TEEN: [AdvanceShipping] PKM Rangers: Rise of the Dark Gems - Page 3

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  1. #31
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    Default Chapter 21, Part 1

    Morph Twenty-One: A Date Interrupted, Part 1

    She was very beautiful. As 0 stepped from his room into the corridor, he could not help but listen to the voice that paraded through his head about how incredibly lucky he was. He smiled, nodded his head, and made sure to lock his room's door before he and May started down the walkway.

    He wore casual, but tough clothes, standard for the harsh Orre weather they would be subjected to once they got out of the base. Surprisingly, he had very little in the line of casual clothes and had had to request some from the base's stores, such as a suitable jacket and a regular shirt. A pair of gloves had also been brought to him in order to help him conceal his morpher which, while to the untrained eye would look like nothing more than a common wristwatch, would undoubtedly be recognized by the thieving masses of Pyrite Town to be something more.

    May, on the other hand, had had no such difficulty, in part because she had borrowed her outfit from Serena. While the top was a bit tight, she was quite happy with 0's reaction, which was to naturally fight off all temptation to stare at her. He kept his gaze straight and above her head, almost as if looking directly at her would result in him going blind from her beauty. She permitted herself a brief smile and giggled. This was a wonderful idea.

    "What?" 0 asked and bent his giant mane of a head down to check what was so funny. He turned bright red and returned his gaze to normal, which only made her laugh even more.

    "Oh…nothing," replied May teasingly, she was having much too much fun toying with her ex-husband. As per Serena's instructions, she had decided to wear a small top with a long shirt, resulting in May looking much the way movie stars look on the posters for films. Oh, she knew she was looking good, and she wanted to remind herself that a single mother of a five-year-old girl was capable of knocking the breath out of even the most stoic ranger in PKM.

    "The exit is this way," he said in a very business-like way, leading her through the odd maze of corridors that made up PKM's base and into the vehicle hanger. He looked around for the supervising agent and, upon finding him, confirmed the rental of a hover bike for the day. The agent saluted the ranger as 0 and May boarded the machine and started the engine. 0 handed her a helmet.

    "What's this for?" May asked, though she put it on.

    He grinned. "You don't want to fall off this thing in the Orre desert. The sand's not as gentle here as it is at the beach," he explained.

    May simply smiled and held on to him tight. 0 had the attending agents clear a path for them, and they were blasting out of the building in almost next to no time. Thankful she had kept a tight grip on the Golden Ranger, as anything less would have probably resulted in her being hurled to the ground, May squealed with delight as 0 piloted through the harsh desert, aiming for a small spec in the distance that looked like a child's model of Pyrite Town from where they were.

    "That's Pyrite over there," 0 announced to May, who shifted herself on the seat to properly get a look at the town. "I wish there was a better place to go, but I was only given access to the hover bike for today. Couldn't get a chopper."

    "Is there anywhere to go in Pyrite?"

    He nodded. "Oh yes," he replied. "It's one of my favorite places to go. There's a big hotel, the works. If you're lucky, I might even try to win something for you at the coliseum. If we have time." The rusty little town was getting closer and 0 pressed harder on the accelerator. In minutes they arrived and disembarked quickly.

    Pyrite was indeed one of 0's favorite places, mostly because it was where most PKM agents went to blow off steam, something he found incredibly ironic given the town's reputation for rough gangs. He pressed a button on the hover bike and it converted into a portable capsule in a bright flash of red light. He pocketed it, not wanting the local kids to take his transportation for a joyride.

    "Come on," he said, adjusting his goggles for the bright Orre sun, "let's get going, I've got us reservations for lunch at that hotel. I figured that it would be a nice change of pace from cafeteria food." May smirked and followed him through the street.

    The town, for the most part, gave off the impression that it was made of cardboard. The people, on the other hand, looked much more life-like and behaved the part. The denizens of Pyrite took it in turn to shout at May, most of them catcalls or vague suggestions about what they would like to do to her. Most of them made her blush and 0 glare angrily at the kids.

    "Don't get jealous," teased May. "I promise I won't run off with one of them."

    Meanwhile, 0 fingered the blue and black Pokeballs on his belt. "Corporal punishment never hurt anyone. Except for masochists." May laughed outright. 0 had to think, he felt that he was running out of amusing things to say to keep May entertained.

    "Hey, quick question."

    "What?"

    "Do we, you know, hold hands?" May's face tuned a slight shade of red from asking and 0's brightened up like a cherry.

    "That's a good question," he replied, as he tried to remember his dating etiquette, then recalling that his information was outdated by a few years from the standard. "I suppose we could. I mean, we're on a date, and it's not like it's our first date or anything."

    "It sure feels like one though." May reached out her arm and 0 extended his hand nervously, until they both felt the contact of one another's fingers, which caused them to flinch their limbs back into their original positions at their sides. She smiled and looked up at 0. "Perhaps it's a bit too soon for that."

    "Y-Yeah, maybe you're right," 0 agreed, scratching the back of his head with his now-extra-sensitive hand. "This feels really awkward."

    "You saying that only makes it more awkward," May pointed out and they both chuckled.

    0 felt something tap his shoulder, and turned around, annoyed that someone wished to distract him from May. It was someone even larger than he, a very muscular someone wearing a leather vest, displaying his incredibly vast and possibly steroid-enhanced pectorals. He grinned a massive grin below his enormous moustache, which he was scratching with his left hand, and looked down at May.

    "She with you?" he asked.

    0 nodded. "For today, anyway."

    "Time's up, little man, I want a turn." 0 looked behind the mammoth and noticed several smaller grunts with hungry expressions, before returning his attention to the giant.

    "I don't think that's a good idea."

    "I think it's a very good idea."

    0 briefly considered the possibility of beating up the gang leader, his grunts, and anyone who had the inconsideration to interrupt his and May's date, but then decided that it would bring more people in to bug him. "Okay," he muttered and straightened his back, "what's it going to take to get you to leave us alone? I would really like to get along with my date now?"

    The giant glanced down at 0, who was showing absolutely no sign of backing off, and pulled out a Poke Ball from his vest. "Well, seeing as we're in Pyrite, how's about a little match? Winner gets the lady for a nice evening on the town, courtesy of the one and only Team Snagem." His underlings seemed to agree, though most of them looked like they would prefer beating down the Golden Ranger in the old fashioned sense.

    0 turned around to May. "Mind if I thrash him?"

    She shook her head. "No, go right ahead. But if you lose, you'd better be ready to face the consequences."

    0 grinned. "This'll be cake. Let's do this."

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

    As 0 quickly discovered, the battle with the Snagem leader was not going to be cake. Hundreds of people surrounded him as he made his way down to the stadium floor. May simply smiled, this was just like 0: getting in way over his head.

    "Honestly, what is with men's needs to fight each other?" she asked, sighing. "At least in Contests there's beauty involved."

    "Well, May, I kind of like fighting," he replied. "It's been keeping you alive for the past couple of months, hasn't it?"

    "What's that supposed to mean?" she asked.

    He shrugged. "Absolutely nothing, dear," he muttered and walked out into the blinding sunlight. The crowd cheered, and he was reminded all too well of his battle with Logan. "This'll be over soon enough, if we're lucky we can still make our reservations at the hotel…" He retrieved both his Poke Balls, it felt weird not fighting with Pi.

    "You'll do fine," said a knowing voice in his ear and 0 smiled. His partner was still with him.

    "Go, Lu, Tork!" 0 ordered and tossed both balls out into the arena. They exploded in flashing red lights and the balls returned to him as his powerhouse Pokemon emerged from their containers. Lu, in its adult form, was very excited, and its arms radiated with glowing Aura. Tork blasted steam from its nostrils and stamped on the ground, quite happy to be let outside in the fresh air.

    Both of them approached their trainer. "Okay, guys," 0 muttered, "I know we haven't fought a regular battle for a long time, but I figure we should do alright here. Trust me, and trust your instincts, and we should be fine." Both Pokemon agreed earnestly. "Tork, you tank in the back, and offer defense support for Lu. Lu, go offense and be ready for assists from Tork. Got it?" They nodded. "I've got a lot riding on this, I never thought I'd have to protect my reputation in front of May again."

    Lu placed its paw on Tork's shoulder. "Cario, Lu," it muttered and Tork nodded its head. They wouldn't let him down. They turned around, and waited for what was to be summoned by the Snagem commander.

    The commander grinned, and hurled out two Poke Balls into the arena. A Crobat exploded from one, and a Heracross from the other. The Crobat circled around, its purple wings flapping proudly by its master's side, while the Bug Type simply waited, pawing at the ground with its thin blue arms.

    The Snagem member sneered. "Tear 'em to shreds!" he ordered, pointing his finger at 0's Pokemon.

    0 smirked. "Let's do it! Cario, Rio! Tork, Torkoal!"

    The Heracross charged first, its head glowing with energy as it prepared its Megahorn attack. Instead of attacking, Lu simply leapt up onto Tork's shell, and began charging up its arms to unleash a powerful Metal Claw attack. But before Heracross could reach either of 0's Pokemon, Tork flexed its muscles and projected a powerful Protect sphere around itself and its battle partner. The Heracross bounced off and Tork canceled its Protect immediately to let Lu burst out and strike the Heracross' vulnerable back with its glowing paws. The Bug Pokemon shrieked, but Lu wasn't quite finished with it yet. Grabbing the fallen Pokemon, Lu proceeded to wail on its tender, exposed hide, until finally the Heracross had enough and took to the skies with Crobat, preventing 0's ground-based Pokemon from following.

    "Oh, that's lovely," muttered 0, rethinking his strategy. Lu and Tork didn't waver, operating on instinct as their trainer came up with the next plan.

    "Heracross, do a Megahorn again! Crobat, Supersonic!" commanded the Snagem member with a triumphant smile.

    0 clenched his fists. "Tork! Cario, Lucario!"

    Both Pokemon moved instantly. Tork dived into its shell, shielding itself from the sonar blasts through its thick hide. 0's Lucario rushed forward to meet the Heracross head on, nimbly dodging the sonic bursts as they followed it across the coliseum battleground. Lu leapt up, covering its entire body in Endure's amber energy. It collided with Heracross, and they both smashed into the ground. Unfortunately, the Snagem member was too late, and Crobat faithfully followed its orders, blasting Heracross with Supersonic and missing Lu, who was spared thanks to Heracross' protection. It got up and, despite being a full foot shorter than the Bug, placed Heracross in a half-nelson grab and positioned the Bug directly in front of Tork.

    0 grinned. "Torkoal, Torkoal!"

    On cue, the turtle poked its head out of its shell and took a deep breath. Then it unleashed an Overheat, scorching Heracross. Lu held the Pokemon firmly, though it too received a portion of damage from the strike, until finally Tork ceased its assault and Heracross fell to the ground, knocked out.

    The crowd felt that it was now an appropriate time to cheer.

    0 grinned, and pointed to himself as he looked on at Mr. Team Snagem, whose expression of disbelief was priceless as he recalled his Bug, leaving the Crobat to face Lu and Tork's assault. "Time for the finale, sucker!" he cackled, he hadn't been in a good match for a long time! "Cario! Oal!"

    Tork took another deep breath, blasting the surrounding air with a Flamethrower. Crobat swept easily through the flames, so the Torkoal kept up the blast, waiting for Lu to charge up its Aura Sphere. The giant Crobat kept flying around and Mr. Team Snagem couldn't think of a good counterattack. Time was running out for the bat…

    "Go!" ordered 0.

    Lu opened its eyes, its entire body seething with Aura and leapt up into the air, a feat accomplished only due to its youth and smaller body. Working with Tork, it moved in on Crobat, and blasted Aura Spheres around to fly towards and latch onto the bat. With the additional weight, the bat's four wings could no longer support its body and it began to plummet to the ground. Lu pummeled it with Aura Spheres from behind, making it impossible for the bat to retaliate. When they finally landed on the ground, Lu lightly jumped up, and smashed into the bat with its legs.

    Then Tork got up.

    Crobat didn't even see it coming, mostly because it was flat on the ground, its eyes staring into the rocky earth of the coliseum floor, and it didn't have the strength to fly again, since Lu had taken the time to attack its wing's joints, so naturally it did very little but wait as Tork leapt up at breakneck speed and smashed into it with a Body Slam. After a few moments to ensure that the bat would not be getting back up again, the giant Torkoal, almost the bat's rival in size and more than so in weight, got up, dusted itself off, and quietly paced over to where its trainer was standing, a look of satisfaction on both their faces as 0 patted its head.

    "Torkoal, Tork," 0 said, praising its performance. It was so large now, the ground rumbled just a little each time it took a step. The average Torkoal was only a little over a foot tall, Tork's neck reached well over four feet high. At the same time, Lu was bouncing back in their direction, still displaying some of the traits from when it was a Baby Pokemon. "Cario, Lu," the Golden Ranger told it, the Lucario had done well in its first real Pokemon battle since evolution.

    Lu barked its approval and looked up to Tork, who nodded sagely at its performance. There were even some tears of pride leaking from the turtle's face and the three shared a laugh, though Lu mostly did so out of mimicking its trainer, as 0 and Tork recalled the memories of emotional waterworks from Tork's old days.

    He was about to walk out of the arena, since he and Mr. Team Snagem had only agreed on one two Pokemon match, but felt the giant grab his shoulder. As he turned, 0 noticed the look of extreme displeasure on the other's face, and realized that he cared very little.

    "What?" asked 0, holding up a hand to stop his Pokemon from attacking his opponent. "I did the fight, so let me go. I'm going to lose my reservation if I stay much longer."

    "I don't think so," growled the man.

    0 narrowed his brows and flexed his muscles. "Take your hands off me now, or you'll be sorry."

    The Snagem leader did not like being threatened. "Listen you-"

    He did not finish his sentence, because an instant later a jolt of electricity coursed through 0's body and shocked the gang leader. He cried out in pain and was thrown back to the ground. May, who stood only a few feet away, gasped in shock, and even 0 looked a little surprised.

    "What was that?" the Snagem leader asked angrily, hauling himself back to his feet. This time though, he wisely kept his distance.

    "Just a little static shock," 0 replied, "don't be a baby about it." He turned to May and offered a warm smile. "Come on, I think we're done here." She agreed and the two headed out.

    The Snagem member, surrounded by his subordinates, looked down at his hand, and swore that he saw it spark again. "What…is that guy?" he asked. The look on his face suggested he wasn't going to give up finding out.

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

    The atmosphere was tense.

    The Golden Ranger stared intensely at the menu, and dug deep into the recesses of his memory to retrieve the extremely vital information he was searching for. It was impossible that he had forgotten! Across from him, May watched with an almost amused expression and, directly beside him, stood the waiter, who was growing slightly impatient and kept shifting his weight from one foot to another while he waited for 0 to order.

    "Sir, could you-" The boy wisely stopped talking, as 0 lifted his head over the menu and delivered a glare that could silence a Primeape.

    "Noodles," 0 decided, and handed the boy the menu. "For the lady. I will have a beer."

    "Sir, this is a five star restaurant, surely you would like something fancier than a mere cup of noodles!"

    0 turned to May, and shrugged. "She loves noodles, so bring her some soba noodles. And be snappy about it." He tossed a few bills at the waiter, who practically skipped in the direction of the kitchen to prepare the order.

    "I can't believe you remember something like that," May said, a slight tinge of red across her cheeks.

    He nodded, thankful that he had guessed correctly.

    "So…"

    "So…"

    Both of them blushed slightly, now that they had sat down there was no escape from the inevitable conversation they both knew they had to have. "I guess I should let you ask me some questions, let you get an idea of what I've been doing. So, if you have anything you'd like to ask me, I'm willing to answer."

    "Oh, okay," said May and thought about it for a while. "Well, how long have you been an…agent in PKM?"

    "Five years," 0 replied. "I joined it a few months after Sarah was born. The old Golden Ranger and I made an agreement that let me operate as an agent and continue to live a civilian life. When we…divorced, I went to work for them full time. There was nothing more for me to do, and I needed something that gave my life meaning."

    May nodded. "And all those trips you took?"

    "Missions that PKM had me go on," 0 explained. "I was considered a high flyer, and got promoted. I once almost became the White Ranger, but that's a whole other story."

    May nodded thoughtfully. "I see," she murmured. "How did you get recruited in the first place?"

    "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "I ran into the old Golden Ranger and helped in. Because I was exposed to a bunch of secrets, I was given the choice to work for PKM or face incarceration for my own protection. I chose PKM so I could stay with you and Sarah."

    May nodded, digesting the knowledge. "Then, why didn't you just tell me? Instead of leaving, why couldn't you trust me with what you were going through?"

    0 gave a half-smile. "To be honest, May, it was for your own protection. I was in deep with PKM and I couldn't bear to get you involved like I was. When we had that last fight, I just didn't want you to have to deal with knowing what I was doing." He reached out his hand and squeezed her fingers. "I didn't want any more burdens being put on your soul. Plus, PKM would have flipped and taken us all into custody."

    May giggled, though her face was somber. "You let me hate you for three years, 0. To protect me? How am I supposed to feel about that?"

    "I don't know the answer to that question, May," he said, lowering his head. "I'm not you."

    The waiter brought the soba noodles and the beer, but neither was touched.

    "I don't know whether to hate you for keeping all of this a secret, or love you for trying to protect us from it," she admitted. "At least Sarah is happy."

    "That's something I wanted to ask you about."

    "What?"

    "Sarah," 0 said. "Why didn't you ever tell her who her father was? Why did you keep me a secret for so long?"

    "0..." May sighed and looked out the window. "I don't know. I'd like to say that it was because, deep down, I believed that it was just a dream, and one day you'd come back to me, but it was probably the mean, spiteful part of me that made me do that. Sarah was the one person you wanted, and the one person I couldn't let you have. I had already lost my husband, I didn't want to lose my daughter too."

    The Golden Ranger opened his beer and took a swig. "We need to…come to some sort of compromise. Now that we both know what really happened, I want to take some steps for the future. For Sarah's sake, and for ours." May nodded in agreement. "Now, you know my feelings. I want to be a father to Sarah again, and I also want to be your friend, May."

    "My friend?"

    "I know it's unreasonable to ask you to forgive me completely, and to take me back. I do want to be with you, May. With all my heart I do. But I don't know what you want, so I'll respect your own decision on the future of our relationship. But I'm fine with you as a friend, May. I want you back in my life again, in whatever small way you're willing to let me back in as."

    "Dummy…"

    0 looked up. "Huh?"

    "You giant idiot…" May felt her eyes grow wet, but didn't care. "All this time, I've thought that there was no room for me in your life, that you'd moved on and settled down with Serena. I just-" She shook her head and smiled. "It's good to know that, at least."

    "Good to know what?"

    She smirked. "That your inability to understand women remains intact."

    "Excuse me."

    Both turned, and saw in astonishment that the Snagem commando had returned. 0 groaned, the guy was really starting to get on his nerves, then he noticed something. Specifically, the chain hanging by his arm, carrying what appeared to be a massive black gem, a giant Dark Onyx! 0 clenched his fists.

    "May," he muttered, reaching for his morpher, "get out of here."

    "Don't you dare move!" shouted the Snagem leader, brandishing a Poke Ball in both of his hands. "Tyranitar, Garchomp!" Both Poke Balls exploded and two giant Pokemon emerged, both emitting powerful auras. "I think everyone's staying right where they are, you annoying little runt."

    He strode up to 0's table. "Get up, punk," he ordered. "I want to see if you're so tough in front of two of Team Snagem's most powerful Pokemon, and this little toy!" He lifted the Dark Onyx and dangled it in front of the Golden Ranger's face. "You see what this is? You know what it does?"

    0 gulped. "I have a fairly good idea, tubby," he replied, then turned to May. "Listen, head out and powder your nose. This'll be all over before you can break out your makeup bag." May nodded and stood up to leave.

    She took two steps before the Snagem leader screamed, freezing her in her tracks. "I said don't move!" he ordered.

    "May, run!" 0 shouted. The urgency in his voice prompted her to run, and the Golden Ranger tackled the giant man to the ground, keeping him from issuing any orders immediately. May almost got away too…then…

    "Tyranitar, Shadow Wave!" he screeched. Obeying, the Pokemon inhaled deeply and blasted May with a sickly wave of evil power. She shrieked, as the attack caught up with her, and fell to the ground.

    The Snagem leader cackled and pushed 0 off him. "Well, that'll make her easier to carry back to the lair," he muttered as an afterthought. Then he turned towards 0, upon which he felt a slight chill run down his shoulder.

    0 wasn't just angry. Oh no, to say that about him would be to give his feelings the most mildest description. 0 was furious. His head was lowered, his teeth gritted against one another as he ground them in frustration…his muscles were tight and easily visible because his anger was causing them to bulge. His veins became noticeable on his skin and his hands were clenched to the point that his white knuckles were visible.

    "You," he growled, "are going to die."

    And then he roared murder at the man. His morpher gleamed, and a golden fire crackled to life around him, resonating with his fury. The Snagem leader stepped back, as all the light in the room seemed to fade away, as it was sucked into the vortex of 0's golden flames. Sparks flew from within it and 0 grinned.

    "W-What are you?" he demanded to know. 0 just kept smiling.

    "Your nightmare," was his reply, and then he screamed once more as his transformation began.

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

    The transformation was different this time, 0 sensed that much.

    As he roared, the morpher strapped to his wrist glowed bright gold and his body was instantly covered with the black under armor that made up most of his uniform. The golden parts, his gloves, boots, chest plate, back, belt, and visor, came last, clamping down and strapping into position as his systems came online. The golden fire that surrounded him dispersed and his visor gleamed as Pi took control of the uniform.

    "0, what's happening?" the Pikachu asked, running a suit diagnostic. "How'd you do that without activating the morpher or using the morphing call?"

    0 shrugged. "That's a good question, let's answer it once we've dealt with this little piggy." He stood his ground, the Bolt Blade clenched in his hand. Across from him, Snagem boy growled, turning towards his Shadow Pokemon and snickered.

    "That explains it…you're a ranger, just like that guy said!" he screeched. "Now I'll show you what it means to have power! Get him, my Shadow Pokemon!"

    The Tyranitar roared, blasting air through the hotel and throwing people to the floor. Beside it, the Garchomp howled with rage and began stomping its way in the direction of 0.

    "This is not good," decided 0 firmly. While he probably had the strength to engage the Shadow Pokemon in battle, the giant Dark Onyx that the Snagem leader was using complicated matters. "Pi, stats report."

    "Both Pokemon are generating high-level energy," the Pikachu reported. "And their Shadow Pokemon status only helps their strength. From the looks of it, both Pokemon are probably in Hyper Mode, so be careful."

    0 groaned. "That's just great. Open up communications with 003, I'm going to need backup if the situation worsens." He didn't know how a Dark Gem would influence Pokemon and he didn't really want to.

    "0, lead them outside. They're after you, they'll be less casualties if we go elsewhere," Pi pointed out. 0 nodded and shouldered his blade.

    "Hey, ugly!" shouted 0, turning his attention onto the Snagem commander. "How's about you come get me? I'm tired to standing around staring at your drooling mug!"

    His opponent did not seem to take kindly to the statement. His face reddened and his mouth wobbled from sheer anger. Clearly he was not a man accustomed to being defied. "Get him! Shadow Rush!"

    The two monsters roared, stomping on the ground and rushing towards the Golden Ranger. Instead of fighting, though, the ranger simply vanished with the command "Go!" He reappeared a few feet behind the Pokemon and used their rushing momentum in conjuncture with his sword to smash both into a wall. "I'm over here, Slowpokes!" he shouted and waved his sword as the Pokemon unearthed themselves from the wall.

    "Get him!" Mr. Snagem snarled, but that was all he could say before the Golden Ranger decided to make things just a little bit more personal and grabbed him by the neck.

    "Let's see how far you can fly," the Golden Ranger muttered and hurled him out of the second-storey window. Like obedient Pokemon, the Tyranitar and Garchomp jumped out after him and 0 turned his attention to the woman on the ground. "May, are you alright?" He picked her up and opened his visor. Her eyes flickered, but she roused herself from unconsciousness and looked up at him.

    "0?" she asked, somewhat out of it. "What's going on? Weren't we talking?"

    He nodded. "Slight change of plans. Snagem thought it would be a good idea to bother us." He looked out the empty window, there was no way the Snagem leader was too hurt, especially if he had the giant Dark Onyx. That would patch him up in no time at all. "May, I need to hide you somewhere, they'll be coming back with more Shadow Pokemon soon."

    "No."

    "What do you mean, no?" 0 asked. "This isn't a game, he's here for us! I need to lead him away!"

    "No, I'm tired of being separated from you, 0." She was babbling, 0 saw in her eyes that she was disorientated, it was possible that she had a concussion too. "I want to face him together, with both of us side by side." Her eyes were fluttering again, 0 wondered if she was really hurt. The back of her head was bleeding, but otherwise she seemed fine…

    So why was he so worried?

    "Okay," he muttered. "Pi, call 003. I officially am going to need help."

    "Roger. Distress signal has been sent. Enemy is coming back, this time with multiple Shadow Pokemon, and I think…no, I'm sure of it! He's got Rangerlings, just like Sappho did!"

    Pi was right. As the Snagem leader strode back into the room, he was flanked by eight or ten Rangerlings, almost the number of subordinates he had been followed by earlier. Had he turned his friends into Rangerlings just to fight? 0 gritted his teeth and his visor clamped down again over his face. "That's disgusting," he said to himself.

    The Rangerlings chattered amongst themselves, as they always did. This time, though, 0 noticed that instead of one Dark Onyx on their chest, all of them had two, one on each of their shoulders. "Oh, this is bad," muttered 0, readying the Bolt Blade to begin battle. In addition to the Garchomp and Tyranitar from earlier, the Snagem commander also had a Charizard and a Machamp standing ready behind him, all four Pokemon with dark, soulless eyes glaring down on the Golden Ranger.

    "Bad," 0 muttered. "Very bad."

    "Get him!" roared the Snagem leader. "Shadow Rush!"

    Holding May in his arms, 0 ran straight out of the window, leaping through the air thanks to the energy his suit was supplying to his legs. He landed nimbly on the rooftop outside, ignoring the pain as his legs received part of the landing's shock and turned around to look through the window. The Snagem leader, furious, was ordering his Pokemon after the Golden Ranger, away from the crowds.

    "Now all I need is a safe place to hide you, May," 0 grumbled, this relationship business was a lot of work! He wished he still had Serena to back him up, or anyone for that matter. "Pi, status report. Where's the backup?"

    "I'm patching you through to 003 now," it announced. A moment later, the communication opened.

    "0, what's going on down there?" demanded a frustrated Bakaguru.

    "Rangerlings and Shadow Pokemon," replied the Golden Ranger. "It looks like the Dark Gem Rangers handed somebody a giant Dark Onyx and he's going to town. And it doesn't help that he's after my date!" He looked down, May was looking worse. "He hurt her."

    "How badly?"

    "She might have a concussion, and she's bleeding from her head," 0 muttered. He started moving and jumped down into the alley, wincing as his feet collided with the ground. "She's not very lucid, she'll probably need to see a doctor when we get back. Where are 1 and 5? I asked for backup!"

    "On their way, they should be arriving in a few minutes. Unfortunately, they'll be all I can offer. We haven't decided on a new White Ranger."

    "What about Max?"

    "He's not deemed fit to enter combat yet."

    "Damn!" 0 cursed. His tracking system indicated he was about to be discovered. "Just get 1 and 5 here now! I don't have time to screw around!"

    "Okay, I'll tell them to hurry-"

    Bakaguru was cut off, as 0 let off a blood-curling screech of agony and dropped to the ground, clutching his head. Something was attacking him, something horrible. May collapsed on him and was jolted awake.

    "0?" she asked, noticing that he was starting to curl into the fetal position. "0! What's going on?" Ignoring her own pain, she grabbed the ranger and pushed him up into a sitting position against the wall. "What's wrong?"

    "S-Serum…" he gasped, realizing what the problem was. "N-Need serum n-now…" He groaned, forced to ride through the immense pain as his body shouted its addictive need for the drug that kept it awake, alert, and now alive.

    "What serum?" May asked.

    "K-Keeps my body w-working," he explained. "N-No night-nightmares."

    And he fell again to the ground, this time contorting in agony. His body needed the drug now, otherwise it would begin to shut down. He barely heard May's shriek as they were discovered and the Shadow Charizard's roar as it began to advance, Rangerlings dancing around its lizard body.

    Then the cavalry came charging in.

    The Red and Pink Rangers leapt from their motorcycle. Logan, flashing a salute, proceeded to tear through the Rangerlings, while Karin concentrated on the much larger Charizard. Eventually, the Red Ranger made it to May and placed himself before the onslaught of powerful Rangerlings.

    "Hey, May," he said. "What's with Golden Boy? He's looking a little green around the gold."

    "There's something wrong with him!" she explained. "He says he needs some sort of serum. Do you have any idea what he's talking about?"

    Logan kicked a Rangerling back. "Sort of. The guru's got a secret serum used for combat missions. It's used to keep agents awake and alert throughout, but it's not meant for long-term missions. Golden Boy takes it all the time, so he effectively doesn't sleep. His body's probably going through withdrawal." He batted away another little imp. "We should probably ask someone to send some in." He put his hand to his helmet. "003, I need some serum delivered ASAP. Oh, and a hot dog too. Maybe a pizza if you have some time." A pause, while Logan listened to Bakaguru's response. "Nope, 0's down and he needs some fast. And I wasn't kidding about that hot dog!"

    He smashed into a Rangerling and activated his Sake Scissors with a request to his ranger spirit. The sword-like claws extended from his forearms and the Red Ranger dove into the fray. "He's on it, May! My partner will escort you the rest of the way to safety!" He reached Karin, who was having problems with the Charizard. "Baby, this is more my tempo, why don't you fall back and take her to safety?" Karin complied with the order, flipping back to grab May and, as he was currently useless, 0 too, on both her shoulders and started running away. Logan covered their retreat as the horde began to descend on the alley.

    A man with an absurd moustache walked up with his Shadow Pokemon and Rangerlings, surprised to see a Red Ranger instead of a golden one. "Where'd the girl go, Red boy?" he snarled, obviously quite mad indeed.

    "Good question, tubby," replied Logan with a shrug, pointing one of his blades at the man's gut. "I'd say in your stomach, where all mobile things must naturally head around you, but then you'd know where they were! Specifically, somewhere between your stomach and small intestine."

    The Snagem leader flushed red. "I'll kill you!"

    Logan wagged his finger. "Not if you eat me first, right?" His opponent screamed in rage.

    "Kill him! Tear him to pieces!"

    "I thought fat guys were supposed to be jolly," murmured Logan in dismay. "And I was about to ask him what I wanted for Christmas too."

    Reluctantly, he dove into the fray.

  2. #32
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 21, Continued

    Morph Twenty-One: A Date Interrupted, Part 2

    Bakaguru considered his options.

    On one hand, he could simply allow 0 to die. On the other, it was probably a good idea to rescue the Golden Ranger, so he had summoned Serena, 415, and Max to see what could be done. After some persuasion, he had managed to pry Sarah away from her uncle and into the arms of her devoted grandparents, so he had the full attention of all three.

    "What," he said, pacing in front of a vial of serum on his work table, "are we going to do?"

    Serena was the first to respond. "I can go take it to him," she suggested.

    Bakaguru shook his head. "Out of the question, Serena. First, you are not a ranger anymore." He held up his hand as she opened her mouth to respond. "I am working on that, but for now we must accept the fact that you are no longer a member of the PKM Rangers. To expose you to this kind of danger, especially without a Ranger uniform, is completely unsafe and I will not do it. Plus, you are still recovering from you injuries." He turned to the other woman in the room. "I would send 415, but I want 0 to live. Besides, she has to stay behind since she has the Golden Gauntlets."

    Unenthusiastically, 415 dangled the devices from her hands without much gusto.

    "That leaves Max," the engineer muttered and pushed his glasses back to the bridge of his nose. "Max in the most suitable person, despite being our least likely source of help."

    "Why is that?" Max asked, feeling a slight twinge of anger.

    "Because you are still inexperienced in handling your Dark Emerald," explained the otaku. "That is the simple fact, Max. Despite the progress you have been making, the fact remains that you are unfit to be released yet. And yet I have no choice but to send you in if I want 0 to live." He rubbed his brow. "The Council is going to kill me, but I need you, Max. Can I count on you?"

    Max nodded, grabbing his Dark Emerald. "We're ready," he said and the gem glowed eagerly. It had been a while since it had been given a chance to play. "What do you want me to do?"

    Bakaguru handed Max the vial of serum. "Give this to 0, he'll be able to inject it into his body and recover. Transform into your Dark Gem Ranger mode to make sure you survive the trip."

    Max closed his hands around the vial. "What do you mean, 'survive the trip'?" he asked suspiciously.

    Bakaguru grinned, and pulled out a small remote control from inside his lab coat. When he pressed one of the buttons, the ceiling above began opening up and the floors nearby gave way, revealing a massive machine below. "A new toy from Jessie and James," he explained. "It's a prototype to launch these giant things that the two of them are designing with Meowth, but for now we can use it to launch you to Pyrite. Being the Dark Emerald Ranger, you should have no problem surviving it. Just keep the vial safe and your Dark Emerald should home in on the Golden Ranger."

    "Good plan." Max knew Bakaguru was right, for some reason the Dark Emerald was willing to obey the Golden Ranger in all circumstances, ever since he had freed both Max and the Dark Gem from the confusion they had been induced with by Sappho. "But what if I lose control?"

    "My advice would be to not do that," Bakaguru offered. "Transform and I'll prepare the launch."

    Max nodded and climbed into the thing. True to Bakaguru's word, the machine looked like it was built for launching something massive. There was a platform where whatever it was going to be would be loaded onto, so Max got onto that and tucked the serum vial into his pocket, knowing it would be safer inside the Dark Emerald Ranger's armor.

    "Max!" shouted a voice from below. Max wrapped his chains around his arms and looked down. It was Serena.

    "Yeah?" he asked.

    "Bring him back safe, okay?" Serena said. "Him and May both."

    Max nodded and raised his thumb. "Count on it, Serena!" he said and pressed the Dark Emerald into his flesh. "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    Max exploded with green light as his body, mind, and soul merged with the Dark Emerald, creating the somewhat-reformed Dark Emerald Ranger. The beast looked down on the group below, but thought little of them and remained standing where it was, sensing that it needed to go and help their master, the Golden Ranger. A few moments later, Bakaguru finished the launch preparations and the dark ranger braced himself, sensing he was about to go airborne.

    Then he left the ground and blasted off through the air. To prevent wind resistance, the Dark Emerald whispered, and the ranger straightened his body to preserve the momentum of flying through the air. Desert whisked by below him. In next to no time, he spotted a rundown town coming his way and the Dark Emerald whispered that the Golden Ranger was below.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger tucked his arms and legs together and curled up into a ball as he descended, finally landing by blasting through what appeared to be a very nice hotel's wall and found himself in a room occupied by two nude people: a man with a ring on the fourth finger of his left hand and another man without one. Thinking little of their screams, the Dark Emerald Ranger waited for the majority of his bones to pop back into place and mend.

    "What is it…?" one of the men, the one without the ring, asked in a very high voice. The Dark Emerald whispered to its partner, very annoyed by their interruption of its body healing.

    The other, the one with the ring, slowly approached the Dark Emerald Ranger, covering himself in a blanket from the bed. "Don't know," was his reply, in a very thick Orre dialect. "Looks like a guy, but it's all twisted and messed up."

    "Should we call room service?" suggested the other. The Dark Emerald was thankful it had almost finished healing its partner, both agreed that the men were highly annoying.

    "No, you idiot!" shouted ring-man. "What if they find you here? We gotta get outta here right now!" Quickly, he scrambled for his clothes, and the other man eventually did the same, though with a slight bit of reluctance. The Dark Emerald whispered to its partner that they could walk again, so the dark ranger untangled himself from the ground and stood up.

    Both men screamed in a very girlish way as the ranger began making his way across the room in the direction the Dark Emerald said the Golden Ranger was. As he reached the door, and smashed down what was left of it, he sensed someone moving behind him. He turned suddenly, crouching in preparation to fight, but stopped when he noticed it was only the harmless ring-man, who this time had wrapped the cloth around his waist. His hands were together and the Dark Emerald sensed something extremely pitiable about the ring-man's stance.

    "You're not-you're not gonna tell anyone, are ya?" he asked, staring at the floor with an aura of shame about him. The Dark Emerald Ranger responded by punting him across the room into the sole undamaged wall in the room, creating a great crack as the man fell back onto the bed. The man without a ring watched this and looked up at the dark ranger.

    "Thanks, he needed that," he said.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger, unsure of why he was being thanked, decided to listen to the Dark Gem's suggestion to leave. With a slight growl of indifference, he rushed down the hallway and followed the Golden Ranger's aura. From behind, he heard the distinct sound of shrieking, possibly because the two men had been discovered by the service staff of the hotel.

    The ranger conferred with his gem again, and it was decided that the men were both very annoying.

    He burst out through a window that had already been broken for some reason and onto a nearby rooftop thanks to the aid of one of his chains. From there, he noticed that a fight was going on in an alley below, but didn't go near it. Neither of them cared about the fight because their master wasn't there. Both kept moving, the ranger following the advice from his Dark Emerald, until finally they reached a position several blocks down from the battle, where the Golden Ranger was being tended to by a familiar woman…her name was definitely May, and another person in pink that neither ranger nor gem cared about.

    They dove down into the group, astonishing May and the pink person, who leapt up to battle the Dark Emerald Ranger, but after a moment stepped back, as if commanded by a third party to not intervene. The dark ranger made his way to the Golden Ranger and reached up to his chest. A vial of liquid appeared from inside his clothes and he handed it to the gasping paladin. The Golden Ranger took it, muttered some sort of thanks, and injected the liquid into his bloodstream. Within moments he stopped shaking and within a minute he was back on his feet. Though taller than the Dark Emerald Ranger, the paladin's visor held its gaze on the dark ranger's, and the Dark Emerald sensed a thanking aura from the golden man.

    "Thanks," said the Golden Ranger. "I knew they'd finally let you out." He touched the side of his helmet and began speaking to someone that wasn't there. "Yes, he made it," said the Golden Ranger. "Oh, okay. Yes, I'll make sure he's returned in one piece. Understood." He switched off the communications and turned to May.

    "Bakaguru says his unofficial designation is AX6," 0 explained. "Auxiliary Ranger 6: Dark Emerald."

    May smiled and turned to the Dark Emerald Ranger with pride. "Oh, congratulations, Max!" she exclaimed and threw her arms around the dark ranger in a hug. The Dark Emerald Ranger, for reasons neither ranger nor gem understood, tolerated this for a few seconds, then pried May off and turned to 0.

    "Gallade, Lade," hissed the dark ranger. It wanted to fight.

    The Golden Ranger nodded. "Good idea, let's go help 1." He turned to the pink one, who was simply awaiting her orders like a puppet. The Dark Emerald chuckled at her. "You're coming too," he decided, then turned to May. "May, I need you to find a place to hide." He took out something from his belt and handed it to her. "This is a com-link, it'll let you keep in touch with us. Okay?"

    May nodded and took the com-link, holding onto the hand 0 offered it on for just a little too much longer than the Dark Emerald Ranger was willing to tolerate. He growled and the two separated awkwardly, each holding the other's gaze, until 0 snapped back to reality and started running down the alley. The pink one followed him by only a few footsteps. The Dark Emerald Ranger looked towards May one final time, nodded in satisfaction, then leapt back onto the rooftops to follow 0 and Pinky from a different route.

    They reached the fight quickly and the three rangers dove into the fray. The Golden Ranger, his sword in hand, swept through the ranks of the black chattering Rangerlings, filthy users of common Dark Onyx, battering them down with single strikes of the dull side of his blade. Pinky leapt through the ranks, ignoring everything until she finally came to the side of a lone red warrior fighting off the masses, helping him cave a bigger hole in the group.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger saw people worth fighting. It leapt into the fray, knocking down a Machamp with its knee as it landed on the Pokemon. The ranger roared in triumph, and leapt off before the Pokemon could recover. The Dark Emerald whispered that there were three other Pokemon nearby and none of them had the right aura for a Pokemon, they all felt too evil.

    Neither ranger nor gem cared very much, they were too busy having fun!

    A Rangerling wound up caught in their web, as the Dark Emerald Ranger growled and wrapped his right gauntlet's chain around its body, dragging it towards him. He jerked the chain, and the Rangerling, and threw it to the ground. He howled and leapt up, crushing the Rangerling with the full force of his boots. Despite this, it somehow survived and thrashed about until the dark ranger lost his balance and was forced to hop off its body in a highly undignified manner. He retracted his chain and retreated to the Golden Ranger's position.

    "Laaaaaade, Gallaaa," growled the dark ranger, assisting the paladin in clearing some breathing space.

    "I know," replied the ranger, growing tired of heaving his sword everywhere. "For some reason, these Rangerlings are much tougher and harder to kill. They have two Dark Onyxes instead of one, I think that's why." 0 looked around, searching for something. "There!" He pointed into the crowd, and made sure the Dark Emerald Ranger saw what he was looking at. "You see that man, with the giant moustache?" The dark ranger followed the man's finger and noticed there was a man with something growing out of his upper lip. "He's got a giant Dark Onyx controlling all of them. If we can reach him, we might stand a chance at ending the fight, since all of these things are under his control. Go get him and bring him to me! But don't kill him, we need to find out where his Dark Gems came from!"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger nodded and jumped up into the air, latching onto a nearby store's roof with his chain and hoisting himself up. Fortunately, the moustache man was standing by the sidelines, doing little but jeering and watching his minions fight for him. Finding this extremely unfair, the Dark Emerald whispered to its partner a fun way to get some payback, which the ranger readily agreed to.

    They got into position, careful not to let anyone see, above the man with the lip hair, and slowly reached down a chain, taking ever so much care not to alert the man to their presence. The chain wrapped around his giant, plump body like velvet, with the man hardly noticing what was going on. It was not until one of the chattering Rangerlings saw it and pointed out what was going on, that he took notice. But by then it was too late, and the Dark Emerald Ranger dashed down to the ground and tightened his grip on the tub of lard he had been asked to capture and growled.

    "Call off your army or my friend gets to play with you!" shouted the Golden Ranger to the Dark Gem Ranger's plaything.

    The fat man's thinking process lasted roughly two seconds, before he shrieked, "Everyone fall back immediately!" in a tone of voice that would have even the most cowardly man in Orre mocking him. All of the Rangerlings did as ordered, but the Shadow Pokemon only considered it briefly before resuming their rampage. They were unstoppable and would have to be taken down before they would halt.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger discarded the man, finding him useless, and dove back into the battle. The man hit his head on a wall and slumped into unconsciousness. The Dark Emerald Ranger hardly noticed it, unleashing his chains on the Tyranitar and binding it in place. The Pokemon roared in anger, but that only made the dark ranger tighten his chains. It was beginning to lose the ability to breathe, which was fine with the dark ranger. Anything for a fight.

    The Dark Emerald whispered, and the ranger obeyed, leaping through the air and jumping onto the spines of the Tyranitar's back, wrapping more of his chain around its neck. Once they were secure, the ranger leapt off the thrashing Pokemon and, using the majority of his strength, brought the massive Pokemon down to its knees.

    Soon after, it lapsed into unconsciousness, and only then did the Dark Emerald Ranger remove the chains.

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

    The Golden Ranger grinned, the odds were in his favor.

    The four rangers worked as one to take down the last three Shadow Pokemon. The Rangerlings were gone, making the work much easier to do. While Logan and 0 concentrated on the Charizard, Karin was fighting Garchomp and Max was putting the finishing touches on the Machamp. All was going as planned.

    "So, how'd your date go?" Logan asked, blocking one of the Charizard's wings.

    0 dodged the fiery breath from its gaping mouth. "Not too bad, until all this started. Why can't evil just take a few hours break for us?"

    Logan laughed and smashed into the Charizard with 0, using their combined momentum to take it down. "I hear that!" he shouted, as it was hard to hear him over the lizard's angry roars. "Every time 5 and I go out, there's always something taking over the world that needs our pressing attention."

    "I thought you and 5 never went out," 0 pointed out.

    "Oh yeah," muttered Logan, as he struggled to pin down the Charizard. "Hey, you mind finishing this? I don't have the synchro thing like you do!"

    0 nodded. "Pi, activate the Synchronization Drive! Volt Tackle!"

    Static collected from inside his body, turning the Golden Ranger into a living light bulb. Ignoring the pain that coursed through his veins, he closed his hands on the giant Bolt Blade and slashed at the Charizard. The Pokemon gave out a shriek, then collapsed from the agony of the thousands of volts that ripped through its body. It did not get back up.

    0 panted and lowered his sword, as the discharged electricity worked its way through his own body. "You okay?" Logan asked.

    "Fine," 0 muttered. "I'm starting to get used to it. First time it completely killed me."

    "Don't go dying on me. I'll have to fill out paperwork if you do."

    0 chuckled. "Wouldn't dream of it."

    "Laaaaade!"

    Both men turned, only to see the aftermath. The Dark Emerald Ranger, having finished dispatching the Machamp, had rushed over to Karin's side. Neither the Red or Golden Ranger had noticed, because Karin wasn't someone who was really able to attract attention, that the Garchomp had gotten the upper hand in their battle. She was lying on the ground, not breathing, and she had been forced out of her Ranger Mode. Pats of her face were bruised, and much of her clothing was stained red.

    "Karin!" Logan shouted and lunged forward. He transformed into Rescue Mode immediately, grabbed Karin, and swooped up to a nearby building, leaving 0 and Max to handle the last Shadow Pokemon. 0 sighed, but did not pursue the matter. He would have done the same thing for Serena if she was the one hurt.

    "AX6, round up!" ordered 0 and removed Lu's Poke Ball from his belt. The Dark Emerald Ranger regrouped behind him, crouched like a feral animal. "Auxiliary Pokemon System! Cario Form!" He inserted the Poke Ball into his morpher and the transformation was instantaneous. Within moments he was dancing around, looking for the best opening to take down the giant Pokemon. Both the Golden and Dark Emerald Rangers circled the Garchomp, eager to fight.

    "Sir, operating at maximum capacity," announced Lu in its deep voice. "Activating the Synchronization Drive."

    "Good," 0 said and the spikes on the backs of his hands enlarged. "Get ready with Aura Sphere on my mark."

    "Aye, sir," it replied.

    The Aura came up and the Dark Emerald Ranger attacked, striking at the Garchomp with his chains to drive the Pokemon into a frenzy. The dragon focused all its attention on the Dark Emerald Ranger, who danced and leapt everywhere to keep its focus away from the Golden Ranger, who began charging up a massive ball of Aura.

    It took a while, and thankfully Max and the Dark Emerald were very patient, but finally the massive energy ball was ready. "Lu, download the Lightning Laser, and prepare to fire the Aura Sphere with the first shot."

    "Aye, sir." The shotgun emerged in 0's hands and was supercharged with the Aura energy in moments. The Golden Ranger aimed the weapon at the Garchomp's back.

    "AX6, retreat!" 0 ordered. Max leapt away, just as the Garchomp turned around to see the barrel of 0's gun. "Send him packing, Lu! Let's go!" He pressed down on the trigger, just as the Garchomp began roaring and rushing towards him.

    The blast was delayed, mostly because it was being condensed into something that the Lightning Laser was capable of firing, but it got off just in time to save 0 from becoming lunch for a very angry Pokemon. The blue and yellow ball of energy was released, resulting in the Garchomp being thrown back and through the nearest building. 0 himself was thrown back by the recoil of the weapon, smashing into a wall and denting it, before falling back to the ground. He hoisted himself up and noticed the Dark Emerald Ranger on the nearby rooftop, watching him.

    "Good work," 0 called, and returned to his civilian uniform, reattaching his goggles to his face to keep the sand out of his eyes. "Come on down and turn back."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger flipped back down to the ground, and after careful consideration began glowing, before the uniform faded away and the chains uncurled around the arms, revealing Max Birch.

    Nearby May reappeared, along with Logan and an unconscious Karin.

    "We'd better get out of here," 0 decided. The others agreed.

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

    The sun down, and the debriefing over, 0 escorted May back to her quarters.

    The facility was unusually quiet that night. With the majority of the day's tasks done, the only people really on duty was the night shift. Everyone else was already in their quarters, getting ready for the next day's work. So it was just May and 0 and their footsteps as they walked down the corridors. Both were silent. Every once in a while, by complete accident, their shoulders would gently touch, and May's heart would skip a beat.

    "0, can I ask you something?" May wondered, looking up at her protector. 0 looked back down at her, finding nothing unusual about the request, and silently nodded. "In the fight, you needed serum. What is that?"

    0 sighed. "It's nothing really," he explained. "I take it because it helps me function. It's a special drug that nourishes agents, keeps them awake and alert during missions where that sort of thing isn't really easy to come by, but it's not meant to be used long term. Since I got the first batch of it, I've used it ever since. Now I can't live without it. I guess you could say it's sort of my kryptonite."

    "Why do you use it?" May asked. "It sounds so dangerous, wouldn't it be safer to not take it?"

    He wondered about that for a moment. "There's another reason I take it," he said and retracted his gaze. "When I left you for this, I was hurt. Not in a physical sense, but in a way that…well, I guess you know what I mean. It's a kind of hurt that scars you. I started having these horrible nightmares, it began interfering with my work. Eventually they gave me the serum so I could stay awake forever and keep the nightmares away."

    May gasped and 0's mouth offered her a false smile. "I know that for all those years you hated me, May," he said. "Maybe you still do. You have every right to. I left you all alone with Sarah, to keep you safe from this. I've regretted not being able to be honest with you, all these years." They kept walking and turned a corner. "But I can't regret all of it, because these people gave me the power to protect you and Sarah."

    She didn't reply and eventually they reached her room. May opened the door and walked through, 0 remained where he was. Just as he was about to turn around the door opened back up and May's eyes were red.

    "Would you like to come inside?" she asked. "I'll make you a cup of tea."

    Though he didn't drink tea anymore, 0 accepted the offer, and May shut the door behind him. He took a seat at the table, and May busied herself with brewing two cups of green tea, setting one for 0 and one for herself. 0 merely eyed the cup, brought it to his lips, and pretended to sip it. The serum made it so his body rejected most foods, alcohol being one of the shining exceptions. His injection had provided him with all the nourishment he needed, he felt full despite having had nothing.

    A few minutes later, May finished her tea. 0 was content to watch, she looked so graceful and dignified. Despite the rather heavy atmosphere, there was no place he would have rather been at that moment than with her. But he sensed that she wanted him to leave, for she did not meet his gaze, so finally he rose, thanked her for the tea, and headed for the door.

    His hand closed around the door knob, and he felt a pair of arms close around him. "May," he murmured and turned around. She wrapped her arms around his massive shoulders and held him close. She said nothing, but 0 felt something damp trickle onto the right side of his chest. She was crying. Hesitantly, he took her into his arms and rested his cheek against the top of her head. "What's wrong?"

    "I was never alone," she whispered, refusing to dislodge herself from the protective embrace of her protector. "I had Sarah, Max, Brock…I had Drew and Dawn. I had Mom and Dad." She looked up into his face her eyes damp. "You were the one with no one. All you had was Pikachu and Serena…I should have-"

    She sniffled, it was hard for her to speak. "I don't want you to be alone anymore. I don't want you to think you're ever going to be alone. You have me, and Sarah, and everyone. Even with all that's happened, we can be a family again!"

    0's heart skipped a beat. "May…"

    "Never leave me alone again," she whispered.

    "I won't."

    "Promise me."

    "I promise."

    May was still unsure. "You mean it?"

    0 smiled, and said, "May, losing you was the worst mistake I ever made. And I try not to make mistakes a second time." Then, he bent down and kissed her.

    Electricity shot through both their bodies, and old memories returned to the surface. May lifted herself onto her tiptoes and kissed 0 back with such force that even the Golden Ranger feared her ferocity. She pinned him against the wall and they both sank to the ground.

    0's thought processes were destroyed a moment later, obliterated by his wanton need for her. He pressed his hands into her back, pushing on pressure points on her spine with his fingers. Her body melted into his, with each point pressed triggering a rush of physical desire from May. She needed him.

    "Don't go…" she whispered, when they finally broke the kiss. "I don't want to be alone tonight."

    "May." The both of them were very red in the face, but despite that May stood up, and led 0 towards her bed. She climbed in,and 0 followed. She got on top of the Golden Ranger, and they resumed their kiss. Suddenly, 0 broke the kiss, and May looked down on him, concerned.

    "What is it?" she asked. "What's wrong?"

    "Nothing, just-" A voice inside his head was telling him to stop, for reasons he could not discern. An instant later, there was a knock on the door.

    May groaned and got up, obviously intending on getting rid of whoever was on the other side. As she turned the knob, the door exploded open and Sarah charged into the room, followed by a rather sheepish Max, who was scratching the back of his head and suppressing the urge to laugh.

    "Daddy!" shouted Sarah, as 0 readjusted himself to face his daughter.

    "What's up, kiddo?" 0 asked, now realizing what his internal alarm system had been trying to tell him. He picked up his daughter, as she was gesturing at him with her arms raised, and patted her on the head. May felt a slight twinge of jealousy well up in her brain.

    "Daddy, I heard that you almost lost a fight today," she said, apparently quite concerned. "Is that true?"

    0's mind drifted for a moment and then he grinned. "Tell me, Sarah, what person told you this horrible lie?" he asked.

    She smiled. "Uncle Max!" she exclaimed happily.

    0 turned very slowly, and glared at Max. "Is that right?" he wondered. "Why don't you reward Uncle Max by playing with his hair? You know, he really likes that."

    "Really?" Sarah's eyes lit up and she leapt for Max, who took off running down the corridor screaming. Both May and 0 looked at each other and together burst out into fits of laughter.

    "That's your daughter," May managed to gasp out, clutching her side.

    0 nodded, chuckling. "Yes, yes she is," he agreed. That didn't make the situation any less funnier though. Despite the fact that Sarah had ruined an evening which would have probably led somewhere, 0 found himself quite content with how everything had turned out.

  3. #33
    Scholarly Gentleman
    Join Date
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    Male
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    Default Chapter 22

    Morph Twenty-Two: A Ranger's Legacy

    "Why do I have to do this?"

    Bakaguru glanced up from his paperwork, wondering why the Golden Ranger wanted him to repeat himself. He sighed and straightened his glasses. "Because, 0, we have begun taking applications for the three new slots on the Ranger team. We have to choose the new Blue, White, and Black Rangers somehow. 415 made it known to me that she does not have a Pokemon, so I thought it would be a good idea for you to take her out to try and catch one together. Good team bonding experience and whatnot."

    Standing next to 0 was 415, who apparently had the same thinking as 0. "Really, this is unnecessary," she said, her hands folded over her waist. "I am perfectly capable of capturing my own Pokemon. I do not require Agent 0's assistance for that."

    Bakaguru smirked. "415, do you understand the first thing about Pokemon?" He turned to 0 and chuckled. "You are standing next to the perfect person to help you. Not only can he speak the Pokemon languages, he is also a seasoned trainer. He is the perfect teacher to instruct you in obtaining and raising a Pokemon for the ranger camp."

    "Ranger camp?" 0 asked.

    "Oh yes, apparently the three new slots have been so exciting to the masses that there have been over a hundred applicants to become PKM Rangers. Serena has been assigned there, as have you, to instruct the camp and help select the three new Rangers. Logan will be there as well, he'll be beginning his duties when Karin wakes up." Ever since their last fight, the Pink Ranger had been in a small coma while her wounds were being treated. "Karin will be assigned to assist Logan, though she won't be teaching herself."

    "Why are we picking the rangers?" 0 asked.

    "Because I requested it," Bakaguru explained. "Council has agreed that it would be best to allow you rangers to pick the best for the job, since you know who would qualify most."

    0 nodded. "Does that mean that 3's coming back as the White Ranger?"

    "That," Bakaguru muttered, "has yet to be decided. I suggest not fighting too hard for that and to let me handle it. I am trying my best to reach a compromise to the Council. But, we are drifting off topic! Today you will go capture a Pokemon with 0, 415, and that is the end of the matter. Head to a Poke Spot, I want you to go today because I read the reports that there were more Pokemon than usual."

    Reluctantly, 415 got up and 0 followed her out of Bakaguru's lab. Neither spoke until they reached the vehicle that Bakaguru had prepared for them, a hover bike. 0 got on, as did 415, though unlike his pleasant bike ride with May, the intelligence officer thought it was a good idea to dig her nails into the Golden Ranger's flesh. Ignoring the urge to simply kick her off the bike, he turned it on and revved the engine.

    "Could you please just go?" 415 asked. "This is an uncomfortable place to sit."

    "Why 415," murmured 0, as he started driving, "from you, that's almost flirting!" He was rewarded by further digging into his flesh, and winced. Briefly, he wondered if he could shock her again like he had the Snagem guy, but thought it was a bad idea to try.

    The Poke Spot, located miles away from the PKM base, was a small oasis, and required somewhat of a long ride to get to. Neither 0 nor 415 spoke on the way there, so the trip was rather uneventful besides avoiding a slight sandstorm. Eventually, however, they arrived at the oasis and dismounted from the vehicle. 0 converted the bike into a capsule once again and got out both his Poke Balls.

    "415, do you have any Pokemon at all?" he asked.

    "No," she replied curtly. "We are here because of that."

    He sighed and released Lu and Tork from their respective Poke Balls. "Well, at least I brought my two in case," he muttered to himself, then turned to his Pokemon. "Okay, today we're going to help 415 catch a Pokemon." He decided against speaking in Lu and Tork's languages for 415's benefit. Both Pokemon nodded, Tork eager to help and Lu eager for battle.

    "Okay, so, 415, what kind of Pokemon do you want?" 0 asked.

    "Does it matter?" she wondered, looking at the two Pokemon before her. "Anything, really. One with enough power to get me through ranger camp."

    0 was dumbfounded. "415, do you know the first thing about Pokemon?"

    She shook her head. "They are tools to further what I want," she explained. "It is as simple as that." Lu growled at her. She lowered her cold gaze onto the Aura Pokemon and it backed up slightly.

    "Then I can't help you," 0 said and got his two Poke Balls back out. "Lu, Tork, return." Both Pokemon turned into bright red light and vanished back into their Poke Balls.

    415 glared at 0. "Why not?"

    "Because Pokemon aren't tools."

    He reached for his hover bike capsule, only to be stopped by the intelligence officer. She grabbed him by the arm and squeezed. "We are not leaving without my Pokemon," she decided. "Understood?"

    0 shook his head. "I'm not going to give you a Pokemon, not with that sort of attitude." She only responded by tightening her grip, which accidentally caused 0 to discharge a small dose of electricity in defense.

    "You okay?" 0 asked, clearly unconcerned.

    "What did you do?"

    "Shocked you." 0 glanced at his arm, as if in wonder. "It's just a little static."

    She recovered. "We are still not leaving without the Pokemon."

    "Why?"

    415 was stunned, she was not accustomed to being defied in this manner by anyone. "What do you mean 'Why?' We will because I said so."

    "No, that's not what I mean," 0 replied. "You're so obsessed with being a PKM Ranger and everything, why won't you bother to see that the Pokemon you'll be with is a partner, not a tool? Why do you want to be a PKM Ranger, 415? Honestly."

    415's hands clenched into fists. "The reason is none of your business."

    0 remained stoic. He wanted to know. "Tell me, 415. That is an order. I won't help you if I can't even trust you as a potential Ranger."

    "We're supposed to protect humans!" 415 exclaimed. "Pokemon have nothing to do with it!"

    "We are supposed to protect this planet," 0 reminded her. "Pokemon and humans alike. Why else do you think that a Ranger's strength comes from the bond between agent and Pokemon?"

    415's lip curled.

    "Tell me," 0 ordered again, towering over her.

    "Fine," 415 spat out. "I want to be a Ranger because I love someone. Someone who would have noticed me if I was one. There, are you satisfied?"

    0 found it difficult to speak. The fact that 415 was capable of an emotion, especially one like love, was something he was slightly unprepared for. "W-Who is it?" he asked.

    "The Golden Ranger."

    0 fell over. "M-Me?"

    "No, you complete idiot. Why would I ever love something like you? You are fragmented, stupid, completely incapable of anything remotely related to competence, and you are utterly without merit. I love the original Golden Ranger, someone whom you could never measure up to."

    0 was confused. "Wait, you're in love with a dead man?"

    415 lowered her head. "Yes," she replied. "He was the one who rescued me. I have loved him ever since."

    "He rescued you?" 0 had to sit down, this was really all too much.

    415 nodded and sat down opposite him. "When I was a child, our town was attacked. Out of nowhere this paladin came in, with eyes that sparkled like gold, and rescued our town. My parents were killed, so the paladin took me away and brought me to PKM. But no matter what I did, he always saw me as a child who needed rescuing. I always wanted to fight with him."

    The Golden Ranger didn't know what to think of that. To him, the old 0 had always seemed like such a horrible person, the man responsible for taking away everything he knew and loved. "It looks like he was the opposite with you," he muttered. "0 was someone who took things to me, but he gave to you."

    "And now he's dead. Because of you and your family. And I hate you all for that. Even if May Birch is my assignment and I must keep her alive, I hate her for being the reason he had to die. And I hate you, for being the failure that cannot properly carry on his legacy."

    Something flashed inside 0's head. "415...I remember you once told me that you hated me because I reminded you of him. What did that mean?"

    "What?" she snapped.

    "How do I remind you of him?"

    She rubbed her head. "There is something in your stance that reminds me of him. When you fight, I mean. You are, as you have said before, the dark warrior. So was he. You have more in common with him than I think you will ever care to admit. And the fact that you refuse to acknowledge that his legacy gives you strength makes you a failure and a hypocrite."

    "I wear his mask. That doesn't make me him."

    "You wore it once, I was watching."

    "That was before…"

    "Tell me about it," she requested. "His mask. How did it feel?"

    So he told her.

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

    …Five Years Ago…


    The streets of Petalburg are certainly different than what I'm used to.

    I come from Pallet, which means I'm more or less used to a rural area. In Pallet some of the streets are dirt, and the people are quieter. It's different in the city, where the traffic blares and invades the ears, where crime is pretty big, and the whole place smells funny. The air is definitely fresher in the country, so that's where my wife and I decided to raise our family. When she became pregnant, we both decided that our child would live somewhere safe and happy, until it was time for her to begin her Pokemon journey.

    But my wife was always a city girl in her heart, so I would occasionally visit her family in Petalburg. Normally we would go by plane, which is another thing I'm a little uncomfortable with. I guess after so many years spent traveling on my feet I kind of developed an aversion to other transport. Still, we had the baby, and we were taking her to see her grandparents on her first visit outside of Kanto. We couldn't exactly take her on a giant trek across the world, now could we?

    We arrived in Petalburg a few days into March, my wife always preferred to travel in the late spring, before tourist season. Her father met us at the airport and her brother drove the four of us back to the Petalburg gym. It was uneventful, despite the fact that my daughter kept screaming with delight at being able to see her grandfather and uncle. They didn't visit often, which was another reason my wife wanted to bring our daughter to Hoenn. I think she misses the city.

    My brother-in-law and I unloaded the car, while my wife and daughter went into the house with her dad to see her mom.

    "Haven't seen you in a while," he said and I remember he had such a grin on his face as he closed the car doors.

    I shrugged and picked up my share of the luggage. "I don't really need to leave Kanto too often," I explained. "Once you're famous like I am, you really learn to hate traveling. We almost got mobbed at the airport, nearly missed our flight too."

    He laughed. "Well, maybe you should start doing worse in Pokemon championships," he suggested and led the way into the gym.

    "That'd be great," I said, opening the door, "except that it's the only way I know to put food on the table!" Again we shared a laugh, and I followed him through the house to the guest room where we deposited the luggage. I noticed a crib in the corner.

    My brother-in-law grinned. "My mom and dad really like babies. Plus, we haven't seen your daughter in a while, they've been really excited about seeing their granddaughter. Now, where's that niece of mine?" A shriek of laughter issued from downstairs and I grinned.

    "Probably in that direction," I said, so we went down, where I found my daughter with a vice grip on my father-in-law's hair. My daughter's got this laugh, I can't really describe it in a way that does it justice. Let's just say that you really don't mind that you're hair's being torn out from the roots until after she's quiet. My brother-in-law stepped in, only to receive the vice grip himself! My wife and I just watched, tired from the plane ride.

    Finally my Pikachu did something about it, leaping up and cuddling with my daughter. She just loves that Pokemon, maybe even more than I do, but she hadn't quite figured out the right way to handle an electric Pokemon. But Pi was a good friend, and it always tolerated whatever she dished out. Surprisingly though, she was always gentle with Pi. She would stroke its fur, sometimes making a bit too much static electricity, she'd pat its head, the works. I think Pi liked looking after her.

    After dinner we retired for the day. Contrary to most celebrities, my wife and I normally went to bed early, so that our daughter wouldn't worry too much. I remember holding my wife in my arms for the last time before I joined PKM. She smelt of strawberries.

