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  1. #16
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    Default Chapter 11, Part 1

    Morph Eleven: Serena's Heart Blossoms, Part 1

    "Wow," 0 breathed. Descending from the stairs was his date for the evening: the luscious Serena, who had apparently gone all out for the gala event. Her silver hair, tucked up in a bun, glistened in the light of the apartment complex. Her attire could not have been more stunning, a glittering white dress that seemed to be made of pure snow. Upon her neck shone a diamond necklace that he had never before seen her wear, with gems of gargantuan proportions. The dress itself, while not too short and not too long, was quite alluring, with a slit on the side that wandered casually up to her hip. Her heels were perfect for her and hardly raised her height, possibly because she was expecting him to dance with her. Her radiant eyes glowed through the slight bangs she had kept slanted over a small piece of her small face. Her morpher was cleverly hidden with the combination of a matching purse and a truly wondrous bracelet.

    "Coming from you," she said and licked her rosy lips, "that's a compliment." She daintily walked over to him and 0 was unable to locate the rough, but irritating woman that Serena often was to him. This creature that stood before him was like a goddess that had descended from the heavens for the sole purpose of going with him to the gala event. Dumbfounded, 0 had little choice but to play the role of the gentleman he was resigned to for the evening and helped the lady onto his noble steed: the motorcycle, taking care that not an inch of her dress was disrupted. "Thank you."

    "N-not at all," 0 stammered and felt rather underdressed for the occasion. True, he was wearing the suit that she had requested him to wear: black with a golden tie, and his clothing was immaculate, as he had not found a single trace of neither lint nor hair on the fabric. He had combed his hair in an effort to tame it, and had failed miserably, the attempt resulting in a half-controlled wild mane of ebony on his head. He applied his helmet to his head and offered the second to Serena, who declined it due to her elaborate transformation. Steadily, as though carrying a priceless glass heirloom, 0 piloted the motorcycle through the streets of Petalburg. Fortunately, the majority of the traffic had died down for the day, which made navigation much easier than he had expected. And, with additional assistance from Pi, he found the quickest route with the least traffic.

    When they arrived, a spectacle befell them. The hotel in which the ball was to be held, the finest in Petalburg, was packed with traffic, mostly the large cars of various celebrities in attendance and the paparazzi blockade. 0 slowed his motorcycle to a standstill. "3, what is this?" he asked.

    She giggled, and held him tighter. "It's a gala event," she explained. "You've been to tons of them, why are you surprised by this one?"

    "I've never had to go to one through the front door," he replied, and scooted the motorcycle a few feet to adjust to the traffic flow. "What are all these reporters doing here?" Never before had he seen such a gathering of people taking photographs and asking questions, not even in the days of his own celebrity status. He had always been a rather private individual.

    "Oh, they're here to dish out the latest rumors and gossip," she muttered casually, but 0 sensed a tone of voice in her that suggested interest. "As long as you don't talk to them, I think they'll leave us alone. You have a little fame as Keean Toby, and no one expects, well, you, to show up to anything." She chuckled and fanned herself as they neared the red carpet at the front. "The valet will take the motorcycle from us when we reach the carpet. Don't strangle him."

    "I wasn't going to," he retorted. "I do know a little bit about gentlemanly behavior, 3." To prove this, he very gallantly drove the motorcycle to a stop in front of the red carpet and avoided the blinding flashes of a million cameras by turning his back to them and shielding Serena from them. He took her hand and she lifted herself from the bike. 0 removed his helmet and looked towards the valet, a young boy who stood several inches shorter than the giant 0, and smiled.

    He leaned towards the valet and handed over his helmet and a set of keys. "If I find a single scratch on the side of this vehicle," he said, his lips still a smile, "it would end rather badly for you." He chuckled, but the boy found little to laugh at and hurriedly drove the motorcycle away into the parking lot. 0 smirked at Serena's scowl and took her arm to stride down the red carpet.

    "Sir, who are you?" asked a reporter. 0 ignored him.

    Another one shouted, "Mr. Toby," recognizing his face, "who's the lady?"

    The questioning continued on and on as they headed down the carpet, but neither 0 nor Serena paid any attention to the prodding paparazzi, focused on not stepping over one another and tripping. Serena glanced at him, almost as if she was uncertain if it was truly 0 she was with, or some oddity who happened to look exactly like him but a thousand times more charismatic, charming, and handsome. He pushed the idea out of his mind and brought her into the hotel, leaving behind the harassing reporters and annoying journalists. The golden arches of the hotel bid them welcome as they proceeded into the main banquet hall, where the gala event would take place.

    They stopped by the registration desk, where 0 pointedly filled out their identities for the evening: Keean Toby and Serena Brine. He received their nametags and applied hers before he even touched his own, flattering her with a smile. "Shall we?" he asked and offered her his arm yet again. This time, she took it instantly and allowed him to lead her into the ballroom, whereupon it happened that numerous guests were already inside. He scanned the room for anything suspicious and, finding nothing, proceeded to the table where they were to sit. He had braced himself for what he would find there. He was absolutely certain he would be ready for it.

    They were already seated when 0 and Serena arrived at the table. There were a few more added guests to the party then 0 had been expecting. For one, a fox-eyed man was quite busy in conversation with a vicarious orange-headed tomboy next to him, who had apparently spared no expense to deck herself out for the evening. A young woman with natural blue hair sat next to a man with green locks, engaged in rapid-fire conversation about Contest moves. Two elders sat patiently, observing the young. But 0 took one glance at the table's final two members, and knew that all his preparation had been for naught.

    She was stunning, no other word could describe her. Unlike Serena, whose beauty was more overtly apparent, May Birch contained within her a strange inner sense of grace and loveliness, like a rose before it blooms. She wore a long red gown, and 0 almost tripped over himself when he saw it. Her hands were covered in black silk gloves and her face had just the slightest, but perfect, shade of makeup. Serena stared at her as if viewing a long-awaited rival.

    The happy little girl on May's right was quite bubbly indeed, for she wore a delicate little sundress that made 0's heart ache. Her hair was no longer in pigtails, but was long and flowing down her back. Sarah was her mother in miniature, true, but 0 sensed enough in the little girl to know that somewhere inside her lay the instincts of another. He smiled, and attempted to control himself as he and his date approached the table.

    "Mr. Birch," he said, acknowledging the gym leader seated at the far end of the table. "Thank you for inviting my lady and me out this evening." Max smiled and rose from his chair. 0 thought he caught something glittering on Max's cufflink, but decided he was imagining things and forgot about it.

    "Keean Toby," the leader said with a smile. "Glad you guys could come. Any friend of May's is a friend of mine." He turned to Serena and smiled politely. "And you must be Ms. Serena Brine. Keean's told us so much about you."

    "He has?" she asked, taking the handshake she was offered. "What has he been saying, exactly?" She looked to 0 with a raised eyebrow, and smirked. 0 knew that he was in for a rough night at home when the ball ended.

    "Nothing but good things," Max assured Serena, and pointed them to seats at the table. "Keean, why don't you help Ms. Brine to her seat?" 0 did as requested and pulled out the White Ranger's seat for her. She smiled charmingly at him, and scooted the seat in herself. Her date took the seat next to her.

    "Mr. Toby," said May, with a friendly smile. "We meet again."

    "Indeed," 0 concurred. "You must stop stalking me. It cannot be healthy for you." She laughed at his joke and he remembered how much he loved the sound of her voice.

    She turned to the man on her left and tapped him on the shoulder. "Drew, you've met Mr. Toby, right?" she asked. The coordinator looked to the Golden Ranger and nodded.

    "I think we've met somewhere before," he replied, remembering Saffron City. "How've you been, Keean?" He offered his hand and 0 cautiously accepted it. "I'm playing the role of show pony tonight for May here." May playfully punched his shoulder in response and he feigned a wince.

    "I'm in the same boat, Drew," 0 said, and gestured to Serena. "May, this is my…girlfriend." May nodded and happily held out her hand. Serena looked at the hand like a glass of poisoned wine, but reluctantly took it. 0 picked up the water in front of him for something to drink.

    "He means lover," she clarified and 0 gagged on the aforementioned water. May's, and indeed the entire dinner table's eyes, grew roughly two sizes. 0 felt two sharp smacks on his back and was able to successfully swallow the water. He turned to thank whoever helped him, and found himself face to face with Sarah Birch.

    "Hello, Mr. Toby!" she said enthusiastically. "When're you coming back to my class to teach? We wanna see Lu again."

    0 chuckled. "Aren't you happy with your normal teacher?" he asked. "Lu's busy tearing a hole in my wallet with all the punching bags it goes through. Gets stronger every day." This was greeted by general laughter from the majority of the table, save for the elder Birches, who looked towards 0 with slight discontent.

    "Back in our day, we weren't as bold as to do those things," Norman murmured to his wife.

    "And we didn't brag about them," she agreed.

    "Let's change the subject," Brock Harrison suggested, and this course of action was agreed on by most of the table's membership. "Keean, tell me more about that trick I saw you do with the Pokemon language. I've been very interested in talking to you about that."

    "Really?" 0 asked.

    Brock nodded. "When I was younger, I used to travel a lot and I kept meeting this one Meowth that could speak in the human language. I always wondered if anyone had ever done the reverse of that. How'd you learn how to do it?"

    "It's…really simple," 0 began. "Well, for me it was. You just need to get in tune with your Pokemon, and eventually you can figure out the basic speaking patterns for each kind of Pokemon. All of their language is based on a similar grammar and dialect scheme, so if you can figure out one, you can pretty much figure out most of them." This information flew right over the heads of most of the people at the table. "It's very complicated, but that's the basic explanation."

    "He means you have to trust the Pokemon," Sarah translated, "and the Pokemon might trust you." Everyone got it after that and 0 wondered why he had had to teach Sarah's class when the little girl could make more sense out of his speeches then he could. He disregarded this thought instantly, as the sound of music filled his ears.

    "The band is playing," he muttered absent-mindedly and felt a sharp kick to his leg. He ignored the pain and stared at Serena in astonishment. She responded by playing coy.

    "What?" she asked and shot him with a concentrated dose of puppy-dog eyes.

    He knew what she wanted, and sighed. "Would you like to dance?"

    With the acting skill of a true thespian, Serena feigned a look of surprise to him. "Why Keean Toby, you cad," she squealed. "I didn't know you could dance." She took the hand he offered her and noticed that his lips had returned to their natural position of a thin line.

    "Oh, I'd like to dance too," said May and looked to Drew, who retorted with an expression that gave her the impression that he thought she was out of her mind.

    "I can't dance, May." An expression of regret for not having thought of that excuse flashed across 0's face. May looked disgruntled, but not for long, as Drew looked toward 0 with a twinkle in his eyes. "Hey, Keean," he said, "think you can show my lady a good time on the dance floor? I have two left feet."

    Your lady? 0 glanced at Serena, who looked like she would kill him if he did not pick her, then glanced at May, who had a very interested look on her face. "Uh," he said to buy time, "I think that I should dance with my girlfriend before anyone else." May's expression showed she was briefly disgruntled, but then she bounced back with a smile.

    "Maybe later," she said and turned to her father. "How about you, Dad?"

    Before 0 could hear the remainder of the conversation, Serena began dragging him through the crowded room in the direction of the dance floor. Figuring that nothing could possibly be done to repeal his upcoming punishment, 0 resigned himself to being led onto the floor. The music was in the air indeed, but 0 didn't feel like dancing. Serena on the other hand didn't seem to care about his misgivings, because she clamped one of his hands on her shapely hip and gripped the other in her vice-like claw. 0 felt her other hand on his back and then had to swerve to avoid Serena's heels digging into his polished shoes. So this was how she intended to have him dance, he thought, and complied. Several people took notice of their dancing style which, while erratic, somehow seemed to meld perfectly with the orchestra's performance.

    "What's this about, 3?" he asked.

    She fumed, and threw a sharp kick at him. He tossed his leg out just in time, thankfully avoiding hitting a large woman in the rump dancing beside them. A slight circle began to form around them.

    0 tolerated this for a while, but after her sixth jab at his legs he had had enough. He twirled her quickly, and forced her to follow through with the motion, at the same time kicking her in the back of her kneecaps. Serena grunted as she began to fall, but twisted a sharp kick his way that he jumped over. The circle widened and, when Serena righted herself, she grinned vicariously at her opponent. All eyes seemed to follow the mismatched couple who, for completely different reasons, desired nothing more than to show up the other.

    And yet, 0 thought as he began this strange dance of death, he could not help but wonder how he had gotten mixed up in such a confusing triangle of emotions.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    …One Week Earlier…


    Serena had been watching his behavior for weeks. Every morning, 0 would return from his nightly excursions and begin drinking. Oddly enough, she never saw him eat anything, which she guessed had something to do with the serum that he would inject himself with every other day. She made a mental note to one day ask him about the serum as she watched him move through his morning routine. Soon, she knew, he would go off to the rooftop with his Riolu to train it. The Riolu was slowly becoming fairly powerful from what he told her about it.

    But, while he did all these things, Serena Brine thought about the kiss.

    While her partner worked hard to better his physical abilities, Serena spent a large amount of time on her laptop working. And, while working, she was prone to distraction just like anyone else who spent the majority of their time working. Her most recent vice was a website devoted to romance fiction of all tastes and genres, and she had been pulled rather hard into some of the more explicit fiction revolving around young, petite women and the rugged men who loved them. It related so very much to the way her own life had turned out, and it was very difficult for Serena to stop picturing herself in the role of the young, inexperienced lady and the Golden Ranger as the powerful, yet gentlemanly, warrior. Oh, the pleasures she received from it were immense, and since 0 operated in the fashion of an incredibly efficient robot the majority of the time, such fantasies could be made reality during the hours she knew he'd be gone.

    However, today was not one of those days, as 0 apparently had plans that deviated from his standard day. Lately, she had been noticing that he had been staring at the phone a lot. She hadn't thought much of it until today, as he now held up a small card, which Serena was fairly certain had a number on it. Whose she wasn't quite sure. 0 didn't have any interaction with other people she wasn't aware of; she grilled Pi after each of their nights out to make sure. The mouse maintained that no one had even spoken to 0, but refused to divulge anything else of what they did. Serena guessed they were trying to track down the elusive Dark Sapphire Ranger, who hadn't appeared for some time.

    I guess whatever he did must have took a good chunk out of that thing, she thought as she dreamingly gazed at him. To her, 0 was the exemplar of human perfection: loyal as a dog Pokemon, strong as a Legendary and, perhaps more importantly, had the body to quench the deep drought she had been going through since being assigned to work with him. Normally a partner would have folded for her within two days, tops. 0 had lasted weeks, with no signs of ending his embargo. She was impressed, more than impressed.

    If she didn't know any better, she would have thought she was in love with 0.

    She laughed at the notion, which prompted one of 0's many confused looks in her direction. "Something wrong?" he asked.

    "Not at all," she replied sweetly, and flashed him a smile. He grunted and resumed his staring contest with the phone. She sighed and rolled over onto the tatami floor. "Hey, 0?"

    "Yes?" he said, but did not move his gaze.

    She pointed at the card. "Who gave you that?"

    He lifted the card to study it, like it was the first time he had bothered to examine it. "May did," he answered. "I've been trying to decide if I should call her."

    A pang of jealously, which Serena interpreted as irritation, shot through her abdomen. "Do whatever you want," she said casually.

    "That's just it," he said and looked up. "I want to call her, but what if it compromises my cover? I…don't think she'll want to see…well…me." She thought she heard sadness in his voice, something that did not fit with her fantasy for him. She stood up and decided that it would be a great time to take a bath.

    "Geez…" she murmured and started to fan herself. "Now that winter's ending, it just seems like it's getting hotter." She looked down on him, and her grin widened. "Hey, wanna take a bath together? I can wash your back…" She purred, but did not touch him.

    "No thanks," he said. "I can wash my own back."

    She pretended to fume, the second stage of the operation, then sniffed at the air. Something rank was in the apartment, and she was fairly certain it was not the Poke Ball in 0's pocket. "But you stink," she coughed and waved the scent away from her nose. "When was the last time you bathed?"

    "Um…" It was a good question, 0 could be really absent-minded about stuff like that. "I think yesterday. Could have been the day before." Upon saying this, he found himself kicked in the head by Serena, whose face displayed absolute disgust.

    "Get in the bath right now you deranged animal!" she ordered. "Or I will march you in there like a child and scrub every inch of your filthy body!" Her eyes blazed with a fury that she was certain that 0 had only ever seen in the eyes of his mother.

    As if unsure if she spoke the truth, 0 lifted his arm to sniff at his armpit, which did indeed confirm that his scent could be used to kill small rodents. He made a face, but composed himself. "Perhaps a small bath wouldn't kill me," he admitted and rose. "Don't follow." His gaze was stern and Serena batted her eyelashes at him.

    "Who? Me?" she asked innocently, in a tone that 0 scoffed at. "Don't worry, dear, I would never do something like that." Inwardly, her brain wired her in the direction of bypassing his request. 0 gave her a final look, and then moved towards the shower, dead bolting the door to ensure she could not disturb him. Serena cackled and decided that today would be the day she tested her new, personal security system. She opened her laptop and opened the camera that she had strategically positioned right above the shower for maximum viewing pleasure.

    "Serena." Pi's voice entered the laptop. "You shouldn't be doing that."

    "Pipe down, Pi," she retorted stubbornly. "This is better than anything I could ever find on the internet." 0 was slowly undressing, almost as if he knew he was being watched. He tossed down his shirt, but oddly kept his back to the camera. Serena knew why, since she could see a few of the scars he had on his shoulders. His rippling torso remained a mystery to Serena, but she more than accepted the tradeoff. He slipped off his jeans almost casually and exposed his powerful leg muscles. Serena began to drool slightly as she took in his lower back and upper thighs and cursed the fact that 0 still had his boxers on.

    "Serena." Pi once again disturbed her viewing. "I would seriously stop."

    "Pipe down!" It was too exciting. Serena trembled with anticipation, in eagerness, as 0 started to grab his boxers. "Here comes to good stuff. Come on…" Then, without warning, 0 looked up directly at the camera and Serena panicked.

    "Pi," he said. "Do it."

    "I warned you," the Pikachu said sadly and obeyed its partner. Serena's camera changed and, instead of the Herculean perfection that was 0's body, she found herself face to face with an empty shower.

    "What's this?" she asked suspiciously. All of a sudden, a behemoth entered the bathroom and Bakaguru himself grinned meekly at the camera before he began to rip off all of his clothes, exposing the flab concealed beneath his lab gear. Serena screamed in horror and closed the computer before anything else could show up. She heard laughter from the bathroom and rushed towards it with the intention of knocking down the door and killing her partner in cold blood. But he had installed a new lock system to make sure she wouldn't get in, so she was forced to rattle the door and listen to his chuckling.

    "I will kill you!" she screamed. "The instant you're out of that room, you are dead!" He roared with laughter.

    "Don't think so 3," he retorted. "I can always just go out through the window."

    These rebuttals continued for several minutes, until Serena finally ran out of energy and her door battering ceased. She leaned against the door, sprawled on the floor, as she caught her breath. "So," she said, "are you going to call her?"

    The splashing stopped inside the bathroom. "I don't know," he admitted. "I really want to, but at the same time me trying any kind of relationship with her would mean us losing our cover." He paused, as if deep in thought. "What do you think I should do?"

    What did she think? That was strange, she thought, as he rarely asked for advice from anyone save for Pi. "I-I think you should be friends with her," she said. "I mean, it's not like you're still in love with her." Silence answered her, and for some reason her heart skipped a beat. "Are you still in love with her?"

    "I…" He faltered. "I love her, 3. And Sarah. But I'm not sure if I'm still in love with her. The damages done in our relationship were pretty deep. Remember, I'm still on the payroll of the people that split us up."

    "Yeah, yeah," she muttered and lowered her head. So he was in love with her, she thought, and suddenly felt a slight quiver of anger towards May Birch. She wasn't quite sure why. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that, if it were not for the way 0 was, Serena could have him. But then she remembered that if 0 was normal, he would be with May. In either scenario, Serena could not have the Golden Ranger.

    Why did this make her angry?

    She stood up and attempted to rationalize her feelings. The odd thing was that she was no longer interested in knowing which portion of his anatomy 0 was currently soaping up. Her emotions were far more complex than anticipated. Was it the fact that he was lasting her marathon of temptation? No, surely not. No one lasted when she turned up the heat, she'd just been off her game because he was a friend. That was all. She was confusing her friendship with 0 and her sexual needs for his body.

    After a while, almost a half-hour later, 0 resurfaced from a steam-filled bathroom, fully dressed with a fresh supply of clothing from his morpher. This time his pants were blue, but he wore a black t-shirt with golden zigzags all over the short sleeves. His necklace dangled on its chain, the brightest hue of gold. He was still drying his hair with his towel, which he deposited in the hamper before he shut the bathroom door. "What?" he asked.

    To Serena, he looked like some sort of modern day Tarzan. "Absolutely nothing," she said, with a distinct and obvious hint of husky in her voice. "So, what do you want to do for the rest of the day?" 0 was either oblivious to flirting, or was purposely not giving her the satisfaction of victory. "Wanna wash my back?"

    "I do not," he replied.

    She puffed up her cheeks. Why did he have to be such a complete and utter moron? She sighed. "Here's an idea," she said and her eyes gleamed at the possibilities. "How's about you call little miss May and ask her out? We can go over to the gym. Maybe you could try out Lu against her little brother."

    That thought seemed to make him think. "Lu's still a Baby Pokemon. I don't want to push it if it isn't ready." They both glanced at Lu's punching bag, which was already starting to wear despite being three days old. "Maybe. This is its fifth one." He picked up the phone again and dialed the number. He headed out into the hallway as someone answered the phone on the other end and Serena scampered to the door to hear the conversation.

    "Hello?" asked her partner. "Yes, I'm looking for a May Birch…" A pause, and Serena distinctly heard someone else talking on the other end who was older then May. "This is Keean Toby. We met at the- yes, Keean Toby from Saffron City. I was wondering if May was available, this is her cell phone, right?" Another pause, and finally he was connected to her. Serena's ear might as well have been melded to the wooden door considering how close she was.

    "Hi, May?" His voice was somewhat shaky, but he maintained. Apparently, May was glad he had called. "Uh, I was wondering what you were up to today. I thought I might stop by the gym and visit. I could always use a Balance Badge." There was laughter, followed by further dialog. "Two hours? I suppose so. Mind if I bring a friend?" Serena's heart skipped a beat. "Yeah, the woman I was with at the museum. The one with white hair." They made the final arrangements and 0 hung up the phone. Serena scooted right back to the table and feigned that she had been surfing television channels when he walked back in.

    "You up for a small trip across the street?" he asked. "She just invited us."

    "No," she corrected and pointed a finger at him. "She invited you. I'm just along for the ride, hot shot." She turned back to the television and turned it to a news station. The Dark Sapphire Ranger was still at large, she couldn't afford for that thing to surface again and not be aware of it. "Why don't you go ahead? I'm sure she'll love some private time with an ex-husband who's playing spy with her." 0 didn't respond and it was only until she looked towards him that she noticed that his hands were shaking.

    "I-I…" 0 looked down, and his hands hardened into fists. "I need you to be there, 3. If you're not there-" He looked up, and she saw the agony in his face. "I don't want to blow cover in front of the one person I am most likely to lose it in front of. 3, I need you there to restrain me. Besides, if she gets to me, who knows what I'll say. 'Sorry honey, it's really me. I've been working at a spy organization all this time!'" He groaned and rubbed his forehead. "3, I will not compromise her. She still has her memories, like everyone else does, of me." He growled. "I don't want to do to anyone ever again what they made me do to Sarah. You understand?"

    Serena sensed that he very much wanted to cry, but wouldn't. She stood up and once again held him. Like the first time, the oddities of 0's conflicting emotions flowed into her through physical contact and she pressed her cheek against his chest. "Okay," she whispered, as if speaking to a much younger man. "I know. I understand." His hands stood rigid this time and she released him. Her eyes found his face and she smiled. "You don't have to do everything at once, okay? Take it one step at a time."

    She suspected that 0 wanted to thank her, but was unable to process the words in his mouth, so all that exhaled was a sigh. She took it. "Now then, shall we get ready for our rendezvous with the Birches? I'm sure that daughter of yours can't wait to get to know you all over again."

    He smiled. "I hope so, 3. That would be something nice to look forward to."

  2. #17
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    Default Chapter 11, Continued

    Morph Eleven: Serena's Heart Blossoms, Part 2

    With a final grunt, Max completed his hundredth pushup. True, the gym leader didn't have much to do while the gym was closed, but his normal workout regimen was almost obscene. He trained nonstop with his Pokemon for hours in preparation for his daily business, from the moment he woke until noon. Strangely, he had gotten up rather early that morning, and had been unable to get back to sleep. The gym leader sat up and stretched to make certain that he wouldn't sprain any of his aching muscles.

    What was weird, though, was the fact that he had been getting roughly two hours of sleep for about a week. In the past, he had needed was eight, bare minimum. But now he was going to bed at midnight and rising a mere few hours later like clockwork. Something was giving him an extraordinary caffeine boost. He'd have to ask his sister if she'd been changing the coffee filters to espressos. He glanced at the thing dangling from his neck: the emerald he had taken from the museum. They hadn't seemed to notice its absence, and he for some reason didn't ever feel like he wanted to be parted from it. So he'd had it fit onto a small necklace.

    He'd been training for almost ten hours. The house was alive and well. His parents were off taking care of some of the bills and invitations the family had received, they had mentioned something about a gala in a week they wanted to go to. His mind was on other things though. More specifically the Dark Sapphire Ranger, the PKM Rangers, and why both sides seemed to want his sister. May must have been born under an unlucky star, he thought, to have two high-tech sides fighting over her. He remembered the Rangerlings, and growled. He reached for the weights again, grabbed his twenty pound barbells, and started pumping his arms up and down.

    Music was blaring in his training room and his entire body was glistening with sweat. He wasn't built like a bodybuilder, but had instead compact, powerful muscles that were more than capable for his daily needs. Likewise, his Pokemon were equally powerful, and it was a rare, but somehow satisfying, day when he had to hand out one of his Balance Badges. But today he felt optimistic that someone would show up that would be a challenge for him, and thus made sure that his Gallade and Mightyena were ready for a fight. Grovyle, always cool and collected, worked on the balance board to make certain that it wouldn't trip up during a fight. It had been having trouble keeping oriented during fights with digging Pokemon.

    Finally, when a buzzer rang through the training room, Max called for everyone to stop. The three Pokemon did so with some reluctance, as they loved training almost as much as Max did. Their trainer smiled, talked with them about their strengths and weaknesses, his usual pep talk before a day of fighting, and they roared their approval. He recalled all three into their Poke Balls, and went to shower and change so he didn't smell quite like a locker room for the daily challengers.

    When he completed his shower regimen, he put on a green shirt and some jeans. He had learned from experience that fancy clothing was not the way to go when it came to a profession that involved him fighting all day. His sneakers squeaked as he made his way down to the battle field. He stopped by the kitchen to grab some orange juice and drained the glass before he reached his beloved battlefield. His first opponent was already there, conversing with his sister.

    "Hey!" he shouted in welcome and ran over. His future opponent stopped talking to watch Max approach. "How's it going? You here for a Balance Badge?"

    The man smiled. "Yeah, something like that."

    May blushed as the man looked over to her, which struck Max as odd. His sister wasn't prone to schoolgirl crushes. "Sorry, Mr. Toby," she said and turned to Max. "This is Keean Toby from the Saffron City Contest. Remember?" Max thought for a moment, then grinned.

    "Absolutely," he replied and shook Keean Toby's hand. "You handed it pretty badly to my sis, Keean. Would you like to challenge me? I promise I'm tougher then her."

    "As if," May retorted and stuck her tongue out at her brother.

    "I thought I should have a complete set," he explained. Max then noticed that a small woman was standing next to Keean Toby, holding his hand. "Sorry, honey. This is my girlfriend."

    "I'm Serena Brine," she said. Max offered his hand to her, and she shook it heartily.

    Max replied, "Great to see you."

    "Hello!" she said excitably and turned to May. "Nice to formally meet you all. Sorry about my boyfriend's crass nature. He doesn't know any better." She looked up at him and grinned. "He's very dim-witted sometimes." She giggled, which Max found oddly adorable. This girl knew how to talk.

    "Anyway, how's about a battle, Keean?" Max offered. "I'd love to take a closer look at that whole 'talking Pokemon' trick." Keean Toby nodded and moved to the challenger square on the other side of the battlefield. Serena followed him like a lovesick puppy and Max geared up Gallade's Poke Ball. The gym leader wasn't certain what Pokemon Keean Toby would use, only that he would use something strong. The tactical expert lifted up a Poke Ball and a Riolu exploded from the small orb. Max didn't wonder why Keean Toby had picked a Baby Pokemon to fight and immediately sent out his Gallade. "Let's go!"

    "Okay," Keean Toby replied. "Riolu, go easy. This is our first battle, don't strain yourself."

    "Lu, Rio!" confirmed the Pokemon, after which it beat its chest in anticipation.

    "Gallade, False Swipe!" Max commanded. Gallade charged up its left arm and shot forward, much faster than most of its species.

    "Riolu, Iol!" ordered Keean Toby. Riolu remained stationary until the final possible instant, when it tilted itself a few degrees to the right. The arm of the giant Gallade went wide, and Riolu retaliated with Copycat as it passed the larger Pokemon. The strike went deep into the Blade Pokemon's left leg, causing it to trip. "Lu Rio Riolu!" A high-pitched Screech burst from the Baby Pokemon, keeping its opponent down.

    "Gallade, Psycho Cutter!" the gym leader shouted. This was impossible, he thought. Keean Toby's strategy had no flaws, none at all. The tactician could take in the most minute details and convert them into an advantage, like using Gallade's height against it, and even compensating for the type disadvantage. Max's Pokemon began to glow, and sharp blades emerged to deal with the tiny Riolu. Despite this, Keean Toby remained calm and calculated the best option.

    "Lu Rio," he said, and Riolu started to glow with its Endure. The blades struck over and over again, but Riolu wouldn't be losing this turn. Finally, Gallade yielded, and Riolu activated its second portion of its plan. Its body glowed, and a second set of blades emerged. Max tried to order Gallade away, and the Blade Pokemon avoided most of them due to Riolu's inexperienced aim, but several struck its hide at crucial joints. Riolu didn't wait for them to subside either, and burst forward with a Quick Attack that knocked its opponent down to the ground. By this point, Max was getting desperate, and the calm neutral expression on Keean Toby's face was not helping. The gym leader was losing to a Baby Pokemon. It was highly embarrassing.

    "Finish it," Keean Toby muttered, this time in his rough Orre dialect. Riolu obeyed, as it apparently understood what that command meant. Gallade didn't even see the Force Palm coming and, though it had Psychic type advantage, Riolu didn't miss, and aimed its blast between its foe's eyes. Gallade dropped, and stayed down.

    Keean Toby held out Riolu's Poke Ball and smiled. "Return," he said and clicked the button. Red light burst out of the ball and captured Riolu, sending it right back to his Poke Ball for a well-deserved rest. Reluctantly, Max withdrew Gallade's Poke Ball from its holster on his belt and recalled his own Pokemon.

    "Man, that was tough," he chided himself. "We're going to have to train harder." He walked across the battlefield to shake Keean Toby's hand. "You're pretty good. How long have you had that Riolu?"

    Keean Toby thought about that. "A few weeks. Lu's been really fun to work with. It almost might actually be ready to evolve, but I don't think it knows me all that well yet." He chuckled.

    "Cool," Max said. "Hey May, would you mind giving Keean the main tour of the building while I go and stick Gallade in the Pokemon Restoration Machine? I'll only be a minute." May nodded.

    "Sure, I can show Mr. Toby and Serena around," she replied, with an odd interest in keeping her eyes on Keean Toby. He seemed oblivious. Max headed out into the back where the PRM was located. The machine looked a lot like a power generator, but when he opened the top half of the machine, it revealed a machine similar to something in a Pokemon Center. He'd had one installed by Nurse Joy when he decided that it seemed kind of undignified for a gym leader to have to rush to the Pokemon Center. Plus it was more convenient for his challengers. He plugged Gallade's Poke Ball inside the first slot, and was informed that the Pokemon would be fully restored in ten minutes. Sighing, he rested himself against the machine to wait.

    "Hey, gym leader."

    Max looked up. No one was in the room with him, he was alone. Yet he had heard a voice somewhere. "Yes?" he asked, looking around. "Dad, is that you?" No one replied for a few seconds and Max got a tingling feeling in his spine that conveyed something bad was about to happen. And, as usual, the feeling would prove correct.

    Something punched him hard in the stomach, like a sharp stone. Max lurched then fell over. "Not your dad, kiddo!" replied the voice with an immense amount of glee. Max's vision was blurred, he had lost his glasses, which he vaguely noticed had been dropped almost beyond his reach. Groaning, he stretched his arm out to snatch them, but a dark boot crashed down on his arm. He shouted in pain. "This is interesting. I was so sure you'd be scared of me."

    Max glared up at the figure who had attacked him, a man dressed all on blue and black. "I think…I know that voice," he grumbled. His free arm slinked behind his back for one of the Poke Balls on his holster. "I'm guessing the name Sappho rings a bell with you, right?"

    Instead he cackled, and bent down so that he could look Max directly in his blurry vision. "You know, that's such a stupid name," the Dark Sapphire Ranger retorted and grabbed the gym leader by the neck. Max, chocked by the pressure, was lifted into the air and rammed against a nearby wall. "I think Golden Boy makes fun of me when he calls me that. Are you making fun of me?"

    Max spit at his visor. "What do you think?"

    Sappho smashed the back of Max's head hard against the wall. "That's a bad, bad gym leader," the Dark Sapphire Ranger murmured in dismay, then kneed Max in the groin. Blood trickled from the man's mouth as he groaned feebly. "Now's not the time to be a big brave hero, boy. I might just kill your precious Pokemon, if you don't quit with the puns." That shut Max right up. "Good, you're learning," he whispered. "That's very good."

    "This lecture got a point or are you just here to bug me?" Max asked. "I'm a busy guy and I don't like you."

    "Shut up," Sappho replied, and used his other hand to grab the emerald that Max was wearing on his neck. And, though Max knew that the guy was wearing a helmet, he could not help but sense a wave of disappointment from Sappho as his hands curled around the emerald. "This is just perfect. Just perfect." In his irritation, he tossed Max to the ground on his back. "Just great. It's bonded to you. It's bonded to you!" He kicked Max's stomach in anger.

    "I-I don't understand-" Max was silenced, as the Dark Sapphire Ranger decided that that moment was perfect to grab the man's mouth and force it shut.

    "You know, I work hard too. I punch a clock. I pay taxes. Why would you want to ruin my job?" Sappho was acting like all the problems of the world had suddenly fallen onto him. "The stupid thing's bonded to you now, so there's nothing I can do… Man, they're gonna kill me for letting anyone bond to it… Eh, I guess you'll be good enough for them. We don't recruit that often, but I'm sure they'd love you to be with us…"

    Max started shouting vehemently, but Sappho didn't quite understand. Tilting his head to his side, the Dark Sapphire Ranger relaxed his grip just enough so that Max could speak. "What is it, idiot?" Sappho muttered.

    "What are you talking about?" Max gasped.

    "I'm talking about the Dark Emerald, idiot!" screeched the annoyed Sappho, and smashed Max's head again. "That little green gem you have strapped to your neck! It's supposed to be with me and with my friends so they can use it." His grip tightened on Max's throat as he grasped the Dark Emerald, which had started to pulsate in reaction to Sappho's beatings, matching the heartbeat racing through the gym leader's body. "It's a talisman of evil, boy. We wanted it for that reason. And now it's gone and bonded to you instead of one of our soldiers. Do you know what this means?"

    "No idea," the battered man mumbled to himself.

    "It means you're going to take responsibility for it," Sappho explained, and giggled as he forced Max to look him right in the visor. "You're going to be the one to use this thing, you're going to be the one that kills with it, and you're going to be the one who brings us one step closer to our goal!" He cackled, but softly, as he had made a lot of noise and didn't want the whole place to know he was there. Max glanced down at the Dark Emerald, which beat wildly in synchronization with his heartbeat.

    "Wh-what do you want with me, Sappho?"

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger giggled, and bent closer to Max's crumbled body. "The Dark Emerald might be bonded to you, little boy, but it hasn't fully taken hold yet." Through his black visor, Sappho glared at his lost prize. "No use crying about it now. Dark Gems can't be removed once they choose a host. But of all the luck…" Sappho lamented his failure by lowering his head in shame.

    "Nothing you've just said makes sense," Max said.

