Disclaimer: The Power Rangers are the property of Saban Entertainment and I lay no claim to them. Jeffrey Kincaid, Lord Crucible, and all other characters relating to them are the property of John Chubb. This is a COE retelling of the Night Rangers' story.
Thrill of the Night
Leroy's Dojo and Shootfighting Arena, Port Clinton
The two teens circled each other. It had been a gruelling fight, but neither man was willing to back down. While both sported bumps and more than one bruise, they were too stubborn to say the two words: "I quit!"
Jeff Kincaid and Pat Kinkle had been fighting for twenty minutes when when Jeff's friend Bruce Greene walked in. He didn't say anything as he observed the fight. Jeff was on the defensive and he didn't want to distract him; he knew the young man well enough to know that he would be getting a second wind before too long.
Bruce's prediction was right on the money when Jeff managed a leg sweep that knocked Pat down. Jeff was back on his feet in an instant, his foot on pressed against Pat's throat. To his credit Pat managed to hold on for a few seconds before conceding defeat.
Jeff nodded and removed his foot, shaking Pat's hand as he got up. The two embraced briefly before Jeff spotted Bruce and walked over to him.
"Hey what's up?" Jeff asked his friend.
"Not much," Bruce replied. He seemed to study Jeff for a moment, deciding whether or not it was any of his business. "You seemed to really cut into Pat back there."
"I have a lot on my mind," Jeff answered. "Pat just agreed to spar with me and I took him up on the offer; I had a lot of aggression to work out."
Bruce didn't say anything. He didn't need to. He knew Jeff well enough by now to know that the boy would talk to him, assuming he was ready to talk. And if he wasn't ready to talk then Bruce knew better than to try and force him.
"My mother got in touch with her lawyer," Jeff told him. "She's trying to ramrod a judge into getting visitation rights to see me."
"And the problem is?" Bruce prompted.
"I can't stand her, even small doses of her," Jeff told him, his face taking on a darker aspect. "I can barely handle being around her for the hearings; do you have any idea what it would be like if I had to live with her?" He paused for a moment before he continued. "And I would end up living with her Bruce. This is just a stepping stone for her, a way to get my life under her control again. She knows my grandmother won't be around forever and although the court sees Leroy as a suitable guardian - and he is like a father to me - she'd do everything in her power to change that. She'd use everything to make him appear unfit for the task; she'd probably arrange things so he could never go near children again just to be sure."
"My dad's a good man!" defended Bruce.
"We both know that," Jeff agreed. "But my mother would turn every screw to convince a judge that he was a monster. She'd use every bit of dirt she could dig up... she'd even use the shoot-fighting thing as an excuse. You know how scared my grandmother is when I do it."
"Do you think you should stop?"
"Hey I love doing it. Why should I stop?"
"Well if you find yourself living with mom again..." said Bruce.
"Good point, I'll think about it." Jeff took a pause before he spoke again. "So what's up?"
"We got a new member. I need someone to show him the ropes."
It was obvious that that was not what Bruce had wanted to begin with. The contract stashed in his jeans was evidence of that. But clearly he wanted something to keep Jeff's mind off of his current problems. Usually Jeff would have been annoyed, but today he appreciated the effort.
"No problem. Who is it?" Jeff asked, looking around. "Where is he?"
"Over there. His name is Mark Kinega."
Jeff saw an olive skinned man with brown hair on the far side of the training area, looking at a few of the old flyers. At a guess, Jeff was willing to bet he was seventeen.
"Okay, I'll do it. You owe me one for this."
That was how minutes later Jeff stood in the ring awaiting the newcomer Mark Kinega, hoping that he was not wasting his time and that the newcomer had some sort of fighting ability. Otherwise he was in for a long day. Luckily he didn't have to wait long as Mark made his way to the ring.
Jeff and Mark sized each other up without saying a word. When they had had enough, they faced off, bowed and fell into fighting stances.
Mark lunged forward with three punches followed by a front kick which Jeff backed away from. Jeff then ducked down and tried a leg sweep which Mark jumped to avoid. From there they worked their way through a series of amateur moves with neither making contact.
~This guy has got fast reflexes,~ Jeff though as threw a punch. Jeff considered himself fast; this guy was... sudden.
Mark grabbed his arm and spun him over, causing Jeff to hit the ground hard. Jeff's response as to try to force Mark forward to relive the pressure on his arm. When that didn't work he opted for a guaranteed method of forcing a release, and hit his opponent with a low blow.
