The Angel Grove Botanical Plaza was a warzone that day. Fierce explosions ripped up cement, uprooting trees from their planters. The air stank of burning, no flower was left unscorched, and five Rangers battled not just for the city, but for their own survival. It was another day with the Psychos. Pink was out of the picture yes, but Red, Blue, Black and Yellow put up a marvelous fight without her. Even five-against-four, the Rangers were on the losing end.
The individual fights were intense... "How much do you--unnghh!--practice every day??" Ashley snarled as she took a blow to the kidneys.
"I don't practice," smirked Psycho Yellow. "I'm just naturally good."
"Right, and that's sillicon chest-padding you got there."
There was no verbal retort, only a steel-armored shin administered to Ashley's ribs. "...who are you?" she groaned. "The Bionic Woman?"
Nearby, Carlos was having decent luck with Psycho Black for a change. To his proud surprise, he was getting a few hits in. "A little off your form today eh?" he taunted.
"What's your excuse?" retorted Psycho Black, throwing a wide hook which Carlos evaded easily.
"Just thought I'd check in, seeing as how you promised me a decent fight this time."
"The fight is young, Black Ranger."
"Yeah, well it's not too late for you to lose!" With that, Carlos fired the knockout punch in Psycho Black's direction. But the villain caught it just inches from impact.
"When Rangers fly.." Black shot back. Then Carlos was seen to soar over all their heads, and land unceremoniously in the reflecting pool.
Meanwhile, Psycho Blue didn't talk nearly as much while he trounced his opponant. It was all TJ could do to keep him busy. "So did you hear the one about the Preist, the Ranger and the Psycho Ranger?" TJ asked.
Psycho Blue slammed his fist into a wall where TJ's head had just been. "I must have missed that one."
TJ ducked a kick to his head. "What do you get when a Preist, a Ranger, and a Psycho Ranger go out fishing together?"
"A Psycho Ranger, and bait."
Lastly, Psycho Red and Andros fought like demons, silently trading blow after blow. No energy was wasted on chit-chat. Flashing in the sun, the Spiral Saber was the only thing standing between Andros and certain defeat.
But suddenly, it went flying out of reach. Andros's hand stung from Psycho Red's precision kick. Now the evil Ranger caught him by the throat and slammed him down on the hood of a car. To Andros's dismay, he felt his windpipe close in his enemy's crushing grip.
The Psycho's shining visor hovered close. "I can't wait till I win, Rancid Ranger."
"Invite me...to the victory party..." Andros choked out.
"Hah! You won't feel like celebrating in just a few moments--"
"And neither will you!" cried a female voice. Before Psycho Red could look up, the Pink Ranger landed on his back and tore him away. He lost hold of Andros as he and Pink rolled together on the ground. Luckily though, he came out on top.
"NONE of YOUR...BUSINESS!" he barked, punching her in the gut to emphasize each word. But Red Ranger recovered quickly, coming up from behind to smash the Spiral Saber over Psycho Red's head. Two surprises in a row left him dazed.
Helping Cassie to her feet, Andros moved protectively in front of her. "You wanted me, Psycho Red! Try to stick with me!"
"I can take you both on!" he boasted, even as he struggled to get back on his feet. But his effort was decieving. When Andros and Cassie charged in to attack, two bolts of burning electricity surged from the Psycho's fists, putting them both out of commission.
Cassie fell in a heap on the cement. Andros was blasted across the Plaza and went tumbing up against a cement tree planter. He lay still after impact, completely out cold. Psycho Red began to laugh.
A certain Yellow Ranger had seen the whole thing, and cried out, "Andros, get up! He's coming!" But Andros was oblivious to her warning, and to Psycho Red's approach. Red picked up the Spiral Saber on his way over to make the kill.
Her protective instincts kicking in, Ashley turned to Psycho Yellow and hit her several times in quick succession. Then she swept the young villainess to the ground. "Be right back!" she said, and went after Psycho Red.
The leader of the Psychos was surprised by her attack , and found himself nearly outmatched this time. He was unfamiliar with Yellow's style of fight. However, he was not to be taken down by his arch enemy's girlfriend. Quick like lightning, he had her helmet under his arm.
"It'll be ladies first, then!" he said.
In a burst of sparks, he smashed his fist into her helmet. She crumpled to the ground, stunned.
