Metal Against Metal
Taking slow mechanical steps, the high priestess Automica emerged from the cloud of dust, surveying the destruction on all sides as she advanced on the Rangers. Fixing her gaze on us, I saw her eyes burning bright with hatred. "How dare you?" she began. "How dare you?!"
The Pink Ranger raised her hand. "Save it sister," she said. "Your army is gone, your ships are destroyed, and your allies turned and ran. In case you haven't figured it out yet? You're about to have the worst day of your life."
"You would dare defy me?" Automica ranted.
The male White Ranger stepped forward. "Careful Automica," he said. "I don't think you realise how human you are."
The priestess almost exploded. "Blasphemy!" she screamed, but her gaze was suddenly distant, staring past us to the lab. "There you are," she murmured.
"She's going for the virus!" shouted the Purple Ranger.
As one, the Rangers raised their weapons. But Automica held her arms wide, and panels along her body slid open to reveal an arsenal of rockets, primed to fire. "Nothing will stop me!" she screamed.
"Great," groaned the Aqua Ranger. "Upgrades."
"Down!" cried the Red Ranger. The Yellow Ranger grabbed me and threw me to the ground as Automica opened fire. By the time everybody had rolled to their feet, Automica had already closed the distance between herself and the abandoned lab.
"Stop her!" shouted the Orange Ranger.
His team-mates leaped after her, but the mad priestess tore the side off the building and threw it at the heroes, sending them crashing. With nothing left between her and the containment sphere, she stepped inside. Still contained within the orb, the virus turned to greet her, pressing itself against the transparent wall. Reaching the sphere, she rested her hand against it.
"Finally," she murmured, "my destiny!" And she punched her fist clean through the sphere.
"No!" I shouted, but it was too late. Now freed, the virus shot into Automica's arm as lightning flashed around her, blasting out the walls and bringing down the ceiling. Automica's triumphant laughter soon turned into inhuman screams. The metal on her arm began warping and reforming as the virus bonded with its new host. With the twisting metal travelling into her torso, her whole body started changing. Barely recognisable, Automica began growing, expanding in size before our eyes. As the Rangers and I looked on, her shoulders broke through the ceiling, destroying whatever was left of the lab.
"C'mon," shouted the Grey Ranger, pointing to the zords. "Let's move!"
But as I turned to run, I caught sight of it there on the ground where I'd left it. The bracelet Hephaestus had made for me, to keep the virus contained. Almost without thinking about it, I scooped up the bracelet, turned to where the priestess's body was remoulding itself and threw the bracelet towards her. At that distance I couldn't have missed, and the bracelet was absorbed into her leg as she continued to grow.
The Red Ranger reached me. "Hold on!" he shouted. I grabbed his arm, and he reached for his wrist with his free hand. We shot up into the sky as teleport streaks towards the Red Dragon thunder zord. A second later, we materialised in the cockpit, the Red Ranger appearing in the seat with me standing behind him. On all sides were blinking lights, switches and dials, the display even more impressive than the Phoenix cockpit. On the viewscreen before us, I saw the full fleet of zords assembling on the desert plain. Across the battlefield, Automica had reached her full-size, a fifteen-storey colossus of death and hate, pulsing with the power of the Skethani virus. Her face had changed, the added power giving her a crown of metal spikes, while claws and spiked gauntlets appeared on her arms and legs. In the cockpit of the Red Dragon, the Red Ranger glanced over his shoulder.
"Normally I have a seat for guests," he began, "but we're gonna have to do this fast. Hold on!" I gripped the back of his seat and held on for dear life as he reached for the radio. "Rangers, switch to Megazords, now!"
With a flash a lightning, the giant metal beasts began to transform. Across the plain, the orange Stegozord dropped back to its dinosaur mode then drew level with the blue Brontozord. Behind them, the aqua Dilophozord took to the air, and its legs folded up into its body before dropping down to combine with the other two, giving the Megazord legs and feet. The white Velociraptor split in half to provide the Megazord with arms, while the purple Rhamphorynchus wrapped around the Megazord's torso to form the chestplate. With the DinoMegazord fully assembled, the five Rangers teleported into the cockpit behind the zord's glowing yellow eyes, and the DinoMegazord was ready for battle.
Meanwhile, the Red Dragon warrior had taken to the air. Far below, the Unicorn and Griffin thunder zords had drew side-by-side and folded up together, while the Black Lion had broken apart to form the Thunder Megazord's chest and arms. As the Red Dragon combined with the three smaller zords, the Phoenix wrapped itself around the Megazord's stomach. With that, the Thunder Megazord had formed. There was another flash of light and I was suddenly standing inside a much larger room. Gazing around in wonder, I realised the Red Ranger and I had been teleported into the Megazord's cockpit in the chest. On either side of me, the Pink and Yellow Rangers were seated at their consoles, while in front of us were the Blue, Red and Black Rangers.
"Thunder Megazord, online!" the five Rangers called.
"Megazord cockpit," began the Yellow Ranger, "a seat for our guest."
