Chapter 10 - Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Even with the Blue Lion flying at mind-mangling speeds, the interior
held no inertia, meaning that Billy was free to pace the hangar without
becoming a smear against the rear walls.
He had a lot of preparation to do: this was going to be the single most dangerous mission of his life as a Power Ranger, doubly so for his life without the Power directly protecting him. He still had the patented Amazing Recuperative Abilities, which were fine for recovering from a thrashing, but not so good for preventing that thrashing from occurring in the first place.
All he needed to do was infiltrate the main Skybase of the Machine Empire, try to cut off communications between the leaders and their thousands of troops, bring down the shield to allow the Rangers and Voltron lions to attack the base directly, fight off any guards he might encounter along the way, and oh yes, "destroy" (read: kill) the witch Haggar with a magical sword he didn't even know how to wield.
He raided the weapons locker first, as he imagined he'd need a lot more than the sword to defend himself. At his left hip he belted a standard-issue Voltron Force laser pistol with a fully-charged battery, good for a few dozen shots at least. At his opposite side he strapped on a rocket pistol, which fired miniature explosive missiles: no more than two inches in length each, but capable of a devastating blast. The gun itself held only eight shots, so he'd have to use them wisely.
Across his chest he tied a bandolier, carrying several concussive grenades, several magnesium "flash" grenades, a couple of extra laser batteries, and three clips of ammunition for the rocket pistol. He loaded the very bottom pouch of the bandolier with some compact but efficient explosive devices, which he hoped would be sufficient to blow up the communications relays, processing plants, or whatever else he could get to.
Lastly, he tested the heft of a semi-automatic rocket rifle. Similar to the rocket pistol, it fired explosive missiles rather than laser blasts or bullets, but these were far more potent than their smaller cousins. He didn't have room to carry more than a single spare clip of ammunition for this one, so he'd have to make every shot count.
This done, he took stock of himself. Two pistols, rifle, two types of grenades, explosives, ammunition, and a magic sword. Plus his all-purpose power-tool and a miniature repair kit which he hoped would serve equally well for a saboteur.
For a moment, it occurred to him that he'd trade it all in for his old Power Lance. That was something he knew how to use, and a role he was comfortable with. He'd never been a commando on a Schwarzeneggerian mission of destruction before.
But then, the next moment, he realized that those days were really over. He was not a Power Ranger, no matter how much he remained in denial about it. And with recent developments shaping his future, it was more than likely that he would never be a Power Ranger again.
But that didn't have to be a bad thing. Perhaps all of his time in the Power Chamber, working so closely with the zords, with Alpha and Zordon, and with the team had all been part of his trying to hang onto what was lost.
He really wasn't sure what he was now.
Then he remembered what it was that Alth had called him. What all the lions had called him.
It wasn't a title that came with a specific set of instructions or responsibilities, like Power Ranger. It was a vague designation at best, open to any number of interpretations. But it was one the lions had used with respect and deference.
He didn't know how to be a Maker, come right down to it. But he knew that the lions had counted on him, just as they were counting on him now. Just as his friends piloting the lions and defending the Earth were counting on him. And if that meant he was going to have to learn to be a movie-style action hero on the fly, then that was what he would do.
Maybe that was all part of being a Maker after all. Doing whatever you could to Make things right, even if you had to Make it up as you went along.
Billy took a deep breath, adjusted the strap of the rocket rifle on his shoulder, then went to check on his fighter craft.
Here again was another great example of the fact that he was more or less winging it. The shield around Mondo's main base was made of an energy that the sensors in the Power Chamber had been unable to identify, and which the weapons of the Blue Lion had been unable to penetrate. A blast of the same energy had sent the Blue Lion spinning off course during Billy's maiden flight. But water had passed right through it.
This energy, he now knew, was in fact pure magical power, which Billy's earthbound sensors had been unable to properly analyze. A spell specifically attuned to keep out anything that might be seen as hostile: energy weapons, missiles, or whatever. But it was not proof against water.
Nor, Billy hoped, would it be proof against the magic-shielding properties of Alfor's sword. The sword was weakened, though, and no longer had the ability to shield Voltron, or even one of the individual lions, from a magical assault.
But Billy was willing to gamble that it was still strong enough to protect a single one-person fighter craft. If his calculations were correct, the presence of the sword would allow his tiny ship to pass clean through the shield. Of course, he was making these calculations based on incomplete knowledge of the properties of the magical and anti-magical energies, making this entire venture largely based on a SWAG and gut instinct.
The ship appeared to be in good working order. All that remained was one last detail.
Using a miniature blowtorch from his tool kit, he began to meticulously burn a series of letters into the side of the hull, just below the canopy. The torch had just enough power to mark the hull without actually damaging it. When he was finished, he took a step back to admire his work.
CROW T. SPACECRAFT
As he completed his inspection of the craft, he heard Katherine's voice through his comlink. "Billy, we're getting closer. We'll be engaging in about three minutes. Are you ready?"
"Yeah, I'm ready," he sighed. "Promise me you'll be careful when I'm gone, okay?"
Katherine paused a moment before she replied. "You're asking me to be careful?" she said, quietly. "I've got several hundred tons of Blue Lion protecting me. Promise me you'll be careful."
"I promise," he smiled.
"Then so do I," she replied. There was another pause, in which he could hear her take a shaky breath. "Billy, there's something I've been wanting to tell you for the past several days, but I never had the chance. Or if I had the chance, I was... afraid to take it. Something very important. I want to tell you now."
"Why not?" she asked, her voice suddenly very small.
"Because I'd rather hear it when we both get back to Earth alive."
"But we might not... I mean, one of us might... or even both...!"
