Ultimate Power Rangers Book 05 Chpt 21 – Psycho Rangers pt. 1 – Ryu Ranger

Ultimate Power Rangers Book 05
Chapter 21 - Psycho Rangers pt. 1

Rangers in Space: Chapter Twenty-one

Psycho Rangers: Born

Five humanoids were concealed in the shadows. Each stood in a transparent capsule webbed with orange and red veins. They stood naked as thick black fluid oozed into the capsules. Fluid surrounded their bodies and entered their pours like parasites.

Astronema watched as the five bodies started to convulse with pain. Multi-colored, jagged energy lashed like lightning across the five strangers.

"Eclipter," Astronema commanded, her voice as cold as steel. "Increase the energy flow."

Light intensified, casting a blinding glow across the room. Radiant energy ripped across the five bodies, leaving lines of shadow in its wake. The shadow lines slowly started to expand and entwine, meshing together and forming a mold that wrapped around the bodies.

The capsules started to shrink and wrap around the five individuals. Energy webs fastened against the bodies' skin and ignited with a blaze of power.

The light faded just as quickly as it had begun. Astronema looked down on the five humanoids as they slumped against the deck, their new forms completed. Their consciousness emerging...

He opened his eyes beneath his visor. The first thing he noticed was pain. A field of pain wrapped around him like a crimson blanket. The pain started to move inward, closer into his soul, closer into his being, as the cloud surrounding his vision dissipated.

He looked up and saw Astronema. He didn't know who he was, but he knew her. She was his maker. She was the one holding his leash, and he hated her for it and adored her at the same time. His eyes moved past Astronema and looked back to Eclipter, the android body guard. A master swordsman.

Astronema began speaking, each word like a dagger in his ear. "Your former lives are insignificant. A forgotten memory. You are mine. That's all that matters."

He felt his anger rise up, his blood boil as every muscle in his body tensed. Astronema continued to speak, each word hammering against his mind. "You are here for one reason, and one reason alone. To kill my enemies. You are in pain, and you will feel pain until you do so."

His madness reached its first incline as the subject of his pain flashed before his mind's eye. He cursed the name of his enemy in a deep metallic voice. "Astro Red..."

The Royal Courtroom of Triforia was roughly the size of a giant auditorium, with tall transparent walls that allowed rays of sunlight to streak through. Tall golden columns extended from the red-carpeted floor to the ceiling, which was a beautiful and intricate mosaic of the planet's rich history.

At the beginning of recorded time, known to galactic civilization as the Age of Darkness,Triforia was divided into territories ruled over by tyrants called Varoahs. Each Varoah was worshiped as a god, and each answered to the Varoah-Hai, who was loyal to Sauron, ruler of a galaxywide empire of evil.

After the defeat of Sauron by the first Ranger, named Jestin, the galaxy entered into the Age of Legends as an Order of Masters and Rangers was established. On Triforia, the Varoahs were defeated by a Ranger team of offworlders in what the Triforians called the Breaking of the Crowns. Territories were divided by the people and ruled by Kings, but the Kings had trouble maintaining control of their lands.

Then, 1.7 million years ago during the Age of Sorrows Lord Zedd’s forces took over Triforia as part of an empire of evil. After Zedd’s forces were defeated by Zordon, a standard, polytheistic religion was established on Triforia. The people decided that their world would no longer be ruled by men, who were blamed for all the atrocities from the Age of Darkness to the Age of Sorrows. Instead, the planet would have a Queen Mother.

About 100 years after defeat of Zedd by Zordon, during the Age of Expansion, the Triforians decided that to ensure their survival, they would expand their territory to include surrounding worlds. They founded the Triforian Consortium.

Then 20,000 years ago, during the Age of Shattering, the planet-wide empire of good was split into separate nation states that became hostile with one another. It wasn’t until 15,000 years ago, during the Age of Mending, that the first Gold Ranger used his power to secure his wife on the throne and unite the planet’s kingdoms.

Around 10,000 years ago, the Machine Empire attacked Triforia, and Prince Trey assumed the powers of the Gold Ranger. He fought the empire off, and afterward, he was placed in suspended animation in case they ever were to return.

And return they had, in the Earth Year 2004. Trey awoke from his deep slumber and assisted the Zeo Rangers of Earth in fighting off the Machines once again. Trey, his true family long dead, was adopted into the Triforian Royal Family and welcomed home with open arms.    

The Queen Mother hopes that Trey’s return would be a beacon of hope for all in the Triforian Consortium of Worlds. But, she realized as she sat upon the Royal Courtroom balcony, she was wrong.   

Rectangular tables lined the walls below, and a wide assembly of species and races were represented, sitting around the tables as their native banners hung overhead.

The ambassador from a world known as Gelic Prime leaned forward on his table. He was pale faced with solid-golden eyes, and he had a scruffy beard.

