Situation: The Rangers have just escaped the Lost Galaxy and Trakeena has blown up Captain Mutiny. Mike's still recovering from the loss of the Magna powers, and all is in waiting.
And Mike doesn't look very good yet. It had been a minor shock to discover his second in command had been the Magna Defender, but in a way, it made sense. The way he had vanished on the training moon, then later returned, when Terra Venture had been far away from Earth....all the signs had pointed to something very unusual going on, and the commander was rather surprised he hadn't figured out was going on earlier.
Ever since the colony had been launched, unusual things had been going on. They had been attacked by monsters, the Power Rangers had reappeared, albeit a different group than what had last been seen, and aliens from all over the systems appeared to think their traveling vessel was a great place to land and cause major amounts of damage, not to mention the Psycho Rangers returning.
That thought made Stanton shudder deeply. He'd been in Angel Grove when the five insane duplicates had made their first appearance years earlier, and had been one of those who had been caught up in Astronema's kidnaping and enslaving scheme for her Secret City. And now she's on my ship. Naturally he had met Karone; she was one of the most famous people of all time. Very few had been stupid enough to hold her past against her once it had been revealed she hadn't had a choice for the more horrific things she had done.
Stanton entered the bridge and glanced around. Kai was on duty, watching over operations, and as soon as he noticed the commander, snapped out, "Commander on the bridge!" The entire crew snapped to attention, saluting, and Stanton just waved a brief dismissal.
"Any new developments, Mr. Chen?" he asked quietly, standing next to the young man. Kai shook his head.
"Nothing's changed so far, except a slight increase in food, air, and water consumption, due to the refugees from Mutiny's slave colony. The Scorpion Stinger moved out of range about half an hour ago, with no sign from Trakeena on why she blew Captain Mutiny up. Scans reveal no survivors from that, but if they teleported away before we realized what was going on..." Kai didn't finish the sentence, but everyone who heard him knew what he meant. If they had teleported away, no one knew what could happen next.
Commander Stanton nodded. "I'd say she didn't want competition," he mused. He had observed the Queen of Evil as much as he could during their time of confrontation, and when he himself had been under the control of one of her monsters he had learned even more. Trakeena didn't strike him as the type to even want to consider sharing power or opponents with anyone.
Kai nodded; that was more or less what he and the other Rangers had figured. He glanced covertly at his watch, he had a Ranger-meeting to make just after his shift ended in five minutes. What are we going to do without the Magna Defender? Trakeena's probably gotten tougher since we left...we were gone what..three months?? Who knows what's been going on since then...
The Commander smiled quietly, and touched Kai on the shoulder. "You'd better get moving. The others are probably waiting for you." He said softly. Kai's eyes widened briefly, then he nodded.
"Thanks, Commander." He saluted, then dodged out of the room, trying not to be obvious about it. The Commander shook his head with a faint grin, then turned his attention back to his job. Perhaps there was some sort of space station in this general area of space, something that could give them some help in stocking their food stores and fixing the engines. They had been trying to head for uninhabited space, but if there was some culture out there that could help them...Commander Stanton wasn't above taking aid.
He could hear footsteps near him, and lifted his head to see Maya there. "Hi."
"Hello." The Yellow Ranger smiled quietly at him, sitting down on the other end of the couch he was on. That was as close to him as she would get. The two of them hadn't really talked since he had been brought back aboard on Terra Venture, but Maya had wanted to, seriously. Only when she had thought she might've lost him after ToroZord blew up had she faced the feelings that had bubbled inside of her from the first moment her eyes had locked with his brown orbs.
Mike smiled briefly, then glanced around. "Where's everyone else?" They were supposed to be having a Ranger meeting to discuss what Trakeena had done and what possibly could've happened while they were gone. The others should've already been there...
"I don't know," Maya shrugged. "Karone said she'd be along later." She glanced at the young man there again, feeling a nervousness that she'd never encountered when being next to any male before. Any male except him.
The ex-Defender nodded, trying as he always did to avoid looking at her for any length of time. She's only the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, and I'd only give my life a thousand times for her. So why do I keep avoiding her and not telling how I feel?
He already knew the answer to that, however. He kept it inside because despite all that he'd been through, despite his confidence in command of Terra Venture and the battlefield, Mike Corbett was absolutely, one hundred percent terrified of asking a woman out on a date, let alone telling her that she was the only reason he had for existing.
"Leo and Damon said something about making sure the refugees get settled in properly." He was going to have to check on them himself; he felt responsible for them being here after all. Mike turned to say something else, and found himself staring directly into Maya's eyes. And she was staring back.
The two of them sat there for what could've been almost a full minute, simply gazing at one another. Suddenly a crimson blush poured across Maya's face, and she turned away, breaking their eyelock. "Sorry," the Yellow Ranger whispered, closing her eyes. "I didn't...."
Mike found words just as she was standing up, and reached out to wrap a hand around her wrist. "Maya...you didn't what?"
"Didn't...." She didn't want to look back at him, didn't want to see whatever it was that might be in his eyes, but something she couldn't understand or explain turned her head almost against her will. He was looking at her, and she felt her heart melt as she looked back. "Didn't...
He tried to stand up, still with one hand on her wrist, and felt a sudden rush of weakness to his legs that sent him tumbling back onto the couch. Maya was pulled back with him, and wound up literally falling on top of him. For a moment they lay like that, her head twisted around to stare him once more in the eyes.
Maya tried to get up, move back, to do anything that would keep the distance she'd so carefully crafted over the long months up between them. I love him, but I couldn't stand it if he doesn't love me, I don't want to know, I can't go through losing someone again, I just can't, but I love him, I want to be with him so much, I can't lose him..but I can't live without him...her thoughts tumbled over and over one another like a waterfall, then solidified into one simple movement.
Mike continued to stare at her, all the words that had flown into his mind had turned around and flown right back out again. Fear meant nothing anymore, all that meant anything was the simple and basic fact that the woman he loved was in his arms, and if he didn't do something, then she was going to be lost to him forever. I won't have that. I just won't!!! Instinct took over from logic, and that instinct transformed into one simple movement.