    Sappho lifted his face sharply, and slapped Max's cheek. "Do you even understand the words that are coming out of my mouth, boy? The Dark Emerald is special…and powerful. It takes the soul of one dead Pokemon, but the degree of power that is amplified from that is incredible! It's like a supercharge! But-" And at this Sappho turned away, as if discussing the subject with someone else "-it's so very picky. It is the food critic of Dark Gems." Sappho groaned and then grabbed something out of a compartment on his belt. It was a long, silvery chain, kind of like the one Max was wearing, only it has a specially set place for a gem. Sappho grabbed Max by his chain, and somehow managed to transfer the gem between the two chains. "When the time comes, use this, and all your dreams will come true boy!" He shoved the chain hard onto Max's right forearm, almost breaking the skin. "Bye-bye, kiddo! Let's do this again sometime!" He cackled and leapt away, vanishing just as quickly as he had come.

    Max, pained by his injuries, curled up into a ball. The emerald, previously a nice necklace ornament and now some sort of evil chalice, gleamed against his chest, flashing to the beat of his heart. The chain, wrapped around his arm, began moving, much to Max's surprise. It wound along his arm, up his shoulders, and around its neck, where it finally went dormant and stopped pulsating. Max, breathing hard, sat up and leaned against the wall.

    "What have I gotten myself into?" he asked himself and his hands curled around the Dark Emerald. He wanted to get rid of the emerald now, but was somehow incapable of doing so. A nagging voice in the back of his head roared against the idea, the mere notion, that he could get rid of it without anything bad happening. Max glanced at the old, seemingly harmless chain that was now strewn across the floor. The new one felt like it would kill him if he got rid of it. "What's going on?"

    Vaguely, he noticed that the Poke Ball machine was beeping. He didn't even notice that his wounds had completely healed, or that he grabbed Gallade's Poke Ball and stuffed it into his pocket. All he was thinking about was the fact that somewhere, for some reason, something was laughing at him, bugging him to an extent he had never felt before.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Serena Brine was in the belly of the beast. Oh, she knew what she had been getting herself into when she had agreed to come, but she couldn't refuse those cute little tantrums that 0 was prone to throw any time they had to do something even remotely related to his family. The man had issues but, as she looked at him now, she couldn't find them at all. The mask called Keean Toby hid them perfectly, down to the very last detail. He was cool, charming, even funny, things the White Ranger had never before been aware that 0 could be.

    "This is the garden," May said and opened the door to the outside. For some reason, Serena disliked May. She wasn't quite sure why specifically, it might have been that May had oddly puffier hair then Serena did, or the fact that May looked beautiful despite having a few noticeable injuries. Or maybe it was the fact that 0 was focusing solely on May and ignoring Serena completely. Whatever it was, Serena did not like it.

    "Would you like to join us for some lunch?" May offered. Serena guessed she sensed the discomfort between them. "My mother makes great food."

    Serena smiled. "I would love to," she said, and glanced up at 0. "Right?"

    He nodded. "Right," he said and looked at May. "We'd love to."

    She showed them through the gym to the modest kitchen right next to the battlefield. Inside, Caroline was busy preparing a primarily pork-based meal, with sides of rice. Serena gripped 0's hand to make sure he didn't start saying anything stupid. The woman was aging quite gracefully, with few wrinkles adorning her head. 0 and Serena sat at the table and she turned around in surprise.

    "Why hello," she said with a smile. "Who are you?"

    "Serena Brine and Keean Toby," Serena answered.

    Caroline chuckled. "It's been a while since anyone's bothered to stop in for lunch after fighting," she murmured, and removed a frying pan from the stove. "It's an old tradition sure, but young people these days don't understand courtesy. They come here for the badge my son gives and then leave."

    "Such a shame," Serena murmured sympathetically.

    Caroline agreed and handed the couple some beef bowls to enjoy before the main course. They waited for May to join them before beginning. "Any mail today, Mom?" May asked, and dug into her bowl. 0 didn't actually eat the food, but pretended to as best he could.

    "M-hm," Caroline confirmed, and brought out a letter from her apron. "An invitation from the city." She handed the letter to her daughter and made busy with the rest of the luncheon's food.

    May put down her bowl and laid down the chopsticks. "Dear Miss Birch," she read, "'We are pleased to invite you and your guests to the annual Gala Ball.' How lovely. 'Please RSVP your party size so we can reserve your table.'"

    "When it is?" Caroline asked.

    "In a week."

    Caroline thought about it. "I haven't been dancing with your father in ages. We should go."

    "And…" May turned to 0, and Serena caught a glimpse in her eyes of something she became suspicious of. "Would you like to join us?" She had eyes only for 0 and Serena fumed to herself.

    "Love to," he replied. Serena's hands suspiciously began to gain claw-like attributes and her hand slinked towards her partner's leg. "I would…" He paused and briefly glanced downwards to notice Serena was feeling left out of the conversation. "I mean, we, would love to go. Right honey?" He glanced at Serena and attempted a smile. Serena dug her talons into his flesh.

    "Of course, dear," she said sweetly and tilted her head with a smile. She would make him pay for this insubordination. But for now she would play the role of loving girlfriend, until the instant they were out of public view. Caroline finished her food and after calling to her husband, Sarah, and Max, sat down and poured herself a glass of lemonade.

    Sarah wandered in only a few minutes after Caroline had ordered her appearance. She looked tired and Serena noticed a slight scar on her hand. "Food?" the little girl asked Serena sensed the inner cravings of a creature in need of feeding. Caroline nodded and pointed to a spot at the table with a bunch of food ready. Sarah nodded and sat down. She picked up her chopsticks and without further ado attacked her food like a rapid Pokemon.

    "Sarah, say hello to our guests," Caroline said and gestured to Serena and 0.

    "Hi," she said without looking up.

    0 chuckled, which caused Serena to increase the pressure on his leg. "Sarah," he said calmly. "How have you been?"

    "Fine," the girl said, then stopped eating briefly. "Mr. Toby?" She had not noticed him at all, far too focused on eating. She smiled when she looked at him and Serena glanced at 0's face for any problems.

    0 had none, the man seemed a natural born actor when in the face of his audience. "Thought I'd stop by and see you all," he explained and grinned at May. "Your mother invited me over to enjoy some food with you all. And fight your uncle."

    Sarah giggled. "Did you beat Uncle Max?"

    He lifted a thumb's up. "Piece of cake," he replied.

    "Yay!" Sarah squealed with delight.

    "Baby girl," May murmured, and her daughter calmed down slightly. "It seems we've been invited to a party."

    Sarah asked, "Party, Mommy?"

    May nodded. "Mr. Toby and Ms. Serena said that they would love to be our guests. Do you want to come too?"

    "Yes yes yes yes yes!" The little girl was very excited and required a stern look from her grandmother to settle down. She looked at her food with a sudden disinterest and Serena caught that girlish gleam in the little one's eye that only a gala event could produce. "Mr. Toby?" she asked and turned to the friendly giant.

    "Yes?" he replied.

    "Will you dance with me there?"

    The entire table chortled at the request. Serena glanced at 0, who had covered his mouth to cover the grin on his face. "S-sure, Sarah," he muttered, very close to laughter. Serena peered into the locks of hair that masked the majority of his face. 0's mask was shaking.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    …Present Day…


    Serena grumbled and attempted to stomp hard on her partner's foot. The music was elevated, heightened to match the frenzy of dancing that was her and 0's rendition of the waltz. Other couples, in fear for their personal safety, had begun to distance themselves from them, resulting in a circle around both rangers. Serena and 0 took no notice; Serena because of her inner wrath and 0 in justifiable fear for his life. The odd thing was that no one else seemed to understand the tension between the two, and simply assumed they were professionally trained.

    Serena grunted with annoyance as 0 side-stepped her. "Want to tell me what this is about?" he asked and twirled her with one sweep of his left arm. She almost jerked it out of its socket, but 0 loosened his grip in time.

    "You know you have this coming," she retorted. In retaliation, she threw her hips out, knocking 0 right in the pelvis. He was annoyed, but didn't let that show, as he grabbed her by the aforementioned hips and lifted her right off the ground. Serena growled, unaccustomed to being lifted, and tried kicking him right in the groin. 0 pivoted so the kick flew by harmlessly then took the move one step further. He flipped Serena, grasping her by the legs she had thrown out, and had her hand on his feet right beside him. Her eyes shot daggers at him. The crowd cheered.

    "No, seriously," he muttered. She was dancing very close to him, almost as if she was preparing to jab him with her nails. "What is this about?"

    Serena grumbled in a very angry way and tried to crush his feet again. In a terrible contortion of a box step, 0 avoided the heels each and every time. "Why don't you go dance with your wife?" she snarled. "Oh, that's right. Because she's not your wife." She wanted to be cruel to him, the gigantic idiot that he was, who could not even interpret the slightest bit of her attraction to him. 0, oblivious, lowered the mask he had been wearing as Keean Toby.

    "Low, 3," he whispered and took hold of her arms. "Very low." He didn't give her a window of chance to escape, and before she knew it, she was being pressed against his muscles, which did the work he had assessed they would. Serena melded into them like glue, albeit unwillingly. "Explain your behavior. It is jeopardizing our cover." The gruff voice was unmistakable: 0 had stopped playing the game.

    She refused to answer him and instead fought her physical and emotional compulsions by tackling his. She wiggled suggestively against his body, up and down, side to side, diverting the attention of the majority of the men present from their significant others. She swayed her hair seductively, utilizing every inch of the body she had been given to drive 0 away. He was obsessed with May and would leave her soon.

    But, to her extreme surprise, he did not. Instead, the Golden Ranger took her gently and forced her to face him. "Are you angry at May?" he asked, finally deducing the correct question. She looked away to the lady who stood by the sidelines with Drew and nodded. "Why?"

    "Because," she explained, and looked up at him. "You're not her husband. Not anymore. But you're my partner." She didn't even notice that, as they began to slow down, so did the music, and finally others were beginning to brave the dance floor once again. "You think you can keep your cover and try to get back with her. And you insist on thinking that you can be both my partner and her husband."

    "Why can't I?" he replied, calm as ever. He didn't understand the complexities of emotions that were raging through Serena's brain, or what his answers would result in.

    Serena looked away. The music had changed into a slow, mournful song of what both guessed was love. She allowed him to lead her through the crowd, her cheek pressed to where she assumed his heart was located. Assuming he had one, she thought bitterly, as he had missed signs that even a blind Aipom would have automatically understood. She couldn't understand how anyone could be so unbelievably strong like 0 was yet at the same time be so utterly dimwitted.

    Because I want you to be mine.

    But she didn't say that. To say that would mean putting herself completely out there for him and, while she did indeed want him, she wasn't quite sure which part of him she wanted. Did she crave the first friend she had ever had, and had maintained, since coming to PKM, or had she fallen for the dark warrior that 0 retreated into when the world became unbearable to him? Or the lonely man he only showed her? Which one was the real Golden Ranger?

    At the same time, she wasn't sure about his interests either. 0 was still attached to the idea that he wanted to be May's husband, whether this was something he actually wanted or something he simply needed to be. He defined himself by the failures of his marriage and the loss of his child. In every aspect he acted like someone torn between the past and the future, with no clue what to do in the present.

    "I'm sorry, 3," he replied. "I didn't understand that you felt that way."

    Fairly certain that he still did not understand exactly how she felt, she sighed. "Idiot," she grumbled and pressed herself against him. "You're mine for the night, could you at least not forget that again?"

    "Of course, 3," he replied. There was a subtle gentleness in his voice, something she had not heard before. She smiled in content that she could feel his arms surrounding her in their powerful, protective embrace. She smiled that she could feel his heart beating in his chest, and that it sounded so warm and strong. Even if she knew it was just an act to him, she liked it nonetheless.

    "0?"

    "Yes, 3?"

    "What do you think of me?"

    Author's Note: Apologies for the delay, work was a beast and I'm still scarcely done. Sunday's (today's) will begin Chapter 12 after I get some sleep.

  3. #18
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 12

    Author's Note: So, let's have a little bit of a conversation, as I've had some questionable responses to this chapter. This chapter has some M-ish material (and the original version of this chapter did have explicit sexual content), but this updated version features nothing I haven't seen on television that isn't targeted at teenagers. But that's not what I want to warn you about. After reading this chapter, if you feel offended and that I have somehow betrayed you due to this shipping that this story is advertised with, I would like you to please calm down. This chapter is a little over one-fifth of the intended length of this fan-fiction, and I assure you that every scene is necessary for the intended happy ending promised by the shipping description of this story. This concludes my caring if people whine about the content of this chapter, and further criticisms of readers who stop at this point, complain in my review section, and go no further will be used by my friends and I to laugh at people that take fan-fiction entirely too seriously. Without further ado, let's continue. I apologize for the length of this rant.

    Morph Twelve: Awakening

    To 0, his partnership with Serena was becoming strange. Since his divorce, his single-minded aversion to the subject had been the primary deterrent to any woman who had ever crossed his path in PKM, with Serena being the sole exception. And yet here he was, hand in hand with her. To be completely honest, it wasn't all that comfortable, but at the same time he wasn't uncomfortable either. He hadn't quite been able to answer Serena's question at the ball, and she hadn't pushed the issue, apparently because she enjoyed the mental torture he had been under. If he slept, he would be losing it over the query. It was so out of character for Serena, whose sexual banter 0 had long accepted and generally ignored. True romance was probably as far removed from Serena's normal thought process as a Snorlax was from a dietary clinic.

    "You know," she said, and batted her eyelashes at him, "I've always wanted to go to one of these places with you." 0 glanced up at the building's sign with reservation. Petal was supposed to be Petalburg's finest hot springs resort and 0 believed it from what he was seeing. The entrance lobby itself was decorated like a hot spring, and 0 could tell that Petal would probably cater to anything even remotely related to hot springs, judging from the multiple storey building it occupied. Its lavish paint, which was some sort of light blue, had a slight calming effect to the Golden Ranger when he viewed it.

    "As long as we're just here to relax," he replied carefully. Serena smirked a little, which made 0 wary, and led him through the doors. "We earned it, Snorlax."

    "Don't call me that," she retorted. At the registration desk stood an energetic gentleman who greeted them with a smile. "Besides, it was 415's idea I take a break. She didn't say I had to bring you along."

    "How very generous of her."

    "Hello!" said the receptionist and perked up his face. "Welcome to Petal, Petalburg's elite spa clinic. Do you have a reservation?"

    "This is a spa clinic?" 0 asked Serena. "I thought you said it was a hot springs."

    "We prefer to call it a spa clinic," explained the man, with a huff of indignation. To Serena, he said, "Your reservation, ma'am?"

    "Please ignore my moronic boyfriend," she said sweetly and dug her foot into 0's boot. "Here are our names." The man had produced a chart of the guests for the day, and Serena took out two identification cards. "Serena Brine and Keean Toby." The man lifted the cards to inspect them, then smiled.

    "Of course, Ms. Brine," he said and handed them back to the White Ranger, who pocketed them. "You are scheduled for an all-day treatment with an overnight visit. Please go down the hallway to the left towards the changing rooms." He lowered his hands out of sight and withdrew three keys from his desk. "These are for your changing lockers and hotel room." Serena grabbed the locker and room keys, which dangled on slight bracelets, and put them right on her morpher. 0 took his locker key and, trying to forget that he and Serena would be sharing a very cramped room that evening, applied his own bracelet. "Enjoy your stay at Petal." He waved to Serena as she, and 0 in tow, made for the changing rooms down the hallway.

    "Well, he seemed to like you," 0 noted.

    "Why," she said with a slight whisper, "is that jealousy that I hear in your voice?"

    "Of course not."

    "'Of course not'," she imitated. Then she looked up. "By the way, did you look at that list closely?" He shook his head, he had not. "Someone we know is here, with a party of three. Do you know who that could be?"

    "No idea." 0 was not very interested in what she was saying.

    "May, Max, and Sarah Birch are here," Serena answered, her voice dripping with a slight venom. "Any idea why they're here?"

    0 sensed that Serena was displeased by this information, why he hadn't the slightest clue. "Coincidence?" he ventured. He had no idea what May and her family happened to be taking a vacation at the same time he and Serena were, but was fairly certain he was going to pay for it later. "Anyway, don't worry 3. This is our vacation. I won't forget that."

    "Better not," she said. They reached the changing rooms, and Serena headed for the female side, making some comment under her breath regarding the unfortunate decisions that the Petal owners had made which forced her to change in a separate room. 0 decided not to think about it and opened the door to the men's changing room. The first thing that struck him was the fact that there were a multitude of somewhat hefty men and small children, a combination that 0 knew was common in most hot springs. He found his locker near the front of the door and opened it.

    "Hey, Keean!" 0 recognized the voice, but wasn't sure he had heard correctly. He looked to his right and noticed that Max Birch was walking towards him, with a towel wrapped around his waist. Beside him, Gallade walked proudly. After thinking about it, 0 released Lu from its Poke Ball so it could get some relaxation too. "What a coincidence, you being here!"

    "No kidding," 0 replied. He clasped hands with the gym leader. "What're you doing here?"

    "Eh, spas aren't really my thing, but May thought it would be perfect considering some of the stress we've been under." He continued talking, but 0 lost interest after that. The Golden Ranger instead focused on the small gem that was dangling from an odd chain on Max's neck. "But May and Sarah insisted, and what's a guy to do?"

    "I agree," 0 muttered. "My girlfriend thought this would be perfect bonding for us. She has this weird idea that nude places are the best places to bond."

    "Man," Max lamented, "if only I had a girlfriend as great as that. You must work pretty hard to keep her tied to you."

    0 chuckled. "Not as hard as you might think," he said and took off his shirt. He glanced around and stood facing the lockers. "Hey, do you think they have robes around here? I'm a bit self-conscious on the whole bare-body look."

    Max turned around. "I think they had some over by the showers. Want me to grab you one?"

    "That'd be great." Max headed away, and 0 heard someone approach him.

    "What's that, mister?" asked a boy who couldn't have possibly been older than ten. 0 sighed and faced the kid. Years of age hadn't changed the scars that he bore along his chest, and they never would. His stomach, chest, and even parts of his shoulders were covered in lines of dark scars. The boy, horrified, ran away to his father.

    "Wow," muttered Max, when he approached and saw 0's front. "The hell did that to you?" He handed 0 the robe, which he put on immediately before removing the remainder of his clothing and stuffing it in his locker.

    "Souvenirs from Orre, Max," he explained, using the first excuse that came to his head. "Never go. It's a rough place, you wouldn't make it." The two shared a laugh and walked out the room with their Pokemon, who were eyeing each other as if looking for a rematch. 0's ring chinked against his chest, prompting Max's attention.

    "Hey, Keean, where'd you get that ring?" he asked and pointed at it.

    "Oh this?" He glanced down, and once again decided that it would be in his best interests to lie. "Uh…family heirloom."

    "It looks kind of like a wedding ring."

    "It is one. It runs in the family," he replied.

    Max shrugged. "It looks kind of like the one my sister had. You know, before she quit wearing it."

    Curiosity overwhelmed 0 and, despite himself, he had to learn more. He made sure that Serena was nowhere near them before he resumed conversation. "So, your sister was married?" he asked casually. Lu and Gallade led the way down the halls to the main baths, where hopefully they would be able to relax.

    "Oh yeah," Max said. "Around…let's see… I think they split up about three years ago or so. May never lets anyone in on the specifics on why they broke up, but Sarah's their daughter." He sighed and shook his head. "Kinda messed her up a little, to be honest. Ever since then she's been a little bit more carefree with herself. One of the reasons the paparazzi keeps following her is because they're convinced that she'll slip up and do something crazy." He chuckled. "I keep an eye on her, so we've been doing fine so far."

    "That's good," said 0. "You're a good brother, Max." At least his family was being taken care of, 0 thought to himself. Max grinned and the two opened the doors to the public baths, along with the shouting and noise that came with such a public area. Lu and Gallade abandoned them immediately, as they noticed a group of Pokemon relaxing on the left side of the massive room. "Guess we find the women?"

    "Guess so," Max replied and rubbed away some of the fog on his glasses. They glanced around the room, thanking whatever Legendary Pokemon that everyone had had the common sense to have worn undergarments provided by the establishment. People of all shapes and sized crowded around the pools to recline and enjoy the hospitality of the spa. 0 glanced around, unconsciously checking for any hostile targets in the room, and noticed a head filled with white hair sitting right next to a brunette with a small child.

    0 pointed to one of the pools in the further corner. "There they are," he muttered. Sarah was playing with Serena and May by the poolside, all three of them laughing. Max led the way and the two of them strode towards the others.

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    To Serena, the march towards the changing room was quite possibly one of the most difficult things she had ever attempted to do. The White Ranger was brave, cunning, and vastly more intelligent than her partner was, but a romantic rival was not something to be taken lightly. So, taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she perked up a smile and opened the door to the changing rooms. A multitude of other women came under her survey, but she ignored them with disinterest, and focused on looking for a certain head with brown locks. She spotted May about three seconds after searching, and puffed herself up like a Jigglypuff before approaching.

    "Hello!" she said and approached them in a whirlwind of speed. May looked up in surprise and smiled when she saw Serena. "What a coincidence, finding you here." Serena lowered herself to Sarah's height, who giggled when she saw Serena. "And hello, Sarah. How are you today?"

    "Hi, Ms. Brine!" Sarah said with a wave. Serena patted her on the head, before May hoisted her daughter up to the bench to help her with her swimsuit. "Is Mr. Toby here with you? And Lu?"

    "Yes. They're over in the men's changing rooms." Serena, for all her reservations about the mother, found herself quite fond of the little girl's bubbly personality.

    "Yay!" Sarah could hardly stop moving long enough for her mother to get her ready to go out and play in the pools. Finally, after much wriggling, May succeeded in taming her daughter into a one-piece suit. May herself was still clothed.

    "Serena, would you mind getting some towels while I keep an eye on Sarah," she asked, turning to the White Ranger. Serena nodded sweetly.

    "Of course," she answered, and found two snowy white towels perfect for the job. Hers was short while May's hid everything, and she handed it to May with yet another smile. "Here you go, May."

    The mother bowed her head. "Thank you," she replied. Serena took careful notes of May's body as the two women stripped and applied their bathing suits, to see exactly what her partner was so fascinated about. True, May had slightly larger breasts then the White Ranger did, and was taller, but Serena was by no means at a disadvantage. Serena was petite, with a well-toned body that was a direct result of her PKM training. Plus, Serena looked younger, quite possibly because she didn't have a five-year-old daughter who loved mischief, but May hadn't aged that much, and if anything the small, lithe lines that Serena could detect made May looked more mature. She put on the towel over her chest and carefully tied it while Serena draped hers over her like a hindrance.

    "Ready to go?" she asked May.

    "Of course. Come on Sarah," she murmured and looked to her daughter, who nodded happily and jumped off of the bench and through the changing room faster than a Pokemon with Agility. May, dragged along, bid Serena to follow them, which she did pleasantly, inwardly analyzing everything potentially wrong with 0's ex. They traveled down a slight corridor that had an ankle-deep pool of very cold water, apparently to get rid of bad germs and to wash feet before entering the public place.

    The main room could only be described as a pool extravaganza, as there were all kinds literally thrown together without any semblance of design that Serena could discern. There were pools of different varieties, such as different temperatures and sizes, oh and a couple for children and Pokemon, but all in all Serena quickly dismissed the beauty of the room she was standing in to concentrate on her rival for 0's attention. May, smiling as always, led her daughter and her unknown opponent towards a kiddie pool so that Sarah could get some fun out of the place. The little girl took one look at a slide standing next to the water and took off at speeds normally considered unsafe for wet surfaces like the room's floor. May watched her daughter carefully, every bit the mother that 0 had told Serena she was, and only turned away when Sarah's shriek of laughter died down when she splashed down in the water and began doggy-paddling her way to the shallow side of the pool.

    "How old is she?" Serena asked, deciding small talk would be most appropriate for her purposes.

    "She'll actually be six in a few months," May answered and took a seat near the edge of the pool where she could supervise her daughter. "She's growing up pretty fast."

    "Where's her father?" Serena asked, knowing the answer would be obvious but that it would also serve as an indication as to where May stood on 0.

    She shrugged. "Don't know," she replied. "He's been out of the picture for three years. All I get is an alimony check every month for Sarah, which I don't really need so I…" She stopped herself and shook her head. "Sorry, I tend to rant a little bit about my ex. I don't like discussing him."

    She nodded. "I know how you feel," Serena agreed. "Too many bad boyfriends."

    May laughed. "Exactly that feeling. So," she whispered, with a slightly intrigued look in her eyes, "what's up with you and Mr. Toby?"

    "W-what do you mean?" Serena stammered, obviously thrown off by the fact that the romantic spotlight had shifted to her.

    "Well," May answered, and a slight giggle escaped her throat, "I think he's pretty good looking. I mean…if he weren't taken by you, I'd-" She paused, possibly because continuation would have been embarrassing, as her faced reddened with a cause having little to do with the water's heat.

    "Well, Keean and I have a very old fashioned relationship," Serena told her, lying through her perfect teeth. "See, the giant lug is very shy, and seems to have a habit of sometimes being unaffectionate when I demand him to be." She shook her head and sighed with a minor irritation at her partner's thick-headedness. "I simply don't know how to get him to take the next step in our relationship."

    "You mean-" And at this May's voice dropped so low that Serena had to strain to hear it "-that step?"

    Serena nodded and May blushed further. "We've been together for almost two years, and he never touches me. Maybe he's gay."

    May chuckled at the notion. "I highly doubt that," she answered with encouragement. "You two seem very well connected. I'd say just letting him know you're ready and seeing where that goes." Upon this, Serena found herself gossiping with 0's ex-wife on schemes to make a better boyfriend out of her partner, which she found had a paradoxical charm despite her annoyance at being reduced to tips from the ex.

    Nevertheless, this bode well for Serena and her plans, which had been pre-arranged with the gentlemen manning the private hot springs when she had called earlier to confirm her reservation. Attached to her bracelet was the key to a private Jacuzzi which she had full intention of sharing with a certain Golden Ranger the instant that he emerged from the changing rooms. What was taking him so long Serena couldn't guess, but since May and Sarah were at the Petal, a safe assumption could be made that the gym leader had followed.

    As if to confirm her suspicion, her hunk of man-meat entered the pool room from the male changing rooms with May's gym leader brother in tow, following Lu and the Gallade who both seemed rather eager to play or have another fight, Pokemon relationships often boiling down to one or the other. The Pokemon, after being dismissed by their trainers, proceeded to the nearest pool designated for Pokemon and performed near-perfect cannonballs to announce their presence to the rest of the Pokemon present.

    "Had fun changing each other?" Serena purred at 0, as he sat down next to her.

    He shot her a dirty look, to which she responded by winking flirtatiously. "Max, got any idea where there's somewhere I can get my drink on?" He hadn't had a drink for several hours, and a cool beer seemed perfect for a relaxing day such as this.

    "I'm pretty sure that this floor is dry, dear," Serena explained to him. Normally it was considered bad karma to drink near bodies of water, which 0 did not understand. 0 also seemed to misunderstand the wit she had displayed in her explanation, as he was quite sure that the floor was wet from overflowing water. "No beer until later today," she exemplified. "When we're in our room."

    At this, 0 officially abandoned all interest in alcohol and took to simply resting in his chair. Sarah did not seem to notice her adult guardians receiving their deeply needed rest, as she was far too busy paddling through the water, squealing with delight at how it felt like floating. After about twenty minutes of this, most of which Serena spent eyeing a clock in the corner, a handsome young attendant approached her chair wearing a lifeguard jacket that designated him as someone of authority.

    "Ms. Brine," said he, and tossed the blond curls of his hair in what must have been a come on.

    She lifted her head from the pillow she had been resting on. "Yes?" she replied curtly, wondering what had taken him so long.

    "Your private spring has been fully prepared to what you have requested," he said professionally, as he quickly realized flirting with her would get him nowhere.

    "The reinforced door?"

    "Soundproof and perfectly suited to more…" He looked slightly uncomfortable at having to be so graphic, "intimate encounters, should you wish to have them. The private bath will be reserved to you throughout your vacation time here."

    "I appreciate it," she said. He then left and she glared at him until he vanished from sight for wasting twenty minutes of her time. "Keean." 0 looked up inquisitively and she shook her bracelet's key. "We're going for our spa treatments now."

    "I'm kinda settled right now," he said and resumed the reclined position he had so been enjoying in his chair. He was then reminded that his decision of said matter did not bear any standing on the turn of events that would follow, as Serena grabbed him by the ponytail and dragged him in the most undignified manner possible in the direction of the private baths, which in turn caused both May and Max to point and laugh at his predicament.

    "I can walk on my own," complained 0, after about twenty feet of being dragged across the tiled floor, and Serena paused long enough to let the idiotic behemoth rise to his full height, his boyish retardation replaced in Serena's eyes with a vision of physical perfection and object of lust, as many of 0's physique tend to become. He followed her obediently, obviously expecting a well-deserved relaxing bath by himself, sans Serena. She led him down the hallway, playing absentmindedly with the towel she wore for no explicable purpose other than to have something to twirl in her fingers as they reached her reserved bath.

    "In here," she purred, and opened the door for him, releasing a faint cloud of steam from the warmth of the pool inside. "I hope you enjoy."

    He nodded. "Thanks, I could really use some R&R." Serena didn't even feel a twinge of guilt that no such rest and relaxation would occur, so simply smiled as he walked in without a glance backwards. Taking her key from her bracelet, Serena made absolutely certain that the "Do Not Disturb" sign was steadily tied to the knob of the door before she snuck in behind him and locked him in with her.

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    "Uncle Max's hair is not a plaything!"

    But, of course, the logic of this escaped his niece, which resulted in Max reliving Sarah's favorite pastime: harassing him. Wondering how long he would be able to take Sarah's hair pulling before he finally went bald, the gym leader launched back with a tickling attack, driving back his niece with a fit of giggles. May laughed at this as she relaxed in the nearby heated pool, while Max fumed. He thought he could hear Gallade's chuckle from afar, but decided he must be hearing things again.

    "Hey," he said, in an endeavor to keep Sarah away from his head, "how'd you like if I went and got some soda pop for you, Sarah?"

    "Soda!" Sarah agreed eagerly, and nodded vigorously. May gave a warning glance that conveyed to Max the dangers of a Sarah under the effects of caffeine, and Max reconsidered his choice of beverage for Sarah. A soda might distract her for a good five minutes, but would hype her up for hours in return. With all this in mind, the gym leader proceeded towards the vender with the intent of locating a fruit drink or something that would be both enjoyed by Sarah and prevent her from swimming for a little while so he could enjoy the water with the threat of her Sharpedo attacks.

    "Let's see…" For a spa, Petal had surprisingly little from what Max could see in regards to food services. After a few moments of looking around, he spotted a snack bar right next to a few kid slides on the other side of the giant room. "Ah, there's one!" he said triumphantly and turned to Sarah. "You stick around with your Mom, okay? I'll be right back." The little girl smiled as he patted her head and then jumped into the pool to play with her mother.

    Max had actually been enjoying himself, despite his current status as Sarah's human plaything. Lately, with all that had been happening with him and his family, he was sort of in desperate need for a vacation. So, when he and May had been offered a vacation as part of a publicity stunt by the spa, he had only been too eager to agree.

    He approached the vender and smiled to the young lady working the stand. "You got any orange juice?" he asked politely.

    "Yes, sir!" she replied, a bit too energetically, which told Max she obviously hadn't been working at Petal long. Behind the counter, he watched her pour it into a plastic cup, secure the lid, and stick a straw in. She handed it to him and smiled. "What is your name, sir?"

    "What do you mean?"

    "Why, I need your name to process the billing information to your stay," she explained. "It's easier then asking people in bathing suits for cash."

    "Oh. Max Birch." She smiled and took down the information, then gasped and looked back up in surprise at the gym leader. He grinned and shushed her, taking the drink and heading back the way he came. Her eyes followed him.

    "Is that orange juice?" Max stopped, wondering who had spoken to him. Sitting a few feet away was a woman lying down on a reclining chair, her eyes closed. Most of her face was hidden by a violet mane of curly hair, possibly dyed.

    "Uh, yeah," he said. "How'd you know that?"

    She smirked, and Max noticed a subtle shade of red lipstick. "Good sense of smell," she replied and pointed a manicured finger to her dainty nose. Max chuckled. "What might your name be, mister orange juice?" She didn't look at him, but Max found no harm in taking a few minutes to talk to someone.

    "I'm Max," said he and extended his arm. She took it. "Pleased to meet ya."

    "Verity, and the feeling is quite mutual," she murmured and released his hand. Max noticed hers was very soft. "So, what are you doing here, Max?" She held his hand slightly longer than would have been appropriate for a handshake.

    "Uh, nothing much," he replied. Suddenly the pressing needs of Sarah's thirst took a backseat. "Hanging out with my sister and her daughter."

    "Oh…" said Verity with a slight giggle. "A family man."

    They laughed, which was strange for Max, who usually had to boast of his gym leader status to get a girl's attention. But he wasn't about to deny this interesting girl's advances, and continued with the flirtatious mode Verity seemed to exhume so naturally. "Haven't settled down quite yet," he said, almost as an afterthought to himself, with the just the right tone of voice.

    "Really?" she inquired, taking his bait. "And why do you think that might be?"

    He shrugged. "Women all seem the same wherever I meet them. I like looking for someone special before I do anything."

    She tilted her head to him, yet for some reason didn't quite open her eyes, possibly because of the tanning bulb in place above her chair. "Now that is interesting," she murmured. "How special would you rate me?"

    "I'd have to know you a bit better, Verity," he answered, with a hint of interest.

    "Here." Max didn't know from where, but would probably be spending the next couple of hours wondering, Verity produced a napkin and an accompanying pen to write down her information in large loopy letters that did not at all do justice to her calm, yet intriguing demeanor, and handed it to the gym leader. "Give me a call sometime. I would love to share some dinner."

    Max agreed with this idea, but unfortunately reality returned with a mental reminder of how much Sarah enjoyed pulling on his hair, and how much he disliked such dermatological excavations. Certain he still had the orange juice in hand, he proceeded to where he had left his sister and his niece. Sarah was resting comfortably in her mother's arms, almost peacefully. Max, knowing better than to disturb the relaxing girl, signaled to May that he had returned by tapping her on the shoulder and depositing the drink in her hands.

    "Thanks," she whispered and rocked her daughter. For a moment, thought Max as he took the seat next to them, Sarah looked almost cute.

    Then he turned his attention to the napkin, which was made of suspiciously frail-looking paper that needed to be safeguarded until it could be used. "I think I'll just go to the locker," he told May, and stood up quietly so Sarah's "Attack-Uncle-Max-During-A-Crucial-Moment" alarm didn't buzz off and headed back to the lockers to protect his new treasure.

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    0 very quickly realized exactly something was wrong with where he was. The door shut behind him and he heard it lock. "3," he muttered through the rather steamy room. "What's going on?" The room itself was a private bath, probably one of the perks that came with the reservation Serena had made. The lights were dim, which made it difficult for 0 to notice much of anything through the misty air. Some sort of music was playing in the background, it had an odd beat that 0 didn't like, as he preferred calm, soothing music, or rock. This was that new fad, the R&B, he had heard about while doing research in Kanto a few missions ago, before Saffron.

    From somewhere in the darkness, 0 couldn't see where, Serena purred, "We're gonna have some fun." His ears caught the sound of someone suggestively removing clothing, and felt the onset of panic beginning in his accelerated heart rate. He felt some of the warm air flutter past him, and turned in a hurry to block whatever was coming from that direction. Surprisingly, nothing did, but his robe's front was now open. The steam was getting worse, it was impossible to see anything with the dim lights. 0 took a deep breath, forcing his body to calm itself. "0...I see you." Serena whispered again and her voice echoed through the tiny room. "Why don't you sit down in the hot spring? I'll be there shortly…"

    "3, I really don't feel…" His body shuddered. "I don't feel comfortable with this…" But his body disagreed, and all the pent-up requirements that he had been ignoring with the serum he took roared against the wall of defenses he had built up against his body's urges. Against his will, he sank his feet into the warm water of the private bath. "3, you will stop this. Now." No answer escaped the mist. He heard something dip into the water, and started to get lightheaded. He hated the warmth of the private bath. The steam was starting to go to his head.

    "Quiet down now," Serena cooed. This time, 0 could definitely tell her voice was coming from somewhere in the water, like a seductive game of Marco Polo. "Miss Serry will make all your tension go away. You deserve a nice, relaxing break, don't you?" 0's head was really swimming now, he had very little sense of position. He was aware that he was in the bath, and motion was most definitely approaching him, but not much else beyond that. Serena's voice was different too, like she was drunk. But she hadn't had a single drink at all, thought 0.

    This thought process wound to a screeching halt the moment he felt her hand on his arm. He tilted his head with gritted teeth and saw Serena's face emerge from the cover of the steam clouds. Something was wrong, his brain told him. Something was terribly wrong with this situation, besides the obvious factor that he was taking in what looked suspiciously like a naked Serena. Strangely, this did not bother 0 as much as it probably would have normally. Serena was attractive, stunning, and her body glistened in the water. An odd scent, like perfume, accompanied her.

