Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers, they belong to whomever currently owns the copyright. This is a fan work and no profit is being made from it. Jeff Kincaid, Mark Kinega, Savrod, Crucible and the concept of the Night Rangers are based on the works of John Chubb.
Author's Note: This is the next a story in the Conquest of Evil series. Please see the author's note at the end of the story.
A message had been sent and ignored. The assorted villains across the Universe had heard the decree of the Grand Monarch and had decided it was just another upstart trying to get ahead of his peers with empty threats and boastful language. The Royal House of Gadgetry had laughed at the demand that they join the newly formed United Alliance of Evil although some of the smaller houses within the Machine Empire were prepared to do so; Mondo's control over the Machine Empire came as a result of a power struggle between himself and rival machine kings. It was only through luck that his rivals had not seized control during the fiasco on Earth.
Master Vile had also sent back a replying, challenging the Grand Monarch to prove his power in a confrontation. Master Vile saw the opportunity to improve his own standing in the Alliance. He had heard rumours that something had happened to Maxell, but refused to believe that the man had been destroyed. He was after all protected by the power of the Alliance's membership.
Finally there had been the response of the pirate clans with the Dianthe providing the most vocal response. They had not only refused the summons, they had openly declared that they would leave the Alliance if the so-called Grand Monarch was allowed to remain.
Three factions, all bitter enemies, united against a single threat. But that was the problem: they didn't even consider the Grand Monarch to be a threat. They saw him as an upstart and a bad joke, a problem that they could deal with in their usual manner.
When word reached Dark Specter of their responses, he decided to prove his power. He dispatched the Messenger of Fire, a creature of living flame that he breathed from the mouth of one of his many forms. Hotter than the most powerful of Mondo's forges, the flaming warrior destroyed one of the Royal House of Gadgetry's key Space Bases, disrupting supplies and communication across Mondo's empire. It was a move that cost Mondo severely, weakening his control over the Machine Empire. A later reassessment would show that member of the United Alliance of Evil was the only way to prevent his rivals or worse, Prince Gasket from making a bid for outright control.
Master Vile suffered a similar loss. His spawn worlds were essential for creating the servants he used to maintain control of his empire. The worlds were organic and the when the Messenger of Fire had chosen one, he no problems setting it ablaze. When it was done the living planet was charcoal. Being the pragmatist he was, Master Vile decided that he would attend the meeting of the United Alliance of Evil if only to learn more about the Grand Monarch and find a way to claim the villain's powers for his own.
Perhaps the greatest loss was suffered by the pirates. While the Dianthe Clan's fleet was smelted by the attack, the other clans did not benefit. The Messenger of Fire made the Grand Monarch's stance on further resistance obvious. If the pirates did not join the United Alliance of Evil willingly, he would wipe them out. For Divatox the answer the answer was very simple. She would meet the Grand Monarch, charm him with her feminine wiles and marry him. The Dianthe Clan would become even more powerful with her as Queen of Evil.
And finally the Messenger returned to its creator, explaining all that it had done in his name. Dark Specter was pleased and granted it a place at his side. In future it would serve as his voice in the remote reaches of the Universe.
The Defiant was the primary transport of the Night Rangers. It was a very old ship. It was much older than many of the vessels found within the Galaxy Council, IGPF, Rider Corps or even Alliance of Evil fleets. Attempts to replace the vessel with an upgraded model had been blocked at every level. The Galactic Council did not want the Night Rangers or any of their allies to have access to modern technology, fearing how that technology would be used against them should the Night Rangers turn to the dark side. Officially the Defiant was registered as a Raider-class vessel, designed for speed to deploy a low number of specialist troops and then disappear. For the most part, given that there were normally only twelve Night Rangers, the ship seemed adequate to its task.
But times had changed and the Night Rangers' enemies had developed their own space vessels that had vastly outclassed the Defiant's meagre defences. Even its speed was of little use when it could be picked of by a single shot. And so the Night Rangers and their allies had upgraded their ship, a move that the Council could not prevent despite their objections. An overhaul of the engines, weapons and shielding had moved the ship beyond the specifications of Raider-class vessels, transforming it into a Xantium-class ship. At some point the Defiant had spent months in a private dry dock at the KO-35, but nobody had ever revealed what upgrades had been installed during that time.
Originally the Defiant had been constructed from the same alloy used for generations of Battlestar-class vessels and later to construct Zords. The metal's strength was greatly enhanced by the Morphin Grid, but only functioned as a strong skin. On a planet that level of protection was adequate, but in space the possibility of a breach in its metal skin left the entire crew vulnerable. Many suspected that the Night Rangers had installed a more advanced form of armour and perhaps additional shielding.
Perhaps the Defiant's most notable feature was its computer systems. Individual computers had been installed to operate independently of each other, allowing greater processing speeds. The individual systems were controlled by the Defiant's main computer: Hardrive. Hardrive was more advanced than most ship computers. At the core his systems were electronic, but featured a prototype synthetic neural interface, made up of organic cells linked to a soft-sided circuit module. The design allowed Hardrive to function more as an electronic brain than as a simple computer. His programming was advanced enough that where there were no commands to determine his actions, he was able to develop his own subroutines. A very advanced computer indeed, but still a machine that was slaved to its programming when the software existed - for despite the ability to rewrite his programming, he was bound to follow existing commands where they existed and his commands could be overridden by those planted within one of the other computers.
When Jeff Kincaid had escaped from Daos, Crucible had used his knowledge of the Defiant's programming to predict where the ship would go. However before he had been transformed in Crucible, Mark Kinega had encouraged Hardrives's quirky personality components and this combined with the nature of its systems had allowed Hardrive to become creative.
In short, while Crucible was confident that the ship's computers would follow a set of predefined orders and Hardrive's situational awareness would be overridden, he had dismissed the possibility that Hardrive would adapt. Hardrive knew at the moment the computers indicated Earth as the next stopping point that Crucible would guess their destination. And while Hardrive was prevented from breaking the subroutines that Mark Kinega had designed, forcing it to obey the decision reached by the other computer, it could exert limited control over other systems.
That was why in spite of its speed, the Defiant had not yet reached Earth. Hardrive could not change the destination, but his scheduling software had issued a command to the Navigation Computer to switch to test mode. Hardrive had then set up a programmed course with Earth as the final destination, but which required the ship to make an undefined number of test runs before it got there. The result was that the Navigation Computer continually changed course to adapt to the new tests Hardrive would ask it to perform, keeping the Defiant from reaching the Earth. And so the computer had programmed the most indirect route possible, jumping from one side of the galaxy to the other using marked space lanes and taking advantage of the fact that Earth was not on any of the official trade routes. And as it continued its seemingly random flight, allowing the flight computer to get locked into a cycle for a short time, Hardrive monitored the movements of the enemy.
Eventually though there was no choice but to set course for Earth. A check of Jeff Kincaid's health showed that the Night Ranger was not healing from the wounds he had suffered in his last battle. It seemed that the Night Rangers powers could do many things in battle, but healing was a problem. Hardrive determined that the wounds would likely need the help of a Morphin Master to heal. The computer had delayed as long as possible, but the health of its operator took priority over the need to survive.
"Perhaps today is a good day to die," Hardrive stated as the navigation systems were switched back to real time, reconnecting them to the system that was sending alert after alert that protocol was not being followed and the course to Earth was plotted.
