(inspired by Toei Company’s Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters and Ressha Sentai ToQger, and Saban Capital Group’s Power Rangers)
July 11, 2024
Jon’s eyes drifted to the clock in upper-right corner of his security monitor. 10:17 – barely a minute since he’d last looked at it. He’d already checked it a dozen times since the hour started. It’s still early, he told himself, eager to put off what he had to do for as long as possible. He’s probably busy with something. He might even still be asleep; when you get older you sleep more, right? Then came the nagging voice in the back of Jon’s head to put an end to his procrastination. He couldn’t put this off forever. Might as well get it over with now and take the pressure off, he reluctantly thought.
Jon turned to the guard sitting to his left, Patrick. Since he and the other Rangers were getting called into duty more frequently, the lab needed to hire another guard who could cover for him when he was out. “Hey, I’ve gotta go make a call. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Patrick nodded silently as Jon got up from behind the desk.
He made his way to the break room. It wasn’t crowded, but the few people that were there made him hesitant to talk. He would have preferred some privacy. He looked out the side doors and noticed that no one was in the smoking area. That would work. Jon went outside, sat at a bench, and pulled out his cell phone. He pulled up a number from his contacts list and dialed. The phone rang twice before someone picked up. “Hello?”
Jon recognized the nasally Midwestern drawl of his stepmother. “Oh, hey Rachel,” he answered, a little caught off guard. “Is Dad around?”
“He’s out in the garden. He left his phone inside because he didn’t want anyone bothering him. But when I saw your name come up, I figured I had to get it.”
“Oh,” Jon was feeling a little relieved. Maybe he could get out of the call. “Well, if he’s busy, I don’t want to take him away from his work-”
“No, no, it’s no problem at all,” Rachel insisted. “I’m sure he’d love to talk to you. Hold on a minute and I’ll go get him.”
“Really, you don’t have to…” he tried to coax her into hanging up, but the other end went silent. Jon exhaled in resignation. There was no getting out of this. He heard some muffled speech from the other end before his father’s voice came through.
“Johnny, how are ya?” Alan Hoffman’s normally husky voice sounded wearier than normal, probably from all the work he’d been doing in the garden, his son figured. Still, he sounded happy.
“Hey Dad,” Jon said, still a little uneasy but trying to hide it. “I’m fine, thanks. I was just calling to wish you a happy birthday.”
“Well thank you. I got the card you sent, too. Very nice.”
“Glad you liked it.” Jon was starting to feel a little more at ease. “So, did you do anything special to celebrate the big six-oh?”
“Nothin’ much. Met up with some of the guys from the force last night for drinks. Talked with them about the good old days, and about how proud I am of you.”
“Really?” Jon sounded surprised.
“What? I’m allowed to brag. Not everyone has a Ranger for a son. Heh. I’ve been keeping up with the news. You’re doing great.”
Jon was pleased, and a little surprised, to hear his father praising him. “Thanks. I’m giving it my all.”
“I know you are. You wear that uniform well. But I gotta ask… did they really have to make you silver? Come on; your last name’s Hoffman, someone should’ve seen the implications there. You should be wearin’ red, leading that team.”
“Hey, I think silver’s a cool color,” Jon chuckled. “And Jessie’s not really the leader. Dr. Patel gives us orders, but we’re pretty much all even on the team.”
“If you say so,” Alan remarked. “Ah, I guess it doesn’t matter what color you’ve got on. You’re fighting the good fight, and that’s all that counts.” Jon smiled, appreciative of the compliments. “The guys were all impressed, too. A few of them said they didn’t expect you to have made it this far. You know, considering what happened when you were an officer.”
Jon grimaced and rolled his eyes, letting out an annoyed groan under his breath. Of course his father would have mentioned that; he almost always mentioned it whenever they talked. “Dad, come on,” he said defensively, “we’ve been over this before. Spencer was lying. He sold me out to cover his own-”
“I know, Johnny, I know,” Alan cut him off. “You’ve told me this dozens of times. Look, it’s all in the past now. You have to put it behind you.”
You were the one who brought it up, Jon thought bitterly. He felt it was best to end the call now before they got into an argument. “Hey, sorry I have to cut this short, but I have to get back to my desk. Talk to you later.”
“All right, thanks again. Love ya, kid.”
“Love you too, Dad,” he responded halfheartedly. He grumbled under his breath after the call ended. Nothing like a conversation with his father to kill a good mood. He decided to take a few minutes in the break room to clear his head before going back to the lobby. Walking towards an empty chair, he couldn’t stop dwelling on the call. He can’t let anything go. He always has to get in a dig even if it happened years ago, even if it wasn’t my fault. I pray I’m not like this when I’m as old as he is. Still got 30 years until then, though, so that should be plenty of time to catch myself if I ever do start acting like him. He slumped down into the chair and sighed.
“Everything okay?” a friendly voice asked. Jon looked up to see Ashley and Dr. Patel standing by the table, each with a paper cup in their hand.
“Huh? Yeah, I’m good, thanks,” he answered, trying to mask his sullen tone. “How are you doing?”
“Not bad,” Ashley said. “I’ve been running thermal stability tests on some new fuel additives since the day started. Got some time before the next sample’s ready to read, so I figured I’d get something to drink.”
“I’ve been assisting with the quarterly audit,” Mira added. “I ran into Ashley in the hall and she offered to treat me to some coffee. How could I say no? Would you mind if we sat here?”
“No, go ahead.”
The women sat down to enjoy their drinks. After taking a sip, Ashley observed that Jon was still sulking. “Are you sure you’re all right?” she asked, concerned.
“Yeah,” he muttered, annoyed that he was still letting the talk with his father get to him. “Let’s just say it’s family issues. I’d rather not go into any details.”
“Gotcha,” Ashley nodded, understanding his wish for privacy.
