All was quiet on the station. Miscellaneous crewmen gently padded from task to task while a young man and his robotic assistant oversaw all operations from a not-very comfortable control room. Tens of monitors displayed the perfect statistics of the base, while thousands of small bulbs silently reported the same.
Then, with a powerful jolt, the station's young captain was thrown from his chair, onto the cold gray floors. After he witnessed several more explosions the lighting system failed, leaving the young man and his automaton friend in only the light provided by emergency lamps as he worried for their safety.
"Alpha," he commanded while climbing to his feet and dusting off his black and yellow uniform, a black staff with a large golden ornament appearing in his hand as he did so, "Damage report!"
The red and gold robot designated as Alpha Six waddled promptly to a nearby control panel, quickly extracting the requested results.
"Main operating systems are offline," the robot said in an irritating voice. "Now activating emergency dynamic expanding computer archives." Alpha six flipped a series of switches, filling the control room with a voice he was very familiar with.
[DECA is online,] The voice proclaimed. [Awaiting command.]
"Full scan," the captain ordered.
[Scanning complete,] Deca replied almost immediately. [Hull breach levels six, eight and nine. Reports of hostile activity within deck four. Twelve class-D Sabiran Cruisers within firing range. Two Tempaken Transports attached to level four hull.]
"Alpha, send out a distress call. We'll need some help in no time at all. But until that help arrives, it would seem we're on our own." He held his staff high above his head, allowing words he had spoken many times to flow from his heart. "Gold Ranger power!"
The young captain was gone, replaced by an intimidating form known to many throughout the universe as the Gold Ranger who was more than ready to battle with whoever attempted to break down the door to his command room.
The door dented inward slightly in several places, but after a moment's silence powerful instruments could be heard pounding into the heavy iron portal. Occasionally one black armored soldier would attempt to squeeze himself between the door and it's frame, only to lose his life after meeting a blast of energy from the Ranger's Power Staff.
"Come on, you ugly excuses for men! The Gold Ranger's got a nice warm glass of Triforian hospitality for you!"
Alpha would have blinked at the comment if the robot had eyelids. The Prince of Trifroria was obviously spending so much time with 'commoners' that he was beginning to pick up their expressions.
Gold Ranger twirled the Power Staff in his hands, and prepared himself as the door came crashing to the floor, missing the toes of his boots by mere inches. When he waved his hand to cut through the smoke that had entered from the corridor, he silently cursed.
Marching in at a blinding pace were a good few handfuls of Devarian Enforcers. Behind them, walking through the smoke, which seemed to part at his will, was a face the Gold Ranger only recognized from 'wanted' posters on his home planet.
"Kibro," the Gold Ranger spat.
"I'd advise you to drop the staff," the hulking blue beast said, "But then my men wouldn't have any reason to attack you." He nodded a command to the Enforcers. "Make him beg," Kibro said to the lead soldier as he slipped through the crowd and into the captain's chair.
Carlos caught the datapad as it was slid across the table in his direction, reading it as Andros gave somewhat brief details over the events that had passed just a few short hours ago.
The Kerovan still stood in the boardroom, unlike his friends who had all claimed comfortable seats. The stress and emotion running through his veins was quite evident, occasionally causing a quiver or a crack in his voice.
"The Devarians launched an attack on the Hope Fortress three hours ago," Andros said. "All we've received prior to that is a weak transmission from Alpha. We've received nothing from Trey, or the Devarians since then. No hails are being returned."
"Why would the Devarians want the Hope Fortress?" Carlos asked. "They've been after Weelo since TJ and Cassie found him. This doesn't make sense."
"It's a threat," Zhane said. "Like someone holding a gun to your Vice President's head in order to get the guy above him to listen. If we're threatened, we don't talk. But the Devarians know we won't risk anyone else's life."
"So you have a feeling this *is* about Weelo?" Carlos asked again.
"It might've started as that," Ashley admitted, "But after TJ and Cassie harboring him while on Inus, Zhane nearly taking the head off of one of their enforcers, and Andros pretty much saying they won't get anything out of us, it's probably become much more personal."
"Okay, so besides turning Weelo over to the Devarians, which we absolutely won't do," Cassie insisted, "What are our options?"
"We take the station back," Andros announced. "By force if necessary." His words drew a temporary silence from his friends, which gave a new voice time to speak up.
"I'm going too."
Andros glared at his sister. "Korone, this is dangerous. I don't think---"
"I know the Hope Fortress like the back of my hand, Andros," the blonde stated from the doorway. "I lived on that station for years, and I still remember ways to get in there that even Ecliptor didn't know about."
"Very well," Andros reluctantly accepted. "But I still don't like it." He scanned the room quickly. "We're done here. Everyone meet at the Galaxy Gliders in an hour. I'll contact the Senturions about this and hold the Ninjetti on stand-by in case *we* need help."
The others uneasily left Andros alone in the boardroom, except for Carlos who stood with his arms folded. The Hispanic boy's demeanor seemed to strike the Kerovan as odd.
"Is there something I can do for you, Carlos?" Andros asked.
"She just wants to help," the Black Ranger reminded. "Korone's our best chance of getting into the station, and you're against it. Why?"
Andros double-checked to ensure the door to the room had sealed. "What I tell you doesn't leave this room, got it?" Carlos nodded. "I don't want to lose her again," Andros said. "I spent years searching for my sister, only to find out that I was at war with her. Then when she finally came back to me, it was her going back onto the station that took her away from me again. I'm not too thrilled about her going back with the chance of her falling back into her old ways."
Carlos had to admit to himself the reasoning was sound in a personal sense, but felt the need to reassure his friend. "Andros, a lot of things have changed. The last time Korone went up there she was captured by Ecliptor and brainwashed. Ecliptor's gone, there's no Dark Spectre or Darkonda to control her, and the station isn't even what it used to be.
"It's not the Dark Fortress anymore," Carlos reminded. "There are no monsters, no shadows. Quantrons don't run all over the place ready to slice you in half. Until this morning, the Fortress was a space station ran by Trey and Alpha for a year-and-a-half.