As the vessel took off at maximum speed to make up for lost time, Hardrive calculated the most likely point where it would be ambushed and engaged its weaponry, ready for a battle. Without an operator, the Defiant's defences were extremely limited. Without an active Ranger its armour was not at full strength and the computers though accurate took much longer to aim then they did when fired manually. Many systems could only be activated by voice command or tactile interface, limiting Hardrive's control over key systems.
It detected the first enemy craft as it approached Mars. It seemed a small fleet had been waiting there for some time. Fortunately they were not the sort of villains that invaded worlds directly, otherwise Earth would have already been conquered.
Normally in such a battle, a vessel under computer control would have been at a severe disadvantage. But Hardrive had been around the Night Rangers for too long and had picked up a great deal of their unorthodox methods. It isolated a small section of memory and allocated it a small amount of processing time and disk capacity. It then uploaded a program to the new system and set it running before isolating the system from all other parts of the computer. Surprisingly the system was very simple. It identified a scenario and selected a matching scenario from the ship's memory core, much the same way that Hardrive's processor could associate a quote from a television show or movie with a conversation.
"Hardrive, shields up!"
Hardrive was aware that despite the voice sounding exactly like Mark Kinega, it was actually a computer generated recording from a previous battle. A red light on one of the many consoles indicated that the voice identification software had been declared faulty and that until further notice all voice commands would be accepted as long as Hardrive determined them to be authentic.
And with that the Defiant launched into the most unusual battle ever fought with its systems and defences under the control of a voice recorder. Yet it worked surprisingly well, mostly because the enemy had not expected the Defiant to put up a fight and did not have a plan of attack other than destroying the vessel with its shields down.
"Lock on target and fire!"
This time it was the voice of a Night Ranger who had died over fifty years earlier. Still Hardrive obeyed and the ship continued to fight its way to Earth, returning fire as needed.
It was Thanksgiving and the Power Chamber was quiet. Divatox, Rita and Mondo had not attacked and the Rangers were enjoying the holidays with their loved ones. Tommy however had felt the need to teleport to the Power Chamber. He had a feeling he would be needed.
"Tommy," Zordon greeted. The White Morphin Master was in his tube, the best place for him to interact with the Power Chamber's systems. "Is there a problem? Alpha and I have not detected any signs of attack."
Tommy sighed. "No Zordon, there isn't really a problem. I just had a feeling that something was wrong. Not Rita or Mondo, or even Divatox. Just... wrong."
Zordon nodded sagely. When the Rangers morphed for the first time, the Power enhanced any latent gifts they possessed. Tommy was not as psychically sensitive as Billy or Rocky. His mental awareness certainly didn't match Christina or Jamie, however being placed under numerous spells throughout his Ranger career meant that Tommy was aware of when things were not right.
"Alpha, conduct a distance scan of the Solar System and report any unusual activity."
Alpha obeyed, setting the sensors to collect as much data as possible and feed it into the Power Chamber's systems. Even though Zordon's sensors lacked detail, they information the fed into the system was too much for the computer to interpret. That was where Alpha's search routines and Zordon's gifts came into play.
"Ai-yi-yi-yi-yi!" Alpha cried.
Zordon was quick to pick up on what the robot had spotted. His response was less panicked, but urgent.
"Alpha, prepare a Level Six shut down of the Power Chamber. Disconnect all outside communications and block any of Billy's feeds." He paused and looked at Tommy. "I am sorry Tommy, if I had my way you would not be involved in this, but since you are here I must ask for your word you will never reveal to the other Rangers anything that happens between now and the time Alpha releases the lockdown."
"Of course, I promise. But Zordon, what's happening?"
"Alpha, replay the message you received so Tommy might hear it."
"Attention Power Chamber, this is Night Ranger vessel Defiant. Is anyone receiving? Roger me. Wilco me. Anything. Hello. Hello. Earth? Repeat this is Night Ranger vessel Defiant calling the Power Chamber is anyone receiving?"
"Alpha, confirm that the message is genuine," Zordon instructed.
Alpha didn't need to study the data that the computer was scrolling in front of him. There was only one ship with a computer that sounded so unprofessional.
"It's the Defiant," he confirmed. Then he studied the data stream being sent from one of the ships more reliable systems. "The ship is under computer control, the only Ranger on board is injured."
"Defiant, this is Zordon. You have permission to land. Please transmit the status of your crew." In a blur of light Zordon emerged from his tube. "Alpha, as soon as the Defiant has landed, teleport the injured Ranger to the Medical Bay. Tommy and I will meet him there."
Alpha nodded and Zordon left, followed by Tommy.
"Zordon, what is a Night Ranger and why did you ask me to make that promise?"
"Long ago the Morphin Masters discovered that there some evils they could not fight in the traditional way. The Morphin Masters were bound by rules and morals that forced them to keep to a strict code of behaviour. For a long time it was not a problem; many villains preferred to act in the way you are used to, fighting dirty but open conflicts against the light. But there were some that did not fight in the light. They hid in the shadows, corrupting the souls of those they encountered. Their attacks were far more personal albeit on a smaller scale. However, they proved just as dangerous if not more so. A number of Morphin Master demanded a change to face this threat and in the schism that followed, they formed the Acexta Order and left.
"Later they recruited a new time of warrior, the Night Fighters and eventually found a way to grant them powers similar to Rangers. And then one day a warrior rose from their ranks and found a way to use the forces of darkness to power his morpher, turning him into a Night Ranger."
They reached the door to the Medical Bay and Zordon placed his hand on the scanner. The locks started to click and Tommy realised this was not the normal place where the Rangers were treated for injury.
"With this discovery a new team of Rangers was created. While they drew their powers from the Light Side of the Morphin Grid, they used them in ways that the Morphin Masters would never approve of. They totally disregarded the rule to never escalate a battle, deeming that the evil they faced was too dangerous to be confronted with anything less than maximum force. It was only their own morals that prevented them from using their powers for evil.
"The Morphin Masters did not like the idea. Some even formed an organisation dedicated to destroying them, but that has since faded into obscurity. In the end it was decided that the only way the Morphin Masters could limit the damage they had the potential to cause, was to accept them as Rangers."
"The Night Rangers," Tommy guessed.
"Correct. The Morphin Masters tried at first to force the Night Rangers to stop referring to themselves as Rangers. They failed. Then they tried to force them conform to their beliefs. The Night Rangers told them what they thought of that idea and pledged themselves to the Acexta Order as leaders of the Night Fighters. The Night Rangers did agree to certain restrictions although it was later found that they had no choice in the matter due to other factors; their numbers were limited to thirteen, which was the maximum number of Night Morphers they managed to create; later they admitted that attempts to create more Night Morphers had failed. They also agreed not to engage in the ongoing war between Good and Evil. They agreed because they felt that should they do so their enemies would also join the conflict. Finally it was agreed that the Night Rangers would hide their identities even from other Rangers. That is why I asked for your promise. Nobody may disclose the existence of the Night Rangers to those that are not aware of their existence, except if the Night Ranger is fulfilling his duty." He didn't add that in recent years the Night Rangers had pretty much abandoned any pretence of following that rule; while they didn't announce their existence, they did nothing to hide it.