A panel on the wall behind me slid open, and a seat swung out and locked into place. I immediately sat down and buckled myself in. From the viewscreen in front of us, we could see kilometres in every direction. Glaring at us from across the battlefield was the deranged priestess Automica, while facing her down beside us was the DinoMegazord. On our other side was the White Tigerzord, its giant golden sword held high, while standing beside the DinoMegazord was the shining silver Iguanodon.
You often hear people talk about how tiny we are in the face of overwhelming natural forces. Things like hurricanes, earthquakes or Godzilla. They say you can't fight or control those things. You just have to get out of their way and hope for the best. But I bet none of those people had ever sat inside a Megazord. Because sitting there inside that colossal machine that had gone toe-to-toe with demons, aliens and gods, alongside some of the greatest heroes in the world, I suddenly felt like we could fight those natural forces.
And not only that.
We could win.
"Accept your fate Rangers!" bellowed Automica. "You cannot triumph, not when I have the Skethani virus coursing through me! I am invincible!"
"Boy it's gonna be fun proving her wrong," crackled the male White Ranger's voice through the intercom.
"Can we do this though?" asked the Grey Ranger's voice from somewhere inside the Iguanodon. "After everything we've been through today?"
"We don't have a choice," said the Orange Ranger. "This is our best chance to stop Automica and destroy the Skethani virus for good."
"Agreed," said the Red Ranger. "Blue, talk to me. What do we have?"
Beside him, the Blue Ranger glanced between two monitors. "We're scanning Automica now," he replied. "The virus seems to be safely contained within her. It's making no attempt to leave, although I can't imagine what's stopping it."
"The bracelet!" I shouted. The Rangers turned back to me. "When she was growing, I saw the bracelet that Hephaestus had given me lying on the ground, so I threw it into her. I figured, if it kept the virus in me..."
"...it'd keep the virus trapped in Automica!" the Pink Ranger finished.
"It's doing more than that," said the Blue Ranger. "According to the scan, the virus has bonded to her on the atomic level. It's changed her entire molecular structure! From all the readings here, they've merged into a single being."
"Good," said the Red Ranger.
"That's a good thing?" I asked.
"Yep," the Red Ranger replied, and glanced over his shoulder. "You're hoping to be a doctor, right? What's the one thing most effective against a virus?"
I smiled. "Heat," I replied.
The Black Ranger flashed me a thumbs up. "You said it!"
"All right Rangers," said the Red Ranger. "You heard the man. Let's light 'em up!"
The White Tigerzord held its arms wide and sent a barrage of fireballs whistling towards Automica, joined seconds later by the Iguanodon as it fired a broadside of missiles and rockets. Already littered with wreckage, the desert plain erupted in sparks and smoke, the force of the blast driving Automica back. But facing down the onslaught, Automica recovered from the blasts and held her arms high. Power scorched across the battlefield in a storm of lightning and slammed into the two zords, throwing them to the ground. Without waiting, the Rangers around me pushed the Thunder Megazord forward to take up the fight. The field shook as we approached, but Automica's eyes flashed red and the front of the zord lit up. The Megazord powered through the blast and swung a punch straight for Automica's head. The priestess blocked the blow with a metallic clang, striking the Megazord's fist away before grabbing the Megazord's shoulders and unleashing a powerful surge of electricity. In the cockpit, sparks exploded around us, and I raised my hands to protect myself as the Megazord crashed backwards.
"She's too powerful," warned the Yellow Ranger.
The Blue Ranger nodded. "We can't afford another blow of that magnitude," he said.
The radio crackled to life. "Hang back guys," came the Orange Ranger's voice. "Let us try!"
The DinoMegazord charged past us, immediately swinging high. Automica ducked the move, stepping around another blow before striking away a third. Before the Rangers could attack again, Automica raked her claws down the Megazord's chestplate, carving through the zord's armour in a shower of sparks. The Megazord remained standing and swung again, landing a glancing blow to Automica's shoulder before its eyes flashed and a barrage of missiles roared forth. Automica raised her hands and the weapons froze in midair, before slamming her fists together and sending them smashing back into the Megazord. Hearing the ground shake, Automica spun to face the Iguanodon as it slashed its thumb claws straight for her. She stepped inside the blow and struck the zord's arms away before landing a powerful blow to the Iguanodon's head. Before the Grey Ranger could recover, Automica raised her hands and blasted the zord back.
The mad priestess closed in on the damaged Iguanodon when the White Tigerzord charged forward, slicing its sword for Automica's torso. Automica couldn't avoid the blow and staggered back in a cloud of smoke. Pressing forward, the Tigerzord slashed again, but Automica caught the blade and struck it away before aiming low. The Tigerzord batted away a low kick and caught Automica with a powerful backhand, rocking the priestess. Enraged, Automica faced her opponent with her arms raised as power crackled between them. Everyone watching gasped, when the Iguanodon swung around and smashed its tail into Automica's head. Automica staggered back, dazed from the blow. Before she could retaliate, the White Ranger pushed the Tigerzord forward, sending her stumbling with a powerful punch. Losing her focus, Automica screamed in frustration, when the Iguanodon joined the Tigerzord and both zords swung high. Automica barely avoided the move, and the Iguanodon slammed the priestess away with a powerful kick.
