Battle of Mount Olympus
With a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder, the mighty Phoenix zord soared over our heads, its massive pink body and long golden tail gleaming in the sun. But rather than land beside us, the zord circled the city in a wide arc before descending in a clearing on the city's outskirts, close to the edge of the island.
"Not to sound ungrateful," I began, "but you couldn't have maybe landed her a little bit closer?"
The Pink Ranger shrugged. "She normally does," she said. "I don't know why she didn't."
"Olympus's own magic is interfering with the connection to your chariot," Zeus explained, looking for all the world like he was fighting the urge to roll his eyes. "We could've told you, had you bothered asking. It's miraculous your beast even heard you at all."
"We call them and they come to us," the male White Ranger said irritably. "It's kind of how it works."
"So we'll have to make a run for it," said the Red Ranger. "All of us, together, protecting Tim. I'm assuming we can't just teleport there?"
"I'd advise against trying," said Hera sharply.
"We can make it if we run," said the younger Blue Ranger.
"No, we can't," said the Grey Ranger, and everybody turned to him. But he was looking at the sky and we immediately saw why. "They're here!"
Above our heads, at least a dozen spaceships had made their way through the atmosphere and were flying in a loose formation straight towards us. While Automica's ship had been shiny and silver with perfectly rounded lines, these ships were almost completely black, apart from the grinning grey skulls that adorned the front of every vessel. There was no conformity to the fleet. Some of the ships seemed quite small, while others were the size of mountains. But every single ship looked like it had been stitched and patched together from the broken remains of twenty other ships, and all of them were bristling with weaponry.
"Space zombies," I murmured. "You guys weren't kidding."
Standing nearby, Zeus looked to the attacking fleet, and I watched his face turn purple with rage. "They actually think to attack Olympus directly?" he asked, as if he couldn't quite grasp the concept. But I realised that, for the first time today, he was angrier at them than us.
"That looks like the general idea," said the Orange Ranger.
"It only looks like about twenty ships," the Aqua Ranger said. "It must be their first wave."
"Well then," Zeus announced, standing to his full height and towering over the Rangers. Arcs of electricity began to crackle around him, and I noticed the wind had picked up. "Let's discourage a second wave, shall we?"
The Rangers scattered, diving to safety and covering their heads. The Purple Ranger leaped towards me, dragging me to the ground and flattening me against the grass to keep my head low. Against my better judgement, I looked up anyway.
As the wind began howling and the hairs on my arms stood on end, Zeus raised his hands. I could see the power flowing between them, but it was so bright it hurt my eyes. With an angry roar, the king of the gods aimed a blast straight for the oncoming ships. Lightning exploded from his hands, lighting up the sky and tearing through the skullships, ripping them to pieces in midair. Stray bolts crackled back through the city, shattering buildings and splitting giant trees in half. Still the onslaught continued, white-hot fingers of electricity carving through the enemy ships as if they were nothing. Finally, Zeus lowered his arms and stepped back.
Every single one of the skullships had been incinerated. There wasn't even any debris, just clouds of black smoke.
The Rangers and I climbed to our feet. Most of the garden around us hadn't survived. I was about to say something when a blast whistled over our heads and slammed into a nearby palace. Zeus growled with annoyance and returned fire with another thunderbolt. Even as we ducked for cover, more and more skullships began appearing in the skies above us.
"He's never had this many before," said the Yellow Ranger.
"I guess he really wants the virus," said the Grey Ranger.
"We've gotta move!" shouted the Red Ranger. "Hera, come with us. Please protect Tim, at least until we get him onboard the Phoenix!"
Hera gazed around at the destruction on all sides. "Anything to be rid of you!" she fumed.
"Zeus?" began the Orange Ranger, but Zeus cut him off.
"I'll stay here and draw their fire," Zeus said. "I'll keep their attention as long as I can!"
"Then go!" said the Red Ranger.
We raced away, sprinting down the street towards the Phoenix zord in the distance. But as we ran, zombies began beaming down from the hovering skullships and materialising on the street around us. Two undead soldiers lumbered towards us from a side street, but the Pink Ranger summoned her Power Bow and destroyed them. As we continued, more and more of them approached, holding their rusty weapons high. The Yellow Ranger summoned her Power Daggers as several closed in, blocking a wide swing and reducing a zombie to dust with a powerful kick, while the Orange Ranger used his Power Sword to fend off two more. Moving with terrifying speed, another zombie appeared between two temples and leaped towards me, but the younger Blue Ranger struck the soldier out of the air with his Power Staff and quickly disabled the zombie while it was on the ground.
