Rangers in Space: Chapter Eighteen
His Sister’s Locket
Refugees shipped to De'jornel by the hundreds. Transport ships landed in designated parks, beaches and city plazas, as beings from different worlds disembarked. The beings came from worlds ravaged by Sauron.
The Astro Megaship was in a city plaza as repair teams and the Delta Mega's damage control systems tried to get the vessel space-worthy again.
Tommy and Justin leaned on the railing of a skyscraper and stared out at the city below.
"Kind of looks like Earth," Justin said. "Except for the starships parked all over the place."
Tommy did his best to crack a small grin. He stayed quiet. Justin looked to his friend with concern.
"You okay, man? You seem quiet...more so than usual, I mean," Justin said.
Tommy shook his head. "Darkonda may have been the only person in the galaxy who knew where Karone is...and now he's gone."
Justin nodded, wishing he knew what to say, and looked back towards the city. "So what do we do next?"
"Once repairs on the Megaship are complete, we'll head to the Valivare Sector. The Network's been picking up some strange activity...of course we don't have a better explanation than 'strange.'"
Their communicators chimed. Tommy answered the call. "This is Tommy. Go ahead."
"This is Chris," he said. "We found out what happened to the people on this planet. You guys had better come down here."
The Dark Fortress hung in space while in orbit around a recently conquered world. Hordes of Quantrons were returning to the fortress docking bays.
Astronema watched the troop ships arrive while staring out her viewport. She was in her ready room, and her mind was not focused on her recent victory.
Eclipter was standing in front of her desk while reading a status report. "With this world out of our way, we can move from Karabarra to Garuda without interference..."
Astronema said nothing.
Eclipter tilted his head, not used to interpreting human emotions, but able to sense Astronema's mood. "What is troubling you, my princess?"
"Eclipter..." Astronema said softly without taking her gaze from the viewport. "Tell me again how my family died..."
Eclipter was taken slightly aback, not anticipating the question. "They were killed, princess. By a team of Rangers. When you were only a little girl. I found you at my doorstep and have been raising you ever since."
"Eclipter..." Astronema said as she turned to face the android. "You're the only person I've ever trusted...but something tells me...my brother is still alive."
A mobile command center spread across the plaza area of the Earth-like planet. The center was a tent shaped like a hive. Inside, Chris and Kruger looked over a display of scans and sensor sweeps.
Chris turned towards Tommy and Justin as his two teammates entered the tent. "Not all of them were killed."
Tommy opened his eyes wide with surprise. "You found survivors?"
"No," Chris said as he turned back towards his sensor station. "But…we found readings that suggest at least 3,500 people were teleported off world."
"Teleported by who?" Tommy asked.
"We don't know yet," Chris said. "Those that weren't teleported...they were used to make the Scavengers."
Tommy's face grew pale.
Astronema kneeled in her communications chamber. A holographic image of Eltar's war-torn landscape shimmered to life. The landscape sped by Astronema until it stopped below the Eye of Sauron. A loud hum filled the chamber as Sauron telepathically crammed his thoughts into Astronema's head.
She nodded with understanding. "Yes................... De'jornel.......consider it done, my liege. I will not fail you again."
The communication images ended, leaving Astronema alone in the dark chamber. For some reason, she could not bare herself to get up.
Kat handed a pack of rations to a group of winged children from a mountain world. They thanked her and flew back off towards their parents.
Kat was amazed that in the midst of tragedy she could find something so beautiful.
Explosions suddenly sparked across the square. Refugees ran in panic as a group of Quantrons and a gene beast appeared. The villains descended the stairs into the courtyard area.
Kat activated her communicator. "Tommy, Ashley...Astronema's sent one of her gene beasts."
The gene beast resembled a walking, wingless back. The creature was jet-black with blood-red eyes and long fangs protruding from its jaws.
The other rangers arrived on the scene and grouped together.
"All right guys," Tommy said. "Let's take care of business."
The five rangers armed their morphers. "Install, Astro Ranger!"
They input the code '3-3-5-enter' and morphed into their Ranger forms. They split up and attacked the Quantrons, trying to keep the soldiers away from the refugees.
Astro Red leapt towards a trio of soldiers. He slammed a flying sidekick against the lead soldier, landed, and snapped off a hook kick to his right. The kick bashed across a Quantron's head. Astro Red turned to his left and slammed a backfist blow across the third soldier, knocking the Quantron to the ground.
"Astro Rod!" Astro Black shouted as he downloaded and twirled his weapon. He speared the staff against a soldier to his right, then brought the left end shattering through a Quantron's faceplate.
Astro Yellow and Astro Pink stood with their backs facing a group of refugees and aimed forward at the Quantrons.
"Astro Sling!" Astro Yellow shouted.
"Astro Capture!" Astro Pink yelled.
Yellow energy darts and pink energy rings exploded against the soldiers and knocked them away from the civilians.
Astro Blue ran towards the bat gene beast with his Astro Tomahawk in hand. He twirled towards the creature and slashed it across the chest, sparking on impact.
The bat emitted a screech, a high-pitched noise that brought Astro Blue down to his knees in pain. While the Ranger was down, the bat gene beast kicked him upside the head.
Astronema and Eclipter teleported to the stairs leading down to the courtyard. She stood with her staff in hand, boldly looking out across the battle.
