "Maybe we should go ask..."
"Bad idea," Cy said.
"We'll collect more information on them first," Tommy said. "Their territory takes up a significant part of the Fourth Quadrant. They could be a big help."
Cy reluctantly nodded. The arguments between the two teammates were still frequent, just more civilized.
"If you want information on the Confederation," Cy said. "The best place to get it would be the Temorex Colony. It's along the Prizelus route."
Tommy looked to Chris. "Plot us a course."
Chris nodded and pulled up a diagram of available star charts and hyperspace routes. "It'll be a minute or two."
Justin and Ashley crawled through one of the narrow access shafts allowing access to the ship's Megalaser systems. A few turrets were damaged from a recent skirmish with a group of pirates near Onyx.
They stopped near an access port and removed the protective paneling. Ashley had to put extra effort into removing one of the panels. It was seemingly stuck.
"Damn things..." she mumbled beneath her breath as she tossed the panel aside.
"Well when you treat it like that, what do you expect?" Justin said jokingly.
Ashley shot him a look that made him slink back and place his hands up in a non-threatening manner. "Kidding. Kidding."
Ashley shook her head and turned back to the job at hand.
"Not a word," she said with frustration after a moment of silent. "He hasn't said a word to me since that night."
Justin smiled. "When he kissed you, you mean..."
She gave him the look again.
They turned back to their work.
"Ya know," Justin said after another moment. "We have been busy. In the expanse. Now out here helping these refugees."
"I know," Ashley said. "But it's different. He's avoiding me. I don't like...unresolved tension."
Justin nodded with understanding. "Maybe you should talk to Kat..."
"Why?" Ashley asked.
Justin shrugged. "She's good at this...people stuff. You know that. I'm just good for a joke or two."
Ashley smiled teasingly. "I think Kat would disagree."
It was Justin's turn to give the look.
The Temorex Colony sat on a wasteland of barren rock, muck, ice slosh, and stank. The colony itself was protected by a large dome. Inside were layers of walkways and buildings holding various taverns and shops.
The Astro Megaship docked in one of the colony's outer ports while donning the holographic disguise of a run-down cargo freighter.
The rangers landed on the surface and split into three pairs while searching for any information they could find on the nearby Confederation.
Tommy and Justin walked side-by-side through a crowd of smugglers, thieves, traders, and pirates. The rangers wore dark cloaks with hoods to cover their faces.
They walked past a tavern with broken neon lights that crackled on and off from power drain. Half the tavern's patrons appeared slouched over their tables with half-empty glasses at hand.
The drinks served cast a pungent odor that drifted out to the walkway. It reeked with a smell no less offensive than stale urine.
"Classy," Justin said quietly.
Tommy nodded. "I don't even wanna know what's in those glasses..."
The two rangers walked in and made their way over to the main bar before having a seat.
The bartender quickly approached them. He was a fat creature twice Justin and Tommy's size combined. He had no nose, giant lips, and three large eyes of solid black.
"God help us," Justin said quietly.
"What to drink," the fat man rumbled in a low booming voice.
Tommy was given a debriefing on popular drinks in this area of space.
"Tesium ales," Tommy said in a low voice as he slipped the appropriate credits from his sleeve.
The massive bartender nodded and had the two glasses sitting on the counter in a blinding display of speed. Each glass was foaming over with a light blue liquid. The liquid had a dark black twist to it.
The bartender tilted his head as he looked at the two rangers. "You're new to these parts."
Tommy nodded. "This is our first run across the Prizelus route. We're hoping to find business partners in the Confederation..."
Justin slipped a few credits onto the counter.
Their bartender grabbed the credits with a swift move of the hand.
"The Lindarix Family leads all cartels in Confederation," the bartender said. "He looks for fresh blood even now."
"What are his political connections?" Tommy asked.
"He has many," the bartender said. "Confederation space, based on the cartels."
"What of the Confederation's dislike towards outsiders?" Tommy asked.
"Outside politicians," the bartender said. "Outside explorers. Ambassadors. Travelers. Businessmen, all good."
The two rangers asked a few more questions before walking away from the bar and leaving their drinks behind.
They passed a table of arguing troll-like creatures when someone approached them from behind.
"This route is cluttered with enough scum as it is," the voice said. "You're not welcome."
Tommy and Justin turned to face the figure. It was a muscular man with a flat nose and scarred face. He was of a species the rangers didn't recognize.
"We don't want any trouble," Tommy said.
"Then leave," the man said as three of his coworkers surrounded the rangers.
"We were about to," Justin said.
"No," the man said as he pulled out a curved and jagged knife. "Leave this space...these are dangerous times for newcomers."
The other three men pulled out knifes as well.
Tommy tried his best to remain calm. "If you'll step aside, my partner and I will be-"
The man barked an order the rangers' translators couldn't pick up. The other three men pounced forward to attack.
Tommy stepped aside and grabbed one of the men's wrists. The ranger twisted his assailant's wrist while stepping inward and slamming an elbow across the alien's face. The attacker was thrown backward and crashed onto a table that shattered under his weight.