"And even though it's been invaded, it's still not the Dark Fortress. You have to believe that your sister will be able to step onto that station and still stand by us. Because right now, you're the only one who doesn't."
"I want to." Andros said.
"Then do it," Carlos demanded. "Either you trust her, or you don't, there's nothing in between." He could see the conversation taking its toll upon the school's headmaster. "Look, I know you're scared about losing your sister, but you've got to remember that Korone and Astronema are two different people. Astronema wasn't your sister, but Korone is and she wouldn't do anything to hurt you."
"You're right." Andros submitted. "Thanks."
After receiving permission, Zhane entered Korone's quarters, and made his way to the rear of the spacious apartment. The item he carried in one hand dropped to the floor when his eyes laid rest on the costume carefully placed on her bed.
"Where did you get that?" He asked in a ghostly voice, never taking his focus off the black bodysuit and fragmented armor. "I thought that was destroyed in the Peace Wave like everything else. No, wait," he held up his hand. "Better yet, *why* do you have it?"
Korone's expression soured as she placed her hands on her hips. "For your information, it's the prototype of my combat suit. I pulled it off the station before we remodeled it. And I have it because I'm not going into battle wearing only this." She tugged on the purple waistcoat of her Academy uniform. "I'm sorry if you have a problem with it."
"I don't," Zhane corrected. "But Andros would die if he saw you in your old Astronema costume."
"Do you have a better idea?"
"As a matter of fact," Zhane scooped the small device he dropped on the floor into his hand, "I do." He displayed the keypad-like mechanism attached to a wristband. "When I was talking to Justin about how my powers only were lasting three minutes at a time, he got inspired for a project. I had him make this up for you for just such an emergency."
"What is it?" Korone asked, taking the device. "A morpher?"
"Kind of," Zhane shrugged. "It's a new Ranger concept. If you use it, you'll have twenty-four hours of power. After that, the batteries die out and the powers fail. It doesn't drain if it's not activated, and removing the helmet puts it on hold, so you should have plenty of power for the task at hand."
"You're making me a Ranger?" Korone gasped. "I don't know what to say."
Zhane eyed the combat suit on her bed once more. "Say you'll get rid of that thing."
Korone refused to meet the Silver Ranger's eyes. "I can't. No more than I could ask you to get rid of your powers. I may not be that person anymore Zhane, but that suit is a major part of my life. If I just toss it away, years of my past go along with it."
"Yeah, I thought you might say that." Zhane cleared his throat after a long silence. "Well, I should get going. But do me a favor, if you don't get rid of it at least put it somewhere where Andros has no chance of noticing it. I don't want to see his face if he ever finds it."
Trey felt the powerful fist club him upside the head once more, desperately clinging to his consciousness. The large blue-skinned member of the Devarian House known as Kibro was not taking the Gold Ranger's silence too well.
"Give me the access codes!" Kibro ordered again with a painful connection. "I'm losing my patience."
Trey pierced Kibro's soul with his swollen black eyes. "Maybe it's with your sanity," he cracked, earning another attack on himself. Tasting the blood that had dripped from his nose, the Gold Ranger spit the tooth that had been freed across the room.
"Bring the girl!" Kibro ordered one of his black armored enforcers, who quickly left only to return with a panic-stricken young woman in his grasp.
"Let her go!" Trey fought the enforcers that held him down by his arms. "She doesn't know the access codes! She's of no use to you!"
"On the contrary, she's a bargaining chip," Kibro explained. "So either tell me the access code," Kibro snapped his fingers between options, signaling the Enforcer to draw a laser weapon on the frightened girl. "Or she dies. And if that doesn't work, I'll kill your crew one by one until you answer."
Trey spit again, sending a mouthful of blood onto the floor. "Deca, run E-P nineteen, immediately!"
The blue-skinned beast smiled. "That wasn't so hard now, was it?" Kibro nodded to the enforcer, who could be seen smiling under his black helmet as he pulled the trigger that would siphon the life from the young hostage.
[Emergency Program nineteen active,] Deca announced. [Sentinel online. Priority authorization required for all station functions.]
Kibro sneered at the captured Ranger. "What did you do?"
"It's a little thing I like to call a security system," Trey managed a grin.
"NO!" Kibro cursed the computer and refocused his anger to Triforian Prince before him. The toe of his boot landed in Trey's sorer and empty stomach. "Take him somewhere! Anywhere! Just get him out of my sight." He turned to the man enforcers surrounding him in the control room. "And someone get into that computer system!"
Trey was hauled from the room wearing a thin grin. The Devarian was fuming in a great contrast to the Triforian. Then, when Kibro was pacing the room in a nearly inescapable rage, he saw it lying on the floor before him.
He knelt down to collect the remains of the Power Staff, which his soldiers had violently dismantled in a plan to strip the Gold Ranger of his morphing abilities. Among the pieces of various broken metals, was a glimmering shard of a golden stone.
"The Zeo Crystal," Kibro recalled from his years of intense education. His frown turned upward into a wicked smile. A thousand possibilities ran through his mind, but the idea of torturing his favorite prisoner still lingered. "Perhaps I can break him, yet."
Andros snapped at the young team following him onto the mechanics floor once more, making sure they knew that his answer was final. The Academy Headmaster didn't wish to have any more people than necessary accompanying him on his team's mission. In the last hour he had already politely declined the assistance of Justin, the still-powered fourteen year-old Turbo Ranger, and Adam the martial arts instructor with highly unstable Morphin powers.
Finally, it had seemed as if the newly christened team had understood his constant refusals, and as the Ninjetti withdrew their protest, he continued.
"Look guys, I know you want to help, but going onto the front lines won't be good for any of you. You've got little to no experience, and taking you with us would only be more of a risk. Besides," He clapped a hand on David Nash's shoulder. "We need you guys to handle any local trouble."
"I just don't like the idea of you seven fighting off the Devarians when we have no way to get to you," David declared. "If you run into a problem we won't get there in time."
"Yo, big red," Droz affectionately called to the Kerovan, who was quite grateful for the interruption. "The Gliders are ready. It took us a little longer than expected to plant a hyper-rush system on one of the loaners, but it's done and they're ready to fly."