The table fell into an awkward silence as the three tried to find a way to steer the conversation back onto a more pleasant path. Their attention, as well as those of everyone else in the breakroom, were soon drawn to Scott Grey as he entered on his phone, clearly very agitated with the person on the other end. “I told you I’m working on it… I’m trying to get it done as quickly as I can. Look, I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate, it’s not easy… don’t act like I’m being lazy!” He left through the side doors, still continuing his heated conversation as his coworkers brushed off the outburst as common behavior.
“Guess I could always have it worse,” Jon contemplated.
Dr. Patel simply nodded as she had more of her drink. “Well, if it will help lighten the mood, I have some promising news. My contact in Briarwood may have found some information on Lord Umbron and his forces.”
“Really?” Ashley asked. “What do they know?”
“Not much at the moment. Mr. Thorn spoke with an associate of his and she was able to uncover historical records going back at least 900 years about portals that witnesses claim gave them a glimpse into a world of darkness. This may very well be the subdimension that Umbron resides in.”
“900 years,” Jon muttered, taking in the information. “That’s more than enough time to build up a big army.
“And to make tech as dangerous as those Steam Colossi,” Ashley added. “Who knows what else they could have in their arsenal?” She turned her attention back to Mira. “Anything else?”
“From what he told me, Clare found evidence of these reports in multiple regions around the world, mostly in Europe, North America, and the Middle East. So at the moment they can’t connect it to any specific local mythology. But she’ll continue to look into it.”
“It’s something, at least,” Jon commented. “Hopefully she’ll find more info soon soon.” His throat started to feel dry. “Be right back,” he said, getting up from his chair. “I’m gonna get a drink, too.” Jon approached the coffee machine and put in a pod in before turning it on. The brew had barely started to drip into his cup before the alarm blared. “Really?!” he griped. Well, maybe smacking a few Shades around will help me get out of this funk. Jon dashed for the door, Ashley quickly catching up to him. “Perfect timing, huh?” he asked sarcastically.
“Isn’t it always?” she responded. “I swear, they must be spying on us so they know to attack just when we’re relaxing.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Jon said as they reached the lobby, spotting Cathy already on her way out.
The SUV rounded a corner as Jessie drove it up the street towards the site of the latest monster appearance – a local branch of McCaulou’s. As the vehicle drew nearer to the destination, he saw no signs of chaos, no panicking people or Shades destroying property. “Looks like everyone was able to evacuate,” he said. “At least we don’t have to worry about casualties this time.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Davis spoke up, sounding concerned.
Jessie didn’t realize what his friend meant until he was turning in. That was when he clearly saw the bodies. “Oh no…” He slammed the breaks on the SUV and parked it. The Rangers got out and approached the two nearest figures, an elderly couple lying prone on the ground, completely motionless. The man’s eyes were closed, and while the woman was lying on her face, they could tell she was int he same state. There were at least three dozen others across the lot in the same state. Jessie was starting to panic. “Don’t tell me we’re too late.”
Jon knelt down near the old man and lifted the old man’s arm to feel his wrist. When he was satisfied, he did the same to the woman. “I’ve got pulses. They’re still alive.” Everyone showed signs of relief. Jon gently shook their shoulders. “Are you okay? Are you hurt? Is there anything we can do to help you?” The pair remained motionless and silent. “It’s like they’re in comas.”
“What’s that on his neck?” Cathy spoke up, pointing towards a deep red marking sticking out from the man’s collar. Jon unbuttoned the man’s shirt and pulled it open, exposing a large red X emblazoned across his upper chest.
“Weird,” Jon said. “I thought it might have just been a sunburn or some kind of rash. But this isn’t natural.”
Cathy rolled the old woman over, revealing a similar marking across her face. “She’s got one as well.”
“Same over here,” Davis called out from a few feet away, indicating a teenage girl in a crop top with an X on her midriff. “They’ve all been marked.”
Jessie bent over the old man, reaching towards the marking. “Don’t touch it!” Ashley scolded him.
“I was just trying to see if I could wipe it off.”
“We don’t know what this stuff does. You could end up unconscious as well.”
“Sorry,” Jessie said as he stood upright. “We need to find a way to wake them up, and stop the monster who did this before it gets anyone else.”
The air started to feel different, like an electrical surge was surrounding them. The Rangers felt warmer as the hairs on their arms began to stand on end. “The rift is opening again,” Cathy noted.
“Get ready,” Jon said. “The creep responsible for this probably coming back.”
A thin crack of violet energy materialized near the team. From the rift emerged a humanoid figure with a demonic face whose body appeared to be made out of melted red wax, with a gauntlet on its right arm that resembled a stamping seal. Eight Shades appeared alongside him before the rift disappeared. “Heh, I was wondering when you punks would show up,” the monster said in a deep, guttural voice.
Ashley stared down their enemy and noticed the X-shaped pattern on its gauntlet. This monster was responsible for whatever had happened. “What did you do to these people?” she angrily demanded.
The monster laughed ominously. “They’re headin’ for the big sleep, and you’re gonna join them!”
“Not happening,” Jessie defiantly retorted as he and the others activated their Morphing Bands. “Helios: Ignite!” The Rangers transformed and took battle stances.
The monster sneered. “Heh. I figured you weren’t going to be pushovers. Shades!” His minions stood in attention, holding their axes firmly. “Rough ’em up before we take ’em down.” The Shades charged towards the team.
“We have to take them somewhere less crowded,” Jon instructed. “We can’t risk any civilians getting hurt.” With all of the monster’s victims lying unconscious, they were at greater risk of getting injured in the crossfire.
“Gotcha,” Jessie said. “Let’s fall back.”
The Rangers ran for an area of the parking lot clear of people with the Shades in pursuit. Five of the shadowy foot soldiers had switched their weapons to gun mode and started firing on the heroes, while the team shot back while trying to avoid being hit. The other three Shades with axes caught up to Cathy and backed her up against a sports car, ready to bring their blades down. The Gold Ranger phased through the vehicle as the axes fell, shattering the windows on the driver’s side and cleaving the front door in two. Cathy popped out on the other side and began blasting at the Shades. Jon soon joined in, driving them off.