    Serena's muscles were apparent, but lithe, like that of a gymnast. Of course, 0 knew this from her fighting style, which was much more graceful then his was, relying on artistic moves instead of brute force to subdue opponents. She lifted her hand and, with a tenderness that 0 was not expecting, took his palm and brought it to her chin. He caressed the soft skin with his coarse hand, and she returned the favor. Her free hand touched the scars that adorned 0's flesh. He allowed a slight moan to escape his lips at her touch, which was like that of an angel, and did not stop her. Everything outside the two of them had become inconsequential, uninteresting, dull.

    For an instant, 0 even forgot the names of his former wife and daughter.

    "…3," 0 murmured, as the perfume air grew more and more prominent.

    "Shush." She kissed him. He reciprocated immediately, and moved his hand away from her face to grasp at her hair, drawing her closer to him, her bare skin brushing against his. She clawed at his back like a Meowth as she darted her tongue expertly into his mouth. He grasped at her back, sensing an intensification of the music, and Serena giggled in his mouth, vibrating through his teeth.

    The music was beginning to play an important role in their business, as it seemed to be getting louder, and Serena began moving to its beat. "0," she panted, red in the face as she broke the kiss, "you have…no idea…how long I've been waiting for this." She kissed his neck, his shoulders, his chest. "I need you."

    0 was quite uncertain exactly what she was saying, he was too caught up in the heat of the moment to pay much attention. The scent of the air filled his nostrils with the natural perfume, the music in his ears, it was all too intoxicating. "How much?" he growled and grasped at the strands of her hair suggestively, with a silly smirk on his face.

    "From the first day we met," she murmured, "I've wanted nothing more than to have you, to love you, to be with you. Even before May left you."

    "Who's May?" 0 asked dimly.

    She smirked. "That's the right way of thinking, baby," she murmured to him. She lowered her hands to his waist. "Want to keep going?" 0 glanced up at her. Denying her seemed like such an impossibility.

    "Oh…yes," he replied. "Yes…" His heart rate was accelerating, and he briefly thought of how incredibly dull the vacation to the spa might have been had he not followed Serena into the room.

    "0," she whispered, and dropped an octave, as if suspicious they might be overheard by a voyeur. "Do you want to be with me?" He distinctly noticed her voice was getting deeper, huskier.

    Common sense took a swan dive out 0's brain, as he leaned forward and kissed his partner deeply. Serena, overwhelmed by passion, forced him back against the wall of the private bath.

    "That's more like it," she purred. "Let's make like Pokemon in the springtime, Agent 0." 0 pulled her into the water, and she followed.

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    "0," she gasped, just audible enough for him to hear, "I love you!"

    Pheromones.

    0's brain was incredibly slow to respond. Possibly because the majority of his blood was busy elsewhere, but also because he felt rather stupid for not realizing in the first place. Either way, this declaration of love brought his brain railing back to the ground. He sniffed the air again, this time not searching for the scent of Serena's sweat, but rather the odor of the perfume that had been causing their increasing lapsing judgment. He caught it, just barely, in the air, scenting the haze around them.

    "0..." Serena mumbled. She was spent, and collapsed next to him. "That was…amazing. The best…I've ever had." She hadn't even noticed that his thoughts were returning to his head and her eyes fluttered closed.

    "What are we doing here?" he asked aloud and glanced around. The past hour or so, he couldn't remember anything. What was going on? "Why am I-" He glanced down and noticed for the first time that he was stark naked. What was the reasoning behind this? Then, he noticed that Serena was lying nearby, roughly about as naked if not as completely naked as he was.

    Being very careful not to wake the sleeping beast, knowing that the slightest nudge in the wrong direction would prove fatal, 0 grabbed his trunks and contemplated what he assumed he had probably just done. They had had sex. Probably very well, if Serena's reaction to it was any indicator. This was problematic for several reasons. The first being that he had done absolutely nothing to stop it, the second being that their behavior was likely because of the pheromones that were being pumped into the room, and the third was the room's floor had started to rumble, something 0 was certain didn't have anything to do with him and Serena.

    Sappho. With a growl, 0 dressed himself quickly, fairly certain of who had been responsible for this. Serena would never stoop to messing with his brain, no matter how much she wanted him, and she certainly wouldn't subject herself to the mind-altering chemicals of the pheromones for cheap sex. But the Dark Sapphire Ranger, who was clearly more intelligent than he had let on in the last fight, would, and might have thought it funny. The rumbling continued and 0 realized with a sudden mental slap to the face exactly what had happened.

    "Pi," the Golden Ranger said and lifted his morpher to his face. He hadn't brought the com-link, it would have looked too weird in a spa. "This is 0. Respond."

    The device crackled and the mouse finally emerged. "0, is that you?" it asked. "My transmission has been blocked for so long! You need to get out of Petal immediately! You're in incredible danger!"

    "I know," said 0 and glanced to Serena. "We got drugged and…disposed of. What's the situation outside the room?"

    "It's Sappho," answered the Pikachu. "He's taking hostages and killing them one by one. He's looking for the Dark Emerald. Why is he looking for it here?"

    A horrifying image emerged in 0's head. "Max has the Dark Emerald, Pi," 0 explained. "It's not active yet, but he's probably being scouted by Sappho for their organization. We need to get to Max before anything happens." What would happen exactly if the Dark Emerald was activated 0 hadn't the slightest clue, only that it could not possibly be a good thing.

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    The blasts rocked the foundations of the building. It was like the Saffron Contest, or the museum, all over again, only this time Max was fairly certain there was a slimmer chance of escape. Above him, the ceiling was starting to crumble due to the collapsing support beams. Pieces of rubble were falling from higher floors, crashing into the pools below in gigantic splashes. Max could see people falling under the sections of ceiling.

    "Gallade, to me!" he shouted, running from the lockers and into the main room. At his command, the green and white Pokemon leapt up and, in one brilliant motion, emerged in front of him, waving its sword-like hands in defense of its trainer. Max used what little experience he had gained from his fight with Keean Toby to analyze the situation: the structures were collapsing from overbearing walls and the shattered foundation. "We need to get everyone out of here, it's probably the blue thing again."

    "Lade, Gallade," answered his Pokemon. It then grunted and pointed one of its odd arms towards an emergency exit located on the south wall. Max nodded and turned to everyone still inside.

    "Everyone!" he ordered over the screams. "Get out of here! There's a door right there!" Absolutely no one that could hear him argued, and in a rush of panic stampeded in the direction of the exit. All save one. Max looked towards this individual, who seemed rather giddy as he exited the pool on the far right, his face agleam with apparent madness. His hair, black as night, was damp from the water, but his eyes glittered with azure evil.

    "Hey, hey, hey, Max," he cackled. His voice showed no apparent concern for his falling surroundings. "Why are you telling everyone to leave?" His body was lithe, completely different from what Max knew he could transform into, as upon his neck dangled a chain similar to Max's, only it was glowing and Max's wasn't. "That's not part of the plan, man. You've gotta work with me if you want to stay alive." He tilted his head to his side. "What do you say?"

    "I think I'll take my chances," he retorted, and the gym leader was joined by a second Pokemon, Keean Toby's Riolu, which jumped up behind Gallade with a fierce desire to battle in its dog-like eyes. "Gallade, Psycho Cutter! Riolu, Force Palm!" Riolu sprang up howling and attacked. Gallade, unwilling to stand behind while a Baby Pokemon attacked head-on, charged its bladed arms with the Psychic energy, then rushed forward behind Riolu, who smashed directly into Sappho with a forward lunge, downing the evil ranger with a single blow. Reminding himself to ask Keean Toby exactly what kind of training the man was putting his young Pokemon through, Max glanced as Gallade followed up with its own attack, forcing a gurgling moan out of the enemy. Both Pokemon retreated, knowing better then to stand too close to their opponents, and regrouped around Max.

    "How you like them apples?" asked Max confidently. The Golden and White Rangers had to be on their way soon, all he needed to do was keep Sappho from transforming and killing him. Piece of cake.

    Sappho coughed and jumped back to his feet, as if nothing had happened. His Dark Sapphire was gleaming, and ignited in a fury of blue light. Sappho's aura empowered him, and he walked towards one of the few remaining columns still standing. "Let's see if your Dark Emerald can match my Dark Sapphire, boy!" he cackled and tore the piece of architecture right out of the wall. With a sweep, Sappho tossed the column like a spear directly at Max, howling with laughter.

    Max, because his attentions were elsewhere, did not notice the Dark Emerald burst into flame on his chest, but was aware of the fact that his heart felt like it was on fire. With a roar, Max acted on impulse and punched the column. His body flashed green for a single instant, as the Dark Gem worked to keep its bonder alive, and the stone column broke, scattering pieces of rock and mortar behind the gym leader. As a direct result of this, Max did not notice Sappho's movements, far too stunned with his display of strength. It was only after the last of the debris crumbled did the gym leader notice what was fighting with Sappho.

    Gallade, fighting to protect Keean Toby's Riolu from injury, had been caught by Sappho. Its neck was between Sappho's almost carefree grasp, and its face was turning purple. Max ran forward, all sense of personal safety abandoned. "Get your hands off Gallade!" he roared and attacked. Unfortunately, Sappho seemed to think there was something wrong with Max, and the evil ranger smashed Max across the face with his own Pokemon's body. Gallade grunted as its legs met its trainer, and Max went down, with a loud crack issuing where his skull met the polished tile on the floor.

    "Say bye-bye, Max," whispered Sappho, and tightened his grip on the Pokemon. Gallade's face was turning an even deeper shade of purple and it had stopped fighting Sappho. "You see, Max, we decided that if you weren't going to pick a soul, we would chose one for you! And for you to have a soul, we need a dead Pokemon, don't we?" He jerked his fingers and Max shrieked.

    "Lade…"

    Snap.

    Gallade's neck broke suddenly, and Sappho kept pulling until the bladed Pokemon's head came clean off its body. Max watched as its body crumpled to the ground, where it lay unmoving, a pool of dark blood coming from its severed neck. Gallade's head, still clutched by Sappho, was transfixed by Gallade's final expressions of suffering etched on its face. Max felt sick, destroyed, and his eyes burned with tears. Something very minute, something very tiny, simply snapped in Max' head.

    "How's this feel, Max?" Sappho taunted, dangling the head in front of him, the blood pouring all over the tile and Sappho's own flesh. "But maybe you need to see the death for yourself, right?" The sickening act, the deplorable deed, would have horrified even someone who hadn't known Gallade, been friends with it, trained side by side with it.

    "Shut up right now!" Max screamed, his breath ragged and his voice hoarse with unleashed rage. "I will kill you. I will destroy you. I will batter your corpse onto the ground like a rag doll!" He glared at Sappho, his eyes watery. "We will end you!" Dangling on his neck, the Dark Emerald began to pulsate, only this time it didn't match his heartbeat, but continued to increase its speed, until it became nothing but a brilliant flashing green light.

    Max's eyes changed hue from their natural color to a fierce jade, and around him a powerful aura emerged, shrouding him in a burning green. It warmed his flesh, and he felt comforted by its touch. "We will kill you," he muttered, not knowing who the other person was he was referencing. "We will kill you, you sick freak. We will kill you and bash your head against the wall with our bare hands!" Max was no longer thinking, someone else was doing that for him. His aura transformed from a loose, open cloud into something more defined, something that almost looked like a translucent green version of Gallade. Max lowered his head, and grabbed the chain with the glaring Dark Emerald. It disconnected easily, and he lowered the chain to his side in his right hand. "Now we're angry." His voice echoed with power, almost as if two people were speaking.

    Sappho smiled, and chortled with glee. "That's it," he hissed, and his azure eyes glittered with delight as he took in the strength of the fully powered Dark Emerald. Sappho grabbed his chain, mimicking what Max had just done, and wrapped the Dark Sapphire's chain all over his chest. It rounded diagonally off of his right shoulder and criss-crossed all over his chest until finally the last strand of the chain carrying the Dark Sapphire was lodged in the center. "Let's see if your Dark Emerald can match my Dark Sapphire, Max!" He used his free left hand to press the Dark Sapphire into his flesh.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    Someone threw Max's hands up for him to shield him from the azure light that burst from Sappho. The Dark Sapphire Ranger's chain exploded and became a design of rough black cloth on the ranger's chest. The Dark Sapphire, enlarged into a giant blue gem, shined brilliantly against the armor, connected to the outsides of the chest by the chain design. In Sappho's hand was the scimitar, poised for battle. "Show me, Dark Emerald Ranger, what you can become!" He howled with laughter, his voice echoing along the corridors of the shattering building. "Fight me!"

    The gym leader wasn't really aware of his surroundings, and as such didn't even budge when a piece of mortar fell right next to him. His head was pounding, and there was someone inside it shrieking for revenge, for the chance to end Sappho's existence once and for all. It wanted to tear the Dark Sapphire Ranger into shreds. The chain in his hands enlarged and toughened into hardened metal and, with a flick of Max's wrist, the giant chain wound up his right arm in a spiraling motion, crossed over his back, and wound right down his other arm, ending in his left hand.

    The voice in his head pushed him forward and he did as the voice commanded. With a shriek of rage, Max pressed the Dark Emerald into his chained right forearm, and his body exploded with a burst of green fire, transforming, adapting, mutating into a new form. And though this, he could hear his own voice echo through the walls, though he couldn't remember anymore if he was the one to cry the words out.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    Author's Note: Whee! Work's crazy at the moment, but I'm getting some pretty good material down right now. Also putting some plans into motion for my third, final fan-fiction. That's going to be really interesting, but it's a story for another time.

  4. #19
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Jan 2013
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    Default Chapter 13

    Morph Thirteen: Meet the New Ranger

    His body was of emerald fire.

    No one was in the room, aside from the sapphire creature before him and the few onlookers who dared remain in the crumbling building. But his attentions were diverted elsewhere, focusing on the Dark Sapphire Ranger through the visor that now lay upon his head, shielding his face and covering the explicit expression of murderous intent that sat on his lips and in his eyes. Across the room, standing over the corpse of a Pokemon, stood Sappho, rather pleased with himself. Oh, the man of emerald fire could smell his foe's smugness, it was as clear as day. He clenched his fists and noticed that his arms felt constricted. He took a step forward, now aware that he…no…that they were clothed in something, and looked down into the water to see his reflection.

    Their armor resembled a Pokemon's…their head was like a gladiator's helmet. Circular, smooth, until he looked at the top, where some sort of adornment that looked like a Gallade's face, parting their own face with a triangular shape that's nose tilted down to where their nose appeared to be. Everything else of the face was pitch-black, but that triangular shape…and the extension that rose from his forehead and continued to the back of his head, was completely green.

    Their eyes took in the rest of his body, pure emerald from the waist up, save for the chains that were constricting their arms, which were black. The whole design of his clothes bore so many similarities to a Gallade…they thought, as they noticed that there was no belt, and the green ended abruptly around his waist to become black all the way to his boots. In the center of his chest was a giant emerald, gleaming with power.

    What…are we?

    There was nothing to describe this…creature they had become, no words came to mind. Of course, they was too busy listening to the voice in the back of their head, nagging that they had to take revenge, that they had to fight. Something needed to be done, but the creature wasn't quite sure what. Then they noticed that someone across the room was laughing, and considered what the voice in the back of their head said. Perhaps it would be a good idea for some quiet time. After all, they wasn't quite sure what was going on, and some good old fashioned silence always seemed to do wonders for cleverly-hidden memories.

    The figure clad in blue seemed to disagree, as he continued to cackle like he had made the greatest joke in the world. The creature lowered itself into a crouching position, as it had been trained to. Memories of the beginning of combat, hearing its name as it was released… No. He brushed thoughts of being caged from his mind, and listened calmly to what the voice told him to do. They had to rush the opponent, who was armed with a sword, and hopefully catch him off guard. Yes, that would be a good start. But then he noticed the chains circling his arms, clinking with every move he made. What possible use did they have?

    He didn't have time to think too much about it though, as he rushed forward, every bit the feral creature that the voice told him he was. They came up quickly on the blue man, who seemed rather startled at the attack, and threw down the curved sword in an endeavor to stop him. How foolish, thought the voice, and the creature's arm raised to counter the attack. The chains, wound so tightly around his body, stopped the sharp blade right in its tracks, preventing it from digging into the new fabric of the suit. Unable to support both himself and the creature, the blue man fell into the water, the jade monster attacking in earnest with all of its might.

    He didn't notice, possibly because the voice failed to mention it to him, that his attacks were doing nothing to damage the blue man, perhaps because of the tough hide on his foe, and the fact that the creature attacked with nothing but his fists. But the pounding continued, with the blue man underwater, still somehow gurgling the laughter that the green monster was so wishing to silence.

    But it didn't. He hauled the blue man up to the surface with their hands and murmured, "Laaaade." He was unsure exactly why he would say such a thing, but it seemed to express the fury and hatred that the voice was causing him to feel. The man looked through his blue helmet and laughed again, infuriating the emerald man even more.

    "Gone primal, have we?" asked the man, whom the voice told the creature was the Dark Sapphire Ranger, who tilted his head with his inquiry. "Well, that happens sometimes, but not to us big boys." The Dark Emerald Ranger grunted and the jade-clothed man felt something viciously punch his abdomen, propelling him off the azure warrior. Damaged, but nowhere near finished, the emerald man landed hunched over on the ground nearest to the pool. "Very good, Dark Emerald Ranger." The beast pondered with the voice in its head whether that was its name and decided that it could do worse as the Dark Sapphire Ranger, or Sappho, as its voice kept telling it, rose from the water, his armor drenched in water.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger growled, which sounded like two animals baring their teeth at once, and launched a second attack. The chains on his arms apparently did more than defend the Dark Emerald Ranger, for he blocked the curved blade with one of their arms and used the other to smash into the kneecap of Sappho's right leg. This had no effect other than to bruise the jade ranger's arm, but it didn't seem to hurt him as he continued his berserker-like rampage. With neither ranger capable of taking the upper hand, the battle raged fiercely for about two minutes, completely uninterrupted before someone attempted to intervene. This did little to assuage the savage behavior of the Dark Emerald Ranger.

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    The emerald beast snarled at the figure across the pool, clad in gold like some gaudy paladin. They would deal with this newcomer immediately after Sappho was put down and strategically ripped to shreds to prevent him from disturbing the Dark Emerald Ranger ever again. After some slight consideration, the monster and his voice decided the tongue would be the first thing to go, ripped right out from inside the helmet.

    But the golden figure across the water seemed to have a different opinion of the situation than the Dark Emerald Ranger did, and within moments had run along the wet floors to a proximity near both Dark Gem Rangers that the jade man wasn't quite comfortable with and Sappho seemed delighted about, causing further fury from the voice in the man's head. They should kill both of these nitwits. His hands curled themselves into fists and snarled at this golden paladin. In response, a gigantic sword appeared in his hands, made of gold and darkness, which he clutched easily in his right hand. The paladin looked down on the two Dark Gem Rangers and cracked his knuckles.

    "Max Birch," said the mechanical voice that belonged to the paladin. "Stand down and return to human form." It took the beast several seconds to figure out the paladin was talking to it and then the paladin turned to Sappho. "I am going to destroy you, Sappho." The meanings of these words were lost to what was apparently Max Birch.

    Sappho cackled and shouldered his blade. "Like my little present, Golden Boy?" he asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "I thought that you could use a little relaxing time with your…assistant." He then began to giggle, an annoying sound that made the jaded man irritated. "Did you like it? Did you like the feel of her? Did you like it?"

    "Go!"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger wasn't quite sure how the paladin did it, but somehow the golden man managed to move faster than lightning and dealt Sappho a blow that sent him spiraling into the nearest wall. As he apparently wasn't quite finished, he burst forth again after the depraved Dark Sapphire Ranger, eager to deal the death blow. But this was something the beast wanted to do, its voice whispered to it so discretely, and the paladin would not be the one to deprive it of its right to utterly savage the corpse of the Dark Sapphire Ranger. Hunched over, the Dark Emerald Ranger ran forward and jumped, grabbing onto the paladin and forcing him away from its prey.

    "Get off me, Max!" ordered the paladin, who seemed to think his new opponent understood what he was saying. The Dark Emerald Ranger's chained arms refused to relinquish their prize, forcing the paladin to batter Max against the nearest wall until his grip loosened, upon which he used his free arm to hurl the beast away from him, where it landed gracefully and roared like a wild Pokemon at him.

    The creature was not enjoying this, oh no. Why couldn't the paladin simply let it deal with the azure freak on its own? Was it that hard to understand? Sure, Max couldn't quite understand it, and he didn't really understand why he was being called Max by the paladin either. The voice in his head soothed him, telling him that all he needed to do was destroy both of the adversaries, the paladin first and then his real prey, the Dark Sapphire Ranger, who had gotten up and was now standing around gibbering meaninglessly at the paladin. The paladin, confused, didn't know which of the Dark Gem Rangers would attack him, knowing only that he needed to be prepared from both sides.

    It was Max who lunged first, fairly certain that he could pummel the paladin quickly. But Golden Boy was quick and blocked Max's attempt at taking off his head with the giant sword. The Dark Emerald Ranger stepped onto the outstretched sword, annoyed that this was taking so long, before leaping off it like a springboard and smashing Golden Boy in the face with a brutal kick. But the paladin's armor held and the attack did very little damage. Golden Boy swung his sword in a frenzy, hoping to keep Max from attacking again, but that failed. The paladin was too stiff, to strategic to be able to stop the giddy instincts of the voice in Max's head, who told him what to do. Together, the voice and the body dodged each sword swing, blocking with the chained arms or just simply getting out of the way. It was so easy….thought the beast, as it lunged again, knocking Golden Boy on his back. The beast lunged, eager to savage the man's face.

    But, strangely, this was the part where things became very confusing for the Dark Emerald Ranger. The paladin, who rolled out of the way just in time to keep himself in one piece, seemed more of the enemy than anyone else. Even the Dark Sapphire Ranger seemed a better alternative, whispered the voice, but a nagging doubt kept the beast from believing it. The voice and the beast, after some discussion, reached the conclusion that they would fight the paladin before the Dark Sapphire Ranger and, depending on what happened in that fight, they would go from there.

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger seemed to get the same idea, because he slashed at the air that the Golden Boy was currently occupying, forcing the paladin to concentrate on the azure freak. The beast, therefore, was perfectly free to smash into Golden Boy's gut with his chained fists, over and over again. Golden Boy grunted, but his tough armor seemed to be exactly what was needed to deal with the beast's methods of attack. But Sappho wasn't one to let the beast have all the fun, and applied further pressure onto Golden Boy's sword and kicked the paladin viciously in the back. Golden Boy went down, but vanished with a crack of loud noise before he hit the floor, emerging from thin air across the water, near some of the worst foundation damage. The ceiling was caving in above him, but maybe that was a ploy, thought the voice suspiciously, warning Max to beware the falling mortar and pieces of ceiling.

    "Hey, Eme," said Sappho. The beast somehow understood the Dark Sapphire Ranger, and tilted its head to see him. "Listen, this boyo ain't got nothing on you and me, okay? Let's bash his skull into his stupid little costume." The beast growled its approval and wondered what the paladin's flesh tasted like. But he would get to experience that later, despite the fact that the helmet bonded to his body might impede this desire.

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    This was not good.

    0, for all his skill and power, was clearly outclassed by the two Dark Gem Rangers. He could have handled Sappho, or at the very least kept him at bay long enough to stop anyone from getting hurt, but this new form that Max had assumed was frightening. The berserker rampage it seemed to eager to indulge in was making things difficult for the Golden Ranger, and Sappho's taunts were only making things worse. He kept the Bolt Blade up, in case the berserker Dark Emerald Ranger attacked again.

    "0!" The Golden Ranger, utilizing his visor interface, didn't need to look to see Serena standing behind him, now wearing her White Ranger uniform. "0, what's going on?" she asked, clutching her war fan. "I…I can't remember…what was in that room?"

    0 let out a long, tired groan. "We'll deal with that after we finish this," he muttered.

    "Is it just me, or did these things multiply?" she wondered, in an attempt at witty dialog, as she stared at the Dark Emerald and Dark Sapphire Rangers. "Is that thing May's brother?" She pointed at the jade berserker and it growled at her. 0 nodded.

    "Something happened," he explained. "Max was bonded to the Dark Emerald, but it was dormant. Sappho must have triggered its activation or something."

    Sappho giggled, and bobbed his head to confirm 0's suspicions. "Very good, lover boy," he murmured. "This little pup here's got a lot of work to do when it comes to how we Dark Gems do business, but I reckon he'll be the perfect person to wring his own sister's neck. Don't you think so?"

    "3," 0 said to his partner, "handle big blue for me and I'll crack some sense into Max." Serena, he knew, would be better suited to fighting someone too slow to really hit her. Meanwhile, he could take the berserker she wouldn't be able to handle. Serena nodded and 0 turned his focus on the individual covered in wrought-iron chains. "Go!" The Synchronization Drive was getting easier to use, as the gauge in the visor interface seemed to be completely immune to the amount of times Agility was used. He burst forward, swinging the Bolt Blade like an oversized baseball bat and whacked the thing that had been Max right through a deteriorating wall into another section of the spa. Before Sappho could retaliate, 0 was already on Max's tail.

    "Pi, return the Bolt Blade and download the Lightning Laser," 0 ordered. The Dark Emerald Ranger was bouncing off the walls, drawing him farther and farther away from Sappho and Serena. He needed long-range weaponry.

    "Downloading," answered Pi, and within moments the shotgun replaced the giant sword. Not missing a beat, 0 lifted the gun and targeted the Dark Emerald Ranger. He shot off two rounds of lightning, missing Max by a hair both times. On all fours, the Dark Emerald Ranger leapt through the corridor, until he tore through a door seemingly at random, shattering the hinges with brute force rather than open the door like a sane individual. 0 crushed the rest of the door on his way through.

    But Max was nowhere to be seen.

    Cautiously, the Golden Ranger made his way through his new area: an outdoor bathing area, one of those segregated areas which allowed nude swimming. Outside, the sky had gotten rather cloudy, it had been so sunny earlier… "Pi, can you see him?" he asked the Pikachu, scanning the waters for any movement. The visor blinked a few times, checking for temperature inconsistencies with the heated water.

    "Behind you!" announced the Pikachu. 0 whirled around and saw the Dark Emerald Ranger dangling by a piece of chain that extended from his gauntlets from a pipe overhead. 0 let loose a single shot and Max took it square in the chest, using the momentum to flip through the air, kick against the door frame, and tackle the Golden Ranger with a lunging thrust. The charge worked and 0 was thrown into the scalding water, thankfully shielded by his Kevlar-enhanced uniform. That was not to say he didn't have difficulties, as his ranger uniform wasn't of any particular use underwater. After much struggling to disengage the beast from his person, 0 surfaced and blasted where he noticed movement. He missed and took down some of the wall that separated the open-air bath section from the other gender's area. Then, a thought came to him.

    He leapt out of the water, knowing from experience that his uniform would not insulate him from electrical attacks and shot blindly into the water, disregarding that where he was shooting was nowhere near Max was. This did not seem to change the electrical discharge that resulted, as the entire pond became a lighted field of pain for the Dark Emerald Ranger, who screeched in rage as his body twisted and corkscrewed with the bolts of lightning that coursed through him.

    "Pi, do you have communication with 3?" he asked. He could keep Max at bay long enough to contact his partner.

    After a few beeps, Pi answered. "Contact linked," it announced. "Transmitting broadcast signal."

    "3, what's your status?" 0 demanded, the instant the communication channel opened.

    "Get back here right now!" she ordered, it sounded like she was having all sorts of fun. "This thing seems to have a fetish with opening me up and I don't have Kevlar!"

    "On it," he replied calmly. "Regroup in two minutes."

    "Roger." The transmission ended.

    Max, undaunted by his recent foray into electric shock therapy, leapt from the water and lashed out with one of his chains, wrapping it along the Lightning Laser's barrel. With a jerk, the Dark Emerald Ranger tore it from its owner and twirled the barrel twice before blasting 0 with a fervor that caused the Golden Ranger alarm. One shot grazed his shoulder and he winced from the pain that distributed itself along his body thanks to the recent trip into the water.

    "Laaaaaade," growled the emerald monster. Without thinking, 0 downloaded the Bolt Blade again, unable to disengage the Lightning Laser from someone else's grasp. With the giant blade he charged forward, eager to reclaim his weapon. Whatever the Dark Emerald was, it had fully subjected Max to its control. Sure, the gym leader had been physically fit, but this thing was overkill! It blocked his strike with the barrel of the gun leaning on its shoulder, and with its free hand snaked its extendable chain to wrap around 0's right arm. With a twist, the Golden Ranger used it to throw his adversary off-balance and smashed it with the Bolt Blade's blunt surface. Then, keeping hold of the chain, dragged Max back.

    "Get a grip, idiot," 0 ordered and wrapped the chain around the Dark Emerald Ranger's neck. "I so don't have time for this." The creature gasped, clearly uncomfortable with being chocked, which meant it had at least one weakness. It trashed against the Golden Ranger, dropping the Lightning Laser which was immediately sent back to PKM and was forced onto its knees thanks to 0's grip.

    "Pi, analyze this thing," he said.

    "With what?" it retorted. "I can take his heartbeat, but that's it. You'll need Serena's scanners to get something from this thing."

    0 groaned. "Bakaguru's gonna need more than a heartbeat to analyze him." Max was beginning to slow down, to 0 relaxed his grip so not to choke him. "Record the fight with the visor's camera. Maybe that can help him." Pi's analysis display on the visor altered to show a timer on the top right. It was at that moment that Max figured out where 0's crotch was located and his fist smashed into it. For all its armor and protection, 0 felt searing pain and loosened his grip on the chain, which retracted right into Max's right gauntlet and was followed by a whip-slap that sent 0 reeling into the floor.

    Their positions were now reversed, for the Dark Emerald Ranger decided that he would attempt to take an eye for an eye and wrapped 0's body in a full-chain bind, ending with wrapping the metal around 0's neck and tightening. Thankful for whatever had possessed Bakaguru to program his uniform with reinforced fabric and Kevlar, 0 felt his ability to breathe constrict, but not cease.

    "Gaaaaallaaaade," growled the Dark Emerald Ranger, staring into the face of 0's visor. 0 noticed something different about the Dark Gem Ranger's visor…it was so primal, even though it was nothing but a metallic helmet. It looked so much like a Gallade in rage. What had triggered this?

    "Max…you've gotta snap out of this," he grunted. His ability to breathe was getting impeded and he couldn't wrangle out of the chains he had been tied with. "Please." Inside the visor, he felt pain in his neck as it started getting closed off, and a mass amount of beeping was going on, informing him that several systems inside the suit were in danger of shutting down.

    "0, we are having problems," Pi announced.

    "Aware," 0 groaned. "What are our options?"

    Pi seemed to hesitate, as if something was wrong with the option it was considering. "We have to utilize the Synchronization Drive again and use Volt Tackle."

    "Is the tank full?"

    "Our energy is at full power. Doing it now should shock him into a state of unconsciousness." But doing so would have the same problems with 0, or it would at the very least prevent him from being able to move. "0, it's the only way. I'm sorry."

    "Fire it up," he ordered. The gauge at the bottom of the screen had been charging all through the fight, and now beeped its activation, producing the two available options, Volt Tackle and Agility. "Synchronization Drive: Volt Tackle!"

    This time, the lightning ripped through his body, reopening the wound Sappho had given him in their last brawl. 0 shrieked in agony as the electricity dispersed through the chains connecting him to Max, and the Dark Emerald Ranger roared in pain when it came his turn to experience voltage powerful enough to fry a common man. Max became overloaded, his Dark Emerald in a constant state of flux trying to manage pain and heal injuries as quickly as they formed.

    With what little of his mind, the Golden Ranger gave one final push, and threw Max, their bodies coursing with electricity, into the nearest body of water. The shrieks earlier were nothing compared to what the Dark Emerald Ranger uttered when it touched water, resembling the echoes of a horrifying death. 0 lowered his visor and did the very best that he could to keep himself standing. "Pi," he gasped. "Damage report."

    "Synchronization Drive is currently unavailable," it announced. "Your wound is open again, and some of the suit's systems are being short-circuited by the blood flow."

    0 nodded and took a step forward. The Dark Emerald Ranger was sprawled under the water and didn't seem to be moving. However, 0's visor picked up the twitch on the left side of its body and shortly after the beast shuddered its way out of the water, and staggered back to its feet. But, instead of attacking again, something subtly different occurred. The chains that the Dark Emerald Ranger wore shattered, and the monster powered down into the form of Max Birch, Petalburg's Gym Leader and 0's ex-brother-in-law.

    "I…I…" Max tried to speak, but something was clearly impeding him. Finally, after several attempts, Max just gave up and passed out on the floor. 0 looked him over. The Dark Emerald was clasped on a powerful-looking tough chain, right in a socket that hung around the man's neck. 0 approached him and took hold of the Dark Emerald, thinking he could take it. Not so, for the Emerald's touch caused him untold agony for daring to remove it from its host. 0 gagged as his stomach clenched like something had squeezed it from the inside, and dropped the medallion, whereupon it clattered to the ground.

    "Can't be removed," he muttered in disappointment. A new Dark Gem Ranger was bad, sure, but it was even worse when a new one was someone who, under normal circumstances, was one of the nicest people he had ever met, one of his old friends. "I'm sorry, Max." He patted the man's head in sorrow.

    "0," said Pi and activated a channel of communication without his consent. "Emergency distress signal from Serena."

    "0...!" blared a voice through the helmet, rattling the recovering Golden Ranger. "Help me!" 0 stood up from Max.

    "What's going on, 3?" he asked.

    "Sappho's…" The sentence ended, but 0 could hear a distinct laughter in the background he knew all too well. The transmission ended shortly after and filled 0's visor with the sound of static.

    "Communication terminated."

    "3!"

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Like fluid water, the White Ranger spun through the air, landing gracefully behind the Dark Sapphire Ranger and punching the small of his back with the blunt edge of her Frost Fan. She had the fastest downloading system available to PKM Rangers, primarily because Bakaguru upgraded her morpher before any other ranger. She only had to think of a weapon and it emerged in her hands. Sappho struck back, twisting his scimitar behind his body in a vain attempt to strike her.

    She opened the fan and the sword jammed itself in between the individual pieces, mere centimeters away from her visor. She sealed up the fan again, and twirled the sword. Sappho, unwilling to let go, twirled with his weapon and landed on his back. Serena hopped over Sappho's body, landing her two petite feet on his stomach before pirouetting to the nearby ground.

    "Come now, big blue," murmured Serena in her cute, adorable voice. "That all you got?"

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger laughed. "Not even close," he retorted and leapt back to his feet, flailing around with his sword. Each cut was perfectly planned, perfectly executed, yet every single one missed. Serena leapt and tucked her away through a performance that might have made every gymnast in Hoenn seethe with envy. The Frost Fan came down, blocking a final lunge towards her midsection, which was followed by a sweeping kick to the Dark Sapphire Ranger's knees that sent him sprawling to the ground yet again.

    "Now this is just pathetic," asked Serena coyly. "Come on, 0 makes this look so hard, but I guess he was just showing off for me. I'll have to reward him later…" She giggled, she knew exactly how she would be rewarding him.

    "Really?" inquired Sappho with a groan, before he climbed right back to his feet. "And what would that involve? Candlelit dinner? Movie? Or just good, old fashioned fornication?" He hissed the last word, and advanced forward with a small, cackling giggle of his own.

    "That's disgusting, Sapphy," she replied and sidestepped his lurching sword swipe. "0 and I have a much more intimate connection."

    "Oh, is that right?" Sappho kept coming, even though he kept missing. "Is that why Golden Boy doesn't notice you, why he is oblivious to your affections?" Serena, hurt by the words, stumbled and was punched in the face by Sappho's fist. "Yes, that must be it." He grabbed her by her neck and head-butted her. "Your close, personal connection to Golden Boy."

    Serena, slightly woozy, still dodged his next attack. "Shut up," she hissed and jabbed him with her fan. He ignored the pain and lunged.

    "He just wants Birch!" he screamed with glee and swung his sword. This time, his sight was keen, and he sliced at Serena's glove. A spatter of blood appeared, along with a gasp of pain from the White Ranger. He moaned with pleasure at the sound and continued his attack. "He's nothing but a machine in a human's body, little girl. You might want to jump his bones, but he'll never let you."

    He slashed her again, this time causing her to lose her grip on the Frost Fan. "At least," he added, as he smashed into her, "not willingly!" She fell to the ground, breathing hard from her injuries. He laughed as he towered over her, his blade spotted red with blood. It glimmered.

    "Had to drug you," he explained and he stabbed her through the shoulder. "Had to trick you, just so he'd touch you!" He chuckled and tore the sword out of her body, sending blood flying upon her costume. He giggled as he sliced her leg, just to make sure she couldn't walk away. "Oh, and touch you he did!"

    "What're you…" she breathed, "talking about?"

    "The steam room, girlie!" he howled and stuck her like a pincushion in her thigh. She cried out in pain and clutched her leg. "Can't you remember it?"