Karone, peeking quietly from the door, smiled to herself as Maya and Mike finally, at last, kissed.
The Pink Ranger turned at the sound of his voice, and Leo was surprised to see a grin on her face. "Mike and Maya," she said softly. "Look."
Leo frowned slightly, then slid the door open just a crack to see his brother and the Yellow Ranger clasped in a very passionate embrace. His cheeks suddenly turned the same shade of red as his shirt, and he jerked back, the door sliding once again shut behind him. "Ummmmmm...." His mind went blank at the implications as the blush slowly faded.
Karone grinned almost wickedly, then her head suddenly snapped up like a bloodhound's catching a scent. "What in the world?" she almost growled the word out. "What's he doing here?"
"Karone?" Damon looked confused, as did Leo and Kai, who had just turned the corner to see them all standing there. "What're you talking about?"
The blonde didn't answer; instead she just threw the door open to the room and shouted, "Mike, Maya, come on! We're about to get a visitor I think you might want to meet!"
Then without another word, she set off running at a distance covering lope, leaving the others behind. The other young people glanced at one another. "I don't know what's going on," Maya gasped as she and Mike stood in the doorway, arms around one another. "But I intend to find out why she interrupted!"
"You and me both!" Mike echoed. As the two of them headed out, the other three just shrugged. When in Rome....the phrase wandered through their minds, then they headed off after Karone, Maya, and Mike.
"What in the world is going on?" Leo gasped as he, Kai, and Damon joined his brother and Maya. "Where's Karone going?"
"I think she's in that clearing!" Maya pointed to a broad field ahead of them. A flash of light that had to be reflected off Karone's necklace alerted them to just where she was going, and once again the chase was on.
It only took them a couple of minutes to cross over to the clearing. The first thing they saw was Karone kneeling next to someone on the ground. Leo frowned. "Who is that?"
"Only one way to find out." The five of them quickly hurried over, and as they got closer, Karone looked up. For the first time since they had met her, she looked worried: really worried, scared, as if on the verge of losing something precious to her.
"He's hurt..." she whispered quietly. Half-cradled in her lap was a young man of about her own age, blonde with silver tips to his hair, his eyes shut, and dressed in a black and gray version of the uniform that the Space Rangers had worn when they had shown up to help out. There was one major difference between them, however. This uniform was torn and worn, as if he'd been in a fantastic battle, and there was a rather large red spot in his stomach that was slowly spreading.
Maya's eyes widened. "Who is he?"
"We can find out later," Leo cut in, his eyes on the wound. "Let's get him to the MegaShip first and save him."
Karone nodded. "I'll take him there." Before any of them could ask how, she leaned in closer to the young man, putting one hand on his shoulder, and closed her eyes in concentration. A wash of purple-pink light swept over them, and when it was gone, so were they.
"I wonder who he is?" Leo murmured as they stepped out of the doorway. Karone seemed to want to be alone with their unusual visitor, and they were going to honor her wishes.
"He is Zhane, the Silver Space Ranger." The voice of DECA suddenly sounded, and the two Galaxy Rangers jumped. The ship's computer seldom spoke to them, and it was easy to forget it even existed as a semi-sentient program.
Maya blinked. "There were six of them?" She had met the five, of course, and once she thought she remembered Karone saying something about 'Zhane' in her sleep, but when her friend had awakened, she had said nothing at all about it.
"Yes." Alpha Six shuffled up to them, turning to peek briefly into the medroom. "Zhane was the original partner of Andros, until he was injured on KO-35." Quickly he gave them the information behind the Silver Ranger and how he had remained behind on Earth to keep an eye on things when the Rangers had left to come help them with the Psycho Rangers.
Leo looked impressed. Someone who could survive two years of hyper-sleep and still come out kicking keister was quite all right as far as he was concerned. "So why is Karone so worried over him? I'm guessing they know each other."
Alpha looked at the current Red Ranger. "Didn't you know? Karone and Zhane are married."
They might have enjoyed the pole-axed look on his face for a few more minutes, had Karone not suddenly appeared in the doorway. "Call the others. And Commander Stanton and High Councilor Reneir too. Zhane's awake, and he wants to talk to them."
He had always known the MegaShip was there, of course, and that the Rangers were part of the colony. It simply could be no other way. He had given them their privacy, however, in return for the defense of the colony. That bargain had been struck not long after the Galaxy Rangers had made their appearance on Terra Venture. They kept things from blowing up, and he made certain no one discovered their identities as best he could.
High Councilor Reneir frowned as she saw the young man there, his eyes closed. She recognized him, of course, you'd have to have been living under a rock for the past five years not to, but she didn't look pleased to have him there. "Why isn't he in the Terra Venture infirmary?"
"Because the facilities here are about a century more advanced than yours are," Zhane said, his eyes opening up. They were still the same shade of laughing blue, but there was a seriousness there that seemed oddly out of place. Karone still held his hand and squeezed it briefly.
"What is it you wanted to tell us, Zhane?" Mike asked. He and the Rangers had arrived a few minutes earlier and had been waiting patiently for the other two to get there.
The Silver Ranger glanced at each of them in turn, and smiled just a little weakly. "I certainly hope you guys are as strong as my friends said you were. You're going to need to be." He took a deep breath. "While you were in the Lost Galaxy, Trakeena took over the entire universe."
"Excellent. Prepare a squadron of Stingwingers. I will be going there to collect him...plus some insurance."
"Do you wish the Royal Guard to come with you?"
"No. You will remain here until further notice. If I can recapture him and his partner before they talk to the Galaxy Rangers, then the shock value of seeing all of you again will be even more impressive." The Queen of the Universe smiled viciously. "I rather look forward to seeing their expressions when they do find out they failed. Don't you, Captain?"
The Captain of the Guard bowed his two-toned head. "As you command, my queen."