The other three Rangers were exchanging fire with the remaining Shades. Jessie teleported behind them and delivered a quick slash across each of their backs with his Sol Dagger. The Shades quickly turned around to retaliate, only to have Jessie vanish from sight again. With their backs turned, they were easy targets for Davis and Ashley, who both managed to get several direct hits. The Shades began shooting again. Davis looked over to his sister and suggested a plan. “I’ll draw their fire; you knock them down.”
“Can do,” Ashley replied. Davis started running in a circle around the battleground, rolling and dodging to avoid each blast as the Shades kept shifting their positions to hit him. With Jessie’s continued teleport attacks, they were unable to stay fixed on their target. While they were distracted, Ashley performed a backflip onto a car roof before leaping high into the air and swooping down towards the Shades. She kicked each of them in the head as she flew over, knocking them off balance. She jumped off the last one’s head and spun in the air, shooting them before landing. As the Shades bumped into each other, still staggered, the three Rangers switched their Corona Busters to full power and blasted, obliterating the Shades.
With their enemies reduced to nothing, Jessie turned his attention to Cathy and Jon. “You guys need help?”
“Thanks, but we’re good,” Jon called back, popping up from behind the now badly-damaged car to blast a Shade in the face, causing it to disappear. Repeated shot from him and Cathy quickly dispatched the other two in short time.
With the Shades defeated, the wax monster approached the Rangers. “Not bad, but let’s see how well you do against me,” he taunted, pounding his gauntlet against his chest.
“Bring it,” Jessie snapped back, running towards the creature.
“Stay clear of his stamp!” Davis called out in warning. Jessie nodded and gave a quick thumbs up before engaging the monster in battle.
The wax beast tried to hit Jessie with his stamp, but the Red Ranger teleported out of its path, reappearing to his left to deliver a swift punch to the monster’s normal arm. The creature tried to retaliate with a backhand, but Jessie was able to backflip out of the way before he was hit. He drew his Buster again and shot several times, twirling the gun around in a display of cool confidence.
“Heh. Look at you showing off all those fancy moves,” the monster scoffed as it drew closer.
“Impressed?” Jessie bragged.
“Hardly. Why don’t you give it a rest?!” The monster quickly swept its foot out towards Jessie’s leg, tripping him before he could react. As Jessie fell, the beast’s gauntlet shot forward, striking him in the chest.
Jessie’s body tensed up as the stamp hit him. He was overcome with an incredible sense of fatigue. Any energy within him was gone. He didn’t even have the strength to keep his eyes open. “I’m not… gonna… give up…” he wearily attempted to get the words out, but couldn’t finish the sentence before the lethargy overwhelmed him. Jessie demorphed as he slumped to the ground in a deep sleep like the monster’s other victims.
“Jessie!” Davis cried out, worried for his friend. He and the other Rangers rushed at the monster, eager to avenge their ally.
The monster swung its gauntlet at Cathy in an attempt to strike her. She swerved and grabbed it by the wrist to hold it in place. Jon and Ashley each got in a shot with their weapons before their enemy freed itself from Cathy’s grip and kicked her to the ground. Davis touched a car next to him and came up from the monster’s side, punching it in the chin. The extra force provided by the Blue Ranger’s metal arm was enough to leave it momentarily dazed. Davis seized on this opportunity to get behind it and hold its stamp arm in place. “I got him!” he said.
“Nice try, kid!” the monster taunted as the wax on its left arm quickly oozed down to cover his normal hand. When it retracted, a second stamp gauntlet had appeared. The monster used its new weapon to strike Davis before he could react to the change. The Blue Ranger could only mutter a few slurred words before he powered down and joined Jessie in slumber, a red X marring his face.
The remaining Rangers fell back to a safe distance. “He can just make new weapons whenever he wants?” Cathy remarked, agitated. “He’s like some bratty kid playing pretend.”
“Doesn’t matter how many of those stupid stamps he has,” Ashley said bitterly. “We’ll make him pay. No one hurts my brother.”
“We can’t attack him directly,” Jon advised the girls. “But we can get around those gloves of his. Ash, you go high, we’ll go low.”
Ashley and Cathy nodded before the trio charged at the monster. The creature put up its fists, ready to attack. Ashley leaped into the air again, floating about a foot above the monster, as she fired down on it with her Buster. While the monster was distracted, Jon did a running slide between the beast’s legs, slashing at its right knee and leaving a deep gouge. The monster let out a yell of pain as Jon passed under him, Cathy following behind and carrying out a similar sliding attack. As she started to rise up, the monster quickly turned and struck her in the chest. “You… suck…” her drowsy insult was all she could muster before demorphing and collapsing.
Ashley landed next to Jon as the monster rushed them. It spun its torso, smacking both of them with the broad sides of his gauntlets. The Rangers landed on their backs as the monster snarled. “And here I thought you’d put up a challenge. Heh. Much as I’d love to put you under as well, I’ve got other places to be.” It ran back to the rift’s location as the Rangers got up and chased after it. Before they could catch up, the creature vanished through the rift. Unable to catch their foe, all they could do was stop and catch their breath.
Dr. Patel contacted them through their communicators. “Jon. Ashley. Are you all right?” she asked, concerned.
“Yeah, we’re okay,” Ashley grunted as she held her abdomen until the pain from the impact subsided. “But the others are in bad shape.”
“We need a… medical team… on the scene,” Jon panted, feeling more winded than usual. “A big one.”
As Jon and Ashley powered down to wait for aid, in the dark dimension the wax monster emerged from the portal in a castle chamber. He was greeted by Lord Umbron and Madame Noir. “Well done, Stamp Tramp,” Umbron praised his servant. “You performed better than I could have anticipated.”
“I aim to please, boss,” Stamp Tramp said coolly.
