From out of the Shadows
I must've been exhausted, because I woke from the deepest sleep I'd ever had. I didn't remember any dreams though, and as my eyes fluttered open, I was thankful for that, at least. For half a second I wondered what planet I was on, but then the interior of the Phoenix took shape around me, and I nodded to myself and sat up.
Pulling on my shoes, I stepped into the bathroom before helping myself to some of the food the Rangers had left for me. The Rangers must've been outside since the zord was deserted and eerily quiet. Feeling a little uneasy, I made my way down the ramp and out into the clearing.
As promised, the Aqua Ranger was sitting on the ground by the ramp, his back to one of the zord's giant silver feet. Hearing my footsteps, he turned to me and nodded. The Rangers were all morphed and keeping watch over the shadowy trees. Seeing me, they waved greetings and wished me a good morning, but I noticed several of them were missing. They must've been standing guard on the other side of the Phoenix, so I stepped around the zord to stretch my legs. The planet's moons had set, and the forest was dark and still. It felt like it was very early in the morning.
But as I walked behind the Phoenix zord, a sudden flash of flame lit up the clearing. I let out a surprised yell and jumped back in shock as two figures appeared before me, the grass beneath their feet scorched and blackened from their arrival.
The woman on the left was almost as ancient as the Olympians, with long silver hair held up in two great spikes behind her head. She was wearing a crumpled red dress that fell to the ground, adorned with jewels and an elaborate feathered collar. She had on at least four necklaces and her fingers were covered in rings, with dozens of sparkling gemstones between them. In one hand, she carried a staff with a glowing red orb at the end. Inscribed on the staff were strange golden symbols I couldn't read, but in the low light, they gave the impression of dark magic in a forbidden language.
Beside her stood who I initially thought was a man, but as my eyes adjusted, I saw he was anything but. It was as if his skin had disappeared, leaving behind nothing but muscle and sinew under a shiny metal exoskeleton. His mouth was hidden behind a steel grill while his eyes were protected by a red visor. In his hand he carried a staff as well, but this one was silver with a stylised "Z" at the top. Like the gods of Olympus, power seemed to crackle around them, but it wasn't organic or natural. Instead, it seemed like it was trying to escape in fits and spurts, as if it had been trapped and hoarded somewhere it was never meant to be.
I'd never met them before, but from everything the Rangers had ever said to the public, I recognised them instantly.
"Zedd and Rita," I breathed.
The Black Ranger suddenly leaped past me on a course straight for the intruders, but Zedd raised his staff and blasted the Ranger away in a shower of sparks. As he climbed to his feet, the other Rangers raced around me to form a defensive line between me and the two supervillains, while the Black Ranger grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back.
"Back off Zedd," said the Red Ranger. "Today is not the day to try your luck."
"How did you find us?" the Pink Ranger demanded.
Zedd chuckled with smug amusement. "All this time," he began, "and you still never give us enough credit."
"Fools," Rita laughed. Her voice was like nails on a chalkboard, and it hurt my ears. "We've both lived on the moon long enough to track you anywhere you go in the galaxy," but she added under her breath, "most of the time. Unless Finster's invention breaks again."
The White Ranger raised Saba. "You're here for Tim?" he said.
"Because of the Skethani virus?" Rita asked, and leaned in close. "I can almost smell it on him! By the Destroyer, he is pulsing with power!"
As one, the Rangers summoned their Power Weapons and held them at the ready. "You can't have him," said the Grey Ranger, his twin blasters fixed on Zedd's visor.
Zedd waved his hand dismissively. "Don't be absurd," he said. "We don't even want him! My darling wife Rita and I have played this game long enough to know that you've probably taken this boy under your sanctimonious wings while promising to keep him safe. Which means you'll turn every Heaven on every world upside down to protect him."
"In short, Rangers," Rita continued, spitting the word out like a curse, "we know when we'd be wasting our time."
"Besides," Zedd added, "to protect that pathetic boy, you'll probably have to kill a lot of people who, frankly, I'm happy to see killed. And if they get to you first? That's a win for us either way!"