Tommy turned to face the second man and snapped out with a simple sidekick. The attacker was thrown backward into an insect being that made the movie Alien look like a kid's show.
The insect leapt onto the man and slammed him against the ground.
Justin stepped backwards while letting his attacker's knife pass over him. The assailant over extended himself, and Justin snapped forward with a round kick to the man's side. He followed through by spinning forward and sweeping the attacker's legs out from beneath him.
Justin turned to his right to face their original attacker and slammed a palm heel blow across the man's jaw. The man fell backward, crashing through the table of trolls.
A bar fight erupted, drunkards bumping into each other and turning on each other.
Tommy and Justin fought their way through the brawl and leapt through the exit. They looked down the walkway to see a speeder carrying militia members zooming their way.
"There are cops here?!" Justin said.
Tommy grabbed Justin's arm. "Let's go..."
They ran towards the edge of the catwalk and jumped off towards a lower level.
They slammed against a lower walkway and rolled across the catwalk to soften the blow. They rolled to their feet and dashed forward to lose themselves in the crowd.
The militia was luckily too concerned with quelling the bar fight than chasing the rangers.
The two rangers hid in between two small buildings to catch their breath.
They heard a clapping noise come from behind them and snapped around. They saw a young man who appeared human and looked around their age. He had short, shaggy, bleach-blonde colored hair and wore a dark cloak over a black pilot jumpsuit.
"Not bad for a couple of Terrans," the young man said with a smile. "You Earth Rangers are better than I thought."
Tommy tilted his head and kept his voice low. "I'm afraid you have us mistaken..."
"Nice try. Tommy, right? And Justin?" The man smiled and shook his head. "I never did understand Earth names."
"Who are you?" Tommy asked.
Before the young man could answer, a large explosion rumbled in the distance. The explosion was accompanied by panicked screams.
A bull creature was stomping through the crowd on the wide catwalk area below. He had two twisted black horns covered with green grids. The monster fired jagged bursts of green energy that exploded around the catwalk as people screamed in panic and ran for their lives.
A red-haired Ecilian girl, with golden eyes and creamy white skin, stood frozen in fear along the creature's path. The bull grinned with mindless blood-thirsty delight as he stalked towards her with his claws stretched out to attack.
Astro Black suddenly leapt onto the catwalk and jumped towards the monster while slamming his elbow against its face. The creature was taken by surprise and forced a few steps back.
All five Rangers regrouped on the catwalk and assumed fighting stances.
Astro Pink placed her hands on the Ecilian's shoulders. "You'll be okay now. Go on..."
The young girl ran off, and Astro Pink joined her team.
"Astro Snipers!" Astro Red commanded. The five Rangers drew their weapons and fired lances of blue energy that streamed towards the gene-beast.
The crystal on the monster's head flashed with a deep jade glow before the blasts sparked against its chest. Explosions tore across the creature's body, and he was forced down to his knees.
The creature moaned with anger while rising to its feet and continuing its slow, mindless advance.
"Download weapons," Astro Red commanded. The Rangers armed their weapons and leapt towards the monster one-by-one.
"Astro Rod!" Astro Black shouted while slamming the creature across its head.
"Astro Tomahawk," Astro Blue shouted while spinning forward with a horizontal strike across the monster's injured chest.
"Astro Sling!" Astro Yellow called while firing darts of yellow energy that exploded against the creature.
"Astro Capture!" Astro Pink yelled while firing rings of pink energy that exploded across the monster's body.
"Drill Saber!" Astro Red shouted while spearing the monster between its red eyes.
The Rangers regrouped just as the bull countered with a jagged green energy burst. The blast exploded against the Rangers' armor.
The Rangers rolled for cover, and Astro Red rolled to his feet.
'Battleizer!" Astro Red shouted as the black brace flashed onto his right wrist. "It's time I clipped those horns."
Astro Red jumped forward through the air.
"Riser Chop!" he shouted as crimson energy flashed along his hand. His knife-hand chop shattered through the monster's left horn.
"Riser Punch!" he shouted while following through with a punch against the creature's face.
The monster was tossed backward, but slowly rose back to its feet yet again.
The young stranger from earlier watched the battle from above with peaked interest. The Rangers regrouped and prepared their final blows.
"Drill Sniper custom," Astro Red said while combining the Drill Saber and Astro Sniper. An acceleration prong attached to the end of the saber.
"Quadro Blaster," Astro Blue commanded as the other four Rangers combined their weapons into one rifle.
"Fire!" Astro Red shouted. His weapon launched a sphere of crackling crimson energy.
"Fire!" Astro Blue shouted. The rifle launched an energy pulse that vibrated with energy.
The two blasts ripped through the creature, tearing it apart as its energy overloaded and exploded.
The Rangers lowered their weapons as the whine of security speeders split through the air. They powered down their armor and decided it best to stay out of sight.
"So much for staying low profile," Justin said as he and the others ducked for cover between a pair of buildings.