“And pleased we are,” Madame Noir chuckled as she raised her fan to her mouth. “I told my lord that you would be a formidable warrior, but even I was astounded to see you incapacitate three of the Rangers.”
“Heh, you weren’t watching the fight close enough,” Stamp Tramp boasted. “I got more than three…”
Including the three Rangers, 40 people had fallen victim to Stamp Tramp’s power. Ambulances hurried back and forth between the department store and St. Cosmas’ Hospital, the closest medical center, to get them all in safe care. Such a massive influx filled up the emergency ward, to the point where the hospital staff was worried they would run out of beds. The three affected Rangers were among some of the first brought into care. Ashley stood by Davis’ bed, concern and rage swelling within her. She hated seeing her brother in this state – dead to the world, hooked up to an ECG machine with an IV sticking out of his arm like he was a terminal case. “I’ll get the monster who did this, Davis,” she said firmly. “I promise.”
Dr. Patel had driven to the hospital after contacting emergency services. She wanted to make sure that her team wasn’t in any serious danger, as well as coordinate a strategy for the next time Stamp Tramp struck. She and Jon were talking with a physician treating the victims, a woman in her 40s whose name badge identified her as Dr. Pressgrove. “I know it’s still early, but have you found any way to wake them up?” Mira asked.
“Unfortunately, no,” Dr. Pressgrove responded. “We’ve tried some low-level physical and medical stimulation, but no one affected has shown any response. We tried a more direct approach, but that was equally unsuccessful.” She indicated one of the victims, a man in his early 30s in shorts with an X on his thigh. “The ink that caused their comatose state is completely indelible. Nothing has been able to wash it off.”
“So there’s nothing you can do?” Ashley asked as she approached, trying not to let her emotions get the best of her. “They’re just stuck like this?”
“We can’t give up yet,” Mira said. “I was able to contact Chip again and discuss what had happened. He said that the victims of a curse or spell will usually be released from it once the monster responsible for causing it has been destroyed.”
“So all we have to do is-” Jon started to speak before yawning loudly. “Sorry,” he excused himself. That fight took a lot more out of me than I thought it did, he rationalized. “We just have to wait for the monster to show up again, take it down, and they’ll all wake up, right?”
“It’s our only option,” Dr. Patel answered. “I’ll remain here with Dr. Pressgrove to monitor the others.” She went out to the reception area and retrieved her laptop, which had been upgraded to include a monitoring system that would detect energy fluctuations and allow her to link up with the Rangers’ suits. “You go out on patrol. I’ll alert you when the monster returns.”
“Got it,” Ashley said, feeling a little more optimistic and eager to get revenge. “Let’s go,” she told Jon, who followed after her at a slightly slower pace. Ashley reached the SUV in the parking lot long before her ally, who was just coming out the door. “Come on, we’ve got to get going!” she called impatiently.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Jon said as he took on a quicker trot. “I don’t know why, I’m just feeling wiped after that fight.” He got into the driver’s seat as Ashley took shotgun and left the lot, getting back onto the main road. Jon yawned again as he decided which direction to go. “Feels like we’re just wasting time right now.”
“Only thing we can do until there’s another attack. We can’t predict where the monsters are going to show up.”
“I know, I just wish-” he yawned once more and shook his head, trying to shrug off the tiredness that was coming over him. “I just wish there was more we could do right now.”
“Yeah, I understand,” Ashley said morosely. “I’m really worried about Davis and the others. We don’t know if that nasty ink is doing anything to their health or their minds or-watch out!”
While they had been talking, the SUV had drifted into the oncoming lane, and was right in the path of a semi-truck. Jon screamed, as though he had just then realized the danger they were in, as Ashley quickly grabbed the wheel and steered them back into their lane. The truck driver honked his horn and flipped them off before driving away. Jon quickly found a clear spot near the sidewalk they could park at and pulled over, breathing heavily after their near brush with death.
“What the hell was that?!” Ashley demanded, enraged and trying to overcome the shock. “Weren’t you paying attention?!”
“I don’t… I don’t know,” Jon muttered, apologetic and nervous. “I just… I just kind of lost focus. I don’t know what-” he let out another yawn, “what happened.”
Ashley had an uneasy look on her face. She suspected what the cause was, but hoped that she’d be wrong. “Lift your shirt up.”
Jon appeared a bit confused by her demand but complied, pulling up the bottom of his shirt to show his stomach. Their hearts sank when they saw a fragment of a red X on his skin. “He must’ve clipped me with his stamp,” Jon realized, worried about what this meant.
“I’m taking you back to the hospital.”
“No!” he protested. “I can still fight. He didn’t get me with a full hit, so-” he drifted off as his head started to lean forwards and his heavy eyelids began to close. Jon quickly jerked his neck upright as he fought off the desire to sleep. “I just need something to keep me alert.” Ashley appeared unconvinced. “Look, this thing is tough. Going after him on your own would be suicidal. You need someone by your side”
His persuasion worked. “Okay,” Ashley said with a hint of reluctance. “But if it gets too bad you’ve got to sit it out. Come on; I’m taking the wheel.” The two switched seats so Ashley could drive, taking the car several blocks before pulling into a convenience store’s parking lot. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Ashley got out and entered the store, leaving Jon on his own. He was doing everything he could to keep from falling asleep, smacking himself across the face every time he felt his eyes start to close or a yawn come on. A few minutes later Ashley returned with two full plastic bags around her arms and a tall beige cup in her hand. She opened the door and passed the goods to Jon. “I got hot coffee, cold-brew, sodas, and energy drinks. This should be enough to pick you up.”
“Thanks,” Jon said as he started to drink the coffee. “I’ll pay you back after this is over.”
“Don’t worry about that right now. We’ve got to get going.” She drove off and resumed the patrol, waiting for the signal to come. Jon was going through the beverages at a rapid rate, chugging them down almost immediately after he’d finished one. Twenty minutes passed before Ashley’s cell phone rang. In that time, Jon had already finished his hot coffee and gone through six sodas. She pulled it from her pocket and answered when she saw it was Dr. Patel. “Is he back?”
