The Dark Racers Part 1 – False Start

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers. This is a fan work and no profit is being made from it.
Author’s Note: Okay folks, this story was originally posted as Speeding Darkness and was intended as closure of a plot point started in Mother Knows Best. I’ve always intended to go back and fill out that story line and this is the end result.

The Dark Racers Part 1 – False Start

Villains did not work together. At least that was the accepted rule. While there were a few occasions when the dark armies united to defeat a common foe on the understanding that afterwards they would fight it out amongst themselves for the spoils, the likelihood of betrayal meant such alliances rarely worked and were commonly avoided.

Henchmen however were not bound by such rules. A lack of appreciation by their masters and a constant stream of verbal and sometimes physical abuse meant they were more likely seeking the companionship of those in similar situations. Scorpina and Nefaria were known to double date in some of the seedier bars when the opportunity presented itself. Elgar and Rito were also very friendly although their respective masters had forbidden them from interacting due to the general drain on the intelligence of those around them. Goldar was known to compete against his fellow warriors in friendly competition while Rygog had become drinking buddies with some of the followers of so-called lesser villains.

For the most part the Machine Empire’s generals rarely took part in such unofficial activities. That was mostly due to their programming causing them to look down on their peers. And why would a mighty general of the Machine Empire spend time with a lowly warrior of some organic upstart?

Fortunately while the warrior classes shared some of the prejudices of their masters, the pursuit of new methods and materials meant that Finster, Porto and Klank had no reservations about meeting to share ideas. It had been during one such meeting that the three had created the working prototype of Finster’s Monster Matic. And their combined input had resulted in some of the Machine Empire’s more organic looking monsters.

Today it was Porto who had called the meeting of what the three would claim were the brightest minds on the side of evil. Porto had been presented a task by Divatox, an important mission that despite his best efforts he had been unable to complete. Oh he had managed to delay the inevitable backlash when the pirate discovered that he had failed, mostly by changing the subject, blaming Elgar or hiding in the lower levels of their ship aware from her wrath. But such clever attempts at evasion could only last so long and if he did not complete the project soon he dared not imagine what she would do to him.

And that was why he had asked his fellow creators to meet, hoping that together they could pool their knowledge and find a solution. As an incentive he had gifted Finster with a box of his favourite snacks and Klank with the complete works of some obscure engineer. It was bribery, but he was desperate. Fortunately when they heard his plight, both were sympathetic.

“Why must it always be evil Rangers?” Finster lamented, shaking his head sadly. “It never ends well.”

“Aye, Kin’ Mondo at leest hud th’ sense tae prohibit them efter th’ lest one. Prince Gasket thocht disnae seem tae kin hoo radge they can be.” As he remembered King Mondo’s one and so-far only attempt to create an evil Power Ranger, he could not stop the involuntary vibration by a few of his motor circuits. Noticing the odd look Finster and Porto gave him, he flipped open a panel on the left side of his head and flicked a switch. “Sorry about that,” he said in a distinctly less-Scottish accent. “I forgot I wasn’t home.”

“Divatox will never learn,” Porto admitted. It was unusual for the three to compare their superiors mostly because as intellectuals they preferred not to succumb to the inevitable violence such discussion would bring. This time was different as it was a subject on which the three agreed: evil Rangers were a disaster. “Can you help me?”

There was a pleading tone to his voice. So pathetic and yet something the other two easily recognised. They had both been in their friend’s situation before and knew that no matter how hard he tried, Porto didn’t stand a chance of pleasing her without their help.

“I think I have some concept models I created when the Turbo Rangers first appeared,” Finster admitted. He would never show such pieces to Rita and Zedd out of fear that they would use them to create monsters, but Finster was an artist, capability of constructing some beautiful if a little twisted sculptures.

“And I still have the data scans that were transmitted from the virus we placed in the Rangers’ computer before they found it,” Klank added. The Machine Empire had made great use of the information when planning their assaults on the Earth, but the majority of the useful data was now obsolete and what remained was of no value to King Mondo, so Klank was willing to share.

Working together the three intellectuals managed to unravel the mysteries of the Turbo Rangers’ powers, allowing them to design and with the use of the facilities Porto had somehow obtained on Earth, build a working set of Turbo Keys complete with their interpretation of how their uniforms. It wasn’t a perfect copy, they didn’t have time to accomplish such a feat, but it would resemble a Turbo Ranger and aside from the usual weakness of such a plan, they were almost unstoppable.

“You’re lucky King Mondo isn’t interested in making Rangers anymore,” Klank told them. “Otherwise I’d be taking some of these with me.”

“Yes, Rita and Zedd will be most displeased if they find out I helped you with this and didn’t steal them,” Finster agreed before nodding to himself. “So I won’t tell them.”

And with that the three turned their attention to other discussions, enjoying the rare opportunity to share an intelligent conversation.

====

“Porto!”

Busted. The engineer had hoped that he would be able to sneak back on board the ship without arousing suspicion. With Elgar on watch it had seemed a simple matter. But then whenever the idiot was involved nothing was straight forward. He hid the grimace that came as much from the slight hangover as it did from getting caught and turned to face an irate Divatox.

“What time do you call this?” the pirate demanded. “You have work to do and you’re sneaking off all over the place.” She paused, her nostrils twitching slightly. “Have you been drinking?”

“Well you see… I mean…” Porto trailed off, noticing the scowl on his captain’s face. Normally this would be a time when he would need to find some underlings to clear up the mess. Divatox was not just annoyed, she was furious.

“Where are my Dark Turbo Rangers?” she bellowed. “You’ve had weeks to finish them. Now where are they?”

“Well I…”

“You haven’t finished them have you?” she continued. “You have been hiding away trying to avoid me because you failed!”

“No I have…”

“I should have known better than to trust one of you imbeciles to do something,” she growled. “And then you decide to sneak out for a drink when you should be working. Elgar, get the torpedo tubes ready!”

Porto actually took a step back. As her only inventor he had been protected from the punishment normally reserved for Divatox’s nephew and on a rare occasion Rygog. It seemed that her patience was exhausted and that her faith in his abilities had evaporated. HE found that more than a little annoying and for once decided that he would stand up for himself, just a little.

“Well if you don’t want them,” he said, revealing a set of five recently completed devices, “I guess I’ll have to take them apart again.”

“You did it?” Divatox asked, forgetting for a moment that he had dared answer her back.

“Yes Captain,” he replied smugly. “After weeks of struggle I have completed the task you set me. Now they’re not perfect, I only just finished building them in my workshop on Earth, aware from… distractions.”

He didn’t mention that the distraction in question was her shouting demands that he finish up. He preferred to allow her to think that he meant Elgar. It was better for all concerned that way… except perhaps her nephew.

“You did it?” she repeated, still not sure she had heard him correctly the first time.

Instead of answering he pulled out three of the devices he had completed. There was no way he was going to give her all five after such a lack of faith. Besides if there were only three Dark Turbo Rangers there were only three new allies for the Rangers when they inevitably turned on Divatox. And that meant less ranting when the plan eventually failed.

The threesome had not been able to completely duplicate the powers of the Turbo Rangers despite the information that had available regarding the Turbo Keys. In fact duplicating the Turbo Keys had proven to be the easy part. The problem was that the Power of Turbo was neither magical nor scientific in origin. The transformation made use of a phenomenon known as the Speed Force, and extra-dimensional energy source similar to magic. However the energy worked in accordance with some of the accepted laws of physics and so could also be considered science based in nature.

The Turbo Keys solved a part of the problem by drawing on the energy from the Speed Force and directing it using technology. Unfortunately while that allowed suitable humans to use the Power of Turbo, very few humans were suitable. Lerigot had used magic to get around that obstacle by altering the bodies of the Turbo Rangers. He had modified their cells to accommodate the energies drawn from the Speed Force, allowing them to survive prolonged exposure.

Finding a way to duplicate Lerigot’s magic had proven impossible. There were plenty of spells to alter the way the body worked, but none that made them receptive to volatile pseudo-magic unless they were already capable of channelling such power. Finster had suggested that the Rangers’ abilities to morph had meant that once they had been connected to one source of power, they were capable of using almost any other source. And that had offered a solution.

The first step had been to create a device that could detect suitable humans. Klank had taken a few minutes to build a suitable if oversized scanner. The next had been to create a means to enhance that potential long enough for the potential Ranger to morph for the first time – for it had been agreed by the three that once the transformation had been completed the Speed Force would permanently alter the bodies of those that utilised its energies.

In the end they had settled on a two part method requiring the use of chemicals to change the atoms that made up the body and a powerful energy discharge to trigger the chemical reaction. Surprising the chemicals they settled on were readily available in science laboratories around the globe. With a small amount of work Porto had soon manufactured a means of dispensing the chemicals and directing the energy discharge.

“The Dark Turbo Keys pick out the unique energy of the Speed Force and use it to accelerate the atoms in the Ranger’s body,” he explained as Divatox admired her new toys as if she had been the one to complete them. “Once the Ranger has been primed, the Dark Turbo Key directs a small charge of that energy to create a suit to prevent dispersal of their molecules while they are transformed. A programmed template within the Turbo Key allows the Ranger to produce weapons and other equipment as needed.”

He nodded, pleased with the explanation. He was a little put out that Divatox had missed the majority of what he had said

“Oh it’s good to be me!” Divatox crowed. “We’ll soon show those Turbo Punks who’s in charge around here. What next?”

“Well first we need to find some humans that have the potential to use the Power of Turbo. Then after attaching a small control module we inject them with a mixture of chemicals and expose them to a powerful energy blast using this.” He held up the weapon he had created. “The control module will allow the process to work after which they simply have to use they Turbo Keys to transform.”

“So all we need are my new Rangers,” Divatox cheered.

“Yes, I’ll begin a search immediately,” Porto offered.

“No need, I already have the perfect specimens,” Divatox told him. “Rygog, bring me my Rangers and be careful not to damage them!”

And suddenly Porto realised there was a good possibility that things could go wrong a lot sooner than he had ever imagined. He had assumed that Divatox would be content to allow him to select three suitable humans and transform them into her warriors. Alas it seemed that Divatox had already chosen her Dark Rangers using whatever criteria she deemed important. A part of him was sickened when he realised she had probably chosen them as playmates for her perversions first and Rangers second.

“Aren’t they perfect Porto?” she asked as Rygog and a group of foot-soldiers dragged three bikers into view.

Dressed in leather with skin that had been recently oiled and a glazed look in eyes, it was not hard to imagine that they had spent the previous night serving Divatox in her bed chamber. Porto sighed as the scanner confirmed what he already suspected. No, they were not perfect; they were not even mildly suitable. Their bodies lacked the potential to survive the modifications needed.

Now Porto wasn’t entirely sure what the effects of using the priming mixture on an unsuitable candidate would be, but given that some of its key ingredients caused necrosis of the organs and mutation of the cells, he didn’t think it would be a pretty sight. A part of him worried that it could prove explosive, poisonous or both.

“I’m sorry Divatox, but it won’t work,” he told her, willing to face her anger if it meant avoiding a more painful death. After all she needed him for the time being so he knew he would survive whatever she did to him; he tried to ignore the fact that there were many nasty things she could do to him that he could live through.

“Just do it Porto!” the pirate snapped as eh placed the control module upon the chest of one of her chosen. What was his name again?

Porto tried to think of an excuse, anything that would allow him time to suggest an alternative. It was clear however that Divatox was not in the mood to listen.

“I’ll do it!” Elgar offered, picking up the injection cannon Porto had cobbled together.

“No,” Porto protested, cursing the ill timed arrival of the ship’s native idiot.

It was too late. Elgar pulled the trigger and a small needle shot toward one of the bikers. On contact the needle pierced the skin, injecting the volatile fluid as a second later a blast of purple lightning struck the biker in the chest. Reacting on instinct, Porto did the only thing he could think of under the circumstances and ducked for cover.

Divatox did not shout at her nephew when it became clear that something had gone wrong. She was mesmerised by the sudden transformation of her most recent lover. As the chemicals entered his body, forcing it to mutate, the burst of high energy activated the volatile solution, initiating a violent reaction that seemed to spread to his fellow bikers.

“What is that thing?” Divatox bellowed when she finally found her voice.

The three humans had been thrown across the deck and had somehow merged together, their bodies deforming and twisting into a hideous new form. If asked Porto would have been hard pressed to state what they had become at first. Gradually it became clear that the humans had been mutated into a large eight legged snake with bat-like wings.

The creature, which was still growing, snapped up one of Divatox’s foot-soldiers in its mouth. The other tried to run, only to be caught in a mass of webbing. The creature screeched and flew awkwardly toward Divatox; it lacked the space to make full use of its wings. And then just as it was about to strike, it vanished from the ship leaving an angry Divatox to turn on a confused Elgar as a terrified Porto looked on.

“What happened?” Elgar asked.

“What happened?” Divatox snapped. “You nearly killed us you imbecile!” She took a breath and then turned to her more competent underlings. “What did happen?”

“I sent them to Earth,” Rygog answered calmly as he surveyed the damage. Whatever they were it seemed their venom was corrosive.

“Hm, let’s see those little Power Geeks handle that,” she agreed. “Good thinking Rygog. I like it when my crew show a little initiative. And you…” she grabbed Elgar by the ear… “Do not do anything unless I tell you to. Nitwit!”

“But you said you liked initiative Auntie D,” Elgar protested.

Divatox stared at her nephew. At first he hardly noticed, but with each passing second he grew increasingly nervous. She waited until he visibly gulped before releasing him.

“You don’t even know the meaning of the word,” she snarled cruelly.

~Or many others,~ Porto silently added.

“As for you Porto, stop wasting time and find me my Rangers!”

Porto knew better than to argue and scurried away to begin his search.

“And Porto…”

“Yes Queen Divatox?”

“Start looking in Angel Grove.”

Porto sighed. He knew what was about to happen: he would find a suitable human that would turn out to be a friend of the Power Rangers and therefore a more difficult subject to control. The power of friendship would overcome whatever control they managed to put in place and sooner or later it would all backfire and he would be blamed. He so wanted to refuse the order, to point out the reasons why it was such a bad idea. Instead he swallowed his pride once more and obediently agreed to her demands.

“Yes, Queen Divatox.”

In the meantime Divatox decided to watch the inevitable carnage unfold on Earth before she started her search for some new bed warmers. It was good to be the queen.

====

Franklin Park sighed as he reviewed the list of assignments he had for classes that day. It seemed the teachers were piling on the pressure to make up for time lost due to monster attacks. Mr Kaplan was constantly adjusting the curriculum to give his students the best education possible in difficult circumstances. Unfortunately sometimes that meant that teachers were forced to cover a vast part of their subjects very quickly and assign more and more out of class assignments to make sure the students could keep up.

Luckily Franklin and his friends were able to keep up with the demands of school. Between Justin’s intelligence, Franklin’s planning and Rosa’s encouragement along with Tasha to make sure they had some fun, they were in a better position than some of their classmates. And for once they were grateful that Divatox was otherwise distracted.

Franklin swallowed the small amount of sick that came into his throat as he remembered Zordon explaining that Divatox had been busy trying to find males to fulfil her other needs. The thought of any of the villains they fought having those sort of relations made him queasy – though at his age the idea of any adult doing that sort of thing made him slightly ill – he didn’t even want to think about what Zedd and Rita got up to once the lights were extinguished.

Tasha noticed the paling of Franklin’s face and hid a smirk. She could guess what he was thinking about and found the result amusing. It wasn’t that she didn’t find the thought of what Divatox did with her tongue disturbing, she did and had promised that Fred and Justin would pay for ever accessing that file in the Power Chamber’s records. ~Why did Zordon have that file anyway?~ She just didn’t allow it to affect her to the degree Franklin did.

“All right, we have an hour before Justin and I need to get back to the Shelter,” she said. “No more studying. We can finish this up later. Right?”

The others nodded and put their books away. The evenings were drawing in and curfews in Angel Grove grew more restrictive as the year moved on. So the opportunity to have a little fund before heading home was not to be missed.

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP!

It seemed that their luck had run out. After locating a quiet corner of the Juice Bar, Fred answered the call.

“We’re here Alpha, what’s wrong.”

“Divatox has sent down a– something,” Alpha replied. “Teleport to the Power Chamber.”

The five teens looked around and then activated their communicators, disappearing in a shower of coloured sparks.

====

Vinnie had not been a nice man. He had been in trouble with the law more times than he cared to remember, had served prison time for some nasty offences and was prone to violent outbursts that led many to wisely keep their distance. He wasn’t overly tall or especially muscular; he wasn’t known for his intelligence or wit. He was at heart a thug and a bit of a coward as likely to stab someone in the back as he was to confront them face-to-face.

But then he had attracted the eye of Divatox during one of her quests to find a new lover. He had a bad attitude and despite his lack of stature, she found him repulsive enough to gain an audition. That she had abducted and used a small spell to place him in a near trance was easy to overlook. She had enjoyed his services and he had had the pleasure of serving the Queen of the Pirates for one night.

The next morning Divatox had been bored of her new conquest and had replaced him with another biker named Modo. Modo was older, larger with a lot of greying facial hair and a patch over his right eye. He called himself a bear and for a short time Divatox had agreed with him. After a while though she had grown tired of him and started wondering aloud whether she needed a new rug.

That was when Throttle had received his opportunity; by this time Divatox had decided not to ask about their strange names, just dismissing it as a biker thing. She had been attracted to his tan and his muscles, which was fortunate because his personality was almost non-existent.

Despite the effects of the spell she had cast on each of them the three bikers had never been happier when she had taken all three of them to her bed for a night of passion. It had been at that time that she had decided that they would perfect for her team of Dark Turbo Rangers.

But that happiness was gone, replaced by the agony of the priming solution as it broke down the structure of their bodies and the blast of energy that had left them feeling as if they had been struck by lightning. The chemical reaction combined with the high voltage and their unsuitability to the process had resulted in an unpredictable mutation. The modulator that Vinnie had been given had followed its programming and interfered with the process. The results were not pretty.

Vinnie, Modo and Throttle had been broken down into a biological mass and then reformed into something else. It’s lower body and legs were those of a spider. It had the long tail of a snake that trailed out behind it. The upper body looked almost human with a broad chest, powerful shoulders and thick arms, but the large serpentine scales made it clear that this thing was certainly not a man. On its back it had a pair of large bat wings that folded over its shoulders like a cape. Its head resembled that of a cobra complete with the sharp fangs that dripped corrosive venom onto the street below; on top it had a small pair of bat ears.

Its wings flapped and it rose above the ground, shooting a toxic mix of venom and webbing down the street, covering the fleeing citizens as they ran for safety. The three humans had ceased to exist and in there place was a beast that intended to destroy anything that got in its way. As it let out a terrifying screech that shattered the glass windows in the nearby vehicles, it chased after its prey.

====

“That’s a big… what is that thing?” was Tasha’s first comment when Alpha showed them the scenes from Angel Grove.

Since they had teleported to the Power Chamber the Turbo Rangers had been quick to study the giant beast. It appeared that wherever it had come from it was mutating at an alarming rate. It was also growing larger. When it had first appeared it had been a little over three meters in length. Now it was closer to five meters.

“Is it a machine?” Franklin asked as he studied the beast’s shiny skin. It looked like metal in places.

“Whatever it is, it’s intelligent,” Rosa observed as it chased a crowd of civilians through the streets, herding them towards a waiting web. “And we need to help those people before it sinks its fangs into them.”

“Right,” Fred agreed. “Let’s Shift into Turbo!”

“Desert Thunder Turbo Power!” Frank cried.

“Wind Chaser Turbo Power!” Rosa followed.