"Thank you, Droz." Andros smiled to the new team. "Don't worry guys, we'll be home soon," he said, before marching to the line of Galaxy Gliders hover over the floor.
He found each Ranger standing before the one that matched their color, with the exception of Korone. It gave the Kerovan a certain amount of pride to see his sister in a Ranger costume, even if he knew the reign was extremely limited.
The costume worn by Korone easily identified her as part of the Space team of Rangers, but the color pattern would have just as easily gotten her mistaken for the White Ranger. Since the powers were temporary, the color designation was demoted to the trim, leaving the rest of the suit white.
Like most powers, the temporary set issued to Korone had used images from her own mind to replace any variables. The weapon selected by the power was a white and purple version of her former Wrath Staff, an instrument she was quite handy with.
Andros cringed when the light from the fluorescent bulbs strung high above the floor shone down onto his sister's helmet cradled gently under her arm. From under it's black dome he could see the reflection of an insignia that slightly resembled the headset she had worn during her second reign as Astronema.
He let the feeling of despair affect him for only a moment, finally realizing that Korone could not leave her past behind as he had hoped.
With one swift motion, Andros morphed into his Red Ranger costume, and leapt onto his Galaxy Glider, ready to lead the force that he prayed would be successful.
Trey landed with a painful thump on the floor of the holding cells. Before the iron door was even shut, several of his also-imprisoned friends were at his side to help the beaten and bruised captain to his feet.
"Trey," a man in his early-thirties asked, "What happened?"
The Prince got to his feet, and released another mouthful of blood onto the floor while he fought off a powerful wave of dizziness. "They can't get into the systems. At least for now," he added not sure of how long the station's defense program Sentinel would last. "Hopefully the Power Chamber picked up the distress call, because I don't think we'll be around too much longer."
"Always the optimist, huh?" Cracked Jenfi, the dark-haired young woman and the Gold Ranger's childhood friend. "Didn't you even think to morph when you saw them busting the door down?"
"I did," Trey coughed. "They came at me with such force that I temporarily overloaded my crystal. That was right before they smashed my Power Staff. If we do get out of this, I'll be lucky if I can ever draw power from it again. It's not looking good, guys."
Jenfi grunted as she and another hauled Trey onto one of the cell's benches. "It's never looked good, Trey. I mean, we monitor one of Dark Spectre's old space stations. You think that doesn't make us just a little bit of a target? Not too mention that it's a Triforian occupancy? The Devarians hate our kind. It was only a matter of time until they came after us."
"They're not after us," Trey corrected. "At least not this time. I heard the leader mention something about the Academy. We just happened to be here when they showed up."
"Hopefully," the other man added, "We'll still be here when they leave."
"Am I the only one who looks on the bright side?" Jenfi asked, dropping her head into her hands.
Silence surrounded the Rangers as they slowly crept down the halls of the Hope Fortress. Their journey from Earth to the station had been so quick that they were only travelling through space for a matter of minutes.
They were fortunate thus far, not having been noticed by the Devarian Enforcers as they entered through one of the hull breaches caused by the invading force. The only problem remaining was to navigate the orbiting craft without getting themselves captured.
The Purple Ranger stopped at an intersection, trying to recall the path that she had not taken in quite some time. Her head bounced from the dimly lit paths to her left and right. Finally, although somewhat unsure of herself, she made a decision.
"This way," she led her six teammates down the corridor to the right. "This should take us down to the main reactor room. If I'm right in assuming that Trey's already cut the access to the computers, we'll want to shut down the power, too."
"Why?" Blue Ranger asked simply.
"They'll try to break through Sentinel," said the Silver Ranger. "While it's a very complicated security program with about four dozen passwords, it does have several backdoors, and it won't be long before the Devarians find that out."
"If we cut the power," added the Red Ranger, who felt his Silver friend's explanation was not quite fitting, "It doesn't matter if they have the passwords or not. They'd still need power to run the systems. And I doubt they were smart enough to bring their own generator."
"What if they did?" Black Ranger asked, sending a slight shiver up the spines of the three Kerovan members. "What happens if they do get power to the systems and get past Sentinel?"
"We'll---" Red Ranger hunted for an answer. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"If it doesn't collapse before we get there," Pink Ranger quipped. "Don't you think we should have at least come into this place with some sort of battle plan?"
"We have a plan." Red Ranger withdrew his pistol to display it to everyone. It took him only a moment to summon his Spiral Saber and combine the weapons into an odd looking rifle. "We're going to do whatever it takes."
"The Devarians have done too much," Purple Ranger introduced a new element to the Earth-born Rangers. "They've stolen, hunted, murdered, and overthrown governments of entire worlds. And ever since the Peace Wave ripped through the universe eliminating all of our --- of your adversaries, the syndicate has been trying to expand itself as much as possible."
"Wait a minute," Yellow Ranger pleaded. "How can they be evil or alive after the Peace Wave? It destroyed everything evil, right?"
"No," Silver Ranger corrected, sneaking a look around a corner. "Just those Zordon was knowledgeable about. Rita and Zedd, Mondo and Machina, Divatox, Astr-- Ecliptor, just those who were directly involved with him. And that doesn't mean that once evil's destroyed, it can't breed again in an instant."
Blue Ranger shook his head at the thought. "Depressing."
"It's clear," Silver Ranger said, flagging the others on through the tunnels. "Let's move."
As the holding cell plunged into total darkness, Jenfi could be heard softly plotting an escape, much to the disapproval of the Gold Ranger. The beating he had received was not enough to break his fighting spirit, but he wasn't about to disregard good common sense.
"Trey, where are you?" The girl asked through the darkness.
"Right where I was five seconds ago, Jenfi," the Triforian prince answered. "Next to you."
"C'mon," she said, possibly standing. "We can get out of here. I think I can find the air vents..."
"No." Trey ordered. "Stay put."
"Jenfi, why would the Devarians cut the power?" Trey took his friend's silence as an understanding of the situation, but he explained anyway. "They need power to get into the computers. They wouldn't shut it down."
"Unless they want to reboot." Jenfi mentioned.
"What are you talking about?"