"I wish I was." the Silver Ranger shook his head. "It started happening not all that long after you went to the Lost Galaxy."
Mike raised a hand. "Wait a second. How do you know that's where we were?"
"Because---" Zhane was interrupted by the sudden appearance of something tailor-made to interrupt anyone with an iota of sense no matter what they were doing: a troop of Stingwingers and a very self-satisfied looking Trakeena.
"Take him!" the Queen declared in a thundering voice. "And take him too!" She pointed her staff directly at Mike, who stared as if not certain just what was going on. Things were happening very fast.
Leo fell into his morphing stance, his eyes flaring as they met his enemy. She never has and never will forgive me for killing her father. And I'll never forgive her for what she did to me. A flicker of memory from the week he had spent as her prisoner tried to shove itself into his mind, but he resolutely pushed it back down. "I don't think so, Trakeena!" he shouted, knowing the other Rangers were moving with him. "Go, Galac---"
The words were cut off both by the arm of steel that closed around his throat and the sword that was held in the hand attached to the arm. "I don't think so, Rangers." Villamax's voice sounded quietly in one ear. "Give no resistance and I won't kill him. Stingwingers, take the ones the Queen has chosen."
Maya, Damon, Kai, and Karone stood frozen as Villamax held Leo captive. The Red Ranger couldn't help but remember a time when his friends had been held hostage and he had been forced to surrender to save their lives. Villamax is honorable. That was the one good thing there was about Trakeena's chief general. If he says he won't kill me, I trust he won't. Trakeena...Trakeena I won't trust any farther than I could throw Terra Venture.
Commander Stanton and High Councilor Reneir both stared in shock at the events unfolding before them. Reneir had been kidnapped once herself, and Stanton had been controlled by one of Trakeena's monsters, but things had never been quite this tense before. No one moved as Stingwingers jerked Zhane out of the bed, revealing he was still wearing his shipboard uniform pants beneath the blankets, and dragged the Silver Ranger and Mike over to Trakeena.
"So nice to see you back in my universe again." the Queen purred the words out, slinking over to where Villamax held Leo. "I could take you too, and finally get rid of you for what you did to my father...but..." she paused, running one finger down Leo's chest and staring directly into his eyes. "But I think knowing that I'm going to do to your brother what I did to you is going to be a very nice way to start my revenge. So much more...satisfying...than merely killing you would be."
She stepped away, then glanced at Villamax. "Let's go. We've got a universe to run, after all." The sheer confidence that radiated out from her confirmed Zhane's barely told tale in ways that no amount of explanation ever could have. Villamax threw Leo onto the medbed Zhane had forcibly vacated, and went to stand by Trakeena. "See you later....Ranger failures."
Space warped around the small group, then the only ones remaining in the chamber were Leo, Kai, Karone, Damon, Stanton, and Reneir. As soon as they realized what had happened, Leo snapped out one single, simple order.
As they entered the throne room, the first thing Mike noticed was the double throne that took up half the area. Trakeena and Villamax made their way over there, as naturally as if they had done this every day for all their lives, and took the thrones. Trakeena smiled at the expression on Mike's face.
"Prince Villamax is my royal consort," she said, laying a fond hand on her trainer's arm. "He and I rule this universe now..and forever." Her eyes glinted as she turned to face Zhane. "And I think it is time for you to take your destined place, Silver Ranger."
Zhane lifted his head up proudly. "I'd rather die!"
"That is not an option," Trakeena laughed. Zhane refused to look at her, his eyes unobtrusively looking at Villamax. The Royal Consort obviously didn't approve of whatever it was the queen was thinking about, but wasn't going to say anything, at least not in front of them. "Your friends have no qualms about doing as they are told."
Mike wondered for approximately a half a second just what Trakeena was talking about, right up until she clicked her fingers together, and from behind a curtain there emerged five figures he had last bid farewell to several months earlier, two weeks before Karone had made her arrival on the scene.
Their uniforms hadn't changed except in one respect: all that had been white before was now the deepest of blacks. As one, the Red, Blue, Yellow, Pink, and Black Space Rangers knelt before Trakeena.
"You summoned us, my queen?" the Red Ranger spoke, and Mike felt his heart sink as he recognized Andros' voice. Then hope flared up.
"You cloned them!" That was the only reasonable explanation that he could come up with; he knew the Space Rangers, the heroes of the universe, wouldn't turn against the cause of good like that.
Trakeena only smiled. "Remove your helmets, Royal Guards. Let them see who you are." As one, the five unsnapped their helmets, revealing the features he'd come to recognize during their short stay on Terra Venture. Andros, T.J., Carlos, Ashley, and Cassie all looked just as they had before, no hint of spells or anything at all having changed them. There was a difference however: each of them looked calm, cold, and absolutely devoted to Trakeena. "You see, Mike, they are the Rangers you knew. They've seen the wisdom of serving me: as will their friend."
She raised one hand, pointing to Zhane. "Andros, Carlos. Take Zhane to the conversion cocoon. Once he's joined your ranks, return his Digimorpher to him and assign him duties."
"As you wish, my queen," Andros snapped his helmet back on, as did Carlos, and the two of them seized their former teammate's arms roughly. "Come along quietly, Zhane."
"I don't think so!" the Silver Ranger struggled, throwing Carlos' hands off him quickly, and slammed a quick blow down on Andros' feet. He headed over to Mike, intent on freeing him from his Stingwinger guards, when a blast from Trakeena's staff halted him. He stood for just a moment, then collapsed on the floor, his arms folding around his stomach. Mike gasped as the wound half-healed by the medbed slowly began to reopen, blood seeping out.
"He's going to die if he doesn't get proper treatment!" he shouted, struggling with the insectoid warriors holding him. "Even you can't be that cruel!"
Trakeena simply shrugged. "The conversion chamber will heal him once he accepts my rule." She said. Carlos and Andros picked up Zhane and headed out with him, as the other three Rangers took up guard positions around the throne room. The Queen looked at Mike with speculation in her eyes. "Did your brother ever tell you what happened to him while he was my prisoner?"
