Power Rangers Helios – Chapter 8: Confusing Defusings

(inspired by Toei Company’s Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters and Ressha Sentai ToQger, and Saban Capital Group’s Power Rangers)

July 19, 2024

Jessie sped down the highway on his motorcycle, the wind flowing over him as he went. It felt invigorating in the summer heat as it wicked away his sweat. He slowed down as he approached a side road and took it, following it up a hill. At the top, a bit further down the road, stood a long, pale-green building with four garage doors and a sign on the roof bearing the business’ name – DUNKEL’S AUTO REPAIR AND BODY SHOP. Jessie turned into the dirt road leading to the garage, slowing down as he approached the open door nearest to the lobby. A stout, bearded, middle-aged man in grease-stained coveralls stood outside near the door, drinking from a water bottle. Jessie waved to the man as he came to a stop. “Hey Frank,” he gave a friendly greeting.

“Jessie, good to see ya,” Frank Dunkel replied cheerfully. “How’ve ya been?” He walked over to Jessie, noticing the younger man looked a bit worn out. “You don’t look so good. Rough day?” he asked.

“Rough week,” Jessie lamented. “Shade attacks every day since Sunday. They didn’t do anything today, but I was rushing around the lab since my shift started. A different machine was going down every hour. I’m beat.”

“I figured something was up when you asked me to look at your bike. Bein’ a hero’s gotta be rough.” Jessie preferred to perform maintenance on his ride himself, only coming by the garage to pick up supplies. After the week he’d had, though, he needed a break. “So what’s the problem?”

“I’ve been having trouble getting it to start. Might be the battery, but I didn’t have time to check.”

Frank looked the motorcycle over. “All right, I’ll get right on it as soon as I’m done with this job. Shouldn’t take more than an hour.”

“Perfect, thanks. I’ll wait here, then.”

Frank nodded as Jessie walked over to the lobby. The waiting room was surprisingly clean, and well air conditioned, providing respite from the warm weather outside. Jessie looked around and saw only two other people there: another customer who was already seated, and standing behind the reception desk, a short blonde woman around her mid 30s wearing a blue vest with the garage’s logo over her crewneck. He waved to the woman, who was busy sorting through different forms. “Hey Lana. How’s it going?”

Lana Petrovich was alerted to his presence, looking up from her paperwork. “Oh, hello Jessie,” she said softly with her light Russian accent. “How are you today?”

“Wiped out. I’m just glad I can put my feet up for a bit.”

Jessie let out a relaxed grunt as he sat down in a fabric chair, taking out his phone to pass the time. He opened his e-mail and shook his head at the messages in his inbox. The election was a few months away, and he (along with the other members of the team, as Davis had told him) had been getting numerous requests from various campaigns asking for their support. There were a surprising number of aspiring state and local candidates who wanted the backing of a Power Ranger to help improve their public image. Jessie just uttered a bemused sigh and deleted them. He had no desire to get dragged into political nonsense.

After going through his mail he checked out his Facebook page. Like usual, it was full of comments from Ranger fans praising him and the others, talking about how cool he looked in the battle footage that made its way to the news networks and online videos. Someone had even put up a list ranking him and the past Red Rangers that put him in the top five. Jessie didn’t think he’d earned such a high honor, but it was still nice. There were also several posts from women, and a few men, asking if he would be interested in dating them. These made him feel a little melancholic. Natalie’s death still weighed heavy on him. He wasn’t ready to start a new relationship; he wasn’t sure he ever would be.

To try and clear his mind before he got too depressed, Jessie put his phone away and picked up a magazine on the table next to his seat. He paged through it, looking over the reviews of new gear and interviews with racers. He was finishing up an article about some popular customizations when he heard Frank’s voice. “Okay Jessie, you’re good to go.”

Jessie looked up from the magazine. The other customer had left at some point, and the mechanic was now standing behind the desk next to Lana. “You were right; battery was almost dead. I put in a new one for you. Had a few dirty spark plugs as well, so I replaced them.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem. Lana’ll take care of you. Have a good one.”

“You, too.” Jessie got up from his seat and went over to the desk as Frank walked out the side door back to the garage. He got his keys and copy of the bill, pulled out his wallet, and inserted his card into the chip reader. Lana gave him a copy of the receipt to sign, while he pocketed his own along with the bill. “Have a good weekend, Lana,” he said as he turned to go.

“Jessie,” Lana spoke up as he was ready to leave, sounding a bit hesitant. “Before you go, may I ask you something?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“It’s about my son, Andrei. His birthday is tomorrow. It will be… difficult as this is his first one without his father.”

“I could imagine,” Jessie said sympathetically. Lana’s husband Victor had been killed in a car crash over the winter. While he didn’t know Victor or Andrei that well, he still felt bad that a friend of his had suffered such a great loss, and he figured that their son was probably taking it just as hard. Since Natalie’s death he felt a greater empathy with Lana; they both knew the pain of losing a loved one.

“Andrei has been very depressed since the accident. I want to do something to make him happy. He’s told me that he is a great fan of you and the other Rangers.” She looked at Jessie pleadingly. “I’m sorry to bring this up on such short notice, but if you could come to see him, even if only for a little while, I know he would be overjoyed.”

Jessie thought over her request briefly. It was an odd one; he’d never been asked to appear at a birthday party before. But these were special circumstances, and Lana was a friend. He didn’t really have anything planned for tomorrow, so he could probably spare an hour or two to make the kid happy. “Sure,” he replied positively. “No problem at all.”

Lana was overcome with emotion, tears starting to well up in her eyes. “Oh, thank you, Jessie. Thank you.” She reached over the counter and hugged him, causing him to let out a surprised yet gleeful yelp. “You don’t know how much this means to me. Andrei will be overjoyed when he sees all of you tomorrow.”

Jessie’s smile faded and his eyebrows rose. There had clearly been a miscommunication. “Uh… about that…” he said with unease. Before he could explain that he was speaking only for himself and not his teammates, he saw how thrilled she looked. If he had to backpedal now, it would crush her. He had no choice but to keep going. “When-when would you like us to show up?” he stammered.

“His friends will be arriving at noon, so you won’t need to come until around one. You know where we live?

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Perfect. Oh, I can’t wait to see the look on his face when I tell him. Thank you again, Jessie.”

“Sure, no… no problem,” he said shakily. “See you tomorrow.” Jessie waved goodbye with an exaggerated smile on his face, hoping she hadn’t noticed the sweat starting to form on his forehead. Once outside the office he exhaled deeply. “Oh man,” he lamented, “I’ve gotta fix this.” Heading over to his bike, which Frank had put back in the lot, he got his phone back out and started dialing a number. “I’m sure the others won’t mind,” Jessie tried to rationalize the situation. It’s only a birthday party; it’s not that big a deal.”

As it turned out, the first person he decided to call was Ashley, and she didn’t see the situation from his perspective after he’d told her what happened. “So you just decided you’d speak for all of us?” she asked, irritated. “You couldn’t tell her you needed to check to make sure we were free tomorrow?”

“I thought about it,” Jessie said, feeling a bit guilty, “but I didn’t want to disappoint her. She looked so happy; I couldn’t ruin that for her.”

Despite his explanation, Ashley was still annoyed. “Jessie, I don’t blame you for wanting to do something nice, but I have plans for tomorrow. I’m meeting up with some friends from college. I can’t just bail on them now.”

“I’m sorry, really. I should’ve cleared thing up with her. But if you could come by for just half an hour, it’d make Andrei’s day.” He was starting to sound desperate. “Please?”

Ashley let out a frustrated sigh. “Fine. I’ll ask my friends if we can get together a little later. Tell them something came up. But you owe me for this.”

“Thanks,” Jessie said, feeling relieved. “I’ll text you the address later. And I promise I’ll make this up to you.”

“Whatever,” she ended the conversation curtly before hanging up. Jessie felt very sheepish. Hopefully the next call would go better. He dialed Cathy’s number and she soon picked up.

“Hey Jessie, what’s up?”

Jessie was still feeling a little ashamed after being chewed out by Ashley, but he tried to hide it. “Hey Cathy, I hate to bother you with this, but I’ve got a little problem. A friend of mine is throwing a birthday party for her son tomorrow, and she told me he’s a big fan of the Rangers, so she wanted to know if we could show up. I thought she was just asking me, but it turns out she meant all of us, and, well, I didn’t want to let her down. I hate springing this on you now, but is there any way you can be there?”

