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Thread: [AdvanceShipping] PKM Rangers: Rise of the Dark Gems [Updated, PG-13]

  1. #26
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
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    Default

    Nice to see another chap up so quick.

    . As to the out of character moment you discussed, I would argue that, in a normal situation, the moment would be removed from how I've build 0's character at the moment. However, it's more important to question what was in the drugs that Sappho put into the room that would provoke that reaction, and it's an interesting turning point for the character. The utterance occurs because of the drugs, not 0's character, but it demonstrates that he is changing from the figure that could do nothing but mourn the loss of his relationship at the beginning of the text. Just something to consider, since I like giving commentary on some aspects of the story, as it allows me to discuss the genre of fan-fiction with more people.
    Yes I agree with you. The reason I mentioned it was not because I felt you had gone out of character(all great authors have a reason for even the most minute of deatils), but because it set off warning bells in my head that something definately was not right before learning about the drugs. You effectively conveyed that before I even knew it.

    PS: As for the word would it of perhaps been 'satirised'?

  2. #27
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    Oct 2005
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    Default Chapter 14, Continued

    Morph Fourteen: That Which Binds Together, Part 2

    Max Birch began to climb.

    The chain clasped around his neck elongated, expanding to his arms and helping him scale the building. He left bites in the walls, smashing the stone until finally he was on the roof. He wanted to see the night's sky, a pure, clean slate of stars and the bright moon overhead. He crouched on the roof, for some reason he couldn't quite bring himself to stand upright. That was for humans, not monsters like he was now. The voice in his head told him to stop, and to turn around to face the shadow in the dark.

    "Bravo, Maxy-poo," hissed Sappho, as he exited the hazy shroud of shadows he had covered himself in. He pulled out a cigar and took a deep drag, exhaling the smoke in a bright gray ring around his head like a halo. "Not bad for your first day as a Dark Gem Ranger. How'd it feel, having so much power?" He clenched his free fist, relishing in the pain he had caused that day. "It feels good, doesn't it? Like a drug you never wanna quit."

    "G-ge-t…aw-ay," stammered Max, his voice wasn't his own yet. The voice, gentle, assuring, calmed him down enough to use the human tongue and not Gallade's voice. "D-don-t…wa-wa-want…y-you. W-wa-ant s-sis-sis-ter." He practically had to cough out the words to get them through.

    Sappho approached him, completely unafraid of the untamed monster. "Now, now, now, Max," he tisked and wagged his fingers. "That's not the way to get on my good side. Why don't we start over? I'm the Dark Sapphire Ranger, and I killed your Pokemon!"

    Max bared his teeth in a rage-filled snarl, pounding his fists against his bare chest. The chain that surrounded his neck began glowing, eager to protect its contractor. "This won't do at all," murmured Sappho. "I wonder when Axi and Bix are gonna figure out how to keep their new toys under control. I guess I'm gonna have to deal with you the hard way, aren't I?"

    Max lunged. Unfortunately, given his weaken state, he was nowhere near the Dark Sapphire Ranger's equal. His drive was parried by the relatively calm man, who then threw Max to the floor and placed the cigar he was smoking right between the new ranger's eyes. "Hey, I said take it easy. Don't make me take out your eye, Maxy-poo." The threat of permanent injury seemed to get Max's attention, as he broke through the insanity that was ruling him long enough to keep still. "That's a good boy. Maybe there's hope for you yet. Axi and Bix were never very good with taking care of newbies, so I've been told to be your tamer." To assert his insanity fully, he stabbed Max quite viciously in the left eye with the burning tip of his cigar.

    Max shrieked in agony until the tip, smothered by the liquids in his eyeball, was removed and flicked aside. He clutched his head, rolling from side to side in unbearable pain, until Sappho kicked him hard in the stomach and he gasped for breath. "Oh quit being a baby," the ranger murmured and hauled Max to his feet. "You're fine, boyo."

    What? Max felt his eye, he was quite sure it had been scorched away. But it hadn't, it was perfectly fine. In fact, come to think of it, all of his injuries had been healed somehow. Had he always healed this fast? No, he was sure he hadn't…something else must be helping him…

    As if in response, the Dark Emerald in his chain pulsated in response, reminding him of their contract. It told him of how his eye had been healed, how his stomach wasn't hurting anymore, and how it would protect him from the big bad rangers. "W-wha-at, wh-at d-do…y-y-ou wan-nt wi-with m-me?" he gasped. "W-want m-my sis-sis-ter."

    Sappho almost looked sympathetic. "Really, Maxy? You want your big sister? Well, I can take you to her. Would you like that?"

    "Y-you ca-can?"

    "Yes, you see, I'm looking for her too!" answered Sappho with a flourish. "I can see your speech is returning. I guess the Dark Emerald's different than my Dark Gem!" He retrieved his own from within his clothes and dangled it on the shiny chain for Max to see. "Your Dark Emerald is weaker than my Dark Sapphire right now, but you'll catch up in no time. You're just Chained."

    "Ch-chained?" Max stood up, his mind was jumbled up, too confused to disagree or disregard anything the man said.

    "Yes, see we Dark Gem Rangers go through a cycle as we get stronger. You're in the first stage: Chained. That's why you have chains on your arms, like a slave chained up! You're not tapping into all of the power of the Dark Gems! Now, me, I've gotten to the next level, Sealed. My chains are a part of my transformation too, but they don't weigh me down! And, since I got rid of them, I get a sword too."

    Max stumbled to his feet, but required assistance from Sappho, who perched him up against a nearby wall. "Why…are you t-telling me…all this?" he asked and looked up into Sappho's cold, dark eyes.

    "Isn't it obvious, Max?" asked the Dark Sapphire Ranger, as if it were the most commonly known information in all the land. "I want to help you rescue your sister, and you need to be at full strength to do that."

    "Rescue?" Max blurted. He felt sick listening to the word and hurled on the roof's surface. His mouth tasted like vomit. He spit.

    "She's being held hostage by some very bad people, Maxy-poo," explained Sappho and his teeth gleamed. "A golden paladin and his snowy princess. They're keeping watch over your sister, we must help her!"

    A…golden paladin? Max was sure he had seen someone like that somewhere before, the question was where? Wait… "Was I fighting a golden paladin earlier?" he asked.

    Sappho nodded eagerly. "Oh yes indeed, Max," he replied, his voice dripping with malice. "He very nearly killed you to, if it weren't for me! I fought his girl and got him away from you. You were saved because of me!" It was all coming back to Max, the golden paladin had hurt him again and again, nearly killed him, but the soothing voice assured Max that Sappho had rescued him. It had been Sappho. Sappho was his savior.

    "Thank you."

    Sappho waved it away. "You can thank me by helping me, Max. You see, the rangers in that filthy, disgusting PKM want something very badly from your sister. Something we want too, to harness to help protect people from PKM and anything like them!"

    "What is it?" Max wondered.

    Sappho smirked. "The crème de la crème of power, Max, resides with her. You see, there's another kind of Dark Gem out there in the world. One that takes on the shape of a certain metal. There are all kinds of gems and precious stones that Dark Gems are made of, but only one kind transforms into a metal when it is created. And it's one of the rarest out there, even more rarer than anything any of us Dark Gem Rangers have. We want it to take down all of PKM's rangers and bring peace to all of the regions of the world! And we need this Dark Metal from your sister. We need to get it away from PKM, they already have a piece!"

    Max, feeling better, stood up unsupported and walked towards the maniacal Dark Sapphire Ranger. "What kind of metal are we talking about here? My sis has tons of jewelry, but I don't think any of it is special."

    Sappho turned to his new partner and grinned the largest grin he had ever grinned. "Why, Maxy-poo, it is a little, elusive little substance known as Dark Gold. And I think it's a piece of jewelry very close to your sister's heart."

    He looked up at the moon and howled his gleeful heart out.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Hey, brother?"

    "Yeah?"

    "When's little sister coming back?"

    The two, Axi and Bix, walked together in the street. At this hour, almost nobody was visible, everyone had gone home to their families or, in the case of some of the loners, their computers. "Soon, little brother," Axi said and patted his brother's head. "Very soon indeed. All we have to do is push a little more, and we'll have everything we need to make our family complete."

    "And what about Golden Boy?" asked Bix, his voice a bit tense. Axi understood, the paladin had gotten so much stronger. Maybe one day the monster would even surpass them, even if they had the upper hand for now. "What if he learns about the Dark Gold? What if he uses it against us?" Axi sighed, what was he to do with his little brother? He pinched his brother's cheeks and smiled.

    "Too dense!" he said with a grin. "You remember how he was back then. Big slobbering idiot, tripping all over his celebrity status. When they stripped that away, all that was left was a cushy little kid with nothing left in the world. Took his wife, took his kid, took everything away from him."

    "He still has sister."

    Axi nodded. "Yes," he agreed. "He does. But not for long. Soon, she'll be all ours, and that little club she belongs to will be no more. All she'll have is us, and our future will be ever so bright. Right, brother?" Bix gleamed with pride, their plan to destroy PKM was foolproof and even came with the bonus of returning their long-lost sister to them. "Now, how's Sap doing with the new toy?"

    "He says that he'll have the thing house-trained before too long," cackled Bix. "Two of us are more than enough to stop the paladin. I'd hate to bring in anyone else." They were few, and they had to pour their resources into so many other projects.

    "We'll be planting our newest member soon, right?" inquired Axi, his voice a bit impatient. "All of this effort for one little ring…I wonder if we've gone completely insane, little brother." He hissed and his eyes looked around. He wanted to be sure he wasn't being overheard.

    "Oh…we're already there, brother." They shared a laugh, then stopped on a street corner. The winters were always so beautiful in Johto, they had traveled there for the week to indulge themselves in the local population. The newspapers were flooded with reports of a serial killer who had been making himself quite busy, but the brothers knew who the murderer really was. Axi looked up and noticed a girl was walking in their direction. "What do you think?"

    Bix looked her over, a platinum blonde with a plump belly, and licked his lips. "Not pure silver, but pretty close," he murmured. He was already excited. "Just wish she was slimmer." They walked up to the girl, she couldn't have been more than sixteen from what they could tell from the schoolgirl outfit she had on. "Like sister."

    "Close enough," agreed Axi, and stopped in front of the girl. She smiled politely at the two brothers.

    "Hello," she said cheerfully. "Were you looking for something? You seem lost."

    Axi snickered. "Yeah… We're looking for the local butcher's market. We've got a hankering for some…red meat." Bix giggled at the joke, but the girl seemed indifferent.

    "I don't think we have a meat market on this street," said the girl, after some thought. "I think there's a good one in the west district. The trains could take you there tomorrow, since they're closed now."

    Axi shook his head. "That simply won't do," he murmured, then his eyes gleamed as he lifted them to stare at the schoolgirl. "I guess you'll have to do, then." He brought up his hand, and smacked the girl's neck, right in the jugular vein. She went down, and Bix went to work dragging the girl's body in the direction of the nearest alley. She struggled, she had only been stunned, but they liked their victims like that. Screaming and pleading for them to stop, to leave them alone. He brought up a long knife and turned to Bix.

    "Bye-bye, sister," he hissed, like a snake about to devour a captured mouse.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Tonight, Sarah slept with May.

    Her mind was full of questions, most of which her mother couldn't answer, even if she wanted to. The daughter wanted to see Uncle Max, he hadn't come back home with them. Her mom had said she didn't know when Uncle Max would be coming home; he had work he was doing, she said, and had left it at that. But Sarah was intuitive, and the little girl knew when her mother wasn't telling her the whole story. May was a terrible liar, she wasn't able to keep a straight face, her lips quivered, and she hadn't looked Sarah in the eyes.

    The daughter felt her mother's warm, comforting body, but also felt something metallic that was in May's left hand. Curious, because she wasn't sure what it was, the little girl moved herself so she could lift the arm. Her mother was asleep by now, she wouldn't wake up, thought Sarah, as she lifted the hand.

    Inside the hand, dangling on her index finger, was a small loop of gold. Sarah's eyes bulged with wonder, it was like a wedding ring from the television! She giggled, was her mother going to get married? Thinking no harm could come of it, she took it from her momma. It was so shiny, even in the darkness of the bedroom. The shiny gold surface…the diamond in the center carved into the shape of a small Contest ribbon, it was perfect. Who had given something like this to her mother?

    Wondering such things, Sarah naturally looked at the inside of the ring for an inscription, which she found etched just below the ribbon diamond. A&M- Forever... To the little girl, the possible romance was too exciting for words, and she almost squealed with delight, but stopped just short of a slight gasp because she didn't want to wake her mom.

    Then, something strange happened. The ring began glowing slightly, and suddenly she was surrounded by darkness. And she was smaller, a lot smaller…like a baby.

    She was being cradled by a dark figure, someone with a sharp face and hair as black as hers. But she didn't scream, no…something about this person was familiar. He was strong, but gentle. Powerful, but kind. It was…almost like Mr. Toby was holding her, but that was impossible. She had never seen Mr. Toby before the Saffron Contest, she hadn't known his name until after he had beaten her mommy. But it was! Or, almost, anyway. In this dream, Keean Toby was much younger, his face wasn't quite so hard, and his body wasn't so big. He was slimmer, his skin was lighter, not the bronzed form the Orre sun had given it. His lips were in a smile, and his arm was entwined with someone who looked like a much younger version of her mother.

    "She's got my eyes," said the man who looked like Mr. Toby, not in his gruff, occasionally strange, Orre dialect, but in a smooth Kanto accent. Sarah didn't understand. Why was he holding her and not her momma? Who was he?

    As if to answer, the figure that looked like Mr. Toby looked down and smiled.


    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Bakaguru Niwa worked tirelessly on the computer. He had not slept in almost forty hours and, being the generally lazy genius that he was, this did not coincide with his normal work ethic. In fact, thought the otaku, this was probably the hardest he had been forced to work in almost a year, not since the overhaul upgrades to the Ranger Systems had his time been so absorbed in work. So much did he wish he could ignore the vast amount of information in front of him and watch some nice, quality anime, preferably one in which the anatomical features of the female characters defied the laws of physics, decency, and common sense, containing their own gravitational pull that so many an innocent men were drawn to touch, then punished furiously for doing so.

    "Are you still awake, sir?" a voice behind him asked. It was 415, who had gone to bed about an hour prior. It was dark, and Bakaguru could see very little other than the glowing haze of his computer screen, so he nodded into the darkness from which her voice originated from. "What are you working on?"

    Bakaguru rubbed his brow. His eyes were crying out in desperation for sleep. "I'm sorry, 415," he replied, "but the information is classified. I need to analyze some data sent to me by Agent 0's Ranger System. After that, maybe, there will be time for sleep." He then turned his face back to his laptop and resumed his typing.

    "Yes, sir," she murmured, then turned to retreat into her bedroom.

    "Wait, 415." The apartment, despite 415's cold, calculating, and, occasionally offensive, personality, was quite filthy. Half-finished takeout and dirty dishes littered the kitchen, which Bakaguru, despite his love of food, had boldly chosen to not venture anywhere near. "Sit down for a moment." 415 brushed aside some of the empty boxes on the couch that the otaku was sitting on, and joined him. "We need to discuss something."

    "What?" she asked. Her voice sounded so innocent, as if she hadn't the slightest idea of what he could be preparing to lecture her about.

    "Your attitude to the Golden Ranger is unacceptable, it must change," he stated. "I am very disappointed in your behavior to not only a commanding officer but also a ranger." He turned to 415, who's face she had chosen to hide in the shadows. "Why do you persist in keeping him down? You realize he will never grow as a leader if he never believes himself to be one."

    415 opted not to answer, possibly, thought Bakaguru, because she was feeling ashamed of herself or, more likely, because she felt she had nothing to apologize for. "He is completely incompetent," she explained. "He fails to grasp the concept of teamwork, he fails to understand basic things like strategy and tactics, and for all the praise heaped on him at headquarters, he remains nothing but an unimpressive celebrity." She curled her hands into fists, and lowered her head. "I just…I cannot fathom why someone like him is assigned to be the leader of the rangers after only three years in PKM."

    Ah… thought Bakaguru. "How many times has your transfer been denied, 415?"

    She counted on her fingers. "One, two, three, four, five times."

    "The rangers are a core part of PKM," Bakaguru muttered. "They are responsible for tactical operations, protecting our targets, and keeping civilians alive. They even have to lead PKM personnel into combat Do you think you would be able to do all of that?"

    "…Yes," she said hesitantly.

    The otaku smiled. "415, do not assume that because you think the Golden Ranger is not the exemplar of perfection that you yourself could be. 0 is young, but so are you. Even with his powers, he is still human. He is still new, he will grow into the hero he is destined to become. And Serena will help him."

    415 understood that, but she didn't necessarily accept the ruling. "I just think that it is unfair, the special treatment he is given."

    "0 has been through much," Bakaguru murmured. "If you were to ask him, he would probably identify himself as one of the most unhappy men in the world. You do know what we forced him to relinquish, correct?"

    "His family, his friends, and his life," 415 answered. She had read up on him before he had been assigned to May Birch's case. "Just like all of us."

    "True," the otaku acknowledged. "But, how many of us were drafted? I remember 0's initiation as Agent 1076. It was not something we ordinarily do, having a married man enter the organization. But we were pressured to do it, and then we were pressured to have him join permanently, after he proved himself so capable." He turned to 415 and removed his glasses. "Never forget that 0 is one of the few of us that were forced to give up our lives. You, me, we gave up our lives of our own free will."

    He yawned and consulted the clock on his computer, which indicated that he still had several hours to go until sunrise. "Go back to bed, 415. I believe I have done enough work this evening, and some rest will do me good."

    She nodded. "Yes, sir," she murmured, and rose from the couch. She walked halfway across the messy room, but abruptly turned around. "Sir?"

    "Yes, 415?"

    "Why did you tell me that?"

    The engineer shrugged. "It seemed like a good idea, 415," he replied cheerfully. "After all, we have only four active PKM Rangers, working in teams of two. There is only so much manpower we have available, I am afraid, since the morphers for the Black and Blue Rangers were retrieved. I must keep a lookout for potential recruits to give recommendations to." He smiled. "Good night, 415."

    She seemed happier at that news and turned to leave. Bakaguru Niwa stretched himself out, before closing down his computer and placing it on the ground. His mind was a blur, the possibilities of the Golden Ranger's new power, the safety of Serena, and now the odd desires of 415...he doubted he would be getting any sleep for quite some time.

    And yet, I cannot help but think of the obsolete morphers… 2 and 4 have been MIA for years. When I examined the morphers, they were too damaged to be safely used, so new ones needed to be made. I wish it didn't take us years to design new morphers… Well, there was nothing that could be done about that. PKM had very powerful rangers already, without much need for more. There were only so many super villains in the world, making more rangers seemed to create the likelihood of more appearing. Plus, Bakaguru created each morpher himself, from scratch, and the new calibrations took so much time.

    I just have to hope 0 and Serena are enough.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    A scream in the alley awoke everyone.

    The sun had barely risen, and many of the people awoken by the screech were quite annoyed by the sound. After all, it was the weekend! The time of rest, or so they thought. But the screaming continued over and over again, as though someone was watching the world's most gruesome horror movie in the dark and had been accidentally spooked. Eventually, a middle aged man, who was rather enjoying a lie-in with his wife, reluctantly shoved himself off the bed and began stumbling in the direction of the window, with the express intent of yelling at whoever was outside for being so rude.

    He put on his pants, quite an important thing for yelling at people, and unbolted the window so he could properly express his displeasure. When he opened the window he took a deep breath, and shouted, at the very top of his lungs, "Shut up down there! Do you have any idea what time it is!" This seemed to distract the offending individual in the alley, who stopped shrieking just long enough to look up at the gentleman.

    "Help!" shouted the girl, her eyes wide with fear. "Somebody get some help down here!" She tried to continue shrieking, but something impeded her from doing so. Most probably it was the fact that spew burst from her lips when she glanced at the thing she was trying so much to get help for. She coughed.

    The middle-aged man, curiosity despite himself, looked down into the alley. It seemed like a perfectly normal, dank alley. Filthy, but that was to be expected. Then, his eyes caught something: a bright spot of red on the ground about the size of a pothole stained the ground. He took a closer look, and noticed what appeared to be a piece of shredded clothing…and lying next to it…

    A human hand.

    The man almost bumped his head when he jammed himself back into his small apartment. Quickly, he rushed into the other room, grabbing the first pair of shoes and shirt that he could find. His wife, confused, looked up from their bed, slightly dozed. "What is it, honey?" she mumbled and rubbed her eyes.

    "Call the police," he said, "I think there's been an accident outside." And, without further explanation he rushed out of his apartment and down the three flights of stairs that led to the entrance of the apartment complex. Within a minute he was in the alley. The girl, too disgusted to even look, pointed in the general direction of the body. Bracing himself, the man looked.

    The body was terribly mutilated, the man guessed a knife had been used for most of the cuts and bruises. The body's…skin looked like it had been run through a sliced grater, the cuts and slashes were so extensive that not a square inch of the body wasn't red with the girl's…something told the man the dead person was a girl…body. She wasn't even recognizable as a girl, her shirt had been cut up and her chest carved out with another knife. The man leaned against a nearby dumpster, and the nice dinner his wife had made him the night before came bursting from his mouth from the corpse's stench. The smell of stale blood, the rotting body… It was sickening.

    The torn dress…it looked like something a schoolgirl might wear, and a horrible realization dawned on the man that the person who stood dead before him was nothing but a child. Her hair, tattered a dismayed with the red blotches from head wounds, was silver, and had been cut in some areas right down to the scalp. Pieces of her skull could be seen.

    The girl who had been screaming…who had called him down here, was standing next to the old man, her eyes showing the extent of her fear. "W-what do we d-do?" she asked in a low voice.

    "My wife's calling the police," whispered the man, also in a low voice. "We wait here until then-they'll want to take down our statements."

    "Okay," she said.

    The police were a long time coming and, when they did, the two looked very pale. The time that had lapsed was enough for them to truly take in the kind of sick, depraved acts that had been committed on the corpse. The bottom half of the corpse…it had been sliced, diced and put on display the sort of sick thing that had happened. The girl couldn't bear to look, and the man would wish forever that he hadn't.

    What kind of sick person had done something like this? And to a child?

    Author's Note: As I mentioned, I really enjoy commentary on some of my work, since it lets me talk about fan-fiction, so here's a little bit for you.

    The chapters in this arc, which introduce Serena and give 0 a possible new romantic interest, were a bit part of the reason it's now taken over six years to finish this story. There was a lot of criticism of the storyline at the time it was originally written, and I wasn't sure why. As it turns out, introducing Serena created this interesting environment that was completely contrary to how a fan-fiction is supposed to work. It forced readers to deal with the possibility that the story might diverge from how they thought it would turn out. It led me to realize that fan-fiction has such expected tropes that it makes people uncomfortable when it challenges those ideas. Honestly, I think that this might be why the story never became incredibly popular. My interest in doing the story slumped, because I couldn't really understand why the character was so polarizing.

    So, as the story continued and the various pieces of it came together in my head, I decided it was more important to explore what could be done with the genre instead of being comfortable, which is why the story is what it is today. And it's all thanks to Serena, everyone's least favorite character (but very much the most important when it came to deciding what sort of story I wanted this to be).
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  3. #28
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Location
    The Batmobile
    Posts
    673

    Default Chapter 15, Part 1

    Morph Fifteen: Sappho's Perfect Plan, Part 1

    The voice hummed lightly in the darkness.

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger could not see in the dark. Unlike the PKM Rangers, those weak fools, Dark Gem Rangers could not amplify themselves with additional skills like heat vision or x-ray. He had to rely on what he could hear, what he could see with his own ears and his own eyes. The Sapphire Scimitar, his favorite toy, hung casually in his left hand, his fingers gently caressing the hilt. When his feet crunched against the unkempt floor, he heard the sound vibrations travel through the air, displaying to him his surroundings.

    He was in a warehouse.

    More specifically, he was in an abandoned warehouse. Around him stood empty shelves, dozens and dozens of them. He walked through the rows, his voice humming naught but a merry tune with his breathing. Again his voice echoed, like a child's laughter, and his hand grazed the edge of one of the shelves. Dust lingered on his fingertips and he glanced at it as if it were some kind of new, foreign thing he had never seen before. He wiped his hand on his sword and continued along his merry way.

    "Oh, Maxy-poo…" he murmured, almost cooing. "Come out, come out, wherever you are." He twirled the scimitar, a small whirling noise issued so he could get a better sense of where he was. There was no light, it was bad for his new partner's training. Max could see perfectly fine, but he needed to be able to do more than that. Their foes could, after all… "Oh, Maxy-poo, I'm gonna kill ya…"

    A sound issued somewhere above him, and he heard a footstep, like someone leaping from shelf to shelf over his head. He stopped, and looked upwards. "Maxy-poo?" he asked the darkness. A growl replied, up and to the left of Sappho's current position. It was savage, that a feral Pokemon might make when approached by a trainer. "Oh, that's not how you get on my good side, Maxy-poo." He giggled and leapt upwards, bouncing off the shelves towards the upper levels where Max was hiding.

    Even in the darkness, it was quite easy to tell where the Dark Emerald Ranger was. His body glimmered in the slight, translucent light that came from cracks and chinks in the ceiling and walls from the outside moonlight. The jaded body, the dark helmet that looked like a wreath of darkness… Max snarled, and flexed his arms against the wrought-iron chains that bound him.

    Sappho grinned, his little apprentice was getting better and better at controlling himself. In their first combat run, Max had attacked like a ravaging monster, too disorientated to do any damage other than a few shots that were more a result of luck and laziness on the Dark Sapphire Ranger's part than any actual skill from Max. Now, however, he was calm, poised, despite under the control of that vengeful spirit that the Dark Emerald was using to control Max. But now the influence was being used properly, like a guiding hand. Max moved tactfully, not haphazardly, in the direction of his prey, using the guiding voice of his Dark Gem to find his way through the darkness towards Sappho.

    But the Dark Sapphire Ranger was quite prepared. He listened carefully, using his own Dark Gem to cheat just a bit, pick up the frequency of the Dark Emerald, just for a peak at his foe's plans. He dodged, just as Max threw a fist towards him and slashed with the scimitar. Max growled and blocked with his arm. The chains and sword gnashed violently with one another, and beneath Sappho's helmet a look of disappointment fell over his face. Max's chains were wound so tightly around his arms that sometimes the shielding felt a bit unfair. The Dark Emerald Ranger growled and dug his fist deep into Sappho's stomach, forcing his mentor back with a slight groan.

    "Very good," murmured Sappho, as Max leapt back to a comfortable distance. "I see you're getting better at controlling yourself. Come on, try to down me. If you can, I'll send you off to play with some friends…"

    "Laaaaade," replied the jade monster. He liked the idea.

    Max looked to the gauntlets on his arms and his chains began loosening into long coils beside his body. He glanced up and launched towards the Dark Sapphire Ranger. This time, he would be the winner of the game. He ran forward, across the rows of shelves, leaping over several, and whipped his chains forward as he struck. Sappho brought up his sword, causing the coil to wrap around it, and twisted Max down several shelves. Just before he hit the floor, Max retracted his chain, forcing Sappho to force against the strain of supporting him as he climbed through the air, throwing the second chain out to curl around the Dark Sapphire Ranger's neck. He bounced off the shelf, tugging at Sappho's neck.

    The evil ranger lost his balance to the jade monster and tumbled off the shelf he had been standing on. As he passed Max in the air, the monster pounced, slamming down on Sappho to heighten acceleration. Both hit the ground hard, but Max cushioned himself with his mentor's body. Releasing his grip on the sword, Max had his second chain wrap itself along Sappho's neck just like the first, and tightened his grip.

    He lifted Sappho's head and leaned in. "Gallade," he muttered, claiming victory.

    Sappho laughed. "Good work, kiddo," he replied, admitting his loss. "Okay, let me go." Max did not lessen his grip, as though his Dark Emerald was whispering new instructions to him. The faceless wreath of Max's visor left no clues as to what he was thinking. "Very funny, Maxy-poo. Let me go before I hurt you…"

    Finally, Max seemed to understand, and retracted his chains before getting off his mentor. He extended his arm and Sappho took it as he regained his composure. "Ready for your first mission?" The Dark Emerald Ranger nodded his head vigorously. The evil ranger laughed and produced two things from his belt: a slip of paper and a syringe.

    "You're going to go bring Golden Boy's girlfriend to me," he murmured and Max growled at the mention of the paladin. "This is the address to go to, and the address for the warehouse I want you to bring her to." He gave Max the paper, which was read quickly then disregarded. "Understand?"

    "Gaaaaaal," replied Max with another nod of his head. Sappho chuckled, his little slave was quite eager. He handed him the syringe.

    "Carry that with you." Max did so. "That's for when you find her. Inject her with that and it'll be easier to bring her. Understand?" Max nodded, so Sappho pointed to the door. "Get going then! Giddy up!" The Dark Emerald Ranger roared, then bounded to the door and vanished into the darkness of the night.

    Alone, Sappho listened as a small noise issued in the darkness. It was a catchy tune, like that of a ring tone. He put his hand to his belt and retrieved a cell phone from one of the pockets. The caller-ID was unmistakably his employers, so he flipped open the tiny phone.

    "Hello?" he asked politely. "Joe's Taxidermy: You Snuff 'Em, we Stuff 'Em. How may I direct your call?"

    "Is it done?" whispered the mysterious voice on the other end.

    "Your order is being processed as we speak," replied Sappho.

    There was a slight cackle. "Good, and the other?"

    "We are experiencing a slight delay, I had to send an errand boy out to fetch something for you. But I will be taking care of the main order myself, sir."

    "Don't fail us."

    "Thank you for choosing Joe's Taxidermy, your one stop shop for all things dead." He closed the phone and put it back into his pocket. He stretched his arms and walked out of the warehouse. He stared up at the moon, and beneath his mask licked his lips.

    "I'm coming for you, May Birchy," he whispered, and leapt off into the night.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The Golden Ranger did not sleep.

    He never slept, of course. The serum that he now depended on to live inhibited his body's sleep requirements by altering his metabolism and various portions of his brain, particularly the hormones produced there, into creating a temporary state in which sleep was unnecessary. But continuous usage like his had resulted in a dependence on the drug, without which he would either die or slip into a vegetative state. In his hand was the syringe he used every forty-two hours, its disposable needle in the trash. But the sun was setting, he had let Serena sleep through the whole day in peace.

    "Pi, any news yet about the Dark Gems and Max?" he asked and leaned against the wall. But the Pikachu had nothing, neither Bakaguru nor 415 had bothered to make contact the whole day, and he had been left alone lying next to Serena waiting for action. It was agonizing not knowing what was going on out there, where Max was and what he was doing, whether Sappho had gotten to the Gym Leader yet. "Maybe they should have brought in 1 and 5 for this operation. They would have kept everyone alive."

    "You don't know that, 0. Besides, the Red and Pink Rangers wouldn't have been the right call for this mission," the mouse answered. "You have history with them, 0. I don't think they would have handled this mission very well."

    0 glanced at his partner. Even though most of her physical injuries had gone away, there was still internal damage she was going to have to deal with before she could return to active duty. "At this point," he muttered, "I think even 415 could do a better job. My partner's wrecked, I lost one of the target's family to the opposite organization, and we've got an evil ranger group on the loose looking for May." He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. "I think Bakaguru was right about putting them in Witness Protection. The further they are from this mess, the safer they'll be."

    The Pikachu sighed. "Got that one right," it replied. "0, I've been analyzing some of the specs from the Golden Ranger uniform, and I came across some files about the Synchronization Drive. Would you like to view them?"

    0 nodded and raised his morpher. "Sure, go ahead," he said. The morpher's base twisted, and a hologram projected itself in the form of a file.

    "Data shows that the Synchronization Drive was originally a project headed by the original Golden Ranger, your predecessor. The prototype was designed and built maybe three to five years ago by the Golden Ranger, but the information was destroyed or encrypted before it could be standardized in the other five rangers."

    "That makes sense. Bakaguru said that the old guy did experiments on his own morpher when he was a part of the original R&D team that created the morphers."

    "It also details plans for a new type of morpher, codename: Ailed. The new morpher was based off of the original designs for the Synchronization Drive, but the original Golden Ranger must have discontinued the idea after discovering the potential for the Auxiliary Pokemon System through Codename Ailed. But there are perfect blueprints of the new morpher located in these files."

    The Golden Ranger whistled softly. "That's interesting, might help Bakaguru make those new morphers he's been wanting to finish. How fast would the new design be to make?"

    "I don't have specs to compare it to, but I'm pretty sure that Bakaguru could finish new morphers within a month's time," Pi guessed. "A lot better than the rate he's going now." 0 knew the former Golden Ranger had designed all the old morphers, and had taken the secrets of the blueprints with him to the grave. He hadn't even told Bakaguru anything about how the morphers worked, only allowing the barest minimum so the engineer could help the rangers. "Pi, made sure that Bakaguru gets these blueprints for Codename Ailed as soon as possible. If nothing else, he can use them to speed up new enhancements for the other rangers."

    "Sending blueprints now," confirmed Pi.

    "Hey, Pi?"

    "Yes?"

    "Where'd you find these?"

    "They were stored in classified files until you activated the Auxiliary Pokemon System," explained Pi. "I suppose that the previous Golden Ranger was paranoid about his designs and sealed them away with a special decryption that activated when we used the Synchronization Drive." It began scanning all the available files, but nothing else surfaced. "Codename Ailed was the only blueprint I could find, there's nothing even remotely connected to a blueprint for the APS or Synchronization Drive. I guess 0 didn't want anyone finding out how to use those."

    "I guess," the Golden Ranger conceded. "But if 0 had access to the Synchronization Drive and all that, why didn't he ever use it? He could have destroyed the one Rangerling that showed up in Saffron. Easily. Why did he die instead?"

    He could practically see Pi shrug. "Got to remember that that Rangerling had a missile it was going to use, that was a lose-lose situation for him. He put the needs of the many over his life. Or maybe he thought his inventions would be better off with someone else."

    "What…do you mean?"

    "The data is still encrypted, but from what I can tell it was specifically calibrated for a specific chain of events. I think that 0 planned for the Dark Gems, and programmed the Synchronization Drive to activate when enough strain is placed on the user of the Golden Ranger System. A sort of time bomb, if you will. He might have even been planning to use it himself, but…"

    "But what?"

    Pi pulled up a set of charts, all of which displayed on the morpher's hologram projector. "These are medical charts detailing the Golden Ranger's stamina, mental status, and physical abilities during the periods of time when he was 0. They are all abnormally high for an individual, well above the spectra of-say Serena-in all areas. I think the scenario he designed the Synchronization Drive to activate in wouldn't work for him, since he would have had to take an obscene amount of stress to activate the weapon on his own."

    "And Ranger Form isn't on par with a Dark Gem Ranger, is it? No wonder he killed himself, he couldn't use his own weapon. He had to find someone else who could. Someone like me."

    "Probably," the Pikachu said. Another set of charts emerged, displaying the medical charts for the current Golden Ranger. "These are your charts, indicating high levels of stress which would quickly activate the Synchronization Drive without difficulties. You were probably selected for this reason to become the second Golden Ranger."

    The Golden Ranger glanced outside the window, to the Petalburg Gym. "How's our target tonight?" he asked, changing the subject.

    "All's quiet in the Gym," Pi reported. "Nobody's left the building all day, and the target has been by the phone all day. Records show that she's been making calls to the police department. Doesn't she know you can't report kidnapping until forty-eight hours have passed?"

    "Her brother's who knows where," 0 muttered and rubbed his brow. "Makes sense she'd be worried. She in bed now?"

    "Yes."

    "Good. Let's hope she gets some sleep tonight."

    He glanced over to Serena, who was starting to stir from her unconsciousness. She blinked a few times, then tilted her neck to look up at her partner. "Hey," she murmured, then coughed. "How's your day been?"

    "Unproductive," was his response.

    She sighed. "Too bad. I, on the other hand, have been having some very interesting dreams. Most of them about you, and me, and a hot tub, and some-"

    "3!" The Golden Ranger disliked learning about explicit scenarios of which he was the co-star. "How are you feeling? Any better from yesterday?"

    Serena glanced down. "Why don't you look for yourself," she murmured, and winced slightly when she turned her head. "My neck hurts, I don't think I can look at my own body…" She pulled off her covers, displaying a sight which instantly caused 0 to avert his gaze and face the wall within moments of its unveiling.

    "Use a mirror," he suggested.

    "Could you please try to be a bit professional?" Serena asked. "I'm in serious pain here…the least you could do is help me so I could get better." 0 hadn't thought of it like that. "So, can you pull off helping me?"

    "That depends," replied 0, "can you pull off professional?"

    "Good comeback,," retorted the White Ranger. "Seriously. My skin's healed, but there's muscle damage that needs to be checked." After 0 made it clear he would not be inspecting her naked, Serena begrudgingly covered her chest and thighs with pieces of the blanket. "There, happy?"

    "Very much so," he said and got to work. The serum that Bakaguru had injected Serena with was a mutated form of the one he was dependant on. As such, the serum was designed to repair and heal the structure of the body, not prolong its function like his. "Your skin indicates no damage. No breaks or tears. Turn over." Serena got on her front and allowed 0 to inspect her back for damage. "It's clean. I'll check your muscles now."

    "Mmm…be gentle," she murmured, as she felt his hands wrap around her calves to test their strength, very similar to how a masseur would handle a customer.

    "Upper legs have some tearing," he noted, as his hands moved upward. "Do your bones feel bruised when I apply pressure?"

    "Not yet."

    "That's good." Her upper body, however, had some severe trauma along the ribcage and arms and she winced when he applied pressure on her bones. "Does this hurt?" She nodded. "That's what I thought. There's still bruising in the ribs and tearing in the chest and arms muscles. It's gonna take a bit longer to heal. The serum didn't handle most of the internal damages, so you won't be able to fight…you'll tear your muscles apart from the inside."

    She groaned. "Just great," she grumbled. "Is there anything we can do to speed up the process?"

    0 thought for a moment. "The serum he gave you is essentially the same compound I use," he said. "Alcohol consumption has been found to extend the lifespan of my serum, it might enhance the effects of yours." He headed for the fridge and retrieved two longnecks. He popped open the bottles. "Can you drink?"

    She strained her body and shifted her pillow so she was in a half-sitting position. "My arms hurt," she said. "Can you help me?"

    He nodded and tipped the bottle for her. A lightweight, Serena could barely make it past the second sip before she took the bottle out of her mouth and gasped. The Golden Ranger chuckled and drank his own beer. "Come on, 3, take your medicine." Serena gave him a dirty look before allowing him to tip the bottle back into her mouth. "There you go, Snorlax, the whole bottle." When the White Ranger finished the bottle, 0 set it down and enjoyed what remained of his own. "Feel any better?"

    Serena smiled. "A little bit, but I don't think it's 'cause I'm healing."

    "0."

    The Golden Ranger's morpher started glowing, and he put his hand to the com-link in his ear. "What is it, Pi?" he asked.

    "We have a problem. My cameras are picking up hostile movement in the Petalburg Gym, confirmed to be the Dark Sapphire Ranger. He's going on the offensive."

    "Got it," he muttered. "I'm on my way."

    "Gotta go play hero, huh?" Serena asked. Instead of answering, the Golden Ranger went over to the kitchen and opened one of the cabinets, pulling out a gun and two clips of ammo. He slid one into the gun's butt, and handed it to Serena.

    "In case the other one comes," he said and put the other clip under her pillow. "If he does, just run. You can't risk fighting right now." He clasped her hands around the gun and she hid it under her blanket.

    "Come back to me in one piece," she whispered, as he released her hands.

    He grinned. "Stay in one piece," he told her and headed out the door. As he did, he lifted his morpher to his chest and the rough clothes that compiled his normal outfit transformed into the PKM civilian uniform, the goggles falling over his eyes as he shut the door.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Sarah Birch yawned. She really wanted to go to bed.

    But her mommy wasn't ready to yet. Like a mother bird watching over her nest, she had perched over the phone all day, calling the police about Uncle Max. So far, nothing…not even the slightest hint of his whereabouts. When she wasn't calling the station, she had been staring at the news channel, waiting for some sign of the bad blue ranger that had shown up just before Uncle Max had disappeared.

    Sarah looked up from the couch, very much in need of sleep. Her mom was on the phone again, her voice was like when Sarah had gotten lost at a Contest, and had left a match to go look for her. She's really worried, thought Sarah sadly. She was worried about her uncle too, of course, but she also knew that Uncle Max was a lot tougher than he looked. He could handle himself.

    "Mommy?" asked Sarah and began wandering towards May. "I'm tired…"

    Her mother set down the phone and sighed, before offering a smile and picking up her daughter. "I'm sorry, honey," cooed May and patted Sarah's head, "why don't you go upstairs to my room? I'll be up in a little while, I'm just going to make another call."

    "Noooooo," Sarah protested. "I want you to tuck me in…"

    May sighed. "Okay, sweetie, let's go to bed." Sarah grinned in triumph as her mother got off the chair and led her upstairs to her bedroom. Sarah practically pranced her way into her mother's bedroom, leaping into the giant, fluffy bed the instant her mother opened the door. The bed creaked from the sudden leap and her mother chided her for it. "Don't jump on the bed, baby girl," she said slightly sternly, "I don't want to have to replace the mattress again."

    "Okay Mommy," she replied sweetly and dove into the covers. She was already in her pajamas, so she waited while her mother changed into her nightgown. Sarah watched, her mother was really pretty. She wanted to be pretty when she grew up too, and May constantly assured her she would be. "Momma, sleepy."

    "Coming, baby girl," she answered and climbed into bed. She wrapped her arms around her daughter. "You okay, Sarah?"

    The daughter turned around, her dark eyes smiling. "Uncle Max will come back. And those good guys will keep us safe."

    CRASH.

    With a sound as ungraceful as it was ill-timed, the entire west end of the Petalburg Gym detonated, sending the building shattered to the ground. Support beams gave way, floors tumbled, and the walls caved in as pieces of the Gym began scattering to the ground in massive pieces. May, acting on instinct, assumed the fetal position and tucked Sarah into her body. The ceiling above them groaned, and the mother decided that it was now time to leave.

    "Sarah, let's go!" she screamed and pulled her child out of bed. Sarah, still exhausted, barely made it out of the bed before a support beam crashed down, destroying the bed they had only moments ago been sleeping in. "Come on, we have to get outside!" Norman and Caroline were already dashing down the hallway to them.

    "Are you alright?" asked Caroline, concerned.

    "Fine, just move!" replied May, and the foursome rushed down the collapsing stairs. Norman, the last one down, crashed to the floor when the boards beneath him gave way and groaned. "Dad, are you okay?"

    The old man grinned. "Looks that way," he muttered and hauled himself to his feet. The exit was blocked off by debris, but he led them to an emergency door that took them outside into the cold night air. Behind them, the remainder of the building gave a loud grumble, before it went down completely, a giant cloud of dust scattering through the air.

    A loud laugh echoed through the surroundings, one which May and Sarah recognized very well belonging to the evil ranger that pursued them.

    "Well, well, well," murmured the Dark Sapphire Ranger, as he emerged from a massive pile of debris carrying a giant support beam. "You're faster than I thought, May. Much faster, anyone else might have accidentally gone splat!" He giggled. "Let's fix that!" He gave a loud shout and swung the support beam at the family like a boomerang.

    "Go!"

    A figure which moved too quickly to be seen leapt over them-only Sarah's eyes were fast enough to track him: a man wearing a dark gold and black suit. He gave an echoing grunt and kicked the beam away using only his momentum and speed. The beam, while it seemed very determined to kill the family, issued a massive ding from the blow and hurled away harmlessly, smashing into what remained of a segment of wall, which folded instantly. He landed in front of them and Sarah gasped.

    The dark warrior. He looked almost-no, exactly, like the drawing she had done. Like a picture come to life, his dark hair flowed in the wind, let loose and wild from the speed of his attack. His uniform, while black, had dabs of gold all along it, particularly on the shoulders of the jacket, where a 0 was inscribed on both sides. Goggles concealing his identity, he looked behind at the family, and grinned.

    It was the Golden Ranger, the paladin who saved them over and over again.

    "Everyone okay?" he shouted in an oddly familiar voice.

    Sarah cheered. "We're a-okay!" she squealed with excitement.

    "Sarah!" snapped May, before looking at the dark warrior. "We're fine! But my father has been injured!"

    "What are you babbling about, girl?" the old man demanded. "I'm fine!" But from the way he was standing, the Golden Ranger estimated he had a few minutes left before the bone broke from the pressure of standing. He put his hand to his ear, where a small cell-phone device was located.

    "Send emergency signal to 003 and 415," he ordered someone Sarah couldn't see, before turning around to face Sappho, who was beginning to work his way out into the open. Behind the group a small crowd was beginning to gather from something, and roadblocks were being set up by people in police uniforms. "Now I have to deal with you again." He lowered his head and lifted a watch-like device to his face, as if he were about to time himself for something.

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    A bright golden light emerged around the ranger and his armor surrounded him. Pieces of a dark helmet appeared and floated above his head, scattered into five pieces, not including the golden triangle that was his faceplate. The remainder of his uniform, decked in black and gold, surrounded him before it clasped itself on him, tightening and binding with wires and metal. First his arms, then his legs, and lastly his chest and back. His moniker, the Pikachu face, formed on his chest and glowed. Finally, the helmet clamped on and the triangle visor turned upside-down and shut over his face.

    The transformation complete, the Golden Ranger extended his right hand and a massive sword materialized out of absolutely nowhere, as large as the ranger himself. "Bolt Blade!" he exclaimed and heaved the behemoth weapon into attack position, its tip pointed dangerously at his adversary. But the Dark Sapphire Ranger was ready and the powerful scimitar emerged from his chains, as if a part of him, and he flexed his grip in his left hand quite easily.

    "May Birch," said the Golden Ranger, his voice now synthesized with some sort of computer to make it deeper and more powerful. "Get your family to safety. Your survival is my primary concern." He turned to them and his visor glinted in the light of a nearby streetlamp. "I fight best when others aren't in danger." She nodded and drew her family close to her. Sarah wanted to watch, but was dragged away by her mother and grandparents away from the brawl.

    Even from the distance she could see. The paladin roared and moved so quickly that Sarah could barely keep up with his moves. Sappho hardly could either, as noticed by his floppy swordsmanship. The Golden Ranger struck like a lightning bolt, swinging his sword like a mighty battleaxe, slashing at the evil ranger and the ground alike as he parried and lunged for the giant sapphire on the dark ranger's chest. Sappho could barely bring himself to dodge and parry, slashing back with every bit the murderous intent he craved. He screamed bitterly whenever struck by the powerful sword and giggled with triumph whenever his toothpick of a sword stabbed through 0's speed and halted the paladin, however briefly.

    "He's gonna win," whispered Sarah to her mother, who had joined Sarah near the police lines to watch the brawl, as had apparently the entire police force of Petalburg. Even Officer Jenny, normally such a calm individual, was eagerly awaiting the outcome, her hand so gently placed on her handgun as she watched with bated breath the titanic battle.

    "I hope so," May replied. Sarah could practically hear her mother's heart racing as she looked on at the fight. The paladin gleamed in the moonlight as he dove and struck through the air, bursting in and out of his high-speed attacks to slash Sappho. Both mother and daughter could practically feel the cracks of lighting that issued every time 0 vanished in a bolt of speed.

    "Download Lightning Laser," ordered the Golden Ranger, and in his free left hand his second weapon materialized. Dual wielding, 0 quickly found himself outclassing the Dark Sapphire Ranger, bursting forward for speedy strikes followed by long-distance blasts with the shotgun. Sappho shrieked and swung his blade down.

    0 blocked with his sword, using the massive blade as a shield, before shooting Sappho point-blank with the Lightning Laser. The evil ranger staggered back and 0 pressed his advantage, battering Sappho over the head with his behemoth blade, sending the dark man tumbling to the ground gripping his head in pain.

    "That's-that's not nice, Golden Prick," growled Sappho and pushed himself back onto his feet. Again, 0 swatted him down, making absolutely sure that all the fight was forced out of the Dark Sapphire Ranger.

    "Think I care in the slightest about your well-being, Sapphy?" retorted the dark warrior. The gun struck the evil ranger's face and sent him flying into a nearby pile of debris. The entire crowd winced from the sheer echo the blow created. The Golden Ranger looked back to Sarah and May, to make certain of their safety, then marched to where Sappho lay, making sure to keep his gun trained on the pile with his sword prepped for combat.

    A loud sound, something vaguely like a piece of meat being cleaved, echoed through the battlefield. Sappho, clever and cunning, had his body half-raised, his arm extended like he had thrown something. 0 gasped, then looked down as he fell to his knees. Sticking out of his side was the Sapphire Scimitar, buried almost to the hilt in his flesh. It had passed through the metal and wires of the Golden Ranger's uniform and stuck out the other side of his body.

    "Oy…" groaned 0. "This probably isn't good."

    Sappho giggled. "Ya think?" He lunged up and drilled the sword in as far as it would go, jamming the sword into 0's ribcage. Another slicing noise issued as the blade started carving upwards along 0's body, heading towards his vital organs. The Golden Ranger grabbed the blade, just before it started on his lungs and grunted from the strain it was inducing. "What's the matter, little golden boy? Having a little trouble with my sword?"

    "S-shut u-up, b-bastard," 0 groaned. Little by little the sword was coming out, the Golden Ranger had had to drop his weapons to grab the handle and pry it out. Using one hand he held back Sappho, while the other reached behind his back to pull out a blue Poke Ball. "Auxiliary Pokemon System- Rio Form!"

    To Sarah, who had been watching the warrior with horror, the new transformation looked like salvation. Glowing blue lights etched themselves along 0's arms, and extra armor in the shape of a Riolu's paws formed on the forearms and hands, clamping onto his body exactly like the Golden Ranger uniform had. The bottom half of 0's visor turned blue and he tilted his head.

    "Time for payback!" he exclaimed and smashed both sides of Sappho's helmet with his fists. The Dark Sapphire Ranger released his grip on the sword, allowing 0 the chance to not only remove it, but drive it into the evil ranger's shoulder. "How's that taste?" Before Sappho could respond, the Golden Ranger leapt up and away, as if he was completely undamaged, and landed near May and Sarah.

    "Hey," he said, his breath ragged. "You guys okay?" Blood dripped from his midsection.

    "You're wounded!" May exclaimed and pointed to the injury. "You need treatment!"

    The Golden Ranger waved off her concern. "Relax, I'll be okay. I've taken damage much worse than this before. Just gotta beat him down until he goes away again." He heard a shriek and sighed. "Guess that's my cue," he grumbled and grabbed his side before leaping right back into combat. The Bolt Blade was in his arms within moments and he tore through the wreckage of the Petalburg Gym searching for Sappho.

    "Come out come out wherever you are," called 0, as he stepped over some garbage into a broken room, some of which was still structurally intact. It looked like the kitchen, judging from the pots and pans strewn around the floor. He accidentally stepped on one and the noise echoed through the wreckage. "Lu, where is he?"

    "Scans aren't finding anything, sir," reported the Riolu sadly. "Wherever he is, he's playing hide and seek pretty well." 0 switched his vision from standard to heat and the colors changed from the real world to heat signatures. But everything was cold, or charred red on various edges from pieces of fire that flickered from the damage. The Golden Ranger swung his sword through the air, mocking the hiding ranger.

    STAB.

    0 went down. Instead of his stomach, this time the sword protruded from his wounded shoulder, creating agony unlike anything he had ever experienced. He glanced down, the sword's tip had sliced through the muscle in his shoulder. The Golden Ranger then felt the boot of his adversary on his back as he fell over.

    "That's definitely not good," he groaned.

    "Ya think?" asked the Dark Sapphire Ranger, sarcasm dripping with every syllable. He dug the sword in, twisting and grinding against the bone and muscle tissue. Somewhere, there was a scream, and 0 became vaguely aware of a weight lifting off his back. He checked his stats, the Rio Form had taken too much damage, and had powered down to Ranger Form. Someone was lifting him up, he looked up and got the shock of his life.

    May Birch was trying to help him to his feet. Nearby, Sappho was flat on his face, quite surprised to have been pushed down by a civilian. "Are you okay?" she asked, supporting him on her shoulders. 0 marveled at her strength, he was much heavier than when he was demorphed. He tried to get her away and stood on two shaky legs by himself, forcing his body in between the recovering Dark Emerald Ranger and May.

    "Get outta here," he mumbled. His fingers were weak, but he still gripped the handle of his Bolt Blade and transferred it to his other hand, dragging it along the ground as he proceeded forward. "Need to…need to…"

    "You!" shouted Sappho, as he leapt to his feet and rushed forward. 0 was powerless to stop him, the Synchronization Drive wasn't working anymore and Pi couldn't warn him in time. He was thrown to the ground like a rag doll, ignored in favor of a much more virile target prospective for Sappho. "How dare you hit me?" The Dark Sapphire Ranger advanced and violently bashed May across the face, sending her flying into the Golden Ranger.

    Sarah shouted out in concern, and almost ran towards the fight, but her grandfather stopped her. "No Sarah!" Norman shouted and forced her to stay. "They'll kill you!"

    The Golden Ranger grabbed May, checking her vitals. She was okay, even conscious. "Why did you come here?" he asked her and helped her to her feet. "It's dangerous even for me. Now we're both going to die." He looked to Sappho, who seemed quite excited about the prospect of killing the two of them. "You should have stayed with your daughter." He grabbed his sword and started to climb up it to keep standing.

    "I'm not the type to let others do my fighting for me," she retorted and withdrew a Poke Ball from her pajamas. "You need another one?"

    He shook his head. "I'm afraid that's not how it works," he replied. "Pokemon need to be registered to me to be able to work with my Ranger System." The sword dematerialized suddenly, apparently to converse energy with the suit, and he stumbled before regaining his footing. "Just great." He grabbed a nearby two-by-four instead and swung it at Sappho, who dodged it quite easily.

    "You're done, Golden Ranger," muttered the Dark Sapphire Ranger. "And your little girlfriend is too. She's being taken care of by my new plaything, Maxy-poo."

    0 froze at the news. Serena was too injured to do anything to stop a fight, but May gasped at the sound of Max's name. "What did you do to him?" she shrieked at the evil ranger and rushed him. Sappho, to demonstrate his power, even allowed her to reach him, to hit him, to insult him, before finally sighing and punching May in the jaw. Her head snapped back and she fell to the ground, knocked out.

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger, against the protests of his adversary, picked up May quite unceremoniously and slung her over his shoulder, taking special care to feel her up with his gloves as he did so. "Been fun, Golden Boy, but I've got to go now. Call me later, we'll do lunch." He laughed and bounded away from the scene, to who knew where. The police, seeing he had a hostage, gave chase, but 0 knew he would escape and remained where he stood, before his legs finally gave out and he collapsed to the ground.

    A few minutes later, he heard the sounds of footsteps echoing through the wreckage, and looked up. Sarah Birch was standing over him, horrified at what had been done to him. 0 groaned and tried to cover his wounds to stop the bleeding, but some of it continued to spill out, damaging the systems in his arm and chest. "Sarah Birch," he muttered, barely breathing, "what are you doing here?"

    Sarah, acting as though she didn't hear him, ran up to him and hugged him. "Where's Mommy?" she asked and the Golden Ranger heard the fear in her voice. "First Uncle Max, then Mommy… What do they want?"

    The Golden Ranger didn't know the answer to that question. "I don't know," he said and put his arm around the girl. "But I'm going to find out, and bring them back to you." She pulled away and smiled at him, though he could see the tears that were running down her face. "I promise."

    "You mean it?" she asked.

    He nodded. "I do. Hang on…" He opened communications to Bakaguru and 415. "Agents 003 and 415 respond. Emergency."

    "This is 003, we read you," answered the otaku.

    "Target kidnapped, possibly Agent 3 kidnapped as well. I have the target's daughter with me right now and the grandparents. It's time for them to go into protective custody."

    "Roger, we'll be there soon." The communication ended.

    "There we go," said the Golden Ranger. "Now my friends are coming to get you and take you somewhere safe. Go to the police, they're already being told about my friends."

    "But what about you?"

    He chuckled. "Just let me rest a little while, I'll be fine. Keep the cops away, and make sure you hide until my friends get down here."

    "Okay," said the little girl. She turned to leave, but stopped and faced him. "Mr. Toby, bring my Mommy back."

    0 laughed and some blood spattered on the inside of his monitor. "How'd you guess, Sarah?" he asked. There was no longer any fear of keeping his cover a secret, not with Bakaguru and 415 on their way for the family.

    "You looked like Lu when you were fighting," she said. Then she left.

    0 looked up into the dark sky and sighed. "Of course," he muttered and lowered his head to let Pi revive the Ranger System.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  4. #29
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    Default Chapter 15, Continued

    Morph Fifteen: Sappho's Perfect Plan, Part 2

    She was quite beautiful, thought the Dark Emerald Ranger, as he crept down the wall. His chains, shackled to the mortar of the building, helping his scale down to the exact address that the Dark Sapphire Ranger had given him. He growled when he reached the correct window and peered inside.

    She was lying down on the floor, resting comfortably upon a small bed-like mat in the middle of the apartment. The quiet, stillness of her breathing excited the voice in the back of his head, as did the soft, silver hair that trailed over the floor next to her pillow and across her face. The dark ranger decided to be quiet, or so the voice in his head lead him to believe. Be quiet, it said, as even in the state she had been beaten into the PKM White Ranger was not someone to be trifled with. He was still a young Dark Gem Ranger, not powerful enough to fight all-out.

    He reached for the window with one of his gauntlets and found that it opened quite easily to his touch. Perhaps the paladin had forgotten to lock it, thought the Dark Emerald Ranger through his emerald, and inched it open quietly. Once the space was wide enough for him to crawl through, the ranger squeezed into the apartment and shut it behind him.

    His visor did not make him immune to the smells and sights of the world. It was dimly lit in the apartment, he didn't dare turn the lights on. His nose took in the scent of stale booze, probably what the paladin drank… He began walking through the small apartment, his chains clinking only ever so slightly as he stepped nimbly on his tiptoes towards his prey. He reached into his belt and pulled out the syringe that his partner had given him. It was filled with such a nasty little sleeping potion, after all he didn't want Miss Brine to struggle on the way back to their lair. She wasn't to be hurt, those were the Dark Sapphire Ranger's orders, and he didn't dare defy him.

    Inject her, whispered the voice. Inject her and let's go. Your tamer is waiting. Not wishing to disappoint the voice that was his master, Max bent over Serena's soft, cool body and placed the syringe's needle by her neck. He had to hit the jugular, failure meant that his mission would be very difficult indeed. He lowered the needle and, just as easy as winking, jabbed the tip into her skin.

    Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

    Searing pain invaded the Dark Emerald Ranger's chest and he staggered away from Serena's body. Six bullets had somehow found their way into his body, penetrating his shoulder, liver, and stomach through the rough fabric his uniform was made of. Most of the bullets had ripped completely through his body, and the caps were trickling down to the ground against the wall behind him. He gasped, there were holes in both his lungs…

    Serena looked up and showed him the gun she had been carefully concealing. "Think I'm just gonna sit here and let you kill me?" she asked with a coy look. "I don't think so." She lowered her weapon, training it on the Dark Emerald Ranger's heart. "0 might think you can be trained, but I beg to differ." She checked her clip, it still had two shots left, so she grabbed a second clip and held it close on standby.

    Max felt dizzy, two of the bullet were still lodged inside him, one in his left lung and one that had pierced his liver. "Laaaaaaaade," growled the Dark Emerald Ranger and coughed, blood dripping into the inside of his helmet. The voice inside his head told him not to worry, all would be well. Max's muscles strained in his chest and abdomen, pushing the bullets out by force. The Dark Emerald flashed and two chinks issued as both caps fell from his body to the ground and his wounds sealed up.

    Serena groaned. "That's not good," she whispered. The monster began advancing, slowly stepping forward to her, reaching out with his hands. Serena fired off the final two bullets, smashing into the evil ranger's heart with both shots. Max faltered, just long enough for the White Ranger to reload her weapon. "Get away!" All eight shots went off, bursting through his body and forcing the monster down. His body ripped through by multitudes of bullets, the Dark Emerald Ranger went down, gasping for breath, as his lungs had collapsed and his heart was pumping lead through his body.

    Serena rose from her bed, ignoring the pain running rampart through her body and backed away from the twitching body. "Open communications with 0," she ordered, raising her morpher to her lips. "0, you there?"

    The communicator was scrappy, primarily because 0 was engaged in the heat of combat, and his suit's AI was busy maintaining damage control. "3, kinda busy right now," muttered 0, and the static in the background conveyed that he was smashed across the face and sent hurling to the ground. "What?"

    "The green one's here," she explained. "What do I do?"

    0's voice stopped. "…You unload the gun?"

    "Yes. He's still coming. His Dark Gem seems to come with a healing factor."

    "I can't…" The voice was static, with glitches. "You have-away from him-now. He won't-until you're-dead. Move!" The transmission cut off, after a resounding grunt issued from the Golden Ranger as a result of an injury. Serena winced, 0 sounded like he was in a tremendous amount of pain. She gathered the sheets that 0 had left around her body and ran into the other room just long enough to don a shirt, some pants, and a pair of sandals before bolting out of the door.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger panted and groaned, waiting for the Dark Emerald to heal his body of the damage it had sustained. His wounds slowly filled up, nowhere near as quickly as he wanted them to. The bullets dripped out of his body one by one and the holes in his chest sealed up again, mending the fabric and his skin into perfect shape. Even the blood he had lost returned to him and the fuzzy haze that was his vision cleared. He took a breath and let out a low growl as he stood up, hunched over from rage, and proceeded to follow his prey.

    He tore through what remained of the door, smashing through a piece of the wall in the process. Bodies surrounded him, concerned neighbors who obviously had no idea what was going on. It made Max's job simpler, as they would make a trail that could lead him to Serena. He plowed through them, without any concern for public safety or the body count that might incur from his exploits. He smashed through the crowd, following the breadcrumbs that would lead him to his prey. He rushed down the stairs, following the breathing he could hear from Serena, and before too long he was right behind her.

    She turned around once, just to make sure the clinking of chains she was hearing belonged to the Dark Emerald Ranger, before doubling her speed. Yet, even the added burst of distance did little to impede Max, who grabbed her and threw her to the ground. Serena spun and drew out her gun again. The gun clicked, out of ammo, as the Dark Emerald Ranger growled then jabbed the needle into her vein and injected her with the serum. Once the syringe was empty, Serena's eyes fluttered, then clamped shut as she drifted into unconsciousness. The Dark Emerald Ranger glanced over her, making sure she was asleep. When the voice in his head assured him she was, Max lifted Serena up, and hauled her over his shoulder.

    There were others in the corridor, children awing at the dark ranger in the corner, women cowering in fear, men with baseball bats waiting for him to lower his guard even for a moment. He snarled at them, scaring them into backing off, terrified of him. He began walking away, out in the direction of the exit door. He smashed through the door, only to find an entire squad of police standing outside the apartment complex waiting for him. One, presumably the leader, stood up from the rest and raised a megaphone to her lips.

    "This is the Petalburg City Police!" announced Officer Jenny, her azure hair fluttering in the wind. "Put the girl down and place your hands in the air! You are under arrest!" The voice inside Max's head didn't like the sound of the megaphone, it sounded so annoying and irritating. It didn't want Max in jail, the Dark Emerald had plans that couldn't be accomplished with that. The evil ranger looked upwards, scanning the surrounding buildings. The chains on his arms began elongating, clinking to the ground.

    "Gallade," hissed the dark ranger, before he threw his free arm out. The chain connected to it flew up into the air, latching onto the topmost ledge of the building across the street. "Lade, Gallade!" Before Officer Jenny and the other police could draw their guns, the Dark Emerald Ranger retracted his chain, sending his body spiraling up into the air. Making sure his grip on Serena was secured by binding her with some of the other chains, he used his other arm's bindings to latch to another building and swing through the street, never lower than twenty feet from the ground.

    Bullets whizzed through the air, they all missed. The Dark Emerald knew they would. The chances of bullets fired from standard issue guns police used hitting someone wearing the Dark Emerald uniform, which was so difficult to spot in the dark, were barely nil. The Dark Gem began whispering to him again, telling him to get away from the light, the light that could be used to trace him… He had to get back to his tamer, then he could be caught. Then he needed to be caught.

    After some time he stopped wondering about the lights, he had managed to escape them, and arrived in the warehouse district where his tamer was waiting for him. He dropped to the ground, right in front of a warehouse numbered 435, and the chains retracted into his gauntlets as he walked forward and opened the door.

    "Good work, Maxy-poo," murmured Sappho's hideous, giddy voice. "She give you any trouble." In his grunting, angry voice, Max explained his annoyance at the police and the lengthened capture of Serena, along with the bullets he had had to force out of his body. "Well, that can't be all bad. After all, you got the job done." He exited from the shadows and Max dragged himself towards his tamer, bearing his still-breathing cargo. Serena groaned in his arms, so he shook her to make sure she stayed quiet.

    Sappho led him up a flight of stairs to another room, one with apparently a better ambiance for whatever it was that the Dark Sapphire Ranger was planning. A rack of chains sat waiting for Serena Brine, which Max helped his tamer chain her up to, placing both her arms in the shackles and raising her up so she was suspended in midair, her head flopping up and down as she swayed.

    "Good," said Sappho, his visor glistening. "Very good, our second guest is in place." Max looked next to Serena, where another woman was swaying, clasped in midair just like Serena. Her brown hair, the simple innocence of her face… There was no doubt, it was his sister. May looked hurt…her eyes were black, her clothes were shredded, and a small pool of blood sat beneath her, counting the bruises on her body.

    Max suddenly-something filled his mind with rage at the sight. He hated how his sister looked. The chains around his body shattered and he transformed back into his human form, breathing heavily from the effects of the transformation. "W-what have you done to her?" he gasped, and glared at the Dark Sapphire Ranger with a face most malicious.

    "I?" inquired Sappho with a curious tone. "No, Maxy-poo, it was not I who hurt your beloved sister. It was Golden Boy, the evil paladin, who did this to her. He broke your sister, broke her into a million pieces. Every bruise made him giggle, every bone shattered with a cheery smile. He loved it, Maxy-poo, loved it to death."

    With each word, the Gym Leader's fist tightened with rage. His breathing accelerated, his heart rate rose. The Dark Emerald against his chest roared for the Golden Ranger's blood. "You brought her here to help her," he murmured. Yes, the Dark Gem on his chest murmured. That made perfect sense. "So, where's the prey?" Sappho smiled at that.

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger seemed to glitter in the hazy light of the warehouse room. "I was hoping you'd ask that, little one," he whispered, and patted Max on the shoulder. "You remember the Petalburg Gym, where Ms. Birch lives, right?"

    "Yeah…I am-or I was-the Gym Leader there," Max replied.

    The evil ranger sighed with concern. "You see, Maxy-poo, I left our little paladin there and he's still waiting for you to finish the job. I didn't want to kill him, I thought it would be so much more poetically just if it was you who finished him off!" He cackled and the Dark Emerald Ranger grinned at the thought of settling his score with 0.

    "I think I can do that," Max said and felt his Dark Gem burn against his skin, wishing to be used. "I can kill him?"

    Sappho nodded quite eagerly. "Do what you wish with him," he murmured. "I just want you to have fun with your new abilities, Maxy-poo, and there's nothing better than beating up someone who you hate!" He threw his head back and cackled. His slave joined in with a merry giggle. The Dark Emerald Ranger clasped his hands together in glee, then left the warehouse, wrapping his chain up his right arm, across his shoulders, and down his left almost as casually as if he were slipping on a sweater. His eyes brimming with malice, he practically felt the emerald aura that surrounded him as he pressed the Dark Emerald into his flesh and his voice echoed through the abandoned warehouse district.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    The transformation enveloped him in azure fire before the armor clasped onto his body, sliding over his chest, legs, and arms before clamping down over his head and covering his face. When the chains were secure, Max leapt up, swinging along his chain to return to the Gym, the very place where the Golden Ranger, the evil paladin, had tried to kill his sister.

    As he swung through the city, and landed in the wreckage that was left of the Gym, he thought about all the different ways he could make the Golden Ranger, the one who called himself 0, pay for his crime. Perhaps he would rip the head off the monster, or maybe stab him to death with a nearby two-by-four. Or, just as good, he could choke 0 to death with his chains. All three would work perfectly, whispered the Dark Emerald to Max, and it led him right through the damaged building right to where the Golden Ranger lay slumped against the wall, breath barely audible.

    He glanced up through his visor and a groan penetrated the building. "Great," he grumbled, "it's the rookie." After some apparent effort, the Golden Ranger rose to his feet and shouldered his giant sword. "Max, I really, really don't have time to fight you right now. Can we just cut to the part where I beat you, turn you over to my side, and you show me where Sappho took May and 3 in the styling of an old-fashioned good guy/bad guy team up?"

    Max roared, which was quite contrary to the evil paladin's plans. "Well, that's too bad," 0 murmured. "Guess I have to beat it out of you, huh?" He heaved up his behemoth sword, but before the fight could really get underway, Max took off. "Hey, get back here! I'm not finished with you!" The Golden Ranger followed in hot pursuit, exactly what the Dark Emerald Ranger wanted.

    He led the paladin outside and from there began to swing through the city yet again. 0, not wishing to be outdone, caused a beautiful motorcycle to materialize in front of him. The engine revved and the Golden Ranger took off after him, breaking through the police roadblocks and darted through traffic in order to follow the Dark Emerald Ranger.

    Max led him into the warehouse district, just as his Dark Emerald told him, only he led the Golden Ranger away from where Sappho was hiding into another, abandoned-looking warehouse that would serve his purposes perfectly. From what the Dark Sapphire Ranger had told him, 0 lived alone. It seemed fitting that he should die alone too.

    He broke into the warehouse window and leapt down to the floor, his Dark Emerald absorbing the majority of the damage sustained from the impact of his feet against the floor. The Golden Ranger was hot on his heels and rammed through the warehouse wall underneath the windows, which caved in and allowed the motorcycle enough room for the Golden Ranger to rip through it. He stopped twenty feet from the Dark Emerald Ranger and disembarked. The motorcycle flared in with a bright light, then vanished into nothingness. A shotgun appeared in his hand.

    "This is gonna suck," muttered 0.

    Author's Note: I was looking around online and actually read a fan-fiction today whose author mentioned they were tired of the cliches in most fan-fiction today, particularly romantic stories. I couldn't have agreed more with them, since most of what I've been doing with this story is wondering how far this genre can be pushed before it's finally tapped out. I honestly think fan-fiction is a great way for people to get into writing, and it's definitely where I started too. Too often, though, people get too comfortable where they are and never aspire to move beyond the genre. I'll do this fan-fiction, and then one more, but after that I really don't know how I can take the concept of fan-fiction any further, and I'll be forced to begin my original stories.

    I guess what I'm saying is you should always keep pushing yourself, otherwise you get too comfortable. It's what led fan-fiction to become what it is today. People got too comfortable. Get uncomfortable, and get thoughtful about how far you can take your own writing.
    Last edited by Power Shot; 2nd February 2013 at 8:56 PM.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  5. #30
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    Default Chapter 15, Continued

    Morph Fifteen: Sappho's Perfect Plan, Part 3

    Agent 0 did not relish what was going to have to happen.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger, snarling like a rabid beast, began circling him as a predator would stalk a cornered animal. His body was low, like a wrestler, or like a gladiator poised for combat. His chains were expanding, no doubt so the Dark Emerald Ranger could use them to twist up 0 and then kill him. It sent shivers down 0's spine, how animalistic his old friend had become. Max was unrecognizable, too corrupted by Dark Gem that now claimed his soul.

    "Max," said the Golden Ranger, "you've got to remember who I am!"

    Max replied with a low, "Laaaaaaaaaade…" and lifted his arms into attack position, twisting the extra chains along with the rest on his arms. 0 gripped the shotgun in his hand, his finger on the trigger. Electricity had worked once before, it would work again. The Dark Emerald Ranger roared, then lunged forward.

    0 lifted the Lightning Laser and blasted. Three times he pulled the trigger and three times he missed, as Max spun through the air with such acrobatic grace that 0 was astonished that Max had been able to adapt so quickly to his new powers. The Golden Ranger dodged his foe's lunging body and fired off another blast, scoring a hit on his shoulder. Max groaned, but it didn't stop him this time. No, Max barely flinched from the wound and forgot about the injury immediately. He whipped his chain around, tightening it around the Golden Ranger's ankle and jerking.

    0 lost his balance and fell, and felt the Dark Emerald Ranger drive his knee into his chest. He groaned and Max's hands were around his throat, trying to suck out the life from his body. "Ma-ax…" 0 grunted, as even the Kevlar-reinforced neck collar his uniform came with was beginning to strain from the pressure. "R-remember who I-I am." He shifted his leg and kneed Max in the groin, loosening the dark ranger's grip enough to dislodge him. 0 rolled away and fired with the Lightning Laser. He scored a hit this time on Max's face and the Dark Emerald Ranger convulsed briefly before vanishing into a nearby warehouse door.

    "Max!" shouted 0, as he walked towards the door. "Think about this! I don't want to have to hurt you!" He kicked down the door and brought up the Lightning Laser. "Pi, where is he?" The warehouse was dark, so 0 switched the visor's visuals from standard to heat vision. The dark warehouse transformed into a multitude of colors, most of them blue or on that end of the visual spectra. A few of the containers were orange, probably some sort of chemical which required higher temperatures. However, there was one figure which was a bright red on the screen, and 0 was probably sure that if he were looking through real colors the figure would be green. "Pi, how much of the Synchronization Drive is left?"

    "The gauge is currently full," answered Pi. To verify it, the visor's bottom displayed the gauge at the bottom of the screen, next to the stamina gauge. "But taking your condition into account, we'll only have enough for a quick fight."

    0 nodded. "Good, we've got to do this fast and I've got a feeling it's going to get ugly. Download the Bolt Blade now." In his left hand, the giant sword appeared, accompanying the Golden Ranger's Lightning Laser. "Get ready to activate the Synchronization Drive on my mark."

    The dark ranger screamed and lunged down from above. The chains preceded him and smashed the ground nearby 0's legs, probably trying to cripple the limbs. The Golden Ranger dodged, just as Max body slammed the ground. The Bolt Blade came down, smashing into Max's back, right as the Lightning Laser burst out three shots to the left leg. Max howled and threw one of his chains out. 0 had it wrap around the Bolt Blade, using the sword's massive surface as a shield, before shooting again from behind the cover.

    "Gallllaaaaaaade…" groaned the Dark Emerald Ranger and tugged at the chain, dragging 0 forward. He would destroy the paladin…he would. He was stronger, he was better…the Dark Emerald that fueled him was so much better than the Ranger System that PKM used. Yes, the Dark Emerald whispered to him…exploit the weakness of the Ranger System.

    He took off at a running start. The Bolt Blade came up, slicing at the air, but Max used the momentum of his chain to pull him through the air, diving just above the sword's arc and punched 0 right in the visor. The Golden Ranger groaned and staggered back, a trickle of blood forming from his nose. Max pressed his advantage, whipping 0's hide with his chains. Cracks of energy issued in annoyance from the ranger uniform and 0 noticed his stamina gauge was dropping.

    He reached behind him, and pulled out Lu's Poke Ball. "Auxiliary Pokemon System, engage!" he ordered. "Rio Form!" He inserted the tiny azure ball into the morpher and the Arm Boosters emerged along with the rest of the new form. As Lu's AI set in, Max began coming towards him again. 0 pounded his massive claws together, sending a resounding echo through the area.

    The Golden Ranger's Rio Form, much nimbler than his standard Ranger Form, leapt out of the way and laughed, just like a baby Pokemon. 0 wasn't about to get hit, no, that would be bad. Rio Form had a bad stamina gauge, since he was borrowing the powers of the little Riolu. Max snarled and vowed vengeance as he charged yet again, this time sweeping his chains in a wide arc to make certain he made contact.

    He didn't. 0 playfully leapt between the metal chains, dodging each with precision that could not have been making Max very happy. Lu's encouraging laugh made him so much calmer and happier to be fighting someone so strong! "That all you got?" 0 challenged and managed to score a hit with his left arm, striking Max hard with the elbow. Naturally, this was followed by a slash from the Bolt Blade, which seemed so light and small in the gauntlets the Golden Ranger was wearing. Max roared as the blunt side of the sword struck his side and sent him flying. To finish the job, 0 fired as many times as he wanted with the Lightning Laser, enjoying the little sparks that traced Max's body every time he was hit by a blast.

    Max screamed as he clawed his way back to his feet, demanding to know who 0 believed he was to do what he had just done. Of course, 0 heard this through the Pokemon language that Max was speaking, as the Dark Emerald Ranger was apparently too immersed in his Dark Gem to recall common verbs and participles and the like. "I think I'm the Golden Ranger," he replied with a shrug. "Got a problem with that?"

    Apparently, Max did, for his body began glowing slightly. Curious, 0 watched a green aura emerge from the Dark Emerald Ranger, who looked so much like a Gallade, and surround him in a cloud that also looked very much like a Gallade. "Wow, that's pretty cool," murmured the Golden Ranger. "I think I can do that too." He accessed the Synchronization Drive, and spoke to Lu. "Hey, can we do Aura Sphere?"

    "Aye, sir," piped up the cheerful Pokemon.

    Then, the Golden Ranger had an even better idea. "Wait, what if we used the Aura Sphere, and we put it all around my body like he's doing? Wouldn't that be fun?"

    Lu agreed on the vast amounts of fun that could be had from such an experiment. "I've never tried it before, but it's always fun to do new things!"

    Lu began powering up the Aura Sphere immediately, which surrounded 0's body in an orange haze. The Golden Ranger noticed that a vast amount of his stats had improved, like Rio Form's stamina, from the shielding. It was a good plan! Excited, 0 swung his arms and his weapons around, waiting for the blazing fire that was the Dark Emerald Ranger to respond. "Come on!" cooed 0.

    Max started off with a light jog, wanting to build up his speed properly, before breaking out into an all-out gallop across the warehouse floor. 0 followed suit, stampeding with all of his giddy strength at the Dark Emerald Ranger. Max roared, but the Golden Ranger only grinned.

    When they traded punches, this time it felt like the whole warehouse was shaking from the sheer power of their exchanges. When 0 struck Max, he felt the recoil travel all the way up his arm and into his shoulder. And when Max kicked 0 down, it was as though getting hit by a bullet train. 0 choked, but spun through and side-swiped his foe in the neck before pausing to clear his windpipe. The Golden Ranger observed his stamina gauge, it was almost out of energy, as was the Synchronization Drive. "Lu, how long can we hold up Aura Sphere?" he asked.

    "Maybe another minute or so," the baby Riolu answered. "Let's finish the fight quickly, or I won't be able to help anymore!" Taking the urgency in his AI's voice into account, 0 redoubled his efforts, focusing on blocking more than blind attacks. He needed to last as long as possible to make Max morph back from his Dark Emerald Ranger form. With a shout, he managed to channel all of the Aura into his palms and smashed into the Dark Gem clasped on Max's chest, forcing his opponent back. Then, for the final touch, he blasted him again with the Lightning Laser and followed up with a brutal slash from the Bolt Blade.

    Max was stunned at the efforts put forth by his foe, the paladin had defeated him. With a hoarse cry, he felt his chains beginning to unravel, and the jade fire surrounding him extinguished, exposing his human flesh to the mercy of the Golden Ranger, the paladin who was his enemy. "N-no," he murmured, no longer subjugated to the Dark Emerald, and clutched the gem to his chest as he backed away from the fearsome warrior before him. "Y-you shouldn't be-be able to be-eat me! He said we were stronger than you!" The paladin tilted his head at this information, as if confused by the declaration's merit in face of the events that had taken place.

    Finally, his Rio Form timed out, and the Arm Boosters, Bolt Blade, and the Lightning Laser vanished into wherever they had come from. The paladin took a step forward, causing Max to flinch. The ranger was going to kill him, thought Max, but he wouldn't go down without a fight. Boldly, the untransformed ranger stood up and assumed a position of combat to finish the fight in a true warrior's fashion.

    But the Golden Ranger did not advance. Instead, he stood there, hands on his hips. "Man, if I knew that Sappho was this good, Max, I would never have let you get away," he muttered and scratched his head with a sigh. "Guess there's no choice, huh?" He looked down at Max through his visor and muttered the following: "Pi, power down."

    The paladin glowed a bright gold, then the armor began to vanish into nothingness. In its place was a relatively comfortable uniform provided by PKM for the Golden Ranger, complete with goggles which covered the top of his face. "You recognize me now, Max?" he asked.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger was confused. The face looked familiar, but from where he had no idea. "You're not gonna trick me," he announced. "You're trying to kidnap my sister, and I'm not going to let that happen!" He ran forward, but in human form he was no match for the paladin. 0 used a rather simple maneuver to knock Max off balance, then grabbed his hand and jammed it into a very uncomfortable position behind his back. "Let me go!"

    "Not until you get back from the loony bin," muttered the ranger sarcastically. Perhaps he had absorbed a bit too much of Lu's personality and it had rubbed off even in his civilian form. "Come on, Max. Snap out of it." Why had it seeped so deeply into the gym leader's brain? "I need your help to beat Sappho. He's got my partner and your sister, and he's going to kill them if we don't do something about it." Max's thrashing indicated his intentions were the furthest things away from stopping.

    "0," said the helpful voice of his Ranger Spirit, Pi. "I have an idea."

    "Glad to hear anything resembling an idea right about now," he answered with a grunt, as Max had started trying to head butt the ranger's chest.

    "In battle, I noticed that Max's Dark Emerald form looks a lot like a Gallade… Remember that corpse we found at Petal?"

    0 thought so. "I remember something green lying on the floor in a heap of blood."

    "Maybe that was Max's Gallade. Sappho must have killed it to make him a ranger, and the resulting emotions from the dead Pokemon are driving Max insane!" That made a lot of sense to 0. "Try helping his Pokemon set aside the wrath it feels because of its death, and you might be able to get Max out of Sappho's brainwashing."

    "Let me go let me go!" gnashed Max, his struggling becoming even more difficult for 0 to keep a handle over. But the Golden Ranger was firm, he would not lose Max again to the darkness of the Dark Gem clasped around his neck.

    "Max," he said, "remember who it was that killed Gallade."

    Max snapped out of the stronghold, and lunged for 0, grabbing at the shirt with the intent of tearing it off and helping himself to the innards of his foe. As he tried to undo the shirt, the Dark Emerald Ranger's finger brushed so softly over the surface of a chain 0 was wearing, with a small gold ring on the end. He stopped what he was doing at the touch, the cool, soothing touch, and gasped.