    The next day, I took my family out for some lunch. Though my mother-in-law insisted on cooking for us, my wife wanted to show me this great place she had read about in some magazine. We put our daughter in her stroller, Pi jumped in to keep her company, and all four of us headed out into the city, me pushing the stroller, and her arm entwined with mine. It was, for lack of a better word, perfect.

    We decided to walk, so it took us some time to get to the restaurant. The place was a little hole in the wall a mile down the street and a few blocks over, with vines growing around the edges of the window. It looked like just the kind of place my wife loved. Try as I might, I can't remember the name of the restaurant, though they served some pretty good Johto grub.

    Our waitress was a young girl, maybe ten years younger than me, with strawberry blond hair and a really bright smile. She noticed us as we walked in and, thankfully, didn't squeal. I don't think she recognized us at first, because she just looked us over, tilted her head, and politely showed us to a table in the corner of the room. We got our daughter out, she squirmed a little at being moved, and put her in a high chair. Pi jumped up next to her and played with her while my wife and I ordered our food. After taking our orders, the waitress assured us that she would be back with our tea in a few minutes, bowed, and left.

    "So, what's up for the rest of the day?" I asked, keeping an eye on my daughter and Pi. The Pikachu was smiling, despite the fact that its chair mate was probably applying too much pressure when petting its back.

    My wife shrugged. "I guess we could go check out a museum. Really, I'm just glad to be back home for a little bit. Mom's really been wanting to see Sarah so badly, and they hate traveling between regions."

    "I understand," I sympathized. "I hate it too." I glanced at our daughter, who was busy trying to figure out the fastest way out of the secure high chair. "At least Sarah doesn't seem to mind it. She'll do great when she's out traveling."

    "About that," my wife said, "when exactly are we going to let her go?"

    "What do you mean?" I asked. "We'll obviously let her go when she's ten. That's when we started."

    "Yes, but look at who her parents are," she pointed out. "Paparazzi will swarm her if we let her go out into the world too quickly. Maybe it would be a better idea to hold her back until she matures."

    "Hmmm…I can't say I thought of that," I answered. Before I replied, though, the waitress came back with our tea.

    "Here ya go!" she said perkily and set both cups down. "Have you decided what you were going to have for lunch today?"

    We had, so we ordered, and the waitress bowed and left again. My wife and I returned to the conversation at hand.

    "So, what you're saying is that we should let her wait until she's twelve or something?" I asked. "That seems a little late to start training Pokemon."

    "I was actually thinking something more along the lines of fourteen or fifteen," she replied. I practically spit out my tea.

    "May, that's much too late!" I protested. "Kids have to start early, otherwise they get dragged in the dust in the trainer world."

    My wife grinned. "What makes you think she'll be a trainer?" she wondered. "She could be a coordinator like her mommy." She turned to her daughter, and patted her black hair. "Sarah, do you want to be a coordinator like Mommy?" My daughter nodded her head, though I knew that she didn't know what nodding meant, only that it was fun to do.

    "Oh boy…" I murmured and sipped my tea, not knowing that two minutes later, my life would change forever.

    Exactly one hundred and twenty seconds later, it happened. My wife was helping my daughter stay in the high chair, because she never did like to stay in one place for too long, even before she learned to walk. I didn't even hear the first explosion, I just remember some kind of force happening, and the next moment I was thrown to the ground. Dazed, I struggled back to my feet, and ran to my wife and daughter. My wife was unconscious, my daughter was screaming.

    "May!" I shouted, grabbing her. The restaurant was in chaos, people were running everywhere. She didn't respond. I got my daughter out of the chair and tucked her under what was left of the table.

    "Hang on, Sarah," I whispered and hugged her. "Daddy needs to take care of Mommy really quick."

    I reached for my Poke Balls and released two. Z and Ty exploded from the balls. "Ty, clear a path!" I ordered. "Z, take May and Sarah out of here!" The Charizard nodded and took both my wife and daughter into its arms. My Typhlosion screeched, blasting through a nearby wall to help Z get out. I followed. Once we were outside, we saw the source of the problem.

    Rockets. Once just a nuisance to deal with once a week, now they were just getting out of hand. "Z, get them to a hospital. Ty, you're with me." Both Pokemon nodded and the Charizard took off in one sweep. Ty followed me, its giant body comforting. I readied another Poke Ball just in case.

    There was a troupe of about ten or twenty of them, all carrying rifles. In the center, commanding them, was a giant robot, the kind that Jessie and James used to use, only much more advanced. "They've got guns," I muttered to Ty. "This could get dangerous."

    Ty growled, it didn't care, too loyal to stand down. I nodded.

    "Then let's do this! Ty, Fire Blast!"

    The Rockets swerved, too slow to notice the Typhlosion and ran in fear as the powerful blast struck. The mecha, however, was less than concerned, and its operator shielded the troupe from the attack. Ty increased its power output, driving back the machine from the surrounding crowd.

    I looked around and saw a Rocket readying its gun. "Ty, return!" I ordered, just as a bullet issued. The Pokemon vanished, the bullet passing through thin air and slamming into a nearby building. I breathed a sigh of relief, but now I and everyone else was in trouble.

    "Get out of our way!" shouted the robot's operator, a woman's screeching voice. She raised her mecha's leg and smashed against the ground, breaking open the road.

    I got out of the way, getting their attention. But without a Pokemon, I was useless, more than useless! But I was something to distract them, before they started shooting at the crowd.

    That's when he showed up.

    I don't think anyone even saw him actually enter the battlefield, he was just suddenly there. The Rockets were taken down as quickly as he could reach them, I couldn't see him, he was too fast! Even the mecha was too slow, and he engaged it in battle. That's when I saw him, really saw him, for the first time.

    The ranger gear that I wear is about a half-generation ahead of the old one, so the design was a little bit different. For starters, there was a lot more gold on the top half of his uniform, his arms were covered in glowing gold along with the chest. His helmet was the same, mostly black with a gold upside-down triangle. The armor was a lot more bulky too, it was before they streamlined the material the new suits are designed out of. He was seven feet tall, the suit added so much weight and height… He looked like a giant savior.

    "Everyone stand back," the man ordered, broadcasting his voice through the suit. "The situation is being handled, please get back and leave the area. I repeat, leave the area."

    But, because people are stupid, nobody left, myself included. We all wanted to see him in action, because everyone needs to see a fight every now and then.

    The man I now know was the Golden Ranger kept fighting, because that was all he seemed to be able to do. But I saw between his moves, he was doing the same thing that I had been doing: buying enough time for real power to get there and rescue everyone. It was too bad that at that point he was so old that even his strength wasn't enough anymore.

    Sooner or later, his age got the best of him, and the mecha operator took advantage of that and smashed him across the face. He faltered, the weight of his suit was almost too much, but he stayed on his feet. Not for long though, because before he had a chance to fight back the mecha swept down and smashed him in the chest, throwing him in the direction of a nearby wall. Then, when she was done, she picked him up, and the strength of the mecha allowed her to toss him in the direction of a nearby parking garage.

    He smashed through the wall of the second floor. Without even thinking, without any hesitation, I tore after him, ignoring the bullets that sprayed at me.

    "Leave that fool!" shouted the commander, turning her attention to the crowd. "We have Pokemon to get!"

    I ran through the garage, it was empty for some reason. I saw him land on the second floor, so that's where I headed. When I reached it, I saw him, dragging his heels towards me, trying to get back into combat. I stopped him.

    "Who are you?" I asked.

    The man didn't seem to notice me, he just kept moving, sluggishly dragging himself through the lot. He didn't reach me though, he dropped to his knees before that. I guess the armor's weight got the better of him for a moment, because he got back up again and kept going. His breathing was erratic, he couldn't really move properly. He just kept going, like a zombie almost.

    Finally, however, his strength gave way and he almost dropped to the ground.

    I grabbed him, just before he hit the ground. He weighed a ton, so it was really hard to keep him up before he started helping me. Finally, though, he was standing back on his feet, and dragged himself through the parking garage. I could tell the pain was almost unbearable for him, his ragged gasps kept escaping from his armor in mechanized groans.

    "Where are you going?" I asked. "You're too hurt to do anything."

    The man inside the armor laughed. "There is no one else," he said, and tried to shove me out of the way. He was too hurt though, and fell down.

    Then, I made the decision that changed my life forever. "I'll do it," I replied and held out my hand. "Give me that armor. I'll fight for you."

    He disagreed, but he couldn't get up. The armor was much too bulky, and its parts were too heavy, so he remained on the ground. "Tell me, boy," he muttered, "why do you want to help me? If I lend you this armor, it will mean that your life will change forever. Do you want that?"

    I was hesitant to reply, but my resolve was strong. "If I don't, people are going to get hurt." He looked up at me and I stared at him. I think he saw something in me then, because he relented. A brilliant light issued from his body, and steam flooded the garage, but the armor vanished, leaving nothing but an old man lying on the floor.

    I stooped down to help him and propped the old man against a nearby wall. It was before he started those experiments, he looked like a man who was so tired of everything. His hair was black and dusty, most of it unkempt. But his eyes, I remember those so clearly. They were bright gold, and seemed to glow in the darkness of the garage. On his left wrist was this massive machine, it looked like an oversized wristwatch. He undid the strap that bound it to him and slowly handed it to me. I took it, and realized that his hand was made of metal.

    "There is precious little time, boy," the man instructed, as I strapped the machine to my wrist as he had, only I stuck it on my right arm instead of the left. "The device you are wearing will generate the armor I wear, but there is a limit to its power. A time out, if you will, depending on your own strength. It is called a morpher. I have loaded it with a Pokemon that will allow you to access the armor. It will be weak, because it is my Pokemon and you do not have the necessary bond to it, but it will serve you until you run out of power." He stopped, coughing, then continued. "Return it to me."

    I nodded. "I will." Then, I looked over the morpher. "How do I turn it on?"

    "The activation code is thus: Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power. Press the red button, and go."

    I was nervous, unsure in that last moment of what I needed to do. But finally I suppressed my own fear and pressed the red button on the side of the device.

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    It's something I've never forgotten, the first time I donned that mask. The armor emerged like holographs around me, before they turned solid and began attaching themselves onto me. First, the parts on my arms attached, I kept hearing all of these clinks and gears scraping into place, then the legs, and finally the chest armor emerged. The helmet appeared last, but once it came the suit came online and the screen opened up, displaying the outside world.

    I took a breath, the armor had its own supply of oxygen. I took a step forward, my leg weighed a ton! The man looked up at me, with a strange sense of satisfaction. "I thought so," he said.

    "What?"

    "Somehow, you are bonded to my Pokemon," the man said. I looked down to my chest, there was a blazing emblem of a dark Flying Pokemon surrounded by gold. "Very few people can be. It trusts few." He smirked and nodded. "It will work with you without question. Now go, I sense that you have precious time to save those you want to save."

    I nodded and started to turn away, but then I glanced back at him. "Who are you, old man?" I asked.

    He chuckled. "It's a little late for introductions, don't you think?" he wondered, but as an afterthought, said, "0. That's what they call me. Just 0."

    "Okay, 0," I said, and started moving. "I won't let you down!"

    I took off running, though it wasn't so much of a run as it was a fast jog. I lumbered out of the garage like a tank and turned back to where the fighting was still going on. When they saw me coming, they didn't stop shooting until I took one of them and punched them right into the nearest wall. Then they stopped.

    "What are you doing back?" asked the lead Rocket, her voice filled with distain. "We already dealt with you."

    "Oh, it takes more than a little scrappy fighting to stop this friendly neighborhood Power Ranger," I replied jokingly. My voice sounded different when it was broadcasted, it sounded just like 0! "Who's up for round two?" The lead Rocket turned her mecha in my direction, eager to put me down.

    I sprang into action. The armor was beginning to feel lighter, so I grabbed the Rocket mecha's foot and twisted it, sending the whole machine crashing down to the ground. The grunts wasted no time and opened fire on me. I groaned as each bullet bounced off me, each one felt like getting hit with a hammer. But, thanks to the armor, I was able to endure it and charge into the group. Somehow my mind told me where the punch, and how to fight. I think it was because I was in the moment, but it might have also been 0's Pokemon. It never spoke, but I understood it. It wanted me to fight, and it wanted me to win.

    So I did. While the mecha worked to destabilize itself, I jumped into the fray with the grunts. Bodies went flying, most of them smashing into nearby building walls or the street. One even flew down a pothole! "Come on!" I shouted, as I punched one grunt across the street. "Get some!"

    I felt invincible, like nothing could stop me. I was wrong though, because I'd forgotten about the mecha in my fighting 'high'. All I remember is that one minute I was standing and taunting, and the next I was halfway down the block with a throbbing head and groaning. The entire left side of my face was numb. I turned around, incredibly angry, and saw that the Rocket mecha was back up on its feet and the remaining grunts who could see straight were picking up their rifles and coming after me. Hands clenched into fists, I stood up to face them.

    At this point I didn't know how long I had left, 0 had said something about the suit needing to time out at some point, but I wasn't sure when that was going to happen. So I wasted no time, and smashed through the grunts to get to the massive machine. She swept her giant arms down, trying to swat me away. I dodged. She was twice my size, so I had the advantage with speed! I slammed into her leg, attempting to drive her back.

    She laughed. "What's this?" she asked, pausing to try to shake me off. "A little bug's got on my armor! I'd better smack you off!" She hit me with her fist, I heard my back scream in pain, but I held on tight. As long as I kept my grip, she couldn't get to the people in the crowds watching us.

    Then I started to work my way up the mecha, digging into the metal with the heavy armor covering my hands. Her attempts to get me off started getting erratic, she didn't know what to do about it. Eventually, though, I reached the chest cavity I knew she was hiding in.

    "Oh crap," she whispered, as I smashed through the mecha's vulnerable hull and dragged her out. She was small and tiny, with blond hair. I think I recognized her from somewhere, since there was an incredible feeling of déjà vu, but I didn't dwell on it for too long before I tossed her to the street and tilted myself so that the mecha landed on its butt. After I smashed up the controls to make sure that no one could operate it again, I turned to the rest of the grunts, all of whom looked like they were about to soil themselves.

    "Want to surrender?" I asked pleasantly. The response was unanimous, all of them dropped their guns and raised up their hands. I lined them up against the wall, like I'd seen on TV, and the rest is history.

    PKM showed up a few minutes later in full force, taking all of the Rockets and me into custody. Once we were in the van, I noticed that the old man was standing there, holding out his hand impatiently.

    "Demorph and give me my morpher back," he requested, with a tone that I guess was supposed to be threatening, but when you're wearing a suit of armor sounds more like a bully half your size asking for your lunch money.

    I looked at the morpher strapped to my arm. "How?" I asked.

    "Press the red button again," he instructed. "The morpher's about to time out anyway."

    I did as he requested, and an eruption of steam escaped all of the armor's joints, filling the van with a cloud of hot foggy air. My armor started to glow, and one by one pieces of it vanished until it was just me standing there. I took off the giant morpher and handed it back to 0, who reattached it.

    He then held out his hand. "Good work, boy," he said, and shook my hand.

    I glanced around, most of the Rockets were recovering from their steam bath. "So, what happens now?" I asked. "Mind dropping me off at the Petalburg Gym? My wife and kid are probably a little worried about where I am right now."

    "Unfortunately, we cannot," replied 0 and offered me a seat next to him. I took it. "You see, I did not want to give you the morpher, but now that you've used it, we cannot release you."

    "What? I need to get back to my family!" I was furious, I had just saved a crowd of people, and now I was going to get stuck in prison with the Rockets? No way!

    0 held up his hand, cool as a cucumber. "Please, do not assume that you cannot go back," he said. "There is a choice to be made here, one that could allow you to return to your family."

    I was listening.

    "I am a member of PKM," explained the man, "an elite organization that fights terrorism through the world. I am the Golden Ranger, and it is my job to lead the best of the best, our PKM Rangers, into battle."

    I remembered hearing something about what he was talking about. "I think I heard about you once on the news," I said. He nodded.

    "While we do not officially acknowledge our own existence, we are known. Anyway, I would like to offer you the opportunity to join us on a part-time basis. Since we cannot let you leave, it would be best if you became an agent with us." He paused and gave me time to sink that information in. "You handled the Ranger System well, better than most. Maybe you could become one, with time and proper training."

    Me? Become a Ranger? He must have been mistaken, I thought. "What's the other option?" I asked.

    "My organization will detain you for an indefinite period, as you have had access to classified technology," 0 explained, very business-like. "You will be allowed no contact with the outside world, as per our Council's rules. Understand?"

    I nodded, taking a deep breath. "So, I should join?"

    "I think that would be wise. You seem like a good person, who wishes for a challenge. This would be the perfect opportunity to employ your talents."

    "My…talents?"

    "I witnessed your battle. While your fighting is sloppy, you seem to have a somewhat instinctive knowledge of combat. Are you a Pokemon trainer?"

    I nodded and displayed the Poke Balls on my belt. "Yes, but these aren't all of them. My Pikachu is back with my family."

    0 nodded and folded his arms. "We will inform your family that you were injured and rushed to a hospital, which is true, since we need to check if you have a concussion. While there, you will be briefed on your new life and the adjustments you will have to make. You will then be taken to a nearby hospital and placed there to await your family. Is that understood?"

    I nodded again. "I suppose so."

    "Oh, there is one more condition," 0 said, and crossed his legs.

    "What?"

    "While we are known to the public, our identities are kept confidential," 0 explained. "As such, you will be unable to tell your family the truth about your new job. Ever. We take the secrecy of our members very seriously, as we are the hunters of terrorists after all. We will assist you in providing covers for missions, but that will be all. Your identity as an agent will have to be maintained. It is not only for our protection, but yours and your family's as well."

    "Is this sort of thing normal?"

    "No. We do not ordinarily accept people who are tied to outside members of PKM. However, exceptions have been made in the past, and they can be made again for special agents who deserve them." He looked me over with those eerie golden eyes and smiled. "You might be one of those special agents."

    And just like that, I was in PKM.

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    0 finished his story, and lowered his head. "I'm sorry it's not a really exciting story, 415," he said. "One day I was an average guy, the next I'm an agent. Being a ranger is something I never really thought I'd ever be, that's just what happened." He pulled out his Poke Balls and looked them over. "In my heart, I'm still that trainer from Pallet." He smiled, that brought back some happy memories.

    "You are a very simple person, are you not?" 415 asked, taking a drag of her cigarette. 0 had made her sit downwind, so he wouldn't have to smell it. "It makes sense."

    "Why do you want to be a ranger, 415? Is it really because you want to show me up?" 0 asked.

    415 paused, staring out into the vast desert beyond the oasis. "To me, being a ranger means being like 0, being a person who protects and guards. Being someone who people look up to, who they can see. If I become a ranger, maybe I will become that person that he saw in me. Maybe others will see me like that."

    "Do you think that you can become a trainer first, and a ranger second?" asked the Golden Ranger. "That's what makes a good ranger. You have to learn to care about others and your Pokemon, otherwise being a person's savior is kind of empty, right?"

    "I suppose, in your incredibly thick way, that you have a point," 415 admitted. "But how do you know that I am not lying to you in order to get a Pokemon?"

    He shrugged. "I just know how to feel people, 415," he said. "I can tell you're a good person, even if no one sees it. That's why you love him, because you idolized the savior that 0 was to you. You wanted to be like that. And one day, you will be." He stood up, his face tense.

    "What is it?" 415 asked.

    He sniffed the air. "Pokemon," he said curtly and released Lu and Tork. "We need to hide, catching Pokemon at Poke Spots is tough enough… Orre Pokemon are really brutal because of the environment they live in." He ducked behind a rock and 415 followed him with the Pokemon. From there, they saw what had come to drink from the oasis.

    The Pokemon looked like a blue and black lion, with two gold rings around its two front legs. "Luxio," 0 breathed, while 415 analyzed the Pokemon. The dark spots on its hind legs were short, indicating it was a female. "Will that one do?"

    415 nodded. "It will be suitable," she decided, so 0 handed her a Poke Ball and told her to get ready for the fight. Lu got ready to fight first, as Tork was rather hesitant about battling a wild Pokemon for someone else's capture. When 0 gave the signal, he, Lu, and 415 sprang out from behind the rock.

    "Lu, Aura Sphere!"

    "Cario!" The Pokemon generated the Aura quickly and blasted it at the Luxio. It reacted quickly, rather angry at being disturbed so rudely, and dodged. It responded by growled, then releasing a stream of electricity that coursed through the Lucario's body. Lu faltered, but recovered itself a moment later and punched its paws together, indicating it was ready for another round.

    0 was happy to oblige. "Force Palm!" he ordered. Lu charged up more Aura, and unleashed it, sending the Luxio flying back.

    "Do I catch it now?" 415 asked, readying her Poke Ball.

    0 shook his head. "This one's really tough, it's probably a high level, and my Lucario just evolved," he explained. "Lu, blast it with another Aura Sphere! Keep wearing it down!" Lu growled, and unleashed sphere after sphere. But its level was too low, the Luxio kept dodging and shocking the dog Pokemon. Finally, it had enough, and dove towards Lu, sinking its fangs in and delivering a course of electricity into the Lucario's body. Lu shivered, and passed out. 0 recalled it.

    "Tork, go!" 0 ordered. The giant turtle blasted steam from its nostrils and back before lumbering into battle. "Flamethrower!" It took a deep breath, then blasted at the Luxio, covering its proximity in fire. It still dodged, much too fast to be hit by the slow and steady Torkoal. 0 groaned as another bolt of electricity shot out and struck the turtle, causing it to cease its flame barrage.

    "Why is it winning?" 415 shouted.

    "Because it's a speedy Pokemon at a high level," 0 retorted, as if instructing a child. "Tork, use Heat Wave! Blast the battlefield!"

    The turtle nodded, and drew in the power of the nearby sunlight. The Orre sun, so powerful, charged it, and it unleashed a deadly strike. Finally, the Luxio faltered, unable to dodge the attack, and fell to the ground. 0 grinned, the battle was finally turning in his favor.

    "415, get ready with that Poke Ball! Use it when I give the order!"

    Luxio had enough. It screamed a mighty Roar, then its entire body began glowing.

    "Oh no," 0 muttered.

    "What is it?" 415 demanded to know.

    He glanced towards her, and sighed. "You really, really don't want to know," he replied, before he turned back to the fight. The glowing Pokemon grew, and finally transformed into a Luxray. The Luxray, upon its evolution, snarled at Tork and 0, then blasted the turtle with enough electricity to power a city block. Tork groaned, then passed out. 0 recalled him, now out of Pokemon and with an angry Luxray ready to attack.

    It charged up its lightning, focusing on 415 first. She panicked, unsure of what to do. 0 cursed, and felt the tingle of electricity flow through his body. "Get down, 415!" he shouted and rushed towards the Pokemon. It snarled at him and focused its attack in his direction.

    "What are you doing?" screamed 415.

    "Something stupid!" he replied and transformed, again without having to trigger his morpher. The golden armor clamped into place, just in time to take the Luxray's Discharge attack. He groaned, working through the pain, and absorbed the electric attack. "Okay, here I go!" Operating on instinct alone, 0 placed his hands to the ground, and focused on all of the electricity surging through his body. His palms sparked, and the electricity went flowing back into the ground, ripping through the oasis floor towards the Luxray.

    It screamed as it was struck by the force of the torrential lightning, and collapsed to the ground barely breathing. 0 swerved to 415, who was hiding behind him and shouted, "Now, 415! The Poke Ball!"

    "R-Right!" she said and hurled the ball in the fallen Luxray's direction. It smacked into the Pokemon's side, opened up, and encased the beast in flashing red light. The Pokemon vanished and the Poke Ball tumbled down onto the ground, where it began shaking violently as the Pokemon endeavored the last of its strength to evade capture.

    Finally, the ball stopped shaking. The Luxray was caught.

    0 smiled as 415 walked up slowly, as if the Pokemon might pop up at any moment and attack her, and picked up the Poke Ball, cradling it between her fingers. Then, slowly, her lips crept up into a smile, and she turned back to 0.

    "You can…transform without evoking the morpher," she said, looking at his Ranger Form. He nodded. "Why?"

    He shrugged. "I don't know why," he replied. "I just know that when I want to help people, I can change without needing to shout a morphing call or pressing a button." He paused, as her smile had faded. "Is that a bad thing?"

    "I do not know," she answered. "But…I do remember that in the final days, before he fused with his morpher, 0 could do that too. Do not lose your humanity."

    "I won't," he promised.

    "And, thank you," she murmured, lowering her gaze to the emblem on his chest. "Thank you, 0, for this Pokemon." She cradled the Poke Ball close to her chest.

    He nodded, and demorphed. As the guise of the Golden Ranger faded away, he gave her a grin. "You'll do fine, 415. One day, I'm sure you'll make him proud."

    She nodded. "I know I will 0. Now, we should go home. I need to begin preparing myself and my Pokemon for Ranger camp." 0 agreed and opened the hover bike's capsule. They got on, and rode off.

    "Hey, 415?"

    "Yes?"

    "I think this is one of the first times you've ever called me 0."

    "What of it?"

    "Any particular reason to start now?"

    She paused. "There was something in your stance, and the way you fought, that reminded me of 0. You are slowly growing into your mantle." She hated repeating herself.

    "Thank you."

    "Shut up, 0."

    He laughed.

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    Somewhere in the desert, a man stumbled back into a building. Carrying his Poke Balls, surrounded by a henchmen crew of Rangerlings, he opened the door and collapsed inside.

    "Goza," whispered a voice in the dark.

    The man looked up, he recognized that voice. "Ame?" he asked.

    The voice in the dark giggled. "You have work to do, Goza. My employers insist."

    Goza groaned and the voice inside his head began getting louder.

  4. #34
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Jan 2013
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    Male
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    Default Chapter 23

    Morph Twenty-Three: Happy Birthday, Mr. Logan

    The clock was moving much too quickly.

    Dreas Logan glanced at it briefly, wondering what could be causing it to hurry like that, before returning his attention to the unconscious Karin. He hadn't moved in the past several days, ever since the big fight in Pyrite, except of course to eat, shower, and use the toiletries. Once, he got up in order to obtain a marker to write on his partner with, but decided that would be much more trouble than it was worth. The Red Ranger's eyes analyzed her body, there was still no change in her condition. Her body was breathing normally, he knew that from how her chest would occasionally move, almost like a tectonic shift in her otherwise still body. Her heart beat as well, he could see it patter every few moments.

    All in all, he was not happy the clock was moving so quickly.

    "Slow down," he muttered, as if his voice would actually make the clock do as he commanded. Unfortunately, it did not, and the clock continued to tick along its merry way. Logan sighed and lightly squeezed Karin's hand. He didn't know if he would ever get the chance again, and Karin was rarely unconscious when he was awake. She seemed to sense his movement each time he had tried to sneak up and grope her.

    Behind him, the door opened, he didn't need to look to see who it was. "Pull up a chair," he offered to the Golden Ranger, gesturing at the piece of furniture located at the opposite side of Karin's bed. "What brings you down here?"

    "I wanted to see how you were doing," 0 replied. "Has there been any change?"

    Logan shook his head. "Afraid not," he muttered. "They're not sure how long she's going to be like this either." His red eyes were heavy. "Now I know how you feel."

    "What?" 0 asked.

    He sighed. "There's just that little bit of me that really wishes that I had done something more to help her, that I shouldn't have left her by herself. Each time, something bad happens. She destroyed Serena's morpher because I wasn't allowed to stop her, and she got…hurt because I was fighting with you instead of her."

    "Logan, this wasn't your fault. Even if we are rangers, we're still only human."

    Logan nodded. "What are you down here for anyway?" he asked, focusing the conversation elsewhere. "Don't tell me it's because you wanted to see my pretty face."

    0 smirked. "Actually, I came here to give you this," he said and handed the Red Ranger what looked like a baseball cap. It was red and black with his number on it. "This one's for Karin." He tossed Logan a second one, which was pink and black with a 5 written on it.

    Logan looked up. "What are these for?"

    "Ranger camp is starting tomorrow," 0 explained. "I guess they want us in more casual clothing, since we're going to be getting pretty rough to weed out the three new rangers from the hundred applicants. The rest of your clothing has been placed in your room for tomorrow, I just wanted to give these to you two now."

    "Why?"

    "To cheer you up," he said. "You're not yourself when you're this serious, Logan. It is, in all honesty, exceedingly worrying."

    Logan chuckled and glanced towards the clock again. He was almost out of time. "I suppose you're right," he murmured. "Tell the guru I'll be there tomorrow, hopefully Karin will be too."

    0 nodded and stood up. Then, he glanced at the monitor. "Has there really been no change?" the Golden Ranger asked, peering at Karin's vitals.

    "No."

    "That's weird."

    Logan looked up. "What is?"

    "Logan, when was the last time you left the room?"

    He shrugged. "Maybe an hour ago. Nature sent me a text message."

    "The monitor's been tampered with," 0 said. "The cords and things have been rearranged. That's really weird. Well, I'll see you later." He waved, then abandoned the room, all but certain of what would take place in a few moments.

    Logan glanced over the monitor, sure enough, if he inspected it more carefully he could see the careful rewiring that had been done to make it seem as though Karin was unconscious. Her brain waves weren't showing any activity.

    "Oh no," he mumbled.

    It was then that Karin, who had only been faking her condition for the past day or so, got up, and twisted Logan's head into a half-nelson. The Red Ranger cringed, finding his ability to breathe somewhat limited. "K-Karin," he gasped, tapping her arm. "Let me go. I swear I wasn't doing anything bad. You know me, I admit when I do bad stuff."

    Karin didn't seem to be interested in what he had to say, forcing Logan to do something before he lost consciousness himself. He pulled himself up from where Karin had him trapped, dragging Karin and the machines she was attached to along with him. From there, he slammed his back against the wall, pinning her down. She was so shocked she loosened her grip. Logan, working against the clock, turned around and pinned her arms up, making sure she couldn't try that trick again.

    "Hey," he said, "is that any way to say hello to a guy who's been waiting for you to wake up patiently? I didn't even try anything, I was too worried."

    Karin's expression was odd, her lips were tight with irritation, as if she was somehow annoyed by the fact that he had spent so much time by her side. "I didn't even sleep, and you know how much I love sleep," he pointed out. She tried to kick him, but he saw it coming and easily got out of the way. "Oi…you're a handful. I have half a mind to make you apologize to me." He smirked. "Good thing I know better. Now come on, let's get you home if you're feeling so well."

    He released her from the wall and tossed her the cap that 0 had left her. "We've got ranger camp tomorrow, we should get some shuteye."

    He headed outside and was followed by his partner. They were stopped by the orderly.

    "Excuse me," he said. "She has not been processed. I do not think she should leave yet."

    Logan smiled. "Yeah…about that. Look, let's leave the paperwork for later. Trust me when I say that she really doesn't want to be here, and you don't want to keep her against her will. I'll stop by and fill out the paperwork tomorrow. Karin, let's go!" He side-stepped the orderly and was followed motion for motion by his partner. They ran from the hospital wing and didn't stop until they reached their room, fresh out of breath.

    Logan smiled and opened the door. "Welcome home, Karin," he said, as they stepped through. "Shall we spend the night together?"

    His statement was rewarded by being smacked upside the head. He groaned and rubbed the spot Karin had hit as they stepped inside their little home. "Well, at least it feels like home again," he said and laid down on the floor. "Come on, let's go to sleep. You and I have a rough day tomorrow, and I think we have to get up early too. I hate that!"

    Karin merely climbed into her bed and Logan shut off the lights.

    He could still hear the ticking, the dreaded countdown almost completed. He pulled out his cell phone, he had roughly five minutes left.

    Then, suddenly, there were only four minutes left.

    "Crud…" he groaned and rolled over on the floor. Maybe if he wished hard enough, the clock would start turning backwards.

    In the name of all that is holy, sacred, and delicious, please do not let me run out of time. You have no idea how terrible it's going to be, what will be unleashed, if my time runs out. She will destroy everything around us, and there will be nothing anyone can do to stop it.

    He looked at the clock again, he had less than two minutes left. He glanced up at Karin, already pretending to be asleep, he knew she wouldn't really until he went to bed. He sighed, wishing he had someone to talk to. Or, rather, someone to talk to who would talk back to him.

    "Hey, Karin," he muttered, he noticed her head tilt slightly to hear him better. "About tomorrow…just don't kill anyone. I know it's going to be hard, but just try not to hurt anyone."

    She returned her head to its original position.

    He returned his attention to his cell phone and watched the seconds tick by. He only had half a minute, then twenty seconds, then ten.

    So this is what it's like to know when Armageddon's coming.

    He watched the last ten seconds fade away, and cursed under his breath.

    "Well, today's gonna suck," he muttered, in what could be considered the greatest understatement ever made.

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    "You know, I really hate getting up this early," muttered Serena, stifling a yawn between her lips. "It's unbearable! Why do they want us starting the stupid camp this early?"

    0 shrugged. "I suppose they want to get as many people out as possible. I agree, I don't want this taking any more than a week of my time." He glanced around, noticing that a few bodies were walking into the battle arena. Among them he spotted 415, this time with short black hair and dark brown eyes. In her hands she was holding her Poke Ball. "So, did you hear anything about your position?"

    Serena shook her head. "My termination is permanent, but right now I'm assigned as your partner regardless. So, you win some, you lose some." She glanced at her wrist, it felt so light. "Still, I miss it. I wonder how I'm going to be able to help you without my morpher." There was a sense of loneliness in her voice, 0 guessed it was because, deep in her heart, she missed Seel, so he didn't press the issue.

    "When are Logan and Karin getting here?" he wondered and glanced at his watch. "They were supposed to be here by now."

    "They'll be here, don't worry," Serena assured him. "Not all of us are freaks like you. Normal people need sleep. Plus, Logan's had a lot of stress on him lately with Karin and all that. I'm sure that Karin will get him here on time."

    Sure enough, Logan and Karin emerged three minutes later, the former yawning incessantly. "Remind me again why we have to do this so early?" asked the Red Ranger, rubbing his eyes. "Geez…I barely got any sleep last night."

    "Maybe you should go to bed earlier," suggested 0.

    He shook his head. "It's not because of that," he replied and jerked his thumb at Karin. "It's her fault, she wouldn't leave me alone last night. She kept raking at my back and-" He would have continued, but he received a fist to his face that impeded his gigantic mouth from continuing, at least briefly.

    "What time is it?" 0 asked his ranger spirit.

    "It is half-past-five," reported Pi. "Let's get this started."

    0 nodded and brought a loudspeaker to his lips. "All recruits! Assemble!" About eighty people trudged in his direction. He glanced them over, spotting 415 in the third row of the recruits. All of them had Poke Balls in their hands, as if waiting for the chance to use them. The Golden Ranger smirked, this was going to be fun.

    "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, gesturing to himself and the others, "you are looking at the PKM Rangers, PKM's most elite fighting force. We are sent in for the most dangerous missions, the toughest assignments, and we always get the job done. I am the Golden Ranger, and my colleagues are the Red Ranger, the Pink Ranger, and the former White Ranger. We are the best of the best, and we are the four deciding which three among you will get to join our ranks. Is that understood?"

    "Sir, yes sir!" shouted the entire group in unison. 0 was taken aback, he rather liked the role of the drill sergeant.

    Logan took over, taking the loudspeaker from 0 and pulling his cap on backwards. "Listen up, newbies!" he bellowed, pointing at them. "All of you will be subjected to physical, psychological, and mental torture so extreme you'll think you're rushing a fraternity in college! The dangers that we rangers face are real, and it is our job to weed out all the weak and feeble until there are only three agents left standing to become PKM Rangers. Is that clear?"

    "Sir, yes sir!" shouted the group again.

    "Fantastic," said Logan. "Let us begin! May all the lady agents get naked, and could all the gent agents leave?" He was about to issue further instructions, but Karin dragged him off and he gained a new bruise on his shoulder.

    0 took over, sighing. "Disregard that order," he ordered, noticing some agents beginning to follow Logan's request out of sheer stupidity. "And anyone actually idiotic to follow that order can leave right now." About ten disgruntled people, seven men and three women, departed the grounds and 0 smiled. This might be easy after all.

    "We will begin with physical tests to determine the strongest agents here," announced Serena. "Before we test your bonds with your Pokemon, it is important to us that we make sure your bodies can handle the stress of some basic activities. We will begin in five minutes. Prepare yourselves."

    0 sighed and turned to Logan. "What was the point of that?"

    He pointed to the crowd, which now only had seventy-five people standing around doing stretches. "Counting the people who are late, whom we're cutting, and those bozos, we're down twenty-five percent of the morons we have to examine. Think of it as an early Christmas gift." Logan then focused his attention on Karin, who was merely staring down the crowd as a wild Pokemon might dinner. "And try not to be so rough next time, will ya?" She ignored him.

    After five minutes, both Karin and 0 were ready, so Serena rounded up the group. "Okay, everybody, our first exam is very simple. You will be paired up against either Agent 0 or Agent 5, and you will be required to last one minute in combat with one of them. If they knock you out of the designated space, or they knock you out period, you are done, thanks for trying out."

    0 decided to remove his shirt but retained his cap. Somehow, the golden and black hat was nostalgic, and he bent the brim over his goggles, not wanting the light to get in his way. Several of the people stared at the scars that covered his body, he wanted them to take in what it meant to be a ranger and the sacrifices that had to be made. His cybernetic shoulder was hardly noticeable, he had gotten used to the weight by now.

    "Who's up to bat first?" he growled, just to scare some of them a little. Two actually fled from the sight of his muscles and his menacing scowl.

    "0, try not to scare them too badly," Serena muttered, rubbing her brow.

    "Want me to try smiling?" he asked politely, and did so, baring his teeth. He could practically smell the fear.

    Because half of them had to fight him, they began lining up in the little cage they had set up for him. It was about the size of a single room, with six feet high wireframes to keep the challengers in, and so it would be harder for 0 to throw them out. Karin took her position in another cage and waited patiently for her first victim. Logan hovered nearby, transformed into his Rescue Mode in case things turned a bit ugly.

    0 looked down at his first opponent, it was a five foot computer programmer who looked like he hadn't ever even seen the inside of a gym, let alone a combat field, unless it was in a video game. He put up his dukes, 0 had to admire that. Kid had spirit.

    "L-Let's go," he said, his voice somewhat high.

    0 took it easy on him and tossed him out of the ring in ten seconds. The kid hadn't looked like he'd wanted to be there and seemed extremely grateful he was allowed such a quick escape, because he took off from the battle arena, probably for his warm bed.

    Meanwhile, Karin had choked her first victim into unconsciousness, resulting in widespread fear from the entire field of applicants. Still they came. Most of them were terrible, but there were some exceptions. There was Henderson, who lasted the minute and then some, requiring effort from the Golden Ranger to put down. There was even a woman who made it past named Taylor, who survived the round with Karin by dodging her and playing to Karin's weaknesses of needing something to react to.

    Finally, 415 stepped into the ring with 0, shutting the cage behind her. The animals howled, they wanted him to tear her to pieces like he had their friends. He wouldn't. He'd fight her, but he wanted her to earn her stripes and advance.

    "I have no intention of going easy on you," he said, as she approached him.

    "Good," she replied, and assumed a defensive stance. "My status as a ranger will be meaningless if it is simply given to me. Make sure to fight well, 0."

    0 nodded and charged forward. He blocked her first punch and smashed her across the face, sending her flying back. However, she didn't go down, and her face was still perfect. The Golden Ranger knew better than to think that she had been unharmed, the mask she wore was merely disguising her injuries.

    He grabbed her and threw her across the cage. However, she held on, and the momentum he used she manipulated to hurl him to the ground. 0 recovered immediately, blocking a hit that she aimed at his back. He turned, anticipating her second attack, and grabbed her hand.

    "You still have thirty seconds," he pointed out, tossing her casually to the ground. "Time to finish this."

    He hauled her off the ground and slammed her into the cage walls. 415 grunted in annoyance, but did not have the brute strength to fight off the giant Golden Ranger. He scraped her up the wall, wanting an easy win with minimal struggle. However, this was not to be the case, as 415 grabbed hold of the wires that made up the chains and held firm, smashing into 0's stomach with her heel. The Golden Ranger grunted and released his grip. 415 climbed up the fence and leapt over 0, landing gracefully behind him in a defense pose, ready for the finale.

    "Twenty seconds," he muttered.

    415 didn't even see him coming, he was much too fast. It was the Agility technique, she knew that, but the fact that he internally unleashed it without a vocal command or physical cue made it impossible to predict now. He appeared behind her and delivered a momentum-enhanced punch that careened her into the wall again. She shouted, feeling the course of electricity jolt through her body. He, unknowingly, had shocked her.

    She fell to the ground, the electricity was paralyzing her. Groaning, she forced herself back to her feet and stared him down. "Ten seconds," she growled, fighting through the pain. He nodded, it was time for their final moves.

    He rushed forward again, it was all 415 could do to hold him back as he delivered a clothesline to her neck. She took it, actually jumping backwards to reduce the impact damage and grabbed his arm while he was still in mind-dash. She twisted, pushing every piece of her energy into her feet and turned the Golden Ranger, causing him to crash into the wall then burn a hole through it due to the electric discharge he was creating. He collapsed on the floor, visibly damaged by the amount of electric energy he had used.

    "All out of time," 415 announced.

    He nodded, answering, "I know." He tried moving his arm, it hurt a lot. 415 helped him get up and he dusted off his clothes. "That really hurt."

    "How do you think I feel?" she asked. Her arms were still shaking and her hair was all on ends. She couldn't really feel her fingers either.

    "Hang on," he muttered and touched her head. He concentrated, trying to summon the electricity that he seemed to be able to control. In moments, he took the discharged electricity back into his body, removing all effects of it from 415's body. "There we go. Good as new, except for the bruises, right?"

    "Do you see any bruises on my face?" she asked.

    He shook his head. "Nothing but the image of perfection, 415. Go get 3 to sign your thing saying you passed." She bowed once and reported properly to his partner.

    "Did you just use an electric attack?" asked one of the remaining candidates, a tone of fear in his voice. "You know, like a Pokemon?"

    0 shrugged. "No comment," he replied cheerfully, then gave a menacing smile. "Now, who's next?"

    Every remaining candidate took a step back as 0 marched back through the sizzling hole in his cage.

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    At the end of the day, the remaining candidates numbered only a brave twenty.

    0, Serena, Logan, and Karin watched as the remaining twenty formed into a single square shape, a platoon, with four rows of five, and snapped off salutes to their rangers. 0 waved them down and brought up the loudspeaker to his lips. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "stand at ease." Instantly, the agents relaxed, as they no longer had to stand at the uncomfortable position of attention. "You are the last twenty left standing. Congratulations, you've made it past the first day of ranger camp!" Nobody cheered, in fear of being sent home for acting like an idiot. "From you, we will be weeding out seventeen until we settle on the best three to become new PKM Rangers. Special barracks have been provided for you, and you will be led there by the Red Ranger and the Pink Ranger in just a moment. Be ready tomorrow at five in the morning, on the dot. That is all."

    Like a good little flock of Mareep, they trudged off to the exit and waited for their escorts. Logan whispered something to Serena, who nodded and motioned to Karin, who followed her down to the recruits. Logan, meanwhile, walked up to 0.

    "We gotta talk," he muttered. "Serena can handle Karin for a little while, but you and me need to have a little chat."

    0 nodded, unsure of what it was that was so serious Logan needed to speak to him privately. "Sure, Logan," he said, and led the Red Ranger down an alternate route. "What's the problem?"

    "It's Karin…" He rubbed the back of his head, quite unsure of how to say what he needed to say. "Well, it's about Karin."

    "What's about Karin?" 0 asked.

    "Well…you and I may need to fight her."

    "Why?"

    "Well, let's just say that I officially ran out of time today," he muttered vaguely. "And because of that, Karin's going to go ballistic in a few hours. Remember how I mentioned that, even though she can't stand me, she's very possessive?"

    0 nodded. "But what does that mean?"

    "I don't want to go into details. Just promise me you'll be ready to fight later tonight. There's a good chance it'll probably go down in the evening, maybe after eight or so. That's when we have to be ready."

    "If it's really that important," 0 replied. "Should I alert Bakaguru and 3?"

    Logan shook his head. "No, let's keep it between us for now, chances are good they'll find out in a little while anyway. Just makes sure you're ready, we'll probably need that special system of yours too." He nodded his head, then headed off where Serena and Karin had walked off to, wanting to collect Karin before anything potentially bad happened.

    0 scratched his head. "What's up with him?" he asked.

    "Good question," Pi replied, as it researched the information on the Red Ranger. "That's really not like him. Something must have really set him off to be worried about Karin like that."

    "Well, he likes her, I guess he doesn't want to see her get hurt by whatever this is that's going to happen."

    "Huh, that's odd," Pi muttered.

    "What?"

    "Well, according to the unclassified files on Logan, it actually states that today is his birthday," Pi explained. "He is twenty-five."

    "Really?" 0 asked. "A guy with that big of an ego…I wonder why he hasn't mentioned it."

    "Good question. Want to ask him?"

    He shrugged. "Maybe later, I'm sure he has his own reasons for keeping it to himself. Come on, all this fighting's really made me thirsty, and I really need to take my serum tonight."

    "Aren't you supposed to spend tonight with May and Sarah?" it asked.

    He nodded. "Yep, we get to have a whole night to ourselves for once. Bakaguru is seeing to it." He was really excited too, it was going to be the first day he had been promised no interruptions from Bakaguru. "But if Logan needs me…"

    "Are you going to put your work over your family?"

    He shrugged. "It's a tough call. I don't want to make the same mistakes, but at the same time I don't want Karin to go crazy." Sometimes he got really frustrated by his job. "What do you think I should do?"

    "How about what makes you happy?" Pi suggested. "You never do that."

    "An excellent suggestion," 0 decided, and headed off to shower. He turned the corner, however, and noticed that someone was definitely waiting for him. 415 emerged from the shadows.

    "415," 0 muttered. "What's wrong? You're supposed to be at the barracks with the rest of the candidates."

    "I…need help," she replied. "Tomorrow is the test with the Pokemon, correct?"

    0 nodded.

    "Then I need help. The Luxray…I am worried that if I release it I will be attacked for capturing it." She lifted up the Poke Ball. "It seems to have an angry aura."

    "That might be a problem for you," 0 agreed. "But you'll have to do it on your own. Tonight I'm supposed to go on this family thing with May and Sarah, so I really can't-" She glared at him, which made him take a step back.

    "You have to. No one else has the proper skill set to train me. You are, and believe me how difficult it is for me to admit it, the best trainer in PKM. You must be my tutor." She was using a tone that 0 was unfamiliar with, at least from her. 415 was desperate indeed. "Please. I need your help."

    "Pi, how much time can I spare?" 0 asked.

    "Bakaguru said you had after seven. Two hours," it replied.

    He nodded and stated back into the arena. "Okay, that's how long we have, 415. Two hours, so let's get training now."

    He faced her. "Release your Pokemon," he ordered.

    "But-"

    He ignored her. "Release it now, 415! I do not have time to argue with you."

    Unwillingly, she did as he commanded. The ball exploded and the Luxray snarled viciously. It was quite angry, but stayed put beside its trainer. 0 walked up, ignoring its very, very sharp fangs, which it was quite good at baring, and bent down in front of it.

    "Ray, Lux," growled 0, introducing himself.

    "What are you doing?" 415 asked.

    "Shut up," he retorted, and refocused his attention on the Pokemon. Its eyes had widened, astonished that the Golden Ranger was capable of speaking its language. It replied through a softer, but still defensive, growl, and 0 nodded as he listened. He glanced up at 415 when it finished. "It says that you have no right to train it, as it was I who did your battling. It will not obey you until you face it in combat."

    He returned his attention to Luxray and issued a growl. Slowly, the Pokemon nodded, so 0 grinned. "Well, all you have to do is fight it, 415. Simple as that. If you win, it will help you and bond to you."

    415 hesitated. "But it is a Pokemon," she pointed out.

    "Why does that matter?" 0 asked. "It is your partner. You train with your partner."

    415 nodded, but still looked unsure.

    0 growled irritably, he really didn't have time for this! "Look, 415, if I took the time to tell you how many times I've been electrocuted, frozen, burnt, or hurt while training my Pokemon, we would have no time to train. You can fight me, you can fight Luxray." He cracked his knuckles and stood up. "Learn by doing, 415."

    She was stunned at the transformation the Golden Ranger had made, from the easy-going fighter to a serious, determined trainer. In the light of the arena too…he looked almost like his predecessor.

    "If you are afraid, you should quit now. As a ranger you will have to fight the Dark Gems. They will fight, they will kill, they will do anything it takes to win. If you aren't ready to spar with your own Pokemon, then what good will you be to us in a battle?" 0 started walking, he'd given her enough of his time. "You have to deal with Pokemon, 415. It's not the overnight process you want it to be, but this'll be a start. Show it some damn respect."

    He left.

    The agent and the Pokemon stared at one another, neither sure of what to do. 415 did not want to fight, Luxray could think of nothing but that. It wanted revenge for being stripped of its home and bound to the girl. And for what? So she could become something? No, it wanted a fair chance to extract its pound of flesh. It growled and started circling her like a piece of meat, eager for blood.

    415 bit her lips, and tried desperately to imagine she was fighting something else.

    The Luxray snarled and leapt into the air, aiming to take out a chunk of 415's arm.

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

    Several hours later, Armageddon began.

    The woman that emerged from the door was neither large nor threatening looking. She looked very much like Logan, only she was a head shorter with slightly longer hair. She pushed her glasses up to the rim of her nose and smiled. "Hello, little Dreas," Mrs. Logan murmured. "Your father should be inside in a moment, he's just getting the things from the truck with Ariel."

    "Ariel's…here?" Logan asked. His face turned an unhealthy shade of red.

    "Who is Ariel, Logan?" 0 asked.

    "She's…well…" Logan glanced from him to his mother to Karin, who was watching the scene unfold with an almost concerning amount of interest.

    "She's his fiancée!" explained Mrs. Logan.

    "She is not my fiancée, Mom!" exclaimed Logan, waving his arm angrily. "That's just what you like to call her because we dated in high school! Why is she here, anyway? She's not supposed to be at PKM headquarters!"

    Mrs. Logan pretended not to hear Logan's claims. "Well, your father worked his magic with the Council, so she was debriefed. Oh, she's so excited to see her Red Ranger, Dreas! I think she'll be in here in a moment."

    "Great," groaned Logan, as he noticed Karin's hands clenching into fists. "Look, think we can hold that off for a little while? I think we need to prevent a probable bloodbath." 0 stepped forward as well. "Oh, Mom, did you get a chance to meet the new Golden Ranger yet?" He shoved 0 forward, to which the Golden Ranger responded with a small glare in his ally's direction before forcing a smile in the direction of Mrs. Logan.

    "How do you do?" asked 0. "I'm the new Golden Ranger, Logan's superior."

    Mrs. Logan allowed him to shake her hand. "How nice to meet you, 0," she replied politely. "I knew the old Golden Ranger too, he was quite a good poker player if I recall. Good trainer too, now that I think of it. I was so sad to hear that he passed. But it looks like you'll be a good successor."

    0 nodded. "Oh, I'm trying," he assured her.

    A moment later, a gentleman who also looked like Logan appeared, holding several of the bags in one of his hands. Despite their weight, he didn't seem to be having much trouble with them, so 0 didn't offer to assist, though Logan took some of the bags from his father immediately. Mr. Logan also wore glasses, but his eyes glared red from behind the spectacles just like Logan's eyes did.

    Both father and son sized one another up.

    "Good to see you, son," Mr. Logan said.

    Logan smiled. "You too, Dad. Let's get you guys to your room."

    "Wait for meeeeeee!"

    Arriving with half the speed of 0's Agility, a blur of feminine wiles emerged and tackled the Red Ranger to the ground, getting past all of his years of training for surprise attacks and knocking every bag he was carrying to the ground. Both 0 and Karin were astonished, and stepped back to watch the Red Ranger struggle to escape from the clutches of the lady Ariel, who ignored how crumpled her dress was becoming to tighten the grip of her hug.

    Ariel was by no means unattractive, goodness no. A natural dirty blond with elbow length hair, she squeezed her blue eyes tight shut as she squeezed the oxygen from Logan's body. He began to suffocate, wondering why it was his destiny to die in the powerful embrace of Ariel's vice grip, when Karin, unable to tolerate the scene any further, grabbed her partner and fished her out of Ariel's grasp. He took a deep breath, his face as red as a cherry, before Karin viciously slapped him and moved in between the Red Ranger and his devoted 'fiancée'. Ariel reacted in a manner that 0 found astonishingly akin to 415's Luxray.

    "What do you think you're doing, interrupting my reunion with Dreas?" Ariel demanded to know, stomping her heels onto the floor. "Who are you, anyway? Nobody said anything about you." She studied Karin, who stared her dead in the face like a zombie contemplating what part to eat as an appetizer.

    "This is Karin Karino," muttered Logan, his face still stinging from the slap he knew he didn't deserve this time, "she is my partner, the Pink Ranger. Please, whatever you do, do not anger her further. She will kill you."

    Karin seemed to agree with this threat, as her knuckles turned white from how hard she had made her fists. "Karin, let this one go," he pleaded. "She does not know how we operate. She apologizes-"

    "I will do no such-"

    "She does!" Logan shouted.

    "Dreas, keep your voice down!" ordered Mrs. Logan, incurring the attention of Karin. The Pink Ranger turned slowly to the older woman, sizing her up as well. Mr. Logan, in a very wise move, remained absolutely silent, but did go to pick up some of the bags that had been tossed.

    "Logan, what exactly is going on?" 0 asked. Everyone turned to him and each gave him a look 0 normally reserved for only his stupidest foes.

    "You really can't tell?" the Red Ranger replied, with an air of confusion.

    0 shook his head. Logan sighed.

    "It's quite simple, 0," said Mrs. Logan cheerfully. "Today is Dreas' twenty-fifth birthday! He's getting married this week, so that soon I can be Grandma Logan."

    0 paused, unsure if he had heard correctly. "You…want Logan to breed? That's a terrible idea."

    "But I must have a grandchild," insisted Mrs. Logan. "Dreas has been slacking with his deadline, so I brought Ariel here to jog his memory about his commitments to the family. We of the Logan clan are always married young, because we must produce heirs Without heirs, the power of perfect vision will die from the world. Our clan is the only one with it, and it is only given to the male heir. Dreas and his father are the only ones with the power."

    Mr. Logan adjusted his glasses. "Perhaps this is something best discussed later, dear. It was a long flight, I'm sure everyone would like to get some sleep. After all, the party's being held tomorrow, and I want to be rested."

    "But dear-" Mr. Logan shushed his wife, gave a wink to his son, and led Mrs. Logan and Ariel down the hallway, knowing exactly where to go. Soon, only Logan, Karin, and 0 were left standing in the hallway.

    "Karin, I realize that you are angry," Logan began, "but it would be amazing if I could live through the night."

    Karin dragged him off into the hallway. Logan saluted 0, then began to pray.

    0 shrugged, then turned around and started running back to his room. If he hurried, he could still make his date with May and Sarah! He practically ran through agents as he dashed back home. Numerous times people went flying into the air due to their complete failure to get out of his way. But after plowing, dodging, and overwhelming the dozens who stood before him, the Golden Ranger finally arrived at his door. He practically smashed down the door in his eagerness to get inside.

    When he did, he found his family waiting.

    Sarah's head rested softly on her mother's knee, May herself sitting calmly over a cup of tea. 0 shut the door carefully, not wanting to wake his daughter. May did that, gently nudging her cheek. Sarah blinked, but smiled when she saw her father sitting down next to her.

    "Daddy!" she squealed, and hugged him. 0 smiled. "Why were you late? I got sleepy?"

    0 shrugged. "Just saving the world, honey," he explained. "Somehow."

    May kissed him on the cheek. He blushed and Sarah made a disgusted noise. "Welcome home, 0," she said. "We already ate though." She gestured at the table, the plates were quite empty. "We figured you wouldn't mind."

    "That reminds me!" 0 muttered and pulled out his serum. "I need to take my medicine!" He placed it in the syringe trigger and pulled up his sleeve. He let out a deep sigh of satisfaction as the medicine worked its way through his system and put the syringe and now-empty serum container into his jacket. "Much better."

    He sprawled out on the bed, feeling his energies reviving as they always did. Soon his exhaustion would be gone and he would be able to relax as his family drifted off into slumber.

    "Daddy?"

    He looked down. "Yes, Sarah?"

    "What did you just do?"

    He furrowed his brows. "I…took some medicine, Sarah. It's special medicine that I need because I can't sleep."

    "Does it help you sleep?"

    0 shook his head. "No, Sarah. It helps keep me up, so I can keep protecting you, your mother, and the rest of our family."

    Sarah accepted that answer and hugged her father. May smiled and opened a small bottle of beer for 0, who spent the next hour keeping it away from Sarah while the little girl tried her best to take a sip. Eventually, however, even Sarah's vast reserves of energy finally tapped out and the Golden Ranger's daughter went right to sleep.

    "What time is it?" May asked.

    0 checked his morpher. "Ten-thirty," he said.

    "We really should be getting back to our room. And you have such a big day tomorrow choosing those new rangers."

    He nodded. "Sure." He helped May pick up Sarah and put his daughter in her arms. "I'll see you tomorrow."

    "Okay, 0." May kissed him goodbye and shut the door behind him.

    0 stared at the floor. "You all right, 0?" Pi asked.

    "Never better, buddy."

    "You want them to move in, huh?" asked the Pikachu. 0 nodded. "Why didn't you ask her?"

    "We're just getting back together. I don't want to rush her or anything." He sat on the floor and sighed. "I just need to make sure I'm not making the same mistakes I made last time. I'm being given a second chance, I can't screw up again."

    "Things are different this time, though. She knows what you did and why. She's seen you as a hero."

    "She's seen me like that before I was a ranger too. Remember when we were kids? I saved the world almost every year it seemed. Now I just save it with a flashy suit."

    "But you still save it. And you saved them."

    The Golden Ranger nodded. "The suit's still too flashy, though."

    "So, what do you think Logan's going to do?"

    0 shrugged. "Guess he's got to get married to that Ariel girl. I don't get why he needed me there though. Karin didn't do anything to her. His mom was kind of intense."

    "I wonder if he'll confess to Karin."

    "Knowing him it'll be in a really dramatic, over-the-top stunt. He doesn't take anything seriously."

    Author's Note: Five updates today. I don't really have much of an excuse as to why I didn't post for the last few days, but it was my three-year anniversary with my girlfriend so I was rather unable to find the time to post. We are, however, all caught up now and regular daily posts will resume tomorrow.

  5. #35
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 24, Part 1

    Morph Twenty-Four: The Best Distraction Ever, Part 1

    The flicker of light in his hand dimmed. With each moment, the Dark Gem pulsated, in perfect unison with his heartbeat. He held it in front of him, it was the only light he had in the dank cavern. Water dripped from the rocky ceiling and splashed on the ground in front of him.

    "Where am I?" Max asked the darkness. Nothing answered.

    He was dreaming, of that he was certain. It was too vivid, too surreal, to be reality. He took a step forward into the darkness, but felt no sense of accomplishment. He looked down and realized he had stepped in someone else's footprint. Someone else with his exact shoe size. Whatever his dream was about, it didn't involve him moving from his position. So he stared ahead, waiting for something to happen.

    "Hello, Eme," said a voice in the cave. Max looked around, trying to find the voice's origin. "So nice to see you again."

    "Yes," said another voice. "So good to see you. We were wondering if we'd see you again."

    Max's hand closed around the Dark Emerald. "Who are you? Why are you in my head?"

    "Good question." It was the first voice again, a slimy noise that made Max's skin crawl. "Isn't that right, Bix?"

    "Quite right, Axi," replied the second voice, with a loud cackle. "Who are we? Why are we here, anyway?"

    "Hee hee, isn't this so much fun?" Axi murmured. "The not knowing, the secrets, the utter ignorance! It's so cool! I wish I didn't know why we were here." Footsteps issued and two figured emerged. The two identical men grinned, and the one with the longer hair had the bigger smile.

    "Should we even tell it, Big Brother?" asked Bix.

    "We really think it should know."

    "What's going on?" shouted Max. His Dark Gem pulsated wildly, and for the briefest instant the entire cavern was colored bright emerald. "Don't make me beat it out of you."

    Axi laughed and brushed his silver hair. "Adorable isn't it? It thinks it has even the slightest chance against us. How cute."

    "Very cute," agreed Bix. His green eyes looked over Max and he licked his lips.

    "We're very, very angry with you, little boy," said Axi. "Very angry indeed. Sap was a sap, but at least he was a useful one. So much passion for his work. So much dedication put to waste…" The man sighed, then giggled again. "If only you hadn't helped kill him, we wouldn't be having this conversation. We knew we should have had Ame finish the job, she gets things done in such a better way."

    "So much better, she still has most of her sanity left. One of the few, I'd say."

    "Yes, one of the few."

    "You see, it's so very hard to keep your sanity. I'm afraid it's one of the hazards of being bonded to a Dark Gem! Don't worry, I'm sure you'll feel the effects sooner…"

    "…or later," finished Bix. "Every one of us does. Why, did you know that only four or so years ago, we were as sane as anybody? Did you know that?" He draped his arms over his brother and giggled. "But we digress. This isn't why we've come."

    The Dark Emerald flashed as Max growled. "Get out of my head now," he ordered.

    Axi shook his head. "Afraid we can't do that, little boy. We need you for our ragtag team. We've lost one member, we need somebody to replace Sap. And that's you, Eme. With you, our team is back to six members again. And six is such a nice number, isn't it Bix?"

    "It is, Axi."

    "Stop talking!" Max shouted. His eyes shifted to the deepest shade of green. The Dark Emerald was whispering to him again, asking if he wanted the people to leave. "I don't want to be a part of you freaks. I'm going to be a PKM Ranger!"

    Bix laughed. "You think those PKM freaks will let you in? You're a Dark Gem, just like us Eme. They'll never accept one of us into their gang. They'll use you in the lab until they find out everything about you, and then they'll kill you when you're useless."

    "They won't. 0 promised he would stand up for me. He doesn't go back on his word."

    "Golden Boy is the losing side, Eme. He can't even control his own powers. He'll eventually self-destruct, then who will be left to protect you?"

    "Serena, May, all of them. They won't let me be used as a lab rat. Now get out of my head." Emerald fire flickered from his body. "I won't ask you again."

    "Cute, Eme. But remember that you'll need us someday. And when it comes, we'll make you one of us. You'll turn on all your friends, all your family, and you'll become just like us."

    "That we promise, Eme."

    "Stop calling me that!" Max roared and clenched his fists. The emerald fire exploded around him, transforming into Gallade's aura. "You're making us very angry." The chain began to lengthen, wrapping around his arms. "Get out of my head!"

    Then, Max woke up in a pool of sweat.

    He was lying on the floor tangled amid his sheets. Panting, he returned to his bed, but his dream haunted him. After ten minutes of struggling for sleep, he finally gave up any hope and just got up. He dressed in some of the clothes PKM had given him and headed out to the gym, hoping to get some sort of relief through physical activity. He got lost twice, but eventually managed to find his way there.

    Inside was 0, training hard by viciously smashing against a punching bag. Two broken ones stood to the side of the room and sand covered the floor. The Golden Ranger paused at the sound of Max opening the door and turned towards the Dark Gem Ranger.

    "Max," he said and nodded in greeting. "What are you doing up? It's almost three in the morning."

    He shrugged. "Couldn't sleep. I thought if I came in here I'd work up some exhaustion."

    "Good idea." 0 stepped to the side to allow Max use of the punching bag. His body glistened with sweat, all save for the metal plate that made up his right shoulder. He scratched his head and watched as Max hesitantly looked at the punching bag and tapped it with his fist, gauging its weight.

    "How heavy is this?" Max asked.

    "Don't know. They make them specially for me, since I'm too strong for the normal ones." He looked down to the broken bags on the ground and sighed. "Guess I have to tell them to up the weight again. Those didn't last long, either."

    Max smashed the bag. It swung in a low arc. "I had a weird dream," he said suddenly as he watched the bag sway in the air.

    "That's one of the reasons I don't sleep. What was it about?"

    "It was about my Dark Gem. There were two guys too, Axi and Bix. I think they have Dark Gems too. They were talking about Sappho, I think."

    "Interesting. What'd they say?"

    "Something about the Dark Emerald. They said it's going to drive me insane, and that you won't help me when PKM doesn't need me anymore." He looked up at the Golden Ranger. "Is that true, 0?" he asked. "Be straight with me."

    "I don't know," 0 admitted. "Bakaguru is trying to keep you as an Auxiliary Ranger, but it doesn't look good. The Council isn't ready to trust a Dark Gem Ranger, even one that's allied himself with them. You've only been deployed into active combat once, and under my supervision. I don't even know what will happen if you're let loose on your own."

    "So I'm just going to be a lab rat until you've got everything figured out?"

    "No. Right now, things are a little crazy with 3 and this whole ranger camp thing. Once it's cooled down, I can put you on the team that'll be guarding May and Sarah. Or try to, at least. 3's already on board, but since she's not going to be a ranger anymore that leaves me with one partner less. I want you there with your family, Max. I won't let this Dark Gem be a reason to keep you away from them."

    Max nodded and hit the punching bag again. "That's how you felt, wasn't it?" he asked. "This job, that morpher… You hated it for what it did to you, for what it made you give up. Right?"