"That won't happen," he said, vehemently. "Believe me, I have a lot to say to you, too. But not now. Not here. These aren't going to be our last words to one another, I promise you. After everything we've been through, it can't end that way. We can't let it."
"All right," she whispered. "But I will hold you to this."
"I'm looking forward to that," he smiled.
"So am I," she said in a low voice.
Her husky tone caught Billy somewhat off-guard. "You know," he said, "we should probably be careful. Do you remember the time when we all met at my place and rented that movie 'Speed' a few months ago?"
"I remember," she agreed.
"Right, well do you remember the line Keanu Reeves said to Sandra Bullock right at the very last? Something like 'I've heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.'"
"Yes, I remember," she repeated. "Now, do you remember what Sandra Bullock said in reply to that?"
Billy paused, thought about this, then so much as felt his face turn red yet again.
Katherine went on, as he could not find his voice. "That might be excessive in this case, but it should give you something to think about while you're on the Skybase. Kat out."
* * *
The Phoenix pulled out of a steep dive to blow away a formation of claw-fighters before they could unload their own weapons over the city of Anchorage. Even when the ships were disabled, he kept firing, atomizing as much of the debris as he could to keep it from harming anyone on the way down. He hoped the people in the city were listening to the air raid warnings, and more importantly taking them seriously.
Substituting Zack for Adam a few hours ago had been necessary, no question, but it had not really done much to improve their position. Adam had been fighting while exhausted, true, but Zack's inexperience with Taurus was making him about as effective as the tired-out Adam had been, so they had really gained no ground with the switch. But Tommy couldn't really complain, as things would have been far worse had Zack not been there in the nick of time.
Even so, the fight was getting closer and closer to the ground. Tommy was no longer picking off prey from the upper atmosphere: usually by the time he intercepted his foes they were at altitudes of just a few hundred yards. And his own time was running out, as a glance at his power reserve gauge revealed.
His tracking computers brought him onto his next intercept course, but he quickly realized that there was something wrong. The ships were moving away! Not only that, but they were gaining altitude rather than descending.
Rocky spoke up before Tommy could. "Hey guys, it looks like they're retreating again!"
"I think you're right, Rock!" Tommy transmitted back. "All Rangers, check in! Are you getting the same readings?"
"That's an aye-firmative!" Tanya shouted.
"They're bugging out!" Kim said.
"I don't get it!" Zack put in. "Wait a minute! Kat said something about this. Didn't they do this before?"
"Only once," Tommy explained. "That was when..." He trailed off as he remembered what had caused the first withdrawal. "Kim, Tanya, go to your long-range scanners! See if there's anything coming in!"
"I'm not reading anything!" Kimberly replied almost immediately. "Whatever it is that's got their attention, I think it's on the other side of the planet!"
"Tanya, do you see anything?" Tommy pressed.
"Wait a second... YES! Something's coming in! I've got five incoming ships on scan, and the bad guys are going after them!"
"I'll bet I know who that is!" Zack cheered. As if in reply, a new voice came over the cockpit speakers: a voice Tommy immediately recognized.
"Black Lion to Power Rangers! Come in, Power Rangers!"
"Jason!" Tommy shouted.
Jason grinned at the surprise in Tommy's voice. "How's it goin' down there, bro?"
"We've been better, man," Tommy laughed. "D'you mind explaining what's going on here? Is Billy with you?"
"Sort of," Jason replied, distractedly, as he took in the sight of hundreds of enemy fighters on an intercept course with the five lions. "It's kind of a long story, but I'll let him tell it after we win this war. Right now, though, here's the plan. You guys take five and let the Voltron Force handle things for a little while."
"Voltron Force?" Rocky asked.
"Trust me, man, we'll explain later. We're gonna try to get that shield around Mondo's fortress knocked down so we can get in there and take out the factories, so that he can't keep pumping out more ships. It looks like the bad guys are gonna leave you alone for a while, but we might need all ten of us to finish this fight, so Tommy, you set the Phoenix down, save your last power reserves, and the rest of you sit tight while we make some noise!"
"Good luck, you guys!" Kim cheered.
The Black Lion's scanners reported that the enemy would be in range in forty seconds. Jason smiled in anticipation. "Okay, Voltron Force, for old time's sake, let's log on! Black Lion, ready!"
"Red Lion, fired up!" Adam shouted.
"Green Lion, all systems go!" Trini followed.
"Blue Lion, standing by for dropoff!" Kat reported.
"Yellow Lion, all weapons charged and ready!" Aisha finished.
From the lower tier of the cockpit, Jason heard Skull add a line of his own. "And Bulk Ranger and the Skull-meister, along for the ride!"
"Brace yourselves, you two," Jason warned his crewmen. "We're going in!"
* * *
The five lions met the onrushing ships in a V-shaped formation, then quickly split off to make their attack runs. Black Lion charged right into the mass of ships, all weapons blazing, and began quite handily shredding the enemy forces. Meanwhile, the other four split into two groups, with the Blue and Red Lions making a direct run for Mondo's fortress, and the Yellow and Green Lions attacking the orbital platforms.
From her place in the pilot's chair, Katherine found all of her senses taken by the neural interface, far more so than with the one Zord she had piloted as a Power Ranger. She knew now what Billy had been describing: she did indeed feel that this ship had a presence, and joined in this way, Katherine knew all of the ship's capabilities, and was able to use them to their fullest potential. Pain from dozens of incoming laser shots, like needles on her skin, kept her reflexes sharp, and her sight, which encompassed all directions, warned her of the dangers coming from every side. She picked out targets and shot them down, just as she had from the surface, but now she was taking them a dozen or more at a time.
