Across the Galaxy
In the cockpit, Ian and Trini stood on either side of Kimberly as she guided the zord further away from Earth. Setting the autopilot, the Pink Ranger looked over her shoulder. "I'm actually kind of glad to be leaving Olympus," she said. "Before we left, Zeus totally asked me whether I was doing anything later. I respectfully but firmly told him that I'd be busy."
Trini nodded. "Don't worry, he said that to me too," she said.
"Yeah, me three," Ian added.
Both Rangers turned to him wordlessly.
"What?" Ian asked. "I would've said no either way. But it's nice to know you've got options."
Back in the cabin, I gazed around in wonder at the interior of one of the Rangers' fabled giant robots. Everything was clean and sparse, and I couldn't stop wondering how many people had seen the inside of this vehicle. Probably not that many. Across the room, the Red, Orange and both White Rangers huddled together having a hushed conversation that was too quiet for me to hear. Outside, the moon hung suspended in space nearby, a lot larger than it always was back on Earth, while the stars were so much brighter. But planet Earth was behind us. Try as I might, I couldn't see it.
The younger Blue Ranger turned to me. "You okay?" he asked.
"Are we safe up here?" I asked.
"Aside from the fleet of alien zombies chasing us?" replied the Aqua Ranger, sitting in front of me.
"The protection around our zords that you ran into before?" the younger Blue Ranger began. "It stops anything from teleporting inside. Unfortunately, the physical barrier only works on living biological beings, so it won't stop General Skull."
"Or Automica, actually," added the Purple Ranger, two seats away.
I frowned. "You guys are really glass half-full, aren't you?"
"To actually board us, they'd have to physically bring the zord down," said the elder Blue Ranger.
"And good luck with that," finished the Aqua Ranger.
"But still," I continued, and waved my arms around the cabin. "I've never been in space before. Is this normal? Why am I not floating?"
The younger Blue Ranger unclasped his seat buckle and stood up. He gestured for me to do the same, and I climbed out of my seat to join him. It felt like being back on Earth. "Whoa," I murmured.
"The zords are designed to keep people safe," the younger Blue Ranger explained. "We've got artificial gravity and generators to keep our air clean. There's food and supplies, and a bathroom down the back in case you need it." He leaned in close. "You've still got a little vomit on your chin, there."
I laughed and wiped it off. "Great," I said. "But we've still got robots and zombies after us. What do we do now?"
The other Rangers returned from their conference in the corner. "That's an excellent question," said the Red Ranger.
From beside one of the lockers, the Aqua Ranger suddenly raised his voice. "Hey guys, check it out!" he shouted. Everyone turned to him as he pulled a small black box out of the locker. "Message from home!"
The Grey, Pink and Yellow Rangers stepped into the cabin. "What's going on?" asked the Pink Ranger.
"Shh!" hissed the Aqua Ranger. Sliding the device onto a bench, he pressed a blinking red button on the side of the box. The air above the bench shimmered, and a hologram of a blue face appeared before us.
"Zordon?" asked the female White Ranger.
"Rangers," spoke the face, who I immediately guessed was the team's mentor Zordon. "I'm glad you found this pre-recorded message. I trust you and your guest are safe, at least for the moment. Alpha and I realised the reason you didn't retreat to the Command Centre after the museum, and why you took refuge on Mount Olympus. That was a brilliant idea, Rangers. We also assumed your next move would be to summon one of your zords. As such, we left these recordings in each of the four space-capable zords. But if I know you well, I assume this is reaching you inside the Phoenix."
"Man," breathed the Pink Ranger. "He is good."
"As such, the Phoenix thunder zord has been restocked with all the supplies and equipment you and your friend will need," Zordon continued. "Our enemies have realised that you have the Skethani virus with you, Rangers. They will be monitoring the Command Centre closely. Any communication between us from this point on will lead right to you. To that end, I'm afraid you're on your own. There's too much at stake. However, along with this recording," and we watched as the Aqua Ranger reached into the locker and pulled free a stack of files and folders, "we've included every piece of information we have regarding the Skethani virus. Differentiating between legend and scientific fact was not easy, but as far as we could determine, the origins of the virus lie in the clockwork city of Chronopolis on the planet Dhalia."
"What's a clockwork city?" I asked.
The elder Blue Ranger clasped his hands together. "Somewhere fascinating," he said.
"I dare say that any further clues to unravelling the virus will be waiting for you in Chronopolis," Zordon finished. "Good luck Rangers. Be aware, the clock is ticking. With every passing minute, our enemies will only multiply. Stay safe, and return to us. May the power protect you, all of you, including your young friend. Goodbye Rangers," and the hologram flickered and faded away.