Astro Red armed his Drill Saber and parried a soldier's blow. He followed by spearing his Drill Saber through that soldier's head and round-kicking the Quantron aside. Through the corner of his visor, Astro Red noticed a group of Quantrons surround a mother and her two young children. They each appeared humanoid.
The family tried to back away from the creature, but the little girl fell and screamed. Her brother ran to her side and tried to help her up, but the Quantrons were too close. Their mother leaned down and wrapped her arms around them, trying to keep them safe as a Quantron swung its blade down towards them.
Astronema watched as Astro Red pounced forward, jumpkicked the weapon away, landed, and sidekicked the soldier in the chest. He swung his saber in an 'x' pattern and cut through another pair of soldiers.
"You'll be okay," he said to the family while front kicking another soldier. "Just stay back."
But too many Quantrons moved forward. Astro Red put his back to the soldiers and leaned over the family to protect them. A Quantron swung its blade down towards the group. But before the blade could strike, an explosion blasted the Quantron's back.
The soldier fell, and Astro Red noticed Astronema standing with her staff pointed forward. The weapon was still crackling with purple energy and smoke from the discharge. She had shot the Quantron down. The look of shock on her own face paralleled Astro Red's look beneath his faceplate.
"Astronema..." Astro Red said. "Why...?"
Astronema lowered her staff, not able to say a word.
The bat blasted another sonic wave that brought each of the Rangers to their knees. Astro Red slowly rose back to his feet and looked up. What he saw shocked him. In the background, behind bushes, stood Darkonda.
"How..." Astro Red started to say.
Darkonda laughed. "Did you miss me, Red Ranger?"
The villain turned and ran towards the wooded wilderness just outside the city. Darkonda increased his speed with a blur of energy and motion.
"Cyber Slider!" Astro Red commanded, activating his hover sled. He hopped on the slider and leaned forward, accelerating towards Darkonda.
They zigged and zagged between trees, ducked under branches, and sped over rocks during the chase. Darkonda stopped at a small clearing and crossed his arms, staring at the approaching Ranger.
Astro Red somersaulted forward off his slider, through the air, and brought his Drill Saber down towards Darkonda's head. Darkonda parried the blow, but Astro Red brought his blade around to strike again. Darkonda blocked that blow and shifted his sword, bringing the edge of his blade swinging towards Astro Red's neck.
Astro Red ducked beneath the blow, spun forward, and reverse sidekicked Darkonda in the chest. The villain staggered backward as Astro Red hopped forward, swinging his blade down diagonally. Darkonda blocked the blow, but Astro Red pressed down against the villain's sword.
"You kidnapped my sister!" Astro Red shouted.
Darkonda twisted his lips up in a smile. "One of my finest accomplishments."
Astro Red knocked Darkonda's blade away and spun forward with a horizontal strike. Darkonda parried the blow and leaned forward. The villain's head spikes discharged yellow-and-orange energy that exploded against the Ranger's chest.
"The only regret that I have, is that when I kidnapped your sister...I didn't kill you," Darkonda said as he pounced forward again.
Astro Red slammed a jump kick upside Darkonda's head. "I'll give you something to regret."
Astro Red slashed upward diagonally with his blade. The strike sparked across Darkonda's chest and pushed the villain backwards. Astro Red followed by outer crescent kicking Darkonda's sword away. The Ranger spun forward and armed his Astro Sniper, aimed the weapon forward, and fired. The blast exploded against Darkonda and knocked the villain backward.
Darkonda fell back to his knees. Astro Red moved forward and held his Drill Saber to the villain's throat. "Now tell me where my sister is, or I'll-"
"You'll what?" Darkonda said, cutting the Ranger off. "Kill me? Then you'd never find her...you know, she doesn't even know you exist..."
Astro Red narrowed his eyes beneath his faceplate. He grabbed Darkonda by the shoulders, pulled him off his feet, swung him in a circle, and let go. Darkonda splintered through a tree trunk.
The villain slowly rose to his feet and snarled at the Ranger. "Your passion will be your undoing, Red Ranger."
Darkonda teleported away in a burst of energy.
"Tomahawk tornado!" Astro Blue shouted. He spun forward at great speeds and slashed across the bat monster's chest, causing explosions to spark across the villain's flesh.
Astro Pink and Astro Yellow leapt towards the monster next.
"Astro Capture!" Astro Pink shouted.
"Astro Sling!" Astro Yellow shouted.
Rings of pink energy and darts of yellow power erupted from their weapons and exploded against the gene beast with a shower of sparks.
"Astro Rod!" Astro Black shouted as he lunged forward and speared his lance in the monster's chest. He twisted his weapon, and explosions ripped through the center of the bat's body.
Nearby, Astro Red leapt back to the battle scene and started moving towards the fight. But a bolt of purple energy exploded against the ground in front of him. He skid to a halt and looked up to see Astronema standing in front of him.
She narrowed her eyes at him and aimed her staff. "You're not going anywhere, Red Ranger."
Astro Red downloaded his Drill Saber again. "Get out of my way, Astronema. I'm not in the mood for-"
Astronema lunged forward and swung her staff towards the Ranger's head. Astro Red sidestepped and parried the blow before sidekicking Astronema in the gut. The villain was taken aback, but turned, and slammed a hook kick across Astro Red's helmet.
Astro Red spun with the blow and snapped an outer crescent kick towards Astronema's head. She ducked under the blow and slammed the right side of her staff against the Ranger's chest. Astro Red front kicked the staff away, and he swung his blade horizontally towards Astronema.