    "No…" She hadn't…her head felt like…it was made of air. "I…didn't…"

    "You did and you loved it!" cheered the Dark Sapphire Ranger and he struck her again and again, making her uniform look more like a Red Ranger's than White's. She was sprawled on the floor and tried in vain to crawl towards the exit. He helped her, by grabbing her by the scruff of her suit and tossing her headfirst into the wall. The tile broke and she slumped to the ground, struggling for consciousness. "I watched the whole thing! Soooooo gooooooood, girlie. Sooooooo goooooood." He rubbed his arms around himself, moaning to himself. "Oh…want me to go lower…"

    "No!" she screamed and shook her head. "I didn't! I didn't!"

    He grabbed her and he cackled. "Oh, but you did. Want me to burn you a tape copy?" He bashed her head against the wall again and again. "He was magnificent! But you, not so much. Were you just too self-absorbed to let him enjoy himself?" He jabbed her in the back with his sword. She shrieked. "You know, the key to any good relationship is compatibility in the bedroom!"

    She screeched in protest. But the more she did, the more he stabbed her. "No…" she murmured… "Is this…" how I die? She didn't want to die like this, she wanted to be with 0, she needed to be with him.

    I love him.

    "Open communications to the Golden Ranger," she breathed. She needed to tell him. She had to, before she was out of time…

    The communication window was opened by Pi, and she used up the last of her strength to send her final message. "0...!" she shouted, as loud as her weak voice allowed. "Help me!" Her breath was ragged, she noticed the systems were shutting down in her visor.

    "What's going on, 3?" he asked.

    She took a breath. "Sappho's…" She choked and coughed up blood into her helmet… "he's got me…he's going to kill me…0! Help me!" Then, she paused, for she had to scream when he stabbed her again. "This might be the…last time…I speak to you. 0...I need to tell you that I…I…"

    "Who're you babbling to?" Sappho asked and stabbed her again.

    Only then did she noticed that her systems were shutting down, her visor was opening to release the blood and allow her to see. The communication had been terminated, probably from the blood she had coughed up.

    I love you.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Rage was the only emotion running through the Golden Ranger's veins. The serum, designed to suppress his adrenaline secretion, had failed, and a natural burst of energy ran through 0's body, pushing him to ignore his injuries and the damage that had already been done to his ranger uniform. Serena took priority over everything and, in an instant, he emerged at her side, standing between her and the Dark Sapphire Ranger.

    "I'm so sorry, 3," he muttered and bent down to pick her up. Her white uniform was stained with red from the wounds hidden under the spandex. "I shouldn't have left you alone."

    "Just…" She coughed, and her body sagged, "glad…you got here…on time." She tilted her head weakly towards Sappho, who once again seemed to be enjoying himself, drinking in her pain like a fine wine. "Be…careful."

    The rage was starting to get to him, her voice was diluting into the white noise of his anger. "I promise he'll be in pieces by the time I finish him." He opened his visor, so she could see his face. "I swear it."

    She gasped. Instead of the cold, calculated fighter she desired, the face that met hers was that of someone she had not seen for what felt like years. The determination, the fortitude, the aura of sheer willpower. She smiled and lifted her glove to touch his face. "I was wondering…when you'd get here…dark warrior." Her eyes rolled back and she slipped into unconsciousness.

    The dark warrior lowered the White Ranger's body to the ground and sealed up her visor. After doing so, he ordered Pi to cover his face and turned to the Dark Sapphire Ranger. The visor reapplied just as he looked up. He lifted his right hand and pointed at Sappho.

    "Every injury you inflicted," he breathed, "I will personally ensure you get it back tenfold."

    Sappho chuckled. "Looks like you've grown some balls, little man. What's gotten into you?"

    The man grinned and pointed his thumb at himself, and struck a defensive pose that would have made any opponent quake with fear. "I am the dark warrior reborn," he announced and summoned the Bolt Blade. "Enslaved, I restore justice to those with none! PKM Agent 0: Golden Ranger!" From behind him, a piece of ceiling caved in, sending an explosion of dust and mortar in a powerful cloud. He chuckled, the explosion almost seemed choreographed to his pose.

    "That's much more heroic than hers," sniggered Sappho.

    "Pi, activate the Synchronization Drive and be ready on my mark."

    The AI agreed. "Roger that and charging, 0." The Golden Ranger took a running start and, with a sweep of the giant sword, batted Sappho right into the nearby wall. Not willing to allow the Dark Sapphire Ranger even a moment's respite, the dark warrior tore through the battlefield with Agility, pushing and pushing the Synchronization Drive to its absolute limit. Blinding speed made Sappho completely useless in the face of an empowered Golden Ranger, and he cursed with pain when he was struck again and again by the Bolt Blade's sharp edge.

    "Come on, Sappho," growled the dark warrior, and bashed the Dark Gem Ranger across the face with the blade. "Pi, download Lightning Laser!" The sword vanished, replaced with a shotgun that the Golden Ranger did not hesitate to use immediately. Electricity coursed through Sappho's uniform again and again, forcing the man back into the water. The azure fighter sank like a stone.

    The dark warrior fired ten times into the water, igniting the searing pool like a Christmas tree. No human would survive it, but there was no doubt in the Golden Ranger's mind that Sappho would. He kept firing, holding Sappho off until the Volt Tackle could be utilized again. He was still aching from using it once, and his joints were becoming unresponsive under extreme pain and duress.

    "Pi, uniform analysis," he ordered, to check his stats.

    "Reports confirm that over half of Ranger Form's stats are gone," answered the little mouse. "At this rate, we won't have enough energy to fight a street thug, let alone a Dark Gem Ranger. Advice is to power down and retreat."

    "Wait…Ranger Form?" 0 had never heard that before, was the Pikachu talking about the uniform?

    "Activation of the Synchronization Drive has resulted in a reclassification of the PKM Ranger uniform as Ranger Form," explained the electric Pokemon. "Unless an alternate power source is activated, we will lose. Damage to your shoulder, and blood flow has limited communication between circuits and systems on almost forty percent of the suit."

    "An alternate power source?" This made no sense to the Golden Ranger, who nonetheless continued firing at the Dark Sapphire Ranger to maintain the paralysis. "Where are we going to find one of those?"

    "Synchronization Drive charged," answered a mechanical voice, one which sounded nothing like the friendly voice of his ranger spirit. "Under Protocol A-0, usage of standard Synchronization Drive will result in power down of all Ranger Form systems. Powering down Synchronization Drive."

    "Hey, wait!" shouted 0. "Return control of the Synchronization Drive to Pi!" What was that? It had sounded like a machine, perhaps something left behind with the Synchronization Drive in the morpher from its previous user.

    "Activating Auxiliary Pokemon System."

    The visor's display burst in a flash of brilliant light, replacing all of the stats and monitors with a brand new menu, one with six slots in a hexagon shape. Currently, only one of the slots was available, colored blue. "What is this thing?" the dark warrior asked. Then, something materialized on the small of his back, right on his belt. He unhooked it, and saw a pure blue Pokeball in his hand. "A…Pokeball? What's this thing for?"

    "Rio, Riolu!" shouted a voice by his side. The Golden Ranger looked down and Lu was indeed standing beside its trainer, ready to fight. 0 opened the blue Pokeball, and the dog Pokemon vanished with an azure flash into the ball, shrinking it down to miniature size. 0 stared at his right hand in amazement as his morpher began augmenting itself into a new shape, forming a circular slot that fit the Pokeball perfectly.

    "Pi, what is this thing?"

    The mouse answered. "I'm receiving new encrypted data, 0. It's called the Auxiliary Pokemon System, and is designed to increase our strength with additional Pokemon support. It'll allow us a boost in power until we can figure out how to hold off the Dark Sapphire Ranger. Insert Lu's Pokeball into the morpher!"

    Meanwhile, Sappho was rising up from the water, taking advantage of 0's distractions. "That wasn't very nice, Golden Boy," whispered the man.

    "Pi, what made the Auxiliary Pokemon System?" asked the Golden Ranger.

    "Origins unknown or classified. I don't know."

    The old man was laughing at him in hell, thought the dark warrior, as he lifted Lu's new Pokeball towards the morpher. It fit in just like a notch on his belt and began charging. 0 noticed that his monitor began flashing blue everywhere. "Auxiliary Pokemon System online," said the AI that was not the Pikachu. "Rio Form."

    0 felt a sudden surge of power as the transformation began. A bright aura in the shape of a blue circle surrounded him, floating upwards and covering the Ranger Form in a blue energy. The Bolt Blade vanished, returned to storage, in preparation for the new fighting form. The Golden Ranger looked at the bottom of his screen, and noticed a new AI was being installed in the shape of a Riolu avatar. Ah, I get it. Pi helps me in the Ranger Form, while Lu takes over in this new thing.

    The armor on his forearms expanded, then exploded into giant claws in the shape of a Riolu's paws, only mechanized and with five digits. The claws extended into sharp dark blades, and the Golden Ranger clenched the new gloves with anticipation. To connect the new weapons to the uniform, veins like sapphire rivers flowed up his arms into his shoulders and finally stopping at the helmet. The upside-down triangle pattern that was 0's visible visor transformed as well, the bottom half transforming a bright blue to match the new weapon.

    "Arm Boosters installed," said the AI. "Download complete."

    Suddenly, something invaded the dark warrior's head, penetrating his memories and personality. He doubled over, clutching his head like he had the worst migraine ever experienced by a human being. It pounded in his brain, altering the chemicals and emotions running rampart through it.

    Finally, he lifted his head and grinned underneath his mask. "Ready, Sapphy?" he asked, with a giddy, scrappy voice that he barely registered as his own. He felt like playing! He felt exhilarated and happy that he was going to get to fight, and win, against a tough fighter. He happily punched the Arm Boosters together, creating a clunking noise like a starting bell in a boxing match. "Here I come!"

    He burst out against Sappho with a running start. Not the speedy burst of Agility but the playful romp of a baby Riolu. The Dark Sapphire Ranger seemed perplexed by this turn of events, especially when he swung his scimitar down to deal a death blow to the throat. But the Golden Ranger dodged, it was too early for the fight to end! He tackled his foe and ran smack into the nearest wall, using the Dark Sapphire Ranger to cushion his body. Sappho groaned with distain at the fact that he had been used as a living pillow and retaliated by smashing 0's helmet with both his arms.

    Or, at least he tried to. At the last moment, the Golden Ranger backed away, and threw a punch with one of the Arm Boosters that carved a rather nice Sappho-shaped figure into the tile of the wall. "Oops!" said 0, exactly like a child would react to breaking their mother's vase. "Sorry about that!" He laughed.

    "What kind of freak show is this?" screeched Sappho, as he dislocated himself from his hole. He swung the scimitar down on 0, with every intent in his mind aimed on defacing the Rio Form's visor. But the empowered Golden Ranger wasn't quite ready for his fun to end and caught the sword like a baseball in one hand. "Let…go…" 0 chose not to listen to his opponent and instead swung him into a pillar, which smashed in two and crumpled around the Dark Sapphire Ranger's damaged body.

    Wow, thought 0, as he pounced on his prey. The Rio Form had given his arms incredible strength! "Can't hear you!" said the dark warrior merrily and began to rearrange Sappho's face a bit with said incredibly strengthened arms. Sappho, after much effort, pushed 0 off, but it was getting harder for him to keep up with the cheerful, annoying fighting force 0 had become. "Come on, Sapphy, you're not even trying!"

    Rio Form was highly enjoyable, primarily because of the backup AI that Lu had become for 0. "Hey, Lu?" asked the Golden Ranger, wondering if he could communicate with the secondary Pokemon.

    "Aye, sir?" answered Lu eagerly. It had a very young voice, like a little boy's.

    "How much strength are we using right now?"

    "Half!"

    "Let's fight at full power. How about it?"

    "Okay!"

    Like weights lifting off of his body, 0 exploded with a brand-new surge of power. The raw energy burst forward, and 0 smashed into the Dark Sapphire Ranger's helmet with his left Arm Booster. "Lu, activate the Synchronization Drive!" 0 announced, figuring that he now had plenty of energy to use it. "Use Volt Tackle!"

    "Sorry," said an apologetic Lu. "When you're in my form, you can't use that!"

    "What?" exclaimed 0 and wrestled Sappho back underneath him. "Well, what can I use?"

    "Rio Form uses Endure and Aura Sphere instead of Agility and Volt Tackle."

    "Then let's try the second one," decided 0. "Synchronization Drive: Aura Sphere!" He jammed both of his Arm Boosters into Sappho's face just as they began powering up like turbines. "Go!"

    "Nooooooooo!" moaned the Dark Sapphire Ranger, before he received a full burst of Aura Sphere directly in the face. The force was so intense it forced 0 into the air, whereupon he landed gracefully about twelve feet away from his target on all fours. Sappho, on the other hand, was driven into the ground hard and stayed down, breathing ragged, deathly breaths as he struggled for air.

    "Get out of here," ordered 0. Why he did not know, but he was certain of the fact that he had no time to kill Sappho right now. "And remember, I let you live. Never forget that." He then turned away from the fight and went to Serena's body. "I have to go take care of her now. Tend to your wounds before we fight again, I hate beating people that are weaker than me." He picked up Serena again and cradled her in the gigantic, protective Arm Boosters.

    "Get…back here, you freak!" shrieked Sappho, as he dragged himself towards them. "Get away from her and fight me! FIGHT ME!" But his pleas fell on deaf ears. The Golden Ranger left, leaving Sappho alone in the ruined building.

    Sappho lowered his head and the light went off.

    0 had won.

    Author's Note: Wow, what a weekend. Did a lot of work for both my job and this story. Also finalized the final lineup of the story's chapters. They now have fancy names and everything. I might consider releasing the names, I might not. Just depends on how I feel on my progress as these releases start matching up with the version that's available on FanFiction.net.

  5. #20
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 14, Part 1

    Morph Fourteen: That Which Binds Together, Part 1

    The police, as one, trained their weapons on the figure that emerged from the Petal's entryway. The Golden Ranger looked completely unconcerned with the standoff, as if it was nothing more than a momentary hindrance between him and freedom. That is until he looked around and noticed that no one was lowering their weapon. The leader of the standoff, a young lady with blue hair, stood up with a microphone to talk him down, because apparently there had been some confusion as to who was the villain of this story.

    "Put the girl down and back away with your hands above your head!" ordered Officer Jenny. "Nothing bad has to happen."

    0 considered this. While the demand made sure he wouldn't be turned into a bullet sandwich, it also took precious time away from what little Serena had left to be treated. Then he noticed he was still in Rio Form, which was probably the reason they didn't recognize him. "Lu," he muttered, "power down to Ranger Form." The dog Pokemon complied, and the friendly influence of the Riolu faded away into the dark warrior that was the Golden Ranger. The clunky Arm Boosters faded away into storage for when he summoned Rio Form again, and he no longer had a trace of blue on which, which was probably what confused Jenny.

    "I am a member of the PKM Rangers," announced 0, who was in no mood to play nice with the local police. "I am their leader, Agent 0, the Golden Ranger. I have another member of my unit with severe injuries who requires medical treatment. You are in my way and I have no problem moving your team, Jenny, if you don't let us go right now!"

    He hoped that using the organization's name would help him get through the blockade with minimal problems. After all PKM was a big, private mercenary group. Almost anyone knew about them and what they did, mostly because of the group's signature ranger unit that made them stand out wherever a ranger was dispatched. He saw Jenny muttering to her colleagues and looked down to inspect Serena.

    The White Ranger was severely damaged. Her uniform was only remaining online because the AI knew that powering down now would result in identity exposure. But the blood spots were getting darker as liquid filled the suit and began damaging it. He had maybe minutes before the suit was finally forced to power down and reveal its owner. Both he and Serena were running out of time.

    Jenny looked up at him again, then nodded to her subordinates. As one, they formed a gap in the blockade directly in front of him and Serena. He walked through it. "Pi, download the 0 Cycle now," he commanded. "Let's get out of here."

    "Downloading," replied the mouse, happy to be the core AI of 0's uniform again. "Complete." As it spoke, the powerful machine appeared. 0 positioned Serena in front of him on the bike so he could control how she was sitting. He couldn't have her falling off at the speeds he was about to use.

    A hand fell on his shoulder. The Golden Ranger looked up to Jenny, just before he was about to take off. "Excuse me," she said, with a hint of doubt, "where's the blue ranger that keeps attacking my city? He still in there?"

    0 shrugged. "Don't know. I let him go," replied the dark warrior. "He's too damaged to do anything now and I'll be waiting for him. All of the civilians were evacuated too." That was all he was going to give her and she understood that with an astounding amount of common sense, something officers of the law rarely understood from mercenaries. 0 quickly removed Lu's Pokeball from the morpher and attached it to the slot on his belt. He began revving the engine and, moments later, he was gone.

    "Pi, put me in touch with 003," the Golden Ranger ordered, as he entered traffic.

    "Opening communications," answered Pi, and a second later a little image that 0 assumed was Bakaguru's icon appeared on the bottom of his screen.

    "What is going on down there?" demanded the otaku loudly. "I turn on my television and I see a giant fight at some spa! Must I collar you to prevent trouble from happening in your presence?"

    "Nice to hear from you too, big guy," the ranger grunted, as he swerved to avoid a truck taking off his head. "I need a medic for 3. Send one over now."

    Bakaguru snorted at the impudence. "Boy, do you think I can simply teleport someone to take care of injuries for you? That's not how we do things in PKM. Take her to a hospital, and give her a tin of band aids."

    "Have you seen what happened to her?" 0 asked.

    "No. Why…is it serious?"

    "I'll send over her AI's transmissions of battle damage," he said. "Pi, do it." The Pikachu analyzed the data, condensed it, and uploaded the statistics and damage into Bakaguru's computer system. When the otaku finished looking it over, he groaned.

    "Don't take her to a hospital," he grumbled. "If you do that, you'll just alert the media to her identity and make everyone's lives miserable."

    "It was your idea!"

    "Yes, when it was a good one!" snapped the otaku. "I'll camouflage the 0 Cycle to appear as an ordinary motorcycle when you power down. Just get Serena into the apartment. I will remain in direct contact with your communicator to help, and I'm sending over 415 for additional assistance until I get there."

    "How long is it gonna take?" 0 knew that Serena wasn't going to be able to last long.

    "An hour, maybe two. I will travel through the emergency portal system we have here to 415's safe house, then make my way to yours. Keep her alive until then." The communicator shut off, presumably because Bakaguru was going to waste no time moving Jessie, James, and Meowth to calibrate the portal.

    "Roger," 0 answered. "Pi, power down Ranger Form."

    A flash of light issued around both the ranger and his motorcycle and he transformed into his civilian clothes. Serena did as well, but 0 did not look at her. He needed to concentrate on pivoting the disguised 0 Cycle off the highway and into the streets of North Petalburg. He had about three blocks left until he reached the house. "Come on, 3," he muttered to her limp body, "don't you dare die on me."

    He parked the 0 Cycle in front of the apartment building and rushed upstairs, knowing that Pi would be able to store the vehicle on its own without his assistance. He cradled Serena carefully, she was too damaged to be moved too quickly. He burst open his door and locked it, before placing Serena down on the floor. Only then did he looked at her.

    It was…terrible. 0 had never really thought of his partner as a beauty, but he knew others did. Her seductive smile was gone, replaced with swelling around the cheeks and lips, from where Sappho had smashed her face against her helmet's visor. Her eyes were both black, and there were cuts and scrapes along her neck and ears from the battle. Her hair, normally silver, was matted with blood from head wounds that were hidden under the locks. "Got to dress her wounds," he told himself and began removing her clothes. Her AI had made sure of some modesty, and it was a casual shirt and pants that he tore off to make sure her body received all the circulation it could pump.

    Someone started pounding at the door and 0 turned away from the wounds across Serena's body to answer it. It was 415, red-eyed and obviously very tired. "Came as soon as I heard," she murmured, and threw her scarf at 0's face. "What have you done to her?" She rushed past him to examine Serena's body. "This is not good." She withdrew a first aid box from her overcoat and opened it. "Get over here. I will require your assistance."

    "Nice to see you too," he retorted with a mumble and followed her orders. He placed Serena's head on his knees to make sure that her airway was kept open, while 415 set about preparing the first aid kit. "Is she going to be alright?"

    415 shrugged. "Multiple stab wounds, probably a few broken bones, concussion…not to mention all the damage done from blunt force trauma. I only have the equipment that will keep her stable until Bakaguru gets here. My kit is not even supplied with morphine. All we can do is dress her wounds and keep her from losing any more blood." She glanced over the body, and pulled out a cigarette from her coat. "What type of fight caused this?"

    This time, the hologram her face was projecting was that of a very angry woman with short blond hair and green eyes. 0 shrugged, then winced, as he remembered his own wound. "The Dark Gem Rangers got a new recruit: Max Birch. We had to split up to fight both. I…I shouldn't have left her alone with Sappho."

    "Correct," 415 muttered, and stuck her cigarette in her mouth. "Your ranger system, despite your inexperience, is far superior to Serena Brine's. 003 informed me you sustained damage in the fight, yes?"

    "I…guess so."

    She lit the joint and breathed a sigh of happiness as the smoke floated from her lips. "Then logic dictates you should have engaged the sapphire. The White Ranger's system is designed for quick attacks and stealth, not hand-to-hand combat. Yours is designed for heavy-duty combat." She looked down on Serena's battered body. "The specs of the White Ranger uniform are much lower than yours in most fields, save maybe in limberness and speed. The defense and offensive capabilities of the Golden Ranger armor is significantly more advanced than hers." Her cigarette was beginning to stink up the air, so 415 went to open a nearby window.

    "Tell me," she said, and stared at him, "do you derive pleasure from being such a failure? Can you do anything right?"

    "Stop it," he muttered.

    "Will you cry if I continue?" 415 laughed harshly. "She was hopelessly outmatched in this fight and you let her suffer instead of act like a leader-"

    "That is enough." 0 glared at her. "Keep this in mind, 415: I am a higher rank than you, which means you will do as I order. Now, you are going to treat Agent 3 and we will keep her alive until Bakaguru can get here. Unless it for a medical reason or emergency, you are to maintain silence and not disturb our attempts to keep the White Ranger alive." He took a breath, and then began to pull out swabs and alcohol. "Got that, you stuck-up bitch?"

    415 was stunned, and the cigarette almost dropped from her lips. He had pulled rank on her, the runt shouldn't have done that. "Why you…you-" She clenched her fists and sighed, exhaling a cloud of smoke. "Fine." She put out the butt on an open windowsill and flicked it out into the alley before she rejoined 0 at Serena's side. "You already undressed her, naturally-"

    "It wasn't like that."

    "I know," she replied. "Pour the alcohol on the swabs to disinfect the wounds." They both dabbed the cotton with the liquid and began carefully swabbing away at the wounds to clear them of the blood on the body and any possible infections that might have thought about forming. It took a long time, or at least it felt that way to 0, but the procedure was only about ten minutes from start to finish. Serena's breathing was getting less and less frequent, so they hurried to bandage the wounds. "Don't you have any painkillers here?"

    He shook his head. "I've got booze, that's it."

    415 grumbled to herself. "That would not be advisable." She sighed, and pulled out a cell phone. "I will see if 003 can expedite his movements. Without his treatment, she will not last long." She headed out of the apartment to make the call, presumably because she didn't want to increase Serena's pain with the vocal abuse she would soon be inflicting on Bakaguru Niwa.

    Leaving 0 alone with Serena. The ranger looked down on his partner, the bandages and splints they had had to put on her were so immense it was hard for him to believe he had allowed her to get hurt so badly. "I'm so sorry, 3," he muttered and lowered his brow, touching her forehead with his own. "I never wanted you to get hurt."

    "0, you know it wasn't your fault," whispered Pi into his ear. "Serena fought because she was trained to. She's not just another girl, she's a ranger too. She knew the risks of becoming one. She knew what she was getting into."

    "I…know that," he muttered. "But it doesn't make me feel any better, Pi. I'm leader. I should know how to work with her by now. I should know how to…be a better ranger." He lifted his head and set hers on his lap. "I want to help her, but I don't know how."

    "0, what about the Synchronization Drive?"

    "What about it?"

    "Remember how in Rio Form you were able to use different attacks from Ranger Form? One of them was Endure. Maybe you can access it again and use it to buy Bakaguru and the others some time before it's too late."

    The idea sounded good. "That could work," 0 replied. "I think I can do that, if I focus the Endure onto 3." He lifted Lu's Pokeball, which had changed color from its original red-and-white to a bright blue, from his belt and inserted it into the morpher. "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power," whispered the Golden Ranger. "Rio Form."

    In moments, the ranger uniform was online and had the Arm Boosters downloaded. He placed his massive armored hands on both sides of Serena's head, and began powering up the Synchronization Drive. His head, though under the influence of the childish Lu, was still clear enough to do what was necessary. "Ready, Lu?" asked the Golden Ranger.

    "Ready, sir," said the still-cheerful baby. "I'll make sure she gets the full blast of it."

    "Synchronization Drive: Endure."

    His entire body surged with power, which began slowly transferring itself to Serena in the form of a rising glowing aura that covered her body. It didn't heal her, but it would stave off death until Bakaguru could arrive. Finally, the aura did all that it could and died down softly. "We've given all the energy to her. We've done all we can, sir," announced Lu.

    "Synchro's been used up?" 0 asked.

    "Yes, sir."

    He nodded. "Good. Power down and recharge the drive in case we need to do it again." The uniform disappeared in a flashed of light, just as 415 was walking back in, shutting the door behind her. "What's the plan, 415?"

    "Bakaguru will arrive presently," she replied. "What were you doing in here?"

    "I used my Synchronization Drive on 3," he explained. "The Endure should keep her alive, but just barely, until Bakaguru arrives."

    "You did what?" she asked, confused. "What is this Synchronization Drive? No ranger upgrade I know has that name."

    "It's not a ranger upgrade," he answered. "It's part of my morpher. We think it was tampered with by my predecessor, that's why the technology doesn't exist in any other morpher. It allows me to combine registered Pokemon to my standard Ranger Form with the Auxiliary Pokemon System. Makes me stronger and lets me use attacks from Pokemon."

    415 blinked. "Are you certain?"

    "I think that's how it works," explained 0. "When I was fighting, an AI other than Pi explained it to me. And it decrypted files so Pi could fill me in with the rest."

    "That is-"

    Before the conversation could continue, the door almost exploded off its hinges when Bakaguru began pounding on it. 415 let the fat man in and he rushed into the room without pausing to close the door or catch his breath. "How is she, 0?" he asked hurriedly, pulling out a briefcase filled with what could only be medical equipment.

    "Stable, but sinking," he answered. "I've used Endure on her, but that's only going to be a short diversion. She needs your treatments."

    Bakaguru nodded and opened the case, retrieving IV needles. "I will have to administer some morphine for this procedure. She needs to sleep through the pain." He injected her with the drug. "Then, I will need to pump her system with serum."

    "Wait, serum?" 0 asked. "The thing I use?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "I have no choice. Your use of the drug is dependant, but it can be used safely on others in small doses. After I inject the serum, it will heal her injuries with added chemicals like proteins and other things necessary for her wounds to clot and seal." He took out a tube of blue serum and a vial of some sort of purple serum 0 had never seen before. He mixed them together, then attached them to the IV drip.

    "This will work, right?" 0 asked.

    Bakaguru smiled and nodded. "It was very close, but I believe she will be fine." He rose and nodded to 415, who took his place by Serena's side. "Come, Golden Boy," he said. "415 will watch her for a moment. I need to speak with you. Alone." 0 nodded and rose from his mat to follow the otaku out of the apartment. "Let us discuss this on the roof." 0 led Bakaguru, who was unfamiliar with the building's layout, to the top floor. After several flights of stairs, they exited into the crisp breeze of the outdoors.

    "What do you need to talk about?" said 0, as he shut the door behind them. Both he and Bakaguru leaned against the railing and stared off into the city.

    Bakaguru took a deep breath. "0, I think it's time we had a talk about your predecessor," he explained. "The time has come we discuss your status as the Golden Ranger. I have taken too long in doing so."

    "What is it?" 0 asked.

    The engineer sighed. "When we started the Ranger program in PKM, 0, I was barely a recruit. They used to be so flawed and damaged, and they would time out due to maxing out their energy. The average lifespan of a PKM Ranger was two years, from a combination of exhaustion it took operating the system and accidents in the line of duty. Now, the suits are reliable because the Ranger System works perfectly. We stabilized the connections between ranger and ranger spirit, and we even managed to eliminate the time outs."

    He turned to 0. "It was the former Golden Ranger who made all of this possible. He was a researcher for R&D with me and the first user of the now-standard Ranger System that all our rangers now use." Bakaguru pointed at the morpher latched to 0's hand. "That morpher was our prototype. It doesn't grant the safeguards and protections the others, like Serena, have. Because of this, it is my belief that the previous Golden Ranger conducted experiments on it to vastly improve the survival of his successor."

    0 lifted the morpher and studied it. "You mean…he did it for me?"

    The otaku nodded and pushed his glasses back onto his nose. "Correct, Golden Ranger. He left it for you to utilize, why I shall never know. However, I do know, from what I have seen you do with it, that there is something very different about it. Your ability to use other Pokemon and their attacks is something I have never seen before."

    The dark warrior sighed. "Man, I could use a beer right about now," he murmured. "What's going to happen to me, Bakaguru? Am I just going to become more and more like a Pokemon because I can fuse with them?"

    Bakaguru shrugged. "I think that will be entirely up to you, Gold. From what I have seen, the morpher's…I'm sorry, what is the thing it uses called?"

    "The Synchronization Drive?"

    "Exactly. The Synchronization Drive has, based on what I have seen on it, an inhibitor to make sure that complete fission does not take place between the Golden Ranger and the Ranger System that powers your suit. I do not think you are fusing with your Pokemon, but are falling under their influence. In the Rio Form I observed, you exhibited many behavior patterns attributed to most baby Riolu. Energetic, powerful, and playful, with the spirit of a warrior. Scans of your suit at the time revealed that Pi, your Ranger Spirit, was supplemented during this time with your new Pokemon, and that Riolu took over the duties of the onboard AI to optimize the effectiveness of the form."

    "An auxiliary AI?" Then 0 remembered something. "Before I was able to transform into Rio Form, there was another voice in the Ranger System, one that wasn't Pi or Lu. It shut off my Synchronization Drive and activated the Auxiliary Pokemon System on its own, bypassing Pi's control. It also decrypted several files related to my Ranger System so I could use the APS."

    "Hmmm…" Bakaguru scratched his chin. "I don't know about that… The old Golden Ranger did so much to update the Ranger System, many of my modifications are based off of his old designs. It would make sense that he would have experimented on his own flesh and blood. At the end, he wasn't even able to take the ranger suit off because of the alterations. It could be possible he installed something to make sure that we would have a weapon for an unforeseeable enemy like these Dark Gem Rangers."

    "So, he made me a weapon by attaching this thing to me," the ranger muttered. "Well that just sucks."

    "Considering the amount of power you have, I am a bit surprised you hadn't figured that out," Bakaguru replied, as if speaking to a child. "In any case, I'd advise you to get over it. You're a weapon, yes, but you also know when to be a hero. When it counts." He yawned and consulted his watch. "Don't forget that there are people here who rely on you being that weapon. Like May Birch, and Serena."

    "Okay." 0 did not like the situation very much. Being a weapon of the mercenary group was something he was against, but would put up with to defend his friends. "I'm the only one who can operate the system, right?" He grinned and tried to chuckle a bit.

    "That reminds me, Gold," murmured Bakaguru, "it has come to my attention that you have allowed a new Dark Gem Ranger to be born, this one emerald instead of sapphire. Is that true?"

    0 lowered his head, but nodded. "Max was supposed to be my responsibility. It's my fault the gem bonded to him and forced him to become what he is now."

    "You understand what you will have to do with him, correct?" There was no other option for Max, he had become the enemy. "You will capture him, and bring him to us at PKM headquarters. We will run tests to determine how much the Dark Emerald has corrupted his mind, and then decide what to do." He lifted his eyes and adjusted his glasses. "It may come down to exterminating him, Gold. I need you to know that."

    "I know," he replied, after a long pause. "Max was a good friend of mine, Bakaguru, before PKM. I hate what's happened to him, but I also know what they'll use him for if we can't save him from himself. Dark Gems corrupt their contractors body and soul. We need to deal with him before that happens. But Niwa, what if we could recruit him?"

    "Do what?"

    "Max was always a strong kid," the ranger explained, "and if he's bonded to a Dark Gem, what if he can control it? He stopped himself, at the end of our fight. Maybe there's a little bit of Max left to be used for good. If we can return him to normal."

    "More research will need to be done on a Dark Gem Ranger before we know anything about them. As far as I could tell, the only difference I noticed was that Max Birch's Dark Emerald form had real chains covering it while the sapphire one's has his as a pattern on his uniform's fabric. That's it." He grabbed 0 by the shoulders and for some reason his ugly face seemed all the more serious. "0, I believe we must prepare for the possibility for an all-out war with the Dark Gem Rangers over May Birch."

    "Why do they even want her?" asked the ranger.

    "I do not know what they want with her," admitted the scientist. "But, the time will probably come when May Birch will have to enter protection for her own safety. When that time comes, what will you do, Agent 0?"

    "W-what do you mean?"

    "You know exactly what I mean, 0," retorted Bakaguru. "If, and when May Birch is brought into protection by PKM, your cover no longer becomes classified to her. You'll be able to tell her who you really are, Gold, and what you've been doing in the past three years. How exciting for you." He stepped away and started for the door. "How long has it even been, Gold, since you told anyone who you really were? It must be quite lonely." He chuckled. "Come on, let's go see Serena, Gold. I'm sure she'll want to spend some time with you."

    "What are you talking about?" asked 0, as he followed him. "She's…she's just a friend. That's all."

    "Serena and 415 are right," murmured the otaku. "You are a buffoon."

    When they returned to the room, 415 was removing the IV drip from Serena's arm and placing it back into Bakaguru's briefcase. 0 closed the door and locked it before he crossed the room with the otaku. "I presume she is alright, 415?" Bakaguru asked, with a hint of authority in his voice.

    She nodded. "Aye, sir," she replied. "She will require recuperation for several days, but she will heal with bed rest. Almost all the pain has been removed by the serum's effect." She bowed, and stood back up. "You will be staying at my safe house tonight, Mr. Niwa, to observe the capture of the Dark Emerald Ranger. Please, come this way." She led the otaku engineer out of the house, glared at 0, then left him and Serena alone. Bakaguru gave 0 a big wink before vanishing out the door.

    "Hey…" Serena mumbled, and 0 jumped to her side. Her eyes were puffy, but they sparkled when she opened them. She tried to smile, but her mouth hurt too much to do so, so she settled for a happy frown. "Did we win?"

    He chuckled, and nodded. "Yeah, we kicked their asses," he answered. "I'm just…so glad you're alright, 3."

    "Hey, 0?"

    "Yeah?"

    "My head kinda hurts…do you think you could put it on your lap?" 0 did so, it was the least he could do for her, after what his incompetence had put her through. "Thanks…it feels nice."

    "How you doing?" he asked.

    She giggled. "I'll be hanging in here for a while. I'm not leaving anytime soon. 415 said that I was very lucky that you alerted everyone so quickly. I would have died if you hadn't helped me with that little Riolu of yours." She sighed, and her eyes fluttered, like she was trying desperately to keep them open. "Thanks for saving my life."

    0 laughed. "That's not something you need to thank me for. Ever," he said to his partner. "You did the same for me way back when. Remember?"

    "Somewhat." She raised her arm, and touched his chest. "Those scars…you got them for me. 415 said I wouldn't have any scars thanks to the serum and your thing." She traced the line for one of the lash marks, then her arm got too heavy for her, and it feel against her chest. "She also said you got me naked. Pervert."

    0's face turned red. "I…uh…I was trying to make sure that I was doing everything to keep you alive." He noticed that 415 had had the common sense to cover Serena's body with a blanket and had set her on a mat to rest more comfortably.

    "I know that," she murmured. "I was just pulling your leg."

    "That's mean, Snorlax," he shot back, and they shared a laugh.

    It was about an hour before either of them spoke again. Outside, the night became quite beautiful and 0 kept the lights off, wanting his partner to rest as much as possible. Serena fought to keep conscious, certainly, but eventually her body won over, and she drifted off to sleep. 0 would have followed her, but such a thing was impossible. He had said goodbye to the world of dreams long ago with the serum. Instead, he picked up his syringe and refilled it with the clear blue liquid, and injected it into himself, as he was feeling the onset of a withdrawal headache.

    "0?" asked Serena, later.

    "Yes?"

    "What happened in the hot spring? I know I lured you in there, but it's all a haze to me." Her breathing was faint again, she was barely awake.

    0 debated whether to tell her the truth or lie. On one hand, she would most likely forget what he told her, no matter what he said, but on the other… He looked down, Serena was still staring at him, waiting for his answer. She had always been there for him, he thought, she had been one of his only friends for all these lonely years. She deserved the truth from him, she deserved honesty from her partner.

    "We went into the hot springs," he said. "It was hazy, and we got drugged by Sappho thanks to some pheromones he put in the air. We had sex, 3."

    "How sentimental," she murmured. "I wish we hadn't been drugged."

    "Me too. I hope it doesn't make things awkward."