“Mountain Blaster Turbo Power!” Justin called.

“Dune Star Turbo Power!” Tasha yelled.

“Red Lightning Turbo Power!” Fred finished.

In a shower of sparks they teleported to the city.

“Alpha, reconfigure the Ranger’s armour to maximum density,” Zordon rumbled.

“Yes Zordon,” the little machine acknowledged before setting to work.

====

High on a rooftop in another part of Angel Grove three interested spectators watched the creature as it chased its prey through the streets. They were not from Angel Grove or Earth for that matter, but unlike many of those that took an interest in the small world, they held no interest in conquering it, destroying it or looting its many resources. In fact under normal circumstance they would have ignored the otherwise mundane planet.

But then they had seen the creature stalking through the streets and suddenly they had felt compelled to give the planet a second look. After all if there were more creatures like that to be found on the planet, perhaps they would need to extend their hunting ground.

====

Very few of the Earth Rangers had ever conducted a full study of their uniforms, mostly because doing so was difficult when wearing them. Billy had browsed the Power Chamber’s data files a few times while aiding Zordon with the Zeo Rangers’ powers, but even his understanding of the material that made up the uniforms and how to build suits that were solid armour instead of the Spandex type material most wore was limited.

In truth there was no difference between the material used for one type of suit and that used for another. Solid or flexible, hard or soft, brightly coloured or see through, every part of a Ranger’s uniform was made from the same base material. Gloves, boots, holsters, helmets and even visors were fashioned from a single substance. It was only the application of various spells and manufacturing techniques that altered the way it looked, felt and moved.

So while the Turbo Rangers had grown used to fighting in the more flexible suits that their predecessors had worn, just like the Morphin and Zeo teams they were able to change them as needed. So when they arrived they were only a little surprised to find that they were wearing lightweight body armour instead of the usual fabric.

“Tasha, Justin, get those people out of that web. Franklin, Rosa and I will distract it.”

“And just how are we going to distract it?” Pink Turbo wanted to know.

Red Turbo looked at Green Turbo who just shrugged unhelpfully. It seemed giant hybrid monsters that were too small to justify using the Zords were difficult to plan for.

“We attack!” Red Turbo cried before charging forward.

“Pink and Green Turbo glanced at each other before following Red Turbo. He was the leader after all and they didn’t have anything better in mind.

It seemed at first that luck was on their side. The monster was larger but in a city street lined with shops and a street filled with abandoned cars, it didn’t have the room to use its superior size. However it was fast and as the three Turbo Rangers soon found out, capable of more than just firing webs.

“Look out!” Pink Turbo warned as the creature unleashed another loud screech, the force of the sonic blast throwing the three Rangers off their feet.

The few seconds they were downed was enough for the creature to turn and lash out with its tail, raising it like a club before hammering it down onto the street. The three Rangers managed to dodge out of the way, the red van that had been behind them was not so fortunate.

“We need to get under it!” Green Turbo urged as the snake thrashed its tail from side to side, launching anything it touched into the air.

As the Rangers ran forward they realised that the tail was clearing the street and make it easier for the creature to move. It lashed out with both its tail and its arms, flinging debris at the Turbo Rangers while spewing more of its toxic webbing.

“Franklin!” Pink Turbo cried as the corrosive venom made contact with the street just in front of Green Turbo. A chasm opened beneath him and the Green Ranger vanished from sight.

“Justin, Tasha, we need you guys here as soon as you can!” Red Turbo cried as Pink Turbo opened fire on the monster that had apparently killed her friend. “Rosa, watch out!”

Having had the opportunity to search the battlefield, the beast had located two of the street lamps and was wielding them like swords or at least knives. Pink Ranger was forced to roll and tumble as it tried to stab her with its makeshift weapons, the hole in the ground limiting her movements.

“Auto Blaster!” Red Turbo called, drawing his sidearm. He fired a number of shots at the beast’s legs, causing it to panic. He avoided a tail strike as Pink Turbo fired a few shots of her own.

Then the beast let out a scream of agony and seemed to twitch uncontrollably. Yellow Turbo had used the distraction to leap onto its back and had punched it with her Turbo Power Weapon. A moment later the lower part of one of its legs was incinerated as Blue Turbo unleashed a volley from his Turbo Hand Blasters.

“Ai-yi-yi, Rangers, turn your external audio off,” Alpha instructed.

Although they didn’t know why they had received such an instruction, the four Turbo Rangers had known Alpha long enough to trust him. As soon as they did so a wave of green energy struck the monster, throwing it back down the street. They turned to find Green Turbo with his Thunder Cannon at the ready.

“You’re not the only one that can make a noise,” he commented as he regarded the fallen beast clutch at its head. It seemed it did have some weaknesses after all.

====

Minutes earlier

The ground had given way and there was nothing Green Turbo could do to prevent himself from falling into the chasm. Even the sharp spikes on the bottom of his boots failed to provide the extra friction he needed. Unable to stop himself from falling, the Green Turbo Ranger threw himself forward, hoping to control his descent and that the hole was not too deep. He was aware that some parts of Angel Grove’s sewer system were unpredictable due the damage the streets had sustained over the years.

He breathed as sigh of relief when he found that the corrosive venom had only ripped through the roadway. He landed in the sewer, followed by a large amount of debris as more of the road collapsed on him. Fortunately the changes Zordon and Alpha had made to his armour meant the rubble barely hurt him.

“Fred, Rosa, I’m okay,” he said, but realised something was preventing his signal from reaching them.

He took the opportunity as he dug himself lose to think of a strategy. Their foe was strong and fast, but limited slightly by its size. It clearly had the ability of a snake to spit its venom and could project its screech as a weapon. It had the webbing of a spider and the speed provided by eight legs. But did that mean that it only inherited the positive side of its new form?

“That’s it!” he realised as he remembered the beast’s ears. If it had the enhanced senses of a bat made he could use that sensitivity against it. “Alpha, Zordon?”

“Franklin, you’re alive!” Alpha cried. “The other will be so glad.”

“Alpha I have an idea but I can’t contact the others,” Franklin said. “I need you to tell the others to turn off their eternal audio.”

“At once Franklin and good luck,” Alpha replied.

Green Turbo nodded to himself and summoned the Thunder Cannon, a special gift he had received with his powers that allowed him to fire sonic waves. Normally the weapon needed a secure anchor point like the roof of his Zord, but with limited space he chose to hold the cannon on his should and hope the kickback wouldn’t cause too much damage. He used his visor to plot a simple leap out of the sewers and once above ground, he aimed and fired the weapon. He was relieved to see the beast thrown off its feet.

“You’re not the only one that can make a noise,” he commented as he regarded the fallen beast clutch at its head. It seemed it did have some weaknesses after all.

====

Divatox scowled as she watched the Ranger turn the tide of the battle. Once reunited the five young warriors had resumed the attack, destroying its legs and then working as a team to devastate its tail. It had retaliated with a spray of webbing, but using a combination of their weapons they had broken free. And it had not been long before they were setting up to finish her beast with their Turbo RAM.

“Rygog, fires the torpedoes!” she bellowed.

The beast might not have been something she intended to create, but she hated to lose.

====

As soon as the monster had grown to the size of a normal giant monster, the Rangers had arranged for Zordon to teleport it away from the city. They had then summoned their Zords and engaged in a more even rematch. The beast still had a few tricks up its scaly sleeves, surprising the Rangers when it shed its lower body, choosing to fight as a giant winged metal snake instead.

Its tail smashed into the Megazord, knocking the mighty machine off its feet. Before it could right itself the snake launched itself forward, sinking its fangs into the Megazord’s left leg. The corrosive venom quickly spread, disabling the Zord’s systems.

“I can’t move the left leg,” Green Turbo complained.

“Systems are offline, we need time to reboot,” Blue Turbo replied as he scrambled through the access hatch at the back of the cockpit. Yellow Turbo was close behind.

“Fred, I have an idea,” Pink Turbo declared. “But I’ll need some help.”

“I’m on it!” Green Turbo volunteered as he noticed what she was doing. He slid into Yellow Turbo’s place, taking direct control over the Megazord’s active leg.

The arms of the Megazord rose as the snake reared up. With a push of a button the arms detached, allowing them to combine together to form Wind Chaser. With a swinging kick that took an incredible effort from a prone position, the Pink Ranger’s Zord was propelled at the attacking snake. Just before the impact, the Zord split in half again, allowing it to safely pass around the snake monster.

The desperate move had bought time for Blue and Yellow Turbo to restart the damaged Zord’s systems and despite a slightly dead leg, the Megazord was back on its feet. With the monster distracted Red Turbo used the Megazord’s chest blaster to bombard it with energy. As the snake recovered from the attack, the Megazord’s arms reattached and the Rangers summoned the Power Sword.

“Spinout!”

The battle was over swiftly as the Power Sword cut through the giant beast’s neck, destroying the monster once and for all.

====

“Good news my Queen, I have located one of your evil Rangers!” Porto stated as he shuffled onto the bridge, unaware that it was a bad time. “I just have a few more kinks to work out.”

“Kinks?” Divatox snarled, angered by the loss of her creation. “I don’t want one of them almost ready Porto, I want all of them, now!”

“Yes my Queen,” Porto agreed.

“Now get back to work!”

Porto sighed and returned to his workshop, grateful that at least she still needed him for now. He didn’t want to think what she would do to him otherwise.

====

After they had returned to the Power Chamber the Rangers had enough time to teleport back to the Youth Center and collect their belongings before heading home. Fortunately in the event of an attack the Youth Center was designated a monster shelter and Ernie had the final say on when those taking shelter there were free to leave. It allowed the Rangers a valid excuse for being back after curfew.

In the Power Chamber the events of the battle along with an analysis of the beast were being replayed by Zordon and Alpha. Despite the Rangers’ victory it was still not clear where the monster had come from. And while it had been Divatox that had made it grow, there was no guarantee that she was the one behind the threat and not simply taking advantage of somebody else’s work. Given that it had seemed to be a random attack Zordon wondered if it had been a desperate attempt to defeat the Rangers or just the beginning of something worse?

After failing to find the answers in the replay, Zordon turned his attention elsewhere. The answers would come eventually. They always did.

End of Part

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

Night School

Disclaimer: I do not own Power Rangers, they belong to the current copyright owners. The Night Rangers were the creation of John Chubb.

Night School

It was another day on Daos and for Jeff Kincaid it was an introduction to the finer points of becoming a Night Ranger.

"The Night Saber," Mark said as he held the silver cylinder so Jeff could see. "Primary weapon of the Night Fighters and the Night Rangers." He give it a twist and a metal guard sprang out. "The cross-guard is optional," he explained before twisting a second time, which caused a metallic blade to emerge from one end of the cylinder. "Useful when you use it as a normal sword, but…" another flick and the sword ignited with blue energy, "not so helpful when using the energy blade."

A quick twist caused the weapon to revert to its default form. Of course the weapon had other functions such as search light and scanner, but it was mostly suited to cutting down enemies. He tossed the weapon to Jeff and watched the teen examine it closely.

"You’ll be getting training from the elders," Mark promised. "The powers give you an instinctive knowledge of how to fight, but practice is the best teacher."

Even though Jeff tried to follow the movements Mark made to switch the Dark Saber between its various modes, he was unable to learn everything just by watching. But by the end of the demonstration he understood that while it was called a Night Saber, the standard weapon of the Night Ranger could be transformed into a variety of weapons just be manipulating the cylinder and having a clear idea of what was needed.

Next he was given a dark cloak with a large hood. Although it seemed heavy when he took it from Mark, the moment he put it on the weight seemed to vanish. He pulled the hood up and was surprised to find that he could see through it.

"There a visual receptors built into the material," Mark explained. "They allow you to see what’s going on around you even when you have the hood locked in place and help with the camouflage."

In addition to the visual sensors there were visual projectors built into the cloak. Combined with the dark colour and light absorbing action of the material, it allowed the user to project the image of what was behind them onto the surface, making it appear that there was nothing to see. It was not a perfect method and Mark had warned him that it would likely only fool those not paying complete attention to what was going on.

"Perfect for striking at boring outposts that never get any excitement, less useful when robbing a high security vault," Mark warned.

"Why isn’t black?" Jeff asked.

"Because as a colour black is rarely found in nature and not much use except on parking lots. Any skilled lookout will be looking for something unusual and that would tip them off. Greys and darker tones look more natural and absorb light better… You’ll find the cloak will adjust without your input, but you can override it. In daylight, well a tatty grey cloak helps ensure that people don’t bother you."

The next item was an arm brace that Mark explained were only given to Night Rangers and those leading groups of Night Fighters. In addition to an energy shield, the brace offered a communicator, mini computer and remote control system for some of the Night Rangers’ equipment.

"Which leads us to your Zord," Mark said.

Since the Night Rangers were not recognised as Rangers, they could not ask the Morphin Masters to provide them with Zords. Instead they built their own machines, something that the Morphin Masters and Galactic Council fiercely protested but were powerless to prevent. Given the Night Rangers disregard for rules concerning escalating a battle, the Night Zords were built for offence.

"The Night Rangers based their Zords upon the predators of the night," Mark explained. "Both real and mythological… by Earth standards."

Jeff recognised some of the machine before him. The bat, the wolf, the owl, the fox, the snake and the lion were all night time hunters on Earth, although he was quickly coming to realise that what an Earthling considered to be a lion and what the rest of the universe considered to be a lion were very different. The imposing bear, a creature Mark identified as a velociraptor, the cougar, the leopard, the tarantula, the scorpion and the tiger. There were two more Zords in the hangar: the Tasmanian wolf and the demon bull that was still incomplete.

"Unlike other teams the Night Rangers don’t associate a Zord with a colour," Mark told him. "You pick a Zord you want and if it hasn’t been claimed by somebody else it’s yours. If it has or if there is something you prefer well we can always ask the techs to try and build it; I warn you now our engineers are good but they are painfully slow when it comes to completing their work."

Jeff studied the Zords before him. He was drawn to the incomplete demon, but something pulled him toward the wolf. It was a feral looking beast with large wings on its back. He could feel the eyes of it onboard computer watching him and as he drew near it snarled. Jeff ignore the threatening growls as he reached out and touched it. At once the machine stopped as its grey metal armour turned dark blue.

"Looks like you have a Zord," Mark said. "Don’t worry about the colour, you can change it if you want. Just try and remember to keep it dark and stay away from hot pink."

And finally Mark pulled out the Blue Night Morpher. handed him a morpher very similar to the one Kincaid had seen Mark use before. He remembered he had used this morpher during his first mission as a Night Ranger, but Mark had asked for it back before they had journeyed to Daos.

"As you know this is the Blue Night Morpher," Mark told him. "When you are fully connected to the Spirits of the Night you’ll be able to draw on its full power. In the meantime it will offer the same protection as a Night Fighter receives. I tweaked the appearance so that only those who know the difference – other Night Rangers – can tell which you are using. To activate them just say: Blue Night Ranger Activate… you can change the command to something better if you want."

And with that Jeff was fully equipped to start his quest to become a Night Ranger. Now it was a matter of taking the challenges ahead and learning from the Elders of the Acexta to use his abilities to their fullest.

"Next stop: the Pit of Night," Mark told him as he led the way out of the temple toward one of the known entrances. "This entrance is home to some minor spirits. Most of those wishing to become Night Fighters come here for their first time. Once inside one of the creatures will challenge you. If you defeat it it will be bound to the Night Fighter and will connect you to the Spirits of the Night."

"And if I fail?" Jeff asked.

"We’ll need to find another candidate… don’t fail."

"Any useful advice?"

Mark thought for a moment. "The more powerful you appear to be the more powerful the opponent you will face. Think about it when deciding what to do."

Jeff considered the advice and with a shrug removed his cloak and morpher. He stashed his Night Saber in his back pocket and moved his sleeve to cover the arm brace. He noticed an approving look on Mark’s face, which quickly disappeared as he made his way to the entrance. He could see a barrier of some kind and after looking back for approval, Jeff Kincaid stepped forward to meet his destiny.

====

The Pit of Night as it turned out was another dimension filled with hostile spirits, minor demons and weird creatures. And in a place so barren of life, the appearance of a fresh soul drew the interest of the many occupants. Over time a hierarchy had developed within the Pit of Night that decided the order in which the denizens were allowed to attack their prey. Only when the older demons had decided that a single human was not worth their time and turned away did the smaller creatures venture forward.

There was a brief squabble and then one of the creatures stepped forward. It growled a challenge and then attacked, bind the contract with its actions.

Jeff responded to the attack with a swivel kick, bringing the creature down. He whipped out the Night Saber, earning the sudden renewed interest of the old creatures and with a single slice cut out the creatures legs. He stepped back as he had been instructed and waited for the creature to decide its fate. When it adopted a submissive posture he deactivated the Night Saber and pointed the end at the submissive creature. A leash of dark blue energy coiled around the beast’s neck, binding it to his will.

With a nod to the angry creatures that watched him, Jeff departed.

====

The sensation was overwhelming as Jeff felt his connection to the Spirits of the Night, the hostile spirits bound to the will of the Night Fighters flare. He could sense them, all those creatures that had faced the challenge and been forced to submit. Once hostile they no longer posed a threat and whispered words of warning in his mind.

"It’ll pass soon," Mark promised. "After that you will only hear them if you want to."

The priests of the Acexta actually communed with the enslaved spirits, using them to track the villains the Night Fighters sought to defeat. While reluctant they were unable to lie to their masters.

"So am I a Night Ranger now?" Jeff asked.

Mark chuckled. "You didn’t think it would be that easy did you? That was just a dweller. The spirits the power the Night Rangers are fully powered demons that have been enslaved since these morphers were first forged. When you fight one of them you are offering it a chance for freedom and there is no way that it will be fooled into thinking you are harmless."

"So what do I do?" Jeff asked.

"Now you train properly until you are ready to conquor your demon and become a Night Ranger," Mark told him. "This is where things get painful."

====

Training had been hell. Jeff had believed that when it came to a fight all was fair. His trainers had proved to him that there were still things he was unwilling to do. And when they had identified those weaknesses, they had drilled him day after day until they beat the perceived weakness from his system. They broke him emotionally, physically and mentally, driving him to the brink and then stepping back to allow him to recover.

He didn’t know how long he had suffered their brand of training, but it was only when he had started to fight back that he had realised that it had had a purpose. He had grown focussed and ruthless in his fighting style. He no longer pulled his punches after realising that nobody was going to go easy on him in return.

He continued to fight back and as he did his skills improved. His ability to use his weapons and his skills had grown and thanks to the constant punishments he had learned when to use them and when to rely on his hands and feet.

As his Night Saber rested against his foe’s neck he waited for his opponent to signal surrender. When instead of accepting the offer as he was supposed to, the opponent tried to attack, Jeff put him down hard; Jeff had learned from an earlier experience that sometimes granting mercy could only lead to his own death. The ritual the Night Fighters lived by served to keep them alive. With his new found ruthlessness, Jeff had proved himself ready to take the final challenge.

====

The demon Jeff finally faced was not what he had been expecting. Mark had warned him of a vicious beast desperate to break free of the Night Rangers, but the demon that powered the Blue Night Morpher had come to terms with his enslavement.

Still the battle had been brutal as the blue skinned demon had refused to hold back. Jeff had used his Night Saber and his armour to dominate the unfortunate demon, not stopping until the beast was kneeling at his feet. As he bound the creature he realised that it was more than just the power of the Blue Night Morpher: over time it had become an amalgamation of those that had previously held the powers. They had changed the demon and he in turn had preserved their knowledge.