"How long will this madness be allowed to continue?" the ambassador said. His name was Jiphaf. "With all due respect to the Triforian court and nobles...Prince Trey is running around this galaxy like a pirate, causing nothing but trouble, and creating an empire all his own!"

A Karpern'dil leaned forward in protest. He had black skin and several strands of dark hair combed down from his bald head. His eyes were yellow like a reptile. "I say the Triforian prince is not at issue. I say we can't turn against each other."

The Gelic ambassador snorted. "That's easy for you to say. The Gold Ranger didn't destroy one of your world's trade convoys."

The Karpern'dil shook his head. "Intelligence say that convoy was routing supplies for Sauron's forces. I say I agree."

"Don't be so quick to accuse," the ambassador shouted. "Your people are known for allying with the Zentron!"

The Queen Mother lifted her hand to silence the bickering. She was dressed in intricate gold and white gowns. The princess, Trialia, sat by her mother's side. By earth years, she appeared no older than 13. She was observing. Preparing for when she would inherit the throne.

The Queen spoke in a bold, powerful tone. "Civilization is crumbling around us. Countless systems and worlds will fall to Sauron's forces if he is not stopped. Then, his darkness will consume even those who are now his allies. We are at a time of war. Continuing to stand by and pretend otherwise is foolish. That foolishness will mean the galaxy's death."

The ambassador snorted again. "So we should just let a handful of vigilantes run through space, unchecked, and replace Sauron's tyranny with their own?"

A horn blared through the streets outside before anyone could object. It was a warning signal. Triforia was under attack. Enemies had landed on the world's soil, and they were approaching the palace.

The Queen stayed calm and approached the nearest window. She looked out at the city streets below. An unlikely group was terrorizing citizens and harming innocents.

They were the five Astro Rangers.

Red Ranger slammed a knifehand blow against a civilian's throat. The others struck as fast as lightning, snapping limbs and crushing bone. Red Ranger reached out and grabbed the head of a civilian, slowly crushing his skull.

The Megaship was on the other side of the galaxy. The Rangers recently stopped a group of pirates from raiding a string of pre-warp civilizations that lived along the outer rim.

The rangers gathered in the situation room afterward. Tommy activated the holographic projector at the center of the table. An image of their Ranger forms hovered above the table. The Rangers were attacking innocent people on several different landscapes.

"We're being framed," Tommy said.

Ashley shook her head in disgust. "Do we know who they are?"

"Not yet," Cy answered. "They're more than likely special gene beasts made by Astronema."

Chris nodded in agreement. "And it looks like they want to be found. DECA picked up a strong trail from their last attack."

"Lay in a course," Tommy said. "Let's go see what we're up against.

The Red Ranger doppelganger drew his Astro Sniper and fired on a nearby building. The planet's natives, short and furry humanoids, ran in panic as debris fell down around them.

Astro Red and the four other Rangers ran to the scene and stopped in their tracks. Their doppelgangers were nearly identical in every way. If nothing else, their armor actually seemed sharper.

Astro Red snapped into a fighting stance. "It's time to take you phonies down!"

Astro Red drew his blaster, but before he could fire, Red Ranger drew his Astro Sniper and fired a blue energy dart that exploded against Astro Red's hand. Astro Red's blaster was knocked away by the attack.

Red Ranger and the duplicates charged forward to attack.

Astro Blue shook his head. "This isn't going to be pretty."

"Weapons," Astro Red said as the five downloaded their Astro weapons and charged forward into battle.

Astro Red and Red Ranger leapt towards each other. Red Ranger twirled into a screw kick that slammed against Astro Red's chest. Astro Red went flying backwards, crashed through a concrete wall, and rolled across an empty warehouse floor.

Astro Red rose to his feet and looked up to see Red Ranger leaping forward with a polished black blade. Red Ranger slashed across Astro Red's armor in an 'x' pattern, each strike sparking on impact.

Astro Red stepped back and countered with a downward diagonal swing with his Drill Saber. Red Ranger parried the blow and dashed past Astro Red with a horizontal strike, then turned with another 'x' pattern chop that sparked across Astro Red's armor.

The other Rangers' fights moved into the warehouse as well.

Blue Ranger readied a dark axe and crossed his legs before spinning forward, mimicking the Tomahawk Hurricane, and slashing repeated blows against Astro Blue's chest. Astro Blue was slammed backward as explosions ripped across his armor.

Astro Pink rolled to her knees and aimed her Astro Capture forward towards her opponent. She fired pink energy rings against the Pink Ranger, but the blasts were harmless. The energy rings splashed over Pink Ranger's body. The villain suddenly vanished from sight as light bent around her body.

Pink Ranger reappeared behind Astro Pink with a black bow and fired a volley of blue energy arrows. The energy arrows exploded against Astro Pink's armor and sent her flying backwards.

Astro Yellow snapped a roundkick towards her double's head. Yellow Ranger blocked the blow and slammed a roundkick against Astro Yellow's gut. The duplicate slammed a spinning heel kick that bashed across Astro Yellow's helmet.