Mike glared at her. "What are you talking about?"
"Answer the question!" Villamax snapped a little harshly. Mike glanced at him again; it was obvious that for whatever reason he was termed 'Queen's Consort', he didn't approve of certain things the queen was doing. That might be useful in the future.
The ex-Defender shook his head. "No, he never said anything. We never asked." Once Leo's physical wounds had been healed, he had seemed to be all right. They had all wanted to know what had gone on...but whatever had happened, Leo had never spoken a word of it.
"Excellent. Then I'll be quite happy to show you what I've got in mind." She smiled. "Stingwingers, take him to my private playroom. I'll deal with him personally later." Her smile broadened slightly. "Very personally."
Maya shook her head, her eyes slightly red. Leo had the strong suspicion that the Yellow Ranger had been doing some serious crying recently. By now, however, she had regained her composure and was doing her level best to find Zhane and Mike. "Nothing yet."
The Red Ranger nodded. Kai was using Terra Venture's sensors, hoping that the double search could locate Zhane and Mike. Damon was working on fixing up the Jet Jammers to be used when the Stinger was found, and Leo was more or less wandering between all the groups, keeping them in contact and aware of what was going on.
"Let us know if...when you find anything." He quickly changed phrases in the middle of words. Mike had never given up on him, and he had long since sworn he would never give up on his brother.
Karone smiled briefly and tightly. "We will." It was rather obvious that the two wanted to get back to their task, so Leo removed himself deftly and headed for the repair bay.
Behind him, the two female Rangers looked at each other. "Are you certain it's going to work?" Maya asked quietly.
"Yes." Karone's reply was just as quiet. "I haven't practiced in months, but I do know how to do some things still."
The Yellow Ranger nodded. "That's how you got Zhane back here?"
"Yes. Teleportation is a basic skill, but mind-linking...that's something else. Zhane and I have it naturally; that's how he was able to sense the goodness in me when I was still Astronema. After Zordon's death, the bond between us increased drastically. We didn't even have to speak, we knew what the other one was thinking automatically." Karone took a long look at her friend. "But you've got some talent already, that should make this easier. If what you and Mike share is true love...then you should be able to link to him when I boost your abilities."
Maya shook her head. "Let's do this." She was willing to go anywhere and do anything to rescue Mike from that....her mind shuddered back from some of the nastier names she wanted to call Trakeena.
Karone took both of her hands and closed her eyes, Maya emulating her. The two of them mentally 'reached' for one another, their minds touching just on the outer edges, slowly fumbling for deeper understanding.
I think I have it....Karone's purple-tinged thoughts echoed all around.
I think so too....Maya's mental voice had a faint yellow aura around it. Now what?
Karone appeared to be thinking. Look for Mike. Try to find his essence, his aura. What makes him who he is, and the one you love.
Her own mind ranged outward, trying to find the so-familiar essence that was the man she was bonded to, wed to in heart and soul for all time. The collar around her neck pulsed faintly; it was the symbol of their marriage and their love for one another, and could be used as a focus when she needed it.
There! In the outer world, almost no time at all had passed, but in the inner, it had been several long, painful, seconds. Maya, do you feel where my mind is?
Yes...I think so...Maya's psychic talents were crude, unrefined in comparison to Karone's, but with the more experienced woman there to show her the way, she could sense what was going on in a vague way. I think...
A psychic scream ripped across the inner cosmos, and Maya found herself being pulled to something, or someone. Everything rippled around her, and she was no longer in the MegaShip; she was somewhere else. A very insect-themed bedroom; she recognized the general area as being the Scorpion Stinger from the few times she'd seen the outside and Damon's descriptions of the inner area. He had not said anything about this part, however.
It didn't take a genius to figure out where she was though. The broad bed in front of her gave it away, as did the body of Mike Corbett, chained to the bed with Trakeena beside him.
As Maya watched, the insect woman issued a smooth, rippling laugh, then ran one finger down Mike's shirt, ripping it apart with almost no effort. She tossed the shreds to one side, then slowly slid onto the bed, an evil smile on her face. She wasn't wearing her usual armor; instead a sleek black satin gown adorned her body, revealing more than it concealed really. "Your brother wasn't anywhere near as difficult for me, Mike..." Maya heard Trakeena speaking. "I didn't have to chain him up."
"You're lying!" Mike spat the words out. "Leo wouldn't give in to a---" Whatever he might have called her was cut off as Trakeena slapped him sharply.
"I didn't give you permission to speak." She said sharply. "In fact, I don't think I want you to talk at all."
Mike had time for just one cry of wordless terror as Trakeena descended upon him, and then his mind became nothing but a mindless mass of pain and shame. Maya had time to see just what Trakeena was inflicting on her man, and then she was back on the MegaShip, staring at the cold eyes of Karone.
"K..K...Karone?" she whispered softly.
"We have to go." the Pink Ranger loosened her hands. "Zhane is in just as much danger as Mike is. We've got no time to get the others, either."
Maya's own eyes hardened into steel as she nodded. "This is personal."
At least she didn't ask me to take care of that. The thought of being with any other female except for her rather nauseated him, for a variety of reasons. She was the very essence of love to him, but she appeared on some occasions to think of him only as part of a harem. I should say something to her...
He knew he wouldn't, though. She was his queen, and it was her decision what she did and with who. He did hope she would somehow realize just how hard he was taking some of the plans she'd come up with in her so-far successful universal domination campaign.
Such as recruiting the Space Rangers. Villamax's general opinion on good or evil could be summed up as choices. He had chosen to align himself with Trakeena and evil, and such was his way. He would not stray from it. The Space Rangers had long since chosen the way of good, and without interference, they wouldn't stray from it either. If someone wanted to switch allegiances, that was up to them, but it shouldn't be something that was forced on them.