There were a few moments of silence before Cathy replied. “Well, that depends,” she said, sounding ambivalent. “What kind of refreshments will she have? Coke? Pepsi? If it’s just Mountain Dew  or some bargain brand soda I’ll have to pass.”

Jessie was confused. “What?”

“And what about the cake? Is it homemade or one of those nasty store-bought cakes with the super sugary frosting? Kids might not care, but I’ve got a more refined pallet.”

By now he had figured out she was joking with him, and was getting annoyed that she hadn’t given a straight answer. “Cathy…”

“Who did she get to entertain? A magician, some creepy clown-”

“Cathy, come on!”

She snickered. “Chill out, Jessie. I’m just having some fun. I’ll be there.

Jessie calmed down quickly once he heard that she could make it. “Thanks. I’ll send you the address later. She wants us to show up by one.”

“All right, I’ll be there. See you tomorrow.”

Cathy hung up, leaving Jessie to feel more relaxed. At least they weren’t all angry with him. With the girls taken care of, it was time to contact the guys. He called Davis next. “Hey, Davis?”

“Jessie, I had a feeling you’d be calling soon. Ashley just told me about the situation.”

“How mad was she?” Jessie groaned worriedly.

“She sounded a little ticked, but it wasn’t that bad. Trust me, she cools down pretty quickly.”

“I’ll take your word for it. So you know what’s happening; can you make it?”

“Sure. My schedule’s clear for tomorrow. I can be there.” Davis paused for a second. “Does your friend want us to bring anything?”

“Nah, she said just showing up would be enough. But a present might be nice.”

“Maybe we could all pitch in for a gift card” Davis suggested. “Let her son get what he wants with it.”

Jessie nodded. “Great idea. Thanks again, man. You’re a lifesaver. I’ll text you later with the address.”

“Glad I could help,” Davis said, sounding pleased before he hung up.

Jessie’s spirits were starting to lift. “All right, that’s three taken care of. This is going better than I hoped. Now I just gotta let Jon know about the party.” He dialed the final member of the team.

“What’s up, Jessie?”

“Hey Jon, sorry to bug you, but I have a little favor-” before he could say anything else, the indicator on his Morphing Band started to flash red and emit an electronic chirp, a response when the rift detection devices set up across the city had been triggered. Another attack must have started. “I’ll tell you later,” he spoke into the phone. “We’ve got other things to worry about now.” Jessie hung up and hit the communicator button on his band. “What’s happening, Dr. Patel?”

“Rangers, a new rift has opened downtown,” Mira relayed her message. “The coordinates have been sent to your suits’ GPS systems. Please get there as soon as possible.”

“On it.” Jessie moved his hand off the comm button to activate his morpher. “Helios: Ignite!” He transformed into the Red Ranger, hopped on his bike, and rode off, the location of and directions to the rift displayed on his helmet’s visor.

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Jessie pulled to a stop at the end of the block where the rift had appeared. Surprisingly there were no Shades or monsters causing havoc. Instead, dozens of people were gathered about on the sidewalk outside a high-rise apartment, many of them looking distressed. Jon and Ashley were already among the crowd getting information, the two of them morphed as well. He got off bike to approach the two. “What’s happening?” he asked as they finished speaking with one of the residents.

“One of the tenants was up watering plants on the rooftop garden when the rift opened,” Jon answered, pointing towards the top of the building. “She ran inside, alerted the super, and got everyone evacuated.”

“What’s up there? A monster?”

“If there was, you’d think it’d be down here trying to start a fight,” Ashley commented. “But she said something came out of the rift, and it definitely wasn’t human.”

Two cars parked up the road. Cathy and Davis, also suited up, exited their vehicles. They quickly joined the others. “What’s the situation?” Davis asked.

“Something bad’s up on the roof; we’ve gotta take care of it.” Jessie bluntly summarized things.

Cathy gazed up towards the top of the high rise. It had to stretch at least 300 feet upwards. She became anxious thinking about how much time she would have to spend in an elevator to reach the roof. “I’ll, uh… I’ll take the stairs, if that’s okay with the rest of you.”

Ashley shook her head. “We don’t have time for that. Here, I’ll help you out.” She waved Cathy to come near her, and Cathy complied. Ashley wrapped her arms around Cathy’s waist and levitated up into the air, causing the Gold Ranger to let out a surprised yelp. Thankfully she didn’t squirm, so Ashley was able to keep her grip steady as she started to rise. “See you guys up there,” Ashley called as she floated away. The male Rangers ran into the building to take the elevator.

A few minutes later, Jessie, Davis, and Jon arrived on the roof. “Okay, what are we looking for?” Jessie asked as he stepped out of the elevator doors.

“Probably that,” Davis remarked, pointing towards the center of the roof. A large, black sphere with spikes protruding from it rested near a planter. A short, thick cylinder with a dull yellow switch stuck out from its top, and the center of the ball had a small circular hole with a smaller sphere inside lined with even more spikes, like a mace. In front of the strange object, five paper scrolls were laid out in a semicircle. Cathy and Ashley stood flanking the sphere with their busters at the ready. The other Rangers came up to them.

“Has it done anything?” Jon inquired.

“Not yet,” Ashley told him. “I don’t know if it will. I have no idea what it is.”

As if triggered by their conversation, the ball began to stir. Spindly bronze limbs sprouted from its sides and bottom, allowing it to stand upright. One of its new arms swung up to the switch on top of its body and pressed it, causing it to begin blinking on and off. The smaller ball in the center spun around, revealing a goblin-like yellow and black face with more spikes sticking out from its forehead and chin.

The monster lowered one of its long arms and made a bowing gesture. “Ah, welcome Rangers. So happy you could join me today.” It spoke coolly, but its voice contained an undercurrent of pride and arrogance. “You can call me Boomer, and I’m happy to invite you to play my game.”

“We’re not interested in any games,” Jessie said as he drew his gun, Jon and Davis following suit.

“Unless you want us to play Monster Hunter,” Cathy quipped sharply. “We’ve gotten really good at that over the last few months.”

Boomer waved his arm back and forth dismissively. “Ah-ah-ah. Are you so quick to resort to violence that you’re willing to sacrifice hundreds of innocent lives?”

“What are you talking about?” Ashley demanded, feeling a little shaken by the threat.

“All will be explained if you simply listen.” The monster indicated the scroll resting directly in front of it, then looked in Jessie’s direction. “This is for you, Red Ranger.”

Jessie approached slowly, his finger on the trigger in case he needed to defend himself. He knelt down and picked up the parchment with his free hand. Stepping back to unravel it, he saw a large I at the top of the paper, and a poem written in elegant calligraphy beneath it.

Forged within darkness from dirt and debris
That breaches a living wall.
Emerges from prison a gem of the sea;
A luster adored by all.

Jessie didn’t understand the significance of the poem. “Is this supposed to mean something?”

“It means quite a lot,” Boomer answered, gesturing towards the other parchments. “Each scroll contains a riddle which, when solved, reveals an answer corresponding to a certain location in your fair city. Locations where those helpful Shades have placed some very destructive bombs.”

“What?!” Jessie asked in shock. The other Rangers were also stunned by what they’d been told.

“Then, all those attacks earlier this week…” Jon said.

“They were just distractions,” Cathy realized with a growing sense of dread. “Keeping us busy while they planted the bombs.”

“Correct, my dear. Perhaps your mental skills are up to the task,” Boomer said in a condescending voice. Before the Rangers could say or do anything else, he pointed to the flashing trigger on his head. “The explosives are now active and will detonate in two hours. Good luck in finding all six.”

“What do you mean six?” Ashley angrily questioned the monster. “You only gave us five clues!”

Boomer chuckled. “The sixth bomb will reveal itself after the first five have been deactivated. Oh, sorry, perhaps I should say if they’re deactivated. Best of luck, Rangers. Just remember that if you fail, there’ll be a lot more funerals in the near future.” The living bomb laughed wildly as it leaped up into the air, vanishing as it passed through the rift.

The Rangers scrambled to gather the remaining scrolls. Like Jessie’s, each one had a Roman numeral and a riddle on it. “I’m guessing the numbers indicate the order of the attacks,” Cathy said. “At least we know where to go.”

“Yeah, but all the attack sites are spread out too far,” Jon commented. “The only way we’d be able to get to them all in time is by going after them individually. Pretty obvious trap.”