The Red Ranger glanced around the zord. "It looks like we've got our next destination," he said. "Let's go."
"Can't we just, like, teleport there or something?" I asked.
The elder Blue Ranger shook his head. "Teleportation is much faster, yes, but the risks are too numerous to mention," he replied.
"Because of the distance between planets," the younger Blue Ranger explained, "we could scatter and be separated, or wind up hundreds of kilometres off-course. It might be slower, but it's a lot safer doing it the old fashioned way."
"Besides," the Yellow Ranger continued, "teleporting takes a lot of energy, and it's really easy to track. We can't risk it, not today."
The Pink Ranger headed back into the cockpit as an alarm sounded. "And not before time," she called. "The skullships just locked onto us."
"But another planet?" I asked. "How long is this gonna take?"
"The thunder zords are some of the fastest ships in the galaxy," the Orange Ranger said. "We'll be there in, what, eleven or twelve hours?"
"Everyone strap in!" called the Pink Ranger. The twelve of us back in the cabin scrambled into our seats and I clasped my seat buckles shut. I'd never travelled faster than the speed of light before, but I was beginning to realise this was part of being a Ranger.
Sit down and hold on.
I glanced around nervously. There was suddenly an almighty roar, and the zord surged forward. The stars in the viewing screens flickered and blurred for a few seconds then returned to normal, showing what I guessed was a simple star map, rather than the view of constellations flashing past us in a dizzying blur. Now we were travelling, the Rangers stood up and walked around to stretch their legs. Watching them for a few minutes, I noticed the male White Ranger in the back corner, standing by himself. Feeling guilty at everything the Rangers had gone through today just for me, I stood up and walked over.
"Hey," I said awkwardly.
He turned to me. "How you holding up?" he asked.
"Survived the army of zombies in one piece," I replied. I held up my wrist and tapped the bracelet Hephaestus had forged. It made the strangest noise. "And the bracelet seems to be doing what it's supposed to be doing."
The White Ranger nodded. "We'll be at our next destination soon enough," he said. "We've got plenty of time. Was there something you needed?"
"Yeah, I just kind of realised that I haven't said thank you yet," I said. "You guys have done all this for me, and I want you to know how much I appreciate it."
"Don't mention it," he replied. "It's what we do."
"But it's not like this is some small thing," I said. "You guys spent most of the afternoon saving my life! I mean, this is gods and aliens and robots and things I barely understand. I know this is normal for you, but I don't get why you would do all this just for me. I'm a nobody. You know, I'm not worth fighting a war over. I'm just some random kid."
"One random boy in impossible trouble," the White Ranger said. Hesitating a second longer, he lowered his voice. "About four years ago, there was a boy like you who took a short-cut home from school one day when he was kidnapped, given a Power Coin and then set loose on the city to kill and destroy whoever he liked."
"He got better, don't worry, it all turned out okay in the end," the White Ranger continued. "But sometimes, things go wrong. Sometimes, you can do nothing wrong, just be standing there, minding your own business, when the world gets pulled out from under you." He paused, and swept his hands around the cabin of the zord. "It's those moments, when things go bad in the worst possible way, that's what we're here for."
"I'm starting to get that," I said.
He pointed to an empty seat. "They're more comfortable than you think," he said. "It'll be a long flight. You should get some rest. We're safe for the time being."
Seeing the sense in this, I stepped away from him. Heading into the bathroom, I washed my face and felt better. But staring into the mirror, I laughed. I barely recognised the bloodied, bruised face staring back at me. When all this was over, would I still be the same? Would my friends recognise me?
I'm not even sure I would.
Returning to the cabin, I helped myself to some of the food as the Rangers strategised around me. Most of them seemed like they were carefully poring over the information their leader Zordon had left for them. After getting a drink, I settled down into one of the seats. The White Ranger was right. They were comfortable.
Leaning back in the chair, I felt my eyelids growing heavy. I closed my eyes, determined to only take a short nap, but I quickly drifted off into a restless, uneasy sleep. My dreams were blurry and indistinct, and I saw shadows and heard malevolent whispers in the night. I didn't remember much beyond looking at a sky with no stars, and feeling cold and alone at the end of all things.
Before long, I felt hands on my shoulders shaking me awake. For a second, I forgot where I was and hoped it had all been a nightmare. But my eyes soon focussed on the girl White Ranger standing in front of me. A second later, I recognised the inside of the Phoenix zord.
"What happened?" I asked, and climbed out of my seat. "Where are we?"
"Nothing," she replied, then gestured to the windows. "We're almost there. The planet Dhalia is only a few minutes away. I thought you might want to see it."