"Trey, even if the Devarians didn't shut down the power, if they turn it back on they can gain access to the station's main functions without all the extras. One of those extras is called Sentinel, incase you don't recall. And if they know this---"
"They can get control of the weapons systems," Trey groaned. "Wonderful. Let's just hope they don't know." The Gold Ranger dropped his head against the wall behind him once the cell's door opened, revealing a silhouette of an Enforcer.
"Come with me," the armored trooper said. "Kibro will want to speak with you."
"I'm coming," Trey grunted, climbing to his feet through the blinding light.
"Not you," The Enforcer corrected, pointing to the young woman by Trey's side. "Her."
"It's a package deal," Jenfi bargained. "The two of us, or nothing." She prayed that Trey would be on the same wavelength, as they had been all their lives. Two combat-trained Triforians could easily disarm and eliminate one Devarian Enforcer.
"Fine," The Enforcer flagged two other versions of himself to the door, well aware of the woman's plan. "The both of you then. Let's go. Now."
Jenfi released a brief but unhealthy does of Triforian profanity before following instructions. Once she stepped a good distance outside of the cell she prepared to launch a quick offensive, but felt a strong hand on her shoulder.
"Don't," Trey advised, as the two unwillingly toured the light gray corridors of the remodeled station. "We're outnumbered, powerless, and definitely in no position. You'll be dead before you hit the floor." He raised his voice so that the Enforcers around the pair might hear his words. "Besides, whoever shut down the power is probably willing to do the fighting for us."
"Good point," Jenfi agreed, almost sensing the beads of sweat forming underneath the helmets of her oppressors. "Good point indeed."
A digital display floated over the lower right corner of the Purple Ranger's visor. The numbers indicating the dwindling existence of her powers did not add to her confidence. She wondered as she accounted for the remaining twenty-two and one-half hours of her powers, if she would only be hampered by the gift once the battle truly started.
Purple Ranger jumped as her silver teammate placed a warm hand on her shoulder. If she was that sensitive to his touch, it would be difficult for Korone to deny any recognition to the feelings stirring within her.
"Just a little nervous, I guess," Purple Ranger confided. "I never thought I'd be on this station again. I think I know why I never put up any argument when Andros suggested the Triforians take it over. I realize now that I didn't *want* to come back here."
"Then why did you?" Silver asked, letting him and his love fall a little behind the group. This was not a conversation he wished the Red Ranger to hear. "If you didn't want to come, why were you so insistent?"
"It's still easier with me here, Zhane," Purple said. "I still know this place better than anyone. Do you think you would've gotten this far without a hitch if I weren't directing you? No offense, but frankly you needed me on this mission."
"Where to?" Blue Ranger asked at the corridor's fork. "Left, straight, or up?" He asked, jerking a thumb at the ladder behind him as he addressed the group. "Where are we headed, Korone?"
"What do you mean? I thought you guys had a destination and I was just showing you the way."
At Purple's comment, Red Ranger let his arms flop to his sides. "We did, but that was until we trashed the power regulating consoles. I don't have an idea as to what to do next."
"Mental note," Black Ranger spoke, "Train commando team."
"Hey!" Red Ranger barked at the Black Ranger, allowing his anger to subdue as the image of a field unit trained for such operations sank into his mind. "---good idea. Remember that." He returned to the mission at hand. "Okay, we want to end this quick, so we have to knock out the heavy hitters."
"The control room," Pink Ranger suggested. "That's where the head of this operation should be, right? Why not just storm in there and take him out?"
"Devarians didn't get this far by being stupid," Silver Ranger said. "Whoever's running this will be very well protected. What we want to do his get rid of the middleman. Enforcers may seem independent, but they're extremely obedient to those above them. Without commands, they're just shells. Without followers, the leader has no one to stop us."
"*Then* we take out the big guy!" Black Ranger realized.
"If by 'take out'," Yellow interjected, "You mean 'hand him over to the proper authorities,' then yes. No matter how evil they are, we can't risk tarnishing the reputation of the Rangers, Carlos. We have to do this by the book."
"Sure, if you want to take all the fun out of it."
"We're not here for fun," Red reminded, not even registering the comment as a joke. "We're here to end a threat. Korone, which way to the detention blocks?"
"Those are three floors up," the Purple Ranger recalled. "We can take the ladder and come up fairly close to the cells. If freeing any prisoners is what you have in mind, it's our best bet of getting onto the level without being seen."
"Everyone move," Red Ranger dictated, waving his Spiral Blaster at the ladder. "I'll make sure no one follows us." He didn't wait long, as the team practically flew up the ladder in seconds. Red Ranger took one last look around the corners, and began his own accession.
The Enforcer held his rifle tightly, proudly, never really comprehending how boring his life actually was. His current position was even worse, a guard to the inside of the Hope Fortress's cellblock. Even the usually unaware storm trooper knew that the prisoners and rightful occupants of the station had no chance of escaping from their cramped cells of iron.
Enforcers were mindlessly obedient, and this one was aware of his orders to only allow Devarians into the cellblock. Rangers were to be shot on site. He had received and carried out his simple and direct duties to the letter until now, and was not about to stop.
"Who is it?" He asked in a flat, simple voice. He awaited the reply.
The Enforcer blinked behind his helmet. Devarians gained automatic admission, and Rangers gained automatic termination, but this situation called for closer inspection. He would have consulted one of the higher-ranking Enforcers, but those were all posted elsewhere. Only drones remained in the cellblock.
"Land Shark?" He curiously repeated. He pressed his gloved palm to the door and began to slide it open. Before the door had been completely pushed into it's frame, the Black Ranger had already blasted the Enforcer in the face with his laser pistol.
Red Ranger stepped past his friend, and examined the fallen Enforcer. "I don't believe that actually worked." Red Ranger would have continued, but the laser blast that zipped past his helmet, singeing it, told him to put the current conversation on hold. "Stupid, Sand Slug-licking-" He aimed his Spiral Blaster and delivered a fatal shot to one of the oncoming drones. "Burn Tree-hugging-" A second blast from the rifle sent another Enforcer to the floor. "diseased Stink Worm-offspring!" When the next drone fell, the others were overwhelmed by common sense, and decided to drop their weapons. "Get in the corner before I blast all of you!"
