[PRiS] "The Tamlyn Switch" (Carlos, Cast) [PG-13]. This fanfic rated PG-13 (for mild swearing) by the Fanfic Association of North America. I, the author, am in no way affiliated with Fox Television or Saban Entertainment in any way, and I make no profit from the writing of this story. Blah Blah Blah. If you like it, tell me and I'll write more. If you don't like it, I'm gonna write more anyway but you're entitled to your opinion. Please enjoy.
High above planet Earth, the Astro Megaship sailed silently in space, her engines thrumming like the heartbeat of a great majestic beast. A large, bright blue jewel of a planet spun quietly below, its main continent currently experiencing nighttime. On the Megaship however, it was early morning, and the five humans on board were getting ready for the day's work.
In the Engine Room, Andros, the Red Ranger glanced briefly at his wrist chronometer. It was just past 08:30, and he felt refreshed and ready for the new day as he wriggled his way into the short maintenance tube beneath the HyperRush Core. There were a few adjustments to be made that morning before he did anything else. Locating the appropriate panel, he removed the cover and unclipped a tiny tool from his lapel. Then he began to reprogram the panel according to his latest formula to increase engine efficiency. Despite the goings on of the past week, he had still found time to work on the formula, and was anxious to try it out.
But just as he was entering the first line of code, something tiny and silver dropped from above right next to his head. It landed on the tube floor with a plop, and he looked down to see a drop of gooey silver liquid splattered on the warm metal paneling. As he watched, it slowly stopped spreading and hardened into a dull grey blob.
Andros frowned in confusion. Why would there be melted metal dripping from the ceiling? By the time he reached a hypothesis a few seconds later, he realized that if he didn't get out of that room soon, the hypothesis would be his last.
Dropping his tools, he scrambled backward out of the tube and slammed the access cover. Then he turned and bolted towards the door just as a frightening gaseous hiss issued from the HyperRush column.
The next thing he knew, an explosion ripped through the air and he was thrown skyward like a rag doll.
* * *
On the bridge, Ashley and Carlos were getting started on their own tasks for the day, when the very deck shook beneath their feet. Both Rangers were rocked, and Carlos tumbled out of his seat onto the hard floor. When the bridge was calm again, he looked at Ashley and observed, "That was no laser blast. That came from the Megaship."
Helping him to his feet, Ashley turned to the main view screen. "DECA, what was that?"
The view screen remained black, but text began to roll across it in response. "Explosion detected in the Engine Room. Fire control systems not responding."
"Was anyone nearby?" Carlos asked.
"Affirmative. Andros was present at the time of the explosion."
The Rangers looked at each other in alarm. Ashley demanded, "He wasn't hurt, was he?"
DECA took a moment to respond. Finally, she offered, "That information is unavailable."
Without another word, the pair forgot their tasks and dove into the turbolift, heading for the Engine Room to see if they still had a Red Ranger.
* * *
Before they even reached the Engine Room, the stench of burning metal and miscellaneous gasses assaulted their senses. Ignoring the smell, they rushed into the compartment to find the Engine Core a twisted, blackened and half melted column of scrap metal, with a plasma fire raging inside and liquid metal oozing onto the floor. The place was a disaster. Ashley clapped her hand over her mouth in mute horror at the sight.
Suddenly they heard a soft groan to their right, and looked to see Andros lying on his back against the wall. He was covered with soot stains but looked relatively unharmed. Together, Ashley and Carlos helped him to sit up.
"Are you ok, man?" asked Carlos. The Red Ranger gave a weak nod.
"I'm fine." he told them, wincing as he discovered a small chunk of plexiglass embedded in his left shoulder.
Ashley frowned at the bloody wound. "We'd better get you to the infirmary." she said, and Andros didn't argue. "I'll be alright." he said. "Don't worry."
They all jumped as a flare in the fire lit up the room. Carlos scrambled to his feet. "I'd better put that fire out." he said, and got the hand held extinguisher from the far wall. He began to blast fire suppression foam all over the stinking hot flames while Ashley turned to question her friend.
"What happened?" she demanded. "We felt the explosion on the bridge and DECA told us you were in here the whole time."
"I was doing those adjustments I told you about to the plasma flow regulators." Andros replied. "I was just about to start when the titanium HyperCore casing began leaking into the maintenance tube. I realized there must be a superheated Core fire going on, and I got out of there as fast as I could, but the room oxygen reached the plasma too soon. The thing went up like a supernova before I could get out."
"Do you have any idea how the fire started?"
Andros shook his head. "Your guess is as good as mine."
They fell silent, watching as Carlos continued to drown the fire in foam. He was darkly silhouetted against the bright green flames, but they could see the blaze would soon be contained. TJ and Cassie arrived at that moment, recoiling from the smell and heat on the air.
"What's going on?" asked TJ. "We felt the explosion on the other side of the ship!"
They were quickly filled in on the events of the past few minutes. Then Cassie caught sight of Andros' shoulder. She peered at it critically. "Where'd the shrapnel come from?" she asked.
"It's from the outer casing." Andros replied. "Must have got stuck there when the shockwave hit."
"Well it can't stay there forever." The Pink Ranger declared. "Come on, we better get you patched up before you bleed all over everything." Then she and TJ helped him to his feet and lead him away towards the Infirmary. Ashley stood as well, watching them go, and turned back to Carlos just as the last of the fire was suffocated under the suppression foam. He lowered the nozzle and stood silently for a moment, surveying his work with a dark expression.
Ashley came to stand next to him, laying a hand on his shoulder.
"I knew this was coming." he said. "First Teej and Cassie, then you, now Andros. What's going on around here?"
Ashley sighed. "I don't know, but I think we should try and find out before someone has another little 'accident' like this one. Next time we might not come through so lucky."