"Ashley, hang on!!" cried the other Rangers. But they were too busy or injured to help her. Psycho Red let her stand up as he drew back to take a running charge. The Plaza echoed with the Pink Ranger's scream of "Ashley, LOOK OUUUTT!!"
The Yellow Ranger barely saw it coming. The brutal blow impacted with tremendous force, then she sank, screaming, to the ground while a wound spouted sparks from her chest.
Cackles of laughter went up from Psycho Red, but he had little time to cheer. In a moment of dizzy confusion, he and the other Psychos were swept away. The Rangers were left alone in the Plaza, without having caused a single lasting bit of damage to their enemies. Ashley, Andros, and Cassie however, were a different story.
The two Rangers left standing ran to one of their injured friends. Carlos knelt over Andros's body, and tried hopelessly to shake him awake. Ashley, meanwhile, was having a tough time holding onto consciousness.
"T-teej..?" she gasped, shaking violently with shock.
"Right here, Ash. Try to stay awake."
"I c-can't see..."
Just then, a motorcycle roar made them all look up. Zhane had arrived, but obviously too late. He stood there in shock and dismay until Cassie reached out to him, requesting his help. Silently he helped her rise and cross the plaza to where her friends were, but upon their arrival they found Ashley had gone limp in TJ's arms.
"Ashley don't, c'mon... Stay with me. Stay with me!"
A mild groan came from nearby. Andros was waking finally. Anticipating the Red Ranger's reaction, Carlos placed himself between Andros and his friends so he couldn't see the state they were in.
"I got here as soon as I could," lamented Zhane, for what it was worth. Cassie swallowed her pain and sighed, "We've got some recovering to do."
Soft beeps signaled the rhythm of Ashley's heart, as she lay in the infirmary a day later. Even softer came the whoosh of the machine that kept her breathing. Only once before had these machines kept alive someone in such a state of injury, and that time it had taken two years for him to make it back.
Soft beeps signaled the rhythm of Ashley's heart, as she lay in the infirmary a day later. Softer came the whoosh of the machine that kept her breathing. Only once before had these machines supported someone in such a state of injury, and that time it had taken two years for him to make it back.
Leaning in the doorframe across the room, Andros fingered the bandage plastered over his stomach. Both he and Cassie were covered with electrical burns, worst at the point of entry. Andros also had a metal crutch assisting his right leg. The tumble across the Plaza had wrenched it, and parts of the ankle were crushed. Generally he was a mess. A fact that disgusted him.
But he at least was breathing on his own. Ashley probably wasn't even aware of her own presence in the room. More life functions had been damaged than anyone wanted to count, and the slightest pause in her heart rhythm gave Andros chills of terror. As he watched over her, he wished he could give his life to salvage hers. But alas, he could only wait for her to fight her own way home.
Slowly, he limped his way to her bedside and pulled up a stool to sit on. He leaned his crutch against the wall and took up her hand in his, giving her a few moments' silent regard.
"You have to get well," he insisted, barely above a whisper. "You've got to promise me...please..."
Of course, she did not reply; did not even indicate whether she heard him, but he gave her time anyway, stroking her fingers as the moments beeped by.
Then there was a small rustle at the doorway, where he had just been. He looked, but saw nothing, and assumed it was just his imagination. Meanwhile, in the hallway, Zhane headed away from the door, having seen his share of suffering already.
The Silver Ranger drifted slowly down the hall with despair on his mind. No coherent ideas bothered him, he just heard music, loud and angry. The mental drums pounded mercilessly, giving him a headache and making it grow until tears formed in his eyes. He inclined his head and tried not to blink, because the last thing he wanted to do was cry.
So instead, he roared and slammed his fist into the wall.
It was a move that prompted immediate regret, because now his hand hurt too. He slid down the wall in defeat. Was there no escaping pain today?
"They say bulkheads aren't the best outlet for frustration," Cassie's voice drifted to him from down the hall. Zhane lowered his moist eyes. "That's what they say. But everyone else is hurting, why not me?"
She approached him slowly and crouched down to his level. "Do you blame yourself for what happened to us? Cause if you do you'd be pulling an Andros, and I'd be forced to hurt you more."
He rolled his eyes at her. "I'm not pulling an Andros. I only know one guy who does that. I'm just angry that it happened and that I wasn't there to help..."
"Why weren't you?"
