Rangers in Space: Chapter Nineteen
Karone and Tommy circled around each other on the exercise room's sparring mat. They were getting to know each other through sparring techniques and stories.
"The Phoenix Force?" Karone asked as she moved forward with a reverse sidekick and spinning backfist. Tommy blocked each of the strikes. "You all fought the Phoenix Force and survived?"
"Barely," Tommy said as he countered with a pair of punches and a jump kick.
Karone snapped a knifehand blow and round kick. "I thought those stories were just legend...seems I was wrong about everything..."
Tommy blocked the blows and lowered his guard. "Karone...you were raised by Eclipter. It's not your fault."
Karone narrowed her eyes at her brother. She threw up her emotional defenses. Since leaving the guise of Astronema, she was prone to mode swings. Even though Sauron's power no longer coursed through her veins and corrupted her, she still had a temper sometimes.
"I don't want to talk about it...now fight!"
She launched forward with a jump kick and reverse sidekick. Tommy stepped back and blocked her blows, but she kept coming. She swung a reverse hook kick, kept that leg up and snapped a round kick towards Tommy's head. He stayed on the defensive, blocking and parrying as she moved forward, her eyes mad with anger.
Tommy noticed something else about her demeanor. She had a tear creeping down her right cheek.
The Dark Fortress seemed empty as Eclipter walked down the halls. The villain felt misplaced. What was even more shocking, was that the villain felt. He was an android. He was not supposed to have feelings.
Eclipter dismissed the emotions as protective programming when they first surfaced. But he could not deny them anymore. He cared about Astronema as if she were his offspring. And he missed her.
"Astronema...princess..." he said softly as he kept walking.
Purple flashes of energy sparked around him as Craterites appeared. The soldiers started cutting against Eclipter with their jagged blades. The blades sparked against the android's armor.
"What is the meaning of this!" Eclipter shouted as he swung his blade through a powerful horizontal strike. The slash cut across four soldiers' chests.
The other Craterites kept slashing their blades against Eclipter. The villain turned and fired a crimson optic blast that exploded against three Craterites and sent them crashing backward. He swung his blade in an 'x' pattern that cut through four more of the purple soldiers, while the survivors kept slashing at Eclipter's armor.
A jagged burst of yellow-and-orange energy lashed out from nowhere and exploded against Eclipter's back. The villain fell forward onto his knees. The Craterites carried him off before he could recover.
Zhane ran his hands along the lower hull of his new zord. He was on the snow-covered mountainous world of Larroca. The winter world was the latest hide out for the KO-35 rebels.
The red-haired rebel commander named Lanan walked to the foot of Zhane's ladder and looked up at him. She smiled at the sight of Zhane's satisfaction.
"What do you think?" she asked.
Zhane looked down at her, flashing a grin. "It's the best new toy I've ever gotten. What's its name again?"
"The Mega Winger," Lanan said. "It will compliment the Mega Voyager...if you're sure you want to leave..."
"I have to," Zhane said as he started down the ladder. "I have this bad feeling. Something tells me the Rangers are going to need me.
Lanan nodded. "We Kerovians are known for our instincts...I would never recommend you to doubt them."
Zhane hopped past the last few rungs of the ladder and landed on the ground. "I'll try to regroup with you guys as soon as I can."
Lanan nodded. "Good to hear. We'll be leaving here soon. We're going to regroup at the Clarem'ont Cluster and disrupt the Infanite sensor grid."
Zhane placed his hand on Lanan's shoulder. "Good luck. Call if you need me..."
He started moving towards his zord's cockpit. He looked over his shoulder. "And keep those creepy scientists away from me!"
A black vortex opened in space near the Sol System. The vortex spat out a black asteroid that was half the size of Texas. The asteroid was summoned by Sauron's power, and sent to destroy the world with a single strike.
Eclipter's vision came back into view with a burst of digital static. He was lying on his back and looking up as Darkonda leaned over him. Eclipter instantly snapped to attack Darkonda, but the android could not move. He was strapped to a steel medical table.