"Good job," called the Red Ranger.
"We've got her number," the Grey Ranger replied. "She's got all this power but she hasn't figured out how to use it. She's not focusing. If we can overwhelm her..."
"Then she won't know what to do!" finished the Aqua Ranger in the DinoMegazord. "Dude, you rock!"
"Then let's finish this," said the Orange Ranger.
The two Megazords powered back towards their opponent. Automica raised her hands but the zords struck them away and landed two side-by-side blows to the chest. Stumbling backwards, Automica lashed out for the DinoMegazord, but the Megazord stepped around the move and forced her back with a high punch. Before she could recover, the Rangers around me pushed the Thunder Megazord forward, and the Megazord batted away a low kick and struck high. Attacking together, the two Megazords punched high then swung low, driving Automica back with every powerful blow. She blocked the Thunder Megazord's fist but the DinoMegazord aimed low, rocking the high priestess with a punch to the stomach. She caught the DinoMegazord's hand when it swung again but the Thunder Megazord attacked high, catching her while she was off-balance. In desperation, she summoned a powerful energy blast, but the Megazords wheeled around on the spot with side-by-side punches that launched the priestess off her feet.
Automica rolled to a stop in a cloud of dust. "You cannot defeat me!" she screamed. "The Skethani virus will not be denied!"
"You talk too much," came the Orange Ranger's voice. "We call upon the power of Titanus, now!"
Like the zords already assembled, the giant carrierzord Titanus heard the call from across half the galaxy and exploded onto the scene in a blaze of power, punching clean through a row of hills on the horizon as it rolled towards us. Automica turned to face the giant brachiosaur as Titanus came to a stop, its tail splitting in two and sliding forward to form two massive cannons.
"Titanus, fire!" shouted the Red Ranger.
Titanus roared in response and fired two giant blasts that smashed into Automica in a blaze of fire.
Safely inside their zords, the six Junior Rangers raised their voices in unison. "Ultrazord, power up!"
In a flash of light, the Iguanodon took to the air and broke in half, dropping down over the DinoMegazord to form silver body armour. A second later, the combined mass of zords descended into the back of Titanus to form the mighty Ultrazord. On one side, the White Tigerzord stepped up to join them, while on the other side, the Thunder Megazord raised its sabre as lightning struck down from a suddenly cloudy sky to charge the sword with power.
"Stand down Automica," said the Black Ranger. "You can't win!"
But the priestess was too crazed to listen. "The Perfect System will not be defeated!" she shot back.
"Newsflash priestess," the Pink Ranger said. "Perfection is nowhere and everywhere, all at once, all the time. You just have to know how to see it."
"You leave us with no choice," said the Orange Ranger. "Lock on, and fire all weapons!"
"Thunder Megazord sabre, now!"
The Ultrazord opened fire, and a cataclysmic barrage exploded forth, scorching across the battlefield. At the same time, the Thunder Megazord and Tigerzord sliced their blades straight for Automica. Power exploded from the arcs, joining the Ultrazord blast and slamming into the priestess, tearing her apart in a massive explosion that shook the desert plain and sent a mushroom cloud roaring skyward.
In the cockpit of the Thunder Megazord, I saw the Rangers slump forward with sighs of relief, while over the radio, I could hear the other team in the Ultrazord cheering and celebrating the win. In front of me, the Black Ranger collapsed against his seat.
"And that's how we do it," he said softly.
I leaned forward. "You did it," I said. "I don't believe it. Automica and her army are destroyed, and the virus is gone forever." I shook my head. "You did it."
"No," said the Red Ranger, swivelling back to face me and dipping his helmet. "We did it."
Back on the ground, the thirteen of us stood amidst the wreckage from the earlier battle, with the great shadows of the Ultrazord, the Thunder Megazord and the Tigerzord towering over us on all sides. I took a few seconds to drink in the sight of the fleet of giant robots, adding the combined might of all the zords to the list of the most incredible things I'd ever seen. After the last three days, it had become quite a long list. We all waited for the elder Blue Ranger to finish scanning the battlefield with his handheld device. Once he was satisfied with the results, he switched the device off.
"There's no trace whatsoever of the virus, not even a single atom," he said. "The Skethani virus is gone forever."
"I think we can definitely count that in the win column," said the Aqua Ranger.
"It wasn't our cleanest victory though," added the male White Ranger. "The Insectoid got away, and as for General Skull..."
"You got him though, right?" I asked. "I mean, you destroyed him pretty thoroughly. I saw you do it."
The Pink Ranger shook her head. "Given the whole zombie thing," she began, "General Skull is notoriously difficult to keep in the ground. We'll see him again."
The girl White Ranger turned to her team-mates. "Still, the virus is no more," she said, "and I think we're standing in all that's left of the Perfect System. More to the point, Tim's safe."
"Yeah, I don't know about the rest of you," agreed the Orange Ranger, "but I'd call that a good day."
I felt the weight of their gazes, and all of a sudden I didn't know how to respond. But luckily I didn't need to.
The Red Ranger chuckled under his helmet. "C'mon Rangers," he said. "The faster we finish up here, the sooner we can get Tim back to his family."