"'Cause I ran into Ecliptor."
"You what?" she cried. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"Calm down, he wasn't there to fight me. I don't know why he was there really, he was trying to talk about Karone."
"No, 'Karone'. He called her Karone, and he told me to stay away from her or he'd make me eat his sword."
"Sounds like more of a jealous-big-brother remark, than an evil-arch-nemesis one."
"I know, I can't stop thinking about it. It was like his programming was messed up somehow, like he's reverting back to the way he was before, when he actually cared about Karone on some level. If only the same would happen to her, she could stop the Psychos and keep you guys from getting hurt anymore..."
He trailed off and his eyes fell away from Cassie's. "I just want all the suffering to end."
The Pink Ranger bowed her head, tuning into the feeling they all felt by now. "I'm tired of it too," she assured. "But we did take out one of theirs already. It's just a matter of time till the rest of them go down as well."
A ripple of bitterness crossed Zhane's features. "How do you know it's not their turn? Ashley's lying in there right now, ready to--"
Before he could finish, Cassie grabbed his arm--the one he slammed the wall with, so she had his attention.
"Alright, listen up, don't you dare make it harder for her than it already is. She's counting on you to see her through this..."
"Andros is the one she needs, not me."
"Wrong. In case you hadn't noticed, you're another bright spot in her life. Can't you see that? When Andros is feeling gloomy, she turns to you to get her feeling positive again. She needs to feel positive, it's just in her nature. Right now she needs you more than ever..."
Zhane blinked several times, searching her eyes. He had never thought of himself as part of Ashley's world. But then again, she did tend to draw on his energies when morale was down.
"She leans on me? You're sure?" he asked.
"Positive," she replied, finally letting go of his arm.
Zhane took a long, cleansing breath and composed himself. "Can I go now?" he asked gently, showing her his swollen hand.
Cassie helped him to his feet. Zhane left her with a small smile and headed back up the corridor. He had the energy now to spare his hurting friend...
When he peeked in the door, Andros had his head down on the edge of the bed. At first Zhane thought he was crying, or praying, but he was simply asleep. The room was peacefully quiet, with only the gentle hiss of the respirator.
So...where was Ashley's heartbeat?
"Andros wake up!" Zhane hollered, darting to the bedside. The Red Ranger jerked awake and immediately sensed something wrong.
"What happened?" he cried.
"I dunno, I just got here. Her pulse has quit.."
"Well we gotta get it back!"
"I know, I'm trying!"
Zhane was punching buttons, trying to discover how long Ashley had been without a pulse. Andros stopped and restarted the machinery, to see if there was a malfunction. But still Ashley's heart didn't beat.
"Let go of her hand, man.." said Zhane, attatching two tiny electrodes to her forehead. "Charging. Keep clear..."
Ka-CHUNK! went the machines. Ashley spasmed and fell, and nothing else happened.
"Again!" said Andros.
Ka-CHUNK! went the machines.
Zhane tuned out everything but his message to her. "We're waiting for you Ashley..."
Then...BEEP! said the heart monitor, and it kept on beeping as her heart pumped strongly again.
Andros all but collapsed, as the others ran in. They started asking questions, none of which were heard by the two most-relieved Rangers. Shaking like jello, Andros picked up Ashley's hand again and pressed it to his lips. Then he looked at Zhane and whispered, "Thanks..."
The Silver Ranger nodded, reassuring both himself and his friend. "She'll be back, man... count on that."
"Have you been here the whole time?" she asked weakly.
Zhane shook his head. "No, it was Andros. He stayed all night and wouldn't leave until we threatened to sedate him."
"I thought it was him," she giggled. "You made him miss me waking up. You'll be in trouble now, huh?"
He gave her his most dashing smile. "Not if you reenact it for him later."
Her laughter was again like the glistening ocean. Then it calmed and she squeezed Zhane's hand, simply enjoying being alive.
"Shall I get him for you?" he asked. "He'll want to welcome you back to this world."
"Please," she answered eagerly.
"You gotta give him time, he's on a crutch."
"It's ok, I'm not going anywhere."
He nodded, and got to his feet. "Uh...thanks, Ashley."
She seemed confused by this gesture. "For what?"
"Defending Andros from Psycho Red...and for pulling through. I could've lost either one of you but instead I've got both."
"Well hey," she shrugged. "For you, anytime..."