In the distance, I saw something alien with clawed tentacles crawl out of the shadows between two palaces. "That doesn't look like a zombie!" I shouted.
Beside me, the Purple Ranger smashed an enemy away with her Power Mace, slamming the creature back through the wall of a temple. "That's the problem with General Skull," she said. "His troops aren't just made up of people who died. If any creature from anywhere in the Universe has lived and died, then Skull can recruit them against their will into his army."
"So they're not the kind of zombies who'll just come back to life when you beat their boss?" I asked.
The Red Ranger stared at me with surprise. "No, unfortunately for them but fortunately for us," he said. "They're just empty shells."
"They're no less dangerous though," added the girl White Ranger.
Running beside Hera, I glanced to the garden we were passing and saw the ground cracking open. I thought of all the different monsters from Greek mythology that had died thanks to a long line of heroes and gods.
"We need to get out of here," I said quickly. "Like right now."
"You ain't wrong," agreed the younger Blue Ranger.
But the group suddenly came to a stop. The Rangers stepped in front of Hera and I to form a defensive wall, and I looked ahead as footsteps began echoing off the stone tiles. Ahead of us, a figure wearing black leather and a red cap had emerged from the shadows between two palaces. With every step, the grass under his boots withered and died. His chest was adorned with a dozen medals and awards of different colours. The figure's head was a grinning skull, with traces of skin and muscle still visible. His eye sockets were sickeningly empty but for a black fire. When he spoke, it was with a voice as cold and hard as a gravestone.
"Do you know the one constant of the Universe, Rangers?" General Skull asked. "Even stars die."
The elder White Ranger stepped forward as a troop of long-dead soldiers joined General Skull. "Guys, go!" the White Ranger said. "Get to the Phoenix! I got this!"
"No," said the Grey Ranger. In a flash of light, he was holding his silver Power Blasters. "We've got this," and he joined the White Ranger.
"Now now boys," Skull growled, and lurched towards them. Behind the Grey and White Rangers, the rest of us edged to the side. "My face has a curious habit," Skull continued, paying the rest of us no attention as he focused on the White and Grey Rangers. "When people see me, they become refreshingly honest. So let me ask you something. Are you afraid?"
The ground beneath them cracked open as skeletal fingers clawed to the surface and pulled themselves free. Checking that the rest of the group were far enough away so he wouldn't be overheard, Tommy lowered his voice. "Yes."
Skull tilted his head, pleased with the answer. His skeletal grin seemed wider, though no less humourless. "Good," he said. "You should be."
The crowd of zombies attacked, surging past the general. Tommy leaped into the air with a spinning kick, taking a zombie's head off its shoulders. As he landed, Saba was in his hand, and he reduced another zombie to dust with a powerful slice. Beside him, Ian aimed his blasters and fired, punching through several of their enemies and instantly destroying them.
The rest of the troops held back uncertainly, and Tommy turned to face Skull. "You're not getting it," he said. "Nobody here is scared of you. You're a rotting corpse with delusions of grandeur. What worries me is that when I take you apart one piece at a time, I'm scared that I'm really going to enjoy it." With a movement so fast Skull didn't even see it, Tommy was suddenly holding the bladed end of Saba to Skull's face. "You've cheated death so many times, General Skull. I wonder what secrets you'll tell him, when he finally catches up to you. Let's find out."
With a wild battle yell, Tommy swung Saba straight for General Skull's head. The zombie ducked back a step, and the blade missed him by millimetres. Skull reached for the blaster at his side, but Tommy struck his hand away and launched the zombie back with a blow to the chest, before carving Saba back towards him. The blade sliced through Skull's jacket as he stumbled back, and before Skull could recover, Tommy took to the air with a spinning jump kick, slamming the zombie general off his feet. Finding his footing as Skull rolled to a stop, Tommy raced forward to continue the battle.
A few metres away, the zombie horde closed in around the two Rangers as Tommy continued trading blows with General Skull. Holding his ground, Ian swept his blasters in a wide arc, reducing the entire troop to dust. He heard a roar behind him as something ancient clawed to the surface, and he ducked instinctively as a giant fist swung towards him. Spinning around, the Grey Ranger blasted the beast off its feet, before taking out two more zombies on either side. He turned to the rest of the army in time to see one of Skull's lieutenants take aim with an enormous cannon. Ian took to the air as the ground erupted behind him him, aiming his blasters while upside down and slicing the lieutenant in half, before spinning the guns around him as he touched down and wiping out an entire crowd.