Mark retaliated with a low blow of his own, which while expected, proved to Jeff that his opponent had the desire to win. Of course Jeff was too stubborn to allow himself to be taken down so easily. The fight went on from there with neither fighter besting the other until they both collapsed in the middle of the ring.
"You're pretty good Kincaid," Kinega said after a while.
Jeff looked at his opponent. Usually he didn't like to be called by his last name. It reminded him of the bullies that had made his life hell. In this case though he had the feeling that the name was a sign of respect. He also had a feeling the other man had been holding back. "You're not too shabby there either Kinega," he said finally, wondering where he could learn to fight like that.
Then they both got up to tend to their bruises and they hit the showers.
Mark left the gym and made his way to a side alley. Once there, hidden from the native population, he pulled back the arm of his shirt to reveal a metal brace.
"Engage orbital bounce!" he commanded.
At Mark's command the device glowed briefly. Then he was transformed into an aura of red light and was teleported up to where a red and black ship waited in orbit.
Mark rematerialized on the bridge of a spaceship, his spaceship. It was one of the fastest ships in the galaxy, but its ability to flee was one of its least important features.
"Hello Hardrive, status report."
"You have one new message," the computer responded, causing Mark to shake his head. The computer was state-of-the-art, but had been patched together so often that it had picked up a few quirks. One of which was its need to convey information by quoting television. "Big giant head on line one!"
Mark guessed who the 'the big giant head' was as he activated his main viewer and found Zordon looking at him.
"Hello Mark, how goes the mission?"
Simple and to the point. Zordon knew better than to waste time with niceties. The difference between Zordon and others Mark had encountered though was that Zordon kept contact brief out of respect for Mark's work. The others did so because they either feared or despised everything that Mark and his companions represented.
"I hate to say it Master Zordon, but you were right. I may have found my first candidate on Earth."
"Excellent news Mark," the ancient being replied. "I will relay your success to the other masters."
"He has the skills we need. I'll need more time to make sure he has the attitude," Mark told him. He could sense the reply and added: "He has potential, I'm not denying that. If I were looking for Power Rangers he'd be a likely candidate in an emergency. But you know that's not what we're trying to find here and if he isn't strong enough he'll be killed... or worse."
"I can see that leadership is starting to agree with you Mark," Zordon said. "And I am pleased you have taken your responsibilities seriously. What is the candidates name?"
"Jeff Kincaid," said Mark.
Zordon paused for a moment as if in deep thought although Mark knew that the White Master was trying to sense Jeff within the Morphin Grid. "I believe your instincts are correct and he will make a fine addition to your team. While he would not be my first choice for a Ranger, he would make an excellent Night Ranger. However, you are the leader and it is your right to proceed as you see fit. If you decide to recruit him I must insist that you do not train him on Earth; he will benefit from the guidance of the elders."
Zordon broke contact and Mark started to review Kincaid's file. His computer had pulled records from sources across the planet to allow him to build a profile on his potential recruit. It would take time - for he was determined that he would make certain that he chose the correct candidate-, but his team didn't have to deal with the constant threat of alien invasions so there was no urgency.
A few weeks later
Jeff left the gym and started to make his way home. His thoughts were back to being a jumble again as he thought about his mother's renewed fight for visitation rights. It seemed that the lawyers she had hired had found a way to shift the hearing to another court and that the judge was likely to grant her requests. Jeff didn't want to be put through the emotional cyclone of dealing with her again.
Suddenly he felt a tingle throughout his body as he then felt himself being pulled across the sky. He materialized and after looking around wondered if he had hit his head a bit too hard during a sparring session. Either that or he was on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
"Where the hell am I?" he wondered.
"Toto you're not in Kansas anymore," said a voice.
Jeff spun around to see who was speaking, but there was nobody there. "Who said that?"
"That was my computer Hardrive," said the voice of Mark Kinega as he entered the bridge.
Jeff had gotten to know Mark quite well in recent weeks. The other man had been a regular at Bruce's place and the two had trained together. Kincaid still had the feeling that Mark was holding mark during their practices.
"Why'd he call me Toto?" he asked.
There were so many questions that had needed asking, but for Jeff, that seemed the most important.
"It's his way," Mark said fondly. "We crash landed on a planet a few years ago and some of his circuit boards were damaged. We replaced them, but since then he's been picking up transmissions from all over the galaxy; even television signals. Over time his language banks have been filled with television jingles."