    He saw Gallade killed…he was screaming in rage as the contract came to fruition. Sappho laughed, dancing around with the Pokemon's corpse, his first Pokemon's corpse…before tossing it to the ground. As the gym leader screamed, tears falling down from his cheeks, he felt the Dark Emerald fill with the one sacrifice due it: a Pokemon bonded to its trainer's heart, the wrathful and pained spirit of the Gallade furthering him to wrap the elongating chain around his arms until he pressed the Gem into his flesh…

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    And, as he transformed, the voice inside his head, the pained voice of the Gallade, roaring for revenge, not caring whom it received the revenge from…He attacked the Golden Ranger, who had never hurt his sister, and helped the Dark Sapphire Ranger, who wanted her, and the silver-haired girl, all for himself…

    "No!"


    Max broke away, breathing heavily with sweat streaming down his face, and convulsed from shock. The Golden Ranger was there to help and turned him on his side to make sure he did not choke from the sick he spewed at what he had become. "I'm a-I'm a monster!" he moaned and wrapped his arms around his face. "I'm a monster!"

    0 helped Max up. "No you're not," he told the gym leader. "You're just…messed up a bit. We all are. Get used to it."

    Max shoved him away. "No, I'm a monster! I helped that-thing-kidnap my own sister! So he can kill her! I'm a monster!"

    The Golden Ranger smacked Max hard in the face, so sharply in fact that a dull thwack issued through the abandoned warehouse. "Get over yourself," he muttered. "You're not helping the situation by crying about it. We need to save May and 3. We have to get going right now to do that." He started to leave but Max didn't follow him. "What are you waiting for?" He stood by the door and folded his arms impatiently, he didn't have any time for this!

    "Who are you guys?" Max asked. "And what's my sister doing mixed up with everything? How do I know you're the side I can trust?"

    "You really want to do this now?" 0 said. "Even though every second we waste here means a second longer your sister is in danger?"

    Max nodded. "I'll save my sister," he verified. "But I want to know how I can trust you."

    0 sighed, and shook his head. "Fine," he grumbled. "I suppose a little bit of show and tell will encourage you to move faster." He walked up to Max Birch and, with one movement, parted his hair and removed his goggles. "Look at me, Max Birch. Do you know who I am?"

    Max's expression changed, from one of confusion to one of utter shock. "It-it's you! You're-"

    "-That's not my name anymore," interrupted the Golden Ranger, who had reapplied his goggles and matted his hair again. "But you could say my new one is 'Keean Toby', the face you're familiar with."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger was astonished. "But what are you doing here? And-and like that?" he asked, gesturing to the morpher mounted on 0's wrist. "I thought you…we all thought you had…"

    "Gone away?" 0 inquired. "Well, I did do that, but for a different reason than most people think. Look, I don't have time for this, Max. May's life is on the line and so is my partner's. I promise that once this is over I'll explain everything to you, but we have to go right now and you need to show me where Sappho's keeping his hostages. They're after something of May's, Max, and they will do anything to get it."

    Max hesitated…he knew why the Dark Gem Rangers wanted May. But 0 had said that time was of the essence, and they needed to hurry. "I know why they want May, Keean."

    "Call me by my codename: 0. Keean's just a cover."

    "Uh…0, I know why they want May. They want something called Dark Gold from her, they said it was powerful. Or, Sappho said it was powerful, but I don't know all the details."

    The Golden Ranger nodded. "Okay, we'll work with that. You know where they're being kept?" Max said he did, so 0 consulted his AI to confirm the location. "It's about ten miles from here on foot. Let's ranger up and get going. Can you morph again?"

    Max didn't know how, but the Dark Emerald somehow told him that it could transform him again. "Not a problem," he said, and took the chain to wrap it around his arms. 0 readied his morpher. "Let's go kick some blue butt."

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    Two flashes of light, one golden and one emerald, flooded the warehouse. Once darkness returned again, 0's voice issued: "Download the 0 Cycle, Pi."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Serena Brine's eyes slowly fluttered open. It was dark, so it didn't particularly matter whether she kept her eyes closed or not. The second thing she noticed after the dim light was the fact that her arms were killing her, and her feet weren't planted on anything. She twisted her neck, trying to get an idea of where she was…her body ached… "Where am I?" she murmured, the last thing she recalled was wishing 0 good luck before he had left to deal with Sappho at the Petalburg Gym. She tried moving her arms, but realized that the reason they ached was because they were holding her up with chains. Then, and only then, did she see the silhouetted figure standing in front of her. "Who…is it?"

    "My, my, my, princess," murmured Sappho, as his ranger form emerged from the shadows. "I've had some trouble getting the both of you here to have tea with me. That partner of yours is a bit too annoying for my tastes. I almost failed to get your friend over there." He jerked his helmet at the space to Serena's right. "Now she was hard to get."

    The White Ranger was confused. Friend? Aside from 0, she really didn't use that term for anyone. She glanced over, and her jaw dropped. Hanging next to her, her face drooped onto her chest, was May Birch, her face battered and bruised like a rag doll. She wore nothing but her torn nightgown. "What do you want with us?" Serena asked. "Why are we here?"

    Sappho cackled and stepped forward. "Now that's a good question, princess," whispered the Dark Sapphire Ranger and he rubbed his palms together with glee. "Well, she's here because she has something that we want, something that's bonding to her. She'll have to die. Unfortunately, I can't do it just yet. No…I need to wait and take her to a few friends of ours."

    "Then…why am I here?"

    At this, Sappho rocked his head back and launched himself into a fest of voracious laughter. He just didn't stop, so hilarious was the question, that he found himself rolling on the floor, hitting the ground with his fists. "Oh, my, you really are too much," he retorted. "You ask 'Why do you need me here?' like you couldn't guess!" Sappho began vigorously rubbing his own chest. "'Oh Golden Boy'!" he moaned in falsetto. "'Come save me!" He snickered and threw his hands down. "You are here to be a sacrifice, little Serena. That thing we want, it requires you too! Isn't that lovely?"

    "S-sacrifice…?" That didn't sound good to Serena.

    Sappho wagged his head up and down. "Yes, sacrifice! S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E." He pointed to the Dark Sapphire sticking out of his chest to properly explain. "You know what this is?"

    "A freak of nature?" inquired Serena.

    "Oh, doesn't she have some tongue to her," said the stunned Dark Sapphire Ranger, who proceeded to walk right over to the woman and slap her in the face sharply with his gauntlet. She hissed from the pain and he continued. "No, little girlie. I'm taking about my little Dark Sapphire. Your friend here happens to have a weapon we want, a ring made of Dark Gold. She'll have to die, of course, she's just a body holding onto the Dark Gold for us. But our friends need the Dark Gold to beat up your partner, and you're the perfect sacrifice to contract with. Yes, quite perfect."

    "You're not making much sense," she grumbled. "When are we-"

    A low moan issued through the room, both Serena and Sappho turned to where May had just awakened, and groaned as her mind began experiencing the pain her body had been processing while she was unconscious. "W-where am I? Max! Sarah!" May started frantically flaying about in her restraints. "Who are you? Take me to my family right now!"

    "Shut up, woman," muttered Sappho. "Talking just makes me make your death even more painful." He walked up and grabbed her by the neck, forcing the air out. "You're going to shut up, got it? A simple nod will do." May, fear in her eyes, nodded, and he released the hold. "Now then, I think I'm about to have a guest soon. I must prepare the welcoming party." With that, he turned around and strode into the darkness, somewhere out there a door slammed shut.

    Serena turned her head. "M-May?" she asked and turned to her fellow cellmate. "Are you alright?"

    May was crying and she shook her head. "W-what's going on? Where am I?"

    Serena shrugged. "I…don't really know that," she admitted and looked around. "From the sound of things, I think we're in a warehouse somewhere, but I have no idea where it is. He's…he's gonna-"

    May sighed. "I-I have to go find my daughter. I need to know she's safe."

    The White Ranger chuckled at that. "Sorry, May, but I really don't think we're going anywhere for a while." She looked around, trying to find anything that would help them escape, but nothing presented itself. Sappho's plan had been quite perfect. "How are you feeling?"

    "My body hurts," she muttered. She looked up, Serena noticed the strain it required of her bruised muscles to do so. "Hey, you're Mr. Toby's friend, aren't you? Serena?" The White Ranger nodded. "What are you doing here?"

    "Actually," said the white-haired vixen, "that's a bit of a long story."

    "It looks like we have time for one," May pointed out.

    Serena laughed. "Well, that's true… Let's see, what can I tell you?"

    "How about who that man is?" suggested May. "He's always trying to attack me and my family."

    "We call him Sappho. He's a member of an organization calling themselves the Dark Gems, and he's their sapphire ranger. We were assigned to keep an eye on you since the incident in Saffron City because we didn't know what they wanted…but now we do."

    "Who do you work for?"

    Serena considered that. Well, seeing as her cover was already blown, there wasn't much that she could hide from May that she wouldn't figure out. "I'm a member of PKM, an anti-terrorist mercenary group that works with international governments to protect and serve the citizens and Pokemon of the world."

    "I remember you guys…you were the ones who took down Team Rocket a while back."

    Serena smiled. "That was a long time ago."

    "And…are you one of the rangers?"

    She nodded. "I'm the White Ranger," she replied. "Agent 3, fourth ranking ranger." She shook her right hand, and May noticed the white morpher on her wrist.

    "Oh…you've been helping me, haven't you? Along with the other, golden guy."

    "That's Agent 0, our Golden Ranger," Serena explained. "He's my commanding officer on this mission, and the highest ranking ranger in PKM."

    "Is the Golden Ranger Mr. Toby?"

    Serena hesitated. Agent 0's birth name was a secret that very few individuals were privy to. His travel records, birth certificate, life history, all of his private records had been removed. His public image, nothing could be done about that, the world at large assumed the man who had become the Golden Ranger had become a hermit somewhere in the mountains. 0 had had to go through multiple physical and mental transformations, to the point where not even his former wife could recognize him.

    "Yes," she said, "the Golden Ranger is Keean Toby."

    Serena noticed a tingle form on May's face, one of a very reddish hue. "I-I had wondered about him," she told the White Ranger. "See, to be honest, he…reminds me of someone I used to know. I like him."

    Well, thought Serena, at least 0 and May were matched in terms of thickness. "Glad you like him," she grumbled, slightly disappointed with the information. "I do too."

    May had no answer to that, possibly because both women were quite embarrassed at the astonishing but not altogether shock of learning of their rivalry. Finally, she looked up again and twisted her body to face Serena. "So, what are we going to do?"

    Serena blew a raspberry and shrugged. "Got me, May." She had been trying to reach her morpher, but the angle at which her hands had been tied made this impossible, and she couldn't very well position herself better because of her unhealed injuries. "I guess we wait to be rescued. 0 is probably demolishing the entire city looking for us as we speak. Since he hasn't come yet, I'm guessing they disabled my morpher's communications with a jamming device."

    May nodded. "Do you think he'll come in time?"

    The ranger laughed. "He doesn't like to admit it, but he has a thing for dramatics. Knowing him, he'll probably get here at the very last minute. That's about how long it'll take for his thick skull to figure out where we are."

    May giggled. "He's quite helpless, isn't he?"

    Serena found it odd that she was getting along with 0's former wife, and even more so that it wasn't bothering her all that much. "He's…special. Well, he is to me anyway."

    "Are you close?"

    Serena shook her head. "We used to be, but now we aren't so much. He doesn't like letting people into his life, if he had a choice I wouldn't even be here."

    May nodded sympathetically. "Does he know that you like him?"

    "Who knows?" she wondered. "He's so difficult to read when it comes to things like that." She sank her head into her chest and winced. "But I do know that he'll come for both of us, May. He gets really annoyed when his friends are in trouble."

    May looked relieved when she heard that. "That's good," she murmured. "I need to get back to my daughter, I'm sure she's worried sick about me." She sighed. "And I need to find Max, I don't know where he is."

    "Max was kidnapped, right?"

    "Yes, but how did you know that?"

    "I've been spying on you for a while," Serena pointed out. "Kinda hard to keep stuff like that on the down low." May chuckled at her idiocy. "We know where your brother is." She left out the final detail, that Serena had been kidnapped by the Dark Emerald Ranger while Sappho had gone to collect May.

    "Where is he?" asked May anxiously.

    "He's… I think Keean Toby is going to be bringing Max with him. Or, at least, he's going to try. Max is in a little trouble, but if anyone can help him out, it'll be your Mr. Toby."

    The conversation ended quite abruptly, as Sappho returned with a flourish from wherever it was that he had chosen to conceal himself. "He's earlier than I expected," he muttered to himself, brushing past the women without a moment's glance. "And he managed to bring my pet with him. How dare he?"

    "That, May, means that the cavalry has just pulled in," Serena snickered.

    "Shut up," Sappho retorted, smashing Serena's mouth with his fist. Blood clogged her mouth and she spat some onto the ground near Sappho's feet.

    May cried out. "Serena!"

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger was in no mood for the unkind behavior his guests were acting in, and silenced May by punching her body like a well-toned piece of meat, before smacking her brow and knocking her out. "Women," grumbled the dark ranger, "they never know when to shut up." He glanced around. "Where are those Rangerlings?"

    Serena groaned. Hurry up, 0, she thought. May doesn't have much time left.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The Golden Ranger, flanked by the Dark Emerald Ranger, proceeded through the warehouse with an immense amount of unconcern for the local supply of Rangerlings. 0 simply shot them with the Lightning Laser, while Max quite enjoyed pouncing on the unsuspecting creatures and tearing them to shreds. It made no difference the amount, or the onslaught brought by the little black things. 0 and Max calmly wandered through Sappho's lair, taking it in turns to cause the racks to tumble on the Rangerlings, crushing their bodies in the most painful ways possible. Their squeals of pain reached neither of the rangers, nor did they spare them any mercy.

    "Pi," muttered the Golden Ranger, as they stepped towards the second room of the warehouse, "analyze the blueprints for this building and scan for life. We need to know where May and 3 are."

    A Rangerling popped out of the ground, but it didn't even phase 0. The Lightning Laser came down and burst the Rangerling's chest plate wide open, scattering the insides into dust. Behind him, 0 could hear the sounds of a head being torn off, along with the growls of his new partner indulging the vengeful spirit of his Dark Gem. But Max had learned some degree of restraint, because he wasn't stopping to obliterate everything in his path like the psychotic animal he was under the influence of the Dark Gem. No, Max was keeping up with him, keeping pace with the Golden Ranger's massacre so they wouldn't be delayed. Finally, 0 heard Pi's voice again.

    "They're being held in the room above," it announced. "On the far east side of this room, there will be a staircase. Get there, and it will take you to where Sappho is keeping them." 0 thanked the mouse, then turned his attentions to about five Rangerlings rushing him. Five blasts knocked them all down into dust.

    "Max, you keeping up?" he asked, to focus the Dark Emerald Ranger on the mission. "May and 3 are in the room above us. We're heading for the stairs."

    "Laaaaaade," replied Max with glee. 0 thanked his lucky stars that both he could understand Max and that Max was grateful for the knowledge. The Dark Emerald Ranger, to celebrate this knowledge, crushed a Rangerling with an extended piece of chain. Dust followed them all the way to the stairs. Both of them quite adamant about not wasting time, the rangers rushed up the flight of the stairs, both filled in their hearts with rage at Sappho. Reaching the top of the stairs, they came to a sudden halt when a giant iron door was revealed to be standing in between them and their destination.

    "Oh…this is gonna suck…" 0 groaned and put his hand on his helmet. He glanced around the area, searching for something that would pry the door open. "Rio Form probably won't have enough strength…" Then, he glanced towards Max, and there he had a good idea. "Max, are you strong enough to open the doors?" The Dark Emerald Ranger snickered, and proceeded to take the lead. 0 wisely decided to back away. "Do it gently. We don't know what's on the other side."

    Max nodded and the chains on his arms elongated to cover the door's hinges and handles. Once he was certain the chains were tight enough, Max began to pull the door down. The metal gnashed and grated together, defying the Dark Emerald Ranger's desires for it to come tumbling down. Slowly, ever so slowly, the set of doors came apart, then down to the ground before the two rangers.

    "Wow," murmured 0. "Remind me never to get on your bad side again."

    Max growled his reply with a low, "Gallade…lade…" and 0 could swear that his old friend was grinning behind his visor. Crouching low, the Dark Gem defect returned to his place by the Golden Ranger's side, and waited for his rescuer to begin walking.

    "Let's not keep them waiting," he said and walked through the cloud of dust Max had created. Their boots clanked against the metal floor, and 0's visor began scanning the area in front of him with infrared false color so he could see properly. The clouds of grey promptly disappeared in a field of golden hues. "Max, Sappho's not visible. Sniff him out with your Dark Gem. May and 3 are in front of us, in chains. Don't do anything until we know where Sappho is." Max whimpered, he wanted to kill, but would resist until he was certain his sister was safe.

    The dust cleared. Both Serena and May stood before them, suspended in the air by sets of chains. May was unconscious, her head sagging upon her chest, mouth open. His scans detected a faint pulse and light breathing, possibly from the shock of her kidnapping. Serena, on the other hand, was barely hanging on. Her injuries from her last fight hadn't opened up yet, but the psyche trauma was threatening to lapse her into a coma.

    "Hey…" she mumbled, her teeth stained with blood. "'Bout time you got here. Think you can get me and her out of this?" She giggled, then had to stop. It hurt too much. She noticed the crouching individual beside the Golden Ranger. "Oh, you made a new friend… Good, you need more of those."

    "Don't talk," he ordered. "Sappho, come out here now!"

    A cackle issued over the room, one at which Max issued a snarl at. "Hello, Golden Prick!" it replied merrily, as if it was inviting the Golden Ranger to a fancy dress party. "Nice to see you here!" Then, as if disappointed, it said, "Oh, I see you have someone new in your life… Maxy, I'm very angry with you! Get back over here right now, or I swear your May learns what life is like without arms!" To prove his point, May's shackles began drifting apart. Max roared in protest.

    "Get over here, pet!" ordered Sappho. The Dark Sapphire Ranger emerged from the shadows of the room, standing in between both of his beloved hostages. "I'll not have you associating with disgusting filth like Golden Boy there! It's dangerous to your health, and your sister's!" The shackles tightened.

    "Pi," whispered 0, "prepare to download the Bolt Blade on my mark." Then, he turned to Max, who was quite confused as to what he should do. "Lade, Gallade Gal." The Dark Emerald Ranger growled his reluctance, but in the face of his sister's safety was willing to obey. Max dragged himself unwillingly towards Sappho, and began snarling at the liar when he got close.

    "Oh, calm yourself Maxy," murmured Sappho and stroked his pet's helmet. "I know you want to help your sister, but we need to make sure that the Dark Gold bonds to the person we want. And it really, really likes your sister …" He glanced up at May and 0 could swear he heard Sappho lick his lips. The shackles began stretching again, pulling May's arms wider and wider apart. "And I really, really don't…"

    "Go!"

    Sappho, as quick as he was, could not match the speed of his adversary. 0's body burst forward, leaping high into the air with the aid of his momentum. The giant sword slashed through the air, shredding the chains like paper. May fell to the ground, but 0 was quick. He grabbed the woman in midair, and clutched her in his arms. Serena, on the other hand, managed to land, though with extreme difficulty. She groaned, but got away from the battle that would undoubtedly ensue. Sappho tried to stop what was happening, but found himself suddenly fighting with his former protégé, who had wrapped chains around his body and forced the sapphire ranger to the ground.

    "3!" shouted 0. "You able to morph?"

    Serena nodded. "Just barely…he didn't damage my morpher too much." She raised the white morpher and pressed the trigger button. "PKM Spirit…Activate!" She was enveloped with light and transformed into the White Ranger. She sagged, but downloaded her war fan. "How's May doing?"

    As she ran up to him, 0 scanned May's body again. "Got a pulse, she needs treatment," he decided, and handed her to his partner. "You're not strong enough to take him on again. Get her out of here and to safety. I'll alert the authorities to get over here as soon as possible."

    Serena shouldered May's unconscious body. "Got it, 0," she replied and looked to Max. "Go help him. Bakaguru, 415, and I can handle May."

    He smiled. "Thank you, 3."

    She sighed. "You don't change easily." She rushed from the room, leaving the Golden and the Dark Emerald Rangers alone to face their adversary. Max, sensing his diversion was no longer required, leapt away from his former master and rejoined his new tamer.

    "How we holding up, Pi?"

    "Authorities have been confirmed to be en route to the warehouse," it reported. "Bakaguru and 415 are meeting up with Serena and May a few blocks downtown in a chopper, she's being taken directly to the PKM Headquarters for her own protection. Auxiliary forces are being dispatched to place her family in protective custody, they should be at her house soon."

    Sappho was livid. He disliked when he, the great Dark Gem Ranger, was outclassed by a weak, foolish PKM Ranger, who needed technology just to be on par with his greatness. "You know," he said and began walking forward, "you're really starting to piss me off." The scimitar materialized in his hand, almost as if it had grown from the left gauntlet and spawned off into the glove. "No captives, no recruit, no Dark Gold, you know how annoyed my people are gonna be?" His voice was high, angered, but it didn't phase 0.

    "Sorry to spoil your plans," 0 retorted, "but you're about to be in much bigger trouble than just making some people mad. You'll be lucky to ever see the light of day again when we're done with you."

    "Ah…you gonna put me in jail?" He laughed with a very disturbing disinterest at his loss of freedom. "Just try it, Golden Boy. My big Dark Sapphire will never release itself from me, not until I die! Same goes for Maxy-poo! No one with a Dark Gem contract can live without it…and with my Dark Sapphire, I'll break out again and again and again until you, your family, and your friends are all dead!"

    0 reached behind him, and pulled out Lu's Poke Ball. "Well then, we're just going to make sure you don't keep coming back, won't we?" he asked casually and inserted the azure ball into his morpher. "Auxiliary Pokemon System- Rio Form."

    The morpher glowed and 0's Arm Boosters arrived to increase his strength. The rage in his mind subsided, replacing itself with a playful urge to fight. He gripped the Bolt Blade, which now seemed so much smaller with his gauntlets. "So, you mind if we beat you up now? I think my friend here's kinda eager to get his pound of flesh, if you catch my drift." Max agreed and wagged his head with a growl of anticipation. His chains were elongating again, dragging on the floor like snakes.

    "Ready, Lu?" asked 0.

    "Aye, sir!" piped up the auxiliary AI. The baby Pokemon was just as eager as 0 was to fight.

    The Bolt Blade, so much lighter in Rio Form, swerved down and clashed against the scimitar. 0 wielded it in one hand, leaving his other one open to punch Sappho in the stomach and send the evil ranger flying. Max leapt up behind the Golden Ranger, and the paladin gripped his massive sword just as the Dark Emerald Ranger landed on it, propelling Max towards his former master. The chains that covered his arms lashed against the fallen dark ranger, causing screams to erupt from the helmet. Max regrouped, falling into line with 0.

    "Max, remember: don't kill him," 0 ordered. "He's more valuable to us alive."

    "Lade," replied Max with a nod, assuring 0 that Sappho could take a brutal pounding and survive, if such a thing became necessary. 0 jumped up and smashed the ground with his left Arm Booster, missing Sappho's dodging body by only a hair, and forming a crater in the surface.

    "Wow," he said to himself. "This thing's pretty powerful. Fun!"

    Sappho lunged and the scimitar slashed the air above the Golden Ranger. The Arm Booster came up, blocking the sharp blade with its blunt claw. "Wow," he said with interest. "Looks like blue can be beat with blue, huh, Sappho?" He grabbed the blade and jerked it away, right before batting the Dark Sapphire Ranger over the head with the Bolt Blade's blunt end. He stumbled from the impact, right into the waiting chains of the Dark Emerald Ranger. Max chuckled and tightened his grip.

    "N-no…" groaned Sappho. He tried to grab Max, to flip him away, but the defected ranger was intelligent, following the prompting of the redirected vengeance of his Dark Emerald to satisfy Gallade's murder. Oh, and that murder would be avenged… 0 strode forward, bringing forth the Bolt Blade.

    "Activate the Synchronization Drive," the Golden Ranger commanded, prompting the AI to display the Riolu-based attacks available. The gauge was filled, perfect for a final blow. "Synchronization Drive: Aura Sphere." The Arm Boosters began charging up the aura, channeling it into the Bolt Blade. With Lu's aid, he built up a decent amount along the blade of the sword, making the energy circle it like a buzz saw until it resembled a bright, azure glow that began generating steam from its speed. "Max, make sure that he doesn't get away from this." He would smash the Dark Sapphire embedded in Sappho's chest and that would be the end of it.

    "You can't do this!" screamed Sappho in denial, even as his visor stared at the buzzing blade of his foe's sword. "I'll kill you for thinking you can do this to me!" He began struggling again, but the chains were too numerous-he could not free himself from the Dark Emerald Ranger's choke-hold.

    "No, Dark Sapphire Ranger," said 0. "You've caused enough damage."

    And he struck the sapphire in the center of the chest with the whirling aura sword.

    "No!"

    Everything exploded. Both the Golden and Dark Emerald Rangers were thrown back from the force that Sappho's body produced upon being punctured by the aura. 0 found himself struggling to keep his footing when he was forced to land on a nearby wall, and Max attached himself to an overhead pipe with his chains, swaying in the wind of the erupted.

    But, when the dust cleared, Sappho was still standing.

    He laughed. Laughed and laughed and laughed like there was no tomorrow. His cackling chilled even 0's Lu-influenced mind, and he glared up at 0, who was unable to move from where he was perched due to the amount of force that Sappho was still emitting.

    He was transformed.

    The fabric on his costume, the pieces that looked so much like the real chains that sat on Max's arms, was shattered, scattered in pieces around his feet. The gauntlets were gone as well, like Sappho had just been lifted from the bonds of slavery. "Yes…" he hissed with a sigh of happiness and surveyed himself. His helmet was a brilliant, blazing azure, no longer the dark blue it had formerly been. Though now his helmet's design was split in two, with something resembling a dark sword's blade right down the middle. The visor was no longer a rectangle, but pentagrams that faced outwards from the sword blade, which was beginning to look a lot like a Pokemon's horn.

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger's body had changed as well. The Dark Sapphire, now reinforced with even more power, resembled a five-sided shape, again like a pentagram. His suit glittered with sapphire, his chest in addition to the powerful Dark Sapphire had a new armored vest studded with blue gems. He looked kind of like a biker, decked with alternating sapphire and black colors.

    "Much better, Golden Boy," sighed Sappho. "I've only ever heard rumors about doing something like this!"

    The pressure that the Dark Sapphire Ranger was emitting died down, just enough for 0 to land on his feet hard and Max to flip down to the ground. "What the hell just happened?" 0 asked Max, as they regrouped. Max replied that he didn't know, and neither did the Dark Emerald.

    "Isn't it obvious?" inquired Sappho. "I've shattered my chains!"

    He raised his hand and 0 noticed with horror that all of his fingers were elongated with talons like that of a bird's. "Dark Sapphire Ranger," he sighed with pleasure, "Shattered Form!" He stepped forward, his boots also containing the same kind of talons that his gloves did. The black pentagrams that were his eyes seemed to glint with pleasure.

    He rushed forward, his feet digging into the metal ground. 0 brought forth the Bolt Blade, but it might have as well been made of rubber for all the good it did now. Sappho blocked it with one claw and grabbed the Golden Ranger with the other. "Now you're useless. Not even this happy little form will do anything for you!" He bashed 0's entire body against the wall, putting all his force into it. 0 cried out in pain as his back met hard steel and he dropped to the ground. "And as for you…" he murmured, turning his attention to the Dark Emerald Ranger, "I'll show you what we do with stray dogs!"

    Max fared better, mostly because he was much more agile. He dodged the first blow, then the second, but finally the monster caught up with him and shoved him down into the ground. "See, Maxy-poo? This could have been yours!" He punched Max in the face. "That Chained Form of yours ain't got jack on this! No, this is the perfection of a Dark Gem Ranger!" The horn on Sappho's helmet closed in on Max's helmet, almost in a kiss, then Sappho jabbed it through the armor and into Max's head. The Dark Emerald Ranger shrieked as his skull was penetrated, then was silenced.

    Sappho pulled away, his horn now soaked with red blood, and noticed he had held onto Max's arms a bit too hard, as the talons in his gloves had sunken deep into the boy's arms, drawing pools of blood.

    "S-Sappho," coughed 0, as he rose. His Rio Form's stamina had run out…there was only so much the baby Pokemon could take, and he clutched the Bolt Blade. "C-come on. Fight me, if you think you can." He was no longer thinking of himself: he was thinking of the future. He needed to think of Serena, of May, of Sarah. Sappho would go after them next, if 0 didn't stall them. His vision was blurry.

    "Meh, it's such a shame that he'll live," Sappho whispered in longing, staring at Max. "I could shatter that Dark Emerald…but Axi and Bix will want it intact…" Then, out of nowhere, a weird noise began playing, like a ring tone. "Ah, I've been waiting for this!" He retrieved a cell phone from somewhere on his belt and flipped it open. "Hello…?"

    "W-who is that?"

    "Shut up! I'm on the phone!" barked Sappho, then resumed his call. "Yes…yes… Oh goodie, this was all too perfect, thank you for helping me… Yes, I'm quite glad that this plan came together. See you soon, love." He shut off the phone, then turned to 0, and laughed in triumph. "The diversion worked!"

    0 was confused. "D-diversion?"

    Sappho giggled. "Ah, did I forget to mention that? Yes, diversion. You see, I have this friend…she was so happy to help me conduct this little experiment. We wanted to see what was more important to you, Agent 0 of the PKM. Little May, or…" He snickered.

    It was only then that it dawned on the Golden Ranger.

    "If you'll excuse me," murmured Sappho, "I have a date with Sarah Birch."

    Then he vanished, leaving 0 to scream his lungs out in rage.

    Author's Note: Had a busy couple of days. Three segments will be posted today, with regular posting resuming tomorrow.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  6. #31
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    Default Chapter 16, Part 1

    Morph Sixteen: Evolve or Die, Part 1

    Sarah Birch was crying.

    Though her grandmother was holding her, reassuring her that everything was going to be okay, the little girl wailed and wailed, pleading with the night air for her mother. Her grandfather was over to the side, talking with one of the nearby police people, a woman with blue hair who seemed to be in charge, but there was no news. Sarah and Caroline sat near several police investigators, apparently there was some federal program preparing to take the family into custody and they had to be ready for them.

    "Grandma?" asked Sarah.

    "Yes, baby?" replied Caroline.

    She buried her face in her grandmother's arms. "I want my Mommy back."

    Caroline nodded, there were tears in the woman's eyes. "I know, honey, I know. Don't worry, the police will bring her back to us."

    "Mrs. Birch?" Caroline looked up, one of the policemen had spoken to them. She asked what it was they wanted, and they informed them that a representative of the organization that would be taking them in had arrived. Norman met them, and the family was led to the individual.

    She was leaning on what looked like a used green car, chewing on a piece of gum. She glanced at the family, and spat out the piece onto the street. Sarah looked her over, the lady looked like she was from a government place, she was decked in a trench coat and sunglasses, it was impossible to tell what she really looked like, aside from the face that her hair was black. "You're the Birch family, right?" she asked, in a low, deep voice that Sarah thought sounded fake.

    "That's right," Norman replied. "I'm Norman, and this is my wife Caroline and our granddaughter Sarah. They told us you were going to take us into protective custody."

    She shook her head. "Think there's been a mix up," she muttered. "I'm only here for the little girl." She looked down at Sarah, her sunglasses quite out of place with the night's darkness. "Backup units are coming for you two, you're being taken to separate locations for your own safety. But the girl's being targeted, we need to get her to safety." She put her hand in her pocket and took another piece of gum out. "You two need to stay here so we can keep the terrorists guessing. Understand?"

    The grandparents hesitated. "Y-you sure this is the only way?" Caroline asked. The agent nodded her head and brought out her badge, a cell-phone device with a hologram.

    "I have my orders, please allow me to protect your family," she explained. Sarah's hands lingered for a moment on her grandmother's before she was given to the agent. The agent thanked them for their services and led Sarah into the passenger's seat of her car. She closed the door, walked to the other side, and only after Sarah was secure and safe did she start the engine and drive off into the night.

    "Where are we going?" Sarah asked.

    "Quiet," answered the agent. She pulled out the cell phone she had used for her identification, and dialed a few numbers before putting the phone to her ear. "Sap…? Yes, I acquired her… Meet at the safe house." She shut off the phone and grinned broadly. She had such sparkling teeth.

    "Where are we going?" Sarah asked again.

    The agent's face twisted into a bitter and angry grin. "Somewhere special to meet some new friends. Or, should I say, a new friend." She didn't seem to be looking at the highway, actually it seemed like she was listening to the wind of the open window next to her, following its instructions. "We have been quite eager to obtain you, and you are a difficult target for a little girl."

    "N-no," answered Sarah. She was starting to get a bad feeling, the kind that crept up her spine like a big spider. "Where are we going?"

    "Did I not just say not to ask me that?" grumbled the woman. "It irritates me to no end when Sap forces me to come clean up his messes. He swore to me he could handle this on how own." She snorted her nose in annoyance. "I told them it was a terrible idea to recruit from a sanatorium." She groaned, she didn't even want to be in Petalburg. She wanted to be somewhere tropical and warm, not cold like Petalburg so often was at this time of year.

    "Who are you?" Sarah asked.

    The woman thought about that. "Well, I guess it wouldn't hurt anyone for you to know who I am. I'm…Ame. Or, at least, that's what my friends call me." She turned the wheel, heading towards the downtown districts Sarah's mommy told her never to go to. "You're Sarah, right?" The car began slowing down and finally stopped in front of a run-down building that in no way looked safe. Ame unbuckled her seat belt, then reached for Sarah and led her into the apartment complex.

    "I'm scared, Ame," Sarah complained.

    She nodded. "I know," she replied. "But I have no choice in the matter. Come, Sap is waiting for you as we speak."

    "Who's Sap?"

    "I am just supposed to give you to him," she explained. Ame led Sarah up several steps to the second floor, where she located an abandoned looking door and opened it. Inside, Sarah could hear scratching and moaning, and refused to go inside.

    "I don't wanna go in there," she protested. "It's scary."

    But Ame didn't want to hear that. Sighing, she grabbed Sarah by the scruff of her neck and tossed her into the apartment, slamming the door shut and locking it behind her. "Sap! I brought her!"

    The scraping ceased, and Sappho emerged from the other room, still transformed. He snickered, and gestured that Ame bring the girl forward. He was even more terrifying to the girl than she had ever remembered, with his new claws, new mask, new everything. Ame, however, didn't look the slightest bit intimidated.

    "You scared?" he asked the two of them, his voice low and menacing.

    Ame shrugged. "You look unchanged since I last saw you," she retorted.

    Sappho was quite annoyed by that. "I'd be more kind, if I were you, Ame," he growled. "After all, I've achieved Shattered Form, something no one else has yet."

    "Achieving Shattered Form means very little in the grand scheme of things," she pointed out. She reached into her trench coat, and fingered what looked like a Dark Gem of her own. "Remember, boy, your Dark Sapphire was only made by the deaths of so many Pokemon. Mine was made by something else entirely." Sarah tried to see what it was, it looked like a glint of purple, or so she thought, as it could have been black. Regardless, Ame put the Dark Gem back into her coat and turned towards the door. "Remember: you are only the runt of the litter, Sap. Even that boy you found, Eme, will be stronger than you one day. And the rest of us already are."

    "Emerald," grumbled Sappho. "How mad are Axi and Bix? They haven't contacted since I transformed."

    Ame didn't know. "They said nothing to me," she said, and opened the door. "I advise reminding them that you have a use before they decide it for you." She left, slamming the door behind her. The Dark Sapphire Ranger hissed at her retreating figure, before remembering that Sarah was there.

    "Hey, kiddie," he whispered under his mask. "Wanna play?"

    Sarah screamed.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Bakaguru Niwa parked the car directly in front of the warehouse. In the passenger seat, 415 loaded a magazine into her gun and clicked it in, opening the door and bolting for the warehouse the instant that the car was slow enough to safely do so. Bakaguru shifted the car into neutral, before looking into the backseat. The car was a modified hybrid, something that looked like a cross between an ambulance and a sedan. He headed into the back of the car, where both May Birch and Serena Brine were waiting for him.

    "How is she doing?" he asked the White Ranger. She had powered down, not having the strength to maintain her ranger suit. May was on the stretcher in the center of the back. She shrugged, and stumbled her way to check May's vitals. Bakaguru watched, he only had minimal medical training; 415 and Serena had better knowledge, 415 through her being…well, 415, and Serena's fighting style. She looked over May's body and nodded.

    "Vitals are all normal," she verified. "But unless we get her some medical care for her injuries, I am unsure if she will hold up like this." She looked up, as if torn between something. "We need to get her on IV drip and serum when we get to your safe house."

    Bakaguru nodded, then sat next to Serena. "I suppose you told her everything," he muttered and put his arm around her shoulder. "Our cover has been compromised, right?" Serena nodded. "I thought as much. Well, it's probably fine. Her parents are at the safe house, we gave them a rundown of what we've been doing since the Saffron City Contest. They are waiting for us to return, so we can make our next move. We must recover Sarah Birch from the Dark Gem Rangers, but first we must regroup before we can do anything."

    Serena nodded, staring at May with little interest for what the otaku was saying. Bakaguru sighed and shoved his glasses back onto the rim of his nose before returning to the front of the car. Outside, two figures were approaching on foot, one in the arms of one of those runners. He pushed a button on the dashboard and the back opened up so they could get in. He heard them climb aboard, and shut the back. Judging from his rearview mirror, it was 415 and someone wearing a green Ranger uniform, probably Max. They were loading the Golden Ranger into the second stretcher. Once they had, 415 jumped back into the passenger seat and hit the dashboard.

    "Drive," she said and Bakaguru backed up the car and hauled *** out of the warehouse district. "Head for my place, no one will follow us there."

    "Who's following us?"

    "That Dark Gem could be anywhere, and we have its partner in tow with us," explained 415. "Right now, it is unable to communicate, but I do not think he can power down like our Rangers. I am waiting for him to run out of energy before we do anything, but he seems harmless right now." She sighed and ruffled her hair, which was now long and green. "But Gold…"

    "How is he?"

    "Physically broken," she muttered. "His left shoulder will have to be completely amputated, it has suffered too much nerve damage to ever properly heal. He will have to have a transplant at PKM Headquarters and swap the damaged bone and tissue with mechanical parts." Bakaguru groaned.

    "I hate having to give transplants," he muttered. "It takes a whole surgical team, one which we do not have time for right now. We'll have to find a temporary solution to that problem. What else?"

    "Serena is not healed enough yet for actual combat. Currently it seems that Dark Emerald Ranger is our only operating ranger capable of taking on Sappho, but he seems far too weak to do much good on his own. His stats are significantly lower than the Golden Ranger, though they are roughly on par with Serena." She looked to the back. "I need to go back there and help. Can you find your way back to my apartment?"

    Bakaguru grinned and pointed to a small device on the dashboard, a GPS navigator. "Never leave home without it, baby," he said with a smirk. "Get on back there, the team needs you." She nodded and headed to the back of the moving car. Bakaguru faced forward and kept driving.

    In the back, Serena was leaning against the wall, her breath faint. "How are you doing?" asked 415, as she proceeded to inspect the injured.

    "Been better," she admitted. "My body's still torn up from my fight with Sappho, but I'm better off than these two." She looked down to the unconscious body of May and 0's groaning mass.

    "Have I mentioned how annoying I think you are, Agent 0?" asked 415 sarcastically, as she tore off his shirt to inspect his shoulder further. As she thought, the bone was shattered into far too many pieces to count, most of it was probably dust. In addition to this, the tears in the muscle were too extreme to heal. There was another, much less severe, hole in his midsection, which had already clotted and was doing fine on its own. It would only require some bandages and rubbing alcohol to make sure that it didn't get infected.

    "How is he?" Serena asked.

    "Hey…doc…?" wheezed 0, and he glanced up at 415. "What's…prog…nosis?"

    She sighed. "You require an amputation. The bone in your shoulder has been completely destroyed. We will have to replace the entire shoulder with a bionic implant."

    "…Arm?"

    "Your arm is fine, it will connect with wires to make sure that it remains functioning." 415 watched 0 struggle with his pain, he had been ignoring it during the entire battle with Max and the subsequent brawl with Sappho, but pain had to come out sometime. "If it was anyone else, they would already be dead from the blood loss and pain. But, since you are too stubborn for that, we will have to make an exception as always."

    "Always…am…"

    "Can't you put him on some painkillers or something?" Serena ordered.

    415 shook her head. "Too risky right now, he is in an unstable condition and in shock. The serum he uses has finally caught up with him, if we put him on painkillers there's a good chance his body will reject the medicine and he will fall into a catatonic state. The most I can give him is a local anesthetic." She pulled out a needle from a nearby first aid box and dug it into 0's shoulder. "That is all we can do for now. The rest will be determined by us when we arrive at the safe house."

    "What about her?" Serena glanced to May, whose body had developed some heavy bruising.

    "Fine," 415 answered. "The injuries she sustained were severe, but she will make a full recovery. She will be conscious within the hour."

    "That's good," murmured Serena.

    "Is something wrong?"

    "I couldn't help him," she explained. "I've gotten all this training, I'm the senior ranger, he's my commanding officer, and I still couldn't do anything. I'm the top technical ranger. I should have been able to beat Sappho on my own, but I couldn't. I couldn't even lay a scratch on him…and now he outclasses both him and me." She looked up and in her grey eyes tears were beginning to form. "I'm useless, aren't I?"

    "…3," groaned 0. With his good arm he struggled to reach her. Serena clasped hers around his. "Re-lax… Gotta…rest up-for the next round." Twisting his neck, he looked to Max, who had not moved or spoken since he had sat down next to his sister. "Max-can you power down-? Kinda creeping everyone…out…"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger looked towards 0 and nodded with a growl. He pressed his gauntlet against the Dark Emerald and his chains faded away into Max Birch, who gasped suddenly when he regained control. He looked around, as if getting used to being in primary control again. "You okay, 0?" he asked.

    "Never better," grunted the Golden Ranger. He tried to laugh but it hurt his shoulder too much, even with the anesthetic.

    "You silly fool," Serena mumbled and pressed his good left hand into her face. "You're not going to have a round two for a while. Your body's been too damaged to fight, just like me…"

    "The hell it is," he retorted. "415 will do my surgery and I'll be as good as new, maybe better."

    He glanced over to May, then to 415. "How long will the surgery take?"

    "At PKM, it will take-"

    "No time."

    "What?"

    "We don't have time to get me to PKM Headquarters," grumbled 0. "How long with the transplant take at the safe house?"

    415 was quite shocked at the absurdity of his demand. "Are you crazy?"

    "Apparently."

    "The surgery alone requires a team to excise the damaged muscle and bone, and a full mechanical transplant grafted to the exact specifications of your shoulder. It could take days to do it at PKM, maybe a week on our own! This is ludicrous!"

    "Guess again," 0 coughed. "Take specifications of my shoulder, that'll take a minute. E-mail them to PKM, and have them make the shoulder there. While they make the graft…remove the shoulder…and have them-teleport… Take one or two days, tops." He shut his eyes and grinned. "If anyone can do it, it'll be us." The lines on his face smoothed and he stopped talking.

    "What's wrong with him?" Serena demanded and bent over him to check the Golden Ranger's pulse.

    "Just resting his eyes," 415 decided. "Still awake, though. Now then, I think we should handle our target." The agent gave 0 one last look over, then turned her attention to May, who was still knocked out. She felt the head. "Some light trauma here, maybe a concussion. I will perform an MRI to make sure nothing's wrong." She grabbed another syringe. "We should wake her up."

    "Wait," Max said. "You're going to wake her up here? Now?"

    415 nodded. "It is our best option right now, Dark Gem. Your sister needs to wake up so we can determine the extent of her injuries and we can treat her. Besides, it will be easier to wake her up here than when we get to the safe house. She needs to know what has happened and if she is handled improperly she could go into a state of shock." Max, after hearing this, took his sister's hand and nodded.

    "Do it," he muttered. 415 wasted no time and plunged the syringe full of wake-up drugs into the woman. After about a minute, May opened her eyes and sat up groaning.

    "It is a side-effect of the drug: a mild headache," 415 murmured and began her inspection. "How are you feeling?"

    May looked around. "Where am I?" she asked, quite worried. "Where's-"

    "You're safe, May," Max replied. May swerved around and there Max was, a goofy smile on his face as he waved at her. "We rescued you."

    "We?" It was all too confusing for May, who was being inspected by 415, a woman she had never seen before, who was looking at her brother who had been abducted and was now being told she had been rescued from the clutches of the evil ranger who had taken her hostage from the Golden Ranger, who was really Keean Toby. The car shifted and her stretcher bumped against the one next to her, which had upon it the Golden Ranger himself, quite unable to move.

    "What happened to him?" she asked in horror. Her protector looked like he was on the brink of death.

    "Hey…don't talk about me like I can't here ya, May," groaned 0. "It's rude."

    May was startled that the piece of meat that vaguely resembled Keean Toby could even speak after the blood loss he had to have suffered. Even now it was dripping from his ruined shoulder into a small puddle on the ground. "W-what's going on? Serena? Max?" She looked from one to the other, Serena looked like she herself was about ready to faint, her face was white from exhaustion and Max looked quite confused himself.

    "My designation is Agent 415," said the operative, finally tired of the silence and dialog. "I am an intelligence officer and mole assigned to Petalburg City by PKM, an anti-terrorist organization, and the operative assigned to your case, May Birch. We rescued you and Agent 3, Serena Brine, from the Dark Sapphire Ranger when the Golden Ranger and Dark Emerald Ranger went in to find you."

    May blinked. "Y-you all saved me?" she asked.

    415 nodded. "We have been assigned to you since the event in Saffron City, when you were specifically targeted by an unknown terrorist group, recently identified as the Dark Gem Rangers. They want you for an unknown reason and we are taking you into protective custody for your own safety along with your family. Unfortunately…"

    "What?" May asked. "What's 'unfortunate'?"

    415 hesitated before she replied. "One member of your family is unaccounted for. We are moving to a safe house to decide our next move. Your parents are waiting for you there."

    May's eyes widened. "Oh no," she murmured. "Sarah?"

    The operative did not reply, May's maternal instincts were probably kicking into overdrive, and it was not something she was prepared to deal with. May felt someone grab her hand, and squeeze it. It wasn't Max, who was on her other side, but the injured Agent 0 who had moved to touch her.

    "Keean…?" she asked.

    "She's alive," he mumbled. "Sappho-he told me-he was going to see her. They will keep her…alive…until they get me. She's bait to make sure we…come…"

    "Bait?"

    "Sarah Birch's kidnapping is believed right now to be a ploy to lure us out now that our resources are compromised," 415 explained. "We are waiting for further information, but we are operating under the assumption that she is alive."

    But May wasn't paying attention to what 415 was saying. Instead, almost all of her attention was focused on the hand that was curled around hers, the one that looked like raw meat. "Keean," she murmured. "What's going on?"

    0 laughed and blood splat out from his lips. "Don't know, May. Soon as I find out, I'll let you know. Just relax, though. Really makes things cramped back here when everyone's tense."

    "Stop talking," Serena grumbled. "You're wasting what little time you have left babbling. We need you alive if you want to do that transplant now."

    "Oh yeah," 0 muttered. "Forgot…"

    415, having had enough of the conversation and after determining that May was indeed okay, decided that she wanted nothing more to return to where Bakaguru was, as the otaku at least knew when to shut up. She sat down in the passenger seat and harrumphed thoroughly before buckling the seat belt.

    "How's everyone doing?" he asked.

    "Everyone's alive," she replied. "For now."

    Bakaguru nodded. "Well, we're here," he muttered and turned into the safe house's parking lot. "Let's see if we can't find a more permanent designation for everyone's survival stats, shall we?"

    She nodded. "Yes, sir."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Norman and Caroline Birch," said Bakaguru, "thank you for agreeing to come with us. With your help, we might be able to reach an understanding on the situation we have found ourselves on."

    The conference room, which was in reality 415's very messy living room, had very little in the way of things to sit on. There was a couch, which the Birch family was currently occupying, huddling together. 415 was elsewhere, probably making preparations for 0's surgery, while Serena had called the swirling chair near 415's work desk. Bakaguru himself stood in the center of this very cramped room, trying very much to sound professional in front of people who had no idea who he was or what he was attempting to explain to them.

    "So," replied Norman, "what are you going to do?"

    "An excellent question," answered Bakaguru. "Have you had the chance to read through the documents I provided you with when we brought you here?" Both Norman and Caroline nodded. "We have been protecting your family, in particular your daughter May Birch, for quite some time. Or, rather, our rangers have been protecting her." He gestured to Serena, who waved her right hand to display her morpher. "This is our White Ranger, Serena Brine. She is one of our two-man team."

    "And the other…is the man you had to carry in, right?" Caroline asked. She had been watching when the stretcher with the giant man had been brought past them to the bedroom, where he still was presumably.

    "His name is classified," explained Bakaguru, "but he is known to you as Keean Toby. He is our Golden Ranger and the most powerful individual PKM could provide to protect your daughter." He turned to May and pushed his glasses back to the brim of his nose. "I am sorry that we caused all of this to happen to your family, but we had the best intentions at heart."

    May nodded. "I-I know that you did," she said. Her eyes were on the floor.

    "What are you going to do about our granddaughter?" Caroline wondered.

    "Sarah Birch is not our target, your daughter is," Bakaguru said. "Nevertheless, we have extended protection to your entire family, so a rescue attempt will be made to bring Sarah back unharmed. We are scanning all police, traffic, and satellite information with every resource at PKM's disposal to track down the individual who took her. A rescue operation will commence once we are certain of her location, made by a three ranger team consisting of the Golden Ranger leading, with the White and Dark Emerald Rangers acting as backup. Agent 415 and I will be acting as support to give them all the advantages we can muster against this enemy."

    Max nodded. His hand was on the Dark Emerald on his neck, he was eager to use it again. "Originally," continued Bakaguru, "it was not our intention to include the Dark Emerald Ranger in this plan, but as long as Max Birch is capable of harnessing the Dark Gem against the Dark Sapphire Ranger, we would be fools to not utilize such a useful resource."

    "Are there any more rangers that can help?" Max asked. "I know about Gold and White, but shouldn't there be three others?"

    "There are only two other operating PKM Rangers," Bakaguru replied. "Both Agents 1 and 5 will be unable to assist us on this operation. We are, as they say, on our own for this one. It was all I could do to make sure accommodations for 0 were made at the pace they are being done at."

    "He looks to be in bad shape," Norman pointed out. "How can he help?"

    "He will have to undergo a transplant before he can fight, true," the otaku admitted, "but if there is a singular individual that this mission cannot be without, it would be the Golden Ranger. His recovery is essential right now to our success. Right now 415 is probably making preparations for his surgery." He pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose again. "Make no mistake, sir. We are not wasting time here. We must be ready immediately."

    Bakaguru turned to Serena. "415 will be needing help with the transplant. Go see that she gets it." The White Ranger nodded and left the room, heading down the corridor towards the bedroom/operating room. After a few moments, Max got up to follow, but was grabbed by Bakaguru. "What are you doing?"

    Max shrugged. "Gotta do something, might as well go help," he said. "I can't sit around and do nothing. Besides, I can try and help 0 with my Dark Emerald. It heals wounds. I mean, I had a gash in my forehead a while ago." He tapped his skull, it was perfect. "Maybe it can help deal with his pain."

    The otaku shook his head. "The Dark Gems will not work for anyone other than their contractors. That Dark Emerald keeps you alive because you are both symbiotically connected to one another. It will not help anyone else." He released Max, and pointed to his family. "They need you right now. Your family's world has been thrown upside down. Show some support. We will tend to 0. He is part of our family."

    Max glanced at the engineer, then to his family. "Take good care of him," he whispered to the engineer. "He used to be part of ours." Bakaguru's eyes widened, but he said nothing to the Gym Leader as he turned to go and assist in the operation.

    Bakaguru entered the bedroom, which had been converted into a hospital bed for the Golden Ranger's operation. The pillows and sheets had been stripped away, placed on the floor to stop blood from ruining the floorboards. 415 had already begun, it looked very gruesome to the engineer, who was quite glad he had not eaten before arriving. 0's shoulder resembled raw meat, and the instrument that 415 was using to excise the dead muscle resembled a chainsaw/scalpel. Bit by bit, 0's shoulder came apart in manageable chunks. All the while, Serena was there providing the Golden Ranger moral support through the ordeal.

    "How is it proceeding?" Bakaguru asked, staring at the surgeon. She wiped her brow and shrugged.

    "The muscle is coming apart well," she replied. "Subject is stable and responding well to serum injections every ten minutes to maintain enough bodily fluids, and painkillers are keeping him conscious and numb at the same time. Detailed blueprints for the mechanical transplant have been sent, and progress is being made in R&D that suggest work will be completed faster than expected."

    "Would you…please stop…talking like I'm not…here?" 0 inquired, his voice suggesting that he was in an extraordinary amount of pain. "Not a piece of meat."

    "Quiet you," ordered 415. "Removing the bone now."

    0's shoulder was gone, the only thing remaining was the shoulder blade and pieces connecting the left arm to the chest. 415 polished off her hacksaw, or a high-tech equivalent, and looked at 0. "You sure about this?" she asked. "My apartment is not a sterile environment, you will most likely contract an infection from the wound alone, and the transplant is unprepared."

    0 grunted. "Shut up and finish it," he gasped, straining as very best he could to ignore the pain the tranquilizers couldn't block out. "Besides, I know that you have something that'll help me. You always have something up your sleeve."

    415 smirked. "And what if I did not?" she asked him sarcastically, then looked to the White Ranger. "Serena, please go to my kitchen and get a device that looks like a coffee maker. When you find it, bring it here."

    The White Ranger nodded. "Of course, but what does it do?"

    "It is a static field generator," 415 replied. "It is used by intelligence officers for emergency cases when our identity becomes compromised. It operates like a Poke Ball, only larger to fit a human. It is the closest thing I have to a life-support system for him." She glanced down to 0, whose breath was getting harsher. "It has systems so that it will keep the body alive under any circumstances. We will have 0 evoke a transformation to Rio Form, and use Endure. We will then freeze him in that state until the transplant comes and we can finish."

    Serena rushed out of the room and Bakaguru leapt up to take her place. "I'll hold him down," said Bakaguru and gripped the left side of the Golden Ranger's body. "I'm sorry, 0."

    "D-do it."

    415 sawed off the bones, making certain that not a single piece remained from the excised portion. After several minutes, it was done, and Serena returned with the white, coffee maker-looking device. 0's left shoulder was completely gone down to the middle of his chest, and hardly anything connected the arm to the body anymore. Just a few pieces of skin were left. "Hand me the generator," 415 ordered. "He needs to transform now."

    As 0 lacked the strength to even lift his morpher to his lips, it was Bakaguru who grabbed the right hand and moved it. Struggling to breathe from pain, 0 whimpered, "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power," to activate the voice confirmation. Serena took the blue Poke Ball from 0's belt and placed it into the morpher as he transformed. "Rio F-Form. Synchronization D-Drive- E-Endure." The hue of light surrounded him and 415 activated the generator over his body.

    0's strength was so severely damaged that the Golden Ranger uniform did not even manifest itself properly. Pieces of it were summoned, like the right half and lower portions of the chest plate, the boots but not the right legging, and only the right arm was covered. His helmet was non-existent, and the Arm Boosters were fragmented. Nonetheless, he succeeded and the generator flipped on, surrounding the Golden Ranger in a bright, crimson light, before suspending itself two inches over his body and hovering just above his midsection, humming lightly to itself as it began to freeze 0's body in time.

    "Normally," explained 415, "the generator takes in its user and rockets them back to PKM. Unfortunately, since we would not be able to get him back for any length of time, he has to stay here, and the energy he will consume from the machine is too much to treat him internally. Fortunately, due to my genius, he will remain unresponsive but alive outside the machine."

    Serena looked at the generator in wonder. "Is he awake?"

    "Yes and no," Bakaguru replied. "I designed this machine with my assistants. He is awake, but he cannot hear us. During the days it will take for him to receive the transplant, it will seem like only an instant. Quite a good job, 415, adapting my technology like that. Perhaps we will be able to transfer you to R&D instead."

    415 shook her head. "I have only one transfer I want," she muttered and left the room. Bakaguru and Serena were left staring at the glowing body of the Golden Ranger. Finally, Serena turned to Bakaguru and sighed.

    "Is…is he going to be okay?" she asked.

    Bakaguru shrugged. "He's a hard man to kill. Don't count him out until the fat lady sings, okay Serena?"

    She leaned against him and he put his arm around her. "Am I useless, Bakaguru?" she asked. "My stats aren't anywhere near his. All I'm good for is getting hurt."

    The engineer chuckled. "Without you, I don't think 0 would be the person he is, Serena," he said. "Keep in mind that if you hadn't gotten hurt, we wouldn't have the blueprints to Codename Ailed and 0 wouldn't have the Synchronization Drive. In fact, one might go so far to say that you are one of the very few people that the Golden Ranger would sacrifice his shoulder for."

    Serena shook her head. "He did it for her, not for me, Bakaguru. And now, he's doing it again." Her eyes traced the giant hole that now adorned the left shoulder and shook her head. "How much more does he have to sacrifice for her? He's sacrificed his life, his name, now his shoulder, all because of her. I…and I hate her for that."

    The otaku nodded and allowed the girl to cry on his shoulder. "Serena, I understand very little the inner workings of the Golden Ranger's mind, but I do know that he does very little he does not want to do. We forced him to become an agent, yes, but he made the choice to become a Ranger. You Serena, were born into this life. He could have lived a happy life outside our world. But he made his own choice, and that must be respected."

    The door creaked open, and the agents turned to see that May Birch was standing behind it, listening in on their conversation. Wordlessly, she walked into the room, where she stopped just in front of 0's bedside. Serena wouldn't have thought her to have the stomach to handle looking at the Golden Ranger as he was, but somehow she did. Her eyes stole across his ruined body to the gaping piece of shoulder that was missing, in addition to the barely-morphed clothing.

    She looked at the pair and the White Ranger saw tears in her eyes. "C-can I talk to you alone please?" May asked her. Bakaguru didn't like the sound of that and began to interject, but Serena held up a hand and he fell silent.

    "It's fine," the ranger said. The engineer nodded respectfully and retreated for the other room, hoping the Birches were doing better. Serena shut the door and walked over to May. "What do you want? He needs to be left alone right now."

    "What were you saying earlier?" May asked. "Something about everything wrong with Mr. Toby being my fault." She looked at the Golden Ranger again. "What did I ever do to him? I…I don't even know who he is anymore." She lowered her face, holding the sides of her head. "Who is he?"

    "His identity is classified," answered the White Ranger. "I can't tell you." And I don't want to. She would not allow May the chance to ruin 0's life a second time.

    "Please," she whispered. "I need to know. This man has been hurt so badly, all because of me." She was begging, her desperation was reaching the extreme. "All he has done is fight for me, protect my family, and now look what's happened to him." She grabbed Serena's hands and even the White Ranger was moved by her urgency. "Please."

    Serena sighed. "I don't think you understand, May," she replied. "I mean I can't tell you. The identity of the Golden Ranger before his service is sealed forever, because of protection regarding any living family or friends he might still have. We've made an exception for you in even telling you my name."

    But she refused to let go. "Please, Serena."

    Serena glanced at May's hand. In the right index finger was a golden ring, one that looked so much like one she had seen before. "May," she said, "why are you wearing a wedding ring?"

    May retracted her hands, and rubbed the golden band with her left hand. "It's a nervous reflex," she explained. "I-I used to be married and sometimes I like to wear the ring. It's a weird habit."

    "Can I see it?" Serena wondered. May, after a moment, nodded and took it off to give to the White Ranger. She looked it over…it was truly a piece of art. But Serena knew where to look, and checked the inside of the band, where, sure enough, she found an inscription. "A&M- Forever... What does that mean?"

    May blushed. "My ex-husband and I got matching rings, one with a half of a message written in it. The whole thing reads 'Forever and a Day'. Looking back on it, the whole idea was stupid."

    "Why?"

    In response, May lifted her left hand, with the empty ring finger wiggling. "Oh, well."

    Serena thought it over. What she was considering was quite against the rules of PKM protocol and at the same time it wasn't. "May," she decided, "there's a way to ID the Golden Ranger without being told his name. Do you really want to know who he is?"

    She nodded. "I need to. He…I just want to know. Whoever he is, a criminal, a fighter, a trainer, it doesn't matter to me. I just want to know him." Serena sighed and remembered the proverb that people should be careful for what they wish for. She led May to the side of the bed and pointed to a portion of his exposed chest.

    "What does that look like to you?" she asked. She was pointing to the chain that was still exposed on a piece of the Golden Ranger uniform, with the gold ring that was attached.

    "It looks like…another wedding ring?" May guessed and Serena nodded.

    "Agent 0 was once a married man. His connections were severed by our organization on the advice of his predecessor, the former Golden Ranger. After that, he had to undergo extensive physical and mental training to prevent anyone from recognizing him in his new identity as a full PKM Agent." She stopped and indicated that May should look closer. "There's always been an inscription, I guess 0 wanted to keep some piece of his former life with him. Want to read it?"

    Unsure of what this had to do with 0's identity, May looked closer, passed the generator that was keeping the Golden Ranger suspended in time. She couldn't touch him, the force-field generated by the machine prohibited such contact. She had to squint but eventually she saw the lettering, and her eyes grew wide when she read it.

    A&M- …And A Day.

    "Oh no," whispered May. "This is-this can't be!"

    "Careful what you wish for, May Birch," whispered Serena Brine, as she left the room.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  7. #32
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    Default Chapter 16, Continued

    Morph Sixteen, Evolve or Die, Part 2

    It was three days before preparations were complete for 0's transplant.

    In all those three days, May Birch remained in the operating room, never once leaving, except for essential purposes like food and the bathroom. Even Serena was puzzled by the reaction the woman had undergone. And she refused to speak even to her mother and father, no…she just kept watching the battered form of the Golden Ranger through 415's portable generator. Each time Serena would come into the room to visit with 0 by herself, May was always there, making true intimacy with her partner impossible.

    "What's she doing?" Serena asked Bakaguru. She had just left a tray of food for May to eat and left her and the Golden Ranger alone again. Bakaguru had been working with his team each day, and was taking a break from designing the new shoulder.

    "Maybe she's trying to find the button that euthanizes 0," he suggested. He had gotten very little sleep in the past few days, so his normally happy demeanor had long since evaporated. "Or maybe she's trying to release him from the field so she can shout at him?"

    "Really?" Serena hadn't gotten that vibe from May, the woman looked more like she was at the funeral of a loved one than on a mission of vengeance. "Why would she want to do that?"

    "Isn't it obvious?" Bakaguru snorted. "She's just been told, after you were given explicit instructions to not tell her, that her entire viewpoint of her life has been turned upside down."

    "What?"

    "I think I can explain." Serena turned around, Max was leaning on a nearby wall. Over the past few days he'd been a great comfort to both his parents and the Agents, and had been working hard with 415 to track down Sarah, since his Dark Emerald allowed him extra energy that needed expending. "My sister has always been a very…shall we say caring person. Not to me, or not in any way she'd ever admit, but she cares a lot about people. She's got natural maternal instincts. In fact, I'd say that's what first got her interested in Pokemon, the chance to raise things. So, when Sarah was born, she filled in the role perfectly."

    "What's that got to do with anything?" Serena asked.

    "I was there, when she threw out 0," he answered. "For a couple of days, I thought she was going to kill herself from the stress of having forced him out. It went completely against her nature, I still don't even know the reason why she threw him out. She never talks about it, see." He jerked his thumb over to the door and, although he couldn't see May, he was pretty sure of what she was doing. "Right now, she's trying to sort through her feelings. First she throws out the love of her life, and suddenly he's back and he's been protecting her without trying to hurt her. How would you feel, if someone you loved walked back into your life and you completely missed why you threw him out in the first place?"

    "You're quite the philosopher, Max," muttered Bakaguru. "Now get me some coffee. Jessie and James need the final bone analysis of 0's shoulder and we'll be ready to transport and do the operation. They're such good builders, 0 will hardly notice it's a replacement."

    Max blushed and nodded. "Coming right up." He turned and headed into the kitchen, where his parents probably were, nervously picking at what little 415 had to eat in the cupboards.

    "He's got a point," mumbled Serena and she slumped down on the ground next to Bakaguru's work station. "Think they'll get back together?"

    "Even if they did, it wouldn't matter," replied the engineer. "0 is still bound by his code of service and the Golden Ranger will not break that. He cannot be engaged in a relationship with someone who can compromise his identity."

    "But she can't," the White Ranger said. "She already knows it, and we'll be protecting her once she's transferred to protective custody, won't we? He can have his family back again." She was very depressed, Bakaguru could tell from her dejected eyes and her terrible posture.

    "This isn't a sitcom, Serena," answered Bakaguru. "Just because he can doesn't mean he will. Relationships are difficult, they break down at the slightest glitch. Neither of them are the same people they fell in love with. May is no longer May, and 0 has changed completely. No, a storybook ending does not exist without hard work and dedication."

    Bakaguru was a very cynical man, and understood little of the concepts of love. He viewed it as an emotion that he would not have time for in the many, many years left he had yet to live. And the fact that he was lecturing someone at least ten years his junior about a subject he knew nothing about made the concept even more laughable. He was a PKM Agent. And agents lived and died alone, without any outside contacts. That was the rule of the organization.

    "Go get some sleep," ordered Bakaguru, who could sniff the arrival of his coffee and hear Max's footsteps. "You are useless languishing." The Dark Emerald Ranger handed him his coffee and he returned to work, barking orders to a trio of workers on the webcam in his computer.

    Even if Serena took his advice, it wouldn't do any good. She had tried to sleep, it was impossible with the situation being what it was. 415 hadn't slept, though with that woman Serena never could tell. Maybe she was on the same drug 0 was, Serena thought, as she headed into the bedroom. After all, she had to wait for the transplant to be done and she could think of nothing better to do than break May's solitary guard over the Golden Ranger. She sat down in the corner. May did not notice her.

    Or so she thought. After about ten minutes, during which time Serena was actually working in the general direction of a nap, the coordinator turned to Serena. Barely awake, the White Ranger blinked herself back to consciousness, as it seemed May had something to say.

    "What's…he like?" she asked.

    Serena shrugged. "Don't you know? I mean, you did marry him, so you've got to have some idea of what he's like."

    "N-no," May stammered, apparently quite flustered. "It's just…it's just that he's changed so much. I mean, I didn't even recognize him! How did the man I threw out become my and my daughter's hero? How could he, after what we went through?"

    Again, Serena shrugged. "I think he's thick-headed, but that's just me. And our group. And basically everyone he's ever met. But he's a good guy. Do you know how he even became a ranger?" May shook her head. "He became one because you and Sarah were in danger. I watched the tape, he transformed only when he was certain that you needed his help. He didn't even want to become a ranger until he needed to save you."

    "He didn't?" May asked. "Why not?"

    "Ask him when he wakes up," she replied. "Something tells me he'd rather talk to you himself than have his past revealed by me. He's wanted to, for a long time now."

    The generator hummed softly for a long time, both women were silent. The man that both loved laid there, barely battling death thanks to 415's ingenuity. Finally, May said it: "Is he in love with you?"

    This was unexpected, and unusual. While they both knew that they each loved the Golden Ranger, in some way or another, 0's feelings were an entirely different matter. On one hand, his inability to focus when it came to May, his utter devotion to her safety, might make it seem that he was still completely in love with his former wife. But, Serena knew him better now, she was his best friend, his closest friend, and the two shared a special bond that came from looking out for each other, keeping one another's secrets.

    "I don't know who he's in love with," Serena admitted. "He keeps that to himself, or he tells Pi."

    "Pi?"

    "Each Ranger requires an AI to operate the Ranger System we use when we fight," explained Serena. "The Golden Ranger's AI is Pi, a Pikachu."

    "A Pikachu…" murmured May. "I remember Pikachu. It was such a powerful Pokemon. They were best friends, all this time he was alone, weren't they?"

    "He wasn't alone," Serena retorted. "He had me."

    The operation began roughly two hours later, when Jessie and James had completed the transplant exactly to Bakaguru's specifications. 415 took the implant, which looked like a perfect replica of 0's shoulder, and placed it on a table near the bed. For some reason, the event had attracted the entire crowd of people crammed into 415's apartment. Even Norman and Caroline had decided to join the agents, May, and Max in watching 415 work.

    "I will be removing 0 from life support," she announced, "For the time that it will require for me to implant the mechanical shoulder, he will be completely dependent on his own will to survive. Serena, Bakaguru, Max, you will restrain him while I implant the machine. This will hurt him to a very intense degree, so he will struggle when the piece connects himself."

    All three nodded. Bakaguru grabbed 0's lower legs while Serena took the center of the body. Max, summoning additional strength from the Dark Emerald, grabbed 0's upper body and held it down. Of course, they were just getting in position, they couldn't touch 0 until the force-field was removed. 415, after conducting a final inspection, reached to the generator and, with a quick motion, shut it off and threw it aside.

    0 reacted to being removed from the life support quite violently and started thrashing from the shock of being returned to life. "Golden Ranger," informed 415, "you have been restored to self-sustaining life functions. Please recompose yourself while we begin the transplant for your shoulder."

    "E-easy-for-you t-to s-say," grunted 0, as he strained to stop his violent jerking. He looked down, and was terrified to see his own heart beating wildly inside what was left of the left side of his chest. It looked almost ready to burst. The implant, which looked a whole like his old shoulder, was placed in the vacant spot it would occupy by the intelligence officer and 0 noticed that the wires were moving on their own on the sides of the machine. "G-grea-t."

    When 415 activated the bonding sequence, the Golden Ranger felt assured of his death. The pain, so much more intense than when Sappho had jammed his sword to destroy the tissue and muscle and bone, felt so unreal…like he was watching someone else get tortured for the entertainment of others. His heart felt like it was…fading away.

    "He's seizing," announced someone above him. "CPR now!"

    Something was pressing so rudely against his chest and air was being forced through his lungs, it tasted so nice and familiar. He felt something start to connect his chest to his left arm, a machine that beeped each time two pieces of blood vein were connected through pieces of wire, when the bone structure merged with the metal thanks to circuits designed to mimic bone cells and structure. But his heart was weakening. He could barely hear it anymore.

    "Electroshock startup," ordered a female face above him. "All of the systems have been installed, his heart needs a jumpstart now or we're going to lose him." Suddenly, he was jolted with a good dose of electricity through his circulatory system. He hadn't been shocked since…no, he hadn't been shocked by Pi recently. Oh yeah, he thought, the Volt Tackles were annoying. His heart started beating faster, then eventually returned to its normal rhythm.

    "He's back," said someone, someone particularly relieved.

    0 opened his eyes, the room was so blurry he could hardly see. His body felt heavier, something was weighing down his shoulder. There were some figures in the room, he thought he saw Bakaguru smiling at him. Then something forced him down again, specifically a woman, who hugged him fiercely and pinned his arms to his sides.

    "Get off," he mumbled, "get off me…I can't breathe…"

    "You. Stupid. Fool." It was Serena holding him, he recognized the smell of her hair. "You ever do anything like this again, I'll kill you myself."

    He chuckled, then coughed. The heavy machine that was his shoulder was making it hard for him to breathe. "I got it, 3," he grunted, "now get off me. The implant's really, really heavy. It's pressing on my lung."

    "That's a normal side effect," explained Bakaguru. "The device is made from a fusion of metal and plastic. We designed it with the durability of steel, so it won't break as easily as your real shoulder, but with a plastic-quality so it can mimic the reflexes and muscle movement of a real body part. It's also designed so that if, for some reason, your shoulder is destroyed, it can be easily switched out now that the wires are connected to your vessels and muscles."

    "Really?" 0 looked over his new shoulder, it seemed really nice, and the plastic looked exactly like his skin. He raised his hand and touched it, it even felt like real skin! "Well, it's heavy, but so are the Arm Boosters. I'll get used to it fast." His vision was getting better, he could see almost everyone in the room. Norman and Caroline were in the back, with looks of relief on their faces that the operation was a success. 415 looked pleased, but indifferent enough to maintain her composure, and Max was grinning broadly. Serena looked flustered beyond belief that she had reacted so strongly so 0 being alright.

    Then he noticed the last person in the room, the woman who was fingering a golden ring on her index finger. "M-May Birch," he muttered and scratched his head. "How are you feeling?"

    She didn't answer, so 0 glanced around the room. "Think you guys can give us a moment?" Serena looked like she would physically fight to be his first visitor, but upon coaxing from Bakaguru, she followed the rest of the group, shutting the door as she left the room. Almost certain that everyone was outside listening, but not particularly caring, the Golden Ranger gestured to a chair by the bed and May sat down next to him.

    "I know," she said, confirming what 0 suspected from her behavior.

    He sighed. "I figured as much," he muttered and lowered his head. "Who told you?"

    "Serena did," she replied and fingered the ring nervously. "While you were out, we had a talk. She showed me…your ring." She glanced at the chain he was wearing and 0 suddenly noticed that his ranger uniform was still fragmented on his person.

    "Power down," he ordered Pi and the rest of the uniform vanished, replaced with the civilian uniform. His crossed his legs and reclined in the bed. "Sorry you had to find out like this. If it's worth anything, I didn't mean for any of this to happen."

    "Really? Somehow I doubt that."

    "I requested the assignment in Saffron City so I could see Sarah," he explained, "not so I could bother you. When I became the Golden Ranger, I was given the task of keeping you safe. I tried to do that as best I could, and look what happened."

    She kept fingering the ring. "So what happens now?"

    "We'll probably track down Sappho soon, it's impossible to hide from PKM's resources. Once that happens, I will be sent in to distract the Dark Sapphire Ranger while Max and Serena go and retrieve Sarah." He looked up, and clenched his hands. "I'll probably die, but your daughter will live. Sappho will make sure I die this time, he hates making mistakes. Then, Max and Serena will look after you as a new team, Max will probably be brought in to PKM because of his Dark Gem. Then you, your daughter, and your parents will be given new identities until the crisis is over."

    "You're going to die for her?"

    He grinned. "That'd be the best retribution I can give you, May," he muttered. "You get your daughter back, I get to die, and life goes on just like it did before I ever came back." He shifted in the bed and got up, though it clearly looked like it hurt him to do so. He groaned and stumbled, but caught himself before he fell. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

    "Where are you going?" she asked, she had gotten up when it looked like he was about to fall.

    He turned around and flashed a grin. "Gotta get ready for my Deathday, May," he said. "When a ranger dies, there are preparations that need to be made. A new ranger needs to be selected, needs to be prepared, and needs to be given some very handy items." He opened the door and sighed. "I need to go get them from Bakaguru."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Now, now, Sarah, we've got to make you look pretty."

    Sarah, tied to the chair, tried so desperately to squirm out of the restraints that the evil ranger had placed on her, but the ropes were so tight. She was sure that her wrists were raw, they hurt so much, and no matter how much she asked, Sappho wouldn't loosen them. Instead he just hummed to himself and set about the makeup he had been applying to the girl. Her lips were the brightest red, in hindsight Sappho wondered if he had perhaps used too much and made her look like a hooker. The blush had been smeared onto her cheeks and the cover up he had simply dumped onto whatever portion of her face he felt needed it, with little concern for the girl's well being.

    "S-stop," she pleaded. "I want my Mommy."

    "Ah…" murmured Sappho, "but I can't give you to your mother yet. I need you to do something for me." He put aside the blush and lipstick, and grabbed a bottle of mascara to make her eyelashes so beautiful… "I need you to bring the freaks to me." He chuckled and painted her eyes with enough mascara to make it look like she had two black eyes. "Perfect! You're ready for camera!"

    He had dressed Sarah in a torn, tattered dress he had found from some tramp outside, after he had killed her, of course. He hadn't, however, harmed a single piece of hair on her delicate head, he couldn't afford to. What if PKM didn't take damaged goods? No, he couldn't risk that, he thought, as he mounted the terrible camcorder in front of the little girl.

    "Okay, Sewwy," whispered the dark ranger, "I'm gonna turn this on, and you're gonna sit there and do nothing, unless I tell you to. Got it?"

    "O-okay…" mumbled Sarah, quite frightened indeed.

    Sappho chuckled, and turned on the camera, the red light flickering on. "Good evening, PKM Rangers!" he cackled theatrically, gesturing wildly with his hands. "It's me, the Dark Sapphire Ranger, here live from Petalburg!" He was having a great time acting for the camera, for he made sure to stay within the shot and hover around Sarah. "Tonight, I have a special guest with me! None other than Sarah Birch! Say hello to everyone, Sarah!"

    "H-hello," she whispered.

    "Can't hear you, Sarah!" screeched Sappho and he grabbed one of her pigtails. "Say hello to everyone!"

    "Hello!" she screamed and shut her eyes. Sappho giggled and released her hair.

    "Now, Sarah, what's the thing you want most in the world right now?" asked Sappho, his voice getting higher and higher with each word.

    "I-I wanna see my Mommy," she answered.

    "That's right!" announced Sappho, his hand raised as if he had discovered a national treasure. "So, PKM, how you gonna make sure she gets to see her momma again? I mean, she's so annoying, she keeps crying for some reason!" He laughed and put his hand on the little girl's head, rubbing her hair playfully. "In fact, I'm really thinking about killing her!"

    Sarah whimpered, exactly what Sappho wanted. "But," he said, "I am merciful. I'm offering you all a trade, something I want for something you want! You want the little girl back, and I want to fight the paladin. Bring him to me for one, last fight, and I'll let you all try and hunt for the girl. That is, of course, if you can get to her before I kill the Golden Boy!" He howled with laughter and approached the camera, making sure his new horrifying face was the only thing the camera could capture. "Come whenever you like, but I'd expect you find a little girl corpse if you wait too long!" He turned around to Sarah. "Say 'Help me!' Sarah."

    "Help me!" she screamed. He made sure the camera recorded the tears falling from her face.

    "You heard the kid, PKM. Hurry up!"

    And the tape ended. Now all Sappho had to do was deliver it.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "How long do I have?"

    Bakaguru, who was busy typing on the computer, grunted. "Don't speak like that, Gold, depression doesn't suit you well," the engineer answered, his gaze not wavering from the monitor.

    "I'm not depressed, I'm just being practical," 0 said.

    Bakaguru saved what he was working on and brought up a new file, one with charts and graphs. "Come here, then," he grunted. 0 sat down in the chair next to the otaku. "These charts are from the memory saved by your morpher during your fight with Shattered Form. The charts on the left, the ones in blue, are all the Dark Sapphire Ranger, while the ones in gold are you at your peak performances. Notice the differences."

    "His are too high," muttered the Golden Ranger sadly. Bakaguru nodded.

    "If you fight him again, in your current state, you will die," pronounced the otaku. "It is never a pleasant thing to hear, but nothing we have will compensate for his power. All we can hope for is that you can last long enough for Serena and Max to find Sarah Birch and escape." Bakaguru sighed, he hated having to give this kind of news. "0, I know what you're here for, and I've prepared them for you. As the former Golden Ranger did, you must give them to someone who can carry on the identity of the Golden Ranger." He opened his desk and retrieved the Golden Gauntlets. "Who will you give them to?"

    "I don't suppose you'd accept them," 0 suggested and they both laughed.

    "Please, Agent 0," Bakaguru murmured, "I am too old and too fat to fit in a spandex."

    "I know who needs them," 0 decided.

    "Norman? He's much, much too old."

    "Not him. Can't give them to Max either, we don't know what'll happen if a Dark Gem Ranger fuses with full-powered PKM technology."

    "And the Codename Ailed design will not be ready for some time."

    0 got up. "I'll go give them now," he said.

    "Wait," Bakaguru said, before the Golden Ranger could leave. "There's something else." The engineer got up, the Golden Ranger saw that something was in his hand. "While it's true I cannot upgrade you myself, there is one thing I was able to get you that might buy us some more time." He lifted up his hand and inside there was a Poke Ball. "Do you remember a Professor Gary Oak?"

    0 nodded. Oak was an old rival of his, before PKM. He had kept a few tabs on him. Oak, after his grandfather had passed away, had inherited the mantle of Professor and gave out Pokemon to starting trainers in Pallet Town. He was also in charge of 0's old Pokemon, most of whom had been left behind when he had left home for the last time.

    "I called him, posing as your publicist, and after showing a few fake credentials he supplied me with one Pokemon for you to use in your upcoming 'tournament'. He teleported it here and I've been waiting to give it to you," Bakaguru explained. "He told me that you refer to this Pokemon as 'Tork'."

    0 took the ball from Bakaguru's hand and lifted it to his morpher. Instantly, the morpher analyzed the Pokemon and the red-and-white Poke Ball transformed into pure black, like how Lu's had become blue. "Tork…" whispered 0, as he put the ball away on his belt. "What's it for?"

    The otaku smiled. "It's my understanding that your Auxiliary Pokemon System requires registered Pokemon to be used. I picked one with a little more defense so you can at least take Sappho's attacks. You'll last longer."

    0 clasped the engineer's hand. "Thank you," he said, feeling much better about his upcoming fight. He turned and left, leaving Bakaguru with his hands on his shoulders and a grin on his face.

    "Crazy kids," he mumbled, before resuming work. He needed to finish his battle preparations for the support and backup teams.

    0 found her sitting out on the terrace, watching the sun go down. She was a redhead this time, with bright grey eyes, which made the Golden Ranger wonder if she wasn't just picking faces at random. He didn't sit down next to her, but waited for her to acknowledge him.

    "How can I help you, Gold?" 415 asked. In one hand was a cigar, in the other a scotch on the rocks. She removed the smoke long enough to take a sip, seethed with pleasure, then resumed puffing smog into the air. "Busy."

    "I need to give you something," he replied, and waved the gauntlets at her back.

    She shrugged. "Why give them to me? I am uninterested. Perhaps they should go to May Birch, or her father instead."

    He tossed them to her. "Just put them on and," he ordered. "I don't have time for this right now."

    She glanced briefly at the gloves. "Why?"

    "What do you mean why?" asked 0. "You know protocol, 415. Every ranger preparing for mortal conflict requires someone to transfer the morpher to. You're my backup."

    "I know protocol, Golden Ranger," murmured 415, as she took another drink. "That does not mean I have to obey your every command. Agents have the right to refuse gauntlets if they choose. And I choose to refuse."

    "Why?"

    "What do you mean why?" 415 mimicked him with a sarcastic tone. "I have any number of reasons not to listen to you." She threw him back the Golden Gauntlets, all without even looking at him.