"Spirits of the Night, fill me with your power!" Jeff bellowed as he had been instructed. He felt the surge of dark energy rush through him. He refused to let it control him, fought it as it attempted to overwhelm him and then took control. "Blue Night Ranger, Activate!"

His morpher seemed to growl as it flashed with blue light and when the light faded, the Blue Night Ranger stood, ready for action.

End of Part.

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

The Master’s Plan

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers, they belong to Saban Brands. This is a fan work and not for profit.

The Master Plan

Drac’cuul had failed and had been imprisoned in a data storage cell. His two underlings had been sentenced to death and the executions had already taken place. The criminal known as the Master had escaped justice and had seemingly vanished. Law enforcement throughout the galaxy had been place on alert.

In truth they needn’t have worried. The Master had departed and would not return for some time. He sought the power of the Lord of Dragoria’s armour and rather than wait for it to repair itself, he had journeyed a decade into the future to find it. There he had used the technology at his disposal to dismantle the working armour and copy its inner workings. He had then reassembled the armour and left intact, knowing from his history texts that the armour still had a destiny.

Using the knowledge he had acquired from the armour and his own twisted genius, the Master had built a new healing capsule that he called the Lazarus Chamber. He hoped that the machine would rebuild his battered body, restoring him to a healthier form. While he wished that it would repair all the damage he had suffered at the hands of the Punishment Demons that had tortured him to the point of death over what had seemed an eternity, he was prepared to settle for the repair of his vital organs. After that anything else would be considered a bonus.

The process was painful. The machine had been constructed in a hurry and made no allowance for anaesthetic or other refinements. He relied on his tremendous willpower, something that never failed him in all his misadventures, to sustain him through the procedure. He felt the inner mechanisms as they tore through flesh and bone and crudely sewed them back together. It was a long process and as the repairs became more complex, delicate and precise, the pain increased. The rot caused by infection was cut away and replacement material had been forcibly grown from the healthy sections left behind. His genetic structure was purged or impurities, returning it to an earlier state from before he had started his quest for immortality and power.

The pain was far greater than a normal regeneration and lasted much longer. And as he screamed in agony he knew that despite the suffering the experience would be nowhere near as effective as the real thing. It was only fitting in a way that repairing the damage caused by the Punishment Demons would require him to endure even more pain than they had managed to inflict upon him. Eventually the process had completed and the chamber had opened, allowing the naked, quivering form of the Master to tumble out and collapse into unconsciousness. Two centuries had passed but to a time traveller it didn’t matter. His exhausted body twitched from the memory of the experience as his mind sought refuge in devising new ways to achieve his goals.

As his mind filled with dreams of triumph and the prizes such a victory promised, his sleep calmed into a restful night of recovery.

====

Onyx

There are nice ways to wake up and there are not-so-nice ways to awaken. For Garvin this was not one of the nicer ways. Awareness returned very suddenly as his mind recalled the events that from his perspective had happened just seconds earlier. Garvin had been walking through the halls of the United Alliance of Evil’s headquarters carrying a pile of reports for the Grand Monarch to read when he returned. Something had caused him to stop and look around before continuing. Then he had felt something prick the back of his neck and had fallen forward.

His eyes widened as he remembered the laughter that had surrounded him. The shock forced the after effects of the sedative from his system allowing him to take full account of his situation: he was tied to a wooden chair in a white room. It was cold enough that he could see his breath and as he struggled against the ropes he realised that he had been stripped of his formal robes. The rest of the room was empty lacking any form of decoration.

A small hiss drew his attention to the wall opposite him. A section of the wall had moved, revealing a large monitor. The screen crackled and a recording started to play. His breath caught as he realised he was watching himself from a recording made some months earlier…

“In conclusion I move that since Minion has indeed failed and that his sponsor has either been destroyed or is too afraid to face the wrath of this council, all claims made by ‘the Master ‘ be stricken from the record.”

As Garvin, a low ranking official within the Alliance of Evil finished his speech, the assembled members nodded in agreement. There had been a lengthy enquiry into the events surrounding Minion; Maxell had been keen to ensure that there would be no further objections to his rightful control over the Alliance of Evil.

As he looked down at the assembled villains, he could tell that the vote was a certainty. It was only through deference to proper procedure that he bothered with a show of hands and the tedious task of counting and valuing the votes were counted and weighted according to the political standing of the member. He glanced at the result and noted that with a single spoiled vote, the decision had been unanimous. His position was secure once more and the planet Earth that was the cause of so much dissention was the next topic of debate. This would be when the real arguments started.

“The vote is carried, we will now move onto the next item of business,” he declared.

The video ended and the monitor returned to its hiding place inside the wall. Another section of wall moved and Garvin realised that it was a carefully hidden door. A human walked through the door, ignoring Garvin’s state of discomfort and the chill in the air. He made a show of flexing his gloved fingers, sending a clear message that Garvin was the only one that found the conditions uncomfortable.

“Too afraid to face the wrath of this council, Garvin?” he asked. There was some amusement in the tone, but it didn’t hide the dangerous edge. “Or perhaps you should say I was exceptionally busy taking care of other matters, hm?”

It was all Garvin could do not to recoil from the sight of his captor. When he had identified the newcomer as human he had been unable to make out his features. Now though it was obvious that this was a monster.

“You will have to forgive my appearance,” the Master told him. “The healing process had little time set aside for cosmetic niceties.”

Indeed the machine had repaired his damaged organs, knitted his shattered bones and removed the rotting flesh that had been kept at bay only by the jury-rigged life support system he had managed to construct. But repairing the skin in a way that did not leave it covered with scars had been asking too much. As was the repair of his damaged right eye. But the Master had been in similar situations before where a return to his former glory was a series of steps rather than a simple fix.

The process had used genetic material scanned by the Black Dragon’s armour and held within the computer files of the Master’s TARDIS. The result had been that the rebuilt Master was less than pure Time Lord. His cells were a merger of his existing DNA merged with those of aliens and the three Punishment Demons. It both a curse and a blessing.

“What do you want?” Garvin asked.

“Only to talk my dear Garvin,” the Master replied. “I need some information and in my experience a man in your position is an excellent source.”

“You mean because I am a senior aide to the Grand Monarch of Evil?” Garvin guessed.

The Master leaned in close, his yellow left eye staring deep into the depths of Garvin’s terrified mind. There was no he could hide his fear and from the smile on the Master’s face, it was clear that he did not consider Garvin to be anything more than a source of information.

“I mean because you are well aware that your existence will end if you fail to do so.”

“I can’t give you any sensitive information about the United Alliance of Evil,” Garvin protested. “I made vows when I was given my position. I will not break those oaths.”

“Good,” the Master almost purred in his ear. “Your little club is of no interest to me. You have other knowledge that I need. Tell me everything I wish to know and I will release you.”

Garvin looked defiant, but the Master had ways of getting what he wanted.

“Answer my question Garvin! I AM THE MASTER. You will OBEY,  you WILL OBEY,  YOU WILL OBEY! Now answer me!”

In the past the Master had relied upon a form of hypnosis to get his way. In his repaired body he had access to additional skills that allowed his mind to tear through Garvin’s head, seeking the answers even as Garvin struggle not to comply. It was all a matter of wanting to completely dominate his opponent, something the Master was more than comfortable doing.

What he gained were not the absolute answers he desired, but a trail of random hints, wild speculations and unconfirmed rumours. Somebody had been doing their homework and Garvin had been assisting them in the mistaken belief that he was serving the Grand Monarch’s will. Still it was enough to give him a starting point and anew destination.

====

The Crown Galaxy

Once a rich and powerful place to live, eons of decadence had led to a society on the brink of collapse. Socially, economically and ideologically diminished those that had not left knew that it was a matter of time before what was left collapsed. Freedom, creativity and any motivation to do anything to improve their situation had vanished under the oppressive rule of their queen. She had enforced her will on all of her subjects and in doing so had destroyed her kingdom.

Even now with the end of her rule only a few years away, she failed to take heed of the warnings. She stubbornly refused to aid her people, concentrating instead on her own needs. For the Queen of the Crown Galaxy had a secret known only to a few of her most trusted servants – by which she meant those completely under her control. The Queen had reached the end of her natural life long ago and had been using the life force of her subjects to cling to life. Those that had supposedly left their homes to find new worlds to settle had more likely than not ended up murdered at her command. The special green gemstone housed in the setting of her ring, which she had been gifted at some point before her corruption, absorbed the souls of those around it and fed a part of their life energy into her body.

It had started with one or two servants every few months, but over time her need for more and more life energy meant that thousands of lives per day were sacrificed to her selfish quest for immortality. So long as there were subjects for her to sacrifice she would survive. Planets had been turned into slaughter houses, teleporting victims into her presence long enough for her gem to snatch away their lives. The bodies were almost instantly removed since she had expressed a distaste for the sight of dead bodies. And so the cycle continued, the gem consuming the souls of the innocent and the queen feeding from the morsels of leftover energy it offered her.

So when a strange grinding noise could be heard throughout the corridors of her palace there was nobody to investigate the source. Nobody moved to intercept the badly scarred man as he made his way through the corridors of power. Nobody attempted to stop the intruder as he stepped into the throne room. Not a single guard or citizen placed themselves in front of their queen as the intruder kneeled before the throne and awaited her attention.

“Who dares disrupt my contemplation?” the Queen demanded. It wasn’t the figure on the throne that spoke. Instead she used a lowly human she had yet to process as her mouthpiece.

“I apologise for the intrusion oh wondrous Queen of the mighty Crown Galaxy,” the Master replied, not raising his head as a show of humility. “I come to aid your kingdom.”

“And how would you accomplish that?”

The Master smiled. “By offering you a source of endless souls: me.”

“You are lying!” the Queen accused.

“Am I? You know I speak the truth. The ring that you wear allows you to feel the truth of an individual’s soul. I can provide the means to end your… hunger,” he promised although finding the correct word to describe the need to absorb souls on a continuous basis proved difficult.

He could sense the interest mixed with distrust, but he knew that ultimately greed would override caution and his offer would be accepted.

“We accept,” she told him imperiously, offering her hand.

He crawled forward, keeping his eyes averted from her gaze. When he reached the hem of her long white dress he straightened and took her hand in his. He leaned forward and gently kissed the back of her hand.

“Thank you for your faith in me, I will not let you down,” he promised as he withdrew.

It took a moment for the Queen of the Crown to realise that something had changed. The shock slowed her reaction, but it soon dawned on her that he had stolen her precious ring.

“How could you betray me, the gem told me you were being honest?” she demanded.

The Master stood, allowing the charade to end as he looked at her.

“The Soul Stone does not detect the truth, but rather it detects lies and does so by assessing the truth in a person’s soul through the eyes,” he explained. “I didn’t look upon you so it could only sense the sincerity of my words, something I have grown accustomed to faking.”

He slid the ring onto his finger and pointed at the Queen of the Crown. A burst of green light engulfed her puppet, absorbing the unused soul. Another burst of light engulfed the Queen seconds later as he transferred the soul energy to her weakened form.

“You see my dear this gem is semi-sentient; it lacks intelligence but possesses a great desire to absorb as new souls, even yours. And while it fed some of the life force it stole to you, it was constantly draining your life away, leaving you in need of more and more lives to exist.”

He paused as he removed the gem from the ring and placed it in his pocket. He discarded what he considered to be a now useless ring. discarded the ring.

“And so in a way I kept my promise to you. I have ended your hunger.”

“And my gem?” she asked.

“Mine,” he told her. “I intend to keep my word and find a way to satisfy its hunger as well.”

~Just as you will help me to satisfy mine,~ he thought as he walked away, leaving the Queen to contemplate the enormous task that awaited her as she tried to restore her kingdom without any means of enforcing her will on her subjects. He could almost see the fear creeping across her face as she realised there was a good chance she would be overthrown. Although given that his first act to sate the hunger had been to feed it the lives of as many of the Crown’s population as it desired, there were likely not many left to oppose her.

Of course that also meant that rebuilding her kingdom would become an even greater task for her.

~No good deed comes without a price,~ he thought. ~A willing ally would not hurt.~

He reached into the pocket of his black tunic and pulled out a scroll of parchment.

“Consider this a token of good faith.” he told her. “Use it the knowledge contained within wisely and your kingdom will become great once more.” He did not mention that it would take her centuries to rebuild to the point where she could hope to regain complete control of the Crown Galaxy let alone expand beyond its borders.

====

Another place

The Master was evil. He had long abandoned the pretence that anything he did served a higher purpose other than his own. He was a mass murdering maniac with no qualms about hurting innocents so long as he benefited. Today was just another stepping stone in his pursuit of power.

The plain white and immaculately clean walls of the private hospital wing he had leased under an assumed name provided soft beds with clean bedding and a supply of pain killing drugs to make his patients comfortable. Were it not the fact that those in his care had been brought there against their will and knew they were unlikely to ever leave, some might have mistaken the Master for a caring person. They certainly would failed to see the monster that lurked beneath the friendly face he offered the hospital’s managers.

The ward was securely locked to prevent escape and the beds while comfortable also featured heavy restraints to keep the occupants in place. Nine beds had been placed to accommodate nine bodies. Eight of those beds were occupied by members of the Master’s own race. He had carefully selected them to assist him in his latest endeavour. The ninth remained bed empty for now as that was intended for future use. He had spent months tracking his ‘volunteers’, confirming that while they were fully initiated Time Lords, they were loners that nobody would miss. Seven would have been enough but he had planned for redundancy just in case one proved unsuitable. Confirming that they all retained the correct number of lives had been an important part of his strategy.

“One of the great failings of the Time Lords is how they only keep watch over their favoured politicians and likely troublemakers,” he stated, drawing the attention of his prisoners. There was no point pretending they were guests just as he doubted any of them would believe him if he told them that they would remain alive when he was finished with them. “Our fellow Time Lords never cared about the ‘inspired dropouts’…”

For once he spoke the truth. On the planet Gallifrey, home world of the Time Lords, there was a special place where citizens as young as eight years of age were escorted. It was considered a rite of passage to be taken as part of an initiation into Time Lord society. Not all were chosen. Some were incapable of meeting the demands of their future roles whilst others were deemed unworthy for either physical, mental or just political reasons. Those that passed the scrutiny of the High Council of Time Lords and deemed suitable for training were required to partake in a strange, wondrous and often horrific ceremony where the insignificance of their lives was made clear to them. It was believed that understanding how small they really were would help them dedicate themselves to the service of their people.

The Untempered Schism was a tear in the fabric of space and time through which it was possible to glimpse the Time Vortex in all of its glory and with that glimpse achieve a momentary view of the Pattern of Existence. Nobody was certain why the Schism was there. Some felt that Gallifrey was a blessed world and that the tear had been left there in the knowledge that one day it would help them achieve amazing things. Others had concluded that the tear was a result of some experiment the planet’s leaders had conducted that had gone terribly wrong. Either way most agreed that it was the prolonged exposure to the Great Schism that had allowed the people of Gallifrey to develop a natural affinity with time and space.

And so they held the ceremony once a year to induct those children that had demonstrated the physical and mental strength, along with the intelligence needed to become Time Lords. Each child was forced to stare into the Untempered Schism for just a moment. Many tried to look away after just a glimpse while others refused outright. All were forced to look for the allotted time before they were released. Their reactions were noted as part of their assessments.

In those brief seconds they were able to see the entirety of time and space. Their bodies were also flooded with radiation. Such exposure caused immediate, drastic and unbelievably painful changes to their young bodies. The initiate’s mind would develop new pathways that extended into the Fourth and Fifth Dimension, granting them the means to fully comprehend what they were seeing. Those that survived the experience were forever changed by what they had witnessed. With the correct care and guidance, most recovered and settled into their eventual roles as either upstanding members of Time Lord society or minor roles as technicians and engineers.

There were also those that did not recover from the ordeal. Despite specialist help and attempts to force the mind to reconstruct itself, the instability remained. Many dropped out of the Academy and returned to their previous lives, after steps were taken to erase the knowledge of all they had seen. Those that graduated struggled to find a place in Time Lord society often left the planet to pursue their own interests or becoming dangerous renegades that abused their new status. It was said that they fell into three groups: those that were driven mad, those that were inspired, and those that ran away.

The Master remembered his induction. He had seen reality in all its form and splendour, and he knew that it needed his guidance. He had witnessed the chaos and had promised to bring order. Everything he had done since had been with the view that he would save existence from itself by ruling it with an iron fist. But even at the age of eight he had accepted that he lacked the ability to force the citizens of the universe to bow down to his authority. That required power, something he was finally on his way to achieving.

The discovery of the Energems made his task easier. Each gem possessed a unique ability and when used correctly they would grant him the power to crush his enemies. In the meantime the gem he had secured from the Queen of the Crown meant he had been able to set a number of schemes in motion.

The Green Energem with its ability to manipulate spiritual energy had been of great help in stabilising his damaged body although it could not cure him completely; the Master should have succumbed to death long ago and one way or another it seemed unlikely he could evade death forever.

However the use of the Green Energem had a price. The gem needed souls to remain sentient and the long it remained in his possession the more it tried to influence him to concentrate purely on securing the life energy it desired. For the time being he intended to pass the gem to a new host that would be more likely to fulfil its needs. Later he would reclaim it, by which time it would be fully charged with fresh souls. Then he would put its power to good use. First though he needed to make certain that it would accept him as its true owner.

Each of the prisoners had experienced the Untempered Schism and had seen eternity. Their sanity had survived the experience, but they had long ago left their world to pursue whatever obsession the Untempered Schism had burned into their minds. The Master had taken an interest in them following their graduation and had discovered that most were content to spend their existence devoted to a single task.

“…Which means they never noticed when you disappeared.”

“Why are you doing this to us?” one asked.

He called himself The Namer, a traveller dedicated to personally travelling to every unnamed planet, moon and piece of space rock, and after taking time to study them, giving them a formal name to be placed in the records of Gallifrey. The Time Lords allowed him access to update their maps because it saved them from having to assign qualified Time Lords so that they could be identified and monitored. Exactly who he expected would want to carry out the monitoring of such objects, especially those that would not have an impact of Gallifrey was unclear. But those that knew him did admire his attention to detail. The Master barely recalled his name.

“You cannot even begin to fathom the plans I have made,” the Master replied. “Your lives are a small part in achieving my aims. Why you? Because you were the first ones I encountered. Because you were foolish enough to trust me. And now that you are here and have all been secured, we can proceed. The Time Lords laughed at you, but deep inside you have held on to the belief that you were intended to contribute to something greater.”

He raised his hand, allowing them to see the Green Energem, the Soul Gem as he preferred to think of it, resting atop his ring. He closed his fist and the gem flashed once, bathing the patients in sickly green light. The Soul Gem flashed again and the eight captives ceased their struggles as their collective life energy was drawn into the depths of the jewel. His control over the gem’s abilities had grown during its time in his possession. At first he had been unable to fight its demands for fresh souls, but now he could slow its consumption, drawing out the process and keeping the unfortunate victims at the brink of death.

With a small nudge he pushed them over the edge, smothering their life signs. He was well aware as his victims gasped that their Time Lord biology would attempt to save them by triggering a regeneration. That was why he had chosen Time Lords; a single human could provide a small amount of energy, but the energy released by a regenerating Time Lord was incredible.

He waited until the process was triggered before allowing the gem to feed, feeling the rush as their bodies were spontaneously converted into energy. Under normal circumstances the old body would be converted from matter to energy, providing the fuel for the formation of a new healthy body. With the Soul Gem siphoning the excess energy before the body could use it, the unfortunate Time Lords were unable to create their new physical forms. The Soul Gem absorbed every last erg of power, placing it at his disposal.