"Can't you fix it?" asked Jeff.
"Yes we can!" Hardrive called out.
"But I don't really want to," Mark said, ignoring the latest outburst. Hardrive's communication hub was one of the most advanced systems on the ship. The computer intercepted and rerouted signals from across known space giving Kinega and his comrades access to a spectacular amount of raw data, which proved invaluable in their line of work. Unfortunately Hardrive lacked the ability to filter the signals he received until he processed them and due to memory leakage some of those signals worked their way into his vocabulary; why they had designed Hardrive's language centre to share runtime with his signal processing was unclear, but Kinega had to admit that it worked. He also wasn't sure why the computer had been spending time watching children's television. "It gives him a personality. These computers can be pretty stuffy it they don't have something to occupy themselves."
"All right, enough about the computer," Jeff said, remembering where he was. "Where am I and what am I doing here? What are you doing here?"
"Okay, well where do I start?" Mark pondered "First in case you haven't guess, I'm not from this planet. My home is a long way away and I have no intention of going back there. I'm human with a few minor differences. As for why I'm here, well the answer have to be: you. I take it you have heard about the Power Rangers?"
"The super heroes who trash monsters in California, yeah I've heard of them," Jeff said. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"Well... I'm sort of a Power Ranger."
Jeff could not believe his ears as the next second he broke out laughing. "Oh that's a good one. First this ship and then you're telling me that you are a Power Ranger. No offence, but I think I know you well enough to know you are not Power Ranger material. Now what's really going on?"
Mark decided to prove his point and brought out a small device. "Red Night Ranger, activate!" When he was finished he was wearing a black and red costume with a red helmet. The face on the helmet was scowling.
Jeff was shocked at this turn of events and more than a little confused. "Hold on, Power Rangers don't have costumes like -- that."
"Of course they do," Mark countered, then thought about it. "Well, I do anyway."
He deactivated his powers. It was too early in the day to waste them on demonstrations.
"Most Rangers don't look like that of course, but then I'm not exactly a normal Ranger. I'm part of a very different team that's not limited to this planet."
"Not limited to Earth?" Jeff was growing more and more confused.
"I'm a Night Ranger, Jeff," Mark told him. "Despite what others might say."
"And what is a Night Ranger?"
Mark sighed. He really hated having to tell this story. Doing so meant he had to confess something about himself. Still if he wanted Jeff to join him he needed to explain.
"When the universe was in its infancy there was only good and evil. The fight was one of survival between two opposing forces. Everything was in balance. Although primitive it was a simple war. Then there came the shadows, those who either didn't want to fight or chose to fight only to suit their own aims. The clear line between good and evil became distorted by shades of grey. And when the great beings left and the lesser creatures were entrusted to continue the fight, the discovery of magic meant that the line between good and evil barely existed.
"In the new war, many chose to serve the side of good, fighting to preserve the rights beliefs and freedoms of the individual as well as focusing on the goal of peace. Those who sought to serve evil were those who were self serving, disrespectful and thought that peace was achieved through oppression, benefiting the select few at the expense of the many. And of course there were always those who looked out purely for themselves, changing sides at a moment's notice if it served their purposes.
"But the great beings would not be forgotten. Many fought in their name and some went even further. One race sought to become like the greater beings and explored the deepest depths of what it meant to be evil. Even by evil standards they committed unforgivable acts and were thought to be destroyed by the forces they unleashed. Their name has been lost to ages but the beings they unleashed have not.
"The Horde, Horrors, Youkai and Orgs, there are an unlimited number of names for these creatures, creatures of pure evil that prey on the corrupt as well as the innocent. These are creatures that transcend beyond the world as we know it.
"At this time the warriors of good needed a way to counter this new threat and to deal harshly with the ones who sought to create them. Most evil could be fought by the armies filled with noble warriors under the command of skilled leaders. Simple and open warfare of the type that suited a large number of Power Rangers. The new threat was much smaller and less likely to follow a pattern of invading worlds. They were more like predators and their actions either beneath the notice of Rangers or demanding a different approach. Some hid in plain sight maintaining images that hid their dark activities.
"And because of their nature but those they encountered were normally weaker creatures, whereas the more primal forces were not so easy to defeat with the power of light and love - for they were so dark that the light dimmed in their presence. These creatures that dwelled in the darkness knew of no limit to the evil that they could or would do; they were at home in the darkness of the night as well as using the cover of darkness for their evil deeds. Because they hid their natures so well, normal Rangers could not attack them without breaking the rules that governed their powers.