"This mission is over," Tommy said. "Let's head back to the Megaship."
Tommy's digitizer beeped as he flipped its panel over to answer it. "Go ahead..."
"Leaving so soon?" a voice asked. Tommy recognized it as the same young man he and Justin had met earlier.
"How did you get this frequency?" Tommy asked. "I'm really getting sick of you mysterious types."
"Hey, calm down," the voice said defensively. "There are only so many ways of getting your attention."
The whine of repulser sleds cut through the air as several militia speeders started to patrol the catwalks for signs of more disturbances.
Tommy slapped his digitizer panel shut and looked out between the two buildings.
They were on one of the highest catwalks. Another walk ran parallel with a several-meter gap in between, which fell downwards from dangerous heights. Another catwalk ran several meters above, running diagonally across their level. The pattern repeated itself through various modulations all the way down to the surface, miles below.
Justin narrowed his eyes as he looked at the traveling speeders.
"Looks like only three speeders on our level," Justin said. "Four soldiers in each."
Tommy looked to Chris. "How many levels down to the nearest docking area?"
"Twelve," Chris said.
Tommy looked back to Ashley and Kat. "Patch into their comm system. Try to get a handle on their patrol pattern. We need to get out of here without fighting the locals."
Ashley downloaded the militia patrol patterns onto her data pad after Kat hacked into their comm codes.
"Got it," she said. "We should be able to slip past their patrols. It'll be tricky though."
Tommy took the data pad and took a few seconds to look over it before handing it back to Ashley.
"Okay," he said. "Let's go..."
They five rangers left the alley and turned right, walking through a crowd of various life-forms towards one of the lift ramps.
A construction speeder suddenly hovered down towards the catwalk as civilians scattered to give it room. The walkway was apparently about to undergo repairs from the recent battle.
"Great," Tommy said under his breath.
The five rangers turned to casually walk the other way when a pair of security speeders set down to block their path. The guards onboard powered their rifles and aimed forward.
The horned soldiers barked orders in their native tongue, and the whines of their rifles powering up filled the air.
"New plan," Tommy said as he pulled out his blaster and fire off several rounds. "Take the construction speeder..."
Tommy and Justin laid down covering fire while Chris, Ashley, and Kat ran towards the speeder.
Chris jumped onto the speeder while tackling the pilot out of his way.
Kat leapt onboard with a graceful kick that sent one of the workers crashing backwards.
Ashley flipped onto the speeder and launched at the remaining workers with a vicious kicking combination that sent them crashing onto the catwalk below.
Ashley turned to the control station and began deciphering the various controls.
"These people have a lot to learn about gratitude," she said under her breath as she used her data pad to assist her.
Tommy and Justin continued to lay down cover fire as they backed up towards the construction vehicle.
"Yes," Ashley exclaimed when she gained control of the hover speeder. She throttled the speeder forward and swung it around so its side was in between Tommy and Justin and the security guards.
"Hop in boys," she said as the militia's weapons blasted the side of the small craft.
Tommy and Justin hopped on board while Kat and Chris laid down cover fire.
"Take us to the lift system," Tommy said.
Ashley grinned and shook her head. "I have a better idea..."
She throttled the speeder towards the edge of the craft and flew over its railing. The repulser vehicle dove straight downwards as it maneuvered in and out between layers of catwalks.
The rangers held tightly onto the craft to keep from being blown backwards.
"Watch out for that rail," Tommy shouted to be heard over the whining engines.
Ashley banked hard to port and clipped the catwalk's railing in the process.
"Backseat drivers..." she said.
Ashley pulled the craft's nose up in a sharp turn and flew under the nearest catwalk. The rangers had to duck to keep from getting smacked in the head.
Justin drew his blaster while eyeing an approaching security sled zooming towards them.
"Ashley, you've got horn-heads on your tail," he shouted while squeezing off several blasts in their direction.
Ashley turned hard to port and flew over a catwalk while civilians ducked for cover. The main lift was up ahead.
Ashley swerved the vehicle sideways as it slammed against the catwalk and started to skid forward while sparking against the walkway.
The rangers leapt from the crashed vehicle and rose to their feet, watching as the construction speeder slammed against a post and exploded in a burst of flames.
Security officers fired at the rangers, and their rifle blasts exploded around them. The five rangers ran into the lift elevator and slammed the door shut. The lift started to jet towards the docking bay like a bullet.
The Astro Megaship took off into orbit as soon as the rangers were on board.
Astronema sat in her ready room while thumbing the locket she wore around her neck. The Temorex Colony spun below outside her viewport.
The doors hissed open, and Astronema sat upright as Eclipter walked in while carrying a large onyx gem outlined with green.
"The program was successful, princess," Eclipter said as he bowed his head and placed the crystal onto Astronema's desk.
A lopsided grin spread across Astronema's face. "Excellent...have the gene-beast clone ready by the time we reach this Confederation."
Eclipter nodded slightly. "Our sources say they will attempt to contact the Lindarix family."
Astronema thumbed her locket between her fingers while looking down at its luster, slightly hidden by dirt and decay.