"Hello, Eclipter," Darkonda said mockingly. "Have a nice nap?"
"You!" Eclipter shouted as he tried to break free from his bindings. "Release me!"
"In just a moment," Darkonda said as he pulled a foot-long drill from behind his back. The drill, three-inches think with jagged ridges, started spinning. "I just have to make a few attitude adjustments first."
The sound of the drill screeching through Eclipter drowned out Darkonda's laughter.
Tommy and Karone walked onto the Megaship bridge as an alert signal flashed.
"What's going on?" Tommy asked as he took his station.
Kat called up the information on her communication monitor. "And asteroid has been reported heading towards Earth. Sauron's forces created it."
"Great," Justin said. "Where's Bruce Willis when you need him?"
"Plot an intercept an intercept course with the asteroid," Tommy said. "Hyper rush nine."
The Megaship blasted into hyperspace.
The Megaship's sensors received long range scans of the asteroid. The ship was still traveling through hyperspace, but the rangers were working quickly to devise a plan to stop the asteroid.
Ashley sat at the starboard sensor station as Chris and Tommy stood over her.
"I've located a few structural weak points," Ashley said as she called up the information on the console's screen. "But I don't know if we have enough firepower to destroy this thing."
"What if we use the Astro Megazord's beam cannon?" Tommy asked.
Ashley shook her head. "The beam cannon's energy blast is too focused. Instead of blowing up the asteroid, we'd carve it in half."
Chris glanced over the scanner display. "We could use the Megatank to drill torpedoes beneath the surface."
"That could work," Ashley said. "I'd have to make some modifications to the tank..."
"All right," Tommy said. "Let's get to work. We don't have a lot of time."
"Wait," Karone said. "There may be another way..."
She walked over to the sensor monitor and looked over Ashley's shoulder. "The asteroid is getting telemetry data from the Dark Fortress. I recognize the carrier signal."
"How is that possible?" Ashley asked.
"Through magick," Karone said. "Think of it like a spell."
Tommy nodded. "So how do we disrupt the carrier signal?"
"You don't," Karone said. "But I could sneak aboard the Dark Fortress and overload the signal. It will make the asteroid explode."
"No," Tommy said. "It's too dangerous."
"Tommy," Karone said, looking her brother straight into the eyes. "I'm the only one that knows my way around the Dark Fortress. I can get in and out...I have to do this."
Tommy sighed. He recognized the look in her eyes. It was a look Tommy had given his teammates on more than one occasion. "Okay...but you'll stay in contact with us the whole time."
Karone nodded, her eyes lit with determination. Tommy could tell she was determined to make up for her past. And he knew the feeling.
The Megaship speared back into real-space ahead of the asteroid. The rangers gathered on the bridge and surrounded the comm system while awaiting word from Astronema.
Tommy sighed with frustration and shook his head. "It's been too long...we should have heard back from her by now."
Ashley placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him. "She'll be fine. If she's anything like her older brother, she's too stubborn to lose."
Static crackled over the comm line, and Karone's whispering voice came through. "I'm on board the Fortress...so far so good."
"How close can you get?" Tommy asked.
"I'm on C-deck right now, not too far away from the controls. The Quantrons and Craterites don't normally..." Karone gasped over the comm line. "Eclipter...you frightened me......Eclipter......what have they done to you...?"
Tommy nearly panicked. "Karone, get out of there..."
No one answered.
"Karone!" Tommy shouted again. The comm line went dead. "No..."
The asteroid continued to plummet towards Earth. The Megaship flew parallel to the asteroid, lowering closer to its surface. The shuttle bay doors opened, and the Mega Tank dropped onto the asteroid. Astro Red did his best to bury his emotions and focus on the task at hand.
"We don't have much time," he said from behind Astro Yellow. She had the wheel. "Get the drill charges ready. We'll-"
The tank's proximity alarm suddenly blared.
"Velocifighters," Astro Blue said. "One flight of five."