"A new force was needed, one that could fight them on an even playing field without worrying about the restrictions placed on most Rangers. An order of monks decided that confronting the darkness was more important than remaining with their fellow Morphin Masters. They vowed to eradicate the evil that hid in plain sight as well as the dark spirits that were either above or beneath the notice of the Morphin Masters. They formed the Acexta Order and retreated to their homeworld where nearly every member of their population joined their quest. Over the course of many years their number grew and they were even able to trap some of the creatures within the core of the planet Nocturnea where they could use them to test their warriors.
"Many entered the Pit of Night, only to be destroyed by the evil within. Entering was simple, but required that they wagered their soul in combat against one of the many demons contained within. Those that lost became food for the demons they faced, whereas those that triumphed bound the power of the demon to their will. The first man to emerge from the pit was granted the title of Night Fighter. He would not be the last."
"So you're telling me that you're a Power Ranger who fights evil spirits in a pit?" Kincaid asked sceptically. He was starting to think Kinega was insane.
"I am not mad," Mark told him, an amused look on his face. "I thought the same thing when I was recruited. Of course I knew about Power Rangers, but this Night Ranger thing -- well it is a little bizarre. Besides, I didn't say he was a Ranger."
Jeff snorted but didn't say anything. A part of him wanted to hear the story.
"The Night Fighters were not the champions of the people, but they were their most dedicated protectors. The methods and powers they used could not be condoned by the authorities. Some tried to arrest them, some considered them just as dark as the forces they claimed to fight and vowed to destroy them along with everything they stood for; most just treated them with open hostility.
"The problem was that most of the monks that chose the path of the Night Fighters were human and their bodies were also human. Humans were vulnerable to the side effects of drawing on the darker energies they needed to fight evil. The dark spirits they called upon corrupted those that try to wield their might even after they had been subjugated. After a decade at most many Night Fighters showed show signs of the darkness consuming them. And while there were precautions in place to make certain that they did not succumb to the darkness and join the forces of evil, there was a real risk of their bodies being burnt from the inside out. A way was needed to channel the darkness without being destroyed by it."
"And that solution would be the Night Rangers," Jeff guessed.
Mark nodded. "Not immediately. Officially only those that draw energy from the Morphin Grid are allowed to call themselves Rangers. There are a few others that have earned the right to use the title; Earth is an exception because their Rangers are recognised as such by their mentor. And then there are the Night Rangers..." He laughed. "The Night Rangers are not really Power Rangers. The Night Fighters didn't ask to use the name or to rejoin the Morphin Masters. They adopted the name and then invited the Morphin Masters to stop them. That was before my time, but I heard there were plenty of broken bones while the matter was debated."
In truth the first Night Rangers were a complete accident. A young scientist had been experimenting with some old morphers that had had their connection to the Morphin Grid severed. He unwittingly discovered that even without the Morphin Grid they retained their ability to draw in, alter and then discharge energy. He configured them to empower suits of generic armour that could be used by the Night Fighters in battle. The armour offered protection and solved some of their problems, but was little more than armour. After some thought, the Night Fighters agreed that having a whole planet of generic soldiers was not the same as having a team of Rangers and chose not to label their creations Night Rangers.
"So the Night Fighters created some powers, the Power Rangers disagreed, there was a big fight and after they won the argument the Night Fighters backed down?" Jeff clarified.
"The Morphin Masters didn't win," Kinega replied. "The Night Fighters were not villains and the Morphin Masters were limited in what they could do. On the other hand the Night Fighters had no such restrictions and made sure that they left the Morphin Masters bruised and in some cases humiliated. Then when it looked like they could have pushed back, they let the matter drop, leaving the Morphin Masters to look like fools. The Morphin Masters could claim they won the argument, but they would never challenge the Night Fighter again over such petty issues."
Mass-produced armour of the Night Fighters allowed them some protection and with a few alterations held a constant power supply. Those that used them were not as powerful as Power Rangers, but they had numbers and the dedication, and that was what they needed to fight the darkness. However they still sought a way to fight the darkness on an even footing. The creatures they fought were resistant to light; they had no such protection against the darkness. Some tried to capture more demons in the hope that they could force them to give assistance, while others argued there was no need to wield the dark powers at all and that the warnings against doing so were there for a reason.
"So they found a way?"