“Unfortunately, at the moment we have to play by Boomer’s rules,” Dr. Patel told them through the comm links. “I’m still at the lab, so I’ll be able to monitor your progress and alert you to any attacks. Just stay on your guard, and once one of you has disarmed a bomb, head to your nearest teammate to support them. I’ll gather up any employees who are good with riddles and puzzles for extra assistance.”

“Thanks,” Davis said. “We’re on our way.” The Rangers moved out, Ashley floating Cathy back down while the others took the elevator.

From a castle chamber in the dark dimension, Nocturna and Baron Corvo observed their movements. Boomer soon entered the chamber, feeling very pleased with its work. “How did I do?” he asked, fishing for praise.

“You performed as well as expected, Boomer,” Nocturna answered indifferently without even turning to face him. “Now all we can do is see how the Rangers fare with the challenges set before them.”

Baron Corvo scoffed with derision. “This is all a waste of time, woman. Why send them on some childish scavenger hunt when the opportunity to wipe them out then and there was available.”

Nocturna showed no change of expression to the Baron’s insults. “The Helios Rangers are strongest when unified. Even when there are only two of them, they still manage to find a way to rebound from any hindrance placed upon them. Isolating them will leave them at the greatest disadvantage, where they’re more likely to fall to the Shades, or the bombs if they fail to solve the puzzles.” She looked Corvo in the face. “I thought you would admire this plan, Baron. It was inspired by your own suggestion.”

This reminder brought a bit of pleasure to Corvo. “Ah, so you do respect my genius.”

“Indeed.” She returned her attention to the crystals on the wall. “Of course, since I was the one to implement it, I will receive all the credit if it succeeds.” Baron Corvo sputtered indignantly at the thought of another being rewarded for his brilliance and stormed off to vent his anger.

Boomer moved next to Nocturna and peered into the crystal, watching an overhead view of the Rangers entering their vehicles and leaving to search for the bombs. “Ah, this will be enjoyable to watch. They’ll never be able to deactivate all the bombs,” he boasted. “Today the Rangers will suffer a most horrendous defeat.”

“Perhaps,” Nocturna remarked, “but don’t be so quick to make that claim. After all, they’ve surprised us many times before.”

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The Rangers were driving to their destinations where the bombs were likely hidden. Since Jessie’s scroll had a 1 on it, he headed towards the site of the first attack that week, near the center of the city. “I’m almost there,” he relayed his status to the rest of the team.

“Same,” Ashley added. “Hoping we can get find these bombs quickly.”

“As am I,” Mira commented. She had set up several laptops in one of the labs so she could monitor the Rangers’ progress. Seated to her left was Scott Grey, while a well-dressed woman in her mid-30s with long brunette hair and hazel eyes was stationed at the computer on her right. “You aren’t going it alone, though. I was able to gather some additional assistance.”

“Hi, everyone,” the brunette spoke up, sounding very chipper. “I know I haven’t seen much of your work, you know, my being second shift and all, but I think I can be of some help here. My kids and I love a good puzzle. I should be able to help with any tricky ones.”

“Thanks, Becca,” Jessie recognized the voice of Rebecca Sanders from the biofuel division from the times he’d interacted with her when working late. “I could really use the help. Puzzles have never been my thing. Well, except for jigsaw puzzles. Natalie was really good with riddles, though.”

“I’m here, too,” Scott sounded like he was trying to direct the attention to himself. “I was putting in some OT when Dr. Patel made the announcement and figured I could assist.”

“Great,” Jessie said in an almost sarcastic, half-hearted tone. He was very skeptical that Scott would be of any real help. “So, any luck with my riddle?”

“Yeah, that’s a pretty easy one,” Rebecca remarked. “It’s gotta be a pearl.”

“Seriously?” Jessie asked in disbelief. “Great. That’s not gonna be any help.”

“Why’s that?” Rebecca was curious.

“Because I’m going to Pearl Plaza. There’s too much ground to cover.” He groaned. “They just had to give me the hardest one.”

“Don’t give up just yet,” Mira said, offering reassurance. “You still have more than an hour and a half to search the square. Look for markers that might fit the answer, jewelry stores or buildings with a pearl logo. The others will come to you after they’ve found their bombs to help widen the search.”

“All right, I’ll do what I can. Thanks.” Jessie ended the conversation as he arrived at the city square. Pulling into an empty parking spot, he hopped off his bike and started looking around for anywhere the bomb could be hidden. As it happened, the street he was on had a jewelry store a few buildings down from the corner. As good a place as any to start, he thought. He raced down to the storefront and burst through the door, catching everyone inside off guard. “I need everybody out of here now!” he shouted. “You’re all in danger!”

One of the employees, a man in a fancy suit with a thin mustache, was taken aback by the sudden demand. “Is there a problem, sir?” he asked, trying to maintain decorum.

Jessie rushed over to him. “There’s a bomb somewhere in the plaza. All of you need to get out in case it goes off.”

The employee swallowed nervously at the news of the threat. “Understood.” He called out to the rest of the people in the shop. “Everyone please leave in an orderly manner. We don’t want to cause a panic.” The customers and staff complied, muttering nervously as they made their way for the exit. As the man was ready to leave himself, Jessie grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Warn everyone in the buildings next to you, and have them spread the word. The more people we can get evacuated the better.”

“I’ll let them know. Thank you.” He ran out the door to go alert others. Jessie watched the crowd on the sidewalk begin to grow larger. Once they were out of the way, he could start looking for the bomb without any interference.

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

As Jessie was beginning his search, Ashley was currently conducting hers further south. Her scroll had been numbered IV, leading her to the location of Wednesday’s attack – the financial district. Businesspeople leaving work for the day were stopping to watch the Yellow Ranger as she rushed past them, some worried that there was imminent danger, others throwing out compliments. Coming to the top of a hilly street, she contacted the labs. “Okay, I’m here. Let me get the riddle.” She retrieved the folded scroll from her weapon’s holster and opened it up, holding the poem out in front of her face so the lab staff could see it through her visor’s camera relay.

Built from earth it sits in sand.
Five points, yet most see just one.
Houses rulers of the land
As they rest beneath the sun.

“Another easy one,” Rebecca chimed in. “It’s a pyramid.”

“Makes sense,” Ashley replied. “Though you don’t find many pyramids in southern California.” She looked up and down the street. “There has to be some building here that matches the shape. I’ll keep in touch.” She took a right and ran down the sidewalk, looking at the different office buildings to see if any of them resembled a pyramid. After travelling three blocks she heard a shrill chirping sound. Looking at her arm she saw the light on her Morphing Band flashing. A rift was opening. “Well, I knew this was coming,” she dryly commented.

“The rift has appeared two blocks north of your location,” Mira informed her. “Be careful.”

“Will do.” Ashley turned north, dashing to reach the rift’s location before whatever came out could do too much damage. She arrived to find five Shades wrecking cars, people screaming and fleeing in terror. “I don’t have time for this,” Ashley growled angrily, drawing her buster and firing at the creatures. They stopped their carnage to look in the direction the blasts were coming from. “Okay, I’m here. Let’s get this over with,” she hollered at them.

The Shades advanced on Ashley, axes swinging. She fired more shots, getting in a few hits, but having others deflected by the blades. She rose into the air and darted overhead, firing down to get around the axe heads. The Shades switched their weapons to gun mode and started shooting back. She managed to dodge some of the blasts, though a few struck her in the side and legs. Flying away, she did a swift turn in mid-air and swooped down, bringing out her dagger. She flew through the Shades at head level, slashing them at their faces and necks. Shooting back up into the air, she increased the power level on her Buster and shot again, hitting them from above. They continued returning fire, but Ashley kept zig-zagging about to stay unharmed. After a few minutes of continuous blasting the Shades were annihilated. Now that the distraction had been dealt with, she could resume the search.

Ashley landed and made her way back to where she was before the Shades appeared. Halfway there, she noticed one of the buildings off in the distance had a unique feature – a triangular spire sticking up from the top. She headed for the building several blocks away, stopping to look up at it when she was close enough. It was a tall skyscraper boasting offices for a number of businesses like banks and insurance companies. An observation deck had been built onto the roof, and in the center, a large, thin, stone pyramid rose up. “Found it,” she said, pleased with the discovery. Ashley went around the building to the rear, noticing a fire escape running up to the top floor. A Shade could have easily taken it to get on the roof and plant the explosive without their noticing. Luckily, she didn’t have to expend much time or energy climbing the stairs, simply flying up.