One of Skull's ships suddenly appeared above them. "Kill them!" Skull commanded, and the ship's cannons roared to life.
"Watch out!" Tommy shouted, and they leaped to safety. "We can't fight this many! Get to the Phoenix!"
"You got it!" Ian replied.
With blasts whistling over our heads and buildings being levelled all around, the rest of us continued across Olympus towards the safety of the Phoenix zord. In what I assumed was a well-rehearsed defensive routine, the Rangers continued to keep a circle around Hera and I, battling their way forward through an ever-increasing number of undead opponents and making ground with every step.
Out in front, I watched the Red and Orange Rangers clash swords with a legion of revived ancient warriors. To my left, the two Blue Rangers were fighting some horrible alien thing with horns over its body and clicking claws, while on the right, the Black Ranger was trading blows with a monstrous undead minotaur. As I ran, a zombie harpy swooped down out of the smoke. Before I could scream, the girl White Ranger wrapped her whip around the creature's body and flung it into a nearby statue, shattering the sculpture to dust. More undead harpies began appearing above us, but the Pink Ranger took aim with her Power Bow and shot them out of the air. My heart was pounding in my chest, and there was so much noise from the battle and from the palaces being destroyed on all sides that I could barely hear myself think.
We made it past a street of temples, and the terrain opened up before us into a wide grassy field. The Phoenix zord sat on the other side, and I wondered why the Rangers had stopped. But glancing ahead, I realised the park had no cover to shield us from the growing legion of zombies appearing around us. We'd be sitting ducks.
"We're gonna need to run for it!" shouted the Orange Ranger. "If we..."
"Watch out!" screamed the Pink Ranger. One of Skull's ships appeared above us, emerging from a cloud of smoke and firing a broadside. Everyone dived to safety, and the air ignited as a massive explosion shook the nearby temples. The force of the blast threw me clear of the heroes. I rolled down a grassy embankment, tumbling out-of-control before crashing in a heap at the bottom. Panting and dazed, with every part of me hurting, I took a minute to find my bearings, then shakily stood up and looked around.
None of the Rangers were in sight.
Even as I stood frozen in terror, more and more black-clad zombies were appearing out of the haze. I glanced around, frantically looking for somewhere to run, but they'd already formed a wall around me.
There was no escape.
"Rangers!" I shouted desperately. "Help! I'm over here!"
"The nerve of these abhorrent creatures," came a voice, and I turned to see Hera gliding towards me. She reached my side and I clutched fearfully at her arm as the zombies closed in. "Take heart, dear boy," Hera chuckled softly, and I suddenly realised her eyes were glowing. She smiled kindly. "Do you honestly believe that my husband and his thunderbolts are the only protection Olympus has?"
The queen of the gods snapped her gaze towards the zombies in front of us. "Be gone," she commanded, fury in her voice. An invisible hand struck away the wall of creatures and slammed them into the ground with such force they immediately disintegrated. Hera spun to face the zombies on the left, and a stone column from a nearby temple ripped free and crashed towards them, instantly scattering them. The unsupported roof of the temple shook, and with a gesture from Hera, the stone ceiling spun through the air and smashed into the crowd of zombies on our right with an almighty crash.
Keeping me close, Hera turned to the remaining few zombies, who were now edging back. Hera's eyes flashed, and the ground beneath them was ripped open as two enormous serpents rose from the depths. Before the zombies could move, the snakes wrapped themselves around the undead soldiers and began tearing them apart.
"I do prefer serpents," Hera nodded. "It's the personal touch."
I couldn't respond, leaning down and throwing up.
Everything I'd eaten since I was eight.
Hera watched me with amusement as I wiped my face clean. "Come now boy, your friends are waiting for you," she said. Taking my hand, she half-led and half-dragged me to the top of the embankment, where the Purple Ranger suddenly appeared.
"C'mon!" the Ranger shouted.