Astronema leaned back, but the Drill Saber razed her chest and slashed through a golden chain she wore around her neck. The chain snapped, and a locket flew from her neck.
"No!" she shouted, turning to see the locket land on a pile of debris. She turned to sprint towards the locket, but the other four Rangers arrived and blocked her path.
Astronema stopped in her tracks, not wanting to fight all five Rangers. She raised her staff into the sky and shouted orders to her Dark Fortress. "Fire the Sate-lasers!"
Beams of green energy struck the monster's remains. The beams reassembled and enlarged the creature. The bat monster emitted a high-pitched squeal that shook the streets. Astronema used the distraction to teleport away with a burst of energy.
Astro Red activated his communicator. "Mega Voyager, online!"
The five zords shot down from the skies and flew over the city. The five zords reconfigured and fused into one giant robo. The Rangers used their Cyber Sliders to join in the Megazord's cockpit.
The bat creature fired a sonic blast that exploded against the Megazord's armor. '
"Kat," Astro Red said. "See if you can dampen his sonic blast. Ash, increase power to structural integrity."
The creature moved in and swiped its claws against the Mega Voyager. Astro Blue trigged the Megazord's chest cannons. Four beams of orange energy erupted and exploded against the monster.
The gene beast retaliated with a sonic energy pulse. Astro Pink's program kept the pulse from damaging the zord.
"Let's take care of business," Astro Red said. "Mega V-3 missile mode!"
The Mega V-3 missile mode landed in the Megazord's hand. Mega Voyager aimed the weapon forward at the bat gene beast.
"Voyager Spartan!" the Rangers shouted.
The missile launched a concentrated burst of spinning kinetic energy that exploded against the monster. The blast ripped the villain apart until his energy overloaded and exploded.
Less than an hour later, Tommy walked alone through the battle site. Small fires still dotted the debris. He moved near a pile of concrete and noticed a golden locket hanging from a steel bar. Tommy recognized the locket as coming from Astronema.
Tommy moved over to the locket and picked it up. It was identical to his own. The locket Tommy wore and the one his hand started to glow, symbolizing a bond that could not be forged. He activated the locket in his hand. A holographic image appeared. It was the same image, one of Tommy as a young child, his birth parents, and Karone.
A voice shouted from behind Tommy. "Get away from that!"
He turned to see Astronema stalking towards him, holding her staff firmly in hand and ready to strike. She also seemed strangely vulnerable. Like a cornered animal.
"Where did you get this?" Tommy asked.
She walked past him while snatching the locket from his hand. She kept her back to him, placing the locket back around her neck.
"I've always had it," she spat at him.
He slowly walked towards her, grasping his own locket in utter disbelief. "I've always had mine too..."
She turned and glared at him, tightening her grasp on her staff. "What are you talking about, Ranger?"
Tommy shook his head. It felt like someone was trying to choke him. He noticed something in her eyes. A spark of anger he knew too well. The innocence inside. It was true.
"You're..." Tommy started to say. "You're Karone. My sister..."
She narrowed her eyes at Tommy. "What?" she spat at him.
He shook his head and slowly walked towards her. "I don't believe it, but...it's true. You're Karone."
The name stirred something within Astronema, briefly breaking through her rough exterior. She quickly tossed her emotional defenses back up. She aimed her staff towards Tommy and fired a purple energy pulse. The pulse exploded next to Tommy.
Astronema was gone when the explosion cleared.
Tommy paced back and forth inside the mobile command center. The other rangers stood by with looks of concern on their faces.
"I can't believe after all this time," Tommy said, "she was right there under our noses. Astronema is Karone. My sister."
Justin looked skeptical. "How do we know this isn't a trick?"
"I know," Tommy said sternly. "Don't ask me how, but I know. God...this evil thing must run in the family."
"That was different," Chris said. "You were under a spell when you were evil."
Ashley nodded. "And even if Astronema is Karone...there may not be any good left in her."
"I won't believe that," Tommy was quick to say. "Somewhere inside of Astronema is Karone...I just have to find out a way to get to her." He activated his communicator. "Cy, what's the status of the Megaship?"
"She's space-worthy," Cy said, "But the Megazord program isn't online yet."
"Good enough," Tommy said. "Tell DECA to get ready for take off. We're making a trip. To KO-35."
Astronema stomped into her ready room, her face red with anger. "The Red Ranger my brother?! What kind of fool does he take me for?!"
"It is obviously a trick, princess," Eclipter said.
"A trick he'll pay dearly for," she spat.
The Megaship speared into real-space around KO-35. The abandoned planet hung in space like a ghost world. A Cyber Slider launched from the ship and streaked towards the surface.
Astronema walked through an empty grassland dotted with trees on KO-35. Only the sound of small jahvins chirping beneath tree bark broke the silence. The park land was familiar to her.
The grass, trees, and smell of the air stirred something inside of Astronema. Feelings that were buried beneath a lifetime of cold and hard conditioning.
"You remember don't you," a voice said. Astronema turned to see Tommy step out from behind a tree. "You came here because you remember that day. Your last day as Karone...before Darkonda kidnapped you."
Astronema glared at Tommy and thrust her staff forward. A jagged beam of purple energy erupted and streamed out towards the ranger.
Tommy rolled to avoid the blast, which splintered a nearby tree trunk. Tommy rolled into a crouched position and looked up, but Astronema was gone.