The lock finally finished opening and Zordon pushed the door. Then he stopped.
"I must warn you Tommy that the Night Rangers are not like other teams. They have the capacity to drew great power, especially at night, but their powers come at a price. The Night Rangers are broken souls, good people that have been damaged by the cruelties of life. Many lack the family that other Rangers enjoy and can seem bitter and hostile. Though they freely cross the line between light and dark, they struggle constantly not to cross the line between Good and Evil."
"What would happen if they did?" Tommy asked.
"They would become a real monster. Fortunately few Night Rangers have ever fallen so far that they cannot be redeemed."
"Until now." Tommy and Zordon turned to regard the young man sitting on the bed. He looked ill, his body showing the signs of a recent battle and wounds that looked to be infected.
"Jeffrey, it is good to see you again," Zordon said as he crossed the room and laid a hand on the stranger's should. Almost immediately the wounds didn't look quite so bad. "What has happened to your teammates?"
"You mean you haven't heard?" Jeffrey snorted. "I thought it would have been all over the Morphin Master grapevine by now. The big bad Night Rangers and their allies destroyed by their own leader."
"Mark turned on you?" Zordon asked, his voice wavering.
Zordon had known Mark very well. He had mentored the Red Night Ranger and encouraged him to recruit his new team. It seemed that something had gone wrong.
"That's putting it lightly," Jeffrey growled. "He lured us into a trap. He didn't even have the courage to fight us face to face. He destroyed our Zords, killed the others and destroyed everything the Night Rangers stood for. And then for good measure he destroyed the Acexta."
"How did you get away?" Tommy asked.
"Who are you?" Jeffrey demanded.
"This is Tommy Oliver, the current Red Zeo Ranger," Zordon answered. "Tommy, this is Jeffrey Kincaid, the Blue Night Ranger."
"It's Jeff!" he snapped, "and he can't know about me. Or have you forgotten the rules?"
"Tommy was here when Defiant arrived and has sworn that he will not reveal your existence to the rest of his team," Zordon answered. "I am willing to allow him to keep his knowledge on that basis."
Jeff nodded, although he still looked as if he wanted to protest. In the end he just sighed, his face seeming to relax as Zordon continued healing his wounds.
"I didn't escape, I got lucky," he said. "Mark forgot that Defiant's computer is loyal to the Night Rangers. When he betrayed us the computer decided he was no longer a Night Ranger and turned on him. Hardrive rescued me and we've been running ever since."
"And Mark is after you?" Zordon asked.
"He's calling himself Crucible now," Jeff replied.
Zordon suddenly looked much older. "Then he is beyond redemption," he sighed. He noticed that Tommy was about to speak and quickly explained. "There was a recent attack on another Ranger team by a warrior calling himself Crucible. I had heard about the powers he possessed but did not know that Mark had defected. Crucible didn't just kill them, he slaughtered them."
"He doesn't even recognise Mark Kinega as a part of himself," Jeff added. "It's like Mark ceased to exist when Crucible appeared. We know Mark took steps before he betrayed us, little things to make it easier to destroy us. But once he turned into Crucible all traces of him were gone."
"Perhaps he did," Zordon said sadly.
Unlike most Rangers, the Night Rangers could not be turned evil by the use of spells. They were protected by the nature of their powers. Unfortunately that meant that when they did turn it was their own choice and they usually fell so far that they could never find their way back.
"Mark will seek to control the Pit of Night," Zordon said after some thought.
"Already tried," Jeff answered. "I bound the spirits but he has the mirror; I couldn't protect Daos. It probably belongs to him now."
"The loss of Daos is disturbing, however as long as he is unable to fully tap the powers of the Night Rangers, Crucible will never reach his full potential. Unfortunately that means he will seek out the one that is preventing him from doing so."
"Me," Jeff agreed. "I barely got out of the pit alive. It won't take long for him to find me, assuming he doesn't know I'm here."
"I agree," Zordon said. "For now there is little you can do to overcome Crucible. However, the longer you can keep him from unlocking the Spirits of the Night, the more chance there is of finding a way."
"So what do you suggest I do? Run, hide?"
"Recover," Zordon told him. "The Night Rangers are needed as much now as they were when they were first created. I believe the Night Rangers will rise again."
"Dimitria said the same thing," Jeff told him. "That was before she sent me to Daos."
"Then we must assume it is the truth," Zordon concluded as he finished healing the Ranger.
Jeff nodded his thanks and then seemed to realise something. "Aren't you supposed to be stuck in a time warp?"
Tommy and Zordon laughed and started to fill the Night Ranger in on their recent history.
Kincaid was nearby, Crucible could sense him. Though the powers of the Night Rangers were beyond his reach, he had known that Hardrive would travel to Earth. It had taken longer than expected and Crucible suspected that the computer had somehow managed to extend the flight time.
~I underestimated Hardrive before and Jeff got away. Now it seems he has found a way to break my programming. When I defeat Jeff and claim his morpher, I will purge the Defiant's computer and turn that ship into scrap.~
A polite cough drew his attention. He squashed the annoyance at being disturbed. Savrod had been the man to awaken him from the illusion that had been his life as Mark Kinega. Savrod had shown him the way to get what he wanted, what he deserved. It had cost him his friends and allies, but sacrifices had to be made to get what he desired. He was grateful for all that Savrod had done, which meant he was willing to control his temper.
"I've received word from the ships we stations on one of the moons of Mars," Savrod said. "The Defiant passed through them a short time ago. Literally through them mind, there was very little left."
"And the one who delivered this report?"
"Will be paying for his comrades' failure for the rest of his very short life."
Crucible nodded. It was right that the underling paid the price of failure, but he wanted him begging for death long before he was allowed to die.
"So Kincaid is on Earth then," he guessed. <"By now it is likely he has found his way to the Power Chamber and having his wounds healed," Savrod agreed. "Perhaps we could locate his family and flush him out."
"No," Crucible said, shaking his head. <"Why not? You can't have that much respect for your former teammate, can you?"
"Of course not," Crucible replied. "You don't know Kincaid as well as you claim. He hates his family with a passion; if we kidnap them he will probably wait until the deadline expires and then go to make sure they are dead."
"He would kill them?" Savrod asked.
"No," Crucible replied. "But the doesn't mean he would lift a hand to save them. You're thinking as if Kincaid was an ordinary Ranger; he's a Night Ranger or have you forgotten?" He paused, considering the possibilities. "Access the computer files on known associates of Jeff Kincaid. He might not be willing to help his family, but I bet he would go out of his way to help a friend he respects."
It was true. The Night Rangers were a lot darker than normal Power Rangers. They didn't respond in the same way as other Rangers would respond. When confronted with a situation their concern was dealing with the threat rather than protecting the innocent. At most kidnapping one of their supposed loved ones would make them angry, which in turn would make them more difficult to battle.
"I already have that shoot fighting school under surveillance," Savrod told him. He wanted to make it clear that there were very few things about Crucible's former life that he did not know.
"Bruce Greene would be a good start," Crucible agreed.
"I'll order some Guardsmen to detain him," Savrod offered.
"I hope you are not suggesting using Greene as a hostage," Crucible said. "Because that would be a very foolish thing to do. Kincaid is a Night Ranger, not a hero. You show him a hostage and he would likely shoot the hostage just to take away any leverage you might have held. And then he would go on a rampage to find those responsible."