"Um, thanks?" replied the Aqua Ranger.
Losing interest in the conversation, Rita turned to her husband. "Zeddy? Let's go shopping!" she exclaimed. "You never take me anywhere. Besides, I just remembered Finster is all out of duct-tape and nitro glycerine."
Losing his patience, the Red Ranger stepped forward, raising his sword high. "Enough games Zedd," he said. "What do you want?"
Zedd turned to the Red Ranger. "We just thought we'd drop by and say how much we missed you," he said. "Oh, but I hope you brought some insect repellent." With that, he and Rita chortled to themselves. "Goodbye Rangers!" Zedd said, and with a mocking salute, he and Rita teleported away. The clearing fell silent again, but it was a few minutes before I saw the Rangers relax.
The Black Ranger turned to me. "You okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, I think so," I said.
"What was that about?" the Yellow Ranger asked.
"I have no idea," the Red Ranger replied.
But I noticed the Aqua and Pink Rangers sharing concerned looks. "Did Zedd just say what I think he said?" the Aqua Ranger asked.
The Pink Ranger nodded. "Oh no," she said, and spun to her team-mates. "We have to get to the others. Now."
Leaving the archive building, Peter, Teresa, Sarah and Scott quickly made their way back through Chronopolis's quiet streets towards the city gates. It was very early in the morning and parts of the city were just starting to wake up. With no time for stealth, the Rangers passed more and more residents of the city, including half a dozen city guards on patrol, but brushed past them with short nods and polite greetings. It was actually darker now than before, and glancing skyward, the Rangers saw why. Thick clouds heavy with rain were drifting down over the city, blocking the stars and overtaking the faint golden glow on the horizon.
"Watch out," warned Teresa, as one of the city's silver vehicles approached from around a corner.
"Onto the pavement," said Peter, and the four teens stepped to the side to let the vehicle pass.
"We can't be far," said Sarah. "But these streets all look the same in the dark."
"The gate's only a couple of minutes away," Scott said, carrying the box of files. "I remember that big spire there on the left."
"Good job," Peter said.
But as they turned down a shadowy avenue between overhanging buildings, a strange clicking noise filled the air, the sound of metal claws scratching across uneven cobblestones. Peter held up his hand and brought them to a stop as a dark figure stepped out of the shadows. Even in the low light, they immediately saw that whatever the creature was, it wasn't human. Standing taller than Peter, the creature was covered head-to-toe in a mixture of thick bony shell and silver body armour. Protruding from the creature's back, two triangular wings were visible over its shoulders. A pair of twitching brown antenna rose over the creature's bulbous, insect eyes, while two silver claws jutted out from either side of the beast's pointed green proboscis.
"Rangerszzz," the creature hissed in the shadows. "I can zzzsee you."
The Rangers raised their arms defensively, while Scott stepped forward in shock. "Insectoid?" the Blue Ranger asked.
"You know this clown?" Peter asked.
"Yeah, he calls himself the Insectoid," Scott replied. "He's part insect, part cyborg. There's a whole colony of these guys, at least, there was. Brendan, Kim and I ran into him last year. I didn't think we'd see him again."
"It iszzz a day for surpriseszzz," the Insectoid droned. "I trust you're keeping the Skethani virus zzzsafe for me?"
"Bad news big guy," Sarah said. "The virus will destroy anything organic, and that's gotta be at least half of you."
"But once we have removed the viruszzz from itszzz host, our swarmszzz will arm themselves with it and use it to bring the galaxy to heel," the Insectoid replied. "The virus was a human creation, after all. Thusly it muszzzt be as flawed and malleable as the reszzzt of you."
"Well guess what?" Teresa began. "The host isn't here. You're wasting your time."
"We know," the Insectoid replied, and the Rangers could hear satisfaction in the creature's voice. "Instead we find four hostageszzz the Rangerszzz will happily trade the host for. A pleasing outcome either way, don't you agree?"
Teresa suddenly heard a faint buzzing noise in the shadows across the street. A quick glance spotted three of the Insectoid's foot-soldier drones creeping through the darkness towards them. "Guys," she said. "I've got three on my right."