Without letting things get too heavy, he left her with a smile and headed for Andros's quarters. The Karovan Lover would be anxious to see his Earth Girl. It was all cool with Zhane.
When he arrived at Andros's door, he pressed the chime and waited. Five seconds went by with no response. He rang the chime again. "Andros? Answer the door, Ashley's awake."
Even that prompted no response. Zhane swallowed a bit of worry. Quickly, he typed in the private access code that supposedly only Andros knew. The door started to slide open, showing nothing but darkness beyond...
..then suddenly, a heavy weight slumped out against Zhane's legs. It was Andros's bruised and beaten body, along with the metal crutch that was now twisted into the form of a giant paperclip.
There was only one answer: the Psychos had breached the ship. In a moment of clarity, Zhane realized what must have happened, for he couldn't remember the last time he'd heard DECA. The Psychos must have disabled her, then boarded the ship and fanned out, stalking their prey. There was no way to know if Carlos, TJ and Cassie were alright, but Psycho Yellow would know just where to find Ashley.
Zhane thought fast. He knew where Ashley was, and there was a slim chance Psycho Yellow hadn't reached her yet. Psycho Red had left Andros for dead already, so there was a bit of time left there. The other three were a different story; Zhane could do nothing for them now.
So he gingerly eased Andros back through the door, whispering "Hang in there man, she still needs you!" Then he took off like a broken field runner down the hall. When he burst in the infirmary doorway, Ashley was right where he had left her.
"Thank gods," he muttered, heading for a closet next to the bed. She sensed his mood and sat up. "Hey, what's going on?" Her question went ignored for now. He grabbed a box of first aid supplies from the cabinet, dumped it in her lap, and scooped her up into his arms. "You've got a visitor on the way, and she's not here to bring flowers."
Zhane carried her out into the hallway, checking it first for stray Psychos, then hurried to the nearest Megalift shaft. No sooner had they slipped inside when they heard bootsteps tramping down the hall.
"There she is..." Ashley whispered. Zhane let the door close.
"Come on, I don't wanna be around when she finds you're not where you're supposed to be." He took her as quickly as he could to the Engine Room. There, they punched in the access code for the secret cryo chamber. Shielded from even the internal sensors, this room would hopefully keep them hidden until the Psycho Rangers left. But first, Zhane had to gather all his friends and get them there.
Ashley was settled in quickly, dipping into the first aid supplies while Zhane went back for Andros. Thankfully, Psycho Red hadn't returned to check on his victim.
"Easy does it..." Zhane murmured as he lay his friend out on the floor of Andros's quarters. Andros flopped where he put him, looking even worse than before, with his cuts bleeding out and his bruises turning an ugly shade of painful. But miraculously he was alive, and seemed determined to stay that way. Zhane took the neccesary risk of moving him, and soon he was slipping limply into Ashley's arms.
"He was left for dead," Zhane reported grimly as they did what they could for him. "You have to take care of him while I go look for the others. Okay?"
Ashley was clearly shaken by all this, especially so soon after waking up from her own nightmare, but immediately gave him the nod. "Don't let them find you, Zhane."
He promised, "They won't even know I'm there." With one last encouraging glance, he left them alone in the dark chamber. Ashley turned her attention to her patient; only his shallow breathing indicated that he was alive. Other than that he looked like a corpse, but no way would Ashley let him consider that option. She began to stroke his head, trying not to think about the cryonics equipment waiting nearby.
Zhane felt like a mouse as he snuck down the hallways, listening for danger at every turn. The slightest sound made him freeze stock-still, eyes darting everywhere for the source of it. He swore he'd never kill another rodent in his lifetime.
He reached the section of corridor where he had spoken to Cassie less than an hour before. Of course she was not there but this was where he would start looking. If his instincts were correct, the bridge would be under Psycho control, and so any use of the computers would be detected. This would be a strictly visual search. Zhane was also counting on the fact that the Psychos enjoyed a good hunt so they wouldn't use the sensors to seek him out.
But it was still a big ship. Where could the others be?
The sound of voices caused him to freeze again. Two voices, male, and heading in this direction. Were they the men Zhane was looking for, or the ones who were looking for him?
"Black went down so easy," one of them snarled in a jovial way. It was two of the Psychos, and Zhane immediately hid in a ladder-well nearby. The villain went on, "I thought I was off my form, but he took that final blow like he was looking forward to it."