    0 nodded. "I did. PKM makes us give up some things for the power to protect the ones we love. I gave up my family because of them, I don't want you doing the same. We're both here because of accidents. We shouldn't have to pay for them." He smashed the punching bag and the bag tore open, sending millions of pieces of sand crashing to the ground. "Great, not another one."

    "How is the camp going?"

    "Not bad. We're winding them down to the last few applicants."

    "Do you think 415's going to make it?"

    0 shrugged. "That's up to her and her Luxray." A noise issued through the gym. "Hang on, it's Pi…what's going on, Pi?" He raised his hand and touched the com-link in his ear. "Yeah, I get it. We're on our way now." He looked down, his face quite serious.

    "What's up?" Max asked.

    "Bakaguru wants to see me. You might as well come too."

    "Sure." He followed 0 down the corridors and to the testing facility that was Bakaguru's lair.

    The engineer himself was standing in front of his testing table with several half-finished Ailed Morpher prototypes on it. He looked up from a red-and-black model as he noticed the two coming. "0," he muttered as he glanced towards Max, "what is he doing here? I thought I told Pi to only bring you."

    "Why?" asked 0. "What's wrong?"

    Bakaguru's attention shifted from one ranger to another. "I needed to speak to you about Serena," he said. He removed his glasses and lifted them to his lab coat's lapel to wipe them. "I have received word from the Council that they intend to terminate her as your partner and assign the new White Ranger to her position." He looked to Max as he adjusted his glasses. "Furthermore, they have also made a verdict regarding Max Birch, Auxiliary Ranger 6."

    "What did they say about me?" Max asked.

    "They have denied my request to place you on the team protecting May Birch with the Golden Ranger. They have also refused to recognize you as an official ranger for our organization. You are, in their words, 'too dangerous to place in the field at this time'. You will be incarcerated for testing once the new rangers have been determined."

    There was a brief silence, before 0 clenched his fists and hissed. "They want to do what now?" he asked rhetorically. Max noticed a spark shoot out from his knuckles. "They can't put Max in prison, and they can't remove 3 as my assistant. Even if she's not a ranger, I need her on my team. Can't they just make her my handler, and put Max as support for the team?"

    "I am afraid not," Bakaguru answered with a shake of his head. "I am not even supposed to be telling you this information. I tell you it only because I have determined that you are running out of alternatives to protect your family and friends, Gold." He looked around, but nothing outside of the three men was in the lab. "Do you still want to keep them with you, boy?"

    0 nodded. "The Council has taken enough from me. I'm not letting my family and friends get away again. What are we going to do?"

    Bakaguru smiled sadly. "Ah, I knew you would say that, Gold. You've always been such a hothead, but this time it will serve your needs. There is but one option that I foresee possible, but it will require sacrifices from everyone involved."

    "I'm willing."

    "So am I," said Max. "I'm not spending my life in a prison cell."

    Bakaguru rose from his table and walked to a desk nearby. Using a key from his coat he opened one of the drawers and produced a small box. "This is what we are going to do," he said, and put it on the table. "This box contains the chips that will power all of the Ailed Morphers." He opened it, displaying several differently colored chips. "I will place the chips inside the morphers when they are completed. It will require you to surrender your morpher for a period of at least forty-eight hours. During that time, you will be unable to morph, but when it's over, you'll get your powers back. The Council intends to use this time as leverage to make the necessary changes to your team and incarcerate Max."

    "Understood."

    Bakaguru picked out a chip from inside the box, a gold-and-black one. "This is the chip that will go into your Ailed Morpher, and this-" He paused and pulled an identical chip out of his coat "-is a fake. We are going to begin the sequencing for your Ailed Morpher early. That way, when the Council attempts to make good on their threat, you will have more firepower than both the Red and Pink Rangers as well as anything else PKM can throw at you."

    0 studied the chip. "You know what this means, right? We'd be rebelling against PKM itself. If we were caught, if someone found out…that'd be it."

    "You guys want to take on this whole place by yourself?" Max asked.

    "Not by ourselves. That would be foolish." Bakaguru put the chip back into the box. "We will have two, possibly three rangers, by our side."

    "Who's the third ranger? We only have me and 0."

    "It depends. I have ideas, nothing more. Gold, how is 415 doing in ranger camp?"

    0 scratched his head. "I don't really know. She passed through the initial testing without any problems, but I'm worried she won't be up to the task of working with her Luxray. It's still only responding to me. She needs to gain its trust, or else she won't be able to successfully bond with her ranger spirit. If she overcomes that I can see her becoming a ranger, but if she can't she'll be dropped from the program. Maybe if I gave her some more training she'd be able to bond with it."

    "A good idea, but I have a better one. I thought it would be a good job for Max here," said Bakaguru as he turned to the Dark Gem Ranger.

    "M-Me?"

    Bakaguru nodded. "Yes. 415 already has issues with Gold that supersede any efforts on the Golden Ranger's part to help her. We need someone who has a very strong bond with a Pokemon, like a Dark Gem Ranger. The Gallade that powers your Dark Emerald fuses you to it. You are merged with a Pokemon in a way that the ranger spirits cannot even accomplish. It is this unique fusion technique that gives you a fresh perspective on the bond between Pokemon and ranger. Plus, you are young, and still new to all this. She'll respond better to you helping her than 0's training methods."

    Max nodded. "If I can do anything, I'll help."

    "Good boy. Finally, I have told no one about this plan. This is between the three of us for now. When I feel the time is right, I will tell Serena and 415. Gold, you must promise me that May and Sarah won't know anything, and neither will Ms. Birch's parents. The more people that know, the better the chance that we will be discovered."

    "Okay," said 0. "When do we start the sequencing for my Ailed Morpher?"

    "I have been developing your morpher ahead of schedule. I expect it to be completed shortly, but I can't go too fast. It should be ready within the next few days, well ahead of the intended plans for Serena and Max. I will delay Karin and Logan's morphers, as well as the incoming rangers, from being active for as long as I can."

    "Bakaguru?"

    "Yes?"

    "What happens to you when this is over?" 0 asked. "You'll never be able to work for PKM again. They'll realize you were the one who did this."

    Bakaguru chuckled. "Don't presume anything, boy. I have already made plans for myself. Max, I believe that 415 can be found in the training fields. You should go now. Gold, go get ready for today. The agent-Pokemon compatibility tests will be beginning today, I want you and the others ready."

    "Okay," 0 said. "Let's go, Max."

    "Sure."

    As the two left, Bakaguru turned back to his desk. Six morphers stared back at him, all almost perfect, almost ready. "Old friend," he muttered as he reached for his tools, "this is a truly terrifying thing you brought into the world. I hope your successor knows what to do with it." He leaned into the Gold Ailed Morpher and began his work.

    He paused, and looked over his shoulder. His paranoia was getting to him, this plotting and scheming simply didn't sound like him. He chuckled, it sounded like the old Gold, speaking through him.

    "Old fool," he muttered and reached into his pocket. He withdrew what looked like an old watch, weathered by time and neglect. "Even after all these years, I can't put this down." He looked around again, ensuring no one was there, before he set the watch on the table and opened the box with the Ailed Morpher chips. Again he saw six differently colored parts inside. He lifted them out and placed them one-by-one near their respective morphers. One for Gold, Red, Blue, White, Black, and Pink.

    What was left in the box looked like soft foam to keep the chips from being damaged. He lifted the foam to reveal a final, seventh chip, at the bottom. Bakaguru lifted the chip and placed it next to the old watch.

    "This will be my final creation, won't it?" he asked no one. The chip just sat on the table, next to his watch. "Reminds me of old times." He grinned as he got back to work.

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    Max found 415 on the ground with cuts all over her body. Across from her, pawing at the earth, stood the Luxray. Its growls, aside from the short gasps from 415, were all Max could hear in the battle arena.

    "You okay?" he asked. She ignored him and got back on her feet. "You look like you should take a break."

    "Not all of us have a healing factor. What are you doing here?"

    "Thought you might like some company."

    "I do not." She jumped back to her feet, though she almost fell over due to the effort it took. "Go away, you're distracting me."

    "What exactly are you doing?"

    "Training." She glared at Luxray, who merely gave her a small snarl and pawed at the earth again. "What do you want?"

    "I figured you might want some company," he said.

    She snorted. "Bakaguru sent you."

    "Kinda. How long have you been out here?"

    "Twenty-eight hours, forty-five minutes, thirty-seven seconds. I have less than three hours until the bonding test with Luxray. I must defeat it by then."

    Max looked over at the Pokemon, it didn't seem even remotely tired. "Mind if she takes a break?" he asked it. "We'll get some food and get right back to this." It simply hissed, but nodded its head.

    "What are you talking about?" Despite her insistence on continuing, Max could see that she was tired, almost at the end of her rope. "I need to finish this."

    "You need rest, come on." 415 glared at him, and tried to smack him in the face, but the Dark Emerald warned him. He blocked her blow easily. "You're not going to win against me. Not in the state you're in." He grabbed the Poke Ball on her belt and recalled the Luxray. She growled, but was unable to do anything to stop him. He put her arm over his shoulder and led her out from the battle arena.

    "So, do you know where the cafeteria is?" he asked.

    "You do not know?"

    "Well, not exactly. I mean, this is a really big place. It's easy to get lost."

    "Are you sure you were not just sent here to annoy me?"

    "Pretty sure. Is it to the left?" She groaned, but nodded, so Max helped her down the hall until at last he smelt the scent of fresh breakfast being prepared. "Here we go," he said and opened the door for her. He sat her down in one of the chairs and filled up two plates of food for both of them. He set hers on the placemat in front of her and began wolfing down his plate.

    "You always eat like that?" she asked. She stared at the tantalizing plate before her, but refused to eat any of it.

    "More or less. I used to work out a lot with my Pokemon when I was a Gym Leader. Now that I've got the Dark Emerald, it's kinda like I'm eating for two." He paused from his meal and set down his fork. "Wow, that really didn't sound right."

    415 didn't laugh, but grabbed a piece of bacon and chewed on the end.

    "So, do you even have a name?" Max asked in between chunks of pancakes.

    415 looked up. "Huh?"

    "A name. All I know about you is that you wear a hologram mask and you hate people. Don't you…have a name or something?"

    "I have a designation. It is all I need."

    "That can't be enough. What's your face really look like?"

    "What is it to you, Dark Gem?" She glared at him, today her eyes were blue and her hair was long and blond, tucked into a ponytail. "You are just an experiment. Nothing less, and certainly nothing more. My face is nothing to be interested in, Dark Gem, and even if it was, you are far too insignificant to deserve to see it."

    Max kept eating. "You're really screwed up, huh?"

    "No."

    "Then why do you wear a mask all the time?"

    "Because I am an intelligence officer. It is important that my identity is concealed at all times."

    "But you're not anymore, or you won't be, anyway." Max pointed his fork, dripping with syrup, and grinned. "You're going to be a ranger."

    "If I become a ranger. Somebody interrupted my training."

    "Big deal. Everybody needs a break."

    "I am not everybody."

    "You're not anybody. No name, no face, no nothing. What about hobbies?"

    "Does smoking count as a hobby?"

    "I think that's an addiction, not a hobby."

    "Then no. My work is my life."

    "Then why are you pushing yourself to be a ranger? I just can't figure out why you would want something so badly you'd be willing to risk so much pain and at the same time say that you're just a blank slate. There's gotta be something to you that gives you the drive to do the ranger camp and to want to be on 0's team."

    "I want nothing to do with that man. I will be a ranger, but not because of him."

    "What's the big deal with being a ranger anyway?" Max wondered. He was almost finished with his plate. "Since I've been one it's just been nothing but trouble. Weird voices in my head, tests…it's harder than school."

    "That is because you are incompetent. Just like Gold."

    "He's not incompetent. He's just new to this like I am."

    Finally, 415 gave in and began eating. "He is not new to this. He donned the uniform before he became the permanent Golden Ranger. He knew what he was getting into, just like I do. Neither of you have any excuse for your weaknesses."

    "What?" Max set down his fork. "I have no idea what's going on with me. All I have is psycho talk from the people who want to kill my sister. Who knows what's going to happen to me?"

    "I have a pretty good idea. If we are lucky, it involves you not speaking to me again." She pushed away her plate, having eaten very little.

    "You've barely touched your food," said Max. "You feeling okay?"

    "I require little sustenance." She rose from the table. "Thank you for interrupting my training. Now I have to go make up the time I have lost."

    "Hang on, I'll go with you." Max stood up and, despite 415's unwillingness, she could do nothing to stop him from following her back to the battle arena. Despite the rest and food, she was still injured. When they got back, she released Luxray again.

    It growled and pawed the earth, eager for battle.

    "Let me help you," Max muttered. "There's no way you can take on something like this on your own."

    "What can you do? It will only obey me if I defeat it."

    "I can help." Max's Dark Emerald found its way into his hand and he tightened his grip on the pulsating gem. "One of the things I learned as a Gym Leader was that you need to respect your Pokemon. It's not a tool, it's not a weapon. It's a partner. If you keep fighting it like you have been, it's only going to resent you and never take you seriously."

    "But Gold said that-"

    "-0's a good trainer, but he only knows how to do things one way: by trial and error. When he was younger, he would always do the same thing over and over again until he finally did it right. It's a good idea if you want to train a Pokemon to use an attack or a battle strategy, but it's not always the best approach. Sometimes to win a war you have to lose a battle."

    He wrapped the chains around his arms and pressed the Dark Gem into his flesh. "Dark Gem Ignite." In an instant, the Dark Emerald Ranger towered over the Luxray, flexing its muscles at the Pokemon.

    "Dark Gem, get away from-" 415 stopped talking, as the ranger shifted its attention onto her and softly growled.

    "Laaade," it whispered. It did not wish to be disturbed, and 415 was wise enough to not provoke Max. Satisfied it had made its point, the Dark Emerald Ranger turned to the Luxray and lowered itself to the Pokemon's level.

    The two conversed for a minute or so, during which time 415 wasn't sure if he was trying to argue on her behalf or suggesting they try to double-team her in a fight.

    Finally, the Dark Emerald Ranger stood up and nodded its head. It motioned for 415 to back away, something she didn't do until it growled a second time. The Dark Emerald Ranger braced itself, stretching its hands out like claws. It growled a third time, its visor staring directly at the Pokemon.

    The Luxray pounced, digging its fangs into the Dark Emerald Ranger's chest. 415 could only watch as electricity sparked across her Pokemon's skin and coursed through the Dark Emerald Ranger. But the ranger merely growled and, ignoring the pain, smashed its arm against the side of the Luxray's head. The Pokemon screamed and released its grip, allowing the dark ranger to wrestle it to the ground.

    "Laaaaade," it snarled, as the Luxray was forced to use its electricity against the hard ground. Lightning coursed through its muscles, and the ranger screamed. Nevertheless, it held firm until finally all of the electric energy was drained from the Luxray. It gave off one last feeble spatter of sparks before it collapsed against the ground. The Dark Emerald Ranger followed suit, not even its healing factor was enough to constantly heal it from the amount of electricity the Luxray could inflict.

    415 approached the two. "You alive?" she asked.

    In response, the Dark Emerald Ranger glowed, before the armor sank back and Max emerged from its shell. Breathing heavily, he reached out his hand, hoping that 415 would help him back to his feet. When she did not, he grunted and got up on his own.

    "What was the point of that exercise?" asked 415.

    "I bet it that it couldn't outlast me," Max explained. "Bad idea for it to take on a guy who can come back from having every bone in their body broken." He grinned and scratched his head. "You know what the weird thing is?"

    "Enlighten me," said 415, in a tone that conveyed she could not care less.

    "I remembered everything. Normally I drift in and out, but this time I saw the whole thing."

    "Do not care. How does this pointless activity help me?"

    "Well, I'd suggest taking care of it for today. The best way to bond with your Pokemon is to care for it. I know that's a stretch for you, but give it a shot."

    "What does that mean?"

    "Well…don't take this the wrong way, 415, but you aren't the warmest bulb in the oven. Matter of fact, you're pretty cold. Try showing some emotion."

    "Try showing some common sense," 415 muttered. She withdrew her Poke Ball and recalled the injured Pokemon. "It'd change your whole outlook on life." She left.

    "Man, I just don't get that girl," he said to the Dark Emerald. It agreed enthusiastically.

    Author's Note: You know, Logan and Karin weren't originally in the story, they were late additions that were created almost immediately prior to their debut. Karin was created because I wanted to explore the possibility of a character that used only non-verbal communication, and she serves as a great contrast to Logan. All of the ranger partners serve as really great contrasts to one another. 0 and Serena are absolutely perfect as a team because they could barely stand one another at first.

  6. #36
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    Default Chapter 24, Continued

    Morph Twenty-Four: The Best Distraction Ever, Part 2

    Dreas Logan wished silently that he was anywhere else. Absolutely anywhere else. The craters of Cinnabar Island were looking particularly comfy to him as the two women before the Red Ranger decided his fate.

    "I want this dress."

    "No, this one is much more flattering for you, Ariel."

    "Am I allowed any say in this whatsoever?" asked Logan loudly as he slumped in his chair.

    "No you are not, sweety," said Mrs. Logan, her face all smiles.

    Ariel wrapped herself around Logan. "Aw, honey…don't be sad. Soon we'll be married and on our honeymoon."

    "I don't want to be married. I'm a PKM Ranger. It's my job to do dangerous things that can't let me be tied down to a family."

    "Oh, but that's so exciting!" squealed Ariel. "I love your tight spandex."

    "It's not spandex. It's high-performance endurance armor lightened for flight control during my Rescue Mode."

    "Whatever it is, it's very nice, Dreas," said Mrs. Logan as she glanced through bridal magazines.

    "Rangers aren't even supposed to be married!" he protested. "Look at 0. He was forced to get a divorce even before he became a ranger. Council won't-"

    "-0 doesn't have your connections, dear," said Mrs. Logan, as she turned another page. "Your father had the Council see reason. You are a Logan, Dreas, and they don't want to lose our family's genetic condition. They granted you a special pass."

    "Isn't that wonderful, dear?" asked Ariel as she squeezed tighter.

    "Fantastic," he grumbled. "Mind if I go? I don't technically need to be here for this."

    "Why not? You should help plan the wedding as well."

    "Smart money's on the fact that my only requirement will be showing up in a tux." Logan rose and abandoned the room with gusto. The women merely smiled, sighed, and resumed their discussions about what fine china they would order for the wedding.

    The Red Ranger gasped for breath in the corridor, he sincerely could not take another moment of this wedding nonsense. Walking down the pathway, he knew someone was behind him. "Karin," he muttered. He turned around to see the Pink Ranger quietly looking at him with a curious expression on her face.

    "I'm really not liking this," he said. He resumed his walk and she quickened her step to fall in line with him. "Marriage isn't something I'm ready for. Especially with Ariel." He shuddered briefly. "That woman scares me in a way that no woman ever has before."

    Karin slapped him upside the head. "Good point," he conceded. "I also occasionally fear you. But that's a different kind of fear. I respect you too much to quake in fear at your very presence. Ariel though…that's a whole different deal."

    Karin smacked him again.

    "True, but my mom doesn't listen to reason. Her desperate need for grandchildren worries me. I never thought my own mom would be trying to get me laid."

    Karin made a move to smack him again, but lowered her hand before she connected. Logan looked stunned. "Everything still okay? I know you're restraining yourself, and I'm grateful. Think you can keep it up until all this blows over?"

    She took a deep breath, then blinked twice. Her steps faltered briefly, but she resumed her usual stride.

    "This'll all be over soon. I'll figure out some way out of this. I promise. Trust me, I don't want to marry Ariel. She's loud, annoying, and she's constantly drinking coffee." He smirked, then grabbed his crotch. "There's no way she gets her hands on this."

    Karin responded by kicking him into the wall.

    "That wasn't nice," he grunted. "Geez, Karin, does all our communication have to involve domestic abuse?"

    In retaliation, she pinched his nose.

    "I just don't get you sometimes," he muttered. She waited until he recovered his composition before she resumed her stroll alongside him. "If I didn't know any better…" He grinned, despite his own feelings the idea was ludicrous. "It's almost like you're in love with me." He chuckled, and didn't notice she had stopped moving until he was about ten feet away.

    "Karin, you okay?" Her eyes were trained on the ground. "Look, it was a joke. A joke." He headed back towards her and placed his hand on her shoulder. "We're friends. Probably the only real friend the other has, in a weird way."

    She looked up at him, and Logan saw in her eyes something he had never seen before. She shoved him against the wall, and it was at that moment that Logan believed that he would shortly breathe his last. "Karin, take it easy. Take it-"

    Logan's loud, continuously operational mouth was immediately silenced. Not, as he thought, by death. Instead, Karin pressed her lips against his with such a fervor that Logan's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. A moment later though, Karin dug her nails into Logan's back, which informed him that he was not in fact having a highly realistic dream.

    He grabbed her, she was so short, and lifted her so he wouldn't have to bend his neck forward so much. He felt Karin's tongue probing against his teeth, demanding access. Logan obliged, only because he was certain she could smash his teeth with nothing but her tongue, as she wrapped her legs around him.

    Her nails raked against his back, giving new definition to the term 'backscratcher' as she left marks only normally applied to Logan by the finest of Orre brothels. But those loose women could only ignite a spark in comparison to the flare that had erupted inside the Red Ranger. He shifted his weight and slammed Karin against the wall as they battled for dominance.

    Briefly, Logan managed to untangle his mouth from Karin's. "Holy… Holy crap, Karin," he panted, the sheer strength required to support Karin's weight was waning. "I never figured you could even-" He had to stop, because Karin didn't want to listen to him anymore and locked her lips with him again.

    They continued, only stopping when they heard footsteps headed in their direction. Karin dislodged herself and used her position to kick Logan in the stomach. He was forced away from them and smashed into the opposing wall. She cracked her knuckles, the look in her eyes giving away her intent to kill whoever it was approaching them.

    As it turned out, she immediately backed away when the Golden Ranger came into full view. "Karino, Logan," he said with curt nods. "Karino, you're wanted at the training area. 3 needs you to help her set up. Logan, you're with me." Karin gave him a dirty look, but reluctantly complied with the order.

    0 looked down at Logan and offered his arm to help the Red Ranger up. Logan took it. "What's with you, Logan? You look like you just got hit by a sack of bricks."

    "I…I…" Logan found himself, surprisingly, completely unable to speak.

    0 sniffed at the air. "Hmm…something fruity. Like what Karino wears. You didn't-no, that's not possible. Did you rape her?"

    Logan laughed. "Actually, I think that would be more likely than what just happened, if I wasn't just there to experience it," he explained and leaned on the wall rubbing his stomach. "She-Karin kissed me. Hard. 0, I think she might actually have human emotion."

    "Huh. That's news to me." 0 started moving. "Come on, we need to go and prepare for our own stuff today."

    "Did you just hear me, 0?" Logan asked. "Karin has feelings for me. That's the equivalent to winning the lottery. A big lottery, with like millions of people playing. That's how important it is. I could not care less about doing anything for ranger camp today. All I'll be doing is continuing where I left off with Karin."

    He was about to head off where Karin went, but 0 held out his arm to block off the corridor. "Sorry, Logan. I feel for you, but we've got jobs to do. Let's go and get our work done, then you can go to Karino." Logan groaned, but nodded. "Good. Let's move." Logan shifted awkwardly around, mostly due to the pain currently being emitted from his groin, and followed the Golden Ranger.

    "What do I do?" asked Logan.

    "About what?"

    "Karin. With this whole mess with my mom and Ariel, I don't know if she's going to keep calm. There's only so much patience she has for people trying to take me away from her."

    "Your parents expect you to be married. If you were to marry Karin, I think they'd be happy. Do you want to marry Ariel, Logan?"

    The Red Ranger violently shook his head. "No way. It's Karin or no one else."

    "Then you should marry Karin. Or start dating her, anyway. Marriage might be a bit too quick. Don't want to scare her off, Logan."

    Logan laughed. "Good point, 0." He smiled.

    Then they ran into Ariel and Mrs. Logan. His smiled promptly dropped.

    "Good news, Dreas," said Mrs. Logan, once again smiling broadly.

    "Can't wait," Logan grumbled.

    "We've set the date for the wedding," Ariel explained and once again grabbed him. "It's in five days!"

    Logan cursed. "Ariel, look. You need to understand something. I'm a ranger, that means I don't have time for weddings and stuff. Ranger camp is happening, I don't have time for this junk."

    "Watch your tone, young man," Mrs. Logan snapped, for a moment losing her cheerful complexion. "Ariel and I are being helped by the finest PKM agents available to make the wedding lovely, so make sure that you get your morpher fixed up with a nice tuxedo. I'm sure that Niwa gentleman can help you. 0, you'll be getting your invitation shortly, we just picked them out."

    "Uh…thanks," 0 muttered. Ariel winked and walked past them with Mrs. Logan, chatting about what kind of cake they would be getting.

    "This is getting annoying," Logan said.

    "There's always desertion. I think at this point the Council would even encourage it. Why does your mother want this so badly?"

    "My family is one of the special clans that were blessed by Legendary Pokemon," explained Logan. "That's why I've got these red eyes. The first-born son gets them, and it gets passed down that way. There used to be a lot of clans, but most of them died out. My mom wants to make sure my eyesight is passed on to the next generation. And, since I'm a ranger, there's always the chance that I'll die before I can produce offspring for her to spoil."

    "That makes a little bit of sense. But still, would your mom really care if you married Karino instead?"

    Logan nodded. "She loves Ariel for some reason, guess Ariel reminds her of her or something. Mother says that Karin's a bad influence on me."

    "Is she right?"

    He nodded. "Definite maybe."

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    The door opened, but it wasn't Karin who walked through the door like Logan hoped. Instead it was his father, who shut the door and sat down on the bed next to the Red Ranger.

    "Hey son," said Mr. Logan.

    "Hey Dad," replied Logan.

    "How's all the wedding business? Heard from your mother that you're on the chopping block soon. Nervous?"

    "Kinda. Ariel makes my skin crawl."

    Mr. Logan laughed. "Yeah, me too kid. Don't get me wrong, your mom's doing what's best for the family, and she loves you. I'm just not sure if she's doing what's best for you." Logan said nothing, but met his father's gaze, both sets of red eyes staring into one another. "And I've seen the way that you look at that partner of yours. She's pretty dangerous."

    Logan smiled. "Dad, what made you decide that Mother was the woman for you?"

    Mr. Logan laughed. "Well, I didn't do much of the deciding, Dreas. Your mother is a powerful, persuasive woman. Logan men love strong women, I know I do. You probably do too, but Ariel's…Ariel's strong even for my tastes. Yours too, probably. Am I right?"

    "She's overbearing and annoying. I can't stand to be near her for a whole minute, let alone my whole life. Doesn't Mom get that?"

    "I think she's just looking out for the family, Dreas. You and I shouldn't be special, but we are. Our eyes make us special, they let us have power that others don't. We lead lives of privilege. It's why I have sway with the Council. It's why you became the Red Ranger. You have qualifications, you have training, yes. But you had me too. Rangers were a rare commodity, before you had all the bells and whistles you do now. The Brines controlled much of the selection process. It was only thanks to my request, along with Bakaguru Niwa and the prior Golden Ranger, that you were recommended."

    "You played politics for me."

    Mr. Logan nodded. "I did indeed. Your mother protested, of course, but you wanted to be a ranger. I only wanted to give you the means to become your own man, Dreas. Now you need to decide your future. Not me. Not your mother. Not Ariel. You need to make that decision."

    "Dad…" He started to say something, but Mr. Logan held up his hand, signaling silence.

    "I'll let you know one thing, Dreas," he muttered as he glanced towards the door. "Karin might be a bad influence on you, but I have it on good authority your mother was a pretty bad influence on me." He grinned and whistled. "I wouldn't mind having her as a daughter-in-law, Dreas, so long as my daughter-in-law loves my son, and he loves her. My mother hated your mother, that's also a family tradition, Dreas."

    Logan chuckled. "Think Mom will get mad if I don't show up to the wedding?"

    "I believe she'll flip her lid if you do that."

    The Logan men shared a laugh.

    "I think I'll go have a talk with Mom. Then I'm going to go see Karin."

    "I think that's very sensible. Good luck, Dreas."

    Logan almost ran out of the room. But, before he could get to the door, the Golden Ranger opened it for him.

    "Logan," he said curtly. "We have a situation. We need to get going."

    "What?" Logan asked. "I've got somewhere-"

    "-I can't say in front of your father. Bakaguru is waiting for us, come on."

    "But I-"

    "Dreas, go," ordered Mr. Logan. "Your job is to protect people. Your needs can wait. 0, take him and hurry."

    "Yes sir," said 0. "Let's go."

    The two rangers bolted down the hallway.

    "What's going on?" Logan asked.

    "Karino. Bakaguru just called, said she went off-grid," 0 replied. They ran past a squad of agents, most of which were lucky enough to get out of their way. The unlucky ones were sent flying. "He said that he lost her morpher's signal about two minutes ago in Pyrite Town. She's probably deactivated it herself."

    "That's bad. Why?"

    "Why do you think?" 0 asked. "That talk we had, don't tell me you aren't feeling a little psycho about this wedding crap. Karino's just going off the deep end, we need to get her back before her frustrations cause her to do something bad."

    "Sounds like a plan," Logan muttered. "Is your pet headed out on this mission too?"

    "Max is being kept on retainer, like last time. He'll be deployed if there's a real emergency."

    "So you and me are teaming up huh?" Logan chuckled. "Never teamed up with another guy before. Be gentle with me."

    "Shut up, Logan."

    They reached Bakaguru's lab in moments. The engineer was already typing into a keyboard, displaying the information for the rangers on the screen.

    "Agents 0, 1," he said in greeting. "Agent 5, Karin Karino, has gone off-grid. Council has ordered a recovery team to be immediately dispatched to retrieve her and her morpher and return safely to PKM headquarters. Any questions?"

    "She in trouble because of it?" Logan asked.

    Bakaguru shook his head. "Council initially showed concern due to her streaks in the past. However, she signed off for a day outside headquarters today. I convinced them to treat this as a security breach and a potential kidnapping. Due to the recent activity in Pyrite, they were forced to agree. You will both leave as soon as you are able to."

    The screen uploaded an image, a map of Pyrite. "The Pink Morpher was last traced to an area of Pyrite near the Coliseum." A building on the map glowed red. "This area is reported as a storage facility, storing unknown materials."

    "A front for Snagem?" 0 asked.

    "Possibly. For now we are certain that that's her last confirmed location. I will be in constant contact with you, and AX6 will be prepared for deployment if necessary." Bakaguru's fingertips whirled and clacked against the keyboard. Out of the ground a hatch opened and two motorcycles emerged. "I figured it would be faster to build you transport in here. Get going." Both rangers nodded and fastened helmets onto themselves as they stepped onto the bikes. Logan revved the engine, it roared like a monster.

    "Dreas, wait for me!" shouted a voice, also like a monster, but with a higher pitch and a whiny tone. "We need to talk about something!"

    Logan growled savagely. He shifted his weight and stared through the visor at his mother and Ariel. "What do you need? I'm on the clock, ladies."

    "It's the seating, Dreas," said Mrs. Logan. "We aren't sure where to place your work friends. Is there any way we could…how should I put this…leave them out?"

    "That way, the seating will be perfect!" exclaimed Ariel.

    "No can do," replied Logan and returned to revving his engine. "Not getting married. Not yet anyways."

    "N-Not married?" Logan grinned, he had never seen his mother look so flabbergasted before. "But our heritage, our family. We need to continue it."

    "Yeah, we probably will. But definitely not with her." His head nodded as he glanced towards Ariel. "Ariel, you're sexy, ditzy, and I'm sure you'll make some masochist somewhere very happy. But you annoy me, and we're not going to work out. To be honest, the only reason I dated you in high school was because you had a fantastic rack-" He looked over her again and nodded his head "-which you still have, and I had the attention span of a Psyduck. But we're adults now. Kinda. I still dress up like it's Halloween and fight bad guys."

    He revved the engine and looked towards 0, who nodded his head encouragingly. "So, if you don't mind Mom, I really need to go save someone right now. Somebody much more important than Ariel's seating chart."

    "Let me guess: the girl you work with," snapped Mrs. Logan. "Oh, I know about her. How she's psycho, how she's demented, how she can't even speak a word or make a noise. She's not good, Dreas. Not good at all for you. Ariel's from a good family, she'll be a good mother."

    "Maybe. But I won't love her." Logan turned to 0. "Let's move. Karin's in trouble."

    "You got it." 0 revved his engine and they tore off. Bakaguru opened a portion of the wall, revealing the Orre desert outside, and Mrs. Logan and Ariel vanished from Logan's mind.

    "0, how long until we reach Pyrite on these things?" Logan asked into the helmet's communicator.

    "Estimated time will is ten minutes," 0 replied. "If we push the engines we can make it in eight."

    "Push the engines," Logan ordered.

    Eight minutes later, they arrived at the scene. Both men dismounted and activated their com-links. Both used their morphers to change their civilian clothes into their PKM uniforms, complete with jackets and goggles. Both headed directly towards the storage facility and broke down the door with twin neat, even, powerful kicks.

    "Lucy, I'm home!" bellowed Logan into the darkness.

    "Subtle," said 0. "See anything?"

    Logan narrowed his eyes. "Lot of rows," he muttered. "Nothing moving. No shifting air particles. We can go in."

    "Okay." They advanced. Logan led, 0 kept close. After twenty minutes they found nothing. "003, can't confirm anything's in here. 1 says nothing's moving."

    "Blueprints show that there's something there. Move twenty feet to the north. There's a wall where there shouldn't be one." 0 and Logan checked the wall.

    "He's right," said the Red Ranger. "This part of the wall is built differently. Think you can break through it?"

    "I can try." 0's body rippled with electricity and, with a loud grunt, smashed a punch into the wall. It cracked easily and with a few more well-placed hits the false wall broke apart, leaving a man-sized hole leading to a flight of stairs.

    "Still nothing moving," said Logan. "I see a security camera though. It's not facing us now."

    "Where?"

    "Above us, to the left."

    "Got it." 0 pressed his hand against the wall, sending electricity shooting through the material and into the camera. It short-circuited and fell to the ground, sending sparks everywhere. "Any more of them?"

    "Not that I can see. Let's move, they know we're here now."

    "Hang on. 1, you need to relax."

    "I am calm."

    "Not the same. You're acting serious. Don't do it, it's just not you."

    "They took Karin. I will kill them if she's hurt."

    "No, you won't. Pop a joke or something, leave the grim stuff to me. Don't let this stuff consume you. Don't be emo."

    Logan snickered. "You just crack a joke, 0?"

    "That I did. Now you try one."

    "Okay, let's see…" Logan cleared his throat and smiled broadly. "Attention all bad guys! Prepare to be hurt in ways they haven't invented words for yet!" He turned to 0. "How was that?"

    "Needs work. Now that the bad guys know we're here, we should probably do something." Logan nodded in agreement. They ran down the stairs, whereupon they ran into the bad guys. Roughly twenty people took off the safeties on their rifles.

    "Boss was right," said the self-appointed leader of the group. "More came."

    "We can see that, Eugene," said another. The room at the end of the stairs was dimly lit, mostly by the laser pointers on the rifles but also by the flickering light bulbs attached to the ceiling. "Which ones are you two?"

    Logan shrugged his shoulders. "Not sure, that's a good question. Is this not the Pyrite bathhouse? My boyfriend and I could have sworn we heard man-groans in here."

    "What'd you say?" sneered the one named Eugene, who put his gun uncomfortably close to Logan's nostrils.

    "I was just commenting on how I thought I heard man-groans. Sounded like fun, so me and my larger, beefier half accidentally broke in. Is there not a sweaty man-orgy going on here? Do we have the wrong address?"

    "I will kill you!"

    "Eugene, calm down!" shouted one of the men. "He's just trying to piss you off."

    "But he said-"

    "I said he's just trying to piss you off! Lay off your ego for a minute and think straight!"

    "Been there, my friend," Logan murmured sympathetically. "Doesn't work. One day you're married and unhappy, and the next you're feasting on sausage like you're at a hot dog eating contest and loving every minute of it." He slapped 0's butt, who jumped at the unexpected contact.

    "Watch it!" 0 barked.

    "He's still a little bit in the closet," whimpered Logan. "This is actually the most people he's out to. You need to come out and not be afraid, Francis."

    "I'm going to tell you to shut up one more time," 0 growled. "After that, I will beat you to within an inch of your pathetic life."

    "I love it when you're rough, Francis. Just be gentle, last time I couldn't sit down for a week." He turned to Eugene, and sighed. "Seriously, it's like I'm his own personal pincushion." Eugene lowered his weapon, clearly disgusted by the disturbing turn the conversation had taken.

    "What should we do with them?" he asked the group at large.

    "Can there be torture?" Logan wondered hopefully. "This could be fun, Francis."

    "Shut up!" 0 snarled.

    "Hey, hey, hey," said one of the henchmen with a chuckle. "If the boys want torture we can give them torture. Why deny a dead man's last wish?"

    "Ah, a man after my own heart," Logan sighed, fluttering his eyelids. "Wait, did you say 'dead man'?" He gulped.

    "Oh yeah, pansy. See, we can't exactly have kids like you breaking into Snagem locales. Bad for business."

    "But I'm getting married next week! There's going to be a reception, vows. I've even picked out a perfect dress for Francis here."

    "I will murder you."

    "Good thing it's time for a punch line now."

    "Wait. What?" Eugene asked.

    0, taking advantage of the fact that most of the Snagem grunts had lowered their weapons, lowered himself and shot lightning out of his hands. The electricity surged through the room, striking everybody that was touching the floor. Logan jumped, just in time to dodge, and was spared.

    Everyone else fell to the ground before a single shot could be fired.

    "Well," said Logan, as he dusted off his hands, "that was easy, huh?"

    "You pulled that off a little too well," 0 retorted.

    "So did you." He tapped his earpiece. "003, 0 and I just finished off the first wave of grunts. We're moving on."

    "Roger," said Bakaguru.

    Both moved through the room to disarm the grunts. As they did, Eugene held onto the one Logan tried to wrangle from him. "You…bastard…"

    "Yeah, but look on the bright side: you get to live. I'd have killed you for messing with my girl."

    "Your…girl?" Eugene croaked. "You're not really-"

    "Nope, sorry. Hope I wasn't your type." Logan grabbed Eugene's shirt and lifted him up. "Now where's the girl? Answer or you get another jolt from my shock buddy here."

    "In the back… Boss has her."

    "Thanks." Logan smiled cheerfully. "You can shock him again now, partner."

    0 obliged and the two moved on. The door to the back was made of iron, no getting through even with 0's electric juice.

    "How do we get in there?" he asked.

    Logan shrugged. "Good question. I guess that's why we've got these big fancy morphers, huh?"

    "Let's go."

    Both raised their morphers.

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    "PKM Spirit, Activate!"

    In moments, two armored rangers stood ready to break down the iron door. Logan readied the Claw Cannon while 0 brought out the Lightning Laser.

    "Does this seem like overkill to you?" Logan asked, as he powered up the weapon.

    "Nope."

    The blasts of energy smashed the door down, leaving a cloud of dust hanging in the air. The Red Ranger and Golden Ranger stepped through the hole, revealing the Snagem boss and Karin, with the Pink Ranger strapped down to a chair.

    "Lucy…" Logan rubbed his visor's brow with a sigh. "Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do."

    0 pointed the gun at the Snagem boss. "Back away from her now," he ordered, "or we'll beat you up like the last time."

    "Did you gain weight from the last time we saw you?" Logan asked. "I could have sworn you've beefed up a bit. Too many potato chips?"

    "Shut up!" roared the Snagem boss, tightening his grip on the massive black stone he held. "I swear to you I will kill you, Red boy. I swear it!" He grabbed Karin's throat, caressing her pale skin with his fingers. "But I'll settle for the mute. She doesn't complain, or make snide comments. She's the perfect woman."

    "Yeah, too bad she's mine chucky. Back away and we forget you were ever here. Understand me?"

    The Snagem boss didn't budge. "I'm sorry, can't hear you. Maybe your girlfriend can enlighten me." He raised his hands up to Karin's mouth, shifting the jaw and moving her mouth. "Come on, girlie. Think you can talk for me?"

    It was at this point that Karin bit the Snagem boss. Hard. Blood erupted from her mouth and the boss howled in agony. Logan rushed forward, smashing into the boss and driving him away.

    0 and Logan, exercising restraint, got out a pair of flexi-cuffs and cuffed the fat idiot. "003, we've got a squad of Snagems down here. Might want to send in a cleanup crew. That or the cops. Your pick."

    "I'm sending local law enforcement now. Make yourself scarce in five minutes."

    Logan turned towards Karin. "Come on, honey. Let's get you home."

    In response, Karin spit out two fingers. Blood trickled down her chin.

    "Uh, Karin… You've got a little… You know what, it's fine. We'll get you cleaned up when we get back to base."

    She slapped his helmet as they headed up the stairs.

    "Yeah, well, it takes about eight minutes to get here from the base. The motorcycle they gave me wouldn't go any faster."

    She slapped him again.

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    Mrs. Logan was fuming by the time the Red Ranger returned.

    Rather than demorph, as 0 did, Logan dramatically rode into the lab with a roaring engine in full combat armor. Karin clung tightly to him, and only dislodged herself when he dismounted from his machine to follow him in the direction of his mother.

    "Dreas, put away the costume," Mrs. Logan ordered. "We need to talk about Ariel. She's very upset."

    Logan tilted his helmet. "Nope, don't think so," he said through the mechanized synthesizer. "Put her on the first plane back to Kanto. You too. I don't want you or Dad around here anymore. What I do is way too dangerous, and I care about you guys. No matter how crazy you try to drive me."

    "But the wedding-"

    "Forget about the wedding," he said. "I just turned twenty-five, I've got a whole year to get married. Believe me, you'll get grandchildren someday. You'll get your red-eye baby and a bunch of other rugrats to spoil. But I get to live my life. And I get to live it with Karin." He drew her close, and wrapped his arm around her waist. She reciprocated.

    "B-But she's…she's a mute! She can't even talk! What makes you think she'll be a good wife, a good mother?"

    Logan shrugged. Out of the corner of the room, someone laughed. They turned to see Mr. Logan standing next to Bakaguru, grinning ear to ear.

    "Well said, Dreas," he murmured, clapping his hands. "It's almost the same thing I said to your grandmother years ago. Remember, honey?"

    "W-Well, yes, b-but-"

    "And history has a way of repeating itself. My old man said that one too." He walked up to Karin and smiled underneath his round glasses. "I'm Dreas' father, Karin. I don't think we've been introduced. Mind looking after my son? I know he's annoying and loud, but I hope that you can balance that out."

    Karin's zombie-like attitude did not vanish, but it did fade as her eyes warmed. Slowly, she wobbled her chin up and down in a slight nod in agreement.

    "That's all the communication I need. Honey, we're going home."

    "B-But he can't-"

    "We'll talk about it on the plane ride home. Dreas, we'll see you at Christmas. Bring your girlfriend too, she should see your hometown." He turned to Bakaguru. "Think you can have an agent or two send up our bags for the flight home?"

    "I will see what we can do, friend. Have a safe trip home."

    "Roger." He carried his wife away, in spite of her protests, and soon Logan was the only member of his family in the room.

    "Well, I think that went very well." Logan decided to demorph, so half his sentence came out the synthesizer while the ending was his normal voice. "Honey, what do you say we break out that bed and not leave the room for several days?" he asked, turning a hopeful head to Karin.

    The Pink Ranger's face changed from pale to bright red, and she smashed Logan over the head for his suggestion. However, in contrast to her display of violence, she grabbed him by the arm and all but dragged him out of the room.

    It would be an understatement to suggest that Logan's cheering as he dashed through the halls with her was anything but incredibly loud, noisy, and full of egotistical pride. About halfway there, he scooped up Karin and carried her the rest of the way, finding her dragging pace too slow for his tastes.

    They did not leave the room for thirty-eight hours. Bets began circulating around the headquarters as to how long Logan and Karin would continue their marathon of rampart passion unleashed from years of sexual tension and Logan's innuendo.

    0 won the bet, collected several hundred dollars, and spent it on a lovely dinner with his ex-wife and daughter.

    Author's Note: This chapter contains the funniest scene in the entire series, without question. It's also the closest we get to slapstick.

  7. #37
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    Default Chapter 25, Part 1

    Morph Twenty-Five: Tomorrow's Rangers, Part 1

    The Toby family huddled underneath a small umbrella near the tracks waiting for their train. May Toby kept a tight grip on her daughter, ensuring the little girl didn't go exploring too far away, especially near the tracks. Keean Toby held his wife's hand with one hand, the other he shifted to consult his watch. The train was five minutes late, he thought, and continued to watch his surroundings through his aviator glasses.

    "Where's the train?" asked Sarah Toby. She shifted her head this way and that, looking for the train on the north tracks, the south tracks, and in the sky. "Isn't it supposed to be here, Daddy?"

    "Yeah," replied Keean Toby. "I guess it's running a little late Don't worry, it'll be here before you know it, kiddo." He patted her head and she smiled. In the faint distance, they heard the small issue of a whistle in the stormy weather. "There. What'd I tell you?"

    Less than two minutes later the locomotive pulled into the station, shooting steam all over the family and the other passengers waiting nearby. Keean Toby coughed, attempting to blow the smog away from his family. The train whistled one last time before it hissed and the engine ground to a halt in front of the platform. The conductor leapt off the black machine and consulted his pocket watch.

    "All aboard!" he called. "Platform 1- Pyrite Town to Kanto Central Station."

    "That's us," said Keean Toby as he gathered what little luggage his family had and followed his wife and daughter on board. They waved their tickets at the conductor, who allowed them in after counting them. Their tickets were for a private compartment in the first class, which they located after some minor difficulties in navigation through the train, the first attempt of finding the car ended with them in the storage car in the back. Thanks to May, they managed to find the little private room. Keean Toby grabbed their bags and tossed them under the seats. Sarah jumped onto one side of the train and looked outside the window.

    "It's so pretty in here!" said Sarah excitedly. May smiled and sat down with her daughter.

    Keean Toby did not join them. "I'm going to…go catch some air. I'll be right back." May nodded and Keean Toby shut the compartment door behind him. The train had started to move, despite this he moved casually through the rocking train towards the back car. He needed to be alone, if only for a moment. At the back of the train, surrounded by the luggage of his fellow passengers, the Golden Ranger sank to the ground. He shuddered, his hands clenched in fists.

    "…0?" whispered a voice in his ear.

    0 coughed, trying to suppress his emotions. "What's up, Pi?" he asked.

    "Nothing. I just wanted to know if you were alright."

    The Golden Ranger sat in silence for some time, not sure how to answer. "Our whole world ended today, Pi," he said finally, feeling his face grow hot. "My family's safety, our friends…nothing's ever going to be the same again."

    "0, you can't blame yourself for what happened. He knew the risks going into the fight. He chose to fight anyway. He died a hero's death."

    "He was a hero, he didn't deserve to die," 0 choked, there was a lump in his throat and his nose felt stuffy. "And they…" He couldn't even finish the sentence, he didn't want it to be true. He just wanted his friends and family back together and for no one to be dead… "This is all my fault."

    "You wanted to keep everyone together. He understood that."

    "But I didn't do that, did I?" he asked harshly. He opened his mouth to continue, but stopped just short of shouting at the Pikachu. "I'm sorry, Pi. I know you're just looking out for me."

    "I'm not angry. You're in mourning. So is everyone."

    "I need to be strong for Sarah and May," he muttered. "They need me now, more than ever before."

    "Just remember, whatever you are now, 0, you are her husband and Sarah's father. They're the last link to your humanity. Don't lose that."

    0 nodded and took a deep breath. "Never again," he vowed.

    His morpher began to glow, the Golden Ranger lifted it up to his face. "A message…?" he asked.

    "I thought Bakaguru disabled outside communications from PKM," said Pi.

    "He did." The holographic image on the watch displayed a new message had been sent to him. "He just left communications open for me to send to the others…"

    "What should we do? PKM could be tracing us…"

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

    …Twenty-Four Hours Ago…


    "Ready, 415?" asked Bakaguru.

    She took a deep breath and nodded. "As I will ever be."

    "She'll be great," Max said. "She's been getting better with Luxray. If we're lucky, she should be good to go."

    "Could we not simply poison the other applicants?" suggested 415. "That way, this arbitrary selection process will be over and done with within the day."

    "I don't think you quite understand why we're doing this through a ranger camp." Bakaguru paused to clean his glasses. "It's so the best applicants can be chosen in an impartial series of tests."

    "I could not care less. I worked the hardest, and 0 picked me as his successor."

    "The former Golden Ranger selected the current 0 as his replacement."

    "I was his daughter. He loved me."

    "You were his adopted daughter. He took you in, nothing more. The current 0 and his team will select their new team members by seeing who will be the most compatible and useful with the ranger technology. There has only ever been one person bonded to the ranger system that wasn't compatible."

    "Yeah," muttered a voice behind Bakaguru. "Me." Serena rubbed her eyes and yawned loudly. "Mind not talking about me behind my back, Bakaguru?"

    "My apologies, Serena. Don't you have to get to 0 for ranger camp preparations?"

    "He said he already took care of everything, so I decided to come down here."

    "Good. Today you're doing the friendship tests right?"

    "Yeah. 415, how are you and Luxray working together?"

    "Fine."

    "She's doing great," said Max. "Luxray's listening to her when she talks to it, and she's learning to work with it instead of order it around." In an extremely unintelligent move, Max put his arm around her and gave her a big hug.

    415 responded by putting Max in a headlock and breaking his neck. Max fell to the floor. Bakaguru and Serena gasped, but 415 merely sighed as the Dark Emerald began to glow, and a crunching noise issued while Max's neck reattached and he climbed back up to his feet.

    "If only he would stay dead," 415 wished.

    "Yeah, she figured out I don't die in our third lesson. Doesn't change the fact that it hurts a lot."

    "I suppose I will have to settle for that."

    "Yep. She's too weak to break the Dark Emerald, so I-"

    415 grabbed his neck and squeezed. "Do not tempt me, idiot."

    "Okay! Okay! It hurts!" he growled. "Geez, why can't you be nice to me? I am trying to help you accomplish your dream, you know." He rubbed his neck and sighed. "Bakaguru, any news on what PKM's doing with my mom and dad?"

    "Norman and Caroline Birch?" Bakaguru wondered, and typed into his computer for a few moments. "They're on a cruise in the Orange Islands. Should keep them out of the public eye for about a year while we work on hiding the rest of your family."

    "Cool. Uh, got any idea of when the ranger camp stuff is going down? I heard the final testing was happening today."

    "The final testing will take place in two hours. The final three applicants will be given the ranger systems based on their skill level. The top applicant will be given the Blue Ranger system, the next will receive the new White Ranger system, and the last shall be given the Black Ranger system. The Council has actually given clearance for a rather extravagant party to be held in honor of the new rangers."

    "That doesn't sound like them," said Serena.

    "The announcement came directly from Alexander Charon."

    "Who's that?" asked Max.

    "Alexander Charon, primary director of the Council," muttered Serena as she rolled her eyes. "His family is another of the founding members of PKM, like mine and Logan's. He's really, really creepy."

    "Charon has long attempted to put Council agenda on my PKM Ranger program," explained Bakaguru. "He has failed at every turn thanks to the selective process remaining in my hands. With the ranger camp, however, I have been forced to allow everyone willing and able to volunteer."

    "So we don't have a clue who we're getting in bed with," finished Serena.

    "To put it in layman's terms, yes, that's right." Bakaguru pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose. "So, 415, I suggest you do a good job today with Luxray. Your dreams depend on it."

    415 growled. "I am aware." She walked off and Max followed.

    "Serena, there is something I've been meaning to ask you," said Bakaguru.

    "What's up?" she asked.

    "How are you handling the ranger business?"

    Serena lowered her face. "It's hard, but at least I'm still with 0. I can handle it as long as we stay together."

    Bakaguru sighed. "Serena, there's something I need to talk to you about."

    She looked up. "What?"

    Bakaguru hesitated. "There is…something you need to know. I have…" He shook his head, he couldn't tell her. Not yet. "You should be at the ranger camp setting up. It's my understanding there will be spectators at today's event." He returned to his computer, his heart heavy. "Go. I will be on my way soon enough."

    "You sure, Bakaguru?" Serena asked. "You seem… I don't know. Kinda down. Is something wrong?"

    He shook his head. "Of course not, Serena." He squeezed her shoulder and smiled. "Run along, I'll come once I finish my testing for the Ailed Morphers."

    She nodded and left. Bakaguru waited again until he was certain he was alone before he brought out the three new morphers. Each one was a perfect little watch. He placed each one in a small box and sealed them away before tucking them into his lab coat.

    "Alright, Charon," he muttered. "Let's see what strength you can muster."

    He shut down all the computers and walked out of the lab.

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

    "Good evening, ladies and men!" bellowed Logan. "Welcome to the final portion of ranger camp: the Friendship Test! Can I get a hallelujah?"

    "Hallelujah!" shouted the surrounding crowd.

    "That's what I'm talking about!" roared the Red Ranger, to the applause of all. "Today three among you join the prestigious ranks of us, the PKM Rangers! Three sexy, legally consenting individuals, who will join Karin and I in an after-party celebration-" Logan paused, not because he wanted to, but because Karin grabbed his tongue and tossed the microphone over toward the Golden Ranger.

    "That was completely uncalled for," Logan complained, while Karin gave him a look of intense pleasure as she applied pressure to his neck. "This is paining me. Please stop." She did not.

    "Moving on," growled 0. "Agents step forward with your Pokemon."

    The six candidates stepped up to the platform with their Pokemon. Luxray and 415 stood quietly in the middle of the line, both with a reserved calmness. The others were a mixture of nervousness, cockiness, and excitement. The Golden Ranger turned to her and nodded. She ignored him.

    "You have been found suitable for field combat and ranger technology," 0 announced. "But part of being a Ranger Agent means being compatible with the current generation of the Ranger System. This requires an agent acting as an operator and a Pokemon acting as the support intelligence and basis for the Ranger System. The level of teamwork between ranger and ranger spirit measures the potential strength of the Ranger System. Utilizing the Friendship Checker, we will measure the compatibility of the selected six agents with their Pokemon. The top three will advance into the ranks of PKM Ranger Agents Blue, White, and Black."

    Serena moved towards a platform set up on the stage and lowered her head to the microphone. "Will Agent 3228, Derek Rex, please step up here with his Empoleon?" One of the cadets, a buzz-cut recruit with a serious expression, nodded and stepped up to the platform with his penguin Pokemon. After a few seconds the machine finished recording and Serena wrote down the number. "Thank you," she said. "Please step down. Will Agent 5833, Sean Aarons, please step up here with his Charizard?"

    This continued with the other three agents, until finally Serena said, "Will Agent 415, name classified, please step up here with her Luxray?" 415 took a deep breath before she and Luxray stepped onto the platform. 0 nodded encouragingly and Max cheered from the sidelines. She shot him a glance that could freeze a volcano.

    A few seconds later, it was done and she stepped down. Serena handed the results to 0, who didn't look at the paper and raised the microphone to his mouth. "Here to deliver the results is the operating director of the PKM Ranger Agents, Agent 003 Bakaguru Niwa." The crowd applauded as Bakaguru made his way to the stage, took the sheet from 0, and grabbed the microphone.

    "Thank you, Agent 0," he said before turning to the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen I have the results of whom will be joining the PKM Ranger Agents today. When we first began ranger camp there were over a hundred applicants, which we have narrowed down to the six agents you see before you. Half of these people did not make the cut. I would like to personally apologize to those who will not be joining our team today, as I am sure I would like to have worked with each of them."

    He paused and took a deep breath before looking down the list. "The new operator for the Ranger Agent Blue System will be Special Agent 45, Daniel Day. Congratulations on your promotion, Agent 2." The audience applauded as Day, a large man with a Hariyama, stepped forward to receive a special jacket similar to the ones worn by the other Ranger Agents with his number and color on it.

    "Thank you," he said with a smile and stood off to the side with Logan, Karin, 0, and Serena.

    "The new operator for the Ranger Agent White System will be Agent 776, Ashley Yorfino." A woman slightly younger than 0 stepped forward, giggling with pride, with a Togetic floating next to her. Serena, after much hesitation, presented Yorfino with her old jacket. "Congratulations on your promotion, Agent 3."

    "Take care of it," Serena said.

    The new White Ranger nodded. "I will," she promised, and stepped next to Day.

    Bakaguru lowered the list and tucked it into his pocket. "The final new operator, who will assume control of the Ranger Agent Black System, will be Agent 415. Congratulations on your promotion, Agent 4." He turned to 415 and handed her the ranger jacket, his face beaming with pride.

    415 didn't reach for it. "I did it?" she asked.

    He nodded and showed her the results. "You worked the hardest for this. You've earned it." She put on the jacket and stepped to the side with Luxray, who grinned evilly at the crowd. Bakaguru turned towards the crowd. "Please join me in welcoming the three new PKM Ranger Agents, joining our three other agents in protecting the-"

    It was at the point where Logan grabbed the mic and, smiling, shouted, "Everybody, party at the cafeteria! I'm doing the first keg stand!" This was received by unanimous applause and a slap to the head from Karin.

    Bakaguru clear his throat. "Yes, well, as Ranger Red said, a celebration will be held shortly. During the party we will be bonding the morphers to the Ranger Agents. See you there."

    Bakaguru and 0 waited until the arena filed out before they headed back to the lab.

    "Come, Gold," he muttered. "We need to begin your sequencing early." 0 nodded.

    "How long is it going to take?" he asked.

    Bakaguru shrugged. "I decreased the necessary time. Shouldn't take more than twelve hours now. During that time you'll be wearing a replacement morpher." He opened one of the drawers on his lab table and pulled out the fake one. "Bring your morpher over here." 0 raised his wrist as Bakaguru pulled out some sort of strange, spherical machine. He opened the device and placed 0's wrist inside before shutting it again.

    "Is this going to hurt Pi?" 0 asked.

    Bakaguru shook his head. "No. The ranger spirit will be placed into hibernation while the morpher reconfigures with the Ailed Morpher chip. Pi will not be injured when it is transported to the new system."

    "It's okay," said Pi. "Bakaguru will take good care of me."

    "Fine. See you on the other side, Pi."

    The machine detached the Golden Morpher from his wrist in one quick motion. Once the process was finished 0 removed his hand from the device and felt his wrist.

    "Man, this feels really weird. I even have a tan line," he muttered.

    "You'll live," said Bakaguru as he attached the fake morpher to 0's hand. "This will generate a fake version of your suit in case of emergencies. It cannot operate the Synchronization Drive or utilize any of your other weapons. Keep that in mind if you decide to play hero." 0 nodded. "How are you doing on serum?"

    "I'm scheduled for my next dose tonight. I'll make sure I take it on time."

    "Good. There is one more thing, 0. It seems that Alexander Charon intends on interrogating the Snagem commander we imprisoned."

    "I thought they were all in the regular jails now."

    "Most of them. The Snagem leader is bonded to an abnormal Dark Onyx, so he's a special case. We should hopefully be able to get something useful out of him."

    "Wait," said 0. "Why aren't we interrogating him? Why's Charon doing it?"

    "Prior to his father's death, Alexander Charon was the lead interrogator for the special operations division of PKM. He is well-versed in all manner of torture techniques. He is also a sick, sick little man."

    "We're all sick," whispered a voice dramatically behind 0. Logan grinned and stepped next to the Golden Ranger. "Better statement would be that the guy just ain't right in the head, Bakaguru. You haven't met him, Golden Boy. He likes to play hardball. He's the reason we've had to come up with this mutiny we're doing today."

    "How do you-"

    "Please, 0. You give me too little credit. You think Bakaguru could come up with this kind of huge plan all by himself?"

    "I did come up with it all by myself, Logan," said Bakaguru with an annoyed look on his face.

    "That's completely beside the point. You needed someone to bounce ideas off of."

    "There were no ideas, there was just my basic plan."

    "Well…you needed someone to eat your food with you."

    "Fine. You contributed to that."

    "Hang on," 0 said. "Who else is in on this?"

    "Karin and I know, our morphers are already being upgraded. Birch's parents have been whisked away so they can't be touched. Everything's in place. All you need to do is inform your family to be ready and we'll be good to go. Agents Day and Yorfino, unfortunately, will not be receiving their new morphers. When we go underground, we'll be taking all of the Ranger Systems with us."

    "Ah…yes…" Bakaguru coughed. "It seems I have forgotten something. Serena will have to be told, she still has no idea what we're doing. I will tell her of the plan later tonight, at the party."

    "Why didn't you tell her already?" 0 asked.

    Bakaguru sighed. "I just didn't want to complicate things for her. She is trying to deal with her demotion as best she can, but I can tell she's suffering." 0 nodded. "Gold, I'm not just doing this for you. This whole mutiny benefits your family, true, but Serena needs this just as much as you do. She wasn't supposed to be a ranger, but that accident has become her identity. Do I make myself clear?"

    "Yeah. Don't worry, Bakaguru, she's a big part of our family. I don't want to leave her behind when we're gone."

    "Good. Get going, I believe that your presence will be required at the party today."

    0 grinned. "Gotcha. I already promised May a dance." He took off.

    "Young love," muttered Bakaguru. "Young, stupid love. Is there any other kind?"

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

    The gentleman before the Snagem boss undid his tie.

    His hair was immaculate, despite a slightly-receding hairline. Coarse black hair flowed from his scalp to his shoulders. He adjusted the narrow lenses of his glasses and coldly stared down at the subdued Dark Gem freak.

    "You," he hissed, as he rolled up his sleeves, "have been a very bad boy."

    The Snagem leader did not respond, prompting Alexander Charon to reach for a nearby can of Mace. He grinned. "Come on, little freak. Tell me what I want to know and I promise we won't hurt you. I swear on my mother's life."

    "Heh," growled the boss. "Something like you has a mother. That's funny, skinny."

    Charon's brow furrowed. "My mother would not appreciate your comment, boy," he hissed and blasted the boss' face full of Mace. The Dark Gem screamed in agony as his face became plastered with the painful, stingy liquid. "Want to try again?" he asked, his voice raised to drown out the shrieks.

    "G-Go to h-hell," he stuttered before spitting in Charon's face. The director of the Council paused, just long enough to retrieve a handkerchief and wipe his cheek, before spraying the rest of the can into the Dark Gem's eyes. He shrieked as Charon tossed away the can and glanced lovingly at the torture table nearby.

    "Ah. You know, I have so many little toys to play with, you little freak…" He walked over to the table and picked up a blowtorch. "For instance, I could incinerate your hand, finger by finger, until the last three are gone. Karino really did a number on you, huh?" He placed the torch back down and picked up some sort of strange syringe. "Or some liquid nitrogen to pump through your veins. I'll bet that'll get you to start talking…if you live through it, that is." But at last he found what he wanted: the flickering jumper cables plugged right into an electrical generator. "Here we go, I think these will do perfectly."

    He walked back to the Snagem leader and, as politely as possible, attached the ends of the jumper cables to both of his captive's hands. Charon reached for the electric generator. "Is there anything, anything at all, you wish to tell me before the real interrogation begins?" he asked hopefully, flashing a smile. But nothing he said made a difference to his prisoner and he let out a loud sigh. "Maybe I should let 1 interrogate you, a few hours with him and your head would explode. But no, I'm a kind man. I'll just inflict physical torture on you." He hit the switch and watched the pretty sparks that shot from the Snagem boy's mouth for a while After he'd had enough, he flipped the switch and cackled while his prisoner gasped for breath.

    "Want more?" asked Charon, all smiles. "I'm sure I can tap into the main power grid of you'd like some mo-" He paused, as the little prisoner began gasping for air, trying to say something. "What's that?" he asked and slapped the man. "Speak up, I can't hear you!"

    "S-Said that if y-you k-k-kill me…can't t-tell," he gasped. Charon relished the sound as his captive struggled to breathe with every instant that dragged on.

    Charon tapped his lips with his forefinger. "Excellent point," he murmured. "But if you don't talk, then I just end up having all the fun at your expense. I want this to be an equal trade, kiddo." He glanced at the desk nearby and picked up a file. "Let's see, what does my agency know about you, Mr. Prisoner?" He flipped open the first page.

    "Your name is Arnold Walker, but I was told you prefer the codename Goza. Now, that's a very stupid name, isn't it? Much dumber than that poor thing your mother gave you." He chuckled and Goza's face just reddened up like a fresh strawberry.

    "Better…shut up… Kill you," he mumbled.

    "I don't think you're in a position to make such a rash, rude statement," said Charon, who was more than willing to touch his finger gingerly to the electrical knob that controlled the circuit flow between the machine and Goza's body. "Now I'll ask you one more time: what are you doing with that Dark Gem of yours? I'm afraid I just need to know. We need to get rid of you vermin while you're soft and weak. If we wait longer, you'll just get bigger and make even more of a mess."

    "Then-" The man's head sagged "-what's with Jolly Green? Saw one of us with your team."

    "Oh him…he's being taken care of right now. Once you give me the information I need, you'll join him in being executed. You Dark Gem Rangers are simply too unstable for me…not like ours are any better, but ours listen to me and me alone. Yours don't. See the difference?" He flipped the switch for the tiniest second, but it was one of the most painful seconds Goza had ever endured.