The Black Ranger could only nod quietly in agreement.
Her flight suit stained with soot and grime, Ashley headed for the infirmary as her chronometer approached 09:30. She had decided to take a break from damage assessment to see how Andros was doing. Cassie was just finishing up when she arrived.
"Hey," she greeted them. "How's the patient?"
Andros sat on the end of the treatment bed with his shirt and jacket draped over a chair nearby. Cassie stood behind him, examining his shoulder and the quality of her work.
In response to her question, Andros showed Ashley his shoulder. "No scars." he said. "See?"
Indeed, the skin was almost completely healed, save for a small pale scar three inches long that would fade with a bit of time. Cassie blew imaginary smoke from the tip of the laser stitcher and gushed, "I am so good."
Noting the condition of the Yellow Ranger's flightsuit, Andros inquired "How's the assessment going? What condition are the propulsion systems in?"
Ashley gave a tired sigh. "Bad." she said. "Worse than we thought. As of an hour ago the Megaship is dead in space; no propulsion or attitude control whatsoever."
Andros gaped. "You mean the pulse thrusters were affected too?"
"The fire started in the pulse thrusters." she replied. "The heat from that blaze traveled through the internal sensor conduits, and by the time it hit the HyperCore, the thrusters were long gone. The coils are all burned to a crisp. We can forget about going anywhere until we get at least one of the assemblies completely replaced."
Her words fell like stones.
"Sitting Ducks." Cassie mumbled under her breath, and they were all silent a moment. Finally Andros straightened. "Well, that's it then. We're going to have to make a call for help and hope someone arrives in time."
"How do we know how much time we've got?" Cassie wondered.
"There's no way to tell." Andros replied. "This is the fourth major incident in a week. I'd venture we have another day or so."
The three of them took a moment to recall the events of the past week. First there had been the general systems failure in which they had lost gravity control on parts of the ship, as well as the use of the food replicators and SimuDeck. Then there had been the Jump Tube incident when TJ and Cassie had nearly been thrust out into space unmorphed. Two days later, Ashley was almost electrocuted trying to repair DECA's malfunctioning voice circuitry-- that was when they lost DECA's vocal interface completely, as well as internal sensor contact with parts of the ship. Then today, there had been the engine fire that almost turned Andros into a crispy critter. They were all thinking the same thing at that point.
"We can't deny this any longer." Andros told them solemnly. "These mishaps are beyond the realm of coincidence. Someone must be sabotaging the ship."
One Week Earlier...
"Alright everybody, log on and check in."
The five Rangers were at their command posts on the bridge, one week earlier. Andros was leading them one system at a time through the final ship wide status check.
"Science." he prompted.
"Science and Sensors online and go." said Ashley.
"Weapons and Tactical online and go." declared Cassie.
He swiveled his chair to look at TJ, standing at the rear control panel.
"Helm and Attitude Control checking in a-ok." the Blue Ranger replied.
Last was Carlos, standing next to TJ on the starboard side.
"Navigation online and in the green." the Black Ranger said.
Andros swiveled back and worked his own controls. A moment later, he reported, "Computers and Engineering online and go. Ship wide status check complete; all systems nominal." The Red Ranger leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms over his head. "Good work, everybody. Let's call it a night."
Yawning, the Rangers began to shut down their stations. They had spent the entire day recalibrating, adjusting, balancing and rebalancing the Megaship's various systems, all in the name of the monthly performance check. Every month they set aside eighteen hours to get the vessel running in ship-shape. Andros said it payed off to have squeaky clean anti-matter conduits when you had to outrun Velocifighters daily.
Ready for bed, they all piled into the turbolift, except for Carlos, who lingered at his station, fiddling with some controls.
"You coming Carlos?" asked TJ.
"In a minute." the Black Ranger replied. "I want to update the star charts before I call it quits."
Andros, who wasn't nearly as tired as the rest of them, asked "Need any help?"
"Yeah, that'd be great."
So the Blue, Pink and Yellow Rangers headed off to bed while Carlos and Andros stayed up to finish the day's work.
From Ashley's panel on the forward console, Andros worked the sensors while Carlos input the data into the star chart archive. They worked in relative silence, occasionally popping in a joke or two now and then. Soon they were keeping up a steady conversation about some of the more odd-sounding star names.
"Wait a minute," Carlos laughed. "You're saying there's actually star-system called 'Butkis'?"
"It's about fifteen hundred light years from Horath." Andros replied. "I didn't think there was anything special about it until I started spending time on Earth."
The two of them laughed together for a while, but were interrupted by DECA's voice from above.
"Warning: Incoming projectile. Estimated time till impact: One minute, 48 seconds."
The Rangers were alarmed to say the least. "Projectile?" Andros repeated. "From where?"
"That information is unavailable."
"What kind of projectile?" asked Carlos.
"Sensors indicate a Class II missile bearing zero-six-three-nine point seven. ETI: One minute, 42 seconds."
Springing into action, Andros took hold of the helm while Carlos shouted into the ship wide speaker, "Guys, get back to the bridge, we've got a problem up here!"
Shortly, the turbolift doors opened and Cassie, TJ and Ashley spilled back out onto the bridge.
"What's happening?" TJ demanded.
"We've got a torpedo of some kind approaching." said Carlos. "DECA, how long now?"
"Missile ETI: thirty-four seconds."
"We have to destroy it as soon as it comes within range!" Andros barked. "Everybody take your posts. Cassie, we'll need full power to the laser assemblies. TJ, get ready for some hot-shot flying!"
The seconds ticked away as they waited for the missile to come within their reach.