"I saw the whole thing," said the second one. "If you ask me, he's out of the way for a loong time..."
They both snickered like hyenas and passed by the Silver Ranger without noticing. Zhane didn't see which colors they were. His mind was in turmoil: they must be talking about Carlos!
He moved on eventually, slipping further down the hall. The bridge was coming up on the left; if he wasn't on high alert before, he was now.
But one step further caused a loud crunch beneath his boot. Zhane nearly had a stroke, but no one had heard him. He glanced down to see tiny golden shards scattered about on the floor. They were pieces of Alpha's cranial dome.
Alpha! He had completely forgotten about their automaton assistant. What had the Psychos done to him that would cause pieces of his head to be scattered on the floor?
They weren't the only things down there. A few coils, burned wiring, and one of poor Alpha's hands lay among the debris. Not to mention a little black cross Zhane knew belonged to Carlos. He picked up the two distinctive items with a feeling of such remorse...
..that he didn't notice he was being watched.
Ever so quietly, he was snuck up upon, and a dark-skinned hand reached for his shoulder. TJ barely had to touch him.
"Shhhh!" ordered the Blue Ranger. A commotion sounded on the bridge, and the two men dashed for cover, hiding in the nearest Megalift. They almost made it, and then Zhane had to help TJ limp the rest of the way.
"Man, I bet you sucked at hide-and-seek, didn't you?" panted TJ.
"Never played that. How bad are you hurt?"
"I'll survive," he said, even though as Zhane looked at him, he could see the Blue Ranger wasn't much better off than Andros. "Psycho Blue's never seen me play possum."
Zhane let out a bit of relief. "I'm glad I found you. I've been looking all over the ship..."
"They got Andros and Ashley, didn't they?" TJ asked, in a unique moment of pessimism. Zhane was glad to tell him otherwise.
"No, they're in hiding. I'm not gonna say where out loud, but Ashley's taking care of him while I look for you guys. He took it pretty bad from Psycho Red." TJ cringed in sympathy. Zhane reached for the door release. "Come back to safety with me so I can go look for Carlos and Cassie..."
"I've got Cassie. She's hurt too, she's in the.." he paused, remembering not to say it out loud. "C'mon I'll take you there."
Together they made their way to the Jump Bay, and TJ climbed the Jump Deck steps. A rope was tied to the handlebar above his tube. On the other end hung a sheet-cocoon with Cassie wrapped inside.
"Last place I would've looked," Zhane commended, hauling her up with great care. TJ had bandaged a cut on her forehead and bound her right arm tight to her body.
"Psycho Red did it," TJ muttered with a scowl. "I found her in here after I saw him leave. It was all I could do to get her up in the jumptube, then I came to see if I could find anyone else. You're the first person I ran into."
"Same here. I'm hoping the Psychos haven't found the other hiding place--Ash and Andros won't stand a chance in their condition."
Zhane stood up with Cassie wrapped in her bundle, and glanced at the shaky Blue Ranger as well.
"That leaves everyone accounted for except Carlos and Alpha," TJ said.
Zhane averted his gaze. "..not quite unaccounted for..."
"..I dunno what else to believe. We can't find them anywhere, and outside the bridge I found these..."
He showed them the cross and the hand, and their hearts wrenched.
"I gave him that," Ashley whispered, gazing at the cross pendant sadly. TJ reached over Andros to squeeze her arm. Zhane let her take it from him, and regarded the sad heap of injured Rangers for a moment longer.
"I'm going back out there," he blurted finally. "I'm gonna throw them off this ship." This brought their attention back to him.
"Zhane, that's suicide," TJ told him. "You can't take on four of them at once."
But Zhane wasn't listening. "We're holed up in here like rats, and all of you need medical help. I've got to find a way to get rid of them before its too late."
"They'll murder you Zhane," insisted Ashley. "You don't stand a chance alone..."
"The four of you don't stand a chance unless I go..."
As if on cue, Andros stirred and began to cough wetly. Ashley adjusted position to help quiet him, but soon there was blood oozing down his cheek. No one quite knew what to do, until Zhane moved for the door.
"I'm going. He'll die if I don't."
Without a word, he slipped out and keyed the door shut behind him. TJ looked at Ashley solemnly. "We can keep these two alive while he's gone. And keep hoping..."