    "I'm going to die," said 0. "Does that mean nothing to you?"

    She shook her head no. "Life will go on without you and the Golden Ranger tech, Agent 0. The world does not revolve around you."

    That was it. Removing all restraint he had, he grabbed the fake face and pulled 415 to her feet. She did nothing to oppose him, but hung loosely in the air waiting for him do say what he wanted to say. "I am about to die for May's daughter. My daughter, a girl who doesn't even know the meaning of the word 'father' or even where she came from. And when I'm gone, she'll never know who I was, or what I gave up to protect her. So don't you dare tell me no, and put on the damned gauntlets just like I had to. Understand me?"

    With one sharp move, 415 swirled around and brought 0 to his knees in one painful sweep of her foot to the back of his knee. "Now you listen to me, you dead man," she whispered, "do not dare talk to me about suffering. You think you are the only one with an angst-filled past? You think yourself the only one who gave up something for this? Every one of us did, 0." She took his Golden Gauntlets and slipped them on before he had a chance to do anything. "You understand that?"

    0 pushed her away and they both climbed to their feet, breathing hard from exhaustion. "You might be the Golden Ranger, 0," she muttered, "but you are nothing but another agent to me. Another agent that took what I wanted, and that will never change between us." She pointed to the door, the dark gauntlets she was wearing gleamed in the darkness of the night. "Now leave. You made me drop my smoke."

    "Why do you hate me, 415?" asked the Golden Ranger.

    "Because," she said and looked up at him with a truly hate-filled expression on her lips, "you remind me of him, and I will never forgive you for that."

    0 walked out, unsure of what 415 meant by that comment. He pulled out the two Poke Balls and sighed. "Even with these, am I going to be able to stall long enough for 3 and Max to get Sarah?" He had to rescue his daughter, even if he didn't feel like she was his. Sarah was May's, and she always would be. But he would defend them both to the death, as long as they could be happy.

    "0!" shouted Serena, from somewhere to his left. "We got something!"

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The video, while disturbing, gave Bakaguru all the remaining information required to complete his attack plan. Flanked by his ranger, the engineer gathered everyone into 415's living room. In front of him was a holographic monitor, displaying a small digital map of Petalburg City. He held a remote in his hand, and clicked the button on it. The readout zoomed in on a specific area in North Petalburg, around downtown.

    "Thanks to PKM's spy technology, we have managed to pinpoint locations for both the Dark Sapphire Ranger and the target, Sarah Birch." Two apartment complexes appeared on the screen, one illuminated in blue and another in red. "The blue building is where Sappho is hiding out, while the red shows Sarah's location. As you can see, they are two blocks apart, which gives us a slim chance to complete our mission."

    He pressed the button again and several directions began forming on the screen, a formulated battle plan of Bakaguru's operation. "We will be divided into three designations: Leading, Backup, and Support. Leading Team consists of a sole member, Agent 0." He glanced to the Golden Ranger, who nodded his agreement. "Agent 0 will begin his operation first and attack Sappho's stronghold. Once Sappho is engaged in battle and identified, Backup Team will begin their operation.

    "Serena and Max, as Backup Team, will infiltrate downtown North Petalburg in civilian forms using disguises. Sappho will be prepared for us, but not disguises, he thinks we're too defenseless to send Leading Team as a sole unit rather than a trio. Once inside, transform into ranger uniforms and find Sarah. Your sole objective is to rescue the target and escape with her alive. Nothing else, understand?"

    Both Max and Serena silently nodded.

    "The remainder of us will be concentrated as Support Team, consisting of 415 and myself. The remaining members of the Birch family may help if they wish, but it will be Support Team's duty to monitor both operations. 415 will be monitoring Backup Team and I Leading Team. Are there any questions?" Bakaguru surveyed the room and found no objection to his plan, so he continued.

    "There is a high mortality likelihood with Leading Team," finished the engineer. "In the event that Leading Team fails to stall for the required length of time, Backup Team is ordered to withdraw to prevent further casualties. 415 is advised to prepare to receive the Golden Ranger morpher. We will commence the operation shortly. Rangers are recommended to review their wills and testaments, and say their goodbyes."

    0 wasted no time. He raised his morpher to his lips and pressed the trigger. "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power." Golden pieces of armor surrounded him, clamping down on his body and uniting with dark fabric into the Golden Ranger. His head glowed, and his face vanished behind the visor and helmet that emerged. Norman and Caroline were quite impressed with the transformation, but it hardly garnered the focus of anyone else. "Ready, Bakaguru."

    The otaku clasped his friend's arm. "Goodbye, comrade," he said. "Is the torch ready?" 0 nodded and glanced at 415.

    "It'll be passed again," he confirmed. His boots clanking against the ground, he headed for the terrace. On his belt there were now two Poke Balls, one on each hip instead of one on the small of his back. "Pi, divert all support systems to the legs, I'll need it when we start jumping."

    "Okay," the Pikachu said. 0 monitored the stat change and, upon completion, placed his left leg up on the railing and climbed up. Outside was the night city of Petalburg, the moon glittering in the sky. He opened his visor, just to feel the air of the world one last time against his face. It would probably be the last time he would feel it, so he wanted to enjoy it for once. "0, are you sure you're ready for this? I don't want Sarah to suffer, but I want to live too." The Pikachu's voice was tough, but saddened as well, for it knew that in the event 0 died it would perish along with its trainer.

    "I don't want to die either," he answered and lowered his head. "But for Sarah, I'll give up my life. I did it once before, I can do it again."

    "0."

    The Golden Ranger glanced up, it wasn't his Pikachu who had spoken, it had been May, who stood just outside the terrace, arms folded on her lap. 0 turned around, crouching safely on the railing, and closed up his visor. "Yes?" he asked. He had really been hoping to not be disturbed before he left.

    "Y-You didn't say goodbye to anyone," she explained as her excuse for following him outside.

    "I was never good at doing that," he admitted. "Besides, I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me. You know how annoying it is for people to try and give goodbye speeches before every mission? Gets boring." His voice was harsh, he didn't want her to be the person he spoke to last.

    She was fingering that ring again, she still had the nervous twitch he remembered from their marriage. "Are you going to die?" she asked.

    0 leaned in close to her, so she could see her reflection in the golden visor. "Yes," he replied, matter-of-factly. "It's not the best option, but it's our only one to rescue your daughter." For some reason, she took a step forward and he hesitated. He swerved on the beam, his balance was a little off from the shoulder implant. "Do you really want to be the one who has to say goodbye to me for everyone?"

    "No," she whispered and suddenly her arms were around him. It was not good for balance, and he nearly fell from the unexpected embrace. She was crying into his shoulder, the real one, the monitor on his visor told him part of his chest was damp. "I'm trying to tell you I want you to come back."

    "What?" He wasn't even staring at her anymore, he was looking into the window of the apartment, seeing nothing, no one, as he focused all of his attention on that simple sentence. "Why do you want me to come back?"

    "Because," she mumbled, then said something that 0, even with his suit's sensors, couldn't quite pick up.

    "Sorry, couldn't hear that," he said. "Repeat, if you'd please."

    She withdrew herself, just enough so that she could look him in the upside-down triangle that covered his face. "Because I want Sarah to know her father. Because someday she needs to know who he was, what he does, and I want her to hear it from him." She smiled as, in shock, 0's visor retracted into his helmet.

    "Sarah…" he murmured. "I can meet her?"

    "Come back alive and we'll see," she retorted. And leaning her head into the helmet, she pursed her lips and gave just the tiniest peck to 0's nose. The Golden Ranger jerked back, and almost lost his place on the scaffold. He regained his balance, almost at the cost of falling onto May.

    "May," he muttered, "Thank you."

    And he leapt up into the air, and was gone. May caught sight of his uniform as it cascaded through the air onto a rooftop across the street, and a strange machine that was materializing for him to streak atop the roofs towards the Dark Sapphire Ranger. It looked like a motorcycle, but May wasn't quite sure, it was too hard to tell from the distance.

    And, as the Golden Ranger boarded the 0 Cycle, one thought prevailed through all others. It wasn't his impending death, it wasn't concern for his own safety, considering he was piloting a machine without breaks through the rooftops of Petalburg. No, it was a simple fantasy, one he had been cherishing for over three years.

    I will survive. And, when I do, I'll finally get to meet my daughter.

    Author's Note: You know, I've been thinking about how different a fan-fiction is when the author decides to age the protagonists. This can happen for any reason the author deems necessary for the story (I, for instance, aged my characters because this story couldn't be told if I kept the characters as children). You have to consider what was missed by the readers in terms of how the characters changed from the ones on the television to your interpretation. Were they happy? Did they achieve their dreams? The problem with doing that in the Pokemon universe is too often that the characters don't change. Ash had been the exact same ten-year-old, learning the exact same lessons, for over a decade at this point. How do you age him? How do you make him a realistic adult that stays true to the core of his personality? How, more importantly, do you showcase that change and its necessity? It's difficult to pull off realistically, but there are plenty of real-life examples to help the transition.

    Take your own lives, for example. Are you the same person you were ten, maybe even five years ago? I would doubt it. You change, little by little, until you can't see the change happen and all you notice is now you act differently from the way you once were. It's a radical change sometimes, and you wonder how or why you changed. You reflect on your own life and figure it out. That's what you should do in these types of stories, both in fan-fiction and in regular fiction. How did your character change? Why did it happen? From there, it becomes easy to make your adult character realistic. Just remember not to deviate too far from the character's intentions without a very good reason. Otherwise you just look foolish.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  8. #33
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    Default Chapter 17, Part 1

    Morph Seventeen: Insanity's Requiem, Part 1

    The Golden Ranger switched his visor to night vision. Wherever Sappho was, it seemed as if he was hoping for a home turf advantage. Not that 0 thought it was needed, Bakaguru had said that the Dark Sapphire Ranger had too high of stats to even require an advantage. 0 checked his stats, they were at full power thanks to the operation. He shifted his mechanical shoulder, it felt strange against his organic arm. "Pi," he muttered, "scan the complex for signs of life. He's got to be here somewhere."

    "Okay," replied the Pikachu. Its icon on the visor's lower left hand corner switched to a tracking symbol, and before long a beeping issued to confirm the heartbeat. "Upper level, I'm picking up something on the second floor. Probably the target."

    "Roger. You get that, 003?" asked 0 as he started for the stairs.

    A new line of communications opened, belonging to his division of Support Team. "Copy that, 0," said Bakaguru. "I am downloading an estimate of the Dark Sapphire Ranger's stats into your Ranger Spirit's memory drive. Combined with Pi's intelligence systems, we should be able to track Sappho's statistical data during the course of your battle. We will also be using it as a chance to gather more data about the Dark Gem Rangers."

    "So…you plan on using me as a data hunter for my last mission?" 0 asked sarcastically. He laughed and arrived on the second floor. Pi's tracking systems were picking up Sappho's presence behind a door. "Can't you think of anything better for me to do?"

    Bakaguru's face appeared on the lower right hand corner of the visor. "Not really, Gold. Let's face it, you're not very important if you're thinking of dying this early."

    That really made the Golden Ranger laugh. "I'd hate to cut the story short so soon," he chuckled and his hand reached out for the door handle. Behind the third door was the heartbeat, wild and rampant. It had to be the Dark Sapphire Ranger. Inside the door, he heard the quite clear sound of harsh breathing. "Let's start this off with a bang. Pi, download the Lightning Laser."

    A golden light flashed in his right hand and the plasma shotgun appeared. He loaded it with a burst of electricity and fired at the door's hinges. It exploded, to say the least, sending pieces of wood scattering into the room. Shouldering the weapon, 0 swaggered through the door and saw the evil ranger waiting for him.

    "Did anyone order a steaming pile of whoop-***?" inquired the paladin and squared off against the Dark Sapphire Ranger. "If not, I can always come back later. I'm a laid-back kind of guy, after all." Sappho seemed unappreciative of his cocky arrogance, his self-centered way of announcing himself, for the evil ranger growled and pawed at the air.

    "You talk big, Golden Boy," said Sappho, his voice as slimy as it was vile, "but in the end, it won't matter. I'll do to you just as much damage as I did to that traitor's Gallade. I'll squash your head, I'll drink your blood, I'll do all these terrible things to you. And, when you're dead, I'll have so much fun with your corpse it'll almost be so sad that you'll be dead!" He cackled, but this time his behavior did not so much scare the Golden Ranger as it did annoy him.

    "Hey," 0 interjected, "not to be a busy-body, as I'm sure you have all sorts of things you'd like me to hear about what you intend to do with me when I'm dead, but can we get this along?" He checked his wrist-mounted morpher, as if consulting a clock. "I'm already late for a play date with my kid. And she gets real troublesome when she doesn't get what she wants." He was trying to be annoying, he had to keep Sappho where he was until he received confirmation that Sarah was safe and back at the house.

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger pawed the earth, his claws scraping along the woodwork. "So," he hissed, lifting his glittering cowl to stare at the paladin, "you ready to die? Or are you just gonna keep me talking? That's only gonna make what I'll do to Sarah if I scrap you fast all the more sweeter." He lifted his claws to his mask, acting as if he were licking the blades complete with slurping noises. "Oh, we'll have a grand time."

    0 lowered the Lightning Laser. "Let's dance. I'm getting tired of listening to your voice." He cocked the shotgun and pointed the barrel at his foe. "Got a new metal shoulder, got a new Pokemon, I think I can waltz with you."

    "I lead," retorted Sappho and charged.

    The two rangers rushed one another, the Golden Ranger wielding his gun as one would a broadsword and the Dark Sapphire Ranger with his claws outstretched. 0 fell forward, ducking into a short roll and butted Sappho right in the lower legs. The evil ranger shouted in surprise, but was too late to stop his momentum from sending him sprawling to the ground. Not missing a single beat, the paladin lifted his gun and let off two rounds right at his adversary's hindquarters. The powerful bolts didn't even phase Sappho, they bounced right off his shiny body and into the walls, frying the electrical system. The lights above them flickered, but almost reluctantly stayed on.

    "Not bad," murmured Sappho as he leapt back up to his feet. "Too bad that attack's too weak to brush the dust off my shoulders." He turned around to face the Golden Ranger, who chuckled when Sappho faced him. "What're you laughing at?" In response, the Lightning Laser vanished from his arm and the Golden Ranger reached for a black Poke Ball on his belt.

    "You know something," said 0. "You're right. I'm not as strong as you. I don't have the stats or the technology to even damage you, much less kill you, in the state I'm in right now." He lowered his visor, staring at the powerful weapon in his hand. "But I'm not here to kill you. It'd be a nice bonus, but all I'm here for is to protect Sarah Birch and stall my team enough time for them to get to her." He held up his morpher and it opened to allow him to slip in the black Poke Ball. "And if I can do that, it'll mean you lose, Sappho." He pressed the activation trigger on his morpher and waited for it to register the new Pokemon.

    The morpher whirled and clicked as it scanned Tork, until finally it confirmed the new form. "Pokemon Auxiliary System activated- Oal Form registered," said the mysterious AI of the system. In 0's visor, the options menu displayed the forms of his Ranger System. A new one was being added right next to Rio Form. He selected it and his system began the downloading necessary to utilize the new form.

    Oddly enough, the Dark Sapphire Ranger sat there and watched as the Golden Ranger began installing the new form, fascinated at what could possibly be enough to stop him. The armor began appearing around the Golden Ranger's body, layers of protective metal. With harsh clanks they clamped into place, binding to all the muscles and fabric that made up 0's uniform. The only portions it left unguarded were the joints, so that 0 could properly move about without having to trip over himself. In these joints, his costume underneath the thick hide of armor lit up gold, making it seem like veins were tracing his entire body. 0's body felt heavier, and so did his head when additional protection fastened itself around his visor and neck. The bottom half of his visor transformed, becoming as black as the rest of his helmet.

    Finally, his chest and back were bare, but instead of additional armor materializing around it the fabric hardened into diamond hard pieces, exactly like a turtle's shell. As 0 glanced about his new form, he felt his mind adapting as he went under the influence of the new AI. He didn't want to fight, truly he didn't. No, not anymore. He just wanted to help, to do what he had to do make everyone happy. As Sappho tilted his head, curious at what had happened, the Golden Ranger's hatred, his distain, was drained, a calm, soothing desire of peace blossoming in its stead.

    "Turtle Defender- installed,"
    announced the deep voice of the AI.

    He felt, but did not hear, Tork join him. Tork was so happy to see him, it might have brought tears to the Torkoal if it were not currently being used as an AI for the Golden Ranger. Both of them looked out at Sappho and 0 felt the fear that crept up his heavily plated shoulders at the evil ranger's appearance. Tork didn't want to fight that thing, it wanted to catch up with its trainer instead. But, when the Golden Ranger explained what was wrong and what they both needed to do. The feeling of fear did not disappear, but rather became subverted with courage.

    "0," said Bakaguru, concerned as there had been no communication from the Golden Ranger since Oal Form went online. "Are you alright?"

    The Golden Ranger nodded, he felt perfectly normal. For once, he wasn't angry or bitter at anything. Tork guided him to a place of tranquility where there was no need for such things. So, instead of looking at the Dark Sapphire Ranger as a threat, as someone that needed destroying at any cost, he saw a pained individual who needed help, someone who needed to be stopped before the madness and pain spread.

    Suddenly, 0 felt that he could defeat Sappho.

    He assumed a defensive position, wanting to test out the strength of his new armor. He put his faith in Tork, who in turn assured the Golden Ranger that turtle shell would be powerful enough to withstand anything if its user knew what to do. "What?" asked Sappho, very confused. "I'm not good enough for your taunts?" Inside, 0 smiled at that, he wasn't going to taunt because it was unnecessary. Why should he insult and say such verbal slang when he could prove his power another way?

    "Screw this, I'm gonna kill ya!" screamed the Dark Sapphire Ranger.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The two rangers passed through the shadows of downtown swiftly. They could not afford to stop, they were working on borrowed time after all. The car that Bakaguru had leant them, a meaningless pile of junk that barely moved without complaining, was getting them where they were going, but it wasn't willing to get them there quietly. It screeched and moaned all the way down to the apartment building that Sarah was being kept in. Serena parked the car at the front door and shut off the engine.

    "You sure you're ready for this?" she asked Max. In the passenger seat, the man nodded, his hand wrapped tightly about the Dark Emerald on his chain.

    "It doesn't matter if I'm not," the former Gym Leader replied. "My niece is in trouble. I have to be ready."

    "Jeez…why do I keep getting all of these serious partners?" asked Serena to herself, stepping out of the car and shutting the door. "When we get in there, you follow my lead, understand? Don't do anything without my say-so."

    Max followed her lead. "Got it, it's just that…"

    "Just that…what?"

    Max sighed. "When I change, my control's a little shaky," he explained. "If I get too out of control, you have to make sure that I don't hurt you or Sarah." He fingered the Dark Gem. "It keeps calling to me, it wants me to use it to hurt people that hurt Gallade. When I was with 0 I had enough control to follow his lead."

    Serena stopped, just short before the door. "What does that mean?"

    The man opened it for her. "It means you have to keep me under control. No matter what, you need to make sure I obey you. I can only do so much, the rest is up to who I'm with." She went inside and Max followed. "It's a sort of psychological thing. When I was with Sappho, his control over me was so strong, I still don't know how 0 managed to bring me back." He grinned. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry I kidnapped you."

    Serena battered her eyelashes. "I still haven't forgiven you," she shot back. "But maybe you'll get your chance tonight." She lifted her morpher to her wrist and called 415. "Hey, what's our best option for this thing?"

    Max heard the transmission in the com-link he was wearing on his ear. "Morph now," ordered the intelligence officer. "We are seeing multiple amounts of Rangerlings on the floors above you, and factoring in the fact that Sarah is on the top floor, it would be best that you got a head start now."

    "We won't be able to change upstairs," thought Max aloud. He heard an audible grunt on the com-link, as he had stated the quite blatantly obvious. "Sorry, I'm new at this."

    "Agent 3, instruct your rookie on how we do things here at PKM." The link went dead and Serena giggled as she glanced at the new ranger.

    "Oh, you're in trouble now…" she cackled. "415 hates new rangers. You should see how she deals with the Golden Ranger."

    "Oh, we'll see about that," muttered Max. He grabbed the Dark Emerald and the chains wrapped around his arms and fastened themselves. "Shall we?"

    Serena lifted her morpher to her lips. "You sure know how to treat a lady, Max," she said and pushed the activation trigger. "PKM Spirit, Activate!" The white light exploded from the morpher and her armor materialized around her. "Our first date and you're already treating me to a fight. You sure know how to make a girl feel special."

    Max grinned, his eyes transforming from brown to dark green as the evil aura of his Dark Emerald surrounded him. He pressed the emerald into his flesh and announced, "Dark Gem Ignite!" His body flashed green and his Chained Form emerged from underneath his skin, his visor clamping down upon his face. The uniform glowed like emerald fire, but died out when Max took a deep breath to steady himself.

    "You okay in there?" Serena asked.

    He nodded. "Gallade," was his hoarse reply. Inwardly, Serena sighed at the fact that Max, while transformed, was unable to communicate without interference from his Dark Emerald, which happened to include speaking human language. "Lade, Galla," he growled and pointed to the stairs.

    Serena looked at the stairs, then noticed the much-nicer elevator that was located right next to it. "Sorry, honey, but we're taking that one," she decided and started walking toward the elevator. But the Dark Emerald Ranger insisted and grabbed her arm to make certain that she didn't press any buttons. "Hey, get off me!" She shrugged him off, then pressed the button to summon the machine to take her up to the top floor. After all, it was better to go right for the top then battle through hordes of Rangerlings.

    Max grabbed her and threw her behind him. She would have protested, but the dark ranger didn't give her enough time. She only had enough time to watch him turn around and shield her with his body.

    BOOM.

    It rained shrapnel around them as the elevator exploded. Serena covered her ears and heard a vast amount of grunts of pain coming from her partner. She looked up, it appeared as if Max was taking the blunt of attack for her. Finally, when the metal stopped hailing them, Max stood up, though it clearly pained him to do so. "Lade…" he grumbled and flexed his muscles. Pieces of metal and glass fell from his muscles bloodied and shattered, with several pieces still sticking in. He reached for them as he went to inspect the damage and tore several out of his back that hadn't become dislodged by movement.

    Serena jumped back to her feet, heavily disoriented by the affair. "What…was that?" she asked, before joining him in front of what remained of the elevator shaft. She looked at her partner, whose chained hand was pointing at what looked like a party sign that had been draped on the ruined wall, shredded by still-legible by the explosion.

    Welcome, PKM! read the sign.

    "You…could smell the explosives?" she asked. The Dark Emerald Ranger nodded and she sighed. "I really wish you could talk."

    A communications channel appeared on her visor. She opened it and it displayed the number 415. "This is Support Team," said the intelligence officer. "Are you all alright?"

    "Yeah," answered the White Ranger. "Our new friend can apparently smell explosives. A booby trap failed."

    "Keep in contact, over and out." The line cut dead.

    Serena smiled under her visor, then looked towards the Dark Emerald Ranger. He was still staring at the exploded elevator. She noticed a piece of metal that was stuck in his back, where he couldn't reach. She grabbed it and yanked it out. He grunted and turned to her, confused. "There you go," she said and he growled appreciatively. "Hey, what do I call you anyway? We're supposed to use code names, but you don't have a numerical designation, since you're not a ranger with PKM."

    He shrugged. "Laaaaaade," he growled to himself.

    "Well…I guess we can use 'Lade' as your code name until we can get back to HQ," she considered. "Would that be okay?"

    He nodded.

    She pointed Max towards the door, where their only option for ascension lay. "You lead, Lade, and sniff out the traps," she ordered. The Dark Emerald Ranger nodded to his tamer and lumbered over to where she commanded, marching up the stairs like a guard dog. She followed him, downloading her Frost Fan into her hands so that she would be ready for the upcoming combat.

    Surprisingly, the Rangerlings all waited for them to successfully climb the stairs before making their presence known. The hallway appeared quite quiet until they began creeping out of the woodwork and doors like a very disgusting Bug Pokemon infestation. Max looked out at the crowd and Serena heard his elongating chains clank to the ground as his low growl penetrated the eerie silence of the crowd.

    "You feel like a tag team?" she asked.

    He began chuckling, or what passed for chuckling from him, and nodded eagerly as he positioned himself in a crouching attack position, his fingertips barely scratching the floor. "Laaaaade," he snickered in anticipation.

    The Rangerlings, after watching their existence suddenly become threatened, began jabbering amongst themselves in sharp, loud squeaks, like an unknown Pokemon language. Max wasted no time and smashed into the crowd with his chains, tying them up just long enough to squeeze them to death and shatter their Dark Onyxes to finish the job. Serena dove in right behind him, using her Frost Fan to destroy Rangerlings already ensnared by Max's chains, since she herself still wasn't quite up to her full power. She leapt through the crowd gracefully, blending Max's savage ferocity with dignity and beauty.

    Before long, all of them were piles of dust on the floor. Max was still eager to fight, he kept panting and growling even when everything that he deemed a threat was a strangely-organized pile of dirt below him. Serena touched his arm and he relaxed, retracting his chains into his gauntlets. She pointed to the next flight of stairs leading upwards and he obeyed once more, climbing the stairs until he reached the second floor. He looked around, quite excited about the possibility of more Rangerlings to destroy, but inspection of the area showed that there were none on this floor.

    "Better luck next time," Serena murmured sympathetically and patted his shoulder. "Maybe the next floor will let you vent a little." The Dark Emerald Ranger nodded and headed up to the third floor, whereupon he did meet someone to play with.

    They came out of nowhere, just as Serena and Max managed to set foot on the floor. A machine gun being loaded alerted the superior senses of the Dark Emerald Ranger and he grabbed Serena again, only this time he used his weight to smash through a nearby apartment door before the bullets started ripping around them. Max grunted as one found a place in his right shoulder, but he managed to protect the White Ranger. Once he was certain that they weren't being followed by the gun, he checked himself over.

    "Your shoulder's bleeding," his partner murmured and looked over the wound. "Doesn't look too deep though, I might be able to get it out." She was about to reach for it, but the dark ranger grabbed her hand and shook his head. He could do it himself.

    He strained the muscles of his shoulder, calling on his Dark Emerald to remove the foreign contaminant from his body. After a few seconds, the slug emerged out of his body, clattered to the ground, and the hole sealed itself up. Serena touched the newly-healed wound, it seemed perfectly normal. "How did you do that?" she asked.

    He shrugged, he just could. The bullets rattling around them brought the rangers back to reality and the Dark Emerald Ranger prepared to rush through the maelstrom towards the source and crush them. But Serena refused, even for someone who could regenerate such a plan was suicide.

    "There's got to be another way," she told him. "These things are stupid, they can't think as well as we can."

    Max nodded and, after a moment of thought, turned towards the wall. "Laaaade," he suggested, and elongated the chain in his right gauntlet. He smashed through the wall, it came apart easily, and worked his way through the brick and mortar into the next room. The Rangerling manning the machine gun, hearing the impromptu demolition, turned its gun's attention to the apartment rooms themselves instead of just the corridor. Serena, not wishing to be cut down by gunfire, followed her partner through the wall to the next apartment, where he was already busy destroying the next wall.

    They worked their way through, the gun's blazing trail only instants behind them. Again and again Max smashed at the walls with all his strength, weakening pieces of the mortar with his chains before striking the brick directly with his gauntlets. His chains would then go through the hole and break apart the wall from the interior, just fast enough for Max and Serena to duck through without taking any stray bullets.

    Finally, Max rammed through a room and wrapped one chain around a doorway, then crossed to the other side of the room and smashed through a piece of wall. Serena stood behind him, unsure of what he was doing. Once he was sure his chains were secure on both sides, he backed up a bit, tightening up both sides, and ran up and kicked the wall.

    At this point, the walls were too weak to withstand much of anything from the machine gun. The wall came tumbling down, right onto the Rangerling that had been shooting them and destroyed the gun. The Dark Emerald Ranger hissed, inspecting the floor for further signs of a threat, before deciding there were none, and turned to Serena. He growled in a sort of reassuring way to inform her of the safety and she nodded as she got to her feet.

    "Two more floors left," she gasped and glanced back at the destruction Max had caused in her expense. "Remind me never to get on your bad side, okay?"

    Max snickered and led the way up to the fourth floor.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The evil ranger hurled towards 0 wildly, his claws savaging anything within reach. 0 lifted an arm, and found it so natural that it moved so slowly, to block. The claws scraped the metal of the Turtle Defender, but did nothing to penetrate his forearm. Shaking his head, 0 grabbed the Dark Sapphire Ranger by the arm and used his superior weight to hurl him away into a nearby wall, where he crashed into the fireplace, as casually as he might toss in a log to a roasting fire. It did nothing to damage Sappho, but it certainly made 0 feel better. While part of him wanted to know if the evil ranger was alright, the other half was very pleased that Oal Form would be perfect for stalling his opponent.

    Tork guided 0, using nothing but the casual hand of its emotions, and the two created a ballet between themselves and the Dark Sapphire Ranger. It was unbeatable strength against a rocky turtle shell, and neither knew which might come out victorious. While 0 was not as quick on his feet as he was in Rio Form, the relaxing echoes of the Torkoal kept him at a steady pace in rhythm with Sappho.

    In the Golden Ranger's right hand the colossal Bolt Blade was downloaded, and again 0 marveled at its weightlessness. To his hands, bound and shielded by several layers of armor, the sword almost didn't exist, if it weren't for the fact that it was so large it hardly fit in the apartment he was battling in. It scraped the ceiling, forcing the Golden Ranger to lower it for battle purposes.

    He dodged, but only barely, as the Dark Sapphire Ranger began changing his battle tactics. Having figured out that the armored chunks of his foe's body were basically a waste of time to attack, the Dark Sapphire Ranger lunged for the pieces of unprotected uniform, the vein-like golden bits that decorated his costume. But most were too difficult for a clumsy fighter like he to even hope to scrape, and time and time again he found himself thrown on his back by the hands of the peaceful Golden Ranger, who was perfectly content with stalling for time.

    0, on the other hand, thought it quite ironic that he was keeping Sappho on his back so well, especially since Oal Form was, after all, a turtle. He felt Tork's amusement at the insight. The warrior kept moving, never allowing his feet to remain motionless, for his form was too bulky to resume movement too quickly once it stopped. He did admit to himself that it was heavy, even if his sword was lighter his entire body felt like it had gained easily two hundred pounds with Oal Form. He sensed his stats were dropping, which was confirmed from a brief glance at the gauges in the visor's stat monitor.

    He needed a new plan, something that could keep Oal Form operating as long as possible before it needed to recharge. Tork, in response, opened the menu for the Synchronization Drive, displaying the options Iron Defense and Protect as alternatives to having to keep protecting his joints. After sending the Bolt Blade back to PKM, 0 chose Iron Defense to start things off.

    "What's the matter?" asked Sappho. His breath was a little more ragged than it had been when he'd started, 0 noted, but that was probably from having to jump up from the floor so many times. "Why aren't you talking? Just come on and hit me! You a coward or something?" He noticed that 0 had dematerialized his sword and giggled. "So, I guess you're done, right? That thing can only last so long, you freak!"

    0 activated the Synchronization Drive the instant the Dark Sapphire Ranger struck, his entire body transforming into a metallic grey as he struck a pose for balance, so he wouldn't get thrown down by Sappho and trapped. Sappho's claws bounced off, just like the rounds from the Lightning Laser had done only a short while ago. Unfortunately, it left 0 completely immobile, but he'd been prepared for that. When Sappho came a bit too close, as his curiosity was far too strong to simply ignore something so interesting, 0 canceled the ability and grabbed Sappho by the scruff of his neck, lifting him into the air with the aid of his reinforced shoulder and his new armor.

    He asked Tork to use Protect.

    Normally, Protect was a very powerful instrument, used to deflect attacks with a powerful force-field through which nothing could penetrate. But it had other uses as well, as Sappho discovered when the force field began projecting itself around 0's body, pressing against him with distressing force. And, because Sappho could not counterattack, and was in essence chained to 0's hand, he was pinned down by the strength of the field, his head and neck tilting in a way that could not have been comfortable as 0 depleted the Synchronization Drive's power by projecting the force field further and further out, making the Dark Sapphire Ranger's neck bend and bend backwards. Tork really didn't want to do what 0 was planning, and begged him to stop. 0 knew that Tork didn't want to kill, and he himself would never kill. But Dark Gem Rangers were tough and could heal from any injury. When it felt 0's confidence, Tork fused again with the Golden Ranger and the pressure increased.

    Above them, the lights flickered again and the evil ranger squealed as his neck snapped. His body went limp in the Golden Ranger's hands, but his head continued to thrash wildly. A beeping issued from 0's visor, informing him that he was almost out of energy. He used the very last of Oal Form's strength and the force field exploded forward, propelling Sappho through the wall, through the next apartment, and down the flight of stairs.

    His stats emptied and the Turtle Defender began dematerializing into nothingness. He felt Tork's influence fade from his mind, his wrath and arrogance returning from the place where Tork's simple love of emotions had banished them. He melded with Tork one last time, showering the Torkoal with deep feelings of gratitude, then the auxiliary Pokemon was gone, and so was Oal Form.

    "That…was interesting," the Golden Ranger said to himself. His morpher beeped and he removed the black Poke Ball that was sticking out of it, latching it onto his belt. "003, is that what you meant by a 'little defense'?"

    Bakaguru laughed. "Did you enjoy being invulnerable? I'd advise you to forget about it, your target's neck is starting to heal, so you don't have much time. Go to Rio Form, it's stronger than your standard Ranger Form, and keep holding out until Oal Form revives."

    The Golden Ranger nodded and inserted the azure Poke Ball into the morpher. "Auxiliary Pokemon System- Rio Form!" he ordered and transformed into the aura-powered knight. The Arm Boosters downloaded onto his forearms and he grew paws with claws to match Sappho's. "Lu, you there?" He was already excited, he couldn't wait to fight now!

    "Aye, sir!" piped up the AI in anticipation. "Let's fight! He's downstairs and not moving! Pounce on him!"

    The Golden Ranger crouched, diverting all power in his suit to his legs, and catapulted himself after Sappho. He laughed as he swung through the air, passing through the Sappho-shaped hole in the wall, touching down on the ground only for an instant before soaring through the second hole and down the stairs. He was going too fast, he almost rammed into the stairwell wall! But Lu warned him ahead of time and 0 didn't let his eagerness to fight get in the way of his fighting.

    He double kicked on the wall and zoomed through the air, directly towards the barely-moving Sappho, who was only now recovering from his neck injury. "Synchronization Drive- Aura Sphere!" he ordered and the aura transformed into a sphere of azure light around his fist. It slammed into Sappho's face, crushing his face into the ground. "How's the tile taste, Sapphy?"

    "A bit stale," retorted the evil ranger and punched 0 in the shoulder. However, instead of ruined flesh he hit something hard and, quite possibly, painful. "You got it replaced?" His voice was full of wonder.

    0 wagged his head up and down. "Oh yeah," he said to himself. "Gotta make sure that stays intact. After all, it's the only one we have!" He flipped away, just as Sappho started lunging for him and landed crouching low to the ground. "Come on, Sapphy! I know you've got what it takes to kill me!"

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger issued a bone-chilling snarl and bounded after the playful paladin. But 0 was determined and Sappho was sloppy. The Golden Ranger flipped and dodged in any way possible to keep out of Sappho's grasp, as failure to do so would probably mean death. But, because the Dark Sapphire Ranger was too powerful, he had become lax, inattentive, and Sappho's carelessness was the only thing that stood in between the Golden Ranger and his impending death.

    0 laughed and dropped to the ground, clamping his right Arm Booster around Sappho's left leg and pulled hard to make Sappho lose his footing. A quick kick to the crotch send Sappho flat on his back again, with 0 hauling to his feet to pursue the slowly-weakening ranger. He was winning, thought the Golden Ranger. He was winning.

    "Sir!" announced Lu. "His stats are dropping!" It was true, the Golden Ranger thought, as he glanced to the counter that estimated how much power the Dark Sapphire Ranger still had.

    "How long until Oal Form finishes reviving?" asked 0, as he side-stepped a piece of concrete that had been so uselessly thrown at him. "I can't keep doing this forever! At some point I'm going to get tired." He was already sweating from avoiding the Dark Sapphire Ranger's attacks, he didn't know how much longer he was going to be able to last…

    "That's it!" screeched Sappho. "The hell's the matter with this? Why'd you get so quick? Why can't you just shut up and stand still so I can rip your face off?"

    0 shrugged. "I'd call it…extra incentive," replied the paladin, before chuckling. "See, the deal is I get to see my daughter if I survive this fight. And that's something I really want to do!"

    Sappho hissed. He had no choice, if the fight continued he might very well run out of steam before his opponent. He would have to go all-out, something he had rather hoped he wouldn't need for someone as weak as the Golden Ranger. "Okay, Golden Boy," murmured the evil ranger, "time to see how scrappy you are when you're up against the full power of a Dark Gem!"

    The giant gem in the center of his chest exploded with power, surrounding the Dark Sapphire Ranger with an intense field of evil energy. The sapphire light sickened the Golden Ranger, made him feel weak. He lurched, but maintained his ground. "How's that feel, Golden Prick?" asked the Dark Sapphire Ranger, his voice savage with power. "Feel good? Feel nice? Or…does it feel like death?" He laughed and each giggle made 0 sick to his stomach to hear it.

    "003," he mumbled. "What's going on? Feels…weird…"

    "0, get out of there right now!" ordered Bakaguru. "The aura he's using is damaging your systems! It's…some kind of poison that's corrupting your stats! Just get away from it now!"

    He grinned. "Don't really think that's an option, 003. Lu, how long until Oal Form's up and running?"

    "It's still reviving, Tork needs at least ten minutes to recharge!" shouted Lu urgently. "We're not going to make it!"

    0 thought it over quickly. "Synchronization Drive- Endure and Aura Sphere! Surround me with the energy now!" Both attacks issued forth from his body, the aura enhancing his defenses so that he could protect himself from the evil energy. "Oh…this is gonna suck…" He forced himself through the evil aura and attacked Sappho with all the power he could muster.

    "You think that's gonna help you?" roared the Dark Sapphire Ranger and increased his energy putout. "Come any closer and it'll kill anyone but a Dark Gem Ranger!" But 0 didn't care, he tackled Sappho and threw him to the ground, struggling to maintain the field around him.

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger tore into his body, opening wounds with his claws. The Golden Ranger groaned as the aura began seeping into his suit, despite what Lu was doing to keep them protected. It was burning his chest, his torso…it hurt so much.

    "This is the end of the road for you," hissed Sappho, as he tore through the uniform's armor. "So sad…your daughter's gonna be fatherless forever, and just when it looked like she might reunite with you in a tearful, confusing reunion." He increased the pressure. "How does it feel, so close to your goal, only to lose it forever?" He forced 0's helmet so close to his, so that his menacing voice could penetrate every thought that 0 had. "How does it feel?"

    The Golden Ranger groaned, trying so hard to get away. "It…sucks," he retorted, and collapsed. Try as he might, nothing would move. Sappho, as he didn't want 0 on top of him, threw him across the room, where his back slammed against the wall and refused to move. He struggled, but the evil energy was too powerful. It forced him down.

    "0!" shouted Bakaguru.

    He couldn't move. It was all he could do to stop himself from vomiting in his helmet from the aura's contamination. "003...something tells me…this'll be my last stop," he groaned and struggled to his feet, but could only get as far as his knees. "Damn. And I was…gonna meet…my daughter…" He coughed, blood trickled from his mouth, splattering the visor's monitor in red.

    "0!"

    It wasn't Bakaguru he heard, nor was it Lu. 0 looked up, confused. "May?" he asked. "What're you…doing in my…helmet?"

    "You have to get back up!"

    He laughed. "Easier said than done, May," he muttered. Sappho was advancing, but slowly, so that the Golden Ranger could properly enjoy the torment he was enduring. "Got any good pep talks left, 'cause I think I'm all out."

    "Agent 0, we've just gotten reports from the White and Dark Emerald Rangers," said Bakaguru. "They have Sarah, and they're bringing her safely back to us. 0, she's safe."

    "She's…safe?"

    "Backup Team will be here in a few minutes."

    "Ready to die, Golden Boy?" hissed Sappho, his aura exploding with energy.

    "Hey, May?"

    "Yes?" she answered.

    "About meeting Sarah, did you mean what you said?"

    A hesitation. "Y-yes," May said.

    The Golden Ranger stood up. Ignoring all his injuries, all the disgust he felt at the aura that rampaged around him, he rose to his feet. "Lu," he said, panting, "there's only one way we're going to be able to defeat this guy."

    "I know," it replied.

    "I know I shouldn't ask this of anyone," he muttered, his head lowered, "but please…if we don't end this now…he'll keep coming after them, and they won't stop until they're dead."

    "I know," it replied.

    He gulped, Sappho was so close, his claws ready to drive into the Golden Ranger's skull. "So please," he whispered. "Please…"

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger grabbed him and placed one clawed hand on his visor. "End of the line for you, Golden Boy," he hissed. "No family reunion, no happy ending, just a cold, cold, cold corpse with a lifetime of regrets."

    "Give me the strength!"

    Outside, the sun began to rise, and the transformation began.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  9. #34
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    Default Chapter 17, Continued

    Morph Seventeen: Insanity's Requiem, Part 2

    Upon slaughtering everything that moved on the fourth floor, the Dark Emerald and White Rangers finally reached the fifth floor where Sarah was being kept. Strangely enough, nothing was guarding the corridor and Max couldn't detect any Dark Gems in the vicinity, not even puny Rangerlings. He could, however, sense Sarah's presence, it was practically painted on the door in front of him.

    In fact, however, it was also in actuality painted on the door in front of him. Your Prize is Here! it read, in bright blue lettering painted on the door and the surrounding wall. Robin's Egg Blue, Serena thought, the most relaxing and calming of all colors. It did nothing to relieve the anxiety she was feeling, and it had no apparent effect on the Dark Emerald Ranger's behavior, as he walked up and kicked down the door with very little concern for the soothing effects of the color. Following his lead, the White Ranger proceeded into the final room where their prize awaited.

    She looked around in shock. The entire apartment complex had been so shabby, so downtrodden, but this last room felt like they had leapt right from primitive living to the very pinnacle of technology. Wires surrounded them, all feeding into the machine that Sarah Birch was trapped inside. The little girl was pounding on the wall, but no sound was coming from the glass chamber. "Soundproof," she muttered and looked around for an intercom, or something like that, so she could talk to Sarah. "Here it is." She found a switch on the cage and the little girl's wailing erupted through speakers positioned above the chamber.

    "Help me!" she screeched, her fists beating on the walls like an overbearing drum. "Please help me!" Sarah pleaded with the two rangers, certain that they couldn't hear her. "Help!"

    "Sarah," said Serena, as calmly as she could while her eardrums were being destroyed. "Sarah, you have to calm down. We can hear you, okay Sarah?" The girl caught the last bit and stopped her screeching and pounding to listen. "Are you alright? Did the blue man hurt you?"

    Sarah shook her head. "N-no," she mumbled. "H-he just p-p-put me in here…and left…"

    "Okay, sweetie," whispered Serena. "We're gonna get you out of here as soon as we can, so I need you to stay calm and sit still while we work this out."

    The little girl nodded, but turned to Max and whimpered. "Who's he?" she asked. "He looks like the blue man, but he's with you." She looked at Serena, fearful. "Are you here to hurt me?"

    Serena laughed and shook her head. Her visor retracted into her helmet, displaying her beautiful face. "Sarah, I'm Keean Toby's friend," she explained. "You remember who I am?"

    Sarah smiled. "Is Mr. Toby coming? He said he was going to go help my Mommy."

    "No, Mr. Toby's doing something else right now, he'll come back when…when he's done," Serena answered. She didn't want to burden Sarah with the knowledge that 0 wouldn't be coming back.

    "Laaaade," growled the Dark Emerald Ranger, as softly as he was able to. Sarah cringed from his voice, but he kept speaking, as if desperate for Sarah to know who he was. Finally, he snarled to himself, and his helmet began melting away, retracting into his face like the second skin it was, melding with the flesh until the hidden face of the Dark Emerald Ranger was revealed.

    Max Birch tried so hard, so hard, to speak to his niece, to tell her everything was going to be okay. But he couldn't form the words, they refused to come out. "S-S-Sarah," he whispered hoarsely, trying desperately to talk. "S-So s-sorry." He tried to say more, but the helmet emerged again and bound him back into the mold of the Dark Emerald Ranger. "Laaaaaade."

    "Uncle Max?" Sarah asked in wonder. He nodded. "Are you okay?" Again, he nodded and pressed his hand against the glass. She put her hand against his, and he wished he could hold her, to tell her everything was going to be okay, but he couldn't. "Mommy was worried, she kept calling the police…"

    "We've got something," said Serena. Max stood up to inspect the machine. "This thing is rigged to explode, the instant anyone tries to remove her from it. Motion sensors will detect if we break the glass, open the cage, without deactivating the trigger." She backed away from the machine. "I'll send the pictures over to 415, maybe she can help us solve the problem. 415, you copy?"

    The intelligence officer responded. "Support Team copies," she replied and Max put his hand to the part of his helmet covering his com-link. "Don't remove any of the wires, it'll trigger the explosion. What we need is a password. Something that'll deactivate everything, I'm sure the weapon has it somewhere. Look around and try to find it."

    Both rangers split up, searching the machine from top to bottom to locate it. After a few minutes, the Dark Emerald Ranger growled his successful detection of the device. "You found it?" asked Serena, as she bent over the keyboard that Max had found. It was a word password, which would require a hint to deactivate the machine successfully without triggering the explosives. It was printed right above the keypad, and read thusly:

    We are the Two who abandoned

    We are the Two who betrayed

    We are the Two who Promise

    We are coming for You

    "Oh, that does not look good," Serena said to herself. "What're we gonna to, 415?"

    "The riddle has clues," informed 415. "Repeated references to the number two mean probably that you get two tries to use it before it locks down and explodes. It also probably means that there are two words, and four lines means four letters per word. Standard cryptology."

    "It's 'Dark Gems'," Serena realized. "Fulfils all the criteria."

    "No, the term 'Dark Gems' is unlikely," decided 415. "The riddle is referring to two people, not an organization. These are probably the ringleaders, not the group."

    But Max shook his head, he remembered something from what his former tamer, the Dark Sapphire Ranger, had said. Something about two people, Axi and Bix. He took another look at the riddle and had a stroke of brilliance.

    He typed in "AXI BIX" and hit the confirmation button. He heard screaming, but ignored it with the Dark Emerald's help, whose soothing voice promised him he had made the correct decision. The machine beeped several times before the power shut off and the prison deactivated.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger, without waiting for permission from his stunned tamer, rose and smashed through the glass that was standing in the way of him and his niece. Sarah leapt away, so she wouldn't get hurt by the glass and he made a hole large enough for the little girl to fit through. She ran out and hugged her uncle tightly. He could feel her warmth through his suit and tightened his grip.

    "You saved me, Uncle Max," she whispered in thanks and allowed the evil ranger to carry her as the group headed out what remained of the door and down the stairs. On the way down, however, they noticed something moving beneath the broken wall, namely the Rangerling that had mounted the gun.

    "Hey, 415?" asked Serena

    "Yes?"

    "What should we do with this one?"

    "Bring it with you, we have restraints we can use to analyze. I will tell 003 that our operation was successful. See you at the safe house." The line disconnected and the White Ranger grabbed the vile creature out of the rubble. Max shielded Sarah's eyes from its disfigured body, most of it was broken save for everything above the neck, which writhed wildly. Serena grabbed its neck and incapacitated it with a single strike to its jugular vein. It would heal, as long as they kept its Dark Onyx intact, exactly like the Dark Gem Rangers could.

    As they arrived on the ground floor they powered down. Max surfaced from the control of the Dark Gem and Serena kept a tight watch over the Rangerling as they entered the car, Max and Sarah up front with Serena guarding the Rangerling in the back.

    "Hey, Max?" asked Serena.

    He glanced at the rearview mirror. "What's up?"

    "How did you know what the password was?"

    He shrugged. "The Dark Emerald told me what it was," he replied. "It remembered the people Sappho was always talking about, Axi and Bix, then it saw that 'two' was only used three times, which meant three letters, not four."

    Serena's jaw dropped at this hint of cleverness from the evil stone wrapped against Max's neck. "Well, consider us even for kidnapping me. Now let's get back home, I'm sure Bakaguru's worried sick about us."

    Max started the car, which had gotten even more worse for wear, if such a thing were possible, from the explosion from the elevator. They drove off. He glanced at the dashboard's clock, it was almost time for the sun to rise. He yawned, normally he would be getting up at this time to prepare his Pokemon for a day of training, not driving away from a rescue mission.

    Sarah's eyes fluttered and she fell asleep instantly in the seat next to his.

    He smiled. He was officially a hero.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The aura that poured through Sappho simply vanished into thin air. A vortex surrounded Rio Form, pulsating with a glowing white light. Sappho growled and backed away from the energy that warped the Golden Ranger, transforming him into something else…no, it wasn't a transformation.

    It was evolution.

    The giant Arm Boosters on his arms detached, but remained floating right next to his forearms. They shrank, transforming into more manageable portions that mimicked the appearance and shape of the Golden Ranger's muscles. The backs of his hands elongated, gaining spikes in the center. Even his fingers got pieces of armor, making the new hands more like Lucario-shaped muscle guards than the gloves of the Arm Boosters. His visor changed too, the bottom half took on a darker shade of blue, as did the wires that looked like veins connecting the new weapons to his helmet.

    "Cario Form- online," announced the Synchronization Drive's AI. "Claw Gauntlets- installed."

    The Golden Ranger's hands moved faster than Sappho had ever seen without Agility. He grabbed Sappho's attacking arm and shoved the evil ranger into the wall, creating an imprint in the shallow wall. 0 shouted and the spike in his left gauntlet grew as he spiked it through the evil ranger's neck, pinning him to the wall and severing his spine. Sappho's body went limp.

    "Lu," said the Golden Ranger, "are you still there?"

    "Aye, sir," announced a deeper, older voice. His Baby Pokemon had grown up and the sun was shining through the windows of the ground floor. It had needed the power of the sun and the desire to protect its tamer, but it had transformed just in the nick of time to save them. "What is our next move?"

    The Golden Ranger grinned, he still felt the playful scrappiness of Lu's youth, but now it was melded with a maturity and love of battle. "I think that was a bit too easy," he replied. "How's about we let him go and give him a minute to get to his feet. Then we'll beat him up." He wrenched the spike out of Sappho's throat, blood soaking the dark spire. The Dark Sapphire Ranger fell to the ground, unable to move as his Dark Gem healed him. The evil aura surrounded 0, but it didn't bother him. Well, he thought to himself with a smirk, it shouldn't, considering he was using the Aura Pokemon itself as his weapon.

    The Lucario was calculating information. "Sir, scans show that the target's power has dropped significantly," it confirmed, displaying the depleted estimated stats on the evil ranger. "If we finish him now, we can destroy the Dark Gem by targeting it right now."

    0 grinned and shook his head. "But that wouldn't be very fun, now would it?"

    Lu chuckled. "No, it would not," it replied cheerfully.

    Bakaguru opened his channel. "Agent 0, now that you actually can, it is advised to neutralize your target immediately. Stop screwing around."

    0 nodded. "Yeah, yeah," he grumbled, Bakaguru sure knew how to take the fun out of a good fight. He flexed the Claw Gauntlets and turned as Sappho moved to his feet, completely healed. "Sorry, Sapphy," the Golden Ranger murmured to his foe, "it looks like I'm gonna have to kill you know." He cricked his neck and stretched his arms out into an offensive stance. On his fingertips, short claws popped out of the dark armor. "But, for fun, how's about we do some fancy poses one last time? For giggles."

    Sappho hissed. "You're certainly an arrogant bastard, aren't you?" he retorted. "Fine!" The Dark Sapphire Ranger clawed at the earth, his aura exploding in full force around him. "Dark Sapphire Ranger- Shattered Form!" His aura radiated around him, shattering windows, tearing through the floors, and scraping the ceiling.

    The Golden Ranger used Aura Sphere to match Sappho's quite elaborate display, summoning a shade of a Lucario to follow his motions. He moved, striking a pose so eloquent and elaborate that it left the Dark Sapphire Ranger speechless at its brilliance. "PKM Agent 0: Golden Ranger!" The aura shade of Lucario burst, transforming from a radiant shade of azure to golden as 0 changed from Aura Sphere to Endure.

    Both rangers ran towards one another, each roaring as they swept into battle. The Dark Sapphire Ranger crouched lower than the Golden Ranger and swung his heel just above the floor's surface, hoping to break 0's legs. In retaliation, the paladin flipped through the air, landing behind the crouched ranger and bashed him with an Aura Sphere-enhanced spike, digging deeply into the evil one's shoulder and shattering a bone.

    "An eye for an eye," murmured the Golden Ranger, "wouldn't you say, Sapphy?"

    His foe snarled in response, grabbed 0 by the face with his moving arm, and threw him over his shoulder to climb on top of him and bash his body in. The Golden Ranger snickered and just kept rolling so that it was he who was on top. "Ya know, Sapphy, this really isn't my idea of foreplay!" The spire went down again, digging deep into the Dark Sapphire Ranger's heart. Blood erupted like a fountain as he flipped away from the recovering body.

    "Lu, think we should end this now?"

    "Aye, sir," replied the Lucario. The Aura began channeling into both Claw Gauntlets, transforming each painful tip into bright lights of energy. "Aura Sphere charged, and isolated. Let's end this." The Golden Ranger nodded and charged forward.

    Sappho dodged, this time knowing that if he failed to avoid the attack it would be fatal. When he had shattered his chains and unlocked the full potential of the Dark Sapphire, he had also made it vulnerable to attack and break. 0 rammed through Sappho's defenses, as the Dark Sapphire Ranger seemed unused to being on the defensive side.

    Sappho grabbed both of 0's gauntlets, forcing the Golden Ranger to halt his attack. "I…won't…let…you…kill…me," strained Sappho, as he struggled to hold back the now-superior strength of the Golden Ranger.

    "You…don't…have…that…choice…Sappho!" retorted 0. He shifted forward and, using the Dark Sapphire Ranger's weight against him, tossed the evil ranger to the ground. He felt Sappho's hands relinquish their grips over his own and smashed through the Dark Gem in the center of his chest with his free spire.

    He was panting, he hadn't noticed how tired he suddenly was. The Dark Sapphire in Sappho's chest had cracked, its surface was smashed right down the middle. The evil ranger was gasping for breath, his contract was breaking. "I'm…dying?" he asked, as if wondering what might be good to eat that particular morning for breakfast.

    0 nodded. "It's over, Sappho," he gasped. "You lost."

    "Is it? I always thought my death would be so much grander, like being struck with an atomic bomb," he murmured. "Once you take out that spire, that'll be it."

    "I know," replied the Golden Ranger. "I want some information."

    Sappho laughed. "You've got a hell of a way of bartering for it, freak," he answered. "I've got nothing left, except maybe a minute or two of life, depending on how generous you are. But, since you've won, I guess you want a prize, don't ya?"

    "That'd be great."

    "What do you want to know?"

    "Who do you work for? What do you want with May Birch?"

    "Cut right to it, huh?" asked the Dark Sapphire Ranger. "We're…uh…let's see now… Oh yeah! I work for two guys, one's named Axi and one's named Bix, and they look for people like me…people like Max too…and we're turned into this. We're immortal, as long as our Dark Gems are intact, and we can always, always find one another. May Birch has something we want, oh yes, she has the Dark Gold, the most powerful one of us all, even Axi and Bix's Dark Gems would have trouble with that thing… Thing is, they don't want the little girl having the power, they want it for themselves… So they'll keep trying until she's dead, she'll never be able to run away from them!"

    0 paused. "Is it bonded to her yet?" he asked.

    Sappho shook his head. "Yes and no. Dark Gold's a fragile thing, freak. It chooses who it wants, it's bonded to her, but it hasn't made a contract. And it never will, because it needs a living sacrifice from a blood relative and their Pokemon to activate. Ain't that fun?" He giggled, and coughed, sensing his time was near. "But don't think we'll stop. There are more of us and we'll come for her. And when we get her, we'll kill her, and play with her corpse, and then…then…we'll destroy all of you!"

    "Who is your target?" the Golden Ranger asked.

    Sappho burst with an evil, hissing cackle. "You think we have a target? You think we have a plan! You're even stupider than I thought. If you had ultimate power, and you were going to do something with it, why would you limit yourself? We'll do whatever we want, whenever we want it! And I promise you this, Golden Ranger, your precious group, your precious family, and your precious world, will be the first to go!"

    "That's…it?"

    "That's all I wanna do," answered the evil ranger proudly. "And if that don't work for you, than I hope Axi and Bix think of something really terrible for you. They'll kill you! They'll kill all of you!" He laughed, and laughed and laughed and laughed. Finally, the Golden Ranger clenched his hands and tore out the spike. "They'll…they'll…"

    "Target eliminated," said 0, and the Dark Sapphire Ranger shattered and transformed into dust. His body corroded, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, until finally nothing was left but a fine blue powder that scattered along the floor. Parts of it blew in the wind, but the Golden Ranger grabbed some of it and tucked it into his belt. He lifted his morpher and ejected Lu's Poke Ball. Cario Form vanished.

    "Pi," said the Golden Ranger, "how'd I do?"

    "Great," answered the Pikachu. "Good work, partner."

    0 smiled. "This is Agent 0 to Agent 003," he muttered. "Please respond."

    A moment later, Bakaguru's channel opened. "This is 003, we read you."

    "Target is eliminated," he announced. "I repeat, target is eliminated."

    There was a sigh of relief on the other end. "I can't tell you how glad I am to hear you say that, 0," replied Bakaguru. "The whole party's sky high, we'll be inviting you shortly." The otaku was using code, telling the Golden Ranger that the entire group was in a helicopter heading in his direction. "We'll be going back to the big house." PKM Headquarters.

    "I'll get up as fast as I can," answered 0, informing the group that he would be on the roof. He glanced down to the dust that had shifted around the entire floor, coating it in a faint skin of azure. "Agent 0 out."

    His boots crunching against the dust, he headed for the roof.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  10. #35
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    Default Chapter 18

    Morph Eighteen: A Surprise Inspection

    Outside the helicopter, the sands of Orre appeared quite beautiful.

    Of course, that was because the sun's blazing heat didn't reach inside the machine. Protected by the finest technology that PKM could provide, the Birch family was safely shielded from the harsh weather. Norman and Caroline, quite exhausted from the excitement from the previous night, were collapsed next to each other in a pair of seats. Serena was stretching her muscles, her whole body felt sore and probably would stay that way until she was inspected by the medical teams at Headquarters. Max was sitting quietly to himself, caressing his Dark Emerald as if in conversation with the evil thing. Across from him, the Golden Ranger fingered his ring in much the same way.

    "Hey, 0?" asked Max.

    He looked up. "What?"

    "What's going to happen to us when we get to your Headquarters?"

    0 looked out the window, as what passed as home for him started to approach on the horizon. "May, Sarah, and your parents will probably be given new identities after the Council reviews their case. I'll try and make sure that it's quick, but I can't promise anything. Serena and I will probably have to be debriefed, but they'll keep us with you because they like keeping people on cases they've been working."

    "You said that the rest of my family's gonna be okay," Max noticed, "but what are they going to do about me?"

    "Honestly, I have no idea, Max," replied the ranger. "You're a Dark Gem Ranger, who knows what they'll want to do with you. But we'll all try and get you special status, maybe even get you inducted into PKM as a new ranger, if things work out the way I want them to." He looked up and smiled. "But don't worry about it, okay? Even if PKM has screwed me over in the past, they do care about people. And you're still a person. Besides, even if they do decide to experiment on you, Bakaguru over there will be looking after you." They glanced to the otaku, who was currently busy piloting the chopper towards their destination. "He's a good guy."

    Max nodded. "Yeah," he said, "you guys are all pretty cool. I trust you."

    The Golden Ranger sat back in his seat, and watched Sarah and May, the little girl sleeping in her mother's arms. "I suppose you'll be wanting that explanation I owe you," he muttered and sighed deeply. "Right?"

    "I can pretty fill in most of the blanks for myself." Max glanced at the morpher, it gleamed in the Orre sun. "How…long have you been with this…PKM thing?"

    "I was recruited a little while after Sarah was born," he explained. "Remember that vacation we took, Sarah's first trip away from Kanto?"

    "The one where you brought her to Petalburg for the first time?"

    "Yeah. The day of the terrorist attack." It had been so long since he'd thought about that day, it seemed like it had been decades since it had happened. "That day, May and I took Sarah out for a day to see the town, and we got caught up in the middle of the attack."

    "And, I guess you helped out the PKM guys and they took you in."

    0 laughed. "Not exactly," he replied. "Five years ago, they were only using a prototype of the PKM Ranger technology we use today. There was only one ranger, named Agent 0, and his tech was not the best. The guys they were fighting, a group of guerrilla fighters that had a lot of bang but not a lot of brains, they beat him up and he had to power down. I was just trying to help, he let me use it to fight the guys and take them down.

    "When everything was finished, I was given a choice. They told me that because I had used the Ranger System, I couldn't go back into civilian life without endangering their program. I could either be imprisoned until the information was declassified, or I could become a new recruit for the organization." He paused. "I chose the option that let me keep my family together. I was given special treatment because of the circumstances, they kept me on as an auxiliary agent. I was a hot shot, I loved it there. Being the hero, being a dad, being a husband. I was everything I had ever wanted to be. And I was going to be a ranger, one day. It all seemed like a dream come true."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger nodded, then glanced to his sister. "How-how did it, you know…"

    "End?"

    "Yeah."

    0 groaned. "She never told you?" he asked.

    "She only said it was bad. She's never really talked about it with anyone."

    "Well," murmured 0, "I guess that makes two of us. My job doesn't really allow for much in the range of sentimentality. We work together, we live together, but we are alone. For standard agents, they are trained to work within a unit, the same applies for rangers, but we're not supposed to get close to anyone."

    Max looked over at Serena, who was now sleeping. "Is that how you met her?"

    "She was a rookie when she was partnered with me. I was supposed to become the White Ranger, but a slight change in plans happened, and she ended up with the morpher. Thinking back, it's probably the best thing that's ever happened to her. She was so quiet when we met. I wasn't sure what to think of her." He smiled and briefly looked over at his partner. "Now she's about as arrogant and confident as I used to be, back in the old days."

    Max looked outside the window, a large building was coming into view. "Hey, is that the Headquarters?" he asked, pointing to it.

    The Golden Ranger nodded. "Home sweet home, for me anyway," he muttered. "We can see it because we have special optics on our windows and monitors. It's camouflaged to keep outsiders away from it, so no one can find us. The giant building we have as a front is about a hundred miles away and is labeled as a pencil producing factory near Pyrite Town."

    "That's pretty smart."

    0 chuckled. "We're pretty smart." He leaned in his chair, over to where Bakaguru was piloting the helicopter from. "How long till we get there?" he asked.

    The otaku glanced at his coordinates. "I think we have about ten minutes until we reach the landing decks," he determined. "Go into the cargo bay and alert 415 to secure the package for my laboratory." 0 groaned and the otaku snickered. "Face your fears, Gold. I don't want you seizing up if the Dark Gems bring out pictures of 415 and you high tail it with your tail between your legs."

    "Doubt that," 0 said with a chuckle. "None of us know what her face really looks like." He walked through the chopper and opened the door to the cargo compartment, revealing what looked like a very exhausted Agent 415 sitting in front of a silenced capsule containing the Rangerling that Serena and Max had captured, writhing and screaming with no one to hear it.

    "How are you holding up?" he asked and sat down next to her.

    She didn't look at him, but instead brushed the now-grey hair out of her face, her eyes weary and mousy. "I have not slept in three days," was her response. "So, poorly."

    He pulled his syringe out of his pocket. "You want some serum?"

    She shook her head. "I require no drug to do my job, rookie," she retorted. 415 rubbed her eyes wearily, struggling to keep them open. "Medical treatment better not be limited to just you rangers and the Birch family. I need some pills for insomnia. And headache capsules." She rested her head against the wall. "Anyway, what do you want? There is no need for a second bodyguard."

    "Bakaguru wanted me to tell you we would be arriving at Headquarters in ten minutes."

    "We have eight minutes, twenty-eight seconds," she corrected. "I calculated it."

    She reached into her pockets and retrieved the Golden Gauntlets. "Here, take these," she said and handed them back. "I do not want to wear them anymore."

    He took them and stuffed them into the pockets of his uniform. "415, what did you mean when you said you hated me?"

    "You require explanations to understand a person's hatred to you?"

    "Kinda."

    She sighed. "Well, not now. Tell Bakaguru that the cargo will be ready when we land." 0 left.

    "How you holding up, Pi?" 0 asked, putting his hand to the com-link in his ear.

    "Shaky," it replied. "You used way too much of the Synchronization Drive while we were fighting. Three transformations consecutively, I'm lucky to still be operational."

    "Sorry. I didn't know it would have that kind of effect on you."

    "Everything related to the Spirit Morpher has to run through me," it explained. "We can use the Synchronization Drive in Ranger Form without problems because our bond is very strong. But the Auxiliary Pokemon require assistance from me to lend you their attacks."

    "Maybe Bakaguru can give you an upgrade when he finishes analyzing the Ailed Morpher blueprints," 0 pointed out. "One that'll make it safer for us to use the APS."

    "I can only hope," murmured the Pikachu. "You'd better change, we're about the land. You should look professional when we arrive."

    0 grumbled. "Yeah, yeah," he muttered to himself, and opened the options in his morpher for his attire. After some searching, he located the PKM Golden Ranger uniform and switched to it. His civilian clothes transformed into the gold-and-black official uniform that PKM had provided for him in a flash of red light. He dusted off his uniform and adjusted his goggles. Serena, noticing his transformation, followed her commander and donned the white-and-black jacket, v-neck shirt, and pants of her station, and jumped to her feet.

    "We almost there?" she asked.

    He nodded. "Home sweet home. Put on your goggles, 3," he ordered. She nodded and pulled out a pair from her pocket and shifted the pair over her eyes.

    "All set," she announced and glanced to the evil ranger in the corner. "Hey, Max, why don't you go wake up your family? It'd probably be more comforting to them. We're going to go help Bakaguru pilot back to the landing ports." Both PKM Rangers headed into the cockpit and got into position. 0 took the copilot seat, while Serena opened communications to the Headquarters.

    "Tell them we're coming," ordered Bakaguru.

    Serena put on the headphones. "This is Poke 455," she announced.

    "Poke 445, this is control tower. You are cleared for landing. Please proceed directly to Landing Dock 3. Escort will be offered for the cargo."

    "Roger, we're docking now." Bakaguru, with the assistance from the Golden Ranger, decreased the thrust of the chopper's blades and touched down. A slight lurch was felt throughout the cabin, thankfully Max had advised everyone to grab something before landing. "Open the hatch!"

    The back of the chopper opened up, whereupon several agents swarmed the back of the craft, locating the test subject that was writhing across from 415 and wheeled it out. Then the team filed away to allow the passengers passage outside. The Golden Ranger and the White Ranger, flanked by 415 and Max, led the Birch family out into the terrible heat of the Orre sun, with Bakaguru bringing up the rear.

    0 glanced back at May and grinned. "Welcome to PKM," he said. "Let's get inside. Sandstorms are pretty frequent around these parts."

    She nodded. "Sure," she replied and picked up her daughter. "How you doing, honey?"

    "Sleepy," answered the little girl, as they headed into the hanger and the doors shut from the elements. Instantly a soothing breath of cool air floated over their faces, and Norman and Caroline were quite appreciative of that. 0 and Serena were indifferent to it, as were 415 and Bakaguru, and they strode towards the hissing door that would grant them access to the facility.

    "This is the primary hanger for PKM," explained Bakaguru to the family, as they gazed about in wonder. Machines of all shapes and sizes surrounded them, most of them helicopters and fighter jets, although Max thought he spotted a tank or two in the back. "We use it to house the majority of our offensive transport vehicles. Most of the standard vehicles are kept in other hangers with the defense machines. The only reason we docked here is because our transport was considered top priority and we wanted extra protection in case we were being followed."

    "Cool," Max murmured, the hanger looked like something out of a science fiction novel to him. "So this is where you guys work?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "Oh yes," he said. "It is very cool indeed."

    The entry door hissed then opened quickly. 0 hated the efficiency of the machine. He walked through, ignoring the salutes from several of the cadets that were stammering in his and Serena's presence. He because of his imposing, powerful figure, and her due to her natural beauty and charm. The passerby cadets looked on with interest at the new people walking through the building, but found other things to be interested in when 0 looked at them and growled.

    "Uh…" May murmured, "where are we going?"

    "We are taking you to your newly arranged quarters," explained Bakaguru. "But we are first stopping to drop Max, Serena, and 0 off at the Council chambers for debriefing."

    "Why does Max need to go?" Norman asked.

    "He has been contracted to a Dark Gem, the users of which have been targeting your daughter," Bakaguru explained. "The Council will be deciding what to do with him, as we've never encountered a subject like Max before."

    "A subject?" spat Norman. "He's my son, not a piece of meat."

    "Dad!" exclaimed Max, stepped in between the two men. "It's fine, Dad, really." He looked over to the Golden Ranger and grinned. "They're going to help me get better. I'm sure they'll do what's best for me, okay?" Norman didn't like the sound of his son's words, but knew that the choice wasn't up to him.

    "Fine," he muttered. "Just be careful, alright?"

    Max nodded and patted his father's shoulders. "Always am," he replied with a smirk. He turned and walked towards Serena and 0. "Well, we shouldn't keep the Council waiting, right?"

    0 shrugged. "I keep hoping they'll die, but those old guys never do no matter how long I make 'em wait." Max laughed and Serena snickered. Even May lightened up a bit. "Come on, let's get this over with. I want Max off the most wanted lists of every anti-terrorist group as soon as possible." The Golden Ranger turned and headed toward the Council chambers. After a few moments, Serena and Max started following him, leaving the rest of the Birch family with 415 and Bakaguru.

    "I'm hungry!" announced Sarah.

    Bakaguru chuckled. "How about I set you all up at your living quarters, then I take you all to the mess hall on me?"

    "Yay!"

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    0 hated being inside the Council chambers.

    For one, it was always dark. The members of the Council themselves always sat above, masked by darkness to hide their faces. Sometimes, 0 even doubted that anyone was up there, and all he was doing was explaining himself to a bunch of speakers. Which was probably likely, considering the secretive nature of his organization.

    "Golden Ranger, White Ranger, please explain why you have brought this individual to this hearing," said the voice of the Council, quite calmly. "This is a debriefing, he has no say here."

    0 noticed that Serena was about to say something and stopped her just before her mouth opened. "Max Birch was accidentally exposed to an item known as a Dark Emerald and as such has gained a ranger form in the shape of the Dark Emerald Ranger," he explained. "We were to understand that the hearing was for all active rangers on the May Birch case. He is here because he assisted us in our mission to rescue Sarah Birch. He provided assisted manpower and is a very key component on why the entire Birch family is still alive."

    "Agent 0?"

    "Yes?"

    "Haven't we already been clear on the cutting of the crap? Don't patronize us."

    He sighed. "He's here because I want him in the organization. His family's already in protective custody, and he has strength that can be of assistance to our battle against the Dark Gem Rangers. Let him be an auxiliary ranger for PKM."

    There was a pause as the Council voice prepared to respond. "While your request is an enjoyable fantasy, Agent 0, we have not finished our ruling on Max Birch's status as the Dark Emerald Ranger. For now, we have decided that he shall be analyzed by Agent 003, Bakaguru Niwa, and his team to assess his Dark Gem's power for our profile on the terrorist organization before any new decision is made."

    0 glanced at Max apologetically. "Sorry buddy, guess you'll have to spend some time with Bakaguru in his lab."

    Max smiled. "At least it's not a prison."

    "You have no idea," replied Serena.

    "Silence," ordered the Council's voice. "Agents 0 and 3, we have read the report of the incidents regarding the Dark Sapphire Ranger and his connections, and it has been determined that the protective custody of the Birch family is…compromised."

    "Compromised how?" asked 0.

    "Your intimate relationship with the family and your breach of ethics with Agent 3 have forced us to call competency hearings to determine your ongoing status as May Birch's guardians. We are also considering the possibility of separating you both as partners."

    "What?" exploded both Serena and 0, then glanced rather awkwardly at one another.

    "You can't do that!" protested Serena. "You're the ones that put us together in the first place!"

    "That was because we were…shortsighted. We were under the assumptions that you would both be able to act in a professional manner toward one another, but our monitoring of your interactions has brought severe doubt about your teamwork skills. Over the next week, you will both be subjected to competency hearings to determine your skills and assess your ability to work as a team." Another pause. "You both, like Max Birch, will be observed very closely."

    The Golden Ranger ground his teeth and clenched his fists. "You dare presume we need competency hearings?" he demanded. "Who the hell are you going to get to replace me? To replace us?"

    "We are glad you asked us that," replied the voice. "Send them in."

    The three rangers looked toward the doors, absolutely no one walked through. Finally, another voice, the receptionist's, came over the speakers. "Uh, they aren't here," she explained.

    The Council's voice paused. "What do you mean, 'not here'? They were supposed to be here an hour ago. They checked in."

    "Yes…I think they might have hacked through my system and…" Her voice stopped, as if she was talking to someone outside. "Wait, they're here now! I'm sending them in."

    Doors opposite to the ones 0, Serena, and Max had entered through opened, flooding the Council chamber with light. Two figures were standing there and, together, they walked into the room, perfectly synchronized in stride. Serena gasped, she knew who they were.

    One of them, the leader, stood on the left opposite 0. He was shorter, by maybe a few inches, and he had a lollipop sticking out of the corner of his mouth. His face had a wide grin on it and he flicked a salute off the very stylish sunglasses he was wearing. His hair, a bright golden-brown, was stuck up everywhere, exactly like someone who had recently leapt out of bed with an aversion to mirrors. He pulled out the lollipop, cherry-flavored and colored red, and licked his lips. He was wearing a uniform similar to 0 and Serena's, only his color patches were red and the number woven into his shoulders was a blazing 1. His right arm, to match, had a black watch-like device 0 recognized as a morpher, with red flames around the trigger switch and center. The collar of his uniform jacket was popped.

    Both of them looked younger than 0, but the other person seemed much younger somehow, like a kid, even though she was probably at least twenty. Her hair was dark and came down to her shoulders, a shade that looked like a cross between black and brown, and her eyes were strange. One of them was blue, while the other was green. Her face was beautiful, but her mouth was a thin line, unlike her partner's, which was loud and hanging open. The colors on her uniform was simple pink, like her morpher. Her eyes were on the ground, refusing to budge.

    "Agents 0 and 3," said the voice. "These are your evaluators, Agents 1 and 5. They will be conducting mental and physical examinations on you to determine your competence to continue serving as guardians of May Birch." A pause, before the voice turned stern. "You are late."

    "Yeah…" murmured the Red Ranger and popped the lollipop back into his mouth. "We accidentally took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, wound up somewhere in the Orange Islands in the middle of a typhoon, and ended up stranded on an island somewhere filled with giant Pokemon. It was insane!"

    "Is any of that true?"

    He laughed. "'Course not," he replied, cool as a cucumber. "I overslept. But we're here now and we're ready to do some evaluating." He grinned and looked towards Serena with a face that 0 recognized from Serena herself. "Can I evaluate her? She looks feisty…"

    Agent 5, after some hesitation, glanced towards the shoes of her partner and smacked him upside the head. The Red Ranger groaned and rubbed his skull from the attack. "Why'd you do that?" he asked her in a whiny voice. "It's not okay to hit each other when we're in the presence of company! We haven't even seen new Golden Ranger before, and we're already making a bad impression."

    "Agent 1, restrain your behavior," announced the Council. "You will be evaluating Agent 0, and Agent 5, you will evaluate Agent 3. Max Birch will be evaluated by Agent 003. We will reconvene in one week. Dismissed." The sound of a gavel issued and the five rangers knew they were alone in the room.

    The very loud Red Ranger walked up and decided to introduce himself, so naturally he went in the direction of Serena and bowed slightly. "It is a pleasure to see you again, Serena Brine," he said, with the grace of a prince.

    She giggled. "I see you're still as slick as ever, Dreas Logan," Serena replied, then turned to the Pink Ranger, who had not moved from where she had been standing. "Karin! How've you been?" Karin lowered her head again, clearly uncomfortable.

    Logan put out his hand to the Golden Ranger. "How's it going, buddy?" he asked, shaking 0's rather reluctant hand. He looked 0 over and chuckled. "So you're the new Golden Ranger, huh? Gotta say it's weird not having the old man around. I'm the Red Ranger, Dreas Logan, and this is my partner, the Pink Ranger, Karin Karino."

    "Charmed," 0 muttered.

    Logan cocked his eyebrow. "Aw, we got a funny one here!" he exclaimed to his partner. "Don't you think it's weird that I get to review you, since you're supposed to be the leader of our little quartet?"

    "You have no idea," was the Golden Ranger's reply. He looked to Serena, who was chatting one-sidedly with a very mute Karin. "3, let's get going and find May and the others. We need to let them know what's going on." Serena nodded and backed away from Karin to 0. The Pink Ranger then immediately retreated behind her partner's back. "Max, ready?"

    Max nodded. "All set."

    Logan had overlooked the Dark Gem Ranger and glanced over to get a good look at him. "Oh, this must be the recruit you dragged in," he observed. "How's it hanging, rookie?"

    "Fine, I guess," said Max and he fell into flank next to the Golden Ranger. "They're going to be running some tests to see if I can help Serena and…0, when my sister and the rest of my family are put in protection."

    "Can I get a look at the Dark Gem?" asked Logan.

    Its owner shrugged. "Sure." Max grabbed the chain and pulled the gemstone out of his shirt. Logan awed in its presence, evidently he loved shiny things, and lifted his hand to touch the gem. However, it flared violently when he reached a bit too close and everyone assumed that the Dark Emerald disliked Logan for some reason. Possibly his annoying behavior, but whatever the cause the Red Ranger quickly lost interest in the shiny stone and decided to follow the trio out of the Council chamber. Karin followed.

    "How are these evaluations going to go?" asked the Golden Ranger, as he proceeded back towards his own quarters. "Max, you'll be bunking with me until we can get you set up in the lab, okay?"

    "Okay."

    The Red Ranger shrugged. "Little of this, little of that. Fact of the matter is, I was kinda surprised they asked us to do it. I figured that since Bakaguru was gonna give everyone's morphers a huge reboot they wanted to see where you two stood when it came to fighting. We never did officially screen you for the job, Golden Boy."

    "Uh-huh."

    "By the way, you got a name to go with that shiny new color you're wearing?"

    He shook his head. "Nope. Classified. 0 will do just fine though."

    Logan shrugged. "That's kinda lame, if ya ask me."

    0 looked at the ranger and grinned. "Good thing I didn't."

    Logan and Karin, after following the trio around for a while, decided that their attentions were better called for at the cafeteria, as it was time for Logan's fifth feeding of the day. Logan, after wishing them all a pleasant evening's rest, allowed himself to be dragged off by Karin in the direction of the mess hall.

    "Something's not quite right with those two," muttered 0.

    Serena nodded. "They're a bit messed up, but they work well together. But that Logan is such a flirt!" She giggled, a slight tingle of red emerged on her face. "It's nice to know I've still got the goods."

    "Am I the only one that noticed that Karin doesn't talk?" Max asked.

    Serena nodded. "Yeah, that's just one of the many things she doesn't do," she explained. "She doesn't do eye contact either."

    "Why?" asked 0.

    Serena shrugged. "I think it's some kind of anxiety disorder, she's shy almost to a flaw. I think that's why they were paired up in the first place. Dreas is loud, annoying, but Karin keeps him in line somehow. And he helps Karin do her job by getting her to interact with others."

    "I guess you have a point there," 0 agreed.

    Serena smiled. "It's just like us, if you think about it. You're so serious sometimes, you need a party girl like me to bring you back down to reality." 0 chuckled and lightly shoved her as he walked past. In return, she slammed into his back, throwing him off balance and forcing him to grab a wall to conserve his balance.

    Max squinted. "Hey, is something going on between you two?" he asked suspiciously.

    Both 0 and Serena, in response, turned bright red in the face. "N-not at all," they both replied, more embarrassed than anything else.

    "We're just friends," 0 said hastily.

    Serena nodded. "Best friends," she was quick to offer.

    Max wasn't quite sure about that, but didn't feel like pressing the issue, something that both agents were grateful for. They kept walking, up until Serena reached her quarters and disappeared behind the door with a word of farewell. "Where do you live, anyway?" Max asked, as they had been walking for some time.

    "Somewhere far away from her," was his reply. "Before we got partnered up, I really couldn't stand her, so I requested living quarters as far away from her as possible. With locks. A lot of locks."

    After maybe twenty minutes of walking, they arrived at a door that Max took to be the entrance to 0's quarters. "It's not much," he said, as he retrieved his key, "but it's what I've called home for three years." He unbolted the lock and the door opened.

    0 and Max walked inside, but stopped just short of an actual tour of the tiny quarters. Instead of the solitude that he had been hoping for, someone was already seated on the bed waiting for him.

    May.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    May Birch, after some slight difficulty, managed to successfully put her daughter to sleep. Sarah didn't go willingly, she wanted to go exploring all around the exciting Headquarters and only let her head touch the pillow after her mother promised her the chance to do so the next day, when all the big machines and all the people would be up and about and more willing to play.

    No sooner than Sarah was asleep did a knock issue on the door to their sleeping quarters. Tiptoeing, for she didn't want to wake Sarah, May walked up to and opened the door. Outside were Bakaguru and 415. She moved outside the room and shut the door. "Yes?" she asked.

    "Ms. Birch," said Bakaguru, with a nod of his head. "I'm sorry to impose on you at a time like this, but would you object to accompanying me on a late night walk? I find it helps soothe the digestion, especially after a big meal like the one we just had."

    "I can't, my daughter likes when I'm nearby when she sleeps," May answered.

    The otaku smiled, and looked towards 415. The woman closed her eyes and suddenly her face was a perfect replica of May's. "415 will keep watch over Sarah until you return, but I am afraid that it is important that we speak privately." Without waiting for confirmation, 415 walked inside the room and shut the door quietly behind her. Bakaguru whistled and started down the corridor and May, seeing as the choice was out of her hands, followed.

    "Where are we going?" Bakaguru smiled and turned a corner in response to her question.

    "We are going to do a little breaking and entering," he replied and lifted a key from his pocket. "I thought I should undo a little bit of the damage that has been done to your family." He turned yet another corner. "We are going to the living quarters of Agent 0. I believe that his belongings should be returned to their proper locations by now."