"Oooookay," Blue Ranger said as the Enforcers did as they were told. "Andros has just gone over the deep end." What frightened Blue Ranger even more was the fact that Red Ranger did not respond to the comment, Silver Ranger did.
"Nah, he just hates Devarians with a passion." Silver Ranger assured. "The minute he sees one -- well, you've just seen what happens when he sees one. Anyway, give him a minute or two to calm down and he'll be all right."
Moments later, questioning began on the part of the Red Ranger. Two prisoners were not accounted for; One was a young woman, the other was the station's captain and Prince of Triforia. "Where are they?" The Ranger asked the drone somewhat calmly. When he didn't get an immediate answer, he forced the bound Enforcers head into the nearest wall, shattering the visor of the man's helmet. "Where are they?!" Red Ranger barked. "Give me an answer, now!"
"Co-Co-Command room," the Enforcer stuttered. "They're in the command room with Lord Kibro."
"Thank you," Red Ranger said releasing the man's helmet. Like a sack of water, the Enforcer sank to the ground before Red Ranger's feet. The Kerovan easily dismissed the soldier, and even stepped over him to approach one of the formerly imprisoned Triforian occupants. "Would you mind cleaning up? My friends and I still have some work to do."
Kibro sat patiently in the captain's chair, taking silent pleasure as the two Triforians attempted to squirm from the grasp of several Enforcers. Despite his currently soft attitude, he found the situation quite unnerving.
"Do you have any idea, how much trouble you alone are causing me?" The mammoth blue creature asked Trey. "I came here for one thing; to show the Power Rangers that the Devarian House always gets what it wants. All we wanted was one little Norian, even if we took him by force.
"But you had to be the hero. You had to cut down the power to the station. Were you even aware, Gold Ranger that we would have left as soon as we had that alien in our custody? Look at the pain you are putting your friend through." He gestured to one of Jenfi's restrainers, who began to twist her arm behind her back. "And look at what you have done to your precious Zeo Crystal."
Kibro held the golden shard in his massive hand. "How long did it take your people to align its power into your little staff, so that your world's first born brat may wield it? Ten thousand years? Fifty? Five hundred? I wonder why you were never infused with the power. Maybe its because the Zeo Crystal kills Triforians with prolonged direct contact."
The blue creature rose and stepped to the Gold Ranger, positioning the shard centimeters from the Triforian's forehead as he towered over the prince. "Now, I don't suppose you would give me access to the computers, even facing certain death, would you?"
"You can't get the codes if you kill me," Trey said. "Try another solution."
"Very well," Kibro nodded, jabbing the shard into Jenfi's chest. Immediately the girl began to wince in pain, while Trey tried to remain as calm and levelheaded as possible. "Give me the codes, and I'll remove it. Remain silent, and your friend dies."
"No!" Jenfi coughed as she fell limp onto the floor. A golden energy began to consume her from within. "Trey, don't do it!" As her eyes came alive with raw power, she began to cough up words mixed with a golden fire.
"*JENFI!*" The sight became too much for him to bear, and Trey fought with all his strength to free himself from the Enforcers so he might kneel by his friend's side. But he found his emotions sucked more energy from him than anything else did. "Kibro, if you think this will earn you the security codes, you are sorely mistaken!"
"I'm willing to bet this method of therapy will work," the Devarian gambled. "Now, I'd say that she has about fifteen minutes before her condition becomes fatal. If by that time you don't give me the codes, it's your fault."
"All of this over one Norian?" Trey asked in disbelief.
"No. Consider this payment for the torment the Rangers have put us through for the past year-and-a-half. If your friends wish to hide the Norian in their little school, so be it. We'll take their station instead and use it against them."
"You must be dumber than you look," insulted the Triforian Prince. "This station is mainly a docking platform, or at most used for observation. Nearly all of it's weapons are defensive, and those that aren't wouldn't stand up to a Megazord."
"We don't need the weapons, you fool." Kibro reclaimed his position in the captain's chair, smiling at the convulsing floor-bound Jenfi. "No doubt it was the Rangers who have cut the power to this station, which means they're on board. The Academy is left unguarded, especially to inside assaults. And the Devarians have connections *everywhere*. You just have to know which strings to pull."
"Good. Then you don't need the access codes after all," Trey realized.
Kibro was quick to counter. "Yes, and your friend's life means nothing to you." He noticed Trey's focus shift to the girl desperately clinging to life from her flaming fetal position. "It would seem that if you allow her to suffer, you're just as cruel as I am."
The Devarian and the station's captain continued to exchange words, some harsher than others, which prevented either of them from noticing the shadows sneaking past the numerous entranceways to the room.
"Okay," Red Ranger whispered, holding is Spiral Blaster close. "So far so good. Korone, TJ, I want you two to find a way to send a transmission to the Senturions. Tell them we have some prisoners they may want to haul away.
"Carlos, Ashley, you go back to the cell block and make sure the occupants have regained complete control. Our little prison break may have caught the Enforcers by surprise, but there's still the possibility of injuries. Zhane, Cassie, you're with me."
"What's the plan?" Pink Ranger asked as the other Rangers left for their specified tasks.
"Zhane and I'll distract the blue guy. Once you have an opening, sneak in there and pull out the girl. She's got something lodged inside of her that's causing her condition, see if you can't pull it out again, got it?"
"Got it." Pink nodded.
"Come on, TJ," Purple Ranger said, "I've got an idea."
"What're you doing?!"
Korone had just demorphed, and the Blue Ranger was obviously not in favor of the decision. Ignoring his comment, the Kerovan girl continued to dismantle her morpher with a collection of emergency tools that had been placed near each communications console.
"You're lucky we didn't lose life-support on this thing. And you'd better hope Andros was right about those Enforcers being totally mindless. We don't need one coming around the corner and blasting you when you don't have any protection."
"I'm trying to contact the Senturions," Korone huffed. "It may seriously decrease the remaining amount by a few hours, but I can channel some of my morpher's power into the computer and have it act like a battery." She pointed towards a plate beneath the console. "Remove that, would you?" she asked, handing the Blue Ranger a screwdriver.