Ashley stared at the closed door for a while. Then she nodded, and smeared the blood off Andros's cheek with her fingers. The waiting began.
There was no mouselike sneaking this time. Zhane headed straight for the bridge. That is, after stopping to morph and call forth the Super Silverizer.
He would be ready for anything. No matter what they did, he knew he could handle it. No matter how hard they hit, he would keep coming until they turned tail and ran. He'd do it for his four beaten friends hiding away, and for Carlos and Alpha, who probably weren't coming back again.
The bridge drew closer...
When he stepped into the doorway, only Psycho Red was there, lazing in the command chair as if he owned the place. He registered no sign of having heard the Silver Ranger. Zhane approached silently, circling around the rear control bank, stalking his prey like a fox. He would use the element of surprise. The blade of his weapon gleamed as it arched high in the air; Zhane planted his feet and took a deep breath...
"This one's for Cassie..." he growled, and brought the blade down on Psycho Red's skull. Sparks exploded, and the Psycho screamed. The chair spun with the force of Zhane's blow, and to his dismay, the surprised villain was facing his attacker again.
"..this one's for Andros..!" Zhane went on, slashing Red across the chestplate. This time he rocked and fell, throwing himself to the ground to try to escape the assault. Zhane tasted some sweet revenge.
But it was short lived, as he soon sensed more presences behind him. He barely had time to see the flash of Yellow, and then his back exploded with pain. He fell right alongside Psycho Red, and listened to devious laughter.
"Nice try, Silver Ranger," sneered Psycho Yellow. "But you forgot the cardinal rule of Rangering. 'Always stick together'?"
"I would..if I could..." he replied, straining to get up; but a sharp boot in the ribs made him forget about it.
"So, what shall we do with him?" asked Psycho Blue.
"The same thing we did to the Robot," said Psycho Black. Zhane clenched his fists in rage.
"I know," said Psycho Red, as he took Zhane by the throat. "We'll torture him till he tells us where the others are. And if he doesn't talk, we'll blow up the ship with all of them on it. How's that for a win-win-situation?"
A chorus of devilish laughter went up among them. Zhane just closed his eyes and cried out, "You'll never win, Psychos! I won't let you!"
"Aww, how loyal of you," said Psycho Red. "But while you're thinking of a way to stop us, we'll just have ourselves some fun..."
They all rushed in to beat on him without mercy. Red held him down while the others punched, and kicked, and generally did their worst on the helpless Power Ranger. His promises of perseverance dissolved, and were replaced by nothing but pain. Crimson explosions of it, every time a glove or boot impacted with his body. His Ranger suit barely dulled the blows.
He wanted to yell for mercy, but that would only encourage them. They would stop when they were good and ready, or when he was dead. No doubt that would be soon. Zhane could only wait for it to happen.
When everything went dark in his field of vision, he assumed he'd been hit in the head. But to his surprise, the beating stopped.
"What happened to the lights?" asked Psycho Yellow.
"Someone's cut the Power," observed Psycho Blue. "One of the Rangers no doubt."
"Quick," ordered Red. "Scan for activity near all the power conduit access points."
But a new voice assured, "That won't be neccessary..."
They could hardly believe their eyes, or ears.
"You!" exclaimed Psycho Black.
"CARLOS!!" hollered Zhane. He was quickly subdued, but Carlos heard his cry nontheless. "Hang on Zhane... C'mon Psychos, catch me if you can!"
His footsteps pounded away, and Psycho Red shouted in anger, "Go after him you numbskulls!" Three sets of footsteps pounded away as well.
Psycho Red's voice was very close to Zhane's ear. "Looks like it's just you and me, Silver Ranger."
A slow smile spread across Zhane's bruised face. "Just the way I like it..."
When he first found the intruders onboard, all four of them were confronting him on the bridge. Alpha was with him. It was all they could do to escape; a precision kick to the groin got Psycho Black out of his hair; but they were not completely unscathed. Alpha took a lazer blast in Carlos's stead, just before they sealed the Psychos on the bridge and got away. Now the selfless little automaton was putting himself back together in the Gym.
Carlos didn't know what had happened to the others. He had only just confirmed he wasn't the only living being on this ship -- although if he left Zhane with Psycho Red too long, he might be. In any event, he had to excecute this plan on his own. He had no chance of destroying the Psychos, so he would attempt to chuck them out the airlock into the cold of space. He was on his way to the Cargo Bay now.