“Yes, we just picked up the signal,” Mira said. She looked at the map on her laptop screen to see how far away the SUV (monitored by GPS) was from the site of the rift. “Take a left onto 4th Street when you reach it, then head north onto Sloan Avenue and you’ll find it.”
“Gotcha. We’re on our way.”
Ashley drove towards their destination, Jon downing another soda and two energy drinks during the trip. Shortly after turning onto Sloan she saw Stamp Tramp attacking people at a bus stop. Several were already on the ground, hit with his sleep-inducing attack, while others ran in a panic to escape. The pair got out of the SUV, morphed, and ran towards their enemy.
“Aww, what a shame,” Stamp Tramp said to a middle-aged man he’d just put under with mock sympathy. “You’re gonna miss your ride because you overslept.”
“Mind if we crash your slumber party?” Ashley called out to Stamp Tramp, getting his attention. He snarled at the two, pointing one of his gauntlets towards Jon.
“Heh, I’m surprised you’re still up and about, Silver.”
“It’ll take more than some stupid ink to put me down,” Jon said, feeling re-energized.
“Fine by me,” Stamp Tramp replied. “Now I can pay you back for that scar you gave me.” He let out a menacing yell and rushed the Rangers.
Ashley and Jon drew their busters. “We should be fine as long as we hit him from a distance,” Jon said.
“No problem for me,” the Yellow Ranger replied, rising several feet into the air. She hovered in place as she started firing at Stamp Tramp. Jon took his shots while moving backwards, keeping a significant gap between him and the monster.
Stamp Tramp recoiled as he was hit with several blasts before putting his gauntlets out in front of him like a makeshift shield to deflect them. “So this is how you wanna play things?” he angrily asked. “All right then; let’s light it up!” The monster’s gauntlets began to radiate with heat energy. He pointed his arms forward and shot a massive fireball at each Ranger. Ashley managed to avoid the one sent in her direction by swooping under it. Jon rolled to the side to dodge the flaming sphere headed towards him, though it came incredibly close. As he readied himself to fire back he noticed his vision becoming blurry, and his energy was slowly ebbing away. The caffeine boost had worn off.
I can still do this. he told himself, trying to resist the somnolence. Just have to concentrate… Jon took aim at Stamp Tramp and readied himself to fire. His arms started to feel like heavy weights; a struggle to keep them up. They went limp as he pulled the trigger, so he ended up shooting at the ground in front of his enemy. He tried to snap back to alertness and jerked his arm up, firing again. This time the shot went into the air, grazing Ashley.
“Woah!” Ashley yelled as she took the hit. She turned to the direction the shot came from and saw Jon wavering about. “Oh no…” she muttered worriedly. Stamp Tramp noticed her distraction and sent another fireball her way. Ashley was unable to react to this one in time and took the hit. She plummeted to the ground near Jon.
“Ash!” the Silver Ranger cried out as he saw her fall. He tried to run over to catch her, but in his languid state could only manage a frail stagger. She hit the ground before Jon could reach her. As he tried to pick her up, Stamp Tramp hit the two of them with another fireball, knocking them both down.
Stamp Tramp let out a cruel laugh. “Heh. This is too much fun. I’d love to finish you off now, but I think I’ll let you suffer a little more. See you for round three, Silver. If you’re still up for the fight.” He laughed again and ran to the site of the rift, disappearing through it. The Rangers moaned in pain as they picked themselves up.
“Jon, what happened out there?” Dr. Patel asked him through the helmet’s intercom, sounding perturbed. “You could have gotten yourself and Ashley seriously injured.”
“Sorry, it was an accident,” he said, feeling regretful for hurting Ashley and letting the monster escape again. “I got hit by his stamp earlier. It wasn’t as bad as the others, but I’m starting… starting to feel it now.” His voice was starting to trail off and sound more tired.
“Return to the hospital immediately,” she ordered him. “You need to be put under observation with the others.”
“I can still do this!” he objected, a sudden surge of energy coming to him when he realized he could be taken out of commission. “I’ll be better prepared next time, I promise.”
“Jon, think about this,” Ashley interrupted, speaking calmly to try and get him to see reason. “What if you pass out in the next fight, or if you can’t see straight while using your gun and someone gets hurt? The risks are too great.”
Jon put his hand on Ashley’s shoulder. “Ashley, please,” he pleaded. “I’m a Ranger. It’s my duty to keep fighting until I can’t anymore. I’ve still got the energy in me. I won’t fall asleep on the job. I have to show them they were wrong.”
His remarks confused Ashley. “Show who they were- never mind.” Ashley looked over her friend, realizing that there was something deeper driving him to keep going despite his handicap. Taking him along would be a challenge, but maybe there was a way he could still make a contribution. An idea came to her. “Okay, you’re staying in the fight. I’ve got a plan for how we can take that wax weirdo down next time. Dr. Patel, I’ll take all responsibility for whatever happens.”
“Very well, I trust your judgment,” Mira conceded. “Hopefully it will return soon. There have been some troubling developments over here.”
Dr. Pressgrove’s voice came through, sounding very concerned. “We’ve been monitoring the victims’ vital signs since they were brought in. Their heart and respiratory rates are starting to slow down. It’s not severe yet, but unless we can break the spell they’re under, it will eventually be fatal.”
“That’s not going to happen,” Ashley said resolutely. “We’ll save them. Let’s go, Jon.”
They powered down and got back into the SUV, Jon slouching into the passenger’s seat. He reached for a drink from one of the bags only for his arm to go limp at his side. His eyelids began to close as his head drooped down into his chest.
“Jon, come on, stay awake,” Ashley was forceful as she grabbed a bottle of energy drink and opened it, holding it next to his chin. “Drink it. Drink it! Jon, I will inject this into your veins if I have to!” She grabbed his arms and shook him briefly, jolting him back to full consciousness. He took the bottle and guzzled it down.