With Adam giving her plenty of cover, she was able to quickly lay in a course for the Skybase, and she gunned the engines for an attack run.
"Billy!" she transmitted to the tiny ship somewhere in the lion's interior. "We're about to make our pass over the Skybase!"
* * *
Billy finished with the last of his restraints and brought down Crow's canopy. "Acknowledged, Kat," he transmitted back. "I'll be in position in a few seconds."
The fighter's engines came to life with the lightest touch on the controls, and Billy maneuvered the ship through the hangar doors and onto the launch tracks. He brought the ship past the processing units, past the next huge door (which closed behind him), and halfway down the hexagonal launch tube, where he stopped. "I'm in position," he reported, unsheathing Alfor's sword and laying it across his lap. "Ready when you are."
"Are you sure this will work?" Katherine asked.
"If you mean Crow being able to ride the water-blast, then yes, it's structurally sound enough for that. If you mean getting through the shield, well, we'll know soon enough, won't we? Whatever happens, though, don't stick around the base too long or you might attract a blast of magic, like I did."
"I'll be careful," she replied. "We're going in! Water-blast in five... four... three... two... one... Water-blast now!"
Behind Billy's ship, the doors to the water-storage chambers slid open, and a solid wall of the liquid gushed forth. Billy waited until the onrushing wave was almost upon him, then he ignited Crow's thrusters to give him some momentum. The water caught up with him then, surrounded the ship, and carried him out through the lion's jaws and into open space, to rain down on the Skybase. Since he couldn't see a thing through all the water, he used his scanners to guide him in. The shield, which showed up on his scan as a curved green line, was fast approaching. Billy held the control grip with one hand, the hilt of the sword with the other, and braced himself.
As before, the water passed directly through the shield, but upon reaching the barrier, Crow jolted sharply, and the control stick jerked in Billy's hand. Warning lights came up on his console, reporting problems with his port and starboard stabilizers. But he had made it through the shield, and with luck, the water would have camouflaged his entry.
Holding onto the unresponsive joystick with both hands, then, Billy fired the engines again and pulled up as the water impacted with the surface of the Skybase. Crow had become about as maneuverable as a school bus, and Billy nearly wound up smashing into the surface himself. He felt the bottom of the hull skip off the metallic structure of the base, snapping off the two rear landing struts in the process, but he was then able to quickly regain control and bring Crow in for a rough landing about two hundred yards from the main castle.
Wasting no time, Billy popped open the canopy, stripped off his restraints, and vaulted out of the cockpit. He gathered up sword, rifle, and other weapons, then shut down all of Crow's systems, hoping to mask it from any of the Machine Empire's scans. He might still need this ship for a quick exit, and it wouldn't do to have it shot up in his absence.
It was then that he got a look at the damage. The ends of the side stabilizers had been sheared clean off, including the smaller engines that controlled the yaw and pitch. Only the top-mounted stabilizer remained, so Crow would be more or less flying in straight lines for the remainder of this mission. Assuming, of course, he'd even be able to make a takeoff with the rear landing struts missing.
There wasn't anything he could do to make any repairs here, though, so he took a quick look around to get his bearings, then made a run for it.
The castle was built upon layer after layer of superstructure, towering above the rest of the Skybase. Radiating outward from it were symmetrical lines of buildings and constructs, most of which Billy did not recognize, and the entire area was abuzz with activity as cogs and other smaller robots went about their ceaseless toil in the name of the Machine Empire. Billy kept his laser pistol in hand as he made his way toward the center of the web, hugging the walls of the buildings as he went.
Suddenly, a small flying robot vaguely shaped like an eye dropped down out of the sky and hovered just a few feet away. Billy barely had time to register its presence before it began emitting a siren wail, and red lights flashed all around its spherical surface. The siren was echoed by a louder alarm which reverberated through the entire Skybase.
Cursing to himself, Billy took aim and shot the probe down, but the alarm klaxons continued. Time to move, he thought, as he continued hurrying along the side of the oblong structure he'd been skirting. Before he could get to far, however, a large panel opened up in the wall behind him, and about a dozen cogs streamed out, all of their glowing eyes intent upon him. Most of the cogs were the familiar silver foot-soldiers, but the front three were made of some sort of black metal. "Destroy the intruder!" the three leaders shouted in unison as the phalanx advanced.
Billy backpedaled along the wall, firing at the advancing cogs, but his laser shots seemed to be absorbed by the black cogs, and when hit, their eyes lit up just a fraction brighter, as though they were gaining power from the beams.
Before he could think to draw his other pistol, a second panel opened in the wall, this one right beside him, and another unit of cogs poured out, cutting off his path of retreat. Lacking an alternative, then, Billy broke cover and ran across the huge open space between radii of buildings. The cogs followed, firing eye-blasts erratically as they came. He didn't have much chance to return fire, but he was outpacing them pretty easily.
When he was about halfway between two adjacent lines of buildings, however, a single quadrafighter came swooping down out of the sky and settled down on its four landing struts right in front of him. The ship's weapons came around to bear upon him as the cog pilot repeated the words of the black-metal leaders: "Destroy the intruder!"
Wasting no time, Billy dropped his laser pistol, unslung and brought up the rocket rifle in one fluid motion, and fired straight into the body of the quadrafighter. The missile impacted before any of the ship's lasers could fire, and the entire fighter, pilot and all, went up in a fireball. Billy scooped up his pistol and continued running, taking cover behind the flaming wreck as his pursuers continued to close. He quickly holstered his laser, drew his rocket pistol, then continued his dash for the next row, firing a few rockets into the cog patrols as he retreated. The tiny missiles seemed to have an effect on the cog leaders, as one was blown apart by a lucky shot. The rest of them kept coming, though, still firing wildly at the retreating Ranger.