"It doesn't matter," she said almost nonchalantly. "They'll come to us when we send our gene-beast down. Then they will die."
The Megaship throttled through hyperspace at maximum hyper-rush velocity towards the Confederation.
The six teammates sat around their table near the synthatron while going over their strategy once entering Confederation space.
"So..." Justin said as they looked over their data pads, sitting next to various plates of food. "How will we find this Lindarix Family?"
"Do we even want to?" Chris asked.
Tommy nodded. "If these cartels really do control the government, we may not have much choice."
"So how do we make contact with them?" Kat asked.
"They'll find us," Cy said. "If they know we're looking for them."
"Do we approach them as Rangers or go undercover?" Ashley asked.
"Undercover," Tommy said. "Their government doesn't like Rangers, for whatever reason."
"Their entire government was founded by criminals," Cy said. "It makes sense."
"So what exactly are we asking them for?" Chris said.
"Aide," Tommy said. "In whatever way they can."
Cy agreed. "We can offer them tactical and astrological information on Sauron's forces in exchange."
"What kind of military does the Confederation have?" Ashley asked.
"We're not sure," Cy said. "Capital ships...fighters...ground soldiers...rumors were too varied to tell."
"We'll have to play things by ear," Tommy said. "The important thing is to convince them to take an active role against Sauron."
The rangers spoke more about the Confederation for a brief period before going about their separate duties on board the ship.
The Megaship was quickly intercepted by a pair of long, heavily-armored capital ships as soon as they entered the Confederation.
"They're hailing us," Kat said from her bridge station.
"On screen," Tommy said while he straightened his jacket.
The face of a fox-like creature appeared on the viewscreen. He wore some sort of breath mask that covered his snout.
"This is Alsion, of the freighter Kedeyn's Hammer," the fox-like captain said. "State your business."
"I'm commander of the KO-35 cruiser Galaxy Star," Tommy said. "We're here in search of...new business."
Alsion tilted his head. "I suggest you specify, Kerovian..."
Justin looked over to Tommy. "They're charging weapons."
"Polarize the hull plating," Tommy said before turning back to the viewscreen. "This ship has survived everything from Kilrathi, to Sedementarians, and to Astronema herself...If you really want to try, be my guest."
"You are outnumbered," Alsion said. "I suggest you cooperate..."
"Then I suggest you point your guns somewhere else," Tommy said. He looked to Justin. "What's their armament?"
Justin pulled up a few specs. "Class-F shielding. Plasma-based weapons. Proton warheads. Nothing we can't handle."
"Did you hear that, Alsion?" Tommy asked.
The fox-like captain snarled.
"Fine," Tommy said as he activated his Battleizer. "Hear this then..."
The Delta Mega speared into real-space while masked with a holographic disguise similar to the Megaship's.
"Now," Tommy said. "We can talk shop, or we can blow the hell out of each other. Your choice."
Alsion wrinkled his furry brow. "Hold," he said sharply as the viewscreen blinked off.
"So far so good," Justin said.
"How do you figure?" Chris asked.
Ashley smiled at him. "We're not dead yet."
The viewscreen blinked back on. "You will follow our course to the Retic System. If you deviate in the slightest way, you will be destroyed."
"Then what?" Tommy asked.
"You will be granted a brief audience with one of our representatives," Alsion said. "Pray that he likes what he hears."
Alsion's face blinked off the viewscreen, revealing a view of the two ships changing angles for their exit vector.
Tommy looked to Cy. "Follow them..."
Cy nodded and adjusted the ship's course to follow their escort.
A barely visible silver shuttle, no larger than a fighter, slowly adjusted its heading and followed the ships out.
Kedyn's Hammer and the Megaship entered the Retic System's outskirts. A faint glowing blue star was in the distance with one planet around its orbit. The planet was all white, covered with ice from pole to pole.
"Huh..." Chris said with peaked interest while monitoring his sensor readout.
"What is it?" Ashley asked as she leaned over to him.
"There's plant life growing on the ice in a few locations near the equator," Chris said. "It's...weird."
A small light blinked on Kat's console. "Kedyn's Hammer is hailing us."
"On screen," Tommy said.
Alsion's face appeared on the forward monitor. "Proceed along landing vector thri seven. Our defenses will follow your descent."
The viewscreen blinked off.
"I think he's starting to like us," Justin said sarcastically.
"Take us down, Cy," Tommy said. "DECA, set the synthatron to replicate KO-35 military-type clothing."
The Megaship set down on a circular platform crafted by ice and contained by a sophisticated forcefield. The vessel's landing ramp descended as the rangers and Cy walked down towards the icy platform. They each wore a heavy brown jacket and slacks over a light brown, insulated jumpsuit.
A greeting party met the rangers at the base of the ramp. A dark-haired man with a graying beard stood at the party's center. He appeared human and wore an intricate assembly of earrings and laces along both ears. He was escorted by a white-furred fox creature, with a black streak running down the center of his head, as well as a being that looked like a slug. The slug had a long, down sloping neck and a small hump for a head, with two glossy black eyes and a pair of antenna. Its skin was slimy and blue.