"I sure hope this doesn't end up frying your brain," he said, quickly breaking the compartment's seal. "Okay, now what?"
"Now we see if this works," Korone said, tearing a handful of wires free from the compartment. As she connected them to her morpher she reassured her friend. "Don't worry, it won't fry my brain. I know I've bonded with the power, but I'll be sending the energy out, not absorbing it."
After a few sparks, Korone smiled at the successful merging of technologies. "We're ready," she said. "Send the signal now." Her words were urgent after she activated her morpher's power supply, as she watched the numbers tick away at an advanced rate.
Blue Ranger activated the console and began to speak. "This is an urgent distress call from the Rangers aboard the Hope Fortress--" he began.
"Hold up there, Killer." Black Ranger kept a Triforian security officer from rising to his feet. "You've busted your ankle, and you've been walking on it apparently." He turned to his yellow counterpart. "Ashley, is there a bandage or anything that we can wrap this up in?"
"No. It looks like all the medical supplies are locked up. Do you know how lucky we were to open the cell doors to let these guys out? And that was without power to the computer systems!"
"An Astro Blaster goes a long way," Black Ranger quipped. He looked up as the room came alive with teleporation beams. "Speaking of which," he said pulling his blaster. "We may want to have ours ready for whatever comes out of that."
The light peeled away to reveal a full squadron of Black Senturion units, and a leader of a familiar color. [Galactic Senturions patrol fourteen, at your service.] the Blue Senturion squawked. [How may we be of some assistance?]
"Are you the only ones that showed up?" Yellow Ranger asked.
[Negative. A total of thirteen patrols have teleported onto this station.]
"Do you have any medical supplies?" Black Ranger questioned.
"Then come over here, this man needs attention."
The Pink Ranger dashed into the captain's room, and promptly carried out the quivering and spark emitting Jenfi with Trey following closely. Once they were a safe distance away from the battle, Pink Ranger set the girl down onto the hallway floor.
"You'd be more help in there," Pink Ranger raised the dispute.
"Not when my power source is eating her alive," the Prince said pointing to the large crystal that had his friend in agony. "You're going to have to remove it yourself though, I can't touch it unless I want to end up like her."
"I wish I had the slightest idea on how to do this," Pink Ranger said. She grabbed hold of the shard and began to pull. When she only succeeded in causing more pain than Jenfi needed to experience, she ceased. "Well, we're not getting it out that way."
[Are you in need of assistance, Rangers?]
Pink Ranger looked up to the Blue Senturion unit and it's many black-clad charges, nodding. "Two of my friends are trying to fight off the guy who lead the attack on his station." She gestured her head near the entrance of a corridor as a light explosion took place from within the area. "And she's being eaten alive by energy," she returned her eyes to Jenfi.
[Unit seven, unit ten, assist the Pink Ranger. The rest of us shall attempt to apprehend the Devarian.] The Blue Senturion departed with the rest of his team, leaving two of its units hanging over the acting-surgeon in the form of Pink Ranger.
[Perhaps this will be of some help?] One of the two identical units produced a small energy scalpel from a sub-space pocket and offered it to the Ranger. [It would seem that the item has fused itself to the young woman's body. You will need to cut around the object in order to remove it safely.]
"Wonderful," Pink Ranger sighed as she took the tool. "I'd say this would hurt," she addressed the patient, "But with all the pain you're going through I doubt you'll feel any of this."
Pink Ranger carefully and slowly carved around the exposed half of the shard, drawing blood from the young Triforian woman. When the crystal refused to budge in any direction, she continued her potentially dangerous carving, making deeper incisions.
"I don't think I can go any farther," she declared. "I've loosened up the shard, but its in no way going to come out easily. I'm going to have to remove it by force," she told the Senturions. Both units nodded to the Ranger, allowing her to proceed.
"Okay girl, this *is* going to hurt."
Pink Ranger wrapped her hands tightly around the shard, adjusted her footing, and began to pull. After a very one-sided tug-of-war, the crystal released. Jenfi fell to the ground, as the harsh removal process had actually caused her to be lifted a few inches into the air.
Cassie removed her helmet to bask in the moment, but found the girl still quivering. The overexposure to the crystal had taken a fatal effect on the young Triforian woman. Taking the crystal from her body had only bought her some additional minutes.
"What do we do, now?" Cassie asked the Senturion units. "Wait a minute," she scanned the immediate area. "Where's Trey?"
The oncoming blur caught Kibro off-guard, and the dropkick sent the Devarian against a wall of computer terminals, each one releasing a collection of small but painful electrical shocks. Much to Trey's dismay he found his assault had done absolutely no damage to the beast, and the Triforian Prince had only succeeded in further aggravating his enemy.
The young captain refused to give up however, and continued his assault. A sane combatant would have maneuvered himself around the captain's chair, but Trey found it to his advantage. With as much grace as an enraged man could possibly posses, he stepped onto the arms of the chair and then the headrest, where with amazing balance he executed a spin kick that would knock his foe off balance for a moment or two.
While Trey ran off to one side of the room attempting to catch his breath, Red Ranger grabbed his Silver friend, who was about to topple over from a powerful wave of dizziness. The usually unstoppable duo had been severely outmatched during the confrontation with Kibro, and all was not looking well.
"He's not so tough," Silver Ranger denied.
"You weren't saying that when I was peeling you off that wall a few minutes ago." Red Ranger watched as the enemy began to stir again. He knew the powerless Gold Ranger did not have nearly enough strength to finish off the Devarian which was now solely focusing on the Triforian, and the Red Ranger knew he would have to act fast.
Red Ranger reached for his right wrist, removing a device that had helped to turn the tide during many battles. He called out to the Gold Ranger as he threw the Battelizer through the air to the Triforian across the room.
Trey caught the device with a shaky but firm hand and quickly strapped it around one wrist. He could hear the Red Ranger issuing directions from across the room, all the while keeping his focus on the approaching behemoth. Blindly, he fumbled for functions.