Astro Yellow leapt backward and landed on a small crate while downloading her weapon. "Astro Sling!"

She fired golden energy darts that her double ducked under while arming her own black sling and firing. Blue energy darts exploded against Astro Yellow and knocked her back-first onto the ground.

Astro Black was forced backward as his doppelganger advanced with a twisted black staff. Black Ranger slashed the staff diagonally across Astro Black's armor and followed with an upward strike. Black Ranger pressed forward and speared his staff against Astro Black's chest, lifted the Ranger, and tossed him aside like a rag doll.

The Rangers regrouped as the five doppelgangers stalked forward. Tendrils of dark energy started to shift across their bodies as their armor shifted...

Psycho Red shed his disguise and stood in his true Ranger form: dark, twisted armor with red trimming. If he still had a mouth, he would have grinned at the sight of the Rangers stepping back in fear. Especially Astro Red.

 "You're right to be afraid," Psycho Red said in a twisted, metallic voice.         

Astro Blue snorted. "Get bent."

"Who are you?" Astro Pink asked.

Psycho Red and his teammates snapped into fighting stances.

"Psycho Red!"

"Psycho Black!"

"Psycho Blue!"

"Psycho Yellow!"

"Psycho Pink!"

Psycho Red extended his hand. "Twisted task force..."

"Psycho Rangers!" they shouted together.

The Psychos charged forward, extending their hands while rushing into battle.

Psycho Red eyed his counterpart, watching as Astro Red stepped forward into a fighting stance. The Psycho didn't know who the Ranger was behind the mask, and he didn't care. He just wanted Astro Red to die. He wanted the Ranger to die so bad that it made his dry blood burn to the core of his twisted soul.

The villain swung his blade towards Astro Red's head. Astro Red parried the blow, but before he could strike back, Psycho Red roundkicked the Ranger in the side.

The other Psychos pounced forward with kicks and punches of their own that sparked against their counterparts' armor.

Psycho Red low blocked a kick from Astro Red and slammed a knifehand blow against the back of the Ranger's neck. Astro Red dropped to his knees from the impact, and when he turned to face Psycho Red, the villain reached his hand out and grasped the Ranger's helmet.

The other Psychos spread their palms across the Rangers' heads as well. The Astro team struggled as the Psycho's hands illuminated. Lines of energy traveled from the Rangers' helmets and into the Psychos.

Psycho Red sucked data from Astro Red's helmet icon. The download bombarded Psycho Red with information on the Ranger's fighting techniques, strengths and weaknesses. Information downloading from Astro Reds helmet gave Psycho Red a high. The feelings gave him pleasure beyond imagination.

The download gave Psycho Red pain too. The villain hated Astro Red with each second the download passed.

A loud engine roar came from outside the building. Astro Silver burst through the entrance with his Auto Slider, taking the Psychos by surprise. The Silver Ranger opened fire with golden energy darts that exploded against the Psychos with a massive series of sparks and explosions.

Astro Silver pulled his bike between the Psycho Rangers and Astro Rangers. He hopped off his bike and aimed his weapon forward at the villains. But the Psychos were gone when the smoke cleared.

The rangers gathered in the Megaship's situation room after the battle. Holographic images of the Psycho Rangers rotated above the table. Tommy had fought stronger enemies, and villains with more power, but the Psychos were the fastest and most ruthless. Even Eclipter was not as efficient with each strike.

"We need to know where these freaks came from," Tommy said. "And what they did to us."

Justin rubbed his forehead. "It felt like they were digging into our brains."

Cy nodded. "That's not far from the truth."

"What do you mean?" Kat asked.

"The Psychos," Cy said. "They were scanning your armors' systems."

"But how?" Chris asked.

Ashley called up data on her pad. "It was almost like a hack. They downloaded at least three caches of data from each of us. Tactics. Strengths. Weaknesses."

The ship shook, rocking the rangers while they stood.

"DECA," Tommy said as he steadied himself against the table.

"Hostile craft are approaching the Megaship," DECA reported.

The ship rocked again.

"Ya don't say," Justin said.

"Deploy armor," Tommy said as the rangers rushed towards the bridge. "And get us out of orbit."

The rangers entered the bridge and manned their stations. Through the viewport, they saw a trio of small patrol ships zooming up from the surface. The ships fired photonic pulse bursts that exploded against the Megaship's armor. The armor, scarred by countless skirmishes and battles, repelled the blasts.

Justin analyzed the patrol ships' systems. "They're armed with low-yield photon weapons. They're no serious threat."

The bridge shook again from another impact. Zhane shook his head. "It sure feels like a threat."

"It's the inertial damping field," Ashley said. "The whole dampening system is still damaged from the Shatari attack last week."

Kat answered a signal on her monitor. "They're hailing us."

"On screen," Tommy said.

One of the short and furry humanoids appeared on screen. "You have killed my people in cold blood!"