Hera and I reached the top of the slope and gazed around at the battle before us. Everywhere we looked, the Rangers were carving their way through the zombie hordes towards the giant Phoenix. Several of the Rangers were already close. Even as I watched, a hatch under the zord's golden tail swung open, and a ramp lowered itself to the ground. The Rangers raced up the ramp and disappeared inside. A second later, the zord's eyes glowed yellow, and panels along the zord's hull slid open to reveal a devastating array of cannons and missiles. They fired with a roar, taking out a number of hovering skullships.
"We have cover," Hera said. "Move."
Seeing me, a crowd of zombies charged towards us, but Hera launched them into the air with a wave of her hand. A few metres away, the Purple Ranger was trading blows with a giant four-armed warrior, when he blocked her mace and threw her to the ground. Seeing one of the Rangers overwhelmed, half a dozen more zombies closed in.
"Look out!" I shouted. Reaching for the only weapon I could see, I grabbed a cannon one of the zombies had dropped before and threw it towards her. The Purple Ranger caught the weapon and spun it around her, aiming for the four-armed zombie and launching him backwards. Leaping to her feet, she continued firing, wiping out the rest of the crowd and using the cannon to bludgeon the last zombie who'd gotten too close.
"Thanks!" she called, and the three of us raced away.
We were soon joined by the White and Grey Rangers who'd managed to catch up with us. With a powerful protector on every side, I crossed the battlefield safely and soon reached the entry ramp to the magnificent zord. There were a lot less zombies attacking, and glancing into the zord's interior, I saw most of the Rangers already onboard. I stepped onto the ramp and then looked back to the queen of the gods behind me.
"I, uh, I don't know how to thank you," I said quickly, as the Rangers beside me continued blasting at onrushing opponents.
I must've caught Hera by surprise, because she smiled. "Once the Rangers return you to your parents," she said calmly, "find your mother and tell her that you care for her deeply. That will be sufficient payment enough."
"You're sure?" I asked. "I don't think there are any Greek temples near my house, but I think there's a Baptist Church somewhere in town."
Hera laughed softly. "That is spirituality, my dear boy, and not what my family represents," she replied. "Surely you're smart enough to have realised the difference? Oh, but next time?" and she gestured around the devastated park. "Tell your friends to knock on Asgard's door and bother Odin instead." But she leaned in close and pressed a kiss against my cheek. "Be safe," she said, before stepping away and continuing to destroy zombies with ridiculous ease.
I watched her go then raced up the ramp, only to hit an invisible wall barring the entrance. "I can't get in!" I shouted.
The younger Blue Ranger stepped outside. "The zords are protected," he said. "You can't enter unless you have one of these," and he tapped the golden coin at his belt. "Take my hand!"
I reached for his gloved hand. Holding on tight, he pulled me into the zord with no problem. Following a narrow corridor, the interior of the zord opened up around me. The cabin had a dozen high-backed seats up front, with computer screens, work benches and equipment lockers against the walls. Behind me in the back corner I could see several smaller rooms, with bunk beds visible through one of the doors. Directly in front of me, another narrow corridor led to the zord's cockpit.
Behind me, the Purple, White and Grey Rangers raced into the cabin to join us. The Red Ranger scanned the room. "Yellow and Pink in the cockpit," he said aloud, "and everyone else inside." He banged his hand against the wall. "Let's go!"
With that, the ramp pulled back into the zord's fuselage and the hatch slammed shut. The Grey Ranger pushed past me into the zord's cockpit, while everybody else scrambled to find a seat. I let the younger Blue Ranger guide me into the nearest chair and buckle me in.
"I wish the gods could come with us," I said.
"They're only this strong here on Olympus," the Red Ranger replied. "They're a lot less powerful down there," and he pointed to the ground far below. "On another planet? It wouldn't even be worth asking."
With a sudden lurch, the zord lifted off. The monitors on either side of the cabin flashed to life, showing the skies around us. The view was so crisp, I would've sworn they were windows. As the Phoenix zord left Mount Olympus behind it, the sky around us was black with hovering skullships. As one, they turned to us and opened fire. But the Phoenix zord was too fast and flew straight up out of range. More barrages streaked towards us, but the zord banked sharply before returning fire. Even as I watched, bolts of lightning were arcing up from Olympus, reducing a dozen more ships to cinders. All around us, the pale blue sky was growing darker. Stars began appearing in the distance. Finally, as the zord shot up into the heavens, the atmosphere disappeared, replaced by the black forever of space and the wide vista of a billion stars.
I sat back and let out a sigh of relief.
We'd made it into orbit.
We were safe.