“Thanks. A few more of these and I should be good to-” he stopped speaking and let out an utterance of discomfort as he felt a painful pressure below his abdomen.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“All those drinks I had. It feels like my bladder’s about to burst.” He squeezed his legs together tightly.
“Seriously?” Ashley asked, incredulous. “Fine. Just try to hold it in for a few minutes.”
She drove them several blocks, Jon discomfort growing by the second. The SUV pulled into the lot of a biofuel station. Jon flung the door open and ran inside for the men’s room, Ashley following behind him. He stopped before the urinal and looked at her, feeling awkward. “Um, why are you in here?”
“I have to keep an eye on you. Gotta make sure you don’t fall asleep again.”
“Yeah, but, you know…” he said sheepishly, gesturing towards his pants.
Ashley rolled her eyes. “I won’t look. Trust me.”
Unable to resist the urge to go any longer, Jon dropped the argument and relieved himself. He had just finished washing his hands when Dr. Patel called Ashley again. “The monster’s reappeared in the financial district.”
“We’re heading out right now,” Ashley told her. “Be there as soon as we can.”
Jon picked up on her response and readied himself, feeling re-energized again. “Let’s go.” They rushed back to the SUV.
Ashley stopped the vehicle a block away from Stamp Tramp’s latest rampage. The monster had put a few more people under its’ sleeping spell and was actively searching for more potential victims. Its back was turned to them and it hadn’t seemed to notice their arrival. Ashley, already morphed, got ready to exit the SUV. “All right. Time to see if this will work.” She looked over at Jon. “You ready for this?”
“Yeah,” Jon said after swallowing another mouthful of soda. He had gone through most of the drinks and would most likely polish off the rest of them before Ashley put her plan into action. “I won’t let you down. Promise.”
Ashley nodded, feeling a renewed confidence. “I know you won’t. Let’s do this.” She exited the vehicle to confront Stamp Tramp. Jon remained inside, looking around for anything that would best help their strategy. He noticed a large metal combination trash can/recycling bin on the corner of one street and decided that would be perfect.
Stamp Tramp stomped around looking for his next target. He hollered when he felt an energy blast hit him in the back of his scarred leg. Turning, he snarled at the sight of Ashley. “Just you, Yellow? What happened to your friend?”
“You should be worried about yourself,” she said stoically. “This ends now.”
“Heh, you got that right,” he cockily shot back. “It’s ending, but not for me. Let’s see if you last longer than Silver did.”
Stamp Tramp ran at the Yellow Ranger, swinging his gauntlets with rapid punches. Ashley did all she could to dodge the attacks. She had to time her reactions perfectly if she wanted her plan to be successful. Any slip up would be disastrous. Between the flurry of punches Ashley got in several strikes with her dagger, including a sharp slash across Stamp Tramp’s left knee. He yelled as the blade sliced through, leaving another scar. “Now you’ve got a matching pair,” Ashley said in satisfaction.
Stamp Tramp growled and lunged at her, swinging his fists outward. The edge of his gauntlet hit her in the chin, throwing her off balance. As Ashley reeled from the punch, her movement became slower and more labored. “No…” she moaned weakly. “You couldn’t have…”
“Heh, I didn’t even think I got you with that one,” the monster said, impressed with his work. He watched Ashley stagger about and laughed. “That’s the last of ya. I bet Lord Umbron’s got a big reward waiting for me when I go back. Enjoy your final rest, Yellow.”
Stamp Tramp made his way over to the rift, savoring his victory as Ashley continued to move about in a sleepy stupor. Before he could enter the portal, the rift widened to reveal Madame Noir’s face through the energy. “What are you doing?” she asked him sharply.
“Is there a problem? I did my job. Soon she’ll be out like the others, and there’ll be no one left in our way.”
“Are you really just going to leave her like that?” she berated him. “What if they find a way to wake her up? Finish her off now, as a warning to anyone who would still dare oppose Lord Umbron. That is an order!”
“All right, all right, fine,” Stamp Tramp muttered bitterly. The rift shrank as he turned back to see Ashley on her knees, struggling to get up. He got in close and stood over her, heat generating around his gauntlets again. “Something wrong, Ranger? You look dead on your feet. Heh, don’t worry. In a couple more seconds, you’ll just be dead.” The monster was so focused on Ashley he didn’t even notice the trash bin floating in the air behind him.
Stamp Tramp prepared to launch the fireball at Ashley. Before he could unleash the flames, Jon flung the bin at him, hitting him in the back of the head. Stamp Tramp yelled as he toppled forward, the fireball shooting off into the distance and hitting an office window, melting the glass while singing the bricks around it. Ashley quickly sprung to her feet, abandoning the ruse she’d pulled. “Gotcha!” she hollered successfully. As Stamp Tramp lay face down on the street, Jon got out of the vehicle and morphed before running towards him.
Stamp Tramp tried to get up, but Ashley put her foot on his back to keep him in place. Jon added his foot as well when he arrived, reaching down to pull off the monster’s gauntlets off while being careful to avoid touching the stamp tips. “I’ll take those,” he said. After they’d both been removed he tossed one over to Ashley. They threw the gauntlets up in the air, whipped out their Corona Busters, and fired at full power. The gauntlets were struck by the blasts before falling back to earth, massive holes blown through them and melted at the ends. No one could use them for evil purposes again. Happy with their success, Ashley and Jon gave each other a high-five while still standing over their foe.
Watching from the dark castle, Madame Noir appeared distraught. Lord Umbron looked down on her with disapproval. “It would appear that your overzealousness has cost your servant what would have otherwise been a sure victory.”
“No, he cannot lose!” Noir exclaimed frantically. “There are only two Rangers. I beseech you; grant him some energy and he can easily vanquish them!”