Eventually the energy was exhausted although he was aware that the Time Lords had not yet expired. In a rare show of mercy or perhaps just to prove that he could control such matters of life and death, he used the Soul Gem to push their less-than-physical forms into the void with the other wraiths.

“You are a greedy thing,” he stated, looking at the gem and noting the way its green surface seemed to spark with energy. “All that energy and so little of it useable. Did you enjoy the taste of Time Lord souls?”

The gem grew warmer which he assumed meant yes.

“I can find more,” he promised. “Those were the dregs of Time Lord society. They lack the exposure to the power of the Time Vortex others possess. Imagine how the more powerful Time Lords would feel when you consume them. Work with me, do as I ask and I will give you the souls of every Time Lord on Gallifrey!”

He meant every word of it and had no reservations about feeding a constant stream of Time Lords to the gem’s incredible hunger if it meant that he would gain what he needed. That his plans would make him unable to complete his side of the bargain was not a factor since the gem judged him solely on the basis that he was willing and fully capable of fulfilling his promise.

The Soul Gem desired souls, the more powerful the better. The gem was also sentient and capable of understanding his offer. From the warmth that ran down his arm it was clear that the gem accepted his offer. And with its full allegiance, the Master was free to move on to the next phase.

====

Armistice Station

Many wars had been ended thanks to the Armistice Station, a moment space platform that allowed the leaders of both sides to meet in relative safety and with a guarantee of mutual safety – the sort of guarantee where if one side betrayed the truce then neither would survive the encounter. And while the two beings that had hired the station’s facilities were not enemies and unlikely to declare all out war on each other, they were untrustworthy and likely to do whatever they needed to to guarantee that they emerged with the better deal.

They arrived at the same moment and walked from their vehicles toward a table that had appeared in the centre of the room. Since they were not the leaders of vast armies the station was only providing minimal facilities.

The Monk reached back and used a control to summon the remote stretch on which he had placed the body he had secured. On the other side of the table the Master placed a small casket.

“Mortimus, I see you managed to make it here,” the Master greeted.

Despite their use of the station neither man had a reason to dispose of the other. Double-cross maybe, but not dispose of. In fact they were old friends who had moved through their planet’s schools system together before leaving. The Master with his unstable need for order had gone on to become a megalomaniacal power hungry criminal while the Monk, or Mortimus as his peers knew him, had followed a more chaotic career changing history for his own amusement.

Despite their different views on order and chaos, their meeting was purely a matter of trade. The Master had a number of parts that Mortimus needed to continue his adventures and the Mortimus had a readymade body that the Master would welcome to continue his quest for immortality.

“I’ve kept my side of the bargain,” Mortimus replied. He was eager to leave as soon as possible. Being around the Master, even when the Master did not intend him harm, was not good for his health. “I hope you have kept yours.”

“The fluid links and bacteria packs are yours for the body,” the Master answered. “The price of the navigational array was more than we agreed, so I require an additional fee.”

“We had a deal!” Mortimus argued. He was not prone to violence and his protests sounded a little weak.

“And I changed it,” the Master responded without a sign of regret. He considered Mortimus a peer but certainly not a threat. “The new deal is generous and compulsory; I require is one of the devices you acquired at some point and in return I will not take your life.”

“No, absolutely not.”

“You can give me the body and the device or I can take them along with anything else I consider of value,” the Master promised. “Or do you really think you can stop me?”

“You will regret this,” Mortimus promised as he handed over the items, snatched up the casket and returned to his ship. He waited until he was inside before adding: “Especially when you discover the little surprise I left for you.”

Physical violence was not the way that Mortimus chose to handle things. Attacking the Master was unthinkable, as was drawing a weapon on him. Handing over a body that had been exposed to some of the deadliest diseases ever recorded knowing making the body an infectious death trap was something he was more comfortable with. Especially since bu the time the Master discovered his trickery Mortimus planned to be far away.

“Until the next time,” the Master replied, gathering his ring and the floating stretcher. Out of earshot he added: “Which won’t be too long if you want the code to unlock that box.”

Neither had gotten exactly what they wanted, but then for two Time Lords the trade had gone as expected. Both expected some form of double-cross and would be angered that they had been tricked despite the grudging respect they would feel that the other had managed to deceive them. Then they would find a way to overcome the setback and proceed with their plans. both had places to go and things to do. Time didn’t matter so much to a Time Lord; revenge could come later.

End of Part

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

The Night Raider

Disclaimer: The Power Rangers are the property of Saban Entertainment and I lay no claim to them. Jeffrey Kincaid, Lord Crucible, and all other characters relating to them are the property of John Chubb. This is a COE retelling of the Night Rangers’ story, which began in The Forgotten Night. The events in this chapter follow on from the ending of The Emperor’s New Rage.

The Night Raider

Inquirius

They didn’t like him. He couldn’t blame them since he didn’t like himself very much either. They were light and pure, and kind to all the animals, while he was … not. On a part of the planet where nearly everybody wore a distinctively coloured garment of some sort – for even those who wore black had found a way to distinguish the glossy shine of their clothes from the dull matte of ordinary apparel. His drab grey cloak, which lacked any indication that he had attempted to make them draw attention from those around him, had the effect of causing him to stand out. His clothes were dark and dreary in a place filled with colour a cheer. Naturally it made those nearby uncomfortable.

That he wore a weapon and had made no effort to conceal it drew more attention. For this was Inquirius, a planet dedicated to learning and education, where information, questions and answers were the foundation on which the society prospered. And he had arrived at the Illumina, a vast complex that had been handed over to the Morphin Masters and those associated with them as a place of tranquil enlightenment. It was also one of the best places to gather information in the Universe.

Morphin Masters and their students communed in intellectual and spiritual discussions. Few carried weapons within the halls and those who did had the decency to hide them from view. Weapons suggested a tendency toward violence and those prone to violence were not welcome.

Naturally Jeff Kincaid stood out like a sore thumb. For a start Jeff was not a Morphin Master, his kind were never promoted to that sort of level, few managed to achieve an official rank above that of Power Ranger; there were many that argued that they were not even worth of the title Ranger although Jeff knew from experience that those that challenged them on the issue ended up in hospital. And while the Illumina was open to all those who sought enlightenment, Rangers were normally too busy protecting the worlds they had been assigned to defend, to visit. But it was his tainted aura that drew the attention of those around him. There was an undefined darkness about him that unsettled the more pious visitors.

It wasn’t Jeff’s fault. By nature he was a good person, a man of honour and extremely brave – for he had faced the things that lurked in the darkness and emerged stronger from the experience. However life had taken its toll on the young man, leaving a dark stain on his soul that shaded the inner light from those around him. Experience had turned him cold and cynical, less likely to believe that if he followed the rules he would be protected when he could make his own rules and protect himself.

The problem was that for all their rhetoric about not judging others and giving everybody a fair chance to show the true nature, the majority of the great and the good were prone to judge by first impressions. Those who knew of the organisation he belonged to readily believed the rumours and whispered half-truths instead of taking the time to find out the truth. He was a pariah because those that he sought to protect preferred to think of him as a part of the problem, not the solution. They just couldn’t understand that while the Universe wanted heroes that were upstanding characters, they needed people like Jeff even more.

He walked quickly and purposefully through the building, ignoring those around him. He was aware that he was breaking protocol by not stopping to acknowledge the various Morphin Masters or pay his respect to some of the more senior figures that had crossed his path. He simply didn’t care for the pomp and ceremony; to him it just got in the way of him doing his job.

It was a level of arrogance that caused others to comment. That he had been allowed entry to the Illumina when he lacked the most basic of manners and was clearly armed was surprising to those who watched his progress. The few who knew what he was just shook their heads and carried on with what they were doing. To those ignorant of his status, his behaviour was suspicious. As he made his way unhindered through to areas where others were stopped and turned away, suspicion turned to anger and jealousy. With each step he took the unease those around him felt intensified. Some wanted to stop him but none dared. The Illumina allowed his progress and they were not brave enough to challenge its judgement.

Finally he reached his destination, the Grand Library, a place filled with the collected reports and knowledge from countless worlds. The room was filled with ornate tables and benches with thick green leather cushions. The bookcases rose from floor to ceiling, providing a source of knowledge beyond what was stored in the vast computer archive. Around the room were passageways leading off to where the experts on various subjects were willing to educate those in need and vendors were ready to supply information that was more difficult to acquire for the right price. He studied the doorways and having located the one he was after, set off to reach his goal, only to find his way blocked.

“This is a private library,” the person in front of him stated. Others nearby were nodding although Jeff noted the Illumina’s own staff did not want to get involved.

Jeff shrugged and stepped around the man, intent on carrying on his way without violence. Unfortunately it seemed that such a casual dismissal of the other’s challenge was treated as an insult.

“State your business!” the man, which Jeff noticed wore the insignia of a Red Morphin Master demanded.

“My business is my own and since I am here, you can assume I have a right to be here. Now stand aside and stop wasting my time.”

Jeff could sense the tension in the air. Had he been anywhere else he suspected he would have been under attack. Of course violence was strictly forbidden in the Illumina, so harsh words and poor attempts to appear intimidating were the best they could manage. "I have an appointment with the Xenotome.”

There was a gasp from the room. The Xenotome was a huge book containing all the knowledge within the Illumina and a few things besides. It was so valuable that few were granted the privilege of reading it; in the wrong hands the book could prove a dangerous weapon.

“Why?”

Jeff spared him an amused look. “Because I asked nicely and the Keeper agreed.”

That response did not put those around him at ease. Given his dark appearance many were prepared to assume the worst.

“The Xenotome is only for the eyes of those worthy of looking within its pages,” another Red Master cried angrily. “Not for the likes of you!”

Jeff shook his head at how judgemental they sounded. He had learnt the hard way that there was a difference between dark and evil that could not be determined by superficial things like appearance. It seemed that these Morphin Masters had not yet reached that level of understanding. The calls for him to leave intensified. Some looked to be on the brink of breaking the rules and attacking. Had he been a normal Ranger, Kincaid would have backed down to avoid the need for violence. But he was a Night Ranger and knew that rules were there for guidance, not blind obedience.

Instead he lowered his hood, allowing those present to get a good look at him. His face was hard, his eyes cold as they moved over the crowd. A scar ran the length of his face, a wound he had yet to heal. It gave him a very sinister appearance.

“I didn’t ask your permission, Morphin Master,” he replied tersely. He had little respect for Morphin Council and even less for those that judged him without knowing his story. “The Xenotome is available to any Ranger who requests to see it, so long as the Keeper agrees to that request.”

That was true. Originally the Xenotome had been available to all, but given the likelihood that some would abuse its knowledge, only those associated with the Morphin Masters were granted permission and even then they needed to be at least a Ranger.

“Only with the consent of their Morphin Master,” a studious Yellow pointed out.

He spared her a brief nod before answering: “I don’t have a Morphin Master.”

Whispers filled the room. They believed him a rogue, perhaps a disgraced Ranger that had been stripped of his power, who had somehow managed to bypass their security. Jeff did little to put them at ease, although he showed no outward signs of aggression. The Red Master it seemed had had enough. Unable to think beyond his limited understanding of black and white, he decided Jeff Kincaid was a threat and attacked.

“Next?” Jeff asked when moments later the body of the young Morphin Master landed on the floor. Out of respect for the rules, Jeff had left the other warrior alive, although the broken bones would remind him of his failure, if the broken sword he had attempted to draw didn’t serve as a permanent reminder.

The assembled Morphin Masters took offence at one of their own being brutalised by a traitor despite the fact he was only defending himself. Weapons were drawn and combat stances assumed as they prepared to make him pay for his crimes.

“ENOUGH!”

The chamber suddenly fell silent, the power of an older White Morphin Master calming the anger that seemed to ripple through the chamber.

“This is a place of peace and learning. Fighting is not permitted here under any circumstances.”

He gestured and the fallen Red Master was healed although his sword remained shattered.

“I expected better of you,” he continued. “If you want to fight go back to your Ranger teams where you will be welcomed on the front line, do so, because you are not suited to the life of a Morphin Master.”

“He is an intruder!” someone accused, pointing at Kincaid.

“He has done nothing wrong,” was the response. “He was attacked, abused and denied his rights, rights that are afforded every disciple of the Power. It is not the place of those in this room to grant or deny his request. You should be grateful that he didn’t decide to take your actions personally. We cannot afford the loss of so many Morphin Masters.”

“You’re welcome,” Jeff muttered.

“And you!” the old master growled, turning his attention to the younger man. “Don’t think for a moment that you can appear innocent in all this. You are well aware of how others react to you and why, yet you did nothing to calm the situation. If anything, you tried to provoke them.”

Jeff laughed. It seemed no matter how innocent he was they would always try to blame him in the end.

“I didn’t provoke him,” he answered. “He attacked me and I allowed him to crawl away.”

“What part of ‘do not escalate a battle unless forced to do so’ do you not understand?” the White Master demanded, allowing his aura to flare.

“The part that applied to me, White Master,” Jeff replied, loosening the restraints on his own powers, relishing the sudden nervousness of those around him. “You know as well as anyone that the rules are only there for guidance and are open to interpretation. I don’t have the benefit of your great brotherhood of Morphin Masters, I’m alone. So you’ll excuse me if I take every threat seriously and react accordingly.”

His arguments surprised those around him. Few dared to show such insubordination. They also detected the sorrow in his voice when he spoke of being alone.

“So the rumours were true?” the White Master asked quietly, not reacting to Jeff’s power. The power of the Night was to be respected, but not necessarily feared. “I had heard reports of what had happened, but nobody could be certain. The Council did not see the need for observers on Daos. It made confirming the facts of the matter… difficult.” There was a pause before the White Master continued: “I am sorry for your loss and share your grief for the events that transpired. But never allow yourself to believe that you are alone; you are as much a part of this brotherhood as any Ranger and we will stand at your side – I will stand at your side – if you need us.”

“And then condemn me after for doing what must be done,” Jeff accused.

The older man sighed. “I do not agree with your methods. I doubt many others would even accept that you are performing the duty handed to you by fate, except perhaps Zordon, but that is the way it has always been and you know that and you continue regardless. That tells me more about you than your powers ever could.”

“You know what I intend to do?” Jeff asked, worried that the Morphin Master might attempt to stop him; a true Power Ranger did not seek revenge.

“Your duty,” was the reply. “You might think of it as revenge, but ask yourself this: would you still seek to destroy him if he had betrayed somebody else?” He looked off to one side. “The Keeper of the Xenotome awaits you, Night Ranger. Do not let me prevent you from learning what you need and then leaving.”

Jeff nodded his thanks before heading towards the door he had identified earlier. Beyond the door was a room that reminded Jeff of one of the churches he had been forced to attend on Earth, complete with pews, alter and a font.

“Do not let the appearance disturb you Jeff Kincaid,” a female voice warned. “Just like your powers, this room shifts according to the subconscious of the visitor and over the millennia it has developed a sense of humour.”

While she spoke, Jeff tried to identify her location. His past had made him paranoid and recent events had made it worse. Something about the setting made him uneasy and given that he was used to making others uncomfortable, he didn’t like the feeling at all.

“This room is built on a foundation of knowledge and wisdom, not ignorance and fear.”

Jeff spun around and finally caught a glimpse of the Keeper of the Xenotome.

“The uncontrolled benefits you reap from your powers will not aid you here,” she warned, not the least bit affected by his aura, “but they will not hinder you either.”

She walked over to a bookshelf that Jeff had failed to notice before and removed the smallest book. When she placed it on the altar it expanded into a massive book.

“You sought the Xenotome, Jeff Kincaid, and the Xenotome granted your request.” She paused, allowing him to scrutinise her appearance.

She was much younger than he had first believed and from her shape and what little he could see of her face, quite beautiful. She wore a long white gown with a veil that covered her lower face as well as her hair. On her left shoulder she wore the insignia of a White Morphin Master and the broach on her right side indicated that she was a native Inquirian.

“Huh?” He suddenly processed what she had said.

“Does it not stand to reason that a book as powerful as the Xentome would gain some level of sentience?” she asked, falling back into her native habit of asking questions. “Does it not make sense that the Book of the Unknown should use that sentience to determine whether or not those that ask should be allowed to read its pages? Would it surprise you to learn that the Xenotome has recorded the names of those that would seek its knowledge and when they would be permitted to do so?”

“No,” he admitted.

“Do you think that this is any more surprising than some of the things you have seen? Is it not possible that before you leave you will learn something even more surprising, perhaps even disturbing?”

“You’re right,” he told her after thinking about it. Was a thinking book that much of a surprise in a Universe filled with demons and Power Rangers?

“The book revealed many things to me before you arrived,” she told him. “The Xentome told of the loss of your team and allies, although it did not predict the events that would lead to their demise. While the Book of the Unknown contains many predictions, none referred directly to the Night Rangers.”

Jeff nodded. He was relieved that was the case although he noticed she had not ruled out the existence of any predictions involving the Night Rangers.

“Ask your questions and if the answers are known they shall be shared,” she told him.

“Why did he do it?”

“The Book of the Unknown does not hold the reason for your comrade’s treachery. It only states that he was not acting under the influence of an outside force and committed the act of his own free will.” She read the next line and then continued. “The evidence does not rule out the possibility that somebody had convinced him to turn, only that he made the decision.”

“Were there any other survivors?”

“Kinega made certain that all those on Daos were destroyed; the other Night Rangers did not escape him. I’m sorry.”

“Where is he now?” Kincaid demanded.

“I cannot tell you,” she answered. “Mark Kinega no longer exists.”

“Somebody got there first?” he asked.

“No,” she told him. “Those that persuaded Mark Kinega to betray you sought a new leader, a being capable of acting as a vessel for some of the oldest, powerful and most evil creatures in existence. They chose Kinega because as a Night Ranger he had already developed a bond with the darkness within himself. When he accepted the offer and provided the necessary sacrifice, Mark Kinega was replaced by a new creature: Crucible.”

“So there is no way to redeem him?” Jeff asked, hoping the answer was no. As far as he was concern Mark had made his choice and nothing he did would ever redeem him.

“Mark Kinega is gone, perhaps forever,” she answered. “As long as Crucible exists there is no chance to redeem Mark Kinega. And only death will release Crucible’s grasp.”

“What should I do?”

“The Xenotome cannot tell you that. It does however tell of a way to slow Crucible’s rise to power. If you choose to do so you will face great danger and find that it will be a costly decision, but the sacrifices will be worth it. The Night Fighters will arise again one day to aid a new generation and they shall led by the one who escaped Kinega’s treachery.”

“Me?” Jeff scoffed. “I’m a Blue Ranger and a reluctant one at that. What do I know about being a leader?”

“You will learn all that you need to learn, but first there is the time heal,” she answered.

“What do I do? Where do I go? I want to go and stop him, but if he’s as powerful as you said…”

“Calm yourself Jeff Kincaid,” Dimitria instructed. “The book tells of Crucible’s rising, but it is not an immediate concern. The actions you take now will delay him and set in motion the events that will lead to his downfall. Listen carefully Night Ranger, hear what must be done and know that I am sorry that the task falls to you.”

====

The end had come for the people of Zyaibreeah. The battle had been surprisingly short but then there were very few who thought of it as a battle; most would come to regard it as a mass slaughter. The people had fought hard and their Rangers had tried their hardest to protect their world from overwhelming odds. However they had been outmanned, outgunned and unable to call for help from neighbouring worlds. The odds had definitely been against them.