Billy made a beeline for the largest of the next row of buildings. It put him in mind of a warehouse: tall, square and nondescript, with vehicle-sized as well as humanoid-sized doors. He forced the latter open, dove inside, then used his laser to fuse the locking mechanism to the doorframe. He then looked around for something to barricade the door with.
There was almost no light in this building, but by the echoes of his footsteps, Billy guessed it to be mostly open space, again just like a warehouse. There were several large structures towering to the ceiling, and debris scattered everywhere. It looked like there had been quite a fight here at some point, as there were blast marks on the walls, and some of the debris consisted of huge robotic arms and legs, apparently ripped from or shot off of their former owners.
The cogs began pounding at the small doors, but the spot-welding job held for the moment. Billy wondered why they didn't simply blow it open, but now was not the time to question cog motives. There had to be someplace to hide in here, or something he could use to throw the cogs off his trail. He ran toward one of the towering structures and tried to make it out.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he suddenly realized what it was: a seventy-foot-tall robot monster, just like one of the many created by the Machine Empire to attack the Earth. This one looked rather like Punchabunch, the robotic boxer which had been designed to take on the Red BattleZord months before. It was dormant, and in serious disrepair, and as Billy looked closer, he saw the remains of dozens of brass-colored cogs, in pieces, strewn across the floor at its feet. Some still had tools clutched in their hands, while others held weapons, but neither tools nor weapons had managed to save them.
Billy knelt to examine the wreckage, completely baffled by what he saw. Not only had construction on the monster been stopped, it had apparently been stopped rather violently, and none of the cog parts had been recycled for new robots. To destroy his own work force in a fit of anger was certainly within King Mondo's temperament, but why leave all of these resources unused afterwards? It didn't make any sense.
"Psst! Ranger!" a familiar voice suddenly hissed. Billy immediately recognized the accented brogue as belonging to Klank, the Machine King's major-domo and chief of construction. He tried to take cover behind one of the giant robot's feet, but he had a sinking feeling it wouldn't do any good. He'd managed to escape the cogs for now, but in so doing he had walked right into the sights of Mondo's chief assistant.
"Ranger!" the voice called again, in a sort of whispered shout. "It willna' do ye any good t'hide!"
Holding his rocket pistol at the ready, Billy placed his back to the robot's foot and scanned as much of the warehouse as he could, trying to pick up any sign of his adversary. Nothing moved, however, and the only other sound was the rhythmic pounding of the cogs, still slamming away at the doors.
"C'mon out, Ranger," Klank continued. "I'd like t'have a word with ye."
Still holding his gun at the ready, Billy quietly moved out from his already questionable cover and started inching his way in the direction from which the voice had come. He just prayed he'd be able to get a shot off before Klank could do the same.
He carefully made his way across the parts-littered floor, taking care not to step on any pieces of cog. Still, though, the external microphones of his helmet picked up no sounds except the cogs at the door. Klank was hidden well, wherever he was.
"Okay, Klank, you've got me dead to rights," Billy called in reply. "Now why don't you show yourself? Where are you?"
"Right here, laddie," came Klank's response from very close by. Billy whirled and brought up his pistol, but there was no one there. "Look down!" the voice said, impatiently. For a while, Billy continued to scan the darkness, but still, there was no one there. Then, as instructed, he looked down.
Lying amidst the wreckage of cogs and other machine parts was Klank's severed head. Pieces of the robot's body lay scattered along with the rest of the debris, literally blown to fragments.
"Well, dinna just stand there, ye daft Ranger fool!" the head shouted. "Pick me up!"
* * *
To her dismay, Aisha was quickly discovering that she was far more out of practice than she had feared. The Yellow Lion was simple enough to fly (she could swear it was being patient with her and helping her out), but this battle was a far cry from her peaceful life on the savannah, and her memories of being a Power Ranger were distant to say the very least. After all, Aisha had memories of two different lives: that of living in California, eventually moving to Angel Grove and becoming a Power Ranger, and that of having been raised by her parents in Nairobi. She hadn't wanted to tell the others, but sometimes she barely remembered the specifics of being a Ranger.
Partially as a result of this, and partially as a result of the fact that the Yellow Lion's offensive systems far outweighed its defensive systems, she was getting hammered by the enemy ships. There were so many weapons at her disposal, so many options, that she barely knew where to start. She got the impression that the ship was doing most of the actual work, and that she was more or less along for the ride: this couldn't be good, and she knew it.
Thus, as she fought, she focused in on specific big-gun-type weapons and tried to use these exclusively as she attacked satellite after satellite, for the most part ignoring the dozens of fighters tracking her. The spine-mounted missile launcher was her favorite, though the sandblast was pretty effective, too, and covered a wider area.
Another dive at one of the platforms, another couple of missiles from the spine gun, and then the satisfaction of just shouldering her way through the debris as the structure blew. The sooner she and Kat and Jason could finish off these stations, the sooner they could combine and go for the source. She just wished that she and Trini hadn't been separated: a little cover-fire to keep the fighters off would be appreciated right about now.
Then, she felt a sharp, stinging pain in her side, echoed by an alert from the main console. Something had hit her! She barely had time to register this before another impact came, in almost the same place! She checked as much of the three-sixty scan as she could, and to her surprise, she realized that the claw-fighters following her had given up on firing, and were making kamikaze runs, smashing into the hull of the lion. Before she could bring any of the side-mounted lasers around to prevent this, another made the dive, and then another. Aisha felt the lion's pain as this section of the hull weakened, and her own side felt like it was on fire. The warnings on her console were louder and more insistent now, but she didn't know what to do, and this time the lion wasn't doing anything for her: it was in too much agony to act without her urging.