"It wasn't us," Tommy said. "It was a group called the-"

The viewscreen blinked off, and another barrage of photon blasts slammed against the Megaship.

"Get us out of here," Tommy said. "Hyper rush three."

The Megaship blasted into hyperspace.

Astronema stood on the Dark Fortress bridge. The five Psycho Rangers lined up in front of her. Each stood at loose attention. The dark warriors radiated with hate. Their strength was fueled by their rage. They were her soldiers of death, and she would have been pleased if she was capable of feeling that emotion.

"You performed well," she said as she paced back and forth in front of them, an air of power about her. "But it was not good enough. Your every move must be flawless. You must call upon all of your energy, hold back nothing."

Their powers were linked to Sauron himself. The Psychos would kill the Rangers and drain Sauron into nothingness during the process. Then she would rule all. She would have the galaxy in the iron grip of her hand.

The Megaship hid behind a moon near Curti Prime. The neutral world below was a bustling city world of high-rise skyscrapers made of steel. The planets inhabitants, the Curtai, were long-faced beings with glossy black eyes and no hair. They rode above their city streets on sleek and stylish hover vehicles.

Kat and Cy sat on the bridge alone and monitored the world's surface. The rangers wanted to make sure they weren't detected, and their holographic shroud system was damaged. The holo system had altered the Megaship's appearance on countless occasions.

Kat monitored the comm traffic below. The bridge was as silent as it was tense. It was the first time Kat and Cy had been in the same room alone since the Darknell Prime mission. Cy had expressed feelings for Kat during that mission, feelings that she didn't share. The two had been awkward around each other ever since.

Through the viewport, they saw Zhane's shuttle pod streak down towards the planet. He and Chris were scouting the planet's surface for supplies.

"So," Cy said to finally break the silence. "Are we still out of sight?"

Kat nodded. "There's not even much comm traffic. The natives are having some kind of planet-wide festival."

"I see," Cy said as Kat went back to work. He turned to his station, staring at the monitor while he spoke again. "Are we ever going to talk about what happened Kat? About us?"

Kat paused. "You're my friend, Cy. That's all there is to say."

The bridge doors slid open, and Justin walked in. Cy sighed with frustration and left the bridge while shoving Justin out of his way.

"Hey," Justin said. He looked down to Kat. "What's his problem?"

Kat blushed.

Psycho Red stood on the rooftops of Curti Prime. He held his hand to the right side of his helmet and used his visor to scan the surface below. He knew they were in the system. He could feel the rangers. He could feel Astro Red.

The festival below was a mix of races besides the Curtai. Hover platforms carried dazzling light displays. Vendors sold cubes of light and music. Holographic disks were spread across the streets, displaying various dancing images that sifted light and sound.

The natives passed thin, wooden pipes amongst themselves and took puffs of smoke that seemed pleasing.

The Psycho Rangers had followed the Megaship to Curti Prime on Astronema's order. The Psychos lost sight of the ship, but they did detect a small shuttle pod land in the city.

"The Rangers hadto have been in that shuttle," Psycho Red said to himself. The other Psychos were on different rooftops spread across the city. But Psycho Red was beginning to care less and less about them.

All he wanted was another piece of the Red Ranger.

Nothing else mattered.

Tommy and Ashley were in a tight crawlspace within the Megaship. He was helping her fix the main inertial dampening relay.

Tommy sighed and shook his head as he opened a small panel to his right. Wiring and cables were torn or burnt out. "I swear, Ash...it seems like this ship is falling apart lately. The Delta Mega can't even keep up with the damage."

The Delta Mega served as the rangers' weapon and repair platform. The automated ship had no quarters or decks. It was a single control room surrounded by layers of tools, weapon supplies, wielders, power packs, sensor arrays, and engines.

Ashley shrugged and used a plasma torch to fix a pair of wiring that had meshed together. "I'd like to think she's aging well. Be optimistic."

Tommy cracked a smile. "But being a pessimist is so much more fun."

Ashley smiled and rolled her eyes as the couple continued their work.

"So..." Ashley said after a moment. "Who do you think they are? These Psycho Rangers?"

"Trouble," Tommy said. "Anything more than that...I don't know. They can't just be gene beasts. They were way too powerful for that."

"Could they be human?" Ashley asked.

"It's possible..." Tommy said. "We have to find out for sure. The sooner they're out of the way, the sooner we find Zordon and bring back Karone."

Psycho Red was quickly losing his patience. He continued his scan, searching for any sign of the Rangers. He found nothing.

"Well..." Psycho Red said in his deep metallic voice. A voice that dripped with malice. "So much for subtlety."

He leapt onto the streets in a blur of red motion, creating a shockwave and crater on impact. The natives screamed as the shockwave knocked them backwards.

Alarms blared on the Megaship. The rangers entered the bridge and moved to their stations.

"DECA," Tommy said, "report."

"The Psycho Rangers are attacking the surface," DECA said.