Trakeena didn't believe that. Once realizing that the Galaxy Rangers weren't going to be interfering for a while, she had set out on a campaign of conquest to rival that of Dark Spectre's. Stingwingers by the thousands had been hatched, trained, and prepared for battle. Planet by inhabited planet had fallen under her sway, unable to resist her magic or her troops. Like a spider's web, her empire had spread out to touch worlds they had only ever heard of as if in legend, Aquitar, Eltar, Phaedos, Edenoi, Liara, and many more. Even Earth, long since vaunted as being unconquerable, had fallen to her forces.
It was when they had struck Earth that they had struck Power Rangers, however. Seven of them, the six Space Rangers and the Phantom Ranger, had swarmed out to battle the invading armies. Trakeena's Stingwingers had been joined by some of the remaining Piranatrons and Quantrons she had recruited on Onyx, as well as warriors from other planets that were now part of her troops.
These were the first Rangers that had actually put up a serious fight against her. The Aquitian Rangers had fallen as soon as she had cast a simple dehydrating spell, and she had stripped them of their powers. They were now slaves in a mining camp that explored the deeper regions of their own world, governed by a few of the more intelligent Stingwingers.
But the Space Rangers had been different. They were worthy fighters, as he already knew. Trakeena had been planning for this since the takeover had begun, however. One by one she had laid out traps for each of them, bringing them into her snare and taking over their minds completely. The only two who had managed to remain free were the Silver Ranger and the Phantom Ranger.
Now they're her Royal Guard. And I'm becoming less and less useful. Villamax slowly came to a halt in front of a large cocoon. It was the same one Scorpius had originally created to evolve Trakeena into a more powerful entity, but now modified for another purpose. Andros and Carlos, the two guards, didn't even seem to notice as he stood there. He was Royal Consort, he could do as he pleased, as long as it didn't interfere with the designs of the queen.
Within the cocoon was the barely visible form of the Silver Ranger, slowly moving around as the threads within it overpowered Zhane's natural mental defenses and began to work into him, reshaping him into what Trakeena wanted him to be. Twenty-four hours and the next to the last Royal Guardsman takes his place. Villamax laid a hand on the cocoon, then sighed. Perhaps now that the Galaxy Rangers had returned, some sanity would return around here. He was glad his queen had finally begun to succeed in her personally set goal of ruling the universe...but the route she was taking to get there was one that deeply disturbed him.
I had best search for the Phantom Ranger. Now that she has Zhane, Trakeena is going to want to have him too. Villamax slowly reached into a pouch at his waist, touching the cut gemstone in there. Even without his Ruby, he still cannot be found. But perhaps I know who can find him.
With a slightly more confidant stride, he set off for the throne room. Regardless of his personal feelings, he would do what his queen wanted. He would help her rule the universe...as general, as consort, and as whatever else she wanted him to be. And just perhaps, she would listen to his words on a few things.
"I'm fine." He told Leo. "I just have to finish up this and it'll all be taken care of. Any word on them, yet?"
Leo shook his head. "I'll check in with the girls, though." He leaned over to touch one of intercom panels on the wall. "Karone, Maya, have you found anything yet?"
He half-expected a rather terse reply in the negative, but instead cold silence was all they heard. Leo frowned. "Maya, Karone?" Still no answer. "DECA, where are Maya and Karone?" Maybe they were heading towards them, in one of those areas where they couldn't hear an intercom message.
"Maya and Karone are no longer on the MegaShip. They teleported away approximately five minutes ago." DECA told them. Damon and Leo exchanged looks, then Leo tapped his communicator.
The voice of the Blue Ranger came back calmly. "What's up, Leo? We haven't found any trace of the guys, in case you're asking."
"Are Karone and Maya there anywhere?" Leo's voice was slightly strained; he didn't like the thought of his friends wandering around somewhere that he didn't know about.
"No, they're not. I haven't seen them since we were in the infirmary." Kai told him. "Why, what's wrong?"
Damon touched his own communicator. "Because they're not on the MegaShip."
Silent moments passed, then Kai spoke again. "They're not on Terra Venture either. Where could they be?"
Almost as soon as the words were spoken, they all knew. Leo spoke the words. "The Scorpion Stinger."
Damon muttered something under his breath fit to burn the paint off the MegaShip. "And we still don't know where that is."
To Trakeena, Villamax, the Stingwingers, and quite a few others it was home, and the traveling capital of the new-forged Dark Empire. But to Maya and Karone, it was the Scorpion Stinger, and the place they had just arrived in order to rescue the men they loved.
"Which way do we go?" Maya asked softly, looking at her friend. "Where are they?"
Karone frowned briefly, turning her head this way and that, until she finally pointed down a corridor. "Zhane is that way. Mike is probably..."
"Wherever Trakeena's quarters are." Maya said sharply. She glanced down a different corridor, feeling an irresistible pull. "That way."
The Pink Ranger nodded. "We'd better go get them. We'll meet back here, and I'll get us back to the MegaShip." She smiled briefly. "The guys probably aren't going to be very happy with us."
"I think I can live with that." Maya almost bit the words out, a few incidents where the male Rangers had made slightly disparaging comments on her gender popping up into her mind. Pretty good for a girl, rang through her mind, and she contained herself with effort. The rather humiliating shame of having been rescued...rather frequently...by the "guys" was going to be lifted today, she felt.
Karone nodded. "Just in case...how am I going to know when you've got Mike?"
Maya smiled briefly. "You'll know." She glanced back down the corridor she felt called down. "You'll hear Trakeena screaming."
Karone chuckled a little, then the two ladies clasped hands briefly. "Good luck."
With no more than that for parting words, each took the corridor they knew their love was down, and started off to do some serious rescuing.
Including my brother. She shivered at the thought of it. She knew Andros was a better fighter than she was; he had spent most of his life learning how to fight. She had learned a few martial arts skills from Ecliptor, and more from the other Galaxy Rangers, but she didn't have anywhere near the skill that Andros did. Her magic would give her a little bit of an edge, but not much of one, and there was a chance being evil would enhance his skills even beyond that.