Finally, one ship, luckier than the rest, drilled right into the lion's side at top speed, blowing a hole in the outer hull. Aisha gasped with shock as numbing cold swept through her. She felt that she, too, had been opened to the void outside, and it was more agony than she could bear.
"Yellow Lion, come in! You've been breached!" came a voice, but she barely heard it. She was aware of nothing except the pain.
Off in the periphery, the voices continued. "Aisha, this is Skull! Come in! Jason, she's not responding!"
"Keep trying, man!"
"I've got an idea, but I'll need a second to grab something from the officers' quarters!"
"Okay, just hurry! Trini, can you get to where Yellow Lion is?"
"Negative! Too much fire on this end!"
"Jason, this is Adam! I'm on my way over to give her a hand!" The Yellow Lion, by this time, was flying aimlessly in a slow spiral, as several more claw-ships zeroed in. Rather than fire upon the ship, however, they came in and attached themselves to the hull just outside the gaping hole left by the last kamikaze run.
They were going to board her. They were going to board her, and she had no crew to fight them off. They'd come into the cockpit and gun her down, and she had no way of stopping it.
Then, as though from a great distance, she heard music. The music of her home, played on a single mbira. She recognized it as one of the traditional songs they had played and danced to around the fire the night before (had it only been the night before?), and by focusing on the never-ceasing rhythm, she was able to shut off the pain and bring her mind back to the here and now.
"Skull, what are you doing?" she heard, still from that great distance.
"Trust me, okay?! Come on, Aisha, snap out of it. This journey ain't over yet, kiddo."
At this point came a series of explosions from the outside as several of the fighters circling her like vultures were blown out of the sky by a blur of red. "Aisha, this is Adam. Do you read?"
The Red Lion's arrival took a considerable amount of attention off the Yellow Lion, but Aisha still had to contend with her boarders. A party of four android pilots had entered the ship, and were cautiously making their way down one of the access corridors, unaffected by the lack of atmosphere.
She focused all thought into the here and now, letting the music take her, and she felt herself back in touch with the lion. Now, she saw what she needed to do. The atmosphere generators had shut down automatically with the hull breach, and that entire section of the ship had been sealed off to avoid further decompression. Sensible move by the automatic systems, but also an expected one, no doubt. Maybe she needed to make things a little more comfortable for her invaders.
With that thought, she re-activated the environmental systems to the breached corridor, and turned them up full blast. All of the air pumped in was immediately sucked right out through the hole in the bulkheads, though, creating a hurricane-force wind which swept her would-be attackers out into space. She then reached up with one of the lion's hind legs and scraped off the attached ships, as though it were a dog scratching at fleas.
With the immediate danger passed, the repair systems began to kick in and seal the hole by beaming more matter into place. It would be plugged up within a few minutes, but at least she now had control back.
"Yellow Lion's back under control, guys," she panted.
"You okay out there, Aisha?" Jason asked.
"I'm fine now." It was then that she realized the music was still playing. She had thought that it was only in her mind, but now she realized it was coming in over her headset. "Is that Skull playing?" she asked.
"You found me out," Skull replied, not pausing in his song.
"Thanks, Eugene. Could you do me a favor and keep playing?"
"Anything for you, dear lady," he said in his haughty British voice.
Aisha paused a moment to smile at this, then dove back into battle to give Adam a hand in reply.
* * *
With no small amount of trepidation, Billy knelt to pick up Klank's head from the floor. He mirrored the robot's expressionless face with a baffled look of his own. For a moment, he got the impression he was in a bizarre staging of Hamlet. ("Alas, poor Klank. I knew him well, Horatio....")
"Tha's better," the head sighed. "It's aboot time someone arrived here, though I didna' think it would be you, Ranger."
"What's going on?" Billy asked, carefully. Before Klank could reply, there was a rumbling crash from the doors, heralding the arrival of the cogs. They had finally managed to bust through Billy's welding job, and they were pouring into the warehouse. He was hidden from them for the moment, but only for the moment.
"Quick," Klank said then. "There's a shielded compartment inside the monster where the cogs willna' be able to detect ye. I'll tell ye the way."
"Why should I believe you?" Billy asked, taking cover behind Punchabunch's foot. "You're King Mondo's most valued assistant. How can I trust you?"
Klank gave Billy a noise which sounded for all the world like a frustrated sigh. "Laddie, has it na' occurred to ye yet that maybe, jus' maybe, King Mondo isna' callin' the shots around here any longer?"
This had not, in fact, occurred to Billy, and the idea of it was somewhat stunning. This clicked into place several things which had been nagging at Billy all along: why had there been no contact from Mondo? Why no demands for surrender? Why none of the normal cog patrols and monsters? Why this prolonged siege, so out of character for the Machine King? Suddenly the entire siege made more sense. "Show me where to go, then."
Klank verbally led Billy through a small door in the robot's foot and up a long ladder into the aforementioned shielded compartment in the robot's midsection. Here, Billy set Klank down and listened for a while. The footsteps of the cogs were plainly audible outside, but none of them seemed to be investigating the wreck of Punchabunch.
"Okay," Billy said, quietly, "if King Mondo isn't in charge, what happened?"
"'Twas the witch, Haggar," Klank explained. "Several days ago she usurped the King and Queen, and took full control of the Empire, sendin' thousands of well-made cogs to a fiery peril in her foolhardy attack on yuir world. Did she care about how many of 'em she was throwin' away, sendin' 'em agin' ye? Nay, she didna' care."
"Did she do this to you?" Billy asked, indicating Klank's body-less state.