"Kat," Tommy said, "Contact Zhane and Chris."

Zhane's Keitizer toned. He ducked behind a corner and flipped the morpher open. "This is Zhane, go ahead."

"The Psychos are in your area, and we're on our way down to help," Kat said over the comm line. "You and Chris should meet us at the landing site."

"Right," Zhane answered. "I'll get Chris and meet you guys there."

Zhane turned just as a dark palm slammed against his chest and knocked him backward. The ranger slammed against a wall and slid to the ground as Psycho Black stepped forward.

Zhane flipped open his Keitizer, but Psycho Black stepped down on the ranger's hand and pinned Zhane's wrist to the ground. Psycho Black slapped the back of his hand across Zhane's head and knocked the ranger unconscious.

The penal colony of Kimino was a wasteland of jagged rocks and mountain. The world orbited so close to its sun, that when day spread, the atmosphere combusted and spread a blanket of flame across the hemisphere.

The colony itself was below ground. Prisoners covered in dirt and grime were bound by chains and allowed to roam around the area. Sometimes they would attack and kill each other. Other times the guards would make them fight to the death for amusement, or torture them.

Prisoners never escaped...except for three standard weeks ago. An army of soldiers that used living weapons broke into the colony and freed ten prisoners. They killed several other inmates as well, which the guards didn't mind since it helped with crowding.

The dirty, ragged guards were at their post sipping alcohol from tin cups. The bearded guards each had four eyes extended on short, stubby eye stalks.

The door to their chambers screeched open as a stranger walked inside. He was dressed in a dark, navy blue vest with a black cape draped around his shoulders and black slacks. The guards reached for their weapons.

"Wait," the stranger, Nolan said as he raised his right hand. A tattoo of a black skull was etched in his palm. "Reaching for your weapons may not be the best idea."

The guards paused and looked at Nolan with fear. The leader shook his head, as if snapping his mind back to reality, and laughed. "Boy, I don't know how you got in here, but it will take more than a bit of paint to scare us. Although I will admit...you had us going...not many people are gutsy, and stupid, enough to break into penal colonies pretendin' to be Justices."

Nolan was a Justice, the elite of the Talion. The Talion were appointed nearly 1,000 years ago during the most recent galactic alliance. Rulers across the galaxy sent their best soldiers and warriors to a planet named Talianna at the farthest edge of the galaxy to become Talion. The order patrolled the galaxy and acted as a police force. Then the galactic empire fell during an event called the Great Shattering.

After the Great Shattering, the Talions continued to serve and uphold the empire's ideals. They roamed the galaxy, crushing the lawless and championing the oppressed. Their word was law, and their judgment binding.

Their numbers had decreased significantly since the Shattering. Nolan was one of only nine Justices.

Nolan extended his hand and summoned his tsincaat,a slender golden-hilted sword. The lead guard drew his blaster and aimed forward, but before he could fire, Nolan spun and sliced the weapon in two while slamming a sidekick against the guard's chest. The guard went flying backward and slammed against a wall.

Nolan brought his tsincaatinto an en guard position as the other guards froze with fear, keeping their hands hovering above their weapons.

Nolan narrowed his eyes at them. "If you need any more proof, I'd be more than happy to strip you of your souls."

The skull tattoo was a mark given to Justices that gave them the power to consume people's souls. As a result, his right hand felt cold and lifeless.

The guards said nothing.

"Now," Nolan said, "ten prisoners were freed by Xen'kal. I want to know everything you do about the captives and the Xen'kal who took them. You can either tell me, or..." He held up his hand and showed them the skull tattoo on his pale palm. "Or I can find out the fun way."

The rangers arrived at the shuttle and regrouped with Chris, but Zhane was missing. They gathered in the shuttle pod cockpit and did a quick sensor sweep of the area.

"I don't understand it," Chris said. "I was in that building for a minute tops, and when I stepped out, he was gone."

Ashley shook her head. "The Psychos must have found him..."

"But how?" Justin asked.

"His comm signal," Kat said. "They must have detected his comm signal somehow."

The sensor monitor blinked near Ashley. "I think I found him. He's in a secluded building outside the city and surrounded by a force barrier."

"All right then, let's get him out of there," Tommy said. "But first...we need a decoy."

Nolan stood in an empty damp cell. He extended his hand, palm up, as his tattoo wove a special spell. He sensed the cell's former occupants, three of the prisoners who were kidnapped.

Visions flashed across his mind's eye. One of the prisoners had led a mission...a mission to a planet with high-rise temples and royalty. He had chased women and children through the streets. He had murdered soldiers. He was conquering, but more. He was on a rampage, determined to-

An intense wave of agony slammed against Nolan. He fell backwards, losing consciousness.

Psycho Red stood still on the rooftop. Psycho Black had captured the Silver Ranger. The others were laying out a trap for the other Astros. Psycho Red wanted nothing to do with it.