    "Did that change anything?" Charon asked.

    "N-Not a thing," whispered Goza between clenched teeth. "Want to know what the funny part is?"

    "Go ahead, I love a good joke."

    "In a few hours, you'll all be dead. Every last one of you. So go ahead, put me through this. I can take it. My Dark Gem won't let me die like a dog here." He lifted up his hand and tried to wave the bloody stumps where two of his fingers used to be. "That pink one? She's the first one to die. She took my fingers, I'll take off her neck!"

    "Yes, I must apologize for that," murmured Chaon, almost as if he was sincere. "You see, Ranger Pink has never quite been a person of…shall we say mental stability. She's right on par with you Dark Gems, I think. Her background is complicated, to say the least. As her master, I should tell you that your injury could have been much worse. You should have just let her go, but now you've lost two fingers and it's nobody's fault but your own. If anything, blame your Dark Gem friends. Why, did you know that the Dark Emerald Ranger can regenerate anything? If we cut off his head, I'm sure he'd just reattach it somehow! He must be so much stronger, so much better than you, to have your friends leave you with something so weak, so useless…"

    "Stop talking to me!" Goza shrieked, and slammed his fists into the sides of the chair. "I don't want to hear any more! Nothing! Zip! Nada! Got it, you sick, twisted freak?" His breaths came in gasps, his face was steaming red. Only the restraints on the chair prevented him from rising up and ripping off Charon's own head. Even then, Goza was sure he'd just keep talking, no matter what.

    "I'm the sick twisted freak? I'm sorry, you must be confusing me with someone else, you poor diluted man." As he opened his mouth to continue, he was forced to pause when somebody knocked at the door.

    "Now who could that be?" Charon wondered aloud as he walked towards the door. "I believe I asked for specific instructions to be left alone with the prisoner!" he called through the door. "He's just about to give up some information."

    "New orders came through!" replied the voice on the other side.

    "From who? You think you're talking to some annoying punk! I am Alexander Charon, head of PKM. No one has higher jurisdiction than I do."

    "New orders came through!" repeated the voice.

    "Fine." Grinding his teeth, Charon opened the door with a knife in his hands. Instead of some sweet, innocent little girl whom the voice sounded like, a woman with blazing purple eyes stood behind the door, casually holding a gun.

    "Hi, Alexander Charon, head of PKM. Mind if I come inside?" asked Ame. She glanced past him to the prisoner. "My friend Ony looks like he's in bad shape. I hope you haven't permanently damaged him."

    "…Ame…help me," groaned Goza. "He's…gonna kill me."

    Ame shut the door behind her and locked it. "I cannot let him do that, my employers wasted too much time creating you and bonding that expensive Dark Onyx to you. Still, you have no one to blame but yourself for this mess. I told you not to engage them until you were strong enough. Your Dark Onyx is too weak to even hurt that traitor Eme." She crossed to Goza, still pointing the gun at Charon, and touched the prisoner's shoulders. "This is going to feel weird, but it will be over soon." She closed her eyes and something within her clothes glowed.

    Goza gasped as he slid through the chair and landed on the ground. Ame dragged him away and he stood up.

    "How did you do that?" he asked, amazed.

    She shrugged. "Need to know basis. Alexander Charon, head of PKM, does not need to know." she shifted her gaze towards Charon, whose face seemed a little bit too calm. "Now, what would you like to do with him? My contract says nothing about whether Alexander Charon lives or dies, Ony."

    Goza grinned. "Oh, I've got a few ideas," he murmured with a growl. He cracked his knuckles and took a step forward. Not wanting to be outdone by such a freak, Charon mimicked the motion.

    "I as well, little freak," chuckled Charon, as he reached for his knife. "In fact, this could even be fun. For a while, at least, until you die."

    But Ame consulted her watch, and halted the potential bloodbath. "Ony, we must move," advised Ame. "We are on a strict schedule, I need to bring you back to my employers. Vengeance will have to wait until your final upgrade. My clock is very specific on our time constraints."

    Goza growled, but reluctantly followed Ame out the door. Charon watched, certain of his complete inability to do anything. After all, the girl had whisked his prisoner through a solid steel chair. His powers were much less.

    When the door slammed shut he reached into his pocket and pulled out a communicator. "Bakaguru Niwa?" he asked.

    "Charon?" replied the voice, with a bite of distain.

    "Alexander Charon to you, tech monkey," said he. "Rally your troops together. We seem to have a wee infestation in our organization. Delay our plan to arrest Max Birch and Serena Brine, we may need them as cannon fodder."

    A pause on the line. "What's the problem?"

    "Our Dark Gem prisoner was released by another one, they're probably making their way towards the party as we speak. Inform the guests of honor of our…predicament. I don't want to have to replace the whole team after we just finished choosing new recruits."

    "On it."

  8. #38
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 25, Continued

    Morph Twenty-Five: Tomorrow's Rangers, Part 2

    Somehow, someway, Logan had gotten onto the chandelier.

    Rigged especially for the event, it was now being used much like an expensive, shiny jungle vine. Twenty feet below him, the Red Ranger could hear shouts of encouragement from the ground. All of them begged for him to keep swinging, shouting his name like a holy chant. His ego, as it always did in these situations, began swelling to dangerous proportions.

    "Logan, you idiot! Get down from there!"

    Logan lost his focus, and almost his grip, but recovered just enough to look down into the angry, visually enraged face of the Golden Ranger. His nostrils flared beneath his dark goggles and his face was twisted into an expression that Logan had often seen on the man prior to engaging in combat. Lines formed around his mouth and brows, indicating his displeasure at Logan's behavior.

    "No can do!" he replied and resumed his swinging. "Having way, way too much fun."

    His fun was cut short exactly twenty seconds later, when he finally did lose his grip. Though his eyesight and brain were quite untouched by the keg stand he had so enjoyed, his coordination and the reflexes of his body were somewhat lacking. It was only because of Karin, his sweet luscious princess, that he was saved.

    She leapt through the air and, much like catching a piece of meat before it fell to the germ-infested floor, caught the drunk Logan in her arms and landed perfectly on the ground. Everyone near the vicinity applauded.

    0 groaned. "Karin, just take him back to your place and let him sleep it off. I don't want a drunk Logan roaming PKM completely devoid of common sense."

    Karin set Logan down on his feet, but supported him from his shoulder as she began to walk him to their room.

    "Oh, you are so getting rewarded for that later," Logan murmured, nobody but those nearest to him could hear it, and cheers erupted. As did Karin, who twisted his ear until a shrill shout of pain escaped his lips. When it died down, Logan's voice continued, obviously not learning its lesson. "We're getting in the hot tub and after a few more drinks I'm going to make you scream in a way that absolutely nobody but you-"

    This statement ended, as many of them often did, by a blow to the head from the Pink Ranger that knocked Logan out and shut him up. She glanced at 0, who issued her a silent thumb's up of approval, before hauling the Red Ranger over her shoulder and heading out of the party.

    0 sighed. "It's like cavemen. Only reversed."

    "What's like cavemen?" 0 spun around: it was May wearing a brand new dress. Eyes followed her as she approached him, but a quick twitch of his mouth sent all the would-be suitors refocusing their attention on things that weren't the Golden Ranger's ex-wife. 0 found it impossible to look away, the way the light from the rafters above simply glowed on the dress' red hue.

    "I'm underdressed." Compared to her he was. He was wearing his PKM uniform, several notches below May's dress in terms of class. She didn't seem to mind though and was more than happy to get a little closer, almost within arm's length.

    "There are other things I like about that one," she said. Such as the golden hues, the fact that it showed off his rippling muscles, which he hadn't had three years ago. Those little, somewhat devious thoughts she kept to herself.

    "Would you like to dance?" The music had, as if by divine intervention, just changed to a soft, slow waltz. "I learned during training."

    She nodded and offered him her hand. "They taught you dancing in training?" she asked as he led her out onto the dance floor.

    "They taught us a lot of stuff for espionage. Mine was high-class stuff, since I knew a lot of lower class things. Learning which fork was for what was the hardest lesson." May giggled as he confidently began to lead her through the dance.

    It was one she loved, an older dance that for years had eluded him with its complexity and his lack of coordination skills. During their marriage when she'd wanted to dance she'd force Brock or, once, Drew, to dance with her and left 0 to watch. Now, however, it was the powerful Golden Ranger who waltzed her through the dance floor, his feet shifting with the music with a perfection that astounded her. In all their years together she'd seen 0 as a man so at home on the battlefield, but so clumsy when it came to social matters.

    I suppose there are some positive things about him being a ranger after all, she thought to herself. Besides the fact that he saves Sarah and my life almost every time we go out. She chuckled and 0 perked up a brow.

    "What is it?" he asked. His concentration never wavered from following the steps of the dance.

    "Oh, just reminiscing." They danced in silence, her eyes tracing the edges of the dark goggles that shielded his eyes, until finally the music came to a slow, soft rest. Like the other couples in the crowd, the Golden Ranger and his ex-wife applauded the music selection choice. They then cringed when some sort of music came on in which the artist singing was attempting to rhyme, but was doing it with the class and capability of a three-year-old.

    He knew personally a five-year-old could do much better. He watched as Sarah noticed him and May coming from the dance floor and abandon her uncle Max in order to run up. 0 bent down and grabbed her in a hug.

    "Hey, kiddo," he said as he kissed her cheek. "You gonna dance?"

    She shook her head. "Uncle Max can't dance. And Mrs. Karin took Mr. Logan to bed."

    He grinned. "Want to dance with your Dad?"

    She nodded eagerly. "Yes, Daddy!" she squealed and hugged him tighter.

    He looked to May. "Mind if I take the young lady out on the dance floor?" he asked.

    "Not at all. Have fun, Honey." She too bent down to kiss Sarah's other cheek.

    "Thanks, Mommy!"

    0 picked Sarah up and seated her on his fake left shoulder. He steered her through the crowd until he arrived at the disc jockey who was apparently the cause of the bad music playing. He was a younger agent, probably very new, so he snapped to attention the moment he saw 0 entering his small booth.

    "Sir!" he shouted and snapped off a salute. "What can I do for you?"

    0 returned the salute. "Change the music. My daughter wants something nice to dance to."

    The jockey nodded eagerly, very excited to be talking to the Golden Ranger. "What did you have in mind?"

    The Golden Ranger handed the young man a note. "Play this," he ordered and left the room without another word. He hardly heard the man's excited response about the excellent choice as he made his way back to the dance floor. He set Sarah down.

    She tried hard to wrap her arms around his waist, and her father laughed when he saw that she didn't have long enough arms. "Don't laugh, Daddy."

    "Sorry, kiddo," he said and took her hands and gently swayed her through the dance.

    From afar, May watched as her daughter and the man who was once her husband danced. She couldn't believe it. The man her husband had become was so gentle when it came to Sarah and her, no matter what. She'd seen him tear through Rangerlings to protect them without a passing glance, and here he was trying as hard as he could to make sure that Sarah didn't so much as stumble on the dance floor.

    They were about halfway through the dance when 0, for some reason stopped and put his hand to his ear.

    "Yes?" he asked, in the tone of voice that suggested his patience was thin for interruptions. "What?" A different tone, one of concern. "On my way. Get the others."

    He looked down at Sarah, who was incredibly confused as to why they had stopped dancing. "What's wrong, Daddy?" she asked.

    He sighed. "Gotta go save the world again."

    She nodded. "Okay, Daddy. Go beat them up."

    0 walked off the dance floor and handed Sarah to May. "What's wrong?" she asked as she took hold of her daughter.

    "Bakaguru just said to get mobilized. The Onyx guy they were keeping locked up escaped and he's heading this way. Get Sarah to safety and don't come out, no matter what."

    "Of course. Come on Sarah." May and Sarah hurried out of the room. 0 went to go find Max.

    He found him chatting with Serena. "Max, 3, we need to get going. There's been a breakout."

    Serena's face was a little red. "I'm not 3 anymore. That girl is." She pointed to Yorfino, who was wearing her old jacket. She appeared to have a drink in her hand which had been refilled quite a number of times. "Call me 'Serena'."

    Max, on the other hand, was quite alert. "Got it. Let's get moving."

    "Find 415 and take her to Bakaguru to get her morpher now. 3, go get Karin and Logan. I'll hold him down until then." He didn't feel the need to mention he was going to be fighting without the full benefit of his Ranger System. Max nodded and dashed off. Serena, after a moment to judge if he was indeed serious, sobered up fast and took off in the opposite direction.

    0 took the stage and shut off the music. Everyone, in anger and confusion, spun up to see what was going on. "Everyone, please make your way to the exits and prepare for combat. We have a confirmed escape of a prisoner. This is not a drill."

    Within seconds everyone was in motion. Despite being in the air of the party and lax, all of the people present were still PKM Agents and still knew how to handle escapes. 0 waited until the majority of them had left for their battle stations before he switched his com-link back on.

    "003," he said. "Where is the prisoner?"

    The response came a few seconds later. "Prisoner has already reached upper levels, Gold. At this rate, he and his companion will reach the hangers in ten minutes. You can get there in five to head them off before they break out."

    "Roger. 3 is getting 1 and 5, and Max is getting 415 to bring to you."

    "Surely you're not thinking of fighting them on your own? That fake system I gave you will not last against a full blooded Dark Gem Ranger. You will probably only make it a minute, maybe two, into combat."

    "That's enough time for the others to get there," said the Golden Ranger. "Let the others know the plan and I'll try to keep them from getting out of here."

    "I will make sure they get there in time."

    "Got it. 0, over and out."

    "003, over and out." The line went dead.

    0 took a deep breath. This would be a first, going into battle without Pi or his equipment to support him. He started jogging, then eventually broke out into a full run through the base. He passed people suiting up for combat, and decided he would do the same. He lifted the false morpher to his lips, it felt so much lighter than his regular one for some reason.

    "Golden Spirit, Pokemon Power!"

    The golden burst of energy was still the same, but when the armor fell onto him 0 knew instantly that the armor was not his own. It was so much lighter than normal, just like the morpher. It almost felt like spandex with a little padding, completely unlike his regular heavy-duty armor. He tried to brush these thoughts out of his mind as he reached the hanger.

    And then he waited. They arrived early, only four minutes later, but they were some of the fastest four minutes of his life. The Onyx prisoner and a woman who, 0 guessed, had freed him. She had dark purple hair and blazing eyes of the same color.

    She stopped and consulted her watch. "You are Ranger Gold, correct?" she asked, as if verifying the proper delivery of a package.

    0 nodded. It seemed redundant of her to ask him that while he was transformed.

    "This is one of the people that my employers want alive," she told the Snagem commander. "Another is May Birch. We will have to obtain them quite quickly, otherwise my employers will be very unhappy with my performance. Go after Birch, I will deal with this one. Meet me back here with her in exactly five minutes."

    "Don't think so," said 0. "You're going to have to go through me to get to anyone." Absolutely nothing in his voice hinted uncertainty in backing up that declaration.

    She nodded. "I understand your resistance to the idea, but when I am contracted to something I fulfill it. As you are in our way and preventing timely completion of the contract, I will have no choice but to disable you." She turned to the giant hulk of a man next to her. "Go now, Ony. He will not stop you."

    The Snagem commander she called Ony nodded. "Yes, Ame," he grunted and turned around and walked off.

    0 had other ideas and put them into action. He leapt forward, completely aware of his inability to engage his Agility ability with Pi. "No you don't. Not again."

    Ame, in a very controlled method, grabbed him as he attempted to dodge past her. With intelligence and a good grip, the Golden Ranger found he could not be dislodged from her grasp. He tried to twist away, but she was much too good for that. She did not even budge until Ony was out of sight, and only then did she let him go.

    "Fine," 0 said. "I guess we'll start with you."

    She merely offered him the slightest sign of a grin. "Go ahead, if you think you can hit me," she replied, with just a subtle threat on her lips.

    He charged, enraged like a Tauros, and smashed into her. Or, to be more accurate, smashed through her. For whatever reason, the Golden Ranger sailed clear through her body and out the other side. He skidded to a halt and swerved back to glare at Ame through his mask.

    She hadn't moved an inch. She continued to look at him with that same dull smirk.

    "How did you do that?" he demanded to know.

    She shrugged. "All of us with Dark Gems are special. Our specialty, however, is on a need to know basis. You do not need to know."

    "Fine. Guess I can beat that out of you too before I deal with your big boyfriend."

    "He is merely a pawn of my employer. I assure you our relationship is strictly business. Personally, I do not find him particularly useful."

    "Then why'd you sneak into PKM to break him out?" 0 asked.

    "I have commitments to the holder of my contract. It would be unprofessional of me to violate them under any circumstances. Regardless of my feelings on the matter, Ony must be returned to my employers, along with yourself and May Birch as collateral. Orders are orders, as the saying goes."

    The Golden Ranger was quite confused at the new direction the conversation was headed. "So you don't want to take May Birch?"

    "That is not important. What is important is that she must be taken. It is a very specific part of my contract."

    And, without warning, she attacked. She delivered a punch to 0's midsection so powerful that, if 0 had not undertaken the training of PKM, he would never have been able to withstand. It would have torn through his stomach. Instead, the iron muscles of his abs remained intact long enough for 0 to bellow like a wounded Pokemon and smash her in the face.

    She sailed across the room and recovered just as quickly. 0 growled and advanced. Ame just got right back up, as if completely immune to his attack. He threw one more punch to her head, smashing her into the ground. In spite of his technological shortcomings at that particular moment, 0 was a warrior. As such, his physique should have been more than adequate to take her down.

    "Transform," he rasped, his voice just barely above a whisper. "Transform into that Dark Gem Ranger thing, and let's really fight."

    From the floor he heard the reply. "That would be ill-advised, Ranger Gold," she replied. "My untransformed power level is more than able to take you down as you are now. In fact, I was about to suggest that you go get some reinforcements, but I doubt you would. You are a very, very proud man, Ranger Gold."

    "People stronger than you have tried their luck and lost," he growled. His voice came out gargled, like the grunts of a mad beast.

    "You are referring to the Rangerlings, or perhaps to the Dark Sapphire Ranger, am I right?" Ame simply giggled and shook her head. "No, Gold, I am afraid you have faced nothing like me before. Not even Ony, with all his brute force, can defeat me. I am second to none, save for my employers." She paused, long enough to look him up and down. "You are like a little insect to me, Ranger Gold. A pest to be dealt with in the manner I please. Our conversation now is only allowed because Ony has yet to retrieve May Birch. Were he here, there would be no contest. I would have no choice but to end it quickly. It is very unprofessional to be late."

    0 simply readied another attack. It did not matter to him what their so-called difference was in power level. She was an enemy. All enemies, at one point or another, lost to him. He was the Golden Ranger, after all.

    "You're nothing to me," he growled and advanced.

    She merely sighed and moved to oblige him. Before he could even get out a punch, something from within her clothes flashed, and 0 found that her hand was buried deep inside his chest. Her wrist stuck out of his flesh, her hands had vanished within. 0 gasped, but strangely felt nothing. Her grin intensified.

    "You understand, correct?" she asked. "As I have used the technique on you, you must be unclassified. My body, and my Dark Gem, are very special. So special they can, say, travel through solid objects and materialize at will. Imagine if my hand solidifies now, Ranger Agent Gold? What would you do to stop me from destroying what remains of your internal structure?" She leaned in, digging her wrist deeper. "Or, better yet, do you think PKM will be willing to save you a second time? After being such a nuisance to them time and again? I think it highly unlikely."

    He simply glared at her, from beneath his visor. "No, I can't stop you," he conceded, but nothing in his tone suggested he was giving up. "But I can do this." And he screamed.

    How he did it, or even where it came from, even the Golden Ranger knew not. Ame retracted her hand suddenly, out of fear, as a spark formed on his uniform and stung her, not enough to hurt but certainly enough to sizzle. Somehow he was producing electricity, without being connected to his Ranger System, without being connected to the Synchronization Drive, and even without being connected to Pi.

    He roared a second time, his rage had exceeded her predictions. Ame had wanted to take him alive, without use of brute force, by taunting him until he tired. But this reaction had been completely unexpected, and she could do naught but watch as slowly the bulbs on the ceiling cracked and fizzled out. The light in the hanger died until at last the only thing glowing was the Golden Ranger himself, a bright figure of light in the dim hanger.

    "Now," he growled, every syllable pure hatred, "let's see how well you can dodge." And he lifted the fingers of his right hand and pointed them much like he was mimicking a gun's figure. "Bang."

    A jolt of lighting cracked and surged from his fingertips and he screamed. Ame watched as the electricity struck her and knocked her to the floor, smoke pouring from her head. 0 was barely aware of a second set of feet smashing against the floor, and turned towards the intruder.

    It was Ony, or what was left of him. The figure that stood before him was ten feet in height, covered in Dark Onyx scales. Its visor looked down at him like a bug, and then turned towards its cargo. Slung over its shoulder was May Birch, and the Golden Ranger roared.

    The Dark Onyx Ranger roared back and dropped May to the floor. Like a rag doll she smacked against the steel floor and laid still.

    "Ka…" screeched the Golden Ranger, no longer of his own mind, too driven by the fight to think, "Chuuuuuuu!" Another bolt of lightning issued from his fingertips and struck Ony. Its figure merely absorbed the lightning with just a twitch of discomfort. It shrugged off the blast and turned towards Ame, waiting for instructions.

    "Take him," she ordered. "Alive."

    It nodded and advanced. 0 screeched and blasted it again and again, no longer caring that it seemed to be absorbing his energy and converting it, strengthening itself somehow through its enemy's attack. All the Golden Ranger cared about was proving Ame wrong. He was strong! He was powerful! And his enemies turned to dust!

    That was why, when the Dark Onyx Ranger grabbed him, he fired another batch of lighting. It roared, and so did 0, when the electricity coursed right back to him through Ony's touch. He screamed, and then he began to feel dizzy, numb…

    Paralyzed.

    "Take them," Ame ordered as she got to her feet. Her hair stood on ends. "We will be late if we delay any longer."

    Ony grunted and did as it was told.

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

    "This is our final mission," Bakaguru announced.

    Max Birch stood next to him, keeping a protective watch on Sarah. There were still tears in the little girl's eyes, and he felt the shame anew. His niece shouldn't have had to have these problems. He should have done more to protect her. Then he remembered his sister, his parents, and that nothing could have protected them against what had happened. No one could have predicted the life that Sarah would have forced on her.

    And now her mother and father were gone. He had to get them back, he thought. She needed them.

    Logan looked sober, he always did in missions. Karin stood by his side, again as always. Serena was at the computer, displaying a series of coordinates on screen.

    "The false morpher contains a small tracer I designed for this very kind of emergency," Bakaguru explained and pointed to the coordinates. "It has been sending off a signal every two minutes for the last ten. Currently, May and Gold's captors seem to be heading due south, towards Gatling Port. It is the only colonized section of their location that has the means for them to be transported elsewhere."

    "How are we supposed to catch up with them?" asked Logan.

    Bakaguru smiled. "Jessie and James have been working hard on that. Serena, if you please?" He bowed as Serena typed in a few more keystrokes. The ground near them opened up, revealing what appeared to be a pad made of some strange, glowing metal. "A teleporter. Similar in design to the ones used to transport Poke Balls, this one has been modified to be able to send you to anywhere you need. But it is a one-way trip. The technology has not been perfected to the point where it can simply pick you out of nowhere and bring you back."

    Logan stepped onto the teleporter and Karin followed. "Good. We won't be needing the return trip. Karin and I are scampering off after this little detour."

    "What?" Serena asked.

    "I will fill you in once we've finished business here," said Bakaguru. He presented two new Ailed Morphers from his pocket. "These are the Ailed Red and Pink Morphers. They will allow you assume your Ranger Modes again. Rescue Modes have been redesigned for better use."

    Logan tore off the fake morpher he was wearing, Karin did the same, and together they sequenced their morphers. A dull red glow issued around Logan as he identified himself and locked himself in, while a pink glow surrounded Karin as hers analyzed her to confirm her identity.

    "Agent 4," Bakaguru said, and turned to 415 in the corner. "The time has come." She came forward quite a bit hesitantly, as if not wanting to wake up from some wonderful dream. But it was no dream, as she realized when she confirmed her identity and downloaded Luxray into the morpher. The Pokemon just gave her a grin, it was eager to fight, before it vanished in a bright red digitizing light.

    "Now we have a Ranger Black again. Congratulations." Bakaguru smiled with approval as she took her place next to Logan and Karin on the teleporter. "Ready to go?"

    Logan nodded. "Punch this baby up!" he ordered.

    "Not so fast!"

    All three ranger, Bakaguru, Max, Sarah, and Serena turned to the door. Alexander Charon, a bright grin on his face, walked into the lab. Flanking him on all sides were two hundred armed PKM Agents, with two hundred guns pointed directly at Bakaguru. He chuckled and looked over at the engineer, making no attempts to hide his distain. Bakaguru gave Charon the same treatment.

    "Operations are terminated," Charon said casually, right before he sat down in one of Bakaguru's comfy chairs. "We will no longer be pursuing Ranger Gold or May Birch. Both have shown to be very unreliable and I want them gone. Besides, I am ordering a team of fighter jets to that location now. It should be leveled in an hour or so, and then this whole business with Agent 0 will come to an end."

    He then yawned and scratched his head, as if he'd just gotten off a hard day's work. Bakaguru was surprised he didn't ask for a pipe and slippers.

    "We need to rescue Gold," he insisted. "He is the only one with the operational Synchronization Drive. We require the sheer strength he is capable of producing."

    Charon clapped. "Bravo, are you an actor, Niwa? Really now, I know all about your little coup. Frankly, I thought it was adorable you could keep it from me, but the fact of the matter is that Gold does not have his little gadgets right now, does he?" Charon pointed to Bakaguru's coat. "It's right in there. And I want it for myself. I'd make a great ranger, don't you think so?"

    Bakaguru did not so much as blink. "I will not turn the Gold Ailed Morpher over to you. Its rightful owner is Agent 0."

    "My Council and PKM leadership supersedes anything you can throw at me, Niwa. Give me the morpher, or all these gentlemen will turn you into a steamy collection of bullets." Bakaguru looked toward Logan, who was already reaching for his morpher.

    Charon snapped his fingers. When Logan pressed the button on his morpher, nothing happened. Logan tried again, with the same result, as Charon began to laugh. "Your morphers are so easy to disable, Bakaguru! Just select the right jamming frequency and presto! No more rangers to protect you from me."

    Max growled, and the Dark Emerald's chain began slinking along his arms. "Don't think so," he hissed, and pressed the gem into his flesh. "Dark Gem Igni-"

    Max failed to finish his sentence, because one of the Agents slammed a syringe into his neck. Max shrieked and fell to the floor, convulsing. His skin began to turn purple, and another of the Agents just enclosed Max in a little red bubble.

    Charon grin grew broader. "It's amazing what even just a teeny spoonful of liquid nitrogen will do to someone, Niwa. I believe that takes care of all your pets. Why don't you give me what I want. I want the most powerful morpher. I want the system." He stretched out his hand and snarled, "Give it to me!"

    Bakaguru put his hand in his pocket and squeezed the morpher inside. "No," he whispered defiantly.

    Charon stood up and walked over to the engineer. "You think you're better than me, you little otaku? What do you have that even compares to who I am, and what I have? I am the head of PKM. You're just a project manager."

    Bakaguru smiled. "I have friends who give me gifts," he replied quietly, just so Charon could hear, and punched the head of PKM directly in the face. Charon staggered back, and the battalion of agents stood silently, quite unsure of what to do now. No one struck Charon. Ever.

    Bakaguru's hand emerged from his pocket, displaying a shiny, silver-and-orange watch. With a shout he clamped it to his arm, it bonded to him instantly.

    "Now, old friend," he murmured, "let's see how well this invention works!"

    He shouted, "Master Mode, Online!"

    The transformation was not as flashy as the newer models, Bakaguru noticed. It was much more subtle, as the armor and protective plates covered him in silver and orange. The visor, nothing but a stylized rectangle and a mouth plate, clamped onto him and completed the transformation. The armor looked old and rusty, but when Bakaguru moved it made no squeaks, no creaks.

    "I am Bakaguru Niwa," said the man inside the suit of armor. Charon scrambled to get behind the waves of grunts he'd brought. "I wield the powers of the Master Ranger."

    He turned towards Serena, who seemed too stunned to even notice his order. "Close the doors please, and execute quarantine protocol. I don't want anything else getting in…or out." Somehow, he managed to find Charon in the crowd before the doors locked, trapping everyone inside. Charon scraped at the doors, but nothing he did changed the fact that he was now stuck inside a room with an angry, angry engineer.

    "So what?" Charon asked, from the safety of his mob. "I've got two hundred guys with guns. You've got a rusty spandex uniform."

    Bakaguru looked through the crowd, they all looked so young…he would have to work hard to make sure no one was killed. "No, I have a modified, updated suit of armor," he said, and the voice synthesizer made him sound terribly frightening to many of the onlookers. "You have bodies. Bodies that are in the way of me getting what I want."

    And he attacked.

    The first ten fell from his initial rush. He just smashed their heads through their helmets, enough to knock them out without causing permanent damage. A further fifteen fell instantly when the first ripple of gunfire issued, smashing into bullet-proof uniforms and hurting so many of them so badly many fainted. Within the first ten seconds, Charon's army was reduced by one-eighth.

    The rangers, Serena, and Sarah watched on with amazement as their mentor and leader proceeded to tear through the ranks like a pro. Serena grabbed Sarah and hid them both behind some reinforced desks. Karin was eager to join the fray, but a few words from Logan convinced her to join Serena and Sarah. The force field cutting them off from Max was, ironically, taking out a lot of the Agents from ricochets.

    Meanwhile, the Master Ranger made short work of the grunts. They were too green for someone like him, who'd been learning and studying fighting for decades. This, to him, was nothing more than the practical demonstration of his knowledge.

    Within two minutes, two hundred unconscious bodies littered the floor like forgotten scraps of paper. Which, according to the Master Ranger's count, meant that the one feeble human in their midst must be Alexander Charon. Bakaguru stomped towards Charon and grabbed the head of PKM by the throat. Charon wisely did nothing, but did whimper quite a bit as Bakaguru walked him towards Max.

    "Shut this off now," Bakaguru ordered. After Charon pointed out where the force field control device was, 415 released a gasping, but healed, Max from the force field. "How do you turn off the morphers?"

    Charon showed Bakaguru a small switch in his belt. Bakaguru tore it off and smashed it. It crackled and died underneath his iron boots. Bakaguru tossed Charon against the wall and struck him with the force field, trapping the head of PKM in a place where he could not bother anyone for the time being.

    Satisfied, Bakaguru demorphed. The armor simply faded away, revealing an exhausted, sweaty engineer underneath. He could barely stand.

    "You okay?" Serena asked.

    He nodded. "I have not morphed for many years. I forgot how tiring it is sometimes when you get caught up in the rush."

    "You were a ranger?" Logan asked.

    "Once, long ago," said Bakaguru. "I was on the same team as the previous Golden Ranger, after all. So was your father, Arthur. We once designed the initial prototype that went on to become the Ranger System, incorporating Pokemon. This-" He paused to indicate the morpher on his wrist "-does not use Pokemon. It was before Old Gold made the discovery of a Pokemon-powered suit. We discontinued this morpher's production, but we weren't made to turn them in. For fun, I've been modifying it over the years with scraps of new technology here and there."

    "So you guys were the founders?" asked Serena.

    Again, Bakaguru nodded. "Old Gold's system went on to become the advanced standard of the Ranger Agent System. Arthur was the one who found a way to reproduce it, and he created the basic Ranger Mode and Rescue Mode the Golden Ranger did not have. I became an engineer and helped them both until Arthur retired and Old Gold died." He sighed, but there was a slight smile. "Now I am going to help you. Get to the transporter now."

    Max, Logan, Karin, and 415 did as they were told. Bakaguru handed Max a vial. "What's this for?" he asked.

    "0 has not taken his serum tonight. Or, at least, I doubt he has. Give that to him."

    Max nodded, so Bakaguru turned towards Charon and grinned.

    "This isn't over!" shouted the head of PKM. "Others are on their way!"

    "I'm sure they are," said Bakaguru and pressed a button on the bubble's controller. "Consider this my declaration of war, Alexander Charon. Serena, if you please?" Serena fired up the teleporter. The four figures on the pad glowed, then suddenly vanished, leaving her, Sarah, Bakaguru, and Charon as the only conscious people remaining in the lab.

    "Now, I am afraid, the real trouble begins," murmured Bakaguru. He sat down and began to fan himself.

    "What?" Sarah asked, looking up at him. He never ceased to be amazed at how cool and calm this five-year-old could be in situations like this.

    "We need someone to bring the Ailed Gold Morpher to your father when it is finished sequencing," Bakaguru explained. "As I noticed from the footage from the hanger, I think it really will be his best shot at survival."

    "What do you mean?" asked Serena.

    "Ah, you haven't seen the footage yet, have you?" She shook her head. "Well, we have a bit of time. Come and look." Bakaguru positioned his chair in front of the computer and felt extremely grateful for the now-silent bubble the screaming Charon was trapped in. "This is footage taken only minutes ago from the hanger during Gold's battle without his morpher. Notice something?"

    She watched as, somehow, 0 managed to summon lightning and throw it at his opponents. "He can generate it on his own?" she asked in disbelief.

    "Yes, for some reason I cannot understand," replied Bakaguru. "Agent 0 is evolving much in the same way his predecessor did. Look here as he shouts in the Pokemon dialect of the Pikachu." She watched as 0 did exactly as Bakaguru said.

    "What's it mean?" asked Sarah.

    "Good question. I wish I knew. I think he might be headed towards being trapped in morph, as Old Gold was. I do not know why either. Gold has had advantages that Old Gold never had…and yet the process is virtually identical. Gold's family is with him though, and he is surrounded by friends. Why is he evolving?"

    "How can I help him?" Serena asked.

    "The very question I was looking for, Ms. Brine," said Bakaguru with a smile. "Gold's new morpher, while retaining all of the older one's functions, is perfectly suited to the task of making sure that he does not get trapped in morph so imply. It has an inhibitor installed to prevent it from influencing him and fusing to him in a way that will leave him…impaired.

    "But, how can we get it to him?" Bakaguru asked. "That is a question I need the answer to."

    "I can take it," Serena said. "Give it to me, and I'll give it to him."

    The engineer smiled. "That's very noble of you, Serena, but you would be walking into a slaughter. Those two Dark Gem cronies will not just stand by and let their precious cargo get away. This new leader, Ame, has none of the weaknesses of the Dark Sapphire Ranger. She sticks to a schedule."

    "I don't care how, just let me do it." She didn't care either. The simple fact that her friend needed help…that was more than enough. "0 has saved my life so many times. I need to help him, even if I can't morph anymore."

    "Perfect. You pass."

    Bakaguru pressed another button on the computer. Instantly a new section of the floor opened up, revealing a chair. Straps covered the chair, obviously meant to bind the subject placed there. Serena walked over to it, stunned, then turned to Bakaguru.

    "What's it do?" she asked.

    Bakaguru straightened his glasses and reached into his coat pocket. What he produced looked a lot like the White Morpher, but so much more bright. "When they asked me to make a new White Morpher, I decided to modify your old one instead." This new one was glittering in the light and bright silver. "I present you with the Silver Ailed Morpher. Goes great with Gold, wouldn't you agree?"

    He stood up, though it must have strained him to do so, and placed it in her hands. "A…Silver Morpher?" she asked, uncertain she had heard correctly.

    "Yes. PKM stated your duties as White Ranger had been removed. Nothing was placed in there to suggest anything about a Silver Ranger. According to Charon's decree, there is nothing stopping you from becoming one." He turned to Charon and waved. "See, Alexander? I read between lines too!"

    "But…" said Serena hesitantly, "I thought mine was destroyed. Seel was killed by Karin and the morpher broke."

    Bakaguru smiled. "No dear. Karin knows a lot of things about her own morpher, but very little about how to actually destroy one. You cannot kill a ranger spirit without killing the ranger, it is just fact. No, what she did was take Seel off grid, so to speak. Knock it out. I simply haven't tried using a Revive yet."

    That was all the convincing that she needed. "How do I get it to work?" she asked.

    "Step into the chair. But-Serena!" He halted her, just as she was about to climb in.

    "What is it?"

    He sighed. "I have no idea what will happen. This experiment is just that: an experiment. There is no guarantee this will work, and there is a likely chance of death. Attempting to revive Seel will be difficult, but it needs to want to help you this time. Last time you bonded with Seel it was a last resort. This time the Pokemon has a choice to help you, and a choice to let you die." He paused, allowing this information to sink in. "Knowing this, do you still want to proceed?"

    Serena looked down at the morpher in her hands. It was her identity. Then she looked at Sarah, being her father was 0's identity. She needed to help him, no matter what. She owed him that.

    "I have to," she said as she climbed into the chair. "He needs me, as always."

    Bakaguru nodded. "Very well. Strap the morpher to your arm, I shall begin the re-sequencing the Ranger System."

    She did so, the morpher melded onto her skin like it was meant to be there.

    "Press the button. The Ailed System does not require voice recognition, nor can it ever be removed by anyone save you. Should you die, the morpher dies with you. This will be a done deal, so to speak. Do you understand?"

    She nodded. "I do." She lifted the morpher and pressed the button.

    0, I'm coming.

    A bright silver flash issued, and the sequencing began.

  9. #39
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 26, Part 1

    Morph Twenty-Six: Tomorrow's Rangers, Part 3

    Sparks of electricity were the only light in the dark storage container.

    The Golden Ranger was still transformed, as much as he could still be. His helmet was partially there, with much of his mouth and lower face exposed. His gloves and boots were intact, but the rest of the uniform was nothing but torn stripes over his civilian clothes. And no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't demorph. He couldn't bring the fake uniform back inside the morpher.

    "Where…are we?" he asked. He tried to shift his head, but another painful jolt of lightning shot through his body. He winced. He shifted his gaze to the woman who shared his prison.

    "Somewhere near the water," said May Birch. She was resting against the container's wall, a safe distance away from the jolts 0 was producing. "I smell the sea."

    0 could too, his nose seemed so much stronger, and he thought he heard the ripples of waves outside. "How long have we been here?"

    "I don't know. I only just woke up a little while ago myself." He knew that, he'd heard her get up.

    "Are you hurt?"

    "A little." She rubbed her head and groaned. "But I'll be fine. How about you?"

    "Busted. I need to get my new morpher." Briefly, he summarized exactly what had been planned with Bakaguru. Not that it mattered anymore, 0 was certain that any chance of escape was gone. "I can't wait for the others. They should have been here by now."

    "Relax." She shushed him and scooted closer. She considered touching him, and almost did, but a spark that leapt across his chest kept her hands by her sides. "I'm sure Logan and the others will be here soon. We just need to be patient."

    "What about Sarah? Can she be patient?"

    May chuckled. "She's stronger than you think. She knows we'll come back. She's not the little baby that used to cry whenever you left on one of your…trips." Her face fell. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring that back up."

    His breath became a little ragged. "No…I don't mind at all," he murmured. "I kinda deserve it. It's just that…"

    "Just what?"

    Another jolt shot through him, and he groaned. "I can't stop thinking of her as the little baby who used to bounce around in her playpen every time I got home. Remember, I'd always say, 'I'm back', and you would always say-"

    "'Bout time, now where's that trophy'," she finished. "And you'd always have some giant golden monstrosity for us to put in the garage next to the others. We ran out of room…" They had had a small, modest house, and after 0 had joined PKM and gone off on so many…trips, the big trophies took up too much space.

    "Then we'd take Sarah out of her pen and let her try to run around. She always wanted me to hold her." 0 laughed, it was hard and gritty but it was a laugh nonetheless. "We'd always have to put her in her high chair before dinner…"

    "That was so long ago. I gave that chair away on a charity auction a few years ago, when she got big enough to sit in a regular chair."

    There was silence for a while. 0 was trying to put what he wanted to say into words, and May wanted to give him the time he needed to do so. Through the visor, he looked up at her. Even with half her face bruised, she was still so beautiful…she hadn't aged a day.

    "Do you…remember that night?" he asked. "The night I came back, for the last time?"

    She bit her lip, but nodded. "Yes."

    "I remember walking through the door, just like I always did. I remember that Sarah wasn't in her playpen, you'd put her to bed early. I guess that was a good thing, didn't want her to see the fight. Why did we fight, anyway? Why did you even start it?"

    She remembered. "I was…so angry at you. I was looking through your clothes, I found a cell phone, a weird cell phone, in one of your pants. You always asked me to check if you forgot to take something out of them before I washed them."

    "Yeah," he muttered. "My communicator. I got reprimanded pretty badly for leaving that behind, actually."

    She continued. "All of a sudden, it started to ring. There wasn't a caller ID, so I just answered it to let the person know you'd forgot it. I figured maybe it was a publicist or something, you were just trying to keep our phone from being spammed. I wanted to believe anything.

    "Then I heard her voice. I didn't know it was Serena, when I met her with you that first time I knew I'd recognized her from somewhere. She was the one calling you.

    "She said, 'Hey, baby', before I even got a chance to say anything.

    "I said, 'No, this is May Birch. Who is this'? I was too shocked to say anything else.

    "'Oh, so this is May', said the other voice. 'I've heard so much about you from your husband'. She giggled, really excited like. I didn't know."

    "3," said 0, "has always been close to me. I'm the reason she's a ranger, and she's one of the main reasons I'm still sane. After I left, she was my only friend in the world. Besides Pi, of course."

    "I shouted something at her, I don't even remember what, and I shut off the phone and smashed it against the wall. Then I went back upstairs, tucked Sarah into bed early, and waited for you. I thought about everything I wanted to say to you, what I thought of you, but when I saw you all my thoughts just went away in the screams."

    He remembered. She had called him things that he could never repeat, and that no one should have to hear from the person they love.

    "Then I just told you to leave, and that I never wanted to see your face again."

    He had, during the argument, never said anything against her. It had almost been like he wanted to be caught, to let the lies out he'd been keeping from her. Never had she known he had done it to protect her and Sarah. Never, until he returned.

    "I'm so sorry I wasn't there, May," he groaned. His electric bursts were becoming more erratic and he was feeling withdrawal set in. He should have taken the serum early… "I couldn't keep you safe. That's all I ever wanted to do, and I couldn't even do it without hurting you."

    "You did protect us. You were always with us."

    "I wasn't." He coughed, his neck hurt again. "When…I was a kid, when I first met you…I never talked about my father, did I?"

    "I don't really remember. If you did, it wasn't that much."

    "It's because I didn't know him. Every time I asked my mother, she would always say he was still on a journey. She never told me where, or why. I promised myself that Sarah wouldn't grow up like that, not knowing who her father was. I promised myself she wouldn't live like that, and I lied to her and myself."

    "That's not true," whispered May.

    "It is."

    "It's not," she insisted. "She knows now who her father is. She knows who he is and what he has done to protect her. Your daughter knows you are what you are because you wanted to protect her, 0. You wanted to protect her and me. And you have."

    0 looked around. "Wouldn't be too sure of that. We are locked in a storage tank, after all."

    "Just a setback. Everything will be fine, I promise."

    "And then we can run away together?" He smiled, he would like that very much.

    She nodded. "It'll be just the three of us. A perfect family."

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

    "It's just the three of us now…"

    The two boys who stood next to Serena were taller than she was. They towered over her by about a head, but it wasn't like they were mean or anything. They were just older. Her big brothers.

    They were standing near two pits of earth, both recently dug. Caskets were being lowered into them, and Serena couldn't stop crying. She loved her big brothers, that was true, but she didn't want to lose her parents. It still felt like a nightmare, and that she would wake at any moment and be comforted by one of the big strong hugs her father always gave her. They always made her feel safe.

    Now there would be no more hugs from Father, no more tissues from Mother.

    "Just the three of us," the other, younger brother repeated. They stood side by side, with Serena in the middle, offering their little sister as much comfort as siblings can give to one another. Each of her hands held one of theirs. She tried hard not to cry, but the burning sensation behind her eyes was growing unbearable.

    "It's okay, little Serena," said the boy on the left.

    The brother on the right nodded. "You can cry if you want to. We won't mind."

    She still tried to hold them back, but her lips trembled just slightly. A torrent of tears flooded out of her tiny emerald eyes. She screamed at the sky.

    "Mommy! Daddy!"

    The twin on the right hushed her. "Now, now, little Serena. Mother and Father are in a better place-"

    "-And we still have each other, right?" finished the one on the left.

    She supposed they were right, but still…she looked at the pits. They were being filled up, now nothing would bring their parents back.

    One twin looked at the other. "Come on, little Serena. We want to show you something."

    They took her hands and led her through the vast mansion that was their home. People, grownups, would be coming soon to talk to them about the future of their parents' business, but for now it was just the three of them. They didn't want to talk about the whole PKM business that they knew they would have to in only a matter of time. Time was important, that's what their family lawyer had said. They didn't believe him, he was an adult. What he wanted, what the grownups wanted from them…

    That could all wait for a little while.

    The walkway they were on soon gave way to the girl's favorite place in the world: the mansion's garden. Walls of flowers watched the three children as they entered, statues of all sorts of Pokemon almost seemed to rise to greet them. Despite the sadness of the day, Serena couldn't help but feel a little better in this bright, happy place that was surrounded by so much gloom.

    In the center of the garden, where they seemed to be headed, Serena saw a fountain etched with carvings of only the most beautiful water Pokemon. It was easily her favorite piece of art in the garden. She would spend hours looking at the exquisite detail of each Pokemon, no matter how small, on its surface. She loved the little ones the most, they were the ones with the most care taken in their carving.

    In the fountain was a small, white Pokemon playing. It belonged to her brothers, a gift from their parents. When she got older, her mother and father had always said, they would give Serena a Pokemon just as wonderful. It was an energetic, fun-loving Seel, a Pokemon without legs but with plenty of humor in the way it would bob its head this way and that through the water, trying to catch all the food they gave it each day.

    It was always happy to see Serena. It would wag its tail when she entered the garden, and hop out of the water to get her wet in a massive hug. It would juggle for her, play with her, and do whatever she wanted. It did this because its trainers, the twins, wanted to see their sister happy, and nothing made their sister happier than playing with Seel.

    They stopped just short of the fountain's edge and Seel, as always, floated out to greet them in its lazy, playful voice. "Seel," it said mournfully. It knew what had happened, it had seen the caskets from the garden's windows. It saw how sad Serena was, and tried to nudge her face into a smile. It half-succeeded.

    "Seel," said one twin and brushed its sleek fur. "We want to do something nice for little Serena."

    "Something nice," the second twin agreed. "We want to give you to her."

    "What?" Serena asked aloud. Seel had a similar, confused reaction. Its big eyes, formerly happy and lifelike, now looked worried.

    "Seel, Seel!" it asked wildly.

    The first twin hushed its worries. "No, we still love you quite a lot. Isn't that right?" He turned to his brother, who nodded. "But little Serena needs you more than we do. We have one another. Little Serena doesn't have a twin to look after her. She just has us. She needs more, okay Seel?"

    "We just want to lend you to her. Until she feels better, okay?"

    The Seel looked at each of its trainers, then settled its gaze upon the confused Serena. It saw past that bewilderment and into the pain she was hiding. It turned to its trainers and gave one big nod of its head.

    "Seel," it said. More than anything, it wanted to help its family.

    "That's a good Seel," whispered one twin.

    "We promise we'll still love you," said the other.

    They pulled out a Poke Ball and, together, returned Seel inside it. They smiled and patted the ball's surface. They still didn't quite understand how such a large Pokemon could fit inside such a tiny, tiny ball.

    They turned to Serena, and showed her the ball.

    "Here you go," said the first twin.

    "Your very first Pokemon…"


    The courtyard was empty.

    Serena Brine was hallucinating, possibly an after-effect of the sequencing process. She recognized where she was immediately, how many times had she come to this garden as a child? The walls were still there surrounding it, but instead of nostalgia and wonder as she had felt as a child she now sensed only loneliness and despair.

    The flowers were all rotted from years of neglect and when Serena got too close to them she found they stank like days-old garbage. She pulled her hand to her nose and continued past the flower garden. The ground she walked in, instead of luscious grass like when she was a child, was now nothing but dust and earth. Each step she took seemed difficult, and she always seemed to remain in the same place. After so long, she knew exactly why she was here.

    Seel, you've brought me to face you.

    The fountain had dried up after all the years of neglect. The carvings, once so beautiful and fair, had faded away. Occasionally, when her eyes glanced upon its surface, she saw some faint signs of the Pokemon that once adorned its surface. Long ago, she could remember them all.

    Now, in the middle of the pool, sat a little girl with silver hair so much like her own. The girl couldn't have been more than five or six years old, but seven might not have been an unreasonable guess. She looked at Serena with tired, weary eyes.

    Serena knew what she was. She saw the girl's reflection: a Water Pokemon with flippers and a small horn and a wagging tongue.

    "Seel," she said. Slowly, the girl nodded her head.

    "Little Serena," Seel said back, in a voice that sounded so much like the little Serena Seel had been given to. "You found me."

    The little girl stood up, she looked so exhausted, and walked over to the edge of the fountain. It was an awkward shuffle, the Pokemon did not know how to properly project the illusion of walking. She rested against the edge and peered up into Serena's eyes.

    "I've missed you," Seel said.

    Serena nodded. "I missed you too." She sat down next to her Pokemon. "Why are you like this?" she asked. "Why do you look like me, from when I was a kid?"

    Seel shrugged. "This is my world, inside the morpher," she explained. "I wanted to remind you of the first time you became my trainer. Do you remember that day?"

    She did. "The day my parents died. My brothers gave you to me. They wanted me to have a Pokemon from Mother and Father."

    Seel shook her head. "No. It was the day your brothers lent me to you. I wanted to help you, so they let me. But I was always going to go back to them. Always."

    It took a moment of silence, but Serena finally understood what Seel was trying to say. "I became a ranger," she whispered, "to fight them. I made you help me hurt them."

    Seel, satisfied, nodded her head. "I was so scared, little Serena. I didn't want to fight them, your brothers who said they loved me. You made me…and I was so scared that I-that I…" Her voice faded away and her chin wobbled as tears began forming in her eyes. "Why did you have to hurt them? They weren't doing anything wrong to us! They were pretending! They were playing!"

    She sniffed some of the snot from her nose. "And you never explained. You never tried to talk to me again! Because you felt guilty! Because I reminded you of them! Because you hated me, didn't you?"

    Seel tried to say more, she was on the verge of screaming. But Serena hushed her and embraced Seel in her arms.

    "Seel, I'm so sorry," she whispered. "I didn't want to lose them either. I thought you hated me so much, for making you fight them, that that was why you never spoke to me again. When I transformed that first time, and you were with me, I felt your fear. I thought you were angry with me.

    "I had to fight them." Seel had opened her mouth to speak, but closed it when Serena continued. "They were going to kill 0, and me. They were going to do…terrible things to us. Things that make me wake up in the night screaming, with the bed soaked with sweat. I'm so scared of them Seel. I don't know why they went so bad. I loved them so much, as much as I do Mother and Father. I tried to keep us together, one big happy family. But I didn't."

    She felt tears of her own fall down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Seel. I just wanted to protect 0, me, and you. I didn't want them to hurt us."

    "Little Serena…" There was a faint breeze in the air, it fluttered through the dead flowers. "Do you need me again?"

    "I do. I thought you had died, Seel, and left me. I can't lose you, you're the only thing I have to remind me of the better times, before I became a ranger." She lowered her eyes and stared into Seel's. "But this time you have a choice, Seel. I became a ranger with you because I needed to be one, because I needed to protect my partner. This time, I want to become one because I have people I need to save, and because I want you to be there by my side."

    Seel's tears fell into her hands, where they began to glow. Slowly, the Silver Morpher began to appear and the wind grew stronger through the garden.

    "Will you fight with me, Seel?" Serena asked.

    The Pokemon nodded. "I will, little Serena."

    And Serena took the Silver Morpher and put it on her wrist. Seel lifted her hands to touch its surface, and closed its eyes.

    "Then let's go save the world."

    A blinding silver light filled the garden. Seel started to change, shifting from the shape of a little girl into a magnificent, elegant creature with long, flowing fan-like flippers and a sleek body. It was, somehow, evolving.

    In moments, a Dewgong floated through the air, enveloping Serena in its embrace. She felt it bond to her, transform her.

    Morph her.

    Serena awoke in Bakaguru's lab, covered in armor.

    Bakaguru watched with Sarah as the figure in the chair began to glow from head to toe in silver light. They watched as silver boots and gloved took shape, silver leggings and a short skirt replaced her pants. They watched a black belt form and from there silver armor upon her chest and back emerged. The face of a proud Dewgong, in black silhouette, appeared on the center of her chest. Black armor covered her shoulders and arms and touched the silver gloves.

    Finally, her face was covered by a silver helmet with an upside-down triangular visor over her eyes and brow. A black mouth plate covered her lower face. When the transformation was complete, the Silver Ranger stood up from the chair and her entire body seemed to glitter.

    "Wow!" screamed Sarah. "You look so beautiful, Miss Serena!"

    Bakaguru smiled. "Good thing you bonded to it. Replacing you at this point would be quite impossible."

    From behind the mask, Serena giggled. "This feels a little weird," she said, her voice somewhat muffled by the helmet. "It's definitely heavier than my White Ranger uniform."

    Bakaguru nodded. "I outfitted this one with a tougher material. Don't worry, it's still built around your natural fighting style, but it's harder to damage."

    "Aw, always looking out for me…" she teased.

    "It's time to go, Serena," said Bakaguru. He had in his hands the fully-functioning Gold Morpher. "Remember, this must be bonded with 0 to help him fully recover. He hasn't taken well to being separated from his ranger spirit for even this short amount of time."

    She nodded and preciously held the morpher that contained Pi. "Of course. But what are you going to do? Eventually, the quarantine is going to be broken into. What about Sarah?"

    Bakaguru grinned. "I assure you that Sarah will be well taken care of," he said with a smile. He looked down at the little girl. "Isn't that right?"

    She nodded eagerly. "Yup, just come back safe, Miss Serena!"

    The Silver Ranger nodded. "I'll bring your parents back, Sarah. Promise."

    She stepped into the transporter. As Bakaguru fired it up, Serena looked through her visor. Her ranger spirit was now displayed at the bottom edge of her screen.

    "Ready, See-Dewgong?" she asked. She still wasn't quite used to its evolution.

    She heard a giggle. "Ready," it said back.

    Then she was gone.

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

    Ten minutes earlier, Logan and his team found themselves in quite a predicament.

    "Okay guys," he said. "So, Bakaguru didn't exactly say which really big storage container we were supposed to look through, so it might be a good idea for somebody to give him a call. Maybe ask for directions too, since this is one maze I don't really feel interested in getting lost in."

    Bakaguru had transported them into a shipping yard. A shipping yard filled to the brim with thousands upon thousands of identical shipping containers. Like any good leader, Logan was naturally quite annoyed by this turn of events. It would mean a lot of work they couldn't do running against the clock like this.

    "Could we morph and use our scanning equipment to determine their location?" The suggestion came, in her logical way, from 415. She apparently didn't like the cold, Logan noticed she was hugging her new ranger jacket quite a bit.

    "Good idea," said Logan. "Glad I thought of it. Let's test these Ailed babies out!"

    In unison Logan, Karin, and 415 all pressed the trigger buttons on their morphers. Max watched with interest as each was surrounded by a color-specific Poke Ball-like hologram. When each ball opened, the person inside it was instantly transformed into their Ranger Mode.

    Logan pressed his gloves against his helmet and chuckled. "Wow! We look so cool now!" Aside from a few minor aesthetic differences, not much had changed. Aside from their specific colors, Bakaguru had modified them to look much like the Ranger Silver System's uniform. The only exception was 415's uniform, where the black arms and shoulders had been replaced by blue, a side effect from her Ranger Spirit. Hers also had some spikes along her arms, giving her a much more menacing and demonic appearance.

    Logan's, by contrast, looked much more aerodynamic and Karin's looked more resistant. Max wrapped his Dark Emerald's chain around his arms.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    The armor, as it always did, emerged from his skin and clamped into place, taking only a few moments to transform.

    "Here, Scizor, connect me to Bakaguru," Logan muttered to his ranger spirit.

    "Of course," came the scratchy reply. "There."

    The link was filled with static, but present. "Red, is that you?" asked the voice on the other end.

    "You bet, sweet cheeks. How's little girl Silver doing?"

    "Sequencing has begun. She won't be online for a while."

    "Got it. Hey, listen…the place you sent us to has a lot of storage boxes. Big storage boxes. Think you can bust out Gold's tracking signal and give us an idea of where he is?"

    "Negative. The signal is too weak now for that. I wouldn't know where you are either in relation to it. Your new Ailed Morphers have had their tracking devices removed for when we make our escape. You cannot be found by any radio or signal means. Even this line cannot be traced."

    "Nifty. Which brings me to my second question: can we use Max as a bloodhound? Assuming he's got better senses in Dark Gem mode?"

    "That is possible. The Dark Emerald can track down its tamer, in this case Gold, but Gold isn't wearing his morpher right now. Max would only respond to that stimuli."

    "Huh." Logan looked at Max and sighed. "Well, you're of no use." The Dark Emerald Ranger just growled softly, eager for combat. "Oh wait, 415 said we could use scanning equipment. These new Ailed suits have those, right?"

    "Yes, in a limited capacity. You have night vision and basic heat vision. Some scaling back was needed to optimize efficiency."

    "Got it. Let us know when Serena's made the crossover and on her way. Red, out."

    "003, out."

    Logan turned to his team. "Okay, let's split up. Karin, 415, you take the east side, and I'll keep Max in line while we take a look at the west side. Sound good?"

    Karin was already leaving with 415, presumably heading east. Logan took another look at Max and sighed.

    "This is gonna be a long night. Hey, do you know where west is?" The Dark Emerald Ranger did not reply, so Logan headed in the opposite direction the girls did, with 0's pet monster right behind them.

    They walked for thirty seconds in silence when Logan found himself unable of remaining silent any longer. "Can you talk?" he asked as they searched.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger was silent. If Max was still in there, he wasn't talking.

    "Like, I don't know, how about trying to say 'hi'?" Logan suggested. "Or maybe 'good evening'? Or, if you want to be really cool, you could say 'I think Logan is the sexiest man alive. Seriously, is there nothing this guy can't do? He's just like a super spy in one of those action movies, where the super spy meets the hot rival spy and they fall in love and team up to save the world'? I love those movies, the girls always look so great in spandex." He paused, as if thinking. "Note to self- buy Karin spandex." Then he turned to Max. "Think you can say any of that?"

    "Laaaaade," hissed the Dark Gem Ranger.

    Logan put his finger on his mouth plate. "I guess I'll take that as a maybe. What about the last one I suggested? Say that one."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger grabbed Logan and shoved the Red Ranger against the nearest shipping container. "Gallla, Laaaaaaade." The message, even to Logan, was quite clear.

    "I'll take that as a no. Now let me down, we gotta find 0 and May."

    The mention of their names seemed to hit some neutrons in Max's brain, because the dark ranger lowered the Red Ranger back to the ground so the two of them could continue their stroll. Logan used the infrared in his scanning equipment, Bakaguru had replaced the night vision with that, seeing as Logan did not require night vision.

    "Still not seeing anything," he muttered in disappointment. "You smell anything, big guy?" Again, no answer, so Logan hooked himself up to 415 and Karin. "Hey, anybody find anything yet?"

    "Nothing," reported 415's curt voice. "I presume you also found nothing."

    "Good guess, Captain Obvious. We've swept about fifty crates or so, how about you guys?"

    "Maybe two hundred. Women work faster than men."

    "Not when I'm around. Ain't that right, Karin?" Logan could practically hear the embarrassment from Karin's trademark silence. "Oh, she likes it sloooooow, and I'm more than happy to-" Logan paused in mid-sentence.

    "Lose your perverted train of thought?" 415 asked.

    "Nope. Found some moving bodies." Logan narrowed his vision on the two figures huddled in the container next to him. One had a regular signature, but the other one was erratic. Every once in a while something would jolt out of it, like lightning or something. "Confirmed sighting of the lovebirds. Max, you still got the serum?"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger held up a vial. "Good boy. Now, help me open up the crate please. Karin, 415, head west in our direction. Bakaguru said trackers wouldn't work on our morphers, so find the big flashing lights from my Claw Cocktail."

    Logan, via Scizor, summoned the weapon. Unlike normally, it downloaded in an instant. "Guess the weapons are stored in our morphers now…Bakaguru cut off all dependence on PKM." He pointed the cannon up at the sky and fired once. The blast ripped through the air and smashed through the clouds above. "Next," he said and pointed to the crate. "Max, back up a little, you're right in my line of fire."

    The dark ranger did as he was told and Logan fired the cannon. The door to the container ripped apart and blasted through the wall on the other end. Fortunately, he had aimed so precisely that neither 0 nor May were ever in danger of being hurt. The Red Ranger strode into the container and grinned under his helmet.

    "Lucy, I'm home!" he called and banged on the wall. "You guys alright?"

    May nodded. "Thanks, Logan. We're okay. 0 needs some serum, did you bring any with you?"

    Logan nodded and snapped his fingers at Max. "Jolly Green had it last time I checked. Max, serum please." He watched as Max shifted his arm to his side and the serum vial simply formed out of the Dark Emerald Ranger armor. The beast handed it to the Red Ranger, who took it with some disgust. "Gotta figure out a better, less creepy, way for you to do that. Here ya go."

    May thanked him a second time and bent over 0 to administer the serum. 0 took her through the procedure and within moments he was standing, though he needed to lean on the wall for support.

    "Logan, thank you," he said. His mouth seemed dry. He raised his hand to shake Logan's, but the Red Ranger noticed a jolt coming and didn't take it. The Golden Ranger winced.

    "That's new," Logan muttered. "Somebody overpay the electric bill?"

    "Very funny. What's with the new getup?"

    "Bakaguru updated our uniforms, makes them look much more sexy. We should probably get out of here. Pretty sure that cannon blast I used to give Karin and 415 our location will probably mean baddies will show up soon." He heard footsteps outside. "That's probably them. Should we run?"

    "We will not," 0 hissed. "Did you bring my new morpher?"

    "That I did not do. My secret informants tell me someone else has that job. Right now though, I don't think it's a good idea for you to fight. Why don't you go and get May to safety. Max and I will handle the Rangerlings. Then when 415 and Karin get here, this whole thing will get really kinky." He rubbed his hands together with glee. "Yes, quite kinky indeed."

    "Laaaaaaade," growled the Dark Emerald Ranger. It could smell the Dark Onyxes that were approaching.

    "Go fetch," Logan ordered. "I'll join you promptly."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger snarled with what Logan interpreted as pleasure, and exited the container via the large hole Logan had made. Shortly after, very loud and painful shrieks began to fill their ears.

    "You should probably go, Miss Birch," said Logan and he pointed his cannon at another section of wall. It blasted apart. "Go through there. I'll cover you, Golden Boy."

    "Thank you, Logan."

    "Hey, it's loveable me. Now get out of here before you get us killed."

    Logan dove through the hole in front of them and instantly found himself surrounded by quite a few of the little black bugs. With a few well-placed shots, most of them were thrown away by the kinetic force inside the cannon's blast and he was calling for 0 and May to run. The two figures dashed beside him and Logan's voice echoed through the night.

    "Yee haw! Get some, Rangerlings!" He fired into the crowd some more, waiting for his Karin and 415 to get there. They arrived on the scene within the minute, both of them already in Rescue Mode. Karin was turning the Rangerlings into metaphorical jelly just by touching them with her sonic vibrations while something was allowing 415 to hit each and every one of the Rangerlings with perfect precision and speed, like lightning bolts. The fact that she was killing them with her bare hands made the feat much more impressive.

    "Hey, kiddies!" shouted Logan. "Glad you could join the party." Then he contacted Scizor. "I'm going to need the scissors. These things need to be put down, not blasted around."

    "Good idea," said the old warrior, and in moments Logan was the proud wielder of his own blades. He celebrated this by plunging them into two Rangerlings at the same time. They shrieked and crumbled to dust.

    Over the screams, Logan heard a distance roar and groaned aloud.

    "Guys, looks like we've got Shadow Pokemon on the loose. Karin, 415, divert attention to those things. Knock them out and try to bag them, if you can. I don't want them dead, got it?"

    "Confirmed," 415 replied and dashed off to the sound of the roars. Karin followed, but only after she obliterated the five Rangerlings surrounding her with her sonic blasts. Somehow, those seemed to make their Dark Onyxes weaker and easier to break.

    Logan turned to Max. "How's it going?" he shouted.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger shrieked as one of the puny Rangerlings, a pipe in hand, tried to break the Dark Emerald lodged in his chest. The pipe broke and so did the Rangerling, because Max grabbed it and ripped it in half, right down the middle of its Dark Onyx.

    "Guess it's going pretty well." Logan wondered about that, as he tore through about a half-dozen Rangerlings. Why were Ame and Ony sending weak little things like these after PKM's former elite team of rangers? They had even allowed their cargo to escape, something that Logan was certain had been way too easy.