Ashley touched down on the observation deck, which was clear of any sightseers. That was a plus, since there was less chance of causing a scene. She circled around the pyramid until she found the bomb resting by its southern face. It was a small black sphere about the size of a bowling ball. Similar to Boomer, it had several spikes protruding from it and a cylindrical trigger with a flashing yellow light. In the center were several numbered buttons, arranged like a telephone’s keypad. She didn’t know how much damage it would do to the building, but the stone fragments that rained down after it exploded could injure and kill a lot of people. “Okay, I’ve got the bomb. Wonder why no one found it before now?”

“Maybe the deck’s been off limits,” Scott suggested. “They could be doing repairs or something like that.”

“Probably,” Ashley agreed. She lifted up the bomb, being careful not to poke herself on the spikes,  and noticed a small scrap of paper beneath it. She knelt down to pick it up with her free hand, looking at the strange writing on it: CERFF SBHE, GURA VGF QBHOYR, GURA GJB, GURA VGF PHOR, GURA GUERR, GURA AVY.

“What the…” she asked, confused.

“It looks like a cipher,” Rebecca said. “I’m guessing that once we decode it, it’ll explain how to deactivate the bomb.”

“So let’s decode it,” Scott said impatiently.

“Well, Scott, here’s the problem,” she replied, speaking like she was talking to a child. “We can’t do that unless we know what the substitution shift is. And trying to plug in every possible shift will take too long.”

“Guys, please, let’s just think this through logically,” Ashley spoke up, trying to alleviate the tension. “I have to press these buttons in a specific order, so if these are the instructions, the first word is probably ‘press.’ See if you can find a shift where these letters match up with that word.”

“You got it,” Rebecca said, searching online for a cipher decoding program. After a few minutes she had her answer. “Found the shift. It says ‘Press four, then its double, then two, then its cube, then three, then nil.'”

“So, four-eight-two-eight-zero. All right, let’s see if this works.” She entered the button sequence on the bomb, holding her breath warily. Could this be another trap? Would it go off anyway no matter what she did?. After hitting 0, the trigger stopped flashing. It was inactive. Ashley smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes, we got it. Great job, Rebecca.”

“Thanks,” Rebecca blushed.

Dr. Patel nodded. “You have every right to be proud, but there are still four more explosives to find. Ashley, go to the plaza and help Jessie with his search. I’ll contact the police and have them come dispose of that one.”

“Will do,” Ashley nodded, leaping off the deck and floating down to the sidewalk. “Jessie, I’m coming your way.”

“See you soon,” Jessie said. “I guess that’s two I owe you now.”

“We’ll talk about that later.” Ashley landed back in the alley and headed for her car.

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Davis had just arrived at the park, where they’d had to deal with a group of Shades on Tuesday. There was a large crowd this afternoon, enjoying the natural splendors when it wasn’t as hot as mid-day, which meant many potential casualties unless the bomb was taken care of. Standing by the gate, Davis pulled out his scroll as he contacted the others. “I’m at the park. Just need to solve the riddle now.” He opened up the paper and read the poem.

Born with a tail that’s stolen by time.
Feasts upon vermin and dwells within grime.
Cursed with a raspy voice and slimy skin.
True love’s display shows the beauty within.

Scott started pondering over the meaning. “Sounds like an animal. One that people consider ugly, probably one that goes through metamorphosis…”

“Has to be a frog,” Jon interjected. “They’re pretty ugly, but in the legends, a kiss from their true love turns them into a handsome prince.”

“That checks out,” Davis said. “Thanks, Jon.”

“Glad to help. Guess all those fairy tales my mom read when I was a kid paid off.”

Davis slipped the paper back into his holster. “Time to go frog hunting.” He entered the park, looking over the landscape for his target. As with his sister, the appearance of a Power Ranger began to draw attention. Davis addressed the onlookers. “Sorry to ruin your day, but I’m on assignment here and there’s a lot of danger involved. It would be best if you all left for your own safety.” He was firm yet calm, not wanting to worry them too much. The crowd complied and started to evacuate, a few parents arguing with their children who wanted to see a Ranger in action.

While the park goers exited, Davis ran to the east to a small pond. White lilies floated on the water’s surface, and a few frogs were swimming around, one hopping out onto the grass. Davis gazed down into the pond. “You think it’s down there?” Scott asked.

“I doubt it,” Davis answered. “Even if it was weighed down, when it exploded it would just send water everywhere. They’d have to have hidden it someplace where it could do more damage.”

Mira thought for a moment, then snapped her fingers as the answer came to her. “Head for the center of the park. They just remodeled the fountain and added frog statues to the design.”

“On it.” Davis turned and headed for the middle of the park. Following the cobblestone path he came to a spot where other trails converged around a tall circular fountain. It had recently been repaired to fix some of the damages sustained over the years, and some new additions had been added as Dr. Patel had said – four stone frogs were perched around the rim at the cardinal directions, facing towards the basin with wide open mouths. Mouths that were more than large enough to hide one of the bombs. Davis began inspecting the stone frogs, finding the bomb lodged in the second statue. Before he could attempt to pull it out, the warning signal chimed again.

“You’ve got Shades coming your way,” Scott informed him.

“Thanks for the heads-up,” Davis responded, placing his hand on one of the statue’s heads. “I’ll be ready for them.” Davis stood his ground as four Shades brandishing their weapons ran out from a small cluster of trees. He didn’t even move from his spot, he just pulled out his Buster, turned it to its maximum power level, and started firing. Two of the Shades got hit and fell back, the others picked up their speed. As the front pair approached, they swung their axes. Davis ducked to avoid the strikes, pushing forward with his fists out. He got the monsters in their chests, the force of his stone hands delivering an impact that left them staggered. He followed that up with an uppercut to each, sending them reeling before they landed on their backs.

The Shades who’d fallen behind began shooting at Davis. His harder skin allowed him to shrug off the blasts while he returned fire, though the Shades were dodging effectively. To make them lower their guard, he lifted up one of their fallen comrades and tossed the squirming shadow creature at them. The Shades ran in opposite directions to avoid being hit, leaving them open to be struck by a series of rapid shots. Davis charged up his next shot as the Shades tried to recover and fired three successive rounds, hitting and annihilating them. He quickly pivoted to the final Shade, the one who was still trying to get up next to the fountain, and dispatched him just as quickly. Before holstering the Buster again he checked the energy level. It was around 30% of its energy capacity. Not bad; he still had some juice in case he needed to use it again.

Davis went back to the fountain and extracted the bomb from the frog’s mouth, the spikes barely registering on his still stony flesh. Just like Ashley’s it had a numbered keypad on it. He looked it over. “Okay, I have the bomb. Now how do I defuse it?”

The lab staff appeared confused. “Wasn’t there anything else with it?” Rebecca asked. “A code or some kind of puzzle.”

“Not that I can see.”

“Check again,” Ashley advised him. “If they left a clue for me, they must’ve left one for the rest of us as well.”

Davis reached into the statue again, feeling around for any additional materials. He grew concerned when he came up empty-handed. “There’s nothing else here. How am I supposed to deactivate this thing if-” that was when he noticed the trigger. “Hold on. This light is blinking.”

“So was mine,” Ashley told him.

“Yeah, but this one seems off. Like it’s not following any set pattern.” He noticed that rather than a following a set sequence, the trigger seemed to be alternating between quick and lengthy flashes. “Maybe this is the clue to deactivating it.”

“Right,” Rebecca said, the answer dawning on her. “It must be Morse code.”

“Okay, keep looking at it while we get the message.” Scott said. Davis held the bomb so the trigger was in full view of his visor, allowing Scott and Rebecca to observe the flashes and translate the instructions. “Got it,” Scott declared triumphantly. “Press five, then press seven, and finally press one.”

“Huh. That’s pretty simple,” Davis shrugged. He went to push the buttons.

“Wait!” Rebecca yelled frantically. “That’s not the full message! There’s more to it.” Davis froze up as his finger hovered over the keypad, thinking about how close he could have come to disaster. “I’m getting more words. First press nine, then press six, then press five.” She glared at Scott. “You only got the second part.”

“Scott, I appreciate your help, but you need to show some patience,” Dr. Patel chastised him sternly. “It very likely could have exploded if Davis had put in the wrong code. We can’t afford any errors with the risk involved.”