    "Why are we going to…0's quarters?" she asked. She didn't like the Golden Ranger's designation, it felt wrong on her tongue.

    Bakaguru smiled. "It is no secret, Ms. Birch, that there was once a time when you were married to the man we now know of as the Golden Ranger. It is also true that that relationship ended poorly." He glanced towards her and pushed his glasses back into his nose. "I believe that, if you wish to entrust the protection of your family to this man, you should understand a little bit of what he has become in the three years that the two of you have been separated."

    "Well, he's still the same person, isn't he?"

    "Yes and no. When he was brought into PKM as a full agent, no longer tied to outside distractions, it was determined by the Council that he undergo physical and mental training to remove any chance of him being recognized by the general public. Do you remember when he was at the Saffron Contest, under the alias Keean Toby, and absolutely no one recognized him? Not a single, solitary human being could identify him from the person he once was. He has had to make several transformations to shield himself from the outside world."

    "But he was-" May started to say, but was cut off by Bakaguru's hand.

    "I will put this simply," said Bakaguru, his heart quite heavy with the news he had to deliver. "Agent 0 is not your husband. Years of anger, bitterness, and sadness have molded him, changed him, into the person he is today. And I am sorry for that, but those are the facts. The man you once called your husband has been dead for three long years. In his place is our dog, our weapon, and our fighter."

    May stopped walked and Bakaguru turned to face her. "Why are you telling me this?" she asked. "Why?"

    "Because I need you to understand these facts," he explained, his face turning red. "There is no doubt in my mind that some piece of him still wants to, and will fight for, the opportunity to reunite with his family." There was absolutely no question of this for the otaku, May could see it in his eyes. "I have no intention of stopping him. After such a long time, Agent 0 is finally starting to live again. And he is my friend." He sighed. "I guess what I am asking you do to is remember these things. I do not wish to see him hurt again. He has…suffered enough for us."

    May put a reassuring hand on the otaku's shoulder. "I promise I won't hurt him," she whispered. "Not again."

    The engineer lifted his head with a sad smile on his face. "Thank you, Ms. Birch. That boy has had enough trouble in his life, I just wanted to make certain that nothing further happens to push him over the edge like his predecessor."

    "What happened to him?"

    "The prior Agent 0 was a machine, his body and mind transformed into something that was not human. He and his morpher became one, and he was trapped in morph, unable to transform back into a normal person. He had to wear his uniform at all times, we tried time and again to remove it, but he had experimented on himself too severely to go back. Until you re-entered 0' life, and until he was partnered with Serena Brine, I feared this fate would be repeated. I consider it my duty to ensure it does not."

    He swiftly turned around and started walking again. After a moment, May took a few quick steps and fell into stride alongside the silent otaku. They continued to walk, neither speaking, until finally they arrived at an unremarkable door, at which Bakaguru pulled out a key. "Benefit of being the head of R&D," he said, "I can make keys for anything." He inserted it into the lock and twisted it open. He led May through the door.

    To May, the room seemed bare somehow. The walls had nothing, no posters, no pictures, it was as if no one even lived in the room. The mattress had no sheets, and it seemed as if no one had ever slept on it. The only thing that even had a hint of life in the room was a picture frame on the clothing drawers, which was turned so that the frame's back was all that could be seen. A satchel was in the corner, filled probably with clothes.

    "I'll see myself out," Bakaguru said to himself and left her alone. May hardly noticed, she was too interested in her surroundings or, perhaps it should be said, the lack of surroundings. She took a few steps forward, until she was in the center of the room.

    It didn't even smell like him. That was probably an odd thing to think, but May could recall from memory the exact scent of his presence from when they had been married. She remembered it from when they had held one another, when they had slept together, so many other things… But the room she stood in now seemed dead, like a zombie dwelt within its walls. She walked to the door leading to the bathroom, but even that was bare of any personal items.

    "What happened to you?" she whispered and her eyes were drawn to the picture. She felt a need, a deep emotional desire, to know what the picture was. She approached it, like a very, very cautious spy might approach a valuable piece of information. She grabbed it suddenly and stared at the back of the frame in wonder. What was the picture of? Why was it the only piece of personal memorabilia that the Golden Ranger owned?

    Mentally, she slapped herself for wondering these things and wasting very valuable time that could have been spent looking at the picture, and turned it over. It was a portrait of several people, a group actually. Their friends… "Brock, Misty, Dawn, Tracey, Max…" she murmured, as she traced the faces of the people surrounding the trio in the picture. The married couple, holding their newborn daughter in their arms. "Sarah's first picture with everyone." She pulled the picture out of the casing and clasped it to her chest, feeling tears form on her burning eyes. "Oh, no…" she murmured.

    When she opened her eyes to look at the photo again, she saw something written on the back, a sentence in pen that had faded slightly from the years it had been since it had been placed in the frame. She turned the photo around to read the inscription, which was very poorly written. She giggled slightly, 0 had always had bad handwriting.

    Protect them. No matter what.

    Wordlessly, for there was nothing that could have possibly been said in the face of something like that, May placed the photo back into the frame and sat down on the bed. It squeaked as she adjusted herself so she would feel more comfortable, and she put the frame beside her. She would wait for him.

    He arrived a while later, talking with her brother. She almost jerked up in shock when she heard the key turn in the door, she had been drifting asleep. The two rangers walked into the room, then stopped when they noticed she was there. The Golden Ranger's mouth was open, in mid-sentence of whatever he had been saying to Max. After about a minute, which actually felt like an hour, he turned to Max.

    "Hey, mind giving us a minute?" he asked. "I-we need to talk."

    Max nodded and patted 0's shoulder. "Take as much time as you need," he replied and headed back out the door, his hand wandering aimlessly towards the Dark Emerald. After Max shut the door, 0 sighed and put his hands in his pockets as he lowered his head.

    "Bakaguru let you in, right?" 0 said. "I need better security."

    The both of them stared at each other, sensing tension seething through the room in such quantities that it, had it been anyone else, they would have left the room. Instead, May smiled and looked to the part of the mattress she was not occupying, patting it with her hand. "Here," she murmured, "come sit with me." 0, not sure what exactly May had in mind, sat down only after considerable hesitation. Neither looked at each other, instead their eyes were quite firmly set on the bare wall opposite them. "So, how did your meeting go?"

    He groaned, and rubbed his brow. "Pretty bad," he admitted. "The Council decided to set up competency hearings to see if Serena and I can follow you into protective custody. If we fail, you'll be assigned to another team of rangers instead of us."

    She nodded. "And what about Max?"

    "They didn't say anything about if he's going with you. Bakaguru is going to be running some new tests on him, see if he can be of any use. If we try hard enough, he'll be brought into the organization and permanently assigned to your case. We're-" He paused, for some reason his tongue felt quite dry. "I'm going to try to make sure that your family is kept together, May." He looked around and noticed that his picture was missing from its place on the dresser. "Hey, where's the photo?" he asked. "The grunts had better not have messed with it." He started getting up to inspect the possible theft, but May grabbed his jacket's sleeve and held him back. He looked at her and saw that the frame was in fact sitting right next to her.

    "I'm so sorry," she said and held it up. "I looked at it without asking, I didn't-I didn't know what it was."

    He held out his hand. "Please give it back." She looked at one last time, then carefully handed it back to him. He glanced at the photo briefly, before setting it back in its rightful place on the dresser. "I was wondering something, May."

    "What?"

    "Well…when can I see Sarah? You promised that you were going to let her know who I was."

    She nodded, as he rejoined her on the bed. "I know, and she will. But first, we need to talk about something."

    "Sure," 0 said. "What?"

    "Bakaguru brought me here," she explained. "While we were coming here, he…he told me some things about you. About how much you've changed since we were together." She looked towards him, she had such trouble making eye contact with the pair of goggles he was wearing. "When I thought you were Keean Toby, I had such a strong sense of déjà vu that I didn't even realize who you were. It felt like I had you back, only it wasn't you. He was someone strong, someone filled with life." She reached out and touched his hand. "Was that a lie, or was it really you?"

    "May, Keean Toby was a cover. When I made him, I based him a little off myself-the way I used to be-before PKM, but he's not who I am now." 0 held her hand and she squeezed his fingers. "Who I used to be…I don't think I could ever go back to him. We're not kids anymore, May. Neither of us are the same person we used to be."

    "No," she agreed, "we're not. You've grown up, haven't you?"

    He smiled. "I see you're as insightful as ever," he replied.

    She giggled. "Being a mother means you have to be able to tell a daughter why they've been misbehaving. I haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet."

    "And a father is supposed to be able to protect his daughter," he said, his heart heavy. "May, I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you and Sarah. I just-we just-" He blew a raspberry. "Even after all this, even now that you know the truth, I still can't find the words to explain what happened."

    For some reason, 0 felt the tension that he had been sensing earlier begin to evaporate. He was regressing into his fantasies, he had always dreamed of this, the perfect moment, when May would finally understand what had happened between them and why it had been necessary. But it was also different. The speech he had memorized, the explanation that he had always wanted to give to May, it just wouldn't come out of his mouth. He tried, he still remembered the words, but not a single one rose to his tongue, which sat in his mouth like a flab of wasted skin.

    All he seemed to be able to say was, "I'm sorry."

    May nodded. "I know," she replied. He would tell her when he was ready to. "When I introduce you to Sarah, if you feel like it, you can tell me what really happened."

    He felt her climb on top of him, her head buried in his shoulder, not the fake left one, but the warm right one. Through his uniform, he could feel her tears, and he reclined on his bed so that they could be comfortable. They didn't have sex, no…neither of them was up for it. It was just nice, thought 0, to finally be able to hold his wife again.

    "I'm so glad," she murmured.

    0 perked his head up. "About what?"

    "That I was wrong."

    Author's Note: Fun fact, everyone! Chapter 42 came out on Sunday and I completely forgot to mention it. So, if you happen to be all caught up on this story, go check it out. Work on Chapter 43 begins next week, as I have my anniversary this weekend and intend to be rather impressive for my lady friend.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  11. #36
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    Default Chapter 19

    Morph Nineteen: Red vs. Gold

    Dreas Logan, after some considerable effort, rose from the floor sometime after the morning alarm had rang. He was aware of this because of two things: one, the bed that Karin had been occupying was vacant; and two, he could hear the shower in the background of his morning stupor. He blinked several times, his eyes had a very distinctive color, like his uniform they were both bright red. And like him they were very special indeed. He shifted his head, as his neck felt a bit stiff, then began crawling in the direction of the bathroom. He grinned, knowing what awaited his eyes once he opened the door.

    Logan, quite the perverted imp, reached for the door handle. He had to be very quiet, well aware of the beating that could result from Karin as a consequence of peeping. That girl didn't talk, thought Logan as he slowly opened the bathroom door, but she sure knew her way around giving a bloody nose. The Red Ranger glanced into the bathroom, to the untrained eye it might have seemed like there was nothing inside but a pile of steam. But that was nothing to the eyes of the Red Ranger, he looked straight through the fog, his eyes glowing eerily. He could see a distinct shape moving in the mist, like a siren swaying in sprinkling water. He grinned wildly as the shape took on the shape of his partner, slowly but surely. He wanted to take his time with the unveil, he so hated when he had to speed things up and ruin his viewing pleasure.

    But, the shape didn't materialize the way he had hoped. Instead of the glistening, naked form of his partner, he saw what looked like an arranged assortment of cleaning utensils. A broom made up the body, aided by a cut pillow to form the curves, buckets for the breasts, and a mop for the hair. Suddenly, a feeling of dread entered Logan's chest as he glanced to the portion of the room he had not bothered to pay attention to.

    The area where Karin had been hiding, she knew his techniques all too well, so rarely did he vary them. She was wearing a towel, quite nice in its own way, but the way her left hand happened to be clenched into a fist, and her arm quivering with silent irritation, gave Logan the distinct impression that he should begin informing his next of kin of his last rites.

    But instead of trying to explain himself, as he knew that nothing he said would ever have been believed by his partner, he merely smiled and gave the appropriate thumb's up. "Nice curves," he said. "You may now punish me."

    And she did. Logan's face, as it so often did, made friends with Karin's fist and the back of his head made friends with the nearby wall, as it so often did. He felt drowsy again, but regained consciousness when he felt Karin climb on top of him, gripping him by the scruff of his neck. He looked up, her eyes explained to him exactly why she was angry at him, those beautiful blue and green eyes filled with so very much rage. He glanced down, the exact angle of his eyes allowed him to see her cleavage. She had small ones, he thought, he had spied on them many a time, with this being the usual result.

    Then he noticed the fist aimed at his face. "Now hang on, Karin," Logan began, his hands held up to protect his head. "Let's discuss this a bit." Her mouth did not flicker from the thin line it always was. "Now, there's a padlock on that bathroom door, and I know full well there is because we always request one for events like these. Now, why is it you always forget to lock the door? I know I can jimmy the lock, but I don't think I should be punished for subjugating myself to my inner demons."

    This was probably the seven hundredth time he had used that excuse and, like all those last seven hundred times, it failed to work the seven hundredth and first time. Karin's fist, like the hand of Arceus itself, came down upon his nose as fast as lightning. The Red Ranger, noticing the muscle movements in her fingers and forearms, jerked his head to the side just in time to dodge it. Karin's hand went right through the wall, a thunderous crunch echoing in result.

    "Why can't we just kiss and make up?" he suggested. "You know this could be entirely avoided if we showered together." An eruption of red splashed along her face and she lowered her head so he could not see. Logan took advantage of the momentary lapse of control to shift his body, rolling them so that it was he who was on top. He gripped her hips with his legs, and grabbed both arms, keeping his body high enough so she couldn't head butt him.

    "So, we ready to call it quits?" he asked. "We've got a busy day today and we can't spend it wrestling." After severe rage was exchanged by the Pink Ranger to her partner visually, she finally resigned herself to the fact that he had won and allowed him to stand up. "Come on and change. I've gotta shower, then we'll go drive the rookies crazy." He stripped down, quite uninterested in the fact that Karin was in the room, and shut the door behind him as he prepared the shower.

    "You gonna torment Serena today?" he asked, as the hot water he so loved seared his flesh, almost as if he expected her to respond. "I'm figuring on putting some pain on our new superior officer. That Golden Ranger's not gonna know what hit him!" He laughed and soaped up his muscular, if somewhat pale, body. After several minutes of that, he applied some shampoo to his near-perfect hair and rinsed off shortly after. He dried briskly, his hair looking even more like it was in desperate need of a comb. He got dressed and exited the bathroom, where Karin was waiting silently on the bed, her hands curled into tight balls on her knees.

    "What's up?" he asked, as he finished drying off his hair. "You chicken out of peeking on me again?" He sat down next to her, it seemed her face was still rather red from their encounter only a moment ago. "Are you worried about these rookies?"

    Hesitantly, Karin nodded her head. Logan laughed and put his arms around the girl. "Relax, Karin," he assured her. "We've both read their files, and yeah one of them is pretty tough, but Serena ain't got jack on what you can do! And I've got big, bad Gold, so don't worry. I know you get performance anxiety, but try to keep your head clear and you'll do fine." She gulped, but nodded. "That's the spirit! Now, how's about we go get some breakfast? I think we deserve it after that workout."

    Logan jumped up and Karin took her position behind him as they headed out. As always, the Pink Ranger looked at no one as she and her partner walked through the corridors of PKM Headquarters. Logan, every time he noticed someone, would stop and hand them a small flyer before proceeding on his merry way. She didn't notice exactly what the flyers said, nor did she particularly care. Logan did a lot of stupid things, most of them she either didn't understand or have interest in. However, the people who did get the flyers seemed quite excited and kept showing them to everyone they could find.

    Logan glanced back at Karin, and got an quizzical look in response. "Council said I could choose how I do the evaluating," he explained with a shrug. "Thought it might be fun to see how our commanding officer holds up one-on-one." As he arrived at his most favorite place, the cafeteria, he paused to open the door in a surprising gesture of politeness for Karin, who whisked by without a word. He shrugged, wondering why she was being so cold to him, before he too ventured within the culinary homestead to engage his breakfast in avid destruction.

    However, to his surprise he discovered that he and Karin weren't the only rangers in the mess hall. Across the room, both of them surrounded by people, were none other than Serena and the Golden Ranger. Of course, Logan naturally noticed that May Birch was with them, along with the little girl that was her daughter, the Red Ranger could have sworn her name was Sahara or something like that… Oh, and Jolly Green was there too, making his way through a plate of pancakes practically marinating in syrup. Bakaguru was shifting through a status report, and his intelligence officer 415 was having a staring contest with a plate of bacon. 0 seemed to be nursing a beer a little too early in the morning for Logan's tastes, but he thought nothing of it as he piled his plate high with all available bacon, eggs, and pancakes, thanking whatever Legendary Pokemon had blessed PKM with one of the finest buffets the ranger had ever laid his crimson eyes on.

    "Well, well, well," murmured Logan, as he sat down at the table with the group, "how was your evening's slumber?"

    "Uneventful," replied 0, before he took another sip from his bottle. "When are our hearings going to start, I want them out of the way as soon as possible."

    Logan proceeded to dive headfirst into his scrambled eggs. "Yes, we'll get to that soon," he said between mouthfuls of foodstuff. "But first, breakfast! It's the most important meal of the day, you know!" He grinned and glanced at the bottle. "Not that you need meals, but still…"

    Serena smiled at Karin. "I hope he didn't bother you last night."

    Karin glanced in the direction of Serena's plate, then picked up a shred of lettuce with her fork and ate it. It barely fit, her mouth was so small. "I never bother Karin," explained Logan and pointed his pancake-ridden fork at the White Ranger. "But…it's not my fault I can see through smog." He blinked his blood-red eyes, then applied his sunglasses.

    "Mister?" Logan glanced down, it was the little girl, Sarah.

    "Yes?"

    She pointed at his sunglasses. "Why are your eyes red, mister?"

    "Sarah!" scolded May. "Don't ask questions like that!"

    Logan laughed. "It's okay, Ms. Birch." He glanced down at the little kid and lifted his glasses. "My eyes are special, a lot of people's are. My family has red eyes 'cause a Legendary Pokemon blessed my ancestors. I can see everything. I can see muscles in the body as they move, I can see in the dark and through smoke. But it makes them very sensitive to light, so I have to be careful I don't go blind." He tapped the glasses back on, they shut out all the UV light, since they were designed like fashionable sunglasses-like goggles. "I can see every breath anyone takes, even if they're a mile away."

    "Wow," murmured Sarah, her dark eyes wide with fascination.

    "Mister…Logan?" asked May, as she looked up from her breakfast.

    The Red Ranger chuckled. "Please, Ms. Birch, Mr. Logan is my father's name. Please call me regular-old Logan, the L-Man, or, if you wish, Red. I also answer to the designation 'Sweet Cheeks' for obvious reasons." He would have gone on, but Karin delivered a very painful kick to his knee that prevented anything other than a very annoyed gasp of agony to escape the Red Ranger's lips. "Not nice, Karin…" he grumbled, then returned to his bacon.

    "That reminds me, Goldy, your first competency hearing is today," mentioned Logan, as he vacated the bacon on his plate into his stomach. "Noon. The battle arena."

    0 lifted a brow. "Why are we conducting a competency hearing in the battle arena?" he asked.

    Logan pointed his fork at the Golden Ranger with a smirk. "Because I thought, gee, if I have to deal with competency hearings, there's no reason they shouldn't be entertaining. Bearing that in mind, I've taken the liberty of inviting everyone out to the battle arena to enjoy a little sporting competition. By the way, the odds aren't in your favor." Logan grinned and pointed to the bottom of the sign, which was advertising two to one odds on 0 winning.

    0 crumpled up the paper and finished his alcohol. "If all I have to do is beat you, it shouldn't be so difficult," he retorted coolly. "When's the fight taking place?"

    Logan smiled, he loved the rough talk. "At two in the afternoon. The entire base is coming to watch, I think it'll be educational." He glanced at his morpher and wolfed down his food before glancing to his partner. "Karin, ready to go?" he asked. His partner's glaring eyes informed him that she was not, so he sat back into his chair and awaited her completion of her breakfast.

    The Red Ranger observed for the next several minutes, particularly the behavior between Golden Boy and the woman that was with him, the potential new assignment May Birch. They seemed awkward and not the entertaining kind of awkward. It was like watching a pair of schoolchildren deal with their first crush, now that he thought about it. They couldn't look at each other without turning red in the face. It almost disgusted the ranger with cuteness.

    "You're about to make me puke," was what Logan was about to say, but Karin grabbed him by the scruff of his neck to inform him she had finished her breakfast. So, Logan was forced to say goodbye to his new playthings, as he knew that Karin dragging him off could only mean he was about to engage in some new training exercises. "Karin, I can walk by myself!" he complained and was promptly dropped on the floor. She stood, waiting as he jumped back up to his feet, rubbing his side and wincing from the irritating pain that she had caused.

    "Why'd you have to go and do that?" he asked with a slight groan.

    She shot him her usual business look and he sighed. "I hate having to do this every day," he grumbled and folded his arms as he took the lead and she followed him to the training rooms. "Every day, you make me take you there. Why can't we ever go somewhere nice, like a nude beach, or a love hotel? Always the training room…" He might have continued, but a smack to the back of his head encouraged him to do otherwise.

    "Okay," he muttered, as they reached the training rooms, "let's get ready for today's main event: Red vs. Gold! We'll show the rookie a good time for sure!" Unfortunately, he wasn't speaking to anyone, as Karin had ignored him and gone in while he wasn't paying attention. He strode in after her.

    "Why won't you ever listen to me when I'm ranting?"

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    After breakfast, the group headed down to Bakaguru's lab, to wish Max luck as the engineer began examining and testing the Dark Emerald Ranger for field potential. Unlike the last time 0 had been down there, this time there was a vast battle field, most likely a lifelike hologram, awaiting in the big, empty space that had been the work floor. It was similar to a forest, or maybe a jungle.

    "This is where we will be conducting field tests on Max's Dark Emerald," Bakaguru explained, gesturing at the forest. "It is surrounded by a force field to prevent damage to the building and filled with androids to test the combat potential." As they passed the forest in wonder, Sarah reached out to touch one of the plants and her hand hit an invisible wall.

    "Over here is where we will be conducting analysis on Max's power output and stats," informed the engineer, as he arrived at his work station. Next to the massive amount of electronic equipment that none of the group save for Bakaguru himself understood was a glass cylinder. "Max will be starting here, where we will begin work on his Dark Gem."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger himself was very impressed with the tech. "This is amazing," he muttered, adjusting his glasses. "Who built all this?"

    Bakaguru flashed a smile. "Jessie, James, and Meowth are quite useful people," he explained. "And so eager to please. They completed all of this in under twenty-four hours, one of the main reasons I use them so much." The engineer crossed over to some devices that were scattered on the table and began fiddling with them. "That reminds me, I need to discuss something with 0 and Serena. Could you two come over here?"

    Serena nodded and glanced to her partner. Both of them approached and Bakaguru held out four small devices that looked a lot like watches. "I've been analyzing the data that your Ranger Spirit gave me, 0, about Codename Ailed." He placed them down and retrieved the Blue and Black Spirit Morphers from a drawer. "Thanks to the new information, I'm beginning construction on new morphers for all six rangers. Both of you will be receiving the upgrade, as will Logan and Karin, but you'll also be getting new team members."

    Serena's mouth dropped. "You're commissioning the Blue and Black Rangers again?" she asked. "I thought that those things were retired, and that their users had made them impossible to recalibrate to new owners."

    The engineer merely chuckled. "The new Ailed Morphers will be able to use the old data from the Spirit Morphers and adapt it to enhance your powers." Bakaguru turned to 0 and smiled. "While we can't give you the special APS that the Golden Ranger has access to, we will be able to enhance several portions of the Ranger Systems installed in our rangers to give us a better edge against the Dark Gem Rangers. After all, we cannot rely on the APS as our only hope."

    0 nodded in agreement. "My system was only able to fight off the weakest of the Dark Gem Rangers. Sappho said the others were much, much stronger than he was. I might need to take a trip to Kanto…"

    "Why's that?" inquired Bakaguru.

    "You got Tork out for me from Oak," replied the ranger. "Maybe I can get some more firepower."

    "The APS is still incredibly dangerous to both you and your ranger spirit," Bakaguru reminded him. "With an Ailed Morpher, you'll have a better chance at maintaining stability, but it'll still damage both of you after continued usage." 0 nodded, he understood. "Good. Now, I suggest you both get ready. 0 had a very tough fight up ahead, and he'll need as much support as can be offered."

    0 grinned. "I've just got to beat 1. How tough can he be?"

    The engineer merely issued a half-smiled and a slight giggle escaped his throat. "Don't say I didn't warn you, Golden Ranger," he muttered and waved the others away. "Now out, all of you! I need to begin my work with Max!"

    May gave the Dark Emerald Ranger a few brief words of encouragement, followed by Sarah grabbing the man's hair, before everyone save Bakaguru, Max, and 415 vacated the facility. Once they were gone, 415 wordlessly headed towards the door and bolted it shut before pulling out a gun from her shirt and inspecting the clip.

    "Shall we get started, Max?" Bakaguru asked.

    The man nodded. "Yeah, let's do it." In response, Bakaguru tapped a button on one of his machines and the glass cylinder opened.

    "Well, climb in, and transform into the Dark Emerald Ranger."

    Max summoned the Dark Emerald, which responded instantly to his command. It wound down his neck and into his right hand, its chain spreading over his arms and shoulders. However, Max was in control now, he could keep himself calm until the glass slammed shut, securely protecting both Bakaguru and 415 from any potential damage he might inflict. Once the chains tightened, he pressed the Dark Emerald into his flesh, and his eyes flashed green.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    Emerging from the form of the former Gym Leader, the Dark Emerald Ranger bellowed in rage as he realized that he was trapped in a glass box, unable to escape. He smashed against the glass, his aura threatening to emerge from his armored form. He tried elongating the chains to shatter the glass, but nothing happened. Bakaguru had been quite generous in preparing for the power of the Dark Emerald Ranger.

    "Max!" shouted the otaku. "I need you to focus here!"

    The Gallade subverted, and a moment later the figure inside the tube stabilized, though his breath was ragged from assaulting the walls around him. Max growled and glanced down at Bakaguru, waiting for his instructions. "That's better," the engineer muttered. "Now, bring the Dark Emerald to full power. I know that there are two more evolutions beyond this Chained Form, but use what you can right now."

    Max nodded. "Laaaaaaade," he growled and summoned the aura. The emerald fire burst around his body, licking the chains on his arms, tracing his body with the image of a Gallade. Bakaguru glanced around at the power meters on the computer screen, they were climbing pretty high. But not as high as Cario Form with 0. Still, for an initial form, it was impressive, it easily outclassed the other PKM Rangers. Once the power reached its peak, Bakaguru recorded the information.

    "Power down to absolute minimum strength and I will release you into the battle simulator."

    Upon hearing the command, the aura surrounding the caged beast vanished. Bakaguru's hand dangled over the release button, the Dark Emerald Ranger had managed to obtain control over himself once, he just hoped the process had been repeated. He pressed the button and the monster walked out, his muscles tense. Bakaguru pointed to the jungle. "Destroy the targets," he ordered.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger walked forward as Bakaguru deactivated the shields around the forest. He growled and glanced at both of them, Bakaguru and 415, who readied her gun. Then he snarled and, on all fours, leapt into the jungle. His chains unfurled instantly, latching to the nearest trees and climbing upwards. His nostrils filled with the scents of the jungle as he swung from tree to tree, hunting, searching for the targets he had been ordered to destroy. He growled and smelt the mechanical opponents in the air.

    He dropped to the ground, quick enough to dodge a laser beam that only just missed his head. His chain erupted and smashed into the robot's head, dragging it down to the dark ranger for the final blow. He smashed it with his boot and the small droid crackled, before dying. The beast surveyed it; its body was shaped like a silver egg, apparently built for hovering, since it had nothing where the bottom half of its body should have been. Its head was oval-shaped, or it had been, before the Dark Emerald Ranger had crushed it.

    He moved on.

    There were ten more, whispered the Dark Emerald to its host. Ten more things to destroy. He stopped moving in the center of a large clearing, listening for the ten mechanical monsters. His chains retracted into his gauntlets, he heard one shifting behind him in the bushes. An instant later he growled and turned around to fire a massive length of chain from where the noise had come from. It wrapped around the metal frame and dragged the little beast out into the open. It squealed and fired at him, but the Dark Emerald warned him too quickly. He dodged the lasers and finished by tearing the machine apart with his bare hands. That was a second one down, nine to go.

    Three emerged from the trees above, forcing the Dark Emerald Ranger to retreat into the brush. They attacked in unison and the beast roared, slashing at them with his chains. They dodged, forcing the monster to hide himself, using the emerald and black of his uniform to blend in with the environment. Get them, whispered the Dark Emerald to its host. They were right above him. The muscles in his legs tensed before he leapt upwards. They saw him coming early and fired their lasers. The ranger went right between two of them, which caused both to destroy one another. The final one remained suspended in the air, until the dark ranger landed on it and smashed it on the ground.

    Six left, whispered the Dark Gem, as its host found and disposed of another two. Four now, it murmured. All of the remaining probes attacked, driving the ranger to the ground with one well-placed laser strike to the midsection. He grunted, but was forced back up thanks to the order from his evil gem to rise and battle. He roared and the emerald aura emerged from his form. The Gallade was quite angry indeed and its host was willing to oblige.

    The chains exploded from their gauntlets and smashed through a nearby tree. Despite it being a hologram, the chains gripped it pretty securely and tore it from its roots, bringing it crashing down on one of the quartet. Not wishing to waste such useful ammunition, the dark ranger hurled the tree trunk across the area, to where two more robots met their demise. Finally, the Dark Emerald Ranger used his free left chain and shot it out, seething in emerald aura, and it impaled through the final droid's head, causing it to explode.

    That's it, said the Dark Gem, all of them are dead.

    "Max," issued a voice over the loudspeakers, "the targets have been eliminated. Power down and return to your civilian form so we can release you from the simulation."

    The aura dissipated, but the Dark Emerald didn't want to let go of its control just yet. It was beginning to lose power over its host, and it didn't like that. It wanted to return to its brethren, but the Gallade that had been used for the sacrifice impeded it. As did its host, who was growing in power and would quickly overcome it. Finally, the Dark Emerald yielded and Max emerged from the form of the dark ranger, breathing heavily.

    "Max," announced Bakaguru, "are you alright?"

    He nodded. "Yeah," he muttered and looked to the chain now wrapped around his neck. "It was just…hard controlling it by myself. When 0 and Serena were with me, it was definitely easier to keep it in line. It respects authority."

    The simulation deactivated and Max jogged back to where Bakaguru and 415 were waiting. The engineer was reviewing the tapes of the scenario, while 415 kept a close eye on the dark ranger. "Well," murmured Bakaguru, "if you can keep up this pace, you'll be assigned to your sister's protection team, so you'll be fine."

    Max glanced to the table, where the new Ailed Morphers were being worked on. "Hey, Bakaguru?" he asked.

    "Yes?"

    "What if you were to combine the Dark Emerald with a morpher like that?" he suggested. "If I agree to more tests, could you do it?"

    The otaku shrugged. "It's entirely possible. The Ailed Morpher seems to be quite flexible with its power source, so I could see it working with a Dark Gem. Let me sleep on that, okay?" He turned to 415, who nodded and holstered her gun.

    "We have testing to undergo," informed 415. "Please leave. We will call you when we are ready for you to continue testing."

    "Got it," replied Max, who then headed up the stairs from the lab, hoping to maybe catch a glimpse of 0's fight.

    Bakaguru turned to 415, his face heavy. "His Dark Gem is particularly powerful," he murmured, before turning to continue working on the new morphers. Now there were six designs, for Red, Pink, Gold, White, Blue, and Black. "If we harness it properly, we could give him full control of its strength."

    415 glanced to the broken Blue and Black Spirit Morphers on the side of the table. "Will we be able to make new morphers beyond these six?" she asked.

    "We could, hypothetically, if I modified the original Golden Ranger's designs," muttered Bakaguru. "However, I don't think we'll need any more. More rangers will not make our duty any easier, but making our rangers stronger will." He took out his tools and a grin spread across his lips. "Now then, let's get to work."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The roar of the crowd was not something he had heard for a long time.

    As he stepped through the doors, into PKM's quite extravagant battle arena, he couldn't help but crack a smile. It was just like old times. Just him and an opponent, with an arena-filled stadium watching. He glanced around, everyone was chanting his color, his number. He tapped the com-link in his ear. "Pi, are we charged up?"

    "APS is currently at full power," it replied. "I am limiting the transformations to two so that we don't overload the Ranger System."

    0 nodded. "Roger. Got anything on Logan?"

    "Dreas Logan is the commanding officer of the secondary ranger team composed of the Red and Pink Rangers," it explained. "Along with a distinguished service record, he is well-known for using zui quan in battle. He was the second commissioned PKM Ranger. He is twenty-four years old and is the currently-longest serving PKM Ranger."

    "Special skills?"

    "Records show that his fighting stats rival ours in Ranger Form," Pi answered, retrieving information from the PKM database. "His bond with his Ranger Spirit is particularly powerful, which most likely is the reason for this. It's only outclassed by ours. Weapons are the Claw Cocktail and the Sake Scissors."

    0 nodded. "Sounds like our boy loves to drink," he replied. "Can we beat him with Cario Form?"

    "Highly likely."

    The Golden Ranger grinned and muttered, "That's all I needed to hear."

    The arena was set up exactly like a Pokemon battle stage, complete with lines, trainer boxes, and a Pokeball design in the middle for the fighters to meet in. 0 took his place in the trainer box and waited for Logan to do the same on the other side. The Red Ranger smirked at him, waving with childish delight. 0 was indifferent, but saluted from the edge of his goggles. Everyone in the surrounding stadium cheered and 0 couldn't help but be reminded of his old glory days. Briefly, the Golden Ranger wondered if anyone was actually still on duty. The entire place seemed packed.

    "You remember your promise, right?"

    "I promise she learns today, watching you win."


    0 grinned. "Let's do this, Pi," he said and readied his morpher. At the same time, Logan did the same, though his pose was definitely more elaborate and idiotic. "Let's win one fight for Sarah and go home with a family."

    "Sounds like a plan to me, 0."

    He activated the transformation trigger. "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    At the same time, Logan announced, "PKM Spirit, Activate!"

    Both morphers downloaded their suits instantly, and the rough uniform 0 wore disappeared underneath the Kevlar and metal armor of the Golden Ranger. Around him, the cheers erupted again as his helmet surrounded his face, the visor clamping on the complete the transformation. For an instant, everything was dark, then the display booted up and began uploading the systems.

    The Red Ranger's armor booted up, summoned in a very annoying way too. Rather than having the armor materialize and clamp on exactly where needed, Logan had somehow programmed his to fly about his body before attaching. On his chest, a Bug Pokemon was displayed, a Scizor's face. Logan gave off one bright smile before his red visor clamped down on his black helmet. 0 looked on his screen, a port of communication had been opened between them.

    "Ready for this?" asked the Red Ranger, his voice quite confident.

    "Just try not to lose too badly," retorted 0.

    Above them, a loudspeaker was turned on, to the thunderous approval of the crowd. "Ladies, Gentlemen, and Pokemon, welcome to the first Competency Hearing between Dreas Logan, the Red Ranger, and Agent 0, the Golden Ranger!" screamed whoever it was announcing. The crowd replied enthusiastically. "As a special treat today, the entirety of PKM is tuning into this even, with broadcasts spanning all the regions of the world from Hoenn to Unova! The second Competency Hearing will take place tomorrow between Serena Brine, the White Ranger, and Karin Karino, the Pink Ranger! Cheer for their success!" The crowd responded quite positively.

    0 studied his opponent's armor. Unlike his own, which was designed for steamrolling through opponents, Logan's was clearly build for defense and speed, since the armor was lighter than his, although from the way the armor was distributed along the body, it seemed to have a kind of aerodynamic effect. The Scizor emblem in the center of his chest was a tad creepy, though, 0 thought.

    Logan bent down into something that resembled a blend between a runner's pose and an attack position. "Ready for takeoff?" he asked.

    0 returned the gesture by assuming his own pose, the defensive position he often took before battle. "Ready when you are, Bug Boy," he retorted. "Pi, download the Bolt Blade. I want this over quickly." The Pikachu confirmed the request. 0 gripped the massive blade's hilt and readied it for combat. "Let's do it! Go!"

    The Golden Ranger exploded into the air, dashing with Agility towards the Red Ranger, who waited quite calmly for him, actually it seemed like Logan was swaying in the wind instead of preparing to battle. The Bolt Blade came down, but when it smashed into the earth below, Logan was nowhere to be seen. "Where is he, Pi?" demanded 0, as he wrenched the sword out of the ground and shook off the debris.

    0 looked down, it seemed that Logan had fallen down in between the Golden Ranger's legs, just barely avoiding the attack. However, when the Red Ranger tried to move, he accidentally kicked 0 in the back of his knee, sending the Golden Ranger to his knees as Logan recovered. "That was a close one, 0!" shouted Logan with glee. "I almost didn't believe those videos of your speed, but I'm really glad I did now!" He backed off, just so 0 could hoist himself up from the ground.

    "How'd you do that?" 0 asked.

    Logan blew a raspberry. "Beat me and I'll tell ya!" was his retort. The Red Ranger started swaggering, 0 thought he looked kind of drunk. "Zui quan- Mankey Style!" He raised his arms, exactly like a monkey, and went on the attack.

    "Pi, send the Bolt Blade back," 0 ordered, the weapon wasn't going to help him in the close combat that Logan clearly intended to use. The instant his arm was free of the weight, the Golden Ranger fought back. Both rangers locked arms and the crowd began screaming with excitement as the combatants strained against one another.

    "Having fun?" inquired Logan, his voice noticeably strained.

    0 managed a chuckle. "Time of my life." Logan was a lot stronger than he had anticipated, almost as strong as Max. "You're holding back."

    "You're right," Logan chuckled. He then let go.

    0 fell down, primarily because he had been trying to force Logan down, and as a result completely failed to maintain his balance. Logan fell as well, only he curled up into a ball and rolled backwards to avoid being trampled by the giant armor of the Golden Ranger. He then popped out and administered a pile driver to 0's back, driving his elbow deep into the small of the Golden Ranger's back.

    "Come on, Golden Boy," whispered the Red Ranger, as he sprung away, "let's see those big, bad powers of yours at work." 0 got back on his feet and felt his breathing was already getting rough. "That's it. Now, Scizor, the Claw Cocktail, please." A red light burst from his right arm and something that looked like a cross between a Scizor's claw and a cannon gloved itself onto Logan's hand. The Red Ranger opened the cannon's blast end and pointed it at 0. "This is the part where you run."

    A burst of red energy exploded from the end of the weapon, much larger than anything the Lightning Laser could produce, forcing 0 to use Agility again to dodge it. When the dust cleared, Logan loaded the weapon again and began targeting the lightning blur that was currently zigzagging around. The Claw Cocktail was quite slow, so he had to aim carefully. 0 kept moving, simply out of a lack of things to do.

    "I can see everything. I can see muscles in the body as they move, I can see in the dark and through smoke."

    So that was what Logan had meant, though 0, as he only just managed to dodge another blast. Logan was able to see his movements, regardless of his speed, thanks to the strange eyes he had. They were better than any sensor system that PKM could design. 0 burst forward, trying to get closer to Logan to prevent any further usage of the Claw Cocktail. "Pi," muttered 0, "what are our options at the moment?"

    "His Claw Cocktail is too strong for us to take on right now," replied the Pikachu. "Our best options are to use APS and figure out some way to combat his strength. Cario Form might be our best bet right now, since it has the strength to handle the attacks." Instinctively, 0 reached on his belt for the azure Poke Ball that contained his Lucario. He deactivated Agility, just in time to barely miss a blast from the giant cannon.

    Logan chuckled through their communication, which was also being broadcast through the stadium. "Finally given up on running?" he taunted and reloaded his weapon.

    0 grunted. "Time for the main course. Auxiliary Pokemon System- Cario Form!"

    The ball inserted easily into the Spirit Morpher's storage system and the blue armor appeared and clamped onto his forearms and hands. Finally, the lower half of 0's visor changed blue and the spikes extended from the backs of his hands to complete the transformation.

    "Lu?" asked 0, as his personality began the usual shifting towards playfulness.

    "Aye, sir," answered the canine. "All systems have been activated. Currently channeling the aura into the Claw Gauntlets. Advise immediate movement."

    "Roger," replied 0, who flipped just in time to avoid the next burst from the Claw Cannon. He scampered forward, crashing forward into the Red Ranger and knocking Logan hard on his back. The Golden Ranger flipped up and landed swiftly on his feet, turning around as Logan recovered. "Charge the aura please."

    Blue energy exploded from 0's hands, sharpening the spikes and the claws on his fingertips. However, before he could do anything, Logan retracted the Claw Cannon, and uploaded his melee weapons, the Sake Scissors. Two pincer-like claws extended like scimitars from his wrists, both at least two feet in length. He clanged them together and charged the Golden Ranger.

    Neither of 0's weapons could help him in this particular situation. The Bolt Blade was too massive, and more suited to combat with a larger opponent, and the Lightning Laser was all but useless against someone who could see the trigger and the targeting of his opponent from a mile away. Agent 1 was truly a fierce fighter.

    Both of them clashed, blades versus spikes, against one another. 0, being the one with the most strength, forced Logan down, making sure that the Red Ranger couldn't do anything to stop him. "This time, I'm ready for your stupid tricks," growled the paladin furiously. "You're not going to get between me and what I want."

    Logan simply chuckled under his helmet. "But that's what I do best. After all, you're getting in between me and what I want." He grunted, but the Golden Ranger refused to yield to his tricks and drove the Red Ranger to his knees. Again, the Red Ranger chuckled. "You're really not going to let me go, are you?" he asked.

    "That's the plan. Tap out, and let me get on with my life."

    He shook his head. "I'm afraid I cannot allow that. See, if you win, then I might get separated from Karin. She won't hold back with Serena, and she'll win. You will not be separating me from Karin, no matter what. You can't handle her." Logan's visor opened up and he winked one of his red eyes. "Okay, Scizor! Activate Rescue Mode!"

    "Rescue Mode, activated," announced an old, almost reminiscent of a samurai's voice from inside Logan's helmet, presumably Scizor. The armor on Logan's back opened up, revealing massive bug wings. The armor increased in his legs and he leapt up into the air with the added strength. "How's this for fun?"

    0 growled at the giant figure in the sky. "Not fair, I can't fly! Why wasn't I warned about the Rescue Mode?" he asked.

    Lu didn't know. "Unknown sir, the Rescue Mode is a standard application placed in all PKM Rangers, the exception being the Golden Ranger. It's possible that, because it's standard, Pi simply didn't think to mention it, since you should have known about it beforehand."

    "Great," murmured 0. He didn't quite feel like playing in the air with Logan, mostly because following wasn't an option. "How am I supposed to reach Red Eyes now…? I can't exactly bounce, now can I?"

    But Logan had to come down eventually, which he did by angling his wings and diving downwards from his hovering position, the Sake Scissors gleaming in the light of the stadium. "Lu, the Lightning Laser, now," ordered 0 and in an instant his clawed hand curled around the gun's trigger. The weapon loaded, he pointed it towards the Red Ranger and fired off two bursts of electricity. Of course, Logan dodged them both, but was as a result forced to change his trajectory and nearly crashed to the ground. 0 responded by smashing Logan's helmet once he got within range with the barrel of the weapon. The Red Ranger went down, but scrambled away quickly.

    Both of them stood a distance away, surveying the other's power.

    "You're…you're not bad," Logan admitted, his breath ragged. His Ranger System wasn't built to take damage quite as well as 0's. "Definitely not as good as the old man, but not bad either." He got to his feet and brandished the Sake Scissors.

    "Lu, disengage Cario Form," ordered the Golden Ranger. "I can probably deal with him better in Ranger Form."

    "Aye, sir," answered the Auxiliary Pokemon, and Cario Form deactivated, leaving 0 in Ranger Form. The Golden Ranger removed Lu's Poke Ball from the Spirit Morpher and placed it back on his belt.

    "Pi, activate Agility, and power up Volt Tackle immediately," the Golden Ranger muttered, "and resend the Lightning Laser. I'm not going to need it."

    "You sure about that, 0?" asked Pi, before reluctantly doing what he asked. "He'll be able to see what's coming a mile away."

    "That's exactly my plan."

    0 ran forward, keeping a sharp eye on his APS gauge, which was currently full. The Red Ranger was waiting and slashed with the Sake Scissors. 0 burst into Agility at the last possible instant, rolling forward and avoiding the dangerous blades, before he punched Logan in the stomach, sending the ranger flying backwards from the sheer force and speed of his attack.

    "Keep it coming, Golden Boy!" shouted Logan, as he crouched and leapt up to fly away. "Time for the Claw Cannon!" The Sake Scissors disengaged, replaced with the massive gun from before. He fired.

    "Auxiliary Pokemon System- Oal Form!"

    The giant armor formed quickly, as Tork leapt to its trainer's defense. 0 and Tork activated Iron Defense, crouching on the ground to brace for the impact. Neither felt a thing, as the giant burst of energy struck them. They heard the armor groan, but held on tightly as they started being forced back, neither one of them willing to admit defeat. Finally, the blast faltered and was reflected right back at its owner at a very speedy velocity.

    "Aw nuts," muttered Logan, as he dodged. But, because he had been keeping his eyes on the giant flare, it somewhat stung its eyes, despite the special protection inside his helmet. And that was why he didn't see 0 disengage Oal Form, crouch, and leap in the air towards him right behind the blast with Agility, which propelled him even further than a standard jump ever could. He raised his arm.

    "Pi, Volt Tackle!"

    The electric agony began instantly, but just before it began 0 clamped down his hand hard on Logan's neck. The Red Ranger, unable to stop him, began convulsing as the electricity began coursing through his body. As his muscles began screaming in pain, 0 kept himself together as the two began plummeting towards the ground, as Logan could not hope to support both himself and 0 with his flimsy wings. 0 grunted, but managed to get on top of Logan.

    "Pi, full power," gasped 0. "Any less and he'll adjust."

    "I don't want to-"

    "Do it!"

    Volt Tackle's full power was unbearable, and 0's artificial shoulder groaned uncomfortably underneath his armor. But for Logan it was like hell on Earth and he shrieked in an inability to adjust to the pain that 0 had long lived with when he had trained with Pikachu. So he had no idea what was going on when he struck the ground, then had 0 land on top of him. The Volt Tackle disengaged, but that didn't change the fact that Logan was in an unbearable amount of pain. As the crowd cheered, 0 noticed out of the corner of his visor that paramedics were on the way to treat Logan.

    His muscles quite in pain, 0 stood up and backed away from the Red Ranger. The suit's scans told him that Logan had been knocked out, meaning that…

    "Ladies and gentlemen, we have our winner!" informed the announcer. "The first ranger victorious in our evaluation matches, and also their commanding officer, is none other than Agent 0, the Golden Ranger!" The cheers were beginning to get to 0's head, so he demorphed. He felt the air on his face and looked up to the observation platform he knew his family was waiting for him on.

    "Is Logan okay?" asked 0 to one of the paramedics.

    She nodded. "A day's rest and he'll be just fine."

    The Golden Ranger then sprinted from the arena.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    He stood in the doorway.

    Wisely, for May had not wished for anyone else to bother them, she had asked Serena and the others to leave, and 0 casually closed the door behind him as he walked towards her. Behind them, the stadium was emptying, he did not envy who was going to have to clean up the stands for tomorrow's match between Serena and Karin.

    May was still sitting in her booth, with Sarah in her arms, talking to her.

    "Mommy, why did everyone else go?" asked the little girl.

    May smiled. "Because, honey, there's someone I want you to meet," she explained and tilted her head back when she heard the sound of his boots approaching. "Are you ready?" She looked at him, and he nodded. "He's here."

    Sarah looked up, curious as to why it was Keean Toby standing in front of her. "Mommy, I know Mr. Toby," she replied, as the giant man sat down next to them. "Why do I have to meet him again?"

    0 chuckled and May allowed a slight giggle to escape her lips.

    "This is a bit difficult to explain," May said. "Sarah, you remember how when you went to your friends' parties, there would be a mommy and a daddy?" Sarah nodded. "You know how…well…you don't have one?"

    Sarah nodded a second time. "But I have Uncle Max, he's like a daddy. He lets me play with his long hair!" Briefly, 0's mind wondered if 'lets' was the operable word.

    "Yes, baby, but he's not your daddy." May's face was red, as if embarrassed about having to explain to her daughter what a father was. "Your daddy left us a long time ago, back when you were a baby. He had to…go somewhere he couldn't take us with him." She looked to 0, who was looking at the floor, the expression on his face awash with memories. "He's been protecting us for three years."

    Sarah looked to 0 in confusion, after all she was still a child. "Is he…?" She didn't finish, but her mother's nod confirmed it. 0 glanced upwards and smiled at his child.

    "How about that, Sarah?" he asked aloud. "I'm your dad."

    "You should be proud, baby girl," murmured May and looked towards her ex-husband. "Your father's a ranger."

    But Sarah wasn't listening to her. All she knew was that in an instant she was out of her mother's lap and was looping her little arms around 0's neck, for they were too small to reach around his shoulders. She was crying in his chest and tightened her grip when he gave her a massive bear hug, his chin resting on her head.

    "Daddy!" she shouted, and May hugged Sarah and 0, their family complete again.

    Author's Note: One of the more fascinating characters in this series is Logan, who first showed up in the last chapter and will be sticking around for a while. He's one of my favorite characters to write with, because he's an entirely selfish ranger. You know, I see all these superhero shows but I don't often see the idea of a selfish hero who wants to save the world, but also wants something for himself. So Logan was sort of my way of tinkering around with that concept, and what he wants is indeed very selfish and he's much, much smarter than most people would give him credit for because of how silly he behaves. His eyes are an incredibly important part of the story too, and no one's ever picked up on that in the six years I've been working on this project. Then again, nobody's ever been able to really predict anything about this story, but when I make a giant revelation they usually realize all the clues I've sewed into even the earliest chapters. I always like that, because I'm almost never surprised by anything when I read a fan-fiction.

    As another note, the conclusion of this chapter is really very sweet, and I like it a lot. An earlier draft of the story had 0's identity unrevealed until the end of the series, and May would learn his identity at the end. I decided against that when I revised the story for the first time, because I realized how incredibly stupid it made May look. It's also opened up a lot of different storylines that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  12. #37
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    Default Chapter 20

    Morph Twenty: The Wilting White Ranger

    Serena Brine shut the door.

    Opposite her stood the giant warrior she lovingly called 0. He waited until she turned around and locked her room's door behind her, before she looked up at him. He nodded his head and she copied the gesture.

    "It's time," he said. Though he was trying to hide it, she could hear the concern in his voice.

    She nodded again and gulped. "I know. Let's get going."

    The two partners walked down the narrow corridor, their boots clanking on the metallic floor beneath their feet. 0 glanced down at her, his features tightened with concern when he noticed the rings under her eyes. "You didn't sleep last night, did you?" he asked, as they turned left at one of the many intersections of the hallway.

    She smirked, but shook her head. "Not really," she admitted. "There was a lot on my mind."

    0 also saw that her hair was matted and filled with grease. Her uniform was wrinkled as well, in complete contrast to her regular perfect appearance. "I can see that," 0 muttered. "You holding up okay?" She shakily nodded her head. "Doesn't look like it to me."

    "What gave it away?" she wondered with a sigh. He could read her like a book.

    He grinned. "You don't look like you slept a wink."

    "Neither do you," she retorted.

    He halted his advance through the hallway, realizing that she was making a joke, and chuckled. "Good point." He reached into his jacket and retrieved a vial of the serum. "Want some of my serum to perk you up? It's better than caffeine."

    She declined. "I don't want to become an addict."

    He raised his brow thoughtfully. "Well, that makes one of us," he muttered and returned the vial to his jacket. "I should probably ask Bakaguru to give me something to help quit the stuff anyway."

    Serena paused, this was out of character for the Golden Ranger. She looked up at him, he was even smiling a little bit beneath his standard sarcastic grin. No…wait, it was a bit more than a smile, 0 appeared to be glowing. "Hang on," she murmured, "did someone replace you with a Ditto?" She narrowed her brows suspiciously. "What's gotten you so happy?"

    His grin widened. "Is it really that noticeable?"

    "Yeah, it is," Serena replied. "So, what happened?"

    "Well…" He scratched his jaw, mostly because he could hardly believe it had happened himself. "Sorry, I was there and I still can't believe it," he explained. "Yesterday…yesterday May told Sarah that I'm her father." His grin broadened into a full smile. "She gave me a hug, and she called me 'Daddy'." He turned to Serena, she had never seen him so happy before. "She called me Daddy, 3."

    He chuckled as Serena threw out her arms and enfolded him in a massive hug. "You big softie!" she squealed and punched his shoulder when they broke apart. "That's great news!"

    He gave her a thumbs up. "Yeah, it is," he said with a chuckle. "I really think this could be going somewhere, 3. And-" He hesitated briefly, but continued "-May and I might be getting back together."

    Serena perked up her ears. "Really?" she asked.

    0 nodded. "We're going to be going on this kinda-sort of date thing in Pyrite Town next week. I suppose it's to see where our relationship can go from there. Bakaguru said that he and 415 will be able to baby-sit Sarah while we're out, so we'll have the whole day together."

    Serena was happy, truly she was, but something in that made her worry. "You need to be careful," she mumbled, as she resumed walking down the hallway. "I don't want to see you hurt again, okay?"

    "I know," he said and caught up to her. "Trust me, one of the first things on my mind is to not get too hopeful about this, but that lingering hope I've had inside me all these years, that little nagging voice that told me one day I would get back what I've lost… That voice is shouting inside my head, screaming in joy."

    "We're almost there," she said, changing the subject. "And I really need a good pep talk. Karin's tough."

    "Not as tough as Logan is," pointed out 0. "You'll be fine, and then we'll be partners again. Simple as that."

    "Wow, that was incredibly lame," retorted Serena.

    "I'm not much of a motivational speaker," 0 muttered. "Maybe they are, though."

    Serena blinked. "Who?" Then she came face to face with almost a half-dozen people.

    May, Sarah, Bakaguru, Max, even 415 had turned up to wish her good luck.

    "Serena," Bakaguru said, pushing his glasses up to the bridge of his nose, "there is a lot riding on today. I know that it will turn out for the best, so give it your all, and have no regrets about holding back on Karin."

    Serena giggled, a tear came to her eyes. "That pep talk was almost as bad as 0's…" She felt something grab her waist and looked down to see 0's daughter looking up at her with a worried expression.

    "Please don't leave, Ms. Birch," she pleaded and shoved her face into the ranger's jacket. "Mommy says you look after Daddy when he's in trouble."

    "Serena," May said, drawing her daughter back, "good luck today. I would feel much safer knowing that you're the one helping…" She looked to 0, and smiled "…I would feel better knowing you're the one keeping an eye on 0. He's a bit of a scatterbrain, so he needs all the help he can get."

    Serena laughed. "Now that's more like a pep talk," she replied between giggles.

    415 decided, after careful reflection, that it would be wise not to add anything to the conversation and continued to smoke her cigarette in blissful silence. Bakaguru clasped Serena's shoulder and gave a big smile.

    "Ready for victory?" he asked.

    Serena nodded. "Always," she said and fought to keep back the tears of gratitude welling up inside her eyes. "Okay, 0, let's do this. I'm ready?"

    "Good thing 3, because here comes the competition." Serena followed 0's hand as he pointed behind her, where Karin was waiting with Logan. She was radiating pure anger and stared daggers into the Golden Ranger. Logan, on the other hand, was quite interested in the group and waved wildly at Serena and 0. Karin, noticing this, proceeded to drag her partner in the direction of the opposite entrance to the battlefield. Logan continued to wave goodbye enthusiastically until he was out of eyeshot.

    Above them, a large bell chimed and Serena took a deep breath. "Well, let me take care of this, and we'll be on our way, right?"

    0 nodded with a smile. "Right, 3."

    Serena turned to the doors and started the long, lonely walk into the stadium.

    The light, artificial though it was, really made it seem as though she was outside. PKM's chief engineers had designed the battle arena to mimic the sky above with powerful holographic technology, and sunlight streamed through the desert field. She took a deep breath, even the filtered air seemed to be fresh. Across from her, standing in her position in the center of the field, waited Karin, her small face a slate. Serena detected nothing of what hid behind Karin's expression, nothing but the flesh and bones and blood that it was made up of.

    It frightened the White Ranger.

    "Okay," she whispered to herself, trying to slow her racing heart, "I can do this, I can do this, I can do this…" She continued to repeat herself until the arena spokesman activated his microphone.

    "…Ladies and gentlemen!" he announced to the cheers of the crowd. "Welcome to the second and last competency hearing between Serena Brine, the White Ranger, and Karin Karino, the Pink Ranger!" The crowd roared its approval of the match up. "Our beautiful Rangers will be doing battle today, with the victor being attached to work alongside the powerful Agent 0!" Wolf whistles echoed through the stadium. "Let's let these ladies morph and we'll get right to the fight!"

    Serena lifted her morpher to her lips. "I can do this," she muttered one last time, maintaining eye contact with the unblinking Karin. "PKM Spirit, Activate!" Her body glowed and the White Ranger uniform materialized around her as her systems booted up in her visor.

    Karin, on the other hand, pushed the button on her pink morpher, causing a needle to jab into her wrist and take a sample of her blood, verifying her DNA and activating the transformation. The Pink Ranger emerged, on her chest the symbol of a Jigglypuff. Unlike Serena, who leapt into an offensive position, Karin made no move whatsoever and kept her arms dropped lifelessly by her sides, her visor slunk as she continued to stare at Serena.

    "Let's start this battle!" the announcer screamed. "Begin!"

    Serena braced herself, certain that Karin was about to attack, but the impending rush didn't happen. Instead, Karin was more than willing to wait, not moving an inch. "Well," murmured Serena, bracing her gloves into fists, "if she isn't going to start this thing off, then I've got no problem coming to her!" She shouted and the crowd followed her exclamation as she charged forward, a Frost Fan forming in her right hand.

    Perfectly balanced, she swiped at Karin's neck. However, at the last instant Karin dodged, or rather simply fell backwards onto the ground, reaching out her feet, ensnaring Serena's legs, and jerked as she rolled to the side. Serena winced as her feet were twisted and she crashed to the ground. A sharp punch then smashed into her chest and she coughed up all the oxygen in her lungs as Karin stood back up and walked twenty paces away. Then, as if nothing had happened, Karin dropped her hands to her sides once again and stared at Serena, waiting for the White Ranger to get back up.

    Winded but by no means finished, Serena sprang back to her feet, though she felt a slight pang in her tendons from the attack. Karin started moving away, exactly as Serena started moving forward, and flipped as the White Ranger slashed and slashed with the Frost Fan, dodging each and every time. After the tenth failed strike, Karin extended her legs and smashed into Serena's jaw with a perfectly-timed kick. Serena was stunned but recovered, though her neck ached, and continued advancing.

    It was impossible to read Karin, thought Serena, trying to figure out some way to properly land a hit on her foe. Everything the Pink Ranger did was instinctual reaction to Serena's movements, with absolutely no premeditated thought. Karin was never going to attack on her own.

    Serena landed a hit, smashing directly into Karin's stomach. The crowd cheered, but Karin didn't make a sound, simply twisting her body around Serena and smashing the back of her helmet with her elbow. Serena, not to be outdone, somersaulted in place and swept-kicked Karin's lower legs. The Pink Ranger easily dodged the attack, but didn't notice Serena as she folded up the Frost Fan and shoved it right into Karin's right kidney. The Pink Ranger paused briefly, as if sorting out the pain, which gave Serena plenty of time to viciously roundhouse kick the Pink Ranger's neck, sending her sprawling to the ground.

    "I can do this," Serena muttered, feeling her breath getting a little heavy.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Hello!" Waving in an extremely loud and annoying fashion, the Red Ranger descended upon 0's group. Keeping Sarah secure in his lap, 0 glanced up to see what Logan wanted.

    "Can I help you, Logan?" he asked. "Need help finding a seat?"

    Logan laughed. "Have I mentioned you're funny, Golden Boy?" He tapped his finger against his mouth, as if unsure exactly what he wanted to ask. "Oh yeah, now I remember!" he exclaimed with a smile and turned towards May. "Pardon me, Ms. Birch, but do you mind if I borrow your gentleman caller for a minute or two? I need to have a quick chat with him, I promise I won't keep him long."

    May, who was sitting next to 0, nodded. "That's fine with me," she told him. "Sarah, Daddy's got to go take care of some work, come sit with Mommy."

    "No!" squealed Sarah and she gripped 0's protective arms tightly. "I wanna stay with Daddy!"

    0 chuckled and patted his daughter's head. "Hang on, Sarah. I'll be back before you know it, okay?"

    "Promise, Daddy?"

    He nodded. "I promise." With much reluctance, Sarah allowed herself to be lifted from 0's cradling lap and placed in May's, where she immediately began to cheer with the rest of the crowd for Serena. "Be right back," he told May and stood up. "Let's go Logan." He followed Logan through the incredibly crowded arena until they managed to find a pair of seats relatively outside of earshot from most of the spectators in the nosebleed section.

    0 sat down. "What did you want to talk about?"

    Logan took his seat. "Why, the match of course," he replied cheerfully and pointed to the two combatants. "I thought it would be fun to watch our partners duke it out. Want to bet on the match?"

    0 shook his head. "Not really, I'm sure that 3 should be able to pull through without too many problems. She got off to a rough start but she's starting to get the better of Karin."

    Logan suppressed a chuckle. "Is that what you think?" he asked. "Well, if you say so…"

    "What?" 0 asked.

    Logan stifled a yawn. "Well, I already know the outcome of this little fight. I never bet unless I'm sure of how something's going to end."

    "Really? How's it ending?"

    "Serena wins," Logan replied. "But only because Karin forfeits."

    0 thought he didn't hear the Red Ranger properly. "What?" he exclaimed.

    Logan sighed. "Serena wins, but only because Karin forfeits," he repeated, slowly and as if he were speaking to an infant. "Would you like me to write it down for you?" He pointed down to the stadium, observing the competitors. "See how neither one of them has activated their Rescue Mode yet? The battle's hardly started and you're declaring the winner based on a few lucky punches?"

    "You're declaring the winner based on absolutely nothing," 0 pointed out.

    Logan shook his head. "Incorrect, I am basing my assumption on knowing my partner, Golden Boy. Karin does not accept losing, she won't physically allow it. At this point all that she's doing is toying with Serena like a cat with a mouse. Karin will finish it when she's ready, when she feels that she's done enough."

    Logan reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved two bottles, a beer for 0 and a cola for himself. 0 took the drink and popped off the top.

    "Still, 3 could use Rescue Mode too, that would make them even," 0 pointed out. "I've never seen her use it but I'm sure she can pull it off if you and Karino can."

    "Well, that tells me a lot," Logan muttered, sipping on his soda bottle. "I guess you and Serena aren't very close as far as partners go, huh?"

    "What's that supposed to mean?" 0 asked coldly.

    "You're kidding me, right?" Logan shook his head, he couldn't hide the smirk on his face. "Serena's got a Rescue Mode, all of us do. Well, except for you, of course, but you have the APS to compensate. No, she has one, but she's never used it. There's never been a recorded activation in her files and I knew you'd never seen it. Saw it in your stance while we were fighting." He grinned and batted his large red eyes at 0. "Must have really spooked you, not knowing that we could also transform."

    "A little, I guess," admitted the Golden Ranger. "But why won't 3 use Rescue Mode? From what I saw from you, it looks pretty powerful."

    "You're her partner, and you haven't realized it yet? Gee whiz, man, are you really that thick-headed outside of a fight? Serena's not working with her Ranger Spirit!"

    "What?"

    The Red Ranger sighed, then furrowed his brows. "Serena's not working with her ranger spirit, Seel," he explained. "In order to activate Rescue Mode, we have to completely fuse ourselves with our ranger spirit. That's why I work so well with Scizor and Karin's good with Jigglypuff or how you and Pikachu work so well together. That's why the process for selecting a PKM Ranger is so difficult, you need to be able to trust your partner with your life. Serena's never been able to do that." He turned back, keeping his gaze on the fight. "She's out there fighting all by herself, without you or even her own ranger spirit to back her up. Serena's operating that Ranger System entirely by herself, without the aid of an onboard Pokemon to man her systems. Her ranger spirit is used solely for transforming." He sighed. "She's just never been able to fight with Seel."

    0 looked down at Serena. "I-I had no idea."

    "You know," Logan muttered, "you must suck to have as a partner if you can't even tell if something's wrong with your teammate. When Karin's thinking something, I know what it is right away." He opened his mouth to say more, but found that his shirt collar had been grabbed by the Golden Ranger, who had abandoned his bottle with a clatter to the floor and had the expression of someone quite angry.

    "Take it back," he ordered.

    The Red Ranger chuckled. "Oh," he murmured, "did I strike a nerve?" He brushed 0 away with one swift motion of his hand. "Relax. You guys are new, you're still getting used to each other. It's actually kind of sad in a way."

    "Why?"

    Logan returned to his seat and pointed to the arena. "Because if I know Karin, and I'm pretty sure that I do, she's not going to go down without a fight. She'll forfeit, but only after everyone understands that she won the fight. She's…got a little problem with competition, and she doesn't like it when I'm around other women, so I'm pretty sure she's going to make sure that Serena doesn't go anywhere near me again."

    0 was shocked that Karin would do such a thing. "But how's she going to do that?" He glanced briefly at Logan, whose face practically spelled out what that meant. "Wait, you're crazy Logan, she can't-"

    "-Oh, she's not going to kill Serena," interrupted Logan, "if that's what you're thinking. She's just going to completely and utterly demolish your partner. And, for good measure, she'll probably break the Spirit Morpher too so she can't fight again."

    "That's insane! It'll kill 3!"

    Again, the Red Ranger chuckled at the naivety of the Golden Ranger. "You're not getting it, Golden Boy. Karin doesn't kill. She can't really, it's not in her weird sense of morals. She is, however, very gifted with machines, and she does know how to deactivate a Spirit Morpher if she feels like it. Why, I myself have come close to losing mine on more than one occasion. This one time, I remember she took hers apart just to see what it was made of and reassembled it. She knows just as much about it as Bakaguru does, so she figured out a way to permanently deactivate a morpher if she ever needed to. All without killing the ranger bonded to the device." He gave 0 a look that resembled pity, but continued to watch the fight. "Besides, Serena isn't in synch with her Ranger Spirit anyway…that makes her even more vulnerable."

    "Why's that?"

    "Karin showed me that the ranger and the ranger spirit have to be linked on some level for a morpher to operate. If that connection is severed, well, then it's bye-bye for the ranger spirit, and since it's the connection that's been terminated, and not the device, the morpher just detaches without any harm to the ranger."

    "Why's Karin got to do that?" 0 asked. "Why doesn't she just surrender if she wants to stay partnered with you?"

    "Heck if I know, buddy," replied Logan with a shrug. "I guess she doesn't want to look weak in front of the crowds, but you beating me in front of this group probably had something to do with her wanting to punish somebody for my loss." He grinned. "Sometimes I'm certain that that girl hates me, but man is she devoted to me too. Always keeping me out of trouble, saving my tail in fights. I just can't figure that girl out, even though I probably know her better than anyone. I guess that's a bit of a paradox, isn't it?" Logan chucked and finished what was left of his partially-spilt cola.

    "She probably wants to keep things the same, just like you do," 0 said and leaned on the railing, then a thought came to his head and he chuckled. "Or maybe she's in love with you."

    "Ha! That's a good one," retorted the Red Ranger. "Karin doesn't show emotions like you and I do. She's…special. She doesn't speak, she doesn't have any body language, you can barely tell what she's thinking. That's why we work so well together, because everyone can tell what I'm thinking."

    0 chuckled. "Sounds to me like you're the one in love with her."

    He nodded. "Yeah, I am."

    There was a slight silence after that, as 0 absorbed the statement. Both men looked to the battlefield, but now 0 noticed something different, something very subtle about Logan he hadn't seen before. The man's eyes were engaged not on the fight, but on Karin alone. He was watching her, looking for signs that 0 presumed only he knew about the Pink Ranger.

    "You're afraid for her," the Golden Ranger muttered. "You don't want her doing something she'll regret."

    "Yeah." He looked up into the air and blew a raspberry. "Ever since we've been partners, I've always been with her. She won't leave me alone, and I can't leave her alone. Karin's someone you only meet once in a lifetime, you know?"

    0 nodded. "I know that feeling."

    "With Serena?"

    0 shook his head. "No, with my wife, May."

    Logan nodded thoughtfully. "Ah, yeah, forgot you used to be married to her. Trying to get back together again?"

    "I've been trying to keep away from her ever since I came to PKM full time. But with the assignment and everything that happened… It's like there's some force that's trying to give me a second chance. A second chance to have a family with my wife and daughter."

    "Ah, the kid," said Logan. "Forgot she was yours too, but then again I've got a really bad memory. Well, where does that leave Serena then?"

    "She's my partner and she's my best friend," the Golden Ranger replied. "I want to keep that, she's the closest thing I've had to a friend for a long time, excluding Pi."

    "I can see that. Guess you really can't decide who you're supposed to be with for the rest of your life, huh?" 0 nodded with a smile. "Well, I'm going to try and win Karin. I owe her that much, my very best effort, right?"

    "You know, Logan," said 0, "this is kind of deep for you."

    "I'm not normally like this," Logan agreed. "But Karin's someone I'm serious about." He smiled. "Guess you know what that's like with May, huh? You've spent three years apart. But your feelings are still strong enough to bind you together. I want that with Karin. I'd fight through Hell and back for her, just to see her smile."

    "I think you'll have to fight a lot more for something like that," 0 retorted. "I've never seen her mouth so much as flinch."

    The two laughed.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\/ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Serena was starting get tired.

    At first, the zombie-like Karin had refused to advance, and hadn't even budged before Serena made any action, but now the Pink Ranger was slowly but surely beginning to start pursuing Serena. No attack worked, no matter how hard she was hit Karin kept coming and coming for more. Each strike only served as a momentary distraction to the inevitable defeat that was coming.

    What was Karin? What was she, to be able to take so much damage and still be the mute creature that would not stop, would never cease, until everything around her stopped. Huffing and puffing, Serena continued the fight.

    The Pink Ranger, who must have sensed that her opponent was starting to lose her strength, took a moment to pause the match before the serious combat began. She lifted her morpher up so she could see what she was doing and pressed an additional button on the side of the machine, her Rescue Mode activation switch.

    The bottom half of her helmet opened up, displaying a mouth plate complete with lips and nose. Portions of the armor on her gloves, boots, belt, and chest opened to unveil speakers, and the sides of her helmet opened up to mimic the shape of Jigglypuff ears with more. She clenched her hands into fists and continued her advance once the transformation was complete.

    Now, the battle began.

    Serena stood ready, activating the defense systems in her visor and preparing for the sonic bursts that would shortly attempt to rip her down. Fortunately the system came complete with life support, so she shut out all outside sound to neutralize most of Karin's offensive capabilities.

    Karin simply activated her sonic vibrations, which traveled through the air and through the ground, destabilizing Serena's sense of balance. She slipped and fell to the ground, but was grabbed and hoisted back up immediately by a vibrating hand which turned the bones and muscles in her neck to jelly. Serena felt her body go limp as the hand tightened its grip on her and a fist out of nowhere sent her sprawling to the ground.

    Karin Karino, the enigmatic Pink Ranger, was going to kill her.

    A boot smashed against her chest, cutting off her windpipe. It released her a moment later, only to deliver a kick to her side, rolling her onto her stomach. Karin hauled her up again, grabbed the back of her helmet, and drove her right back into the ground.

    This was pathetic, thought the White Ranger.

    The crowd's cheers were lessening in response to the sudden increase in brutality. Karin kept coming, forcing Serena to stay down with her sonic vibrations. From what Serena could tell from her surroundings, the sonic bursts were outside the spectra of human hearing, but were still powerful enough to generate vibrations in silence. Meanwhile, she felt Karin's boot crush her right elbow and Serena cried out in pain.

    "I'm going to die," she whispered to no one, for she was the only one who could hear her. Not 0, not Sarah, not May, not Bakaguru. She was utterly alone, again. No one would come save her this time…like they once had. "I'm going to be alone." And she was afraid.

    She scanned over her battle damage, it was getting extensive. Her health meter was dropping, she needed a new plan, some new way to fight, but… She sighed, there was but one option left, foolish though it was.

    She opened communications. Sparks flew in a system that had never been used before, not since she had first become the White Ranger. She opened the gateway for her ranger spirit, and the symbol for Seel appeared on the bottom corner of her visor.

    "Seel," she murmured, lowering her head, "I need you."

    There was no answer, why would there be? Karin granted her a brief respite, sensing that the White Ranger was massing everything she had left for the final attack. Seel remained mute to Serena's plea.

    "Seel," Serena mumbled, feeling tears streaming down her face. "I need your help, so much right now. I need to beat her, I need to have the strength to stop her! She's going to kill me!" Still, nothing. After years of solitude, it would seem, the Seel had learned bitterness. "Please, I need the Rescue Mode! Only this one time, I'm begging you!"

    Still nothing and Karin grew impatient, walking forward with her slow, deliberate pace to terrify those watching her, all of whom had fallen silent. Serena shrieked in the soundless vortex of her helmet.

    Karin reached out, grabbed a shoulder which turned weak under the vibrations. Serena couldn't stop her as the Pink Ranger smashed with her powerful hands, cracking two ribs and bruising another. Serena didn't even have the strength to call out in pain for help, for someone to rescue her. Only no one was coming. Karin would keep her conscious until she was satisfied.

    "Please…help me," Serena whispered to the silence.

    She was thrown to the ground again and this time her back hit a particularly nasty piece of rough earth, bruising it. She arched her back in pain, but could not naught but whimper as she waited for her tormentor to reach her. Karin grabbed her and shoved her harder into the ground. Serena began to feel her armor cracking.

    But Karin's gaze did not waver. She grabbed Serena's right arm and twisted it sharply behind her back. Serena panicked when she felt, through her uniform, Karin reaching for her PKM Morpher. "N-no!" She started struggling, but the Pink Ranger dug her boot into her kidney, sending jolts of pain through the White Ranger's body. "No!" She knew what was coming.

    She tried to jerk her hand out of Karin's grasp, but her foe merely increased the vibrations of her sonic bursts, reducing her muscles to nothing. Karin smashed at the machine, strategically, so as not to break it and end Serena's life. Eventually, the outer shell fell off, exposing the core of the morpher. The entire crowd gasped.

    Circuits…circuits…Serena's failed attempts at struggling were making it difficult for Karin to discern exactly which switches she needed to break. Finally, she smashed one, and Serena grunted with pain as the top half of her helmet dematerialized. Karin kept breaking switch after switch, and parts of Serena's uniform vanished. Finally, however, Karin located the master circuit between ranger and ranger spirit.

    She severed it without a single thought.

    Serena felt like part of her had been killed. Immobile, Serena fell back to the ground, eyes wide open. She shifted her eyes and saw the Pink Ranger standing over her. Why hadn't she just killed her? As Serena thought that, Karin disengaged her Ranger System. The Rescue Mode faded away first and downloaded itself back into the pink Spirit Morpher she wore, before the armor glowed and vanished. The stadium, absolutely silent, watched as Karin glared at Serena, and retrieved a little white flag from inside her jacket. She waved it high over her head, signaling that she was forfeiting the match. Nobody moved.

    Coughing, Serena struggled to her knees. Her breathing was rasp and harsh, she could hardly get any air in her lungs. Around her, the Ranger uniform was beginning to fade, and she used all of what was left of her strength to hold it together. She heard crackling sounds from her morpher, she had but a few moments left, at most, before it finally died and she lost her powers forever.

    "S-Seel," she murmured, cradling her broken morpher. It was still attached to her, but she couldn't lift the arm she wore it on, so she used her left one to raise it to her lips. What was left of her visor informed her that her stats were dropping, she didn't care. "I'm s-so s-sorry." She felt her eyes grow warm, tears were leaking out of her as she wept for the death of a Pokemon. "Th-hey were my brothers too. I-" She paused, she wished she had a hanky to blow her nose "-I didn't w-want to f-fight them either, I did it to save us! To save 0." She lowered her head, nestling the morpher against her cheek. She coughed blood and spat it onto the ground as the rest of her helmet disintegrated into nothingness.

    There was still silence, like there always was. "I'm s-sorry I didn't tr-trust you, after all the-these years. I'm so-so sorry about eve-everything."

    She could feel the air of the stadium on her face and her hands. She looked down to realize her gloves were gone. Slowly, the rest of her uniform was vanishing. Unlike the usual transformation, where when she reverted back to her civilian gear the armor simply glowed and vanished, this time the uniform seemed to be dying, slowly losing its color and fading away. Finally, only the emblem of a Seel on her chest remained, and it too was fading fast. She felt the wind blowing her hair.

    "I forgive you." It was a tiny, frightened voice, almost like a little child's. "Good bye, Serena."

    Seel.

    Then the White Ranger form was gone. Serena's morpher detached itself from her wrist, fizzing and crackling as it landed on the ground, where it continued to make noise until the light inside it simply died away. Serena's eyes were full of tears as she collected it in her hands, and buried it in her chest as she cried. Around her, she heard someone announce that she had won by forfeit, but she didn't care. It was so insignificant, compared to the scared, quiet little voice that had whispered to her just before its death.

    "Seel," she whispered, knowing that the Pokemon could not, and would never, hear her. "I'm so…oh, Seel!" All those years, she had thought it was angry at her, but it had been just as scared as she was. And now it was gone and it could never come back. Her head felt like such a fat lump in her chest, heavy and painful.

    She returned to reality when she felt a hand press on her shoulder. She looked up and saw 0 standing behind her with her friends.

    His face was so gentle, and yet so fierce. With one look to Karin, she backed away into the protective shadow of her partner, whose face was heavy with concern. May and Sarah stood at the front of the group, Sarah looked so scared while her mother held her, a look of shock on her face at what had just happened.

    Behind them stood Max, the Dark Emerald hung loosely in his hand instead of around his neck, and a savage glare in his eyes. Bakaguru sighed and lowered his face so that Serena could not see his grim expression, while 415's face looked indifferent, but blurred, so Serena could not see the sadness on it. Serena turned to Karin, who was hiding behind Logan in case the entire group attacked her, but nothing of the sort happened. Instead, 0 merely helped Serena to her feet and made sure she kept a tight grip on her broken morpher.

    "I think we'd better get you to the infirmary," 0 advised. "Come on, partner, the crowd's going to get annoying." He was right, at any moment the crowd was going to start hounding her with questions.

    She nodded and the group surrounded her before leaving the stadium. At the door was an escort, waiting to transport Serena to make sure her vitals were fine.

    "I'm okay," she insisted.

    But the escort wasn't convinced. "Ma'am, I've been given instructions to take you there personally. Please get onto the gurney."

    0 stepped in between the escort and Serena, and within moments they were walking past the escort, who now had a pale complexion on his face. Serena absent-mindedly followed her partner, feeling a sense of emptiness welling up inside of her. Her arm felt lighter without her morpher and her brain was only now beginning to process what that meant: she'd won the match, but only because Karin forfeited after killing any chance of her being a ranger again. Serena felt sick.

    "0-" He stopped and watched as she held up her morpher to him. It would never work again. "I-"

    "It can wait," he decided.

    "But-"

    "It can wait," he repeated firmly. "Our first priority is to make sure that you're going to be alright, 3. Everything else can wait."

    He continued to lead them through the corridors until finally they came to the infirmary's twin door entrance several minutes later. "Wait out here," he asked everyone and took Serena in on his own. There she was placed on a bed and hooked up to machines to make sure she was alright. 0 waited outside the inspection room until a nurse came out.

    "She's asking for you, sir," he said. "Wait here until we're finished."

    0 nodded and went back inside.

    Two minutes later, the medical team cleared out of the inspection room and 0 went in. Serena didn't even notice him, so he sat down in a chair next to her bed. "You feeling any better?" he asked, getting comfortable.

    She shook her head. "Not particularly."

    0 blew a raspberry. "Okay."

    She turned towards him, her green eyes blank. "My morpher's broken, 0. I can never be a ranger again. My Pokemon is gone. And now I-" She felt the tears starting up again "-I can't be your partner anymore."

    0 allowed that to sink in for a moment. "You're wrong, 3. You won the match, you get to stay as my partner. Those were the rules that the Council set up. You'll be my partner again, don't worry about that."

    "I won't! Don't you get it, 0? My ranger spirit is dead. I can't bond to another one! That's not how it works!" She lowered her head and her tears dropped onto her shirt. "I can't be a ranger ever again. That means I can't be your partner."

    0, slightly annoyed, hit his hand against the chair's armrest. "You don't think I don't know that, 3?" he asked. "It doesn't matter. Bakaguru's going to figure this one out, he always figures out a way to keep everything together. He can fix your morpher by giving you an Ailed Morpher, did you forget that?"

    "But-"

    "But nothing, 3!" 0 stood up and grabbed her hand. "This isn't like you. You're always so strong, so tough. Even with all that's happened to you, you've always stayed like that. What I want to know, 3, is why you never told me about why you can't use Rescue Mode."

    She blinked and replied, "Huh?"

    "Don't 'huh' me, 3," 0 retorted. "We're supposed to be partners. Partners tell each other their problems. They're supposed to help each other."

    Serena was astonished. "What?"

    "You've always helped me when I got into trouble, 3," 0 explained. "I've always tried to help you. Why didn't you tell me how hard using the morpher was? Why didn't you tell me you weren't in synch with your ranger spirit?"

    She shrugged. "I had just gotten so used to it, I didn't want to bother you about it. It's just-it's just how my Ranger System worked. I never knew what it was like to be in synch with Seel, so I guess- I guess…" She shuddered, the tears were coming back again. "And now it's gone, 0. It's gone. S-She killed it."

    "We'll make sure that Karino is disciplined for that," 0 assured her. "But that's not important now. What is important is that we get you better, so that we can get you fitted out with an Ailed Morpher and fix all of this. Once you're bonded to the Ailed Morpher and we download everything from your Spirit Morpher into it, we can repair the bond between you and Seel. It's just broken now, that doesn't mean it can't be fixed."

    He stood up and patted her on the head. "Relax, I've got this." He grabbed her Spirit Morpher and smiled.

    "0…" she murmured.

    He winked. "That's my partner," he replied and walked out.