"Visual range now." said Ashley, and an image of the tiny black projectile appeared on the viewer. It's size didn't deceive Andros. He knew the two-meter long shell casing was packed with enough volatile explosive to obliterate a small moon.
"Weapons range in ten seconds..." said Cassie, her hand poised above the fire controls. "..nine...eight...seven..."
Useless at the Navigation panel, Carlos came to stand next to Ashley and watch the sensor readings. Her eyes darted from the view screen to the distance reading that was ticking rapidly towards zero.
Ashley wasn't watching the other sections of her panel. She didn't notice when the life-signs monitor began to blink a warning.
"Wait, Cassie! Don't fire!" Carlos cried, and dove for the Tractor Beam controls while everyone looked at him in alarm.
"Weapons Range now!" yelled Cassie, but did not make a move to fire.
"Carlos, what are you doing??" Andros shouted.
The Black Ranger didn't respond, locking the Tractor Beams onto the missile and activating them at full force.
"TJ!" he cried. "Full power to the thrusters, get us out of its way!"
TJ obliged, but argued, "It's a guided missile, it'll follow us!"
"Not if I can help it!"
Speeding towards them in the green spotlight of the Tractor Beam, the missile closed the last few kilometers of distance between itself and the Megaship. Using every available scrap of power, Carlos tried to push it off course while TJ swung the ship around. Everyone cringed, preparing to feel the bulkheads tear themselves apart around them.
But miraculously, at the last moment, the missile slipped by the Megaship harmlessly, and Carlos dragged it to a dead stop with the Tractor Beam.
For a moment, all was silent while they reassured themselves they were still alive, and then Carlos closed his eyes and sighed a grateful sigh.
Cassie turned to him with a warning look. "Boy, you had better have a good explanation for that." The others were watching him with similar expressions, and he was forced to come to his defense.
"About five seconds before it reached weapons range, sensors detected a life sign within the missile." he said. "I..I guess I just reacted. If there was someone alive inside that missile, I couldn't just them be blown to kingdom-come; and I knew we couldn't let the shell impact either, in case the sensors were wrong."
The Rangers looked at each other in surprise.
"I wasn't watching the life-forms panel." Ashley confessed. "If you hadn't seen it, we would have blasted that missile into next Tuesday without a second thought."
"Check for life-signs now." Andros suggested, and she complied, scanning the missile which now hung behind them on its leash. But she shook her head.
"No life signs detected. It may have just been a sensor ghost."
"Or maybe the person inside didn't survive the Tractor Beam." said TJ. Finally, Cassie offered, "Well the only way to find out is to crack the thing open. Bring it into the cargo bay and we'll find out just what it's made of."
* * *
Five minutes later they all stood watching as Ashley guided the missile into the cargo bay with the Tractor Beam. Standing at the controls, she set the shell down gently on the floor, and then deactivated the beam and joined her friends.
They gathered around and Andros knelt to examine it.
"It's in bad shape." he observed, running his fingers over the once smooth surface. It was now pockmarked with hundreds of little space-debris strikes, and it looked like it had even taken some weak laser fire. It had certainly come a long way to greet them.
"Why would anyone fire a missile into space and just hope it would eventually hit something?" asked Cassie.
Andros shrugged. "This missile could have come from anywhere. It might be a stray from a past space battle near here. Perhaps its guidance system malfunctioned upon launch, and didn't activate until we passed by."
"But why would it have life signs?" Carlos argued.
"We still don't know they were real." said Ashley. "It might have just been a sensor illusion."
TJ cut in. "How about we stop arguing and find out?"
On cue, Andros ran a hand-held sensor device over the surface of the tube. "Nothing." he reported. "No life signs detected."
"What about biological trace elements?" suggested Carlos. "In case TJ was right about the tractor beam."
Andros scanned some more, but came up empty-handed. "The casing is too well-shielded. I can't detect anything about the materials inside."
There was nothing else to do then except open it up. Andros took another tool and began to cut open the seam along the torpedo's edge.
Looking down at the missile in person, Carlos began to wonder how a human being could possibly fit inside. True it was six feet long but it was only as wide as perhaps an ironing board. Whoever was inside would have to be a child in order to squeeze in without dislocating limbs.
At long last, the seam was cut and the seals broken. Hot, stale air hissed out of the crack and Andros slowly lifted the lid.
Inside, lay the tiny crumpled body of a young alien woman.
It took a few moment for their shock to pass. The woman wasn't really much bigger than a child, but it had obviously taken some doing to squeeze her into the tube. Her arms were packed in at her sides and looked broken; her neck scrunched down at a cramped angle. However, her close-fitting jumpsuit revealed her to be mature in growth. She was not a little girl.
Shaking off his surprise, Andros reached out with the sensor and scanned the woman's body. Then he physically felt for a pulse on the side of her throat. He looked up at Carlos.
"She's dead." he said quietly.
Carlos' jaw tightened. "How long?"
Andros looked down again. "Within the hour."
That clinched it. Carlos knew it must have been the tractor beam that had killed her. As he looked mournfully down at the pale, sleeping face framed by silken black hair, he silently asked forgiveness for what he had done.
"What's this?" TJ asked then. He knelt next to Andros and gingerly opened the woman's hand. She was holding a small silver mini-disk.
"Come on," said Andros. "Maybe that will tell us who she is." He and TJ went to the nearest computer panel and inserted the disk in the slot. "DECA, read this disk and translate the information into Standard for us."
"Working." said DECA. "Translation complete. Playing message."
On the screen, a man's face appeared. He had dark hair like the woman inside the missile, but his was shot with streaks of grey. He was dressed in decorative military garb and looked exhausted sitting behind an ornate desk. Behind him, a window looked out on a wild, desert-like landscape.