    "What's going on?" he wondered.

    His question was answered sooner rather than later, something he normally preferred but could do with an exception under the circumstances. He first noticed something bad was probably heading his way when the ground started to shake. He also notices a slight twinge in his stomach when he realized that the Rangerlings were simply fleeing from the scene, rather than stay like noble idiots to die uselessly.

    But it wasn't until he saw the thing taller than the freight containers, with about as much weight, that he felt a sense of trouble.

    "Whatever kind of milk Ame's got in her pocket, it worked," he breathed as the Dark Onyx Ranger came stomping down the lot in his general direction.

    Easily something like ten feet tall, possibly larger as Logan couldn't really guess its exact height, the Dark Onyx Ranger was a big boy indeed. Its entire body was covered with Dark Onyxes, its entire muscle-bound, probably indestructible body. To Logan, this meant that things were not going to end well.

    By its side was Ame, with a smug smile on her face. She raised a hand, and the beast suddenly halted. Even the Dark Emerald Ranger, sensing its kind, stopped to watch the hulking figure of the Dark Onyx Ranger and little Ame.

    "Good evening, Ranger Red," she said, as if conducting an interview.

    "Evening. Mind letting us past your troll there? I don't think it's had its bath yet and this is a brand new suit. Wouldn't want to ruin it with ogre sweat."

    Ame chuckled. "So quick with the puns, Ranger Red. I would not put it past you to write them ahead of time, just in case. However, my contract states that your request cannot be granted. You are to be terminated for releasing my cargo." She looked up to Ony and smiled. "Fight until they die, or until you die. That is all, wait for my mark."

    The monster prepared its attack by assuming a stance not unlike a sumo wrestler. "Any last words?" asked Ame, and her bright eyes flashed dangerously in the darkness.

    "Not from my friend," said Logan. "But I have several, most of them not monosyllabic. You see, I am afraid that I am utterly incapable of dying."

    "You're immortal?" The look on Ame's face suggested that was quite a ridiculous notion.

    "Nope. But I do have certain obligations. Like, for instance, my mother." He immediately took up a pose one might see from a thespian. "You see, I must bear an heir. I have been trying so very hard to with my current lover, a truly lovely young lass. And when I say trying, I mean we're giving this all we have. Like, you cannot fathom the lengths we have endured for this. The lovely, quite sinful lengths. But we forge on, in spite of the odds against us!" His voice reached a quivering pitch, like an actor at the cusp of a climax.

    "Does this have a point, other than to boast about your sex life?"

    He nodded. "It does indeed. That, for instance." Logan pointed one of his blades up, up, to the Dark Onyx Ranger's head. There, directly at the top, was Karin, firing all of her sonic waves directly into the beast's head. "That's my girl! Deadly in the field, but almost lethal in bed!"

    Ame grunted with annoyance. "Kill them," she ordered.

    The monster attempted to run, but found its equilibrium messed up. It tripped and crashed into a nearby containment tank, where Karin leapt off to join her partner. After smacking Logan in the head, which he probably did deserve, they regrouped with 415 and Max.

    "How were the Shadow Pokemon?" he asked.

    "Removed and quarantined. I placed a PKM tracer on them, should they wish to pick them up."

    "Good girl. Now, let's deal with fatty here…" The Dark Onyx Ranger was picking itself up and was gearing up for round two. "Max, play fetch with its legs. Karin, get to the head again. 415, keep track of it and go for the weak points. Smash the Dark Onyxes, the more we take out the weaker it'll be."

    "What will you do?"

    "Wondered when you were going to ask me that. Scizor, Rescue Mode." In seconds, Logan had his wings. "I'm going to annoy the hell out of it."

  10. #40
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 26, Continued

    Morph Twenty-Six: Tomorrow's Rangers, Part 4

    The Golden Ranger was still unable to demorph.

    After he and May had found a safe place to hide and wait for his morpher, he was still nowhere close to assuming his regular body. The armor just didn't want to come off and it was only making the jolts worse.

    "At least I can still think," he muttered. The serum was now in full effect, it must have been an especially potent dose. "May, are you alright?"

    "Fine, 0," she insisted. He'd been asking every few minutes or so. "How are the others doing?"

    "Can't tell. I took us far enough away so that you wouldn't be found. Now all we can do is wait for the morpher."

    "Who's bringing it? Surely not Bakaguru…"

    "No. He's not the one bringing me the morpher. Bakaguru's old. Way too old for this. He'll send somebody he trusts and there's only one person he'll trust enough for this."

    "Who?"

    "Who else? Bakaguru will send his daughter. Or, at least, his adopted daughter: 3."

    "She's his adopted daughter?"

    0 chuckled and a jolt of lightning shot through him again. "Bakaguru is one of those people who never had a family. He didn't have a wife, he didn't have children, I'm not even sure the old man had parents. But he was a mentor to 3, so much so that I think he thinks of her as his adopted daughter. Kind of like how 415 thinks she's the old 0's adopted daughter. It's more of a close bond than anything like a family."

    The prodigal daughter arrived, just as 0 predicted, just not how he expected. He knew at once the silver form was Serena, but to see her in the uniform again was something he could have never foreseen.

    "Serena," murmured May as the Silver Ranger walked up. "You look beautiful."

    Serena nodded. "Your daughter said the same thing, May," she said, then turned to 0. "I've got something that belongs to you, Gold." She held it in her hands, the glittering Gold Ailed Morpher. "With this, you'll be the Gold Ranger. Put it on, quickly."

    0 nodded and grabbed it. "Got it," he said. He tore off the fake morpher, though the false armor still remained. "How does it work?"

    "Press the morphing trigger. It'll do everything else on its own."

    0 nodded and pressed the button. Instantly, the jolts ceased. 0 felt warm and heavy as the bulky, true armor of the Gold Ranger clamped onto him. Aside from the aesthetic differences, the slight changes of color arrangement and the structure of the helmet, nothing seemed to have changed.

    "I'm back," he hissed as his systems came online.

    "So am I," said the voice in his ear. Pi.

    "Good to hear you again, partner." He turned to May and whispered, "Stay here, no matter what happens. I'll come and get you after we've given a visit to Ame and the Snagem guy."

    "Okay. Be careful, 0." Gently, she kissed the part of his helmet with the black mouth plate.

    "You bet. 3, let's-"

    Serena bonked him on the head. "I'm not 3 anymore, Gold. We're not part of PKM anymore. No need for numbers."

    "Alright. Silver, let's go."

    "Say that sexier."

    "No. We're going." He started running, just regular running, without the assistance of Agility. He wanted to enjoy his new suit to the fullest. Serena caught up quickly, and both their uniforms shined in the slight moonlight from the sky above.

    "Hey, Silver?"

    She looked at him. "Yeah, Gold?"

    "It's good to have you back, partner."

    She giggled. "You always know how to say the corniest things in the manliest ways!" she squealed.

    0 was quite thankful she didn't decide to leap on him right then and there, mostly because they were approaching the fight scene, and partially because he didn't want May getting the wrong idea.

    The fight, for that was the only thing to describe what they were looking at, was the strangest thing 0 had ever seen. Standing fifteen feet tall, easily, was the Dark Onyx Ranger. It was screaming in rage, attempting for some reason to attack the red figure that was flying around it, obviously irritating it beyond normal levels of patience.

    "Logan," 0 grumbled. "Always a clown."

    In fact, Logan was doing his job so well that Ony had completely ignored the pink figure of Karin that was climbing around its body, damaging portions here and there with concentrated sonic bursts. It had also begun to completely forget that on the ground, the Dark Emerald Ranger was working to trip it up thanks to some chains and assistance from 415, who kept knocking at its pressure points.

    "We should join the party," Serena suggested.

    0 agreed. "Pi, download the Bolt Blade now."

    It arrived in a flash of lightning, a download so fast it had to have come from inside his morpher. The Bolt Blade had changed. No longer was it a massive hunk of iron roughly 0's height. Now it was smaller, with a four foot long blade and a two-handed handle. It still retained its black surface and golden edges.

    "This is the Bolt Blade's new Compact Mode," Pi explained. "Let me know when you want to use Heavy Mode."

    "Thanks Pi, let's try this one on for size," 0 said and, with a shout, rushed into the fray.

    Likewise, Serena opened communications to her Ranger Spirit. "Dewgong, I need the Frost Fans," she said. "Please."

    "One moment, little Serena," said Dewgong, in a lovely voice. The Frost Fans appeared just as quickly as the Bolt Blade had. They looked tougher, with blades on the edges.

    "Here I go!" Serena shouted as she followed 0.

    The Gold Ranger smashed into the goliath Dark Onyx Ranger, using the lighter Bolt Blade to slash through the gems that made up its feet tendons. It crashed to the ground. "Attack the individual Dark Onyxes!" he ordered. "That's the reason it got so big!" How he knew this the Gold Ranger wasn't sure, but it seemed to make sense. The Dark Onyxes further away from the beast's chest were weaker as well, making it easy to damage.

    But the Dark Onyx Ranger was unwilling to lose so easily and though it was primitive in mind its attack was still lethal. It screeched and kicked 0 full in the chest, sending the Gold Ranger crashing sideways into a container. He groaned, but found that he has sustained surprisingly little damage.

    "Pi, we're going to need Cario Form," he said and reached for the blue ball on his belt.

    "The Synchronization Drive has been updated. All you need to do is put the ball into the new morpher and Lu will do the rest."

    "Gotcha," said 0, and he activated Cario Form. Like most of the new Ailed Morpher systems, the transformation was instantaneous. One moment 0 was poised for attack, the Bolt Blade gripped tightly in his hands, then in the next he was ready to play with the Claw Gauntlets. "Let's go!"

    "Aye, sir," said Lu. "I'd go for the tendons and work my way up to the joints. Should keep him from doing that kick again."

    "Paralysis couldn't hurt either," 0 agreed as he leapt forward. He smashed directly into the Dark Onyx Ranger's face and sent it flying on its back yet again. "Everyone join in!"

    "Oooh yeah! Gang bang!" shouted Logan, as he swept down. Gem after gem was sliced through with the Sake Scissors while 0 focused on smashing Ony's face as many times as he felt necessary. "Everyone, let's get the fat guy! Who brought lube? This guy's not going down easy!"

    "Cease, please," grumbled 415. For her first fight, she wasn't doing too badly. Not that anyone hadn't been expecting anything but outstanding. She hadn't figured out the Rescue Mode yet, but she was fighting well with her bare hands.

    "I kinda like it," admitted Serena.

    0 almost saw the grin that was probably positioned on Logan's face. "This is daily conversation for me, 415. Or, at least, for Karin and me. Ain't that right, honey?"

    The only thing that kept Karin from killing him was that she was distracted with being gripped in Ony's left hand. Logan promptly severed the tendons in the aforementioned hand. She fell out and he caught her gracefully. After being rewarded by a slap on the head, both rangers tag teamed the rest of the arm.

    Meanwhile, the Dark Emerald Ranger was in grips with Ame and the rest of the Rangerlings. Max roared as the hoards of Rangerlings struggled to hold him down, only to fail time and time again and be killed. All the while, Max continued a resilient march towards Ame. The green aura was starting to become visible again.

    "You are the stray, aren't you?" Ame asked rhetorically. "There is nothing in the contract about leaving you alive… Still, you are probably a specimen that my employers would like to own." She snapped her fingers, exactly as someone would to a pet. "Come on, want to come live with me and my minions?"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger responded by whipping one of its chains at her. It phased right through her and she sighed. "Too bad. You need to be put down." She clearly looked very reluctant to do it. "You are so inferior, you know that? If only you would evolve to something useful. I would scarcely need my powers to defeat something as weak as you."

    The Dark Emerald Ranger snarled in rage and attacked.

    The Silver Ranger brought down her weapons in full force. The bladed fans crashed through the gems that covered the Dark Onyx Ranger's joints. It screamed again, but it wasn't in a position to do anything. After all, it was on its back, with its limbs slowly being damaged. There was nowhere for it to possibly run.

    0 climbed onto its chest, digging through what was left of the Dark Onyxes, and impaled the central one on its chest. It howled in pain as the surface cracked in the first blow and completely disintegrated with the second.

    "Everyone move off it!" the Gold Ranger ordered, and none too soon! The beast began turning to dust in moments, and the other rangers jumped off as fast as they could. In seconds, it was reduced to nothing but Goza the Snagem Boss, wearing little to no clothes that only managed to cover his unmentionables. When Logan saw this, he began laughing to such an extent that he needed to be reminded via slaps from Karin to breathe.

    "This is easily one of the best moments of my life," he giggled and pointed to a very embarrassed Goza. "Why do I never have a camera when I so very desperately need one?"

    "Sh-Shut up!" Goza retorted back.

    "Karin, please note the date and time we discovered that the Snagem dude is hung like a well-endowed paramecium."

    "Logan, stop wasting time quipping and send Bakaguru a message. Let him know we're done here."

    "Sir, yes sir!" shouted Logan to the Gold Ranger and snapped off a salute. It only took him moments for the untraceable signal in his suit to find Bakaguru. "Guru…? Yeah, we're done here. Probably gonna take off after… What?" Everyone gathered around him, but he asked for silence. "Got it. On our way back." He shut off communications and with a grim voice said, "We need to go back to PKM."

    "Why?" asked 415.

    "Bakaguru says that he's got Sarah safe, but he can't use the teleporter. It ran out of mojo, or something. Add in the fact that the rest of PKM is about to break into the lab to get Charon back, we have a major problem guys. Gotta go help him out."

    "Couldn't he just morph?"

    "Don't think so. The way he sounded, he morphs one more time he's going to go kaput. The big guy is not in the best of shape. We'd better get back, because unless someone feeds him a wonder bar or something, he's going down."

    "Sarah…" growled 0. "If Charon touches her…"

    Logan waved the remainder of his statement. "Gotcha, tough guy. Go grab May and we'll get going. You've got a motorcycle in your morpher too, right?"

    "The 0 Cycle, yes."

    "Good, because I don't think 415's got one. She can ride Max or something. I have one for me and Karin."

    0 nodded, but 415 thought this was bad. "I am not riding the wild animal anywhere," she said definitively.

    "He's not a wild animal, you just have to know how to get him to obey." 0 walked over to the Dark Emerald Ranger and said, "Max, we need you to transport Ranger Black. Can you keep up with a motorcycle?"

    "Galllla…Laaaaaaade," it hissed.

    "What did he say?" Logan asked.

    "Said he could do it, as long as he could track the scent of where we're going." Then, the Gold Ranger paused. "Logan?"

    "Yes, sunshine?"

    "Where's Ame?"

    Logan shrugged. "Ran off, I guess. She's kinda creepy like that."

    "We'd better get going. Max, grab 415."

    "You touch anything you're not supposed to, I will not rest until-" The remains of 415's threats were removed when the Dark Emerald Ranger growled and slung her over its shoulder.

    "What about him?" Serena asked.

    "PKM can handle him."

    Logan and 0 revved their motorcycles. Logan and Karin took off and Serena and 0 went to grab May. The Dark Emerald Ranger jumped up onto the containers and followed briskly on foot, using its chains to propel itself at faster speeds. Once May sat down in front of 0 and Serena leaned in behind him, they tore off towards Bakaguru.

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    Bakaguru sat at the computer, observing the structures around his quarantine protection. He had precious minutes, at most he had five. He shifted his weight to look down at Sarah. She too was gazing at the computer, though she of course had no idea what the complicated equations displayed on the screen meant. Bakaguru finished the last of his analysis and sat up from the chair.

    "Sarah," he said, his voice a whisper, "come with me."

    "What is it, Bakaguru?" she asked. Like most children her age, Bakaguru noticed that innocent look of wonder in her eyes.

    "I have a last present for you, if you would like it."

    "A last present?" Sarah sounded confused. "What do you mean, 'last present'? Are you going away, Bakaguru?"

    "Maybe. That's why you need to have this, Sarah." He put his hand into his pocket and retrieved what looked like a blue watch. "Do you know what this is, Sarah?"

    She looked it over for a moment then shook her head. "It looks like the watch Daddy wears, but I don't know what it does."

    "That's okay, Sarah. This is an Ailed Morpher. It lets someone change into a ranger. Like Serena, like your father, like Logan, like 415, and like Karin."

    "Oooh! Can I hold it?"

    Bakaguru shook his head. "Not yet. You need to understand it before I can give it to you. And you need to know you can never wear it. Promise me that, Sarah."

    "Why can't I wear it Bakaguru?" She definitely wanted to know that she knew it wasn't allowed.

    "You do not have a Pokemon. Besides, the Ranger Blue System will not respond to you. You're too young to use it. No, what I need you to do Sarah is watch this. Protect it. Like I have."

    "You were a ranger, right? Like Daddy?"

    He nodded. "I was. Now, I don't have to be one anymore. With your father and his friends, I am the last of my generation hanging onto my morpher." He rubbed against the one on his wrist. "Gold is dead, Arthur retired. I'm the last one left.

    "See, Sarah, we didn't know what we were making," he explained. "We just wanted to make something to help people. When you make a weapon, you take that chance. Do you understand?"

    She nodded. "I think so."

    "Gold passed what he had to your father, and eventually now to 415. They were like his children. He brought both of them to me, knowing before I did they would be rangers. In the same way Logan came to me. I saw the slacker, and not the hero within. His father was his way in, and he proved to be a worthy successor, just as 0 and 415 have."

    "How did Miss Karin and Miss Serena become rangers?"

    "Karin was on the insistence of Logan, now I see why." Bakaguru once again chuckled. "Serena was a wonderful accident. Like your uncle Max. She became the person I passed what I had. She lived for so long fighting on her own, I tried to help her so much. And now she won't need me. They will not need PKM anymore."

    He handed her the morpher. "And now PKM won't need this anymore. Keep it safe, but never use it. Give it only when there is no other way, understand? This morpher is so powerful…it has all the secrets I decoded recorded inside it. Its operator will need to be someone strong, almost inhuman. But whoever they are, I trust you to keep it safe until its rightful owner comes."

    She nodded and tucked the morpher into her clothes. "I promise, Bakaguru."

    He patted her head. "Good girl, thank you. Now then…" He rose from where he had had to lower himself to see at her eye level and looked to the door. It would not hold much longer. "There is a special compartment underneath the computer. I need you to hide there, Sarah."

    She followed him to the computer, where a few quick keystrokes caused the floor to open up beneath them. Sarah jumped in and Bakaguru closed the gate.

    "Come back," she said.

    He nodded. "I'll try."

    He turned to Charon, who had grown silent in his little bubble. Feeling a little daring, Bakaguru removed the silence that barred Charon from speaking to the world.

    "Any last thoughts, Charon?" Bakaguru asked. "How does it feel to be put to shame by the world's greatest otaku?"

    "How do you think it will feel to be gunned down by people you have helped, trusted, and know you have to fight for your survival?" Charon retorted. "You won't be escaping this, Niwa. You will die today."

    "If I am," Bakaguru murmured, "then I want an interesting death. I've sat behind a lab desk for so long, the time has come for me to be free already!" The door was just about to give…

    He pressed down on the morpher's button. "Master Mode, Online!"

    The armor clamped down on him again, it felt so familiar to him! He felt so at home inside the body he had spent so many years designing. He almost didn't notice the way that slowly, ever so slowly, it was draining his energy. He was no longer suitable for using it, he knew that. His physical prowess was barely enough to hold the gears and mechanisms inside the suit together and stand up.

    The door began to open and the Master Ranger took a deep breath.

    They poured in by the hundreds. The PKM Agents, all in full body gear and more than capable of fighting, swarmed over the Master Ranger like so many Pokemon scrambling over food. The Master Mode dashed through the crowd.

    They fought a scientist, a mathematician, and a warrior whose reflexes, though dulled, were by no means gone. He spotted each blind spot that they presented and each angle each bullet would travel at. He avoided them all. He tried to lead them away, as far as he possibly could, from where Sarah was hiding. He would take no chances with her safety.

    But they kept coming. And coming.

    Eventually, he had to falter. Eventually, he did. The Master Ranger, pressed from all sides, was driven to the ground and the armor forcibly demorphed. Never had Bakaguru felt so weak. He groaned in pain as he was forced back to his feet, his morpher torn off of his wrist by

    Charon was removed from the force field. Once again, the head of PKM was all smiles and he strode towards Bakaguru as if meeting an old friend for a golf game.

    "Fancy a guess at how this story ends?" he asked Bakaguru, then turned to the nearest soldier. "Hand me your pistol, sir."

    The agent looked surprised. "W-What, sir?"

    "Never mind, I can get it." Charon reached for the boy's belt and pulled out a very sturdy, very deadly pistol. "Is it loaded?"

    "W-Well, of course."

    "Thank you. That will be all." Charon waited until the young man was quite a distance away before he pointed the gun at Bakaguru's chest. "Now, any idea how this ends, engineer?"

    "Kill me, and the technology dies with me," he chuckled. "You'll never be able to recreate it."

    "Never is a long time, otaku. Five years maybe, at most. The technology can be invented again. Better, and within my domains so I may decide who gets it. Not you. Never again."

    "Then is there anything else, Charon?" Bakaguru asked. "I'm not going to beg my way out of this. No pleading, no wailing. That's what you like, and that's why you won't get it."

    Charon undid the safety on the gun. "Last words?" he asked. His voice was so filled with malice, such absolute distain, that Bakaguru couldn't help but chuckle. Charon was so angry at him for not begging.

    "Yes. I am happy I am free." And it was here that Bakaguru grinned a wild grin. "Now let me go see my friend."

    Charon heard a shriek when he squeezed the trigger. He felt the bullet blast out of the gun and saw it smash into Bakaguru's chest. Blood gushed from the wound and burst like a fountain when Bakaguru's body slammed into the ground. Blood trickled from his mouth, his eyes were fading.

    Someone was running through the room, Charon didn't see the little girl until she was right by Bakaguru's side.

    "Bakaguru, no!"

    Charon winced, her screech of agony was quite annoying. The little girl, Gold's girl…was crying. Tears were pouring down the little girl's face, and Charon smiled.

    "…Gold…?"

    Bakaguru wasn't quite dead, but he was certainly checking out.

    "No, it's me, Sarah!" screamed the girl. "Don't die!"

    "…Always wondered…what happens…" He didn't feel Sarah's hands clench his, nor did he hear her screams. "Glad…to see you…" He was having trouble breathing, part of the bullet had punctured his left lung. His eyesight was growing even fainter. "S-Sar-Sarah?"

    "Bakaguru?"

    "N-Need to t-tell l-last part."

    "Isn't he dead yet?" yawned Charon. "It's been twenty seconds already."

    Sarah ignored him. "What?"

    "G-Go-Gold…" He swallowed his blood. "F-Fath-Father… P-Pro-Protect hi-him." He coughed, the blood came back up.

    "Protect Daddy?"

    Bakaguru did something with his head, it looked like a nod, but he couldn't quite finish it. Bakaguru sat, his eyes dimming.

    The last image that burnt through his eyes was a man with golden eyes on a giant Pokemon, holding out his hand. Bakaguru lifted a shaking hand to take it.

    And just like that, he died. His hand clattered to the floor.

    Sarah shrieked. "No! No! No! No! No! Not Bakaguru! Not him!"

    Charon blasted another bullet out. "Shut up and quite whining! Headaches aren't fun!" Sarah cowered, her body draped over the engineer's dead body. Her hands were stained with his blood. "Now, what do I do with you, little girl? You know, he probably died trying to keep you safe. What a wasted effort, eh?"

    He lowered the gun and pointed it in between her eyes. She just gasped.

    "Go!"

    A bolt of lightning surged through the room. In the moments in between Charon pulling the trigger and the bullet exploding from within the chamber, Sarah Birch vanished. The bullet slammed uselessly into Bakaguru's dead husk and propelled the body a few inches. A new stream of blood oozed out.

    The Gold Ranger's body sparked. "Hello, Charon," he growled from beneath his helmet.

    "Nick of time, huh?" Charon grumbled. "Too bad. Her clothes could do with a bright red stain."

    The Gold Ranger set his daughter down. "Are you alright, Sarah?" he asked. His voice barely hid the rage that lurked beneath.

    "He…he…he killed Bakaguru, Daddy!" She started crying again and the Gold Ranger hugged her.

    "It'll be okay, honey. Daddy will take care of this. Don't worry, your mom's on the way too, Silver's bringing her in. And Uncle Max will protect you."

    The Gold Ranger stood up and patted her head. Absolutely no one in the room dared to move, they were petrified by the sheer presence of power he commanded. This was not the time to be brave. This was the time to pray for one's life.

    "You killed him?" the Gold Ranger asked Charon. It was a redundant question. Charon eagerly nodded. "Why?"

    "He was outdated equipment. Just like you."

    A sword appeared in 0's hand. "You just signed your death warrant, Charon. You will die. By my hand." He placed the blade on his shoulder and began walking forward. The others ran into the room and surrounded Sarah. 0 ignored the shriek of shock from Serena, he would deal with that later.

    Now, though…now he wanted blood. His heart was numb with wrath.

    Charon lifted the gun again, but with a crack of lightning 0 vanished before Charon could get the clear shot. The Gold Ranger reappeared behind the head of PKM and smashed his head with the blunt edge of the sword. Charon fell and a pool of blood trickled through his hair.

    "Get up," 0 hissed. "You're not dead yet."

    Charon tried to, honestly he did, but the Gold Ranger had perhaps struck too hard. Charon struggled to his feet, only to be kicked down again. A boot to the stomach sent all the air in his lungs bursting from his lips.

    "I said get up!" ordered the Gold Ranger. "You killed someone, you little nothing! Take responsibility for it!" There was nothing but hatred in his voice, the utter satisfaction of dominating his enemy. He wanted Charon to pay…oh he would. "And you all did nothing." He looked out to the nameless, uninteresting, identical suits of combat armor worn by the agents.

    "He was a good man and you let this lowlife kill him?" 0 roared, and punched Charon down again. A tooth fell out. Both Charon's eyes were purple.

    A shot fired, from one of the nameless agents. It clipped 0 in his left shoulder and ricocheted into the wall. The Gold Ranger, wrath incarnate, found the agent foolish enough to do such a thing, and fired a bolt of lightning. The agent went down noiselessly, just a light clatter on the floor when his body hit it.

    "Dark warrior," whispered Charon, hoarsely enough for 0 to hear but not understand.

    0 grabbed Charon by the hair and lifted him up off the ground. "What, Charon?" he growled. "Want some last words of your own?"

    Charon grinned through a bloody mouth. "N-No. D-Dodge this." He pointed his gun at May and fired.

    The bullet never even reached May, it didn't even travel half the distance. 0 issued another crack of lightning and appeared in front of it. The bullet smashed harmlessly into his shoulder and ricocheted again into something, this time Bakaguru's work desk.

    "Picked the wrong day to play chicken with someone who can outrun bullets."

    Charon didn't care. "S-Surround me!" he shrieked. The agents obeyed blindly and Charon pressed some buttons on the computer. The teleporter began humming. He made a final dash with all his strength for the teleporter.

    "S-So long, G-Golden Boy," he whispered, before he was gone.

    0, Serena, and Logan roared and attempted to dash after him. But nothing changed the fact that Charon was gone and quite out of their reach.

    "Trace him," 0 ordered Serena.

    "I can't. He did something random with it, even he didn't know where he was going. It would take someone like…like…" 0 didn't see them, but he knew there were tears. "Bakaguru would know."

    "What's the plan, team captain?" Logan asked 0.

    He thought for a moment, then looked towards the hundreds of agents. "Guys, today is your lucky day. Get out, and don't come back until we leave. Do that and we won't kill you."

    There was a unanimous response. In unison, all of the agents filed out and ran as far away from the deathtrap of six very angry rangers as they could. In a minute, only the rangers, the Birches, and Bakaguru's corpse remained.

    "What do we do?" 415 asked. The hesitation in her voice betrayed her emotionless mask.

    "We do what we were going to do," 0 decided. "Disperse. Return when the Dark Gems do. But we do it without the restrictions of PKM. We do it without their rules."

    "How will we know when to meet?" Max asked, after demorphing.

    "Silver, find Max something that can pick up transmissions. He's the only one without an Ailed Morpher." Serena did, and found just the thing in Bakaguru's desk. It was a tiny, hardly noticeable communicator. Max took it wordlessly. "Our morphers can communicate with each other on their own frequency. When the Dark Gems strike, I will make contact."

    Each face in the group slowly nodded their heads. "Where do we go?" asked Serena.

    "Far away. Somewhere they can't find us. They come after us, so hiding will keep them looking. Stay away from one another."

    0 demorphed. The others followed his example. "Now, what do we do about this?" 0 asked. His voice was hard as he gestured at Bakaguru.

    "Viking funeral?" suggested Logan.

    "What?"

    "Vikings, when they died. They got set on fire and set out on a boat. Really awesome way to go out." There were tears in his eyes, and his whole eyes were red. "He deserves it."

    "He does. Silver, Karin, find something that makes fire. He had to have something."

    It only took them a few minutes. Logan, Max, and 0 doused the room in the fluid and applied a hefty amount to Bakaguru himself. When they were done, the group gathered again.

    "This will burn away Bakaguru's research, everything. No more rangers for PKM, no nothing. From now on, it's us."

    "What do we call ourselves then?" asked Serena.

    "How about the Power Rangers?" said Logan with what passed for a grin on his face.

    "We're rangers," decided 0. "Just rangers."

    And he set the spark. The room caught fire and the group dashed from the room. 0 was the last one out and, as he looked back one last time, he saw a smile on Bakaguru's face. His last thought must have been a happy one.

    "Goodbye, old friend. Say hello to Old Gold for me."

    Then he was gone.

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    Ame watched as the Dark Onyx Ranger…no…Goza, lay dying. There was nothing she could do, the PKM Rangers had damaged him too severely. He couldn't talk anymore, something she was grateful for. She hoped his death would be soon. Dark Gem deaths were painful beyond imagining, and Goza had held on the longest she had ever seen.

    Then, she saw them. The sight of planes headed in their direction. No doubt loaded with enough explosives to level the whole block of shipping containers.

    "I need to go now," she told Goza. He looked up with a mixed look of horror and pain etched on his face. "My contract states that, if the mission fails and you are beyond saving, that I am to preserve myself. I will honor the contract." She reached into her coat to feel her Dark Gem.

    She became ghostlike and Goza clawed at her, trying to get her to save him too, as she had before. But Ame just smiled sadly and shook her head. "No, I have enough power left to save one of us. And I am much more valuable than you." This did not stop him from pawing at the ground where her feet appeared to be. She just sighed.

    "Goodbye, Ony. Let me know what waits for me, if you would."

    Then the bombs began dropping and Ame watched as fire blew straight through her and reduced Goza to dust. Irritated, Ame began to walk back home, wherever that was.

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

    ...Now...

    The Gold Ranger looked at the e-mail. "Open it," he ordered.

    "Are you sure?" asked Pi, its voice uncertain.

    He nodded. "Yes. I need to hear it."

    The mail opened, just as 0 knew it would, to display Bakaguru's lively face. Bakaguru smiled wearily at him.

    "Hello, Gold. If you're reading this…then you must have gotten the morpher safely. I hope Serena was able to get it to you in time. You're very difficult to replace, you know?"

    Despite himself, 0 chuckled. Even in death Bakaguru was still the same. "I've recorded this in the event that you and the other successfully managed to escape from PKM. I can't be sure of what happened, but I hope it turned out for the best. I will try and make sure that Sarah is looked after until you get here."

    "You did," 0 muttered.

    "Anyways, with PKM in disrepair, I do hope you gave Charon a good beating, I am afraid I have probably either been incarcerated or killed. In either case, the task of leadership will fall to you, I am afraid. You are senior ranger. Make the right calls, try not to get everyone killed.

    "One more thing: you all were not the only ones who escaped. Jessie, James, and Meowth have also flown the coop on my suggestion. They're building something, I just hope they finish it." The voice paused, as if Bakaguru was unsure of what to say next. "Gold, listen to me… They will come back. I know you know that. You must be ready.

    "Encrypted into this message is information your ranger spirit will be able to use. It contains in it data for a new base: Ranger Downs. To prepare for the attack, you need a good headquarters. It will have everything my lab had, with some theories that I haven't even tested yet. Also…" Bakaguru chuckled. "You probably should have learned this a long time ago, but I've also included the recipe for your serum. Remember to take it regularly."

    Finally, the transmission said: "Goodbye, my friend. May we meet again one day." Then the screen went blank.

    "You okay, 0?"

    The Gold Ranger nodded. "Yeah, Pi. Just give me a minute. I just need to collect myself before I go back to May and Sarah."

    "Take all the time you need, 0. Remember, you're only human."

    0 laughed. "More or less, right?"

    Author's Note: We're officially halfway through this serialized version of PKM Rangers! When I first came up with this half of the story, I was heavily influenced by Full Metal Panic, and I deeply admired how that series managed to include fantastic technology in a realistic way. PKM is actually based on Mithril from that series, which won't really surprise anyone. I made the decision to phase that out when the story began to take on its own voice, which was in the beginning of this third story arc. I decided a covert team would make the series stronger, as it would cut off the main cast from a support organization that they had depended on. Bakaguru was killed for the same reason, as he was the last original ranger still active in PKM. Whenever he was around, 0 couldn't be the hero, so in order to advance the characters he had to be sacrificed.

    As we move into the fourth story arc, we'll begin to see more complex villains that question the nature of evil in this series. The heroes will also develop into their own identities now that they're severed from an organization that defined each of them in many ways. Each character developed rather nicely after being separated from PKM. Some things I'd like you to note are that further developments on how the Dark Gems and the PKM technology work will be revealed in the coming chapters, which really tie into some core concepts of Pokemon as a franchise, which were in part because I wasn't satisfied with how undeveloped the nature of Pokemon and humans, and the world they live in, are in the anime itself. We will also explore who 0 is (as the anime does a terrible job of this) and what drives him, both in this story and the anime, as we move ever closer to the conclusion.

  11. #41
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 27

    Author's Note: Before we begin the chapter, let's do a quick age guide for the characters as we're about to enjoy a timeskip. Aren't those fun?

    Agent 0/Ranger Gold: 30

    May Birch: 30

    Sarah Birch: 7

    Max Birch/Dark Emerald Ranger: 27

    Serena Brine/Ranger Silver: 25

    Agent 415/Ranger Black: (withheld)

    Brock Harrison: 35

    I also wanted to drop a little warning letting you know this chapter does contain some M-ish material in the form of a non-explicit sexual scene. It's much more tame than the one in Morph 12, but I'm sure it's a scene many readers have been waiting for. Without further ado, let's continue...

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

    Morph Twenty-Seven: One Year Gone

    Sarah Toby sped up as she rode along the dirt road.

    She was seven now, it had been her birthday almost a week ago. Her father had gone into nearby Goldenrod City and gotten her a massive cake; her family was still trying to finish it every night since during dessert. She was hurrying home because it was almost past her curfew and her father normally worried when she got home in late. It didn't exactly matter if she was home late, the GPS in the necklace she was wearing would activate in ten minutes and her father would come get her.

    But still… "Dad's so protective," she said. She could already see her house.

    They lived in a quiet community just outside of Goldenrod City now. Thanks to backup identities that her father had created years ago for their family, they had managed to purchase a house in Aura Town. She could see it now, it was three floors high and built mostly out of wood. At least, it appeared that way from the outside. When her father had bought the house the first thing he had done was reinforce the inside with metal and protective shielding. The house, while cozy on the outside, was a fortress constructed out of junk metal from a nearby scrap yard. Its interior still had a homely appearance, but within its walls lay some of the most lethal defenses designed by man.

    "Home sweet home," she said as she pulled up to the picket fence. Underneath her feet were more guns than an arms dealership. She walked across the yard and towards the front door. It was a simple, wooden door from the outside, but Sarah knew from watching her father install the machine inside it that it could zap someone with several thousand volts of electricity.

    "Mom, I'm back!" she shouted when she got inside. Her mother was in the kitchen, as she always was at this hour, making dinner for her and Sarah. She was wearing a headband and smiled when she saw her daughter.

    "Welcome home, Sarah," said May Toby. "Have fun biking today?"

    She nodded. "Yep. I went over to the market to see the new toys that came out today. Think I can buy a video game thing?"

    May shrugged. "Ask your father, he's downstairs working."

    "On what?"

    Again, May shrugged. "I think he's almost done rebuilding the teleporter. Now I think he's just going over the lesson plan for tomorrow's classes. Why don't you go tell him dinner's almost ready?"

    Sarah smiled. "Okay, Mom." She walked through the kitchen and into the living room. Once there, she headed to a bookshelf and pulled one of the books, The Harrison Guide to Better Pokemon Health by Dr. Brock Harrison, from the shelf. The bookshelf opened up and revealed a flight of stairs. Sarah wasn't quite sure exactly how her father had built the bookshelf, but it always seemed to open up when she pulled that book. She put the book back and descended down the stairs. The pathway closed up behind her.

    The basement was what her mother called her father's workspace. Her father called it Ranger Downs, he said the name came from Bakaguru. Thinking of him again made her heart heavy, so she tried to smile when she saw her father.

    To the rest of the world, he was Keean Toby. To her, he was the Gold Ranger.

    His hair was messy, it always was for some reason. He had taken to wearing welder's goggles, so they covered his face most of the time. His face was still filled with youth, he was almost thirty, but had a kind of weariness to it. He told her it was because of the serum he had to take. She thought it was because of all the things he had had to do to protect Sarah and her mother.

    He smiled when he noticed her, she could never sneak up on him. He could hear better than most people. "Cutting it a bit close today, huh, Sarah?" he asked. He looked up from his desk of papers. As always, when he saw her his face let up in a smile.

    "Don't worry, Dad," she said. "I made curfew."

    "Yes you did. How was your day?"

    "Nothing special. Went to the market. Ooh, Mom said I had to ask you. I saw this really cool game when I was down at the toy store. It's this kind of video game thing you can play on the TV. Will you get one for me?"

    Her father smiled. "Could have sworn you just had a birthday and you wanted your bike. Think you can wait another year for the game?"

    "But it just came out! And it's so cool! Please?"

    He laughed and patted her head. "Tell you what, princess: I'll think about it if you keep doing a good job in class, okay?"

    "Awwwww…" Sarah appeared to be on the verge of pouting, but her father knew that Sarah never resorted to something like that. "How long?"

    Her father glanced back at the papers. "Let's see…we started the term a month ago so…let's say another month until midterms? You keep doing a good job, I'll get you the game as a reward."

    Her face brightened when she heard she only had to wait a month. "Okay, Dad. That's fine." She hugged him.

    He chuckled. "Glad to hear it. Now, why'd you come down here? Your mother want me?"

    "Mom wants you to know dinner's almost ready."

    "Sure, I'll be up in a few minutes."

    "Okay Dad." She kissed his cheek and leapt up the stairs. She pressed a button on the side of the entrance that opened up the bookshelf, after first checking a camera making sure no strangers were around, and left her father alone.

    0 sighed. He was almost finished with tomorrow's lesson plan too. He put down his papers and pencil and stretched. Sitting at the desk was beginning to cramp him.

    The equipment that surrounded him was decades ahead of its time. All of it was courtesy of the mind and talent of the late Bakaguru Niwa, whose designs had been simple enough for 0 to follow and assemble the parts for things like the teleporter, the hacking system, the police broadcast transmitter, and dozens of other pieces of technology that 0 would never have been able to figure out without the blueprints. Most of the equipment he didn't even know how to use. He'd have to wait for 415 or Serena, the brainy rangers, who could understand Bakaguru's designs beyond their simple construct.

    "Bakaguru," muttered the Gold Ranger. He missed the engineer and could not help but think of him almost daily.

    "You need to stop dwelling on his death, 0," said the voice in his ear. Pi was calm, but a little firm in its tone.

    He nodded. "I know. It's just that sometimes there are scars that you don't want to heal," he said.

    "You built everything he asked for, you're ready for when they come. Don't you think it's time you focused on something other than your work?" the Pikachu asked.

    "I am. I'm making sure that Sarah's getting an education and there's money coming in. We can't rely on the money I hid with these identities forever."

    "It's not that, 0."

    "Then what?" 0 asked, confused.

    "Your wife."

    0 glanced at the chain on his neck and his hand drifted again to the ring on it. "What's wrong with me and May?"

    "You've seemed distant."

    "How?"

    "I don't know," admitted the Pikachu. "It's just…you spend so much time either working down here in Ranger Downs or at the school upstairs. You rest on the couch, and May is always alone in her room."

    "Are you saying…I should sleep with her?" At once, 0 felt uncomfortable discussing the subject with Pi. "I don't know, Pi."

    "Don't you want to?"

    "That's a redundant question, of course I want to. It's just that I don't know if she does. I'm still working on rebuilding this marriage with her. It'll take time."

    "You've been living together for over a year. Shouldn't you make a move?"

    "I'm just taking things slow. Nothing wrong with that."

    "Just don't take things too slow. You could ruin your chances by being so cautious."

    "Yeah, thanks Pi. Now come on, let's get to dinner before I get a pot thrown at me." 0 ascended the stairs from Ranger Downs, taking care to switch off the lights on his way out. The electric bill wasn't the reason, 0 had installed a generator of Bakaguru's design capable of supplying the entirety of the underground base with plenty of power. He just didn't want anyone who accidentally found it to have the advantage of sight.

    He shut the bookshelf behind him and locked it with a small gadget he had built from Bakaguru's designs. Even the book wouldn't open the base now.

    His wife…or ex-wife was probably the appropriate term, was setting the table in the dining room. Every day she did this, and every day 0 was just as astounded by her beauty even when she was exhausted from cooking. She smiled at him warmly as he sat down at the dinner table.

    Each day, 0 felt a slight twinge of guilt that he could not enjoy his wife's cooking. Fortunately, May had evolved to nourish him and had taken up the art of brewing him beer for his meals. She hadn't quite gotten the flavor right, but 0 had never once dared complain due to the effort she was making.

    0 drank his beer in silence while May debriefed Sarah about her day. May insisted on doing it, to be sure that nothing suspicious had happened when Sarah went into town.

    "Anyone carrying a gun?" May asked as she took a bite of rice.

    "Nope." Sarah had been taught by both her parents, mostly 0, the ways people concealed guns on their person and how to spot them. "Thought I saw a guy with a pistol, but it just turned out to be a water gun from the toy store." She continued devouring her way through her vegetables.

    "Anyone odd-looking or new?" she asked. May had taken the time to have 0 photograph all the locals to make sure they could trace somebody new in the neighborhood.

    "Nope. Oh, wait! I saw a few new people, but they had maps. They had backpacks too."

    "Probably tourists here to see the shrine," muttered 0 as he took a sip. Aura Town had a spectacular shrine that often drew the attention of travelers looking to sightsee. "Were they asking for directions?"

    "Uh-huh."

    "Tourists. Dark Gems wouldn't speak to anyone."

    May nodded thoughtfully. "Oh, 0, I almost forgot." She reached over to the counter and picked up what looked like a red envelope. "We got this in the mail today. No return address." She passed the letter over for his inspection. "I don't think there's anything wrong with it. It's just weird."

    0 carefully looked over both sides of the envelope. On one side, written in scratchy pen, was the address of his house. No return address was listed. On the other side was nothing. 0 turned it over again and looked at the handwriting, something about it seemed familiar.

    "What do you think it is?" May asked.

    0 shrugged. "No idea." He shook the contents, judging from the sound there was a piece of paper and something else very, very flat, definitely heavier than a piece of paper. "Feels like a letter and maybe a picture or something."

    "Should we open it?"

    0 held up the Gold Morpher to the letter. "Pi, scan this. Make sure there's nothing funny inside."

    A gold scanning bean exited the morpher and covered the entire surface of the envelope. "No explosives, chemicals, bacteria, or viruses. It's clean. No sign of a tracking device either."

    "Okay. Sounds clean." 0 tore off the right side of the envelope and poured the contents out into his palm. The first was a picture, but 0 set that aside for a moment and opened the letter.

    Dear 0, May, and Sarah too,

    Greetings! It is I, your humble friend Logan. I guess you're probably wondering how I got hold of your home address. To tell you the truth, I'd rather not say, but I can tell you nobody else knows it. I've already destroyed all the information Karin used to track you guys down.

    I should probably cut to the chase, I can't have this letter be too long or it might get found. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Karin and I won't be coming for a while, if you call us. I have several reasons for doing this, like my love of quiet, my intense marathons with Karin, but none as serious as the picture I have included in this letter.


    0 paused from the letter to glance at the photograph. It was a picture of Karin in a meadow. A very pregnant Karin wearing a wedding dress. Though she wasn't smiling, her eyes certainly looked quite happy. 0 passed the photo along the table to May and returned to the letter.

    As you can see, we're not really in a position to be able to travel anywhere until after the baby is born and old enough to go with us. We will come when we can, but for now you'll have to do without us.

    Got to go. Karin's pregnancy hormones are vicious.

    Logan & Karin


    0 passed the letter to May, who gasped. "Wow, they actually got married!" she exclaimed.

    "Who got married?" Sarah asked, helping herself to more rice.

    "Logan and Karin," said 0. "Looks like they've got a baby on the way too."

    "A baby!" Sarah squealed. "I'm so happy for them!"

    The next day, 0 was rather unwillingly forced to go into Goldenrod. He disliked going to the big city, since Aura reminded him so much of Pallet Town. He had chosen Aura Town for his family to live for just that reason: it was quiet, for the most part. There were the occasional loud noises and tourists, but it was mostly a calm, peaceful place. The perfect place to raise Sarah, he thought. Cities were for young adults who hadn't started their lives or for people who simply couldn't afford to live anywhere else.

    Because 0 had saved so much of his paycheck during his five year tenure with PKM, he had stowed most of it away in the alternate identity of Keean Toby. He had also devoted time into preserving the identity and making sure it was untraceable back to PKM. Finally, his hard work had paid off, and absolutely no one had thus far given him trouble.

    After all, he thought with a smile, it wasn't as though he could use his legal name. That would have been far too noticeable and would have led the Dark Gems right to him. The alias of Keean Toby, aside from the Saffron City Pokemon Contest, was much less memorable and had in fact been ignored by humanity in general, who remembered the Contest as a terrible accident they would rather forget about.

    With the money he had saved, he had not only managed to provide a house, job, and underground operations center for his family, he had also gotten a hold of a worn but sturdy truck he used to haul supplies to and from home. Well, the 0 Cycle was too noticeable and could hardly be counted on for bringing home groceries.

    He waved to the neighbors, a couple named Frank and Alice, on the way down the road. He didn't know them well, as they did not have children enrolled at his school, but recognized their faces. They waved back and before long were in his rearview mirror.

    0 lived far enough away from Goldenrod to make the trip lengthy, but it did not take too long. Thirty minutes later he was already being irritated by the loud noises of morning traffic. He sighed, and strummed his fingers on the wheel.

    "I should just use Agility. Park somewhere and use Agility." He was even tempted to, and looked at the morpher on his wrist. He hadn't morphed in over a year, he hadn't had to. He would occasionally want to, certainly, but he couldn't. Morphing brought the risk of discovery, even using his skills could bring the Dark Gems to them.

    "Don't be so impatient," said the Pikachu in his ear. "You're only two minutes away from the store."

    He nodded. "Yeah, yeah." Two minutes later, he was pulling into the store just as Pi predicted. He shut off the engine and got out of the truck.

    Two seconds later, there was an explosion.

    "What was that?" he shouted, and ducked behind the truck. The blast had come from behind him and it had caught him by surprise and he couldn't help but shout out the word. What Legendary Pokemon had cursed him to have an endless affair with explosions? He started hearing screams in the streets and carefully looked out over the bed of the truck.

    "I'm never gonna get a vacation," 0 grumbled.

    The street wasn't in total disrepair, but he noticed that several cars had crashed into each other or had been hit with shrapnel. He couldn't see anyone that was too injured and focused his attention on the bombed building. It was one of those massive, twenty floors high banks with a shiny, glossy surface adoring its windows and walls.

    "Pi, hack into the police broadcasts in the area," ordered the Gold Ranger. He did not want to interfere if he couldn't help it.

    It did as he asked. "Police are en route, but actual help is far off. The traffic problems are making it hard for police to get here."

    0 said, "What's the situation inside?"

    "Bulletin reports that it's a bank robbery."

    "Of course it is."

    "The doors have been sealed to outsiders and there are twenty hostages counted," continued Pi. "There are five, maybe six robbers inside."

    "What are the hostages' chances if we wait for Jenny and the police?"

    "Minimal. The robbers seem hostile. Several hostages have already been wounded."

    0 didn't have a choice. "Pi, hack into the city records and download the blueprints to the bank building. I'll need a way in if we're going to do this."

    While Pi did that, the Gold Ranger began looking for a place to transform. He disregarded the phone booth standing only a few feet away from him and dashed down an abandoned alley. The bank robbery was attracting a crowd which was in turn giving him more freedom to move around.

    "Okay, Pi, always wanted to try this out," he muttered and looked up the wall. He touched it and released a small amount of static electricity. The electrical field held and 0 found that he could stick his hand to the building and climb it. He mimicked the motion with his other hand and began crawling up the wall. "Check it out, I'm Ariados-Man."

    Pi chuckled. "Download finished. Your best bet is to go in through one of the upper levels and avoid the attention of the robbers. From there, an Agility will take care of them quickly."

    0 nodded. "Good. Jam the security cameras if the robbers haven't already done that."

    "All cameras are disabled."

    "Roger." 0 raised his morpher and hit the transformation button. Instantly, the golden hologram of a Poke Ball surrounded him, along with the bits and pieces of his armor. As the ball opened, the armor clamped down and fastened into place. The Gold Ranger looked down at the crowd.

    It was good to be back in the suit.

    "Pi, divert primary power to the legs. If we're making a big leap, I'd like not to hit the pavement." Pi complied with the order and within moments 0 was crouching and running. A second later he activated Agility for an instant and burst through the air, crashing through one the windows across the street. All the people below saw was a tiny glint of light and the smashing of a window, something easily attributed to the robbers in case questions were asked.

    0 passed through the empty rows of cubicles, presumably it was before the hour most of the staff clocked in for work. Either that or somewhere there was an amazing escape route the others below didn't know about. He paused to look at one of the cameras and noticed it was indeed deactivated. Looks like the robbers aren't all that stupid, he thought. Still, they couldn't have counted on him being around.

    "Let's do this. I've been restless."

    "With you all the way," replied the Pikachu.

    0 smiled. "Go!"

    Time slowed down instantly. He looked at the gauge on his monitor, he had ten seconds of standard time, more than enough in Agility. "Bolt Blade, Compact Mode," he ordered. The weapon materialized instantly in his fingers and he squeezed around the handle.

    He ran down the stairs, to the world nothing but a golden blur. The Gold Ranger analyzed his surroundings in nanoseconds.

    The robbers were more or less huddled together near the hostages behind one of the teller desks. They were arguing, but 0 could not tell what about because their mouths moved too slowly. 0 dashed across the room and approached the one who seemed to be in charge. He was standing away from the others and appeared to be barking orders.

    0 watched his expression change from one of greed to one of confusion as the Gold Ranger appeared in front of the robber and braced his sword. The electrical pulses of the robber's brain were fast enough to spot the blurring image of the ranger, but weren't quick enough to do anything. The robber felt his body tossed across the room with one sword swing. The gun broke apart and the robber smashed against the wall.

    "Good thing I used the blunt side," 0 muttered. He wasn't here to kill them, they were ordinary robbers. Jail could hold them. He turned to the other five.

    The ten seconds ended and his speed returned to normal. As he emerged in the real world, the other robbers in unison pointed their guns at him and panicked.

    "What happened to Jake?" shouted one of them in a frightfully scared voice. 0 focused his attention on this one.

    "Who are you?" shouted another one. 0 shifted his visor.

    "Pi, we have enough for another charge?" he asked.

    "We do now."

    0 nodded. "Go!" he shouted again, and the world slowed down. He ran forward as bullets burst towards him. Each time they were too slow, and he dodged them with reflexes that had lain dormant for over a year. He spun and flipped towards the group of five and smashed into the first one with his fist. Again, all the time the robber had was enough time within the first second to display a frightened expression in his eyes.

    The robber smashed into the teller's desk and stayed down. He had nine seconds left.

    The next robber he dodged another bullet from and bent low, delivering a sweeping kick that sent him flying off his feet. 0 then kicked him with an upward strike, sending the boy flying vertically. The third robber meant a similar fate, only 0 used a roundhouse kick to toss the third one directly in the line of fire of the second. Both of them collided in midair and began falling to the ground. 0 heard the slow loud shrieks of pain and ignored them.

    "Six seconds left," he said. The timer was beginning to wane and he wouldn't be caught again.

    The last two were guarding a large group of hostages and they were quite frightened by what they saw to be 0: a golden blur that was systematically obliterating their friends. Each one was firing wildly and 0 brought up the Bolt Blade.

    "Heavy Mode!" he ordered. The blade expanded. elongated immediately, and 0 put it as a barrier between himself and them to have the bullets bounce away as he advanced. Halfway through the charge he heard a scream and looked up to see one of the bullets had managed to pierce through a robber's shoulder after it ricocheted. Only one more left.

    He swung the sword like a baseball bat and cracked the last robber with the blunt edge of the sword. He watched as the body became a rag doll and bounced into the wall.

    "0, we have three seconds left. Time to go."

    "Roger." 0 looked at the freed hostages once, their speedy nervous systems were quick enough for them to change their expressions from fearful to liberated in the instant, and he dashed off through the door and was back in the abandoned alley before the Agility timed out. "Demorph."

    The armor unclamped and faded into the digitization inside his morpher. The disguise of Keean Toby remained.

    "Think anyone saw us?"

    "Doubt it. We were only visible for that brief time. Chances are good that will be dismissed when they are questioned by the police."

    0 grinned. "Good. Guess we're in the clear."

    He heard a chuckle in his ear. "That was fun," said the Pikachu.

    "It was indeed. Now let's see about grabbing those things May wanted."

    The Gold Ranger walked calmly past the rapidly growing crowd of people and towards the store. It wasn't quite as crowded as it should have been, thanks to everyone having gone outside, so it only took him a few minutes to buy everything he needed and get out.

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    The Gold Ranger rested on the couch.

    He never slept, his dependence on the serum saw to that. Despite the fact that he would probably not have the nightmare if he were to fall asleep, there was always that chance that he would never wake up as a result of overusing the drug. So each night he either worked or, like tonight, recharged his body's battery and thought.

    Sarah had long ago gone to bed and May was still in the kitchen finishing up the dishes. He had offered to help, but like always he was rebuked. He saved the world, she had said. The least she could do was the dishes.

    A few minutes later she came into the living room. "Well, that's the last of them. I'm going to bed."

    0 looked up from the couch. "Sure thing. Good night."

    She lingered for a moment, then walked up the stairs. A few minutes later 0 heard her light click off and he waited a few moments before sighing.

    "What's wrong, 0?"

    He shrugged. "I don't know, Pi. Is something wrong with May?"

    "What do you mean?"

    0 folded his arms across his chest. "Well, it's just that lately she's been hanging out later and later. Do you think she's worried about something?"

    "Like I said before, maybe she just wants some…physical contact."

    "Hmmm…" 0 tried to wrap his mind around the thought of touching May again. He wanted nothing more, well, okay, maybe he wanted their safety a little more. "But what if she doesn't?"

    "She's been living with you for over a year. I don't think she's doing it because she needs to split the rent."

    "But still, I shouldn't force myself on her like that."

    "Nobody said you had to. But start with some wine, maybe a moonlit night, see what happens. If you really want to repair this relationship then you need to repair all of it. You're back in their lives and you're a father to Sarah, yeah, but you need to be a husband to May too. Don't forget that."

    "Yeah, I know. But I was such a bad husband. What if I make the same mistakes?"

    "You only made those mistakes to protect them from PKM and the enemies you've made. You're not a part of PKM anymore and your enemies can't find you here. Live a little, 0."

    He chuckled. "Guess you've got a point there, Pi," he said. "I suppose tomorrow we can try and-"

    BOOM!

    He groaned. "Can something not blow up for five minutes?" he roared and ran to the window.

    "What is it?"

    0 peered through the window. He saw something that looked like a fireball shooting through the sky…right next door. "Oh no, Frank and Alice!" It was their house! 0 wasted no time and ran outside. Aura Town didn't have a fire department, he needed to do something.

    "0, what are you doing?" Pi shouted.

    "They could still be trapped inside!" he said. He couldn't see anyone outside the house and, when he neared it, he could swear he saw someone moving on the inside. "Someone's in there!"

    "Wait for the fire department!"

    "No time! Call them, but I'm going in now!" 0 focused, Agility was harder to use in civilian form with the Ailed Morpher, but he managed to pull it off. He burst through the house before anyone had any time to see him. He listened to Pi make the phone call to Jenny as he moved through the house.

    The flames were slower than they would be in real time, which was the only way 0 was able to get through without a single burn. He headed upstairs, where he thought he saw movement.

    "No," he whispered, as he entered Frank and Alice's bedroom.

    Frank was lying on the ground, some of his clothes were already burning off from a few stray sparks. His mouth was open, as if he had been screaming, and his face was constricted with terror. His entire body had entered rigor mortis already and was curled into some sort of disfigured ball.

    Right by his side was Alice. Her face was simply melting but she too had the signs of some sort of terrible anguish she had suffered before she had died. Her hair was burnt off, and the fire was eating at her twisted body. 0 tried not to be sick, but his stomach churned when he was forced to see the cause behind their suffering.

    "Hello, Ranger Gold," whispered a voice he knew all too well.

    Ame sat calmly in the wicker chair, watching everything burn around her. 0 instinctively touched his morpher, but she held up her hand. "Relax, Ranger Gold. My purpose tonight is not to fight you."

    "Really?" There was malice behind his voice, malice he could barely contain to converse. "What do you think you're doing?"

    She shrugged. "Getting your attention. Looks like it worked." She noticed he was looking at her like one might look at something pure evil and chuckled. "Worry not, dear Frank and Alice were dead long before the fire. I told them, you know, who I was here to get the attention of. Before they died they cursed your name over and over again."

    0 growled. "I will kill you, Ame. I swear I-"

    "Cease your dramatics, Ranger Gold. After all, I already said it is not in my contract to fight you now. I am here as a disclaimer."

    "A what?"

    Neither of them seemed aware that a fire was burning down everything around them. All 0 cared about was smashing her head open. What Ame cared about was apparently not fighting.

    "We checked amateur video taken today in front of a bank which revealed a golden blur. Further investigation revealed you lived here. We are going to be sending two friends to hunt you down and kill you."

    "Two Dark Gems…who?"

    She shrugged. "You do not need to know yet. What is part of my contract is to tell you that we are giving you a two week grace period in which to summon your troops. We want all of you in one area."

    "What if I say no?"

    "Then you face two Dark Gem Rangers alone. This will ensure your death. Sap was but a taste and Ony was a failed experiment. Other members of our family are much, much stronger. Do not for an instant assume you are even capable of combating them on your own at your present level."

    0 was still wary. "What's stopping you from killing me right now?"

    She chuckled. "My contract does not specify that you need to know that information, Ranger Gold. Consider yourself lucky we are giving you the time to even mount a counterattack. Farewell."

    And just like that, she vanished.

    0 clenched his fists and bit his lip. "I will kill her, I swear I will."

    "We need to get out of here. I think the fire department is en route as we speak. They'll find us."

    "Activate Agility for the maximum allowed demorphed. We need to call the others."

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

    "Turn it on, Pi."

    The Gold Ranger stood alone in Ranger Downs, as he always did. He approached a large computer terminal on the wall next to the teleporter. He pressed one of the buttons and the machine came to life. Pi's face came on the screen and 0 manned the keyboard.

    "Are you sure you want to call them back?" it asked him, just to be sure. "Ame might have been bluffing, they might give us some time to escape."

    0 shook his head. "No, Pi, you know them just as well as I do. Escaping isn't an option. They'll come for us. The only question is if we do it on their terms or ours. We have two weeks, Ame said that was the schedule. We'd better not waste it. Switch it on."

    The terminal's screen activated. 0 had to wait for the majority of the Ranger Downs computer to whirl to life, but it finished uploading within a minute. Pi's face was uploaded to the screen.

    "Are you sure about this?" Pi asked once more.

    He nodded. "I am. Initiate the signal and prepare for transmission."

    The computer started up the signal. "Waiting for recording, Gold."

    0 spoke very clearly to the computer. "Rangers, this is Ranger Gold. We have a confirmed sighting of the Dark Gems and a time limit of two weeks from the transmission of this message to assemble. Those of you who can come, come. Coordinates are being sent with this message, with the designated meeting place of Aura Town outside of Goldenrod City in Johto. Look for the cover ID you are familiar with. Get here as fast as possible, details will be relayed then. Gold, over and out."

    He finished and nodded to Pi. "Message sent," reported the Pokemon. "You should get some rest."

    "I don't sleep."

    "Then lie on the couch and recharge. Think about things. You look bad, 0."

    "What's going on?"

    The Gold Ranger did not turn around, not immediately. He stood with his back facing her, his attention on the computer. "May," he said. "I thought you'd be asleep."

    "I heard the sirens outside…what happened, 0?" She took a few steps towards him and touched his shoulder. "Tell me. I'm your wife."

    He didn't smile when he turned around. "There was a fire next door. I ran over to try to help, there isn't a close enough fire department. When I got inside, I saw Ame there, waiting for me."

    May nodded and gestured to his chair. "Why don't you take a seat, you look tired." It was true, his body looked like it was ready to give. Despite that, he didn't sit.

    "I'm not tired. The serum keeps me awake."

    "I meant mentally, dear." He could not refuse her, and she gently guided him to the chair and sat him down. He cupped his face in her hands. "Go on. Tell me everything."

    He did. He told her how he'd found Ame waiting there for him. He told her about how she'd killed the people down the street, and even that she had given him two weeks before the fight started again. When he finished he felt exhausted, like he'd run a hundred miles. His face was still sweaty.

    "Did you call everyone?" she asked and looked at the computer.

    He nodded. "Max, Silver, and 415. I sent a separate signal for Logan and Karin, for when their child is born and they can travel. But that's still four rangers, against whatever the Dark Gems are going to bring." He searched her eyes, hunting for an answer. "Do you think it'll be enough? To fight them and save our family?"

    "I don't know, 0, but I trust you." And she kissed him.

    When their lips parted, he still tasted her on his lips. "I just wish I knew what was coming. I-I wish I wasn't in charge. If only Bakaguru was still here, he'd make twice the leader I am."

    "Don't say that. Bakaguru left you in charge because he believed in you. Just like Sarah and I do." She touched his shoulder again. Through his shirt, he could feel the soft fingers of her left hand.

    "May…" He lowered his face and looked at his shoes. "Thank you." He wanted to say so much more, but he didn't. Somehow, he couldn't form the words in his mouth. He just lifted his hand to hers and squeezed her fingers. He felt her ring.

    She answered him with another kiss, deeper this time. The Gold Ranger felt the mood slowly change, there was a hunger behind May's touch that he recognized.

    They parted, 0 felt her hands reaching for the buttons on his shirt. "What are you doing?" he asked hazily.

    "What do you think?" she asked, a slight change of tone in her voice. It was slightly more feral. There was urgency too.

    "May." His voice was losing resistance. "Are you sure?"

    She looked at him with an almost frightening look. "I've been waiting for four years. The day after you left, all I wanted was your arms around me." She didn't even waste time with the last two buttons and ripped off the rest of the shirt.

    "But now?" It hardly seemed like the perfect time.

    "0. Stop thinking."

    He followed the order to the level.

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

    "May?" he asked. He himself felt hazy, tired, like he hadn't been in years.

    The voice came a moment later. "Yes?"

    "You alright?"

    "Oh…yes," she whispered, and smiled despite herself. "Yes, I think I'm fine."

    "Okay." Carefully, 0 held her in his arms. He never wanted to let her go.

    "You haven't changed at all."

    "I haven't?" Somehow that rang false. "What about the jolt?"

    She giggled. "That's not new…just a little different. Besides, you were always an animal in bed." She cuddled next to him and held him close.

    0 chuckled. "Hey, remember our first time?" he asked.

    "Yeah," she said. "You were so clumsy."

    "I was clumsy? We were in a hurry. Our friends were only out for two hours."

    "And you were so shy we started with thirty minutes left. It took me forever to get your pants off."

    "I wanted to respect you. I didn't want to do anything to you that you didn't want to do."

    "How could the world's best trainer and the most powerful ranger in PKM have ever been so silly?" She found this adorable and snuggled closer. "I never loved anybody but you. I wanted you to be my first."

    They sat in silence for a while, each engrossed with the other. But they never stopped touching one another, not even when 0 rose from the chair and, taking May gingerly into his arms, carried her upstairs to their bedroom.

    The last thing she remembered was the strong embrace of his arms, before the eclipse of sleep overcame her.

  12. #42
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 28

    Author's Note: I've been gone a while, and for that I apologize. When I started this project to catch up the series as I worked on new chapters, I really did intend to post new content pretty much every day so Advance fans could enjoy regularly updated content. The past few weeks have been hard on me, to an extent that I've been absolutely unable to work on anything, and I've only just started getting back into my routine. My grandfather got progressively sicker over the past few weeks, and he passed away last Sunday, and that really hit me hard. He was a good man, and the reason I have a master's degree, and it was a very painful experience that utterly sucked any joy that I had right out of me, and I didn't want to write in that mood. This isn't an excuse, and I'm not sure why I'm spilling my guts out to people over the Internet, but I know people read this and people enjoy it so I wanted you to understand why updates sort of abruptly stopped.