Now it was Savrod's turn to think. Crucible wanted him to keep watch on Greene, but didn't want him taken as a hostage. He doubted Crucible planned to mount an attack to draw Kincaid out, it was more likely such an attack would draw the attention of Earth's native heroes. So what was he up to?
"Kincaid's first call would be to Zordon," Crucible said softly. "He'll need healing and seeking out Zordon is hard-coded into the Defiant's protocols."
Just how had Hardrive managed to delay their arrival on Earth for so long? Crucible was convinced that had Kincaid showed up when they expected him he would never have gotten passed the forces waiting for him. But he had not appeared and time had passed, and the lookout assigned to watch for the Defiant had failed to warn the rest of their unit. As a result the Defiant had made it to Earth. Deciding that he would discover the answer when Kincaid and Defiant were in his possession, at which point he would personally decrypt every byte of Hardrive's memory to discover the answer, Crucible returned to the matter at hand.
"Can you imagine what it would be like for a Night Ranger to spend all his time around a White Morphin Master and an Alpha Unit? Even if he was introduced to the native Rangers he would have little in common and his... personality would likely drive them away. No Savrod, sooner or later Jeff Kincaid will seek some form of interaction and the only person that comes close to what he needs on this miserable planet would be Bruce Greene."
"And when he seeks out his friend, we'll grab him," Savrod concluded.
Crucible nodded. There was no guarantee that the plan would succeed, but short of assaulting Zordon's Power Chamber, it was their best option. And for some reason Crucible could no longer remember the exact location of the Power Chamber.
Three days passed and Kincaid recovered. Zordon had healed most of the damage his body had sustained while binding the creatures within the Pit of Night to himself, but his body needed time to flush the impurities from his blood. During that time he had seen plenty of activity within the Power Chamber, after Zordon had unsealed it. It seemed that all of the Rangers enemies were suddenly eager to launch their attacks against the planet. So far he had seen Rangers from multiple teams arriving before being sent off to deal with different problems. Something was happening, but he wasn't sure what. Not that it really mattered since as a Night Ranger he was not allowed to interfere in domestic issues.
A few of the Rangers had approached him. For the most part they had regretted it soon after. The Pink and Yellow Rangers had been drawn by the pain they sensed. It was natural that as the nurturers and fixers they would try to heal him. But he was too dark for them to be around for long and he sensed that despite the hurt on their faces, they had been relieved when he had pushed them away. Not that the reactions of the Yellow and Pink Turbo Rangers had not been amusing; Tasha Young had had to be restrained by her teammates after their encounter.
Then there had been Adam Park, the Green Zeo Ranger and Justin Stewart, the Blue Turbo Ranger. They had seemed curious rather than concerned and while Adam at least was aware of his annoyance, Justin had treated him as a mystery to be unravelled and had pointedly ignored any hints of his aggravation. Worse still it appeared that no matter how hard he tried, Kincaid could not help but open up a little when Justin was around, the kid's genuine enthusiasm was annoyingly contagious.
In the end it had taken all of his willpower not to agree to go with the group to the Angel Grove Youth Center. The place was built for happy teenagers who only had to worry about life's minor problems, it was not the sort of place that would welcome Kincaid.
Savrod was frustrated. Crucible's training had been proceeding well and the new villain was on his way to becoming the sort of leader that Savrod and his organisation desired. Before long Crucible would assert his authority, putting Savrod in his place and making his claim as leader clear. At that point Savrod knew would be rejoicing that the long wait was over. But it seemed for all the potential Crucible displayed, there were still areas where he was lacking.
The war between good and evil had been fought since time began, maybe earlier. The war would likely continue for a long time to come and then when evil emerged victorious there would be the power struggle to determine which faction claimed the ultimate prize. In that context a leader would have to show much more patience that Crucible possessed. The young warrior was learning, but it only took the mention of Jeff Kincaid for him to forget all that he had learnt.
~The sooner that Night Ranger is eliminated, the better,~ Savrod thought. ~From a command perspective he is bad for military discipline.~
He had considered allowing the Night Ranger to keep running, hiding and occasionally until Crucible was ready to ascend to his rightful place, but the preoccupation with Jeff Kincaid was proving a distraction.
"Perhaps a more direct approach is necessary, Crucible," he said as he approached the villain-in-training.
"And what would you suggest?" Crucible asked. "You know monster attacks won't work. Do we even have monsters?"
"All members of your empire are willing, living beings," Savrod replied. "I'm certain even the humblest Guardsman has committed acts that would make him a monster. But no, we do not favour the throwaway creations used by some organisations. I've heard a few of your followers do have the ability to create avatars from clay... or other materials. When our forces go into battle the face they wear is a reflection of their souls. I know some have found a way to use that to transmute their entire bodies, personally I prefer the last face my enemy sees to be my own."
"Then how can we draw him out?" Crucible demanded.
"Ah, I understand now. When I said that I meant offering him a challenge that would appeal on a more personal level," Savrod advised, gesturing with his fingers. "Kincaid will not react to any old monster attack, but if the monster happened to be you..."
"He would charge in to stop me," Crucible concluded.
It was likely true that Kincaid hated Crucible enough to attack him if given the opportunity. And even if that were not the case the recent loss of his teammates would make the Night Ranger determined not to lose anybody else to Crucible power.
"Or just as likely he would run to draw you away from the planet," Savrod countered. "And given the treats Mark Kinega left behind, I think we'll have some say in where he goes."
Crucible nodded. He much preferred the idea of fighting Kincaid to the death - Kincaid's death of course - but failing that just drawing him out of hiding would suffice.
"It would also prove an effective way of demonstrating your power Crucible.. Your enemies need to know how powerful you are, as do your competitors. Fight or flee, Kincaid has found refuge on Earth. The people of this world should be punished for acting against you."
Every word was calculated, every suggestion measured to turn Crucible into the warrior, the leader that Savrod was aiming for. He wanted Crucible to continue his pursuit of Kincaid, but this was an opportunity to sever any remaining ties that Crucible had with the planet Earth. The planet had a power all of its own and Savrod was already scheming how that power could be used to extend Crucible's influence.
"We have enough drop ships to start a small invasion," he stated. "We couldn't hold the planet, but we can send a message that to defy you is to invite death."
"Of course Crucible," Savrod agreed. "And the force watching Greene?"
Crucible pondered for a moment before smiling coldly. "Tell them they have new instructions..." He paused to consider the coming confrontation. "Greene has the potential to become a vital part of our army, perhaps as a combat instructor. But first he'll need to appreciate how much better life can be on our side or at least how harsh it could be without us. As for Kincaid, the time has come for Jeff to join the others, but his demise will be at my hand and not merely by my command."
The Turbo Rangers had been enjoying a long weekend when their communicators had sounded. They teleported to the Power Chamber and after exchanging greetings with a very sceptical Jeff Kincaid, had discovered the reason Zordon had summoned them.
"Zordon, you can't do this!" Jeff protested. "Crucible destroyed a team of Night Rangers, these kids will be dead in a few minutes."
"Why?" Tasha demanded. "Because we're humans? Or perhaps because we're not five thousand years old like some Rangers? We've been protecting this planet for months, against Mondo, Rita and Divatox... or do those names not mean anything?"