"To anyone playing this message:" he said. "I am Joachim Tamlyn of the planet Saskat. We are in the midst of a great civil war, and in desperation, I am sending away the one thing I am unwilling to risk in this fight-- my daughter, the Princess Vatoya. I will place her in a torpedo casing along with this data disk, and send her into space disguised as an inactive, stray missile. It is my hope that she will find friendly allies who will keep her safe as long as necessary, but I am still willing to pay a hefty ransom for her, if that is the way it must be. Please care for Vatoya and protect her from harm until we can send for her. She is the last hope our family has for peace."
As a last note, Tamlyn added that Vatoya's picture and health information were also contained on the disk, but DECA could not find such files. Andros theorized that they had been lost when the Tractor Beam took hold of the missile. At this point, Carlos was looking positively stricken with guilt, but Ashley took him aside to put a stop to it. While she pep-talked him, Cassie, Andros and TJ gathered around Vatoya's body once more.
"What can we do with her?" TJ wondered.
"Store her cryogenically I suppose." Cassie suggested. "We can do that, can't we Andros?"
"Uh, yeah." he said. "We've got the facilities."
"Then we can keep her just as we found her until her father and his people can be contacted." Cassie shrugged. "We'll keep her safe, just like they asked us to do."
No one could think of a better plan, so they spent the first portion of the night setting up a cryogenic storage chamber to keep the Princess' body in. They would put her away to freeze slowly all night, and in the morning they would start looking for her people. Meanwhile, Ashley and Carlos took on the sad task of sending a message back to Saskat to inform them of their Princess' fate.
Two days later, the Rangers awoke to find the food slots and SimuDeck useless, half their major components destroyed by power surge. It was only the first of their troubles.
Making the best of a rough situation, the five Rangers sat down the evening after the explosion to a candlelight dinner. The Jump Bay where they normally ate was without accessory power, and so they had to make their own light. Cassie's scented candle collection burned fragrantly all around the room, giving everything a warm flickering glow. Spread out on the table was a variety of fresh alien fruits, vegetables and other things that could be eaten uncooked.
"Good haul, you two." said Cassie, winking at Ashley and TJ who had collected their meal that afternoon. They had found a particularly lush planet with all manner of edible delights for the Rangers to feast on.
But the humor and relaxed attitudes were a facade; they were all deeply concerned about Andros' suspicions of an intruder. They would have found an electronically lit room to eat in, except the Jump Bay was the most secure against listening devices. Once they were reasonably sure they weren't being watched, they would get down to the business of discussing the matter.
After ten minutes or so of eating, talking and acting casual, Andros stopped to listen to the sounds of the room. The others followed suit. All was silent save for the purring of the candles and the sound of each other's breathing. There was not even the omnipresent thrumming of the engines that could normally be heard. It was unsettling to sit in the midst of so much quiet.
"I think we're clear." he said, his own voice nearly deafening him. The others nervously settled back to their meal.
"We need to play 'What If'." said Ashley. "We have to start considering possibilities."
TJ went first. "What if this is just a string of really weird coincidences?"
The others thought about this for a moment. Finally, Cassie said, "I don't think I can accept that. It's just too unlikely. Unless we've fallen under some kind of rotten-luck-spell, I'm still inclined to agree with Andros about an intruder."
Ashley went next. "So far, every incident has involved equipment being burned. What if we've entered some kind of charged energy field that's causing power surges and damaging things that way?"
Andros fielded this one. "Only the most subtle of energy fields could have gotten past DECA's sensor grid. If we had passed into something strong enough to do damage one week ago, she would have informed us."
No matter how hard they tried, nothing they could come up with seemed to work except Andros' saboteur theory. After a while they gave up on playing What If and started playing super sleuth.
"What do the incidents all have in common?" asked Cassie. "We know they all involved burnt electronics, but what else?"
Ashley shrugged. "Life threatening situations?"
"Indirect causes." suggested TJ. "All of the malfunctions took place because of something screwy in another ship system." Everyone agreed with that one.
"At the same time though," Ashley continued. "Even indirect malfunctions could have been meant as deliberate attempts to hurt us."
"The saboteur would have to know ships like the back of their hand." argued Andros. "But it's possible."
"And we've all been affected somehow." finished Cassie. "Except..."
All eyes turned to Carlos, who had been silent up until then, sullenly pushing food around on his plate and not eating a bite. Staring back at them, he couldn't immediately believe that they suspected him as the culprit; but their glances were just doubtful enough...
"This is ridiculous." Ashley exclaimed, shaking herself. "Carlos, ignore us ok? We know you're not responsible."
"Yeah." said TJ. "Sorry Carlos, we shouldn't have let ourselves get paranoid."
"Forget it guys..." Carlos sighed tiredly. "..we're all spooked. I just wish we had more to go on with this. We're taking shots in the dark."
"We just have to think!" Cassie cried. "Come on, everybody. Be Sherlock Holmes. Be Nancy Drew. We have to be detectives here."
"Well what's another detective question?"
TJ blurted, "What about 'When did it all begin?'."
Everyone stopped. They knew when it had all begun-- when they brought the body of Princess Vatoya on board.
"Could it really be her?" Ashley whispered, suddenly nervous again.
"Impossible." said Andros, glancing at Cassie and TJ. "We locked her in the freeze chamber ourselves."
"Besides, she was dead as a toad on the Autobahn." TJ added.
Carlos frowned. "But aren't there species out there who are good at playing possum?"
"Playing what?" Andros asked.
"Dead." replied Ashley. "Maybe the Saskats are able to fake their own deaths really well."
Andros looked uncomfortable. "If that's the case, she might be able to dislocate her joints at will, too-- like a snake's jaws." Everyone squirmed a bit at that prospect, but they were starting to put the puzzle together. Ashley had one more question.