"Yes, they found a way when a young man joined the Order. He had recently flunked out of the Morphin Academy where he had been trained to be a Ranger; his heart was pure and his intentions were good, but the world had corrupted him and the Morphin Masters refused to allow him to continue his training. They judged him based on the past he had endured without realising his soul remained pure. He was what some would call a Broken Angel."
It was a complete accident that the young man stared into the Mirror of Night, a dangerous magical artefact said to contain a dark spirit. The spell upon the mirror was supposed to show the darkness within a person's soul and amplify it while showing all his desires. If the person looking accepted what was offered, the demon within the mirror would strike and take over his body. Fortunately this man was a good man and while the mirror absorbed the darkness around him and amplified it, it could only twist what was on the outside.
He had been given one of the generic morphers when he had joined the Order, and when he had sensed the darkness within the mirror, he had used it," Mark explained, showing Jeff his morpher. "The demon inside the mirror corrupted and disfigured the powers, making him appear evil. It poured its darkness into the morpher, not realising that once it did so a connection was formed that would never be broken. A battle took place as the young warrior fought the demon for control. The spirit lost the battle and knew that the young man had the ability to vanquish it permanently. It begged for mercy and offered to serve him and those that followed him. An agreement was reached and the deal was done. The spirit was trapped within the core of the Power Morpher, but its dark influence was countered by the light within the young man's heart; he remained a good man.
Over time, the Order was able to recreate the circumstances of that night. They tracked down other artefacts used the same method although they were not always successful; often the spirits chose to be vanquished rather than serving the Order and sometimes the person drawing the spirit out gave in to the darkness and had to be destroyed along with the spirit.
In the end the Order managed to locate and bind twelve powerful spirits of darkness into their service. Their essences were locked within the modified Power Morphers. And when the final morpher was completed, thirteen warriors were empowered by the darkness to lead the Night Fighters. They took the name Night Rangers and when they demonstrated their power for the first time, nobody dared to complain.
"This morpher is connected to one of those demons and has been passed down from Ranger to Ranger. Each time a new Ranger is selected, the candidate is required to undergo the trials of a Night Fighter. If successful they are given one of the Power Morphers and the opportunity to claim its power. If they can tame the spirit inside the morpher they become the next Night Ranger and the demon they carry within them is added to the morpher's power; those that fail vanish, although some believe they are turned into energy and locked inside the Night Morpher."
"And if they don't take the test?" Jeff asked.
"Then the Night Ranger powers will fall dormant and they will only be able to access the generic armour of a Night Fighter," Kinega answered. "Although if that happened they would be 'encouraged' to surrender the morpher so that a more suitable candidate can use it and they will be given a different transformation device; whether or not they agree to serve as a Night Ranger, passing through the Pit of Night earns them the title of Night Fighter."
There had only been thirteen Night Morphers. The Order had tried to create more, but it seemed that being vanquished was preferable to eternal servitude.
"The Night Ranger is a warrior that can fight the darkest evil on its own terms and match the evil warriors on an equal footing. Night Rangers journey into the darkness to protect people from the evil that lurks there. The evil of greed, lust, pride, gluttony..."
"The seven deadly sins," Jeff interrupted.
"Yes exactly," said Mark. "Except the evils they fight rarely fall into a pattern that the villains most Power Rangers face choose. Rarely do they send down a monster to destroy the world. They assume a physical form and spread their corruption. For them the spoils of war can consist of a single soul. And believe me, they have the power to do whatever they want by themselves. Whether it be money, power, people, there is really no limit to the evil that they can accomplish. Over the centuries there have been some mortals that have allied themselves with the spirits of darkness, learning to draw the darkness into themselves and wield it as a weapon. Transformed by the darkness they can take on monstrous and powerful forms. The last lot almost wiped out their entire galaxy.
"The Night Rangers are darker than the average Power Rangers. They are just as dedicated to the defeat of evil, but their methods are those that would normally be associated with the villains they fight. Of the three rules applied to the Power Rangers, the Night Rangers only follow one: never use the power for personal gain. As long as they obey that rule and fight for the greater good, all else is forgiven."
Jeff took it in for a second. "So what you're saying is that there are these evil monsters that are actually spirits, some of whom have joined forces with ordinary people. And that you are a member of a team of Power Rangers that have been corrupted by an evil artefact and now fight them on their terms?"
"That's about it," Mark said, offering a wry grin. "Hard to believe isn't it?"