"Chris, think you can handle them?" Astro Red said.
Astro Black nodded. "I'll take care of it."
The Black Ranger slid out of the Mega Tank and hopped onto his Cyber Slider. He used the slider to rendezvous with his Mega V. He hopped into the zord's cockpit and flew to intercept the Velocifighters.
Matters got more complicated when a group of Craterites appeared in front of the Mega Tank's path.
"Justin, come with me," Astro Red said. "Ash, you and Kat take care of planting those drill charges. And be careful."
"You too," Astro Yellow said.
Outside, Astro Black arced his Mega V down towards the Velocifighter flank. He triggered his blasters, firing rapid darts of azure energy that exploded against two fighters. Those fighters were consumed by balls of flame as the other three broke formation to counter attack.
Astro Red and Astro Blue used their Cyber Sliders to glide forward towards the enemy soldiers.
"Astro Snipers!" Astro Red shouted.
The two Rangers fired blue energy darts that blasted through a group of the creatures. Stone spikes suddenly sprang up from the asteroid and slammed against the Rangers' Cyber Sliders. The Rangers were knocked off their sliders and went skidding over the meteor surface, bouncing with limited gravity.
Astro Red downloaded his Drill Saber and thrust the weapon through the asteroid to keep from skidding further. He pulled himself to his feet as a Craterite pounced forward and slashed a jagged blade across the Ranger's chest.
A group of spikes surrounded the Mega Tank too, piercing the vehicle's hull and causing explosions to spark around the cockpit.
Astro Blue landed in a crater and slid across slick stone as a Craterite jumped on top of him and started slashing with a jagged blade. Astro Blue rolled backward and kicked the soldier away. The Ranger rolled to his knees while aiming his Astro Sniper forward and blasting a group of advancing Craterites away.
Astro Red swung his saber through a wide horizontal arc, slashing through four Craterite soldiers. "Guys, regroup around the Mega Tank. We're getting too split up."
"Tommy, we've got bigger problems," Astro Yellow said over the comm system. "The drill system is offline. It's almost like this hunk of rock is attacking us."
Astro Red clenched his jaw beneath his helmet. "Fall back to the Megaship. We'll have to try something else."
Tommy paced back and forth across the bridge as Chris and Ashley manned the sensor stations.
"If we can't destroy it," Tommy said, "maybe we can push it off course. Just enough so it misses the Earth."
"But how?" Kat asked.
Ashley pulled up a diagram of the ship's engine systems. "Our zords...it's a long shot...but it might work."
"Alright then," Tommy said. "Cy, you take the Astro Megazord. The rest of us will head out in the Mega Voyager."
The meteor grew dangerously close to Earth. The Astro Megazord flew in and slammed its fists against the asteroid. The impact created a large crater as the Megazord continued to thrust forward against the asteroid's surface.
Mega Voyager moved in next, slamming into position slightly below the Astro Megazord.
"Delta Mega, Install!" Astro Red commanded, moving the Delta Megazord into position against the asteroid.
The three Megazord pushed forward against the giant meteor. Every servo in each robo was pushed to the max.
"Report," Astro Red said.
Astro Yellow shook her head. "It's not working...our structural integrity will give in before this rock pile does."
"Fire afterburners," Astro Red said. "We're not stopping until this thing budges."
The three zords increased their energy output and thrust. Explosions started to spark around the zords' hulls. The engines turned fiery red with heat as the zords pushed forward.
Proximity alarms blared on Astro Black's console. "We're getting close to the upper atmosphere!"
Astro Yellow's monitor beeped. "The engines are overheating...routing coolant to compensate...power overloads on all decks...and don't even get me started on the hull. It's about to buckle."
Astro Blue's monitor beeped. "Incoming ship...it's a Megazord..."
A large silver robo launched forward and slammed against the asteroid. A voice came over the Rangers' comm system. "You guys look like you could use a hand."
"Wouldn't hurt," Astro Red answered.