The control lock slid open, revealing three keys. With his eyes locked on Kibro, Trey selected the first button his hands had found, and pressed it. The Triforian was quickly overwhelmed by pain, as he seemingly began to draw power from every direction.
Red Ranger's jaw dropped within his helmet. "I said 'two'!" He corrected a moment too late. He was very well aware of the Battelizer's properties. At one time it had served as a control unit for the now-destroyed Delta Megazord, but its primary use was always in field combat.
The Battelizer worked as a collector, usually drawing kenetic energy from one's attacker so it might be thrown back at it. The first setting would give the wearer an increase in force, making each hit count just a bit more than it normally would. Number two provided the wielder with the same, but also increased speed and strength. Two was usually enough to finish the job, and if it wasn't, there was always number three.
The third setting was completely different from the previous two. Anyone who pressed number three would find themselves absorbing as much energy as physically possible, which always resulted in intense pain for the first few seconds. Afterwards, the energy would add to the wearer's form, usually in a way that would not be constraining or a hindrance.
Trey found himself undergoing a transformation, a morph unlike any he had been familiar with. For someone who had been beaten and weakened, he felt strangely powerful. He felt as if he could take on the entire Devarian House, and in his current state that was most likely true.
He stood tall before the shocked Devarian. His time as the Gold Ranger had fueled the design for the battle suit. Attached to the black bodysuit were numerous pieces of golden armor. His arms were wrapped in powerful gauntlets, his chest was covered with a dense shield that might stand up to any assault, and his legs were set into knee-high metallic boots that no man would want to be kicked with. Gold highlights wrapped around the standard black Astro helmet, and the triple-bar symbol of Triforia flashed from underneath the helmet's transparent dome.
Gold Ranger spoke, his voice dripping with confidence and hate. "Let's see how tough you are when the odds are even."
The personal battle between Kibro and Gold Ranger went on for several minutes, and neither gained the upperhand for more than a few seconds before the other would somehow counter what had just been done to him.
Finally, the battle came to a close. Gold Ranger wrapped his hands around Kibro's large neck and called forth one of the weapons from the arsenal that was second nature to any Ranger. "Battelizer Shockwave!"
Gold Ranger's fists began to glow as he sent blast after blast of electricity into the Devarian. His opponent took quite a bit of punishment, but dropped to the ground as the Devarian went into a state of unconsciousness.
Gold Ranger turned away from his enemy and turned his weary head to the troop of robotic law enforcement agents. He waved his hand to the shallowly breathing beast on the floor and explained. "I assume you recognize Kibro," he said to the Blue unit. "He attempted to capture the station. I'd imagine his enforcers are littered around everywhere."
[Thank you Rangers,] the Blue Senturion said. [We will ensure that this criminal serves the remainder of his life in a maximum-security prison.]
"I certainly hope---" More important matters entered the Gold Ranger's mind. "Jenfi!" He remembered as he began to exit the control room. The man who had perhaps saved his own life halted him.
"Take your friend to the Academy," Red Ranger calmly ordered. "We've got some people there who can probably help. Tell everyone in the medical lab they're to drop what they're doing and see to her, by my order. Have Cassie go with you and take Korone's Glider. She'll hitch a ride with Zhane on the way back."
"Thank you." Gold Ranger attempted to leave once more, but found another factor that prevented his exit. In a flash of light he demorphed and turned the Battelizer over to Red Ranger. "Again," he said with a rushed voice, "Thank you."
Andros removed his helmet and called to whoever could hear him. "Okay, let's see what we can do about getting the power back on in this place, huh?"
Cassie exited the medical lab, stepping out onto a neutral area of the Academy's floor. Droz and his boys had claimed most of the surface for various projects, and another good section was reserved for the students that always seemed to be training. Whatever was left wasn't very spacious, usually leading into another portion of the Power Chamber.
"Sorry about blowing you off like that, Jerome," Cassie apologized to the chief security officer. "But Jenfi's stabilized for the moment and I can breathe now. So what's up?"
The man in his mid-thirties glanced over to the arriving fleet of Galaxy Gliders, and asked the Pink Ranger to follow him onto the mechanics floor. "The others need to hear this too. It's important."
"Jerome," Korone removed her helmet to shake her blonde hair loose, and caught a glimpse of the depressed officer. "Oh no. You don't have good news, do you?"
"I'm afraid not," replied the officer. "I'm not sure how to tell you this, but I'll try. Earlier today, after you left, Mister Scott was sending one of the pre-powered graduate teams through the leadership scenario in the Simudeck. Somehow the safeties went offline for just a moment. One of the students didn't come out."
"---Which one?" Zhane asked, the color draining from his face.
The naming of the victim took its toll upon each Ranger differently. Cassie and TJ, who had been closest to the Norian, felt sorrow. Korone had pushed to have Weelo admitted to the Academy, and as a result felt extremely guilty. Carlos, Ashley and Zhane felt their stomachs twisting, but Andros felt like he would explode into a fiery rage.
"Who?" The Red Ranger asked with a snarl. "Who did it?"
"We don't know that," Officer Stone admitted. "At least not yet. We'll be beginning our investigation by checking personal records. I have a feeling that whoever did this has already left for their own safety."
"How's the team holding up?" TJ asked.
"The kids have isolated themselves. All four of 'em. I'm sure you'll want to run them all through psychiatric evaluations after this. It's not the kind of thing they should have bottled up." Stone counted the grim expressions before him and sighed. "I'll have the good doctor add the seven of you to her patients list, as well."
"Yeah---" Andros pulled any words he could from around the lump in his throat. "--That's good. Would you excuse me?" The Red Ranger didn't await permission before heading for the lift that would take him to his quarters. Ashley was not far behind him.
"Jerome, what have the teachers done about this? Anything?"
Stone removed his eyes from the fleeing grief-stricken Andros to the somewhat composed Korone. "Not much, I'm afraid. The team directly involved with the incident has been given the rest of the day off, but it's business as usual for everyone else. The other instructors did hold a moment of silence, but other than that---"
"Thanks, Jerome." Cassie sniffed an oncoming tear or two. It was obvious that she was fighting off her emotions, as was the slightly more contained TJ. "Is there anything planned? A funeral?"