    Man, that really kills the mood, doesn't it? Why don't we enjoy a chapter?

    Morph Twenty-Eight: Welcome to Ranger Downs

    In the northern villages of Snowpeak, there is virtually no civilization.

    Beyond the city, further north than most people care to venture, was a man standing in the middle of a snowy forest. He wore little protection against the elements, his chest was bare and his pants were insolated only as far as they would not grow damp from the snow that covered him. His boots were of a similar substance, they would not cling to the snow or get wet.

    On the man's neck was a chain which had a bright emerald glittering from it.

    Max Birch glanced towards the eastern sky, the sun was not quite up yet. No matter, he thought. He was almost finished with his morning training, he just needed a quick reflex test to ensure he was still fighting fit.

    He had been in the mountains, living with the villagers, for over a year. They were kind and treated him well, mostly because he protected them from the wild Pokemon that would occasionally attack the village. It was for this reason he was standing with his back to the small, sleepy village. If any of the massive Pokemon he normally faced were about, they normally attacked at this time, just before everyone rose from sleep.

    "Come on," whispered the man. His hand strayed to the emerald on his neck and he touched its surface. In the year that had past he had grown fond of the precious evil gem and the gem had grown fond of him. Now there was little they could not accomplish together.

    Patience, whispered the gem in his mind, they were not far away.

    The first Mamoswine emerged two minutes later and Max bared his teeth. He had not morphed, he did not believe there would be a need to. Gradually over the year he had learned to fight without the aid of the transformation that overtook his mind. It bellowed at him, as the Mamoswine often did when they saw him.

    Max just growled right back.

    It was much bigger than a regular Mamoswine, this one was at least ten feet tall. Max placed his hands on the belt he wore and retrieved two Poke Balls. "Go," he ordered, "Grovyle and Mightyena!" He tossed both into the air and they exploded, revealing a green lizard and a wild dog. He caught both his Poke Balls and returned them to his belt.

    The two Pokemon stood just in front of their trainer, awaiting orders as expected. They were already analyzing the enemy in front of them. Mightyena bared its fangs, eager for the flank meat of the Mamoswine. Grovyle merely waited calmly, its eyes looking for any weak spots on the beast's body.

    "Okay, you guys know the drill," said Max. "Take it down fast and be on alert for any others. Grovyle, watch out for the Blizzard attack. Mightyena, Bite the hell out of them. Understood?" Mightyena barked its reply, while Grovyle simply nodded. "Good. Let's go when it approaches the marker."

    The marker, a specific distance that Max allowed the Mamoswine to remain at before he attacked, was located roughly one hundred feet away from where he was standing. It was marked by a few of the last trees of the surrounding forest, and after a few steps the big lummox Pokemon had indeed surpassed it. Time to go to work, thought Max.

    He reared and charged for the beast with his Pokemon in tow.

    His Pokemon dashed ahead of him while Max found the perfect spot to hold his ground. This was, after all, only the first one of the day, and he rarely got a chance to go all out on a single target. The Mamoswine trumpeted its approach and its deadly tusks glinted in the sunlight. Max took in a deep breath, pacing himself.

    When the tusks got close enough Max grabbed them. Each muscle in his body strained as he forced the beast to halt with only the power of his hands. The beast itself was surprised, and its eyes opened wider when Max used its confusion to throw it off balance and topple it to the ground with a simple jerk of his arms.

    "Now!" he shouted. Grovyle jumped up and smashed into Mamoswine with a full barrage of Bullet Seed. The beast groaned as its vital joints were blasted again and again. It tried hard to get back up but Mightyena was on top of it, forcing it to struggle in vain to regain its balance.

    Max walked up and drew back his fist. A second later it smashed against the swine's face, right between its eyes. Its mind reeled and it was conscious no more.

    Max turned to his team. "Good work." He heard a rumbling in a distance. "We'd better get ready. Sounds like the herd's on its way."

    To handle the herd of Mamoswine, morphing would be required. One or two he could handle with his Pokemon, but a herd of ten would require aid from the Dark Emerald itself.

    He turned to his Pokemon. "Okay, guys, let's try out that new fusion trick we've been working on."

    "Grov…" murmured his Grovyle with approval. Mightyena signaled its willingness through a bark and the wagging of its tail.

    Max felt the chains slink around his arm, across his shoulder, and down his other arm. The Dark Emerald was eager to please, and Max was eager to fight. He pressed the gem into his flesh.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    The man exploded in an emerald fire, and out of the Gallade's shade emerged the Dark Emerald Ranger. His Pokemon surrounded him, ensuring he was adapting to the transformation and could control himself. After a few seconds of intensive breathing, the monster relaxed and looked to his Pokemon. They both nodded.

    The ranger released his chains at the urging of the Dark Emerald. They wrapped around both Grovyle and Mightyena, slowly bonding with their bodies. Eventually both Pokemon flashed green and seemed to disappear into the chains, which returned to their normal length around the monster's arms.

    Suddenly the monster grunted as if in pain. Its hands began convulsing, changing, transforming. The fingers melded together and grew, shifting into something completely alien. For the right hand, a set of vicious teeth emerged, followed by the face of a Mightyena. It snapped at the air while, on the left, a Grovyle's head emerged, nipping at the air just as the Mightyena head was. Each head had a set of dimly lit green eyes.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger seemed to laugh in his strange, Gallade tongue, then focused his attention on the onslaught of enemies headed his way. There were twelve Mamoswine, all intent on stampeding through the village.

    He crouched low and raised his left arm, pointing the Grovyle's face at the first few beasts. They would not remain standing long enough to even get to him.

    Bullet Seed ripped out of the head and smashed through the trees and Mamoswine. Unlike Grovyle's regular attack, it was reinforced by the Dark Emerald, and blasted out with the speed and strength of armor piercing machine gun rounds. He heard their screams as they faltered and fell. The five that managed to make it through surrounded him, intent on ending the battle with his head on their tusks.

    The leader, the one with the biggest tusks, roared to the others. The Dark Emerald Ranger's only response was to lift the Mightyena head over his head and open the snapping jaws wide.

    Just as they charged, the ranger fired a Dark Impulse. It struck each Mamoswine with a dark purple ring of energy and they flinched, giving him just enough time to raise the Grovyle head again and fire Bullet Seed a second time. With the close range, it did not take him long to clear the field of all the beasts. Each of them fell.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger waited. Eventually the beasts rose, but seeing him decided to take a different route in their migration. Beaten and disgraced, they would never come back to the village, lest they face him. Only one of them looked back to him, but the Grovyle face was trained on it and the beast charged away before its pride could be wounded again.

    When the sun set, the monster released his Pokemon from his hands. Grovyle and Mightyena scratched themselves as they waited for their trainer to demorph. Max Birch emerged from the inside of the creature, utterly exhausted. Keeping up the transformation for hours was tough work, but he was getting used to it. Sometimes he was even in control, and he always remembered the fights even when he wasn't. He was beginning to get a better sense of partnership with his Dark Gem, something he and the gem were quite happy about.

    He turned to his Pokemon. "Good work," he said and held up his Poke Balls. The Pokemon vanished in two flashes of red light.

    He put the balls away and grinned. "Who knew that the Dark Emerald had such an awesome skill?" he wondered aloud. All Dark Gems were, on some level, capable of taking in foreign material and utilizing it. That was how they absorbed Pokemon souls and activated the ranger form that was Max's Chained Form. But to actually temporarily absorb Pokemon, and bring them out safely when finished, that was an entirely different thing. Came in handy though, but he never seemed to be able to use it on Pokemon he didn't own.

    "Guess it's a friendship-slash-trust thing," he said. After all, the Dark Emerald was based on his dearest Pokemon, Gallade, it made sense that the only Pokemon he could absorb were ones he had an emotional attachment to. "I wonder what's for dinner tonight…" Normally it was something salty, but he never complained. He was being fed and clothed and housed for free.

    Well, not exactly free…Max thought fondly of who was waiting for him and the Dark Emerald whispered hungrily in the night. Already the sun had waned and above him he could see the beginnings of twilight forming.

    Aisha was at the stove, exactly as he predicted, cooking salted pork and what vegetables had been saved for the winter months. Max could bet money it was potatoes, those always seemed to do the best in the village during this time. He could see little of her because she always wore a massive amount of clothing, but knew from the months he had been in the village exactly what was hiding underneath.

    He closed the door to the house behind him and walked up behind her, nuzzling her ear. "Back so soon?" she asked, in a voice that was as sweet as honey. He found himself tangled in her long, raven-black hair as she turned to face him with a smile. She kissed his nose. "My little monster, did you get rid of the herd?"

    He nodded nonchalantly. "Wasn't too much trouble."

    "For us it is," she said. "You do the work of twenty men at this time of year. It's saved us so much. There's no way we could repay you."

    He grinned. "Oh, I can think of a few ways. And only two of them involve us with clothes on."

    She grinned right back. "How many involve us without clothes?"

    He thought for a moment. "About a hundred and thirty-five."

    She laughed and said, "My, someone has a vivid imagination. We'd better wait for dinner though, I don't want the food to burn."

    Max seemed to disagree. "True, Aisha, but I can always multitask."

    "Max, I think you'd better be patient. Sit down and watch me cook, I promise waiting has its virtues too."

    Max did wait, and found he did not have to for long to find out what exactly those virtues were.

    It was not until several hours later, almost near the brink of day, that Max awoke. His Dark Emerald often told him to do so, not wanting to miss a moment that could have been spent fighting lying in bed with Aisha. But this time the wakeup was different, like the Dark Emerald was expecting something else, something sinister.

    He reached for the gem instantly, but found he didn't need it. It was the communicator, the one 0 and the others had given to him, that was flashing urgently. Using as much care as possible not to wake the sleeping Aisha, Max reached over to the bedside table and put it to his ear.

    He listened to the message and his eyes widened.

    He didn't even think of waiting. He got out of bed as quietly as he could and found his clothes. Most of them were not built for the cold but that wouldn't be a problem. Not for him, anyway. They were the very clothes he had been wearing the night they had left from PKM, so they looked a lot like the PKM Ranger civilian uniform, only with a green tint. 415 had said something about him not being a real ranger, so he didn't get a real outfit.

    He put on the jacket and rubbed his brows. Now came the difficult part.

    "You have to go, don't you?" He looked up, Aisha was staring at him. Her eyes weren't angry, or sad, but somewhat depressed. He nodded. "You're needed for something else…"

    "My friends need me again," he explained. "I need to help them." He was about to say more, but Aisha hushed him and walked over. She covered herself with blankets from their bed.

    "Take me with you," she said.

    He shook his head. "I can't do that, Aisha. You know I can't. These people I have to fight, they kill the people my friends and I care about. I can't put you in that kind of danger. I'm sorry."

    Reluctantly, she nodded her head. "Yes, I know," she murmured and hugged him. "I just…wanted to try anyway."

    Max lifted her chin with a slight touch of his hand. "Aisha, I can't thank you enough for taking something like me in. Just remember that, okay?"

    "'Something like you'? Max, you're a person, just like anyone else. Only you're a person who is the savior of our village. You're a hero, Max."

    Max smiled, remembering the time he and Serena had saved Sarah, the first night he had considered himself a hero. "Thanks, Aisha. For everything." He put his glasses on and pushed them up to the bridge of his nose.

    He grabbed his bag, which contained all his earthly possessions, and walked out the door. Aisha watched him go, and only when he was out of sight did she permit a single tear to fall from her eye.

    "I hope one day you find someone who can tame you, you wild beast," she whispered to the wind.

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

    Serena Brine tossed herself onto the other side of the bed.

    Her partner, a young gardener she had seduced from the hotel staff, merely grinned widely and chuckled. His entire body was drenched with sweat and seemed to gleam in the glow of the afternoon sun. He continued to gaze upon her perfect, sensuous form.

    "That was lovely," he whispered and nuzzled next to her. "I can barely move."

    She nodded. "Yes, I noticed." She glanced at the clock, it was quite late. "But I have dinner reservations, you're going to need to leave."

    He nodded back and got dressed. "Of course, but let me know when you want to play again." She could still hear him laughing when he closed the door behind him.

    She groaned. "Isn't there a single man on this planet who can satisfy me?" she wondered aloud. She got up and headed for the shower. "That idiot was at it for hours, what's wrong with men these days? Once they're done they think you are too." She tried hard to vigorously scrub away the last two hours of her life, it took some time but she was finally able to pull it off.

    She took it back, there was one man capable of doing the job. She smiled, it had been over a year since she'd seen him. When they'd all split up he had stowed away with his ex-wife and daughter somewhere, all her efforts to find him had yielded nothing. She blushed when she thought back on their adventures together, especially the one at the hot spring, one of the few memories even capable of enticing desire in her mind. She'd been thinking about 0 the entire time she'd been with the gardener, it was the only thing that had got her through his mediocre performance.

    She toweled off and got dressed. She wasn't jealous of May anymore, and she wasn't in love with him either. They had a family, which took precedence over her. But she had a partnership with him, and that was a big part of 0's life too. They had saved each other in battle over and over again. That was something May would never have with him.

    She giggled as she did her hair. Once again, she looked the splitting image of a princess. Out of habit she placed her com-link in her ear. "Dewgong," she said, "how long do I have to get to the restaurant?"

    The voice in her ear said, "About twenty minutes, little Serena. It shouldn't take you more than ten to get there, especially if you go by taxi."

    She nodded. "Thank you, Dewgong." She checked herself one last time in the mirror before pronouncing herself perfect one again and walked down the hallway to the elevator. She had insisted on a room at one of the higher floors, so she could have a breathtaking view. She arrived in the main lobby a minute later, where all the males within viewing distance ignored their wives, girlfriends, and work to stare at her.

    She was able to hail a taxi in moments, thanks to the glitter of her silver dress, and was at the restaurant in five minutes. She stepped out of the taxi and, her high heels clattering with each step, entered the restaurant for a truly magnificent meal. While it was true that she wasn't quite rich, neither was she very poor. The money she had saved up from her time as a ranger in PKM, plus her family's inheritance, was more than enough for Savannah Todd, her new identity. The only thing missing was the perfect eye candy draped around her waist. Preferably a big piece of Orre hunk with the ability to summon golden spandex.

    She was shown to her table by a gentleman who was a little too eager to please. He was a nice looking young man, maybe five years younger than she was, but definitely not her type. He wasn't seasoned enough. He took a bit too much time handing her the menu.

    "Thank you," she said.

    She spent the remainder of the evening in blissful silence, simply enjoying the view of Mikan Island's gorgeous starry night. The food was always excellent here, and it certainly was that night. It took her an hour to finish her meal, she wanted to savor the wine, the fruit, the meat… When at last she finished and walked out, she felt satisfied in a way that idiotic gardener would never be able to make anyone feel.

    She was just about to hail a taxi when, from behind her, she felt someone grab her. She tried to scream, but her cries were muffled by the hand that clamped over her face. Before she knew what was going on, she was in an alley with four men, not including the one who grabbed her.

    "Good find," whispered one of the men. Serena noticed that all of them were wearing black hoods.

    She groaned. Why couldn't she ever have a nice vacation?

    "Bend her over, and keep that knife on her throat." Serena felt something cool and sharp against her neck.

    Okay, boys. Let's see if you're man enough to handle me. Serena flexed the lithe but strong muscles in her arms and twisted out of the first man's grip. She heard something break, followed by soft weeping. The body fell behind her and Serena turned to the remaining three, who seemed rather dumbfounded.

    "Come on, boys," she cooed softly and cracked her knuckles. "One down, three to go." She rushed forward and punched one of the guys in the throat. He went down like a sack of potatoes. "This is too easy, I'm even wearing high heels to make it easy for you!"

    "Get her!" shouted the one on the left. He rushed forward and met an untimely end when Serena kicked him viciously in the groin. He screeched just like a little girl and fell over with tears in his eyes. Serena turned to the last one, who was shivering with fear.

    "You boys picked the wrong girl," she growled. She didn't even give him time to respond, she just smashed her heel into his face and he was knocked out.

    "Silly boys," she giggled. It was unfortunate she couldn't report them, since she couldn't expose herself to the police without blowing her cover. She could, however, kick every last one while they were still down, and she did so with gusto.

    "Little Serena," said Dewgong.

    She looked up from the thug she was beating down. "Yes, Dewgong?"

    "You have a message from the Gold Ranger. Shall I play it?"

    She nodded. "O-Of course." She felt flustered for some reason. While she listened to the message she exited the alley, and by the time she was out she'd heard it all.

    "Dewgong, book us on the first flight to Goldenrod City."

    "Of course, little Serena."

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

    The machinery that surrounded Carol Dawson was simple and highly outdated. She typed with efficiency on a keyboard that any company with a decent budget would have replaced two years ago connected to a computer that had been operational for almost a decade, or at least it seemed like it whenever Carol tried to load anything on it. Each moment she was forced to watch a loading screen slowly crawl its blue bar to the right seemed like eternity. Eternity she could be spending being productive.

    Her cubicle looked exactly like the dozen others that surrounded it. The only noticeable difference to the casual observer might have been the absolute absence of any personal items on her desk or tacked to the cubicle walls around her. While her coworkers had photos of their families, their friends, or even comics, Carol's was completely empty. Her desk was clean, immaculately so, and free of clutter, something that could not be said about any other desk on the floor.

    Her eyes never left the computer screen. Carol was pretty, or as pretty as any girl could expect to be in a reasonable world. She wore big glasses that covered much of her upper face and underneath those massive glasses were a set of attractive blue eyes. Unlike other girls, she didn't wear makeup, but her face actually seemed to benefit from the absence of artificial assistance. Her hair was straight and neat, a strawberry blonde color that was pulled back into a tight bun. Her clothing was suitable, and completely ordinary.

    In fact, that might be the perfect word to sum up Carol Dawson: ordinary.

    She did not waver her attention, and for a full hour proceeded to type down a report regarding the coffee room abuses that had been going on in the office for the past three months. She had been asked to do this by her boss, a rather large man by the name of Reggie, who was beloved by all on the floor who wished to retain their jobs. This did not include Carol, but she did what she needed to do to make sure she had a steady paycheck.

    She finished he report and sent it off to the printer. She sighed and stood up from her desk. She exited the safety of her cubicle and approached the printer on the other side of the room. It was a monstrous, old beast, and took forever to get started. It kept Carol waiting for a whole five minutes until it finally belched out the report into Carol's waiting arms.

    "Took you long enough," she grumbled. She stapled the report together and walked through the office again. She was, for the most part, ignored by her coworkers, partially because of her cold, silent demeanor but also because they were terrified of her. And why shouldn't they be? She didn't like any of them and didn't pretend to, giving her a sense of freedom that the others undoubtedly were envious of. She marched through the maze of cubicles straight into Reggie's office. She opened the door and closed it just as quickly, dumping the report on his office without as much as a hello.

    "The report you wanted," she said briskly and turned around to exit the office.

    The man sitting behind the desk stood up. "Wait, Carol," he said. She paused and he stood up from the desk. "Carol, we need to talk about something."

    "What?" she asked, rather bluntly. Her hand reached into her pocket for a moment.

    "Carol, please," said Reggie and he gestured at the empty seat in front of his desk. With what looked like great reluctance Carol did as he asked. "Carol, I've been doing some reviews of the staff, and I think we need to have a talk about you staying on with our company."

    "Has my work been unsatisfactory? I have not received a single complaint regarding my productivity."

    He shook his head. "No, it's not that it's just…" He paused, as if he was having some difficulty in actually getting to the heart of the matter. "Carol, I've been receiving complaints from the staff here. They say you're weird and that you might be a serial killer."

    Carol's face remained remarkably placid despite the accusation. "Who said that?" she inquired innocently. "I would like to correct the misunderstanding in person."

    "Now you know I can't tell you that, but the problem is that you just don't seem to be fitting in here, Carol. Is something wrong? Are you feeling okay?"

    "Nothing is wrong, and I am in perfect health. If that is all, I think I will leave." She rose to leave, but felt Reggie grab her hand. She did not move.

    "Carol, these complaints have been coming in for months. If you don't make an effort to improve your relations with everyone, like the senior staff, we will have to let you go."

    Carol's gaze was ice cold. "Are you suggesting that I smile, make jokes, and entertain the others? While I could be working?"

    He nodded. "Yes, and-" Reggie tried to get closer, but Carol moved just far enough away.

    "What are you doing?"

    He grinned. "What do you think I am doing?"

    "I think you are abusing your power as my superior to coerce me into acts of deviance. That would why the curtains are shut and the door is locked. Am I right?"

    He grinned again. "Yes, you are."

    Carol offered a switch of a smile. "Thank you. Now then-" She lifted her hand out of her pocket, revealing a recording device she carried with her "-what do you think I should do with this?" She played back the last few seconds of audio and watched Reggie's grin transcend into a gaze of horror.

    "That's…err…you should-"

    Carol held up her hand. "Excuse me for one moment. Telephone call." She lifted her hand to the small Bluetooth device against her ear. "What? I am deciding someone's fate right now."

    "A call has just come in," said the feminine, malevolent voice. "It's from Gold. Do you want to take the message now?"

    She glanced at Reggie, who seemed to have something wrong with his face. "Yes. It is likely an emergency. Play it." For a minute, she listened to her superior's voice ring through her head. When it was finished she said, "Prepare the arrangements. I will be done here shortly."

    She turned to Reggie. "I think you get fired." She took out the recording and placed it back in her pocket. "Expect an order demanding your resignation in five minutes when I finish contacting your boss." Reggie had a weird look in his eye. "Do not try attacking me, you have no idea what I am capable of. Too bad, I was going to poker tonight." She unlocked the door and slammed it behind her, leaving a whiny fat man behind.

    She walked past the office workers, all of whom regarded her with confused looks. She headed to the elevator and went to the floor where Reggie's boss, a woman named Amanda, was sitting.

    "This is for you," said Carol when she saw Amanda. She handed her the recording and played it for her. "Reggie said to give it to you."

    "What is it?" she asked.

    "He foolishly thought he could molest me. This recording is his letter of resignation."

    Before Amanda could ask further questions, Carol was already leaving, going down the stairs to the main floor. She passed through the front doors without so much as a backward glance. She turned and headed to the nearest discreet alley.

    Making sure no one was looking, Carol lifted up her watch to her face. She pressed a button, and her face changed. Now she was green-eyed with long black hair.

    415 smiled. She was back.

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    "Has everyone gathered?" asked Axi. His voice had an impatient tone about it.

    Bix said, "Patience, big brother. I am sure everyone is here."

    "Everyone is here that needs to be." Both Axi and Bix looked up to see the faithful face of Ame looking at them with a businesslike demeanor. "Top and Dia shall be here at any moment-ah, here they are now."

    The cavern Top and Dia entered was by no means interesting. Axi and Bix just seemed to have a particular fondness for the wilderness and for secret, dark places. Much of it was dark, the only light in the cavern came from Ame's flashlight. Axi and Bix themselves were shrouded in the darkness.

    There was little noticeable about Top and Dia. Top was very tall, almost seven feet, while Dia was very small, only four feet tall. However, it was Dia who held the duo into the cavern, while Top walked slowly behind her. He looked around the cavern, then finally came to a stop right next to Dia, who looked disgusted.

    "Why are we meeting here?" the little girl asked. She turned to Top. "Tell them I don't want to meet in stinky caves from now on!"

    Top said nothing.

    Axi jumped down and sat on the floor of the stinky cave. "Now now, little Dia. We just like camping, that's all! Now, why don't you pull up a rock and we'll get down to business."

    Dia reluctantly pointed to one of the rocks near the twins. Top moved towards it and sat down, only then did Dia dare sit, and only because it was Top's lap. She made no move towards any of the other Dark Gem Rangers.

    "What do you want us for?" asked Dia. "Can't they do the job themselves?" She pointed towards Axi and Bix, a look of disgust on her face.

    Ame shook her head. "They have explained to me-"

    "-We don't need to," said Axi, holding up his hand to interrupt her. "You're gonna do it, kiddie, and you'll do it with a smile because if you don't want to we have ways of making you."

    "Dreadful ways," whispered Bix. "Most of them involving your body. We could always harvest it for a more valuable girl."

    Top emitted a low growl from his throat. He started to get up, but one look from Dia settled him down. He continued to watch Axi and Bix carefully, patting Dia's head.

    "What do you want us to do?" Dia asked, giving Axi and Bix an ugly look.

    They grinned. "Thought you'd never ask," whispered Axi. "We've been looking for these people for over a year. Ame, give her the file."

    Ame did as she was asked and produced a small file for Dia to look through. "What exactly do you want us to do with them?"

    "Kill them. But there is an order to it."

    "An order?"

    Bix nodded. "Yes, an order. I want you to kill them all, but in a specific order. That's the contract. First, I want you to kill that boy Eme. He's been nothing but trouble and I do hate when one of us turns on our own kind."

    Axi agreed. "Next, we want May Birch to die. Destroy her, and you crush Golden Boy's spirit. Thirdly, Sarah Birch must die. It must be painful too. This will kill the Gold Ranger and render him useless to them. Then you can pick apart his team. Bring little Serena to us alive and kill the new member. Serena is the only one that can remain alive, without her our long term plans will fail."

    Dia looked up from the pages. "And what about Gold?" she asked.

    "Oh him? After you take away everything, you won't have to worry about anything. He won't even fight. You can just walk up and finish the job he started four years ago."

    Bix added, "Oh, there's one more thing. This job's for Top." He handed the big lug one more photo. "You will be messing with 0's mind."

    Dia looked up. "What's the picture, Daddy?" she asked with a giggle.

    "One of 0's friends," said Axi. "Take on his shape and screw him up. Understand?"

    Top nodded and did as he was ordered. Slowly, he face began to shift, melt, and twist into something new. His eyes narrowed and became slits his hair grew short and spiky with a brownish tint.

    "This is Brock Harrison," said Axi. "He was once a friend of our little friend the Gold Ranger."

    "He's heading for Goldenrod as we speak," added Bix, "on a trip we've sent him on thanks to a contest. Just screw with their heads a little."

    "Oh, that we can do…" Slowly, subtly, Dia began to giggle in the dank cave.

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    "Kids, sit!"

    The individuals who surrounded the man known to the world as Keean Toby were not particularly large, but they were menacing in vast numbers. The class before him was composed of thirty children of various ages between five and ten, all of whom were driven by an overwhelming desire to test the realms of his patience. Had he not needed the money or enjoyed what he did, the adult the children addressed as Mr. Toby would have just as easily strangled some of his students for the depths to which they pursued their agenda to test his sanity to its absolute limit.

    Yet he was so large, so imposing, that often times if he was stern enough the children would do exactly as asked without complaint. It was mostly because of the goggles, which he supposed enhanced their supposed image of a demon that they had of him.

    It was an image he encouraged amongst the children, helped greatly by May's quiet, gentle appearance. Sometimes she would stop in on the class and teach a few Coordinator tricks that 0 didn't know. But the children loved her and respected her as a gentle, if somewhat firm, wife to Keean Toby and mother to Sarah, who frequented most of the classes and had befriended most of the children. And, if they ever felt that Mr. Toby was too mean, May was the one person besides Sarah that he would obey without question.

    To the girls in the class, it was a powerful lesson in family dynamics, a lesson they committed to memory. To the boys, it was a glimpse of their future, a future they couldn't see due to the onset presence of cooties they believed had been brought to the small school.

    The Gold Ranger was flanked by his two Pokemon. Tork was quite friendly with the students, and all of them seemed to take a fancy to riding on its back when there was free time. Lu, on the other hand, was respected mainly by the boys for the delicate, calm nature it had gained as it grew. It now stood over four feet tall and was getting stronger every day. Despite not having an experienced Pokemon Breeder around like Brock, it was doing just fine in 0's care.

    "Okay," he said, "you guys have a basic understanding of what a Pokemon Trainer does. They live with Pokemon and they train Pokemon for a bunch of things like battling, breeding, or just to keep them healthy. We're going to take that up a notch today."

    He smiled and held up two balls, roughly the size of human heads. He bounced them on the ground. "By a show of hands, who knows how to play Dodge Ball?" Most of the kids, only two or three didn't, raised their hands. "Well, these guys don't." 0 tossed one of the balls to Lu, who grabbed it with some slight confusion with its paws, and the other to Tork, who balanced it on top of its orange head to the delight of most of the younger children.

    "Your job, over the next week, is going to teach them to play this game. On Friday, we will have three games and the winner gets a party. With Mrs. Toby's home cooked dinner included, of course." 0 gestured at the back of the class, where his ex-wife was standing.

    "Really, Mrs. Toby?" asked one of the kids, 0 was sure his name was Devon.

    May nodded. "Of course, Devon. But you'll have to work hard as a team to train either Tork or Lu to play. Both of them are different, so you'll have to think differently depending on the Pokemon you're supposed to train."

    0 nodded. "Okay, what we're going to do is have everyone stand in a line. Tork and Lu will be picking the people on their team."

    "Why are the Pokemon picking?" asked a girl named Jasmine. "Don't trainers normally pick their Pokemon?"

    He smiled and shook his head. "Not all the time, Jasmine. Sometimes a Pokemon will pick you, and it'll become your partner. That's why Lu and Tork are picking their trainers for this exercise, so you guys can work with someone unexpected. Helps you think on your feet." Then, to make sure that still feared him, he barked, "Alright! Form a line, let's go!"

    The order was followed almost instantaneously. In no time, he saw a perfect row of children stretched over his backyard. Lu and Tork walked through the line and, seemingly randomly, picked out their trainers through a process that 0 couldn't even begin to figure out. Maybe because they knew her so well and wanted to meet new people, Sarah was picked last and went to Tork's team.

    As the children began working with Lu and Tork, 0 took the opportunity to take a small walk with May. "How's the training going?" May asked.

    He shrugged. "Kids seem to be doing okay. I think Tork and Lu should be able to keep them in line."

    "Well, I think this was a wonderful idea. You are the best trainer alive, after all. Teaching kids how to be trainers was a perfect choice for you." She grinned. "Plus, you look so cute when you're trying to be serious." 0 reddened.

    "He's trying to be serious? That's adorable!"

    0, even if he had been able to activate Agility, wouldn't have had enough time to stop what launched herself at him and pinned him to the ground. The Gold Ranger was almost ready to transform, then he saw his attacker.

    "Silver," he grumbled, "why do we always have to meet via tackling?"

    Serena shrugged. "Tradition?" She looked up at a somewhat embarrassed May and smiled. "Hi, May. How ya been?"

    "Oh, just fine, Serena. Mind getting off my husband?"

    "Oh, did you guys get married again?" She got up and dusted herself off. "Was it a big wedding? Why didn't you wait for the rest of us?"

    "We're not technically married," grunted 0 as he heaved himself back to his feet. "That's our cover." He turned to Lu and made sure that the Pokemon were capable of handling the children. "Come on, let's go inside."

    He led Serena and May back into the house. "Wow, this place is huge!" cooed Serena as she took it all in. "You've been living the sweet life, 0."

    "I wouldn't say that. I still work."

    "Yeah, saw the kids outside, guessing that they're not all yours."

    May nodded. "We look after the local children as a kind of daycare. 0 teaches them about Pokemon training and I give a few tips for the future Coordinators in the group."

    "Cool. What're your names now?"

    "Keean and May Toby."

    "Keean Toby again? What's your deal with that name?"

    0 shrugged. "It sounds nice and I can't use my legal name. It would bring trouble."

    "Good point," said Serena. "So, where's Max and 415?"

    "We don't know," May replied.

    "We do."

    Serena, May, and 0 turned to the door. Standing at the doorway was a tall man with black hair and glasses. Next to him was a smaller, but still threatening looking woman with short brown hair with matching eyes. Max had his bag slung over his shoulder while 415 had a neat suitcase rolling near her feet.

    "Max!" 0 stood up and walked over to shake his hand. For some reason, Max seemed bigger than he had been, older too. There was a wild look in the former Gym Leader's eyes that 0 recognized, had once seen in himself. His hair was untamed and savage, though possibly a bit shorter than it had been over a year ago.

    "In the flesh," Max said with a grin. "Only managed to get killed once today, so I'm doing well."

    "Once? What happened?" May asked. 0 parted from him to allow him a brief reunion with his sister. "Are you alright?" She hugged him with a chuckle.

    He hugged her back. "Oh yeah. Just happened when I ran into 415 on the way here. She greeted me in the traditional fashion."

    0 turned to 415, whose facial features as always betrayed nothing. "What did you do?" he asked.

    "Nothing permanent."

    "What?"

    "He recognized my morpher but did not identify himself. He approached me from behind and surprised me. I snapped his neck, thinking he was a Dark Gem. I was right."

    "Did anyone see this?"

    She shook her head. "Nobody."

    Max rubbed his neck. "It still stings, you know. Least you could do is warn me before you go around snapping my neck."

    "If I could crush the Dark Emerald, I would. Make no mistake about that. Would you prefer a more permanent end to our quarrels?"

    "What quarrels? I haven't seen you for a year and the first thing you do is try to kill me?"

    "Lovebirds," murmured Serena, "do you need to be grounded by 0 and me?"

    "We are not lovebirds," protested Max.

    415 nodded. "I finally agree on something the Dark Gem suggests."

    "Well, then…stop bickering like two kids. We're here for business, not a family reunion."

    "Thank you," said 0. "May, do you think you could watch the kids and make sure that Lu and Tork don't get hurt? I'm just going to fill them in on what's going on."

    May nodded. "Of course. Come out when you're done. It's good that we have three new teachers." She left.

    "Not a bad idea…" muttered 0.

    "What?" asked Max.

    "Nothing, I'll explain later. For now, let's go to Ranger Downs."

    "Ranger Downs?" asked Serena.

    0 nodded. "Ranger Downs."

    He led them to the bookshelf and found Brock's book. He pulled it out and revealed the hidden pathway behind it. "We have outlined this house with metal and enough bulletproof glass to keep an army outside. Short of nuclear weapons, nobody can even get through the front door if I don't want them to."

    "Good plan," said Max. "If those Dark Gems know where you are, that could come in handy."

    "Yeah. Now then, Ranger Downs will be acting as our base of operations from now on." He led them down the corridor and down the stairs to the base. "It is designed with technology that Bakaguru sent to me before he died. It has a teleporter, hacking equipment, basically everything the lab had at PKM."

    There was a whistle from Max when he saw the base. "You built all this?" he asked.

    0 nodded. "Not too hard. Bakaguru modified the technology so it could be built out of practically anything. The teleporter runs on the garbage disposal. Even works two ways now, as long as we're morphed. Well, everyone except for Max. Don't know if it can pick up the Dark Emerald's signal yet. Hope that's not a problem."

    Max shook his head. "No, used to being treated differently by now. I'll just grab on to someone if we need to teleport somewhere."

    "That could work," said 0.

    "No," said 415, "it would not. The teleporter might scramble the particles on the return trip, and nobody wants to be grafted onto a Dark Gem."

    "Good point. Max walks home."

    Max groaned. "Fine. But I'm going to need a bus pass if you expect me to walk all the way home from Goldenrod."

    "Do not give it to him."

    "Shut up."

    Max turned to the Gold Ranger. "0, do you have a battle arena in this place?"

    0 nodded. "Yes, I designed it so we could train without anyone noticing. Why?"

    "Because I really want to fight 415." He turned to the other ranger and gave her an ugly look. "And when I beat her, maybe she'll see that maybe she's the weak ranger after all."

    415 said, "I will not sully myself by fighting the monster. It would serve no purpose other than to remind him of his inferiorly constructed Ranger System."

    Max cracked his knuckles. "Please let me do it, 0. Oh please, oh please, oh please…"

    0 looked to Serena. "You up for dinner and a show?" he asked.

    "Oh we haven't been on a date in years. I'd love to."

    "Please let go of my hand."

    "I will not."

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    "Go Uncle Max!"

    Sarah's shouting drowned out most of Serena and May's effort to catch up. The women sat by the sidelines of what looked like a Pokemon battle field, only it had a rubber surface designed for tough combat. At one end stood Max Birch, powerful and imposing. On the other was 415, stoically calm as always. 0 stood in the center, he would act as referee in the match.

    "So," Serena said, "how are you and 0 doing?"

    May shrugged. "We sleep in the same room again. For the longest time he stayed on the couch when he…rests, I guess that's the word for it because he still won't wean himself off the drug. Or he was working on the house. He still leaves, late at night, I don't know why."

    "I think I do. He always used to leave when we were partners. He's on the lookout again, looking for the Dark Gems. He knows they know where you are. I suppose he wants to even the odds a little."

    "Mommy! They're getting ready! They're getting ready!"

    415 lifted her morpher and activated it. The Ranger Black armor grafted onto her instantly.

    Max wrapped his chains around his arms. "Let's go," he growled. His eyes flashed just the slightest bit of green. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two Poke Balls, releasing Mightyena and Grovyle.

    "What are those and why do they need releasing?" 415 asked.

    Max grinned. "New toy," he said. "I'd be glad to beat you up with it."

    0 sighed. Why did every day nowadays seem to include a fight? "Is this really necessary?"

    "Yes," said 415. "The Dark Gem needs to learn his place."

    "Let's just get this over with," growled Max. "I'm ready."

    "Well, then begin!"

    "Go Uncle Max!" screamed Sarah.

    Max pressed the Dark Emerald into his flesh. "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    The Dark Emerald Ranger emerged just in time to lift his hand to deflect a punch from the Black Ranger. Grovyle and Mightyena scattered, circling the fight just in case they were needed. The Dark Emerald Ranger growled under its breath and smashed 415 in the face.

    "Laaaade," he hissed, as 415 recovered. "Galla."

    "Speak English," 415 retorted. "Luxray, the Magnet Mace."

    A massive weapon materialized in her hand with a narrow handle and a massive blunt end with spikes covering it. She shouldered the weapon, it almost seemed too big for her, and swung it when the Dark Emerald Ranger got too close. His neck broke but healed instantly. He recovered just in time to avoid the mace's smash against the floor.

    "Galla Galla," growled the dark ranger.

    415 readied the giant mace again. "Come and get me," she said coldly.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger snarled and shot his chains out. He grabbed hold of the Magnet Mace and tore it out of her hands. It crashed into the ground at his feet and he growled with approval before retracting his chains.

    "Luxray, retrieve that," 415 ordered. She lowered her hand and her ranger spirit activated the magnetic strips inside her uniform's gloves. The mace tore through the air and she caught it by the handle.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger howled and suddenly Grovyle was at his side. Mightyena continued to watch from a distance. The dark ranger wrapped the chains of his left arm around Grovyle and absorbed the Pokemon. His hand again transformed into the Pokemon's face, his fingers melding into teeth and lips.

    "That's new," said 0 with interest.

    Sarah turned to May. "Mom, did Uncle Max just tape a Pokemon head to his hand?"

    "I…don't know," whispered May.

    Serena was astounded. "What kind of training did he go through this past year?"

    The Grovyle head's lips opened and the machinegun-like fire of Bullet Seed exploded forth. 415 grunted as she was pelted with hundreds of seeds and the dark ranger snickered as she dropped her mace.

    "Laaaaaade!" roared Max as he charged forward. The chain of his right arm fired out and grabbed 415 by her legs. They twisted and twined until she couldn't escape and she fell over. The chain continued to wrap until she couldn't even budge an inch. The Dark Emerald Ranger's charge slowed to a walk, until finally he stood in front of her.

    415 looked into the glowing green eyes of the Grovyle's head then shifted her gaze to the helmet Max wore.

    Max was breathing heavily when he demorphed. Grovyle separated from his body and reappeared by his side and the chain faded into the necklace Max wore. His face was ragged and beneath his glasses she saw the strain it had taken to reign himself in.

    "I'm…" He was breathing heavily. "I'm not one of them. Understand me. I'm not a monster."

    He walked away. 415, watching him go, could almost see the faint outline of the Gallade's shade that mimicked his every motion, and quivered with rage.

  13. #43
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 29

    Author's Note: Sorry for another delay, got sick and backlogged on papers for my classes.

    Morph Twenty-Nine: Top Steals a Present

    The night was far from young.

    Jenny glanced out of the window of her car. There weren't many other people out driving, she was basically alone on Goldenrod's often-crowded streets. The police officer sighed and tried to turn on the radio, but after a moment decided against it. At this hour, all that would be playing would be the techno music that she understood the young people were fans of these days.

    She glanced at the passenger's seat. Seated in a special harness was a small Pokemon, a little Fire type by the name of Growler. Its mane was a little grey these days, it was an older but trustworthy Pokemon and, personally, Jenny would rather have no one else as her partner. It growled softly at the buildings they passed through its tired eyes.

    "Yeah, it is kind of late, huh," said Jenny. The Growlithe nodded its head in agreement. "I promise, we'll just spend a few minutes at the office then we'll go straight home." It growled appreciatively at the prospect of an early night.

    They arrived at police headquarters, Goldenrod division, five minutes later. The building was still lit up, so someone had to be there working the night shift. She let Growler out first and followed her Pokemon into the offices. She passed Vasquez at the front desk and marched towards her private office. She had a smile on her face, but all of the police officers she passed were well aware of the fact that she was tired and didn't bother her.

    She was grateful for that and closed the door to her office behind her. She briefly glanced at the wall, where she had a family photo framed, then headed straight to her desk with its mountain of paperwork waiting for her. Growler, after a moment, headed straight for its basket on the end of the room. It circled the basket thrice and pawed at it, trying to get the perfect comfort out of the pillow, then stretched out and curled up into a little ball and went to sleep.

    Jenny looked at it and sighed. "Wish it was that easy for me." She picked up the first piece of paper she could reach. It was a memo about the fire that had been reported in Aura Town almost two weeks ago. She didn't like thinking about it, it made her stomach uneasy. It had been reported originally as an accident, but evidence was showing up suggesting a struggle might have taken place beforehand.

    She put aside the paper, she didn't want to deal with something like that. The suggestion that there were people in the world who could commit such violent acts… "What is the world coming to?" she asked Growler. It offered only a slightly louder snore and began pawing at the air.

    She reached for another paper, this one was about the failed robbery of the Goldenrod Central Bank. This she could handle, she thought. She had just started reading the report when the lights in her office flickered. She looked up just in time to see them go out, plunging the police headquarters into darkness.

    "Oh come on!" she shouted and stood up. Growler woke up and started to growl softly. "What is it, Growler?" It began barking, and Jenny started reaching for the desk drawer with her gun.

    "Do not attempt to arm yourself," said a mechanized voice in the darkness. It almost jolted her with surprise. "We apologize for the interruption. We had no choice."

    Growler started moving towards the figure in the dark. Jenny couldn't make him out, but she could see as his circular-shaped head shifted its attention towards Growler and began barking, exactly like a Pokemon. Growler stopped growling and sat down next to the figure.

    "Who are you and what do you want?" Jenny asked. "I can have the entire squad here in seconds if I scream."

    "Please don't scream." Jenny was surprised, this voice was a female's. She began making out a figure standing in front of the man who had barked at Growler and calmed him down. "We don't mean any harm, we just want to talk."

    Jenny calmly sat down back behind her desk. "Talk, then. Make it quick, the power will be on quickly."

    "Don't think so," said the man. "I'm absorbing the electricity for this building thanks to a hack. It will be reactivated when we leave in a controlled manner to prevent a system overload."

    "I'm sorry, you're doing what?" Jenny was certain she had heard him wrong, people didn't absorb electricity unless they were being strapped to an electric chair.

    "Siphoning your electricity. It's one of the things I can do. Don't try to think too hard about it."

    "Excuse me- Who are you people and what do you want?" It had been her initial request, but their attentions had been diverted.

    "Friends. We have been attempting to remain hidden. That will no longer be possible now, so we wish to operate with your knowledge through Goldenrod City and its surrounding areas."

    "Operate what?"

    The male figure, clearly in charge of the discussion, looked towards the female, who nodded encouragingly. The male said, "You have seen reports of arson in Aura Town and the bank robbery, right?"

    Jenny nodded. "I have."

    "We were indirectly involved with them. The bank robbery was dealt with by one of our members and the arson was a threat against our team by another, rival group. They have given us a leeway of two weeks, which ends tomorrow. To that end, it was decided that it would be a good idea to make contact with you."

    "Wait, you guys are responsible for the robbery and the arson?"

    The figure shook his head. "No. We are a group that fights these things. I am its leader."

    "Uh-huh. And what's the group's name."

    "We don't have one," said the female. "We had a disagreement with our employers. We freelance now."

    "We're rangers," said the man. "Just rangers. My codename is Ranger Gold. My partner here is codenamed Ranger Silver."

    "Nice to meet you," said Jenny. "Mind giving me some names with those?"

    "Names are not necessary. Anonymity is part of our deal here."

    "What deal is that?"

    The man stepped forward. "Starting tomorrow, your city is going to be attacked by forces that you will be unable to combat. In fact, doing so will probably result in deaths. We would like to avoid that, if possible. That's why we need your help."

    Jenny considered the suggestion. "Are you sure that police officers will be killed? That nothing can be done about it?"

    "If you interfere, yes. If you allow us to operate covertly, we can minimize casualties by fighting these enemies on our terms. Do you understand?"

    Jenny shook her head. "I'm sorry, but I don't. Rangers, enemies the police can't fight, this is sounding a bit too much like one of those summer action movies."

    "Please," said the woman. "I know this is difficult for you to believe right now, but you have to trust us. These enemies are terrorists and they won't stop until they destroy everything. We need to be allowed to fight them without having to worry about civilians."

    "Ma'am, I assure you-"

    "-Silver," she said. "Call me Silver."

    "Miss Silver, I assure you our police force may be small, but we do not just back down when facing a tough opponent." Jenny slammed her hand on the desk. "Even the thought of running away…it sickens me!"

    The man, Ranger Gold, held up his hand. Jenny noticed that it seemed, even in the darkness of the room, to sparkle with golden light. "No one is saying you won't be involved, Officer Jenny. We have the full intent of cooperating with the police department instead of operating as vigilantes. It would waste time neither of us have and would serve no productive purpose."

    "So, you want us to be your errand boys? Just go around town and do what you tell us to?"

    "No!" Ranger Gold scratched his helmet, as if wondering why this was so difficult for her to grasp. "Look, this fight has been going on for almost two years. We've been hiding for a while, but they found us. Now it doesn't matter where we go, we'll have to fight them. And it has to be us, Jenny-No! Do not open your mouth and listen to me because I am trying to help you. These people do not worry about a body count, or whether they will be caught. To them, it is either kill or be killed and they are very good at killing. They will kill anyone who stands in the way of their goals and that could very well be your men if you do not cooperate with us."

    Jenny considered that for a moment. "Are you sure?" she asked in a low voice.

    "Hey, Jenny!" It was a voice from outside and Ranger Gold's hand instinctively formed into a knuckle. "Power's going to be out for a while. You okay in there?"

    "Fine Vasquez!" Jenny shouted back. "Don't come in."

    "Very good, ma'am." They heard Vasquez's footsteps walk away.

    Jenny returned to the conversation. "Are you sure?" she repeated.

    Ranger Gold nodded. "I am positive, Officer Jenny. There is no alternative. Your force is unequipped to handle the threat that it faces and we have the necessary weapons to fight them. You must permit us to operate in Goldenrod City and the surrounding areas in order to combat these terrorists."

    "And what shall we, the police, do? Sit around and twiddle our thumbs while superheroes do all the work?"

    Ranger Gold shook his head. "No. I only ask your officers do not enter combat with the terrorists. Traffic control, blocking off areas to protect the public, these are still jobs that will need to be done if this fight is to be successful. But it cannot happen without a cooperative measure with the police, Officer Jenny. Do you understand?"

    She did and she nodded her agreement. "On one condition."

    "What?"

    "You will tell us everything we might need to know about yourselves and these terrorists. We don't need personal information, but an idea of what we will be up against and helping you deal with would be appreciated."

    Ranger Gold thought for an instant then raised his hand. "Expect us and the information within the week, Officer Jenny."

    Jenny, hesitant at first, grasped his hand and shook it. He was wearing some kind of armor that felt tough yet flexible. When their fingers parted, she felt a rush of air and heard a crack of lightning. Suddenly the lights came on in the room.

    Jenny looked at Growler and smiled. "Let's just go home for the night, baby. I need to think." She rubbed her ears, the lightning crack had been too loud.

    Growler howled its approval and practically raced Jenny to the car.

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

    Max Birch carefully attempted to decide what exactly he wanted.

    It was difficult, shopping for someone while knowing absolutely nothing about them. After about an hour of looking around, he reluctantly approached a sales clerk for some advice. She was the cheery type with a bubbly personality and wasted absolutely no time waiting for Max to get near her. She practically jumped over the counter to assist him.

    "Hi, I'm looking for a-"

    "Hello, I'm Melody! How can I help you today?" Max could hardly begin to describe how happy she appeared to be to speaking to him. Her red hair seemed to glisten with each word that escaped her painted lips. Max found it hard to look at her sparkling green eyes, simply because they seemed to be glowing with excitement.

    "Yeah," he said and scratched the back of his neck. "I'm kinda looking for something for a friend of mine."

    Melody looked him up and down. "A girlfriend…?"

    He shook his head. "No, just a friend. She's been mad at me lately and I need to get her something so she'll stop trying to kill me."

    "Too bad. I was hoping you were single. Come on, let's find your special friend a perfect gift."

    "She's not my- Whoa!" Before he could complete his sentence, Melody grabbed him and thrust him right into the center of the perfume aisle. The enhancements to his senses thanks to the Dark Emerald caused him to cough vigorously.

    "What kind of perfume does she wear?" Melody asked. "Women love perfume."

    "Uh…" Max could have probably smelt out the scent of 415's perfume, but he was relatively certain that she didn't wear any perfume. In fact, now that he thought of it, the only smell-related memory regarding 415 seemed to be a total absence of smell. "Do you have a…sterile thing or something? I don't think she wears anything like these things."

    "She doesn't wear perfume?" Melody's voice sounded confused. "Is she, like, a hippie or something?"

    Max shook his head. "Oh no, no, no, no, no. Just doesn't like smelling like weird fruit I guess. Do you have anything else?"

    "Like some jewelry or something?"

    Again, Max tried to remember. Did 415 wear jewelry? No, he was sure she did not and shook his head. "I've never seen her wear anything like that."

    "Then what? A stuffed bear? Something from Hello Kitty?"

    "No, she's too weird for that stuff. Do you have anything like an automatic weapon or a…hang on, that's not going to help me. That'll probably make it more difficult. Wait, how about a kni-no, not a knife either. What else do you guys have?"

    "Uh…clothes. Oh yeah! We've got tons and tons of clothes!"

    "Take me to those. That might be the way to go, I know she wears clothes."

    "Who doesn't?" She led Max through the store, up the stairs, and to the second floor. Rows and rows of clothes stood waiting for him to peruse. "Now, what size does she wear?"

    "Beg pardon? Size?"

    "What is her dress size? Her blouse size? Her pants size?"

    "Oh. I know none of those things. Wait, blouses have their own sizes?"

    "Of course," said Melody. "Why wouldn't they? So, you don't know?"

    "I do not know these things."

    "Well, why don't you go find out and come back. I'll help you pick out something nice for my girlfriend."

    "She's not my-" Max was about to finish, but decided to let it slide. After all, he knew that 415 was a creature of apathy and emotionless behavior. Nobody else needed to know. Nobody else would believe anyone like 415 existed, even if he tried to explain her.

    "Thanks," he finally said. They reached the first floor and Max started heading for the door. "I'll definitely be back."

    Melody smiled. "Oh, I'm just glad I could help."

    Then, from afar, someone in the jewelry aisle shouted, "Somebody help! He just stole all the diamonds!"

    Max turned and growled instinctively. "Go call the police," he ordered Melody. It was a simple robbery, transforming wouldn't be required for something like this…

    "What are you going to do?" she asked, her fingers were already dialing the buttons.

    He shrugged. "Just going to go get back the stuff. No biggie." From what Max could see of the dashing figure, he was certain that he wasn't armed with any guns. He was a bit tall, but an ordinary person was not going to be an issue for someone bonded to a Dark Gem.

    He caught up to the thief before he even managed to get out of the store and shoved him. The thief fell into a series of shelves and crashed the ground, sending fine china shattering to the ground.

    "Oops," muttered Max. "Uh, that was my bad."

    The man was getting back up, despite the fact that he should have been in an incredible amount of pain. There were pieces of plates sticking into his body and blood was gushing out. The man turned to Max and he almost screamed.

    It was Brock.

    "Brock," said Max, "what are you doing-"

    His sentence remained unfinished because Brock ran right up to him and smashed him in the chest with his fist. Max felt pain and fell over, coughing. He tasted blood on his lips.

    "B-Brock," Max growled. "What are you doing here?"

    Brock did not appear to recognize him, but when his gaze trailed down to the Dark Emerald on Max's neck his eyes flashed. Brock reached into his pocket and pulled out a topaz fashioned onto a long chain so similar to Max's.

    "Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Max grumbled.

    Brock growled and wrapped the chain around his neck and wrists. But when he opened his mouth, Max knew, knew, it couldn't be him. The mouth was a black pit, like a piece of mask coming apart.

    The store seemed to explode with light and, when it died, Max found himself face to face with a new Dark Gem Ranger. This one literally seemed to be made of muscles from its head to its toes. It was entirely orange, save for the black chains that were wrapped around its neck and wrists, along with a few accents of black around its boots and gauntlets. Its helmet was circular with an X-shaped visor. It glared down at Max and grabbed him with its free hand. The other one clutched a bag filled with precious gems.

    Max felt the chains surround his arms instantly, but he waited until he could contact 0 with his com-link. "Ranger Downs, come in!" Max shouted.

    A voice answered him moments later, Serena's. "What is it, Max?"

    "Fished out a big one at the department store. Backup would be cool."

    "Got it. Tracing your location now. Keep him busy until Black and I get there."

    "Where's…0?" growled Max. He wasn't going to be able to hold the beast back any longer.

    "One of us has to stay behind. Hang on, we'll be there in a second!"

    Max decided to let loose and, struggling to press the Dark Emerald into his flesh, shouted, "Dark Gem Ignite!" The Dark Gem Ranger strangling him let him go in surprise and watched as Max completed his transformation. The Dark Emerald Ranger growled and returned to his feet.

    "Laaaade," he hissed and ran forward. The other ranger, though strong, was incredibly slow, making it an easy task for Max to smash his fists into the Dark Gem Ranger's stomach. The Dark Gem Ranger doubled over but did not fall and repaid the debt by throwing a punch right in Max's face. He crouched and flipped backwards, landing with his fingertips just scraping at the floor.

    The Dark Emerald Ranger heard footsteps issue from behind him, and suddenly the Black and Silver Rangers flanked him. Recognizing them, the Dark Emerald Ranger stood up and growled at the Black Ranger, who for the most part ignored him and focused on the enemy.

    "What is that thing?" Serena asked.

    "Looks like topaz," said 415. "A Dark Topaz Ranger."

    The Dark Topaz Ranger roared and charged forward. Serena and 415 scattered, leaving the Dark Emerald Ranger to be the primary fighter. Max growled as the Dark Topaz Ranger threw a punch. He blocked its blow and grappled with the giant monster, keeping it positioned just so in order to let Serena and 415 get in a few hits.

    The Magnet Mace was downloaded instantly to 415 and the Black Ranger took advantage of the Dark Topaz Ranger's incapacitation to bust its head open. It was like a baseball player hitting one out of the ball park, the monster's head came flying off and smashed against the wall, disintegrating to dust.

    Suddenly, in Max's mind he heard the Dark Emerald screaming at him to get away. It overloaded his senses and he briefly lost his coordination.

    The Dark Topaz Ranger, from somewhere in its body, growled. Another head exploded out of its shoulders and two extra arms, just like a Machamp, emerged and grabbed Max's arms. The Dark Emerald braced him, but nothing could completely drown out the pain of his arms breaking. A guttered, wrenching screech issued from inside the Dark Emerald Ranger's helmet.

    "Black, backup now!" ordered Serena and she swarmed the Dark Topaz Ranger with 415. The Frost Fans slashed through the air and stuck into its back. It grunted in pain. The fans detached just as quickly and spun back to their mistress while 415 readied another blow. As the Dark Topaz Ranger turned around she smacked the Magnet Mace against its weak point on its chest. It screeched, but the gem didn't even lose its shine, let alone crack.

    It savagely kicked her in the shoulder, sending her flying into Serena. With nothing to stop it, the Dark Topaz Ranger bolted for the door and tore out of the store. The Dark Emerald Ranger got to his feet and headed over to where Serena was helping 415 up.

    "You okay?" Serena asked.

    The dark ranger grunted and his only other response was to begin following the trail that the Dark Topaz Ranger had left for them. He could sense the Dark Topaz now, the Dark Emerald wouldn't shut up when it was near. It followed the trail that made his Dark Gem go off the most.

    He lifted his head and spotted the Dark Topaz Ranger climbing a building. Its four arms had changed into spider-like legs and it was scaling the building with surprising efficiency. Max wasn't sure where the gems were but the Dark Emerald insisted that they were probably absorbed into the Dark Topaz's Ranger's body, like Max had done with the serum long ago.

    Max lifted his arm and the chain that wrapped around it elongated and fired upwards. It grappled itself to the roof and shot Max right into the air. The Dark Emerald Ranger fired the second chain into the building to perfectly align his body to deliver a high-powered kick to the back. The topaz ranger crashed through the window and into an office building. The emerald ranger followed it through the opening and landed on all fours.

    Bits of glass tumbled out of the Dark Topaz Ranger's body and it cracked all four sets of knuckles as it faced Max. The Dark Emerald was screaming at him to retreat, but he couldn't. He wouldn't show weakness, not in front of the Dark Gems and not in front of his friends. He hadn't battled and endured the harsh terrain of northern Sinnoh, he hadn't fought against the toughest wild Pokemon in the world, for nothing!

    The Dark Emerald shrank back, terrified at its contractor's need to battle, to prove himself. It knew his capabilities, it even knew that he probably had the best chance of the rangers to defeat the Dark Topaz. The Dark Emerald was of equal, if not greater power, and with both of the Dark Gem Rangers in Chained Form the likelihood of success increased. Serena and 415, once they got there, would be able to help him. If the Gold Ranger were here, whispered the Dark Emerald, the likelihood of victory would be certain.

    No, Max said back. He could win, on his own. He just needed the chance. He would prove himself to the Dark Emerald.

    But, whispered the Dark Emerald, if Max died there would be nothing proven.

    Then he wouldn't die, said Max. It was just that simple.

    The Dark Topaz Ranger roared, a sound that might have terrified others but not them. Not Max and not the Dark Emerald. They crouched low and waited for the Dark Topaz Ranger to rush forward, to attack.

    But it didn't. It turned and ran from the room, crashing through an office wall on its way out. Max growled and rushed forward, he would not let it escape. He leapt through the air and tackled it, sending them both crashing through another wall. They were so flimsy, these walls, thought the Dark Emerald. They could be used.

    Max lifted his hand. Out of his palm emerged a regular Poke Ball. He had learned he could conceal things inside himself well, just as the Dark Topaz Ranger hid the diamonds and precious gems inside its body too. The Dark Emerald Ranger opened the ball and absorbed Grovyle into his left hand.

    Its eyes glowed bright green as its head pointed at the Dark Topaz Ranger. Its mouth glowed as it fired bullet after bullet into the beast's hide. It screeched and rushed forward. Max dodged by rolling to the side and continued to fire at it. It crashed through another wall and did not return.

    Where was it? Max looked right and left, before finally asking the Dark Emerald to find its Dark Gem. It would not, or rather could not. The Dark Topaz was hiding, said the Dark Emerald, and once hidden would need to be found by sight. Max released Grovyle and demorphed to communicate with Serena and 415.

    "You guys out there?" he asked through his com-link.

    "No," said Serena's static voice. "We're already demorphed. Cops are all over this place, we didn't want anyone to see us. Are you still inside?"

    He nodded. "Yeah. Do I need to get out of here?"

    "You do. Figure a nice, discreet way."

    "Think you can handle that, Dark Gem?" asked 415.

    He nodded. "Where do you want to meet?"

    "Meet us two blocks south. Far enough away from the police and close enough to not get lost. Find the coffee shop."

    "Okay, I'll be there in five minutes." He terminated the line and started looking around.

    A lot of collateral damage had been caused. Walls were torn up, several cubicles were smashed. Max was careful not to touch anything and used his jacket sleeve to push knobs when needed. He wasn't giving the cops any chance of getting his fingerprint, that was attention he did not need.

    He followed the path of destruction left by the Dark Topaz Ranger. Actually, now that he thought of it, there wasn't much destruction. After the hole it had torn through to escape, the Dark Topaz Ranger had apparently gone out of its way to not damage anything. The cubicles and walls were still intact, so where did the monster go?

    The police, whispered the Dark Emerald. They were downstairs moving through the building floor by floor. There were guns.

    "What do I do?" asked Max. He needed something, fast.

    Go to the bathroom, whispered the Dark Emerald. He did as it said and broke open the door with a well-placed kick. It instructed him to climb onto the nearest toilet and towards the ceiling. With some effort he managed to reach the ceiling tiles and pull one out. The Dark Emerald was ordering him to hurry and he only got inside the narrow space between the floors just in time to see the police approaching.

    They didn't see him, insisted the Dark Emerald. Now he needed to summon the chain to create a diversion. Max focused on the chain he was holding and it elongated, though it wasn't nearly as large or powerful as it was when he morphed. Somehow, he could tell where the chain was going, how it was slowly but surely following the cops, and how it slowly reached towards the nearest figure in sight.

    Max grabbed hold of the nearest cop. He yelped and started screaming for help. The police were too focused to notice as Max, at the urging of the Dark Emerald, curled his other hand into a fist and smashed through the ceiling. The police officer was let go and Max was gone.

    Now, go to the stairs, whispered the Dark Emerald. Max did as he was told and found the staircase empty. He latched the chain to the nearest railing and jumped down the stairwell. He landed with a hard landing and continued to move through the building. He could not go out through the front door, police were there. Instead, he opened an ignored window and shut it before walking off.

    All in the span of three minutes. He still had two left to sprint two blocks to the coffee shop Serena had mentioned. He couldn't sprint, not from a crime scene crawling with police, so he carefully walked away from anyone he noticed down the two blocks and entered the coffee shop. He was breathing hard when he sat down next to Serena and 415.

    "You look like you've had some fun," said Serena.

    "I would say he looks like he failed to defeat our target," said 415. She sipped on a cup of water while Serena drank heavily from a cardboard cup of warm coffee.

    "Guy got away," he said. "Like to see you do better."

    "Comparison would not serve any use. Your Ranger System, though inferior, allows you to operate under more varied areas of combat. You should have understood that, if we could not follow you, you should have used whatever strength you are capable of to fight and defeat our opponent."

    "I could have!" Max growled lowly after he noticed his outburst had caught the attention of some of the other patrons. "I could have," he said, in a lower voice. "Guy is in Chained Form, he's at the first point of our evolution like I am. We're on equal footing. The thing is…I don't think the guy wanted to fight."

    "What do you mean?" Serena asked.

    "Well, while I was fighting it, I couldn't help but notice the guy was only reacting in self-defense the whole time. It only tried to fight me when I was threatening it, and kept trying to run away the whole rest of the time."

    "So what?" asked 415. "It was still a Dark Gem, maybe it sympathized with you when it recognized you were kin."

    Max shook his head. "I don't think that's it. The Dark Gems wouldn't send a ranger who was afraid to kill me. The fact that I'm one of them hasn't ever worked to my advantage."

    "Then we are dealing with a coward. It will make it easier to destroy in the long run," said 415.

    "No, that's not it. This guy can hold its own in battle, it just didn't want to fight."

    "Maybe," suggested Serena, "it's just that it didn't need to fight you. How did you find the thing again?"

    "I was- I was shopping for something and I noticed someone steal some jewelry. I thought that I could just trip up a simple robber, but my luck made it so I wound up fighting a Dark Gem Ranger instead."

    "So it was just getting some jewelry? Why would it do that?" 415 wondered.

    Max shrugged. "I don't know. I really don't. It's like the guy just wanted to get away." He rubbed his brow. "I think something's different about this topaz guy. The Dark Emerald was terrified of it."

    Serena lowered her cup. "Hang on…your Dark Gem was scared of it? How does it get scared of anything?"

    "The Dark Emerald is a part of me," Max explained. "It has emotions and feelings just like I do. Only it knows more than I do about the other Dark Gems. And it's terrified of this one. Each time I got near it I would hear it shouting to get away. I was only barely able to show it that I could protect it."

    "So, a Dark Gem is afraid of another Dark Gem," said 415. "And this Dark Topaz is pretty strong. It was able to manifest new body parts on command."

    "Hang on, getting a call," said Serena and she touched the headset on her ear. "Serena here. Yes…okay, we're on our way." She switched off the set and looked towards the other two. "Gold wants us back at Ranger Downs now for debriefing. Especially Max."