"Aye. As soon as she took control, she decided tha' Orbus an' I were na' fit t'serve her. An' we tol' the witch tha' we wouldna' serve her anyhow after what she did t'the royal family. We retreated here, to our main workshop, hopin' t'find somethin' t'use against her, but t'no avail. She jus' blasted us. I lost m'body, but puir Orbus... didna' have a chance against her magic. There was nothin' left of the puir wee bairn but scrap."
To Billy's surprise, Klank sounded genuinely remorseful at the demise of his partner in evil, but something else in Klank's answer had caught his attention. "Wait, back up a bit. What did she do to the royal family?"
Klank sighed again. "She... Och, laddie, they're changed now. King Mondo, Queen Machina... even the wee Prince Sprocket. She made 'em into mindless beasts, servin' only t' her will."
"Robeasts," Billy whispered.
* * *
Trini gripped her controls as something hit the Green Lion hard and sent it spinning off course. The feeling she got from it was unlike any of the laser shots or occasional kamikaze ships that had hit her: this was something much bigger, and much stronger.
And, from a glance at her scanners, much faster. It had literally zipped in, slammed her, and zipped back out again before the agile Green Lion could draw a bead on it. "Guys, there's something strange out here!" she warned the others. "It's faster and stronger than any of the normal ships!"
"I read you, Green Lion," Jason replied. "Bulk, try to scan for it!"
"I'm working on it," Bulk's voice chimed in. "Holy moley, what... what is that? Blue Lion! It's heading your way!"
"I see it, Bulk," Kat confirmed. "I'll try to get a visual before I take a shot..."
"I'm with you, Blue Lion," Adam reported. "I'll try to give you some cover before... Aaahh!!"
"Red Lion, report!!" Jason shouted.
"This thing packs a lot of punch!" Adam replied. "Lion Torches aren't doing much! Switching to missiles!"
Trini scanned for the location of this fight within the fight, and brought Green Lion around on an intercept course. "Green Lion coming in for backup!" she transmitted.
"Firing stingray missiles!" Kat added. "I've got visual! It's... Oh, no!"
"What is it, Blue Lion?" Jason demanded.
A visual of the enemy was uploaded to one of Trini's auxiliary screens. The thing was a monster, no mistake about it. Its head was tipped with sharp spikes, standing up in a circle like some kind of crown. The arms and legs were too short for the bulbous body, but the thing was moving with unbelievable speed, knocking the Red and Blue Lions around like toys.
"I think it's Prince Sprocket!" Kat said, aghast.
"Geez, what happened to him?" Adam gasped.
"He's a robeast!" Kat replied. "They made him into a robeast!"
"Jason, I don't think we can take this guy with the lions!" Adam reported, nervously. "I've barely scratched him!"
"Maybe we'd better hook up into the combined form," Trini suggested.
"No, we've got too many bogeys up here to take on in one form," Jason replied. "I've got a better idea, though."
* * *
Once the onslaught of incoming ships had ceased, Tommy had set the Phoenix down in the salt plains southeast of the Power Chamber and teleported himself back into the base. It seemed like forever since the last time he'd been here, listening to Billy's plan to repel the invaders way back when the siege had begun.
All too quickly, he realized the Power Chamber was doing about as well power-wise as the Phoenix had been, but with Zero and Eric no longer firing, it was a little better off. He spent the first few minutes at the teleportation controls, re-establishing locks on the other four zords. He wanted to be sure he could get them all together if need be.
As he was finishing up these calculations, Jason's voice came over his communicator. "Black Lion to Red Ranger! Tommy, you there?"
"I'm here, bro! What's up?"
"Does the name Prince Sprocket mean anything to you, man?"
"Yeah! He's the Machine King's son! Obnoxious little dude, too."
"Well, he's looking a lot more than obnoxious right now! He's a robeast!"
"Oh, man," Tommy gasped, looking over at the holo-globe, to see three of the orbiting lion-blips clustered around a much larger enemy blip.
"Listen, bro, how soon could you get the Zeo MegaZord up here to take this puppy down?"
"I'm way ahead of you, Black Lion!" Tommy grinned, rushing back to the controls. "We'll be there quick as we can!" He then switched over to call the Rangers. "Power Rangers, this is Tommy! They need the MegaZord in orbit! I'm going to teleport you back here one at a time so we can assemble!"
"Finally, some real action!" Rocky cheered.
"Careful what you wish for, Rocky," Tanya warned.
"Okay, here's the plan," Tommy transmitted. "I'll bring in Kim and Tanya first, then Rocky, then Zack. That way if power runs out, hopefully we'll at least have the two slower-moving zords here. Nothing personal, ladies."
"Rocky, maybe me and you'd better start heading back that way just in case power does run out," Zack suggested.
"Cool with me. I'm on my way!"
By this time Tommy had established the first teleportation lock. "Kim, are you ready?"
"Ready!" she called back.
Tommy keyed in the commands to teleport the Zeo I zord from the top of Mount Wilhelm to the salt-flats, near where he'd bailed the Phoenix. The lights dimmed, but power held for the moment, and Kim and her zord materialized out in the desert.
"One down, three to go!" Kim reported.
"Tanya, stand by!" Tommy called, then re-established a lock and brought the Zeo II zord in as well. The lights dimmed again, darker than before, and Tommy thought he heard a strange noise coming from the generators far below. But Tanya and her zord had made it across.
"Rocky, the power level's getting pretty low here," Tommy went on. "I don't know if I'll be able to get you here."
"I haven't even made it into Central America yet," Rocky replied. "If we're in a hurry, you'd better try it anyway."