They had fought hard and despite the fact they were guaranteed to lose, they had fought on bravely. In the end though the valiant efforts were for nought, their enemy was just too well-trained, too vicious and too numerous for the Rangers to prevail. As the hours had passed the continued bombardments and simultaneous attacks around the planet had left the Rangers stretched to their limits.

And once the enemy commander had shown himself, the Rangers had been unable to rally any sort of counter offence. While his troops had overwhelmed them, he was in every way their superior. He had spared them no quarter and expected no mercy in return. He had played with them for a short time, honing his skills it seemed while his forces mercilessly hunted the rest of the population. But once it was clear that there were only a few stragglers to find, he had decided it was time to end the game.

As they stood against him, some with more difficulty than others, a chill ran through them. His powers felt strange to them. They felt the familiar flow of magic and yet there was something sickeningly different at the same time. And the smile he wore was cold and slightly feral. Everything about him suggested that he could and would destroy them with very little effort on his part.

“Congratulations Rangers,” a man said, appearing at the side of the warrior. “You’ve fought well, a shining example to Ranger teams across the Universe. Nobody could deny that you are brave, loyal and dedicated. Your skills in the ways of the Power are unquestionable. Had you been facing a different opponent you might have been allowed to live. Unfortunately for you, Crucible’s task requires him to destroy all life on this pathetic little world.”

He paused, allowing the Rangers to accept their fate.

“Crucible would like to extend his thanks for your services; you have proven excellent teaching tools. Your efforts have allowed Crucible to come to terms with his new powers and hone his skills. Sadly for you, you no longer present a challenge for him and as such, you are no longer useful. You are here so Crucible can master the last skill he needs: destroying the enemy.”

“Why are you doing this?” the Red Zyaibreeahn Ranger asked, “You said he’s learnt all he can, what would he gain by killing us?”

“While killing you would have very little benefit, it will allow Crucible to demonstrate that he has moved beyond the old ways of thinking. In the past he might have spared a defeated opponent; as Crucible he cannot afford such moments of noble weakness. You see, Crucible used to be a Power Ranger, like yourselves. Well not quite like you; he was a Night Ranger, the scourge of evildoers everywhere. He was shown how unappreciated his skills were to those he served and granted a new existence as Crucible.

"Unfortunately he failed his first attempt to prove himself, but I’m sure he will catch up with the last Night Ranger sooner or later. In the meantime destroying your team will be the final step needed to solidify his new identity.”

As he spoke, Crucible extended his right hand toward the White Ranger. He closed his fist and the Ranger collapsed, screaming as the twisted powers of the Night Ranger was unleashed. Fuelled by the power of some of the oldest and most potent villains to ever exist, Crucible’s powers were beyond those of a Night Ranger. His ability to destroy with a gesture was a sign of his power.

“As you can see Red Ranger,” the man continued as he watched the White Ranger tear at his own body to stop the torment, “death is not the worst thing that can happen to you today.”

The White Ranger glowed brightly as the soul destroying magic fed on his powers. Then with a final scream he burst into white flames and disappeared.

“Out of gratitude for your services, I promise Crucible will grant the rest of you a swift death.”

“Hey!” one of the Rangers dared to call, moving forward to attack. He never had a chance to rethink his actions as a sword was driven into his heart.

The man looked from the fallen Ranger to the creature known as Crucible and nodded approvingly.

“Make no mistake Rangers; you will die here today, one way or another. Accept your destinies and I promise this will be over painlessly. Fight and even though you will die screaming, it will still be quick.”

The Blue Ranger attacked, throwing his spear at the so far unbeatable warrior, hoping to catch him off-guard. Crucible caught it easily, examining it briefly before crushing the enchanted wood and tossing it aside.

“Against a lesser warrior your tactic might have been successful… perhaps you’re so tired that you’ve forgotten that you face an opponent who has already defeated you countless times.”

~No,~ he thought as he noticed the expression on the Ranger’s face despite his helmet, ~more likely you still haven’t come to terms with the danger you face.~

Having changed his mind, Crucible levitated the remains of the weapon and propelled the pieces back at their source. The Ranger was lifted from his feet by the multiple projectiles as they ripped into his chest and threw him backward.

“No!” the Pink Ranger screamed as he collapsed. “How could you?!”

Their foe didn’t react although his handler appeared amused by her outrage. “Crucible is evil beyond your ability to comprehend. I warned you that resisting would not delay the inevitable, just make it a more painful experience. Your friend chose to attack and Crucible responded as he would to any opposition: he crushed it. However since you seem to have some fight left in you, I withdraw my offer. It will not be painless now, but you have my word, this won’t take long.”

Taking that as permission, Crucible was running towards the Rangers before they could react. He summoned a sword and slashed at his opponents as he passed them. Four strokes of the blade, and two Rangers collapsed in pools of their own blood. Their special suits were of no use against the blade that had been forged from the darkest magic.

He abandoned the sword against the next two, decapitating the first with a chop of his hand before breaking the second’s neck with her bare hands. That left only the Green Ranger, whom he had saved for last. The two warriors stood face to face, eyes meeting as the Ranger discarded her shattered helmet. There had always been a special form of relationship between them; perhaps it was the darkness that lurked within the Green Ranger powers that caused Crucible to give the hero a more personal fight to the death. It was evident that the Green Ranger knew she would die; only her pride forced her to ready herself for final combat.

“Well this has been fun,” Crucible’s companion commented. The Green Ranger had lasted longer than he had expected although it was clear Crucible had been playing with her as they exchanged increasingly violent blows. “But now it is time to end it. Farewell, Green Ranger.”

Now was the time for Crucible to prove himself. The last time he had been asked to destroy a team of Rangers he had allowed one to escape. This was his opportunity to prove that he had learnt from the experience and accepted that his days as a Night Ranger were over. He didn’t disappoint and with the death of the Green Ranger, Mark Kinega’s transformation into Crucible was made permanent.

====

Daos

Dimitria had provided him with the clues he needed, but it was Jeff that had put the pieces together and realised what needed to be done. It was amusing to him that had he been on Earth he would have been having another miserable Halloween waiting for little kids to call and then arguing with his mother when he handed them candy. Not that whatever he was about to do would be considered pleasurable, but given a choice, he didn’t want to be back in his old life.

It had been a while since he had last set foot in the headquarters of the Acexta Order on Daos. Kinega had taken him there to complete the final trial needed to become a Night Ranger. It was on Daos that he had stared into the Mirror of Night and seen the darkness inside soul. It had been there that his own darkness had manifested as the dark spirit that had been trapped with the Blue Night Morpher. He had battled the darkness and conquered it. The dark spirit had surrendered to his will and he had emerged as the Blue Night Ranger.

On the same trip Kinega had shown him the Pit of Night, the place where those that wished to join the ranks of the Night Fighters faced the dark spirits that had been trapped by the Acexta Order since their formation. Within the Pit of Night a potential Night Fighter would either defeat the darkness or would be consumed by it.

Then Daos had been a place filled with people, life and purpose. Now the Acexta Order was gone, part of the dowry that Mark had paid to consummate his new position and the planet was ruined.

But Jeff had not returned to the planet for sightseeing. He had returned to prevent Crucible using the Acexta Order’s power against the Universe. He had come to make sure that the Pit of Night and the creatures trapped within could not be used to provide Mark, Crucible, whatever he was calling himself, with any further help, just as the Keeper had suggested.

The Mirror of Night had been taken during the raid, but it had been impossible for them to take the pit. And while it was possible to use the Mirror of Night as a conduit to the spirits within the Pit of Night, doing so would be beyond Kinega’s abilities. Jeff intended to make certain that the dark spirits remained trapped within the Pit of Night forever.

====

“No!”

Since his transformation, Crucible had been mostly silent, accepting the advice of those around him and doing as he was told. While it was accepted that one day he would be their leader, for now he was being trained in how to use the gifts he had been granted by the creature that had taken him as their vessel. He had endured pain and punishment without complaint, so his sudden cry of anguish shocked those around him.

“What is it?” Savrod asked, concerned.

“The Pit of Night,” Crucible answered. “Kincaid… Kincaid’s planning to so something to seal its power. He plans to break the link.”

The ceremony that had transformed Kinega into Crucible had given him access to the creatures trapped within the Pit of Night, the Spirits of the Night as Savrod had called them. As the conqueror of the Acexta Order he had become master of the Pit of Night and all that dwelled within in. Now it seemed that Kincaid was trying to take his power.

Savrod managed to school his features to hide his concern. He wasn’t worried about Kincaid’s plan harming Crucible. While the power of the spirits trapped within the Pit of Night was impressive, it was only a fraction of the power Crucible would gain given time. The loss of the Pit of Night would do little more than set him back.

Still if Kincaid was on Daos, it seemed a good time to eliminate the nuisance. And there was always the chance that Kincaid was aware that Kincaid was bonded to the Pit of Night and intended to use the bond against Crucible rather than breaking it. That would be an unwelcome turn of events.

“We’ll depart immediately,” he assured his leader. “Kincaid’s pitiful attempt to defeat you will only lead to his destruction.”

Crucible nodded in response and once again Savrod had to hide his disappointment. Crucible was powerful and a formidable warrior, but he had yet to show any ability to command others. And since that was what Savrod had been seeking when he had approached the Night Ranger, it made him wonder whether he had made the wrong choice.

No, he had made the correct choice; it was just a case of ensuring that Crucible was given the opportunity to grow into his new role. Perhaps Kincaid would provide the desired result.

====

“Spirits of the Night, hear me!” Kincaid’s voice echoed through the darkness of the Pit of Night.

He knew that his actions were reckless. Night Rangers were not supposed to enter the Pit of Night once they had completed their trial. Yet Kincaid had broken that rule and stood on the other side of the barrier between the Pit of Night and Daos. He was unmorphed, yet confident enough to draw the attention of the creatures that occupied the dark place. Most chose to ignore him, but those that sensed the opportunity his presence gave them turned to face him.

“I offer you a wager,” Kincaid continued, “a simple challenge. If you succeed then you will be released. If you fail then every creature within this place will be bound to the Night Rangers, forever and you will never be able to move beyond the barrier accept at their command.”

“And what challenge do you propose, Night Ranger?” one of the creatures asked.

Kincaid smirked. “I offer you the same challenge that every Night Fighter gives when they enter this place, nothing more and nothing less. Except I extend this challenge to all that reside within the Pit of Night. For fifteen minutes the barrier between this place and Daos will be open. Should any one of you step beyond the barrier in that time, every creature within the Pit of Night will be released. All you have to do is pass me and nothing will stand in your way.”

He drew a metal cylinder that resembled a small torch. He flicked the activation switch and a blade of light emerged from the end. He pushed the button above the switch, locking the switch in place.

“Just one little Night Ranger and maybe a few weapons,” he promised. “I won’t even morph.”

And that was the challenge. It was a deal the spirits trapped within the Pit of Night couldn’t ignore. They wanted their freedom and despite the danger Kincaid posed, they knew it was their only chance. But the Pit of Night was much larger than many believed, more of a dimension than a physical space, and while there was a huge collection of dark creatures close to the barrier, the stronger spirits were much further away, skulking in the darkest depths. And despite his confidence Kincaid knew that only those that took the challenge would be bound by the agreement. He hoped it would be enough.

He could sense the moment that the creatures chose to attack. He smirked as he tightened his grip on his Night Saber, hoping that he had not been overconfident. As the swarm of hideous beasts pounced he allowed himself to let the Power guide him, whispering a solemn promise:

“None may pass.”

The battle that followed would only last for fifteen minutes, but in that time Jeff Kincaid showed why the Night Rangers were the elite of the Acexta Order. The Night Fighters could face one spirit at a time, he faced all comers. At first the grunts charged forward one at a time and were easily cut down by his glowing blade; their claws slid off his long black coat. Then the numbers started to increase as wave after wave crashed against the one-man barricade. Two, then four, then twelve… the numbers were relentless, constantly increasing as Kincaid moved with incredible speed and skill, a smile gracing his face as he abandoned himself to the Power. He kicked, dodged, hacked and punched the aggressors back. He was unmovable and the light from his Night Saber seemed to grow brighter with each of the attackers he destroyed.

But he was also hurt. His body ached from the many cuts and scratches he received as the onslaught continued. Although his clothing had been designed to offer some protection, but it was only able to resist damage, not stop it altogether. He was being pressed back by the weight of numbers, but somehow he found the strength to remain on his feet. Never before had he moved so fast, his body a blur in the darkness, the flash of his blade the only clue to where he had been. The grunts were too numerous now to count and they were growing more powerful with each wave.

“Spirits of the Night Fighters, lend me your power!” he called, summoning strength from those creatures that had been conquered by those that had entered the Pit of Night before him. Their power belonged to the Acexta Order and since Kincaid was the last of his kind, that meant they were his to command. Of course that number increased with every attacker he managed to cut down.

A burst of light shot from his hands, incinerating all that stood in its path. With a single attack he had brought himself precious seconds. Yet even now he knew it would not be long before he was overwhelmed again. The stampede of dark creatures appeared endless. He was about to be overcome when a blue barrier surrounded him.

“Fifteen minutes,” he told them as the creatures pounded angrily on the barrier. “You’ve had your chance and you failed. Now your powers belong to the Acexta.”

As he was speaking he moved toward the barrier that would take him back to his previous position outside the Pit of Night. He was hurt, badly. The wounds he had received were bleeding and some were likely infected. As the adrenalin faded he could feel that something was wrong with his left leg. It hung at a strange angle below the knee and from the difficulty he had breathing, he knew there was a chance his ribs had been broken too. He turned to leave, only to find his way blocked. Jeff groaned; it looked like he wouldn’t get away after all.

“Hello Jeff, fancy meeting you here.”

====

Dimitria ran her hands over the Xenotome. Currently she was studying the Book of Daos, a history of the Night Fighters, Night Rangers and all things associated with them. It listed their enemies, their powers and theories about how the Night Ranger powers were capable of evolving as the roster changed. The book was self-updating with new facts added by the clerics on Daos. It was saddening to know that thanks to Crucible, very little would be added in the future.

She read and reread the prophecy before her. It told of the fall of the Night Rangers and their eventual rebirth. It spoke of the return of the Night Fighters, the coming of the One and the transformation the Night Rangers would undergo. It was a prophecy that appeared in several texts and seemed to relate to a number of groups.

“The Kincaid,” she whispered, studying the drawing upon the page. A man was shown dressed in a long black coat and armed with a sword, stood atop a pile of defeated foes. And underneath she saw the words that had become a part of the prophecy surrounding the ‘Coming of The One’.

“None may pass,” she read.

The next page showed a clash between two armies. She was confused how that could happen. Jeff Kincaid was one man on his own. Where would he get an army?

====

“Did you think I would let you get away with this?” Crucible asked, before backhanding the injured Night Ranger. “You should have crawled under a rock and stayed there, Kincaid. I might have let you survive a little longer.”

Jeff was aware that he was in a bad situation. Not only was Crucible standing in front of him at full strength while he could barely stand, the villain had brought a squadron of featureless soldiers with him. Given the angry mob of creatures behind him and he couldn’t see a way out. Or could he?

“It’s over Jeff,” Crucible told him. “Last time you were lucky to escape. This time you don’t have a Zord to protect you.”

Jeff ignored Crucible, trying to decide if the ridiculous plan that had suddenly formed in his mind had a chance of succeeding. He knew it was a risk, since both groups would want nothing more than to rip him apart. The question was whether the deal he had struck with the spirits held within the Pit of Night was as binding as he hoped. In the end he decided he had nothing to lose, a decision that made him laugh.

“Something you find funny Jeff?” Crucible asked, as his grip tightened.

“I was just wondering how you plan to leave here,” Jeff admitted.

“The same way you intended,” Crucible replied.

“Ah but that’s the problem,” Jeff continued, ignoring the burning pain in his chest. He didn’t know if it was Crucible’s doing or his previous injuries and was not in a position to care. “When you became Crucible you gave up being a Night Ranger and everything that entailed. As far as the Pit of Night is concerned you never succeeded in the trial; your little soldiers there certainly didn’t win the right to leave. And now you can’t leave the Pit of Night until you do so.”

“Well once I’ve disposed of you I’ll make short work of whatever creature I have to face,” Crucible replied, not concerned about his companions.

“Good plan,” Jeff agreed. “Only problem: I don’t think they are willing to wait.”

As he finished talking there was a low growl and for the first time Crucible noticed that they were surrounded. His followers shifted nervously, a few drawing their weapons. Then with a snarl, the spirits pounced, tearing into the soldiers. Crucible snarled in response as one of them dared to attack him. He threw Jeff to the side, allowing the Night Ranger to make a hasty retreat to the far side of the Mirror where he almost collapsed.

“Hardrive?” he queried, hoping the Defiant had not been destroyed.

“You rang?” the computer asked in a particularly drawn out and slightly creepy tone.

“Get me out of here,” he ordered.

He could feel the poisons his body had absorbed during his battle seeping through his body. It would take a while to heal his wounds, assuming he was still conscious enough to make it to a healing bed. In hindsight he realised he should have hired an assistant, even if it was only to carry his broken body away after he won.

“By your command,” Harddrive responded.

Seconds later Jeff Kincaid disappeared leaving Crucible and his forces at the mercy of the Pit of Night.

====

It was a slightly battered Crucible that finally emerged from the Mirror of Night. The fight had lasted longer than he had expected. Those accompanying him were gone; Crucible had willingly let them fight the creatures, knowing they would be destroyed. It had offered him the time to draw upon his new powers in order to pass through the barrier and escape. As he had done so he knew that Kincaid had won the day. The Pit of Night and the majority of the creatures that lurked there that would have been swayed to Crucible’s side were now bound to Kincaid’s powers. Those that could be called upon were older, more powerful and would demand a heavy price for their services. Still he had a feeling that one way or another they could be useful in the future.

“Set up a guard station around this world Savrod,” he ordered once he was back on board his ship. “Daos will be of use to us in the future.”

Savrod nodded and gave the necessary orders. He didn’t see the importance of the planet, but he did understand that for Crucible to rise to the level Savrod expected, the new villain needed an empire. Daos was as good a place to start as any.

“And then… find me Kincaid.”

Savrod sighed. It would seem that Crucible was not going to rest until the Night Ranger was dealt with. Not completely a bad thing, loose ends were never a good thing, but if Crucible became too obsessive about hunting down Kincaid, he would likely overlook the other things he needed to do, such as conquering the Universe. For the time being there was very little that Savrod could do. He had recruited Crucible to be a leader and even though his priorities were different, Crucible was indeed acting like a leader. Given time, he hoped that Crucible would at least listen to his suggestions. Tracking down Kincaid would not take very long; he was just worried about what his leader’s next obsession would be.

“As you wish,” he said with a slight incline of his head. Behind him the crew were already carrying out their leader’s instructions. “It will not take long; the information you provided suggests there are only a few places he would go.”

Crucible nodded and turned to once again look at the planet below. He knew Kincaid better than those around him. In some ways there was a connection between them that had started when he had recruited Kincaid to serve as a Night Ranger. Somehow he knew where his former comrade would go.

“Set course for Earth,” he ordered. “We’ll find Kincaid there.”

In the end he realised that his intuition was not due to any sort of link with Kincaid. It was because he knew Jeff was injured. And without the Night Ranger to issue instructions, the ship would follow the programming built into its computer system, programming that Mark Kinega had written.

====

Once Jeff had returned to the Defiant, the ship had departed from Daos at maximum speed. With the pilot unconscious, Harddrive had followed his programming and made a few short jumps to throw off any pursuing craft. Then the computer had directed the vessel to as many obscure planets as possible, making certain that the ship was seen by those who made a profit from selling such information. Then it had jumped again to a completely random destination where it had stopped to assess its options.