Darkonda hid in the bushes and watched as Tommy left the planet's surface. The villain smiled, revealing a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth.
"Excellent, it's working," Darkonda said. "He's gotten to her...she's starting to doubt herself, torn between good and evil."
Darkonda swung his blade over his shoulder and walked into the clearing. He had a smug look of satisfaction on his demonic face.
"Darkonda!" a cold metallic voice shouted. The villain turned to see Eclipter. "I should have destroyed you long ago! You are nothing but trouble."
Darkonda pointed his sword towards Eclipter. "Trouble is what I'm good at...and I like it."
The two villains charged towards each other and clashed sword. Their weapons crashed against each other with a series of thunder claps and sparks while the two dueled. The two matched each other move for move, parrying and thrusting, swinging and blocking.
Eclipter swung his blade down towards Darkonda's chest. The blade slammed against Darkonda's sword, and Eclipter pressed down, holding the villain in place.
"Astronema is never going to have to worry about you again," Eclipter said.
Darkonda pushed away and swung an upward, diagonal blow that slashed across Eclipter. "Astronema is falling to pieces...and I intend to be there to pick them up."
Eclipter lunged forward. "You'll be in pieces long before Astronema."
"Big talk from a little green ghoul," Darkonda said while parrying Eclipter's blows.
The android knocked Darkonda's sword away and kicked the villain to the ground. Darkonda lifted his free hand up and blasted Eclipter with a jagged pulse of orange energy. The pulse blast exploded across Eclipter and pushed the android back. Darkonda pounced forward, grabbed his sword, and slashed the blade across Eclipter.
Eclipter fell backwards and landed on the ground. Darkonda pointed his sword down at the fallen villain.
"Come on, get up," Darkonda said. "I'm not through with you yet."
Eclipter fired green optic blasts that exploded violently against Darkonda and whipped the villain backward. Eclipter kept firing optic blasts that exploded all around Darkonda. The villain fled as Eclipter continued firing.
"Where are you, coward?" Eclipter said. "Show yourself."
But Darkonda was gone.
Darkonda kneeled in a dark cave as the eye of Sauron hovered above him.
"Astronema has remembered her past.....................I say kill her. Before she betrays you............Test her, then. And see that I'm right. And while you're at it, could you let me kill Eclipter too.........just thought I'd ask."
The villain laughed and walked away from the eye.
Astronema sat alone in her ready room with her back to the door. Those doors slid open, and Eclipter walked in.
"Astronema," Eclipter said. "I have urgent news..."
Astronema turned in her chair and faced Eclipter. She looked angry. The princess stood and walked over to her android guardian. "Why didn't you tell me about my brother?"
Eclipter hesitated, which was a rarity. "Princess...I serve Sauron because I was built that way. Cubic centimeter by cubic centimeter. But you...you were born not built. Born to be different. It was only after careful training from myself, that you became who you are today."
Astronema's eyes looked distant. Her mind was rife with confusion. "So you were afraid that if I knew the truth...I would...change. Join their side?"
"You won't join them...will you, Astronema?" Eclipter asked.
Astronema was not even sure what the question meant. "I'm confused."
Eclipter nodded. "Darkonda spied on you while you were on KO-35. He will likely report to Sauron."
Astronema narrowed her eyes. "How dare he!...Sauron will want to test me. And when the time comes, I'll pass with flying colors."
Astronema snapped her fingers and summoned a monster with a burst of green energy. The creature was green skinned with a cluster of spikes for a mouth. The gene beats had spike clusters for hands too.
"Kill the Red Ranger," she said, summoning all the anger she felt for Darkonda.
The monster teleported away to do the deed.
Tommy walked across a plaza on KO-35. He kept hoping Astronema would come back, but it looked doubtful. A part of him couldn't blame her. The entire situation seemed unbelievable still, even to him.
The hairs on the back of Tommy's neck stood on end as a chill crept down his spine. He instinctively leapt out of the way as a flurry of spikes shot past him. The spikes exploded against a nearby building.
Tommy turned and readied his morpher, but Astronema's monster moved in and knocked Tommy's hand away. The morpher's band broke, and the digitizer went rolling across the ground.
"Great," Tommy mumbled sarcastically as he ducked under a blow from the monster and slammed a right roundkick against the creature's side. He followed with a jump left roundkick against the villain's head. "Man, you're ugly."
The villain swung its spike-stumped arm towards Tommy's head. He ducked backward, but the stump managed to cut across his chest, ripping his jumpsuit and tearing some flesh from his body. Tommy moaned in pain as he took a step backwards.
Nearby, Astronema watched from a hidden corner. A slight smile crept onto her lips. Sauron would never need to test her again after this battle ended.
The princess heard Tommy groan as the monster kicked him. It stirred that feeling inside of her. The one she had tried to bury. She remembered the glimpse of memory of Darkonda kidnapping her. Tommy picking up her locket, and the look of realization on his face. Zhane and the laughter. Laughing.
The monster kicked Tommy to the ground and stepped on the ranger's chest.
Astronema acted on feeling alone. She picked up Tommy's morpher and tossed the device to her brother. "Tommy!"
Tommy kicked the monster away, rolled across the ground, and grabbed his morpher. He stood and strapped the device onto his wrist while shouting "Install!"
Red energy flashed around him as he morphed into his Ranger form. He turned just as the monster pounced forward to attack. The Ranger downloaded his Drill Saber and blocked the blow. He followed with a horizontal strike across the creature's chest.