The Pink Ranger was aware of a lot of the things that Zhane knew, though the actual events behind them she was still unclear about. She knew that the other Space Rangers were now in the service of Trakeena, though why or how she had no idea. She knew that what Zhane had said about the universe being under evil's thrall was correct, so far as he himself had known, and she had vague, secondhand memories of some of the battles that had been lost.
Can't think about that now. We'll undo it all. We did it once. She knew there wasn't going to be an easy save like the war she had been involved in before, not with a magic wave of power cleansing everything and everyone in it's path. This was going to be a war of unimaginable proportions.
"Why doesn't Her Majesty just blow up Terra Venture and be done with it?" a cold voice sounded suddenly. Karone stopped in her tracks, recognizing it with a sinking feeling. No...it can't be.
A second voice responded, one she knew just as well as she knew the first. "Apparently she wants to play with the Galaxy Rangers. I'm not going to dispute her will."
Karone leaned briefly against a wall, trembling. Carlos. Andros. Her eyes widened suddenly as something else intruded on her awareness. Zhane. Zhane's near here.
She was at the end of a corridor, and another one branched off from it, creating a corner that apparently Andros and Carlos were around. Two of them. One of me. I can't call Maya for this, and the others would take too long to get here. So I'm going to have to fight smart on this one.
The Pink Ranger considered for a few moments, remaining as still as she could. It was idiocy to think that a simple noise could distract both of them; if anything, one would remain while the other investigated. That is, if they didn't just send some Stingwingers to do it. Karone knew perfectly well the odds of her walking up and them just letting her take Zhane were completely out of the question.
Okay, I can't fight them head on. They could tear me apart. But what if I don't go head on? A plan formed itself in her mind, one that could possibly have only been conceived in the mind of a former Princess of Evil. She closed her eyes, reaching within her for the scrap of magic that still remained, and summoned it.
To someone watching, there would have been a faint sparkle of purple and pink magic all around Karone, and then there was nothing. The illusion of invisibility had covered her. Quietly and carefully she stepped around the corner, holding her breath and hoping with all her might this worked.
Andros and Carlos stood quietly in front of a large reddish cocoon. She could just barely make out the figure of Zhane inside of it, and her eyes hardened. I don't know what that thing is, but I have got to hurry.
Slowly she stepped closer, doing all she could to make certain she made not a single sound. It only took a couple of moments to get behind the two of them, and she slowly turned around as she stood between them and the cocoon. Andros, you know I love you, so please don't take this personally.
Silently, she brought both of her fists down on the back of their necks, using all the strength she had in her. Those lessons from Leo must have paid off, she thought with a smile as the two Rangers dropped silently. This is too easy. But I'm not complaining.
Karone turned to the cocoon and got back down to business. She knew she'd only have a few minutes, if that, before they both recovered, and she intended to be long gone by the time that happened. "All right, Zhane, time to wake up," she muttered, punching a fist through the cocoon. Her fingers worked slowly through the folds, searching for some part of him to grab on to.
Zhane...Zhane, I know you can hear me. I hope you can hear me in this thing, at least, please be all right! Say something if you can hear me, please!
Long moments passed as she searched for him with mind and hand. Suddenly her fingers brushed across something else, and she felt his mind in hers. K..K. Karone?
It's me, Zhane. Tears fought their way to her eyes, and she fought them back down just as hard. Her fingers wrapped hard around the hand she'd found, and jerked back even harder. You've put on weight!
Karone found herself taking a few steps back as Zhane surged out of the cocoon, his eyes flying open the minute he emerged with a slurp. For a moment the two of them stood together, Zhane still dripping with the vicious liquids from inside and Karone holding his hand as if she never wanted to let go. The two stared at each other, then Karone smiled briefly, a blush on her cheeks at the way he was looking at her. "We better get moving. I don't know how long those two are going to stay out."
The Silver Ranger nodded quickly, then glanced down at Andros. "Just a second. I've got to get something." Karone watched as he dropped down and started to rummage through Andros' suit.
"What are you looking for?"
"This." Her husband looked up, his digimorpher held in one hand now. "Let's go."
The fact she could hear him screaming and Trakeena's laughter served to more or less confirm her guess. The Yellow Ranger was fully intent on tearing the very fabric of the enemy stronghold if she had to in order to get to Mike. She stared for a moment at the door, wondering just what it was that was going on behind it. She knew what she had seen via the brief linkage, but wasn't really all that certain if she wanted to see it "live".
Doesn't matter what I want. She decided finally. Mike probably doesn't want to live it any more than I want to see it!
As she kicked the door down, the first thing that she saw was Mike chained to a strange rack-like looking device, with burn and whip marks on him, a flushed face, and other obvious signs of some serious abuse in very sensitive areas. Trakeena turned around at the noise, revealing a rather odd looking implement of torture like nothing Maya had ever seen before, with a faintly glowing tip that made it rather evident what had caused the burns.
"Do you mind, Yellow Ranger?" The evil Queen purred. "Mike and I are having a private discussion!"
Maya's eyes blazed. "I don't think so!" She didn't stop for anything. In any normal fight she wouldn't have done this, but this wasn't a normal fight. This was a battle for something more than the defense of a space colony or a world: this was a battle for the life and freedom of the man she loved.
She morphed in mid-stride across the room, her fists heading for Trakeena's hands first. Remove the torture device, then exact some rather harsh payment.
Don't kill. The words echoed in her mind suddenly, and she recognized the voice they were in.
The Wolf GalactaBeast. Her GalactaBeast. Speaking clearly and firmly in her mind. Do not kill, Yellow Ranger. Exact justice, but do not kill. She has committed a grave wrong, and must be punished for it. But death is not her destiny, not death by your hands.
Maya nodded briefly. I won't kill. But....
There is no harm or wrong in ...damaging her. Maya remembered something she'd learned from studying various informational tapes on wolves: they mated for life. Trakeena was infringing on her lifemate, and Maya wasn't going to let her get away with it.