"Okay, here goes," Tommy nodded, getting a lock and initiating the transport sequence. As he pressed the command key, though, the lights went out completely, and Tommy heard what sounded like a large electrical explosion from beneath the Power Chamber. All that remained was the glow of Zordon's stasis tube and a few flashing lights on the main console, reporting that the backup generators had gone out, leaving the Power Chamber helpless except for a few hours of stored reserves. Which meant, quite simply, that if they didn't somehow restore power, Zordon would die.
But if they stayed to help Zordon, Jason and the others might get killed in orbit, and that would spell doom for the already weakened planet-bound Rangers, not to mention the rest of the world.
Then there was no choice. They would have to finish this battle quickly, then return to help Zordon before his time ran out. "Rocky," he called, using his wrist communicator this time. "Did the transport work?"
"It was a little rough, but I made it in one piece."
"Good. Zack, we've lost all power here; how close are you?"
"I'll be there in two minutes!" Zack replied.
"Let's get set to bring it together, then!" Tommy broadcast to all his teammates. He then set his controls to teleport back to the Phoenix. Before he disappeared, though, he looked to the empty blue stasis tube. "We won't let you down, Zordon!" he said to his absent leader, then jetted out in a flash of red.
By the time Tommy had returned to the Phoenix and gotten it airborne, Zack was just arriving, and his friends' four zords were going through the transformation sequence, coming together in the large humanoid Zeo MegaZord form. He glanced at his own power reserves, and realized he would be making the docking with less than two hours of usable power remaining, but once docked with the MegaZord, the five zords would pool their energy, making the whole stronger.
The Bull and Sphinx came together to form the arms and torso of the combined form, then settled in to dock with the I and II zords, which served as the MegaZord's legs. Soon all that remained was for Tommy to bring the Phoenix in to dock with the others, forming the head, shoulders, and most importantly the wings.
Docking was completed, and Tommy's pilot chair carried him through the floor of the Phoenix's cockpit and down into the control room of the MegaZord, where his four fellow Rangers were also just arriving.
"Together again!" Zack laughed, reaching across the small space of the control room to high-five first Rocky, then Tommy. He tried to reach Kimberly, but found the cramped conditions too awkward to do so.
"I wouldn't have missed it for anything, man," Tommy nodded. "I hate to break up the reunion, but we're on borrowed time right now. If we can't finish this and get back to the Power Chamber to fix the generators, Zordon won't survive."
"Then let's get up there!" Tanya urged.
"Right!" Tommy agreed. "Let's take this thing into orbit!"
* * *
With his laser pistol held in his right hand and Klank's head tucked football-style with his left arm, Billy emerged from the workshop, back out into the open. There was a lot of commotion out here, probably due to the alarm that had been sounded, not to mention the fact that the Voltron lions were doubtless causing great havoc outside the shield-dome.
"Where're ye goin'?" Klank hissed as Billy broke cover and dashed for the next row of structures. "If ye want t'take on the witch, ye'll find her in the castle!"
"I'm not going after her yet!" Billy panted. "I've got to help my friends first!"
"An' how are ye goin' t'do that from here?" Billy took the first cover he could find, flattening himself against the high wall of a featureless structure. Thankfully, no one seemed to be paying him much attention at this point. "I was hoping to knock out communications between the Skybase and the other satellites, so my friends would have a better shot out there."
"Not a bad thought," Klank mused. "But ye dinna have any idea where t'go t'do this, do ye?"
"A minor technicality."
"Ranger," Klank said then, in a very serious tone. "What if I were t'tell ye tha' I could show ye a way t'not only cease communications between the base and the satellites, but t'sever contact between the base an' every robot pilot, cog or otherwise, in orbit?"
This startled Billy somewhat, and he looked down at Klank's head. "I'd say that would certainly help my friends out."
"What if I were also t'tell ye tha' once this was done, I could show ye a way t'blow the entire Skybase t'smithereens, taking out each of the satellites in a chain reaction as ye did?"
Something was wrong with this. "What are you saying, Klank?"
"I'm sayin' I'd like t'propose a deal with ye, Ranger."
"I don't know if I'm ready to make a deal with you."
"We've got a common enemy!" Klank pressed. "The Machine Empire has fallen, laddie, an' I want t'see tha' witch go down with it just as much as you do! I'd rather see every last cog an' every last fighter destroyed than have 'em serve her!"
"You're serious, aren't you?" Billy asked, amazed.
"Aye, laddie. Quite serious."
"What kind of deal are you proposing, then?"
"'Tis quite simple. We'll knock out the milit'ry command base first, then sneak into the main processing plants in the commotion tha' follows. I'll show ye how t'set up a timed explosion that'll blow the base."
"And in return for this?"
"In return I want your word of honor tha' yuill take tha' witch on after ye set up the explosive device."
Billy blinked in confusion. "Won't blowing up the whole base be enough?"
"Perhaps, laddie, but only if she's here when it goes up. 'Twould be nothin' for her t'escape once she knew it was comin'. But if ye were to keep her busy in a battle as the timer ticked away...."
"Then she wouldn't escape," Billy said, soberly. And neither would he, he realized.
"Aye." Klank agreed.
Billy took a deep breath and considered his options. "Deal," he said, quietly. "You have my word as a Power Ranger."
* * *
With both hands on the navigation controls, Tommy rocketed the Zeo MegaZord through the upper atmosphere and out into space, the dark blue of the sky turning gradually to starry black.
"Hull integrity looks good," Rocky reported from his station. "Space-travel configuration is a go."
"I've got the fight on scanners," Zack added. "I'm plotting a course now."
"Let's keep our heads, guys," Tommy reminded them. "Kim, Tanya, how are the weapons looking?"
"It looks like everything's charged and ready," Kim replied.