    "Not really. I want to remember it, though," she answered. Serena shut her eyes. "Still, I hate that Sappho made us do it, and that we didn't decide to on our own." Her face looked pained, as if she were disappointed about something. "I know I play with you about that, but I wish we hadn't been drugged." She opened her eyes and looked at him. "Are we going to be okay?"

    He nodded. "We are, 3," he said. "Do you need anything else from me before you spiral off into unconsciousness?"

    She jerked her head in her best effort to produce a nod. "I'm…kinda scared. Do you think you could sleep with me tonight? Just so I could feel someone warm next to me?"

    "I can't sleep, 3," he muttered.

    "Then you'll be lookout…just…I need someone near me tonight."

    He sighed and agreed. Making sure to do as little as possible to disturb her, the ranger laid himself down on the floor next to her. It was hard, but somewhat comfortable and, besides, he didn't really need anything but something flat underneath him to make sure that he could at least relax a bit while he waited for Serena to sleep. But he was mistaken in thinking he could skip out on Serena's request. Somehow, despite her battered, bruised body, she managed to put her mat's cover over him so they could share, and pressed against him.

    He tried desperately to think of anything outside of the fact that her naked body was pressed against his shirt and pants. "Happy to see me?" she asked suspiciously, with a playful tone. "You do know I was beaten to within an inch of my life, right?"

    "I'm a guy," was his flimsy defense.

    She grinned, or at least attempted to. "Glad to know that," she replied. Her eyes then fluttered shut, and she slept, hopefully in peace. 0 pressed his brow against hers, and made sure she was comfortable before he allowed her to cling to him in her sleep.

    "I promise I'll protect you," he whispered. Then he sat back to think.

  6. #21
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Jan 2013
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    Default Chapter 14, Continued

    Morph Fourteen: That Which Binds Together, Part 2

    Max Birch began to climb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Y-you ca-can?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Thank you."

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

    "What is it?" Max wondered.

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

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

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

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

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    "Hey, brother?"

    "Yeah?"

    "When's little sister coming back?"

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

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

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

    "He still has sister."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    Tonight, Sarah slept with May.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "…Yes," she said hesitantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Yes, 415?"

    "Why did you tell me that?"

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

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

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

    I just have to hope 0 and Serena are enough.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    A scream in the alley awoke everyone.

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

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

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

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

    A human hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Okay," she said.

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

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

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

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

    So, as the story continued and the various pieces of it came together in my head, I decided it was more important to explore what could be done with the genre instead of being comfortable, which is why the story is what it is today. And it's all thanks to Serena, everyone's least favorite character (but very much the most important when it came to deciding what sort of story I wanted this to be).

  7. #22
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 15, Part 1

    Morph Fifteen: Sappho's Perfect Plan, Part 1

    The voice hummed lightly in the darkness.

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

    He was in a warehouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Don't fail us."

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

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

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    The Golden Ranger did not sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Sending blueprints now," confirmed Pi.

    "Hey, Pi?"

    "Yes?"

    "Where'd you find these?"

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

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

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

    "What…do you mean?"

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

    "But what?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Yes."

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

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

    "Unproductive," was his response.

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

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

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

    "Use a mirror," he suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Not yet."

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "0."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    CRASH.

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

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

    "Are you alright?" asked Caroline, concerned.

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

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

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

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

    "Go!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    STAB.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "You mean it?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

    "But what about you?"

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

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

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

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

    0 looked up into the dark sky and sighed. "Of course," he muttered and lowered his head to let Pi revive the Ranger System.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "This is gonna suck," muttered 0.

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

    I guess what I'm saying is you should always keep pushing yourself, otherwise you get too comfortable. It's what led fan-fiction to become what it is today. People got too comfortable. Get uncomfortable, and get thoughtful about how far you can take your own writing.

  8. #23
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 15, Continued

    Morph Fifteen: Sappho's Perfect Plan, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

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

    "No!"


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

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

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

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

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

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

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

    "Then…why am I here?"

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

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

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

    "A freak of nature?" inquired Serena.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Who do you work for?"

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

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

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

    "And…are you one of the rangers?"

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

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

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

    "Is the Golden Ranger Mr. Toby?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Are you close?"

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

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

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

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

    "Max was kidnapped, right?"

    "Yes, but how did you know that?"

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

    "Where is he?" asked May anxiously.

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

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

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

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

    May cried out. "Serena!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Go!"

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

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

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

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

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

    He smiled. "Thank you, 3."

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

    "How we holding up, Pi?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Ready, Lu?" asked 0.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "No!"

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

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

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

    He was transformed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "W-who is that?"

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

    0 was confused. "D-diversion?"

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

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

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

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

    Author's Note: Had a busy couple of days. Three segments will be posted today, with regular posting resuming tomorrow.

  9. #24
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 16, Part 1

    Morph Sixteen: Evolve or Die, Part 1

    Sarah Birch was crying.

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

    "Grandma?" asked Sarah.

    "Yes, baby?" replied Caroline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Where are we going?" Sarah asked.

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

    "Where are we going?" Sarah asked again.

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

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

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

    "Who are you?" Sarah asked.

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

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

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

    "Who's Sap?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sarah screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Who's following us?"

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

    "How is he?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "How is he?" Serena asked.

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

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

    "…Arm?"

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

    "Always…am…"

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

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

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

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

    "That's good," murmured Serena.

    "Is something wrong?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "At PKM, it will take-"

    "No time."

    "What?"

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

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

    "Apparently."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Keean…?" she asked.

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

    "Bait?"

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

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

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

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

    "Oh yeah," 0 muttered. "Forgot…"

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

    "How's everyone doing?" he asked.

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

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

    She nodded. "Yes, sir."

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "D-do it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A&M- …And A Day.

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

    "Careful what you wish for, May Birch," whispered Serena Brine, as she left the room.

  10. #25
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 16, Continued

    Morph Sixteen, Evolve or Die, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "What?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "What's…he like?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Pi?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Really? Somehow I doubt that."

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

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

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

    "You're going to die for her?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "H-hello," she whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    "How long do I have?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "I know who needs them," 0 decided.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    She glanced briefly at the gloves. "Why?"

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

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

    "Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Both Max and Serena silently nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "0."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Take your own lives, for example. Are you the same person you were ten, maybe even five years ago? I would doubt it. You change, little by little, until you can't see the change happen and all you notice is now you act differently from the way you once were. It's a radical change sometimes, and you wonder how or why you changed. You reflect on your own life and figure it out. That's what you should do in these types of stories, both in fan-fiction and in regular fiction. How did your character change? Why did it happen? From there, it becomes easy to make your adult character realistic. Just remember not to deviate too far from the character's intentions without a very good reason. Otherwise you just look foolish.

  11. #26
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 17, Part 1

    Morph Seventeen: Insanity's Requiem, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "I lead," retorted Sappho and charged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Suddenly, 0 felt that he could defeat Sappho.

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

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

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

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

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

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

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

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

    "Just that…what?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "You okay in there?" Serena asked.

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

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

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

    BOOM.

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

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

    Welcome, PKM! read the sign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    He nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

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

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

    In the Golden Ranger's right hand the colossal Bolt Blade was downloaded, and again 0 marveled at its weightlessness. To his hands, bound and shielded by several layers of armor, the sword almost didn't exist, if it weren't for the fact that it was so large it hardly fit in the apartment he was battling in. It scraped the ceiling, forcing the Golden Ranger to lower it for battle purposes.

    He dodged, but only barely, as the Dark Sapphire Ranger began changing his battle tactics. Having figured out that the armored chunks of his foe's body were basically a waste of time to attack, the Dark Sapphire Ranger lunged for the pieces of unprotected uniform, the vein-like golden bits that decorated his costume. But most were too difficult for a clumsy fighter like he to even hope to scrape, and time and time again he found himself thrown on his back by the hands of the peaceful Golden Ranger, who was perfectly content with stalling for time.

    0, on the other hand, thought it quite ironic that he was keeping Sappho on his back so well, especially since Oal Form was, after all, a turtle. He felt Tork's amusement at the insight. The warrior kept moving, never allowing his feet to remain motionless, for his form was too bulky to resume movement too quickly once it stopped. He did admit to himself that it was heavy, even if his sword was lighter his entire body felt like it had gained easily two hundred pounds with Oal Form. He sensed his stats were dropping, which was confirmed from a brief glance at the gauges in the visor's stat monitor.

    He needed a new plan, something that could keep Oal Form operating as long as possible before it needed to recharge. Tork, in response, opened the menu for the Synchronization Drive, displaying the options Iron Defense and Protect as alternatives to having to keep protecting his joints. After sending the Bolt Blade back to PKM, 0 chose Iron Defense to start things off.

    "What's the matter?" asked Sappho. His breath was a little more ragged than it had been when he'd started, 0 noted, but that was probably from having to jump up from the floor so many times. "Why aren't you talking? Just come on and hit me! You a coward or something?" He noticed that 0 had dematerialized his sword and giggled. "So, I guess you're done, right? That thing can only last so long, you freak!"

    0 activated the Synchronization Drive the instant the Dark Sapphire Ranger struck, his entire body transforming into a metallic grey as he struck a pose for balance, so he wouldn't get thrown down by Sappho and trapped. Sappho's claws bounced off, just like the rounds from the Lightning Laser had done only a short while ago. Unfortunately, it left 0 completely immobile, but he'd been prepared for that. When Sappho came a bit too close, as his curiosity was far too strong to simply ignore something so interesting, 0 canceled the ability and grabbed Sappho by the scruff of his neck, lifting him into the air with the aid of his reinforced shoulder and his new armor.

    He asked Tork to use Protect.

    Normally, Protect was a very powerful instrument, used to deflect attacks with a powerful force-field through which nothing could penetrate. But it had other uses as well, as Sappho discovered when the force field began projecting itself around 0's body, pressing against him with distressing force. And, because Sappho could not counterattack, and was in essence chained to 0's hand, he was pinned down by the strength of the field, his head and neck tilting in a way that could not have been comfortable as 0 depleted the Synchronization Drive's power by projecting the force field further and further out, making the Dark Sapphire Ranger's neck bend and bend backwards. Tork really didn't want to do what 0 was planning, and begged him to stop. 0 knew that Tork didn't want to kill, and he himself would never kill. But Dark Gem Rangers were tough and could heal from any injury. When it felt 0's confidence, Tork fused again with the Golden Ranger and the pressure increased.

    Above them, the lights flickered again and the evil ranger squealed as his neck snapped. His body went limp in the Golden Ranger's hands, but his head continued to thrash wildly. A beeping issued from 0's visor, informing him that he was almost out of energy. He used the very last of Oal Form's strength and the force field exploded forward, propelling Sappho through the wall, through the next apartment, and down the flight of stairs.

    His stats emptied and the Turtle Defender began dematerializing into nothingness. He felt Tork's influence fade from his mind, his wrath and arrogance returning from the place where Tork's simple love of emotions had banished them. He melded with Tork one last time, showering the Torkoal with deep feelings of gratitude, then the auxiliary Pokemon was gone, and so was Oal Form.

    "That…was interesting," the Golden Ranger said to himself. His morpher beeped and he removed the black Poke Ball that was sticking out of it, latching it onto his belt. "003, is that what you meant by a 'little defense'?"

    Bakaguru laughed. "Did you enjoy being invulnerable? I'd advise you to forget about it, your target's neck is starting to heal, so you don't have much time. Go to Rio Form, it's stronger than your standard Ranger Form, and keep holding out until Oal Form revives."

    The Golden Ranger nodded and inserted the azure Poke Ball into the morpher. "Auxiliary Pokemon System- Rio Form!" he ordered and transformed into the aura-powered knight. The Arm Boosters downloaded onto his forearms and he grew paws with claws to match Sappho's. "Lu, you there?" He was already excited, he couldn't wait to fight now!

    "Aye, sir!" piped up the AI in anticipation. "Let's fight! He's downstairs and not moving! Pounce on him!"

    The Golden Ranger crouched, diverting all power in his suit to his legs, and catapulted himself after Sappho. He laughed as he swung through the air, passing through the Sappho-shaped hole in the wall, touching down on the ground only for an instant before soaring through the second hole and down the stairs. He was going too fast, he almost rammed into the stairwell wall! But Lu warned him ahead of time and 0 didn't let his eagerness to fight get in the way of his fighting.

    He double kicked on the wall and zoomed through the air, directly towards the barely-moving Sappho, who was only now recovering from his neck injury. "Synchronization Drive- Aura Sphere!" he ordered and the aura transformed into a sphere of azure light around his fist. It slammed into Sappho's face, crushing his face into the ground. "How's the tile taste, Sapphy?"

    "A bit stale," retorted the evil ranger and punched 0 in the shoulder. However, instead of ruined flesh he hit something hard and, quite possibly, painful. "You got it replaced?" His voice was full of wonder.

    0 wagged his head up and down. "Oh yeah," he said to himself. "Gotta make sure that stays intact. After all, it's the only one we have!" He flipped away, just as Sappho started lunging for him and landed crouching low to the ground. "Come on, Sapphy! I know you've got what it takes to kill me!"

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger issued a bone-chilling snarl and bounded after the playful paladin. But 0 was determined and Sappho was sloppy. The Golden Ranger flipped and dodged in any way possible to keep out of Sappho's grasp, as failure to do so would probably mean death. But, because the Dark Sapphire Ranger was too powerful, he had become lax, inattentive, and Sappho's carelessness was the only thing that stood in between the Golden Ranger and his impending death.

    0 laughed and dropped to the ground, clamping his right Arm Booster around Sappho's left leg and pulled hard to make Sappho lose his footing. A quick kick to the crotch send Sappho flat on his back again, with 0 hauling to his feet to pursue the slowly-weakening ranger. He was winning, thought the Golden Ranger. He was winning.

    "Sir!" announced Lu. "His stats are dropping!" It was true, the Golden Ranger thought, as he glanced to the counter that estimated how much power the Dark Sapphire Ranger still had.

    "How long until Oal Form finishes reviving?" asked 0, as he side-stepped a piece of concrete that had been so uselessly thrown at him. "I can't keep doing this forever! At some point I'm going to get tired." He was already sweating from avoiding the Dark Sapphire Ranger's attacks, he didn't know how much longer he was going to be able to last…

    "That's it!" screeched Sappho. "The hell's the matter with this? Why'd you get so quick? Why can't you just shut up and stand still so I can rip your face off?"

    0 shrugged. "I'd call it…extra incentive," replied the paladin, before chuckling. "See, the deal is I get to see my daughter if I survive this fight. And that's something I really want to do!"

    Sappho hissed. He had no choice, if the fight continued he might very well run out of steam before his opponent. He would have to go all-out, something he had rather hoped he wouldn't need for someone as weak as the Golden Ranger. "Okay, Golden Boy," murmured the evil ranger, "time to see how scrappy you are when you're up against the full power of a Dark Gem!"

    The giant gem in the center of his chest exploded with power, surrounding the Dark Sapphire Ranger with an intense field of evil energy. The sapphire light sickened the Golden Ranger, made him feel weak. He lurched, but maintained his ground. "How's that feel, Golden Prick?" asked the Dark Sapphire Ranger, his voice savage with power. "Feel good? Feel nice? Or…does it feel like death?" He laughed and each giggle made 0 sick to his stomach to hear it.

    "003," he mumbled. "What's going on? Feels…weird…"

    "0, get out of there right now!" ordered Bakaguru. "The aura he's using is damaging your systems! It's…some kind of poison that's corrupting your stats! Just get away from it now!"

    He grinned. "Don't really think that's an option, 003. Lu, how long until Oal Form's up and running?"

    "It's still reviving, Tork needs at least ten minutes to recharge!" shouted Lu urgently. "We're not going to make it!"

    0 thought it over quickly. "Synchronization Drive- Endure and Aura Sphere! Surround me with the energy now!" Both attacks issued forth from his body, the aura enhancing his defenses so that he could protect himself from the evil energy. "Oh…this is gonna suck…" He forced himself through the evil aura and attacked Sappho with all the power he could muster.

    "You think that's gonna help you?" roared the Dark Sapphire Ranger and increased his energy putout. "Come any closer and it'll kill anyone but a Dark Gem Ranger!" But 0 didn't care, he tackled Sappho and threw him to the ground, struggling to maintain the field around him.

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger tore into his body, opening wounds with his claws. The Golden Ranger groaned as the aura began seeping into his suit, despite what Lu was doing to keep them protected. It was burning his chest, his torso…it hurt so much.

    "This is the end of the road for you," hissed Sappho, as he tore through the uniform's armor. "So sad…your daughter's gonna be fatherless forever, and just when it looked like she might reunite with you in a tearful, confusing reunion." He increased the pressure. "How does it feel, so close to your goal, only to lose it forever?" He forced 0's helmet so close to his, so that his menacing voice could penetrate every thought that 0 had. "How does it feel?"

    The Golden Ranger groaned, trying so hard to get away. "It…sucks," he retorted, and collapsed. Try as he might, nothing would move. Sappho, as he didn't want 0 on top of him, threw him across the room, where his back slammed against the wall and refused to move. He struggled, but the evil energy was too powerful. It forced him down.

    "0!" shouted Bakaguru.

    He couldn't move. It was all he could do to stop himself from vomiting in his helmet from the aura's contamination. "003...something tells me…this'll be my last stop," he groaned and struggled to his feet, but could only get as far as his knees. "Damn. And I was…gonna meet…my daughter…" He coughed, blood trickled from his mouth, splattering the visor's monitor in red.

    "0!"

    It wasn't Bakaguru he heard, nor was it Lu. 0 looked up, confused. "May?" he asked. "What're you…doing in my…helmet?"

    "You have to get back up!"

    He laughed. "Easier said than done, May," he muttered. Sappho was advancing, but slowly, so that the Golden Ranger could properly enjoy the torment he was enduring. "Got any good pep talks left, 'cause I think I'm all out."

    "Agent 0, we've just gotten reports from the White and Dark Emerald Rangers," said Bakaguru. "They have Sarah, and they're bringing her safely back to us. 0, she's safe."

    "She's…safe?"

    "Backup Team will be here in a few minutes."

    "Ready to die, Golden Boy?" hissed Sappho, his aura exploding with energy.

    "Hey, May?"

    "Yes?" she answered.

    "About meeting Sarah, did you mean what you said?"

    A hesitation. "Y-yes," May said.

    The Golden Ranger stood up. Ignoring all his injuries, all the disgust he felt at the aura that rampaged around him, he rose to his feet. "Lu," he said, panting, "there's only one way we're going to be able to defeat this guy."

    "I know," it replied.

    "I know I shouldn't ask this of anyone," he muttered, his head lowered, "but please…if we don't end this now…he'll keep coming after them, and they won't stop until they're dead."

    "I know," it replied.

    He gulped, Sappho was so close, his claws ready to drive into the Golden Ranger's skull. "So please," he whispered. "Please…"

    The Dark Sapphire Ranger grabbed him and placed one clawed hand on his visor. "End of the line for you, Golden Boy," he hissed. "No family reunion, no happy ending, just a cold, cold, cold corpse with a lifetime of regrets."

    "Give me the strength!"

    Outside, the sun began to rise, and the transformation began.

  12. #27
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 17, Continued

    Morph Seventeen: Insanity's Requiem, Part 2

    Upon slaughtering everything that moved on the fourth floor, the Dark Emerald and White Rangers finally reached the fifth floor where Sarah was being kept. Strangely enough, nothing was guarding the corridor and Max couldn't detect any Dark Gems in the vicinity, not even puny Rangerlings. He could, however, sense Sarah's presence, it was practically painted on the door in front of him.

    In fact, however, it was also in actuality painted on the door in front of him. Your Prize is Here! it read, in bright blue lettering painted on the door and the surrounding wall. Robin's Egg Blue, Serena thought, the most relaxing and calming of all colors. It did nothing to relieve the anxiety she was feeling, and it had no apparent effect on the Dark Emerald Ranger's behavior, as he walked up and kicked down the door with very little concern for the soothing effects of the color. Following his lead, the White Ranger proceeded into the final room where their prize awaited.

    She looked around in shock. The entire apartment complex had been so shabby, so downtrodden, but this last room felt like they had leapt right from primitive living to the very pinnacle of technology. Wires surrounded them, all feeding into the machine that Sarah Birch was trapped inside. The little girl was pounding on the wall, but no sound was coming from the glass chamber. "Soundproof," she muttered and looked around for an intercom, or something like that, so she could talk to Sarah. "Here it is." She found a switch on the cage and the little girl's wailing erupted through speakers positioned above the chamber.

    "Help me!" she screeched, her fists beating on the walls like an overbearing drum. "Please help me!" Sarah pleaded with the two rangers, certain that they couldn't hear her. "Help!"

    "Sarah," said Serena, as calmly as she could while her eardrums were being destroyed. "Sarah, you have to calm down. We can hear you, okay Sarah?" The girl caught the last bit and stopped her screeching and pounding to listen. "Are you alright? Did the blue man hurt you?"

    Sarah shook her head. "N-no," she mumbled. "H-he just p-p-put me in here…and left…"

    "Okay, sweetie," whispered Serena. "We're gonna get you out of here as soon as we can, so I need you to stay calm and sit still while we work this out."

    The little girl nodded, but turned to Max and whimpered. "Who's he?" she asked. "He looks like the blue man, but he's with you." She looked at Serena, fearful. "Are you here to hurt me?"

    Serena laughed and shook her head. Her visor retracted into her helmet, displaying her beautiful face. "Sarah, I'm Keean Toby's friend," she explained. "You remember who I am?"

    Sarah smiled. "Is Mr. Toby coming? He said he was going to go help my Mommy."

    "No, Mr. Toby's doing something else right now, he'll come back when…when he's done," Serena answered. She didn't want to burden Sarah with the knowledge that 0 wouldn't be coming back.

    "Laaaade," growled the Dark Emerald Ranger, as softly as he was able to. Sarah cringed from his voice, but he kept speaking, as if desperate for Sarah to know who he was. Finally, he snarled to himself, and his helmet began melting away, retracting into his face like the second skin it was, melding with the flesh until the hidden face of the Dark Emerald Ranger was revealed.

    Max Birch tried so hard, so hard, to speak to his niece, to tell her everything was going to be okay. But he couldn't form the words, they refused to come out. "S-S-Sarah," he whispered hoarsely, trying desperately to talk. "S-So s-sorry." He tried to say more, but the helmet emerged again and bound him back into the mold of the Dark Emerald Ranger. "Laaaaaade."

    "Uncle Max?" Sarah asked in wonder. He nodded. "Are you okay?" Again, he nodded and pressed his hand against the glass. She put her hand against his, and he wished he could hold her, to tell her everything was going to be okay, but he couldn't. "Mommy was worried, she kept calling the police…"

    "We've got something," said Serena. Max stood up to inspect the machine. "This thing is rigged to explode, the instant anyone tries to remove her from it. Motion sensors will detect if we break the glass, open the cage, without deactivating the trigger." She backed away from the machine. "I'll send the pictures over to 415, maybe she can help us solve the problem. 415, you copy?"

    The intelligence officer responded. "Support Team copies," she replied and Max put his hand to the part of his helmet covering his com-link. "Don't remove any of the wires, it'll trigger the explosion. What we need is a password. Something that'll deactivate everything, I'm sure the weapon has it somewhere. Look around and try to find it."

    Both rangers split up, searching the machine from top to bottom to locate it. After a few minutes, the Dark Emerald Ranger growled his successful detection of the device. "You found it?" asked Serena, as she bent over the keyboard that Max had found. It was a word password, which would require a hint to deactivate the machine successfully without triggering the explosives. It was printed right above the keypad, and read thusly:

    We are the Two who abandoned

    We are the Two who betrayed

    We are the Two who Promise

    We are coming for You


    "Oh, that does not look good," Serena said to herself. "What're we gonna to, 415?"

    "The riddle has clues," informed 415. "Repeated references to the number two mean probably that you get two tries to use it before it locks down and explodes. It also probably means that there are two words, and four lines means four letters per word. Standard cryptology."

    "It's 'Dark Gems'," Serena realized. "Fulfils all the criteria."

    "No, the term 'Dark Gems' is unlikely," decided 415. "The riddle is referring to two people, not an organization. These are probably the ringleaders, not the group."

    But Max shook his head, he remembered something from what his former tamer, the Dark Sapphire Ranger, had said. Something about two people, Axi and Bix. He took another look at the riddle and had a stroke of brilliance.

    He typed in "AXI BIX" and hit the confirmation button. He heard screaming, but ignored it with the Dark Emerald's help, whose soothing voice promised him he had made the correct decision. The machine beeped several times before the power shut off and the prison deactivated.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger, without waiting for permission from his stunned tamer, rose and smashed through the glass that was standing in the way of him and his niece. Sarah leapt away, so she wouldn't get hurt by the glass and he made a hole large enough for the little girl to fit through. She ran out and hugged her uncle tightly. He could feel her warmth through his suit and tightened his grip.

    "You saved me, Uncle Max," she whispered in thanks and allowed the evil ranger to carry her as the group headed out what remained of the door and down the stairs. On the way down, however, they noticed something moving beneath the broken wall, namely the Rangerling that had mounted the gun.

    "Hey, 415?" asked Serena

    "Yes?"

    "What should we do with this one?"

    "Bring it with you, we have restraints we can use to analyze. I will tell 003 that our operation was successful. See you at the safe house." The line disconnected and the White Ranger grabbed the vile creature out of the rubble. Max shielded Sarah's eyes from its disfigured body, most of it was broken save for everything above the neck, which writhed wildly. Serena grabbed its neck and incapacitated it with a single strike to its jugular vein. It would heal, as long as they kept its Dark Onyx intact, exactly like the Dark Gem Rangers could.

    As they arrived on the ground floor they powered down. Max surfaced from the control of the Dark Gem and Serena kept a tight watch over the Rangerling as they entered the car, Max and Sarah up front with Serena guarding the Rangerling in the back.

    "Hey, Max?" asked Serena.

    He glanced at the rearview mirror. "What's up?"

    "How did you know what the password was?"

    He shrugged. "The Dark Emerald told me what it was," he replied. "It remembered the people Sappho was always talking about, Axi and Bix, then it saw that 'two' was only used three times, which meant three letters, not four."

    Serena's jaw dropped at this hint of cleverness from the evil stone wrapped against Max's neck. "Well, consider us even for kidnapping me. Now let's get back home, I'm sure Bakaguru's worried sick about us."

    Max started the car, which had gotten even more worse for wear, if such a thing were possible, from the explosion from the elevator. They drove off. He glanced at the dashboard's clock, it was almost time for the sun to rise. He yawned, normally he would be getting up at this time to prepare his Pokemon for a day of training, not driving away from a rescue mission.

    Sarah's eyes fluttered and she fell asleep instantly in the seat next to his.

    He smiled. He was officially a hero.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    The aura that poured through Sappho simply vanished into thin air. A vortex surrounded Rio Form, pulsating with a glowing white light. Sappho growled and backed away from the energy that warped the Golden Ranger, transforming him into something else…no, it wasn't a transformation.

    It was evolution.

    The giant Arm Boosters on his arms detached, but remained floating right next to his forearms. They shrank, transforming into more manageable portions that mimicked the appearance and shape of the Golden Ranger's muscles. The backs of his hands elongated, gaining spikes in the center. Even his fingers got pieces of armor, making the new hands more like Lucario-shaped muscle guards than the gloves of the Arm Boosters. His visor changed too, the bottom half took on a darker shade of blue, as did the wires that looked like veins connecting the new weapons to his helmet.

    "Cario Form- online," announced the Synchronization Drive's AI. "Claw Gauntlets- installed."

    The Golden Ranger's hands moved faster than Sappho had ever seen without Agility. He grabbed Sappho's attacking arm and shoved the evil ranger into the wall, creating an imprint in the shallow wall. 0 shouted and the spike in his left gauntlet grew as he spiked it through the evil ranger's neck, pinning him to the wall and severing his spine. Sappho's body went limp.

    "Lu," said the Golden Ranger, "are you still there?"

    "Aye, sir," announced a deeper, older voice. His Baby Pokemon had grown up and the sun was shining through the windows of the ground floor. It had needed the power of the sun and the desire to protect its tamer, but it had transformed just in the nick of time to save them. "What is our next move?"

    The Golden Ranger grinned, he still felt the playful scrappiness of Lu's youth, but now it was melded with a maturity and love of battle. "I think that was a bit too easy," he replied. "How's about we let him go and give him a minute to get to his feet. Then we'll beat him up." He wrenched the spike out of Sappho's throat, blood soaking the dark spire. The Dark Sapphire Ranger fell to the ground, unable to move as his Dark Gem healed him. The evil aura surrounded 0, but it didn't bother him. Well, he thought to himself with a smirk, it shouldn't, considering he was using the Aura Pokemon itself as his weapon.

    The Lucario was calculating information. "Sir, scans show that the target's power has dropped significantly," it confirmed, displaying the depleted estimated stats on the evil ranger. "If we finish him now, we can destroy the Dark Gem by targeting it right now."

    0 grinned and shook his head. "But that wouldn't be very fun, now would it?"

    Lu chuckled. "No, it would not," it replied cheerfully.

    Bakaguru opened his channel. "Agent 0, now that you actually can, it is advised to neutralize your target immediately. Stop screwing around."

    0 nodded. "Yeah, yeah," he grumbled, Bakaguru sure knew how to take the fun out of a good fight. He flexed the Claw Gauntlets and turned as Sappho moved to his feet, completely healed. "Sorry, Sapphy," the Golden Ranger murmured to his foe, "it looks like I'm gonna have to kill you know." He cricked his neck and stretched his arms out into an offensive stance. On his fingertips, short claws popped out of the dark armor. "But, for fun, how's about we do some fancy poses one last time? For giggles."

    Sappho hissed. "You're certainly an arrogant bastard, aren't you?" he retorted. "Fine!" The Dark Sapphire Ranger clawed at the earth, his aura exploding in full force around him. "Dark Sapphire Ranger- Shattered Form!" His aura radiated around him, shattering windows, tearing through the floors, and scraping the ceiling.

    The Golden Ranger used Aura Sphere to match Sappho's quite elaborate display, summoning a shade of a Lucario to follow his motions. He moved, striking a pose so eloquent and elaborate that it left the Dark Sapphire Ranger speechless at its brilliance. "PKM Agent 0: Golden Ranger!" The aura shade of Lucario burst, transforming from a radiant shade of azure to golden as 0 changed from Aura Sphere to Endure.

    Both rangers ran towards one another, each roaring as they swept into battle. The Dark Sapphire Ranger crouched lower than the Golden Ranger and swung his heel just above the floor's surface, hoping to break 0's legs. In retaliation, the paladin flipped through the air, landing behind the crouched ranger and bashed him with an Aura Sphere-enhanced spike, digging deeply into the evil one's shoulder and shattering a bone.

    "An eye for an eye," murmured the Golden Ranger, "wouldn't you say, Sapphy?"

    His foe snarled in response, grabbed 0 by the face with his moving arm, and threw him over his shoulder to climb on top of him and bash his body in. The Golden Ranger snickered and just kept rolling so that it was he who was on top. "Ya know, Sapphy, this really isn't my idea of foreplay!" The spire went down again, digging deep into the Dark Sapphire Ranger's heart. Blood erupted like a fountain as he flipped away from the recovering body.

    "Lu, think we should end this now?"

    "Aye, sir," replied the Lucario. The Aura began channeling into both Claw Gauntlets, transforming each painful tip into bright lights of energy. "Aura Sphere charged, and isolated. Let's end this." The Golden Ranger nodded and charged forward.

    Sappho dodged, this time knowing that if he failed to avoid the attack it would be fatal. When he had shattered his chains and unlocked the full potential of the Dark Sapphire, he had also made it vulnerable to attack and break. 0 rammed through Sappho's defenses, as the Dark Sapphire Ranger seemed unused to being on the defensive side.

    Sappho grabbed both of 0's gauntlets, forcing the Golden Ranger to halt his attack. "I…won't…let…you…kill…me," strained Sappho, as he struggled to hold back the now-superior strength of the Golden Ranger.

    "You…don't…have…that…choice…Sappho!" retorted 0. He shifted forward and, using the Dark Sapphire Ranger's weight against him, tossed the evil ranger to the ground. He felt Sappho's hands relinquish their grips over his own and smashed through the Dark Gem in the center of his chest with his free spire.

    He was panting, he hadn't noticed how tired he suddenly was. The Dark Sapphire in Sappho's chest had cracked, its surface was smashed right down the middle. The evil ranger was gasping for breath, his contract was breaking. "I'm…dying?" he asked, as if wondering what might be good to eat that particular morning for breakfast.

    0 nodded. "It's over, Sappho," he gasped. "You lost."

    "Is it? I always thought my death would be so much grander, like being struck with an atomic bomb," he murmured. "Once you take out that spire, that'll be it."

    "I know," replied the Golden Ranger. "I want some information."

    Sappho laughed. "You've got a hell of a way of bartering for it, freak," he answered. "I've got nothing left, except maybe a minute or two of life, depending on how generous you are. But, since you've won, I guess you want a prize, don't ya?"

    "That'd be great."

    "What do you want to know?"

    "Who do you work for? What do you want with May Birch?"

    "Cut right to it, huh?" asked the Dark Sapphire Ranger. "We're…uh…let's see now… Oh yeah! I work for two guys, one's named Axi and one's named Bix, and they look for people like me…people like Max too…and we're turned into this. We're immortal, as long as our Dark Gems are intact, and we can always, always find one another. May Birch has something we want, oh yes, she has the Dark Gold, the most powerful one of us all, even Axi and Bix's Dark Gems would have trouble with that thing… Thing is, they don't want the little girl having the power, they want it for themselves… So they'll keep trying until she's dead, she'll never be able to run away from them!"

    0 paused. "Is it bonded to her yet?" he asked.

    Sappho shook his head. "Yes and no. Dark Gold's a fragile thing, freak. It chooses who it wants, it's bonded to her, but it hasn't made a contract. And it never will, because it needs a living sacrifice from a blood relative and their Pokemon to activate. Ain't that fun?" He giggled, and coughed, sensing his time was near. "But don't think we'll stop. There are more of us and we'll come for her. And when we get her, we'll kill her, and play with her corpse, and then…then…we'll destroy all of you!"

    "Who is your target?" the Golden Ranger asked.

    Sappho burst with an evil, hissing cackle. "You think we have a target? You think we have a plan! You're even stupider than I thought. If you had ultimate power, and you were going to do something with it, why would you limit yourself? We'll do whatever we want, whenever we want it! And I promise you this, Golden Ranger, your precious group, your precious family, and your precious world, will be the first to go!"

    "That's…it?"

    "That's all I wanna do," answered the evil ranger proudly. "And if that don't work for you, than I hope Axi and Bix think of something really terrible for you. They'll kill you! They'll kill all of you!" He laughed, and laughed and laughed and laughed. Finally, the Golden Ranger clenched his hands and tore out the spike. "They'll…they'll…"

    "Target eliminated," said 0, and the Dark Sapphire Ranger shattered and transformed into dust. His body corroded, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, until finally nothing was left but a fine blue powder that scattered along the floor. Parts of it blew in the wind, but the Golden Ranger grabbed some of it and tucked it into his belt. He lifted his morpher and ejected Lu's Poke Ball. Cario Form vanished.

    "Pi," said the Golden Ranger, "how'd I do?"

    "Great," answered the Pikachu. "Good work, partner."

    0 smiled. "This is Agent 0 to Agent 003," he muttered. "Please respond."

    A moment later, Bakaguru's channel opened. "This is 003, we read you."

    "Target is eliminated," he announced. "I repeat, target is eliminated."

    There was a sigh of relief on the other end. "I can't tell you how glad I am to hear you say that, 0," replied Bakaguru. "The whole party's sky high, we'll be inviting you shortly." The otaku was using code, telling the Golden Ranger that the entire group was in a helicopter heading in his direction. "We'll be going back to the big house." PKM Headquarters.

    "I'll get up as fast as I can," answered 0, informing the group that he would be on the roof. He glanced down to the dust that had shifted around the entire floor, coating it in a faint skin of azure. "Agent 0 out."

    His boots crunching against the dust, he headed for the roof.

  13. #28
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 18

    Morph Eighteen: A Surprise Inspection

    Outside the helicopter, the sands of Orre appeared quite beautiful.

    Of course, that was because the sun's blazing heat didn't reach inside the machine. Protected by the finest technology that PKM could provide, the Birch family was safely shielded from the harsh weather. Norman and Caroline, quite exhausted from the excitement from the previous night, were collapsed next to each other in a pair of seats. Serena was stretching her muscles, her whole body felt sore and probably would stay that way until she was inspected by the medical teams at Headquarters. Max was sitting quietly to himself, caressing his Dark Emerald as if in conversation with the evil thing. Across from him, the Golden Ranger fingered his ring in much the same way.

    "Hey, 0?" asked Max.

    He looked up. "What?"

    "What's going to happen to us when we get to your Headquarters?"