"Why would a Princess fleeing her war-ravaged homeworld start sabotaging the ship that saved her?"
It took them a minute to figure that one out.
"Because when she woke up, she was trapped in a chamber being frozen to death." said Carlos soberly. "She escaped the freeze tube and hid, thinking that if she could kill us, her captors, she could steal the Megaship and get back home to her family."
"My God," Cassie breathed. "I think he's right."
Andros stood. "Well we have to make sure. If Vatoya Tamlyn is awake and hiding somewhere in the ship, we'll find the cryogenics chamber open and her tube empty. Let's go check it out."
* * *
A short time later they all stood around the broken chamber door and peered in at the empty tube.
"Carlos, you amaze me." Cassie said. "You should write mysteries when you grow up."
* * *
The night was a tense one. For safety's sake, they all camped out in the Jump Bay in sleeping bags so that they could keep an eye on each other. They worked and rested in shifts: two Rangers guarding the room, two patrolling the ship and one sleeping at all times. Well into the night, they had still come up with nothing.
At 04:00, Cassie and TJ returned to the Jump Bay, where Ashley and Carlos were guarding a sleeping Andros.
Everyone was yawning at intervals. The four-hour shifts were tough to get used to, and Andros was uncharacteristically groggy when Ashley shook him awake.
"Who's up and who's down?" he asked once he was on his feet.
"You and I are patrolling." she replied. "Cassie and Teej are guarding, Carlos is down for a rest."
"It's about time." Carlos remarked, an enormous yawn almost splitting his head in two.
"Alright, let's get to it. Anything suspicious we need to follow up on guys?"
TJ shook his head. "The decks are clear. No sign of her Highness anywhere. Wherever she's hiding, she's tucked away somewhere we would never think to look."
Andros shrugged. "She's probably managed to work her way inside the bulkheads of the ship. I think there are access tubes there, left over from when the Megaship was built. She could be sabotaging everything from that level."
With a sigh, they all bid each other good luck, and Carlos a good sleep, and then began the next shift.
Carlos hunkered down on the stack of sleeping bags that lay on the Jump Tube platform. They were remarkably comfortable when one was this tired, and Cassie and TJ's idle chatter was a soothing background sound. Stretching out on his stomach, he closed his eyes and waited for sleep to overtake him.
He hadn't slept properly in six days-- at night when he closed his eyes, all he could see was the face of Vatoya Tamlyn, lying in the torpedo tube when they first came across her. Thinking he had been responsible for her death, Carlos had nearly broken down with grief right there in the cargo bay. Ashley had quickly come to his aid and reminded him what his intentions had been, but he had still felt terribly guilty. Upon realizing that evening that she was still alive, and probably trying to kill them herself, his guilt had begun to change. Now he felt a more immediate concern that he was responsible for the accidents his friends were having. On top of that, he found himself resenting the Princess' actions deeply. How could she do this after he had tried to help her?
His coherence fading, Carlos began to doze. TJ and Cassie's voices blurred into gibberish and within a few minutes, he was fast asleep.
He slept a long time before he began to dream. Visions of the lake in Angel Grove danced in his head, and each of his friends were there, including Justin and Andros. While everyone frolicked in the water or played games on the sand, he began to detect the odor of suntan lotion--sweet and thick in his nostrils. It got stronger as time went on, and soon everyone on the beach was coughing and gasping for air. Carlos was suffocating as well, his breath coming in labored wheezes.
Suddenly, his windpipe closed and he was forced to cough for real. He woke himself up, sputtering and gasping and struggling to his knees. The Jump Bay was filled with a gaseous white substance that he could not identify, but every time he tried to inhale, he choked on the sick-smelling fumes. Thinking quickly, he rolled under the Jump platform railing and dropped to the floor where the gas was at its weakest.
Teej and Cassie!
Carlos quickly searched the room in the haze. If they had been overcome by the fumes, they would be lying on the floor as well; but they were nowhere to be seen. Carlos crawled quickly towards the door.
The gas was in the hall too, but not as concentrated. He could stand up and walk without feeling dizzy and breathless. Moving quickly down the hallway, he knew he had to get to the bridge and stop the gas before the oxygen was tainted further. Aside from that, the bridge was the designated location for them to meet should there ever be an emergency. With luck, he'd find the others there when he arrived.
Unfortunately, luck was not with him that day. The bridge was empty, save for a particularly thick cloud of gas.
Still, there was a job to do. Carlos hit the floor again and crawled to Andros' station at the center of the bridge. From there he could access the environment controls and stop the gas attack. After a minute or two, he managed to stop its flow into the air supply. He also found out what it was; a coolant substance that could be fatal if inhaled for long periods of time. Unfortunately, he couldn't seem to get the filtration systems working. He had stopped more gas from coming, but he couldn't get rid of what was already there.
"DECA!" he coughed. "What's wrong with the air filtration systems?"
The computer replied, "That information is unavailable."
"Well can you fix the problem?"
In the same toneless voice, DECA repeated, "That information is unavailable."
Carlos hesitated. "DECA, what's my last name?"
"That information is unavailable."
"What are you?"
There was a long pause this time. Finally, DECA responded, "Classified."
So DECA was useless, the air was slowly killing him, and he didn't know where any of his teammates were, let alone if they were alive or not. Carlos' confidence had definitely seen better days.
There was no other choice then but to start searching the ship. The sabotaged ventilation systems had to be more of Vatoya Tamlyn's work, and Carlos had to assume he was the only one capable at the moment of setting things right. At the top of the list was finding the other Rangers and getting them somewhere relatively safe. As he crawled towards the door, Carlos pondered what the cleanest room might be. He considered the quarantine forecefield in the infirmary-- it had a powerful air filtration system that was separate from the main one. Perhaps it was still working.