Trakeena wasn't going to just stand there and let the Yellow Ranger attack her, however. With a snap of her fingers her staff appeared in one hand, and morphed into her sword. As Maya lunged nearer to her, she thrust the blade up at her swiftly, intending on sliding it straight through the Yellow Ranger's ribs if she could.
Maya saw what was going on, and altered the angle of her attack so it came in lower, instead of at Trakeena's hands. A punch to the stomach was just as useful, and had the added advantage of Trakeena not being able to move quite fast enough to block it. Don't have time for a long drawn out fight; she can call up reinforcements and I can't. Just need to put her out of the way long enough to get Mike and run!
Mike hung on the rack, every part of his body demanding medical attention and his soul aching in ways he'd never imagined possible. The things Trakeena had done to him made him nauseous, and the proof she'd shown that she had done the same things to Leo made him want to strangle her. The twin reasons he hadn't just retreated mentally were rather simple: he wasn't going to abandon Maya that way, and he was going to make certain his brother got some very intense therapy. And so am I.
"And for the last time," Maya grunted, the first time she'd spoke since morphing. "Keep your hands off my boyfriend!"
She punctuated her command with a powerful strike to Trakeena's stomach, sending her enemy tumbling onto the rather disheveled bed. With a quick move, she pulled her blaster out and aimed it at the chains bonding Mike to the rack. "Ready to get out of here, Mike?"
"I thought you'd never ask!" he gasped as she began to melt his chains.
Trakeena wasn't going to just let them take Mike and run, however. As she got her breath back, she shouted one single word as loudly as she could: "Villamax!"
Maya bit her lip as Mike came off the rack and she heard the echoes of Trakeena's cry fading away. The two of them turned to see a ripple fading away and two new figures standing in the room: Villamax and Cassie. Maya noticed something else almost at once: Villamax's eyes flared with jealousy the moment he took in the scene, and Mike's state of dress...or undress, to be perfectly accurate.
"Trakeena, keep your hands off my guy from now on." She snapped quickly, something prompting her that she wasn't fully aware of. "You've got your own man, one you're hurting a lot by doing this. Leave us alone."
Her statement was calculated not just by a desire to keep her enemy from her boyfriend, but by a half-felt desire to heal the pain she could feel coming off of Villamax. It didn't matter that he was her enemy as well; she was not going to let something go by unfixed if she could help it. But whatever her reasons, it gave her something else she needed: time to get a firm grip on Mike and activate her teleporting ability, something the Rangers had seldom used.
As the yellow and light black teleportation spheres faded away, Trakeena and Villamax slowly looked at one another. The queen got to her feet and straightened herself out. A cold light lit her eyes. "Cassie, leave us." The order was given tersely.
"Yes, my queen. Shall I alert the rest of the Guard and find the invaders?" Cassie bowed low and quickly.
"No." Trakeena shook her head, then narrowed her eyes as Carlos and Andros suddenly stepped into the room, both looking somewhat sheepish and rubbing the backs of their head. "What is it? And this had better be good!"
"Zhane was rescued." Andros said contritely. "We don't know how it happened. One moment we were on guard. The next, we were getting up off the floor with headaches and the cocoon was ripped open."
Trakeena went wild. Not in a wild, screaming, yelling sort of way, but rather calmly. Her sword morphed back to her staff, and she pointed it calmly at the three Rangers, blasting them with powerful and painful energies. "Get out of here. Don't worry about the Rangers; you'll battle them some other time. I'm going to call a full scale war-meeting tomorrow morning...but tonight is your own. Do whatever you wish."
Villamax spoke up. "Cassie, continue the search." He tossed her something Trakeena recognized as the Phantom Ranger's ruby. "If you find him, take some Stingwingers and bring him back here."
The Pink Space Ranger glanced at the queen, who made no motions against the order. All three of them quickly vacated the area, shutting the door behind them and leaving Queen and Consort alone together.
"We'll leave the discussion of some Rangers running off without talking to the rest of us for later," Leo said slightly sharply, looking at the female members of the team. "But for now....what is going on, Zhane?"
The Silver Ranger took a long breath. "Trakeena rules as much of the universe as she could get her claws into, and the other Space Rangers are serving her now." He waited momentarily for the shouts to die down, then continued. "It started just after you went to the Lost Galaxy. Trakeena started making deals with some of the creatures on Onyx; her army has got to be five or six times what Dark Spectre's was at it's biggest. They've brought in entire species under her control, and given up their rights to their planets, letting her mine them and use up their resources."
He shuddered for a moment. "One of the first worlds she drew in had a very long history of magic and mages. Once they fell, all of that was at her command. She drew on it to start setting up teleport stations all over the universe so she could bring her troops anywhere she wanted within seconds. After that, it got even worse. She was everywhere." Zhane closed his eyes, then shook his head and kept going. "Planets that had just gotten themselves rebuilt after the wars were razed to the ground. And there were no deaths...just..mass surrender on ninety percent of the planets' parts."
Kai asked quietly, "What about the other Power Rangers?"
"We had no idea of what was going on." Zhane admitted. "Trakeena's troops were keeping everything quiet. The first hint we got was when Trakeena attacked Aquitar. A human who had emigrated to there managed to get a warning out to Earth that they were under attack, but we didn't have time to get details before it was over with. When we tried to check it out, the entire planet was surrounded by troops: some of them Aquitian. As far as we could tell, the entire planet was under her control."
There was a dead silence. Zhane didn't let it last long; he'd been holding this in for quite a while. "After that, we knew something was going on. The others recognized some of Trakeena's handiwork, but we didn't know for certain she was the one behind it till a little while later." He gathered his courage. "When she started "collecting" Power Rangers."
Karone slowly took his hand, and he smiled at her briefly. "Andros was the first. It was....I still don't believe how easy it was for her. As if she had planned this for years and was just waiting for the right moment for it to be pulled off. We were on Eltar; a distress call had made it through saying that they were under attack, and we managed to make it there. The attack was still going on, and we joined in. We got separated by Stingwingers, I know it had to be on purpose. We were far enough away so we couldn't help: but close enough to see everything else.