The human stepped forward. "You'll have to forgive Alsion. He tends to be over aggressive in first contacts."
Tommy hid his surprise at the sudden change of attitude. "It's understandable...I'm Andros. This is my First Officer Cy and our crew."
The man nodded. "Yes. Now if you'll follow me..."
He turned and walked away from the landing ramp as his men followed.
Tommy and the others followed a few steps behind.
"I guess we'll be saving introductions for later," he said with slight suspicion.
The rangers were led through corridors carved from ice before coming to a small underground briefing room.
The bearded man and his men sat at the edge of a half-circle table. The rangers sat around the table's curb.
"I am the Teershial," the man said. "I will relay your requests to the head families..."
Teershial held out his left palm, indicating the rangers to speak.
"We've come to you with a proposal," Tommy said. "One that will be profitable and save all your lives."
Teershial arced an eyebrow but allowed the ranger to continue.
"Sauron's forces are spreading," Tommy continued. "He's spread from Eltar and taken most of the Second Quadrant, joining with the Kyrana Consortium, the Machine Remnant, Kilrathi, and other smaller powers. Virtually all of the First and Third Quadrants belong to him. The only thing standing in his way is an alliance led by the prince of Triforia.
"Sauron's tried more than once to push into this quadrant. He's even tried for the Prizelus route directly, which leads into your space."
"Your proposal?" Teershial asked, his face devoid of interpretable expressions.
"We represent the alliance forged under Prince Trey of Triforia. A group recently strengthened by the Rigel Coalition. I propose a mutually beneficial partnership."
The squid-like aide made a series of high-pitched squeals that the rangers' translators didn't pick up.
"To what end?" Teershial asked.
"You obviously defend your borders," Tommy said. "If you were to take a more aggressive defense, we could spare vessels to strengthen your fleet."
"I was under the impression your Alliance had few vessels to spare," Teershial said.
"Your forces would be strengthening defense groups already in place," Tommy said.
Chris pulled out his data pad and activated a small holographic projection of the Fourth Quadrant.
"A Titan-led battle group is spread throughout the Drilax System and surrounding sector," Chris explained. "We also have patrols in out-lying systems as far as Avalon."
Tommy nodded. "Holding these areas, along with the Prizelus route, is key to keeping this area out of Sauron's hands."
Teershial shook his head. "Our borders are adequately defended. We gain nothing from this."
Justin leaned forward. "If Sauron makes it to your borders, you're finished."
Cy nodded. "Sauron needs to be defeated. Before he gains further ground."
Teershial stood from his table and the two aides followed. "I will relay your request to my superiors."
The three abruptly left, leaving the rangers alone in the small briefing room.
"Of all the..." Ashley said with frustration.
Teershial left his aides and entered his private chambers.
"Well," a voice said behind him as soon as he entered the room.
He nearly jumped out of his skin and turned to face the voice. It was Astronema.
"It went as suspected," Teershial said, refusing to whimper as a servant would.
A cold smile spread across Astronema's face. "You've done well. Now...spring the trap."
Teershial straightened his back. "And? What about your part of the bargain? That you will allow us to go about conducting our business as normal."
"Kill them first," Astronema said. "Then we'll talk..."
The princess turned and left the room.
Tommy paced back and forth in the room with his arms crossed over his chest.
Justin leaned against a wall while shaking his head. "Could they possibly keep us waiting any longer?"
Chris shook his head while looking at his scanner. "These force-fields interfere with our scans...I don't like this."
"Me either," Cy agreed.
Tommy glanced down at his scanner. "If it was a trap, they would have-"
The chamber started to rumble as the surrounding force-fields collapsed. The ice shattered as piles of snow and ice caved in around the rangers.
"Morph!" Tommy shouted.
Teershial watched from his office window as the ground outside started to collapse on top of the rangers. He nodded with satisfaction, convinced the job had been done.
He was, of course, wrong.
A burst of energy ripped from the ground like a geyser as the armored Rangers hopped to the surface along with Cy.
Teershial wrinkled his brow with concern.
Astronema never expected Teershial's plan to actually work. She would never be so foolish. The failed cave in served only as an excuse for her to deploy her gene-beast.
A clone of the bull creature teleported from her Dark Fortress into an icy crater on the planet's surface. A small mining camp was set up in the crater.
The black-horned bull was nearly identical to its predecessor, except its body was covered in a thicker, leathery hide. The creature opened fire with jagged green energy bursts that exploded through the mining camp walls.
Miners ran for their lives as the creature howled and continued its advance.
The five Rangers flipped one-by-one into the crater. They snapped into fighting stances and blocked the creature's path.
The bull snarled.
"Is it just me," Astro Blue said, "or are all these monsters starting to look the same?"
"Alright guys," Astro Red said. "Let's take care of business..."
The Rangers charged towards their opponent.