The other Rangers arrived on the scene, flipping off their Cyber Sliders and landing next to their leader.
"I thought I told you guys to stay on the ship," Astro Red said to his team as they snapped into fighting stances.
Astro Blue looked to his leader. "We don't listen well."
The creature extended its hand and fired a volley of kinetically-charged spikes. The Rangers dove for cover as the spikes exploded around them.
The Rangers rolled across the ground and rose to their knees while downloading their weapons. "Hit him, guys," Astro Red commanded.
The Rangers leapt forward one by one and attacked. Astro Black slashed his rod downward diagonally across the creature's chest. Astro Blue moved forward with a spinning horizontal strike that cut across the monster. Astro Yellow and Astro Pink fired their weapons, launching yellow energy darts and pink energy rings that exploded against the monster.
Astro Red moved in next.
"Saber Slash!" he shouted. He swung his energized blade downward diagonally and cut through the creature. The Ranger followed with a horizontal strike that ripped the monster's body open.
The creature fell backwards and exploded.
Astronema kneeled in the Dark Fortress imaging chamber. A holographic image of the eye of Sauron appeared hovering above her. A rumbling noise filled the chamber as Sauron spoke directly into Astronema's mind. She answered her master, keeping her head down low.
"Yes, Sauron..................I will not stray from your path..............................As you wish.........I will kill my brother."
The imaging chamber deactivated, but Astronema stayed on the ground. Surrounded in darkness, she sat alone with her head hung low. When she was little, and Eclipter told her that Rangers had killed her family, it had defined her life. It illustrated the type of people that lived in the galaxy. Emphasized the need for order, stability and domination.
But it was a lie. Her whole life was based on a lie.
Astronema slowly rose to her feet. She made her decision.
Tommy and the others gathered on the Megaship bridge in orbit around KO-35.
"Okay," Justin said to his leader. "She knows she's your sister, but that doesn't make her less dangerous."
Ashley nodded in agreement. "She may even want to kill you more."
Tommy sighed. "Well that's reassuring."
DECA's voice came over the comm system. "Incoming transmission from the surface."
Tommy turned to the viewscreen. "On screen."
An image of Astronema appeared. "Meet me on KO-35. Come alone."
The viewscreen blinked off. Without saying a word, Tommy started walking towards the turbo lift door.
"Wait," Chris said. "You can't go down there alone."
"I am going down there and I am going alone," Tommy said. He entered the turbo lift.
Tommy walked across the plaza while looking for his sister, hoping it wasn't a trap. There was something in Astronema's voice when she had asked for him. She seemed afraid.
"Karone!" he called for her.
Through the corner of his eye, he saw Astronema step from the shadows. She was trying to project her edged demeanor, but beneath it all, Tommy noticed that she was frail. And broken. It was a feeling he knew all too well.
He took a step towards his sister. "You remember, don't you...you know who you are..."
She shook her head, a distant look in her eyes. "I don't know who I am right now...I'm confused."
Tommy nodded. "They forced this on you, Karone...this life..."
She shook her head. "I barely remember anything. Sauron would torture me to death if he knew I was here."
Astronema looked at her older brother. "I came to tell you that I know where Zordon is. I can take you there."
Tommy nodded. "Let's go."
Cy and the other rangers were at their bridge stations, waiting for Tommy's return. Ashley paced back and forth with her arms crossed.
The doors slid open, and Tommy walked in as Ashley breathed a sigh of relief.
"How did it go?" Ashley asked.
Justin stepped forward by her side. "What happened?"
Tommy looked back to the turbolift door. "Well..."
Astronema slowly stepped off the turbolift and onto the bridge. She had a stern look on her face to try and hide the discomfort she felt.
Kat shook her head in disbelief. "You brought her onto the ship..."
Cy narrowed his eyes at Tommy. "What's going on?"
Tommy took a step forward, keeping himself between the rangers and Karone. "She's my sister...and she knows where Zordon is."
"Of course she does," Justin said. He was quickly losing his patience. "She helped kidnap him!"
"Actually," Astronema said, keeping her voice stern. "I didn't. But I can help take you to him."
Ashley shook her head. "Just give us the coordinates. We don't need your help."
"Actually, you do," Astronema said, looking Ashley dead in the eyes. "He's being heavily guarded on a planet that's protected by a force field. I can order them to drop their shields. We'll land on the planet, and get Zordon."
"We?" Chris said. "Just yesterday you tried to kill us."
"If this is a trap," Ashley said, "we're walking right into it."
"If we take her with us," Justin said, "we restrain her."
"Absolutely not," Tommy said.
"It's too risky," Cy said.
"Tommy," Astronema said quietly. "It's okay..."
"So..." Justin said, staring down Astronema. "Where's Zordon?"
Astronema looked at the rangers one by one. "Kirai sector. On the jungle planet Utoba."
"DECA," Cy said, keeping his eyes on Astronema. "Set a course for the Kirai sector. Maximum hyper rush."
Justin sighed and walked past Tommy, saying quietly to his leader, "let's hope she's telling the truth."
Astronema sat in the Megaship's brig. She was backed into a corner with her head hung low. She was ashamed...but not entirely sure what for.
Her cell's force field lowered, and Tommy walked in with a tray of food. He looked down at his sister, not quite sure what to say.
"I wasn't sure what you liked...so I brought a little bit of everything," he said.