"Only for his people," Jerome explained. "The ceremony will take place on Noria. The best we can do here is adding a new room to the Memorial Wing. And that's already being looked into."
"Cassie," Carlos asked, not sure if he could take any more news about the fallen Norian. "How's Trey's friend? Is she stable?"
The Pink Ranger nodded. "Yeah, but she's absorbed so much of the shard's power that she's been put into suspended animation. Justin found a way to channel the power from her into the crystal, but he doesn't think he'll be able to salvage the Gold Ranger as we knew it."
"Anyone else think this is just a little too much to handle for one day?" Zhane lightly cracked, although the mask he wore was no where near that of a smiling one.
By the time Ashley had followed Andros into his apartment, sat beside him on the large couch, and wrapped a comforting arm around his shoulder, the once thought unshakeable leader of the Space Rangers was showing emotions for the first time in over a year.
"Andros," she said softly. "You know you couldn't have helped this. If you didn't go to the Hope Fortress, who knows how many people would have died. Even if we were here, we wouldn't have found out about Weelo until it was too late."
"I know," the Kerovan replied. "I've run through every option about a hundred times in my mind already, and it always ends up with at least one person dying. And the worst part is, I feel sorry about Weelo, but that's not what's on my mind.
"This is the second time someone has invaded my home. This is the second time death has reached my own door. My friends and family are in danger here. *Here!* Of all the places in the universe, I had thought that this was somewhere immune to evil. Somewhere safe."
"Things happen, Andros." Ashley raised an eyebrow as her love stood and padded into a more private area of his apartment. "Hey, where are you going?" From a shadow cast upon the bedroom wall, she could tell he was changing clothes.
"I need to think. I'm going for a walk."
Andros set the colored glass onto the counter, and rested his head in his hands. The barely audible sigh he released quickly caught the attention of the black woman behind the bar. She refilled the glass with his choice of beverage, and began the inquisition.
"So what's eating you, Andros?"
The young man looked up to the Surf Spot's owner. "It's not something I can talk about, Adelle."
"Be serious," she somewhat smiled. "You used to be able to tell me anything. You told me you were from another planet the first day I met you, and you can't tell me what's bugging you? It sounds more like you don't want to talk about it."
"I'm just having some doubts, that's all."
"Questioning your faith?" Adelle assumed.
"Sort of," Andros agreed, succumbing to the woman's ability to draw problems from the most reluctant of sources. "You know about the school, right?" Adelle nodded. "Well, at the last minute we accepted a student from another world. He witnessed a murder by this crime syndicate that continued to hunt him down. Today that same syndicate invaded our space station, but while the others and I were taking the station back, the student was killed when he was in a battle simulation program after someone removed the safeties."
"And you're wondering if it's worth putting up with anymore, right?" This time it was Andros' turn to nod. "Well I can't say I blame you, but I can say that I know you guys have been through situations that were a lot tougher than this."
"It's just hard to deal with. I had thought a good deal of my stress would just vanish once the school started moving. Now it just seems as if twice the load has dropped in my lap. I'm surprised I manage to balance everything that I do without going nuts."
"Let me ask you a question," Adelle proposed. "How much of the school's operations do you take oversee? How much gets run past you before anything's approved?"
"About one-hundred percent." Andros groaned. "Why?"
"It seems to me that it's more stress than grief that's getting to you, right?" Again, Andros nodded. "Maybe it's time to lighten your load. Everyone else is capable of handling some responsibility, aren't they? I know you feel sad about your student, but give yourself some time to think. Maybe then you'll find it easier to deal with things."
"There you are."
Andros looked up at the relieved voice, taking in the image of Ashley who only seconds ago was quaking in fear.
"I've been looking all over town for you," the Yellow Ranger said. She took a seat next to her love and addressed Adelle. "This man has had me worried sick for the past few hours. Can you make sure he at least calls next time?"
The older woman smiled, took Ashley's order, and hustled into the back to prepare it.
"Sorry," Andros apologized. "I just needed to talk to someone, and I ended up here. How are the others doing?"
"Cassie, TJ and I made appointments with the school's psychiatrist tomorrow. Weelo's team has been ordered to show up in her office too, but we have no obligations. I managed to talk Jerome out of it. The others are all dealing with it as well as we are, I guess. It was a real quiet dinner, though."
Andros let the conversation stall for a moment before issuing his comment. "Would you mind helping out around the school? Adelle's got this crazy idea that I overburden myself." Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the restaurant owner shoot a look of mock hatred from the back room.
"Yeah, that's no problem. I took care of some of the important stuff during the school's construction. It shouldn't be any more difficult now that things have eased up a bit."
The pair discussed random subjects well into the night. Adelle was kind enough to allow them stay in her establishment long after she had left for her own home. The older woman knew that the conversation would immediately lose something the moment they were forced to leave.
"I said it wrong," Andros regarded the vacant topic.
"Said what wrong?" Ashley asked.
"When I said the Academy wasn't safe. What I meant was -- Well, let's put it this way. Zhane almost died twice, once by injury and again when those aliens damaged the Megaship's power supply. Korone nearly died. Zordon died. Weelo died. I guess I'm just feeling a bit vulnerable."
"That's normal," Ashley replied. "I think. I'm not sure, it's so late I can't even guarantee my brain is working anymore."
"Three thirty," Andros reported after checking his watch. "The others might be wondering where we are."
Ashley laughed softly. "I don't think so, Andros. We don't exactly keep our relationship low profile. They know better than to interrupt us with the way we carry on sometimes." She followed her sentence with a yawn.
"Do you know," Andros reminded, "That I've never met your parents." He stood from his barstool, grabbed the girl's hand and encouraged her to follow him out the door. "C'mon, let's go."
"What?" Ashley incoherently protested. "Go where?"
"Your parents' house. Between what your grandmother's leaked out about me, and whatever little you told them, they must be a little curious." Ashley slightly agreed and felt herself pulled toward the exit. "Then let's go. I could use a little vacation anyway. I'm sure the others can look over the school for a few days."
"When did you get so motivated on meeting my parents?"
"Hey," Andros defended. "You only live once."