Only three guards paced back and forth below the Megaship. Explosions and flashes of light rang off in the distance from the bull's rampage. This distracted the guards, giving Cy the upper hand he needed.
Cy sprang onto the icy landing platform with both blasters aimed forward. He dove to the side while firing several rounds that knocked the three guards backward.
"Download weapons," Astro Red commanded as he grasped his Drill Saber.
Astro Red leapt forward alongside Astro Black.
"Drill Saber!" Astro Red shouted while corkscrewing forward and extending his blade like a spear.
"Astro Rod!" Astro Black shouted while swinging the left end of his staff diagonally towards the creature's head.
The black gem on the bull's forehead flashed with green energy. The Rangers' weapons slammed against a jade-tinted energy field. The two Rangers were slammed backward from the impact.
Astro Red and Astro Black rolled across the ground before rising to their knees.
"What the hell was that?" Astro Red asked.
"No idea," Astro Black said.
Astro Blue leapt forward through the air towards the monster.
"Astro Tomahawk!" he shouted while swinging his small axe towards the creature's head.
His weapon hit the same energy barrier, and Astro Blue was thrown backwards.
Astro Pink rolled across the ground towards the creature's side. She rolled to her knees while aiming her weapon forward.
"Astro Capture!" she shouted while firing rings of pink energy.
The creature's barrier reflected the blasts right back at the Ranger, and they exploded against her chest armor.
"Astro Sling!" Astro Yellow shouted from the other side of the creature while firing darts of yellow energy.
The barrier threw the energy blasts right back at the Ranger. Astro Yellow was tossed backwards as the blasts sparked against her chest.
Astro Yellow rose to her knees just as the monster charged towards her with its horns pointed forward. Astro Red leapt in front of the beast, but the creature knocked him aside. The beast charged forward, knocking the other Rangers back one-by-one. Yellow. Black. Blue. Pink.
The Rangers regrouped while the gene-beast stood its ground to snarl.
"Chris," Astro Red said while holding his saber in a defensive stance. "What are you reading on that force-field of his..."
A green lightning bolt struck the rim of the crater behind the Rangers. They turned and looked up to see Eclipter standing in a bold posture.
"Eclipter," Astro Red said as his team snapped into fighting stances.
"Rangers," Eclipter said while lifting his sword. "Don't you recognize the gem on the gene-beast's head?"
They turned back towards the creature and noticed the black crystal between its horns.
"It recorded data on your weapons and attacks during your last battle," Eclipter said. "Proper countermeasures were developed accordingly."
"You're bluffing," Astro Red said while assembling his combo weapon. "We have to blast through that energy shield...Drill Sniper custom…"
"Quadro Blaster..." Astro Blue said as the other four Rangers combined their weapons.
"Fire!" Astro Red shouted while firing a spherical energy blast.
"Fire!" the others shouted while firing a pulse burst.
Their blasts exploded off the energy barrier and reflected back at them, exploding across their armor, ripping through the icy ground, and tossing the Rangers backwards.
Eclipter walked down to the creature's side and watched as the Rangers struggled to rise to their feet.
"You are helpless," the android said.
Astro Red rose to his feet. "Tough talk coming from a rust-bucket hiding behind a big cow."
Eclipter lifted his blade and charged forward.
Astro Black stepped by his leader's side and swung his staff towards Eclipter. The android parried the blow and slashed his sword across Astro Black's chest with a burst of spark.
Astro Red swung his blade towards Eclipter's head. The android knocked the Ranger's saber aside and slammed his fist across Astro Red's helmet.
The bull creature charged its horns and fired a jagged green blast of energy towards Astro Blue. The blast exploded against his midsection.
The creature turned to its left and fired a pair of jagged bursts as Astro Yellow and Astro Pink. Explosions sparked against their armor and flipped them backwards.
The Rangers regrouped, as did the villains. Eclipter stood by the bull's side while aiming his sword forward. The android fired a jagged energy burst that exploded against the Rangers' armor and blasted them back onto the icy ground.
A group of Craterites materialized around Eclipter and the monster as they stalked forward towards their fallen foes.
"Goodbye, Rangers," Eclipter said while pointing his sword forward. The blade started to crackle with green energy.
"Stop!" a voice shouted from the far off distance.
Eclipter looked to his left to see a silver-plated hover cycle racing towards them. The vehicle kicked up snow and ice in its wake while charging forward at full throttle. The android tilted his head while examining the cycle's rider. He wore a thick black jacket and slacks for insulation against the cold. His helmet was black with silver trim.
Eclipter looked to the bull creature. "Destroy him."
The bull aimed his horns at the rider and fired twin bursts of jagged energy. The blasts exploded around the hover cycle, kicking up snow, ice, and fire as the rider weaved through the attack.
Craterites charged forward with their twisted blades to slow the intruder's advance.
The rider increased his cycle's speed. He lifted the nose of his cycle and plowed over a trio of Craterite's while tilting to the right and snapping his left leg out. The kick slammed against a soldier's face as the speeder ran over the remainder of the grunts.