Cathy joined in the conversation to get in a jab. “Word of advice, Scott; getting a co-worker blown up does not look good on your annual performance evaluation.”

Scott grumbled petulantly as Davis entered the full code, the light on the trigger dying after he hit the 1 key. “It’s dead. That’s two down. Where should I go next?”

“Meet up with Jessie and your sister at Pearl Plaza. We’ve only got an hour left and they still haven’t found the bomb there.”

“I’m on my way.” Davis ran off for the gate.

Nocturna and Baron Corvo watched on as Davis left. “They’re performing better than I expected,” Nocturna remarked flatly.

“You made those riddles too easy,” Corvo scornfully remarked. “A child would be able to solve them. Even then they have help from their allies to give them the answers they require. What challenge is there?”

“That they can so easily obtain assistance is another of their greatest strengths,” she addressed the baron as if she were speaking to a child. “Their power lies not only in their abilities or their weapons, but their unity. They may fight on the frontlines, but their allies reinforce them even when separated by miles. I have noticed this sense of camaraderie and respect is severely lacking in our forces. Perhaps that could explain why we have yet to score a substantial victory.”

Baron Corvo sneered as he turned his attention to another crystal on the right wall. What he saw replaced his feelings of contempt with a smug satisfaction. “Ah, perhaps I spoke too soon. Come see how your precious Red Ranger fares.”

Nocturna did as asked and watched the crystal, which gave them a view of Pearl Plaza. Jessie was searching the square at a frantic pace, still not having located the bomb. He turned over several cardboard boxes and trash cans in the alley behind a movie theater, shaking his head and grunting in frustration as they revealed nothing but garbage. Jessie then teleported up onto the roof of the theater to see if it might have been hidden up there.

Corvo cackled. “He still hasn’t discovered the hidden clue. And after you prepared it especially for him. I would say you overestimated the boy’s intelligence.”

Nocturna didn’t show any emotion. “He still has time. Don’t be so quick to write him off.” She gazed intently as Jessie finished up his sweep of the theater roof, disappointed that he was still coming up empty, before he moved over to the next building. “Don’t disappoint me,” she whispered.

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

Cathy was driving her car north along the coast to the marina district, where the team had already been just yesterday. It was one of the more upper-class regions of Stone Canyon, popular with wealthy young people and retirees who wanted beachfront homes, though there had been several complaints from the residents that the number of monster attacks over the last few months, along with the costs needed to repair any damages or destruction, had been negatively affecting property values. Cathy wondered how they’d react if knew that there was a powerful explosive that could wipe a sizable number of those houses off the map. When she came to a stop at a red light, Dr. Patel contacted her. “You’re going to have a lot of ground to cover, Cathy. Show us the riddle so we can try to narrow down its location.”

“Okay, let’s see what we’ve got.” She pulled the scroll out of her glove compartment to look at it.

A titan stands upon the shore;
Its stance will never shift.
Its single eye a beacon for
Those lost and set adrift.

“Hmm…” Rebecca pondered. “Tall object, one ‘eye’ used as a signal, ‘adrift’ probably relates to the ocean. It has to be a-”

“Lighthouse,” Cathy said it at the same time Rebecca did, seeing the object in question rising up above the trees around a curve. “I’d say that narrows it down pretty well.” The light turned green and Cathy drove off towards the tower. She pulled in next to a fishing shack, got out of her car, and started running down the beach towards the old, weathered lighthouse. It had been unused for almost 80 years, yet many felt that its presence added some ambiance to the coastline, so it had been designated a historical monument for preservation. When she was just a few feet away from the lighthouse, her band started to sound its warning signal, though it was unnecessary. She saw the rift opening in the sky in front of her, depositing three Shades onto the beach. “So much for trying to surprise them,” she remarked.

Beachgoers fled for safety as the Shades, their weapons already in gun mode, started blasting at the Gold Ranger. Cathy took the first hit, groaning as she rolled into the sand to avoid the rest of the shots. She returned fire, scrambling around to avoid getting hit. After seeing that most of her shots were missing the Shades she picked herself up, becoming intangible. She rushed towards her enemies, solidifying again as she got in range and pulling out her dagger, slicing them across their waists. Cathy dashed past them towards the lighthouse. The Shades turned and shot at her again, but she phased through the lighthouse wall before they could strike her.

The Shades ran over to the lighthouse, one of them breaking down the door with its axe. The others started firing wildly into the room, only to stop when they saw there was no one inside. Cathy quickly came around from the side and blasted them several times. The Shades started chasing after her as she led them towards a dock near the end of the beach. She made her way to the end before turning, stuck between the ocean and the shadowy creatures. It looked as though she was trapped. As the Shades drew closer to her, she raised her free hand, waved politely, and phased through the wooden planks below her. Before the Shades could process her escape, an energy blast came through the section of pier they were standing on, shattering the wood and knocking them off the sides, where they landed in the ocean with heavy splashes.

Cathy quickly made her way to shore after shooting the dock and got back on her feet to see the Shades floundering about in the water. Apparently Lord Umbron never taught them how to swim. She smirked at the luck of having such easy targets and unleashed round after round until all three of them had been destroyed. “I feel kind of bad for them,” she drolly commented. “They could’ve made something of their lives, but they gave into pier pressure.” The pun elicited a collective groan from everyone else in the comm channel.

Shrugging off their dismissal of her joke, Cathy went back for the lighthouse and entered through the now open door frame. The interior was empty, all the equipment used by past keepers moved due to age. All she could see were empty liquor bottles and burned out joints from teens and young adults who’d gone inside to get high in private. There weren’t many places to hide a bomb, but anyone who had gone in overnight wouldn’t have been in the right state of mind to look for one. She spotted the explosive underneath the spiral stairwell and approached it. This bomb was different from the ones Davis and Ashley had found. Instead of a keypad there was a five by five square grid embedded in it. The slots had small holes drilled into their centers, except for the fourth square from the left in the second row down, which held a wooden square displaying the number 5. Cathy opened up the silk pouch and poured out two dozen wooden squares of equal size, each with a different number on them. She wasn’t pleased. “Oh, this is just perfect.”

“That’s a magic square,” Rebecca stated. “You have to arrange the numbers in the grid so that all the rows and columns and the diagonals have the same sum.”

“I know,” Cathy groused. “I hate these things.”

“You play a lot of video games, Cathy,” Jessie remarked. “I thought you’d be good at puzzles.”

“I am, if you’re asking me to push blocks onto weights or redirect lasers. But these are just a pain. And they only gave me one number to start with.” She sighed. “Guess I’ve gotta look up a walkthrough. Rebecca, can you see if there’s a site or program that can solve this… wait.” She noticed some faint etchings on the bomb’s surface above the square. More Roman numerals – LXV. “Look for one with sixty-five as the answer.” 

“Give me a minute.” Rebecca searched online for a magic square solver, hitting a few dead ends before she found one. Even though she didn’t have much to go on, she entered the 5 on the grid to match that of the bomb. The results were good. “You’re in luck,” she happily proclaimed. “A five-by-five magic square almost always produces an end result of sixty-five. It came up with the most likely solution based on that tile’s position.”

“Perfect.” She put the bomb back on the floor with the grid facing her and scooped up the tiles. “What’s the order?”

“Put the one in the upper left corner. Fifteen to the right of that, twenty-four to the right of that.” Rebecca relayed the solution until Cathy had put every tile in. Once the last one (the 25, fittingly), had been inserted in the lower right corner, the light stopped flashing.

“That’s another one down,” Cathy said, satisfied. “You’re on fire, Becca. I’ll have to invite you to a game night sometime.”

Rebecca beamed at the praise. “Oh my god, I would be honored.”

“Great. We can work out a time to get together once this is all over. Should I head over to help Jessie?”

Jon suddenly came in on the comm link. “Actually, if you wouldn’t mind, do you think you could come help me out? I got stuck in some bad traffic, so I might need an extra set of hands to get this bomb in time.”

“You got it. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Cathy exited the lighthouse and made her way back across the beach to her car.

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

After spending a good amount of time in rush hour traffic, Jon finally reached his destination – a mountain resort in the woods near the southwestern most part of the city. He got out of his car in the clubhouse parking lot and opened the scroll with his riddle.

A match that never starts a fire.
A court that never tries a case.
Love that will never spark desire.
No cards, but still you’ll find an ace.