“Perhaps,” Umbron thought. “Their numbers are lessened, and that pair cannot assemble one of their machines. Very well. I shall give Stamp Tramp a second chance.”
Lord Umbron drew his sword and infused it with energy which soon passed through crystal. It emerged from the rift and surrounded Stamp Tramp. Jon and Ashley removed their feet from the monster and ran as it grew into a giant. “Heh. Now I won’t have any trouble stamping you out!”
The Rangers looked up at the massive monster in despair. “This is bad,” Jon said, worried. “He’s big, and we can’t form a Megazord. What do we-” he yawned, feeling sleepy as the latest buzz wore off. “Oh come on, not now!”
“Dr. Patel, we’re in trouble,” Ashley said. “Any suggestions.”
Mira saw the scene playing out on her laptop. “Give me a few seconds,” she muttered with an intense focus. She clicked an icon that let her access a remote server and typed in several commands. “Ashley, I’ve transferred control of Cathy’s Zord to you. Once you’re in the cockpit, I’ll relay the commands to you.”
“Got it. Thanks.”
“Jon, are you certain you can do this in your current state?” Mira asked.
“I have to do this.” Jon was resolute.
“Very well then. Good luck.”
Ashley and Jon summoned their Zords, maneuvering to avoid being crushed under Stamp Tramp’s feet until the machines arrived. They activated the tractor beams and were pulled into the cockpits of Helios Zords 4 and 5. Ashley noticed that the crane truck’s layout was very similar to that of her helicopter. “The synchronization process is the same as the Apollo Megazord’s,” Dr. Patel instructed her. “Just do what you’d normally do.”
“On it.” She and Jon entered the commands to synch up and the machines came together, forming the Hercules Megazord. “Okay, we’re on even footing now. How do I control it?”
“Use the display on your monitor to move its legs and head. If you want to fire the cannons, enter the command CB-04. Jon controls the arms and the rest of the weaponry.”
“Gotcha. I should be good to go. I’ll contact you if I need any more help.”
Ashley maneuvered the Megazord into position to face Stamp Tramp. “You still think you have a chance against me in that thing? Heh, think again.” A hole opened in the side of the monster’s waxy body and he pulled out a long metal shaft with an encircled X on one end. It resembled a massive branding iron. He swung the iron at the Megazord, striking its arm.
The Megazord took several steps back to gain some distance. “Without his gloves, he shouldn’t be able to use that fireball move again,” Ashley said. “Let’s focus on ranged attacks.”
“You got it,” Jon replied drowsily, yawning loudly.
Ashley activated the leg-mounted cannons as Dr. Patel had instructed her. They fired two heavy energy blasts at Stamp Tramp, causing him to flinch. Jon raised the Megazord’s right arm to fire the energy rifle. Before he could properly aim at the monster, he felt the fatigue overtake him again. His upper body slumped forward onto the controls and fired prematurely, taking out a sizable chunk of an office building’s rooftop corner. He didn’t care about the damage, though. He just wanted to give in, to embrace the eternal slumber, to put an end to the strain he was under. He let his hands lay out on the console and lowered his head into them, his eyes starting to close.
“Jon, stay with me!” Ashley shouted over the intercom. “We can’t mess this up. A lot of people’s lives are at stake here, including yours. You can do this!”
Her words of encouragement helped stir him. Bleary-eyed and barely able to move, he still found the resolve to fight. “Right. I won’t… give up.” He activated automatic targeting to get a lock on Stamp Tramp, who was running towards the Megazord.
Stamp Tramp swung his iron again, hitting the Megazord across the chest several times. He readied himself for another hit before the Megazord’s left arm shot up and grabbed it in its pincer claw. Stamp Tramp grunted as he tried to pull his weapon free, only to get blasted with the energy rifle. Caught off guard, the monster lost his grip and the iron was yanked free, dropped to the streets below.
“Time to give him… everything… we’ve got…” Jon said between yawns, powering up all the guns. “Ready… when you are.”
“Let’s do this,” Ashley said. The final attack was ready to go as the weapons crackled with energy. Stamp Tramp looked on and let out a panicked snarl. He was caught in their line of sight, and there was no way he could escape in time. “Good night!” Ashley hollered as the attack commenced. The guns unleashed their energy blasts on Stamp Tramp. The wax monster let out a throaty cry of anguish before he exploded.
“Oh yeah, we showed him!” Ashley was taking pride in their victory. “Let’s go see how the others are doing. Ready to go, Jon?” There was no response. Ashley grew concerned. “Jon? Jon, are you there.”
A few more moments of silence before he replied. “Yeah… sorry… I’m just beat…”
“I could imagine,” Ashley said, relieved he hadn’t succumbed to the spell. “It’s over now, though.”
In the dark dimension, Madame Noir moaned sullenly over her monster’s defeat. “I am so sorry, my Lord,” she spoke contritely, hoping to avoid a serious punishment.
Lord Umbron didn’t even look at her. His gaze was still fixed on the display in the crystal. “Another failure which we can learn from. Even when Rangers are incapacitated, their metal titans can still be used by others. As long as there are at least two, that is. We can use this knowledge to better prepare for the future.” He gave Noir a stern look. “Though this failure never would have come about had you demonstrated some restraint.” After rebuking her, he left the room.
Madame Noir pouted and stamped her foot in disgust.”Oh, those Rangers will pay for making me look incompetent before my Lord!” she seethed before storming off.
Ashley walked through the hospital corridors leading to the ER. She was desperate to see if Davis and the others had recovered. Entering the ward she saw Dr. Patel seated in the waiting room, looking very calm. “How are they?” Ashley asked, still feeling uneasy.
“Everyone’s recovered,” Mira said, pleased. “Feel free to go in. I’m sure the others want to see you.”
Ashley went further into the ER and was relieved to see the patients awake and alert once again. Some were speaking with medical staff or family members that had come to see them. She soon saw Davis in his bed, positioned next to Jessie and Cathy, the red X on his face gone. Dr. Pressgrove was talking to him, but upon seeing him doing better she had to express her joy. Ashley ran to his side and hugged him tightly. “Davis! Oh thank god you’re okay.”