"Actually they don't," Jeff told her calmly. "Rita, Divatox and Mondo are not the same as Crucible. They don't fight in the same way, they don't use the same powers... I'm not sure if Crucible is more powerful, but I suspect if I walked up to Rita and said 'boo', she'd run back to Gamma Vile. I doubt Crucible would do the same when confronted by the power of Turbo. And no, it's not because you're young and from Earth. I'm from Earth and I've only been doing this a little longer than you. It's because Crucible WILL kill you, then he will kill your friends and family and then he will likely destroy this world!"
"Fine then how do we fight him?"
"You can't, he'll destroy you," Jeff told them. "The best you could do is buy a few minutes and distract him. We could throw every Ranger on this planet, myself included, all your Morphin Masters, mentors and allies at him and it wouldn't make a difference. Defiant's sensors did some analysis of Crucible last time we met and came to the conclusion: we just can't harm him badly enough. Why do you think I haven't sought him out? It's not because I've forgiven him. I want to make sure that when we meet I have a chance to put a stop to him once and for all. Getting myself killed won't accomplish that and getting yourselves killed won't help me. The best we could do is frustrate him, ruin his scheme and perhaps irritate him enough that he decides to withdraw. We could combine the maximum firepower of every Zord in your arsenal and he might decide that he won't get anywhere and leave."
"So there's no way to stop him from doing... that?" Franklin asked, pointing to the screen where Crucible could be seen sending out wave after wave of destructive energy.
"Well we could stop him," Jeff stated. "The moment he detects Defiant lifting off he will stop whatever it is he is doing and follow."
"Indeed, Crucible's obsession with destroying the last Night Ranger would distract him from any other plan," Zordon agreed.
Which was fine except for the fact that Crucible's forces were actively scanning the planet ready to shoot down the Defiant when it appeared; it was lucky that since he had turned evil, Crucible experienced the same mental block when it came to the location of the Power Chamber as most other villains, despite the fact he had visited Zordon there on many occasions.
"Yeah but he's likely to leave his forces behind with orders to cause as much damage as possible," Jeff pointed out. "We'd have to make sure that can't happen."
"I have an idea," Franklin said after some thought.
What followed was an idea that Jeff would never consider original. The Turbo Rangers would attack and distract Crucible - Kincaid estimated they'd last less than a minute although the Turbo Rangers seemed far more confident - while every other Ranger on the planet sought to cause as much damage to the ships waiting for Kincaid as possible. Then Defiant would launch and lead Crucible away, the damaged pursuers prevented from catching the fully operational ship at least for a short time.
"Fine," Fred agreed. "We'll call in the reserves and then head out and keep him 'distracted', while you do whatever it is you're going to do."
Jeff frowned. These kids just weren't getting it.
"I don't think you understand, even if you're just distracting him, Crucible isn't going to hold back. I've been able to find out what he's been up to and it isn't pleasant. If you go there he will fight and he will not stop until he has defeated you or he's been driven off. And if he catches you long enough to hit you, it will probably be a fatal blow."
"Then it's a good thing we're fast," Justin offered.
"Besides, I think I know a way that you can do this and get a good lead on him for a while," Franklin offered.
The White Morphin Master checked one of the Power Chamber's many systems.
"The Defiant is fully recharged and Alpha has removed all of Mark Kinega's programming from the computers," he answered. "You should find that all systems are back online."
"You were going to do this anyway without help, weren't you?" Rosa challenged. "You were just going to fly Defiant and hope they couldn't catch you."
"That's still my preferred choice," Jeff answered.
"Then it's a shame you're just a Blue Ranger and it's the Red Rangers that are in charge," Fred told him.
Jeff looked surprised. He was used to Morphin Masters and Power Rangers -- those that were aware -- trying to pull rank on him on the grounds that he was a Night Ranger and technically beneath even the lowest recruits, but had never experienced someone pulling rank on the grounds of colour. Not exactly sure how to respond, given that Fred's claim to hold authority on the grounds of colour was undermined by the fact the Turbo Rangers were not truly recognised as Rangers away from Earth, but then the Night Rangers were not really recognised at all, he chose to ignore the matter and focus on Defiant. "Was I right?"
"Yes Jeffrey," Zordon replied. "Hardrive shows no signs of tampering by Mark Kinega; the odd behaviour you have noted is consistent with all previous findings."
"In other words Hardrive is just odd," Jeff concluded.
"Exactly. However, every other computer on the Defiant has had a new operating system installed that requires it to act within parameters set by Mark Kinega. Only those recognised as crew can override those functions or remove them. The Defiant's flight control system has been programmed to send out a location to the ship's commander every time the ship moved in case it was stolen. Since the system still recognises Mark Kinega as being in command, he retains overall control."
"Did you manage to copy the message?" Jeff demanded. He had suspected that Crucible would be able to use his status as Defiant's rightful captain to track the ship. That was why he had not left already despite his instinct to lead Crucible away.
"Yes. Alpha has also found a way to remove all of Mark Kinega's programming and any claim Crucible might have on the Defiant. But you as the last Night Ranger, must be the one to do it."
"Fine," Jeff growled. He hated being reminded that he was the last, the wounds were just a little too raw. Alpha hand him a datapad filled with instructions. Jeff read them and nodded. It seemed straight forward enough. "Hardrive, change the logs to show that Mark Kinega, Red Night Ranger is dead along with all Night Rangers except Jeffrey Kincaid."
"Hardrive, add Crucible to list of known threats."
"Hardrive, recognise transfer of all Defiant command codes to new captain."
"Confirmed. And the million dollar question is, who is the new captain?"
Four names appeared on the datapad. Actually it was Jeff Kincaid's name that appeared four times.
"You can call a friend or ask the audience," Hardrive added.
"Hardrive, record the new captain of the Defiant as Hardrive!"
He knew what the computer had done, the tricks it had pulled to keep him alive. He was aware that Hardrive had at some point had to betray his own programming to preserve the last of the Night Rangers. For that reason he gave the computer sole control of the Defiant and hoped that it would remain at his side. He almost laughed at the faces the Turbo Rangers made as Hardrive gave an acceptance speech. But it was not the time for humour. There was work to be done.
"You guys sure you want to do this?" Jeff asked.
"We don't have much choice," Fred answered.
"The other Rangers have been gathered and Tommy has briefed them," Alpha advised.
Jeff sighed. There was no way he would be able to keep knowledge of the Night Rangers secret now. "Okay, let's get this done."
Fred nodded. "Shift into Turbo!"
There were many ways to get a Power Rangers attention. Sometimes it just involved teleporting into a populated area with an army of foot-soldiers. Crucible's mere arrival in the Little China District of Angel Grove had likely triggered every sensor Zordon had looking for him, but he wanted to make certain he had their attention. Gathering the dark energies as his tutors had shown him, Crucible pushed his hands outwards, using his anger and hatred of Jeff Kincaid to direct the energy. The power didn't explode, it rippled outwards, gradually expanding in a ring of destruction. As he sent a second pulse he tried to focus on the shape he desired, aware that the speed of the destructive power would not kill those it encountered on the first or even the third strike. It was a cumulative effect although to those watching from the outside it probably seemed instantaneous. He was chasing the poor citizen of Angel Grove with his twisted power and to Zordon it probably looked more like he was cutting them down where they stood.