"And three more on the left," Sarah added.
"There's a half dozen right behind us," Scott finished. "What do we do? We can't morph."
"We can't fight them here," Peter replied. "There are people sleeping in these buildings. We keep them on us and lead them out of the city. The gate's not far."
"So much for not attracting any attention," Teresa said.
Peter turned to her, remembering their earlier trip into the city. "Because there's a lot more guards than normal, isn't there?" he asked, and quickly whispered a plan to the rest of the team.
"That is crazy and brilliant," Sarah smiled. "I knew there was a reason you were my second-favourite cousin."
"Glen's parents have a pool."
"Enough of your babbling," snapped the Insectoid, and nodded to his drones. "Get them!"
The drones closed in, and Peter turned to his team-mates. "Okay Rangers," he said. "Swarm the insect!"
The Rangers charged forward, lowering their heads and thundering towards the Insectoid. The cybernetic insect froze in surprise as his prey raced towards him at full speed. At a loss, he fired a wave of stingers from his proboscis. But even as the street went up in sparks, Peter and Teresa took to the air, slamming their feet into the Insectoid's head with side-by-side high kicks. The creature staggered back as the two Rangers dropped to the ground and kept running, all without breaking stride. With the insects now behind them, the four Rangers raced away.
"Move move move!" shouted Sarah.
"After them!" the Insectoid shouted. His drones immediately buzzed around him. "They're trying to eszzzcape!"
With their hearts pounding and sounds of the chase echoing off the cobblestones, the Rangers sprinted through the city, past darkened houses and empty alleys as the drones gained ground behind them with every step. As the Rangers ran, more and more buildings were lighting up as their occupants woke because of the noise. Finally, the Rangers rounded a corner onto the main road out of Chronopolis. Racing past the field of sleeping cattle, they saw the gate stood firmly shut, while the swarm of cybernetic drones were only a few steps behind.
"Sarah!" Peter shouted, his breath ragged, "open the gate! We'll hold them off!"
"Got it!" Sarah replied, and dashed away towards the gatehouse.
By now the Rangers had reached the fortified wall protecting the city. With two of the drones behind her, Teresa ducked instinctively as they lunged towards her, before spinning around and kicking high to catch one of them on the chest. She dropped to the ground and found her footing as the second drone attacked, but grabbed its arm and used the creature's own momentum to throw it off its feet. A few metres away, Peter dived to safety over one of the drones. Rolling to his feet, he kicked high and forced a second drone back with a metallic clang. Two more swarmed around him, and he dodged a punch before stepping around a low kick, doing his best to keep out of range. Still holding the archives box, Scott stepped around a high kick, but one of the drones caught him with a low punch that sent him sprawling to the ground. Peter and Teresa immediately raced over to help him to his feet as the drones closed in.
Over in the gatehouse, the two guards turned to each other in surprise as sounds of the fight began to reach them.
"What on Dhalia is going on out there?" the younger of the two asked.
"I'll check it out," nodded the senior guard. He stood up and pulled the door open to find Sarah standing before him.
"Sorry," Sarah frowned, dropping the guard with a powerful right hook before slamming the younger guard off his feet with a high kick. "Fate of the Universe and all. Zordon will cover your hospital bills." Glancing around the inside of the gatehouse, she was relieved to quickly find the button marked 'gate lock'. "Bingo."
Outside, the wall shook and groaned as the enormous locking mechanism fell away and the giant gate began to swing open.
"Sarah did it!" Peter said. "C'mon!"
Stumbling and ducking to avoid incoming attacks, the three Rangers ran towards the gate. Once they'd reunited with Sarah, the four teens raced out of the city. Watching from afar, the Insectoid angrily buzzed towards his drones, and he quickly followed the Rangers out of Chronopolis. But after only a few paces, the swarm of cybernetic insects came to a stop.
Standing on the street between two of the enormous trees that lined the road were Peter and Scott, the Blue Ranger a few steps behind and still carrying the box of records. Neither of them made any attempt to flee.