"There was some sort of holograph of Karone....injured, and badly so. It drew Andros into a warehouse like a magnet. Then....it blew up...with him inside."
Everyone went pale, including Karone. Zhane kept going. "We thought he was dead at the time. Ashley was going out of her mind." He shook his head. "I think he would have preferred to be dead to what had to have happened to him next. It was another couple of days before we had any idea of what Trakeena was doing. We lost the battle on Eltar; once Andros was gone, we found ourselves surrounded by monsters and troopers: Eltarian troopers most of them. Trakeena had set up the whole battle just to capture him."
Maya wrapped her fingers around Mike's hand, and looked up at him. They had come close to losing each other after just barely finding each other, and could sense what Ashley must have been going through.
"Two days later, Ashley vanished out of our base; what used to be the Power Chamber on Earth, their headquarters. We'd been contacting as many retired Rangers as we could, trying to get up a resistance force of some kind. I..I was talking to her when it happened." Zhane clenched a fist. "She had kind of snapped out of things by then, and we were going to be making plans for picking up someone in Florida. She went to her room to get something she needed...and never came back out." Zhane shook his head. "We couldn't detect any teleport signatures going in or out of there for the last week. She just went in....and was gone."
Damon shuddered; the very thought of something like that happening was sickening. Zhane had barely begun, though. "T.J. was next. It was on that Florida run. It was the first attack on Earth, too. We got ambushed on the way there. We were in a small shuttlecraft that had been built after the last war, and got boarded by Piranatrons and Stingwingers. That was a straight out kidnaping; I saw him being dragged onto their ship unconscious."
"What happened to Cassie and Carlos?" Karone asked. "And the Phantom Ranger?"
Her husband sighed. "I'll get to the Phantom. Cassie was the one who fell next, though. And what Trakeena did was absolutely sick. One of the mages she had cast a spell that completely warped Cassie's sense of reality. She didn't know what was what...or who was who." Zhane shivered, remembering the four day nightmare that they had all had to suffer from. "She become convinced that there were...things chasing her." He sighed. "I don't know what she was seeing, but whatever it was kept her terrified. She wouldn't sleep. She wouldn't let any of us come too near her. Not even Phantom." He shook his head. "It took four days. Cassie just...ran out during a debriefing session. We tried to find her, but it was as if she'd vanished without a trace. Just like Ashley."
Reneir and Stanton both looked nervous; the very thought of someone being stolen and nearly driven mad was disturbing to the two of them. Zhane hadn't finished yet, though.
"After that, Phantom, Carlos, and I didn't go anywhere without each other. We didn't dare. But that didn't wind up making a difference in the end." He shuddered. "Even Power Rangers have to sleep. Especially when there are monsters that produce sleep gas chasing you. Five of them."
All the Galaxy Rangers were in deep-set shock by then. If Trakeena had used tactics like that on them, they wouldn't have stood a chance: and it was obvious the universe hadn't stood one either.
"We stuck together as much as we could, but the monsters didn't seem to care. Once we were passed out, that was it." He sighed. "When Phantom and I woke up, Carlos was gone. That was the last we saw of any of the others until about a month ago. Earth had fallen by then. We tried." The agony in his voice made his statement painfully obvious to them. "But it wasn't good enough. We did what we could to get a resistance together, but nothing seemed to be going right. It was as if Trakeena knew where we were, what we were up to, nothing could be kept from her. Our bases were raided, our people captured and enslaved, cities that had stood for eons are nothing more than rubble now."
Zhane shook his head, rubbing his eyes to wipe away the tears. "Then we saw them. Andros, Ashley, Cassie, T.J., Carlos. T...they led a raid on the base with a horde of Stingwingers. I tried to talk to them...find out what was going on, but all Andros did..." The Silver Ranger's hand floated to his chest, touching it gently. "He got me down and almost killed me. If it hadn't been for Phantom, he would have." Zhane's voice went flat. "That was when we knew Trakeena had control of them. And they wanted us, Phantom and myself, as well. To finish out "The Royal Guard". They almost had us once, a couple of days after we saw the others."
He breathed out deeply. "Like always, they knew where we were. It was almost as if they could read our minds. Phantom and I woke up to find the other Space Rangers standing in front of us. We couldn't move...not by so much as an inch. Andros had my Digimorpher and Cassie was holding Phantom's ruby. Andros...Andros said..."
Zhane didn't want to repeat the words, but did anyway. "Andros said that we already belonged to Trakeena, that we couldn't stop ourselves from coming to her whenever she wanted us to. We could run as much as we liked, but in the end, she'd have us..." He shook his head, remembering the vicious look in his best friend's eyes. "They left...they could've taken us with them, but they left. We've seen them...every now and then..since then. They completely serve Trakeena now."
Everyone was silent for a few moments, then Karone asked quietly, "Where's Phantom?"
"He's hidden, for now." Zhane replied. "He doesn't need his Ruby like he used to in the old days, but he still depends on it some. So since it's been taken, he's been hidden. If we can get it back, then he can join us."
Leo nodded abruptly. He'd heard tales of the Phantom Ranger, and had learned while the Space Rangers had been there before that he and Cassie were married. "We'll get it back somehow. But we need to figure out some way to stop Trakeena, too."
"Neranon." The word wasn't the only thing that was surprising them, it was who said it. And the tone in which it was said.
Mike blinked a little. "Damon? What are you talking about?"
The Green Ranger looked up. "Neranon. We have to go there." He seemed a little distracted, as if listening to something they couldn't hear. "We have to....it's our only chance."
Commander Stanton raised an eyebrow. "And just where is "Neranon"? Why do we have to go there?"
Damon's eyes were almost haunted as he turned to the Commander and Councilor. "Neranon isn't far from here. Only about four light-years. Terra Venture can stay around here; but the Rangers have to go. We can take the MegaShip, but we have to go." The desperation in his voice was completely unmistakable. "If we don't, then Trakeena will destroy Terra Venture and rule the universe...forever."