Astro Silver's new zord, the Mega Winger, fired its back thrusters and pushed forward. The zords whined in protest as their systems pushed far beyond what they were designed for.
"It's starting to work!" Astro Yellow said. "The asteroid is veering off course."
Astro Black shook his head. "But it's not enough...we're still going to hit the planet."
"Ashley," Astro Red said. "Can we channel power into the engines, for repeated force bursts? Cycle it so each zord rotates bursts. That way we all won't explode at once..."
Astro Yellow nodded. "Yes, but we'll probably rip ourselves apart in the process."
"Do it," Astro Red said. "Kat, signal the other zords."
The other zords each set up a rotating pulse pattern.
The Astro Megaship started, with a pulse of energy from backup systems that sent overloads exploding across the ship. The Delta Mega fired next while the Astro Mega cooled its systems. The thrust sent explosions ripping across the Delta Mega's hull. Mega Voyager fired its burst. Explosions sparked throughout the cockpit as control panels shattered from consoles. The Mega Winger fired its burst, but the new zord received little damage. It was not worn with the scars of constant battle.
The asteroid veered slightly off its course. It skipped off the edge of the Earth's atmosphere and ricocheted back into the emptiness of space. The resulting explosion created a shockwave that blasted the four zords back towards the moon.
The Mega Winger was back in ship mode. The vessel used its tractor beam to maneuver the Delta Mega, Megaship, and Mega Voyager into a stable orbit around the moon.
The Delta Mega used its repair functions to start fixing damage to the Megaship. Energy beams repaired fractures on the ship's blue hull. Moveable arms extended from the Delta Mega's belly and attached to the ship, moving across the hull while repairing systems, weapons, engines, and other damages.
The Mega Winger had similar repair systems, but not nearly as a complex or effective. The Mega Winger used its repair beams on the Mega Voyager, since that zord was not as old or damaged as extensively.
The rangers gathered on the Megaship bridge in the meantime.
Zhane's eyes were opened wide with shock. "Astronema? She's Karone?"
Tommy nodded as he pulled up a star chart on one of the port stations. "Yes, but she went back to the Dark Fortress to try and stop that asteroid...we lost contact with her. It sounded like she was attacked."
Tommy used a trace program to find the Dark Fortress. "I'm going after her while our ship and zords are under repair."
Zhane nodded. "I'll go with you…I have an interest in her as well..."
Astro Red and Astro Silver rode their Cyber Sliders through space. They approached the ion trial of a Velocifighter returning from scout patrol.
The two Rangers maneuvered their sleds behind the fighter, staying hidden from sight and sensors. They leapt forward and grabbed onto the fighter's hull with magnetic locks, abandoning their sliders.
The fighter continued on course. Its pilot was not aware of the two hitchhikers.
The Velocifighter ignited its thrusters and maneuvered into the Dark Fortress's docking bay. The two rangers demorphed and dropped to the bay floor in silence. They slid into the shadows, staying out of sight from the dull-sensed Quantrons.
Tommy and Zhane crawled through ductwork before dropping back down to the deck plates. They were still on the rim of the fortress, and they would need better cover before moving in deeper.
They were in an isolated area that looked like a back-up network of different power system relays. Tommy and Zhane slowly peaked their heads out from a corner and saw that the path was clear.
Tommy wrinkled his brow as a thought struck him from out of nowhere. He turned to face Zhane. "You went on a date with my sister?"
Zhane shrugged. "I didn't know she was your sister." His face turned slightly red. "It was just one date..."
The metallic sound of a pair of Quantrons came down the corridor. Tommy and Zhane ducked back behind the corner and waited.
The Quantrons kept walking by, when suddenly, the two rangers grabbed them and pulled them behind the dark corner. A quick stripping of armor later, Zhane and Tommy stepped out from the corner. They were each dressed in Quantron armor.
Tommy looked to Zhane before they put their helmets on. "So it was only the one date?"
Zhane shrugged again. "I wouldn't even call it a date...more like a pseudo date..."
They put on their helmets and moved deeper into the fortress.