The rider opened his throttle to full and blasted in between Eclipter and the creature. His speed was enough to toss the two villains backward. He swerved to a stop in front of the Rangers and hopped onto the icy surface while pulling off his helmet.
Astro Red looked up and recognized the rider as the same stranger from the Temorex Colony.
Eclipter rose to his feet and glared at the bleach-blonde haired stranger. "You have just guaranteed yourself a slow and painful death…"
The stranger shrugged. "I'm kind of new at this. Should I be scared?"
Astro Red shook his head. "Are you crazy? Get out of here!"
The young man ignored the Ranger.
"Fool," Eclipter said while aiming his sword at the stranger.
"I've been called worse," the young man said while pulling out a small rectangular black-plated object with his right hand. The devise looked like a sleek cell phone.
"Keitizer!" he said while flipping the device's panel open to reveal a numeric keypad. He used his thumb to input the code M-E-G-A-MEGA. The device flashed with golden energy as he whipped it around to the right side of his face and used his left hand to hit the enter key while shouting "Install!"
Silver energy flashed around the man as he morphed into a silver-armored Ranger.
The new Ranger snapped into a fighting stance. "Astro Silver!"
Ranger and villain were both in shock at the sight of the silver warrior.
Astro Silver downloaded his weapon in a flash of golden energy. It was a rifle that wrapped around his forearm.
"Silver Blazer!" he shouted as the weapon snapped open into a long saber. "Sword mode!"
Astro Silver charged towards the bull creature and hopped forward. His blade energized and slashed downward across the bull's chest with a burst of spark. Astro Silver followed by dashing forward with a horizontal strike, then he turned and landed another diagonal blow. He continued forward with a diagonal and horizontal strike combo.
The creature was forced back and frantically fired a jagged energy burst that exploded around Astro Silver as the Ranger dove for cover.
Astro Silver rose to his feet and retracted his blade.
"Cannon mode," he commanded while aiming his rifle forward and firing a volley of golden energy darts that exploded against the creature.
The bull countered with another energy burst. Astro Silver rolled to his left to avoid the blast and rose to his knees while firing another volley of energy darts that exploded against the creature.
Eclipter stood staring at the new warrior, trying to determine who he was and find the answers Astronema would more than likely demand from him.
"Eclipter!" a voice shouted from behind the villain. He turned to see Astro Red and the other five Rangers back on their feet.
"Forget about us?" Astro Red asked.
Astro Blue and Astro Black leapt forward to attack. Astro Black slammed a flying punch against the villain while Astro Blue slammed a flying kick.
Astro Yellow moved in next with a spinning kick while Astro Pink leapt forward with a double knifehand strike.
Eclipter was knocked backwards as the four Rangers formed a circle and linked their hands together. Astro Red leapt onto their hands, and they pushed him off.
Astro Red flipped forward towards Eclipter while arming his Battleizer.
"Riser chop!" he shouted as his energized knife-hand chop slammed against Eclipter's shoulder.
"Riser punch!" he shouted while slamming an energized punch against his opponent.
Eclipter rose to his feet and glared at the Rangers.
"This isn't over," he said before teleporting out in a burst of green energy to report to Astronema.
Astro Silver leapt forward and threw his body against the bull creature, grabbing it by the horns. The creature struggled to break free, but Astro Silver tightened his grasp.
The Silver Ranger slammed his right elbow down against the creature's left horn and shattered through it on impact. He moved to the right horn and used his elbow to snap it.
Astro Silver pressed forward with a left front kick against the monster's head, then slammed a right inner crescent kick against its temple. The creature was thrown backward and tumbled across the ground.
The monster slowly rose to its feet as Astro Silver powered up his weapon.
"Blazer Impact!" Astro Silver shouted while charging towards the creature and triggering rapid-fire golden energy darts.
The blasts exploded against the creature, ripping through its leathery armor and flesh in a series of fiery sparks. Astro Silver closed in on the monster and switched his weapon to blade mode before hopping forward. Astro Silver swung his energized saber down vertically, slashing through the monster.
The Silver Ranger turned and landed in a victory pose as golden energy shimmered around him, and his armor powered down. The bull monster fell backward and exploded behind the ranger.
Astronema's sate-lasers struck the fallen creature in a massive beam of light. The bull monster reassembled and grew to giant size.
The silver ranger ran back to his hover cycle and placed on his helmet.
"I'll leave this up to you guys," the stranger said before speeding off into the distance.
"We'll figure him out later," Astro Red said while turning to look up at the giant bull. "Astro Megazord, online!"
The Megaship throttled through the planet's atmosphere towards the Rangers while reassembling into its warrior form. The Rangers joined in the shuttle's cockpit as the giant robo landed on the icy surface.
"Astro Megazord...Galaxy Mega!" they shouted from their cockpit.
The bull charged forward and crashed its regenerated horns against the Megazord's chest armor. Galaxy Mega grabbed onto the horns and struggled to toss the creature down.
Teershial ran through the icy corridors beneath his office. His personal shuttle was nearby and ready to take him away from the madness devouring his compound.