    Looking around, he found the nearest doctor. "Hey, how's my friend going to be?" he asked her, pointing his thumb at Serena's door.

    She shrugged. "Depends. Physically, she's fine. I'd prefer if she doesn't have any more visitors today. A couple of broken bones, some bruises, and several cuts. We'll patch her up to make sure she'll be fine, but otherwise she'll be able to return to active duty within the next few days, though I'm going to advise she not be given any field assignments until her bones are mended."

    0 nodded and thanked her before he headed out of the infirmary. Bakaguru and the others were waiting.

    "How is she?" Bakaguru asked.

    "Uh…" He turned to May and Sarah. "Would you mind giving us a minute? This is a private ranger thing."

    May nodded. "Of course." She picked Sarah back up and the two of them began herding the others away until it was only Bakaguru and 0 standing in the corridor.

    "What is it?" the engineer asked. The ranger handed him the broken morpher.

    "Can this be fixed?" 0 asked.

    Bakaguru glanced it over. "No, this will never work again," he replied. "How is she?"

    "She'll be fine, physically," the Golden Ranger said. "But then how is she still alive? I thought that the Spirit Morphers were permanently bonded to the rangers. Kill one, kill the other."

    "In theory, you are correct," Bakaguru replied. "But what Karin has done is not necessarily destroyed the Spirit Morpher, but rather sever the connection between ranger and ranger spirit." He peered through the circuits. "The Pokemon is in suspended animation at the moment, neither living nor dead." Bakaguru paused to rub his glasses, then resumed studying the morpher. "It was easy to do…Serena has never had a good connection with her ranger spirit."

    "Why not?"

    "I do not know that, Golden Ranger," said Bakaguru. "But she has never succeeded in activating the Rescue Mode. It's put her at a disadvantage for a long time."

    0's face grew dark and he lowered his head. "Will she continue to be a ranger?" he asked. "I don't want to work with anyone else. 3 has to be my partner."

    "Hmmm…" mused Bakaguru. "The designs for the Ailed Morpher will allow for a safe transfer of the ranger spirit into a new morpher," he explained, "but that's for a stable, secure morpher like yours." He held up Serena's broken Spirit Morpher and shook it lightly in his hand. "This is completely broken. It will never work again, no matter what I do. Transferring the hibernating ranger spirit from this into an Ailed Morpher would be extremely dangerous. At the best case it would be successful, but failure would be high. Trying it could kill Serena and Seel."

    0 groaned and kicked the nearby wall, staring at the infirmary's doors. "What are we going to do?" he asked

    "I do not know," Bakaguru said in dismay. "I will continue my research and hopefully find a stable way to help Serena. With the former Golden Ranger's research, anything could be possible."

    "Is there a chance she could return to full ranger status?" 0 asked.

    Bakaguru smirked. "In science, my boy, there is always a chance."

    "But there will be a risk?"

    "There's always a risk too."

    "Excuse me?

    Both men turned to notice a messenger boy standing in the hallway, dressed in formal PKM uniform gear with a collared shirt, slacks, and a tie, along with a nametag. In his right hand was an envelope, he was cradling it in a fashion that told both Bakaguru and 0 that it was probably very important.

    "What do you want?" the Golden Ranger asked with a scowl on his face. "We're extremely busy right now."

    The messenger boy was concerned when he noticed he was speaking to the highest ranking PKM Ranger, but remained undaunted as he produced the envelope. "I'm supposed to deliver this to the White Ranger from the Council. Do you know which ward she's in?"

    0 snatched up the envelope. "I'll take it to her."

    "Sir, this is for the White Ranger," he tried to explain, but a glare from 0 made him change his mind.

    "She's my partner, I'll make sure she gets it," 0 retorted.

    The messenger gulped. "Very good sir," he replied and saluted before bolting away speedily.

    "What's this?" 0 asked. Bakaguru shrugged, so he tore opened the envelope and grabbed the letter inside. It was short, abrupt, and typed, with the insignia of the Council on the bottom. 0 read it aloud.

    "Serena Brine,

    This message is to inform you of your immediate dismissal from the PKM Rangers and the removal of your status as PKM Agent 3, White Ranger. You are therefore to be reassigned to the Communication Division. Your replacement will be appointed by Agent 003, Bakaguru Niwa, and will be attached as the new White Ranger and secondary partner to the May Birch case. Until your recovery from injuries sustained in battle consider yourself suspended from active duty awaiting transfer."


    0 crumbled up the letter and hurled it into the nearest trash can. Bakaguru felt quite sick to his stomach.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  13. #38
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    Default Chapter 21, Part 1

    Morph Twenty-One: A Date Interrupted, Part 1

    She was very beautiful. As 0 stepped from his room into the corridor, he could not help but listen to the voice that paraded through his head about how incredibly lucky he was. He smiled, nodded his head, and made sure to lock his room's door before he and May started down the walkway.

    He wore casual, but tough clothes, standard for the harsh Orre weather they would be subjected to once they got out of the base. Surprisingly, he had very little in the line of casual clothes and had had to request some from the base's stores, such as a suitable jacket and a regular shirt. A pair of gloves had also been brought to him in order to help him conceal his morpher which, while to the untrained eye would look like nothing more than a common wris****ch, would undoubtedly be recognized by the thieving masses of Pyrite Town to be something more.

    May, on the other hand, had had no such difficulty, in part because she had borrowed her outfit from Serena. While the top was a bit tight, she was quite happy with 0's reaction, which was to naturally fight off all temptation to stare at her. He kept his gaze straight and above her head, almost as if looking directly at her would result in him going blind from her beauty. She permitted herself a brief smile and giggled. This was a wonderful idea.

    "What?" 0 asked and bent his giant mane of a head down to check what was so funny. He turned bright red and returned his gaze to normal, which only made her laugh even more.

    "Oh…nothing," replied May teasingly, she was having much too much fun toying with her ex-husband. As per Serena's instructions, she had decided to wear a small top with a long shirt, resulting in May looking much the way movie stars look on the posters for films. Oh, she knew she was looking good, and she wanted to remind herself that a single mother of a five-year-old girl was capable of knocking the breath out of even the most stoic ranger in PKM.

    "The exit is this way," he said in a very business-like way, leading her through the odd maze of corridors that made up PKM's base and into the vehicle hanger. He looked around for the supervising agent and, upon finding him, confirmed the rental of a hover bike for the day. The agent saluted the ranger as 0 and May boarded the machine and started the engine. 0 handed her a helmet.

    "What's this for?" May asked, though she put it on.

    He grinned. "You don't want to fall off this thing in the Orre desert. The sand's not as gentle here as it is at the beach," he explained.

    May simply smiled and held on to him tight. 0 had the attending agents clear a path for them, and they were blasting out of the building in almost next to no time. Thankful she had kept a tight grip on the Golden Ranger, as anything less would have probably resulted in her being hurled to the ground, May squealed with delight as 0 piloted through the harsh desert, aiming for a small spec in the distance that looked like a child's model of Pyrite Town from where they were.

    "That's Pyrite over there," 0 announced to May, who shifted herself on the seat to properly get a look at the town. "I wish there was a better place to go, but I was only given access to the hover bike for today. Couldn't get a chopper."

    "Is there anywhere to go in Pyrite?"

    He nodded. "Oh yes," he replied. "It's one of my favorite places to go. There's a big hotel, the works. If you're lucky, I might even try to win something for you at the coliseum. If we have time." The rusty little town was getting closer and 0 pressed harder on the accelerator. In minutes they arrived and disembarked quickly.

    Pyrite was indeed one of 0's favorite places, mostly because it was where most PKM agents went to blow off steam, something he found incredibly ironic given the town's reputation for rough gangs. He pressed a button on the hover bike and it converted into a portable capsule in a bright flash of red light. He pocketed it, not wanting the local kids to take his transportation for a joyride.

    "Come on," he said, adjusting his goggles for the bright Orre sun, "let's get going, I've got us reservations for lunch at that hotel. I figured that it would be a nice change of pace from cafeteria food." May smirked and followed him through the street.

    The town, for the most part, gave off the impression that it was made of cardboard. The people, on the other hand, looked much more life-like and behaved the part. The denizens of Pyrite took it in turn to shout at May, most of them catcalls or vague suggestions about what they would like to do to her. Most of them made her blush and 0 glare angrily at the kids.

    "Don't get jealous," teased May. "I promise I won't run off with one of them."

    Meanwhile, 0 fingered the blue and black Pokeballs on his belt. "Corporal punishment never hurt anyone. Except for masochists." May laughed outright. 0 had to think, he felt that he was running out of amusing things to say to keep May entertained.

    "Hey, quick question."

    "What?"

    "Do we, you know, hold hands?" May's face tuned a slight shade of red from asking and 0's brightened up like a cherry.

    "That's a good question," he replied, as he tried to remember his dating etiquette, then recalling that his information was outdated by a few years from the standard. "I suppose we could. I mean, we're on a date, and it's not like it's our first date or anything."

    "It sure feels like one though." May reached out her arm and 0 extended his hand nervously, until they both felt the contact of one another's fingers, which caused them to flinch their limbs back into their original positions at their sides. She smiled and looked up at 0. "Perhaps it's a bit too soon for that."

    "Y-Yeah, maybe you're right," 0 agreed, scratching the back of his head with his now-extra-sensitive hand. "This feels really awkward."

    "You saying that only makes it more awkward," May pointed out and they both chuckled.

    0 felt something tap his shoulder, and turned around, annoyed that someone wished to distract him from May. It was someone even larger than he, a very muscular someone wearing a leather vest, displaying his incredibly vast and possibly steroid-enhanced pectorals. He grinned a massive grin below his enormous moustache, which he was scratching with his left hand, and looked down at May.

    "She with you?" he asked.

    0 nodded. "For today, anyway."

    "Time's up, little man, I want a turn." 0 looked behind the mammoth and noticed several smaller grunts with hungry expressions, before returning his attention to the giant.

    "I don't think that's a good idea."

    "I think it's a very good idea."

    0 briefly considered the possibility of beating up the gang leader, his grunts, and anyone who had the inconsideration to interrupt his and May's date, but then decided that it would bring more people in to bug him. "Okay," he muttered and straightened his back, "what's it going to take to get you to leave us alone? I would really like to get along with my date now?"

    The giant glanced down at 0, who was showing absolutely no sign of backing off, and pulled out a Poke Ball from his vest. "Well, seeing as we're in Pyrite, how's about a little match? Winner gets the lady for a nice evening on the town, courtesy of the one and only Team Snagem." His underlings seemed to agree, though most of them looked like they would prefer beating down the Golden Ranger in the old fashioned sense.

    0 turned around to May. "Mind if I thrash him?"

    She shook her head. "No, go right ahead. But if you lose, you'd better be ready to face the consequences."

    0 grinned. "This'll be cake. Let's do this."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    As 0 quickly discovered, the battle with the Snagem leader was not going to be cake. Hundreds of people surrounded him as he made his way down to the stadium floor. May simply smiled, this was just like 0: getting in way over his head.

    "Honestly, what is with men's needs to fight each other?" she asked, sighing. "At least in Contests there's beauty involved."

    "Well, May, I kind of like fighting," he replied. "It's been keeping you alive for the past couple of months, hasn't it?"

    "What's that supposed to mean?" she asked.

    He shrugged. "Absolutely nothing, dear," he muttered and walked out into the blinding sunlight. The crowd cheered, and he was reminded all too well of his battle with Logan. "This'll be over soon enough, if we're lucky we can still make our reservations at the hotel…" He retrieved both his Poke Balls, it felt weird not fighting with Pi.

    "You'll do fine," said a knowing voice in his ear and 0 smiled. His partner was still with him.

    "Go, Lu, Tork!" 0 ordered and tossed both balls out into the arena. They exploded in flashing red lights and the balls returned to him as his powerhouse Pokemon emerged from their containers. Lu, in its adult form, was very excited, and its arms radiated with glowing Aura. Tork blasted steam from its nostrils and stamped on the ground, quite happy to be let outside in the fresh air.

    Both of them approached their trainer. "Okay, guys," 0 muttered, "I know we haven't fought a regular battle for a long time, but I figure we should do alright here. Trust me, and trust your instincts, and we should be fine." Both Pokemon agreed earnestly. "Tork, you tank in the back, and offer defense support for Lu. Lu, go offense and be ready for assists from Tork. Got it?" They nodded. "I've got a lot riding on this, I never thought I'd have to protect my reputation in front of May again."

    Lu placed its paw on Tork's shoulder. "Cario, Lu," it muttered and Tork nodded its head. They wouldn't let him down. They turned around, and waited for what was to be summoned by the Snagem commander.

    The commander grinned, and hurled out two Poke Balls into the arena. A Crobat exploded from one, and a Heracross from the other. The Crobat circled around, its purple wings flapping proudly by its master's side, while the Bug Type simply waited, pawing at the ground with its thin blue arms.

    The Snagem member sneered. "Tear 'em to shreds!" he ordered, pointing his finger at 0's Pokemon.

    0 smirked. "Let's do it! Cario, Rio! Tork, Torkoal!"

    The Heracross charged first, its head glowing with energy as it prepared its Megahorn attack. Instead of attacking, Lu simply leapt up onto Tork's shell, and began charging up its arms to unleash a powerful Metal Claw attack. But before Heracross could reach either of 0's Pokemon, Tork flexed its muscles and projected a powerful Protect sphere around itself and its battle partner. The Heracross bounced off and Tork canceled its Protect immediately to let Lu burst out and strike the Heracross' vulnerable back with its glowing paws. The Bug Pokemon shrieked, but Lu wasn't quite finished with it yet. Grabbing the fallen Pokemon, Lu proceeded to wail on its tender, exposed hide, until finally the Heracross had enough and took to the skies with Crobat, preventing 0's ground-based Pokemon from following.

    "Oh, that's lovely," muttered 0, rethinking his strategy. Lu and Tork didn't waver, operating on instinct as their trainer came up with the next plan.

    "Heracross, do a Megahorn again! Crobat, Supersonic!" commanded the Snagem member with a triumphant smile.

    0 clenched his fists. "Tork! Cario, Lucario!"

    Both Pokemon moved instantly. Tork dived into its shell, shielding itself from the sonar blasts through its thick hide. 0's Lucario rushed forward to meet the Heracross head on, nimbly dodging the sonic bursts as they followed it across the coliseum battleground. Lu leapt up, covering its entire body in Endure's amber energy. It collided with Heracross, and they both smashed into the ground. Unfortunately, the Snagem member was too late, and Crobat faithfully followed its orders, blasting Heracross with Supersonic and missing Lu, who was spared thanks to Heracross' protection. It got up and, despite being a full foot shorter than the Bug, placed Heracross in a half-nelson grab and positioned the Bug directly in front of Tork.

    0 grinned. "Torkoal, Torkoal!"

    On cue, the turtle poked its head out of its shell and took a deep breath. Then it unleashed an Overheat, scorching Heracross. Lu held the Pokemon firmly, though it too received a portion of damage from the strike, until finally Tork ceased its assault and Heracross fell to the ground, knocked out.

    The crowd felt that it was now an appropriate time to cheer.

    0 grinned, and pointed to himself as he looked on at Mr. Team Snagem, whose expression of disbelief was priceless as he recalled his Bug, leaving the Crobat to face Lu and Tork's assault. "Time for the finale, sucker!" he cackled, he hadn't been in a good match for a long time! "Cario! Oal!"

    Tork took another deep breath, blasting the surrounding air with a Flamethrower. Crobat swept easily through the flames, so the Torkoal kept up the blast, waiting for Lu to charge up its Aura Sphere. The giant Crobat kept flying around and Mr. Team Snagem couldn't think of a good counterattack. Time was running out for the bat…

    "Go!" ordered 0.

    Lu opened its eyes, its entire body seething with Aura and leapt up into the air, a feat accomplished only due to its youth and smaller body. Working with Tork, it moved in on Crobat, and blasted Aura Spheres around to fly towards and latch onto the bat. With the additional weight, the bat's four wings could no longer support its body and it began to plummet to the ground. Lu pummeled it with Aura Spheres from behind, making it impossible for the bat to retaliate. When they finally landed on the ground, Lu lightly jumped up, and smashed into the bat with its legs.

    Then Tork got up.

    Crobat didn't even see it coming, mostly because it was flat on the ground, its eyes staring into the rocky earth of the coliseum floor, and it didn't have the strength to fly again, since Lu had taken the time to attack its wing's joints, so naturally it did very little but wait as Tork leapt up at breakneck speed and smashed into it with a Body Slam. After a few moments to ensure that the bat would not be getting back up again, the giant Torkoal, almost the bat's rival in size and more than so in weight, got up, dusted itself off, and quietly paced over to where its trainer was standing, a look of satisfaction on both their faces as 0 patted its head.

    "Torkoal, Tork," 0 said, praising its performance. It was so large now, the ground rumbled just a little each time it took a step. The average Torkoal was only a little over a foot tall, Tork's neck reached well over four feet high. At the same time, Lu was bouncing back in their direction, still displaying some of the traits from when it was a Baby Pokemon. "Cario, Lu," the Golden Ranger told it, the Lucario had done well in its first real Pokemon battle since evolution.

    Lu barked its approval and looked up to Tork, who nodded sagely at its performance. There were even some tears of pride leaking from the turtle's face and the three shared a laugh, though Lu mostly did so out of mimicking its trainer, as 0 and Tork recalled the memories of emotional waterworks from Tork's old days.

    He was about to walk out of the arena, since he and Mr. Team Snagem had only agreed on one two Pokemon match, but felt the giant grab his shoulder. As he turned, 0 noticed the look of extreme displeasure on the other's face, and realized that he cared very little.

    "What?" asked 0, holding up a hand to stop his Pokemon from attacking his opponent. "I did the fight, so let me go. I'm going to lose my reservation if I stay much longer."

    "I don't think so," growled the man.

    0 narrowed his brows and flexed his muscles. "Take your hands off me now, or you'll be sorry."

    The Snagem leader did not like being threatened. "Listen you-"

    He did not finish his sentence, because an instant later a jolt of electricity coursed through 0's body and shocked the gang leader. He cried out in pain and was thrown back to the ground. May, who stood only a few feet away, gasped in shock, and even 0 looked a little surprised.

    "What was that?" the Snagem leader asked angrily, hauling himself back to his feet. This time though, he wisely kept his distance.

    "Just a little static shock," 0 replied, "don't be a baby about it." He turned to May and offered a warm smile. "Come on, I think we're done here." She agreed and the two headed out.

    The Snagem member, surrounded by his subordinates, looked down at his hand, and swore that he saw it spark again. "What…is that guy?" he asked. The look on his face suggested he wasn't going to give up finding out.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The atmosphere was tense.

    The Golden Ranger stared intensely at the menu, and dug deep into the recesses of his memory to retrieve the extremely vital information he was searching for. It was impossible that he had forgotten! Across from him, May watched with an almost amused expression and, directly beside him, stood the waiter, who was growing slightly impatient and kept shifting his weight from one foot to another while he waited for 0 to order.

    "Sir, could you-" The boy wisely stopped talking, as 0 lifted his head over the menu and delivered a glare that could silence a Primeape.

    "Noodles," 0 decided, and handed the boy the menu. "For the lady. I will have a beer."

    "Sir, this is a five star restaurant, surely you would like something fancier than a mere cup of noodles!"

    0 turned to May, and shrugged. "She loves noodles, so bring her some soba noodles. And be snappy about it." He tossed a few bills at the waiter, who practically skipped in the direction of the kitchen to prepare the order.

    "I can't believe you remember something like that," May said, a slight tinge of red across her cheeks.

    He nodded, thankful that he had guessed correctly.

    "So…"

    "So…"

    Both of them blushed slightly, now that they had sat down there was no escape from the inevitable conversation they both knew they had to have. "I guess I should let you ask me some questions, let you get an idea of what I've been doing. So, if you have anything you'd like to ask me, I'm willing to answer."

    "Oh, okay," said May and thought about it for a while. "Well, how long have you been an…agent in PKM?"

    "Five years," 0 replied. "I joined it a few months after Sarah was born. The old Golden Ranger and I made an agreement that let me operate as an agent and continue to live a civilian life. When we…divorced, I went to work for them full time. There was nothing more for me to do, and I needed something that gave my life meaning."

    May nodded. "And all those trips you took?"

    "Missions that PKM had me go on," 0 explained. "I was considered a high flyer, and got promoted. I once almost became the White Ranger, but that's a whole other story."

    May nodded thoughtfully. "I see," she murmured. "How did you get recruited in the first place?"

    "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "I ran into the old Golden Ranger and helped in. Because I was exposed to a bunch of secrets, I was given the choice to work for PKM or face incarceration for my own protection. I chose PKM so I could stay with you and Sarah."

    May nodded, digesting the knowledge. "Then, why didn't you just tell me? Instead of leaving, why couldn't you trust me with what you were going through?"

    0 gave a half-smile. "To be honest, May, it was for your own protection. I was in deep with PKM and I couldn't bear to get you involved like I was. When we had that last fight, I just didn't want you to have to deal with knowing what I was doing." He reached out his hand and squeezed her fingers. "I didn't want any more burdens being put on your soul. Plus, PKM would have flipped and taken us all into custody."

    May giggled, though her face was somber. "You let me hate you for three years, 0. To protect me? How am I supposed to feel about that?"

    "I don't know the answer to that question, May," he said, lowering his head. "I'm not you."

    The waiter brought the soba noodles and the beer, but neither was touched.

    "I don't know whether to hate you for keeping all of this a secret, or love you for trying to protect us from it," she admitted. "At least Sarah is happy."

    "That's something I wanted to ask you about."

    "What?"

    "Sarah," 0 said. "Why didn't you ever tell her who her father was? Why did you keep me a secret for so long?"

    "0..." May sighed and looked out the window. "I don't know. I'd like to say that it was because, deep down, I believed that it was just a dream, and one day you'd come back to me, but it was probably the mean, spiteful part of me that made me do that. Sarah was the one person you wanted, and the one person I couldn't let you have. I had already lost my husband, I didn't want to lose my daughter too."

    The Golden Ranger opened his beer and took a swig. "We need to…come to some sort of compromise. Now that we both know what really happened, I want to take some steps for the future. For Sarah's sake, and for ours." May nodded in agreement. "Now, you know my feelings. I want to be a father to Sarah again, and I also want to be your friend, May."

    "My friend?"

    "I know it's unreasonable to ask you to forgive me completely, and to take me back. I do want to be with you, May. With all my heart I do. But I don't know what you want, so I'll respect your own decision on the future of our relationship. But I'm fine with you as a friend, May. I want you back in my life again, in whatever small way you're willing to let me back in as."

    "Dummy…"

    0 looked up. "Huh?"

    "You giant idiot…" May felt her eyes grow wet, but didn't care. "All this time, I've thought that there was no room for me in your life, that you'd moved on and settled down with Serena. I just-" She shook her head and smiled. "It's good to know that, at least."

    "Good to know what?"

    She smirked. "That your inability to understand women remains intact."

    "Excuse me."

    Both turned, and saw in astonishment that the Snagem commando had returned. 0 groaned, the guy was really starting to get on his nerves, then he noticed something. Specifically, the chain hanging by his arm, carrying what appeared to be a massive black gem, a giant Dark Onyx! 0 clenched his fists.

    "May," he muttered, reaching for his morpher, "get out of here."

    "Don't you dare move!" shouted the Snagem leader, brandishing a Poke Ball in both of his hands. "Tyranitar, Garchomp!" Both Poke Balls exploded and two giant Pokemon emerged, both emitting powerful auras. "I think everyone's staying right where they are, you annoying little runt."

    He strode up to 0's table. "Get up, punk," he ordered. "I want to see if you're so tough in front of two of Team Snagem's most powerful Pokemon, and this little toy!" He lifted the Dark Onyx and dangled it in front of the Golden Ranger's face. "You see what this is? You know what it does?"

    0 gulped. "I have a fairly good idea, tubby," he replied, then turned to May. "Listen, head out and powder your nose. This'll be all over before you can break out your makeup bag." May nodded and stood up to leave.

    She took two steps before the Snagem leader screamed, freezing her in her tracks. "I said don't move!" he ordered.

    "May, run!" 0 shouted. The urgency in his voice prompted her to run, and the Golden Ranger tackled the giant man to the ground, keeping him from issuing any orders immediately. May almost got away too…then…

    "Tyranitar, Shadow Wave!" he screeched. Obeying, the Pokemon inhaled deeply and blasted May with a sickly wave of evil power. She shrieked, as the attack caught up with her, and fell to the ground.

    The Snagem leader cackled and pushed 0 off him. "Well, that'll make her easier to carry back to the lair," he muttered as an afterthought. Then he turned towards 0, upon which he felt a slight chill run down his shoulder.

    0 wasn't just angry. Oh no, to say that about him would be to give his feelings the most mildest description. 0 was furious. His head was lowered, his teeth gritted against one another as he ground them in frustration…his muscles were tight and easily visible because his anger was causing them to bulge. His veins became noticeable on his skin and his hands were clenched to the point that his white knuckles were visible.

    "You," he growled, "are going to die."

    And then he roared murder at the man. His morpher gleamed, and a golden fire crackled to life around him, resonating with his fury. The Snagem leader stepped back, as all the light in the room seemed to fade away, as it was sucked into the vortex of 0's golden flames. Sparks flew from within it and 0 grinned.

    "W-What are you?" he demanded to know. 0 just kept smiling.

    "Your nightmare," was his reply, and then he screamed once more as his transformation began.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The transformation was different this time, 0 sensed that much.

    As he roared, the morpher strapped to his wrist glowed bright gold and his body was instantly covered with the black under armor that made up most of his uniform. The golden parts, his gloves, boots, chest plate, back, belt, and visor, came last, clamping down and strapping into position as his systems came online. The golden fire that surrounded him dispersed and his visor gleamed as Pi took control of the uniform.

    "0, what's happening?" the Pikachu asked, running a suit diagnostic. "How'd you do that without activating the morpher or using the morphing call?"

    0 shrugged. "That's a good question, let's answer it once we've dealt with this little piggy." He stood his ground, the Bolt Blade clenched in his hand. Across from him, Snagem boy growled, turning towards his Shadow Pokemon and snickered.

    "That explains it…you're a ranger, just like that guy said!" he screeched. "Now I'll show you what it means to have power! Get him, my Shadow Pokemon!"

    The Tyranitar roared, blasting air through the hotel and throwing people to the floor. Beside it, the Garchomp howled with rage and began stomping its way in the direction of 0.

    "This is not good," decided 0 firmly. While he probably had the strength to engage the Shadow Pokemon in battle, the giant Dark Onyx that the Snagem leader was using complicated matters. "Pi, stats report."

    "Both Pokemon are generating high-level energy," the Pikachu reported. "And their Shadow Pokemon status only helps their strength. From the looks of it, both Pokemon are probably in Hyper Mode, so be careful."

    0 groaned. "That's just great. Open up communications with 003, I'm going to need backup if the situation worsens." He didn't know how a Dark Gem would influence Pokemon and he didn't really want to.

    "0, lead them outside. They're after you, they'll be less casualties if we go elsewhere," Pi pointed out. 0 nodded and shouldered his blade.

    "Hey, ugly!" shouted 0, turning his attention onto the Snagem commander. "How's about you come get me? I'm tired to standing around staring at your drooling mug!"

    His opponent did not seem to take kindly to the statement. His face reddened and his mouth wobbled from sheer anger. Clearly he was not a man accustomed to being defied. "Get him! Shadow Rush!"

    The two monsters roared, stomping on the ground and rushing towards the Golden Ranger. Instead of fighting, though, the ranger simply vanished with the command "Go!" He reappeared a few feet behind the Pokemon and used their rushing momentum in conjuncture with his sword to smash both into a wall. "I'm over here, Slowpokes!" he shouted and waved his sword as the Pokemon unearthed themselves from the wall.

    "Get him!" Mr. Snagem snarled, but that was all he could say before the Golden Ranger decided to make things just a little bit more personal and grabbed him by the neck.

    "Let's see how far you can fly," the Golden Ranger muttered and hurled him out of the second-storey window. Like obedient Pokemon, the Tyranitar and Garchomp jumped out after him and 0 turned his attention to the woman on the ground. "May, are you alright?" He picked her up and opened his visor. Her eyes flickered, but she roused herself from unconsciousness and looked up at him.

    "0?" she asked, somewhat out of it. "What's going on? Weren't we talking?"

    He nodded. "Slight change of plans. Snagem thought it would be a good idea to bother us." He looked out the empty window, there was no way the Snagem leader was too hurt, especially if he had the giant Dark Onyx. That would patch him up in no time at all. "May, I need to hide you somewhere, they'll be coming back with more Shadow Pokemon soon."

    "No."

    "What do you mean, no?" 0 asked. "This isn't a game, he's here for us! I need to lead him away!"

    "No, I'm tired of being separated from you, 0." She was babbling, 0 saw in her eyes that she was disorientated, it was possible that she had a concussion too. "I want to face him together, with both of us side by side." Her eyes were fluttering again, 0 wondered if she was really hurt. The back of her head was bleeding, but otherwise she seemed fine…

    So why was he so worried?

    "Okay," he muttered. "Pi, call 003. I officially am going to need help."

    "Roger. Distress signal has been sent. Enemy is coming back, this time with multiple Shadow Pokemon, and I think…no, I'm sure of it! He's got Rangerlings, just like Sappho did!"

    Pi was right. As the Snagem leader strode back into the room, he was flanked by eight or ten Rangerlings, almost the number of subordinates he had been followed by earlier. Had he turned his friends into Rangerlings just to fight? 0 gritted his teeth and his visor clamped down again over his face. "That's disgusting," he said to himself.

    The Rangerlings chattered amongst themselves, as they always did. This time, though, 0 noticed that instead of one Dark Onyx on their chest, all of them had two, one on each of their shoulders. "Oh, this is bad," muttered 0, readying the Bolt Blade to begin battle. In addition to the Garchomp and Tyranitar from earlier, the Snagem commander also had a Charizard and a Machamp standing ready behind him, all four Pokemon with dark, soulless eyes glaring down on the Golden Ranger.

    "Bad," 0 muttered. "Very bad."

    "Get him!" roared the Snagem leader. "Shadow Rush!"

    Holding May in his arms, 0 ran straight out of the window, leaping through the air thanks to the energy his suit was supplying to his legs. He landed nimbly on the rooftop outside, ignoring the pain as his legs received part of the landing's shock and turned around to look through the window. The Snagem leader, furious, was ordering his Pokemon after the Golden Ranger, away from the crowds.

    "Now all I need is a safe place to hide you, May," 0 grumbled, this relationship business was a lot of work! He wished he still had Serena to back him up, or anyone for that matter. "Pi, status report. Where's the backup?"

    "I'm patching you through to 003 now," it announced. A moment later, the communication opened.

    "0, what's going on down there?" demanded a frustrated Bakaguru.

    "Rangerlings and Shadow Pokemon," replied the Golden Ranger. "It looks like the Dark Gem Rangers handed somebody a giant Dark Onyx and he's going to town. And it doesn't help that he's after my date!" He looked down, May was looking worse. "He hurt her."

    "How badly?"

    "She might have a concussion, and she's bleeding from her head," 0 muttered. He started moving and jumped down into the alley, wincing as his feet collided with the ground. "She's not very lucid, she'll probably need to see a doctor when we get back. Where are 1 and 5? I asked for backup!"

    "On their way, they should be arriving in a few minutes. Unfortunately, they'll be all I can offer. We haven't decided on a new White Ranger."

    "What about Max?"

    "He's not deemed fit to enter combat yet."

    "Damn!" 0 cursed. His tracking system indicated he was about to be discovered. "Just get 1 and 5 here now! I don't have time to screw around!"

    "Okay, I'll tell them to hurry-"

    Bakaguru was cut off, as 0 let off a blood-curling screech of agony and dropped to the ground, clutching his head. Something was attacking him, something horrible. May collapsed on him and was jolted awake.

    "0?" she asked, noticing that he was starting to curl into the fetal position. "0! What's going on?" Ignoring her own pain, she grabbed the ranger and pushed him up into a sitting position against the wall. "What's wrong?"

    "S-Serum…" he gasped, realizing what the problem was. "N-Need serum n-now…" He groaned, forced to ride through the immense pain as his body shouted its addictive need for the drug that kept it awake, alert, and now alive.

    "What serum?" May asked.

    "K-Keeps my body w-working," he explained. "N-No night-nightmares."

    And he fell again to the ground, this time contorting in agony. His body needed the drug now, otherwise it would begin to shut down. He barely heard May's shriek as they were discovered and the Shadow Charizard's roar as it began to advance, Rangerlings dancing around its lizard body.

    Then the cavalry came charging in.

    The Red and Pink Rangers leapt from their motorcycle. Logan, flashing a salute, proceeded to tear through the Rangerlings, while Karin concentrated on the much larger Charizard. Eventually, the Red Ranger made it to May and placed himself before the onslaught of powerful Rangerlings.

    "Hey, May," he said. "What's with Golden Boy? He's looking a little green around the gold."

    "There's something wrong with him!" she explained. "He says he needs some sort of serum. Do you have any idea what he's talking about?"

    Logan kicked a Rangerling back. "Sort of. The guru's got a secret serum used for combat missions. It's used to keep agents awake and alert throughout, but it's not meant for long-term missions. Golden Boy takes it all the time, so he effectively doesn't sleep. His body's probably going through withdrawal." He batted away another little imp. "We should probably ask someone to send some in." He put his hand to his helmet. "003, I need some serum delivered ASAP. Oh, and a hot dog too. Maybe a pizza if you have some time." A pause, while Logan listened to Bakaguru's response. "Nope, 0's down and he needs some fast. And I wasn't kidding about that hot dog!"

    He smashed into a Rangerling and activated his Sake Scissors with a request to his ranger spirit. The sword-like claws extended from his forearms and the Red Ranger dove into the fray. "He's on it, May! My partner will escort you the rest of the way to safety!" He reached Karin, who was having problems with the Charizard. "Baby, this is more my tempo, why don't you fall back and take her to safety?" Karin complied with the order, flipping back to grab May and, as he was currently useless, 0 too, on both her shoulders and started running away. Logan covered their retreat as the horde began to descend on the alley.

    A man with an absurd moustache walked up with his Shadow Pokemon and Rangerlings, surprised to see a Red Ranger instead of a golden one. "Where'd the girl go, Red boy?" he snarled, obviously quite mad indeed.

    "Good question, tubby," replied Logan with a shrug, pointing one of his blades at the man's gut. "I'd say in your stomach, where all mobile things must naturally head around you, but then you'd know where they were! Specifically, somewhere between your stomach and small intestine."

    The Snagem leader flushed red. "I'll kill you!"

    Logan wagged his finger. "Not if you eat me first, right?" His opponent screamed in rage.

    "Kill him! Tear him to pieces!"

    "I thought fat guys were supposed to be jolly," murmured Logan in dismay. "And I was about to ask him what I wanted for Christmas too."

    Reluctantly, he dove into the fray.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  14. #39
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    Default Chapter 21, Continued

    Morph Twenty-One: A Date Interrupted, Part 2

    Bakaguru considered his options.

    On one hand, he could simply allow 0 to die. On the other, it was probably a good idea to rescue the Golden Ranger, so he had summoned Serena, 415, and Max to see what could be done. After some persuasion, he had managed to pry Sarah away from her uncle and into the arms of her devoted grandparents, so he had the full attention of all three.

    "What," he said, pacing in front of a vial of serum on his work table, "are we going to do?"

    Serena was the first to respond. "I can go take it to him," she suggested.

    Bakaguru shook his head. "Out of the question, Serena. First, you are not a ranger anymore." He held up his hand as she opened her mouth to respond. "I am working on that, but for now we must accept the fact that you are no longer a member of the PKM Rangers. To expose you to this kind of danger, especially without a Ranger uniform, is completely unsafe and I will not do it. Plus, you are still recovering from you injuries." He turned to the other woman in the room. "I would send 415, but I want 0 to live. Besides, she has to stay behind since she has the Golden Gauntlets."

    Unenthusiastically, 415 dangled the devices from her hands without much gusto.

    "That leaves Max," the engineer muttered and pushed his glasses back to the bridge of his nose. "Max in the most suitable person, despite being our least likely source of help."

    "Why is that?" Max asked, feeling a slight twinge of anger.

    "Because you are still inexperienced in handling your Dark Emerald," explained the otaku. "That is the simple fact, Max. Despite the progress you have been making, the fact remains that you are unfit to be released yet. And yet I have no choice but to send you in if I want 0 to live." He rubbed his brow. "The Council is going to kill me, but I need you, Max. Can I count on you?"

    Max nodded, grabbing his Dark Emerald. "We're ready," he said and the gem glowed eagerly. It had been a while since it had been given a chance to play. "What do you want me to do?"

    Bakaguru handed Max the vial of serum. "Give this to 0, he'll be able to inject it into his body and recover. Transform into your Dark Gem Ranger mode to make sure you survive the trip."

    Max closed his hands around the vial. "What do you mean, 'survive the trip'?" he asked suspiciously.

    Bakaguru grinned, and pulled out a small remote control from inside his lab coat. When he pressed one of the buttons, the ceiling above began opening up and the floors nearby gave way, revealing a massive machine below. "A new toy from Jessie and James," he explained. "It's a prototype to launch these giant things that the two of them are designing with Meowth, but for now we can use it to launch you to Pyrite. Being the Dark Emerald Ranger, you should have no problem surviving it. Just keep the vial safe and your Dark Emerald should home in on the Golden Ranger."

    "Good plan." Max knew Bakaguru was right, for some reason the Dark Emerald was willing to obey the Golden Ranger in all circumstances, ever since he had freed both Max and the Dark Gem from the confusion they had been induced with by Sappho. "But what if I lose control?"

    "My advice would be to not do that," Bakaguru offered. "Transform and I'll prepare the launch."

    Max nodded and climbed into the thing. True to Bakaguru's word, the machine looked like it was built for launching something massive. There was a platform where whatever it was going to be would be loaded onto, so Max got onto that and tucked the serum vial into his pocket, knowing it would be safer inside the Dark Emerald Ranger's armor.

    "Max!" shouted a voice from below. Max wrapped his chains around his arms and looked down. It was Serena.

    "Yeah?" he asked.

    "Bring him back safe, okay?" Serena said. "Him and May both."

    Max nodded and raised his thumb. "Count on it, Serena!" he said and pressed the Dark Emerald into his flesh. "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    Max exploded with green light as his body, mind, and soul merged with the Dark Emerald, creating the somewhat-reformed Dark Emerald Ranger. The beast looked down on the group below, but thought little of them and remained standing where it was, sensing that it needed to go and help their master, the Golden Ranger. A few moments later, Bakaguru finished the launch preparations and the dark ranger braced himself, sensing he was about to go airborne.

    Then he left the ground and blasted off through the air. To prevent wind resistance, the Dark Emerald whispered, and the ranger straightened his body to preserve the momentum of flying through the air. Desert whisked by below him. In next to no time, he spotted a rundown town coming his way and the Dark Emerald whispered that the Golden Ranger was below.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger tucked his arms and legs together and curled up into a ball as he descended, finally landing by blasting through what appeared to be a very nice hotel's wall and found himself in a room occupied by two nude people: a man with a ring on the fourth finger of his left hand and another man without one. Thinking little of their screams, the Dark Emerald Ranger waited for the majority of his bones to pop back into place and mend.

    "What is it…?" one of the men, the one without the ring, asked in a very high voice. The Dark Emerald whispered to its partner, very annoyed by their interruption of its body healing.

    The other, the one with the ring, slowly approached the Dark Emerald Ranger, covering himself in a blanket from the bed. "Don't know," was his reply, in a very thick Orre dialect. "Looks like a guy, but it's all twisted and messed up."

    "Should we call room service?" suggested the other. The Dark Emerald was thankful it had almost finished healing its partner, both agreed that the men were highly annoying.

    "No, you idiot!" shouted ring-man. "What if they find you here? We gotta get outta here right now!" Quickly, he scrambled for his clothes, and the other man eventually did the same, though with a slight bit of reluctance. The Dark Emerald whispered to its partner that they could walk again, so the dark ranger untangled himself from the ground and stood up.

    Both men screamed in a very girlish way as the ranger began making his way across the room in the direction the Dark Emerald said the Golden Ranger was. As he reached the door, and smashed down what was left of it, he sensed someone moving behind him. He turned suddenly, crouching in preparation to fight, but stopped when he noticed it was only the harmless ring-man, who this time had wrapped the cloth around his waist. His hands were together and the Dark Emerald sensed something extremely pitiable about the ring-man's stance.

    "You're not-you're not gonna tell anyone, are ya?" he asked, staring at the floor with an aura of shame about him. The Dark Emerald Ranger responded by punting him across the room into the sole undamaged wall in the room, creating a great crack as the man fell back onto the bed. The man without a ring watched this and looked up at the dark ranger.

    "Thanks, he needed that," he said.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger, unsure of why he was being thanked, decided to listen to the Dark Gem's suggestion to leave. With a slight growl of indifference, he rushed down the hallway and followed the Golden Ranger's aura. From behind, he heard the distinct sound of shrieking, possibly because the two men had been discovered by the service staff of the hotel.

    The ranger conferred with his gem again, and it was decided that the men were both very annoying.

    He burst out through a window that had already been broken for some reason and onto a nearby rooftop thanks to the aid of one of his chains. From there, he noticed that a fight was going on in an alley below, but didn't go near it. Neither of them cared about the fight because their master wasn't there. Both kept moving, the ranger following the advice from his Dark Emerald, until finally they reached a position several blocks down from the battle, where the Golden Ranger was being tended to by a familiar woman…her name was definitely May, and another person in pink that neither ranger nor gem cared about.

    They dove down into the group, astonishing May and the pink person, who leapt up to battle the Dark Emerald Ranger, but after a moment stepped back, as if commanded by a third party to not intervene. The dark ranger made his way to the Golden Ranger and reached up to his chest. A vial of liquid appeared from inside his clothes and he handed it to the gasping paladin. The Golden Ranger took it, muttered some sort of thanks, and injected the liquid into his bloodstream. Within moments he stopped shaking and within a minute he was back on his feet. Though taller than the Dark Emerald Ranger, the paladin's visor held its gaze on the dark ranger's, and the Dark Emerald sensed a thanking aura from the golden man.

    "Thanks," said the Golden Ranger. "I knew they'd finally let you out." He touched the side of his helmet and began speaking to someone that wasn't there. "Yes, he made it," said the Golden Ranger. "Oh, okay. Yes, I'll make sure he's returned in one piece. Understood." He switched off the communications and turned to May.

    "Bakaguru says his unofficial designation is AX6," 0 explained. "Auxiliary Ranger 6: Dark Emerald."

    May smiled and turned to the Dark Emerald Ranger with pride. "Oh, congratulations, Max!" she exclaimed and threw her arms around the dark ranger in a hug. The Dark Emerald Ranger, for reasons neither ranger nor gem understood, tolerated this for a few seconds, then pried May off and turned to 0.

    "Gallade, Lade," hissed the dark ranger. It wanted to fight.

    The Golden Ranger nodded. "Good idea, let's go help 1." He turned to the pink one, who was simply awaiting her orders like a puppet. The Dark Emerald chuckled at her. "You're coming too," he decided, then turned to May. "May, I need you to find a place to hide." He took out something from his belt and handed it to her. "This is a com-link, it'll let you keep in touch with us. Okay?"

    May nodded and took the com-link, holding onto the hand 0 offered it on for just a little too much longer than the Dark Emerald Ranger was willing to tolerate. He growled and the two separated awkwardly, each holding the other's gaze, until 0 snapped back to reality and started running down the alley. The pink one followed him by only a few footsteps. The Dark Emerald Ranger looked towards May one final time, nodded in satisfaction, then leapt back onto the rooftops to follow 0 and Pinky from a different route.

    They reached the fight quickly and the three rangers dove into the fray. The Golden Ranger, his sword in hand, swept through the ranks of the black chattering Rangerlings, filthy users of common Dark Onyx, battering them down with single strikes of the dull side of his blade. Pinky leapt through the ranks, ignoring everything until she finally came to the side of a lone red warrior fighting off the masses, helping him cave a bigger hole in the group.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger saw people worth fighting. It leapt into the fray, knocking down a Machamp with its knee as it landed on the Pokemon. The ranger roared in triumph, and leapt off before the Pokemon could recover. The Dark Emerald whispered that there were three other Pokemon nearby and none of them had the right aura for a Pokemon, they all felt too evil.

    Neither ranger nor gem cared very much, they were too busy having fun!

    A Rangerling wound up caught in their web, as the Dark Emerald Ranger growled and wrapped his right gauntlet's chain around its body, dragging it towards him. He jerked the chain, and the Rangerling, and threw it to the ground. He howled and leapt up, crushing the Rangerling with the full force of his boots. Despite this, it somehow survived and thrashed about until the dark ranger lost his balance and was forced to hop off its body in a highly undignified manner. He retracted his chain and retreated to the Golden Ranger's position.

    "Laaaaaade, Gallaaa," growled the dark ranger, assisting the paladin in clearing some breathing space.

    "I know," replied the ranger, growing tired of heaving his sword everywhere. "For some reason, these Rangerlings are much tougher and harder to kill. They have two Dark Onyxes instead of one, I think that's why." 0 looked around, searching for something. "There!" He pointed into the crowd, and made sure the Dark Emerald Ranger saw what he was looking at. "You see that man, with the giant moustache?" The dark ranger followed the man's finger and noticed there was a man with something growing out of his upper lip. "He's got a giant Dark Onyx controlling all of them. If we can reach him, we might stand a chance at ending the fight, since all of these things are under his control. Go get him and bring him to me! But don't kill him, we need to find out where his Dark Gems came from!"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger nodded and jumped up into the air, latching onto a nearby store's roof with his chain and hoisting himself up. Fortunately, the moustache man was standing by the sidelines, doing little but jeering and watching his minions fight for him. Finding this extremely unfair, the Dark Emerald whispered to its partner a fun way to get some payback, which the ranger readily agreed to.

    They got into position, careful not to let anyone see, above the man with the lip hair, and slowly reached down a chain, taking ever so much care not to alert the man to their presence. The chain wrapped around his giant, plump body like velvet, with the man hardly noticing what was going on. It was not until one of the chattering Rangerlings saw it and pointed out what was going on, that he took notice. But by then it was too late, and the Dark Emerald Ranger dashed down to the ground and tightened his grip on the tub of lard he had been asked to capture and growled.

    "Call off your army or my friend gets to play with you!" shouted the Golden Ranger to the Dark Gem Ranger's plaything.

    The fat man's thinking process lasted roughly two seconds, before he shrieked, "Everyone fall back immediately!" in a tone of voice that would have even the most cowardly man in Orre mocking him. All of the Rangerlings did as ordered, but the Shadow Pokemon only considered it briefly before resuming their rampage. They were unstoppable and would have to be taken down before they would halt.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger discarded the man, finding him useless, and dove back into the battle. The man hit his head on a wall and slumped into unconsciousness. The Dark Emerald Ranger hardly noticed it, unleashing his chains on the Tyranitar and binding it in place. The Pokemon roared in anger, but that only made the dark ranger tighten his chains. It was beginning to lose the ability to breathe, which was fine with the dark ranger. Anything for a fight.

    The Dark Emerald whispered, and the ranger obeyed, leaping through the air and jumping onto the spines of the Tyranitar's back, wrapping more of his chain around its neck. Once they were secure, the ranger leapt off the thrashing Pokemon and, using the majority of his strength, brought the massive Pokemon down to its knees.

    Soon after, it lapsed into unconsciousness, and only then did the Dark Emerald Ranger remove the chains.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The Golden Ranger grinned, the odds were in his favor.

    The four rangers worked as one to take down the last three Shadow Pokemon. The Rangerlings were gone, making the work much easier to do. While Logan and 0 concentrated on the Charizard, Karin was fighting Garchomp and Max was putting the finishing touches on the Machamp. All was going as planned.

    "So, how'd your date go?" Logan asked, blocking one of the Charizard's wings.

    0 dodged the fiery breath from its gaping mouth. "Not too bad, until all this started. Why can't evil just take a few hours break for us?"

    Logan laughed and smashed into the Charizard with 0, using their combined momentum to take it down. "I hear that!" he shouted, as it was hard to hear him over the lizard's angry roars. "Every time 5 and I go out, there's always something taking over the world that needs our pressing attention."

    "I thought you and 5 never went out," 0 pointed out.

    "Oh yeah," muttered Logan, as he struggled to pin down the Charizard. "Hey, you mind finishing this? I don't have the synchro thing like you do!"

    0 nodded. "Pi, activate the Synchronization Drive! Volt Tackle!"

    Static collected from inside his body, turning the Golden Ranger into a living light bulb. Ignoring the pain that coursed through his veins, he closed his hands on the giant Bolt Blade and slashed at the Charizard. The Pokemon gave out a shriek, then collapsed from the agony of the thousands of volts that ripped through its body. It did not get back up.

    0 panted and lowered his sword, as the discharged electricity worked its way through his own body. "You okay?" Logan asked.

    "Fine," 0 muttered. "I'm starting to get used to it. First time it completely killed me."

    "Don't go dying on me. I'll have to fill out paperwork if you do."

    0 chuckled. "Wouldn't dream of it."

    "Laaaaade!"

    Both men turned, only to see the aftermath. The Dark Emerald Ranger, having finished dispatching the Machamp, had rushed over to Karin's side. Neither the Red or Golden Ranger had noticed, because Karin wasn't someone who was really able to attract attention, that the Garchomp had gotten the upper hand in their battle. She was lying on the ground, not breathing, and she had been forced out of her Ranger Mode. Pats of her face were bruised, and much of her clothing was stained red.

    "Karin!" Logan shouted and lunged forward. He transformed into Rescue Mode immediately, grabbed Karin, and swooped up to a nearby building, leaving 0 and Max to handle the last Shadow Pokemon. 0 sighed, but did not pursue the matter. He would have done the same thing for Serena if she was the one hurt.

    "AX6, round up!" ordered 0 and removed Lu's Poke Ball from his belt. The Dark Emerald Ranger regrouped behind him, crouched like a feral animal. "Auxiliary Pokemon System! Cario Form!" He inserted the Poke Ball into his morpher and the transformation was instantaneous. Within moments he was dancing around, looking for the best opening to take down the giant Pokemon. Both the Golden and Dark Emerald Rangers circled the Garchomp, eager to fight.

    "Sir, operating at maximum capacity," announced Lu in its deep voice. "Activating the Synchronization Drive."

    "Good," 0 said and the spikes on the backs of his hands enlarged. "Get ready with Aura Sphere on my mark."

    "Aye, sir," it replied.

    The Aura came up and the Dark Emerald Ranger attacked, striking at the Garchomp with his chains to drive the Pokemon into a frenzy. The dragon focused all its attention on the Dark Emerald Ranger, who danced and leapt everywhere to keep its focus away from the Golden Ranger, who began charging up a massive ball of Aura.

    It took a while, and thankfully Max and the Dark Emerald were very patient, but finally the massive energy ball was ready. "Lu, download the Lightning Laser, and prepare to fire the Aura Sphere with the first shot."

    "Aye, sir." The shotgun emerged in 0's hands and was supercharged with the Aura energy in moments. The Golden Ranger aimed the weapon at the Garchomp's back.

    "AX6, retreat!" 0 ordered. Max leapt away, just as the Garchomp turned around to see the barrel of 0's gun. "Send him packing, Lu! Let's go!" He pressed down on the trigger, just as the Garchomp began roaring and rushing towards him.

    The blast was delayed, mostly because it was being condensed into something that the Lightning Laser was capable of firing, but it got off just in time to save 0 from becoming lunch for a very angry Pokemon. The blue and yellow ball of energy was released, resulting in the Garchomp being thrown back and through the nearest building. 0 himself was thrown back by the recoil of the weapon, smashing into a wall and denting it, before falling back to the ground. He hoisted himself up and noticed the Dark Emerald Ranger on the nearby rooftop, watching him.

    "Good work," 0 called, and returned to his civilian uniform, reattaching his goggles to his face to keep the sand out of his eyes. "Come on down and turn back."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger flipped back down to the ground, and after careful consideration began glowing, before the uniform faded away and the chains uncurled around the arms, revealing Max Birch.

    Nearby May reappeared, along with Logan and an unconscious Karin.

    "We'd better get out of here," 0 decided. The others agreed.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The sun down, and the debriefing over, 0 escorted May back to her quarters.

    The facility was unusually quiet that night. With the majority of the day's tasks done, the only people really on duty was the night shift. Everyone else was already in their quarters, getting ready for the next day's work. So it was just May and 0 and their footsteps as they walked down the corridors. Both were silent. Every once in a while, by complete accident, their shoulders would gently touch, and May's heart would skip a beat.

    "0, can I ask you something?" May wondered, looking up at her protector. 0 looked back down at her, finding nothing unusual about the request, and silently nodded. "In the fight, you needed serum. What is that?"

    0 sighed. "It's nothing really," he explained. "I take it because it helps me function. It's a special drug that nourishes agents, keeps them awake and alert during missions where that sort of thing isn't really easy to come by, but it's not meant to be used long term. Since I got the first batch of it, I've used it ever since. Now I can't live without it. I guess you could say it's sort of my kryptonite."

    "Why do you use it?" May asked. "It sounds so dangerous, wouldn't it be safer to not take it?"

    He wondered about that for a moment. "There's another reason I take it," he said and retracted his gaze. "When I left you for this, I was hurt. Not in a physical sense, but in a way that…well, I guess you know what I mean. It's a kind of hurt that scars you. I started having these horrible nightmares, it began interfering with my work. Eventually they gave me the serum so I could stay awake forever and keep the nightmares away."

    May gasped and 0's mouth offered her a false smile. "I know that for all those years you hated me, May," he said. "Maybe you still do. You have every right to. I left you all alone with Sarah, to keep you safe from this. I've regretted not being able to be honest with you, all these years." They kept walking and turned a corner. "But I can't regret all of it, because these people gave me the power to protect you and Sarah."

    She didn't reply and eventually they reached her room. May opened the door and walked through, 0 remained where he was. Just as he was about to turn around the door opened back up and May's eyes were red.

    "Would you like to come inside?" she asked. "I'll make you a cup of tea."

    Though he didn't drink tea anymore, 0 accepted the offer, and May shut the door behind him. He took a seat at the table, and May busied herself with brewing two cups of green tea, setting one for 0 and one for herself. 0 merely eyed the cup, brought it to his lips, and pretended to sip it. The serum made it so his body rejected most foods, alcohol being one of the shining exceptions. His injection had provided him with all the nourishment he needed, he felt full despite having had nothing.

    A few minutes later, May finished her tea. 0 was content to watch, she looked so graceful and dignified. Despite the rather heavy atmosphere, there was no place he would have rather been at that moment than with her. But he sensed that she wanted him to leave, for she did not meet his gaze, so finally he rose, thanked her for the tea, and headed for the door.

    His hand closed around the door knob, and he felt a pair of arms close around him. "May," he murmured and turned around. She wrapped her arms around his massive shoulders and held him close. She said nothing, but 0 felt something damp trickle onto the right side of his chest. She was crying. Hesitantly, he took her into his arms and rested his cheek against the top of her head. "What's wrong?"

    "I was never alone," she whispered, refusing to dislodge herself from the protective embrace of her protector. "I had Sarah, Max, Brock…I had Drew and Dawn. I had Mom and Dad." She looked up into his face her eyes damp. "You were the one with no one. All you had was Pikachu and Serena…I should have-"

    She sniffled, it was hard for her to speak. "I don't want you to be alone anymore. I don't want you to think you're ever going to be alone. You have me, and Sarah, and everyone. Even with all that's happened, we can be a family again!"

    0's heart skipped a beat. "May…"

    "Never leave me alone again," she whispered.

    "I won't."

    "Promise me."

    "I promise."

    May was still unsure. "You mean it?"

    0 smiled, and said, "May, losing you was the worst mistake I ever made. And I try not to make mistakes a second time." Then, he bent down and kissed her.

    Electricity shot through both their bodies, and old memories returned to the surface. May lifted herself onto her tiptoes and kissed 0 back with such force that even the Golden Ranger feared her ferocity. She pinned him against the wall and they both sank to the ground.

    0's thought processes were destroyed a moment later, obliterated by his wanton need for her. He pressed his hands into her back, pushing on pressure points on her spine with his fingers. Her body melted into his, with each point pressed triggering a rush of physical desire from May. She needed him.

    "Don't go…" she whispered, when they finally broke the kiss. "I don't want to be alone tonight."

    "May." The both of them were very red in the face, but despite that May stood up, and led 0 towards her bed. She climbed in,and 0 followed. She got on top of the Golden Ranger, and they resumed their kiss. Suddenly, 0 broke the kiss, and May looked down on him, concerned.

    "What is it?" she asked. "What's wrong?"

    "Nothing, just-" A voice inside his head was telling him to stop, for reasons he could not discern. An instant later, there was a knock on the door.

    May groaned and got up, obviously intending on getting rid of whoever was on the other side. As she turned the knob, the door exploded open and Sarah charged into the room, followed by a rather sheepish Max, who was scratching the back of his head and suppressing the urge to laugh.

    "Daddy!" shouted Sarah, as 0 readjusted himself to face his daughter.

    "What's up, kiddo?" 0 asked, now realizing what his internal alarm system had been trying to tell him. He picked up his daughter, as she was gesturing at him with her arms raised, and patted her on the head. May felt a slight twinge of jealousy well up in her brain.

    "Daddy, I heard that you almost lost a fight today," she said, apparently quite concerned. "Is that true?"

    0's mind drifted for a moment and then he grinned. "Tell me, Sarah, what person told you this horrible lie?" he asked.

    She smiled. "Uncle Max!" she exclaimed happily.

    0 turned very slowly, and glared at Max. "Is that right?" he wondered. "Why don't you reward Uncle Max by playing with his hair? You know, he really likes that."

    "Really?" Sarah's eyes lit up and she leapt for Max, who took off running down the corridor screaming. Both May and 0 looked at each other and together burst out into fits of laughter.

    "That's your daughter," May managed to gasp out, clutching her side.

    0 nodded, chuckling. "Yes, yes she is," he agreed. That didn't make the situation any less funnier though. Despite the fact that Sarah had ruined an evening which would have probably led somewhere, 0 found himself quite content with how everything had turned out.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  15. #40
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    Default Chapter 22

    Morph Twenty-Two: A Ranger's Legacy

    "Why do I have to do this?"

    Bakaguru glanced up from his paperwork, wondering why the Golden Ranger wanted him to repeat himself. He sighed and straightened his glasses. "Because, 0, we have begun taking applications for the three new slots on the Ranger team. We have to choose the new Blue, White, and Black Rangers somehow. 415 made it known to me that she does not have a Pokemon, so I thought it would be a good idea for you to take her out to try and catch one together. Good team bonding experience and whatnot."

    Standing next to 0 was 415, who apparently had the same thinking as 0. "Really, this is unnecessary," she said, her hands folded over her waist. "I am perfectly capable of capturing my own Pokemon. I do not require Agent 0's assistance for that."

    Bakaguru smirked. "415, do you understand the first thing about Pokemon?" He turned to 0 and chuckled. "You are standing next to the perfect person to help you. Not only can he speak the Pokemon languages, he is also a seasoned trainer. He is the perfect teacher to instruct you in obtaining and raising a Pokemon for the ranger camp."

    "Ranger camp?" 0 asked.

    "Oh yes, apparently the three new slots have been so exciting to the masses that there have been over a hundred applicants to become PKM Rangers. Serena has been assigned there, as have you, to instruct the camp and help select the three new Rangers. Logan will be there as well, he'll be beginning his duties when Karin wakes up." Ever since their last fight, the Pink Ranger had been in a small coma while her wounds were being treated. "Karin will be assigned to assist Logan, though she won't be teaching herself."

    "Why are we picking the rangers?" 0 asked.

    "Because I requested it," Bakaguru explained. "Council has agreed that it would be best to allow you rangers to pick the best for the job, since you know who would qualify most."

    0 nodded. "Does that mean that 3's coming back as the White Ranger?"

    "That," Bakaguru muttered, "has yet to be decided. I suggest not fighting too hard for that and to let me handle it. I am trying my best to reach a compromise to the Council. But, we are drifting off topic! Today you will go capture a Pokemon with 0, 415, and that is the end of the matter. Head to a Poke Spot, I want you to go today because I read the reports that there were more Pokemon than usual."

    Reluctantly, 415 got up and 0 followed her out of Bakaguru's lab. Neither spoke until they reached the vehicle that Bakaguru had prepared for them, a hover bike. 0 got on, as did 415, though unlike his pleasant bike ride with May, the intelligence officer thought it was a good idea to dig her nails into the Golden Ranger's flesh. Ignoring the urge to simply kick her off the bike, he turned it on and revved the engine.

    "Could you please just go?" 415 asked. "This is an uncomfortable place to sit."

    "Why 415," murmured 0, as he started driving, "from you, that's almost flirting!" He was rewarded by further digging into his flesh, and winced. Briefly, he wondered if he could shock her again like he had the Snagem guy, but thought it was a bad idea to try.

    The Poke Spot, located miles away from the PKM base, was a small oasis, and required somewhat of a long ride to get to. Neither 0 nor 415 spoke on the way there, so the trip was rather uneventful besides avoiding a slight sandstorm. Eventually, however, they arrived at the oasis and dismounted from the vehicle. 0 converted the bike into a capsule once again and got out both his Poke Balls.

    "415, do you have any Pokemon at all?" he asked.

    "No," she replied curtly. "We are here because of that."

    He sighed and released Lu and Tork from their respective Poke Balls. "Well, at least I brought my two in case," he muttered to himself, then turned to his Pokemon. "Okay, today we're going to help 415 catch a Pokemon." He decided against speaking in Lu and Tork's languages for 415's benefit. Both Pokemon nodded, Tork eager to help and Lu eager for battle.

    "Okay, so, 415, what kind of Pokemon do you want?" 0 asked.

    "Does it matter?" she wondered, looking at the two Pokemon before her. "Anything, really. One with enough power to get me through ranger camp."

    0 was dumbfounded. "415, do you know the first thing about Pokemon?"

    She shook her head. "They are tools to further what I want," she explained. "It is as simple as that." Lu growled at her. She lowered her cold gaze onto the Aura Pokemon and it backed up slightly.

    "Then I can't help you," 0 said and got his two Poke Balls back out. "Lu, Tork, return." Both Pokemon turned into bright red light and vanished back into their Poke Balls.

    415 glared at 0. "Why not?"

    "Because Pokemon aren't tools."

    He reached for his hover bike capsule, only to be stopped by the intelligence officer. She grabbed him by the arm and squeezed. "We are not leaving without my Pokemon," she decided. "Understood?"

    0 shook his head. "I'm not going to give you a Pokemon, not with that sort of attitude." She only responded by tightening her grip, which accidentally caused 0 to discharge a small dose of electricity in defense.

    "You okay?" 0 asked, clearly unconcerned.

    "What did you do?"

    "Shocked you." 0 glanced at his arm, as if in wonder. "It's just a little static."

    She recovered. "We are still not leaving without the Pokemon."

    "Why?"

    415 was stunned, she was not accustomed to being defied in this manner by anyone. "What do you mean 'Why?' We will because I said so."

    "No, that's not what I mean," 0 replied. "You're so obsessed with being a PKM Ranger and everything, why won't you bother to see that the Pokemon you'll be with is a partner, not a tool? Why do you want to be a PKM Ranger, 415? Honestly."

    415's hands clenched into fists. "The reason is none of your business."

    0 remained stoic. He wanted to know. "Tell me, 415. That is an order. I won't help you if I can't even trust you as a potential Ranger."

    "We're supposed to protect humans!" 415 exclaimed. "Pokemon have nothing to do with it!"

    "We are supposed to protect this planet," 0 reminded her. "Pokemon and humans alike. Why else do you think that a Ranger's strength comes from the bond between agent and Pokemon?"

    415's lip curled.

    "Tell me," 0 ordered again, towering over her.

    "Fine," 415 spat out. "I want to be a Ranger because I love someone. Someone who would have noticed me if I was one. There, are you satisfied?"

    0 found it difficult to speak. The fact that 415 was capable of an emotion, especially one like love, was something he was slightly unprepared for. "W-Who is it?" he asked.

    "The Golden Ranger."

    0 fell over. "M-Me?"

    "No, you complete idiot. Why would I ever love something like you? You are fragmented, stupid, completely incapable of anything remotely related to competence, and you are utterly without merit. I love the original Golden Ranger, someone whom you could never measure up to."

    0 was confused. "Wait, you're in love with a dead man?"

    415 lowered her head. "Yes," she replied. "He was the one who rescued me. I have loved him ever since."

    "He rescued you?" 0 had to sit down, this was really all too much.

    415 nodded and sat down opposite him. "When I was a child, our town was attacked. Out of nowhere this paladin came in, with eyes that sparkled like gold, and rescued our town. My parents were killed, so the paladin took me away and brought me to PKM. But no matter what I did, he always saw me as a child who needed rescuing. I always wanted to fight with him."

    The Golden Ranger didn't know what to think of that. To him, the old 0 had always seemed like such a horrible person, the man responsible for taking away everything he knew and loved. "It looks like he was the opposite with you," he muttered. "0 was someone who took things to me, but he gave to you."

    "And now he's dead. Because of you and your family. And I hate you all for that. Even if May Birch is my assignment and I must keep her alive, I hate her for being the reason he had to die. And I hate you, for being the failure that cannot properly carry on his legacy."

    Something flashed inside 0's head. "415...I remember you once told me that you hated me because I reminded you of him. What did that mean?"

    "What?" she snapped.

    "How do I remind you of him?"

    She rubbed her head. "There is something in your stance that reminds me of him. When you fight, I mean. You are, as you have said before, the dark warrior. So was he. You have more in common with him than I think you will ever care to admit. And the fact that you refuse to acknowledge that his legacy gives you strength makes you a failure and a hypocrite."

    "I wear his mask. That doesn't make me him."

    "You wore it once, I was watching."

    "That was before…"

    "Tell me about it," she requested. "His mask. How did it feel?"

    So he told her.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    …Five Years Ago…

    The streets of Petalburg are certainly different than what I'm used to.

    I come from Pallet, which means I'm more or less used to a rural area. In Pallet some of the streets are dirt, and the people are quieter. It's different in the city, where the traffic blares and invades the ears, where crime is pretty big, and the whole place smells funny. The air is definitely fresher in the country, so that's where my wife and I decided to raise our family. When she became pregnant, we both decided that our child would live somewhere safe and happy, until it was time for her to begin her Pokemon journey.

    But my wife was always a city girl in her heart, so I would occasionally visit her family in Petalburg. Normally we would go by plane, which is another thing I'm a little uncomfortable with. I guess after so many years spent traveling on my feet I kind of developed an aversion to other transport. Still, we had the baby, and we were taking her to see her grandparents on her first visit outside of Kanto. We couldn't exactly take her on a giant trek across the world, now could we?

    We arrived in Petalburg a few days into March, my wife always preferred to travel in the late spring, before tourist season. Her father met us at the airport and her brother drove the four of us back to the Petalburg gym. It was uneventful, despite the fact that my daughter kept screaming with delight at being able to see her grandfather and uncle. They didn't visit often, which was another reason my wife wanted to bring our daughter to Hoenn. I think she misses the city.

    My brother-in-law and I unloaded the car, while my wife and daughter went into the house with her dad to see her mom.

    "Haven't seen you in a while," he said and I remember he had such a grin on his face as he closed the car doors.

    I shrugged and picked up my share of the luggage. "I don't really need to leave Kanto too often," I explained. "Once you're famous like I am, you really learn to hate traveling. We almost got mobbed at the airport, nearly missed our flight too."

    He laughed. "Well, maybe you should start doing worse in Pokemon championships," he suggested and led the way into the gym.

    "That'd be great," I said, opening the door, "except that it's the only way I know to put food on the table!" Again we shared a laugh, and I followed him through the house to the guest room where we deposited the luggage. I noticed a crib in the corner.

    My brother-in-law grinned. "My mom and dad really like babies. Plus, we haven't seen your daughter in a while, they've been really excited about seeing their granddaughter. Now, where's that niece of mine?" A shriek of laughter issued from downstairs and I grinned.

    "Probably in that direction," I said, so we went down, where I found my daughter with a vice grip on my father-in-law's hair. My daughter's got this laugh, I can't really describe it in a way that does it justice. Let's just say that you really don't mind that you're hair's being torn out from the roots until after she's quiet. My brother-in-law stepped in, only to receive the vice grip himself! My wife and I just watched, tired from the plane ride.

    Finally my Pikachu did something about it, leaping up and cuddling with my daughter. She just loves that Pokemon, maybe even more than I do, but she hadn't quite figured out the right way to handle an electric Pokemon. But Pi was a good friend, and it always tolerated whatever she dished out. Surprisingly though, she was always gentle with Pi. She would stroke its fur, sometimes making a bit too much static electricity, she'd pat its head, the works. I think Pi liked looking after her.

    After dinner we retired for the day. Contrary to most celebrities, my wife and I normally went to bed early, so that our daughter wouldn't worry too much. I remember holding my wife in my arms for the last time before I joined PKM. She smelt of strawberries.

    The next day, I took my family out for some lunch. Though my mother-in-law insisted on cooking for us, my wife wanted to show me this great place she had read about in some magazine. We put our daughter in her stroller, Pi jumped in to keep her company, and all four of us headed out into the city, me pushing the stroller, and her arm entwined with mine. It was, for lack of a better word, perfect.

    We decided to walk, so it took us some time to get to the restaurant. The place was a little hole in the wall a mile down the street and a few blocks over, with vines growing around the edges of the window. It looked like just the kind of place my wife loved. Try as I might, I can't remember the name of the restaurant, though they served some pretty good Johto grub.

    Our waitress was a young girl, maybe ten years younger than me, with strawberry blond hair and a really bright smile. She noticed us as we walked in and, thankfully, didn't squeal. I don't think she recognized us at first, because she just looked us over, tilted her head, and politely showed us to a table in the corner of the room. We got our daughter out, she squirmed a little at being moved, and put her in a high chair. Pi jumped up next to her and played with her while my wife and I ordered our food. After taking our orders, the waitress assured us that she would be back with our tea in a few minutes, bowed, and left.

    "So, what's up for the rest of the day?" I asked, keeping an eye on my daughter and Pi. The Pikachu was smiling, despite the fact that its chair mate was probably applying too much pressure when petting its back.

    My wife shrugged. "I guess we could go check out a museum. Really, I'm just glad to be back home for a little bit. Mom's really been wanting to see Sarah so badly, and they hate traveling between regions."

    "I understand," I sympathized. "I hate it too." I glanced at our daughter, who was busy trying to figure out the fastest way out of the secure high chair. "At least Sarah doesn't seem to mind it. She'll do great when she's out traveling."

    "About that," my wife said, "when exactly are we going to let her go?"

    "What do you mean?" I asked. "We'll obviously let her go when she's ten. That's when we started."

    "Yes, but look at who her parents are," she pointed out. "Paparazzi will swarm her if we let her go out into the world too quickly. Maybe it would be a better idea to hold her back until she matures."

    "Hmmm…I can't say I thought of that," I answered. Before I replied, though, the waitress came back with our tea.

    "Here ya go!" she said perkily and set both cups down. "Have you decided what you were going to have for lunch today?"

    We had, so we ordered, and the waitress bowed and left again. My wife and I returned to the conversation at hand.

    "So, what you're saying is that we should let her wait until she's twelve or something?" I asked. "That seems a little late to start training Pokemon."

    "I was actually thinking something more along the lines of fourteen or fifteen," she replied. I practically spit out my tea.

    "May, that's much too late!" I protested. "Kids have to start early, otherwise they get dragged in the dust in the trainer world."

    My wife grinned. "What makes you think she'll be a trainer?" she wondered. "She could be a coordinator like her mommy." She turned to her daughter, and patted her black hair. "Sarah, do you want to be a coordinator like Mommy?" My daughter nodded her head, though I knew that she didn't know what nodding meant, only that it was fun to do.

    "Oh boy…" I murmured and sipped my tea, not knowing that two minutes later, my life would change forever.

    Exactly one hundred and twenty seconds later, it happened. My wife was helping my daughter stay in the high chair, because she never did like to stay in one place for too long, even before she learned to walk. I didn't even hear the first explosion, I just remember some kind of force happening, and the next moment I was thrown to the ground. Dazed, I struggled back to my feet, and ran to my wife and daughter. My wife was unconscious, my daughter was screaming.

    "May!" I shouted, grabbing her. The restaurant was in chaos, people were running everywhere. She didn't respond. I got my daughter out of the chair and tucked her under what was left of the table.

    "Hang on, Sarah," I whispered and hugged her. "Daddy needs to take care of Mommy really quick."

    I reached for my Poke Balls and released two. Z and Ty exploded from the balls. "Ty, clear a path!" I ordered. "Z, take May and Sarah out of here!" The Charizard nodded and took both my wife and daughter into its arms. My Typhlosion screeched, blasting through a nearby wall to help Z get out. I followed. Once we were outside, we saw the source of the problem.

    Rockets. Once just a nuisance to deal with once a week, now they were just getting out of hand. "Z, get them to a hospital. Ty, you're with me." Both Pokemon nodded and the Charizard took off in one sweep. Ty followed me, its giant body comforting. I readied another Poke Ball just in case.

    There was a troupe of about ten or twenty of them, all carrying rifles. In the center, commanding them, was a giant robot, the kind that Jessie and James used to use, only much more advanced. "They've got guns," I muttered to Ty. "This could get dangerous."

    Ty growled, it didn't care, too loyal to stand down. I nodded.

    "Then let's do this! Ty, Fire Blast!"

    The Rockets swerved, too slow to notice the Typhlosion and ran in fear as the powerful blast struck. The mecha, however, was less than concerned, and its operator shielded the troupe from the attack. Ty increased its power output, driving back the machine from the surrounding crowd.

    I looked around and saw a Rocket readying its gun. "Ty, return!" I ordered, just as a bullet issued. The Pokemon vanished, the bullet passing through thin air and slamming into a nearby building. I breathed a sigh of relief, but now I and everyone else was in trouble.

    "Get out of our way!" shouted the robot's operator, a woman's screeching voice. She raised her mecha's leg and smashed against the ground, breaking open the road.

    I got out of the way, getting their attention. But without a Pokemon, I was useless, more than useless! But I was something to distract them, before they started shooting at the crowd.

    That's when he showed up.

    I don't think anyone even saw him actually enter the battlefield, he was just suddenly there. The Rockets were taken down as quickly as he could reach them, I couldn't see him, he was too fast! Even the mecha was too slow, and he engaged it in battle. That's when I saw him, really saw him, for the first time.

    The ranger gear that I wear is about a half-generation ahead of the old one, so the design was a little bit different. For starters, there was a lot more gold on the top half of his uniform, his arms were covered in glowing gold along with the chest. His helmet was the same, mostly black with a gold upside-down triangle. The armor was a lot more bulky too, it was before they streamlined the material the new suits are designed out of. He was seven feet tall, the suit added so much weight and height… He looked like a giant savior.

    "Everyone stand back," the man ordered, broadcasting his voice through the suit. "The situation is being handled, please get back and leave the area. I repeat, leave the area."

    But, because people are stupid, nobody left, myself included. We all wanted to see him in action, because everyone needs to see a fight every now and then.

    The man I now know was the Golden Ranger kept fighting, because that was all he seemed to be able to do. But I saw between his moves, he was doing the same thing that I had been doing: buying enough time for real power to get there and rescue everyone. It was too bad that at that point he was so old that even his strength wasn't enough anymore.

    Sooner or later, his age got the best of him, and the mecha operator took advantage of that and smashed him across the face. He faltered, the weight of his suit was almost too much, but he stayed on his feet. Not for long though, because before he had a chance to fight back the mecha swept down and smashed him in the chest, throwing him in the direction of a nearby wall. Then, when she was done, she picked him up, and the strength of the mecha allowed her to toss him in the direction of a nearby parking garage.

    He smashed through the wall of the second floor. Without even thinking, without any hesitation, I tore after him, ignoring the bullets that sprayed at me.

    "Leave that fool!" shouted the commander, turning her attention to the crowd. "We have Pokemon to get!"

    I ran through the garage, it was empty for some reason. I saw him land on the second floor, so that's where I headed. When I reached it, I saw him, dragging his heels towards me, trying to get back into combat. I stopped him.

    "Who are you?" I asked.

    The man didn't seem to notice me, he just kept moving, sluggishly dragging himself through the lot. He didn't reach me though, he dropped to his knees before that. I guess the armor's weight got the better of him for a moment, because he got back up again and kept going. His breathing was erratic, he couldn't really move properly. He just kept going, like a zombie almost.

    Finally, however, his strength gave way and he almost dropped to the ground.

    I grabbed him, just before he hit the ground. He weighed a ton, so it was really hard to keep him up before he started helping me. Finally, though, he was standing back on his feet, and dragged himself through the parking garage. I could tell the pain was almost unbearable for him, his ragged gasps kept escaping from his armor in mechanized groans.

    "Where are you going?" I asked. "You're too hurt to do anything."

    The man inside the armor laughed. "There is no one else," he said, and tried to shove me out of the way. He was too hurt though, and fell down.

    Then, I made the decision that changed my life forever. "I'll do it," I replied and held out my hand. "Give me that armor. I'll fight for you."

    He disagreed, but he couldn't get up. The armor was much too bulky, and its parts were too heavy, so he remained on the ground. "Tell me, boy," he muttered, "why do you want to help me? If I lend you this armor, it will mean that your life will change forever. Do you want that?"

    I was hesitant to reply, but my resolve was strong. "If I don't, people are going to get hurt." He looked up at me and I stared at him. I think he saw something in me then, because he relented. A brilliant light issued from his body, and steam flooded the garage, but the armor vanished, leaving nothing but an old man lying on the floor.

    I stooped down to help him and propped the old man against a nearby wall. It was before he started those experiments, he looked like a man who was so tired of everything. His hair was black and dusty, most of it unkempt. But his eyes, I remember those so clearly. They were bright gold, and seemed to glow in the darkness of the garage. On his left wrist was this massive machine, it looked like an oversized wris****ch. He undid the strap that bound it to him and slowly handed it to me. I took it, and realized that his hand was made of metal.

    "There is precious little time, boy," the man instructed, as I strapped the machine to my wrist as he had, only I stuck it on my right arm instead of the left. "The device you are wearing will generate the armor I wear, but there is a limit to its power. A time out, if you will, depending on your own strength. It is called a morpher. I have loaded it with a Pokemon that will allow you to access the armor. It will be weak, because it is my Pokemon and you do not have the necessary bond to it, but it will serve you until you run out of power." He stopped, coughing, then continued. "Return it to me."

    I nodded. "I will." Then, I looked over the morpher. "How do I turn it on?"

    "The activation code is thus: Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power. Press the red button, and go."

    I was nervous, unsure in that last moment of what I needed to do. But finally I suppressed my own fear and pressed the red button on the side of the device.

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    It's something I've never forgotten, the first time I donned that mask. The armor emerged like holographs around me, before they turned solid and began attaching themselves onto me. First, the parts on my arms attached, I kept hearing all of these clinks and gears scraping into place, then the legs, and finally the chest armor emerged. The helmet appeared last, but once it came the suit came online and the screen opened up, displaying the outside world.

    I took a breath, the armor had its own supply of oxygen. I took a step forward, my leg weighed a ton! The man looked up at me, with a strange sense of satisfaction. "I thought so," he said.

    "What?"

    "Somehow, you are bonded to my Pokemon," the man said. I looked down to my chest, there was a blazing emblem of a dark Flying Pokemon surrounded by gold. "Very few people can be. It trusts few." He smirked and nodded. "It will work with you without question. Now go, I sense that you have precious time to save those you want to save."

    I nodded and started to turn away, but then I glanced back at him. "Who are you, old man?" I asked.

    He chuckled. "It's a little late for introductions, don't you think?" he wondered, but as an afterthought, said, "0. That's what they call me. Just 0."

    "Okay, 0," I said, and started moving. "I won't let you down!"

    I took off running, though it wasn't so much of a run as it was a fast jog. I lumbered out of the garage like a tank and turned back to where the fighting was still going on. When they saw me coming, they didn't stop shooting until I took one of them and punched them right into the nearest wall. Then they stopped.

    "What are you doing back?" asked the lead Rocket, her voice filled with distain. "We already dealt with you."

    "Oh, it takes more than a little scrappy fighting to stop this friendly neighborhood Power Ranger," I replied jokingly. My voice sounded different when it was broadcasted, it sounded just like 0! "Who's up for round two?" The lead Rocket turned her mecha in my direction, eager to put me down.

    I sprang into action. The armor was beginning to feel lighter, so I grabbed the Rocket mecha's foot and twisted it, sending the whole machine crashing down to the ground. The grunts wasted no time and opened fire on me. I groaned as each bullet bounced off me, each one felt like getting hit with a hammer. But, thanks to the armor, I was able to endure it and charge into the group. Somehow my mind told me where the punch, and how to fight. I think it was because I was in the moment, but it might have also been 0's Pokemon. It never spoke, but I understood it. It wanted me to fight, and it wanted me to win.

    So I did. While the mecha worked to destabilize itself, I jumped into the fray with the grunts. Bodies went flying, most of them smashing into nearby building walls or the street. One even flew down a pothole! "Come on!" I shouted, as I punched one grunt across the street. "Get some!"

    I felt invincible, like nothing could stop me. I was wrong though, because I'd forgotten about the mecha in my fighting 'high'. All I remember is that one minute I was standing and taunting, and the next I was halfway down the block with a throbbing head and groaning. The entire left side of my face was numb. I turned around, incredibly angry, and saw that the Rocket mecha was back up on its feet and the remaining grunts who could see straight were picking up their rifles and coming after me. Hands clenched into fists, I stood up to face them.

    At this point I didn't know how long I had left, 0 had said something about the suit needing to time out at some point, but I wasn't sure when that was going to happen. So I wasted no time, and smashed through the grunts to get to the massive machine. She swept her giant arms down, trying to swat me away. I dodged. She was twice my size, so I had the advantage with speed! I slammed into her leg, attempting to drive her back.

    She laughed. "What's this?" she asked, pausing to try to shake me off. "A little bug's got on my armor! I'd better smack you off!" She hit me with her fist, I heard my back scream in pain, but I held on tight. As long as I kept my grip, she couldn't get to the people in the crowds watching us.

    Then I started to work my way up the mecha, digging into the metal with the heavy armor covering my hands. Her attempts to get me off started getting erratic, she didn't know what to do about it. Eventually, though, I reached the chest cavity I knew she was hiding in.