She shook her head, not able to make eye contact with him. "I'm not hungry..."
"It's a long trip," Tommy said. Karone was silent. "Look...I'm sorry about-"
"It's okay," she said. "Your friends don't trust me...do you?"
Tommy nodded. "I do," he said with certainty. "But…do you trust me?"
"Hmph," she said, her voice quiet and shameful. "Trust...that's a tough one...but I'm working on it..."
Tommy nodded and set the tray of food down. He started to leave the cell when Astronema called for him.
"Tommy," Astronema said. He stopped in the doorway and looked back at his sister. "Are our parents...alive?"
Tommy shook his head and leaned against the wall. "No. They both, ah...died."
"How did it happen?" Karone asked.
Tommy slowly slid down the wall, taking a seat on the floor. "Our mother died before either of us were taken from KO-35. She was killed by a cult called the Gorma…at least that's what I used to think. Our father...he died around three years ago. He saved my life."
Astronema nodded, a look of guilt on his face. "He sounds like a good person."
"He was...in the end," Tommy said. "The Gorma made him think you and I were murdered. He joined them afterwards, not knowing they had killed our mom. He did some really bad things...but in the end...he came back. He pulled away from evil."
"Evil..." Astronema said, her gaze still distant.
"Karone," Tommy said. "Do you know how I became a Ranger?"
She shook her head.
"I was put under a spell. I tried to...I tried to kill my friends. I killed a lot of innocent people. People I never even knew," he said. "It was a spell, but...the feelings inside of me were real. The anger was real. The hate was real. It took a while for me to pull away...but I did. You will too."
"Hmph," Astronema said. "I don't even know what that means."
"You'll figure it out," Tommy said. "It kinda runs in the family."
Karone cracked a smile. "Is that supposed to be reassuring?"
Tommy smiled and sat back. He talked with his sister through the rest of the night, sharing stories of wrongdoings, past deeds, guilty consciousnesses and lost dreams.
Tommy had fallen asleep on the brig floor while talking to Karone. DECA woke him up as the computer's voice came over the brig's speaker system.
"We are now approaching the planet Utoba," the computer said.
Tommy rose to his feet and briefly stretched his muscles. "Thanks, DECA." He looked down to his sister. "Let's get going. It's show time."
Tommy and Astronema walked onto the Megaship bridge. The others were at their stations and silent. The tension was immediately tangible. The fact that Tommy was holding a cluster of six bindings didn't help.
Cy narrowed his eyes at the site of the bindings. "What's going on?"
"It has to look like she captured us," Tommy said. "Just for a minute."
Justin sighed and shook his head. "I don't thinks it's a good idea..."
Tommy gave them his "leader look," letting them know it wasn't up for debate, and to trust him. Justin hesitantly stepped forward and took the bindings.
"We'll make it look real," he said reluctantly.
The six rangers strapped on their wrist bindings and stood near the back of the bridge, facing the forward viewscreen. The screen showed an image of a green and brown jungle world zooming into view. Astronema stood boldly in front of the rangers, facing the viewscreen, and narrowing her eyes. She was back into character.
Defense satellites positioned around the world de-cloaked and aimed powerful plasma cannons and particle beam cannons at the Megaship.
"Computer," she ordered. "Open a channel."
"Channel open," DECA responded.
"This is Astronema," she said over the comm in a stern tone. "The rangers and this ship are mine. Lower the force shield and extend landing platform KX-6."
The Quantron on the other side of the comm line chattered its response, and the planet's shield dropped. The rangers removed their bindings and moved to their stations, except for Tommy, who stayed back by his sister.
"Ashley," Cy said, taking the lead, "full power to impulse. Chris, widen scanner ranger..."
Cy continued to give orders as the Megaship entered the world's atmosphere. They flew through a lightning storm that crackled around the ship's hull.
Justin's monitor started to blink a warning signal. "Velocifighters approaching. Fast."
Cy wrinkled his brow with anger and looked back to Astronema.
"They're escorts," she said.
Cy shook his head and turned back towards the viewscreen. "Fine...well follow them..."
Tommy and Karone left the bridge, heading down towards the docking port.
The two Velocifighters fell into formation around the Megaship. The three vessels shot through the storm as lightning scorched the skies around them.
Justin kept his eyes glued to the viewscreen and his fingers on the weapon power-up console. "I don't like this..." he said quietly.
Cy shook his head. He didn't like their situation either. Those lightning blasts were hitting too close. They had no idea where the Velocifighters were taking them. Their sensors were clouded by the surrounding storm. They were practically flying blind.
"I'm bringing us down," Cy said as he moved the Megaship through a sharp nose dive.
The vessel throttled downwards through the clouds and away from the Velocifighters, but the storm intensified around them. A lightning bolt slammed against the Megaship's port side. The blast damaged the ship's thrusters.
The Megaship shook from impact as its systems shorted out. The bridge went black, except for flashes of lightning, and small explosions sparked across the rangers' consoles.
The Megaship started skidding among the tree tops while gliding towards the ground at insane velocity. The bridge shook the rangers as they braced themselves for impact.
Its engines screeching, the Megaship slammed to the ground and started skidding forward, tearing up dirt and trees while cutting deeper into the jungle.
The Megaship finally slammed to a halt, and the rangers went flying across the bridge, slamming against the floor upon impact.
The rangers slowly pulled themselves back to their feet. Their bodies were bruised and battered from the crash. Justin moved as he wiped blood from his forehead.