"Foolish Rangerszzz," the Insectoid began. He almost sounded disappointed. "Foolish and szzzadly predictable. All of that was juszzzt to lead my droneszzz and I away from the population of Chronopoliszzz? How noble."
"Not quite," Peter said, and smiled. "It turns out we can set traps too."
Back in the gatehouse, the second guard opened his eyes and gazed around the room. "Where did our guns go?" he asked.
"Teresa! Sarah! Now!" Peter shouted. The girls stepped out of hiding from behind the trees, each holding a pair of laser pistols aimed for the Insectoid and his drones. At point blank range they couldn't have missed, and the road erupted in sparks and smoke.
"Nice shooting," Peter said, when one of the drones appeared only a few metres away.
"Catch!" Teresa called, and threw him one of the blasters.
Peter caught the weapon, jammed it into the drone's chest and fired, blasting the creature back in a blaze of fire. Keeping their opponents at bay, the Rangers backed further and further away from the city.
"They're not morphers," Sarah said, forcing two of the drones behind a nearby barn, "but they'll do for now."
"It sure beats kicking them in the head," said Teresa.
"We should at least make it back to the Phoenix zord," Peter said. "Provided we can..."
The Insectoid suddenly emerged from the smoke cloud. Peter turned to fire but the cyborg sent a volley of stingers whistling towards him, destroying the blaster and forcing Peter to throw it away.
"Damn it," Peter said, shaking his hand.
Two of the drones leaped down before him, but before Teresa could fire, Ian jumped past Peter, throwing the first drone back with a high kick. As the creature fell, Brendan appeared on the other side, taking the second drone's legs out from under it and catching it with a kick as it fell. The six Rangers quickly regrouped in the centre of the road as the Insectoid pulled the drones back.
"Miss us?" Ian asked.
"We are glad to see you," Peter said.
"Finally, trouble you can't blame us for," Brendan grinned.
"How'd you know we needed you?" asked Scott, as he stowed the box of records safely off the road.
"You wouldn't believe us if we told you," Brendan replied.
"And check it out," Ian continued. "We brought presents," and the boys held up four morphers, their Power Coins shining brightly in the low light.
The Rangers threw aside the blasters and reached for their morphers. "All right," Peter said. "This'll even the odds. It's morphin' time!"
"Iguanodon!" shouted Ian, and the Grey Ranger suit wrapped around him.
"Dilophosaurus!" said Brendan, as a wave of aqua light washed over him.
"Rhamphorynchus!" continued Sarah, morphing into the Purple Ranger.
"Brontosaurus!" added Scott, and he was lost in a blaze of blue light.
"Velociraptor!" called Teresa, as the White Ranger suit appeared around her.
"Stegosaurus!" finished Peter. In a flash of orange light, he was ready for battle. Now morphed, the six Rangers faced down the Insectoid and his drones.
"Humanszzz," buzzed the Insectoid in irritation. "Everything muszzzt be difficult. Bring in the waspszzz!"
Loud buzzing filled the air, and the Rangers looked up to see three gigantic wasp-shaped ships descending from the clouds. Easily the size of houses, the cybernetic wasps had red eyes, green angular wings and cockpits on top of their heads, with weapons mounted on both their bodies and their curved tail sections. The Rangers were just wondering what else the Insectoid had brought when the ground began shaking, and a praying mantis the size of a semi-trailer climbed over a nearby hill, its giant red eyes glowing malevolently.
"Wow, Zedd wasn't kidding," Brendan murmured.
"Get them!" screamed the Insectoid. "Deszzztroy them all!"
Sarah reached for her blade blaster. "Mantis," she called.
"Wasps," said Ian, summoning his Power Blasters with a thought.
"Wasps," added Brendan.
"Then we'll take the drones," Peter said. "Go!"
As the drones closed in, they raised their arms and hooked metal talons slid into place, extending from their wrists. Now armed, the cybernetic drones carved the blades towards their opponents. Peter dived over a wide slice, rolling to his feet and blocking a sharp lunge from a second opponent. He sent the beast stumbling with a powerful strike to the chest, before ducking instinctively as the first drone swung again. Spinning around to face the beast, he blocked a low kick and struck the drone away with a blow to the stomach, before taking to the air and sending two more crashing with a high spinning kick.