He kept the route twisty so the Psychos couldn't chase too fast. But they were always right behind him. They called out things like, "You won't get away this time, Black Ranger!" and "You can run, but you can't hide!"
How unoriginal can you get? thought Carlos as he ran. He did not dignify their taunts with a reply.
Finally, he reached the Cargo Bay, and sealed the door shut behind him. He took a moment to catch his breath, then began setting up his plan. The Psychos were soon pounding at the door.
Meanwhile, on the bridge, Psycho Red prepared to finish off the Silver Ranger. Zhane was barely able to hold his head up, let alone fight for his life. He could do nothing as Red bore down on his throat for the kill.
But Zhane still had a trick up his sleeve. Or, make that a Silverizer. He whipped it out of nowhere and slashed the Psycho in the face. Once again, Psycho Red screamed in surprise and fell backward, holding his scorched helmet.
"Five's a crowd," Zhane smirked. "I like it just you and me."
"Stop chattering and fight!!" roared the villain, and Zhane complied, transforming the Silverizer to Blaster mode. He fired a volley of shots at Psycho Red, who finally realized he would not get close to Zhane now. He retreated almost to the exit.
"I can still beat you, Silver Ranger," he barked. "I'll see all of you go up in flames!"
And with that, he punched several buttons on the control deck, and DECA blinked to life.
"Three minutes to auto-self-destruct," she reported. Fear twisted in Zhane's stomach. Psycho Red only cackled and ran out of the room, following his friends. Zhane was left alone on the bridge with DECA. "Two fifty five, two fifty four, two fifty three...."
When the three Psychos finally got the door down, the Black Ranger was waiting for them. He stood before the outer hatch, his feet looped up in a safety line. They all but laughed when they saw this.
"Come, fellow Psychos..." snorted Yellow sarcastically. "Lets fight the Black Ranger while he's fastened to the floor. I sure hope the cargo doors don't open while we're in here..."
Carlos rolled his eyes. "You guys really know how to root out a trap, don't you?"
With a quick glance, they signalled to each other what to do, then lifted electrically charged hands in Carlos's direction.
"Say goodbye again, Ranger," said Psycho Black.
Carlos gave a little wave, "Buh bye.." and jerked his rope, hard.
In a flash, their feet were ripped out from under them. They had been standing on a cargo net, one that was tied to the other end of his line. They found themselves on the floor now, their feet entangled, and completely unattatched to anything solid. The Black Ranger took that moment to dive for the hatch controls.
"Not so fast!" shouted Psycho Black, and released his charge of energy. It caught Carlos in the back and he went down. The Psychos continued to claw at their restraints.
"Three minutes to auto-self-destruct," said the computer. Everyone froze in shock.
"What is he doing??" Psycho Blue roared.
"He'll destroy us all!" Yellow exclaimed.
Psycho Black and Carlos locked gazes, and then all burst into frantic motion again. The Psychos fought to get free while Carlos scrambled to reach the controls on the far end of the room.
"Two minutes to destruct..."
Carlos was had nearly reached the panel when Psycho Red burst into the room. He saw what was happening, and saw Carlos's hand poised over the hatch button.
"Nooo!!" he cried out, and made a running leap to stop the Black Ranger. But it was too late. With a firm grip on the safety handle, Carlos pressed the controls.
The cargo bay doors flew open, and hurricane winds blasted to life around them. Psychos Blue, Yellow and Black were carried screaming out into space, still tangled in the strong net webbing.
But Psycho Red was quicker than that. His momentum carried him far enough to grab Carlos's leg, and keep himself from being blown out.
Carlos tried to shake him, but his grip was too tight. Somewhere behind the noise of the wind, DECA continued her countdown; and somewhere within the ship, the Red Ranger opened his eyes and heard those seconds ticking away.
"Enough of this bullshit..!" Carlos cried. "Psycho Red, this one's for Alpha!!"
With a mighty kick, Carlos smashed the fingers of Psycho Red's right hand. Red's grip broke, and he sailed across the floor, shouting curses as he vanished into cold, dark, outer space.
When the hatch finally closed, Carlos collapsed in a heap to breathe. Then he heard DECA's voice again.
"..one oh two, one oh one. One minute to destruct."