    0 looked out the window, as what passed as home for him started to approach on the horizon. "May, Sarah, and your parents will probably be given new identities after the Council reviews their case. I'll try and make sure that it's quick, but I can't promise anything. Serena and I will probably have to be debriefed, but they'll keep us with you because they like keeping people on cases they've been working."

    "You said that the rest of my family's gonna be okay," Max noticed, "but what are they going to do about me?"

    "Honestly, I have no idea, Max," replied the ranger. "You're a Dark Gem Ranger, who knows what they'll want to do with you. But we'll all try and get you special status, maybe even get you inducted into PKM as a new ranger, if things work out the way I want them to." He looked up and smiled. "But don't worry about it, okay? Even if PKM has screwed me over in the past, they do care about people. And you're still a person. Besides, even if they do decide to experiment on you, Bakaguru over there will be looking after you." They glanced to the otaku, who was currently busy piloting the chopper towards their destination. "He's a good guy."

    Max nodded. "Yeah," he said, "you guys are all pretty cool. I trust you."

    The Golden Ranger sat back in his seat, and watched Sarah and May, the little girl sleeping in her mother's arms. "I suppose you'll be wanting that explanation I owe you," he muttered and sighed deeply. "Right?"

    "I can pretty fill in most of the blanks for myself." Max glanced at the morpher, it gleamed in the Orre sun. "How…long have you been with this…PKM thing?"

    "I was recruited a little while after Sarah was born," he explained. "Remember that vacation we took, Sarah's first trip away from Kanto?"

    "The one where you brought her to Petalburg for the first time?"

    "Yeah. The day of the terrorist attack." It had been so long since he'd thought about that day, it seemed like it had been decades since it had happened. "That day, May and I took Sarah out for a day to see the town, and we got caught up in the middle of the attack."

    "And, I guess you helped out the PKM guys and they took you in."

    0 laughed. "Not exactly," he replied. "Five years ago, they were only using a prototype of the PKM Ranger technology we use today. There was only one ranger, named Agent 0, and his tech was not the best. The guys they were fighting, a group of guerrilla fighters that had a lot of bang but not a lot of brains, they beat him up and he had to power down. I was just trying to help, he let me use it to fight the guys and take them down.

    "When everything was finished, I was given a choice. They told me that because I had used the Ranger System, I couldn't go back into civilian life without endangering their program. I could either be imprisoned until the information was declassified, or I could become a new recruit for the organization." He paused. "I chose the option that let me keep my family together. I was given special treatment because of the circumstances, they kept me on as an auxiliary agent. I was a hot shot, I loved it there. Being the hero, being a dad, being a husband. I was everything I had ever wanted to be. And I was going to be a ranger, one day. It all seemed like a dream come true."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger nodded, then glanced to his sister. "How-how did it, you know…"

    "End?"

    "Yeah."

    0 groaned. "She never told you?" he asked.

    "She only said it was bad. She's never really talked about it with anyone."

    "Well," murmured 0, "I guess that makes two of us. My job doesn't really allow for much in the range of sentimentality. We work together, we live together, but we are alone. For standard agents, they are trained to work within a unit, the same applies for rangers, but we're not supposed to get close to anyone."

    Max looked over at Serena, who was now sleeping. "Is that how you met her?"

    "She was a rookie when she was partnered with me. I was supposed to become the White Ranger, but a slight change in plans happened, and she ended up with the morpher. Thinking back, it's probably the best thing that's ever happened to her. She was so quiet when we met. I wasn't sure what to think of her." He smiled and briefly looked over at his partner. "Now she's about as arrogant and confident as I used to be, back in the old days."

    Max looked outside the window, a large building was coming into view. "Hey, is that the Headquarters?" he asked, pointing to it.

    The Golden Ranger nodded. "Home sweet home, for me anyway," he muttered. "We can see it because we have special optics on our windows and monitors. It's camouflaged to keep outsiders away from it, so no one can find us. The giant building we have as a front is about a hundred miles away and is labeled as a pencil producing factory near Pyrite Town."

    "That's pretty smart."

    0 chuckled. "We're pretty smart." He leaned in his chair, over to where Bakaguru was piloting the helicopter from. "How long till we get there?" he asked.

    The otaku glanced at his coordinates. "I think we have about ten minutes until we reach the landing decks," he determined. "Go into the cargo bay and alert 415 to secure the package for my laboratory." 0 groaned and the otaku snickered. "Face your fears, Gold. I don't want you seizing up if the Dark Gems bring out pictures of 415 and you high tail it with your tail between your legs."

    "Doubt that," 0 said with a chuckle. "None of us know what her face really looks like." He walked through the chopper and opened the door to the cargo compartment, revealing what looked like a very exhausted Agent 415 sitting in front of a silenced capsule containing the Rangerling that Serena and Max had captured, writhing and screaming with no one to hear it.

    "How are you holding up?" he asked and sat down next to her.

    She didn't look at him, but instead brushed the now-grey hair out of her face, her eyes weary and mousy. "I have not slept in three days," was her response. "So, poorly."

    He pulled his syringe out of his pocket. "You want some serum?"

    She shook her head. "I require no drug to do my job, rookie," she retorted. 415 rubbed her eyes wearily, struggling to keep them open. "Medical treatment better not be limited to just you rangers and the Birch family. I need some pills for insomnia. And headache capsules." She rested her head against the wall. "Anyway, what do you want? There is no need for a second bodyguard."

    "Bakaguru wanted me to tell you we would be arriving at Headquarters in ten minutes."

    "We have eight minutes, twenty-eight seconds," she corrected. "I calculated it."

    She reached into her pockets and retrieved the Golden Gauntlets. "Here, take these," she said and handed them back. "I do not want to wear them anymore."

    He took them and stuffed them into the pockets of his uniform. "415, what did you mean when you said you hated me?"

    "You require explanations to understand a person's hatred to you?"

    "Kinda."

    She sighed. "Well, not now. Tell Bakaguru that the cargo will be ready when we land." 0 left.

    "How you holding up, Pi?" 0 asked, putting his hand to the com-link in his ear.

    "Shaky," it replied. "You used way too much of the Synchronization Drive while we were fighting. Three transformations consecutively, I'm lucky to still be operational."

    "Sorry. I didn't know it would have that kind of effect on you."

    "Everything related to the Spirit Morpher has to run through me," it explained. "We can use the Synchronization Drive in Ranger Form without problems because our bond is very strong. But the Auxiliary Pokemon require assistance from me to lend you their attacks."

    "Maybe Bakaguru can give you an upgrade when he finishes analyzing the Ailed Morpher blueprints," 0 pointed out. "One that'll make it safer for us to use the APS."

    "I can only hope," murmured the Pikachu. "You'd better change, we're about the land. You should look professional when we arrive."

    0 grumbled. "Yeah, yeah," he muttered to himself, and opened the options in his morpher for his attire. After some searching, he located the PKM Golden Ranger uniform and switched to it. His civilian clothes transformed into the gold-and-black official uniform that PKM had provided for him in a flash of red light. He dusted off his uniform and adjusted his goggles. Serena, noticing his transformation, followed her commander and donned the white-and-black jacket, v-neck shirt, and pants of her station, and jumped to her feet.

    "We almost there?" she asked.

    He nodded. "Home sweet home. Put on your goggles, 3," he ordered. She nodded and pulled out a pair from her pocket and shifted the pair over her eyes.

    "All set," she announced and glanced to the evil ranger in the corner. "Hey, Max, why don't you go wake up your family? It'd probably be more comforting to them. We're going to go help Bakaguru pilot back to the landing ports." Both PKM Rangers headed into the cockpit and got into position. 0 took the copilot seat, while Serena opened communications to the Headquarters.

    "Tell them we're coming," ordered Bakaguru.

    Serena put on the headphones. "This is Poke 455," she announced.

    "Poke 445, this is control tower. You are cleared for landing. Please proceed directly to Landing Dock 3. Escort will be offered for the cargo."

    "Roger, we're docking now." Bakaguru, with the assistance from the Golden Ranger, decreased the thrust of the chopper's blades and touched down. A slight lurch was felt throughout the cabin, thankfully Max had advised everyone to grab something before landing. "Open the hatch!"

    The back of the chopper opened up, whereupon several agents swarmed the back of the craft, locating the test subject that was writhing across from 415 and wheeled it out. Then the team filed away to allow the passengers passage outside. The Golden Ranger and the White Ranger, flanked by 415 and Max, led the Birch family out into the terrible heat of the Orre sun, with Bakaguru bringing up the rear.

    0 glanced back at May and grinned. "Welcome to PKM," he said. "Let's get inside. Sandstorms are pretty frequent around these parts."

    She nodded. "Sure," she replied and picked up her daughter. "How you doing, honey?"

    "Sleepy," answered the little girl, as they headed into the hanger and the doors shut from the elements. Instantly a soothing breath of cool air floated over their faces, and Norman and Caroline were quite appreciative of that. 0 and Serena were indifferent to it, as were 415 and Bakaguru, and they strode towards the hissing door that would grant them access to the facility.

    "This is the primary hanger for PKM," explained Bakaguru to the family, as they gazed about in wonder. Machines of all shapes and sizes surrounded them, most of them helicopters and fighter jets, although Max thought he spotted a tank or two in the back. "We use it to house the majority of our offensive transport vehicles. Most of the standard vehicles are kept in other hangers with the defense machines. The only reason we docked here is because our transport was considered top priority and we wanted extra protection in case we were being followed."

    "Cool," Max murmured, the hanger looked like something out of a science fiction novel to him. "So this is where you guys work?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "Oh yes," he said. "It is very cool indeed."

    The entry door hissed then opened quickly. 0 hated the efficiency of the machine. He walked through, ignoring the salutes from several of the cadets that were stammering in his and Serena's presence. He because of his imposing, powerful figure, and her due to her natural beauty and charm. The passerby cadets looked on with interest at the new people walking through the building, but found other things to be interested in when 0 looked at them and growled.

    "Uh…" May murmured, "where are we going?"

    "We are taking you to your newly arranged quarters," explained Bakaguru. "But we are first stopping to drop Max, Serena, and 0 off at the Council chambers for debriefing."

    "Why does Max need to go?" Norman asked.

    "He has been contracted to a Dark Gem, the users of which have been targeting your daughter," Bakaguru explained. "The Council will be deciding what to do with him, as we've never encountered a subject like Max before."

    "A subject?" spat Norman. "He's my son, not a piece of meat."

    "Dad!" exclaimed Max, stepped in between the two men. "It's fine, Dad, really." He looked over to the Golden Ranger and grinned. "They're going to help me get better. I'm sure they'll do what's best for me, okay?" Norman didn't like the sound of his son's words, but knew that the choice wasn't up to him.

    "Fine," he muttered. "Just be careful, alright?"

    Max nodded and patted his father's shoulders. "Always am," he replied with a smirk. He turned and walked towards Serena and 0. "Well, we shouldn't keep the Council waiting, right?"

    0 shrugged. "I keep hoping they'll die, but those old guys never do no matter how long I make 'em wait." Max laughed and Serena snickered. Even May lightened up a bit. "Come on, let's get this over with. I want Max off the most wanted lists of every anti-terrorist group as soon as possible." The Golden Ranger turned and headed toward the Council chambers. After a few moments, Serena and Max started following him, leaving the rest of the Birch family with 415 and Bakaguru.

    "I'm hungry!" announced Sarah.

    Bakaguru chuckled. "How about I set you all up at your living quarters, then I take you all to the mess hall on me?"

    "Yay!"

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    0 hated being inside the Council chambers.

    For one, it was always dark. The members of the Council themselves always sat above, masked by darkness to hide their faces. Sometimes, 0 even doubted that anyone was up there, and all he was doing was explaining himself to a bunch of speakers. Which was probably likely, considering the secretive nature of his organization.

    "Golden Ranger, White Ranger, please explain why you have brought this individual to this hearing," said the voice of the Council, quite calmly. "This is a debriefing, he has no say here."

    0 noticed that Serena was about to say something and stopped her just before her mouth opened. "Max Birch was accidentally exposed to an item known as a Dark Emerald and as such has gained a ranger form in the shape of the Dark Emerald Ranger," he explained. "We were to understand that the hearing was for all active rangers on the May Birch case. He is here because he assisted us in our mission to rescue Sarah Birch. He provided assisted manpower and is a very key component on why the entire Birch family is still alive."

    "Agent 0?"

    "Yes?"

    "Haven't we already been clear on the cutting of the crap? Don't patronize us."

    He sighed. "He's here because I want him in the organization. His family's already in protective custody, and he has strength that can be of assistance to our battle against the Dark Gem Rangers. Let him be an auxiliary ranger for PKM."

    There was a pause as the Council voice prepared to respond. "While your request is an enjoyable fantasy, Agent 0, we have not finished our ruling on Max Birch's status as the Dark Emerald Ranger. For now, we have decided that he shall be analyzed by Agent 003, Bakaguru Niwa, and his team to assess his Dark Gem's power for our profile on the terrorist organization before any new decision is made."

    0 glanced at Max apologetically. "Sorry buddy, guess you'll have to spend some time with Bakaguru in his lab."

    Max smiled. "At least it's not a prison."

    "You have no idea," replied Serena.

    "Silence," ordered the Council's voice. "Agents 0 and 3, we have read the report of the incidents regarding the Dark Sapphire Ranger and his connections, and it has been determined that the protective custody of the Birch family is…compromised."

    "Compromised how?" asked 0.

    "Your intimate relationship with the family and your breach of ethics with Agent 3 have forced us to call competency hearings to determine your ongoing status as May Birch's guardians. We are also considering the possibility of separating you both as partners."

    "What?" exploded both Serena and 0, then glanced rather awkwardly at one another.

    "You can't do that!" protested Serena. "You're the ones that put us together in the first place!"

    "That was because we were…shortsighted. We were under the assumptions that you would both be able to act in a professional manner toward one another, but our monitoring of your interactions has brought severe doubt about your teamwork skills. Over the next week, you will both be subjected to competency hearings to determine your skills and assess your ability to work as a team." Another pause. "You both, like Max Birch, will be observed very closely."

    The Golden Ranger ground his teeth and clenched his fists. "You dare presume we need competency hearings?" he demanded. "Who the hell are you going to get to replace me? To replace us?"

    "We are glad you asked us that," replied the voice. "Send them in."

    The three rangers looked toward the doors, absolutely no one walked through. Finally, another voice, the receptionist's, came over the speakers. "Uh, they aren't here," she explained.

    The Council's voice paused. "What do you mean, 'not here'? They were supposed to be here an hour ago. They checked in."

    "Yes…I think they might have hacked through my system and…" Her voice stopped, as if she was talking to someone outside. "Wait, they're here now! I'm sending them in."

    Doors opposite to the ones 0, Serena, and Max had entered through opened, flooding the Council chamber with light. Two figures were standing there and, together, they walked into the room, perfectly synchronized in stride. Serena gasped, she knew who they were.

    One of them, the leader, stood on the left opposite 0. He was shorter, by maybe a few inches, and he had a lollipop sticking out of the corner of his mouth. His face had a wide grin on it and he flicked a salute off the very stylish sunglasses he was wearing. His hair, a bright golden-brown, was stuck up everywhere, exactly like someone who had recently leapt out of bed with an aversion to mirrors. He pulled out the lollipop, cherry-flavored and colored red, and licked his lips. He was wearing a uniform similar to 0 and Serena's, only his color patches were red and the number woven into his shoulders was a blazing 1. His right arm, to match, had a black watch-like device 0 recognized as a morpher, with red flames around the trigger switch and center. The collar of his uniform jacket was popped.

    Both of them looked younger than 0, but the other person seemed much younger somehow, like a kid, even though she was probably at least twenty. Her hair was dark and came down to her shoulders, a shade that looked like a cross between black and brown, and her eyes were strange. One of them was blue, while the other was green. Her face was beautiful, but her mouth was a thin line, unlike her partner's, which was loud and hanging open. The colors on her uniform was simple pink, like her morpher. Her eyes were on the ground, refusing to budge.

    "Agents 0 and 3," said the voice. "These are your evaluators, Agents 1 and 5. They will be conducting mental and physical examinations on you to determine your competence to continue serving as guardians of May Birch." A pause, before the voice turned stern. "You are late."

    "Yeah…" murmured the Red Ranger and popped the lollipop back into his mouth. "We accidentally took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, wound up somewhere in the Orange Islands in the middle of a typhoon, and ended up stranded on an island somewhere filled with giant Pokemon. It was insane!"

    "Is any of that true?"

    He laughed. "'Course not," he replied, cool as a cucumber. "I overslept. But we're here now and we're ready to do some evaluating." He grinned and looked towards Serena with a face that 0 recognized from Serena herself. "Can I evaluate her? She looks feisty…"

    Agent 5, after some hesitation, glanced towards the shoes of her partner and smacked him upside the head. The Red Ranger groaned and rubbed his skull from the attack. "Why'd you do that?" he asked her in a whiny voice. "It's not okay to hit each other when we're in the presence of company! We haven't even seen new Golden Ranger before, and we're already making a bad impression."

    "Agent 1, restrain your behavior," announced the Council. "You will be evaluating Agent 0, and Agent 5, you will evaluate Agent 3. Max Birch will be evaluated by Agent 003. We will reconvene in one week. Dismissed." The sound of a gavel issued and the five rangers knew they were alone in the room.

    The very loud Red Ranger walked up and decided to introduce himself, so naturally he went in the direction of Serena and bowed slightly. "It is a pleasure to see you again, Serena Brine," he said, with the grace of a prince.

    She giggled. "I see you're still as slick as ever, Dreas Logan," Serena replied, then turned to the Pink Ranger, who had not moved from where she had been standing. "Karin! How've you been?" Karin lowered her head again, clearly uncomfortable.

    Logan put out his hand to the Golden Ranger. "How's it going, buddy?" he asked, shaking 0's rather reluctant hand. He looked 0 over and chuckled. "So you're the new Golden Ranger, huh? Gotta say it's weird not having the old man around. I'm the Red Ranger, Dreas Logan, and this is my partner, the Pink Ranger, Karin Karino."

    "Charmed," 0 muttered.

    Logan cocked his eyebrow. "Aw, we got a funny one here!" he exclaimed to his partner. "Don't you think it's weird that I get to review you, since you're supposed to be the leader of our little quartet?"

    "You have no idea," was the Golden Ranger's reply. He looked to Serena, who was chatting one-sidedly with a very mute Karin. "3, let's get going and find May and the others. We need to let them know what's going on." Serena nodded and backed away from Karin to 0. The Pink Ranger then immediately retreated behind her partner's back. "Max, ready?"

    Max nodded. "All set."

    Logan had overlooked the Dark Gem Ranger and glanced over to get a good look at him. "Oh, this must be the recruit you dragged in," he observed. "How's it hanging, rookie?"

    "Fine, I guess," said Max and he fell into flank next to the Golden Ranger. "They're going to be running some tests to see if I can help Serena and…0, when my sister and the rest of my family are put in protection."

    "Can I get a look at the Dark Gem?" asked Logan.

    Its owner shrugged. "Sure." Max grabbed the chain and pulled the gemstone out of his shirt. Logan awed in its presence, evidently he loved shiny things, and lifted his hand to touch the gem. However, it flared violently when he reached a bit too close and everyone assumed that the Dark Emerald disliked Logan for some reason. Possibly his annoying behavior, but whatever the cause the Red Ranger quickly lost interest in the shiny stone and decided to follow the trio out of the Council chamber. Karin followed.

    "How are these evaluations going to go?" asked the Golden Ranger, as he proceeded back towards his own quarters. "Max, you'll be bunking with me until we can get you set up in the lab, okay?"

    "Okay."

    The Red Ranger shrugged. "Little of this, little of that. Fact of the matter is, I was kinda surprised they asked us to do it. I figured that since Bakaguru was gonna give everyone's morphers a huge reboot they wanted to see where you two stood when it came to fighting. We never did officially screen you for the job, Golden Boy."

    "Uh-huh."

    "By the way, you got a name to go with that shiny new color you're wearing?"

    He shook his head. "Nope. Classified. 0 will do just fine though."

    Logan shrugged. "That's kinda lame, if ya ask me."

    0 looked at the ranger and grinned. "Good thing I didn't."

    Logan and Karin, after following the trio around for a while, decided that their attentions were better called for at the cafeteria, as it was time for Logan's fifth feeding of the day. Logan, after wishing them all a pleasant evening's rest, allowed himself to be dragged off by Karin in the direction of the mess hall.

    "Something's not quite right with those two," muttered 0.

    Serena nodded. "They're a bit messed up, but they work well together. But that Logan is such a flirt!" She giggled, a slight tingle of red emerged on her face. "It's nice to know I've still got the goods."

    "Am I the only one that noticed that Karin doesn't talk?" Max asked.

    Serena nodded. "Yeah, that's just one of the many things she doesn't do," she explained. "She doesn't do eye contact either."

    "Why?" asked 0.

    Serena shrugged. "I think it's some kind of anxiety disorder, she's shy almost to a flaw. I think that's why they were paired up in the first place. Dreas is loud, annoying, but Karin keeps him in line somehow. And he helps Karin do her job by getting her to interact with others."

    "I guess you have a point there," 0 agreed.

    Serena smiled. "It's just like us, if you think about it. You're so serious sometimes, you need a party girl like me to bring you back down to reality." 0 chuckled and lightly shoved her as he walked past. In return, she slammed into his back, throwing him off balance and forcing him to grab a wall to conserve his balance.

    Max squinted. "Hey, is something going on between you two?" he asked suspiciously.

    Both 0 and Serena, in response, turned bright red in the face. "N-not at all," they both replied, more embarrassed than anything else.

    "We're just friends," 0 said hastily.

    Serena nodded. "Best friends," she was quick to offer.

    Max wasn't quite sure about that, but didn't feel like pressing the issue, something that both agents were grateful for. They kept walking, up until Serena reached her quarters and disappeared behind the door with a word of farewell. "Where do you live, anyway?" Max asked, as they had been walking for some time.

    "Somewhere far away from her," was his reply. "Before we got partnered up, I really couldn't stand her, so I requested living quarters as far away from her as possible. With locks. A lot of locks."

    After maybe twenty minutes of walking, they arrived at a door that Max took to be the entrance to 0's quarters. "It's not much," he said, as he retrieved his key, "but it's what I've called home for three years." He unbolted the lock and the door opened.

    0 and Max walked inside, but stopped just short of an actual tour of the tiny quarters. Instead of the solitude that he had been hoping for, someone was already seated on the bed waiting for him.

    May.

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    May Birch, after some slight difficulty, managed to successfully put her daughter to sleep. Sarah didn't go willingly, she wanted to go exploring all around the exciting Headquarters and only let her head touch the pillow after her mother promised her the chance to do so the next day, when all the big machines and all the people would be up and about and more willing to play.

    No sooner than Sarah was asleep did a knock issue on the door to their sleeping quarters. Tiptoeing, for she didn't want to wake Sarah, May walked up to and opened the door. Outside were Bakaguru and 415. She moved outside the room and shut the door. "Yes?" she asked.

    "Ms. Birch," said Bakaguru, with a nod of his head. "I'm sorry to impose on you at a time like this, but would you object to accompanying me on a late night walk? I find it helps soothe the digestion, especially after a big meal like the one we just had."

    "I can't, my daughter likes when I'm nearby when she sleeps," May answered.

    The otaku smiled, and looked towards 415. The woman closed her eyes and suddenly her face was a perfect replica of May's. "415 will keep watch over Sarah until you return, but I am afraid that it is important that we speak privately." Without waiting for confirmation, 415 walked inside the room and shut the door quietly behind her. Bakaguru whistled and started down the corridor and May, seeing as the choice was out of her hands, followed.

    "Where are we going?" Bakaguru smiled and turned a corner in response to her question.

    "We are going to do a little breaking and entering," he replied and lifted a key from his pocket. "I thought I should undo a little bit of the damage that has been done to your family." He turned yet another corner. "We are going to the living quarters of Agent 0. I believe that his belongings should be returned to their proper locations by now."

    "Why are we going to…0's quarters?" she asked. She didn't like the Golden Ranger's designation, it felt wrong on her tongue.

    Bakaguru smiled. "It is no secret, Ms. Birch, that there was once a time when you were married to the man we now know of as the Golden Ranger. It is also true that that relationship ended poorly." He glanced towards her and pushed his glasses back into his nose. "I believe that, if you wish to entrust the protection of your family to this man, you should understand a little bit of what he has become in the three years that the two of you have been separated."

    "Well, he's still the same person, isn't he?"

    "Yes and no. When he was brought into PKM as a full agent, no longer tied to outside distractions, it was determined by the Council that he undergo physical and mental training to remove any chance of him being recognized by the general public. Do you remember when he was at the Saffron Contest, under the alias Keean Toby, and absolutely no one recognized him? Not a single, solitary human being could identify him from the person he once was. He has had to make several transformations to shield himself from the outside world."

    "But he was-" May started to say, but was cut off by Bakaguru's hand.

    "I will put this simply," said Bakaguru, his heart quite heavy with the news he had to deliver. "Agent 0 is not your husband. Years of anger, bitterness, and sadness have molded him, changed him, into the person he is today. And I am sorry for that, but those are the facts. The man you once called your husband has been dead for three long years. In his place is our dog, our weapon, and our fighter."

    May stopped walked and Bakaguru turned to face her. "Why are you telling me this?" she asked. "Why?"

    "Because I need you to understand these facts," he explained, his face turning red. "There is no doubt in my mind that some piece of him still wants to, and will fight for, the opportunity to reunite with his family." There was absolutely no question of this for the otaku, May could see it in his eyes. "I have no intention of stopping him. After such a long time, Agent 0 is finally starting to live again. And he is my friend." He sighed. "I guess what I am asking you do to is remember these things. I do not wish to see him hurt again. He has…suffered enough for us."

    May put a reassuring hand on the otaku's shoulder. "I promise I won't hurt him," she whispered. "Not again."

    The engineer lifted his head with a sad smile on his face. "Thank you, Ms. Birch. That boy has had enough trouble in his life, I just wanted to make certain that nothing further happens to push him over the edge like his predecessor."

    "What happened to him?"

    "The prior Agent 0 was a machine, his body and mind transformed into something that was not human. He and his morpher became one, and he was trapped in morph, unable to transform back into a normal person. He had to wear his uniform at all times, we tried time and again to remove it, but he had experimented on himself too severely to go back. Until you re-entered 0' life, and until he was partnered with Serena Brine, I feared this fate would be repeated. I consider it my duty to ensure it does not."

    He swiftly turned around and started walking again. After a moment, May took a few quick steps and fell into stride alongside the silent otaku. They continued to walk, neither speaking, until finally they arrived at an unremarkable door, at which Bakaguru pulled out a key. "Benefit of being the head of R&D," he said, "I can make keys for anything." He inserted it into the lock and twisted it open. He led May through the door.

    To May, the room seemed bare somehow. The walls had nothing, no posters, no pictures, it was as if no one even lived in the room. The mattress had no sheets, and it seemed as if no one had ever slept on it. The only thing that even had a hint of life in the room was a picture frame on the clothing drawers, which was turned so that the frame's back was all that could be seen. A satchel was in the corner, filled probably with clothes.

    "I'll see myself out," Bakaguru said to himself and left her alone. May hardly noticed, she was too interested in her surroundings or, perhaps it should be said, the lack of surroundings. She took a few steps forward, until she was in the center of the room.

    It didn't even smell like him. That was probably an odd thing to think, but May could recall from memory the exact scent of his presence from when they had been married. She remembered it from when they had held one another, when they had slept together, so many other things… But the room she stood in now seemed dead, like a zombie dwelt within its walls. She walked to the door leading to the bathroom, but even that was bare of any personal items.

    "What happened to you?" she whispered and her eyes were drawn to the picture. She felt a need, a deep emotional desire, to know what the picture was. She approached it, like a very, very cautious spy might approach a valuable piece of information. She grabbed it suddenly and stared at the back of the frame in wonder. What was the picture of? Why was it the only piece of personal memorabilia that the Golden Ranger owned?

    Mentally, she slapped herself for wondering these things and wasting very valuable time that could have been spent looking at the picture, and turned it over. It was a portrait of several people, a group actually. Their friends… "Brock, Misty, Dawn, Tracey, Max…" she murmured, as she traced the faces of the people surrounding the trio in the picture. The married couple, holding their newborn daughter in their arms. "Sarah's first picture with everyone." She pulled the picture out of the casing and clasped it to her chest, feeling tears form on her burning eyes. "Oh, no…" she murmured.

    When she opened her eyes to look at the photo again, she saw something written on the back, a sentence in pen that had faded slightly from the years it had been since it had been placed in the frame. She turned the photo around to read the inscription, which was very poorly written. She giggled slightly, 0 had always had bad handwriting.

    Protect them. No matter what.

    Wordlessly, for there was nothing that could have possibly been said in the face of something like that, May placed the photo back into the frame and sat down on the bed. It squeaked as she adjusted herself so she would feel more comfortable, and she put the frame beside her. She would wait for him.

    He arrived a while later, talking with her brother. She almost jerked up in shock when she heard the key turn in the door, she had been drifting asleep. The two rangers walked into the room, then stopped when they noticed she was there. The Golden Ranger's mouth was open, in mid-sentence of whatever he had been saying to Max. After about a minute, which actually felt like an hour, he turned to Max.

    "Hey, mind giving us a minute?" he asked. "I-we need to talk."

    Max nodded and patted 0's shoulder. "Take as much time as you need," he replied and headed back out the door, his hand wandering aimlessly towards the Dark Emerald. After Max shut the door, 0 sighed and put his hands in his pockets as he lowered his head.

    "Bakaguru let you in, right?" 0 said. "I need better security."

    The both of them stared at each other, sensing tension seething through the room in such quantities that it, had it been anyone else, they would have left the room. Instead, May smiled and looked to the part of the mattress she was not occupying, patting it with her hand. "Here," she murmured, "come sit with me." 0, not sure what exactly May had in mind, sat down only after considerable hesitation. Neither looked at each other, instead their eyes were quite firmly set on the bare wall opposite them. "So, how did your meeting go?"

    He groaned, and rubbed his brow. "Pretty bad," he admitted. "The Council decided to set up competency hearings to see if Serena and I can follow you into protective custody. If we fail, you'll be assigned to another team of rangers instead of us."

    She nodded. "And what about Max?"

    "They didn't say anything about if he's going with you. Bakaguru is going to be running some new tests on him, see if he can be of any use. If we try hard enough, he'll be brought into the organization and permanently assigned to your case. We're-" He paused, for some reason his tongue felt quite dry. "I'm going to try to make sure that your family is kept together, May." He looked around and noticed that his picture was missing from its place on the dresser. "Hey, where's the photo?" he asked. "The grunts had better not have messed with it." He started getting up to inspect the possible theft, but May grabbed his jacket's sleeve and held him back. He looked at her and saw that the frame was in fact sitting right next to her.

    "I'm so sorry," she said and held it up. "I looked at it without asking, I didn't-I didn't know what it was."

    He held out his hand. "Please give it back." She looked at one last time, then carefully handed it back to him. He glanced at the photo briefly, before setting it back in its rightful place on the dresser. "I was wondering something, May."

    "What?"

    "Well…when can I see Sarah? You promised that you were going to let her know who I was."

    She nodded, as he rejoined her on the bed. "I know, and she will. But first, we need to talk about something."

    "Sure," 0 said. "What?"

    "Bakaguru brought me here," she explained. "While we were coming here, he…he told me some things about you. About how much you've changed since we were together." She looked towards him, she had such trouble making eye contact with the pair of goggles he was wearing. "When I thought you were Keean Toby, I had such a strong sense of déjà vu that I didn't even realize who you were. It felt like I had you back, only it wasn't you. He was someone strong, someone filled with life." She reached out and touched his hand. "Was that a lie, or was it really you?"

    "May, Keean Toby was a cover. When I made him, I based him a little off myself-the way I used to be-before PKM, but he's not who I am now." 0 held her hand and she squeezed his fingers. "Who I used to be…I don't think I could ever go back to him. We're not kids anymore, May. Neither of us are the same person we used to be."

    "No," she agreed, "we're not. You've grown up, haven't you?"

    He smiled. "I see you're as insightful as ever," he replied.

    She giggled. "Being a mother means you have to be able to tell a daughter why they've been misbehaving. I haven't quite gotten the hang of it yet."

    "And a father is supposed to be able to protect his daughter," he said, his heart heavy. "May, I'm so sorry I wasn't there for you and Sarah. I just-we just-" He blew a raspberry. "Even after all this, even now that you know the truth, I still can't find the words to explain what happened."

    For some reason, 0 felt the tension that he had been sensing earlier begin to evaporate. He was regressing into his fantasies, he had always dreamed of this, the perfect moment, when May would finally understand what had happened between them and why it had been necessary. But it was also different. The speech he had memorized, the explanation that he had always wanted to give to May, it just wouldn't come out of his mouth. He tried, he still remembered the words, but not a single one rose to his tongue, which sat in his mouth like a flab of wasted skin.

    All he seemed to be able to say was, "I'm sorry."

    May nodded. "I know," she replied. He would tell her when he was ready to. "When I introduce you to Sarah, if you feel like it, you can tell me what really happened."

    He felt her climb on top of him, her head buried in his shoulder, not the fake left one, but the warm right one. Through his uniform, he could feel her tears, and he reclined on his bed so that they could be comfortable. They didn't have sex, no…neither of them was up for it. It was just nice, thought 0, to finally be able to hold his wife again.

    "I'm so glad," she murmured.

    0 perked his head up. "About what?"

    "That I was wrong."

    Author's Note: Fun fact, everyone! Chapter 42 came out on Sunday and I completely forgot to mention it. So, if you happen to be all caught up on this story, go check it out. Work on Chapter 43 begins next week, as I have my anniversary this weekend and intend to be rather impressive for my lady friend.

  14. #29
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 19

    Morph Nineteen: Red vs. Gold

    Dreas Logan, after some considerable effort, rose from the floor sometime after the morning alarm had rang. He was aware of this because of two things: one, the bed that Karin had been occupying was vacant; and two, he could hear the shower in the background of his morning stupor. He blinked several times, his eyes had a very distinctive color, like his uniform they were both bright red. And like him they were very special indeed. He shifted his head, as his neck felt a bit stiff, then began crawling in the direction of the bathroom. He grinned, knowing what awaited his eyes once he opened the door.

    Logan, quite the perverted imp, reached for the door handle. He had to be very quiet, well aware of the beating that could result from Karin as a consequence of peeping. That girl didn't talk, thought Logan as he slowly opened the bathroom door, but she sure knew her way around giving a bloody nose. The Red Ranger glanced into the bathroom, to the untrained eye it might have seemed like there was nothing inside but a pile of steam. But that was nothing to the eyes of the Red Ranger, he looked straight through the fog, his eyes glowing eerily. He could see a distinct shape moving in the mist, like a siren swaying in sprinkling water. He grinned wildly as the shape took on the shape of his partner, slowly but surely. He wanted to take his time with the unveil, he so hated when he had to speed things up and ruin his viewing pleasure.

    But, the shape didn't materialize the way he had hoped. Instead of the glistening, naked form of his partner, he saw what looked like an arranged assortment of cleaning utensils. A broom made up the body, aided by a cut pillow to form the curves, buckets for the breasts, and a mop for the hair. Suddenly, a feeling of dread entered Logan's chest as he glanced to the portion of the room he had not bothered to pay attention to.

    The area where Karin had been hiding, she knew his techniques all too well, so rarely did he vary them. She was wearing a towel, quite nice in its own way, but the way her left hand happened to be clenched into a fist, and her arm quivering with silent irritation, gave Logan the distinct impression that he should begin informing his next of kin of his last rites.

    But instead of trying to explain himself, as he knew that nothing he said would ever have been believed by his partner, he merely smiled and gave the appropriate thumb's up. "Nice curves," he said. "You may now punish me."

    And she did. Logan's face, as it so often did, made friends with Karin's fist and the back of his head made friends with the nearby wall, as it so often did. He felt drowsy again, but regained consciousness when he felt Karin climb on top of him, gripping him by the scruff of his neck. He looked up, her eyes explained to him exactly why she was angry at him, those beautiful blue and green eyes filled with so very much rage. He glanced down, the exact angle of his eyes allowed him to see her cleavage. She had small ones, he thought, he had spied on them many a time, with this being the usual result.

    Then he noticed the fist aimed at his face. "Now hang on, Karin," Logan began, his hands held up to protect his head. "Let's discuss this a bit." Her mouth did not flicker from the thin line it always was. "Now, there's a padlock on that bathroom door, and I know full well there is because we always request one for events like these. Now, why is it you always forget to lock the door? I know I can jimmy the lock, but I don't think I should be punished for subjugating myself to my inner demons."

    This was probably the seven hundredth time he had used that excuse and, like all those last seven hundred times, it failed to work the seven hundredth and first time. Karin's fist, like the hand of Arceus itself, came down upon his nose as fast as lightning. The Red Ranger, noticing the muscle movements in her fingers and forearms, jerked his head to the side just in time to dodge it. Karin's hand went right through the wall, a thunderous crunch echoing in result.