He could almost imagine the satellite images as the ground blackened to his design, burning the symbol of the Night Rangers into the wounded ground of Angel Grove. He reduced the power of his waves, making it hot enough to scorch the earth, but not enough to fatally wound a human. He wanted the humans alive. He wanted them to suffer as he had suffered all those years that Mark Kinega had protected them.
A tickling sensation warned him when the first Power Rangers arrived. He was disappointed, but not surprised to find that Jeff Kincaid was not with them. These were the Turbo Rangers if he recalled correctly, Earth's youngest team of Power Rangers.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with fire?" Rosa asked.
Crucible scowled. He'd hoped for a better opening than that.
"I don't see any fire," he replied before extending his arm and making a flicking gesture at the Rosa.
Rosa cried out as her uniform was engulfed by flames. Around her the other Rangers tried to help their friend, but nothing they did seemed to extinguish the magical fire.
"Looks to me like you're the one playing with fire, Rosa," Crucible mocked.
"Stop it, now!" Fred snarled, drawing his side arm and deciding that maybe the way to help was to attack the fire at its source.
While Franklin and Tasha tried to douse the flames with water, Justin and Fred attacked. Blue Turbo fired his Hand Blasters while Red summoned the Lightning Sword. For his part Crucible just stood and allowed the blasts to strike him while the sword slid harmlessly off his armour.
"My turn," he told them. He gave them a mental push that sent both Rangers sprawling back across the ground. As they struggled to stand, he raised his arms and they were levitated into the air. "I wonder how far a Turbo Ranger can fall without being killed or seriously injured by the impact?" he mused. "Let's find out!"
He was distracted by a sharp pain in his side. He turned to find that Franklin and Tasha had realised they could not help Rosa until Crucible had been forced to release his fire spell. Tasha had jammed her Star Chargers into his side and had sent a jolt of Turbo energy into his armour; he had barely felt it. With a grunt he backhanded her, knocking the Ranger aside. He was so busy concentrating on her though that he almost failed to notice Franklin firing his Thunder Cannon. Almost. He batted the energy away with his hand, directing to where Blue and Red Turbo were still hovering.
"Enough!" he snarled, pushing the five Turbo Rangers into the ground with a mental shove that managed to break Franklin's collarbone in spite of his armour. "If this is all that Zordon will send against me, if he does not value this world enough to fight me, then I will burn this city, the legendary home of the Power Rangers, to the ground."
He wanted Kincaid. Kincaid knew that, Zordon knew that. He suspected even the Turbo Rangers were aware of it. But still they had sent him children. He was offended, angered that they had sought to fight him when it was clear that they were outmatched.
The fire was gone now, Rosa felt the pain but she had not been harmed. Blue and Red Turbo were shaken but intact and despite the broken bones they had suffered - for Tasha was certain that the blow Crucible had landed had cracked her jaw - Franklin and Tasha were back on their feet.
"Turbo Power Weapons!" Fred cried.
The five Rangers lifted their weapons and lined up. Red was on the right hand side, the green, yellow and pink with blue on the left hand side.
"Ready!" the others cried.
"Turbo Scramble Charge Attack!" Fred ordered, "Begin!"
And with that the five Turbo Rangers sped forward, using all the power they could draw from the mystical energy source known as the Speed Force through their Turbo Keys. This was an attack that used their speed to its fullest, an attack the other Rangers of Earth could not duplicate, although Gold Zeo Ranger's Gold Rush came close. Building up speed as they approached, they veered off sharply, covering as much ground as possible, each footfall helping to build a store of energy within their suits.
Again and again they flashed passed the bemused villain, occasionally reaching out to land a not so gentle tap with their fists before moving on. As they continued they grew faster and the distance they seemed to cover before returning to land another blow grew larger, yet the time it took them between strikes never varied. Their Turbo Power Weapons started to glow as they fed the stored power into them. And then at just the right moment, Red Turbo Rangers gave the command and the Turbo Rangers landed their first real blow.
Watching from the sidelines, a considerable distance from the battle, Savrod winced. He knew that the Turbo Rangers' strike had to hurt and he was impressed that Crucible was even standing after such a blow. Five fully energised Power Weapons wielded by five Turbo Rangers at near maximum velocity had struck Crucible simultaneously. The Wind Bow, Hand Blasters and Thunder Cannon had been passing shots as the three Rangers had kept up the momentum and sped away. Tasha had somehow reconfigured her Star Chargers into knuckle dusters and had landed a superb double-handed blow. Red Turbo's Lightning Sword attack delivered if Savrod recalled in a style used by the team Megazord had been especially impressive. But more impressive was that having delivered their blows they had discarded the Power Weapons, pulled their Turbo Blasters and prepared to strike again.
He had been expecting them to stop after the blow they had delivered. He believed that any other team of Rangers would have decided that such an all out attack would have been sufficient. Instead the Turbo Rangers had moved away ready to strike again, not willing to take Crucible's defeat for granted. Savrod was actually impressed.
Not that the Turbo Rangers stood a chance. Their attack had been powerful by most standards, but Crucible was a whole different level. Still as he observed the slight dents in Crucible's armour, which rapidly corrected themselves, he had to admit he was impressed.
"Strike two!" Red Turbo ordered.
With that the five Rangers charged in, Turbo Blasters firing. Even from a distances their shots connected with enough force to throw Crucible off balance. And because they were attacking from different directions, he had to adapt to the forces applied in different areas. As one targeted his knees, another would strike at his chest. There was no way to predict where the Turbo Rangers would aim and while their shots would not harm him, Crucible was growing annoyed that they were making him look bad.
"Final pass, then switch to Turbo Swords!" Red Turbo ordered.
The others acknowledged and the five ran off into the distance and then vanished from sight. For a moment Crucible wondered if he had won. Then he dismissed the idea only to reconsider when they did not reappear. Then his eyes widened as he understood their plan. He turned around just in time to cover his eyes. The Turbo Rangers had been running so fast that in the time he had spend wondering where they were, they had managed to run across the world to attack him from behind.
This time he had been staggered by the force of their attack. With each pass they drew more energy from their Turbo Keys, allowing them to run faster. And with their Turbo Blasters discarded, the next three passes allowed them to land a series of sword slaps to his armour.
By the fifth time they raced passed him with their swords, Crucible had had enough. He tried to fight the blurs as they went passed, successfully knocking Blue Turbo hard enough to break his concentration. His punch put the Blue Turbo Ranger into a spin and he crashed into the remains of a building. His next strike caused Red Turbo to stumble. It didn't put him down like Blue Turbo, but it slowed him so that he could not keep up with the other three. And when the came passed for their next attack, Crucible was ready for them.
"Goodbye Turbo Rangers!" he snarled before hurling a ball of blue energy at them.
The Rangers couldn't dodge, the energy beam was too broad to avoid. And at their speed they could not duck or find cover. Their own speed drove them into the full and deadly force of Crucible's attack. They appeared to shimmer and then turned into the tiny sparks of teleportation as they were whisked away to safety, leaving Crucible to turn his annoyance on Red Turbo.
"What did you do to them?" Red Turbo demanded.