Harddrive had been programmed to handle a number of scenarios including the possibility that all the Night Rangers were incapacitated. Its processor quickly assessed the most likely source of aid, given that most Morphin Masters would likely refuse assistance to a Night Ranger, despite their oaths to aid all of those opposed to the Dark side of the Morphin Grid. The Council was more likely to throw Jeff in prison for war crimes than heal him. In the end it seemed that there was only one place where help could be guaranteed: Earth.

Unaware that Crucible had already drawn the same conclusion, the ship sped off, carrying Jeff Kincaid back to his home once more.

====

Dimitria skimmed through the last few sections of the Book of Daos and then closed the Xenotome. The book did not tell her what would happen between Kincaid and Crucible, only that their conflict would continue and would be one of the most personal battles in history. It was uncertain how their skirmish would influence the battle between Good and Evil, although she suspected that Crucible would be occupied chasing Kincaid for a while and would not become a major player for some time. When he did though she knew that the Universe would be in trouble.

There was nothing she could do though. She was the Keeper of the Xenotome, charged with allowing others to access its knowledge while protecting it from those who would seek to abuse that knowledge. She could only share the information when it was requested, not when she thought it needed to be. It was an obligation she took seriously, but sometimes, when she was forced to watch events take their course, it was a heavy burden to carry.

End of Part

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

Thrill of the Night

Disclaimer: The Power Rangers are the property of Saban Entertainment and I lay no claim to them. Jeffrey Kincaid, Lord Crucible, and all other characters relating to them are the property of John Chubb. This is a COE retelling of the Night Rangers’ story.

Thrill of the Night

Leroy’s Dojo and Shootfighting Arena, Port Clinton

The two teens circled each other. It had been a gruelling fight, but neither man was willing to back down. While both sported bumps and more than one bruise, they were too stubborn to say the two words: “I quit!”

Jeff Kincaid and Pat Kinkle had been fighting for twenty minutes when when Jeff’s friend Bruce Greene walked in. He didn’t say anything as he observed the fight. Jeff was on the defensive and he didn’t want to distract him; he knew the young man well enough to know that he would be getting a second wind before too long.

Bruce’s prediction was right on the money when Jeff managed a leg sweep that knocked Pat down. Jeff was back on his feet in an instant, his foot on pressed against Pat’s throat. To his credit Pat managed to hold on for a few seconds before conceding defeat.

“I quit.”

Jeff nodded and removed his foot, shaking Pat’s hand as he got up. The two embraced briefly before Jeff spotted Bruce and walked over to him.

“Hey what’s up?” Jeff asked his friend.

“Not much,” Bruce replied. He seemed to study Jeff for a moment, deciding whether or not it was any of his business. “You seemed to really cut into Pat back there.”

“I have a lot on my mind,” Jeff answered. “Pat just agreed to spar with me and I took him up on the offer; I had a lot of aggression to work out.”

Bruce didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. He knew Jeff well enough by now to know that the boy would talk to him, assuming he was ready to talk. And if he wasn’t ready to talk then Bruce knew better than to try and force him.

“My mother got in touch with her lawyer,” Jeff told him. “She’s trying to ramrod a judge into getting visitation rights to see me.”

“And the problem is?” Bruce prompted.

“I can’t stand her, even small doses of her,” Jeff told him, his face taking on a darker aspect. “I can barely handle being around her for the hearings; do you have any idea what it would be like if I had to live with her?” He paused for a moment before he continued. “And I would end up living with her Bruce. This is just a stepping stone for her, a way to get my life under her control again. She knows my grandmother won’t be around forever and although the court sees Leroy as a suitable guardian – and he is like a father to me – she’d do everything in her power to change that. She’d use everything to make him appear unfit for the task; she’d probably arrange things so he could never go near children again just to be sure.”

“My dad’s a good man!” defended Bruce.

“We both know that,” Jeff agreed. “But my mother would turn every screw to convince a judge that he was a monster. She’d use every bit of dirt she could dig up… she’d even use the shoot-fighting thing as an excuse. You know how scared my grandmother is when I do it.”

“Do you think you should stop?”

“Hey I love doing it. Why should I stop?”

“Well if you find yourself living with mom again…” said Bruce.

“Good point, I’ll think about it.” Jeff took a pause before he spoke again. “So what’s up?”

“We got a new member. I need someone to show him the ropes.”

It was obvious that that was not what Bruce had wanted to begin with. The contract stashed in his jeans was evidence of that. But clearly he wanted something to keep Jeff’s mind off of his current problems. Usually Jeff would have been annoyed, but today he appreciated the effort.

“No problem. Who is it?” Jeff asked, looking around. “Where is he?”

“Over there. His name is Mark Kinega.”

Jeff saw an olive skinned man with brown hair on the far side of the training area, looking at a few of the old flyers. At a guess, Jeff was willing to bet he was seventeen.

“Okay, I’ll do it. You owe me one for this.”

That was how minutes later Jeff stood in the ring awaiting the newcomer Mark Kinega, hoping that he was not wasting his time and that the newcomer had some sort of fighting ability. Otherwise he was in for a long day. Luckily he didn’t have to wait long as Mark made his way to the ring.

Jeff and Mark sized each other up without saying a word. When they had had enough, they faced off, bowed and fell into fighting stances.

Mark lunged forward with three punches followed by a front kick which Jeff backed away from. Jeff then ducked down and tried a leg sweep which Mark jumped to avoid. From there they worked their way through a series of amateur moves with neither making contact.

~This guy has got fast reflexes,~ Jeff though as threw a punch. Jeff considered himself fast; this guy was… sudden.

Mark grabbed his arm and spun him over, causing Jeff to hit the ground hard. Jeff’s response as to try to force Mark forward to relive the pressure on his arm. When that didn’t work he opted for a guaranteed method of forcing a release, and hit his opponent with a low blow.

Mark retaliated with a low blow of his own, which while expected, proved to Jeff that his opponent had the desire to win. Of course Jeff was too stubborn to allow himself to be taken down so easily. The fight went on from there with neither fighter besting the other until they both collapsed in the middle of the ring.

“You’re pretty good Kincaid,” Kinega said after a while.

Jeff looked at his opponent. Usually he didn’t like to be called by his last name. It reminded him of the bullies that had made his life hell. In this case though he had the feeling that the name was a sign of respect. He also had a feeling the other man had been holding back. “You’re not too shabby there either Kinega,” he said finally, wondering where he could learn to fight like that.

Then they both got up to tend to their bruises and they hit the showers.

====

Mark left the gym and made his way to a side alley. Once there, hidden from the native population, he pulled back the arm of his shirt to reveal a metal brace.

“Engage orbital bounce!” he commanded.

At Mark’s command the device glowed briefly. Then he was transformed into an aura of red light and was teleported up to where a red and black ship waited in orbit.

Mark rematerialized on the bridge of a spaceship, his spaceship. It was one of the fastest ships in the galaxy, but its ability to flee was one of its least important features.

“Hello Hardrive, status report.”

“You have one new message,” the computer responded, causing Mark to shake his head. The computer was state-of-the-art, but had been patched together so often that it had picked up a few quirks. One of which was its need to convey information by quoting television. “Big giant head on line one!”

Mark guessed who the ‘the big giant head’ was as he activated his main viewer and found Zordon looking at him.

“Hello Mark, how goes the mission?”

Simple and to the point. Zordon knew better than to waste time with niceties. The difference between Zordon and others Mark had encountered though was that Zordon kept contact brief out of respect for Mark’s work. The others did so because they either feared or despised everything that Mark and his companions represented.

“I hate to say it Master Zordon, but you were right. I may have found my first candidate on Earth.”

“Excellent news Mark,” the ancient being replied. “I will relay your success to the other masters.”

“He has the skills we need. I’ll need more time to make sure he has the attitude,” Mark told him. He could sense the reply and added: “He has potential, I’m not denying that. If I were looking for Power Rangers he’d be a likely candidate in an emergency. But you know that’s not what we’re trying to find here and if he isn’t strong enough he’ll be killed… or worse."

“I can see that leadership is starting to agree with you Mark," Zordon said. "And I am pleased you have taken your responsibilities seriously. What is the candidates name?"

“Jeff Kincaid,” said Mark.

Zordon paused for a moment as if in deep thought although Mark knew that the White Master was trying to sense Jeff within the Morphin Grid. “I believe your instincts are correct and he will make a fine addition to your team. While he would not be my first choice for a Ranger, he would make an excellent Night Ranger. However, you are the leader and it is your right to proceed as you see fit. If you decide to recruit him I must insist that you do not train him on Earth; he will benefit from the guidance of the elders.”

Zordon broke contact and Mark started to review Kincaid’s file. His computer had pulled records from sources across the planet to allow him to build a profile on his potential recruit. It would take time – for he was determined that he would make certain that he chose the correct candidate-, but his team didn’t have to deal with the constant threat of alien invasions so there was no urgency.

====

A few weeks later

Jeff left the gym and started to make his way home. His thoughts were back to being a jumble again as he thought about his mother’s renewed fight for visitation rights. It seemed that the lawyers she had hired had found a way to shift the hearing to another court and that the judge was likely to grant her requests. Jeff didn’t want to be put through the emotional cyclone of dealing with her again.

Suddenly he felt a tingle throughout his body as he then felt himself being pulled across the sky. He materialized and after looking around wondered if he had hit his head a bit too hard during a sparring session. Either that or he was on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

“Where the hell am I?” he wondered.

“Toto you’re not in Kansas anymore,” said a voice.

Jeff spun around to see who was speaking, but there was nobody there. “Who said that?”

“That was my computer Hardrive,” said the voice of Mark Kinega as he entered the bridge.

Jeff had gotten to know Mark quite well in recent weeks. The other man had been a regular at Bruce’s place and the two had trained together. Kincaid still had the feeling that Mark was holding mark during their practices.

“Why’d he call me Toto?” he asked.

There were so many questions that had needed asking, but for Jeff, that seemed the most important.

“It’s his way,” Mark said fondly. “We crash landed on a planet a few years ago and some of his circuit boards were damaged. We replaced them, but since then he’s been picking up transmissions from all over the galaxy; even television signals. Over time his language banks have been filled with television jingles.”

“Can’t you fix it?” asked Jeff.

“Yes we can!” Hardrive called out.

“But I don’t really want to,” Mark said, ignoring the latest outburst. Hardrive’s communication hub was one of the most advanced systems on the ship. The computer intercepted and rerouted signals from across known space giving Kinega and his comrades access to a spectacular amount of raw data, which proved invaluable in their line of work. Unfortunately Hardrive lacked the ability to filter the signals he received until he processed them and due to memory leakage some of those signals worked their way into his vocabulary; why they had designed Hardrive’s language centre to share runtime with his signal processing was unclear, but Kinega had to admit that it worked. He also wasn’t sure why the computer had been spending time watching children’s television. “It gives him a personality. These computers can be pretty stuffy it they don’t have something to occupy themselves.”

“All right, enough about the computer,” Jeff said, remembering where he was. “Where am I and what am I doing here? What are you doing here?”

“Okay, well where do I start?” Mark pondered “First in case you haven’t guess, I’m not from this planet. My home is a long way away and I have no intention of going back there. I’m human with a few minor differences. As for why I’m here, well the answer have to be: you. I take it you have heard about the Power Rangers?”

“The super heroes who trash monsters in California, yeah I’ve heard of them,” Jeff said. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Well… I’m sort of a Power Ranger.”

Jeff could not believe his ears as the next second he broke out laughing. “Oh that’s a good one. First this ship and then you’re telling me that you are a Power Ranger. No offence, but I think I know you well enough to know you are not Power Ranger material. Now what’s really going on?”

Mark decided to prove his point and brought out a small device. “Red Night Ranger, activate!” When he was finished he was wearing a black and red costume with a red helmet. The face on the helmet was scowling.

Jeff was shocked at this turn of events and more than a little confused. “Hold on, Power Rangers don’t have costumes like — that.”

“Of course they do,” Mark countered, then thought about it. “Well, I do anyway."

He deactivated his powers. It was too early in the day to waste them on demonstrations.

"Most Rangers don’t look like that of course, but then I’m not exactly a normal Ranger. I’m part of a very different team that’s not limited to this planet.”

“Not limited to Earth?” Jeff was growing more and more confused.

“I’m a Night Ranger, Jeff,” Mark told him. "Despite what others might say."

“And what is a Night Ranger?”

Mark sighed. He really hated having to tell this story. Doing so meant he had to confess something about himself. Still if he wanted Jeff to join him he needed to explain.

"When the universe was in its infancy there was only good and evil. The fight was one of survival between two opposing forces. Everything was in balance. Although primitive it was a simple war. Then there came the shadows, those who either didn’t want to fight or chose to fight only to suit their own aims. The clear line between good and evil became distorted by shades of grey. And when the great beings left and the lesser creatures were entrusted to continue the fight, the discovery of magic meant that the line between good and evil barely existed.

“In the new war, many chose to serve the side of good, fighting to preserve the rights beliefs and freedoms of the individual as well as focusing on the goal of peace. Those who sought to serve evil were those who were self serving, disrespectful and thought that peace was achieved through oppression, benefiting the select few at the expense of the many. And of course there were always those who looked out purely for themselves, changing sides at a moment’s notice if it served their purposes.

“But the great beings would not be forgotten. Many fought in their name and some went even further. One race sought to become like the greater beings and explored the deepest depths of what it meant to be evil. Even by evil standards they committed unforgivable acts and were thought to be destroyed by the forces they unleashed. Their name has been lost to ages but the beings they unleashed have not.

“The Horde, Horrors, Youkai and Orgs, there are an unlimited number of names for these creatures, creatures of pure evil that prey on the corrupt as well as the innocent. These are creatures that transcend beyond the world as we know it.

“At this time the warriors of good needed a way to counter this new threat and to deal harshly with the ones who sought to create them. Most evil could be fought by the armies filled with noble warriors under the command of skilled leaders. Simple and open warfare of the type that suited a large number of Power Rangers. The new threat was much smaller and less likely to follow a pattern of invading worlds. They were more like predators and their actions either beneath the notice of Rangers or demanding a different approach. Some hid in plain sight maintaining images that hid their dark activities.

“And because of their nature but those they encountered were normally weaker creatures, whereas the more primal forces were not so easy to defeat with the power of light and love – for they were so dark that the light dimmed in their presence. These creatures that dwelled in the darkness knew of no limit to the evil that they could or would do; they were at home in the darkness of the night as well as using the cover of darkness for their evil deeds. Because they hid their natures so well, normal Rangers could not attack them without breaking the rules that governed their powers.

“A new force was needed, one that could fight them on an even playing field without worrying about the restrictions placed on most Rangers. An order of monks decided that confronting the darkness was more important than remaining with their fellow Morphin Masters. They vowed to eradicate the evil that hid in plain sight as well as the dark spirits that were either above or beneath the notice of the Morphin Masters. They formed the Acexta Order and retreated to their homeworld where nearly every member of their population joined their quest. Over the course of many years their number grew and they were even able to trap some of the creatures within the core of the planet Nocturnea where they could use them to test their warriors.

“Many entered the Pit of Night, only to be destroyed by the evil within. For it was easy to enter but before they could leave they had to face one of the many demons contained within. The first man to emerge from the pit became the first Night Fighter. He would not be the last.”

“So you’re telling me that you’re a Power Ranger who fights evil spirits in a pit?” Kincaid asked sceptically. He was starting to think Kinega was insane.

“No I am not mad,” Mark told him, an amused look on his face. “I thought the same thing when I was recruited. Of course I knew about Power Rangers, but this Night Ranger thing — well it is a little bizarre. Besides, I didn’t say he was a Ranger.”

Jeff snorted but didn’t say anything. A part of him wanted to hear the story.

“The Night Fighters were not the champions of the people, but they were their most dedicated protectors. The methods and powers they used could not be condoned by the authorities. Some tried to arrest them, but most just treated them with hostility.

“The problem was that most of the monks that chose the path of the Night Fighters were human and their bodies were also human and vulnerable to the side effects of drawing on the darker energies they needed to fight evil. The dark spirits they called upon corrupt those that try to wield their might without agreement. After a decade at most many Night Fighters showed show signs of the darkness consuming them. And while there was no great risk of them turning to evil, there was a high risk of their bodies being burnt from the inside out. A way was needed to channel the darkness without being destroyed by it.”

“And that solution would be the Night Rangers,” Jeff guessed.

Mark nodded. “Not immediately. Officially only those that draw energy from the Morphin Grid are allowed to call themselves Rangers. There are a few others that have earned the right to use the title; Earth is an exception because their Rangers are recognised as such by their mentor. And then there are the Night Rangers; the Night Fighters didn’t request the right to call themselves Rangers, they took the name and challenged anybody who disagreed to make them stop. That was before my time, but I heard there were plenty of broken bones while the matter was debated.

"The first Night Rangers were an accident. A young scientist had been experimenting with some old morphers that no longer functioned and had found a way to power them without the Morphin Grid. He configured them to create suits of generic armour that could be used by the Night Fighters in battle. The suits offered protection and solved some of their problems, but were little more than armour. And eventually the Night Fighters agreed that having a whole planet of generic soldiers was not the same as having a team of Rangers, so they would not call themselves Night Rangers. Of course that decision changed when they did successfully build their own team."

"So the Night Fighters created some powers, the Power Rangers disagreed, there was a big fight and after they won the argument the Night Fighters backed down?" Jeff clarified.

"Indeed. Now the mass-produced armour of the Night Fighters allowed them some protection and with a few alterations held a constant power supply. Those that used them were not as powerful as Power Rangers, but they had numbers and that was what they needed to fight the darkness. However they still needed a way to fight the darkness on an even footing. The creatures they fought were resistant to light; they had no such protection against the darkness. Some had taken to capturing demons and forcing them to give them power while others argued there was no need to wield the dark powers at all and that the risks of doing so were there for a reason.

"Then they found a way. A young man joined the Order having flunked out of the Morphin Academy. He had been trained to be a Ranger, but his heart was pure and his intentions were good, but the world had corrupted him to the point where the Morphin Masters refused to allow him to become a Ranger. They judged him based on all he endured without realising that while shrouded within the darkness his soul remained pure. He was I guess a Broken Angel.

"It was a complete accident that he stared into the Mirror of Night, a dangerous magical artefact said to contain a demon. The spell upon the mirror was supposed to show the darkness within his soul and amplify it while showing all his desires. If he had accepted what was offered, the demon within the mirror would strike and take over his body. But this man was a good man and while the mirror absorbed the darkness around him and amplified it, it could only twist what was on the outside.

"He had been given one of the generic morphers when he had joined the Order, and when he had sensed the darkness within the mirror, he had morphed,” Mark explained, showing Jeff his morpher. “The demon inside the mirror corrupted and disfigured his powers, making him appear evil. It poured its darkness into the morpher, not realising that once it did so a connection was formed that would never be broken. A battle took place as the man fought the demon for control. He triumphed, but just as he was about to slay the demon, it surrendered to him. It would serve him and his successors, providing the power he needed in return for its life. He agreed and the deal was done. His powers were now a part of the darkness powered by a powerful demon, but that darkness was countered by the light within his heart; he remained a good man.

"Twelve more demons were bound by those that were worthy of doing so. Thirteen warriors emerged powered by the darkness to lead the Night Fighters. They took the name Night Rangers and this time nobody dared to complain.

"This morpher is connected to that first demon and has been passed down from Ranger to Ranger. Each time a successor is chosen he or she faces the a demon within Mirror of Night. If they successfully tame the demon that powers their morpher they become the next Night Ranger; those that fail are never heard from again."