    "Why can't we just kiss and make up?" he suggested. "You know this could be entirely avoided if we showered together." An eruption of red splashed along her face and she lowered her head so he could not see. Logan took advantage of the momentary lapse of control to shift his body, rolling them so that it was he who was on top. He gripped her hips with his legs, and grabbed both arms, keeping his body high enough so she couldn't head butt him.

    "So, we ready to call it quits?" he asked. "We've got a busy day today and we can't spend it wrestling." After severe rage was exchanged by the Pink Ranger to her partner visually, she finally resigned herself to the fact that he had won and allowed him to stand up. "Come on and change. I've gotta shower, then we'll go drive the rookies crazy." He stripped down, quite uninterested in the fact that Karin was in the room, and shut the door behind him as he prepared the shower.

    "You gonna torment Serena today?" he asked, as the hot water he so loved seared his flesh, almost as if he expected her to respond. "I'm figuring on putting some pain on our new superior officer. That Golden Ranger's not gonna know what hit him!" He laughed and soaped up his muscular, if somewhat pale, body. After several minutes of that, he applied some shampoo to his near-perfect hair and rinsed off shortly after. He dried briskly, his hair looking even more like it was in desperate need of a comb. He got dressed and exited the bathroom, where Karin was waiting silently on the bed, her hands curled into tight balls on her knees.

    "What's up?" he asked, as he finished drying off his hair. "You chicken out of peeking on me again?" He sat down next to her, it seemed her face was still rather red from their encounter only a moment ago. "Are you worried about these rookies?"

    Hesitantly, Karin nodded her head. Logan laughed and put his arms around the girl. "Relax, Karin," he assured her. "We've both read their files, and yeah one of them is pretty tough, but Serena ain't got jack on what you can do! And I've got big, bad Gold, so don't worry. I know you get performance anxiety, but try to keep your head clear and you'll do fine." She gulped, but nodded. "That's the spirit! Now, how's about we go get some breakfast? I think we deserve it after that workout."

    Logan jumped up and Karin took her position behind him as they headed out. As always, the Pink Ranger looked at no one as she and her partner walked through the corridors of PKM Headquarters. Logan, every time he noticed someone, would stop and hand them a small flyer before proceeding on his merry way. She didn't notice exactly what the flyers said, nor did she particularly care. Logan did a lot of stupid things, most of them she either didn't understand or have interest in. However, the people who did get the flyers seemed quite excited and kept showing them to everyone they could find.

    Logan glanced back at Karin, and got an quizzical look in response. "Council said I could choose how I do the evaluating," he explained with a shrug. "Thought it might be fun to see how our commanding officer holds up one-on-one." As he arrived at his most favorite place, the cafeteria, he paused to open the door in a surprising gesture of politeness for Karin, who whisked by without a word. He shrugged, wondering why she was being so cold to him, before he too ventured within the culinary homestead to engage his breakfast in avid destruction.

    However, to his surprise he discovered that he and Karin weren't the only rangers in the mess hall. Across the room, both of them surrounded by people, were none other than Serena and the Golden Ranger. Of course, Logan naturally noticed that May Birch was with them, along with the little girl that was her daughter, the Red Ranger could have sworn her name was Sahara or something like that… Oh, and Jolly Green was there too, making his way through a plate of pancakes practically marinating in syrup. Bakaguru was shifting through a status report, and his intelligence officer 415 was having a staring contest with a plate of bacon. 0 seemed to be nursing a beer a little too early in the morning for Logan's tastes, but he thought nothing of it as he piled his plate high with all available bacon, eggs, and pancakes, thanking whatever Legendary Pokemon had blessed PKM with one of the finest buffets the ranger had ever laid his crimson eyes on.

    "Well, well, well," murmured Logan, as he sat down at the table with the group, "how was your evening's slumber?"

    "Uneventful," replied 0, before he took another sip from his bottle. "When are our hearings going to start, I want them out of the way as soon as possible."

    Logan proceeded to dive headfirst into his scrambled eggs. "Yes, we'll get to that soon," he said between mouthfuls of foodstuff. "But first, breakfast! It's the most important meal of the day, you know!" He grinned and glanced at the bottle. "Not that you need meals, but still…"

    Serena smiled at Karin. "I hope he didn't bother you last night."

    Karin glanced in the direction of Serena's plate, then picked up a shred of lettuce with her fork and ate it. It barely fit, her mouth was so small. "I never bother Karin," explained Logan and pointed his pancake-ridden fork at the White Ranger. "But…it's not my fault I can see through smog." He blinked his blood-red eyes, then applied his sunglasses.

    "Mister?" Logan glanced down, it was the little girl, Sarah.

    "Yes?"

    She pointed at his sunglasses. "Why are your eyes red, mister?"

    "Sarah!" scolded May. "Don't ask questions like that!"

    Logan laughed. "It's okay, Ms. Birch." He glanced down at the little kid and lifted his glasses. "My eyes are special, a lot of people's are. My family has red eyes 'cause a Legendary Pokemon blessed my ancestors. I can see everything. I can see muscles in the body as they move, I can see in the dark and through smoke. But it makes them very sensitive to light, so I have to be careful I don't go blind." He tapped the glasses back on, they shut out all the UV light, since they were designed like fashionable sunglasses-like goggles. "I can see every breath anyone takes, even if they're a mile away."

    "Wow," murmured Sarah, her dark eyes wide with fascination.

    "Mister…Logan?" asked May, as she looked up from her breakfast.

    The Red Ranger chuckled. "Please, Ms. Birch, Mr. Logan is my father's name. Please call me regular-old Logan, the L-Man, or, if you wish, Red. I also answer to the designation 'Sweet Cheeks' for obvious reasons." He would have gone on, but Karin delivered a very painful kick to his knee that prevented anything other than a very annoyed gasp of agony to escape the Red Ranger's lips. "Not nice, Karin…" he grumbled, then returned to his bacon.

    "That reminds me, Goldy, your first competency hearing is today," mentioned Logan, as he vacated the bacon on his plate into his stomach. "Noon. The battle arena."

    0 lifted a brow. "Why are we conducting a competency hearing in the battle arena?" he asked.

    Logan pointed his fork at the Golden Ranger with a smirk. "Because I thought, gee, if I have to deal with competency hearings, there's no reason they shouldn't be entertaining. Bearing that in mind, I've taken the liberty of inviting everyone out to the battle arena to enjoy a little sporting competition. By the way, the odds aren't in your favor." Logan grinned and pointed to the bottom of the sign, which was advertising two to one odds on 0 winning.

    0 crumpled up the paper and finished his alcohol. "If all I have to do is beat you, it shouldn't be so difficult," he retorted coolly. "When's the fight taking place?"

    Logan smiled, he loved the rough talk. "At two in the afternoon. The entire base is coming to watch, I think it'll be educational." He glanced at his morpher and wolfed down his food before glancing to his partner. "Karin, ready to go?" he asked. His partner's glaring eyes informed him that she was not, so he sat back into his chair and awaited her completion of her breakfast.

    The Red Ranger observed for the next several minutes, particularly the behavior between Golden Boy and the woman that was with him, the potential new assignment May Birch. They seemed awkward and not the entertaining kind of awkward. It was like watching a pair of schoolchildren deal with their first crush, now that he thought about it. They couldn't look at each other without turning red in the face. It almost disgusted the ranger with cuteness.

    "You're about to make me puke," was what Logan was about to say, but Karin grabbed him by the scruff of his neck to inform him she had finished her breakfast. So, Logan was forced to say goodbye to his new playthings, as he knew that Karin dragging him off could only mean he was about to engage in some new training exercises. "Karin, I can walk by myself!" he complained and was promptly dropped on the floor. She stood, waiting as he jumped back up to his feet, rubbing his side and wincing from the irritating pain that she had caused.

    "Why'd you have to go and do that?" he asked with a slight groan.

    She shot him her usual business look and he sighed. "I hate having to do this every day," he grumbled and folded his arms as he took the lead and she followed him to the training rooms. "Every day, you make me take you there. Why can't we ever go somewhere nice, like a nude beach, or a love hotel? Always the training room…" He might have continued, but a smack to the back of his head encouraged him to do otherwise.

    "Okay," he muttered, as they reached the training rooms, "let's get ready for today's main event: Red vs. Gold! We'll show the rookie a good time for sure!" Unfortunately, he wasn't speaking to anyone, as Karin had ignored him and gone in while he wasn't paying attention. He strode in after her.

    "Why won't you ever listen to me when I'm ranting?"

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    After breakfast, the group headed down to Bakaguru's lab, to wish Max luck as the engineer began examining and testing the Dark Emerald Ranger for field potential. Unlike the last time 0 had been down there, this time there was a vast battle field, most likely a lifelike hologram, awaiting in the big, empty space that had been the work floor. It was similar to a forest, or maybe a jungle.

    "This is where we will be conducting field tests on Max's Dark Emerald," Bakaguru explained, gesturing at the forest. "It is surrounded by a force field to prevent damage to the building and filled with androids to test the combat potential." As they passed the forest in wonder, Sarah reached out to touch one of the plants and her hand hit an invisible wall.

    "Over here is where we will be conducting analysis on Max's power output and stats," informed the engineer, as he arrived at his work station. Next to the massive amount of electronic equipment that none of the group save for Bakaguru himself understood was a glass cylinder. "Max will be starting here, where we will begin work on his Dark Gem."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger himself was very impressed with the tech. "This is amazing," he muttered, adjusting his glasses. "Who built all this?"

    Bakaguru flashed a smile. "Jessie, James, and Meowth are quite useful people," he explained. "And so eager to please. They completed all of this in under twenty-four hours, one of the main reasons I use them so much." The engineer crossed over to some devices that were scattered on the table and began fiddling with them. "That reminds me, I need to discuss something with 0 and Serena. Could you two come over here?"

    Serena nodded and glanced to her partner. Both of them approached and Bakaguru held out four small devices that looked a lot like watches. "I've been analyzing the data that your Ranger Spirit gave me, 0, about Codename Ailed." He placed them down and retrieved the Blue and Black Spirit Morphers from a drawer. "Thanks to the new information, I'm beginning construction on new morphers for all six rangers. Both of you will be receiving the upgrade, as will Logan and Karin, but you'll also be getting new team members."

    Serena's mouth dropped. "You're commissioning the Blue and Black Rangers again?" she asked. "I thought that those things were retired, and that their users had made them impossible to recalibrate to new owners."

    The engineer merely chuckled. "The new Ailed Morphers will be able to use the old data from the Spirit Morphers and adapt it to enhance your powers." Bakaguru turned to 0 and smiled. "While we can't give you the special APS that the Golden Ranger has access to, we will be able to enhance several portions of the Ranger Systems installed in our rangers to give us a better edge against the Dark Gem Rangers. After all, we cannot rely on the APS as our only hope."

    0 nodded in agreement. "My system was only able to fight off the weakest of the Dark Gem Rangers. Sappho said the others were much, much stronger than he was. I might need to take a trip to Kanto…"

    "Why's that?" inquired Bakaguru.

    "You got Tork out for me from Oak," replied the ranger. "Maybe I can get some more firepower."

    "The APS is still incredibly dangerous to both you and your ranger spirit," Bakaguru reminded him. "With an Ailed Morpher, you'll have a better chance at maintaining stability, but it'll still damage both of you after continued usage." 0 nodded, he understood. "Good. Now, I suggest you both get ready. 0 had a very tough fight up ahead, and he'll need as much support as can be offered."

    0 grinned. "I've just got to beat 1. How tough can he be?"

    The engineer merely issued a half-smiled and a slight giggle escaped his throat. "Don't say I didn't warn you, Golden Ranger," he muttered and waved the others away. "Now out, all of you! I need to begin my work with Max!"

    May gave the Dark Emerald Ranger a few brief words of encouragement, followed by Sarah grabbing the man's hair, before everyone save Bakaguru, Max, and 415 vacated the facility. Once they were gone, 415 wordlessly headed towards the door and bolted it shut before pulling out a gun from her shirt and inspecting the clip.

    "Shall we get started, Max?" Bakaguru asked.

    The man nodded. "Yeah, let's do it." In response, Bakaguru tapped a button on one of his machines and the glass cylinder opened.

    "Well, climb in, and transform into the Dark Emerald Ranger."

    Max summoned the Dark Emerald, which responded instantly to his command. It wound down his neck and into his right hand, its chain spreading over his arms and shoulders. However, Max was in control now, he could keep himself calm until the glass slammed shut, securely protecting both Bakaguru and 415 from any potential damage he might inflict. Once the chains tightened, he pressed the Dark Emerald into his flesh, and his eyes flashed green.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    Emerging from the form of the former Gym Leader, the Dark Emerald Ranger bellowed in rage as he realized that he was trapped in a glass box, unable to escape. He smashed against the glass, his aura threatening to emerge from his armored form. He tried elongating the chains to shatter the glass, but nothing happened. Bakaguru had been quite generous in preparing for the power of the Dark Emerald Ranger.

    "Max!" shouted the otaku. "I need you to focus here!"

    The Gallade subverted, and a moment later the figure inside the tube stabilized, though his breath was ragged from assaulting the walls around him. Max growled and glanced down at Bakaguru, waiting for his instructions. "That's better," the engineer muttered. "Now, bring the Dark Emerald to full power. I know that there are two more evolutions beyond this Chained Form, but use what you can right now."

    Max nodded. "Laaaaaaade," he growled and summoned the aura. The emerald fire burst around his body, licking the chains on his arms, tracing his body with the image of a Gallade. Bakaguru glanced around at the power meters on the computer screen, they were climbing pretty high. But not as high as Cario Form with 0. Still, for an initial form, it was impressive, it easily outclassed the other PKM Rangers. Once the power reached its peak, Bakaguru recorded the information.

    "Power down to absolute minimum strength and I will release you into the battle simulator."

    Upon hearing the command, the aura surrounding the caged beast vanished. Bakaguru's hand dangled over the release button, the Dark Emerald Ranger had managed to obtain control over himself once, he just hoped the process had been repeated. He pressed the button and the monster walked out, his muscles tense. Bakaguru pointed to the jungle. "Destroy the targets," he ordered.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger walked forward as Bakaguru deactivated the shields around the forest. He growled and glanced at both of them, Bakaguru and 415, who readied her gun. Then he snarled and, on all fours, leapt into the jungle. His chains unfurled instantly, latching to the nearest trees and climbing upwards. His nostrils filled with the scents of the jungle as he swung from tree to tree, hunting, searching for the targets he had been ordered to destroy. He growled and smelt the mechanical opponents in the air.

    He dropped to the ground, quick enough to dodge a laser beam that only just missed his head. His chain erupted and smashed into the robot's head, dragging it down to the dark ranger for the final blow. He smashed it with his boot and the small droid crackled, before dying. The beast surveyed it; its body was shaped like a silver egg, apparently built for hovering, since it had nothing where the bottom half of its body should have been. Its head was oval-shaped, or it had been, before the Dark Emerald Ranger had crushed it.

    He moved on.

    There were ten more, whispered the Dark Emerald to its host. Ten more things to destroy. He stopped moving in the center of a large clearing, listening for the ten mechanical monsters. His chains retracted into his gauntlets, he heard one shifting behind him in the bushes. An instant later he growled and turned around to fire a massive length of chain from where the noise had come from. It wrapped around the metal frame and dragged the little beast out into the open. It squealed and fired at him, but the Dark Emerald warned him too quickly. He dodged the lasers and finished by tearing the machine apart with his bare hands. That was a second one down, nine to go.

    Three emerged from the trees above, forcing the Dark Emerald Ranger to retreat into the brush. They attacked in unison and the beast roared, slashing at them with his chains. They dodged, forcing the monster to hide himself, using the emerald and black of his uniform to blend in with the environment. Get them, whispered the Dark Emerald to its host. They were right above him. The muscles in his legs tensed before he leapt upwards. They saw him coming early and fired their lasers. The ranger went right between two of them, which caused both to destroy one another. The final one remained suspended in the air, until the dark ranger landed on it and smashed it on the ground.

    Six left, whispered the Dark Gem, as its host found and disposed of another two. Four now, it murmured. All of the remaining probes attacked, driving the ranger to the ground with one well-placed laser strike to the midsection. He grunted, but was forced back up thanks to the order from his evil gem to rise and battle. He roared and the emerald aura emerged from his form. The Gallade was quite angry indeed and its host was willing to oblige.

    The chains exploded from their gauntlets and smashed through a nearby tree. Despite it being a hologram, the chains gripped it pretty securely and tore it from its roots, bringing it crashing down on one of the quartet. Not wishing to waste such useful ammunition, the dark ranger hurled the tree trunk across the area, to where two more robots met their demise. Finally, the Dark Emerald Ranger used his free left chain and shot it out, seething in emerald aura, and it impaled through the final droid's head, causing it to explode.

    That's it, said the Dark Gem, all of them are dead.

    "Max," issued a voice over the loudspeakers, "the targets have been eliminated. Power down and return to your civilian form so we can release you from the simulation."

    The aura dissipated, but the Dark Emerald didn't want to let go of its control just yet. It was beginning to lose power over its host, and it didn't like that. It wanted to return to its brethren, but the Gallade that had been used for the sacrifice impeded it. As did its host, who was growing in power and would quickly overcome it. Finally, the Dark Emerald yielded and Max emerged from the form of the dark ranger, breathing heavily.

    "Max," announced Bakaguru, "are you alright?"

    He nodded. "Yeah," he muttered and looked to the chain now wrapped around his neck. "It was just…hard controlling it by myself. When 0 and Serena were with me, it was definitely easier to keep it in line. It respects authority."

    The simulation deactivated and Max jogged back to where Bakaguru and 415 were waiting. The engineer was reviewing the tapes of the scenario, while 415 kept a close eye on the dark ranger. "Well," murmured Bakaguru, "if you can keep up this pace, you'll be assigned to your sister's protection team, so you'll be fine."

    Max glanced to the table, where the new Ailed Morphers were being worked on. "Hey, Bakaguru?" he asked.

    "Yes?"

    "What if you were to combine the Dark Emerald with a morpher like that?" he suggested. "If I agree to more tests, could you do it?"

    The otaku shrugged. "It's entirely possible. The Ailed Morpher seems to be quite flexible with its power source, so I could see it working with a Dark Gem. Let me sleep on that, okay?" He turned to 415, who nodded and holstered her gun.

    "We have testing to undergo," informed 415. "Please leave. We will call you when we are ready for you to continue testing."

    "Got it," replied Max, who then headed up the stairs from the lab, hoping to maybe catch a glimpse of 0's fight.

    Bakaguru turned to 415, his face heavy. "His Dark Gem is particularly powerful," he murmured, before turning to continue working on the new morphers. Now there were six designs, for Red, Pink, Gold, White, Blue, and Black. "If we harness it properly, we could give him full control of its strength."

    415 glanced to the broken Blue and Black Spirit Morphers on the side of the table. "Will we be able to make new morphers beyond these six?" she asked.

    "We could, hypothetically, if I modified the original Golden Ranger's designs," muttered Bakaguru. "However, I don't think we'll need any more. More rangers will not make our duty any easier, but making our rangers stronger will." He took out his tools and a grin spread across his lips. "Now then, let's get to work."

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    The roar of the crowd was not something he had heard for a long time.

    As he stepped through the doors, into PKM's quite extravagant battle arena, he couldn't help but crack a smile. It was just like old times. Just him and an opponent, with an arena-filled stadium watching. He glanced around, everyone was chanting his color, his number. He tapped the com-link in his ear. "Pi, are we charged up?"

    "APS is currently at full power," it replied. "I am limiting the transformations to two so that we don't overload the Ranger System."

    0 nodded. "Roger. Got anything on Logan?"

    "Dreas Logan is the commanding officer of the secondary ranger team composed of the Red and Pink Rangers," it explained. "Along with a distinguished service record, he is well-known for using zui quan in battle. He was the second commissioned PKM Ranger. He is twenty-four years old and is the currently-longest serving PKM Ranger."

    "Special skills?"

    "Records show that his fighting stats rival ours in Ranger Form," Pi answered, retrieving information from the PKM database. "His bond with his Ranger Spirit is particularly powerful, which most likely is the reason for this. It's only outclassed by ours. Weapons are the Claw Cocktail and the Sake Scissors."

    0 nodded. "Sounds like our boy loves to drink," he replied. "Can we beat him with Cario Form?"

    "Highly likely."

    The Golden Ranger grinned and muttered, "That's all I needed to hear."

    The arena was set up exactly like a Pokemon battle stage, complete with lines, trainer boxes, and a Pokeball design in the middle for the fighters to meet in. 0 took his place in the trainer box and waited for Logan to do the same on the other side. The Red Ranger smirked at him, waving with childish delight. 0 was indifferent, but saluted from the edge of his goggles. Everyone in the surrounding stadium cheered and 0 couldn't help but be reminded of his old glory days. Briefly, the Golden Ranger wondered if anyone was actually still on duty. The entire place seemed packed.

    "You remember your promise, right?"

    "I promise she learns today, watching you win."


    0 grinned. "Let's do this, Pi," he said and readied his morpher. At the same time, Logan did the same, though his pose was definitely more elaborate and idiotic. "Let's win one fight for Sarah and go home with a family."

    "Sounds like a plan to me, 0."

    He activated the transformation trigger. "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    At the same time, Logan announced, "PKM Spirit, Activate!"

    Both morphers downloaded their suits instantly, and the rough uniform 0 wore disappeared underneath the Kevlar and metal armor of the Golden Ranger. Around him, the cheers erupted again as his helmet surrounded his face, the visor clamping on the complete the transformation. For an instant, everything was dark, then the display booted up and began uploading the systems.

    The Red Ranger's armor booted up, summoned in a very annoying way too. Rather than having the armor materialize and clamp on exactly where needed, Logan had somehow programmed his to fly about his body before attaching. On his chest, a Bug Pokemon was displayed, a Scizor's face. Logan gave off one bright smile before his red visor clamped down on his black helmet. 0 looked on his screen, a port of communication had been opened between them.

    "Ready for this?" asked the Red Ranger, his voice quite confident.

    "Just try not to lose too badly," retorted 0.

    Above them, a loudspeaker was turned on, to the thunderous approval of the crowd. "Ladies, Gentlemen, and Pokemon, welcome to the first Competency Hearing between Dreas Logan, the Red Ranger, and Agent 0, the Golden Ranger!" screamed whoever it was announcing. The crowd replied enthusiastically. "As a special treat today, the entirety of PKM is tuning into this even, with broadcasts spanning all the regions of the world from Hoenn to Unova! The second Competency Hearing will take place tomorrow between Serena Brine, the White Ranger, and Karin Karino, the Pink Ranger! Cheer for their success!" The crowd responded quite positively.

    0 studied his opponent's armor. Unlike his own, which was designed for steamrolling through opponents, Logan's was clearly build for defense and speed, since the armor was lighter than his, although from the way the armor was distributed along the body, it seemed to have a kind of aerodynamic effect. The Scizor emblem in the center of his chest was a tad creepy, though, 0 thought.

    Logan bent down into something that resembled a blend between a runner's pose and an attack position. "Ready for takeoff?" he asked.

    0 returned the gesture by assuming his own pose, the defensive position he often took before battle. "Ready when you are, Bug Boy," he retorted. "Pi, download the Bolt Blade. I want this over quickly." The Pikachu confirmed the request. 0 gripped the massive blade's hilt and readied it for combat. "Let's do it! Go!"

    The Golden Ranger exploded into the air, dashing with Agility towards the Red Ranger, who waited quite calmly for him, actually it seemed like Logan was swaying in the wind instead of preparing to battle. The Bolt Blade came down, but when it smashed into the earth below, Logan was nowhere to be seen. "Where is he, Pi?" demanded 0, as he wrenched the sword out of the ground and shook off the debris.

    0 looked down, it seemed that Logan had fallen down in between the Golden Ranger's legs, just barely avoiding the attack. However, when the Red Ranger tried to move, he accidentally kicked 0 in the back of his knee, sending the Golden Ranger to his knees as Logan recovered. "That was a close one, 0!" shouted Logan with glee. "I almost didn't believe those videos of your speed, but I'm really glad I did now!" He backed off, just so 0 could hoist himself up from the ground.

    "How'd you do that?" 0 asked.

    Logan blew a raspberry. "Beat me and I'll tell ya!" was his retort. The Red Ranger started swaggering, 0 thought he looked kind of drunk. "Zui quan- Mankey Style!" He raised his arms, exactly like a monkey, and went on the attack.

    "Pi, send the Bolt Blade back," 0 ordered, the weapon wasn't going to help him in the close combat that Logan clearly intended to use. The instant his arm was free of the weight, the Golden Ranger fought back. Both rangers locked arms and the crowd began screaming with excitement as the combatants strained against one another.

    "Having fun?" inquired Logan, his voice noticeably strained.

    0 managed a chuckle. "Time of my life." Logan was a lot stronger than he had anticipated, almost as strong as Max. "You're holding back."

    "You're right," Logan chuckled. He then let go.

    0 fell down, primarily because he had been trying to force Logan down, and as a result completely failed to maintain his balance. Logan fell as well, only he curled up into a ball and rolled backwards to avoid being trampled by the giant armor of the Golden Ranger. He then popped out and administered a pile driver to 0's back, driving his elbow deep into the small of the Golden Ranger's back.

    "Come on, Golden Boy," whispered the Red Ranger, as he sprung away, "let's see those big, bad powers of yours at work." 0 got back on his feet and felt his breathing was already getting rough. "That's it. Now, Scizor, the Claw Cocktail, please." A red light burst from his right arm and something that looked like a cross between a Scizor's claw and a cannon gloved itself onto Logan's hand. The Red Ranger opened the cannon's blast end and pointed it at 0. "This is the part where you run."

    A burst of red energy exploded from the end of the weapon, much larger than anything the Lightning Laser could produce, forcing 0 to use Agility again to dodge it. When the dust cleared, Logan loaded the weapon again and began targeting the lightning blur that was currently zigzagging around. The Claw Cocktail was quite slow, so he had to aim carefully. 0 kept moving, simply out of a lack of things to do.

    "I can see everything. I can see muscles in the body as they move, I can see in the dark and through smoke."

    So that was what Logan had meant, though 0, as he only just managed to dodge another blast. Logan was able to see his movements, regardless of his speed, thanks to the strange eyes he had. They were better than any sensor system that PKM could design. 0 burst forward, trying to get closer to Logan to prevent any further usage of the Claw Cocktail. "Pi," muttered 0, "what are our options at the moment?"

    "His Claw Cocktail is too strong for us to take on right now," replied the Pikachu. "Our best options are to use APS and figure out some way to combat his strength. Cario Form might be our best bet right now, since it has the strength to handle the attacks." Instinctively, 0 reached on his belt for the azure Poke Ball that contained his Lucario. He deactivated Agility, just in time to barely miss a blast from the giant cannon.

    Logan chuckled through their communication, which was also being broadcast through the stadium. "Finally given up on running?" he taunted and reloaded his weapon.

    0 grunted. "Time for the main course. Auxiliary Pokemon System- Cario Form!"

    The ball inserted easily into the Spirit Morpher's storage system and the blue armor appeared and clamped onto his forearms and hands. Finally, the lower half of 0's visor changed blue and the spikes extended from the backs of his hands to complete the transformation.

    "Lu?" asked 0, as his personality began the usual shifting towards playfulness.

    "Aye, sir," answered the canine. "All systems have been activated. Currently channeling the aura into the Claw Gauntlets. Advise immediate movement."

    "Roger," replied 0, who flipped just in time to avoid the next burst from the Claw Cannon. He scampered forward, crashing forward into the Red Ranger and knocking Logan hard on his back. The Golden Ranger flipped up and landed swiftly on his feet, turning around as Logan recovered. "Charge the aura please."

    Blue energy exploded from 0's hands, sharpening the spikes and the claws on his fingertips. However, before he could do anything, Logan retracted the Claw Cannon, and uploaded his melee weapons, the Sake Scissors. Two pincer-like claws extended like scimitars from his wrists, both at least two feet in length. He clanged them together and charged the Golden Ranger.

    Neither of 0's weapons could help him in this particular situation. The Bolt Blade was too massive, and more suited to combat with a larger opponent, and the Lightning Laser was all but useless against someone who could see the trigger and the targeting of his opponent from a mile away. Agent 1 was truly a fierce fighter.

    Both of them clashed, blades versus spikes, against one another. 0, being the one with the most strength, forced Logan down, making sure that the Red Ranger couldn't do anything to stop him. "This time, I'm ready for your stupid tricks," growled the paladin furiously. "You're not going to get between me and what I want."

    Logan simply chuckled under his helmet. "But that's what I do best. After all, you're getting in between me and what I want." He grunted, but the Golden Ranger refused to yield to his tricks and drove the Red Ranger to his knees. Again, the Red Ranger chuckled. "You're really not going to let me go, are you?" he asked.

    "That's the plan. Tap out, and let me get on with my life."

    He shook his head. "I'm afraid I cannot allow that. See, if you win, then I might get separated from Karin. She won't hold back with Serena, and she'll win. You will not be separating me from Karin, no matter what. You can't handle her." Logan's visor opened up and he winked one of his red eyes. "Okay, Scizor! Activate Rescue Mode!"

    "Rescue Mode, activated," announced an old, almost reminiscent of a samurai's voice from inside Logan's helmet, presumably Scizor. The armor on Logan's back opened up, revealing massive bug wings. The armor increased in his legs and he leapt up into the air with the added strength. "How's this for fun?"

    0 growled at the giant figure in the sky. "Not fair, I can't fly! Why wasn't I warned about the Rescue Mode?" he asked.

    Lu didn't know. "Unknown sir, the Rescue Mode is a standard application placed in all PKM Rangers, the exception being the Golden Ranger. It's possible that, because it's standard, Pi simply didn't think to mention it, since you should have known about it beforehand."

    "Great," murmured 0. He didn't quite feel like playing in the air with Logan, mostly because following wasn't an option. "How am I supposed to reach Red Eyes now…? I can't exactly bounce, now can I?"

    But Logan had to come down eventually, which he did by angling his wings and diving downwards from his hovering position, the Sake Scissors gleaming in the light of the stadium. "Lu, the Lightning Laser, now," ordered 0 and in an instant his clawed hand curled around the gun's trigger. The weapon loaded, he pointed it towards the Red Ranger and fired off two bursts of electricity. Of course, Logan dodged them both, but was as a result forced to change his trajectory and nearly crashed to the ground. 0 responded by smashing Logan's helmet once he got within range with the barrel of the weapon. The Red Ranger went down, but scrambled away quickly.

    Both of them stood a distance away, surveying the other's power.

    "You're…you're not bad," Logan admitted, his breath ragged. His Ranger System wasn't built to take damage quite as well as 0's. "Definitely not as good as the old man, but not bad either." He got to his feet and brandished the Sake Scissors.

    "Lu, disengage Cario Form," ordered the Golden Ranger. "I can probably deal with him better in Ranger Form."

    "Aye, sir," answered the Auxiliary Pokemon, and Cario Form deactivated, leaving 0 in Ranger Form. The Golden Ranger removed Lu's Poke Ball from the Spirit Morpher and placed it back on his belt.

    "Pi, activate Agility, and power up Volt Tackle immediately," the Golden Ranger muttered, "and resend the Lightning Laser. I'm not going to need it."

    "You sure about that, 0?" asked Pi, before reluctantly doing what he asked. "He'll be able to see what's coming a mile away."

    "That's exactly my plan."

    0 ran forward, keeping a sharp eye on his APS gauge, which was currently full. The Red Ranger was waiting and slashed with the Sake Scissors. 0 burst into Agility at the last possible instant, rolling forward and avoiding the dangerous blades, before he punched Logan in the stomach, sending the ranger flying backwards from the sheer force and speed of his attack.

    "Keep it coming, Golden Boy!" shouted Logan, as he crouched and leapt up to fly away. "Time for the Claw Cannon!" The Sake Scissors disengaged, replaced with the massive gun from before. He fired.

    "Auxiliary Pokemon System- Oal Form!"

    The giant armor formed quickly, as Tork leapt to its trainer's defense. 0 and Tork activated Iron Defense, crouching on the ground to brace for the impact. Neither felt a thing, as the giant burst of energy struck them. They heard the armor groan, but held on tightly as they started being forced back, neither one of them willing to admit defeat. Finally, the blast faltered and was reflected right back at its owner at a very speedy velocity.

    "Aw nuts," muttered Logan, as he dodged. But, because he had been keeping his eyes on the giant flare, it somewhat stung its eyes, despite the special protection inside his helmet. And that was why he didn't see 0 disengage Oal Form, crouch, and leap in the air towards him right behind the blast with Agility, which propelled him even further than a standard jump ever could. He raised his arm.

    "Pi, Volt Tackle!"

    The electric agony began instantly, but just before it began 0 clamped down his hand hard on Logan's neck. The Red Ranger, unable to stop him, began convulsing as the electricity began coursing through his body. As his muscles began screaming in pain, 0 kept himself together as the two began plummeting towards the ground, as Logan could not hope to support both himself and 0 with his flimsy wings. 0 grunted, but managed to get on top of Logan.

    "Pi, full power," gasped 0. "Any less and he'll adjust."

    "I don't want to-"

    "Do it!"

    Volt Tackle's full power was unbearable, and 0's artificial shoulder groaned uncomfortably underneath his armor. But for Logan it was like hell on Earth and he shrieked in an inability to adjust to the pain that 0 had long lived with when he had trained with Pikachu. So he had no idea what was going on when he struck the ground, then had 0 land on top of him. The Volt Tackle disengaged, but that didn't change the fact that Logan was in an unbearable amount of pain. As the crowd cheered, 0 noticed out of the corner of his visor that paramedics were on the way to treat Logan.

    His muscles quite in pain, 0 stood up and backed away from the Red Ranger. The suit's scans told him that Logan had been knocked out, meaning that…

    "Ladies and gentlemen, we have our winner!" informed the announcer. "The first ranger victorious in our evaluation matches, and also their commanding officer, is none other than Agent 0, the Golden Ranger!" The cheers were beginning to get to 0's head, so he demorphed. He felt the air on his face and looked up to the observation platform he knew his family was waiting for him on.

    "Is Logan okay?" asked 0 to one of the paramedics.

    She nodded. "A day's rest and he'll be just fine."

    The Golden Ranger then sprinted from the arena.

    /¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\/¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯¯\

    He stood in the doorway.

    Wisely, for May had not wished for anyone else to bother them, she had asked Serena and the others to leave, and 0 casually closed the door behind him as he walked towards her. Behind them, the stadium was emptying, he did not envy who was going to have to clean up the stands for tomorrow's match between Serena and Karin.

    May was still sitting in her booth, with Sarah in her arms, talking to her.

    "Mommy, why did everyone else go?" asked the little girl.

    May smiled. "Because, honey, there's someone I want you to meet," she explained and tilted her head back when she heard the sound of his boots approaching. "Are you ready?" She looked at him, and he nodded. "He's here."

    Sarah looked up, curious as to why it was Keean Toby standing in front of her. "Mommy, I know Mr. Toby," she replied, as the giant man sat down next to them. "Why do I have to meet him again?"

    0 chuckled and May allowed a slight giggle to escape her lips.

    "This is a bit difficult to explain," May said. "Sarah, you remember how when you went to your friends' parties, there would be a mommy and a daddy?" Sarah nodded. "You know how…well…you don't have one?"

    Sarah nodded a second time. "But I have Uncle Max, he's like a daddy. He lets me play with his long hair!" Briefly, 0's mind wondered if 'lets' was the operable word.

    "Yes, baby, but he's not your daddy." May's face was red, as if embarrassed about having to explain to her daughter what a father was. "Your daddy left us a long time ago, back when you were a baby. He had to…go somewhere he couldn't take us with him." She looked to 0, who was looking at the floor, the expression on his face awash with memories. "He's been protecting us for three years."

    Sarah looked to 0 in confusion, after all she was still a child. "Is he…?" She didn't finish, but her mother's nod confirmed it. 0 glanced upwards and smiled at his child.

    "How about that, Sarah?" he asked aloud. "I'm your dad."

    "You should be proud, baby girl," murmured May and looked towards her ex-husband. "Your father's a ranger."

    But Sarah wasn't listening to her. All she knew was that in an instant she was out of her mother's lap and was looping her little arms around 0's neck, for they were too small to reach around his shoulders. She was crying in his chest and tightened her grip when he gave her a massive bear hug, his chin resting on her head.

    "Daddy!" she shouted, and May hugged Sarah and 0, their family complete again.

    Author's Note: One of the more fascinating characters in this series is Logan, who first showed up in the last chapter and will be sticking around for a while. He's one of my favorite characters to write with, because he's an entirely selfish ranger. You know, I see all these superhero shows but I don't often see the idea of a selfish hero who wants to save the world, but also wants something for himself. So Logan was sort of my way of tinkering around with that concept, and what he wants is indeed very selfish and he's much, much smarter than most people would give him credit for because of how silly he behaves. His eyes are an incredibly important part of the story too, and no one's ever picked up on that in the six years I've been working on this project. Then again, nobody's ever been able to really predict anything about this story, but when I make a giant revelation they usually realize all the clues I've sewed into even the earliest chapters. I always like that, because I'm almost never surprised by anything when I read a fan-fiction.