There was a skid mark extending for over half a mile where he had been forced to brake. His boots were smoking from the friction and physically he was exhausted. Still he was in better shape the Justin, who had not moved since he hit the wall.
"I gave them a shove," Crucible replied, sounding as if he believed that answered Red Turbo's question completely.
"Where are they?" Red Turbo demanded, once again holding the Lightning Sword.
Crucible Shrugged. "Who knows? I hear Tibet is nice this time of year. The middle of the Dead Sea perhaps; maybe they got thrown into space. The thing is, Red Ranger, that I don't know where that energy pulse carried them, but if they survived they will have a real job trying to build up that much speed again in time to save you."
"Then you'll have to go through us first."
And at that moment a question that had been burning in the back of Crucible's mind was answered: where were the other Rangers? He had known that Kincaid would not make an appearance. The Night Ranger was too cowardly to fight his former friend. But Earth was known to have multiple teams and yet only the Turbo Rangers had emerged to confront him. But as he turned toward the voice and saw the gathered Power Rangers waiting for him he instead wondered what had taken them so long and why was Kincaid not with them?
"And they're off!" Hardrive reported.
"Then so are we," Jeff replied as he pressed the sequence of buttons that activated Defiant's flight systems.
It had been difficult finding a way to launch the Zord without the risk of allowing Crucible to find the Power Chamber. Many villains knew where the Power Chamber was located, some had been there, but very few could actually find it. Which was why while the Turbo Rangers had done such a good job of distracting Crucible at a high cost -- for even Jeff was uncertain what had happened to the three Crucible had turned his last attack on -- the other Rangers had shifted Defiant to a new launch position and had then taken the liberty some of ships in Crucible's fleet.
"Launch!" he ordered as Defiant's thrusters came to life.
"Set controls for outer space, now flying higher than ever before..." Hardrive started.
Kincaid shook his head, he had no idea where the computer had picked up that song.
"All right, find Crucible and get ready," Kincaid ordered. They needed Crucible to know they were leaving so that he would follow.
"Crucible," Savrod repeated for the umpteenth time.
It seemed the Rangers of Earth had managed to outmanoeuvre their forces. While the Turbo Rangers had been fighting against Crucible, it seemed the rest of the Rangers had had other targets. The units Crucible had dispatched to cause as much death and destruction as possible, had been routed. The Power Rangers had appeared in force, fought a swift and decisive battle and then moved on, leaving the Guardsmen to the mercy of some very angry locals. The drop ships had been damaged and isolated to prevent escape and despite succeeding, even the attempt to snatch Bruce Greene had proven costly in terms of manpower.
He read another report and realised that this was not some lucky strike Jeff Kincaid had been spotted directing the action at two of the battle zones. The Night Ranger had joined forces with the planet's defenders in a direct breach of the Council's rules. And it seemed the the local Morphin Masters -- for he was certain he had spotted the legendary Ninjor out there -- appeared to approve.
"I'm here Savrod."
Crucible sounded annoyed, but given that a large number of Rangers had just teleported to his location, that was not surprising.
"We've been deceived," Savrod told him. "While you were fighting Turbo Rangers, Kincaid has been attacking our forces all over the planet. We've suffered an almost complete loss."
"Kincaid's not here," Crucible answered after some thought. "The others just arrived, but no Kincaid." There was a long pause. "Savrod, prepare for pursuit, he's planning to run."
"Are you sure?" Savrod asked.
"This whole battle has been a ploy to launch the Defiant," Crucible told him. "Check the energy web."
Aside from ferrying troops to cities around the globe to punish the planet for siding with Crucible's enemies, the drop ships had been acting as transmission nodes capable of broadcasting a net of destructive energy. The intention had been to activate the net the moment Defiant had appeared, damaging the ship and allowing Crucible to find Kincaid before the Night Ranger could escape.
"There's a hole in the network," Savrod confirmed. "I'll order our forces to target the hole."
"Don't bother," Crucible answered. "Just order them to track him."
It was already too late, but he was not going to give Kincaid another moment of triumph. He was certain that when they investigated later they would find that the net had been shut down to draw their attention while Jeff had another route open to him at a moment's notice.
"In the meantime I'm going to kill as many of these Earth Rangers as possible."
"Let's go!" Red Zeo ordered and the army of Rangers attacked.
One thing Crucible had never lacked was confidence. When Savrod had helped to strip away the remnants of Mark Kinega's personality, he had instilled him him the believe that there was no opponent he could not overcome. However confronted by the horde of charging Rangers, Crucible found that for the first time that he was questioning his chance of succeeding.
The Rangers attacked in a predictable manner. First they used their side arms before switching to personal weapons. Next they tried combining their weapons before shifting to their special attacks. The assault was creative and extremely powerful, but as he battered aside the Shadow Ribbons and fought off a jolt from Jamie's Sword of Lightning, Crucible knew that this was just another distraction.
He ducked the assault from the Dino Thunder Rangers while blocking a swinging blow from Gold Zeo's Golden Power Staff.
With a grunt he threw his arms up, pushing the Rangers far away and readied a blast. He stopped when he noticed that although they were back on their feet, they had not made an attempt to charge him again.
"Crucible, we've found him," Savrod reported. "He's six miles north of your location and heading towards you."
"So he finally decided to face me," Crucible concluded.
He couldn't hear a reply as he was deafened by the roar of the Defiant's engines as the huge craft came to rest above him.
"We're detecting Defiant's engine signature above your position. Kincaid could be on board."
"Thank you Savrod, I am aware of that," Crucible groused as he noticed that Defiant's weapons and those of the surrounding Rangers were locked on his location. "Any time you feel like ordering your crew to retrieve me -- before they open fire -- would do," he added. He wasn't worried, but didn't envision the pain caused by the combined power of so many Rangers and a giant ship as an enjoyable experience.
"Fire!" he heard the Red Rangers cry.
He felt the familiar sensation of teleportation, ten full seconds after the first blast connected with his armour.
The clean up had taken longer than normal. There had been a great deal of damage to repair both in Angel Grove and the many cities where Crucible's forces had tried to land. The Guardsmen had not been easy to defeat and the Rangers had been forced to use some of the tactics they normal reserved for powerful monsters in order to defeat them. Lives had been lost, buildings and property had been damaged. And because Crucible and his forces were not the result of a spell, the damage they caused did not simply reverse after the battle. It had taken a great deal of work and a large number of failures to repair what damage they could and to offer comfort where possible.
But not everybody survives a monster attack. Rocky had once said that to Lita Kiino, a psychiatrist that helped the Rangers in times of stress. However the Rangers had never realised how true those words could be. The Turbo Rangers were recovering. Justin had sustained the worst injuries although Fred had not been that much better off. Both would be back in action before long. Of the other Rangers there had been a few injuries from the battles with Crucible's forces and Zack had taken a nasty head blow from Savrod, but they were alive.
As Adam sat down to a late Thanksgiving dinner with his parents he was thankful that despite how bad things had seemed, the Power Rangers had emerged relatively unscathed. At the DeSantos table, Rocky paused briefly before giving thanks for his family and friends. His older brother had checked in and his younger siblings had been safely within the Monster Shelter. He gave thanks for the Youth Center. And at the Kellman residence, the two boys better known as the Turbo Rangers were thankful that Fred's dad had allowed Justin to spend the night. Little Angel's Haven was okay, but Justin never really had any good friends there.