Jeff was silent, thinking. There was no doubt that Mark was telling the truth, or at least the truth as he knew it. That did leave a few questions though. "Okay, say I believe you, what does this have to do with me?"
"Many years ago the Night Rangers engaged a very powerful enemy. He was so powerful that Night Fighters were killed in the battle and even the Night Rangers did not escape unscathed. Several of the Night Rangers died during that battle. Some died from their wounds after the battle was over; some were lost along with the Night Fighters they led. It takes time to rebuild a team after so many losses and for after losing so many friends, the Night Rangers were willing to continue as a smaller group for a time.
"That changed a few decades ago. The Red Night Ranger and two of his comrades were killed in action and a prophecy was uncovered warning about a new threat that would require the Night Rangers to be at full strength. I was chosen from among the Night Fighters to take his place as the new leader of the Night Rangers and my first task was to rebuild our ranks.
"It's taken a long time to track down potential candidates; normally they would never chose somebody from within the Order but they needed a leader and the morpher chose me. We've lost more Rangers in that time and there are only four of us left, which leaves me with the task of finding six replacements and then tracking down the three morphers that were never recovered. I want you to be the first of those new Night Rangers."
Jeff took in the news and thought about it for a second. Then he broke out in laughter.
"What's so funny?" asked Mark.
Jeff tried to calm himself for a second then spoke. "I just can't believe it. You want me to be a Power Ranger?"
"Night Ranger," Mark corrected him. "And yes you would have made a good Power Ranger. But Night Rangers are very different to Power Rangers. There are less rewards and the dangers are unimaginable. We're feared and reviled by those that are supposed to be on our side; there are groups dedicated to our destruction because they believe we are evil. The authorities don't recognise us and do everything they can to hide our existence; we are expected to keep our existence secret even from our fellow Rangers, although we've never bothered too much about that. Those that know of us would likely deny having anything to do with us in case they are deemed guilty by association."
"I'm sorry, but I have enough problems right now without playing super hero. I'm just not cut out to be a Power Ranger, day or night. Now if you don't mind I've got to get back to the hellhole that is my life."
Mark sighed. He had been told it would not be easy. The analysis of Kincaid had confirmed he would need a lot of convincing. A list had already been made of alternative choices, but Kinega wanted Kincaid. There was something that told him Jeff was destined to be a Night Ranger and he refused to let a simple refusal get in the way of that destiny. "If that's your decision then fine. But just in case let me give you this." Mark reached across one of the consoles and gave Jeff a small card. "If you change your mind just fold the top left corner. You'll be teleported up here to Defiance and the Morpher will be waiting."
"Defiance?" asked Jeff.
"That's the name of this ship"
"I thought the ship was named Hardrive."
"No the computer is named Hardrive; the ship is named Defiance."
"Whatever, I gotta go, now if you can beam me back down to where I was I'd be happy."
Mark moved to the controls and beamed Jeff back down.
"He'll be back," Kinega said as he stared at the empty spot where Jeff Kincaid once stood. At least he hoped that he would. Mark still had a few weeks before he had to move on to the next possibility. So the question was how to nudge Kincaid in the right direction during that time? "Let me see Kincaid's file again Hardrive. Looks like you were wrong about just asking. We might need to give him a nudge."
The next day Jeff was leaving school when he was stopped by Jessica Farrell. She was a lab partner of Jeff's in theatre class and Jeff had quite the crush on her. Jessica had long stringy blonde hair and dressed in a grunge style. She kind of liked Jeff, but they were pretty much at the 'just friends' stage in her mind.
"Hey Jeff, are you going to be ready for the theatre presentation tomorrow that we have to do for class?" she asked.
"Yeah, I've been going over the monologue for a while now," Jeff told her, "I'll be ready."
"Great, I'll see you tomorrow."
Jeff was ready to ask her out on a date but the words didn't come to his mouth. Jessica walked away as Bruce came up to his best friend.
"I got scared," Jeff admitted.
"Of what, her saying no? If she does, she's the one passing up a good thing."
"Bruce," Jeff started. He sighed, forcing himself to relax. "I've been burned a lot of times in the past. I really don't want to get shot down again."
Jeff was about to walk off, just as he had done so many times before, but this time, Bruce had other plans.
When the phone rang at Jessica's house a few weeks later, she ignored it knowing her parents were home. She was a little surprised when she was told that the phone call was for her.
"Yeah Jessica, this is Bruce Greene I'm a friend of Jeff Kincaid's."