Tanya's news was less encouraging. "The zords' power sources have combined, but between the five of us, we're barely at half strength. We won't be able to sustain an offensive for too long before everything runs dry on us."
"Then we'll have to end it quickly," Tommy nodded. "We'll bust out the sword as soon as we're in range, and take this robeast out ASAP."
"I can't believe it!" said Rocky. "Prince Sprocket as a robeast?" They drew closer to the scene of the main battle, where the Blue, Green and Red Lions were ganging up on a much larger beast, while dozens of fighters swarmed the outskirts of the melee, taking shots at the lions as they did.
"Believe it, Rock," Tommy replied, softly, as he got a good look at what had once been the Crown Prince of the Machine Empire. "Man, look what they did to him!"
"Red Lion to Zeo MegaZord!" Adam's voice came over the comlink. "Glad to see you guys up here!"
"Fifteen seconds to engage!" Tommy called back. "Adam, Kat, Trini, I want you three to break off as soon as we're in range!"
"You got it!" Trini agreed. "We'll try to keep those fighters off you!"
"We appreciate that, Green Lion," Tommy grinned. "Okay, Kim, Tanya, charge up the MegaZord Saber!" He brought the MegaZord's hands together, materialized the great sword, then took a massive swipe at the Sprocket robeast as they rocketed past it. The sword cut into one side of the monster, but only seemed to make it angry. The three lion ships scattered to take on the fighters as the MegaZord spun around to make another charge.
"Tommy, we won't be able to keep the Saber formed for very long!" Tanya reminded him.
"Let's not waste any time," Tommy nodded. "Rocky, I want you to concentrate shield power against Sprocket. I think the fighters are gonna leave us alone."
"Got it!" Rocky reported, flashing Tommy the thumbs-up. Sprocket roared a mighty roar -- or at least he appeared to do so, as the sound did not carry through the empty space between them. He brought up his stubby arms and literally launched both hands at the MegaZord. Tommy managed to block one with the sword, but the other latched onto the MegaZord's left arm. Warning lights immediately began to flash throughout the entire cockpit.
"That thing punched straight through the shields!" Rocky shouted. "It's draining our power!" Tanya cried. "It's somehow leeching off our power reserves!"
"Man!" Zack growled. "That thing must know we're hurtin' for power!"
"Kim, try to shoot it off!" Tommy ordered.
"I can't get a clean shot at it with any of the guns!" Kim replied. "It's in too close!"
"Okay, first things first, then!" Tommy shouted, resuming his charge on Sprocket. He made another broad sweep with the sword, again cutting deeply into the beast's structure. This time there were several explosions from Sprocket's chassis, and he was knocked back a considerable distance by the force of the blow.
Once they were clear, Tommy transferred the sword to the zord's left hand, then used the right to grab hold of the robeast's claw and tear it free. It came loose amidst a shower of sparks, and Tommy flung it away from them as hard as he could.
"The hull's breached!" Rocky shouted. "I've isolated the damaged sections!"
"Nice job, Rock," Tommy nodded. "Now let's finish this guy!" They spun around again to charge the reeling Sprocket. The robeast turned sluggishly, then fired several powerful lasers at them as they drew closer. The shields held, though, and Tommy brought the sword around in an arc that cleaved straight through the robeast's midsection. Sprocket hovered there in place for a moment, as though bewildered at the force of the blow, then went up in a huge fireball that blew the MegaZord back across several miles of space.
"Disengaging MegaZord Saber!" Tommy shouted, dematerializing the sword. "What's our status, guys?"
"Shields are holding, and the hull breach doesn't seem to have limited our motion any," Rocky told him.
"Weapons systems are fine," Kimberly added. "No damage to the Saber."
"How's power?" he asked, looking over at Tanya's station.
She shook her head. "Not so good. We didn't take any major damage, so I can cut off the auto-repair systems to save us a little strength."
"Do it," Tommy agreed.
"Incoming transmission from Jason," Zack said, suddenly. "I'm putting it through."
"Black Lion to MegaZord," Jason's voice came. "Nice job, you guys! Looks like the gang's all here!"
"We're glad to be in good company, Black Lion," Tommy grinned. "Listen, bro, you've been up here longer than we have. Where do you want us?"
"Well, we could use a hand with the...."
Kat interrupted at this point. "I've got something on the long-range scan!" she cried. "Two incoming blips! I'm trying to get a fix on them!"
Rocky and Tommy exchanged glances. "You don't think that's...." Rocky began, but could not finish the thought.
"I don't know," Tommy whispered. He then turned to Zack. "See if you can get 'em on the scanners!"
"I see 'em," Zack nodded. "Two bogeys, coming in fast. I'll try to get a visual."
As Zack worked away at his controls, Kat's voice came once again over the speakers. "I think we've got big trouble," she said in a tight voice.
"I'm putting the bogeys on the main viewer," Zack reported. Two specks appeared against the blackness of space, then grew in size as they approached. Gradually, they were able to make out some details.
One looked quite similar to the Sprocket beast, but intensified, with longer and sharper crown-spikes, immense claws at the ends of short arms, a spinning wheel of jagged blades mounted on its back, and a weapon clenched in one clawed fist, resembling a staff or a scepter of some kind. The other was taller, narrower, and apparently unarmed, but looked no less deadly, possessing gleaming metallic claws and fangs.
"Mondo and Machina," Tanya whispered.
"I hate to be the bringer of bad news," Zack said, quietly, "but according to my readings, each one of those is at least three times the size of that Sprocket dude."
"Talk to me, Rangers!" Jason's voice came over the speakers. "What are these things?"
"They're Prince Sprocket's parents!" Tommy called back. "And they look ticked!"