"So you're going to leave their memories intact?" Jeff asked incredulously.
The Night Rangers were the embarrassing secret of both the Morphin Masters and the Galactic Council. For a whole planet to be aware of their existence would be unacceptable to most. But worse still still one of the witnesses to Jeff Kincaid's actions had been the Lord of Triforia; there was an equal chance that Dex of Edenoi had also seen the battle that had taken place. Two powerful races were suddenly aware of a secret that the Council did not want exposed.
Zordon had already received his instructions, direct orders from the Council to swear his Rangers to secrecy and take steps to ensure that the people of Earth forgot about the Night Ranger. That was easier said than done. There was no way to wipe the memory of everybody on the planet without resorting to some very strange magic. One of the councillors had suggested adding something to the water supply, but Zordon had ignored the suggestion when he had learnt that it could cause fatalities.
"It is not my place to erase them," Zordon told him. "Too many people saw what happened. There were news reports from Angel Grove and around the world. If I attempted to cover up there would be clues left that would rapidly expose the truth. The Council has forgotten, again, that the Earth is not a part of their jurisdiction and that they have no right to demand the people forget something that happened to them."
"So what are you going to do?"
Jeff was not convinced Zordon would just allow things to remain as they were. There were too many unknowns in such free knowledge and Zordon was too responsible to allow such chaos.
"I instructed Alpha to make all the information that should be available about the Night Rangers available," Zordon answered.
"But that would mean people would have access to everything without ever searching. Oh!"
"Yes Jeffrey," Zordon agreed. "People will have full and unrestricted access to all the facts. And you know what happens when people have all the information with nothing hidden from them."
"They forget," Jeff concluded. "They grow bored because they don't have to search. The grow suspicious of all the information so easily available. They start to question whether what they saw was real and then look for conspiracies to poke holes in the facts they've been given."
"Exactly," Zordon agreed. "Before long the humans will deem the Night Rangers as a myth and start looking elsewhere."
"And the Rangers, did you alter their memories?"
"They agreed to protect your secret," Zordon told him. "They promised before the Council demanded that I obtain their oath. The Council were displeased that instead of the formal promise they required the Rangers only gave an oath that was to the point. Where will you go from here?"
"Crucible will need time to track me down again," Kincaid said. "He's already left the system because he thinks I'm ahead of him. It should take a while before he catches up and discovers it's one of his own ships. I'll drift off in the other direction, wait a few months and then stick my head out in some backwater galaxy. By the time he hears where I am I'll be the other side of space. I'll keep doing it until I can find a way to defeat him. But otherwise I'll stay low and make sure I don't draw anybody else into this mess."
"Don't Zordon! Don't you dare try and comfort me. You know what happened, so do I. We both know there's something but we just can't say it. People died because of me today. Good people, bad people... people. I won't risk the lives of anybody else by getting involved with Crucible. He wants me, let him find me, but when he does there won't be anybody else around to get hurt."
With that the Night Ranger cut the communication and Defiant took off into space, leaving Zordon to hope that in his grief, Jeff Kincaid would not become a bigger monster than Crucible.
The Rangers had hurt him, but he had hurt them too. He had taken something precious and he would take more. Already he was aware that Bruce Greene was being dumped on an alien world, fully aware that Jeff Kincaid was to blame. If by some chance he survived, Crucible imagined the man would become bitter and twisted, willing to train Crucible's Guardsmen in return for a chance at revenge against Kincaid. And that in turn would hurt Kincaid.
As for those other Rangers... One day Crucible would return and would conquer the Earth. And when he did he would take revenge on every Ranger that had dared to fire upon him. And he would take special pride in putting an end to the Turbo Rangers. He paused and shook his head. Something was wrong there but he couldn't tell what. Then the sensation was gone and he was back to scheming his revenge.
"Crucible, there is a messenger here to see you," Savrod told him, strolling into the chamber as if he owned it. There was a good chance he did own it, Crucible had never thought to ask who paid for all the ships at his disposal.
"I'm not expecting a message," he said after some thought.
"I'm aware of that," Savrod told him. "I am responsible for sending most of your messages after all. This messenger demanded an audience and I would suggest you grant him one."
"Show him in then," Crucible sighed. The problem with being a leader was having to deal with other leaders.
"The Messenger of Fire," Savrod announced. His voice sounded odd. Was that awe? "Ambassador for the Grand Monarch of Evil, Dark Specter."
It was an impressive being, even Crucible had to admit that. Seven feet of billowing flame was bound to impress some. His mind briefly caught onto the memory of a story about a burning bush, but he ignored it.
"Crucible," the messenger greeted. His voice sounded like twigs crackling on a wood stove. There was an uncertainty, as if he had wanted to add something before his name. And Crucible realised in that moment that to the Messenger this was a very odd situation because unlike other, Crucible had not given himself a title. "I come with a message and an invitation. The message is as follows: you and your followers have been accepted into the ranks of the United Alliance of Evil. Congratulations on your achievement. Acceptance is mandatory. You are instructed to accept the enclosed invitation to attend the first meeting of the United Alliance of Evil and to swear allegiance to Dark Specter, the Grand Monarch of Evil."
"And if I say no?"
The fire seemed to grow brighter. "When others refused they were taught that my master could have them destroyed in flame."
"I'm not like the others," Crucible answered. "And I have no desire to follow or swear loyalty."
"The Grand Monarch does not share," the Messenger warned. "You are powerful, but you are untrained and not ready to challenge the Grand Monarch."
"I would try," Crucible warned.
"And you would fail, and you would be destroyed. But what then?" The Messenger seemed to drift off. "You are not important, but what you represent is something the Grand Monarch was not meant to be. That makes you important. But the Grand Monarch cannot have an equal."
"Perhaps a compromise then," Savrod suggested. "Crucible is still learning to become the leader his people need. Until then he is only the leader in name. I am the commander of his forces, himself included. I will agree to accept this membership and give the oath. When Crucible is ready to assume command though, he will not be bound by any such agreement."
"Dark Specter might have use for his services," the Messenger of Fire claimed.
"And those services would be performed," Savrod answered smoothly. "In return Crucible will be allowed to continue to train and to seek out the Night Ranger Jeff Kincaid."
"Yes, destroying the last Night Ranger would be of great service," the messenger agreed.
The flames grew brighter and then vanished, replaced by a green skinned alien with a tall head. "Agreed. Find your missing Ranger and destroy him. I shall summon you if I have need of your other skills." the Grand Monarch ordered before vanishing. "But for the first meeting, you will be there."
Crucible nodded wordlessly as the identity of the being he had been willing to fight sank in. He had felt Dark Specter's power up close and having felt the power of all those Rangers earlier, knew which was stronger. He would not stand against Dark Specter. At least not until Jeff Kincaid was destroyed and the power of the Mirror of Night was his once more. Perhaps one day Dark Specter would become a part of the mirror's power too.
"There was one more thing," Savrod told him. He looked pleased with himself. "I remember Mark Kinega mentioned something about a young lady... Leslie? I thought you might want to show her your appreciation for the way she treated Mark, especially since it helped Crucible to emerge."
Crucible grinned. "A fine idea Savrod, but we're behind schedule. Let the hunt begin."