    As another note, the conclusion of this chapter is really very sweet, and I like it a lot. An earlier draft of the story had 0's identity unrevealed until the end of the series, and May would learn his identity at the end. I decided against that when I revised the story for the first time, because I realized how incredibly stupid it made May look. It's also opened up a lot of different storylines that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.

  15. #30
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 20

    Morph Twenty: The Wilting White Ranger

    Serena Brine shut the door.

    Opposite her stood the giant warrior she lovingly called 0. He waited until she turned around and locked her room's door behind her, before she looked up at him. He nodded his head and she copied the gesture.

    "It's time," he said. Though he was trying to hide it, she could hear the concern in his voice.

    She nodded again and gulped. "I know. Let's get going."

    The two partners walked down the narrow corridor, their boots clanking on the metallic floor beneath their feet. 0 glanced down at her, his features tightened with concern when he noticed the rings under her eyes. "You didn't sleep last night, did you?" he asked, as they turned left at one of the many intersections of the hallway.

    She smirked, but shook her head. "Not really," she admitted. "There was a lot on my mind."

    0 also saw that her hair was matted and filled with grease. Her uniform was wrinkled as well, in complete contrast to her regular perfect appearance. "I can see that," 0 muttered. "You holding up okay?" She shakily nodded her head. "Doesn't look like it to me."

    "What gave it away?" she wondered with a sigh. He could read her like a book.

    He grinned. "You don't look like you slept a wink."

    "Neither do you," she retorted.

    He halted his advance through the hallway, realizing that she was making a joke, and chuckled. "Good point." He reached into his jacket and retrieved a vial of the serum. "Want some of my serum to perk you up? It's better than caffeine."

    She declined. "I don't want to become an addict."

    He raised his brow thoughtfully. "Well, that makes one of us," he muttered and returned the vial to his jacket. "I should probably ask Bakaguru to give me something to help quit the stuff anyway."

    Serena paused, this was out of character for the Golden Ranger. She looked up at him, he was even smiling a little bit beneath his standard sarcastic grin. No…wait, it was a bit more than a smile, 0 appeared to be glowing. "Hang on," she murmured, "did someone replace you with a Ditto?" She narrowed her brows suspiciously. "What's gotten you so happy?"

    His grin widened. "Is it really that noticeable?"

    "Yeah, it is," Serena replied. "So, what happened?"

    "Well…" He scratched his jaw, mostly because he could hardly believe it had happened himself. "Sorry, I was there and I still can't believe it," he explained. "Yesterday…yesterday May told Sarah that I'm her father." His grin broadened into a full smile. "She gave me a hug, and she called me 'Daddy'." He turned to Serena, she had never seen him so happy before. "She called me Daddy, 3."

    He chuckled as Serena threw out her arms and enfolded him in a massive hug. "You big softie!" she squealed and punched his shoulder when they broke apart. "That's great news!"

    He gave her a thumbs up. "Yeah, it is," he said with a chuckle. "I really think this could be going somewhere, 3. And-" He hesitated briefly, but continued "-May and I might be getting back together."

    Serena perked up her ears. "Really?" she asked.

    0 nodded. "We're going to be going on this kinda-sort of date thing in Pyrite Town next week. I suppose it's to see where our relationship can go from there. Bakaguru said that he and 415 will be able to baby-sit Sarah while we're out, so we'll have the whole day together."

    Serena was happy, truly she was, but something in that made her worry. "You need to be careful," she mumbled, as she resumed walking down the hallway. "I don't want to see you hurt again, okay?"

    "I know," he said and caught up to her. "Trust me, one of the first things on my mind is to not get too hopeful about this, but that lingering hope I've had inside me all these years, that little nagging voice that told me one day I would get back what I've lost… That voice is shouting inside my head, screaming in joy."

    "We're almost there," she said, changing the subject. "And I really need a good pep talk. Karin's tough."

    "Not as tough as Logan is," pointed out 0. "You'll be fine, and then we'll be partners again. Simple as that."

    "Wow, that was incredibly lame," retorted Serena.

    "I'm not much of a motivational speaker," 0 muttered. "Maybe they are, though."

    Serena blinked. "Who?" Then she came face to face with almost a half-dozen people.

    May, Sarah, Bakaguru, Max, even 415 had turned up to wish her good luck.

    "Serena," Bakaguru said, pushing his glasses up to the bridge of his nose, "there is a lot riding on today. I know that it will turn out for the best, so give it your all, and have no regrets about holding back on Karin."

    Serena giggled, a tear came to her eyes. "That pep talk was almost as bad as 0's…" She felt something grab her waist and looked down to see 0's daughter looking up at her with a worried expression.

    "Please don't leave, Ms. Birch," she pleaded and shoved her face into the ranger's jacket. "Mommy says you look after Daddy when he's in trouble."

    "Serena," May said, drawing her daughter back, "good luck today. I would feel much safer knowing that you're the one helping…" She looked to 0, and smiled "…I would feel better knowing you're the one keeping an eye on 0. He's a bit of a scatterbrain, so he needs all the help he can get."

    Serena laughed. "Now that's more like a pep talk," she replied between giggles.

    415 decided, after careful reflection, that it would be wise not to add anything to the conversation and continued to smoke her cigarette in blissful silence. Bakaguru clasped Serena's shoulder and gave a big smile.

    "Ready for victory?" he asked.

    Serena nodded. "Always," she said and fought to keep back the tears of gratitude welling up inside her eyes. "Okay, 0, let's do this. I'm ready?"

    "Good thing 3, because here comes the competition." Serena followed 0's hand as he pointed behind her, where Karin was waiting with Logan. She was radiating pure anger and stared daggers into the Golden Ranger. Logan, on the other hand, was quite interested in the group and waved wildly at Serena and 0. Karin, noticing this, proceeded to drag her partner in the direction of the opposite entrance to the battlefield. Logan continued to wave goodbye enthusiastically until he was out of eyeshot.

    Above them, a large bell chimed and Serena took a deep breath. "Well, let me take care of this, and we'll be on our way, right?"

    0 nodded with a smile. "Right, 3."

    Serena turned to the doors and started the long, lonely walk into the stadium.

    The light, artificial though it was, really made it seem as though she was outside. PKM's chief engineers had designed the battle arena to mimic the sky above with powerful holographic technology, and sunlight streamed through the desert field. She took a deep breath, even the filtered air seemed to be fresh. Across from her, standing in her position in the center of the field, waited Karin, her small face a slate. Serena detected nothing of what hid behind Karin's expression, nothing but the flesh and bones and blood that it was made up of.

    It frightened the White Ranger.

    "Okay," she whispered to herself, trying to slow her racing heart, "I can do this, I can do this, I can do this…" She continued to repeat herself until the arena spokesman activated his microphone.

    "…Ladies and gentlemen!" he announced to the cheers of the crowd. "Welcome to the second and last competency hearing between Serena Brine, the White Ranger, and Karin Karino, the Pink Ranger!" The crowd roared its approval of the match up. "Our beautiful Rangers will be doing battle today, with the victor being attached to work alongside the powerful Agent 0!" Wolf whistles echoed through the stadium. "Let's let these ladies morph and we'll get right to the fight!"

    Serena lifted her morpher to her lips. "I can do this," she muttered one last time, maintaining eye contact with the unblinking Karin. "PKM Spirit, Activate!" Her body glowed and the White Ranger uniform materialized around her as her systems booted up in her visor.

    Karin, on the other hand, pushed the button on her pink morpher, causing a needle to jab into her wrist and take a sample of her blood, verifying her DNA and activating the transformation. The Pink Ranger emerged, on her chest the symbol of a Jigglypuff. Unlike Serena, who leapt into an offensive position, Karin made no move whatsoever and kept her arms dropped lifelessly by her sides, her visor slunk as she continued to stare at Serena.

    "Let's start this battle!" the announcer screamed. "Begin!"

    Serena braced herself, certain that Karin was about to attack, but the impending rush didn't happen. Instead, Karin was more than willing to wait, not moving an inch. "Well," murmured Serena, bracing her gloves into fists, "if she isn't going to start this thing off, then I've got no problem coming to her!" She shouted and the crowd followed her exclamation as she charged forward, a Frost Fan forming in her right hand.

    Perfectly balanced, she swiped at Karin's neck. However, at the last instant Karin dodged, or rather simply fell backwards onto the ground, reaching out her feet, ensnaring Serena's legs, and jerked as she rolled to the side. Serena winced as her feet were twisted and she crashed to the ground. A sharp punch then smashed into her chest and she coughed up all the oxygen in her lungs as Karin stood back up and walked twenty paces away. Then, as if nothing had happened, Karin dropped her hands to her sides once again and stared at Serena, waiting for the White Ranger to get back up.

    Winded but by no means finished, Serena sprang back to her feet, though she felt a slight pang in her tendons from the attack. Karin started moving away, exactly as Serena started moving forward, and flipped as the White Ranger slashed and slashed with the Frost Fan, dodging each and every time. After the tenth failed strike, Karin extended her legs and smashed into Serena's jaw with a perfectly-timed kick. Serena was stunned but recovered, though her neck ached, and continued advancing.

    It was impossible to read Karin, thought Serena, trying to figure out some way to properly land a hit on her foe. Everything the Pink Ranger did was instinctual reaction to Serena's movements, with absolutely no premeditated thought. Karin was never going to attack on her own.

    Serena landed a hit, smashing directly into Karin's stomach. The crowd cheered, but Karin didn't make a sound, simply twisting her body around Serena and smashing the back of her helmet with her elbow. Serena, not to be outdone, somersaulted in place and swept-kicked Karin's lower legs. The Pink Ranger easily dodged the attack, but didn't notice Serena as she folded up the Frost Fan and shoved it right into Karin's right kidney. The Pink Ranger paused briefly, as if sorting out the pain, which gave Serena plenty of time to viciously roundhouse kick the Pink Ranger's neck, sending her sprawling to the ground.

    "I can do this," Serena muttered, feeling her breath getting a little heavy.

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    "Hello!" Waving in an extremely loud and annoying fashion, the Red Ranger descended upon 0's group. Keeping Sarah secure in his lap, 0 glanced up to see what Logan wanted.

    "Can I help you, Logan?" he asked. "Need help finding a seat?"

    Logan laughed. "Have I mentioned you're funny, Golden Boy?" He tapped his finger against his mouth, as if unsure exactly what he wanted to ask. "Oh yeah, now I remember!" he exclaimed with a smile and turned towards May. "Pardon me, Ms. Birch, but do you mind if I borrow your gentleman caller for a minute or two? I need to have a quick chat with him, I promise I won't keep him long."

    May, who was sitting next to 0, nodded. "That's fine with me," she told him. "Sarah, Daddy's got to go take care of some work, come sit with Mommy."

    "No!" squealed Sarah and she gripped 0's protective arms tightly. "I wanna stay with Daddy!"

    0 chuckled and patted his daughter's head. "Hang on, Sarah. I'll be back before you know it, okay?"

    "Promise, Daddy?"

    He nodded. "I promise." With much reluctance, Sarah allowed herself to be lifted from 0's cradling lap and placed in May's, where she immediately began to cheer with the rest of the crowd for Serena. "Be right back," he told May and stood up. "Let's go Logan." He followed Logan through the incredibly crowded arena until they managed to find a pair of seats relatively outside of earshot from most of the spectators in the nosebleed section.

    0 sat down. "What did you want to talk about?"

    Logan took his seat. "Why, the match of course," he replied cheerfully and pointed to the two combatants. "I thought it would be fun to watch our partners duke it out. Want to bet on the match?"

    0 shook his head. "Not really, I'm sure that 3 should be able to pull through without too many problems. She got off to a rough start but she's starting to get the better of Karin."

    Logan suppressed a chuckle. "Is that what you think?" he asked. "Well, if you say so…"

    "What?" 0 asked.

    Logan stifled a yawn. "Well, I already know the outcome of this little fight. I never bet unless I'm sure of how something's going to end."

    "Really? How's it ending?"

    "Serena wins," Logan replied. "But only because Karin forfeits."

    0 thought he didn't hear the Red Ranger properly. "What?" he exclaimed.

    Logan sighed. "Serena wins, but only because Karin forfeits," he repeated, slowly and as if he were speaking to an infant. "Would you like me to write it down for you?" He pointed down to the stadium, observing the competitors. "See how neither one of them has activated their Rescue Mode yet? The battle's hardly started and you're declaring the winner based on a few lucky punches?"

    "You're declaring the winner based on absolutely nothing," 0 pointed out.

    Logan shook his head. "Incorrect, I am basing my assumption on knowing my partner, Golden Boy. Karin does not accept losing, she won't physically allow it. At this point all that she's doing is toying with Serena like a cat with a mouse. Karin will finish it when she's ready, when she feels that she's done enough."

    Logan reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved two bottles, a beer for 0 and a cola for himself. 0 took the drink and popped off the top.

    "Still, 3 could use Rescue Mode too, that would make them even," 0 pointed out. "I've never seen her use it but I'm sure she can pull it off if you and Karino can."

    "Well, that tells me a lot," Logan muttered, sipping on his soda bottle. "I guess you and Serena aren't very close as far as partners go, huh?"

    "What's that supposed to mean?" 0 asked coldly.

    "You're kidding me, right?" Logan shook his head, he couldn't hide the smirk on his face. "Serena's got a Rescue Mode, all of us do. Well, except for you, of course, but you have the APS to compensate. No, she has one, but she's never used it. There's never been a recorded activation in her files and I knew you'd never seen it. Saw it in your stance while we were fighting." He grinned and batted his large red eyes at 0. "Must have really spooked you, not knowing that we could also transform."

    "A little, I guess," admitted the Golden Ranger. "But why won't 3 use Rescue Mode? From what I saw from you, it looks pretty powerful."

    "You're her partner, and you haven't realized it yet? Gee whiz, man, are you really that thick-headed outside of a fight? Serena's not working with her Ranger Spirit!"

    "What?"

    The Red Ranger sighed, then furrowed his brows. "Serena's not working with her ranger spirit, Seel," he explained. "In order to activate Rescue Mode, we have to completely fuse ourselves with our ranger spirit. That's why I work so well with Scizor and Karin's good with Jigglypuff or how you and Pikachu work so well together. That's why the process for selecting a PKM Ranger is so difficult, you need to be able to trust your partner with your life. Serena's never been able to do that." He turned back, keeping his gaze on the fight. "She's out there fighting all by herself, without you or even her own ranger spirit to back her up. Serena's operating that Ranger System entirely by herself, without the aid of an onboard Pokemon to man her systems. Her ranger spirit is used solely for transforming." He sighed. "She's just never been able to fight with Seel."

    0 looked down at Serena. "I-I had no idea."

    "You know," Logan muttered, "you must suck to have as a partner if you can't even tell if something's wrong with your teammate. When Karin's thinking something, I know what it is right away." He opened his mouth to say more, but found that his shirt collar had been grabbed by the Golden Ranger, who had abandoned his bottle with a clatter to the floor and had the expression of someone quite angry.

    "Take it back," he ordered.

    The Red Ranger chuckled. "Oh," he murmured, "did I strike a nerve?" He brushed 0 away with one swift motion of his hand. "Relax. You guys are new, you're still getting used to each other. It's actually kind of sad in a way."

    "Why?"

    Logan returned to his seat and pointed to the arena. "Because if I know Karin, and I'm pretty sure that I do, she's not going to go down without a fight. She'll forfeit, but only after everyone understands that she won the fight. She's…got a little problem with competition, and she doesn't like it when I'm around other women, so I'm pretty sure she's going to make sure that Serena doesn't go anywhere near me again."

    0 was shocked that Karin would do such a thing. "But how's she going to do that?" He glanced briefly at Logan, whose face practically spelled out what that meant. "Wait, you're crazy Logan, she can't-"

    "-Oh, she's not going to kill Serena," interrupted Logan, "if that's what you're thinking. She's just going to completely and utterly demolish your partner. And, for good measure, she'll probably break the Spirit Morpher too so she can't fight again."

    "That's insane! It'll kill 3!"

    Again, the Red Ranger chuckled at the naivety of the Golden Ranger. "You're not getting it, Golden Boy. Karin doesn't kill. She can't really, it's not in her weird sense of morals. She is, however, very gifted with machines, and she does know how to deactivate a Spirit Morpher if she feels like it. Why, I myself have come close to losing mine on more than one occasion. This one time, I remember she took hers apart just to see what it was made of and reassembled it. She knows just as much about it as Bakaguru does, so she figured out a way to permanently deactivate a morpher if she ever needed to. All without killing the ranger bonded to the device." He gave 0 a look that resembled pity, but continued to watch the fight. "Besides, Serena isn't in synch with her Ranger Spirit anyway…that makes her even more vulnerable."

    "Why's that?"

    "Karin showed me that the ranger and the ranger spirit have to be linked on some level for a morpher to operate. If that connection is severed, well, then it's bye-bye for the ranger spirit, and since it's the connection that's been terminated, and not the device, the morpher just detaches without any harm to the ranger."

    "Why's Karin got to do that?" 0 asked. "Why doesn't she just surrender if she wants to stay partnered with you?"

    "Heck if I know, buddy," replied Logan with a shrug. "I guess she doesn't want to look weak in front of the crowds, but you beating me in front of this group probably had something to do with her wanting to punish somebody for my loss." He grinned. "Sometimes I'm certain that that girl hates me, but man is she devoted to me too. Always keeping me out of trouble, saving my tail in fights. I just can't figure that girl out, even though I probably know her better than anyone. I guess that's a bit of a paradox, isn't it?" Logan chucked and finished what was left of his partially-spilt cola.

    "She probably wants to keep things the same, just like you do," 0 said and leaned on the railing, then a thought came to his head and he chuckled. "Or maybe she's in love with you."

    "Ha! That's a good one," retorted the Red Ranger. "Karin doesn't show emotions like you and I do. She's…special. She doesn't speak, she doesn't have any body language, you can barely tell what she's thinking. That's why we work so well together, because everyone can tell what I'm thinking."

    0 chuckled. "Sounds to me like you're the one in love with her."

    He nodded. "Yeah, I am."

    There was a slight silence after that, as 0 absorbed the statement. Both men looked to the battlefield, but now 0 noticed something different, something very subtle about Logan he hadn't seen before. The man's eyes were engaged not on the fight, but on Karin alone. He was watching her, looking for signs that 0 presumed only he knew about the Pink Ranger.

    "You're afraid for her," the Golden Ranger muttered. "You don't want her doing something she'll regret."

    "Yeah." He looked up into the air and blew a raspberry. "Ever since we've been partners, I've always been with her. She won't leave me alone, and I can't leave her alone. Karin's someone you only meet once in a lifetime, you know?"

    0 nodded. "I know that feeling."

    "With Serena?"

    0 shook his head. "No, with my wife, May."

    Logan nodded thoughtfully. "Ah, yeah, forgot you used to be married to her. Trying to get back together again?"

    "I've been trying to keep away from her ever since I came to PKM full time. But with the assignment and everything that happened… It's like there's some force that's trying to give me a second chance. A second chance to have a family with my wife and daughter."

    "Ah, the kid," said Logan. "Forgot she was yours too, but then again I've got a really bad memory. Well, where does that leave Serena then?"

    "She's my partner and she's my best friend," the Golden Ranger replied. "I want to keep that, she's the closest thing I've had to a friend for a long time, excluding Pi."

    "I can see that. Guess you really can't decide who you're supposed to be with for the rest of your life, huh?" 0 nodded with a smile. "Well, I'm going to try and win Karin. I owe her that much, my very best effort, right?"

    "You know, Logan," said 0, "this is kind of deep for you."

    "I'm not normally like this," Logan agreed. "But Karin's someone I'm serious about." He smiled. "Guess you know what that's like with May, huh? You've spent three years apart. But your feelings are still strong enough to bind you together. I want that with Karin. I'd fight through Hell and back for her, just to see her smile."

    "I think you'll have to fight a lot more for something like that," 0 retorted. "I've never seen her mouth so much as flinch."

    The two laughed.

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    Serena was starting get tired.

    At first, the zombie-like Karin had refused to advance, and hadn't even budged before Serena made any action, but now the Pink Ranger was slowly but surely beginning to start pursuing Serena. No attack worked, no matter how hard she was hit Karin kept coming and coming for more. Each strike only served as a momentary distraction to the inevitable defeat that was coming.

    What was Karin? What was she, to be able to take so much damage and still be the mute creature that would not stop, would never cease, until everything around her stopped. Huffing and puffing, Serena continued the fight.

    The Pink Ranger, who must have sensed that her opponent was starting to lose her strength, took a moment to pause the match before the serious combat began. She lifted her morpher up so she could see what she was doing and pressed an additional button on the side of the machine, her Rescue Mode activation switch.

    The bottom half of her helmet opened up, displaying a mouth plate complete with lips and nose. Portions of the armor on her gloves, boots, belt, and chest opened to unveil speakers, and the sides of her helmet opened up to mimic the shape of Jigglypuff ears with more. She clenched her hands into fists and continued her advance once the transformation was complete.

    Now, the battle began.

    Serena stood ready, activating the defense systems in her visor and preparing for the sonic bursts that would shortly attempt to rip her down. Fortunately the system came complete with life support, so she shut out all outside sound to neutralize most of Karin's offensive capabilities.

    Karin simply activated her sonic vibrations, which traveled through the air and through the ground, destabilizing Serena's sense of balance. She slipped and fell to the ground, but was grabbed and hoisted back up immediately by a vibrating hand which turned the bones and muscles in her neck to jelly. Serena felt her body go limp as the hand tightened its grip on her and a fist out of nowhere sent her sprawling to the ground.

    Karin Karino, the enigmatic Pink Ranger, was going to kill her.

    A boot smashed against her chest, cutting off her windpipe. It released her a moment later, only to deliver a kick to her side, rolling her onto her stomach. Karin hauled her up again, grabbed the back of her helmet, and drove her right back into the ground.

    This was pathetic, thought the White Ranger.

    The crowd's cheers were lessening in response to the sudden increase in brutality. Karin kept coming, forcing Serena to stay down with her sonic vibrations. From what Serena could tell from her surroundings, the sonic bursts were outside the spectra of human hearing, but were still powerful enough to generate vibrations in silence. Meanwhile, she felt Karin's boot crush her right elbow and Serena cried out in pain.

    "I'm going to die," she whispered to no one, for she was the only one who could hear her. Not 0, not Sarah, not May, not Bakaguru. She was utterly alone, again. No one would come save her this time…like they once had. "I'm going to be alone." And she was afraid.

    She scanned over her battle damage, it was getting extensive. Her health meter was dropping, she needed a new plan, some new way to fight, but… She sighed, there was but one option left, foolish though it was.

    She opened communications. Sparks flew in a system that had never been used before, not since she had first become the White Ranger. She opened the gateway for her ranger spirit, and the symbol for Seel appeared on the bottom corner of her visor.

    "Seel," she murmured, lowering her head, "I need you."

    There was no answer, why would there be? Karin granted her a brief respite, sensing that the White Ranger was massing everything she had left for the final attack. Seel remained mute to Serena's plea.

    "Seel," Serena mumbled, feeling tears streaming down her face. "I need your help, so much right now. I need to beat her, I need to have the strength to stop her! She's going to kill me!" Still, nothing. After years of solitude, it would seem, the Seel had learned bitterness. "Please, I need the Rescue Mode! Only this one time, I'm begging you!"

    Still nothing and Karin grew impatient, walking forward with her slow, deliberate pace to terrify those watching her, all of whom had fallen silent. Serena shrieked in the soundless vortex of her helmet.

    Karin reached out, grabbed a shoulder which turned weak under the vibrations. Serena couldn't stop her as the Pink Ranger smashed with her powerful hands, cracking two ribs and bruising another. Serena didn't even have the strength to call out in pain for help, for someone to rescue her. Only no one was coming. Karin would keep her conscious until she was satisfied.

    "Please…help me," Serena whispered to the silence.

    She was thrown to the ground again and this time her back hit a particularly nasty piece of rough earth, bruising it. She arched her back in pain, but could not naught but whimper as she waited for her tormentor to reach her. Karin grabbed her and shoved her harder into the ground. Serena began to feel her armor cracking.

    But Karin's gaze did not waver. She grabbed Serena's right arm and twisted it sharply behind her back. Serena panicked when she felt, through her uniform, Karin reaching for her PKM Morpher. "N-no!" She started struggling, but the Pink Ranger dug her boot into her kidney, sending jolts of pain through the White Ranger's body. "No!" She knew what was coming.

    She tried to jerk her hand out of Karin's grasp, but her foe merely increased the vibrations of her sonic bursts, reducing her muscles to nothing. Karin smashed at the machine, strategically, so as not to break it and end Serena's life. Eventually, the outer shell fell off, exposing the core of the morpher. The entire crowd gasped.

    Circuits…circuits…Serena's failed attempts at struggling were making it difficult for Karin to discern exactly which switches she needed to break. Finally, she smashed one, and Serena grunted with pain as the top half of her helmet dematerialized. Karin kept breaking switch after switch, and parts of Serena's uniform vanished. Finally, however, Karin located the master circuit between ranger and ranger spirit.

    She severed it without a single thought.

    Serena felt like part of her had been killed. Immobile, Serena fell back to the ground, eyes wide open. She shifted her eyes and saw the Pink Ranger standing over her. Why hadn't she just killed her? As Serena thought that, Karin disengaged her Ranger System. The Rescue Mode faded away first and downloaded itself back into the pink Spirit Morpher she wore, before the armor glowed and vanished. The stadium, absolutely silent, watched as Karin glared at Serena, and retrieved a little white flag from inside her jacket. She waved it high over her head, signaling that she was forfeiting the match. Nobody moved.

    Coughing, Serena struggled to her knees. Her breathing was rasp and harsh, she could hardly get any air in her lungs. Around her, the Ranger uniform was beginning to fade, and she used all of what was left of her strength to hold it together. She heard crackling sounds from her morpher, she had but a few moments left, at most, before it finally died and she lost her powers forever.

    "S-Seel," she murmured, cradling her broken morpher. It was still attached to her, but she couldn't lift the arm she wore it on, so she used her left one to raise it to her lips. What was left of her visor informed her that her stats were dropping, she didn't care. "I'm s-so s-sorry." She felt her eyes grow warm, tears were leaking out of her as she wept for the death of a Pokemon. "Th-hey were my brothers too. I-" She paused, she wished she had a hanky to blow her nose "-I didn't w-want to f-fight them either, I did it to save us! To save 0." She lowered her head, nestling the morpher against her cheek. She coughed blood and spat it onto the ground as the rest of her helmet disintegrated into nothingness.

    There was still silence, like there always was. "I'm s-sorry I didn't tr-trust you, after all the-these years. I'm so-so sorry about eve-everything."

    She could feel the air of the stadium on her face and her hands. She looked down to realize her gloves were gone. Slowly, the rest of her uniform was vanishing. Unlike the usual transformation, where when she reverted back to her civilian gear the armor simply glowed and vanished, this time the uniform seemed to be dying, slowly losing its color and fading away. Finally, only the emblem of a Seel on her chest remained, and it too was fading fast. She felt the wind blowing her hair.

    "I forgive you." It was a tiny, frightened voice, almost like a little child's. "Good bye, Serena."

    Seel.

    Then the White Ranger form was gone. Serena's morpher detached itself from her wrist, fizzing and crackling as it landed on the ground, where it continued to make noise until the light inside it simply died away. Serena's eyes were full of tears as she collected it in her hands, and buried it in her chest as she cried. Around her, she heard someone announce that she had won by forfeit, but she didn't care. It was so insignificant, compared to the scared, quiet little voice that had whispered to her just before its death.

    "Seel," she whispered, knowing that the Pokemon could not, and would never, hear her. "I'm so…oh, Seel!" All those years, she had thought it was angry at her, but it had been just as scared as she was. And now it was gone and it could never come back. Her head felt like such a fat lump in her chest, heavy and painful.

    She returned to reality when she felt a hand press on her shoulder. She looked up and saw 0 standing behind her with her friends.

    His face was so gentle, and yet so fierce. With one look to Karin, she backed away into the protective shadow of her partner, whose face was heavy with concern. May and Sarah stood at the front of the group, Sarah looked so scared while her mother held her, a look of shock on her face at what had just happened.

    Behind them stood Max, the Dark Emerald hung loosely in his hand instead of around his neck, and a savage glare in his eyes. Bakaguru sighed and lowered his face so that Serena could not see his grim expression, while 415's face looked indifferent, but blurred, so Serena could not see the sadness on it. Serena turned to Karin, who was hiding behind Logan in case the entire group attacked her, but nothing of the sort happened. Instead, 0 merely helped Serena to her feet and made sure she kept a tight grip on her broken morpher.

    "I think we'd better get you to the infirmary," 0 advised. "Come on, partner, the crowd's going to get annoying." He was right, at any moment the crowd was going to start hounding her with questions.

    She nodded and the group surrounded her before leaving the stadium. At the door was an escort, waiting to transport Serena to make sure her vitals were fine.

    "I'm okay," she insisted.

    But the escort wasn't convinced. "Ma'am, I've been given instructions to take you there personally. Please get onto the gurney."

    0 stepped in between the escort and Serena, and within moments they were walking past the escort, who now had a pale complexion on his face. Serena absent-mindedly followed her partner, feeling a sense of emptiness welling up inside of her. Her arm felt lighter without her morpher and her brain was only now beginning to process what that meant: she'd won the match, but only because Karin forfeited after killing any chance of her being a ranger again. Serena felt sick.

    "0-" He stopped and watched as she held up her morpher to him. It would never work again. "I-"

    "It can wait," he decided.

    "But-"

    "It can wait," he repeated firmly. "Our first priority is to make sure that you're going to be alright, 3. Everything else can wait."

    He continued to lead them through the corridors until finally they came to the infirmary's twin door entrance several minutes later. "Wait out here," he asked everyone and took Serena in on his own. There she was placed on a bed and hooked up to machines to make sure she was alright. 0 waited outside the inspection room until a nurse came out.

    "She's asking for you, sir," he said. "Wait here until we're finished."

    0 nodded and went back inside.

    Two minutes later, the medical team cleared out of the inspection room and 0 went in. Serena didn't even notice him, so he sat down in a chair next to her bed. "You feeling any better?" he asked, getting comfortable.

    She shook her head. "Not particularly."

    0 blew a raspberry. "Okay."

    She turned towards him, her green eyes blank. "My morpher's broken, 0. I can never be a ranger again. My Pokemon is gone. And now I-" She felt the tears starting up again "-I can't be your partner anymore."

    0 allowed that to sink in for a moment. "You're wrong, 3. You won the match, you get to stay as my partner. Those were the rules that the Council set up. You'll be my partner again, don't worry about that."

    "I won't! Don't you get it, 0? My ranger spirit is dead. I can't bond to another one! That's not how it works!" She lowered her head and her tears dropped onto her shirt. "I can't be a ranger ever again. That means I can't be your partner."

    0, slightly annoyed, hit his hand against the chair's armrest. "You don't think I don't know that, 3?" he asked. "It doesn't matter. Bakaguru's going to figure this one out, he always figures out a way to keep everything together. He can fix your morpher by giving you an Ailed Morpher, did you forget that?"

    "But-"

    "But nothing, 3!" 0 stood up and grabbed her hand. "This isn't like you. You're always so strong, so tough. Even with all that's happened to you, you've always stayed like that. What I want to know, 3, is why you never told me about why you can't use Rescue Mode."

    She blinked and replied, "Huh?"

    "Don't 'huh' me, 3," 0 retorted. "We're supposed to be partners. Partners tell each other their problems. They're supposed to help each other."

    Serena was astonished. "What?"

    "You've always helped me when I got into trouble, 3," 0 explained. "I've always tried to help you. Why didn't you tell me how hard using the morpher was? Why didn't you tell me you weren't in synch with your ranger spirit?"

    She shrugged. "I had just gotten so used to it, I didn't want to bother you about it. It's just-it's just how my Ranger System worked. I never knew what it was like to be in synch with Seel, so I guess- I guess…" She shuddered, the tears were coming back again. "And now it's gone, 0. It's gone. S-She killed it."

    "We'll make sure that Karino is disciplined for that," 0 assured her. "But that's not important now. What is important is that we get you better, so that we can get you fitted out with an Ailed Morpher and fix all of this. Once you're bonded to the Ailed Morpher and we download everything from your Spirit Morpher into it, we can repair the bond between you and Seel. It's just broken now, that doesn't mean it can't be fixed."

    He stood up and patted her on the head. "Relax, I've got this." He grabbed her Spirit Morpher and smiled.

    "0…" she murmured.

    He winked. "That's my partner," he replied and walked out.

    Looking around, he found the nearest doctor. "Hey, how's my friend going to be?" he asked her, pointing his thumb at Serena's door.

    She shrugged. "Depends. Physically, she's fine. I'd prefer if she doesn't have any more visitors today. A couple of broken bones, some bruises, and several cuts. We'll patch her up to make sure she'll be fine, but otherwise she'll be able to return to active duty within the next few days, though I'm going to advise she not be given any field assignments until her bones are mended."

    0 nodded and thanked her before he headed out of the infirmary. Bakaguru and the others were waiting.

    "How is she?" Bakaguru asked.

    "Uh…" He turned to May and Sarah. "Would you mind giving us a minute? This is a private ranger thing."

    May nodded. "Of course." She picked Sarah back up and the two of them began herding the others away until it was only Bakaguru and 0 standing in the corridor.

    "What is it?" the engineer asked. The ranger handed him the broken morpher.

    "Can this be fixed?" 0 asked.

    Bakaguru glanced it over. "No, this will never work again," he replied. "How is she?"

    "She'll be fine, physically," the Golden Ranger said. "But then how is she still alive? I thought that the Spirit Morphers were permanently bonded to the rangers. Kill one, kill the other."

    "In theory, you are correct," Bakaguru replied. "But what Karin has done is not necessarily destroyed the Spirit Morpher, but rather sever the connection between ranger and ranger spirit." He peered through the circuits. "The Pokemon is in suspended animation at the moment, neither living nor dead." Bakaguru paused to rub his glasses, then resumed studying the morpher. "It was easy to do…Serena has never had a good connection with her ranger spirit."

    "Why not?"

    "I do not know that, Golden Ranger," said Bakaguru. "But she has never succeeded in activating the Rescue Mode. It's put her at a disadvantage for a long time."

    0's face grew dark and he lowered his head. "Will she continue to be a ranger?" he asked. "I don't want to work with anyone else. 3 has to be my partner."

    "Hmmm…" mused Bakaguru. "The designs for the Ailed Morpher will allow for a safe transfer of the ranger spirit into a new morpher," he explained, "but that's for a stable, secure morpher like yours." He held up Serena's broken Spirit Morpher and shook it lightly in his hand. "This is completely broken. It will never work again, no matter what I do. Transferring the hibernating ranger spirit from this into an Ailed Morpher would be extremely dangerous. At the best case it would be successful, but failure would be high. Trying it could kill Serena and Seel."

    0 groaned and kicked the nearby wall, staring at the infirmary's doors. "What are we going to do?" he asked

    "I do not know," Bakaguru said in dismay. "I will continue my research and hopefully find a stable way to help Serena. With the former Golden Ranger's research, anything could be possible."

    "Is there a chance she could return to full ranger status?" 0 asked.

    Bakaguru smirked. "In science, my boy, there is always a chance."

    "But there will be a risk?"

    "There's always a risk too."

    "Excuse me?

    Both men turned to notice a messenger boy standing in the hallway, dressed in formal PKM uniform gear with a collared shirt, slacks, and a tie, along with a nametag. In his right hand was an envelope, he was cradling it in a fashion that told both Bakaguru and 0 that it was probably very important.

    "What do you want?" the Golden Ranger asked with a scowl on his face. "We're extremely busy right now."

    The messenger boy was concerned when he noticed he was speaking to the highest ranking PKM Ranger, but remained undaunted as he produced the envelope. "I'm supposed to deliver this to the White Ranger from the Council. Do you know which ward she's in?"

    0 snatched up the envelope. "I'll take it to her."

    "Sir, this is for the White Ranger," he tried to explain, but a glare from 0 made him change his mind.

    "She's my partner, I'll make sure she gets it," 0 retorted.

    The messenger gulped. "Very good sir," he replied and saluted before bolting away speedily.

    "What's this?" 0 asked. Bakaguru shrugged, so he tore opened the envelope and grabbed the letter inside. It was short, abrupt, and typed, with the insignia of the Council on the bottom. 0 read it aloud.

    "Serena Brine,

    This message is to inform you of your immediate dismissal from the PKM Rangers and the removal of your status as PKM Agent 3, White Ranger. You are therefore to be reassigned to the Communication Division. Your replacement will be appointed by Agent 003, Bakaguru Niwa, and will be attached as the new White Ranger and secondary partner to the May Birch case. Until your recovery from injuries sustained in battle consider yourself suspended from active duty awaiting transfer."


    0 crumbled up the letter and hurled it into the nearest trash can. Bakaguru felt quite sick to his stomach.

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