"If we stopped moving, why is my head still spinning..." he said.
Kat moved to his side and tended to his wounds.
"DECA," Ashley said. "Damage report..."
"Unable to initiate diagnostic protocols," DECA answered. "Activating self-repair program."
"We should get to Tommy," Chris said.
"Well," Ashley answered. "What are we waiting for?"
Tommy slowly pulled himself to his feet. The corridor was dark, except for the natural light bleeding in through the open docking bay door. Astronema was no where in sight.
The other rangers turned into the corridor and moved towards their leader.
"Tommy..." Ashley said as she moved towards him. "What happened."
Cy narrowed his eyes as he looked back and forth. "Where's Astronema?"
Tommy shook his head and stared out the viewport. He didn't want to believe she had led them into a trap. He didn't want to believe she escaped the Megaship at her first chance. He wouldn't allow himself to believe that, but that's what it looked like.
"She's gone," he said simply.
"I knew it," Justin said. "I knew we couldn't trust her!"
Tommy stepped forward, not hiding his frustration well. "There's no time for this. Let's get moving. The Velocifighters may have tracked our crash site."
The rangers reluctantly followed. Cy stayed behind to guard the ship.
A group of Piranatrons moved through the trees. The rangers hid behind a thick cluster of bushes as the creatures moved forward.
"Are they searching for us?" Kat whispered.
"No," Tommy said quietly, "not the Piranatrons. They're the ones guarding Zordon."
Justin drew his blaster. "Do we follow?"
Tommy nodded. "For now at least. Chris, keep your portable scanner at the tightest range possible. We don't want to tip off our location."
The rangers followed a path that ran parallel to the soldiers, through the thick brush. The Piranatrons moved into a clearing.
The rangers stood dead in their tracks as they saw the clearing. Dozens of Piranatrons stood around a stealth transport. Below the transport was an energy tube filled with some kind of liquid. The image of Zordon floated in the tube, similar to how he had always appeared in his holographic matrix within the command center.
"He's not heavily guarded," Tommy said.
Justin turned to Chris. "It's a trap...I know it."
"It doesn't matter," Tommy snapped. He readied his morpher. "Let's morph and move in. Chris and Kat, move in from the sides. Justin and Ashley, screen me down the center. I'm going after Zordon."
The rangers activated their morphing sequences, and with multi-colored flashes of energy, pounced forward and attacked.
Astro Pink moved in with her Astro Sniper firing blasts. The blue energy blasts exploded through Piranatron flesh as the Ranger dashed forward.
Astro Black twirled his staff while dashing forward through the troops. His rod bashed through Piranatrons, breaking their bones and battering their leathery flesh.
Astro Red ran down the center of the troop's formation with Astro Yellow and Astro Blue at his side. He downloaded his Drill Saber and slashed through a trio of soldiers with a series of diagonal slashes. Astro Yellow and Astro Blue kept the soldiers at bay with a flurry of kicks as Astro Red broke through the troops' lines and approached Zordon's energy tube.
"Zordon!" he shouted while moving towards the tube.
"Tommy..." Zordon said in a weak voice.
"I'm here Zordon," Astro Red said as he made it to the tube. "I'll get you off this platform, Zordon. Then we'll get you home."
"Tommy," Zordon said, his voice still weak. "I cannot believe..." his voice suddenly turned twisted and cruel, "that you are still such a fool."
Astro Red took a step back from the tube. He had never heard Zordon say such a thing, or in such a tone. A chill crept down his spine. "What are you talking about...?"
The energy tube blurred as the image bled outside into the air, and took the giant form of a red-eyed magma creature. Its name was Maligore, an evil shape shifter that served under Sauron.
Nearly a hundred Quantrons teleported to the surface with a burst of dark light. The soldiers surrounded the Rangers, taking them off guard. The soldiers swung their crescent-shaped blades, cutting across the Rangers' armor with a fierce display of speed.
Maligore fired crimson optic blasts that exploded against Astro Red's chest. The Ranger went flying backward off his feet and landed against a group of Quantron soldiers.
Astro Red rose to his feet as a Quantron swung its blade upward, slashing across the Ranger's chest with an explosion. The five Rangers were overpowered by the sudden rush of Quantrons. The soldiers' blades held the Rangers still, despite their efforts to struggle free.
An evil, cackling laughter came from behind the Quantrons as Darkonda stepped forward into the clearing. "Oh, I wish I could see the looks on your foolish faces. Ha ha ha!"
"Darkonda!" Astro Red shouted, consciously trying to keep his anger from detonating like a nuclear bomb.
Another figure stepped forward from the Quantrons on the opposite side of the clearing. It was Astronema. She stood boldly at Maligore's feet while holding down her staff. She smiled mockingly at the Rangers.
Darkonda looked back and snarled a smile of pleasure at Astronema. "Why, I didn't think you had it in you. I thought I was going to have to kill you...but instead, you led the Rangers right into my trap!"
Astronema raised an eyebrow at the villain. "The trap was mine, creature...and Sauron won't see it any other way."
"No!" Astro Red shouted. Was his whole family destined to this path? The path of evil? Was this his fate too? Was his blood that cursed. "I won't allow it!"
Darkonda pointed his sword towards the captured Rangers and started walking towards them. "You're about to be gutted."
Astro Red looked past Darkonda towards his sister. "Karone, why? You're my sister!"