Behind him, Teresa stepped around a low slice, catching the creature's wrist and launching it into a second, taking them both to the ground. Glancing to the hooked blades on their arms, the White Ranger summoned her Power Whip with a thought and cracked the weapon at the feet of her enemies to keep them away. Two of the drones suddenly charged towards her, but she sent one of the beasts crashing with a jump kick. Finding her footing, she wrapped the trailing end of her whip around the second drone's legs and flung him to the ground, before cracking the whip at the remaining drones and forcing them to keep their distance.
A few metres away, Scott dropped low to avoid one of the drones as it raked its talons for his helmet. Spinning around, he took the soldier's legs out from under it before leaping to his feet. A second drone fell towards him, but he caught the drone's arm and threw it into a third, downing them both in a screech of tangled limbs. A fourth drone carved his blades for the Blue Ranger in a wide slice, but Scott summoned his Power Staff in a flash and blocked the blades in a shower of sparks before striking the drone away.
Further along the road, Ian was racing along the street and firing at the hovering wasps as the three ships returned fire. He scored a direct hit on the closest wasp but dived behind a barn as the other two targeted him, the blasts scorching through the air towards him. One of the wasps zoomed low, and Ian took to the air as the ground where he'd been standing erupted behind him. Regaining his footing, he fired wildly, keeping their attention on him. The three wasps easily dodged his shots, but the closest wasp was now only metres above the roof of the barn.
"Close enough?" Ian asked into his communicator.
"Perfect!" shouted Brendan.
Racing across the roof of the barn, the Aqua Ranger leaped into the air towards the hovering wasp. The battle flashed beneath him, and his twin Power Sai appeared in his hands as he landed between the eyes of the giant wasp. Before the cybernetic pilot could respond, Brendan smashed the viewscreen and jammed his sai down through the pilot's control panel. The console erupted, the whole wasp shaking in midair. But Brendan held on, grabbing the ship's pilot and throwing the creature out of the ship. Reaching for his blade-blaster, Brendan shot out the wings of the other two ships before somersaulting to safety. He touched down a second later, as the three destroyed wasps crashed to the ground around him.
Back on the slope of the hill, Sarah had charged towards the giant praying mantis. Sitting in the cockpit between the robot's eyes, the pilot took no chances and fired a barrage at the approaching Purple Ranger. But Sarah had already closed the distance between them, and as the robot slashed one of its razor-sharp pincers for her, she used her blaster to slice the limb clean off. With the mantis's weaponry still firing, she rolled to safety and sprang to her feet, taking out the two remaining legs before leaping into the air. Landing on the mantis's neck, she launched the pilot clear of the cockpit with a powerful kick, before using her blaster to slice through the two hind legs on the other side. As she jumped down onto the grass, the entire cybernetic mantis fell apart behind her.
The six Rangers regrouped in the field beside the road. "Bugs squashed," Sarah said, and high-fived Brendan.
"Good work," Peter said.
Across the field, the limping and broken drones retreated behind the Insectoid, who buzzed angrily as his cybernetic troops fell in line behind him. "We are not done yet Rangerszzz!" the Insectoid shouted.
"Actually, you kind of are," said Teresa, and pointed to the dozens of Chronopolis city guards now lining the wall, all armed with powerful cannons.
"Now!" the senior-most guard called, and the army opened fire. The sky lit up as the blasts slammed into what was left of the Insectoid's army. The whole field shook with the barrage, and the Insectoid gazed around frantically for an escape as more cannon fire whistled down towards him.
"You will see uszzz again!" the cybernetic insect screeched. Raising his arm, he tapped a button on his wrist pad, and the insects around him teleported away in a flash of light, disappearing into the shadows.
Scott reached for the box of records. It had remained protected where he'd left it before the fight. "Let's not wait for them to come back," he said.
"Did you find something that'll help Tim?" Ian asked.
Peter nodded. "Our next stop is the planet Nerimos," he replied. "Let's get out of here," and the Rangers raced away into the forest.