    "Oh crap," she whispered, as I smashed through the mecha's vulnerable hull and dragged her out. She was small and tiny, with blond hair. I think I recognized her from somewhere, since there was an incredible feeling of déjà vu, but I didn't dwell on it for too long before I tossed her to the street and tilted myself so that the mecha landed on its butt. After I smashed up the controls to make sure that no one could operate it again, I turned to the rest of the grunts, all of whom looked like they were about to soil themselves.

    "Want to surrender?" I asked pleasantly. The response was unanimous, all of them dropped their guns and raised up their hands. I lined them up against the wall, like I'd seen on TV, and the rest is history.

    PKM showed up a few minutes later in full force, taking all of the Rockets and me into custody. Once we were in the van, I noticed that the old man was standing there, holding out his hand impatiently.

    "Demorph and give me my morpher back," he requested, with a tone that I guess was supposed to be threatening, but when you're wearing a suit of armor sounds more like a bully half your size asking for your lunch money.

    I looked at the morpher strapped to my arm. "How?" I asked.

    "Press the red button again," he instructed. "The morpher's about to time out anyway."

    I did as he requested, and an eruption of steam escaped all of the armor's joints, filling the van with a cloud of hot foggy air. My armor started to glow, and one by one pieces of it vanished until it was just me standing there. I took off the giant morpher and handed it back to 0, who reattached it.

    He then held out his hand. "Good work, boy," he said, and shook my hand.

    I glanced around, most of the Rockets were recovering from their steam bath. "So, what happens now?" I asked. "Mind dropping me off at the Petalburg Gym? My wife and kid are probably a little worried about where I am right now."

    "Unfortunately, we cannot," replied 0 and offered me a seat next to him. I took it. "You see, I did not want to give you the morpher, but now that you've used it, we cannot release you."

    "What? I need to get back to my family!" I was furious, I had just saved a crowd of people, and now I was going to get stuck in prison with the Rockets? No way!

    0 held up his hand, cool as a cucumber. "Please, do not assume that you cannot go back," he said. "There is a choice to be made here, one that could allow you to return to your family."

    I was listening.

    "I am a member of PKM," explained the man, "an elite organization that fights terrorism through the world. I am the Golden Ranger, and it is my job to lead the best of the best, our PKM Rangers, into battle."

    I remembered hearing something about what he was talking about. "I think I heard about you once on the news," I said. He nodded.

    "While we do not officially acknowledge our own existence, we are known. Anyway, I would like to offer you the opportunity to join us on a part-time basis. Since we cannot let you leave, it would be best if you became an agent with us." He paused and gave me time to sink that information in. "You handled the Ranger System well, better than most. Maybe you could become one, with time and proper training."

    Me? Become a Ranger? He must have been mistaken, I thought. "What's the other option?" I asked.

    "My organization will detain you for an indefinite period, as you have had access to classified technology," 0 explained, very business-like. "You will be allowed no contact with the outside world, as per our Council's rules. Understand?"

    I nodded, taking a deep breath. "So, I should join?"

    "I think that would be wise. You seem like a good person, who wishes for a challenge. This would be the perfect opportunity to employ your talents."

    "My…talents?"

    "I witnessed your battle. While your fighting is sloppy, you seem to have a somewhat instinctive knowledge of combat. Are you a Pokemon trainer?"

    I nodded and displayed the Poke Balls on my belt. "Yes, but these aren't all of them. My Pikachu is back with my family."

    0 nodded and folded his arms. "We will inform your family that you were injured and rushed to a hospital, which is true, since we need to check if you have a concussion. While there, you will be briefed on your new life and the adjustments you will have to make. You will then be taken to a nearby hospital and placed there to await your family. Is that understood?"

    I nodded again. "I suppose so."

    "Oh, there is one more condition," 0 said, and crossed his legs.

    "What?"

    "While we are known to the public, our identities are kept confidential," 0 explained. "As such, you will be unable to tell your family the truth about your new job. Ever. We take the secrecy of our members very seriously, as we are the hunters of terrorists after all. We will assist you in providing covers for missions, but that will be all. Your identity as an agent will have to be maintained. It is not only for our protection, but yours and your family's as well."

    "Is this sort of thing normal?"

    "No. We do not ordinarily accept people who are tied to outside members of PKM. However, exceptions have been made in the past, and they can be made again for special agents who deserve them." He looked me over with those eerie golden eyes and smiled. "You might be one of those special agents."

    And just like that, I was in PKM.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    0 finished his story, and lowered his head. "I'm sorry it's not a really exciting story, 415," he said. "One day I was an average guy, the next I'm an agent. Being a ranger is something I never really thought I'd ever be, that's just what happened." He pulled out his Poke Balls and looked them over. "In my heart, I'm still that trainer from Pallet." He smiled, that brought back some happy memories.

    "You are a very simple person, are you not?" 415 asked, taking a drag of her cigarette. 0 had made her sit downwind, so he wouldn't have to smell it. "It makes sense."

    "Why do you want to be a ranger, 415? Is it really because you want to show me up?" 0 asked.

    415 paused, staring out into the vast desert beyond the oasis. "To me, being a ranger means being like 0, being a person who protects and guards. Being someone who people look up to, who they can see. If I become a ranger, maybe I will become that person that he saw in me. Maybe others will see me like that."

    "Do you think that you can become a trainer first, and a ranger second?" asked the Golden Ranger. "That's what makes a good ranger. You have to learn to care about others and your Pokemon, otherwise being a person's savior is kind of empty, right?"

    "I suppose, in your incredibly thick way, that you have a point," 415 admitted. "But how do you know that I am not lying to you in order to get a Pokemon?"

    He shrugged. "I just know how to feel people, 415," he said. "I can tell you're a good person, even if no one sees it. That's why you love him, because you idolized the savior that 0 was to you. You wanted to be like that. And one day, you will be." He stood up, his face tense.

    "What is it?" 415 asked.

    He sniffed the air. "Pokemon," he said curtly and released Lu and Tork. "We need to hide, catching Pokemon at Poke Spots is tough enough… Orre Pokemon are really brutal because of the environment they live in." He ducked behind a rock and 415 followed him with the Pokemon. From there, they saw what had come to drink from the oasis.

    The Pokemon looked like a blue and black lion, with two gold rings around its two front legs. "Luxio," 0 breathed, while 415 analyzed the Pokemon. The dark spots on its hind legs were short, indicating it was a female. "Will that one do?"

    415 nodded. "It will be suitable," she decided, so 0 handed her a Poke Ball and told her to get ready for the fight. Lu got ready to fight first, as Tork was rather hesitant about battling a wild Pokemon for someone else's capture. When 0 gave the signal, he, Lu, and 415 sprang out from behind the rock.

    "Lu, Aura Sphere!"

    "Cario!" The Pokemon generated the Aura quickly and blasted it at the Luxio. It reacted quickly, rather angry at being disturbed so rudely, and dodged. It responded by growled, then releasing a stream of electricity that coursed through the Lucario's body. Lu faltered, but recovered itself a moment later and punched its paws together, indicating it was ready for another round.

    0 was happy to oblige. "Force Palm!" he ordered. Lu charged up more Aura, and unleashed it, sending the Luxio flying back.

    "Do I catch it now?" 415 asked, readying her Poke Ball.

    0 shook his head. "This one's really tough, it's probably a high level, and my Lucario just evolved," he explained. "Lu, blast it with another Aura Sphere! Keep wearing it down!" Lu growled, and unleashed sphere after sphere. But its level was too low, the Luxio kept dodging and shocking the dog Pokemon. Finally, it had enough, and dove towards Lu, sinking its fangs in and delivering a course of electricity into the Lucario's body. Lu shivered, and passed out. 0 recalled it.

    "Tork, go!" 0 ordered. The giant turtle blasted steam from its nostrils and back before lumbering into battle. "Flamethrower!" It took a deep breath, then blasted at the Luxio, covering its proximity in fire. It still dodged, much too fast to be hit by the slow and steady Torkoal. 0 groaned as another bolt of electricity shot out and struck the turtle, causing it to cease its flame barrage.

    "Why is it winning?" 415 shouted.

    "Because it's a speedy Pokemon at a high level," 0 retorted, as if instructing a child. "Tork, use Heat Wave! Blast the battlefield!"

    The turtle nodded, and drew in the power of the nearby sunlight. The Orre sun, so powerful, charged it, and it unleashed a deadly strike. Finally, the Luxio faltered, unable to dodge the attack, and fell to the ground. 0 grinned, the battle was finally turning in his favor.

    "415, get ready with that Poke Ball! Use it when I give the order!"

    Luxio had enough. It screamed a mighty Roar, then its entire body began glowing.

    "Oh no," 0 muttered.

    "What is it?" 415 demanded to know.

    He glanced towards her, and sighed. "You really, really don't want to know," he replied, before he turned back to the fight. The glowing Pokemon grew, and finally transformed into a Luxray. The Luxray, upon its evolution, snarled at Tork and 0, then blasted the turtle with enough electricity to power a city block. Tork groaned, then passed out. 0 recalled him, now out of Pokemon and with an angry Luxray ready to attack.

    It charged up its lightning, focusing on 415 first. She panicked, unsure of what to do. 0 cursed, and felt the tingle of electricity flow through his body. "Get down, 415!" he shouted and rushed towards the Pokemon. It snarled at him and focused its attack in his direction.

    "What are you doing?" screamed 415.

    "Something stupid!" he replied and transformed, again without having to trigger his morpher. The golden armor clamped into place, just in time to take the Luxray's Discharge attack. He groaned, working through the pain, and absorbed the electric attack. "Okay, here I go!" Operating on instinct alone, 0 placed his hands to the ground, and focused on all of the electricity surging through his body. His palms sparked, and the electricity went flowing back into the ground, ripping through the oasis floor towards the Luxray.

    It screamed as it was struck by the force of the torrential lightning, and collapsed to the ground barely breathing. 0 swerved to 415, who was hiding behind him and shouted, "Now, 415! The Poke Ball!"

    "R-Right!" she said and hurled the ball in the fallen Luxray's direction. It smacked into the Pokemon's side, opened up, and encased the beast in flashing red light. The Pokemon vanished and the Poke Ball tumbled down onto the ground, where it began shaking violently as the Pokemon endeavored the last of its strength to evade capture.

    Finally, the ball stopped shaking. The Luxray was caught.

    0 smiled as 415 walked up slowly, as if the Pokemon might pop up at any moment and attack her, and picked up the Poke Ball, cradling it between her fingers. Then, slowly, her lips crept up into a smile, and she turned back to 0.

    "You can…transform without evoking the morpher," she said, looking at his Ranger Form. He nodded. "Why?"

    He shrugged. "I don't know why," he replied. "I just know that when I want to help people, I can change without needing to shout a morphing call or pressing a button." He paused, as her smile had faded. "Is that a bad thing?"

    "I do not know," she answered. "But…I do remember that in the final days, before he fused with his morpher, 0 could do that too. Do not lose your humanity."

    "I won't," he promised.

    "And, thank you," she murmured, lowering her gaze to the emblem on his chest. "Thank you, 0, for this Pokemon." She cradled the Poke Ball close to her chest.

    He nodded, and demorphed. As the guise of the Golden Ranger faded away, he gave her a grin. "You'll do fine, 415. One day, I'm sure you'll make him proud."

    She nodded. "I know I will 0. Now, we should go home. I need to begin preparing myself and my Pokemon for Ranger camp." 0 agreed and opened the hover bike's capsule. They got on, and rode off.

    "Hey, 415?"

    "Yes?"

    "I think this is one of the first times you've ever called me 0."

    "What of it?"

    "Any particular reason to start now?"

    She paused. "There was something in your stance, and the way you fought, that reminded me of 0. You are slowly growing into your mantle." She hated repeating herself.

    "Thank you."

    "Shut up, 0."

    He laughed.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Somewhere in the desert, a man stumbled back into a building. Carrying his Poke Balls, surrounded by a henchmen crew of Rangerlings, he opened the door and collapsed inside.

    "Goza," whispered a voice in the dark.

    The man looked up, he recognized that voice. "Ame?" he asked.

    The voice in the dark giggled. "You have work to do, Goza. My employers insist."

    Goza groaned and the voice inside his head began getting louder.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  16. #41
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    Oct 2005
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    Default Chapter 23

    Morph Twenty-Three: Happy Birthday, Mr. Logan

    The clock was moving much too quickly.

    Dreas Logan glanced at it briefly, wondering what could be causing it to hurry like that, before returning his attention to the unconscious Karin. He hadn't moved in the past several days, ever since the big fight in Pyrite, except of course to eat, shower, and use the toiletries. Once, he got up in order to obtain a marker to write on his partner with, but decided that would be much more trouble than it was worth. The Red Ranger's eyes analyzed her body, there was still no change in her condition. Her body was breathing normally, he knew that from how her chest would occasionally move, almost like a tectonic shift in her otherwise still body. Her heart beat as well, he could see it patter every few moments.

    All in all, he was not happy the clock was moving so quickly.

    "Slow down," he muttered, as if his voice would actually make the clock do as he commanded. Unfortunately, it did not, and the clock continued to tick along its merry way. Logan sighed and lightly squeezed Karin's hand. He didn't know if he would ever get the chance again, and Karin was rarely unconscious when he was awake. She seemed to sense his movement each time he had tried to sneak up and grope her.

    Behind him, the door opened, he didn't need to look to see who it was. "Pull up a chair," he offered to the Golden Ranger, gesturing at the piece of furniture located at the opposite side of Karin's bed. "What brings you down here?"

    "I wanted to see how you were doing," 0 replied. "Has there been any change?"

    Logan shook his head. "Afraid not," he muttered. "They're not sure how long she's going to be like this either." His red eyes were heavy. "Now I know how you feel."

    "What?" 0 asked.

    He sighed. "There's just that little bit of me that really wishes that I had done something more to help her, that I shouldn't have left her by herself. Each time, something bad happens. She destroyed Serena's morpher because I wasn't allowed to stop her, and she got…hurt because I was fighting with you instead of her."

    "Logan, this wasn't your fault. Even if we are rangers, we're still only human."

    Logan nodded. "What are you down here for anyway?" he asked, focusing the conversation elsewhere. "Don't tell me it's because you wanted to see my pretty face."

    0 smirked. "Actually, I came here to give you this," he said and handed the Red Ranger what looked like a baseball cap. It was red and black with his number on it. "This one's for Karin." He tossed Logan a second one, which was pink and black with a 5 written on it.

    Logan looked up. "What are these for?"

    "Ranger camp is starting tomorrow," 0 explained. "I guess they want us in more casual clothing, since we're going to be getting pretty rough to weed out the three new rangers from the hundred applicants. The rest of your clothing has been placed in your room for tomorrow, I just wanted to give these to you two now."

    "Why?"

    "To cheer you up," he said. "You're not yourself when you're this serious, Logan. It is, in all honesty, exceedingly worrying."

    Logan chuckled and glanced towards the clock again. He was almost out of time. "I suppose you're right," he murmured. "Tell the guru I'll be there tomorrow, hopefully Karin will be too."

    0 nodded and stood up. Then, he glanced at the monitor. "Has there really been no change?" the Golden Ranger asked, peering at Karin's vitals.

    "No."

    "That's weird."

    Logan looked up. "What is?"

    "Logan, when was the last time you left the room?"

    He shrugged. "Maybe an hour ago. Nature sent me a text message."

    "The monitor's been tampered with," 0 said. "The cords and things have been rearranged. That's really weird. Well, I'll see you later." He waved, then abandoned the room, all but certain of what would take place in a few moments.

    Logan glanced over the monitor, sure enough, if he inspected it more carefully he could see the careful rewiring that had been done to make it seem as though Karin was unconscious. Her brain waves weren't showing any activity.

    "Oh no," he mumbled.

    It was then that Karin, who had only been faking her condition for the past day or so, got up, and twisted Logan's head into a half-nelson. The Red Ranger cringed, finding his ability to breathe somewhat limited. "K-Karin," he gasped, tapping her arm. "Let me go. I swear I wasn't doing anything bad. You know me, I admit when I do bad stuff."

    Karin didn't seem to be interested in what he had to say, forcing Logan to do something before he lost consciousness himself. He pulled himself up from where Karin had him trapped, dragging Karin and the machines she was attached to along with him. From there, he slammed his back against the wall, pinning her down. She was so shocked she loosened her grip. Logan, working against the clock, turned around and pinned her arms up, making sure she couldn't try that trick again.

    "Hey," he said, "is that any way to say hello to a guy who's been waiting for you to wake up patiently? I didn't even try anything, I was too worried."

    Karin's expression was odd, her lips were tight with irritation, as if she was somehow annoyed by the fact that he had spent so much time by her side. "I didn't even sleep, and you know how much I love sleep," he pointed out. She tried to kick him, but he saw it coming and easily got out of the way. "Oi…you're a handful. I have half a mind to make you apologize to me." He smirked. "Good thing I know better. Now come on, let's get you home if you're feeling so well."

    He released her from the wall and tossed her the cap that 0 had left her. "We've got ranger camp tomorrow, we should get some shuteye."

    He headed outside and was followed by his partner. They were stopped by the orderly.

    "Excuse me," he said. "She has not been processed. I do not think she should leave yet."

    Logan smiled. "Yeah…about that. Look, let's leave the paperwork for later. Trust me when I say that she really doesn't want to be here, and you don't want to keep her against her will. I'll stop by and fill out the paperwork tomorrow. Karin, let's go!" He side-stepped the orderly and was followed motion for motion by his partner. They ran from the hospital wing and didn't stop until they reached their room, fresh out of breath.

    Logan smiled and opened the door. "Welcome home, Karin," he said, as they stepped through. "Shall we spend the night together?"

    His statement was rewarded by being smacked upside the head. He groaned and rubbed the spot Karin had hit as they stepped inside their little home. "Well, at least it feels like home again," he said and laid down on the floor. "Come on, let's go to sleep. You and I have a rough day tomorrow, and I think we have to get up early too. I hate that!"

    Karin merely climbed into her bed and Logan shut off the lights.

    He could still hear the ticking, the dreaded countdown almost completed. He pulled out his cell phone, he had roughly five minutes left.

    Then, suddenly, there were only four minutes left.

    "Crud…" he groaned and rolled over on the floor. Maybe if he wished hard enough, the clock would start turning backwards.

    In the name of all that is holy, sacred, and delicious, please do not let me run out of time. You have no idea how terrible it's going to be, what will be unleashed, if my time runs out. She will destroy everything around us, and there will be nothing anyone can do to stop it.

    He looked at the clock again, he had less than two minutes left. He glanced up at Karin, already pretending to be asleep, he knew she wouldn't really until he went to bed. He sighed, wishing he had someone to talk to. Or, rather, someone to talk to who would talk back to him.

    "Hey, Karin," he muttered, he noticed her head tilt slightly to hear him better. "About tomorrow…just don't kill anyone. I know it's going to be hard, but just try not to hurt anyone."

    She returned her head to its original position.

    He returned his attention to his cell phone and watched the seconds tick by. He only had half a minute, then twenty seconds, then ten.

    So this is what it's like to know when Armageddon's coming.

    He watched the last ten seconds fade away, and cursed under his breath.

    "Well, today's gonna suck," he muttered, in what could be considered the greatest understatement ever made.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "You know, I really hate getting up this early," muttered Serena, stifling a yawn between her lips. "It's unbearable! Why do they want us starting the stupid camp this early?"

    0 shrugged. "I suppose they want to get as many people out as possible. I agree, I don't want this taking any more than a week of my time." He glanced around, noticing that a few bodies were walking into the battle arena. Among them he spotted 415, this time with short black hair and dark brown eyes. In her hands she was holding her Poke Ball. "So, did you hear anything about your position?"

    Serena shook her head. "My termination is permanent, but right now I'm assigned as your partner regardless. So, you win some, you lose some." She glanced at her wrist, it felt so light. "Still, I miss it. I wonder how I'm going to be able to help you without my morpher." There was a sense of loneliness in her voice, 0 guessed it was because, deep in her heart, she missed Seel, so he didn't press the issue.

    "When are Logan and Karin getting here?" he wondered and glanced at his watch. "They were supposed to be here by now."

    "They'll be here, don't worry," Serena assured him. "Not all of us are freaks like you. Normal people need sleep. Plus, Logan's had a lot of stress on him lately with Karin and all that. I'm sure that Karin will get him here on time."

    Sure enough, Logan and Karin emerged three minutes later, the former yawning incessantly. "Remind me again why we have to do this so early?" asked the Red Ranger, rubbing his eyes. "Geez…I barely got any sleep last night."

    "Maybe you should go to bed earlier," suggested 0.

    He shook his head. "It's not because of that," he replied and jerked his thumb at Karin. "It's her fault, she wouldn't leave me alone last night. She kept raking at my back and-" He would have continued, but he received a fist to his face that impeded his gigantic mouth from continuing, at least briefly.

    "What time is it?" 0 asked his ranger spirit.

    "It is half-past-five," reported Pi. "Let's get this started."

    0 nodded and brought a loudspeaker to his lips. "All recruits! Assemble!" About eighty people trudged in his direction. He glanced them over, spotting 415 in the third row of the recruits. All of them had Poke Balls in their hands, as if waiting for the chance to use them. The Golden Ranger smirked, this was going to be fun.

    "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, gesturing to himself and the others, "you are looking at the PKM Rangers, PKM's most elite fighting force. We are sent in for the most dangerous missions, the toughest assignments, and we always get the job done. I am the Golden Ranger, and my colleagues are the Red Ranger, the Pink Ranger, and the former White Ranger. We are the best of the best, and we are the four deciding which three among you will get to join our ranks. Is that understood?"

    "Sir, yes sir!" shouted the entire group in unison. 0 was taken aback, he rather liked the role of the drill sergeant.

    Logan took over, taking the loudspeaker from 0 and pulling his cap on backwards. "Listen up, newbies!" he bellowed, pointing at them. "All of you will be subjected to physical, psychological, and mental torture so extreme you'll think you're rushing a fraternity in college! The dangers that we rangers face are real, and it is our job to weed out all the weak and feeble until there are only three agents left standing to become PKM Rangers. Is that clear?"

    "Sir, yes sir!" shouted the group again.

    "Fantastic," said Logan. "Let us begin! May all the lady agents get naked, and could all the gent agents leave?" He was about to issue further instructions, but Karin dragged him off and he gained a new bruise on his shoulder.

    0 took over, sighing. "Disregard that order," he ordered, noticing some agents beginning to follow Logan's request out of sheer stupidity. "And anyone actually idiotic to follow that order can leave right now." About ten disgruntled people, seven men and three women, departed the grounds and 0 smiled. This might be easy after all.

    "We will begin with physical tests to determine the strongest agents here," announced Serena. "Before we test your bonds with your Pokemon, it is important to us that we make sure your bodies can handle the stress of some basic activities. We will begin in five minutes. Prepare yourselves."

    0 sighed and turned to Logan. "What was the point of that?"

    He pointed to the crowd, which now only had seventy-five people standing around doing stretches. "Counting the people who are late, whom we're cutting, and those bozos, we're down twenty-five percent of the morons we have to examine. Think of it as an early Christmas gift." Logan then focused his attention on Karin, who was merely staring down the crowd as a wild Pokemon might dinner. "And try not to be so rough next time, will ya?" She ignored him.

    After five minutes, both Karin and 0 were ready, so Serena rounded up the group. "Okay, everybody, our first exam is very simple. You will be paired up against either Agent 0 or Agent 5, and you will be required to last one minute in combat with one of them. If they knock you out of the designated space, or they knock you out period, you are done, thanks for trying out."

    0 decided to remove his shirt but retained his cap. Somehow, the golden and black hat was nostalgic, and he bent the brim over his goggles, not wanting the light to get in his way. Several of the people stared at the scars that covered his body, he wanted them to take in what it meant to be a ranger and the sacrifices that had to be made. His cybernetic shoulder was hardly noticeable, he had gotten used to the weight by now.

    "Who's up to bat first?" he growled, just to scare some of them a little. Two actually fled from the sight of his muscles and his menacing scowl.

    "0, try not to scare them too badly," Serena muttered, rubbing her brow.

    "Want me to try smiling?" he asked politely, and did so, baring his teeth. He could practically smell the fear.

    Because half of them had to fight him, they began lining up in the little cage they had set up for him. It was about the size of a single room, with six feet high wireframes to keep the challengers in, and so it would be harder for 0 to throw them out. Karin took her position in another cage and waited patiently for her first victim. Logan hovered nearby, transformed into his Rescue Mode in case things turned a bit ugly.

    0 looked down at his first opponent, it was a five foot computer programmer who looked like he hadn't ever even seen the inside of a gym, let alone a combat field, unless it was in a video game. He put up his dukes, 0 had to admire that. Kid had spirit.

    "L-Let's go," he said, his voice somewhat high.

    0 took it easy on him and tossed him out of the ring in ten seconds. The kid hadn't looked like he'd wanted to be there and seemed extremely grateful he was allowed such a quick escape, because he took off from the battle arena, probably for his warm bed.

    Meanwhile, Karin had choked her first victim into unconsciousness, resulting in widespread fear from the entire field of applicants. Still they came. Most of them were terrible, but there were some exceptions. There was Henderson, who lasted the minute and then some, requiring effort from the Golden Ranger to put down. There was even a woman who made it past named Taylor, who survived the round with Karin by dodging her and playing to Karin's weaknesses of needing something to react to.

    Finally, 415 stepped into the ring with 0, shutting the cage behind her. The animals howled, they wanted him to tear her to pieces like he had their friends. He wouldn't. He'd fight her, but he wanted her to earn her stripes and advance.

    "I have no intention of going easy on you," he said, as she approached him.

    "Good," she replied, and assumed a defensive stance. "My status as a ranger will be meaningless if it is simply given to me. Make sure to fight well, 0."

    0 nodded and charged forward. He blocked her first punch and smashed her across the face, sending her flying back. However, she didn't go down, and her face was still perfect. The Golden Ranger knew better than to think that she had been unharmed, the mask she wore was merely disguising her injuries.

    He grabbed her and threw her across the cage. However, she held on, and the momentum he used she manipulated to hurl him to the ground. 0 recovered immediately, blocking a hit that she aimed at his back. He turned, anticipating her second attack, and grabbed her hand.

    "You still have thirty seconds," he pointed out, tossing her casually to the ground. "Time to finish this."

    He hauled her off the ground and slammed her into the cage walls. 415 grunted in annoyance, but did not have the brute strength to fight off the giant Golden Ranger. He scraped her up the wall, wanting an easy win with minimal struggle. However, this was not to be the case, as 415 grabbed hold of the wires that made up the chains and held firm, smashing into 0's stomach with her heel. The Golden Ranger grunted and released his grip. 415 climbed up the fence and leapt over 0, landing gracefully behind him in a defense pose, ready for the finale.

    "Twenty seconds," he muttered.

    415 didn't even see him coming, he was much too fast. It was the Agility technique, she knew that, but the fact that he internally unleashed it without a vocal command or physical cue made it impossible to predict now. He appeared behind her and delivered a momentum-enhanced punch that careened her into the wall again. She shouted, feeling the course of electricity jolt through her body. He, unknowingly, had shocked her.

    She fell to the ground, the electricity was paralyzing her. Groaning, she forced herself back to her feet and stared him down. "Ten seconds," she growled, fighting through the pain. He nodded, it was time for their final moves.

    He rushed forward again, it was all 415 could do to hold him back as he delivered a clothesline to her neck. She took it, actually jumping backwards to reduce the impact damage and grabbed his arm while he was still in mind-dash. She twisted, pushing every piece of her energy into her feet and turned the Golden Ranger, causing him to crash into the wall then burn a hole through it due to the electric discharge he was creating. He collapsed on the floor, visibly damaged by the amount of electric energy he had used.

    "All out of time," 415 announced.

    He nodded, answering, "I know." He tried moving his arm, it hurt a lot. 415 helped him get up and he dusted off his clothes. "That really hurt."

    "How do you think I feel?" she asked. Her arms were still shaking and her hair was all on ends. She couldn't really feel her fingers either.

    "Hang on," he muttered and touched her head. He concentrated, trying to summon the electricity that he seemed to be able to control. In moments, he took the discharged electricity back into his body, removing all effects of it from 415's body. "There we go. Good as new, except for the bruises, right?"

    "Do you see any bruises on my face?" she asked.

    He shook his head. "Nothing but the image of perfection, 415. Go get 3 to sign your thing saying you passed." She bowed once and reported properly to his partner.

    "Did you just use an electric attack?" asked one of the remaining candidates, a tone of fear in his voice. "You know, like a Pokemon?"

    0 shrugged. "No comment," he replied cheerfully, then gave a menacing smile. "Now, who's next?"

    Every remaining candidate took a step back as 0 marched back through the sizzling hole in his cage.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    At the end of the day, the remaining candidates numbered only a brave twenty.

    0, Serena, Logan, and Karin watched as the remaining twenty formed into a single square shape, a platoon, with four rows of five, and snapped off salutes to their rangers. 0 waved them down and brought up the loudspeaker to his lips. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "stand at ease." Instantly, the agents relaxed, as they no longer had to stand at the uncomfortable position of attention. "You are the last twenty left standing. Congratulations, you've made it past the first day of ranger camp!" Nobody cheered, in fear of being sent home for acting like an idiot. "From you, we will be weeding out seventeen until we settle on the best three to become new PKM Rangers. Special barracks have been provided for you, and you will be led there by the Red Ranger and the Pink Ranger in just a moment. Be ready tomorrow at five in the morning, on the dot. That is all."

    Like a good little flock of Mareep, they trudged off to the exit and waited for their escorts. Logan whispered something to Serena, who nodded and motioned to Karin, who followed her down to the recruits. Logan, meanwhile, walked up to 0.

    "We gotta talk," he muttered. "Serena can handle Karin for a little while, but you and me need to have a little chat."

    0 nodded, unsure of what it was that was so serious Logan needed to speak to him privately. "Sure, Logan," he said, and led the Red Ranger down an alternate route. "What's the problem?"

    "It's Karin…" He rubbed the back of his head, quite unsure of how to say what he needed to say. "Well, it's about Karin."

    "What's about Karin?" 0 asked.

    "Well…you and I may need to fight her."

    "Why?"

    "Well, let's just say that I officially ran out of time today," he muttered vaguely. "And because of that, Karin's going to go ballistic in a few hours. Remember how I mentioned that, even though she can't stand me, she's very possessive?"

    0 nodded. "But what does that mean?"

    "I don't want to go into details. Just promise me you'll be ready to fight later tonight. There's a good chance it'll probably go down in the evening, maybe after eight or so. That's when we have to be ready."

    "If it's really that important," 0 replied. "Should I alert Bakaguru and 3?"

    Logan shook his head. "No, let's keep it between us for now, chances are good they'll find out in a little while anyway. Just makes sure you're ready, we'll probably need that special system of yours too." He nodded his head, then headed off where Serena and Karin had walked off to, wanting to collect Karin before anything potentially bad happened.

    0 scratched his head. "What's up with him?" he asked.

    "Good question," Pi replied, as it researched the information on the Red Ranger. "That's really not like him. Something must have really set him off to be worried about Karin like that."

    "Well, he likes her, I guess he doesn't want to see her get hurt by whatever this is that's going to happen."

    "Huh, that's odd," Pi muttered.

    "What?"

    "Well, according to the unclassified files on Logan, it actually states that today is his birthday," Pi explained. "He is twenty-five."

    "Really?" 0 asked. "A guy with that big of an ego…I wonder why he hasn't mentioned it."

    "Good question. Want to ask him?"

    He shrugged. "Maybe later, I'm sure he has his own reasons for keeping it to himself. Come on, all this fighting's really made me thirsty, and I really need to take my serum tonight."

    "Aren't you supposed to spend tonight with May and Sarah?" it asked.

    He nodded. "Yep, we get to have a whole night to ourselves for once. Bakaguru is seeing to it." He was really excited too, it was going to be the first day he had been promised no interruptions from Bakaguru. "But if Logan needs me…"

    "Are you going to put your work over your family?"

    He shrugged. "It's a tough call. I don't want to make the same mistakes, but at the same time I don't want Karin to go crazy." Sometimes he got really frustrated by his job. "What do you think I should do?"

    "How about what makes you happy?" Pi suggested. "You never do that."

    "An excellent suggestion," 0 decided, and headed off to shower. He turned the corner, however, and noticed that someone was definitely waiting for him. 415 emerged from the shadows.

    "415," 0 muttered. "What's wrong? You're supposed to be at the barracks with the rest of the candidates."

    "I…need help," she replied. "Tomorrow is the test with the Pokemon, correct?"

    0 nodded.

    "Then I need help. The Luxray…I am worried that if I release it I will be attacked for capturing it." She lifted up the Poke Ball. "It seems to have an angry aura."

    "That might be a problem for you," 0 agreed. "But you'll have to do it on your own. Tonight I'm supposed to go on this family thing with May and Sarah, so I really can't-" She glared at him, which made him take a step back.

    "You have to. No one else has the proper skill set to train me. You are, and believe me how difficult it is for me to admit it, the best trainer in PKM. You must be my tutor." She was using a tone that 0 was unfamiliar with, at least from her. 415 was desperate indeed. "Please. I need your help."

    "Pi, how much time can I spare?" 0 asked.

    "Bakaguru said you had after seven. Two hours," it replied.

    He nodded and stated back into the arena. "Okay, that's how long we have, 415. Two hours, so let's get training now."

    He faced her. "Release your Pokemon," he ordered.

    "But-"

    He ignored her. "Release it now, 415! I do not have time to argue with you."

    Unwillingly, she did as he commanded. The ball exploded and the Luxray snarled viciously. It was quite angry, but stayed put beside its trainer. 0 walked up, ignoring its very, very sharp fangs, which it was quite good at baring, and bent down in front of it.

    "Ray, Lux," growled 0, introducing himself.

    "What are you doing?" 415 asked.

    "Shut up," he retorted, and refocused his attention on the Pokemon. Its eyes had widened, astonished that the Golden Ranger was capable of speaking its language. It replied through a softer, but still defensive, growl, and 0 nodded as he listened. He glanced up at 415 when it finished. "It says that you have no right to train it, as it was I who did your battling. It will not obey you until you face it in combat."

    He returned his attention to Luxray and issued a growl. Slowly, the Pokemon nodded, so 0 grinned. "Well, all you have to do is fight it, 415. Simple as that. If you win, it will help you and bond to you."

    415 hesitated. "But it is a Pokemon," she pointed out.

    "Why does that matter?" 0 asked. "It is your partner. You train with your partner."

    415 nodded, but still looked unsure.

    0 growled irritably, he really didn't have time for this! "Look, 415, if I took the time to tell you how many times I've been electrocuted, frozen, burnt, or hurt while training my Pokemon, we would have no time to train. You can fight me, you can fight Luxray." He cracked his knuckles and stood up. "Learn by doing, 415."

    She was stunned at the transformation the Golden Ranger had made, from the easy-going fighter to a serious, determined trainer. In the light of the arena too…he looked almost like his predecessor.

    "If you are afraid, you should quit now. As a ranger you will have to fight the Dark Gems. They will fight, they will kill, they will do anything it takes to win. If you aren't ready to spar with your own Pokemon, then what good will you be to us in a battle?" 0 started walking, he'd given her enough of his time. "You have to deal with Pokemon, 415. It's not the overnight process you want it to be, but this'll be a start. Show it some damn respect."

    He left.

    The agent and the Pokemon stared at one another, neither sure of what to do. 415 did not want to fight, Luxray could think of nothing but that. It wanted revenge for being stripped of its home and bound to the girl. And for what? So she could become something? No, it wanted a fair chance to extract its pound of flesh. It growled and started circling her like a piece of meat, eager for blood.

    415 bit her lips, and tried desperately to imagine she was fighting something else.

    The Luxray snarled and leapt into the air, aiming to take out a chunk of 415's arm.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Several hours later, Armageddon began.

    The woman that emerged from the door was neither large nor threatening looking. She looked very much like Logan, only she was a head shorter with slightly longer hair. She pushed her glasses up to the rim of her nose and smiled. "Hello, little Dreas," Mrs. Logan murmured. "Your father should be inside in a moment, he's just getting the things from the truck with Ariel."

    "Ariel's…here?" Logan asked. His face turned an unhealthy shade of red.

    "Who is Ariel, Logan?" 0 asked.

    "She's…well…" Logan glanced from him to his mother to Karin, who was watching the scene unfold with an almost concerning amount of interest.

    "She's his fiancée!" explained Mrs. Logan.

    "She is not my fiancée, Mom!" exclaimed Logan, waving his arm angrily. "That's just what you like to call her because we dated in high school! Why is she here, anyway? She's not supposed to be at PKM headquarters!"

    Mrs. Logan pretended not to hear Logan's claims. "Well, your father worked his magic with the Council, so she was debriefed. Oh, she's so excited to see her Red Ranger, Dreas! I think she'll be in here in a moment."

    "Great," groaned Logan, as he noticed Karin's hands clenching into fists. "Look, think we can hold that off for a little while? I think we need to prevent a probable bloodbath." 0 stepped forward as well. "Oh, Mom, did you get a chance to meet the new Golden Ranger yet?" He shoved 0 forward, to which the Golden Ranger responded with a small glare in his ally's direction before forcing a smile in the direction of Mrs. Logan.

    "How do you do?" asked 0. "I'm the new Golden Ranger, Logan's superior."

    Mrs. Logan allowed him to shake her hand. "How nice to meet you, 0," she replied politely. "I knew the old Golden Ranger too, he was quite a good poker player if I recall. Good trainer too, now that I think of it. I was so sad to hear that he passed. But it looks like you'll be a good successor."

    0 nodded. "Oh, I'm trying," he assured her.

    A moment later, a gentleman who also looked like Logan appeared, holding several of the bags in one of his hands. Despite their weight, he didn't seem to be having much trouble with them, so 0 didn't offer to assist, though Logan took some of the bags from his father immediately. Mr. Logan also wore glasses, but his eyes glared red from behind the spectacles just like Logan's eyes did.

    Both father and son sized one another up.

    "Good to see you, son," Mr. Logan said.

    Logan smiled. "You too, Dad. Let's get you guys to your room."

    "Wait for meeeeeee!"

    Arriving with half the speed of 0's Agility, a blur of feminine wiles emerged and tackled the Red Ranger to the ground, getting past all of his years of training for surprise attacks and knocking every bag he was carrying to the ground. Both 0 and Karin were astonished, and stepped back to watch the Red Ranger struggle to escape from the clutches of the lady Ariel, who ignored how crumpled her dress was becoming to tighten the grip of her hug.

    Ariel was by no means unattractive, goodness no. A natural dirty blond with elbow length hair, she squeezed her blue eyes tight shut as she squeezed the oxygen from Logan's body. He began to suffocate, wondering why it was his destiny to die in the powerful embrace of Ariel's vice grip, when Karin, unable to tolerate the scene any further, grabbed her partner and fished her out of Ariel's grasp. He took a deep breath, his face as red as a cherry, before Karin viciously slapped him and moved in between the Red Ranger and his devoted 'fiancée'. Ariel reacted in a manner that 0 found astonishingly akin to 415's Luxray.

    "What do you think you're doing, interrupting my reunion with Dreas?" Ariel demanded to know, stomping her heels onto the floor. "Who are you, anyway? Nobody said anything about you." She studied Karin, who stared her dead in the face like a zombie contemplating what part to eat as an appetizer.

    "This is Karin Karino," muttered Logan, his face still stinging from the slap he knew he didn't deserve this time, "she is my partner, the Pink Ranger. Please, whatever you do, do not anger her further. She will kill you."

    Karin seemed to agree with this threat, as her knuckles turned white from how hard she had made her fists. "Karin, let this one go," he pleaded. "She does not know how we operate. She apologizes-"

    "I will do no such-"

    "She does!" Logan shouted.

    "Dreas, keep your voice down!" ordered Mrs. Logan, incurring the attention of Karin. The Pink Ranger turned slowly to the older woman, sizing her up as well. Mr. Logan, in a very wise move, remained absolutely silent, but did go to pick up some of the bags that had been tossed.

    "Logan, what exactly is going on?" 0 asked. Everyone turned to him and each gave him a look 0 normally reserved for only his stupidest foes.

    "You really can't tell?" the Red Ranger replied, with an air of confusion.

    0 shook his head. Logan sighed.

    "It's quite simple, 0," said Mrs. Logan cheerfully. "Today is Dreas' twenty-fifth birthday! He's getting married this week, so that soon I can be Grandma Logan."

    0 paused, unsure if he had heard correctly. "You…want Logan to breed? That's a terrible idea."

    "But I must have a grandchild," insisted Mrs. Logan. "Dreas has been slacking with his deadline, so I brought Ariel here to jog his memory about his commitments to the family. We of the Logan clan are always married young, because we must produce heirs Without heirs, the power of perfect vision will die from the world. Our clan is the only one with it, and it is only given to the male heir. Dreas and his father are the only ones with the power."

    Mr. Logan adjusted his glasses. "Perhaps this is something best discussed later, dear. It was a long flight, I'm sure everyone would like to get some sleep. After all, the party's being held tomorrow, and I want to be rested."

    "But dear-" Mr. Logan shushed his wife, gave a wink to his son, and led Mrs. Logan and Ariel down the hallway, knowing exactly where to go. Soon, only Logan, Karin, and 0 were left standing in the hallway.

    "Karin, I realize that you are angry," Logan began, "but it would be amazing if I could live through the night."

    Karin dragged him off into the hallway. Logan saluted 0, then began to pray.

    0 shrugged, then turned around and started running back to his room. If he hurried, he could still make his date with May and Sarah! He practically ran through agents as he dashed back home. Numerous times people went flying into the air due to their complete failure to get out of his way. But after plowing, dodging, and overwhelming the dozens who stood before him, the Golden Ranger finally arrived at his door. He practically smashed down the door in his eagerness to get inside.

    When he did, he found his family waiting.

    Sarah's head rested softly on her mother's knee, May herself sitting calmly over a cup of tea. 0 shut the door carefully, not wanting to wake his daughter. May did that, gently nudging her cheek. Sarah blinked, but smiled when she saw her father sitting down next to her.

    "Daddy!" she squealed, and hugged him. 0 smiled. "Why were you late? I got sleepy?"

    0 shrugged. "Just saving the world, honey," he explained. "Somehow."

    May kissed him on the cheek. He blushed and Sarah made a disgusted noise. "Welcome home, 0," she said. "We already ate though." She gestured at the table, the plates were quite empty. "We figured you wouldn't mind."

    "That reminds me!" 0 muttered and pulled out his serum. "I need to take my medicine!" He placed it in the syringe trigger and pulled up his sleeve. He let out a deep sigh of satisfaction as the medicine worked its way through his system and put the syringe and now-empty serum container into his jacket. "Much better."

    He sprawled out on the bed, feeling his energies reviving as they always did. Soon his exhaustion would be gone and he would be able to relax as his family drifted off into slumber.

    "Daddy?"

    He looked down. "Yes, Sarah?"

    "What did you just do?"

    He furrowed his brows. "I…took some medicine, Sarah. It's special medicine that I need because I can't sleep."

    "Does it help you sleep?"

    0 shook his head. "No, Sarah. It helps keep me up, so I can keep protecting you, your mother, and the rest of our family."

    Sarah accepted that answer and hugged her father. May smiled and opened a small bottle of beer for 0, who spent the next hour keeping it away from Sarah while the little girl tried her best to take a sip. Eventually, however, even Sarah's vast reserves of energy finally tapped out and the Golden Ranger's daughter went right to sleep.

    "What time is it?" May asked.

    0 checked his morpher. "Ten-thirty," he said.

    "We really should be getting back to our room. And you have such a big day tomorrow choosing those new rangers."

    He nodded. "Sure." He helped May pick up Sarah and put his daughter in her arms. "I'll see you tomorrow."

    "Okay, 0." May kissed him goodbye and shut the door behind him.

    0 stared at the floor. "You all right, 0?" Pi asked.

    "Never better, buddy."

    "You want them to move in, huh?" asked the Pikachu. 0 nodded. "Why didn't you ask her?"

    "We're just getting back together. I don't want to rush her or anything." He sat on the floor and sighed. "I just need to make sure I'm not making the same mistakes I made last time. I'm being given a second chance, I can't screw up again."

    "Things are different this time, though. She knows what you did and why. She's seen you as a hero."

    "She's seen me like that before I was a ranger too. Remember when we were kids? I saved the world almost every year it seemed. Now I just save it with a flashy suit."

    "But you still save it. And you saved them."

    The Golden Ranger nodded. "The suit's still too flashy, though."

    "So, what do you think Logan's going to do?"

    0 shrugged. "Guess he's got to get married to that Ariel girl. I don't get why he needed me there though. Karin didn't do anything to her. His mom was kind of intense."

    "I wonder if he'll confess to Karin."

    "Knowing him it'll be in a really dramatic, over-the-top stunt. He doesn't take anything seriously."

    Author's Note: Five updates today. I don't really have much of an excuse as to why I didn't post for the last few days, but it was my three-year anniversary with my girlfriend so I was rather unable to find the time to post. We are, however, all caught up now and regular daily posts will resume tomorrow.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  17. #42
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    Default Chapter 24, Part 1

    Morph Twenty-Four: The Best Distraction Ever, Part 1

    The flicker of light in his hand dimmed. With each moment, the Dark Gem pulsated, in perfect unison with his heartbeat. He held it in front of him, it was the only light he had in the dank cavern. Water dripped from the rocky ceiling and splashed on the ground in front of him.

    "Where am I?" Max asked the darkness. Nothing answered.

    He was dreaming, of that he was certain. It was too vivid, too surreal, to be reality. He took a step forward into the darkness, but felt no sense of accomplishment. He looked down and realized he had stepped in someone else's footprint. Someone else with his exact shoe size. Whatever his dream was about, it didn't involve him moving from his position. So he stared ahead, waiting for something to happen.

    "Hello, Eme," said a voice in the cave. Max looked around, trying to find the voice's origin. "So nice to see you again."

    "Yes," said another voice. "So good to see you. We were wondering if we'd see you again."

    Max's hand closed around the Dark Emerald. "Who are you? Why are you in my head?"

    "Good question." It was the first voice again, a slimy noise that made Max's skin crawl. "Isn't that right, Bix?"

    "Quite right, Axi," replied the second voice, with a loud cackle. "Who are we? Why are we here, anyway?"

    "Hee hee, isn't this so much fun?" Axi murmured. "The not knowing, the secrets, the utter ignorance! It's so cool! I wish I didn't know why we were here." Footsteps issued and two figured emerged. The two identical men grinned, and the one with the longer hair had the bigger smile.

    "Should we even tell it, Big Brother?" asked Bix.

    "We really think it should know."

    "What's going on?" shouted Max. His Dark Gem pulsated wildly, and for the briefest instant the entire cavern was colored bright emerald. "Don't make me beat it out of you."

    Axi laughed and brushed his silver hair. "Adorable isn't it? It thinks it has even the slightest chance against us. How cute."

    "Very cute," agreed Bix. His green eyes looked over Max and he licked his lips.

    "We're very, very angry with you, little boy," said Axi. "Very angry indeed. Sap was a sap, but at least he was a useful one. So much passion for his work. So much dedication put to waste…" The man sighed, then giggled again. "If only you hadn't helped kill him, we wouldn't be having this conversation. We knew we should have had Ame finish the job, she gets things done in such a better way."

    "So much better, she still has most of her sanity left. One of the few, I'd say."

    "Yes, one of the few."

    "You see, it's so very hard to keep your sanity. I'm afraid it's one of the hazards of being bonded to a Dark Gem! Don't worry, I'm sure you'll feel the effects sooner…"

    "…or later," finished Bix. "Every one of us does. Why, did you know that only four or so years ago, we were as sane as anybody? Did you know that?" He draped his arms over his brother and giggled. "But we digress. This isn't why we've come."

    The Dark Emerald flashed as Max growled. "Get out of my head now," he ordered.

    Axi shook his head. "Afraid we can't do that, little boy. We need you for our ragtag team. We've lost one member, we need somebody to replace Sap. And that's you, Eme. With you, our team is back to six members again. And six is such a nice number, isn't it Bix?"

    "It is, Axi."

    "Stop talking!" Max shouted. His eyes shifted to the deepest shade of green. The Dark Emerald was whispering to him again, asking if he wanted the people to leave. "I don't want to be a part of you freaks. I'm going to be a PKM Ranger!"

    Bix laughed. "You think those PKM freaks will let you in? You're a Dark Gem, just like us Eme. They'll never accept one of us into their gang. They'll use you in the lab until they find out everything about you, and then they'll kill you when you're useless."

    "They won't. 0 promised he would stand up for me. He doesn't go back on his word."

    "Golden Boy is the losing side, Eme. He can't even control his own powers. He'll eventually self-destruct, then who will be left to protect you?"

    "Serena, May, all of them. They won't let me be used as a lab rat. Now get out of my head." Emerald fire flickered from his body. "I won't ask you again."

    "Cute, Eme. But remember that you'll need us someday. And when it comes, we'll make you one of us. You'll turn on all your friends, all your family, and you'll become just like us."

    "That we promise, Eme."

    "Stop calling me that!" Max roared and clenched his fists. The emerald fire exploded around him, transforming into Gallade's aura. "You're making us very angry." The chain began to lengthen, wrapping around his arms. "Get out of my head!"

    Then, Max woke up in a pool of sweat.

    He was lying on the floor tangled amid his sheets. Panting, he returned to his bed, but his dream haunted him. After ten minutes of struggling for sleep, he finally gave up any hope and just got up. He dressed in some of the clothes PKM had given him and headed out to the gym, hoping to get some sort of relief through physical activity. He got lost twice, but eventually managed to find his way there.

    Inside was 0, training hard by viciously smashing against a punching bag. Two broken ones stood to the side of the room and sand covered the floor. The Golden Ranger paused at the sound of Max opening the door and turned towards the Dark Gem Ranger.

    "Max," he said and nodded in greeting. "What are you doing up? It's almost three in the morning."

    He shrugged. "Couldn't sleep. I thought if I came in here I'd work up some exhaustion."

    "Good idea." 0 stepped to the side to allow Max use of the punching bag. His body glistened with sweat, all save for the metal plate that made up his right shoulder. He scratched his head and watched as Max hesitantly looked at the punching bag and tapped it with his fist, gauging its weight.

    "How heavy is this?" Max asked.

    "Don't know. They make them specially for me, since I'm too strong for the normal ones." He looked down to the broken bags on the ground and sighed. "Guess I have to tell them to up the weight again. Those didn't last long, either."

    Max smashed the bag. It swung in a low arc. "I had a weird dream," he said suddenly as he watched the bag sway in the air.

    "That's one of the reasons I don't sleep. What was it about?"

    "It was about my Dark Gem. There were two guys too, Axi and Bix. I think they have Dark Gems too. They were talking about Sappho, I think."

    "Interesting. What'd they say?"

    "Something about the Dark Emerald. They said it's going to drive me insane, and that you won't help me when PKM doesn't need me anymore." He looked up at the Golden Ranger. "Is that true, 0?" he asked. "Be straight with me."

    "I don't know," 0 admitted. "Bakaguru is trying to keep you as an Auxiliary Ranger, but it doesn't look good. The Council isn't ready to trust a Dark Gem Ranger, even one that's allied himself with them. You've only been deployed into active combat once, and under my supervision. I don't even know what will happen if you're let loose on your own."

    "So I'm just going to be a lab rat until you've got everything figured out?"

    "No. Right now, things are a little crazy with 3 and this whole ranger camp thing. Once it's cooled down, I can put you on the team that'll be guarding May and Sarah. Or try to, at least. 3's already on board, but since she's not going to be a ranger anymore that leaves me with one partner less. I want you there with your family, Max. I won't let this Dark Gem be a reason to keep you away from them."

    Max nodded and hit the punching bag again. "That's how you felt, wasn't it?" he asked. "This job, that morpher… You hated it for what it did to you, for what it made you give up. Right?"

    0 nodded. "I did. PKM makes us give up some things for the power to protect the ones we love. I gave up my family because of them, I don't want you doing the same. We're both here because of accidents. We shouldn't have to pay for them." He smashed the punching bag and the bag tore open, sending millions of pieces of sand crashing to the ground. "Great, not another one."

    "How is the camp going?"

    "Not bad. We're winding them down to the last few applicants."

    "Do you think 415's going to make it?"

    0 shrugged. "That's up to her and her Luxray." A noise issued through the gym. "Hang on, it's Pi…what's going on, Pi?" He raised his hand and touched the com-link in his ear. "Yeah, I get it. We're on our way now." He looked down, his face quite serious.

    "What's up?" Max asked.

    "Bakaguru wants to see me. You might as well come too."

    "Sure." He followed 0 down the corridors and to the testing facility that was Bakaguru's lair.

    The engineer himself was standing in front of his testing table with several half-finished Ailed Morpher prototypes on it. He looked up from a red-and-black model as he noticed the two coming. "0," he muttered as he glanced towards Max, "what is he doing here? I thought I told Pi to only bring you."

    "Why?" asked 0. "What's wrong?"

    Bakaguru's attention shifted from one ranger to another. "I needed to speak to you about Serena," he said. He removed his glasses and lifted them to his lab coat's lapel to wipe them. "I have received word from the Council that they intend to terminate her as your partner and assign the new White Ranger to her position." He looked to Max as he adjusted his glasses. "Furthermore, they have also made a verdict regarding Max Birch, Auxiliary Ranger 6."

    "What did they say about me?" Max asked.

    "They have denied my request to place you on the team protecting May Birch with the Golden Ranger. They have also refused to recognize you as an official ranger for our organization. You are, in their words, 'too dangerous to place in the field at this time'. You will be incarcerated for testing once the new rangers have been determined."

    There was a brief silence, before 0 clenched his fists and hissed. "They want to do what now?" he asked rhetorically. Max noticed a spark shoot out from his knuckles. "They can't put Max in prison, and they can't remove 3 as my assistant. Even if she's not a ranger, I need her on my team. Can't they just make her my handler, and put Max as support for the team?"

    "I am afraid not," Bakaguru answered with a shake of his head. "I am not even supposed to be telling you this information. I tell you it only because I have determined that you are running out of alternatives to protect your family and friends, Gold." He looked around, but nothing outside of the three men was in the lab. "Do you still want to keep them with you, boy?"

    0 nodded. "The Council has taken enough from me. I'm not letting my family and friends get away again. What are we going to do?"

    Bakaguru smiled sadly. "Ah, I knew you would say that, Gold. You've always been such a hothead, but this time it will serve your needs. There is but one option that I foresee possible, but it will require sacrifices from everyone involved."

    "I'm willing."

    "So am I," said Max. "I'm not spending my life in a prison cell."

    Bakaguru rose from his table and walked to a desk nearby. Using a key from his coat he opened one of the drawers and produced a small box. "This is what we are going to do," he said, and put it on the table. "This box contains the chips that will power all of the Ailed Morphers." He opened it, displaying several differently colored chips. "I will place the chips inside the morphers when they are completed. It will require you to surrender your morpher for a period of at least forty-eight hours. During that time, you will be unable to morph, but when it's over, you'll get your powers back. The Council intends to use this time as leverage to make the necessary changes to your team and incarcerate Max."

    "Understood."

    Bakaguru picked out a chip from inside the box, a gold-and-black one. "This is the chip that will go into your Ailed Morpher, and this-" He paused and pulled an identical chip out of his coat "-is a fake. We are going to begin the sequencing for your Ailed Morpher early. That way, when the Council attempts to make good on their threat, you will have more firepower than both the Red and Pink Rangers as well as anything else PKM can throw at you."

    0 studied the chip. "You know what this means, right? We'd be rebelling against PKM itself. If we were caught, if someone found out…that'd be it."

    "You guys want to take on this whole place by yourself?" Max asked.

    "Not by ourselves. That would be foolish." Bakaguru put the chip back into the box. "We will have two, possibly three rangers, by our side."

    "Who's the third ranger? We only have me and 0."

    "It depends. I have ideas, nothing more. Gold, how is 415 doing in ranger camp?"

    0 scratched his head. "I don't really know. She passed through the initial testing without any problems, but I'm worried she won't be up to the task of working with her Luxray. It's still only responding to me. She needs to gain its trust, or else she won't be able to successfully bond with her ranger spirit. If she overcomes that I can see her becoming a ranger, but if she can't she'll be dropped from the program. Maybe if I gave her some more training she'd be able to bond with it."

    "A good idea, but I have a better one. I thought it would be a good job for Max here," said Bakaguru as he turned to the Dark Gem Ranger.

    "M-Me?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "Yes. 415 already has issues with Gold that supersede any efforts on the Golden Ranger's part to help her. We need someone who has a very strong bond with a Pokemon, like a Dark Gem Ranger. The Gallade that powers your Dark Emerald fuses you to it. You are merged with a Pokemon in a way that the ranger spirits cannot even accomplish. It is this unique fusion technique that gives you a fresh perspective on the bond between Pokemon and ranger. Plus, you are young, and still new to all this. She'll respond better to you helping her than 0's training methods."

    Max nodded. "If I can do anything, I'll help."

    "Good boy. Finally, I have told no one about this plan. This is between the three of us for now. When I feel the time is right, I will tell Serena and 415. Gold, you must promise me that May and Sarah won't know anything, and neither will Ms. Birch's parents. The more people that know, the better the chance that we will be discovered."

    "Okay," said 0. "When do we start the sequencing for my Ailed Morpher?"

    "I have been developing your morpher ahead of schedule. I expect it to be completed shortly, but I can't go too fast. It should be ready within the next few days, well ahead of the intended plans for Serena and Max. I will delay Karin and Logan's morphers, as well as the incoming rangers, from being active for as long as I can."

    "Bakaguru?"

    "Yes?"

    "What happens to you when this is over?" 0 asked. "You'll never be able to work for PKM again. They'll realize you were the one who did this."

    Bakaguru chuckled. "Don't presume anything, boy. I have already made plans for myself. Max, I believe that 415 can be found in the training fields. You should go now. Gold, go get ready for today. The agent-Pokemon compatibility tests will be beginning today, I want you and the others ready."

    "Okay," 0 said. "Let's go, Max."

    "Sure."

    As the two left, Bakaguru turned back to his desk. Six morphers stared back at him, all almost perfect, almost ready. "Old friend," he muttered as he reached for his tools, "this is a truly terrifying thing you brought into the world. I hope your successor knows what to do with it." He leaned into the Gold Ailed Morpher and began his work.

    He paused, and looked over his shoulder. His paranoia was getting to him, this plotting and scheming simply didn't sound like him. He chuckled, it sounded like the old Gold, speaking through him.

    "Old fool," he muttered and reached into his pocket. He withdrew what looked like an old watch, weathered by time and neglect. "Even after all these years, I can't put this down." He looked around again, ensuring no one was there, before he set the watch on the table and opened the box with the Ailed Morpher chips. Again he saw six differently colored parts inside. He lifted them out and placed them one-by-one near their respective morphers. One for Gold, Red, Blue, White, Black, and Pink.

    What was left in the box looked like soft foam to keep the chips from being damaged. He lifted the foam to reveal a final, seventh chip, at the bottom. Bakaguru lifted the chip and placed it next to the old watch.

    "This will be my final creation, won't it?" he asked no one. The chip just sat on the table, next to his watch. "Reminds me of old times." He grinned as he got back to work.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Max found 415 on the ground with cuts all over her body. Across from her, pawing at the earth, stood the Luxray. Its growls, aside from the short gasps from 415, were all Max could hear in the battle arena.

    "You okay?" he asked. She ignored him and got back on her feet. "You look like you should take a break."

    "Not all of us have a healing factor. What are you doing here?"

    "Thought you might like some company."

    "I do not." She jumped back to her feet, though she almost fell over due to the effort it took. "Go away, you're distracting me."

    "What exactly are you doing?"

    "Training." She glared at Luxray, who merely gave her a small snarl and pawed at the earth again. "What do you want?"

    "I figured you might want some company," he said.

    She snorted. "Bakaguru sent you."

    "Kinda. How long have you been out here?"

    "Twenty-eight hours, forty-five minutes, thirty-seven seconds. I have less than three hours until the bonding test with Luxray. I must defeat it by then."

    Max looked over at the Pokemon, it didn't seem even remotely tired. "Mind if she takes a break?" he asked it. "We'll get some food and get right back to this." It simply hissed, but nodded its head.

    "What are you talking about?" Despite her insistence on continuing, Max could see that she was tired, almost at the end of her rope. "I need to finish this."

    "You need rest, come on." 415 glared at him, and tried to smack him in the face, but the Dark Emerald warned him. He blocked her blow easily. "You're not going to win against me. Not in the state you're in." He grabbed the Poke Ball on her belt and recalled the Luxray. She growled, but was unable to do anything to stop him. He put her arm over his shoulder and led her out from the battle arena.

    "So, do you know where the cafeteria is?" he asked.

    "You do not know?"

    "Well, not exactly. I mean, this is a really big place. It's easy to get lost."

    "Are you sure you were not just sent here to annoy me?"

    "Pretty sure. Is it to the left?" She groaned, but nodded, so Max helped her down the hall until at last he smelt the scent of fresh breakfast being prepared. "Here we go," he said and opened the door for her. He sat her down in one of the chairs and filled up two plates of food for both of them. He set hers on the placemat in front of her and began wolfing down his plate.

    "You always eat like that?" she asked. She stared at the tantalizing plate before her, but refused to eat any of it.

    "More or less. I used to work out a lot with my Pokemon when I was a Gym Leader. Now that I've got the Dark Emerald, it's kinda like I'm eating for two." He paused from his meal and set down his fork. "Wow, that really didn't sound right."

    415 didn't laugh, but grabbed a piece of bacon and chewed on the end.

    "So, do you even have a name?" Max asked in between chunks of pancakes.

    415 looked up. "Huh?"

    "A name. All I know about you is that you wear a hologram mask and you hate people. Don't you…have a name or something?"

    "I have a designation. It is all I need."

    "That can't be enough. What's your face really look like?"

    "What is it to you, Dark Gem?" She glared at him, today her eyes were blue and her hair was long and blond, tucked into a ponytail. "You are just an experiment. Nothing less, and certainly nothing more. My face is nothing to be interested in, Dark Gem, and even if it was, you are far too insignificant to deserve to see it."

    Max kept eating. "You're really screwed up, huh?"

    "No."

    "Then why do you wear a mask all the time?"

    "Because I am an intelligence officer. It is important that my identity is concealed at all times."

    "But you're not anymore, or you won't be, anyway." Max pointed his fork, dripping with syrup, and grinned. "You're going to be a ranger."

    "If I become a ranger. Somebody interrupted my training."

    "Big deal. Everybody needs a break."

    "I am not everybody."

    "You're not anybody. No name, no face, no nothing. What about hobbies?"

    "Does smoking count as a hobby?"

    "I think that's an addiction, not a hobby."

    "Then no. My work is my life."

    "Then why are you pushing yourself to be a ranger? I just can't figure out why you would want something so badly you'd be willing to risk so much pain and at the same time say that you're just a blank slate. There's gotta be something to you that gives you the drive to do the ranger camp and to want to be on 0's team."

    "I want nothing to do with that man. I will be a ranger, but not because of him."

    "What's the big deal with being a ranger anyway?" Max wondered. He was almost finished with his plate. "Since I've been one it's just been nothing but trouble. Weird voices in my head, tests…it's harder than school."

    "That is because you are incompetent. Just like Gold."

    "He's not incompetent. He's just new to this like I am."

    Finally, 415 gave in and began eating. "He is not new to this. He donned the uniform before he became the permanent Golden Ranger. He knew what he was getting into, just like I do. Neither of you have any excuse for your weaknesses."

    "What?" Max set down his fork. "I have no idea what's going on with me. All I have is psycho talk from the people who want to kill my sister. Who knows what's going to happen to me?"

    "I have a pretty good idea. If we are lucky, it involves you not speaking to me again." She pushed away her plate, having eaten very little.

    "You've barely touched your food," said Max. "You feeling okay?"

    "I require little sustenance." She rose from the table. "Thank you for interrupting my training. Now I have to go make up the time I have lost."

    "Hang on, I'll go with you." Max stood up and, despite 415's unwillingness, she could do nothing to stop him from following her back to the battle arena. Despite the rest and food, she was still injured. When they got back, she released Luxray again.

    It growled and pawed the earth, eager for battle.

    "Let me help you," Max muttered. "There's no way you can take on something like this on your own."

    "What can you do? It will only obey me if I defeat it."

    "I can help." Max's Dark Emerald found its way into his hand and he tightened his grip on the pulsating gem. "One of the things I learned as a Gym Leader was that you need to respect your Pokemon. It's not a tool, it's not a weapon. It's a partner. If you keep fighting it like you have been, it's only going to resent you and never take you seriously."

    "But Gold said that-"

    "-0's a good trainer, but he only knows how to do things one way: by trial and error. When he was younger, he would always do the same thing over and over again until he finally did it right. It's a good idea if you want to train a Pokemon to use an attack or a battle strategy, but it's not always the best approach. Sometimes to win a war you have to lose a battle."

    He wrapped the chains around his arms and pressed the Dark Gem into his flesh. "Dark Gem Ignite." In an instant, the Dark Emerald Ranger towered over the Luxray, flexing its muscles at the Pokemon.

    "Dark Gem, get away from-" 415 stopped talking, as the ranger shifted its attention onto her and softly growled.

    "Laaade," it whispered. It did not wish to be disturbed, and 415 was wise enough to not provoke Max. Satisfied it had made its point, the Dark Emerald Ranger turned to the Luxray and lowered itself to the Pokemon's level.

    The two conversed for a minute or so, during which time 415 wasn't sure if he was trying to argue on her behalf or suggesting they try to double-team her in a fight.

    Finally, the Dark Emerald Ranger stood up and nodded its head. It motioned for 415 to back away, something she didn't do until it growled a second time. The Dark Emerald Ranger braced itself, stretching its hands out like claws. It growled a third time, its visor staring directly at the Pokemon.

    The Luxray pounced, digging its fangs into the Dark Emerald Ranger's chest. 415 could only watch as electricity sparked across her Pokemon's skin and coursed through the Dark Emerald Ranger. But the ranger merely growled and, ignoring the pain, smashed its arm against the side of the Luxray's head. The Pokemon screamed and released its grip, allowing the dark ranger to wrestle it to the ground.

    "Laaaaade," it snarled, as the Luxray was forced to use its electricity against the hard ground. Lightning coursed through its muscles, and the ranger screamed. Nevertheless, it held firm until finally all of the electric energy was drained from the Luxray. It gave off one last feeble spatter of sparks before it collapsed against the ground. The Dark Emerald Ranger followed suit, not even its healing factor was enough to constantly heal it from the amount of electricity the Luxray could inflict.

    415 approached the two. "You alive?" she asked.

    In response, the Dark Emerald Ranger glowed, before the armor sank back and Max emerged from its shell. Breathing heavily, he reached out his hand, hoping that 415 would help him back to his feet. When she did not, he grunted and got up on his own.

    "What was the point of that exercise?" asked 415.

    "I bet it that it couldn't outlast me," Max explained. "Bad idea for it to take on a guy who can come back from having every bone in their body broken." He grinned and scratched his head. "You know what the weird thing is?"

    "Enlighten me," said 415, in a tone that conveyed she could not care less.

    "I remembered everything. Normally I drift in and out, but this time I saw the whole thing."

    "Do not care. How does this pointless activity help me?"

    "Well, I'd suggest taking care of it for today. The best way to bond with your Pokemon is to care for it. I know that's a stretch for you, but give it a shot."

    "What does that mean?"

    "Well…don't take this the wrong way, 415, but you aren't the warmest bulb in the oven. Matter of fact, you're pretty cold. Try showing some emotion."

    "Try showing some common sense," 415 muttered. She withdrew her Poke Ball and recalled the injured Pokemon. "It'd change your whole outlook on life." She left.

    "Man, I just don't get that girl," he said to the Dark Emerald. It agreed enthusiastically.

    Author's Note: You know, Logan and Karin weren't originally in the story, they were late additions that were created almost immediately prior to their debut. Karin was created because I wanted to explore the possibility of a character that used only non-verbal communication, and she serves as a great contrast to Logan. All of the ranger partners serve as really great contrasts to one another. 0 and Serena are absolutely perfect as a team because they could barely stand one another at first.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  18. #43
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    Default Chapter 24, Continued

    Morph Twenty-Four: The Best Distraction Ever, Part 2

    Dreas Logan wished silently that he was anywhere else. Absolutely anywhere else. The craters of Cinnabar Island were looking particularly comfy to him as the two women before the Red Ranger decided his fate.

    "I want this dress."

    "No, this one is much more flattering for you, Ariel."

    "Am I allowed any say in this whatsoever?" asked Logan loudly as he slumped in his chair.

    "No you are not, sweety," said Mrs. Logan, her face all smiles.

    Ariel wrapped herself around Logan. "Aw, honey…don't be sad. Soon we'll be married and on our honeymoon."

    "I don't want to be married. I'm a PKM Ranger. It's my job to do dangerous things that can't let me be tied down to a family."

    "Oh, but that's so exciting!" squealed Ariel. "I love your tight spandex."

    "It's not spandex. It's high-performance endurance armor lightened for flight control during my Rescue Mode."

    "Whatever it is, it's very nice, Dreas," said Mrs. Logan as she glanced through bridal magazines.

    "Rangers aren't even supposed to be married!" he protested. "Look at 0. He was forced to get a divorce even before he became a ranger. Council won't-"

    "-0 doesn't have your connections, dear," said Mrs. Logan, as she turned another page. "Your father had the Council see reason. You are a Logan, Dreas, and they don't want to lose our family's genetic condition. They granted you a special pass."

    "Isn't that wonderful, dear?" asked Ariel as she squeezed tighter.

    "Fantastic," he grumbled. "Mind if I go? I don't technically need to be here for this."

    "Why not? You should help plan the wedding as well."

    "Smart money's on the fact that my only requirement will be showing up in a tux." Logan rose and abandoned the room with gusto. The women merely smiled, sighed, and resumed their discussions about what fine china they would order for the wedding.

    The Red Ranger gasped for breath in the corridor, he sincerely could not take another moment of this wedding nonsense. Walking down the pathway, he knew someone was behind him. "Karin," he muttered. He turned around to see the Pink Ranger quietly looking at him with a curious expression on her face.

    "I'm really not liking this," he said. He resumed his walk and she quickened her step to fall in line with him. "Marriage isn't something I'm ready for. Especially with Ariel." He shuddered briefly. "That woman scares me in a way that no woman ever has before."

    Karin slapped him upside the head. "Good point," he conceded. "I also occasionally fear you. But that's a different kind of fear. I respect you too much to quake in fear at your very presence. Ariel though…that's a whole different deal."

    Karin smacked him again.

    "True, but my mom doesn't listen to reason. Her desperate need for grandchildren worries me. I never thought my own mom would be trying to get me laid."

    Karin made a move to smack him again, but lowered her hand before she connected. Logan looked stunned. "Everything still okay? I know you're restraining yourself, and I'm grateful. Think you can keep it up until all this blows over?"

    She took a deep breath, then blinked twice. Her steps faltered briefly, but she resumed her usual stride.

    "This'll all be over soon. I'll figure out some way out of this. I promise. Trust me, I don't want to marry Ariel. She's loud, annoying, and she's constantly drinking coffee." He smirked, then grabbed his crotch. "There's no way she gets her hands on this."

    Karin responded by kicking him into the wall.

    "That wasn't nice," he grunted. "Geez, Karin, does all our communication have to involve domestic abuse?"

    In retaliation, she pinched his nose.

    "I just don't get you sometimes," he muttered. She waited until he recovered his composition before she resumed her stroll alongside him. "If I didn't know any better…" He grinned, despite his own feelings the idea was ludicrous. "It's almost like you're in love with me." He chuckled, and didn't notice she had stopped moving until he was about ten feet away.

    "Karin, you okay?" Her eyes were trained on the ground. "Look, it was a joke. A joke." He headed back towards her and placed his hand on her shoulder. "We're friends. Probably the only real friend the other has, in a weird way."

    She looked up at him, and Logan saw in her eyes something he had never seen before. She shoved him against the wall, and it was at that moment that Logan believed that he would shortly breathe his last. "Karin, take it easy. Take it-"

    Logan's loud, continuously operational mouth was immediately silenced. Not, as he thought, by death. Instead, Karin pressed her lips against his with such a fervor that Logan's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. A moment later though, Karin dug her nails into Logan's back, which informed him that he was not in fact having a highly realistic dream.

    He grabbed her, she was so short, and lifted her so he wouldn't have to bend his neck forward so much. He felt Karin's tongue probing against his teeth, demanding access. Logan obliged, only because he was certain she could smash his teeth with nothing but her tongue, as she wrapped her legs around him.

    Her nails raked against his back, giving new definition to the term 'backscratcher' as she left marks only normally applied to Logan by the finest of Orre brothels. But those loose women could only ignite a spark in comparison to the flare that had erupted inside the Red Ranger. He shifted his weight and slammed Karin against the wall as they battled for dominance.

    Briefly, Logan managed to untangle his mouth from Karin's. "Holy… Holy crap, Karin," he panted, the sheer strength required to support Karin's weight was waning. "I never figured you could even-" He had to stop, because Karin didn't want to listen to him anymore and locked her lips with him again.

    They continued, only stopping when they heard footsteps headed in their direction. Karin dislodged herself and used her position to kick Logan in the stomach. He was forced away from them and smashed into the opposing wall. She cracked her knuckles, the look in her eyes giving away her intent to kill whoever it was approaching them.

    As it turned out, she immediately backed away when the Golden Ranger came into full view. "Karino, Logan," he said with curt nods. "Karino, you're wanted at the training area. 3 needs you to help her set up. Logan, you're with me." Karin gave him a dirty look, but reluctantly complied with the order.

    0 looked down at Logan and offered his arm to help the Red Ranger up. Logan took it. "What's with you, Logan? You look like you just got hit by a sack of bricks."

    "I…I…" Logan found himself, surprisingly, completely unable to speak.

    0 sniffed at the air. "Hmm…something fruity. Like what Karino wears. You didn't-no, that's not possible. Did you rape her?"

    Logan laughed. "Actually, I think that would be more likely than what just happened, if I wasn't just there to experience it," he explained and leaned on the wall rubbing his stomach. "She-Karin kissed me. Hard. 0, I think she might actually have human emotion."

    "Huh. That's news to me." 0 started moving. "Come on, we need to go and prepare for our own stuff today."

    "Did you just hear me, 0?" Logan asked. "Karin has feelings for me. That's the equivalent to winning the lottery. A big lottery, with like millions of people playing. That's how important it is. I could not care less about doing anything for ranger camp today. All I'll be doing is continuing where I left off with Karin."

    He was about to head off where Karin went, but 0 held out his arm to block off the corridor. "Sorry, Logan. I feel for you, but we've got jobs to do. Let's go and get our work done, then you can go to Karino." Logan groaned, but nodded. "Good. Let's move." Logan shifted awkwardly around, mostly due to the pain currently being emitted from his groin, and followed the Golden Ranger.

    "What do I do?" asked Logan.

    "About what?"

    "Karin. With this whole mess with my mom and Ariel, I don't know if she's going to keep calm. There's only so much patience she has for people trying to take me away from her."

    "Your parents expect you to be married. If you were to marry Karin, I think they'd be happy. Do you want to marry Ariel, Logan?"

    The Red Ranger violently shook his head. "No way. It's Karin or no one else."

    "Then you should marry Karin. Or start dating her, anyway. Marriage might be a bit too quick. Don't want to scare her off, Logan."

    Logan laughed. "Good point, 0." He smiled.

    Then they ran into Ariel and Mrs. Logan. His smiled promptly dropped.

    "Good news, Dreas," said Mrs. Logan, once again smiling broadly.

    "Can't wait," Logan grumbled.

    "We've set the date for the wedding," Ariel explained and once again grabbed him. "It's in five days!"

    Logan cursed. "Ariel, look. You need to understand something. I'm a ranger, that means I don't have time for weddings and stuff. Ranger camp is happening, I don't have time for this junk."

    "Watch your tone, young man," Mrs. Logan snapped, for a moment losing her cheerful complexion. "Ariel and I are being helped by the finest PKM agents available to make the wedding lovely, so make sure that you get your morpher fixed up with a nice tuxedo. I'm sure that Niwa gentleman can help you. 0, you'll be getting your invitation shortly, we just picked them out."

    "Uh…thanks," 0 muttered. Ariel winked and walked past them with Mrs. Logan, chatting about what kind of cake they would be getting.

    "This is getting annoying," Logan said.

    "There's always desertion. I think at this point the Council would even encourage it. Why does your mother want this so badly?"

    "My family is one of the special clans that were blessed by Legendary Pokemon," explained Logan. "That's why I've got these red eyes. The first-born son gets them, and it gets passed down that way. There used to be a lot of clans, but most of them died out. My mom wants to make sure my eyesight is passed on to the next generation. And, since I'm a ranger, there's always the chance that I'll die before I can produce offspring for her to spoil."

    "That makes a little bit of sense. But still, would your mom really care if you married Karino instead?"

    Logan nodded. "She loves Ariel for some reason, guess Ariel reminds her of her or something. Mother says that Karin's a bad influence on me."

    "Is she right?"

    He nodded. "Definite maybe."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The door opened, but it wasn't Karin who walked through the door like Logan hoped. Instead it was his father, who shut the door and sat down on the bed next to the Red Ranger.

    "Hey son," said Mr. Logan.

    "Hey Dad," replied Logan.

    "How's all the wedding business? Heard from your mother that you're on the chopping block soon. Nervous?"

    "Kinda. Ariel makes my skin crawl."

    Mr. Logan laughed. "Yeah, me too kid. Don't get me wrong, your mom's doing what's best for the family, and she loves you. I'm just not sure if she's doing what's best for you." Logan said nothing, but met his father's gaze, both sets of red eyes staring into one another. "And I've seen the way that you look at that partner of yours. She's pretty dangerous."

    Logan smiled. "Dad, what made you decide that Mother was the woman for you?"

    Mr. Logan laughed. "Well, I didn't do much of the deciding, Dreas. Your mother is a powerful, persuasive woman. Logan men love strong women, I know I do. You probably do too, but Ariel's…Ariel's strong even for my tastes. Yours too, probably. Am I right?"

    "She's overbearing and annoying. I can't stand to be near her for a whole minute, let alone my whole life. Doesn't Mom get that?"

    "I think she's just looking out for the family, Dreas. You and I shouldn't be special, but we are. Our eyes make us special, they let us have power that others don't. We lead lives of privilege. It's why I have sway with the Council. It's why you became the Red Ranger. You have qualifications, you have training, yes. But you had me too. Rangers were a rare commodity, before you had all the bells and whistles you do now. The Brines controlled much of the selection process. It was only thanks to my request, along with Bakaguru Niwa and the prior Golden Ranger, that you were recommended."

    "You played politics for me."

    Mr. Logan nodded. "I did indeed. Your mother protested, of course, but you wanted to be a ranger. I only wanted to give you the means to become your own man, Dreas. Now you need to decide your future. Not me. Not your mother. Not Ariel. You need to make that decision."

    "Dad…" He started to say something, but Mr. Logan held up his hand, signaling silence.

    "I'll let you know one thing, Dreas," he muttered as he glanced towards the door. "Karin might be a bad influence on you, but I have it on good authority your mother was a pretty bad influence on me." He grinned and whistled. "I wouldn't mind having her as a daughter-in-law, Dreas, so long as my daughter-in-law loves my son, and he loves her. My mother hated your mother, that's also a family tradition, Dreas."

    Logan chuckled. "Think Mom will get mad if I don't show up to the wedding?"

    "I believe she'll flip her lid if you do that."

    The Logan men shared a laugh.

    "I think I'll go have a talk with Mom. Then I'm going to go see Karin."

    "I think that's very sensible. Good luck, Dreas."

    Logan almost ran out of the room. But, before he could get to the door, the Golden Ranger opened it for him.

    "Logan," he said curtly. "We have a situation. We need to get going."

    "What?" Logan asked. "I've got somewhere-"

    "-I can't say in front of your father. Bakaguru is waiting for us, come on."

    "But I-"

    "Dreas, go," ordered Mr. Logan. "Your job is to protect people. Your needs can wait. 0, take him and hurry."

    "Yes sir," said 0. "Let's go."

    The two rangers bolted down the hallway.

    "What's going on?" Logan asked.

    "Karino. Bakaguru just called, said she went off-grid," 0 replied. They ran past a squad of agents, most of which were lucky enough to get out of their way. The unlucky ones were sent flying. "He said that he lost her morpher's signal about two minutes ago in Pyrite Town. She's probably deactivated it herself."

    "That's bad. Why?"

    "Why do you think?" 0 asked. "That talk we had, don't tell me you aren't feeling a little psycho about this wedding crap. Karino's just going off the deep end, we need to get her back before her frustrations cause her to do something bad."

    "Sounds like a plan," Logan muttered. "Is your pet headed out on this mission too?"

    "Max is being kept on retainer, like last time. He'll be deployed if there's a real emergency."

    "So you and me are teaming up huh?" Logan chuckled. "Never teamed up with another guy before. Be gentle with me."

    "Shut up, Logan."

    They reached Bakaguru's lab in moments. The engineer was already typing into a keyboard, displaying the information for the rangers on the screen.

    "Agents 0, 1," he said in greeting. "Agent 5, Karin Karino, has gone off-grid. Council has ordered a recovery team to be immediately dispatched to retrieve her and her morpher and return safely to PKM headquarters. Any questions?"

    "She in trouble because of it?" Logan asked.

    Bakaguru shook his head. "Council initially showed concern due to her streaks in the past. However, she signed off for a day outside headquarters today. I convinced them to treat this as a security breach and a potential kidnapping. Due to the recent activity in Pyrite, they were forced to agree. You will both leave as soon as you are able to."

    The screen uploaded an image, a map of Pyrite. "The Pink Morpher was last traced to an area of Pyrite near the Coliseum." A building on the map glowed red. "This area is reported as a storage facility, storing unknown materials."

    "A front for Snagem?" 0 asked.

    "Possibly. For now we are certain that that's her last confirmed location. I will be in constant contact with you, and AX6 will be prepared for deployment if necessary." Bakaguru's fingertips whirled and clacked against the keyboard. Out of the ground a hatch opened and two motorcycles emerged. "I figured it would be faster to build you transport in here. Get going." Both rangers nodded and fastened helmets onto themselves as they stepped onto the bikes. Logan revved the engine, it roared like a monster.

    "Dreas, wait for me!" shouted a voice, also like a monster, but with a higher pitch and a whiny tone. "We need to talk about something!"

    Logan growled savagely. He shifted his weight and stared through the visor at his mother and Ariel. "What do you need? I'm on the clock, ladies."