Astronema narrowed her eyes at the Rangers. "End their whining...and be quick about it."
Darkonda laughed and started stalking towards the Rangers, his blade pointed forward.
Astro Red started to reach inside himself for his fire power to blow the villain away, but before he could, someone else struck.
A jagged purple bolt of lightning exploded against Darkonda's back, knocking him away. The blast came from Karone.
"Duck!" she shouted while snapping off a bladed boomerang weapon. The Rangers ducked, and the weapon cut across the Quantrons with a series of explosions.
The Rangers broke free and slammed against the soldiers.
"I knew it," Astro Red said as he sidekicked a Quantron in the chest. "But you didn't have to cut it so close."
Astronema slammed the end of her staff through a Quantron's faceplate. "I'm new at this..."
The Rangers and Karone fled into the foliage as hundreds of Quantrons pursued. Astro Red activated his helmet communicator. "Cy, get ready to take off as soon as we're back on board."
A flurry of explosions sparked around the Rangers and Astronema, tossing them to the ground. Darkonda landed in front of them with a blur of motion.
"Astronema, it's long past time for you to die!" he shouted while extending his hand and firing a jagged pulse of orange energy.
Astro Red pushed her aside, and the blast exploded against his back.
Crimson optic blasts exploded against Darkonda and knocked the villain backwards. Eclipter stepped from the jungle and aimed his sword at Darkonda.
"Princess," he said in his cold, evil tone. "Run..."
Darkonda fired an energy pulse that exploded against the android, and he charged forward with his sword held high.
"Eclipter!" Karone shouted. She didn't care who or what the android was in the eyes of others. To her, he was like family. And she cared for him.
"Go!" Eclipter shouted, parrying Darkonda's blow and striking back.
The Rangers fled into the jungle with Karone.
Astro Red and the others charged forward as the Megaship came into view. The Quantrons were at the Rangers' heels. Red Ranger looked over his right shoulder while reaching back with his Astro Sniper and firing pulses of blue energy.
The energy blasts ripped through some of the soldiers, but they continued their advance.
Astro Blue turned around and started firing as well, noticing that the Quantrons were picking up speed. "We should probably move a tad bit faster..."
The Megaship's docking port opened. Cy stood at the entrance with his twin blasters and started firing rapid-pulse energy blasts that exploded against Quantrons.
Cy gave the Rangers and Astronema the extra seconds they needed to enter the Megaship. The doors slammed shut the second they were on board.
"DECA get us out of here," Astro Red said.
The Megaship went launching towards the planet's upper atmosphere. But before they got far, a giant-sized form of Maligore blocked their blow. The lava creature had become twice the size of a Megazord.
The rangers were at their bridge stations, watching Maligore grow closer through their forward viewscreen.
"Polarize the hull plating. Justin," Tommy said, "open fire, full salvo. Fire everything we've got and get that walking volcano out of our way."
The Megaship opened fire with its Megalasers, plasma cannons, disrupters, and torpedoes. The resulting salvo of red and blue energy exploded against Maligore, sending fiery debris falling towards the surface. Maligore roared and leaned forward, launching a torrent of flame.
Cy swung the ship through evasive maneuvers to avoid the blast, but the flames still scorched part of the ship's hull.
"Hull plating is offline," Ashley said. "We were in bad enough shape before we even came to this planet."
Karone stood by her brother's side. "Use subzero war heads aimed between his eyes...then open fire."
The Megaship was equipped with subzero warheads to respond to fire-rescue situations.
Tommy looked to Justin. "Do it. Load all forward launching bays and fire."
Justin's fingers danced across his control panel. "Ice torps away."
A quartet of subzero warheads launched from the Megaship's missile tubes. The torpedoes exploded against the creature's head, causing him to howl in pain, as the lines of magma on his head started to dull. The Megaship started to close dangerously close to Maligore, but the villain was still alive.
"Again," Tommy said.
The launchers fired subzero missiles that exploded against Maligore's head and covered his face with a sheet of penetrating ice. The Megaship followed through with darts of blue and red energy that exploded through Maligore's head. The creature's head erupted into a ball of flame as its body started to fall towards the jungle below.
The Megaship swung around the flaming explosion and broke free of the planet's atmosphere. The ship went to hyperspace as Maligore's body spread to ashes on the world below.
Karone stared at the mirror in her quarters. She looked...human. She was dressed in a jumpsuit similar to the rangers. She wore hers zipped down to her chest with a purple shirt underneath. She had short, strawberry-blonde hair.
She took a deep breath to try and calm her feelings of nervousness. Feelings of frailty and anxiety.
Her door chimed beeped.
"Come," she said, looking slightly over her shoulder to the door. Tommy stepped in.
She turned to face him, and blushed when she saw he was smiling at her. Her behavior was almost childlike now. It was hard to believe that less than a week ago, she had been one of the most feared beings in the universe.
"Huh," Tommy said, "I hardly recognize you..."
She looked down, smiling. "I look ridiculous."
"Nah," Tommy said. "You should see what people wear back on Earth."
"Earth..." Karone said, her eyes trailing off. "That's where I would have been raised...if I went with you..."
"Yeah..." Tommy said. "The others and I, uh...we talked and we'd like to show you. On the simudeck for now...the real thing will have to wait until after we find Zordon."
Karone nodded. "I'd like that...brother." She cracked a smile.
"Good deal, sis," Tommy said. "Let's get going..."
To be continued...Chapter 19