A stun bolt stung Teershial in the leg. He stumbled forward and slid across the ground. He turned onto his back and looked up to see a man he didn't recognize staring down at him.
The assailant switched his weapon from stun to kill. He 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.
"You've made a grave error today," the man said. "I only have one question to ask...can you learn from your mistakes?"
The Galaxy Mega and bull creature circled around each other as the silver ranger watched.
The Megazord activated its beam cannon and fired an energy burst that exploded against the monster's chest.
"That's the stuff," silver ranger said while watching the battle with excitement.
The bull creature countered with a pair of jagged energy streams that exploded against the zord's armor.
Silver ranger breathed a sigh and sat down on the snow bank while shaking his head. "Oh, come on..." He shook his head. "Planetary rangers..."
The Rangers were jolted from another impact within their cockpit.
"Time for some reinforcements," Astro Red said while activating his Battleizer. "Delta Mega, install!"
The Delta Mega appeared in the planet's upper atmosphere, and the Megaship blasted off to rendezvous with the craft.
"Astro DeltaMegazord, online!" Astro Red commanded as he activated the 'one' key on the brace.
The Delta formed a suit of armor that wrapped around the Megazord. The combined robo landed back on the icy surface and assumed a fighting stance in front of the bull creature.
The monster snarled and charged forward.
"Gattling blasters!" the Rangers commanded.
Shoulder-mounted gattling cannons opened fire with rapid-volley shots that exploded against the bull creature.
"Delta Knuckle, engage!" the Rangers shouted.
The zord's fists energized and blasted through the monster as its energy overloaded and exploded.
The Astro Megaship hung in orbit after their battle. A representative from the cartels had requested a meeting, much to the rangers' surprise.
The rangers were meeting in the ship's situation room while waiting for the representative to arrive. This gave them a chance to discuss the sudden appearance of Astro Silver.
"His name is Zhane," Cy said while activating the circular table's holographic emitter. An image of the silver ranger appeared. "He was a member of the science team working on the Astro Ranger project on KO-35."
"Where did his armor come from?" Tommy asked.
"Yeah," Justin said to Cy. "If there was a sixth morpher...why didn't they give it to you?"
Cy shook his head. "The Silver Ranger was a prototype. It was never meant for actual use."
"Why?" Ashley asked. "It seemed pretty effective to me..."
"I don't know," Cy said.
"I want to know why he ran off," Tommy said. "And how we can get in contact with him."
"I traced his signal," Kat said. "From when he tapped into your communicator, Tommy. He has a small shuttle he's using."
"Can we track it?" Tommy asked.
Chris shook his head. "We're working on it, but no luck yet."
DECA's voice came over the speakers. "The cartel's shuttle is approaching."
"Extend the docking port," Tommy commanded.
The rangers headed out to meet their guests.
Tommy and the others stood at the docking port entrance as the large metal door irised open. The Teershial was led onto the Megaship's deck by a man the rangers instantly recognized. He 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.
Tommy narrowed his brow. "Durak..."
The smuggler Durak merely nodded. "Rangers...I'm glad we're meeting under better terms."
Durak had betrayed the Rangers to Astronema in the Prizelus Sector.
Durak's first officer, Vea'ra, stepped up behind her leader. 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.
Chris crossed his arms, a cynical look in his eyes. "I suppose you're one of the cartel leaders."
Durak nodded. "That's right."
Justin shook his head. "Give us one reason why we shouldn't vape you right now."
Tommy glared at Durak. "This meeting is over...get off my ship."
The rangers turned and started to walk away.
"Wait," Durak said. "I thought you wanted Confederation aide?"
The rangers stopped, and Tommy looked over his shoulder to Durak. "And I suppose you want to lend it to us..."
"I don't expect you to trust me," Durak said. "Don't really care much, in fact. But you saw what Astronema did to my compound. My people."
Vea'ra stepped forward. "Don't confuse our offer with some sort of good-hearted intention. Astronema betrayed us. Hurt us. It's time we returned the favor."
Durak placed a hand on Vea'ra's shoulder. "This isn't about revenge either...it's the same as it's always been. Business."
Tommy and the others turned to face Durak and his people again, reluctant to believe a word the man said.
"Keep talking," Tommy said.
"The Confederation will lend its military support," Durak said. "Our contacts between here and the Wastelands will set up routes for refugees and establishing a resistance network."
Durak jabbed the Teershial in the back. "My good friend here is being demoted for the stunt he pulled. He'll be scrubbing Confederation refresher stations."
Tommy nodded. He still didn't trust Durak, but he was at least willing to further discuss the issue.
"Let's move this conversation to our mess hall," Tommy said. "Justin, take the Teershial here to wait in the brig."
"With pleasure," Justin said.
Astronema stood on the bridge of her Dark Fortress while analyzing the recent battle data from Astro Silver's fight. She turned to Eclipter.
"I want to know where this one came from," Astronema said. "I want him hunted down and destroyed."
To be continued...Chapter Thirteen