    "It's the seating, Dreas," said Mrs. Logan. "We aren't sure where to place your work friends. Is there any way we could…how should I put this…leave them out?"

    "That way, the seating will be perfect!" exclaimed Ariel.

    "No can do," replied Logan and returned to revving his engine. "Not getting married. Not yet anyways."

    "N-Not married?" Logan grinned, he had never seen his mother look so flabbergasted before. "But our heritage, our family. We need to continue it."

    "Yeah, we probably will. But definitely not with her." His head nodded as he glanced towards Ariel. "Ariel, you're sexy, ditzy, and I'm sure you'll make some masochist somewhere very happy. But you annoy me, and we're not going to work out. To be honest, the only reason I dated you in high school was because you had a fantastic rack-" He looked over her again and nodded his head "-which you still have, and I had the attention span of a Psyduck. But we're adults now. Kinda. I still dress up like it's Halloween and fight bad guys."

    He revved the engine and looked towards 0, who nodded his head encouragingly. "So, if you don't mind Mom, I really need to go save someone right now. Somebody much more important than Ariel's seating chart."

    "Let me guess: the girl you work with," snapped Mrs. Logan. "Oh, I know about her. How she's psycho, how she's demented, how she can't even speak a word or make a noise. She's not good, Dreas. Not good at all for you. Ariel's from a good family, she'll be a good mother."

    "Maybe. But I won't love her." Logan turned to 0. "Let's move. Karin's in trouble."

    "You got it." 0 revved his engine and they tore off. Bakaguru opened a portion of the wall, revealing the Orre desert outside, and Mrs. Logan and Ariel vanished from Logan's mind.

    "0, how long until we reach Pyrite on these things?" Logan asked into the helmet's communicator.

    "Estimated time will is ten minutes," 0 replied. "If we push the engines we can make it in eight."

    "Push the engines," Logan ordered.

    Eight minutes later, they arrived at the scene. Both men dismounted and activated their com-links. Both used their morphers to change their civilian clothes into their PKM uniforms, complete with jackets and goggles. Both headed directly towards the storage facility and broke down the door with twin neat, even, powerful kicks.

    "Lucy, I'm home!" bellowed Logan into the darkness.

    "Subtle," said 0. "See anything?"

    Logan narrowed his eyes. "Lot of rows," he muttered. "Nothing moving. No shifting air particles. We can go in."

    "Okay." They advanced. Logan led, 0 kept close. After twenty minutes they found nothing. "003, can't confirm anything's in here. 1 says nothing's moving."

    "Blueprints show that there's something there. Move twenty feet to the north. There's a wall where there shouldn't be one." 0 and Logan checked the wall.

    "He's right," said the Red Ranger. "This part of the wall is built differently. Think you can break through it?"

    "I can try." 0's body rippled with electricity and, with a loud grunt, smashed a punch into the wall. It cracked easily and with a few more well-placed hits the false wall broke apart, leaving a man-sized hole leading to a flight of stairs.

    "Still nothing moving," said Logan. "I see a security camera though. It's not facing us now."

    "Where?"

    "Above us, to the left."

    "Got it." 0 pressed his hand against the wall, sending electricity shooting through the material and into the camera. It short-circuited and fell to the ground, sending sparks everywhere. "Any more of them?"

    "Not that I can see. Let's move, they know we're here now."

    "Hang on. 1, you need to relax."

    "I am calm."

    "Not the same. You're acting serious. Don't do it, it's just not you."

    "They took Karin. I will kill them if she's hurt."

    "No, you won't. Pop a joke or something, leave the grim stuff to me. Don't let this stuff consume you. Don't be emo."

    Logan snickered. "You just crack a joke, 0?"

    "That I did. Now you try one."

    "Okay, let's see…" Logan cleared his throat and smiled broadly. "Attention all bad guys! Prepare to be hurt in ways they haven't invented words for yet!" He turned to 0. "How was that?"

    "Needs work. Now that the bad guys know we're here, we should probably do something." Logan nodded in agreement. They ran down the stairs, whereupon they ran into the bad guys. Roughly twenty people took off the safeties on their rifles.

    "Boss was right," said the self-appointed leader of the group. "More came."

    "We can see that, Eugene," said another. The room at the end of the stairs was dimly lit, mostly by the laser pointers on the rifles but also by the flickering light bulbs attached to the ceiling. "Which ones are you two?"

    Logan shrugged his shoulders. "Not sure, that's a good question. Is this not the Pyrite bathhouse? My boyfriend and I could have sworn we heard man-groans in here."

    "What'd you say?" sneered the one named Eugene, who put his gun uncomfortably close to Logan's nostrils.

    "I was just commenting on how I thought I heard man-groans. Sounded like fun, so me and my larger, beefier half accidentally broke in. Is there not a sweaty man-orgy going on here? Do we have the wrong address?"

    "I will kill you!"

    "Eugene, calm down!" shouted one of the men. "He's just trying to piss you off."

    "But he said-"

    "I said he's just trying to piss you off! Lay off your ego for a minute and think straight!"

    "Been there, my friend," Logan murmured sympathetically. "Doesn't work. One day you're married and unhappy, and the next you're feasting on sausage like you're at a hot dog eating contest and loving every minute of it." He slapped 0's butt, who jumped at the unexpected contact.

    "Watch it!" 0 barked.

    "He's still a little bit in the closet," whimpered Logan. "This is actually the most people he's out to. You need to come out and not be afraid, Francis."

    "I'm going to tell you to shut up one more time," 0 growled. "After that, I will beat you to within an inch of your pathetic life."

    "I love it when you're rough, Francis. Just be gentle, last time I couldn't sit down for a week." He turned to Eugene, and sighed. "Seriously, it's like I'm his own personal pincushion." Eugene lowered his weapon, clearly disgusted by the disturbing turn the conversation had taken.

    "What should we do with them?" he asked the group at large.

    "Can there be torture?" Logan wondered hopefully. "This could be fun, Francis."

    "Shut up!" 0 snarled.

    "Hey, hey, hey," said one of the henchmen with a chuckle. "If the boys want torture we can give them torture. Why deny a dead man's last wish?"

    "Ah, a man after my own heart," Logan sighed, fluttering his eyelids. "Wait, did you say 'dead man'?" He gulped.

    "Oh yeah, pansy. See, we can't exactly have kids like you breaking into Snagem locales. Bad for business."

    "But I'm getting married next week! There's going to be a reception, vows. I've even picked out a perfect dress for Francis here."

    "I will murder you."

    "Good thing it's time for a punch line now."

    "Wait. What?" Eugene asked.

    0, taking advantage of the fact that most of the Snagem grunts had lowered their weapons, lowered himself and shot lightning out of his hands. The electricity surged through the room, striking everybody that was touching the floor. Logan jumped, just in time to dodge, and was spared.

    Everyone else fell to the ground before a single shot could be fired.

    "Well," said Logan, as he dusted off his hands, "that was easy, huh?"

    "You pulled that off a little too well," 0 retorted.

    "So did you." He tapped his earpiece. "003, 0 and I just finished off the first wave of grunts. We're moving on."

    "Roger," said Bakaguru.

    Both moved through the room to disarm the grunts. As they did, Eugene held onto the one Logan tried to wrangle from him. "You…bastard…"

    "Yeah, but look on the bright side: you get to live. I'd have killed you for messing with my girl."

    "Your…girl?" Eugene croaked. "You're not really-"

    "Nope, sorry. Hope I wasn't your type." Logan grabbed Eugene's shirt and lifted him up. "Now where's the girl? Answer or you get another jolt from my shock buddy here."

    "In the back… Boss has her."

    "Thanks." Logan smiled cheerfully. "You can shock him again now, partner."

    0 obliged and the two moved on. The door to the back was made of iron, no getting through even with 0's electric juice.

    "How do we get in there?" he asked.

    Logan shrugged. "Good question. I guess that's why we've got these big fancy morphers, huh?"

    "Let's go."

    Both raised their morphers.

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    "PKM Spirit, Activate!"

    In moments, two armored rangers stood ready to break down the iron door. Logan readied the Claw Cannon while 0 brought out the Lightning Laser.

    "Does this seem like overkill to you?" Logan asked, as he powered up the weapon.

    "Nope."

    The blasts of energy smashed the door down, leaving a cloud of dust hanging in the air. The Red Ranger and Golden Ranger stepped through the hole, revealing the Snagem boss and Karin, with the Pink Ranger strapped down to a chair.

    "Lucy…" Logan rubbed his visor's brow with a sigh. "Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do."

    0 pointed the gun at the Snagem boss. "Back away from her now," he ordered, "or we'll beat you up like the last time."

    "Did you gain weight from the last time we saw you?" Logan asked. "I could have sworn you've beefed up a bit. Too many potato chips?"

    "Shut up!" roared the Snagem boss, tightening his grip on the massive black stone he held. "I swear to you I will kill you, Red boy. I swear it!" He grabbed Karin's throat, caressing her pale skin with his fingers. "But I'll settle for the mute. She doesn't complain, or make snide comments. She's the perfect woman."

    "Yeah, too bad she's mine chucky. Back away and we forget you were ever here. Understand me?"

    The Snagem boss didn't budge. "I'm sorry, can't hear you. Maybe your girlfriend can enlighten me." He raised his hands up to Karin's mouth, shifting the jaw and moving her mouth. "Come on, girlie. Think you can talk for me?"

    It was at this point that Karin bit the Snagem boss. Hard. Blood erupted from her mouth and the boss howled in agony. Logan rushed forward, smashing into the boss and driving him away.

    0 and Logan, exercising restraint, got out a pair of flexi-cuffs and cuffed the fat idiot. "003, we've got a squad of Snagems down here. Might want to send in a cleanup crew. That or the cops. Your pick."

    "I'm sending local law enforcement now. Make yourself scarce in five minutes."

    Logan turned towards Karin. "Come on, honey. Let's get you home."

    In response, Karin spit out two fingers. Blood trickled down her chin.

    "Uh, Karin… You've got a little… You know what, it's fine. We'll get you cleaned up when we get back to base."

    She slapped his helmet as they headed up the stairs.

    "Yeah, well, it takes about eight minutes to get here from the base. The motorcycle they gave me wouldn't go any faster."

    She slapped him again.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Mrs. Logan was fuming by the time the Red Ranger returned.

    Rather than demorph, as 0 did, Logan dramatically rode into the lab with a roaring engine in full combat armor. Karin clung tightly to him, and only dislodged herself when he dismounted from his machine to follow him in the direction of his mother.

    "Dreas, put away the costume," Mrs. Logan ordered. "We need to talk about Ariel. She's very upset."

    Logan tilted his helmet. "Nope, don't think so," he said through the mechanized synthesizer. "Put her on the first plane back to Kanto. You too. I don't want you or Dad around here anymore. What I do is way too dangerous, and I care about you guys. No matter how crazy you try to drive me."

    "But the wedding-"

    "Forget about the wedding," he said. "I just turned twenty-five, I've got a whole year to get married. Believe me, you'll get grandchildren someday. You'll get your red-eye baby and a bunch of other rugrats to spoil. But I get to live my life. And I get to live it with Karin." He drew her close, and wrapped his arm around her waist. She reciprocated.

    "B-But she's…she's a mute! She can't even talk! What makes you think she'll be a good wife, a good mother?"

    Logan shrugged. Out of the corner of the room, someone laughed. They turned to see Mr. Logan standing next to Bakaguru, grinning ear to ear.

    "Well said, Dreas," he murmured, clapping his hands. "It's almost the same thing I said to your grandmother years ago. Remember, honey?"

    "W-Well, yes, b-but-"

    "And history has a way of repeating itself. My old man said that one too." He walked up to Karin and smiled underneath his round glasses. "I'm Dreas' father, Karin. I don't think we've been introduced. Mind looking after my son? I know he's annoying and loud, but I hope that you can balance that out."

    Karin's zombie-like attitude did not vanish, but it did fade as her eyes warmed. Slowly, she wobbled her chin up and down in a slight nod in agreement.

    "That's all the communication I need. Honey, we're going home."

    "B-But he can't-"

    "We'll talk about it on the plane ride home. Dreas, we'll see you at Christmas. Bring your girlfriend too, she should see your hometown." He turned to Bakaguru. "Think you can have an agent or two send up our bags for the flight home?"

    "I will see what we can do, friend. Have a safe trip home."

    "Roger." He carried his wife away, in spite of her protests, and soon Logan was the only member of his family in the room.

    "Well, I think that went very well." Logan decided to demorph, so half his sentence came out the synthesizer while the ending was his normal voice. "Honey, what do you say we break out that bed and not leave the room for several days?" he asked, turning a hopeful head to Karin.

    The Pink Ranger's face changed from pale to bright red, and she smashed Logan over the head for his suggestion. However, in contrast to her display of violence, she grabbed him by the arm and all but dragged him out of the room.

    It would be an understatement to suggest that Logan's cheering as he dashed through the halls with her was anything but incredibly loud, noisy, and full of egotistical pride. About halfway there, he scooped up Karin and carried her the rest of the way, finding her dragging pace too slow for his tastes.

    They did not leave the room for thirty-eight hours. Bets began circulating around the headquarters as to how long Logan and Karin would continue their marathon of rampart passion unleashed from years of sexual tension and Logan's innuendo.

    0 won the bet, collected several hundred dollars, and spent it on a lovely dinner with his ex-wife and daughter.

    Author's Note: This chapter contains the funniest scene in the entire series, without question. It's also the closest we get to slapstick.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  19. #44
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    Default Chapter 25, Part 1

    Morph Twenty-Five: Tomorrow's Rangers, Part 1

    The Toby family huddled underneath a small umbrella near the tracks waiting for their train. May Toby kept a tight grip on her daughter, ensuring the little girl didn't go exploring too far away, especially near the tracks. Keean Toby held his wife's hand with one hand, the other he shifted to consult his watch. The train was five minutes late, he thought, and continued to watch his surroundings through his aviator glasses.

    "Where's the train?" asked Sarah Toby. She shifted her head this way and that, looking for the train on the north tracks, the south tracks, and in the sky. "Isn't it supposed to be here, Daddy?"

    "Yeah," replied Keean Toby. "I guess it's running a little late Don't worry, it'll be here before you know it, kiddo." He patted her head and she smiled. In the faint distance, they heard the small issue of a whistle in the stormy weather. "There. What'd I tell you?"

    Less than two minutes later the locomotive pulled into the station, shooting steam all over the family and the other passengers waiting nearby. Keean Toby coughed, attempting to blow the smog away from his family. The train whistled one last time before it hissed and the engine ground to a halt in front of the platform. The conductor leapt off the black machine and consulted his pocket watch.

    "All aboard!" he called. "Platform 1- Pyrite Town to Kanto Central Station."

    "That's us," said Keean Toby as he gathered what little luggage his family had and followed his wife and daughter on board. They waved their tickets at the conductor, who allowed them in after counting them. Their tickets were for a private compartment in the first class, which they located after some minor difficulties in navigation through the train, the first attempt of finding the car ended with them in the storage car in the back. Thanks to May, they managed to find the little private room. Keean Toby grabbed their bags and tossed them under the seats. Sarah jumped onto one side of the train and looked outside the window.

    "It's so pretty in here!" said Sarah excitedly. May smiled and sat down with her daughter.

    Keean Toby did not join them. "I'm going to…go catch some air. I'll be right back." May nodded and Keean Toby shut the compartment door behind him. The train had started to move, despite this he moved casually through the rocking train towards the back car. He needed to be alone, if only for a moment. At the back of the train, surrounded by the luggage of his fellow passengers, the Golden Ranger sank to the ground. He shuddered, his hands clenched in fists.

    "…0?" whispered a voice in his ear.

    0 coughed, trying to suppress his emotions. "What's up, Pi?" he asked.

    "Nothing. I just wanted to know if you were alright."

    The Golden Ranger sat in silence for some time, not sure how to answer. "Our whole world ended today, Pi," he said finally, feeling his face grow hot. "My family's safety, our friends…nothing's ever going to be the same again."

    "0, you can't blame yourself for what happened. He knew the risks going into the fight. He chose to fight anyway. He died a hero's death."

    "He was a hero, he didn't deserve to die," 0 choked, there was a lump in his throat and his nose felt stuffy. "And they…" He couldn't even finish the sentence, he didn't want it to be true. He just wanted his friends and family back together and for no one to be dead… "This is all my fault."

    "You wanted to keep everyone together. He understood that."

    "But I didn't do that, did I?" he asked harshly. He opened his mouth to continue, but stopped just short of shouting at the Pikachu. "I'm sorry, Pi. I know you're just looking out for me."

    "I'm not angry. You're in mourning. So is everyone."

    "I need to be strong for Sarah and May," he muttered. "They need me now, more than ever before."

    "Just remember, whatever you are now, 0, you are her husband and Sarah's father. They're the last link to your humanity. Don't lose that."

    0 nodded and took a deep breath. "Never again," he vowed.

    His morpher began to glow, the Golden Ranger lifted it up to his face. "A message…?" he asked.

    "I thought Bakaguru disabled outside communications from PKM," said Pi.

    "He did." The holographic image on the watch displayed a new message had been sent to him. "He just left communications open for me to send to the others…"

    "What should we do? PKM could be tracing us…"

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    …Twenty-Four Hours Ago…

    "Ready, 415?" asked Bakaguru.

    She took a deep breath and nodded. "As I will ever be."

    "She'll be great," Max said. "She's been getting better with Luxray. If we're lucky, she should be good to go."

    "Could we not simply poison the other applicants?" suggested 415. "That way, this arbitrary selection process will be over and done with within the day."

    "I don't think you quite understand why we're doing this through a ranger camp." Bakaguru paused to clean his glasses. "It's so the best applicants can be chosen in an impartial series of tests."

    "I could not care less. I worked the hardest, and 0 picked me as his successor."

    "The former Golden Ranger selected the current 0 as his replacement."

    "I was his daughter. He loved me."

    "You were his adopted daughter. He took you in, nothing more. The current 0 and his team will select their new team members by seeing who will be the most compatible and useful with the ranger technology. There has only ever been one person bonded to the ranger system that wasn't compatible."

    "Yeah," muttered a voice behind Bakaguru. "Me." Serena rubbed her eyes and yawned loudly. "Mind not talking about me behind my back, Bakaguru?"

    "My apologies, Serena. Don't you have to get to 0 for ranger camp preparations?"

    "He said he already took care of everything, so I decided to come down here."

    "Good. Today you're doing the friendship tests right?"

    "Yeah. 415, how are you and Luxray working together?"

    "Fine."

    "She's doing great," said Max. "Luxray's listening to her when she talks to it, and she's learning to work with it instead of order it around." In an extremely unintelligent move, Max put his arm around her and gave her a big hug.

    415 responded by putting Max in a headlock and breaking his neck. Max fell to the floor. Bakaguru and Serena gasped, but 415 merely sighed as the Dark Emerald began to glow, and a crunching noise issued while Max's neck reattached and he climbed back up to his feet.

    "If only he would stay dead," 415 wished.

    "Yeah, she figured out I don't die in our third lesson. Doesn't change the fact that it hurts a lot."

    "I suppose I will have to settle for that."

    "Yep. She's too weak to break the Dark Emerald, so I-"

    415 grabbed his neck and squeezed. "Do not tempt me, idiot."

    "Okay! Okay! It hurts!" he growled. "Geez, why can't you be nice to me? I am trying to help you accomplish your dream, you know." He rubbed his neck and sighed. "Bakaguru, any news on what PKM's doing with my mom and dad?"

    "Norman and Caroline Birch?" Bakaguru wondered, and typed into his computer for a few moments. "They're on a cruise in the Orange Islands. Should keep them out of the public eye for about a year while we work on hiding the rest of your family."

    "Cool. Uh, got any idea of when the ranger camp stuff is going down? I heard the final testing was happening today."

    "The final testing will take place in two hours. The final three applicants will be given the ranger systems based on their skill level. The top applicant will be given the Blue Ranger system, the next will receive the new White Ranger system, and the last shall be given the Black Ranger system. The Council has actually given clearance for a rather extravagant party to be held in honor of the new rangers."

    "That doesn't sound like them," said Serena.

    "The announcement came directly from Alexander Charon."

    "Who's that?" asked Max.

    "Alexander Charon, primary director of the Council," muttered Serena as she rolled her eyes. "His family is another of the founding members of PKM, like mine and Logan's. He's really, really creepy."

    "Charon has long attempted to put Council agenda on my PKM Ranger program," explained Bakaguru. "He has failed at every turn thanks to the selective process remaining in my hands. With the ranger camp, however, I have been forced to allow everyone willing and able to volunteer."

    "So we don't have a clue who we're getting in bed with," finished Serena.

    "To put it in layman's terms, yes, that's right." Bakaguru pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose. "So, 415, I suggest you do a good job today with Luxray. Your dreams depend on it."

    415 growled. "I am aware." She walked off and Max followed.

    "Serena, there is something I've been meaning to ask you," said Bakaguru.

    "What's up?" she asked.

    "How are you handling the ranger business?"

    Serena lowered her face. "It's hard, but at least I'm still with 0. I can handle it as long as we stay together."

    Bakaguru sighed. "Serena, there's something I need to talk to you about."

    She looked up. "What?"

    Bakaguru hesitated. "There is…something you need to know. I have…" He shook his head, he couldn't tell her. Not yet. "You should be at the ranger camp setting up. It's my understanding there will be spectators at today's event." He returned to his computer, his heart heavy. "Go. I will be on my way soon enough."

    "You sure, Bakaguru?" Serena asked. "You seem… I don't know. Kinda down. Is something wrong?"

    He shook his head. "Of course not, Serena." He squeezed her shoulder and smiled. "Run along, I'll come once I finish my testing for the Ailed Morphers."

    She nodded and left. Bakaguru waited again until he was certain he was alone before he brought out the three new morphers. Each one was a perfect little watch. He placed each one in a small box and sealed them away before tucking them into his lab coat.

    "Alright, Charon," he muttered. "Let's see what strength you can muster."

    He shut down all the computers and walked out of the lab.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Good evening, ladies and men!" bellowed Logan. "Welcome to the final portion of ranger camp: the Friendship Test! Can I get a hallelujah?"

    "Hallelujah!" shouted the surrounding crowd.

    "That's what I'm talking about!" roared the Red Ranger, to the applause of all. "Today three among you join the prestigious ranks of us, the PKM Rangers! Three sexy, legally consenting individuals, who will join Karin and I in an after-party celebration-" Logan paused, not because he wanted to, but because Karin grabbed his tongue and tossed the microphone over toward the Golden Ranger.

    "That was completely uncalled for," Logan complained, while Karin gave him a look of intense pleasure as she applied pressure to his neck. "This is paining me. Please stop." She did not.

    "Moving on," growled 0. "Agents step forward with your Pokemon."

    The six candidates stepped up to the platform with their Pokemon. Luxray and 415 stood quietly in the middle of the line, both with a reserved calmness. The others were a mixture of nervousness, cockiness, and excitement. The Golden Ranger turned to her and nodded. She ignored him.

    "You have been found suitable for field combat and ranger technology," 0 announced. "But part of being a Ranger Agent means being compatible with the current generation of the Ranger System. This requires an agent acting as an operator and a Pokemon acting as the support intelligence and basis for the Ranger System. The level of teamwork between ranger and ranger spirit measures the potential strength of the Ranger System. Utilizing the Friendship Checker, we will measure the compatibility of the selected six agents with their Pokemon. The top three will advance into the ranks of PKM Ranger Agents Blue, White, and Black."

    Serena moved towards a platform set up on the stage and lowered her head to the microphone. "Will Agent 3228, Derek Rex, please step up here with his Empoleon?" One of the cadets, a buzz-cut recruit with a serious expression, nodded and stepped up to the platform with his penguin Pokemon. After a few seconds the machine finished recording and Serena wrote down the number. "Thank you," she said. "Please step down. Will Agent 5833, Sean Aarons, please step up here with his Charizard?"

    This continued with the other three agents, until finally Serena said, "Will Agent 415, name classified, please step up here with her Luxray?" 415 took a deep breath before she and Luxray stepped onto the platform. 0 nodded encouragingly and Max cheered from the sidelines. She shot him a glance that could freeze a volcano.

    A few seconds later, it was done and she stepped down. Serena handed the results to 0, who didn't look at the paper and raised the microphone to his mouth. "Here to deliver the results is the operating director of the PKM Ranger Agents, Agent 003 Bakaguru Niwa." The crowd applauded as Bakaguru made his way to the stage, took the sheet from 0, and grabbed the microphone.

    "Thank you, Agent 0," he said before turning to the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen I have the results of whom will be joining the PKM Ranger Agents today. When we first began ranger camp there were over a hundred applicants, which we have narrowed down to the six agents you see before you. Half of these people did not make the cut. I would like to personally apologize to those who will not be joining our team today, as I am sure I would like to have worked with each of them."

    He paused and took a deep breath before looking down the list. "The new operator for the Ranger Agent Blue System will be Special Agent 45, Daniel Day. Congratulations on your promotion, Agent 2." The audience applauded as Day, a large man with a Hariyama, stepped forward to receive a special jacket similar to the ones worn by the other Ranger Agents with his number and color on it.

    "Thank you," he said with a smile and stood off to the side with Logan, Karin, 0, and Serena.

    "The new operator for the Ranger Agent White System will be Agent 776, Ashley Yorfino." A woman slightly younger than 0 stepped forward, giggling with pride, with a Togetic floating next to her. Serena, after much hesitation, presented Yorfino with her old jacket. "Congratulations on your promotion, Agent 3."

    "Take care of it," Serena said.

    The new White Ranger nodded. "I will," she promised, and stepped next to Day.

    Bakaguru lowered the list and tucked it into his pocket. "The final new operator, who will assume control of the Ranger Agent Black System, will be Agent 415. Congratulations on your promotion, Agent 4." He turned to 415 and handed her the ranger jacket, his face beaming with pride.

    415 didn't reach for it. "I did it?" she asked.

    He nodded and showed her the results. "You worked the hardest for this. You've earned it." She put on the jacket and stepped to the side with Luxray, who grinned evilly at the crowd. Bakaguru turned towards the crowd. "Please join me in welcoming the three new PKM Ranger Agents, joining our three other agents in protecting the-"

    It was at the point where Logan grabbed the mic and, smiling, shouted, "Everybody, party at the cafeteria! I'm doing the first keg stand!" This was received by unanimous applause and a slap to the head from Karin.

    Bakaguru clear his throat. "Yes, well, as Ranger Red said, a celebration will be held shortly. During the party we will be bonding the morphers to the Ranger Agents. See you there."

    Bakaguru and 0 waited until the arena filed out before they headed back to the lab.

    "Come, Gold," he muttered. "We need to begin your sequencing early." 0 nodded.

    "How long is it going to take?" he asked.

    Bakaguru shrugged. "I decreased the necessary time. Shouldn't take more than twelve hours now. During that time you'll be wearing a replacement morpher." He opened one of the drawers on his lab table and pulled out the fake one. "Bring your morpher over here." 0 raised his wrist as Bakaguru pulled out some sort of strange, spherical machine. He opened the device and placed 0's wrist inside before shutting it again.

    "Is this going to hurt Pi?" 0 asked.

    Bakaguru shook his head. "No. The ranger spirit will be placed into hibernation while the morpher reconfigures with the Ailed Morpher chip. Pi will not be injured when it is transported to the new system."

    "It's okay," said Pi. "Bakaguru will take good care of me."

    "Fine. See you on the other side, Pi."

    The machine detached the Golden Morpher from his wrist in one quick motion. Once the process was finished 0 removed his hand from the device and felt his wrist.

    "Man, this feels really weird. I even have a tan line," he muttered.

    "You'll live," said Bakaguru as he attached the fake morpher to 0's hand. "This will generate a fake version of your suit in case of emergencies. It cannot operate the Synchronization Drive or utilize any of your other weapons. Keep that in mind if you decide to play hero." 0 nodded. "How are you doing on serum?"

    "I'm scheduled for my next dose tonight. I'll make sure I take it on time."

    "Good. There is one more thing, 0. It seems that Alexander Charon intends on interrogating the Snagem commander we imprisoned."

    "I thought they were all in the regular jails now."

    "Most of them. The Snagem leader is bonded to an abnormal Dark Onyx, so he's a special case. We should hopefully be able to get something useful out of him."

    "Wait," said 0. "Why aren't we interrogating him? Why's Charon doing it?"

    "Prior to his father's death, Alexander Charon was the lead interrogator for the special operations division of PKM. He is well-versed in all manner of torture techniques. He is also a sick, sick little man."

    "We're all sick," whispered a voice dramatically behind 0. Logan grinned and stepped next to the Golden Ranger. "Better statement would be that the guy just ain't right in the head, Bakaguru. You haven't met him, Golden Boy. He likes to play hardball. He's the reason we've had to come up with this mutiny we're doing today."

    "How do you-"

    "Please, 0. You give me too little credit. You think Bakaguru could come up with this kind of huge plan all by himself?"

    "I did come up with it all by myself, Logan," said Bakaguru with an annoyed look on his face.

    "That's completely beside the point. You needed someone to bounce ideas off of."

    "There were no ideas, there was just my basic plan."

    "Well…you needed someone to eat your food with you."

    "Fine. You contributed to that."

    "Hang on," 0 said. "Who else is in on this?"

    "Karin and I know, our morphers are already being upgraded. Birch's parents have been whisked away so they can't be touched. Everything's in place. All you need to do is inform your family to be ready and we'll be good to go. Agents Day and Yorfino, unfortunately, will not be receiving their new morphers. When we go underground, we'll be taking all of the Ranger Systems with us."

    "Ah…yes…" Bakaguru coughed. "It seems I have forgotten something. Serena will have to be told, she still has no idea what we're doing. I will tell her of the plan later tonight, at the party."

    "Why didn't you tell her already?" 0 asked.

    Bakaguru sighed. "I just didn't want to complicate things for her. She is trying to deal with her demotion as best she can, but I can tell she's suffering." 0 nodded. "Gold, I'm not just doing this for you. This whole mutiny benefits your family, true, but Serena needs this just as much as you do. She wasn't supposed to be a ranger, but that accident has become her identity. Do I make myself clear?"

    "Yeah. Don't worry, Bakaguru, she's a big part of our family. I don't want to leave her behind when we're gone."

    "Good. Get going, I believe that your presence will be required at the party today."

    0 grinned. "Gotcha. I already promised May a dance." He took off.

    "Young love," muttered Bakaguru. "Young, stupid love. Is there any other kind?"

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The gentleman before the Snagem boss undid his tie.

    His hair was immaculate, despite a slightly-receding hairline. Coarse black hair flowed from his scalp to his shoulders. He adjusted the narrow lenses of his glasses and coldly stared down at the subdued Dark Gem freak.

    "You," he hissed, as he rolled up his sleeves, "have been a very bad boy."

    The Snagem leader did not respond, prompting Alexander Charon to reach for a nearby can of Mace. He grinned. "Come on, little freak. Tell me what I want to know and I promise we won't hurt you. I swear on my mother's life."

    "Heh," growled the boss. "Something like you has a mother. That's funny, skinny."

    Charon's brow furrowed. "My mother would not appreciate your comment, boy," he hissed and blasted the boss' face full of Mace. The Dark Gem screamed in agony as his face became plastered with the painful, stingy liquid. "Want to try again?" he asked, his voice raised to drown out the shrieks.

    "G-Go to h-hell," he stuttered before spitting in Charon's face. The director of the Council paused, just long enough to retrieve a handkerchief and wipe his cheek, before spraying the rest of the can into the Dark Gem's eyes. He shrieked as Charon tossed away the can and glanced lovingly at the torture table nearby.

    "Ah. You know, I have so many little toys to play with, you little freak…" He walked over to the table and picked up a blowtorch. "For instance, I could incinerate your hand, finger by finger, until the last three are gone. Karino really did a number on you, huh?" He placed the torch back down and picked up some sort of strange syringe. "Or some liquid nitrogen to pump through your veins. I'll bet that'll get you to start talking…if you live through it, that is." But at last he found what he wanted: the flickering jumper cables plugged right into an electrical generator. "Here we go, I think these will do perfectly."

    He walked back to the Snagem leader and, as politely as possible, attached the ends of the jumper cables to both of his captive's hands. Charon reached for the electric generator. "Is there anything, anything at all, you wish to tell me before the real interrogation begins?" he asked hopefully, flashing a smile. But nothing he said made a difference to his prisoner and he let out a loud sigh. "Maybe I should let 1 interrogate you, a few hours with him and your head would explode. But no, I'm a kind man. I'll just inflict physical torture on you." He hit the switch and watched the pretty sparks that shot from the Snagem boy's mouth for a while After he'd had enough, he flipped the switch and cackled while his prisoner gasped for breath.

    "Want more?" asked Charon, all smiles. "I'm sure I can tap into the main power grid of you'd like some mo-" He paused, as the little prisoner began gasping for air, trying to say something. "What's that?" he asked and slapped the man. "Speak up, I can't hear you!"

    "S-Said that if y-you k-k-kill me…can't t-tell," he gasped. Charon relished the sound as his captive struggled to breathe with every instant that dragged on.

    Charon tapped his lips with his forefinger. "Excellent point," he murmured. "But if you don't talk, then I just end up having all the fun at your expense. I want this to be an equal trade, kiddo." He glanced at the desk nearby and picked up a file. "Let's see, what does my agency know about you, Mr. Prisoner?" He flipped open the first page.

    "Your name is Arnold Walker, but I was told you prefer the codename Goza. Now, that's a very stupid name, isn't it? Much dumber than that poor thing your mother gave you." He chuckled and Goza's face just reddened up like a fresh strawberry.

    "Better…shut up… Kill you," he mumbled.

    "I don't think you're in a position to make such a rash, rude statement," said Charon, who was more than willing to touch his finger gingerly to the electrical knob that controlled the circuit flow between the machine and Goza's body. "Now I'll ask you one more time: what are you doing with that Dark Gem of yours? I'm afraid I just need to know. We need to get rid of you vermin while you're soft and weak. If we wait longer, you'll just get bigger and make even more of a mess."

    "Then-" The man's head sagged "-what's with Jolly Green? Saw one of us with your team."

    "Oh him…he's being taken care of right now. Once you give me the information I need, you'll join him in being executed. You Dark Gem Rangers are simply too unstable for me…not like ours are any better, but ours listen to me and me alone. Yours don't. See the difference?" He flipped the switch for the tiniest second, but it was one of the most painful seconds Goza had ever endured.

    "Did that change anything?" Charon asked.

    "N-Not a thing," whispered Goza between clenched teeth. "Want to know what the funny part is?"

    "Go ahead, I love a good joke."

    "In a few hours, you'll all be dead. Every last one of you. So go ahead, put me through this. I can take it. My Dark Gem won't let me die like a dog here." He lifted up his hand and tried to wave the bloody stumps where two of his fingers used to be. "That pink one? She's the first one to die. She took my fingers, I'll take off her neck!"

    "Yes, I must apologize for that," murmured Chaon, almost as if he was sincere. "You see, Ranger Pink has never quite been a person of…shall we say mental stability. She's right on par with you Dark Gems, I think. Her background is complicated, to say the least. As her master, I should tell you that your injury could have been much worse. You should have just let her go, but now you've lost two fingers and it's nobody's fault but your own. If anything, blame your Dark Gem friends. Why, did you know that the Dark Emerald Ranger can regenerate anything? If we cut off his head, I'm sure he'd just reattach it somehow! He must be so much stronger, so much better than you, to have your friends leave you with something so weak, so useless…"

    "Stop talking to me!" Goza shrieked, and slammed his fists into the sides of the chair. "I don't want to hear any more! Nothing! Zip! Nada! Got it, you sick, twisted freak?" His breaths came in gasps, his face was steaming red. Only the restraints on the chair prevented him from rising up and ripping off Charon's own head. Even then, Goza was sure he'd just keep talking, no matter what.

    "I'm the sick twisted freak? I'm sorry, you must be confusing me with someone else, you poor diluted man." As he opened his mouth to continue, he was forced to pause when somebody knocked at the door.

    "Now who could that be?" Charon wondered aloud as he walked towards the door. "I believe I asked for specific instructions to be left alone with the prisoner!" he called through the door. "He's just about to give up some information."

    "New orders came through!" replied the voice on the other side.

    "From who? You think you're talking to some annoying punk! I am Alexander Charon, head of PKM. No one has higher jurisdiction than I do."

    "New orders came through!" repeated the voice.

    "Fine." Grinding his teeth, Charon opened the door with a knife in his hands. Instead of some sweet, innocent little girl whom the voice sounded like, a woman with blazing purple eyes stood behind the door, casually holding a gun.

    "Hi, Alexander Charon, head of PKM. Mind if I come inside?" asked Ame. She glanced past him to the prisoner. "My friend Ony looks like he's in bad shape. I hope you haven't permanently damaged him."

    "…Ame…help me," groaned Goza. "He's…gonna kill me."

    Ame shut the door behind her and locked it. "I cannot let him do that, my employers wasted too much time creating you and bonding that expensive Dark Onyx to you. Still, you have no one to blame but yourself for this mess. I told you not to engage them until you were strong enough. Your Dark Onyx is too weak to even hurt that traitor Eme." She crossed to Goza, still pointing the gun at Charon, and touched the prisoner's shoulders. "This is going to feel weird, but it will be over soon." She closed her eyes and something within her clothes glowed.

    Goza gasped as he slid through the chair and landed on the ground. Ame dragged him away and he stood up.

    "How did you do that?" he asked, amazed.

    She shrugged. "Need to know basis. Alexander Charon, head of PKM, does not need to know." she shifted her gaze towards Charon, whose face seemed a little bit too calm. "Now, what would you like to do with him? My contract says nothing about whether Alexander Charon lives or dies, Ony."

    Goza grinned. "Oh, I've got a few ideas," he murmured with a growl. He cracked his knuckles and took a step forward. Not wanting to be outdone by such a freak, Charon mimicked the motion.

    "I as well, little freak," chuckled Charon, as he reached for his knife. "In fact, this could even be fun. For a while, at least, until you die."

    But Ame consulted her watch, and halted the potential bloodbath. "Ony, we must move," advised Ame. "We are on a strict schedule, I need to bring you back to my employers. Vengeance will have to wait until your final upgrade. My clock is very specific on our time constraints."

    Goza growled, but reluctantly followed Ame out the door. Charon watched, certain of his complete inability to do anything. After all, the girl had whisked his prisoner through a solid steel chair. His powers were much less.

    When the door slammed shut he reached into his pocket and pulled out a communicator. "Bakaguru Niwa?" he asked.

    "Charon?" replied the voice, with a bite of distain.

    "Alexander Charon to you, tech monkey," said he. "Rally your troops together. We seem to have a wee infestation in our organization. Delay our plan to arrest Max Birch and Serena Brine, we may need them as cannon fodder."

    A pause on the line. "What's the problem?"

    "Our Dark Gem prisoner was released by another one, they're probably making their way towards the party as we speak. Inform the guests of honor of our…predicament. I don't want to have to replace the whole team after we just finished choosing new recruits."

    "On it."
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  20. #45
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    Default Chapter 25, Continued

    Morph Twenty-Five: Tomorrow's Rangers, Part 2

    Somehow, someway, Logan had gotten onto the chandelier.

    Rigged especially for the event, it was now being used much like an expensive, shiny jungle vine. Twenty feet below him, the Red Ranger could hear shouts of encouragement from the ground. All of them begged for him to keep swinging, shouting his name like a holy chant. His ego, as it always did in these situations, began swelling to dangerous proportions.

    "Logan, you idiot! Get down from there!"

    Logan lost his focus, and almost his grip, but recovered just enough to look down into the angry, visually enraged face of the Golden Ranger. His nostrils flared beneath his dark goggles and his face was twisted into an expression that Logan had often seen on the man prior to engaging in combat. Lines formed around his mouth and brows, indicating his displeasure at Logan's behavior.

    "No can do!" he replied and resumed his swinging. "Having way, way too much fun."

    His fun was cut short exactly twenty seconds later, when he finally did lose his grip. Though his eyesight and brain were quite untouched by the keg stand he had so enjoyed, his coordination and the reflexes of his body were somewhat lacking. It was only because of Karin, his sweet luscious princess, that he was saved.

    She leapt through the air and, much like catching a piece of meat before it fell to the germ-infested floor, caught the drunk Logan in her arms and landed perfectly on the ground. Everyone near the vicinity applauded.

    0 groaned. "Karin, just take him back to your place and let him sleep it off. I don't want a drunk Logan roaming PKM completely devoid of common sense."

    Karin set Logan down on his feet, but supported him from his shoulder as she began to walk him to their room.

    "Oh, you are so getting rewarded for that later," Logan murmured, nobody but those nearest to him could hear it, and cheers erupted. As did Karin, who twisted his ear until a shrill shout of pain escaped his lips. When it died down, Logan's voice continued, obviously not learning its lesson. "We're getting in the hot tub and after a few more drinks I'm going to make you scream in a way that absolutely nobody but you-"

    This statement ended, as many of them often did, by a blow to the head from the Pink Ranger that knocked Logan out and shut him up. She glanced at 0, who issued her a silent thumb's up of approval, before hauling the Red Ranger over her shoulder and heading out of the party.

    0 sighed. "It's like cavemen. Only reversed."

    "What's like cavemen?" 0 spun around: it was May wearing a brand new dress. Eyes followed her as she approached him, but a quick twitch of his mouth sent all the would-be suitors refocusing their attention on things that weren't the Golden Ranger's ex-wife. 0 found it impossible to look away, the way the light from the rafters above simply glowed on the dress' red hue.

    "I'm underdressed." Compared to her he was. He was wearing his PKM uniform, several notches below May's dress in terms of class. She didn't seem to mind though and was more than happy to get a little closer, almost within arm's length.

    "There are other things I like about that one," she said. Such as the golden hues, the fact that it showed off his rippling muscles, which he hadn't had three years ago. Those little, somewhat devious thoughts she kept to herself.

    "Would you like to dance?" The music had, as if by divine intervention, just changed to a soft, slow waltz. "I learned during training."

    She nodded and offered him her hand. "They taught you dancing in training?" she asked as he led her out onto the dance floor.

    "They taught us a lot of stuff for espionage. Mine was high-class stuff, since I knew a lot of lower class things. Learning which fork was for what was the hardest lesson." May giggled as he confidently began to lead her through the dance.

    It was one she loved, an older dance that for years had eluded him with its complexity and his lack of coordination skills. During their marriage when she'd wanted to dance she'd force Brock or, once, Drew, to dance with her and left 0 to watch. Now, however, it was the powerful Golden Ranger who waltzed her through the dance floor, his feet shifting with the music with a perfection that astounded her. In all their years together she'd seen 0 as a man so at home on the battlefield, but so clumsy when it came to social matters.

    I suppose there are some positive things about him being a ranger after all, she thought to herself. Besides the fact that he saves Sarah and my life almost every time we go out. She chuckled and 0 perked up a brow.

    "What is it?" he asked. His concentration never wavered from following the steps of the dance.

    "Oh, just reminiscing." They danced in silence, her eyes tracing the edges of the dark goggles that shielded his eyes, until finally the music came to a slow, soft rest. Like the other couples in the crowd, the Golden Ranger and his ex-wife applauded the music selection choice. They then cringed when some sort of music came on in which the artist singing was attempting to rhyme, but was doing it with the class and capability of a three-year-old.

    He knew personally a five-year-old could do much better. He watched as Sarah noticed him and May coming from the dance floor and abandon her uncle Max in order to run up. 0 bent down and grabbed her in a hug.

    "Hey, kiddo," he said as he kissed her cheek. "You gonna dance?"

    She shook her head. "Uncle Max can't dance. And Mrs. Karin took Mr. Logan to bed."

    He grinned. "Want to dance with your Dad?"

    She nodded eagerly. "Yes, Daddy!" she squealed and hugged him tighter.

    He looked to May. "Mind if I take the young lady out on the dance floor?" he asked.

    "Not at all. Have fun, Honey." She too bent down to kiss Sarah's other cheek.

    "Thanks, Mommy!"

    0 picked Sarah up and seated her on his fake left shoulder. He steered her through the crowd until he arrived at the disc jockey who was apparently the cause of the bad music playing. He was a younger agent, probably very new, so he snapped to attention the moment he saw 0 entering his small booth.

    "Sir!" he shouted and snapped off a salute. "What can I do for you?"

    0 returned the salute. "Change the music. My daughter wants something nice to dance to."

    The jockey nodded eagerly, very excited to be talking to the Golden Ranger. "What did you have in mind?"

    The Golden Ranger handed the young man a note. "Play this," he ordered and left the room without another word. He hardly heard the man's excited response about the excellent choice as he made his way back to the dance floor. He set Sarah down.

    She tried hard to wrap her arms around his waist, and her father laughed when he saw that she didn't have long enough arms. "Don't laugh, Daddy."

    "Sorry, kiddo," he said and took her hands and gently swayed her through the dance.

    From afar, May watched as her daughter and the man who was once her husband danced. She couldn't believe it. The man her husband had become was so gentle when it came to Sarah and her, no matter what. She'd seen him tear through Rangerlings to protect them without a passing glance, and here he was trying as hard as he could to make sure that Sarah didn't so much as stumble on the dance floor.

    They were about halfway through the dance when 0, for some reason stopped and put his hand to his ear.

    "Yes?" he asked, in the tone of voice that suggested his patience was thin for interruptions. "What?" A different tone, one of concern. "On my way. Get the others."

    He looked down at Sarah, who was incredibly confused as to why they had stopped dancing. "What's wrong, Daddy?" she asked.

    He sighed. "Gotta go save the world again."

    She nodded. "Okay, Daddy. Go beat them up."

    0 walked off the dance floor and handed Sarah to May. "What's wrong?" she asked as she took hold of her daughter.

    "Bakaguru just said to get mobilized. The Onyx guy they were keeping locked up escaped and he's heading this way. Get Sarah to safety and don't come out, no matter what."

    "Of course. Come on Sarah." May and Sarah hurried out of the room. 0 went to go find Max.

    He found him chatting with Serena. "Max, 3, we need to get going. There's been a breakout."

    Serena's face was a little red. "I'm not 3 anymore. That girl is." She pointed to Yorfino, who was wearing her old jacket. She appeared to have a drink in her hand which had been refilled quite a number of times. "Call me 'Serena'."

    Max, on the other hand, was quite alert. "Got it. Let's get moving."

    "Find 415 and take her to Bakaguru to get her morpher now. 3, go get Karin and Logan. I'll hold him down until then." He didn't feel the need to mention he was going to be fighting without the full benefit of his Ranger System. Max nodded and dashed off. Serena, after a moment to judge if he was indeed serious, sobered up fast and took off in the opposite direction.

    0 took the stage and shut off the music. Everyone, in anger and confusion, spun up to see what was going on. "Everyone, please make your way to the exits and prepare for combat. We have a confirmed escape of a prisoner. This is not a drill."

    Within seconds everyone was in motion. Despite being in the air of the party and lax, all of the people present were still PKM Agents and still knew how to handle escapes. 0 waited until the majority of them had left for their battle stations before he switched his com-link back on.

    "003," he said. "Where is the prisoner?"

    The response came a few seconds later. "Prisoner has already reached upper levels, Gold. At this rate, he and his companion will reach the hangers in ten minutes. You can get there in five to head them off before they break out."

    "Roger. 3 is getting 1 and 5, and Max is getting 415 to bring to you."

    "Surely you're not thinking of fighting them on your own? That fake system I gave you will not last against a full blooded Dark Gem Ranger. You will probably only make it a minute, maybe two, into combat."

    "That's enough time for the others to get there," said the Golden Ranger. "Let the others know the plan and I'll try to keep them from getting out of here."

    "I will make sure they get there in time."

    "Got it. 0, over and out."

    "003, over and out." The line went dead.

    0 took a deep breath. This would be a first, going into battle without Pi or his equipment to support him. He started jogging, then eventually broke out into a full run through the base. He passed people suiting up for combat, and decided he would do the same. He lifted the false morpher to his lips, it felt so much lighter than his regular one for some reason.

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    The golden burst of energy was still the same, but when the armor fell onto him 0 knew instantly that the armor was not his own. It was so much lighter than normal, just like the morpher. It almost felt like spandex with a little padding, completely unlike his regular heavy-duty armor. He tried to brush these thoughts out of his mind as he reached the hanger.

    And then he waited. They arrived early, only four minutes later, but they were some of the fastest four minutes of his life. The Onyx prisoner and a woman who, 0 guessed, had freed him. She had dark purple hair and blazing eyes of the same color.

    She stopped and consulted her watch. "You are Ranger Gold, correct?" she asked, as if verifying the proper delivery of a package.

    0 nodded. It seemed redundant of her to ask him that while he was transformed.

    "This is one of the people that my employers want alive," she told the Snagem commander. "Another is May Birch. We will have to obtain them quite quickly, otherwise my employers will be very unhappy with my performance. Go after Birch, I will deal with this one. Meet me back here with her in exactly five minutes."

    "Don't think so," said 0. "You're going to have to go through me to get to anyone." Absolutely nothing in his voice hinted uncertainty in backing up that declaration.

    She nodded. "I understand your resistance to the idea, but when I am contracted to something I fulfill it. As you are in our way and preventing timely completion of the contract, I will have no choice but to disable you." She turned to the giant hulk of a man next to her. "Go now, Ony. He will not stop you."

    The Snagem commander she called Ony nodded. "Yes, Ame," he grunted and turned around and walked off.

    0 had other ideas and put them into action. He leapt forward, completely aware of his inability to engage his Agility ability with Pi. "No you don't. Not again."

    Ame, in a very controlled method, grabbed him as he attempted to dodge past her. With intelligence and a good grip, the Golden Ranger found he could not be dislodged from her grasp. He tried to twist away, but she was much too good for that. She did not even budge until Ony was out of sight, and only then did she let him go.

    "Fine," 0 said. "I guess we'll start with you."

    She merely offered him the slightest sign of a grin. "Go ahead, if you think you can hit me," she replied, with just a subtle threat on her lips.

    He charged, enraged like a Tauros, and smashed into her. Or, to be more accurate, smashed through her. For whatever reason, the Golden Ranger sailed clear through her body and out the other side. He skidded to a halt and swerved back to glare at Ame through his mask.

    She hadn't moved an inch. She continued to look at him with that same dull smirk.

    "How did you do that?" he demanded to know.

    She shrugged. "All of us with Dark Gems are special. Our specialty, however, is on a need to know basis. You do not need to know."

    "Fine. Guess I can beat that out of you too before I deal with your big boyfriend."

    "He is merely a pawn of my employer. I assure you our relationship is strictly business. Personally, I do not find him particularly useful."

    "Then why'd you sneak into PKM to break him out?" 0 asked.

    "I have commitments to the holder of my contract. It would be unprofessional of me to violate them under any circumstances. Regardless of my feelings on the matter, Ony must be returned to my employers, along with yourself and May Birch as collateral. Orders are orders, as the saying goes."

    The Golden Ranger was quite confused at the new direction the conversation was headed. "So you don't want to take May Birch?"

    "That is not important. What is important is that she must be taken. It is a very specific part of my contract."

    And, without warning, she attacked. She delivered a punch to 0's midsection so powerful that, if 0 had not undertaken the training of PKM, he would never have been able to withstand. It would have torn through his stomach. Instead, the iron muscles of his abs remained intact long enough for 0 to bellow like a wounded Pokemon and smash her in the face.

    She sailed across the room and recovered just as quickly. 0 growled and advanced. Ame just got right back up, as if completely immune to his attack. He threw one more punch to her head, smashing her into the ground. In spite of his technological shortcomings at that particular moment, 0 was a warrior. As such, his physique should have been more than adequate to take her down.

    "Transform," he rasped, his voice just barely above a whisper. "Transform into that Dark Gem Ranger thing, and let's really fight."

    From the floor he heard the reply. "That would be ill-advised, Ranger Gold," she replied. "My untransformed power level is more than able to take you down as you are now. In fact, I was about to suggest that you go get some reinforcements, but I doubt you would. You are a very, very proud man, Ranger Gold."

    "People stronger than you have tried their luck and lost," he growled. His voice came out gargled, like the grunts of a mad beast.

    "You are referring to the Rangerlings, or perhaps to the Dark Sapphire Ranger, am I right?" Ame simply giggled and shook her head. "No, Gold, I am afraid you have faced nothing like me before. Not even Ony, with all his brute force, can defeat me. I am second to none, save for my employers." She paused, long enough to look him up and down. "You are like a little insect to me, Ranger Gold. A pest to be dealt with in the manner I please. Our conversation now is only allowed because Ony has yet to retrieve May Birch. Were he here, there would be no contest. I would have no choice but to end it quickly. It is very unprofessional to be late."

    0 simply readied another attack. It did not matter to him what their so-called difference was in power level. She was an enemy. All enemies, at one point or another, lost to him. He was the Golden Ranger, after all.

    "You're nothing to me," he growled and advanced.

    She merely sighed and moved to oblige him. Before he could even get out a punch, something from within her clothes flashed, and 0 found that her hand was buried deep inside his chest. Her wrist stuck out of his flesh, her hands had vanished within. 0 gasped, but strangely felt nothing. Her grin intensified.

    "You understand, correct?" she asked. "As I have used the technique on you, you must be unclassified. My body, and my Dark Gem, are very special. So special they can, say, travel through solid objects and materialize at will. Imagine if my hand solidifies now, Ranger Agent Gold? What would you do to stop me from destroying what remains of your internal structure?" She leaned in, digging her wrist deeper. "Or, better yet, do you think PKM will be willing to save you a second time? After being such a nuisance to them time and again? I think it highly unlikely."

    He simply glared at her, from beneath his visor. "No, I can't stop you," he conceded, but nothing in his tone suggested he was giving up. "But I can do this." And he screamed.

    How he did it, or even where it came from, even the Golden Ranger knew not. Ame retracted her hand suddenly, out of fear, as a spark formed on his uniform and stung her, not enough to hurt but certainly enough to sizzle. Somehow he was producing electricity, without being connected to his Ranger System, without being connected to the Synchronization Drive, and even without being connected to Pi.

    He roared a second time, his rage had exceeded her predictions. Ame had wanted to take him alive, without use of brute force, by taunting him until he tired. But this reaction had been completely unexpected, and she could do naught but watch as slowly the bulbs on the ceiling cracked and fizzled out. The light in the hanger died until at last the only thing glowing was the Golden Ranger himself, a bright figure of light in the dim hanger.

    "Now," he growled, every syllable pure hatred, "let's see how well you can dodge." And he lifted the fingers of his right hand and pointed them much like he was mimicking a gun's figure. "Bang."

    A jolt of lighting cracked and surged from his fingertips and he screamed. Ame watched as the electricity struck her and knocked her to the floor, smoke pouring from her head. 0 was barely aware of a second set of feet smashing against the floor, and turned towards the intruder.

    It was Ony, or what was left of him. The figure that stood before him was ten feet in height, covered in Dark Onyx scales. Its visor looked down at him like a bug, and then turned towards its cargo. Slung over its shoulder was May Birch, and the Golden Ranger roared.

    The Dark Onyx Ranger roared back and dropped May to the floor. Like a rag doll she smacked against the steel floor and laid still.

    "Ka…" screeched the Golden Ranger, no longer of his own mind, too driven by the fight to think, "Chuuuuuuu!" Another bolt of lightning issued from his fingertips and struck Ony. Its figure merely absorbed the lightning with just a twitch of discomfort. It shrugged off the blast and turned towards Ame, waiting for instructions.

    "Take him," she ordered. "Alive."

    It nodded and advanced. 0 screeched and blasted it again and again, no longer caring that it seemed to be absorbing his energy and converting it, strengthening itself somehow through its enemy's attack. All the Golden Ranger cared about was proving Ame wrong. He was strong! He was powerful! And his enemies turned to dust!

    That was why, when the Dark Onyx Ranger grabbed him, he fired another batch of lighting. It roared, and so did 0, when the electricity coursed right back to him through Ony's touch. He screamed, and then he began to feel dizzy, numb…

    Paralyzed.

    "Take them," Ame ordered as she got to her feet. Her hair stood on ends. "We will be late if we delay any longer."

    Ony grunted and did as it was told.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "This is our final mission," Bakaguru announced.

    Max Birch stood next to him, keeping a protective watch on Sarah. There were still tears in the little girl's eyes, and he felt the shame anew. His niece shouldn't have had to have these problems. He should have done more to protect her. Then he remembered his sister, his parents, and that nothing could have protected them against what had happened. No one could have predicted the life that Sarah would have forced on her.

    And now her mother and father were gone. He had to get them back, he thought. She needed them.

    Logan looked sober, he always did in missions. Karin stood by his side, again as always. Serena was at the computer, displaying a series of coordinates on screen.

    "The false morpher contains a small tracer I designed for this very kind of emergency," Bakaguru explained and pointed to the coordinates. "It has been sending off a signal every two minutes for the last ten. Currently, May and Gold's captors seem to be heading due south, towards Gatling Port. It is the only colonized section of their location that has the means for them to be transported elsewhere."

    "How are we supposed to catch up with them?" asked Logan.

    Bakaguru smiled. "Jessie and James have been working hard on that. Serena, if you please?" He bowed as Serena typed in a few more keystrokes. The ground near them opened up, revealing what appeared to be a pad made of some strange, glowing metal. "A teleporter. Similar in design to the ones used to transport Poke Balls, this one has been modified to be able to send you to anywhere you need. But it is a one-way trip. The technology has not been perfected to the point where it can simply pick you out of nowhere and bring you back."

    Logan stepped onto the teleporter and Karin followed. "Good. We won't be needing the return trip. Karin and I are scampering off after this little detour."

    "What?" Serena asked.

    "I will fill you in once we've finished business here," said Bakaguru. He presented two new Ailed Morphers from his pocket. "These are the Ailed Red and Pink Morphers. They will allow you assume your Ranger Modes again. Rescue Modes have been redesigned for better use."

    Logan tore off the fake morpher he was wearing, Karin did the same, and together they sequenced their morphers. A dull red glow issued around Logan as he identified himself and locked himself in, while a pink glow surrounded Karin as hers analyzed her to confirm her identity.

    "Agent 4," Bakaguru said, and turned to 415 in the corner. "The time has come." She came forward quite a bit hesitantly, as if not wanting to wake up from some wonderful dream. But it was no dream, as she realized when she confirmed her identity and downloaded Luxray into the morpher. The Pokemon just gave her a grin, it was eager to fight, before it vanished in a bright red digitizing light.

    "Now we have a Ranger Black again. Congratulations." Bakaguru smiled with approval as she took her place next to Logan and Karin on the teleporter. "Ready to go?"

    Logan nodded. "Punch this baby up!" he ordered.

    "Not so fast!"

    All three ranger, Bakaguru, Max, Sarah, and Serena turned to the door. Alexander Charon, a bright grin on his face, walked into the lab. Flanking him on all sides were two hundred armed PKM Agents, with two hundred guns pointed directly at Bakaguru. He chuckled and looked over at the engineer, making no attempts to hide his distain. Bakaguru gave Charon the same treatment.

    "Operations are terminated," Charon said casually, right before he sat down in one of Bakaguru's comfy chairs. "We will no longer be pursuing Ranger Gold or May Birch. Both have shown to be very unreliable and I want them gone. Besides, I am ordering a team of fighter jets to that location now. It should be leveled in an hour or so, and then this whole business with Agent 0 will come to an end."

    He then yawned and scratched his head, as if he'd just gotten off a hard day's work. Bakaguru was surprised he didn't ask for a pipe and slippers.

    "We need to rescue Gold," he insisted. "He is the only one with the operational Synchronization Drive. We require the sheer strength he is capable of producing."

    Charon clapped. "Bravo, are you an actor, Niwa? Really now, I know all about your little coup. Frankly, I thought it was adorable you could keep it from me, but the fact of the matter is that Gold does not have his little gadgets right now, does he?" Charon pointed to Bakaguru's coat. "It's right in there. And I want it for myself. I'd make a great ranger, don't you think so?"

    Bakaguru did not so much as blink. "I will not turn the Gold Ailed Morpher over to you. Its rightful owner is Agent 0."

    "My Council and PKM leadership supersedes anything you can throw at me, Niwa. Give me the morpher, or all these gentlemen will turn you into a steamy collection of bullets." Bakaguru looked toward Logan, who was already reaching for his morpher.

    Charon snapped his fingers. When Logan pressed the button on his morpher, nothing happened. Logan tried again, with the same result, as Charon began to laugh. "Your morphers are so easy to disable, Bakaguru! Just select the right jamming frequency and presto! No more rangers to protect you from me."

    Max growled, and the Dark Emerald's chain began slinking along his arms. "Don't think so," he hissed, and pressed the gem into his flesh. "Dark Gem Igni-"

    Max failed to finish his sentence, because one of the Agents slammed a syringe into his neck. Max shrieked and fell to the floor, convulsing. His skin began to turn purple, and another of the Agents just enclosed Max in a little red bubble.

    Charon grin grew broader. "It's amazing what even just a teeny spoonful of liquid nitrogen will do to someone, Niwa. I believe that takes care of all your pets. Why don't you give me what I want. I want the most powerful morpher. I want the system." He stretched out his hand and snarled, "Give it to me!"

    Bakaguru put his hand in his pocket and squeezed the morpher inside. "No," he whispered defiantly.

    Charon stood up and walked over to the engineer. "You think you're better than me, you little otaku? What do you have that even compares to who I am, and what I have? I am the head of PKM. You're just a project manager."

    Bakaguru smiled. "I have friends who give me gifts," he replied quietly, just so Charon could hear, and punched the head of PKM directly in the face. Charon staggered back, and the battalion of agents stood silently, quite unsure of what to do now. No one struck Charon. Ever.

    Bakaguru's hand emerged from his pocket, displaying a shiny, silver-and-orange watch. With a shout he clamped it to his arm, it bonded to him instantly.

    "Now, old friend," he murmured, "let's see how well this invention works!"

    He shouted, "Master Mode, Online!"

    The transformation was not as flashy as the newer models, Bakaguru noticed. It was much more subtle, as the armor and protective plates covered him in silver and orange. The visor, nothing but a stylized rectangle and a mouth plate, clamped onto him and completed the transformation. The armor looked old and rusty, but when Bakaguru moved it made no squeaks, no creaks.

    "I am Bakaguru Niwa," said the man inside the suit of armor. Charon scrambled to get behind the waves of grunts he'd brought. "I wield the powers of the Master Ranger."

    He turned towards Serena, who seemed too stunned to even notice his order. "Close the doors please, and execute quarantine protocol. I don't want anything else getting in…or out." Somehow, he managed to find Charon in the crowd before the doors locked, trapping everyone inside. Charon scraped at the doors, but nothing he did changed the fact that he was now stuck inside a room with an angry, angry engineer.

    "So what?" Charon asked, from the safety of his mob. "I've got two hundred guys with guns. You've got a rusty spandex uniform."

    Bakaguru looked through the crowd, they all looked so young…he would have to work hard to make sure no one was killed. "No, I have a modified, updated suit of armor," he said, and the voice synthesizer made him sound terribly frightening to many of the onlookers. "You have bodies. Bodies that are in the way of me getting what I want."

    And he attacked.

    The first ten fell from his initial rush. He just smashed their heads through their helmets, enough to knock them out without causing permanent damage. A further fifteen fell instantly when the first ripple of gunfire issued, smashing into bullet-proof uniforms and hurting so many of them so badly many fainted. Within the first ten seconds, Charon's army was reduced by one-eighth.

    The rangers, Serena, and Sarah watched on with amazement as their mentor and leader proceeded to tear through the ranks like a pro. Serena grabbed Sarah and hid them both behind some reinforced desks. Karin was eager to join the fray, but a few words from Logan convinced her to join Serena and Sarah. The force field cutting them off from Max was, ironically, taking out a lot of the Agents from ricochets.

    Meanwhile, the Master Ranger made short work of the grunts. They were too green for someone like him, who'd been learning and studying fighting for decades. This, to him, was nothing more than the practical demonstration of his knowledge.

    Within two minutes, two hundred unconscious bodies littered the floor like forgotten scraps of paper. Which, according to the Master Ranger's count, meant that the one feeble human in their midst must be Alexander Charon. Bakaguru stomped towards Charon and grabbed the head of PKM by the throat. Charon wisely did nothing, but did whimper quite a bit as Bakaguru walked him towards Max.

    "Shut this off now," Bakaguru ordered. After Charon pointed out where the force field control device was, 415 released a gasping, but healed, Max from the force field. "How do you turn off the morphers?"

    Charon showed Bakaguru a small switch in his belt. Bakaguru tore it off and smashed it. It crackled and died underneath his iron boots. Bakaguru tossed Charon against the wall and struck him with the force field, trapping the head of PKM in a place where he could not bother anyone for the time being.

    Satisfied, Bakaguru demorphed. The armor simply faded away, revealing an exhausted, sweaty engineer underneath. He could barely stand.

    "You okay?" Serena asked.

    He nodded. "I have not morphed for many years. I forgot how tiring it is sometimes when you get caught up in the rush."

    "You were a ranger?" Logan asked.

    "Once, long ago," said Bakaguru. "I was on the same team as the previous Golden Ranger, after all. So was your father, Arthur. We once designed the initial prototype that went on to become the Ranger System, incorporating Pokemon. This-" He paused to indicate the morpher on his wrist "-does not use Pokemon. It was before Old Gold made the discovery of a Pokemon-powered suit. We discontinued this morpher's production, but we weren't made to turn them in. For fun, I've been modifying it over the years with scraps of new technology here and there."

    "So you guys were the founders?" asked Serena.

    Again, Bakaguru nodded. "Old Gold's system went on to become the advanced standard of the Ranger Agent System. Arthur was the one who found a way to reproduce it, and he created the basic Ranger Mode and Rescue Mode the Golden Ranger did not have. I became an engineer and helped them both until Arthur retired and Old Gold died." He sighed, but there was a slight smile. "Now I am going to help you. Get to the transporter now."

    Max, Logan, Karin, and 415 did as they were told. Bakaguru handed Max a vial. "What's this for?" he asked.

    "0 has not taken his serum tonight. Or, at least, I doubt he has. Give that to him."

    Max nodded, so Bakaguru turned towards Charon and grinned.

    "This isn't over!" shouted the head of PKM. "Others are on their way!"

    "I'm sure they are," said Bakaguru and pressed a button on the bubble's controller. "Consider this my declaration of war, Alexander Charon. Serena, if you please?" Serena fired up the teleporter. The four figures on the pad glowed, then suddenly vanished, leaving her, Sarah, Bakaguru, and Charon as the only conscious people remaining in the lab.

    "Now, I am afraid, the real trouble begins," murmured Bakaguru. He sat down and began to fan himself.

    "What?" Sarah asked, looking up at him. He never ceased to be amazed at how cool and calm this five-year-old could be in situations like this.

    "We need someone to bring the Ailed Gold Morpher to your father when it is finished sequencing," Bakaguru explained. "As I noticed from the footage from the hanger, I think it really will be his best shot at survival."

    "What do you mean?" asked Serena.

    "Ah, you haven't seen the footage yet, have you?" She shook her head. "Well, we have a bit of time. Come and look." Bakaguru positioned his chair in front of the computer and felt extremely grateful for the now-silent bubble the screaming Charon was trapped in. "This is footage taken only minutes ago from the hanger during Gold's battle without his morpher. Notice something?"

    She watched as, somehow, 0 managed to summon lightning and throw it at his opponents. "He can generate it on his own?" she asked in disbelief.

    "Yes, for some reason I cannot understand," replied Bakaguru. "Agent 0 is evolving much in the same way his predecessor did. Look here as he shouts in the Pokemon dialect of the Pikachu." She watched as 0 did exactly as Bakaguru said.

    "What's it mean?" asked Sarah.

    "Good question. I wish I knew. I think he might be headed towards being trapped in morph, as Old Gold was. I do not know why either. Gold has had advantages that Old Gold never had…and yet the process is virtually identical. Gold's family is with him though, and he is surrounded by friends. Why is he evolving?"

    "How can I help him?" Serena asked.

    "The very question I was looking for, Ms. Brine," said Bakaguru with a smile. "Gold's new morpher, while retaining all of the older one's functions, is perfectly suited to the task of making sure that he does not get trapped in morph so imply. It has an inhibitor installed to prevent it from influencing him and fusing to him in a way that will leave him…impaired.

    "But, how can we get it to him?" Bakaguru asked. "That is a question I need the answer to."

    "I can take it," Serena said. "Give it to me, and I'll give it to him."

    The engineer smiled. "That's very noble of you, Serena, but you would be walking into a slaughter. Those two Dark Gem cronies will not just stand by and let their precious cargo get away. This new leader, Ame, has none of the weaknesses of the Dark Sapphire Ranger. She sticks to a schedule."

    "I don't care how, just let me do it." She didn't care either. The simple fact that her friend needed help…that was more than enough. "0 has saved my life so many times. I need to help him, even if I can't morph anymore."

    "Perfect. You pass."

    Bakaguru pressed another button on the computer. Instantly a new section of the floor opened up, revealing a chair. Straps covered the chair, obviously meant to bind the subject placed there. Serena walked over to it, stunned, then turned to Bakaguru.

    "What's it do?" she asked.

    Bakaguru straightened his glasses and reached into his coat pocket. What he produced looked a lot like the White Morpher, but so much more bright. "When they asked me to make a new White Morpher, I decided to modify your old one instead." This new one was glittering in the light and bright silver. "I present you with the Silver Ailed Morpher. Goes great with Gold, wouldn't you agree?"

    He stood up, though it must have strained him to do so, and placed it in her hands. "A…Silver Morpher?" she asked, uncertain she had heard correctly.

    "Yes. PKM stated your duties as White Ranger had been removed. Nothing was placed in there to suggest anything about a Silver Ranger. According to Charon's decree, there is nothing stopping you from becoming one." He turned to Charon and waved. "See, Alexander? I read between lines too!"

    "But…" said Serena hesitantly, "I thought mine was destroyed. Seel was killed by Karin and the morpher broke."

    Bakaguru smiled. "No dear. Karin knows a lot of things about her own morpher, but very little about how to actually destroy one. You cannot kill a ranger spirit without killing the ranger, it is just fact. No, what she did was take Seel off grid, so to speak. Knock it out. I simply haven't tried using a Revive yet."

    That was all the convincing that she needed. "How do I get it to work?" she asked.

    "Step into the chair. But-Serena!" He halted her, just as she was about to climb in.

    "What is it?"

    He sighed. "I have no idea what will happen. This experiment is just that: an experiment. There is no guarantee this will work, and there is a likely chance of death. Attempting to revive Seel will be difficult, but it needs to want to help you this time. Last time you bonded with Seel it was a last resort. This time the Pokemon has a choice to help you, and a choice to let you die." He paused, allowing this information to sink in. "Knowing this, do you still want to proceed?"

    Serena looked down at the morpher in her hands. It was her identity. Then she looked at Sarah, being her father was 0's identity. She needed to help him, no matter what. She owed him that.

    "I have to," she said as she climbed into the chair. "He needs me, as always."

    Bakaguru nodded. "Very well. Strap the morpher to your arm, I shall begin the re-sequencing the Ranger System."

    She did so, the morpher melded onto her skin like it was meant to be there.

    "Press the button. The Ailed System does not require voice recognition, nor can it ever be removed by anyone save you. Should you die, the morpher dies with you. This will be a done deal, so to speak. Do you understand?"

    She nodded. "I do." She lifted the morpher and pressed the button.

    0, I'm coming.

    A bright silver flash issued, and the sequencing began.
    Last edited by Power Shot; 17th February 2013 at 10:28 PM.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  21. #46
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    Default Chapter 26, Part 1

    Morph Twenty-Six: Tomorrow's Rangers, Part 3

    Sparks of electricity were the only light in the dark storage container.

    The Golden Ranger was still transformed, as much as he could still be. His helmet was partially there, with much of his mouth and lower face exposed. His gloves and boots were intact, but the rest of the uniform was nothing but torn stripes over his civilian clothes. And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't demorph. He couldn't bring the fake uniform back inside the morpher.

    "Where…are we?" he asked. He tried to shift his head, but another painful jolt of lightning shot through his body. He winced. He shifted his gaze to the woman who shared his prison.

    "Somewhere near the water," said May Birch. She was resting against the container's wall, a safe distance away from the jolts 0 was producing. "I smell the sea."

    0 could too, his nose seemed so much stronger, and he thought he heard the ripples of waves outside. "How long have we been here?"

    "I don't know. I only just woke up a little while ago myself." He knew that, he'd heard her get up.

    "Are you hurt?"

    "A little." She rubbed her head and groaned. "But I'll be fine. How about you?"

    "Busted. I need to get my new morpher." Briefly, he summarized exactly what had been planned with Bakaguru. Not that it mattered anymore, 0 was certain that any chance of escape was gone. "I can't wait for the others. They should have been here by now."

    "Relax." She shushed him and scooted closer. She considered touching him, and almost did, but a spark that leapt across his chest kept her hands by her sides. "I'm sure Logan and the others will be here soon. We just need to be patient."

    "What about Sarah? Can she be patient?"

    May chuckled. "She's stronger than you think. She knows we'll come back. She's not the little baby that used to cry whenever you left on one of your…trips." Her face fell. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring that back up."

    His breath became a little ragged. "No…I don't mind at all," he murmured. "I kinda deserve it. It's just that…"

    "Just what?"

    Another jolt shot through him, and he groaned. "I can't stop thinking of her as the little baby who used to bounce around in her playpen every time I got home. Remember, I'd always say, 'I'm back', and you would always say-"

    "'Bout time, now where's that trophy'," she finished. "And you'd always have some giant golden monstrosity for us to put in the garage next to the others. We ran out of room…" They had had a small, modest house, and after 0 had joined PKM and gone off on so many…trips, the big trophies took up too much space.

    "Then we'd take Sarah out of her pen and let her try to run around. She always wanted me to hold her." 0 laughed, it was hard and gritty but it was a laugh nonetheless. "We'd always have to put her in her high chair before dinner…"

    "That was so long ago. I gave that chair away on a charity auction a few years ago, when she got big enough to sit in a regular chair."

    There was silence for a while. 0 was trying to put what he wanted to say into words, and May wanted to give him the time he needed to do so. Through the visor, he looked up at her. Even with half her face bruised, she was still so beautiful…she hadn't aged a day.

    "Do you…remember that night?" he asked. "The night I came back, for the last time?"

    She bit her lip, but nodded. "Yes."

    "I remember walking through the door, just like I always did. I remember that Sarah wasn't in her playpen, you'd put her to bed early. I guess that was a good thing, didn't want her to see the fight. Why did we fight, anyway? Why did you even start it?"

    She remembered. "I was…so angry at you. I was looking through your clothes, I found a cell phone, a weird cell phone, in one of your pants. You always asked me to check if you forgot to take something out of them before I washed them."

    "Yeah," he muttered. "My communicator. I got reprimanded pretty badly for leaving that behind, actually."

    She continued. "All of a sudden, it started to ring. There wasn't a caller ID, so I just answered it to let the person know you'd forgot it. I figured maybe it was a publicist or something, you were just trying to keep our phone from being spammed. I wanted to believe anything.

    "Then I heard her voice. I didn't know it was Serena, when I met her with you that first time I knew I'd recognized her from somewhere. She was the one calling you.

    "She said, 'Hey, baby', before I even got a chance to say anything.

    "I said, 'No, this is May Birch. Who is this'? I was too shocked to say anything else.

    "'Oh, so this is May', said the other voice. 'I've heard so much about you from your husband'. She giggled, really excited like. I didn't know."

    "3," said 0, "has always been close to me. I'm the reason she's a ranger, and she's one of the main reasons I'm still sane. After I left, she was my only friend in the world. Besides Pi, of course."

    "I shouted something at her, I don't even remember what, and I shut off the phone and smashed it against the wall. Then I went back upstairs, tucked Sarah into bed early, and waited for you. I thought about everything I wanted to say to you, what I thought of you, but when I saw you all my thoughts just went away in the screams."

    He remembered. She had called him things that he could never repeat, and that no one should have to hear from the person they love.

    "Then I just told you to leave, and that I never wanted to see your face again."

    He had, during the argument, never said anything against her. It had almost been like he wanted to be caught, to let the lies out he'd been keeping from her. Never had she known he had done it to protect her and Sarah. Never, until he returned.

    "I'm so sorry I wasn't there, May," he groaned. His electric bursts were becoming more erratic and he was feeling withdrawal set in. He should have taken the serum early… "I couldn't keep you safe. That's all I ever wanted to do, and I couldn't even do it without hurting you."

    "You did protect us. You were always with us."

    "I wasn't." He coughed, his neck hurt again. "When…I was a kid, when I first met you…I never talked about my father, did I?"

    "I don't really remember. If you did, it wasn't that much."

    "It's because I didn't know him. Every time I asked my mother, she would always say he was still on a journey. She never told me where, or why. I promised myself that Sarah wouldn't grow up like that, not knowing who her father was. I promised myself she wouldn't live like that, and I lied to her and myself."

    "That's not true," whispered May.

    "It is."

    "It's not," she insisted. "She knows now who her father is. She knows who he is and what he has done to protect her. Your daughter knows you are what you are because you wanted to protect her, 0. You wanted to protect her and me. And you have."

    0 looked around. "Wouldn't be too sure of that. We are locked in a storage tank, after all."

    "Just a setback. Everything will be fine, I promise."

    "And then we can run away together?" He smiled, he would like that very much.

    She nodded. "It'll be just the three of us. A perfect family."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "It's just the three of us now…"

    The two boys who stood next to Serena were taller than she was. They towered over her by about a head, but it wasn't like they were mean or anything. They were just older. Her big brothers.

    They were standing near two pits of earth, both recently dug. Caskets were being lowered into them, and Serena couldn't stop crying. She loved her big brothers, that was true, but she didn't want to lose her parents. It still felt like a nightmare, and that she would wake at any moment and be comforted by one of the big strong hugs her father always gave her. They always made her feel safe.

    Now there would be no more hugs from Father, no more tissues from Mother.

    "Just the three of us," the other, younger brother repeated. They stood side by side, with Serena in the middle, offering their little sister as much comfort as siblings can give to one another. Each of her hands held one of theirs. She tried hard not to cry, but the burning sensation behind her eyes was growing unbearable.

    "It's okay, little Serena," said the boy on the left.

    The brother on the right nodded. "You can cry if you want to. We won't mind."

    She still tried to hold them back, but her lips trembled just slightly. A torrent of tears flooded out of her tiny emerald eyes. She screamed at the sky.

    "Mommy! Daddy!"

    The twin on the right hushed her. "Now, now, little Serena. Mother and Father are in a better place-"

    "-And we still have each other, right?" finished the one on the left.

    She supposed they were right, but still…she looked at the pits. They were being filled up, now nothing would bring their parents back.

    One twin looked at the other. "Come on, little Serena. We want to show you something."

    They took her hands and led her through the vast mansion that was their home. People, grownups, would be coming soon to talk to them about the future of their parents' business, but for now it was just the three of them. They didn't want to talk about the whole PKM business that they knew they would have to in only a matter of time. Time was important, that's what their family lawyer had said. They didn't believe him, he was an adult. What he wanted, what the grownups wanted from them…

    That could all wait for a little while.

    The walkway they were on soon gave way to the girl's favorite place in the world: the mansion's garden. Walls of flowers watched the three children as they entered, statues of all sorts of Pokemon almost seemed to rise to greet them. Despite the sadness of the day, Serena couldn't help but feel a little better in this bright, happy place that was surrounded by so much gloom.

    In the center of the garden, where they seemed to be headed, Serena saw a fountain etched with carvings of only the most beautiful water Pokemon. It was easily her favorite piece of art in the garden. She would spend hours looking at the exquisite detail of each Pokemon, no matter how small, on its surface. She loved the little ones the most, they were the ones with the most care taken in their carving.

    In the fountain was a small, white Pokemon playing. It belonged to her brothers, a gift from their parents. When she got older, her mother and father had always said, they would give Serena a Pokemon just as wonderful. It was an energetic, fun-loving Seel, a Pokemon without legs but with plenty of humor in the way it would bob its head this way and that through the water, trying to catch all the food they gave it each day.

    It was always happy to see Serena. It would wag its tail when she entered the garden, and hop out of the water to get her wet in a massive hug. It would juggle for her, play with her, and do whatever she wanted. It did this because its trainers, the twins, wanted to see their sister happy, and nothing made their sister happier than playing with Seel.

    They stopped just short of the fountain's edge and Seel, as always, floated out to greet them in its lazy, playful voice. "Seel," it said mournfully. It knew what had happened, it had seen the caskets from the garden's windows. It saw how sad Serena was, and tried to nudge her face into a smile. It half-succeeded.

    "Seel," said one twin and brushed its sleek fur. "We want to do something nice for little Serena."

    "Something nice," the second twin agreed. "We want to give you to her."

    "What?" Serena asked aloud. Seel had a similar, confused reaction. Its big eyes, formerly happy and lifelike, now looked worried.

    "Seel, Seel!" it asked wildly.

    The first twin hushed its worries. "No, we still love you quite a lot. Isn't that right?" He turned to his brother, who nodded. "But little Serena needs you more than we do. We have one another. Little Serena doesn't have a twin to look after her. She just has us. She needs more, okay Seel?"

    "We just want to lend you to her. Until she feels better, okay?"

    The Seel looked at each of its trainers, then settled its gaze upon the confused Serena. It saw past that bewilderment and into the pain she was hiding. It turned to its trainers and gave one big nod of its head.

    "Seel," it said. More than anything, it wanted to help its family.

    "That's a good Seel," whispered one twin.

    "We promise we'll still love you," said the other.

    They pulled out a Poke Ball and, together, returned Seel inside it. They smiled and patted the ball's surface. They still didn't quite understand how such a large Pokemon could fit inside such a tiny, tiny ball.

    They turned to Serena, and showed her the ball.

    "Here you go," said the first twin.

    "Your very first Pokemon…"


    The courtyard was empty.

    Serena Brine was hallucinating, possibly an after-effect of the sequencing process. She recognized where she was immediately, how many times had she come to this garden as a child? The walls were still there surrounding it, but instead of nostalgia and wonder as she had felt as a child she now sensed only loneliness and despair.

    The flowers were all rotted from years of neglect and when Serena got too close to them she found they stank like days-old garbage. She pulled her hand to her nose and continued past the flower garden. The ground she walked in, instead of luscious grass like when she was a child, was now nothing but dust and earth. Each step she took seemed difficult, and she always seemed to remain in the same place. After so long, she knew exactly why she was here.

    Seel, you've brought me to face you.

    The fountain had dried up after all the years of neglect. The carvings, once so beautiful and fair, had faded away. Occasionally, when her eyes glanced upon its surface, she saw some faint signs of the Pokemon that once adorned its surface. Long ago, she could remember them all.