But just as he reached up to trigger the turbolift door, he heard the car arrive at the top of the shaft on the other side. Someone was about to enter the bridge. Unwilling to take chances, Carlos rolled out of the way and concealed himself in the shadows, just as a pair of legs came out of the lift car backwards. The legs were female, but didn't belong to Cassie or Ashley. Whoever they did belong to was dragging something heavy. That something turned out to be Andros.
As Carlos watched, the woman-- whom he decided had to be Tamlyn-- dragged Andros' unconscious body out of the Turbolift and dropped him on the floor. He flopped where she put him, completely comatose from the gasses in the air. Turning to the aft control bank where Carlos and TJ's posts were, Tamlyn began to work.
She was making no attempt to stay lower than the gas, so Carlos assumed she wore a mask or was immune to its effects. As it was, he couldn't see her from the waist up. He had stopped the flow of gas earlier, but she would no doubt discover this soon, and he realized he had no time to make an escape with Andros in tow. He had to try and subdue the Princess right there, and get her to fix the damage she had done and save all their lives. The others were running out of time.
Getting to his feet, Carlos crept towards the Princess, staying as low as he could. He couldn't see her, and so she hopefully couldn't see him either. If only he could reach her before she heard his approach.
He almost made it, but just as he was stepping over Andros' body, the Red Ranger stirred and coughed. Carlos froze. The Princess whirled to see the Black Ranger's dark shape ready to pounce on her, and before he could react, she delivered a swift kick to his jaw, knocking him backwards into the lift door. He lay stunned and reeling for a moment while she waited for him to counterattack, but his entire head ached from the blow. Seeing that he was no longer a threat, she hit a few buttons on the panel and then leaped over him, vanishing into the turbolift again. Carlos was left to recover his senses on his own.
Once he was coherent again, Carlos Vargas summoned all his strength and dragged himself to his feet. It was amazing how a well-placed blow could make you feel like you'd been hit by a Peterbilt. Rising to the occasion at hand, he prepared to haul his friend Andros all the way down to the infirmary. It seemed to be the only safe place imaginable.
He found he had been right about the quarantine field, and took a moment to linger in the room, breathing his first lungful of fresh air in hours. Giving Andros a hypodermic spray full of relaxant, he began to search the compartments for a gas mask of some kind. Finally he found a compact transparent oxygen mask and a small tank with a belt clip to match. Strapping the assembly on, he checked the field stability once more. The others had only a short amount of time left before their bodies would succumb to the fumes and die. Vatoya Tamlyn could wait. He had to get the rest of the team to safety. Leaving Andros to recover in the quarantine field, Carlos systematically began to search the ship for his remaining three friends.
He found Cassie in the gas-choked Work Bay, draped across her Galaxy Glider. He could hardly see her through the thick clouds floating in the room. He was also forced to wonder why Tamlyn hadn't used one of the Gliders to escape the ship, but then he remembered you had to be morphed to do that. The fumes from before were making him think sluggishly.
TJ was on the SimuDeck, guarded by a holographic attack dog. Apparently, Tamlyn had gotten it working again for just that purpose. While wary of the imaginary animal, Carlos simply had to go to the control panel and turn all the safeties on so that the creation could not possibly injure him. Then he dragged TJ out of there and back to the Infirmary as well.
Ashley was difficult to retrieve. She was in the Engine Room, hidden high above on the upper catwalk. Carlos had enough trouble getting up the ladder, but moving around so high off the ground was risky in his current cognitive state. It took an age, but finally he and Ashley dropped to the floor again, her body collapsing limply to the ground. She had been exposed to the fumes the longest, and was probably just minutes away from suffocating way up high in the thick of things. Carlos was grateful to let her join the others in the clean-aired refuge of the quarantine field.
Just as he was laying Ashley down on the third bed, Andros started to awaken. His body was beginning to process the toxic gasses and clear them out of his lungs. He lifted his tired head and groggily demanded, "What's going on? Where's the fire?"
Carlos collapsed into a chair and removed his mask to breathe some real air.
"Long story." he sighed. "No time to explain. I've gotta go find the Princess again." The Black Ranger rubbed his jaw tenderly. It still ached like all-get-out, but he couldn't let himself be slowed down.
Andros was trying to struggle out of bed but he was too disoriented. Carlos wasn't worried about him.
"Stay here." he said. "Make sure the others are ok. I'm going after Tamlyn."
"Carlos wait," Andros cried. "She's dangerous, you can't go alone."
But Carlos simply laughed. "Who are you, and what have you done with Andros?" The Red Ranger could only could only shake his head in confusion.
"Listen," Carlos tried again. "I got us into this mess, and I'm the only one who can get us out. Besides, the gas isn't fully out of your system, you couldn't walk out of here if you tried." Andros thudded his head lightly against the pillow. Carlos glanced at his chronometer. "If I'm not back in about fifteen minutes..." he began, stopping to think for a moment.
"What?" Andros asked.
The Black Ranger shrugged. "Just wait longer." And then he was gone.
* * *
The brief amount of time spent in the good air had restored some of Carlos' faculties. He was thinking clearer now, and as he trudged down the hallway he had a pretty good idea of where Princess Vatoya would be. He headed for the ShuttleBay.
Carlos took a moment to adjust the straps of his gas mask. It was 10:00 hours.