He did not want to bait the Rangers in. He wanted to hunt them. He wanted to kill them on his own. Kill Astro Red on his own. Psycho Red imagined sliding his black blade through Astro Red. He could almost hear the sound of metal grating against bone.

Psycho Red was sick of waiting. He leapt down into the crowd and summoned his onyx blade. He swung wildly through the crowd, cutting through several natives. Their screams alleviated some of his pain, but he needed more than petty civilians. He needed Astro Red.

His senses suddenly picked up the Astros' comm signal. His plan had worked better than expected. Psycho Red leapt from rooftop to rooftop along with the others. They landed on the alien streets and raced towards the Astro Megatank, which was speeding around corners.

The Psychos fell into formation behind the Megatank and increased their speed. In a blur of motion, they leapt over the Megatank and landed in front of the vehicle. They extended their hands and fired energy pulses that exploded against the vehicle. The Megatank screeched to a halt. Psycho Red leapt forward and ripped the tank's armor off.

No one was inside.

The tank was a decoy.

The Astro Rangers had blasted through the force field and were running towards the building where Zhane was imprisoned. The Psychos caught up with the Astros and blocked their path with streaks of motion.

Psycho Red glared at Astro Red. "You're not nearly as bright as you'd like to think."

The Psychos pounced forward and attacked.

Astro Red launched a jump kick towards Psycho Red. Psycho Red grabbed the Ranger's kick, knocked the Astro's other leg up, and slammed the Ranger to the ground. Psycho Red dropped down with an elbow blow that sparked against the Ranger's chest upon impact.

Psycho Blue grabbed Astro Blue by the shoulders and snapped a flurry of knee blows that sparked against the Ranger's chest.

Astro Black slammed against the ground, smashing against his spine, as Psycho Black dropped his knee against the Ranger, causing sparks across Astro Black's armor.

Psycho Pink twisted Astro Pink's wrist with one hand and slammed a combo of knifehand strikes that sparked against the Ranger's chest.

Psycho Yellow snapped forward with a spinning heel kick that slashed across Astro Yellow's armor with a fury of sparks. The Ranger's body whipped backward.

Psycho Red stalked towards the Rangers as they regrouped. He watched Astro Red clutch his left shoulder like a wounded animal. If Psycho Red had lips, he would have smiled.

"Worn out already?" Psycho Red said. "How disappointing. I suppose when we're done with you...we'll satisfy the rest of our hunger on this planet's population."

Astro Red snapped into a fighting stance. "Underestimating us is a fatal mistake, metal mouth."

Psycho Red rolled his hands into fists, the fluid in his body boiling with rage. "Not this time..."

The Psychos lifted their hands and gathered neon-green strands of energy between their palms. The five Psychos shot their arms forward, firing crackling energy blasts that ripped across the Rangers' armor with a series of high-yield explosions.

Astronema was monitoring the battle when a jagged pain cut through her mind. It was Sauron. The rumbling of his telepathy cried out to her in anger. Someone was draining his power. He wanted Astronema to find out who. He wanted them dead.

"Yes, Sauron...it will be done..." she said as the mind link closed. How powerful was Sauron becoming that he could now communicate telepathically across space? He was never able to do so before.

Astronema turned to Eclipter. "Stop the Psychos. Now."

Jagged green energy poured against the Rangers, ripping across their armor and exploding with violent flashes of sparks and light.

Without warning, the Psychos screamed in pain. They felt like shrieking plasma torches were drilling through their bodies. A distortion wave surrounded them and teleported them away.

The Rangers collapsed to the ground, explosions ripping their armor.

The strength of Nolan's telepathic visions was directly proportionate to the strength of emotion attached to those visions. The sense he picked up in the jail cell was the most intense ever recorded. Nolan was unconscious, but he witnessed the former inmate's memories first hand. The captured prisoner had no name. He was simply called Zero by his peers.

Nolan relived Zero's memories, first person, in the blink of an eye. The result chilled him more than stealing souls...

I was Zero. I charged through a planet's city streets, my entire vision clouded with a curtain of black and silver. The curtain let me see things...differently than normal. The world in front of me was Eltar, but the name didn't matter. It was a target. My first.

I pulled a pair of thick crescent blades from behind by back and leapt forward, swinging the blades down in an 'x' pattern, and decapitating two of the city's soldiers. The streets were covered with dead as troops advanced against the Eltarians, bashing against the planet's natives with bladed weapons, spells, and blasters.

The carnage around me was invigorating. It was what I was made for. Literally. An entire lifetime of training, manipulation, genetic modification, memory programming, drugs, conditioning, power...pure power. I lived for this moment!

I charged forward with a burst of speed and started cracking my blades through soldiers' skulls. The Eltarian troops, numbering in the hundreds, rushed to stop me. I held them back with my blades. I tore open the chest of the soldier in front of me and spun to the right while moving forward, slicing through the neck of a soldier with my right blade while slitting the head of a soldier with my left blade, and slamming a hook kick against a third soldier.