    Now, in the middle of the pool, sat a little girl with silver hair so much like her own. The girl couldn't have been more than five or six years old, but seven might not have been an unreasonable guess. She looked at Serena with tired, weary eyes.

    Serena knew what she was. She saw the girl's reflection: a Water Pokemon with flippers and a small horn and a wagging tongue.

    "Seel," she said. Slowly, the girl nodded her head.

    "Little Serena," Seel said back, in a voice that sounded so much like the little Serena Seel had been given to. "You found me."

    The little girl stood up, she looked so exhausted, and walked over to the edge of the fountain. It was an awkward shuffle, the Pokemon did not know how to properly project the illusion of walking. She rested against the edge and peered up into Serena's eyes.

    "I've missed you," Seel said.

    Serena nodded. "I missed you too." She sat down next to her Pokemon. "Why are you like this?" she asked. "Why do you look like me, from when I was a kid?"

    Seel shrugged. "This is my world, inside the morpher," she explained. "I wanted to remind you of the first time you became my trainer. Do you remember that day?"

    She did. "The day my parents died. My brothers gave you to me. They wanted me to have a Pokemon from Mother and Father."

    Seel shook her head. "No. It was the day your brothers lent me to you. I wanted to help you, so they let me. But I was always going to go back to them. Always."

    It took a moment of silence, but Serena finally understood what Seel was trying to say. "I became a ranger," she whispered, "to fight them. I made you help me hurt them."

    Seel, satisfied, nodded her head. "I was so scared, little Serena. I didn't want to fight them, your brothers who said they loved me. You made me…and I was so scared that I-that I…" Her voice faded away and her chin wobbled as tears began forming in her eyes. "Why did you have to hurt them? They weren't doing anything wrong to us! They were pretending! They were playing!"

    She sniffed some of the snot from her nose. "And you never explained. You never tried to talk to me again! Because you felt guilty! Because I reminded you of them! Because you hated me, didn't you?"

    Seel tried to say more, she was on the verge of screaming. But Serena hushed her and embraced Seel in her arms.

    "Seel, I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I didn't want to lose them either. I thought you hated me so much, for making you fight them, that that was why you never spoke to me again. When I transformed that first time, and you were with me, I felt your fear. I thought you were angry with me.

    "I had to fight them." Seel had opened her mouth to speak, but closed it when Serena continued. "They were going to kill 0, and me. They were going to do…terrible things to us. Things that make me wake up in the night screaming, with the bed soaked with sweat. I'm so scared of them Seel. I don't know why they went so bad. I loved them so much, as much as I do Mother and Father. I tried to keep us together, one big happy family. But I didn't."

    She felt tears of her own fall down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Seel. I just wanted to protect 0, me, and you. I didn't want them to hurt us."

    "Little Serena…" There was a faint breeze in the air, it fluttered through the dead flowers. "Do you need me again?"

    "I do. I thought you had died, Seel, and left me. I can't lose you, you're the only thing I have to remind me of the better times, before I became a ranger." She lowered her eyes and stared into Seel's. "But this time you have a choice, Seel. I became a ranger with you because I needed to be one, because I needed to protect my partner. This time, I want to become one because I have people I need to save, and because I want you to be there by my side."

    Seel's tears fell into her hands, where they began to glow. Slowly, the Silver Morpher began to appear and the wind grew stronger through the garden.

    "Will you fight with me, Seel?" Serena asked.

    The Pokemon nodded. "I will, little Serena."

    And Serena took the Silver Morpher and put it on her wrist. Seel lifted her hands to touch its surface, and closed its eyes.

    "Then let's go save the world."

    A blinding silver light filled the garden. Seel started to change, shifting from the shape of a little girl into a magnificent, elegant creature with long, flowing fan-like flippers and a sleek body. It was, somehow, evolving.

    In moments, a Dewgong floated through the air, enveloping Serena in its embrace. She felt it bond to her, transform her.

    Morph her.

    Serena awoke in Bakaguru's lab, covered in armor.

    Bakaguru watched with Sarah as the figure in the chair began to glow from head to toe in silver light. They watched as silver boots and gloved took shape, silver leggings and a short skirt replaced her pants. They watched a black belt form and from there silver armor upon her chest and back emerged. The face of a proud Dewgong, in black silhouette, appeared on the center of her chest. Black armor covered her shoulders and arms and touched the silver gloves.

    Finally, her face was covered by a silver helmet with an upside-down triangular visor over her eyes and brow. A black mouth plate covered her lower face. When the transformation was complete, the Silver Ranger stood up from the chair and her entire body seemed to glitter.

    "Wow!" screamed Sarah. "You look so beautiful, Miss Serena!"

    Bakaguru smiled. "Good thing you bonded to it. Replacing you at this point would be quite impossible."

    From behind the mask, Serena giggled. "This feels a little weird," she said, her voice somewhat muffled by the helmet. "It's definitely heavier than my White Ranger uniform."

    Bakaguru nodded. "I outfitted this one with a tougher material. Don't worry, it's still built around your natural fighting style, but it's harder to damage."

    "Aw, always looking out for me…" she teased.

    "It's time to go, Serena," said Bakaguru. He had in his hands the fully-functioning Gold Morpher. "Remember, this must be bonded with 0 to help him fully recover. He hasn't taken well to being separated from his ranger spirit for even this short amount of time."

    She nodded and preciously held the morpher that contained Pi. "Of course. But what are you going to do? Eventually, the quarantine is going to be broken into. What about Sarah?"

    Bakaguru grinned. "I assure you that Sarah will be well taken care of," he said with a smile. He looked down at the little girl. "Isn't that right?"

    She nodded eagerly. "Yup, just come back safe, Miss Serena!"

    The Silver Ranger nodded. "I'll bring your parents back, Sarah. Promise."

    She stepped into the transporter. As Bakaguru fired it up, Serena looked through her visor. Her ranger spirit was now displayed at the bottom edge of her screen.

    "Ready, See-Dewgong?" she asked. She still wasn't quite used to its evolution.

    She heard a giggle. "Ready," it said back.

    Then she was gone.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Ten minutes earlier, Logan and his team found themselves in quite a predicament.

    "Okay guys," he said. "So, Bakaguru didn't exactly say which really big storage container we were supposed to look through, so it might be a good idea for somebody to give him a call. Maybe ask for directions too, since this is one maze I don't really feel interested in getting lost in."

    Bakaguru had transported them into a shipping yard. A shipping yard filled to the brim with thousands upon thousands of identical shipping containers. Like any good leader, Logan was naturally quite annoyed by this turn of events. It would mean a lot of work they couldn't do running against the clock like this.

    "Could we morph and use our scanning equipment to determine their location?" The suggestion came, in her logical way, from 415. She apparently didn't like the cold, Logan noticed she was hugging her new ranger jacket quite a bit.

    "Good idea," said Logan. "Glad I thought of it. Let's test these Ailed babies out!"

    In unison Logan, Karin, and 415 all pressed the trigger buttons on their morphers. Max watched with interest as each was surrounded by a color-specific Poke Ball-like hologram. When each ball opened, the person inside it was instantly transformed into their Ranger Mode.

    Logan pressed his gloves against his helmet and chuckled. "Wow! We look so cool now!" Aside from a few minor aesthetic differences, not much had changed. Aside from their specific colors, Bakaguru had modified them to look much like the Ranger Silver System's uniform. The only exception was 415's uniform, where the black arms and shoulders had been replaced by blue, a side effect from her Ranger Spirit. Hers also had some spikes along her arms, giving her a much more menacing and demonic appearance.

    Logan's, by contrast, looked much more aerodynamic and Karin's looked more resistant. Max wrapped his Dark Emerald's chain around his arms.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    The armor, as it always did, emerged from his skin and clamped into place, taking only a few moments to transform.

    "Here, Scizor, connect me to Bakaguru," Logan muttered to his ranger spirit.

    "Of course," came the scratchy reply. "There."

    The link was filled with static, but present. "Red, is that you?" asked the voice on the other end.

    "You bet, sweet cheeks. How's little girl Silver doing?"

    "Sequencing has begun. She won't be online for a while."

    "Got it. Hey, listen…the place you sent us to has a lot of storage boxes. Big storage boxes. Think you can bust out Gold's tracking signal and give us an idea of where he is?"

    "Negative. The signal is too weak now for that. I wouldn't know where you are either in relation to it. Your new Ailed Morphers have had their tracking devices removed for when we make our escape. You cannot be found by any radio or signal means. Even this line cannot be traced."

    "Nifty. Which brings me to my second question: can we use Max as a bloodhound? Assuming he's got better senses in Dark Gem mode?"

    "That is possible. The Dark Emerald can track down its tamer, in this case Gold, but Gold isn't wearing his morpher right now. Max would only respond to that stimuli."

    "Huh." Logan looked at Max and sighed. "Well, you're of no use." The Dark Emerald Ranger just growled softly, eager for combat. "Oh wait, 415 said we could use scanning equipment. These new Ailed suits have those, right?"

    "Yes, in a limited capacity. You have night vision and basic heat vision. Some scaling back was needed to optimize efficiency."

    "Got it. Let us know when Serena's made the crossover and on her way. Red, out."

    "003, out."

    Logan turned to his team. "Okay, let's split up. Karin, 415, you take the east side, and I'll keep Max in line while we take a look at the west side. Sound good?"

    Karin was already leaving with 415, presumably heading east. Logan took another look at Max and sighed.

    "This is gonna be a long night. Hey, do you know where west is?" The Dark Emerald Ranger did not reply, so Logan headed in the opposite direction the girls did, with 0's pet monster right behind them.

    They walked for thirty seconds in silence when Logan found himself unable of remaining silent any longer. "Can you talk?" he asked as they searched.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger was silent. If Max was still in there, he wasn't talking.

    "Like, I don't know, how about trying to say 'hi'?" Logan suggested. "Or maybe 'good evening'? Or, if you want to be really cool, you could say 'I think Logan is the sexiest man alive. Seriously, is there nothing this guy can't do? He's just like a super spy in one of those action movies, where the super spy meets the hot rival spy and they fall in love and team up to save the world'? I love those movies, the girls always look so great in spandex." He paused, as if thinking. "Note to self- buy Karin spandex." Then he turned to Max. "Think you can say any of that?"

    "Laaaaade," hissed the Dark Gem Ranger.

    Logan put his finger on his mouth plate. "I guess I'll take that as a maybe. What about the last one I suggested? Say that one."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger grabbed Logan and shoved the Red Ranger against the nearest shipping container. "Gallla, Laaaaaaade." The message, even to Logan, was quite clear.

    "I'll take that as a no. Now let me down, we gotta find 0 and May."

    The mention of their names seemed to hit some neutrons in Max's brain, because the dark ranger lowered the Red Ranger back to the ground so the two of them could continue their stroll. Logan used the infrared in his scanning equipment, Bakaguru had replaced the night vision with that, seeing as Logan did not require night vision.

    "Still not seeing anything," he muttered in disappointment. "You smell anything, big guy?" Again, no answer, so Logan hooked himself up to 415 and Karin. "Hey, anybody find anything yet?"

    "Nothing," reported 415's curt voice. "I presume you also found nothing."

    "Good guess, Captain Obvious. We've swept about fifty crates or so, how about you guys?"

    "Maybe two hundred. Women work faster than men."

    "Not when I'm around. Ain't that right, Karin?" Logan could practically hear the embarrassment from Karin's trademark silence. "Oh, she likes it sloooooow, and I'm more than happy to-" Logan paused in mid-sentence.

    "Lose your perverted train of thought?" 415 asked.

    "Nope. Found some moving bodies." Logan narrowed his vision on the two figures huddled in the container next to him. One had a regular signature, but the other one was erratic. Every once in a while something would jolt out of it, like lightning or something. "Confirmed sighting of the lovebirds. Max, you still got the serum?"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger held up a vial. "Good boy. Now, help me open up the crate please. Karin, 415, head west in our direction. Bakaguru said trackers wouldn't work on our morphers, so find the big flashing lights from my Claw Cocktail."

    Logan, via Scizor, summoned the weapon. Unlike normally, it downloaded in an instant. "Guess the weapons are stored in our morphers now…Bakaguru cut off all dependence on PKM." He pointed the cannon up at the sky and fired once. The blast ripped through the air and smashed through the clouds above. "Next," he said and pointed to the crate. "Max, back up a little, you're right in my line of fire."

    The dark ranger did as he was told and Logan fired the cannon. The door to the container ripped apart and blasted through the wall on the other end. Fortunately, he had aimed so precisely that neither 0 nor May were ever in danger of being hurt. The Red Ranger strode into the container and grinned under his helmet.

    "Lucy, I'm home!" he called and banged on the wall. "You guys alright?"

    May nodded. "Thanks, Logan. We're okay. 0 needs some serum, did you bring any with you?"

    Logan nodded and snapped his fingers at Max. "Jolly Green had it last time I checked. Max, serum please." He watched as Max shifted his arm to his side and the serum vial simply formed out of the Dark Emerald Ranger armor. The beast handed it to the Red Ranger, who took it with some disgust. "Gotta figure out a better, less creepy, way for you to do that. Here ya go."

    May thanked him a second time and bent over 0 to administer the serum. 0 took her through the procedure and within moments he was standing, though he needed to lean on the wall for support.

    "Logan, thank you," he said. His mouth seemed dry. He raised his hand to shake Logan's, but the Red Ranger noticed a jolt coming and didn't take it. The Golden Ranger winced.

    "That's new," Logan muttered. "Somebody overpay the electric bill?"

    "Very funny. What's with the new getup?"

    "Bakaguru updated our uniforms, makes them look much more sexy. We should probably get out of here. Pretty sure that cannon blast I used to give Karin and 415 our location will probably mean baddies will show up soon." He heard footsteps outside. "That's probably them. Should we run?"

    "We will not," 0 hissed. "Did you bring my new morpher?"

    "That I did not do. My secret informants tell me someone else has that job. Right now though, I don't think it's a good idea for you to fight. Why don't you go and get May to safety. Max and I will handle the Rangerlings. Then when 415 and Karin get here, this whole thing will get really kinky." He rubbed his hands together with glee. "Yes, quite kinky indeed."

    "Laaaaaaade," growled the Dark Emerald Ranger. It could smell the Dark Onyxes that were approaching.

    "Go fetch," Logan ordered. "I'll join you promptly."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger snarled with what Logan interpreted as pleasure, and exited the container via the large hole Logan had made. Shortly after, very loud and painful shrieks began to fill their ears.

    "You should probably go, Miss Birch," said Logan and he pointed his cannon at another section of wall. It blasted apart. "Go through there. I'll cover you, Golden Boy."

    "Thank you, Logan."

    "Hey, it's loveable me. Now get out of here before you get us killed."

    Logan dove through the hole in front of them and instantly found himself surrounded by quite a few of the little black bugs. With a few well-placed shots, most of them were thrown away by the kinetic force inside the cannon's blast and he was calling for 0 and May to run. The two figures dashed beside him and Logan's voice echoed through the night.

    "Yee haw! Get some, Rangerlings!" He fired into the crowd some more, waiting for his Karin and 415 to get there. They arrived on the scene within the minute, both of them already in Rescue Mode. Karin was turning the Rangerlings into metaphorical jelly just by touching them with her sonic vibrations while something was allowing 415 to hit each and every one of the Rangerlings with perfect precision and speed, like lightning bolts. The fact that she was killing them with her bare hands made the feat much more impressive.

    "Hey, kiddies!" shouted Logan. "Glad you could join the party." Then he contacted Scizor. "I'm going to need the scissors. These things need to be put down, not blasted around."

    "Good idea," said the old warrior, and in moments Logan was the proud wielder of his own blades. He celebrated this by plunging them into two Rangerlings at the same time. They shrieked and crumbled to dust.

    Over the screams, Logan heard a distance roar and groaned aloud.

    "Guys, looks like we've got Shadow Pokemon on the loose. Karin, 415, divert attention to those things. Knock them out and try to bag them, if you can. I don't want them dead, got it?"

    "Confirmed," 415 replied and dashed off to the sound of the roars. Karin followed, but only after she obliterated the five Rangerlings surrounding her with her sonic blasts. Somehow, those seemed to make their Dark Onyxes weaker and easier to break.

    Logan turned to Max. "How's it going?" he shouted.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger shrieked as one of the puny Rangerlings, a pipe in hand, tried to break the Dark Emerald lodged in his chest. The pipe broke and so did the Rangerling, because Max grabbed it and ripped it in half, right down the middle of its Dark Onyx.

    "Guess it's going pretty well." Logan wondered about that, as he tore through about a half-dozen Rangerlings. Why were Ame and Ony sending weak little things like these after PKM's former elite team of rangers? They had even allowed their cargo to escape, something that Logan was certain had been way too easy.

    "What's going on?" he wondered.

    His question was answered sooner rather than later, something he normally preferred but could do with an exception under the circumstances. He first noticed something bad was probably heading his way when the ground started to shake. He also notices a slight twinge in his stomach when he realized that the Rangerlings were simply fleeing from the scene, rather than stay like noble idiots to die uselessly.

    But it wasn't until he saw the thing taller than the freight containers, with about as much weight, that he felt a sense of trouble.

    "Whatever kind of milk Ame's got in her pocket, it worked," he breathed as the Dark Onyx Ranger came stomping down the lot in his general direction.

    Easily something like ten feet tall, possibly larger as Logan couldn't really guess its exact height, the Dark Onyx Ranger was a big boy indeed. Its entire body was covered with Dark Onyxes, its entire muscle-bound, probably indestructible body. To Logan, this meant that things were not going to end well.

    By its side was Ame, with a smug smile on her face. She raised a hand, and the beast suddenly halted. Even the Dark Emerald Ranger, sensing its kind, stopped to watch the hulking figure of the Dark Onyx Ranger and little Ame.

    "Good evening, Ranger Red," she said, as if conducting an interview.

    "Evening. Mind letting us past your troll there? I don't think it's had its bath yet and this is a brand new suit. Wouldn't want to ruin it with ogre sweat."

    Ame chuckled. "So quick with the puns, Ranger Red. I would not put it past you to write them ahead of time, just in case. However, my contract states that your request cannot be granted. You are to be terminated for releasing my cargo." She looked up to Ony and smiled. "Fight until they die, or until you die. That is all, wait for my mark."

    The monster prepared its attack by assuming a stance not unlike a sumo wrestler. "Any last words?" asked Ame, and her bright eyes flashed dangerously in the darkness.

    "Not from my friend," said Logan. "But I have several, most of them not monosyllabic. You see, I am afraid that I am utterly incapable of dying."

    "You're immortal?" The look on Ame's face suggested that was quite a ridiculous notion.

    "Nope. But I do have certain obligations. Like, for instance, my mother." He immediately took up a pose one might see from a thespian. "You see, I must bear an heir. I have been trying so very hard to with my current lover, a truly lovely young lass. And when I say trying, I mean we're giving this all we have. Like, you cannot fathom the lengths we have endured for this. The lovely, quite sinful lengths. But we forge on, in spite of the odds against us!" His voice reached a quivering pitch, like an actor at the cusp of a climax.

    "Does this have a point, other than to boast about your sex life?"

    He nodded. "It does indeed. That, for instance." Logan pointed one of his blades up, up, to the Dark Onyx Ranger's head. There, directly at the top, was Karin, firing all of her sonic waves directly into the beast's head. "That's my girl! Deadly in the field, but almost lethal in bed!"

    Ame grunted with annoyance. "Kill them," she ordered.

    The monster attempted to run, but found its equilibrium messed up. It tripped and crashed into a nearby containment tank, where Karin leapt off to join her partner. After smacking Logan in the head, which he probably did deserve, they regrouped with 415 and Max.

    "How were the Shadow Pokemon?" he asked.

    "Removed and quarantined. I placed a PKM tracer on them, should they wish to pick them up."

    "Good girl. Now, let's deal with fatty here…" The Dark Onyx Ranger was picking itself up and was gearing up for round two. "Max, play fetch with its legs. Karin, get to the head again. 415, keep track of it and go for the weak points. Smash the Dark Onyxes, the more we take out the weaker it'll be."

    "What will you do?"

    "Wondered when you were going to ask me that. Scizor, Rescue Mode." In seconds, Logan had his wings. "I'm going to annoy the hell out of it."
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  22. #47
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    Default Chapter 26, Continued

    Morph Twenty-Six: Tomorrow's Rangers, Part 4

    The Golden Ranger was still unable to demorph.

    After he and May had found a safe place to hide and wait for his morpher, he was still nowhere close to assuming his regular body. The armor just didn't want to come off and it was only making the jolts worse.

    "At least I can still think," he muttered. The serum was now in full effect, it must have been an especially potent dose. "May, are you alright?"

    "Fine, 0," she insisted. He'd been asking every few minutes or so. "How are the others doing?"

    "Can't tell. I took us far enough away so that you wouldn't be found. Now all we can do is wait for the morpher."

    "Who's bringing it? Surely not Bakaguru…"

    "No. He's not the one bringing me the morpher. Bakaguru's old. Way too old for this. He'll send somebody he trusts and there's only one person he'll trust enough for this."

    "Who?"

    "Who else? Bakaguru will send his daughter. Or, at least, his adopted daughter: 3."

    "She's his adopted daughter?"

    0 chuckled and a jolt of lightning shot through him again. "Bakaguru is one of those people who never had a family. He didn't have a wife, he didn't have children, I'm not even sure the old man had parents. But he was a mentor to 3, so much so that I think he thinks of her as his adopted daughter. Kind of like how 415 thinks she's the old 0's adopted daughter. It's more of a close bond than anything like a family."

    The prodigal daughter arrived, just as 0 predicted, just not how he expected. He knew at once the silver form was Serena, but to see her in the uniform again was something he could have never foreseen.

    "Serena," murmured May as the Silver Ranger walked up. "You look beautiful."

    Serena nodded. "Your daughter said the same thing, May," she said, then turned to 0. "I've got something that belongs to you, Gold." She held it in her hands, the glittering Gold Ailed Morpher. "With this, you'll be the Gold Ranger. Put it on, quickly."

    0 nodded and grabbed it. "Got it," he said. He tore off the fake morpher, though the false armor still remained. "How does it work?"

    "Press the morphing trigger. It'll do everything else on its own."

    0 nodded and pressed the button. Instantly, the jolts ceased. 0 felt warm and heavy as the bulky, true armor of the Gold Ranger clamped onto him. Aside from the aesthetic differences, the slight changes of color arrangement and the structure of the helmet, nothing seemed to have changed.

    "I'm back," he hissed as his systems came online.

    "So am I," said the voice in his ear. Pi.

    "Good to hear you again, partner." He turned to May and whispered, "Stay here, no matter what happens. I'll come and get you after we've given a visit to Ame and the Snagem guy."

    "Okay. Be careful, 0." Gently, she kissed the part of his helmet with the black mouth plate.

    "You bet. 3, let's-"

    Serena bonked him on the head. "I'm not 3 anymore, Gold. We're not part of PKM anymore. No need for numbers."

    "Alright. Silver, let's go."

    "Say that sexier."

    "No. We're going." He started running, just regular running, without the assistance of Agility. He wanted to enjoy his new suit to the fullest. Serena caught up quickly, and both their uniforms shined in the slight moonlight from the sky above.

    "Hey, Silver?"

    She looked at him. "Yeah, Gold?"

    "It's good to have you back, partner."

    She giggled. "You always know how to say the corniest things in the manliest ways!" she squealed.

    0 was quite thankful she didn't decide to leap on him right then and there, mostly because they were approaching the fight scene, and partially because he didn't want May getting the wrong idea.

    The fight, for that was the only thing to describe what they were looking at, was the strangest thing 0 had ever seen. Standing fifteen feet tall, easily, was the Dark Onyx Ranger. It was screaming in rage, attempting for some reason to attack the red figure that was flying around it, obviously irritating it beyond normal levels of patience.

    "Logan," 0 grumbled. "Always a clown."

    In fact, Logan was doing his job so well that Ony had completely ignored the pink figure of Karin that was climbing around its body, damaging portions here and there with concentrated sonic bursts. It had also begun to completely forget that on the ground, the Dark Emerald Ranger was working to trip it up thanks to some chains and assistance from 415, who kept knocking at its pressure points.

    "We should join the party," Serena suggested.

    0 agreed. "Pi, download the Bolt Blade now."

    It arrived in a flash of lightning, a download so fast it had to have come from inside his morpher. The Bolt Blade had changed. No longer was it a massive hunk of iron roughly 0's height. Now it was smaller, with a four foot long blade and a two-handed handle. It still retained its black surface and golden edges.

    "This is the Bolt Blade's new Compact Mode," Pi explained. "Let me know when you want to use Heavy Mode."

    "Thanks Pi, let's try this one on for size," 0 said and, with a shout, rushed into the fray.

    Likewise, Serena opened communications to her Ranger Spirit. "Dewgong, I need the Frost Fans," she said. "Please."

    "One moment, little Serena," said Dewgong, in a lovely voice. The Frost Fans appeared just as quickly as the Bolt Blade had. They looked tougher, with blades on the edges.

    "Here I go!" Serena shouted as she followed 0.

    The Gold Ranger smashed into the goliath Dark Onyx Ranger, using the lighter Bolt Blade to slash through the gems that made up its feet tendons. It crashed to the ground. "Attack the individual Dark Onyxes!" he ordered. "That's the reason it got so big!" How he knew this the Gold Ranger wasn't sure, but it seemed to make sense. The Dark Onyxes further away from the beast's chest were weaker as well, making it easy to damage.

    But the Dark Onyx Ranger was unwilling to lose so easily and though it was primitive in mind its attack was still lethal. It screeched and kicked 0 full in the chest, sending the Gold Ranger crashing sideways into a container. He groaned, but found that he has sustained surprisingly little damage.

    "Pi, we're going to need Cario Form," he said and reached for the blue ball on his belt.

    "The Synchronization Drive has been updated. All you need to do is put the ball into the new morpher and Lu will do the rest."

    "Gotcha," said 0, and he activated Cario Form. Like most of the new Ailed Morpher systems, the transformation was instantaneous. One moment 0 was poised for attack, the Bolt Blade gripped tightly in his hands, then in the next he was ready to play with the Claw Gauntlets. "Let's go!"

    "Aye, sir," said Lu. "I'd go for the tendons and work my way up to the joints. Should keep him from doing that kick again."

    "Paralysis couldn't hurt either," 0 agreed as he leapt forward. He smashed directly into the Dark Onyx Ranger's face and sent it flying on its back yet again. "Everyone join in!"

    "Oooh yeah! Gang bang!" shouted Logan, as he swept down. Gem after gem was sliced through with the Sake Scissors while 0 focused on smashing Ony's face as many times as he felt necessary. "Everyone, let's get the fat guy! Who brought lube? This guy's not going down easy!"

    "Cease, please," grumbled 415. For her first fight, she wasn't doing too badly. Not that anyone hadn't been expecting anything but outstanding. She hadn't figured out the Rescue Mode yet, but she was fighting well with her bare hands.

    "I kinda like it," admitted Serena.

    0 almost saw the grin that was probably positioned on Logan's face. "This is daily conversation for me, 415. Or, at least, for Karin and me. Ain't that right, honey?"

    The only thing that kept Karin from killing him was that she was distracted with being gripped in Ony's left hand. Logan promptly severed the tendons in the aforementioned hand. She fell out and he caught her gracefully. After being rewarded by a slap on the head, both rangers tag teamed the rest of the arm.

    Meanwhile, the Dark Emerald Ranger was in grips with Ame and the rest of the Rangerlings. Max roared as the hoards of Rangerlings struggled to hold him down, only to fail time and time again and be killed. All the while, Max continued a resilient march towards Ame. The green aura was starting to become visible again.

    "You are the stray, aren't you?" Ame asked rhetorically. "There is nothing in the contract about leaving you alive… Still, you are probably a specimen that my employers would like to own." She snapped her fingers, exactly as someone would to a pet. "Come on, want to come live with me and my minions?"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger responded by whipping one of its chains at her. It phased right through her and she sighed. "Too bad. You need to be put down." She clearly looked very reluctant to do it. "You are so inferior, you know that? If only you would evolve to something useful. I would scarcely need my powers to defeat something as weak as you."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger snarled in rage and attacked.

    The Silver Ranger brought down her weapons in full force. The bladed fans crashed through the gems that covered the Dark Onyx Ranger's joints. It screamed again, but it wasn't in a position to do anything. After all, it was on its back, with its limbs slowly being damaged. There was nowhere for it to possibly run.

    0 climbed onto its chest, digging through what was left of the Dark Onyxes, and impaled the central one on its chest. It howled in pain as the surface cracked in the first blow and completely disintegrated with the second.

    "Everyone move off it!" the Gold Ranger ordered, and none too soon! The beast began turning to dust in moments, and the other rangers jumped off as fast as they could. In seconds, it was reduced to nothing but Goza the Snagem Boss, wearing little to no clothes that only managed to cover his unmentionables. When Logan saw this, he began laughing to such an extent that he needed to be reminded via slaps from Karin to breathe.

    "This is easily one of the best moments of my life," he giggled and pointed to a very embarrassed Goza. "Why do I never have a camera when I so very desperately need one?"

    "Sh-Shut up!" Goza retorted back.

    "Karin, please note the date and time we discovered that the Snagem dude is hung like a well-endowed paramecium."

    "Logan, stop wasting time quipping and send Bakaguru a message. Let him know we're done here."

    "Sir, yes sir!" shouted Logan to the Gold Ranger and snapped off a salute. It only took him moments for the untraceable signal in his suit to find Bakaguru. "Guru…? Yeah, we're done here. Probably gonna take off after… What?" Everyone gathered around him, but he asked for silence. "Got it. On our way back." He shut off communications and with a grim voice said, "We need to go back to PKM."

    "Why?" asked 415.

    "Bakaguru says that he's got Sarah safe, but he can't use the teleporter. It ran out of mojo, or something. Add in the fact that the rest of PKM is about to break into the lab to get Charon back, we have a major problem guys. Gotta go help him out."

    "Couldn't he just morph?"

    "Don't think so. The way he sounded, he morphs one more time he's going to go kaput. The big guy is not in the best of shape. We'd better get back, because unless someone feeds him a wonder bar or something, he's going down."

    "Sarah…" growled 0. "If Charon touches her…"

    Logan waved the remainder of his statement. "Gotcha, tough guy. Go grab May and we'll get going. You've got a motorcycle in your morpher too, right?"

    "The 0 Cycle, yes."

    "Good, because I don't think 415's got one. She can ride Max or something. I have one for me and Karin."

    0 nodded, but 415 thought this was bad. "I am not riding the wild animal anywhere," she said definitively.

    "He's not a wild animal, you just have to know how to get him to obey." 0 walked over to the Dark Emerald Ranger and said, "Max, we need you to transport Ranger Black. Can you keep up with a motorcycle?"

    "Galllla…Laaaaaaade," it hissed.

    "What did he say?" Logan asked.

    "Said he could do it, as long as he could track the scent of where we're going." Then, the Gold Ranger paused. "Logan?"

    "Yes, sunshine?"

    "Where's Ame?"

    Logan shrugged. "Ran off, I guess. She's kinda creepy like that."

    "We'd better get going. Max, grab 415."

    "You touch anything you're not supposed to, I will not rest until-" The remains of 415's threats were removed when the Dark Emerald Ranger growled and slung her over its shoulder.

    "What about him?" Serena asked.

    "PKM can handle him."

    Logan and 0 revved their motorcycles. Logan and Karin took off and Serena and 0 went to grab May. The Dark Emerald Ranger jumped up onto the containers and followed briskly on foot, using its chains to propel itself at faster speeds. Once May sat down in front of 0 and Serena leaned in behind him, they tore off towards Bakaguru.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Bakaguru sat at the computer, observing the structures around his quarantine protection. He had precious minutes, at most he had five. He shifted his weight to look down at Sarah. She too was gazing at the computer, though she of course had no idea what the complicated equations displayed on the screen meant. Bakaguru finished the last of his analysis and sat up from the chair.

    "Sarah," he said, his voice a whisper, "come with me."

    "What is it, Bakaguru?" she asked. Like most children her age, Bakaguru noticed that innocent look of wonder in her eyes.

    "I have a last present for you, if you would like it."

    "A last present?" Sarah sounded confused. "What do you mean, 'last present'? Are you going away, Bakaguru?"

    "Maybe. That's why you need to have this, Sarah." He put his hand into his pocket and retrieved what looked like a blue watch. "Do you know what this is, Sarah?"

    She looked it over for a moment then shook her head. "It looks like the watch Daddy wears, but I don't know what it does."

    "That's okay, Sarah. This is an Ailed Morpher. It lets someone change into a ranger. Like Serena, like your father, like Logan, like 415, and like Karin."

    "Oooh! Can I hold it?"

    Bakaguru shook his head. "Not yet. You need to understand it before I can give it to you. And you need to know you can never wear it. Promise me that, Sarah."

    "Why can't I wear it Bakaguru?" She definitely wanted to know that she knew it wasn't allowed.

    "You do not have a Pokemon. Besides, the Ranger Blue System will not respond to you. You're too young to use it. No, what I need you to do Sarah is watch this. Protect it. Like I have."

    "You were a ranger, right? Like Daddy?"

    He nodded. "I was. Now, I don't have to be one anymore. With your father and his friends, I am the last of my generation hanging onto my morpher." He rubbed against the one on his wrist. "Gold is dead, Arthur retired. I'm the last one left.

    "See, Sarah, we didn't know what we were making," he explained. "We just wanted to make something to help people. When you make a weapon, you take that chance. Do you understand?"

    She nodded. "I think so."

    "Gold passed what he had to your father, and eventually now to 415. They were like his children. He brought both of them to me, knowing before I did they would be rangers. In the same way Logan came to me. I saw the slacker, and not the hero within. His father was his way in, and he proved to be a worthy successor, just as 0 and 415 have."

    "How did Miss Karin and Miss Serena become rangers?"

    "Karin was on the insistence of Logan, now I see why." Bakaguru once again chuckled. "Serena was a wonderful accident. Like your uncle Max. She became the person I passed what I had. She lived for so long fighting on her own, I tried to help her so much. And now she won't need me. They will not need PKM anymore."

    He handed her the morpher. "And now PKM won't need this anymore. Keep it safe, but never use it. Give it only when there is no other way, understand? This morpher is so powerful…it has all the secrets I decoded recorded inside it. Its operator will need to be someone strong, almost inhuman. But whoever they are, I trust you to keep it safe until its rightful owner comes."

    She nodded and tucked the morpher into her clothes. "I promise, Bakaguru."

    He patted her head. "Good girl, thank you. Now then…" He rose from where he had had to lower himself to see at her eye level and looked to the door. It would not hold much longer. "There is a special compartment underneath the computer. I need you to hide there, Sarah."

    She followed him to the computer, where a few quick keystrokes caused the floor to open up beneath them. Sarah jumped in and Bakaguru closed the gate.

    "Come back," she said.

    He nodded. "I'll try."

    He turned to Charon, who had grown silent in his little bubble. Feeling a little daring, Bakaguru removed the silence that barred Charon from speaking to the world.

    "Any last thoughts, Charon?" Bakaguru asked. "How does it feel to be put to shame by the world's greatest otaku?"

    "How do you think it will feel to be gunned down by people you have helped, trusted, and know you have to fight for your survival?" Charon retorted. "You won't be escaping this, Niwa. You will die today."

    "If I am," Bakaguru murmured, "then I want an interesting death. I've sat behind a lab desk for so long, the time has come for me to be free already!" The door was just about to give…

    He pressed down on the morpher's button. "Master Mode, Online!"

    The armor clamped down on him again, it felt so familiar to him! He felt so at home inside the body he had spent so many years designing. He almost didn't notice the way that slowly, ever so slowly, it was draining his energy. He was no longer suitable for using it, he knew that. His physical prowess was barely enough to hold the gears and mechanisms inside the suit together and stand up.

    The door began to open and the Master Ranger took a deep breath.

    They poured in by the hundreds. The PKM Agents, all in full body gear and more than capable of fighting, swarmed over the Master Ranger like so many Pokemon scrambling over food. The Master Mode dashed through the crowd.

    They fought a scientist, a mathematician, and a warrior whose reflexes, though dulled, were by no means gone. He spotted each blind spot that they presented and each angle each bullet would travel at. He avoided them all. He tried to lead them away, as far as he possibly could, from where Sarah was hiding. He would take no chances with her safety.

    But they kept coming. And coming.

    Eventually, he had to falter. Eventually, he did. The Master Ranger, pressed from all sides, was driven to the ground and the armor forcibly demorphed. Never had Bakaguru felt so weak. He groaned in pain as he was forced back to his feet, his morpher torn off of his wrist by

    Charon was removed from the force field. Once again, the head of PKM was all smiles and he strode towards Bakaguru as if meeting an old friend for a golf game.

    "Fancy a guess at how this story ends?" he asked Bakaguru, then turned to the nearest soldier. "Hand me your pistol, sir."

    The agent looked surprised. "W-What, sir?"

    "Never mind, I can get it." Charon reached for the boy's belt and pulled out a very sturdy, very deadly pistol. "Is it loaded?"

    "W-Well, of course."

    "Thank you. That will be all." Charon waited until the young man was quite a distance away before he pointed the gun at Bakaguru's chest. "Now, any idea how this ends, engineer?"

    "Kill me, and the technology dies with me," he chuckled. "You'll never be able to recreate it."

    "Never is a long time, otaku. Five years maybe, at most. The technology can be invented again. Better, and within my domains so I may decide who gets it. Not you. Never again."

    "Then is there anything else, Charon?" Bakaguru asked. "I'm not going to beg my way out of this. No pleading, no wailing. That's what you like, and that's why you won't get it."

    Charon undid the safety on the gun. "Last words?" he asked. His voice was so filled with malice, such absolute distain, that Bakaguru couldn't help but chuckle. Charon was so angry at him for not begging.

    "Yes. I am happy I am free." And it was here that Bakaguru grinned a wild grin. "Now let me go see my friend."

    Charon heard a shriek when he squeezed the trigger. He felt the bullet blast out of the gun and saw it smash into Bakaguru's chest. Blood gushed from the wound and burst like a fountain when Bakaguru's body slammed into the ground. Blood trickled from his mouth, his eyes were fading.

    Someone was running through the room, Charon didn't see the little girl until she was right by Bakaguru's side.

    "Bakaguru, no!"

    Charon winced, her screech of agony was quite annoying. The little girl, Gold's girl…was crying. Tears were pouring down the little girl's face, and Charon smiled.

    "…Gold…?"

    Bakaguru wasn't quite dead, but he was certainly checking out.

    "No, it's me, Sarah!" screamed the girl. "Don't die!"

    "…Always wondered…what happens…" He didn't feel Sarah's hands clench his, nor did he hear her screams. "Glad…to see you…" He was having trouble breathing, part of the bullet had punctured his left lung. His eyesight was growing even fainter. "S-Sar-Sarah?"

    "Bakaguru?"

    "N-Need to t-tell l-last part."

    "Isn't he dead yet?" yawned Charon. "It's been twenty seconds already."

    Sarah ignored him. "What?"

    "G-Go-Gold…" He swallowed his blood. "F-Fath-Father… P-Pro-Protect hi-him." He coughed, the blood came back up.

    "Protect Daddy?"

    Bakaguru did something with his head, it looked like a nod, but he couldn't quite finish it. Bakaguru sat, his eyes dimming.

    The last image that burnt through his eyes was a man with golden eyes on a giant Pokemon, holding out his hand. Bakaguru lifted a shaking hand to take it.

    And just like that, he died. His hand clattered to the floor.

    Sarah shrieked. "No! No! No! No! No! Not Bakaguru! Not him!"

    Charon blasted another bullet out. "Shut up and quite whining! Headaches aren't fun!" Sarah cowered, her body draped over the engineer's dead body. Her hands were stained with his blood. "Now, what do I do with you, little girl? You know, he probably died trying to keep you safe. What a wasted effort, eh?"

    He lowered the gun and pointed it in between her eyes. She just gasped.

    "Go!"

    A bolt of lightning surged through the room. In the moments in between Charon pulling the trigger and the bullet exploding from within the chamber, Sarah Birch vanished. The bullet slammed uselessly into Bakaguru's dead husk and propelled the body a few inches. A new stream of blood oozed out.

    The Gold Ranger's body sparked. "Hello, Charon," he growled from beneath his helmet.

    "Nick of time, huh?" Charon grumbled. "Too bad. Her clothes could do with a bright red stain."

    The Gold Ranger set his daughter down. "Are you alright, Sarah?" he asked. His voice barely hid the rage that lurked beneath.

    "He…he…he killed Bakaguru, Daddy!" She started crying again and the Gold Ranger hugged her.

    "It'll be okay, honey. Daddy will take care of this. Don't worry, your mom's on the way too, Silver's bringing her in. And Uncle Max will protect you."

    The Gold Ranger stood up and patted her head. Absolutely no one in the room dared to move, they were petrified by the sheer presence of power he commanded. This was not the time to be brave. This was the time to pray for one's life.

    "You killed him?" the Gold Ranger asked Charon. It was a redundant question. Charon eagerly nodded. "Why?"

    "He was outdated equipment. Just like you."

    A sword appeared in 0's hand. "You just signed your death warrant, Charon. You will die. By my hand." He placed the blade on his shoulder and began walking forward. The others ran into the room and surrounded Sarah. 0 ignored the shriek of shock from Serena, he would deal with that later.

    Now, though…now he wanted blood. His heart was numb with wrath.

    Charon lifted the gun again, but with a crack of lightning 0 vanished before Charon could get the clear shot. The Gold Ranger reappeared behind the head of PKM and smashed his head with the blunt edge of the sword. Charon fell and a pool of blood trickled through his hair.

    "Get up," 0 hissed. "You're not dead yet."

    Charon tried to, honestly he did, but the Gold Ranger had perhaps struck too hard. Charon struggled to his feet, only to be kicked down again. A boot to the stomach sent all the air in his lungs bursting from his lips.

    "I said get up!" ordered the Gold Ranger. "You killed someone, you little nothing! Take responsibility for it!" There was nothing but hatred in his voice, the utter satisfaction of dominating his enemy. He wanted Charon to pay…oh he would. "And you all did nothing." He looked out to the nameless, uninteresting, identical suits of combat armor worn by the agents.

    "He was a good man and you let this lowlife kill him?" 0 roared, and punched Charon down again. A tooth fell out. Both Charon's eyes were purple.

    A shot fired, from one of the nameless agents. It clipped 0 in his left shoulder and ricocheted into the wall. The Gold Ranger, wrath incarnate, found the agent foolish enough to do such a thing, and fired a bolt of lightning. The agent went down noiselessly, just a light clatter on the floor when his body hit it.

    "Dark warrior," whispered Charon, hoarsely enough for 0 to hear but not understand.

    0 grabbed Charon by the hair and lifted him up off the ground. "What, Charon?" he growled. "Want some last words of your own?"

    Charon grinned through a bloody mouth. "N-No. D-Dodge this." He pointed his gun at May and fired.

    The bullet never even reached May, it didn't even travel half the distance. 0 issued another crack of lightning and appeared in front of it. The bullet smashed harmlessly into his shoulder and ricocheted again into something, this time Bakaguru's work desk.

    "Picked the wrong day to play chicken with someone who can outrun bullets."

    Charon didn't care. "S-Surround me!" he shrieked. The agents obeyed blindly and Charon pressed some buttons on the computer. The teleporter began humming. He made a final dash with all his strength for the teleporter.

    "S-So long, G-Golden Boy," he whispered, before he was gone.

    0, Serena, and Logan roared and attempted to dash after him. But nothing changed the fact that Charon was gone and quite out of their reach.

    "Trace him," 0 ordered Serena.

    "I can't. He did something random with it, even he didn't know where he was going. It would take someone like…like…" 0 didn't see them, but he knew there were tears. "Bakaguru would know."

    "What's the plan, team captain?" Logan asked 0.

    He thought for a moment, then looked towards the hundreds of agents. "Guys, today is your lucky day. Get out, and don't come back until we leave. Do that and we won't kill you."

    There was a unanimous response. In unison, all of the agents filed out and ran as far away from the deathtrap of six very angry rangers as they could. In a minute, only the rangers, the Birches, and Bakaguru's corpse remained.

    "What do we do?" 415 asked. The hesitation in her voice betrayed her emotionless mask.

    "We do what we were going to do," 0 decided. "Disperse. Return when the Dark Gems do. But we do it without the restrictions of PKM. We do it without their rules."

    "How will we know when to meet?" Max asked, after demorphing.

    "Silver, find Max something that can pick up transmissions. He's the only one without an Ailed Morpher." Serena did, and found just the thing in Bakaguru's desk. It was a tiny, hardly noticeable communicator. Max took it wordlessly. "Our morphers can communicate with each other on their own frequency. When the Dark Gems strike, I will make contact."

    Each face in the group slowly nodded their heads. "Where do we go?" asked Serena.

    "Far away. Somewhere they can't find us. They come after us, so hiding will keep them looking. Stay away from one another."

    0 demorphed. The others followed his example. "Now, what do we do about this?" 0 asked. His voice was hard as he gestured at Bakaguru.

    "Viking funeral?" suggested Logan.

    "What?"

    "Vikings, when they died. They got set on fire and set out on a boat. Really awesome way to go out." There were tears in his eyes, and his whole eyes were red. "He deserves it."

    "He does. Silver, Karin, find something that makes fire. He had to have something."

    It only took them a few minutes. Logan, Max, and 0 doused the room in the fluid and applied a hefty amount to Bakaguru himself. When they were done, the group gathered again.

    "This will burn away Bakaguru's research, everything. No more rangers for PKM, no nothing. From now on, it's us."

    "What do we call ourselves then?" asked Serena.

    "How about the Power Rangers?" said Logan with what passed for a grin on his face.

    "We're rangers," decided 0. "Just rangers."

    And he set the spark. The room caught fire and the group dashed from the room. 0 was the last one out and, as he looked back one last time, he saw a smile on Bakaguru's face. His last thought must have been a happy one.

    "Goodbye, old friend. Say hello to Old Gold for me."

    Then he was gone.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Ame watched as the Dark Onyx Ranger…no…Goza, lay dying. There was nothing she could do, the PKM Rangers had damaged him too severely. He couldn't talk anymore, something she was grateful for. She hoped his death would be soon. Dark Gem deaths were painful beyond imagining, and Goza had held on the longest she had ever seen.

    Then, she saw them. The sight of planes headed in their direction. No doubt loaded with enough explosives to level the whole block of shipping containers.

    "I need to go now," she told Goza. He looked up with a mixed look of horror and pain etched on his face. "My contract states that, if the mission fails and you are beyond saving, that I am to preserve myself. I will honor the contract." She reached into her coat to feel her Dark Gem.

    She became ghostlike and Goza clawed at her, trying to get her to save him too, as she had before. But Ame just smiled sadly and shook her head. "No, I have enough power left to save one of us. And I am much more valuable than you." This did not stop him from pawing at the ground where her feet appeared to be. She just sighed.

    "Goodbye, Ony. Let me know what waits for me, if you would."

    Then the bombs began dropping and Ame watched as fire blew straight through her and reduced Goza to dust. Irritated, Ame began to walk back home, wherever that was.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    ...Now...

    The Gold Ranger looked at the e-mail. "Open it," he ordered.

    "Are you sure?" asked Pi, its voice uncertain.

    He nodded. "Yes. I need to hear it."

    The mail opened, just as 0 knew it would, to display Bakaguru's lively face. Bakaguru smiled wearily at him.

    "Hello, Gold. If you're reading this…then you must have gotten the morpher safely. I hope Serena was able to get it to you in time. You're very difficult to replace, you know?"

    Despite himself, 0 chuckled. Even in death Bakaguru was still the same. "I've recorded this in the event that you and the other successfully managed to escape from PKM. I can't be sure of what happened, but I hope it turned out for the best. I will try and make sure that Sarah is looked after until you get here."

    "You did," 0 muttered.

    "Anyways, with PKM in disrepair, I do hope you gave Charon a good beating, I am afraid I have probably either been incarcerated or killed. In either case, the task of leadership will fall to you, I am afraid. You are senior ranger. Make the right calls, try not to get everyone killed.

    "One more thing: you all were not the only ones who escaped. Jessie, James, and Meowth have also flown the coop on my suggestion. They're building something, I just hope they finish it." The voice paused, as if Bakaguru was unsure of what to say next. "Gold, listen to me… They will come back. I know you know that. You must be ready.

    "Encrypted into this message is information your ranger spirit will be able to use. It contains in it data for a new base: Ranger Downs. To prepare for the attack, you need a good headquarters. It will have everything my lab had, with some theories that I haven't even tested yet. Also…" Bakaguru chuckled. "You probably should have learned this a long time ago, but I've also included the recipe for your serum. Remember to take it regularly."

    Finally, the transmission said: "Goodbye, my friend. May we meet again one day." Then the screen went blank.

    "You okay, 0?"

    The Gold Ranger nodded. "Yeah, Pi. Just give me a minute. I just need to collect myself before I go back to May and Sarah."

    "Take all the time you need, 0. Remember, you're only human."

    0 laughed. "More or less, right?"

    Author's Note: We're officially halfway through this serialized version of PKM Rangers! When I first came up with this half of the story, I was heavily influenced by Full Metal Panic, and I deeply admired how that series managed to include fantastic technology in a realistic way. PKM is actually based on Mithril from that series, which won't really surprise anyone. I made the decision to phase that out when the story began to take on its own voice, which was in the beginning of this third story arc. I decided a covert team would make the series stronger, as it would cut off the main cast from a support organization that they had depended on. Bakaguru was killed for the same reason, as he was the last original ranger still active in PKM. Whenever he was around, 0 couldn't be the hero, so in order to advance the characters he had to be sacrificed.

    As we move into the fourth story arc, we'll begin to see more complex villains that question the nature of evil in this series. The heroes will also develop into their own identities now that they're severed from an organization that defined each of them in many ways. Each character developed rather nicely after being separated from PKM. Some things I'd like you to note are that further developments on how the Dark Gems and the PKM technology work will be revealed in the coming chapters, which really tie into some core concepts of Pokemon as a franchise, which were in part because I wasn't satisfied with how undeveloped the nature of Pokemon and humans, and the world they live in, are in the anime itself. We will also explore who 0 is (as the anime does a terrible job of this) and what drives him, both in this story and the anime, as we move ever closer to the conclusion.
    Last edited by Power Shot; 17th February 2013 at 10:30 PM.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  23. #48
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    Default Chapter 27

    Author's Note: Before we begin the chapter, let's do a quick age guide for the characters as we're about to enjoy a timeskip. Aren't those fun?

    Agent 0/Ranger Gold: 30

    May Birch: 30

    Sarah Birch: 7

    Max Birch/Dark Emerald Ranger: 27

    Serena Brine/Ranger Silver: 25

    Agent 415/Ranger Black: (withheld)

    Brock Harrison: 35

    I also wanted to drop a little warning letting you know this chapter does contain some M-ish material in the form of a non-explicit sexual scene. It's much more tame than the one in Morph 12, but I'm sure it's a scene many readers have been waiting for. Without further ado, let's continue...

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    Morph Twenty-Seven: One Year Gone

    Sarah Toby sped up as she rode along the dirt road.

    She was seven now, it had been her birthday almost a week ago. Her father had gone into nearby Goldenrod City and gotten her a massive cake; her family was still trying to finish it every night since during dessert. She was hurrying home because it was almost past her curfew and her father normally worried when she got home in late. It didn't exactly matter if she was home late, the GPS in the necklace she was wearing would activate in ten minutes and her father would come get her.

    But still… "Dad's so protective," she said. She could already see her house.

    They lived in a quiet community just outside of Goldenrod City now. Thanks to backup identities that her father had created years ago for their family, they had managed to purchase a house in Aura Town. She could see it now, it was three floors high and built mostly out of wood. At least, it appeared that way from the outside. When her father had bought the house the first thing he had done was reinforce the inside with metal and protective shielding. The house, while cozy on the outside, was a fortress constructed out of junk metal from a nearby scrap yard. Its interior still had a homely appearance, but within its walls lay some of the most lethal defenses designed by man.

    "Home sweet home," she said as she pulled up to the picket fence. Underneath her feet were more guns than an arms dealership. She walked across the yard and towards the front door. It was a simple, wooden door from the outside, but Sarah knew from watching her father install the machine inside it that it could zap someone with several thousand volts of electricity.

    "Mom, I'm back!" she shouted when she got inside. Her mother was in the kitchen, as she always was at this hour, making dinner for her and Sarah. She was wearing a headband and smiled when she saw her daughter.

    "Welcome home, Sarah," said May Toby. "Have fun biking today?"

    She nodded. "Yep. I went over to the market to see the new toys that came out today. Think I can buy a video game thing?"

    May shrugged. "Ask your father, he's downstairs working."

    "On what?"

    Again, May shrugged. "I think he's almost done rebuilding the teleporter. Now I think he's just going over the lesson plan for tomorrow's classes. Why don't you go tell him dinner's almost ready?"

    Sarah smiled. "Okay, Mom." She walked through the kitchen and into the living room. Once there, she headed to a bookshelf and pulled one of the books, The Harrison Guide to Better Pokemon Health by Dr. Brock Harrison, from the shelf. The bookshelf opened up and revealed a flight of stairs. Sarah wasn't quite sure exactly how her father had built the bookshelf, but it always seemed to open up when she pulled that book. She put the book back and descended down the stairs. The pathway closed up behind her.

    The basement was what her mother called her father's workspace. Her father called it Ranger Downs, he said the name came from Bakaguru. Thinking of him again made her heart heavy, so she tried to smile when she saw her father.

    To the rest of the world, he was Keean Toby. To her, he was the Gold Ranger.

    His hair was messy, it always was for some reason. He had taken to wearing welder's goggles, so they covered his face most of the time. His face was still filled with youth, he was almost thirty, but had a kind of weariness to it. He told her it was because of the serum he had to take. She thought it was because of all the things he had had to do to protect Sarah and her mother.

    He smiled when he noticed her, she could never sneak up on him. He could hear better than most people. "Cutting it a bit close today, huh, Sarah?" he asked. He looked up from his desk of papers. As always, when he saw her his face let up in a smile.

    "Don't worry, Dad," she said. "I made curfew."

    "Yes you did. How was your day?"

    "Nothing special. Went to the market. Ooh, Mom said I had to ask you. I saw this really cool game when I was down at the toy store. It's this kind of video game thing you can play on the TV. Will you get one for me?"

    Her father smiled. "Could have sworn you just had a birthday and you wanted your bike. Think you can wait another year for the game?"

    "But it just came out! And it's so cool! Please?"

    He laughed and patted her head. "Tell you what, princess: I'll think about it if you keep doing a good job in class, okay?"

    "Awwwww…" Sarah appeared to be on the verge of pouting, but her father knew that Sarah never resorted to something like that. "How long?"

    Her father glanced back at the papers. "Let's see…we started the term a month ago so…let's say another month until midterms? You keep doing a good job, I'll get you the game as a reward."

    Her face brightened when she heard she only had to wait a month. "Okay, Dad. That's fine." She hugged him.

    He chuckled. "Glad to hear it. Now, why'd you come down here? Your mother want me?"

    "Mom wants you to know dinner's almost ready."

    "Sure, I'll be up in a few minutes."

    "Okay Dad." She kissed his cheek and leapt up the stairs. She pressed a button on the side of the entrance that opened up the bookshelf, after first checking a camera making sure no strangers were around, and left her father alone.

    0 sighed. He was almost finished with tomorrow's lesson plan too. He put down his papers and pencil and stretched. Sitting at the desk was beginning to cramp him.

    The equipment that surrounded him was decades ahead of its time. All of it was courtesy of the mind and talent of the late Bakaguru Niwa, whose designs had been simple enough for 0 to follow and assemble the parts for things like the teleporter, the hacking system, the police broadcast transmitter, and dozens of other pieces of technology that 0 would never have been able to figure out without the blueprints. Most of the equipment he didn't even know how to use. He'd have to wait for 415 or Serena, the brainy rangers, who could understand Bakaguru's designs beyond their simple construct.

    "Bakaguru," muttered the Gold Ranger. He missed the engineer and could not help but think of him almost daily.

    "You need to stop dwelling on his death, 0," said the voice in his ear. Pi was calm, but a little firm in its tone.

    He nodded. "I know. It's just that sometimes there are scars that you don't want to heal," he said.

    "You built everything he asked for, you're ready for when they come. Don't you think it's time you focused on something other than your work?" the Pikachu asked.

    "I am. I'm making sure that Sarah's getting an education and there's money coming in. We can't rely on the money I hid with these identities forever."

    "It's not that, 0."

    "Then what?" 0 asked, confused.

    "Your wife."

    0 glanced at the chain on his neck and his hand drifted again to the ring on it. "What's wrong with me and May?"

    "You've seemed distant."

    "How?"

    "I don't know," admitted the Pikachu. "It's just…you spend so much time either working down here in Ranger Downs or at the school upstairs. You rest on the couch, and May is always alone in her room."

    "Are you saying…I should sleep with her?" At once, 0 felt uncomfortable discussing the subject with Pi. "I don't know, Pi."

    "Don't you want to?"

    "That's a redundant question, of course I want to. It's just that I don't know if she does. I'm still working on rebuilding this marriage with her. It'll take time."

    "You've been living together for over a year. Shouldn't you make a move?"

    "I'm just taking things slow. Nothing wrong with that."

    "Just don't take things too slow. You could ruin your chances by being so cautious."

    "Yeah, thanks Pi. Now come on, let's get to dinner before I get a pot thrown at me." 0 ascended the stairs from Ranger Downs, taking care to switch off the lights on his way out. The electric bill wasn't the reason, 0 had installed a generator of Bakaguru's design capable of supplying the entirety of the underground base with plenty of power. He just didn't want anyone who accidentally found it to have the advantage of sight.

    He shut the bookshelf behind him and locked it with a small gadget he had built from Bakaguru's designs. Even the book wouldn't open the base now.

    His wife…or ex-wife was probably the appropriate term, was setting the table in the dining room. Every day she did this, and every day 0 was just as astounded by her beauty even when she was exhausted from cooking. She smiled at him warmly as he sat down at the dinner table.

    Each day, 0 felt a slight twinge of guilt that he could not enjoy his wife's cooking. Fortunately, May had evolved to nourish him and had taken up the art of brewing him beer for his meals. She hadn't quite gotten the flavor right, but 0 had never once dared complain due to the effort she was making.

    0 drank his beer in silence while May debriefed Sarah about her day. May insisted on doing it, to be sure that nothing suspicious had happened when Sarah went into town.

    "Anyone carrying a gun?" May asked as she took a bite of rice.

    "Nope." Sarah had been taught by both her parents, mostly 0, the ways people concealed guns on their person and how to spot them. "Thought I saw a guy with a pistol, but it just turned out to be a water gun from the toy store." She continued devouring her way through her vegetables.

    "Anyone odd-looking or new?" she asked. May had taken the time to have 0 photograph all the locals to make sure they could trace somebody new in the neighborhood.

    "Nope. Oh, wait! I saw a few new people, but they had maps. They had backpacks too."

    "Probably tourists here to see the shrine," muttered 0 as he took a sip. Aura Town had a spectacular shrine that often drew the attention of travelers looking to sightsee. "Were they asking for directions?"

    "Uh-huh."

    "Tourists. Dark Gems wouldn't speak to anyone."

    May nodded thoughtfully. "Oh, 0, I almost forgot." She reached over to the counter and picked up what looked like a red envelope. "We got this in the mail today. No return address." She passed the letter over for his inspection. "I don't think there's anything wrong with it. It's just weird."

    0 carefully looked over both sides of the envelope. On one side, written in scratchy pen, was the address of his house. No return address was listed. On the other side was nothing. 0 turned it over again and looked at the handwriting, something about it seemed familiar.

    "What do you think it is?" May asked.

    0 shrugged. "No idea." He shook the contents, judging from the sound there was a piece of paper and something else very, very flat, definitely heavier than a piece of paper. "Feels like a letter and maybe a picture or something."

    "Should we open it?"

    0 held up the Gold Morpher to the letter. "Pi, scan this. Make sure there's nothing funny inside."

    A gold scanning bean exited the morpher and covered the entire surface of the envelope. "No explosives, chemicals, bacteria, or viruses. It's clean. No sign of a tracking device either."

    "Okay. Sounds clean." 0 tore off the right side of the envelope and poured the contents out into his palm. The first was a picture, but 0 set that aside for a moment and opened the letter.

    Dear 0, May, and Sarah too,

    Greetings! It is I, your humble friend Logan. I guess you're probably wondering how I got hold of your home address. To tell you the truth, I'd rather not say, but I can tell you nobody else knows it. I've already destroyed all the information Karin used to track you guys down.

    I should probably cut to the chase, I can't have this letter be too long or it might get found. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Karin and I won't be coming for a while, if you call us. I have several reasons for doing this, like my love of quiet, my intense marathons with Karin, but none as serious as the picture I have included in this letter.


    0 paused from the letter to glance at the photograph. It was a picture of Karin in a meadow. A very pregnant Karin wearing a wedding dress. Though she wasn't smiling, her eyes certainly looked quite happy. 0 passed the photo along the table to May and returned to the letter.

    As you can see, we're not really in a position to be able to travel anywhere until after the baby is born and old enough to go with us. We will come when we can, but for now you'll have to do without us.

    Got to go. Karin's pregnancy hormones are vicious.

    Logan & Karin


    0 passed the letter to May, who gasped. "Wow, they actually got married!" she exclaimed.

    "Who got married?" Sarah asked, helping herself to more rice.

    "Logan and Karin," said 0. "Looks like they've got a baby on the way too."

    "A baby!" Sarah squealed. "I'm so happy for them!"

    The next day, 0 was rather unwillingly forced to go into Goldenrod. He disliked going to the big city, since Aura reminded him so much of Pallet Town. He had chosen Aura Town for his family to live for just that reason: it was quiet, for the most part. There were the occasional loud noises and tourists, but it was mostly a calm, peaceful place. The perfect place to raise Sarah, he thought. Cities were for young adults who hadn't started their lives or for people who simply couldn't afford to live anywhere else.

    Because 0 had saved so much of his paycheck during his five year tenure with PKM, he had stowed most of it away in the alternate identity of Keean Toby. He had also devoted time into preserving the identity and making sure it was untraceable back to PKM. Finally, his hard work had paid off, and absolutely no one had thus far given him trouble.

    After all, he thought with a smile, it wasn't as though he could use his legal name. That would have been far too noticeable and would have led the Dark Gems right to him. The alias of Keean Toby, aside from the Saffron City Pokemon Contest, was much less memorable and had in fact been ignored by humanity in general, who remembered the Contest as a terrible accident they would rather forget about.

    With the money he had saved, he had not only managed to provide a house, job, and underground operations center for his family, he had also gotten a hold of a worn but sturdy truck he used to haul supplies to and from home. Well, the 0 Cycle was too noticeable and could hardly be counted on for bringing home groceries.

    He waved to the neighbors, a couple named Frank and Alice, on the way down the road. He didn't know them well, as they did not have children enrolled at his school, but recognized their faces. They waved back and before long were in his rearview mirror.

    0 lived far enough away from Goldenrod to make the trip lengthy, but it did not take too long. Thirty minutes later he was already being irritated by the loud noises of morning traffic. He sighed, and strummed his fingers on the wheel.

    "I should just use Agility. Park somewhere and use Agility." He was even tempted to, and looked at the morpher on his wrist. He hadn't morphed in over a year, he hadn't had to. He would occasionally want to, certainly, but he couldn't. Morphing brought the risk of discovery, even using his skills could bring the Dark Gems to them.

    "Don't be so impatient," said the Pikachu in his ear. "You're only two minutes away from the store."

    He nodded. "Yeah, yeah." Two minutes later, he was pulling into the store just as Pi predicted. He shut off the engine and got out of the truck.

    Two seconds later, there was an explosion.

    "What was that?" he shouted, and ducked behind the truck. The blast had come from behind him and it had caught him by surprise and he couldn't help but shout out the word. What Legendary Pokemon had cursed him to have an endless affair with explosions? He started hearing screams in the streets and carefully looked out over the bed of the truck.

    "I'm never gonna get a vacation," 0 grumbled.

    The street wasn't in total disrepair, but he noticed that several cars had crashed into each other or had been hit with shrapnel. He couldn't see anyone that was too injured and focused his attention on the bombed building. It was one of those massive, twenty floors high banks with a shiny, glossy surface adoring its windows and walls.

    "Pi, hack into the police broadcasts in the area," ordered the Gold Ranger. He did not want to interfere if he couldn't help it.

    It did as he asked. "Police are en route, but actual help is far off. The traffic problems are making it hard for police to get here."

    0 said, "What's the situation inside?"

    "Bulletin reports that it's a bank robbery."

    "Of course it is."

    "The doors have been sealed to outsiders and there are twenty hostages counted," continued Pi. "There are five, maybe six robbers inside."

    "What are the hostages' chances if we wait for Jenny and the police?"

    "Minimal. The robbers seem hostile. Several hostages have already been wounded."

    0 didn't have a choice. "Pi, hack into the city records and download the blueprints to the bank building. I'll need a way in if we're going to do this."

    While Pi did that, the Gold Ranger began looking for a place to transform. He disregarded the phone booth standing only a few feet away from him and dashed down an abandoned alley. The bank robbery was attracting a crowd which was in turn giving him more freedom to move around.

    "Okay, Pi, always wanted to try this out," he muttered and looked up the wall. He touched it and released a small amount of static electricity. The electrical field held and 0 found that he could stick his hand to the building and climb it. He mimicked the motion with his other hand and began crawling up the wall. "Check it out, I'm Ariados-Man."

    Pi chuckled. "Download finished. Your best bet is to go in through one of the upper levels and avoid the attention of the robbers. From there, an Agility will take care of them quickly."

    0 nodded. "Good. Jam the security cameras if the robbers haven't already done that."

    "All cameras are disabled."

    "Roger." 0 raised his morpher and hit the transformation button. Instantly, the golden hologram of a Poke Ball surrounded him, along with the bits and pieces of his armor. As the ball opened, the armor clamped down and fastened into place. The Gold Ranger looked down at the crowd.

    It was good to be back in the suit.

    "Pi, divert primary power to the legs. If we're making a big leap, I'd like not to hit the pavement." Pi complied with the order and within moments 0 was crouching and running. A second later he activated Agility for an instant and burst through the air, crashing through one the windows across the street. All the people below saw was a tiny glint of light and the smashing of a window, something easily attributed to the robbers in case questions were asked.

    0 passed through the empty rows of cubicles, presumably it was before the hour most of the staff clocked in for work. Either that or somewhere there was an amazing escape route the others below didn't know about. He paused to look at one of the cameras and noticed it was indeed deactivated. Looks like the robbers aren't all that stupid, he thought. Still, they couldn't have counted on him being around.

    "Let's do this. I've been restless."

    "With you all the way," replied the Pikachu.

    0 smiled. "Go!"

    Time slowed down instantly. He looked at the gauge on his monitor, he had ten seconds of standard time, more than enough in Agility. "Bolt Blade, Compact Mode," he ordered. The weapon materialized instantly in his fingers and he squeezed around the handle.

    He ran down the stairs, to the world nothing but a golden blur. The Gold Ranger analyzed his surroundings in nanoseconds.

    The robbers were more or less huddled together near the hostages behind one of the teller desks. They were arguing, but 0 could not tell what about because their mouths moved too slowly. 0 dashed across the room and approached the one who seemed to be in charge. He was standing away from the others and appeared to be barking orders.

    0 watched his expression change from one of greed to one of confusion as the Gold Ranger appeared in front of the robber and braced his sword. The electrical pulses of the robber's brain were fast enough to spot the blurring image of the ranger, but weren't quick enough to do anything. The robber felt his body tossed across the room with one sword swing. The gun broke apart and the robber smashed against the wall.

    "Good thing I used the blunt side," 0 muttered. He wasn't here to kill them, they were ordinary robbers. Jail could hold them. He turned to the other five.

    The ten seconds ended and his speed returned to normal. As he emerged in the real world, the other robbers in unison pointed their guns at him and panicked.

    "What happened to Jake?" shouted one of them in a frightfully scared voice. 0 focused his attention on this one.

    "Who are you?" shouted another one. 0 shifted his visor.

    "Pi, we have enough for another charge?" he asked.

    "We do now."

    0 nodded. "Go!" he shouted again, and the world slowed down. He ran forward as bullets burst towards him. Each time they were too slow, and he dodged them with reflexes that had lain dormant for over a year. He spun and flipped towards the group of five and smashed into the first one with his fist. Again, all the time the robber had was enough time within the first second to display a frightened expression in his eyes.

    The robber smashed into the teller's desk and stayed down. He had nine seconds left.

    The next robber he dodged another bullet from and bent low, delivering a sweeping kick that sent him flying off his feet. 0 then kicked him with an upward strike, sending the boy flying vertically. The third robber meant a similar fate, only 0 used a roundhouse kick to toss the third one directly in the line of fire of the second. Both of them collided in midair and began falling to the ground. 0 heard the slow loud shrieks of pain and ignored them.

    "Six seconds left," he said. The timer was beginning to wane and he wouldn't be caught again.

    The last two were guarding a large group of hostages and they were quite frightened by what they saw to be 0: a golden blur that was systematically obliterating their friends. Each one was firing wildly and 0 brought up the Bolt Blade.

    "Heavy Mode!" he ordered. The blade expanded. elongated immediately, and 0 put it as a barrier between himself and them to have the bullets bounce away as he advanced. Halfway through the charge he heard a scream and looked up to see one of the bullets had managed to pierce through a robber's shoulder after it ricocheted. Only one more left.

    He swung the sword like a baseball bat and cracked the last robber with the blunt edge of the sword. He watched as the body became a rag doll and bounced into the wall.

    "0, we have three seconds left. Time to go."

    "Roger." 0 looked at the freed hostages once, their speedy nervous systems were quick enough for them to change their expressions from fearful to liberated in the instant, and he dashed off through the door and was back in the abandoned alley before the Agility timed out. "Demorph."

    The armor unclamped and faded into the digitization inside his morpher. The disguise of Keean Toby remained.

    "Think anyone saw us?"

    "Doubt it. We were only visible for that brief time. Chances are good that will be dismissed when they are questioned by the police."

    0 grinned. "Good. Guess we're in the clear."

    He heard a chuckle in his ear. "That was fun," said the Pikachu.

    "It was indeed. Now let's see about grabbing those things May wanted."

    The Gold Ranger walked calmly past the rapidly growing crowd of people and towards the store. It wasn't quite as crowded as it should have been, thanks to everyone having gone outside, so it only took him a few minutes to buy everything he needed and get out.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    The Gold Ranger rested on the couch.

    He never slept, his dependence on the serum saw to that. Despite the fact that he would probably not have the nightmare if he were to fall asleep, there was always that chance that he would never wake up as a result of overusing the drug. So each night he either worked or, like tonight, recharged his body's battery and thought.

    Sarah had long ago gone to bed and May was still in the kitchen finishing up the dishes. He had offered to help, but like always he was rebuked. He saved the world, she had said. The least she could do was the dishes.

    A few minutes later she came into the living room. "Well, that's the last of them. I'm going to bed."

    0 looked up from the couch. "Sure thing. Good night."

    She lingered for a moment, then walked up the stairs. A few minutes later 0 heard her light click off and he waited a few moments before sighing.

    "What's wrong, 0?"

    He shrugged. "I don't know, Pi. Is something wrong with May?"

    "What do you mean?"

    0 folded his arms across his chest. "Well, it's just that lately she's been hanging out later and later. Do you think she's worried about something?"

    "Like I said before, maybe she just wants some…physical contact."

    "Hmmm…" 0 tried to wrap his mind around the thought of touching May again. He wanted nothing more, well, okay, maybe he wanted their safety a little more. "But what if she doesn't?"

    "She's been living with you for over a year. I don't think she's doing it because she needs to split the rent."

    "But still, I shouldn't force myself on her like that."

    "Nobody said you had to. But start with some wine, maybe a moonlit night, see what happens. If you really want to repair this relationship then you need to repair all of it. You're back in their lives and you're a father to Sarah, yeah, but you need to be a husband to May too. Don't forget that."

    "Yeah, I know. But I was such a bad husband. What if I make the same mistakes?"

    "You only made those mistakes to protect them from PKM and the enemies you've made. You're not a part of PKM anymore and your enemies can't find you here. Live a little, 0."

    He chuckled. "Guess you've got a point there, Pi," he said. "I suppose tomorrow we can try and-"

    BOOM!

    He groaned. "Can something not blow up for five minutes?" he roared and ran to the window.

    "What is it?"

    0 peered through the window. He saw something that looked like a fireball shooting through the sky…right next door. "Oh no, Frank and Alice!" It was their house! 0 wasted no time and ran outside. Aura Town didn't have a fire department, he needed to do something.

    "0, what are you doing?" Pi shouted.

    "They could still be trapped inside!" he said. He couldn't see anyone outside the house and, when he neared it, he could swear he saw someone moving on the inside. "Someone's in there!"

    "Wait for the fire department!"

    "No time! Call them, but I'm going in now!" 0 focused, Agility was harder to use in civilian form with the Ailed Morpher, but he managed to pull it off. He burst through the house before anyone had any time to see him. He listened to Pi make the phone call to Jenny as he moved through the house.

    The flames were slower than they would be in real time, which was the only way 0 was able to get through without a single burn. He headed upstairs, where he thought he saw movement.

    "No," he whispered, as he entered Frank and Alice's bedroom.

    Frank was lying on the ground, some of his clothes were already burning off from a few stray sparks. His mouth was open, as if he had been screaming, and his face was constricted with terror. His entire body had entered rigor mortis already and was curled into some sort of disfigured ball.

    Right by his side was Alice. Her face was simply melting but she too had the signs of some sort of terrible anguish she had suffered before she had died. Her hair was burnt off, and the fire was eating at her twisted body. 0 tried not to be sick, but his stomach churned when he was forced to see the cause behind their suffering.

    "Hello, Ranger Gold," whispered a voice he knew all too well.

    Ame sat calmly in the wicker chair, watching everything burn around her. 0 instinctively touched his morpher, but she held up her hand. "Relax, Ranger Gold. My purpose tonight is not to fight you."

    "Really?" There was malice behind his voice, malice he could barely contain to converse. "What do you think you're doing?"

    She shrugged. "Getting your attention. Looks like it worked." She noticed he was looking at her like one might look at something pure evil and chuckled. "Worry not, dear Frank and Alice were dead long before the fire. I told them, you know, who I was here to get the attention of. Before they died they cursed your name over and over again."

    0 growled. "I will kill you, Ame. I swear I-"

    "Cease your dramatics, Ranger Gold. After all, I already said it is not in my contract to fight you now. I am here as a disclaimer."

    "A what?"

    Neither of them seemed aware that a fire was burning down everything around them. All 0 cared about was smashing her head open. What Ame cared about was apparently not fighting.

    "We checked amateur video taken today in front of a bank which revealed a golden blur. Further investigation revealed you lived here. We are going to be sending two friends to hunt you down and kill you."

    "Two Dark Gems…who?"

    She shrugged. "You do not need to know yet. What is part of my contract is to tell you that we are giving you a two week grace period in which to summon your troops. We want all of you in one area."

    "What if I say no?"

    "Then you face two Dark Gem Rangers alone. This will ensure your death. Sap was but a taste and Ony was a failed experiment. Other members of our family are much, much stronger. Do not for an instant assume you are even capable of combating them on your own at your present level."

    0 was still wary. "What's stopping you from killing me right now?"

    She chuckled. "My contract does not specify that you need to know that information, Ranger Gold. Consider yourself lucky we are giving you the time to even mount a counterattack. Farewell."

    And just like that, she vanished.

    0 clenched his fists and bit his lip. "I will kill her, I swear I will."

    "We need to get out of here. I think the fire department is en route as we speak. They'll find us."

    "Activate Agility for the maximum allowed demorphed. We need to call the others."

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "Turn it on, Pi."

    The Gold Ranger stood alone in Ranger Downs, as he always did. He approached a large computer terminal on the wall next to the teleporter. He pressed one of the buttons and the machine came to life. Pi's face came on the screen and 0 manned the keyboard.

    "Are you sure you want to call them back?" it asked him, just to be sure. "Ame might have been bluffing, they might give us some time to escape."

    0 shook his head. "No, Pi, you know them just as well as I do. Escaping isn't an option. They'll come for us. The only question is if we do it on their terms or ours. We have two weeks, Ame said that was the schedule. We'd better not waste it. Switch it on."

    The terminal's screen activated. 0 had to wait for the majority of the Ranger Downs computer to whirl to life, but it finished uploading within a minute. Pi's face was uploaded to the screen.

    "Are you sure about this?" Pi asked once more.

    He nodded. "I am. Initiate the signal and prepare for transmission."

    The computer started up the signal. "Waiting for recording, Gold."

    0 spoke very clearly to the computer. "Rangers, this is Ranger Gold. We have a confirmed sighting of the Dark Gems and a time limit of two weeks from the transmission of this message to assemble. Those of you who can come, come. Coordinates are being sent with this message, with the designated meeting place of Aura Town outside of Goldenrod City in Johto. Look for the cover ID you are familiar with. Get here as fast as possible, details will be relayed then. Gold, over and out."

    He finished and nodded to Pi. "Message sent," reported the Pokemon. "You should get some rest."

    "I don't sleep."

    "Then lie on the couch and recharge. Think about things. You look bad, 0."

    "What's going on?"

    The Gold Ranger did not turn around, not immediately. He stood with his back facing her, his attention on the computer. "May," he said. "I thought you'd be asleep."

    "I heard the sirens outside…what happened, 0?" She took a few steps towards him and touched his shoulder. "Tell me. I'm your wife."

    He didn't smile when he turned around. "There was a fire next door. I ran over to try to help, there isn't a close enough fire department. When I got inside, I saw Ame there, waiting for me."

    May nodded and gestured to his chair. "Why don't you take a seat, you look tired." It was true, his body looked like it was ready to give. Despite that, he didn't sit.

    "I'm not tired. The serum keeps me awake."

    "I meant mentally, dear." He could not refuse her, and she gently guided him to the chair and sat him down. He cupped his face in her hands. "Go on. Tell me everything."

    He did. He told her how he'd found Ame waiting there for him. He told her about how she'd killed the people down the street, and even that she had given him two weeks before the fight started again. When he finished he felt exhausted, like he'd run a hundred miles. His face was still sweaty.

    "Did you call everyone?" she asked and looked at the computer.

    He nodded. "Max, Silver, and 415. I sent a separate signal for Logan and Karin, for when their child is born and they can travel. But that's still four rangers, against whatever the Dark Gems are going to bring." He searched her eyes, hunting for an answer. "Do you think it'll be enough? To fight them and save our family?"

    "I don't know, 0, but I trust you." And she kissed him.

    When their lips parted, he still tasted her on his lips. "I just wish I knew what was coming. I-I wish I wasn't in charge. If only Bakaguru was still here, he'd make twice the leader I am."

    "Don't say that. Bakaguru left you in charge because he believed in you. Just like Sarah and I do." She touched his shoulder again. Through his shirt, he could feel the soft fingers of her left hand.

    "May…" He lowered his face and looked at his shoes. "Thank you." He wanted to say so much more, but he didn't. Somehow, he couldn't form the words in his mouth. He just lifted his hand to hers and squeezed her fingers. He felt her ring.

    She answered him with another kiss, deeper this time. The Gold Ranger felt the mood slowly change, there was a hunger behind May's touch that he recognized.

    They parted, 0 felt her hands reaching for the buttons on his shirt. "What are you doing?" he asked hazily.

    "What do you think?" she asked, a slight change of tone in her voice. It was slightly more feral. There was urgency too.

    "May." His voice was losing resistance. "Are you sure?"

    She looked at him with an almost frightening look. "I've been waiting for four years. The day after you left, all I wanted was your arms around me." She didn't even waste time with the last two buttons and ripped off the rest of the shirt.

    "But now?" It hardly seemed like the perfect time.

    "0. Stop thinking."

    He followed the order to the level.

    /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\ /ŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻŻ\

    "May?" he asked. He himself felt hazy, tired, like he hadn't been in years.

    The voice came a moment later. "Yes?"

    "You alright?"

    "Oh…yes," she whispered, and smiled despite herself. "Yes, I think I'm fine."

    "Okay." Carefully, 0 held her in his arms. He never wanted to let her go.

    "You haven't changed at all."

    "I haven't?" Somehow that rang false. "What about the jolt?"

    She giggled. "That's not new…just a little different. Besides, you were always an animal in bed." She cuddled next to him and held him close.

    0 chuckled. "Hey, remember our first time?" he asked.

    "Yeah," she said. "You were so clumsy."

    "I was clumsy? We were in a hurry. Our friends were only out for two hours."

    "And you were so shy we started with thirty minutes left. It took me forever to get your pants off."

    "I wanted to respect you. I didn't want to do anything to you that you didn't want to do."

    "How could the world's best trainer and the most powerful ranger in PKM have ever been so silly?" She found this adorable and snuggled closer. "I never loved anybody but you. I wanted you to be my first."

    They sat in silence for a while, each engrossed with the other. But they never stopped touching one another, not even when 0 rose from the chair and, taking May gingerly into his arms, carried her upstairs to their bedroom.

    The last thing she remembered was the strong embrace of his arms, before the eclipse of sleep overcame her.
    Zepther is not a perfect city, filled with crime and evil. Through its dark alleys and narrows streets, a silent watcher protects the people, calling forth the darkness of metal to defend them. Cloaked in black, shrouded in the mysteries of his past, his cold heart is true as steel. His name is Chronos. He is the Dark Eye.
    The legacy begins...

  24. #49
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Posts
    76

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    Very glad you brought this story back, I was one of your avid followers on FanFiction.. You have a very unique talent for writing, as I almost feel as if I am there, in the moment with the characters when I read your story. This is something I tried to develop during the odd 2-3 years I've been MIA from here, and one of the biggest things that has helped me is reading, and re-reading your stories. I absolutely love them, just can't get enough. I might try to write again, but we'll see. If I do, your story is for sure the one that inspired me to do this again!
    What I'm Currently Working On:

    Destiny of the Aura. An Advanceshipping FanFic!



    Creds to BrutakaBlaziken for the outstanding banner!

  25. #50
    Join Date
    Nov 2008
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    Australia
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    I agree with Wuster. I'm glad this is back. I can't remember if i read this before or your style remind me of another author. I just love how you describe the events and the things in this story. The way you pace this is wonderful and its not rushed at all.

    I kinda miss reading Advanceshipping stories in this style. Anyway keep up the great work.
    Last edited by Midnightmoon6o2; 9th March 2013 at 12:17 PM.

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