"What can I do for you Bruce?" she asked.
"Well my friend Jeff has missed something for the project and I can't get in contact with him on it. I was wondering if you can pick it up for him?"
Jessica thought about it for a minute.
"Where is it?"
"It's at Leroy's Shootfighting Rink on First Street."
She knew the place, having passed it a few times. She had never stepped foot inside though.
"All right I'll be right there," she said before hanging up.
~One down one to go,~ thought Bruce as he searched through his book for Jeff's number. ~I'm so good at this I ought to have my own television show.~
Jeff ran down to the gym and caught Bruce at the front door.
"All right Bruce what's the big emergency?"
Bruce had to stall for time, if Jeff was impatient it would be a disaster.
"Yeah well ah..."
He didn't have to wait long since Jessica was coming. She took a look at Jeff, then at Bruce. "Why didn't you call and tell me you found him?"
Jeff was confused. "He was supposed to call you?"
"He told me you had left something that we needed for the theatre project tomorrow," Jessica explained.
Jeff got defensive. "No I didn't!"
"Then why did your friend call me?"
Both Jessica and Jeff turned to glare at Bruce.
"All right Bruce, what's going on?", asked Jeff.
"Look Jeff, you like this girl but..."
"You like me?" interrupted Jessica.
Jeff's face turned red, but before he could find the courage to answer there was a flash of light and a group of black tuxedo garbed warriors. Their faces were hidden behind half-white, half-black helmets painted with a pair of bright red lips.
"What are these guys?" asked Bruce.
"I don't know," Jeff answered as the newcomers moved in to attack. "Bruce get Jessica out of here. I'll hold them off."
Jeff fell into a fighting stance and fought the attackers as Bruce escorted Jessica away. Unfortunately just as Bruce thought they were safe enough away another group appeared. Bruce was not a slouch when it came to physical combat and demonstrated how he had gotten to be so respected in the gym as he launched himself into battle.
"Run Jessica. RUN!" he yelled.
Jessica turned to run when two of the faceless goons grabbed her and teleported her away. The remaining attackers teleported soon after, having had enough of Jeff and Bruce.
Jeff looked around. "Where's Jessica?"
"She was just here," Bruce answered, looking around. "I told her to run when those red robots appeared. Perhaps she got away."
"Let's split up. I'll look north."
"I'll look south," Bruce replied as they split up.
When Jeff was far enough away, he activated the device Mark had given him teleported himself back up to Defiance.
Mark was sat in the pilot's chair, reviewing some of the scout reports for other candidates when Jeff teleported on board. Over the last few weeks he had tried to appeal to Jeff's sense of duty, his need to belong and even his desire to get away from his mother, but nothing had worked. So he had decided to try an alternative form of persuasion. "Have you changed your mind?" he asked without looking up.
"That depends. What can you tell me about black clad freaks with red lips that kidnap teenage girls?" Jeff demanded.
Mark thought about it for a moment before clicking a button. He flicked through the images of known underlings seeking a match. "Black clad freaks... did they look like they were wearing tuxedos?"
"Yeah, do you know them?"
Mark turned back to the controls and ordered Hardrive to scan for any ships in the vicinity.
"Klingon battle cruiser off the port bow," Hardrive reported.
"You just described a platoon of Hedonian Soldiers," Mark said.
"They are the grunts of the Hedon Empire," Mark explained. "Part of an old society that studied the ways of the dark powers. Except instead of taking that darkness and turning it into something that evil would learn to fear, like the Night Fighters, they were corrupted and used the darkness for their own pleasure. Their society decayed until they were unable to produce anything for themselves. Of course only the elite could afford to buy the luxuries they needed, the rest had to become soldiers in return for the things they needed to survive. They're the sort of thing the Night Fighters were created to fight although given their nature we rarely encounter them."
That wasn't quite true. Most of the Hedonians could be battled by normal teams of Rangers. It was impossible for such teams to completely defeat the threat, they could only vanquish it for short periods due to the limitations imposed by the rules. Only the Night Rangers had the disposition to permanently end such darkness.
"What are they doing kidnapping a girl from Port Clinton?" Jeff asked.
Mark didn't answer immediately, contemplating the answer. Why would they pick on a single girl? Unless of course they had taken more than one girl and just happened to select somebody who knew the right people to ask. The Hedonian hierarchy did use souls and blood as part of their rituals although they were not as extensive as other practitioners like the Moabians. In the end he decided it was best not to mention the possibility that the Hedons were simply looking for innocents to corrupt and swell their ranks.