"And if they don’t take the test?" Jeff asked.

"Then the Night Ranger powers will fall dormant and they will only be able to access the generic armour of a Night Fighter," Kinega answered. "Although if that happened they would be ‘encouraged to surrender the morpher so that a more suitable candidate can use it and they will be given a new morpher."

There had only been thirteen Night Morphers. The Order had tried to create more, but even when a candidate had successfully defeated a demon, they had never been able to force its subservience.

"The result is a warrior that can fight the darkest evil on its own terms and match the evil warriors on an equal footing. Night Rangers journey into the night to protect people from the evil that the dark spirits represent. The evil of greed, lust, pride, gluttony…”

“The seven deadly sins,” Jeff interrupted.

“Yes exactly,” said Mark. “Except the evils they fight rarely fall into a pattern that the villains most Power Rangers face choose. Rarely do they send down a monster to destroy the world. They assume a physical form and spread their corruption. For them the spoils of war can consist of a single soul. And believe me, they have the power to do whatever they want by themselves. Whether it be money, power, people, there is really no limit to the evil that they can accomplish. Over the centuries there have been some mortals that have allied themselves with the spirits of darkness, learning to draw the darkness into themselves and wield it as a weapon. Transformed by the darkness they can take on monstrous and powerful forms. The last lot almost wiped out their entire galaxy.

"The Night Rangers are darker than the average Power Rangers. They are just as dedicated to the defeat of evil, but their methods are those that would normally be associated with the villains they fight. Of the three rules applied to the Power Rangers only one has ever been applied to the Night Rangers as well: Never use the power for personal gain; as long as they fight for the greater good, everything else is fair game.”

Jeff took it in for a second. “So what you’re saying is that there are these evil monsters that are actually spirits, some of whom have joined forces with ordinary people. And that you are a member of a team of Power Rangers that have been corrupted by an evil artefact and now fight them on their terms?”

“That’s about it,” Mark said, offering a wry grin. “Hard to believe isn’t it?”

Jeff was silent, thinking. There was no doubt that Mark was telling the truth, or at least the truth as he knew it. That did leave a few questions though. “Okay, say I believe you, what does this have to do with me?”

“Many years ago the Night Rangers engaged a powerful enemy. Many Night Fighters were killed in the battle and even the Night Rangers did not escape unharmed. Several died during that fight, some died from their wounds after the battle was over; some were never found. It takes time to rebuild a team after so many losses and for a time the Night Rangers were willing to continue as a smaller group.

"That changed a few years ago. The Red Night Ranger and two of his comrades were killed in action and a prophecy was uncovered warning about a new threat that would require the Night Rangers to be at full strength. I was chosen to become the new leader of the Night Rangers and my first task was to seek out those that could help rebuild our ranks.

"There are only four of us left at this time, which leaves me with six replacements to find; three of the morphers were never recovered. I want you to be the first of those new Night Rangers.”

Jeff took in the news and thought about it for a second. Then he broke out in laughter.

“What’s so funny?” asked Mark.

Jeff tried to calm himself for a second then spoke. “I just can’t believe it. You want me to be a Power Ranger?”

“Night Ranger,” Mark corrected him, “and yes you would have made a good Power Ranger. But Night Rangers are very different to Power Rangers. There are less rewards and the dangers are unimaginable. We’re feared and reviled by those that are supposed to be on our side; there are groups dedicated to our destruction because they believe we are evil. The authorities don’t recognise us and do everything they can to hide our existence; we are expected to keep our existence secret even from our fellow Rangers although we’ve never bothered too much about that. Those that know of us would likely deny having anything to do with us in case they are deemed guilty by association.”

“I’m sorry, but I have enough problems right now without playing super hero. I’m just not cut out to be a Power Ranger, day or night. Now if you don’t mind I’ve got to get back to the hellhole that is my life.”

Mark sighed. He had been told it would not be easy. The analysis of Kincaid had confirmed he would need a lot of convincing. A list had already been made of alternative choices, but Kinega wanted Kincaid. There was something that refused to let him give up. “If that’s your decision then fine. But just in case let me give you this.” Mark reached across one of the consoles and gave Jeff a small card. “If you change your mind just fold the top left corner. You’ll be teleported up here to Defiance and the Morpher will be waiting.”

“Defiance?” asked Jeff.

“That’s the name of this ship”

“I thought the ship was named Hardrive.”

“No the computer is named Hardrive; the ship is named Defiance.”

“Whatever, I gotta go, now if you can beam me back down to where I was I’d be happy.”

Mark moved to the controls and beamed Jeff back down.

“He’ll be back,” Mark said as he stared at the empty spot where Jeff Kincaid once stood. At least he hoped that he would. Mark still had a few weeks before he had to move on to the next possibility. So the question was how to nudge Kincaid in the right direction during that time? "Let me see Kincaid’s file again Hardrive. Looks like you were wrong about just asking."

====

The next day Jeff was leaving school when he was stopped by Jessica Farrell. She was a lab partner of Jeff’s in theatre class and Jeff had quite the crush on her. Jessica had long stringy blonde hair and dressed in a grunge style. She kind of liked Jeff, but they were pretty much at the ‘just friends’ stage in her mind.

“Hey Jeff, are you going to be ready for the theatre presentation tomorrow that we have to do for class?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’ve been going over the monologue for a while now,” Jeff told her, “I’ll be ready.”

“Great, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Jeff was ready to ask her out on a date but the words didn’t come to his mouth. Jessica walked away as Bruce came up to his best friend.

“What happened?”

“I got scared,” Jeff admitted.

“Of what, her saying no? If she does, she’s the one passing up a good thing.”

“Bruce,” Jeff started. He sighed, forcing himself to relax. “I’ve been burned a lot of times in the past. I really don’t want to get shot down again.”

Jeff was about to walk off, just as he had done so many times before, but this time, Bruce had other plans.

====

When the phone rang at Jessica’s house a few weeks later, she ignored it knowing her parents were home. She was a little surprised when she was told that the phone call was for her.

“Hello?”

“Yeah Jessica, this is Bruce Greene I’m a friend of Jeff Kincaid’s.”

“What can I do for you Bruce?” she asked.

“Well my friend Jeff has missed something for the project and I can’t get in contact with him on it. I was wondering if you can pick it up for him?”

Jessica thought about it for a minute.

“Where is it?”

“It’s at Leroy’s Shootfighting Rink on First Street.”

She knew the place, having passed it a few times. She had never stepped foot inside though.

“All right I’ll be right there,” she said before hanging up.

~One down one to go,~ thought Bruce as he searched through his book for Jeff’s number. ~I’m so good at this I ought to have my own television show.~

====

Jeff ran down to the gym and caught Bruce at the front door.

“All right Bruce what’s the big emergency?”

Bruce had to stall for time, if Jeff was impatient it would be a disaster.

“Yeah well ah…”

He didn’t have to wait long since Jessica was coming. She took a look at Jeff, then at Bruce. “Why didn’t you call and tell me you found him?”

Jeff was confused. “He was supposed to call you?”

“He told me you had left something that we needed for the theatre project tomorrow,” Jessica explained.

Jeff got defensive. “No I didn’t!”

“Then why did your friend call me?”

Both Jessica and Jeff turned to glare at Bruce.

“All right Bruce, what’s going on?”, asked Jeff.

“Look Jeff, you like this girl but…”

“You like me?” interrupted Jessica.

Jeff’s face turned red, but before he could find the courage to answer there was a flash of light and a group of black tuxedo garbed warriors. Their faces were hidden behind half-white, half-black helmets painted with a pair of bright red lips.

“What are these guys?” asked Bruce.

“I don’t know,” Jeff answered as the newcomers moved in to attack. “Bruce get Jessica out of here. I’ll hold them off.”

Jeff fell into a fighting stance and fought the attackers as Bruce escorted Jessica away. Unfortunately just as Bruce thought they were safe enough away another group appeared. Bruce was not a slouch when it came to physical combat and demonstrated how he had gotten to be so respected in the gym as he launched himself into battle.

“Run Jessica. RUN!” he yelled.

Jessica turned to run when two of the faceless goons grabbed her and teleported her away. The remaining attackers teleported soon after, having had enough of Jeff and Bruce.

Jeff looked around. “Where’s Jessica?”

“She was just here,” Bruce answered, looking around. “I told her to run when those red robots appeared. Perhaps she got away.”

“Let’s split up. I’ll look north.”

“I’ll look south,” Bruce replied as they split up.

When Jeff was far enough away, he activated the device Mark had given him teleported himself back up to Defiance.

====

Mark was sat in the pilot’s chair as Jeff teleported on board, reviewing some of the scout reports for other candidates. Over the last few weeks he had tried to appeal to Jeff’s sense of duty, his need to belong and even his desire to get away from his mother, but nothing had worked. “Have you changed your mind?” he asked without looking up.

“That depends. What can you tell me about black clad freaks with red lips that kidnap teenage girls?” Jeff demanded.

Mark thought about it for a moment before clicking a button. He flicked through the images of known underlings seeking a match. “Black clad freaks… did they look like they were wearing tuxedos?”

“Yeah, do you know them?”

Mark turned back to the controls and ordered Hardrive to scan for any ships in the vicinity.

“Klingon battle cruiser off the port bow,” Hardrive reported.

“You just described a platoon of Hedonian Soldiers,” Mark said.

“Hedonian Soldiers?”

“They are the grunts of the Hedon Empire,” Mark explained. “Part of an old society that studied the ways of the dark powers. Except instead of taking that darkness and turning it into something that evil would learn to fear, like the Night Fighters, they were corrupted and used the darkness for their own pleasure. Their society decayed until they were unable to produce anything for themselves. Of course only the elite could afford to buy the luxuries they needed, the rest had to become soldiers in return for the things they needed to survive. They’re the sort of thing the Night Fighters were created to fight although given their nature we rarely encounter them.”

That wasn’t quite true. Most of the Hedonians could be battled by normal teams of Rangers. It was impossible for such teams to completely defeat the threat, they could only vanquish it for short periods due to the limitations of the rules. Only the Night Rangers had the disposition to permanently end such darkness.

“What are they doing kidnapping a girl from Port Clinton?” Jeff asked.

Mark didn’t answer immediately, contemplating the answer. Why would they pick on a single girl? Unless of course she had been one of a number of girls taken for the same purpose. The Hedonian hierarchy did use souls and blood as part of their rituals although they were not as extensive as other practitioners like the Moabians. In the end he decided it was best not to mention the possibility that the Hedons were simply looking for innocents to corrupt and swell their ranks.

“It’s not like them to target Earth,” he said. “This world isn’t as magically inclined as some others. However some of the hierarchy have some very, very sick tastes. It wouldn’t be beyond them to send soldiers to collect innocents to feed that hunger. You really do not want to know more than that.”

Jeff was starting to get anxious. “So what are you going to do about it?”

Track them down and rescue the girls was the obvious answer, but Kinega knew that this was the opportunity he had been looking for. Finally he had found something Jeff Kincaid cared about enough to consider his offer.

“Well I really can’t spare the time right now, I need to finish putting together my team,” Mark told him. “Once that’s done I can look into it. Might take a while though… unless you want to reconsider of course.”

Jeff thought about it for a moment. He knew Mark would not help him unless he agreed. Night Rangers it seemed didn’t have to save every damsel. Given the choice he knew what his decision would be. “All right, I’m in.”

“Great, now tall we have to do is find their ship and mount a rescue mission.”

“Just the two of us?”

Mark grinned. “Consider it an initiation.” He didn’t mention that Hedonian’s were usually handled without the use of powers. He didn’t want Kincaid to change his mind. “When this is over, if we succeed, we’ll see about getting you properly trained, but in the meantime this morpher has enough charge in it to keep you from serious harm.”

He handed Jeff a blue morpher that had similar decoration to the one he had used earlier. Until Jeff passed the test to claim the powers of a Night Ranger, the morpher would offer some protection.

“When do we get after the ship?” asked Jeff.

“Hardrive, if the linker is still transmitting. Give me a hell yeah!” He looked a bit sheepish when he saw Jeff staring at him. “Sometimes it helps if you know a few lines. Hardrive prefers it.”

“Hell Yeah!” Hardrive replied after performing a quick scan.

“Then set course and let’s go get ’em.”

And before long, Defiance streaked across the cosmos. The signal was apparently easy to track. Defiance made it’s way to it’s destination, a resort planet called Amia.

“The pleasure planet for those whose tastes cannot be met by the usual hives of villainy. Not many use this planet though, it doesn’t cater for those of their persuasion,” Mark explained.

“What’s Jessica doing down there?” Jeff asked.

“Some of the hierarchy enjoy taking something pure and corrupting it,” Mark admitted. “In this case I suspect they wanted them to amuse the troops. Comfort women to amuse the generals and boost the morale of the lower ranks.”

He didn’t mention that they were likely looking for breeding stock rather than prostitutes. An army had have soldiers after all. They needed to concentrate on getting the girl back and for that they needed a way to get in. Mark thought for a moment then came up with an idea.

“We’ll do a frontal decoy. You attack from the front and I’ll take Defiance down there and knock out the internal defences.”

“Uhh, no disrespect here. But what do I attack them with?” Jeff asked.

“Good question. Once you’re fully powered we can see about sorting you out with a Zord. In the meantime if you go down to the landing bay, you’ll find a battle pod waiting. The interface is telepathic so knowledge of how to use it should come naturally.”

Jeff went down to Defiance’s loading bay as instructed. He didn’t stop to question how the knowledge of the ship’s layout had burnt its way into his mind. Nor did he question how he knew instantly where his battle pod was parked.

The craft left Defiance’s landing bay and flew out towards the pleasure base. Jeff kept the defences busy while Mark flew Defiance in and teleported to where the central control computer was located. He activated the intruder control field, rendering all hostiles unconscious in a matter of seconds.

And with that it was over. They never found out who was responsible for the kidnappings, although their efforts did cost the dark forces a considerable number of soldiers. most had fought back the moment they recovered from the stun effect, only to meet the untamed fury of two Night Rangers. The prisoners, and there were a lot of them, were freed and Mark would later ask the Morphin Council to transport them to their respective homelands.

====

After Jeff returned from space, he and Jessica completed their project together and got a good grade as a result. Jessica for her part showed no signs that she remembered her experience, a result of the relaxants Mark had used.

Deciding that this time he would find the courage, Jeff asked her: “are you doing anything tomorrow afternoon?”

“No,” she answered.

“Well I was wondering if you wanted to go out for lunch tomorrow?”

Jessica thought about it for a second and then agreed. “Sure, why not?”

Jeff’s heart was jumping for joy, but despite his happiness he knew that in the near future Mark Kinega would come seeking his services. And when that happened there would be no turning back. He would become a Night Ranger.

End

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

Ch’rell Shock, The Shredder Returns

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers, Mutant Turtles or Doctor Who. They belong to the respective copyright owners. This is a fan work and no profit is being made from it.

Ch’rell Shock, The Shredder Returns

Springwood
The past

“Ninja Technique: Ice Carpet!”

Less than two months had passed since Serpenterra had wiped the small town off the face of the Earth. The ground was molten, still cooling from the awesome power the machine had unleashed. To step upon the burning soil would have meant death. Some had already tried to access the lost town only to discover that despite the thin crust that had settled, it could not hope to support the weight of a tiny rodent, let alone a human. That was why as Saki walked over the melting ice he had conjured, Saki was relieved that he had been taught some of the ancient secrets of the Ninja.

The power he had summoned came from the Morphin Grid, channelled through his body and directed with a combination of hand movements, words and mental imagery to generate a moving block of ice on which he could stand as he was transported to the place where the statue of the town’s founder had once stood. The ground steamed as the heat turned the ice to water and the water fell onto the hot ground. Only his focussed mind and determination kept the ice intact as he reached his destination.

“Very good Saki,” his master said when the reached the place he desired. “This will do.”

“Yes master,” Saki acknowledged, dropping to one knee while fighting to keep the ice intact.

His master was unable to assist him in his current form. Once a proud warrior, the alien known as the Shredder had been punished by his own people for heinous crimes. His body had been ripped apart leaving only the brain-like creature within – for Shredder’s race were capable of building bodies for themselves in order to survive their environments. Shredder’s replacement form had been damaged thousands of years later during a battle with the Power Rangers of Earth. Now he sought a new means to renew himself.

“There is great power in this place, Saki,” Shredder mused. “The damage has created a wound in the Earth I can use.”

After their recent defeat at the hands of the Power Rangers, Shredder had been determined to regain his former strength. And the first step to doing so required him to absorb a large amount of heat and radiation. The decimated town was a perfect choice.

“Leave now Saki,” Shredder instructed. “Return when I summon you.”

As he spoke, the Shredder managed to levitate himself from the icy platform, allowing Saki to withdraw to safety. In the past the Shredder had relied upon his own strength, alien technology, alien ninja training and Earthly minions. Now he planned to pool all of those resources together to create a new power that would gain vengeance on his enemies. Superior technology, alien power and ninja magic combined with the evil genius that the Shredder represented. Combined together those forces would make him unbeatable.

Saki was out of sight as Shredder lowered himself onto the ground. The earth beneath him cracked as the surface bubbled violently. Slowly his body was pulled into the inferno as the next phase of his plan commenced.

====

New York City
September 1998

Saki regarded the smashed remains of his master’s armour. He had been surprised that anything had survived; the Shredder had been fortunate to possess the technology needed to teleport a short distance, but doing so had meant sacrificing the armour and had permanent disabled most of the alien’s technology.

Still Saki had felt compelled to seek out the remnants of his master’s former body regardless of its state. He had always been intrigued by the odd sensations he had felt when touching the metal. It seemed familiar.

“And so it should,” a voice said.

Saki turned with the speed gained through years of practice, his eyes searching for signs of the intruder who had managed to enter without his knowledge. His eyes narrowed as he palmed a weapon ready to teach the intruder a harsh lesson.

The cloaked figure dodged the knife thrown in his direction, flicking the blade that followed it aside with practiced ease. This was not a simple fool, but a skilled practitioner of the fighting arts; he could have easily given the other warrior a challenge. He had no interest of continuing the battle though, simply because he was not certain he could restrain himself from killing Saki if they fought for too long.

“Who are you?” Saki demanded.

“Somebody who knows a lot more about the history of that armour than you Oroku Saki,” the ninja answered. “Or did you believe the lies your master told you?”

“Master Shredder would not lie to me!” Saki snarled.

“Of course he would,” the stranger countered, “if it would gain your services. The Shredder is linked to your family and your master needs that link.”

He could sense that Saki did not believe him and decided a different approach was needed.

“He told you that he was called the Shredder and that he built this armour using his technology. The truth is that this armour was built for a samurai lord in Japan named Oroku Nagi. It is the armour that carries the name ‘Shredder’.”

“Oroku Nagi?”

“Your ancestor. Many generations ago he led a large army across Japan, conquering as they went. He was eventually defeated and his army was disbanded although a few remained and helped him found the Foot Clan to seek revenge. When they were defeated a second time, Oroku Nagi was executed.”

He paused, allowing Saki to absorb the truth about his family’s history, knowing it would help to break down the man’s loyalty.

“Oroku Nagi had never accepted his own mortality. In his life time he selected some of his closest advisers and set them the task of finding him a way to live on after death. The Shredder is the evidence of how close they came.”

He held out his hand toward the armour, causing it to glow slightly.

“The Foot Mystics used the knowledge they acquired to bind Oroku Nagi’s essence to his armour, creating the creature known as The Shredder. He built a new army.”