Tommy and Zhane approached Astronema's ready room. They stepped forward through the door and walked towards the desk. Karone was sitting in the chair, but her back was towards the two rangers.
Tommy removed his helmet. "Karone...we're getting you out of here."
She slowly turned her chair and faced them. Tommy took a step back in shock at the sight of her. Her hair was short and dull red. A cybernetic implant was attached along the right side of her pale face.
Tommy narrowed his eyes. "What have they done to you..."
Eclipter stepped out from the shadows. Half his face was covered with cybernetic metal. A red implant was on his chest, and other cyborg parts were spread across his body.
"Kill them," Astronema ordered.
"No," Tommy said, shaking his head. He stared into his sister's eyes, looking for any remnant of the human trapped inside. He saw nothing.
A group of Quantrons piled into the room with battle blades. Zhane tossed his helmet forward, knocking down a soldier, then snapped to attack with a jump kick. He ripped off his armor and tossed pieces at the incoming swarm of Quantrons.
Tommy stood still, staring at what used to be his sister.
"Tommy!" Zhane shouted. "Let's go!"
A group of Quantrons swung their blades towards Tommy. He reacted immediately, using his helmet to block a blow. He swung the helmet horizontally, smashing it against a soldier's faceplate. Tommy sidekicked a soldier to his left, then swung the helmet to his right, smashing it across another soldier's head.
Eclipter stood between Astronema and the rangers and aimed his sword forward towards them.
Tommy wanted to rip through the android. He wanted to incinerate the soldiers and rescue his sister. But logic prevailed. He and Zhane were alone in the middle of an enemy fortress with thousands of Quantrons, Craterites, and gene beasts.
Tommy ripped off his armor and tossed it at Eclipter, distracting the android while the two rangers pulled back out of the ready room.
Tommy and Zhane moved back to the ring of the fortress and entered the second-level balcony of a wide docking bay. They leapt off the balcony and attacked the Quantrons.
Tommy slammed a flying-double sidekick against a soldier, landed, and snapped a hook kick that smashed a soldier's head.
Zhane front kicked a soldier and followed with a reverse sidekick.
"Morph." Tommy readied his digitizer, and Zhane did the same.
"Install, Astro Ranger!" Tommy shouted as he input his morphing sequence.
"Keitizer! Install!" Zhane said as he activated his morpher.
The two Rangers readied their side arms.
"Astro Sniper!" Astro Red shouted as he fired blue energy darts that exploded through a nearby soldier.
"Silver Blazer!" Astro Silver shouted while spraying yellow energy blasts against the soldiers.
The two Rangers charged forward towards a pair of Velocifighters on the deck. They kicked and punched dozens of soldiers away during their charge. The Rangers managed to hop onto the Velocifighters, toss out their pilots, and slide into the cockpits.
Astro Silver manipulated some of the controls. "You know how to drive these things?"
"No idea," Astro Red said as he ignited the ship's thrusters. "But I can wing it."
The Rangers triggered their fighters' blasters and blew the docking bay doors open. The two Velocifighters blasted into space.
Astronema stared out her viewport as the fighters blasted away.
"Why did we let them escape?" Eclipter asked.
Astronema's face was cold and stern, more lifeless than it had ever been. Her voice was the same. "I don't want them killed yet. I have something better in mind."
She turned to face Eclipter. "Take us to the nearest penal colony. I'll need five of the colony's worst subjects…"
Tommy and Zhane were on the bridge alone. An image of Astronema, from the neck up, was on the forward viewscreen.
"DECA," Tommy said. "Switch to view 6-6-1-3."
The viewscreen broke the image down to grid form and zoomed in on the cybernetic device on her head.
"Whatever it is," Zhane said, "it's brain washed her. "I've never seen anything like it."
"We have to find a way to neutralize it," Tommy said.
Zhane nodded. "But even if we do...she may never be able to recover."
"I won't accept that," Tommy said. "Somewhere inside of her is Karone...and we will get her back."
To be continued...Chapter Twenty