I gazed around the cabin and ran a hand through my unkempt hair. I didn't feel refreshed after my nap. If anything, I felt more tired, but that was probably the effects of the virus. I shivered, thinking of the ticking clock hanging over me. The Rangers were all talking in the cockpit or making plans, but I noticed the Black Ranger standing by himself, watching the stars flash by. I realised that it wasn't the first time I'd noticed the Black Ranger keeping himself a few steps away from his team-mates over the course of the last day. With a frown, I walked over.
Just as I was about to say something, we reached the planet Dhalia. The planet appeared quite suddenly in space before us. My mouth fell open and no words came out as I stared at the alien world far below. Two small moons hung in orbit around the planet. Through the cloudy atmosphere, I could see green areas that I guessed were jungles and forests, wide patches of yellows and browns that must've been deserts, and the beautiful blue of deep oceans. If I looked carefully through the clouds, I could just make out snow-capped mountains and the tiny hint of what must've been enormous cities.
"Wow," I breathed. We continued to circle the planet, passing over what looked like a fierce hurricane lashing a coastal area with its spiral arms.
"It's something all right," the Black Ranger murmured beside me.
"So there's actually people down there?" I asked, as we passed over an azure ocean dotted with islands.
"Humans began on Earth, that part's not wrong," the Black Ranger began. "But through magic or science, or even some of those rift-things you saw on Olympus, people have found a way to colonise a whole bunch of planets throughout the galaxy. There's about a dozen or so. We've visited most of them."
"So people have spread everywhere?" I asked. "Like seeds from a tree."
"Or a virus."
I nodded. "Bethany would've loved this," I said.
"Bethany?" the Black Ranger repeated, and turned to me. "Girlfriend?"
"We were the high school power couple," I said. "It was always us. We were always an 'us'. We started going out, I don't know, grade eight or grade nine or something, and then she broke up with me before Christmas. I never said this to my parents, but I was actually glad for the family holiday this year, just to get away and get some space. It still hurts though."
"It doesn't go away in a hurry," the Black Ranger said.
I heard a tone in his voice I hadn't picked up on before. "You sound like you're speaking from experience?" I asked, but immediately regretted it. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be nosy."
He sighed behind his helmet. "She was the girl of my dreams," he said softly. "We were finally together at the end of high school and all through our first year of college, but she earned a scholarship and had to move away. We broke up before she left. Long-distance relationships never work, and someone always ends up getting hurt. I know deep down it was for the best, and I'm happy for the opportunity she has. She's gonna be brilliant. I know she will. But the other Rangers keep asking me whether I'm okay, and I keep lying to my friends and telling them that I'm fine. But I'm really not."
"It probably was the right decision," I said. "Long-distance can be tricky, you said it yourself. But, hang on, can't you guys teleport and stuff?"
He laughed. "You know, I even considered it," he said. "But I really doubt Zordon would appreciate me using our hardware for my love life. Besides," and he sighed. "Our teleport streaks are like neon signs to our enemies. 'The Power Rangers are here! Come throw a giant hedgehog at us!' or something."
"I guess that would've been hard," I said.
"It's just, I never realised that not seeing her every day or something as simple as not hearing her voice would hurt this much," he continued. "I sound like a total idiot, right?"
"Not at all," I smiled. "You sound like you're in love."
"After Bethany and I broke up, my best friend told me something, and I still remember it," I said. "He said that some things are meant to be, in which case, it doesn't matter how bad I feel, because at some point I'll get the chance to make it right. The other way around, if it's not meant to be, then there's nothing I can do to ever make it happen, because it won't. To be fair, hearing that didn't make me feel a whole lot better, but it allowed me to get a little perspective, if that helps?"
"Thanks," the Black Ranger said. "Honestly? It doesn't really."
"Yeah, I know. That's what I said."
I was about to continue when the Pink Ranger's voice echoed into the cabin. "I've found the city of Chronopolis!" she called.
"Was it behind the couch?" asked the Aqua Ranger.
The Pink Ranger laughed. "I'm bringing us down right now," she said. "We'll be planet-side in a couple of minutes."
Everyone found their seats and buckled themselves in. The Aqua Ranger made another joke about our tray tables, but while everyone groaned and threw things at him, I didn't listen. My attention stayed firmly on the viewscreen showing the planet below growing larger and larger. I was surprised because it happened very fast and there was no turbulence at all. The stars began to fade as the sky grew bluer and bluer. After a few minutes, the zord dropped lightly through the clouds and the planet's surface came into view. I could see jagged mountains and thick forests, all getting closer. Finally, the zord came to a gentle stop, settling down as lightly as a feather.
The screens inside the zord flickered and switched themselves off. The Pink Ranger stepped out of the cockpit.
"Welcome to the planet Dhalia," she said to me.