“Tennis court,” Scott blurted out. “Has to be a tennis court. I was on my college team; I know the terms.”

“Nice job, Scott,” Rebecca said, patronizing him. “You finally got one.”

“Thanks,” Jon said. “I’ll check them out now.” He ran onto the resort grounds, going in the direction of the tennis courts. As he got closer, he noticed that there were people currently on the hardcourt; quite a lot of people. When he was just a few yards away he could make them out more clearly, and his heart dropped. There had to be about two dozen children on the court. It must have been a youth tennis camp. Now he felt an even greater urgency to defuse the bomb as soon as possible.

Jon ran onto the court, his presence driving the kids wild. They started to cheer and holler the Ranger’s appearance. He didn’t have time to acknowledge their adulation, instead approaching the instructor, who was in the middle of demonstrating serving techniques. “I need you to get these kids into the clubhouse. You’re all in danger.”

The coach didn’t even bother questioning him, simply nodding in agreement. “All right everyone, you heard the Ranger. Let’s get going.”

“No way!” one young boy said defiantly. “We wanna see him in action!” The other kids joined in the protest, refusing to budge until they had seen Jon do something cool. Their cries were silenced by the sounds of weapon fire and energy blasts flying over their heads. A pair of Shades emerged from the trees to rush the court. The kids screamed and ran off, their instructor following after them to lead them to safety.

Jon reached for his Buster, noticing out of the corner of his eye a ball pitcher positioned at the end of the court. He weaved from side to side to avoid the Shades’ blasts while he telekinetically lifted up the machine and brought it flying towards them. It slammed into one Shade, the force causing it to collide with the other and knocking them to the ground, their weapons flying from their hands upon impact. The pitching machine had been badly wrecked, but it served its purpose. Jon decided to capitalize on his advantage and manipulated the net in the center of the court next, releasing it from its ties and having it fly around the stunned Shades, wrapping around them like a rope. Bound together and immobilized, the Shades could do nothing but squirm in place as Jon shot at them until they were gone.

“Shades have been taken care of,” he relayed his status. “Dr. Patel, you’ll need to send someone out here to fix the sensor. It didn’t detect them coming.”

“I’ll have that addressed immediately,” she responded.

“Great. Now I’ve gotta find that bomb.” He began circling the court, looking for anything that seemed out of place. On the eastern side he noticed some plants had been upturned next to a mound of dirt that appeared to be more prominently raised than the earth surrounding it. He reasoned that must have been where they buried it. Jon got on his knees and started digging. As he moved the dirt, he was unaware of the movement in the grove of trees behind him. A single Shade crept out from the woods, having stayed behind while its brethren fought. It was waiting for a moment when the Ranger let his guard down, a moment when it could strike without any resistance. And now that Jon was preoccupied, that time had come. The Shade slinked closer to the Silver Ranger, moving slowly so as not to make a sound, and raised its axe to deliver the killing blow.

“Jon, behind you!” Jon looked up to see who was yelling for him and spotted Cathy coming his way. He quickly craned his neck to see the Shade standing over him, shouting before he rolled out of the way of the axe as it slammed into the dirt. Cathy started firing at the Shade to keep it distracted, while Jon began slashing at it with his dagger to delay it from pulling its axe up. Cathy soon came in close and delivered a swift kick to its stomach, throwing the creature off balance. After several more shots and strikes, it was no more.

“Thanks,” Jon said, relieved and appreciative. “You got here just in time.”

“You aren’t a real hero until you pull off a dramatic last-minute appearance to save the day,” Cathy quipped. “Where’s the bomb?”

“I think it’s over here.” Jon led her to the dirt pile and resumed clearing it away. The bomb was indeed buried under there, another number pad on it and a small silk bag tied to its trigger.

“If there are more number tiles in there, I’m going to cry,” Cathy said. When Jon opened the pouch there were no tiles, just three dirty metal buttons and a scrap of paper that read C-L-I

“Another code,” Jon asked.

“No, more Roman numerals,” Cathy clarified. “C is one hundred and L is fifty.”

“Okay, so does this mean the answer is one hundred and fifty one?”

Cathy started concentrating on the solution. “No, that’s not how it would be written. Maybe those dashes are minuses. It’s a math problem.”

“So it’s forty-nine, then?”

“Hold on, you two,” Rebecca cut in. “Think about what else was in that bag. Three buttons. It probably means you have to press three buttons to deactivate the bomb.”

“By putting a zero at the start?” Jon asked.

“Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way,” Cathy pondered. “Maybe the answer isn’t the numbers, but the letters.” She pointed to the keypad. “It’s laid out like on a cell phone. And the numbers on a phone-”

“Can also represent different letters,” Rebecca finished her sentence. “Wow Cathy, I’m impressed. You got that one way before I would have.”

“Why thank you,” Cathy enjoyed the compliment. “I just figured that they might try to trip us up, so I tried to think outside the box.”

Jon picked up the bomb. “Okay, so C is on the two key, L is…” he strained for a few seconds trying to remember the layout. “L is five, and I would be four.” He punched in the three digits, and the light died. “Yes. You nailed that one, Cathy.”

“Excellent progress so far,” Dr. Patel said, “but there’s still one bomb left to find before the sixth one is revealed. You two need to get to Pearl Plaza immediately.”

“Got it, “Jon said. “We’re out.” He and Cathy ran from the court. As they moved, Jon turned his head to address Cathy. “I don’t think I could’ve gotten that answer without your help. You were a lifesaver twice today.”

“Oh my, so much praise in one day, “Cathy said with an exaggerated modesty. “I fear I may get a big ego from it.”

Jon let out a laughing snort. “I don’t think you have to worry about that. We do make a good team, though.”

“You aren’t the only one who thinks that,” Cathy chuckled lightly. “I heard from one of my friends that a few people on line actually ship us.”

“Really?” Jon sounded surprised. “I didn’t know that. Did they say why?”

“I guess it’s because of the superficial aspects. We pilot the same Megazord, gold and silver are usually paired together-”

Scott let out a loud, aggravated sigh. “You two are aware that there’s still another bomb out there you need to find, right? I think there are more important things to be focusing on.”

“Hey, Scott, we’re the ones who’ve been busting our butts all afternoon trying to find them,” Cathy responded, irritated by his criticism. “If we want to talk for a bit to relieve the stress, that shouldn’t be a problem because we’re still looking for them. If you want to come out here and help us, then feel free to, because then you’d be in a valid position to complain.” She didn’t get any response except for some indecipherable bitter mumbling. “Okay, good to know we’ve got that cleared up.”

The pair reached the parking lot and went for their cars, Cathy having parked very close to Jon. “About that shipping thing,” Jon said, “honestly, I always kind of thought you and Davis were going to hook up.”

“Nah, I don’t think that would work out.”

“Why’s that?”

Cathy almost regretted that he couldn’t see the knowing smirk under her helmet. “Let’s just say I’m not his type.”

“Uh, before we start talking about who would date who,” Davis cut in, sounding like he was eager to change the subject, “does any of this seem a little strange to you?”

“How do you mean?” Jessie asked. “We fight monsters every week. ‘Strange’ has a different frame of reference now.”

“Think about it. Dr. Patel said that Lord Umbron and his forces are about a nine hundred years old, at least. They exist in a different dimension. But they know about things like Morse code, cell phones, and sports terminology.”

“That is pretty unusual,” Ashley agreed.

“It might mean that they have some way of getting information on our world,” Jon said as he began to drive off, troubled by what this possibility meant. “And if they do, that could make them even more dangerous.”

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

Cathy and Jon arrived at the plaza as the last civilians were evacuating. They ran towards Jessie and Davis, both of whom had been searching near an outlet mall. “Any luck?” Jon asked.

“Still nothing,” Jessie responded impatiently. “We’re running out of time. We’ve got to find it soon!”

“Keep calm, Jessie,” Cathy tried to put him at ease. “We’re all together now. We can do this.”

“Okay,” Jessie nodded. “Let’s get back to it.”

The group split up in different directions. The Rangers were looking in every possible area the bomb could be hidden. They were overturning trash cans, looking into storm drains, prying open vents on buildings to see if it had been stuffed in one of them. But they kept coming up with nothing.

“We’re almost out of time,” Mira told them, growing more anxious. “Only ten minutes until it goes off.” Even without any people there, the property damage caused by the explosion could be massive.