“Yeah,” he chuckled, “all thanks to you and Jon.”
“Hey, don’t we get any hugs?” Cathy asked.
“Sorry. Family comes first.”
“Dr. Patel told us about everything that happened,” Jessie said. “Going up against that monster all on your own must’ve been something. Wish I could’ve seen you when you pulled that trick on him.”
“We also heard you did a great job with my Zord,” Cathy added. “I’m impressed. Though I hope you’ll return the favor someday and let me use yours.”
“I promise you,” Ashley said playfully, “if I’m ever put into a coma because of evil magic, you have permission to pilot my Zord.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Cathy grinned.
“Hey, where’s Jon?” Davis asked. “We want to thank him as well.
“Oh, yeah,” Ashley said, “about that. On the drive back to the hospital, he fell asleep. He’s still out in the car.”
“Interesting,” Dr. Pressgrove mused. “Everyone who was fully affected made a complete recovery, but he must still be exhausted because of his efforts to fight off the spell. I’d hate to bother him while he’s resting, but could you bring him in? I’d like to keep him and the other victims for observation overnight to make sure there are no long-term effects.”
“Sure thing. Be right back.” Ashley left the ER and returned to the parking lot. She opened the passenger door of the SUV to see Jon lying back in the seat, sleeping peacefully. She almost hated to disturb him after all he’d been through. She gently tussled his bangs and shook his shoulder. “Jon? Hey, Jon, you gotta wake up.”
Jon blinked several times as he returned to consciousness. “Oh, hey,” he said groggily. “What’s up?”
“We’re back at the hospital. Everyone’s doing fine, but the doctors want to keep them here a little longer. They want to check up on you as well.”
“Makes sense. Okay, let’s get going.”
As Jon was undoing his seatbelt, Ashley thought about something he’d said earlier. It had been nagging at her for a while, and she was curious to know what he’d meant. “Hey, earlier when we wanted to take you out of the fight, you said you wanted to prove them wrong. Who were you talking about?”
Jon appeared a little embarrassed that he’d let that slip. “Oh… did I say that?”
“Yeah. Look, if it’s something personal you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”
“No, it’s all right. You probably would’ve found out eventually.” Jon straightened himself in his seat. “My dad used to be a cop over in Angel Grove. When I was growing up, I idolized him. He was always telling me about how exciting his job was, how he felt it was an honor to protect innocent people. I wanted to be just like him, so I decided I’d follow in his footsteps. Even joined the Junior Police Patrol in high school. After I graduated I applied to the force, and I got in.
First few months were basic work: traffic duty, domestic disturbances, that kind of thing. Then I get assigned to work with a senior officer, a guy named Mark Spencer. We were doing a stakeout on a suspected meth dealer. So we’re watching the house for hours, waiting for the guy’s customers to show up. Then around one in the morning Spencer gets a call on his phone. It’s his wife; she found out about the girl she’d been cheating on her with. He gets into a pretty heated argument with her, and he actually gets out of the car to keep going.”
Bitterness was growing as Jon recalled what happened. “So while he’s busy dealing with his wife, some junkies come by to get their fix. I have to get out and tell him what’s going on, and he yells at me to back off. This spooks the junkies and the dealer and they run. We try to chase them but they get away. And when we have to report what happened, Spencer tells the chief that we lost them because I fell asleep during the stakeout!”
Ashley couldn’t believe what she’d heard. She’d read many stories about people affected by police corruption over the years, but never expected one of her friends to be a victim of it. She was outraged. “That worthless piece of… unh! They actually believed his bull?”
“The dashboard cam on our car wasn’t working, and we didn’t turn on our body cams until we started chasing the junkies. It was his word against mine, and since he’d been on the force longer, his word had more weight. Even my dad thought he was telling the truth. I was discharged the next day.” Jon fell sullen remembering that disgrace. “It was hard to find work after that. When you’re cut from the police or military, that’s turns off a lot of employers. It took me more than a year before I found a job with a security company willing to give me a chance.”
“I’m sorry,” Ashley said. “I had no idea.”
“It’s fine,” Jon replied, sounding calmer. Yeah, I’m still sore about it, but I try to look at it differently now. I mean, if I was still on the force, I never would’ve gotten the security job, never would’ve been assigned to work at the labs, and I never would’ve become a Ranger.”
Ashley smiled. “True, and then our team wouldn’t be as good as it is.”
Jon nodded and returned the grin. “And it’s not like Spencer didn’t get what was coming to him. I wasn’t the only person who had complaints about him. There were rumors about shady business he was involved with going back for years. A couple of months ago, he got busted in a sting operation planting evidence.”
“Ha!” Ashley clapped her hands in satisfaction. “Serves the scumbag right.”
“Yep. When he went to trial, all the dirt came out. They found out he’d been taking bribes, letting friends get away with minor crimes, even abusing suspects to force confessions. Now he’s gonna be spending a long stretch in the Marin County jail. And he’s gonna have to watch his back; a cop in prison has a target on him all the time.”
“Glad to hear he got what was coming to him.”
“Me, too.” Jon stretched his limbs and got out of the seat. “All right, let’s see the doctor.”
Ashley nodded and escorted Jon into the hospital, where he could finally enjoy a proper rest after all he had been through.
End of Chapter 7
Featuring the voices of:
Eric Bauza as Jesse Yamada
Khary Payton as Davis Morgan
Kimberly Brooks as Ashley Morgan
Jennifer Hale as Cathy Crawford
Ben Diskin as Jon Hoffman/Scott Grey
Indira Varma as Dr. Mira Patel
Phil Morris as Lord Umbron
Kath Soucie as Madame Noir/Rachel Hoffman/Dr. Pressgrove
Steve Blum as Alan Hoffman/Stamp Tramp