The harder they rushed towards me, the harder I pushed back. It was too...easy. I held my daggers in front of me and charged forward, tackling through the troops while I sprinted through their lines. I tossed them aside, impaled them, decapitated them. I was a blur of death, and it was liberating.

A hulking palace stood in the distance. It was my target. My prey was inside. I had to get to that tower!

A shining figure dropped from the skies and landed in front of me, making a crater on impact. The warrior unsheathed a slender blade and aimed it at my head. He was dressed in black garments with silver armor...or maybe it was just my vision. Tendrils of silver flame danced around his body.

He was a Veis, one of the planet's four recently chosen protectors. I snarled at the guardian, enraged that the creature thought he could keep me away. I was power!

The Veis spoke to me. His voice was like rushing water. He warned me to turn away...at least I thought so. I hardly paid attention to what he said. I just wanted him out of my way. I wanted him dead.

The Veis uttered a war cry and spun forward while swinging his blade down towards my head. I parried the blow with my left blade and slashed forward with my right, but he spun out of the way while smashing the end of his weapon against the back of my head.

He had hit me.

He had actually hit me.

I hurled my crescent blades forward. They buzzed through the air and slammed against the Veis. The warrior stumbled backward as I pounced forward to attack. I leapt through the air and slammed both my heels against his chest, crushing his ribs as I reached down and grabbed his throat. I squeezed as hard as I could.

He had hit me.

He had actually hit me.

I crushed his neck with my bare hands and ripped out his throat. I looked up at the palace before me, with my target inside, and sprinted forward.

I may as well been sleep walking while I ripped through the palace guards towards the main chambers. I sensed great power. I sensed my target.

Three Eltarian guards rushed towards me with spears. I grabbed them all with sweeps from my arms and tossed them against nearby doors. The guards went splintering through the doors and tumbling into the dark chamber.

I rearmed my crescent blades and stepped into the darkness. My target was inside! I could feel him! My whole life...my entire existence was made for this moment!

"Sauron will never win," a voice said from the darkness.

Sauron? Was he the one attacking Eltar? I had never bothered asking. The voice continued to speak...some sort of lecture about good and evil. I didn't listen. I just tried to follow the words. Follow the voice back to its source. The source's voice was my target.

"..tell your master that he is too late," the voice was finishing. "The Rangers will find him and stop him."

The voice...he was in the room but not. He was speaking but not. He was...not real? My mind was confused. I threw my crescent blades towards the source of the voice. They slammed against a console that crackled with electricity. The console was connected to a holographic matrix.

I looked into the holographic matrix. Its visuals were deactivated, but inside was my prey. Inside was Zordon.

Ashley's vision slowly blurred back into focus. She looked up to see sick bay's ceiling. She was back on the Megaship. She let out a groan and tried to sit up, but a hand gently kept her down. It was Tommy.

"Not so fast...those Psychos did a number on us. Give yourself a second," he said.

She looked up at him and smiled. "Do you want me to break that hand off, Oliver?"

He smiled back. "Are you always this feisty when you wake up?"

The rangers gathered in the situation room after learning that Cy had rescued them from the surface. The Megaship had blasted into hyperspace after fighting through a group of angry patrol-ship pilots. Cy activated the room's central holographic console.

"...the good news is, we tracked the Psychos back to Astronema's Dark Fortress. And DECA managed to get some decent scans this time."

"How decent?" Tommy asked.

The console displayed a three-dimensional image of the five Psycho Rangers. The rangers took a moment to review sensor data on their pads.

Ashley shuffled through the information. "They're definitely genetically modified somehow....but what's this one element that keeps recurring."

Zhane smiled as he noticed. "It's a clue."

Cy nodded. "That element is a zinatope...It could only have come from one place." Cy switched the image to the planet Kimino. "The penal colony on Kimino."

Zhane leaned forward. "The zinatope can only survive in its raw form beneath the planet's surface. All the inmates and guards inhale the stuff on a daily basis. It practically melds with the iron in their blood...at least for species that actually have iron in their blood."

"Let's check it out," Tommy said. "DECA...set a course for Kimino."

Astronema paced back and forth in front of her Psychos, eyeing them each with a cold stare. Psycho Red was starting to despise her. Who did she think she was to pull him out of battle.

"Astronema," Psycho Red said, "we almost had them! Why did you pull us from-"

Astronema blasted jagged purple energy against Psycho Red's chest. The blast exploded against his armor and sent him skidding across the pavement.

"Don't forget who gave you life," Astronema said. "You're here to do one thing, and one thing only: follow."

Astronema turned sharply on her heels and walked back towards her ready room. Psycho Red never took his glare off of her.

Astronema closed her ready room doors and turned to Eclipter. "They will destroy the Rangers...but they'll do it slowly...making sure to drain every last drop of Sauron's energy."

"But Sauron suspects something," Eclipter said.