“I know, I know,” Jessie said, frustrated. “I’m trying my best, but I have no idea where the stupid thing is!”

“Check the riddle again,” Rebecca suggested. “Maybe there’s a hidden double meaning.”

“Okay, I’ll see. But I don’t know if it’ll do any good.” Jessie pulled out the paper and started to read it. He still didn’t know what he was missing, feeling like an idiot overlooking something obvious. Then he noticed it. Some of the letters were slightly thicker than the others.

Forged within darkness from dirt and debris
That breaches a living wall.
Emerges from prison a gem of the sea;
A luster adored by all.

Read in order, they spelled out nonsense. But he rearranged them in his head until they formed a real word. “Parking,” he muttered as the answer came to him. “Guys, meet me at the parking garage. The bomb has to be there.” His motorcycle was nearby, so he jumped onto it and sped down the street to get there as quickly as he could.

Nocturna witnessed Jessie’s epiphany through the viewing crystal and responded with a thin, barely noticeable smile. She turned to Baron Corvo. “It took him some time, but he found the answer,” she said with a tinge of satisfaction. “It would appear as though you were premature in dismissing his intellect. Yet another in your long line of mistakes.” Corvo responded to her insult by mumbling several Italian curses under his breath.

Boomer, standing behind the two, clapped its arms together with a demented glee. “Excellent. Time to make my return to the playing field, then. The game is about to end, and the Ranger are in for an explosive finale…”

Jessie rode into the center of the four-story parking center. It was mostly empty, though a few people had abandoned their cars in their rush to escape before the bomb went off. Jon soon ran in after him, having been closest to the garage when he got the call. “Seven minutes to go,” Jessie said anxiously. “We have to find it fast. Where would they hide it?”

“How about under one of those?” Jon pointed to three traffic cones standing in the corner.

“Good thinking,” Jessie responded. “Now we just have to-” he was interrupted by the warning signal. “Perfect timing,” he grumbled.

“You deal with the bomb,” Jon instructed. “I’ll deal with whatever’s coming.” Jessie nodded and went for the cones.

Boomer strolled into the garage with an arrogant swagger. “Sorry to interrupt, but you all seemed to be enjoying the game so much I just had to join in on the fun.”

Boomer hurtled himself towards Jon. The Silver Ranger lunged out of the monster’s path and rolled to the side to safety. He pulled out his Buster and started shooting, but Boomer appeared to be unfazed by his attacks. Whatever the creature was made out of, it must have been a very durable material.

The other three Rangers soon arrived on the scene, weapons drawn. “I’m low on power,” Davis said. “How about you two?”

“Same,” Ashley replied as Cathy nodded. “We’ll just have to hold back on using them until we really need to.”

Ashley, Cathy and Davis charged at Boomer. He spun around after trying to swipe at Jon as he heard their approach. “And the whole party’s here now. Wonderful.”

Davis pivoted to the side to touch one of the cars that had been left behind, hardening his arms. He ran up to Boomer and delivered two swift punches. Even with his added strength, it only made the monster flinch slightly. Boomer responded by swinging his arm down at Davis, striking him on the shoulder. Ashley and Cathy took to both sides and fired some charged shots, just to have them shrugged off like Jon’s were. Boomer scoffed as he began to whirl around in place, spinning faster and faster. The spikes lining his body soon shot out in all directions. The four Rangers quickly hit the ground to avoid getting stuck by the projectiles.

Jessie had just lifted up the last traffic cone to reveal the bomb. As he was bending down to examine it, one of the spikes came his way. “Woah!” he shouted, teleporting out of its path. The spike embedded itself in the concrete wall. “That was close…” he nervously commented. With the danger gone, he went back to the bomb. It had another number pad on it and a scrap of paper tied around the trigger. Jessie unrolled the paper to see what was on it. It displayed the faces of six dice: 6, 3, 4, 5, 3, and 1. Below the drawings written in elegant script was a question – How many petals around the roses? Jessie was confused. “Roses? What? Becca, any advice?”

“Give me a second,” Rebecca responded, sounding lost. “I don’t really know what this is about either.”

“Don’t worry, Rebecca,” Mira spoke up. “I can help with this. I remember this game from secondary school. The roses are the center pips on the dice. Any pips around them are the petals.”

“Great. Thanks.” Jessie looked over the drawing again. “So just the threes and fives count, so… eight petals.” He pressed the 8 button and the light stopped flashing. Jessie smiled. “Yes! We got them all. Thanks for all your help, Dr. Patel. You too, Rebecca.”

“Don’t mention it,” Mira replied.

“Yeah, it was an honor to work with you, even if it wasn’t in person,” Rebecca said, brimming with pride.

“Aren’t you going to thank me?” Scott whined.

“Oh, yeah, sure. Thanks,” Jessie said disinterestedly. “How much time do we have left?”

“Just a little more than two minutes,” Mira told him.

“Okay, we’re gonna cut it close, but maybe we can still get that last bomb.” Jessie steeled himself and turned his attention to the fight between Boomer and the other Rangers. He rushed towards Boomer, blasting at him wildly. Boomer stopped slashing away at the others to face the Red Ranger. “All right, we played by your rules and we won,” Jessie said aggressively. “Now where’s the last bomb?”

Boomer responded to his demand by laughing wildly. “Oh, you sad fool. you still haven’t figured it out?”

“I knew that freak was going to cheat!” Ashley fumed.

“No, he’s not cheating,” Davis said, grasping the grim horror of the situation. “It’s right here. He’s the bomb!”

“Correct!” Boomer shouted. “But I’m afraid there’s no way to shut me down.”

Cathy couldn’t believe what the monster was saying. “You’re actually going to blow yourself up just to take us out? That’s crazy!”

“A drastic sacrifice, true, but if it gets rid of the five of you it will all be worth it.” He cackled again. “I may have lost the game, but you’re about to lose so much more!” Boomer stood in place as his limbs retracted back into its spherical torso and the light on its head started flashing more rapidly. “Thirty seconds until endgame,” he stated.

The Rangers started to panic. “There’s no way we can get clear in time!” Davis fretted.

“Stay calm, guys!” Jon asserted himself to keep them at ease. “Everyone get in close to me. I’m gonna try and shield us.” The other four complied and gathered around Jon as he projected a mental barrier around them. Silently, they all wondered if it would be enough to protect them.

Boomer, unaware of the telekinetic shield, continued his countdown. “Five… four… three… two… one… farewell, Rangers!”

The trigger flashed a blindingly brilliant yellow as Boomer exploded. Jon’s barrier was enough to protect the Rangers from the heat and force of the blast, though it still was still intense enough to start to push them backwards. As the explosion ripped through the parking center, chunks of concrete and parts of destroyed cars from the upper levels fell through the now obliterated ceiling. Jon was starting to feel the strain of keeping the barricade up as the debris rained down upon them, bouncing off and falling to the side before it could crush them. After a few minutes that felt like an eternity, the chaos ended. There was no more detritus coming down, and the waves of concussive pressure from the explosion had died out. All that remained in the wrecked garage were the mangled remnants of vehicles and shattered concrete. Strangely, there was nothing left of Boomer. The monster had been completely obliterated, just like the others the Rangers had destroyed.

Jon dropped the barrier and fell to his knees, having exerted an intense amount of mental energy. He was so worn out he powered down. The others demorphed and helped him back on his feet. “Are you okay?” Davis asked, concerned.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Jon said weakly before coughing out some dust. “I just hope I never have to keep it up for that long again.”

“You know, I’m so happy to be alive I’m not even gonna make a joke about your phrasing,” Cathy commented.

The communicator lights on their Morphing Bands lit up. Ashley pressed hers to hear Mira speak. She sounded very worried. “Ranges, come in! What happened? Are you hurt?!”

“We’re fine, Dr. Patel,” Ashley said, trying to reassure her. “The garage was leveled, but no one got injured.”

“Erm…” Cathy said awkwardly, “there was one casualty.” She gestured towards the center of the lot where Jessie was standing over what was left of his motorcycle. It had been torn in half by the blast, the frame and muffler crumpled, tires blown apart, headlights and mirrors smashed, the fuel tank and seat ripped off leaving jagged holes where they once had been. The bike was beyond any hope of repair. Jessie trembled as he looked down at his mangled ride. His teeth were gritted and he swallowed heavily as rage began to well up within him. It was taking a tremendous effort to keep from shouting.