    "Well, he will have to wait for that. Dark Gems can't be brought back through the teleporter." 415 stood up. "We will wait for you then. Do not be out too late, little boy." She walked out, already speaking on her com-link to Gold to transport her once she was in a secure location.

    Max groaned. "Is she ever going to leave me alone?" he asked.

    Serena giggled. "You kids are still new at this. She's still feeling you out. When 0 and I were partners, I used to drive him crazy too. Oh, I had such a crush on him…" She trailed off, lost in memories, then she smiled. "Oh relax, kiddo. I'm not in love with him anymore. I wouldn't want you to worry about him and your sister."

    "No, she just doesn't like me. Can't figure out why."

    Serena leaned in. "Come on, kiddo. I'll go home with you." She and Max got up and walked out of the shop, headed to the bus station. "You know, I don't really think she hates you. She just doesn't understand you."

    "What's not to understand? I'm a good guy who happens to be bonded to an evil Dark Gem. I spent a year getting myself under control, I worked hard. What more does she want?"

    Serena shrugged. "She's not someone you can read. You can only hope she gets used to you. She hated Gold when he first became a ranger because she had a thing for the old one."

    "She did?"

    "He was the one who brought her into PKM. She thought of him as a father. But she got used to 0 eventually, she even looks up to him now as a leader. She got used to him, she'll get used to you too. Eventually.

    "But," she said, "what I want to know is how you're holding up with the Dark Emerald? You doing okay, Maxy?"

    "Yeah, I'm doing better with it. I've figured out ways to keep control and ways for it to help me. It sort of has a mind of its own, and when I morph mine gets melded with it. Do you get what I mean?"

    Serena nodded. "The bus is here," she said. They got on and sat near the back, where nobody would bother them. "So, when you're fighting, it's you? Even though you can't speak English?"

    "Yes and no. We both have to agree to do things, but it's more or less me who does the thinking. The Dark Emerald does the moving and the warnings."

    "Warnings?"

    Max shrugged. "Kinda like your system with the ranger spirit. The only difference is that I'm linked closer to the Dark Emerald than you guys are to the ranger spirit. It mixes with my brain. It's not a perfect sync yet."

    "Don't worry. You'll get it right someday."

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

    "You are doing that wrong, you know that, right?" asked 415.

    She and Max sat in front of the sink scrubbing furiously at several dishes left over from May's dinner. Now that they were living in Ranger Downs, 0 had insisted that they help May with the chores around the house. Max partially thought this was because he wanted her to feel like she was part of a big home, but secretly thought it was because the Gold Ranger, for all his heroic deeds, simply didn't want to have to scrub in front of the sink.

    "How am I doing this wrong?" he asked. So far, from what he could see, each plate that he had scrubbed had been perfectly clean. May's plates were identical, each one was white and devoid of any leftover food. Max set the one he had just finished washing in the dish washer where it took its place surrounded by other, similar dishes.

    "You should be scrubbing in a counterclockwise movement to remove all of the excess grime. You are scrubbing in a vertical pattern."

    "Does it really matter? It's going in the dish washer anyway. It gets clean in there."

    "If you did not feel the need to leave mass amounts of food remaining on your plates, maybe we would not need to spend so much time removing them."

    "Do I have to beat you up again?"

    "Kids." Both turned to see 0 leaning against the kitchen's door frame with a frown on his face. "Does Daddy need to beat the two of you senseless to make you get along?"

    "I was just explaining to the Dark Gem his inferior technique," said 415. "He needs training."

    "415, give us a minute alone," 0 ordered. She nodded and set the plate she was cleaning down. "Max talk." Max waited until 415 was out of the kitchen.

    "'Bout what?" he asked.

    "Something's bugging you. What is it?"

    Max groaned. "Nothing. 415's just getting to me. I'm kind of getting sick and tired of being a pet for you guys. I'm a ranger too, I should have the same treatment but I don't. You and Serena treat me fairly, but 415 just won't give me a break. What's her deal, anyway?"

    "Relax. She's giving you a hard time because she's the newest ranger. Trust me, she wasn't my biggest fan when I first started this gig. Keep proving her wrong, eventually she'll shut her trap and let you be." He walked over and clasped Max's shoulder. "Besides, you're much louder than a pet. Now, think you can give me an idea of what this guy was?"

    "Y-Yeah." Max gulped, he was uncertain of how to explain what he'd seen. "The Dark Emerald was giving me some info. This thing's called the Dark Topaz Ranger, and it said that the Dark Topaz is really bad business."

    "Really? Why?"

    Max lowered his head. "0, this thing looked like Brock."

    "What?"

    0 looked into the other room, Serena and May were still talking and 415 was nowhere to be found. He motioned for Max to follow him and they headed into Ranger Downs so they could talk in private.

    "Tell me everything that happened out there today," he ordered. Max did, and 0 clenched his hands into fists when he was finished. "Now Max, you need to tell me this: is Brock a Dark Gem or is this just a trick?"

    Max shrugged and said, "I don't know. It looked like Brock, but when it transformed I didn't recognize anything. Can you find out on your own?"

    0 shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe…hang on." He bent his head and placed his hand on the communicator in his ear. "Pi? Yeah, you been listening in? Think you can run a trace on Brock and see where he was last spotted? Okay, thanks." He raised his head. "Pi said it would take a few minutes, but it thinks it can pull it off."

    Max nodded They waited three minutes, some of the longest minutes of their lives, before Pi signaled that it had finished the trace and invited them to the computer screen. 0 uploaded the Pikachu and the mouse emerged in the virtual world.

    "I ran a trace on Brock's name," it explained. Its voice was coming from the computer. "Bank records, credit cards, newspapers. I found out that Brock won a trip from a local contest in Pewter. A contest which brought him to Goldenrod City for the next month. The contest was sponsored by a local radio station, it includes several parties, hotels, and events, all paid for."

    0 groaned. "Oh no, this is not good. When did he get here?"

    "His flight arrived a few days ago."

    "Can you confirm where he was today?"

    "I can't. There's nothing on the schedule today. A better search will take time."

    0 nodded. "Do it. We will wait."

    "What are you going to do until then?" asked Max.

    "I'm going to go see Jenny. Get Silver down here so we can go and bring 415 with you too."

    "Why her?"

    "Because," said 0, "I need someone who can fire up the teleporter."

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    "Are you sure this is the right thing to do?" Serena asked.

    0 nodded. "I am. We can't let them fight blind, they need to know what they're up against."

    "But what if they turn on us?"

    "They won't. Jenny might be a little incompetent…alright, a lot incompetent sometimes, but she's not a complete idiot. She'll know we're telling the truth and that we want to help her. We won't tell her any more than she needs to know."

    Serena shook her head. "I still don't trust these civilians. They always get in our way."

    "Which is why we need them on our side now. If we can work with them, maybe we can reduce casualties. This Topaz guy is dangerous, we can't afford to lose any more people." He was still thinking of Frank and Alice, their corpses burning before his eyes. "No more innocents die, understand Silver?"

    She nodded. "Yes sir. So, are we just going to stand outside the police headquarters or are we actually going to go inside anytime soon?"

    They had been outside the police station for a good ten minutes just looking at the building. They couldn't go inside normally, since they didn't want to compromise their identities so easily.

    "Jenny's not there yet," 0 said. "Her office is dark."

    "When does she normally get here?"

    "About now." Sure enough, in less than a minute they saw the officer's car pull up into her reserved parking space and a Growlithe jump out of the passenger seat. They waited for a few more minutes, as Jenny walked through the police station, just to be on the safe side. "Okay, let's go."

    They transformed and stuck to the shadows. Serena opened up a power box nearby that was connected to the police station's transformer. Just the right surge of electricity from 0 would send the entire block into a total blackout.

    He stuck he hand inside the wires and jolted the machine with enough electricity to power a city. The box exploded and sent sparks everywhere.

    "Geez, 0! You didn't need to overdo it like that!"

    He shrugged. "Sorry. Come on, let's go."

    She sighed and took his hand. His Agility technique was a very uncomfortable way to travel but she endured it since he was willing to carry her through it instead of drag her along. It was over in an instant anyway and then she was standing inside Jenny's office, just as she had the last time.

    "Officer Jenny," said the Gold Ranger.

    She almost had a heart attack. "I wish you guys could just come talk to me like ordinary people."

    0 motioned to Serena and she produced several photos for Jenny. "These are photographs taken from a local store. You will see what we were talking about." She passed them to Jenny whose face slowly turned to shock as she looked through the pictures of the Dark Topaz Ranger. 0 produced some light so she could see them.

    "What…is this thing?" she asked.

    "That," said 0, "is the Dark Topaz Ranger. It is the most recent threat sent by our enemies. As you can see from the pictures, it did a lot of collateral damage."

    "This is from that damage report I got today," she said. "I sent it up to major case because I thought it was a terrorist attack like the one in Saffron two years ago." She looked up. "You're saying this was the person responsible for the damage today."

    0 nodded. "I do. Does this look like the sort of thing your police force can handle?"

    "Sir! My force can handle this and more but-" She paused, and lowered her head "-anything we could do about this would just result in more damage and lives lost. We're trained to investigate murders and robberies, not hunt down things we don't even understand. Just what is this Dark Topaz thing?"

    0 looked towards Serena. "How much does she need to know?"

    Serena shrugged. "Everything, I guess. Maybe skimp on the identities but that's about it."

    "Okay. Jenny, is this a place we could speak in private? The discussion will take some time and I don't want anyone to disturb us."

    She nodded. "Of course. Let me just lock my door." Jenny passed the two of them and locked the door. "Talk to me. Tell me everything I need to know to keep my force safe."

    The Gold Ranger said, "Good, Jenny. I'm glad to see you can work with us. Please sit down again and I will fill you in." He offered her some light and she did as she was asked. "Simply put, the Dark Topaz Ranger is a member of the Dark Gem Rangers. They are a terrorist group that seeks to eliminate members of our own group."

    "And what is your group?" asked Jenny.

    "A task force that operates against the Dark Gems. We don't really have a name at the moment. We are, however, equipped with the technology needed to fight them."

    "How many of you are there?"

    "There are four active members of our team," said 0. "We are the two senior members. Our team consists of myself, Ranger Gold, my partner, Ranger Silver, and two others codenamed Rangers Black and Emerald."

    Again Jenny nodded. "And where are they?"

    "At an undisclosed location," 0 said. "We trust you, Jenny, but not enough to tell you our base of operations. It keeps both us and you safe for the time being."

    "I understand," said Jenny, "but what exactly is it you want me to do?"

    At this, 0 snapped his fingers and Serena produced a small, phone-shaped device. "This is for you, Officer Jenny. It is an untraceable communicator between yourself and my team. If at any time you require our assistance all you have to do is use that communicator and we will meet you where you need assistance."

    Jenny looked over the device, it looked so similar to a regular touch cell phone, then looked back up. "How do I know I can trust you, Ranger Gold? Or you, Ranger Silver? Or your friends? How do I know you won't turn on us the moment we begin trusting you?"

    She reclined in her chair, her hands resting on the communicator.

    "You can't," he replied. "I understand that you won't, at first anyway. But you will with time, because we aren't going anywhere Jenny. This war is only just beginning and that you're going to need every scrap of help you can get. I'm offering you a team willing to fight on your side to protect your city. I'm offering you a team that doesn't need training and that knows what they're dealing with.

    "I'm offering you a partnership, Jenny. One that will benefit the both of us. We can operate inside your city without your consent, or we can work with you. You can also choose to operate without our assistance and against us, but it would waste time and manpower you will not have."

    He held out his hand. She looked at it for a moment, before she finally took it firmly and shook.

    "I accept on a trial basis," she said. "But, I want something that will prove your commitment to justice."

    "Anything but our identities. What do you want us to do?"

    Jenny smiled and reached into her desk. "A few days ago I came across a homicide that took place in the club district of Goldenrod. We get a lot of calls up there so we now have an auxiliary building we lease and fill with cops to deter behavioral problems." She produced a folder and placed it on her desk. "A girl was murdered and we weren't able to solve her case."

    "What do you want us to do?" asked Serena.

    "Find out who did it. I tried to keep the department working on the case but there just wasn't enough evidence to keep the case open . If you can produce evidence that leads to a conviction I will be satisfied."

    0 touched the folder with his hand. "May I keep the file?"

    "By all means. If you need my help, you know how to contact me." Jenny smiled and waved her new communicator. "Now I have some tidying up to do. Please go."

    0 nodded. "Of course, Jenny," he said and took Serena in his arms. "We'll be in touch."

    Another crack of lightning issued and the rangers were gone.

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    "We have a situation."

    The Gold Ranger waited until his daughter was asleep to summon the others to Ranger Downs. Serena, Max, 415, and May all sat in chairs while 0 took the front of the room, what had once been Bakaguru's position. He felt uncomfortable having four sets of eyes staring at him and the computer screen displaying Pi.

    He looked to the computer. "Pi, please show the information Jenny gave me and Silver."

    Pi gave a virtual nod and its image was replaced by photos of several pieces of paper. "All yours, 0."

    He nodded. "Thanks," he said and turned to the group. "Today we received the cooperation of Goldenrod's police force. They will contact us if there is a disturbance about the Dark Gems and we will work with them to minimize casualties. Thing is, we were asked to perform a good faith mission to show them we can be trusted."

    Max half-jokingly raised his hand. "Is this why we needed to have a house meeting, Dad? This couldn't have been casual?"

    "Shut up," said 415 and slapped him upside his head. "Go on, Gold."

    "The victim's name was Erin Conner," said 0. The computer display changed to a photograph of the girl. "Nineteen years of age, black hair and blue eyes, one hundred and twenty pounds, five feet four inches in height. Found dead in an alley outside of the Goldenrod club district. Lack of evidence has caused the case to be closed and we are being brought in to obtain new evidence for the police."

    This time it was 415 who interrupted. "What is so special about this case that it requires our investigations? We should be concentrating our full efforts against the Dark Gems."

    "Yes, we should. But we should also focus on building a respecting relationship between the police force and ourselves." And then, 0's face hardened. "But there is more. This photo of Erin was taken several days before her murder. This is the photo taken afterwards."

    He nodded again to Pi. "Do I have to show it?" it asked. Its face looked uncomfortable.

    "Please, Pi. It's important."

    It sighed but relented. May turned her face away almost at once and Max shifted in his seat. 415 looked with interest and Serena with revulsion. Erin's face was completely different and looked like some kind of zombie. Her face was shriveled and shrunken in. Her skin actually appeared to be starting to crack at parts when the skin was too tight against the skull.

    "This was taken of her at the scene of the crime by the police. No one knows how she got this way, and no evidence was discovered to explain how she got like this. That's what we've been asked to do."

    "What could have done something like that?" asked May. She still refused to look at the screen.

    "Your guess is as good as mine. Pi, got any ideas?"

    "No, 0," said the Pikachu. "If I guessed I would say that it looks like someone removed the moisture from her body, that's why she looks like a mummy. But how I don't know. There isn't any known method for how this was done though. The level of dehydration is too advanced for the time between the last time she was seen and the time she was found."

    "How long was that?" Max asked.

    "Five hours. She was found early in the morning by a drunk couple. They were still sober enough to call the police."

    0 looked at Pi. "Please…take that picture off. Sorry May."

    The picture went off the screen. "It's alright, 0," she said. "So, how are we going to solve this?"

    "Solve what?" asked 415. "You're not a ranger. You will not be assisting us."

    "That's where you're wrong, 415," said Serena with a grin. "You see, as it happens I figured out exactly where this went down and it's exactly where we're going tomorrow. We will require all five of us to go there. Pi, the next slide please."

    Pi complied. The next slide displayed the storefront was far too elaborate to be an ordinary club. It's name, displayed in lavender letters, was Le Rainbow, which was what 0 thought was the most clichéd name ever imagined. The front was a massive collage of rainbow drawings of same-sex couples in various stages of passionate embrace. May started giggling with Serena while Max stared with interest at several of the female couples. 0, having already seen the picture, faced the group.

    "This mission will require us to obtain covers which will allow us to fit in," said 0. "Since we will be covering a large club, all five of us will have to go." He looked to May. "Is that alright, May?"

    She nodded. "Yes, of course. I just want to help that poor girl's family."

    "Thanks," he said. "As I was saying, we will all be obtaining covers for tomorrow night. 415 will prepare four additional masks for our usage."

    "I will? This is the first I heard about it."

    "Is it a problem?"

    415 shook her head. "The materials are easy to construct and I have several of them already. It will take me ten hours to program them with identities for us tomorrow."

    "Good. Now, because this is a gay club, May and Silver will be going as a couple. Max and I will be going as a secondary team."

    "What does 'secondary team' mean?" Max asked.

    "That means we are going as an infiltration team. You know how to flirt, right?"

    "Yeah…but-"

    "No buts. We will be gather information about the people at the club. 415 will be dealing with the women with Silver and May. She will be covering as their friend who has just broken up with her girlfriend and looking for a rebound. We have a perfect cover."

    This time it was 415 who raised her hand. "You expect me to play a role like that?"

    This caused Max to laugh. "She's got you there, buddy. The only thing she can role play is an emotionless lady."

    "That is precisely why she will have to learn to blend in. 415, you are a ranger. Time to start acting like one, starting with lessons in espionage."

    "I know espionage, remember how we met? You thought I was a fat male."

    "That was not outside your comfort zone. This time you are going to operate within a unit. Do I make myself clear, 415?"

    415 rose. "Fine, I will go prepare the masks." She left for her room.

    "This is gonna be fun," Serena said with a purr. "Can't wait for tomorrow night. I've been wanting to go dance for a while in a place where guys won't constantly hit on me." She left for bed.

    Max grinned. "Fantastic. Just let me know when we're going out. I'll be on lookout." He and 0 normally took turns doing it, since the Dark Gem gave him the ability to operate with two hours of sleep.

    "Look at you," said May with a smile. "You're playing the leader role pretty well, 0."

    He chuckled. "Think so? Well, I'll get the hang of it someday. Really wish Bakaguru was here, though. He was a natural at this kind of thing."

    "Well I think you're doing his job very well." She reached out and took his hand. "Are you coming to bed?"

    He nodded, but he didn't move. "May, there's something else I need to tell you."

    "What?"

    "May, it's about Brock."

    "What about Brock?" she asked.

    "He…he might be a Dark Gem. Max said that before the Dark Topaz Ranger attacked him, he saw its face. He said it looked like Brock."

    "But that's impossible," said May. "He's in Pewter City, he's not here in Goldenrod."

    0 didn't answer for a moment. "That's where you're wrong, May. Max and I checked. Brock won a contest and he's been here. There's just no way of knowing."

    "But…but it's Brock," said May. "He can't…"

    "I know. I don't think so either. But we're going to go scope out Brock's vacation here and see if he's got a Dark Gem. If he doesn't we'll know he's not dangerous but if he does we'll have to see how to handle it. Maybe deal with him like we did with Max, okay? But if the Dark Gems are playing a trick on us we'll have a problem. He's in trouble either way."

    They walked up to their bedroom and May said, "I wish things were like they used to be. I wish we didn't have to hide and that you didn't have to fight for our lives every day."

    He nodded. "I wish we were back to the way things were too, May. I don't like Sarah having to keep secrets about everything. I wanted her to have a normal childhood and I wanted us to have a normal marriage."

    They passed her room and stopped. Sarah was snoring and her sheets were thrown everywhere. "I don't know, 0," said May with a smile. "She looks pretty happy here."

    He squeezed her hand. "I am too."

    She smiled and kissed him. "Me three."

    Author's Note: So a bit of an update from me, seeing as how I didn't post a new chapter on FanFiction this month. Work has resumed on new material after almost a month's hiatus, and I'm currently working on four chapters together, not just the next one. It'll be more apparent why once that material is posted, but you'll like them, I think. I'm really exploring the boundaries of the genre, which always interests me, so stay tuned.

  14. #44
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 30

    Morph Thirty: Dia Wants the Shiny!

    "Is everyone ready?"

    0 didn't really recognize the group he was with. Le Rainbow's neon lights illuminated the street and cast the illusion of daytime. He glanced at the moon and consulted the watch on his morpher. It was time. He double checked the mask he was wearing, it felt uncomfortable and warm against his face. It itched too and he couldn't resist the urge to scratch it every now and then.

    "Do not do that," 415 ordered. "Scratching and touching the mask damages the fibers and will impair your disguise." She herself had short green hair today with matching eyes. Her body language suggested a quiet girl with a secretive wild side as 0 had ordered and she was wearing the clothing to match. Every part of her screamed chorus girl, except perhaps her voice, which was still rather rough.

    "I thought I told you to bring your voice synthesizer to help blend in with your outfit," he said.

    "I will not require it."

    0 himself couldn't exactly figure out what he was supposed to be. Serena had picked out his outfit and appearance in order to appeal to the majority of the men inside. That was why his hair was short and blond with sunglasses that matched his outfit, which mostly consisted of a flashy shirt and tight pants with designer shoes. For reasons 0 did not understand, he was wearing no underwear. Serena had assured him this was the standard dress of such clubs.

    May looked the most nervous. She and Serena were wearing matching outfits so they could pass as a couple. "May," he said. "You don't have to do this."

    "I'll be fine," she insisted.

    "Yeah," said Serena. "I'll keep an eye on her, but stay close May. This is your first covert job and you don't have a morpher like we do. If there's trouble in there, just bolt okay? You've got your communicator?"

    May nodded and touched the Bluetooth-shaped device in her ear. No one ever gave cell phone headsets a second glance.

    "I still don't like this," Max said with a grumble. He had been forced into leather jeans, a task that had not been easy, and shoes that looked suspiciously like men's high heels. His shirt was also extremely tight, displaying all his muscles. His hair was red and his sunglasses matched 0's.

    "Why not?" Serena asked. "Scared you'll be hit on the most? Or that maybe you'll have to pee?"

    Max looked at the building. "No way I'm going near the bathroom in this place, but that's not it. This murder we're checking out, I just don't know if we should be going in there without any kind of plan. We should have checked the place out before coming."

    "It's a gay dance club in the club district," said 415. "What's there to check out that wasn't in the police report? There are a few drugs that pass through it, don't drink anything that's opened, and always update your status. It is checked out. Let's go inside."

    0 looked at May, he could hardly recognize her. She was in a tight dress with long black hair and dark eyes. He missed her regular face.

    "Let's go," he said. The others followed him towards the entrance. Fortunately, the line was nonexistent and they reached the door in under a minute.

    There were two people at the door: a bouncer two inches shorter than 0 and a woman with a clipboard. When she saw Serena, 0 was pretty sure the clipboard girl started salivating.

    "Are you on the list?" she asked and looked the five of them over. It had been decided in advance by the group Serena would answer that question.

    She accomplished this by walking towards the woman in a manner that could melt ice in a glacier. "We're right here," Serena said. This statement was whispered into the woman's ear and Serena made certain she delicately placed her hand just on the woman's bare shoulder. She pointed to a false name on the list and gave the woman a look that could sizzle frozen bacon.

    The clipboard girl looked Serena over again and could scarcely contain her drool. "Y-Yes, you seem to be on the list," she said and turned to the giant man. "Let all of them in."

    Serena squeezed her shoulder. "Thanks, honey," she said and pecked the girl on the cheek. The group followed her into the club, stunned.

    "What?" Serena asked them. They were shown into an elevator which would take them to the main area of the club.

    "Absolutely nothing," said 0 wisely.

    "That was…" Max stopped right in the middle of his sentence because of the sharp look 0 gave him.

    "Typical men," 415 said and smacked Max upside the head. "Try to at least pretend you are attracted to men properly."

    "Hitting me doesn't help," Max grumbled and rubbed his scalp.

    The group, in unison, silenced when they entered the dancing area. It was like some sort of rainbow Nirvana. Techno music blared from the speaker system throughout the room and a throng of people were converging on the dance floor.

    "I'm getting second thoughts about this," Max said.

    0 chuckled. "Don't go anywhere near the bathroom."

    "Great. And now I have to go."

    "I suggest you hold it," said 0 as they advanced to the bar. They ignored the looks and gestures of approval from the dancing men and made it to the bartender, an extremely thin man who had no business wearing the tight dark shirt he had on.

    The man winked at 0 and Max. "Can I get you anything, honey?" He admired 0's physique with little regard for 0's privacy.

    "Ooh, we're going to need something strong tonight," he muttered. "Three fingers of whiskey, I don't think beer's going to get the job done."

    The bartender blinked. "But that's terrible for your complexion. Sure you wouldn't like a nice Cosmo or something tasty?"

    "No, I will have something that gets me in a pleasant mood and I will have it now." 0 waited until the bartender complied with the drink request and drained the entire glass in one big gulp. He smacked his lips and smiled. "I feel much better."

    "I'll bet you do," said Max before he turned to the bartender. "Could I just get something tasty and cheap?"

    The bartender nodded. "My kind of man," he whispered. The drink he produced was red in color and for some reason contained a cherry. The napkin it came on also had a phone number written on it.

    "Call me," said the bartender with another wink. Max took the drink carefully and, after a cautious sip, found it to be quite delicious.

    They paid the bartender and left. "Looks like someone's popular," 0 said and gently shoved Max with his shoulder.

    "Looks like someone's jealous," chided Max.

    "Not jealous. After all, I'm the one with the wife and kid." He looked around, but for some reason he couldn't find May or the others. "Hey, where'd Silver take the others?"

    "Who knows? Wish I was watching though." The two men broke out into laughter.

    "That's my wife and your sister you're talking about too, don't forget that."

    The two of them headed away from the dance floor towards some of the men sitting at a couple of the booths by the wall. They ignored the advances of the men waiting in line for the restroom and casually sat down next to a group of guys who seemed to know a lot of the people in the club.

    "That guy's probably a good source," 0 said and pointed to one of the men with red hair. "Saw him earlier checking out the people coming inside, think he's looking for the new meat."

    "You sure?" Max and 0 had to keep their voices low so that none of the others could hear.

    0 nodded. "Gotta be. Flirt with him, see what you can dig up."

    "Why me?"

    "Caught a glimpse of him earlier. He looked at you a little too long. Just keep the conversation light so he won't invite you into the bathroom."

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    May, Serena, and 415 made their way to the other side of the bar where the vast amount of women seemed to be congregating.

    "I think the bar's pretty divided," said May.

    Serena nodded. "I'm guessing that's because there's not much in common. Gay guys and lesbians don't have much target crossing so for the most part I think the guys stay on one side and the girls on the other. Except for the bisexuals. I suppose they're the only ones that go around on both sides."

    "Have we identified a target?" asked 415.

    "No. Here's the plan…" As Serena explained they approached the bar and glanced over the menu. "You guys had a chance to take a look at the profile, right? The one 0 had for Erin?"

    "Yes," said May.

    "Well, we're going to hit on every woman we can find and see if they have any friends that look like Erin. We'll ask about her and get some more info that way."

    415 nodded. "Good idea. We should go."

    "Hang on. First the drinks. We need to blend in."

    The bartender for the women's side was an attractive girl who didn't look a day over twenty-one. "What'll it be?" May couldn't really see her eyes, they seemed to be hiding in between strands of her hair.

    "Whiskey," said Serena at once. "Two fingers."

    "Vodka cranberry," said 415.

    "Water," said May. "Just water."

    The girl looked at May oddly. "Is she underage?" she asked.

    May laughed. "No, no. I'm just not much of a drinker."

    The bartender handed them the drinks and they sat down in a booth.

    "May, are you alright?" Serena asked.

    "Of course I am. Why would you ask?"

    "It's just… May, I've seen you drink before. 0 said that you usually drink something light before dinner like a glass of wine. Is there something wrong May?"

    May sipped at her drink and didn't say anything for a moment. "Nothing, Serena. It's just… Serena, I'm late."

    Serena's eyes widened. "Wait…what? You're late? As in…late late?"

    415 nodded. "That explains it."

    Both Serena and May turned to her. "What's explained, 415?" asked May.

    "Lately I have noticed a slight change in behavior on behalf of May Birch. You appear to be pale, despite having perfect health. I have also noticed that you seem tired frequently over the past two weeks we have been at Ranger Downs and frequently nauseous for no reason."

    All thought of drink and espionage was forgotten at the table. "May," said Serena, "are you pregnant?"

    May shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't taken one of those tests to be sure." She lowered her hands and cupped her stomach. "I think I am."

    "We gotta find out!" Serena jumped up. "Let's go get a pregnancy test!"

    "No!" With considerable force, May managed to get Serena back into the booth. "No. I-we- We need to find that girl's killer. We can do this later."

    "Later? May, you could be carrying 0's child right now. Don't you want to find out?"

    May nodded. "Of course I do. It's just that-" She stopped and licked her lips. "It's just that another child means that everything will change. I mean, it means that Sarah will have a little brother or sister too, but it means that 0 will have to stay. After I locked 0 out of Sarah's life for three years…he would do anything to make sure that his second child would know him for its whole life."

    "But that's wonderful!" exclaimed Serena. "That's what you and he want, isn't it? A whole family. What's another baby?"

    "But-" She shook her head and sighed. "Serena, I don't want him to stay with me because he has to. I want him to want this family." She rubbed her belly again.

    Serena noticed she was almost on the verge of tears and put a comforting hand on May. "Listen, May. If I know anything about 0, whoever he is now or whoever he was then, it's that he wants a family with you. You know that's all he ever wanted all those years in PKM, don't you? You think he's going to be reluctant now that he's free and he can have that family?"

    "It is not that simple." Both women turned to 415, who had remained oddly quiet. "She is not worried about Agent 0 wanting to remain with her. She is worried about what is coming. If 0 knows about the pregnancy, he will allow no further harm to come to May Birch. He will undoubtedly do anything to ensure her safety. The differences between 0 as a warrior and as a husband and father to May and Sarah, respectively, is quite substantial. Either 0 will begin to ignore the investigation and fight less in order to be with May longer and keep her safe, or he will invest all of his time to destroying the Dark Gems as a way of escape and ensuring her safety."

    She turned to May and offered a lightening of the expressions on her face. "Am I right?" she asked.

    May nodded. "Right now you're so busy dealing with the Dark Gems, I don't want anything to happen to him to distract him from what's going on."

    "But it's a baby, May. It could be your and 0's second child."

    "It is important, May Birch," said 415. "Regardless of whether you intend to keep Agent 0 in the dark about the child, you need to determine if you are indeed pregnant. If we are to hide this from 0 we will need to begin planning immediately."

    "You're pretty gung ho about this 415," said Serena. "What's up?"

    "The Gold Ranger is our primary fighter against the Dark Gems," said 415. "If his judgment will be compromised by this child we need to make preparations to protect him. He is stable now, but he could easily slip."

    "Slip?" asked May. "What do you mean?"

    "During my tenure in the PKM intelligence division I had the opportunity to examine the Gold Ranger's psychological evaluation. Prior to becoming the Gold Ranger 0 was quite mentally unstable. His mind was fractured, but due to his single-minded devotion to his job he was allowed to remain an undercover operative and protect May Birch under various circumstances. It seemed to keep him under the radar. But there is something inside him, we saw it during Ame's attack on PKM Headquarters. There is a primal creature underneath his façade that he will retreat to when under extreme stress."

    415 pointed her finger at May. "In all circumstances, this primal state emerges when directly related to you, May Birch, and once with Serena Brine. 0 will do all in his power to ensure the safety of those he has placed under his protection. Increasing the necessity of this protection will increase the likelihood that he will revert to the primal state and be trapped in morph."

    "Trapped in morph?" May didn't like the sound of that.

    "The Ailed Morpher will, of course, do all in its power to prevent this. But there will come a bridge that 0 will cross that he will not come back from. From studies of his profile and my personal analysis I have seen this to be so. May Birch, he must not be told about the baby, if there even is a baby. We must confirm your pregnancy and make plans. The sooner the better."

    "But I thought 0's Ailed Morpher was built specifically to inhibit 0 fusing to it," said Serena.

    "It is built to inhibit, not prevent totally. Enough power will cause the fusion, much like in the original morpher and much like the original Golden Ranger."

    "And, if he fuses, what happens?" asked May.

    "If he fuses it will be permanent and there will be nothing we can do to return him to his original state. Not by any means I have ever researched."

    There was silence at the table for a while. All thought of the mission was practically gone and now all any of the women could think about was the baby. May felt tears trickle down her cheek.

    "Then, we have to keep it a secret," she whispered and lowered her head. "Why does history keep repeating itself?"

    "What's that mean?" asked Serena.

    "Don't you see? 0 had to live his life knowing that Sarah didn't know who her father was, and now this little one will have to be a secret too. Why can't I have a normal family, Serena? That's all we ever wanted: to raise a happy, regular family."

    "There is no such thing as a happy, regular family," said 415. "It is my understanding that there are happy, irregular families, or even unhappy, irregular families. But the concept of 'regular' is one that is misunderstood and different to all the people of the world."

    "She's got a point, May," said Serena. "Regular is overrated, and you gave up regular when you took him back."

    "I know…it's just…I always hoped that one day it would be over."

    "It will be, May." Serena patted her on the back and smiled. "One day this will all be over and you'll be able to start over."

    "But will he?"

    "What's that mean?"

    May sighed. "For the whole time we've been here, it's only been recently that he's…been himself. He was happy when we were alone, as a family, but he missed it. He missed the action, I know he did. When Ame showed up at Frank and Alice's house, it was when he finally returned. He was his whole self again."

    "0 has always been a warrior," said 415. "In his profile it stated that in his youth he had been a Pokemon Trainer, correct?"

    "Yes."

    "Well, he is still the same. The only difference is that he has channeled his basic instincts into a different kind of fighting."

    May smiled a little. "I guess you're right…"

    Serena sat up. "Hang on, getting something from the man himself." She touched her earpiece and said, "Go ahead, 0. What's going on?" She waited a moment then her posture changed. "Got it. On our way now."

    She turned to the other girls and said, "We have a problem."

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    0 watched with amusement as Max attempted flirting with the man he had pointed out. Thus far it had been going well, the man kept buying Max drinks. From the amount of alcohol already consumed, Max must have been drunk, but 0 thought he didn't look it.

    "Guess the Dark Emerald does a lot more than heal his body," 0 said into his earpiece.

    "I think Max said it heals him in every way," said Pi. "I suppose that means it makes sure he can't get drunk or damage his liver. He'll hold anything he's given."

    "Wish I had that gift." With a chuckle, 0 finished what was left of his beer and ordered another. "Then I wouldn't have to rely on the serum."

    "It also means that he will live until his Dark Emerald is shattered."

    "Immortality's a bitch, huh?"

    "I wouldn't want it. Life would be meaningless."

    0 nodded. "Everything quiet at Ranger Downs?"

    "Nothing has tripped the alarms and I just spoke with Sarah to make sure she was okay. She is apparently refusing to go to bed until you get home."

    0 laughed. "Tell her to go to bed and I'll wake her up when we finish up here. Looks like we'll be done soon anyway, I think this resource might be tapped."

    "Did you speak with the bartender?"

    "Yeah, but he didn't really have much to add on."

    "When should I let Sarah know you'll be back?"

    With a chuckle 0 said, "Right after I finish watching Max feel uncomfortable."

    0 waited for a few moments as Pi made the necessary connections to call Ranger Downs and speak to Sarah. 0 made himself busy by enjoying the subtle taste of beer. He had to admit, in a club where the obvious choice of drink involved something usually fruity, they had a good selection of beer.

    "Pi, what's taking so long?" he asked.

    "Incoming transmission from Ranger Downs. Urgent priority."

    0 straightened himself. "Patch it through."

    A moment passed. "Daddy?" said the voice on the other end.

    "Sarah? What's going on, Sarah?"

    Her voice was trembling, 0 could sense his daughter's fear. "Daddy, there's a monster here! Something's inside the house, it says it's coming to get me!"

    "Sarah, honey? Where are you?"

    "I-I'm inside Ranger Downs," she said.

    "Do you know how to lock it down?"

    "Uh-huh."

    "Do it. We're on our way and we'll be there before you know it. Love you, honey."

    "L-Love you too, Daddy." There was a click and then her voice was gone.

    "Pi, make certain Ranger Downs isn't compromised. Ready to test the new modifications to the teleporter?"

    "The modifications have been completed. I will teleport you when you are ready."

    "Then connect me to Silver and 415. We'll need to mobilize now."

    Another, crucial moment passed before Serena picked up her receiver. "Silver, don't have time to talk. Sarah's at Ranger Downs and there's a Dark Gem there. Meet us outside. Max will transport May home safely and we're going to teleport once we're together." He clicked the transmission off and went to go get Max.

    He hauled Max out of his seat and said, "We gotta go. Dark Gem."

    Max nodded and understood at once. "Uh, see ya later," he said to the man. "Friend's got indigestion." He left without giving the man a chance to give him his phone number and they headed outside.

    Serena, May, and 415 were already there. Without speaking they headed into an abandoned alleyway.

    "May, you're going home with Max." He turned to his former brother-in-law. "Max, there's a good chance there might be more than one of them. Keep her safe until you get word from me to come back. Can you and the Dark Emerald handle that?"

    Max nodded. "Yeah. Get going, we'll lay low."

    0 then turned to May. "Honey, I need to go save her. You can't be there."

    She nodded. "I know, 0. Just make sure she's safe, okay?"

    He lifted his thumb. "Count on it. Silver, Black, let's get going."

    Both women nodded and stood by his side. Max pulled May away from them, not wanting her to get some kind of side-effect from the teleporter.

    "Pi. Fire it up."

    Three bright lights flashed and then 0, Serena, and 415 were gone.

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    0 did not like the teleportation process. It was annoying and uncomfortable, despite the fact that Bakaguru had designed it to be perfectly pain-free and harmless. Still, the ripping up of his atoms and then their sudden shift in location was a bit psychologically jarring to him. When he opened his eyes, he found himself both in Ranger Downs and in leaping distance of Sarah.

    She jumped at him and he caught her. "Sarah, where is it?"

    She buried her face in his chest. "Upstairs, Dad. It keeps smashing things in the house."

    "How did it get in?" Sarah averted her gaze, but didn't answer him. "Sarah, what happened? How did it get inside?"

    "It tricked me. She said she just wanted to play, but when I opened the door she tried to kill me! I got inside Ranger Downs before it could get me."

    0 patted his daughter's head. "Okay. It's okay, Sarah. Daddy and his friends will handle this." He growled and cracked his knuckles. "Stay here. We'll go get this."

    There was no signal, no command, but all three rangers pressed their transformation buttons at the same time and morphed. 0 waited until his visor was properly displaying before he started walking forward.

    "Pi," he said, "keep the Synchronization Drive on standby and prepare for emergency use of the Auxiliary Pokemon System."

    "Roger."

    Serena had her fans and 415 had her mace. 0 lowered himself down to Sarah's level and said, "Sarah, stay here. Whatever happens, do not move under any circumstances. You stay inside Ranger Downs and you don't come out, got it?"

    Sarah nodded. "Uh-huh."

    She hid in the corner and 0 led his team up the stairs. "Pi, switch to night vision and cut the power to the house. Whatever this thing is, I don't want it having any advantages." A moment later, the screen turned green and he could see through the darkness of the house.

    "Dewgong, the same for me please," said Serena.

    415 didn't have to say anything, Luxray knew without needing a request.

    The rooms were too small for the Bolt Blade, even in its compact mode, to be used properly, but 0 had enough electric buildup to jumpstart a car if necessary. They proceeded through the house, not knowing what to expect from the monster.

    "Kitchen's clear," said Serena as she surveyed the room.

    "As is the living room," said 415. "We need to move to the upper level of the house."

    They ascended the stairs very carefully, not wanting to alert the creature to their presence. When they reached the sleeping quarters they took it in turns to inspect each room and each closet carefully.

    Until at last they reached Sarah's room at the end of the corridor.

    "It has to be in there," said 0. "Get ready."

    They broke through the door and plunged into the room. When they saw what was inside, 0 gasped in shock.

    There was Sarah, tied up in her bed. Her mouth was gagged by she was screaming something 0 couldn't make out, but she was making muffled screams loud enough to let them know she was there.

    "Stand down!" be barked and went over to the bed and undid the mouthpiece. What's going on?"

    "Dad!" screamed Sarah, wriggling in the restraints. "It got in here and tied me up! Get me out, it's coming!"

    "The hell is going on?" asked Serena. The four of them heard something creak on the stairs. Something was coming up.

    "415, guard my daughter," 0 growled. His voice practically seethed rage. "Silver, back me up."

    They walked out into the hallway. 0's arm crackled with electricity just at the same time they heard the giggling. He growled because, standing at the edge of the stairs, was another Sarah. A smiling, happy Sarah.

    "What are you?" 0 asked.

    The little girl turned her head to the side and chuckled. "They call me the Dark Diamond Ranger, Golden Boy."

    0 watched her wrap her chains around her little, tiny body. Her entire body was covered in them, all save for her head, her feet, and her hands. In those she held a bright stone that seemed to glitter even in darkness and she pressed in against her flesh.

    "Dark Gem Ignite!"

    The night vision flared as the transformation was complete. Standing before them, in Shattered Form, was the Dark Diamond Ranger. It looked up at them and started shuddering as it chuckled. 0 thought it was remarkable about how much it looked like a miniature Sappho. It had the same claws and the same talon-like legs.

    It clicked its claws together. "Ready to play, Daddy?"

    "I will kill you!" 0 unleashed the energy directly at the creature. Another flash of light filled the screen. When it was over, the Dark Diamond Ranger was still standing, but now it was just lightly bouncing on its feet.

    "Finished? That was a big load wasn't it? My turn!" Before 0 could react, the Dark Diamond Ranger dashed forward and rammed him in the stomach.

    0 groaned and all but sank to his feet. He used what little strength he could muster to pick the little girl up and toss her down the stairs. "After her!" he ordered and forced himself to ignore the pain that ripped through his abdomen.

    "Gold, it's to the left," said the Black Ranger, who had come despite her orders. She swung her mace just fast enough to send the little monster flying right into a wall. There was a loud crash, but the wall held thanks to its reinforcements.

    The creature dropped to the floor and made a sound like it was hacking up a fur ball. It stood up and giggled. "That didn't hurt one bit!" it said with a squeal. "You guys must not be taking me seriously because I'm a little girl. Isn't that right?"

    None of the three rangers answered so she said, "That's okay! I'll just kill one of you. Then you'll have to take me seriously!"

    "415," said 0. "Go back and guard my daughter like I told you to." He heard her leave and focused some more electricity into his hands. "Silver, with me."

    The two of them progressed through the house.

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    "It's here."

    Max stopped in the center of the alley and sniffed the air. Though he smelt nothing he knew that the Dark Topaz was nearby. Run away, whispered the Dark Emerald through the corners of his mind. May stayed by his side, slightly behind him.

    "What is it?" she asked.

    "The Dark Topaz," said Max. "The Dark Emerald's afraid of it, so I have to be really careful."

    "Can we run?"

    Max shook his head. "At short distances it won't matter. If I can sense the Dark Topaz, that thing can sense me. We need to get ready for a fight." Responding to him, the Dark Emerald's chain curled around his arms and across his back, ready for the transformation. "Don't worry, big sis. I don't think it's here to hurt you."

    He wasn't sure what made him say that, he just felt that was the truth.

    "It won't?"

    "Last time it didn't attack us, even though I'm sure it must have wanted to. It only reacts to violence."

    A figure emerged on the other side of the alley and walked towards them. It wore a face both Max and May knew very well.

    "Brock," said Max.

    "What?" asked May.

    Brock walked towards them, his face expressionless. Already wound around him was his chain and in his palm was the Dark Topaz.

    "What is it with you?" asked Max. "Get out of our way!"

    Brock didn't answer verbally. A bright orange glow exploded around him and then the Dark Topaz Ranger stood in his place, muscles tensed and ready for battle. The monster growled and stayed standing still. It only moved when they did, a step forward or a step backward.

    "What does he want?"

    Max narrowed his eyes. "It wants to keep us here while the monster back at Ranger Downs does whatever it's doing. This thing's just here to baby-sit us." He looked around. "There's gotta be a way out of this."

    But there wasn't. From each point that Max considered, there was nothing to be done. They could not proceed ahead, the Dark Topaz took care of that. If they even took a step back, it moved with them, ensuring that there was absolutely no difference in the space that separated them.

    "Wait…" He looked up, and therein was an option. "Sis, keep an open mind about this, okay?" Max summoned the Dark Emerald and its chains wrapped around his arms. In response, chains wound around the Dark Topaz's neck and limbs. When Max transformed, the Dark Topaz transformed.

    May looked at him. Max didn't move for a while, as his mind adjusted to the Dark Emerald's influence. "You okay?" she asked.

    Max turned to her and, in one movement grabbed her and slung her over his shoulders. His arm raised and the chain jumped upward, rising and latching onto a nearby rooftop. Before Top could move, Max blasted upwards and jumped onto the roof.

    "Hurry, it's coming!" shouted May. From her position on Max's shoulder, she could see Top as it began to rip through the bricks and mortar that made up the building's wall as it scaled up to meet them. Max growled his understanding of the matter's severity and began moving.

    The Dark Topaz Ranger hefted itself up with a lurch and began following them, mute as always. It had not considered the possibility that they would escape upwards. The Dark Emerald Ranger was much more versatile in using its chains. However, it did not matter, for the Dark Topaz Ranger needed only to think of a way to catch up to them.

    Very rapidly, its four arms merged into two. The additional muscle mass went into its legs to enhance its speed and jumping capabilities. In next to no time it caught up to its prey.

    Max stopped abruptly, just in time to get May out of the way and take a powerful, crushing blow to his chest. Max was thrown back and smashed into the roof's railing and off the edge.

    "Max!" shouted May, and she ran towards the ledge to look down. There she saw Max returning rapidly, one of his chains securely attached to what remained of the railing. Max jumped back up over May and landed on all fours in front of her, in between his sister and the monster chasing them.

    "Laaaaade." May could not understand what he was saying, but the tone, the inflection of his voice, more than convinced her that she never wanted to be on the opposing side of her brother's growl.

    But the monster opposing him did nothing. It neither advanced to claim May nor retreat. It simply stared at them through its visor, an immobile giant of horror. For what seemed like an eternity it watched them until, finally, something happened.

    A pair of footsteps issued from the fire escape. All three of them turned as one to see the figure of a woman emerge and take her place on the rooftop.

    Ame smiled. "Evening," she said in a low voice before she moved towards Top. "Having fun?"

    "No," said May. "Tell him to leave us alone. We haven't done anything to you to deserve this."

    Ame said, "Oh, contraire, May Birch. That is your name, right, and not the alias May Toby? Your group is responsible for the destruction of two of my staff members and numerous Dark Onyxes. Not to mention the theft of the Dark Emerald." She gestured to Max, who growled and intensified his defensive stance. "You have done many thing to annoy us, May Birch. I would say we are completely in the right to deal with you in this way.

    "Now, as for tonight. Tonight you are allowed to live, provided you go nowhere until I say you are allowed to leave. My employers were gracious enough to give you a grace period this time, as there is another matter that needs attending to. My contract is, to the best of my ability, to keep you alive. Here."

    "One of your monsters is at my home right now," said May through clenched teeth. "Do you expect me to sit by and do nothing when my daughter's in danger?"

    Ame nodded. "I expect you to do exactly that. Not just because your life is guaranteed for tonight if you remain where you are, but because it would be pointless to do anything to stop us from what we are doing. After all, you are May Birch, and not a ranger. You are essentially dead weight that, like your daughter, must be protected as you are now." She gestured to Max. "That dog of yours is quite useful, but it only shows how much your ex-husband thinks of you. Does he trust you to be on your own, or must you always be accompanied?"

    May's face flushed. "That has nothing to do with this! Max is my brother, not my bodyguard. My husband loves me and wants me to be safe. There's a difference between being cautious and being restrictive. We know why you're after me and you're not going to get it." Unconsciously, she clenched her fist and rubbed the ring she wore.

    Ame lifted her eyes. "Aren't we now? Come May, it must be obvious that, if I wanted that ring right now, it would be mine no questions asked. However, I am reluctant to concede that I cannot break my contract and that you must live through tonight's affairs. Now then, remain there while I wait for Dia to tell me her business is done."

    "Is that the monster you set loose in my home?"

    "I did not do the 'loosing,' as you call it. My job is simply to follow my contract," said Ame firmly. She turned to Top. "You may revert. There will be no need for your services beyond remaining present."

    Top didn't make a motion to convey that he heard, but his armor faded away almost immediately after the order and the blank face of Brock stared at them.

    Max transformed back too and rose to his feet. "What is that thing anyway?" he asked and pointed at Top. "Is that Brock? What did you do to him?"

    Ame shrugged. "My contract does not say I have to answer that, defect," she said. "What the Dark Topaz Ranger is exactly is not your concern. All you need to know is that it will attack you if you attempt to escape again."

    Max growled. "What's your endgame exactly?" he asked. "Just keep torturing our family until we die? Is that all we've got to look forward to?"

    "I do not know the endgame, defect, and even if I did the last person I would tell would be you. Why would we tell our master plan to the very people attempting to unravel it?"

    Max grinned. "You don't know what it is?" he asked with a smile. "You must not be very important."

    "Silence, cur. You do not know either, so don't presume to know anything about my position. I have not been told because it is not part of my contract."

    There was silence for quite some time. Max had nothing to say to that and Ame didn't seem to have anything further she wished to divulge. Max returned his attention to the silent, stoic Dark Topaz, who continued to glare at them with such intensity that Max was surprised that he wasn't burnt to a crisp by making eye contact with the monster.

    "Why are you doing this?" whispered May. "All I want is for my family to be safe."

    Ame sighed. "I was rather enjoying not having to speak to you. As I said, I cannot disobey the contract. The contract says you are to stay alive. You will stay alive. However, a coma is considered technically alive, so do not think I do not have options in how you are to remain that way."

    "You wouldn't dare."

    Ame lifted her eyebrow. "Do you really think that? I burned your neighbors' house to the ground. I sat calmly in the center of the room while their dead bodies burnt to smoldering crisps. I killed them with poison beforehand and I did it all without blinking. All because it was in my contract, May Birch. Presume nothing about the manner in which I carry out my orders. I will follow it to the letter, but everything not specified is well open to interpretation." She smiled, a kind of slight smile that sent chills through May's skin. "So what will it be? You going to be quiet or should I put you in a persistent vegetative state that will guarantee that my suffering here tonight will be lessened?"

    "You harm one hair on my sister's head and so help me I will cut out your throat," said Max.

    "Yes, and how will you do that? With a cherry smile and a can-do attitude? You are no more a threat to me than an insect on my wall. You can buzz around and annoy me all you want, but all I need to end you is a newspaper and concentration." She noticed that Max's breathing was getting harder, and several veins were pulsating on his upper body. "Simply adorable. Is little Eme going to cry because I hurt his feelings? Would you like a hug? Or perhaps a knife in your throat so we can take the Dark Emerald and give it to someone who will obey us?"

    Max smiled. "Joke's on you, lady. You can't take this thing off of me. Not without shattering it. I die, it dies."

    "Yes and therein lies the tragedy of our system. It cannot simply be discarded from an unsuitable person and given to someone we would prefer. Which is why we have contracts. Well, that and we recruit people willing to see our vision of the world. It is a shame that Sap lost it to you, I always thought he was too unstable to work alone but it turns out that everyone we partnered him with ended up dead from either an 'accident' or just flat out murder. Sometimes he would get too lazy to lie to me."

    "Well, it's too late. I've got the most powerful Dark Gem, so you can go straight to-"

    "The strongest?" Ame interrupted him with a soft, cool chuckle. "No, little boy, you are not the strongest. Even if you were to finally, finally evolve into your Shattered Form, there is always a more powerful Dark Gem. My employers have much more powerful ones at their disposal, and that Dark Gold your sister carries is certainly one of the stronger versions."

    "You'll never get it," said May.

    "Maybe not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but never is a long time, May Birch. And, despite their best efforts, the cur and his handlers are not enough to stop me. They are barely able to defeat Top here, and I assure you that Top is much, much weaker than I."

    Top said nothing.

    "He is in Chained Form, but he does not need to grow any stronger. His Dark Gem is special that way, in that he does not need to evolve to grow stronger. In fact, the opposite might occur if he does so. It is much, much better for him to remain like this: mute, loyal, and diligent."

    Ame paused to look at her watch. "Hmmm…I believe our time might be up. I will need to make a call." She reached into her coat and pulled out a small gem, the color of which neither Max nor May could see in the bad light of their surroundings. "Are you done?" she asked into the stone, as one would a cell phone.

    A response issued moments later. "I have to go now?" it asked. The voice was high, like a little girl's.

    Ame nodded. "Yes. Meet us back at the regular place." She lowered the stone and turned to Top. "Let's go."

    Top nodded and turned around slowly, giving himself as much time as possible to stare at Max and May. Top and Ame walked away, off the edge of the building. They simply fell down into the streets below. Max ran forward, to catch a glimpse of where they were going, but by the time he reached the other side and peered down they were gone. Vanished.

    He turned to May. "They flew the coop. We're alone again."

    May smiled. "Good. Then please let's go home. I need to see Sarah and make sure she's okay."

    "Sure, yeah," said Max. "But, one thing, sis."

    "What?"

    Max looked at her. "Y-You're pregnant."

    May's eyes widened. "How did you know that?"

    "When I was carrying you," he said. "The Dark Emerald felt something, something like a new life, in your body. I felt it too. You're not too far along, the life isn't too much yet, but it's there. You're having another baby."

    May looked down. "We weren't sure. I've been feeling sick lately, but I wasn't sure. We were going to check when I got home."

    "Does 0 know?"

    She shook her head. "No, it was 415 and Serena. We were-" She took a deep breath "-we were thinking it might be a good idea to keep the baby from 0. At least for now."

    "What? Why?"

    "There's something wrong with his morpher. Serena and 415, especially 415, said it would overstress him and he would end up trapped in morph or something like that."

    Max touched his sister's belly. "May, you can't keep something like this from him. You need to tell him the truth. I mean, after all those years away from Sarah? Don't tell me you're going to do the same thing and keep his child away from him again."

    May shook her head. "I don't want to either. I want him to love this child just like his loves Sarah, but if it'll hurt him in the end shouldn't I try to protect him from being stuck in morph and this child from knowing that it was the reason he'd be that way forever? This is all so complicated, we should never have had sex. I shouldn't have made him do-"

    "Sis?"

    "Yeah?"

    "That's a little too much information," said Max. "I know where babies come from. Let's let that be all I need to know about your love life."

    She giggled. "Oh yeah. Sorry, little brother."

    "That's better. Now come on, we'd better get back home. I'm pretty sure that 0's about as worried about you as you are about him."

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    There was a hushed silence at Ranger Downs when Max and May arrived at the door. The lights were off, but Max saw several pieces of furniture destroyed.

    "All's quiet," he said in a low voice. He focused inside and called on the Dark Emerald. It whispered in his ear that everything was indeed safe, for now. "The Dark Emerald says that there isn't another Dark Gem in there. We can go inside."

    "Where is everyone?" asked May.

    "Good question," said Max. "Probably downstairs. Let's go." They moved through the abandoned-looking house until they reached the secret passageway that connected to the underground command center.

    There 0, Serena, and 415 were waiting for them. In 0's arms was a very tired, sleeping Sarah. May wasted no time and rushed into the arms of her husband.

    "She okay," he said softly. He stroked her hair. "She's just tired."

    "What happened?"

    "The Dark Diamond Ranger. Somehow she got in here and tied up Sarah. We searched for it, but it got out before we could stop it. At least we managed to get here in time to save Sarah."

    May nodded. "Poor baby," she whispered and took Sarah in her arms. "Come on, let's get her to bed." 0 nodded and helped her carry the little girl.

    Max approached Serena and 415. "You guys okay?" he asked.

    Serena nodded. "We're fine, Max."

    "Why wouldn't we be?" asked 415.

    "How are you holding up?" asked Serena.

    Max sighed and leaned against the wall. "Guys, I really need to know something," he said.

    "What?"

    "The new baby," he said. "How can you guys keep this kind of a secret from 0?"

    "So she is pregnant," said 415. "We had not confirmed it. How did you do it?"

    "The Dark Emerald," he said.

    "Ah. Well, now that we have the pregnancy confirmed, we need to begin putting the plan into motion."

    "What plan?" asked Max. "What exactly are you guys doing?"

    "We're making a plan for the future," said Serena. "Specifically, 0's future."

    "Why doesn't 0 get to know he's having another kid?" Max asked.

    "Because it will be dangerous for him to know," said 415. "If he were to discover that May is pregnant again, there is an increased likelihood that 0's emotions will hit a certain critical point. When that critical point is reached, 0 will become trapped in morph."

    "Trapped?" asked Max. "Like, he won't be able to go back?"

    Serena nodded. "His morpher is the only one with that problem because of the Synchronization Drive. It connects him too deeply to his powers, which means he has to be very careful about his emotions. Tonight was just an example of one of the things that can bring him to the breaking point."

    415 nodded. "In a way, PKM was right to separate him from his family. His morpher, even with the Ailed design, is still quite unstable. The critical shift has been pushed back significantly, but it is still present. The new child is only going to complicate things."

    "But how?' asked Max. "Sure, it's stressful to think that there's going to be another kid around here, but I don't think-"

    "I did not expect you to," said 415. "Consider for a moment the behavior that 0 exhibits in ratio to May and Sarah. There is ferocity there that cannot be surpassed, not by any means we have. He will, conceivably can, do anything necessary to protect his family. He will not stop. As a result, it is impossible to predict when the critical shift will take place, but we must prolong it as long as possible."

    "Why? Isn't there a way to reverse it?"

    Serena shook her head. "Not by any way we've ever found. Once it happens, he's stuck. Just like the old Golden Ranger and there's nothing we can do about it."

    "But he's gonna find out. There's no way he doesn't notice it for long. May's gonna get big and annoying again. When she was pregnant with Sarah, I was pretty sure neither he nor I were gonna last through the nine months."

    "Nevertheless, he must. We will think of a better plan."

    "You will think…? Who do you think you are, 415? You're not leader here. You're on the same level as me. Even when Gold's not around, Serena takes over."

    "First of all, Dark Gem, I am not on the same level as you. Secondly, Serena has already consented to this idea, as has May. We did not expect you to find out because, frankly, I did not believe you had the intelligence to deduce it. Fortunately, I was right in one sense but wrong in the other."

    "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "Precisely my point."

    "Enough!" shouted Serena. "Look, Max, we need you to keep this under wraps for the time being. Just until we can think of a more permanent way to keep 0 unstressed and normal."

    "What if he takes it well?" asked Max.

    "Max, you didn't really see 0 before he got back together with May, but I did. I know what kind of person he was before, and it was scary. I was with a man with nothing left to live for, except to make sure that his family was safe. A family that he wasn't a part of. If we tell him now that there's another kid on the way, one of two things will happen: he'll either stay, become overprotective, and trapped in morph or he'll be convinced that this new child won't be safe, leave, and be trapped in morph due to guilt. Either way, we lose him and we get another robot just like the old Golden Ranger."

    Max looked down. "I'll…I'll keep it a secret. For now. But sooner or later, he's going to find out on his own and then you'll have to deal with the fact that you lied to the person we're supposed to trust completely. He's our leader, guys. He's the most powerful ranger, he's the senior ranger, and he's the reason we're all here today. He deserves better than this and you know it." He walked out.

    "Do you think he'll tell 0?" asked Serena.

    415 shook her head. "He may be foolish, but he is a man of his word. Or creature, anyway."

    "What's your deal with him anyway?" asked Serena. "He's no different than us."

    "He is a Dark Gem," she said simply. "It is only a matter of time, but he will go back to them. Whatever he is doing now makes no difference."

    "It makes every difference," said Serena. "He's trying to make the best of a bad situation. You should be nicer to him."

    "Why?" asked 415. "Am I ever nice to anyone?"

    "You were nice to May earlier. This plan will keep her husband and family together."

    "I did that because it makes sense, long term, to keep our best weapon functioning at maximum efficiency. The Gold Ranger is our best weapon and must be protected. The Dark Emerald, on the other hand, is a tool that will saw off our hands if we are not careful. It was designed for the enemy, by the enemy, and with the express intend of damaging our cause. You will of course notice that I do not care what you think because those are the facts about the device used by Max Birch. It does not matter if he is a good, decent man or if he is our comrade and friend. It matters only that Max Birch uses something evil. It does not matter how he uses it now, only that he will use it for evil in the future. We can prolong it all we want, but that is the truth."

    "But we have to try to save him, 415," said Serena. "It doesn't matter what he might become, it's who he is now. If we're good to him he'll stay with us. He won't turn his back on us."

    "Why not? What always makes you so sure of his loyalty to us?"

    Serena smiled. "May's his sister. No one would ever turn on their own family like that. It's just…I can't imagine anyone like that."

    415 almost, but not quite, smiled. "That is an interesting theory considering your family situation."

    Serena's smile faded. "What did you say?"

    "Exactly what I implied. I have read the reports regarding the MIA status of your twin brothers. I have also read the debriefing that was given by you and 0 shortly after your failed retrieval mission. Is that why you are so eager to save Max Birch? Because you think that saving him will make up for the way that your brothers betrayed you?"

    Serena looked away. "My brothers…that's not important, 415. What is important is that you need to stop acting the way you do to Max. He's a good man, you said it yourself. He won't turn his back on his sister. He won't turn his back on you, he won't turn his back on me, and he won't turn his back on 0."

    "Such an odd feeling it must be, to have trust in others," said 415. "Is it because you have had a family?" She looked into Serena's eyes, searching for an answer. "Is it because this is the only thing close to a family you have, Serena Brine? Let it be known then: I have no need for family. The only man I will ever care for is dead and gone, replaced by someone we must constantly protect from being overwhelmed by his own emotions. Does that sound like I need a family, Serena Brine?"

    She turned and walked away, leaving Serena alone with the computer.

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    "You are late," said Ame.

    The little girl that walked into the hotel room waved her hand with disinterest. "So?" she asked. "It's not like I'm missing anything." She looked towards the large Dark Topaz that sat in a chair next to Ame. "It's not like he can talk."

    "Quite. Well, take a seat then. The time has come for your debriefing. Our employers have a new plan that they want to attempt with the two of you."

    Dia walked across the room and into the lap of the Dark Topaz. The Dark Topaz lifted his hand and softly, ever so softly, stroked the little girl's hair while she smiled in content. "Tell us what we're supposed to do. I'm getting bored with this city. He is too."

    Ame looked up at the Dark Topaz. "How do you know?"

    "Because I know, okay? Now spill it. I don't like having to talk to you."

    Ame reached into her coat and pulled out a small file. She laid it on the table and passed it to Dia. "Our employers wish for you to begin a more aggressive campaign against Ranger Gold. The fact is that he poses a problem in his current state that we would like taken care of before he gains any more strength."

    "What kinda problem?" Dia happily opened the file and flipped through the various documents and pictures.

    "His abilities to assume various forms based on his Pokemon. At his current state he is quite useless against the Dark Topaz, but he may learn new abilities our employers would rather he not have the advantage of learning."

    "How are we supposed to do that?"

    "Trap him in morph," Ame said with a smile. "We believe that we are in a unique position now to severely impact his ability to gain new power by trapping him permanently in morph. The resulting strain of being trapped will drain his power, forcing him into a point where it will become quite easy to defeat him and obtain the Dark Gold from May Birch and Ranger Gold."

    "What about the other ones? There's four of them!"

    Ame laughed. "But you have yourself and the Dark Topaz. Surely that is enough."

    Dia looked up into Top's blank face. "Think we can take them?" He said nothing back, but Dia smiled and lowered her gaze to Ame. "How do we do it?"

    "This plan will work in accordance with your own skills, Dia," said Ame. "We need Ranger Gold trapped in morph, and the only thing that will do that is severe emotional stress. Ranger Gold needs to be stressed."

    "And the best way to a man's heart is through his family, right? That's why I had to go find the Sarah girl, right?"

    Ame nodded. "Right. If you strike him where he hurts the most, he will have no choice but to strain his morpher enough to trap him. He is too emotional."

    "He's a real wuss, huh?" asked Dia with a giggle. "He got sooooo angry when I came in and tied up his daughter like that."

    "I imagine so."

    "I still want her though, Ame. I need her."

    Ame smiled and said, "Of course, Dia. My contract says nothing about depriving you of your favorite hunt. Actually, the contract states that all of them are to be eliminated. I am sure our employers don't care how this takes place."

    "Good. I get to eat her! I'm so hungry, I haven't eaten in so long…"

    "Eat her quietly though. The last time there was severe collateral damage."

    "Oh yeah, nobody'll catch me, Ame. I promise. I'll just make Sarah disappear!"

    Ame looked to Top. "I trust you will handle the heavy lifting after she has started the attack. Dia is not quite as powerful because of her age."

    Dia giggled. "Don't worry, Ame. Daddy'll protect me. Won't you, Daddy?" She looked up and smiled, displaying both sets of pearly white teeth.

    Top finally reacted and looked down at his daughter. There was a soft, tender expression in his eyes. He resumed stroking her hair.

    Dia looked back to Ame. "Daddy's a monster to people that try to hurt me. Daddy would do anything to save me. Wouldn't you, Daddy?" Top kept brushing her hair. "If I was ever dying, Daddy would do anything to keep me going, and now that we have these Dark Gems, we'll keep going forever and ever, just like this. Won't we Daddy?"