"It's not like them to target Earth," he said. "This world isn't as magically inclined as some others. However some of the hierarchy have some very, very sick tastes. It wouldn't be beyond them to send soldiers to collect innocents to feed that hunger. You really do not want to know more than that."
Jeff was starting to get anxious. "So what are you going to do about it?"
Track them down and rescue the girls was the obvious answer, but Kinega knew that this was the opportunity he had been looking for. Finally he had found something Jeff Kincaid cared about enough to consider his offer.
"Well I really can't spare the time right now, I need to finish putting together my team," Mark told him. "Once that's done I can look into it. Might take a while though... unless you want to reconsider of course."
Jeff thought about it for a moment. He knew Mark would not help him unless he agreed. Night Rangers didn't have to save every damsel. Given the choice he knew what his decision would be. "All right, I'm in."
"Great, now all we have to do is find their ship and mount a rescue mission."
"Just the two of us?"
Mark grinned. "Consider it a test." He didn't mention that Hedonian's were usually handled without the use of powers. He didn't want Kincaid to change his mind. "When this is over and if we succeed, we'll see about getting you properly trained, but in the meantime this morpher has enough charge in it to keep you from serious harm."
He handed Jeff a blue morpher that had similar decoration to the one he had used earlier. Until Jeff passed the test to claim the powers of a Night Ranger, the morpher would offer some very limited protection.
"When do we get after the ship?" asked Jeff.
"Hardrive, if the linker is still transmitting. Give me a hell yeah!" He looked a bit sheepish when he saw Jeff staring at him. "Sometimes it helps if you know a few lines. Hardrive prefers it."
"Hell Yeah!" Hardrive replied after performing a quick scan.
"Then set course and let's go get 'em."
And before long, Defiance streaked across the cosmos. The signal was apparently easy to track. Defiance made it's way to it's destination, a resort planet called Amia.
"The pleasure planet for those whose tastes cannot be met by the usual hives of villainy. Not many use this planet though, it doesn't cater for those of their persuasion," Mark explained.
"What's Jessica doing down there?" Jeff asked.
"Some of the hierarchy enjoy taking something pure and corrupting it," Mark admitted. "In this case I suspect they wanted them to amuse the troops. Comfort women to amuse the generals and boost the morale of the lower ranks."
He didn't mention that they were likely looking for breeding stock rather than prostitutes. An army had have soldiers after all. They needed to concentrate on getting the girl back and for that they needed a way to get in. Mark thought for a moment then came up with an idea.
"We'll do a frontal decoy. You attack from the front and I'll take Defiance down there and knock out the internal defences."
"Uhh, no disrespect here. But what do I attack them with?" Jeff asked.
"Good question. Once you're fully powered we can see about sorting you out with a Zord. In the meantime if you go down to the landing bay, you'll find a battle pod waiting. The interface is telepathic so knowledge of how to use it should come naturally."
Jeff went down to Defiance's loading bay as instructed. He didn't stop to question how the knowledge of the ship's layout had burnt its way into his mind. Nor did he question how he knew instantly where his battle pod was parked.
The craft left Defiance's landing bay and flew out towards the pleasure base. Jeff kept the defences busy while Mark flew Defiance in and teleported to where the central control computer was located. He activated the intruder control field, rendering all hostiles unconscious in a matter of seconds.
And with that it was over. Jeff never found out who was responsible for the kidnappings, although the rescue did cost the dark forces a considerable number of soldiers. most had fought back the moment they recovered from the stun effect, only to meet the untamed fury of a Night Ranger and a human who wanted to save the woman he loved. The prisoners, and there were a lot of them, were freed and Mark would later ask the Morphin Council to transport them to their respective homelands.
After Jeff returned from space, he and Jessica completed their project together and got a good grade as a result. Jessica for her part showed no signs that she remembered her experience, a result of the relaxants Mark had used.
Deciding that this time he would find the courage, Jeff asked her: "are you doing anything tomorrow afternoon?"
"No," she answered.
"Well I was wondering if you wanted to go out for lunch tomorrow?"
Jessica thought about it for a second and then agreed. "Sure, why not?"
Jeff's heart was jumping for joy, but despite his happiness he knew that in the near future Mark Kinega would come seeking his services. And when that happened there would be no turning back. He would become a Night Ranger.