“The Shredder is the evil spirit that resides in the armour of my ancestor?” Saki asked. He wasn’t certain if he should consider the stranger a fool or a very inventive liar.

“With the rebuilt Foot Clan at his side, The Shredder rampaged once more. And this time it took far more than soldiers to stop him. In the final battle, it took magic and sacrifice to subdue the evil spirit within the armour, preventing it from controlling its metal body. From that moment on it became just a suit of armour.”

A suit of armour with a very powerful and vengeful spirit attached to it. One that needed a living soul to give it the motivation and purpose. Saki was the obvious choice due to his bloodline to help unleash The Shredder’s wrath.

“Sometime later an alien named Ch’rell was deposited on Earth. Ch’rell’s race were little more than large brains with eyes and teeth. On their own world they used telepathy to control their environment. But as a criminal, Ch’rell was banished from Ultrom. On Earth he retained some of his abilities, but needed protection from the unfriendly environment. He found your ancestor’s armour hidden away in storage and used his powers to control it. Later he placed himself inside the armour and added technology favoured by the Jakanja, an alien ninja clan. He claimed control of The Foot and used them to prepare the way for a Jakanja invasion.”

“Then why are these alien ninjas not here?” Saki asked.

There was some genuine interest. His master had mentioned his alien allies and had taught Saki some of their techniques.

“Ch’rell’s people chose to check up on him and realised the threat he could pose to them. They conspired with some of The Shredder’s enemies, leading them to believe that Ch’rell was The Shredder. Together they defeated him and he remained imprisoned for generations. When he was released he once again took control of the Foot Clan and moved to America. It was pure luck that he happened to meet you here.”

The Shredder had grown stronger when the descendent of Oroku Nagi was close by. Ch’rell had used that connection alongside his technology in his portrayal of the ninja warrior known as Shredder.

“And so the question must be asked: do you continue to follow an impostor, or do you claim your rightful place as leader of The Foot?”

That decision would determine what happened next.

====

Japan

Ch’rell had failed to notice them when he had stolen their master’s armour. They were the Foot Mystics, the priests that Oroku Nagi had commanded to secure his immortality. They had been the ones that had called upon the dark powers and transformed their fallen master into an evil spirit. They had cast the enchantments that had allowed the newly formed spirit to possess the armour of their fallen leader. They had then used their knowledge to guarantee that when their master called, his army would be there to obey.

They had failed and The Shredder had been defeated. They enchantments they had used to allow the spirit to use the armour as a body had been broken, trapping The Shredder within the armour. They had been locked away with the rest of his followers and had been unable to stop the Ultrom named Ch’rell when he had taken the armour. Ch’rell’s time as the Shredder came to an end and it seemed the spirit they had worked to preserve had been lost.

But then the Shredder had reappeared in America, working alongside Oroku Saki, a descendent of Oroku Nagi. Being close to Saki had awakened the slumbering spirit of The Shredder, even as the Ultrom continued his charade. When the armour had been seemingly destroyed in a confrontation with the Power Rangers, Saki had retrieved parts of the armour where the spirit remained.

Now with The Shredder on the verge of returning, the spells that kept his armies secured were failing. The Foot Mystics and the army they had amassed were on the move. Except this time instead of conquering everything in their path, they moved silently through the shadows to cross the sea and reunite with The Shredder.

====

New York City

Saki drew the sharpened blade across his palm. Crafted from a piece of his ancestor’s armour, it sliced through the skin, drawing blood. Under the stranger’s guidance, the descendent of Oroku Nagi drew a series of runes on the metal armour, drawing mystic energy through his blood and channelling it into the armour, replenishing the evil spirit on his ancestor. Deep within the armour the spirit of The Shredder stirred.

“I Oroku Saki, descendant of Oroku Nagi, claim my heritage. Grant me your power my great ancestor and use my body to claim vengeance.”

The stranger had warned him that it would be impossible to control the armour and claim its power. The spirit known as The Shredder could not be subjugated and if ejected from the armour it possessed, would seek a new form. Instead Saki offered the spirit a partnership between family. He would provide the spirit with a body and the spirit would enhance Saki’s abilities with its own. Together they would recreate the Shredder and revive his army.

He felt the acceptance as the spirit of The Shredder shifted from the armour and bonded with his body. He cried out as the spirit tore through his soul, entwining itself into his essence, uniting them into a single being. The ancient armour his ancestor had built had been reshaped into crude weapons – there had not been enough to act as armour. Forty eight shurikens, a large sword, a pair of sais, and several other weapons had been crudely crafted and placed close to where Saki sat. A set of shoulder spikes, pads and arm gauntlets along with a metal helmet were the best he could manage.

The pain ended as the bonding completed. The armoured pieces Saki had crafted had been infused with The Shredder’s power, transforming them from crude metal plates into formidable armour. The weapons had been honed to a sharp edge and were ready to be used by the new Shredder. The shurikens had been enchanted to further the warlord’s goals. The sword was now a perfect replica of Oroku Nagi’s blade and guaranteed to cut its way through his foes. Each weapon contained a small green gem stone, a fragment from the Soul Stone that had been cut away during the creation of the Soul Gem. While they lacked the powers of the finished article, they shared its ability to channel spiritual energy, a property Oroku Saki would find useful.

“And now, my descendent: we shall be avenged!” the stranger told him.

For the first time Saki had a clear look at the intruders face. It was twisted and malformed, but the resemblance was clear. He had been speaking with The Shredder the whole time.

====

Springwood
September 1998

The process was complete, the dark energy within the tainted ground had provided him with the fuel his life support technology needed to repair the damage he had suffered. It had taken a long time, but then repairing the damage caused to a brain was not the sort of thing that could be rushed. Fortunately the process had been relatively painless. It had however been exceptionally boring and Ch’rell was eager to take his revenge on those that caused him so much inconvenience.

As he rose through the cooled soil he sent a message for Oroku Saki to meet him. They had work to do and building a replacement body would be the first step. He suspected enough time had passed for his servant to have gathered all the needed materials and secured the facilities needed for manufacture. It was therefore slightly annoying when he reached a suitable hovering height and discovered that Oroku Saki was nowhere in sight.

A little put out that his servant was late, he sent another message ordering him to hurry up. He then waited for the half hour he estimated it would take for Saki to arrive using the ninja techniques he was so proud of. When the ninja failed to arrive he started to worry that maybe he had run into problems. Fortunately the technology that had repaired him had also been upgraded during his time underground. It had been a simple matter to divert some of the energy into thrust, allowing him to move back along the path they had taken many months earlier.

As he did so he took notice of the strange creatures that had arisen from the scorched earth. It was clear the destruction had poisoned the ground in more ways than one. He could count numerous groups of malevolent spirits growing stronger by the day. The plants and animals that inhabited the broken land had been mutated by its power. From the look of some of those he passed even death was not a reprieve from their torment. He had no doubt the ghosts that roamed the city would give anything for a way to leave.

When he reached the edge of the city, Oroku Saki had still not appeared and Ch’rell was forced to accept the likelihood that his servant had abandoned him. He would pay for such treachery but before Ch’rell could track him down there was still the matter of needing a body. With that in mind he flew off down the road, promising himself that Oroku Saki would rue the day he turned his back on Shredder.

End of Part

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

Lightspeed: Intruders and Thieves

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers. They belong to whoever holds that copyright. I also do not own Doctor Who, which belongs to the BBC or the concept of the Infinity Gems, which belongs to Marvel Comics. The Soul Gem used in this story is based upon the Soul Gem from Marvel, but has been modified to fit my needs. A full description of the Soul Gems’ abilities can be found in the Knowledgebase.

Lightspeed: Intruders and Thieves

10 September 1998

To the casual observer it was just another monster, although even by demon standards this one was extremely hideous. Vaguely human it was a combination of putrid flesh and stolen organs, soaked in the blood of the innocent humans Pierre had sacrificed.

There were warnings surrounding the raising of the dead, although for those deluded enough to actually attempt such acts they were more of a guideline to success: for every soul returned to the world of the living another soul was needed to take its place was the normal rule intended to provide balance. But that rule only applied in the case of a willing exchange where a person offered their own life so another could live. In the case where there were no willing sacrifices, the ceremony required more souls to fulfil the contract. Pierre had been very generous in his offering and there were many unexplained disappearances that could have been pinned on him.

He renewed his dark chant, using incantations that were normally forbidden in Queen Bansheera’s court; even the Hell Goddess had her limits. As he spoke the mass shifted on the stone slab, the many parts merging together to form a single and exceptionally healthy humanoid body. Pierre had been careful to choose the right parts, knowing that his plan required a specimen of exceptional strength. Bright light burst from the living corpse as nature tried to return it to its previous state.

“Soul of the fallen, renewed by my hand, take your form, by my command!”

The soul had been carefully selected for the task and had been pulled painfully from its resting place; it had been subjected to twenty years of suffering in the space of a few months. Pierre with the help of his fellow demons had broken the innocent mind while teaching it what it needed to know to function as an adult. They had also poisoned his thoughts and memories, placing the blame for his suffering on a man he had been taught to hate. And with that hatred he was willing to do anything for revenge, even serve Queen Bansheera.

“Impressive Pierre,” Diabolico commented as he inspected the finished work. He had taken a personal hand in breaking the child, offering a few kind words while directing others to inflict pain. “Is it done?”

“Not yet,” Pierre spoke. “The enchantments need to be sealed, or else they will break down in a matter of hours. Once the final offering is made, the process cannot be reversed and he will be alive.”

“Then proceed,” Diabolico instructed. “I will make certain Queen Bansheera knows of your sacrifice.”

Pierre bowed and then gestured to the Batlings to unlock the heavy chains that had held their new warrior in place. As soon as he was released, his body sprang into action, striking at the Batlings, dispatching them with ease before turning on Pierre. The demon did not offer any resistance as his creation’s hand slid around his neck. The spell required the shattering of the human’s soul to anchor him to his new body. While having him kill a human would have been preferable, it would have lacked the blind rage. Pierre’s death tethered the tortured soul and prevented it from moving on willingly.

With a growl the construct tossed Pierre’s body aside and froze as it realised what it had done. The wizard’s corpse exploded into a swarm of flies, his magical energy seeking out his brother Jinxer while the rest attacked his murderer. In the background a high pitched grinding noise could be heard, but Diabolico assumed it was part of the ceremony.

“Enough!” Diabolico commanded, causing the flies to land on his back where they turned into a sickly black mark. Diabolico ignored that as he addressed the court’s newest servant. “You have proven yourself worthy of serving Queen Bansheera. Now, this is what you will do…”

But the human failed to respond, his mind broken by his experience and unable to accept the mindless murder it had committed. The taking of a demon life was not enough to lock the distressed soul in place and after so long without comfort, it chose to retreat into the after life.

“That’s the problem with soul magic,” a voice said from behind. “Equivalent exchange is always greater than you realise.”

Diabolico turned to confront the unfortunate soul that that wandered into his domain. The figure wore the robes of a monk of one of the many religious groups that had sprung up around the planet during the time the demons had been absent. He was about to summon some Batlings to feed on the stray when he took the opportunity to study the human a little closer and realised he had been mistaken.

“The Sorcerer!” Diabolico accused, remembering the one that had led the armies against Queen Bansheera. “You will be destroyed!”

The response was the raising of a pale hand and a placating motion. On closer inspection there was a small blue stone held with the palm of his hand. As Diabolico stared he found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on giving the order to attack. The pressure on his mind was incredible and despite being a demon, it was almost too much for him to cope with.

“Enough!” Almost was not enough in Diabolico’s case and with a sudden snap, he returned to his senses. “Parlour tricks will not save you.”

“Then I count myself lucky that I can provide a service that will,” the priest replied. “Know that I am not the one that caused your imprisonment. Your problems with him are not my concern. I am here to assist you in restoring Queen Bansheera’s kingdom.”

“And what could you offer me that would make it worth keeping you alive?” Diabolico asked, gripping the monk by the collar to make certain he could not escape.

The robed figure needed all of his centuries of practice not to flinch from the treatment. To do so would likely cause Diabolico to dismiss him as anything more than a nuisance and dispose of him. “I have knowledge that will assist you. I know that this ceremony will fail and that you are wasting your time. I also know a way to complete your plan without this ceremony.”

“And in return?” Diabolico was not foolish enough to believe that such an offer would be made for free.

“All I ask in return is that you let me take the remains,” the monk answered, pointing to where the construct was starting to strain against the spells. Without Pierre to renew the magic he had placed there, they were starting to weaken. The construct’s body started to glow around the edges, a clear indication that the soul within was struggling to break free. The priest waved his hand idly in its direction; the light faded. “You have little time remaining. Do you really want to throw away a final chance to succeed?”

If nothing else it appeared that he had convinced Diabolico that he could be useful.

“Perhaps we do have something to discuss,” Diabolico agreed. “Now, explain!”

====

Twenty years earlier.

The man drove his car along the twisting road with his two children secure in the backseat. It was raining and the driver lost control. The car spun off the road and over the cliff, crashing down on the rocks below. Shockingly the man and his children survived, but the car’s fuel tank had ruptured and the battery had started to short-circuit, causing sparks. With only a limited time the man knew he had time to save only one of his children. He could only release and carry either his son or his daughter to safety.

“Oh dearie my, which one will die?”

The man turned as he heard the voice, shocked and angered to see a demon standing before him. The flames and everything else around him seemed to have stopped.

“What do you want?” the man demanded, his hand moving to a gun he kept in his jacket.

“If I wanted to kill you I wouldn’t have slowed down the fire,” the demon responded. “I’ve come to make you an offer.”

Seeing that the man was not going to ask, the demon pressed on.

“You can only rescue one child. The other will die. Give him to me to raise as my own and know that he shall live. But which shall you choose?”

The demon enjoyed playing with the emotions of others. It enjoyed the torment it saw upon the man’s face as he tried to decide which child he would give up. The demon enjoyed the knowledge that it had won.

“Neither!” the man decided, shocking the demon as he rushed to the car.

The demon laughed as it watched the man struggle, knowing full well that he could not carry one child away and return for the other before the car exploded. He heard the man say something to his son before grabbing his daughter and running. The boy somehow managed to free himself from the car and screamed for his father to help him. And that was when the car exploded. Nobody noticed the noise of a TARDIS dematerialising because of the noise, nor did they notice the slight distortion around the car.

====

He had grown better as he had aged. In the early days he would have settled for obvious changes to history as a means of bolstering his ego. Now much older he found it more satisfying to change the little things and watch events escalate from there. The subtle adjustments to history meant there was less chance of somebody undoing all his hard work. Although in this case he was driven more by curiosity about how the humans would cope when face with the return of Queen Bansheera and her demonic court.

Earlier that day he had visited a morgue in a little town that by his calculations no longer existed. There he had removed the body of a boy that was the same age as the crash victim. He had then journeyed to the instant before Pierre had grabbed the child’s soul and had merged his transport around the burning vehicle, suspending the flow of time for a few precious moments.

He had removed the young boy from the burning car and placed his body in a storage capsule, frozen in a moment of time. Then using advanced medical procedure he had pulled the child’s soul from the body, tearing the link between body and soul that was already on the brink of snapping an instant before it did so. Thanking the advanced technology of his race for allowing him to perceive and manipulate and otherwise intangible thing, he transferred the soul to the body he had stolen earlier and placed that body in the car. The shock of being torn from its host and then forcibly inserted into a new body meant that for a few seconds the child picked up from where he had left off: screaming for his daddy.

And then he left, allowing events to continue as they were supposed to. The car exploded, the child died and Pierre snatched the child’s soul at the moment of death. As far as history was concerned, the events of that night occurred as they needed to.

As he returned to Diabolico, he worked upon the body of the child. Using knowledge taken from some of the greatest surgeons he manipulated the young body, ageing it artificially so that by the time it had finished, he was looking at a young man in his twenties. That his machine had pushed the body to the peak of health meant it was physically the warrior Diabolico desired.

~And now it shall become the same mentally,~ he thought.

After all that effort the rejoining of body and soul was a little anti-climatic. Given the right conditions the body recognised the soul was a part of itself and the soul recognised the body as its natural home. Still a monster from the treatment it had been subjected to, it was was ready to serve Diabolico.

And the body he had collected would be used for one of his other experiments. He chuckled as he considered how easy it would have been to use his manipulation of history to gain power for himself. But power did not really appeal to him; while he could be decidedly naughty, he was not evil.

====

Mariner Bay
29 September 1998

The Lightspeed Aquabase had been designed to include quarters for the majority of its personnel. However there were some that preferred to spend their free time on dry land. For those needing transport to and from the Aquabase, it was necessary to either use the transport tunnels that ran beneath the surface of the sea bed or when the tide permitted, hitch a ride on one of the submarines that journeyed back and forth on a regular basis.

However just because transport between the land and the Aquabase was possible, did not mean it was easy. Security was tight due to the sensitive nature of the Aquabase’s function. Those wishing to enter required a special token that would unlock the security door. Personnel watching from a nearby room were on hand to make sure that nobody tried to sneak through. Given that demons preferred not to touch the waters of Mariner Bay, the likelihood that they would try to sneak on board the submarine or gain access to the service tunnels were high.

On the other hand security around the submarine was surprisingly lapse. Two men were supposed to stand guard on the dock, but given how quiet their day was normally, they had retired to a small room to drink coffee. They hadn’t even noticed the slight fizzing of their drinks as they sipped them. A few minutes later both guards were asleep, unable to stop the masked figure from walking in and removing breathing apparatus from the store room.

When the submarine departed, nobody noticed the stowaway attached to the side of the submarine. He remained unnoticed as the submarine docked with the Aquabase and he detached himself. The Aquabase’s cameras were obscured as he swam under the submarine in search of the airlock that led to a service entrance. Only when he emerged from the airlock did he encounter security; a knee to the mid-section followed by a blow to the head soon solved that problem.

He carefully made his way through the Aquabase, avoiding the various personnel until he reached the office of Captain Mitchell. He managed to force the lock and sneaked into the empty room. A brief search followed before he located the drawer where the dangerous Titanium Morpher was stored. He looked up at the sound of running as the door opened and security guards entered.

It was obvious there had been an alarm either on the door or the drawer and his actions had triggered it. He weighed the possibilities of trying to bluff his way out, but dismissed the thought entirely when he noticed one of the Rangers in the crowd. There was no way she would be fooled.

With that in mind he reached a decision, vaulted the desk and barrelled into the first two guards. He didn’t stop to fight, just punched anybody that tried to grab him before making his way to the exit. By that time the alarms had sounded and the various exits were locked down. Fortunately he had planned for such an event and moved towards the hangar where the Lightspeed Rangers’ hummer was maintained. A few buttons raised the connection tube into position and he took off at a run, confident that the guards would not risk gun fire inside the pressurised tube.

He was not surprised when he heard the engine of the Hummer as the Rangers gave chase. He stopped running and refitted his breathing mask. The torture of the last twenty years had revealed a small magical gift that since his awakening he had found himself capable of using. And after experimenting under the tutelage of Diabolico and the other demons, he had discovered a way to use that gift to unleash bolts of focussed magical energy. He didn’t aim for either the Rangers or their vehicle. Instead he targeted the walls, breaking the pressure seal. As he was sucked out of the transport tube, water poured in, forcing Lightspeed technicians to activate emergency bulkheads. However, that in turn prevented the Rangers from giving chase. The thief was gone and the Titanium Morpher was missing.

“At least we know he can’t use it,” Joel commented in an attempt to lighten the moment.

Despite his words he was just as worried by this turn of events as the others. After all if the Titanium Morpher was useless, why steal it? He couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was about to happen.

End of part **THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**