A cold smile spread across her lips. "Suspicion is not proof, Eclipter."

"The Rangers," Eclipter cautioned, "we just received word that they're headed towards Kimino."

Astronema smiled wickedly. "Excellent...it's the perfect excuse for a rematch. Take us to Kimino. Tell the Psychos to be ready."

The Triforian Queen stood on a balcony that looked over her planet's capital.

Trialia was at the Queen's side. "What's going to happen, mother?" she asked. "More and more systems are falling under Sauron's control. And with these doppelgangers...matters are only getting worse. People are blaming the Rangers. And the crown-heads are wasting their time with bickering and politics."

The Queen nodded. "They think if they stay out of harm’s way, harm will not come to them. They are wrong."

"They are foolish," Trialia was quick to say. "They should be following Trey's example."

"There are some who are," the Queen said.

And she was right. Allied forces were working to fight against Sauron throughout the galaxy. A race called the Rah acted as an the Allied forces' intelligence Network, feeding information about enemy troop movements and plans. Trey commanded a resistance fleet with ships from Fray'loth, the Rigel Expanse, and Titan. They moved on the offensive. A Titan battle group worked with Confederation troops to keep Sauron's armies out of the Fourth Quadrant.

Aquitar served as a repair station and focal point for the fleet. KO-35 rebels engaged in smaller sorties along the galactic rim, using their mech suits. Kilwan and the Rigel Expanse were sending more troops out to the field daily at times.

"But it's not enough," Trialia said.

"It will have to do for now," the Queen said. "Ambassador Jiphaf from Gelic Prime will be the hardest to convince. He doesn't see any reason to fight Sauron, and he is probably working with his forces."

"Why would he betray his own people" Trialia asked.

"Jiphaf does not care about people. He only cares about power. He thinks that Sauron will let him keep his territories after the galaxy falls," the Queen said.

The truth was even more terrifying. But the Queen did not want to make her daughter worry. Jiphaf and rulers in neighboring sectors were harboring Sauron's forces behind their borders. The Queen had a plan for dealing with the problem before it became an active threat.

"Now," the Queen said as she placed her hands on her daughter's shoulders. "Why don't you go get some rest."

Trialia reluctantly left the balcony and room. The Queen looked to one of the corners. "You can come out now, Jiiku..."

Jiiku dropped his chameleon cloak and appeared before the Queen. He was dressed in gold tech-armor that wrapped around his chest, arms, and shoulder. The armor covered a skin-tight black body suit. Five green gems were at the center of the chest plate. The gems were arranged in an 'x' pattern. His helmet had a solid black faceplate and visor that blended together seamlessly. A tech-armor helmet wrapped around his head.

His name was Jiiku. Some liked to call him "The Demon Hunter." Jiiku was a bounty hunter who fought pirates, thieves, and murderers for the highest bidder. He was the last survivor of a dead world. His planet had fallen to race of creatures called the Onijuu. The Onijuu called themselves demons, but in fact, they were mortals who genetically modified themselves into monsters. They modeled their bodies after various demons of legend.

"You didn't tell her what Jiphaf is really up to," Jiiku said. His voice was like a strong whisper.

"No," the Queen said simply. A part of her was glad for the Demon Hunter's help. Another part of her despised him. He only helped save lives for profit. "I did not want to worry her. Your payment should be in your ship by now. Go...root Sauron's forces out."

Jiiku nodded and activated his stealth cloak.

The Megaship speared into real-space near Kimino's dark side. A blanket of flame rolled across the barren world's day side. Defense platforms, armed with heat shields, locked their sights onto the Megaship.

"Hail the guard post," Tommy said.

Kat shook her head after trying. "They're not responding."

Justin analyzed the weapon platforms. "They're automated defense systems. They'll start firing unless the clowns on the surface clear us."

"Deploy armor. Ashley, Kat," Tommy said. "See if you can hack into the platform systems. Get them to power dow-"

"They're firing!" Justin said.

Confined blue-tinted disrupter beams exploded against the Megaship. The vessel climbed and banked to try and maneuver around the blasts.

"Target weapons on those disrupter turrets," Tommy said. "Take them out one at a time."

Justin aimed Megalasers and photonic pulse cannons onto the lead turret. He triggered a spray of red and blue energy darts that slammed against the turret, exploding against its armor.

The turrets returned fire. The rangers rocked at their stations on impact. Tommy clenched his jaw as another wave of fire slammed against the Megaship. "We may have to switch to Megazord mode if this keeps up. How's the hack?"

Ashley shook her head. "We need to be closer."

Justin's monitor sounded an alarm. "Tommy, things just got worse."

"A better explanation would be helpful," Tommy said as another volley of disrupter fire from the turrets slammed against the hull. Cy rolled the ship hard to starboard to avoid another volley.

"The Dark Fortress just entered the system," Justin said. "Five squads of Velocifighters are headed right for us."

To be continued...Chapter 22

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