He jerked to his feet and started running towards the bridge.
Zhane listened in anguish to the seconds ticking away. In about half a minute, they would all be engulfed by an explosion that would be seen with naked eyes all the way to Liaria. If only he had the strength to get to the control panel...!
Just as he was about to give up, he heard the Megalift halt in its shaft. The doors flew open and out came Carlos, screeching to a halt on the bridge.
"Zhane! Are you--?"
"Nevermind me, you gotta to stop the countdown!"
"But only Andros has the..."
"I have the password! Hit 0169 and say 'flex sphere'!!"
"..nine, eight, seven..."
Carlos did as he was told, barked the nonsensical words, and held his breath in suspense.
The countdown halted. "Self-destruct-sequence cancelled. Resetting ship's systems."
The lights came back up and Carlos looked down. Zhane was passed out on the floor, his Silver suit marred by boot-scuffs and burns. Carlos was glad to sink to the floor beside him, and pull off his helmet so he could breathe.
"My God Zhane, look what they did to you!"
Zhane stirred awake, trying to see in the harsh brightness glaring down from above. He realized he couldn't obey Carlos's commmand without a mirror, so he turned to his friend instead, and murmured, "You my friend, have excellent timing."
"I try," Carlos replied. Then he became a little more solemn. "We're not, um...the only ones here, are we?"
Zhane tried to shake his head, but that hurt too much.
"Nuh-uh. They're all relatively safe in my cryo-chamber...last I checked anyway."
"Relatively? We better go check on 'em..."
"Ok, I'll do it. But our next stop is gonna be somewhere with medical facilities, cause I'm not gonna taking care of the lot of you all by myself."
"I'll be right here if you need me..."
Carlos made to leave, but Zhane caught his arm one more time. "Hey Carlos," he said with a half-smile. "Ashley'll have something special for you when you find her."
Of course he meant the cross pendant, but his wink sent Carlos's thoughts in a totally different direction. Carlos left with disbelief, and a new fantasy on his mind.
Andros's door was open and he was reading in bed, when Zhane rode in and parked at the foot of the bed. The Red Ranger did a double take when he saw Ashley draped over his best friend's lap like that.
But her smile quickly distracted him. She slid out of the chair, paid Zhane with a kiss on the cheek, and went to see her Karovan Lover.
"Anytime Ash," Zhane chirped, zooming away.
"What was that all about?" Andros asked as soon as he was gone. A little bit of jealousy edged his tone.
"Don't worry about it," Ashley ordered, putting his book down. "I'm here to see you. How are you doing?"
Andros's face still showed the scars of from his beating. His lower lip was split so he found it hard to smile. "I'm getting there," he answered. "Slowly."
Ashley worked his hand gently between hers. "You know I never got to thank you for staying with me all that time. When I was in my little coma I mean."
"You don't need to thank me. You turned around and kept me alive the whole time in the cryo-room."
She seemed a little surprised. "You knew I was there?"
"Of course," he replied. "You were cradling my head against your chest. I had strange maternal flashbacks."
She blushed furiously. "I thought TJ was particularly tender about checking up on Cassie," she remarked.
Andros was on a roll. "Probably because if he damaged her any more, she'd take it out of him later."
Ashley dissolved into giggling, picturing that scene in her mind. Andros was making her laugh, so she knew he was going to be just fine. Then the laughter subsided a bit. "Could you tell when Zhane was there?" she asked him.
Andros nodded solemnly. "Yes. I could feel your tension when he left the second time."
Ashley shrugged. "Of course I was tense, I didn't think he'd be coming back..."
"Ashley," he blurted suddenly. "Will...will you humor me a minute and tell me what he means to you?"
She searched his eyes for a question behind the question. But he seemed simply curious.
"Zhane is my friend..." she started off slowly. "..in the ways that you sometimes can't be..." She waited to see what kind of response that got.
"As in, how I don't play practical jokes to express affection? Things like that."
Ashley found herself giggling again. "Yeah, exactly like that. Zhane fulfills my occasional need for silliness, which is a quality you just don't posess."
He nodded, taking his gaze away finally. "I don't need any. He has enough for both of us."
Ashley was promptly in stitches again. Literally she had stitches, but she was laughing a lot too. Andros forgot his worries and set his mind to getting kissed if he could. After that day, every Ranger plus Alpha deserved one.