    The monster kept stroking her hair while she laughed and laughed and laughed. Ame, her contract completed, rose and left the room, shutting the door behind her. She walked down the stairs and, as if by magic, simply vanished into nothingness. Dia's cackling, however, continued to howl into the night.

    Author's Note: Dia and Top are probably some of the best villains I've ever created. Yes, Top looks like a carbon copy of Karin at first, but underneath him is an entirely different order of code. Dia's a pretty interesting monster too, you'll find out why a bit later, though. When I was designing them, I decided to create villains that would reflect 0's greatest fears realized. In fact, each Dark Gem Ranger can be said to be an amalgamation of traits from the PKM Rangers, with each one representing different pieces of the worst qualities in each ranger. If you think about it, Sappho represented 0's insecurities of reuniting with his family, and the monster he could have become without them, and at the same time he represented Max when he first started as a Dark Gem Ranger, and how Max could have been evil just as easily as he is good now. Until next time!

  15. #45
    Scholarly Gentleman
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    Default Chapter 31

    Morph Thirty-One: Trapped…

    There was a distinct lack of sensation.

    0 looked at his arm. It was ordinary, save for the fact that it was covered in his ranger armor. He looked at his chest; it bore the strange little emblem of Pikachu's face across his pectorals down to his bellybutton. The rest of his body was the same, a mix-and-match of gold and black. There was a puddle in the field. He walked to it slowly, completely uninterested in anything else. All around him, people were shouting, waiting, for him to do something.

    All that mattered was the puddle. He lowered his head and looked at himself. A mask stared back.

    It was his face. What lied beneath, that was gone. Somehow, he sensed that. His cheeks, his eyes, his nose and lips…they should be there. But they weren't. He was aware of something moving as he twisted his face into a snarl, but it wasn't the muscles underneath the tanned skin he'd once had. That was gone, too. He wasn't sure why, but it was gone.

    And all that was left was rage. Rage that, though it couldn't be expressed by the visor that was his face, was apparent from the way his suit trembled. His fingers clenched, forming fists that quivered as he turned around to face the creature that had done this.

    The Dark Topaz Ranger. Never had 0 felt something so pure, so complete, as the hatred that boiled through what had once been his veins. Once, he thought, he'd felt something like it. I was holding someone. A bundle of pure love. It was nothing, nothing, compared to the pure rage he felt for Top. He wanted the creature dead. He wanted it ended. He wanted the heaving behemoth torn limb from limb, the gem that gave it its power crushed and turned to dust in the rainstorm.

    He roared, a primal scream that tore through the thunder and the lightning, and 0 smelt fear all around him. Perhaps not from the Dark Topaz Ranger, who was merely wary of his animalistic hate, but from the tiny Rangerlings that crowded around it. 0 barely registered them. Those were insects worming around the husk of the true threat, the thing that dared to touch what was his.

    The thing that dared harm Sarah.

    "0! 0! You have to fight it!" There was a sound in his head, it seemed so irrelevant. "There's still time, you can still change back!" That made 0 laugh. There was no going back. There was no happy ending, or joy, or pleasure waiting for him. It had all been a lie. PKM had promised him the chance to protect his family, and ripped it away. Bakaguru had promised to give him back his family, and in return had only brought the enemy that much closer to him. Serena, Max, 415, they'd sworn to defend each other to the very end, and once again they were useless.

    "Once again, it's my job to fix everything," 0 growled. At least Logan and Karin had been honest and took off. Who knew where they were, probably safe with nothing trying to murder them every single day.

    There was a little girl on the field. Her, 0 knew. There was no mistaking it. The entire battle had ground to a halt, like it was some sort of movie, just to watch him approach her. There was an arm sprouting from Max's mangled form, but even 415 and the Rangerlings had stopped fighting over him to watch 0.

    He reached the little girl, and picked her up. She was hurt. Nothing was broken, maybe a few bruised ribs, but nothing that wouldn't heal. 0 touched her face, careful to avoid the damage on the left side of her face, just below her eye. He shifted her hair so it wasn't touching her mostly-purple face.

    The girl's eyes fluttered open. It must have hurt, and she winced several times, but she finally got her right eye open to look at him. She couldn't smile, but her voice was assuring. "D-D-Daddy?" she whispered, just loud enough for him to hear it.

    He nodded. "Yes, little girl?"

    "I…I'm hurt." She tried to cough, but a little blood dribbled down her chin. "D-Daddy, it hurts." She had started to cry, somehow ignoring all the damage they'd done to her face. "Please make it stop, D-Daddy. I think…" She paused, so she could cough again. 0 held her close. "I think… Is this dy-d-dying?"

    0 tried to chuckle, but the part of his body where his vocal chords should have been were disappearing. He still managed to speak. "No, Sarah. Everything's okay. Just a few bruises, nothing worse than falling off your bike. We'll take you inside, wash you off, and 415'll clean you right up. Get you a big Band-Aid for being such a brave little girl."

    She tried to nod, but she was too tired. "G-Good. I'd…I'd miss you and Mommy." Then her eyes closed and she stopped coughing.

    0 lifted his head. She was still breathing, but only just. "May!" he shouted. "May!"

    From the ground, where she'd been lying in pain, May Birch stood up in the rain-soaked field. She crawled past the Rangerlings, past Top and even Dia, until she reached where 0 cradled their child and took her from him.

    As she steadied her new weight, she looked at him. She felt something, something so terrifying, that for a second she was afraid. "0?" she asked. "Are you…?"

    He nodded slowly. "I think so. Pi isn't sure, but I think so."

    "0, I—"

    He cut her off. "No time. Get her inside and lock yourselves in Ranger Downs. There's medical equipment in there. Use it. I'll send Pi to help." She didn't move, she just stared at him. "Go! We don't have time for this!" She ran, and 0 was left alone. Even the voice in his helmet left, because Pi never needed to be told where he was needed. The door shut behind them, and no one dared follow.

    The last link left him. He couldn't even feel the rain as it fell against the fabric of his uniform. He couldn't feel the breeze that swept the battlefield. As he screamed, he noticed that there wasn't any air in his lungs, in fact he wasn't altogether sure where his lungs were. As he ran into battle, he stopped sensing his boots absorbing the shock of his legs hitting the ground.

    There was one last feeling, one hate sensation, one last goal, that swept through what was now his body and made him feel whole.

    I'm going to kill you all.

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    There was a soft whirling hum that gradually died down.

    "The analysis is complete, Ranger Gold," said 415. "You may disengage your morpher from the scanner."

    0 nodded and gingerly removed his arm from what looked like a miniature MRA machine. It was a machine, built on Bakaguru's schematics and 415's technical expertise, that they had been using to monitor his morpher.

    "What's the prognosis?" he asked. He lightly massaged around his wrist.

    "One moment. The information is being printed." 0 waited for another machine to spit out paper, which also took some time. When it finally coughed up the data, 415 snatched it up and studied it again.

    "Can I please see how the morpher's doing?" 0 asked.

    415 glanced at him briefly over the documents. "I am ascertaining accuracy. I am also checking to see if our other morphers might not benefit from such analysis. Cease your pestering, it will not make my research go faster." She returned to work and, ten minutes later, looked up with what seemed to be a content expression on her mask-face. She brushed a red hair from her eyes. "Now it is done."

    "And?"

    "The data is mixed. On one hand, it notes that the morpher is beginning to adjust for the extra uses of your ranger system. Your uses of Lucario and Torkoal have increased, and the morpher seems to be learning to accommodate them without continuous usage overloading the system and forcing a demorph during battle. This is good, as it means that our Ailed Morphers might be evolving as well. It warrants further study on my morpher and the morpher of Serena Brine."

    He nodded. "Makes sense. And what's the bad news?"

    She pointed to a chart on one of the documents that made no sense to 0. "Your morpher is making these adjustments by bonding to you. It is gradual, and there have been no noticeable changes, but its acceptance of you is resulting in you becoming more merged with the technology. There is a possibility that, as the morpher continues to evolve to suit your needs, it may become a permanent bonding."

    "So trapped in morph, like the former 0 was."

    "Somewhat, yes. The morpher will not force such an extreme transformation without an extreme catalyst for the morph. Say there is a great deal of anger. Were you to morph in such a state, the psychological effects could extend to the morpher and bond you. Mind you, such as transformation would require an exceeding amount of rage the likes of which—"

    0 raised his hand. "I get it. No getting angry when I'm about to morph. Keep my emotions clear."

    "You say that like it is something you are physically capable of. Were I able to wager, I would place a bet on you being trapped in morph within the year. You are not one for restraint."

    "Maybe I'll take up yoga."

    "And maybe the mongrel will state something of significance. The point is hypothetical speculation, particularly impossible hypothetical speculation, wastes everyone's time. Dreams are for sleep."

    "Speaking of." 0 glanced at the clock on the wall. It was just after midnight. "Shouldn't you be going to sleep? Big day tomorrow. Er, today."

    "For you, perhaps. For me, it is another day of simulations. I am not assigned to above ground cover for your children event."

    0 nodded. "You know, it wouldn't kill you to get out once in a while. Fresh air is good for people."

    "Most people. My appearance changes daily. There is no point in getting to know anyone outside of the group, there is no way to explain my appearance in a way that would remove our cover."

    "Well, about that. Why don't you just drop the disguise? We're not undercover in PKM anymore. We're our own group. You could go out, make friends, relax."

    She looked up from her work, and her red eyes gave him one of the coldest expressions he'd ever seen. "My appearance is not your concern, Ranger Gold, and the last time I checked, it is not a subject you have say over." She returned to her research.

    "I wasn't suggesting that I did have say over it. I just thought—"

    She raised her hand and looked up. "Clearly you were not, otherwise you would have kept silent. It is not your concern, Ranger Gold, what I look like under my mask. It is not May Birch's concern, nor the Dark Gem's concern, nor Serena Brine's concern, nor the concern of your daughter. It will never be any of your concerns, so why not spend a bit more time admiring your wife's face instead of complaining about my refusal to—?"

    She cut herself off, breathing a bit more unevenly than usual. Her mask seemed to mimic her embarrassment, because its cheeks tinged red briefly. Then it vanished, and she regained her composure.

    "You're right, 415," he said. "It isn't my concern, is it? Just thought it might be nice for you not to hide anymore. We're not part of PKM. You're allowed to be yourself once in a while, and not just a ranger."

    "This is myself, Ranger Gold. There is nothing deeper."

    He nodded. "Sure, whatever. Get some sleep anyway, never know when the Dark Gems are going to start smashing through the city."

    "Of course," she said, but he had already started heading upstairs. If he heard, he did not react, so 415 returned to her work.

    The laboratory was quiet, aside from the occasional whirl and hum from the machines. She tried to work, but found herself distracted. Again and again she turned to a reflective screen on a nearby monitor, touching pieces of her mask. Every now and then she would shift it, just to be certain it was still there. She went through seven different eye colors and three styles of hair before she heard a set of footsteps on the stairs.

    She firmly stared at her research. "If you are here to apologize, Ranger Gold, I am not interested in—"

    "Wrong guy, 415." It was Max. Of course it was Max, of all the times for him to visit. "I couldn't sleep, so I started wandering the house. I saw the lights were on down here and thought it might be someone working late in need of some company."

    "You were incorrect in your assessment. I am working late but I have no need for your company. I am extremely busy and your presence is always a distraction."

    "Is that a compliment?"

    "If you consider your mental inferiority and lack of use a compliment. Dark Gem, I am not in any mood to placate your need for attention."

    "Hey, you're using my name now. Have you decided I'm a human being?"

    "Not as such. It is more convenient."

    "Another thing. Since when do you have moods? I thought you had two modes- mean and asleep. Are you starting to get a little bit more normal on us?" Max grinned, but when 415 dropped her research, his smile faded instantly.

    "Why is everyone so obsessed with my personal life?" she demanded. She walked away from her machines and started towards him. He tried to turn and leave, but she grabbed his hair and held him in a vicegrip. "Tell me, what is the reason behind your incessant need to spend time with me? Why do you, and everyone else here, insist on bothering me? When I worked undercover, I was alone. No one had any need to disturb me. It was paradise compared to this arrangement."

    Max strained, but 415 had always been stronger than him out of morph. "That's because we're a team, moron."

    "Who is the one in the vicegrip? You are the moron here."

    "And you're the idiot that can't figure out how important she is to this team." He jabbed her sharply in the ribs, and in her distraction she released him. "I know nothing about you, 415. I don't know your name, your family, anything about you before I met you through PKM. All we know is that the Golden Ranger was like a father to you, right? That's why you got so mad at 0. And you know what?" He was panting at this point and his face had turned into a sharp reddish hue.

    "What?" she hissed.

    "I don't care. None of us do. You think we care about seeing your face? It won't be your face. Not the one you have that changes every day, the ones that are yours. You think I'll never call you anything other than 415, even if your rank is technically 4 now? Your name doesn't matter, nothing about you matters, except the fact that you think you can just put up a shield around yourself like you're still an undercover agent when you're supposed to be part of our team."

    She punched him in the face. He barely noticed, so she did it again, and then a third time for good measure. "I am a ranger. Your points are meaningless. I perform my duties and functions. That is all that is needed."

    He shook his head as a black eye healed. "Wrong. What matters is that this team is like a family, and you're not some unwanted stepkid. You don't need to act like some kind of living wall around us. We just want you to be part of this family, and the fact that you're reacting this way just proves you're getting defensive because you know I'm right."

    "You are wrong." 415 grabbed him, threw him to the floor, and set her heel against his windpipe. "I told you I was in no mood to discuss this. I specifically told you that, and you decided you would ignore my order." She dug her heel in deeper and Max began gasping for air. "Besides, your sentimentality is filled with lies."

    "What're you…talking 'bout?"

    "I know what you want of me, Dark Gem. I am aware of your heart palpitations in my presence, your direct attempts at socialization with me, even your endeavors to curry my favor. I have studied you, noticed when these correlations intersect with the Dark Emerald, and have concluded you are in love with me."

    "I have no idea—"

    "Data cannot lie! I know what you are trying to do." He definitely couldn't breathe anymore, he was fighting to stay conscious. "I know what these are. Mating rituals. Courtship. 'Dating', as the common vernacular calls it. Things I have never wanted and will never need." She felt his final spasm before he died.

    "I have neither heart to give nor soul to receive in return," she said to no one. "Your attempts are futile." She removed her foot and began picking up her work.

    When she stood back up, he was alive again and breathing heavily. "Believe what you wanna believe," he said. He dusted off his pants. "Doesn't change the fact that everyone, not just me, would take a bullet for you in a heartbeat. We'd die for each other, because that's what families do, and you're a part of this one whether you like it or not. So get used to us trying to get close to you, 415. That's what families do, and we're all we've got."

    He left her and went upstairs. He still wasn't sleepy, but couldn't stay in that room anymore.

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    Serena woke up. She glanced at the clock on her nightstand and discovered it was seven in the morning. Too early, always too early, for people to be awake.

    Sadly, she was alone when she woke up. This stemmed from the fact that overnight guests, or really any guests, were prohibited from entering Ranger Downs. 0 had been very clear about that rule the first night when she'd thought she could bring a cute guy home, a guy who ended up screaming and running away in terror when he got a look at 0's expression when he stepped onto the porch.

    She slipped out of her sheets with nothing but a shirt on, so she found some sweat pants to wear and rubbed her eyes. It was just getting bright outside and she caught a glimpse of some Pidgey flying east over some of the houses in the distance. "Nice day," she murmured and headed out to the hallway. "Too bad I'm on monitor duty."

    She passed by Sarah's bedroom and stepped inside. May's daughter was still tucked in her bed snoozing. Serena chuckled, Sarah frequently had difficulty getting up in the morning and rarely got up without prompting before nine. Since May hadn't gotten here yet, Serena headed over to Sarah's bed and poked the little girl's head.

    Sarah groaned and rolled over. "Go away," she mumbled. "Sleepy."

    Serena giggled. "Come on, Sarah. I'm pretty sure your mom and dad wants you up early for the events today. Aren't you doing the basketball tournament?"

    The little girl refused to open her eyes. "Nope! I'm staying in bed!" She scurried under the covers.

    "But Lu and Tork'll miss you if you're not ready," Serena said. "You don't want to disappoint them, do you?"

    Sarah peeked out from under the cover. "No. Just sleepy is all."

    Serena laughed and tickled her. "Come on, Sarah! Get yourself moving!" The little girl squealed with laughter and threw the covers off trying to get away from her.

    "Serena? Sarah?" Both looked up to see May leaning against the doorway with a big grin on her face. "Having fun horsing around?"

    Serena blushed. "Sarah here doesn't seem to want to get up. I was just trying to motivate her to get ready for her big day."

    "Uh-huh." May turned to Sarah and crossed her arms. "And why aren't you listening to Serena? You know you're supposed to be up at seven every day, little girl."

    "But I wanna sleep in, Mom. I couldn't sleep last night and I'm still sleepy."

    May smiled and sat down on the bed with the others. "Doesn't matter, sweetie. Still gotta get up. Big kids show how responsible they are by following the rules their parents make. So go get some breakfast. I think your Dad's making some pancakes."

    Sarah shot up. "Pancakes?" she asked hopefully.

    May nodded and sniffed the air. "I saw him pouring the batter before I came upstairs. If you hurry you can probably get to the first batch before your Uncle Max eats all of them."

    "Okay!" Sarah shouted.

    "But first thank Serena for waking you up."

    Sarah turned to Serena and hugged her. "Thanks, Aunt Serry!" she said, then galloped downstairs.

    Serena watched her go and turned to May. "Aunt Serry? Since when?" she asked.

    May shrugged. "You're part of the family. And you've been helping with her. Why not?"

    She chuckled. "Just that I remember how we met, and neither one of us liked the other."

    "To be fair," said May, "you were in love with my husband. And I was mad at my husband. And he was dying. And everything was a mess."

    "Oh yeah. Hey, don't think I've given up on him." The two of them shared a laugh. "How is his shoulder doing?"

    "I barely notice it. It didn't really have much of an impact on him and he never really brings it up. I guess it's fine."

    "So, how are you two doing?"

    May smiled. "I think we're doing really well. He did really great readapting to family life while you all were away for the year. And the lull managed to give him and Sarah time to bond. She's still my little girl, but I think it's more balanced. She's letting him in."

    "That's good. When I was working with him, that was his big problem. He really missed being a dad."

    May smirked. "Do I detect a little bit of jealousy in your voice?"

    "How do you mean?" Serena asked.

    "I was just wondering if you might be having a little maternal moment thanks to Sarah."

    Serena giggled. "Maybe a little bit, but I'm not really the motherly type. I'm more of the 'I miss getting some strange on a regular basis' type."

    "Want me to set you up with Max? I mean, he's my brother and all, but he's a nice guy. All of his old girlfriends spoke highly of him."

    Serena shook her head. "No thanks. I'm pretty sure 415 would rip my head off if I tried to move in on her man."

    May laughed. "She can be really odd with him sometimes." She stood up and checked outside the door to make sure 415 was not around to hear their gossip, then returned to the bed. "I think she just wasn't taught how to do the whole relationship business."

    "Well, from what I learned in PKM, she was brought up by the Golden Ranger, so that sort of makes sense. 0 never liked to talk about him, but the Golden Ranger really didn't have time for those sorts of things. He might have just forgotten to clue her in on how to deal with boys outside of ripping their necks out."

    "Maybe we should help her. I think Max might like her too, but he's about as dense as 0 is when it comes to romance." At this, both women cackled hysterically.

    "So, pancakes?" asked Serena.

    "Pancakes. Right. We'd better get down there before Sarah eats them all."

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

    Brock Harrison woke up.

    He gazed out of his palatial bedroom and towards a large window to his left. The skyline of Goldenrod City was beautiful in the morning. It was much nicer than the one over Pewter, which tended to be mostly industrial buildings. Here, tall skyscrapers dominated the landscape, each a different color, shape, and size. He yawned and stretched, then got up and headed over to the phone on the other side of the room.

    He dialed the reception desk. "Hello?" asked a friendly-sounded woman on the other end.

    "Hi," he said. "This is Dr. Harrison in 3310. I was wondering if I could get some room service for breakfast."

    "Certainly, sir. What would you like?"

    "Uh…" He glanced over a small menu on an adjacent table. "Could I have the Kanto Continental with extra bacon, please?"

    "Kanto Continental with extra bacon? Certainly sir. Will that be all?"

    "I wouldn't say no to some scrambled eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice on the side."

    "We'll have that up for you as soon as possible, Dr. Harrison. Shouldn't be more than twenty minutes."

    "Great! I'll see you then. Thanks."

    "You're very welcome, sir."

    Brock hung up the phone and grinned. Today was going to be awesome, no questions about it. It was his last full day on his vacation. Tomorrow, he'd fly back to his regular life in Pewter City and return to the Pokemon Center to work with Nurse Joy, but today he was going to live it up like a big shot.

    He jumped in the shower to groom himself properly for his big day. He shampooed his hair with the most expensive brand the hotel had, anointed his skin with fancy fragrances he would never had allowed near himself back home, and shaved a little stubble that had been growing under his chin. When he was finished, he wrapped a robe around his body and returned to his bed. He watched some morning news until someone knocked on his door.

    It was the waiter with his breakfast. "Good morning, sir," said the young man as he wheeled in the rather large meal Brock had ordered. He opened the tray. "I take it everything is to your liking?"

    Brock stared at the tray like he might a rather attractive woman. It had everything: freshly baked blueberry muffins, soft pancakes, and plenty of bacon. On the side, he saw a batch of scrambled eggs, lightly salted. An entire pitcher of orange juice stood to the side of his tray.

    "It's perfect, thank you," he said, and gave the waiter a generous tip for the speedy service. The waiter tipped his hat then headed out. Brock settled into his breakfast and pulled out a newspaper.

    As he ate his way through a mountain of food, he started noticing some odd things in the news. It all seemed to be ranger this and ranger that, and it made no sense. He'd heard something about the rangers that were around the city, but he hadn't personally gotten the chance to see any of them. He'd been shopping in a store where one attack had happened, but by the time he had gotten to where they were, the rangers had already left behind a giant mess to clean up.

    When Brock finished his breakfast, he decided to spend the day out in Goldenrod City before the musical at the theater that night. He dressed casually, with a light jacket and work boots, before he left the room and headed down the elevator. As he passed through the main lobby he waved to some of the employees he knew and ducked out into the street.

    Even the streets of Goldenrod were different from Pewter. Everyone was out and about, nobody ever seemed to be stopping in one place for too long. Brock watched a couple stop in a coffee shop, pause for a bagel from a cart on the road, and eat both as they crossed the street, all in the span of a minute. He decided to follow their example and grab a cup of coffee for his excursion. Another difference between Goldenrod and Pewter he noticed was that the coffee cost three times as much here.

    He headed into the northern districts, interested in the possibility to running into Whitney again. It'd been a while since he'd seen her, maybe two or three years. They used to run into each other all the time at Gym Leader conferences, but since his switch to medicine Forrest had taken over most of those duties. He headed passed the department store and, with the help of a map on his phone, managed to finally find the gym.

    It hadn't changed much since the last time he'd been there, and from the looks of the outside it was still active. He could hear some shouting going on inside so he stepped through the gym's entrance.

    The aesthetics were very western. The walls were a hardened wood, matching the floor. Brock's shoes clattered against the floor as he headed into the main room, which was mostly the same save for the battlefield itself, which was composed of soft soil with fresh grass. There was a battle already going on, so Brock leaned against a wall and settled in to watch the fight.

    "Milty, Rollout!" Whitney shouted. She pointed in the direction of her opponent's Darmanitan. The Miltank nodded and curled itself up into a fat ball and began rolling all over the arena to build up traction. The Darmanitan was confused and scratched its flaming eyebrows.

    "Darmanitan, Belly Drum!" shouted the challenger, a woman with gigantic glasses. Darmanitan obeyed and pounded away at its stomach. It smashed its fists thrice, glowed red briefly, and groaned from a surge of power that exploded from its body. "Track Miltank!" The Darmanitan watched the ball of fat keep rolling. Its rotations were speeding up, it was only a matter of time before it would be strong enough to strike.

    "Now, Milty!" shouted Whitney. "Finish it off!" The cow mooed and began charging towards Darmanitan.

    "Darmanitan, Superpower!" the challenger ordered.

    "Darmanitan!" it roared. Its body glowed a violent blue and it turned to the rolling Miltank. It raised both its fists and smashed into the soft dirt.

    For an instant, nothing happened. Then, a giant clap of thunder exploded through the air and the ground shook. Shockwaves blasted through the ground and slammed into Miltank, cancelling its Rollout and tossing it into the air. It mooed its name in confusion, but the challenger did not let up. "Darmanitan, Flare Blitz!"

    Breathing heavily, the Darmanitan vomited up flames from its gullet to set itself on fire. It crouched, waiting for Miltank to start falling, then launched itself right at it. Brock fanned himself as the heat coming off Darmanitan's body started to affect the weather inside the gym. Darmanitan drew back a fist and connected, driving its knuckles deep into Miltank's chest. The cow traveled through the air and crashed into a wall.

    It could not get up. It cried pitifully than fell unconscious. Whitney shouted and bolted to Milty's side. She screamed when she got close.

    "Help! Help!" she cried. "Milty's hurt!"

    The Darmanitan and the challenger got there first, but Brock was already moving. He jumped across the field and was instantly by the Pokemon's side.

    Whitney turned to him. "Brock? What're you—"

    "No time," he said. "This is bad. You mind if I take a look?"

    "N-No, please."

    Brock nodded and surveyed the damage. It was not promising. Milty's body wasn't on fire anymore, but there were burns on the left side of its body just above the udder. He could see how bad the skin had seared. The burn had even gotten down into the muscle tissue. He thought he saw part of the lining of Milty's first stomach.

    He checked its pulse, which was elevated, and its breathing, which was steady. "It's going into shock," he said. "Do you have anything here to help? Potions? Burn Heals? First aid?"

    Whitney shook her head. "We ran out last week! I meant to restock the cupboard, but I've had so many challengers that I forgot." She was starting to cry.

    He nodded. "Don't panic, we can still help her." He took out two Pokeballs. "Chansey, Swampert, let's go!" The balls exploded and two Pokemon, one that looked like a fat pink oval and another that looked like a blue catfish with legs, emerged. "Swampert, I'm going to need some cool water to soothe some of these burns. Chansey, Healing Pulse. We've got to get Milty back to normal."

    Chansey nodded and immediately began channeling psychic energy. It placed its paws on the egg it carried around in its pocket and a ball of pink energy started forming in front of it. Wasting no time, the ball moved away from Chansey and over Milty. It scattered into thousands of little pink particles that covered Milty. The Miltank moaned and opened its eyes feebly.

    Brock placed two fingers on its neck. "Pulse is getting back to normal," said Brock. "Chansey, be ready with another one of those in case we need it. Swampert, water please."

    The giant Swampert nodded and towered over the little cow. It opened its mouth and a steady stream of water started trickling out over Milty's skin. The burn twitched, and Milty mooed in protest, but Brock held it down with Darmanitan's help.

    "Next, does anyone have a Pokemon with teleport?" he asked.

    "I don't," said Whitney.

    The challenger nodded. "I do. Elgyem, go!" She released another Pokemon, a grey little humanoid, which looked towards them with its beady green eyes awaiting orders.

    Brock turned to it. "Elgyem, I need you to take this." He dug into his pocket and withdrew all the money he had on him. "Go to the department store and buy a Full Restore. Go immediately and get back as soon as you can. Do you understand?"

    Elgyem looked at its trainer, who nodded her consent. It glowed white, then suddenly vanished.

    There was nothing to do but wait. Brock monitored Miltank's condition and kept Whitney calm.

    "Couldn't we just take Milty to the Pokemon Center?" she asked.

    Brock shook his head. "Injuries like this, you really can't. The technology that puts the Pokemon into its Pokeball won't heal this kind of damage, so it'll just fester. The damage needed immediate attention. Chansey, hit Milty with another Heal Pulse. It's losing a lot of color again."

    Chansey complied. "Whitney, I am so, so sorry," said the challenger. "We didn't mean for this to happen." Behind her, Darmanitan slowly nodded its head. It dragged its knuckles on the ground in an expression of regret.

    Whitney waved her hand. "It's not your fault, Christie. You didn't mean to do it. We were just lucky Leader Brock was passing through."

    Brock grinned. "Actually, it's Dr. Harrison now. Hence why Milty's going to be fine. Aren't you, girl?" Milty mooed softly and nodded its head slowly. "Besides, I might have just done it so I could hit on the both of you once Milty's back on her hooves."

    "Haven't changed a bit since I saw you last," said Whitney. There was a sudden flash of light and Elgyem reemerged with a vial of Full Restore.

    "Good work," said Brock. "Got any change for me?" Elgyem shrugged its shoulders and Brock forgot about it. "No worries, let's just get this done. Swampert, hold Milty down. She's not going to like this."

    Swampert nodded and held the Miltank down firmly. Brock aimed the spray bottle carefully and applied the medicine to the affected area. It screamed and thrashed, but Brock ignored it and emptied the whole bottle into the burn. Milty slowly stopped struggling as the wound closed up and new skin formed over the burn. It was still breathing heavily.

    "She'll make a full recovery," said Brock as he wiped his brow. "Close one, though. She wouldn't have made it to the Pokemon Center, especially with your navigational skills. Remember the time we got lost in the—"

    Brock stopped talking because Whitney threw herself around him in a giant hug. Brock ignored his baser instincts and returned the hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she shouted with glee. "I couldn't bear the thought of losing poor Milty!"

    He patted her head. "It's okay. She's fine, and I'm sure…Christie, is it? Yeah, Christie will use a little more restraint next time she's in a fight."

    Christie nodded her reddened cheeks. "I'm really sorry about all this."

    "These things happen," said Brock. "Just glad to be of help."

    He would have gone on longer, but at that moment there was a huge crash from upstairs and a man came charging out of another door and into the gym. He was panting furiously with a microphone in hand. A few seconds later, he was joined by another man carrying a camera.

    "That was awesome!" he exclaimed. He ran up to Brock and wrung his hand in a lengthy handshake. "Derek Anderson, gym reporter for Goldenrod Radio Television. That, sir, was one of the best things I've seen in a while on this beat. Could I trouble you for an interview?"

    Brock looked at Whitney. "What's going on?"

    She shrugged. "They televise all the matches online for people to watch. It's a fun little thing that helps with the upkeep around here. When something big happens, Derek runs over here for an interview. Would you mind?"

    "Uh, sure, but I didn't really do anything too big." He looked at Swampert and Chansey. "What do you guys think?" Both of them nodded and smiled, so he did the same. "Alright, let's do this."

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

    0 finished the last batch of pancakes and set them on a platter next to the skillet. They smelled great or, at least, great considering he had made them. He still wasn't quite the chef that May was, but at least he had people to learn to cook for now.

    "Dad?" 0 looked down and noticed Sarah peering over the counter at the new stack.

    "Yes?" he asked.

    "Why don't you ever eat anything?" she asked.

    He thought about it. "Well, Sarah, that's sort of hard to answer. I used to have nightmares, really bad nightmares, like the ones you get sometimes. I couldn't sleep, so I tried this drink that Bakaguru made and it kept me awake. But I took it for too long, so now I have to drink it every three days."

    "Or else what?"

    He chuckled. "I'd go to sleep for a really long time. But the drink also covers my need to eat, so I'm never hungry." He took a sniff of the pancakes. "Even though these do smell nice." Sarah nodded. "Why don't you have mine?"

    She hugged him. "Thanks, Dad!" she squealed. "You're the bestest."

    He held her tight and nodded. "And you're the bestest daughter, baby girl."

    "0!" shouted May from the other room.

    He looked up. "Yes?" he caked back.

    "Might want to get in here! There's something on the TV you'll want to see."

    "Mind giving Dad a hand with the food?" Sarah nodded and grabbed the platter of pancakes. 0 took another platter filled with bacon and followed her. 415, Serena, Max, and May were all sitting at the table. Max and May looked incredibly confused by what they were seeing on the television screen.

    "What's going on?" he asked as he and Sarah set the food on the table.

    May was aghast. "It's…well, it's Brock." She pointed to the screen. "He's at the Goldenrod Gym."

    0 looked at the television. Sure enough, it was Brock's face plastered on the screen. A caption underneath his face read "Brock Harrison, P.M.D., Pokemon Rescuer." Brock himself looked very uncomfortable being on camera. Next to him was Whitney, whom 0 recognized from years ago, and another girl he didn't know. Swampert and Chansey were in the background, obviously enjoying the media attention more than Brock.

    "Turn it up," 0 said.

    Serena grabbed the remote and turned up the volume.

    "…Really, it wasn't anything I did," said Brock. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."

    "He's being modest," said Whitney. "He saved my Milty on his own using just Pokemon."

    An off-camera reporter asked, "Can you walk us through what was going through your mind, Dr. Harrison?"

    "Uh…well, I just stopped by because I knew Whitney from my days as a Gym Leader, and I happened to walk into a match she was having with Christie here that got a little out of hand. I then just used my Pokemon to keep Milty stable until we could get a Full Restore from the department store." Brock was sweating. "That's really all there is to it."

    "Why didn't you take Milty to a Pokemon Center immediately?" asked the reporter.

    "Well, the burn had gotten through the first layer of skin and had actually seared a bit of her first stomach. I knew the burn would keep draining on Milty if we put her in a Pokeball, so I just thought it would be safer to operate on her here and not risk hurting her by moving her or anything happening while she was in the energy form in the Pokeball. And now Milty's perfectly healthy and she'll be good to go for gym matches after a few days of relaxation on Whitney's farm."

    Beside Whitney, the Miltank mooed softly and nodded its head. The entire group chuckled, then the screen cut back to a pair of women in the studio, likely the hosts, who started commentating on Brock's bravery.

    "So," said 0, "we really should figure out what to do about this."

    Sarah ignored the conversation and suddenly became immersed in the nearby pancakes. Max nodded and said, "Well, this confirms Brock is still here. And his arrival in the city fits the timeline for Top and Dia."

    "That could be deliberate, though," said May. "Besides, he has his own Pokemon with him. I've never seen a Dark Gem with their own Pokemon before."

    "Fair point," said Serena. "Did the Pokemon look familiar?"

    "I wasn't sure," said 0 with a shrug. "Swampert looked familiar, but I haven't really spoken to Brock in a few years."

    "I have," said Max. "It's definitely his Swampert. Wasn't too sure about the Chansey, those all look alike. But Swampert has a chipped tooth I noticed."

    "Okay," said 0. "That means Brock is either Top and is deliberately hiding it, or Top's just shape-shifting to mess with our heads. One way or another, we need confirmation."

    "I have a suggestion," said 415.

    "What is it?" asked May.

    "Use Serena Brine. Brock Harrison's profile suggests he prefers the company of women. Have Serena Brine pose as a woman impressed by his appearance on the news and discern whether he has been corrupted by a Dark Gem."

    "That could work," said Serena, "except I don't really know Harrison. I'd need someone who knew him pretty well helping me."

    "I can do it," said Max. "Aside from 0, I probably know him the best out of the group here. Let's go." He and Serena rose from the table and headed out.

    Sarah looked up. "Dad, is something wrong with Uncle Brock?"

    "Not sure, Sarah," he said. "We hope not, but we'll try and find out. But if something is wrong, we'll do everything we can to fix him." Then he smiled. "Okay?"

    "Okay, Dad." She seemed to forget what had happened and instead continued feasting on the food at the table. When she was finished she wiped her face on her sleeve and gave her father a syrupy grin. "So, when do we get to go outside and help set up?" she asked eagerly.

    "As soon as you hop upstairs and get washed. Whole town's coming out, I'm not having my daughter be the one that looks like a hooligan."

    "What's hooligan?" she asked.

    "Remember when you first saw me fighting Mom in Saffron City?"

    "Uh-huh."

    "Remember what I was wearing?"

    "Uh-huh."

    "That's hooligan. Get upstairs and take a shower. You can come help us set up when you're done," said 0. Sarah nodded then ran up the stairs. 0 chuckled and headed outside with May.

    "Did you remember to grab Grovyle and Mightyena from Max?" 0 asked.

    She nodded and produced two Pokeballs from clips on her belt. "Sure did. Where are Lu and Tork?"

    "Probably out back with your Pokemon. I think they're trying to explain dribbling to Tork."

    May giggled and released Max's Pokemon. Grovyle and Mightyena emerged and yawned. Grovyle started at the sun for a few moments, then went off in search of a nice twig from some of the adjacent trees. Mightyena scratched around its ears then became incredibly interested in a nearby grouping of trees.

    "Grov, Grov!" shouted 0. "Ena!" Grovyle, without turning its head, nodded and quickened its search. Mightyena barked back a reply.

    "What'd you say?" asked May.

    "Break's over in five minutes. We've got a little bit more work to do before everything's ready and I can't have Mightyena marking territory all day."

    Around the back of the house, Blaziken and Lu were taking turns working with the basketball. To its credit, Blaziken had figured out how to dribble without popping the ball with its claws, something Lu had learned a week ago. Tork's head darted between the two as they played. It occasionally attempted to headbutt the ball when they got close to it, but its stubby feet made it impossible for it to play fairly. Tork hung its head and sighed.

    "Don't worry, buddy," said 0. "You might not be able to handle the ball, but Sarah can definitely ride you to the basket." Tork perked up and made a happy noise. It lumbered over and, waiting for the right moment, poked its head out and smacked the ball right out of Blaziken's claws. The ball bounced to Lu, who grinned and jumped up to dunk it on the hoop. Blaziken gave the two of them an ugly look and retrieved the ball for another round.

    "Don't drop your guard," said May to it. "I know you're more used to getting through Contest rounds, but just think of it as another performance instead of a human sport." She patted it on the back. "And good job with the dribbling."

    "Blaz," it crowed happily, then returned its attention to carefully bouncing the ball.

    "Cario," said Lu and stepped forward, demonstrating its claws. Blaziken eyed it warily. Lu made a dribbling motion with an open palm. "Lu, Lu."

    "Ziken," replied Blaziken and passed the ball. It bounced past Lu, who ran back to retrieve it. Lu grabbed the ball and demonstrated a way to handle the ball with its palm and completely avoid its claw-tipped paws touching the ball.

    "Cario, Lu," it said and passed the ball back. Despite overshooting, Blaziken managed to snatch it up before the ball sailed over its head.

    It tried to do as Lu had done, but it found stretching its fingers out difficult. "Blaz!" it groaned.

    "What're they talking about?" asked May.

    "Lu's trying to help Blaziken with its handling. It figured out a way to stretch out its paw so it has greater control of the ball and avoids clawing it apart. I don't think Blaziken can do it though. Its hand is designed like a claw machine, so it has a harder time bending its fingers in the same way."

    "I wonder where Beautifly and Glaceon are?"

    "Probably setting up the obstacle course," said 0. "Why don't you head over there? I'm sure Grovyle can lend a hand."

    She nodded. "Okay sweetie." She kissed him on the cheek then dashed off to the other side of the house.

    When he was alone, he folded his arms and tapped his earpiece. "Hey, Pi?"

    "Yeah?" it replied.

    He looked at Lu, Tork, and Blaziken. "Do you ever miss that? Being in the real world, I mean."

    It chuckled. "Sometimes," it said. "But then I remember that if I was in the real world I'd have to eat your cooking, and I soldiered through too many years of that after Brock left for med school."

    The two of them shared a laugh. Then 0 got back to work.

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

    "Whitney, you've gotta get me out of here."

    Brock looked outside. There were no less than ten different news vans converging on the parking lot in front of the gym. No less than twenty cameras were trained on the locked doors, and no less than thirty reporters eagerly wanted to speak with him. Understanding that the doors were sealed, the reporters had just started raising their voices to ask their questions, perhaps hoping he might shout back an answer, but he was having none of it.

    "What's wrong with a little publicity, Brock?" she asked. "You saved Milty. Surely you deserve some kind of recognition. I'm pretty sure the mayor would give you the key to the city if you stuck around."

    "I'm good, thanks. Just tell me there's a way passed them."

    "But if you did some more interviews, the ladies around here would probably throw themselves at you. You know how much Goldenrod loves Milty."

    "Well, that might be a—no! As fun as that would be, I've seen the paparazzi harass and annoy a bunch of my friends. I'd just really rather get out of here and enjoy my last day on vacation in peace."

    "Okay, okay." Whitney thought about it for a moment. "There's a fire exit out back. I'm pretty sure that they won't find you if I stall them."

    "Thanks." He turned to Christie. "You want to come with me? I guarantee if they love me they're going to be mad at you."

    "But I didn't do it on purpose," said Christie.

    "No, he's right," said Whitney. "Probably best you not get nabbed by the news crews. Head upstairs and find the fire escape. And you!" Whitney turned to Anderson, who had been on the phone arguing with a producer, and snatched up his phone. "No helping! You got your exclusive, so you come help me."

    Anderson groaned, but he reluctantly followed her to deal with the press. "Follow me then," said Brock and led Christie upstairs. There were a few rooms but he spotted the one with the fire escape and led Christie to the window. "Alright, let's just take a look and…" He looked down and noticed a pair of reporters looking around the escape. "Oh boy."

    "What is it?" Christie asked, then peered down. "Oh."

    "Not a problem, I think I can fix this." Brock took out a Pokeball and tossed it down to the ground below. Swampert emerged and confused the two reporters. They looked around while Swampert stared at them warily. It glanced up briefly, saw Brock, then nodded without giving away their location.

    "What's it going to do?" asked Christie.

    Brock chuckled. "Well, some people tend to frown on using Pokemon against other people, but I fought Team Rocket long enough to know how to get someone blasting off." He raised his arm and gave Swampert a thumb's up. It nodded.

    "What's this doing here?" asked one of the reporters. She made the unwise decision to approach Swampert. She was rewarded with a Water Gun directly to the face and fell flat on her back. "Oh, gross! I'm all wet!"

    "Now we run!" said Brock and he jumped onto the fire escape. "Swampert, again!" Christie and Brock scaled down the ladders as Swampert lightly blasted the other reporter. His camera flew out of his arms and clattered to the ground. Brock recovered Swampert's Pokeball.

    "Oh, come on!" shouted the reporter as he scrambled for the camera.

    "One more time, Swampert!" Brock commanded. Swampert spewed water between the reporter and his precious camera and forced him to back down long enough for the three to make their escape. "Return." Swampert vanished back into the Pokeball. They sprinted down a nearby alleyway before the cameras could catch up to them.

    They resurfaced a few blocks south of the gym, far away from the paparazzi. There weren't too many people walking the street, so Brock wiped his brow in relief. "I think we lost them. Should be okay to head out."

    She smiled. "Thanks, Dr. Harrison," she said. "You were amazing back there."

    He shook his head. "I'm not usually one for modesty, but it's no big deal. You're very welcome."

    She started to head out, but stopped and turned around. "Hey, how'd you like to grab something to eat sometime? Say dinner?"

    He chuckled. "I'm flattered, but I think I'm a bit old for you. What are you? Fourteen? Fifteen?"

    She groaned. "I'm nineteen."

    "As tempting as that would be, I'm thirty-five. I'm going to have to pass on the dinner." He held out his hand. "Take care, Christie. Try to take it easy in the league, okay?"

    She shook her head. "Just passed up a sure thing, old man, but you're a good guy." She held his hand firmly. "At least I got the badge. Only four more to go."

    "Good for you. I'll be looking for you when I'm watching the Silver Conference this year," he said. She headed off down the street and Brock watched her go, mentally kicking himself for being too mature to take her up on her offer. "Maybe she… No, no, that's a bad Brock. If Croagunk were here it'd have jabbed you by now. You don't have Max and the others to keep you in line anymore." He sighed, put his hands in his jacket pockets, and headed the other way.

    He hadn't made it to blocks when he heard a woman's voice behind him. "Dr. Brock Harrison?" He groaned, but turned around with a smile.

    Standing behind him was a woman he'd never seen before. She was a platinum blonde and much, much shorter than he was. She had green eyes and a devilish smile. She also had a piece of gum in her mouth that she was chewing. She held out a stick in her hand. "Gum?" she asked.

    He nodded and took it. "Juicy Fruit's my favorite," he said and cautiously unwrapped it and put it in his mouth. "Uh, thanks?"

    "Thank you. Saving Milty was much appreciated by the city."

    He waved it off. "Really, really wasn't anything," he said, while internally he began thanking every life decision that had led to this beautiful woman offering him gum. No, Brock. Play this cool. He grinned. "Not to be rude or anything, but you wouldn't be a reporter would you?"

    She shook her head. "Nope. Just me, Dr. Harrison."

    "It's actually just Brock. Nobody calls me Dr. Harrison back in Pewter."

    "Such a shame." She looked him up and down and smiled. "Dr. Harrison has such a nice ring to it."

    Control yourself right now, Harrison. Do not jump up and down. Do not profess love. Do what normal people do. Do what normal people do. Do what—

    "C-Coffee?" he blurted out.

    "Hmmm?"

    "Uh, coffee," he said. "Would you like some?"

    "An invitation, Dr. Harrison? Are you asking out a complete stranger?"

    "I know a place a few blocks away," he replied, having not listened to a single word she said. "If you wouldn't mind."

    She laughed. "I like you, Dr. Harrison. The name's Samantha. Lead the way."

    Brock decided it would be wise to remain silent on the walk to the coffee shop, if only so he would not get down on one knee and propose right there. He supposed she noticed, because after two blocks of silence she poked him in the side.

    "Hey," she said. "Why so quiet?"

    He coughed. "Honestly?"

    "Please."

    "Okay," he said. "Truth is, I have a habit of overreacting to beautiful women talking to me. When I was younger, this would manifest in the form of flowers and music, so I'm trying to keep calm around you."

    She giggled. "So, is there a song and dance number, or do you just hear all that in your head?" She poked him again. "Ooh, what kind of flowers?"

    He scratched his head. "It depends. Usually roses, those smell nice. And it's a swelling up kind of music, like you get on TV shows when there's a big confession. I have to pay all these royalties. But no, it's just in my head. You don't want to hear me singing. Couldn't find a tune to save my life."

    Samantha cackled, and had to stop to bend over and belt out her laughter. "You've gotta be kidding me? Let me get this straight: you can save a Pokemon on national television but you can't meet a girl without getting your mom on speed dial to meet her?"

    "It wasn't on national television, and my mom is not on my speed dial."

    "Let me see!"

    "No!"

    The argument continued all the way to the coffee shop, at which point Samantha wrangled his phone away and started flipping through it.

    "You have a Jenny and Joy screensaver?"

    "Is that an app for My Little Ponyta? Are you a Bronyta?"

    "She is on your speed dial! That's so cute!"

    "Give me that!" he shouted and snatched it back up. He made sure to lock it with a password before he put it back into his pocket. "My personal property! No touching!" Samantha just laughed while everyone in the shop stared at him quizzically. "Uh," he muttered, as he noticed the growing amount of people recognizing him, "just go about your business please. Nothing to see here. Just a man regaining his cell phone from a girl with boundary issues he impulsively asked out."

    A man stood up and dramatically pointed at him. "It's Brock Harrison!" he cried. Brock tilted his head, confused by the man's stance. "The man who saved Milty!"

    Others began to stand. "For Milty!" they announced, then charged towards him.

    "How am I this famous already?" Brock shouted.

    Later, much later, when the seemingly endless stream of Milty fans left him be, Brock found himself sitting at a small table in the corner of the coffee shop with Samantha, utterly perplexed as to why he had thirteen white chocolate mochas on the table in front of him. Then he vaguely remembered ordering the first one and everyone clamoring to pay for it, which resulted in the caffeine fest in front of him.

    "I'm sorry about all that," he said. "I'm really not sure how to turn it off. I have friends that put up with this every day and I really can't imagine doing that. I'm never going to be able to come back to this city."

    "Don't be," said Samantha as she picked up one of the cups and took a sip. "It was really funny to watch. And you can come back to Goldenrod. You'll just need to go incognito. Maybe grow a moustache. Then nobody will want to talk to you."

    "But then wouldn't you not want to talk to me?"

    She shrugged. "Maybe. Depends on how big it is."

    "Nope, not worth it. Maybe you can come to Pewter one day."

    She eyed him. "You're not seriously asking me to come visit you a whole region away after one coffee date are you?"

    "One, possibly. I told you I'm trying to keep a handle on that whole romantic thing. Two, you just suggested you might see me if I come back and brave the paparazzi for you."

    She grinned. "Touché, Dr. Harrison." She raised her glass. "Not only can you rescue local heroes, you can also argue reasonably well."

    He raised his cup. "Maybe you should give me your number, just in case I need a quick ego boost and visit."

    For a brief moment, Samantha's grin faltered. It was only for a second, then it returned as if it'd never gone. "I'd love to, Dr. Harrison." She pulled a pen out of her purse and wrote the number down on a napkin. She passed it over and Brock pocketed it. "So, how does it feel to have gotten a girl's number?"

    "Not gonna lie, I feel like doing a little jig."

    "Well, don't let me stop you. Dance away."

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

    "There's no way you win, Sarah!"

    0 watched with interest as his daughter blew a raspberry at the child she was playing against, a girl by the name of Molly. Instead of letting the taunt get to her, Sarah instead continued her approach. He noticed she was doing quite well keeping her footing on Tork's shell and briefly reminisced about a race he'd once ridden a Lapras in.

    He'd paired Sarah with Tork, Lu, and Blaziken, figuring she'd be at ease with her parents' Pokemon, but hadn't counted on how quickly she'd taken to basketball with them. It hadn't been but a few minutes, but she'd already figured out how to get Lu and Blaziken to work together while coordinating attacks from atop Tork.

    "She takes after you," said May. "She's a natural with the Pokemon."

    He shook his head. "She takes after both of us. She's the prodigy of a world-class trainer and a world-class coordinator." He reached down and held her hand as the game continued. Across from them, Molly's father was recording the match on a small camera along with a few other parents.

    Sarah was assessing the situation. She was down five points already and her opponent had an easier mount. Mightyena growled at the weight, but didn't let up and kept her steady while she directed Grovyle and Beautifly onto the field.

    "She should have had this already," said 0. "She has the home field advantage with the Pokemon and the terrain. I wonder what she's waiting for."

    "When does she get the ball again?"

    "In a bit. If she can block the shot this time."

    "You sound a bit disappointed," said May.

    "I'm not disappointed. I'm just supporting my daughter."

    "Yes, but you expect her to be as good as you. Remember, she can't talk to Pokemon or substitute for the years you've been training Pokemon." She grinned and nudged him. "Don't be such a soccer mom, okay?"

    "I am not a—fair point," he grumbled. "Okay, we'll see what she does."

    The primary reason Sarah was at a disadvantage was because of Molly's Beautifly. All Grovyle had to do was pass the ball up to it and it could fly over Sarah's entire defense. She was eying it suspiciously as she tried to figure out a way around it. Then Molly passed the ball to Beautifly and Sarah started moving.

    "Blaziken, Sky Uppercut!" she shouted. As Beautifly neared her side of the court, Sarah's Blaziken crouched and jumped straight up. Beautifly tried to dodge, but the ball was cumbersome and it dropped the ball. Blaziken grabbed it in midair as it sailed back down.

    "Pass to Lu!" said Sarah. "Lu, take it to the hole!"

    Blaziken delicately passed the ball right to Lu who immediately started dribbling up the court. "Grovyle, block it!" Molly ordered.

    Grovyle had a natural advantage and instantly grabbed the ball with its long, slender fingers. It jumped passed both Blaziken and Tork and tossed the ball into the basket.

    0 cursed under his breath. "Keep trying, Sarah!" May shouted over him and tightened his grip on his hand. "Don't be a butt, Keean."

    "Right, right," he said. "Go Sarah! Try and find a way around Grovyle this time! You can do it!" He turned to May. "Better?"

    She smiled. "Much."

    Sarah waved at them and took the ball from Lu. The minutes were ticking down, she wouldn't have enough time to catch up before long.

    "Is 415 handling everything, Pi?" 0 asked under his breath.

    "She's doing fine with the obstacle course. It was a good idea to only do two events today. Serena and Max are still working on Brock."

    "Roger." He turned his attention back to the game and gasped.

    Sarah found a way around Molly by going through her. She passed the ball back to Blaziken and charged forward riding Tork. She almost slipped off but held on to the front of its shell. Grovyle tried to slink around and grab the ball from Blaziken, but Lu blocked it off and kept Beautifly from diving down and stealing it. Mightyena, not wanting to be trampled by several hundred pounds of fire turtle, dodged out of the way despite Molly's protests to grab the ball herself. Blaziken jumped and earned Sarah her first point.

    "Whee!" she shouted with glee as she retreated back to her side of the court.

    0 roared his approval. "Way to go, baby girl!"

    May raised her hands. "Go Sarah!"

    Sarah turned to her parents. "See? I did it!"

    "Great work, Sarah!" shouted 0. "But get your head back in the game! Molly's got the ball again!" Sarah nodded and shifted her attention back to defense. Across the court, Molly's father looked like he growled before resuming filming.

    For a moment, he looked directly at 0, who felt a slight shiver that was unmistakable. "Oh no," he said. "Oh, let me be wrong. Please let me be wrong."

    "What is it?" asked May.

    "Nothing, I just, I just really want to be wrong about something right now."

    The rest of the game was uneventful to 0. Sarah managed to defend her side of the court but it was too difficult for her to get passed Molly. Eventually the time ran out and Molly won, but 0 wasn't paying attention to the game anymore.

    Molly's father kept staring at him and nodded his head. He stopped filming and went to his Molly, whom he picked up and hugged tightly. Then, before 0 could do anything, they started approaching Sarah.

    0 tapped his earpiece. "415! Max! Abandon posts and get over here!" he ordered. "I think we have a situation!" He started moving and got in between his daughter and what he was pretty sure was—

    "Hi, I'm Keean Toby" he said and held out his hand. "Great match, huh? Well, we'll make sure Sarah improves for next time. Right, sweetie?"

    "Keean, what did I say about encouragement?"

    "Yes, dear, but—"

    0 never finished, because an instant later Molly's father drew back his right arm and slugged 0 right in the face. 0 crashed into the ground and rolled back up to his feet.

    Molly's father transformed. His features melted back into Brock's grinning face. Someone must have noticed it because 0 heard someone scream as Top's face started to bubble and drip off. He started pulling out his Dark Topaz and began wrapping himself in his chains.

    Molly giggled. "Hey, golden boy," she said. "I wanna eat your Sarah. Is that okay?" She started jumping up and down as her chains wrapped along her body.

    "May," said 0. "Get Sarah out of here right now."

    "No, no, no!" said Molly before anyone could move. How had 0 not seen them? Rangerlings, scores of them, surrounded the court. "I wanna eat her! She's mine and I want her!" She turned to Top, who had finished his transformation. "I want her! I want her now!"

    But Top didn't move. He just kept staring at 0, as if waiting for the other man to make his move. "Daddy, I want her! I want her now!" When Top still refused to move, she started screaming. "Dark Gem Ignite!" she wailed and finished her transformation. "Why aren't you moving?" she shrieked. "Why aren't you moving?"

    And then something terrible happened. A chain shot out of the Dark Diamond Ranger and embedded itself into Top's skull. Though he didn't collapse, he shuddered in place for a few seconds before raising his hand. Satisfied, Dia withdrew her chain and stepped aside. Top grew an extra two arms and started walking towards 0.

    What was happening, he wondered. It was suddenly cloudy, too cloudy from the way it had been only a few minutes ago. Could it be starting to rain? There wasn't anybody around anymore except for Rangerlings. Everyone else had taken off.

    "Sweetie, baby girl, stay close," he said and morphed.

    The bright Pokeball hologram appeared around him and burst open, revealing his ranger gear. He positioned himself between his family and Top. "Pi, recall Lu and Tork now," he ordered. Two points of light issued from the two Pokeballs attached to his belt. "Prepare the Auxiliary Pokemon System."

    It only took two seconds, then Cario Form was online. He braced the giant gauntlets and prepared for combat. "Where's the rest of my team?" he asked Lu

    "415 will be here soon, sir. Pi is helping Max teleport Serena. Won't be long!"

    There was a flash of light next to him. He turned and saw the Black Ranger with her giant magnetic mace in her hands.

    "Ready to do this?" he asked 415.

    "Target the big one," she suggested. "He will be angered if we target the Diamond first."

    "Cover me," he said. "Don't let either get to May or Sarah. Keep the Rangerlings away until everybody else joins the party."

    "Understood." She fell back into a support position while 0 advanced to combat Top.

    The first blow was mitigated thanks to the gauntlets. They weren't strong enough to hurt Top, but they were powerful enough to block his blows without breaking 0's arms. 0 got behind Top and smashed the back of his left gauntlet into his body. The spike broke through his armor and wedged itself into where Top's kidney would have been. Top didn't scream, or grunt, or do anything verbal, but he slowed visibly, just enough for 0 to reach for his next Pokeball.

    Oal Form came online just as quickly as Cario Form went offline. Immediately, 0 took advantage of the gaping wound and smashed his reinforced fist right into it. It tore through more muscle and Top slowed even further.

    He might win this yet, he thought. Tork approved and encouraged him to stop damaging Top's body and refocus on some of the Rangerlings that were surrounding him. He grabbed Top's neck and activated Protect, sending the wave of Rangerlings crashing down to the ground and straining Top's muscles even further. Top dropped motionless and 0 switched back to his standard ranger form.

    "Pi, download the Bolt Blade," he asked. "I'm sensing an easy victory for once." The blade formed in his hand and he slashed at the Rangerlings.

    "Are we late for the party?" 0 looked up. Serena and Max were crashing through waves of Rangerlings to make their way to the center where 415 was holding off most of them by herself. Max roared and tore off one of the Rangerlings' heads, reducing it to dust in moments. He stationed himself around May and Sarah while 415 and Serena took to the offensive and began preemptive strikes on the waves that kept coming.

    Top was getting up again. "Pi, switch to compact mode." The blade shrank instantly. "Only way to beat this guy is if we go faster than him."

    "Agreed. Should we use Agility?"

    "I'm sort of burning through the Synchronization Drive, but this would be the time for it. Fire it up." 0 vanished, too quick for the eye to trace, and managed to score two deep wounds on Top's back. Top roared and tried to reach him, but he was too fast.

    "We're going to win!" he shouted with another slash across Top's chest.

    "Are you?" 0 couldn't see the voice, but he knew it was Dia. "You think you can just keep slicing at my daddy and expect everything to work. Didn't you kill Sap? The only thing that matters is the Gem. And you'll never hit my daddy's."

    She was right. He was scoring victories, but Top kept one set of arms constantly guarding the gigantic gem at the center of his chest. And each time he murdered a wave of Rangerlings, it seemed that two more took its place almost immediately. There were too many.

    "Oh no…" he muttered. "There are too many."

    It hadn't happened immediately. Dia had been smart, very smart. She'd kept May and Sarah on the battlefield. She added Rangerlings slowly. She'd separated 0 from the others. And Top had been playing with him. 0 swung the sword again and Top caught it easily. The blade bit into his fingertips but he barely noticed it as he grabbed 0 by the throat and started twisting. 0 tried to get away, but not even a fully-charged Volt Tackle could sway him. But Top didn't kill him. Top waited, showing how the Rangerlings kept coming and coming for his family, until finally they were overrun.

    Serena was the first to fall, being in the front. She missed one Rangerling with a punch and a dozen more fell on top of her.

    415 fared better, swinging her mace in a giant arc over her head to keep them away. But one got underneath the arc and twenty followed.

    Max never wavered. He killed scores, droves, everything that dared get within a hair of either Sarah or May. 0 struggled and watched as the Dark Diamond Ranger approached him and performed the same trick she had done with Top. The chain melted into the Dark Emerald Ranger's face.

    "How are you good?" asked Dia."What is wrong with you?"

    "L-Laaaaade," Max groaned.

    "Oh, that's right. You're stuck like that, aren't you? Well, let's fix that." She gripped the chain and, in one move, tore it from Max's face. The Dark Emerald Ranger screamed. He started to glow violently. The world got so bright amidst the rain.

    Nothing happened, though. Max became brighter and fell to the soggy ground. "Pathetic," she whispered and turned to the others. She reached 415 and, without even trying, kicked her so hard her ranger system just faded away. She didn't look bruised, but only because her mask would not let her.

    "You're all just pathetic, you know that. All I wanna do is eat one little girl. O'm tired of eating the others. They're so fat and old, it's like eating expired bacon." She grabbed 415 by the face. "What do you really look like?"

    From the distance, 0 could hear a faint plea from 415's lips.

    "What's that?" asked Dia. "Don't take the mask? But what's the fun of a mask if you can't take it off? Stupid old lady." 0 tried to stop it, but Top canceled the morpher and 0 was left powerless to stop what came next.

    The mask came off and, for the first time, 0 heard 415 scream.

    He couldn't get a good look. It was too dark in some places because of the storm and too bright in colors because of whatever was happening to Max. But whatever 415's face was, in the brief instant he saw it before she covered her face, he felt fear.

    Then Dia turned to Sarah.

    "No," said 0. "No!"

    "Little girlie, come out from behind your mommy," cooed Dia. "Mommies are useless anyway. They just get in the way." She got onto her tiptoes and punched May in the stomach. There was no contest. Without any sort of protection, May fell between her daughter and the monster. Dia stepped over May to get to the little girl. May grabbed her boot.

    Dia laughed. "Idiot." She kicked May in the face. May fell, and Dia turned to Sarah. "Come here, dinner."

    "Get away from her!" Top tightened his grip on 0's throat. "Get away!" Something was happening, he didn't like it. Something was boiling inside him.

    Dia hit Sarah. 0 watched his little girl get smacked in the face, kicked, and punched. Sarah screamed in pain, it was the worst sound 0 had ever heard. 0 started thrashing, ignoring Top's tightening grip, ignoring everything but the need to protect his daughter.

    He was breathing heavily. I gave up everything. I gave up my wife. I gave up my daughter. I gave up my life! And now that I have it back, you think you can take it away from me? You think you can take what's mine? Stop touching her! Get away from her! Get away from my family you psychotic freaks!

    He screamed and light exploded out around him. He felt Top's hand loosen around him and smashed his elbow into Top's chest. He was released and Top backed away. 0 didn't care, 0 barely noticed anything had happened.

    "The morpher will not force such an extreme transformation without an extreme catalyst for the morph. Say there is a great deal of anger. Were you to morph in such a state, the psychological effects could extend to the morpher and bond you. Mind you, such as transformation would require an exceeding amount of rage the likes of which—"

    He understood. He didn't necessarily comprehend everything but he understood. He felt so much power building up inside him, so much strength, that it hurt. It hurt so much, it tore through his body.

    "No," he whispered, before the pain overloaded him and all he knew was hate. He lifted his head and screamed as the rain pelted his skin for the last time.

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

    Brock returned to his hotel late that night. It had been a great day, even after Samantha had had to leave on such short notice. He still had her number, maybe he would text her when he was back in Pewter. Maybe he wouldn't. All he knew was that he'd managed to make it through a date with a woman without making a complete idiot out of himself. Well, not counting all the mochas at the beginning.

    He slid his key card into the lock and walked into his room. He began to grab his clothes and put them into his suitcases. His flight left at ten in the morning and he was rather punctual. He would get everything ready tonight, then reward himself with a casual morning before hiring a taxi for the airport in the morning.

    He was so invested in the packing that he didn't even notice what was in his bathroom the first time he went in. He had missed it completely, opting instead to pick up his shaving kit and pack it. It was only when he realized he'd missed his toothbrush did he go back inside and turn on all the lights. Then he saw it.

    Lying in the tub was a mummified girl. Her skin looked stretched over her bones. She was huddled in the fetal position in the shower, no wonder he hadn't noticed. He screamed. His heart was racing. "There's a dead girl in my bathroom," he said to no one, unable to believe it. "She's not breathing, she's not doing anything. She's just…dead."

    Then he noticed something else. Something…familiar about the girl. "C-C-Christie?" he breathed. There was no mistaking it. The girl looked like someone had hollowed out Christie and left nothing. "What the—"

    "Good. This was taking an inordinate amount of time." Brock nearly jumped out of his skin. Standing in the doorway to his bathroom was another woman with her arms crossed and a sick look of satisfaction in her eyes. "It is lucky for you that you were requested as a live capture. I was growing very impatient."

    "Who are—what is—what's going on?" Brock shouted. He ran up and tried to get passed the woman, but she just punched him in the stomach and drove him to his knees.

    She bent down and looked him in the eyes. "Brock Harrison. My designation is Ame, and that handiwork there is the talents of my associate Dia. Now that the rangers know Top's ruse is up, you are now the property of my employers until such time as you can be disposed of usefully."

    Then she kicked him in the chin, but not before he got out one last word:

    "Huh?"

    Author's Note: Fun fact you might appreciate: a lot of the plot points that start in these chapters weren't in the original drafts of the story. For instance, May being pregnant. I included that in as a nod to the fact that no one ever seems to get pregnant in fan-fiction despite having unprotected sex. Plus, the idea of a growing family is something that appealed to me, because the team in this story is essentially a family at this point. In addition, 0 was never supposed to be trapped in morph, but I thought it was necessary for his character development, which will come into play later.

    How are you liking Dia and Top? I always thought that one of the most terrifying things in the world was a selfish child with unlimited power.

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