If the events of that morning had told him anything, it was that their saboteur was not very diplomatically inclined. Vatoya had spent the past week trying to kill them all in order to gain control of the Megaship herself. She hadn't bothered to try and talk to the Rangers, and so she never knew they would have been willing to help her. Her ignorance had nearly cost lives. Aside from that, she was being reckless with the damage she was causing. The equipment she was destroying was going to take her weeks to repair by herself, and it would be a long time before she could take the ship home again. It was Carlos' intention to reason with her if he could, but she had already shown she was a dangerous individual. If he had to, he was willing to fight.
The one clue Carlos had now as to her whereabouts, was the command she had entered before leaving him and Andros on the bridge earlier. He had stopped to see what she had done, and found a mini-disk in the slot, feeding a computer virus into DECA's already ravaged computer core. The virus was meant to convince DECA that the Rangers were a biological hazard and needed to be exterminated. Eventually, DECA would have proceeded to wipe out all life forms on board the ship with more poison. The only way Tamlyn could possibly escape the annihilation, was if she escaped the ship itself somehow; and the only way she could escape was in the Astro Megaship Shuttle. She likely planned to wait out the extermination attempt and then return once the poison had dissipated and the Rangers were dead. It would have worked perfectly had Carlos not removed the disk in time. He only hoped he wasn't too late to catch the saboteur before she took off with the Astro Megazord's head.
The Rangers didn't find themselves in the Megashuttle much these days. Only during Zord excursions did they take their places in its cockpit, and most of the time it sat dormant in the forward shuttle compartment. Carlos reached it quickly, and ducked into the remote launch room. This was a tiny cubicle with a viewport looking out on the huge ShuttleBay. From here he could normally control the doors, forcefields and docking clamps, but the controls were smashed. He could do nothing to stop Tamlyn from here. He would have to board the ship and take it over himself.
Crossing the expansive ShuttleBay, Carlos climbed the ladder and slipped through the open hatch into the shuttle. Quiet as a cat, he moved towards the cockpit, hoping that he could get the jump on the Princess there. Little did he know he was being watched with every step he took.
The cockpit was deserted, Carlos found, but the controls were programmed for an automatic launch to occur in one minute. He quickly set to overriding the command.
As he stood unsuspectingly at the controls, a petite, dark haired figure extracted herself from the ventilation grate on the ceiling. Even quieter than a cat, she prepared to drop down onto the Black Ranger from above. He would never know what hit him.
Unfortunately for her, Carlos was so accustomed to a silent ship that he heard her movements, and whirled in time to see her poised above. He dove and rolled out of the way just as she leaped from the ceiling and brought a heavy metal pipe down on the console where he had just been.
"Fancy meeting you here!" he exclaimed, leaping to his feet. The last time he had seen this woman's face, was when she was lying "dead" in the Torpedo tube. It was unnerving to see her alive and kicking now.
"I could say the same for you." she replied, in heavily accented Standard. "I thought I left you to die with your Power Ranger friends on the other ship."
"You did." Carlos replied. "But I came back. Funny how that works, eh?"
She swung at him with the pipe and he ducked it. She swung again and he threw himself out the cockpit door and into the next cabin. She followed, and together they began a deadly dance all through the compartments of the shuttle. Carlos couldn't locate a weapon to match her pipe, and had to be careful that he didn't get bludgeoned to death. She was a skilled fighter, he had to admit, but no better than himself; and he did have greater size to his advantage. Even with her weapon, he could control the fight to a degree.
She knew it, too, and was getting desperate.
"Why are you doing this?" Carlos demanded, slipping past a charge and knocking her away. "We could help you if you'd let us!"
She swung again, a snarl twisting her features. "What can you possibly do for me?" she scoffed.
"We can get you back home! We would have been glad to return you to your people, but you decided to try and kill us first. What could a Princess from another quadrant have against us anyway?"
She stopped fighting for a moment, looking stunned. "Princess??" she repeated. "Ashes of Barox, you still believe I'm that little Princess Vatoya Tamlyn?" She began to laugh hysterically. Carlos couldn't help but feel a little confused.
"You pathetic fool!" she cried. "I look nothing like Tamlyn, I can't believe you fell for that!"
"Then who the hell are you?" Carlos yelled.
"My name's Zageth, I'm a freelance assassin." she replied. "I went to Saskat to kill the Sovereign, but their petty war broke out while I was still on the inside. I overheard the Sovereign recording the message that he was going to send away with his daughter, and so I blasted my way in, tied them up and took her place. She's still on that sun-baked rock she calls a homeworld!"
Zageth's story was almost unbelievable, but Carlos knew there was no reason for her to lie. Especially since he now knew she had every intention of killing him. Shaking her head at the gullibility of the human race, she thrust her pipe at him again and the fight was resumed.
After an indeterminate amount of time, they ended up back in the cockpit again, where Carlos had fewer places to move around. The small floorspace gave him just enough area to block the strikes and swings she made, and hit back as well. They were almost stalemated, trapped within each other's hitting range.
"Wait till they hear I took out a Power Ranger!" Zageth gloated as she fought. It was all Carlos could do to protect himself, backed there against the console with nowhere to go.
Finally, he hit her back hard enough to knock her right through the silver cockpit door. He heard her crash to the ground, and the door swung closed behind her. Tentatively, Carlos took a few steps forward to follow her, but he could hear no movement from the other side. Panting from the long fight, he wondered what was in store next.
Zageth didn't leave him thinking long.
Bursting back through the doorway, she ran at him with her club held high and a loud battle cry issuing from her throat. In a panic, Carlos flung himself backward, tripped on his own two feet, and fell flat on his behind. Just as she was bringing the club down, he thrust his feet out towards her stomach.
Instead of smashing the pipe down onto his face, Zageth went flying over him, past the consoles and directly through the windshield of the Megashuttle. Carlos heard her scream all the way down to the deck below, and flinched as there came an audible crunch of bones upon impact. He could do nothing for a moment but lay there, stunned and frozen and unable to believe what he had just done.