Davis slowly approached, wanting to be supportive. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Me? Yeah, I’m fine,” Jessie sharply responded, his voice shaking with stress and anger. “My bike’s wrecked and there’s no way in hell I’ll ever be able to get it fixed, but hey, no one got hurt, so who cares?!”

“It’s okay if you’re upset. No one’s going to judge you. If you need to vent, go ahead-”

“I said I’m fine!” Jessie snapped. Davis stepped back, startled by the outburst. Jessie immediately felt remorseful. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take it out on you. I… I should just go.” He started to walk off.

“Why don’t I give you a ride home?” Jon asked, feeling bad for his friend.

“Don’t bother,” Jessie said dejectedly. “I’ll call for a ride. I need some time alone.” Jessie left the lot, leaving the other Rangers standing amidst the rubble, all greatly upset about their friend’s well-being.

In the dark dimension, Baron Corvo let out a disappointed harrumph. “Well, it would appear as though your little game has ended in failure,” he chided Nocturna. “Not only are the Rangers still alive, but we wasted a significant amount of energy that could have been used for other purposes. Lord Umbron will be most disappointed.”

Nocturna, as usual, was devoid of emotion. “Every experiment presents the risk of failure, as our Lord can attest. If we can gather useful information from the results, then it was of some value.” She looked at Jessie as he departed. “In this case, we learned that even a minor loss can have a significant emotional impact on the Rangers, especially if they still bear the scars of a much greater loss.” Corvo waved his hand disdainfully and left the room. Nocturna continued to focus on Jessie as he walked out of view. “How much more pain can you endure until it finally breaks you?” Her question was not asked coldly, almost betraying a hint of compassion.

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

July 20, 2024

Jessie stared at the ceiling from his bed. He had a rough time sleeping, spending most of the night lying awake. He felt like an idiot. It was just a motorcycle; it shouldn’t be affecting him that much. But in his heart it was more than just a simple vehicle. He’d had it for almost a decade. His parents gave it to him as a high school graduation present. It was invaluable to him when he worked part time as a bike messenger to help pay for tech school. He put incredible care into its maintenance and upkeep to make sure it ran smoothly. It was like an extension of him. And now it was gone.

Jessie shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He looked around his bedroom for something to focus on. There were a few half-finished models on his computer table, but he wasn’t really in the mood to work on them. He glanced at the clock on his nightstand. It was 12:30. He was supposed to be at Andrei’s party in half an hour. What’s the point? he glumly thought. This was supposed to be a happy day for the kid. If he went there in his bad mood, it would just make everyone uncomfortable. Jessie was so deep into his funk he almost tuned out his phone going off. After the third ringtone cycle he grabbed it off the nightstand. “Hello?” he muttered, half-awake.

“Jessie, how are you doing?” It was Davis.

“Not so good,” Jessie admitted.

“Well, I don’t want to bother you, but can you meet me outside? I’ve got something to show you.”

“Sure.” Jessie didn’t really want to leave his bed, but he figured he should at least humor Davis to keep him from worrying. He slipped on his shirt and jeans from yesterday and took the elevator down to his apartment lobby. Stepping outside, he was amazed by what he saw. Davis was standing on the sidewalk, along with Ashley, Cathy, and Jon. They had all morphed, and they were standing in front of a sleek red sport bike. “Whoa… where did you…”

“Do you like it?” Ashley asked pleasantly. “We told Dr. Patel about what happened and she wanted to do something to help you feel better. So she found a little extra in the budget and picked this out for you. We offered to run it over.”

Jessie was floored. “Wow, this is just… wow.” He felt like he was going to start crying, overwhelmed by the kindness he was seeing. “I really don’t know what to say. Thank you.”

“Be sure to thank Dr. Patel, too,” Jon said.

“I will, don’t worry. And I’ll pay her back, I promise. I’m just-”

Cathy snapped her fingers. “Don’t get too sentimental, Jessie. We’ve still got a party to get to.”

“Right, the party. I’ve gotta get going now.” Davis tossed him the keys as he got on the bike’s seat. It felt off, but over time, he knew he’d get accustomed to it. “See you guys there,” he called out happily as he rode off.

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

Andrei’s birthday party was already underway at the Petrovich home, a small ranch house in the suburbs. Fifteen of his friends from school had been invited, all of them playing out in the yard. Andrei, a chubby boy of 10 with a dirty blonde crewcut and blue eyes in a Giants T-shirt and khaki shorts, was having a cup of punch by a table his mother set up while she cut the cake. One boy ran past him. “Great party, Andrei,” he said as he went by.

“Glad you’re having fun,” Andrei called to him. He planned to join the others soon, but right now his thoughts were elsewhere. Checking his phone, he saw the time was 1:15. Andrei tugged on his mother’s shirt. “Do you think they’ll be here soon?” he asked eagerly.

Lana looked down at her son warmly. “Oh, Andrei dear. I’m certain they’re on their way. But you saw the news yesterday; they were very busy. They may be running a little behind.”

“I suppose,” he conceded. “Well, whenever they come, it’s gonna be awesome.”

“I know it will, sweetie.” Lana tried to keep a pleasant demeanor, but she was feeling uncertain herself. She had heard about the devastation in the plaza and how the Rangers had run all across the city to defuse the bombs. It might have taken a lot out of them. Maybe they were injured and couldn’t make it.

Her fears, as it turned out, were pointless. A motorcycle was heard coming up the street, pulling up right in front of her house. Jessie, fully morphed, stepped off his bike and removed his helmet. He hopped over the gate surrounding the yard as the kids looked on in awe. “Sorry I’m late,” he humbly said.

A white Sedan driven by Jon parked behind him. The other Rangers emerged, coming in through the gate door. The kids were astounded, chattering at the sight of the heroes. “Holy cow.” “It’s really them.” “It’s the Power Rangers!” One girl appeared a little nervous, though. “I saw the Silver Ranger yesterday and some monsters attacked. I hope nothing bad’s gonna happen today.”

The Rangers walked over to Lana and Andrei, the young boy squealing with delight. “Andrei, good to see you again,” Jessie greeted him pleasantly. “Happy birthday.”

“We got you this,” Davis said as he came up, handing Andrei a gold envelope. “So you can buy something nice.”

“Ohmigod, this is so awesome!” Andrei was overjoyed. “I can’t believe you’re actually here. Can I get your picture? Please?”

“Sure thing,” Jon said. “Everyone get together.” The group huddled next to each other to pose as Andrei got his phone ready.

“Be sure to get my good side,” Ashley joked, flashing the peace sign. Andrei was so excited he hit the photo button several times. But he didn’t mind; this just meant there was more to remind him of the day he met his heroes.

Artwork by Ashley Asamiiya

Andrei was grinning as he looked at the picture. “This is so cool. I’m gonna keep this picture for the rest of my life. You guys rock!”

The other kids were starting go crowd around the Rangers. Cathy chuckled. “Our fans await us. Let’s have some fun.” Davis and Jon nodded and walked off with her to entertain the kids.

Jessie looked over at Ashley. “Thanks again.”

“No problem. And about that favor you promised me-”

“Just tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”

“I was going to say you can forget about it. We’re even.” The pair smiled at each other. Ashley smacked her lips. “Whoo, it’s getting hot. I’m gonna have some punch.”

Ashley went to grab some refreshments. Before Jessie could head off, Lana came up and hugged him tightly. “Thank you,” she said, tears of gratitude welling up. “You’ve made Andrei so happy.”

“Don’t mention it. I’m glad I could do something nice.”  Jessie felt incredibly content. All the stresses and hardships of the past week felt like they had just melted away. He thought back to what Frank had said yesterday. Being a hero wasn’t easy, but moments like this, seeing the people he promised to protect celebrating and enjoying life, made the struggle worthwhile.

End of Chapter 8

Featuring the voices of:
Eric Bauza as Jesse Yamada/Children
Khary Payton as Davis Morgan/Children
Kimberly Brooks as Ashley Morgan/Children
Jennifer Hale as Cathy Crawford/Children
Ben Diskin as Jon Hoffman/Scott Grey/Children
Indira Varma as Dr. Mira Patel
Grey DeLisle-Griffin as Nocturna/Lana Petrovich/Children
Steve Blum as Baron Corvo/Tennis Instructor
Wally Wingert as Boomer/Frank Dunkel/Jewelry Store Employee
Tara Strong as Rebecca Sanders/Andrei Petrovich/Children

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