Finally, he got to his feet and looked out the smashed windshield to the deck below. Zageth's body lay sprawled in an awkward position on the ShuttleBay floor, bits of glass scattered all around her. The pipe hadn't left her hand, and she still gripped it tightly. Carlos was both relieved and repulsed by the sight of her.
Suddenly, her eyes snapped open and Carlos gasped. Before his eyes, she began to straighten herself out and return her joints to the proper sockets so that she could stand. She was not finished yet.
Suddenly, "DECA standing by for orders." said a voice.
"DECA!" Carlos cried. "You can talk!"
"Affirmative." said the computer, in an almost sassy tone.
Carlos thought quickly. "DECA, erect a level eight forcefield around the Megashuttle and then open the shuttle bay doors!"
DECA complied. A sparkling forcefield sprung up around the Megashuttle right away, sealing off the hole in the cockpit windshield. Then there came the great, echoing alert siren that warned of the doors about to be opened. It wasn't warning enough though, for just as Zageth was getting to her feet, the seals cracked open and the entire nose of the Astro Megaship began to split in two. As the bay was exposed to the vacuum of space, the oxygen inside, as well as everything else not tied down, was blown rapidly out into the universe. Zageth the Assassin went with them, screaming curses all the way.
Once again, Carlos took pause in the aftermath of it all; then he released a breath he thought he'd been holding for weeks. He collapsed into his seat and lay his tired head down on the panel, vowing that he would go to sleep right there and not awaken for another week or two.
But his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a familiar voice. "Carlos, come in. It's me, Andros."
"Hmm..?" he mumbled.
"Carlos, are you ok? Where are you?"
"I'm fine." he replied. "I'm in the Megashuttle. Vatoya Tamlyn's not a problem for us anymore."
"Was DECA able to get in contact with you? We just spent the past twenty minutes trying to fix her so we could regain control of the ship."
"Well you did it." the Black Ranger said. "She's back online and she helped save my butt."
Carlos yawned lionishly. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm taking a nap."
"A nap, Andros." he said testily. "You know...sleep? You remember sleep, don't you?"
Andros began to laugh. "Alright. Good work, man. You saved all our butts today."
There was no response.
Faint snoring came over the channel.
"Pleasant dreams, Carlos." The channel went dead and there was silence in the Megashuttle cabin.
Then Carlos opened one eye and smiled a little. "You know DECA," he said. "I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but am I ever glad to hear your voice again."
One Week Later..
With a deep sigh, Andros declared "Computers and Engineering online and go. Ship wide status check complete; all systems nominal."
"Hallelujah." said Cassie, slumping in her seat.
It was seven harried days after Carlos had saved them from the assassin on board. They had spent nearly every waking moment trying to repair the extensive damage that she had done. A lucky break had come when a passing merchant ship found them and offered to tow them to the nearest spaceport. Once there, they had gotten the HyperCore assembly and Pulse Coils replaced, and today they were just finishing up the ship wide status check that should have been done a fortnight ago. Andros had promised them shore-leave anytime they wanted for the next month.
"Well," said Ashley. "Now that the food slots are running again, I think it's time for lunch. I don't know about you guys, but I'm sick of fruit and vegetables. I need a burrito."
"With a whole cow's worth of sour cream." agreed TJ, mouth watering. "Girl, you're speakin' my language."
But before they could go below, DECA's restored voice came from above. "Alert: subspace transmission from Saskat Five."
Surprised, Andros glanced at the others and acknowledged, "On screen."
A moment later, they saw Joachim Tamlyn sitting at his desk before the window, and behind him stood two young people-- a man and a woman. The woman's hair was a vivid honey-gold, but her eyes were just like her father's.
"Power Rangers," Tamlyn began. "I would like to thank you on behalf of my people and my family for complying with our request for our daughter's sanctuary." He turned a little to present the woman behind him. "Incidently, there was a mishap following the recording of my message, and the Princess was unable to board the torpedo. Instead, a dangerous assassin commandeered my daughter's escape route and she was the one you found dead in the missile shell. It is fortunate she did not survive the trip, because there is no telling what she would have done had she reached you alive."
Carlos rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly and Ashley sighed in exasperation. Tamlyn went on.
"I am also glad to inform you that our civil war has ended. It was a petty skirmish between two families-- mine and another dominant political power. Fortunately for us old military veterans, our children had more peaceful ideas on how to end a war." Tamlyn reached back to take the hands of the two people behind him. "My daughter and the son of the opposing power ran off together the day after my last message was sent. By the laws of our people, the marriage of the firstborn makes them the new head of the household, and so my daughter and her husband now lead our two peoples. They have vowed to keep our planet free of fighting for as long as they both live."
Vatoya Tamlyn came forward to speak to the camera. "Power Rangers, I thank you for the hospitality you no doubt would have shown me had I left our world as my father planned. In the end, I was instead able to stop the fighting on my home planet and my husband and I are together at last. Should you ever find yourselves near Saskat, please come and visit the paradise we plan to build for ourselves."
With a gesture of farewell, the new Sovereign of Saskat ended the transmission and the screen went black. The five Rangers sat back and absorbed the final chapter of the story.
"We ought to send them a wedding gift." Ashley remarked.
"Like what?" Andros wondered.
Cassie shrugged. "Their own emergency escape pod?"
TJ grinned. "Or how about a copy of 'Know Your Interstellar Assassins'."
Carlos shook his head. "What about 'The Club for Torpedo Tubes'?"
Laughing uncontrollably, they all piled into the Turbolift while Andros demanded to know what the joke meant. They attempted to explain it to him over a feast of Sour Cream burritos and as little healthy food as possible.